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North American XF-108 Rapier

Long-Range, High-Speed Interceptor Aircraft Proposal

North American XF-108 Rapier

Long-Range, High-Speed Interceptor Aircraft Proposal


The North American XF-108 Rapier only made it to the full-size mockup stage before seeing its cancellation by the USAF.
National Flag Graphic
ORIGIN: United States
YEAR: 1955
MANUFACTURER(S): North American Aviation - USA
OPERATORS: United States

Unless otherwise noted the presented statistics below pertain to the North American XF-108 Rapier model. Common measurements, and their respective conversions, are shown when possible.
LENGTH: 89.24 feet (27.2 meters)
WIDTH: 57.41 feet (17.5 meters)
HEIGHT: 21.98 feet (6.7 meters)
WEIGHT (EMPTY): 50,927 pounds (23,100 kilograms)
WEIGHT (MTOW): 102,537 pounds (46,510 kilograms)
ENGINE: 2 x General Electric YJ93-GE-3AR turbojet engine developing 29,300 lb of thrust each with afterburner.
SPEED (MAX): 1,982 miles-per-hour (3190 kilometers-per-hour; 1,722 knots)
RANGE: 2,485 miles (4,000 kilometers; 2,160 nautical miles)
CEILING: 80,052 feet (24,400 meters; 15.16 miles)


4 x 20mm cannons

3 x Hughes GAR-9A air-to-air missiles.

Up to 4,000 lb of ordnance including rockets and conventional drop bombs.

Series Model Variants
• XF-108 - Base Series Designation


Detailing the development and operational history of the North American XF-108 Rapier Long-Range, High-Speed Interceptor Aircraft Proposal.  Entry last updated on 8/4/2016. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©
The prospect of high speed, high altitude bombers captivated war planners on both sides of the Cold War. Advancements in jet technology and supersonic flight made such desires reality and many projects emerged from this period of military aviation history. The counter to such a bomber threat - prior to the arrival of effective missile defense networks - was the high-speed interceptor charged with racing to meet the foe head-on. This deterrent was as old as military flight itself - the dedicated interceptor bred for the sole purpose of intercepting inbound enemy threats.

In 1956, the USAF adopted the Convair F-102 "Delta Dagger" for the interceptor role and, in 1959, its improved successor followed as the Convair F-106 "Delta Dart". Over 1,000 of the former and 340 of the latter were realized during their respective production runs. The Delta Dart was of particular note for its Mach 2.3 speed and 29,000 feet per minute climb rate. To continue along this same design approach, a new high-performance, long-range interceptor initiative was being fleshed out by the USAF at the same time the F-102 was coming online and the F-106 was in the works.

The USAF specification of October 1955 envisioned a sleek interceptor capable of Mach 1.5+ speeds with a service ceiling up to 60,000 feet and an operational range out to 1,000 miles. The type would be charged with interception of current generation Soviet bombers threatening North American and European airspace. For survivability and the required speeds, the airframe would incorporate two engines in a side-by-side arrangement. The mission workload was to be spread about a crew of two. As with other interceptors of the period, the aircraft would carry an advanced Fire Control System (FCS) to aid in the delivery of ordnance - in this case bomber-killing missiles.

The specification was greeted by eight competing concerns though only Lockheed, North American, and Northrop were invited to further designs. Of the three, the North American design fit the USAF requirement best and its submission was accepted for development as the "XF-108" (the "Rapier" name was not given to the aircraft until May of 1959). However, all things came to an end when the program was terminated on May 9th, 1956 due to the usual suspects - budget issues and politics. Once the wrangling had ended, the program was resurrected in April of 1957 and two prototypes were ordered from North American Aviation.

The North American product (Model NA-257) began a lengthy design process which moved forward as requirements changed and technology advanced. Hughes was charged with development of the FCS to manage the missiles and General Electric supplied the engines. During this time, North American was also committed to the USAF's XB-70 "Valkyrie" Mach 3 supersonic bomber and, thusly, the XF-108 shared the XB-70s GE engine. The same ejection capsule of the XB-70 was also instituted in the XF-108. The XF-108's design lines also mimicked that of the XB-70 to an extent - the delta wing planform, canard foreplanes, the squared-off underside, etc...

Factors began to work against the XF-108 program - the Soviet commitment to effective missile defense networks (which rendered high-altitude supersonic bombers obsolete) and priority given to InterContinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) for nuclear warhead delivery (nixing the strategic bomber approach) forced USAF interest in a new, expensive interceptor to wane. Early on, the XF-108 was to feature canard foreplanes for pitch control, a base delta wing planform, and no fewer than three vertical stabilizers (one on the fuselage and the other two at each of wing trailing edges). The finalized form was something of a rewriting of the aircraft - showcasing the continual evolution of this interceptor - which saw the canards and two of the three vertical stabilizers (upper sections only) removed while the delta wings became a "double-delta" arrangement (the main wing leading edge swept at 65-degrees and the wingtips with a 45-degree sweep. A full-scale representation of the XF-108 was presented for USAF review in January of 1959. Thirty-one developmental "YF-107" aircraft previously on order were by this time reduced to just 20 aircraft.

The XF-108 program was to produce nothing more than the aforementioned mockup for, on September 23rd, 1959, the USAF cancelled the interceptor. Some of the work put into the XF-108 was reconstituted for the more successful A-5 "Vigilante" reconnaissance-strike bomber by North American which was adopted by the United States Navy (USN) in 1961. The A-5 shared some of the design form of the XF-108 (retaining its fuselage and systems) and saw production reach 156 total units. Vigilante aircraft recorded combat service in the Vietnam War (1955-1975).

Performance specifications of the XF-108 included a maximum speed of Mach 3 and an operational range of 1,150 miles. Weight (gross) was 102,000 lb. 4 x 20mm cannons was to be standard armament while support for 2.75" rockets was to be included as was capability for carrying up to 4,000 lb of stores into action.

The program cost reached $142 million USD. During its early design phase, the XF-108 was also considered for the bomber escort role - escorting the B-70 (XB-70) Valkyrie into enemy airspace. This role was dropped as the XF-108 would have lacked the required range to see the B-70 all the way to and from its target area.


Our Data Modules allow for quick visual reference when comparing a single entry against contemporary designs. Areas covered include general ratings, speed assessments, and relative ranges based on distances between major cities.

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Relative Maximum Speed Rating
Hi: 2000mph
Lo: 1000mph
    This entry's maximum listed speed (1,982mph).

    Graph average of 1500 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
Graph showcases the North American XF-108 Rapier's operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Useful in showcasing the era cross-over of particular aircraft/aerospace designs.
Unit Production Comparison
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units

  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

  ** Military Market High belongs to Ilyushin Il-2.

Altitude Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Supported Roles
Ground Attack
Aerial Tanker
A2A=Air-to-Air; UAV=Unmanned; CAS=Close Support; ASW=Anti-Submarine; AEW=Airborne Early Warning; MEDEVAC=Medical Evac; EW=Electronic Warfare; SAR=Search-Rescue
Supported Arsenal
Graphical image of an air-to-air missile weapon
Graphical image of a short-range air-to-air missile
Graphical image of an aircrat automatic cannon
Graphical image of aircraft aerial rockets
Graphical image of an aircraft conventional drop bomb munition
Commitments / Honors
Military lapel ribbon for Operation Allied Force
Military lapel ribbon for the Arab-Israeli War
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Britain
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Midway
Military lapel ribbon for the Berlin Airlift
Military lapel ribbon for the Chaco War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cold War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cuban Missile Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for pioneering aircraft
Military lapel ribbon for the Falklands War
Military lapel ribbon for the French-Indochina War
Military lapel ribbon for the Golden Age of Flight
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Indo-Pak Wars
Military lapel ribbon for the Iran-Iraq War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1982 Lebanon War
Military lapel ribbon for the Malayan Emergency
Military lapel ribbon representing modern aircraft
Military lapel ribbon for the attack on Pearl Harbor
Military lapel ribbon for the Six Day War
Military lapel ribbon for the Soviet-Afghan War
Military lapel ribbon for the Spanish Civil War
Military lapel ribbon for the Suez Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for Warsaw Pact of the Cold War-era
Military lapel ribbon for the WASP (WW2)
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2
Military lapel ribbon for the Yom Kippur War
Military lapel ribbon for experimental x-plane aircraft
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.