McDonnell F-101 Voodoo
Twin-Engine Interceptor / Reconnaissance Aircraft
The McDonnell F-101 Voodoo achieved several endurance and speed records during her time aloft, earning the nickname of One-Oh-Wonder in the process.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
The McDonnell F-101 Voodoo was affectionately called the "One-oh-Wonder" and known moreso early on for its many record-setting achievements in the early years of use. The twin-engine fighter-bomber was a design that nearly wasn't thanks to the development of more potent high-flying long range bombers. Fortunately for the type, the need for escort fighters was as apparent as ever during the Korean War and interest in the Voodoo was brought back to the forefront. With the eventually involvement of Tactical Air Command, the Voodoo would find itself a home in US ranks and become one of the more successful American aircraft designs of the Cold War, inevitably seeing action in the Vietnam War.
Development of the F-101 Voodoo began as an extension of the twin-engine XF-88 prototype that appeared in 1948. The XF-88 was envisioned as a dedicated interceptor and heavy escort fighter for protection of the USAF's long-range bombers. As was common practice throughout World War Two, bomber formations were protected by smaller and faster fighters such as the North American P-51 Mustang, Lockheed P-38 Lightnings and Republic P-47 Thunderbolts, leaving bombers to concentrate on reaching their target areas and dropping their munitions without concerning themselves entirely on formation defense. Conventional thinking carried on in the post-war world, seeing a need for such performers only this time in sleek new jet-powered airframes. McDonnell introduced the XF-88 and won out in competition against Lockheed and North American designs. By this time, however, the USAF re-evaluated the need for long-range escort fighters in the jet age and saw no need to pursue such a design. As such, the XF-88 project was cancelled.
With the arrival of the Korean War, the jet age was in full swing. However, the USAF long-range, high-altitude bombers were still shown to be at the mercy of enemy fighters, resulting in unacceptable B-29 losses as the conflict progressed. The XF-88 design was revisited by the USAF and it was acknowledged that the need for a long-range escort jet-powered fighter was still there. The XF-88 was worked through a period of redesign that resulted in a lengthening of the fuselage which in turn provided internal space for more fuel (effectively influencing higher operational endurance in the process). Changes throughout the XF-88 (including a new tail arrangement, larger turbojet engines and redesigned intake openings) now warranted a new series designation and the Voodoo aircraft family was born - the XF-88 now becoming the larger redesigned YF-101 "Voodoo" prototype in 1951. The YF-101 was also reconsidered as a true dedicated "strategic fighter" and not so much a "penetration fighter" as originally categorized. This provided the YF-101 platform the capability to mount various weaponry - including nuclear types - while still retaining its initial bomber escort role. The YF-101 (eventually to become the F-101A production model) took to the skies on September 29, 1954 and entered service with the United States Air Force in 1957 as the F-101A.
By this time, the conclusion of the Korean conflict and the arrival of the jet-powered B-52 Stratofortress forced a yet another rethinking of Strategic Air Command needs and the idea of a jet-powered escort fighter was once again dropped. Despite this action, Tactical Air Command moved in looking for a replacement for their aging F-89 Scorpion and F-84 Thunderstreak series of jet fighters. The Voodoo seemed to fit the bill and the F-101A found a home.
Externally, design of the Voodoo was noted for its wing root triangular intake ducts, high-mounted tail plane and engine exhaust ports ending just at the base of the empennage. The crew - be it a single or twin seat model - sat in the forward portion of the rounded fuselage under a clam-shell type canopy, the cockpit itself pressurized. Wings were short, low-mounted, swept and positioned at about the center point of the fuselage. The top aft portion of the fuselage elegantly formed into the vertical tail surface to which the horizontal planes were positioned in the uppermost part. Ailerons were situated on the outer trailing wing edges. This, along with the tail control surfaces, were operated via an irreversible hydraulic system as were the wing flaps (the latter also electrically actuated). A drag chute was incorporated into the design for improved landing roll distances. By any regard, the aircraft maintained a graceful appearance, particularly noteworthy considering the many sharp-angled American designs common in the 1950's. The design elements inherent in the Voodoo design would become apparent in the follow-up McDonnell design - this being the F-4 Phantom.
The F-101A model series was the first production form of the Voodoo. The platform sported a battery of 3 x 20mm M-39 auto-firing cannons and up to 2,000lb of external stores. Cannons were placed two on the left side of the fuselage and one to the lower right. Gun firing was assisted via an automatic lead computing sight along with a radar ranging system. Bombing was assisted through LABS (Low Altitude Bombing System) and LADD (Low Angle Drogue Delivery) systems. Manual bomb release was provided for through DIRECT. Additionally, the model could carry one nuclear-tipped missile as needed. A-series models made up 3 squadrons and were produced in 75 examples. Performance allowed by the Pratt & Whitney J57-P-13 (15,000lb max thrust with afterburning) turbojet included a top speed of 1,009 miles per hour, a maximum service ceiling of 55,800 feet and a range nearing 1,900 miles.
The F-101B became a two-seat model and was produced to the tune of some 479 examples. The system was fielded with an arrangement of air-to-air missiles through a four-missile internal rotary weapons bay - initially consisting of 4 x AIM-4 Falcon air-to-air missiles (2 x AIM-4A semi-active radar-homing, 2 x AIM-4B infrared-guided). This later went on to include support for 2 x AIR-2 Genie nuclear rockets generally coupled with 2 x AIM-4C infrared-guided missiles. Missile management was through the Hughes MG-13 fire-control system. Power for the B-model was served through twin Pratt & Whitney J57-P-55 turbofan engines generating 14,880lb of thrust and offering afterburning capability. F-101B's served Air Defense Command and, at one point, made up 16 squadrons. Performance-wise, the B-model could reach speeds of up to 1,221 miles per hour with a ceiling of 54,800 feet and a range of 1,550 miles. Climb rate for the type equaled 36,500 feet per minute. Canada became the only foreign operator of the B-series Voodoo (CF-101B with the RCAF).
The F-101C model was a single-seat dedicated fighter-bomber derivative utilized by Tactical Air Command. This model served for only a short time but was still fielded in quantity, making up nine full squadrons for TAC. The F-101C entered service in May of 1957 but was already on its way out by early 1960. C-models were later upgraded (along with the A-models) with LADD and LABS bomb delivery systems for nuclear weapons deliveries at low altitudes. F-101C models never saw combat and were eventually replaced by F-4C Phantom models by 1966. However, in their converted RF-101C reconnaissance forms, F-101C models did see prolonged usage.
As a show of force, the Voodoo was the subject of American propaganda use in that the type was showcased in a variety of world record speed and endurance attempts. These attempts were single-minded and intended to show off to the Soviet Union the progression of American jet-powered technology. To prove the point, four RF-101A reconnaissance Voodoos launched from California, refueled in-flight, and one set of Voodoos reached the East Coast (New Jersey) while the other pair returned cross-country back to California. In another such attempt, Major Adrian Drew flew his F-101A Voodoo at speeds topping 1,207 miles-per-hour, setting a speed record in the process. Such were the capabilities of the new Voodoo that the aircraft was quickly respected by her pilots. Despite the A-model's intended 7.33 g allowance, the airframe was reportedly only able to withstand some 6.33 g forces. This inevitably led to the development of the improved and reinforced F-101C model which was physically and outwardly similar to A-models.
RF-101C "Long Bird" (USAF nickname) models (converted F-101C fighter-bombers sans armament) saw operational duty during the Cuban Missile Crisis and also became the first USAF fighters to arrive in the Vietnam War. RF-101C's were also the only Voodoo models to see active combat and found success in their intended reconnaissance role throughout the conflict. Though eventually overtaken in this role by the McDonnell F-4 Phantoms, the Voodoos displayed an impressive 35,000 sortie record to just 39 losses of their own. Their speed was definitely a major consideration for their success, outplaying the various MiG aircraft it encountered. ECM pods were later added to the mix in an effort to increase the reach of the Voodoo over hostile terrain though these decreased overall speeds enough to warrant protection of these slower Voodoos with capable escort fighters.
In 1961, Canada received 56 surplus F-101B Voodoos for their Royal Canadian Air Force inventory as CF-101B's. CF-101B's operated until 1985 to which they were inevitably replaced by more capable types. Additionally, Taiwan received several reconnaissance ("RF" designation) Voodoos for their Chinese Nationalist Air Force. On the whole, the US Air Force Voodoos performed their required roles into the early 1970's to which they were retired in1971. The US National Guard - another American Voodoo operator - flew their F-101's until 1983.
The F-101 Voodoo was truly a testament of advanced design concerning the changing face of warfare brought about by the jet age. As a "bridge design" between the early 1950's fighters and the early 1970's hotrods, Voodoos operated with distinction in both war and peacetime, setting several aviation speed and endurance records along the way. No doubt the Voodoo design had a direct influence on the magnificent McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II to come as these physical elements can clearly be seen between the two types of aircraft when compared side-by-side. In any regard, both aircraft went on to prove their worth in more ways than can, or ever will, be documented.