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McDonnell RF-101 Voodoo

Supersonic Tactical Reconnaissance Aircraft

United States | 1957

"The McDonnell RF-101 Voodoo became the first supersonic photographic-reconnaissance aircraft in the world when it arrived in 1957."

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 08/17/2019 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.
The inherently versatile nature of the original McDonnell Aircraft F-101 "Voodoo" (the single-seat, supersonic jet-powered "One-oh-Wonder") meant that the airframe lent itself well to several roles beyond that of fighter - twin-seat dedicated interceptor, advanced jet training, low-level fighter-bomber, and tactical reconnaissance roles. This proved the case when authorities of the United States Air Force (USAF) came calling in October of 1953, formally requesting a tactical reconnaissance version of the respected fighter. Before the end, over 800 Voodoos would be completed to which 286 (including developmental airframes) would emerge in the reconnaissance guise.

The original Voodoo airframe flew for the first time on September 29th, 1954 so development work on the reconnaissance form was not started until 1956 and, to expedite the program, no prototypes were ordered. Instead, a pair of developmental vehicles, designated "YRF-101A", were commissioned. The design was formally adopted and subsequently arrived in the USAF inventory in July of 1958. What followed were 35 "RF-101A" production models based in the now-proven YRF-101A design and these were used to succeed an aging stock of Martin RF-57 "Canberra" reconnaissance mounts in same over-battlefield role.

While most of the form and function of the original aircraft was retained, the RF-101 lost its ordnance-carrying capabilities, radar fit, and internal guns leaving its mission payload to be squarely centered on cameras and accompanying recording equipment (the fuselage centerline remained plumbed for fuel tanks or special mission-related installations). This resulted in a new, reshaped nose assembly which gave the RF-101 its distinct appearance when compared to the original F-101 fighter. Qualities carried over included the single-seat cockpit, triangular-shaped side-mounted intakes, twin side-by-side engine arrangement, and low-set sweptback wing mainplanes. The tail unit continued use of the T-plane arrangement and the horizontal members were slightly angled upwards. The tricycle undercarriage, wholly retractable under the aircraft, served in ground-running actions.

Despite its designation, the "RF-101B" aircraft would arrived later that other marks and were formed from twenty-two ex-Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) fighters now modified for the tactical reconnaissance role. These came online during the early part of the 1970s and were based highly in the Canadian CF-101B - again losing their weapons capability as well as radar fit while gaining cameras and an in-flight refueling boom. Their operating costs ensured a short service life in the end - the lot retired as soon as 1975.

From the F-101C production fighter emerged the definitive RF-101C "Long Bird" which took to the air for the first time on July 12th, 1957 and was adopted for operational service the following year. Unlike the A-models, the C-models retained the ordnance-carrying qualities of the F-101C fighter-bomber. Some 96 F-101C airframes were completed as RF-101C tactical reconnaissance performers and total production yielded 166 units before the end. These mounts were used during the tumultuous Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) period and flew dangerous sorties in the Vietnam War (1955-1975), in the latter until replaced by the McDonnell RF-4C "Phantom II" supersonic jet conversions of the excellent Phantom II fighter. C-models were active until 1979 and proved the only Voodoo variant to ever see wartime service.

The RF-101C held a running length of 69.2 feet with a span of 39.7 feet and a height of 18 feet. Maximum weight reached 51,100lb and power was from 2 x Pratt & Whitney J57 turbojet engines developing 15,000lb of thrust with afterburner. Performance specs included a maximum speed of 1,000 mph, a cruising speed near 550 mph, a range out to 2,060 miles, and a service ceiling up to 45,800 feet. This gave the aircraft excellent escape speeds as well as some defense by operating at high altitudes.

F-101A models continued to contribute to the Voodoo story for another twenty-nine of their kind were converted for reconnaissance use for the Air National Guard (ANG) under the designation of RF-101G. These were actively operated until 1972. F-101C models also lent some of their number to form the RF-101H variant to, again, stock the inventory of the ANG. Similarly, these were given up in 1972.

Beyond their service in Southeast Asia and stateside, RF-101 aircraft were also stationed in critical zones across Europe during the Cold War period.

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Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one aircraft design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the McDonnell RF-101C Supersonic Tactical Reconnaissance Aircraft.
2 x Pratt & Whitney J57 afterburning turbojet engines developing 15,000lb of thrust each with reheat.
1,000 mph
1,610 kph | 869 kts
Max Speed
48,556 ft
14,800 m | 9 miles
Service Ceiling
2,060 miles
3,315 km | 1,790 nm
Operational Range
35,500 ft/min
10,820 m/min
City-to-City Ranges
Operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
The nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip physical qualities of the McDonnell RF-101C Supersonic Tactical Reconnaissance Aircraft.
69.2 ft
21.09 m
O/A Length
39.7 ft
(12.10 m)
O/A Width
18.0 ft
(5.48 m)
O/A Height
28,660 lb
(13,000 kg)
Empty Weight
51,147 lb
(23,200 kg)
Design Balance
The three qualities reflected below are altitude, speed, and range. The more full the box, the more balanced the design.
Available supported armament and special-mission equipment featured in the design of the McDonnell RF-101 Voodoo Supersonic Tactical Reconnaissance Aircraft .
None. Mission equipment relegated to cameras and recording systems.
Notable series variants as part of the McDonnell RF-101 Voodoo family line.
RF-101 "Voodoo" - Base Series Designation.
YRF-101A - Pair of F-101A production aircraft modified to the tactical reconnaissance role for testing.
RF-101A - Initial production model; 35 examples completed.
RF-101B - RCAF F-101B fighter-bombers converted to the tactical reconnaissance role; 22 examples.
RF-101C "Long Bird" - F-101C fighter-bomber production aircraft converted to definitive tactical reconnaissance forms; 166 completed.
RF-101G - F-101A production aircraft completed for tactical reconnaissance to serve the Air National Guard (ANG); 29 examples.
RF-101H - F-101C production aircraft converted to the tactical reconnaissance role; 32 examples completed.
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the McDonnell RF-101 Voodoo. Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.

Total Production: 286 Units

Contractor(s): McDonnell Aircraft - USA
National flag of the United States

[ United States ]
Relative Max Speed
Hi: 1100mph
Lo: 550mph
Aircraft Max Listed Speed (1,000mph).

Graph Average of 825 MPH.
Era Crossover
Pie graph section
Showcasing Aircraft Era Crossover (if any)
Max Alt Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Production Comparison
Entry compared against Ilyushin IL-2 (military) and Cessna 172 (civilian) total production.
MACH Regime (Sonic)
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030
Aviation Timeline
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Mission Roles
Some designs are single-minded in their approach while others offer a more versatile solution to airborne requirements.
Some designs stand the test of time while others are doomed to never advance beyond the drawing board; let history be their judge.
Going Further...
The McDonnell RF-101 Voodoo Supersonic Tactical Reconnaissance Aircraft appears in the following collections:
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