The Thin Aluminum Line
Supersonic airplanes and a screen of radar stood ready during the cold war to avert the end of the world.
- By Carl Posey
- Air & Space magazine, January 2007
David Peters; Sources: NASM (SI Neg. #85-16420); NASM (SI Neg. #1B44791); SOVFOTO
(Page 8 of 10)
During the development of the F-106, Convair struggled with recurring delays. The Air Force had hedged its bet with another interceptor program.
Designers took another look backward. This time the Air Force revisited the McDonnell XF-88, a defunct candidate for bomber escort and long-range penetration missions, and asked the builder to create its own Ultimate Interceptor. The result was the F-101 Voodoo.
The F-101 made its first flight in May 1954, but the airplane would undergo thousands of modifications over several years before making its debut. The vastly improved F-101B was first flown in 1957, and after a good deal of further honing, the first began service with the Air Defense Command in 1957. As Voodoo orders increased, F-106 orders declined.
The Voodoo variation on the Ultimate Interceptor theme was a big, twin-engine, comfortably supersonic (about Mach 1.7) two-seater with long legs, a Hughes MA-12 fire control system, and SAGE compatibility.
The Voodoo would become a mainstay of Canada’s North American air defense. Canada had been flying the Avro CF-100 Canuck, an indigenous twin-engine jet affectionately known as the “Clunk” for the sound made by its gear retracting.
For a replacement, Canada had started its own Ultimate Interceptor program. The Avro CF-105 Arrow was a supersonic, twin-engine delta wing, armed to the teeth. It was also expensive. With no customers, the program was canceled in 1959; on a single afternoon Avro sacked 20,000 employees (see “Fallen Arrow,” Apr./May 1998).
The United States sent Canada
BOMARC surface-to-air missiles as an alternative. (The name is a combination of the system’s creators: Boeing and the Michigan Aeronautical Research Center.) But when the controversial defense system came to an end over cost and performance issues, the Canadian government decided a supersonic interceptor might be the answer after all. Canada quickly put the Voodoos to work chasing Soviet Bears in a mission called Cold Shaft (see “Chasing Bears,” p. 34).