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F-101A single-seat fighter

The first F-101A (53-2418) was delivered in August of 1954, right on schedule. After completing some ground trials in St. Louis, it was shipped out to Edwards AFB. It took off on its maiden flight on September 29, 1954, McDonnell test pilot Robert C. Little being at the controls. He reached Mach 0.9 at 35,000 feet. Less than a month later, maximum speed had progressively been pushed to Mach 1.4.

In the meantime, the USAF had changed its mind yet again about its requirements. They now concluded that the range of the F-101A, impressive as it was, was not nearly large enough to be able to escort SAC's bombers all the way to the target. Consequently, the Strategic Air Command no longer believed in the viability of the F-101 concept and lost any interest in the aircraft as an escort fighter. Ordinarily, this would have been the end of the line for the F-101A project, and the F-101 would have been consigned to oblivion along with its XF-88 predecessor. Fortunately, the Tactical Air Command (TAC) saw the potential of the aircraft as a nuclear-armed fighter-bomber and requested that the F-101A be acquired by them under the aegis of Weapon System WS-105A. This designation corresponded to a short-lived Pentagon fad of assigning a "WS" number to its ships, tanks, and aircraft. Consequently, the F-101A that finally emerged became a hybrid aircraft, fitted with APS-54 radar and a MA-7 fire-control system for the air-to-air role, and a LABS (Low-Altitude Bombing System) for the delivery of nuclear bombs.

On October 28, 1954, the Air Force lifted its production hold order, permitting McDonnell to proceed with full-scale production. Three other F-101As were accepted before the end of 1954. They immediately began to undergo Category I flight tests. Category II flight tests began in January of 1955, and at this time, problems appeared with engine compressor stall. A redesign of the internal intake layout and engine compressor modifications cleared up these problems.

By mid-1956 the continued testing of the 29 F-101As which had been accepted by the USAF up to that time had turned up a number of structural, propulsion, aerodynamic, and armament problems. Perhaps the most serious of these was a tendency of the aircraft to pitch-up, a problem which was never fully corrected even after much effort. Brigadier General Robin Olds, who commanded a Voodoo wing, reported that it did not take very much to make a F-101A suddenly and without warning to go into pitch-up, even while cruising. The angle of attack needed to achieve lift with full flaps and drop tanks was very close to the pitch-up stall point, where the flow of air over the wings created a downflow over the tail slab. On January 10, 1956, Major Lonnie R. Moore, a Korean War ace with 10 kills to his credit, was killed in a F-101A pitch-up mishap at Eglin AFB, Florida.

Citing numerous still-unsolved problems with the F-101, in May of 1956 the USAF ordered that production be halted yet again. Although the hold order did not last very long, F-101A production remained limited to only eight airplanes per month throughout most of the remainder of 1956. During this period, McDonnell spent most of its time in modifying existing F-101As rather than in building new ones. Some 300 USAF-recommended changes were incorporated, plus some 2000 company-devised improvements.

It took a long time for McDonnell to develop any sort of cure for the pitch-up problem. McDonnell fitted an active inhibitor which helped to clear up the pitch-up problem, at least partially. Satisfied with the active inhibitor installed by McDonnell, the Air Force finally rescinded its May production restrictions on November 26, 1956. Nevertheless, the pitch-up problem was never completely cured, and remained a nuisance throughout the Voodoo's service life. Also never resolved was a problem encountered in retracting the forward-folding nosewheel--beyond a speed of about 90 mph, it simply would not go up.

The F-101A was armed with four 20-mm cannon and could carry a single 1620 lb or 3271-lb "special store", i.e., a nuclear bomb. The F-101As were equipped with the MA-7 fire control system as well with the LABS (Low-altitude Bombing System) for toss-release of their nuclear bombs. The F-101A could not carry or deliver conventional bombs.

The first Voodoo delivered to an operational unit was a F-101A which reached the 27th Strategic Fighter Wing at Bergstrom AFB on May 2, 1957. The last of 77 F-101As was delivered on November 21, 1957. Of the 77 F-101As accepted, only 50 of them actually reached operational units. The rest were used for experimental and test purposes to iron out various bugs and never attained actual service.

On July 1, 1957, the 27th Strategic Fighter Wing was transferred to the Tactical Air Command and became the 27th Fighter-Bomber Wing. The Wing had previously operated the F-84F Thunderstreak. The F-101A was assigned the mission of nuclear strike, carrying a single nuclear bomb on its underfuselage centerline.

On September 25, 1958, an F-101A flew 1896 miles between Carswell AFB in Texas to Bermuda, completing the longest nonstop/nonrefuelled flight yet accomplished in a Century Series fighter.

Once the problem with the tendency to pitch-up had been addressed by the installation of an active inhibitor, the F-101A established an excellent safety record. In fact, the F-101A had the lowest first-year accident rate of any operational fighter in Air Force history.

The F-101A began leaving the USAF inventory in 1965-66, when 27 of them were transferred to the Air National Guard. By mid-1970, accidents, transfers, cannibalizations, and conversions had whittled down the USAF's F-101A fleet to only a couple of planes.

The ninth F-101A (52-2426) was bailed to Pratt & Whitney to serve as a testbed for the more powerful J57-P-55 engines planned for the F-101B interceptor. It was given the designation JF-101A, the "J" prefix indicating a temporary change of configuration for test purposes. The new engine installations offered an afterburning thrust of 16,000 pounds, and featured a large extension of the jetpipe to accommodate the longer afterburner section. Additional air scoops were installed underneath the rear fuselage for afterburner cooling. The JF-101A was used by Major Adrian E. Drew to set a new absolute world speed record of 1207.6 mph on December 12, 1957, taking the record away from the British Fairey Delta FD-2.

The first F-101A was bailed to General Electric in 1958 as a testbed for the J79-GE-1 turbojet. The designation NF-101A was assigned to this modification, the N prefix indicating a permanent change in configuration for test purposes. This aircraft was test flown with two J79s in 1958-59 before being retired to Amarillo AFB in Texas as a ground maintenance trainer.

Following their removal from active USAF service in 1965, eighteen ex-USAF F-101As (serial numbers 54-1445, 4119, 1452, 1455, 1457, 1461, 1462, 1463, 1468, 1469, 1470, 1472, 1475, 1479, 1481, 1482, 1484, and 1485) were modified by Lockheed Aircraft Service Company of Ontario, California to serve as unarmed reconnaissance aircraft by the Air National Guard. The armament was removed and new nose cones housing cameras were installed. These aircraft were redesignated RF-101G. As compared to the RF-101A dedicated photo-reconnaissance version of the F-101A, the RF-101G had a shorter and broader nose. Along with the RF-101H (an equivalent conversion of the F-101C), they served with the 154th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron of the Arkansas ANG, with the 165th TRS of the Kentucky ANG, and the 192nd TRS of the Nevada ANG. Beginning in 1970, these aircraft were supplemented by RF-101Cs retired from active USAF stocks. The last reconnaissance Voodoos were withdrawn from ANG service in 1979.

Serials of F-101A:
53-2418/2422            McDonnell F-101A-1-MC Voodoo
                                2418,2421/2425,2427 converted to JF-101A
53-2423/2430            McDonnell F-101A-5-MC Voodoo
53-2431/2436            McDonnell F-101A-10-MC Voodoo
53-2437/2446            McDonnell F-101A-15-MC Voodoo
54-1438/1443            McDonnell F-101A-20-MC Voodoo
54-1444/1452            McDonnell F-101A-25-MC Voodoo
                                1445 converted to RF-101G
                                1449 converted to RF-101G
                                1451,1452 converted to RF-101G
54-1453/1465            McDonnell F-101A-30-MC Voodoo
                                1453/1455 converted to RF-101G
                                1457 converted to RF-101G
                                1459/1464 converted to RF-101G
54-1466/1485            McDonnell F-101A-35-MC Voodoo
                                1466 converted to RF-101G
                                1468 converted to RF-101G
                                1470 converted to RF-101G
                                1472,1473 converted to RF-101G 
                                1475/1477 converted to RF-101G 
                                1479 converted to RF-101G
                                1481,1482 converted to RF-101G 
                                1484,1485 converted to RF-101G 

Specification of the F-101A:

Engine: Two Pratt & Whitney J57-P-13 turbojets, 10,200 lb.s.t. dry and 15,000 lb.s.t. with afterburner. Dimensions: wingspan 39 feet 8 inches, length 67 feet 5 inches, height 18 feet 0 inches, wing area 368 square feet. Performance: Maximum speed 1009 mph at 35,000 feet. Initial climb rate 44,100 feet/min. Service ceiling 55,800 feet, combat ceiling 49,450 feet. Normal range 1900 miles, maximum range 2925 miles. Weights: 24,970 pounds empty, 48,120 pounds gross, 39,495 pounds combat weight, 50,000 pounds maximum takeoff. Fuel: Maximum internal fuel load was 2341 US gallons. A total of three under-fuselage drop tanks could be carried, bringing maximum fuel load to 3467 US gallons. Armament: Four 20-mm Pontiac M-39 cannon in the nose with 200 rpg. A single "special store" (i.e., nuclear bomb) could be carried on the underfuselage centerline.


McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Since 1920: Volume II, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1990.

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Aircraft Armament, Bill Gunston, Orion, 1988.

United States Military Aircraft Since 1909, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Smithsonian, 1989.

The American Fighter, Enzo Angelucci and Peter Bowers, Orion, 1987.

Fighters of the United States Air Force, Robert F. Dorr and David Donald, Temple Press Aerospace, 1990.

American Combat Planes, Third Enlarged Edition, Ray Wagner, Doubleday, 1982.

Post-World War II Fighters, 1945-1973, Marcelle Size Knaack, Office of Air Force History, 1986.

McDonnell F-88/F-101 Voodoo Variant Briefing, Robert F. Dorr, Wings of Fame, Vol 1, 1996.

Webmaster's note: All of the information above is provided by a friend of the FISRG, Joe Baugher (jbaugher@worldnet.att.net)

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