F-101 Voodoo

F-101 Voodoo
An after-burner take-off by a Royal Canadian Air Force CF-101 Voodoo
An after-burner take-off by a Royal Canadian Air Force CF-101 Voodoo
RoleFighter bomber
Length67.42 ft20.55 m
Wingspan39.66 ft12.09 m
Height18 ft5.49 m
Wing area368 ft²34.19 m²
Empty28,970 lb13,141 kg
Loaded51,000 lb23,133 kg
Maximum take-off52,400 lb23,768 kg
EnginesTwo Pratt & Whitney J57-P-13 turbojet engines
Thrust15,000 lbf66.73 kN each
Maximum speed1,009 mph1,624 km/h
Combat range1,520 mi2446 km
Ferry range1,930 mi3,106 km
Service ceiling38,900 ft11,857 m
Rate of climb49,200 ft/min14,996 m/min
GunsFour 20 mm M39 cannons
Bombsone Mk 7 or B28 nuclear bomb

The McDonnell F-101 Voodoo was a supersonic military aircraft flown by the USAF and the RCAF. Initially designed as a long-range bomber escort (known as a penetration fighter) for the Strategic Air Command, the Voodoo served in a variety of other roles, including the fighter bomber, all-weather interceptor, and photo reconnaissance roles. Reconnaissance Voodoos saw extensive service during the Vietnam War.



Initial design work on what would eventually become the Voodoo began just after WW II, in response to a contract by the newly formed USAF for a long-range high performance fighter to escort bombers, much as the P-51 had in WWII. Designated the XF-88, a prototype first flew from Muroc on October 20, 1948. The military rejected the need for bomber escort, but experience over Korea indicated that the current bombers were vulnerable to fighter interception. In 1951 the USAF issued a requirement for an escort and designs from all the major manufacturers were submitted. The McDonnell design was a larger and higher powered version of the XF-88, and won the bid in May 1951. The F-88 was redesignated the F-101 Voodoo in November 1951.

Design work was relatively simple, as the only major change from the initial specification was to change the Westinghouse turbojets for a much more powerful Pratt & Whitney design. The new engines required certain changes to the intakes and a lengthened fuselage to triple the fuel load. The design was approved, and an order for 39 F-101As was placed in May 1953, without any prototype stage.

The first flight of the F-101A was on September 29, 1954. The end of the war in Korea and the development of the B-52 negated the need for fighter escort and Strategic Air Command withdrew from the program.


F-101A / RF-101G

Despite SAC's loss of interest, the aircraft attracted the attention of Tactical Air Command, and the F-101 was repositioned as a fighter bomber, intended to carry a single nuclear weapon for use against battlefield targets such as airfields. With the support of TAC, testing was resumed, with Category II flight tests beginning in early 1955. A number of problems were identified during development. Many of these were resolved, although the aircraft had a dangerous tendency toward unexpected pitch-up that was never entirely solved. Around 2,300 improvements were made to the aircraft in 1955–56 before full production was resumed in November 1956.

The first F-101A was delivered in May 1957 to the 27th Strategic Fighter Wing, replacing their F-84F Thunderstreak. The F-101A had two P&W J57-P-13 turbojets each with 10,200 lb (45.38 kN) dry and 15,000 lb (66.73 kN) afterburning thrust. It had MA-7 fire-control radar for both air-to-air and air-to-ground use, augmented by an MA-2 toss-bombing system for delivering nuclear weapons. It was fitted with four M39 cannon, and designed to carry a Mk 28 nuclear bomb (although it was theoretically capable of carrying conventional bombs or rockets, the Voodoo never used such weapons operationally). In service, one cannon was often removed to make room for a TACAN beacon receiver.

There were a number of speed records set as publicity stunts: a JF-101A set a world speed record of 1,942 km/h (1,207 mph) on December 12, 1957 (beating the Fairey Delta FD-2 record), a RF-101A flew Los Angeles-New York-Los Angeles in 6 hours, 46 minutes and a F-101A flew from Carswell, Texas to Bermuda without refueling.

A total of 77 F-101As was built. They were gradually withdrawn from service starting in 1966. 29 survivors were converted to RF-101G standard, with reconnaissance cameras in place of cannon and radar. These served with the Air National Guard through 1972.


In October 1953 the USAF requested that two F-101As be built as prototype YRF-101A tactical reconnaissance aircraft. These were followed by 35 RF-101A production aircraft. The RF-101A shared the airframe of the F-101A including its 6.33 g (62 m/s²) limit, but replaced the radar and cannon with a chisel nose and nose package for up to six cameras. It was unusual in having provision for both flying boom and probe-and-drogue in-flight refueling. It entered service in May 1957, replacing the RB-57 Canberra.

USAF RF-101As flew reconnaissance sorties over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.

In October 1959 eight RF-101As were transferred to Taiwan, which used them for overflights of the Chinese mainland. Two were reportedly shot down.

F-101B /CF-101B / EF-101B

In the late 1940s the Air Force had started a research project into future interceptor aircraft that eventually settled on an advanced specification known as the 1954 interceptor. Contracts for this specification eventually resulted in the selection of the F-102, but by 1952 it was becoming clear that none of the parts of the specification other than the airframe would be ready by 1954: the engines, weapons and fire control systems were all going to take too long to get into service. An effort was then started to quickly produce an interim supersonic design to replace the various subsonic interceptors then in service, and the F-101 airframe was selected as a starting point.

Missing image
A unique EF-101B, used as a radar target by the RCAF

Although McDonnell proposed the designation F-109 for the new aircraft (which was to be a substantial departure from the basic Vooodo), the USAF assigned the designation F-101B. The Voodoo was modified to carry a crew of two, with a larger and more rounded forward fuselage to hold a Hughes MA-13 fire control radar. It had transponders linking it to the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system, allowing it to be steered onto targets by ground controllers. The -B had P & W J57-P-55 engines each with 10,700 lb (44.47 kN) dry and 15,000 lb (66.77 kN) afterburning thrust, making it the only Voodoo not using the -13 engines.

The F-101B had no cannon. Instead, it carried four Falcon air-to-air missiles on a rotating door in the fuselage weapons bay. Initial load was two GAR-1 (AIM-4A) semi-active radar homing and two GAR-2 (AIM-4D) infrared-guided weapons. After the first two missiles were fired, the door flipped over to expose the second pair. Standard practice was to fire the weapons in SARH/IR pairs to increase the likelihood of a hit. Late-production models had provision for two MB-1/AIR-2 Genie nuclear rockets in place of two of the Falcons, and Project 'Kitty Car' upgraded most earlier F-101Bs to this standard beginning in 1961.

From 1961 through 1966, F-101Bs were upgraded under Project 'Bright Horizon,' fitting them with a retractable infrared sighting and tracking (IRST) system in the nose in place of the standard in-flight refueling probe.

The F-101B was produced in greater numbers than the -A model, with a total of 479 being delivered by the time the lines were shut down in 1961. Most of these were delivered to Air Defense Command beginning in January 1959. There is a website devoted in large part to the F-101B and the USAF military personnel of the 60th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron (FIS) located at Otis AFB on Cape Cod, MA from 1959 to 1971. The URL is http://www.fisrg.com and visitors are always welcome.

The only foreign customer for the F-101B was Canada. For more details on the history of the Voodoo in Canada, see CF-101 Voodoo.

The F-101B was withdrawn from ADC service from 1969 to 1972. Surviving USAF aircraft were transferred to the Air National Guard, where they served until 1982.

TF-101B / F-101F / CF-101F

Some of the -Bs were completed as dual-control operational trainer aircraft, initially dubbed TF-101B, later redesignated F-101F. 79 new-build -Fs were manufactured, and 152 more existing aircraft were later modified with dual controls. 10 of these were supplied to Canada under the designation CF-101F. These were later replaced with 10 updated aircraft in 1971.


In the early 1970s a batch of 22 ex-RCAF CF-101Bs were returned to the USAF and converted to RF-101B reconnaissance aircraft, with radar and weapons bay replaced with a package of three KS-87B cameras and two AXQ-2 TV cameras. An in-flight refueling boom was fitted. These aircraft served with the 192nd Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron of the ANG through 1975. They were costly to operate and maintain, and had a short service life.

F-101C / RF-101H

The F-101A had been accepted into Tactical Air Command service despite a number of problems. Among others, its airframe had proven to be capable of withstanding only 6.33 g (62 m/s²) maneuvers rather than the intended 7.33 g (72 m/s²). An improved model, the F-101C, was introduced in 1957. It had a 500 lb (227 kg) heavier structure to allow 7.33 g maneuvers, as well as a revised fuel system to increase the maximum flight time in afterburner. There was little obvious difference between F-101A and F-101C models other than the serial numbers. 47 were produced.

The F-101C was stationed in the United Kingdom to be within closer striking range of Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces. Originally serving with the 27th Tactical Fighter Wing, the -C was transferred to the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing, which operated three squadrons from RAF air station Bentwaters/Woodbridge. Operational F-101Cs were upgraded in service with Low Angle Drogued Delivery (LADD) and Low Altitude Bombing System (LABS) equipment for the delivery of nuclear weapons at extremely low altitudes. Pilots were trained for one-way missions into Soviet territory.

The F-101C never saw combat, and was replaced in 1966 with the F-4C. 32 aircraft were later converted for unarmed recce use under the configuration RF-101H. They served with Air National Guard units until 1972.


Based on the strengthened airframe of the F-101C, the RF-101C first flew on 12 July, 1957, entering service in 1958. The RF-101C had six cameras in place of radar and cannon, as with the RF-101A. Unlike the RF-101A, the RF-101C retained a secondary role as a nuclear strike aircraft, able to carry a single nuclear weapon on the centerline pylon. 166 were built, including 96 originally scheduled to be F-101C fighter-bombers.

In 1964 Project 'Toy Tiger' fitted some RF-101Cs with a new camera package and a centerline pod for photo-flash cartridges. Some were further upgraded with the Mod 1181 program with automatic control for the cameras.

The RF-101C saw service during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and was sent to Vietnam as early as 1961, the first USAF jet aircraft to serve. RF-101Cs saw heavy service during the Vietnam War from 1965 through November 1970, when it was replaced by the RF-4C. In some 35,000 sorties, 44 were lost, 31 to anti-aircraft fire, five to SAMs, one to an airfield attack, six to operational accidents, and only one in air combat. The RF-101C's speed made it largely immune to MiG interception. That changed somewhat from April 1967, when ALQ-71 ECM pods were fitted to defend against SAMs. Although they made the Voodoo again able to operate at medium altitude, the added drag cost enough speed to leave the RF-101 vulnerable to MiGs, requiring fighter escort.

After withdrawal from Vietnam, the RF-101C continued to serve with USAF units through 1979.

In service, the RF-101C was nicknamed 'Long Bird.' It was the only Voodoo to see combat.

Variant summary

  • F-101A - initial production fighter bomber, 77 produced
  • NF-101A - one F-101A bailed to General Electric for testing General Electric J79 engine
  • YRF-101A - two F-101As built as prototype reconnaissance models
  • RF-101A - first reconnaissance version, 35 built
  • F-101B - two-seat interceptor, 479 built
  • CF-101B - 112 F-101Bs transferred to Canada's RCAF
  • RF-101B - 22 ex-RCAF CF-101B modified for reconnaissance use
  • TF-101B - dual-control trainer version of F-101B, redesignated F-101F; 79 built
  • EF-101B - single F-101B converted for use as a radar target and leased to Canada
  • NF-101B - single prototype of F-101B based on F-101A airframe; a second was built with a different nose configuration, later used for testing
  • F-101C - improved fighter-bomber, 47 built
  • RF-101C - reconnaissance version of F-101C airframe, 166 built
  • F-101D - projected version with GE engine, not built
  • F-101E - similarly
  • F-101F - dual-control trainer version of F-101B; 79 redesignated TF-101Bs plus 152 converted F-101B
  • CF-101F - RCAF designation for 20 TF-101B/F-101F dual-control aircraft
  • TF-101F - 24 dual-control versions of F-101B, redesignated F-101F (these are included in the -F total)
  • RF-101G - 29 F-101As converted for ANG reconnaissance
  • RF-101H - 32 F-101Cs converted for reconnaissance use

External links

  • USAF Museum: Information on XF-88 (http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/research/fighter/f88.htm), F-101B in collection (http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/annex/an17.htm), RF-101C in collection (http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/modern_flight/mf55.htm), and information on the F-101B (http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/research/fighter/f101b.htm), and the RF-101A and C (http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/research/fighter/f101c.htm).
Related content
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XF-98 - F-99 - F-100 - F-101 - F-102 - XF-103 - F-104

Related lists List of military aircraft of the United States - List of fighter aircraft

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