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Voodoo: McDonnell’s F-One-Oh-Wonder Century Series Fighter

The F-101 Voodoo Was a Record Setter But Handling Was Challenging

The F-101 Voodoo evolved along with the missions it flew eventually leading to 25 years of distinguished service in the US Air Force.

On March 13th 1961, McDonnell delivered the last of 807 F-101B Voodoos to the United States Air Force. The F-101 was a record-setting design that was originally conceived as a bomber escort fighter but was adapted to perform photo-reconnaissance and interception missions. The Air Defense Command (ADC) and Air National Guard (ANG) also operated two-seat F-101Bs for 13 years.

The first Voodoo prototype (designated XF-88) took to their from Muroc (Later Edwards) Air Force Base (AFB) on October 20th 1948. Performance of the new fighter was inadequate with the originally installed Westinghouse J34 engines. During the development of the F-101, the Air Force decided that the Voodoo should be tasked with bomber escort as opposed to interception. The resulting changes to the design yielded an almost entirely different aircraft. In November of 1951 the Voodoo received its F-101 designator reflecting the radical changes to the original design.

Major changes to the original Voodoo included additional fuel capacity and larger and more powerful Pratt & Whitney J57 engines, along with modification to the intakes in order to provide more air to the engines. The Voodoo’s horizontal control surfaces were also moved, resulting in the signature F-101 T-tail.

The first production F-101A, Air Force serial number 53-2418, was first flown by McDonnell test pilot Robert C. Little on September 29th 1954 at Edwards AFB. But the end of the war in Korea and the advent of the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress had changed Air Force priorities, resulting in the Voodoo no longer being needed as a long-range escort fighter. However, Tactical Air Command (TAC) had plans for the fledgling fighter.

By Clemens Vasters from Viersen, Germany (McDonnell F-101B Voodoo) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
TAC saw the Voodoo as a potential fighter-bomber tasked with carrying a single Mark 28 nuclear weapon. Development of the F-101A continued and culminated when the first F-101A was delivered to the 27th Strategic Fighter Wing on May 2nd 1957. The 27th became a TAC unit shortly thereafter. Also capable of toting the Mark 7, Mark 43, and Mark 57 nuclear weapons, the F-101A more often carried Falcon air-to-air missiles, conventional bombs, or rockets along with its four internally mounted 20 millimeter M39 cannons.

The F-101A never did use any of the weapons it was designed to carry. Only 77 F-101As were built and most of them were modified to the RF-101A variant to perform aerial photo reconnaissance. The RF-101As were eventually phased out of service in 1972. RF-101As from the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing flew reconnaissance sorties over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis out of Shaw AFB in South Carolina during October of 1962.

The improved RF-101C reconnaissance variant saw combat in Vietnam. Photo Voodoos relied on their speed to get in, get the pictures, and get out quickly. All told the RF-101Cs flew 35,000 sorties and 39 of them were lost (all causes). After rotating stateside from Vietnam, RF-101Cs remained in service until 1979.

The two-seat F-101B was essentially an interim design intended to fill a gap in the ADC interceptor ranks until newer designs would be ready. F-101Bs first became operational with the 60th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron on January 5th 1959.

The F-101B had a lengthened fuselage required to accommodate a tandem two-seat cockpit and the Hughes MG-13 fire control radar. Also equipped with more powerful engines and the distinctive external afterburners mounted out behind the airplane, the F-101B Voodoo was capable of flying at Mach 1.85.

The F-101B was updated over time to internally carry differing loadouts of conventional and nuclear air-to-air missiles, and later to employ heat-seeking missiles with the nose-mounted infrared sighting and tracking (IRST) system. Many of the operational F-101Bs eventually received upgrades and modifications to the F-101F standards during the late 1970s.

McDonnell produced a total of 807 F-101s (all variants). A total of 479 F-101Bs had been produced when production of the Voodoo came to a close in March of 1961. The majority of them were delivered directly to ADC beginning in January of 1959. Voodoos served with ADC through 1972.

The ANG then used the F-101B to replace its F-102 Delta Daggers and flew them until 1982. The last ANG F-101B “One-oh-Wonder” was retired on September 21st 1982 at Tyndall AFB in Florida. The Air Force replaced most of them with the F-4 Phantom II.

Although pitch control, inertial roll coupling, and missile issues inherent in the design of the Voodoo made it tricky to fly it still served a remarkably long career of 25 years. The Voodoo’s most important contribution to aviation may be that it was McDonnell Douglas’s stepping stone to the F-4 Phantom II, which incorporated the placement of the horizontal control surfaces above and behind the engine exhausts, the twin afterburning engines, and crew of two for interception missions.

The only foreign operator of the Voodoo was Canada. Between 1961 and 1987 the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) operated CF-101B Voodoos primarily as interceptors. An interesting fact about the Canadian Voodoos is that between 1970 and 1972, Canada actually swapped 56 of their original CF-101B Voodoos back to the United States Air Force for 66 replacements.

Operation Peace Wings saw airframes that had actually been manufactured before the initial batch of CF-101Bs replace the newer Canadian Voodoos. This was acceptable because though chronologically older, the replacement airframes had fewer flight hours on them. They had also received upgrades and modifications that the original CF-101Bs had not.

22 of the returned CF-101Bs were then converted to RF-101B photo-reconnaissance variants. These recon birds served with the High Rollers of the Nevada Air National Guard until 1975.

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Bill Walton

Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.

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