Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

F-101 Voodoo

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) the design was modified to perform a number of roles; photoreconnaissance, interceptor and close air support. Each role produced a different variant; the F-101A was a fighter-bomber, the 'B' was a two-seater interceptor, the RF-101A was for reconnaissance and the F-101F (or TF-101B) was a trainer. The F-101C was a modified A type specially strengthened for low-altitude operations. Voodoos used by the RCAF were given the CF prefix. D and E variants were proposed, powered by GE engines, but never built.

Table of contents
1 Background
2 F-101A
3 F-101B
4 Variants
5 General characteristics (F-101B)


An after-burner take-off by a
Canadian Air Force CF-101 Voodoo.
Taken from a second aircraft by
Capt W. Tarling.

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, 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 aircraft air intakes and a lengthened fuselage to triple 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-101 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.


Unexpectedly, the development was not cancelled; the aircraft attracted the attention of Tactical Air Command and the F-101 was repositioned as a multi-role fighter-bomber with either radar and fire-control for air-to-air or for low-altitude bombing. With the support of TAC testing was resumed, with Category II flight tests beginning in early 1955. A number of problems were identified and almost all were resolved, although the aircraft had a distressing habit of unexpected pitch up which 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 extended testing produced the safest aircraft in Air Force history.

The first F-101A was delivered in May 1957 to the 27th Strategic Fighter Wing, replacing their F-84F Thunderstreak. It was fitted with cannon and also designed to carry a 3,271 lb nuclear bomb. There were a number of publicity stunts: a JF-101A set a world speed record of 1,942 km/hr (1,207 mph) on December 12, 1957 (beating the Fairey Delta FD-2 record), a RF-101 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 305 F-101As were built. They were gradually withdrawn from service starting in 1966, and by around 1975 the last had been withdrawn. Some were transferred to the Air National Guard who operated with them until 1979. No F-101 saw combat, although reconnaissance versions were active during the Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam War.


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 Delta Dagger, 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.

The resulting F-101B was modified primarily in the nose area. A much larger and more rounded forward fuselage was needed to hold an air-search radar – and later an infra-red detector for short range visual cueing – a selection of missiles in an internal bay, and a second seat for the radar operator.

The F-101B was produced in greater numbers than the A model, with a total of 480 being delivered by the time the lines were shut down in 1961. Most of these were delivered to Air Defense Command, with the RCAF being the only other operator. The F-101B was withdrawn from USAF service from 1969 and served with the ANG until 1981. The last aircraft in active service were CF-101Bs with the RCAF, which were finally retired in 1985.


General characteristics (F-101B)