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Flying The F-102A

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By Walt BJ


I logged almost 1500 hours in the F-102A and its ugly brother the TF [two-seat trainer].It was a delightful airplane to fly, light on the controls, and a good formation bird. It had great performance compared with the F-94/F-86D/F-89 group. It could reach about Mach .93 in military [power setting] and 1.3 in AB [afterburner]. I first flew the Deuce in 1958. It was sprightly then, but by the time it was being phased out the engines had lost some oomph ... and I doubt if any Deuce could reach 1.3 M [when Bush was flying it]. Properly maintained the radar was every bit as good as the F4's.... It had good range even clean [on internal fuel]: 950 miles clean, 1300 with wing tanks.


Now For The Bad Points.

1. [The pilot] couldn't see back - 60 degree blind cone to rear.

2. Fuel was in two sets of wing tanks. An equalizer was supposed to make sure you ran dry simultaneously; often it didn't and you had to juggle the boost pumps to keep an equal amount in both wings. Get too busy and you could flame out due to an air bubble from the empty side.

3. The canopy had to go before you could eject--its metal top precluded ejecting through it.

4. No guns, not even one.

5. Wrong engine. The J57 was a good engine but the first engine, the Gyron, never made it into service. The second one was the Olympus but it was way delayed. There was about a foot space between the J57 and the inside fuselage.

6. Weak [landing] gear--limit touchdown at typical landing weights was 540 feet per minute.

7. No internal air compressor. It used HP air to launch missiles and rockets, start the engine if no 3000 psi Joy unit was around, brakes, and emergency gear extension. The F84F had a compressor, why not the Deuce?

8. No AIM9 rails - why not?

9. The Deuce was skinned with 7075ST which was not Alclad and therefore the bird had to be painted to prevent (alleviate?) corrosion. This added weight and in later days drag from touched up paint jobs.


You Weren't Coming Back

As for a real continental air defense mission: our conclusion was you weren't coming back. Either the prompt radiation from a TNW [nuke] was going to get you or you were going to have to stop the bomber no matter what. A 20 megaton bomb going off 60 miles away from a fighter at 40,000 ft gives the crew something like 3,000 rad right now. Air up there is too skinny to soak up the gammas.

The delta configuration can be treacherous if you don't watch out. The Deuce could develop one hell of a sink rate if you got too slow. Just pulling the nose up and adding a little bit of power results in a higher sink rate. Getting careless on final approach was dangerous. It could just hold level flight at 115 KIAS and full afterburner with about a 35 degree angle of attack. Getting out of that state required lowering the nose (and losing altitude) to reduce the induced drag to where the bird could accelerate. This was insidious because the bird was controllable in all three axes. Pulling power to idle at 115 knots left you in apparent 'level' flight but the vertical velocity indicator was pegged--downward.

Pulling G: it could develop about 6.5 G at 300 KIAS, but stay there too long and all your airspeed disappeared real quick. It could fly a tighter overhead pattern than any other century series fighter, but pull too many G and the downwind would be in so close it'd take a 90-degree bank to make the base turn. WingCos [wing commanders] got red-faced when they saw that.

Its absolute altitude was 59,000-plus feet, subsonic, in full AB. Got up there once after completing a test hop. I had read that Jackie Cochrane had set a level flight altitude record in a T-38 of something like 54,000, and I thought the Deuce could top that. It did, handily.

[The F-102A] it was good XC bird and had lots of carry room. There was the main electronic bay behind the cockpit where two guys coudl get in and close the hatch. I have it on good authority that eight cases of Crown Royal would fit in there. We generally used the missile bay [for baggage] because we normally didn't take the missiles on cross countries. Some bases (SAC) got huffy if you had ordnance aboard.

With the yaw damper off, top speed was limited to about Mach .85 because as you got transsonic the bird would start an impressive Dutch roll that got worse at you neared .95 and you couldn't stop it without slowing down. Dampers on, it was smooth and stable. It could be flown at low mach (.6) without any dampers but like the Zipper wallowed a bit. As you got above .9 the aero center moving aft required nose-up trim.

The Case XX conical cambered wing (turned down leading edge) was retrofittted to all F-102As and it was much improved on touchdown having a very noticeable ground effect cushion and a faster cruise for the same power setting.


Interesting Times

As for the nuke picture, the GAR11/AIM26 aka Fat Falcon had about a freight car load of TNT yield--rather smaller than 0.25 kilotons. Its purpose was to destroy the enemy weapons, not the carry vehicle--that was a "collateral" kill. I suppose you could say it was the first neutron bomb because the neutron flux from detonation was intended to initiate enough of a reaction in the enemy active material to raise its temperature enough to melt the material and/or explode the conventional explosives and thus prevent full design yield from being obtained. Thsi was important since the obvious step of arming the weapons once over enemy territory (USA/Canada) had to be acknowledged. This, of course, to prevent possible salvage of the valuable active material from an un-detonated weapon if the carrier was downed. As for the 20 MT TNW, yes, we were briefed. Since the fireball is about 39,000 feet in diameter, it didn't matter much if it was air or ground burst.

I was in the 326 FIS at RG AFB (Kansas City MO) when the Cuban Missile Crisis started. About 30 minutes after JFK signed off we were heading for Grand Island, Nebraska, in six Deuces, each with two AIM26 aboard, leaving our families back home. RG AFB's northern border was KC's 150th Street so that gave us thought also. Yes, we had food and water in the basement [at home] but KC was too close, and Forbes's Atlas missile sites were too close too.

Air Defense Command (ADC) doctrine at the time incorporated ram tactics, so we were one thoughtful bunch of troops. Later on we were down at Homestead AFB with 20 birds, all set to be day fighters (!) and top cover (!) for the F-100s and F-105s that were to transform Cuba into a parking lot. Never saw a MiG but we got one hell of a lot of flying--1800 hours in one month, flying CAP for the recce birds and scrambling on anything that flew. Many a private pilot missing his ADIZ time got a surprise when he looked around and saw a 60-foot-long Deuce sitting about 20 feet off his wing reading his reg number to the GCI folks. Interesting times . . . .

The Deuce, like the F-101 and the F-6, got the IRSTS mod. This system was well worth its cost since it was essentially ECM-proof and totally undetectable. It also cross-mod-ed with the radar in ways that gave great flexibility in tactics. Main trouble with the IRSTS, outside of leaking coolant, was that it picked up every IR source including sun reflections, the moon, and its own pitot heat (but that only on the ground). Cross-checking with radar told you what you had, though.

The F-102A [missiles] could be fired automatically (by the computer) or manually. In either case the pilot had to use the trigger. In auto mode he kept the steering dot centered, and at 20 seconds to go the timing circle started collapsing, he touched up the steering, and the computer sent the firing signal through the trigger switch to the selected armament. Best Pk for missiles was about a 70 degree crossing angle, unless the target was dropping chaff. Then it was down the nose or up the tail. The best automatic rocket pass was a crossing angle of 90 to about 110 degrees. The higher the speed ratio between interceptor and target the lesser the miss distance on a rocket pass. On a 0 or 180 crossing angle the miss distance was about the distance the rockets dropped due to gravity during their flight time of about 1.5 seconds--i.e., not much.

There was no speed limit on firing ordnance. The Deuces converted to carry the Fat Falcon (AIM26) lost the rockets normally carried in the two inner doors because of the increased girth of the nuke missiles, which were only carried on the inner launchers.


Cross Countries

We were supposed to take at least four XCs every six months. In ADC we stopped at our war-time recovery bases to exercise the troops in turning around a Deuce. We also went almost anywhere we could get 3,000 psi air for a start. One Wing Co noticed "his" aircraft scattered all over the US on a weekend and put out an edict that we could go no more than two hops from home (Kansas City). Much grousing until one troop idly scanning our wall-sized map commented "Two hops? With tanks we can get to Puerto Rico or Alaska in two hops!" Grousing stopped.

Nellis (Las Vegas) was a favorite stop--just one hop even with a clean bird from RG AFB. Deuce was a good XC bird: autopilot, altitude hold, heading hold; could cruise clean at .93 and 46,000 ft if you weren't interested in getting max range out of it. Back then only the F-106 and the Navy F-8 (2,000 pounds more fuel) could out cruise it.

Nice aircraft, nice radar, wimpy missiles, no gun. (Although my bird did hit a Firebee with a single obsolete Gar1 radar Falcon. Killed the mother even though the warhead fuzing had been disabled. Hit it squarely in the middle.)

Walt B .J.




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