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THE Bell F-109


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The F-109 designation was initially assigned to what was to become the McDonnell F-101B. After the two-place version of the "Voodoo" was re-designated, the USAF reassigned the designation to Bell Aircraft Corporation Model D-188A. The project, sponsored by both the USAF and US Navy, called for a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) interceptor capable of speed in excess of Mach 2.

Although the aircraft never got beyond the mock-up stage, it had some unusual design features. The aircraft was to have eight J85 turbojet engines; a pair of engines was mounted on each wingtip in a rotating nacelle, the other four engines were mounted in the fuselage, two horizontal in the aft section and two vertically in the forward fuselage to provide downward thrust for hover and low speed flight. The wingtip nacelles were designed to rotate through a 100 degree arc; horizontal to 10 degrees past vertical, allowing the aircraft to fly a backwards hover.

TYPE Number built/Converted Remarks
 XF-109A 0 Reached mock-up stage only

SPECIFICATIONS (Mockup configuration)
Span: 23 ft. 9 in.
Length: 62 ft.
Height: 12 ft. 9 in. with wingtip nacelles in level flight position.
Weight: 23,917 lbs. gross takeoff weight.
Armament: Four 20mm cannons, 108 2.75 in. rockets and up to 4,000 lbs. of bombs
Engines: Eight General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojets of 2,600 lbs. thrust each with at military power and 3,850 lbs. thrust with afterburner (only the wingtip and aft fuselage jets were to be equipped with afterburners).
Crew: One

Maximum speed: Approximately Mach 2.3
Range: 2,300 miles ferry range and 1,350 miles combat radius.
Service ceiling: Approximately 60,000 ft.


The J85 augmented turbojet is a powerplant for high performance trainers and tactical aircraft. With more than 75 million flight hours experience on military and commercial models, the J85 offers the highest thrust-to-weight ratio of any production engine in its class in the free world.

J85 engines first entered service in 1960. More than 6,000 engines flying in a number of applications remain in active service in 35 countries. Current plans for the U.S. Air Force (USAF) call for J85-powered aircraft to be in service through 2040.

The GE J85 Engine




THE Bell D-188A / F-109



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Although temporarily assigned to several projects, it now appears that the designation F-109 was never actually used by any aircraft.

In 1955, the McDonnell Corporation proposed that the designation F-109 be assigned to the two-seat all-weather interceptor variant of the Voodoo. The Air Force turned down this proposal, and the aircraft was assigned the designation F-101B instead.

Throughout the 1950s there were published reports that the F-109 designation had been assigned to a vertical-takeoff aircraft designed by the Ryan Aeronautical Company. However, this aircraft was actually designated X-13 (a designation in the X-for-experimental series). The X-13 was strictly experimental and was never intended as an operational fighter aircraft, and it never actually bore the F-109 designation.

Many references that I have read state that the F-109 designation was assigned to the Bell D-188A, a late 1950s private venture proposal by the Bell Aircraft Corporation for a Mach 2+ V/STOL fighter. This proposal called for a high-winged aircraft powered by eight General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojets. Two of these engines were mounted horizontally in the rear fuselage and were fed by cheek-type air intakes mounted on the sides of the rear fuselage. Two other J85 engines were mounted vertically in the fuselage behind the pilot's cockpit. They provided lift during vertical takeoff and landing, but were shut down for ordinary horizontal flight. The other four engines were mounted in two pairs in movable pods at the wingtips. The pods were rotated into a vertical position for vertical takeoff and landing, then were rotated horizontally for level flight.

The project had gotten as far as the mockup stage when, in February 1958, the Bell Aircraft Corporation requested that the USAF assign the designation XF-109 to the D-188A project. The Air Force had no interest in the proposal and turned down the request. Consequently, the D-188A never, in fact, received a USAF designation, although the USAF serial numbers 59-2109 and 60-2715 have been associated with this project. In the event, the D-188A never did find favor with the military, although the general concept was later taken up by West Germany in the E.W.R-Sud VJ 101C.


  1. United States Military Aircraft Since 1909. Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Smithsonian, 1989.
  2. Fighters of the Unites States Air Force, Robert F. Dorr and David Donald, Temple Press Aerospace, 1990.
  3. The American Fighter, Enzo Angelucci and Peter Bowers, Orion, 1987.



The XF-109 Photo Gallery


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"In 1953 Bell developed the Model 65 ATV, a VTOL research aircraft with  a pair of rotating turbojets mounted to each side of the airframe. These could be moved  enough to allow the plane to get vertically airborne. Though it ended just two years later, the program gave Bell  experience with VTOL aircraft. This led to project D.188A, a joint USAF/USN  program for the XF-109/XF3L. It was designed to be in the same general performance class as the F-104, a Mach 2 fighter of much lighter weight. To reach this goal, the XF-109 was to be powered by eight engines. Two in the aft fuselage, two vertically behind the cockpit and the other four in two wingtip pods that could swivel to provide either vertical or horizontal thrust. In 1960, the Navy pulled out of the program as it was tired of the constant delay in engine development. A year later, the USAF also lost interest and pulled the plug after only a mockup had been built. Once again, a promising aircraft was still-borne thanks to a lagging engine development program! That engine, by the way, was the General Electric J-85, which went on to provide sterling service in the T-38/F-5 program and in many cruise missiles!




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