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The Convair "YF-102A"

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The YF-102

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The YF-102 was basically a scaled-up XF-92A with a slim nose and lateral air intakes replacing the nose intake. A strong skeleton of milled aluminum spars and longerons covered with aluminum skins carried the fuel in wing spaces. The electronics was carried in the fuselage. The armament was to consist of six Hughes GAR-1 Falcon air-to-air missiles carried internally in a ventral bay. In addition, twenty-four 2-inch FFAR rockets were to be carried in channels contained inside the missile-bay doors. A maximum speed of 870 mph at 35,000 feet was promised.

A severe problem cropped up early in 1953, one which was potentially fatal for the entire program. At that time, wind tunnel testing discovered that the initial drag estimates of the YF-102 had been way off, and that the F-102 would be unable to exceed Mach 1. In addition, the maximum altitude would be only 52,400 feet, versus the predicted 57,600 feet, while the combat radius would be reduce from 350 to 200 nautical miles.

Even though early wind tunnel tests had indicated that there would be a problem with excessive drag, it took a long time to convince the Convair engineering staff that there was a problem with their basic design. It was not until August of 1953, that Convair engineers reluctantly agreed to redesign their aircraft. By that time, it was too late to incorporate the required changes in the first ten aircraft.

In the meantime, work on the first YF-102s was proceeding at a rapid pace. The first YF-102 was finally completed in the autumn of 1953. It was powered by a J57-P-11, rated at 10,900 lbs. thrust dry and 14,500 lbs. thrust with afterburning. It was trucked from San Diego out to Edwards AFB. It took off at Edwards on its maiden flight on October 24, 1953, with Richard L. Johnson at the controls. In initial tests, severe buffeting was encountered at Mach 0.9. Even more serious, the aircraft proved to be incapable of exceeding the speed of sound in level flight, fully confirming the results of the wind tunnel testing. Additional problems were encountered with the main landing gear, and the fuel system operated erratically. To make matters even worse, the J57-P-11 engine did not develop its full rated power. The first YF-102 was written off on November 2 in a forced landing following an engine failure. Test pilot Johnson was seriously injured. The cause of the accident was traced to a failure in the Bendix fuel control system. The second YF-102 flew on January 11, 1954. This aircraft was limited to Mach 0.99 in level flight. Dives at higher speeds resulted in severe yaw oscillations. Even in a 30-degree dive, the YF-102 was only able to reach Mach 1.24. Even though an altitude of 47,000 feet could be reached, handling difficulties limited the practical ceiling to only 40,000 feet.

The F-102 program was in BIG trouble. In fact, the performance of the YF-102 was not all that much better than the F-86D Sabre, which was already in production. If no cure could be found, the whole program would undoubtedly be cancelled.


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