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Meet the F-101 Voodoo: The Fighter That Broke All the Rules

F-101
McDonnell F-101B-110-MC (S/N 58-0312) of the 18th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A member of the “Century Series,” the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo was a cutting-edge airframe when first flown in 1954. Initially designed as a long-range bomber escort, the F-101 instead served as a nuclear-armed fighter-bomber (briefly) and as a photo-reconnaissance aircraft until 1979. While the Voodoo was quickly surpassed, the jet did break a world speed record for jet-powered aircraft, when the F-101 hit 1,207 miles per hour in 1957.

The Voodoo is commonly regarded as a stepping stone aircraft – an important increment in the development along the way from the earliest fighters to more enduring, modern fighters like the F-4 Phantom II.

Bring Out the Voodoo Magic

The inception of the F-101 occurred when McDonnel was awarded a contract to build two prototypes, which were designated the XF-88 Voodoo. The prototype, which relied on a Westinghouse XJ-34-WE-13 engine that provided 3,000 pounds of thrust, first flew in October 1948. Testing indicated that the aircraft’s handling and range were satisfactory – but the top speed was a leisurely 641 miles per hour. Unacceptable. Accordingly, the second prototype was constructed with afterburners, which added another 600 pounds of thrust; performance increased with respect to top speed and rate of climb – although, the afterburners increased fuel consumption, hence lowering the aircraft’s operational range. 

However, the ongoing Korean War provided war planners with real-time practical feedback on contemporary aircraft design. The vulnerability of existing American fighters in the Korean theater caused the U.S. to reconsider its fighter needs. The XF-88 program was put on hold. But in 1951, when the U.S. Air Force requested a new fighter, which demanded specifications that the Korean War dictated, McDonnell submitted a larger and more powerful version of their XF-88, which won the contract. The airframe’s name was changed to the F-101.

Learning From War Experience

The new F-101 was notably larger than the XF-88; the new jet carried three-hundred percent more fuel and featured the significantly more powerful Pratt & Whitney J57 turbojet engine. The J57 was larger than the Westinghouse engine found on the XF-88, so designers had to modify the air intakes to allow for a larger amount of airflow to the bigger engines. And to increase the jet’s aerodynamic efficiency, reduce weight, and avoid a tendency to pitch up – the F-101 was outfitted with a “T-tail,” which as the name suggests, features the horizontal stabilizer perched atop the vertical stabilizer, to form a T-shape. 

The Voodoo entered service in 1957 with a max speed of 1,134 miles per hour, a range of 1,520 miles, a service ceiling of 58,400 feet, and a 36,500-foot-per-minute rate of climb. The F-101 came to be known as the “One-of-Wonder” and served for over two decades. 

The F-101 A-variant served until 1966 before being phased out in favor of the B-variant. The F-101B removed the A-variant’s four M39 cannons in favor of four AIM-4 Falcon air-to-air missiles. The U.S. produced 479 F-101Bs, making it the most numerous Voodoo variant produced (over the A and C). The RF-101C was a reconnaissance variant that used six cameras in place of radar and cannons while retaining the bombing ability of earlier variants.

The only export customer for the jet was Canada, whose Royal Canadian Air Force operated the CF-101 Voodoo until 1987.

Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon, and New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.     

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Jerry K Kidwell

    July 5, 2022 at 6:59 pm

    I remember seeing Canadian 101’s pulling alert at Minot AFB ND.

    • Mark S Tercsak

      July 7, 2022 at 5:12 pm

      The F101 Voodoo had an internal weapons bay it could carry the Gennie air to air rocket that was nuclear tip 2.5 kiloton, the concept was to launch the weapon and detonate in the center of mass Soviet Bomber formations, rocket meant it was unguided, it also carried the Falcon Air to Air missiles that made use of if you will television tube technology, were and were infrared guided latter models of the falcon which were larger in diameter and slightly longer were radar guided it was this version that could carry a 1.5 kiloton warhead.
      I think the shock of being launched caused the television tube technology to fail.

  2. Roberta Robinson Stas

    July 6, 2022 at 11:43 am

    My dad flew Voodoo F101s out of Bentwaters England and he loved that plane. During that time, he was also adjutant to Chappie James, who would go on to become the military’s first Black 4star general.

  3. Apples

    July 6, 2022 at 11:58 am

    Another fighter that broke all the rules. Remarkable. KMAO

    • CMT

      July 6, 2022 at 8:06 pm

      Haha. So many rule breakers.

  4. Kevin Burchmore

    July 6, 2022 at 6:56 pm

    You can see one on display at the entrance to Abbotsford international airport in Canada

  5. Mike

    July 6, 2022 at 7:55 pm

    The RF 101 Voodoo was one loud aircraft. I rode a bus from High Wycombe Air Station to RAF Upper Heyford to attend school at the military dependents school. When we has settled into the old WW II buildings for class, almost every morning the Voodoo’s blasted me out of my somber as they took off for the mission of the day.

  6. C.

    July 6, 2022 at 10:39 pm

    I am an aircraft nut myself but every article I see from this particular journalist titles every airplane he posts about as the plane that broke all the rules. Until we bend the laws of physics I don’t think any rules have been broken. Records absolutely!

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