FAST HISTORY: THE F-94C STARFIRE “FLYING BOTTLE ROCKET”

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I have always been fascinated with the timeframe between the widespread deployment of jet fighters for the first time and the introduction of the guided air to air missile. Engineering was really at the very edge of the envelope and aggressive risks were taken in an attempt to achieve even a small comparative edge against the Soviet Union. During this whirlwind of aerospace development, aircraft types came into and were retired from inventory in the span of years, not decades. These were heady days for the booming American aeronautics industry, with fielded designs ranging from laughable to legendary in retrospect.

Lockheed-F-94C-2-2The F-94C Starfire was an outgrowth of Kelly Johnson’s first jet design, the legendary P-80 Shooting Star, and was also the USAF’s first all weather jet interceptor, entering service in 1951. The F-94C was a twin seat upgraded variant of the F-94A/B, the main difference being that the F-94’s .50 caliber Browning machineguns were removed, in their place were 24 rockets mounted inside the nose cowling behind the jet’s state of the art (at the time) Hughes AN/APG-40 radar. The rockets were loaded via flip up panels, and once fully armed, the area forward of the cockpit was basically an emitter of radiation and high explosive projectiles! Later on, slipper pods (gotta love Kelly Johnson’s obsession with tip tanks and slipper pods) were added to the wings, which carried a further 12 rockets each. The matured Starfire was capable of belching 48 rockets at will, literally an aircraft that breathes fire! The nose mounted rockets did cause some engine anomalies when fired. Under certain conditions this could actually lead to a flameout, so often times the jets flew with “just” the 24 rockets mounted in the wing pods. If WWIII began you could be assured that the F-94Cs would be loaded with their maximum payload, as many saw such an event as a one-way flight anyway. Also, it is worthwhile to note that the F-94C was one of the first aircraft to really integrate itself into the SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) network and thus could be considered the first fast jet that really employed tactical data-link capability.

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Lockheed-F-94-Starfire FA 054 (12)By the late 1950’s guided air to air missiles were the future of air combat, and the F-94C was retired from service as a whole by 1960. Still, I have always wondered what the pilots eye view would have been like if the Russians crossed the pole in mass and he and his aircraft were  ordered to deliver their wall of rockets into the a lumbering formation of nuclear armed Tupolev Bombers. An amazing aircraft and amazing time to ponder indeed…

 

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3 Responses to FAST HISTORY: THE F-94C STARFIRE “FLYING BOTTLE ROCKET”

  1. ray_bender says:

    Thanks for the post, Ty! It’s great to hear your view about historical aircraft. Keep ’em coming whenever you’ve got the time!
    Cheers!

  2. RBBailey says:

    Just saw this over at Gizmodo.

    Good to have you writing again!

  3. Conquistador3 says:

    Just a quick snippet of “real life history” about the utility of FFAR in aerial interceptions.
    In 1956 an F6F-5K (an old Grumman Hellcat converted in a target drone) “slipped the leash” after being launched from Point Mugu NAS.
    Since it started heading towards Los Angeles, two F89D Scorpion interceptors were scrambled from Oxnard AFB to take it down. Each F89 carried a full load of 104 FFAR.
    The F89 managed to catch up with the drone near the town of Santa Paula and switched to automatic fire control. As was the case with most ’50s high tech pieces of equipment, both F89 fire control systems failed literally seconds after being switched on.
    The drone then decided to start heading towards Palmdale and the F89 crews were authorized to switch to manual control and unleashed salvo after salvo of rockets at the drone. Not a single rocket hit the drone, which then crashed near Palmdale in an inhabited area, cutting three power lines, because it had run out of fuel.
    The rain of rockets had some effects however: falling to the ground, they started three massive brush fires which took hundreds of firefighters and volunteers two days to be put off. Three rockets landed in Palmdale proper, one totaling a car and the other two damaging two houses. Astoundingly, nobody was hurt. USAF ordnance disposal crews picked up 13 dud rockets around Palmdale, over 10% of the total fired.

    This incident confirmed the ineffectiveness of unguided rockets in the aerial intercept role. In 1956 the F89H, carrying a total of twelve Falcon AAM, was already coming into line and the F89J, an F89D converted to carry the fearsome Genie nuclear tipped rocket, was starting to arrive to units.

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