The McDonnell F-101 Voodoo was a supersonic fighter designed to escort heavy bombers and serve as a fighter bomber, an all-weather interceptor and a photo reconnaissance aircraft. It served during the Cuban missile crisis and during the Vietnam War. It was nicknamed "the long bird" on occasion.

It began as the XF-88 all-weather interceptor (fighter), which first flew at Muroc Dry Lake Air Base in 1948. The original mission for the XF-88 was to escort the Convair B-36 Peacemaker bomber. The two XF-88 prototypes evolved into the F-101 Voodoo. The Voodoo was the first production airplane capable of reaching 1000 mph (1609 km/h) in level flight. The Voodoo was famous for its brutal twin engine afterburning power, but it was not without faults. During its entire career it had a tendency to suddenly do a nose pitch-up because of the way air flowed over the low wing and its high tail. Quite a few of the Voodoos lost in accidents on takeoff and landing were due to this. The Voodoo also lacked a zero-zero ejection seat, a seat allowing you the comfort of ejection (and survival) from zero height and zero speed. In order to eject you had to be above 900 feet, and at least one pilot was lost because of this shortcoming.

McDonnell delivered 807 F-101 Voodoos, designed as long-range, twinjet fighters to escort bombers, attack distant targets and provide close air support for ground troops. Attack fighter, interceptor and reconnaissance versions served with the U.S. Strategic Air Defense and Tactical Air Commands and in Canada. The multimission F-101 Voodoo was used by all three U.S. Air Force Commands - Strategic, Tactical and Air Defense. The Voodoo flew the fastest combat missions ever flown (with the exception of the SR-71 Blackbird) during recce runs over North Vietnam.

Voodoo variants:

  • XF-88, penetration fighter prototype. 1 built.
  • XF-88A, penetration fighter with afterburner. 1 built
  • XF-88B, turboprop testbed. 1 converted
  • F-101A, strategic fighter. 77 built
  • JF-101A, developmental test aircraft. 7 converted
  • YRF101-A, reconnaissance prototype. 2 built
  • RF-101A, reconnaissance aircraft. 35 built
  • F-101B, two-seat, long-range interceptor. 479 built
  • CF-101B, Canadian interceptor. 112 transferred
  • JF-101B, developmental aircraft. 1 converted
  • NF-101B, developmental aircraft. 1 built, 1 converted
  • RF-101B, reconnaissance conversion of RF-101A. 23 converted
  • TF-101B, dual-control training aircraft. More than 72 converted or built
  • EF-101B, Canadian ECM aircraft. 1 transferred
  • F-101C, upgraded F-101A strategic fighter. 39 built
  • F-101F/TF-101F, Initially interceptor, later dual-control training aircraft. More than 72 built or converted
  • CF-101F, Canadian dual-control training aircraft. 20 transferred
  • RF-101C, reconnaissance aircraft. 166 built
  • RF-101G, reconnaissance conversion of F-101A. 27 converted
  • RF-101H, reconnaissance conversion of F-101C. 32 converted
  • Records

    In Operation Firewall on December 12, 1957, Major Adrian Drew flew an F-101A to set a world speed record of 1,207.6 mph (1,943 km/h) over the 10-mile record course at Edwards Air Force Base in the US. Major Drew earned himself a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for this feat. In Operation Sun Run in 1957, an RF-101 raced from Los Angeles to New York and back in the record time 6 hours, 46 minutes.


    Tactical Air Command (TAC) and Strategic Air Command (SAC) had three squadrons operating the Voodoo during the Vietnam war. All of them flew reconnaissance missions doing bomb damage assessment and taking photos of potential targets. In order to complete a "tour of duty", every pilot were required to do 100 missions. Recce missions over North Vietnam were nicknamed "flying in the barrel" by the pilots who did them. When president Johnson ended Rolling Thunder (the systematic bombing of North Vietnam) on October 31, 1967, it also put an end to the 20 TRS and the Voodoo missions over the so-called "Route Package Six". The latter was the technical name given by USAF to the area around Hanoi, North Vietnam's capital. Voodoo recce missions continued in South Vietnam in support of the army, but no Voodoo ever entered Nort Vietnamese airspace again.

    The squadrons who flew Voodoos in South East Asia were:

  • 15 Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (TRS), "Cotton Pickers", Kadena AB, Okinawa
  • 20 Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (TRS), "Green Pythons", Udorn RTAFB, Thailand
  • 45 Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (TRS), "Polka Dots", Misawa AB, Japan and Tan Son Nhut AB, South Vietnam
  • A total of 37 Voodoos were lost in and around Vietnam. 31 in combat, six to accidents and one Voodoo was lost in a ground rocket attack on February 17, 1968.

    Places of service

    Voodoos operated from several locations around the world. In the continental US, the Voodoo served with the Air Defence Command (ADC), Air National Guard (ANG), Tactical Air Command (TAC) and the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC).Outside of the US, Voodoos served in the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) in Japan, Thailand and Okinawa and in United States Air Force in Europe (USAFE) in France, Germany and England.

    Operation Boom Town
    Under Operation Boom Town, RF-101A Voodoos were secretly delivered to the Chinese Nationalist Air Force (in then Formosa, now Taiwan), which finally acknowledged this in a press conference in October 1959. 15 TRS was assigned to train the nationalist pilots. Taiwan authorities insisted that the Voodoos were only used for coastal flights over international waters, but in reality the Chinese Nationalists penetrated the Chinese mainland in whatever recce aircraft they could lay their hands on. In 1965, Beijing claimed to have gunned down an RF-101A in air to air combat. A Voodoo is today on display outside the museum at Taipei Airport, wearing a fake colour scheme.

    Technical data

    The very first Voodoo was the XF-88, completed August 11, 1948.

  • Powerplant: two 2,400-lb thrust non-afterburning Westinghouse XJ-34-W-13 turbojets
  • Performance: maximum speed 710 mph (1071 km/h) at 10,000 ft. Service ceiling 41,000 ft (12,496 m). Range 1,000 miles (1609 km)
  • Maximum takeoff weight: 39,995 lb (18,141 kg)
  • The very last Voodoo built - an F-101B - was completed around 1963.

  • Powerplant: two 14,880-lb (6,749kg) thrust afterburning Pratt & Whitney J57-P-55 turbojets
  • Performance: maximum speed 1,221 mph (1,965 km/h) or mach 1,85 at 40,000 ft (12,190 m). Service ceiling 54,800 ft (16,705 m). Range 1,550 miles (2,494 km)
  • Maximum takeoff weight: 52,400 lb (23,768 kg)
  • Armament

    The XF-88 originally had six 20mm M39 cannons in the nose, and the final Voodoo could be armed with two nuclear tipped AIR-2 Genie rockets and four AIM-4 Falcon IR missiles, or simply six Falcon missiles.

    Sources: "McDonnell F-101 Voodoo", Robert F. Dorr, Osprey Air Combat, Motorbooks International, 1986

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