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F-106 Delta Dart interceptor of Air Defense Command Published on October 12, 2012 Author Unknown

Record-breaker, CONUS defender, the Convair F-106 Delta Dart was a Cold War legend in the service of Air Defense Command. Combining blistering performance with a futuristic automated fire-control system (when this worked); the ‘Six’ was every inch the ultimate interceptor… For the US Air Force at the height of the Cold War, the interceptors of Air Defense Command (ADC) were just as important as the bombers and missiles of Strategic Air Command, especially in the 1960s and 1970s. With a primary responsibility to defend the United States homeland, including the northwest frontier of Alaska, ADC was the major line of defense against air attack from the Soviet Union. With its blinding speed of Mach 2.3 and range of 1,900 miles (2,900km) combined with an altitude potential of 57,000ft (17,000m), the F-106 was the ultimate defense weapon based on US soil. All these performance attributes were necessary for an interceptor, and they were allied with awesome firepower. In its ultimate configuration, the Convair F-106 Delta Dart was armed with an M61 Vulcan six-barrel 20mm cannon complemented by radar-guided AIM-4F and heat-seeking AIM-4G Falcon missiles. The most lethal weapon carried was a single Douglas MB-1 Genie rocket with a nuclear warhead. This gave the F-106 the ability to take out a lone enemy bomber or inflict severe damage on a whole formation of intruders. Up until the time that the Delta Dart became operational, its older sister, the F-102 Delta Dagger, had been the primary USAF air defense interceptor, having evolved from Convair’s original delta-wing XF-92. Although it’s maximum service ceiling was approximately similar to that of the F-106. The F-102 was significantly slower. The production run of the F-102 pushed 1,000 airframes, while the Delta Dart barely exceeded 340 units, and 63 of these were two-seat models. Initially, the US Air- Force had planned to order around 1,000 Delta Darts, but numbers were slashed before production got under way. All were eventually built at Convair’s Plant No 2 in San Diego, California. The F-106 recorded its first flight in late December 1956 and became operational just over two years later. Truly remarkable is the fact that the Delta Dart’s career spanned almost 30 years, the interceptor seeing out its final days with Air National Guard squadrons. It should be noted that while the official name for the F-106 was Delta Dart, the pilots and support personnel always referred to it as the ‘Six’. Before long the Delta Darts began to make their mark among units along the east and west coasts of the US. The first squadron to receive the new jets was the 539th Fighter Interceptor Squadron located at McGuire AFB in New Jersey. The first aircraft arrived with the unit on 30 May 1959. Two days later, the 498th FIS at Geiger AFB in Washington received its Delta Darts. Before its career ended with the regular Air Force, the fighter would serve in approximately 20 different squadrons and it would also be flown by at least six Air National Guard units. The Massachusetts, New Jersey and Florida ANG squadrons handled defense of the east coast, the Michigan and Montana squadrons handled the northern borders, and the California Guard pulled west coast duties.

State-of-the-art SAGE Compared to the F-102, the Delta Dart offered several key improvements, at least in theory. One of the most important additions was the Hughes MA-1 integrated fire-control system. This could be linked to the SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) network, a state-of-the-art system for ground control intercept (GCI) missions. The primary role of the MA-1 system was to gather and process real-time information on potential targets. This gave the F-106 the ability to pinpoint and track any intruder from a great distance and determine the most effective way to take it out. The on-board computer had information stored in order to select the weapon that would perform best for the job at hand. It would continuously track the target, providing a steady input to the pilot or the aircraft itself. While interceptor fire-control systems became much more sophisticated over the years, in the early 1960s the F-106 certainly represented the cutting edge. One of the pre-eminent squadrons to fly the F-106 within ADC was the 5th FIS ‘Spittin Kittens’ based at Minot AFB, North Dakota. The squadron was among the first Air Force units to receive the Delta Dart, in February 1960. Between 1962 and 1964 the unit’s commander was Col Jack Broughton, who would later win fame as an F-105 pilot during the Vietnam War. Broughton reflects on the SAGE system, which unfortunately did not live up to its expectations. ‘SAGE was part of a sophisticated plan to standardize and automate our Cold War air defenses. Far to the north was a series of Defense Early Warning radar sites that formed the DEW line. They were up there to pick up the first indications of penetrations by Russian aircraft or missiles and immediately relay that information southwards through Canada to our SAGE centers such as the one we had at Minot. These were large windowless buildings built to withstand a nuclear hit; inside was a large number of computers and display scopes operated by weapons controllers who could relay intercept information to our pilots and also to the automatic pilots in our F-106 cockpits. The book said that once we got our fighter to the end of the runway, the system could take over and fly the mission without a word of radio contact and with only a few minor pilot actions. It could perform all the necessary engine and airframe controls to intercept an enemy aircraft, launch our missiles and take us back to landing roll on the runway. This sounded great, but during the entire time I was at Minot, I got it to work that way only once! The use, or non-use, of automation available to us was one of the core problems within the 5th FIS. I directed my guys to use the SAGE auto function any time it was available simply because we were supposed to be trying to validate the system for combat use. It was often not even available and it almost never worked all the way, which would force us back to voice control — but we had to keep trying. I had to order my pilots to try, and over time we helped prove the system was less than reliable, thus allowing new technologies to take over and turn the original SAGE into a dinosaur.’

Pueblo incident The Delta Dart was never envisaged as a global deterrent, making routine deployments to Europe and the Far East. Essentially it was a high-end air defense weapon that would keep the US borders safe. However, one dangerous incident in late January 1968 put the F-106 face-to-face with the North Koreans. This was Operation ‘Red Fox’, triggered by the capture of the USS Pueblo (AGER 2), a US Navy intelligence-gathering ship. Several USAF squadrons deployed to South Korea in response, including F-4 Phantom IT units of the 4th TFW. The F-106s were deployed in March 1968 to provide air defense protection for the large number of aircraft that had been rushed over during the tensions with the North Koreans. The first F-106 squadron to respond was the 318th FIS based at McChord AFB, Washington. The unit began receiving its Delta Darts in March 1960 and would continue to operate the type until November 1983. The 318th also received the greatest number of F-106s of any squadron, with a total of 70 aircraft. All of the Delta Darts would be quartered at South Korea’s Osan AB during the crisis. The squadron deployments were not lengthy, but did include, on a rotational basis, the 318th and 49th FIS in 1968, followed by the 71st and 94th FIS in 1969. The 95th FIS completed the Delta Dart’s commitment to the effort in 1970. The various units made the long flights to the Far East using in-flight refueling, which was a first for the F-106. For the pilots of these squadrons, it was a serious business and they were prepared to go to war with their interceptors on a minute’s notice. All of these fighters carried the maximum load of missiles and most stood lengthy alerts, ready to scramble immediately.

‘Flush’ missions For the ‘Six’ pilots, the typically rigid Cold War mission made it almost impossible to get into any situations where they could ‘horse’ around with their fighters. Most of the time they sat on alert, loaded for any trouble that could emerge unannounced. ADC headquarters kept all of the various squadrons on their toes with sudden scrambles and alerts. Col Jack Broughton, CO of the 5th FIS relates what it was like to participate in some of these exercises at Minot AFB, frequently in the dead of night and in sub-zero temperatures. ‘Exercises and tactical evaluations were a recurring event for all ADC squadrons. They varied in length but you could usually figure on being in a practice war for about one week. If it was a TACEVAL, which we could expect yearly, a team of ADC lull-time evaluators would descend on you and start with a day or two of inspecting every niche of the squadron as the simulated war scenario developed and the alert level went up. We also had more frequent exercises that were broader-based, involving many units, and with less individual unit inspection. Your performance in either case was an important indicator of your readiness for the real thing, and though it had been a while since the 5th had been highly regarded, we were changing that! There was always a boost in adrenalin as the exercise built up to the first scramble, and some things were fun and some were not. Scrambling in the middle of a bitter cold night wasn’t fun, but that was often the best time for the Northern Lights, and sky-dancing with them was indeed a kick! Frequently, ADC would bring you up to a high state of alert then leave you sitting there. One early morning, about 02.00hrs, they had our entire squadron (26 aircraft) on cockpit alert for a possible ‘flush’. When word came through to flush (that meant inbound nuclear missiles were on the way), we got everything airborne as fast as we could; the first one to the end of the runway was the leader. I was in the number one spot closest to the runway as we lined up along the ramp in the inky black night with light blowing snow.

‘My crew chief had already helped to hoist me into the cockpit, clumsy in long john underwear, my own personal black sweater, light cotton flight suit and a huge navy blue hand-knitted wool scarf that T got from a Red Cross lady as I boarded the USS Rushville Victory for Europe in the winter of 1945-46, and a lightweight fur-trimmed parka whose hood was folded back behind my helmet. The only things I could move were my arms, legs and head. It was that cold! The canopy was open and I noted that at 02.23hrs the temperature was 23 degrees below zero with a 27mph wind from the north-west blowing right down on us. The falling snow was mixing with the stirred-up snow already on the ground, making everything from the ramp up to 100ft look like a white pillow fight, while the ramp itself was covered with constantly swirling circles of snow dust! ‘Finally, our radios barked out ‘Flush!’ and 25 ‘Spittin Kittens’ fired up. Back in the second row one of the coldsoaked 106s that had been sitting in an open-air parking shelter couldn’t accept the thousands of pounds of air pressure on the starter mechanism and that bird was silently spraying red hydraulic fluid in all directions. Canopies came down with minimum delay to cut off the wind and I pulled my scarf down from my face to replace it with a frigid rubber oxygen mask. I was first off, and by the time I pulled my gear up, I was above the swirling snow, climbing in burner for 20,000ft, looking north-west towards the North Pole, with not a light or star in sight. Twenty-four burner blasts later, we were all airborne in ADC record-setting time. I doubt that anyone in the local area was able to sleep through all of that!’ During its lengthy career, the Delta Dart set many speed records, the most prominent being captured by Maj Joe Rogers in 1959 (see boxed item). However, another notable record occurred on 17 December 1983, well into the Delta Dart’s tenure. In mid-1983. Col Craig Cosgrave, commanding officer of the 177th Fighter Interceptor Group (New Jersey ANG) was asked to provide an F-106 to participate in the Dayton, Ohio to Kitty Hawk. North Carolina speed record event. He selected Maj Moe Eldredge and Lt Jeff Thomas to fly a two-seat F-106B (59-0149) for the record attempt. Maj Eldredge relates: ‘The F-106 was chosen as the aircraft of choice based on its high-speed subsonic cruise capability and its excellent fuel economy at high cruising speeds. All of this record flight would be over populated areas where supersonic speeds were not allowed. Lt Thomas, a young talented pilot, was tasked to do the flight planning tor the event. This included figuring out the flight route, determining what altitude would be best to maximize speed based on the wind, temperature and weather conditions. The day before the event, we flew the aircraft from our Atlantic City base over to Wright-Patterson at Dayton. The next morning, we refueled and took off heading west towards the starting line and then turned east crossing the starting line near Dayton. We kept our speed at a constant, ending up averaging 710mph. We covered the course in 44 minutes and 45 seconds over a 461 nm course at an altitude of 35,000ft.’

Tupolev ‘Bear’ hunters The ultimate goal of every F-106 pilot was to take part in an intercept of a Soviet aircraft. Out over the Atlantic Ocean there occurred numerous intercepts of Soviet Tu-95 ‘Bears’ that had traversed from Russia across the frigid regions above Canada and then down the eastern seaboard to Cuba. Every one of these flights was detected early and the New Jersey and Florida ANG interceptors were ready for them when they came into their sectors. Probably one of the most prolific intercept pilots in the F-106 was Lt Col Raymond ‘Nemo’ Niemotka from the New Jersey unit His logbook shows that he made four intercepts of Tu-95s in the ‘Six’ and one while flying in the F-16 (after the unit had traded in its F-106s for the newer jet). He provides some insight into the art of the intercept in both types. ‘The 1\i-95 ‘Bears’ approached us mostly from two routes. They came in over Nova Scotia and down along the east coast headed for Cuba. The other route was from North Africa to Cuba and then north up the east coast. Separate flights were also flown north up the coast while the ‘Bears’ were still operating out of Castro country. Most of the time, we had adequate warning, usually more than two hours. The few times there was no warning, we were supposed to be airborne within five minutes. This was unrealistic, especially in the winter when we

had to put on our ‘Poopy Suits’ and the water temperature was less than 55 degrees. Most of the no-warning scrambles were false! ‘The ‘Bears’ usually flew these routes in pairs with one trailing about 10 miles behind the lead. Their pilots did not do anything unusual as they just followed the coastline and they rarely turned inbound, and kept a distance of from 50 to 300 miles out. Their altitude varied between 10,000 and 30,000ft. They were constantly testing our response time and whether or not we could locate them. On some occasions, they dropped sonar buoys and looked for our submarines. One time, 1 intercepted them about 50 miles off the coast of Virginia where the ‘Bears’ came to look at our new aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). Normally, we passed them off to the guys at Langley AFB going south and Otis AFB going north. They also had F-106s. ‘At the time of one of my last intercepts, I was pulling alert duty down at Homestead AFB in southern Florida while their squadron was transitioning into the F-16s. One morning we received a warning that the ‘Bears’ would be coming along the coast from the north. It was unusual that our fighter group intercepted the ‘Bears’ with New Jersey F-106s off the Florida coast. We were spread out from Jersey to Florida and I’m sure the Russians flying in the ‘Bear’ couldn’t figure it out. ‘Mission time varied from about one hour to over five hours, which was my longest airborne time for a ‘Bear’ intercept, flown in a new F-16 that had just replaced our ‘Sixes’. After about two hours, I told AWACS that we were approaching Bingo fuel and would be turning back inbound. They told us to hang in there because a KC135 tanker was on its way, and a short time later we took on 12,000lb of fuel. After topping off, were proceeded to intercept two ‘Bears’ and stayed airborne for another four hours. ‘While on alert, we were armed with live weapons. The ‘Six’ normally had two radar-guided missiles and two heat-seeking missiles and an internally mounted 20mm ‘Gatling’ gun on the underside of the aircraft. The F106 was also capable of carrying a special weapon called the Genie, which was a nuclear rocket that would travel five times the speed of sound. We had to fire these, without the warhead, once a year when we were down at AFB in Florida. It was a very impressive sight to see these launched from one of our aircraft. Supposedly, the Soviets were terrified of this weapon, and so were we because we had no idea of what would happen after our ‘escape’ maneuver. Of course, we had other concerns such as the fact that the Russians had ‘laser guns’ that could blind us after intercepting a ‘Bear’. We wore gold-plated visors for that, but there were no guarantees that they would work. Also, there were some concerns about having to ram a ‘Bear’ if we had expended all of our weapons.’ The Delta Dart’s long career started to wane in 1981 when the regular USAF squadrons began converting to the F-15 Eagle, with the F-106 being passed on to various Air National Guard squadrons. By 1988, the ‘Six’ had all but disappeared, but, two years prior many of those that had been shipped off to the boneyard at Davis Monthan AFB, Arizona were being converted to drones. Thereafter, NASA retained a small number of these delta-wing interceptors for various test projects that lasted until 1998. There is perhaps no way better of summing up what the average F-106 pilot thought about the aircraft than with the words of 49th FIS commander Lt Col Steven B. Rogers. His squadron was the last regular Air Force unit to fly the ‘Six’. ‘Flying this fighter was like driving a vintage automobile; the minute you sat in it, you were overwhelmed by its sense of craftsmanship and class. Originally, the interceptor was built to fly high and fast. Although it was built back in the late 1950s, it still does that mission as well as any other fighter in inventory! By the time we gave up our 106s in September 1987, it was time for them to go, but all of the pilots that flew it will always have a special place in their hearts for the F-106.’ [End]

F-106 Delta Dart Interceptor of ADC by [Unknown]  
F-106 Delta Dart Interceptor of ADC by [Unknown]