F-106: Tupolev Bear Hunters By www.kamov.net 2014 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 TU-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 KC-135 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 radarguided missiles and two heat-seeking missiles and an internally mounted 20mm ‘Gatling’ gun on the underside of the aircraft. The F-106 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.