Fighter Aircraft at the Yankee Air Museum

The earliest jet in the museum's collection is this T-33A Shooting Star, which is the training version of the F-80 Shooting Star fighter.   In order to accomodate a seat for the trainee pilot and his mentor, the T-33 was stretched over three feet longer than the F-80.   The first jet against jet air combats occurred in Korea between F-80s and MiG 15s, and although the F-80s managed to shoot down at least one MiG, the straight-winged Shooting Star was seriously outperformed by the swept-wing MiG, and so the F-80s were replaced in this theater by America's own swept-wing fighter, the F-86 Sabre.   However the T-33 continued as the primary jet trainer long after the Korean war ended.

T-33 Shooting Star

This is the F-80's replacement in Korea, an F-86 Sabre.   People familiar with this type might do a double-take when they see this aircraft, since it looks significantly different than a regular F-86, such as the one I captured flying at the Oshkosh airshow in 2002.   That's because this is an F-86L "Sabre Dog", a variant which was built to attack bombers rather than the usual fighter foes.

F-86L Sabre Dog
F-86L Sabre Dog rocket pack

If you take a look under the fuselage of the Sabre Dog, you'll see this rather crude looking structure, which is a retractable attachment designed to hold 24 air-to-air rockets for shooting down Soviet bombers.

The Republic F-84 Thunderstreak was designed shortly after the F-86, but despite its superior abilities, the Thunderstreak never achieved the fame of the Sabre.   This was largely because it arrived to take part in the Korean war, and partly because it was initially intended for a less glamorous role than the Sabre; although they were both fighters, the Thunderstreak was deployed as either a ground support fighter-bomber or as an escort fighter to protect American bombers.

F-84 Thunderstreak

As with the Sabre Dog, you could be forgiven for doing a double-take when you see this aircraft.   The drop tanks and the swept wings and tail look remarkably similar to the F-84 Thunderstreak, but the nose is totally different and the jet intakes are at the wing roots instead of at the front.   The solution to this puzzle lies in the square windows in the nose - this is an RF-84F Thunderflash, the reconnaisance version of the Thunderstreak.   The nose was extended, and the jet intakes moved to the wings, to make room for multiple cameras used for taking photographs of ground targets and troop movements.

RF-84F Thunderflash

This McDonnell F-101 Voodoo is the first representative at the Yankee Air Museum of America's "Century Series" of jet fighters, named after the numerical designations given to these aircraft.   These aircraft were developed in a period of remarkable advances and creativity, as aeronautical engineers experimented with issues of supersonic flight made possible by the arrival of jet engines of ever increasing power.   In 1957 an F-101 set a new world speed record of 1207 miles per hour (1942 kilometers per hour).   Originally intended as an escort fighter for strategic bombers, Voodoos were no longer needed in this role when high speed, high altitude jet bombers like the B-52 Stratofortress were developed, so they were reassigned to air defense, tactical bombing and reconnaisance.   As tactical bombers the F-101 was used to carry nuclear bombs, and in their air defense role they were equipped with two Genie air-to-air nuclear missiles, to allow them to destroy a fleet enemy aircraft with a single weapon.

F-101 Voodoo

The Convair F-102 Delta Dagger was another Century Series fighter which packed an array of radical ideas.   As its name implies, it's the first American jet with a delta-wing and it was the first fighter with no guns, relying instead on an assortment of missiles, some of which were carried internally to improve high speed performance.

F-102 Delta Dagger

Although they achieved remarkable feats once they were in service, the Century Series aircraft were very difficult to develop and things didn't always go smoothly.   Many test pilots died while testing the new concepts, resulting in an elite class of aviators with The Right Stuff who went on to become America's first astronauts.   Although the F-102 had several features intended to give it great speed, such as ultra-thin wings, it was not a particularly fast aircraft by the standards of Century Series aircraft.   It had a maximum speed of 810 miles per hour, compared to the previously mentioned 1207 miles per hour of the F-101 Voodoo, the 1387 miles per hour of the F-105 Thunderchief, and the 1404 miles per hour of the F-104 Starfighter.   However, the F-102 was later redeveloped into the F-106 Delta Dart which, despite having a very similar appearance, had a more powerful engine and was capable of a very respectable 1525 miles per hour, mostly because of the application of the "area rule" of aerodynamics, which led to the fuselage being redesigned to look somewhat more like a coke bottle than the F-102's straight fuselage.

F-102 Delta Dagger

The F-105 Thunderchief was another expression of the trend during the course of the cold war towards larger, faster and more complex fighter aircraft.   It was Republic Aviation's response to the need for a replacement for their F-84 Thunderstreak.   Capable of carrying 8,000 pounds of bombs internally and another 4,000 pounds externally, the Thunderchief, or "Thud" as it was nicknamed, could carry far more ordnance than a world war two B-17 bomber with ten crewmen.   F-105s were used extensively in Vietnam and suffered high casualties - over half of the Thunderchiefs ever manufactured were shot down during this conflict.

F-105 Thunderchief

The F-4 Phantom II is one of those rare aircraft used extensively by both the United States Navy and the Air Force - in fact it was used by both the navy's Blue Angels jet display team and the air force's Thunderbirds jet display team!   It entered service in the early 1960s and quickly established its position as America's premier fighter.   Like the F-102 Delta Dagger, the Phantom initially had no guns since it was believed that these had been made obsolete by air-to-air missiles and the supposed end of dogfighting.   However, during the Vietnam war it was decided to experiment by fitting a 20mm cannon in a pod under the belly, and this proved to be so effective that it became a standard accessory, eventually being moved into the nose section after smaller radar units became available.   As well as being a very good fighter, the Phantom could also carry a 16,000 pound bomb load - double that of the Flying Fortress.

F-4 Phantom II