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Convair F-102 Delta Dagger

The Convair F-102A Delta Dagger was the world's first delta-winged combat aircraft, the first supersonic all-weather interceptor, and the first fighter designed without guns. It was designed to intercept Russian bombers coming over the North Pole. Electronic equipment on board the F-102 would locate the enemy aircraft, the F-102's radar would guide it into position, and the electronic fire control system would automatically fire its air-to-air rockets and missiles.

Specifications

Convair built 875 F-102As plus 111 two-seat trainer versions, designated TF-102A. The specs are for the single-seat interceptor:

Span: 38 ft. 1 in.
Length: 68 ft. 4 in. (including boom)
Height: 21 ft. 2 in.
Weight: 31,559 lbs. max.
Armament: 24 unguided 2.75 inch rockets and six guided missiles
Engine: One Pratt & Whitney J57 of 16,000 lbs. thrust with afterburner
Cost: $1,184,000

Maximum speed: 810 mph.
Cruising speed: 600 mph.
Range: 1,000 miles
Service Ceiling: 55,000 ft.

Flying Tigers
revised and updated

History

By the end of 1958, 26 Air Defense Command squadrons were flying F-102As, and the Delta Dagger had replaced the North American F-86D Sabre as the most numerous interceptor with the ADC. F-102As in service numbered 627, or about half of the total number of interceptors operated by the Air Defense Command. At the height of its service, 32 ADC units flew the F-102A. The last of 873 F-102As produced was delivered in September 1958.

The first overseas deployment took place in June 1958 when the 327th Fighter Interceptor Squadron moved to Thule, Greenland. The first squadron in Europe to receive the F-102 was the 525th FIS based at Bitburg in West Germany. Five other squadrons based in Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands also got Delta Daggers.

During the early 1960s, the F-102A was gradually replaced in the ADC by the McDonnell F-101B Voodoo and the Convair F-106 Delta Dart. By the end of 1969, with the exception of a squadron maintained in Iceland, all ADC F-102As had been transferred to the Air National Guard. The F-102As stationed in the Pacific had been withdrawn in December of 1969. The last ADC unit to operate the F-102A, the 57th FIS based at Keflavik in Iceland finally traded in its F-102As for McDonnell F-4C Phantoms in mid-1973.

As they left USAF service, most F-102As were transferred to the Air National Guard. First to receive the F-102A was the 182nd FIS of the Texas ANG in mid-1960. Twenty-three ANG units ultimately got F-102As, including squadrons in Louisiana, Florida, Texas, North Dakota, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, New York, Washington, Connecticut, Oregion, Maine Vermont, Tennessee, Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Montana, Idaho, and California.

Large-scale retirement of the F-102A from the ANG began in late 1969 and continued throughout the 1970s. The last F-102A finally left ANG service in October of 1976, when the 199th FIS of the Hawaii ANG traded in their Delta Daggers for F-4C Phantoms. Most of the retired F-102As ended up in the boneyards at the Davis-Monthan AFB storage facility. Many were subsequently converted into remote-controlled drone aircraft.

Each F-102A squadron normally included two TF-102A two-seaters on strength.

Vietnam-era deployment

Though essentially useless in the small-war role, F-102s were indeed deployed to South Vietnam. Aircraft from the 590th Fighter Interceptor Squadron were transferred to Tan Son Nhut AFB near Saigon in March 1962 to provide air defense against the unlikely event that North Vietnamese aircraft would attack the South. F-102As continued to be based there and in Thailand throughout much of the war. F-102As also stood alert at Bien Hoa and Da Nang in South Vietnam and at Udorn and Don Muang in Thailand. The F-102A was finally withdrawn from Southeast Asia in December of 1969.

A few missions were flown over North Vietnam, but the Southeast Asia-stationed F-102As are not thought to have actually engaged in air-to-air combat. However, Joe Baugher cites an F-102A of the 509th FIS being lost to an air-to-air missile fired by a MiG-21 while flying a CAP over Route Package IV on February 3, 1968. Two F-102As were lost to AAA or small-arms fire, four were destroyed on the ground by the Viet Cong, and eight were lost in operational accidents.

The F-102A even flew some close-support missions over South Vietnam, even though the aircraft was totally unsuited for this role. These operations started in 1965 at Tan Son Nhut. Operating under the code-name "Project Stovepipe," the F-102s used their heat sinking Falcon missiles to lock onto heat sources over the Ho Chi Minh trail at night, often Viet Cong campfires. They would even fire their radar-guided missiles if their radars managed to lock onto something.

The F-102s soon switched to a day role, firing unguided FFAR rockets using the optical sight; 618 day sorties were flown, the last one at the end of 1965. One F-102A was downed by ground fire during one of these rocket attacks. There were some later missions flown, especially in emergencies when the 102's were the fastest response available in South Vietnam. Some TF-102A two-seaters were also used on occasion in Vietnam as forward air controllers.

[Based on material in the USAF Museum website and on Joe Baugher's homepage.]

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