The Convair F-102 Delta Dagger was an American interceptor aircraft constructed in the late 1950s as part of the backbone of the air defenses of the United States Air Force.
The Convair F-102 Delta Dagger’s main purpose was to intercept invading strategic Soviet bomber fleets during the Cold War when it entered service in 1956. Convair designed and manufactured 1,000 F-102s. In the 1950s, The US Air Force requested design proposals from aviation manufacturers for a supersonic interceptor in the face of the new threat of a Soviet long-range bomber attack aimed at American soil.
An aircraft capable of reaching an altitude of 50,000 feet in four minutes was specified by the “1954 Interceptor” program, which could be in service by 1954.
Convair’s proposal, the YF-102A, was selected by the Air Force on September 11, 1951. Based on the first powered delta winged aircraft, the XF-92A, the Delta Dagger became the first all-weather Interceptor capable of level flight supersonic speeds, and the first aircraft designed with all-missile weaponry.
The F-102’s primary mission was to intercept enemy aircraft and destroy them. It was the first all-weather supersonic jet interceptor in the world and the first operational delta-wing aircraft in the USAF. On October 24, 1953, the F-102 made its initial flight and became operational in 1956 with the Air Defense Command. F-102s equipped more than 25 ADC squadrons at the peak of deployment in the late 1950s.
A total of 43 squadrons from the Air Force flew the F-102 through 1973. In 1960, with the last unit, the 199th FIS Hawaii ANG, retiring their last aircraft in October 1976, the Air National Guard received its first Delta Dagger.
A member of the Century Series, the F-102 was the first supersonic fighter and delta-wing fighter operational by USAF. It used an internal bay of weapons to carry both rockets and guided missiles. It was not possible to achieve Mach 1 supersonic flight as originally designed until it was redesigned with area ruling. TheF-102 replaced subsonic fighter types like the Northrop F-89 Scorpion, and in bomber escort and ground-attack roles it saw limited service in the Vietnam War in the 1960s. McDonnell F-101 Voodoos and later McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs supplemented it.
In the mid-to-late 1960s, many of the F-102s were transferred from the Air Force’s active duty to the Air National Guard and, with the exception of those examples converted to unmanned QF-102 Full Scale Aerial Target (FSAT) drones, the type was completely withdrawn from operational service in 1976. The subsequent replacement was the Mach-2 Convair F-106 Delta Dart, an extensive F-102 redesign.
Outwardly, due to its sharp clean lines and single-minded purpose, theF-102 exuded speed. The fuselage was long and slim with a nose cone assembly set at the back of a cockpit. The single engine aspired intakes were on either side of the walls of the cockpit to which the fuselage ran the entire distance to the rear, capped by the exhaust ring of the engine. The configuration of the delta wing was set on either side of the rounded fuselage, heavily swept along the leading edges and straight along the trailing edges, the two edges meeting at outboard points. A single large vertical tail fin, which was essentially a third triangle surface ending in a clipped tip, capped the spine of the fuselage.
The cockpit was a two-piece framing installation, offering sides, forward and above with adequate views. The rear view was primarily blocked by the raised fuselage spine while any side “look-down” qualities were defeated by the side intake bulges. The F-102 was, however, designed as a cardiac interceptor and not a true “fighter,” so vision from the cockpit was not a pure project requirement. The undercarriage consisted of the conventional “tricycle” arrangement consisting of two main landing gear legs under the wings and a single nose wheel leg under the floor of the cockpit-all were fully retractable. The Hughes MG-3 series FCS was given the initial production mark, while later models featured the more advanced series of Hughes MG-10.
A single 11,700 lb turbojet engine from the Pratt & Whitney J57P-23 series supplied power. Afterburner, which was essentially raw fuel pumped directly into the engine for temporary bursts of speed at the expense of reduced operating ranges, could achieve 17,200 lb thrust output. This provided the aircraft with a top speed of 825 miles per hour with a service ceiling of approximately 54,000 feet-all well above the original USAF interceptor requirements but not originally envisaged by the Mach 2-capable aircraft.
Interestingly for the time, under the main section of the fuselage, arms were held across three internal bays. This helped lower the airflow outside under the aircraft and squeeze out of the design as much speed as possible. This also reduced the inherent radar signature of the aircraft to some extent.
The F-102 was equipped as an interceptor with air-to-air ordnance designed to take down the large marauding Soviet bombers. It was possible to carry a total of six missiles on board, largely a mix of semi-active radar homing (the AIM-4A Falcon) and infrared homing (the AIM-4C Falcon) guidance types to cover the two most likely interception target scenarios.
Provisions were made for carrying Folding-Fin Aerial Rockets (FFARs) along the door panels of the two most forward-looking arms bays and these could be used with acceptable results at short ranges against a large target. Through an additional control column in the cockpit, the pilot or fire control system could manage the weapons. The FCS could automatically direct the aircraft towards the target.
The F-102 was later cleared for the fielding of the AIM-26A Nuclear Falcon nuclear missile in its operational service, which expanded its deterrent nature with the Soviets. Since this was the period of military aviation, there was a definite shift away from onboard cannons to missile technology, the series was never fitted with any internal gun. Drop tanks became commonplace-one under each wing-to help increase the operating range of the F-102s.
The F-102 served as bomber escorts in Vietnam, flying fighter patrols. A total of 15 aircraft were lost in Vietnam: one to air-to-air fighting, several to ground fire and the rest to accidents.The F-102 saw limited overseas use only and delivered in Turkey and Greece.