McDonnell RF-101C Voodoo

Last revised March 25, 2002






The RF-101C was the unarmed photographic reconnaissance version of the single-seat F-101C. It combined the strengthened structure of the F-101C with the camera installation of the RF-101A. In addition, the RF-101C differed from the RF-101A in being able to accommodate a centerline nuclear weapon, so that it could carry out a secondary nuclear strike mission if ever called upon to do so. The RF-101C was otherwise identical to the RF-101A, and could only be distinguished from it by an examination of the serial numbers.

A total of 166 RF-101Cs were built. They were the last single-seat Voodoos to be built for the USAF.

RF-101Cs were initially fitted with a Fairchild KA-2 forward-facing camera, three KA-2s in a tri-sensor station further back, and two downward-facing Fairchild KA-1s.

The first RF-101Cs were delivered to the 20th and 29th squadrons of the 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Group at Shaw AFB in North Carolina in September of 1957. It served for a brief time alongside the RF-101A, but quickly replaced them. The next year, the RF-101s were put under the control of the 363rd TRW. In June of 1958, the 4414th Combat Crew Training Squadron became operational with Shaw's 363rd TRW as the replacement training unit for Voodoo reconnaissance pilots. The last RF-101C delivery to the USAF was on March 31, 1959.

RF-101Cs were first assigned to Europe during the spring of 1958 when the 66th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing at Laon AB in France converted from RF-84Fs. In May of 1958, the 17th and 18th TRS based at Shaw AFB joined the 66th TRW at Laon. The 38th and the 32nd TRS were stationed at Phalsbourg in France. During the years at Phalsbourg, the 38th and the 32rd TRS became a combined squadron. The 38th TRS moved from Phalsbourg AB to Toul-Rosieres AB in November of 1960. By the end of 1958, 30 RF-101Cs were based overseas. They were stationed at Nouasseur AFB in Morocco and at the Laon and Phalsbourg air bases in France.

When President Charles de Gaulle withdrew France from NATO participation, USAF units had to leave the country. In the summer of 1962, the 38th TRS moved to Ramstein AB in Germany. The entire 66th TRW wing moved to RAF Upper Heyford in England. The 66th TRW was inactivated on April 1, 1970.

In the Pacific, RF-101Cs served with the 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron of the 67th TRW at Kadena AFB on Okinawa. This outfit received its first RF-101Cs in August of 1958. Later, RF-101Cs with the 45th TRS were located at Misawa AFB in Japan.

The RF-101C, like the RF-101A before it, was beset with maintenance problems. There were a series of groundings caused by defective landing gears and deficient hydraulic systems. Urgent modifications by McDonnell and Air Force crews helped to solve these problems.

In 1962, most RF-101s were fitted with new high resolution KA-45 cameras in the forward station and with two 12-inch KA-47s replacing the KA-1s. A special modification allowed the aircraft to take photographs at lower altitudes and the installation of a centerline ejector pod with flash cartridges gave the RF-101 a limited night photography capability. The *Toy Tiger* program of 1964/65 involved a retrofit of earlier RF-101Cs with panoramic KA-45 cameras mounted on side and vertical gyro-stabilized platforms, including night cameras using flash cartridges as well as the hardware introduced by the Mod 1181 program which employed Hycon KS-72 cameras and automatic controls that had originally designed for the RF-4C Phantom. The Voodoos were given the capability of refueling each other via a buddy refueling tank being carried in place of the usual external fuel tank underneath the aircraft's left wing.

RF-101A/C aircraft of the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing flew vital reconnaissance missions over Cuba during the Missile Crisis of October 1962, confirming and then monitoring the Soviet missile buildup on that island. The first missions over Cuba took place on October 23, 1962, and 15 pilots from the 363rd were awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses during that action.

The RF-101C was the only Voodoo version to serve in Vietnam. The RF-101C first appeared in the Pacific in August of 1958, when the 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron of the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing based at Kadena AFB on Okinawa got its first RF-101Cs. RF-101Cs from this squadron were deployed to South Vietnam in October-November of 1961 to fly intelligence gathering flights over South Vietnam and Laos. They flew their missions from Tan Son Nhut AFB near Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). The 67th TRW was soon followed by detachments of the 15th and 45th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadrons, which flew missions over Laos and South Vietnam, first from Thailand and then from Vietnam. These reconnaissance missions lasted from November 1961 through the spring of 1964. In 1965, the 20th TRS was moved in to replace the 15th TRS, which converted to RF-4Cs. The 20th TRS operated from Udorn RTAFB in Thailand for most of its service life, and covered most of the missions over northern North Vietnam. The 45th TRS was based at Tan Son Nhut, and covered the south.

RF-101Cs flew pathfinder missions for F-100s in the first USAF strike against North Vietnam on February 8, 1965. They initially operated out of South Vietnam, but later flew most of their missions over North Vietnam out of bases in Thailand. Bombing missions against the North required a large amount of photographic reconnaissance support, and by the end of 1967, all but one of the TAC RF-101C squadrons were in Southeast Asia.

When the RF-101C began operations in South East Asia, the missions were initially medium-altitude single-ship flights, although two-ship missions were allocated to particularly well-defended areas. When the SAM threat became more severe, the Vooodos began using a low-altitude high-speed approach to the target, followed by a quick pop-up to 10,000-15,000 feet for the photographic run, then a dive back down to lower altitudes for departure. This tactic continued until April 1967, when improved ECM quipment in the form of ALQ-71 pods allowed a return to medium altitudes. However, the presence of the pods seriously degraded the high-speed performance of the RF-101C, making it easier for MiGs to catch it. Consequently, fighter escorts often accompanied the RF-101C flights. In Southeast Asia, some RF-101Cs were modified to carry photoflash cartridges and TLQ-8 jammers.

The RF-101C was fast enough to be easily able to evade interception by North Vietnamese MiG-17s. However, the Mach-2 MiG-21 Fishbed was another story. Following the loss of an RF-101C to a MiG-21 Fishbed in September of 1967, the RF-101C was replaced by the McDonnell RF-4C Phantom II in reconnaissance missions over North Vietnam. After that time, the Voodoo was restricted to missions over Laos and South Vietnam, where the probability of encountering enemy fighters was much smaller. The last 45th TRS RF-101C left Saigon on November 16, 1970, bringing the era of Voodoo participation in the South East Asia War to an end.

33 RF-101Cs were lost in combat in Southeast Asia--24 to AAA and small arms fire, 5 to surface-to-air missiles, one to a MiG-21, one in a sapper attack on its base at Tan Son Nhut AFB near Saigon, and two to unknown causes. Six were lost in operational (non-combat related) accidents while serving in Southeast Asia. More than 30 RF-101Cs were lost in accidents during their early years of service, mainly due to pilot inexperience.

Plans had been made for the RF-101C to be gradually phased out of USAF service in favor of the McDonnell RF-4C Phantom II beginning in 1965. The RF-101Cs withdrawn from USAF service were to be transferred over to the Air National Guard. However, the requirements of the Vietnam war forced the USAF to change its plans, and the RF-101C had to soldier on for a few more years.

The Air National Guard did not get its first batch of RF-101Cs until early 1969. Over the next two years, President Nixon's program of Vietnamization increased the pace at which USAF units left Southeast Asia, and more and more RF-101Cs were transferred to the ANG. The last Voodoos departed the war zone in November of 1970. The last USAF RF-101C was phased out of the 31st TRTS, a replacement training unit at Shaw AFB, on February 16, 1971 and turned over to the Air National Guard.

The RF-101C served with the ANG only for a relatively short time. The last ANG RF-101C was retired in 1975.

There is a forward fuselage of an RF-101C in storage at the Paul Garber Restoration Facility of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum at Suitland, Maryland. I don't have its serial number.

Serials of RF-101C:

56-0040/0057		McDonnell RF-101C-60-MC Voodoo
				0048 at Selfridge Military Air Museum, MI.
56-0058/0086		McDonnell RF-101C-65-MC Voodoo
				0068 at Keesler AFB Air Park, MI.
56-0087/0114		McDonnell RF-101C-70-MC Voodoo
56-0115/0135		McDonnell RF-101C-75-MC Voodoo
				0125 at Kentucky ANG, Frankfort, KY.
56-0134/0154		Cancelled contract for RF-101C
56-0162/0173		McDonnell RF-101C-40-MC Voodoo
				0166 on display at WPAFB Museum
56-0174/0186		McDonnell RF-101C-45-MC Voodoo
56-0187/0198		McDonnell RF-101C-50-MC Voodoo
				0187 at Cannon AFB, NM.
56-0199/0221		McDonnell RF-101C-55-MC Voodoo
				0214 at Pima Air Museum, Tucson, AZ.
56-0222/0231		McDonnell RF-101C-60-MC Voodoo

Specifications of the RF-101C:

Engines: Two Pratt & Whitney J57-P-13 turbojets, 10,200 lb.s.t. dry and 15,000 lb.s.t. with afterburner. Performance: Maximum speed 1012 mph at 35,000 feet. Initial climb rate 45,500 feet/min. Service ceiling 55,300 feet, combat ceiling 51,540 feet. Normal range 1715 miles, maximum range 2145 miles. Weights: 26,136 pounds empty, 48,133 pounds gross, 39,495 pounds combat weight, 51,000 pounds maximum takeoff. Fuel: Maximum internal fuel load was 2250 US gallons. A total of three under-fuselage drop tanks could be carried, bringing maximum fuel load to 3150 US gallons. Dimensions: wingspan 39 feet 8 inches, length 69 feet 4 inches, height 18 feet 0 inches, wing area 368 square feet. Armament: The RF-101C was unarmed.

Sources:


  1. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Since 1920: Volume II, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1990.

  2. United States Military Aircraft Since 1909, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Smithsonian, 1989.

  3. The American Fighter, Enzo Angelucci and Peter Bowers, Orion, 1987.

  4. Fighters of the United States Air Force, Robert F. Dorr and David Donald, Temple Press Aerospace, 1990.

  5. American Combat Planes, Third Enlarged Edition, Ray Wagner, Doubleday, 1982.

  6. Post-World War II Fighters, 1945-1973, Marcelle Size Knaack, Office of Air Force History, 1986.

  7. McDonnell F-88/F-101 Voodoo Variant Briefing, Robert F. Dorr, Wings of Fame, Vol 1, 1996.

  8. E-mail from Carl Maier on history of 38th TRS.