‘It was a wonder to watch in our radar scopes what they were able to do to us. Their favourite trick was to negate every effort we made to close in and get a “fire” indication [on our FCS],’ Lt Col Frank W Trojcak, former F-102 pilot.
The primary mission of the F-102 was to intercept and destroy enemy aircraft. It was the world’s first supersonic all-weather jet interceptor and the USAF’s first operational delta-wing aircraft. The F-102 made its initial flight on Oct. 24, 1953, and became operational with the Air Defense Command in 1956. At the peak of deployment in the late 1950s, F-102s equipped more than 25 ADC squadrons and by 1961 23 out of the Air National Guard’s (ANG) 32 fighter interceptor squadrons had Delta Daggers.
The Texas ANG’s relative proximity to Convair’s Fort Worth plant, where B‐58A supersonic bombers were built, provided some unique training opportunities for F‐102 pilots, as Lt Col Frank W Trojcak, who flew with the 149th FIG of the Texas ANG from 1962 to 1986, recalled in Peter E. Davies’ book F-102 Delta Dagger Units;
‘The B‐58A had so much technological capability at that time. At Fort Worth it was in close proximity to us for testing its technology against frontline F‐102 interceptors. All the interception runs on B‐58As were done at around 18,000 ft and at a speed at which we could easily stay with the bomber. They were on a race‐track circuit from about Brady, Texas, to Brownsville. We would pull up about four to five miles behind him and continue to close in, using our very good FCS to try and defeat his ECM. It was both a learning experience for the B‐58A crew and for us as interceptor pilots.
‘It was a wonder to watch in our radar scopes what they were able to do to us. Their favourite trick was to negate every effort we made to close in and get a “fire” indication [on our FCS]. At times we would be driving in on him and everything seemed to be going perfectly. We would get what appeared to be a good “fire” signal but no! When we looked up expecting to find him about a mile ahead, he was not there. He was off to one side or the other by about a mile and we were almost abreast of each other. He could take our [radar] range gate and slowly steer our FCS to one side or the other and still let us get a good “fire” signal – but out in space.
‘Now this grizzly old pilot was not to be outfoxed. I learned how to defeat what he was doing to my FCS. I went to Manual control of the system and kept on driving right up his tail and got a good “fire” signal. As far as I know I’m the only one who repeatedly did that with 100 per cent success. But that was kid’s games, and if he wanted [to win] it was very simple. All we would see were four black smoke trails from the B‐58A’s engines suddenly stopping with the initiation of his four afterburners, after which he just accelerated out of sight. There was no way anyone could stay with him or catch him.
‘I flew approximately 20 of these missions, all by day. I did have the chance of one night mission, but I had a maintenance problem and aborted on take‐off. Convair sent us a letter of thanks and appreciation for all the information they had learned during our makeshift interceptions, which just consisted of getting in trail with the bomber and having a go at him. I loved the experience and gained a tremendous amount of confidence in my ability and in the F‐102 – a great aircraft!’
Although the B‐58A had a low radar signature compared with a B‐52, it could be picked up on an F‐102A’s IRST at more than 60 miles head‐on and at longer distances over the sea. The IRST could then be used with the radar in a number of modes that prioritised either the radar or IR returns. Using the IRST in this way also helped to defeat ECM emissions from the bomber target.
Lt Col Trojcak recalled that interceptions of high‐flying U‐2 spy planes were also possible. Theoretically, an F‐102’s Falcons (or 20 mm gunfire from an F‐104A, which could climb slightly higher) would disable a U‐2. To make that interception an F‐102 pilot would have accelerated to Mach 1.25 at 50,000 ft, pulled up into a snap‐up climb and launched the missiles at around 60,000 ft. It was possible to fly an F‐102 straight and level at around 58,000 ft.
F-102 Delta Dagger Units is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
Grew up in an Air Force family. This was an incredible aircraft, and I had a model of this plane as a kid, and saw it in person.