Aviation History


After seriously considering the production of the F-107A, the USAF instead chose to buy the F-105 Thunderchief

The North American F-107A Ultra Sabre was a mid-1950s development of the successful F-100 Super Sabre. Special features of the F-107A included an engine air intake above the cockpit, an all-moving vertical fin, and a system (called a Variable Area Inlet Duct) that automatically controlled the amount of air fed to the jet engine.

The first of three prototypes, the F-107A (serial 55-5118) flew in September 1956, attaining Mach 1. A few months later, an F-107 flew at Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound).

Noteworthy during its flight test campaign the F-107A experienced problems with “tuning” the intake at high number of Mach as had occurred with virtually all the Century Series. Later more in-depth evaluation found some unsuitable flying qualities. However, as the flight test campaign progressed the automatic variable inlet duct system became a chronic problem; thus the maximum altitude for sustained flight was limited to 51,000 feet.

As explained by Ted Spitzmiller in his book book Century Series, The USAF Quest Air Supremacy 1950-1960, it was not until March 1957 that the U.S. Air Force (USAF) made the final decision to cancel the F-107 and instead buying the F-105 Thunderchief.

The first and third F-107A prototypes were then leased to the NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics), predecessor to NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), for high-speed flight research – the variable intake on the third F-107A being one of the prime investigation points. However, the variable-area inlet duct proved a constant source of mechanical problems, and it was eventually made a fixed intake that limited the top speed to Mach 1.2.

According Spitzmiller “a second area of interest to NACA and the USAF was the evaluation of a “side-stick” installed on the right side of the F-107A cockpit in addition to the traditional center position. The North American Aviation X-15 rocket plane, then in the final stages of design, would use a ‘hand-controller’ that cradled the pilot’s right arm so that the high acceleration forces imparted by the rocket engine would not cause unintended control input. The traditional center stick was for use after burnout of the rocket engine.”

As Spitzmiller explains “the first prototype had so many problems that NACA eventually grounded it and used t as a spares donor for the other two. The third plane, which was turned over to NACA in February 1958 for the variable duct research and side-stick evaluation, completed forty flights before an incident ended its flying days. Test Pilot Scott Crossfield, who was preparing to fly the X-15, was piloting 55-5120 [F-107A third prototype] during a take-off when he encountered control problems. The plane ground looped, blowing both main tires, and a small small brake fire resulted. Although the airplane was not badly damaged, it was decided not to invest in repairs. Crossfield indicated that the desired attributes of the side stick had been demonstrated and that no further testing was needed. The plane was cut up for use as a fire-fighting training form.”

Airframe 55-5118 was acquired by the Pima Air Museum in Tucson, while the second prototype (F-107A 55-5119 which was used for weapons testing with both conventional and atomic bombs) can be seen at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.

North American F-107A at the National Museum of the United States Air Force

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Additional source: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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