Losses and Aviation Safety

The story of the NASA F-106 Delta Dart that was struck by Lightning 714 Times

An extensively modified F-102 Delta Dagger

An extensively modified version of the F-102 Delta Dagger was developed during 1955 under the designation of F-102B but the changes became so extensive that the designation was eventually changed to F-106 Delta Dart. The delta wing remained substantially unchanged, but the fuselage was modified to accommodate more powerful Pratt & Whitney J-75 turbojet. Engine intakes were re-located behind the cockpit and were variable for optimum engine performance at all speeds. The cockpit was moved forward relatively, and the shape of the fin and rudder changed. A new undercarriage was fitted, with steerable twin nose wheels.

NASA F-106 Delta Dart

The Delta Dart featured in the photo of this post is F-106B Serial # 57-2516. The aircraft was delired to NASA, redisgnated NF-106B and was known as NASA 816 Lightening Strike Burns.

After this F-106B flew as N616NA for NASA’s Lewis Research Center in Cleveland for several years in supersonic transport-related studies, it was transferred to Langley Research Center and renumbered N816NA for a role it would serve for nearly six years starting on Jan. 29, 1979. N816NA in fact joined NASA’s Storm Hazards Program to study the effects of lightning strikes on aircraft.

As told by Bill Yenne in his book Convair Deltas: From SeaDart to Hustler, the program began the previous year in 1978 using De Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft that would fly on the fringes of thunderstorms gathering lightning data to be used in planning the penetration flights of N816NA. The modified Delta Dart would be flown into thunderstorms to trigger lightning strikes. Mainly operating off the coast of Virginia and at various locations in the US Midwest, the Delta Dart would fly as low as 3,500 feet up to as high as 50,000 feet on its penetration flights. In its time with the Storm Hazards Program, N816NA made 1,496 thunderstorm penetrations and was struck by lightning 714 times. In a single flight in 1984 it was struck 72 times in the space of only 45 minutes while penetrating a thunderstorm at 38,000 feet!

The data collected during the course of the program proved to be extremely valuable to both commercial and military aviation and represented a significant step in aviation safety.

Photo credit: NASA

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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