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How America's First Delta Wing Fighter Prevented WWIII

Despite the general incompetence of Soviet long-range nuclear bombers, the US couldn’t allow a single such plane to reach US airspace. Its response — a new breed of fighter jet with an unprecedented wing design and handling.

The Convair F-102 “interceptor” was the first fighter to incorporate a tailless delta wing design anywhere in the world. It was designed exclusively to intercept Soviet bombers and as such was built with nothing but unbridled speed and agility in mind. Based on the work of renowned German engineer Alexander Lippisch, this single-seat supersonic fighter measured 20.7m in length with a 11m wingspan. A single Pratt & Whitney J57-P-25 afterburning turbojet propelled the F-102 Delta Dagger to Mach 1.25 with an operational ceiling of 16,276m. Its delta wing design allowed the F-102 harder cornering at higher speeds than anything a conventionally winged aircraft can accomplish. It entered active service in 1956 and over the course of its 20 year service, more than a 1000 were built.

The Delta Dagger was outfitted with two dozen 70mm unguided rockets, 6sixAIM-4 Falcon air-to-air missiles, and a single AIM-26 Falcon that could be loaded with a nuclear warhead — enough to lay low a fleet of Soviet bombers over the Pacific. But engaging aircraft at supersonic speeds is far easier said than done, so the Delta Dagger incorporated a cutting-edge (by 1950′s standards at least) computerised fire control systems (FCS) that would automatically track, target, and fire upon enemy aircraft — without pilot intervention.

The F-102 served as the backbone of American air defence for more than 20 years, seeing action in Vietnam. By 1976, however, the F-102 was retired from active service and replaced by the even faster F-106 Delta Dart, which could reach Mach 2.

[Military Factory - National Air Force Museum -- Wikipedia]