08 July, 2011

Profile 51 - "61114" as flown by the SDANG

NOTE:  I'm taking a short break from WW2 planes to focus on a special Commission to do the aircraft of the South Dakota Air National Guard.  I hope you enjoy this diversion.

At the risk of being smashed under the weight of my own irony, "the internet" is a middling place for research.  The cut-and-paste tendencies of fact-gathering can quickly distort reality.  The study of history, especially military history, is no exception.  Try this sometime - pour a tall glass of your favorite libation and Google "Hitler's Spacecraft."  But be careful - you'll never get that time back...

But, when I started research into the F-102, I started with the web (duh) and was surprised to find so much negative about the airplane.  Fortunately, having three older sisters made me value skepticism. In other words, I don't believe everything I read, see, hear... (thanks, girls).

So, regarding the Delta Dagger, I figured it'd be best to ask someone who actually FLEW the airplane.

A couple nights ago, I called up my buddy Col. Bill Creech and asked him about his time in the F-102.  Bill's a qualified guy.  He flew A-36s and P-51s in WW2, then F-100s in Vietnam.  He's flown pretty much anything that the Air Force had up to the end of green camo paint jobs.  Including "The Deuce" of course.

He described how he'd orient new pilots in the two-seat version called a TF-102.  At about 15K, he'd pull the nose up and throttle back to where the airplane would be mushing through the air at around 85kts.  In case you're needing a reference, 85 knots is Cessna 150 speed.

Anyway, Bill articulated how the F-102 would be near vertical but completely steady and within the pilot's control, "...a sweet dream!" he enthused.  "Of course, we were sinking around three thousand a minute, but she was as smooth as ever. A little push of nose and we'd be on our way again.  What an airplane!"

Bill went on to explain the why's of the Deuce's remarkable maneuverability and flight control - the giant delta (triangle) wing provided wing-loading that was more like an early war WW2 prop fighter than a 60's supersonic interceptor.

In case you don't know what "wingloading" is, it's essentially the weight the wing carries per square foot*. Think about two hikers - one has a heavy backpack, the other none.  Which one will be more agile?   Here's some context:

                        Airplane                                  Wingloading
                        Sopwith Camel (WW1)            6lbs/square foot
                        Mitsubishi Zero (WW2)          23lbs/square foot
                        P-51 Mustang (WW2)             40lbs/square foot
                        Mig-15 (Korea)                       50lbs/square foot
                        F-100 Super Saber ('nam)       70lbs/square foot
                        Boeing 747                            130lbs/square foot

                        F-102 ('nam)                           32lbs/square foot

Suffice it to state, the F-102 could be jinked around like a housefly.  And these numbers become all the more remarkable when considering the thing is nearly 70feet long and could have a dirty-weight of nearly 30,000lbs!

In the SDANG series, the Delta Dagger is the big awkward kid at the school dance, but certainly deserves a deeper look past any hand-me-down criticism.  Of all the planes, I've learned the most about The Deuce and am happy to have new-found respect towards her designers, crew and pilots. 

However, the state-of-the art changed when the SDANG hangared their 102s in 1970.  Stand by - The Hun is in the pattern!

Fortunately in my research, I was able to spend some time up-close and personal with a real F-102.  I went through my photos and thought you might like this shot showing the radically sharp-edged canopy.

*Recognizing that the topic of wingloading is a completely different issue and entails complexities far beyond my skip-the-surface analogy, let's keep the discussion on The Deuce for now and pick up the aerodynamic engineering over Christmas break.