05 September, 2014

Profile 92: JUST STARTED— F-102 as flown by a guy from the 509th FIS

I've wanted to do a Southeast Asian F-102 for some time but until now, didn't have the opportunity until earlier this year.  In my opinion, the airplane in Vietnam camo looks totally awesome!

So, have a look above.  It's the start of an F-102 of the 509th FIS circa 1968.  "444" to be precise.

The only other '102 that I've done was one flown by the South Dakota Air National Guard.  Done up in her early-1960's "ADC Light Gray" paint typical of Tactical Air Command, I thought it looked more like a NASA space craft than fighter plane.  However, in my research for that particular commission, I discovered the 102 also wore SEA warpaint and filed the info in my 'that'd-be-cool-to-draw-someday' mental hard drive.

My art of the SDANG F-102

This past February, a strange chain of events (they usually are, which ironically makes them normal) put me across the table with a 509th "Deuce" pilot who had a few stories to tell.  Not many though.  Just a few.  (more later).

Hold that thought.

The F-102 was a bit-player in the aerial arena of Vietnam.  I think only two squadrons were even deployed.  Why?  Well, the F-102 was designed as an "interceptor."  In other words, an airplane sent to intercept attacking airplanes.  In other words, a defender.  More specifically, a defender against enemy bombers.  

The demands upon an Intercepter are dramatic but straightforward—it needs to be able to get the attacker before it can attack.  Qualities like rate-of-climb and heavy aerial firepower are crucial.  Back in the '50s and against a stream of Russian bombers, the F-102 Delta Dagger (normally called "the Deuce") would have crushed whatever the Reds sent.   But in Vietnam, the bombers never came.  And good thing, too because the packed American airfields would have made a hell of a target had the North Vietnamese been able to buy enough* Il-28s to become a real threat.

Here.  Have a look.

C-123s, C-130, A-37s, RB-47s, F-4s and 509th F-102s at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, circa 1968
Source unknown  

As it turned out, the only attacks on American bases were from Viet Cong-thrown satchel charges and mortar rounds.   Dồng for đồng**, the VC were far more effective than any bombing raid could have ever been; over the 509th's history, they bagged 4!

So, the Deuce's interceptor mission never even got off the ground.  "Nothing to see here, move along..." right?  No.

A 509th Deuce heads north.
Source: private collection.

In the next few weeks, I will be finishing the airplane of a pilot (no names, he prefers anonymity) who flew 52 combat missions in this wicked-looking warbird.  Yeah, it flew combat.  How, what and why are a different story altogether and will be an interesting look at how deploying weapons systems are a balance of preparedness, practicality and pure guesswork.

*It turns out they had about eight.
**Vietnamese currency is the đồng.