Interview with Convair F-106 Delta Dart pilot

Sleek, sophisticated and supersonic, the F-106 was an interceptor tasked with defending North America. National air defence competed with SAC nuclear deterrence for budget and influence throughout the 50s (B-47 ISD 1951, B-52 ISD 1955) but the all-weather bomber interceptor kept rising to the top of the procurement chain and the frequent ‘failures’ along the line were relegated to the FB role with NATO, the Military Aid Program or politically expedient allies. So when the F-106 entered service in 1959 as a development of the F-102 there were sceptics especially as engine and avionic performance were poor in development. But Convair had done their research and with a T/W of 0.71 and a low W/L of 250Kg/m² it was quick and manoeuvrable with agility at low and medium speed coupled with light buffet warning of impending high ⍺ oscillations.The fuselage was ‘area ruled’ for aerodynamic efficiency and with a J75-P-17 in excess of Mach 2 at altitude was achieved with ‘super cruise’ (supersonic cruise without AB) a reality. Vertical manoeuvring in visual combat was very effective as was the ‘blow thorough’ weapons pass. Eventually Convair built 277 ‘A’ models. Yet again during USAF procurement the pilot got the rough end of the stick and ejector seat design was woefully inadequate, pilots were most concerned about high and fast but designers with low and slow. Two early seats by Weber Aircraft Corporation (not BBQ fame) suited neither regime and 12 lives were lost until a rocket catapult ‘zero-zero’ seat was installed.

Doctrinally lacking guns or external weapons carriage, but with an internal weapons bay for four AIM-4 A or B (GAR1 or 2) Falcons or a mix with a nuclear AIR-2A Genie unguided rocket it was well armed for the role. The Genie rocket – this was a small nuclear warhead unguided rocket that was intended to detonate in front of attacking Soviet bombers and by its resultant blast, destroy multiple numbers of aircraft. Employing the Hughes MA-1 weapons control system in conjunction with the Semi-Autonomous Ground System (SAGE) intercepts were considerably simplified. The combat philosophy became ‘get there the firstest with the mostest’. Two supersonic 360 US Gallon tanks could be carried underwing and a gun was fitted to later versions. 

The aircraft acquitted itself well during Project HAVE DRILL versus MiG-17F Fresco (YF-114C) in the late 60s and during Project HAVE FERRY against a second MiG-17F (both originally made in Poland as Lim-5s and exported to Syria – procurement clue). It remained in ANG service until 1988. This may have been the ‘Last Starfighter’ that got away, it was very quick, it could turn, had interception assistance from the ground and a usable internal weapons menu.

– Intro by Peter Day

Paul Worcestor flew the F-106 as an Air National Guard member assigned solely to the 102nd Fighter Wing for 30 years. He flew the Six from September 1979 to December 1987. 

What were you first impressions of the aircraft?  As a young 2nd Lieutenant with barely 200 total flying hours, I was pretty overwhelmed with its complexity but loved its performance. 

What was the best feature of the aircraft? Its ability to cruise at very high altitudes and very high speed. High-altitude cruise – we often would cruise around 0.92 mach or greater if fuel was less of an issue in reaching whatever was our destination. The Dart would readily cruise above 40,000 feet with ease. The older generation of Dart pilots would say they would often fly above 50,000 feet when wearing pressure suits. This 50,000 foot limitation was in-place when I started to fly her. 

. ..and the worst?  It had no flaps, no ABS braking, and landed at very high speeds and in conjunction with that delta wing, it could be a real handful with crosswinds when trying aero-brake to stop.

On my during my last ‘Bear’ intercept.

Describe the aircraft in three words?  Fast, Fetching, and Fun! 

What was your unit’s role and did you ever intercept Soviet aircraft? We had primary NORAD air defense responsibilities for the busy northeast corridor. Yes, I intercepted pairs of Russian Bears on three separate occasions – September 1981, and twice a week apart in April 1982.

What stands out as the aircraft’s best piece of equipment?  Perhaps the AIR-2A Genie rocket – certainly as a deterrence weapon. 

. ..and what was its worst?  The Falcon missiles. Falcon missiles – were actually “hitttiles.” These air-to-air guided missiles had no proximity fuses and had to penetrate the adversary’s aircraft in order to set off the “crushable” fuses in the missile fins. Also, their success as an air-to-air weapon was marginal to okay depending on the jamming environment, adversary counter-measures, etc. 

How good were the sensors? For its day, they were extraordinary and ahead of their time.  

How effective were its weapons?  There was no beating the nuclear rocket, but the missiles were its challenge

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Please describe your most memorable mission

I had so many. I would have to say my first Soviet Bear intercept when I was paired with my good friend (we were both young lieutenants) and professionally escorted the pair down the east coast. I think senior leadership was a bit concerned “the kids” would screw it up! We didn’t! About three plus years later I had a mid-air collision at night with my vice wing commander. I was hit from behind and lost six feet of wing. I managed to land it at an air force base 40 miles away and my commander ejected from his. He hired me into the Air Guard so it was hard to be mad at him! Lol. We remained very close friends until his death in 2014.   

What was life like in your unit, what was the recreational side like? We were a Guard unit, so most members were employed elsewhere, mainly with the commercial airlines, so our social interactions took place as planned events vs. the active duty day-to-day living together on base. However, we played hard when we did!   

Tell me something I don’t know about the F-106?  I’d have to kill you for this! Lol. Gee, I guess you might not know the Six had a fully integrated flight and weapons control system whereby air defense ground crews could provide targets electronically on the jet’s display maps and actually fly the jet from their location on the ground via a data link. Pretty advanced system.  

How would you rate it in the following categories:

A. Sustained turn – not so good. 

B. Instantaneous turn – fantastic with that big delta wing but watch out for adverse yaw!  
C. Crispness of controls – very responsive fighter. 
D. Ergonomics – like most century series fighters, it was terrible. Switch locations were challenging and pre-upgrade instrumentation was awful. 
E. Climb rate – while it was not an F-15, it was pretty impressive! 
F. Range – extraordinary especially when air traffic control approved your cruise in the 40,000 foot range .

Complete this sentence: The F-106 is/was… a NORAD game-changer! 

What should I have asked you?  So you flew the F-15 after years in the F-106, what one did you like better? The F-15 was far more lethal, but the F-106 was far more challenging and fun to fly. No matter where you flew the Dart, people clamoured around you to see it up close and talk with you about it!    

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