Photos of those Early Cold War Interceptors

Adding onto XBrad’s post on the early Cold War interceptors, I’ll add some photos from my (Craig’s) warbird files.

The US Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base displays F-86D, F-94 and F-89.  I’m a big fan of high-res photos of warbirds out in the bright sun, on the flight line (the way it ought to be!).   However those at the museum are inside one of the display hangers where low light levels hinder good photos.  But I’ll take preservation to the detriment of good photos any day.

Here’s the F-86D from the collection.


Notice the tray extended, behind the front landing gear, which carried 24 of the rockets XBrad mentioned.  North American Aviation started the F-86D project as a straight forward adaptation of the F-86 airframe and was originally designated the YF-95A at project conception.  The prototype “Sabre Dog” flew in December 1949, but without armament but provision for the APS-6 radar.  The advanced Hughes E-3 fire control system lagged far behind airframe development.  In fact, the F-86D held the world air-speed record for a time in 1952.  The fighter didn’t enter full service until April 1953, and even the with lingering system problems.

In service, the F-86D went through several “block” upgrades involving avionics and engine.  One block briefly received the designation F-86G before reverting to the F-86D nomenclature.  The production run of F-86Ds numbered over 2,500.  Denmark, Japan, South Korea, and Yugoslavia (yes…) received F-86Ds in the late 1950s as the USAF transitioned to new interceptors.  However the definitive export version was the F-86K with the less capable MC-4 weapons system and four 20mm cannons instead of rockets.  Deliveries began in 1955, with the Italian firm Fiat assembling many of those delivered.  France, Italy, Germany, Norway, and the Netherlands flew the F-86K.

As new interceptors arrived, the “Sabre Dog” was not entirely shunted away.  Starting in 1957, Upgrades to integrate with the SAGE system and other improvements transformed 981 into the F-86L.  One of those is on display today at the Air Power Park, outside Hampton, Virginia.

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Externally, these retained the distinctive “dog” nose.

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The F-86L remained in Air National Guard service until 1965.

The Lockheed F-94 Starfire, as XBrad pointed out, was a derivative of the very successful F-80 fighter/T-33 trainer family.  The first variants were radar-equipped, gun-armed night fighters – four 0.50 caliber machine guns that is.  Early Starfires carried the APG-33 radar.  The F-94A, which was the first production USAF fighter with afterburner, entered service in 1950.  Still this was an interim solution for the USAF, with poor combat performance.  The F-94B featured larger wing-tip tanks.  Both early “gun fighters” saw service in the Korean War with a handful of night kills.

First designated the F-97, the F-94C dispensed with the machine guns for rockets – 24 in the nose chutes and 12 each in two wing pods.  The new Starfire used the E-5 fire control system, somewhat comparable to the F-86D’s.  The “D” Starfire was the backup project pending deliveries of F-86D and the F-89Ds (see below).

These entered service in March 1953.  Problem was the base F-94was at best a lash-up solution.  Lacking the performance to intercept the supersonic bombers that everyone feared were rolling off Tupolev’s production lines, the type served only briefly, retiring from squadron service in 1959.  (An F-94D ground attack fighter never got off the ground, and was in some regards just a paper response to the Army’s pressure for CAS.)  The photo below shows an F-94C under the wing of a B-36L bomber, giving some comparison of the respective “hunter” and “hunted.”

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The last of the trio of “rocket fighters” also came from a “gunfighter” line.  Northrop delivered the first versions of the F-89 Scorpion in September 1950.  Armed with six 20-mm guns, the all-weather interceptor used an APG-33 radar.  By November 1952 the USAF had received over 200, most of which were the F-89C with more powerful engines.  However, the following year all were grounded and returned to Northrop for rebuild due to airframe fatigue problems.

Issues with the airframe delayed production of the F-89D rocket armed variant.  Expected to enter service in early 1952, the F-89D carried 104 rockets, an APG-40 radar, and the E-6 fire control system.  But the airframe problems delayed operational employment until January 1954.  Still the production run ended at just over 1000 Scorpions.  Although slower than the F-86D, the Scorpion had better range.  Given that feature, the F-89Ds served ADC on the far northern outposts.

The last production batches of F-89s were the “H” model which could fire Falcon air-to-air missiles from the wingtip pods instead of unguided rockets.  At the same time, 350 F-89Ds were updated to F-89J standard with capability for the Genie air-to-air nuke, along with the Falcons or unguided rockets.  XBrad will cover those missiles later on.

The USAF Museum has one of the F-89Js on display, with an empty pylon for the Genie (it is on a nearby display).
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Another F-89J sits in the open air at Hampton’s Air Power Park.

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But there are some other early Cold War interceptors to consider …  and which are represented at the USAF Museum.  We tend to see this as an “American” thing, but our Canadian neighbors to the north were very much into the ADC efforts.  The first (and only) Canadian designed jet fighter to reach production was the Avro CF-100 Canuck.  A prototype Canuck first flew in January 1950 as a single seat fighter.  The first production variant was the two-seat Mk.3 which carried eight 0.50-caliber machine guns and an APG-33 radar – putting it on par with the early F-94 Starfires.

But following the USAF lead, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) put rockets on the Mk.4 Canuck.  Along with the Scorpion’s APG-40 radar, the Mk.4 carried 58 rockets.  But unlike the USAF, the Canadians retained the machine guns. The Canucks integrated with the North American Air Defense System (NORAD) and shared the workload with American interceptors.

One of these Mk.4s is on display at the USAF Museum.


The later Mk.5s had upgraded engines but dropped the machine guns.  Some Mk.5s were outfitted to fire early versions of the Sparrow air-to-air missile.  Canucks served the RCAF well beyond their estimated service life.  Although replaced by the F-101 (CF-101 in Canada) Voodoo starting in 1961, CF-100s continued to operate in secondary roles as recon and electronic warfare platforms.  The last was retired in 1981.  In addition to the RCAF, a batch of fifty served the Belgian Air Force from 1957 to 1964.

But let’s step back a bit from these fancy rocket armed jets.  What defended North American airspace in the days while the fighters mentioned above were in development?  Well during the time between World War II and the end of the Korean War the USAF maintained a diverse livery.  Among a mix of old World War II veterans such as the P-51 (F-51 after the USAF came into being) and early jets was the F-82 “Twin-Mustang.”


Although it carried the same name as the P-51, the F-82 was an all new airframe (and most production versions used Allison engines, instead of the Merlin engines of the single-seater).  Designed as an ultra-long range escort, the F-82 (actually P-82 as it was still an “Army” fighter) was just a little late to see service during World War II.  Although production numbers dropped after V-J Day, the Army Air Corps Force did order 100 of the twin engine fighter for the radar-equipped night-fighter role.  By 1949 the “new” USAF had replaced all the veteran Northrop P-61 Black Widow in night-fighter squadrons with F-82s.  Twin-Mustangs saw action in Korea, and were credited with the war’s first air-to-air victory.  Notably, the last version of the Twin-Mustang, the F-82H, was a winterized version for use over Alaska and Canada.  The F-82s held the line during those early Cold War years when Continental Air Defense was at best embryonic.

5 thoughts on “Photos of those Early Cold War Interceptors”

  1. Craig:

    The Army Air Corps ended in mid-1941 and became the Army Air Force. Which lasted throughout WWII and until it became the USAF in 1947. Having been an AF brat from late (very late) 1944 until I joined the USAF in 1965 and later having served in the USAF (Res), I am a bit touchy about the timing of the names.

    I always enjoy these posts, so please excuse my pedantry.

    Paul L. Quandt

    1. Scratch through posted. Old habits die hard. I used to shout “Army Air Corps” when forced to sing the Air Force song at events. Who says that divorce was amicable?

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