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Lockheed F-94 Starfire
By Tom N.
Mar 14, 2005, 13:00

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The Lockheed F-94 Starfire interceptor is little-talked and almost forgotten in these days.

The type was designed as an all-weather, day & night interceptor, equipped with radar. It entered service in 1950, and was the first jet-powered interceptor of the Air Defense Command (ADC). A total of 854 Starfires were manufactured. The U.S. Air Force (USAF) used them in the 1950s, and the Air National Guard (ANG) in the 1960s.

The F-94 was an efficiently designed aircraft, with excellent sight out of the cockpit, and a weight of 10.980kg. It was powered by Allison engines, and could reach the speed of 975km/h, fly over a range of 2.000km, and fly as high as 15.000m.

I was lucky enough to get a seat in an old F-94C - equipped with rockets instead of guns - of 29th FIS, based at Great Falls AFB, in Montana, in 1959.

I recall thinking the F-94s were ugly: I did not like them near as much as my father's North American F-86 Sabre fighter. But, I also recall my father telling me they were good old birds and very good weapons platforms. I had not known that he had flow them until very recently.

The first picture bellow shows the F-94 with my father at the controls, and his radar operator having pulled his hood over his head, so to better see the radar display.

Author's father riding the F-94B "FA-460". This version differed very little to the previous F-94A: equipped with the Hughes E-1 fire-control system, it lacked the rocket-launchers mounted in the front fuselage, as on the later F-94C. Instead, both the F-94A and F-94B were still armed with four machine-guns mounted bellow the nose. (All photos: USAF, via author)

An interesting view of a F-94C (the only variant officially named "Starfire"), showing the Huges E-5 fire-control system, including the AN/APG-40 radar, and a nose-mounted battery of launchers for unguided rockets. The AN/APG-40 was a very powerful set at the time, capable of tracking targets at up to 48km (30 miles). It also provided target range, speed, azimuth and elevation to the RIO.

Aside from four groups with six rockets each mounted in the nose, the F-94Cs could also carry a 12-round rocket launcher, mounted in aerodynamic housing on each wing. The example here is seen firing rockets from these pods.

A single NF-94B (51-5502) was also used for testing of different F-99 BOMARC components. It is seen here in front of a B-57B, during the programme.

Post Scriptum

The first kill scored by F-94 was quite an obscure one. On 24 May 1951, a C-119 took off from Tachikawa AB, near Tokyo, with a crew of three and two US Army passengers. Shortly after take-off, there was a technical malfunction and the pilot ordered the crew and the passengers to bail out, radioing the base about his intentions. Two F-94Bs were scrambled to intercept the now uncontrollable transport aircraft, as it turned around on its own and headed back towards Tokyo.

Fully expecting the plane to crash into the nearest mountain, the two F-94-pilots followed the pilot-less C-119 for two and a half hours, while it finally crossed the coast and flew out over the Sea of Japan. Finally, the two F-94s were ordered to shot it down. After "many shots", the C-119 caught fire and crashed into the sea.

Later in the same year, the F-94As of the 68th FIS were briefly deployed to Korea. Concerned that their precious airborne radars might fall into enemy hands should one of the Starfires fall behind the enemy lines, the USAF pulled them out prematurely - and the type thus never came into position to challenge MiGs in the night skies over Northern Korea.

After the unit was re-equipped with F-94Bs, in 9152 the 319th FIS was deployed to Suwon, but still with orders not to fly over enemy territory. Despite immense problems with maintenance, with tremendous support from Hughes Company, the F-94 and its airborne radar eventually proved a success.

The restriction on use of F-94s in combat was lifted only in early 1953. The 319th FIS did not wait for long to cross its swords with opponent: on 30 January an F-94B flown by Capt. Benjamin L. Fithian and radar operator Lt. R. S. Lyons, was launched to intercept an intruding Lavochking La-9 fighter, never seen by friendly forces, but identified by interception of enemy communication. Fithian and Lyons established radar contact, approached, extended air brakes to stay behind their slow target, and attacked, using the radar scope only. Strikes from their machine-guns set the La-9 afire and sent it spinning into the sea.

By the end of the war, the F-94s in Korea claimed three additional kills - including a Polikarpov Po-2, on 3 May 1953; a MiG-15, on 10 May 1953. The last kill, reportedly against a MiG-15, should have been scored by Col. Robert V. McHale, CO 319th FIS, and his radar operator, Capt. Samuel Hoster, on 7 June 1953, at 22:45hr in the evening, near Namsi-dong. Supposedly, McHale and Hoster flew their F-94 "51-5503" through their slow-flying target, killing themselves and their opponent in the process. This claim was never officially credited, however, and it appears that no opponent was shot down at all during that engagement.

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