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Early U.S. and Soviet Supersonic Fighter Jets: Contrast Design, Part 1 of 4

USAF YF-100 fighter jet

Thomas “Top Gun Tommy” Gardner is explaining how the design of early U.S. and Soviet fighter jets differed from each other. This, in turn, led to the further development of today’s fighters located at each side of the former iron curtain.

The end of World War II brought about a global, political and military restructuring, resulting in the emergence of the world’s only superpowers, the United States of America and the Soviet Union. 

This set the stage for one of the most difficult of confrontations between the powers resulting in the Cold War.

As the name implies, this type of war was fundamentally fought on the battlefield of technology. 

This war, although at times became hot, was for the most part an arms race and whoever had the best in cutting edge technology would have the advantage, often tipping the balance of power on a global scale.

Early U.S. and Soviet Supersonic Fighter Jets

This was evident, especially in the rapid design and development of high-speed jet fighters. 

Due to the accelerated pace involved, airframe design quickly eclipsed turbojet development. This, however, did not impede the powers involved from developing aircraft capable of sustained Mach 1 performance in level flight.

Aircraft types

This article will focus on the design of three particular aircraft:

Early U.S. and Soviet Fighter Jets, YF-100, XF4D-1, MIG-19
From top to bottom: YF-100, XF4D-1, MIG-19. Schematics: USAF and Soviet Air Force.
  • North American YF-100 Super Sabre,
  • Douglas XF4D-1 Skyray, and
  • Soviet MIG-19. 

The importance of the three aircraft

These aforementioned aircraft are important for this reason: 

Their individual designs reflected the mastery and understanding each superpower possessed in regards to sustained supersonic flight. The designs also reflected upon each superpower’s practical and resourceful application of that knowledge which was evident in each corresponding design.

Each aircraft will be discussed in regards to its developmental history, and aerodynamic design characteristics. 

Bear in mind, the aircraft design process begins with a set of physical and performance requirements stipulated by the customer; i.e., US Air Force, US Navy, Soviet Air Force.

North American F-86 Sabre, the precursor to the YF-100 Super Sabre

F-86 Sabre lowpass in a video posted on YouTube/AirshowStuff.

The North American F86 Sabre entered service with the United States Air Force in 1949.  North American Aviation was already fast at work on its replacement. 

Lee Atwood, President of North American, along with Raymond Rice, Vice President of Engineering, realized this next-generation aircraft must be capable of sustained Mach 1 performance in level flight.

In order to achieve these goals, this required the eventual departure from the already proved F86 airframe. This was due to company studies involving F86 D and E variants with a 45° leading-edge wing of moderate aspect ratio and powered by uprated Allison J35 and GE J47 full afterburning turbojets.

However, these aircraft lacked the power and aerodynamic qualities required to achieve Mach 1 in level flight.  Therefore, an entirely new design approach was required.

The Sabre 45 project

This was eventually realized in North American Project No. 192 or commonly referred to as In House Sabre 45. 

An entirely new airframe was designed around a Pratt & Whitney XJ57 Turbojet capable of producing 15,000 lb. of afterburning thrust.

A combination of engineering elements would yield a more conventional design 

In House Sabre 45 design would embrace a long oval-shaped nose inlet of sharp lip radius and a wing of 45° leading-edge sweep with a subsequent aspect ratio of 4.

This specially designed wing would incorporate the use of inboard ailerons in the absence of flaps while utilizing leading-edge slats for an improved lift at a lower airspeed. 

Directional control was facilitated by a low mounted all-moving horizontal stabilizer and a large vertical tail. 

North American guaranteed a top speed of Mach 1.3 in level flight at 35,000 ft. as stipulated in the North American proposal to the United States Air Force submitted on 14 May 1951.

The USAF YF-100 is born

early u.s. and soviet fighter jets YF-100
North American YF-100 Super Sabre. Photo: USAF.

The Air Force took the better part of six months to respond and on 1 November 1951 issued contract AF 33(600)-6545. 

This contract requested that two prototypes be built, designated as YF-100.  The two prototypes were identified as (52-5754) and (52-5755).

YF-100 testflight goes supersonic

On 25 May 1953 North American’s chief test pilot George Welch was at the controls of YF-100 No. 754, where he went supersonic on its maiden test flight. 

This YouTube video posted by San Diego Air and Space Museum shows the first test-flight of the YF-100, on May 25, 1955.

From that very moment, an aeronautical legend was born.

The YF-100 was the first in the century series of specially designed fighters and fighter bombers.  Its stable mates would include the McDonnell F-100 Voodoo, Convair F-102 Delta Dagger, Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, Republic F-105 Thunder Chief and Convair F-106 Delta Dart..

The YF-100 would soon set a raft of speed and altitude records. Its unique design would evolve into the YF-100A, F-100A, F-100C, F-100D, and F-100F. 

It would serve with honor and distinction over the skies of Southeast Asia.

The jet was known by the nickname Hundert or “Hun” and earned special respect that only its pilots and support crews could understand. 

The F-100 was truly a special and unique aircraft and deserves its special place in aeronautical history.

The first part of this series on the early U.S. and Soviet supersonic fighter jets discussed the developments up to and including the YF-100 Super Sabre. In Part 2 we discuss the development of the Douglas XF4D-1.

Part 2, Part 3.

Story: ©2020 Thomas E. Gardner. You can contact the author here.

Featured Image: YF-100. Photo: National Museum.

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