Sunday, October 4, 2009

The F-89, an overlooked aircraft in the history of the Cold War.

The F-89, an overlooked aircraft in the history of the Cold War.

Aside from being an aircraft that Heritage Flight Museum founder William Anders flew, some have asked what makes the F-89 Scorpion an important historical aircraft. Good question, and in order to answer that let’s take a step back in time.

It’s 1948. Americans are anxious to return to a simpler civilian way of life after 5 long years of war, and the post-war demobilization has sent thousands of aircraft and hundreds of ships to the smelters. The Boys have come home, and the fledgling UN has given people around the globe hope for a peaceful world.

Those hopes were shattered on June 24, 1948, when the Soviet Union decided to close all ground access to West Berlin through East Germany by the Allies. By the time the Berlin Blockade ended in May 1949 the United States had faced the grim reality that while World War II had ended, the Cold War had begun.

A C-54 "Candy Bomber" arrives at West Berlin's Templehof Airport while blockaded West Berliners watch.

Later in 1949 the Soviet Union exploded it’s first atomic bomb, China fell to Mao Zedong’s Communist rebels, and in 1950 Communist North Korea invaded South Korea to start the Korean War. In 1953 the USSR tested a hydrogen bomb, and developed long range bombers such as the IL-16 Beagle, TU-16 Badger, and TU-95 Bear that were capable of attacking the United States.

The F-89 Scorpion was developed to counter this threat to the United States, and replaced the P-61 Black Widow and F-82 Twin Mustang beginning in 1950. Born in the years before the advent of missile equipped supersonic fighters, originally the F-89C carried six 20 mm nose mounted cannon.

A very rare image of what appears to be a F-89C nose cannon testbed and 3 of it's 6 cannon.

However, these were removed in the F-89D and replaced with an intercept radar in the nose and combination of Falcon and “Mighty Mouse” air-air missiles in pods on the wingtips. Later the F-89J carried a combination of Falcon missiles and the AIR-2 Genie missile.

A F-89J carrying Falcon and Genie air-air missiles.

The F-89 was deployed over much of the northern hemisphere, including USAF bases in Iceland, Greenland, and the continental US. This unsung hero of the Cold War served as the first line of defense against the Soviet bomber threat for many years, until replaced by aircraft such as the F-102 and F-106 in the 1960s.

Over 1,000 F-89s were built but only a handful of them survive, making the Heritage Flight Museum’s acquisition a rare treasure. Through it we pay tribute to the thousands of USAF personnel who kept America safe while far away from home during the Cold War. (SK)

Length: 53’ 8”
Wingspan: 59’ 10”
Ceiling: 45,000’
Weight: 47,700 (max)
Range: 1,600 miles
Max Speed: 627 mph
Engines: 2 J-35 engines, 7,200 pounds thrust each

F-89's fly over the Golden Gate Bridge, circa 1950's.

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