Airborne Awesomosity

A Sword To Cut Down The Enemy: North American F-108 Rapier

North American XF-108 Rapier

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In the  late nineteen fifties when you needed a very long range escort capable of mach 3 the hurdles were huge.  This aircraft would need to be very large to accommodate all the fuel needed for range. More importantly it would need the largest available engines to get it to three times the speed of sound. Next it needs to be armed with the latest and greatest in fire control hardware to knock out the bad guys. This leads to some interesting design decisions and some very unique looking aircraft.



XB-70 Valkyrie


With the threat of the USSR hanging over us on a nightly basis, we worked hard on being prepared for the upcoming war. At the time bombers were still king of the skies but slowly their vulnerabilities were being seen more and more. The best way seen to get around this with a manned bomber was to built it faster and design it to fly higher. The technology of the time allowed us create this bomber. To go with this would require a fighter that would be outside of the norm.


Artist rendering of an artist rendering of an artist rendering

[image credit –]

North American  who designed and built the XB-70 also answered the call for its escort. Like the B-70 it would feature some very innovative features such as folding wing tips. The reason for this was to capture the shock waves of going over the speed of speed use them to create extra lift. To encourage the US Air Force they shared other parts with the Valkyrie as well. The F-108 would use two of the same six engines used in the bomber. They also utilized the same escape mechanism.

In the end it was cancelled due to high costs and the perception that intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles would perform the same role as the manned bomber. Although two prototypes were ordered it never got past the mockup stage. Some of the design features of the Rapier would be used for a followup North American Aircraft known as the A-5 Vigilante which would look very similar and have a successfull career with the Navy.

Here are the specifications from the US National Air Force Museum website.

TECHNICAL NOTES (mockup configuration):

Armament: Four 20mm cannons, 108 2.75-in. rockets and up to 4,000 lbs. of bombs
Engines: Two General Electric J93-GE-3 turbojets of 30,000 lbs. thrust each with afterburner
Maximum speed: Approx. Mach 3
Range: 1,150 miles
Span: 57.4 ft.
Length: 89.2 ft. (not including nose boom)
Height: 22.1 ft.
Tread: 11 ft.
Weight: 102,000 lbs. maximum design gross weight
Crew: Two





The F-108 may have been a failed experiment but it wouldn’t be the last design to fill this need. For the next decade the push for a Mach III fighter would continue unabated. In the end only the Russians would be the only nation fill this role with the Mig 29 Foxbat. Vietnam showed us that in most wars an interceptor of this type would no longer be needed.  This would be one of the last pure interceptor designs from the U.S.


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