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North American F-100 Super Sabre

Overview

Following the success of the F-86 Sabre North American built the F-100 Super Sabre. It was the first United States Air Force (USAF) aircraft that could go supersonic, and sustain it, in level flight. It first flew on May 25, 1953.[i] George Welch flew the first test flight where he became the first person to break the sound barrier in level flight in an air breathing aircraft.[ii] Brigadier General Chuck Yeager was critical of the F-100. George Welch considered Yeager’s criticisms “nit-picking”. North American had delivered about 200 F-100As to the USAF then on October 12, 1954 George Welch was killed when his F-100A disintegrated while flying supersonic. The flight recorder showed the F-100A was directionally unstable. The USAF sent their F-100s back to North American to correct this deficiency.[iii] It served as the USAF Tactical Air Command’s (TAC) primary interceptor in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.[iv] F-100s also served in the air forces of Denmark, France, Taiwan, and Turkey.[v] The USAF 4520th Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, flew F-100s from 1956-1968.[vi] North American produced 2,294 F-100s.[vii]


[i] Defensemedinetwork.com, F-100 Super Sabre Flew Most Missions in Vietnam | Defense Media Network, last accessed 3/29/21.

[ii] 456FIS.org, Who Broke The Sound Barrier First? (456fis.org), last accessed 3/29/21.

[iii] Yeager by Chuck Yeager and Leo Janos, © 1985 by Yeager, Inc.

[iv] Arsenal of Democracy by Tom Gervasi, © 1977 by Tom Gervasi and Bob Adelman.

[v] Arsenal of Democracy by Tom Gervasi, © 1977 by Tom Gervasi and Bob Adelman.

[vi] F-100.org, North American F-100 Super Sabres of the USAF Thunderbirds Aerial Demonstration Team (f-100.org), last accessed 3/16/21.

[vii] F-100.org, North American F-100 Super Sabres of the USAF Thunderbirds Aerial Demonstration Team (f-100.org), last accessed 3/16/21.

In Service

On January 24, 1956 Dan Darnell flew the F-100 serial number 54-2121 to Langley Air Force Base (AFB), Virginia. It was the first of over 1,200 F-100Ds the Air force would receive. Martin produced the GAM-83A Bullpup optically guided air-to-surface missile. The Air Force first fitted the F-100Ds with the Bullpup in December 1960.[i]

The USAF deployed some F-100Ds to Thailand in May 1962. More F-100s were stationed in South Vietnam in February 1964. The first F-100 combat mission was on June 9, 1964. Eight F-100Ds, led by Colonel George Laven, bombed Pathet Lao positions in the Plaines des Jares, Laos.

The first F-100 lost in combat was a Turkish Air Force Suber Sabre piloted by Captain Cengiz Topal on August 8, 1964. A flight of F-100s attacked the Greek Cypriot patrol boat Phaethon. A missile set the Phaethon on fire and 7 crew members died in the attack. Then the F-100s strafed the Arion, a Greek Cypriot patrol boat. A land based 40mm anti-aircraft gun shot Topal down. Topal ejected but the Cyprus National Guard captured and tortured him to death. He was the first Turkish Air Force pilot killed in action.[ii]

The first USAF Super Sabre loss was a F-100D, serial number 56-3085, shot down by groundfire over Laos on August 18, 1964.[iii] The pilot 1Lt. Colin Arnold Clark ejected and a U.S. Army helicopter rescued him.[iv]

F-100Ds flew a fighter escort, MiG Combat Air Patrol (MIGCAP), mission for F-105s that were bombing the Thanh Hoa Bridge in North Vietnam. On April 4, 1965 two MiG-17s shot down two F-105s. Captain Donald Kilgus fired a missile at a MiG-17. The Air Force ruled it a probable kill. This was the closest an F-100 came to downing an enemy aircraft.[v] The USAF soon concluded the F-100’s radar was inadequate and it could not carry advanced air-to-air weapons. The F-100 was withdrawn from that role without scoring any confirmed air-to-air victories. The Air Force also found the Bullpup air-to-surface missile wanting and stopped using them after a few missions.[vi]

In 1965 the F-100F, a two-seat version, began surface to air missile (SAM) detection and suppression missions. This was under a program named “Wild Weasel I”. Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) shot down an F-100F on one of these missions. The crew ejected and the North Vietnamese took Captain John Pitchford prisoner. Captain Robert Trier was killed on the ground. According to the North Vietnamese he was killed in a shootout.[vii] In 1966 F-100Fs began flying missions with the AGM-45 Shrike anti-radiation missile. On August 11, 1967 Lt. Colonel James E. McInerney and Captain Fred Shannon led a F-100F mission that destroyed six SAM sites and damaged four. This was in preparation for an F-105F strike on the Paul Doumer Bridge in Hanoi. The Air Force awarded Lt. Colonel McInerney the Air Force Cross for this mission. The Air Force didn’t lose any aircraft on the mission and the attacks dropped three of the bridge’s spans.[viii]

Ground fire shot down a F-100D on September 12, 1968. The pilot, Captain Ronald Fogleman ejected and a US Army AH-1G Cobra picked up Captain Fogelman.[ix]

The USAF replaced the F-100s with more capable aircraft in Vietnam. The last F-100 left Vietnam in July 1971. Super Sabres flew 360,283 combat sorties. The USAF lost 243 F-100s in Indo-China, 198 in combat. The combat losses included 7 destroyed on the ground by Viet Cong assaults.[x] From 1956 to the mid-1970s the USAF lost over 500 Super Sabres in accidents.[xi]

In 1964 the USAF Thunderbirds attempted to replace their F-100Cs with F-105 Thunderchiefs. On June 15, 1965 a Thunderbird F-105, serial number 58-1149, broke apart during a 7.33G pull-up. Test pilot Carlton B. Ardery, Jr. died in the crash.[xii] The USAF modified eight F-100Ds for demonstration purposes and the Thunderbirds flew demonstrations with F-100Ds until November 1968.[xiii] On October 21, 1967 a USAF Thunderbird, piloted by then Captain Merrill A. McPeak, disintegrated during a solo demonstration. Future USAF Chief of Staff McPeak ejected safely. The crash grounded the USAF Thunderbirds and restricted all F-100s to a 4-G maneuver limit until repairs were made. The repairs were not completed until 1969.[xiv] The USAF retired the F-100 in 1972. The Air National Guard retired the F-100 in 1979.

The Turkish Air Force used Super Sabres in the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Enemy groundfire shot down four F-100s. Turkish Navy ships accidentally shot down two F-100s. Another crashed on landing. F-100s mistakenly attacked 3 Turkish destroyers. The D-354 Kocatepe sank with the loss of 54 crew members. The D-353 Adatepe and D355 Tinazlepe were damaged.[xv]

On September 14, 1983 two Turkish Air Force F-100Fs intruded into Iraqi airspace. An Iraqi Mirage F-1EQ shot down one Super Sabre. The F-100 crew ejected safely and Iraq returned them to Turkey.[xvi]


[i] National Air & Space Museum, North American F-100D Super Sabre | National Air and Space Museum (si.edu), last accessed 3/23/2021.

[ii] Turkish Press.com, “Turkey’s 1st Martyred Pilot: Cengiz Topel”, August 7, 2020. Turkey's 1st martyred pilot: Cengiz Topel | TurkishPress, last accessed, 3/30/21.

[iii] National Air & Space Museum, North American F-100D Super Sabre | National Air and Space Museum (si.edu), last accessed 3/23/2021.

[iv] Supersaebresociety.com, Today in History - August 18, 1964 - 1Lt Colin Clark is recovered from crash of F-100D #563085 | Super Sabre Society, last accessed, 3/30/21.

[v] Defense Media Network, F-100 Super Sabre Flew Most Missions in Vietnam by Robert F. Dorr, September 12, 2013, F-100 Super Sabre Flew Most Missions in Vietnam | Defense Media Network, last accessed 3/29/21.

[vi] National Air & Space Museum, North American F-100D Super Sabre | National Air and Space Museum (si.edu), last accessed 3/23/2021.

[vii] Defense Media Network, F-100 Super Sabre Flew Most Missions in Vietnam by Robert F. Dorr, September 12, 2013, F-100 Super Sabre Flew Most Missions in Vietnam | Defense Media Network, last accessed 3/29/21.

[viii] Air Force Magazine, February 1988, A Place Called the Doumer Bridge by John L. Frisbee, 0288valor.pdf (airforcemag.com), last accessed 3/29/21.

[ix] Air Force Magazine, February 1988, A Place Called the Doumer Bridge by John L. Frisbee, 0288valor.pdf (airforcemag.com), last accessed 3/29/21.

[x] Air Force Magazine, February 1988, A Place Called the Doumer Bridge by John L. Frisbee, 0288valor.pdf (airforcemag.com), last accessed 3/29/21.

[xi] National Air & Space Museum, North American F-100D Super Sabre | National Air and Space Museum (si.edu), last accessed 3/23/2021.

[xii] Aviation Safety.net, Accident Republic JF-105D-15-RE Thunderchief 58-1149, 15 Jun 1965 (aviation-safety.net), last accessed 3/23/21.

[xiii] National Air & Space Museum, North American F-100D Super Sabre | National Air and Space Museum (si.edu), last accessed 3/23/2021.

[xiv] National Air & Space Museum, North American F-100D Super Sabre | National Air and Space Museum (si.edu), last accessed 3/23/2021.

[xv] Slideshare.net, Kocatepe Report November 2010 (slideshare.net), last accessed 3/30/21.

[xvi] The Aviationist.com, “30 years later, Ankara admits Turkish Air Force jet was shot down by Iraq”, September 6, 2012, last accessed 3/20/21.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Robert Sacchi

Comments

Robert Sacchi (author) on April 01, 2021:

Thank you for reading and commenting. The F-100 was soon superceded by more advanced aircraft. Pretty much the F-4 ruled the roost from the American side during from the mid-60s until the teen series fighters came out.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on April 01, 2021:

Robert, nice article. As an aviator my opinion of the F100 is that it was just an ordinary plane unlike the F 86 which got iconic status. However it gave good service for the US Air Force but I never had a close look at the plane.

Robert Sacchi (author) on March 31, 2021:

Thank you both for reading and commenting.

Pamela Oglesby - One of the articles I read as part of the research claimed George Welch, not Chuck Yeager, was the first to break the sound barrier. I'll go with the official record on that one because I don't know enough to argue either way. George Welch was the first to break the sound barrier in level flight with a jet, as opposed to a rocket, engine aircraft.

Peggy Woods - Yeager in his book put forward that George Welch may have been doing the sales routine rather than an honest difference of opinion. As Yeager put it George Welch and North American "won the battle but lost the war." Yeager explained North American almost went bankrupt correcting the F-100's problems.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 31, 2021:

You always fill in the history of these aircraft which makes it interesting to read. I guess George Welch found out the hard way that Yeager's criticisms of the F-100A airplane were accurate.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 31, 2021:

This is a very interesting article about the North American f-100, Robert. Breaking the sound barrier in level flight is a great achievement. I enjoyed reading this article.

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