The year is 1959 a seemingly new epoch of mercurial fighter interceptor platforms are rolled out onto the runway by US defense contractors to compete for supremacy for the SAC (Strategic Air Command’s) arsenal. During the 1950’s the US inventory of fighter interceptor technology had been dominated by the “Century Series” of military aircraft. These would be the premier fighter aircraft of the world, but would soon become obsolescent with the advent of missile technology and bomber deployment strategy. America and the Soviet Union were locked in a race for superiority in the “Cold War” and the odds were getting riskier.
At this point in time technological presumptions were that fast high flying bombers were the biggest threat and the need for faster high flying interceptors was needed as the best possible countermeasure. Now obsolete but still in service and ready for deployment in Vietnam were the F-100 Super Sabre, the F-101 Voodoo, the F-8 Crusader, F-104 Starfire, F-102 Delta Dagger, and the F-105 Thunderchief-all supersonic. These Mach 2 fighter bombers all developed in the mid to late 1950’s were excellent aircraft, but would later prove vulnerable to the introduction of Russian SAM’s (surface to air missiles). As ICBM’s (intercontinental ballistic missiles) became more prominent, a new role would meet with the use and requirements of the existing US inventory.
However while the US industrial complex produced aircraft to address the Soviet threat on conventional terms a new breed of super performance fighters and bombers were also being secretly developed! These were several steps ahead of the current stock of Century series interceptors. These magnificent planes were faster, higher flying, and were using a new generation of metals and fabrication that would rival the best aircraft today! Even Canada developed a super performing interceptor known as the ARVO Arrow, the CF-105 a delta winged fighter designed to intercept Soviet bombers coming from Siberia over the Arctic into Canadian air space. The Canadian government has considered re-introduction of this incredible aircraft upgraded from its original configuration.
From Vought came the Super Crusader to compete with the McDonald Douglas F-4 Phantom for the tactical fighter bomber multi-role. At speeds of Mach 3 the Super Crusader often called the F-8 Crusader’s big brother was the interceptor design that outperformed the F-4 Phantom in competition for massive production for SAC and Navy deployment from aircraft carriers. Unable to out dogfight the Super Crusader the F-4 won out due to having twin engines so experts considered it more survivable in combat, but arguably the Super Crusader faster, more maneuverable would not need 2 engines when it out performed the enemy and escaped missiles to fight another day!
Even more impressive was the F-108 Rapier, an above Mach III fighter interceptor with a revolutionary design that even by today’s standards seems futuristic! With a long sleek body, missile loads contained within an internal bomb bay during flight prior to delivery, lightweight titanium body, and a steering flap behind the nose but ahead of the wing, this amazing aircraft could fly as fast as the air to air missiles of the time and higher into the upper altitudes. Originally intended to escort the XB-70 gigantic high speed high flying bomber, the F-108 Rapier would have rendered all enemy aircraft of the time into burning wreckage before they could ever see it coming or attempt to pursue it. Even the YF-12, the predecessor to the SR-71 Blackbird space reconnaissance platform was too costly and complex to be used as an air superiority fighter, and this was where the F-108 Rapier would have excelled!
What is the significance of such a technical advancement that seems only poised for the purpose of death and destruction? It was having the trump card of advanced aircraft that could discourage a first strike capability against the Soviets or any hostile nation that ensured peace rather than shatter it. Without developing new concepts based upon the latest trends in missile sophistication, radar detection, bombing penetration, and global defense against aggression war would seem a much more palatable proposition to the hostile forces of the world! The monstrous motive of spending and the industrial output needed to conduct the Cold War was a double edged sword that could not be laid down as the super powers contested the skies and air space over the world.
Forced stand down
Unfortunately, budgetary considerations and the changing environment of war strategy demanded a different approach in a constantly fluid battle environment. Missiles became faster, more accurate, and would replace bombers as the new unmanned delivery platform for the nuclear arsenals of the Soviets, the US, the UK, and Canada among other nations. The F-108 Rapier though vastly superior and ahead of its time was deemed too expensive to fit into a US inventory of already several supersonic fighters, bombers, and multi-role platforms and faded into the history books after a few prototypes had been flown and proved their worthiness.
Soon stealth and long range standoff capability would transform the modern air to air combat requirement and a more practical solution was sought after by the Department of Defense. New specifications began to change the complexion of the US arsenal so such legendary aircraft as the B-58 Hustler, the F-104, F-106, gave way to new designs that met with the latest requirements. The F-111 Aardvark would soon emerge just as the F-14 Tomcat, and F-15 Strike Eagle entering service over the hostile skies of the Middle East and Asia then eventually being deployed in the Desert Storm conflict.
Looking back in terms of sheer performance, the F-108 rapier would have out flown all of its contemporaries with ease and sent a message to the Soviets that their MIGs known to terrorize the West with their often perceived threat to international balance of power with such Russian variants as the MIG-25 Foxbat, MIG-21, SU-35, and MIG-31 would be cannon fodder in the skies if hostilities broke out!. This is the value of threat deterrence with superior technology and the ability to deploy it. Yet, hopefully cooler heads prevail.