Development of the F-100 is often cited as having been spurred by the Korean War, but North American had been planning for a Sabre successor well before the conflict started. The F-86 was used as a basis, but turning the Sabre into an aircraft that exceeded Mach 1 in level flight demanded some extensive alterations. These started with fitting a 45-degree swept wing, evolving the F-86 into the Sabre 45, which was recognizable as a “proto Super Sabre” with the more flattened nose profile and an “all flying” tail. This design was formally designated as the F-100, and the USAF ordered a pair of prototypes in early 1952.
The prototype YF-100A was taken aloft for the first time on 25 May 1953, piloted by North American’s George Welch. The flight, which reached supersonic speed, took place less than a year after the mockup had been inspected and approved – a far cry from the present day, when new aircraft take years to gestate.
Progress was rapid, and by the fall of 1953 the Super Sabre had already claimed a world speed record of 755.149mph, and production F-100As were beginning to be turned out. These were armed with a quartet of M-39 20mm cannon – a weapon that had resulted from the need over Korea for a fighter weapon that was harder hitting than the Sabre’s .50-cal machine guns. Externally, the production aircraft had vertical tails that were substantially smaller- an alteration that would come close to crippling the Super Sabre program.
The 479th Day Fighter Wing was to be the first operational F-100 unit, taking on its first aircraft in September 1954. But trouble was in the offing, as it was becoming apparent that the smaller tail was causing stability problems. This was driven home a month later, when George Welch died when his F-100 broke up in a supersonic dive. Five more accidents followed in rapid succession, and the F-100A was grounded in November 1954, pending a redesign that greatly enlarged the tail and also stretched out the wingtips.
The F-100A did not have a long frontline service life, with the type moving to ANG units by 1958; Taiwan was also equipped with surplus A-models, eventually taking 118 examples on charge.
The second production version of the Super Sabre was the F-100C, which was first flown in March 1954. By that point, emphasis had shifted from the air superiority mission towards producing a true multi-role fighter-bomber. Fuel capacity was increased by the installation of a “wet” wing and plumbed hard points that could be fitted with 200- and 275-gallon drop tanks. The first 100 F-100Cs off the line had the F-100A’s J57-P-9 engine, but subsequent aircraft had the more powerful J57-P-39. The F-100C could also be fitted with a probe for taking on fuel from KB-50 tankers.
A small number of F-100Cs were used to evaluate on a competitive basis the Falcon and Sidewinder AAMs, and the latter missile was chosen for employment on the Super Sabre. Some C-models were armed the Sidewinder (GAR-1, later AIM-9) but this program was more an effort to qualify a weapon for use on the F-100D.
F-100Cs were used to set several records – the first supersonic speed record, the 1955 Bendix Trophy, and a world single-engined distance record for an aerial refueled flight between London and Los Angeles.
Having been phased out of active duty for the most part by the mid 1960s, F-100Cs were not immediately deployed to Southeast Asia, but following the capture of the USS Pueblo in 1968, several ANG squadrons equipped with the model were federalized and alerted, and these were deployed to South Vietnam in the wake of the Tet Offensive. A total of six F-100Cs would be lost in action.
A former Turkish Air Force F-100C, 54-2091, was brought back to the US and placed on the civilian register as N2011M. This aircraft has now been preserved at the Yanks Air Museum.
The last single seat “Hun” and the most numerous production model, the F-100D reflected a move away from the concept of an air superiority fighter towards a fighter-bomber able to deliver tactical nuclear weapons in loft-bombing missions. The D-model had the MB-3 autopilot and MA-3 fire control systems; structural changes included the installation of landing flaps.
Two-seater F-100F Misty FAC on display at the NMUSAF:
Super Sabre Bibliography:
Magazine Articles and Photos:
“F-100A Flown by Navy Pilot” Naval Aviation News September 1955
3-view profile: F-100C Super Sabre Flight. 18 November 1955 p.775
Photo: “F-100C Stabilizer at GAC” Aviation Week March 5, 1956 p.60
Claude Witze “F-100s Set Up Tough Logistic Test” Aviation Week June 18, 1956 p.31
Photo: “North American F-100Cs” AW August 27, 1956 front cover
Photos (4): “Super Sabres” AW August 27, 1956 p.38
Photo: “F-100 Rolls For Camera” AW May 13, 1957 p.87
Photos (4): “F-100 Fires Bullpup Over Eglin AFB” AW November 7, 1960 p.78
“Drag-Increasing Device Has Dyna-Soar, X-15 Application” Aviation Week & Space Technology July 31, 1961 3 photos
Photo: F-100F 56-3592 of the 354th TFW Air Pictorial September 1962 p.285
Photo: F-100 being loaded with a TGM-83 training version of the Bullpup missile. Air Progress Fall 1962 p.92
Photo: Royal Danish AF F-100 GT-982. Air Pictorial November 1963 p.374
Photo: “USAF Thunderbird acrobatic team executes four-plane Bonton Roulle” Aviation Week & Space Technology August 21, 1967 front cover
Robert L. Trimble “North American F-100 Super Sabre Paint Schemes and Markings” Scale Modeler February 1983
Tod Lane “An Old Fighter With A New Number” Air Combat May 1983 p.12-14, 64-67 Eight photos. Covers the QF-100 drone program.
Photo: QF-100 56-3024 Air Classics August 1988 p.49
Photo: QF-100 63082 Aviation Week & Space Technology May 14, 1990 p.29
Photo: preserved RoCAF F-100D #31566 at Hsinchu. World Air Power Journal Vol 33/ Summer 1998 p.155
F-100 1/72 scale plans Scale Aviation Modeller International 10-2000
“Super Sabre tribute to Vietnam pilots” Aeroplane September 2004 p.9 1 photo. Covers the restoration of F-100D 55-2888 / N2011U (ex Turkish Air Force, ex Tracor Flight Systems) to southeast Asia camouflage scheme.
Peter Marshall “Burnt Iron” Building the 1/32 Trumpeter F-100D as a French aircraft Scale Aviation Modeller International July 2008
Vin Pompeo “Hun on the Hunt” Model Aircraft May 2016 Finishing Trumpeter’s 1/48 F-100F as a SEA-camouflaged aircraft
The History of the U.S. Air Force by David Anderton color profile: F-100D-61-NA “Jeanne Kay” of the 308th TFS/31st TFW; Photo (color) F-100 56-3097 over South Vietnam.
Encyclopedia of World Military Airpower p.285, color profiles of RDAF F-100D G-781, Turkish F-100 54-1798, French F-100D 54-2160, F-100C 54-1939 127th FS, Kansas ANG.
Peter R. Foster USAF Fighter Interceptor Squadrons Although the Hun was by no means an all-weather interceptor, it did play a role in air defense in its last years, serving as an unmanned target for interceptor training. This book has several good F-100 photos, including a close up of aircraft 56-3195 fitted with a Tracor hot pod on the wingtip.
Ray Bonds Classic Fighters: The Inside Story p.192-195. Includes an F-100D cutaway drawing, and a nice large format color shot of an in-flight Hun in the pre-camouflage days.
Tony Buttler American Secret Projects: Fighters & Interceptors 1945-1978
p.50-51: model photos showing the Advanced F-86 and Sabre 45 proposed forerunners to the F-100