Fifty-six years ago this month, a USAF/Convair F-106A Delta Dart interceptor was clocked at 1,525.695 mph on an 11-mile straight course at Edwards Air Force Base, California. This mark still stands as an absolute speed record for a single-engine turbojet-powered aircraft.
The USAF/Convair F-106 Delta Dart was designed for the all-weather interceptor role in defense of CONUS. As such, the Delta Dart’s primary mission was to seek out Soviet bomber formations and destroy same using its internally-carried missiles. Armament consisted of either (1) a quartet of Hughes AIM-4 Falcon missiles and a single AIM-26A Falcon missile or (2) a single Douglas AIR-2 Genie missile.
A member of the fabled Century Series, the Delta Dart was produced in two variants. The single place version was known as the F-106A while the dual place version was designated as the F-106B. Though primarily a trainer, this aircraft was also combat-capable. A total of 340 Delta Dart aircraft were manufactured by Convair; 277 F-106A’s and 63 F-106B’s.
The F-106A Delta Dart measured 70.7 feet in length and had a wing span of 38.25 feet. Gross Take-Off Weight (GTOW) and Empty Weight were 34,510 lbs and 24,420 lbs, respectively. Power was supplied by a single Pratt and Whitney J75-17 afterburning turbojet which produced 24,500 lbs of thrust at sea level.
The sleek Delta Dart was aerodynamically very clean. This was due in large measure to use of fuselage area ruling and a thin delta planform wing. The F-106A could climb at 29,000 feet per minute and had a service ceiling of 57,000 feet. Maximum unrefueled range was on the order of 2,700 nm.
Due to its impressive performance, USAF employed the F-106A in an attempt to regain the single-engine absolute speed record from the Soviets in late 1959. The existing record of 1,483.84 mph had been established in 1956 by a Soviet Ye-66 aircraft specially designed for setting the speed mark. The Air Force’s absolute speed record attempt was codenamed Project Firewall.
USAF originally selected F-106A (S/N 56-0459) to make the 1959 absolute speed record attempt. The aircraft was modified slightly to optimize its speed performance. However, 56-0459 experienced engine compressor stall problems and did not set the actual record. Rather, an unmodified F-106A (S/N 56-0467) was called into service and set the speed record reported here.
On Tuesday, 15 December 1959, USAF Major Joseph W. Rogers departed Edwards Air Force Base in a quest to establish a new absolute speed record for a single-engine turbojet-powered aircraft. Flying at 40,000 feet, Rogers and his F-106A averaged 1,525.695 mph over an 11-mile straight course to set a new speed mark.
For his remarkable airmanship on Project Firewall, Joe Rogers was presented with the Distinguished Flying Cross, the DeLavaulx Medal, and the Thompson Trophy. Rogers went on to a remarkable military career spanning 29 years. He retired in 1975 as a full colonel.
For its part, the Delta Dart went on to a 28-year operational life (1959-1987) with the United States Air Force and the Air National Guard. Considered by many to be the finest interceptor in aviation history, the Delta Dart is known to this day as the Ultimate Interceptor.