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KELLY'S KORNER: Flying the ‘ultimate supersonic fighter interceptor’

Joe Kelly
Sentinel columnist
Posted 3/12/23

Life has never been better than the day I got to fly in an F-106, an airplane called the “ultimate supersonic fighter interceptor.”

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KELLY'S KORNER: Flying the ‘ultimate supersonic fighter interceptor’


Life has never been better than the day I got to fly in an F-106, an airplane called the “ultimate supersonic fighter interceptor.” And back in its Griffiss days, the Delta Dart lived up to that description. 

Back in 1987, for most of two hours, I was in the back seat of an F-106 B, which had tandem seating and was used for training.

A pilot from the 49th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS), which was based at Griffiss Air Force Base, was sitting in the front seat. They were nicknamed the “Cavaliers,” a stylized green eagle was on the tail of their delta wing fighters. 

“Want to fly?” I thought I heard the pilot say in my earphones. We were up north, near the Canadian border. I asked him to repeat himself, and he said the exact same words.

He let me take the controls for all of five minutes, after first warning me that this was not the same as flying a Cessna 150, the single-engine propeller airplane I was accustomed to flying, an airplane that struggled to go faster than 120 miles per hour.

The F-106 had a maximum speed of 1,525 miles per hour, or twice the speed of sound. We were under the speed of sound that day, which was still plenty fast enough for me. I was along for the ride in order to write an article about the deactivation of the 49th FIS in July of 1987.

Why am I bringing up that long ago day? 

Because I never miss a chance to talk about Griffiss and its Air Force days and the jets that flew out of the base, the B-52 bombers, the KC-135 tankers, and the F-106 fighters.

And so the other night I was watching the first episode of a television series called “Homeland.” In the opening scene at an unnamed U.S. Air Force base, what do I see parked on the tarmac?

That’s right. I see an F-106, one of the best fighters in the world during the Cold War. Who knows, maybe that very jet was once flown by the 49th at Griffiss.  

I don’t know why “Homeland” used a Cold War-era airplane in a television series that takes place during the Afghanistan War era, but they did. Twice. The F-106 appears in a later scene, too.

The 49th FIS was a great squadron. Its mission was to protect the east coast of the United States, and the job was well done.

Soviet bombers came across the Atlantic, and 49th pilots at Griffiss scrambled to their F-106s and went up to meet them, which sent a message. “That’s far enough. Turn around and go back,” which the Soviets did.

All this reminds me of two great stories. 

One story is about the “Cornfield Bomber,” a nickname given to the F-106 flown by the 71st FIS in Montana. It made a landing without a pilot in a farmer’s field after the pilot had ejected.

The aircraft was repaired and returned to service. Today, that F-106 is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

The second story is about instructions given to 49th FIS pilots before giving speeches. It was the best speech advice ever. 

But those two stories are for other days.


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