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Northrop F-89 Scorpion: The First Jet-Powered Interceptor Of USAF

The aircraft for today is the one named Northrop F-89 Scorpion which was the United States Air Force twin-engine and all-weather interceptor aircraft that was built back in the late 1940s and served the USAF as well as many other American organizations well until 1969.

The Northrop F-89 Scorpion holds the title for being the first-ever jet-powered fighter aircraft to serve the role of the interceptor for the United States Air Force. Although the straight wings of the Northrop F-89 Scorpion limited its overall performance, it was still amongst the very first of the USAF’s jet fighters that were equipped not only with guided missiles but also with air-to-air nuclear rockets namely the “Genie”.


The Northrop F-89 Scorpion is renowned in the USAF for delivering nearly a whole decade of service as their interceptor aircraft that was also fitted with nuclear rockets. The aircraft was developed for its role of interceptor by Northrop Grumman at the time for the sake of providing the aerial defense line for the North American continent during the threat of the Cold War.

The design of the Northrop F-89 Scorpion was of a large two-seat aircraft that was powered by twin engines. This aircraft was developed especially on the requirement of the USAF for replacing their fleet of older propeller-driven interjector aircraft named Northrop F-61 Black Widow and the North American F-82 Twin Mustang both of which were the design works of the World War II era. The work on the design of the Northrop F-89 Scorpion was commissioned by USAF back in 1945 with the first flyable prototype being available for a flight on 16th August 1948 under the designation XP-89. The Northrop F-89 Scorpion was finally entered in the service of the USAF back in September 1950 as their new dedicated interceptor jet fighter.

Reason for the success of Northrop F-89 Scorpion:-

The main reason for the success of the Northrop F-89 Scorpion in the USAF was that the aircraft was fitted with the best radar system of that time named AN/APG-40 series radar suite. This radar suite was also coupled with the computer system of AN/APA-84 which was able to track the aerial targets from up to a distance of almost 50 miles away from it. This computer system was also tied up with the Hughes FCS (Fire Control System) which also presented the advanced and integrated autopilot function. In simpler terms, the aircraft was fitted with the technology that allowed for it to track the targets as well as guide the aircraft to the onboard armaments and then engage the enemy targets automatically without the input from the pilot.

Powerplant & Performance:-

The Northrop F-89 Scorpion was fitted with 2 of the Allison J-35-A-35 afterburning turbojet engines. Each of these engines would generate a dry thrust of about 7200 lbs while the afterburner thrust was almost 9500 lbs. this much power generation allowed for the Northrop F-89 Scorpion to achieve a top speed of nearly 640 mph.

As for the ferry range of the Northrop F-89 Scorpion, it was almost 2600 miles which the aircraft could travel for at a ceiling of about 50000 feet. This maximum service ceiling was achieved by the Northrop F-89 Scorpion with a climbing rate of approximately 5250 ft/min.


For the standard armament configuration of the Northrop F-89 Scorpion, the aircraft was fitted with 6 of the T-31 20mm internal automatic cannons; 3 on each wing. The aircraft’s standard armaments also included the aircraft being equipped with 104 of the Mighty Mouse air-to-surface rockets which were freed from its wingtip launchers.

As for the external load carrying capacity, the aircraft could lift up to 3200 lbs of munition. This was used for equipping the aircraft with either 3 of the Falcon air-to-air missiles or 27 of the Mighty mouse unguided aerial rockets.

Project Ding Dong:-

Nearly 350 units of the Northrop F-89 Scorpion model F-89D were converted into the mole designated as F-89J under the project named “Project Ding Dong”. This project was for utilizing several of the aircraft’s underwing stations for equipping the aircraft with 2 of the Mb-1 Genie nuclear-tipped air-to-air unguided rockets. They were equipped on the aircraft alongside its 4 Falcon missiles. These F-89Js, when on their oral missions, were equipped to carry the rocket pods or fuel pods instead of these nuclear rockets.

Back on 19th July 1957, a SAF mission named “Operation Plumb Bomb” was carried over Nevada and during that certain mission, the F-89J became the world’s very first jet fighter to have fired as well as detonated the nuclear-tipped rocket.

Service with ADC and used for SAGE Air Defense System:-

The 350 modified F-89 D models were made as F-89Js and they went on to serve the Air Defense Command which was later named Aerospace Defense Command or ADC for short well until 1959. After that, ADC units were given to the Air National Guard for which they served until 1969. The F-89J variant of the Northrop F-89 Scorpion was used extensively within the SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) air defense system.


The production line of the Northrop F-89 Scorpion started way back in the 1950 and it developed a total of nearly 1050 Northrop F-89 Scorpions in all its variant forms. The last variant of the Northrop F-89 Scorpion series was the F-89H which entered USAF service back in 1956. This unit was equipped with the E-9 fire control system which was similar to that of the F-102.

However, this new fire control system ran into several problems and fixing them also ran into further delays which caused the entry into USAF service to be delayed as well. By the time it was ready to enter the service, newer and better supersonic interceptor aircraft have emerged which was far better than the Northrop F-89 Scorpion. This was the reason that the USAF retired the aircraft formally back in 1959. As for the ones used by the ADC and the Air National Guard, they were retired back in 1969.

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