F106 Delta Dart The Forgotten Cold War Sentinel
In 1956 the US Air Force needed a shit hot interceptor to be able to tackle incoming waves of Soviet intercontinental bombers sneaking in over the Arctic Circle to turn the homeland to glass. You see 1956 was a simpler time. Most of the Soviet bombers were still prop driven, most fighter jets were armed with cannons and machine-guns.
Well, the Dart was given a nuke of its own.
Since ‘close enough’ only counts in horseshoes and atomic weapons, the Dart was equipped with the radical new AIR/ATR-2 Genie nuclear rocket. Carrying a 1.5 kiloton nuclear warhead, the rocket could zip out to ranges of six miles or so away and then detonate in mid-air.
With one of these, the Delta Dart could hustle to a formation of incoming Russkis bombers, rub the Genie’s lamp, then turn away and high tail it out of there before it went off– leaving the slower Soviet bombers to disappear in a cloud of radioactive dust as if by magic somewhere 20,000 feet over North Dakota (sorry North Dakota).
To outrun its own weapon’s explosion, the Dart was fast. So fast that in 1959 one set a world speed record of 1,525.96 mph (2,455.79 km/h) in a Delta Dart at 40,500 ft. One of the reasons it was so fast was that it had a streamlined weapons storage bay (like the F-22 today). The French Dassault Mirage III, which looks viably similar, never came within 200mphs flight speed of the Dart. The Soviets didn’t beat it until the MIG-25 came out in the mid-1960s.
Over 340 Darts came off the line and served, primarily as the principal air defense interceptor of NORAD in the continental USA, Alaska, and Iceland, as well as brief periods in Germany, Thailand (during Vietnam) and South Korea. Besides the Genie, ‘the Six’ could carry the AIM-26 Super Falcon and other air-to-air missiles.
The most famous Six was known as the Cornfield Bomber (although it was an interceptor and landed in a wheat field) after its pilot ejected over Montana and it continued on its ghost flight until it ran out of fuel, landing remarkably well on its own in a wheat field.
When the Cold War ended in 1988, the Delta Dart was pulled from the front line, a relic, and some 32 examples are still around. The figure would have been more but some 190 Darts, proven good at ghostriding after the Cornfield Bomber incident, were converted to unmanned drones in the 1990s and shot up over the Gulf of Mexico.
Genies, ghosts, darts, and sixes. Gone but not forgotten.