Key point: These jet fighters were meant to take out hordes of Soviet bombers with nuclear-tipped missiles. They would serve for about twenty years before being replaced by the F-4 Phantom.

The all-weather, twin-engine Northrop F-89 Scorpion was the first jet-powered interceptor aircraft designed specifically for that role to enter service with the Air Defense Command. The two-seat aircraft had a radar operator guide the pilot, which enabled the F-89 to locate, intercept and destroy enemy aircraft day or night in any type of weather condition.

Officially designated a fighter, the F-89 was powered by two Allison J35 engines with 8,000 lbs. of thrust, each with an afterburner. The aircraft had a cruising speed of 465mph and with afterburner had a maximum speed of 630mph, a range of 1,000 miles, and a service ceiling of 45,000 feet.

The F-89 made its maiden flight in August 1948, and deliveries to the United States Air Force began in July 1950. A total of 1,050 of the interceptors were produced and the straight-winged aircraft remained in service until the late 1960s. As an interceptor, the plane was designed to shoot down Soviet nuclear bombers before they could reach the United States.

The F-89 was equipped with the most advanced weapons available at the time, yet it was still largely conventional for the time, with its internal twin-engine turbojet configuration and air intakes mounted low along the fuselage sides.

It was the first Air Force fighter jet to carry an all-rocket armament and the first jet to be equipped with the Hughes Falcon air-to-air guided missiles, and these could be automatically launched in a huge volley once the aircraft’s radar gun sight determined it was aligned with a bomber target.

Notably, the Scorpion was modified to increase its potential sting!

The F-89J (modified from the F-89D) became the first combat aircraft armed with air-to-air nuclear weapons, the unguided Genie rocket. In July 1957, it fired a Genie test rocket with a nuclear warhead, which detonated over a Nevada test range. That marked the first launch of such a weapon.

The MB-1 Genie, later renamed the AIR-2A—and popularly nicknamed “Ding Dong”—was a three-meter long rocket armed with a 1.5 kiloton nuclear W25 warhead in its tips. The AIR-2s were later converted from atomic air-to-air rockets into a conventional weapon for blowing up targets on the ground. Instead of the 1.5-kiloton nuclear warhead inside of the Genie, technicians packed the nose with tiny bomblets the size of hand grenades. However, by the time these modifications were made the F-89 Scorpion was being replaced by newer and more modern aircraft including the F-4 Phantom Jets.

Yet, for much of the early 1960s, the Scorpion and the Genie were paired together.

In total, 350 of the F-89Ds were converted to “J” models and these became the Air Defense Command’s first fighter-interceptor to carry nuclear armament. Beginning in the late 1950s, former-USAF F-89s were transferred to the Air National Guard—without the nuclear weapons—and the last of those was retired in July 1969.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on This first appeared earlier this year and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Wikimedia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like

Sunk: How This Nazi Submarine Snuck Into a Base and Did in a British Battleship

Key point: The risky mission was a success but to the elation of Berlin. However, Nazi Germany would ultimately lose the war. World War II had been in progress for six weeks when on the evening of October 12, 1939,…

George Patton Wasn’t Just a Great General, He Competed in the Olympics and Even Designed a Sword

Perhaps because of the way movies, notably the 1970 Academy Award winning “Best Picture” Patton, have depicted the infamous American general, it is hard to think of him being anything but a crusty old man with a bit of bloodlust.…

The U.S. Military Cannot Fill The Middle East’s Political Vacuum

Since the 1979 hostage crisis in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the United States has steadily grown its military presence in the Middle East. The policy was articulated and justified in the Carter Doctrine of early 1980 whereby…

Adolf Hitler’s Ho 229 Nazi ‘Stealth’ Fighter Was Very Real (This Picture Proves It)

Here’s What You Need To Remember: The Ho 229 might have been a formidable adversary over the skies of World War II, but in truth the plane was far from ready for mass production by the war’s end. While it seems…