A North American F-100F Super Sabre sits on the tarmac at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in South Vietnam in a nighttime shot from October 1965. The airplane belonged to the 481st Tactical Fighter Squadron, as did the sentry on duty (identified as Airman 2nd Class Dennis Niesen).
The F-100 was the first of the United States’ “century” aircraft series and also its first fighter capable of sustained supersonic flight. North American began the design process for a successor to its F-86 Sabre in 1949, calling the new project the NA-180. With wings that swept back 45 degrees — leading to another name, the Sabre 45 — and powered by a Pratt & Whitney J57 turbojet, the prototype made its first flight on May 25, 1953, and broke the sound barrier.
The F-100 entered U.S. Air Force service in 1954, but there were problems. The airplane was fast, but it also proved unstable in supersonic flight, a problem that stemmed from the airflow over a too-small tail. In one incident, on Oct. 12, 1954, test pilot George Welch was killed when he lost control of his F-100 at Mach 1.55. Welch managed to bail out of the fighter but suffered mortal injuries.
The swept-back wings created their own additional aerodynamic issues, but after the tail and wings were redesigned, the improved Super Sabre got the Air Force seal of approval in 1955. By the time the Air Force retired the F-100 in 1972, North American had built a total of 2,294 Super Sabres.
Of the 18 airplanes the 481st TFS had when it reached Vietnam, six were shot down. Two pilots were killed. This particular airplane was serving with the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing when it was destroyed during a Viet Cong mortar attack on Bien Hoa Air Base on the night of Feb. 17-18, 1968.
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