Lockheed XF-90


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Lockheed XF-90

The Lockheed XF-90 was built to meet a USAF requirement for a long-range penetration fighter (along with the McDonnell XF-88 and North American YF-93A). Developed by Clarence L. (Kelly) Johnson's Lockheed fighter team, known in later years as the 'Skunk Works', the XF-90 combined swept-wing technology with the experience gained in producing the straight-wing F-80 Shooting Star. It was intended as an almost-all-purpose fighter, capable of handling the ground-attack role in addition to its prime task of escorting bombers deep into Soviet airspace. The two prototypes were to be tested in a fly-off competition with the McDonnell and North American designs.

Actually, the XF-90 evolved over two years and resulted from 65 different designs created by Johnson's engineers. These included butterfly-tailed aircraft, three-engine aircraft, 'W' winged designs and, finally, the big, tough craft that was chosen. The final XF-90 had 12.7mm rivets in the wings and weighed as much as a DC-3. Its powerplants, sadly, were twin 1406kg thrust Westinghouse J34-WE-11 turbojets, the same engines which simply offered too little 'push' to so many fighter designs of the period.

Still, the XF-90 reached 1070km/h at 9784m in level flight and could easily be pushed through the sound barrier in a shallow dive. Throughout April and May 1950, the air above Muroc Dry Lake, California, exploded in sonic booms as Lockheed test pilot Tony LeVier put the XF-90 through high-speed dive tests. LeVier dived the XF-90 to Mach 1.12 on 17 May 1950.

The XF-90 stalled at 204km/h, making it no easy machine to control on the approach. Its take-off performance enabled it to clear a 15m obstacle in 2629m without the rocket-assisted take-off (RATO) units used in some tests, hardly a spectacular getaway from the ground. In the 1949 fly-off, the XF-88 came in first, the XF-90 second, and the YF-93A third, but by then the results were academic. With the September 1949 detonation of the Soviet Union's first nuclear weapon, the USAF penetration-fighter concept died.

A nuclear fate befell the second XF-90 which was rigged with instruments on the ground and destroyed in the 1952 atomic bomb tests at Frenchman's Flat, Nevada. Lockheed records indicate that the first XF-90 was shipped in 1953 to a National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio. Apparently, it was eventually broken up in tests at that NACA facility.

Lockheed XF-90A three-view drawing (1638 x 893)

  Take-off weight12300 kg27117 lb
  Empty weight8400 kg18519 lb
  Wingspan12.19 m40 ft 0 in
  Length17.12 m56 ft 2 in
  Height4.8 m16 ft 9 in
  Wing area32.05 m2344.98 sq ft
  Max. speed1070 km/h665 mph
  Ceiling11800 m38700 ft
  Range3700 km2299 miles
 ARMAMENT6 x 20mm cannon planned

bill weber, e-mail, 01.01.2015 18:03

this was the first of the many model airplanes that I built in the early and mid '50s...nice lines,and who would have thought that I would end up working at Lockheed for 39 yrs ,including launching and recovering U-2 aircraft.


bombardier, e-mail, 23.05.2011 14:50

This aircraft was the progenitor of the F-104


Klaatu, e-mail, 07.05.2011 15:48

A good-looking airplane, but TOO BIG! A close examination of the photo above indicates just how large and bulky this airplane actually was. It might have been a real winner, a sort of American Hawker Hunter, if it had been constructed to about 2 /3 the scale. As it is, however, it's difficult to imagine this massive machine operating as a fighter, mixing it up in a dogfight with MIGs!


DW2, e-mail, 28.09.2010 18:45

I always thought it was a cool plane because my comic strip heros the "Blackhawks" flew it. It was great to be a kid in the 50s! Alas, not so today!


Don Joy, e-mail, 20.11.2009 05:13

The story on the stored XF-90 is that it is the #2 plane from the nuclear tests and that they are still trying to decontaminate it. But an air force tht is destroying all Bomarcs because of a few radium dials is going to be a long time decontaminating an airplane that went thru multiple nuclear tests


John Heron, e-mail, 10.06.2008 01:58

I am certain that there is a single example of the XF-90 stored at W-P AFB museum reserve collection.


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