The Last Scramble of Avenger Red: F-89C Scorpion, 51-5853A
Many people do not realize it today, but in the early 1950s Americans believed a surprise attack by the Soviet Union was imminent. The threat of nuclear annihilation ensured that military planes on routine missions in the northern states were always packing “hot” guns. Planes known as “interceptors” were always ready to defend against anticipated bombers that might fly south over the frozen wastes of northern Canada. But in 1953, a plane based out of Wisconsin was involved in a different kind of engagement, which would later become known as the Kinross Incident. Wisconsin Air National Guard units were federalized during those early years of the Cold War. Truax Field ANG Base in Madison, was reactivated by the USAF on February 1, 1951. By 1953, two Air Defense Command fighter interceptor squadrons were based there under the command of Lt. Col. Harry W. Shoup. While most ADC units at the time flew older Republic F-84 Thunderjets, F-84F Thunderstreaks, and Lockheed F-94s, Truax received the most modern interceptors in the USAF inventory because of its proximity to Canada. The 432nd FIS flew single seat North American F-86D Sabre Dogs, armed with air-to-air rockets, while the 433rd FIS operated cannon-armed Northrup F-89C Scorpions. Both squadrons were part of the 4706th Air Defense Wing. Madison’s Interceptors Temporary Assignment to Kinross
Kinross Air Force Base was at the eastern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, 20 miles south of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Like Truax, it had been deactivated at the end of WWII. With the start of the Cold War in 1948, and the Korean War in June 1950, Kinross was reopened on July 1, 1952. Kinross was a vital ADC alert-status base. It was tasked with providing air defense for Sault Ste. Marie and the Upper Great Lakes, and was the home base of the 438thFIS.
The squadron’s Rapid Deployment missions were initiated by USAF Ground Control Intercept (GCI) teams. Kinross interceptors were ready to scramble 24/7, whenever GCI ADC surveillance radars picked up unknown aircraft. When scrambled, GCI stations directed the interceptors to the targets. Two radar stations directed Kinross in November 1953: GCI station Naples P-66 and GCI station Pillow P-16. Radar from each isolated station covered 994 square miles.
In November 1953, the Lockheed F-94B interceptors usually based at Kinross, were sent to Arizona for aerial gunnery practice. Kinross needed jets ready to respond to threats so the 433rd FIS stepped in. Four F-89C Scorpion interceptors and their eight crewmen flew to Kinross. Scorpions almost always operated in pairs. Two pairs of Scorpions with their four crewmen waited ready in hangers. They took 12-hour shifts, standing on 5 minute alert.
The F-89C Scorpion Interceptor
The Northrop F-89 Scorpion first flew on August 16, 1948, and became operational in 1952. It was the USAF’s second all-weather jet powered interceptor. Its only mission was to defend the desolate arctic area of North America from Soviet bomber formations. It was a large jet with a wingspan of 56 feet and a length of 53 feet 5 inches. The improved Northrop F-89C Scorpion first flew on September 18, 1951, and among other refinements, had a fuel purging system to alleviate the danger of fuel vapor explosions. The F-89C Scorpion also received a strengthened horizontal tail and forged steel wing attachment points. There were a total of 164 of these C-version planes. In the last production, 19 of these planes were fitted with two Allison J35-A-33A turbojets rated at 7,400 pounds of thrust by its Solar afterburners. With the new engine, these Scorpions could hit 650 mph at sea level and 562 mph at 40,000 feet. It possessed an initial climb rate of 12,300 feet per minute and had a ceiling of 50,500 feet, impressive for the time.
In the Scorpion, the pilot sat in the front seat, and the radar operator sat in the rear of the pressurized cockpit. The C-version Scorpion used Hughes Aircraft x-band AN/APG-33 fire control radar. The air intercept radar incorporated the E-1 fire control system, and had a 20-mile range. Six M-24 Hispano-Suiza gas operated, 20mm auto cannons, were located in the nose with 200 rounds for each gun. The cannons had a cyclic rate of 850 rpm and a range of 7,000 yards. The F-89C Scorpion was very stable and reliable, capable of flying home on one engine. But with a combat weight of 33,100 pounds it was sluggish and disliked by day-fighter pilots.