F-89 Scorpion walk around photos

Almost forgotten in the shadow of the later Century Series interceptors, Northrop's F-89 Scorpion was the USAF's first jet interceptor designed as such from the outset, rather than being an adaptation of a day fighter. Development of a jet powered all-weather fighter began not long after V-J Day, as it was recognized that the P-61 Black Widow would soon be obsolete in an age of jets. Northrop's N-24 proposal encompassed a number of design alternatives, with a swept wing version being chosen in the spring of 1946. This twin TG-180/J35 powered aircraft was to have been armed with a quartet of 20mm cannon in a revolving nose cannon, but this configuration was soon to give way to a straight-wing iteration with fixed guns.

Photo showing an Allison J35 turbojet next to the NMUSAF's F-89J Scorpion

The first XF-89 flight took place on 16 August 1948, and within several months of that event the USAF had cancelled orders for the competing Curtiss F-87 Blackhawk. However, despite the Northrop aircraft's official favor, all was not well with the program, as the Scorpion proved to have structural weaknesses, and was underpowered. Originally, 48 F-89As had been contracted for, but this figure was reduced to eleven as costs to fix the problems encountered mounted.

F-89 Variants

F-89B: First operational Scorpion, equipping the 84th FIS in the summer of 1951.

F-89C: First flown in October 1951; differed primarily from the B-model in having internal mass balancers for the elevators, as well as higher pressurization for the cockpit. A series of F-89C crashes in 1952 led to the discovery of structural weakness in the wing attach point. This necessitated a delay to the Scorpion program, as a structural refinforcement of the attachments and the wings, and the fitting of fins to the tip tanks had to be carried out.

F-89D: The most numerous Scorpion model, the F-89D was a major redesign – driven by both the need to improve the Scorpion's shortcomings, as well as to provide a heavier armament, as taking down nuclear-armed bombers demanded something more potent than machine guns. The D-model deleted the nose cannon in favor of large wingtip pods that each contained 104 2.75-inch "Mighty Mouse" FFARs. The pods still retained some fuel, and to make up for the lost wingtip fuel, an additional tank was fitted internally in the space once used by the cannon.The APG-40 radar was combined with an APA-84 ballistics computer to form the E-6 fire control system. Early aircraft were flown with -33A engines, while later blocks had -41s, and ultimately the -35. Even the -35 would still experience problems at high altitude, and the powerplants were later brought up to -35A standard.

An F-89B was reworked as the YF-89D testbed, this flying in October 1951, and by early 1953 the first production aircraft were being handed over; it would, however be until early 1954 that the model would enter frontline service.

The F-89D was also considered as a platform for the Hughes Falcon AAM, and test firings were conducted from three aircraft (52-1830, 52-1938, and 53-2449) starting in the fall of 1953, but operational Falcon carriage would be the role of the F-89H.

F-89H: E-9 fire control system, reconfigured wingtip pods each carrying 21 FFARs and three Falcons. A total of 156 new-build aircraft were bought. Operational from the spring of 1956 starting with the 445th FIS at Wurtsmith AFB.

F-89J: Rebuild of 350 F-89Ds with the Hughes MG-12, and the capability to carry a pair of Douglas Genie rockets underwing. An additional pair of pylons for Falcon carriage were fitted, and either the fuel/rocket pods or the original fuel-only wing tanks could be carried. Entered service in early 1957 with the 84th FIS; retired from active USAF service by 1960, the F-89J was the last Scorpion to remain with Air National Guard squadrons, with Guard units in Maine and Iowa retaining their aircraft until 1969.
Photo showing a Douglas AIR-2 Genie nuclear air to air rocket under the wing of an F-89 Scorpion interceptor

Image showing the underside of an F-89's tail

F-89 forweard view photo
The NMUSAF's Scorpion, 52-1911, was the last F-89 to remain operational, being delivered to the museum in June 1969 from the Maine ANG. It is currently painted as a 494th FIS aircraft, with high-visibility arctic markings.
Close up photo of the cocjkpit area of a Northrop F-89
Scorpion cockpit

Detail picture showing an F-89 inlet and the nose gear
F-89J intake and nose gear

This designation applied to two Scorpion derivative proposals, only one of which actually flew. The original use of the model type was for a J47 powered single-seat escort fighter model that never made it to the hardware stage, while the later YF-89E was the conversion of a single F-89C with Allison YJ-71 engines.


Proposal for a much revised aircraft with a substantially enlarged fuselage, General Electric J73 engines, and large pods on a new wing carrying fuel, three Falcons, and 21 FFARs. Only made it to the mockup stage.

Proposal for a J65 Sapphire-engined aircraft with better altitude capability.

The F-89F & X did not quite mark the end of the Scorpion's design evolution, as Northrop investigated mating a J67-powered Scorpion fuselage with a delta wing; this study later evolved into a whole series of designs that only shared the "Delta Scorpion" name in common with the earlier proposal.

F-89 Bibliography:

Tony Buttler   American Secret Projects: Fighters & Interceptors 1945-1978 p.27: 3-view of the early swept-wing F-89 proposal

Aircraft of the USAF

Other walk arounds of interceptors from the '50s:

F-102        F-106

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F-14 walk around

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