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Expendable Wing Tip Combat Rocket Pods

by Turbo Tarling

CF-100 517 (WPU - HY) Jettisoning rocket pods after
firing rockets in the Air Weapons Range at Cold Lake,
Alberta (DND photo)

That was the description of the CF-100 Mk. 5 armament in the AOIs; to us, they were simply rocket pods – visual evidence of our status as operational aircrew, flying operational aircraft on an operational squadron.


Notwithstanding the fact that they had to be armed by ground crew, on the ground, and that “armed” aircraft were only used on live scrambles, we preferred to fly with these 500-pound, $10,000 pods.


There was no discernible performance penalty and the aircraft looked better. In fact, the CF-100 Mk. 4 and 5 without rocket pods or tip tanks has the distinction of having the ugliest wing tips of any jet. There was no attempt to streamline them and the tips appeared hacked off.

Rocket pods increased the wing span from 57 feet, 3 inches to its maximum of 60 feet, 10 inches.

They certainly dressed up the old girl.

Pods were also useful as references during formation flying in thick cloud. The cockpit of the lead aircraft was the first thing to disappear, since it was more than 60 feet away, but that was no problem since aircrew could still see the wing and the pod.


If the lead pilot was on the ball he could switch on his nav lights to STEADY for the formating aircraft. Slowly, his wing would dissolve into the murk but the dark pod was still visible so it just required a bit more concentration to maintain position.


However, when the pod colour began to fade to lighter shades of grey, our hearts began to beat more rapidly, seats definitely became more uncomfortable as we squirmed to get a better look.


I say “we” because the navigator was an equal partner in this dilemma and it took a lot of nerve to sit there and calmly offer words of encouragement such as, “Looking good; hang in there; should be breaking out soon; can just make out the ground/sun,” etc., while his pilot was grunting, wheezing and cursing over the hot mic, and wrestling with the controls.


No doubt about it, the rocket pod saved a lot of reputations for CF-100 wingmen.

"We've lost a bloody rocket!"

In August 1959, I attended Weapons Practice Unit Course 59-14 at Cold Lake with F/O Ron Hammon. Our CF-100, 18526, was fitted with two non-expendable “mini-pods.”


One day, as we climbed majestically out on our firing mission, Ron started to chuckle in the back seat. When I asked what was so funny, he said, “We've lost a bloody rocket!” (Ron was from South “Awfrica.”) Now that was impossible. First of all, there were three rockets in each pod during the external walkaround; secondly, they're loaded from the front and can't fall out the back; thirdly, we were doing 300 knots so they couldn't drop out of the front either.

Anyway, to humour him, I checked the wing tips: on the right, three proud little blue rocket noses enjoying the ride, and on the left … two! One on the top, one on the bottom – the middle one was missing – we had lost a bloody rocket! The mission was completed anyway and we returned to base for the debrief.


Ron and I couldn't even dream up a plausible story between us, so we simply told our monitor crew that a rocket was missing somewhere between the base and the range. They were very upset and gave us a pretty hard time, as if some action of ours had caused their stupid rocket to disappear on purpose!


Nevertheless, somewhat subdued we attended the film assessment where each frame of the attack is viewed for the pilot's dot-steering accuracy and the kill probability of the rockets. Yes, there they were, five rockets fired and their erratic but deadly trajectory,when suddenly a sixth rocket was seen tumbling end-over-end, obviously without any ballast. We hadn't lost a rocket, the nose had simply fallen off. Ron and I left the debriefing feeling very righteous and totally vindicated; after all, we don't build the rockets, we just shoot ’em!

"The aircraft ahead of you just lost a rocket pod"

On February 4, 1960, I volunteered to fly four visiting Winnipeg Air Navigation School cadets in the CF-100 for a “motivational” flight; the hope being that they would all aspire to become Obs AIs. Each one was to get half a trip – we didn't want to give them too much of a good thing – the point was to encourage, not discourage!


To a man, they all wanted to do loops, rolls and other wonderful things that only jets could offer but I got them to settle for a spectacular climb, some gentle, smooth rolls, and a sightseeing tour around the Parliament buildings and downtown Ottawa. Truth was, loops tended to mess up the radar unless the dish was properly caged, and these were novices with radar equipment.


The first two cadets were impressed with their half-ride and I was pleased with my greaser landing for the second cadet; now, for sure, he’ll want to be an Obs AI. Just then, a 410 Squadron pilot called for landing clearance behind me and was promptly told by Ottawa tower to overshoot, “The aircraft ahead of you just lost a rocket pod.”


Instinctively, I looked at the left wing, and sure enough, nothing! It must have been quite a sight seeing our armament bounding merrily down the runway behind us, playing catch-up. The aircraft was 18526 again! An investigation discovered that the pod had not been bolted onto the wing but was just sitting out there waiting for an opportune moment to go soaring off into space. It had been less than a year since the CF-105 Arrow cancellation.


One can only speculate about the publicity if that rocket pod had decided to come off while my cadet and I were flying around the Parliament buildings!

Copyright © Wm Turbo Tarling
All Rights Reserved
Reprinted With Permission