US Navy Fighters 1940-2006

Bell Aircraft

XFL-1 Airabonita Failed attempt to develop a version of the P-39 Airacobra for carrier use.

Boeing Airplane Company

XF8B-1 Bison An attempt to design a long-range carrier fighter, the XF8B-1 was an impressive multi-role aircraft that could carry a warload of 6,400 pounds to a range of 1,300 miles while still retaining fighter-like agility and speed. While a successful design, it was powered by the R-4360 engine which was already in short supply. Priority for the R-4360 engine was, of course, held by the B-36 with the F-72 Thunderstorm and F2G Corsair competing for what production was left over. Adding the demand from an extra airframe for this engine was considered impossible and the XF8B was reluctantly abandoned.

Brewster Aeronautical Company

F2A Buffalo The U.S. Navy’s first monoplane fighter, the F2A had a controversial record to this day. In the U.S. Navy, the aircraft was condemned as a dog, slow, unresponsive and hard to maneuver. It spent a few years of operational service in the Pacific before being relegated to training roles. However, the same aircraft achieved significant success in Finnish hands, shooting down a large number of Russian aircraft during the Winter and Continuation Wars and even achieving a number of kills against Canadian aircraft on the Kola Peninsula. The F2A entered service in 1940 and was withdrawn from US Navy squadrons by the middle of 1942. However, Finnish aircraft remained in service until 1948.

F3A Corsair The Brewster F3A-1 Corsair started life as a license-built version of the Vought F4U-1D Corsair, however production of the Brewster-built aircraft was delayed and, when the first aircraft were delivered, they were found to be structurally suspect. They were restricted to 300mph and aerobatics were strictly prohibited, leaving the aircraft fit only for training duties. This caused them to be redesignated the F3A to distinguish them from combat-ready F4Us. The F3A also had the sad distinction of being the victim of the only known case of sabotage in the USA during WW2. On inspection of some newly-built F3A aircraft, it was found that holed had been drilled in the arrester hook assembly, causing this to be seriously weakened. This was the last straw and the Brewster Aviation Company was closed down by the US Government.

Convair Aviation Company

XFY-1 Pogo Designed in an attempt to produce a high-performance fighter that could be carried on merchant ships to provide air defense. This function had been carried out by Merchant Aircraft Carriers in WW2 but these were too small to carry high-performance aircraft. The XFY-1 was a vertical take-off and landing design that stood on its tail for take-off and landing and was powered by a turboprop engine. Although it performed quite successfully, the operational need for the aircraft had vanished by the time it flew in 1954 and the concept was pursued no further.

Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company

XF14C Seahawk A prototype fighter intended to replace the Grumman F4F Wildcat, the XF14C proved disappointing and was rejected in favor of the F6F Hellcat.

XF15C The XF15C combined an R-2800 piston engine with a J-33 jet engine in an attempt to combine piston-engined range with jet performance. The XF15C was just a little too late, the Ryan FR1 Fireball filled the very limited mixed-engine role and the XF15C was abandoned.

The Douglas Company

F2D Skyknight A large night fighter intended to replace the Grumman F7F-3, the F2D was powered by two 3,000 pound thrust J-34 jet engines and was armed with four 20mm cannon. The F2D first flew in May 1947, just one month before The Big One destroyed Germany. The first production aircraft entered service in late 1948 and detachments of four aircraft were assigned to each of the Gettysburg class aircraft carriers. The type remained in service until 1953 when it was replaced by the F3D

F3D Skyknight The F3D was a re-engined version of the F2D, powered by two 4,100 pound thrust J-46 engines and equipped with swept wings. At 630mph, it was almost 100mph faster than the F2D and replaced the older aircraft from 1952 onwards. In 1956, the F3D-5 became the first Navy fighter to be armed with Sparrow missiles, carrying four AIM-7B Sparrow II weapons in addition to its four cannon. Later F3Ds were rearmed with a pair of AIM-47 missiles. In this configuration, the F3D served until 1963 when it was replaced by the F6D.

F4D Skyray The F4D grew out of a 1947 US Navy requirement aimed at producing a short-range interceptor to defend carriers against the sort of sudden attack that had destroyed the USS Shiloh. The aircraft was powered by a single 5,000 pound thrust J-35 and first flew in this form. However, the US Navy ordered that it be re-engined with an 10,200 pound thrust J-57 (16,000 pounds thrust with afterburner) and this delayed the program by more than four years. The aircraft finally entered service in 1956. It was armed with four 20mm cannon and four Sidewinder missiles. It had a maximum speed of 732mph and a service ceiling of 55,000 feet. Skyrays proved to be very popular aircraft and the type remained in service until 1964.

F5D Skylancer Essentially a much-developed version of the F4D, the F5D had the same engine as the older aircraft but was aerodynamically refined to increase speed by 200mph to give a maximum of 953mph. Service ceiling was 57,500 feet. Increased fuel tankage doubled the aircraft’s range over the F4D and the aircraft was equipped with a radar fire control system that allowed it to carry the Sparrow II missile. Total armament was four 20mm cannon, two Sparrow missiles and four Sidewinders. The F5D entered service in 1959 with Marine Corps squadrons and remained until it was eventually replaced by the F4H in the late 1960s. After that time, it continued to operate from Navy land bases until the last aircraft were withdrawn in 1978.

F6D Missileer Designed as a replacement for the F3D Skynight, the F6D appeared to revert to the older F2D configuration with straight wings. The F6D was designed as a long-endurance patrol fighter that could engage its targets at extended range using its battery of six nuclear-tipped AIM-47 missiles. The aircraft entered service in 1962 but was never popular due to its lack-luster performance (maximum speed was less than 550mph) and reputation as a maintenance hog. In addition, its inflexibility and dedication to a single role only made this large aircraft an inefficient consumer of deck space and many carrier commanders preferred to replace their detachment of 12 F6Ds with 15 or even 18 F5Ds. The F6D was withdrawn from service (mourned by very few) in 1973.

Goodyear Aerospace

FG-1 Corsair The FG-1 started life as part of the same licensed production arrangement that gave birth to the Brewster F3A but the histories of the aircraft were very different. Originally intended as an F4U-1D, Goodyear Aerospace redesigned the aircraft with a bubble canopy, clipped wings and a cropped supercharger impeller that greatly increased performance at low altitude. As a result, the FG-1 proved ideally suited to ground attack, fighter-bomber missions and was issued to Marine Corps squadrons. Later, as the F2G-1 replaced the FG-1 in Marine units, Navy squadrons frequently “acquired” the FG-1s to replace their older-model F4Us. The FG-1 remained in service with its “adopted” squadrons well into 1949. It had a speed of 425mph and was armed with six .50 caliber machine guns plus up to two thousand pounds of bombs.

F2G Super Corsair The F2G started life when Goodyear re-engined an FG-1 with a R-4360 engine, delivering 3,500hp. Development was difficult and the type only started to enter service in mid-1945. The F2G was extremely fast at low altitude, being capable of almost 460mph. Early versions were armed with six .50 caliber machine guns and up to 3,000 pounds of bombs but the later versions had four 20mm cannon and could carry up to 4,000 pounds of external ordnance. F2G production was limited by the shortage of R-4360 engines. Postwar, the type remained in service until 1957 with both Navy and Marine Corps squadrons.

Grumman Aircraft Engineering

Grumman F3F Bobcat The F3F was the US Navy’s last biplane fighter and was still equipping a few Navy squadrons as late as mid-1941. The aircraft was then withdrawn from service and assigned to training units. However, in 1944, the surviving aircraft were returned to operational service aboard escort carriers operating with the Arctic convoys to Murmansk and Archangel. The F3F served on that run until 1946, its biplane configuration making it docile enough to operate off small flight decks in the worst of weather while the aircraft was capable enough to shoot down the converted transport aircraft the Germans were using for maritime patrol. There was even some talk of returning the type to production but this proved impractical.

F4F Wildcat The F4F Wildcat started life as a derivative of the F3F powered by the R-1830 engine but this lost to the Brewster F2A and was redesigned as a monoplane. This was more successful and the type became the US Navy’s standard fighter between 1941 and 1943. As the Vought F4U started to enter fleet service, the F4F was relegated to service in the Pacific and on escort carriers. It was finally phased out of service in 1946. The F4F was armed with four or six .50 caliber machine guns and had a speed of 320 mph. It’s service ceiling was around 34,000 feet.

XF5F Skyrocket An early attempt to produce a carrier-based twin-engined fighter, the XF5F proved to have extremely unpleasant flying characteristics and was quickly abandoned. The type was modified for land-based use as the XP-50 but its faults were too serious to remedy and it was abandoned in favor of a developed version of the P-38 Lightning.

F6F Hellcat Intended to compete with the Vought F4U Corsair, the F6F was a developed version of the F4F powered by a R-2800 engine. Despite being a competent performer, the F6F spend most of its career in obscurity, equipping fleet carrier fighter squadrons and land-based units in the Pacific, allowing the preferred F4U to be assigned to the carriers operating in the Atlantic. It was armed with six .50 caliber machine guns and could carry 2,000 pounds of bombs. It had a speed of 375 mph and a service ceiling of 37,000 feet. It entered service in mid-1943 and was withdrawn by the end of 1948.

F7F Tigercat The F7F represented Grumman’s second attempt to build a twin-engined carrier fighter and was a much more successful design. Powered by two 2,100 hp R-2800 engines, the F7F had a maximum speed of 445 mph and service ceiling of 36,000 feet. More importantly, it had a ferocious armament of four 0.5 inch machine guns in the nose, four 20mm cannon in the wing roots and up to 2,000 pounds of bombs or a torpedo. The F7F-1 first flew in mid-1943 and entered operational service in mid-1944, seeing service with some of the earliest carrier strikes on western France and the UK. The main single-seat production variant was the F7F-3 that had its maximum speed boosted to 460mph. However, the most important F7F variants were intended for night operations. A night-fighter version of the F7F, the F7F-2N was already in production. This had its nose 0.5s replaced by a radar set with the operator in a second seat behind the pilot. Maximum speed dropped to 430mph (445mph for the F7F-4N version). This configuration was exceptionally successful and the F7F-4N became the standard US Navy and (as the P-65A) Air Force night fighter. In addition, the fighter-bomber sweeps over Western Europe effectively prevented the Germans moving trucks and troop convoys in daylight, forcing them to move by night. Interdicting night transport movements was a high priority and, once again, the F7F stepped up to the mark. The F7F nightfighters proved effective and deadly at locating night supply movements by trains and trucks and the aircraft quickly became known as the “Nightwitch” to the Germans. Postwar, the F7F remained in service until 1952.

F8F Bearcat Another mistimed aircraft, the F8F Bearcat might well have seen much greater service had it not been for the development of jet aircraft. Production was limited, the F8F serving on board escort carriers and light fleet carriers that were too small to handle the F2G and FV-1. Early versions of the aircraft were armed with four 0.5 inch machine guns and could carry two thousand pounds of bombs. Later versions had four 20mm cannon. Speed was 447mph and service ceiling 40,600 feet. The F8F entered service in 1945 and the type was withdrawn by 1953.

F9F Panther Previous Grumman fighters had been dogged by ill-luck; either mistimed or limited to niche roles. The F9F Panther broke that pattern and proved a runaway success. The F9F was Grumman’s first jet fighter and was an immediate hit. Powered by a 5,750 pound thrust J-42 engine, the F9F had a speed of 594mph and a service ceiling of 44,600 feet. The first squadrons arrived in the Atlantic just in time for WW2 (seeing service on the same day as The Big One) and, despite their brief combat career proved to be quite deadly. They could match the speed of Germany’s best fighter, the Go-229 and had a 1,000 feet per minute greater climb rate (a critical point since the Go-229 pilots tended to fight in the vertical and escaped combat by climbing away from their opponent; faced with an F9F, that proved a fatal mistake. In addition, the F9F was a pilot’s aircraft, easy and forgiving to fly while its four 20mm cannon gave it a formidable punch. Postwar, the F9F quickly became the US Navy standard carrier fighter, replacing all other fighter types except for the specialized F7F and (later) the F2D. The F9F started to be replaced by the F10F in 1952 but the last examples were not withdrawn from service until 1955.

F10F Cougar A swept-wing derivative of the F9F, the F10F was powered by a 7,250 pound thrust J-48 giving it a maximum speed of 642mph. It had the same quartet of 20mm cannon as the F9F but later marks also carried four Sidewinder missiles. The F10F replaced the F9F from 1952 onwards and remained in service for almost a decade, the last examples not being replaced until 1961. Even after that time, the type soldiered on in training units, its docile characteristics making it an excellent advanced trainer.

F11F Tiger Intended as a supersonic replacement for the F10F, the F11F lost out to the Douglas F5D and the Vought F8U and only a very small number of aircraft were built for the US Navy. However, the type was approved for export and achieved significant success, being sold to the UK, India, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and South Africa.

XF12F Lion A further development of the F11F, the F12F lost out to the Vought F9U and the McDonnell F4H and was not developed further.

F13F Tomcat Marking Grumman’s return to the US Navy fighter arena and the revival of its “cat” names, the F13F first flew in 1973. Powered by two J-93 engines giving 32,000 pounds of thrust, the F13F was capable of mach 3.3 and had a service ceiling of 76,000 feet. Critically, it was armed with six of the new AIM-54 missiles on internal rotary launchers. This is a much developed version of the AIM-47 while the F13F’s AWG-9 fire control system could target all six simultaneously. The AIM-54 had a range of well over 100 miles giving the F13F a massive defense capability. The type was also produced for the USAF as the F-114. The F13F entered Navy service in 1976 and remained until it was replaced by the F14F in the early years of the 21st century.

F14F Tomcat Also known as Tomcat-21, the F14F is a revised version of the F13F using later-technology engines and electronics to reduce maintenance demands, new materials in its airframe to reduce weight and improve serviceability and generally incorporating all the experience gained with operating the F13F. Armament is increased to eight long-ranged nuclear-tipped air-to-air missiles carried on internal rotary launchers.

Lockheed Aircraft Company

FV-1 Flivver Essentially a carrier-modified version of the Air Force’s F-80 Shooting Star, the FV-1 entered service in mid-1945 and remained until it was replaced by the F9F from 1947 onwards. Thus, although considered an interim type, the FV-1 carried the brunt of the fighting over France and other parts of Western Europe. It was capable of 558 mph (giving it a speed advantage of 20mph over its primary opponent, the Me-262) and was armed with six .50 caliber machine guns. Later versions were capable of 594 mph, giving them a 30mph advantage over the He-162 when that type arrived in large-scale service early in 1946.

F2V Starfire A two-seat, radar-equipped derivative of the FV-1, the F2V served briefly as a carrier nightfighter, bridging the gap between the F7F and the F2D.

XF3V Starbee A tail-sitting turbopop fighter essentially similar to the Convair XFY-1, the XF3V was underpowered and was quickly abandoned.

McDonnell Aircraft Corporation

FH-1 Phantom Only powered by two 1,600 pound thrust J-30 engines, the FH-1 nevertheless managed to achieve quite respectable performance and could achieve a maximum speed of 505 mph. It was armed with four 0.5 inch machine guns and could carry 2,000 pounds of bombs. The type was pressed into service, the first examples flying combat missions in early 1945, serving as a fighter-bomber. It had a brief career since it was quickly replaced by the much more effective F2H

F2H Banshee The F2H was an enlarged and upgraded FH-1, powered by two 3,250 pound thrust J-34 engines giving it a maximum speed of 587 mph. It was armed with four 20mm cannon and could carry up to 2,000 pounds of bombs and rockets. The F2H became the standard US Navy fighter-bomber; with an almost 100mph speed advantage over the Me-262 and He-162 at low altitude, it presented the Germans with serious defensive problem. Few F2Hs were lost in air combat, most casualties falling victim to anti-aircraft fire. The service ceiling of the F2H was 48,400 feet, giving the type a theoretical capability of intercepting B-36 type bombers. In fact, it fell just short of that capability but the match was close enough for some Navy and Marine Corps squadrons to be temporarily assigned to NORAD. The last F2H aircraft were only withdrawn from US Navy service in 1955.

F3H Demon Designed to replace the F2H as a carrier-based fighter-bomber, the F3H was dogged by an underpowered and unreliable engine. Production was thus limited and the type only saw brief use between 1955 and 1958. It was capable of 628mph and had a service ceiling of 44,000 feet. It was armed with four 20mm cannon and could carry 4,000 pounds of bombs.

F4H Phantom II The F4H was a further, this time successful, attempt to build a carrier-based fighter-bomber. Powered by two 17,000 pound thrust J-79 engines, the F4H was capable of 1,485mph and had a service ceiling of 56,850 feet. The aircraft could carry up to 16,000 pounds of bombs in the bomber role or four Sparrow and four Sidewinder missiles as a fighter. Early versions were armed with four 20mm cannon, these were deleted from mid-life versions but later a 20mm Vulcan cannon was installed. The F4H entered service in 1961 and remained with navy squadrons until 1990. The type also served with the USAF as the F-110 Spectre.

North American Aviation

FJ-1 Fury The FJ-1 saw only limited US Navy service since it was overshadowed by the F9F, however the type served with distinction in the USAF as the F-74. FJ-1s joined US Navy fighter squadrons in early 1947 and the type vanished quickly post-war.

F2J Dragon With the failure of the F3H Demon, the US Navy saw an urgent need for a new fighter-bomber to replace the F2H. North American produced a derivative of their F-86 Sabredog powered by a 7,700 pound J-65 engine. This gave the aircraft a maximum speed of 680 mph, a service ceiling of 46,800 feet and, most significantly, a range of 2,000 miles, much greater than existing naval fighters. The aircraft was armed with four 20mm cannon and could carry 4,000 pounds of bombs or four Sidewinder missiles. The F2J entered service in 1955 and remained until it was replaced by the F4H from 1961 onwards.

Ryan Aircraft Corporation

Ryan FR-1 Fireball Since the early jet fighters had very short range, coupling a jet engine for performance with a piston engine for range seemed a good idea. The FR-1 had a speed of 426mph and a range of 1,030 miles which were both inferior to equivalent piston-engined aircraft. Only 66 FR-1s were built and they were assigned to escort carriers in the Pacific.

Ryan XF2R Darkshark A further development of the FR-1 idea, the F2R had a turboprop/jet combination. Again, the idea was left behind by advancing aviation developments and the 500mph XF2R was already obsolete when it first flew. The type was quickly abandoned.

Chance-Vought Corporation

F4U Corsair Well-known as the workhorse of the US Navy throughout WW2, the F4U was the standard fighter and fighter-bomber of the Navy Atlantic Fleet carriers and, although supplemented by other types, was never replaced in that role. The fighter entered service in mid-1942 but severe problems with landing delayed its operational debut until early 1943. In retrospect, it is fortunate that the US Navy faced no major surface fleet opposition in the 1941-43 era, what might have happened had it been forced to fight a naval war against a competent opponent while flying only F3F and F4F fighters is very unpleasant to contemplate. Be that as it may, the F4U was available and in squadron service by the time the Navy carriers started striking west in late-1943 onwards. The original F4U-1 was capable of 420mph, this increased to 45 mph with the F4U-4 introduced in 1944 and to 470mph with the F4U-7 introduced in 1945. The primary opponent of the F4U-7 was the Ta-152C and it is interesting to compare the two aircraft. The F4U-7 was 40mph faster across the board although the two aircraft were equal in speed if the Ta-152C used its MW-50 boost at sea level and the F4U-7 was 10mph faster than the Ta-152C using MW-50 at 16,000 feet. The F4U-7 could outclimb the Ta-152C by almost 1,000 feet per minute, could out-turn the German fighter and had a service ceiling 1,000 feet greater. The only advantage held by the German aircraft was that it had a superior roll rate. The F4U-7 remained with the Navy until 1954.

XF5U Skimmer Featuring a unique circular wing, the XF5U promised much and delivered little. It’d maximum speed was only 425mph in an era were jets were already creeping up to the 600mph mark, it had short range and it offered a big target to anti-aircraft guns. The prototype flew in 1949 and was forgotten as quickly as possible.

F6U Pirate Powered by a J-34 engine equipped with an afterburner, the F6U had a maximum speed of 535mph and a service ceiling of 40,500 feet. It was armed with the usual four 20mm cannon. 30 were built, equipping one fighter squadron that served on the USS Saratoga in the Pacific Fleet. The F6U entered service in 1947 and was withdraw a year later.

F7U Cutlass Known (not affectionately) as the “Gutless Cutlass” the F7U was intended to replace the F3D as a missile-armed all-weather interceptor. The F7U had a maximum speed of 680mph and was armed with the usual four 20mm cannon backed up by four Sparrow missiles. The aircraft was difficult and dangerous to fly and in the two years it was in service, more than a quarter of the total production run of 300 crashed.

F8U Crusader After the disaster of the F7U, Vought regained their reputation with the F8U Crusader. A highly successful replacement for the F10F, the F8U saw off competition from the F11F and the F5D to become the Navy’s standard fighter between 1957 and 1963. Capable of 1,228mph and with a service ceiling of 53,500 feet, the F8U was armed with four 20mm cannon and four Sidewinder missiles. The type would probably had a much longer service career had it not been replaced by the even better F9U.

F9U Super-Crusader Essentially marrying the airframe of the F8U with a new J-75 engine, the F9U had a sustained maximum speed of 1,550mph (a burst speed of 1,750mph was attainable but thermal limitations restricted the time that could be spent at that speed) and had a service ceiling of 60,000feet. It was armed with three Sparrow and two Sidewinder missiles. The type entered service in 1963 and was brilliantly successful and remained in service for more than 20 years, eventually being replaced by the F13F. Even then, many carrier commanders preferred to have a dedicated dogfighter on board and continued to embark F9U squadrons (usually replacing the F4H) until the type was no longer available.

F10U Crusader II Known in the Navy as the “Crusader-Max” or (to Hispanic pilots) “Matamoros” (Slayer of Moors), the F-10U is the US Navy’s current dogfighter. Experience quickly showed that reliance on the F13F/F14F family for fighter capability was unwise so, when the F4H replacement was being considered, it was decided to build another pure dogfighter. To fill this requirement, Vought took the F9U airframe, rebuilt it with modern, temperature resistant materials and shoe-horned a JS-93 turboscram engine into the fuselage. The aircraft is armed with six AIM-120 missiles in internal bays. Performance is classified but the aircraft is reputed to be capable of Mach 3.7 at 90,000 feet and speeds in excess of Mach 7 at over 125,000 feet. Mission profile is to use that performance to transit quickly to the scene of combat and then slow down to engage enemy aircraft.

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