4

THE COMING OF THE JETS

As far as the victorious allies were concerned in late 1945, the jet engine was the invention of the British pioneer, Sir Frank Whittle. Certainly, it was British pioneering work that resulted in the RAF being able to introduce the twin jet Gloster Meteor in 1944 and provided the basis for the American aircraft industry to enter the jet age during the war. However, although they started later, German engineers made rapid progress between 1935 and 1939, flying the world’s first turbojet-powered aircraft (Heinkel He.178) on 27 August 1939. Subsequently, the twin-engined He.280 jet fighter flew in April 1941. By the end of the European War in May 1945, the jet-powered twin-engined Me.262 fighter and twin/four-engined Ar.234 bomber were both in frontline service, while numerous prototype jet designs were flying or under development. Without exception these were powered by axial flow turbojets of advanced design offering a relatively small frontal area, although due to problems related to rushed development and a shortage of vital materials, they were notoriously unreliable.

Meanwhile, in Britain, Flt Lt Frank Whittle had started work on developing his own ideas of jet propulsion during the 1920s and registered his first patent in January 1930 for a jet engine that had all the basic components utilised in subsequent designs. It consisted of a single-stage compressor that fed air at high pressure into a combustion chamber where it was heated by burning fuel and exhausted through a turbine, which in turn drove the compressor. The whole cycle was continuous and had the great virtue of being mechanically very simple, although the problem of manufacturing components capable of operating at high rpm under extreme temperatures was to be the element that determined the rate at which jet engine development proceeded. Initially this was at an agonisingly slow rate as there was no official support forthcoming and Whittle was forced to rely on private contributions to fund his work. Consequently it was not until April 1937 that he was able to run his first complete jet engine, which had been built to his specifications by British Thompson Houston (BTH). By that time the German Hans von Ohain had already run the HeS.1 axial flow jet engine and in the following year Junkers was bench running an axial flow engine of its own design.

In Britain, official interest was awakened by the outbreak of World War II and an injection of funding allowed Whittle to form Power Jets Ltd and produce the Whittle W.1, which delivered 850 lb thrust. Like most of the Whittle designs, this featured a double-sided centrifugal compressor in which a single large fan drew in air. This was compressed by a combination of the aerodynamic properties of the intake ducting and the centrifugal energy imparted to the air, which was thrown outwards to the edge of the fan disc before being led into the combustion chambers. This layout had the virtue of simplicity, the fan being cast in a single piece, but meant that such engines had a relatively large frontal area compared with the axial flow design in which the air flows straight through a series of compressor fans. This arrangement was much more complex in engineering terms but allowed much slimmer powerplants and ultimately became the standard for almost all jet engines. However, in the early days British development centred on the centrifugal flow jet engine and Whittle’s Power Jets company became primarily a research and development establishment with ideas being passed on to established industrial concerns who subsequently designed and built their own engines. Initially this was the Rover company, which built and tested the W.2B on Whittle principles and by September 1942 this was producing 1,700 lb thrust. At this point Rover was forced to withdraw from jet engine development and its work was taken over by Rolls-Royce, who developed the W.2B into the Welland turbojet that powered initial production versions of Britain’s first jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor. However, the prototype Meteor that first flew on 5 March 1943 was actually powered by two de Havilland H-1 Goblin turbojets delivering 1,500 lb thrust as these were the first flight-capable engines available. De Havilland had become involved in gas turbine development in 1941 when it began work on a new single-engined jet fighter. This was initially and rather awkwardly known as the Spider Crab, a name perhaps inspired by its twin boom layout, which eventually became the Vampire and flew in prototype form on 26 September 1943. Major Halford, de Havilland’s engine designer, produced an engine that was simpler than the Whittle designs and featured a single-sided compressor linked to a straight-through combustion system (early Whittle engines had a complex reverse-flow system in an attempt to reduce overall length).

These two lines of development gave birth to a range of jet engines that gave the British aero engine industry a commanding lead in jet propulsion in the immediate post-war years. On the Rolls-Royce side, the original Welland set a tradition for naming their engines after rivers. It was superseded by the more powerful Derwent, which was initially rated at 2,000 lb thrust but was ultimately capable of delivering over 4,000 lb in late production versions. A scaled-up version became the Nene and this was first run in October 1944. It was developed to give over 5,000 lb thrust and was to play an important role in the evolution of jet fighters for the Royal Navy. The de Havilland engine range started with the Goblin. This eventually produced around 3,500 lb thrust and was followed by the Ghost, which gave over 5,000 lb in its final versions.

For most of the period covered by this book, the centrifugal flow engines like the Nene and Goblin powered the majority of frontline fighters for both the RAF and Royal Navy. However, axial flow engines had not been neglected and in particular Metropolitan-Vickers had started work on this type of engine as early as 1940. By 1945 the company had test flown the 1,800 lb thrust F.2 and 3,500 lb thrust Beryl. The latter engine powered the unique Saunders Roe S.R.A.1 flying boat fighters, which are described later. A scaled-up version was named the Sapphire but development of this axial flow turbojet was handed over to Armstrong Siddeley in 1948 and ultimately it gave over 10,000 lb thrust. Rolls-Royce also commenced work on an axial flow turbojet that became the Avon. This first ran in 1945 and subsequently was the main powerplant for a whole range of British aircraft, including the Hunter, Javelin and Canberra as well as later versions of the Comet civil airliner. Thrust rating started at 6,500 lb thrust and eventually rose to over 16,000 lb thrust with afterburning.

The development of the jet engine was closely monitored by the Royal Navy and it was particularly interested in the Vampire, which, compared with the twin-engine Meteor, was regarded as more suitable for carrier operations due to its smaller size and simpler design. By mid 1945 orders for 300 Vampires had been placed for the RAF and the first production F.1 flew in April 1945. The second prototype Vampire (LZ551) was then made available for modifications so that carrier deck landing trials could be carried out. A V-frame arrester hook was fitted below the jet exhaust pipe, flap area was increased by 40 per cent and long stroke undercarriage oleos were fitted. Subsequently an uprated Goblin 2 engine was installed and a new clear-view canopy provided, and in this form the aircraft was delivered to a Royal Navy trials unit at Ford for carrier trials. After a series of dummy deck landings at the airfield, the aircraft was flown out to meet the light fleet carrier HMS Ocean steaming in the English Channel on 3 December 1945. Piloted by Lt Cdr Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown, then commanding officer of the RAE Aerodynamics Flight, the Vampire made a successful landing off the first approach. In fact, the Vampire was ideal for deck landing, being rock steady on approach and giving the pilot an unprecedented clear view of the deck at all times - a stark contrast with the then current generation of piston-engined naval fighters such as the Corsair, Seafire and Sea Fury in which a long nose or big radial engine effectively shielded great swathes of the deck from view. Take-offs also proved to be relatively straightforward, the Vampire being already airborne as it passed the bridge on the ship’s island superstructure. On this epoch-making day, the Vampire made four landings and takes-offs but had to be flown ashore after the last landing due to flap damage. The flaps were subsequently reduced in size and no further problems were encountered.

The Royal Navy had taken a significant step forward in becoming the first to fly a jet-powered aircraft from the deck of a carrier but, as was so often the case, it then failed to capitalise on a pioneering effort and the lead was soon to slip to the Americans. Following the success of the initial trials, a second Vampire was converted and the two aircraft became designated Sea Vampire F.10. Two further prototypes were ordered of what was to become the Sea Vampire F.20. This version was based on the RAF’s Vampire FB.Mk.5, which featured a strengthened airframe and had clipped square wingtips, reducing span by 2 feet to 38 feet. An A-frame arrester hook was fitted and repositioned to sit atop the jet pipe when stowed. Eighteen production Vampire F.20s were ordered and these were delivered between October 1948 and June 1949. These Vampires were intended only to allow naval pilots to familiarise themselves with jet operations and were flown by shore-based trials and training squadrons including Nos 700, 702 and 787. Despite not having folding wings, occasional carrier detachments were flown including Exercise Sunrise, in which over 200 deck landings were made, and an Arctic cruise by HMS Vengeance in 1950 in which the operation of a number of new naval aircraft including the Vampire were tested in extreme weather conditions. One of the prototype F.20s gained the distinction of being the first jet aircraft to be catapulted from a carrier deck and this event occurred on 15 July 1948. Sea Vampires continued to contribute to many aspects of carrier development and were involved in trials of the new mirror deck landing sight while three more Vampires were modified to F.21 standard for trials connected with flexible rubber decks (described in Chapter 5). Thus although the Sea Vampire never equipped an operational squadron, it provided invaluable experience to a whole range of naval pilots, airmen, sailors and engineers and provided the basis on which the Fleet Air Arm could introduce new frontline naval jet aircraft in the 1950s.

While Britain and the Royal Navy were experimenting with naval jet operations, across the Atlantic the Americans were quick to see the potential of the jet engine and even quicker to catch up and overtake their mentors. Even prior to 1941, some progress had been made and both Lockheed and Northrop had proposed aircraft designs to be powered by jet reaction engines. Experiments had been conducted by NACA using the Italian Caproni-Campini system in which a piston engine drove an axial flow ducted fan, the airflow then being boosted by an afterburning system. Although thrust ratings of over 2,000 lb thrust were obtained in ground tests, the programme was abandoned in 1943 as it became obvious that fuel consumption was much too high for flight purposes. American jet progress received a tremendous boost when General Arnold, then C-in-C of the USAAF, visited Britain and saw for himself the progress being made. With his backing, two Whittle engines and sets of drawings for a W./2B were sent to America where the General Electric Company was entrusted with their development. At the same time, in September 1941, the Bell company was contracted to design and build a new jet fighter under the designation XP-59A Airacomet (this was something of a security smokescreen as the XP-59 designation had already been applied to a now defunct Bell twin piston-engined design). Three XP-59 prototypes were ordered and the first was completed remarkably quickly, making its first flight on 2 October 1942 - almost six months ahead of the British Gloster Meteor! It was powered by two GE I-A turbojets rated at 1,400 lb thrust and was a relatively simple design with a mid-mounted straight tapered wing and the two engines faired into the underside of the wing roots. Unfortunately this arrangement caused severe aerodynamic interference between the engines and airframe with a result that performance was disappointing with a top speed of only just over 400 mph. The original armament consisted of two nose-mounted 37 mm cannon and this was fitted to most of the thirteen YP-59As ordered in 1942, which were powered by improved 1,650 lb thrust General Electric I-16 engines. Twenty production P-59As were delivered, these carrying an armament of one 37 mm cannon and three 0.5 inch machine-guns but the Airacomet proved to be a very poor gun platform due to inherent directional instability and orders for eighty P-59Bs were cut back after only thirty had been delivered, production ending in May 1945. The P-59 Airacomet provided US pilots with their first taste of jet operations and was utilised mainly as a fighter trainer in preparation for the introduction of better aircraft.

Although most P-59s went to the USAAF, two YP-59As were delivered to the US Navy as the Bell XF2L-1. These were the eighth and ninth aircraft off the production line and were delivered in November 1943 (BuNo 63960 and 63961). Subsequently the US Navy also received three P-59Bs in 1945. These aircraft gave the US Navy its first experience of jet operations but they remained strictly land-based and were never embarked on carriers. In the meantime the US Navy had looked at the idea of fitting a jet engine as a booster to an existing design. The aircraft selected was the Douglas BTD-1 Destroyer, which underwent testing in 1944. Two production aircraft were modified during construction by installing a 1,500 lb thrust Westinghouse WE-19X turbojet in the rear fuselage, which was canted up at 10 degrees and was fed via a dorsal intake behind the cockpit with the jet pipe exhausting below the rear fuselage. A jet fuel tank was fitted in the bomb bay. The first flight took place at Los Angeles Municipal Airport in March 1944 but subsequent tests showed that the expected 50 mph boost in top speed could not be achieved as the turbojet performance fell off drastically at speeds above 200 mph due to problems associated with intake airflow. In view of this, as well as the emergence of other more successful aircraft, the programme was ended shortly after the end of the war. The WE-19X had been designed by Westinghouse specifically to a US requirement for a booster jet engine and had begun ground testing in March 1943 while a second engine was fitted under a Chance Vought F4U Corsair for flight trials, these commencing on 21 January 1944. Subsequent development resulted in the J-30, which was ordered into large-scale production in early 1945, although the order was subcontracted to Pratt & Whitney.

The Whittle engines were not the only jet designs to be imported from Britain and examples of the de Havilland H-1B Halford centrifugal flow engine were also obtained. These were initially destined for the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star single-seat fighter ordered for the USAAF. Early versions of this engine developed around 2,700 lb thrust and the US Navy obtained some for evaluation purposes. For flight trials a Grumman Avenger was selected as the test bed as its capacious bomb bay provided space to install the jet engine and its ancillary systems. The particular aircraft was one of two Grumman-built XTBF-3 prototypes produced to test the installation of a 1,900 hp Wright R-2600-20 radial piston engine, which would eventually replace the original 1,600 hp R-2600-8 used in the earlier TBF/ TBM-1 series. The jet engine was mounted beneath the belly of the aircraft with twin intakes positioned either side of the lower fuselage in line with the rear of the piston engine cowling. The single exhaust was on the under fuselage centreline, just aft of the wing trailing edge. To compensate for the extra weight, all armament was removed and in place of the dorsal gun turret was a partially glazed fairing, providing accommodation for a flight test observer. Conversion work was carried in mid 1944 and ground testing began in November of that year, with flight tests commencing the following month. This was an historic occasion bearing in mind Grumman’s subsequent success as a builder of naval jet fighters and much useful data was obtained. The experience with a British engine was also to bear fruit subsequently but in the early post-war years Grumman initially lost out to other manufacturers.

Perhaps Grumman’s greatest rival was to be the fledgling McDonnell company, which had only been formed in 1939 but had gained a reputation for innovative engineering and had already carried out some preliminary studies on the application of jet propulsion to combat aircraft. Consequently, when the US Navy began to take an active interest in the idea of carrier-based jet fighters, McDonnell were well placed to bid for the contract. Another factor was that other major manufacturers such as Douglas and Grumman were fully occupied with projects of their own and had little spare capacity. When McDonnell submitted their proposals in late 1942, they were quickly rewarded with a Letter of Intent authorising them to proceed with the design and construction of two prototype jet fighters under the designation XFD-1 and the name Phantom was subsequently adopted. The specification called for a fleet air defence fighter capable of carrying out combat air patrols over its parent carrier at an altitude of 15,000 feet. This was a remarkably loose specification as other important items such as performance and armament were not set out.

The design team led by Kendall Perkins adopted a principle of keeping the airframe as simple as possible so that a low-set straight wing was adopted, although a tricycle undercarriage was selected in order to keep jet blast away from the wooden decks of the American carriers. At this stage jet engines were very much in their infancy and it was thought that they could be produced in any required size, overall dimensions being scaled up or down to meet different requirements. Consequently, early XFD-1 design proposals included no fewer than six 300 lb thrust engines buried in the wings - each engine having a diameter of only 9.5 inches! Other configurations investigated included eight- and ten-engined versions but eventually it was found that a more conventional twin-engined layout offered the best performance, saving both weight and complexity. The selected powerplant was the Westinghouse WE-19XB-2B axial flow turbojet, which had a thrust rating of 1,600 lb and an external diameter of 19 inches.

Construction of XFD prototypes began in January 1944 and the airframes were quickly completed but delays with engine development meant that by October 1944 only a single airworthy example had been delivered. Nevertheless this was installed and following ground runs the prototype undertook high-speed taxiing tests, actually becoming airborne for a brief moment on 2 January 1945. Eventually a second engine was delivered and installed and the first full-scale flight took place on 26 January 1945. Flight trials showed that the XFD-1 Phantom was a pleasant aircraft to fly with only minor problems such as excessive aileron system friction and some directional stability issues, all of which were amenable to rectification. The major factor that delayed the test and development programme was the unreliability of the early engines, while the first prototype was lost in a crash caused by aileron failure in November 1945. Nevertheless the US Navy was confident enough to order 100 FD-1s, although this was later cut back to only sixty aircraft, which was still sufficient for test and evaluation purposes and for two operational squadrons to be formed. After some delay due to a lack of engines, these were all delivered between January 1947 and May 1948 under the designation FH-1 - McDonnell had been allocated the letter H to avoid confusion with Douglas aircraft (D).

The standard FH-1 Phantom was powered by two 1,600 lb thrust Westinghouse J30-WE-20 turbojets, which gave a top speed of 479 mph at sea level, an initial rate of climb of 4,950 feet/min and a range of 540 miles. The service ceiling was 41,000 feet. The armament comprised four 0.5 inch machine-guns mounted in the nose and there was no provision for external ordnance. The production aircraft could be distinguished by an enlarged tail fin with a squared off top and a slightly lengthened fuselage, which allowed an increase in fuel capacity. The aircraft’s performance figures were generally better than contemporary piston-engined fighters except in respect of range and endurance, a common shortfall with the early jets and one of the reasons why the Royal Navy had not used the Sea Vampire to equip an operational squadron. However, the US Navy had no such reservations and as soon as the aircraft were available the first jet fighter squadron, VF-17A, was formed at the end of 1947. In the meantime one of the prototype XFD-1s had become the first US jet to land aboard an aircraft carrier, this significant event occurring on 21 July 1946 - seven months after Lt Cdr Brown had landed aboard HMS Ocean. The US pilot was Cdr Jim Davidson and the trials were conducted aboard the USS Franklin D Roosevelt, the second of three 45,000-ton Midway class aircraft carriers, which had commissioned in October 1945. Subsequently VF-17A flew further operational trials from the same ship but in early May 1948 they gave an impressive display by carrying out an intensive flying programme simulating operational conditions from the much smaller 14,500-ton USS Saipan. Over the course of three days the squadron (now redesignated VF-171) operated at a full strength of sixteen aircraft and flew 176 sorties (i.e. an average of just over ten sorties per aircraft) with no serious incidents, clearly showing that there were no insoluble problems involved in the operation of jet combat aircraft from a carrier deck. Despite this success, the Phantom was never deployed for a full-scale operational cruise and was withdrawn from frontline service with US Navy squadrons in 1949. No other unit actually operated from a carrier, although the aircraft was subsequently used by shore-based Naval Air Reserve units allowing them to gain jet experience. A Marine squadron, VMF-122 commanded by World War II ace Major Marion Carl, also flew Phantoms from November 1947 to July 1950 and formed an aerobatic display team known as the Flying Leathernecks.

Early jet engines suffered from a number of drawbacks including limited thrust, slow throttle response, and high fuel consumption - particularly at low altitude. Even before the trials with the modified TBF, initial results from early American air force jet prototypes convinced the US Navy that aircraft solely powered by the then available jet engines were not suitable for carrier use. Accordingly it took a cautious approach and issued a specification for a fighter to be powered by a piston engine with a jet as an additional booster for high performance. Nine manufacturers were invited to submit designs and two were eventually awarded contracts to build prototypes, Ryan and Curtiss. The Ryan Model 28 was generally considered the best design and a Letter of Intent dated as early as February 1943 ordered three prototypes under the US Navy designation FR-1 Fireball. In a way this was a surprising outcome as, up to that time, the Ryan Aeronautical Corporation had never built a combat aircraft, being better known for a variety of training aircraft. Nor had they previously built any naval aircraft. Nevertheless, the Fireball was a workmanlike design, being of compact dimensions and incorporating advanced features such as a tricycle undercarriage, a laminar flow wing and flush-riveted skin. The general appearance was remarkably similar to the contemporary Curtiss SC Seahawk floatplane. The single General Electric I-16 turbojet was neatly installed in the rear fuselage with the intakes in the wing roots, the presence of the additional powerplant not being immediately obvious.

In terms of overall performance the Fireball was unexceptional but this was perhaps not surprising as the total installed power was similar to the later versions of the piston-engined F4U Corsair and the composite-powered aircraft was significantly slower. However, the jet engine provided a more sustained rate of climb and the service ceiling of over 43,000 feet was significantly better than the contemporary Bearcats and Corsairs. In addition its compact dimensions made it suitable for use aboard the smaller escort carriers. Even while the three prototypes were under construction the US Navy placed a production contract for 100 FR-1s on 2 December 1943 and orders for a further 600 were placed on 31 January 1945 following successful flight trials. Inevitably these contracts were severely curtailed after VJ-Day and only sixty-six production examples were eventually delivered. It is a tribute to the soundness of the basic design that the production aircraft differed little from the prototypes except that the flap installation was simplified, single slotted replacing double slotted from the fifteenth FR-1 onwards.

To operate the new aircraft a new squadron, VF-66, was formed and this took delivery of its first aircraft in March 1945. Subsequently three aircraft were used for carrier qualification trials aboard the USS Ranger on 1 May 1945. Although further tests and trials took place, the squadron was decommissioned on 18 October 1945 and was never permanently based aboard a carrier. However, the aircraft and personnel were transferred to VF-41 (later redesignated VF-1E), which was deployed at sea to take part in exercises aboard various escort carriers. These included USS Wake Island in November 1945, USS Bairoko in March 1946 and USS Badoeng Strait in March and June 1947. Despite the composite power configuration of the Fireball, this activity provided valuable experience in the operation of jet aircraft at sea but its performance was lagging well behind the new pure jets then coming into service and it was withdrawn from use after the last deployment in 1947. In the meantime some of the aircraft were modified for test purposes, including a single XFR-2 fitted with a more powerful R-1820-74W Cyclone piston engine. Other versions included the XFR-3 and XFR-4, which both had the Cyclone engine, and the former also had a 2,000 lb thrust General Electric I-20 turbojet while the latter had an even more powerful 4,200 lb thrust Westinghouse J34 fed via flush intakes set into the sides of the fuselage.

The US Navy had previously ordered a second composite power fighter, this being the Curtiss XF15C-1, which was considerably larger and more powerful than the Fireball. The piston engine was a 2,100 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800-34W radial engine while the jet was a 2,700 lb thrust Americanised Halford/de Havilland H1-B built by Allis-Chalmers. In general configuration the XF15C was similar to the Ryan FR-1 in that it was a low-wing monoplane with a tricycle undercarriage and the piston engine in the nose but the jet engine installation was different. Like the Ryan it was mounted in the rear fuselage behind the pilot but the tailpipe was very short and the rear lower fuselage was cut away to accommodate this arrangement. Three prototypes were ordered in April 1944 and the first of these flew on 27 February 1945, although initially only as a conventional aircraft without the jet installed. This was later fitted but the aircraft crashed in May and was destroyed before any useful work could be done. The remaining prototypes were completed to the original design, which included a conventional tailplane mounted at the base of the fin, but both were subsequently modified with a substantially larger fin fitted with a long dorsal fillet and the tailplane was mounted on top in a T configuration. While this is a common feature of many modern aircraft, it was very unusual at the time and almost certainly was intended to address serious stability problems in the original layout. In fact, it was not until November 1946 that the handling characteristics and other problems were rectified to the extent that the aircraft could be handed over to the US Navy. Tests showed that the XF15C had a maximum speed of 373 mph at an altitude of 25,300 feet on the piston engine alone and this was boosted to 469 mph with the jet operating. However, by that time it was apparent that the future lay with pure jet aircraft and no production contracts were forthcoming. Sadly this, coupled with the failure of the slightly later Curtiss XP-87 Blackhawk four-engined jet fighter to gain any production orders from the USAF, brought about the end of the once famous Curtiss-Wright as an aircraft manufacturer and the business was sold to North American.

The limited success of the mixed power concept (also tried by the USAAF with aircraft such as the Convair XP-81, which flew in 1944) was not a great setback as the US Navy had already taken steps to supplement the FH-1 Phantoms on order by issuing a specification for a single-engined jet fighter to other manufacturers during 1944 and this led to the award of contracts for prototypes from North American and Chance Vought. The latter’s contender was the XF6U-1 Pirate of which three prototypes were ordered in December 1944. The first of these flew in October 1946 and was powered by a single 3,000 lb thrust Westinghouse J34-WE-22 jet engine. The Pirate had a blunt-nosed fuselage housing four 20 mm cannon while the pilot sat high up, well forward of the straight wing. The engine intakes were in the wing roots and jettisonable wingtip tanks were carried. Some thirty production F6U-1s were produced and these were fitted with an afterburning J34-WE-30, giving a maximum thrust of 4,225 lb and a maximum speed of 564 mph at 20,000 feet. Nevertheless, the Pirate offered little advantage over other contemporary jet designs and, in any case, Chance Vought was still fully committed to production of the piston-engined Corsair.

The other aircraft to result from the 1944 specification also had only a limited success and service career but went on to form the basis of one of the most successful jet combat aircraft ever built. This was the North American FJ-1 Fury. As first flown on 27 November 1946, it was a conventional straight-winged jet fighter with a nose intake for the single 3,820 lb thrust Allison J35-A-2 turbojet. North American, of course, was the designer and builder of the P-51D Mustang, probably the best all-round fighter produced in World War II, and the new jet fighter employed many similar components, including the wing and tail assembly. However, the fuselage was completely new with straight-through ducting for the jet via a nose intake and tail exhaust. The J35 had been originally developed by General Electric but had been transferred to Allison for production and further improvement. The need to incorporate fuel tanks in the fuselage led to a rather tubby appearance, although additional fuel was carried in fixed tip tanks. Nevertheless the Fury turned in a respectable performance and one of the prototypes achieved Mach 0.87 during flight testing. The quoted maximum speed of 547 feet at 9,000 feet was well in excess of that of the Phantom, although the rate of climb and service ceiling were substantially less. The armament comprised six 0.5 inch machine-guns but there was no provision for external ordnance. By the time the XFJ-1 prototype flew on 27 November 1946, the US Navy had ordered 100 production FJ-1s but this order was subsequently cut to only thirty-nine aircraft as it became apparent that other types offered even greater performance. However, within its performance limitations the Fury proved to be a docile aircraft to fly and well suited to carrier operations. Consequently an operational squadron, VF-5A under the command of Cdr Evan P Aurand USN, was formed in 1948 and began carrier qualification aboard the USS Boxer in March 1948. Subsequently VF-5A formed part of the ship’s air wing until the end of 1949 when the remaining Furies were transferred to Reserve units. This was the first time that a jet fighter squadron had been permanently assigned to a carrier and marked a notable step forward for naval aviation.

In the meantime the jet-powered Phantom had entered service but its operational career, as already related, was very short and spanned only a couple of years. The reason for this was that its performance, while in advance of naval piston-engined fighters, lagged behind that of the land-based jet fighters then coming into service with the USAAF and with potential adversaries. In traditional style, the US Navy therefore ordered a Phantom replacement even before that aircraft had entered squadron service. Amongst other contenders, McDonnell was given the chance in 1945 to design a successor and a contract for three XF2D-1s was awarded. The designation was later changed to F2H-1 and the name Banshee was selected (perhaps appropriate given the intense high-pitched noise of the early jet engines). The new design was basically an enlarged Phantom fitted with two 3,000 lb thrust Westinghouse J34 axial flow turbojets. This was almost twice the installed power available to the Phantom and much of the lengthened fuselage was taken up with additional fuel tankage, capacity rising from 375 US gallons in the FH-1 to 526 US gallons in the F2H-1. A much more effective armament of four 20 mm cannon was fitted below the nose (as opposed to the four machine-guns which, in the Phantom, were mounted in the upper nose where flash was a serious problem at night). The prototype XF2H-1 flew at McDonnell’s St Louis facility on 11 January 1947 flown by test pilot Robert M Eldholm. Flight tests and initial carrier trials revealed no major problems so that production F2H-1s differed only in having a slightly longer fuselage (increased from 39 feet to 40 feet 2 inches) and a tailplane without dihedral. Fifty-six aircraft were delivered between August 1948 and August 1949. However, the major production version was the F2H-2, which was fitted with wingtip tanks of 200 US gallons capacity and more powerful 3,250 lb thrust J34-WE-34 turbojets, which allowed the normal loaded weight to rise from 16,200 lb to 20,555 lb. Apart from the additional fuel, this increase allowed the carriage of two 500 lb bombs or six 5 inch HVAR rockets. Some 306 standard F2H-2s were built but this version formed the basis of a number of specialist variants that were also produced in small numbers. Of these, perhaps the most interesting was the F2H-2B, which was specially developed for the nuclear strike role, something in which the US Navy invested a considerable of effort and money (see Chapter 8). In the case of the Banshee the wing was strengthened to allow the carriage of a single Mk.7 1,650 lb or Mk.8 3,230 lb nuclear bomb under the port wing and twenty-seven of this version were built. Other variants included the single-seat F2H-2N night fighter with an AN/APS-19 radar in an extended nose (three conversions and eleven new build), and the F2H-2P, which had all armament removed and carried no fewer than six vertical and oblique cameras in an extended and widened nose. Eighty-nine F2H-2Ps were built, the last being delivered on 28 May 1952.

Only two months previously, on 29 March 1952, the first F2H-3 had flown. This represented a major step forward as it was the US Navy’s first purpose-designed all-weather fighter and built on experience gained with the F2H-2N. The new version had a substantially lengthened fuselage (now measuring 48 feet 2 inches), which gave space for a Westinghouse AN/ APQ-41 radar in the nose and allowed the total internal fuel capacity to rise to 1,102 US gallons. The now optional tip tanks were slightly reduced in size, carrying only 170 US gallons each. Despite the nose radar, space was found to increase the ammunition supply (220 or 250 rounds per gun). Hardpoints were fitted for the carriage of four 500 lb bombs or several HVAR rockets and eventually the Sidewinder air-to-air guided missile could be carried, although these did not become available until 1956. Apart from the lengthened fuselage, the F2H-3 could be distinguished by a dihedral tailplane and in service the leading edges of the tailplane were also extended. A total of 250 were built. The final production version was the F2H-4, of which the last of 150 was delivered on 24 September 1953. This was basically the same as the -3 but was fitted with a Hughes AN/APG-37 radar and was powered by 3,600 lb thrust J34-WE-38 engines.

The Banshee, or Banjo as it was nicknamed by US Navy pilots, served for over a decade and the fighter’s potential was given an early demonstration when an F2H-1 reached an altitude of 52,000 feet (an unofficial world record, mainly carried out in an attempt to discredit the Air Force’s B-36 bombers, which had hitherto claimed immunity from fighter interception at such altitudes). A less flattering achievement was Lt JL Fruion’s escape from an F2H-1, which went out of control at 30,000 feet, in the process becoming the first US pilot to successfully use an ejection seat in an emergency situation. As already mentioned, VF-171 was the first unit to fly Banshees but the aircraft flew with several other US Navy and Marine squadrons and even when supplanted as a day fighter from 1953 onwards, it remained in its -3 and -4 versions as the Fleet’s standard all-weather fighter until around 1959. As an aside, it is interesting to note that thirty-nine F2H-3s were transferred to the Canadian Navy in between 1955 and 1958 and remained in service until 1962, by which time a significant number had been lost in accidents due to the problems of operating these relatively advanced jets from the decks of the ex-British Magnificent class light fleet carriers.

McDonnell’s early experience in the post-war years with the original Phantom and its successor the Banshee gave the company a commanding lead as a supplier of jet fighters to the US Navy, but they were to be closely pressed by the traditional supplier of naval fighters - Grumman. This company had lost out in the early development of jet fighters as they were heavily committed to the production and development of piston-engined fighters such as the Hellcat, Bearcat and Tigercat. Even when they obtained a contract for a jet fighter, this turned out to be something of a blind alley as the selected engine was the low-powered 1,500 lb thrust Westinghouse J30 and the Grumman team calculated that four of these, buried in the wings, would be required to achieve the required performance. Like McDonnell with the Phantom, they soon found that such an arrangement was complex and inefficient and the search began for an alternative. This was where the previous association with British engines bore fruit and when the contract for the two-seat XF9F-1 was cancelled, Grumman had already commenced design work on a single-seat fighter to be powered by a variety of US and British engines, including a twin Derwent project. However, by this time details of the 5,000 lb thrust centrifugal flow Rolls-Royce Nene became available and arrangements were being made for this to be produced in America by the Taylor Turbine Corporation, although eventually it was built as the J42 by Pratt & Whitney.

The prototype XF9F-2 Panthers were actually powered by imported Rolls-Royce Nenes pending availability of the US-BUILT versions and the first flight took place on 21 November 1947. The Panther was a straight-winged design with a streamlined fuselage, although in order to keep jet pipe length to a minimum, the rear fuselage was cut away under the tail assembly. The engine was fed by wing root air intakes. Although not fitted to the prototype, all subsequent Panthers had fixed 120 US gallon wingtip tanks. The initial armament was four 20 mm cannon with 190 rounds per gun and it was not until the aircraft had entered service that modifications were incorporated to allow the carriage of up to 3,000 lb of bombs or other ordnance (such modified aircraft were initially designated F9F-2B). Initial flight trials revealed a number of problems, including a lack of directional stability (an important factor as this affected the aircraft’s suitability as a gun platform) and longitudinal instability at low speeds. The latter problem was caused by fuel slopping around the fuel tanks and was solved by fitting internal baffles, while an increase in fin and rudder area partially cured the directional problems. Compared with other contemporary naval aircraft, the Panther’s stalling speed was on the high side and it was certainly something of a ‘hot ship’ for its day. In compensation its performance was significantly better than that of the Phantom or the Fury with a top speed of 575 mph at sea level, a rate of climb in excess of 5,000 feet/min and a service ceiling of 44,600 feet.

Initially the Phantom was ordered in two versions, the F9F-2 with the J42 (Nene) and the F9F-3 with the 4,600 lb thrust Allison J33. Comparative tests soon showed the superiority of the Nene-engined version and most of the fifty-four F9F-3s delivered were re-engined with the J42. Total production of the F9F-2 reached 594 aircraft, which were delivered between May 1949 and the end of 1950. It was replaced on the production lines by the F9F-4 and -5. These two variants were again to be powered by different engines, the 6,250 lb thrust Allison J33-A-16 turbojet in the case of the -4 and the similarly rated Pratt & Whitney J48-P-6 for the -5. The latter engine was an Americanised version of the Rolls-Royce Tay and once again proved superior in service. Consequently, most of the 109 F9F-4s delivered were either re-engined in service or completed at the factory with the J48. The definitive F9F-5 was the most important production version of the Panther with no fewer than 616 being delivered as well as a further thirty-six F9F-5P photographic reconnaissance variants. (Previously a few F9F-2s had been converted to this role as the F9F-2P in 1950 at the outbreak of the Korean War.) Apart from the more powerful engines, the F9F-4 and -5 shared a fuselage lengthened by 19.5 inches ahead of the wing in order allow additional fuel to be carried and this required an increase in the size and area of the tail fin to retain directional stability. The wing hardpoints were strengthened to allow a total bomb load of 3,450 lb to be carried. Water injection boosted the thrust rating of the J48 to 7,000 lb and allowed the F9F-5 to become the US Navy’s first fighter capable of exceeding 600 mph at sea level. However, the maximum weight had risen from 9,300 lb to 10,150 lb and consequently the rate of climb remained substantially unaltered while the service ceiling was reduced to 42,800 feet.

Entering service in 1949, the Panther equipped two US Navy and one Marine squadron, as well as the Blue Angels demonstration team, by the end of the year. When the Korean War broke out in mid 1950 the US Navy had eight frontline jet fighter squadrons in service, of which six flew Panthers and the remaining two were equipped with Banshees. Two squadrons (VF-51 and VF-52) were aboard the USS Valley Forge, which became the first US carrier to fly operational missions. The Panther thus became the first US Navy jet to fly in combat, an early success being the shooting down of a Yak-9 piston-engined fighter on 3 July 1950. However, on 1 November 1950 the first Chinese MiG-15s were encountered and the superior performance of the Russian-built jet was immediately apparent, forcing the US Navy Panther pilots to rely on their superior training and experience to even things up. In the first US Navy jet versus jet combat on 9 November 1950, Cdr WT Amen commanding VF-111 aboard the USS Philippine Sea managed to destroy a MiG-15 and in the course of the Korean War Panthers shot down another four with no loss to themselves.

It is interesting to examine the reasons for the MiG-15’s superiority, particularly as it was effectively powered by the same engine! This derived from the fact that the Socialist British government had, in a demonstration of solidarity with its erstwhile wartime allies, gifted examples of the Rolls-Royce Derwent and Nene jet engines together with all technical details in early 1947. This naive gift gave the Soviet aero engine industry a tremendous boost and the Nene was immediately put into production as the VK-1, later becoming the RD-45, and one was available to power the prototype MiG-15, which first flew in July 1947. However, the MiG also benefited from analysis of captured German material at the end of World War II when Soviet designers and engineers quickly became aware of the benefits of sweptback wings. The MiG-15 was designed from the start with a highly swept wing (35 degrees at quarter chord) and this was the key to its success. American engineers had also gained access to the same data but for once they were relatively slow off the mark and the first US swept-wing combat aircraft (the F-86 Sabre, derived from the US Navy’s FJ-1 Fury) did not fly until almost a year after the MiG prototype. The appearance of the MiG-15 in Korea laid new urgency on the development of swept-wing fighters for both the USAF and the US Navy and it was clear that any new aircraft would have to adopt this configuration.

As already mentioned, by mid 1950 the US Navy had eight jet fighter squadrons in service aboard carriers and the majority of these were powered by British-designed jet engines. Given that the Royal Navy had pioneered the operation of jets from carrier decks and that it was supported by the world’s best aero engine industry, it could have been expected that at least a similar stage of development might have been reached. Sadly the actual state of affairs was almost as bad as it could be. In fact, the Royal Navy did not deploy an operational jet fighter squadron at sea until 1952 and none were available for deployment to Korea. As will be seen, there were many reasons for this but the main one can be traced back to the history of the Fleet Air Arm, which had only come fully under naval control in 1937, having previously operated as a branch of the RAF. Even a decade later the ramifications of this arrangement were still being felt as there were still many senior officers who lacked carrier or aviation experience and the drawing up of specifications and liaison with manufacturers was done through the offices of a central Ministry of Supply. Compare this with the US Navy whose own air arm had been an integral part of the Navy from the day it was formed and who had their own Bureau of Aeronautics (running in parallel with the Bureau of Ships) to oversee the design and production of naval aircraft. Thus when the US Navy entered the jet age they were able to issue specifications for purely naval aircraft, which were consequently designed from the outset to operate from aircraft carriers. In Britain the Admiralty was much less pro-active and generally issued specifications for naval aircraft that were based on already existing projects for land-based aircraft initially designed for the RAF. In addition the Admirality tended to be overly cautious and looked for incremental improvements in performance rather than risking commissioning entirely new and more advanced designs.

In the event the Royal Navy turned to its traditional fighter suppliers, Hawker and Supermarine, for its first jet designs but in both cases the evolutionary approach led to very long development times and slow entry into service. While this was partly due to the official attitudes of the time, it must also be recognised that funding for such ambitious projects was in short supply as Britain struggled to get its shattered economy back into shape after six long years of war. The Royal Navy’s first fully operational jet fighter, as opposed to the Sea Vampire, which was always regarded as an interim type and never equipped a frontline squadron, was the Supermarine Attacker. This clean-looking, straight-winged aircraft could trace its ancestry directly back to the piston-engined Spitfires and Seafires, which for so long had provided the backbone of the British fighter force. As has already been related, post-war developments led to the Spiteful and Seafang whose main advance was a new laminar flow high-performance wing. As early as the summer of 1944 Supermarine was asked to begin design work on a new fighter designed around one of the new jet engines, in this case the RB41, which eventually developed into the highly successful 4,500 lb thrust Nene. The new aircraft was designated Type 477 and utilised the Spiteful-type wings, including the armament of four 20 mm cannon, married to a new fuselage in which the Nene engine was fed by lateral air intakes while the pilot sat well forward in the nose. Unusually for a jet aircraft, a conventional tailwheel undercarriage was provided. Specification E.10/44 was written around the Supermarine proposals and three prototypes were ordered on 5 August 1944. Evidence of early and positive naval interest in the new Type 477 is illustrated by the fact that two of the prototypes were semi navalised with long stroke undercarriages and arrester hooks, although folding wings were not provided at this stage. Subsequently a further eighteen naval examples were ordered under specification E.1/45 but the flight of the prototype (TS409) was delayed for several months while problems with the new wing were investigated in the Spiteful/Seafang test programme. One of the major issues was the behaviour of the ailerons at high speeds but other control-related problems dogged the programme, which continued after the first flight of TS409 on 27 July 1946. The delays resulting from the exhaustive flight test programme resulted in the Admiralty cancelling its order for the Type 477 and instead procuring eighteen Sea Vampire F.Mk.20s.

Following the initial flight trials, the second prototype and first navalised Type 477 flew in June 1947 and featured several improvements, including redesigned tail surfaces, modified flaps and spoilers, additional fuel capacity and, importantly, a Martin-Baker ejector seat. After further modifications the aircraft, now officially known as the Attacker, was put through a series of airfield dummy deck landings (ADDLs) before beginning deck landing trials aboard HMS Illustrious at the end of October 1948. These demonstrated that the tailwheel undercarriage configuration had certain advantages for a naval aircraft at that time as the nose-up landing attitude gave rise to an aerodynamic braking effect, which helped to slow down the aircraft on final approach. It was also more suited to a catapult launch in which the tail-down attitude provided greater lift as the aircraft accelerated. As a result of the shipboard trials further modifications were made to the third prototype and eventually an order for sixty Attacker F.1s was forthcoming from the Admiralty in November 1949 and the first production aircraft flew on 5 April 1950. By the end of August enough aircraft had been delivered to equip 800 Squadron, which thus became the Royal Navy’s first frontline jet fighter squadron, although they did not go to sea until March 1952 when the new carrier HMS Eagle commissioned.

The initial sixty Attacker F.1s were later fitted with an extended dorsal fin to improve directional stability and this became standard on all subsequent aircraft, which were also fitted to carry a 250-gallon underfuselage drop tank. Provision to carry two 1,000 lb bombs resulted in the FB.1. Eight of these were built before production turned to the FB.2 variant, which had a more powerful Nene 102 engine, an improved cockpit canopy and other modifications. This was the major variant and a total of eighty-four were built, the last being delivered in 1953. Two other frontline squadrons (803 and 890) received Attackers but neither was deployed aboard a carrier other than for brief periods of training and the aircraft’s period of service was relatively short. All three operational squadrons had converted to other types by the end of 1954, although the Attacker was used by training and reserve squadrons until 1957.

Although the aircraft resulted initially from an RAF specification for a day fighter, that service rapidly lost interest and placed no orders so that all subsequent development was concentrated on the naval version (however, some thirty-six Attackers were sold to the Pakistan Air Force). Due to its protracted development time, the Attacker was already obsolescent by the time it entered service, although on paper its performance compared favourably with the contemporary Grumman F9F Panther. The difference was that the latter had entered service two years earlier and was available in significant numbers for operational service when the Korean War broke out in 1950.

The Royal Navy’s main jet fighter in the 1950s was the Hawker Seahawk but like many British aircraft of the period it had suffered from a long gestation period. In fact, its origins went back to 1944 when the Attacker was also first conceived. In the case of the Hawker aircraft the company made an initial proposal for a single-seat jet fighter based on the piston-engined Fury but powered by a RB.41 Nene jet engine. As work progressed Hawker evolved the idea of a bifurcated split exhaust, which vented either side of the fuselage, instead of a conventional straight-through jet pipe. At the time it was thought that this configuration would reduce thrust losses in the jet pipe and it also had the incidental benefit of providing additional space for fuel tankage in the rear fuselage. By October 1945 the design was sufficiently refined for Hawker to begin work on construction of a prototype under the company designation P.1040. By this time RAF interest had evaporated as the aircraft offered little advance in performance compared with the twin-engined Gloster Meteor but the Admiralty was keen to develop it as a fleet fighter and issued Specification N.7/46, authorising the construction of three prototypes. The first of these flew on 2 September 1947 but was only an aerodynamic prototype, which nevertheless contributed immensely to the development programme and resulted in several refinements being incorporated in the fully navalised second prototype, which flew on 3 September 1947. This featured folding wings, was fitted for catapult launching and carried the full armament of four 20 mm cannon in the lower nose. After initial trials at Boscombe Down in April 1949, this aircraft then carried out deck landing trials aboard HMS Illustrious. The third prototype flew in October 1949 and subsequently orders were placed for an initial 150 Seahawk F.1s, the first of these being delivered in November 1951. In fact, Hawker only built thirty-five Mk.1s, all subsequent production and further development being transferred to Armstrong Whitworth at Coventry. Some ninety-five Mk.1s were produced, these being superseded by forty Seahawk F.Mk.2s. This model introduced powered flying controls, which were found necessary to overcome aileron problems at high speed (echoing experience with the Spiteful and Attacker). While both early versions could carry 90-gallon drop tanks, the later FB.3 was modified to permit the carriage of two 500 lb bombs and first flew in March 1954, a total of 116 being delivered. Later variants included the F.G.A.4, which could carry up to four 500 lb bombs and the F.B.5 and F.G.A6, which were basically Mk.3/4 Seahawks with an uprated 5,200 lb thrust Nene 103 engine.

Unlike the Attacker, the Seahawk found a ready export market and customers included the Netherlands Navy (twenty-two aircraft), West Germany (sixty-four) and India (twenty-four). In addition, the Indian Navy received a further twelve ex-Royal Navy aircraft and twenty-eight ex-German Seahawks. In all, some 554 Seahawks were produced in addition to the three prototypes. Many of these orders resulted from the aircraft being accorded ‘super priority’ status during the Korean War (along with the Hunter and Canberra for the RAF). Nevertheless, the first Royal Navy Seahawk squadron (806 NAS) did not form until March 1953 and did not embark on HMS Eagle until February 1954, well after the end of hostilities in the Far East. Subsequently, the Seahawk formed the backbone of the Royal Navy fighter strength until the end of the 1950s, equipping no fewer than thirteen frontline squadrons, three reserve squadrons and five training units. Although it was too late for Korean service it did see action in the Anglo-French Suez operations in the autumn of 1956 when no fewer than seven Seahawk squadrons were involved, flying from three carriers (Eagle, Albion and Bulwark). Well liked by its pilots, the Seahawk was perhaps one of the most graceful jet combat aircraft ever built and it was certainly a useful ground attack aircraft. However, there is no denying that by the time it entered service it was a whole generation behind what was available to the US Navy.

At the time of the Suez operations the Seahawk’s companion in the carrier air groups was the de Havilland Sea Venom, a two-seat, radar-equipped, single-engined all-weather fighter. The need for radar-equipped night fighters had been identified during World War II and had been met initially by fitting radar pods to single-engined aircraft such as the F6F-5N Hellcat or the Firefly NF.1. Subsequently, as already described, a two-seat version of the twin-engined Sea Hornet saw service as the NF.Mk.21 but the need for a jet-powered all-weather interceptor led to the adoption of a variant of the de Havilland Venom. The original single-seat Venom FB.Mk.1 Venom had been developed from the earlier Vampire, the main external difference being the introduction of a new thin profile wing with a swept leading edge. Wingtip fuel tanks were also a standard fitting on all Venom variants. Power was provided by a de Havilland Ghost 103 turbojet initially rated at 4,850 lb thrust, but this was later increased to 5,200 lb in the Ghost 105. De Havilland had already produced a two-seat version of the Vampire, both as a night fighter and as an advanced trainer, and so it was natural that the company should do the same with the Venom. The prototype Venom NF.Mk.2 was actually a private venture and first flew in August 1950, but it was subsequently ordered in quantity for the RAF. The Royal Navy also evaluated the NF.Mk.2 prototype and as a result ordered a navalised version under Specification N.107, which was designated Sea Venom NF.Mk.20 and first flew early in 1951. Carrier trials took place aboard HMS Illustrious in July 1951 and although the first two examples did not have folding wings, this feature with power operation was incorporated in the third prototype and all subsequent production aircraft. The first of fifty production aircraft (now designated FAW.Mk.20) flew on 27 March 1953. Subsequent versions included the FAW.Mk.21 (167 built) with power ailerons, improved canopy, long stroke undercarriage, Martin-Baker ejector seats for both crew members and a new radar, and the FAW.Mk.22 with an uprated Ghost 105 engine and A.I.Mk.22 radar (thirty-nine built).

The Sea Venom entered service with 890 Squadron in March 1954 and subsequently equipped nine frontline and four second line squadrons. Although outside the scope of this book, the Sea Venom FAW.Mk.21 became the Royal Navy’s first missile-equipped intercepter in 1958 when aircraft of 893 Squadron carried out firing trials with the Firestreak missile while embarked in HMS Victorious. The Sea Venom was also selected by the Royal Australian Navy and thirty-nine were eventually delivered from 1955 onwards. A more interesting export success was the French Navy being supplied with four Sea Venom Mk.20s assembled in France by SNCA de Sud-Est, these being followed by a single French-built prototype. Subsequently Sud-Est produced seventy-five aircraft as the Aquilon 202 for service with the French Navy. Overall, the Sea Venom fulfilled its required role but suffered from having only a single engine (contemporary RAF all-weather fighters were all twin-engined) and the cockpit was extremely cramped with limited space for additional equipment.

The US Navy also had a requirement for a two-crew, jet-powered night fighter and this was to be met by the Douglas F3D Skyknight. This project had its origins in 1945 when the Bureau of Aeronautics raised a requirement for a two-seat carrier-based radar-equipped jet fighter capable of intercepting hostile aircraft, flying at a speed of 500 mph and an altitude of 40,000 feet at a range of 125 miles. Proposals from various manufacturers resulted in contracts being awarded to Douglas for the XF3D-1 and Grumman for the XF9F-1. In the event the Grumman design evolved into a single-seat aircraft resulting in the Panther so Douglas had the field to itself. The F3D Skyknight was a relatively conservative design with a mid-mounted straight wing and the two crew members seated side-by-side in the nose cockpit. In order to carry the two crew, an armament of four 20 mm cannon, radar equipment and sufficient fuel, a twin-engined configuration was adopted in which the 3,000 lb thrust Westinghouse J34-WE-24 turbojets were mounted semi-externally under the fuselage centre section. The result was an extremely large aircraft by the standards of the time and with a maximum all-up weight of 21,500 lb it was one of the heaviest. The first flight was on 23 March 1948 and no serious problems were encountered in the test flight programme so an initial order for twenty-eight F3D-1s was placed in June of that year. Deliveries began in February 1951 with aircraft initially going to Composite Squadron VC-3. A total of 268 Skyknights were built, the majority being the F3D-2, which was to have been powered by the larger and more powerful Westinghouse J46 but problems with this engine resulted in reversion to the J34-WE-36 rated at 3,400 lb thrust.

In service, the Skyknight was operated almost exclusively by US Marine Corps squadrons and saw very little carrier-based service. Despite that, it was remarkably successful in the Korean War, destroying more enemy aircraft than any other US Navy or Marine aircraft and scoring the first jet versus jet night combat success when a MiG-15 was shot down on 2 November 1952 by a Skyknight from VMF(N)-513 based at Kunsan. The Skyknight also had a relatively long career, examples equipped for electronic warfare seeing service in the Vietnam War until retired in 1969, although these activities are outside the scope of this book.

The aircraft described in this chapter almost without exception had their origins in the closing stages of World War II, or in the immediate post-war era. All employed conventional straight wings and were designed around early jet engines of limited thrust. From 1946 onwards, the results of German wartime research and experience became available and pointed to the benefits of swept wings and other more exotic configurations as a means of overcoming the problems associated with high-speed flight in the transonic region. Continuing engine development also produced more powerful and efficient engines with thrust ratings rising from around 3,000/4,000 lb to 6,000/ 7,000 lb with more to come. As these advances filtered through to the aircraft designers a whole range of new naval combat aircraft was produced and began to enter service in the early 1950s. However, these were larger, heavier and faster than their predecessors and used more fuel and could carry a greater load of more complex weapons. Taken together these characteristics placed new demands on the aircraft carriers from which they were to operate and solutions to the many associated problems became a matter of some urgency.

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