F9F, FH-1, F6U, XFD-1
When the Navyís first two all-jet prototypes were begun, the major aircraft producers were so involved with mass production problems that responsibility for airframe development was given the small St. Louis firm founded by James S. McDonnell (1899-1980), while Westinghouse undertook development of axial-flow turbojets.
Six small engines were originally planned for each of the prototypes ordered January 7, 1943, but fortunately, development of the 1,600-pound thrust Westinghouse 19XB-2B reduced requirements to two. Each 19-inch diameter engine was buried in the wing roots on each side of the smoothly streamlined fuselage. When first flown on January 26, 1945, the type was known as the McDonnell XFD-1, but that designation was later changed to XFH-1 to avoid confusion with Douglas types, and the engine would become the Westinghouse J30.
On March 7, 1945, the first Navy jet production contract was placed; originally for 100 planes, but cut back to 60 after the war. Production FH-ls delivered from January 1946 to May 1948 had J30-WE-20s and were similar to the prototype except for additional fuel and modified tail fin. Four .50-caliber guns with 1,600 rounds were mounted in the upper nose, 92 pounds of armor protected the cockpit, and a 295-gallon drop tank could be fitted flush with the belly.
On July 21, 1946, a prototype became the first jet to fly from a USN carrier, the new Franklin D. Roosevelt. The first Navy squadron to get FH-ls was VF-17A, in July 1947, this unit becoming the Navyís first carrier qualified fighter squadron on the Saipan in May 1948. Other Phantoms, as McDonnell had named the jet, were used by the Marineís VMF-122 until July 1950.
The next step in jet fighters began with a September 5, 1944, Navy request for a carrier-based fighter. Grumman responded, but was left for the time being to develop its F7F and F8F prop designs. Three other respondents got prototype contracts: Vought to use a J34 engine, North American a J35, and McDonnell two J34s.
Voughtís first jet type was the XF6U-l Pirate, ordered from the Stratford factory December 29, 1944, and first flown October 2, 1946, at Muroc Dry Lake. A 3,000-pound thrust Westinghouse J34-WE-22 behind the pilot was fed by wing root intakes. Four 20-mm M-3 cannon with 600 rounds were grouped in the round nose, and 140-gallon drop tanks were attached to each wing tip. Like the Phantom and subsequent Navy jet fighters, the three XF6U-ls utilized retractable tricycle landing gear. Construction was of Metalite -two thin sheets of alloy bonded to a balsa wood core.
Thirty F6U-ls ordered on February 5, 1947, were to get power plants augmented with the first American afterburners. The third prototype was flown March 5, 1948, with a J34-WE-30A, whose normal thrust was increased to 4,100-pounds thrust for short periods when using the Solar afterburner, hopefully raising the top speed from 535 mph to 600 mph. But the tail had to be redesigned, numerous engine and stability problems appeared, and that prototype was destroyed in November 1948.
The first production F6U-1 from the factory now occupied by Vought in Dallas, Texas, flew June 29, 1949. Problems persisted even after the last was accepted in February 1950. On October 13, the Pirate was pronounced so submarginal in performance that combat utilization was not feasible, and these planes were never issued to an operational squadron, or flown from a carrier.
North Americanís XFJ-l Fury featured a nose intake for the General Electric J35-GE-1 behind the pilot in the fat fuselage. Three prototypes were ordered January 1, 1945, and 100 FJ-ls on May 18, but the production contract was cut to 30. The XFJ-l first flew September 11, 1946, and the FJ-l on July 8, 1947, with an Allison-built J35-A-2. Production ships retained the wing tip tanks and 119 pounds of cockpit armor, but moved the dive brakes from the wings to the rear fuselage.
Six .50-caliber guns with 1,500 rounds were mounted at the sides of the nose scoop; the last of this caliber on Navy fighters, for 20-mm cannon have been standard since that time. The Air Force continued using the .50-caliber M-3 gun, however, until the faster-firing M-39 20-mm gun became available in 1953.
The Fury went to VF-5A in November 1947, which made its first carrier trials aboard the Boxer in March 1948, later became VF-51, and used the FJ-l until October 1949. While the FJ-l was the fastest plane yet used on carriers, it required catapult takeoffs, engine overhaul every ten flight hours, and lacked the ejection seat now so necessary for safety.
The Phantoms, Pirates, and early Furies were a transitional phase between props and jets to demonstrate that jets could operate from carriers. But the F4U Corsairís superior endurance and capacity and the F8F Bearcatís rapid climb kept propeller-driven fighters on carriers until fully capable jet fighters could join the fleet.