F2H / F-2 Banshee

"Banjos" or "Big Banjos," McDonnell's F2H-1/2 and F2H-3/4 Banshee respectively, never seem to get the attention given other carrier jet fighters. McDonnell's first jet fighter, the FD/FH Phantom, and North American's first carrier jet, the FJ Fury, got the first operational carrier jet fighter attention while later swept-wing and afterburner jets overshadowed the post-Korean service of Naval Aviation's first widely used all-weather jet fighters, F2H-3/4 Banshees. The -2's Korean combat service paralleled that of F9F Panthers, but the latter got the limelight. Today's long-time-retired Naval Aviators tend to recall rugged Panthers, while memories of those who flew "Banjos" tend toward the affectionate, emphasizing fine flight characteristics, especially for -2s.

In brief, the Model F2H-2 airplane is a single place, two engine, jet propelled, long range fighter incorporating droppable tip tanks. Designed to be either land or carrier based, the airplane is equipped with an electronically actuated, fully retractable, tricycle landing gear, folding outer panels, an arresting hook with cable expelling mechanism, and conventional catapult equipment. Stressed metal skin construction is employed throughout with all surfaces being of the full cantilever type. The control systems are conventional, with the exeption of the aileron system, which incorporates hydraulic boost. The split flaps, speed brakes, and trim tabs are all electrically actuated. In addition to conventional items, pilot equipment includes an ejection seat and cabin pressurization.

Banshee beginnings trace to fall 1944. McDonnell was one of three companies studying future carrier fighter designs for the Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics using advanced piston-engine and prop, turbojet or turboprop propulsion. One of its proposals using two of Westinghouse's new 24C jet engines was selected for prototype development. The 3,000-pound thrust of the 24C (later designated J34) was nearly twice that of the 19B engines in its -- and the Navy's -- first jet fighter, the XFD-1, which would soon make its first flight. With a similar overall configuration but having four 20mm cannon, the all new design made maximum use of experience gained with the XFD.

Contract go-ahead for three XF2D-1s (later XF2H-1s) in March 1945 followed specification negotiations, with mock-up inspections in April. The major mock-up change was increasing the internal fuel capacity. With the war's end, McDonnell's move into the former Curtiss-Wright plant at Lambert Field, St. Louis, Mo., and engine delivery delays, the first XF2D-1 finally flew in January 1947.

Early flight tests justified a production order in March 1947, later increased to 56. The XF2H airplanes were kept busy smoothing out design wrinkles, particularly with various aerodynamic problems as the design maximum speed was approached. Not as obvious as the production design's removal of horizontal tail dihedral were other necessary changes, including thinner wings and tail surfaces and power-boosted ailerons. Cockpit pressurization and an ejection seat were by then standard, but inlet doors that could be closed for intentional or unintentional single-engine flight were unique. Climb and high-altitude performance were particularly impressive to Navy evaluation pilots.

Beginning its life as the XF2D-1, the Banshee was the last of McDonnell's aircraft to bear the company's original Navy designation letter "D". This change was made by Navy Aircraft Circular Letter 81-47 of 28 August 1947.

Deliveries of production airplanes began in August 1948, with modifications initiated for future Banshees. These included a one-foot-longer fuselage for additional internal fuel and also droppable tip tanks. By the time these were incorporated, uprated J34 engines partially offset the increased weight and brought the F2H-2 designation. The -1s went to Fighter Squadron (VF) 171 replacing its FH-1 Phantoms, and later VF-172; in both squadrons they were replaced by -2s entering service in late 1949. While flying an F2H-1, a VF-171 pilot made the first American ejection seat escape, when failing to recover from a spiral dive in adverse weather.

Typical for carrier day fighters, night-fighter and photo versions of the F2H were soon developed. With extended forward fuselages for night-fighter radar, 14 F2H-2Ns were built, the first in 1949. An initial batch of eight photo F2H-2Ps followed, with armament removed and an even longer nose for cameras. The effectiveness of -2Ps for Navy and Marine reconnaissance in Korea led to an additional 50 of these. A lesser-known version of the -2 was the F2H-2B. Basic -2s could carry rockets or bombs on wing pylons for ground attack. Long-range nuclear weapon delivery missions required special provisions, incorporated on 50 of 334 production -2s as -2Bs.

The next step in Banshee development was an all-weather multimission "strike fighter" version. Initiated after the start of the Korean War, it incorporated the latest radar and fire control system for all-weather combat and a further mid-fuselage extension for a major increase in mission radius. Cannon were moved aft and the airframe strengthened. One of the F2H-2Ns was converted to an aerodynamic prototype to flight test the fuselage-mounted horizontal tail with dihedral. Hydraulically powered ailerons and elevators were new in Navy fighters, as was an extendable nose gear strut for catapult launch.

The resulting F2H-3 production deliveries began in 1952. Two different fire control radars were then being developed for the Navy and the final production contract covered 400 airplanes, 250 -3s with a Westinghouse radar and 150 -4s with a Hughes radar. Navy pilots were divided as to which system was most effective.

The last "Big Banjos" (F2H-3s) were accepted in September 1953. Early -3s were in all-weather detachments of Composite Squadrons, later All-Weather Fighter Squadrons. Both -3s and -4s subsequently also operated in full VF squadrons. Multimission roles included all-weather fighter and long-range nuclear weapon delivery. For extended range missions, one engine was routinely shut down with its inlet door closed. Many -3s and -4s had an in-flight refueling kit installed which provided a fixed refueling probe in place of the lower left cannon. During early squadron operations, a horizontal tail structural problem was fixed with additional forward strut braces. Extension of root leading edge skins to the brace gave a fillet appearance. Some -2, -3 and-4s were produced in bare metal finish; all transitioned to gray and white after 1955.

The "Big Banjos" were the fleet's all-weather fighters through the mid-fifties. In 1955 Canada acquired F2H-3s for use on the Royal Canadian Navy carrier Bonadventure; these later incorporated Sidewinder missiles. In 1959 Canada decided to discontinue its carrier operation and the F2H-3s were gradually phased out.

F2H-2s were assigned to the Navy and Marine reserves in the post-Korean War years, and were later joined by F2H-3s. They served there and in special functions until the early 1960s. Those remaining in 1962 were scheduled to become F-2s in the Department of Defense's (DOD) Air Force type designation system; however, by September implementation time the last few were awaiting disposal, so the F-2 materialized only on paper.

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