F-9 / F9F-2 Panther
The McDonnell Company of St. Louis built the Navy's first all jet aircraft and demonstrated that the jet engine was adaptable to naval aviation, but it was Grumman's F9F Panther that became the first Navy jet fighter to shoot down another jet fighter. Grumman's departure from propeller driven fighters was accompanied by abandoning the tradition of naming the Company's fighters "Cats." However, the feline connection lived on with Panther and Cougar and eventually returned to original policy with the F-14 Tomcat.
Grumman received a Navy contract on 16 December 1946 to produce a jet powered, straight wing, carried based fighter. The aircraft Grumman proposed first flew on 21 November 1947 and was eventually designated and named the F9F-2 Panther. It was first delivered to Navy squadron in May 1949 and remained in service until October 1958. The Navy accepted a total of 1,388 Panthers with designations of F9F-2, F9F-3, F9F-4 and F9F-5.
With the Panther, Grumman maintained its position into the jet age as a major supplier of Navy carrier fighter aircraft. The Panther never enjoyed the recognition of Grumman's last piston engine fighter, the F8F Bearcat, as a spectacular performer. However, it did extend Grumman's reputation for building rugged, effective fighter aircraft. The F9F series began when development was initiated on the large two-place four-jet XF9F-1 night fighter. Before design work was completed, the XF9F-1 was dropped and the project shifted to the single-place, single-jet XF9F-2 day fighter.
The imported Rolls-Royce Nene jet engines of the two XF9F-2 prototypes were replaced in production F9F-2s by Pratt & Whitney-built J42 Nenes. In the XF9F-3 and production F9F-3s, an Allison J33 replaced the Nene. Only engine installation details differed between the -2 and -3 Panthers. Permanently attached tip-mounted external fuel tanks were the most obvious change added to all Panthers early in the program.
While the first aircraft to see squadron service were the -3s, which VF-51 received in May 1949, the Nene-powered -2 became the sole production version following early deliveries.
An increased thrust version of the Allison J33 led to the -4 with a longer fuselage and increased area vertical tail. The same airframe with the P&W-produced J48 version of the Rolls-Royce Tay engine became the F9F-5. The -5s joined the -2s as the major production versions. Photo versions, the Navy-modified -2P and Grumman-built -5P, also served in carrier air groups of the early Fifties.
A total of 1,385 Panthers were delivered to the Navy. The Panthers became a mainstay of Navy and Marine forces in Korea. They were the first carrier jets to fly in combat, shooting down two YAK-9s on their first mission in July 1950. Later, in November, LCdr. W. T. Amen, C.O. of VF-111, was the first carrier jet pilot to shoot down a MiG-15.
In 1954, flight tests of the first fly-by-wire aircraft, a modified F9F Panther jet, were initiated at Langley. The primary objective of the tests was to evaluate various automatic control systems, including those based on rate- and normal-acceleration feedback. However (as is the case in many research investigations), the most valuable result of the flight test was related to secondary objectives-in this case the introduction and evaluation of fly by wire and a sidestick controller for pilot inputs.
In a serendipitous approach, Langley researchers decided to avoid the relatively large expense and time required to modify the existing hydraulic flight control system for the F9F. Instead they chose to implement an auxiliary system based on a fly-by-wire analog concept and a small (4 in.) sidestick controller mounted at the end of the armrest at the side of the pilot. The sidestick controller was used as the maneuvering flight controller throughout the investigation. Rapid and precision maneuvers such as air-to-air tracking, ground strafing runs, and precision landings were evaluated.
The objectives of the flight program were completed with great success, and the information on various types of automatic control feedback was used for numerous aircraft development programs. However, the very successful use of the rudimentary fly-by-wire and sidestick controller concepts generated considerable excitement within the research community, especially those visionaries that anticipated the weight saving advantages for future aircraft. Additional research was conducted at Langley on these systems, including the use of a sidestick controller for the Apollo mission.
As the -4 and -5 Panthers replaced the -2s in carrier squadrons, the -2s took over advanced training, drone/drone control, reserve squadron and other duties, followed in turn by the -4s and -5s as they were replaced by their swept-wing F9F-6 successors. The last Marine combat squadrons to use Panthers kept their -5s until late 1957, and a few drone F9F- 5KDs remained to be redesignated DF-9Fs under the 1962 DOD redesignations.
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