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Navy Fighters

FH1 Phantom
FJ1 Fury
F2H Banshee
F3D Skyknight
F3H Demon
F4F Wildcat
F4D Skyray
F4U Corsair
F5D Skylancer
F5U Flying Flapjack
F6F Hellcat
F7F Tigercat
F7U Cutlass
F9F-2 Panther
F9F-8 Cougar
F11F Tiger

F-1 Fury
F-2 Banshee
F-3 Demon
F-6 Skyray
F-7 Sea Dart
F-9 Panther
F-10 Skyknight
F-11 Tiger
F-14 Tomcat

Navy Fighters in the Great War

When the call to battle sounded in April 1917, the Navy air arm could muster at its one air station only 48 officers and 239 enlisted men with some experience in aviation, and 54 aircraft none of which was fit for patrol service. The problems of building this small force into an effective fighting unit were enormous. Yet, when the Armistice was signed 19 months later, there were 43 air stations in operation at home and abroad, an aircraft factory in production, and numerous schools, assembly plants, repair depots and other facilities providing the needed logistic support. Aviation personnel numbered over 39,000, a figure nearly equal to the total in the entire Navy at the start of the war.

In some respects, the war interrupted the direction of the initial growth of Naval Aviation, but the interruption was only temporary. From the beginning, its development had followed a course toward the integration of aviation in Fleet operations, and, by the time the country went to war, experiments with aircraft operating from ships were in full progress. When war came, however, all Naval Aviation effort was diverted to immediate needs. Experiments with shipboard operations came to an abrupt halt, and, although naval aircraft carried out Navy missions on the sea, operations with the Fleet were the exception rather than the rule. But the experience of war had clearly demonstrated the potential of aviation as an arm of seapower.

Several service machines of particular interest, some of which presented a distinct advance in airplane design, were constructed and tried out in the summer and fall of 1918. The Curtiss HA, or Dunkirk Fighter, was a single-pontoon seaplane, equipped with one Liberty engine. It was a 2-seater combat plane brought out in 1918 as an answer to high performance German seaplanes which were interfering with the bombing operations being conducted by the Navy against German submarine bases on the Belgian coast. Its maximum speed of 125 miles per hour was then a remarkable performance for a seaplane. Due to the change in conditions brought about by the end of the war, the HA was never put into production.

During the World War every effort was made to produce aircraft for countersubmarine work and for convoy and patrol duty to be operated from shore stations. Since then attention was diverted from this type of aircraft to the development of aircraft suitable for use with the fleet. Fleet aviation required small and handy combat planes of high performance, planes for scouting, observation and spotting gunfire, and torpedo and bombing planes for offensive use against an enemy fleet.

The fighting planes developed since the War were of a small, fast, quickly maneuverable type, carrying one person with at least two fixed machine guns. On account of their relatively high power, fighting planes are able to shoot down larger and more cumbersome types of plane, and, as such, are believed to constitute the best defense of a fleet against enemy attack from the air. The general idea was to have with the fleet as many fighting planes as possible in order to send into the air at a given time the maximum number, either for attack, or for defense, and hence it was necessary to carry fighting planes on every available vessel.

The first standard fighter which was developed was the TS type. The TS was built by the naval aircraft factory and by the Curtiss Aeroplane Co. It was designed to give the smallest and most compact plane with the maximum facilities for take-down and erection aboard ship. The full speed of the TS was about 120 miles an hour as a seaplane and about 127 miles an hour as a landplane. Its weight, fully loaded, was about 2,000 pounds.

Navy Fighters in World War II

As war clouds loomed on the horizon prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Navy's small fighter community was faced with making the transition from nimble biplanes to heavier, but faster all-metal monoplanes that would dominate air combat in WW II. Paramount to achieving success with the newly arriving F2A Bufalo and F4F Wildcat was the development of tactics to exploit theireffectiveness. Worldwide aeronautical technology delivered several potent adversaries to Axis nations that Navy fighterpilots would have to face. Mitsubishi had produced the superb Zero fighter, combat proven by 1941 and flown by skilled pilots. The Zero had been introduced over the skies of China and virtually swept away all opposition.

The greater speed of the late generation of monoplane fighters led to eventual adoption of two-ship formations (sections) as the basic building block. Formations also began to open in spacing to account for greater speed and turning radius. Tactics centered around mastery of aerial gunnery from various deflection angles. The standard section called for the leader, invariably the most experienced pilot, to lead the attack with the wingman providing cover. Over the Pacific, the Zero had the better turn performance against allied fighters. As WW II engulfed the globe, the Japanese Zero enjoyed a long period of virtual absolute superiority over Army Air Forces P-36, P-39, and P-40 fighters in the early days in the Pacific theater.

After intelligence reports convinced him that the Navy's F4F Grumman Wildcat was no match for the superior flying performance of the Japanese Zero, LCdr. John S. Thach [subsequently recognized as one of history's most innovative fighter tacticians] devised a tactical maneuver to give his squadron a fighting chance. While commanding Fighting Squadron Three, Thach developed the fighter combat technique that came to be known as the "Thach Weave", a tactic that enabled the generally mediocre performing US fighters of the day to hold their own against the Japanese Zero. This two-plane fighter tactic, used to cover each other from enemy fighters, is still used by fighter aircraft today.

The early carrier battles highlighted the need for a greater complement of fighters both to protect the carrier from Japanese aerial attack and escort Navy strikers. Carrier fighter complements were initially upped to 27 and then 36 Wildcats to provide greater numbers to deal with the Zero, but the Thach Weave would be their greatest asset in dealing with the Zero.

Navy Fighters in Korea

Though the Korean War marked the dawn of the jet age in aerial combat, propeller-driven aircraft like the F4U Corsair and AD Skyraider logged 75 percent of all offensive sorties flown by carrier aircraft. The Corsair lived-up to its World War II reputation as a tremendous close-air support platform.

The Chance Vought F4U-4/AU-1 Corsair was in production longer than any other U.S. fighter of World War II, and it proved to be a rugged, reliable ground attack aircraft in Korea. The prototype of the F4U first flew in May 1940, and the last Corsair left the Vought plant in December 1952, destined for the French naval air arm. Powered by a 2,100-horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-2800, the F4U could carry a huge and widely varied armament load. The Vought AU-1 was designed specifically for ground support work.

The Douglas F3D Skyknight was one of the least pugnacious looking warplanes of all times, but it would have a distinguished career that extended beyond Korea into Vietnam. The first flight of the prototype took place in March 1948. Production models, powered by Westinghouse J34 engines, had a surprisingly good performance that belied their looks. On Nov. 2, 1952, one downed an enemy jet (identified as a Yak-15), the first time one jet fighter had destroyed another on a night interception. Ultimately, the Skyknight (or "Blue Whale," as it was known to its crews) was credited with the destruction of more enemy aircraft than any other U.S. Navy or Marine Corps type.

The handsome Grumman F7F Tigercat arrived too late to see combat in World War II, despite having made its first flight in November 1943. It was the first Navy fighter to have tricycle landing gear and was powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engines. The last of 364 Tigercats was delivered in November 1946. Two Marine Corps squadrons used F3F-3N variants as ground support and night fighters in Korea from September 1951 through November 1952.

The Grumman F9F-2 Panther was first flown in November 1947 and would prove to be as rugged and capable an aircraft as the previous pistonengine fighters from Grumman. Powered by a Pratt & Whitney J42 engine (essentially a Rolls-Royce Nene built under license) of 5,750 pounds static thrust, on July 3, 1950, the Panther was the first U.S. Navy jet ever in combat, flying off the USS Valley Forge. On Nov. 9, 1950, an F9F became the first Navy aircraft to shoot down a MiG-15. (Ironically, the MiG was also powered by a license-built version of the Nene.) Several variants of the Panther were used in Korea.

The McDonnell F2H Banshee was a development of the successful Phantom, McDonnell's first jet fighter, and it first flew in January 1947. The Banshee first saw service in Korea aboard the carrier Essex, entering combat on Aug. 23, 1951. During the next two years, Banshees operated both from carriers and from P'ohang Airfield in Korea. Powered by two 3,250-pound, static-thrust Westinghouse J34 turbojets, the Banshee had an excellent high-altitude performance. It was also used as the F2H-2P photo reconnaissance aircraft.

Navy Fighters in Vietnam

Naval Aviation experienced changes that were as great as any in its history during the 1950s and 1960s. These improvements enhanced the speed, firepower, versatility and mobility of sea and air forces. A new class of flattops was built and the carrier modernization program was completed. Carrier forces were thus strengthened and a new family of highperformance aircraft operated with them.

On May 27, 1958, the McDonnell F-4H-1 Phantom II flew for the first time. Thus began the career of one of the finest air weapons in the Navy/Marine Corps inventory. The Phantom II made its initial carrier trials in February 1960 aboard USS Independence. The supersonic, two-seat, twin-jet, all-weather interceptor featured long-range capabilities with conventional and nuclear bombs.

The year 1961 signaled the golden anniversary of Naval Aviation. In less than a lifetime, the aircraft inventory changed from fragile biplanes that cruised at 80 mph to jets that achieved supersonic speed with relative ease.

The war in Vietnam broke out in 1964. On August 5 the President ordered offensive action preserving the U.S. right to operate in international waters. Aircraft from Constellation and Ticonderoga attacked torpedo boats and their support facilities at five locations along the North Vietnamese coast. This marked the beginning of a costly combat era in which Navy carrier forces played a key role for the duration. Conventional arms were used throughout the war and, as they did during the Korean conflict, squadron planes flew cyclic operations from flattop to enemy territory and back almost daily.

On June 17, 1965, while escorting a strike on the barracks at Gen Phu, North Vietnam, Commander L. C. Page and Lieutenant J. E. D. Batson, flying F-4B Phantoms of VF-21 aboard USS Midway, intercepted four MiG-17s. Each shot down one, scoring the first U.S. victories against MiGs in Vietnam.

Top Gun, the Navy Fighter Weapons School at NAS Miramar, Calif., was formed in 1968, to improve aircrew proficiency in air-to-air combat. A Naval Air Systems Command study, prompted by a less than desirable kill ratio in the skies over North Vietnam, called for a higher level of weapons and tactics training. There was a need to shift all-weather fighter emphasis from heavy reliance upon radar to more eyeball-oriented tactics.

Randy "Duke" Cunningham became the only Navy ace during the Vietnam War, downing five enemy aircraft, along with his radar intercept officer (RIO) for their F-4 Phantom II aircraft, William "Irish" Driscoll. Their first kills occurred Jan. 19, 1972, and May 8, 1972. Two days later, they shot down three MiGs in one of the wildest dogfights of the entire war. Pilot "Duke" Cunningham and RIO "Irish" Driscoll became famous May 10, 1972 when they encountered a group of 16 hostile MiG-17s from North Vietnam, and shot down three of the 16 aircraft. Driscoll earned the Navy Cross and went on to receive two Silver Stars, 10 Air Medals, a Purple Heart and even a nomination for the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War. "Duke" Cunningham was subsequently elected to Congress, where he collected $2.4 million in homes, a Rolls Royce, expensive meals, overnight stays at first-class hotels and resorts, a rent-free stay on a private yacht, expensive antique furnishings, cash, travel, Super Bowl tickets and other unparalleled bribes. Cunningham was jailed for eight years in 2005 after he pled guilty to corruption charges.

In February 1969, the Naval Air Systems Command issued a contract for development of the F-14A Tomcat, a variable-sweep wing fighter to succeed the F-4 Phantom. The F-14A, piloted by Grumman test pilots Robert Smyth and William Miller, made its first flight on December 21 at Grumman's Calverton Field, Long Island, NY. By 1972 the first two F-14 Tomcat squadrons were formed at NAS Miramar. VF-1 and VF-2, formerly disestablished units, were reactivated to receive the Navy's first new fighter plane in 14 years. The F-4 Phantom, introduced in 1958, was its immediate predecessor.

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