By Tommy H. Thomason

Monday, October 20, 2008

1950s Navy Day Fighter Specification

In the early 1950s, BuAer was not of one mind with respect to the specification for a carrier-based day fighter. The class desk officer (equivalent to a program manager), an experienced fighter pilot, thought the best airplane for the mission was simple, light, and maneuverable. Supersonic speed, and therefore an afterburner, was not only unnecessary, but undesirable. He placed a contract with North American for the FJ-4, a substantial modification of the FJ-3 Fury, which was in turn a variation of the Air Force's F-86 Sabre Jet. This would provide the earliest availability of his vision of the optimum day fighter. At roughly the same time, a competition was initiated for a new day fighter, with supersonic speed explicitly not required, among other stipulations to reduce unit cost and complexity. As luck would have it, his tour of duty at BuAer ended shortly after the request for proposal was issued and he left for his next assignment. The RFP was immediately amended in accordance with different views on what was needed in the new fighter. The result was the 1,000 mph F8U Crusader. Both are shown here on Forrestal in 1956 during carrier qualifications. All the FJ-4s produced were assigned to the Marine Corps. A subsequent derivative, the FJ-4B, was procured as an attack airplane to provide a backup to the A4D Skyhawk.

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