By Tommy H. Thomason

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

F7U-3 Cutlass Survivors

Although much maligned, the F7U Cutlass racked up a number of firsts or close seconds for Navy jet fighter airplanes. If Westinghouse had delivered engines with the thrust and fuel consumption that Vought and the Navy were expecting, its reputation might not have suffered so badly. Of course, the Navy would also have had to institute a more formal checkout program (NATOPS) and introduce the angled deck and descending carrier approach sooner. For more, see my monograph on the F7U-1 and my book on the development of U.S. Navy jet fighters.
The F7U-3 was so late to the fleet and disappointing that the Navy made it a one-tour airplane, which meant that few went through a repair and overhaul depot after their initial operational use. Vought also incorporated some light but not very durable structure in the design, such as "metallite", a sandwich of balsa wood between thin sheets of aluminum, and magnesium skins/fittings. Both were prone to deterioration.

So it's somewhat surprising that there are any survivors on display or being refurbished for display. A few, of course, succumbed over time. There are fond memories of gate guards at NAS New Orleans and NAS Jacksonville (the designated repair and overhaul facility for the F7U-3) and playgrounds at the Wheaton Regional Park in Maryland and Holiday Park in Fort Lauderdale (BuNos 129722 and 129582 respectively, the latter last seen at Fort Lauderdale's Executive Airport). However, all these were eventually scrapped.

There are, however, still a handful, a few of which are likely to avoid becoming aluminum cans for many more years.

BuNo 128451: The very first F7U-3, it was rescued from a Navy dump at Socorro, New Mexico for display at the Fred E. Weisbroad Aviation Museum in Pueblo, Colorado. Never restored and in poor condition, the airframe was transferred to the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, California for prospective use in their rebuild of BuNo 129565. However, because it was the prototype, very little of the structure was of use and it has been returned to the Navy for disposition.

BuNo 129554: It ended its Navy career at Geiger Field in Spokane, Washington (now Spokane's International Airport) as a maintenance trainer. It was purchased in May 1958 by Len Berryman and displayed outside the Berryman War Memorial Park in Bridgeport, Washington until mid 1992 when it was sold to Tom Cathcart, who intended to restore it to flying condition. It was in restoration at the Museum of Flight in Everett, Washington for several years and looked to be in very good if incomplete condition when it was offered for sale on eBay in late 2011. At the moment (Dec 2013), it is still in the restoration area at the Museum of Flight.

BuNo 129565: It was on display for many years at Olathe, Kansas. It was then transferred to the USS Hornet (CV-12) Museum at the former NAS Alameda in California for restoration. However, before that could be accomplished, it was transferred to the USS Midway (CV-41) Museum in San Diego, California. Some work was accomplished before it was moved to Grand Prairie, Texas in December 2011 for the Vought Heritage Foundation to complete the restoration as they have done for other historic Vought aircraft like the V-173 and F6U. This F7U-3 is expected to be back in San Diego for display aboard Midway in mid 2014.

BuNo 129622: So far, it has survived the fate of both playground duty and post-playground duty dissection. It ended its Navy career at NAS Glenview, Illinois and was transferred to the Northbrook East Civic Association. After children at Oaklane Elementary School played on it for some years, the forward fuselage became part of Earl Reinart's Victory Air Museum in Mundelein, Illinois while the rest of the airframe (apparently still having the engines installed!) went to J-46 engine dragster builder Fred Sibley in Elkhart, Indiana. The airframe components were subsequently reunited in the collection of noted F7U historian Al Casby in Phoenix, Arizona.

BuNo 129642: It was flown to NAS Willow Grove in May 1957 by VA-12 for static display at an airshow and stricken there to be a maintenance trainer. It is still on display there at the Wings of Freedom Aviation Museum.

BuNo 129655: It was rescued after several years of outdoor display at the Travel Town Museum at Griffith Park, Los Angeles, California and restored to seemingly like-new condition at the National Museum of Naval Aviation at NAS Pensacola, Florida. Click HERE for a controllable panoramic view of the cockpit. There are however, a few bogus items like the gun sight and the right hand engine throttle and some missing gauges.
Don Hinton Photo

BuNo 129685: Walter Soplata bought this F7U-3 from NART South Weymouth, Massachusetts for his collection at Newbury, Ohio. Like many of the airplanes on his famous farm, it appears complete although suffering from exposure to the elements.

 More later...

6 comments:

Edwin said...

Tommy, do you have any more details on the Museum of Flight's Cutlass? I didn't know it had been on eBay and it's still in the same place at the restoration center. I took new pictures of it just a couple months ago.

Tailspin said...

I called the Museum of Flight to talk to someone about it when I was writing this post. I was told that the subject matter expert would call me back, but he didn't.

Tailspin said...

And I'd like to add one or two of your pictures to this entry.

Jim Bates said...

Just as an FYI, and unless something has changed very recently, the F7U in Washington still belongs to Tom Cathcart. He is the head of the Museum of Flight Restoration Center, hence it being located there. As far as I know, it has never been owned by the Museum. I'll be in Seattle next month and try to visit the Center and get an update.

Andrea Arlotti said...

Hi to all,any news about restoration of the Cutlass?

Anonymous said...

i spent many days Climbing on the F7U at Holiday Park in Fort Lauderdale . i have a pic of it setting at Executive airport in Fort Lauderdale, but no not what happened to it after that.