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.
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). Another, 129680, was abandoned at NAS St. Louis (located on Lambert Field) due to maintenance issues while on a cross-country and subsequently towed to Jefferson Barracks Park in South St. Louis County for playground duty. 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. Purchased by Len Berryman in May 1958 and displayed outside the Berryman War Memorial Park in Bridgeport, Washington from 1958 until 1992. In June 1992 it was sold to Tom Cathcart of Ephrata, Washington for restoration to eventual flying condition at the Museum of Flight in Everett, Washington. The incomplete project was subsequently sold to Al Casby of Project Cutlass in 2014 and moved to Phoenix, Arizona over the next few years. In October 2019, the move was completed with the arrival of the center section, including the inboard wings.
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. Unfortunately, the Foundation had to vacate the hangar it had been using and the partially completed restoration was moved back to San Diego in 2018 where it is in storage.
Bill Spidle Photo
BuNo 129622: So far, it has survived the fate of both playground duty and post-playground duty dissection. The ex VA-34 / VA-12 aircraft was flown to Naval Air Reserve Training Unit (NARTU) Glenview, NAS Glenview, Illinois, where it was sporadically flown by Naval Air Reserve pilots and used for instruction of enlisted Naval Reserve aircraft maintenance personnel; ownership was then transferred to the Northbrook East Civic Association and the aircraft was moved to the Oaklane Elementary School for playground use. It was subsequently removed and dissected to be sold for its engines. The forward fuselage was part of Earl Reinart's Victory Air Museum collection in Mundelein, Illinois, while the rest of the aircraft with its J46 engines went to jet-dragster builder Fred Sibley in Elkhart, Indiana. Its components are currently reunited in the collection of noted F7U historian Al Casby of Phoenix, Arizona.
BuNo 129642: It is stored at the Wings of Freedom Aviation Museum at the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, awaiting restoration. The aircraft was last assigned to Attack Squadron 12 (VA-12) and was flown to NAS Willow Grove in May 1957 to take part in an air show. Upon arrival at NAS Willow Grove in May 1957 for static display at an air show, it was stricken from active duty and transferred to the Naval Reserve for use as a ground training aircraft with only 326 hours total flight time. It subsequently became a gate guard in front of the base on US Route 611.
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 Paladin Aircraft in San Diego and then transferred to 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. Although marked as an F7U-3M, it is actually an F7U-3. The external tanks are also bogus for the type.
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.