By Tommy H. Thomason

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

F7U-3 Cutlass Survivors

 25 May 2020: A partial update of the original post; A complete update is in work for a forthcoming F7U-3 monograph for Steve Ginter's Naval Fighters series.

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). 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. Per Daveswarbirds, "Buno 129565 is currently being actively restored by the USS Midway Museum, where it will be displayed once completed in late 2022. All major pieces are now fitted, and it is sitting on its landing gear. The chosen paint scheme will replicate the F7U-3 that did carquals on Midway in August 1952."
 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. It has recently been moved to the MAPS Air Museum in North Canton, Ohio.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


One of the problems with basing jet airplanes on aircraft carriers was their lack of endurance. Roughly speaking, compared to a propeller-driven airplane a jet launched carrying more than twice as much fuel and yet had only half the endurance. As a result, carrier operations assumed that when jet airplanes were launched, they were going to be back in less than two hours. If the weather turned bad or the deck became fouled, things got awkward for jet pilots pretty quickly. If there had been any jets aloft in September 1953 during a joint exercise between the U.S. and Royal Canadian Navy's when the carriers involved were beset by fog, they would have all wound up having to ditch. The ability of a propeller-driven airplane to sip fuel eventually resulted in all the airplanes being recovered. For one account, click here.

The Navy initially utilized inflight refueling in 1953 to extend the range of F2H Banshees that were capable of carrying a tactical nuclear weapon but it was soon realized that it could be used to extend the endurance of a jet airplane if required. In September 1955, the Navy announced that all of its fighters in production would be equipped with a probe for refueling in flight. This dictate was extended to all carrier-based jets. Although new designs would have retractable probes, those on existing jets were scabbed-on contraptions that could be retrofitted to ones already delivered. The Douglas F4D Skyrays wound up with a probe mounted on the nose of an external tank.

Douglas developed a "buddy" store that could be carried on a standard pylon for refueling the jets. Its Model D-704 was based on the 400-gallon version of the bomb and tank shape it had developed for low drag. In addition to 300 gallons of fuel, it contained fuel transfer and hydraulic pumps driven by a nose-mounted propeller and a reel that could stream about 40 feet of hose with a drogue on the end. Fuel could be transferred at the rate of 200 gallons per minute.

This is an illustration of the very similar Sargeant-Fletcher refueling pod which replaced the D-704.

The popularity of the AJ Savage, the Navy's first nuclear bomber that could be landed aboard the carrier, increased significantly for Pacific carrier deployments when it was equipped with an inflight refueling capability.

However, the big AJ was still awkward to have on the ship and somewhat of an overkill for the purpose of providing one or two thousand pounds of fuel in extenuating circumstances around the boat. An airplane already in the air group was preferred. At the time, jets were not good candidates for the mission since they couldn't carry much more fuel than they needed for a standard deck cycle.

The tanker of choice in the late 1950s was therefore the AD Skyraider. It was just fast enough to refuel the jets (200 knots indicated was recommended but the AD could go as fast as 300 knots in a descent if necessary and could carry plenty of jet fuel in addition to its internal bag of aviation gasoline that was enough for a two-hour cycle time.

The disparity of speed performance isn't as apparent in the picture above because the F8U Crusader pilot could raise his wing for low speed flight. However, this F3H Demon pilot is hanging in there with only the slats out.

The AD had to be modified for the mission if more than the 300 gallons in the buddy pod were to be transferred. AD-6 BuNo 139744 and subsequent and all AD-7s were delivered from Douglas with the full tanker capability. Some earlier AD-6s and a few AD-4Bs (the nuclear-capable Skyraiders) were retrofitted with it. Two different configurations would be utilized, "basic" (near ship) and extended range. Both involved the use of 400-gallon drop tanks (the AD normally carried 150 or 300-gallon external tanks) that were modified with a fuel boost-pump kit.

In the basic configuration, jet fuel was carried in both 400-gallon drop tanks and the 300-gallon capacity refueling store, for a total of almost 7,500 lbs of giveaway fuel. The AD pilot would remain at a 145-nm station for 30 minutes using only its 380 gallons of internal fuel. (With the maximum amount of jet fuel on board, the AD was just under its maximum gross weight.)

In the extended range configuration, the left drop tank contained jet fuel and the right, aviation gasoline. The additional gasoline allowed the AD pilot to fly considerably farther out and for longer.  However, one or the other configuration had to be selected prior to flight and care taken to insure that the proper fuel was loaded in each tank. While jets could burn just about anything in a pinch (the first jet engines burned aviation gasoline), a piston engine would stop running completely if fed jet fuel, which was basically kerosene.

Thanks to Ed Barthlemes, my go-to guy for Skyraider stuff, for much of the above.

For a follow-on post, see