Friday, March 3, 2023

Comparing U.S. Navy Swept-Wing Fighter Service Careers

 Every once in a while on the internet, with respect to U.S. Navy swept-wing fighters before the introduction of the F8U Crusader and the F4H Phantom II, I read something like "X did not have a very long service career" or plaudits for one that was more of an also-ran, if not an outright disappointment.

When I wrote U.S Naval Air Superiority once upon a time, I created an illustration of deployments by year by type for the Navy's first swept-wing fighters and the F2H-3/4 Banshee.

A deployment was defined as an extended one, i.e. at least six months. One to two-month shakedown cruises were not included.

By that figure of merit:

                         Years        Deployments

F9F-6/7            3               22

F9F-8               3                16

Total              ~5                 38

FJ-3                4                19

F7U-3            2                7

F11F               3                6

F2H-3/4        ~6               38

F4D-1           ~5               18 

F3H-2            7+            44

Note that engines and aerodynamics peaked with the J57/J79 and area rule, respectively, so the F8U Crusader and the F4H Phantom II had much longer careers than the fighters they replaced. Improvements thereafter were with avionics in the same basic airframes until the next significant innovation in engines, low bypass-ratio fans, were introduced with the F-14.

The earlier retirement of the F9F-8 relative to the FJ-3 when the F8U/F11F were available to deploy is a little misleading: the Navy elected to modify some -8s as -8Bs armed with the Mk 12 nuke and assign them to attack squadrons while waiting for the availability of the A4D Skyhawk.

Note that the F11F made one fewer deployment than the F7U-3 (and fewer were built), primarily because it was inferior to the F8U in almost every respect except handling qualities on approach. It was, of course, assigned to the Blue Angels and as a lead-in fighter in the Training Command for many more years. The Cutlass's short career?: most will have to wait for the publication of my F7U-3 book for a proper assessment of the reasons why ( a preview: it wasn't because it had an unacceptable accident rate, weak nose landing gear, unreliable engines, low thrust-to-weight, etc.)

With respect to the all-weather fighter requirement, the F3H is often cited as a failure and having a short career when in fact it was clearly superior to the others in terms of longevity of service with carrier air groups (the F4D was relegated to shore-based Marine squadrons as soon as the F4H became available). For those seven years, it was the only fighter in a deployed carrier air group that could engage and likely shoot down an incoming jet bomber in all-weather conditions. Supposedly underpowered, that was with respect to the fighters not lugging around big radar-guided missiles and the avionics necessary to use them effectively.


  1. It's amazing how quickly time passed during that period. And what a colorful variety there was on the flight decks

  2. Oooh -- an F7U book? Looking forward to that for sure!