F7U Cutlass – The futuristic and contested jet fighter of the US Navy

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The US Navy’s Vought F7U Cutlass aircraft carrier-based jet fighter was a tail-winged warplane with an impressive bomb load and solid reload speed. It was developed earlier during the Cold War era. During the Cold War era, the Vought F7U Cutlass was an impeccable aircraft for carrying the torch of fighter-bombers. The aircraft was created as Vought’s entry to the US Navy’s 1945 Fighter Design Competition, where several designs were based on aerodynamic data from many experimental jet fighters in Nazi Germany. This multirole naval fighter began its maiden flight on September 29, 1948 and first entered service with the US Navy in July 1951. But the F7U had a short-lived carrier as the last aircraft retired on 2 March 1959.

The F7U had the most radical design that stunned the public and looked very futuristic for 1952. This massive plane carried cannons + 4 Sparrow missiles. One of the more unusual designs with tailless production and the use of afterburners turned a lot of heads and led to a promising start to the start.

The Navy needed fast interceptors so they could fire at Soviet bombers from an alert deck before they came close enough for a nuclear weapon to damage the carrier group. F7U was a radical departure with no tail. Navy officials needed fighter jets that could fly 40,000 feet at a speed of 600 miles per hour.

Chance Vought began designing a daytime fighter jet denying German links a few weeks before the end of the horrific WWII. The design featured a wide rope, hydraulically operated controls, slats, low aspect ratio swept fenders, avant-garde undercarriage legs that lifted the pilot’s seat 14 feet into the air.

The tailless fighter had a promising ability to go faster and reduce drag force. It had large, swept-back wings covering a total area of ​​496 square meters from trailing edge to trailing edge. The landing gear was very long and had a high angle of attack for takeoffs. The aircraft was fitted with a hydraulic system that produced twice the pressure generated by other Navy planes, or 3,000 pounds per square. The hydraulic flight control fitted in the aircraft with a built-in “artificial feel” could provide artificial feedback to the pilot to feel the aerodynamic forces acting on the aircraft. The F7U test flight did not encounter any serious problems, and one of the prototypes even had an impressive result with a top speed of 625 miles per hour. The aircraft was armed with four 200mm cannons capable of carrying two 2000 pounds on the inner pylon and 1000 pounds on the outer pylon, demonstrating its ability to carry weight in ammunition for ground attack missions. Cutlass F7U was a stable firing platform and had an exceptional roll rate.

Variant F7U-1

The F7U-1 variant was built between 1950 and 1952. All 14 F7U-1s produced in total could not make it to squadron services because there were many shortcomings. Feightner and Macknight were the users of the F7U Cutlass, and they experienced frequent airplane problems. The hydraulic system was not mature at the time due to constant leaks and loss of power, a loss of pressure making it unreliable to prepare for frontline services. Underpowered by Westinghouse J34 turboprop engines, the F7U often suffered engine failures to produce the power expected of them.

Occasionally, landing gear failures due to the high stresses of barrier engagement and imposed side loads resulted in injuries to the pilot’s spine. Other failures included in-flight engine fires, hydraulic system failure, falling landing gear hatch parts, etc. The nose of the radar was not tilted down, so there was insufficient visibility for the aircraft carrier to land.

F7U Cutlass photo by Keith Kephart

In order to overcome the shortcomings of the F7U-1, the F7U-3 The version entered the scene in 1951, with the first flight on December 12, 1951. Allison J-35 engines powered the first production airplanes without afterburner. The J-35 engines did not give sufficient thrust, resulting in notoriously poor landings and takeoffs. It was vulnerable to rain as it would ignite, causing serious obstacles. Thus, the F7U-3 fitted Westinghouse J-46 engines with a Navy reduced afterburner to a military thrust of 3,960 pounds and featured a strong and rugged airframe, safety improvements and an additional maintenance panel for the access to services. Basic improvements have been made to the visibility, weaponry, range and structure of the F7U-3s. The aircraft had a roll rate of 570 degrees that outperformed most production jets at the time.

The F7U-3 turned out to be a better Cutlass aircraft in many ways. Test pilots praised a stable bombing platform that was fun to fly and a long, thick, and sturdy airframe. It could carry a removable rocket on the belly of its fuselage while tying 2,000 pounds per pylon under each inner wing. Ventilation changes have been adopted in this cutlass to prevent the engine from shutting down in the event of a gunshot.

Main faults of the F7U

  • The tailless design of the F7U excludes flaps thanks to which it had a high landing speed, accelerated by swept wings.
  • The good design of the F7U was ruined by poor execution and the engines which never produced the power output intended. The high landing speed could somehow be handled with more efficient and powerful engines.
  • The aircraft has been nicknamed “Gutless Cutlass” due to its troubled nature. Other problems include leaks paralyzing the aircraft, failure of the drag link brace in the nose landing gear, gyrations after the F7U stalled.

Other F7U aircraft variants

The F7U-2 could not be the definitive production version with more powerful engines. Although production orders were placed for refined versions suggested by testing of the F7U-1, the F7U-2 could not be produced due to the development barrier with the powertrain. So, that was just a proposed version, and all 88 orders for it were canceled.

It was an F7U photographic reconnaissance aircraft that was used for research and evaluation purposes only. None of the 12 aircraft built were deployed for operational services. It featured a 25 inch long nose and photo flash cartridges.

The M represents the missile capable version. It had 2 Westinghouse J46-WE-8B afterburner turbojets that could fly at the top speed of 697 miles per hour. Its armament capability included 4x20mm Cannon, 4 AAM-N-2 Sparrow I air-to-air missiles.

The Navy canceled the order for A2U-1 aircraft due to the unavailability of suitable engines for an attack version of a Cutlass twin-jet fighter. The delay in engine development for A2U-1 led to the cancellation of the A2U-1 program on November 19, 1954.

Other features of the F7U Cutlass

The F7U Cutlass aircraft was equipped with technology to arm nuclear weapons in flight as Cold War tensions increased in the 1950s. The landing gear legs provided enough ground clearance to carry multiple sizes bombs. It would release the weapon upon delivery in a half loop at ground level or during a vertical dive starting at air level. It seemed to fly at high speed, demonstrating that it had great potential for supersonic flights.

Armament and ammunition capabilities were the sole and entire basis of the F7U’s existence. Anemic engines, poor landing and take-off performance of aircraft carriers, several technical and handling problems and the accidents of more than a quarter of the jets built have sounded the death knell. The F7U arouses fear and apprehension among operators, as the Cutlass recorded the highest crash rate of any soaring wing aircraft in the Navy.

Photo of the F7U cutlass by Piotr Szklarkowski
Photo of the F7U 3P cutlass by Piotr Szklarkowski

An F7U bounced off the USS Hancock. The Vought F7U-3 suffered a series of unsuccessful landings and had a potentially fatal nose gear design. In August 1956, the F7U Cutlass crashed into flames shortly after takeoff in an undeveloped area near WH Burges High School. The aircraft suffered irreparable damage, as well as the death of the pilot in the crash.

Likewise, in July 1955, a Vought F7U-3 Cutlass shattered and caught fire after being struck off a ramp while landing overseas from the USS Hancock, off California, resulting in the death of a crew member. Plagued with numerous problems, the guy was involved in 78 crashes and killed a total of 4 test pilots and 21 other US Navy pilots.

F7U Cutlass in the present tense

The main F7U planes were recycled soon after retirement, and only 7 F7U-3 Cutlass planes are known to survive in different places around the world for repair. Unfortunately, none of the futuristic and stylish F7U-1 planes exist in museums. A prototype F7U-3 is to be exhibited at the USS Midway Museum, pending cosmetic restoration. The other components of the aircraft are stored in F7U historian Al Casby.

At the end of summer 2021, the MAPS Air Museum received “Cutlass” from the Walter Soplata Aviation collection, which it will have to renovate this year.

At the end of the line

The F7U, the world’s first jet, had so much promise for taking the Navy’s fighter jets to the next level. If the plane hadn’t been noticeably underpowered, it could have lasted many years in service. Without a doubt, the F7U is one of the most futuristic and contested naval planes of the post-WWII era. If he had received enough attention and power, he could last in navel service and possibly in Air Force service. At the end of WWII, the revolutionary change was the US Navy Chance Vought F7U ‘Cutlass’ aircraft carrier fighter series. The Vought F8U / F-8 Crusader ultimately replaced the F7U aircraft.

The F7U was arguably ahead of its time and made a place for itself in naval aviation history despite its engine and aerodynamic problems.

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