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Sturgeon's House

The Original Phantom


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In 1943, the McDonnell company was the new kid on the block. They had successfully delivered zero aircraft, and had one project ongoing, the ill-fated XP-67 (which, like many designs in history, was let down by underperforming engines).



(it looked emot-krad2.gif though)


But their next project would make history and lead to great things; despite this, it has been forgotten by most.


On January 7, 1943, the Navy contacted the McDonnell company to request the development of a carrier-capable jet aircraft. This would not be an easy task; early jet engines were notorious for their unreliability (even when not built by Germans). More importantly, the throttle response of early turbojet engines was very slow (adding power too quickly would cause the engines to surge, causing a loss of power and potentially severe damage). This would be a major negative on a carrier, where short takeoffs were needed, as well as the ability to quickly "wave off" (abort the landing approach).


Despite this, the McDonnell company was given a great deal of latitude in the design of the aircraft. Intelligently, the engineers at McDonnell chose to design a relatively conventional aircraft, using straight wings (in any case, swept wings were poorly understood at the time). Numerous engine configurations were considered, from eight small jets to a single engine. Naturally, with the poor reliability of early jets, a single engine would not work for a Navy plane, and eight engines were rightfully deemed absurd. It was decided to use two Westinghouse J30 engines, each with 7.1 kN of thrust. The aircraft was slightly smaller than the F6F, with an empty weight of just of 3,000 kg.


The first XFD airframe was finished in 1944. It made its first flight on 26 January 1945, on only one engine (due to a lack of J30s available). The second engine was installed a few days later, and two prototypes underwent testing throughout 1945. (It was around this time that the designation was changed to FH). McDonnell selected the name "Phantom" for its new fighter, starting a trend that would continue for the rest of its naval fighters (Banshee, Demon, Phantom II).



The FH performed well during testing, and an order for 100 airframes was placed. Pilots generally found the FH to be an easy aircraft to fly, with good visibility out of the cockpit. However, there were some problems; the aircraft was found to have a short range, and was underpowered, with a top speed of 771 kph. This was not much better than piston engine aircraft (indeed, the XP-47J reached 801 kph in 1944, though this was an experimental aircraft). Armament was also relatively poor by late-war standards; only 4 .50 caliber machine guns (compared to 6 or 8 machine guns, or even 20mm cannons on other American planes).


However, the worst news for the Phantom was the end of the war. Japan surrendered before the FH could even begin carrier trials, and the order was soon reduced to 60 aircraft, barely enough for three squadrons. Despite this, McDonnell continued development. An FH prototype began operating from the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt in July 1946, becoming the second jet-powered aircraft to perform a carrier landing (the first was an FR Fireball whose piston engine failed). Testing of production airframes began in October 1946, and the US Navy received its first pure jet fighters in early 1947.



(If you squint, you can see some relation to the XP-67)


The Phantom had a short service life; all aircraft were retired from active service by 1949, and from the reserves by 1954. It equipped one Navy and two Marine squadrons on active duty. The Navy squadron, VF-17A, was the first Navy squadron to become jet qualified, operating off the USS Saipan (the picture above is of a VF-17A aircraft).  In the reserves, they performed a useful function; helping pilots trained on piston engine aircraft become jet pilots. The Phantom was ultimately replaced by its bigger brother, the F2H Banshee, along with the F9F Panther. Its legacy would live on, though, in one of the most famous aircraft of all time; the F4H Phantom II.













(the one that's not in this photo)



(there we go)









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Fabulous. McDonnell's history is one that I have a deep interest in that I haven't had the time to really sink my teeth into.

My understanding is that between 1943 and the late 1960s, ALL McDonnell aircraft were being given names related to superstition, not just the Naval ones. E.g., F-110 Spectre (this was the USAF designation for the F-4C). The names in this line that I know of are "Phantom" (FH), "Gargoyle" (LBD/KBD), "Goblin" (XF-85), "Banshee" (F2H), "Demon" (F3H), "Voodoo" (F-101), "Satan" (F3H-G/F4H), "Mithras" (F3H-G/F4H), "Phantom II" (F-4), "Spectre" (F-110), "Mercury" (capsule), and "Gemini" (capsule). After the McDonnell and Douglas merger, I don't think they continued this tradition.

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