In late 1944, the US Navy ordered three carrier-based jet fighters, the Vought XF6U-1 Pirate, the McDonnell XFD-1 Phantom, and the North American XFJ-1 Fury. It was hoped that these three fighters would be available in time for *Operation Olympic/Coronet*, the invasion of Japan which was planned for May of 1946.
The FD-1 Phantom was a single-seat carrier-based fighter powered by a pair of 1600 lb.s.t Westinghouse J30-WE-20 turbojets buried in the wing roots. The prototype XFD-1 made its first flight on January 26, 1945. On July 19, 1946, the second XFD-1 made the first takeoff and landing aboard the carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, becoming the first US-designed pure-jet fighter to operate from an aircraft carrier. 30 production Phantoms (redesignated FH-1 in 1947, when the McDonnell company designator was changed from D to H) were built. VF-17A was the only Navy squadron to operate the Phantom, which started to receive the type in July of 1947. VF-17A was later redesignated VF-171. It was later joined by the Marine squadron VMF-122 as a Phantom user, VMF-122 becoming the first Marine Corps squadron to operate jet aircraft. The FH-1 Phantom had been phased out of front-line service by July of 1950, but it remained with some Naval Reserve units up until July of 1953.
The McDonnell XF2D-1 Banshee was a substantially larger and more powerful version of the Phantom. Back in 1945, when the Navy was first letting contracts for carrier-based jet fighters, it noted that the McDonnell XFD-1 Phantom was substantially slower (only 487 mph at sea level) than contemporary USAAF jet fighters such as the P-80 Shooting Star. Consequently, at the same time that they were ordering jet fighter prototypes from other manufacturers, the Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) invited McDonnell to submit a design for a successor to the FD-1 even before the Phantom had entered production. On March 22, 1945, a Letter of Intent was issued which covered the development and manufacture of three XF2D-1s Serials were BuNos 99858 to 99860.
The XF2D-1 design team at McDonnell was headed by Herman D. Barkey. The design that they proposed was basically an enlarged Phantom powered by two 3000 lb.s.t. Westinghouse J34 turbojets mounted in the wing root fillets. The fuselage was longer and provided volume for 526 US gallons of fuel rather than the 375 US gallons carried by the FD-1. A quartet of 20-mm cannon replaced the four 0.50-inch machine guns of the FD-1. These guns were relocated from the top to the bottom of the nose in order to reduce the blinding effect on the pilot.
The mockup was inspected on April 24-26, 1945. The end of the war in the Pacific resulted in the cancellation of many aircraft projects, but the Navy thought the F2D sufficiently promising that it was spared the axe. Nevertheless, work on the XF2D-1 proceeded at a less hectic pace, and the construction of the prototypes was delayed until late 1946.
The first XF2D-1 took off on its maiden flight at Lambert Field in St. Louis on January 11, 1947. It was powered by two 3000 lb.s.t. Westinghouse J34-WE-22 turbojets. Shortly after its first flight, the XF2D-1 was redesignated XF2H-1 when the factory code for McDonnell changed from D to H. Flight tests and service evaluations went fairly well, but some control problems were encountered which resulted in the decision to replace the dihedral tailplanes of the prototypes with tailplanes without dihedral on production models.
The first production F2H-1s were ordered on May 29, 1947. 56 machines (BuNos 122530/122559 and 133990/123015) were delivered between August 1948 and August 1949. They were identical to the prototype except for the elimination of the tailplane dihedral. They were initially powered by a pair of 3000 lb.s.t. J34-WE-22s, but were later retrofitted with 3150 lb.s.t. J34-WE-30s.
The first production aircraft (BuNo 122530) was bailed back to McDonnell for use as a testbed for the afterburner that was to be used on the XF-88A. This aircraft was later fitted with extended wing trailing edges as a development aircraft for the F2H-3 series.
The first F2H-1 Banshees were delivered to VX-3 based at NAS Atlantic City in August of 1948. This squadron carried out service evaluation of the type before it was issued to operational units. The first operational unit to receive the Banshee was VF-171 based at NAS Cecil Field in Florida, trading in its Phantoms for the new type.
On August 9, 1949, Lt. J. L. Fruin's F2H-1 went out of control while performing aerobatics at a speed of 500 mph and an altitude of 30,000 feet. He was forced to eject, becoming the first American pilot to use an ejector seat for emergency escape.
During August of 1949, another F2H-1 was flown to an altitude of
52,000 feet, setting an unofficial altitude record for a jet-powered
aircraft. Above 45,000 feet, however, there were problems with high
tailpipe temperatures, low oxygen
reserve, and ... most disconcerting ... engine flame-outs. During this exercise, a "practice intercept" was done against a high-flying B-36. At this time, the Navy was locked in a controversy with the Air Force over funding priorities. The Air Force was touting the B-36 long-range bomber as the answer to deterrence, whereas the Navy was pushing its aircraft carriers. The ability of the Banshee to reach such extreme altitudes was an embarrassment for the Air Force, which had been arguing that its B-36s flew so high that they were immune from interception.
The service life of the F2H-1 was relatively brief. F2H-1s were soon transferred to Reserve units as the more capable F2H-2 became available.
Engines: Two Westinghouse J34-WE-30 turbojets, 3150 lb.s.t. each. Performance: Maximum speed 587 mph at sea level, 563 mph at 20,000 feet. Initial climb rate 7380 feet per minute. Landing speed 101 mph. Service ceiling 48,500 feet. Normal range 1278 miles. Combat range 600 miles. Fuel capacity was 700 US gallons. Weights were 9794 pounds empty, 16,200 pounds loaded, 18,940 pounds maximum takeoff. Dimensions were wingspan 41 feet 7.4 inches, length 40 feet 1.8 inches, height 14 feet 5 1/2 inches, wing area 294.1 square feet. Armament consisted of four 20-mm cannon in the nose.