Production F2A-1s for the US Navy were powered by a 940 hp Wright R-1830-34 engine, and incorporated several improvements. A revised windscreen and canopy were installed, offering improved vision and head room. A telescopic gun sight was fitted. The radio mast was moved from the port side of the fuselage to the starboard side, and the wing tips were slightly reconfigured. The ventral window was enlarged. The first two F2A-1s were completed with the elliptical tail fin of the prototype, but all subsequent aircraft switched to a redesigned triangular fin with a straight leading edge which faired into the fuselage just behind the canopy.
The Brewster company had the habit of promising more than it could deliver, and the dates for delivery of the F2A-1 to the Navy began to slip. The Navy expected the first F2A-1 delivery during May of 1939, but only one example was actually ready by June of 1939. It was put on display at the World's Fair in New York, along with some other American military aircraft. Delays continued, and by November 1939 only 5 had been delivered. In the meantime, the Navy had found a problem with the buildup of excessive carbon monoxide levels in the cockpit, which required further modifications at the factory.
During early 1939, several European governments, sensing that war was imminent, went overseas in search of additional combat aircraft. In August of 1939, the government of Poland ordered 250 F2A-1s from Brewster. However, work on this order never started, since by mid-September of 1939 Poland had been swept under by the German invasion. In any case, it was doubtful that the order could have actually been filled, in view of Brewster's problems with fulfilling the US Navy's contract.
During September of 1939, representatives of the government of Finland approached the US State Department, seeking permission to purchase American combat aircraft. When Finland was attacked by the Soviet Union on November 30, 1939, the United States government readily agreed to allow Finland to buy American fighter aircraft. The State Department and the US Navy both agreed to divert 43 F2A-1s from the Navy order and deliver them to Finland, with the understanding that the F2A-1s would be replaced by an equivalent number of F2A-2s at a later date. Because of the diversion to Finland, only eleven F2A-1s (BuNos 1386/1396) actually reached Navy service. Nine of them were issued to Fighting Squadron Three (VF-3 aboard the USS Saratoga).
During 1940, the Navy decided to install the optional 0.50 cal guns in the wings of its F2A-1s, and immediately started to encounter landing gear failures because of the additional weight. Later that year, VF-3 traded in its F2A-1s for more powerful F2A-2s, and the F2A-1s were returned to Brewster for modifications. Eight of them were remanufactured to F2A-2 standards, and were reissued to VS-201 for service aboard the escort carrier USS Long Island. By mid-1941, only one of these was left (BuAer 1393), and it remained with a training squadron until 1944.
1386/1396 Brewster F2A-1
Powerplant: One Wright R-1820-34 Cyclone nine-cylinder single-row air-cooled radial engine, rated at 940 hp. Performance: Maximum speed of 311 mph at 18,000 feet, and a maximum speed of 271 mph at sea level. Initial climb rate 3060 ft/min. Service ceiling 32,500 feet. Maximum range 1545 miles. Weights: 3785 pounds empty, 5055 pounds gross, 5370 pounds maximum takeoff. Dimensions: Wingspan 35 feet 0 inches, length 26 feet 0 inches, height 11 feet 8 inches, wing area 209 square feet. Armament: Three 0.50 inch machine guns, one 0.30-inch machine gun.