Early in 1939, the XF2A-1 (BuNo 0451) was returned to Brewster for installation of a more powerful 1200 hp Wright R-1820-40 Cyclone engine. In addition, the cowling was completely redesigned and the fuselage was shortened by 5 inches forward of the wing. Redesignated XF2A-2, the prototype demonstrated a marked increase in performance -- maximum speed was now 340 mph and maximum range was 1600 miles. Somewhat later in the year, a revised fin with greater area replaced the original elliptical fin.
The additional weight of the 1200 hp Wright R-1820-40 radial required that the fuselage be shortened by 5 inches ahead of the wing in order to maintain the center of gravity. The cowling was slightly enlarged and the frontal opening was re-configured in order to improve engine cooling. A larger propeller spinner was provided, and the engine exhaust stubs were relocated to a slightly higher position, almost even with the wing. The 9-foot Hamilton Standard propeller was replaced by a 10-foot 3-inch cuffed Curtiss Electric propeller. The air intake on the lower lip of the engine nacelle was enlarged. The ventral window was redesigned once again in order to improve downward visibility. Armament was four 0.50 cal machine guns -- two in the cowling and two in the wings. A set of bomb racks for 100-lb bombs was installed just outboard of the main landing gear.
Empty weight had crawled up to 4580 lb, maximum takeoff weight up to 6890 lb. This additional weight resulted in a climbing rate penalty even in spite of the additional power -- only 2500 ft/min., considerably less than that of the F2A-1.
As part of its agreement to allow the transfer of the bulk of the F2A-1 order to Finland, the Navy modified its contract with Brewster. The diverted F2A-1s would be replaced by 43 of the more powerful F2A-2s. In addition, it was agreed that eight of the Navy's existing F2A-1s would be remanufactured to F2A-2 standards. However, the Belgian government, desperate for new combat aircraft, appealed to the US State Department to allow Brewster to build it a land-based equivalent of the F2A-2 (company designation B-339B) ahead of the Navy F2A-2s. The Navy once again reluctantly agreed to the delay, and it was not until September of 1940 that their F2A-2s finally began to be delivered. Production continued uninterrupted until the last F2A-2 was delivered in December.
In the meantime, the production delays that resulted from Brewster's growth pains had led to serious doubts on the part of the Navy about the ability of the corporation to meet its commitments for delivery of the F2A fighter and of PBY components. The Navy blamed most of the problems on Brewster management, particularly on President James Work, who was thought to be a micromanager who was incapable of delegating authority and sharing the burden with others. James Forrestal, Undersecretary of the Navy, told Work in no uncertain terms that changes in management at Brewster would have to be made. These led to James Work being replaced by George Chapline on October 31, 1940 as President and General Manager. Work stayed on as Chairman of the Board and Treasurer. Ironically, by the time that Chapline had taken over the reins of the corporation, the F2A-2 production rate was beginning to firm up.
In early 1941, fighter squadrons VF-3 and VF-2 were both re-equipped with the F2A-2. They operated from the aircraft carriers USS Saratoga and the USS Lexington. In early service, the Wright Cyclone engine experienced problems with bearings which necessitated frequent overhauls, and the landing gear failure problems (which had plagued the F2A-1) continued to plague the F2A-2. Despite repeated attempts by Brewster engineers to strengthen the landing gear, landing gear failures were never completely eliminated. The Navy pilots were, nonetheless, generally pleased with their F2A-2s, and they regarded them as the best of the Buffalo variants that they had the opportunity to fly.
When VF-3 got its supply of F2A-2s, the F2A-1s that it had been previously operating 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.
VF-2 F2A-2s were modified in the field by replacing the tall fuselage-mounted radio antenna mast with a short stub bolted to the port wing. This was done to reduce vibration and drag.
The Navy soon replaced their F2A-2 with later variants, and the F2A-2s were then used to equip the Marine Corps air arm and also served as advanced trainers.
Serials of the Brewster F2A-2:
1397/1439 Brewster F2A-2
Specification of Brewster F2A-2:
Powerplant: One Wright R-1820-40 Cyclone nine-cylinder single-row air cooled radial, rated at 1200 hp. Performance: Maximum speed of 285 mph at sea level, 323 mph at 16,500 feet. 344 mph at 26,500 feet. Cruising speed 157 mph. Landing speed 73 mph. Initial climb rate 2500 ft/min. Service ceiling 34,000 feet. Maximum range 1670 miles. Weights: 4576 pounds empty, 5942 pounds gross, 6890 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: Four Browning 0.50-inch machine guns, two in the upper fuselage and two in the wings. In addition, there were underwing bomb racks which could carry 100 pound bombs just outboard of the main landing gear.