The F2A-3 (Brewster Model B-439) was the last version of the Buffalo to enter US Navy service. 108 examples were ordered in January of 1941. By this time, the Navy had become disenchanted with the Buffalo, and had become specially irritated at Brewster's frequent production delays and its seeming never-ending management difficulties, and the F2A-3 was to prove to be the last version of the Buffalo to enter Navy service.
The F2A-3 featured a redesigned nose section with a ten-inch extension to the forward fuselage between the wing and the cowling. Fuel capacity was increased to 240 gallons with the installation of new fuel cells in the wing leading edge and fuselage. Additional armor was fitted and the ammunition capacity was increased. The canopy was modified to improve the visibility, with the heavy metal framing of the sliding cockpit canopy being deleted. A small cylinder with emergency rations was installed on the port side of the rear canopy behind the pilot's seat. Initially, the large propeller spinner of the F2A-2 was retained, but it was soon eliminated in order to save weight. The same 1200-hp Wright R-1820-40 engine used by the F2A-2 was retained by the F2A-3.
The increased fuel capacity dramatically increased the range -- the additional 80 gallons of fuel gave the F2A-3 a maximum range of 1680 miles. Five and six-hour patrols became routine. However, the increased weight of the F2A-3 with no corresponding increase in engine power imposed a severe performance penalty. Maximum speed decreased to 321 mph, and the rate of climb fell below 3000 feet per minute. Many pilots actually preferred the F2A-3 to the F4F Wildcat, but one experienced Buffalo pilot said that he would have never have taken an overweight F2A-3 into combat.
Deliveries of the F2A-3 began in January of 1941, and the Navy began replacing the F2A-2s in active duty squadrons that summer. Beginning in August of 1941, VF-2, VF-3 and VS-201 re-equipped with the F2A-3. However, VF-3 converted to the F4F Wildcat shortly thereafter.
In the Atlantic, VS-201 was based on the USS Long Island (CVE-1), and flew its F2A-3s on Atlantic Neutrality Patrols, along with its Curtiss OSC Seagull observation aircraft. VF-201 retained its Buffalos until April of 1942.
VF-2 was the only Navy Pacific Fleet squadron operating the F2A-3 at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. They flew several patrols, but the only action they saw was in a strafing attack against a reported Japanese submarine. In late January of 1942, VF-2 was re-equipped with the F4F Wildcat.
After Navy squadrons traded in their F2A-3s for F4Fs, the Buffalos were passed on to the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps was in the process of increasing the number of its land-based fighter squadrons, and F2As were used as initial equipment for a number of training squadrons that were based at San Diego and Ewa on Hawaii. After the completion of their training, the pilots passed their F2As along to the next batch of trainees and transitioned to F4F Wildcats.
There were two operational Marine Corps fighter squadrons equipped with the F2A-3 -- VMF-211 based on Palmyra Island a thousand miles south of Hawaii and VMF-211 based on Midway Island. VMF-221 scored the first US Buffalo kill on March 10, 1942, when a four-aircraft flight shot down an H8K 'Emily' flying boat snooping near Midway. VMF-211 was in action during the battle of Midway on June 4, 1942. They put 21 F2A-3s and five 4 F4Fs in the air in the defense of Midway against a Japanese carrier-based air strike. The result was an unmitigated disaster. During the battle, 13 F2A-3s and two F4Fs were shot down by Japanese fighters, which was 60 percent of the force.
This disaster was destined to be the last instance of aerial combat by the F2A in American hands. The poor performance of the F2A-3 led to considerable criticism of the aircraft, both in official Navy circles and in the press. Captain P.R. White was quoted as saying that "It is my belief that any commander that orders pilots out for combat in an F2A-3 should consider the pilot as lost before leaving the ground." The Marine Corps was especially bitter about having to continue flying the F2A in combat long after the Navy had relegated the aircraft to NAS Miami as an advanced trainer. After Midway, all F2As were withdrawn from front-line squadrons and passed along to training units.
At least one F2A-3 was modified with having the wing 0.50-inch machine guns replaced by 20-mm Hispano-Suiza cannon. Brewster manufactured nine sets of modified wings, but the program was cancelled when the Navy ended F2A production with the F2A-3.
When Buffalos were withdrawn from front-line units, they were sent to Navy training air stations such as NAS Miami. The last F2A-3s off the Brewster production lines were delivered directly to Miami. Buffalos in the training role were often fitted with pneumatic 12-inch tail wheel tires, a detachable gun camera mounted on the starboard forward fuselage and a rearview periscope was mounted on the canopy framing. Training accidents were common and by 1943, there were few Buffalos left. The few remaining in service were scrapped in late 1943 and early 1944. No Navy F2As survive today.
The first F2A-3 (01516) was fitted with an experimental pressurized cockpit and was redesignated XF2A-4. However, no production was undertaken, since by that time the decision had been made to abandon any further F2A production by Brewster.
01516-01623 Brewster F2A-3
Powerplant: One Wright R-1820-40 Cyclone nine-cylinder single-row air-cooled radial, rated at 1200 hp for takeoff and 900 hp at 14,000 feet. Performance: Maximum speed of 321 mph at 16,500 feet and 284 mph at sea level. Initial climb rate 2290 ft/min. Service ceiling 33,200 feet. Normal range 965 miles, maximum range 1680 miles. Weights: 4732 pounds empty, 6321 pounds gross, 7159 pounds maximum takeoff. Dimensions: Wingspan 35 feet 0 inches, length 26 feet 4 inches, height 12 feet 1 inches, wing area 209 square feet. Armament: Four 0.50 inch machine guns, two in the upper fuselage and two in the wings.