Staff Writer (Updated: 5/5/2016):
Perhaps Brewster's greatest in-house achievement was its pre-war F2A which was developed to a U.S. Navy (USN) specification calling for a carrier-based fighter of monoplane configuration. This aircraft went on to become the service's first-ever monoplane and was one of the first to incorporate several features that allowed it to operate effectively on carrier decks - namely the inclusion of an arrestor hook for landing actions.
Design of the aircraft emerged from work undertaken at Brewster by Dayton T. Brown and R.D. MacCart in 1936. The basic model, known internally as "B-139", incorporated a single-seat, single-engine monoplane arrangement with all-metal construction - certainly very modern qualities for the period. USN authorities liked what they saw and ordered a prototype - the "XF2A-1" - on June 22nd, 1936. The aircraft went airborne for the first time on December 2nd, 1937 and was powered by a Wright XR-1820-22 "Cyclone" air-cooled radial piston engine of 950 horsepower.
The aircraft faced off in 1939 - and won - against the aircraft that would become the F4F "Wildcat" offered Grumman, therefore taking the claim as the Navy's first true operational monoplane fighter (the Wildcat would go on to have its own notable career in due time). The F2A was selected to succeed the aging and outmoded line of Grumman F3F fighters and its performance was markedly better than the competing Grumman offering at the time.
The Brewster design featured a large radial engine fitted in the nose driving a three-bladed propeller unit. The engine's size forced the aircraft to be given a deep fuselage which was also short in length - providing the fighter with a very stout appearance. The pilot's cockpit was covered over in a framed, sliding (rearward) canopy and the undercarriage was wholly retractable - thoguh the legs remained exposed against the sides of the forward fuselage underside when in flight. The wing mainplanes were set along the midway point of the fuselage sides, were straight in their general appearance, and showcased clipped tips. The tail unit relied on a single vertical tail fin and low-mounted horizontal planes.
The U.S. Navy ordered 54 of the type based on the XF2A-1 prototype though with Wright R-1820-34 engines of 940 horsepower instead. Original armament was 1 x 0.30 caliber machine gun and 1 x 0.50 caliber machine gun firing over the nose and 2 x 0.50 caliber machine guns in the wings (one per wing). The F2A-1, as the first production models were marked, arrived in U.S. Navy hands during June 1939.
However, of the 50+ aircraft ordered, just eleven would ever make it to the USN inventory as 43 of the line - deemed "surplus" - were sold to Finland where their single 0.30 caliber machine guns were given up in favor of a fourth 0.50 caliber weapon for a heftier frontal "punch".
Following a March 1939 request by the U.S. Navy, Brewster installed a Wright R-1820-40 radial engine of 1,200 horsepower output into its prototype along with a new electrically-driven propeller unit (the original one was hydraulically-powered) and a revised fuel system. These changes were enough to warrant redesignation of the prototype to "XF2A-2" which began testing during July 1939. Then followed an order for 43 aircraft to this standard as the "F2A-2" (with the original mixed machine gun armament) to cover the USN's loss of the F2A-1 stock that left for Finland. Service entry of the F2A-2 models was in September of 1940 and, from the 30th example on, the aircraft's armament suite was reworked to carry 4 x 0.50 caliber systems as in the Finnish models and armor protection and self-sealing fuel tanks were standard.