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Vought F7U Cutlass Carrier-Borne Fighter (1949)

Authored By Dan Alex | Last Updated: 6/26/2014

Engine issues and an unenviable accident record eventually doomed the interesting Vought F7U Cutlass carrier-based fighter of the United States Navy.

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The Vought F7U "Cutlass" was an American Cold War-era naval fighter and the first swept-wing USN fighter to be adopted into service as well as the first "tailless" American fighter aircraft. The type led a troubled developmental existence and an even more troubled service life to the point that only a few hundred aircraft were procured and multiple fatalities occurring during its short time in service. Its design made it as unforgettable as its track record made it forgettable - such became the legacy of the Cutlass fighter program. The aircraft inevitably received the nicknames of the "Praying Mantis", the "Ensign Eliminator" and the "Gutless Cutlass" - such was its lasting impression to pilots.

In December of 1945, the United States Navy put forth Specification OS-105 which called for a new jet-powered carrier-borne day fighter to add to its post-World War 2 ranks. The requirement specified a maximum speed of 600 miles per hour (with afterburner adding some 50mph more), a 6,500 feet-per-second rate-of-climb as well as a combat radius of 345 miles, and an operating service ceiling of 40,000 feet. Design proposals emerged from Curtiss, Douglas, Martin, McDonnell, North American, and Vought to which Vought's twin-engine, tailless offering was selected on June 25th, 1946 (as "Model V-346A"). Reportedly, Vought engineers utilized captured wartime data obtained from the German concern of Arado - famous makers of the jet-powered Ar 234 "Blitz" bomber. The Vought proposal then emerged in three prototypes under the "XF7U-1" designation and the line as a whole went on to receive the name of "Cutlass" in due time.

The Vought design was a wholly unique fighter approach for the period, lacking any true horizontal tail surfaces, instead utilizing a wide-area main wing planform with sweepback. A pair of vertical tail fins with rudder controls were fitted as normal while all other control surfaces resided on the mainplanes. The cockpit was held forward in the usual way with the pilot given good views from the elevated position - a key consideration for carrier-based aircraft on landing approaches. The twin side-by-side engine installation was aspirated by half-circle intakes to either side of the fuselage. The undercarriage was of a tricycle arrangement and fully retractable, giving the aircraft a pronounced "nose up" appearance when at rest. Indeed, the XF7U-1 stood as one of the more advanced aerodynamic design approaches to any post-war, jet-powered carrier fighter to this point in military aviation history.

Power was served through 2 x Westinghouse J46-WE-8B turbojet engines (F7U-3) developing 4,600lbs thrust (each) on dry and 6,000lbs thrust (each) with reheat (afterburner). Maximum speed reached nearly 700 miles per hour with a cruising speed closer to 565 miles per hour. Range was out to 660 miles with a service ceiling of 40,600 feet and rate-of-climb (a key carrier-based fighter consideration) of 14,420 feet-per-second. No doubt the aircraft was very fast for the intended role - superseding the USN requirements on paper .

As introduced, the F7U was an all-cannon armed aircraft fitting 4 x 20mm M3 cannons mounted just above the inlet ducts with 180 rounds afforded to a gun. It was only a later model - the F7U-3M - that introduced support for 4 x Sparrow beam-riding, medium-range air-to-air missiles under the wings. The aircraft was cleared for up to 5,500lbs of external ordnance.


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Specifications for the
Vought F7U Cutlass
Carrier-Borne Fighter


Focus Model: Vought F7U-3 Cutlass
Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: Chance Vought - USA
Initial Year of Service: 1949
Production: 320


Crew: 1


Length: 41.27ft (12.58m)
Width: 39.70ft (12.10m)
Height: 14.01ft (4.27m)
Weight (Empty): 18,210lbs (8,260kg)
Weight (MTOW): 31,636lbs (14,350kg)


Powerplant: 2 x Westinghouse J46-WE-8B turbojet engines developing 6,000lsb of thrust with afterburner.


Maximum Speed: 696mph (1,120kmh; 605kts)
Maximum Range: 621miles (1,000km)
Service Ceiling: 40,600ft (12,375m; 7.7miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 14,400 feet per minute (4,389m/min)


Hardpoints: 4
Armament Suite:
STANDARD:
4 x 20mm internal cannons

OPTIONAL (F7U-3M):
4 x Sparrow medium-range, air-to-air missiles


Variants:
F7U "Cutlass" - Base Series Designation


XF7U-1 - Three prototype airframes; all three lost to crashes.

F7U-1 - Initial production model; fitted with Westinghouse J34-WE-32 series turbojet engines; fourteen examples delivered.

F7U-2 - Proposed improved form with afterburning Westinghouse J34-WE-42 engines; order of 88 aircraft canceled.

XF7U-3 - F7U-3 prototype; single example

F7U-3 - Definitive Cutlass; fitted with 2 x Westinghouse J46-WE-8B engines; 192 examples completed.

F7U-3P - Photo-reconnaissance variant; lengthened nose section; 12 examples.

F7U-3P - Missile-armed variant; 48 upgraded from F7U-3 standard and 98 examples built.

A2U-1 - Proposed ground attack aircraft; cancelled.


Operators:
United States