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McDonnell FH / FD Phantom - United States, 1947

Detailing the development and operational history of the McDonnell FH / FD Phantom Carrierborne Single-Seat, Jet-Powered Fighter.

 Entry last updated on 10/23/2017; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ¬©

  McDonnell FH / FD Phantom  
Picture of McDonnell FH / FD Phantom

The McDonnell FH Phantom series became the first post-World War 2 jet-powered fighter of the United States Navy.

The Allied victory in World War 2 (1939-1945) was not a foregone conclusion in 1943 as the war in Africa and Europe raged alongside an ever-growing commitment to the Pacific against the might of the Japanese Empire. Warship battles dotted the ocean landscape throughout the island-hopping campaigns and progress proved a slow bloody affair. This period gave rise to a new generation of airmen, aces and aircraft and forever solidified the placement of the aircraft carrier in naval warfare.

With this in mind, the United States Navy (USN) looked to grow its stable of fighters beyond its conventionally-arranged, piston-powered types. As many of the major defense industry players were tied to the production of much-needed aircraft for immediate service, the U.S. Navy Bureau of Aeronautics approached McDonnell in January of 1943 to partner on a new single-seat, jet-powered monoplane fighter project. The engine of choice was an equally-new turbojet development offered from Westinghouse. The aircraft was given the designation of "FD-1".

McDonnell had revealed itself to be a rather forward-thinking company with its previous XP-67 "Moonbat" heavy fighter / interceptor development. While not adopted into service form - and only one flyable prototype completed - the Moonbat made McDonnell stand out as an aircraft builder. Additionally it did not hold the production commitment to the ongoing war as its competitors did.

In the short span of two years, McDonnell engineers had readied the "XFD-1" prototype which first took to the air on January 26th, 1945. The aircraft proved a sleek design featuring a well-streamlined fuselage, straight wing appendages (with clipped tips) and a single-finned tail unit. A wholly-retractable tricycle undercarriage was fitted and the airframe was powered by two of the aforementioned jets buried in the wingroots, exhausting through rounded ports at the wingroot aft. Because the engines could be mounted at any point behind the pilot, vision out-of-the-cockpit was vastly improved for navy aviators (no forward-mounted engine or spinning propellers to contend with and therefore a shorter distance between the cockpit and nose of the aircraft). Standard, fixed armament centered on 4 x 0.50 caliber heavy machine guns, all fitted to the nose. There was also support for 8 x 5" (127mm) High Velocity Aircraft Rockets (HVARs) underwing intended to help bring down large, slow-moving targets like bombers.

Picture of the McDonnell FH / FD Phantom
Picture of the McDonnell FH / FD Phantom

World War 2 ended with the Japanese surrender of August 1945 but the Navy still pursued its new fighter - nicknamed the "Phantom" because of its promised performance of 500 miles per hour - the aircraft would come and go as "an apparition" to enemy forces facing it. On July 21st, 1946, the XFD-1 prototype became the first all-jet USN aircraft to take-off and land on an American carrier (USS Franklin D. Roosevelt).

With Douglas' post-war reentry into fighter development, the "D" initially allocated to the McDonnell FD-1 project was assigned back to Douglas which left McDonnell use of "H" - as such the FD-1 became the "FH-1". Once its testing and evaluation phase had successfully ended, the FH-1 "Phantom" was introduced for service in August of 1947. For the USN, the jet age had begun which would produce a whole slew of evermore powerful types still to come - and McDonnell benefitted from this early partnership with the service branch.

VF-17A fighter squadron was the first to employ FH-1 Phantoms when they arrived in number for August 1947. Totals were strengthened considerably over the next year. Also in 1947, the United States Marine Corps aviation section acquired the FH-1 which marked the Phantom as the first joint USN/USMC jet-powered combat aircraft.

The FH-1 in service became more of a technological stepping stone for the USN than a long-term fighter solution. The thirsty jets it relied on limited operational range and the machine-gun-only armament was lacking punch when compared to the all-cannon arrangements featured on competing fighter designs seen elsewhere. While the Phantom carried rockets for its attack role (rarely uses in actual service) it lacked a bomb-delivery capability ruling out any usefulness as a fighter-bomber. Straightline performance was, however, one of the best of the period and gave the carrier-based fighter an advantage over piston-powered enemies it could potentially face.

The operational life of the FD-1 series was extremely short nonetheless for the line was retired by the USN and USMC as soon as 1949 and reserve units followed in 1954. McDonnell then developed the F2H "Banshee" from its FH-1 experience and 895 of this design were completed with service introduction coming during August of 1949. The FH-1 was not exported to U.S. partners and, beyond the 60 production FD-1 models and the pair of XFD-1 prototypes, no other variants existed.

The "Phantom" name was resurrected by McDonnell for their classic F-4 "Phantom II" design.

McDonnell FH-1 Phantom Specifications

Service Year: 1947
Status: Retired, Out-of-Service
Type: Carrierborne Single-Seat, Jet-Powered Fighter
National Origin: United States
Manufacturer(s): McDonnell Aircraft Corporation - USA
Total Production: 62

Structural (Crew, Dimensions, Weights)

Operating Crew (Typical): 1
Overall Length: 37.24 feet (11.35 meters)
Overall Width: 40.75 feet (12.42 meters)
Overall Height: 14.17 feet (4.32 meters)

Weight (Empty): 6,680 lb (3,030 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 12,037 lb (5,460 kg)

Power / Performance (Engine Type, Top Speed)

Engine: 2 x Westinghouse J30-WE-20 turbojet engines developing 1,600 lb of thrust each.

Maximum Speed: 416 knots (478 mph; 770 kph)
Maximum Range: 605 nautical miles (696 miles; 1,120 km)
Service Ceiling: 41,093 feet (12,525 meters; 7.78 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 4,230 feet-per-minute (1,289 m/min)

Armament / Mission Payload

4 x 12.7mm machine guns mounted in the nose

8 x High Velocity Aircraft Rockets (HVARs) underwing

Global Operators (Customers, Users)

United States

Model Variants

FD "Phantom" - Original Series Designation
FH "Phantom" - Revised Series Designation
XFD-1 - Prototype Model Designation; two examples completed.
FH-1 - Production Series Designation; 60 examples delivered.

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