The Ryan "Dark Shark" was an impressive developmental hybrid fighter design considered for service with both the United States Navy and United States Air Force shortly after World War 2. The aircraft attempted to mate a turboprop engine installation with a turbojet engine to achieve excellent performance specifications during a time when turbojets lacked the necessary force and long term reliability to power fighter aircraft - particularly from the short decks of aircraft carriers. However, advances in the field of jet propulsion provided an end to such hybrid designs and the Dark Shark would go on to exist in only a single prototype - interest on the part of the USN and USAF waning when tempted by the power of dedicated jet-powered fighters for their new-breed squadrons.
At this point in aviation history - that is the period encompassing the latter stages of World War 2 - early turbojets lacked much in the way of power and were thirsty breeds at their core. While they offered up some inherent benefits over most conventional piston-powered aircraft, they were relatively infant in their use of technology, warranting some governmental organizations to consider the option of pairing proven piston engine technology with turbojet engines to make up for the latter's deficiencies. This movement led to a brief period in military aviation history that attempted the hybrid concept though the producing little in the way of notable, quantitative aircraft - the jet age had evolved sufficiently enough by the time of the early 1950s to promote true jet-powered airframes ahead of the once-dominant, conventional piston-powered types.
Ryan Aeronautical Company had previously attempted a hybrid-powered aircraft in their FR Fireball for the United States Navy. She proved to be a short-lived fighter platform that utilized a piston engine and turbojet engine to achieve a combined thrust output (and thusly much improved performance specifications) than aircraft using solely one of the two installations. For the most part, the Fireball was a conventional aircraft in layout save for the hybrid engine arrangement and sat atop a retractable powered tricycle landing gear arrangement. Power stemmed from a General Electric J31-GE-3 series turbojet engine mated to a Wright R-1820-72W Cyclone radial piston engine - each delivering 1,600lbf of thrust and 1,350 horsepower respectively. She was crewed by a pilot in a forward-set cockpit and some 66 examples were produced from 1944 into 1945 - the final year of World War 2. However, the end of the war spelled the end of the need for the Fireball and production was ended - she formed just a single squadron in her short time in service with the United States Navy, seeing her use discontinued by the end of 1947.
The United States Navy looked at another Ryan Aeronautical Company development, this the improved XF2R "Dark Shark", as a possible addition to its carrier-based inventory. Design-wise, she proved sleeker than the Fireball and also fitted a hybrid engine arrangement though the basic piston engine being replaced by a turboprop one. The cockpit was more centralized in the well-contoured fuselage with the four-bladed propeller engine at the front of the design and the turbojet engine buried within the aft portion of the fuselage. The empennage was conventional and the Dark Shark was also supported by a tricycle landing gear arrangement. A prototype was formally ordered for construction and first flew on November 1st, 1946 out of Edwards Air Force base. In essence, the Dark Shark was a further development of the Fireball concept though within a new body design and introducing turboprop power.
General Electric was responsible for the two powerplants and responded with their J31 series turbojet and T31 turboprop installations. The J31 was notable for it also powered the Bell P-59 Airacomet - America's first jet fighter - as well as the Ryan FR Fireball and became the first jet engine to be produced in quantity within the United States though it held origins in the British Whittle W.1 series. The propeller-minded T31 turboprop engine went on to power the abandoned Vultee XP-81 (of which only two prototypes were built) and never materialized into any serious production numbers (28 were built in all). The type did, however, become the first turboprop engine to be mass-produced anywhere in the United States. The J31 offered 1,600lbs of thrust in a pushing action while the T31 added 1,760 horsepower in pulling the airframe. When these powerplants were paired in the Dark Shark, they supplied the fighter with a top speed nearing 500 miles per hour, a service ceiling just under 40,000 feet and a rate of climb equal to 4,850 feet per minute. The engines were fed via air intake inlets found along the wing leading edges. Compared to the fabled North American P-51D Mustang fighter of World War 2, the Dark Shark exceeded her listed performance statistics of a 437 mile per hour top speed and 3,200 feet per minute rate-of-climb.
Like most other heavy hitters utilized throughout the war for the Americans, the Dark Shark was simply armed with heavy caliber machine guns - going against the accepted norm of larger caliber cannons as those found in aircraft from Britain, Germany and the Soviet Union. The Dark Shark would be armed with 4 x 12.7mm (.50 caliber) Browning M2 heavy machine guns. Machine guns did offer up high rates-of-fire and larger ammunition loads than those as found on competing cannon systems. Beyond the machine gun battery, there were no other stated weapon options for the Dark Shark. Comparatively, the P-51D Mustang was armed with 6 x 12.7mm machine guns in the wings and had provisions for the carrying of bombs in the strike role.
While evaluations revealed the Dark Shark to be a sound aircraft design in most respects, advances in jet technology doomed any further development on the type. Additionally, the Dark Shark did not improve upon the performance numbers of the preceding Fireball attempt leading the United States Navy to move towards obtaining stocks of jets now featuring evermore powerful engines, leaving the Dark Shark to exist in only one abandoned prototype form. The United States Air Force also showed interest in the Ryan creation but elected to follow-up on pure jet fighters themselves. The single Dark Prototype was, however, slightly modified per the USAF to take on a Westinghouse J-34 series turbojet engine to become the "XF2R-2" prototype. To aspirate the new engine, the intake duct work of the original XF2R was revised to include two side-mounted air intakes with the leading edge wing inlets of the original being dropped altogether from the design. This new designation gave rise to the former Dark Shark being recognized as the "XF2R-1" from thereon.
Status Retired, Out-of-Service
Production 1 Units
Ryan Aeronautical - USA
- X-Plane / Developmental
35.99 ft (10.97 m)
41.99 ft (12.8 m)
14.01 ft (4.27 m)
1 x General Electric T31 turboprop engine delivering 1,760 horsepower; 1 x General Electric J31 turbojet engine delivering 1,600lbf of thrust.
497 mph (800 kph; 432 kts)
39,042 feet (11,900 m; 7.39 miles)
4,850 ft/min (1,478 m/min)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the Ryan XF2R Dark Shark production model; Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database)
4 x 12.7mm (0.50 caliber) M2 Browning air-cooled, heavy machine guns.
(Showcased armament details pertain to the Ryan XF2R Dark Shark production model)
XF2R "Dark Shark" - Base Prototype Designation; single example produced.
XF2R-1 - Redesignation post-XF2R-2 appearance.
XF2R-2 - Fitted with Westinghouse J-34 turbojet engine for USAF evaluation.
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.
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