The concept of a jet-powered "seaplane fighter" had long been on the minds of military aircraft engineers since the end of World War 2 (1939-1945) and many attempts were made to see this plan through. The process involved a jet- or rocket-powered fighter capable of take-off and landing on water all the while retaining fighter-like qualities once in the air. This, theoretically, could give a fighting force a distinct tactical advantage - the aircraft could be deployed anywhere in the world (over 70% of the planet is covered by water) and stationed there until needed - a much less expensive venture than a loitering aircraft carrier to be sure. Its power in getting to the skies quickly would allow it to intercept marauding enemy forces in short order.
The United States Navy (USN) was always interested in supersonic aircraft types, following the United States Air Force (USAF) lead after the Second World War. However supersonic types launched and recovered from aircraft carrier decks presented a whole slew of technical challenges - primarily due to the speeds at play. As such, it would be some time before the USN adopted viable supersonic fighters and, until then, subsonic types remained the order of the day.
Aircraft producer CONVAIR (1943-1996) approached the USN with an idea for a supersonic fighter based around the seaplane interceptor idea. The proposal was interesting enough that the USN ordered a pair of prototypes before the end of 1951 and a further twelve production-quality aircraft were already contracted for.
The resulting design came to be known as the F2Y "Sea Dart". It utilized some of the design qualities made memorable by CONVAIR's upcoming Mach 1-capable "Delta Dagger" interceptor of 1956 complete with its sharp lines, triangular cockpit canopy and a triangular tail fin. For water operation, the fuselage underside exhibited a boat-like appearance and retractable skis would be used for water surface running. Power was to be provided for by 2 x Westinghouse XJ46-WE-02 turbojet engines (6,100 lb thrust each) buried in the fuselage, the twin exhaust rings seen at the rear of the aircraft sitting just above the waterline. Because of the damage salt water could cause the delicate components of the turbojets, the intakes for each unit were fitted dorsally, aft of the cockpit. A delta-wing mainplane arrangement was used that eliminated the need for dedicated tailplanes.
Delays occurring with the intended Westinghouse XJ46 engines meant that the prototypes were completed with the alternative (and lower-powered) Westinghouse J34-WE-32 turbojet instead (4,900 lb thrust each). Testing began in San Diego Bay and a first flight was had, rather accidentally, on January 14th, 1953 when a high-speed run took the aircraft up.
From then on, the program revealed mounting shortcomings in both design and performance that would lead to the Sea Dart's undoing. The engines never helped the aircraft perform to expected levels and the ski arrangement was not as successful as hoped (several variations of the ski arrangement were used). Supersonic speed proved elusive and was only attained in a diving action - making the Sea Dart the only seaplane in aviation history to achieve this feat. Aerodynamic drag was an ongoing detriment for the product.
All this led to a termination of the second contracted prototype which moved a service test airframe to the forefront. This model - BuNo 135762 was lost in midair when it broke apart on a November 4th, 1954 flight, claiming the life of its test pilot. By this time, USN authorities had begun moving away from the novel concept of the seaplane fighter and focused greater efforts in delivering the service's first supersonic carrier-based fighter instead (to become the Douglas F4D "Skyray").
A total of five Sea Darts were completed but not all were flown. The program was ended in April of 1957 with the four surviving members becoming museum showpieces.
The finalized Sea Dart exhibited a length of 52.6 feet, a wingspan of 33.7 feet and a height of 16.1 feet. Maximum speed was 825 miles per hour with a range out to 513 miles. Its service ceiling was listed at 54,800 feet and a rate-of-climb of 17,100 feet-per-minute was reported. Proposed armament for the fighter was to include 4 x 20mm Colt Mk 12 series cannons and support for FFAR (Folding-Fin Aerial Rockets) as well as early-generation Air-to-Air Missiles (AAMs).
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Air-to-Air Combat, Fighter
General ability to actively engage other aircraft of similar form and function, typically through guns, missiles, and/or aerial rockets.
✓Maritime / Navy
Land-based or shipborne capability for operating over-water in various maritime-related roles while supported by allied naval surface elements.
✓X-Plane (Developmental, Prototype, Technology Demonstrator)
Aircraft developed for the role of prototyping, technology demonstration, or research / data collection.
52.5 ft (16.00 m)
33.8 ft (10.30 m)
16.1 ft (4.90 m)
12,632 lb (5,730 kg)
16,491 lb (7,480 kg)
+3,858 lb (+1,750 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base CONVAIR F2Y Sea Dart production variant)
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