McDonell’s supernatural fighters – The F2H Banshee

Given its experience in World War II, which showed that the best of piston-engined carrierborne fighters needed to have performance in no real way inferior to that of their land-based counterparts, the US Navy decided that the same should apply to its turbojet-powered fighters. In the spring of 1945, therefore, the US Navy contracted with several manufacturers for turbojet-powered prototypes of a carrierborne fighter considerably more advanced than the pioneering McDonnell FD (later FH) Phantom that was to enter service in 1947. One of these manufacturers was McDonnell, which received an order for three XF2D-1 prototypes. For this new type, the McDonnell design team under the supervision of Herman D. Barkley opted to retain the FD’s basic configuration in a form enlarged for a powerplant of two more potent Westinghouse axial-flow turbojet engines buried in the wing roots. Other changes were a longer fuselage for greater fuel capacity and revised fixed forward-firing armament, in which the FD’s quartet of 0.5-in (12.7-mm) machine guns were replaced by four 20-mm cannons relocated from the upper to the lower side of the forward fuselage so that muzzle flash would not impair the pilot’s vision.

The programme was then delayed by the wholesale reassessment of US procurement after World War II, which had been brought to an early but effective end in August 1945 by the dropping of two A-bombs on Japan, and prototype construction began in January 1946 for a first flight on 11 January 1947 with the powerplant of two Westinghouse J34-WE-22 turbojet engines each rated at 3,000 lb st (31.14 kN) dry.

Superior capabilities

The type proved highly successful and was ordered into production as the F2D-1 Banshee that otherwise differed from the prototypes only in having a flat rather than dihedralled tailplane to cure some minor control problems. In other respects the F2D-1 differed from the F2H-3 in details such as its span of 41 ft 6 in (12.65 m) with area of 294.00 sq ft (27.31 m²), length of 39 ft 0 in (11.89 m), height of 14 ft 5 in (4.39 m), empty weight of 9,794 lb (4442 kg), normal take-off weight of 14,234 lb (6456 kg), maximum take-off weight of 18,940 lb (8591 kg), maximum speed of 510 kt (587 mph; 945 km/h) at sea level, cruising speed of 305 kt (351 mph; 565 km/h) at optimum altitude, initial climb rate of 7,380 ft (2249 m) per minute, service ceiling of 48,500 ft (14785 m), and range of 1,110 nm (1,278 miles; 2057 km).

It was as production of the new carrierborne fighter was getting under way that McDonnell’s US Navy letter designator was changed from D to H, so the initial production model thus became the F2H-1 Banshee, of which 56 examples were delivered between August 1948 and August 1949, initially equipping the VF-171 unit.

Steady development

Even though the more reliable turbojet engines becoming available in the late 1940s offered much better fuel consumption figures than their predecessors, the US Navy was still not happy with the range of the F2H-1, and this was the primary reason why production was curtailed at just 56 aircraft so that the improved F2H-2 could be brought on stream with its fuselage lengthened by 1 ft 1 in (0.33 m) to allow the fuselage tankage to be increased by 176 US gal (146.6 Imp gal; 666.2 litres), while fixed tip tanks were added on the outer ends of its upward-folding outer wing panels for an additional 400 US gal (333.1 Imp gal; 1514.2 litres) of fuel. Power was also increased by the installation of two J34-WE-34 engines each rated at 3,250 lb st (14.46 kN) dry, and in other respects the F2H-2 differed from the F2H-3 in details such as its span of 44 ft 10 in (13.67 m) with area of 294.00 sq ft (27.31 m²), length of 40 ft 2 in (12.24 m), empty weight of 11,146 lb (5056 kg), normal take-off weight of 17,200 lb (7802 kg), maximum take-off weight of 22,312 lb (10121 kg), maximum speed of 499 kt (575 mph; 925 km/h) at sea level, cruising speed of 435 kt (501 mph; 806 km/h) at optimum altitude, initial climb rate of 3,910 ft (1192 m) per minute, service ceiling of 44,800 ft (13655 m), ferry range of 1,280 nm (1,475 miles; 2374 km) with auxiliary fuel, and typical range of 1,042 nm (1,200 miles; 1931 km) with standard fuel.

Despite its reduced maximum speed, rate of climb and service ceiling, the F2H-2 offered important improvements in cruising speed and range. The type was ordered into production during May 1948, and the first of 308 such aircraft flew on 18 August 1949. The US Navy also received limited numbers of three subvariants. Totalling just 25 aircraft, the F2H-2B was fighter-bomber derivative with provision for 3,000 lb (1361 kg) of disposable stores carried on four hardpoints (all under the wing with the inner two units each rated at 1,000 lb/454 kg and the outer two units each at 500 lb/227 kg). Built to the extent of 14 aircraft of which the first flew on 3 February 1950, the F2H-2N was the world’s first single-seat turbojet-powered carrierborne night fighter and differed from the baseline F2H-2 day fighter in its slightly longer nose accommodating the APS-6 radar. The last of the aircraft was delivered in June 1951. Built to the larger number of 89 aircraft after a first flight on 12 October 1950, the F2H-2P was the US Navy’s first turbojet-powered reconnaissance machine and differed from the baseline F2H-2 in its longer nose carrying a package of six cameras in place of armament. The F2H-2P aircraft were delivered from May 1952.

Service over Korea

Aircraft of the F2H-2 series were extensively employed in the Korean War (1950/53), making their operational debut in August 1951. The type’s good performance at altitude led to its initial use in the escort role, but the advent of more modern fighters then displaced the Banshee to the low-level close support role.

The large wing and thus the low wing loading of the Banshee’s early variants made it possible to consider still more internal fuel capacity in a yet longer fuselage without any modification of the wing, and this resulted in the F2H-3 all-weather fighter and fighter-bomber. The cannon were moved farther back to allow the incorporation of APQ-41 radar in the nose, the fuselage was lengthened by some 8 ft 0 in (2.44 m) for a virtual doubling of the internal fuel capacity, and the tail unit was modified: whereas the tail unit of the earlier models had been based on a flat tailplane located about one-quarter of the way up the vertical surface, that of the F2H-3 had a revised vertical surface and a dihedralled tailplane moved aft onto the upper surface of the longer fuselage’s rear cone.

One of the F2H-2N night fighters was modified as the aerodynamic prototype of the new variant, which was ordered in July 1950. The first F2H-3 off the production line made its maiden flight on 29 March 1952, and the last of 250 aircraft was delivered in September 1953. Starting in November 1955, 39 of the aircraft were transferred to the the Royal Canadian Navy for service on Canada’s sole aircraft carrier, the Bonaventure, and in September 1962 the aircraft surviving in US Navy service received the revised designation F-2C Banshee.

The proposed F2H-3P Banshee photo-reconnaissance derivative of the F2H-3 was not built.

The F2H-4 Banshee was an improved version of the F2H-3 with APQ-37 rather than APQ-41 radar, and the powerplant of two J34-WE-38 engines each rated at 3,600 lb st (16.01 kN) dry. The last of 150 such aircraft was delivered in October 1953, and in 1962 the survivors received the revised designation F-2D Banshee in the rationalisation of the American services previously separate designation systems into a unified system.

All surviving Banshee warplanes had been withdrawn from service by 1965.


McDonnell F2H-3 Banshee

Type: carrierborne fighter and fighter-bomber

Accommodation: pilot on an ejection seat in the enclosed cockpit

Fixed armament: four 20-mm M2 fixed forward-firing cannon with 160 rounds per gun in the lower sides of the forward fuselage

Disposable armament: up to 4,000 lb (1814 kg) of disposable stores carried on eight hardpoints (four under the inlet trunks and four under the outer wing panels with each unit rated at 500 lb/227 kg), and generally comprising two or four 500-lb (227-kg) and four 250-lb (113-kg) free-fall bombs, or eight air-to-surface unguided rockets; the aircraft were later wired to carry up to four AAM-N-7 Sidewinder 1 short-range AAMs

Equipment: standard communication and navigation equipment, plus APQ-41 search radar and a gyro gun sight

Powerplant: two Westinghouse J34-WE-34 axial-flow turbojet engines each rated at 3,250 lb st (14.46 kN) dry

Internal fuel: 1,102 US gal (917.6 Imp gal; 4171.5 litres) including 400 US gal (333.1 Imp gal; 1514.2 litres) in two 200 US gal (166.5 Imp gal; 757.1 litre) fixed tip tanks

External fuel: up to 340 US gal (283.1 Imp gal; 1287 litres) in two 170 US gal (141.6 Imp gal; 643.5 litre) drop tanks; provision for inflight refuelling

Dimensions: span 41 ft 9 in (12.73 m) and width folded 18 ft 5.5 in (5.63 m); area 294.00 sq ft (27.31 m²); length 48 ft 2 in (14.68 m); height 14 ft 6 in (4.42 m)

Weights: empty 13,183 lb (5980 kg); normal take-off 21,013 lb (9531 kg); maximum take-off 25,214 lb (11437 kg)

Performance: maximum speed 504 kt (580 mph; 933 km/h) at sea level declining to 455.5 kt (524 mph; 843 km/h) at 35,000 ft (10670 m); cruising speed 400 kt (461 mph; 742 km/h) at optimum altitude; initial climb rate 6,000 ft (1829 m) per minute; service ceiling 46,600 ft (14205 m); maximum range 1,490 nm (1,716 miles; 2762 km) with drop tanks; combat radius 652 nm (720 miles; 1159 km) with two drop tanks or 330 nm (380 miles; 611.5 km) with standard fuel