Frontiers October 2014 15 It needs no introduction. The F-86 Sabre was America’s first swept-wing jet fighter and it became a legend during the Korean conflict, where it went up against Soviet-made MiG-15s in the skies over Korea and won most of those high-speed, air-to-air dogfights. But the F-86 had a little-known twin, also made by North American Aviation, a Boeing heritage company. It was called the Fury, and this series of carrier-based fighters helped lead the U.S. Navy through the transition from piston-powered fighter planes to high-performance jets. The story of the Fury, as well as the Sabre, began in 1944 when the U.S. military, to counter the growing threat of German Luftwaffe jets, enlisted North American Aviation to develop a common jet-powered fighter plane to be used by both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army Air Force. The planes were designated XFJ-1 Fury for the Navy and XP-86 Sabre for the Air Force. At that time the U.S. Navy used a different designation system that not only identified the mission of the airplane (F for Fighter) but also identified the manufacturer. The Navy code for North American was “J,” a holdover from one of North American’s predecessor companies, Berliner-Joyce. In 1962 when a common designation system was adopted for all U.S. military airplanes, the FJ series became the F-1. The XFJ-1 was first to fly. It borrowed the wings and tail from the successful design of North American’s P-51 Mustang, but featured a fuselage where the pilot sat above the air intake, giving the airplane a rotund appearance. While the XFJ-1 was being evaluated, captured German data on the swept wing arrived at North American and was applied to the XP-86, sending it on a divergent development path and creating an airplane that would become one of America’s most storied fighters. The Navy chose to stay with the straight-winged FJ-1 due to its better low-speed handling, necessary to land on its carriers, which were built to operate World War II piston-powered aircraft. Thirty FJ-1s were built and in 1948 they became the first jets to operate in squadron strength from an aircraft carrier. The FJ-1 soon was eclipsed by the McDonnell F2H Banshee and Grumman F9F Panther and by 1949 the FJ-1s were transferred to the U.S. Navy Reserve. When war broke out on the Korean Peninsula in June 1950, naval aviators flying Banshees and Panthers found themselves outclassed when they encountered the MiG-15 swept-wing fighters. So the Navy once again turned to North American. The company’s swept-wing F-86 was able to match and defeat the MiG-15, and North American developed a version of the F-86E modified for carrier operations that included a lengthened nose gear, folding wings and a tailhook. Six .50 caliber machine guns were replaced with four 20mm cannons. The Navy ordered 200 of the fighters, designated FJ-2. North American further modified the FJ-2 with a 7,700-pound-thrust (34.25-kilonewton) British Sapphire engine built under license by Curtiss- Wright. In March 1952 the U.S. Navy ordered 389 of these more powerful jets, designating them as the FJ-3, and later added an order for 149 more. The first production FJ-3 flew from North American Aviation’s Columbus, Ohio, plant in December 1953. At that time company engineers in Columbus already were working on an all-new Fury known as the FJ-4. The first one flew on Oct. 28, 1954. The “Fury Four” was a major redesign that included a new fuselage and a 50 percent increase in internal fuel capacity. The U.S. Navy ordered 152 FJ-4s, and followed with an order for 222 of the FJ-4B—the last of the Furies. In 1962 the FJ-4 went on its last operational cruise on board the carrier CV-16 Lexington and continued to fly with Reserve squadrons well into the 1960s. In all, the Columbus plant delivered 1,112 Furies to the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. The Fury had done its job— introducing high-performance swept-wing jets to carrier aviation— and it paved the way for supersonic jets such as the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom. The Fury was an important piece of the legacy of carrier-based aircraft developed by Boeing and its heritage companies, a history that continues today with the Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and EA-18 Growler. n firstname.lastname@example.org To learn more about the F-86 Sabre, visit www.boeing.com/F-86. PHOTOS: (Left) FJ-3s from VF-21 Mach Busters fly over the USS Forrestal during its shakedown cruise in the winter of 1956. (Above) An FJ-1, foreground, flying with an XFJ-2B illustrates the transition to swept wings.
Frontiers October 2014 Issue
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