Book Review – Chance Vought F7U-1 Cutlass
Chance Vought F7U-1 Cutlass, by Tommy H. Thomason; Ginter Books; 128 pages.
Nowadays, most fighters have twin engines and tail fins. When these features were introduced on the U. S. Navy’s F7U-1 Cutlass fighter of the late 1940s and early 1950s, they were inspired by data from Nazi Germany’s Arado company, but were so unusual as to be almost unique.
So was the high angle-of-attack of the Cutlass when not flying, with its nose poking up at a 45-degree angle, requiring a ladder that naval officers regarded as a nuisance on aircraft carrier decks. The Cutlass had a uniquely futuristic look and would have been the right carrier-based fighter to engage the MiG-15 in Korea if only it had lived up to the potential suggested by its striking appearance. Instead, it became a “might have been,” remembered fondly today by some but never beloved by the naval aviators who flew it.
Cold War Cutlass
The Cutlass was built in two main versions, the F7U-1 and F7U-3. A somewhat heavier F7U-2 version was designed but never built.
This volume focuses on the “dash one” and includes Kodachrome shots of the fighter in the brilliant blue paint scheme the Navy used until 1955. It’s the latest in a unique series of monographs published over several decades by Steve Ginter of Simi Valley, Calif., whose work earned him the Arthur W. Radford Award for Excellence in Naval Aviation History and Literature. Generations of pilots, enthusiasts and historians have relied on Ginter’s guidebooks as much-needed sources of reference on U.S. military aircraft.
Tommy H. Thomason is a pilot, flight test engineer, manager and executive in the aerospace industry, but may be better known for his books on other aircraft of this era, including a Ginter title on the Vought F8U-3 Crusader III. You gotta believe that Thomason is having entirely too much fun, rooting around in archives, talking to old salts, and piecing together all the details of plans that many of us can just barely identify. No one but Thomason could give us two different detailed diagrams of the engine exhaust outlets on two variations of the F7U-1.
Unlike a contemporary also named for a bladed weapon, the F-86 Sabre, the Navy’s F7U-1 was handicapped by the poor performance of Westinghouse engines of the era, in this case the J34 turbojet, which was never good for more than about 3,400 pounds thrust. This volume devotes several pages to Navy efforts to develop the afterburner, a device that increases thrust, beginning with the Cutlass’s predecessor, the F6U-1 Pirate. The book provides a wealth of photos and diagrams depicting everything from the engine installation to the spin-test wingtip parachutes installed on a developmental F7U-1.
As early as its first flight at the hands of J. R. “Bob” Baker at Patuxent River, Md. on Sept. 27, 1948 — it made the journey from the Stratford, Conn. factory by barge — it was clear that the Cutlass didn’t perform as had been hoped. A plan to replace the J34 with the Westinghouse J46 helped a little on a subsequent version.
The F7U-1, however, never reached squadron service: Vought built three XF7U-1 and fourteen F7U-1s. All three of the XF7U-1s and three of the F7U-1s crashed. One of the crashes was attributed to an oxygen-system issue that induced hypoxia in the pilot, although he survived unscathed.
None of these “dash one” fighters remain today. The longest-lasting survivor was last seen at the Navy’s maintenance school in Memphis, Tenn. in the late 1950s — before being scrapped.
Chance Vought F7U-1 Cutlass is a must-have as a reference work for the historian or the modeler. Alas, it doesn’t cover the much-redesigned F7U-3 Cutlass first flown on Dec. 20, 1951 and, in its F7U-3M incarnation, the first naval fighter to employ the Sparrow missile.
Still available is a volume on the entire Cutlass series from the same publisher dating back several decades. While there are no current plans, it is to be fervently hoped that this publisher and this author will give us a new look at the F7U-3 (and F7U-3M) series, which enjoyed a brief operational life with four Navy squadrons – VF-81, VF-83, VF-122 and VF-124 – in the 1950s. There were also a dozen F7U-3P photo-reconnaissance variants.
This title continues a fine tradition by a publisher who has made giant contributions to aviation history. It’s available at the Ginter web site: http://www.ginterbooks.com/