|F2H-2 Banshee, Wonsan, North Korea, 1952.|
|Type||Carrier-based fighter aircraft|
|Retired||1959 USN, USMC|
|Primary users||United States Navy|
United States Marine Corp
United States Navy Reserve
Royal Canadian Navy
The McDonnell F2H Banshee was a military carrier-based jet fighter aircraft, used by the United States Navy from 1948 to 1959 and by the Royal Canadian Navy from 1955 until 1962. The Banshee had unswept wings, a single seat, and two engines. Together with the F9F Panther, the Banshee was one of the USN's primary single-seat fighters during the Korean War.
The Banshee was a development of the FH Phantom, although it was being planned before the Phantom went into production. The basic design was for an enlarged and more powerful Phantom, with a pair of Westinghouse turbojets raising power from 1,600 to 3,000 lbf (7 kN to 13 kN) each, an increased fuel load, a move away from the WW II standard 0.5 in (12.7 mm) guns to 20 mm cannon, and additional capability to carry bombs, rockets or missiles as well.
A mock-up of the new fighter, designated XF2D-1, was completed in April 1945. The project survived the end of the war, but development work was slowed and the first of three prototypes was not built until late 1946. The aircraft made its maiden flight on the 11th January 1947 from Lambert Field, St. Louis; test pilot was Woodward Burke. The Navy redesignated the aircraft as the XF2H-1 as the manufacturer's designator "D" was already assigned to the Douglas Aircraft Company. After some problems with the tailplane were resolved, an order for 56 craft was placed in May, 1947.
The F2H-1 was first delivered in August 1948 for service evaluation by Navy pilots. Relative to the XF2D-1, the fuselage was extended 14 inches forward of the wing to provide the capacity for 351 more gallons of fuel. The F2H-1 was retrofitted with 3,150 lbf (14 kN) thrust engines as they became available.
Despite the Navy's accepting the F2H-1, it was the more capable F2H-2 that was most widely used; 306 of this type were built. With newer 3,250 lbf (14.5 kN) thrust engines, it had improved performance. The wing was also modified to add provisions for weapons pylons and 200 US gallon wing-tip fuel tanks. Unlike the contemporary F9F Panther, the Banshee's wing-tip tanks were detachable, although most historical photographs show the aircraft flying with the tanks in place.
The F2H-2 was the foundation for three minor variants of the Banshee. The F2H-2B had strengthened wings to allow it to carry a small nuclear weapon, a mission it was thankfully never asked to carry out. 35 were produced. The F2H-2N was a night fighter variant outfitted with a 2 ft 10 in (0.86 m) longer nose to accommodate internal radar equipment; 14 were produced. The F2H-2P was a photo-reconnaissance version with 6 cameras housed in a 2 ft 5 in (0.74 m) longer nose; it was the first jet-powered reconnaissance aircraft used by the USN. 81 were built.
The F2H-3 was the last significant alteration. The fuselage was extended by 8 feet (2.4 m) to increase internal fuel load from 877 US gallons (3,320 L) to 1,102 US gallons (4,172 L), allowing the aircraft to complete many missions without the wing-tip tanks seen in most photographs of earlier variants. The horizontal stabilizer was moved from the vertical tail down to the fuselage and incorporated significant dihedral. The Banshee was also fitted with Westinghouse radar equipment, enabling the fighter to be used for all-weather missions, and the cannons were moved downwards and rearwards away from the nose to accommodate the radar. These changes resulted in an airplane that looked significantly different from its predecessors. 250 F2H-3s were built.
The last variant was the F2H-4. It had Hughes radar in place of the earlier Westinghouse radar, and also had slightly more powerful 3,600 lbf (16.0 kN) thrust engines. The F2H-4 was externally identical to the F2H-3. 150 were built.
A proposed F2H-3P photo-reconnaissance variant was canceled before reaching production. Unlike most other early jet fighters, no two-seat version was ever produced.
Production ended in September 1953 after a total of 895 aircraft were delivered. The F2H-3 and F2H-4 were given the new designations F-2C and F-2D respectively under the 1962 unified designation system. The designations F-2A and F-2B presumably referred to the F2H-1 and F2H-2, but these variants had already been withdrawn from service. No Banshees ever flew under the new designations; the last ones in USNR service were placed in storage before the new designations went into effect.
The F2H-2 served during the Korean War with the USN Task Force 77 and the USMC. Due to its good performance at high altitude, it initially proved its worth as an escort for long-range USAF bomber formations. As the war progressed, USN and USMC fighters were primarily assigned to ground attack missions, including close air support of ground troops and destruction of the North Korean army's supply lines. The North Korean air forces had been almost completely annihilated during the opening weeks of the war by the combined US and UK Far East Air Force (FEAF), mostly due to the far superior training and World War II combat experience of the US and Commonwealth pilots. From that point onwards, the combined North Korean, Chinese, and Soviet forces were unable to open new airstrips near the combat zones in South Korea because of constant FEAF airstrikes, forcing them to operate out of air bases in China. The Banshee and other USN fighters had limited exposure to hostile enemy aircraft because they operated far out of the range of enemy fighters operating from China. Air-to-air combat missions, such as patrols in the Yalu River area, were primarily assigned to F-86 Sabres. Consequently, the Banshee would score no victories nor suffer any losses in air-to-air combat, although three F2H-2s were lost to anti-aircraft gunfire.
The F2H-2P also made a great contribution to the Korean War, particularly in USMC service. At the time of the war, accurate surface-to-air missiles had not yet been developed, the vast majority of enemy aircraft did not have onboard radar, and the speed of newer jets was rapidly making AAA guns obsolete. Air defense tactics still largely depended on being able to see the enemy, and US commanders soon discovered that a lone high-flying F2H-2P was almost impossible for ground forces to spot, much less shoot down. The airplane was soon in very high demand for the invaluable battlefield photography it could provide. F2H-2Ps even received USAF fighter escorts when operating in areas frequented by enemy fighters. Despite being deployed constantly throughout the war, only two F2H-2Ps were lost to radar-directed AAA gunfire, with no air-to-air losses.
In the late 1940s, the USN had resisted the novel swept wing design concept, fearing that the tricky low-speed handling displayed by early swept wing airplanes would make it unsafe to operate them from aircraft carriers. Unfortunately, the USN failed to fully appreciate how much this would hamper the performance of its new jets. As a consequence of its unswept wings, the Banshee was almost 100 mph (161 km/h) slower than new Soviet jet fighters such as the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15, a serious handicap in air-to-air combat. As further testing proved that swept wing aircraft could be flown safely at low speeds, development of new swept wing USN fighters began. The USN deployed the new radar-equipped F2H-3 and F2H-4 for all-weather fleet defense after the conclusion of the Korean War, but only as a stopgap measure until the much faster F9F Cougar, F3H Demon, and F4D Skyray could be deployed in significant numbers. Later variants of the Banshee only served for a few years on the front lines and saw no action. Similarly, the F2H-2P was superseded by the F9F-8P (later RF-9J) variant of the F9F Cougar and the F8U-1P (later RF-8A) variant of the F8U Crusader as these faster aircraft became available.
In 1951, the RCN expressed interest in replacing their obsolescent Hawker Sea Furies with Banshees, drafting a $40 million deal for 60 new aircraft. Unfortunately, due to fiscal wrangling in the Canadian Cabinet, the purchase was not approved until after Banshee production had been shut down in 1953. The RCN was forced to acquire second-hand USN aircraft, 39 at a cost of $25 million. The aircraft were delivered from 1955 to 1958 and flew from HMCS Bonaventure (CVL-22) or as NORAD interceptors from shore bases.
In order to improve the Banshee's capabilities as a long-range interceptor, the RCN equipped the aircraft with the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile. The RCN conducted sea trials of the Sidewinder in November 1959, during which several remotely-piloted drone aircraft were shot down. After the retirement of the F2H-3, the Canadian military would not deploy another aircraft armed with the Sidewinder missile until the introduction of the CF-18 Hornet in 1982.
The Banshee, although initially well-liked by its Canadian pilots for its flying qualities, began to suffer from problems in RCN service. Two Banshees and their pilots were lost after in-flight structural failures of the folding wing mechanism, and another Banshee suffered an apparent brake failure aboard Bonaventure and rolled off the carrier's deck, falling into the ocean and drowning its pilot. The RCN would eventually lose 12 of its original 39 Banshees to accidents, a loss rate of over 30%.
Utilization of the Banshees fell as the RCN shifted its primary focus to anti-submarine warfare (ASW). Bonaventure was too small to accommodate many Banshees while carrying an adequate number of CS2F Trackers to conduct around-the-clock ASW patrols, so the carrier began to frequently leave port with no Banshees aboard. Furthermore, the Canadian military was coming under increasing political pressure to cut its budget, and the increasingly obsolescent Banshees were becoming expensive to maintain as years of punishing carrier service and the harsh North Atlantic climate took their toll. The last RCN Banshees were retired without replacement in September 1962. They were the only jet-powered carrier-based fighters ever deployed by the RCN.
Banshees were the primary aircraft of the short-lived RCN Grey Ghosts aerobatic team. The team's name was a play on the Banshee name and the RCN color scheme. The RCN's Banshee fleet was too small to maintain a special contingent of aircraft for airshow service, so the team simply flew whichever active-duty Banshees were available at the time of each show.
Three of the former RCN Banshees survive today:
- 126464 at the Canada Aviation Museum in Ottawa, Ontario
- 126402 at the Shearwater Aviation Museum at CFB Shearwater in the Halifax Regional Municipality, Nova Scotia
- 126334 at the Naval Museum of Alberta in Calgary, Alberta
The remaining RCN Banshees were cut up for scrap or destroyed as practice targets.
Units Using the Banshee
- VX-3 (Evaluation) (F2H-1)
- VF-171 (F2H-1, then F2H-2)
- VF-11 (F2H-2)
- VF-12 (F2H-2)
- VF-22 (F2H-2)
- VF-62 (F2H-2)
- VF-172 (F2H-2)
- VC-61 (F2H-2P)
- VC-62 (F2H-2P)
- VC-4 (F2H-3)
United States Marine Corps
- VMF-122 (F2H-2)
- VMF-214 (F2H-2)
- VMJ-1 (F2H-2P)
- VMJ-2 (F2H-2P)
- VF-870 (F2H-3)
- VF-871 (F2H-3)
- VX-10 (Test Squadron) (F2H-3)
- The Banshee was nicknamed "Banjo" by its crews. The lengthened F2H-3 and F2H-4 variants were nicknamed "Big Banjo".
- While Canadian pilots did it routinely, American Banshee pilots flatly refused to even attempt landing on HMCS Bonaventure during joint operations due to her small size.
- The F2H-1 Banshee's landing gear had a unique feature—the nosegear was capable of partially collapsing itself (informally known as "kneeling"), lowering the nose by a significant distance. This allowed the ground crews to do certain maintenance chores without using stepladders.
- On August 9, 1949, Lt. J. L. Fruin lost control of his F2H-1 while performing aerobatics. He was forced to eject, becoming the first American pilot to use an ejector seat during an actual in-flight emergency.
- Following World War II, the USN and USAF became involved in a struggle to determine which branch would be in charge of nuclear weapons deployment. The USAF boasted that its new B-36 Peacemaker bomber was capable of flying so high that it was invulnerable to fighter interception. However, in August of 1949, a USN F2H-1 was used to take a picture of Washington DC from an altitude of 51,000 feet, easily verifiable from an analysis of the photo and demonstrating its capability to operate at altitudes in excess of that required to intercept the B-36.
- The F2H-2 was involved in a significant USN accident during the Korean War. On 16 September 1951, a damaged F2H-2 returning to USS Essex (CV-9) missed the recovery net and crashed into several F9F Panthers and F2H Banshees parked at the front of the carrier's deck. The crash and subsequent fire killed seven sailors and destroyed four aircraft. This mishap would play a role in the USN's subsequent decision to equip all future aircraft carriers with angled flight decks for safer airplane recovery.
- The aircraft was made famous by its central role in the 1953 James A. Michener novel The Bridges at Toko-Ri. The subsequent 1955 movie of the same name used F9F Panthers in place of Banshees for all flight sequences, although parked Banshees are visible in the background of several scenes.
- Crew: 1
- Length: 48 ft 2 in (14.68 m)
- Wingspan: 41 ft 8.8 in (12.72 m)
- Height: 13 ft 11 in (4.24 m)
- Wing area: 294 ft² (27.31 m²)
- Empty weight: 13,183 lb (5,980 kg)
- Max takeoff weight: 28,500 lb (12,930 kg)
- Powerplant: 2× Westinghouse J34-WE-34 turbojets, 3,250 lbf (14.5 kN) each
- Maximum speed: 527 mph (458 knots, 848 km/h) at 10,000 ft (3,100 m)
- Range: 1,716 mi (1,491 nm, 2,672 km)
- Service ceiling: 46,500 ft (14,173 m)
- Rate of climb: 5,900 ft/min (300 m/s) from sea level
- Guns: 4× 20 mm (0.787 in) Colt Mk 16 cannon, 150 rounds/gun
- 8× 60 lb High Explosive rockets or
- 6× 500 lb bombs and 2× 60 lb H.E. rockets
- Missiles: 2× AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles (in RCN service)
- Jackson, Robert (1998). Air War Korea 1950-1953. Shrewsbury, England: Airlife Publishing Ltd.. ISBN 1-85310-880-4.
- Cook, D. Glenn. McDonnell F2H-3 Banshee 126464. Canada Aviation Museum Aircraft. Retrieved on 2006-09-08.
- Snowie, J. Allan (1987). The Bonnie, HMCS BONAVENTURE. Erin, Ontario: The Boston Mills Press. ISBN 0-919783-40-6.
- McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee. Joe Baugher's Encyclopedia of American Military Aircraft. Retrieved on 2006-09-08.
- McDonnell F2H-3 Banshee. Joe Baugher's Encyclopedia of American Military Aircraft. Retrieved on 2006-09-08.
- McDonnell Banshee. Shearwater Aviation Museum Aircraft History. Retrieved on 2006-09-08.
- Navy sequence (before 1962): FH - F2H - F3H - F4H
- Unified sequence (after 1962): F-1 - F-2 - F-3 - F-4 - F-5
- List of fighter aircraft
- List of military aircraft of the United States
- List of military aircraft of the United States (naval)
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