Jul 5

9 Fascinating Navy Aircraft You Didn’t Know Existed

Thursday, July 5, 2018 12:01 AM


In 2018, over a century after the United States utilized military aircraft in combat for the first time, Naval Aviation constitutes an invaluable instrument of expeditious fire and fury during times of war. Advanced fighter and reconnaissance aircraft allow the U.S. Navy to see farther, shoot faster, and fight fiercer than its adversaries over both sea and land.

However, the U.S. Navy did not arrive at its current state of aeronautical eminence without a great deal of trial and error. Along the way, the United States developed a number of aircraft that appear bizarre, improbable, or downright impractical. The most fascinating of these peculiarities are assembled on the list below:


1. Convair F-2Y Sea Dart

Developed in the early 1950s, the Sea Dart provided an interceptor fighter platform capable of operating with independence at sea. During the post-WWII era, the Navy remained hesitant to develop or purchase supersonic aircraft for use on the decks of aircraft carriers. However, the Navy still wanted to own the fastest fighters in the sky. Convair developed this curiosity as a compromise that offered speed but operated independently of carriers. [1]


2. Vought XF5U-1 “Flying Flapjack”

Taken in 1946, this photograph shows one of the only two prototypes of the Vought XF5U-1 ever constructed. The U.S. Navy purchased the unorthodox aircraft with the intention of developing fighters with low aspect ratios, but mechanical issues prevented the “Flying Flapjack” from ever leaving the ground. In lieu of this, shouldn’t the plane be called a “Grounded Flapjack?” The jury is out. [2]


3. Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket

Unlike the “Flying Flapjack,” the Douglas Skyrocket– a transonic research aircraft– actually got airborne. However, as shown in the photograph, the Skyrocket hitched a ride on the belly of a P2B-1S Superfortress (shown above) to reach its starting altitude. Boasting a structurally robust design, the Skyrocket became the first aircraft to move faster than twice the speed of sound on 4 February 1948. [3]


4. Grumman XF5F Skyrocket

Though it shares a name with its supersonic cousin, the Grumman Skyrocket is entirely one-of-a-kind. Twin engines gave this fighter prototype speed superior to that of cutting-edge bombers in the early 1940s. Because the plane’s curious design degraded pilot visibility, the model was dramatically altered for Grumman’s next iteration of fighter, the F7F Tigercat.


5. Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk

Who says aircraft carriers have to float? In the 1930s, the Navy developed a parasite fighter program, attaching Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk fighters to the rigid-hull airships USS Macon and USS Akron. Thus, the two dirigibles became the first airborne aircraft carriers in history. Though small, the fighters themselves proved reliable and continued in service even after both airships were lost. [5]


6. Lockheed XFV-1 Salmon

As one of the earliest VTOL/STOL concept aircraft developed in the U.S., Lockheed’s XFV-1 emerged from the Navy’s ambition for highly deployable aircraft and foreshadowed a future reliance upon rotary and VTOL/STOL platforms. Rooted in the German Triebfugel design from WWII and marred by a variety of technical shortcomings, the Salmon never made it past the prototype stage. [6]


7. Ryan FR-1 Fireball

Past and future collided in the FR-1 Fireball, the design of which utilized both a propeller and a jet engine. In fact, the Fireball was the first Navy aircraft with a jet engine, and thus acted as a stepping-stone into the age of modern carrier-based aviation. Though the Navy ordered 700 of these aircraft in 1945, the war ended before they saw any combat. [4]


8. Convair XFY-1 Pogo

Shown here conducting a takeoff, Convair’s XFY-1 was intended to act as a fighter capable of operating from small warships. Test pilots successfully operated these aircraft for over 40 flight hours in the mid-1950s, but ultimately the platform proved unwieldy and difficult to land. Just imagine trying to set this aircraft down on the flight deck of a DDG! [7]


9. Martin XP6M-1 SeaMaster

In the 1950s, the Navy needed a means of delivering nuclear weapons with relative stealth and versatility; Martin answered the call with its SeaMaster, a massive, 4-engine seaplane capable of nuclear delivery. Of course, with the development of the Polaris missile, the Navy adopted submarines rather than aircraft as its principal means of nuclear deterrent. As a result, the Navy cancelled the SeaMaster program.

Photos courtesy of the U.S. Naval Institute.

[1] Polmar, Norman. “Historic Aircraft– a Dart from the Sea.” Naval History Magazine, 31 December 2012.

[2] http://www.vought.org/products/html/xf5u-1.html

[3] https://www.nasa.gov/centers/armstrong/news/FactSheets/FS-035-DFRC.html

[4] Holmquist, C.O. “Developments and Problems in Carrier-Based Fighter Aircraft.” Proceedings, vol. 96, no. 5, May 1970.

[5] https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/curtiss-f9c-2-sparrowhawk

[6] Polmar, Norman. “Historic Aircraft– The Tail-Sitters, Part I– Lockheed.” Naval History Magazine, vol. 27, no. 3, June 2013.

[7] Polmar, Norman. “Historic Aircraft– The Tail-Sitters, Part II– Convair.” Naval History Magazine, vol. 27, no. 4, August 2013.

[8] Polmar, Norman. “Historic Aircraft– Great but Impractical Aircraft.” Naval History Magazine, vol. 26, no. 3, June 2012.