FJ-1 Fury: US Navy’s First Operational Jet

US Navy FJ-1
US Navy FJ-1 Photo: Insomnia Cured Here

Created at a time when jet aircraft were just making their first humble steps towards future dominance, the North American FJ-1 Fury combined features of the old propeller driven planes and new jet-powered ones. It became the first carrier-based fighter jet to be operationally used by the United States Navy, if only for a short time. The experience of using this aircraft helped both the Navy and North American Aviation figure out what a good carrier-based jet should look like. In a matter of years these findings led to the development of some very capable aircraft.

U.S. Navy North American FJ-1 Fury of the Oakland Naval Air Reserve flying over Oakland, California (USA), ca. 1950
U.S. Navy North American FJ-1 Fury of the Oakland Naval Air Reserve flying over Oakland, California (USA), ca. 1950

A jet with Mustang lineage

North American Aviation started developing the Fury in late 1944 and it’s no wonder that it had many traits of the company’s most successful product of the time (some would argue of all times), the P-51D Mustang. Fury’s semblance to its prop-driven predecessor was especially stark in its unswept wings, a conventional tail unit and the bubble canopy.

The plane’s fuselage, on the other hand, was designed around the General Electric/Allison J35 axial flow afterburning turbojet. It was a rather simple configuration in which airflow entered the nose intake and went straight through the fuselage feeding the engine at its rear end.

GE-Allison-J35-Engine Photo: Pierre5018

A limited edition fighter

The first XFJ-1 prototype made its inaugural flight in September 1946. When one of FJ-1 prototypes achieved a speed of Mach 0.87, the aircraft became the fastest among all US fighters. Only for a brief time, of course, because at the time speed records were broken on a truly regular basis. Still, the FJ-1 remained relevant in terms of speed for quite some time and even won a Bendix Trophy Race in 1948.

Although the FJ-1 soon entered serial production, the Navy’s initial order of 100 planes was reduced to mere 30. These were delivered between October 1947 and April 1948. Actually, given all the teething problems experienced by jets in general and carrier-based jets in particular during those times, it was a reasonable and quite common decision. For instance, the Vought F6U Pirate and McDonnell FH Phantom, another jet fighters designed for the Navy at about the same time, were similarly produced in the amount of just 30 and 60 airframes respectively. Their derivatives, though, would see much more extensive production in the following years.

A fleeting career

The VF-5A based at NAS North Island near San Diego, California was the only squadron to use FJ-1s. In March 1948, the FJ-1 made its first carrier landing aboard USS Boxer, and the VF-5A became the first jet fighter to go to sea under operational conditions.

It was, of course, still a very primitive jet. It even lacked pressurization and temperature control in the cockpit, making it far from the most comfortable plane to fly. Even more importantly, it was not very suitable for carrier service. The FJ-1’s wings didn’t fold—such a mechanism wouldn’t go well together with its dive brakes. To compensate for that disadvantage NAA engineers fitted it with a “kneeling” nose undercarriage. But the plane was still quite bulky on the deck, all the same. The FJ-1 took off the carrier on its own, but the operational experience also proved that carriers would need catapults to quickly launch jets into battle.

Once the VF-5A (renamed as VF-51 by then) received more advanced Grumman F9F-2 Panthers in 1949, the FJ-1s were transferred to the US Navy Reserve after just fourteen months of frontline USN service. The FJ-1 thus never fired its six 0.50in machine guns in anger. The type saw use in training roles for another four years before finally retiring for good in 1953.

U.S. Navy North American FJ-1 Fury of Fighting Squadron 5A (VF-5A) "Screaming Eagles" aboard the aircraft carrier USS Boxer (CV-21), March 16 1948
U.S. Navy North American FJ-1 Fury of Fighting Squadron 5A (VF-5A) “Screaming Eagles” aboard the aircraft carrier USS Boxer (CV-21), March 16 1948

More Fury!

The US Air Force got interested in the Fury, too. However, the USAF version, known as XP-86 at the prototype stage, eventually evolved into a very different, swept-wing plane, the F-86 Sabre. This aircraft proved to be such a successful design that the Navy decided they needed to have something like that, too. Responding to that demand North American created the Sabre’s navalized versions, which, in a tribute to their progenitor, were named FJ-2 Fury, FJ-3 Fury, and FJ-4 Fury, even though these planes were a far cry from the early FJ-1.