NAVY BLUE & GREY
by Larry Davis
This is a history of the Navy/Marine Fury program, basically a blue or grey version of our beloved F-86. The first F-86 was an Air Force version of the Navy FJ-1 Fury, the first operational jet fighter in the Navy. Developed during the late days of WW2, the FJ-1 was a straight wing jet fighter using the axial flow J35-GE-2 engine, rated at 3850 lbs. thrust. This gave the FJ-1 a top speed of 582 mph at 10,000 feet, not enough to compete with the German jets already flying. With that, North American developed a swept wing version which became the P/F-86 Sabre. The Navy had Grumman develop the renowned F9F Panther jet fighter, which was available for use in Korea. But Navy and Marine pilots soon found that it wasn't competitive with the MiG-15 that the Soviets were employing against our forces over Korea. Grumman did indeed, develop a swept version of the Panther - the F9F-6 Cougar. But North American wanted a piece of the Navy pie. They decided to `navalize' the Sabre for carrier operations.
Known as North American project NA-181, the Navy Blue Sabre was an F-86E with carrier launch and retrieval equipment, i.e a landing hook and catapult launch hooks, and a greatly lengthened nose landing gear for a greater angle of attack during carrier launch and retrievals. In addition to that, the XFJ-2 Fury had folding wings and was armed with four Oerlikon 20mm cannons instead of the normal six .50s used in the F-86s. Bob Hoover made the first flight in the XFJ-2 on 27 December 1951.
Although the XFJ-2 prototypes were powered by the same engine used in the F-86E, the J47-GE-13, production airplanes would be powered by the J47-GE-2, a Navy version of the - 27 engine used in the F-86F. This brought performance to a par with the F-86F - top speed was 676 mph at sea level, with a combat ceiling exceeding 41,000 feet. Although the prototypes were delivered in Navy Blue colors, the Navy had no intention of using the FJ-2 Fury as a fleet aircraft. The Navy bought 200 FJ-2s for use by the Marine Corps.
In March 1952, a new engine became avail-able, the J65-W-2 Wright Sapphire, which offered over 7600 lbs of thrust versus the 5200 lbs available with the J47-27 engine in the F-86F. On 11 December 1953, the first of 389 production FJ-3 Furys was rolled out in Columbus. It differed from the FJ-2 in having an enlarged intake to bring more air to the new J65 engine. Otherwise, it was identical to the FJ-2.
The first production FJ-3s were delivered to the Navy in Spring 1954, and VF-173 became the first carrier qualified Fury squadron in May 1955, when an FJ-3 landed aboard USS `Bennington. All the initial aircraft were delivered in Navy Blue. However, in July 1955, the Navy changed its tactical paint scheme from dark blue to medium grey with white under-sides. Other changes included deletion of the leading edge slats and adding a hard wing with fences. Additional hard points were added for ordnance, which now included the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile. In August 1956, VF-211 went to sea aboard USS Bon Homme Richard armed with AIM-9 equipped FJ-3Ms, the first operational squadron to use the Sidewinder in the Pacific. (VA-146s F9F-6s with Sidewinders, had went to sea in the Atlantic a month earlier.) Furies with Sidewinder capabilities, were designated FJ-3M. By August 1956, the Navy had 23 squadrons of FJ-3/FJ-3M Furies in operation, which inluded three squadrons of Marine FJ2 Furies.
Development of the FJ-4 was begun at North American's Columbus plant in February 1953. The main thing the Navy wanted was an increase in internal fuel capacity for longer range. North American not only gave them the additional range, but they also gave the Navy a higher performance aircraft at 35,000 feet. A new thinner wing with greater area, was used on the FJ-4. The first flight of an FJ-4 came on 28 October 1954, and the first of 152 production airplanes were delivered beginning in February 1955.
In December 1956, the first attack version was flown. It was designated the FJ-4B, with six underwing hard points and, like the F-86F-35 and F-86H, was equiped with a LABS computerized bombing system to deliver atomic weapons. North American built 222 FJ-4Bs before production was closed. Between November 1952 and May 1958, North American/Columbus delivered 1112 FJ Fury aircraft to the Navy and Marine Corps.
No portion of this article may be used or reprinted without permission from the President of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association or the editor of Sabre Jet Classics magazine.
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