The McDonnell FH-1 Phantom was the first U.S. jet aircraft to take off from and land on an aircraft carrier, and subsequently it became the first U.S. jet fighter in operational service with both the Navy and Marine Corps. Its development during World War II was a major technological achievement that played a significant role in transforming U.S. aircraft at sea from piston power to jet propulsion.
The McDonnell FH-1 Phantom was the first U.S. jet aircraft to take off from and land on an aircraft carrier, and subsequently it became the first U.S. jet fighter in operational service with both the Navy and Marine Corps. Its development during the Second World War was a major technological achievement, playing as it did a significant role in transforming U.S. aircraft at sea from piston-engine power to jet propulsion.
In August 1943, the Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics requested the young McDonnell Corporation to begin development of an all-jet, carrier-based fighter aircraft. Westinghouse Electric Corporation was commissioned to design the turbojet engines, and together the teams took on the challenge. After exhaustive tests on the number and size of the jet engines, it was determined that two 19-inch-diameter turbojets mounted in the wing roots would provide the necessary power and fuel economy. The final configuration emerged with two Westinghouse 19 XB-2B engines, a low-wing, single-tail fuselage with the horizontal stabilizer clear of the exhaust, and a single cockpit forward of the leading edge of the wing. The nose held four 0.50-caliber guns. The prototype XFD-1 Phantom first flew on January 26, 1945.
Problems anticipated by the engineers designing the jet included the ability of the airplane to take off in the relatively short length of the flight deck and the ability of the engine to accelerate quickly enough for a wave-off situation or to de-accelerate quickly enough for a good carrier landing.
On July 21, 1946, the Phantom made the first takeoff from and landing on a carrier-the USS. Franklin D. Roosevelt. Impressed with its performance, the Navy ordered production versions, designated the FH-1. Delivery to fleet squadrons began in July 1947, with Fighter Squadron 17A (VF-17A) becoming the first Navy jet squadron to be carrier-qualified and the first operational shipboard jet fighter squadron in the world. This crucial test occurred during carrier operation trials aboard the USS Saipan in May 1948. Pilots of VF-17A made 176 takeoffs, took wave-offs, and simulated combat maneuvers. The Phantom met all the requirements and proved the soundness of the fundamental concept of carrier-based jet aircraft. With the completion of these trials, a new age in naval aviation had begun.
The first Marine Corps unit to receive the FH-1 Phantom was Marine Fighter Squadron 122 (VMF122), stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, North Carolina. MF-122 received considerable recognition with its precision aerobatics team of FH-ls, known as the Flying Leathernecks.
Sixty Phantoms were built under the Navy contract and served during the Korean War and as jet trainers with Reserve units in the States. The Phantom's operational career, limited by newer jet fighters, lasted until 1954 when the type was retired from duty. McDonnell successors, the F2H Banshee, the F3H Demon, the F-101 Voodoo, and the F-4 Phantom II, continued the sound design concept and high performance qualities of the FH-1.
The National Air and Space Museum's FH-1, which served with Marine Fighter Squadron 122 (VMF-122), completed its service life in April 1954, with a total of 418 flight hours. It was transferred to the museum by the U.S. Navy in 1959.