History mystery.

Author:Dorr, Robert F.


The mystery aircraft in our Summer issue was the U.S. Navy's Vought F6U-1 Pirate, an early jet fighter of the immediate post-World War II period. The Pirate harkens back to the late 1940s, when jet engines were far from fully reliable and it was not yet clear that jet-powered warplanes would replace those pulled through the sky by propellers.

Chance Vought Aircraft's first jet, designed by Rex Biesel's F6U Pirate, was conservative and not much of a departure from the propeller-driven fighters of the period.

In December 1944, while the war in the Pacific was still under way, the U.S. Navy issued contracts to several airplane makers for the service's first jet-powered fighters. However, by the time the first XF6U-1 Pirate was trucked from Stratford to Muroc Dry Lake, California, the war had ended. The plane's first flight, on October 2, 1946, piloted by Boone Guyton, was a fiasco. The Westinghouse J34 engine seized and Guyton had to make a dead-stick landing. The need to repair the plane's lubrication system, coupled with uncharacteristic flooding at Muroc, delayed flight-testing for months.

Vought built three XF6U-1s. One was used for static tests and never flew. After Navy air ace Paul Thayer joined the program, two Pirates were flight-tested. In 1948, the first XF6U-1 was modified to become the first Navy aircraft with an afterburner. Also in 1948, the two airworthy XF6U-1s went to Patuxent River, Maryland, to be evaluated by Navy pilots. By then, even though flight result demonstrated that the Pirate was not a stellar performer, the Navy ordered thirty production F6U-1 Pirates, each armed with four 20-mm cannons. One of these became the sole F6U-1P photo reconnaissance...

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