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McDonnell FD-1 Phantom / FH-1 Phantom



By the beginning of 1943 Westinghouse had made considerable progress with the engines, and the next job was to design an efficient airframe. The US Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics decided to call on the services of the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, the resultant joint effort to be designated XFD-1.

The designers set out to produce the smallest possible fighter that would satisfactorily carry a pilot, four 0.50-inch guns and their ammunition for a specified length of time. Weight, wing area and even engine power were treated as secondary consideration. Everything was to be kept as simple as possible with no "frills" or unnecessary gadgets to complicate production. Unorthodox ideas such as a tailless or tail-first layout (to keep the tail out of the way of the jet exhaust) or a prone position for the pilot were quickly put aside.

The McDonnell engineering team took just about a year to finalise the design of the XFD-1, although a preliminary mock-up inspection was held at St Louis at the end of May 1943. The release of drawings for structural work began on 25 January 1944 and construction of the prototype took a further year. By January, 1945, the last drawings had been finished, the last airframe parts made and assembled. On paper, the Westinghouse 19B was now promising a thrust of 1,500 lb (680 kg) in a version designated WE-19XB-2B for the prototypes of the XFD-1, but, in practice, engines reaching McDonnell were unable to produce this thrust and deliveries were lagging behind airframe availability.


The first prototype McDonnell Phantom during deck-landing trials aboard U.S.S. Franklin D. Roosevelt.


In order to minimise the delay, taxy trials of the first XFD-1, by now named Phantom, began with only one engine installed, and ballast in the other engine bay, during January 1945. Although the engine was producing only 1,165 lb st (528 kgp) at this stage, the company’s chief test pilot Woodward Burke felt confident enough to allow the aircraft to get airborne on 26 January 1945 in what has subsequently become widely recorded as the Phantom’s first flight. According to Kendall Perkins, though, this was only an “initial hop (rising a short way off the ground)”; the first real flight followed a few days later, after the second engine had been installed.

Satisfactory results were recorded in the first few weeks of flight testing, including a speed of 483 mph (778 km/h) at 20,000 ft (6 100 m), an initial rate of climb of 5,000 ft/min (25 m/sec) and a range of 750 mls (1 200 km). Consequently, the Navy was ready to initiate production of its first jet fighter, placing a contract for 100 FD-1s on 7 March 1945. They were to be powered by 1,600 lb st (726 kgp) Westinghouse J30-WE-20 turbojets, these being productionised WE-19s. The production aircraft would closely resemble the prototypes, but would have increased internal fuel capacity, provision for a belly drop tank, a taller, square-tipped fin, slightly lengthened front fuselage and (on all but the first three production aircraft) dive brakes in the upper and lower surfaces of the outer wing panels.

Within a few months of production being launched, the war was over, first in Europe and then against Japan. VJ Day, on 2 September 1945, brought massive and immediate cuts in aircraft contracts in the US and that for the FD-1 was cut back to 30 aircraft, but later increased again to 60. Some consideration was given to using an improved Model 19C version of the Westinghouse engine in the second batch of 30 aircraft, perhaps to have been designated FD-2s, but this did not materialise, and the entire production run was of the FD-1 configuration. After a first flight of a production FD-1 on 28 October 1946, deliveries were made from January 1947 to 29 May 1948, with the designation changing from FD-1 to FH-l halfway through the run, on 21 August 1947 (and then becoming retrospective for the Phantoms already in service).

First production aircraft designed by the company, the McDonnell FH-1 Phantom was notable in being also the first jet designed to operate from an aircraft carrier. The US Navy placed the original letter of intent on 30 August 1943, and the first prototype made its initial flight from St Louis airport, Lambert Field, on 26 January 1945. The type was certainly not over-powered, because the final propulsion system, adopted after many studies of alterna-tives, was two slim Westinghouse 19B engines buried in the wing roots. Later produced in small numbers as the J30, these were hardly enough for adequate performance.

The first flight is thus all the more remarkable in that, at that time, Westinghouse had been able to deliver only one engine, and one of the wing-root engine bays was empty.

At that time McDonnell’s US Navy designator letter was D, the pro-totype being the XFD-1, but because of confusion with Douglas (which also used letter D) McDonnell was assigned letter H, so that the 60 production Phantoms were designated FH-1, first flying on 28 October 1946. They were gentle and easy to fly, and on 21 July 1946 a prototype landed on and took off from USS Franklin D. Roosevelt. The production aircraft were delivered from December 1946 and served mainly with US Marine fighter squadron VMF-122. Their fault was lack of performance and lack of fire-power, and the next-generation F2H Banshee was a vast improvement on both counts And after equipping one US Navy and two USMC squadrons, were withdrawn in 1950.

FH-1 Phantom

Powerplant: two 726-kg (1,600-lb) thrust Westinghouse J30-20 turbojets
Maximum speed 771 km/h (479 mph) at sea level / 813 km/h (505 mph) at high altitude
Cruising speed 215 kt / 399 km/h
Service ceiling 13000 m (43,000 ft)
Range 1110 km (690 miles) without belly drop tank.
Empty weight 3031 kg (6,683 lb)
Maximum take-off weight 5459 kg(12,035 lb)
Wing loading 43.67 lb/sq.ft / 213.0 kg/sq.m
Wingspan 12.42 m (40 ft 9 in)
Length 11.81 m (38 ft9 in)
Height 4.32 rn (14 ft2 in)
Wing area 25.64 sq.m (276 sq ft)
Armament: four 12.7 mm (0.5-in) machine-guns in upper part of nose
Crew: 1


McDonnell FH Phantom



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