McDonell F3H Demon by Bob Jellison


The McDonnell F3H Demon

VF-193 Demon over Mount Fuji, flown by LtJg Clint Smith


In 1949, the Navy awarded the McDonnell Company a contract to produce a carrier-based, jet powered, all-weather interceptor designed as a successor to the F2H Banshee and incorporating the latest technology addressing the questions about jet-powered carrier-based tactical planes. The F3H was to be powered by Navy's newest, jet engine, the Westinghouse J-40. The J-40 was promised by Westinghouse to have about twice the thrust of engines then in Navy service (10 to 11,000 lbs. of thrust in military, and 15,000 lbs. in afterburner)

XF3H-1: The experimental version of the Demon.




60 J-40 engined F3H-l's were built - of those 25 never flew and two were converted to F3H-2 prototypes. Of those that flew, 8 were involved in major accidents, three of which were due directly to engine failures. By the time construction of the J-40 engined Demons was stopped, $289 million had been spent, of which $107 million went to Westinghouse for the J-40 engine disaster. Westinghouse, for good reason, soon quit the engine business.

The first flight of the production version of the J-40 engined Demon was in January 1953. During flight testing the engine proved to be inadequate so the Navy decided to equip the 61st and subsequent F3H's with the Allison J-71.


The J-40 powered F3H-l flight test program was described as "sort of a joke," because everyone knew that it would have to be re-engined and that the Navy would never use it. The J-40 engine proved unreliable in every respect but, because of the pressures of the Korean War, aircraft production progressed during prototype testing.

Because of the engine failures all J-40 powered Demon's were grounded. Amazingly, 25 brand new Demons were shipped to Naval Air Training Centers, where they were used as training aids. Changes were made in the second batch of thirty that allowed them to be fitted with the J-71; it would have been too expensive to bring the first up to J-71 standards.

With the exception of the A3 (which did not require a bifurcated intake duct), the Westinghouse engine failures ruined an entire generation of Naval aircraft. Both the F7U "Cutlass" and F3H were aircraft potentially competitive with the Air Force's Century Series fighters, had their original engines performed up to design specifications.

The combination of delayed deliveries, and the degraded performance caused by major engine changes in an established airframe design rendered the F3H Demons relatively ineffectual when they finally reached the fleet.


VF-193 Demon on final approach

In this photo the Demon is carrying a Delmar target boom mounted on the outboard missile pylon and its air driven winch mounted on the inboard missle pylon. This rig enable the pilot to reel out (and in) a finned target made of lightweight plastic which could be trailed on a 5 mile length of piano wire. The target had flares that could be ignited by radio signals to provide a homing heat source for Sidewinder missiles and a radar reflector which provided a target for Sparrow missiles. For Sparrow missile shots the firing aircraft approached the target from the front, receiving a "cleared to fire" from the ground controllers when it passed the tow plane.

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2005 by Bob Jellison

Wednesday, March 23, 2005