Late in 1944, the US Navy sent requests out to industry for carrier-based
jet fighters, having earlier contracted with McDonnell for the twin-engined
XFD-1 Phantom. The response to that second request resulted in three
further designs being chosen for limited production: the Vought XF6U-1
Pirate, the McDonnell XF2D-1 Banshee, and the North American NA-134.
It was hoped that these fighters would be available in time for the
invasion of Japan, intended for May 1946. As detailed in Chapter 1,
NAA's NA-134 design soon developed into the swept-wing XP-86 for the
Air Force, but the Navy stood by the straight-winged proposal. Constrained
by the need for good low-speed handling qualities, the naval design
began to diverge markedly from the XP-86, even before the latter adopted
a swept wing. The Navy ordered three prototypes of a revised NA-135
on 1st January 1945, and when the mock-up was unveiled during March
1945, it featured a large removable panel in the upper fuselage to
aid in removal of the J35 engine. By comparison, the XP-86 mock-up
instead featured a rear fuselage which could be detached in its entirety
for this purpose. It is worth also noting that the NA-135 did not
feature any capability for wing folding. As a result of the wing-mounted
dive brake panels, which when designed into the aircraft made wing
folding difficult to accommodate, NAA had come up with a novel kneeling
nose undercarriage. This enabled a small swivelling jockey wheel to
be fitted to the nose, allowing the aircraft to be closely stacked,
tail-high aboard carriers. The three NA-135 aircraft were designated
XFJ-1 by the US Navy.
first XFJ-1 was completed in January 1946, the engine was not ready
until June of that year and taxi tests did not begin until late July.
The aircraft finally flew on 11th September with Wallace Lien as pilot.
The second and third aircraft flew in October 1946 and February 1947
respectively, and following completion of manufacturer's testing,
were all handed over to the Navy in September 1947. It is interesting
to note that the NAA constructor's numbers for these XFJ-1s immediately
preceded those of the XP-86 prototypes.
In May 1945,
the Navy had ordered one hundred production FJ-1s under Contract Noa(s)6911,
although in reality only thirty FJ-1s rolled off the production lines
at Inglewood. Known by NAA as the NA-141, the first FJ-1 was delivered
straight to the Naval Test Center at Patuxent River in Maryland on
5th October 1947. Along with six other NATC machines, this aircraft
began the service testing of the type, though with just thirty aircraft,
large-scale squadron assignment was never on the cards. The last of
the FJ-1s was delivered on 30th April 1948, just one month before
the first P-86A Sabre was delivered to the Air Force. The production
version differed little from the XFJ, the main difference being the
deletion of the wing-mounted dive brakes, in favour of more conventional
fuselage-mounted panels. It is interesting to note that the FJ-1 retained
the tailfin-mounted pitot probe. This location was also initially
chosen for the P-86.
The only US
Navy squadron to receive the FJ-1 was VF-5A, based at NAS North Island
near San Diego. Commanded by Cdr. Evan 'Pete' Aurand, the squadron
received its first FJ-1 on 15th November 1947 and VF-5A eventually
operated twenty-four of the type. Alongside VF-17, which flew the
FH-1 Phantom, VF-5A was tasked with proving the suitability of jet
operations at sea, and the unit began an exhaustive familiarisation
program which took in many landings aboard a simulated aircraft carrier
deck painted on the runway at North Island. Pete Aurand had the distinction
of carrying out the first carrier landing of an FJ-1, when on 16th
March 1948 he brought his aircraft aboard the USS Boxer, CV-21. The
squadron executive officer, Lt. Cdr. Robert Elder followed him. Aurand
then just managed to take off from the Boxer without catapult assistance,
but the poor engine acceleration proved too much of a risk, and thereafter
catapult assistance was considered obligatory for FJ-1 carrier operations.
It is not known when the name 'Fury' was assigned to the FJ-1, but
by early 1948 the name was in regular use.
aircraft did not really demonstrate much suitability to carrier landings,
the undercarriage in particular being a weak spot. In August 1948,
VF-5A was redesignated VF-51 and was ordered to deploy up to eight
FJ-1s aboard USS Princeton, CV-37. Four aircraft were loaded aboard
at San Diego and the remaining machines were to arrive whilst the
carrier was at sea. Which was fine in principle, but the pilot of
one FJ-1, Bu No. 120371 the last aircraft built, landed hard, broke
the whole left wing off and went over the side. Luckily he was rescued,
but the cruise did not proceed well, with further landing accidents
occurring. Ignominiously, Aurand was ordered to take his aircraft
back off the ship within two days.
was not doom and gloom for VF-51. In September 1948 the unit entered
seven FJ-1s in the Bendix Trophy Race for jets. Flying from Long Beach,
California to Cleveland in Ohio, VF-51 aircraft took the first four
places, ahead of two California ANG F-80s. First past the post was
Ensign F.E. Brown, in 4 hours 10 minutes, 44.4 seconds, followed two
and a half minutes later by Cdr. Aurand. Much was made of the fact
that the Navy aircraft had carried all operational equipment, including
At least one
further carrier operation was accomplished by VF-51; during February
1949, again aboard USS Boxer. However, in May of 1949 the FJ-1s were
phased out in favour of the new F9F-3 Panther. Surplus FJ-1s were
then overhauled at Alameda before being allotted to Naval Air Reserve
units, beginning with NAR Oakland in early March 1950, though the
unit only received seven aircraft. NAR Los Alamitos then received
a trickle of aircraft, eventually being assigned ten Furys, and further
units at Dallas and Olathe then took up other machines. NAR Dallas
was only assigned three FJ-1s, operating them from 14th June to 4th
October 1951. Tail codes for the NAR aircraft was as follows: 'F'
for Oakland, 'L' for Los Alamitos, 'D' for Dallas and 'K' for Olathe.
VF-5A/VF-51 FJ-1s wore the code 'S'. NAR Olathe retired the last of
the type in June and July 1953.
Prototype XFJ-1 Fury Bu 39053 on roll-out at Inglewood. The
three prototypes differed from the production aircraft
in a number of ways; most noticeable was the lack of
wing-root extensions and the short jet pipe 'pen nib'
The second XFJ-1 Fury Bu 39054 differed in a number of
details from the number 1 aircraft. In this view,
the lack of engine cooling ducts and the slightly
different nose leg are visible.
Bu No. 39053, the first XFJ-1 Fury in flight over
California during late 1946. Fin-mounted pitot probe
location was also chosen for the XP-86 Sabre.