McDonnell F2H Banshee
The McDonnell F2H Banshee (internally, the McDonnell Model 24) was a single-seat carrier-based jet fighter aircraft deployed by the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps from 1948 to 1961. It was one of the primary American fighters used during the Korean War and was the only jet-powered fighter deployed by the Royal Canadian Navy. The aircraft's name is derived from the banshee of Irish mythology.
|Role||Carrier-based fighter aircraft|
|National origin||United States|
|First flight||11 January 1947|
|Retired||30 September 1959 USN|
1960 USN, USMC (F2H-2P)
1961 USNR, USMCR
12 September 1962 RCN
|Primary users||United States Navy|
United States Marine Corps
Royal Canadian Navy
|Produced||1947 to 1953|
|Developed from||McDonnell FH Phantom|
Design and development
The Banshee was a development of the FH Phantom, and planning started before the Phantom entered production. McDonnell engineers intended the aircraft to be a modified Phantom that shared many parts with the earlier aircraft, but it soon became clear that the need for heavier armament, greater internal fuel capacity, and other improvements would make the idea unfeasible.
The new aircraft would use much larger and more powerful engines, a pair of newly developed Westinghouse J34 turbojets, nearly doubling the total thrust from 3,200 to 6,000 lbf (14,000 to 27,000 N) compared to the Phantom but since the larger engines still had to fit within the wing roots, this required a larger and thicker wing. The more powerful engines used more fuel, so the fuselage had to be enlarged and strengthened to increase the fuel capacity. The Navy was replacing the obsolete World War II .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns with 20 mm (0.79 in) cannon, four of which were mounted under the nose where pilots would not be blinded by muzzle flash when firing at night, a problem with the Phantom. The Banshee incorporated an ejection seat, which the Phantom lacked, and a large number of improvements to other aircraft systems. The cockpit was pressurized and air-conditioned, and the flaps, landing gear, folding wings, canopy, and air brakes were electrically rather than pneumatically operated. The front of the windscreen was bulletproof glass that was electrically heated to prevent frost.
The Banshee had a "kneeling" nose landing gear with of a pair of small wheels forward of the regular nosewheel. The regular nosewheel would be retracted so the aircraft rested on the smaller wheels. It could taxi with its nose down, redirecting the hot jet blast up to enhance safety, and to allow parked aircraft to be tucked under each other to save space. This was usually removed from later variants as it was found to be of little use and caused deck handling problems.
A mockup was completed in April 1945, designated XF2D-1. The project survived the end of war cancellations, but development slowed down and the first of three prototypes was not completed until late 1946. Its first flight was on 11 January 1947, from Lambert Field, St. Louis, Missouri. During the first test flight, the aircraft demonstrated a climb rate of 9,000 ft/min (2,700 m/min), twice that of the F8F Bearcat, the Navy's primary fleet defense interceptor. It was redesignated XF2H-1 in 1947, after the Navy ordered an unrelated jet fighter from Douglas, which had previously been assigned the manufacturer's letter D. 56 were ordered in May 1947. In August 1949 an F2H-1 set a US Navy jet fighter altitude record of 52,000 ft, but it wasn't enough to beat the 59,430 ft reached by a de Havilland Vampire on March 23, 1948.
Similarities to the FH-1 meant that McDonnell was able to complete the first F2H-1 in August 1948, a mere three months after the last FH-1 was built. Compared to the XF2D-1, the F2H was larger all around and fuel capacity was increased to 877 US gal (3,320 l; 730 imp gal). The empennage was new, the dorsal fin was reduced and dihedral was eliminated from the horizontal stabilizers. The wing and tail were reduced in thickness to increase the critical Mach number and different airfoil sections were used. The F2H-1 was retrofitted with 3,150 lbf (14,000 N) engines as they became available.
Although the Navy was satisfied with the F2H-1, it was the more capable F2H-2 that was most widely used. With Westinghouse J34-WE-34 3,250 lbf (14,500 N) thrust engines, it had significantly improved performance. The wings were strengthened to add provision for 200 US gal (760 l; 170 imp gal) wingtip fuel tanks but unlike those of the contemporary Grumman F9F Panther, the Banshee's wingtip tanks were detachable. Two armament pylons were added under each inboard and outboard wing, for a total of eight, allowing the aircraft to carry 1,580 lb (720 kg) of stores, consisting of up to four 250 lb (110 kg) bombs and four 5 in (130 mm) unguided rockets. The "kneeling" nose gear was omitted from the F2H-2 and most subsequent Banshee variants.
The F2H-2 was the basis for three sub-variants.
The F2H-2B had strengthened wings and an additional pylon adjacent to the intake on the port side to allow it to carry a 1,650 lb (750 kg) Mark 7 nuclear bomb or a 3,230 lb (1,470 kg) Mark 8 nuclear bomb. To compensate for the increased load, the F2H-2B was fitted with stiffer landing gear struts and a pilot-switchable aileron power boost. The latter was necessary to control the roll to the left when a heavy nuclear bomb was carried. One cannon was removed to provide room for the electronics needed to arm the weapon. 25 F2H-2Bs were built.
The F2H-2N was the US Navy's first carrier-based jet night fighter, making its first flight on February 3, 1950, although only 14 would be built. It had a 2 ft 10 in (0.86 m) longer nose that housed a Sperry Corporation AN/APS-19 radar which required that the cannons be moved back to make room. An F2H-2N was returned to McDonnell to serve as the prototype for the enlarged F2H-3. Some F2H-2Ns retained the "kneeling" nose feature of the earlier F2H-1.
The F2H-2P photo-reconnaissance version had six cameras in a 2 ft 5 in (0.74 m) longer nose and was the US Navy's first jet-powered carrier-based reconnaissance aircraft. First flight was on Oct 12 1950 and 90 were built. The pilot could rotate the cameras in both vertical and horizontal planes, and the aircraft could carry a pair of underwing pods that each contained 20 flash cartridges for night photography. The camera bay was electrically heated. The F2H-2P was a valuable photo-reconnaissance asset due to its long range for a jet aircraft, high ceiling of 48,500 ft (14,800 m), and speed that made it difficult to intercept even by other jet aircraft. As a result, the F2H-2P was responsible for supplying roughly 40% of the USAF Fifth Air Force's daytime reconnaissance needs.
The F2H-3 was an all-weather fighter, with a larger diameter Westinghouse AN/APQ-41 radar fitted in an 8 ft 0 in (2.44 m) longer fuselage which also increased its internal fuel load by over 50%, to 1,102 US gal (4,170 l; 918 imp gal). This allowed the detachable wingtip fuel tanks to be reduced to 170 US gal (640 l; 140 imp gal) each, and due to the increased internal capacity, these were now seldom needed. The cannons were moved back, away from the nose to accommodate the larger diameter radar while allowing for an increased ammunition capacity. The horizontal stabilizers were lowered from the fin to the fuselage and were given dihedral, and on all but the first aircraft, large triangular fillets were added to the leading edges. The weapons load was increased to 3,000 lb (1,400 kg) and AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles would be cleared for use. The F2H-3 also added provisions for aerial refueling consisting of as-needed bolt-on, in-flight refueling probe that replaced the upper port cannon. 250 were built, with the first flight being made on March 29 1952.
The final variant to be produced was the F2H-4. It had a Hughes AN/APG-37 radar and slightly more powerful Westinghouse J34-WE-38 3,600 lbf (16,000 N) engines that increased the aircraft's service ceiling to 56,000 ft (17,000 m). The F2H-4 was externally indistinguishable from the F2H-3.
McDonnell also created at least 48 proposals, including a long range scort fighter (model 24H), a two-seat night fighter (model 24N), a two-seat trainer (model 24P), a two seat interceptor (model 24Q), several single seat interceptors (models 24R & 24S), multiple variants with lengthened fuselages, alternate wings and tails, swept wings (model 24J, and others) and afterburners (model 24K, 24L and others), and various engine (model 24W, and others) and radar installations (model 24Y, and others), few of which were built. Plans for adding afterburners were canceled after a test aircraft suffered extensive damage to the wing and tail after the afterburners were lit.
Production ended on 24 September 1953 after 895 aircraft had been delivered. Under the 1962 unified designation system surviving F2H-3 and F2H-4 were redesignated F-2C and F-2D respectively while F2H-1 and F2H-2 (F-2A and F-2B) had already been retired. No Banshee flew under the new designations as the last examples were already in storage when the new designations came into effect.
US Navy and Marine Corps
From mid-1950, the F2H-2 had negligible exposure to hostile aircraft over Korea, due to several factors. During the opening weeks of the war, the North Korean air force had been almost completely annihilated by UNC fighter units. Later, North Korea and its allies were unable to operate from airfields near combat zones in South Korea, forcing them to operate out of air bases in China. As a result of their air superiority throughout most of 1950, UNC squadrons were able to carry out ground attack missions instead, especially close air support and interdiction of North Korean army supply lines.
The Banshee, like most naval jets of its generation, had a serious handicap. Naval air services, including the USN, had resisted faster, swept wing designs from fears that poor low speed flight characteristics made them unsafe to operate from aircraft carriers. Consequently, the Banshee was almost 100 mph (160 km/h) slower than the latest land-based fighters. Their obsolescence was reinforced by the introduction of the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 in November 1950. Most UNC air combat missions, such as patrols over "MiG Alley", were undertaken by North American F-86 Sabres of the USAF Far East Air Force. Consequently, F2H fighters operated most of the war beyond the range of enemy fighters. Banshee pilots scored no victories, while three F2H-2s were lost to anti-aircraft gunfire.
The F2H-2P flew reconnaissance missions during the Korean War, primarily with the USMC. At that time of the war, surface-to-air missiles had not yet been deployed and few enemy aircraft had radar, while AA guns were ineffective against fast, high-altitude targets. Air defense was still largely visual, and so a lone high-flying F2H-2P was almost impossible for ground forces to shoot down. The aircraft was in demand for its invaluable battlefield photography. F2H-2Ps had USAF fighter escorts when in areas frequented by enemy fighters. Despite being deployed constantly throughout the war, only two F2H-2Ps were lost to radar-directed AA gunfire, and suffered no air-to-air losses.
The USN deployed the radar-equipped F2H-3 and F2H-4 for all-weather fleet defense after the Korean War as a stopgap measure until the swept wing Grumman F-9 Cougar and McDonnell F3H Demon, and delta wing Douglas F4D Skyray could be deployed. Later Banshee variants were only briefly on the front lines and saw no action. Similarly, the F2H-2P was superseded by the F9F-8P (later RF-9J) variant of the F9F Cougar and the F8U-1P (later RF-8A) variant of the Vought F8U Crusader as these aircraft became available.
In 1954, a Banshee flew coast-to-coast, nonstop without refueling, approximately 1,900 miles (3,100 km) from NAS Los Alamitos, California to NAS Cecil Field, Florida, in approximately four hours.
During the Korean War, the US was concerned about the lack of intelligence available should there be a war in Europe involving the Soviet Union, in particular on the location of airfields. The US Navy's "Operation Steve Brody", with four F2H-2P photo reconnaissance Banshees were to fly from a carrier on routine maneuvers off Greece and fly north, photographing Russian territory bordering the Black Sea. In May 1952, this was presented to Secretary of Defense Robert A. Lovett, but Lovett cancelled it.
Later, in 1955, fears of a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan resulted in Marine F2H-2Ps making 27 overflights of possible Chinese staging areas without incident, escorted by Marine fighter Banshees based in South Korea.
Royal Canadian Navy
In 1951, the RCN drafted a $40 million deal for 60 new Banshees to replace obsolete Hawker Sea Furies. Unfortunately, due to fiscal wrangling in the Parliament of Canada, the purchase was not approved until after Banshee production had ended in 1953. The RCN acquired 39 second-hand US Navy F2H-3s for $25 million which were delivered from 1955 to 1958. They would be flown from HMCS Bonaventure or as NORAD interceptors from shore bases.
In order to improve the Banshee as an interceptor, the RCN equipped their aircraft with AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. The RCN conducted sea trials of the Sidewinder in November 1959, during which several remotely piloted drones were downed.
Although initially well liked by its Canadian pilots for its flying qualities, the Banshee began to suffer from problems. The RCN would eventually lose 12 of its original 39 Banshees to accidents, a loss rate of 30.8%. One Banshee and its pilot were lost after an inflight failure of the folding wing mechanism, and another Banshee suffered a brake failure and rolled off the carrier's deck into the ocean, drowning its pilot.
Banshee utilization fell as the RCN shifted to anti-submarine warfare (ASW), which didn't anticipate aerial attacks, and so there was little need for the Banshee. Also, due to its small size no room was left for Banshees when Bonaventure was carrying enough Grumman CS2F Trackers for around-the-clock ASW patrols, so it regularly operated without them. The Canadian military was also under pressure to reduce its budget, and the obsolescent Banshees were expensive to maintain as their age and punishing carrier service, and the harsh North Atlantic were taking their toll. Having been only jet-powered carrier-based fighters deployed by the RCN the last examles were retired without replacement in September 1962.
Banshees were the primary aircraft of the short-lived RCN Grey Ghosts aerobatic team. The team's name was a play on the Banshee name and the RCN color scheme. The RCN was too small to dedicate aircraft for airshows, so the team flew available operational Banshees for each show.
- XF2H-1 (XF2D-1)
- Prototype aircraft (originally designated XF2D-1), three built.
- F2H-1 (F-2A)
- Single-seat fighter version, two 3,000 lbf (1,400 kgf) Westinghouse J34-WE-22 turbojet engines. Initial production version, 56 built.
- F2H-2 (F-2B)
- Improved version with detachable wingtip fuel tanks, eight underwing weapons pylons for 1,580 lb (454 kg) stores capability, 3,250 lbf (1,475 kgf) Westinghouse J34-WE-34 turbojet engines. Second production version, 308 built.
- Single-seat fighter-bomber version, strengthened portside weapons pylon for 3,230 lb (1,465 kg) Mark 8 nuclear bomb, 25 built.
- Single-seat night fighter version with APS-19 radar housed in lengthened nose, 14 built.
- Single-seat photo-reconnaissance version with lengthened nose housing six cameras, 89 built.
- F2H-3 (F-2C)
- Single-seat all-weather fighter version, lengthened fuselage, redesigned tail, increased fuel capacity, eight underwing weapons pylons for 3,000 lb (1,361 kg) bomb load, APQ-41 radar in enlarged nose. 250 built. Redesignated as F-2C in 1962.
- Proposed photo-reconnaissance version of the F2H-3; not built.
- F2H-4 (F-2D)
- Improved all-weather fighter version, 3,600 lbf (16,000 N) thrust Westinghouse J34-WE-38 turbojet engines, APG-37 radar, otherwise similar to F2H-3. Final production version, 150 built. Redesignated as F-2D in 1962.
- Unofficial designation for unbuilt proposed swept-wing version with wings, tail and afterburners similar to those of the XF-88 Voodoo;
- United States Navy
- VX-3 (Evaluation) (F2H-1, F2H-4)
- VF-11 (F2H-2, F2H-4)
- VF-12 (F2H-2)
- VF-22 (F2H-2, F2H-4)
- VF-23 (F2H-3)
- VF-31 (F2H-3)
- VF-41 (F2H-3)
- VF-52 (F2H-3)
- VF-62 (F2H-2, F2H-2P)
- VF-92 (F2H-3, F2H-4)
- VF-101 (F2H-1, F2H-2B)
- VF-114 (F2H-3)
- VF-141 (F2H-3)
- VF-152 (F2H-3)
- VF-171 (F2H-1, F2H-2)
- VF-172 (F2H-1, F2H-2, F2H-2B, F2H-4)
- VC-3 (F2H-3)
- VC-4 (F2H-2B, F2H-2N, F2H-3, F2H-4)
- VC-61 (F2H-2P)
- VC-62 (F2H-2P)
Aircraft on display
Surviving examples are on display in private collections and at several naval air stations and marine corps air stations in the United States as well as in Canada.
- BuNo 124988 – Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum, MCAS Miramar, California.
- BuNo 125052 – USS Lexington Museum, Corpus Christi, Texas.
- BuNo 127693 – NAS Oceana Air Park at NAS Oceana, Virginia.
- BuNo 125690 – Pima Air & Space Museum, adjacent to Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona.
- BuNo 126673 – National Naval Aviation Museum at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida.
- BuNo 128885 – Howell Park in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
- Crew: 1
- Length: 48 ft 2 in (14.68 m)
- Wingspan: 41 ft 9 in (12.73 m)
- Height: 14 ft 6 in (4.42 m)
- Wing area: 294 sq ft (27.3 m2)
- Airfoil: wing root: NACA 65-212, wing tip: NACA 65-209
- Empty weight: 13,183 lb (5,980 kg)
- Gross weight: 21,013 lb (9,531 kg)
- Max takeoff weight: 25,214 lb (11,437 kg)
- Powerplant: 2 × Westinghouse J34-WE-34 turbojet engines, 3,250 lbf (14.5 kN) thrust each
- Maximum speed: 580 mph (930 km/h, 500 kn) at sea level
- Cruise speed: 461 mph (742 km/h, 401 kn)
- Combat range: 1,168 mi (1,880 km, 1,015 nmi) on internal fuel
- Ferry range: 1,710 mi (2,760 km, 1,490 nmi) with 2 170-gal drop tanks
- Service ceiling: 47,000 ft (14,000 m)
- Rate of climb: 6,000 ft/min (30 m/s)
- 4 × 20 mm (0.787 in) Colt Mk 12 cannon, 220 rounds/gun (upper pair), 250 rounds/gun (lower pair)
- 8 × 60 lb (27 kg) High Explosive rockets
- 6 × 500 lb (230 kg) bombs and 2 × 60 lb (27 kg) H.E. rockets
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era
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- Mills, 1991, p.227
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- Francillon, 1979, pp.427–429
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- Ginter, 1980, p.3
- Wagner, 1982, p.504
- F2H-2 Standard Aircraft Characteristics chart dated 1 November 1949
- Mesko, 2002, p.22
- Mills, 1991, p.229
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- Mills, 1991, p.228
- Ginter, 1980, p.6
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- Cook, D. Glenn. "Aircraft on display: McDonnell F2H-3 Banshee 126464". Archived 2008-03-09 at the Wayback Machine Canada Aviation and Space Museum, 2009. Retrieved: 1 March 2009.
- Snowie, 1987, p. unk.
- Andrade, 1979, p.186
- Andrade, 1979, p.189
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- "Skyhawk Association Home Page". Archived 2008-03-21 at the Wayback Machine U.S.A. Navy A-4 Skyhawk Units, VA-152 Fighting Aces, 2009. Retrieved: 24 October 2009.
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- "McDonnell F2H-2 'Banshee'". Archived 2007-11-08 at the Wayback Machine Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation and Aviation Museum, 2008. Retrieved: 1 March 2009.
- "F2H Banshee/126334." aerialvisuals.ca Retrieved: 8 April 2015.
- "F2H Banshee/126402." Shearwater Aviation Museum. Retrieved: 29 October 2012.
- "F2H Banshee/126464." Canada Aviation Museum. Retrieved: 29 October 2012.
- "F2H Banshee/124988." Flying Letherneck Museum. Retrieved: 15 January 2015.
- "F2H Banshee/125052." USS Lexington Museum. Retrieved: 29 October 2012.
- "F2H Banshee/127693." aerialvisuals.ca Retrieved: 15 January 2015.
- "F2H Banshee/125690" Pima Air & Space Museum Retrieved: 15 January 2015.
- "F2H Banshee/126673." National Naval Aviation Museum. Retrieved: 15 January 2015.
- "F2H Banshee/128885." aerialvisuals.ca Retrieved: 8 April 2015.
- "F2H Banshee/126419." National Naval Aviation Museum. Retrieved: 15 January 2015.
- Francillon, 1979, p.432
- Wilson, 2000, p.90
- Standard Aircraft Characteristics: F2H-3,-4 Banshee 1951
- Lednicer, David. "The Incomplete Guide to Airfoil Usage". m-selig.ae.illinois.edu. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
- Mesko, 2002, p.37
- Andrade, John. U.S.Military Aircraft Designations and Serials since 1909. Midland Counties Publications, 1979, ISBN 0-904597-22-9
- Baugher, Joe. "McDonnell F2D-1/F2H-1 Banshee." Joe Baugher's Encyclopedia of American Military Aircraft, 3 September 2003. Retrieved: 23 January 2011.
- Francillon, René J. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft since 1920. London: Putnam, 1979. ISBN 0-370-00050-1.
- Ginter, Steve (1980). McDonnell Banshee F2H-1, -2, -B, -N, -P, -3, -4. Naval Fighters No. Two. Ginter. ASIN B000UFNZ8E.
- Jackson, Robert (1998). Air War Korea 1950–1953. Shrewsbury, UK: Airlife. ISBN 1-853108804.
- "McDonnell Banshee." Shearwater Aviation Museum Aircraft History, 2009. Retrieved: 1 March 2009.
- "McDonnell Banshee Serial Number 1263334." Naval Museum of Alberta, 2009. Retrieved: 1 March 2009.
- Mesko, Jim. FH Phantom/F2H Banshee in action. Carrollton, Texas, USA: Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc, 2002. ISBN 0-89747-444-9.
- Mills, Carl. Banshees in the Royal Canadian Navy. Willowdale, Ontario: Banshee Publication, 1991. ISBN 0-9695200-0-X.
- Polmar, Norman. "Historical Aircraft – The Flying Banshee". USNI Naval History, January 2010.
- Standard Aircraft Characteristics: F2H-3,-4 Banshee. Washington, D.C.: United States Navy, 01 May 1951.
- Snowie, J. Allan (1987). The Bonnie: HMCS Bonaventure. Erin, Ontario: Boston Mills Press. ISBN 0-919783406.
- Thomason, Tommy H. U.S. Naval Air Superiority: Development of Shipborne Fighters 1943–1962. North Branch, MN: Specialty Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1-58007-110-9.
- Wagner, Ray. American Combat Planes. New York: Doubleday, Third edition, 1982. ISBN 0-385-13120-8.
- Wilson, Stewart. Combat Aircraft since 1945. Fyshwick, Australia: Aerospace Publications, 2000. ISBN 1-875671-50-1.
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