The F7U Cutlass Could Get You Killed
Oddball jet fighter tended to crash
Rex Beisel designed the legendary F4U Corsair fighter, a World War II piston heavyweight that served through the Korea conflict and was “one of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps’ finest fighters,” according to the National Naval Aviation Museum.
But Beisel also invented the F7U Cutlass jet, which was not anyone’s idea of a fine fighter. The Cutlass “was ahead of its time and the capabilities of available power plants, resulting in its nickname the ‘Gutless Cutlass,'” the museum notes. “Structural shortcomings and its underpowered engines plagued it, resulting in several deaths and the loss of over a quarter of all F7Us built to operational accidents.”
The 320 Cutlasses that Vought built ended killing 25 pilots in wrecks.
The prototype made its first flight in September 1948, but experienced immediate difficulties. All three XF7U-1 prototypes crashed, as did two of the first 14 production aircraft eventually ordered by the Navy. Subsequently, a 1949 order for 88 F7U-2s was canceled in favor of the F7U-3, which incorporated many improvements. It was still underpowered, however, and had a potentially deadly nose-wheel design.
The nose gear was so tall that, on takeoff and landing, a pilot could barely see in front of his plane.
On the 67th anniversary of the Cutlass’ first flight, the museum took a wry tone. “Some naval aviators who had harrowing experiences in the aircraft maybe wished this had not occurred.”
The ungainly plane did make history, however, by being the Navy’s first fighter to deploy overseas with air-to-air missiles — early Sparrow Is — in 1956.
The Navy retired the Cutlass in 1959.