07 October 2009

The first production version of the Vought F7U Cutlass, the F7U-1, had many shortcomings that were to be rectified in the next version, the F7U-2. Only 19 F7U-1s were built by Vought at their Grand Prairie, Texas, facility. Nearly all were used exclusively for Vought flight testing and evaluation by US Navy test pilots. The exception came when when two F7U-1s were forced upon the Blue Angels in 1952 as an adjunct to the team's existing Grumman F9F-5 Panthers.

Vought had successfully lobbied its supporters within the Navy's BuAer and OpNav to assign the two F7U-1s to the Blue Angels for the 1952 season as a publicity exercise to drum up more support for the mediocre fighter aircraft. In the early part of the 1952 season, the team's Panthers were grounded temporarily due to fuel control problems and when the F7U-1 Cutlass worked, it performed to astonished crowds as it demonstrated its afterburners (the Cutlass was the first Navy jet to designed from the outset to have afterburners), its 540-degree per second roll rate as well as its exotic tailless configuration.

However the Cutlass was a maintenance headache and the pilots frequently encountered a serious of design problems and inflight emergencies and when the grounding of the F9F-5 Panther ended later in the show season, the Blue's maintenance officer and the two Cutlass pilots wanted the aircraft grounded permanently. After a final demonstration at NAS Memphis (home of the Navy's Technical Training Center), the F7U-1s were left behind to become, ironically, maintenance ground trainers.

Source: US Naval Air Superiority: Development of Shipborne Jet Fighters 1943-1962 by Tommy H. Thomason. Specialty Press, 2007, 112-114.

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