F9F-2 Panther - Specifications:
- Length: 37 ft. 5 in.
- Wingspan: 38 ft.
- Height: 11 ft. 4 in.
- Wing Area: 250 ft²
- Empty Weight: 9,303 lbs.
- Loaded Weight: 14,235 lbs.
- Crew: 1
- Power Plant: 2 × Pratt & Whitney J42-P-6/P-8 turbojet
- Combat Radius: 1,300 miles
- Max. Speed: 575 mph
- Ceiling: 44,600 ft.
- 4 × 20 mm M2 cannon
- 6 × 5 in. rockets on underwing hardpoints or 2,000 lbs. of bomb
F9F Panther - Design & Development:
Having had success in building fighters for the US Navy during World War II with models such as the F4F Wildcat and F6F Hellcat, Grumman began work on its first jet aircraft in 1946. Dubbed G-79, the design utilized four Westinghouse J-30 jet engines mounted in the wings. This effort later evolved into the two-seat XF9F-1 night fighter. As work progressed, it became clear that the aircraft lacked sufficient space for fuel. As a result, the four-engine design was dropped and the project altered to produce a single-seat day fighter which was dubbed XF9F-2.
Unhappy with the power produced by American-made jet engines, Grumman imported a Rolls-Royce Nene for use in the prototype. This coincided with Pratt & Whitney obtaining a license to build the Nene engine as the J42. A straight-wing fighter with the elevators mounted high on the tail, the XF9F-2 first flew on November 24, 1947, and was powered by one of the Rolls-Royce engines. Performing well, it proved capable of 573 mph at 20,000 feet. As testing moved forward, it was found that the aircraft still lacked the necessary fuel storage. To combat this issue, permanently mounted wingtip fuel tanks were mounted to the XF9F-2 in 1948.
F9F Panther - Production:
Armed with four 20mm cannon, the new aircraft was named "Panther." In addition to the guns, the aircraft was capable of carrying a mix of bombs, rockets, and fuel tanks under its wings. Entering service in May 1949 with VF-51, the F9F Panther passed its carrier qualifications later that year. While the first two variants of the aircraft, the F9F-2 and F9F-3, differed only in their power plants, the F9F-4 saw the fuselage lengthened, tail enlarged, and the inclusion of the Allison J33 engine. This was later superseded by the F9F-5 which used the same airframe but incorporated a license-built version of the Rolls-Royce RB.44 Tay (Pratt & Whitney J48).
While the F9F-2 and F9F-5 became the main production models of the Panther, reconnaissance variants (F9F-2P and F9F-5P) were also constructed. Early in the Panther's development, concern arose regarding the aircraft's speed. As a result, a swept-wing version of the aircraft was also designed. Following early engagements with the MiG-15 during the Korean War, work was accelerated and the F9F Cougar produced. First flying in September 1951, the US Navy viewed the Cougar as a derivative of the Panther hence its designation as F9F-6.
F9F Panther - Operational History:
Joining the fleet in 1949, the F9F Panther was the US Navy's first jet fighter. With the US entry into the Korean War in 1950, the aircraft immediately saw combat over the peninsula. On July 3, a Panther from USS Valley Forge flown by Ensign E.W. Brown scored the aircraft's first kill when he downed a Yakovlev Yak-9 near Pyongyang, North Korea. That fall, Chinese MiG-15s entered the conflict. The fast, swept-wing fighter out-classed the US Air Force's F-80 Shooting Stars as well as older piston-engine aircraft. Though slower than the MiG-15, US Navy and Marine Corps Panthers proved capable of combating the enemy fighter. On November 9, Lieutenant Commander William Amen of VF-111 downed a MiG-15 for the US Navy's first fighter kill.
Due to the MiG's superiority, the Panther was forced to hold the line for part of the fall until the USAF could rush three squadrons of the new F-86 Sabre to Korea. As the Sabre increasingly took over the air superiority role, the Panther began to see extensive use as a ground attack aircraft due to its versatility and hefty payload. Famous pilots of the aircraft included future astronaut John Glenn and Hall of Famer Ted Williams who flew as wingmen in VMF-311. The F9F Panther remained the US Navy and Marine Corps' primary aircraft for the duration of the fighting in Korea.
As jet technology rapidly advanced, the F9F Panther began to be replaced in American squadrons in the mid-1950s. While the type was withdrawn from frontline service by the US Navy in 1956, it remained active with the Marine Corps until the following year. Though used by reserve formations for several years, the Panther also found use as a drone and drone tug into the 1960s. In 1958, the United States sold several F9Fs to Argentina for use aboard their carrier ARA Independencia (V-1). These remained active until 1969. A successful aircraft for Grumman, the F9F Panther was the first of several jets the company provided for the US Navy, with the most famous being the F-14 Tomcat.