Home History Does the Cutlass Deserve Its Bad Reputation?

Does the Cutlass Deserve Its Bad Reputation?

by Enochadmin

The Vought F7U Cutlass originated with a 1945 Navy fighter competitors for a carrier-based fighter capable of fly at 600 mph and 40,000 ft. Vought Plane was identified for uncommon designs, and the futuristic-looking V-346A proposal was actually that. It will be the Navy’s first swept-wing fighter and America’s first tailless fighter to enter manufacturing. The proposal resulted in a contract for 3 XF7U-1 prototypes. 

The prototypes of the bat-like fighter first flew in 1948 and the preliminary take a look at flights had been encouraging. Powered by two Westinghouse J-34 turbojets, the airplane promised pace and distinctive maneuverability. However a litany of woes quickly dogged this system. 

Phil Lavullis introduced his data of sheet steel and restore methods to the Halfway Museum for the Cutlass restoration challenge. Right here he works on one of many airplane’s wings. (Robert Bernier)

After almost a decade of growth, in 1954 the Navy started equipping 13 squadrons with the F7U-3 model of the carrier-based jet. However the “Gutless Cutlass” proved to be accident-prone and affected by gremlins. Even with extra highly effective Westinghouse J-46 engines the massive twinjet proved woefully underpowered, particularly throughout demanding provider approaches. It acquired a foul popularity and the Navy had withdrawn it from frontline service by late 1957.

Vought manufactured 307 F7Us, with manufacturing ending in 1955. Fewer than 10 of these airframes stay right now and one, serial quantity 129565, is at present nearing the top of a restoration at San Diego’s USS Halfway Museum. The Navy accepted this specific jet in 1953 and it final served with assault squadron VA-212 aboard the provider USS Bon Homme Richard earlier than being retired in April 1957 with solely 273 hours on the airframe. The Cutlass ended up as a gate guard at Naval Air Station Olathe, Kansas, for a number of years. The Halfway Museum retrieved it from a Vought retiree group in Texas that had been doing restoration work.

Like many child boomer youngsters, I fueled my fascination with aviation with mannequin airplanes and one my favorites was the F7U with its bulbous cover and spindly nostril gear. So, I made plans to look in on the Cutlass restoration challenge. 

Coming into Halfway’s restoration hangar within the spring of 2021, I used to be instantly impressed by the challenge’s scale. Cutlass components had been scattered all through the hangar. The airplane’s giant, broad wings with tall vertical fins had been indifferent and so they and the 40-foot-long fuselage crowded one aspect of the hangar. The nine-foot nostril gear strut—one of many Cutlass’s problematic design options—touchdown gear doorways, dive brakes and miscellaneous bits and items occupied the opposite aspect. The sounds of rivet weapons and grinders echoed by the hangar as restoration volunteers labored on the jet.

The workforce enlisted the assistance of 4 sailors from a tiltrotor squadron and used a forklift to get the Cutlass’ wings connected. Making your complete challenge harder was the shortage of engineering drawings or perhaps a upkeep handbook. (Courtesy Don Williams)

Halfway Air Wing Mission Supervisor Royce Moke knew he had an enormous job forward of him getting the Cutlass restored for show aboard the plane provider museum. When requested concerning the greatest problem, Moke didn’t hesitate. “Getting the wings fitted again onto the fuselage,” he mentioned. To complicate issues, Halfway’s restoration workforce didn’t take the airplane aside. It arrived in items from the earlier restoration effort. Working with out drawings or a upkeep handbook, Moke had to determine tips on how to hoist the heavy wings and maneuver them right into a place to suit the fuselage’s wing-mounting lugs. He was later capable of enlist the assistance of 4 sailors from VRM-50, a Navy Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor squadron. They volunteered their free time and used a forklift to assist the restoration workforce get the wings on in lower than half a day.

As soon as painted, the restored Cutlass will likely be a uncommon instance of the weird and typically problematic carrier-based airplane. (Courtesy Don Williams)

Then there have been uncommon components with which the restoration crew needed to deal. For instance, the workforce refurbished the wood skids that the Cutlass had on the fin stubs beneath the wings, which typically hit the provider’s deck throughout landings. The replaceable hardwood skids prevented injury to the aluminum. Needing to attenuate airframe weight, Vought had patented a particular fabrication course of for gentle however inflexible airframe skins known as Metalite. A sandwich of balsa wooden with light-weight aluminum skins glued on all sides, Metalite was used across the cockpit and on the wings. Lots of the balsa cores had deteriorated through the years of outside storage. As a result of the airplane wouldn’t return to flight, the workforce saved the Metalite panels across the cockpit space (with their compound curves) in place. For the wing panels, they changed the Metalite with aluminum skins of roughly the identical thickness and used steel spacers to make up for any variations.

Fortunately for the restoration effort, San Diego is a Navy city with many motivated and expert plane technicians. Amongst them is Phil Lavullis, an plane sheet steel employee with 30 years’ expertise repairing broken plane around the globe. “I at all times preferred engaged on issues with my palms and restoring one thing that’s uncommon and among the many final of its type is motivating,” he informed me. However Lavullis discovered the Cutlass to be particularly difficult: “There’s nothing to go on, no blueprints or one other Cutlass close by that we will take measurements from.” 

Regardless of the airplane’s unhealthy popularity, former naval aviator and long-time Halfway Museum member Dick Cavicke stays a staunch defender of the jet. As a younger Navy ensign in late 1954, he was assigned straight out of naval flight coaching to fly F7Us with VF-124. “The Cutlass was extra unique wanting than something I had ever seen, and I used to be anxious to fly it,” he recollects. He acquired almost 400 hours in F7U-3s with two squadrons primarily based at California’s NAS Miramar, making him one of many airplane’s most skilled pilots.  

As of this writing, the Cutlass has been reassembled and desires solely its livery. “Our Cutlass will likely be displayed within the silver steel scheme of the airplane used within the August 1952 provider qualification exams aboard the USS Halfway,” mentioned museum curator David Hanson. And he added, “We wish a Cutlass as a result of it’s an fascinating plane and never many are on public show on this a part of the U.S.” 

The projected completion date for this uncommon provider fighter is late 2022. “Painted on one aspect of the cockpit would be the identify of former Cutlass pilot, and the airplane’s sponsor, Invoice Montague,” mentioned Hanson. “And on the opposite aspect, Wally Schirra’s identify, the good friend and mentor who taught Montague to fly the jet.” Schirra went on to grow to be one of many unique Mercury 7 astronauts and he additionally flew Gemini and Apollo missions, however I believe it’s a secure guess that he by no means forgot what it was wish to fly the Cutlass. 

The Cutlass was famous for its stork-like touchdown gear. (Courtesy Halfway Museum)

this text first appeared in AVIATION HISTORY journal

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