While McDonnell’s first naval jet, the FH-1 Phantom, had proven the viability of operating jet fighters from carriers, the FH was slower than contemporary USAAF jets. To address this problem the US Navy asked the St Louis, Missouri, company to develop a successor to the Phantom. The result was essentially an enlarged derivative of the earlier design with bigger guns and, eventually, radar. The Korean War was its testing ground.
First flown in January 1947, three Banshee prototypes were followed by 56 production F2H-ls. The most numerous variant was the F2H-2, which appeared at the beginning of the Korean War. More than 400 were built, including a number of F2H-2Ps (the Navy’s standard carrier-based reconnaissance aircraft for many years) and radar-equipped F2H-2Ns, which had limited all-weather capability.
The Banshee’s high-altitude capability made it ideal for escorting USAF B-29s on bombing missions over North Korea. Five squadrons with Task Force 77 and a land-based Marine reconnaissance unit were active with the type for two years.
A true all-weather jet fighter entered Navy service in 1952 when the F2H-3 left the St Louis factory. During its production life the Banshee was produced with fuselages of three different lengths; few other fighters were stretched’ 25 per cent during their lives. The F2H-3 had a 2.44-metre longer fuselage, which could accommodate more fuel, and a much improved radar. In all, 250 were delivered, the last in 1953, together with 150 F2H-4s with bigger engines and yet another radar set.
The only other nation to fly the Banshee was Canada, whose navy operated 39. In 1962, the few surviving F2H-3s and -4s were redesignated F-2C and D.
Four 20-mm cannon were filled in the F2H. These were positioned under the nose in the F2H-1 and -2, but were set further back, beneath the cockpit, in the F2H-3 and -4. An APQ-41 radar set, with a large 71-cm (28-in) dish, was fitted in the F2H-3’s nose, and provided a true night/all-weather capability. It was much improved over that of the F2H-2N.
The Banshee was the Canadian navy’s first operational jet and equipped two squadrons. VF-870 and VF-871. Both units were deployed aboard HMCS Bonaventure. They were Canada’s last earner fighters. Underwing racks were fitted to carry two 227-kg (500-lb) or eight 113-kg (250-lb) bombs. Royal Canadian Navy Banshees were modified to carry two Sidewinder air-to-air missiles – a capability that US Navy Banshees did not have.
The F2H-3’s fuselage was 2.24 m (7 ft 4 in) longer than that of the F2H-2, allowing two additional fuel tanks to be fitted. Total fuel capacity, including wingtip tanks, was almost three times that of the first F2H-1S. By the lime the final US Navy Banshee was retired in the mid 1960s, it was the last machine in the service that was fitted with Westinghouse turbojet engines. The most powerful J34s fitted were those of the F2H-4. which produced 16 kN (3600-lb-thrust).