24 August 2008

A plane's history

"Could of been a contenter category" today folks.

So we are in 1952 and in the middle of the Korean War. One of the primary lessons being learned at the time with the conflict over "MiG Alley" is the need for speed and the ability to maneuver. One of the ways to improve this was by use of the area rule effect, or "Coke Bottle" effect as it was called since the fuselages started to look one of the Coca-Cola bottle that was common in the
vending machines at the time. Grumman realizing that both variants of their F9F airframe the Panther and Cougar couldn't handle themselves against the MiG-15's that the USAF F-86's were flying against at the time. Grumman decided to try and apply the area rule effect to the F9F-8 Cougar as an internal redesign, they labeled it the G-98. However early on during the airframe changes it was realized that a whole new aircraft was going to come out of this. It wasn't just a little nip and tuck. Rather a full scale tear down and rebuild it "6 Million Dollar Man" style.

The aircraft was built around the Curtiss-Wright J65 engine, which itself was a copy of the Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire. This engine is the same that was being used by the British in their Gloster Javelin, Hawker Hunter, and Handley-Page Victor. The aircraft featured a cockpit well forward of the fuselage. It was covered by a rearward sliding bubble canopy. The nose was a small sharp pointed affair that provided good visibility over the nose for the pilot to see during a landing. It was also big enough to accommodate a simple ranging radar as well to give it limited all-weather capability. The wing was manufactured different from most normal construction techniques. The main wing box was milled from light alloys that incorporated integral stiffeners. This was all done to save weight. What does that mean Southern? Well basically think of it this way with your house instead of nailing each piece of dry wall on the internal frame of your house, the builder would take rebar cover it in rebar and then cut it to size to fit your dimensions. One of the more interesting features with this aircraft is that instead of folding up with the wing tips, they folded down.

BuAir was seriously impressed with the design that in April of 1953 they ordered a pair of prototypes. It was initially assigned the designation number by BuAir of XF9F-8, but the Grumman Design G-99 (which was an improved version of the basic F9F Cougar) became the F9F-8 and the G-98 was assigned the designation XF9F-9. Due to problems of engine delivery with the after burning variant of the J-65, Grumman mounted a non-after burning version.

The aircraft took to its first flight with this underpowered engine on July 30th of 1954 with famed Grumman test pilot Corwin "Corky" Meyers at the controls. Even on that first flight with that subpar engine the Tiger showed it had something going right with it. It almost achieved Mach 1 on that first flight. Not three months later in October of 1954 the second prototype took flight. Flight testing progressed was moved out to Edwards AFB just before the holidays. It was out in California that the Tiger was mated with the engine it was designed for and it was the second US Navy fighter (behind the Douglas F4D Skyray) to achieve Mach 1 in level flight. Things were just looking better and better for this Grumman Fighter. During flight testing there was only a few things that turned up about the airframe which were easily solvable. It was in the early half of 1955 that the Navy finally realized that this aircraft was a totally new aircraft completely different from Panther/Cougar family. So they assigned it the next number in line with their scheme, F11F-1, and the name Tiger was carried over from the Grumman designation.

The Navy had this aircraft equipped with four 20mm cannons (since it was found post Korea that the 50 cals just couldn't do it anymore in jet combat), this aircraft was also one of the first Grumman aircraft hardwired from the beginning for the new AAM-N-7 Sidewinder infrared air to air missile. It would be typically armed with Sidewinders or drop tanks on its under wing pylons. Just prior to accepting the aircraft the Navy asked for a few more changes to the airframe from lessons learned during carrier trials. The need for fillets on the wings, which do a better job of control airflow over the wing, were added. As well as adding some additional fuel cells in the vertical tail and around the intakes to increase the range from about 900nm from the carrier to just under 1050nm. The other change asked for was the addition of an inflight refueling probe, going on the standard that all new Navy aircraft will have an inflight refueling system installed. The final change was a six inch extension to the nose to incorporate a new fire control radar system. These new "Long-Nose" Tigers with all these changes started with the second batch of production versions. The initial ten short nose Tigers were issued to between a testing squadron and VA-156 (a day fighter squadron). It wasn't until the end of the year that VA-156 received a full complement of "Long-Nose" Tigers and returned their first few Tigers for overhaul at Bethpage, Ny.

The aircraft enter service with the United States Navy The Tiger unfortunately had a short service life in the United States Navy. There were a number of things the primary reason was that about the same time the F-11F Tiger was entering service the Navy had received from Vought an aircraft design to satisfy a 1952 Naval Fighter contract. This aircraft from Vought was the XF8U-1 Crusader. An airplane which was going to have a famous and absolutely wonderful career with both the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps, but a few other nations in the world. Both the Tiger and Crusader were very capable and comparable aircraft but in the end the Crusader could do it just that much better in some aspects of the performance envelopes. One of the other reasons the F11F was only accepted for a short while is that aircraft was accepted at a time when the Navy was reviewing the role of its fighter aircraft at the time and instead of crossing the beach and mixing it up with enemy aircraft over enemy territory or near the fleet, rather there was a growing need to prevent enemy bombers from delivering nuclear weapons against the fleet. The Tiger was phased out of active duty service in 1961.

Over all the US Navy accepted the Tiger into seven fleet squadrons, VA-156 (later VF-111 in 1959), VF-21, VF-33, VF-24 (later VF-211), VF-51, VF-121, and VF-191. As it was removed from service the aircraft was relegated to being an advanced jet for fighter pilot training and then used as either targets at various ranges around the nation or just taken to the Arizona desert to be stored at the Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center on Davis Monthan AFB. Production stopped at Bethpage on the Tiger in 1959 and only 200 airframes were built.

The Tiger is most remembered for two things. The first is not something that you want to be remembered for, which is shooting yourself down with your own weapons. During a gunnery run pilot Tom Attridge was in a shallow dive and fired his four 20mm cannons at targets. Things were going good, however instead of pulling off his target near the bottom of the dive he continued for a few more seconds only to fly through the burst he fire at the initial start of the run this in turn damaged his aircraft sever enough to warrant a crash landing near the target range.

The other thing that most people remember about the Tiger is that was the jet the Blue Angels flew in between the the F9F-8 Cougar and the F-4J Phantom. The Blue Angels flew the Tiger from 1957 to 1969. This jet was the first jet that they had which could go supersonic.

There was an attempt to update the Tiger with a J79 engine in 1956, Grumman called this the F11F-2 Super Tiger. It was able to hit Mach 2.0 at some of the altitude ranges the J65 engine Tiger was having problems in. For reasons lost to history the Navy decided not to buy the Super Tiger. In turn Grumman spent the next two years trying to market the Super Tiger in NATO (to the Luftwaffe, Royal Dutch Air Force, Belgian Air Force, RCAF) to the Japanese Self-Defense Air Force. However due to a number of reasons most of the people that Grumman tried to offer the Super Tiger to decided to go with other fighters.

The final end of the story for the Tiger came in the late 1970's when Grumman brought two F-11A (as the F11F-1's were referred to post 1962 designation standardization) out of the Desert. Cleaned them up and used both of them at Naval Air Test Center Patuxent River to test inflight thrust control systems. One aircraft was modified with the systems under test and the other one was used primarily as the chase plane. This went from 1973 until late 1975 when they were returned to the Desert. These two Tigers were the last to fly.

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