F7U-3 Cutlass….or as Naval Aviators called it, The Gutless.

The Gutless, The Ensign Eliminator: Vought’s F7U-3 Cutlass had performance that was…shall we say underwhelming. It was so bad Navy lore has it that the F7U-3 is the sole reason we went from a flat 100 foot pattern at the ship to a descending pattern that starts at 600 feet abeam. It’s Westinghouse J-34 turbojets performance were so anemic, with gear and flaps down the Gutless couldn’t maintain level flight in a turn. Political pressure being what it was, and is (witness the F-35), as often happens the Fleet guys were ordered to “make it work”. Thus the descending pattern.

Even with the descending pattern and extreme caution being used when operating the Cutlass, 25% of them were stricken from the inventory due to crashing. Certainly, the straight deck carriers it was attempting to operate from contributed. And the entire period of prop-jet transition had a horrendous accident rate, in 1958 Naval Aviation killed more pilots than they winged. Still the Gutless will go down in history as one of, if not the, worst.

The swept winged, tailless fighter was indeed ahead of its time. In fact it out ran the available technology of the time to pull it off. I love writing about aircraft like this in my novels: Project 7 Alpha, Vengeance, Endgame in the Pacific and Code Name; Infamy.

Even the Blue Angels couldn’t make it work. They had two for a demo of jet power, while the team still flew the F8F Bearcat, halfway through the inaugural season they grounded them.


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