Passing in Review … a series of modeling reviews by Ned Barnett
by Jose Fernandez and Przemyslaw Skulski
Color Profiles by Teodor Liviu Morosanu
Publisher: Mushroom Model Publications, ©2014
$13.99 Pounds Sterling
Catalog #9135, B5 size, trade paperback, 136 color pages
The F3D Skyknight was designed to provide night and all-weather protection for aircraft carriers in the immediate post-World War II era. It was designed big to accommodate both bulky vacuum-tube (but state-of-the-art) radar along with four deadly 20mm auto-cannons. The impact of nocturnal Japanese aerial attacks had left their mark on the USN, which knew it needed something that could protect the fleet from such attacks. However, it saw little use in its intended role, instead serving with Marines from land bases during the Korean war, shooting down several MiG-15 fighters at night, along with several other aircraft – though not first deployed to Korea until September of 1952, the F3D still shot down more enemy aircraft (6) than any other type of Naval fighter. In addition to aerial interdiction, they also flew escort missions for USAF B-29 night bombers. Only one F3D was lost to a Chinese MiG in aerial combat just weeks before the armistice.
Because of its size and relative lack of performance, it was quickly nicknamed “Willie the Whale.” This “relative lack of performance” is instructive – with a top speed of 565 mph, the F3D had a 25 mph absolute speed advantage over the Me 262, which was – at the time the F3D was being designed (1945) – the world’s fastest operational jet fighter. Three years later when it first flew, it was already in the second tier of jet fighters when it came to performance. As a night fighter, it needed range and endurance more than speed, and with two drop tanks, it had a range of 1,375 miles – remarkable for an early generation gas-guzzling jet aircraft. That range gave it a two-hour cruise 100 miles out from the carrier, with a fuel reserve – again, remarkable performance for a late ‘40s jet.
Post-war, as it was replaced by all-weather versions of the McDonnell Banshee and other radar-equipped fighters, the big aircraft was used in the development of AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missiles. When the Navy then called for a missile-armed fleet defense fighter, Douglas re-designed the F3D as the missile-armed F6D Missileer. It was to carry the AAM-N-10 Eagle – a precursor of the highly-effective Phoenix missile, but it was canceled and its aerial armament system was adapted to the General Dynamics/Grumman F-111B, an ill-fated bastard stepchild of the Air Force’s F-111 Aardvark. Though the B model was a bust, it led to Grumman’s Tomcat, which had an upgraded version of the Missileer’s armament system.
Then, as the redesignated F10, an electronics warfare version, the EF-10B, served in Vietnam as a precursor to the Grumman EA6A Intruder and later EA-6B Prowler. It was used to jam radar guiding the Soviet SA-2 ground-to-air missiles over North Vietnam, including strikes to Hanoi and Haiphong.
Relatively underpowered and never a big performer, Marines in Vietnam nicknamed this aircraft the Drut, which wasn’t a complement (read it backwards). Still, it became the only jet fighter that served in both Korea and Vietnam, and continued in Vietnam through 1969, ending up a 20-year operational deployment period, unrivaled by any other aircraft of its vintage. Eventually, it was replaced by the EA-6 Intruder and the EKA-3 Skywarrior.
The Marines retired its last Skyknight in 1970, though Raytheon kept using bailed airframes through the 1980s as a test aircraft. In this, it was akin to the post-combat use of the British Canberra – a plane that, while outdated, just kept soldiering on because it was so flexible and so useful.
This is typical of the excellent format of the Mushroom Yellow Series of books. Trade paperback in size and manufacture, with 136 pages of mostly color photos, along with profiles and other illustrations, this is The Essential Book for those who want to model Willie the Whale, either as a MiG killer, as a testbed, or as a bane for all SAMs in the skies over North Vietnam. It includes the following:
- History of the aircraft design and deployment
- A review of all nine versions, with photos, illustrations and line drawings
- The aircraft in Korea
- Electronic warfare
- The aircraft in Vietnam
- A review of each squadron which used the F3D
- Surviving F3Ds – including the one on the USS Intrepid in NYC
- Technical descriptions and “walk-around” photos of all major physical features of the F3D
If this is an aircraft which, because of its place in history, fascinates you, this book is for you. However, if you’re a modeler who wants to build one of the recent spate of good kits of the F3D, you’d be crazy to attempt one without having this book at your side.
“Passing in Review” is a series of modeling kit, accessory and reference material reviews, written exclusively for the MHISC Forum by Ned Barnett – IPMS Life Member and Former IPMS Quarterly Journal Editor.