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Vought F7U Cutlass

The Vought F7U Cutlass was a United States Navy carrier-based jet fighter and fighter-bomber of the early Cold War era.

It was a tailless aircraft for which aerodynamic data from projects of the German Arado and Messerschmitt companies, obtained at the end of World War II through German scientists who worked on the projects, contributed, though Vought designers denied any link to the German research at the time.

The F7U was the last aircraft designed by Rex Beisel, who was responsible for the first fighter ever designed specifically for the U.S. Navy, the Curtiss TS-1 of 1922.

Regarded as a radical departure from traditional aircraft design, the Cutlass suffered from numerous technical and handling problems throughout its short service career.

The type was responsible for the deaths of four test pilots and 21 other U.S. Navy pilots. 

Over one quarter of all Cutlasses built were destroyed in accidents.

The Cutlass was Vought’s entry to a U.S. Navy competition for a new carrier-capable day fighter, opened on 1 June 1945.

Former Messerschmitt AG senior designer Woldemar Voigt, who supervised the development of numerous experimental jet fighters in Nazi Germany, contributed to its design with his experience in the development of the Messerschmitt P.1110 and P.1112 projects.

The requirements were for an aircraft that was able to fly at 600 miles per hour (970 km/h) at 40,000 feet (12,000 m).

The design featured broad chord, low aspect ratio swept wings, with twin wing-mounted tail fins either side of a short fuselage.

The cockpit was situated well forward to provide good visibility for the pilot during aircraft carrier approaches.

The design was given the company type number of V-346 and then the official designation of “F7U” when it was announced the winner of the competition.

Pitch and roll control were provided by elevons, though Vought called these surfaces “ailevators” at the time. 

Slats were fitted to the entire span of the leading edge.

All controls were hydraulically powered.

The very long nose landing gear strut required for high angle of attack take-offs lifted the pilot 14 feet into the air and was fully steerable. 

The high stresses of barrier engagements, and side-loads imposed during early deployment carrier landings caused failure of the retract cylinder’s internal down-locks, causing nose gear failure and resultant spinal injuries to the pilot.

The aircraft had all-hydraulic controls which provided artificial feedback so the pilot could feel aerodynamic forces acting on the plane.

The hydraulic system operated at 3000 psi, twice that of other Navy aircraft.

The hydraulic system was not ready for front-line service and was unreliable.

The F7U was underpowered by its Westinghouse J34 turbojets, an engine that some pilots liked to say, “put out less heat than Westinghouse’s toasters.”

Naval aviators called the F7U the “Gutless Cutlass” and/or the “Ensign Eliminator” or, in kinder moments, the “Praying Mantis”.



Three prototypes ordered on 25 June 1946.

First flight, 29 September 1948, all three aircraft were destroyed in crashes.


The initial production version, 14 built.

Powered by two J34-WE-32 engines.


Proposed version, planned to be powered by two Westinghouse J34-WE-42 engines with afterburner, but the order for 88 aircraft was cancelled.


Designation given to one aircraft built as the prototype for the F7U-3, BuNo 128451.

First flight: 20 December 1951.


The definitive production version, 180 built. Powered by two Westinghouse J46-WE-8B turbojets.

The first sixteen aircraft, including the prototype, were powered by interim J35-A-29 non-afterburning engines.


Photo-reconnaissance version, 12 built.

With a 25 in longer nose and equipped with photo flash cartridges none of these aircraft saw operational service, being used only for research and evaluation purposes.


This missile capable version was armed with four AAM-N-2 Sparrow I air-to-air beam-riding missiles.

98 built of which 48 F7U-3 airframes under construction were upgraded to F7U-3M standard.

An order for 202 additional aircraft was cancelled.


Designation given to a cancelled order of 250 aircraft to be used in the ground attack role.





41 ft 3.5 in (12.586 m)


39 ft 8 in (12.1 m)

Span wings folded

22.3 ft (6.80 m)


14 ft 0 in (4.27 m)

Wing area

496 sq ft (46.1 m2)

Empty weight

18,210 lb (8,260 kg)

Gross weight

26,840 lb (12,174 kg)

Max take-off weight

31,643 lb (14,353 kg)


2 × Westinghouse J46-WE-8B after-burning turbojet engines, 4,600 lbf (20 kN) thrust each dry, 6,000 lbf (27 kN) with afterburner


Maximum speed

606 kn (697 mph, 1,122 km/h) at sea level with Military power + afterburner

Cruise speed

490 kn (560 mph, 910 km/h) at 38,700 ft (11,796 m) to 42,700 ft (13,015 m)

Stall speed

112 kn (129 mph, 207 km/h) power off at take-off

93.2 kn (173 km/h) with approach power for landing

Combat range

800 nmi (920 mi, 1,500 km)

Service ceiling

40,600 ft (12,375 m)

Rate of climb

14,420 ft/min (73.3 m/s) with Military power + afterburner

Time to altitude

20,000 ft (6,096 m) in 5.6 minutes

30,000 ft (9,144 m) in 10.2 minutes

Wing loading

50.2 lb/sq ft (245 kg/m2)



Take-off run

In calm conditions 1,595 ft (486 m) with Military power + afterburner



4 20mm M3 cannon above inlet ducts, 180 rpg


4 with a capacity of 5,500 lb (2,500 kg), with provisions to carry combinations of:


4 AAM-N-2 Sparrow I air-to-air missiles.



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