Project Seahorse

So, I took a glance at the stats for today (you people need to make more pageviews, and get your friends to visit!) and saw a post from a bit back about the OV-10 Bronco pretending it was a Seahorse. Which triggered a memory of mine.

There already was a Seahorse. Well, Project Seahorse.

The biggest challenge of fighting in the Pacific theater in World War II was the stupendous distances involved. This was particularly so for fighter aircraft. From Day One, it was clear that no operations could be successful absent control of the skies. But our fighter aircraft had quite limited range. Aircraft carriers could approach quickly to bring fighters in range, and then retreat. But Japanese aircraft generally tended to have much better operational ranges than our own. The F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair had a practical radius of operation of just about 300 miles.

In 1944, as B-29 operations against mainland Japan began, the Army Air Force wanted to find some way to provide escort fighters to these raids. The longest ranged US fighter, the P-51D Mustang, had great legs, but still couldn’t come close to accompanying the B-29s from their bases in China or the Marianas Islands.

Someone came up with the bright idea of basing them from carriers. They would launch an escort while still well outside of the range of Japanese airpower, fly their escort, and return to the carrier.

The first step was to modify a Mustang for catapult take off and arrested landing. 

After that, LT Bob Elder, USN, practiced ashore, and later aboard the USS Shangri-La (CV-38).  Trials totaled 25 take-offs and landings.

As it turned out, the thin laminar flow wing that helped give the Mustang such excellent range and performance also meant it had a relatively high landing speed and a stall speed of 82 knots. But the arresting gear on carriers couldn’t handle the stresses of landing speeds over 90 knots. That 8 knot window might not seem too bad, but in operational service would likely have lead to an unacceptably high accident rate. Given that Iwo Jima and later, Okinawa would soon be available as bases for escorting Mustangs, the idea of a Seahorse was shelved.

You’ll notice, the challenge here was mostly on landing aboard a carrier. Taking off wasn’t that big a deal. While the Mustang was modified with catapult hooks, in those days, most planes didn’t use a catapult, but instead just took off under their own power.

In fact, large numbers of Army Air Force fighters were delivered all over the world on board escort carriers. The carriers would approach within a couple hundred miles of the future home airfield of a squadron of AAF fighters, then launch them.

North American Aviation, maker of the Mustang, paid attention during its brief wartime association with the Navy. Their FJ Fury series of fighters were quite successful, and the Fury’s features show its Mustang roots.

4 thoughts on “Project Seahorse”

  1. OOPS! Same link, sorry. I have always believed that since North American was a division of GMC at the time, the Navy Mustangs would have been actually built at Eastern Aircraft, since that division of GM has some experience with carrier based aircraft. if a folding wing had been desired for the Seahorse, and remember, the SBD did not fold, and onlt the tips of the F8F folded, since Eastern made Grumman designed aircraft, they would have gone with the Grumman Sto-Wing fold design, and we could have seen decks with F3M Seahorses with their wing folded alongside them, like Pegasus!
    I sent that same link to Lex, because he wanted a Mustang of his own, and I thought he should paint it like a Seahorse.

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