Around 1944, the Navy started to get interesting in a jet powered, carrier capable fighter. The advent of jets in the European theater, coupled with the diminishing returns of increased horsepower of piston engines meant sooner or later then Navy would have to operate jet powered fighters simply to keep up.
North American Aviation (NAA), with little experience working on Navy products, put forward a proposal for what was essentially a jet powered P-51 Mustang. The Wings and empennage were very similar to its piston engined predecessor.
Designated the FJ-1 (Fighter, first type built by NAA, first model) and name Fury, it first flew in September of 1946. It was not a resounding success, and only 31 were built.
But while the FJ-1 wasn’t terribly successful as a carrier borne aircraft, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with it structurally, and most of the basic design concept was quite sound.
So when the Air Force started to look for replacements for its first generation F-80 and F-84 jets, NAA took their experience with the FJ, and melded it with German World War II research in swept wings to provide higher speeds. The result was the legendary F-86 Sabre. Beyond the swept wing, the F-86 was pretty much an entirely new design, though the basic layout was similar, and the FJ experience also provided a great deal of experience in designing a jet fighter.
The success of the F-86 prompted the Navy to take another stab at an NAA product, this time a virtual clone of the F-86 modified for carrier operations.
In spite of being a completely new design, this second attempt was still designated in the FJ series, being the FJ-2 Fury (being a completely new design, it more properly should have been designated the F2J-1).
This new Fury first flew 62 years ago today, on December 27, 1951. Low speed handling around the carrier was still less than wholly satisfactory. Additionally, production of the FJ-2 competed with the Air Force’s need for F-86s. Eventually, 200 FJ-2s would be built, with most serving with Marine Corps land based squadrons.
FJ-2 Fury. It’s similarity to the Air Force F-86 is obvious in this pose.
FJ-1 (Left), FJ-2 (Right)
The re-engined FJ-3 was externally very similar, but replaced the FJ-2’s J47 engine with the more powerful J65. While the FJ-3 was still not a particularly good carrier aircraft, it was a significant improvement over the FJ-2, and eventually over 500 would be built, operated by both Navy and Marine fighter squadrons.
FJ-3s would eventually be equipped with the AIM-9/GAR-8 Sidewinder missile, and a fixed air-to-air refueling probe, in both cases, among the first Navy aircraft to be so equipped.
FJ-3 Fury equipped with Sidewinder missiles.
Even as the FJ-2/3 series was in testing, the Navy sought a further improved variant. With a completely redesigned wing, and a new internal arrangement that shared only the basic configuration, this final Navy version, the FJ-4 Fury, was really a new plane, and more properly should have been designated the F3J. Even so, the FJ-4 Fury clearly shared some of the DNA of its predecessors.
FJ-4 armed with 2.75” rocket pods. Note the refueling probe on the port wing.
The FJ-4B would introduce a new, critical capability to Navy carriers. Mated with the new, second generation of “small” tactical nuclear weapons, the FJ-4B introduced an ability for the Navy to perform nuclear strikes that didn’t require huge bombers such as the AJ Savage or the A3D Skywarrior.
The FJ-3 and FJ-4 would serve into the 1960s, though mostly replaced in frontline service by F-8 Crusaders and A-4 Skyhawks. After the 1962 Tri-Service designation system was adopted, the FJ series became the F-1.
The introduction of the FJ-2 with its swept wing and near transonic speeds meant Naval Aviators would have to learn some new concepts about flying, particularly about critical Mach numbers. And so the Navy helpfully produced a video for the fledgling Fury flyer.
Incidentally, given the shennanigans with the FJ designation, you should know there was yet another FJ fighter. Back in 1944, there was interest in a “navalized” carrier capable version of the P-51. A Mustang was modified and carrier trials were conducted but it was not adopted for production or use. The modified Mustang was designated the FJ-1 Seahorse, and so the FJ-1 Fury really should have been the F2J. The Seahorse is a story for another day.