Before there was the magnificent F-4 Phantom, there was the McDonnell F3H Demon.
McDonnell Aircraft was formed in 1939, and aside from a prototype or two, it spent most of World War II building parts and subassemblies for other airplane manufacturers. About halfway through the war, McDonnell began designing what would become the US Navy’s first all jet fighter, the FH-1 Phantom. Only 62 Phantom’s were built, but for a new company to manage to snag such an important contract was a significant break. Moving from a parts supplier to an aircraft designer and builder was a big business step.
As soon as the FH-1 was underway, it became apparent that a larger, more powerful plane with the same general layout would be a better fit for the Navy. Soon production shifted to the F2H Banshee.
The Banshee was a very successful design, and served throughout the Korean War alongside the better known Grumman F9F Panther series. Almost 900 Banshees would serve in the US Navy, Marine Corps and as the only carrier borne fighter of the Royal Canadian Navy.
But even as the Banshee was rolling off the production lines, the era of the straight winged subsonic fighter was clearly nearing an end. The performance of swept wing F-86 and MiG-15 jets in Korea, and the era of supersonic flight ushered in by the Bell X-1 in 1947 meant the next McDonnell product would be a swept wing supersonic jet. Not only that, advances in radar meant it would be intended to serve as an all-weather air defense platform for the carrier group. And so McDonnell began development of the F3H Demon.
Advances in avionics, and aerodynamics were very rapid in the 1950s. The problem was, advances in jet engine design was rapid, but not universally successful. And McDonnell and the Navy made a bad bet that the Westinghouse J40 engine would be successful. It wasn’t. In fact, the J40 engine was a disaster, with atrocious reliability problems. The first production run of 58 J40 powered F3H-1 Demons were grounded, useful only for ground maintenance trainers.
McDonnell convinced the Navy to switch to the less powerful (and still not terribly reliable) Allison J71 engine. Roughly 450 Allison powered Demons would roll off the lines, with later models armed first with Sidewinder missiles, and then the early AAM-2-N Sparrow missile.
The Demon was not considered a failure, but nor was it genuinely considered a successful design. The much larger, more powerful F4H Phantom II would sometimes be called “twice the jet the Demon was” because it had not just two engines, but two crewmen as well.
Still, the Demon did have its good points. It has excellent visibility from its cockpit, and was generally considered a very pleasant airplane to fly, if a somewhat underpowered around the boat.
And speaking of the boat, here’s some home movies of some Demons operating from USS Hancock (CVA-19).
The Demon would have a relatively short service life, entering squadron service around 1956, and with the last leaving the fleet in 1964, replaced by the Phantom.
H/T to Cybermodeler