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A US Navy F2H-2 Banshee flying over Wonsan, North Korea, 1952


The McDonnell F2H-2 "Banshee"

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By Joe Baugher

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The F2H-2 version of the Banshee differed from the F2H-1 by being fitted with 200-gallon wingtip tanks. It also differed by being fitted with external racks which could carry two 500-pound bombs or six 5-inch rockets. The fuselage of the F2H-2 was slightly longer than that of the F2H-1 and larger capacity fuel tanks were fitted. All of these changes naturally increased the weight as compared to that of the F2H-1, but the increased weight was partially offset by the use of 3250 lb.s.t. Westinghouse J34-WE-34 turbojets.

The F2H-2 was first ordered in May of 1948, and the first example (BuNo 123204) flew on August 18, 1949. A total of 364 F2H-2 Banshees were built, the first being delivered in the winter of 1949 and the last in May of 1952.

There were three variants on the basic F2H-2 theme--the F2H-2B, the F2H-2P, and the F2H-2N. These were produced in parallel with the basic F2H-2.

The F2H-2B was a nuclear strike version of the F2H-2. It was externally similar to the F2H-2, but had some local strengthing of the wings so that the aircraft could carry a 1650-lb Mk 7 or a 3230 lb Mk 8 nuclear bomb underneath the port wing. The F2H-2B was manufactured alongside the "stock" F2H-2 on the McDonnell production line. Fortunately, the F2H-2B was never called upon to carry out its assigned nuclear mission.

The F2H-2P was an unarmed photographic reconnaissance version of the F2H-2. It had the distinction of being the first jet-powered reconnaissance aircraft built for the Navy. It differed from the standard F2H-2 in having a widened and longer nose to provide space for six vertical and oblique cameras. Total length was increased to 42 feet 5.2 inches. All armament was removed. For night photography, a container for 20 flash cartridges could be carried underneath each wing. The first F2H-2P (BuNo 123366) was started down the line as the 184th F2H-2, but was modified during production. It flew for the first time on October 12, 1950. A total of 89 F2H-2Ps were built, the last example being delivered May 28, 1952, this being the last F2H-2 of any type delivered.

Some photographic Banshees were used for special tests, including one on December 16, 1952 when two F2H-2Ps were launched from the USS Princeton (CVA-37) and guided a Regulus cruise missile to a target off the coast of southern California.

The F2H-2N was the single-seat night-fighter version of the F2H-2. It differed from the standard F2H-2 in having a 2-foot 9.6-inch longer nose that housed an AN/APS-19 radar set. The first three F2H-2Ns (BuNos 123300/123302 respectively) started as the 66th to 68th F2H-2 airframes, and were modified during production. The F2H-2N flew for the first time on February 3, 1950. The next eleven F2H-2Ns came off the line one at a time in the midst of batches of standard F2H-2s. This completed the small batch of F2H-2N night fighters.

F2H-2N BuNo 123311 was modified to serve as an aerodynamic prototype for the F2H-3 all-weather fighter version.

The F2H-2 Banshee was delivered to the following Navy and Marine Corps squadrons: VF-11, VF-12, VF-22, VF-62, VF-171, VF-172, VMF-122, VMF-214, VMF-224, and VMJ-1

The first Banshees to serve in Korea were F2H-2Ps. A detachment of three F2H-2Ps from Composite Squadron 61 (VC-61) embarked aboard the USS Valley Forge (CV-45) in June of 1951.

The high climb rate and the good altitude performance of the F2H-2 made it attractive as an escort fighter. VF-172 arrived in Korean waters aboard the USS Essex (CV-9) in August of 1951. Their first mission was to escort a flight of USAF B-29s in an attack on some North Korean railroad marshaling years on August 25, 1951.

This combat cruise ended in November 1951. Since Banshees were assigned with higher priority to the Sixth Fleet in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, the Navy F2H-2s did not return to the Korean War zone until the autumn of 1952.

In September 1952, the Banshee returned to Korean waters, with VF-11 deploying aboard the USS Kearsarge(CV-33). They were followed by VF-22 and VF-62 in June of 1953, deploying aboard the USS Lake Champlain (CVA-39).

The F2H-2Ns and F2H-2Bs were deployed only twice--with a detachment of VC-4 aboard the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42) and with VF-82 aboard the USS Lake Champlain (CVA-39). Strike fighters were operated at sea from several carriers by detachments from VC-3 and VC-4.

With the Marine Corps, the F2H-2 operated with VMF-122 and VMF-124. F2H-2Ps served with VMJ-1 and VMJ-2. The only Marine Banshee outfit to see combat in Korea was VMJ-1, which operated from Pohang Airfield in Korea from March 1952 until the end of the Korean War in July 1953.

Detachments of F2H-2P reconnaissance aircraft from VC-61 and VC-62 operated from several carriers until replaced in the mid-1950s by Grumman F9F-6P and F9F-8P Cougars.

Following the end of the Korean War, the F2H-2 was rapidly replaced aboard Navy carriers by higher-performance aircraft. The F2H-2 fighters then went to reserve units, where they soldiered on for a few more years before being finally retired.


Serials of the F2H-2 Banshee:

123204/123299		McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee
123300/123313		McDonnell F2H-2N Banshee
123314/123365		McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee
123366				McDonnell F2H-2P Banshee
123367/123382		McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee
124940/125029		McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee
125030/125031		McDonnell F2H-2B Banshee
125032/125053		McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee
125054				McDonnell F2H-2B Banshee
125055				McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee
125056				McDonnell F2H-2B Banshee
125057				McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee
125058/125059		McDonnell F2H-2B Banshee
125060				McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee
125061/125062		McDonnell F2H-2B Banshee
125063				McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee
125064				McDonnell F2H-2B Banshee
125065				McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee
125066/125067		McDonnell F2H-2B Banshee
125068				McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee
125069/125070		McDonnell F2H-2B Banshee
125071				McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee
125072/125079		McDonnell F2H-2P Banshee
125500				McDonnell F2H-2B Banshee
125501				McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee
125502				McDonnell F2H-2B Banshee
125503				McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee
125504/125505		McDonnell F2H-2B Banshee
125649				McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee
125650/125651		McDonnell F2H-2B Banshee
125652				McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee
125653/125654		McDonnell F2H-2B Banshee
125655				McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee
125656/125657		McDonnell F2H-2B Banshee
125658				McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee
125659/125662		McDonnell F2H-2B Banshee
125663/125679		McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee
125680/125706		McDonnell F2H-2P Banshee
126673/126695		McDonnell F2H-2P Banshee
128857/128886		McDonnell F2H-2P Banshee

Specification of the F2H-2 Banshee:

Engines: Two Westinghouse J34-WE-34 turbojets, 3250 lb.s.t. each. Performance: Maximum speed 575 mph at sea level, 532 mph at 35,000 feet. Initial climb rate 7300 feet per minute. Landing speed 101 mph. Service ceiling 48,500 feet. Normal range was 1200 miles, combat range was 620 miles, and maximum range was 1475 miles. Normal fuel capacity was 877 US gallons. With the two wingtip tanks fitted, a total of 1277 US gallons could be carried. Weights were 11,146 pounds empty, 20,555 pounds loaded, 21,000 pounds maximum takeoff. Dimensions were wingspan 44 feet 11.9 inches (with wingtip tanks fitted), wingspan 41 feet 8.8 inches (without wingtip tanks), length 40 feet 0.4 inches, height 14 feet 5 1/2 inches, wing area 294.1 square feet. Armament consisted of four 20-mm M3 cannon with 150 rpg. For the F2H-2, an maximum external offensive load of 1000 pounds could be carried. A typical load consisted of two 500-pound bombs or six 5-inch rockets.

Joe Baugher


  1. United States Military Aircraft Since 1909, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Smithsonian, 1989.
  2. The American Fighter, Enzo Angelucci and Peter Bowers, Orion, 1987.
  3. The World Guide to Combat Planes, William Green, Macdonald, 1966.
  4. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Aircraft Armament, Bill Gunston, Orion, 1988.
  5. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Since 1920, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1990.
  6. E-mail from Phil Plaisted on service of F2H-2 with VMF-214.


The F2H Banshee


F2H Banshee
Role Carrier-based fighter aircraft
National origin United States
Manufacturer McDonnell Aircraft
First flight 11 January 1947
Introduced August 1948
Retired 1959 USN, USMC
12 September 1962 RCN
1964 USNR
Primary users United States Navy
United States Marine Corps
Royal Canadian Navy
Number built 895
Developed from FH Phantom

The McDonnell F2H Banshee was a military carrier-based jet fighter aircraft, used by the United States Navy from 1948 to 1959 and by the Royal Canadian Navy from 1955 until 1962. The Banshee had unswept wings, a single seat, and two engines. Together with the F9F Panther, the Banshee was one of the USN's primary single-seat fighters during the Korean War. The plane was named for a female demon of Celtic mythology. When the wail of the banshee was heard, it was a harbinger of death.

Design and development

The Banshee was a development of the FH Phantom, although it was being planned before the Phantom went into production. The basic design was for an enlarged and more powerful Phantom, with a pair of Westinghouse turbojets raising power from 1,600 to 3,000 lbf (7 kN to 13 kN) each, an increased fuel load, a move away from the World War II standard 0.5 in (12.7 mm) guns to 20 mm cannon, and additional capability to carry bombs, rockets or missiles as well.

A mock-up of the new fighter, designated XF2D-1, was completed in April 1945. The project survived the end of the war, but development work was slowed and the first of three prototypes was not built until late 1946. The aircraft made its maiden flight on the 11 January 1947 from Lambert Field, St. Louis, Missouri; test pilot was Woodward Burke. The Navy redesignated the aircraft as the XF2H-1 as the manufacturer's designator "D" was already assigned to the Douglas Aircraft Company. After some problems with the tailplane were resolved, an order for 56 craft was placed in May 1947.

The F2H-1 was first delivered in August 1948 for service evaluation by Navy pilots. Relative to the XF2D-1, the fuselage was extended 14 in (0.36 m) forward of the wing to provide the capacity for an additional 351 US gallons (1,330 L) of fuel. The F2H-1 was retrofitted with 3,150 lbf (14 kN) thrust engines as they became available.

Despite the Navy's accepting the F2H-1, it was the more capable F2H-2 that was most widely used; 306 of this type were built. With newer 3,250 lbf (14.5 kN) thrust engines, it had improved performance. The wing was also modified to add provisions for weapons pylons and 200 US gallon (757 L) wingtip fuel tanks. Unlike the contemporary F9F Panther, the Banshee's wingtip tanks were detachable, although most historical photographs show the aircraft flying with the tanks in place.

The F2H-2 was the foundation for three minor variants of the Banshee. The F2H-2B had strengthened wings to allow it to carry a small nuclear weapon, a mission it never carried out. A total of 35 were produced. The F2H-2N was a night fighter variant outfitted with a 2 ft, 10 in (0.86 m) longer nose to accommodate internal radar equipment; 14 were produced. The F2H-2P was a photo-reconnaissance version with six cameras housed in a 2 ft, 5 in (0.74 m) longer nose; it was the first jet-powered reconnaissance aircraft used by the USN. 81 were built.

The F2H-3 was the last significant alteration. The fuselage was extended by 8 feet (2.4 m) to increase internal fuel load from 877 US gallons (3,320 L) to 1,102 US gallons (4,172 L), allowing the aircraft to complete many missions without the wing-tip tanks seen in most photographs of earlier variants. The horizontal stabilizer was moved from the vertical tail down to the fuselage and incorporated significant dihedral. The Banshee was also fitted with Westinghouse radar equipment, enabling the fighter to be used for all-weather missions, and the cannons were moved downwards and rearwards away from the nose to accommodate the radar. These changes resulted in an airplane that looked significantly different from its predecessors. 250 F2H-3s were built.

The last variant was the F2H-4. It had a Hughes radar in place of the earlier Westinghouse set, and also had slightly more powerful 3,600 lbf (16.0 kN) thrust engines. The F2H-4 was externally identical to the F2H-3. 150 were built.

A proposed F2H-3P photo-reconnaissance variant was canceled before reaching production. Unlike most other early jet fighters, no two-seat version was ever produced.

Production ended in September 1953 after a total of 895 aircraft were delivered. The F2H-3 and F2H-4 were given the new designations F-2C and F-2D respectively under the 1962 unified designation system. The designations F-2A and F-2B presumably referred to the F2H-1 and F2H-2, but these variants had already been withdrawn from service. No Banshees ever flew under the new designations; the last ones in USNR service were placed in storage before the new designations went into effect.


Its Operational History


The United States Navy and Marine Corps

The F2H-2 served during the Korean War with the U.S. Navy Task Force 77 and the Marine Corps. Pilots spoke of F2H as the "banjo" Due to its good performance at high altitude, it initially proved its worth as an escort for long-range USAF bomber formations. As the war progressed, USN and USMC fighters were primarily assigned to ground attack missions, including close air support of ground troops and destruction of the North Korean army's supply lines. The North Korean air forces had been almost completely annihilated during the opening weeks of the war by the combined US and UK Far East Air Force (FEAF), mostly due to the far superior training and World War II combat experience of the US and Commonwealth pilots. From that point onwards, the combined North Korean, Chinese, and Soviet forces were unable to open new airstrips near the combat zones in South Korea because of constant FEAF airstrikes, forcing them to operate out of air bases in China. The Banshee and other USN fighters had limited exposure to hostile enemy aircraft because they operated far out of the range of enemy fighters operating from China. Air-to-air combat missions, such as patrols in the Yalu River area, were primarily assigned to F-86 Sabres Consequently, the Banshee would score no victories nor suffer any losses in air-to-air combat, although three F2H-2s were lost to anti-aircraft gunfire.

The F2H-2P also made a great contribution to the Korean War, particularly in USMC service. At the time of the war, accurate surface-to-air missiles had not yet been developed, the vast majority of enemy aircraft did not have onboard radar, and the speed of newer jets was rapidly making AAA guns obsolete. Air defense tactics still largely depended on being able to see the enemy, and US commanders soon discovered that a lone high-flying F2H-2P was almost impossible for ground forces to spot, much less shoot down. The airplane was soon in very high demand for the invaluable battlefield photography it could provide. F2H-2Ps even received USAF fighter escorts when operating in areas frequented by enemy fighters. Despite being deployed constantly throughout the war, only two F2H-2Ps were lost to radar-directed AAA gunfire, with no air-to-air losses.

In the late 1940s, the USN had resisted the novel swept wing design concept, fearing that the tricky low-speed handling displayed by early swept wing airplanes would make it unsafe to operate them from aircraft carriers. Unfortunately, the USN failed to fully appreciate how much this would hamper the performance of its new jets. As a consequence of its unswept wings, the Banshee was almost 100 mph (161 km/h) slower than new Soviet jet fighters such as the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15, a serious handicap in air-to-air combat. As further testing proved that swept wing aircraft could be flown safely at low speeds, development of new swept wing USN fighters began. The USN deployed the new radar-equipped F2H-3 and F2H-4 for all-weather fleet defense after the conclusion of the Korean War, but only as a stopgap measure until the much faster F9F Cougar, F3H Demon, and F4D Skyray could be deployed in significant numbers. Later variants of the Banshee only served for a few years on the front lines and saw no action. Similarly, the F2H-2P was superseded by the F9F-8P (later RF-9J) variant of the F9F Cougar and the F8U-1P (later RF-8A) variant of the F8U Crusader as these faster aircraft became available.

Surviving examples are located on display in private collections and at several naval air stations and marine corps air stations in the United States, to include two examples on display at the National Museum of Naval Aviation at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida.


The Royal Canadian Navy

In 1951, the RCN expressed interest in replacing their obsolescent Hawker Sea Furies with Banshees, drafting a $40 million deal for 60 new aircraft. Unfortunately, due to fiscal wrangling in the Canadian Cabinet, the purchase was not approved until after Banshee production had been shut down in 1953. The RCN was forced to acquire second-hand USN aircraft, 39 at a cost of $25 million. The aircraft were delivered from 1955 to 1958 and flew from HMCS Bonaventure (CVL-22)Template:WP Ships HMCS instances or as NORAD interceptors from shore bases.

In order to improve the Banshee's capabilities as a long-range interceptor, the RCN equipped the aircraft with the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile. The RCN conducted sea trials of the Sidewinder in November 1959, during which several remotely-piloted drone aircraft were shot down. After the retirement of the F2H-3, the Canadian military would not deploy another aircraft armed with the Sidewinder missile until the introduction of the CF-18 Hornet in 1982.

The Banshee, although initially well-liked by its Canadian pilots for its flying qualities, began to suffer from problems in RCN service. A Banshee and its pilot were lost after an in-flight structural failure of the folding wing mechanism, and another Banshee suffered an apparent brake failure aboard Bonaventure and rolled off the carrier's deck, falling into the ocean and drowning its pilot.] The RCN would eventually lose 12 of its original 39 Banshees to accidents, a loss rate of over 30%.

Utilization of the Banshees fell as the RCN shifted its primary focus to anti-submarine warfare (ASW). Bonaventure was too small to accommodate many Banshees while carrying a sufficient number of CS2F Trackers to conduct around-the-clock ASW patrols, so the carrier frequently left port with no Banshees aboard. Furthermore, the Canadian military was coming under increasing political pressure to cut its budget, and the increasingly obsolescent Banshees were becoming expensive to maintain as years of punishing carrier service and the harsh North Atlantic climate took their toll. The last RCN Banshees were retired without replacement in September 1962. They were the only jet-powered carrier-based fighters ever deployed by the RCN.

Banshees were the primary aircraft of the short-lived RCN Grey Ghosts aerobatic team. The team's name was a play on the Banshee name and the RCN color scheme. The RCN's Banshee fleet was too small to maintain a special contingent of aircraft for airshow service, so the team simply flew whichever active-duty Banshees were available at the time of each show.

Three of the former RCN Banshees survive today:

  • 126464 at the Canada Aviation Museum in Ottawa, Ontario
  • 126402 at the Shearwater Aviation Museum at CFB Shearwater in the Halifax Regional Municipality, Nova Scotia
  • 126334 at the Naval Museum of Alberta in Calgary, Alberta

The remaining RCN Banshees were cut up for scrap or destroyed as practice targets


 Specifications (F2H-3)

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 48 ft 2 in (14.68 m)
  • Wingspan: 41 ft 8.8 in (12.72 m)
  • Height: 13 ft 11 in (4.24 m)
  • Wing area: 294 ft (27.31 m)
  • Empty weight: 13,183 lb (5,980 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 28,500 lb (12,930 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 Westinghouse J34-WE-34 turbojets, 3,250 lbf (14.5 kN) each


  • Maximum speed: 527 mph (458 knots, 848 km/h) at 10,000 ft (3,100 m)
  • Range: 1,716 mi (1,491 nm, 2,672 km)
  • Service ceiling 46,500 ft (14,173 m)
  • Rate of climb: 5,900 ft/min (30 m/s) from sea level


  • Guns: 4 20 mm (0.787 in) Colt Mk 16 cannon, 150 rounds/gun
  • Rockets:
    • 8 60 lb High Explosive rockets or
    • 6 500 lb bombs and 2 60 lb H.E. rockets
  • Missiles: 2 AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles (in RCN service)





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