On 21 July 1946, a prototype McDonnell FH Phantom became the first jet only powered aircraft to successfully takeoff and land from a US Navy aircraft carrier.

Operating from the Franklin D. Roosevelt off the shores of Norfolk, Virginia the FH Phantom flown by Lt.Cmdr. James Davidson completed four takeoffs and landings. The Roosevelt had a large enough flight deck that no catapult was required for the Phantom to become airborne via a traditional takeoff. The prototype jet crashed just one month after completing the first carrier operations.

Photo by US Navy  (U.S. Navy Naval Aviation News April 1947 [1]), via Wikimedia Commons
The jet aircraft had the following specifications;

  • Wingspan: 40 feet 9 inches (wings could fold up to just 16 feet)
  • Maximum Takeoff Weight: 12,035 pounds
  • Engines: Two Westinghouse J30-WE-20 turbojets creating 1,600 pounds of thrust each
  • Maximum speed: 417 knots
  • Cruise speed: 216 knots
  • Range: 604 nautical miles
  • Ceiling: 41,100 ft
  • Rate of climb: 4,230 feet per minute

The FH Phantom which was also the first jet put in service by the United States Marine Corps had four 50 caliber machine guns and could carry up to eight rockets.

Watch the FH Phantom landing on an aircraft carrier

Operating the FH Phantom from an aircraft carrier was a major milestone for the Navy and led the way in transforming Naval Aviation from piston based aircraft to the jet age.

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While trendsetting, the FH Phantom was limited in operation capability not being able to carry bombs and with airspeed and rate of climb performance not much better than piston based aircraft. The FH Phantom never flew in combat.

Only 62 aircraft were built and the service life was relatively short being introduced in August 1947 and retired in 1949 by both the Navy and the Marine Corps. The aircraft did fly until 1954 in the Navy Reserves.

Featured Image of McDonnell FH Phantom by USN [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons