The Banshee was the first jet designed by McDonnell to see combat. They acquitted themselves well in Korea and enjoyed a long postwar career as reconnaissance craft.
With the apparent success of the newly acquired FH1 Phantom, the Navy wanted to move quickly on to its second generation of jet fighters. In 1945 it authorized McDonnell to design a scaled-up version of the existing craft. The company answered in 1947 with the XF2H, which bore a distinct family resemblance to the FH1. However, the new plane was larger and heavier, with more powerful engines and markedly better performance. More importantly, it retained the slow approach speed necessary for carrier landings. The Navy purchased an initial batch of 56 F2H1s, and in 1948 they entered service as the Banshee. Shortly thereafter, the F2H2 version appeared, which featured a lengthened fuselage and fixed wingtip tanks for greater range. A nightfighter version, the F2H2N, and a photo plane, the F2H2P, were also developed. Pilots were delighted by the strength and maneuverability of the craft and affectionately dubbed it the “Banjo.” A total of 800 was built.
The Korean War broke out in 1950, and naval aviation was committed to battle during the first month of combat. Flying alongside the more numerous Grumman F9F Panthers, the F2H performed well as a fighter-bomber. They were also fast enough to serve as escort-fighters and guarded B29 bombers on several missions.
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.
After the war, McDonnell introduced the F2H3 and F2H4 variants, featuring improved radar, engines, and fuel capacity. By middecade the Banshee was being phased out by more modern types, but the speedy reconnaissance version remained in service until 1965.
In 1955 the Navy transferred 60 F2H3s over to the Royal Canadian Navy, which employed them as late as 1965. They were the last fighter jets of the Naval Air Service.
Prototype aircraft (originally designated XF2D-1), three built.
Single-seat fighter version, two 3,000 lbf (1,400 kgf) Westinghouse J34-WE-22 turbojet engines. Initial production version, 56 built.
Improved version with detachable wingtip fuel tanks, eight underwing weapons pylons for 1,580 lb (454 kg) stores capability, 3,250 lbf (1,475 kgf) Westinghouse J34-WE-34 turbojet engines. Second production version, 308 built.
Single-seat fighter-bomber version, strengthened port-side weapons pylon for 3,230 lb (1,465 kg) Mark 8 nuclear bomb, 25 built.
Single-seat night fighter version with APS-19 radar housed in lengthened nose, 14 built.
Single-seat photo-reconnaissance version with lengthened nose housing six cameras, 89 built.
Single-seat all-weather fighter version, lengthened fuselage, redesigned tail, increased fuel capacity, eight underwing weapons pylons for 3,000 lb (1,361 kg) bomb load, APQ-41 radar in enlarged nose. 250 built. Redesignated as F-2C in 1962.
Proposed photo-reconnaissance version of the F2H-3; not built.
Improved all-weather fighter version, 3,600 lbf (1,630 kg) thrust Westinghouse J34-WE-38 turbojet engines, APG-37 radar, otherwise similar to F2H-3. Final production version, 150 built. Redesignated as F-2D in 1962.
Unofficial designation for a proposed swept-wing version with the wings, tail and afterburners of McDonnell’s XF-88 Voodoo; not built.
Length: 48 ft 2 in (14.68 m)
Wingspan: 41 ft 9 in (12.73 m)
Height: 14 ft 6 in (4.42 m)
Wing area: 294 ft² (27.3 m²)
Empty weight: 13,183 lb (5,980 kg)
Loaded weight: 21,013 lb (9,531 kg)
Max. takeoff weight: 25,214 lb (11,437 kg)
Powerplant: 2 × Westinghouse J34-WE-34 turbojets, 3,250 lbf (14.5 kN) each
Maximum speed: 580 mph (504 kn, 933 km/h) at sea level
Cruise speed: 461 mph
Range: 1,716 mi (1,492 nmi, 2,760 km)
Service ceiling: 46,600 ft (14,205 m)
Rate of climb: 6,000 ft/min (30 m/s) from sea level
Guns: 4 × 20 mm (0.79 in) Colt Mk 16 cannon, 220 rounds/gun (upper pair), 250 rounds/gun (lower pair)
8 × 60 lb High Explosive rockets or
6 × 500 lb bombs and 2 × 60 lb H.E. rockets