The Gutless Cutlass
In the early jet age, pilots had good reason to fear the F7U.
- By DC Agle
- Air & Space magazine, August 2013
Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum
(Page 4 of 5)
The Hancock’s skipper ordered every Cutlass off the ship. VF-124 spent the majority of its western Pacific cruise at the naval airfield in Atsugi, Japan. Two months later, after a Cutlass nosegear collapse on the Ticonderoga left its pilot with severe back injuries, the carrier’s skipper ordered the Cutlasses of VF-81 ashore at Port Lyautey, Morocco. “You got to understand, the commanding officer of a carrier is the lord, God, and everything else of that carrier,” says Don Shelton, who in the early 1950s was a Navy test pilot on the Cutlass program. “Most of them didn’t appreciate having the F7U aboard.”
“The skippers never really liked it because it took up a lot of space and they never could really do anything with the airplane,” says Feightner. “The Cutlass was pretty short-legged.” Soon after launching from a carrier, the pilots had to begin thinking about where to put the thing down. “They used to say if you put a 3,000-pound bomb on it, you couldn’t go far enough to keep from blowing up both you and the ship,” Feightner says.
Then there was the post-stall gyration.
On January 11, 1955, Lieutenant J.D. Lindsay was at 28,000 feet when his maneuvering brought him close to a stall. Suddenly the F7U-3 went head over heels. Violently thrown about the cabin, Lindsay ejected and survived. Nine days later, Lieutenant Commander Bud Sickel investigated the flight regime that had caused the loss of Lindsey’s Cutlass. After tumbling 18,000 feet and trying every recovery technique he could think of, Sickel ejected.
“It was a pretty wild ride,” says Shelton. “He got out just in time for the parachute to open and landed in a plowed field and went in all the way up to his hips, which was the only thing that saved his ass.”
When Lieutenant Morrey Loso found himself in a similar situation, he let go of the stick and fumbled for the overhead ejection handles. To his astonishment, the Cutlass leveled off. Subsequent wind tunnel testing confirmed that the usual rules for exiting uncontrolled flight didn’t apply to the Cutlass. Just a little aft pressure on the stick, or let it go entirely: With enough altitude, the airplane would likely recover on its own. But by then, the Cutlass’ reputation was such that Vice Admiral Harold M. “Beauty” Martin, commander, air force of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, began replacing his squadrons’ Cutlasses with Grumman F9F-8 Cougars.
The decision caught F7U pilot Alex Sotir and others by surprise. “We are taxiing out and all of a sudden I see this jeep with a ladder go flying by me,” Sotir recalls. “The jeep stops the skipper and a guy runs up the ladder and hands the skipper an envelope. Next thing I know we are returning to the line and the skipper tells us the Navy is taking our aircraft away. They didn’t even want us to carrier-qualify in the Cutlass.”
A few years back, Sotir met some Navy pilots at a wedding reception and got to talking shop. “We asked each other the usual questions about our squadrons and which planes we had flown,” Sotir says. “When I told them Cutlasses, they looked at me…. They figured something had to be wrong with me.”