Affectionately nicknamed "The Banjo," The McDonnell F2H Banshee fighter is preserved in popular memory in James Michener's Korean War novel "The Bridges of Toko-Ri." The Banshee followed McDonnell's (and the Navy's) first carrier launched jet fighter, the FH-1 Phantom, into service. The F2H-1 was similar in design, but had twice the power and carried bombs as well as rockets and cannons. McDonnell built 895 Banshees, the company's first big step in becoming a major aircraft manufacturer.
The initial production version, the F2H-1, was quickly followed by the F2H-2, which featured upgraded engines, extended range with 200-gallon wing tip fuel tanks, and hard points for carrying a heavier payload. In 1949, an F2H-2 set a jet altitude record of 52,000 feet. The F2-H, a multi-role aircraft, and was produced in several versions: a day fighter, night fighter, photo reconnaissance plane, and a strengthened variant could carry nuclear weapons.
Entering combat in 1951 the F2H-2 served as a principal fighter with the Navy's Seventh Fleet for the duration of the Korean conflict. Used almost exclusively as a tactical ground attack fighter, her four twenty millimeter canon coupled with either eight 60 lb. rockets or up to six 500 lb. bombs on a stable weapons platform with a 1,400 mile range made the Banshee a lethal strike fighter. Excellent handling, rugged construction and two reliable Westinghouse turbo jet engines contributed to her survivability. Despite flying thousands of combat sorties, only three F2H-2s were lost to AAA fire during the entire conflict.
Introduced after the Korean War, the F2H-3's variant's fuselage was 8 feet longer, carried radar for all weather operation and an additional 102 gallons of fuel. Banshees served with the US Navy until September 1959, when the Canadian Navy acquired 39 former F2H-3s, which remained in RCAF service until September 1962.
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