The scientific tourist #16 — the Sea Dart

This week’s picture is of a plane once thought to be the future of naval aviation — the Convair F2Y Sea Dart:

F2Y Sea Dart

The U.S. Navy drew a number of conclusions from its experiences in the second World War — among them, that aircraft carriers were important in the projection of military power, and that jet aircraft would increasingly be used in air combat. But at the time, the Navy didn’t think it would be possible to develop a high-performance supersonic aircraft that could be operated from the deck of an aircraft carrier.

Still, desiring a fighter that could operate in forward areas without need for land bases, the Navy started a design contest in 1948 to provide a water-based supersonic naval fighter. The winner was the water-based Sea Dart, to date the world’s only supersonic sea plane.

Only five Sea Dart prototypes were ever built, as oscillation of the jet’s skis on takeoff and landing proved to be a problem that was never really solved. Meanwhile, the aircraft’s aerodynamics and low-performance engines kept it from reaching supersonic speeds in level flight. Finally, one of the five prototypes broke up (killing the test pilot) during a demonstration, and shortly afterwards the whole program was shelved since the problem of operating a supersonic fighter from an aircraft carrier had since been resolved. The four surviving Sea Darts are scattered around various Air & Space museums — the example in the above picture (click on it to get to the respective Flickr page) is on display outside of the San Diego Air & Space Museum in Balboa Park.

If you’d like to read more about this interesting (if ill-fated) plane, plenty of material is available online. Sea Dart’s Wikipedia entry provides a nice overview, while more detailed treatments are available here and here. There’s even a YouTube video of a Sea Dart test flight (from the looks of it, in San Diego bay).

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