McDonnell Phantom I

The first of a long series of jet fighters from St. Louis, the FD/FH-1 Phantom was also to be the first production aircraft from McDonnell. The company’s arrival on the scene in the late 1930s turned out to be something of a long-term advantage, as more established firms were shortly to be preoccupied with the production of conventional aircraft, whereas McDonnell was able to start preliminary design work on a jet fighter as early as 1942. A number of configurations were looked at, including one with ten very small engines, but what eventually took form was a more workable aircraft, with a pair of Westinghouse WE-19 engines fed through wing root intakes. The XFD-1 prototype was ready by the fall of 1944, but the engines were not, and it was not until January of the following year that flight testing began.

Postwar cutbacks resulted in the order for production FH-1s to be scaled back, although sixty aircraft were still bought. The Phantom’s turn in the spotlight was to be quite brief – all being out of front line service within several years of their arrival, and never seeing combat. But however short, the type did play a pivotal role, demonstrating that jets could indeed fly from carriers in an operational setting, something that was far from certain in the early postwar years. A prototype Phantom had landed aboard the USS Franklin Roosevelt in July 1946, with the FDR later hosting trials by VF-17A FH-1s, while Phantoms also operated from the light fleet carrier Saipan.


Photo: rear quarter view of an FD-1 on the ground Naval Aviation News March 1946 p.13

“Navy’s Twin-Jet Phantom Fighter Scores Success in Carrier test” includes a photo of the XFD-1 passing Roosevelt’s island Aviation News July 29, 1946 p.11

“Mr. Mac’s First Phantom: The Story of the McDonnell FH-1” Air International November 1987 Includes a photo of the FD-1 prototype, a large cutaway, 3-view, and a picture of one of the Progressive Aero civilian aircraft.

Thomas Abbondi “Ghost of the Fleet” Skymodel 9/06 building MPM’s 1/72 FH-1 kit