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U.S. Naval Air Superiority: Development of Shipborne Jet Fighters 1943-1962

by Tommy H. Thomason, Specialty Press, North Branch, Minn., 2007, $44.95.

Far-reaching, well organized and wonderfully detailed is the way I would describe Tommy Thomason’s U.S. Naval Air Superiority: Development of Shipborne Jet Fighters 1943- 1962. Thomason’s detailed survey unfolds the forceful and engrossing saga of the Navy’s (as well as the Marine Corps’) 20-year struggle to achieve fighter parity with its land-based contemporaries.

By the close of World War II, the Navy and Marine Corps possessed two fighters—the Grumman F6F Hellcat and Vought F4U Corsair—that had achieved virtual air superiority in every theater of the Pacific. But technology rarely stands still, and with the introduction of jet propulsion, the fighter paradigm was shifting again. It presented naval planners, specifically the Naval Bureaus of Aeronautics, Weapons and Ships, with the greatest challenge they had ever faced: adapting jet-powered aircraft to operate—safely— from the decks of aircraft carriers. And to achieve air superiority over the fleet, the jet fighter problem was especially acute. Carrier-borne jet fighters, in terms of performance and firepower, needed to be equal to or better than the land-based enemy jets they were expected to intercept and engage.

While many histories attempt to cover U.S. Navy and Marine fighters of the 1943-1962 era, Thomason’s book brings the analysis to entirely new and revealing levels. In addition to aircraft design and development, which covers airframes, engines and weapons systems, he discusses carrier evolution as well as safety improvements incorporated into the aircraft themselves.

Entire chapters are devoted to important but highly protracted projects such as the Vought F7U Cutlass, Douglas F4D Skyray and McDonnell F3H Demon. Moreover, the story has a good ending: By the late 1950s, the Navy’s long and arduous process had produced two of the best fighters in the world—the Vought F8U Crusader and the McDonnell F4H Phantom II—and with them had also ushered in the age of the supercarrier.

In addition to a dazzling collection of color and black and white photographs, the text is accompanied by drawings, graphs and comparison tables, many of them supplied by the author, himself an aeronautical engineer. For fans of naval aviation and anyone else who is seriously interested in post–World War II fighter development, U.S. Naval Air Superiority is a must buy.


Originally published in the September 2008 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here