Brewster F2A Buffalo

A Brewster F2A-3 an improved version of the Buffalo

The first monoplane fighter to equip a squadron of the US Navy, the Brewster F2A Buffalo originated from a US Navy requirement of 1936 for a new generation of carrier-based fighters. In requesting proposals from US manufacturers for such an aircraft, the US Navy indicated requirements which included monoplane configuration, wing flaps, arrester gear, retractable landing gear and an enclosed cockpit. Clearly, this specification recognised the fact that the carrier-based biplane was nearing the end of its useful life.

Proposals were received from Brewster, allocated the designation XF2A-1, Grumman (XF4F-1) and Seversky (XFN-1), but of these the only significant aircraft in the long term was the Grumman design, which was initially of biplane configuration and given serious consideration by the US Navy as an insurance policy against the possible failure of newfangled monoplanes.

A prototype of the Brewster XF2A-1 was ordered on 22 June 1936, and this flew for the first time in December l937. While bearing a distinct family resemblance to the XSBA-1 of 1934, the new 192 fighter appeared to be tubbier and stubbier, but a comparison of dimensions showed this to be something of an illusion. Of mid-wing monoplane configuration, it was of all-metal construction, except for fabric-covered control surfaces. Hydraulically operated split flaps were provided, and the main units of the tail-wheel type landing gear retracted inward to be housed in fuselage wells. Powerplant consisted of a 950 hp (708 kW) Wright XR-1820-22 Cyclone radial engine.

Service testing of the prototype began in January 1938, and on 11 June the US Navy contracted with Brewster for the supply of 54 of the F2A-1 production model. Deliveries of these started 12 months later, nine aircraft going almost immediately to equip US Navy Squadron VF-3 aboard the USS Saratoga. The available balance of 44 aircraft was, sympathetically, declared surplus to requirements and, instead, supplied to Finland which was then fighting off the might of the Soviet Union. Later equipping the Finnish air force's HLeLv 24 and HLeLv 26 units, they remained successfully operational until mid-1944.

Some 43 of an improved version were ordered by the US Navy in early 1939, this having a more powerful engine, an improved propeller and built-in flotation gear. Designated F2A-2, this began to enter service in September 1940. It was followed by 108 of the F2A-3 variant with more armour and a bullet-proof windscreen, and these two production versions equipped US Navy Squadrons VF-2 and VF-3, and US Marine Corps Squadron VFM-221. A number were used operationally in the Pacific but as the type was overweight, unstable and of poor manoeuvrability, it was no match for opposing Japanese fighters.

Belgian and British purchasing missions ordered 40 B-339 and 170 8-339E aircraft respectively, most of the former going to the UK after Belgium had been overrun. These orders were for land-based versions, without arrester gear and other equipment specifically for shipboard operations, but were otherwise generally similar to the F2A-3s. Of those received from the Belgian order, a small number served with Nos 805 and 885 Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm, the former squadron using them for support rather than combat duties during the defence of Crete.

Of those which were ordered for the RAF, which gave the type the name Buffalo, deliveries began in July 1940. No. 71 Squadron received the first of these for service trials in September, and it was realised immediately that the Buffalo's performance was totally inadequate for the type's deployment in the European theatre. Instead, they were sent to the Far East to equip the RAF's Nos 67,146 and 243, the RAAF's Nos 21 and 453 Squadrons and the RNZAF's No. 488 Squadron to defend Singapore and Malaya. Completely unsuited to the task, the few which survived the Japanese invasion fought alongside the American Volunteer Group operating in Burma. Buffaloes with the most successful combat record were a small number of almost 100 which had been ordered for the air arm of the Netherlands East Indies' army, which saw action in Java and Malaya. These had the Brewster model numbers B-339D and B-439. The former was similar to the B-339E, but the B-439 had an 1,200 hp (895 kW) Wright GR-1820-G205A engine.

Specifications (Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo)

Type: Single Seat Land or Carrier Based Fighter

Design: Brewster Design Team

Manufacturer: Brewster Aircraft Company

Powerplant: (F2A-1) One 940 hp (701 kW) Wright R-1830-34 radial engine. (F2A-2/A-3) One 1,200 hp (895 kW) Wright R-1820-40 Cyclone 9-cylinder radial engine.

Performance: (F2A-2) Maximum speed 300 mph (486 km/h) at 16,500 ft (5030 m); initial climb rate 3070 ft (935 m) per minute; service ceiling 30,500 ft (9300 m). (F2A-3) Maximum speed 321 mph (516 km/h) at 16,500 ft (5030 m); cruising speed 258 mph (415 km/h); initial climb rate less than 3000 ft (914 m) per minute; service ceiling 33,200 ft (10120 m).

Range: (F2A-2) Maximum Range 965 miles (1553 km). (F2A-3) Maximum Range 1680 miles (2704 km) due to an increased fuel capacity of 80 US gallons.

Weight: (F2A-2) 4,580 lbs (2077 kg) with a maximum take-off weight of 6,890 lbs (3124 kg). (F2A-3) Empty 4,732 lbs (2146 kg) with a maximum take-off weight of 7,159 lbs (3247 kg).

Dimensions: Span 35 ft 0 in (10.67 m); length 26 ft 4 in (8.03 m); height 12 ft 1 in (3.68 m); wing area 208.9 sq ft (19.41 sq m).

Armament: Four 12.7 mm (0.50 in) machine guns and two 100 lbs (45 kg) bombs.

Variants: XF2A-1, F2A-1, F2A-2, F2A-3, Model B-339B, Model B-339C, Model B-239, Model 339-23.

Avionics: None.

History: First flight (XF2A-1) January 1938; first service delivery April 1939; termination of production 1942.

Operators: Belgium, Finland, Netherlands (East Indies), RAAF, RAF, RN, USMC, USN.