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
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
(Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo)
Seat Land or Carrier Based Fighter
Brewster Aircraft Company
(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
(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).
Maximum Range 965 miles (1553 km). (F2A-3) Maximum Range 1680 miles
(2704 km) due to an increased fuel capacity of 80 US gallons.
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).
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).
12.7 mm (0.50 in) machine guns and two 100 lbs (45 kg) bombs.
XF2A-1, F2A-1, F2A-2, F2A-3, Model B-339B, Model B-339C, Model B-239,
flight (XF2A-1) January 1938; first service delivery April 1939;
termination of production 1942.
Belgium, Finland, Netherlands (East Indies), RAAF, RAF, RN, USMC, USN.