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Grumman F9F Panther / Cougar

Updated on February 28, 2013

Grumman had actually started work on a jet fighter well before the end of World War II, a proposed the G.71 model as a competitor to the McDonnell Phantom and North American Fury. This would have been a conventional straight-wing design powered by a Westinghouse 24C fed through wing root intakes. This bore some resemblance to what would emerge as the eventual F9F, but was not proceeded with.

Grumman also pursued a heavy jet night fighter competitive with the Douglas F3D that had it origins in the piston-powered F7F Tigercat. Powered by four 24C turobjets in wing nacelles, the XF9F-1 was passed over in favor of the Skyknight, but the basic F9F designation would be reused for a very different aircraft.

By the summer of 1946 the availability of the Rolls-Royce Nene turbojet allowed Grumman to recast the F9F as a single-engine aircraft. A supply of Nenes was purchased from the UK, while Pratt & Whitney geared up to produce an "Americanized" version under license

Taxi tests of the first XF9F-2 prototype began on November 21, 1947, and three days later Grumman test pilot "Corky" Meyer took the Panther aloft for the first time. Sea trials began in March 1949 aboard the USS Franklin Roosevelt; transition to operational status was swift, with VF-51 receiving its first examples only two months later. production F9F-2s were built with permanently fixed wingtip tanks - the -2 was a pure fighter, but the F9F-2B fighter-bomber introduced the capability to carry air to ground ordnance under wing. The F9F-2P was an unarmed photo recon version, with three vertical and two oblique cameras in the nose. A 1/48 scale kit of this variant was made by Monogram.

Although the Nene would prove to be a very successful engine, the USN preferred that the F9F also be compatible with another powerplant to prevent reliance on a single engine type, the supply of which could be interrupted. The F9F-3 version introduced the Allison J33, but this proved inadequate, and these aircraft were converted to take J42s. The F9F-4 used the more powerful J33-A-16, but production of this mark was limited to 73 examples.

Among the more notable Panther sorties over Korea was a September 1951 mission by ensign Neil Armstrong of VF-51, who managed to fly back to the K-3 airfield and bail out after losing elevator control when his F9F-2 struck a North Korean cable.

The ultimate new-build Panther was the F9F-5, which introduced a third type of engine, the Pratt & Whitney J48, a license-built Rolls-Royce Tay. Grumman built 616 fighter-model -5s, in addition to three dozen unarmed F9F-5P photo-recon aircraft.

F9F-6 Cougar

The technical superiority of Russian-built MiG-15s to Panthers and other straight-winged jet types over Korea spurred efforts to get swept-wing jets aboard carriers as quickly as possible, and one of the stopgap measures was Grumman's G-93, which was flown in September 1951 as the F9F-6. This had a wing swept back at 35 degrees, which necessitated a major redesign of the aircraft's structure. The F9F designation was retained, but the popular name became Cougar. VF-32 began receiving the first operational Cougars in late 1952, but the type never made it into the Korean fighting.


The F9F-8 featured a redesigned, slatless wing with a cambered leading edge, additional fuel, a pair of points for drop tanks, and lastly four weapons hardpoints, each able to carry a single 500lb bomb or an AIM-9 Sidewinder AAM. The F9F-8B was a fighter-bomber version equipped for LABS delivery of tactical nuclear weapons, these being caried under the starboard wing, with a drop tank carried to port as balance compensation.

Although rather quickly replaced by the F8U Crusader and other types, the Cougar remained in reserve service into the early 1960s, and the survivors became F-9F/H/Js in 1962. Droned Cougars were extensively used as drone targets for missile tests into the early 1970s.

Hasegawa made a 1/72 scale Cougar, while more recently Fisher has issued 1/32 scale kits of both the F9F-8 and F9F-8T.

Two-Seat Cougars

The Cougar also formed the basis for the Navy's first swept-wing trainer, the F9F-8T. This had a fuselage stretch of just under three feet in order to allow for a second seat to be added. There was a single prototype conversion of a single-seater, followed by 377 production aircraft, which were redesignated as TF-9Js in 1962. The trainer Cougars retained a pair of cannon and the ability to carry ordnance underwing, and the Marines actually used the type in combat over South Vietnam in the Fast FAC role prior to taking on two-seater Skyhawks for that mission.

The TF-9J would be the last member of the Panther/Cougar family to see military service; although the USN had begun purchasing TA-4s in the late 1960s, the TF-9s would soldier on and it would not be until February 1974 that VT-4 retired the last Cougars.

The Panther and Cougar were not widely exported, and Argentina would be the only foreign operator. A total of two dozen surplus F9F-2s were transferred there in the late 1950s, but the Argentine carrier Independencia, could not operate jets, relegating the Panthers to land-based use. The Panthers were later joined by a pair of Cougar trainers, and after taking part in the 1963 Coup fighting and subsequent standoff with Chile, were disposed of later in the decade, with the Cougars lasting until 1971. There were three Argentinian Panther losses - two in a 1963 collision and another lost in a crash the following year.


"Modern Military Aircraft" Edited by Paul E. Eden and Soph Moeng p. 192-193 Cutaway diagram of an F9F-8 / TF-9J, color photo of F9F-8 BuNo 141140 with the refueling probe and underwing Sidewinders, B&W shot of an Argentine Panther.

"USS Lexington: On Deck #2" Squadron Signal Publications Includes a color profile of F9F-8T BuNo 146405 of VT-10 Cosmic Cats

Photo: F9F-3 venting fuel from tip tanks. Naval Aviation News November 1949 p.14

"New J-48 jet drives F9F-5 Panther" Naval Aviation News April 1950 p.13

"Blue Angels team goes to war" Covers the 1950 disbanding of the team after the outbreak of fighting in Korea. Naval Aviation News September 1950 p.12

"Blinded pilot talked down to carrier deck" All Hands January 1951 p.39, two photos. Details the story of a temporarily blinded Panther pilot over Korea being guided to a landing aboard USS Philippine Sea (CV-47).

Photo: "F9Fs begin carrying bombs on missions over Korea for the first time". Picture shows a Panther with 250-lb fragmentation bombs and a 100lb GP weapon. Naval Aviation News July 1951

Photo: Panther launching launching from USS Boxer off Korea. Naval Aviation News September 1951 p.14

"Jet F9F photo unit maps North Korea" Naval Aviation News September 1951 p.31 VC-31 detachment flies first jet recon missions over Korea in F9F-2Ps from the USS Princeton.

"Bare Panthers Test Paint Job" USN evaluates leaving F9Fs unpainted - includes a photo of Panthers aboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt. Naval aviation News October 1951 p.33

Photo: F9F making the 39,000th landing aboard USS Midway. Aviation Week August 11, 1952 front cover

Photo: Cougars and tow tractors on the flight deck of USS Oriskany. All Hands February 1954, front cover.

"Blue Angels to Fly F9F-8 - New Cougar Readied for '55 Show" Naval Aviation News January 1955 p.18

"VX-3 Tries Out New Cougar on Midway" Naval Aviation News January 1955 p.19

Photo: Overhead shot of F9Fs parked aboard USS Kearsarge (CVA-33) All Hands January 1955 p.21

Photo: Cougar of VF-121 flies over Corregidor. Naval Aviation News May 1955 inside front cover.

"Chase Field has new course" Photo of F9F-2 landing. Naval Aviation News October 1955 p.39

Photo: F9F-6 clearing the barricade of USS Yorktown following a wave-off. All Hands February 1956 p.34

Photo: Frontal view of an F9F-8 armed with four Sidewinders. All Hands March 1957 p.5

Photo: VFP-62 F9F-8Ps Naval Aviation News July 1957 p.21

Photo: Three Cougars from VF-144. All Hands January 1958 p.36

"Ejection seat described - VMT-1 gets Martin Baker seats" Naval Aviation News June 1959

Photo: VF-124 F9F-8T Naval Aviation News August 1959 p.15

"Triple threat rocket" Naval Aviation News November 1959 Photo of F9F-8 firing Zunis at NOTS China Lake

Photo: Plane captains towing F9F-8T BuNo 142495 of VA-126. Naval Aviation News January 1961

"VT-21 Wins Tough Competition with Self" Naval Aviation News August 1963 p.37 Includes two pictures of TF-9Js based at NAAS Kingsville

"Epic flight in target drones" Naval Aviation News July 1965. Details the operations of NOTS' Target Drone Division at China Lake; includes several photos of QF-9G drones.

"Cougar nicknamed the Iron Horse" Naval Aviation News May 1967 Covers TF-9J's use as a FAC aircraft in Vietnam

Jordan Ross "Leatherneck Panther" Scale Modeler November 1980. Converting the 1/72 scale Minicraft/Hasegawa F9F-2 to a gray-scheme VMF-223 F9F-5. Includes a 3-view diagram.

Photo: F-9F BuNo 126275 preserved at Barbers Point FlyPast May 1987 / No.70 p.8

Photo: F9F-2 BuNo 123420 preserved at Griffith Park. Warbirds International Summer 1987 p.73

Howard Levy "Panther on the Prowl" Aeroplane Monthly March 1989 p.144-146. Profile of warbird F9F-2 BuNo 123072

Tom Graham "Aurora's F9F Panther" FineScale Modeler February 1991 p.69

Photo: F9F-8 BuNo 13113 of VX-3. The Hook, Journal of Naval Aviation p.12

The Hook, Journal of Naval Aviation Fall 1996 p.390-31 several photos of F9F-3s of VF-51, and an account of the squadron's intercepts of B-36s during exercises.

Al Bedford "Panthers over Korea" An excellent first hand account of VF-151 F9F combat operations from the USS Boxer. FlyPast December 1998

Steven J. Corvi "Grumman's Jet Cat" Scale Aviation Modeller International July 2002. Building the Monogram 1/48 scale F9F-5.

"Workbench Review: F9F-2 Panther from Trumpeter in 1/48 scale" FineScale Modeler July 2007 p.74

Civilian warbird F9F in VF-112 markings, late 1980s.
Civilian warbird F9F in VF-112 markings, late 1980s.

F9F-9 / F11F / F-11 Tiger

Grumman's first operational fighter to have swept wings from the outset, the F11F Tiger was evolved out of the F9F, and was originally designated as the F9F-9, but was in reality a very different aircraft. Powered by a J65 license-built Sapphire and having an area-ruled fuselage, the Tiger was intended to be capable of supersonic speed in level flight, but performance was hampered by the J65's shortcomings.

The standard Tigers did not have long operational careers; as F8Us began arriving, the F11Fs were shifted to the training role, a mission they would carry out well into the 1960s. However, the Tiger's most visible role was as the mount for the Blue Angels aerobatic team, which converted to the type from the F9F-8. The Blues finally retired the Tiger in 1969 when the team transitioned to the F-4 Phantom. However, this did not end the F-11's career entirely, as a pair of aircraft were resurrected for a time for use in thrust-reverser testing.

F11F Bibliography

"A Look at the New Tigerjet" Photo feature on the F9F-9, including an in flight shot with a Cougar. Naval Aviation News January 1955.

"Tigers Fly Safely at High Mach" Photo feature on VT-23 F11Fs. Naval Aviation News May 1961 p.18

Gil Hodges "Modeling a long-nose Tiger" FineScale Modeler July/August 1985 p.44-47 Turning the old 1/48 scale Linberg prototype Tiger into an operational F11F-1 of VF-121.

Scale Aviation Modeller Vol.10 Issue 11. Pull-out 1/48 scale plans for F11F-1 short- and long-nose versions, and color profiles for aircraft from VX-3, VF-21, VA-165, VF-33 aboard USS Intrepid, VF-21, VF-51 aboard USS Ranger, VF-121 aboard USS Lexington, VF-191 aboard USS Bon Homme Richard, VT-23, VT-26, Blue Angels.


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    • Vik Beluso profile image

      Vik Beluso 5 years ago from Champaign, IL

      Nice piece on one of the lesser known Navy fighters. This plane was a classic and is often overlooked.


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