McDonnell F2H-2P Banshee

McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee

The McDonnell F2H-1 Banshee was developed as a carrier borne fighter aircraft and went on to serve with great distinction with the US Navy and Marine Corps during the Korean War whilst operating from a number of different aircraft carriers including, USS Valley Forge (CV-45), USS Essex (CV-9), USS Lake Champlain (CVA-39) and USS Franklin D Roosevelt (CVB-42).

One problem that soon came to light in Korea was the very limited tactical reconnaissance assets that were available to the UN forces. Various fighter aircraft were adapted into temporary reconnaissance aircraft, but it was essential that aircraft were built specifically for this role. The F2H-1 Banshee had already been developed into a fighter bomber version, the F2H-2, with increased internal fuel, 200-gallon wingtip tanks, external racks that could carry two 500lb bombs or six 5-inch rockets and the more powerful Westinghouse J34-WE-34 turbojet.

McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee

A reconnaissance version of the Banshee was quickly developed and was known as the F2H-2P Banshee and a total of 89 F2H-2Ps were eventually built, the first aircraft flying on 12 Oct 1950. Essentially the F2H-2P was simply an unarmed version of the F2H-2. However, it also had a wider longer nose, which accommodated a total of six vertical and oblique cameras. For night photography, a container holding, including 20 flash cartridges could be carried underneath each wing.

McDonnell F2H-2P Banshee

In fact the first Banshees to serve in Korea were a detachment of three F2H-2Ps from a composite squadron VC-61 aboard Valley Forge in 1951 and small detachments of these aircraft served alongside Banshee fighters both at sea and sometimes from shore bases throughout the Korean War. On 4 May 1955 a US Marine Photo Squadron, (VMJ-1), was ordered to conduct clandestine photo reconnaissance flights over Fukien Province in mainland China from Taiwan, searching for evidence of a build-up of Red Chinese forces in preparation for an invasion of Taiwan. The F2H-2P aircraft generally flew in pairs and were passed information on any enemy fighters attempting to intercept them by a VW-1 Super Constellation, orbiting over international waters between Taiwan and Fukien Province. A long-range radar run by the Nationalist Chinese in the Pescadores, some 110 miles from the mainland coast, also assisted in this task, but their command of English left something to be desired and made the information they passed difficult to understand.

McDonnell F2H-2P Banshee's in formation

The Banshees generally over flew China between 30,000 40,000ft. After one sortie, when the aircraft were instructed by Seventh Fleet specifically to fly at 40,000ft to achieve a particular photographic scale, leaving a long contrail as a result, and had to evade intercepting MiGs by diving down to low-level, the unit acquired four regular Banshee F2H-2 fighters to fly escort. Seventh Fleet also sent one of their best Fighter Direction Officers (FDO) to man a powerful radar on Makung Island, which could pick up a fighter-sized aircraft at over 250 miles, and also provide information on any potential threat from intercepting MiGs. On 13 Jun 1955, after a total of 77 missions over China, the crisis had passed and VMJ-1 was ordered to halt all further operations.

Detachments of F2H-2Ps from VC-61 and VC-62 continued to operate from various carriers after the end of the Korean War, until replaced in the mid 1950s by Grumman F9F-6P and F9F-9P Cougars. The F2H-2Ps were then transferred to reserve units and flew for a few more years before all the aircraft were eventually retired and scrapped.