The Brewster F2A Buffalo was an American fighter aircraft which saw service early in World War II. Designed and built by the Brewster Aeronautical Corporation, it was one of the first U.S. monoplanes with an arrestor hook and other modifications for aircraft carriers. The Buffalo won a competition against the Grumman F4F Wildcat in 1939 to become the U.S. Navy's first monoplane fighter aircraft. Although superior to the Grumman F3F biplane it replaced and the early F4Fs, the Buffalo was largely obsolete when the United States entered the war, being unstable and overweight, especially when compared to the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero.
Several nations, including Finland, Belgium, Britain and the Netherlands, ordered the Buffalo. The Finns were the most successful with their Buffalos, flying them in combat against early Soviet fighters with excellent results. During the Continuation War of 1941–1944, the B-239s (a de-navalized F2A-1) operated by the Finnish Air Force proved capable of engaging and destroying most types of Soviet fighter aircraft operating against Finland at that time and achieving in the first phase of that conflict 32 Soviet aircraft shot down for every B-239 lost, and producing 36 Buffalo "aces".
In December 1941, Buffalos operated by both British Commonwealth (B-339E) and Dutch (B-339D) air forces in South East Asia suffered severe losses in combat against the Japanese Navy's Mitsubishi A6M Zero and the Japanese Army's Nakajima Ki-43 "Oscar". The British attempted to lighten their Buffalos by removing ammunition and fuel and installing lighter guns to improve performance, but it made little difference. After the first few engagements, the Dutch halved the fuel and ammunition load in the wing, which allowed their Buffalos (and their Hurricanes) to stay with the Oscars in turns.
The Buffalo was built in three variants for the U.S. Navy: the F2A-1, F2A-2 and F2A-3. (In foreign service, with lower horsepower engines, these types were designated B-239, B-339, and B-339-23 respectively.) The F2A-3 variant saw action with United States Marine Corps (USMC) squadrons at the Battle of Midway. Shown by the experience of Midway to be no match for the Zero, the F2A-3 was derided by USMC pilots as a "flying coffin." However, the F2A-3s performance was substantially inferior to the F2A-2 variant used by the Navy before the outbreak of the war despite detail improvements.
Design and development
In 1935, the U.S. Navy issued a requirement for a carrier-based fighter intended to replace the Grumman F3F biplane. The Brewster XF2A-1 monoplane, designed by a team led by Dayton T. Brown, was one of two aircraft designs that were initially considered. The XF4F-1 with a double-row radial engine was a "classic" biplane. The U.S. Navy competition was re-opened to allow another competitor, the XFNF-1, a navalized Seversky P-35 eliminated early on when the prototype could not reach more than 267 mph (430 km/h). The XF2A-1 first flew on 2 December 1937 and early test results showed it was far in advance of the Grumman biplane entry. While the XF4F-1 would not enter production, it would later re-emerge as a monoplane, the Wildcat.
The Buffalo was manufactured at the Brewster Building in Long Island City, New York.
Brewster XF2A-1 prototype
The new Brewster fighter had a modern look with a stubby fuselage, mid-set monoplane wings and a host of advanced features. It was all-metal, with flush-riveted, stressed aluminum construction, although control surfaces were still fabric-covered. The XF2A-1 also featured split flaps, a hydraulically operated retractable main undercarriage (and partially retractable tailwheel), and a streamlined framed canopy. However (as was still common at this time), the aircraft lacked self-sealing fuel tanks and pilot armor. Fuel was only 160 U.S. gal (606 l), stored in the fuselage. Powered by a 950 hp (708 kW) single-row Wright R-1820-22 Cyclone radial engine, it had an impressive initial climb rate of 2,750 ft/min and a top speed of 277.5 mph (447 km/h). The aircraft was then tested in 1938 in the Langley Research Center full-scale wind tunnel, where it was determined that certain factors were contributing to parasitic drag. Based on the tests, improvements were made to the cowling streamlining and carburetor/oil cooler intakes, and the Buffalo's speed rose to 304 mph (489 km/h) at 16,000 ft (4,879 m) without any increase in power.Other manufacturers took notice of this 10% increase in speed and efficiency, and wind tunnel tests grew to be standard procedure in the US. With only a single-stage supercharger, high-altitude performance fell off rapidly.Fuselage armament was one fixed .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine gun with 200 rounds and one fixed .30 in (7.62 mm) AN Browning machine gun with 600 rounds, both in the nose.[N 1] The Navy awarded Brewster Aeronautical Corporation a production contract for 54 aircraft as the F2A-1.
Service testing of the XF2A-1 prototype began in January 1938 and in June, production started on the F2A-1. They were powered by the 940 hp (701 kW) Wright R-1820-34 engine and had a larger fin. The added weight of two additional .50 in (12.7 mm) Browning wing guns and other equipment specified by the Navy for combat operations reduced the initial rate of climb to 2,600 ft/min. Plagued by production difficulties, Brewster delivered only 11 F2A-1 aircraft to the Navy; the remainder of the order was later diverted to the Finnish Air Force in modified form under the export designation Model 239.
F2A-3s serving as U.S. Navy training aircraft at NAS Miami
A later variant, the F2A-2, of which 43 were ordered by the U.S. Navy, included a more powerful R-1820-40 engine, a better propeller, and integral flotation gear, but still lacked pilot armor and self-sealing tanks. The increase in engine power was welcomed, but to some extent offset by the increased loaded weight (5,942 lb/2,701 kg) of the aircraft; while top speed was increased to a respectable 323 mph (520 km/h) at 16,500 ft (5,029 m), initial climb rate dropped to 2,500 ft/min. Both the F2A-1 and the F2A-2 variants of the Brewster were liked by early Navy and Marine pilots, including Pappy Boyington, who praised the good turning and maneuvering abilities of the aircraft.Boyington is alleged to have opined "...the early models, before they weighed it all down with armor plate, radios, and other [equipment], they were pretty sweet little ships. Not real fast, but the little [aircraft] could turn and roll in a phone booth." This might be expected from the low wing loading, in earlier versions comparable with the Mitsubishi A6M Zero's 22 pounds per square foot.
The F2A-3 was the last version of the Buffalo to enter service with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. A total of 108 examples were ordered in January 1941. By this time, the Navy had become disenchanted with the Buffalo, and had become especially annoyed at Brewster Aeronautical Corporation's frequent production delays and its seemingly never-ending management difficulties. This order was seen more as a way of keeping Brewster's production lines running; they would eventually build Corsair fighters for the Navy as well as Buccaneer/Bermuda dive bombers.
The F2A-3s were conceived as a long range reconnaissance fighter with a new wet wing with self-sealing features and a larger fuselage tank which provided increased fuel capacity and protection, but this also increased the aircraft's weight by more than 500 lb (227 kg). The wing and enlarged fuselage tank carried an additional 80 U.S. gal (300 L) of fuel; at 6 lb/U.S. gal (0.72 kg/L), the fuel alone weighed nearly 500 lb (227 kg). The addition of armor plating for the pilot and increased ammunition capacity further increased the aircraft's weight, resulting in a reduced top speed and rate of climb, while substantially degrading the Brewster's turning and maneuvering capability.The Navy found that the added weight of the F2A-3 also aggravated the problem of landing gear failure during carrier landings. However, the -40 two speed  supercharged Cyclone engine in the F2A-3 was an excellent "cruising" engine and as such the F2A-3 had some value and saw initial service on the carriers Saratoga and Lexington.
Even in late 1940 it was apparent that the Buffalo was rapidly becoming obsolete.[N 2] It badly needed a more powerful engine, but the limits of the airframe had been reached, making installation of a larger engine impossible. Soon after deliveries of the F2A-3 began, the Navy decided to eliminate the type altogether. By then, considered a second line aircraft, some were transferred to the U.S. Marine Corps, which deployed two F2A-3 squadrons to the Pacific, one at Palmyra Atoll, and another at Midway Island. Those which still remained on board aircraft carriers narrowly missed a combat opportunity when a relief mission was dispatched to Wake Island, but the relief force was withdrawn before completing the mission. Shortly thereafter, F2A-3s still in naval service were transferred to training squadrons for use as advanced trainers.
The first unit to be equipped with the F2A-1 was Lt. Cdr. Warren Harvey’s VF-3, assigned to USS Saratoga air group. On 8 December 1939, VF-3 received 10 of the 11 Buffalos delivered to the U.S. Navy. The remaining 43 F2A-1s were declared surplus and sold to Finland. Although it was becoming clear the F2A was inferior to the latest German and British fighters—one American observer wrote in late 1940 after visiting Britain that "The best American fighter planes already delivered to the British are used by them either as advanced trainers --or for fighting equally obsolete Italian planes in the Middle East. That is all they are good for"—in the early years of World War II all modern monoplane fighter types were in high demand. Consequently, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and the Netherlands East Indies purchased several hundred export models of the Buffalo.
Finnish company Nokia
donated sufficient funds for the FAF
to purchase a B-239. In return, the word NOKA
was inscribed on BW-355. Operated by No. 24 Squadron
, it was destroyed on 24 October 1944.
Future ace Paavo Mellin shot down an I-16
and shared in the destruction of a MiG-3
whilst flying this aircraft.
In April 1939, the Finnish government contacted the Roosevelt administration to acquire modern combat aircraft for its air force as quickly as possible. On 17 October 1939, the Finnish Embassy in Washington, DC, received a telegram clearing the purchase of fighter aircraft. Prompt availability and compatibility with 87-octane fuel were the only requirements stipulated by the Finns. The U.S. Navy and State Department arranged to divert remaining F2A-1 fighter aircraft,[N 3] in exchange for its order of F2A-2 Buffalos scheduled to be delivered later.
Consequently, on 16 December, the Finns signed a contract to purchase 44 Model 239 fighters. The total agreed price was U.S. $3.4 million, and the deal included spare parts, ten replacement engines and 20 Hamilton Standard propellers. The Buffalos sent to Finland were de-navalized; all the naval equipment, such as tailhooks and life-raft containers were removed, resulting in a lighter aircraft. The Finnish F2A-1s also lacked self-sealing fuel tanks and cockpit armor.
These F2A-1 Buffalos, given the export number Model B-239, were equipped with an export-approved Wright R-1820-G5 nine-cylinder radial engine of 950 hp (708 kW). After their delivery to Finland, the Finnish Air Force added armored backrests, metric flight instruments, the Finnish Väisälä T.h.m.40 gunsight, and four .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns. The top speed of the Finnish B-239s, as modified, was 297 mph (478 km/h) at 15,675 ft (4,750 m), and their loaded weight was 5,820 lb (2,640 kg).
Built and shipped in four batches, the Finnish B-239s were shipped to Bergen, in Norway, in January and February 1940 from New York City. The crated fighters were then sent by railway to Sweden and assembled by SAAB at Trollhättan, northeast of Gothenburg.
In February 1940, Finnish Air Force pilot Lieutenant Jorma "Joppe" Karhunen flight tested the first B-239. Unfamiliar with the aircraft, he burned out the engine while flying very low at high speed; crashing on a snow-covered field, damaging the propeller and some belly panels. Initially unimpressed, the Finns later witnessed a demonstration by a Brewster test pilot, who was able to stay on the tail of a Finnish Fiat G.50 Freccia [N 4] fighter from Italy; although the Fiat fighter was faster in level flight,[N 5] the Brewster could out-turn it.
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