|VF-21 F11F-1 Tigers in left echelon formation|
|First flight||30 July 1954|
1969 (Blue Angels)
|Primary user||United States Navy|
|Variants||Grumman F11F-1F Super Tiger|
The Grumman F11F/F-11 Tiger is a supersonic, single-seat carrier-based fighter aircraft designed and produced by the American aircraft manufacturer Grumman. For a time, it held the world altitude record of 76,939 feet, as well as being the first supersonic fighter to be produced by Grumman.
Work on what would become the Tiger commended in 1952 as a design study, internally designated G-98, to improve the F9F-6/7 Cougar. However, the resulting design produced had little association with the Cougar by the end of the project. The U.S. Navy Bureau of Aeronautics placed order for two prototypes, initially designated XF9F-8. On 30 July 1954, the first prototype performed its maiden flight, during which it almost achieved Mach 1; the second prototype became the second U.S. Navy aircraft to exceed the speed of sound. On 21 September 1956, the Tiger became the first jet aircraft to shoot itself down. Originally designated the F11F Tiger in April 1955 under the pre-1962 Navy designation system, the aircraft was redesignated as F-11 Tiger under the 1962 United States Tri-Service aircraft designation system. A total of 200 Tigers were produced for the United States Navy, with the last aircraft being delivered to the service on 23 January 1959.
The Tiger entered service with the U.S. Navy during 1956, and was flown from the carriers Intrepid, Lexington, Hancock, Bon Homme Richard, Shangri-La, Forrestal, Saratoga and Ranger. Frontline use of the Tiger was relatively brief, largely due to its performance being inferior to the competing Vought F-8 Crusader, such as its limited endurance, while its Wright J65 turbojet engine had also proved to be somewhat unreliable. Through to the late 1960s, the aircraft used flown by the Naval Air Training Command in South Texas at NAS Chase Field and NAS Kingsville, to give students experience of supersonic flight. Between 1957 and 1969, the Tiger was used by the Blue Angels flight team, being eventually replaced by the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. The last examples were withdrawn from U.S. Navy service during 1969, although a handful of aircraft remained operational and were conducting test flights as late as 1975.
The origins of the F11F (F-11) Tiger can be traced back to a privately funded 1952 Grumman concept to modernize and improve the F9F-6/7 Cougar, a popular early jet-powered carrier aircraft. The design team opted to implement the area rule along with several other advances into the project, which was internally designated G-98. Design objectives included the minimisation of the aircraft's size. By the time that the design process was concluded during 1953, it had become a complete departure from the Cougar, bearing little more than a vague resemblance to the preceding aircraft.
It features a new wing equipped with both full-span leading edge slats and trailing edge flaps with roll control being achieved using spoilers rather than traditional ailerons. For storage on aircraft carriers, these wings could be manually folded downwards. Anticipating supersonic performance, the tailplane was all-moving. The aircraft was designed to be powered by the Wright J65 turbojet, a license-built version of the Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire.
The design's potential for supersonic performance and reduced transonic drag drew the attention of several officials, including those within the United States Navy. During early 1953, the U.S. Navy Bureau of Aeronautics decided to commit itself to the project's full development, placing an initial order for two prototypes, which were designated XF9F-8 (even though the new fighter was clearly a new design). To add to the confusion, the prototypes were then redesignated XF9F-9 while the XF9F-8 designation was assigned to a different, more straightforward, derivative of the Cougar.
Since the afterburning version of the J65 was not ready, the first prototype made its maiden flight on 30 July 1954 powered by a non-afterburning engine. In spite of this, the aircraft nearly reached Mach 1 during this first flight. The second prototype, equipped with the afterburning engine, became the second supersonic U.S. Navy aircraft, the first being the Douglas F4D Skyray. During April 1955, the aircraft received the new designation F11F-1 (F-11A after adoption of the unified Tri-Service naming system in 1962). On 4 April 1956, carrier trials started when an F11F-1 Tiger landed on and launched from USS Forrestal.
The Tiger gained the dubious distinction of being the first jet aircraft to shoot itself down. On 21 September 1956, during a test-firing of its 20 mm (0.79 in) cannons, pilot Tom Attridge fired two bursts midway through a shallow dive. As the trajectory of the cannon rounds decayed, they ultimately crossed paths with the Tiger as it continued its descent, disabling the aircraft and forcing Attridge to crash-land the aircraft; he survived with a broken leg and multiple broken vertebrae.
Grumman proposed several models of the Tiger, beyond the F-11A (F11F-1) fighter, including aerial reconnaissance and dedicated trainer versions. The more advanced version of the airframe to be proposed by the company was the F11F-1F Super Tiger. It was the result of a 1955 study to install the new General Electric J79 engine into the F11F-1 airframe. When evaluated by Switzerland for a potential procurement, it was assessed as having exceeded all competing aircraft in terms of overall technical performance. Grumman also proposed to produce a variant powered by the proven, and even more powerful, Rolls-Royce Avon engine in place of the J79.
Seven U.S. Navy squadrons flew the Tiger, these included VF-21 and VF-33 in the Atlantic Fleet and VA-156 (redesignated VF-111 in January 1959), VF-24 (redesignated VF-211 in March 1959), VF-51, VF-121, and VF-191 in the Pacific Fleet. The aircraft was operated from the carriers Intrepid, Lexington, Hancock, Bon Homme Richard, Shangri-La, Forrestal, Saratoga and Ranger. The F11F's career as a frontline fighter lasted only four years, largely as a result of its performance being inferior to the competing and considerably faster Vought F-8 Crusader; further factors included the unreliability of its J65 powerplant, and the inadequacy of both its range and endurance. At no point was the Tiger ever capable of sustained supersonic flight in an operational configuration. The Navy opted to cancel its orders for the F11F-1P reconnaissance version, thus only 199 F11F-1 (F-11A) fighters were ever built.
By 1961, the Tiger had been permanently withdrawn from carrier operations. Nevertheless, it continued to be operated by the Naval Air Training Command in South Texas at NAS Chase Field and NAS Kingsville, though to the late 1960s. Typically, students performed advanced jet training in the TF-9J Cougar, and upon completing that syllabus, were given a brief taste of supersonic capability with the F-11 before transitioning to active fleet fighters. The Tiger's flight characteristics leant itself well to the training role.
While the Tiger's career as a fighter was relatively short, the Blue Angels performed in the aircraft between 1957 and 1968, at which point the Tiger was replaced by the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II.
Prior to the 1962 code unification, the Tiger was designated as the F11F; after unification, it was redesignated F-11.
During 1973, two former Blue Angels F-11As were taken from storage at Davis-Monthan AFB and modified by Grumman as testbeds to evaluate in-flight thrust control systems. BuNo 141853 was fitted with a Rohr Industries thrust reverser and BuNo 141824 was kept in standard configuration as a chase plane. Tests of the inflight thrust reversal were carried out by Grumman at Calverton beginning in March 1974 and continued at NATC Patuxent River, Maryland until 1975. Following the completion of these tests, both planes were returned to storage at Davis Monthan AFB. These were the last Tigers to fly.
Data from United States Navy Aircraft since 1911 Standard Aircraft Characteristics: F-11A