OS2U Kingfisher
Role Observation floatplane
Manufacturer Vought
First flight 1938
Retired 1959 (Cuba)
Primary users United States Navy
Royal Navy
Royal Australian Air Force
Soviet Navy
Number built 1,519
OS2U with landing gear

The Vought OS2U Kingfisher is an American catapult-launched observation floatplane. It was a compact mid-wing monoplane, with a large central float and small stabilizing floats. Performance was modest because of its low-powered engine. The OS2U could also operate on fixed, wheeled, taildragger landing gear.

The OS2U was the main shipboard observation seaplane used by the United States Navy during World War II, and 1,519 of the aircraft were built. It served on battleships and cruisers of the U.S. Navy, with the United States Marine Corps in Marine Scouting Squadron Three (VMS-3), with the United States Coast Guard at coastal air stations; at sea with the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy; with the Soviet Navy; and with the Royal Australian Air Force.

The Naval Aircraft Factory OS2N was the designation of the OS2U-3 aircraft built by the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The OS2U first flew on 1 March 1938.

Design and development

OS2U Kingfisher in 1944

In the late 1930s, Vought engineer Rex Beisel was tasked with designing an observation monoplane aircraft for the U.S. Navy suitable for many tasks, including directing battleship fire. In replacing the standard biplane observation aircraft with a more modern monoplane design, Beisel incorporated innovations making it the first production type to be assembled with spot welding, a process Vought and the Naval Aircraft Factory jointly developed to create a smooth fuselage that resisted buckling and generated less drag. Beisel also introduced high-lift devices and spoilers. In a unique arrangement, deflector plate flaps and drooping ailerons were located on the trailing edge of the wing to increase the camber of the wing and thus create additional lift.[1] Beisel's first prototype flew in 1938, powered by an air-cooled, 450 hp Pratt & Whitney R-985-4 Wasp Junior radial engine.[1]

For combat missions, the pilot had a .30-caliber Browning M1919 machine gun, the receiver mounted low in the right front cockpit, firing between the engine cylinder heads, while the radio operator/gunner manned another .30-caliber machine gun (or a pair) on a flexible Scarff ring mount. The aircraft could also carry two 100 lb bombs or two 325 lb depth charges.[1][2] Additionally, the "Kingfisher", as it was designated, served as a trainer in both its floatplane and landplane configurations.[3]

Operational history

Aviation cadet in OS2U Kingfisher at the Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas
Downed American airmen near Truk await rescue from USS Tang on the wings of an OS2U Kingfisher, 1 May 1944
Iowa launches (left) while Missouri recovers (right) Vought OS2U Kingfishers in 1944.

The first 54 Kingfishers were delivered to the U.S. Navy beginning in August 1940, and 6 had been assigned to the Pearl Harbor–based Battle Force before the end of the same year. Many of the following 158 OS2U-2s were attached to flight training at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, but 53 were assigned to equip the newly established Inshore Patrol Squadrons, based at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida. In 1942, nine more Inshore Patrol Squadrons were established, all exclusively equipped with OS2N-1s built by the Naval Aircraft Factory.[4]

The Kingfisher was widely used as a shipboard, catapult-launched scout plane on U.S. Navy battleships, heavy cruisers, and light cruisers during World War II and played a major role in support of shore bombardments and air-sea rescue. Two examples showing the plane's rescue capabilities include the recovery of World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker and his crew from the Pacific in November 1942[5] and Lieutenant John A. Burns' unique use of the aircraft on 30 April 1944 to taxi airmen rescued from Truk Lagoon to the submarine Tang, which was serving rescue duty near the atoll. In all, Burns rescued ten survivors on two trips[6] and was awarded the Navy Cross for his efforts.

The United States Coast Guard received 76 OS2U-3 Kingfishers starting in 1942 and employed them in anti-submarine warfare, reconnaissance, and search and rescue roles. No Coast Guard Kingfisher is credited with sinking any enemy submarines; however, they were successful in rescuing sailors from ships sunk by enemy torpedoes. The Coast Guard operated Kingfishers until October 1944.[2]

Australia received 18 Kingfishers from a batch of aircraft ordered by the Dutch East Indies that was diverted to Australia in 1942. They were initially used as training aircraft for pilots destined for flying boats, but in 1943 they were used to equip No. 107 Squadron RAAF, which carried out convoy escort duties until disbanded in October 1945.[7] One Kingfisher was used in support of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition in 1947–48.[8]

Throughout its U.S. Navy service, the OS2U and even its predecessor, the Curtiss SOC Seagull, served much longer than planned, as the planned successor, the Curtiss SO3C Seamew, suffered from an insufficiently powerful engine which was a complete failure.[9] The OS2U was only slowly replaced in the latter stages of World War II with the introduction of the Curtiss SC Seahawk, the first examples reaching the U.S. Navy in October 1944.[10]


An OS2N-1 at the Naval Aircraft Factory, 1941.
Prototype Vought Model VS.310 powered by a 450 hp (336 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985-4 engine, one built.
Initial production variant as the prototype but powered by a 450 hp (336 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985-48, 54 built.
Production variant with minor equipment changes and powered by a 450 hp (336 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985-50, 158 built.
Based on the OS2U-2 with self-sealing fuel tanks, armour protection, two .30 cal (7.62 mm) guns (dorsal and nose mounted), and able to carry 325 lb (147 kg) of depth charges or 100 lb (45 kg) bombs, powered by a 450 hp (336 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN2 engine, 1006 built.
Two aircraft converted with narrow-chord and high-aspect ratio wings, also fitted with full-span flaps. Not developed.
Naval Aircraft Factory built OS2U-3 with a 450 hp (336 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN-2 or -AN-8 engine, 300 built.
Kingfisher I
British designation for the OS2U-3, 100 delivered to the Royal Navy.


An OS2U of 107 Sqn RAAF.
A Fleet Air Arm 778 NAS Kingfisher at Arbroath.
US Navy OS2U hoisted aboard the USS Missouri (BB-53), 1944
15 aircraft, operated 1942–1957.
Operated four aircraft between 1942 and 1959.
 Dominican Republic
(Three aircraft)
Six aircraft, 201 Squadron.
24 aircraft, not delivered in time for hostilities.
 Soviet Union
2 aircraft on the ship USS Milwaukee (Murmansk)
 United Kingdom
Received 100 aircraft.
 United States
Received six OS2U-3s in 1942 to 1959 under Lend Lease.[11]

Aircraft on display

Vought OS2U Kingfisher Chilean Navy.
Cuban Vought-Sikorsky Kingfisher.

At least eight Kingfishers survive in collections of historic aircraft around the world:[12]







New Zealand


United States

OS2U Kingfisher at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.
On display
Lynn Garrison salvaged Vought Kingfisher from Calvert Island, British Columbia, February, 1965
In storage

Specifications (OS2U-3)

Data from Jane's Fighting aircraft of World War II[23]

General characteristics

400 hp (298 kW) at 5,000 ft (1,524 m)



See also

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era

Related lists


  1. ^ a b c Noles, James Jr "Old, slow and ugly." Archived 2008-09-07 at the Wayback Machine Air and Space, February/March 2005, p. 66.
  2. ^ a b c d "Vought OS2U-2 / 3 "Kingfisher"". Coast Guard Aviation Association. United States Coast Guard Aviation History. Retrieved January 7, 2023.
  3. ^ Hickman 2010, p. 59.
  4. ^ Bowers 1990, p. 447.
  5. ^ Doll and Jackson 1975, pp. 122–123
  6. ^ Doll and Jackson 1975, pp.123, 127.
  7. ^ Vincent 1998, pp. 54–59.
  8. ^ Vincent 1998, pp. 61–62.
  9. ^ Bowers 1990, p. 164.
  10. ^ Bowers 1990, p. 169.
  11. ^ Steinemann Air International February 1992, p. 73.
  12. ^ "Vought OS2U (Kingfisher)." Archived 2012-04-03 at the Wayback Machine Aviation Enthusiast Corner. Retrieved: 12 January 2011.
  13. ^ "OS2U-3 Kingfisher/5985 in Australia." airliners.net. Retrieved: 12 January 2011.
  14. ^ "OS2U-3 Kingfisher/5925 in Chile" (in Spanish language). Archived 2008-06-17 at the Wayback Machine museoaeronautico.cl. Retrieved: 12 January 2011.
  15. ^ "OS2U-3 Kingfisher/Unknown in Cuba." airliners.net. Retrieved: 12 January 2011.
  16. ^ [1] http://www.pioneeraero.co.nz/. Archived 2017-04-06 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved: 5 April 2017.
  17. ^ "OS2U-3 Kingfisher/1368." Archived 2012-09-04 at the Wayback Machine USS Alabama Museum. Retrieved: 13 June 2012.
  18. ^ "OS2U-3 Kingfisher/5909." Archived 2011-04-02 at the Wayback Machine NASM. Retrieved: 12 January 2011.
  19. ^ "OS2U-3 Kingfisher/5926." National Museum of Naval Aviation. Retrieved: 12 January 2011.
  20. ^ "OS2U-3 Kingfisher/Unknown at USS North Carolina." Archived 2011-01-12 at the Wayback Machine and sent to the battleship in 1971. The 2018 restoration of the Kingfisher was managed by a Wilmington resident and the Carolina Chapter of the Flight Deck Veterans Group (http://www.fdvg.org/single-post/2018/02/08/FDVG-Strikes-Again-with-Operation-Restoration-USS-North-Carolina). Archived 2011-01-12 at the Wayback Machine USS North Carolina. Retrieved: 12 January 2011.
  21. ^ [2] Yanks Air Museum – Vought OS2U-3 Kingfisher. Retrieved: 6 October 2018.
  22. ^ [3] Aerial Visuals - Airframe Dossier Retrieved: 6 October 2018.
  23. ^ Bridgman, Leonard, ed. (1989). Jane's Fighting aircraft of World War II (1995 ed.). New York: Military Press. p. 214. ISBN 0517679647.
  24. ^ Lednicer, David. "The Incomplete Guide to Airfoil Usage". m-selig.ae.illinois.edu. Retrieved 16 April 2019.


  • Adcock, Al. OS2U Kingfisher in Action (Aircraft in Action No. 119). Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc., 1991. ISBN 0-89747-270-5.
  • Bowers, Peter M. United States Navy Aircraft since 1911. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1990, pp. 447–448. ISBN 0-87021-792-5.
  • Doll, Thomas E., and B.R. Jackson. "Vought-Sikorsky OS2U Kingfisher". Aircraft in Profile, Volume 14. Windsor, Berkshire, UK: Profile Publications Ltd., 1974, pp. 113–136. ISBN 0-85383-023-1.
  • Eden, Paul and Soph Moeng, eds. The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. London: Amber Books Ltd., 2002, ISBN 0-7607-3432-1.
  • Hickman, Patrick M. The Aircraft Collection. Pensacola, Florida: The Naval Aviation Museum Foundation, Inc., 2010.
  • Lawrence, Joseph (1945). The Observer's Book Of Airplanes. London and New York: Frederick Warne & Co.
  • Pattison, Barry. Kingfisher in the Antipodes. Glen Waverly, Victoria 3150, Australia: Red Roo Model Publications, 1998.
  • Steinemann, Peter. "Protector of the Plate". Air International, Vol. 42, No. 2, February 1992. pp. 73–78. ISSN 0306-5634.
  • Sturtivant, Ray and M. Burrow. Fleet Air Arm Aircraft: 1939 to 1945. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air Britain (Historians) Ltd, 1995. ISBN 0-85130-232-7.
  • Vincent, David. "Kangaroo Kingfishers". Air Enthusiast, No. 77, September/October 1998. Stamford, UK: Key Publishing. pp. 54–62. ISSN 0143-5450.