Brewster F2A Buffalo
by Jack McKillop

The F2A Buffalo, built by the Brewster Aeronautical Corporation in the Long Island City section of the Borough of Queens, New York City, was the first production monoplane fighter in the U.S. Navy. The F2A was an all-metal, single-engine, single-seat, mid-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear and tail hook for carrier operations. The control surfaces, i.e., ailerons, elevators and rudder, were metal framed but covered with fabric. The struts of the hydraulically operated landing gear retracted into the underside of the wing while the wheels fitted into the stubby fuselage below the wings. The tail hook was fully retractable into the rear fuselage while the tail-wheel partially retracted into the rear fuselage. Because of its short wingspan, the F2A did not need wing folding to be accommodated on U.S. aircraft carriers.

This aircraft was designed to meet a 15 November 1935 request by the U.S. Navy for a carrier-based fighter than could reach 300 mph (482.80 km/h) in level flight. Three companies responded:

1. Brewster offered their Model B-139, the only original design. This aircraft was ordered as the  XF2A-1 as described below.

2. Grumman offered their Model G-16, a biplane fighter ordered on 2 February 1936 as the XF4F-1. This was basically a development of the F3F-1 then entering service however, the performance of the XF4F-1 was similar to that of the projected F3F-2 but less than that of the projected F2A-2. Grumman scrapped Model G-16 and began work on their Model G-18 which was ordered as the XF4F-2 and gained fame as the Grumman Wildcat, q.v.

3. Seversky offered a navalized version of their P-35 then being tested by the U.S. Army Air Corps. This aircraft, ordered as the XFN-1, was identical to the first P-35 except for a different engine and the installation of a tail hook. The aircraft could not meet the Naval specifications and no production orders were placed.

The Buffalo entered squadron service in the summer of 1940 and it was not long before three serious defects were identified. The first was the landing gear; it was not strong enough for carrier operations. Brewster strengthened two weak struts but a “real” fix would require a redesign of the aircraft. The second defect was identified by reports from Europe which indicated that the Buffalo did not meet the performance of aircraft then in combat, e.g., armor protection, self sealing fuel tanks, etc. Armor protection was added to the F2A-3 as described below resulting in a heavier, unstable aircraft. One solution was to use a more powerful Pratt & Whitney engine but this would require a redesign of the aircraft. The third problem was the Brewster company management who had a habit of promising more than they could deliver resulting in serious delays in the deliveries of the aircraft as described below. The final straw was the fact that the Navy realized that the Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat was a superior aircraft and no other Buffalos were ordered.

XF2A-1 (Brewster Model B-139): One prototype was ordered on 22 June 1936. The aircraft was powered by a 950 hp (708.4 kW) Wright XR-1820-22 nine-cylinder, single-row radial engine driving a Hamilton Standard three-bladed hydromatic propeller. Armament consisted of one .50-caliber (12.7 mm) and one .30-caliber (7.62 mm) machine gun in the engine cowling. This aircraft was first flown in December 1937 and delivered to the USN in 1938 for testing. Several deficiencies were discovered but after undergoing wind tunnel tests, the problems were fixed and it reached the required 300 mph speed. This aircraft was brought up to the production F2A-1 standard and converted to the XF2A-2 in 1939.

F2A-1 (Brewster Model B-239): First production model with a 940 hp (700.9 kW) R-1820-34 engine,  larger vertical fin, one .30-caliber (7.62 mm) machine gun in the engine cowling and  three .50 caliber (12.7 mm) machine guns, one in the cowling and one in each wing. Fifty four aircraft were ordered on 11 June 1938 with deliveries beginning in June 1939; by November 1939, only five aircraft had been delivered. Forty two of these aircraft were transferred to the Finnish Air Force to assist them in their fight with the Soviet Union. To replace these aircraft, the Navy and Brewster reached an agreement whereby Brewster would build 42 of the more powerful
F2A-2. After deliveries of the F2A-2 began, Brewster modified eight F2A-1's to the F2A-2 standard.

XF2A-2: On 22 March 1939, the USN ordered that the XF2A-1 be modified by replacing the engine with a 1,200 hp (894.8 kW) Wright R-1820-40 radial engine, raised canopy, redesigned rudder, introduction of a Curtiss electric instead of a hydraulic propeller and a high-altitude carburetor system. Testing of the new aircraft began in July 1939.

F2A-2: Second production version with 43 aircraft ordered in 1939; deliveries began in May and continued until December 1940. The F2A-2 was equipped with features of the XF2A-2 plus four .50-caliber (12.7 mm) machine guns, two in the engine cowling and one in each wing, and two bomb racks to carry two 100-pound (45.36 kg) bombs.

F2A-3 (Brewster Model B-439): Third production model. Similar to the F2A-2 but with self-sealing fuel tanks with increased capacity, additional armor protection, and redesigned canopy and nose section. An order for 108 aircraft was placed on 21 January 1941 with deliveries beginning in July 1941. The increased weight due to the additional armor protection resulted in instability and handling difficulties.

XF2A-4: The first F2A-3, BuNo 01516, modified with an experimental pressurized cockpit.

Fighting Squadron Three (VF-3) in USS Saratoga (CV-3) was the first squadron to be equipped with F2A-1's. By June 1940, VF-3 was operating ten of the eleven F2A-1's plus nine Grumman F3F-1's.  In early 1941, VF-3 transitioned to F2A-2's and in August 1941, they transitioned to the F2A-3. In late 1941, prior to Pearl Harbor, they transitioned to the Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat.

The second squadron to operate the Buffalo was VF-2, composed entirely of pilots who were Chief Petty Officers, serving in USS Lexington (CV-2). The squadron received 18 F2A-2's by November 1940 and took them to sea in March 1941 for a training cruise to Hawaii. By September 1941, VF-2 transitioned to the F2A-3 and by December 1941, they had 19. The squadron operated the Buffalo until January 1942 when they also transitioned to the Grumman F4F Wildcat.

The third Naval squadron to operate the Buffalo was Scouting Squadron Two Hundred One (VS-201). This squadron had been established on 5 April 1941 to serve in the escort aircraft carrier USS Long Island (AVG-1). The squadron’s first eight aircraft were the F2A-1's that had been brought up to F2A-2 standards by Brewster in early 1941.The squadron went aboard USS Long Island when she commissioned on 2 June 1941 and began conducting experiments to prove the feasibility of aircraft operations from this new class of ship, In August 1941, the squadron transitioned to the F2A-3 and they were operating seven of them by December 1941. Just after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, USS Long Island escorted a convoy to Newfoundland but on returning to Norfolk, Virginia, the ship began a training mission in qualifying carrier pilots and VS-201 became a shore-based unit and
eventually gave up it’s F2A’s.

By December 1941, only three squadrons were operating the F2A-3; VF-2, VS-201 and one U.S. Marine Corps squadron, Marine Fighting Squadron Two Hundred Twenty One (VMF-211). The remaining F2A’s were spread over numerous training and other facilities in the U.S. The largest group consisted of 37 F2A-3's at Naval Air Station (NAS) New York located in Brooklyn, New York;
the second largest group were seven F2A-2's and eight F2A-3's at NAS Miami, Opa Locka, Florida.

As the Navy squadrons transitioned from the F2A to the F4F, the Buffalos were assigned to the U.S. Marine Corps. Two Marine squadrons, VMF-211 and VMF-221 operated F2A-3's. The forward echelon of VMF-211 had fought on Wake Island in December 1941 with Grumman F4F-3A’s Wildcats. After being reorganized in early 1942, the squadron embarked in USS Lexington (CV-2) on
14 April 1942 with 14 F2A-3's and four days later, they flew off the ship for base-defense duty on Palmyra Island (5.52N, 162.06W) with the 1st Marine Defense Battalion.

The only U.S. squadron to see combat with the F2A was VMF-221 which had been organized at NAS San Diego, California on 11 July 1941. In late 1941, they were alerted for overseas movement to the Pacific to commence in early December. On Sunday, 7 December 1941, the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3) arrived at San Diego from Bremerton, Washington and got underway the
next day with VMF-221 and their 14 F2A-3's. Saratoga arrived at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii on 15 December and stopped only long enough to refuel. A detachment of VMF-221 was sent aboard and the ship got underway to reinforce the Marine garrison on Wake Island (19.17N, 166.37E). However, the Saratoga force was delayed by the low speed of its oiler and by a decision to refuel destroyers on 21 December. After receiving reports of Japanese landings on Wake, the force was recalled on 22 December (23
December on Wake Island which is west of the International Date Line). On 25 December, the F2A-3's of VMF-221 were launched and landed on Midway Islands (28.13N, 177.26W) to become part of the defense force.

The Midway Marines first combat victory came on 10 March 1942. Two Kawanishi H6K4, Navy Type 97 Flying Boats, Allied Code Name “Mavis,” took off from Wotje Atoll (9.27N, 170.02E) in the Marshall Islands; one headed for Midway and the other for Johnston Island (16.45N, 169.32W). The Japanese plan was to have the aircraft overfly the U.S. bases and then refuel from a submarine at French Frigate Shoals (23.45N, 166.10W), halfway between Midway and Pearl Harbor. The Midway-bound “Mavis” was picked up by
U.S. radar when it was 45 miles (72.42 km) from Midway. A four-plane division of VMF-221 was scrambled, caught the “Mavis” at 10,000 feet (3,048 m) and shot the four-engine flying boat down.

As the Battle of Midway approached, VMF-221 was augmented with the arrival of additional aircraft; by the end of May1942, VMF-221 had 21 F2A-3's and seven Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats. At 0555 hours local on 4 June 1942, Midway radar picked up “many” aircraft bearing 310 degrees, 89 miles (143.23 km) distance. Twenty five of the 28 VMF-221 fighters were airborne within ten
minutes in two formations; the first formation consisted of seven F2A-3's and five F4F-3's while the second had 12 F2A-3's and one F4F-3. The first group of 12 fighters encountered the incoming Japanese aircraft when they were 30 miles (48.28 km) out from Midway. They dove on the enemy and were soon joined by the second group of 13 Marine fighters. Unfortunately, the Marines learned that the Buffalo was no match for the Mitsubishi A6M Navy Type Zero Carrier Fighter, Allied Code Name “Zeke.” Thirteen F2A-3's and two F4F-3's were shot down and the fifteen pilots were killed; only two of VMF-221's  remaining 13 aircraft were flyable. One of the pilots who survived the battle, Captain Philip R. White, later wrote, “It is my belief that any commander who orders pilots out for combat in an F2A should consider the pilot as lost before leaving the ground.”

This was the Buffalo’s last combat with U.S. forces in World War II; the aircraft was relegated to training duties in the U.S. for the remainder of the war.

35 ft (10.67 m) 

Wing Area 
209 sq ft (19.42 sq m) 

  F2A-1: 26 ft (7.92 m) 
  F2A-2: 25 ft 7 in (7.80 m) 
  F2A-3: 26 ft 4 in (8.03 m) 

  F2A-1: 11 ft 8 in (3.56 m) 
  F2A-2 and -3: 12 ft 1 in (3.68 m) 

Empty weight: 
  F2A-1: 3,785 lbs (1,716.84 kg) 
  F2A-2: 4,576 lbs (2,075.64 kg) 
  F2A-3: 4,732 lbs (2,146,40 kg) 
Gross weight 
  F2A-1: 5,055 lbs (2,292.90 kg) 
  F2A-2: 5,942 lbs (2,695.25 kg) 
  F2A-3: 6,321 lbs (2,867.16 kg)

Maximum speed: 
  F2A-1: 271 mph (436.13 km/h) at sea level; 301 mph (484.41 km/h) at 17,000 ft (5,182.60 m) 
  F2A-2: 285 mph (458.66 km/h) at sea level; 323 mph (519.82 km/h) at 
16,500 ft (5,029.20 m) 
  F2A-3: 284 mph (457.05 km/h) at sea level; 321 mph (516.60 km/h) at 
16,500 ft (5,029.20 m) 

Climb in 1 minute: 
 F2A-1: 3,060 ft (932.69 m) 
 F2A-2: 2,500 ft (762.00 m) 
 F2A-3: 2,290 ft (697.99 m) 
Service ceiling: 
  F2A-1: 32,500 ft (9,906.00 m) 
  F2A-2: 34,000 ft (10,363.20 m) 
  F2A-3: 33,200 ft (10,119.36 m)

  F2A-1: 1,095 mi (1,762.23 km) 
  F2A-2: 1,015 mi (1,633.48 km) 
  F2A-3: 965 mi (1,553.02 km) 

Maximum range: 
  F2A-1: 1,545 mi (2,486.44 km) 
  F2A-2: 1,670 mi (2,687.60 km) 
  F2A-3: 1,680 mi (2,703.70 km) 

Normal fuel: 
  F2A-1: 160 US gal (605.67 l) 
  F2A-2: 242 US gal (916.07 l) 
  F2A-3: 240 US gal (908.50 l)