These Five Jets Show That America's Powerful Air Force Wasn't Always So Strong

Robert Farley

Key point: It is some solace that even the worst of these aircraft were able to make useful contributions, even as technology changed around them.

The air forces of the United States have had pretty good luck with aircraft design. In part because of the structure of the U.S. defense industrial base, numerous firms have offered competitive aircraft designs, allowing the weeding out of poor performers at a relatively early stage. Nevertheless, not every aircraft can be a P-51 Mustang, an F6F Hellcat, or an F-15 Eagle. This is a list of a few of the less distinguished fighters designed and produced by the United States over the last century. The list only includes aircraft that saw a meaningful production run (included in parenthesis); no “Thunderscreeches,” Goblins, or similar prototype fighters.

Buffalo (509)

The Brewster Buffalo found itself at the wrong point in the technology cycle. A relatively capable fighter for the late 1930s, it could not match the advanced aircraft that it would face at the beginning of the Pacific War. Initially designed as a carrier fighter, the Buffalo suffered badly at the hands of the Japanese Navy and Japanese Army in the early days of World War II. Underpowered, underarmored, with a relatively slow speed and poor high altitude performance, the Buffalo was simply no match for the best Japanese pilots. After the first few months of the war, surviving Buffalos were relegated to training. The Buffalo did better in Finnish service; thirty-six Finnish pilots became aces, flying against the Soviet air forces in the Continuation War.

F7U Cutlass (320)

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