Project Cutlass Vought F7U Restoration

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The front end of Vought F7U Cutlass BuNo 129554 in storage at Paine Field. Photo Credit: Al Casby

A Vought F7U Cutlass restoration is on its way to fly again one day, thanks to the efforts of Project Cutlass.  Al Casby is the owner of two F7U Cutlass airframes, which are BuNo 129622 and BuNo 129554.  Mr. Casby has owned 622 since the early 1980’s, but it is a “badly damaged partial aircraft, usable for parts only”, he recently acquired 544 which previously belonged to Tom Cathcart and is currently stored at Paine Field in Washington State.  Mr. Casby hopes to bring 544 from Paine Field to Phoenix, Arizona to begin the restoration that he has been waiting to carry out for 44 years.   This is no easy task.  With a 21 foot width, and a high tail height, transportation is a difficult task. The aircraft cannot be completely disassembled without risking compromising the integrity of the airframe.  Mr. Casby stated, “Vought strongly suggested that neither the tails or the center-section wings ever be removed from the aircraft, going so far as to implore that should that need arise the airframe should be stricken.  There is no corrosion noted anywhere that would indicate a need for removal of these, so I do not want to remove them just to effect transport.” Have no fear, these challenges will definitely be overcome.  Check back soon for more updates!

If you know of a transportation company that would be willing to donate their time to help Project Cutlass’ efforts please contact us!

The project recently acquired a complete lighting set for the Cutlass in New Old Stock condition.  Some things that the Mr. Casby is looking for consist of:

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The back end of Vought F7U Cutlass BuNo 129554 in storage at Paine Field. Photo Credit: Al Casby

-Parts or components bearing a CV10- part number prefix

-Any Westinghouse J-46 engine parts or components

-F7U-3/-3M canopy perspex and windscreen plexiglass panels

-BF Goodrich G-3-721-2 wheel (1)

-Goodyear 9531077 wheel (2)

-Goodyear 9530987 Brake Assy (2)
Please contact us if you know of or are in possession of any of these parts or of any F7U Cutlass parts and help get this rare jet back in the sky.

Comments

  1. What happened to the Cutlass(s)@ Wlater Soplata’s farm?

  2. J-46’s? He cannot possibly be unaware of the engine’s poor reliability and the reason the F7U’s were referred teas the “Gutless Cutlass?” The 4000psi hydraulic system was also notorious for a very low MTBF. I wish him a very great deal of luck in his effort.

    • No, not unaware at all, however no other afterburning engine will fit the confines of the airframe allotted engine space, and no un-augmented engine that will fit will produce enough thrust to exceed the J46’s performance, as lackluster as it was. Therefore, the reliance on proper and diligent maintenance and inspection will have to carry the day. The J46, properly maintained, was equal to or exceeded expectations compared to contemporary “sized” engines of the day, however, these maintenance practices were often lacking in execution. Regarding the hydraulic system, it was the now-standard 3000 psi system, however the fitting and seal technology at the time was still designed around the then-standard 1500 psi. This will be corrected in the restoration to ensure reliability while retaining cosmetic accuracy . The F7U was the first fleet ready fighter to use this high-pressure system, and the hose and fitting technology of the day was not up to the task. Fortunately, this pressure is now common and the equipment is improved to handle the higher pressures. Thank you for your good wishes with the project, we can use every bit of support we can get!!

      Al

      • Al, thanks for the reply and for the correction on the psi of the hydraulic system. I was relying on “What Chief told us,” and we all know Chief can’t be wrong, 😉 Sorry to hear that engineering-wise, the bays cant accommodate a more modern engine, ala the Me-262 project. But I certainly concur that with a very rigorous maintenance program, modern fittings, hoses, etc. for all systems, the MTBF for engines and other systems will be raised to a much higher, and therefore significantly safer, level. Plus, you’re not trying to bring her aboard! Look forward to hearing more, going ahead.

        I wonder if you’ve heard the same hangar talk that a number of years ago, a University Aero Engineering department’s student project “redid” the F7U with thin wing, modern engines, systems, etc, including FBW and showed that with modern technology, the F7U would be able to hold its own with at least F-16/F-18 peers?

  3. Indeed, in fact Vought re-engineered the Cutlass to utilize a single J57 in a new center-section fuselage, and pitched the idea to BuAer to retrofit the existing F7U’s, as well as continue with further production. The Navy balked, most likely due to the advent of higher performing fighters in the pipeline, namely Vought’s own F8U. Had the Navy not been beholden to Westinghouse in the late ’40’s and early ’50’s, the -3 would probably have been designed around the J57 earlier. With an insanely incredible roll rate, and prodigious power, the F7U could have been side by side with the F8 in Vietnam. But, history is what it is. I interviewed Jack Christensen many years ago, who was a BuAer rep pilot in Dallas and later took the F7U-3M on the boat with VX-4. His conclusion was that properly maintained, the Cutlass was no worse than any other jet of its day, and in fact was the most aerodynamically versatile aircraft he ever flew. He loved the aircraft and had very little bad things to say about it, but did yearn for more robust powerplants. Interestingly, with few exceptions, the majority of engine-related incidents/accidents were caused by hose material failures, or maintenance errors. Properly maintained, and carefully operated, the J46’s were as reliable as any in the day.

    • James Watson says:

      I sure wish that this project was closer to my home, Arlington,Texas! I’d love to help with this project,as my late father worked at Chance Vought on this program as well as with the F-8..He was a flight test mechanic and always spoke highly of the Cutlass..Wishing you the best!

  4. Thank you James! Did your father retain any photos from his time with the F7U’s?

  5. Al, I’ve been interested in this project for a long time as the Cutlass is a really neat plane and have always wished to see one in the air! It looks like that’s a bit closer now. Did it get to Arizona yet? I’ve seen a picture of it all wrapped up in what looks like a new hangar. You make an excellent point on reliability regarding the hydraulic system. The plane was a first on so many levels and as with most trailblazers, problems arise but the potential was definitely there. Too bad the bad press is mostly what it is remembered now. I hope by restoring it and displaying it you can dispel some of the myths as Delmar Benjamin did with the Gee Bee! Good luck and keep us posted!

  6. Al Casby says:

    Josh, Thanks for the kind words and encouragement. I have transported the engines, ailevators, and a plethora of internals to Arizona in May, and will be bringing the afterburners, tailcone, outer wings, and canopy in October to begin work on those components while awaiting the bulk of the aircraft. We will detach the center-section wings hopefully late in the year and should have the aircraft in Phoenix next year. I utilized the remains of another F7U to effect “practice” wing removal and have tentatively decided that properly accomplished, no damage will be done to 554. This will simplify transport to the level of a very easy move, and also accommodate the absolute requirement to replace the upper wing surfaces due to delamination, as well as access the wing’s bladder fuel tanks for rebuild.

    In the meantime, we have been fabricating jigs and dollies for all major, and many minor components, and relocating to a larger facility to support the accommodation of the aircraft. Thanks again for your support!!

    • Josh Patterson says:

      Al, any updates on your progress? Is there a FB page I should follow? What are you doing about replacement of Metalite panels? Just re-skinning in aluminum?

      • Hello Josh!

        Making a lot of progress – we effected the move of the F7U from Seattle to Arizona the first week of October, so now everything is in place. Work has been progressing on accessing the fuel cells, which will all be removed for re-conditioning, and pump rebuilding. I’ve gotten the windscreen panels out to be added to the shipment of the canopy for replication, and the instrument cowling has been removed to afford photographic documentation of wire and hard line routing behind the instrument panel. Once I complete this, the panel will be removed followed by the rudder pedal assembly and both consoles. This will allow access to begin the repairs of the upper cockpit skin (metallite).

        We are approaching this restoration in a top-down fashion, since the center section wings will not be removed, which precludes the opportunity to roll the aircraft during restoration. As such, the fins and upper fuselage components (I.e. cockpit, fuel cells, a/c,) are being addressed first, to be followed by the wings, engine bays, and lower compartments.

        I’m finalizing the drawings for the three-jack trolley to be built to allow the aircraft to be jacked up, leveled, and gear removed for bench restoration. This will allow an easier access to all surfaces, while affording the opportunity to move the aircraft in spite of the gear being removed. In essence, a replication of what Vought used in the factory production line.

        No website yet, but that is on the back burner and needs to be brought up to the forefront. Like eating the proverbial elephant, its one small bite at a time. With the F7U, there are a LOT of bites to be taken! Now that the main airframe is on site, a detailed assessment of the problem areas (previously known, as well a few “new” ones….) is possible, and this allows plans to be formulated to address them. Obviously, the Metallite and the various magnesium skin panels account for the vast majority of these, and some will require a few hundred cocktail-napkin brainstorming sessions, but I’m confident that solutions can be found with enough thought and research. I’m exploring several options for the metallite replacement, comparing modulus of elasticity values for several possible replacements, from high-density foam-cored composites to simple slab-aluminum heat treated skins. The jury is still out on this, but given the timeline for the wings, we’ve still got some room for possible alternatives before that time comes.

        All in all, the successful transport of the 21ft wide, 13-1/2ft tall airframe over a roundabout distance of almost 1800 miles has resulted in the cessation of the worry and fretting over that move, and has allowed me to now focus on the restoration itself. Although some of the impending project battles are going to be uphill, having all the components, spares, and reference materials in one location has been envigorating to say the least.

      • Josh Patterson says:

        Great to hear you have the center section moved. It sounded like you were sweating it a little bit. I know you have engines but have you contacted Doug Rose’s widow in regards to getting spare J46 engines and parts? He used the J46 in the Green Mamba and from what I understand had a healthy spares source. (I don’t know how easy it is to get J46 parts so I just thought I’d mention it if you didn’t already know.) With XS422 possibly flying this spring your project is big on my radar for restorations. I wish you the best of luck and can’t wait to see it in the air! (And if Micheal Dorn is successful in getting a Crusader flying it would be great to see a Corsair, Cutlass and Crusader in a Legacy Flight!!)

      • Josh:

        That would be an epic combination!
        Regarding the engines, I have eight on hand now, with the acquisition of six more in the works. One can never have too many….. AND, they make a great gift! Lol

        I will reach out to Mrs Rose, thank you for the prompt on that! I was fortunate to acquire several overhauled engines, two recently obtained from Australia. I also purchase runouts and jet-car mills, for they are accessory sources despite generally being over-temp’d. With virtually no remaining spares on the shelves, every additional engine becomes a spares source itself.

        Thanks so much for the enthusiasm for this project!

        Al

      • Josh Patterson says:

        BTW, the use of foam core instead of balsa sounds like a nice update to the Metalite. I’d assume the balsa would retain moisture and aid in the corrosion.

  7. I assume 544 is the aircraft that I saw at Paine Field in 1998 at the Seattle Museum of Flight’s restoration hanger. I had previously read the story about how it ended up there after being on a pedestal for years. There was a lot of corrosion on the wing panels in what looked to be balsa-cored magnesium. The weather had really taken a toll on the magnesium. Best of luck with your project. It is indeed a rare bird.

  8. This is a really exciting restoration and I hope to see it fly some day. I saw a Cutlass at Moffett Field NAS when I was a kid. It looked cooler than cool. Still does and I am 68 now.

  9. Steve Wells says:

    My uncle was Cdr James S. “Bud” Brown. He was the officer-in-charge of Project Cutlass and then was the CO of VF-124 aboard USS Hancock and at NAS Atsugi. Unfortunately, Uncle Bud died unexpectedly in 1978. Although I have many documents and photos pertaining to his career, I continue to search for additional information and images. Steve Wells–vb21wells@att.net

  10. Love the Cutlass,hope to see it fly!! When I first moved to Florida in 1973 there was one sitting at Fort Lauderdale International . I think it came from the war memorial park ( replaced by a F-86H).You could walk up to it and take a picture. I was surprised by how big it is.I just wondered if this is the one in the Navel air museum now or if anyone knows what its fate was.Also in the late 60’s there was one on
    at Port Columbus by the Navy reserve building (also replaced by a F-86H) I just wondered if that’s the one that ended up at Walters.Thanks for the memories and best of luck !!

    • Al Casby says:

      Scott:

      I was afforded the opportunity to strip the Ft. Lauderdale F7U (BuNo 129582…..one of only three F7U’s to have been assigned to the Marines) back in 1983 when it sat at Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport. The aircraft was slated to go to the Intrepid Museum, and I was given the green light to recover whatever I wanted from the internal areas of the aircraft, provided no external parts were removed or detached.

      Following two weeks of working around the clock, sleeping sporadically under the wing of the aircraft, and taking 22 hornet stings to the face (a whole adventure in itself!), I finished up and took my crates of parts home. Unfortunately, the Intrepid decided that the aircraft was too much for them to move / restore and eventually declined to acquire it. They contacted NMNA who also declined the aircraft, and it was subsequently dismembered and taken to the Avon Park Bombing Range. It was eventually destroyed in live fire exercises.

      The front nose gear fairing door of 129582 was hanging by wire when I first arrived to begin work, and although technically it was an external piece, it really wasn’t “attached” per se (in my mind!)…….given the aircraft’s ultimate fate, I’ve enjoyed looking at that gear door in my office for the last 35 years…..

      Regarding Walter’s aircraft, it was an ex- VA-12 aircraft that was acquired from the NARTU at NAS South Weymouth, MA.

      The Columbus aircraft was subsequently scrapped.

      Hope this helps,

      Al

      • THANKS VERY MUCH FOR THE REPLY AL IT’S A SHAME THEY DIDN’T SAVE EITHER ONE BUT
        I ALWAYS WONDERED ABOUT THEM AT LEAST I HAVE THE PICTURE OF THE FT.LAUDERDALE ONE AND YOU THE GEAR DOOR ! THANKS !!%

  11. Dick Cavicke says:

    Al,
    I learned about the sale/transfer from Tom and have wanted to stay up-to-date with your restoration.
    I know there must be others, but I’m in touch with 4 other former Cutlass pilots. Two of us were in both VF124 and VA126, two others were in VA126 and another flew the earlier models of the F7U at Patuxent River and later at TTU at Moffett Field.
    Those of us who spent a good deal of time in the Cutlass were well aware of its shortcomings but we still had a lot of positive things to say and were happy to have flown it.
    I look forward to the arrival of the F7U coming to the Midway Museum and to news of your progress.
    Regards,
    Dick

    • Al Casby says:

      Hello Capt. Cavicke!

      I’ve been meaning to contact you for some time, but as you can imagine, this project has me going in twelve directions at once! I’m going out of town to recover a Navy carrier deck APU and drag it across the country back to Phoenix, but upon my return, I hope I can begin a dialogue with you regarding your time with the F7U, your insights into flying her, and your experiences as maintenance officer for VF-124. Thank you so much for reaching out and nudging me out of my blinders.

      I look forward to the day when you can again see this particular Cutlass up close.

      Thank you again,

      Best Regards,

      Al Casby
      alcasby@projectcutlass.com

  12. stephen t. says:

    Walter Soplata’s cutlass is on the market from what I’ve read.

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