2 Mar update: Flightdeck Fridays are now a feature over at the Tailhook Association’s blog site, The Daily Briefing. To avoid cannibalization, I will be posting different FF topics on this site and at the Daily Briefing. Many thanks again to John Carmichael and the good folks at Tailhook for this opportunity! – SJS

In 1939 it had become clear to the leadership in BuAer that while improvements were fast making their way to the fleet in the form of the F4F Wildcat and SBD Dauntless, the torpedo plane left much to be desired. The current iteration, the TBD Devastator, which entered service in 1937, was slow, not very maneuverable and limited in payload and self protection capability. Acting on this concern, BuAer asked manufacturers to submit designs for the VTB competition which would do more than just replace the Devastators. The VTB would be a multi-mission aircraft – attack against large combatants with bombs or torpedoes, smoke laying, scouting and strafing smaller combatants. Performance requirements were advertised as the following:

Top speed: 300 mph with normal (internal) fuel load
Range: not less than 1,000 miles while carrying one torpedo or 3 x 500 lb bombs
Service ceiling: not less than 30,000 ft
Take-off distance (w/torpedo and fuel for combat range of 1,000 miles): not more than 325 feet (less than half the length of the upcoming Essex-class carriers) with a 25 knot wind-over-the-deck
Stalling speed (carrying a torpedo and less than half the fuel load): not to exceed 70 mph
Wing span and length: limited to 60 ft and 39 ft respectively
Bomb and torpedo load to be carried internally

Vought XBTU-1 Seawoulf

Grumman XTBF-1 Avenger

The response to BuAer’s competition was no less than 13 design proposals from the likes of Grumman, Brewster, Douglas, Hall, Vought and Vultee, each submitting more than one proposal. The candidates were necked down until two remained – BuAer decided to lead with the Grumman design, but still contract Vought’s as a back-up. That Vought prototype was the XTBU-1 Seawolf. Like the Avenger, the Seawolf was big. Powered by a Pratt & Whitney R2800-6, the Seawolf had a top speed of 311 mph, considerably faster than the Wright R-2600-8 powered Avenger. It seemed that Vought might have a winning hand and the Navy initially contracted for 1,000 examples when disaster struck.

The XTBU-1 was undergoing carrier landing tests at NAS Anacostia (in < ?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />Washington DC) when the tail was ripped off the aircraft during an arrested landing. The sections were returned to Vought who spent the next four weeks working day and night to rebuild the prototype. In one of those “you have to be pulling my leg” moments, just as the Experimental Department had finished the re-build and set off to tow it back to the hangar, a Navy cadet who was taxiing in the same area lost control of his aircraft and plowed into the newly rebuilt Seawolf, destroying the tail in the process. Back into the shop…

The rebuilt Seawolf was rolled out again and finally accepted by the Navy with a production contract. Since Vought was exceptionally busy with other production contracts, they partnered with Consolidated-Vultee to produce the TBY (“Y” vice “U” because it was C-V and not Vought that was producing the Seawolf). The first production model, TBY-2, was delivered in November 1944. Four years had passed from the Navy passing a contract for a single prototype until the first TBY-2 was delivered. IN the meantime, Grumman, and later, Eastern Aircraft (a division of General Motors) were producing Avengers by the hundreds – a contract for 1200 for the first TBM-1s was soon followed by others with the final Avenger, production number 7,546 delivered to the Navy in September 1945. Conversely, the TBY-2 would see a mere 189 built before the Navy cancelled the remainder of the buy. Pulled out of the few fleet squadrons it had begun to equip, the Seawolf was turned over for use as a station aircraft or passed to the Reserves. Not long after that the Seawolf faded into obscurity, never having fired a shot in anger.

There are no examples left today of the Seawolf.

Specifications:

General characteristics

* Crew: 3
* Length: 39 ft 2in (11.95 m)
* Wingspan: 56 ft 11in (17.35 m)
* Height: 15 ft 6in (4.7 m)
* Wing area: 440 ft² (40.88 m²)
* Empty weight: 11,366 lb (5,142 kg)
* Max takeoff weight: 18,940 lb (8,590 kg)
* Powerplant: 1× Pratt & Whitney R-2800-6 Double Wasp radial engine, 2,100 hp (1,566 kW)

Performance

* Maximum speed: 312 mph (502 km/h)
* Range: 1,025 mi (1,650 km)
* Service ceiling: 29,400 ft (8,960 m)

Armament

* 1x .50 cal (12.7 mm) machine gun in cowling
* 2x .50 cal in the wings
* 1x .50 cal in dorsal turret
* 1x .30 cal (7.62 mm) in ventral mount
* Up to 2,000 lb (907 kg) of bombs or one torpedo

(ed: Once again, props to the folks over at Vought’s Heritage site from whence the majority of these photos came from)

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