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FR-1 Fireball
An FR-1 Fireball of VF-66 at NAS North Island, 1945
Role Fighter
Manufacturer Ryan Aeronautical
First flight 25 June 1944
Introduced March 1945
Primary user United States Navy
Produced 1944–1945
Number built 66
Variants XF2R Dark Shark

The Ryan FR Fireball was a composite propeller and jet-powered aircraft designed by Ryan Aeronautical for the United States Navy during World War II. The Fireball entered service before the end of the war, but did not see combat. The FR-1 Fireball was the United States Navy's first aircraft with jet propulsion.


Design and development

Design began in 1943 to a proposal instigated by Admiral John S. McCain, Sr. for a composite-powered fighter; early jet engines had sluggish acceleration which was considered unsafe and unsuitable for aircraft carrier takeoff and landing. Ryan aeronautical engineer Benjamin Tyler Salmon was tasked with designing an aircraft to meet these criteria. His solution was a composite design that allowed for conventional piston-powered flight but gave a jet for higher speeds.

FR-1 trials aboard USS Ranger, May 1945.

The first prototype flew on 25 June 1944, but it was lost in a crash at China Lake NAS in October that year. Investigation showed that the wing rivets were insufficiently strong, a problem cured by doubling the number of rivets, but not before the other two prototypes crashed in similar fashion.

Operational history

An FR-1 launching from USS Badoeng Strait, 1947.

Orders for 700 aircraft were placed, but only 66 were delivered before Japan's surrender. One squadron, VF-66, was equipped with the aircraft before war's end, but they never saw combat. On 6 November 1945, the Fireball was the first aircraft to land under jet power on the escort carrier USS Wake Island, albeit unintentionally. After the radial engine of an FR-1 failed on final approach, the pilot managed to start the jet engine and land, barely catching the last arrestor wire before hitting the ship's crash barrier.[1][2]

US Navy pilots considered Fireball to be a uniquely poorly chosen name, given its "fiery accident" connotations. The aircraft were withdrawn in 1947, fairly soon after the war's end. With the rapid advance in technology, and the removal of the pressing need to get anything into combat quickly, the Navy decided to wait for better aircraft to be developed.

The FR-1 Fireball was further developed into the XFR-2 which used a 1,500 hp (1,119 kW) Wright R-1820-74W in place of the -72W. One single airframe was converted to this configuration. No prototypes were built for the next proposed variant, the FR-3, which would use a General Electric I-20 turbojet. The fastest Fireball was the XFR-4, which had a Westinghouse J34 turbojet and was some 100 mph (161 km/h) faster than the FR-1.[3] The final variant was the XF2R-1 Dark Shark, which replaced the piston engine with a General Electric XT31-GE-2 turboprop, but this never entered service, though a prototype was built. This was used by Al Conover to set a new world altitude record for turboprop aircraft of 39,160 ft (11,936 m) on 2 May 1947.[4]


Prototype aircraft, three built.
FR-1 Fireball
Single-seat fighter aircraft, 66 built.


VF-66 planes at NAS North Island, 1945.
 United States

The "Firebirds" squadron was known under three names:

    • VF-66 (May 1945 – October 1945)
    • VF-41 (October 1945 – mid-1947), redesignated VF-1E in November 1946
    • VRF-32


Only a single example, FR-1, Bu. 39657 still survives. Deployed first to NASA Ames, the aircraft served as an instructional airframe at a technical school before being acquired by the Planes of Fame Air Museum at Chino, California in the 1960s. After restoration to static display condition, 39657 was rolled out at Chino on 13 June 2009.[5]

Specifications (FR-1)

General characteristics

  • Crew: one
  • Length: 32 ft 4 in (12.19 m)
  • Wingspan: 40 ft 0 in (12.19 m)
  • Height: 13 ft 7¼ in (4.15 m)
  • Wing area: 275 ft² (25.6 m²)
  • Empty weight: 7,915 lb (3,590 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 10,595 lb (4,806 kg)
  • Powerplant:



See also

Related development

Comparable aircraft

Related lists




  1. ^ "First Jet Landing." Naval Aviation News, United States Navy, March 1946, p. 6.
  2. ^ A month later on 4 December 1945, a Sea Vampire piloted by Royal Navy Captain Eric "Winkle" Brown was the first aircraft to perform an intentional and planned jet-powered landing on an aircraft carrier.
  3. ^ McDowell 1995, p. 39.
  4. ^ McDowell 1995, p. 45.
  5. ^ Mormillo, Frank B. "Prop-and-Jet Fireball rolled out." Flypast, No. 338, September 2009.


  • Ginter, Steve. Ryan FR-1 Fireball and XF2R-1 Darkshark, Naval Fighters Number 28. Simi Valley, CA: Ginter Books, 1995. ISBN 0-942612-28-0.
  • Green, William. "Ryan FR-1 Fireball". 'War Planes of the Second World War, Volume Four: Fighters. London: Macdonald & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., 6th impression 1969, 1961, pp. 186–187. ISBN 0-356-01448-7.
  • Green, William and Gordon Swanborough. "Ryan FR-1 Fireball". WW2 Fact Files: US Navy and Marine Corps Fighters. London, UK: Macdonald and Jane's, 1976, pp. 66–68. ISBN 0-356-08222-9.
  • McDowell, Ernest. FR-1 Fireball (Mini in action number 5). Carrollton, TX: Squadron/Signal Publications Inc., 1995. ISBN 0-89747-344-2.

External links


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