75 Years Ago: Wake Island Fireball
Today in 1945, just weeks after the end of WWII, the world entered a new phase of naval aviation when a Ryan FR-1 Fireball fighter (accidentally) made a landing on an aircraft carrier under jet power alone.
The Fireball was an interesting hybrid stepping stone in aviation, a mixed-power single-seater with a Wright R-1820-72W Cyclone 9-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine in the front and a GE J31-GE-3 centrifugal-flow turbojet engine in the back, enabling it to break over 400mph with both fired up or travel at more sedate speeds on either.
Just 77 airframes were completed by VJ-Day (of a planned 1,044) and the Fireball underwent initial and unsuccessful trials on the USS Ranger in May 1945 while attempting to do pilot carrier quals with VF-66/41, the only operational squadron to use the Fireball.
Speaking of carrier quals, it was Ensign J. C. “Jake” West who, his prop feathering unintentionally, fired up his GE J31 and touched down on the escort carrier USS Wake Island (CVE 65)–– only narrowly hooking the last wire before going over the side, some 75 years ago today.