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.

Ryan FR-1 (Bu# 39651) In flight, with propeller stopped and jet engine supplying power, near NATC Patuxent River, Maryland, 24 July 1945. NH 89683

Ryan FR-1 (Bu# 39648) At NATC Patuxent River, Maryland, 11 March 1945. Note the J31 jet engine port in the rear and intakes in the wing roots. NH 89684

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. 

Not a lot of real estate…USS WAKE ISLAND (CVE-65) Underway in the Hampton Roads, Virginia, area, 9 November 1944. Photographed by N.A.S. Norfolk. 80-G-289879

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.