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Dr. Rich Sugden's FJ Fury

Short Flights

Twenty years ago, in 2001, our friends Larry and Joan Mockford owned a very rare North American Aviation built FJ-4B Fury.

At first glance you immediately think of the F-86 Sabre, but if you look more closely or see them side-by-side, you would recognize that the Navy Fury Bravo is a totally different aircraft.

This Navy fighter was designed with folding wings, the break falling seven feet inboard of the wingtips. It had all equipment necessary for carrier borne operations, plus four 20 mm cannons. Earliest models of the FJ served with the U.S. Navy and USMC aboard famous carriers, including: USS CORAL SEA (CV-43); USS HANCOCK (CV-19); USS BENNINGTON (CV-20); USS FORRESTAL (CVA-59); USS BON HOMME RICHARD (CVA-31); and USS LEXINGTON (CVA-16).

Engineering test pilot, Richard L. "Dick" Wright, was the last pilot to log time in 400 FS. We first met Dick at the Bluejackets Awards Dinner at NAWS China Lake. He told us of his fond memories flying with the U.S. Navy and Flight Systems. He was attached to Squadron 55 stationed at NAS Miramar and flew AD Skyraiders. His squadron was the first to transition to the FJ-4B jet in 1957-58.

Since he was already an experienced pilot in the Fury, he went to work for Flight Systems. They assigned him to conduct developmental flight tests of the Pershing II missile seeker, alternating with test pilot Tom Armstrong. With the FJ equipped with the big "Double II" Pershing developmental seeker, the pilot would climb to 50,000-feet, enter a vertical dive and recover at 25,000-feet. They conducted tests in bands from 25,000-feet down to 10,000-feet and from 15,000 down to 2,000 to 3,000-feet. The test program extended over an eight-month period. The tests were conducted over different terrain and in different climates. Of course, the main objective was to create something that could be used in Europe.

Dick told me about an interesting point about the FJ and its extra set of speed brakes on the underside of the aft fuselage. On the F-86 there is a set of speed brakes on each side of the aft fuselage, but the FJ had two more underneath. It was important to keep it sub-sonic during this diving maneuver so there would be no sonic boom.

This aircraft was designed as fighter/bomber/ground-attack version, but the ultimate model, the FJ-4B, equipped with a J65-W-16A turbojet engine, took the fighter-bomber concept one step further. It was capable of delivering a tactical nuclear weapon through the "over-the-shoulder" loft-bombing method developed by the Air Force and Navy over the bombing ranges in California, Nevada and Arizona.

This is the last flying FJ in the world. It was built in 1958 in the second to last batch of 222 aircraft and was delivered to VA-192 "Golden Dragons" on board the USS Bon Homme Richard. It operated with several other Navy squadrons, finishing its Navy career with VA-216, the "Black Diamonds", aboard the USS Hancock in Vietnam. It was sent to Litchfield Park, Arizona, for disposal but somehow missed demolition.

In 1971, Bob Laidlaw, the President of Flight Systems in Mojave California and a former NAA Test Pilot, was looking for an aircraft that would stay subsonic in a near-vertical dive from 50,000 ft. and came upon the idea of using the FJ-4B. It has four large speedbrakes that were part of the LABS system, which provided sufficient drag to keep the aircraft subsonic. There was a civilian contract to test the radar pattern-matching guidance system of the Pershing II intermediate range ballistic missile and it required such a profile. BuNo 143575 was restored to flight status and flew over 700 hours of roller coaster re-entry paths, while measuring the ability of the Pershing warhead hung beneath the wing to guide itself to various targets around the U.S.. While operating with Flight Systems, BuNo 143575 was registered as N400FS, the registration she bears today.

Dr. Rich Sugden, former U.S. Navy Flight Surgeon, bought the FJ and often flies in airshows across the country. He owns many other warbirds and all of these aircraft consume his life. He is also on many organizational boards, including the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. He serves as a senior FAA Aviation Medical Examiner.