A difficult airplane to fly, to land, and to keep together. But it did have an impact on the auto industry.

The Chance Vought F7U Cutlass was inspired in part by the swept-wing, tailless aircraft research that was recovered from German aircraft manufacturer Arado after World War II. It was quite unlike any other plane in the sky, and looks to modern eyes like it would be more at home in an episode of Star Blazers. It had no tail, and its enormous swept wings, with an area of almost 496 square feet, were almost as long from leading to trailing edge as from root to tip. Its enormous nosegear, which tended to collapse during carrier landings, placed the pilot 14 feet in the air. It also racked up a lot of accidents. In 1957, Chance Vought analyzed major accidents in the Cutlass, and found that for 55,000 hours of cumulative flight time there had been 78 accidents, with 25% of the airframes lost. It had the highest accident rate of all swept-wing Navy fighters.

F7U-3M flown by Lt Cdr Jay Alkire approaches the USS Hancock. The landing signal officer can be seen sprinting to safety seconds before Alkire's Cutlass strikes the deck. Alkire was killed in ensuing crash.

While the Cutlass was no hit with Navy fighter pilots or Navy brass, it was a hit with the public. Its radical styling made it popular with model hobbyists, and Oldsmobile appropriated the name for its 1954 Cutlass sports coupe.



The first Oldsmobile Cutlass was an experimental sports coupe designed in 1954. It rode a 110 in (2,800 mm) wheelbase and featured a dramatic fastback roofline reminiscent of its jet fighter inspiration. The body was made with reinforced plastic, and it sported swivel seats and copper-toned glass. The Cutlass was powered by a stock V8. Its platform was quite similar to the later compact F-85, which was not introduced for seven more years.

But that wasn't the only influence the Chance Vought Cutlass had on the automotive world. The swept wing and dual vertical fins of the aircraft also inspired the hood ornaments that would grace the 1955 and 1956 Chevy Bel Air.


The Gutless Cutlass, Air and Space Magazine