Over the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, some of the first naval aircraft carried out experiments spotting a submerged submarine commanded by Lieutenant Chester W. Nimitz from the air, signaling an early interest in employing the airplane in antisubmarine warfare (ASW). Until World War II, multi-engine land-based aircraft and flying boats were naval aviation’s primary airborne weapons against submarines. However, the introduction of the escort carrier and its successful employment against German U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic demonstrated the value of carrier-based ASW, with Grumman’s TBF Avengers, along with General Motors-built TBM versions of the company’s design, proving highly successful.
Not surprisingly, when it came to deciding on a replacement for the Avenger as the Navy’s front-line torpedo-bomber, it was Grumman that submitted the best proposal, its XTB3F-1 designed as a composite aircraft featuring both a jet engine and traditional propeller-driven power plant. Faster than the Avenger, it also incorporated side-by-side seating and a provision for carrying two torpedoes in an internal weapons bay. However, by the time the XTB3F-1 made its maiden flight on December 23, 1946, much had changed with the end of a world war and a modification of the Navy’s squadron designations. The torpedo bombing mission for which the airplane had been designed was no more, instead incorporated along with bombing squadrons (VB) into the newly created attack squadrons (VA). Therefore, the Navy requested a redesign of the XTB3F-1 to meet a new requirement as a carrier-based ASW aircraft. In final form it was called the AF Guardian.
The airplane was designed in two versions, each tasked with particular role in ASW. The AF-2S incorporated a wing-mounted searchlight and radar along with provisions for carrying sonobuoys and a blend of rockets, depth charges, bombs, and homing torpedoes. The AF-2W replaced the bomb bay with a large radome and APS-20 radar that bulged out from the bottom of the fuselage. In each version of the airplane, the observer position in the cockpit was eliminated, with additional crew stations placed in the fusealge. The respective airplanes, which were nicknamed the Scrapper and the Guppy by fleet personnel, operated in tandem as hunter-killer teams, with the first fleet antisubmarine squadrons (VS) receiving the airplane beginning in 1950. The AF, which was the largest single-engine airplane in the world when introduced, demonstrated poor low-speed handling characteristics. This, combined with the fact that they routinely operated from small deck aircraft carriers, resulted in a high accident rate that plagued the airplane.
The AF-2S/2W served in the fleet squadrons until 1955, at which time VS-37 retired its last one to accept the delivery of the S2F Tracker, which combined the search and attack role in one airplane. The Naval Air Reserve retired the last of its AF Guardians in 1957.
The Museum's AF-2S (Bureau Number 123100) entered squadron service with Air Development Squadron (VX) 1 at Naval Air Station (NAS) Key West, Florida, where it served as a flight test aircraft until February 1952. After Naval Air Reserve service, it flew as a civilian air tanker and air show airplane until acquired by the museum in 1980.
Manufacturer: Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation
Dimensions: Length: 43 ft., 4 in.; Height: 16 ft., 2 in.; Wingspan: 60 ft., 8 in.
Weights: Empty: 14,580 lb.; Gross: 25,500 lb.
Power Plant: One 2,400 horsepower Pratt and Whitney R-2800-48W
Performance: Maximum Speed: 317 M.P.H.; Service ceiling: 32,500 ft.; Range: 1,500 miles
Armament: One 2,000 lb. torpedo or two 2,000 lb. bombs or two 1,600 lb. depth charges carried internally
Crew: Pilot and aircrewman