Here's How This Fighter Jet Shot Itself Down

Until you hear the story of the F-11 Tiger, it looks implausible and terribly impractical.
Fighter jets are mostly employed for one thing: shooting down opposing planes. But what happens if a fighter plane crashes into itself? Yes, you read that correctly. A jet takes out itself, not the adversary or friendly fire. Until you hear the story of the F-11 Tiger, it looks implausible and terribly impractical.

Let's take a closer look at how the Grumman F-11 Tiger shot itself down.

Why The F-11 Tiger Came To Be
Grumman, a US firm with a track record of proficiency in creating warfare machines, built the F-11 Tiger in 1956. For the world's two superpowers at the time, up-to-date technology was a necessary in the midst of the cold war. Knowing this, the Soviet Union unveiled the MIG-15, a fighter jet capable of speeds approaching those of sound.

The US Navy required not simply a response, but one that was quick. Grumman was one of the few corporations they had, and Grumman handled the situation expertly. The F9F Panther was the first, followed by the F-9 Cougar.
It would be an understatement to label the F-11 a low-standard project after the F9F Panther and a quick follow-up with an updated version of the F9F/F-9 Cougar.

It featured all of the features that the US Navy desired, but it also had several flaws that could not be overlooked. With the A-6 Intruder and the E-2 Hawkeye, Grumman quickly and unwittingly fixed its problems during the next decade (which is still used to date on military aircraft carriers).

A History Of The F-11 Tiger

Coming to the scene in the 1950s and retiring a few years later, the Grumman F-11 Tiger was a supersonic, single-seat aircraft deployed by the US Navy. It was first called the F11F Tiger in April 1955, but because of the 1962 Navy designation system, the name was changed to the F-11 Tiger.

These are reasons that the F-11's design got the attention of the United States Navy;
  • It was designed to reach supersonic performance and avoid transonic drag
  • It was one of only two jets at that time that could reach speeds of over 820 MPH.

The changes that made this possible were little, but they made a significant effect. To begin, spoilers took the place of the regularly utilized ailerons in roll control. Full-span leading-edge slats and trailing-edge flaps were added to the new wing.

The F-11 jet's wings could be manually folded down to save room when it required to be transported in a carrier jet, while the tailplane became flexible at speeds approaching supersonic speeds.

How This Fighter Jet Shot Itself Down

Mistakes happen, but there's not much you can do when what was supposed to be a competitive advantage becomes a source of disaster. The F-11 fighter jet's speed was a weakness (literally).

History was made on September 21st, 1956. Grumman would have disputed it, the US Navy would have been surprised, and it took test pilot Tom Attridge to witness it for him to think it was conceivable.

Tom fired four 20mm cannon shots at 20,000 feet before sinking during a test flight in the F-11 over the coast of New York. He accelerated the reheat (also known as afterburner) because he had forgotten he had fired some rounds. He fired the last of his shots at 13,000, emptying his rifle.
He continued diving, but his canopy glass, nose cone, and one of his engine intake lips were hit at 7000 feet. He initially mistook it for a bird, but as he saw he was rapidly losing power, he proceeded to the base to land the aircraft. Tom Attridge had to severely reduce the F-11 Tiger's speed in order to avoid shattering the canopy. It was a conundrum because slowing down meant he wouldn't make it to the base. The engine entirely packed up two kilometers from the runway.
At this moment, the ethical thing for a pilot to do was to jump out. That was not Tom's choice. By chance, the plane collided with some trees, saving Tom Attridge's life but leaving him with a shattered leg and three broken ribs.

When the speed and direction of Tom's 20mm rounds were compared to the F-11 Tiger's super-speed of half the speed of sound, it was revealed that the jet flew right into its shots and took itself out. The duration between the shot and the bullet's impact was under 11 seconds.

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