TESTING THE GRUMMAN F11F-1F SUPERTIGER, 1957-1959
In 1956, in the midst of the Cold War, the SAF decided on the need of a high-performance aircraft, and several fighters were evaluated in the search for a successor to the DH Vampire.
The Swedish Saab J-35H Draken, the American Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, Grumman F11F-1 Tiger and F11F-1F Supertiger, Douglas A-4 Skyhawk and Vought F-8 Crusader; the French Dassault Mirage III and the Italian FIAT G-91 were evaluated on the ground and in flight.
Arthur Moll posing in front of Supertiger BuNo. 138647 at Edwards AFB. Photo taken from the book “ Schweizer Luftwaffe, evaluieren-erproben-entscheiden", published with the kind permission from the author.
During the flights, in some cases our pilots wore their standard Swiss equipment, in other cases, the manufacturers supplied them with equipment suitable for the aircraft and the intended missions.
Particularly interesting, in terms of equipment, were the flights in the United States with the Starfighter, Grumman Tiger and the Supertiger prototype.
As the two Supertiger prototypes were not fitted with, testing of the weapons and radar systems were carried out on F11F-1s.
In the photos taken at the time of the flights with the Tiger, Major Moll was wearing an USN APH-5 helmet; for those made at Edwards with the F11F-1F Supertiger, he wore an "upgraded" P-3 or P-4 (for unknown reasons) without the visor.
He wore also a USN G-1 jacket sporting the Grumman logo and a "non-standard" orange flight suit from the company "Fruhauf Flying Apparel" (Fruhauf Southwest Garment Co. of Whichita, Kansas).
The suit is recognizable by its pointed collar similar to that of the contemporary K-2A; its single LH chest zipped pocket with nearby oxygen mask support strip; the navigation map clip on the left thigh and the side zipped openings.
Here in front of F11F-1 Tiger BuNo. 141873 , location unknown. Private collection picture.
As pictured above, for the flights with the Tiger, Major Moll's equipment consisted of the Fruhauf flight suit, USN APH-5 helmet, MS22001 oxygen mask, Mk.2 Life vest and B-3A leather flying gloves.
I have some doubts about the flight boots - the picture is not quite clear- but they looks like a pair of "Bückerschuhe" or a proto(?) issue of the then "Pilotenschuhe 63" (he brought them along?)... so our "model" is wearing a pair. Corrections or thoughts on this are welcome.
The life vest in the LH+RH pictures does not match the standard setup, but configured accordingly Mr. Moll photo.
Little information exists about the manufacturer of the suit; Louie and Freddie Fruhauf had a tailor shop in Whichita that produced (still today) band uniforms. In the first half of the 1950s, they had some contracts with the US government for the supply of K-1 and K-2 flight suits.
Even before they were put into service by the USN and USAAF in 1957, Fruhauf produced the first orange flight suits at the request of Douglas who had had difficulty locating the body of one of their test pilots involved in a flight accident.
On some special occasions the same orange suits were also supplied to USAF pilots, for example during the three record flights (Los Angeles - New York on RF-101) "Sun Run" which took place in November 1957.
Because of their quality, the Fruhauf suits equipped and were the preferred ones by many factory test pilots (similar to the Toptex helmets) and were possibly supplied by Grummann to our pilots during their flight evaluations. However, their production was short-lived, as Fruhauf decided to abandon the production of flightwear to concentrate exclusively on their core business of band uniforms.
A Fruhauf spin-off, Flite Wear, owned by E.H. Land, a former employee of theirs, for some time supplied flight suits and jackets to NASA astronauts.
Interestingly, the same model of suit is identifiable in photos taken in 1965/66 at Holloman AFB worn by Hughes' test pilot Rocky Jones and Swiss AF "Bordfotograf" Ernst Saxer, during the Mirage III HM-55S (AIM-26B) Falcon air to air missile live firing trials.
In the same set of photos, GRD test pilot Manfred Brennwald instead wears a Swiss standard GRD orange flight suit.
In the opinion of the pilots involved in the evaluations, the F11F-1F was the best of all the tested aircraft.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of interest from the USN, there was no series production. This and other reasons - not least the expected price - put an end to Swiss AF's interest in the Supertiger.