Naval History Magazine, Dec. 2012
From the 1920s into World War II several nations developed high-performance floatplane aircraft. Indeed, some were among the fastest aircraft of their time. During World War II, the British evaluated float configurations with several versions of the famed Supermarine Spitfire fighter, and the U.S. Navy fitted a single Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat with floats. But only Japan pursued large-scale operational floatplane fighters during the war, primarily with the Nakajima A6M2-N Rufe, a variant of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, or Zeke.
After the war the British developed a flying-boat fighter, the turbojet-powered Saunders-Roe SR.A/1. 1 And the U.S. Navy undertook development of a supersonic “water-based” fighter, the Convair F2Y Seadart. 2
Convair had previously produced several successful seaplanes, most notably the PBY Catalina flying boat. That aircraft—produced in larger numbers than any other seaplane by any country—was flown in every theater of World War II by the United States and several other nations. But the company had limited turbojet and fighter experience. However, Convair’s Hydrodynamic Laboratory was exploring several subsonic seaplane concepts, some given the project name Skate. At the time, the U.S. Navy was considering advanced seaplanes for a number of roles—cargo, strike, minelaying, reconnaissance, patrol, and fighter. Fitting a fighter with floats—or using the British flying-boat configuration—would introduce considerable drag on the aircraft. Convair engineers conceived a plan to employ retractable hydro-skis for waterborne operations.
The Navy awarded Convair a contract for two XF2Y-1 prototype aircraft in January 1951. The first test flight occurred on 9 April 1953, in San Diego Bay, with the company’s E. D. “Sam” Shannon at the controls.