Chance Vought

Chauncey (Chance) Milton Vought was born in New York City in 1890. He became an engineer and designer in 1909, learned to fly in 1910 from pioneer aviator Max T. Lillie, and in 1916 became the chief designer of the Wright Company, where he designed the Wright-Martin V. On June 18, 1917, he and Birdseye Lewis established Lewis & Vought Corporation to profit from the opportunities presented by World War I. Vought died prematurely in 1930 from blood poisoning at the age of 42. After Boeing, the company, under various names, is the oldest airframe manufacturer in the United States.

The company's first successful plane, the VE-7 "Bluebird" trainer, appeared in 1920. It was adapted as a fighter, and in 1922 made the first takeoff from the first U.S. aircraft carrier, the USS Langley. Vought followed with the VE-11, regarded as the first true naval fighter. Vought reorganized his company into the Chance Vought Corporation in May 1922, where he would produce his famous Corsair aircraft.

The first Corsair was the O2U-1 in 1926. It was the first Navy plane that used the Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial engine. The all-metal two-seat biplane served as a reconnaissance plane and also as a light bomber and as an observation plane. Almost 300 were built. In 1927, it set four world records for speed and altitude.

From 1929 until 1934, when it was forced to dissolve by provisions of the Air Mail Act of 1934, Chance Vought was part of the holding company, United Aircraft and Transport Corporation (UATC) along with Pratt & Whitney, Boeing Airplane and Transport, Hamilton Metalplane, and Sikorsky. By June 1935, all but Boeing had formed the United Aircraft Manufacturing Company, part of the United Aircraft Corporation.

During the 1930s Chance Vought supplied naval aircraft in small numbers. Its 1935 SBU biplane scout bomber led to the more advanced low-winged SB2U Vindicator, which first flew on January 4, 1936. The Vindicator also was exported to Britain and France but was obsolete by the time World War II began. The OS2U Kingfisher scout/observation aircraft, which entered service in 1940, was more successful. It was the first Navy catapult-launched monoplane observation airplane and could be used as a landplane and a floatplane.

In 1938, Vought began efforts to produce a fighter plane. The advanced, powerful XF4U project, begun under chief engineer Rex Beisel, would thrust Vought into the forefront of fighter producers.

The Chance-Vought F4U Corsair first flew on May 29, 1940. The Corsair, with its inverted gull wing and powerful Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine, became one of the outstanding combat aircraft of the war. More than 5,000 Corsairs were produced in 1944 alone. Goodyear and, for a short time, Brewster, also produced the plane, which was built through 1952.

While continuing production of the F4U Corsair, Vought developed the SV5U "Flying Pancake," which gained its nickname because of its flattened, rounded shape, and the F6U Pirate, one of three first-generation naval jets along with the North American FJ-1 Fury and McDonnell FH-1 Phantom.

In 1948, the Navy, apprehensive about having its major aircraft producers on the coasts, announced that Chance Vought would move to Dallas, Texas, and take over a closed North American Aviation plant. The move, which was completed in only 14 months was the largest industrial move to that time, involving 1,300 key employees, 2,000 machines, and 50 million pounds of equipment.

Development of the radical twinjet, swept-wing, tailless F7U Cutlass naval fighter began in the late 1940s. The plane first flew in 1948 and the first F7U-3 debuted in December 1951. However, production was cut back in 1954 and it was withdrawn from service in 1957.

In May 1953, Vought won the contract for a new fighter over seven competitors. The XF8U-1 Crusader was the first plane to break the sound barrier on its maiden flight, on March 25, 1955. Future astronaut John H. Glenn, Jr., broke the transcontinental speed record for the 2,445-mile (745-kilometer) trip between New York-Los Angeles in a Crusader on July 16, 1957, averaging of 734 miles per hour (1,181 kilometres per hour). Eventually, 1,263 Crusaders were built. The Crusader was the first operational aircraft to use folding wings, valuable on board aircraft carriers. The plane won the prestigious Collier Trophy in 1957.

Vought had also moved into the area of missiles and launch vehicles. Development of the Regulus I guided missile started in the late 1940s and flight testing began in 1950. The missile was powered by a turbojet engine and cruised at subsonic speeds, going supersonic in its dive to the target. Regulus I missiles were deployed on submarines through 1964. Flight testing of the Regulus II supersonic cruise missile started in 1956. However, the Navy canceled this program in December 1958 to devote its resources to the Polaris ballistic missile program.

Vought won the contract for the Scout launch vehicle in early 1959. The Scout was a four-stage vehicle propelled by solid-propellant rocket motors. Its first launch was July 1, 1960, and for the next 34 years, Scouts was used for both orbital and suborbital missions.

On February 11, 1964, Vought won, against strong competition, the contract to develop the subsonic A-7 Corsair II. Developed from the supersonic F-8, it was the first supersonic design adopted into a subsonic design. The A-7 first flew on September 27, 1965, and was adopted by the Air Force and Navy. A-7 production eventually totalled more than 1,500, including exports, when completed in 1982. It was the last aircraft designed and produced by the company. In the late 1960s, the company began manufacturing aerostructures for many aircraft. These would include the Boeing 747, 757, 767, and the new C-17; Lockheed DC-10 and C-130; Rockwell B1-B; and Northrop Grumman B-2.

The company began producing wings for the Gulfstream V corporate jet in 1995 under a revenue-sharing agreement and continued producing subassemblies for many commercial and military aircraft,

Over the years, the Lewis & Vought Corporation of 1917 has undergone many transitions, including name changes, reorganizations, and changes in focus.

In the early 1950s, Chance Vought Aircraft separated from United Aircraft and became an independent corporation on July 1, 1954, with Fred O. Detweiler as company president. The company became Chance Vought Corporation on December 31, 1960. In 1961, the company merged with Ling-Temco following a failed antitrust suit that Vought brought against Ling. Paul Thayer, a longtime Vought employee and test pilot, became Vought president, replacing Fred O. Detweiler.

In 1965, a further reorganization created three operating divisions: LTV Aerosystems, primarily the old Chance Vought; LTV Electrosystems; and LTV Ling-Altec. The firm became LTV Corporation on May 5, 1971. LTV acquired the remaining publicly held shares of Chance Vought. Under LTV Corporation was LTV Aerospace, which housed Vought Aeronautics, Vought Helicopters, the marketing subsidiary for French Aerospatiale helicopters, and other units.

On January 1, 1976, LTV Aerospace was renamed Vought Corporation. By April 1983, in an attempt to strengthen aerospace operations, Vought Corporation was renamed LTV Aerospace and Defense Company, divided into a Missiles and Advanced Programs Division and an Aero Products Division. The company filed for bankruptcy in July 1986, which led to still another restructuring that resulted in a profit again by the late 1980s. LTV's Paul Thayer, who had become chief executive in 1970, left in January 1983 to become deputy secretary of defense but eventually left after being implicated in illegal stock trading.

In 1992, LTV sold its aircraft division to Northrop Corporation, an aerospace company, and to the Carlyle Group, a private investment firm. Northrop Grumman bought the entire company in September 1994, and from 1994 to 2000, the entity was an operating unit of Northrop Grumman, focusing on aerostructures. In July 2000, Northrop Grumman sold its aerostructures business to the Carlyle Group. Vought Aircraft Industries once again became an independent company and is now the world's largest independent aerostructures subcontractor.

Vought, a company of 6,000 employees and annual sales of more than $1 billion, is still hitting some rough spots. At the end of October 2001, Vought announced that it would be cutting 1,200 jobs, or 20 percent of its work force, partly as a result of a downturn at Boeing due to lessening aircraft purchases resulting from a general downturn in the economy and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.