Military Wiki
OS2U Kingfisher
Role Observation floatplane
Manufacturer Vought
First flight 1938
Retired 1959 (Cuba)
Primary users United States Navy
Fleet Air Arm
Royal Australian Air Force
Soviet Naval Aviation
Number built 1519

The Vought OS2U Kingfisher was an American catapult-launched observation floatplane. It was a compact mid-wing monoplane, with a large central float and small stabilizing floats. Performance was modest, because of its light engine. The OS2U could also operate on fixed, wheeled, taildragger landing gear. The OS2U was the main shipboard observation aircraft used by the United States Navy during World War II, and 1,519 of the aircraft were built. It served on battleships and cruisers of the US Navy, with the United States Marine Corps in Marine Scouting Squadron THREE (VMS-3), with the United States Coast Guard at coastal air stations, at sea with the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy, and with the Soviet Navy. The Royal Australian Air Force also operated a few Kingfishers from shore bases.

The Naval Aircraft Factory OS2N was the designation of the OS2U-3 aircraft built by the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The OS2U first flew on 1 March 1938.

Design and development

In the late 1930s, Vought engineer Rex B. Beisel was tasked with designing an observation monoplane aircraft for the U.S. Navy suitable for a multitude of tasks including directing battleship fire. In replacing the standard biplane observation aircraft with a more modern monoplane design, Beisel incorporated innovations becoming the first production type to be assembled with spot-welding, a process Vought and the Naval Aircraft Factory jointly developed to create a smooth fuselage that resisted buckling and generated less drag. Beisel also introduced high-lift devices, spoilers and in a unique arrangement, deflector plate flaps and drooping ailerons located on the trailing edge of the wing were deployed to increase the camber of the wing and thus create additional lift.[1]

For combat missions, the pilot had a .30-caliber machine gun while the radio operator/gunner manned another .30-caliber machine gun (or a pair) on a flexible ring mount. The aircraft could also carry two 100 lb bombs or two 325 lb depth charges.[1] Additionally, the "Kingfisher", as it was designated, served as a trainer in both its seaplane and landplane configurations.[2] Beisel’s first prototype flew in 1938, powered by an air-cooled, 450 hp Pratt & Whitney R-985-4 Wasp Junior radial engine.[1]

Operational history

Downed American airmen near Truk await rescue on the wings of an OS2U Kingfisher

The first 54 Kingfishers were delivered to the U.S. Navy beginning in August 1940 and six had been assigned to the Pearl Harbor based Battle Force before the end of the same year. Many of the following 158 OS2U-2s were attached to flight training at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, but 53 were assigned to equip the newly established Inshore Patrol Squadrons, based at NAS Jacksonville, Florida. In 1942, nine more Inshore Patrol Squadrons were established, all exclusively equipped with OS2N-1s built by the Naval Aircraft Factory.[3]

The Kingfisher was widely used as a shipboard, catapult-launched scout plane on U.S. Navy battleships, heavy cruisers and light cruisers during World War II, as well as playing a major role in support of shore bombardments and air-sea rescue. Two examples showing the plane's rescue capabilities include the recovery of World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker and his crew from the Pacific in November 1942 and LT John A. Burns' unique use of the aircraft in April 1944 to taxi airmen rescued from the Truk Lagoon to the submarine USS Tang which was serving rescue duty near the atoll on that date. In all, LT Burns rescued 10 survivors on two trips and was awarded the Navy Cross for his efforts. Australia received 18 Kingfishers from a batch of aircraft ordered by the Dutch East Indies that was diverted to Australia in 1942. They were initially used as training aircraft for pilots destined for flying boats, but in 1943, they were used to equip No. 107 Squadron RAAF, which carried out convoy escort duties until disbanded in October 1945.[4] One Kingfisher was used in support of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition in 1947–48.[5]

Throughout its U.S. Navy service, the OS2U and even its predecessor, the Curtiss SOC Seagull served much longer than planned, as the planned successor, the Curtiss SO3C Seamew, suffered from an insufficiently powerful engine which was a complete failure.[6] The OS2U was only slowly replaced in the latter stages of World War II with the introduction of the Curtiss SC Seahawk, the first examples reaching the U.S. Navy in October 1944.[7]


An OS2N-1 at the Naval Aircraft Factory, 1941.

Prototype Vought Model VS.310 powered by a 450 hp (336 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985-4 engine, one built.
Initial production variant as the prototype but powered by a 450 hp (336 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985-48, 54 built.
Production variant with minor equipment changes and powered by a 450 hp (336 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985-50, 158 built.
Based on the 02SU-2 with self-sealing fuel tanks, armour protection, two .30 cal (7.62 mm) guns (dorsal and nose mounted), and able to carry 325 lb (147 kg) of depth charges or 100 lb (45 kg) bombs, powered by a 450 hp (336 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN2 engine, 1006 built.
Two aircraft converted with narrow-chord and high-aspect ratio wings, also fitted with full-span flaps. Not developed.
Naval Aircraft Factory built OS2U-3 with a 450 hp (336 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN-2 or -AN-8 engine, 300 built.
Kingfisher I
British designation for the OS2U-3, 100 delivered to the Royal Navy.


An OS2U of 107 Sqn RAAF.

A Fleet Air Arm 778 NAS Kingfisher at Arbroath.

15 aircraft, operated 1942–1957.
  • Cuban Naval Aviation
Operated four aircraft between 1942 and 1959.
 Dominican Republic
(Three aircraft)
Six aircraft, 201 Squadron.
24 aircraft, not delivered in time for hostilities.
 Soviet Union
2 aircraft on the ship USS Milwaukee (Murmansk)
 United Kingdom
Received 100 aircraft.
United States

Aircraft on display

At least eight Kingfishers survive in collections of historic aircraft around the world:[8]


  • 5985 - Whale World, Albany, Western Australia. It is also waiting "to be restored." Originally built for Netherlands Navy in Dutch East Indies, it was transferred to the RAAF in 1942, serving with Seaplane Training Flight (later 3 OTU) and 107 Sqn before being sold as war surplus in 1945.[9]


  • 5925 - Museo Nacional Aeronáutico y del Espacio de Chile, Santiago.[10]


  • bureau number unknown (marked #50) - Museum of the Revolution (Museo de la Revolución), Havana, Cuba. It is fitted with fixed landing gear rather than a float.[11]

United States

On display
  • 1368 (marked #60, painted as 0951) - Obtained years ago from Mexico, this aircraft was previously displayed aboard the battleship USS Alabama (BB-60) and is now displayed inside the aircraft pavilion adjacent to the battleship in Mobile, Alabama. Unfortunately, the building and the aircraft sustained some damage from Hurricane Ivan in 2004.[12]
  • 5909 - Boeing Aviation Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, DC.[13]
  • 5926 - National Naval Aviation Museum at NAS Pensacola, Florida. It was one of six OS2U-3 Kingfishers that were transferred by Lend-Lease to the Uruguayan Navy during World War II. This aircraft operated as a seaplane until 1958 and was obtained in 1971.[14]
  • bureau number unknown, (marked #55) - on board the battleship USS North Carolina (BB-55) in Wilmington, NC. With the assistance of a Royal Canadian Air Force Piasecki helicopter, Lynn Garrison salvaged this Kingfisher from Calvert Island (British Columbia), during the winter of 1963. It crashed there on a ferry flight to Alaska during World War II. Garrison then donated it to the North Carolina Battleship Commission. It was restored for display by volunteers at Vought Aeronautics in Grand Prairie, TX.[15]
In storage
  • bureau number unknown - in storage at the Yanks Air Museum, Chino, California.[16]

Specifications (OS2U-3)

OS2U Kingfisher at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Data from The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft[17]

General characteristics

  • Crew: Two, pilot and observer
  • Length: 33 ft 10 in (10.31 m)
  • Wingspan: 35 ft 11 in (10.95 m)
  • Height: 15 ft 1.5 in (4.61 m)
  • Wing area: 262 ft² (24 m²)
  • Empty weight: 4,123 lb (1,870 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 6,000 lb (2,721 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN-2 radial engine, 450 hp (336 kW)


  • Maximum speed: 164 mph (264 km/h)
  • Range: 805 mi (1,296 km)
  • Service ceiling: 13,000 ft (3,960 m)


See also



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Noles, James Jr "Old, slow and ugly." Air and Space, February/March 2005, p. 66.
  2. Hickman 2010, p. 59.
  3. Bowers 1990, p. 447.
  4. Vincent 1998, pp. 54–59.
  5. Vincent 1998, pp. 61–62.
  6. Bowers 1990, p. 164.
  7. Bowers 1990, p. 169.
  8. "Vought OS2U (Kingfisher)." Aviation Enthusiast Corner. Retrieved: 12 January 2011.
  9. "OS2U-3 Kingfisher/5985 in Australia." Retrieved: 12 January 2011.
  10. "OS2U-3 Kingfisher/5925 in Chile" (in Spanish language). Retrieved: 12 January 2011.
  11. "OS2U-3 Kingfisher/Unknown in Cuba." Retrieved: 12 January 2011.
  12. "OS2U-3 Kingfisher/1368." USS Alabama Museum. Retrieved: 13 June 2012.
  13. "OS2U-3 Kingfisher/5909." NASM. Retrieved: 12 January 2011.
  14. "OS2U-3 Kingfisher/5926." National Museum of Naval Aviation. Retrieved: 12 January 2011.
  15. "OS2U-3 Kingfisher/Unknown at USS North Carolina." USS North Carolina. Retrieved: 12 January 2011.
  16. "OS2U-3 Kingfisher/Unknown at Yanks Air." Yanks Air Museum. Retrieved: 12 January 2011.
  17. Eden and Moeng 2002, p. 1128.


  • Adcock, Al. OS2U Kingfisher in Action (Aircraft in Action No. 119). Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc., 1991. ISBN 0-89747-270-5.
  • Bowers, Peter M. United States Navy Aircraft since 1911. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1990, pp. 447–448. ISBN 0-87021-792-5.
  • Doll, Thomas E. and B.R. Jackson. "Vought-Sikorsky OS2U Kingfisher". Aircraft in Profile, Volume 14. Windsor, Berkshire, UK: Profile Publications Ltd., 1974, pp. 113–136. ISBN 0-85383-023-1.
  • Eden, Paul and Soph Moeng, eds. The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. London: Amber Books Ltd., 2002, ISBN 0-7607-3432-1.
  • Hickman, Patrick M. The Aircraft Collection. Pensacola, Florida: The Naval Aviation Museum Foundation, Inc., 2010.
  • Pattison, Barry. Kingfisher in the Antipodes. Glen Waverly, Victoria 3150, Australia: Red Roo Model Publications, 1998.
  • Sturtivant, Ray and M. Burrow. Fleet Air Arm Aircraft: 1939 to 1945. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air Britain (Historians) Ltd, 1995. ISBN 0-85130-232-7.
  • Vincent, David. "Kangaroo Kingfishers". Air Enthusiast, No. 77, September/October 1998. Stamford, UK: Key Publishing. pp. 54–62. ISSN 0143-5450.

External links

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