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The Fighting Chiefs and the F2A
USS Lexington Brewsters
by Joe Lyons



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The Aircraft

Fighting Two (VF-2) was a unique USN Squadron in the early 1940s. Most of its members were non-commissioned officers (hence the Squadron’s insignia) and, it would be the only CV Squadron to operate the Brewster F2A after the US entered the war. This article looks at the two versions of this airplane used during the period 1940 into January 1941, the F2A-2 and the F2A-3. Home for the Brewsters at sea of course was USS Lexington (CV-2). 

[To my knowledge these aircraft were not known as “Buffalos” in USN service, at least during the period addressed, so the name will not be used herein] 

The chequered development and career of the F2A is well covered in many sources. Suffice it to say that it was the navy’s first monoplane fighter, saw little combat with that service and was replaced by the F4F immediately after the war began in the Pacific.


Brewster F2A-2 (BuNo 1416) [VF-2, “2-F-11”]

This particular ‘Buff version was as close as the west came to building a Zero:






Loaded Weight

Wing Area- ft2


Wing Loading-lb/ ft2

Zero Type 21

120 Imp Gal



5313 lb





200 gal

4-.50 cal


5913 lb





Neither had any sort of passive protection. USN sources generally consider the –2 to be the best of the Brewster fighters (Boyington said it could “turn inside a phone booth”). By contrast the export version traded performance for passive protection, as did the navy –3. BuNo 1516 was built in VF-2 markings and got to VF-2 in October 1940, remaining with the Squadron until replaced by the F2A-3 in September 1941. Note the 200 gal of fuel inside a 6000 lb loaded airframe. This was 70 gal more than the P-40 and over twice as much as carried by Spitfire, Hurricane and Bf-109 contemporaries. It was overhauled in December 1941, served briefly with VMF-111 and 121 and was stricken in October 1942 at NAS Miami. While with VF-2 its Brewster ancestor, the F2A-1 dressed in Finnish markings, was on the way to setting several unmatched WW II fighter records. Mustang, Spitfire and Dora aficionados?  Eat your hearts out.

29 different F2A-2s were assigned to VF –2 at one time or another. I can find only one photo of a Golden Wings VF-2 F2A-2 (BuNo 1412), other than what is factory publicity shot possibly of 2-F-1.  There is one other photo of an ex-VF-2 bird in July 1942. This photo shows BuNo 1412. Note the target “can” on the port bomb rack.

F2A-3 BuNo 1549 (2-F-18)   

Painted Blue-Gray over Light Gray.

The entire air group would be so painted until such time as the December 23 directive on rudder stripes was implemented. I have found two photos of VF-2 ‘Buffs in Blue-Gray where the Squadron markings are visible; neither is cross-referenced to a Bureau Number. But Thomas Doll’s new book on navy markings has a color drawing of 2-F-18 and a photo that shows AP 1/C Howard S. Packard standing in front of it (perhaps).

The –3 Brewster will add more fuel, and armor, but no more horsepower. Like all its contemporaries designed on the cusp of the war it has the wing lumps and bumps to accommodate weapons for which they were not intended. Performance will suffer compared to earlier versions, but navy pilots in a position to evaluate both types saw little difference between this F2A and its F4F peer. VF-2 will be the only navy Squadron to fire the guns of this airplane in anger.
The conventional wisdom of the F2A/Buffalo is that it was a failure as a fighter, except in the hands of the Finns. However, I believe a case can be made that the USN would have been better off in the great 1942 carrier battles with the F2A rather than the F4F. How dare I say this? More gas for one thing: 200+ gal vs. 130. The Wildcat’s range limitations are very manifest in the accounts of those days. And, perhaps a faster rate of climb depending on which source you believe. No match for the Zero on the Zero’s terms to be sure, but neither was the F4F.



The Models



The Tamiya kit is currently the only game in town in 1/48 scale. It is built almost straight from the box, except for some True Detail photo-etched parts. Given the closed canopy, I really shouldn’t have bothered with the P/E. Eduard provides a delightful D/F antenna to wrap around the life raft; regrettably neither the kit nor the Falcon canopy can be installed with it in place, so it’s not.





As with all VF-2 Brewsters, BuNo 1516 does not have the antenna mast, the aerial being led instead to a stub on the port wing.




F2A-3 BuNo 1549 (2-F-18).


This is the Tamiya F2A-2 kit modified to be a –3.


The principal change is the 10” fuselage extension forward of the vents on a line with the antenna mast. This is a straightforward job. After assembly of the completed fuselage, the cowl is detached from the nose with a razor saw. 10 thou plastic sheet extensions were glued into the fuselage to provide support for 20 thou plastic sheet representing the nose extension. The whole lot was faired in with putty. There is a small bit of panel line scribing necessary to make the extension blend with the fuselage proper, and then the cowling is reattached. Eduard open split flaps. An open Falcon canopy justifies the Eduard P/E set, mostly of the cockpit. When combined with some kit parts the cockpit is a good copy of the photos the F2A prototype cockpit. This set caters for all the pre-F2A-3 aircraft, USN and export. I’m presuming it is adequate for the –3 as well. I used a Curtiss cuffed prop from the spares box, left over I think from an abortive KMC Wildcat conversion.





A Monogram B-17 Cyclone replaces the kit engine which, while good, like all of its modeling brothers is molded smaller than scale to fit the kit cowl. Judicious cutting away of the B-17 engine in areas not visible when closed up made its use possible.


The only other substantial visual points on VS-2 F2A-3s are the frameless sliding canopy and the rerouting of the radio antenna much as was done with VS-2 F2A-2s. While there are no metal frames on the canopy, the butt joints of the Plexiglas sections are not invisible. I added Accurate Miniature 100 lbs and racks leftover from the F3F-2 kit.



Colors and Markings




The “Golden Wing” era had its own rules, many of which have puzzled modelers for years. Fortunately, there was very little artistic license allowed among aviation activities required to conform to directives, and we have a good deal of photographic documentation.


By directive, the golden wings officially disappeared on December 31, 1940 but as anyone who has watched “Dive Bomber” knows it took some months to fully implement the replacement scheme. Thus in January 1941 for all the aircraft addressed, the exterior coloration was:


Aluminum-pigmented lacquer overall, except the tops of the wings. Floquil Old Silver used on all the metal surfaces. The 1937 reorganization of Squadrons had, inter alia, standardized color markings for each carrier, such color being applied to all the tail surfaces. Lexington’s color was Lemon Yellow, a paler shade than Orange-Yellow. Testors Model Master Blue Angel Yellow was used for this color. Kit decals were used, with the various kit numbers “juggled” about to provide the correct BuNo and section numbers for this particular aircraft.



The Blue-Gray for upper surfaces officially implemented in November 1941 but done unofficially a few weeks before in parts of the Pacific naval air force.  National insignia remains the blue star on a white circle with the red center dot. Testor’s MM Blue Gray and Light Gray. White Markings and numerals from aftermarket sheets. I had finished this model when I got the Aircraft Films F4F Wildcat DVD set containing the film clips mentioned above. As I watched, it seemed as if the F2As viewed head-on “in the groove” were overall light gray, but as they trapped or executed wave-offs, it was obvious they were in Blue-Gray/Light Gray. A careful look at two still close-ups of the time seem to show the Light Gray coming up around the entire cowl ring causing the head-on overall gray look.  So, I repainted the model thusly.



In the Great Panel Line Shading debate, I subscribe to the theory that if the panel was not openable on purpose, it does not get shaded. I usually do this with black or gray pastel chalk on top of the base color. I have no clue as to how do successfully any of the more glamorous techniques






a.                   Brewster’s Benighted Buffalo. AIR Enthusiast Quarterly Number One.

b.                  Doll, T.E. (1967). U.S.Navy Markings W.W. II-Pacific Theater. Sun Valley CA: John W. Caler.

c.                   Doll, T.E. (2003). US Navy Aircraft Camouflage & Markings 1940-1945   Carrollton TX: Squadron/Signal Publications

d.                  Mass, J ((1987). F2A Buffalo in action. Carrollton, Tx: Squadron/Signal Publications

e.                   Shores, C.F. (1970). The Brewster Buffalo Profile 217. Windsor, Berkshire, England: Profile Publications Ltd.

f.                     http://www.danford.net/buff.htm


All photos USN or the author


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Text Copyright © 2004 by Joe Lyons
Images by USN or Joe Lyons
Page Created 01 January, 2005
Last Updated 01 January, 2005

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