In the 1950s, the “Mobile Base Concept” led the Navy to investigate the idea of a supersonic, water-based fighter which would operate in sheltered water areas around the world. Convair engineers met the challenge with the most innovative single-seat fighter of the fifties, the XF2Y-1 Sea Dart (later designated YF2Y-1). A total of five Sea Darts were built in San Diego, California by Convair for the U.S. Navy, but only three were flown. The Sea Dart was to be the first combat-type plane equipped with retractable hydroskis, the first delta-winged seaplane, and the first supersonic seaplane in the world. Its first flight was made over San Diego Bay on April 9, 1953, and in August 1954, the plane proved its supersonic capabilities. However by 1956, tactical doctrine had changed and the Navy abandoned the seaplane fighter concept and, with it, the Sea Dart program.
The hull of the Sea Dart had multiple watertight compartments in the lower fuselage to prevent sinking in the event of a puncture. It was fitted with a set of dive brakes on the lower rear fuselage which also doubled as water brakes and as a water rudder while taxiing on the surface. When sitting at rest in the water, the Sea Dart floated with the trailing edge of the wing and the twin hydro-skis flush with the water, and the leading edge of the delta wing at the juncture of the fuselage about 18 inches above the water.
The aircraft took off and landed on a pair of retractable hydro-skis that extended outward from recesses cut into the lower hull. For takeoff, the skis were initially fully retracted into their wells. Then as power was applied and the leading edge of the ski broke the water at 9-11 mph, the skis were extended to an intermediate position until 45-55 mph was reached. They were then fully-extended, and the aircraft accelerated to a takeoff speed of about 145 mph. A single ski variant was also tested.
The Museum’s Sea Dart was donated by Convair in 1963, but at the time there was no room for the large, unusually shaped plane at the Museum’s old location on the del Prado. Thus, the Museum’s Sea Dart languished on Convair’s back lot for 20 years. The Museum’s new location in the Ford Building afforded an ideal spot for the Sea Dart – right in front for all to see.
While volunteer craftsmen from Convair undertook to restore the plane, proposals for the plane’s display in front of the Museum were presented for approval by various Balboa Park committees. Final approval was obtained in 1983, and the 12,600 pound aircraft was transported from Convair to the Museum during the early morning hours of June 27, 1984. After the 1.5 hour trip to the park, it was lifted by a crane and pedestal-mounted in front of the Museum. The Museum’s Sea Dart was the third produced by Convair and first flew on March 4, 1955.