The Grumman F9F Panther was the first turbo-jet powered fighter to serve in quantity with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, the first to see combat, and the first to shoot down hostile aircraft. The Panther began life as a design study for a multi-engine night fighter. When Rolls-Royce made its new Nene engine available to Grumman, the engineers went back to the drawing board and recast the design as a single-engine day fighter. (Ironically, Rolls- Royce also delivered a Nene to the Soviet Union. The engine was installed in the MiG 15, which Panthers would meet in the frozen skies over Korea.)
Panthers joined the fleet in 1949. The Blue Angels flew the F9F in 1950 and again from 1952 to 1954. When the Communists invaded South Korea in June of 1950, United States forces, including the carrier Valley Forge, rushed to Korean waters. In July, Panthers flew the first of thousands of sorties in support of United Nations troops. It quickly became obvious that the straight-wing Panther's performance was inferior to that of the swept-wing MiG but when the two types met, the F9F more than held its own. Panthers would fly nearly half of the air-to-ground missions conducted by the Navy and Marine Corps in Korea. Its most famous pilot was Boston Red Sox slugger and future Hall of Famer, Ted Williams.
The museum's Panther is an F9F-5P, a photorecon version. The normal armament of four 20mm cannon was removed and the nose was lengthened to accommodate a battery of cameras. In 1962 it was re-designated as the RF-9D, 36 were built.
The museum's Panther is painted in the same scheme it wore in the late 1950s when it was stationed at MCAS EI Toro, Tustin, CA.