U.S. Navy Aircraft History

By Tommy H. Thomason

Friday, March 13, 2020

U.S. Navy 1950s Light-Attack Jet Programs

By January 1952, nuclear weapons light enough to be carried by tactical fighters and bombers had been qualified and were being stockpiled.
The Mk 7 was an implosion-type device, which meant it was relatively large in diameter. The Mk 8 was a gun-type device, smaller but much heavier, of interest to the Navy because it could withstand the shock of hitting the ground or water at a high incidence angle and speed, making it effective against submarine pens and ships/submarines. The subsequent improvements were the Mk 11, replacing the Mk 8, and the Mk 12, which was notably lighter and smaller than the Mk 7.

The Navy's carrier-based candidates for the new bombs were the Douglas AD-4B Skyraider and the McDonnell F2H-2B Banshee, with the B suffix standing for the armament changes necessary to carry, arm, and drop the Mk 7 and Mk 8. While modifications to Skyraider were relatively minimal, the -2B required a larger strengthened pylon, inflight refueling capability, and landing gear modifications to increase the ground clearance in order to taxi and takeoff with the Mk 7 even with a retractable fin.

F2H-2B side numbers 103 and 107 have inflight refueling probes and the requisite pylon under the inboard section of the left wing.

The AD-6 did not require a B suffix because it came off the production line with the nuclear-strike capability.
Although white in gray-scale photos usually indicate florescent paint, it's possible that in the photo above it is in fact white paint in order to minimize the effect of the temperature spike from the bomb's detonation on the thinner skins of the control surfaces.

The AD had excellent range (a combat radius of almost 900 nautical miles) but a cruise speed of only 163 knots, which means a maximum range mission required 13 hours or more in the saddle. The F2H-2B had equivalent range with inflight refueling and a cruise speed more than twice that, 411 knots. The other shortcoming of the Skyraider was that it could only accelerate to a speed of 270 knots on the run-in to the target and for egress, which meant that being hoist by its own petard was a real possibility. The Banshee, even with its straight wing, could reach 500 knots, which means it could throw the bomb farther and be miles more away when it detonated.

While the Navy continued to assign the Skyraider to prospective nuclear-strike missions, it was clear that jets were to be preferred. The Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) considered several options, deploying five different ones in the 1950s in addition to the F2H-2B.
The McDonnell F2H-3/4 benefited from the -2B experience and all were delivered as nuclear-delivery capable so the B suffix was not required.
Note that the Mk 7 tail cone is rotated slightly counter-clockwise and the landing gear struts are pressurized to provide minimal ground and airframe clearance during taxi and launch.

In the meantime, the Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics contracted with Douglas, sole source, for the diminutive A4D-1 Skyhawk, a bespoke design optimized for the Mk 7-delivery mission. This early A4D-1 has a VHF navigation pod in place of the Mk 7 that dictated the long landing gear.

In the meantime, the F7U-3 was qualified to deliver nuclear weapons and deployed with several VF and VA squadrons. In parallel with the A4D program, the Navy contracted with Vought for an attack derivative of the Cutlass, the A2U.
However, the A2U-1 was cancelled based on the development problems with the Westinghouse J46 engine and the availability of another, less expensive option from North American, the FJ-4B.

The transonic FJ-4 had been procured as a day fighter but the supersonic Vought F8U Crusader resulted in it being delivered exclusively to Marine Corps fighter squadrons. However, it was well thought of and therefore an ideal candidate for the strike mission when modified with extra stores stations, controls for the nuclear weapon, and an additional pair of speed brakes. The result was the FJ-4B.

In the above display, a Mk 7 was loaded on the left pylon outboard of the refueling probe.

To fill the need for jets in attack squadrons before the A4D-1 and FJ-4B became available, BuAer procured the swept-wing F9F-8 Cougar as the F9F-8B beginning in 1954. This was possible at that point because the smaller Mk 12 was now qualified and provided adequate ground clearance with all four of its fins folded.


Nevertheless, none of the Navy's single engine nuclear-strike airplanes then available were all-weather capable. The Douglas F3D-2 night fighter was evaluated to fulfill that requirement but proved inadequate for other reasons.

Although the McDonnell F3H Demon, like the F7U-3, was intended to be a general purpose fighter with nuclear-strike capability, it doesn't appear to have been operationally assigned that role.

In early 1954, North American Aviation submitted an unsolicited proposal to BuAer for its NAGPAW, a single-seat, transonic airplane powered by two afterburning J46 engines that addressed the all-weather capability shortfall. The North American General Purpose Attack Weapon incorporated one of the first inertial navigation systems, an early stealth feature because it emitted no electronic signal betraying the airplane's presence (it was equipped with a small radar that could be used briefly and intermittently to update its position with respect to radar-significant ground features). Another unique design concept was the linear bomb bay. Conventional bomb bays eliminated the drag of the stores but were sometimes reluctant to allow the stores to drop out on release due to turbulence within the cavity. The linear bomb bay allowed the bomb to be positively expelled out the rear of the airplane along with empty fuel tanks.
The BuAer was interested but added requirements, e.g. a second crewman, zero wind-over-deck launch, and Mach 2 performance. The eventual result was the much bigger and faster A3J Vigilante. For more on NAGPAW, see https://tailhooktopics.blogspot.com/2020/03/north-american-general-purpose-attack.html

By the early 1960s all of the Navy's light-attack jets except for the A4D Skyhawk had been retired. Already the lowest cost, both procurement and operating, of the alternatives, it had been upgraded early during its long production run to include an all-weather capability. For more, see the revised edition of my book on the Scooter, published by Crecy and also available from Amazon: http://www.crecy.co.uk/scooter-the-douglas-a-4-skyhawk-story



Saturday, September 28, 2019

Angelo Romano's USN Electronic Aggressors Parts 1 and 2

Angelo sent me copies of his latest monographs a couple of months ago. They are so impressive and comprehensive that my words failed me when I sat down to review them. Fortunately, there have been more timely laudatory reviews on Amazon, Facebook, and other websites like Detail & Scale. For the latter, with a detailed synopsis of what is in the books, click HERE for Part One, and HERE for Part Two.

The short version is that Part One covers 1949 to 1977, beginning with the formation of the second Composite Squadron Thirty-Three for ASW duty and its subsequent designation and mission assignment changes up through 1970 when VAW-33 was assigned to the newly formed Fleet Electronic Warfare Support Group. It was now to provide a realistic electronic warfare environment during fleet exercises, functioning as an adversary.  The history continues up through 1977 with hundreds of pictures (most in color) of the airplane types used, first hand accounts, illustrations of ECM equipment, etc.

Part Two covers 1978 to 2000, continuing the history of VAQ-33 and the establishment of VAQ-34 in 1983 to accommodate the increasing demand for electronic warfare training. It's equal in size, coverage, and quality to Part One.

"Fight as you train, train as you fight" These squadrons are the equivalent of Topgun and its Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center successor in at-sea exercises to ready the crews of warships for combat and maintain their proficiency, including the realistic simulation of an anti-ship missile attack in a full-scale jamming environment. It's a little known but extremely important part of mission readiness.

While these books are available from Amazon and other sources, I recommend that you order them directly from Steve Ginter: Part One and Part Two.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

F8U-3 vs F4H-1 Dogfights at Patuxent River?

Often when the subject of the Vought F8U-3 comes up on the internet, someone posts something like "Crusader 3 test pilots would often jump the Navy pilots flying the F4H out of Pax River and get the better of them. Then the Navy brass complained and that was the end of the mock dogfights".

That scenario doesn't seem very likely. It is true that NASA Langley in Virginia was bailed the two F8U-3 prototypes for sonic boom studies after the Vought program was canceled. One arrived on 26 May 1959 and the other a month later (the latter was primarily used for spares). Flight tests were accomplished through October 1959 (I don't know the date of the last flight) and both airplanes stricken a month later.
 Langley didn't even bother adding the NASA logo on the tail of its F8U-3s during the five months they were on flight status there.

It is also true that there were F4Hs at Pax River during that time, No. 6 from 27 July to 13 August 1959 for NPE II, initial carrier suitability evaluation, and No. 3 in October, also likely for a couple of weeks, for NPE III, autopilot and air-to-air refueling evaluation. And Pax River and NASA Langley are not all that far apart.

However, No. 6 probably didn't leave the NAS Patuxent traffic pattern much, if at all, except on the ferry flight from St. Louis and the one to return.

I don't know whether there was any overlap between No. 3's visit to Pax in October and NASA's F8U-3 flight status; it's likely that there was and possible that they did tangle at least once.
Note that this picture was probably taken at a later date since No. 3 has a boilerplate IFR probe configuration being evaluated for production.

However, NASA test pilot Donald Mallick flew some of the Langley F8U-3 flights as described in his autobiography (a pdf can be downloaded for free from this NASA website: www.nasa.gov/centers/dryden/history/Publications/index.html).
I'm pretty sure that if there was such an encounter, he would have mentioned it.

In any event, given the relatively brief periods of overlap of the two types in the area and the intensive and controlled nature of the flight-test programs involved, it seems very unlikely that there was much opportunity for mock dogfighting. One of the two pilots would have had to have enough fuel after completing the test points on his flight card to go looking to bounce another fighter in his vicinity that turned out to be an F8U-3/F4H  that happened to be airborne at the same time.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

U.S. Navy F-84 Thunderjet

When I first saw this picture I thought it might have been Photoshopped:

The designation, F84-CKX, also looked bogus (the dash number is in the wrong place, this was reportedly an F-84B, and the "X" should be a prefix, not a suffix):

But it turns out to be the real deal as reported by Bruce Craig (an F-84 subject-matter expert) Tom Chee, and other sources.

According to Bruce's blog, now gone from the internet as best I can tell, 80 F-84Bs were transferred to the Navy from the Air Force for use as target drones, designated F-84KX and given BuNos 142269-142348.

Tom notes that the official designation was "F84 KX" and Navy service histories only exist for the following Bureau Numbers:

142269: Assigned to NADC Johnsville from 28 October 1954 until it was retired on 9 August 1955. It was stricken in February 1956 with a reported total flight hours of 0 (if correct, it was a non-flying prototype for remote-control system installation and ground-based testing).

142270: Assigned to BAR (BuAer Representative) Cherry Point, North Carolina on 22 December 1954 and transferred to NADC Johnsville on 1 March 1955. It was retired on 9 August 1955 and stricken in February 1956 with a reported total flight hours of 2, which might be the ferry time from Cherry Point.

142271 and 142272 had virtually identical calendar milestones and the same flight time, 2 hours, as 142270.

My guess is that the Navy wanted to utilize a target drone with more performance than the F6F Hellcats being used at the time (an article in the July 1951 issue of Naval Aviation News stated that an F6F-5K was being modified by NADC to add two externally mounted turbojet engines "to increase its altitude range and speed maximum to provide gunnery targets comparable to today's faster and higher altitude fighter and bomber aircraft". The Air Force had replaced the F-84B in service by 1952 so it was available for the purpose.

The Navy apparently decided subsequently that it was beginning to have its own fleet of surplus jet fighters and it was more sensible to convert them to be targets than to add another airframe and engine to its logistics, training, and maintenance burden.

For a discussion of the color scheme and the fuselage length difference between the F-84B and the E/F, see https://tailspintopics.blogspot.com/2019/08/us-navy-f-84-thunderjet-target-drone.html

Scooter!

The first edition of Scooter! has been selling for silly prices on Amazon so Crécy decided to publish a second one. I've corrected typos and errors as well as added new illustrations and updated the sections on foreign military air forces and civil-registered Skyhawks. Also see HERE. For reviews of the first edition, click HERE.
All of the author and editor reviews are complete. It should be going to the printer this week and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Well, That Was Colorful


On 4 November 1981, a visiting Marine pilot flying an RF-4B made his first catapult launch in a Phantom, which required a bit of finesse with the stick. At the time, the technique was to use full aft stick when the catapult fired and then ease it forward to keep from over rotating. Obviously his timing and/or final stick position was off because the pitch attitude reached about 60 degrees as shown in the picture. Fortunately, the Phantom was light (internal fuel only) and the engines in afterburner. Since pitch control was not very effective at low speed (the reason for starting with full aft stick), he elected to lower the nose to the horizon with rudder (think hammerhead turn) and then roll out. I surprised that the guy in the backseat stayed with him but the unusual attitude recovery was successful and they continued back to their base in Japan as planned.

For more on this incident and much more on the RF-4B, see this CD on the RF-4B by Lee R. DeHaven and Richard Rentrop: https://www.amazon.com/RF-4B-Phantom-USMC-Tactical-Reconnaissance/dp/0980109205

Friday, November 16, 2018

Birth of a Legend, McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II


I've been perfecting my latest and very likely last monograph/book for almost as long as my first, U.S. Naval Air Superiority. At some point, however, you have to either declare victory or surrender if the material is to be shared with those of a similar interest. That time has come for me. Birth of a Legend will be published by Ginter Books (http://www.ginterbooks.com/NAVAL/NF108.htm) and should be shipping in mid-December, just in time for Christmas.

I recommend that you order directly from Ginter Books. It isn't much of any extra cost to you but benefits Steve significantly, enabling him to stay in business, releasing excellent monographs on subjects that the big publishers won't take a chance on. (If you like this one, order my XFL-1 monograph (http://www.ginterbooks.com/NAVAL/NF81.htm); it's pretty good if I do say so myself and he still has lots.)

As the title suggests, Legend is limited, so to speak, to a detailed history of the genesis, design, development, and initial training squadron use of the F4H-1. It is soft-cover, 8 1/2 by 11 inch, and 184 pages (more than 20 in color). It includes at least one picture of each of the first 47 F4H-1s, at least two of which were very hard to come by, as well as a summary history of each one from its first flight to the circumstances of its withdrawal from service. A description of each of the flights that resulted in records and two that tragically didn't is included.

Some of the content is fairly well known but some significant events, like the desk-top evaluation of competing designs at the Bureau of Aeronautics in mid-1954, the redirection of the program from a general-purpose fighter to a fleet-air-defense fighter, the incorporation of boundary-layer control, and the Navy's evaluation/acceptance tests are described in far more depth (and more accurately) than previously. (The fly-off against the Vought F8U-3 was previously covered in detail in Ginter's Naval Fighters No. 87 but is summarized here.)

As is customary in aircraft development programs, changes had to be made as a result of both problem resolution and mission "creep". This is described with numerous illustrations and a configuration summary. A summary of the differences between the 47th F-4A (the redesignation of the first 47 F4H-1/F4H-1Fs) and the 1st F-4B is also provided, with two, the engine inlet and the inflight refueling probe, covered in detail.

Like most Ginter monographs, there is a short modelers section that lists the few kits and conversions that are available for the early Phantom IIs. However, the detail provided in this one will be essential to creating an accurate model of one of the first 47.

However well you know the F-4, I'm sure that you will find information within these pages that you did not know or were misinformed about and pictures that you have not seen before.