U.S. Navy Aircraft History

By Tommy H. Thomason

Friday, June 24, 2016

Training the Right Stuff

Amazon should be shipping my latest book, coauthored with Mark Frankel, very soon.

"A comprehensive study of the training aircraft used to transition the United States military into the jet age. At the end of World War II, high-performance jets with unfamiliar operating characteristics were replacing propeller-driven airplanes. As accident rates soared, the Air Force and Navy recognized the need to develop new trainers to introduce fledgling as well as experienced pilots to jet flight. The first step occurred in 1948, when a two-seat jet trainer, the T-33, was developed with private funds. It was welcomed by the Air Force and subsequently the Navy, allowing both services to start building modern air arms. Over time other new trainers were developed to serve specific needs while innovations, such as high fidelity simulators, accelerated the process, reduced costs, and increased safety. The evolution continues today with the goal of producing high-quality newly winged aviators for assignment to operational squadrons."

Sunday, June 5, 2016

It Now Takes All the Running You Can Do To Keep in the Same Place


Once upon a time, the Navy had the luxury of margin in its airplane inventory. In the mid-1950s, an air group might have three fighter squadrons or even four assigned to it. Since it would usually deploy on a carrier with only two, that meant the one left behind could be transitioning to a new type, which occurred much more often in those days.

Up until then, these squadrons were only assigned "day" fighters. All-weather fighters were provided to the air group for a deployment by so-called composite squadron as detachments (see http://thanlont.blogspot.com/2013/12/composite-squadrons-and-detachments.html). That was beginning to change however.

Carrier Air Group One is an example. For its history, see this excellent monograph by Douglas Olson and Angelo Romano:
It is regrettably out of print and no longer available from the publisher, but try and find it elsewhere.

CVG-1 was blessed with four fighter squadrons in 1953. One of them, VF-11, the Red Rippers, began a transition to the Douglas F3D Skywarrior in August. Note the very colorful red trim of the first squadron.

Prior to this, this big, two-man, three-radar, twin-engine all-weather fighter was only assigned to composite squadrons VC-3 and -4 and Marine all-weather squadrons. However, they proved to be unpopular aboard the carriers and only VC-4 made a handful of deployments. One of them culminated in the F3Ds (and their crews) being offloaded to a Marine night fighter squadron during the Korean War, where they were welcomed with open arms.

The Navy therefore decided to reequip VF-11 with its newest all-weather fighter, the single-seat F2H-4 for CVG-1's next deployment. That transition began in December 1953. Its 14 Skyknights were transferred to a sister squadron, VF-14, the Top Hatters, beginning in January, replacing its obsolete F4U-4 Corsairs, and introducing its pilots to the jet age.

As it happened, the number of Navy carrier air groups was set by Congress. However, the surge and operating tempo of the Korean war had required more than that number so the Navy created Air Task Groups, which "borrowed" squadrons from existing air groups for a deployment.  (See http://www.navalaviationfoundation.org/archive/sfl/sflshow.php?id=9085.) ATG-201 was formed up in June 1954 with one of its squadrons being VF-14, deemed surplus to CVG-1's immediate requirement. It retained its 4xx side number and yellow trim. The tail code was amended to be ATG.

VF-14 participated in an ATG-201 workup aboard Intrepid in October/November 1954.
(Note that the A and G have not been added to the T on the wing.)

However, when the time came for ATG-201 to deploy with Bennington in 1955, it was with CVG-1's VF-13 flying F9F-8 day fighters instead. The all-weather fighter capability was provided by a VC-4 detachment of F2H-4s.

Nevertheless, VF-14 continued to fly F3Ds through mid-1956 with CVG-1, reverting back to just T for the tail code (note the over-paint of the other letters on the fin), here bringing a high-ranking Defense Department official aboard Forrestal.

VF-14 did not, however, deploy with CVG-1 either while flying the Skyknight. After it transitioned to the F3H-2N Demon, it finally deployed with Forrestal in 1957, ending a four-year hiatus.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Grumman Stoof and Stoof with a Roof Monograph

Part 2 of Steve Ginter's series on the S2F and its variants is now available:

It was written by Doug Siegfried and Steve Ginter. (Bob Kowalski and I wrote Part 1. See http://thanlont.blogspot.com/2016/01/grumman-s2fs-2-tracker-monograph.html)

In 249 pages, Part 2 provides a summary history, heavily illustrated, of U.S military squadrons when they operated the S2F/S-2 and the WF-2/E-1B. That includes Marines, reserves, test, training, stations, etc. You can buy it directly from Steve here: http://www.ginterbooks.com/NAVAL/NF102.htm

But wait, there's more! Part 3 will cover the TF-1/C-1A.

I really didn't make any contribution to this volume other than a picture on page 50. That's me between standing LT John Brandenburg and my brother, John Gregory, then in diapers. The picture was taken by my stepfather, George Gregory, then the deputy Public Works Officer at NAS Sangley Point in the Philippine Islands (see http://thanlont.blogspot.com/2013/07/halcyon-days-v.html). Here's another:

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Power Steering

The U.S. Navy carrier-based jets did not initially have nose-wheel steering. The reason at the time was that implementation was thought to restrict the turning radius, a critical capability for deck parking and taxiing onto and off of a deck-edge elevator.

Judicious use of power and brakes was used instead. A tiller bar slipped over or into the nose wheel axle was sometimes used to provide more precise steering by a deck hand.
The deck crew would also sometimes just push on one side of a forward fuselage to help align the airplane with the catapult or for parking.

The free-castering of the nose wheel could sometimes result in an incident. This AJ was launched with the nose wheel facing aft. As a result, the nose landing gear jammed so it could not be fully retracted.

However, that did not preclude carrying on with the assigned mission. The nose wheel would almost always recenter on landing without drama. Some air groups had the right side of the AJ's nose wheel painted white to insure that the Savage was catapulted with it properly aligned.

One of the changes that the Navy made to the Air Force's T-34 when it procured it for training was the removal of nose-wheel steering so that its aviators would learn to taxi without it.

The F7U-3 is reportedly the first Navy carrier-based jet with nose-wheel steering. It was big, it was heavy, and the forward fuselage was too far above the ground to be used for alignment by several sailors. Note the tiller bar.

The actuator was added to the landing gear scissors. On most airplanes, a button on the stick grip enabled steering via the rudder pedals.
Most, if not all carrier-based airplanes were equipped with nose-wheel steering thereafter. In fact, later models of the A-4 Skyhawk, beginning with the TA-4, were equipped with it, probably to provide better crosswind takeoff and landing capability.
However, it reportedly did not provide fine-enough steering control for lining up with the catapult track. As a result, the tiller bar was often employed.

One problem with that was the risk of the pilot absentmindedly employing his nose-gear steering when the tiller was attached. It was then a large and very powerful bat. As a result, some A-4 squadrons removed nose-gear steering for a deployment. Also see Jeff Brown's report here: http://thanlont.blogspot.com/2011/11/scooter-stuff.html

Carriers have gotten bigger but the need for excellent steering control remains.
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Joshua Card

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Westinghouse J40 Engine Program

The rise and fall of the Westinghouse Aviation Gas Turbine Division is a fascinating story, worthy of being a Harvard Business School case. I posted a summary here: http://thanlont.blogspot.com/2011/03/from-hero-to-zero.html and have also written about it in my books, Air Superiority and Strike From the Sea. However for the complete story on the fiasco that was the Navy's J40 engine program, this is the book, available from Amazon where you will see two five-star reviews and also at Barnes & Noble as well as overseas distributors.:

 Fair warning: it's detailed, technical, and comprehensive even by my standards, literally a blow-by-blow description of the engine and its development, down to the level of individual parts. There is relatively limited discussion of the airplanes it powered and the difficulties it caused in their development.

Nevertheless,  if you have significant interest in early 1950s U.S. Navy jet fighter programs, this is a book to have. I particularly appreciate that—unlike the usual publication for aviation enthusiasts that relies on the content of previous books and articles on the subject and obvious (and too frequently wrong) internet posts—Paul has taken the time and trouble to find and incorporate information from primary sources at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the National Archives, and the Hagley Museum and Library, among others.

My understanding is that Paul is currently writing a similar history on the Westinghouse J46, which was only marginally more successful than the J40. I look forward to it with great anticipation.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Tailhook Design Redux

I've updated the original "Brief History" post with an additional example and some minor rewording:

Friday, February 12, 2016

A3D Skywarrior Bombardier/Navigator

Paul Bless suggested the following article from the October 1959 issue of Naval Aviation News as a companion piece to the preceding post on the A3D third crewman.
To read it, simply click on the image to view it. Right click on the resulting image to "View Image". There should then be a magnifying glass with a + sign that you can click on to get an even bigger image.