U.S. Navy Aircraft History

By Tommy H. Thomason

Thursday, October 25, 2018

F-4 Flying Under the Golden Gate Bridge

Peter Greengrass, my go-to guy for F4H Phantom stuff, provided some additional information about this incident and another photo.

This picture of an F4H about to fly under the Golden Gate Bridge appears from time to time, rarely with the explanation. The comments usually include statements that it is a fake, imaginative explanations as to why the landing gear is down, the pilot was grounded thereafter forever, etc.

In actual fact, it is not a fake. It was not authorized per se, but also did not result in the pilot making his last flight as an officer in the U.S. Navy. It did involve cameras, often a incentive for a pilot to do something stupid although not in this case. An AirPac-approved camera crew was on board Ranger (CVA-61) to get footage for a David Wolper documentary,  "The Story of a Carrier Pilot". See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MR_bGZrEck

The fact that the footage of this launch is not in the documentary is easily explained by the Navy's unwillingness to appear to condone stupid stunts like flying under bridges, which in any other circumstance would have the pilot's wings removed immediately after landing, assuming that he hadn't screwed up, crashed, and died. The picture above was presumably taken by a member of the public from Vista Point or a boat.

The plan on 19 October 1962 was for XO Ken Stecker  of VF-96, The Fighting Falcons, and another pilot in a second F-4 to be launched well before reaching the bridge after the ship departed NAS Alameda. However, the launch was momentarily delayed (the launch officer was reportedly E. Inman "Hoagy" Carmichael who retired as an admiral, so obviously his career wasn't adversely affected either). When it did occur, Stecker decided that going under the bridge was a better option than trying to climb over it. That was not overly challenging because there is at least 220 feet between the bridge and the water. Stecker subsequently became CO of VF-96.

The other pilot was launched just after the carrier passed under the bridge, as documented by this photo taken from a helicopter. The splash is from the bridle used to launch the jet. It was normally retained (that's what the "plank" protruding ahead of the deck in front of each catapult track was for) and reused, but it was limited to a specific number of launches and it was often simply expended when it was one launch short of the limit if it had lasted that long without incurring visual damage.

In response to one nay-sayer that this explanation can't be true because the ship wouldn't have been going fast enough in San Francisco Bay for the first launch, note that the ship does not have much way on but clearly the wind over deck was adequate. In fact, Ranger didn't have any way on for this dockside launch of a lightly loaded Phantom in Yokosuka Harbor in 1963:

For more on aircraft carrier catapults, see https://thanlont.blogspot.com/2011/01/catapult-innovations.html

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Was the Navy's F-111 Really That Bad?

It was with some trepidation that I awaited the subject article by Robert Bernier in the September 2018 issue of Air&Space Smithsonian. I thought it likely that it would be yet another ill-informed and derogatory recounting of the shortcomings of the Sea P*g. It turned out to be accurate and even-handed in my opinion. There were a couple of things to quibble with at first reading: an editor couldn't resist a snarky subtitle: "Pentagon leaders insisted that an Air Force fighter-bomber would make a great Navy interceptor: They should have asked the Navy"; and I think it's dubious that the side-by-seating was one of the Navy's "demands". However, Bernier also came up with a couple of complimentary F-111B anecdotes that I hadn't read before from individuals with first-hand experience with the airplane, which more than makes up for them and any others.

Bravo Zulu.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Grumman TS-2A on Fire

Every once in a while, a picture of a Grumman TS-2A (S2F-1T) with the port-engine propeller feathered and the engine nacelle engulfed in flame gets posted with a request for more information, which is rarely forthcoming.
 Tailhook Association via Doug Siegfried

Here is the story behind the picture:
It appeared in the January 2013 S2F newsletter published by Gordon Bonnel, LCDR USN (Ret), who I'm sad to report has passed on along with the web site that provided back issues...

Friday, July 6, 2018

United States Marine Corps Aircraft Since 1913

The latest aircraft reference book from E.R. Johnson is United States Marine Corps Aircraft Since 1913, published by McFarland. The breadth and depth of its content will be familiar to you if you have seen the author's American Military Training Aircraft: Fixed and Rotary-Wing Trainers Since 1916 (see https://thanlont.blogspot.com/2015/05/american-military-training-aircraft.html), American Military Transport Aircraft since 1925 (see http://thanlont.blogspot.com/2013/04/american-military-transport-aircraft.html), or United States Naval Aviation, 1919-1941 (see http://thanlont.blogspot.com/2011/06/united-states-naval-aviation-1919-1941.html). In this case, it is a 7" x 10" soft-cover 580-page book that is encyclopedic in coverage.

One of the benefits of having this book in your library is that it not only replaces but also updates some classic USMC references such William T. Larking's U.S. Marine Corps Aircraft, 1914-1959. While the only color provided is on the front cover, the reproduction quality of the more than 500 gray-scale photos is more than adequate for a book of this type. Consistent with Johnson's past practice, the photo captions add value, providing useful information.

The text begins with a relatively short history of U.S. Marine Corps aviation followed by three very lengthy sections describing, in turn, Fixed-Wing Tactical Aircraft; Fixed-Wing Transport, Trainer and Utility Aircraft; and Rotary-Wing Aircraft. If Johnson missed describing (specification, summary description, usage, Lloyd S. Jones multi-view drawing) any one of these, it would be very obscure indeed. Coverage is complete up through the Lockheed Martin F-35B and includes the still-borne McDonnell Douglas A-12.

Eight appendices provide summaries of Unmanned Air Systems; Aviation-Related Ships; Aviation Installations; Aircraft Squadrons and Aircraft Assignments,;Aviation Unit Organization; Organizations of Expeditionary and Amphibious Operations; Aircraft Weapons and Tactics; and Aviation Designation, Terms and Abbreviations. A very useful Glossary and Index are included and in the event that the reader wishes to delve more into the subject, there is a very lengthy Bibliography.

USMC Aircraft since 1913 can be ordered from McFarland's website (www.mcfarlandpub.com) or by phone (800-253-2187. It is also available as an ebook from all major ebook providers. See https://mcfarlandbooks.com/customers/how-to-buy-ebooks/ for a list.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Strike from the Sea

Specialty Press has formally notified me that they have zero stock and it will not be reprinted. It got pretty good reviews on Amazon. If it's anything like Scooter!, which has been out of stock at Crecy for a while now, the price for one will eventually go through the roof. Fair warning if you have been dilly-dallying about acquiring it for your library.

Crecy, by the way, has expressed interest in a reprint of Scooter! if there is enough new material to warrant it. Most of what I have on hand are error corrections and updates on the civil and contract test/training usage. I need more material on the Israel A-4s. With respect to the latter, does anyone  know of a subject-matter expert?

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Naval Aviation Centennial Newsletters

While looking for something else, I discovered that the Centennial of Naval Aviation newsletters issued beginning in 2009 to publicize the year-long event in 2011 are still available online:
These contain interesting articles of events both historic and then-current. They can be downloaded at: http://www.public.navy.mil/AIRFOR/centennial/Pages/Multimedia.aspx

North American FJ-1 Carrier Operations

In the process of doing some research for another author on the North American FJ-1 Fury, I had a senior moment that I documented with this post, which I have now corrected. My apologies.

VF-5A was equipped with FJ-1s before NATC finished its evaluation of the type. The urgency to get jets aboard carriers resulted in an unusual clearance direct from the Chief of Naval Operations in February 1948, He issued authorization for the squadron to conduct limited at-sea operations "to expedite carrier operation jet aircraft prior (to the) completion (of) all customary trials." Restrictions included no catapult takeoffs, limited gross weights, no tip tanks, and keeping "vertical impact velocities at a minimum". It advised that at the maximum approved takeoff gross weight of 11,600 lbs, a takeoff run with 35 knots wind-over-deck would be 840 feet on a "hot" day and 680 feet on a standard day (59° F), "based on test results obtained with experienced pilots under optimum conditions". Note that an Essex-class carrier deck was 862 feet long.

On 10 March 1948, with those restrictions, guidance, and permission in hand, VF-5A squadron commander CDR "Pete" Aurand and his executive officer, LCDR Bob Elder, made the first carrier takeoffs and landings by a more or less operational jet squadron from Boxer, CV-21. Life magazine photographers were aboard and aloft to capture the event. Landings were relatively easy, with notably better visibility of the deck than in a prop plane. Deck-run takeoffs were dicey and begun using all the available deck.

During this outing or outings, either the NATC restriction on catapult takeoffs had been lifted or Aurand made a command decision to be catapulted off rather than make deck runs for some of the takeoffs.
Based on his and Elder's successful evaluation, Aurand attempted to get all the VF-5A (now VF-51) pilots qualified for carrier operations beginning on 3 May 1948 aboard Princeton. It did not go well. A wing broke off the fourth Fury to land; the wing stayed on deck but the rest of the airplane went over the side (the pilot was rescued). There were too many trips into the barriers, some resulting in damage that precluded continuing without significant repair. The week-long qualification period was reportedly terminated after only two days by the ship's captain. The crippled Furys were craned off at San Diego.

It was a notable contrast to the counterpart on the east coast by VF-17A flying McDonnell FH-1 Phantoms from the smaller Saipan, CVL-48, also in May 1948. They experienced no incidents, flying off the carrier with as many airplanes as they brought aboard. However, the success was tragically marred by a fatal mid-air collision between the commanding officer, CDR Ralph A. Fuoss, and his wing man upon return to NAS Quonset Point. For more, see http://www.navalaviationmuseum.org/history-up-close/squadron-takes-jet-to-sea/

It is not clear when NATC's at-sea FJ-1 carrier-suitability trials were accomplished. I'm all but certain that it was aboard Princeton with these two jets with photo-reference markings. One carried a large "A" on the forward fuselage (probably BuNo 123071,  the last FJ-1 delivered) and the other, a "B" (probably BuNo 120369).

Based on a note to myself from research several years ago at the Washington Navy Yard, I'm pretty sure that the NATC evaluation occurred in August 1948 on the west coast after appropriate beef-ups and modifications were made to the Fury. However, the notes indicate that one of them, "A , suffered a hard landing with a structural wing failure. Nevertheless, these trials cleared VF-5A, then designated VF-51, to go back aboard a carrier, which they did in September.

VF-51 provided jet familiarization in squadron strength with their FJ-1s for at least three west-coast carriers before transitioning to the Grumman F9F-3 in 1949.