U.S. Navy Aircraft History

By Tommy H. Thomason

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Angelo Romano's USN Electronic Agressors 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.

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