U.S. Navy Aircraft History

By Tommy H. Thomason

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:
http://thanlont.blogspot.com/2011/12/brief-history-of-tailhook-design.html

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.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

A3D Skywarrior Third Crewman

From Naval Aviation New, May 1960:
Note that "weaponeer" was the crew member assigned to arm a nuclear weapon after takeoff. Navy officers had this responsibility on the Hiroshima and Nagasaki missions.

Paul Bless provided more information on the individuals listed above: Shelly and Szeller were misspellings; their last names were Skelly and Szeyller.  Greenwood and Skelly went on to become A3D bombardier/navigators (see the Naval Enlisted Bombardier/Navigator Association website). Szeyller became one of the first F4H RIOs and was killed in a midair collision with another F-4 in 1967.

Friday, January 22, 2016

In Memory of Ensign Raymond Hite, Jr.



 Ensign Raymond Maxwell Hite, Jr was killed on 18 May 1961 in the crash of the first Sageburner attempt to set the record for “speed over a straight three-kilometer course at a restricted altitude” with the McDonnell F4H Phantom II. This involved making four passes, two in each direction, at an altitude above the ground of no more than 100 meters (328 feet). Hite was the Radar Intercept Officer in the rear cockpit.

Most accounts of the accident (including, I regret to report, my own) only mention the pilot, Commander Jack L. Felsman. At some point early on, Hite’s presence began to be overlooked, which is lamentable because he was the epitome of Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” and arguably critical to the success of the record-breaking attempt because of his ability to use the F4H’s radar to coach the pilot onto the course, not easily seen visually from an altitude of only 100 feet at supersonic speed.

In 1942, when he was only 14 but big and mature for his years, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. Before his true age was discovered and he was discharged, he had flown combat missions as a gunner in a Martin B-26 and shot down a German fighter. At 17, he joined the Navy, initially serving as a gunner on a patrol bomber.

In 1952, he was selected for training as an enlisted Bombardier/Navigator. This was not unusual at the time but becoming rare. It had been a natural transition of enlisted men from gunners/radiomen to radar operators to bombardiers. However, by the late 1950s, following the introduction of the Douglas A3D Skywarrior, almost all Navy bombardier/navigators were officers.

As reported in one of his commendations, he won the top individual honors by a wide margin in Heavy Attack Wing One’s Sixth Bombing Derby held in December 1958: “The competition tested performance in bombing, celestial and radar navigation, and a thorough understanding of special weapons in addition to normal crew duties and understanding of aircraft systems.”

In part as a result, Hite was selected to be an officer and commissioned as an Ensign in January 1960. His new assignment as a Limited Duty Officer, Aviation Ordnance, was to be part of the A3J-1 Vigilante test program as bombardier/navigator. His new duty station was the U.S. Naval Air Special Weapons Facility at Kirtland Air Force Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In addition to the A3J testing, Hite participated in the evaluation of the Navy’s newest fighter, the Phantom II, that also had a nuclear weapon delivery capability including radar mapping for navigation.

Hite had already survived two horrific Navy carrier-based bomber accidents, bailing out of an AJ Savage that had lost its vertical fin and an A3D Skywarrior after an explosion severed its aft fuselage. Unfortunately, he and Felsman had no chance to escape this one. Although the crash is usually attributed to the failure of the pitch-damper system, the F4H was susceptible to Pilot-Induced Oscillation (PIO) in pitch at transonic speed and low altitude. This particular PIO occurs when the airplane’s dynamic response to an externally generated (e.g. turbulence) pitch change matches that of the pilot’s response to it. If both airplane and pilot then react, again simultaneously, to the larger than expected pitch change, hell’s-own roller-coaster ride results. If the pilot doesn’t take himself out of the loop, i.e. let go of or not move the stick, the result could be an overload of the airplane’s structure.

When I joined McDonnell in 1966 as a flight test engineer fresh out of college, I was shown the then closely held movie clip of the inflight breakup of the first Sageburner. The pitch excursions didn’t seem particularly large but within a few seconds and about three cycles, ended with the airplane disintegrating at 14 gs, well above its design structural limit, and the engines flying out of the debris headed down course. It is now a video on YouTube.

Raymond Hite left a pregnant wife and three daughters bereft that day. He deserves to be remembered for the moment that ended his almost 20 years of service to his country.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Grumman S2F/S-2 Tracker Monograph


Finally (it's been a work-in-progress for a long time). It's currently being printed and should be on Steve Ginter's website (http://www.ginterbooks.com/NAVAL/NAVAL.htm) shortly. My coauthor, Bob Kowalski, was one of the earliest Navy S2F pilots; I got to sit in one with my mother about that same time.

  And in 1993, I got to fly one, courtesy of what is now Cascade Aerospace.

I can assure you that there's stuff in this monograph that you haven't seen before.
In summary:
The Grumman S2F (S-2) was developed to meet a specific mission requirement, carrier-based antisubmarine warfare. It proved to be so useful and adaptable that it is still in military and civil service more than 60 years after it first flew in December 1952. Richly illustrated and personalized by Tracker pilots and crewmen anecdotes, Grumman S2F/S-2 Tracker describes its evolution from initial requirement to eventual replacement including unsuccessful Grumman proposals for improved versions. Its service in foreign militaries and adaptation to wildfire control are also summarized along with descriptions of the Carrier On-board Delivery (COD) and Airborne Early Warning (AEW) variants.