U.S. Navy Aircraft History

By Tommy H. Thomason

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

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