U.S. Navy Aircraft History

By Tommy H. Thomason

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Breaks of Naval Air

This is an eBook. If you don't have one of the eBook-devices (Kindle, Nook, etc.), the latest Apple operating system, Yosemite, allows you to download eBooks to a Mac via iBooks. If you aren't acquainted with Youthly Puresome, it's worth the modest price to become so. If you are, now you can have his entire oeuvre at your fingertips, including some material that hasn't been published. Note that this blurb is from iBooks; it is also available on Amazon (Google "Woodul Amazon").

Note that the correct title is The Breaks of Naval Air; you can see the actual cover and enjoy more from Youthly Puresome on Woodul's blog here: http://youthlypuresome.com/

I'd write a review but I can't do better than Barrett Tillman's on Amazon:

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Shoulder Harness

Although it seems hard to believe, carrier pilots were only restrained by a seat belt up until about mid 1942. One mark (literally) that might distinguish a carrier pilot before then was the impression of a dent in his forehead from striking the gunsight or instrument panel coming in a barrier crash or ditching. Probably as a result of increased incidents of that kind that wartime operations produced, at least one air group added upper-body restraints to the cockpits of their airplanes. BuAer subsequently made that official, as described in the 15 June 1943 issue of Naval Aviation News. Note for example that it lists a retrofit to the SBD-3/4s but not SBD-5s, which suggests that the latter (the first of which was delivered in April 1943) came off the production line with shoulder harness.

The gun sight statement suggests one reason why something so obviously beneficial in a crash wasn't implemented before then.  The prewar sight in both fighters and dive bombers required the pilot to lean forward.

And also to use his plotting board.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Aircraft Pictorial 7: F4U-1 Corsair Vol. 1

Dana Bell's long awaited monograph on the F4U-1 Corsair is finally available. There are many books and articles available on the F4U. I can say, because I have a goodly number of them in my collection, that none are quite as deeply researched or as sharply focused as this one is. It is a relatively slim volume, only 72 pages between the soft covers, but every page has a photo or illustration of interest, many of the former in color. I am very pleased to write that it contains information and facts about the Corsair of which I was previously unaware and should be taken as gospel, based on the depths that Dana has plumbed at the National Air and Space Museum and the National Archives. Most notable are these two: there was officially no F4U-1A and the cause for the Navy not deploying Corsairs on carriers initially was not due to unsatisfactory deck landing characteristics. (One proof Dana cites for the latter is an evaluation aboard Woverine that concluded it was very easy to land aboard; I may have missed Dana's mention of it but that carrier was one of the two converted side-wheeler excursion ships plying Lake Michigan as training carriers: it was not only short, it was slow.)

Some things this excellent volume is not: a compendium of war stories, list of squadron assignments, tables of performance attributes, or overall operational history. All that is available elsewhere. What it is: a detailed and well-illustrated document that describes the configuration, configuration changes, and color schemes (internal and external) of the so-called "Birdcage" Corsair during its initial flight test and operational usage, both U.S. and U. K. (Volume 2 will, Dana promises, cover the raised cockpit F4U-1, aka F4U-1A.) As such this work will not appeal to everyone, as fascinating as it is to me. If you are a Corsair fan, however, almost every page contains something of interest that you probably didn't know and likely is mentioned in no other Corsair reference.

For example, a picture of the early 20-gallon (your car's gas tank probably has less capacity) oil tank mentions that a larger tank was substituted to account for oil consumption on longer missions when greater endurance was provided by the addition of external tanks; however, a decal was placed on the larger tank to advise the ground crew not to fill it with more than 20 gallons of oil when external tanks weren't fitted in order to minimize weight. A revelation was the reason for the almost standard application of tape externally to the panel lines around the fuselage fuel tank. It turns out that it was to keep spilled gasoline out of the interior of the fuselage aft of the firewall when the tank was being filled because the result was sometimes a fire.

If Dana hadn't thoughtfully sent me a copy, I would have been first in line to purchase one based on his previous work and personal knowledge of his research diligence and insistence on the use of primary-source documents.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Warpaint Series No. 99: McDonnell F3H Demon

From a detailed and illustrated Britmodeller review HERE

Tony Buttler, a well-known and prolific author, has written an excellent, well-illustrated monograph on the less-appreciated McDonnell F3H Demon. It is a very complete history in 48 pages plus softcover. There are lots of photographs, many in color, of the XF3H-1 prototypes, the J40-powered F3H-1N, and the J71-powered F3H-2 variants. Several pages of color profiles are provided as well as well as a large multi-view drawing at the centerfold. The paper quality is more than adequate for good reproduction of all the illustrations. See the link above for details.

Since this book deserves to be the cornerstone print reference, if not the only one, for the F3H in some libraries, I feel obligated to correct a few misstatements. First, the F3H wing did not have anhedral (page 22); see http://tailspintopics.blogspot.com/2014/03/anhedraldihedral-and-wing-sweep.html. I'm all but certain that the first Sparrow missile firings by a deployed squadron were accomplished by a VX-4 detachment of F7U-3Ms on Shangri-La in early 1957, not VF-64 F3Hs in December 1958 (page 35). A really minor correction is that the drawing of the F3H-2M is shown with the short beaver tail in the centerfold; all were built with the longer one and I doubt that any were retrofitted.

I'm pretty sure that the lineup of F3Hs on page 17 are four of the six involved in the Fleet Introduction Program described in the text with side numbers 10 through 15. Note that these, as well as some other early production Demons, have blue AERO stores pylons on the wings as the changeover to gray/white exterior paint had just occurred.

An oddity not mentioned or illustrated was one of the attempts at providing self-boarding (no separate ladder) on these big jets that set so nose high. See http://thanlont.blogspot.com/2009/06/self-boarding.html and http://thanlont.blogspot.com/2008/05/i-had-hoped-to-find-picture-like-this.html

Minor omissions and errors like these do not materially detract from the value of this book to the naval aviation enthusiast. I am very pleased to have been provided a copy by Tony.

Monday, November 3, 2014

F-35C Finally Comes Aboard

At last, the end of the beginning...

3 November 2014, Nimitz, off San Diego (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Kelly M. Agee)

Congratulations to all who persevered and made it happen.

For some previous posts on the workup to this milestone, see:



Saturday, November 1, 2014

F-35C Unique Features

Lockheed Martin, which does great PR stuff like its Code One Magazine and makes excellent photos readily available, unlike some other aircraft companies, just released this:

This release is almost certainly timed to build interest in and provide information about the carrier-based F-35 in advance of its at-sea trials this coming week.

However, it does appear to have been written (or edited) for the general public and some oversimplifications or downright errors have resulted. For one thing, the lead states that "For the first time in U.S. naval aviation history, radar-evading stealth capability will come to the carrier deck". I may be mistaken, but I thought the Boeing F-18E/F had some "radar-evading stealth" features, although certainly not to the same extent as the F-35. But in any event, there's more:

1 Larger wings: The lead picture in the release does some justice to the difference in planform with the F-35A and B but not the one used to illustrate this first feature. This crop of a photo on the Lockheed website is even better for that purpose.

"The aircraft lands at a high speed so that if they miss the hook when attempting to land they are still able to take off and try again."

The pilot actually approaches at a low speed consistent with stall margin, control power, thrust response, etc. What might be missed is one of the arresting cables, not the hook. Perhaps what the writer meant to convey was "miss the hook-on".

2 Wingtips that fold: "While a wide wingspan is essential on a carrier ship, it also takes up precious cargo space on the deck. To combat this, the F-35C's wingtips fold to allow for easy storage in tight quarters to create more room on the carrier's deck while deployed."

I understand what was meant, but "cargo space" isn't the usual term of art and "deployed" might not be good grammar or unambiguous in that it appears to refer to the wingtips, not the aircraft, and deployed could be taken to mean extended...

3 More robust landing gear: "The limited runway on the flight deck means there isn't much room to slow down after landing."

Strictly speaking, the landing area isn't a "runway" but I understand the need to use familiar words.

"Instead, the pilot has to perfectly time and aim the aircraft to hook the line on the carrier deck to bring the aircraft to a halt."

Well, sort of... Aim isn't too far off the mark but there is no timing involved since the pilot doesn't flare for a landing on a carrier. The word "line" doesn't do the justice to the steel wire that is usually known as the arresting cable or more nautically, cross-deck pendant.

4. Two wheels in front: "Stability is a priority and a necessity when landing on a naval carrier ship. While the robust landing gear takes care of the logistics of landing at a high capacity, the two wheels in the front of the aircraft provide stability, and absorb the shock of landing."

I was doing okay with the press release until I got to this paragraph; English appears to be a second language for its author. For starters, "naval carrier ship", "logistics", "at a high capacity"?  What's wrong with aircraft carrier, shock absorption, and high sink rate? And then there's the technical content. What do two wheels in front have to do with stability? The tailhook does a pretty good job of providing directional stability after landing on an aircraft carrier with a proper lineup before touchdown. Ideally, the main landing gear absorbs most of the shock of landing although the nose landing gear still has to be pretty robust. The necessity for two wheels in this case is the use of the nose-tow launch system. See http://thanlont.blogspot.com/2011/01/catapult-innovations.html

5. Greater internal fuel capacity: "The F-35C carries nearly 20,000 pounds of internal fuel for longer range and better persistence than any other fighter in a combat configuration."

Any other fighter? Maybe combat configuration, meaning no external tanks, makes this claim valid. I don't know offhand that it isn't incorrect. Maybe someone would like to comment?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hard to Replace

The Douglas AD Skyraider proved hard to replace in the U.S. Navy. For decades, jets couldn't match its combination of size, endurance, and payload capability. It was eventually supplemented but not completely replaced in one of its missions, nuclear strike, since it was not as survivable as a jet.

The Douglas A4D Skyhawk was therefore specifically optimized for that particular mission, "one man, one bomb, one way". The Scooter, however, fell short of the Skyraider's range until the introduction of inflight refueling and buddy tanking.

The next mission for which a replacement was developed was all-weather attack, the province of the AD-5N.

This was accomplished with the bigger and more expensive, albeit more capable, Grumman A-6 Intruder.

However, because of its endurance and load-carrying capability the single-seat Skyraider continued to be a major part of the carrier strike force up through the first few years of the Vietnam War. At some point, it was given the nickname Spad, which was a World War I fighter. Some say it was to identify it as a Single Place AD, as opposed to the wide-body multi-place AD-5, for deck spotting purposes but my guess it was just to recognize it as an anachronism in what was otherwise an all-jet air wing.

The single-seat Navy ADs were finally replaced in the attack role with a jet of similar mission capability, the Vought A-7 Corsair II.

(The last ADs deployed on carriers were the EA-1Fs, which served through December 1968, providing electronic countermeasure; Skyraiders continued to be operated by the USAF and the Vietnamese Air Force up through the end of the Vietnam War.)

All those jets are long gone from the U.S. Navy, replaced by various McDonnell/Boeing F-18s. Two, the A-4 and the A-7, were also operated by foreign air forces. The last of the A-7s was just retired by Greece.
 Giovanni Colla Photo

The aircraft it replaced in the U.S. Navy, however, the A-4, continues to serve in Argentina as the A-4AR;
Jorge Alberto Leonardi Photo

in Brazil as the AF-1;

and for Singapore as an lead-in trainer, the A-4SU.

I doubt that the Scooter will outlast its replacement's replacement, the F-18, in a military air force but it's possible that they will still be flying as Warbirds after an F-18 lands for the last time.