By Tommy H. Thomason

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Air Groups and Markings in Transition

According to the caption on this National Archives picture of a VC-4 F2H-4 Banshee refueling from a VC-5 AJ-2 Savage, it was taken on 28 January 1955. These aircraft were deployed with Air Group Eight aboard Lake Champlain between 28 September 1954 and 22 April 1955.
At the time, the standard Navy color scheme was an over-all sea blue; it was about to be changed to a light gull gray over white scheme to reduce visual detection at high altitudes. The Banshee sports an experimental natural metal approach authorized in 1952, which was being tested because it saved weight and the cost of paint and painting the aircraft. It proved to not be cost effective because of the increased corrosion control and remediation effort required.

The composition of the air group was also in transition. Up until the mid-1950s, the air groups were assigned two or three day-fighter squadrons and two or three day-attack squadrons. Each squadron was marked with the air group's assigned tail code, in this case "E". Upon deployment, the air group was augmented with detachments from big "composite" squadrons, which provided the aircraft and training for special missions like night attack, night fighter, heavy attack, nuclear weapons delivery, photo reconaissance, and airborne early warning. Each of these squadrons was assigned a two-letter tail code and up until now, retained them during the deployment. For example, the VC-5 Savage is marked the "NB" of VC-5, not the "E" of Air Group Eight. Air Group Eight had also deployed with AD-4Ws from VC-12 (NE), F2H-2Ps from VC-62 (PL), and HUPs from a helicopter utility squadron, HU-2 (UR). The VC-4 Banshees were assigned the air group for all-weather fighter missions and visual delivery of the Mk 8 nuclear bomb (the big pylon that mounted the bomb is visible just outboard of the engine inlet).

In this case, the VC-4 Banshee is now marked with the air group's tail code, E, although on the original print it's clear that "NA", the VC-4 tail code, is on the tip of the vertical fin. It's also marked with a 6xx series number, which is again an extension of standard air group markings, 1xx denoting the first fighter squadron, etc. This picture is therefore an example of the beginning of the fuller integration of the squadrons with the air group that was being accomplished. All-weather fighter and heavy attack squadrons were to become assigned to the air group rather than being detachments from a parent specialty squadron. (With the introduction of the A-6, all-weather attack also ceased to be a detachment.) All detachment aircraft from the remaining specialty squadrons like airborne early warning (VAW instead of VC after June 1956) and photographic reconnaissance (VFP after June 1956) were eventually to be marked with the air group tail code and three-digit numbers on the nose in accordance with a standard scheme for the duration of a deployment.

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