By Tommy H. Thomason

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Halcyon Days

Click Here for 23 minutes of footage taken aboard CV-59 Forrestal during its shakedown with ATG-181 in February/March 1956, courtesy of the video library of the San Diego Air and Space Museum.

The Air Task Group, tail code I, consisted of:

VF-41 Black Aces F2H-3 1XX
VF-21 Mach Busters FJ-3 2XX
VA-86 Sidewinders F7U-3M 3XX
VA-42 Green Pawns AD-6 4XX

Detachments were:
VAH-6 (NH) Det 42 Go-Devils AJ-2 XX
VC-12 (NE) Det 42*          AD-5W 7XX
VC-33 (SS) Det 42 Night Hawks AD-5N 8XX
VC-62 (PL) Det 42 Fighting Photos F2H-2P 9XX
HU-2 (UR) Det 42 Fleet Angels HUP-2 XX

*Possibly not in any of the footage

There are a number of transitions to be seen. For one thing, some aircraft are blue and others in the same squadron are grey/white. (The F7Us are still in the experimental "unpainted" scheme.) Click Here for some background on the color scheme change that was decreed a year earlier.

One of the grey/white AD Skyraiders has a black-painted area where the exhaust stains would have otherwise been evident. This was typical of gray/white USAF A-1s in the Vietnam War but I'd not noticed it before on a Navy AD.

Another transition example is that the pilots are still using the flat approach to a cut as directed by the LSO, not the descending approach using the mirror landing system. In one segment, an F2H is on short final with another close behind.
Too close, perhaps, because the LSO can subsequently be seen waving off the second Banshee.

All but one of the FJ-3 landings are with the canopies closed as would subsequently be the practice.
The F2H and F7U pilots all have their canopies open for landing. Although open canopies for carrier takeoffs and landings had been standard since canopies were introduced, this became pilot's choice on straight-deck carriers at some point following the addition of the barricade (click Here for a description of the barriers and the barricade) after an incident or two when the upper strap of the barricade went into the cockpit of a crashing jet. Note that the FJ-3s are taking off with open canopies.

Why are the F7Us in an attack squadron, particularly since they are supposedly the Sparrow-missile armed Ms? The answer is probably that the Navy was transitioning to jet attack and had F7U-3Ms excess to their fighter requirements. Note that in the F7U wave-offs (both of which appear to be from too high a start) and the bolter, the Cutlass hooks are not down. This was a familiarization process building up to the first trap: the approach was the important part of the maneuver and more could be fit into a flight period if there were no traps in between.

The deck runs made the launch a lot quicker but were only practical with propeller-driven airplanes. (The white stripes at an angle to the dashed stripe led to the bow catapults.)

However, it appears that the A3D and A4D were qualified with JATO to allow them to make deck runs if the catapults were down the nuclear strike was called for. An F4D pilot also made a successful deck run, off a British carrier, after he unknowingly lost his catapult holdback capability upon launch from Saratoga to land aboard Ark Royal. Click Here

The F2H-3/4 Banshees had a nose gear that extended for launch. This (and the steam catapult) mostly made up for the fact that they were heavier than the F2H-2 but had the same wing and engines. Note the difference between the attitude of this Banshee about to be launched and the ones in the picture above.

The FJ-3s were started and taxied forward to the bow catapults with the FOD screen in place.

Lots of other details of carrier operation can also be seen, like the little three-wheel self-powered start carts as well as a contrast between the personnel cranials and float coats used today versus their absence then. The use of catapult straps and a separate holdback as described Here instead of todays nose launch arrangement is also noteworthy.


Anonymous said...

Tommy: As usual great stuff. To add to your comments, both the F9F-8B and the F7U-3M were placeholder (fighter) attack aircraft pending the arrival the A4D and the FJ-4B, thus both types were operated by VA Squadrons. I believe the FJ-4B was West Coast Navy only. The F7U-3M could carry a slightly heavier load than the standard Cutlass and it could carry the MK-7 and MK-12 special weapons which was what "attack" really meant in those days. Also, the F2H-3 was the Big Banjo with the same engines as the smaller F2H-2 (J-34WE-34). The F2H-4 actually had the J-34WE-38 which had about 250 extra pounds of thrust per side. The other difference was that the Radar in the Dash-3 was the Westinghouse APQ-41 (in reality a F3D Skyknight APQ-35 configured for pilot only operation). The Dash-4 had the Hughes E-10 fire control system with the APG-37 Radar which I believe was also in later model F-86D Sabers. Lastly, just like the FJ-4B being Coast specific, I believe the F2H-3 was a West Coast aircraft and the F2H-4 was an East Coast you know why?

Tailspin said...

Golly, I didn't know that the location of the -3 and -4 Banshees was coast dependent. It certainly simplifies identification of which dash number is pictured if the BuNo isn't visible. It seems likely that it was to simplify support (e.g. spares and manufacturer tech reps) of the two different fire control systems.

The FJ-4B was assigned to west coast air groups only. So was the FJ-1 until it went to the reserves. As far as I know, the FH-1 was only based on the east coast except maybe for the Marine Corps and then the reserves. The initial assignment of the -1/2 Banshees and the F9F Panthers was also somewhat coast dependent, which is why there weren't any Banshees over Korea in the first year or two of the war.

fliermike said...

What a great film/video! I was taken by how different these jets look coming aboard than they did in my day (late 60’s, early 70’s) and still look today. When did the Navy go to the constant angle of attack approach all the way to the deck (sometimes referred to as a controlled crash)? Was the change dependent on the use of the mirror landing system, or was the mirror a result of that type approach? And/or, was the change aircraft dependent? Could these aircraft and their landing gear have stood up to constant AoA approaches?

Great stuff. Thanks.

Tailspin said...

The mirror provided the visual glide slope for the descending, constant angle of attack approach. However, there may have been experiments with it on angle decks in the U.S. Navy before the mirror became available, specifically with the F7U Cutlass. (The Brits reportedly used a descending approach on axial decks; see

The mirror landing system was evaluated by VX-3 in September 1955 and recommended for incorporation, which was authorized in November. However, it took a few years to purchase systems, install them on carriers when they came back back from deployments, and train the pilots to use them so it may not have been in widespread use until 1957, a year or more after this outing was filmed.

I'm pretty sure the landing sink rate requirement didn't change with the introduction of the mirror, so it probably wasn't harder on the airplane than a cut from a flat approach. As far as I know, there was no change to the airplanes as a result of the transition to the mirror system. There is anecdotal evidence that it was beneficial: The F7U Cutlass might not have acquired its reputation for being an "Ensign Killer" if it had been flown from angle decks using the mirror from the beginning and the F8U Crusader might had as short or even shorter career if it had deployed on axial decks.

OinC Det.L, AGC said...

I almost completely agree with the Anonymous on the East Coast oriented F2H-4, but only two exceptions: One is VMF/VMF(AW)/VMA-214 “Black Sheep” flew F2H-4 Jun1953 through April 1958 based at MCAS EL TORO, CA or MCAS KANEOHE BAY, HI as a subordinate unit of MAG-15 or MAG-13, with an April-September 1957 WestPac deployment aboard CVA-19 USS HANCOCK as a unit of ATG-2, the other is VAW-11 the only Carrier-Based Early Warning Squadron on the West Coast (home based at NAS NORTH ISLANDL) at that time, flew F2H-4 September 1958 through October 1959 with a WestPac deployment of VAW-11 Det.P aboard CVS-12 USS HORNET along with VS-38 and HS-8 for the all-weather fleet air defense mission with AAM-N-7 Sidewinder equipped four F2H-4 and one F2H-3, for the period of April-October 1959.
Another coast dependent aircraft was AD-7/A-1J Skyraider, which was West Coast dependent, only known exception was NAS JACKSONVILLE based VA-176 when an A-1J (Bu.No.142065/AK-200) joined in July through October 1966 (only the period the squadron deployed to the Vietnam waters) while the squadron deployed aboard CVS-11 USS INTREPID as a unit of CVW-10 to WestPac (Vietnam War) for April-November 1966.
Not only FJ-4B as Anonymous pointed, but “pure” FJ-4 also is coast specific. As the first line fighter, all FJ-4 were assigned to USMC units except for West Coast Navy RAG squadrons for proficiency mission for Fleet FJ-4B squadrons, but no East Coast Marine units equipped FJ-4. Later many FJ-4 were assigned to Navy Utility Squadrons (VU’s) but no East Coast VU's flown FJ-4, as far as I know.
HIDEKI YAMAUCHI, Atsugi Gombey Club.