By Tommy H. Thomason

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Composite Squadrons and Detachments

I've mentioned composite squadrons and detachments before. See for a summary description of WW II composite squadrons and for a brief discussion of detachments from a markings standpoint.

These units arose from the need to properly manage much smaller groups of airplanes and people than assigned to the existing squadrons in a carrier air group. For example, the first helicopter deployments aboard carriers typically only involved two aircraft and a handful of personnel. As a result, two helicopter utility squadrons were formed, one (HU-1) based on the west coast and one (HU-2) on the east coast, that supplied detachments to aircraft carriers, cruisers, etc. These were big squadrons from the standpoint of aircraft, naval aviators, and maintainers. (They were reportedly even overstaffed, as some naval aviators were reluctant to transition from props to jets and sought an alternative assignment in the burgeoning need for helicopter pilots.)

HU-1 used the tail code UP:
HU-2 was assigned UR:

Similarly, so-called composite squadrons were formed to provide small detachments of specialized mission airplanes (night attack, night fighter, airborne early warning, reconnaissance, etc.) to deploying air groups. These were different in usage from the World War II composite squadrons, which deployed as a unit.

One example is VC-35, which was eventually redesignated VA(AW)-35. As the subsequent designation indicates, it was an all-weather squadron.  However, initially it was assigned more missions than simply attack, including ASW, hence the use of C for composite. During the Korean War, it provided detachments to attack carrier air groups deploying from the west coast, flying AD-4Bs, AD-4Ns, and NLs with the squadron tail code NR.
These consisted of VAN (airplane/attack/night) teams of four airplanes, six officers, and 40 enlisted men. There were usually five or six VAN teams deployed at any one time. The squadron itself consisted of more than 100 officers and 650 enlisted men.

Another example is VFP-62, the east coast photo-reconnaissance squadron. It was assigned tail code GA.

 Note that by this time, the early 1960s, the tail code on the detachment airplane was changed to that of the air group it deployed with.

In October 1962, VFP-62 had 29 RF-8As (redesignated from F8U-1P the month before) assigned, 20 of which were deployed with seven detachments. Seven of the remainder were flyable when the squadron was tasked with providing photo-reconnaissance of suspected ballistic missile sites in Cuba with an eighth detachment of eight airplanes. The squadron rose to the occasion and received a Presidential Unit Citation, along with a four-RF-8A VMCJ-2 detachment, personally presented by President Kennedy.
For much more on the missions flown by VFP-62 and VMCJ-2 over Cuba, see

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

F-35C: So far, so good

6 June 2014 Update:

The F-35C has demonstrated the required 21.4 foot per second sink-rate capability in trials at Patuxent River, accomplishing a major milestone in shore-based carrier-suitability testing.
Lockheed Martin Photo by Dane Wiedmann

2 February 2014 Update:
 The "extended evaluation"at Lakehurst mentioned below turns out to have only required a week, concluding on 16 January. All flight test objectives were met according to the Navy. However, the airplane has been returned to Patuxent River for "3-4 months of field-based tests" according to an article in the US Naval Institute News ( At-sea trials are scheduled for October 2014, more than a year later than the Lockheed Martin program manager's projection in January 2012. A cynic would say that since this milestone has slipped yet again, this time a year in a little more than a year, the current projection will also come and go without it happening. I hope not. The Navy is already facing a shortfall in deployable fighter airplanes in the latter half of this decade due to the slip in F-35C IOC (Initial Operation Capability) or whatever it's being called these days.

Original Post:

In late 2011, I wrote about the F-35C's problems with arresting landings as part of a summary history of the practice. See

The testing in question occurred in early 2011, not "2012" as recently reported in USNI News (

If you read between the lines as I had intended, you would have thought that the fix would not be a big deal. It may not have been, but only now, more than two years later, is the Navy reporting an initial success:
Lockheed Martin Photo

I'm not sure that this was the first arrestment in the recent past, but this one reportedly occurred at Pax River on 19 December 2013. The airplane will now go up to the Naval Air Engineering Station at Lakehurst, New Jersey for an extended evaluation beginning in January.

In an interview published in Defense News in January 2012 (,  the Lockheed Martin program manager projected that the Lakehurst testing would take place in the second quarter of 2103, with at-sea trials in the summer of 2013.

I thought his prognostication sounded about right...

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Crossing the Line

For some reason, I had missed getting this small book until this past week, perhaps because the title, Crossing the Line: A BlueJacket's Odyssey in World War II, sounded like a seaman's memoir about crossing the equator, almost certainly on a non-aviation ship.

As it turns out, it is a sailor's memoir but one involving significant wartime events in U.S. Navy carrier aviation. The author, Alvin Kernan, joined the Navy in March 1941 at a teenager looking to leave a small ranch in Wyoming. He selected Ordnance as a specialty and eventually shipped out with Torpedo Six aboard Enterprise, just in time to be aboard for its return to a devastated Pearl Harbor on 8 December 1941. He soon got on flight status as a turret gunner on a Grumman TBF and eventually had to abandon the first aircraft carrier to be named Hornet when it was sunk during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. More heroically, he won a Navy Cross (very unusual for an enlisted man) on the night mission that resulted in the death of Navy Ace Butch O'Hare, in spite of the fact that he might have (but probably didn't) hit O'Hare while firing at a Japanese Betty behind him.

Mustering out after World War II, he used the GI Bill to go to college and a academic career as an Ivy League professor of literature. As a result, he knows how to write about his wartime experience. If you want to read a gritty, well-written, and insightful memoir about Navy carrier aviation from the standpoint of a deckhand and turret gunner, buy this book. Note that there have been at least two editions, with the first published by the Naval Institute in 1994. The one pictured above that I read this week was published in 2007 by Yale and includes a few corrections and new material that came to the attention of the author as a result of comments on the first edition by his former shipmates and knowledgeable readers.

Kernan also wrote The Unknown Battle of Midway, which I did have in my library. It has received mixed reviews for accuracy and ill-informed opinions/statements (see Amazon) but is a pretty good read. (The very best book about the Battle of Midway is probably Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway.)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

X-47B Update

For some reason, I put my post about the successful landing of the X-47B aboard a carrier at sea over on my modeling blog,

My other two posts on this subject were on this blog:

One interesting aspect of the control of the X-47B when it is on deck is that there are two guys, the primary and a backup (in this case Northrop Grumman test pilots), with the remote control hardware; they send commands to the X-47 to stop, to, turn, fold/unfold wings, etc. in accordance with the hand signals from the usual plane director in the yellow shirt just as if they were in the cockpit.

The taxi controller:

Texaco Redux

Kim Simmelink left a comment on my original Texaco post ( asking about a McDonnell refueling pod. As it turns out, that was a Beech pod but more about that later.

The original post didn't delve much into the Navy's development of inflight refueling of jets. One of the first inflight evaluations involved the North American AJ Savage, with an XAJ-1 being modified to replace the jet engine in the aft fuselage with a refueling reel, hose, and drogue.

North American apparently proposed an AJ-2 in this configuration but it would appear that the extra speed provided by the jet engine was considered to be of more benefit than reducing the available volume in the bomb bay.
Note that the drogue was still a rigid, all-metal cone.
This was soon replaced by the collapsible and presumably lighter shuttlecock-type drogue that was probably more stable in trail than the all-metal cone.

As reported in the original Texaco post, Douglas developed the grandfather of what is now the standard externally mounted refueling store but there were alternatives. McDonnell evaluated a pod for the F3H that the Navy didn't buy. (I had assumed that it was developed by McAir but a caption in the 18 January 1957 issue of Flight identifies it as a Beechcraft Model 102-G refueling store.)

Vought also proposed one for the F7U/A2U program but it probably failed to even reach the hardware stage as a result of the Navy's loss of enthusiasm for the Cutlass. Only North American's design was deployed on the tanker buddy of its FJ-4B alternative to the A4D Skyhawk for nuclear weapon delivery. (Either the North American version was fielded as a backup up to the Douglas D-704 store, consistent with the Navy's belt and suspenders approach to aircraft development at the time, or the low-wing configuration of the FJ-4 precluded the use of the Douglas store.)
Note that the right external store contained the drogue. The matching left-hand store was also equipped with an air-driven pump to transfer its fuel to the right-hand store.

Attempts were made to increase the vertical separation between the tanker and the receiver with booms. The A3D was evaluated with one. It proved unsatisfactory.

External stores with this feature were also developed. This one being considered by the Air Force, here hung on an F-84F, was evaluated by NATC in 1958, only a year or so after the Douglas buddy pod was introduced in the fleet.

Beech also developed a similar pod beginning circa 1960, leasing a civil-register Douglas A-26 as the tanker. It was evaluated by the Navy in 1961, here with an A3J*.

NATC also hung the Beech pod under an F4H, presumably to evaluate it at higher speeds than achievable by the A-26, with the following picture prompting Kim's question.
None of these boom-type solutions proved to be superior overall to the simpler original concept of simply trailing the drogue out the back of a pylon-mounted pod that is still the standard today, almost 60 years after its introduction.

However, the Air Force did introduce a similar arrangement in order to provide drogue-refueling capability from its boom-equipped tankers. As originally implemented on the KC-135, it was referred to, not fondly, as the Iron Maiden. For an illustration and excellent firsthand description of refueling from it, I highly recommend that you read this:

*The A3J-1 itself served briefly as a tanker, notably on its deployment on Independence.
The refueling store was located in the tunnel which existed to house the nuclear store and jettisonable fuel tanks.