By Tommy H. Thomason

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

North American FJ-1 Carrier Operations

In the process of doing some research for another author on the North American FJ-1 Fury, I had a senior moment that I documented with this post, which I have now corrected. My apologies.

VF-5A was equipped with FJ-1s before NATC finished its evaluation of the type. The urgency to get jets aboard carriers resulted in an unusual clearance direct from the Chief of Naval Operations in February 1948, He issued authorization for the squadron to conduct limited at-sea operations "to expedite carrier operation jet aircraft prior (to the) completion (of) all customary trials." Restrictions included no catapult takeoffs, limited gross weights, no tip tanks, and keeping "vertical impact velocities at a minimum". It advised that at the maximum approved takeoff gross weight of 11,600 lbs, a takeoff run with 35 knots wind-over-deck would be 840 feet on a "hot" day and 680 feet on a standard day (59° F), "based on test results obtained with experienced pilots under optimum conditions". Note that an Essex-class carrier deck was 862 feet long.

On 10 March 1948, with those restrictions, guidance, and permission in hand, VF-5A squadron commander CDR "Pete" Aurand and his executive officer, LCDR Bob Elder, made the first carrier takeoffs and landings by a more or less operational jet squadron from Boxer, CV-21. Life magazine photographers were aboard and aloft to capture the event. Landings were relatively easy, with notably better visibility of the deck than in a prop plane. Deck-run takeoffs were dicey and begun using all the available deck.


During this outing or outings, either the NATC restriction on catapult takeoffs had been lifted or Aurand made a command decision to be catapulted off rather than make deck runs for some of the takeoffs.
 
Based on his and Elder's successful evaluation, Aurand attempted to get all the VF-5A (now VF-51) pilots qualified for carrier operations beginning on 3 May 1948 aboard Princeton. It did not go well. A wing broke off the fourth Fury to land; the wing stayed on deck but the rest of the airplane went over the side (the pilot was rescued). There were too many trips into the barriers, some resulting in damage that precluded continuing without significant repair. The week-long qualification period was reportedly terminated after only two days by the ship's captain. The crippled Furys were craned off at San Diego.

It was a notable contrast to the counterpart on the east coast by VF-17A flying McDonnell FH-1 Phantoms from the smaller Saipan, CVL-48, also in May 1948. They experienced no incidents, flying off the carrier with as many airplanes as they brought aboard. However, the success was tragically marred by a fatal mid-air collision between the commanding officer, CDR Ralph A. Fuoss, and his wing man upon return to NAS Quonset Point. For more, see http://www.navalaviationmuseum.org/history-up-close/squadron-takes-jet-to-sea/

It is not clear when NATC's at-sea FJ-1 carrier-suitability trials were accomplished. I'm all but certain that it was aboard Princeton with these two jets with photo-reference markings. One carried a large "A" on the forward fuselage (probably BuNo 123071,  the last FJ-1 delivered) and the other, a "B" (probably BuNo 120369).



Based on a note to myself from research several years ago at the Washington Navy Yard, I'm pretty sure that the NATC evaluation occurred in August 1948 on the west coast after appropriate beef-ups and modifications were made to the Fury. However, the notes indicate that one of them, "A , suffered a hard landing with a structural wing failure. Nevertheless, these trials cleared VF-5A, then designated VF-51, to go back aboard a carrier, which they did in September.

VF-51 provided jet familiarization in squadron strength with their FJ-1s for at least three west-coast carriers before transitioning to the Grumman F9F-3 in 1949.



2 comments:

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

After their adventures with the FJ, I suspect they were glad to transition to something made by Grumman!

Tailspin said...

Well, and the McDonnell F2H.