By Tommy H. Thomason

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Once Upon a Time

This is Saratoga (CV-3) in the early 1930s with a partial deckload of Boeing fighters, Curtiss or Vought scout bombers, and Martin torpedo bombers. All are biplanes; only the last have folding wings. There are approximately the same number of airplanes on deck as there are in the Hornet picture, with plenty of room left for more. In fact, more than twice as many.

Built on battle cruiser hulls, Sara and her sister ship, Lexington (CV-2), were as big and as fast as battleships, the aircraft firepower augmented by eight 8-inch guns in turrets forward and aft of the island and gigantic exhaust funnel structure. They were slightly bigger and faster than the Essex-class carriers that were built just before and during World War II.

Monday, March 23, 2009

An Air Group in Transition

This is Hornet deployed in the Pacific sometime between January and July 1957. The spot configuration appears to be after the last recovery before underway replenishment. All the aircraft, except for the plane guard HUP, are parked to starboard of the foul line denoting the clearance limit for landing aircraft. There are 41 aircraft packed over there, roughly 1/2 to 2/3 of the air group depending on squadron strength. The rest are parked on the hangar deck, which can accommodate a maximum of approximately 40 aircraft depending on the type. (Note that three F9F-8s can be spotted in roughly the same space as two FJs.)

Since these Essex-class carriers only had bow catapults, at least the port column of jets will have to be pulled aft for launches, although the ADs could make deck runs off the angle given appropriate weight and wind.

The deployed air group, CVG-14, consists of two fighter squadrons, one with FJ-3 Furies and the other with F9F-8 Cougars; two attack squadrons, one with AD Skyraiders and the other with F9F-8Bs; and several detachments for airborne early warning (AD-5W), night/all-weather attack (AD-5N), photo reconnaissance (F9F-8P), aerial refueling (the AJs), and utility/plane guard (HUPS) .The F9F-8Bs are place holders for the new light attack jets just finishing development, the A4D Skyhawk and the FJ-4B Fury. The big AJs are at the very end of their useful life, having won a reprieve in the Pacific fleet because of their usefulness as airborne tankers for the jets. They are about to be replaced in their strike role with A3D Skywarriors, the first of which have just been deployed to the Mediterranean.

For some reason, there is no all-weather fighter squadron aboard. This air group had deployed in 1954 with a squadron of F2H-3 Banshees but would then make two successive deployments with no night fighters before VF-141 accompanied it with their F4D Skyrays.

The photo is from the National Archives, 80-G-1023566.

Friday, March 20, 2009

An F4U Corsair?

It's actually an AU-1, a close-air support variant of the F4U-5 developed specifically for the Marines Corps since AD Skyraiders were in short supply. It featured additional armor around the engine and accessories, a single-stage supercharger since only low altitude operation was required, and additional stores pylons. This is BuNo 129325 at Patuxent River in September 1952 making a field arrested landing. (AU-1s had been in combat in Korea since June.) However, the AU probably never flew operationally from an aircraft carrier, much less deployed.

In April 1954, 25 of the 111 built were transferred directly from a Marine Corps squadron to the French AĆ©ronautique Navale to augment its fleet of F4U-7s in Indochina. After the fall of Dien Bien Phu and the withdrawal of French forces, the surviving Corsairs were ferried to NAS Sangley Point in the Philippine Islands and parked until a French carrier was available to transport them back to France. Another five were reportedly transferred to the French in the mid-1950s.
 The Marines swapped out AUs for ADs as soon as they could. However, at least a few survived as station hacks through the late 1950s as evidenced by a photo of a gray/white AU assigned to Quantico taxiing out past an early F8U-1, probably at NAS Los Alamitos, CA. (Note that the 'Navy" marking applied in overhaul has been painted over.) These were used to provide ground-based Marine Forward Air Controllers with airplanes to control for close air support training.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Strike From the Sea Update 3

My editor and I have completed the review of the layout proof: all 225+ pages, 300+ pictures/illustrations, and 80,000+ words. As with Naval Air Superiority, it will cover stillborn as well as successful programs, both aircraft and weaponry. The book is on schedule for release in July.

Over the next several weeks, I'll post pictures that didn't make the cut. For example, here is a VX-1 AD-4N loaded with a ring-tail Mk13 torpedo. (VX-1 is an anti-submarine warfare development squadron that can trace its history back to April 1943.)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time II

Turbofan engines, which add thrust by compressing more air than will go through the burners and turbine, provided more efficient thrust by increasing the mass flow for the same amount of fuel. The new Pratt & Whitney TF30 and the variable geometry wing were to be combined in the F-111 for far greater range than previously possible in a tactical fighter.

The turbofan had been introduced with commercial airliners so it was considered to be low risk. Unfortunately, in those pre-Concorde days, airliners did not need afterburner or fly at Mach 2. General Dynamics and its subcontractor, Grumman, quickly discovered how intolerant the turbofan was of flow conditions that the fully developed axial-flow jet engines took in stride.

There were three major inlet configurations on the seven F-111Bs that flew, two of which had two different inlets during the flight test program, and Grumman wasn't even the lead for inlet development. It just completed its F-111Bs with the most promising inlet that General Dynamics had defined at the time and retrofitted the carrier-trials prototype and the first pre-production aircraft with the subsequent one.

For a complete and more-balanced history on the F-111B, order my monograph on the F-111B here

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

F-111B Carrier Trials

One of the half-truths in the Navy's campaign to smear the F-111B was its poor performance in carrier trials accomplished aboard Coral Sea in July 1968. In fact, few new airplanes get much better than a barely passing grade from the NATC carrier suitability test pilots, with several deficiencies usually noted. In this case, the F-111B being evaluated was actually a prototype that did not have the carrier compatibility modifications like the raised cockpit and lowered forward windscreen interface with the nose shown here that were being incorporated- along with engine thrust, control system, and wing lift improvements- on the aircraft on the production line.

Although the F-111B would be 4,000 lbs heavier than the F-14 on landing (only 8%, far less than most people would guess based on the poor reputation of the "SeaPig"), it also approached 10 knots slower which meant it was actually easier on the arresting gear than the F-14 (ashore, landing ground roll was 21% less). It could come back aboard with all six big, expensive Phoenix missiles whereas the F-14 was limited to four. The F-111B also did not have as significant a directional control problem on a single-engine waveoff, since the engines were not as far from the centerline of the aircraft as they were on the F-14.

From the Coral Sea website: 

“Lt. Roy Buehler (from VF-33, we put six guys thru test pilot school in 2 ½ years) flew the carrier suitability trails. No one who flew the a/c was allowed to comment on the aircraft’s performance until the report was published. We almost got this one. Roy attempted a close-in wave-off. From the normal power setting for an approach (about 88% on each engine), the a/c landed, rolled out to the end of the wire, and the engines had not gotten to 100%. Not a real sharp performer. - Joel Jaudon”
“Here is a follow-up from someone who was there, Chuck Doughdrill:

Having served aboard the Coral Sea and witnessed the sea trials of the F-111, I can give you a bit more truthful evaluation of what occurred aboard Coral Sea. This trial was conducted as I understand it after the Navy had rejected the aircraft but because the money for the sea trial had nevertheless been appropriated. From a taxpayer's point of view, it was a waste of money. For us, it was a damned enjoyable afternoon. We were the open deck carrier available for that period off the California coast. The size of the aircraft was such that the JBD's could not be elevated but since we had no aircraft on board, save the COD, we just cleared the area aft for launch. We had the initial session of landings followed by a shutdown, while the pilots enjoyed a break, and then a start up and second session after which they left for home base. It was a welcome break from receiving cats and dogs from every persuasion who were trying to get in carquals on the open deck.

I had two Air Force officers from an inspection team visiting me onboard at the time and they probably are the only Air Force officers to witness the carrier trials by the F-111. As a naval aviator, not involved in the trial but only an observer, the aircraft operated magnificently and was a beauty to behold. I did not meet the pilots but understood they were former naval aviator test pilots for General Dynamics, not active naval aviators.* Whoever they were, their airwork was impressive. The airplane fairly leaped off the cats and came aboard gracefully, much like the A-6. It came aboard so slowly that it looked as if the pilot could have chosen which wire to engage. The general feeling among the flight deck handlers and officers was amazement although the aircraft was too large to ever have been used aboard Coral Sea.

As for the comments that the F-111 could not spool up sufficiently on wave off, etc., I never heard any of this at the time nor heard of anything but amazement by all the pilot types that were involved with direct support and who talked at length with the test pilots. The navy had already made up their minds and those comments may have been laundered to justify the decision. It's been done before but I really don't know.”

*Not correct; with rare exceptions, only active-duty Naval aviators accomplished carrier trials.

For a complete and more-balanced history on the F-111B, order my monograph on the F-111B from Ginter Books: Here

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