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.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A-12, The Gift That Keeps On Giving II

A gift to lawyers, in this case.

Back in June, I wrote: "I was surprised when writing the chapter on the A-12 Avenger II program in Strike from the Sea to discover that its termination was still in dispute. Given that it had occurred in January 1991, almost two decades before, that seemed unlikely until I discovered that it involved a $2.3 billion claim by the Navy against GD and Boeing (which now owns McDonnell Douglas, GD's original partner in the ill-fated program). That sum consisted of a demand for the repayment of $1.3 billion in progress payments and $1 billion (and apparently still counting) in interest. Avoidance of the payment of that kind of money justifies the efforts of legions of lawyers.

There were eventually two trials. The contractors won the first in 1995, which the government successfully appealed, and the government won the second in 2001, which the contractors successfully appealed. (A 2002 settlement floundered because the contractors and the government couldn't agree on the value of the "in-kind payments", i.e. goods and services as opposed to cash, to be made by the contractors.) According to today's Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has finally ruled on the 2007 Claims Court ruling against the contractors, upholding it.

It's probably finally over but I wouldn't bet on it."

And a good thing that I didn't, assuming I could find anyone who would bet against. Here's the latest, from a General Dynamics press release dated 24 November 2009:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit today denied a request for a rehearing of the Federal Circuit's prior decision sustaining the government's default termination of the A-12 aircraft contract to which General Dynamics and The Boeing Company were parties with the Navy. General Dynamics disagrees with this most recent decision and continues to believe that the government's default termination was not justified. The company also believes that the ruling provides significant grounds for appeal, and intends to petition the U.S. Supreme Court for review.

Boeing's release was a bit longer:

J. Michael Luttig, Boeing executive vice president and general counsel, today said that the company intends to appeal to the Supreme Court after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit refused to rehear the company’s appeal in the long-running A-12 case. "We are disappointed in today's decision. The Court of Appeals' decision is clearly wrong as a matter of law and it has broad implications for all forms of government contracting nationwide. As a consequence, I have directed that an immediate appeal be taken to the Supreme Court of the United States," Luttig said. At issue in this litigation, which has been pending over a decade, is the manner in which the Defense Department terminated the A-12 military aircraft program and whether the government owed Boeing (then McDonnell Douglas) and General Dynamics Corporation money for work in progress when the contract was terminated, as well as certain other expenses. The trial court originally ruled in favor of the contractors, but various appeals over the years have delayed a final decision.

As Yogi said, it ain't over 'til it's over.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Hell It Won't Fit

In the early 1950s, atomic bombs were reduced to a weight that could be managed by tactical aircraft. The lighter of the two options, the Mk 7, was the implosion device but the mechanism was bulky. It could just barely fit under an AD Skyraider with the one of the three tail fins retracted. However, the admirals wanted to also deliver it by jet, with the best candidate at the time being the F2H Banshee. As can be seen from this drawing, there was negative ground clearance under normal circumstances.
I've read that when the F2H-2B was jacked up to load the Mk 7, metal sleeves were put over the main landing gear pistons to keep the struts fully extended and provide a few inches of ground clearance for taxi and takeoff. This fell off at lift off, restoring normal function to the landing gear struts. That may be but on the F2H-3/4 at least, strut extension was accomplished by a system that added additional hydraulic fluid to the main landing gear shock strut to get a few inches of ground clearance for launch with this huge store. A portion of this fluid was automatically bled from the strut on gear retraction to provide the capability to land with the store, presumably not aboard a carrier.  The pilot was provided with a switch to bleed off the remainder for normal strut operation.

This F2H-3 picture shows the extended main landing gear struts. (The weapon is a BOAR, which was a Mk 7 modified with a rocket for greater separation from the explosion, primarily for the benefit of the AD Skyraider community, whose survival after delivering an atomic bomb was otherwise iffy at best.)
 For a bit more on nuclear Banshees, go here