By Tommy H. Thomason
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
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:
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.
Another example is VFP-62, the east coast photo-reconnaissance squadron. It was assigned tail code GA.
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.
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
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.
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 (http://news.usni.org/2014/01/28/navys-f-35c-completes-landing-tests-ahead-october-sea-trials). 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.
In late 2011, I wrote about the F-35C's problems with arresting landings as part of a summary history of the practice. See http://thanlont.blogspot.com/2011/12/brief-history-of-tailhook-design.html
The testing in question occurred in early 2011, not "2012" as recently reported in USNI News (http://news.usni.org/2013/12/23/navys-f-35-starts-new-tailhook-tests).
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:
In an interview published in Defense News in January 2012 (http://www.defensenews.com/article/20120117/DEFREG02/301170010/F-35C-Tailhook-Design-Blamed-Landing-Issues), 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.
Thursday, December 19, 2013
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
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:
The original post didn't delve much into the Navy's development of inflight refueling of jets. One of the first inflight evaluations in late 1952 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 worth the reduction of available volume for bombs in the bomb bay.
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.)
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.
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.
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: http://www.neptunuslex.com/2005/08/13/rhythms-part-xviii/
*The A3J-1 itself served briefly as a tanker, notably on its deployment on Independence.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Although much maligned, the F7U Cutlass racked up a number of firsts or close seconds for Navy jet fighter airplanes. If Westinghouse had delivered engines with the thrust and fuel consumption that Vought and the Navy were expecting, its reputation might not have suffered so badly. Of course, the Navy would also have had to institute a more formal checkout program (NATOPS) and introduce the angled deck and descending carrier approach sooner. For more, see my monograph on the F7U-1 and my book on the development of U.S. Navy jet fighters.
So it's somewhat surprising that there are any survivors on display or being refurbished for display. A few, of course, succumbed over time. There are fond memories of gate guards at NAS New Orleans and NAS Jacksonville (the designated repair and overhaul facility for the F7U-3) and playgrounds at the Wheaton Regional Park in Maryland and Holiday Park in Fort Lauderdale (BuNos 129722 and 129582 respectively, the latter last seen at Fort Lauderdale's Executive Airport). Another, 129680, was abandoned at NAS St. Louis (located on Lambert Field) due to maintenance issues while on a cross-country and subsequently towed to Jefferson Barracks Park in South St. Louis County for playground duty. However, all these were eventually scrapped.
There are, however, still a handful, a few of which are likely to avoid becoming aluminum cans for many more years.
BuNo 128451: The very first F7U-3, it was rescued from a Navy dump at Socorro, New Mexico for display at the Fred E. Weisbroad Aviation Museum in Pueblo, Colorado. Never restored and in poor condition, the airframe was transferred to the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, California for prospective use in their rebuild of BuNo 129565. However, because it was the prototype, very little of the structure was of use and it has been returned to the Navy for disposition.
BuNo 129565: It was on display for many years at Olathe, Kansas. It was then transferred to the USS Hornet (CV-12) Museum at the former NAS Alameda in California for restoration. However, before that could be accomplished, it was transferred to the USS Midway (CV-41) Museum in San Diego, California. Some work was accomplished before it was moved to Grand Prairie, Texas in December 2011 for the Vought Heritage Foundation to complete the restoration as they have done for other historic Vought aircraft like the V-173 and F6U. Unfortunately, the Foundation had to vacate the hangar it had been using and the partially completed restoration was moved back to San Diego in 2018. Per Daveswarbirds, "Buno 129565 is currently being actively restored by the USS Midway Museum, where it will be displayed once completed in late 2022. All major pieces are now fitted, and it is sitting on its landing gear. The chosen paint scheme will replicate the F7U-3 that did carquals on Midway in August 1952."
BuNo 129642: It is stored at the Wings of Freedom Aviation Museum at the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, awaiting restoration. The aircraft was last assigned to Attack Squadron 12 (VA-12) and was flown to NAS Willow Grove in May 1957 to take part in an air show. Upon arrival at NAS Willow Grove in May 1957 for static display at an air show, it was stricken from active duty and transferred to the Naval Reserve for use as a ground training aircraft with only 326 hours total flight time. It subsequently became a gate guard in front of the base on US Route 611.
BuNo 129655: It was rescued after several years of outdoor display at the Travel Town Museum at Griffith Park, Los Angeles, California and restored to seemingly like-new condition at Paladin Aircraft in San Diego and then transferred to the National Museum of Naval Aviation at NAS Pensacola, Florida. Click HERE for a controllable panoramic view of the cockpit. There are however, a few bogus items like the gun sight and the right hand engine throttle and some missing gauges. Although marked as an F7U-3M, it is actually an F7U-3. The external tanks are also bogus for the type.
Sunday, October 6, 2013
The Navy initially utilized inflight refueling in 1953 to extend the range of F2H Banshees that were capable of carrying a tactical nuclear weapon but it was soon realized that it could be used to extend the endurance of a jet airplane if required. In September 1955, the Navy announced that all of its fighters in production would be equipped with a probe for refueling in flight. This dictate was extended to all carrier-based jets. Although new designs would have retractable probes, those on existing jets were scabbed-on contraptions that could be retrofitted to ones already delivered. The Douglas F4D Skyrays wound up with a probe mounted on the nose of an external tank.
Douglas developed a "buddy" store that could be carried on a standard pylon for refueling the jets. Its Model D-704 was based on the 400-gallon version of the bomb and tank shape it had developed for low drag. In addition to 300 gallons of fuel, it contained fuel transfer and hydraulic pumps driven by a nose-mounted propeller and a reel that could stream about 40 feet of hose with a drogue on the end. Fuel could be transferred at the rate of 200 gallons per minute.
This is an illustration of the very similar Sargeant-Fletcher refueling pod which replaced the D-704.
The popularity of the AJ Savage, the Navy's first nuclear bomber that could be landed aboard the carrier, increased significantly for Pacific carrier deployments when it was equipped with an inflight refueling capability.
However, the big AJ was still awkward to have on the ship and somewhat of an overkill for the purpose of providing one or two thousand pounds of fuel in extenuating circumstances around the boat. An airplane already in the air group was preferred. At the time, jets were not good candidates for the mission since they couldn't carry much more fuel than they needed for a standard deck cycle.
The tanker of choice in the late 1950s was therefore the AD Skyraider. It was just fast enough to refuel the jets (200 knots indicated was recommended but the AD could go as fast as 300 knots in a descent if necessary and could carry plenty of jet fuel in addition to its internal bag of aviation gasoline that was enough for a two-hour cycle time.
The disparity of speed performance isn't as apparent in the picture above because the F8U Crusader pilot could raise his wing for low speed flight. However, this F3H Demon pilot is hanging in there with only the slats out.
The AD had to be modified for the mission if more than the 300 gallons in the buddy pod were to be transferred. AD-6 BuNo 139744 and subsequent and all AD-7s were delivered from Douglas with the full tanker capability. Some earlier AD-6s and a few AD-4Bs (the nuclear-capable Skyraiders) were retrofitted with it. Two different configurations would be utilized, "basic" (near ship) and extended range. Both involved the use of 400-gallon drop tanks (the AD normally carried 150 or 300-gallon external tanks) that were modified with a fuel boost-pump kit.
In the basic configuration, jet fuel was carried in both 400-gallon drop tanks and the 300-gallon capacity refueling store, for a total of almost 7,500 lbs of giveaway fuel. The AD pilot would remain at a 145-nm station for 30 minutes using only its 380 gallons of internal fuel. (With the maximum amount of jet fuel on board, the AD was just under its maximum gross weight.)
In the extended range configuration, the left drop tank contained jet fuel and the right, aviation gasoline. The additional gasoline allowed the AD pilot to fly considerably farther out and for longer. However, one or the other configuration had to be selected prior to flight and care taken to insure that the proper fuel was loaded in each tank. While jets could burn just about anything in a pinch (the first jet engines burned aviation gasoline), a piston engine would stop running completely if fed jet fuel, which was basically kerosene.
Thanks to Ed Barthlemes, my go-to guy for Skyraider stuff, for much of the above.
For a follow-on post, see http://thanlont.blogspot.com/2013/12/texaco-redux.html
Friday, August 23, 2013
One of the discrepancies that I couldn't resolve before my F7U-1 monograph went to press was the frequently reported first flight date of 29 September 1948 versus a contemporaneous mention of a short flight on 27 September. In my F7U-1 monograph, I wrote "For some reason, (the XF7U-1's first flight on 27 September) only lasted six minutes." In the September 2013 issue of the Smithsonian Air&Space magazine, a letter by a Navy civilian flight test engineer Martin A. Snyder described the flight: "As soon as it lifted off the ground, it started to violently pitch nose up and down. We all were sure that the airplane couldn't fly. However, Baker managed to maintain a semblance of control, came around, and successfully landed. The airplane was towed to the hangar for inspection. We later found out that the longitudinal instability had nothing to do with the aerodynamics. The pitch trim control was a conventional thumb-operated slide switch on top of the control stick, and the switch had been wired backward: When the pilot wanted nose-up trim he got nose-down and vice versa."
I just talked to Martin on the phone and he sounds really sharp, not even allowing for his being 87 years old. I'm sending him a copy of my monograph in hopes that he can provide more information on the early flight test of the Cutlass.
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
In addition to having a runway, Sangley provided a base for Navy seaplanes that patrolled the area.
Sunday, July 28, 2013
A dive-bomber, the SB2C Helldiver, was the first U.S. Navy carrier based airplane to become operational with cannon, two replacing the four .50-caliber machine guns.
Commander Monroe noted that, from a gun “horsepower” standpoint, one 20 mm cannon was equivalent to three .50-caliber machine guns. “The 20 will go through .75 inch of armor at 500 yards, while the .50 cal will go through only .43.” He also noted that the cannon barrel was not as susceptible to being damaged with long bursts like the machine gun’s.
There were disadvantages, of course. He noted that the time of flight of the 20 mm shell was longer, .75 second for 500 yards as compared to .62 second for a .50 caliber bullet. The 20 mm installation was also heavier, “one half as much ammunition for the same weight.” The standard of 400 rounds of ammunition for each gun (30 seconds) could therefore not be maintained so only 200 rounds of 20 mm ammunition could be provided per gun. Nevertheless, “The 20 is lethal enough to get far more results out of that 200 rounds than the .50 ever will get out of the 400 rounds.”
Only 200 F4U-1Cs were bought and the F4U-4 retained the six .50-caliber armament configuration, primarily due to ongoing reliability problems with the original Hispano-Suiza cannon. However, the problems were corrected so a handful of F4U-4s were produced with cannon as the F4U-4B (the suffix now designating an armament change, not built for the British) and cannon were standard on the F4U-5.
The Navy’s last propeller-driven fighter, the F8F Bearcat, was initially produced with only four .50-caliber machine guns. However, during production of the -1s, the armament was changed to four 20-mm cannon. The change was externally evident by the longer barrels and the bulges required over the chambers. The cannon were standard on the F8F-2 so no B suffix was required.
The Navy’s first jet, the McDonnell FH-1 Phantom, was produced with four .50-caliber machine guns. The North American FJ-1 Fury was delivered with six. However, the Navy's third jet fighter, the Vought F6U Pirate was armed with four 20 mm cannon, as were all subsequent Navy fighters up through the Vought F8U Crusader.
The Air Force somewhat belatedly realized the need to transition to 20 mm, a change accelerated by combat experience during the Korean War.
Friday, June 28, 2013
For a prior post and links to four (!) more on the A-12 in this blog, see http://thanlont.blogspot.com/2011/01/gift-that-keeps-on-giving-final-chapter.html
The program was, of course, canceled back in 1991, but like Jarndyce v. Jarndyce in Dickens' Bleak House, it has lingered on as a lawyer's dream.
However, according to an online Aviation Week note dated 21 May 2013:
In a sign of movement in the epic legal battle over the A-12 Avenger II, the Obama administration is asking Congress to allow the Navy to accept a settlement in the case.
In a letter outlining amendments to the administration’s fiscal 2014 request for appropriations, the Pentagon is seeking legislation that would “authorize the Secretary of the Navy to accept and retain in-kind goods and services in lieu of monetary payment, for the purposes of a settlement of the A-12 aircraft litigation.”
More importantly for aviation history, the A-12 mockup has finally been moved to the Veterans Memorial Air Park in Fort Worth, Texas.
The full-scale mockup was displayed at an open house in 1996 at Carswell Air Force Base.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
These are affordable, well-researched, copiously illustrated monographs. The production quality is excellent. Dana has spent a lot of time on what I call an Easter egg hunt in the National Archives, among other places, and found pictures, drawings, and information previously unpublished and that sometimes contradicts or expands on what we know about a particular airplane type.
Dana is currently sifting through boxes and boxes of 1940s documentation on the F4U-1 Corsair. One of his discoveries is that the F4U-1A designation of what the Navy called the "raised cabin" Corsair was never officially assigned. (There are more revelations but those will have to wait until this next Aircraft Pictorial is published.)
His assertion has generated some debate. After looking at some of my stuff that dates back to 1943 and 1944, I agree with Dana that the Navy did not officially recognize the raised cabin F4U-1 with a designation change.
In the process, I got interested in the Navy's use of letter suffixes to aircraft designations. As a result, I'm pretty sure that the early (through say, 1942) and subsequent meanings have been inadvertently conflated in a confusing way. For example, in explanations in books and on line, you'll find that the letter suffix A stands for many different changes. After examining several examples and in particular relying on an explanation in Introduction to Naval Aviation (NavAer-80R-19) published in January 1946, it appears to me that up through about 1942 there were very few letter suffixes that were related to specific applications or capabilities. (One was P for Photographic.) "A" simply meant the first "minor modification not sufficiently important to change the modification number or where the airplane has been diverted to another service or for a special purpose".
It took a while to find an example of a "B" for a second minor modification that substantiated my thesis, which was the Consolidated NY trainer.
The above is an NY-2 modified with leading edge slats that was being evaluated by NACA in 1928. Consolidated Aircraft* won a 1925 Navy competition for a trainer that was then designated NY-1 (N for trainer, Y for Consolidated, no number between the type letter and the manufacturer letter because it was Consolidated's first trainer for the Navy). According to the interweb, the NY-1A was a modification for gunnery training with a machine gun mounted in the rear cockpit and the NY-1B was an NY-1 modified with the bigger wing and more powerful engine of the NY-2.
So in my opinion the suffix A originally didn't actually stand for amphibious (PBY-1A), armament (J2F-2A), target towing (JRF-1A), floats (TBD-1A), single-stage supercharger (F4F-3A), carrier-basing (SOC-3A), etc. It simply distinguished the modified airplane from the baseline one, like a dash number change signified a more significant change.
At some point early in World War II, however, the use of A appears to have acquired a specific connotation, possibly used only to differentiate a Navy airplane built for the Army, e.g. SB2C-1A. "B" similarly became associated with a Navy airplane that was to be provided to the British, as in F4F-4B. As a result, the first minor modification was now recognized with a "C" suffix and the second, with a "D". This led to the TBF-1C (wing guns and more fuel), the TBF-1D (ASB radar), SB2C-1C (cannon), F4U-1C (cannon), F4U-1D (multiple improvements), etc. Note that "C" did not, in this instance, stand for "cannon": it was a coincidence that the first minor change was to cannons. Thinking that D stood for droppable fuel tank in the case of the F4U-1D was even more fanciful; the F4U-1 had provisions for a droppable fuel tank.
Shortly after this philosophy change, however, mission-specific suffixes began to proliferate and the use of a generic suffix progression in alphabetic order beginning with C was abandoned. One of the early additions was "N" for a "night" fighter (as an indication of the designation system development in progress at the time, the radar-equipped fighter version of the F4U-1 was designated F4U-2; the equivalent F6F-3 modification was the F6F-3N.) But I can't yet say whether a particular suffix used in the mid-1940s was the result of the alphabetical approach or the implementation of specific letters for particular mission capability modifications. "C" was eventually used to designate a land-based airplane that had been adapted to be carrier capable but it's possible that the SNJ-3C was so designated because it was a first minor modification of this trainer. Similarly, "E" came to mean an electronic modification, but the TBF/M-1E might very well have simply been the third minor change of the Avenger.
Consistency in designations was not a Navy hallmark in any event. For example, the modification of the Douglas Devastator to add floats was designated TBD-1A. A similar evaluation of the Vought Vindicator was designated XSB2U-3...
Another divergence was the designation of successive variations of the North American PBJ, which for all intents and purposes was a US Army Air Forces B-25 Mitchell. Although the Navy did redesignate it as the first Patrol Bomber that they procured from North American (J), the suffix letter for major derivatives was consistent with the Army designations, e.g. the B-25H became the PBJ-1H.
*Consolidated Aircraft was merged with Vultee Aircraft in 1943 to become the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation. After the war, the company adopted the brand name Convair. It subsequently was acquired by General Dynamics but as a named division. In 1994, GD eventually sold that portion of the division still based in San Diego to McDonnell Douglas Aircraft and the remainder that had been developing and building airplanes in Fort Worth, Texas to Lockheed.
Sunday, June 9, 2013
I've written a couple of posts on the F8U-3 and a monograph for Steve Ginter.
The monograph is pretty good, if I do say so myself, but if in doubt you can read reviews of it on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/dp/0984611401 and then order it if it appeals
Whether or not you have the monograph, this is a pretty good Vought sales pitch for the airplane, emphasizing the fact that a radar operator wasn't necessary for the successful interception of an attack: http://www.texasarchive.org/library/index.php/F8U-3_Weapons_System
Unfortunately, the admirals didn't agree, opting for the two-seat F4H instead...