By Tommy H. Thomason

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Aircraft Pictorial 7: F4U-1 Corsair Vol. 1

Dana Bell's long awaited monograph on the F4U-1 Corsair is finally available. There are many books and articles available on the F4U. I can say, because I have a goodly number of them in my collection, that none are quite as deeply researched or as sharply focused as this one is. It is a relatively slim volume, only 72 pages between the soft covers, but every page has a photo or illustration of interest, many of the former in color. I am very pleased to write that it contains information and facts about the Corsair of which I was previously unaware and should be taken as gospel, based on the depths that Dana has plumbed at the National Air and Space Museum and the National Archives. Most notable are these two: there was officially no F4U-1A and the cause for the Navy not deploying Corsairs on carriers initially was not due to unsatisfactory deck landing characteristics. (One proof Dana cites for the latter is an evaluation aboard Woverine that concluded it was very easy to land aboard; I may have missed Dana's mention of it but that carrier was one of the two converted side-wheeler excursion ships plying Lake Michigan as training carriers: it was not only short, it was slow.)

Some things this excellent volume is not: a compendium of war stories, list of squadron assignments, tables of performance attributes, or overall operational history. All that is available elsewhere. What it is: a detailed and well-illustrated document that describes the configuration, configuration changes, and color schemes (internal and external) of the so-called "Birdcage" Corsair during its initial flight test and operational usage, both U.S. and U. K. (Volume 2 will, Dana promises, cover the raised cockpit F4U-1, aka F4U-1A.) As such this work will not appeal to everyone, as fascinating as it is to me. If you are a Corsair fan, however, almost every page contains something of interest that you probably didn't know and likely is mentioned in no other Corsair reference.

For example, a picture of the early 20-gallon (your car's gas tank probably has less capacity) oil tank mentions that a larger tank was substituted to account for oil consumption on longer missions when greater endurance was provided by the addition of external tanks; however, a decal was placed on the larger tank to advise the ground crew not to fill it with more than 20 gallons of oil when external tanks weren't fitted in order to minimize weight. A revelation was the reason for the almost standard application of tape externally to the panel lines around the fuselage fuel tank. It turns out that it was to keep spilled gasoline out of the interior of the fuselage aft of the firewall when the tank was being filled because the result was sometimes a fire.

If Dana hadn't thoughtfully sent me a copy, I would have been first in line to purchase one based on his previous work and personal knowledge of his research diligence and insistence on the use of primary-source documents.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Warpaint Series No. 99: McDonnell F3H Demon

From a detailed and illustrated Britmodeller review HERE

Tony Buttler, a well-known and prolific author, has written an excellent, well-illustrated monograph on the less-appreciated McDonnell F3H Demon. It is a very complete history in 48 pages plus softcover. There are lots of photographs, many in color, of the XF3H-1 prototypes, the J40-powered F3H-1N, and the J71-powered F3H-2 variants. Several pages of color profiles are provided as well as well as a large multi-view drawing at the centerfold. The paper quality is more than adequate for good reproduction of all the illustrations. See the link above for details.

Since this book deserves to be the cornerstone print reference, if not the only one, for the F3H in some libraries, I feel obligated to correct a few misstatements. First, the F3H wing did not have anhedral (page 22); see I'm all but certain that the first Sparrow missile firings by a deployed squadron were accomplished by a VX-4 detachment of F7U-3Ms on Shangri-La in early 1957, not VF-64 F3Hs in December 1958 (page 35). A really minor correction is that the drawing of the F3H-2M is shown with the short beaver tail in the centerfold; all were built with the longer one and I doubt that any were retrofitted.

I'm pretty sure that the lineup of F3Hs on page 17 are four of the six involved in the Fleet Introduction Program described in the text with side numbers 10 through 15. Note that these, as well as some other early production Demons, have blue AERO stores pylons on the wings as the changeover to gray/white exterior paint had just occurred.

An oddity not mentioned or illustrated was one of the attempts at providing self-boarding (no separate ladder) on these big jets that set so nose high. See and

Minor omissions and errors like these do not materially detract from the value of this book to the naval aviation enthusiast. I am very pleased to have been provided a copy by Tony.

Monday, November 3, 2014

F-35C Finally Comes Aboard

At last, the end of the beginning...

3 November 2014, Nimitz, off San Diego (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Kelly M. Agee)

Congratulations to all who persevered and made it happen.

For some previous posts on the workup to this milestone, see:

Saturday, November 1, 2014

F-35C Unique Features

Lockheed Martin, which does great PR stuff like its Code One Magazine and makes excellent photos readily available, unlike some other aircraft companies, just released this:

This release is almost certainly timed to build interest in and provide information about the carrier-based F-35 in advance of its at-sea trials this coming week.

However, it does appear to have been written (or edited) for the general public and some oversimplifications or downright errors have resulted. For one thing, the lead states that "For the first time in U.S. naval aviation history, radar-evading stealth capability will come to the carrier deck". I may be mistaken, but I thought the Boeing F-18E/F had some "radar-evading stealth" features, although certainly not to the same extent as the F-35. But in any event, there's more:

1 Larger wings: The lead picture in the release does some justice to the difference in planform with the F-35A and B but not the one used to illustrate this first feature. This crop of a photo on the Lockheed website is even better for that purpose.

"The aircraft lands at a high speed so that if they miss the hook when attempting to land they are still able to take off and try again."

The pilot actually approaches at a low speed consistent with stall margin, control power, thrust response, etc. What might be missed is one of the arresting cables, not the hook. Perhaps what the writer meant to convey was "miss the hook-on".

2 Wingtips that fold: "While a wide wingspan is essential on a carrier ship, it also takes up precious cargo space on the deck. To combat this, the F-35C's wingtips fold to allow for easy storage in tight quarters to create more room on the carrier's deck while deployed."

I understand what was meant, but "cargo space" isn't the usual term of art and "deployed" might not be good grammar or unambiguous in that it appears to refer to the wingtips, not the aircraft, and deployed could be taken to mean extended...

3 More robust landing gear: "The limited runway on the flight deck means there isn't much room to slow down after landing."

Strictly speaking, the landing area isn't a "runway" but I understand the need to use familiar words.

"Instead, the pilot has to perfectly time and aim the aircraft to hook the line on the carrier deck to bring the aircraft to a halt."

Well, sort of... Aim isn't too far off the mark but there is no timing involved since the pilot doesn't flare for a landing on a carrier. The word "line" doesn't do the justice to the steel wire that is usually known as the arresting cable or more nautically, cross-deck pendant.

4. Two wheels in front: "Stability is a priority and a necessity when landing on a naval carrier ship. While the robust landing gear takes care of the logistics of landing at a high capacity, the two wheels in the front of the aircraft provide stability, and absorb the shock of landing."

I was doing okay with the press release until I got to this paragraph; English appears to be a second language for its author. For starters, "naval carrier ship", "logistics", "at a high capacity"?  What's wrong with aircraft carrier, shock absorption, and high sink rate? And then there's the technical content. What do two wheels in front have to do with stability? The tailhook does a pretty good job of providing directional stability after landing on an aircraft carrier with a proper lineup before touchdown. Ideally, the main landing gear absorbs most of the shock of landing although the nose landing gear still has to be pretty robust. The necessity for two wheels in this case is the use of the nose-tow launch system. See

5. Greater internal fuel capacity: "The F-35C carries nearly 20,000 pounds of internal fuel for longer range and better persistence than any other fighter in a combat configuration."

Any other fighter? Maybe combat configuration, meaning no external tanks, makes this claim valid. I don't know offhand that it isn't incorrect. Maybe someone would like to comment?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hard to Replace

The Douglas AD Skyraider proved hard to replace in the U.S. Navy. For decades, jets couldn't match its combination of size, endurance, and payload capability. It was eventually supplemented but not completely replaced in one of its missions, nuclear strike, since it was not as survivable as a jet.

The Douglas A4D Skyhawk was therefore specifically optimized for that particular mission, "one man, one bomb, one way". The Scooter, however, fell short of the Skyraider's range until the introduction of inflight refueling and buddy tanking.

The next mission for which a replacement was developed was all-weather attack, the province of the AD-5N.

This was accomplished with the bigger and more expensive, albeit more capable, Grumman A-6 Intruder.

However, because of its endurance and load-carrying capability the single-seat Skyraider continued to be a major part of the carrier strike force up through the first few years of the Vietnam War. At some point, it was given the nickname Spad, which was a World War I fighter. Some say it was to identify it as a Single Place AD, as opposed to the wide-body multi-place AD-5, for deck spotting purposes but my guess it was just to recognize it as an anachronism in what was otherwise an all-jet air wing.

The single-seat Navy ADs were finally replaced in the attack role with a jet of similar mission capability, the Vought A-7 Corsair II.

(The last ADs deployed on carriers were the EA-1Fs, which served through December 1968, providing electronic countermeasure; Skyraiders continued to be operated by the USAF and the Vietnamese Air Force up through the end of the Vietnam War.)

All those jets are long gone from the U.S. Navy, replaced by various McDonnell/Boeing F-18s. Two, the A-4 and the A-7, were also operated by foreign air forces. The last of the A-7s was just retired by Greece.
 Giovanni Colla Photo

The aircraft it replaced in the U.S. Navy, however, the A-4, continues to serve in Argentina as the A-4AR;
Jorge Alberto Leonardi Photo

in Brazil as the AF-1;

and for Singapore as an lead-in trainer, the A-4SU.

I doubt that the Scooter will outlast its replacement's replacement, the F-18, in a military air force but it's possible that they will still be flying as Warbirds after an F-18 lands for the last time.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Tricycles Are For Kids

Although most airplanes now have a landing gear with a nose wheel, for many years after the Wright brothers' first flight almost all had a tail wheel instead. The tail wheel arrangement was lighter/cheaper, lower drag before landing gears began to be retractable, and more appropriate for landing on relatively unprepared surfaces (airfields were once actually fields, nephews). Its only drawback was a lack of directional stability on landing rollout, which would sometimes result in what was known as a ground loop, particularly if there was a crosswind.
Tricycle landing gears with nose wheels were directionally stable on landing roll out and therefore less likely to turn and bite the inattentive or clumsy pilot. Moreover, they provided an extra prospective benefit on takeoff for multi-engine airplanes. In the event of an engine failure in the takeoff roll before the pilot raised the nose to lift off, the nose landing gear provided increased directional control compared to a tail wheel, particularly if the tail wheel was off the ground for better acceleration. As a result, even before World War II, multi-engine bombers (e.g. the B-24) and fighters (e.g. the P-38) began to have nose landing gears.

The single-engine Bell Aircraft P-39 had a nose landing gear as well, in part because the engine was located behind the pilot, providing room for one.
However, when Bell proposed a variant of the P-39 to the Navy as a carrier-based fighter, one of the changes required by the Navy was to what was then known as a "conventional" landing gear.
Nevertheless, the Navy had evaluated a twin-engine airplane with a nose landing gear, the one-off XJO-3, at-sea in 1939 and all of its subsequent carrier-based multi-engine airplanes would have nose landing gears. (See
The Navy also contracted with Douglas for two different single-engine torpedo bombers with nose landing gears during World War II, the BTD
and its humongous brother, the TB2D.
(BT meant that the airplane's primary mission was as a dive or level bomber and its secondary mission was as a torpedo bomber; TB meant that its primary mission was as a torpedo bomber - the TB2D was to carry as many as four torpedoes - and its secondary mission was as a level bomber.)

I haven't been able to find a Douglas justification for the nose-wheel landing gear arrangement. My guess is that it made loading of torpedoes and 2,000-lb bombs a little easier because of better ground clearance and they could be lifted into place more or less level, instead of having to be tilted nose up to fit in a bomb bay or be aligned with cruise-flight air flow.

The Blackburn Firebrand torpedo bomber featured a two-position torpedo mount that provide both level load/ground clearance and low-drag alignment once in flight.

The nose landing gear didn't seem to provide any benefit otherwise (a Douglas evaluation did note that that a bad landing was less likely to result in the airplane bouncing over the barriers). On a single-engine airplane it significantly restricted the space available for a bomb bay if low-drag carriage of bombs was desired.

Nose landing gears could also be at risk of collapse following an inflight arrestment.

In any event, the next Douglas design, the BT2D, had a tail wheel. It was subsequently redesignated as the AD when the carrier-based bomber designation system was simplified to one mission, attack.

In part as a result of its preference for tail-wheeled landing gear, the Navy lagged the Air Force in adopting trainers with nose landing gears, trading off a somewhat higher accident rate for an earlier and more thorough indoctrination in the art of landing a taildragger.

For more on how the Navy transitioned its pilots to tail draggers after its changeover to trainers with tricycle landing gear, see

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Things Under Wings - Training Wheels

Before the advent of computer-aided bombing, it wasn't easy to hit a target with a bomb even if the intended target was not maneuvering. In order to account for the ballistic drop of the bomb after release, the bomb had to be dropped at a specific combination of airspeed, altitude, and dive/descent angle. Because of the degree of difficulty in having all three nailed at the same time as well as having the target centered in the sight (particularly while being shot at), the pilot had to drop at a higher altitude if he was a little fast and at lower a lower one if his dive was a little shallow. And if the drop was a fraction of a second late or early, the accuracy decreased. Not to mention the presence of wind aloft that would affect the fall of the bomb.

It was therefore necessary to practice. Since prewar carrier-based airplanes were intended to carry heavy bombs in order to do the most damage to an enemy ship or shore installation, only three bomb pylons were generally provided. To get the most effective training from a flight, practice bomb dispensers were therefore developed. These were the original Multiple Ejector Racks. The Mk 42 was a plate on which three practice bombs could be loaded. The more widely used Mk 47 was a streamlined dispenser that was about 40" long.

It contained compartments for eight miniature bomb-shaped weights.

The practice bombs were electrically dropped one at a time, separation aided by a spring. A small black-powder spotting charge was incorporated so the impact point could be easily seen. The bombs were also reusable. For more on them, see

Navy fighter planes have always been used for bombing as well. The number of aircraft that can be loaded on a carrier is finite so it is important that fighters can  drop bombs if necessary. Fighter pilots trained with the practice bomb dispensers as well (this one on an early Corsair looks like it might have only had six compartments).

Rockets were somewhat easier to aim, easier even than guns or cannon because they were propelled in flight and therefore did not go ballistic after being released. As a result, a pilot only needed to fire a few at the expected airspeed, altitude, and descent angle to be used in combat and note where they hit relative to his aiming point. Accuracy was affected of course by the wind, any sideslip (if the airplane wasn't heading the same way it was going, the rockets would tend to align themselves with the relative wind immediately after launch), and any damage to or misalignment of the fins. The Sub Caliber Aircraft Rocket (SCAR) was developed for training to reduce the cost of expended rockets.

It was 2.25 inches in diameter and about 29 inches long with a tail-fin span of 8.3". It could be configured to imitate either the 3.5 inch or 5.0 inch rocket with the result that some were about six inches longer. Adapters were provided for the different rocket pylons that were used.

A rather bulky camera could be mounted externally on the aircraft for training flights to provide feedback to the pilot on his technique and accuracy. This was particularly useful for torpedo bomber pilots who couldn't make multiple drops on their training flights (or any drops at all due to the expense of torpedoes).

Thanks to David Collier for suggesting the topic.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Air Superiority Errata

No matter how hard an author tries, errors sometimes go unnoticed. New information often becomes available after a book goes to press. Here are some corrections and additions to my book, U.S. Naval Air Superiority.

Front inside dust cover: First paragraph, last line, “fee” should be “feet”.

Page 57: The wingspan of the XF9F-1, 55' 6", is missing.

Page 64: VMF(N)-542 was not the only operational squadron with F3D-2Ms. VMF(N)-513. operating out of NAS Atsugi, Japan, was also equipped with a few Sparrow-armed F3D-2Ms in 1957.

Page 71: The first paragraph in the left-hand column has been misread to mean that an unswept inboard section was added. For clarity, the first two sentences should have been: The wings were P-63 outer-wing panels mounted to sweep aft from the P-63's existing inboard-wing section. Retaining this unswept section was an attempt to correctly position the swept-wing's center of lift with respect to the aircraft's center of gravity without making major changes to the structure.

Page 72: The caption for the lower left picture refers the reader to Chapter 11, page 80, for a picture of the crash. The page is actually 180.

Chapter 7: The end-note numbers in Chapter 7 became incorrect for some reason. There is no "7" in the text, so "8" in the text is "7" in the end notes. After that, you have to subtract 1 from each end-note number in the text to obtain the correct number for the end note itself.

Page 119: At the end of the second full paragraph in the right-hand column, the implication is that the landing weight was limited to 23,500 pounds for the rest of the F7U-3M's operational career. In his book, The Wrong Stuff: Flying on the Edge of Disaster, John Moore apparently misremembered the results of the F7U-3M carrier-qualification testing. According to the F7U-3M Service Acceptance Trials dated 30 November 1956, the gross weight limit for axial deck landings (flat approach) was 23,000 pounds but for mirror approaches (descending to an angled deck), the limit was raised to 25,300 pounds.

Page 147: The caption for the upper picture incorrectly states that the original F4D tail hook arrangement did not survive to the prototype. It was in fact present on at least one of the prototypes. However, the Skyray that was used for the initial carrier evaluation had an A-frame type tail hook.

Page 154: In the fifth line from the bottom in the right column, add "pilot" after F-86D.

Page 191: The text does not mention the development of deck and approach lighting to provide better lineup visualization of short final in low-visibility conditions and at night as these were introduced at the end of the period covered buy the book. For example, the drop line or drop lights were added to the fan tail, along with the first sequenced-strobe flashers, in 1964.

Page 211: Figure 13.1 should include the label "Design 98".

Page 218: the picture caption states that the initial FJ-4 carrier qualifications were accomplished aboard Randolph in March 1956. According to the carrier-suitability test report that I was subsequently provided, landings and two launches were accomplished aboard Intrepid in January 1956. A final series was accomplished aboard Saratoga in December 1956.

Page 231: The caption for the two-position Crusader wing actuator picture states that "the center of lift was behind the pivot point." This was not true for all speed and g conditions but when there was a tension load, it was relatively low and well within the actuator capability. There were inflight structural failures where the Crusader wing came off, but the first component to fail was never the actuator itself.

Page 237: D'Oh! Two different months are given for the McDonnell AH letter of intent in adjacent columns. For the record, it was dated 18 October 1956.

Page 238: Cdr Noel Gaynor should be CAPT Noel Gayler and he was representing DCNO (Air Warfare) not BuAer.

Page 248: Fifth line in the left column, delete the word "but" so the sentence reads, "Not only was it positioned high on the vertical fin, but when it was generally accepted that..."

Page 258: I failed to mention that the F8U-2NE, F-8H, and F-8J could be armed with the AAM-N-7 Sidewinder IC (AIM-9C) semi-active radar homing (SARH) variant developed to provide true all-weather capability for the Crusader. According to the January 1969 Ault report, however, it added "only marginal Fleet capability...because of performance limitations at altitudes below 10,000 feet, lack of user confidence and interest, and deteriorating logistic support." It was subsequently withdrawn.

Page 267: In the first sentence of the second complete paragraph, the Lockheed/Vega PV-1 was the Ventura, not the Hudson. The Navy did operate a few Hudsons but they were designated PBO-1, signifying that they were produced by Lockheed Burbank. (Thanks to Lee Griffin for identifying that error.)

Chapter 13: After Air Superiority's publication, thanks to Jared A. Zichek, I became aware of a day-fighter proposition from North American, a General Electric J79-powered "FJ-5" derived from the F-107, a bigger and J75-powered USAF fighter-bomber.
Here's how it tied into the Vought F8U, Grumman F11F, and North American FJ-4 programs:

The Super Tiger (the real F12F; see and the FJ-5 were attempts to compete with the F8U from a performance standpoint using the thrust-to-weight and SFC advances provided by the new J79 engine with variable inlet guide vanes. Once the F8U went supersonic on its first flight, neither proposition had any chance of being bought by the Navy. Grumman at least got to demonstrate what the F11F would do with the J79 because the Navy wanted some flight experience with the new engine before the F4H flew.

For a link to buy Jared's monograph on this airplane, click HERE.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Brief History of the F-111B Flight Test Program

I thought I had posted this before but I can't find it.

151970 Stricken Dec 1969.  Stored at the Naval Surface Weapons Center, Dahlgren VA for vulnerability testing. Transferred to Pax River for potential display at the museum. Subsequently sold to a scrap dealer in the Washington, D.C. area and destroyed in 2000.

151971 crashed Sept 11, 1968 off California coast, reportedly due to a component failure or disconnect in the rudder control system. Test pilots Barton Warren and Anthony Byland killed.

151972 Ferried to NAS Lakehurst NJ in late 1971. Stricken in Dec 1971.  At least the fuselage was shipped to China Lake for vulnerability testing and remains there in outdoor storage.

151973 crashed on takeoff at Calverton, Long Island Apr 21, 1967 due to an incorrect inlet cowl position switch setting—as a result, the translating inlet cowls closed when the landing gear retracted causing both engines to compressor stall. Test pilots Charles Wangeman and Ralph Donnell killed.

151974 transferred to NASA Ames for wind tunnel testing following at-sea carrier trials aboard Coral Sea  off the west coast, based at Point Mugu, CA. Ferried to Moffett Field from Point Mugu on Oct 10, 1968 and stricken the next day. Following the wind tunnel test, the wings were removed to be used as the test article for a jet/deflected flap concept. The fuselage was trucked to China Lake, where it was stripped of usable parts for the ongoing Hughes test program and the carcass eventually scrapped. 
152714 ferried to Davis-Monthan AFB from Hughes and stricken on 25 May 1971. It was shipped to McClellan AFB, California for potential use in battle-damage repair training. (McClellan was the Air Force repair depot for the F-111.) It was eventually sold to a scrap dealer and for several years the fuselage resided in a junkyard two miles east of Mohave, California. It was acquired by the Cactus Air Force museum and is now located at Silver Springs, Nevada near Reno.
152715 ferried to China Lake from Hughes in April 1971 for desert exposure testing and stricken in May 1971. It still resides today.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

27 Charlie

 Hancock Deploying, 2 August 1969

 William T. Larkins

Steve Govus was on the flight deck of Hancock during its 1969/1970 deployment to the waters off Vietnam. Not only that, but he took pictures. For his first-hand description of the experience,  I recommend that you take a look at

Black Knights Rule!

Angelo Romano has produced some excellent naval aviation monographs. I mentioned other examples here:

Angelo has a fantastic (and incredibly well organized) collection of photographs of U.S. Navy aircraft. In this case, he has used it, along with contributions from noted aviation photographer and former editor of The Hook, Robert L. (Bob) Lawson, to author an excellent pictorial history of the Black Knights, a U.S. Navy fighter squadron that was formally redesignated several times but retained its basic identity through the years.

In addition to being a reference work on the Black Knights squadron itself, it provides a comprehensive longitudinal depiction of a typical Navy fighter squadron from the post World War II Navy reserve Hellcats/Corsairs through to the F-18E/Fs of the "present day" along with all the color scheme and markings changes. Many of the pictures are in action, including the occasional incident. Angelo also provides a good synopsis of the need for and versatility of the aircraft carrier by detailing the deployments of the squadron: carrier, duration, and significant events.

Unlike previous Steve Ginter published monographs, which have color only on the front and rear covers, this one has color pictures on virtually very one of its 137 pages, taking maximum advantage of the photographs available from Romano and Lawson.

Black Knights Rule is available from the usual sources. Steve Ginter lists it here along with a summary description of the contents:

Hopefully, and with your support (please buy this book), this is the first of several similar squadron histories that we will see from Angelo and Ginter. The material is ready and waiting.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Once Upon a Time

I lived on NAS Sangley Point, Phillipine Islands, as a boy in the mid 1950s (my stepfather was the assistant Public Works Officer there). One anecdote I heard was about a station SNJ that was taken up for a check flight after heavy maintenance. When the pilot raised the gear, one landing gear went up and the other stayed down. Deciding to come back and land to check that out, he put the landing gear handle down, whereupon the gear that had retracted extended and the one that hadn't retracted, did so. He finally had to land on one wheel.

Another story was that an F4U was used to spray for mosquitoes after the war, probably using the rig developed to lay down screening smoke, a prewar tactic to preclude accurate targeting of warships like Langley here.

 J.M.F. Haase Collection, San Diego Air and Space Museum blog*

The best time to spray for mosquitoes was thought to be first thing in the morning when there was no wind. The best altitude, according to the story, was as low as possible. You can imagine what a bored fighter pilot (or wannabe fighter pilot) would do with that.

It turns out that both stories have a basis in fact, passed down orally by station personnel for ten years in this instance. By chance Dana Bell sent me a report of an F4U crash, with pictures, that had occurred on Sangley Point in July 1946. The pilot had been up early that morning spraying DDT for mosquito control.

When he went to lower his wheels for landing, the right main gear and tail wheel extended but the left main gear trailed. He then noted that his hydraulic pressure was low. He cycled the gear a few times with the same result. He then tried pumping the gear down and hard pullups. In the end, after raising the gear one last time, he attempted to extend it with the CO2 backup. Again, only the right main and tail wheel extended. And now there was no longer any hydraulic pressure so he couldn't raise the gear for a belly landing. Given the choice of bailing out or landing with one wheel extended and the other trailing, he opted to stay dry.

He wound up against the sea wall at the west end of the field.
At the time, Sangley Point was a maintenance facility designated as a Naval Air Base, NAB Navy 961. It subsequently became a full-fledged Naval Air Station. Corsairs, of course, would have been a dime a dozen at this point. Based on the configuration of the last three digits of the Bureau Number on the cowling, I would guess that this was a low-time airplane that had never been issued to an operating squadron.

This is a picture of Naval Station Sangley Point in 1965 (it couldn't be a Naval Air Station after Cubi Point was commissioned in accordance with a treaty with the Philippine Islands that limited the U.S. to one NAS in the Philippines). You'll note that it wasn't much more than a very big but immobile aircraft carrier. (It was a seaplane base before World War II; the runway was added after the Philippines were retaken in 1945.)


Saturday, April 19, 2014

CVS Carrier Self Defense

In the mid-1950s, several Essex-class carriers were repurposed from attack to antisubmarine warfare and redesignated from CVA to CVS. Although the air groups primarily consisted of ASW and AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft, some deployments were made with a fighter detachment for self defense. The first few of these were provided by the VC squadons that operated all-weather fighters, which in this case was the propeller-driven F4U-5N.

It was recognized, however, that jets were more appropriate and a few detachments of different jet fighter types were provided by attack squadrons in the late 1950s. The mission was then assigned to attack squadrons (and in a couple of instances, Marine Headquarters & Maintenance Squadrons) operating A4D Skyhawks. These detachments were equipped with Skyhawks that had been modified with Sidewinder missile capability.

The requirement was eventually formalized with the creation of two VSF squadrons operating A4Ds.
 Note that VSF-3 appears to have borrowed a VSF-1 external fuel tank.

For more on the A4D fighter assignment and the VSF squadrons, see Scooter! or Boom Powell's excellent article in The Hook magazine here:

The last detachment before the assumption of the role by squadrons operating Skyhawks was the most unusual. VAW-11, a large squadron providing AEW and radar countermeasures detachments to deploying air groups, was assigned a dozen F2H-3/4 Banshee all-weather fighters. As far as I know, the only deployed detachment, P, went out with Hornet, a newly designated CVS, from April to October 1959.

Note that the Banshees have Sidewinder capability and are marked with the VAW-11 tail code RR. For some reason, there were no AEW airplanes provided for the deployment, which would have reduced the Banshee's effectiveness at defending the carrier. However, they at least had all-weather interception capability, something the A4Ds lacked entirely.

More photos can be found on the Hornet Museum's excellent website here: (to go to the home page or an index for the rest of the photo gallery, click on the icons at the top of that webpage).

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Navy Aircraft Designation Suffixes Redux

While in the process of preparing a set of notes and illustrations about the F4U-4 configuration changes, I was somewhat surprised to find that the cannon-armed variant was designated both F4U-4B, the one I am familiar with, and F4U-4C, which didn't ring a bell right away other than C has been taken to mean a modification to add cannon armament, as in F4U-1C, SB2C -1C, and as it turns out, F8F-1C. My first thought was that the F4U-4C designation might be bogus until I discovered this photograph of BuNo 97448 in my files. It is clearly cannon-armed and almost certainly fresh off the Vought production line at Stratford, CT.
 This is a closeup of the markings on the vertical fin; you may have to take my word for it, but F4U-4C is marked on the rudder:

I have written about the confusing conflation of Navy designation suffix meanings used during different time periods (see Basically, the meaning of a letter not only changed over time but should be separated into two categories, a specific added/changed capability (C for cannon armament) and a simple revision letter (C as the third minor change but one worthy of differentiating the airplane from its predecessors). Actually, I argued that C, at least early in the war, was used for the first notable change because the suffixes A and B were reserved at the time for a Navy airplane delivered to the U.S. Army and one delivered to Britain, respectively.

As it turns out, the use of suffixes by BuAer and its airplane manufacturers during the war was not well regulated and more specifically, there was no published definition for suffixes C or D as there came to be over time for A, B, E, F (briefly and replaced in effect by Z), H (except for the PBJ-1H), N,  P, R, and S. After the war, in January 1946, definitions were added for the suffixes J, K, L, Q and W.

In March 1946, however, BuAer decreed in Aviation Circular Letter 43-46 that henceforth—among other additions, deletions, and changes—that the suffix B would be used for "Special armament version" and C for "Carrier operating version of a non-carrier aircraft". In the case of the cannon-armed F4U-4C and the F8F-1C, the change was made retroactive so they became the better-known F4U-4B and F8F-1B. In the case of the F4U-4B, at least, speculation resulted decades later that these were Corsairs destined for Britain but taken by the U.S. Navy instead (or in one account on the interweb, dumped at sea by the Brits in lieu of expending the cost to return them to the U.S. after the war in compliance with the terms of use).

This suffix history is described in full in a draft monograph apparently prepared by the history section at BuAer in May 1955. See

Monday, February 17, 2014

Who's Your Daddy?

The amount of organization information displayed on U.S. Navy carrier aircraft underwent some interesting changes between the Korean War and the Vietnam War. For example, the F2H-2 Banshee in the early 1950s displayed the branch of service (Navy), a tail code (F) that represented the air group it was assigned to, and a three digit number on the nose, the first of which indicated in this case that it was an airplane in the first squadron in the air group.

Toward the late 1950s, the basic color scheme had changed from overall blue to gray over white and identification of the squadron that the airplane was assigned to was generally being marked on it, as shown on this VF-61 F3H.

Finally, in the early 1960s, the name of the carrier to which the air group was nominally assigned was usually added to the markings, as in the first F4H deployment, which was VF-102 on Enterprise.

I hadn't paid much attention to when the carrier name first began to appear on the airplanes, although it was clear that there was a time when it wasn't and then it was. I found the answer by happenstance in an excellent monograph by Angelo Romano, NAVA 1 Naval Air Weapons Meet, 1956-1959.

These meets were competitions between selected east coast and west coast fighter and attack squadrons (fighters only the first year) for aerial gunnery (fighter) and bombing accuracy (attack). They were held annually from 1956 through 1959 and then never again.

This monograph is beautifully illustrated with high-quality reproductions, many in color, of images taken by noted aviation photographer William L. Swisher at the competitions in each of the four years.

It can be purchased here, Also note the availability of an illustrated history of Carrier Air Wing One: Part Two 1957-1973, which is also highly recommended, at a discount if you buy it along with NAVA 1. (Too bad for you that NAVA 2 is sold out, at least from Model Publishing, if you don't have it.)

What caught my eye was that in the fourth and last year of the competition, the name of the carrier that each east coast squadron was assigned to was prominently marked in red on the aft fuselage, apparently specifically for this event.

I don't know whether the Commander Naval Air Forces Atlantic decreed the addition for the morale benefit to the ships company or the east coast squadrons got together and decided to do it for their esprit de corps but in any event, the added marking became almost immediately fashionable on both coasts.