U.S. Navy Aircraft History

By Tommy H. Thomason

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Modex Number

 I meant to post this in this blog but it wound up HERE.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Operation Eldorado Canyon

 In case you’re wondering why I reviewing a book with a USAF F-111 profile on the cover in a Naval Aviation blog:

  1. I’ve spent almost three decades, with limited success, trying to establish that its USN counterpart, the F-111B was not a failure so anything about the program is of interest to me. I am pleased in that regard that while the author’s summary of the Navy variant’s failure to enter service is brief, it is respectful.

2. The content includes a description of the participation of carrier-based US Navy aircraft, which played a significant role in Operation Eldorado Canyon as well as involvement in events leading up to it (e.g., Operation Prairie Fire) and a subsequent encounter with Libyan fighters.

This is an authoritative and detailed account of a major bombing mission, well-written and impressively illustrated (many, most large, and almost all in color), printed on high quality paper with a soft cover and “perfect binding”. The author was not only a F-111 Weapon System Officer, but he was also involved in the mission planning and personally knows many of the pilots and fellow WSOs who flew it.

One result of the author’s experience is the detailed description of the F-111’s mission capability at that time: the aircraft itself, the weapon system, and armament options. Jim provides a particularly lucid description of the weapons, tactics, radar/FLIR navigation, and laser targeting required for a precision strike at a predetermined moment (literally) with minimal collateral damage.

Context provided for the need for the bombing raid begins with the independence of the American colonies, segueing smoothly into a year-by-year account of the early 1980s as Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi became more and more involved in sponsoring international terrorism. As tensions heightened, the narrative rapidly increases in detail until during the raid itself, it is minute to minute.

The planning process, including the mission constraints, the rationale for decisions made, selection of targets, is particularly well described, although if anything, Jim sugarcoats the refusal of the French and Spanish leadership’s refusal to allow the F-111s to fly over their countries, significantly increasing the distance and degree of difficulty involved. As Jim succinctly describes it, “(The) 5,000-mile (9,012km) round trip was like taking off from Washington DC at dusk and flying high level to Las Vegas, then letting down to low level to bomb Los Angeles in the middle of the night with lots of angry people trying you shoot you down once you cross the mountains into the Los Angeles basin. After that, you fly back to Las Vegas, arriving nearly out of fuel and needing to find your tanker in the pitch-black darkness.” “Oh, and you’re doing all this in a space about the size of a sports car interior, strapped into your seat the whole time: about 13 to 14 hours.”

Execution of the resulting strike plan requiring a large number of USAF and USN assets is described in detail and clearly delineated in a series of color maps, both large scale (depicting the entire route of the bombers and tankers to and from England) and small (the detail of each ingress to and egress from each target). The order of battle of all the participants, including the supporting cast, is remarkably complete, the result of Jim’s years of research.

Like all plans, particularly one involving as many moving parts as this one, there were successes and failures relative to the desired outcome, including collateral damage and the loss of one of the strike F-111s. Jim pulls no punches in that regard and provides a particularly cogent Lessons Learned conclusion.

Note that in my opinion, the above does not begin to do Jim’s book justice. It is not only an excellent description of a seminal event in America’s history, but also an excellent read.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Carrier Landings - Canopy open or closed?


Navy pilots landed the early jets on carriers as they always had, with the canopy open. It facilitated rapid egress from the cockpit if they had to ditch.

If the engine quit, below about 1,000 feet, ejection was not an option to ditching.

The early ejection seats were primarily bailout assists, necessary at the higher speeds that the jets were capable of compared to piston-engine powered fighters.

However, on axial deck carriers a last-ditch barricade was added for jet landings because the Davis barrier—that was intended to stop them if they failed to be arrested by the customary means, the tailhook engaging one of the arresting cables—could sometimes be defeated (see https://thanlont.blogspot.com/2010/10/barriers-and-barricades-one-more-time.html).

This, however, introduced a new concern, that the heavy cable going across the deck at the top of the barricade might wind up in the cockpit instead of ending up aft of it.

 As a result, jet pilots had to choose between the possibility of ditching with the canopy closed and unable to get it open in time and that of landing long and getting decapitated by the barricade's upper strap.

As it happened, many of the subsequent generation of carrier jets had clam-shell rather than sliding canopies and were therefore closed on both landing and takeoff. The two Douglas F4D Skyray prototypes actually differed in that respect, with the clam-shell being selected for production:

                                          BuNo 124587 is on the left and 124586 is on the right.

 My guess is that given the cockpit pressurization required, the clam-shell configuration was lighter and became the standard.

Sunday, December 31, 2023

TBD Devastator in Action by Dana Bell


An excellent monograph by an actual historian who does his research in archives (not on line or using books by authors who rely on Wikipedia), high-resolution scans on high-quality paper, knowledgeable and informative captions, previously unpublished close-up full-page photos, color illustrations of paint schemes and markings, what's not to like?

A couple of nits: On page 13, the venturi has nothing to do with airspeed; it was there to provide suction of air through the gyros for the blind-flying instruments initially fitted. On page 135, the pilot must not have leaned his engine to run out of fuel early, not run it exceptionally lean.

I expected to see at least a few pictures that I had not seen before but not this many. I didn't expect to learn much about the TBD but I did. For one thing, there is not only an exceptional set of pictures depicting the small, flush, removal bomb racks under the wings; by including one of a PBY's with bombs mounted, it becomes obvious that the multitude of small pins on the racks served as sway braces. Another was an early kludge of vertical-fin-mounted lights so the LSO could determine the approaching TBD's angle of attack. An evaluation of the addition of a defensive machine gun at the assistant pilot's seat?!?

For my illustration of the multiple bomb/torpedo load options illustrating by multiple pictures, click HERE.

Sources: Amazon or eBay

Note that this is not a comprehensive history of the TBD's operational use although it does provide the a summary of its development and early World War II service before it was withdrawn following the debacle at Midway.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Naval Fighters Number 116: Boeing F4B and Export Variants by CAPT Richard Dann

There aren't too many meticulously researched, in-depth books about U.S. Navy airplanes that served before World War II. Dana Bell's Painting the Fleet is one. Steve Ginter has published some in his Naval Fighters Series, including Richard Dann's excellent monograph on the Grumman F2F/F3F,  reviewed by Barrett Tillman on Amazon:

 Steve Ginter's "Naval Fighters" series has long been one of the industry standards, maintaining a consistently high quality of research, writing, and illustrations. That's certainly true of Richard Dann's latest contribution, detailing Grumman's prewar biplane fighters, the F2F and F3F predecessor of the F4F Wildcat.

If anybody wants more information on the F2F and F3F, he should call Tom Cruise because it appears to be Mission Impossible. Aside from the authoritative text covering both designs, Dann includes a micro view of the air frames by Bureau of Aeronautic's number, tracing the service history and usually ultimate fate of each. "Rivet counters" will appreciate the close-up photos, factory drawings, and descriptions of construction and modifications.

Aside from fleet coverage, the book addresses the biplane fighters' movie appearances and civilian use. And warbird enthusiasts will welcome a single-source reference of the examples preserved in museums across the country.

Dann's latest one for Steve is the equal of his F2F/F3F book:


It is available from Steve Ginter and summarized here: http://www.ginterbooks.com/NAVAL/NF116.htm.

I urge you to directly order the books that Steve publishes because of the discount that he has to provide to book vendors like Amazon. More revenue to him equals more books that he will publish like Rich Dann's, who is currently researching his next book that will cover the Grumman FF/SF.

 Some summary reviews of his F4B book by aviation enthusiasts/historians:

Tom Chee:  I'm very impressed with  comprehensive coverage of key examples from all blocks produced and presentation of vast amount of photos, drawing, individual histories, tables, etc. Consolidated of all that info must have been challenging, but in any case, the results are well organized. A job well done and thanks for a great effort! It shows.

Mark Aldrich:  Outstanding work! The depth of research and volume of data are astounding. Rich deserves huge credit for the long effort he put in to this project and Steve deserves it as well for providing a platform for the publication and dissemination of historical works off the beaten path. Well Done! 

Don Linn:  This is a beautiful book with tons of excellent images and production data. Rich you did an excellent job.