U.S. Navy Aircraft History

By Tommy H. Thomason

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Strike from the Sea

Specialty Press has formally notified me that they have zero stock and it will not be reprinted. It got pretty good reviews on Amazon. If it's anything like Scooter!, which has been out of stock at Crecy for a while now, the price for one will eventually go through the roof. Fair warning if you have been dilly-dallying about acquiring it for your library.

Crecy, by the way, has expressed interest in a reprint of Scooter! if there is enough new material to warrant it. Most of what I have on hand are error corrections and updates on the civil and contract test/training usage. I need more material on the Israel A-4s. With respect to the latter, does anyone  know of a subject-matter expert?

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Naval Aviation Centennial Newsletters

While looking for something else, I discovered that the Centennial of Naval Aviation newsletters issued beginning in 2009 to publicize the year-long event in 2011 are still available online:
These contain interesting articles of events both historic and then-current. They can be downloaded at: http://www.public.navy.mil/AIRFOR/centennial/Pages/Multimedia.aspx

North American FJ-1 Carrier Operations

In the process of doing some research for another author on the North American FJ-1 Fury, I had a senior moment that I documented with this post, which I have now corrected. My apologies.

VF-5A was equipped with FJ-1s before NATC finished its evaluation of the type. The urgency to get jets aboard carriers resulted in an unusual clearance direct from the Chief of Naval Operations in February 1948, He issued authorization for the squadron to conduct limited at-sea operations "to expedite carrier operation jet aircraft prior (to the) completion (of) all customary trials." Restrictions included no catapult takeoffs, limited gross weights, no tip tanks, and keeping "vertical impact velocities at a minimum". It advised that at the maximum approved takeoff gross weight of 11,600 lbs, a takeoff run with 35 knots wind-over-deck would be 840 feet on a "hot" day and 680 feet on a standard day (59° F), "based on test results obtained with experienced pilots under optimum conditions". Note that an Essex-class carrier deck was 862 feet long.

On 10 March 1948, with those restrictions, guidance, and permission in hand, VF-5A squadron commander CDR "Pete" Aurand and his executive officer, LCDR Bob Elder, made the first carrier takeoffs and landings by a more or less operational jet squadron from Boxer, CV-21. Life magazine photographers were aboard and aloft to capture the event. Landings were relatively easy, with notably better visibility of the deck than in a prop plane. Deck-run takeoffs were dicey and begun using all the available deck.

During this outing or outings, either the NATC restriction on catapult takeoffs had been lifted or Aurand made a command decision to be catapulted off rather than make deck runs for some of the takeoffs.
Based on his and Elder's successful evaluation, Aurand attempted to get all the VF-5A (now VF-51) pilots qualified for carrier operations beginning on 3 May 1948 aboard Princeton. It did not go well. A wing broke off the fourth Fury to land; the wing stayed on deck but the rest of the airplane went over the side (the pilot was rescued). There were too many trips into the barriers, some resulting in damage that precluded continuing without significant repair. The week-long qualification period was reportedly terminated after only two days by the ship's captain. The crippled Furys were craned off at San Diego.

It was a notable contrast to the counterpart on the east coast by VF-17A flying McDonnell FH-1 Phantoms from the smaller Saipan, CVL-48, also in May 1948. They experienced no incidents, flying off the carrier with as many airplanes as they brought aboard. However, the success was tragically marred by a fatal mid-air collision between the commanding officer, CDR Ralph A. Fuoss, and his wing man upon return to NAS Quonset Point. For more, see http://www.navalaviationmuseum.org/history-up-close/squadron-takes-jet-to-sea/

It is not clear when NATC's at-sea FJ-1 carrier-suitability trials were accomplished. I'm all but certain that it was aboard Princeton with these two jets with photo-reference markings. One carried a large "A" on the forward fuselage (probably BuNo 123071,  the last FJ-1 delivered) and the other, a "B" (probably BuNo 120369).

Based on a note to myself from research several years ago at the Washington Navy Yard, I'm pretty sure that the NATC evaluation occurred in August 1948 on the west coast after appropriate beef-ups and modifications were made to the Fury. However, the notes indicate that one of them, "A , suffered a hard landing with a structural wing failure. Nevertheless, these trials cleared VF-5A, then designated VF-51, to go back aboard a carrier, which they did in September.

VF-51 provided jet familiarization in squadron strength with their FJ-1s for at least three west-coast carriers before transitioning to the Grumman F9F-3 in 1949.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Kneeled Deck Parking

Kneeling - it seemed like a good idea at the time. The U.S. Navy's first carrier-based jet, the McDonnell F2D-1/F2H-1 Phantom, had conventional folding wings to maximize the number that could be parked on deck or in the carrier's hangar.
At some point (and this is not an April Fools joke), possibly suggested by Grumman as shown in one of their brochures, the concept of kneeling gained favor:

A "parking dolly" would be inserted under the nose and the nose landing gear retracted so the tail was raised.
Once the pilot had taxied out of the pack while kneeled, the nose gear would be lowered and the parking dolly removed.
The primary benefit was to direct the hot and powerful jet exhaust above airplanes and deck crew. According to the Grumman brochure, there were other benefits as well.
It also made deck parking compact enough that wing folding was not absolutely necessary, reducing structure and system complexity and eliminating the weight, cost, and maintenance burden of that feature.

The Bureau of Aeronautics liked the idea so much that it was a requirement for the next round of Navy carrier-based jets. Ironically, Grumman didn't receive a contract.

The North American FJ-1 Fury's approach was to stick the "kneeling dolly" into a socket in upper strut of the nose landing gear after opening an access door in the forward-facing nose gear door.

 Don Hinton Photos

 I'm not sure what the "guard" was for. It is too flimsy for protection from the arresting gear cables. My guess is that it was to keep the nose wheel from hanging up on something in the wheel well as it pivoted and unpivoted to lay flat. In any event, it appears to have been added after the surviving FJ-1s were assigned to the reserves.

The nose gear was then retracted using a hand pump.
 The Vought F6U Pirate's "Nose Parking Wheel" was inserted into a socket on the bottom of the nose just forward of the nose wheel well.
 Indicative that the primary purpose of kneeling was the redirection of the jet exhaust, kneeling was also required on the McDonnell F2H Banshee procured in the second group of carrier-based jets even though its wings folded, unlike those of the FJ-1 Fury and the F6U Pirate.

Vought considered partially retracting the nose gear to kneel its Model 346A, which became the F7U-1 Cutlass, but decided that since it was tailless, overlapping its nose over the wing of the airplane in front was adequate.

The Banshee's kneeling capability continued in production for a while, as evidenced by this F2H-2N photo.

However, kneeling appears to have rarely, if ever, been utilized operationally and was not required of the next generation of carrier-based jets, including the Grumman F9F Panther.

Monday, February 26, 2018

F-111A vs B - What Drove the Weight?

Another opportunity to set the internet record straight: what drove the F-111's empty weight? Some assume that it was the Navy's carrier-basing requirement. That's not only in question but some of the Air Force requirements penalized the F-111B's empty weight.

It is true that carrier-basing imposes a weight penalty. The FJ-2 Fury weighed approximately 1,000 lbs more than the F-86 on which it was based, resulting it being underpowered with the Sabre's engine. (That was solved by putting an engine with more thrust in the FJ-3.)
However, the major contributors to that penalty are wing folding, high sink-rate landing strength, and tail/catapult hook components and mounting structure. The variable-sweep wing feature required by the Air Force for long-range deployment and high-speed ingress sufficed for wing folding. The Air Force requirement to land on unprepared fields (most runways in Europe were assumed to be cratered in the first day of the war) meant it had a pretty strong landing gear with excellent sink-rate capability. At that time, Air Force airplanes were equipped with tail hooks for emergency landings albeit not to the same strength as a carrier airplane's. Therefore, the F-111A was penalized only by the relatively inconsequential tail hook and nose-tow-launch attach structure (the F-111B's nose landing gear itself was different).

It's not clear which service was responsible for the side-by-side seating arrangement. It is true that the Navy's two-seat jet night fighters, the F3D and the stillborn F6D had side-by-side seating, in part because shortness is a virtue on a carrier and their radar antennas were humongous. However, I've seen no documented evidence that the Navy required side-by-side seating, other than stipulating a maximum length, which the Grumman F-14 accommodated with tandem seating. On the other hand, the Air Force insisted on a heavy and complicated escape capsule that the Navy had no use for. It was best accommodated with side-by-side seating.

The Air Force also insisted on a bomb bay for nuclear stores and its unprepared field requirement (look up California bearing ratio at your leisure) dictated really big, low-pressure tires. Both of those features resulted in big compartments in the airframe that added empty (no pun intended) weight.

However, the biggest Air Force weight penalty was probably imposed by the Mach 1, low-level ingress on a nuclear strike. That results in the need to design for a very high "q" (dynamic pressure) and gust loading of the structure, neither of which were a requirement for a Navy missile-truck loitering on a Combat Air Patrol station at altitude and then dashing off toward an incoming raid. Moreover, given that the Navy's F-111B was not a true fighter, it probably could have been designed for a load factor of 4 rather than 6.5, further saving weight.

It should be noted that one reason for the F-14 being somewhat lighter than the F-111B was that it didn't have any of those Air Force features other than the variable-sweep wing and moreover, the weight of the big Phoenix missiles over and above that of Sparrows was considered an overload from a structural strength standpoint.

Friday, February 16, 2018

One More Time, The Grumman F12F

This is not the Grumman F12F:

It is the Grumman Design 118, proposed to the Navy in December 1955. The Navy rejected it because they didn't want a second development program of a fighter powered by two J79s (the McDonnell F4H was already under contract) but suggested that Grumman go back to the drawing board and propose a single-engine, Sparrow-missile armed fighter to compete with Vought's proposal for a Sparrow-armed "Super" F8U powered by the P&W J75. Grumman did on 4 May 1956.  The Navy rejected it as well in favor of what became the F8U-3 in a letter to Grumman from the Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, RADM James S. Russell, dated 16 July 1956, Subject: Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation Model 118A Airplane; proposal for: "The recent receipt of more up-to-date engine data does not alter the relative standings of your design with others already programmed in the fighter field. The Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics had therefore determined that the introduction of another design using the same engines and comforming to the same general operating requirements cannot be justified or undertaken." Neither Grumman or the Navy ever referred to either of these two proposals as the F12F.

There was a Grumman F12F but the designation was assigned to a production variant of the F11F powered by GE's J79. Grumman had proposed its J79-powered Design 98J to the Navy in January 1955 and then its Design 98L, basically the J with increased wing area, in February. The latter appears to be the basis for the purchase order and contract in August 1955 that the Navy created for two F12F prototypes, which were to be assigned BuNos 143401 and 143402. The following artists concept appeared in the Design 98L report dated 15 February 1955.

This is the US Navy's F12F Characteristics Summary dated 15 August 1955. Although there is no drawing, the dimensions and performance data match the Grumman 98L's including the wing area of 350 square feet and the single J79 engine. (The Model 118 and 118A had a wing area of 595 square feet; the former was to be powered by two J79s and the latter, by one J75.)
It is not clear that the contract was ever issued. It probably wasn't. In any event, it was canceled or terminated in January 1956, probably due to the demonstrated performance of the Vought F8U-1 that first flew in March 1955 and the need to fund the development of a competitor to the F4H. However, the Navy had contracted with Grumman in August 1955 to put the J79 in the last two F11Fs in the first production lot in parallel with their plan to buy the F12F. These were designated F11F-1F and were not canceled, since they would provide the Navy with J79 flight experience desired prior to the beginning of the F4H flight test program.

One or more aviation historians have inadvertently conflated the two programs and incorrectly concluded that the Navy contracted with Grumman for its twin-J79-powered Model 118 and designated it F12F. Another enthusiast subsequently speculated that it was given the popular name Lion, which some have accepted as fact as well. It was not.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The A-12 Avenger II Program - The Fat Lady Finally Sang

I'm embarrassed to say that I neglected to cap this story off when she did back on 24 January 2014. The settlement, according to a Reuters article, was:

"(T)he Navy will receive three EA-18G electronic attack aircraft from Boeing, and a $200 million credit from General Dynamics toward its work on a new DDG-1000 destroyer."

For the Aviation Week report (it may have still been a weekly back then), click here.

For my penultimate post, which has links to prior ones: http://thanlont.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-12-avenger-ii-program-end-is-near.html