Re: “The History of Naval Aviation Timeline”

To Whom it May Concern:

When I discovered through the website of a fellow retired Naval Aviator (www.neptunuslex.com) that your organization had posted a timeline covering the 100 years of naval aviation, with great anticipation I immediately jumped over to see for myself — and frankly, was sorely disappointed with what I found. Anticipating detail found at the Naval History and Heritage Command but in a more “viewer friendly” format, I instead found what I can only hope is a work very much in progress. If so, and since we are all about improvements, some suggestions follow for the more, spare, parts of the timeline:

1930s

  • 31 Mar 31: When a disastrous earthquake shook Nicaragua and destroyed most of the city of Managua, Lexington was ordered from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to assist other Navy and Marine units in relief operations. Early the next afternoon, she inaugurated carrier aircraft relief operations in the U.S. Navy, by launching five planes carrying medical personnel, supplies and provisions to the stricken city.
  • 26 Sep 31: The keel for Ranger, first ship of the U.S. Navy to be designed and constructed as a carrier, was laid at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company.
  • 24 Mar 32: The Army Air Corps, in response to enthusiastic reports from its observers who had witnessed the performance of the Mk XV Norden bombsight in trials against Pittsburgh (Armored Cruiser No. 4) the previous October, requested the Navy to provide it with 25 Mk XV sights. This was the Army’s first commitment for the Navy-developed sight that was to become essential to high altitude precision bombing of World War II.
  • 16 Jun 33: Under the terms of the National Industrial Recovery Act, the President allotted $238 million to the Navy for the construction of new ships, including two aircraft carriers. In less than two months, contracts were awarded for carriers Nos. 5 and 6, eventually commissioned as Yorktown and Enterprise.
  • 30 Jul 35: The first blind landing aboard a carrier was made by Lieutenant Frank Akers, who took off from NAS San Diego in an OJ-2 with hooded cockpit, located Langley underway in an unknown position, and landed aboard catching the number four arresting wire. Lieutenant Akers subsequently received a Distinguished Flying Cross for this flight.
  • 21 Apr 38: The delivery of the XF2A-1 to the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics marked the initiation of full-scale wind tunnel tests to determine means of decreasing aerodynamic drag and thereby increasing high speed. These tests, conducted at the recommendation of Commander Walter S. Diehl, indicated that the speed of the XF2A-1 could be increased 31 m.p.h. over the 277 m.p.h. already achieved, and led to the utilization of this technique in other high-performance aircraft, by both the Army and the Navy. The data thus obtained was also directly applicable to the design of new aircraft.
  • 24 Aug 38: In the first American use of a drone target aircraft in anti-aircraft exercises, the Ranger fired upon a radio-controlled JH-1 making a simulated horizontal bombing attack on the fleet. This not only heralded a new departure in anti-aircraft practice, but also indicated that radio-controlled aircraft could be used as a training device in the fleet.
  • 14 Sep 38: A radio-controlled N2C-2 target drone engaged in a simulated dive-bombing attack against the battleship Utah (Battleship No. 31) in test firing of anti-aircraft battery. The proponents of guided missile development view this as the first demonstration of the air to surface missile.
  • 4 Aug 39: Yorktown and Enterprise made successful launchings of SBC-3 and O3U-3 aircraft from flight deck and hangar deck catapults in the first practical demonstration of launching aircraft from carriers by means of a hydraulic flush-deck catapult and in the first demonstrations of catapulting aircraft from the hangar deck.

1940s

  • 22 Mar 40: Development of guided missiles was initiated at the Naval Aircraft Factory with the establishment of a project for adapting radio controls to a torpedo-carrying TG-2 airplane.
  • 1 Aug 41: A Microwave (AI-10) radar developed by the Radiation Laboratory and featuring a Plan Position Indicator (or PPI) was given its initial airborne test in the XJO-3 at Boston Airport. During the test flights, which continued through 16 October, Radiation Laboratory scientists operated the radar and devised modifications while naval personnel from Project Roger (usually Chief Aviation Pilot C. L. Kullberg) piloted the aircraft. During the tests, surface vessels were detected at ranges up to 40 miles; radar-guided approaches against simulated enemy aircraft were achieved at ranges up to 3.5 miles. Operational radars which were developed from this equipment were capable of searching a circular area and included the ASG for K-type airships and the AN/APS-2 for patrol planes.
  • 10 Dec 41: Aircraft from Enterprise attacked and sank the Japanese submarine I-70 in waters north of the Hawaiian Islands. This was one of the submarines used to scout the Hawaiian area in connection with the Pearl Harbor attack and the first Japanese combatant ship sunk by United States aircraft during World War II.
  • 18 Apr 42: Raid on Tokyo: From a position at sea 668 miles from Tokyo, the carrier Hornet launched 16 B-25’s of the 17th AAF Air Group led by Lieutenant Colonel J. H. Doolittle, USA, for the first attack on the Japanese homeland. The Hornet sortied from Alameda 2 April, made rendezvous with Enterprise and other ships of Task Force 16 (Vice Admiral W. F. Halsey) north of the Hawaiian Islands, and proceeded across the Pacific to the launching point without making port.
  • 25 Jun 42: Preliminary investigation of early warning radar had proceeded to the point that the Coordinator for Research and Development requested development be initiated of airborne early warning radar including automatic airborne relay and associated shipboard processing and display equipment. Interest in early warning radar had arisen when Admiral King remarked to Dr. Vannevar Bush, head of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, that Navy ships need to see over the hill-i.e. beyond the line of sight. This was the start of Project CADILLAC, the first AEW system (TBM-3W) which would be deployed in Aug 1945 in Ranger.
  • 1 Aug 42: A J4F Widgeon, piloted by Ensign Henry C. White of Coast Guard Squadron 212, based at Houma, La., scored the first Coast Guard kill of an enemy submarine with the sinking of the U-166 off the passes of the Mississippi.
  • 16 Nov 42: Naval aviation’s first night fighter squadron, VMF(N)-531, was established at MCAS Cherry Point with Lieutenant Colonel Frank H. Schwable in command. After initial training with SNJs and SB2A-4s, the squadron was assigned twin-engined PV-1 aircraft equipped with British Mark IV type radar.
  • 7 Jan 43: Development of the first naval aircraft to be equipped with a turbojet engine was initiated with the issuance of a Letter of Intent to McDonnell Aircraft Corporation for engineering, development, and tooling for two VF airplanes. Two Westinghouse 19-B turbojet engines were later specified and the aircraft was designated XFD-1. It became the prototype for the FH-1 Phantom jet fighter.
  • 16 Oct 43: The Navy accepted its first helicopter, a Sikorsky YR-4B (HNS-1), at Bridgeport, Connecticut, following a 60 minute acceptance test flight by Lieutenant Commander F. A. Erickson, USCG.
  • 30 Nov 43: On her first operational assignment, the Martin Mars, in the hands of Lieutenant Commander W. E. Coney and crew of 16, took off from Patuxent River carrying 13,000 pounds of cargo that was delivered at Natal, Brazil, in a nonstop flight of 4,375 miles and of 28 hours 25 minutes duration.
  • 24 Feb 44: The first detection of a submerged enemy submarine by the use of MAD gear was made by Catalinas of VP-63, on a MAD barrier patrol of the approaches to the Strait of Gibraltar. They attacked the U-761 with retrorockets, and with the assistance of two ships and aircraft from two other squadrons, sank it.
  • 4 Jun 44: Capture of the U-505 –off Cape Blanco, Africa, a hunter-killer group (Captain D. V. Gallery), composed of the escort carrier Guadalcanal, with VC-8 aboard, and five destroyer escorts, carried out a determined attack on the German submarine U-505, forcing it to surface. Boats from the destroyer escort Pillsbury (DD 133) and the carrier reached the submarine before scuttling charges could accomplish their purpose and the U.S. Navy found itself with a prize of war.
  • 11 June-10 August 44: Occupation of the Marianas– carrier aircraft had accounted for 110,000 tons of enemy shipping sunk and 1,223 aircraft destroyed. In this campaign, groups of the fast carrier force retired in turn to advanced fleet bases for brief periods of rest and replenishment, thus initiating a practice that became standard operating procedure during all future extended periods of action.
  • 12 Jun 44: In the first deployment of a guided missile unit into a combat theater, elements of Special Task Air Group 1 arrived in the Russell Islands in the South Pacific. And 27 Sep 44: Guided Missiles were used in the Pacific as Special Task Air Group 1, from its base on Stirling in the Treasury Islands, began a combat demonstration of the TDR assault drone. In the initial attack, against antiaircraft emplacements in a beached merchant ship defending Kahili airstrip on South Bougainville, two out of four TDR’s struck the target ship.
  • 2 May 45: First Helicopter Rescue–Lieutenant August Kleisch, USCG, flying a HNS-1 helicopter rescued 11 Canadian airmen that were marooned in northern Labrador about 125 miles from Goose Bay.
  • 21 July 46: In the first U.S. test of the adaptability of jet aircraft to shipboard operation, an XFD-1 Phantom piloted by Lieutenant Commander James Davidson, made successful landings and takeoffs (deck launched without catapults) on board Franklin D. Roosevelt.
  • 29 Jan 47: From a position 660 miles off the Antarctic Continent, Philippine Sea launched to Little America the first of six R4D transport aircraft which she had ferried from Norfolk as a part of Operation Highjump. The first plane off, which was also the first carrier takeoff for an R4D, was piloted by Commander William M. Hawkes and carried Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd as a passenger.
  • 9 Nov 48: Navy transport squadrons, transferred from the Pacific to assist in Operation Vittles, began flying cargo into Berlin.

1950s

  • 3 Jul 50: Carrier aircraft went into action in Korea for the first time. Valley Forge, with Air Group 5, and HMS Triumph operating in the Yellow Sea, launched strikes on airfields, supply lines, and transportation facilities in and around Pyongyang, northwest of Seoul. This was the first combat test for the Grumman F9F Panther and the Douglas AD Skyraider. It was also the occasion for the first Navy kills in aerial combat during the war and the first shoot-down by a Navy jet, as F9F pilots of VF-51, Lieutenant (jg) L. H. Plog and Ensign E. W. Brown shot down two Yak-9’s on the first strike over Pyongyang.
  • 9 Nov 50: The initial strikes against bridges crossing the Yalu River at Sinuiju were opposed by enemy MiG-15’s. In this, the first encounter of Navy jets with MiG’s, the Commanding Officer of VF-111, Lieutenant Commander W. T. Amen, in an F9F Panther, scored one kill and became the first Navy pilot in history to shoot down a jet aircraft.
  • 2 Apr 51: Two F9F-2B Panthers of VF-191, each loaded with four 250- and two 100-pound general purpose bombs, were catapulted from Princeton for an attack on a railroad bridge near Songjin. This was the first Navy use of a jet fighter as a bomber.
  • 1 May 51: In the first and only use of aerial torpedoes in Korean combat, eight Skyraiders and 12 Corsairs from Princeton made an attack on the Hwachon Dam. Destruction and damage to the flood gates released the waters of the reservoir into the Pukhan River and prevented Communist forces from making an easy crossing.
  • 7 Aug 51: The Navy’s supersonic research plane, the D-558-2 Skyrocket, piloted by Douglas test pilot William B. Bridgeman, set an unofficial world speed record of 1,238 m.p.h. over Muroc, Calif.
  • 14 Jul 52: The keel of Forrestal , first of the 59,900-ton aircraft carriers, was laid at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, Newport News, Va.
  • 11 Sep 53: In its first successful interception, a Sidewinder air-to-air missile, test fired at the Naval Ordnance Test Station, Inyokern, sent an F6F drone down in flames.
  • 1 Apr 54: The first transcontinental flights in less than 4 hours were made by three pilots of VF-21 in F9F Cougars in a 2,438-mile flight from San Diego to Floyd Bennett Field, N.Y., with aerial refueling over Hutchinson, Kans. Lieutenant Commander F. X. Brady made the crossing in 3 hours 45 minutes 30 seconds, Lieutenant (jg) J. C. Barrow took 1 minute and 19 seconds longer, and Lieutenant W. Rich made it in 3 hours 48 minutes even. Official timers were not present.
  • 10 Jan 56: Airborne Early Warning Wing, Pacific Captain E. C. Renfro commanding, was established at NAS, Barbers Point, to supervise and direct units flying defensive patrols protecting the continental United States and Hawaii against surprise attack.
  • 21 Aug 56: An F8U-1 Crusader, piloted by Commander R. W. Windsor, captured the Thompson Trophy with a new national speed record of 1015.428 m.p.h. over the 15-kilometer course at Naval Ordnance Test Station, China Lake, Calif. This production model carrier fighter, equipped during its record performance with full armament of 20 mm cannon and dummy ammunition, was the first operationally equipped jet plane in history to fly faster than 1,000 m.p.h.
  • 31 Oct 56: Seven Navy men landed in an R4D Skytrain on the ice at the South Pole–the first to stand at the spot since Capt. Robert F. Scott of the Royal Navy reached it in January 1912. The seven men were: Rear Admiral G. J. Dufek, CTF 43 and ComNavSupFor, Antarctica, Captain D. L. Cordiner, C.O., Air Development Squadron 6, Captain Wm. M. Hawkes, co-pilot, Lieutenant Commander C. S. Shinn, pilot, Lieutenant John Swadener, navigator, J. P. Strider, AD2, crew chief, and William Cumbie, AT2, radioman. The party remained at the pole for 49 minutes setting up navigational aids to assist the future delivery of materials and equipment for constructing a scientific observation station at the spot
  • 6 May 57: The ZPG-2W, an early-warning airship with a large radar antenna mounted within the envelope, made its first flight at Akron, Ohio.
  • 6 Jun 57: Two F8U Crusaders and two A3D Skywarriors flew nonstop from the carrier Bon Homme Richard off the California coast to the Saratoga off the east coast of Florida. This, the first carrier-to-carrier transcontinental flight, was completed by the F8Us in 3 hours 28 minutes and by the A3Ds in 4 hours 1 minute.
  • 16 Jul 57: An F8U-1P Crusader (bureau number 144608), piloted by Major J. H. Glenn, Jr., USMC, broke the transcontinental speed record with a crossing from Los Alamitos, Calif., to Floyd Bennett Field, N.Y. in 3 hours 22 minutes 50.05 seconds for an average speed of 723.517 m.p.h. This was the first upper atmosphere supersonic flight from the west coast to the east coast.
  • 12 Aug 57: An F3D Skynight, with Lieutenant Commander Don Walker aboard, was landed on Antietam, at sea off Pensacola, by the Automatic Carrier Landing System. This landing began the first shipboard test of the system designed to bring planes aboard in all weather conditions without help from the pilot. In the period 12-20 August more than 50 fully automatic landings were completed.
  • 4 Feb 57: The keel of the world’s first nuclear powered aircraft carrier, Enterprise, was laid at Newport News.
  • 29 Aug 58: The Lockheed Electra, selected in April as the plane most closely meeting requirements for long range antisubmarine warfare, made its first flight in the external configuration of the P3V-1.

1960s

  • 11 Aug 60: In the first recovery of an object after it had been in orbit, a Navy HRS-3 helicopter, operating from the Haiti Victory of the Pacific Missile Range, recovered the instrumented capsule discharged by Discoverer XIII on its 17th pass around the earth. The capsule was located about 330 miles northwest of Honolulu by Air Force planes which directed the ship toward the spot. Recovery was made less than three hours after the capsule hit the water.
  • 21 Oct 60: First flight of the E-2 Hawkeye, which 50 years later, remains the longest active Navy aircraft program and one of the longest production runs for all US aircraft.
  • 5 May 61: Commander Alan B. Shepard became the first American to go into space as he completed a flight reaching 116 miles high and 302 miles down range from Cape Canaveral. His space capsule, Freedom 7, was launched by a Redstone rocket and recovered at sea by an HUS-1 helicopter of Marine Corps Squadron HMR(L)-262 which transported it and Commander Shepard to Lake Champlain.
  • 28 Aug 61: Lieutenant Hunt Hardisty, pilot, and Lieutenant Earl H. DeEsch, RIO, flew an F4H Phantom II over the 3-kilometer course at Holloman AFB, N. Mex., and averaged 902.769 m.p.h. for a new low altitude world speed record.
  • 10 May 62: A Sparrow III fired from an F4H-1 scored a direct hit in a head-on attack on a Regulus II missile while both were at supersonic speed. The interception, made in the test range of the Naval Air Missile Center at Point Mugu, was the first successful head-on attack made by an air-launched weapon on a surface launched guided missile.
  • 23 Oct 62: Light Photographic Squadron 62, which had been flying photo reconnaissance over the missile sites in Cuba since the 15th, flew the first low-level photo mission over Cuban territory. For its outstanding accomplishment during this crisis, in the period 15 October-26 November 1962, this squadron was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation which was presented personally by the President on 26 November 1962.
  • 3 Oct 64: Operation Sea Orbit ended as Enterprise and Long Beach arrived at Norfolk and Bainbridge reached Charleston, S.C. This task force, the world’s first composed entirely of nuclear powered ships, left Gibraltar on 31 July, sailed down the Atlantic and around Africa, across the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and around Cape Horn, completing a 65 day and 30,216 nautical mile round-the-world cruise without taking on either fuel or provisions.
  • 17 Dec 64: Commander T. G. Ellyson, Naval Aviator No. 1, was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame at Dayton, Ohio–first naval officer to be so honored.
  • 26 Aug 65: The barrier air patrol over the North Atlantic ended as an EC-121J Warning Star of VW-11 landed at Keflavik, Iceland. The landing also signalled a change in which a new and advanced radar system took over from the aircraft and men of naval aviation who for the past 10 years had maintained constant vigil over the northern approaches to the American continent.
  • 26 Feb 67: The first application of aerial mining in Vietnam occurred when seven A-6As, led by Commander A.H. Barrie of VA-35’s Black Panthers, planted mine fields in the mouths of the Song Ca and Song Giang rivers. This operation was aimed at stopping coastal barges from moving supplies into immediate areas.
  • 20 Jul 69: Apollo 11 Astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, a naval aviator, is the first person to set foot on the moon.

1970s

  • 21 Dec 70: The F-14A aircraft, piloted by Grumman test pilots Robert Smyth and William Miller, made its first flight at Grumman’s Calverton, Long Island Plant.
  • 6 Jan 71: The Marine Corps/Navy’s first AV-8 Harrier was accepted by Major General Homer S. Hill, USMC, at Dunsfold, England. The Harrier was the first vertical take-off and landing (V/STOL) fixed-wing aircraft ever accepted for use as a combat aircraft by U.S. armed forces.
  • 31 Dec 71: During 1971 HAL-3, nicknamed the “Seawolves,” the only light attack helicopter squadron in the Navy, flew 34,746 hours in squadron aircraft in support of their mission to provide quick reaction armed helicopter close air support for all naval forces and SVN forces operating in the southern part of SVN. During their flights in 1971, HAL-3 expended 16,939,268 rounds of 7.62 mm ammunition; 96,696 2.75 inch rockets; 32,313 .40 mm grenade rounds; and 2,414,096 rounds of .50 cal. machine gun ammunition in carrying out their assigned missions. HAL-3 lost six aircraft during 1971.
  • 10 May 72: Operation Linebacker I, the heavy strike of targets in most of NVN, evolved and lasted until restrictions on operations above 20_ N were imposed 22 October. It was the most intense air-to-air combat day of the entire war. Navy flyers shot down eight MiGs. An F-4 Phantom II, from VF-96 on board Constellation, while engaged in aerial combat over Haiphong shot down three MiGs for the first triple downing of enemy MiGs by one plane during the war. Lieutenant Randy Cunningham was the pilot and Lieutenant (jg) William Driscoll was the RIO of the F-4. These three MiG downings, coupled with their 19 January and 8 May downing of two MiGs, made them the first MiG aces of the Vietnam War. Three other kills were scored by planes of VF-96 and one by VF-92 off Constellation and one by VF-51 off Coral Sea. During the five and one-half month period of Linebacker I, the Navy contributed more than 60 percent of the total sorties in NVN, with 60 percent of this effort in the “panhandle”, two large regions between Hanoi and the DMZ.

Well, there’s more — a helluva lot more; more than will likely and truthfully be recognized and honored in limited fora.  Still, one expects better than stereotypical “highlights”  and an apparent randomized selection.  How could you ignore almost an entire decade (1930’s) during which the ground work for the war winning naval air force sprang in the 40’s?  How could you ignore all that went on in the 50’s as we moved from props to jets (mostly), straight decks to angled and from crude electronics into integrated systems that permitted true all weather/day-night operations the likes of which no other navy aspiring to carrier aviation has been able to conduct?  And if your intent is to highlight gender/genetic firsts, how the blazes did you miss this?  One hundred years covers a lot of territory — there’s a terrific story for the telling, so let’s not fumble the ball out of the gate by putting up a timeline calling out highlights of naval aviation that is so glaring in its paucity of content.

Remember and recall the sacrifices made by all those who made this extraordinary capability a signature of this great nation – and let’s get it right for all who wear the Wings of Gold.

Warmest regards,

Steeljaw Scribe

Article Series - Centenary of Naval Aviation (1911-2011)

  1. Flightdeck Friday: Smoke and the Battle of Midway
  2. Flightdeck Friday: RF-8 Crusaders and BLUE MOON
  3. Flightdeck Friday: Midway POV – Wade McClusky
  4. Flightdeck Friday: 23 October 1972 and The End of Linebacker I
  5. Former VFP-62 CO and DFC Recipient, CAPT William Ecker, USN-Ret Passes Away
  6. CAPT John E. “Jack” Taylor, USN-Ret.
  7. Flightdeck Friday: USS MACON Added to National Register of Historical Places
  8. Tailhook Association and Association of Naval Aviation
  9. Flightdeck Friday: Speed and Seaplanes – The Curtiss CR-3 and R3C-2
  10. Flightdeck Friday: A Family Remembers a Father, Naval Officer and Former Vigilante B/N
  11. Out of the Box Thinking and Execution 68 Years Ago: The Doolittle Raid
  12. The ENTERPRISE Petition – A Gentle Reminder
  13. USS Enterprise (CVAN/CVN-65) At Fifty
  14. A Golden Anniversary: The Hawkeye At 50
  15. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy
  16. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part II)
  17. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part III)
  18. Reflections on the E-2 Hawkeye’s 50th Anniversary
  19. An Open Letter to “The 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation Foundation”
  20. U.S. Naval Aviation – 100 Years
  21. Doolittle’s Raiders: Last Surviving Bomber Pilot of WWII Doolittle Raid, Dies at 93
  22. More Naval Aviation Heritage Aircraft (But Still No Hawkeye)
  23. Naval Aviation Centennial: Neptune’s Atomic Trident (1950)
  24. Naval Aviation Centennial: One Astronaut, A Future Astronaut and Reaching for New Heights
  25. Flightdeck Friday Special Edition: The Space Shuttle – Thirty Years of Dreams, Sweat and Tears
  26. Flightdeck Friday – Postings from the Naval Aviation Museum
  27. Saturday Matinee: US Naval Aviation – the First 100 Years
  28. National Museum of Naval Aviation – Some Thoughts and A Call to Action
  29. Flightdeck Friday – 100 Years of Naval Aviation and the USCG
  30. Guest Post: THE U.S. NAVY’S FLEET PROBLEMS OF THE THIRTIES — A Dive Bomber Pilot’s Perspective
  31. This Date in Naval Aviaiton History: Sept 18, 1962 – Changing Designators
  32. Centennial Of Naval Aviation – The Shadow Warriors

2 Comments

  1. Andy (JADAA)

    SJS, did you ever hear back from them? They certainly have not responded to my email, the contents of which I posted over at Lex’s.

    VR

  2. Andy:

    Negative — just a chorus of crickets… :/
    w/r, SJS

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