All posts in “Chronicles of Naval Aviation”

Of Skyhawks, ‘Saders and Sea Stories – TINS

F-8_Crusaders_and_A-4C_Skyhawks_of_VC-7_in_flight_in_1969

If, like your humble scribe, you spent anytime turning the pages of the Tailhook Association’s quarterly pub, The Hook, between 1991 and 2011, you undoubtedly paused for Jack Woodul’s column “The Further Adventures of Youthly Puresome” drawn from his deep reservoir of stories from his time flying the A-4 and F-8  – and other sundry endeavors.  They were (are) great stories and something those of us who came along in the immediate aftermath of Vietnam and before the PC police hijacked the narrative can relate and attest to.   In his own words:

We Naval Aviators of my ancient era occupy a shared space and time that was unique, heroic, funny, outrageous, and tragic. We circled the wagons against a society that repudiated us, picked off a bunch, and said frabb anyone that couldn’t take a joke. We share a common bond that I am unwilling to let perish when I am hustled off to the Non-PC Gulag.

Those stories, regrettably, ended after 2011 and eventually disappeared from the web, leaving me to resort every once in a while to make the trip to the basement, pullout the box(es) of old Hook magazines and pull a random issue for a YP fix.  And given the current baleful look SWMBO casts at my library of Hook magazines, I fear for their continued existence on this earth, at least in current form and not recycling in a dump someplace.  It is therefore with no small amount of joy to note that YP is available once again at a new, dedicated site:  http://youthlypuresome.com/  – and we’ve added it to the roll over there on the left under “Naval Aviation.”

BTW – these stories also formed the kernel of an idea with YHS that rattled around in his brain bucket until the blogging platform arrived.  So – while I count Lex, Sal, Xformed and Far East Cynic as my motivators for getting into blogging, it was through the auspices of The Hook and “Youthly Pursesome” that kicked my tail into writing outside of work or the classroom.  

Welcome back YP – we missed ya!

 

CDRS_Moon2

“Commander’s Moon”

Easy folks — completely SFW here ;)

So Scribe — what exactly do they mean by a “Commander’s Moon” ?

Well, strictly defined, a “commander’s moon” is:

“A night lighting condition with clear skies and a large (late phase) moon, to provide optimum lighting condition for night flights, and especially night traps. Favored by, and planned for by, O-4s and above to get their night requirements ‘X.'”

Yet, as they say, a picture (or two) is worth a thousand words:

No fancy exposure tricks or anything like that — you can clearly see your shadow tonight with a full moon that by all accounts, might even coax a 2- or 3-star back into the cockpit.  Maybe.  That far horizon is 30+ miles away and the lights of DC are well off the frame to the left – you are looking off to the vast, semi-habitable spaces of Prince William Forest and Quantico (and across one of the several Civil War era battlefields in the area, this one just happens to be a few steps from our front porch):

Somewhere, someone may actually be enjoying night CQ (or not) — me?

Had enough practice bleeding for one lifetime, but I’m still game for a day BAGEX… ;)

This Date in Naval Aviaiton History: Sept 18, 1962 – Changing Designators

Quick – F4H or F-110?

Depending on the markings and the date, it could have been either – or none.  Despite the fact that 15 years earlier, the Department of Defense (and departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force) were created by the National Security Act of 1947, the three Services continued with their separate methodologies of aircraft designations.  Hence, the Phantom II was known as the F4H by the Navy and Marines while as the F-110 by the Air Force.  The Navy’s system, in effect from 29 March 1922, rolled up the mission and manufacturer (including design number) in the designator or in detail:(status prefix)(Type)(Manufacturer type sequence)(manufacturer) – (configuration sequence number)(special purpose suffix)- hence the F4H broke out as Fighter, 4th design from McDonnell while the first land-based AEW aircraft, a variation of the Army Air Force Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress, was the PB-1W: Patrol (P)+Boeing (B)-First configuration (1) for Early Warning (W).  Since the aircraft wasn’t originally designed for AEW and a modification for AEW from an existing platform, the W fell into the special purpose suffix.  Conversely, the first purpose built AEW aircraft, was (briefly) known as the W2F-1 (AEW+2nd type+Grumman – 1st sequence)

Over the course of the forty-year run of the designation system, it led to some unofficial, and colorful nicknames that included the:

  • “Ford” – Douglas F4D Skyray

  • “Willie Victor” – Lockheed WV-1 Warning Star

  • “Fudd” – Grumman WF-1 Tracer (shortened from “Willie Fudd”)

  • “All Three Dead” – Douglas A3D Skywarrior (which was also known in ‘polite’ circles as the Whale)

  • “SPAD” – from the Douglas AD Skyraider

As elegant as the nomenclature system may have been, to outsiders it was prone to confusion.  Not helping the matter were instances where even in the naval services, the same platform had different designators (e.g., the Navy’s version of Kaman’s HH-43 Huskie was designated the HUK-1 while the Marine’s was HOK-1).

HUK? HOK? HH-43?

Presumably SecDef McNamara had his fill while being briefed on the F4H/F-110 and said “enough” (or words to that effect) and on this date in 1962 a joint Army-Navy-Air Force regulation was issued establishing a uniform system of designating military aircraft similar to that previously in use by the Air Force. By it, all existing aircraft were re-designated using a letter, dash, number, and letter to indicate in that order, the basic mission or type of aircraft, its place in the series of that type, and its place in the series of changes in its basic design.  Some Navy aircraft, like the F8U, F9F, F4H and A3D made relatively straightforward changes (F-8, F-9, F-4 and A-3 respectively) while others ended up with new sequence numbers (but are still referred to today by their old ones – e.g., the F3D/F-10 and F4D/F-6).  USAF aircraft kept their pre-62 designations (F-101, B-52, etc.).  Of course, like any regulation hat purports to lock-down configuration – there will be exceptions, and there were more than one or two where the 1962 designation system was concerned – here are a few:

Recce crew – quick ID’s?

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

Naval Aviation Centennial: One Astronaut, A Future Astronaut and Reaching for New Heights

Forty-nine years ago – within one day of each other, one astronaut headed for orbit as America’s first to circle the Earth and a future astronaut opened a series of record attempts in the McDonell F4H Phantom:

Images Courtesy Rex Features & NASA

20 Feb 1962: Lieutenant Colonel John H. Glenn. USMC, in Mercury spacecraft Friendship 7, was launched from Cape Canaveral by an Atlas rocket. His three turns about the earth were the first U.S. manned orbital flights. He was recovered some 166 miles east of Grand Turk Island in the Bahamas by the destroyer Noa (DD 841) and then delivered by helicopter to the carrier Randolph.

F4H-1 Phantom (BuNo 149449) Image Courtesy Boeing Co.

21 Feb 1962: The F4H-1 Phantom II established new world records for climb to 3,000 and 6,000 meters with times of 34.52 and 48.78 seconds. Lieutenant Commander J. W. Young and Commander D. M. Longton piloted the plane on its respective record flights at NAS Brunswick, Maine.

Glenn completed three orbits reaching a maximum altitude (apogee) of approximately 162 statute miles and an orbital velocity of approximately 17,500 miles per hour. Glenn would later go on to be the only Mercury astronaut to fly on the Shuttle (Discovery/STS-95).

LCDR John W. Young, wrapping up his assignment to the Naval Air Test Center, went on to set another time-to-climb record flying out of Point Mugu reached an altitude of 3000 meters (9843 feet) in 34.523 seconds. Three more time-to-climb records were set at NAS Brunswick on 3 Apr 62, reaching an altitude of 25,000 meters (82,021 feet) in 230.440 seconds. Young was selected as part of the second cohort of astronauts later in 1962 (while MO in VF-143) and went on to be the first person to fly 6 times in space – Gemini 3 (first flight of the Gemini spacecraft), Gemini 10, Apollo 10 (CM pilot), Apollo 16 (CDR), STS-1 (Columbia’s and the Shuttle’s first flight) and STS-9 (first Spacelab flight).

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

U.S. Naval Aviation – 100 Years

18 January 1911: At 11:01 a.m., Eugene Ely, flying the same Curtiss pusher used to take off from Birmingham (CL 2), landed on a specially built platform aboard the armored cruiser Pennsylvania (Armored cruiser No. 4) at anchor in San Francisco Bay. At 11:58 he took off and returned to Selfridge Field, San Francisco, completing the earliest demonstration of the adaptability of aircraft to shipboard operations.


And so it began. Fragile constructs of wire, canvas and wood, given flight by human guts and ingenuity would give way to immensely more powerful creatures flying from the decks of leviathans that themselves, were once the sole provence of fantasy writers. In so doing, the margins of naval warfare were stretched to fantastic margins and capabilities. Powerful naval forces, centered on aircraft carriers and their embarked airwings and supported by land- and sea-based maritime patrol would dominate broad swaths of the mightiest ocean barely thirty years later. Fifty years hence supersonic fighters would lift from the deck of the first nuclear-powered carrier while Naval Aviators prepared for the first manned spaceflight. And today – 100 years on, the edge of the envelope continues to be stretched and pushed as Naval Aviation in all its forms – carrier-based, rotary winged and maritime patrol provide critical and flexible options to our nation’s leaders – in times of peace and war.

As part of the celebrations and observances for this milestone, there will be regular posts based on this theme here and at other sites – like that hosted by the Naval Institute and of course, the official site for the celebration. Check the “Centennial of Naval Aviation: 1911-2011″ block over on the right for updates and links to special events. Over at the U.S. Naval Air Forces Facebook site you will find additional information, including a growing collection of aircraft which are receiving “retro” paint schemes based on period aircraft (personal favorites are the tri-color schemes from 1944).

More to follow…

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

Magnetron2

Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy

Project CADILLAC (Part I)

Ed note: Everything has a beginning and that beginning is usually quite humble compared to present conditions.  Consider, a small spring at the headwaters of the Madison River in Montana is the source of the mighty Missouri River which itself empties into ol’ man river — the Mississippi, all of which drain the better part of the country described in the Louisiana Purchase.  Likewise, current day Airborne Early Warning and battle management, as we know it, sprang from humble beginnings and the collaborative efforts of the private and public sectors and borne in the urgency of war.  Herewith then, the story of that effort is told as we begin the observance of the Hawkeye’s 50th Anniversary. – SJS

There is an arrogance permeating our culture such that it is widely believed that the (fill in the blank with the latest technological wonder) is (1) fairly recent in invention and (2) anything that preceded was hopelessly crude and unsophisticated, if it even existed or could have been possibly conceived in an earlier age. Serious students of history, particularly technological history,  will assert though, the degree of inventiveness and technical complexity evidenced by our predecessors is indeed extraordinary, especially when put in context of the extent of knowledge in a particular field at the time. The story of airborne radar, and airborne early warning radar in particular, is one of the signatory lessons in this vein.

Radar was not unknown in the early days of WWII – indeed the story of how the CHAIN HOME radar stations, linked to coordination centers who in turn guided and directed Leigh-Mallory’s “big wing” fighter tactics is well known.  The US Navy was already working to incorporate radar into its surface ships to permit gunnery under all weather/day-night conditions and meet navigational needs.  Radar “expanded the battle space” (in the current parlance) but soon encountered problems – not the least of which was the curvature of the earth and the haven it provided to low flying aircraft.  The solution, raise the radar antenna by mounting the radar to an aircraft, was fraught with a number of challenges.

Chief among those hurdles was the radar wave itself.  The early search radars were low frequency (HF-band) with a long PRF (pulse repetition frequency) which provided the necessary range and were generally easy to generate. The down side was the requirement for large, very large antennas.  Even later radars with parabolic antennas and operating at higher frequencies still tended to be very large.  Airborne radar would need to be a microwave radar that provided high power with a smaller antenna.  Simple in thought, difficult in execution.  Yet efforts were underway on both sides of the Atlantic to meet this problem.  The solution would be a device called a magnetron – specifically, a cavity magnetron.

Simple two-pole magnetrons were developed in the 1920s by Albert Hull at General Electric’s Research Laboratories (Schenectady, New York), as an outgrowth of his work on the magnetic control of vacuum tubes in an attempt to work around the patents held by Lee DeForest on electrostatic control. The two-pole magnetron, also known as a split-anode magnetron, had relatively low efficiency. The cavity version (properly referred to as a resonant-cavity magnetron), the path British scientists and engineers were working, proved to be far more useful.

In 1940, at the University of Birmingham in the UK, John Randall and Dr. Harry Boot produced a working prototype similar to Hollman’s cavity magnetron, but added liquid cooling and a stronger cavity. Randall and Boot soon managed to increase its power output 100-fold. Instead of giving up on the magnetron due to its frequency inaccuracy (in essence, what the Luftwaffe did), they instead sampled the output signal and synced their receiver to whatever frequency was actually being generated. An early 6kW version, built by GECRL (Wembley, UK) and given to the U.S. government in September 1940, was called “the most valuable cargo ever brought to our shores” (see Tizard Mission). At the time the most powerful equivalent microwave-producer available in the US (a klystron- basically a linear beam tube) had a power of only ten watts.

In the meantime, back in the US, work was underway on electronic relays as a means of extending the range of radar. The idea was to take multiple radars, deploy them at the limit of line-of-sight ranges and link those images into one centralized picture on the flagship. That line-of-sight range, of course, could be extended if the extended range platforms, or pickets, were airborne. As early as 14 Aug 1942, the MIT Radiation Lab (MIT-RL) demonstrated this capability using television equipment borrowed from RCA (actually with assistance from National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) via a contract negotiated with RCA) and an experimental radar on the roof of another building. Further development and refinement led to the successful relay of radar signals to a receiver at East Boston Airport in May 1943 from an aircraft operating over Nantucket Island at 10,000 ft at a range of about 50 nm. In July 1943, the relay radar, the AN/APS-14 was demonstrated to naval officers at the East Boston Airport and a short film developed for COMINCH which was subsequently followed with a request to extend the range to 100 nm.

By the end of December 1943 even with the successful extension of range to 100 nm, however, there was no decision to proceed with production of the AN/APS-14 and there was movement to cancel the project. The following month though, the Navy proposed to develop an AEW system that had as part of the set-up, a high-power relay teamed with a high-power, microwave radar (enabled by the British magnetron). MIT-RL was awarded the task and Project CADILLAC was underway.

To Be Continued

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

untitled

Flightdeck Friday – MIA Edition: WWII Navy Aircrew Returns Home

Last year, a small group of us spent the better part of the summer and fall writing on the Solomons Campaign.  That drawnout slugfest in the southwest Pacific receives little notice beyond Guadalcanal and some discussions regarding Santa Cruz.  The purpose of that exercise (here and over at USNI’s blog) was to surface the larger – and smaller aspects of that entire campaign and put it in context of the overall Pacific theater campaign.  Well, in the (e)mail this past week came a small piece of that campaign as relates to the Bougainville Invasion from November through December 1943:

The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of two servicemen, missing in action from World War II, have been identified and are being returned to their families for burial with full military honors.  Navy Lt. Francis B. McIntyre of Mitchell, S.D., will be buried on Sept. 29, and Aviation Radioman Second Class William L. Russell of Cherokee, Okla., will be buried on Oct. 1. Both men will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

On Nov. 10, 1943, the two men took off on a bombing and strafing mission in their SBD-5 Dauntless dive bomber from Munda Field, New Georgia, in the Solomon Islands.  Witnesses last saw the aircraft flying at low altitude through a large explosion on an enemy airfield on Buka Island, Papua New Guinea.  None reported seeing the crash of the aircraft itself.  The American Graves Registration Service searched numerous South Pacific Islands in 1949 in an effort to gather data about aircraft crashes or missing Americans.  The team was unable to find any useful information, and failed to recover any American remains in the area.  A board of review declared both men unrecoverable.  In 2007, a Papuan national found a World War II crash site near the Buka airport, which was reported to U.S. officials.  In May 2008, specialists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), working with the country’s national museum, investigated the crash site but were unable to excavate it because of inclement weather.  Local officials turned over human remains, McIntyre’s identification tag and other military-related items which had been recovered earlier.  After examining the remains in 2008 and 2009, JPAC determined that no excavation would be required since the two sets of remains were nearly complete.

Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC used dental comparisons for both men and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used mitochondrial DNA which matched a sample from Russell’s relatives and DNA extracted from a hat belonging to McIntyre.

At the end of World War II, the U.S. government was unable to recover, identify and bury approximately 79,000 individuals. Today, more than 72,000 Americans remain unaccounted-for from the conflict.”

But wait — there’s more…

AirSols, formerly the Cactus Air Force (and truth be known, always thought of as such) had grown from a ragged band of Navy and Army Air Force fighters and attack aircraft hanging precariously to Henderson Field on Guadalcanal to large force spread across several airfields throughout the Allied occupied Solomon islands.  Working in concert (though not always coordinated) with carrier-based aircraft, surface ships and subs, they choked off Japanese transport and supply throughout the Solomons, waged an aggressive campaign against the major Japanese facility at Rabul and provided support to amphib and shore operations as needed.  And this November, as the Solomons campaign was drawing to a close, it would be needed in the coming invasion of Bougainville.  The first forces had gone ashore on 1 November, and following a botched attempt to interdict and destroy the American beachhead at Empress Bay and a devastating strike against a heavy cruiser force the following day, the Japanese Navy was not going to factor.  The Americans with their ANZUS allies were gaining local air superiority and set about sealing that by attacking fortified airfields like Rabul and other outlying fields.  One such field was located at the northern end of Bougainville – Buka.  Begun by the Australians, after the Japanese invaded and took the island in March 1942, they set about expanding it to accommodate the G4M1 Betty medium bomber, which, along with other aircraft like the Kate, they hoped to control the littorals.

Buka airfield’s turn came on 10 November 1943.  A composite strike group of 34 TBF Avengers (armed with 2,000 lb bombs with a 1/10 sec delay) and 55 SBD Dauntlesses, carrying 1,000 pounders set for instantaneous detonation would be escorted by another 54 fighters.  Distance to cover would be about 230-235nm with most resistance expected to be in the form of AA fire.  Manning up a VC-24 SBD-5 Dauntless (BuNo 35391)was the crew consisting of the pilot, LT Francis B. ( ‘Riley’ ) McIntyre from Mitchell, South Dakota and his radioman/gunner Aviation Radioman Second Class William L. Russell, of Cherokee, Oklahoma. VC-24 had been converted to an all SBD squadron and kept ashore when the CVL they were destined for, USS Bellau Wood (CVL-24) was assigned to the Gilberts invasion.  Riley, the youngest of five brothers, was raised by them after their mother passed away in 1924 and their father in 1934.  While he was in the Pacific, his  brother John, was flying B-17s with the 8th AF in England (he would later die over Germany) and another brother, Joe, who was the lead bombardier with a B-26 squadron in the 9th Air Force.  Mathew was also serving in the Army and Don had joined a Navy CB unit.  Today he would be leading his division in the attack.

By all accounts it was a highly successful attack — beginning at 0810L the SBDs did an admirable job at taking out most of the AA batteries early in the attack and the runway would be put out of commission with 7 craters (from the delayed fuze bombs).  An ammo dump was also destroyed along with many buildings around the field.  In all likelihood, it was the explosion of the ammo dump that probably killed McIntyre and Russell.  In a letter sent to his relatives, the CO of VF-24 wrote:

“Francis was leading a division of planes in an attack on a Japanese-held airfield in the northern Solomon Islands on Nov. 10, 1943. He had dropped his bomb load, hit the target, and was flying low when his plane was seen to pass through the blast of a large explosion on the enemy base.  Another pilot said Francis’ plane “appeared to go out of control.”  This, the letter said, had been Francis’ fourth flight in enemy territory. Francis, it said, “led his division skillfully and with good effect on each of them.”

So it was that in the brief flash of an instant – a young JO from Washington and Sailor from Oklahoma vanished in flame and fire and with them, their Dauntless built just up the road from Russell’s home in Tulsa.  For the next 64 years the plane and crew would be carried as “missing – presumed dead” while time and the elements worked to erase any signatory remnants.  As we’ve written here before, the jungles of SE Asia and the Southwest Pacific are especially destructive when it comes to eradicating man’s work, and where, for example, an aircraft that landed short of a runway in Greenland can remain pristinely preserved in the Arctic chill for decades, serving as a talisman for future aircrew, in the jungle, vegetation and mud from the ever present rainfall make quick work of crash sites.  A chance discovery, however slim, is enough though to put DPMO’s forensic teams to work in the most trying of field conditions.  And so it is, through their efforts, that we can report the return of LT. Francis B. “Riley” McIntyre, USNR and AR2 William L. Russell, USNR to their families and native soil.  Today, 1 October 2010,  nearly sixty-seven years after they launched from a remote field in the Solomons, they will be interred in Arlington Cemetery.  And we welcome them home – wishing now for eternal rest and peace.


References:

Article Series - Solomon Islands Campaign Blog Project

  1. The Solomons Campaign: Geographical and Political Background
  2. The Solomons Campaign: Status of the United States Fleet and Plans After Midway
  3. The Imperial Japanese Navy after Midway
  4. The Solomon Islands Campaign: Prelude to the Series
  5. The Solomons Campaign: WATCHTOWER — Why Guadalcanal?
  6. The Solomons Campaign: Guadalcanal 7-9 August, 1942; Assault and Lodgment
  7. The Solomons Campaign: Unleashing the Assassin’s Mace
  8. The Solomons Campaign: Execution at Savo Island
  9. The Solomons Campaign: The Battle of the Eastern Solomons, 24-25 August 1942
  10. The Solomons Campaign: Strategic Pause and Review – Japan’s Last Chance for Victory?
  11. The Solomons Campaign: THE BATTLE OF GUADALCANAL, Part I
  12. The Solomons Campaign: THE BATTLE OF GUADALCANAL, Part II
  13. The Solomons Campaign: Cactus Air Force and the Bismarck Sea
  14. The Solomons Campaign: Operation Vengeance – The Shootdown Of Yamamoto
  15. The Solomons Campaign: Ground Action – The New Georgia Campaign, June 20-November 3, 1943
  16. The Solomons Campaign: The Bougainville Invasion, November – December 1943(Part I)
  17. The Bougainville Invasion: November – December 1943 (Part 2)
  18. The Bougainville Invasion (Part 3): December 1943 – March 1944
  19. The Bougainville Invasion (Part 4): March 1944 – May 1944
  20. The Solomons Campaign: Battle of Santa Cruz (Part I)
  21. The Solomons Campaign: Battle of Santa Cruz (II)
  22. Solomon Islands Campaign: Battle of Santa Cruz (III)
  23. Flightdeck Friday – MIA Edition: WWII Navy Aircrew Returns Home

cvan-65_cvw-6

USS Enterprise (CVAN/CVN-65) At Fifty

“Whenever the Enterprise roams in the traditional freedom of the seas, she is the sovereign of the United States, a mighty symbol of our determination to preserve liberty and justice and a clear sign of our nation’s ability to do so.” – ADM Arleigh Burke, 24 Sept 1960

This Friday (24 Sept) marks the 50th anniversary of USS Enterprise’s christening.  The eighth ship to carry the name, she is slated for one more deployment, her 21st,  before being retired in 2012 (sooner if CNO had his way).  Since commissioning in 1961, some have figured that over a quarter of a million sailors and aviators have served aboard Big E — and I am proud to be counted amongst the number on both counts.

We now have over 3,000 signatures on the petition to name CVN-79 the next Enterprise and at month’s end, I will close out the petition in anticipation of delivering the signatures to SECNAV, CNO and Senator Webb (open to other suggestions as well).  If you haven’t signed yet — please do so and pass the word as well.  With 2011 being the 100th anniversary of US Naval Aviation, I think it would be fitting to announce the name of the next carrier as “Enterprise”.

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

Angles and Dangles . . . CVN-style

100227-N-4408B-613 ATLANTIC OCEAN (Feb. 27, 2010) The aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), the Navy's 10th and final Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, heels hard to starboard during high-speed turns. George H.W. Bush is underway supporting fleet training operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Micah P. Blechner/Released)

As part of the sea trials coming out of a yard period, you put the ship through its paces to include high speed runs and extreme turns.  When we pulled IKE out of the yards on my first at sea period as her ‘gator (navigator) we did  the whole nine-yards, including a high speed run forward and reverse.  The run forward was for a good hour, in a straight line, which will chew up substantial pieces of seaborne real estate.  A carrier, particularly a nuke, running at flank speed is a sight to behold.  When you throw the rudder over for a hard turn she leans waaay over, and that’s usually when you find out those things that weren’t properly secured — boxes, books, plates, TV’s come flying off their shelves and from the bridge, we heard the occasional muffled bang followed by a stream of obscenities from the chief or LPO.  As for me, secure (OK, holding on for dear life) in my chair on the starboard side of the bridge, I was looking up towards the port side of the bridge to see the CO, OOD and rest of the nav team doing likewise.  Had they lost their grip, a swift slide to the starboard side would have ensued…

One other thing these trials allow, which simulators just can’t convey, is to give the nav team (especially the new members) a good feel for what the ship can do, how she handles and what sort of things to take into account (and use to good purpose) that you normally don’t get a chance to do with an embarked airwing.  Things like getting a feel for just how long/far the ship will coast from a full power run, or how she handles when full astern is rung up:

100227-N-1854W-977 ATLANTIC OCEAN (Feb. 27, 2010) The aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), the NavyÕs 10th and final Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, goes full reverse while conducting high-speed drills. George H.W. Bush is underway supporting fleet training operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jason Winn/Released)

Yeah, blunt ends just don’t cut through the waves like the proper end ;-)

Bubblehead has some stories from a submariner’s POV here

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