Archive for the 'Centenary of Naval Aviation' Tag
We are fast approaching the end of the yearlong celebration of the 100th Anniversary of US Naval Aviation – and what a year it has been. Between the Heritage paint schemes, celebratory conventions, special programming and dedicated ceremonies, much ground has been covered. The outside observer may be forgiven, however, if they are led to believe carrier aviation is the whole sum of Naval Aviation – based on a casual review of said observances. (Fret not friends, YHS is a Life Member of tailhook and well beholden to carrier aviation, so no heresy will be found here, so put down the pitchforks – SJS). They would be missing out on how Naval Aviation set cargo records during the Berlin Airlift. Flew and fought hardscrabble, close quarters battles with Huey’s staged from LST’s in the Mekong Delta. How, in concert with small DER’s, it formed a critical piece of our long-range, early warning barrier prior to the ballistic missile age with WVs and specially configured blimps. Patrolled vast, hostile reaches of the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans searching for Soviet attack and ballistic missile subs.
They would also miss how it was part of the mission to probe deep into hostile territory with a battery of electronic gear that at times was a cross between Radio Shack and Star Wars, searching for the ever elusive signals that would indicate a new threat or change in defenses for targets on hidden lists for a war no one wanted to go hot. It is perhaps this group, shore and carrier-based, that has at once remained the most obscure subset of Naval Aviation while performing one of the most critical missions of the Cold War – intelligence collection.
The gap between what we know with certainty and what we conjecture (guess) is in constant flux and through time immemorial, efforts have been expended on almost infinite means to close that gap. Indeed, the driving impetus for bringing the airplane (which itself was more of a curiosity than accomplished fact in its early days) into the military were the possibilities implicit in gaining the ultimate “high ground” for scouting and reconnaissance supporting ground and naval forces. Indeed, Naval Aviation was born with the patrol/scout mission in mind.
Information collected was binned as actionable (useful in an immediate or near term sense — i.e., troop movements along the trenches, battleships seeking their opposite numbers for decisive engagements, etc.) or cataloged for longer-range/big picture use – “strategic” information if you will (and yes, we know this is a vast oversimplification). In the beginning, most of the information collected was visual — recorded observations by pilots passed at post-mission debriefs that evolved into still photography with either handheld or airframe mounted cameras.
From 1923 to 1940, the US Navy conducted 21 “Fleet Problems” as it sought to understand, exploit and incorporate new technologies and capabilities while developing the tactics, training and procedures to employ the same should war present itself – which by the 1930s was beginning to look more and more likely to the discerning observer. Conducted in all the major waters adjacent to the US, these problems covered the gamut of naval warfare from convoy duty, ASW, strike warfare and sea control. Most important, at least to this observer, was that this was the laboratory that tested the emerging idea of putting tactical aircraft at sea on board aircraft carriers. In doing so, the inherent flexibility of aviation across a broad span of warfare areas became apparent as more people in leadership looked at naval aviation as something more than just a scouting force for the main battery of the fleet extant — the battleline. It was in this laboratory that the Navy developed the techniques and identified the requirements for carrier-based dive bombers, so different form the big, lumbering land-based bombers that the Air Corps’ advocates were saying would make ships obsolete by high altitude, “precision” bombing. Proof would come at Midway when both forces were employed — the B-17′s dropping their bombs from on high hit nothing but water. But dive bombers from Enterprise and Yorktown struck at the heart of the Kido Butai. And as the thousand-pounder from Lt Dick Best’s SBD Dauntless smashed through the Akagi’s flight deck, a battle was turned and the course to winning a war was set. But it took visionaries to set the wheels in motion. Here then is the story – fittingly from the perspective of one of the few WWII dive bomber pilots still with us, LCDR George Walsh, who flew that great beast of an aircraft, the SB2C Helldiver in the Pacific theater. – SJS
As we enter the second half of the Centennial of Naval Aviation, I have found no reference to the “Fleet Problems” of the 1930s that were of great importance to the progress of naval aviation. These exercises were conducted at sea by hundreds of ships and aircraft of the peacetime Navy to prepare our nation for possible war. The Fleet Problems were vital, providing realistic training for the generation of professional naval officers, mostly Annapolis graduates, who were responsible for leading America to victory in WW II despite enduring the hardships and sacrifices of the 1930’s. The exercises were well planned and intense, demanding all the devotion and talents of the men who participated under conditions that simulated wartime and called for extended tours of sea duty.
As you look back on these Fleet Problems you will find it mystifying that we were so unprepared for the December 7th, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, and that the Battle of Midway was badly mismanaged.
“The “Fleet Problems” should not be confused with the “War Games” conducted at the Naval War College in Newport. The fleet and not the college developed the strategy and tactics for air warfare in the Pacific.1 It was in the conduct of these exercises that our Navy perfected the techniques of aircraft carrier operation and proved the usefulness of carrier task forces as an offensive weapon.
It is interesting to trace the progress of naval aviation from the earliest introduction of a carrier, the Langley (1922), into the 1926 Fleet Program VI as an auxiliary to Fleet Problem XXI in 1940 when the carrier Task Forces acted as a long distance striking force independent of the main battleship forces.
7 Feb 1950: In a demonstration of carrier long-range attack capabilities, a P2V-3C Neptune, with Commander Thomas Robinson in command, took off from Franklin D. Roosevelt off Jacksonville, Fla., and flew over Charleston, S.C., the Bahamas, the Panama Canal, up the coast of Central America and over Mexico to land next day at the Municipal Airport, San Francisco, Calif. The flight, which covered 5,060 miles in 25 hours, 59 minutes, was the longest ever made from a carrier deck. (Naval Aviation Chronology 1950-1953, Naval History Center)
Project Cadillac was more than just a program to develop radar – it would develop an entire AEW system — Radar, IFF, relay equipment, shipboard receivers, and airborne platform. Such an undertaking would be ambitious enough in peacetime, at the height of a critical stage in the war it bordered on a divine miracle. – SJS
February 1944. In Europe the invasion of Italy is well underway and the Battle of Monte Casino is engaged. Eisenhower establishes SHAFE headquarters in Britain. The RAF drops 2300 tons on Berlin, the 8th AF begins the “Big Week” bombing campaign and Soviet troops continue the offensive begin at Novgorod and Leningrad. In the Pacific US forces have landed and captured the Marshall Islands and have moved on to Eniwetok Atoll. In the south, MacArthur’s forces have begun Operation Brewer in the Admiralty Islands. The tide, ever so imperceptibly, is turning in favor of the Allies. In Japan, Commander Asaiki Tamai asked a group of 23 talented student pilots, whom he had personally trained, to volunteer for a special attack force. All of the pilots raised both of their hands, thereby volunteering to join the operation.
In the US, the fruits of scientific research and technological prowess were starting to manifest – high altitude bombers, Essex-class carriers, jet engines, the beginnings of nuclear weapons. At the MIT-RL, proposals were forwarded for an ambitious program to develop an AEW system that would be deployed with the fast carrier forces in the Pacific. It was envisioned that the system would be in place for Operation DOWNFALL, the projected invasion of the Japanese homeland, slated for sometime in early 1946. Following a series of meetings with reps from the Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance (BuOrd) the Navy formally requested the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) to establish the project. Ultimately, the project would include 9 of MIT-RL’s 11 laboratories, BuAer, BuShips, Naval Air Modification Center, Philadelphia, Naval Research Lab, several Navy contractors and Radiation Lab subcontractors and over 160 officers and men. The project was eventually given the code name of CADILLAC, the name of the highest mountain on the US eastern seaboard and in the fall and winter, the location of the first sunrise in the lower 48 states. It would serve as the site of some of the developmental relay work because of its height and proximity to the sea.
As originally envisioned, Cadillac would consist of two sections (see CONOPS Illustration): one airborne (“AEW Aircraft”) and the other shipboard (“CV CIC”). The airborne unit would carry the APS-20 radar, IFF and VHF comms and relay equipment, acting as an airborne radar and relay platform for the ship. Back on the ship, the radar picture from the airborne unit would be relayed via a VHF video data link and displayed on a dedicated PPI (Plan Position Indicator) scope. Communications with far-flung fighter CAP would also be relayed through the airborne unit. Sorting out friend from foe would be via the newly developed IFF or Identification Friend Foe system which relied on an aircraft responding to electronic “challenge” signals with a coded pulse train. The airborne unit would also have the ability to display ownship’s radar picture and have a limited capability to control fighters, but this was planned to be a fall-back capability.
Aircraft. The aircraft chosen was the only carrier-based aircraft large enough to accommodate the 8-foot radome and 2,300 lbs of associated equipment. Stripped of turret, armor, and armament, a TBM-3 Avenger served as the initial platform for Cadillac. Besides the Cadillac equipment, the XTBM-3W was modified to include an engine driven high power generator, additional tail stabilizers, addition of a crewman position in the aft fuselage and over 9 separate antennas on the fuselage, tail, and wings.
Airborne System. The AN/APS-20, developed as part of the Cadillac program, was a 10cm set that had a peak power output of 1 megawatt and a 2-second pulse. The design of the APS-20 radar was so sound that variations of this same radar would see use well into the 1960s on a variety of USN, USAF and allied AEW platforms, until it was ultimately replaced by the E-2’s APS-96/120 series among others. The IFF system was built around the AN/APX-13 with a very high power (2 kW) transmitter and one of the most sensitive receivers in this type application. It was designed to enable ID of targets on both the (then) Navy standard A and G bands at ranges comparable to the radar. To “pipe” this information back to the ship, the AN/ART-22 relay-radar transmitter, broadcast the picture back to the ship on a 300 mc frequency.The radar synchronizer also synchronized the IFF and relay signals, encoding their outputs to ensure reception even in an environment characterizedby heavy enemy jamming and intrusion. Remote operation of the airborne system from the ship was made possible by the AN/ARW-35 receiver, AN/ARC-18 shipboard relay and the use of a modified flux gate valve to stabilize and orient the radar display to true North (ed. note – not altogether different from the system that was used in the E-2 almost 2 decades later). All this, of course, was in addition to the usual compliment of voice comm., IFF, and flight/navigation gear. Space, as one can see from the cutaway, was at a premium, even in the large-bodied Avenger.
Shipboard System. The shipboard system primarily consisted of relay (which included omnidirectional or a horizontal diversity receiver), decoding, and shipboard signal distribution equipment. The signal was passed to 2-3 PPI scopes, located in CIC. In CIC, the picture was merged with that of the ship in a manner that eliminated motion induced by the AEW platform – in other words, a ground-stabilized picture oriented to true north. That picture could be expanded to a 20nm view for detailed examination of sectors of interest. When tied together with voice communications, the implications of this capability were astounding.
Let us step back for a moment and review what the CONOP and “to be” Cadillac system would provide. Expanded radar coverage, in theory out to 200 nm. Positive identification of friendly aircraft in that volume of surveyed airspace. The ability to effect positive control of interceptors well closer to expected enemy marshaling points. Detect and track friendly and hostile surface units (including snorkeling submarines). Finally, the ability to bring all this information together and display it in CIC enabling informed decision-making from unit up to Fleet level. We who have been fortunate enough to have operated in the age of modern AEW aircraft, digital data links and automated detection and display systems take these for granted. It is not until one or more elements are removed that their intrinsic value is appreciated. This was something the Royal Navy painfully re-discovered during the war to reclaim the Falklands/Malvinas. That the concept, much less the hardware and integration of these many disparate elements was conceived and executed in a wartime situation says much about the technical verve and capabilities of this band of naval and civilian scientists, engineers and operators. The process of how this was brought to reality and IOC will be the subject of the next installment.
To Be Continued
(crossposted at Steeljawscribe.com)
By any measure, fifty years is remarkable. Birthdays, reunions, wedding anniversaries – in all of these the marker set at fifty years is justifiably prominent and noteworthy.
For aircraft — especially those in carrier aviation, it is signatory.
This month the E-2 Hawkeye will celebrate 50 years, starting with the first flight of the prototype, the YW2F-1 (BuNo 148147) on 21 October 1960. That was the start of a run of aircraft that looks to continue well into the first quarter of the 21st Century in the form of the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye. From that first flight through today, the Hawkeye has shared the flight deck with the A-4, A-6, A-7,C-1, EA-3B, EKA-3B, EA-6A, F-4, F-8, F-14, KA-6, S-2, S-3, and WF/E-1B – all of which are now sitting in boneyards. It currently shares real estate with a variety of Hornets, the soon to be replaced EA-6B Prowler and the venerable COD and first cousin, C-2A(R) Greyhound. Still to come are the F-35 and UCAV-N. Such longevity is testimony as much to the inherent flexibility of the original design as it is to budgetary realities and bureaucratic bias. Nevertheless, such milestones should not pass with little or no recognition – and of course, around these parts that is not an option. So, between now and the 21st, we will be posting a variety of articles, beginning with updates of an earlier series on Project CADILLAC, that started it all. Along the way I hope that a new appreciation for the aircraft and those who have and currently are flying and fixing the Hawkeye will emerge.
Stay tuned — there’s much more to come…
Crossposted at Steeljawscribe.com
(from the archives)
27 Feb 1940: Development of the “Flying Flapjack”, a fighter aircraft with an almost circular wing, was initiated with notice of a contract award to Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft for the design of the V-173–a full-scale flying model (as distinguished from a military prototype). This design, based upon the research of a former NACA engineer, Charles H. Zimmerman, was attractive because it promised to combine a high speed of near 500 m.p.h. with a very low takeoff speed.
Cutting edge design – Naval Aviation has been at the forefront of a number of innovative and successful aircraft designs for new or existing missions across the years. Fighters like the F-4 Phantom and F-14 Tomcat, attack aircraft like the bantam bomber, the A-4 Skyhawk, and the E-2 Hawkeye, benchmark for AEW/Battle Management. Along the way there were some, well, not so moments where what seemed like a grand and game changing idea on paper, didn’t quite make the grade for one reason or another. Perhaps the airframe was too far ahead of engine development (cf F3H Demon), weapons delivery encountered critical flaws that forced a change in the original mission (cf A-5A Vigilante) or the entire endeavor had so many problems — weight, aero, engines, weapons system, etc.,that it was best to just kill it altogether before it made its way to the fleet (cf F-111B and A-12).
There is an axiom in aviation that runs along the lines that if something looks good, it will fly good. Others you just look at and wonder what the designers, engineers and/or approving procurement officials were on…
June, 1947. Navy Day. Bathers along the beaches lining Long Island Sound look aloft to an incredulous sight – a silver and yellow disc that is speeding along, looking unlike any other flying object seen in the area. They didn’t know it at the time, but those folks were witnesses to the one and only public flight of the Vought V-137/XF5U, nicknamed the “Flying Flapjack.” At onetime a cutting edge aerodynamic design, it was now not much more than a curiosity as the age of the jet was ascendant. Soon, it would be sent to the breakers to be broken up along with the one and only prototype and assume its place in the annals of aeronautical fantastical or just plain weird designs.
During the war years, considerable energy was expended in making fighters go faster (“speed is life” didn’t originate with the movie ‘Top Gun’). Much thought was spent in streamlining and reducing drag. The effort took many paths – some more conventional than others. Flush riveting, new airfoils (like the Mustang’s laminar flow), reduced frontal area via in-line, liquid cooled engines represented most of the mainstream efforts. Some, like Jack Northrop and the engineers at Vought, thought that reduced drag could be accomplished by eliminating entire structural components, like the tail. Northrop’s work evolved through the N9MB into the familiar flying wing. Over at Vought, it was if anything, a little more unconventional.
Beginning in 1933, Charles Zimmerman, an aeronautical engineer with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) at Langley Field, Virginia began to promote a tailless “pancake” design. He filed for a design patent on April 30, 1935 and was granted patent #2,108,093 on February 14, 1938. With the concurrence of NACA, Zimmerman approached United Aircraft Corporation with his novel design in 1937 and joined United’s Chance Vought Aircraft Division in that year as project engineer. By August 15, 1939, drafting, engineering design, and aerodynamic studies were far enough along for Vought to submit a proposal to the U.S. Navy for a full-scale prototype of the V-173. The U.S. Navy placed a contract for one V-173 on May 4, 1940. First flight of the airplane was on November 23, 1942.
To say the V-173 was unconventional would be an understatement. Powered by two Continental A-80 engines, rated at 80-horsepower each, turning two 16.5-foot three-bladed propellers, the V-173 used a semicircular planform (wide at front, narrow in back) with two vertical tails for stabilization and two “ailerators” for control. The aircraft had long fixed main landing gear and a 22-degree nose-high static ground angle. The cockpit had a windowed leading edge ahead of the pilot for downward visibility. Four segmented leading edge inlets (left and right) provided air to the engine. Built light, the V-173 structure was made of wood with fabric covering. The upside was with a wing loading of only 5 lbs/sq ft; the V-173 could lift off in 200 feet in no wind conditions, and with a zero run against a 25-knot headwind. The implications for a carrier-based fighter were readily apparent. However, with a mere 80-hp driving the prototype, max speed was only 138 mph. Clearly a proof of concept prototype should be built, designed from the keel up as a fighter.
The letter of intent for the Vought VS-315 (XF5U-1) was issued September 17, 1942. Designed for land- or carrier-based operations (the latter minus a tailhhook), the XF5U-1 was a twin-engine, single-seat, low aspect ratio flying wing type of airplane, manufactured by the Chance Vought Division, United Aircraft Corporation, Stratford, Connecticut. The basic wing area (~472 sq. ft) and planform of the XF5U-1 was the same as the V-173. Power
was substantially upped with the use of two embedded Pratt & Whitney R-2800-7 radial engines rated at 1350 hp each. These were in turn, connected via shafts to two hydraulically operated, fast-acting, electro-mechanically governed propellers. Each engine was cross-connected to the opposite prop such that if an engine was lost on take-off/recovery, both props would continue turning. (ed: And you thought an engine out on a Cessna 310 could be a handful…imagine what the possibilities might have been here.) Continuing the unconventional theme, the props themselves consisted of four Pregwood blades and load-relieving hubs which differed from the conventional four-way hub in that the blades were free to “flap” in pairs about the shaft axis. Low pitch stop was 15 degrees; high pitch stop was 70 degrees. The cockpit was a monocoque shell with a bubble canopy for better visibility and space set aside (but never utilized) for six 50-calibre guns and ammo boxes. Unlike the V-173’s fixed gear, the landing gear on the XF5U-1 would retract.
The first XF5U-1 airplane (Bureau Number 33958) was used for static tests; proof loads, extended to ultimate, largely confirmed structural design predictions. The second XF5U-1 airplane (Bureau Number 33959) was used for experimental flight test and concept validation. Early in the test series though, significant problems were encountered with vibrations from the props that translated to the shafts, gearboxes and airframe structure and considered excessive. By this point (1947) the war was over and the budgetary long-knives were out. With proven prop-driven fighters in its inventory already (notably the F4U) and intent on moving into jets (recall McDonnell’s Phantom and Banshee, Grumman’s Panther and Vought’s own Pirate were in various stages in the pipeline), the decision was made to axe the XFU5 on 17 March 1947. Both prototypes were subsequently destroyed, although the V-173 was saved and is now in the National Air and Space Museum’s extended storage facility awaiting restoration.
Wingspan: 32.50 ft
Overall Length: 28.62 ft
Height: 16.96 ft
Aspect ratio of basic wing: 1.275
Wing airfoil section (NACA): 0016
Wing area less ailavators (48) sq ft: 427
Weights and Capacities
Empty Weight: 13107 lb
Gross Weight: * 16758 lb
Fuel Capacity: 261 gal
Power plant Characteristics
Type: Two Pratt & Whitney R-2800-7
Rating: 1350 hp
Maximum Speed, Sea Level: ** 425 mph
Landing Speed, Sea Level: 490 mph
Initial Rate-of-Climb: *** 3000 ft/min
Range at Cruise Speed: **** 1152 miles
Absolute Ceiling: 30700 ft
Armament: Provisions for six 50-caliber Browning Machine Guns
* Empty weight plus 261-gallons internal fuel, pilot, ammo, two 150-gallon
drop tanks. Overload gross weight equals 18,931 pounds with two
** Max speed, 425 mph at sea level (501 mph with advanced engine)
*** Rate of Climb
fpm at mph EAS at alt, ft
3,000 175 Sea Level
2,500 175 10,000
1,000 165 20,000
**** Max range, 597 statute miles at 10,000 ft altitude with 261 gallons of internal fuel (less 50 gallons for warm-up, take-off and climb) with high blower, 1700 engine rpm, 31 inches Hg M.P., auto lean mixture, 280 mph TAS, prop gear ratio 0.1763:1. With two 150-gallon drop tanks, max range, 1,152 statute miles.
For those of short memory, the story of the USS Macon and her brood was the subject of an earlier Flightdeck Friday: “Gasbags and Hookers”
USS Turner DD 648 (April 1943)
0600L Aboard the Gleaves-class destroyer USS Turner (DD 648) the crew is either moving to breakfast or to stations in preparation for a 0700 underway time for the Brooklyn Navy Yards for a scheduled refit and repair period. Laid down in November 1942 and commissioned in April 1943, she is the second ship to bear the name of War of 1812 hero Captain Daniel Turner. With LCDR Henry Wygant commanding, she participated in three wartime convoys, engaging a probable German sub on the third:
On the night of 23 October, Turner was acting as an advance ASW escort for the convoy when she picked up an unidentified surface contact on her SG radar. At 19:43, about 11 minutes after the initial radar contact, Turner’s lookouts made visual contact with what proved to be a German submarine running on the surface, decks awash, at about 500 yards distance.
Almost simultaneously, Turner came hard left and opened fire with her 5-inch, 40-millimeter, and 20-millimeter guns. During the next few seconds, the destroyer scored one 5-inch hit on the U-boat’s conning tower as well as several 40-millimeter and 20-millimeter hits there and elsewhere. The submarine began to dive immediately and deprived Turner of any opportunity to ram her. However, while the U-boat made her dive, Turner began a depth-charge attack. She fired two charges from her port K-gun battery, and both appeared to hit the water just above the submerged U-boat.
Then, as the destroyer swung around above the U-boat, Turner rolled a single depth charge off her stern. Soon after the three depth charges exploded, Turner crewmen heard a fourth explosion, the shock from which caused the destroyer to lose power to her SG and FD radars, to the main battery, and to her sound gear. It took her at least 15 minutes to restore power entirely.Meanwhile, she began a search for evidence to corroborate a sinking or regain contact with the target.
At about 20:17, she picked up another contact on the SG radar – located about 1,600 yards off the port beam. Turner came left and headed toward the contact. Not long thereafter, her bridge watch sighted an object lying low in the water. Those witnesses definitely identified the object as a submarine which appeared to be sinking by the stern. Unfortunately, Turner had to break contact with the object in order to avoid a collision with another of the convoy’s escorts.
By the time she was able to resume her search, the object had disappeared. Turner and Sturtevant (DE-239) remained in the area and conducted further searches for the submarine or for proof of her sinking but failed in both instances. All that can be said is that probably the destroyer heavily damaged an enemy submarine and may have sunk her. No conclusive evidence exists to support the latter conclusion.
On the 24th, the two escorts rejoined the convoy, and the crossing continued peacefully. When the convoy divided itself into two segments according to destination on 4 November, Turner took station as one of the escorts for the Norfolk-bound portion. Two days later, she saw her charges safely into port and then departed to return to New York where she arrived on 7 November.
Now returning from that escort duty she has anchored off Ambrose Light, four miles southeast of Rockaway Point, Long Island. A strong wind has been blowing since the late afternoon of the 2nd with moderate snow, wrapping everything in white and muffling all sound.
USS Turner exploding
Without warning an explosion rips the main deck open, tossing the 5″ main mounts about like so many toys. The same blast takes out the mainmast and forward deckhouse and with it, the CO and most of the officers. Below decks is bedlam as fires rage and sailors struggle to rescue the injured and prevent the fires from reaching the ammo storage.
Across the bay at Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook, Coxsain Williams on lookout duty catches sight of the explosion through the snow-dimmed haze and sounds the general alarm. A 83 ft sub-chaser and 77 ft launch set off immediately for the scene and on arrival, the sub-chaser pushes its bow athwart the Turner, lashing itself to the burning destroyer to take aboard the wounded and burned. Sizing up the extent of the damage, the cutter’s skipper concerned about the possibility of another explosion orders the crew of Turner to abandon ship. In short order, 137 crew members are taken aboard and headed back when a second, more powerful explosion rips apart the Turner. The blast is so powerful it is felt up and down the New York and New Jersey coastline for over 30 miles, shattering windows nearby.
But the day’s heroics are far from over.
Many of the injured from the Turner had suffered grievous burns and were taken to the hospital at Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Hundreds of quarts of plasma and whole blood are required but not on hand at the hospital. The intense blizzard prevented ground and ship transport – and all airfields were closed. All was not lost though as a revolutionary new mode of transport was about to get its first, real world test as a life saver at the hands of a visionary, CDR Frank Erickson, USCG.
An early and vocal proponent of the helicopter’s potential, especially in a life-saving role since 1942, CDR Erickson was singularly responsible for setting up the first helicopter training school in 1943 at nearby Floyd Bennet Field in New York. Now on this snowy, hellish day he would face the challenge of his life to bring life-saving supplies to the survivors of the Turner. And in the process, prove the worth of the helicopter.
The Sikorsky HNS that he would use that day was a frail collection of steel tubing and fabric – nothing like the robust rotary-wing craft that fly off our decks today. A mere forty-eight feet in length and powered by a 180 hp engine, the HNS had a max speed of 75 knots in wind free conditions. The conditions today, as he hung up the phonecall from 3rd Naval District HQ were anything but that. We’ll let the Helicopter History site pick up the narrative from here:
Erickson flying the Navy new HNS (Sikorsky R-4) , Buno 46445, with Ens. Walter Bolton as co-pilot struggled with the controls fighting the gusting winds tearing through the corridors of downtown Manhattan. The dark blue colored craft was but a shadow in the swirling snow. Visibility was so low, Erickson observed, “We practically had to ‘feel’ our way around the ships anchored in Gravesend Bay. He battled the roiling snow-turbid winds in a steep approach over pilings along the shoreline to a landing in Battery Park. Bolton, just qualified as a helicopter pilot three days before, reluctantly left the aircraft to allow for the weight of two cases of plasma strapped to the landing floats. Erickson noted the “only way to get out was to back out. His forward passage was blocked; he could not take-off normally, forward into the wind.
Sitting in the helicopter’s pilot seat parked next to the Barge Office on New York’s waterfront, Erickson, with his left hand, rolled the hand-grip throttle. Gradually he raised the collective lever coordinating the twisting motions of his left hand and rising arm, watching closely that engine RPMs did not drop below 2150 or surge past 2250. The Warner R-550-3 Super Scarab engine provided him 200 horse power maximum. Erickson’s hands, arms, and feet moved in an uncoordinated cacophony of motion. Anticipating needed rotor blade pitch for balance, he moved the cyclic stick with his right hand. Simultaneously, with deftness, but gently, he alternated foot pressure gradually applying left rudder pressure to counteract the torque, keeping the nose pointing straight ahead into the park. This strange seated dance of the helicopter pilot was a reaction to the irregular rhythm beat of the sudden and variable wind gusts pummeling the frail fabric and steel-tube structure. Steadily, he kept the shaking helicopter in place and level as it struggled to rise into battering winds.
Igor ‘s nightmare, bouncing on its sausage like floats, suddenly leaping, rose vertically. Slowly, still climbing, it backed over the pilings before finally spinning around to the right and heading downwind. Paradoxically, this maligned craft started it first mission flying backwards. It was an appropriate entry into history for the helicopter. According to Erickson the “weather conditions were such that this flight could not have been made in any other type of aircraft. But for a helicopter, it was simple. So Erickson, with confidence in the helicopter, announced to the public that the flight was routine for the helicopter. The casualness of his comments did not escape the press. The New York Times, in an editorial dated January 6, 1944, echoed :
It was indeed routine for the strange rotary-winged machine which Igor Sikorsky has brought to practical flight, but it shows in striking fashion how the helicopter can make use of tiny landing areas in conditions of visibility which make other types of flying impossible.
No official reason was ever given for the root cause of the explosion. Initial speculation was bad ammunition but later theories centered on a possible U-boat attack based on a history of prior attacks in the general area. What is known is that on a snowy day from hell, a small piece of the war came to the New York/New Jersey shoreline and there was no shortage of guts, determination, seamanship, airmanship or bravery found wanting that day.
UPDATE: The culprit identified (h/t to reader Theodore) – the source of the loss of the Turner most likely was a MOUSETRAP ASW weapon that misfired. Not to be confused with HEDGEHOG which was deployed on the larger ships, MOUSETRAP was developed to take the place of Hedgehog for smaller ships such as patrol craft which could not withstand the recoil forces generated by that weapon. An 85 lbs. (39 kg) warhead was originally fitted, but this was too heavy to man-handle in rough seas. The warhead was changed to the lighter one of the Hedgehog, which had the added benefit of simplifying logistics. The mountings were usually fitted in pairs and could not be compensated for rolling. Not considered to be as effective as Hedgehog, but did give those smaller ships an ahead-firing weapon. The Mark 22 version was a MOUSETRAP projector similar to the Mark 20, but with eight rails, organized as four over four. Fired a pattern of about 80 yards wide (73 m) at a range of about 300 yards (274 m). 100 of these weapons were in service by November 1942. In addition to smaller craft, twelve Benson (DD-421) class and Gleaves (DD-423) class destroyers were each fitted with three of these projectors on the forecastle forward of the first 5″/38 (12.7 cm) mount. One of these destroyers, USS Turner DD-648, blew up and sank off Ambrose Light (Lower New York Bay) on 3 January 1944. The loss was attributed to MOUSETRAP projectiles with faulty contact fuzes.
First published here.
Written narratives and biographies are important and a primary research source. However, when one has the opportunity to listen to a narrative, especially of one who was there and played a key role in a major event – that is even better. Courtesy friend and contributor to this blog, LCDR George Walsh, USN-Ret, himself a dive bomber pilot from the Pacific theater (SB2C Helldiver) comes a clip of a radio interview with then RDML Wade McClusky, USN-Ret conducted on the 30th anniversary of the Battle of Midway and a few short years before he left this life for greener pastures. – SJS
Rear Admiral Clarence Wade McClusky, Jr., USN (Retired), (1902-1976)
Clarence W. McClusky, Jr. was born in Buffalo, New York, on 1 June 1902. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1926 and became a Naval Aviator three years later. Over the next decade, he served in several air units, as well as on command staffs, as an instructor at the Naval Academy and at shore facilities. In 1940 he was assigned to Fighting Squadron Six (VF-6), based on USS Enterprise (CV-6), and assumed command of that squadron in April 1941.
Lieutenant Commander McClusky became Enterprise air group commander in April 1942. During the Battle of Midway, while leading
his air group’s scout bombers on 4 June 1942, he made the critical tactical decision that led to the destruction of the Japanese aircraft carriers Kaga and Akagi, thus making a vital contribution to the outcome of that pivotal battle. Later in World War II, he commanded the escort carrier USS Corregidor (CVE-58).
Captain McClusky served in a variety of staff and shore positions in the later 1940s. During the Korean War, he was Chief of Staff to the Commanders of the First and Seventh Fleets. He commanded Naval Air Station, Glenview, Illinois, in 1952-53, and the Boston Group of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet in 1954-56. Clarence W. McClusky, Jr., retired from active duty in July 1956. At that time, in recognition of his vital contributions to the outcome of World War II, he was advanced to Flag rank. Rear Admiral McClusky died on 27 June 1976.
USS McClusky (FFG-41) was named in his honor.
Jan. 1927: 8 officers and 81 enlisted men of VO-1M, led by Maj. Ross Rowell, arrived at Corinto, Nicaragua with six DH’s. Amidst the anarchy of the civil and banditry, the U.S. Marines held the railroad. In July the Sandinista rebels (the original ones) besieged 37 Marines at the Ocotal garrison, 125 miles from Manaagua. Patrolling Marine pilots, Lt. Hayne Boyden and Gunner Micahel Wodarczyk, discovered the defenders’ plight. After they reported this to Maj. Rowell, he led five DH’s to bomb the rebels. From 1,500 feet, they conducted one of the first dive bombing missions, killing dozens of Sandinistas. Rowell and his fliers flew 50 missions against the Nicaraguan guerrillas.
27 June 1927: Dive bombing came under official study as the Chief of Naval Operations ordered the Commander in Chief, Battle Fleet, to conduct tests to evaluate its effectiveness against moving targets. Carried out by VF Squadron 5S in late summer and early fall, the results of these tests generated wide discussion of the need for special aircraft and units, which led directly to the development of equipment and adoption of the tactic as a standard method of attack.
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