Archive for the 'Flightdeck Friday' Tag

This Thursday, 21 October 2010, marks the 50th anniversary of the first flight of the first purpose built AEW aircraft, the E-2 Hawkeye (actually, it was the YW2F-1). Designed around the radar, rather than adapting an existing airframe, the Hawkeye symbolized function over form – from the 24ft “rotodome” prominently perched over the fuselage, to the quadruple tail and twin turboprops. It wasn’t pretty – but then, it wasn’t meant to win beauty contests.

It was meant for far more deadly competition.

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Project Cadillac (Part II)

 Part I 


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.

MIT Radiation Lab (Feb 1944)

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

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

A Quick History

Before there were NFOs there were Naval Aviation Observers. In June 1960, the Basic Naval Aviation Officer School was established to train the future radar intercept officers, bombardier/navigators and air intercept control officers that were joining the fleet in ever increasing numbers. This was spurred in no small degree by the revolution in Naval Aviation in the form of the F-4 Phantoms, A-6 Intruders, A5 Vigilantes, EA-3 Skywarriors, E-2 Hawkeyes and P2V Neptunes serving or soon to enter Fleet service. All weather aircraft with complex weapons systems that required a second pair of hand eyes to work. Recognizing this, the BNAO school was established as part of Training Command at NAS Pensacola to provide a common basic school prior to going to their respective advanced and RAG (Replacement Air Group) squadrons for training in their field of specialty. By 1962, the first aircraft were added (UC-45J (Beech 18’s) and T-2As). On 8 February 1965, a change to Bureau of Personnel Instruction 1210.4C authorized a new designator and name, Naval Flight Officer (NFO). The new designator was appropriate for “an unrestricted line officer, a member of the aeronautical organization . . .who may fill any billet not requiring actual control knowledge of an aircraft.” Eight subspecialties were available at the time: bombardier, controller, electronic countermeasures evaluator, navigator, interceptor, photographer-navigator, tactical coordinator and reconnaissance navigator. The new NFOs continued wearing the Naval Aviation Observer wings. A few short years later, BNAO School was redesignated TRARON TEN (VT-10). By the end of the first 10 years, over 6,000 NFOs had been trained. (ed. Your ‘umble scribe etched his name to the roles in 1978 – SJS). In 1994 the first USAF instructors and student NAVs reported to VT-10 as part of a joint training agreement between the Navy and Air Force.

Today, VT-10 has a 60 member Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps instructor staff that currently trains over 300 NFOs and Air Force WSOs annually. In 1997, command of VT-10 began alternating between Navy and Air Force Officers.

The Reunion

In celebration of their 50th year, the Wildcats (ed., Cosmic ‘Cats when I was there – SJS) are hosting a reunion 23-25 Jun down Pensacola-way. Official events begin on June 23rd and include a kickoff social at the NAS Pensacola O’Club, golf tournament, symposium at the Naval Aviation Museum, VT-10 alumni Dining Out as well as an NFO winging at the museum on June 25th. The Wildcat Reunion Group welcomes all current and former members of VT-10 to come celebrate this historic anniversary of NFO training. Interested in going? Jump over here for the details

Life as a Cone-he…er, Student NFO (SNFO)

Before we got to the Fleet, we had to make it through the Training Command. Flying a variety of training aircraft, including the Mighty Frog (aka T-2 Buckeye), T-39 and TA-4, we learned the basics of our future trade – navigation, flight planning, intercepts and radar. We had good IPs and we had, well, screamers and a-holes. In other words, a representative sample of what we would see in the Fleet. The weeding out process started early — if you couldn’t think and talk on the radio at the same time, you were toast. YHS remembers one of the early washouts who thought he’d found a way to sneak by this challenge. You see, he wrote out a complete script of the flight from engine start to back in the chocks and kept it in a binder hidden below the glare shield in his lap. Worked just fine until the first wingover when notebook – and script, went flying in the rear cockpit, fod’ing it of course in the process…

More here…

Ah youth…


…though you might need a little more exotic kit than walking shoes and sunscreen to visit. (full story here)

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”


Manned fighter vs. UAV – who would win? Lots of conjecture in the open and closed press at the moment as we move ever hesitatingly towards more autonomous operations. Still, in one sense, the debate took upon itself flesh and blood (and aluminum and hydraulic fluid) in the skies over Southern California in the summer of 1956.

Hellcat-drone 079863 F6F-5K 01JAN60 CLK LHL-246189It all began with an F6F drone that was operating autonomously, just not by design. Following the war, F6Fs were plentiful and being replaced by newer versions of the F4U Corsair and F8F Bearcat (briefly) and in short order, by the first generation of carrier-based jet fighters like the FH Phantom and the FJ Fury. During the war and afterwards, the Navy was very much involved with development of drones and unmanned aircraft in its pursuit of long-range cruise missiles. As such, considerable expertise was gained in unmanned aircraft command and control, which was readily applied to the spare F6Fs, which themselves, became a plentiful source of unmanned drones for gunnery and missile practice.

Except the command and control part sometimes didn’t quite synch. . .we pick up the story via BoB Wilson, on the staff of the Antelope Valley Press:

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(which might also serve as a cautionary tale to those who decry ‘future warists’ – SJS)
…Investments in blood and treasure:

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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Massive floating airship carriers deploying squadrons of fighters – a scene from some fantastic grade-B thriller? Well, maybe. But back in the mid-1930’s it wasn’t all that far fetched. The Navy, in the midst of transformational experimentation with aircraft carriers, was well into the trials with lighter-than-air ships. Of these, the USS Akron and USS Macon were the most intriguing, being the largest of the Navy’s airships and equipped to carry a small compliment of fixed-wing aircraft.

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The seductive allure of paper designs and dreams has a long and storied past in the naval services. Supported by superficial analyses and less than rigorous engineering, some made the leap from paper to prototype – and failed miserably. Today’s story is one of the more infamous and yet, curiously, less known examples. Presented herewith, the XFV-12A debacle. – SJS

It is clear that the XFV-12A program will not enhance the image of naval aviation. Note that in this case the outcome was not only predictable, but was in fact predicted. As is so often the case, all of the principals in the decision have moved on in both OSD and the Navy. The task of justification will fall on others and will be difficult. It is to be hoped that the same mistakes will not be made again, although the entire V/STOL program certainly has the potential.
– George Spangenberg, 1977 memo to RADM Ekas, USN (NAVAIR)

The 1970’s — disco balls, cardigan sweaters in the White House, double digit inflation and unemployment. The nation was in the grip of stagflation and post-Vietnam malaise; defense spending and investment was down substantially and traditional big ticket items, like nuclear aircraft carriers, were increasingly difficult to fund. It was, in a word, an age of diminished expectations.

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Near the back of the exhibit of modern aircraft at the National Museum of Naval Aviation, hangs an HH-1K in the colors of HA(L)-3, the Seawolves. The weathered dark green of the armed helo contrasts with the clean gull grey/white jets on the floor below, some with their colorful squadron markings of an age past. And yet, it represents one of the most decorated units in the Navy’s history.


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