Tag Archives: naval aviation

Flight- The Romance of Naval Aviation

Spill kinda stole my thunder last night, posting the youtube of flight ops aboard the Ranger. I’d planned to put that up this morning.

So instead, I have to steal from SteelJawScribe this vid.


Lots of great NavAir from the 60s, complete with uber-cheesy soundtrack. Grab a cuppa coffee.

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Filed under navy

China’s Nuclear Carrier Program

The Chinese military establishment is rather opaque at times, but in other ways, they’re quite forthcoming about what they have planned.

Many have scoffed at China buying, refurbishing and deploying the ex-Varyag carrier as the Liaoning. Claiming it is in no way a match for US Nimitz class carriers, with no catapults and a tiny air wing, they sneer at the thought that China can become a naval aviation power. What’s one small carrier to a fleet of 11 supercarriers?

The problem is, the Chinese have never intended to only operate one carrier. The Liaoning is clearly a training carrier, an introduction to naval aviation, much as the US Navy’s first carrier, CV-1 Langley, was not a combat ship, but a laboratory to explore the challenges of naval aviation.

The US Navy uses its carrier fleet for forward presence and as the primary method of power projection from the sea. They take the fight to the the shores of an enemy.

The Chinese Navy (actually, the People’s Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN) in the near to mid term sees its role as Anti-Access/Area Denial or A2AD. That is, their role is to prevent the US Navy from being able to perform its power projection role. They see the waters of the far western Pacific as their own, and other nations can only operate their at their sufferance.

Most of the Chinese A2AD strategy has been based on a combination of submarines and land based air and missile power, backed by large numbers of relatively small missile armed surface combatants.

But historically, if you want to fight a carrier based navy, you need a carrier based navy. And so the Chinese some time ago announced their intentions to build up a fleet of (at least) four carriers. The first, Liaoning, we’ve seen. And the word is that the second of this fleet will be a new-build repeat, though probably with some changes based on lessons learned. That leaves carriers 3 and 4.

It has long been speculated that these carriers would be more in line with what we think of as a supercarrier. Nuclear powered, with catapults capable of operating more than just lightly loaded fighters, and with a large, diverse air wing with strike fighters, anti-submarine helicopters, and critically, a viable Airborne Early Warning aircraft.

After a good deal of speculation, now comes word from the China-Defense blog that a fairly definitive model of the next generation Chinese carrier has been made public.



If you think that looks not a bit like a Nimitz (or even a touch of Ford) carrier, you’re not alone.

Skeptics of Chinese naval aviation like to say that the US Navy took over 70 years to learn to operate carriers. But that’s not true. Looking at the history of carrier aviation, our Navy learned to operate carriers as many as four different times, each in different ways.

  • The early days of Langley, Lexington, Saratoga
  • The late prewar Ranger, Yorktown, Enterprise,  Hornet, Wasp and early one and two ship carrier groups
  • The Essex/Independence classes and the large Fast Carrier Task Force of late World War II
  • The great transition to the jet age, with the Forrestal supercarriers, the angled deck, steam catapults, and the optical landing system

For our purposes, the last is of the greatest interest. In a period of little more than a decade, carrier aviation changed almost completely. The US Navy suffered appalling accident rates during that time, but the lessons were learned, and for the most part are still valid today.

And having written down the lessons, they are available to study for any who wish to learn.

And like most engineering challenges, once the problem has been solved the first time, every iteration after that is much simpler.

China won’t suddenly become the dominant force upon the ocean blue. But to ignore that fact that China is rapidly becoming a very near peer at sea in the western Pacific, especially as they become more and more aggressive and expansionistic, is to court disaster in the very near future.


Filed under China

It’s been a tough week for Naval Aviation

In less than 48 hours, there have been three major mishaps in Naval Aviation.

Incredibly, none of the mishaps resulted in fatalities.



Hizzoner’s Last Flight


There’s something that you’ll want to go read over at I don’t know; ask the skipper:

It wasn’t necessarily his last flight evah. It was his last flight in that particular tour of duty, in that squadron, on that boat. Then again, there was certainly no guarantee of another sea-based sortie. This fella – if I remember the callsign correctly – we will refer to as Tex from this point forward. His call sign sounded similar. It might have even rhymed.

Go read the rest.

Make sure to add the blog to you daily read too. Lots of great stuff there.

What a great way to hang up the spurs.



Filed under navy, planes, SIR!

Infographic: U.S. Navy Fighters 1917 – 2010



by | April 30, 2014 · 1:51 pm

Cutaway Thursday: E-2D Advanced Hawkeye


Learn more here.

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Filed under navy, planes

The F-8 Crusader in Aeronavale Service

The legendary F-8 Crusader served with the Aeronavale from 1964 (trails starting aboard Clemenceau in 1962) to 2000.

The Aeronavale used the F-8E(FN) initially. The FN had the fire control system modified to carry the Matra R.530 missile (in addition to the Sidewinder). In addition the wing incidence angle was increased from 3 to 5 degrees to accommodate operations from the decidedly smaller aircraft carriers.

Later in service 1979, the FN was upgraded to the standard F-8J with a modified afterburner and J model standard wing. The R.550 missile was also added. Later again in 1989 17 F-8E(FN) were modified to the F-8P (P for prolonge) with rewired electrical and hydraulic systems and the addition of a radar warning receiver.

Deliveries of the FN to the Aeronavale began in October 1964 til February 1965 to the Aeronavale’s first fighter squadron Flotille 12F and Flotille 14F.

The Crusader served in many French military operations in the Mid East and Africa. One of the more unusual incidents took place over Djibouti in 1977 (from Wikipedia):

On 7 May 1977, two Crusaders went separately on patrol against supposedly French Air Force (4/11 Jura squadron) F-100 Super Sabres stationed at Djibouti. The leader intercepted two fighters and engaged a dogfight (supposed to be a training exercise) but quickly called his wingman for help as he had actually engaged two Yemeni Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21s. The two French fighters switched their master armament to “on” but, ultimately, everyone returned to their bases. This was the only combat interception by French Crusaders.


Here are some early pictures of the F-8 in Aeronavale service:








The Aeronavale Crusader also took part in the NATO’S air war over Kosovo in 1999. Here are some pictures of the F-8 from that cruise:







In 2000, the F-8P was replaced with the Rafale M.

A long period of service for a great airplane.

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Hornet Ball

Each year, each of the communities in Naval Aviation, hold a ball. One such community is  the West Coast F/A-18C/D Hornet and F/A-18E/F SuperHornet squadrons. The annual balls are  fun social occasions allowing the aircrew to dress up in their best uniforms and show off their ladies (or gentlemen, in this new age) in their finest. Speeches are made, and presentations on the state of the community by leadership and contractors given. And it is awards season, both for the best squadrons, and for individual achievement within the community.

In the last dozen or so years, one highlight of the community balls has become the videos various squadrons and even individuals put together for presentation. Here’s one.

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Silent Hornet?

The F/A-18 family has been a pretty successful program for Naval Aviation, from it’s origins as an inexpensive lightweight fighter, to a replacement for legacy F-4 Phantom and A-7 Corsair II aircraft.  It’s evolution into the much larger F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EF-18G Growler were surprisingly smooth programs.

But the program isn’t without its faults.  For instance, the major weakness of the family has always been seen as its relatively low “fuel fraction,” that is, the percentage of the aircrafts weight devoted to fuel.  A low fuel fraction leads to relatively short range.  External tanks and aerial refueling mitigate this to some extent, but not without penalties in performance, payload, cost, and time.

The Super Hornets also have one other minor issue. A fair amount of attention was paid to reducing the radar cross section of the jet, without having to go full stealth. But when weapon separation tests were conducted on the prototype, it turned out that some loads were not leaving cleanly. The modified wing of the Super Hornet was doing things to airflow that no one had foreseen. Rather than have to redesign the entire wing, the fix turned out to be toeing out the external wing pylons by 4 degrees.  Of course, this imposes a healthy bit of drag, both for the pylons themselves, and for any stores on them. It also pretty much shot to hell all the attention to reducing the radar cross section of the jet.

So, with the pylons off, the Super Hornet is pretty sprightly, and has fair low observable characteristics. But it doesn’t have any range, or any weapons.

Boeing is trying to work around that issue.  In recent years, other “teen” series fighters, the F-15 and F-16, have used “conformal fuel tanks” fitted to the outside of the airframe to increase “internal” fuel, rather than having to carry drop tanks on pylons. With care, the design can have minimal impact on airframe drag or radar cross section. That goes a long ways toward tacking the range issue. But what about weapons? Boeing is also designing a semi-stealthy pod for the centerline that resembles a drop tank, but is instead a weapons pod.

Jason pointed out this article at The DEW Line showing a mock-up of the configuration that Boeing and the Navy will flight test this summer.


You can see the Conformal Fuel Tanks over the wing root, and the weapons pod on the centerline. Close observation will also show a sensor window under the nose, as opposed to the usual method of mounting a pod on one of the engine bays. Less drag, more stealth.

The concept is to give the Super Hornet fleet some limited ability for “first day of the war” stealth to penetrate enemy air space. My major concern is that the weapons pod right now is only configured (so far as we can tell) to carry four AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles, giving it a fair air-to-air capability. What it really needs is a capability to carry weapons to attack enemy surface to air defense systems.  Some way of carrying anti-radiation missiles, or at a minimum, GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs is going to be critical. I suppose designing an alternative pod shouldn’t be too great an engineering challenge.

Boeing is smart enough to see that its rival Lockheed Martin is struggling to make the F-35C a reality, and is trying to offer a low cost, low risk alternative that will keep the carrier air wing viable through the first half of the 21st Century.


Filed under navy, planes

One Year

It’s been one year.

ORPO1 shot me a message warning that an F-21 was down. I immediately said the infantry prayer:

“Oh, shit.”

Alas, it was true. Carroll “Lex” LeFon, Captain, US Navy, Retired, had been killed providing adversary services to his beloved TOPGUN at Naval Air Station Fallon.  The next morning, I wrote this post.

The loss of any man is a tragedy to someone. His family and friends, of course. And God knows, Lex’s family has felt pain and loss.

But Carroll LeFon had started a little blog a while back. Just a few sea stories, and tales of the naval service. And that little blog grew.  More and more sea stories, to be sure. And occasionally, a glimpse into his life. We followed as he was promoted from Commander to Captain, as his son graduated from college, was commissioned in the Navy, and earned his own Wings of Gold.

We followed Lex into retirement, and from thence into the cube farm. We watched him yearn to fly again, and seek solace by signing up with a local flying club, relearning the art of light planes, after a career in heavy metal.

Eventually, the opportunity arose to fly the F-21 Kfir to support the Navy, via a private contractor. Oh, the joy we shared with him! A pretty plane, an important mission, and few aviators better suited to it.

And we were with him every step of the way, loyal readers of his blog. Most of us visited Neptunus Lex daily before even checking our email, and checked in again at days end, in case something interesting had been posted. And unlike virtually every other blog out there, the comment section could be spirited, and yet still civil.

In the days after his death, hundreds of blogs and websites made note of his passing.  I’d  run out of pixels trying to list them all. Suffice to say, the Secretary of the Navy does not note the passing of most retired Captains.

The insight into the Navy, Naval Aviation, and America’s warriors that Lex gave so many Americans was a service that the Navy’s PR shop has tried, at great expense, to do, and yet never done as well as a simple blogger.  His service to his Navy and nation in blogging was great.

I feel an emptiness every day with him gone. He’s still at the top of my bookmarks.  And I know that I wrote better after reading him. His writing, when he first started blogging, was good. But as time went on, it became better and better. After a few years, his prose, his pacing, his vocabulary, and his singular ability to draw a complete mental picture for the reader were unsurpassed anywhere on the internet.  Only a man of great compassion and empathy could write that well.

I’ve several “favorite” Lex posts. Some funny, others tragic.Almost all insightful.

But my personal favorite is this one.

Tonight, I’ll be sipping a Guinness, For Strength! and a Jameson, For Courage.

God Bless you, Lex.


Filed under Personal

Not So “Super” Carriers

So, at the deactivation of the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) the Secretary of the Navy announded that the third ship of the Gerald R. Ford class of carriers will also be named Enterprise. Good news. And there are any number of former US carriers that have names that resound through the history of the fleet. Ranger, Constellation, Hornet, Yorktown, and Lexington all have proud heritages.

But not every carrier has a lineage like that. Many of the escort carriers of World War II served in relative obscurity. And then there were the two carriers that are the subject of this post.

If I told you the US Navy once had a carrier fleet on the Great Lakes, would you think I was nuts?

Carrier aviation was important and growing more so even before the attack on Pearl Harbor. After the attack the growth of naval aviation could only be described as explosive.  The losses of trained aviators in early campaigns and the expansion of the carrier fleet meant trained aviators were critically needed. A fleet that would grow to over 90 fleet, light fleet*, and escort carriers would require thousands of naval aviators.

Flight school for these aviators was, for the most part, similar to that of pilots of the Army Air Forces. But the key thing distinguishing Naval Aviators from mere pilots was their ability to take off from, and more critically, land aboard a carrier at sea.  The problem was, what carriers there were didn’t have time to train fledgling birdmen. They were already locked in battle with the Imperial Japanese Navy, and fighting for their lives. Losses of carriers at Coral Sea, Midway and the Solomon Islands meant that new construction carriers just entering the fleet couldn’t be tasked to training aviators, but instead had to be deployed overseas almost as soon as their paint was dry. Something had to be done, however, to provide those new carriers with aircrew to turn them from transports to fighting warships.

To be sure, as each new carrier was commissioned, it too its “turn in the barrel” serving as a platform for carrier qualification. This helped qualify aviators, but it also helped train each ship’s flight deck crew in its duties. But still, the backlog of aviators needing qualification would grow. Further, using fleet and escort carriers for this job meant they needed heavy escort, particularly in the waters of the Atlantic, where German U-Boats were taking a heavy toll on coastal shipping. No sub skipper in the world would pass at a chance to sink a carrier.

Very early in the war, the idea of a dedicated training carrier on Lake Michigan surfaced. And this idea had a lot going for it. First, the chances of a U-Boat attack on the lake were zero**. Secondly, any such ship would almost by definition have to be a conversion from an existing merchantman. But since it would be strictly a training carrier, other than providing a flight deck and arresting gear, almost no other carrier specific modifications, such as a hangar deck, ammunition magazines, aviation fuel supply, radars, or extensive ready room facilities would be needed. Operating daily from Navy Pier in Chicago, such a ship would be able to leave most functions to the shore side establishment. Navy planes would fly from NAS Glenview (near Chicago) out over the lake, practice landings and takeoffs, and then fly home to NAS Glenview at the end of the day.

Most of the existing merchant ships on the Great Lakes were either desperately needed to support the war effort, or were pressed into service on the open ocean. But the Navy found two ships ill suited for either of those tasks and hence available. Both were coal fired, side-paddlewheeled ships.

The Seeandbee had been built in 1913 to provide passage between Cleveland and Buffalo.

SS Seeandbee before conversion to a training carrier.

In March of 1942, the Navy bought the Seeandbee, began the conversion process by razing her to the main deck and adding a flight deck. By January, 1943, she had been converted, renamed the USS Wolverine (IX-64) and was operating out of Chicago.


USS Wolverine (IX-64) on Lake Michigan, circa 1944.

The other training carrier began life as as the SS Greater Buffalo, providing overnight service between Buffalo and Detroit.


SS Greater Buffalo, as built.

Built in 1924, she was acquired by the Navy a few months after the Seeandbee. During her conversion, she was named  and commissioned as USS Sable (IX-81). Unlike the Douglas Fir plank flight deck of Wolverine (and all other US carriers of the time) she was given a steel flight deck. Sable entered service on Lake Michigan in 1943 as well.

File:USS Sable (IX-81).jpg

USS Sable (IX-81) underway on Lake Michigan.

During the course of World War II, these two ships qualified almost 18,000 Naval Aviators, an astonishing number given their short careers. Future President of the United States, George H.W. Bush qualified aboard the USS Sable.

Both ships had top speeds of 18 knots. But when landing aboard a carrier, the ideal was to have 30 knots of wind across the deck. As long as there was a breeze of 12 knots or more to steam into, there was no problem. But if winds were calm, operations aboard the ships, especially by heavier aircraft such as the TBM or SB2C, could be problematic. And given the neophyte nature of the aviators landing aboard, it’s hardly surprising that accidents happened quite often. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 130 aircraft found their way to the bottom of Lake Michigan during the war. Many others suffered varying degrees of damage while landing aboard. But operating from Lake Michigan was far more benign than the open sea, so while there were deaths, the total loss of life was a quite small. 

Spending the war shoveling coal on a converted steamer might not have the elan of a destroyerman, nor the dash of a cruiser or battleship sailor, but apparently, spending almost every night in port, with liberty in downtown Chicago was pretty popular with most of the crew.  Today, Navy Pier is a major tourist attraction in downtown Chicago.

As soon as the war ended, the need for aviators fell, and thus the need for the Wolverine and Sable. By 1947, both ships had been decommissioned, struck from the Naval Register, and disposed of.

As for the 130 or so airplanes that sank to the bottom of the lake, that’s something of an ongoing story. These days, restoring warbirds to either museum display or flight is a big business. As it turns out, the cold fresh water of Lake Michigan provided for good preservation of airplanes that sank.  But the Navy has long held that they still retain title to those planes, and forbids salvage of them. In recent years, however, the Navy has begun to allow limited salvage of some aircraft, while still claiming title, provided the recovered aircraft are restored and place on display in areas open to the general public.  One such salvaged example is an F4F-3 of the type used by CDR Butch O’Hare. It’s displayed at O’Hare Airport, which was named in his honor.

Friend of the blog Jason Camlic passed along a couple of fascinating links. A&T Recovery specializes in salvage operations in the Great Lakes. Over the last thirty years, A&T has worked with the National Naval Aviation Museum to recover lost aircraft from the lake. Click on through to visit their very informative site and see some great pictures of the Wolverine and Sable conducting operations, as well as some neat information on their other discoveries.

Similarly, Jason passed along this link to the Pritzker Military Library’s presentation on the freshwater carriers and the lost aircraft of Lake Michigan.

*Light fleet carriers were nine ships laid down as light cruisers, but converted on the ways into aircraft carriers. They were very much compromise designs, smaller than regular fleet carriers, and with correspondingly smaller airgroups. But they were available, had speed enough to keep up with the fleet, and a compromise carrier beats the heck out of no carrier at all.

**Well, actually, there was one German U-Boat in the Great Lakes, and I’m not talking about U-505.


Filed under history, navy, planes


The Navy has its first female Carrier Air Wing commander. And the writer at the local paper is smart enough to catch on that the call sign of CAG of ComCarWing Three is (and has been for at least 40 years) Battleaxe.

Capt. Sara Joyner laughed when she realized that as the first female fighter pilot to command a carrier air wing, she would answer to the call sign “Battle Axe.”

“If you look up the word ‘battle-axe,’ it is a slightly overbearing and domineering woman,” Joyner told reporters Friday after assuming command of Carrier Air Wing 3 – nicknamed “Battle Axe” – during a ceremony at Oceana Naval Air Station. “I found that humorous.”

It’s also rather refreshing to see that she doesn’t try to make the occasion a big Diversity Industry celebration.

“I don’t think that it needs to be said; it’s out there. My hope is to be as good as the best of the best CAGs that I’ve had,” Joyner said, referring to the Navy’s acronym for the commander of an air group. “It doesn’t matter what you look like; it matters how you do the job.”

Successful command of a carrier air wing, along with her previous successful command of a strike fighter squadron, doesn’t guarantee an Admiral’s flag in her future, but in Naval Aviation, it is one of two well worn paths to the stars, the other being successful squadron command, followed by the nuclear power pipeline and eventual carrier command.

Good luck to Captain Joyner and CVW-3.




No, not the uber-cheezey Nic Cage film. VA-304, the Naval Air Reserve A-6 Intruder squadron made a video back in the day. The home base is NAS Alameda, which most of you know today as the runway where the Mythbusters do some of their more…. kinetic… experiments.  These clips also have some of the best low-level flying shots I’ve seen.





Oh, and all that scary low level stuff?

They also did it at night.

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I don’t want to make this “All Intruders, all the time!” here, but folks that know me know I love the old Grumman A-6 Intruder. Some of it is family history, and some of it is a love of utilitarianism. Plus, I kinda like my planes a little on the ugly side.  Unlike my wimmens.

I stole these two videos from Andy at the Neptunus Lex Facebook page. Sadly, I’ve never figured a decent way of giving linky-love to a closed group over there. I just don’t want you to think I come up with this stuff on my own. No sir! The essence of smart blogging is letting someone else do all the hard work. At any event, here’s two clips. And if we’re lucky, Andy might share some more Intruder stuff soon.



Filed under navy, planes

Retro, in more ways than one.

2011 is the 100th anniversary of Naval Aviation. In honor of this, the Navy is painting a limited number of aircraft in historic paint schemes.

That light blue scheme is inspired by the paint scheme worn by USN aircraft in the Pacific in the early days of WWII, such as at the Battle of Midway. Looking good!

What else is retro? Well, the aircraft itself. The Navy retired all of its S-3s a couple years ago. It didn’t bother to replace them. But when it decided it needed a way to patrol the missile ranges off the California coast, it pulled a couple S-3s out of mothballs and is currently refurbishing them for the job. Maybe, just maybe, the Navy should have just kept them in the first place.


Filed under navy