Carrier Onboard Delivery, that is, the use of planes to provide logistical support to aircraft carriers, has been around pretty much as long as there have been carriers. The first dedicated COD aircraft was the TBM-3R, a modified Grumman Avenger with its armament removed, bomb bay sealed, and provisions for carrying passengers, mail, and cargo. But by the early 1950s, the Avenger CODs were getting old and tired, and their limited payload and range was also an issue. So Grumman devised a COD version of their highly successful S2F Tracker airplane. The wings, engine and empennage were the same, but the fuselage was somewhat deeper, looking for all the world like a pregnant Tracker. Originally designated TF-1, it was named the Trader, and first flew in 1955. Eighty-three were built, and would support the fleet until 1984. It was the last radial engine powered plane in the fleet.
In the mid 1960s, Grumman would similarly adapt their E-2 Hawkeye wing, engine and empennage to a new, larger fuselage to produce the C-2 Greyhound COD, which first complemented, and later replaced the Trader in service. The Greyhound continues to support the COD mission to this day.
Now a 60 year old design, out of service for over thirty years, you’d think the Trader’s story has come to a close. But wait, there’s more!
When France retired its aircraft carrier Foch in favor of the nuclear carrier Charles De Gaulle, Brazil bought Foch to replace its previous aircraft carrier, Minas Gerais*, and renamed her Sao Paulo. The Brazilians also bought Kuwait’s surplus A-4KU Skyhawks. Designated AF-1 in Brazilian service, these are excellent carrier aircraft, but they lack range.
Back in 2010, Brazil announced plans to purchase four C-1A Traders, and refurbish them for use as COD aircraft. The planes are in very rough shape.
Basically, the framework and sheetmetal are to be saved, and everything else, the engines, hydraulics, wiring, instruments and avionics will be brought up to 21st century standards. As an aside, re-engining S-2 Trackers with turboprop engines is a fairly standard modification, one that even CalFires has done with its S-2T tanker fleet.
The program has been somewhat stalled for the last four years, but finally, this week, Brazil signed a contract with Elbit Systems of America to perform the work. In addition to restoring them to flight and modernizing them, Elbit will add a refueling package to enable the Traders to refuel the Navy’s Skyhawks.
Elbit Systems of America, LLC, a subsidiary of Elbit Systems Ltd., announced today that it received a directed subcontract from the Brazilian Navy to upgrade four Grumman C-1A aircraft. The prime contract is held by Marsh Aviation Company of Mesa, Arizona. The subcontract, valued at $106 million, will be performed by Elbit Systems of America over a five-year period.
The upgrade work will be performed in San Antonio, Texas, at the facilities of M7 Aerospace, an Elbit Systems of America subsidiary, under the supervision of Brazilian Navy officers who are currently deployed to San Antonio. When upgraded, the Grumman C-1A aircraft will be designated as KC-2 COD/AAR (Carrier Onboard Delivery/Air-to-Air Refueling) aircraft, for the ultimate use on the Brazilian Navy’s aircraft carrier, the NAe São Paulo. AEL Sistemas S.A., Elbit Systems’ Brazilian subsidiary, located in Porto Alegre, Brazil, will provide in-country contractor logistic support services for the program as a subcontractor to Elbit Systems of America.
The planes should start being delivered about 2018. It’s amazing just how much Grumman got right with their design. Sixty years old, and it makes more sense to refurbish these planes than to attempt to convert some other or to design a new one for the role.