Seen here with the bird that bears his name, Commander Bill Hodges, CO of VP-11, poses while on a deployment to Malta in the mid-1950s.
Note: Hodges had a long career that included surviving the sinking of his ship, USS West Virginia, at Pearl Harbor (a good swimmer, Hodges took a few deep breaths and dove down into the wreck to retrieve his wallet).
Given the A3D Skywarrior (AKA the “Whale) was the largest/heaviest plane to ever operate from an aircraft carrier, it stands to reason that if one hit the water it also made the biggest splash. A3D-2 (#138910) of Heavy Attack Four was no exception.
The aircraft was only a few months old when, on its first deployment, it encountered some unplanned excitement while landing (note hook down, speed brakes open) on the USS Ticonderoga, August 12, 1957. It went like this:
Things were looking ops normal when the aircraft bounced down on deck snagging the #3 arresting wire.
Then the damned wire broke.
Now, that busted #3 wire had held long enough to decelerate the aircraft below flying speed, but unfortunately it did not hold long enough to slow the plane’s speed to where it could stop before running out of deck.
Too fast to stop, but now also too slow to fly, the now highly agitated pilot briskly ascertained that his only available option was to fire-wall the throttles and hope for the best. However, what with the Whale’s less than amazing thrust-to-weight ratio, the outcome was never in doubt: The hapless A3D ambled off the deck and wallowed towards the waves.
The effect of a 25-ton aircraft smashing into the sea is apparent.
Having impacted the water, the crew did not loiter about the cockpit pondering what to do for the rest of the day. In fact, that decision had already been made for them: the aircraft’s nose had sheared off. Fortunately for them, policy dictated that the overhead hatch would be open for landing. What with the hatch already open, and the nose gone, egress was relatively simple if not somewhat frantic. You can see the crew floating in the Pacific Ocean sunshine with a fish-eye view of their aircraft carrier as the Ticonderoga draws abeam the wreck. Skywarrior 138910 is on its way to the bottom of the sea.
The navy’s newest flying boat basks in the sunshine at Convair’s San Diego factory. The Tradewind seemed to have a bright future indeed.
Sleek and powerful, the R3Y set seaplane speed records that stand to this day.
Originally dubbed the PY5 and intended as a patrol/bomber, the Tradewind as the R3Y was soon envisioned as the answer to the navy’s need for a cargo & troop hauler. The potential was promising for the Tradewind; a swift flying boat that could fulfill a variety of missions.
Nosed in to such a dock was the only way to perform a full power engine run while afloat. As my dad, a former seaplane pilot, has said a million times, “once you start the motor, you’re moving – there are no brakes.” NAS North Island is in the background.
But (yes, there is a “but” to this grand Tradewind tale), the aircraft was plagued by unreliable engines and propellers. Its T-40 turboprop engines were actually a pair that drove contra-rotating propellers via a common gearbox. When working, it performed beautifully, but the engine system and propellers were terribly prone to failure.
Entering service in 1956, the R3Y was flown by one squadron, the navy’s VR-2 at NAS Alameda. The massive beaching gear assembly is evident.
Flight deck access was through the cargo compartment.
Crewman keeps an eye on the T-40 engines. Note the twin exhaust for the paired motors.
Charged with keeping the whole thing running were the flight engineers. Given that only 13 Tradewinds were built, it is rare to meet anyone whoever had anything to do with the aircraft. Luckily enough, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the R3Y’s former flight engineers. He said the aircraft was a pleasure to fly, but he also confirmed that the motors and propeller system were a constant headache.
Everyone loves the 1950’s promotional schemes, and this one with star of stage, screen, and swimming pool, Esther Williams is no different.
The newspaper says it all: The Tradewind was ill-served by its engines and propellers. Of the four Tradewinds that crashed, all were the result of engine related problems. Faced with such difficulties, the navy ordered the Tradewind grounded in 1958 after only two years of service. The aircraft as a concept was well-received, but it needed better motors. Any aircraft powered by the T-40 had a short life as a result.
These fuzzy-sweater wearing air show fans picked out a pretty good spot to watch the Blue Angels at NAS Whidbey in the early 1960’s. Try this with today’s average car and there would be two human-shaped dents in the paper-thin tin can metal roof, whereupon the car manufacturer would be sued for not placing a warning in the owner’s manual to “Never lie on the roof of your vehicle, especially when it is in motion” etc. etc…
P5M-1 of VP-40 pays a call at NAS Whidbey Island in the mid-1950’s.
P5M-2 of VP-47, NAS Whidbey Island, 1963.
The VP-47 ramp at NAS Whidbey Island in the early 1960’s. The destroyer at the pier is USS Watts (DD-567). VP-47 was based at Whidbey from 1960-65, and their departure marked the end of seaplane operations there. The squadron returned in 2017 with P-8 Poseidon aircraft.
VP-47, with the exception of one aircraft, is deployed. (Note the oil stains where aircraft are usually parked.) The hangar was later converted into the navy’s department store, the Navy Exchange. Looking nothing like a department store on the outside & nothing like a hangar on the inside, its parking lot is 1942 concrete, and the aircraft tie-down points are still in place.
Following the Tri-Service aircraft designation system change in 1962, the P5M-2 became the SP-5B. Here, one is hoisted aboard the seaplane tender USS Currituck (AV-7) while VP-47 was in the Aleutian Islands.
VP-40 Marlin gets a helping hand.
The Marlin was a massive aircraft and required considerable effort to handle. Here, the beaching gear – having been removed from a now afloat aircraft – is manhandled into position to await the aircraft’s return.
This ungainly and ignoble-looking beast was a vital piece of equipment for a seaplane squadron. Nominally it was a crane to haul up sunken seaplanes, but it also filled roles as seen here: dredging the debris from the harbor/runway. The boat on the dock was one of the numerous types used in seaplane operations. Painted day-glo orange, it has a rubber bumper to avoid damage to aircraft when they were afloat and tied to their buoys, or at anchor. Note the aircraft insignia on the bow. Location: NAS Whidbey Island.
Maritime reconnaissance meant long and lonely hours staring out windows.
Arguably the best of its type ever built for the US Navy, the Curtiss SC came too late to play a significant role in WWII.It’s hard to believe there are no surviving examples of this fine aircraft. That being said, the remains of two of these aircraft were recently seen when the wreck of the USS Indianapolis was discovered. But they are 18,000 feet deep, and in pieces.Only a handful of these were built: the SC-2Post-war photo of 33654 and 35594 resting upon the catapults of an Iowa class battleship. “CA” was the code for VO-1C of NAS Terminal Island.Hopefully, this was not as fatal as it looks. Bureau no. has been airbrushed out.
Top photo: F4U-4 (81499) of VF-873, NAS Oakland. Next, 81282, unit unknown.