Big plane = Big splash (1) (4) (3) (5) (6)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.



Grumman F3F – the “Flying Barrel” (2)The F3F had a number of nicknames, all of which seemed related to its appearance. Nevertheless, it was rugged, reliable, and pretty quick. It was also the last biplane fighter ordered by the US military. The first two photos show VF-4 out for a cruise above California in the late 1930’s. Numbers are 261, 228, (3)Here we see marines of VMF-2 out for a drive in the F3F-2. This second model had a bigger motor and is therefore quickly identified by the size of the engine cowl. Numbers are 973, 977, and 979.


Scouting Three, USS Saratoga, 1939 (1)Hurrying across the hills of Southern California, 18 SBC Helldivers of Scouting Squadron Three (VS3) make a fine display for the (4)The men of VS3 aboard their home base, USS Saratoga. The ship’s main battery of 8″ guns make a nice backdrop. Note the small saluting/practice gun at the base of the big rifle barrels. Many have dismissed this defensive armament as a throwback, a sop to the old-school admirals who could not fathom that the day of the big gun ship had been eclipsed by aircraft. 

But these two carriers were built in the mid-1920’s and entered service in 1927. Simply put, the aircraft of that time were not an effective substitute for a warship’s heavy armament – and that was on a sunny day suitable for flying. In bad weather or darkness the ship’s aircraft were of almost no value whatsoever. Big guns were needed, but how big? The “Lex” and “Sara” were faster than any battleship of that time, so battleship-sized guns were not required. What they could not outrun was a cruiser. Given that typical armament for a cruiser was 8″ guns it made sense to provide the same weaponry to the two carriers. 

Less than ten years after the two carriers were commissioned, the advances in aviation technology made the big guns less important and they were eventually removed. While those guns were still part of the ship though, they were not there at the insistence of traditional or narrow-minded navy brass. When the two carriers were designed the question must have been asked: what were they to do on a zero-visibility day with aircraft grounded, and an enemy cruiser swept in through the mist? Answer: Provide the two ships with all-weather firepower. Makes good sense.

TBD Devastators of USS Lexington and USS Saratoga (1)Torpedo 3 (VT-3) prepares to land aboard Saratoga in 1939. Barely visible above the center aircraft, in echelons of three, are six SBC Helldivers (Well, at least in the original photo they are visible). 3-T-11 is BuNo. 281 which was lost in 1942 while landing on the Sara.  Note the “plane guard” destroyer trailing behind the (2)Torpedo 2 cruises up the California coast in the late 1930’s. Left to right: 292, 293, and 298. The first, 292, was lost in a mid-air collision with another TBD in 1940. 293 was transferred to VT-8 and was shot down at Midway. 298 saw action when assigned to VT-5 but was forced to land in in a lagoon at Jaluit Atoll in Marshall Islands Feb 1, 1942. (3)The same aircraft as seen like they managed to get almost every TBD in Torpedo 3 aloft for this photo. 

The Convair R3Y Tradewind

07c_fm2015_r3yandcrowd_liveThe navy’s newest flying boat basks in the sunshine at Convair’s San Diego factory. The Tradewind seemed to have a bright future indeed. 07b_fm2015_frombernier01_00032123_liveSleek and powerful, the R3Y set seaplane speed records that stand to this day.07a_fm2015_frombernier01_00032145_liveOriginally 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.ae92beb4720d07f2f51031c95f8e4679Nosed 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 hit the gas, you’re moving – there are no brakes.” NAS North Island is in the background.img503But (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.img515Entering 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.img504Flight deck access was through the cargo compartment.img514Crewman keeps an eye on the T-40 engines. Note the twin exhaust for the paired motors.img498img508Charged 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.img500img510Photo-13.-Convair-R3Y-2-65 esther williamsEveryone loves the 1950’s promotional schemes, and this one with star of stage, screen, and swimming pool, Esther Williams is no different.img519

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.