Tag Archives: Aircraft Carrier

21 July 1946

The second McDonnell XFD-1 Phantom prototype, Bu. No. 48236, lands aboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42), 21 July 1946. Lieutenant Commander James Jennings Davidson, U.S.N., is in the cockpit. (U.S. Navy)

21 July 1946: Lieutenant Commander James Jennings Davidson, United States Navy, flying the second prototype McDonnell XFD-1 Phantom, made four takeoffs and landings aboard the Midway-class aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42). This was the very first time that an all-jet aircraft had operated from a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.¹

USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42) cruising the Mediterranean Sea, November 1948. (U.S. Navy)
McDonnell XFD-1 Phantom Bu. No. 48236 crosses the arresting cables aboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42), 21 July 1946. (U.S. Navy)
McDonnell XFD-1 Phantom Bu. No. 48236 takes off from USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42), 21 July 1946. The pilot is Lieutenant Commander James Jennings Davidson, U.S.N. (U.S. Navy)

The McDonnell XFD-1 Phantom was a prototype turbojet-powered fighter, one of two designed and built by the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation at St. Louis, Missouri. It was a single-place, twin-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear, intended for operations from the United States Navy’s aircraft carriers. The XFD-1 was 37 feet, 2.50 inches (11.341 meters) long, with a wingspan of 42 feet, 0.00 inches (12.802 meters) and height of 13 feet, 2.00 inches (5.105 meters). With its wings folded for storage, the span was reduced to 15 feet, 4.00 inches (4.674 meters), but the overall height increased to 16 feet, 9.00 inches (5.105 meters). The airplane had a normal gross weight of 8,250 pounds (3,742 kilograms), and an overload gross weight of approximately 9,700 pounds (4,400 kilograms).

The XFD-1 was powered by two Westinghouse 19B (J30-WE- ) engines. The engines were positioned on either side of the fuselage, inside the wing roots. By keeping the engines close to the airplane’s center of gravity, it was more maneuverable, and had less adverse yaw when operating on a single engine. The Westinghouse 19B was a single-spool axial flow turbojet. It used a six-stage compressor section with a single-stage turbine. There is conflicting information as to the specific engine variant, and their thrust, but the 19B as installed in the XFD-1 was rated at 15,500 r.p.m for cruise, with a Normal (continuous) rating of 17,000 r.p.m., and a Military/War Emergency Power rating of 18,000 r.p.m. The Westinghose 19B was 19.0 inches (0.483 meters) in diameter, 94.0 inches (2.388 meters) long, and weighed 826 pounds (375 kilograms).

One of the two McDonnell XFD-1 Phantom prototypes. (SDASM)

Both XFD-1 prototypes were lost before flight testing was completed, so performance data is limited. They were limited to a maximum speed of 0.66 Mach. (The test pilot was provided with a chart for the equivalent indicated air speed (IAS) at specific altitudes.) The speed in a dive was limited to 365 knots (305 miles per hour/491 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). The airframe was restricted to a maximum 5gs acceleration. Spins, snap rolls and inverted flight were prohibited. Contemporary reports were that the Phantom was faster than 500 miles per hour (805 kilometers per hour). Its ceiling was over 35,000 feet (10,668 meters), and its range was 1,000 miles (1,610 kilometers).

The XFD-1 was armed with four Browning .50-caliber machine guns grouped together in the nose, with 250 rounds of ammunition per gun.

The first prototype, Bu. No. 48235, made its first flight 26 January 1945, flown by test pilot Woodward E. (“Woody”) Burke, but it crashed 1 November 1945. Burke, the pilot, was killed. The second prototype, Bu. No. 48236, crashed 26 August 1946.

McDonnell built 62 FD-1 Phantoms (redesignated FH-1 in 1947) before production shifted to the larger F2H-1 Banshee.

Left to right, Lieutenant Commander James Jennings Davidson, with Vice Admiral Arthur William Radford, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air, and Vice Admiral Gerald Francis Bogan, Commander, Air Force, Atlantic Fleet, aboard U.S.S. Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42). Photo released 22 July 1946. (U.S. Navy via Navy Pilot Overseas)
Captain James Jennings Davidson, United States Navy

James Jennings Davidson was born 19 July 1919 at Sparta, Wisconsin. He was the second of three children of David Davidson, a farmer, and Clara Josephine Gilbertson. He attended Lewiston High School, and the the Wisconsin State Teacher’s College at Winona. He graduated in 1940 with a Bachelor of Science degree (B.S.) in Science Education.

While at college, Davidson participated in the Civilian Pilot Training program.

Davidson enlisted in the United States Navy as an aviation cadet, 25 November 1940. He underwent flight training at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas. On completing flight school, Davidson was awarded the gold wings of a Naval Aviator, and commissioned as an ensign, U.S. Navy, with date of rank from 4 August 1941.

Ensign Davidson married Miss Muriel Juliet Mindrum in March 1942. They would have a daughter, Barbara Claire Davidson.

During World War II, Davidson flew the Douglas SBD Dauntless and Curtiss-Wright SB2C Helldiver dive bombers. Davidson was promoted to the temporary rank of lieutenant 1 October 1943. The rank was made permanent, with date of rank retroactive to 4 August 1941.

In 1944, Lieutenant Davidson was assigned to Naval Air Test Center at NAS Anacostia, at Washington, D.C. Davidson was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander, 3 October 1945. He later attended the United Kingdom’s Empire Test Pilots’ School.

During the Korean War, Lieutenant Commander flew combat missions in the Grumman F9F Panther. He was promoted to commander, 1 July 1953. Later in his career, Commander Davidson served aboard USS Kearsarge (CV-33); and commanded Fighter Squadron Fifty-Two (VF-52).

Commander Davidson was promoted to the rank of captain, 1 July 1960, and commanded Carrier Air Group 14 (CVG 14) aboard USS Ranger (CV-61).

Captain Davidson retired from the U.S. Navy in July 1972. He died at Prince William, Virginia, 5 December 1993, and was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

¹ The very first jet landings and takeoffs had occurred over seven months earlier, 3 December 1945, when Lieutenant-Commander Eric Melrose Brown, D.S.C., Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, flying a de Haviulland DH.100 Vampire, made several takeoffs and landings aboard the Royal Navy aircraft carrier, HMS Ocean (R68).

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 June 1942: Carrier vs. Carrier

USS Yorktown (CV-5) immediately after aerial torpedo hit, 4 June 1942. (U.S. Navy)

4 June 1942: The Battle of Midway: By the afternoon American planes had heavily damaged three Japanese Aircraft carriers. They would later sink. Planes from the fourth carrier, IJN Hiryu, were launched to attack the American aircraft carriers.

USS Yorktown (CV-5) was hit by two aerial torpedoes from Nakajima B5N torpedo bombers. She listed sharply, lost power and was out of action. She would later be sunk by the Japanese submarine I-168. Hiryu was attacked by U.S. Navy SBD Dauntless dive bombers and was badly damaged, set on fire, and sank later in the day.

The Battle of Midway was not over. It would go on until 7 June. However, the outcome was clear. Midway was a decisive American victory.

The Americans lost 1 aircraft carrier and 1 destroyer, about 150 aircraft, with 307 soldiers, sailors and airmen killed. The island outpost was saved and would never again be seriously threatened.

The Imperial Japanese Navy lost 4 aircraft carriers and one cruiser, with other warships, including battleships, so heavily damaged that they were out of the war for some time. Also lost were 248 aircraft and 3,057 sailors and airmen killed.

For the rest of the War, the Japanese Navy suffered from the loss of these highly experienced naval aviators. Though they could replace the men, they could not replace their years of combat experience. From this point forward, Japan was on the defensive with its defeat inevitable.

The Battle of Midway was the most decisive naval battle in history. It was fought almost entirely by aircraft.

IJN Hiryu heavily damaged and on fire, shortly before sinking, 4 June 1942 (IJN photograph)

Very Highly Recommended: History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Volume IV, Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Actions, May 1942—August 1942, by Samuel Eliot Morison, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, September 1949. The entire 15-volume series has TDiA’s highest possible recommendation.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 May 1986

“Top Gun” poster (Paramount Pictures)

16 May 1986: The Paramount Pictures motion picture, “Top Gun,” directed by Tony Scott, was released in 1,028 theaters in the United States.

The romance/action movie centered around the lives of U.S. Navy fighter pilots. The featured actors were Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards and Tom Skeritt.

The real “star” of the movie, though, was the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, a supersonic interceptor operating from United States Navy aircraft carriers.

Tom Cruise, Anthony Edwards, Michael Ironside and Tom Skeritt in “Top Gun,” 1986. (Paramount Pictures)

“Top Gun” was widely praised for its flight sequences, although the movie’s plot was fairly juvenile. In TDiA’s opinion, the opening sequence showing activity on an aircraft carrier flight deck, accompanied by Kenny Loggins’ song, “Danger Zone,” is exceptional. Another song in the movie, “Take My Breath Away,” performed by Berlin, won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Art Scholl, a famed aerial cinematographer, was killed during the production of the movie.

The film is credited with a striking increase in enlistments in the United States Navy.

“Top Gun” was released on the 59th anniversary of another Paramount Pictures movie, “Wings,” winning of the first Academy Award for Best Picture.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 April 1942

A North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber revs its engines, awaiting teh signal to launch from the flight deck officer. (U.S. Air Force)
A North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber revs its engines, awaiting the signal to launch from the flight deck officer. (U.S. Navy)
With flight deck personnel dropping to the deck to avoid its turning propellers, A north American B-25B Mitchell medium bomber starts its takeoff roll aboard USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. (U.S. Navy)
With flight deck personnel dropping to the deck to avoid its turning propellers, a North American B-25B Mitchell medium bomber starts its takeoff roll aboard USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. (U.S. Navy) 
Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, United States Navy
Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, United States Navy

18 April 1942: Task Force 16, under the command of Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., U.S. Navy, approached the Japanese islands on a daring top secret joint Army-Navy attack.

Planning for the attack began in January 1942 under orders from Admiral Earnest J. King, Commander-in-Chief United States Fleet. Captain Donald B. Duncan, U.S. Navy, was responsible for the plan.

The operation was carried out by Task Force 16 under the command of Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., United States Navy. Task Force 16 consisted of two aircraft carriers, USS Enterprise (CV-6) and USS Hornet (CV-8), four cruisers, eight destroyers and two oilers. There were two air groups, consisting of eight squadrons of 54 fighters, 72 dive bombers, 36 torpedo bombers, and one squadron of of 16 medium bombers. Lieutenant Colonel James Harold (“Jimmy”) Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Corps, commanded the Strike Group of North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell bombers aboard Hornet.

With the land-based Army bombers secured to Hornet‘s flight deck, her own fighters had been struck below. The air group from Enterprise provided Combat Air Patrol for the task force. The plan was to bring the B-25s within 400 miles (645 kilometers) of Japan, have them take off and carry out the attack, then fly on to airfields in Chinese territory.

A U.S. Army Air Corps B-25B Mitchell medium bomber is launched from USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. (U.S. Navy)
Lieutenant Colonel James H. ("Jimmy") Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Corps, flies a North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber off the deck of USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. (U.S. Navy)
Lieutenant Colonel James H. (“Jimmy”) Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Corps, flies a North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber off the deck of USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. His was the first bomber to takeoff. (U.S. Navy)

At 0500 hours, the task force was sighted by a Japanese picket boat while still over 700 miles (1,127 kilometers) away from Tokyo. At 0644 another vessel was spotted by the task force. Fearing that surprise had been lost, Admiral Halsey ordered the bombers launched while still 623 miles (1,003 kilometers) from land.

Admiral William H. Halsey watches a North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber take off from USS Hornet (CV-8). The airplanes nose wheel has cleared the flight deck while the ship's bow pitches down in heavy seas. (U.S. Navy)
Vice Admiral William H. Halsey, U.S. Navy, watches a North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber takes off from USS Hornet (CV-8). The airplane’s nose wheel has lifted clear of the flight deck while the ship’s bow pitches down in heavy seas. (U.S. Navy)
Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, USAAF, aboard USS Hornet, April 1942. (U. S Air Force)
Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, USAAC, aboard USS Hornet, April 1942. (U. S. Air Force)

The sixteen B-25s were successfully launched from Hornet and headed for their assigned targets. The lead airplane, B-25B serial number 40-2344, was flown by Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle.

Single B-25s attacked targets in the cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Kobe.The first bombs were dropped on Tokyo at 1215 local time. This was the first offensive operation carried out by the United States of American against the Empire of Japan during World War II.

The actual destructive effect of the attack was minimal. It had been hoped that there would be psychological effects on the citizenry, however the arrival of the American bombers coincided with an ongoing air raid drill, and many thought it was all part of the drill.

Militarily, however, the attack was a stunning success. Four Japanese fighter groups, needed elsewhere, were pinned down at home, waiting for the next attack.

A B-25 is airborne over the bow of USS Hornet (CV-8). (U.S. Navy)
A B-25 is airborne over the bow of USS Hornet (CV-8). (U.S. Navy)

Not a single B-25 was lost over Japan. One landed in Vladivostok where the crew and airplane were interred by the “neutral” Soviets, but they eventually were able to get home. The rest continued on toward China, though without enough fuel to reach their planned destinations. Four B-25s made crash landings, but the crews of the others bailed out into darkness as their planes ran out of gas.

The wreckage of Jimmy Doolittle’s North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell bomber, 40-2344, China, April 1942. (Smithsonian.com)
Lieutenant Colonel James Harold Doolittle (just right of center) with his crew in China following the 18 April 1942 air raid on Japan. Left to right, Staff Sergeant Fred A. Braemer; Staff Sergeant Paul J. Leonard; Lieutenant Richard E. Cole; Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle; and Lieutenant Henry A. Potter. (United States Navy, Naval History and Heritage Command NH 97502)

Five of the airmen were killed. Eight were captured by the Japanese, two of whom were executed by a military court, and another died in prison.

North American Aviation B-25B interred south of Vladivostok
Captain Edward J. York’s North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell, 40-2242, Aircraft 8, interned about 40 miles (25 miles) west of Vladivostok, Primorsky Krai, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
1st Lieutenant Robert L. Hite, USAAF, co-pilot of Aircraft 16, Bat Out of Hell, was captured by the Japanese after bailing out over China. he was held as a prisoner of war for 3½ years. He is one of just five living members of the Doolittle Raiders, though he was too ill to attend their 2012 Reunion. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Robert L. Hite, USAAC, co-pilot of Aircraft 16, “Bat Out of Hell,” was captured by the Japanese after bailing out over China, and was held as a prisoner of war for 3½ years. Colonel Hite died Sunday, 29 March 2015 at the age of 95 years. Only one of the Doolittle raiders, Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, is still living. He is 102 years old. (U.S. Air Force)

For his leadership in the air raid, James Harold Doolittle was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, and was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. General Doolittle’s Medal is in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt presents the Medal of Honor to Brigadier General James Harold Doolittle in a ceremony at The White House, 19 May 1942. The President is seated at left. Standing, left to right, are Lieutenant General Henry H. Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces; Mrs. Doolittle; Brigadier General Doolittle; and General George Catlett Marshall, Jr., Chief of Staff, United States Army. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, Photographic Collection, NPx. 65-696)

CITATION:

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Brigadier General [then Lieutenant Colonel] James Harold Doolittle (ASN: 0-271855), United States Army Air Forces, for conspicuous leadership above the call of duty, involving personal valor and intrepidity at an extreme hazard to life while Commanding the First Special Aviation Project in a bombing raid of Tokyo, Japan, on 18 April 1942. With the apparent certainty of being forced to land in enemy territory or to perish at sea, General Doolittle personally led a squadron of Army bombers, manned by volunteer crews, in a highly destructive raid on the Japanese mainland.

War Department, General Orders No. 29 (June 9, 1942), Amended by Department of the Army G.O. No. 22 (1959) & No. 4 (1960)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 March 1922

USS Langley (CV-1) underway, circa 1926. (U.S. Navy)
USS Langley (CV-1) underway, circa 1926. (U.S. Navy)

20 March 1922: USS Langley (CV-1) was commissioned as the first aircraft carrier of the United States Navy. It was a former collier, USS Jupiter (AC-3), which had been converted at the Norfolk Navy Yard, 1921–1922.

USS Langley was 542 feet (165.2 meters) long, with a beam of 65 feet, 5 inches (19.94 meters) and draft of 24 feet (7.32 meters). Her full load displacement was 14,100 tons (12,791 metric tons).

The aircraft carrier was powered by General Electric turbo-electric drive, with a total of 7,200 shaft horsepower. Steam turbines drove generators which supplied power for electric motors which drove the propeller shafts. She could make 15.5 knots (28.7 kilometers per hour).

The ship’s complement was 468 officers and men.

Defensive armament consisted of four 5-inch/51-caliber (127 millimeters × 6.477 meters) guns. These guns, firing a 50 pound (22.7 kilogram) projectile, had a maximum range of15,850 yards (14,493 meters).

USS Langley (CV-1) with Vought VE-7SF fighters on the flight deck, at anchor off Culebra Island, Puerto Rico, 18 March 1926. In the background are a USS Tennessee-class and two USS New Mexico-class battleships. (U.S. Navy)

Lieutenant Commander Virgil Childers (“Squash”) Griffin, Jr., United States Navy, made the first takeoff from an aircraft carrier of the U. S. Navy when he flew a Chance Vought Corporation VE-7SF fighter from the deck of USS Langley (CV-1), 17 October 1922, while the ship was anchored in the York River along the west side of Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.

As more modern aircraft carriers Lexington and Saratoga came in to service, Langley was once again converted, this time to a sea plane tender, AV-3.

USS Langly (AV-3) shortly after conversion to a seaplane tender, circa 1937. (U.S. Navy)
Curtiss P-40E Warhawks of the 13th Pursuit Squadron (Provisional) at Richmond Field, Sydney, Australia, 13 February 1942. (Texas A&M University Press)

Langley, under the command of Commander Robert P.McConnell, USN, delivered a cargo of thirty-two Curtiss P-40E Warhawks for the 13th Pursuit Squadron (Provisional) from Fremantle, Western Australia, to Tjilatjap Harbor, on the southern coast of Java, Dutch East Indies. After leaving the harbor on 27 February 1942, Langley was attacked by a group of Imperial Japanese Navy Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” twin-engine medium bombers.

After evading several bomb runs, Langley was hit by six bombs. On fire and with its engine room flooded, the crew was forced to abandon ship. Langley was torpedoed by an escorting destroyer, USS Whipple (DD-217), to prevent capture.

A torpedo fired by U.S.S. Whipple (DD-217) strikes USS Langley, 27 February 1942. (United States Navy, Naval History and Heritage Command NH 92476)

The crew of Langley were taken aboard a fleet oiler, USS Pecos (AO-6), and thirty-three Air Corps pilots were transferred USS Edsall (DD-219). Pecos was sunk while enroute to Australia, with the loss of many lives. Edsall was also sunk and thirty-one of the Army pilots died.

USS Langley (AV-3) sinking. Photographed from USS Whipple (DD-217), 27 February 1942. (U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command NH 92474)

More aircraft carriers would follow and were the key to the United States Navy victory in the Pacific Ocean, bringing World War II to a close.

"Murderers' Row" Third Fleet aircraft carriers at anchor in Ulithi Atoll, 8 December 1944, during a break from operations in the Philippines area. The carriers are (from front to back): USS Wasp (CV-18), USS Yorktown (CV-10), USS Hornet (CV-12), USS Hancock (CV-19) and USS Ticonderoga (CV-14). Wasp, Yorktown and Ticonderoga are all painted in camouflage Measure 33, Design 10a. Photographed from a USS Ticonderoga plane. Official U.S. Navy Photograph #: 80-G-294131
“Murderers’ Row” Third Fleet aircraft carriers at anchor in Ulithi Atoll, 8 December 1944, during a break from operations in the Philippines area. The carriers are (from front to back): USS Wasp (CV-18), USS Yorktown (CV-10), USS Hornet (CV-12), USS Hancock (CV-19) and USS Ticonderoga (CV-14). Wasp, Yorktown and Ticonderoga are all painted in camouflage Measure 33, Design 10a. Photographed from a USS Ticonderoga plane. Official U.S. Navy Photograph #: 80-G-294131

Ninety-five years after USS Langley was commissioned, the aircraft carrier is the center of the American fleet. The Nimitz-class carriers are the most powerful warships ever built.

USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76). (U.S. Navy)
USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76). (U.S. Navy)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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