100 Years of Naval Aviation
The Navy's first pilot and 10 more milestones.
- By The Editors
- Air & Space magazine, March 2011
US Navy/Lt. Cmdr. Tam Pham
(Page 5 of 5)
They got it with the 25-percent-larger Super Hornet, operational since 2001 in E (single-seat) and F (two-seat) models. The Super’s jet intakes are squared off and stealthy. With 8,000 pounds more thrust, the Super Hornet increased in maximum takeoff weight to 66,000 pounds, and its range grew to 1,275 nautical miles. Its landing weight increased as well: When the ordnance drop doesn’t happen, 9,000 pounds of those expensive smart bombs get returned to the carrier instead of dumped in the drink. The Super Hornet has replaced the F-14 Tomcat, while an electronic warfare variant, the EA-18G Growler, is replacing the EA-6B Prowler. The Super is a refueler too, replacing A-6 Intruders and S-3 Vikings. The larger wing lowers the landing speed to 144 mph, down 23 mph from that of the legacy Hornet.
Yet it’s still an F/A-18, says Captain Michael “Woody” Peoples, a former test pilot and deputy program manager for mission systems at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland. “As a Hornet guy who’s spent 20 years flying the legacy airplane, you can jump into an E/F and start it right up and probably fly the airplane with little or no instruction.” That of course doesn’t happen, but legacy pilots do say they make a seamless transition. “Flying it, you don’t feel like you’re in a bigger airplane,” says Peoples. “With roll rate in a bigger airplane, usually you’ll feel a little more sluggish. You don’t feel that.” He adds: “And the new car smell is always nice. On my operational tours, I flew Block 10 legacy Hornets, and loved ‘em. You jump in those airplanes and the paint’s worn off in the cockpit. Hundreds of guys have flown the airplane. Then you jump in a [Super Hornet] that was at St. Louis-Boeing two days before. It’s like getting the 2011 Cadillac Escalade compared to the 1985 version.” —Michael Klesius
9. BATTLE OF THE CORAL SEA History’s first fight between aircraft carriers—the Battle of the Coral Sea—was also the first in which the opposing ships neither saw nor fired directly upon each other. More important, the battle, fought from May 4 to 8, 1942, set the course for the end of Imperial Japan’s sea power in World War II.
In the battle, U.S. and Australian forces, led by the carriers USS Yorktown and Lexington, stopped a Japanese attempt to land at Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, by turning back Japan’s covering carrier force. In four days of fighting around New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, U.S. Grumman F4F Wildcats, Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers, and Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bombers clashed with Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zeros and Nakajima B5N2 torpedo-bombers to see who could inflict more damage on the enemy’s fleet.
Allied casualties included two fleet carriers (the Lexington scuttled, the Yorktown damaged) and 69 aircraft. For Japan, the losses included one light carrier, one destroyer, and 92 aircraft. But two of its fleet carriers, Shokaku and Zuikaku, were damaged enough to be unable to fight the following month in the decisive Battle of Midway, the turning point of the Pacific war. Because of Coral Sea, when the Americans entered that carrier battle, they had rough parity with the Japanese—and they won. —Paul Hoversten
10. UAVs IN THE NAVY John VanBrabant is fired up about the Fire Scout, the Navy’s first unmanned helicopter. “If you don’t need to put a crew at risk, why do it?” asks the former U.S. Navy helo pilot. VanBrabant, now Northrop Grumman’s business development manager for maritime unmanned aerial systems, likes the vehicle’s eight-hour endurance too, more than twice what his Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk offered. “At 3.5 hours, you just had to go back to get gas. If you were on a mission where you’re tracking somebody, you lose situational awareness.” While it probably won’t fly from aircraft carriers, the 10-foot-tall, 1.5-ton helo can fly from any ship with a decent landing pad. The Navy may take delivery of up to 168 Fire Scouts after trials conclude in the coming year.
The Scouts are one example of how far naval aviation has come since the Navy fielded Pioneer, its first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), in 1986. The 14-foot-long, twin-tail, 26-horsepower, propeller-driven airplane was a joint venture of AAI Corporation and Israel Aircraft Industries. Pioneer offered peeks over the horizon at 109 mph with a ceiling of 15,000 feet, primitive by today’s standards. Having proven its chops in the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, and Iraq, Pioneer bushwhacked a path that is now seeing some exotic stuff.
“As we turn the corner on the second hundred years of naval aviation, we’ll be taking people out of the airplane,” says Walt Kreitler, a former P-3 Orion pilot now shepherding the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) UAV program, the Navy’s version of the Global Hawk, for Northrop Grumman. “Nobody wants to fly Friday afternoon, or Saturday or Sunday. BAMS will be remarkably obedient.”
Finally, for autonomous and anonymous, there’s the X-47B, a creature resembling a throwing star and expected to make its first autonomous landing on an aircraft carrier in 2013. A tailless stealth fighter/bomber with no pilot, it’s an unmanned combat air system, as large as an F-14 Tomcat, able to reach an altitude of 40,000 feet and cruise at high-subsonic speed with 4,500 pounds of ordnance. The demonstrator is now being flight-tested at Edwards Air Force Base in California. —Michael Klesius