Friday, July 04, 2008

Aircraft of the USS Midway

For almost half a century Midway was home to a show-room of aircraft representing a comprehensive overview of naval aviation. Perhaps the only high-profile plane in the Navy's arsenal that did not hook the Midway's arresting cables was the Grumman F-14 Tomcat (NOTE: two readers have pointed out that the F-14s have landed on and launched from the Midway). Otherwise, her deck has handled the best: from World War II era classics like the F-4U Corsair to today's Hornet. The history of the Midway's flight operations is a hall of fame of aircraft flown by some squadrons with names like the Fighting Cavaliers, the Vagabonds, the Fighting Omars, the Night Cappers, the Sunday Punchers, the Mach Busters, the Green Pawns, the Grim Reapers, the Flying Ubangis, the Hell Razors, the Fighting Redcocks, the Night Hecklers, the Red Checkertails, Fist of the Fleet, the Fireballers, the Arabs, the Vigilantes, the Chargers and more. And present throughout all of thoses were the Fleet Angels, the chopper pilots that would pull the rest of the guys out of the drink or jungle when they got in a mess.

The following is a list of aircraft that were stationed on the Midway. For brevity's sake, I have omitted variations of the same aircraft. Also missing are notable aircraft that have only operated a few times on Midway's deck.

The website, USS Midway: Fleets Finest Carrier, is the source for many of the pictures showing actual Midway airships. A few are from my dad's slides or glossy prints which the Navy provided to the crew, as the shot above.

Chance-Vought F-4U Corsair

The Corsair's unique gull-wing design is instantly recognizable to even the most casual warbird enthusiast. This graceful flourish served an indispensable purpose since the whole idea of the Corsair was to marry the largest available engine with the largest available propeller. The diameter of the propeller made it necessary to either lengthen the landing gear or lower the entire gear assembly. A longer gear meant that it would be too weak and unstable to withstand the crashing impact of a carrier landing. To narrow the clearance, the wings were angled downward to the point of the gear then pitched back up, allowing the gear support to remain short and sturdy. This shape, along with the Corsair's long nose, housing the massive Pratt & Whitney engine, made visibility a challenge for the pilot and, as a result, the Navy was initially reluctant to use it as a carrier-based fighter during the war - choosing, instead, to use it mainly as a land-based fighter, though some carrier squadrons did eventually exist. Despite this reluctance, the Corsair enjoyed a very long postwar life aboard carriers, including the Midway.

This longevity is a testament to the Corsair's versatility and performance. The Corsair was, at first, an interceptor, but could also dive bomb and could provide close air support. While new jet technology, though showing promise, was still hampered by limited range and load capacity, as well as power control issues, the Corsair filled in where jets could not.

The Corsair was a muscle with wings - the thoroughbred in the Pacific War. But she'd buck you. It took experienced hands to channel the Corsair's power.

VF-17 Jolly Rogers (1943)

During Operation FROSTBITE (March 1947)
Films featuring the Corsair: The Flying Leathernecks, Flat-Top, The Black Sheep Squadron. The Corsair served on the Midway from 1945 to 1953 in a various capacities with several squadrons: the VF-74, VBF-74 (later the VF-1B and VF-2B), VF-171, VF-172, VC-4 Night Cappers, VC-62, VF-41, and VMF-225. Video of the Corsair in action today here and here.

Grumman F-6F Hellcat

While the Corsair was the thoroughbred of the Pacific War, the Grumman Hellcat was the workhorse. The Hellcat was designed exclusively to shoot down Zeros. With a wartime kill ratio of 19 to 1, it is hard to imagine that upon seeing a Hellcat a Japanese pilot would not immediately crap three turds. The Hellcat was simple and genius and was everything the Corsair was not. Its square design made the Hellcat faster, cheaper and easier to produce and repair than the more elegant and rounded Corsair. The Hellcat was rugged and forgiving, excellent qualities to serve its younger and less experienced pilots, whereas the Corsair could be tricky and potentially deadly. And still, for all its safety and utility, the Hellcat's performance remained very much in league with the sportier Corsair.

The F-6F did not serve after the war as long as the Corsair, but Leroy Grumman's name would go on to grace many of the aircraft on the list below.

On the deck of the Midway (1946)

Circling the Midway (1946)
Films featuring the Hellcat: The Flying Leathernecks and, through its shoddy and inaccurate stock footage, Midway and A Wing and a Prayer. The Hellcat flew off the USS Midway from 1945 to 1948, mostly with the VF-74 which was composed mostly of Corsairs. Watch video of a preserved Hellcat here.

Curtiss SB2C Helldiver

The Helldiver is another wartime hero which first saw service, like the other warbird veterans on the list, during the second half of the war. It was one of the most prominent torpedo bombers during that time. For the first few cruises, the Midway maintained two squadrons of Helldivers: one for bombing (VB-74) and one for torpedo attack (VT-74).

During Operation FROSTBITE (March 1947)
Films with the Helldiver: none specifically, though the Helldiver makes frequent appearance in stock footage, most prominently in A Wing and a Prayer. The Helldiver served on the USS Midway from 1945 to 1947.

Grumman TBM Avenger

The Avenger is fat and cumbersome and looks like a barrel with two rectangular wings sticking out of it, but this tub can take a lot of punishment and still deliver its load before getting its crew back home. Nicknamed the "Turkey", the Avenger may have been big and slow, but it was one of the most successful dive-bombers and torpedo planes of the war. Of course, flying in such dangerous skies, the Avengers did not always make it home, but by keeping with the Grumman trademark of being rugged and forgiving, the crews' chances increased. The Avenger was the plane Lt. JG George H. W. Bush flew when he was shot down over the Bonin Islands (flying for the VT-51). As former President Bush once described it: "The Avenger was a great, stable airplane...It was the easiest plane to land aboard the carrier. It was reliable and sound." The Avenger made its debut at the Battle of Midway, so, for namesake, its fitting that the Midway made its debut with the Avenger on her deck.

Avenger on the Midway's deck during Operation FROSTBITE
The Avenger served on the Midway from 1948 to 1950. Airshow footage of Avenger taking off and making passes here.  Movies with the Avenger: A Wing and a Prayer.

Douglas AD-1 Skyraider

You'd almost expect to see two bandoleers strapped around the sturdy Skyraider's fuselage, such is its rugged appearance. Many variations of this aircraft served on the Midway for over 14 years. It was a workhorse for the Navy. The nomenclature for each variation gets a bit confusing, but the basic design remained the same: a large single seat, single engine plane that can accommodate a large platform of weapons (it could carry as much as a B-17) and perform a varying array of tasks. To impress the load bearing ability of the Skyraider, in 1953, a Skyraider took off from Dallas carrying a bomb load of 10,500 pounds. With the weight of the pilot, fuel and guns included, the plane's load was 14,491 pounds- over 3000 pounds heavier than the aircraft, itself. * The simplicity of the design and its adherence to the propeller, while jet technology was really taking off, speaks to the Navy's cautious approach to air power (and to the limitations of early jet power). Over the years, the Navy put the Skyraider to a number of uses: general attack, dive bombing, anti-submarine warfare, radar reconnaissance, close ground support, etc. The Skyraider was the backbone of the Navy's attack arsenal during the Korean War and much later in Vietnam. With its lower speed and weight capacity, it was particularly suited towards close ground support where it could remain over a target area for a very long time.

The Midway's VA-1B (1947-48)
Films with the Douglas Skyraider: Rescue Dawn and the end of Flight of the Intruder (referred to as "Sandies"). The Skyraider served on the Midway from 1947 to 1962, maintaining two or more squadrons for much of that time. Nice compilation of Skyraider footage. A-1 Combat Journal. The beginning of Rescue Dawn.

Martin AM-1 Mauler

The AM-1 Mauler was intended to replace the Navy's WWII era bombers and have a larger payload. It did not take long before the Navy chose to go with another, simpler, single seat plane, the Douglas Skyraider.The Mauler served on the Midway in 1949 with the VA-84 and VA-85.

McDonald FH-1 Phantom

This was the first pure jet to serve on a carrier, but it saw limited service. With a maximum speed of 480mph, it was barely faster than some of its prop driven counterparts. It also had a limited range (a common drawback for early jets) and a limited capacity for armament. Efforts to use it as a trainer were also short-lived. In short, it was one of several aircraft caught in the transition period from piston engines to jets. The basic design elements of the Phantom can be found in the first several navy jets: twin engines with the triangular intakes at the base of the straight wings.The FH-1 served on the Midway in 1949 with the VF-171.

Grumman F-8F Bearcat

The Bearcat was the last of the great Grumman piston engine fighters (beginning, essentially, with the F-4F Wildcat that started the war and the F-6F Hellcat that finished it). While the Hellcat was a larger, more powerful version of the Wildcat, the Bearcat sought to take the power of the Hellcat and put it in a smaller and lighter body which could be used on smaller escort size carriers to intercept kamikazes and some of the improved latter versions of the Zero.The Bearcat served on the Midway off and on from 1949 to 1950 with the VF-81, VF-82 and VF-72. Some footage of a Bearcat.

Grumman F-9F Panther

This was the plane Lt. Brubaker (William Holden) flew in The Bridges at Toko-Ri. The first effort into jet engines by Grumman and the first major jet for the Navy (the FH-1 Phantom above was the actual first). The Navy's approach to jet technology was cautious at the time, and the design of the Panther with its straight wing configuration expresses that. While the FH-1 had limited ranged, the Panther expanded the range through wingtip fuel tank, which also gave the Panther a tighter roll. There were concerns about its performance against the latest MiG, nevertheless, the first MiG 15 downed in the Korean war was by a Panther.
The swept wing version of the F-9F was called the Cougar.

Cougars on the Midway
Films featuring the Panther: Flat Top (beginning and ending), Bridges At Toko-Ri. The Panther served on the Midway from 1950 to 1955 with the VF-71, VF-21, VF-61, VF-33, VF-73 and VF-174. Perserved Panther. Panther crashes into the Midway (1951). From The Bridges At Toko-Ri. Keystone Panthers?

McDonnell F2H Banshee

The Banshee was a replacement for the FH-1 Phantom. The Banshee still belonged to the cautious Navy's first generation of jet fighters, but maintained a relatively long career. The Banshee served on the Midway from 1952 to 1955 with the VC-62 Det 5, the VF-31, the VF-101 Grim Reapers, and the VF-12 Fighting Ubangis.

Douglas F3D Skynight

The Skynight was an early all-weather jet fighter and was short-lived. It served on the Midway for one cruise in 1952-53 with the VC-4 Det 5. Skynight landing.

North American FJ-4 Fury

The FJ-4 was the Navy's version of the more famous F-86 Sabre flown by the Air Force. The North American program which resulted in both planes originated with a Navy request, but it was the Air Force which first saw the promise of the swept wing design. The Navy version took a backseat to the Air Force and did not resurface until two years later, 1951. The F-86 was one of the last classic dogfighters which was pivotal in winning the air war in Korea.The Fury served on the Midway from 1958 to 1960 with the VA-63 (later VA-2) Fighting Redcocks and the VA-23 Black Knights. Furies in action.

McDonnell F3H Demon

The Demon was a replacement for the Banshee. It's development was plagued with technical problems - many surrounding its power plant, though that did not stop the Navy from ordering over 500 between 1956 and 1959 to be its all weather interceptor with radar. The last squadron to fly the Demon was the VF-161 Chargers (later to fly the F-4 Phantom on the Midway).The Demon served on the Midway from 1958 to 1962 with the VF-64 (later the VF-21) Free Lancers.

North American AJ-1 Savage

The Savage was a composite engine (two props and one jet) attack bomber designed initially to carry nuclear bombs. It was later used for reconnaissance and refueling.

Landing on the Midway. From a collection of photos by Scott McGaugh.

The Savage served on the Midway from 1952 to 1954 with the VC-5.

Chance-Vought F-8 Crusader

The Crusader was one of the last fighters to have machine guns. Much like the F-4U Corsair, the Crusader was a high performance aircraft that was not easy to fly, particularly when landing on a carrier. Nevertheless, it was one of the first early jet aircraft to enjoy a relatively long active career during a time when jet technology was changing so fast that new aircraft seemed to be quickly replaced with even newer designs. The picture directly below shows two unique things about the Crusader: 1) the Crusader had a hydraulic lift on the wings to angle them up which allowed the fuselage to remain stable and level during take-offs and landings, while at the same time maximizing lift; 2) if you squint your eyes you can see that the plane is landing with its wings folded - a trait that was not by design. The Crusader enjoyed the highest kill ratio in Vietnam (6 to 1) and was a remarkable dog fighter.Here are the Crusader's four guns a-blazin'In addition to the four machine guns, the Crusader also carried 4 Sidewinder missiles.Here's a Crusader from the photo reconnaissance squadron VFP-206 Hawkeyes. The F-8's knack for high speed reconnaissance was well used and kept the Crusader in service long after it was replaced as a fighter. It was F-8 Crusaders that flew the reconnaissance missions over Cuba during the missile crisis.The Crusader served on the Midway from 1958 to 1974. It was flown by the VCP-63 Det A, the VF-211 Red Checkertails (later the VF-24), the VF-111 and the VCP-61 Det A. Video of F-8s on the Saratoga.

Douglas A-4 Skyhawk

The Skyhawk was a small but powerful single seat attack aircraft that proved very versatile. It more or less replaced the piston driven Douglas Skyraider. While its career with the Midway was relatively brief, it stayed in service with the Navy and Marines well into the 1980s.

About to launch from the Midway
The Skyhawk served on the Midway from 1961 to 1965 with the VA-22 Fighting Redcocks, the VA-23 Black Knights and the VMA-311. Films with the A-4 include Top Gun (the trainers' aircraft). The A-4 also replaced the F-4 Phantom as the plane for the Blue Angels during the fuel crisis of the 1970s. Brief clip of Skyhawks on the deck of a carrier.

McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom

Few planes are more famous than the F-4 Phantom. Whereas the F-8 Crusader was somewhat transitional in design, combining elements of older style dogfighters with supersonic missile reliant interceptors, the F-4 was purely the latter.

A Midway Phantom escorting a Soviet Bear
The Phantom II served on the Midway from 1963 to 1986. The first squadron was the VF-21 Free Lancers, though soon after that the two main squadrons Midway had were the VF-161 Chargers and the VF-151 Vigilantes. The Marines usually kept an RF-4 on board under the VMFP-3 Det 1 Eyes of the Corps or the VMCJ-1 Det 101 Golden Hawks. From the show Dogfights. From the cockpit footage. In flight. Launching and retrieving.

Grumman E-1 Tracer

A carrier's biggest advantage over its enemy is sight. That advantage rested heavily on the E-1 Tracer, one of the first sophisticated radar reconnaissance planes employed by the military. Not only could the Tracer operate as an early detection aircraft, it could coordinate air operations. The E-1 basically took the already existing Grumman S-2 Tracker and added the electronic elements to it.The Tracer served on the Midway from 1963 to 1965 through the VAW-11 Det A Early Eleven and the VAW-13 Det A Zappers.

Douglas A-3 Skywarrior

The Skywarrior was the Navy's first strategic jet bomber. Known as the Whale, it was one of the largest aircraft to take off and land on the Midway. The Skywarrior served on the Midway from 1958 to 1965 with the VAH-8 Fireballers.

Vought A-7 Corsair

Based on the design of the F-8 Crusader (per Robert MacNamara's direction - an attempt to reduce development costs), the A-7 replaced the A-4 and served for a very long time. The Corsair II was the first aircraft to carry the AN/APQ-116 radar, a terrain following navigation system that could also be used to direct precision weapons. The Corsair II enjoyed a lengthy career with both the Navy and the Air Force.

Over the Midway
The Corsair II served on the Midway from 1970 to 1986 with the VA-56 Champions and the VA-93 Blue Blazers (later Ravens). Low flying Corsair. At an airshow in Norway.

Grumman A-6 Intruder

The Intruder was the Midway's primary all weather attack aircraft from the 1970s to its decommissioning. It was heavier than the A-7 and could deliver a greater payload. Since it was not a single seat plane, it could handle a wider range of guided weapons on its own. The Intruder was continually updated with top of the line radar systems as they were introduced (including Doppler) as well as laser and GPS guided munitions. The A-6 also proved to be an effective tanker. The EA-6 Prowler is an adaptation of the A-6 that specializes in electronic warfare, including the jamming of remote devices for IEDs in Afghanistan. The mission of the Intruder called for low level tree top flying - often around 200 feet, though in Vietnam, pilots were said to skim the jungle canopy at 100 feet.The Intruder (and Prowler) served on the Midway from 1970 to 1991. The VA-115 was the only Intruder squadron on the Midway. The Prowler squadron was primarily the VAQ-136 Gauntlets. Films with the A-6 include The Final Countdown and Flight of the Intruder. Intruder footage to "Living in America".

Grumman E-2 Hawkeye

The E-1 was a transitional aircraft transposed on an existing frame. The E-2 was designed specifically for its advanced radar and air coordination functions. The importance of the Hawkeye's role on carriers cannot be overstated. It served as an early warning system for the ship's defenses and could coordinate attacks and deliver ordinance from other planes. Words cannot express the importance of the Hawkeye's role on carriers.

Aboard the Midway museum
The Hawkeye served on the Midway from 1970 to 1991 continuously with the VAW-115 Liberty Bells. Video of trapping a Hawkeye.

McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18 Hornet

It almost seems that the F/A 18 Hornet and the bigger and better Super Hornet replaced all the other aircraft on the list - with the exception of the Hawkeye. The Navy, in a sense, has put all its eggs in one basket. The Super Hornet is 25% larger and has two seats, increasing its ability to handle precision guided weapons. An EA-18 variant is currently in production and will eventually replace the EA-6 Growler in electronic warfare.

Breaking the sound-barrier
The Hornet served on the Midway from 1987 to decommissioning in 1991 with fighter/attack squadrons VFA-195, the VFA-151, the VFA 192, and the VFA 25. For most of that time, the Midway maintained three of those squadrons. F-18 jet porn.


Sikorsky HO35-1 Dragonfly

The Dragonfly served on the Midway from 1949 to 1950 with the Fleet Angels.

Piasecki HUP-1 Retriever

On the USS Hornet
The Retriever served on the Midway from 1952 to 1962 with the Fleet Angels.

Kaman UH-2A

The UH-2A served on the Midway from 1963 to 1965 with the Fleet Angels. Video of a landing.

Sikorsky SH-3G Sea King

The Sea King served on the Midway from 1970 to 1991 with the Fleet Angels and later with the HS-12 Wyverns.

Intruder approaching the Midway

The USS Midway
The Tip of the Sword: A Brief History of the USS Midway
Gator Control: The VA-115
Aircraft of the USS Midway

GalleriesOn the Deck and In the Air, 1974-77
Pollywog to Shellback: Crossing the Line, 1975

Japan: A Forward-based Homefront
Home: Yokosuka and Nagai
Japan: Kamakura, Fuji and Izu areas
Ports of Call
Subic Bay
Hong Kong


Sidney E. Dean said...

Great gallery. Excellent photo selection and brief but precise info. I'm posting a link to your page from my military history blog.

benroethig said...

Not quite accurate. While Midway was too small to deploy F-14s, they did land and takeoff from midway both with qualifications and when diverted from another carrier.

Capt Jim Hamilton, USN, Ret said...

I agree with benroethig. I was COMCARGRU 3 Ops Officer on Enterprise. We were conduting 3 carrier ops with Midway and Coral Sea near the Aleutians in April 1983. When our visibility went to zero, we diverted all the attack birds to Japan after refueling from a KC-10 tanker but there wasn't enough fuel for the F-14's. They were recovered aboard Midway.
Jim Hamilton Capt, USN, Ret

Jeffrey Hill said...

I appreciate the correction from both of you and have noted the post accordingly.

Anonymous said...

The main issues with the F-14 on the Midway were its size -- it was simply too big to be comfortably housed in the hangar bay without displacing other planes -- and the Midway was never equipped with jet blast deflectors compatible with the F-14's engines.
Yes, F-14s DID recover and launch from Midway at sea BUT they were catapulted only after all the other planes on deck were cleared off first! Remember those jet blast deflectors? They keep the exhaust of engines from scorching everything else behind them. Without the JBD's, the TF30's of the F-14A have a massive exhaust zone trailing behind them that is ferociously hot and will damage anything behind them.
Fact: It only takes two Tomcats, tied down, and at maximum afterburning to push a supercarrier forward.

Rick 114 said...

Actually, the first and second F-14 recovered on USS Midway on September 29, 1982. approaches to USS Enterprise were unsuccessful due to low visibility, I estimate around 100 feet overcast. Could only see the wake of the ship (CVN-65) after pressing mins down to 150 feet, Enterprise deck was 60 feet above the water. First landing was the crew of Rick "Ice" Berg and Lee "Dewey" Durcharme, second was Tom "Tex" Lawson and "Jeep" Willis. Spent the night aboard CVA-41, CAVOX the next day, launched back to CVN-65.