Hatwing I -- Some History

This page contains two excerpts from books which will, I hope, give some insight into the Navy's role in heavy attack (strategic, nuclear) bombing during the period from the end of World War II to until at least the late 1950s. At places within the quotes you will find hyperlinks to related materials. At other places, you will find that I have inserted comments. These are set off in square brackets to distinguish them from the quoted material and are initialed by me.

The first, and longer, quote is from The History of US Naval Air Power, edited by Robert L. Lawson and published by The Military Press. It is rare that one can find even a picture of a North American Savage, and I was delighted to find this book. The material comes from pages 128-130.

With the advent of atomic weapons, the Navy was suddenly faced with a serious dilemma: it had no long-range or strategic mission capability in an atomic war. ..., the Army and the struggling-for-independence Air Force had joined in an attempt to convince Congress of the need for unification of the armed forces centered around strategic bombing provided by the Air Force. A strong army would be retained to act as an occupying agency. A navy would be required to serve only in support functions.

The navy, fighting for its very existence, countered with the 'super-carrier' United States, which would be required to support an all-new long-range airplane with a strategic mission capability, the North American AJ-1 Savage. An order for three XAJ-1 prototypes was let 24 June 1946, the first flight occurring on 3 July 1948.

Meanwhile,the long-range nuclear strike capability concept had to be made viable aboard existing carriers. The large-deck 'Midway' class was the logical choice for the launch point and the Navy's newest patrol plane was chosen as the delivery vehicle. Twelve specially-modified P2V-3C Neptunes were made available for the mission to VC-5, formed on 9 September 1948 under Captain John T. `Chick' Hayward at NAS Moffett Field. [Although Captain Hayward had moved on when I arrived at HATU (Heavy Attack Training Unit) in June 1953, there were many stories about him. Among the stories was the one about the time he had forced himself, in one of the P2Vs, into the flight pattern of a carrier and how the Landing Signal Officer had found it nearly impossible to give him the wave-off. As the story went, it was this action that persuaded those in authority to finally authorize much of the program. KJW] Choice of the P2V was necessary because of the size of the few nuclear weapons available to the Navy, some weighing as much as 10,000 pounds. The P2Vs were to launch from the carriers, make their runs to the target, then fly on to land bases or ditch alongside ships at sea.

As modifications were made to enable the three 'Midways' to handle nuclear weapons, Hayward's crews began training in short-field jet-assisted take-offs (JATO) in P2V-2s and then P2V-3Cs when the latter began arriving in November. A plan was also evaluated to bring the P2V back aboard the carrier, a feat Hayward believed to be feasible. One Neptune (BuNo 122969) was equipped with a tailhook. Field arrestment tests were conducted by Lockheed at Burbank and Hayward at Patuxent River. [The P2Vs that had had the tailhooks had actually been subjected to stretching in the arrested landings according to the airframe people in the squadrons and in HATU. When I was undergoing training at HATU in the summer of 1953, HATU's P2V-2s were BuNos 39326 and 39329, and their P2V3Bs were BuNos 122947 and 122951. Fasron (Fasron 51?) or maybe VC-9 owned P2V-2 BuNo 122448. During the period from October 1955 to February 1956, when I was back at HATU as an instructor they had P2V3Bs with BuNos 122449, 122924, 122927, 122942 and 122971. I was always under the impression that some of these Neptunes had been sometime previously fitted with tailhooks. KJW] The concept was proven by Hayward making 128 landings into the short-field gear at Patuxent. He also made approaches and a touch-and-go landing aboard Franklin D. Roosevelt. No arrested landings were actually made aboard ship.

In April 1948, before VC-5's commissioning, P2V-2s were flown to Norfolk where on 27 April they were loaded aboard Coral Sea by crane. The next morning, two of the largest aircraft ever to launch from a carrier left Coral Sea's deck, flown by Commanders Tom Davies and J.P. Wheatley. The 100-foot wingspan and 60,000-pound Neptunes lifted easily from Coral Sea, assisted by JATO.

A series of long-range record-setting flights were made over the next two years from all three CVBs by VC-5 and VC-6. The latter outfit was commissioned on 6 January 1950 to assist in fulfilling the nuclear mission requirement. The record flights conclusively proved the concept to Congress and the public through the publicity generated. In so doing, the Navy used a page right out of the Air Force's game book!

Finally, after several developmental problems, the first AJ-1s began arriving in VC-5 in September 1949. Powered by two wing-mounted R-2800s and an Allison J33 auxiliary jet in the fuselage, the Savages relieved the Neptunes of their shipboard duties. [When I arrived at Sanford in late October 1953 the squadron (VC-9) had not been in existence very long. Frank Gooding was the original skipper. I suppose that is why `FG' was on the tails of the aircraft. VC-9 was flying AJ-2s. VC-5 had had AJ-1s in its deployment of about 1 year before, but they were now also getting AJ-2s. In VC-9 we had the following AJ-2s: BuNos 134035, 134037, 134039, 134040, 134043, 134045, 134046, 134051, 134055, 134063 and 134065. At any given time I think we had a maximum of nine AJs. In November of 1954, G.A. White, I and Charles Reichl went to VC-5 to replace their crew which had been killed. We took with us BuNo 134037. My flight log shows these other AJ-2s in VC-5: BuNos 134035, 134042, 134046, 134052, 134054 and 134064. There must have been others. I just did not fly in them. In April 1955 we began to transfer AJ-2s to west coast squadrons. We took at least three to the atomic test TEAPOT and left them in San Diego. I flew west in 134035, and I am sure that 134054 was among those left there. On April 29 my flight log shows that I flew in an AJ-1, so at that point VC-5 was beginning to get equipped with refurbished AJ-1s. BuNos in my flight log are 122599, 124162, 124174, 124175, 124176, 124178, 124852, 124855, 124857, 124862 and 124864. KJW] Fulfilling their missions to keep the Navy in the nuclear-strike role, the AJs were never popular with carrier skippers because of their huge size. [You can say that again. It was only with great difficulty that we could get onto the hangar deck of either the 'Essex' class or the 'Midway' class. Although the tips of our wings and the tip of our tail folded, it was neither a quick nor easy operation. Consequently, we were almost always parked on deck and thus had to be 'first off' and 'last aboard' during flight operations. No more than three of our planes were ever assigned to a single ship at one time. KJW] They remained in service in their original role until the mid-1950s, operating mostly from overseas land bases. [The squadrons at Sanford and at Patuxent deployed to Port Lyautey (now Kenitra) in French Morocco. KJW] In 1958, the Navy began conversion of the surviving AJs to fulfill the role of carrier-based aerial refueling tankers. [We always in my memory had tanker packages which could be installed in the bomb bays, and we functioned as tankers from early on. KJW] Two photo-reconnaissance squadrons operated the AJ-2P aerial reconnaissance version until the last Savages retired 31 January 1960 from VAP-62 and VCP-61. [When I was on active duty these were designated VJ-62 and VJ-61. VJ-62 was in Sanford. KJW]

As the P2V was an interim measure until the AJ was available, the Savage performed the same function until the next-generation heavy attack bomber could be made ready. [When I was on active duty, the A3D was the promise of the future. We always used to sing a parody of The Wreck of the The Old 97 which went something like this: "He was going up the groove making 90 miles an hour when his Savage came unglued. He was found in the wreck with his hand on the throttle. He was drowned in the hydrolube. .....(I have forgotten the middle)........ The moral of this story in your search for fame and glory: BETTER WAIT FOR THE A3D!" Paul B. Wells, a colleague and friend from VC-5/VAH-5 circa 1954-54, kindly sent me the complete lyrics of the AJ Song on 15 May 2004. KJW] Douglas A3D-1 Skywarrior brought the attack community into the realm of pure jets and heavy attack. Even with its 70,000 pound maximum weight and 72.5 foot wing span, the A3D could operate from both the modernized 'Essex' and 'Midway' class carriers. The appearance of newer and smaller nuclear weapons in the early 1950s made the production of the Skywarrior controversial among Naval Aviation leaders. Proponents of the 'heavy-attack' concept argued for an aircraft large enough to carry bigger Mk 4 type weapons and to operate at 1,500-mile range. Fulfillment of these requirements would provide the Navy with the capability of striking almost any Soviet target in the world from its carriers. Others felt that this plan would not be workable and pressed for a smaller aircraft with smaller weapons. The navy wisely progressed with the development of both concepts. The first Douglas XA3D-1 flew 22 October 1952, with fleet introduction to VAH-1 on 31 March 1956 at Jacksonville. [Because I left active duty on 1 March 1956, I had no exposure whatever to the A3D. KJW]

As the Skyraider was to prop-driven carrier aviation, so was the Skywarrior (or `Whale' as it became more popularly known) to jet carrier aviation. Thirty-two years after its first flight, the Whale is still in service aboard carriers. Following a pattern similar to, but far more successful than its AJ predecessor, the A3D served in its designed heavy attack role, then shifted to the aerial tanker mission. Later, it functioned as an electronics countermeasures aircraft. For a period of time during the Vietnam War it did both, designated EKA-3B.

Paralleling its oversized sister in development, the diminutive A4D Skyhawk series filled the 'small nukes' delivery role for which proponents had called. Like the A3D and AD before it, it was a product of the genius of Douglas design engineer Ed Heinemann. Designed as a lightweight, low-cost tactical nuclear weapons delivery platform, the first XA4D-1 flew 22 June 1954. Thirty years later, its A-4M progeny is still in first-line service with the Marine Corps. The A4D-1 weighed only about 20,000 pounds at maximum gross and could carry Mk 7 or Mk 8 nuclear weapons or nearly 6,000 pounds of bombs. Deliveries of the Skyhawk began to VA-72 on 27 September 1956. The 'Scooter', as fleet pilots liked to call them, last served in a Navy carrier squadron as the A-4F in Hancock (CV 19) during that carrier's 1975 cruise, which ended on 20 October.

The last attack aircraft designed for the longrange strategic strike mission was the North American A3J-1 Vigilante. The airplane would never deploy in that role. Esthetically, the 'Vigi' was possibly the most beatiful aircraft ever to land aboard a carrier. In 1954, North American offered to the Navy an unsolicited proposal called NAGPAW North American General-Purpose Attack Weapon), a concept developed by the engineers. The proposal called for an all-weather bomber capable of nuclear delivery using the new LABS (low-altitude bombing system) utilizing the 'loft' bombing technique and inertial navigation systems. Four years later, the first YA3J-1 became airborne on 31 August 1958. Fleet introduction began with Heavy Attack Squadron Seven in August 1961, following delivery to VAH-3, the Fleet Replacement Squadron at NAS Sanford, Florida.

The A3J-1 (A-5A) was designed to carry either a Mk 27 nuclear weapon externally or a Mk 28 stored in an internal linear bomb bay located between the General Electric J79 engines in the rear fuselage. A totally innovative design, the Vigilante was to make a supersonic run into its target at treetop level, pull up into an 'idiot loop' as it ejected its weapon rearward, then depart the area on a reverse course. Problems inherent with this concept were never completely resolved, and the linear bay later became a storage area for extra fuel tanks. The Vigilante represented the Navy's only level-flight supersonic attack aircraft until the advent of the F/A-18A Hornet 20 years later. Deployment as a bomber occurred with only two squadrons, VAH-7 and VAH-1. 'Heavy Seven' made the first of three deployments with the `Vigi' to the Mediterranean in Enterprise (CVAN 65) from 3 August to 11 October 1962.

In 1962, the Vigilante suddenly became an airplane without a mission when Naval Aviation's strategic role was dropped in favor of the nuclear submarine-launched Polaris missile. However, the large two-place bomber lent itself nicely to conversion to an all-weather reconnaissance platform capable of carrying a multitude of aerial cameras and sophisticated sensor packages. Converted to RA-5Cs, the Vigilantes began assuming their new intelligence role in 1964; former heavy attack squadrons were redesignated as RVAH (Reconnaissance Heavy Attack).

The last attack aircraft to be developed between World War II and Vietnam was the Grumman A2F-1, which became the A-6A Intruder after October 1962, under the new Department of Defense aircraft redesignation system. The Intruder resulted from a 1956 request to industry for a new medium attack bomber. The lessons learned from the Korean War indicated the need for a low-level, all-weather bomber capable of penetrating the enemy's radar defenses. The Intruder's first flight was on 9 April 1960, with initial squadron deliveries going to VA-42, the A-6 RAG at Oceana, on 1 February 1963. The Intruders began primarily to replace the Navy's A-1 Skyraider squadrons. The A-6 soon became the most capable attack plane ever to operate from an aircraft-carrier, and it arrived none too soon. The volatile situation in South East Asia was rapidly deteriorating and the Intruder's services would be sorely needed.

The second book excerpt (following) is from Jane's Encyclopedia of Aviation, page 704. There were accompanying photographs of both the AJ-1 and of the AJ-2. The AJ-2 had "TP" on its tail, indicating that it belonged to the photographic squadron VJ-62. Most "Savages" in VJ-62 would have been the AJ-2P, the photographic version. This plane was apparently an exception.

North American AJ Savage (USA). The Savage was a large composite-powered carrier-borne attack bomber capable of carrying an atomic bomb. Three versions were produced for the US Navy: the AJ-1 with two 1,788.5 kW (2,400 hp) Pratt & Whitney R-2800-44W piston engines and a 20.5 kN (4,600 lb st) Allison J33 turbojet in the rear fuselage, first flown in May 1949; AJ-2 with R-2800-48 piston engines and a J33, a higher tailfin and a tailplane without dihedral; and the AJ-2P photographic-reconnaissance version of the AJ-2, first flown in 1952. Production totalled 140 aircraft of all versions. These remained operational until 1959, when some were converted to refuelling tankers. Maximum level speed was 758 km/h (471 mph).

© Kenneth Jennings Wooster
All rights are reserved.
File created: December 16, 1997.
File modified: December 26, 2002; August 14, 2003; September 11, 2003; January 7, 2004; May 15, 2004; April 11, 2005.