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How New Jets Hit the Deck for U. S. Navy
June 1948 Popular Science

June 1948 Popular Science
June 1948 Popular Science Cover - Airplanes and Rockets[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic over early technology. See articles from Popular Science, published 1872 - 2021. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.

World War II had only been over three years when the U.S. Navy began jet fighter operations from aircraft carriers. Angled decks had not even entered service when the North American FJ-1 Fury jet fighters made the first takeoffs and landing on the straight−deck USS Boxer. The USS Forrestal, our first angled deck carrier, was commissioned in 1951. This story appeared in a 1948 issue of Popular Science magazine. Note the huge clock on deck which was photographed upon being triggered by the airplane hooking an arrestor line, so that a precise lending time would be recorded. The way the picture is taken, it looks like a perspective trick to make a small clock look much larger than it actually was. I like the fact that Lt. Comdr. Robert Elder took a wave−off on a first approach in order to give his skipper, Comdr. Evan (Pete) Aurand the honor of the first−ever jet aircraft landing at sea. Nowadays, computers routinely fly jet−powered drones off of and onto carrier decks.

How New Jets Hit the Deck for U. S. Navy

Eight Furies salute the aircraft carrier Boxer during the U. S. Navy's jet-launching operation  - Airplanes and Rockets

Eight Furies salute the aircraft carrier Boxer during the U. S. Navy's jet-launching operation.

By Andrew R. Boone

Successful landings and launchings on a carrier at sea initiate jets as a part of our ocean-borne air force.

Flashing down over the fantail of the U. S. aircraft carrier Boxer one sunny day last March, a thick-bodied, thin-winged fighter hit the deck and slid to a stop in the grip of the arresting gear. A routine landing in all but one respect: the plane.

It was a shining new North American Fury - the first all-jet fighter ever to land on a carrier's deck under operational conditions at sea. Its arrival aboard the big Essex-class carrier off the California coast meant that years of Navy research and experiment had finally paid off in a new era of 10-mile-a-minute fighter sweeps for the fleet's air arm.

The historic landing was made by Comdr. Evan (Pete) Aurand, skipper of Fighting Squadron Five Able. Forty seconds later, Fighting Five's executive officer, Lt. Comdr. Robert Elder, followed Aurand in, setting his Fury down as soon as a squat deck tractor had tugged the lead plane beyond the crash barriers. For practical reasons, only these two of the squadron's planes landed in the initial test. But to make the trial complete, they took off under their own power and landed again, then took off a second time with the help of the catapult.

Crewmen scurry away as the Fury - Airplanes and Rockets

Crewmen scurry away as the Fury, with Aurand at the controls, prepares for the first operational launching of a jet plane from a carrier deck. Six .50-cal. machine guns are mounted in the thin wings. With wing-tip tanks carrying an extra 300 gallons of kerosene added to 500 in fuselage tanks, the jet fighters will be able to stay aloft four hours and cover 1,500 miles.

Fighting Squadron Five's executive officer Elder - Airplanes and Rockets

Fighting Squadron Five's executive officer Elder (left) and Commander Aurand, who made historic jet-fighter landings on a carrier. Operation took place off the coast of California.

Aurand's Fury becomes the first jet plane to make an operational landing on a carrier at sea - Airplanes and Rockets

A dramatic moment in aviation history: Aurand's Fury becomes the first jet plane to make an operational landing on a carrier at sea. Note the first thwartship arresting wire bringing the 11,000-lb. fighter, moving at 115 m.p.h., to a dead stop after a roll of only 50 feet along the Boxer's deck. Meanwhile a destroyer waits astern, just in case the Fury "hits the drink."

Plane shown above is lowered to hangar below deck - Airplanes and Rockets

Towed to aft elevator, plane shown above is lowered to hangar below deck. After refueling and servicing, it will be moved to forward elevator and raised to flight deck for catapulting.

Mechanic works to free landing hook - Airplanes and Rockets

Mechanic works to free landing hook. After each landing during the trials, the planes were thoroughly inspected and completely serviced. These jobs were done in a hangar below deck.

Immediately after the first landing - Airplanes and Rockets

Immediately after the first landing, a small tractor pulls Aurand's plane up the deck beyond the crash barriers. Within half a minute, Elder sat his Fury down at the same spot.

These and succeeding trial runs, which followed 200 landings on a make-believe carrier deck marked out on a California airfield, illustrated many of the factors that make seagoing jet operations a different business from propeller-powered flight.

As a striking force, a big carrier transports about 100 planes. Conventional fighters, taking off under their own power, can be launched every 15 seconds or so. Catapulting gets them off about a third as fast. In repeated tests, the Furies have shown that they can get aloft almost as quickly as propellered planes when deck-running, and about as fast when catapulted.

Jets don't accelerate rapidly at low speeds, so they need a longer run-the full length of the flight deck. Also, the roaring exhaust blasting back along the deck complicates the launching of several planes at a time, since it requires greater headway. Headway, which here means the distance (or time) between objects following one another along the same path, is a measure of effectiveness. It corresponds to the rate of fire of a machine gun.

Landing speed of each plane is photographically recorded as it hits the wire - Airplanes and Rockets

Landing speed of each plane is photographically recorded as it hits the wire. A camera mounted at edge of deck catches both plane and the split-second clock face shown above.

Elder took a wave-off on an earlier approach to give his skipper the honor of the first landing - Airplanes and Rockets

Nose-wheel gear of Elder's plane is being checked by crewmen immediately after landing. Elder took a wave-off on an earlier approach to give his skipper the honor of the first landing.

Jets have one tremendous advantage over reciprocating engines: they need no warm-up. At any alarm, a jet can be moved from a deckload of parked planes, started, and launched at once. The Boxer's Furies were clocked aloft less than two minutes after their engines were turned on.

All this means that a special system of catapulting will probably be evolved to shoot jets off, perhaps with a moving-chain pickup delivering them to the catapult stations. Two catapults, one on each side of the flight deck, could get a squadron of 18 planes into the air in six to eight minutes.

Jato rocket units could be used, but experienced pilots don't expect it. Jato drenches the deck with smoke. Sometimes rockets fail, ruling them out as an absolutely reliable launching aid. If generally used, large numbers of the Jato units would have to be stored aboard a carrier in space that is already precious.

The Fury gulps 72 cubic feet of air a second through this great gullet - Airplanes and Rockets

The Fury gulps 72 cubic feet of air a second through this great gullet. Unlike that on some other jets, the intake is not split. The duct runs in a straight line from the nose to the tail.

The jet pilots prefer the catapult, modern versions of which provide a relatively smooth start. A jet plane zooms from zero to nearly 150 m.p.h. in a run of only 93 feet on the "cat," but acceleration is no more than 2.5 G - "less," as Aurand points out, "than we suffer in a tight turn."

Jet landings present new factors, too. Coining home to roost, the pilots fly a different approach pattern. In a Fury, with no big radial engine up front to obstruct his vision, a pilot can see exactly where he's going. For the first time, he can see the crash barriers raised amidships on the flight deck to stop his plane if it bounces over the 12 arresting cables, stretched across the deck at 25-foot intervals.

"Actually," Aurand told a Popular Science reporter, "it's a little frightening to watch those barriers come up." But both he and Elder agreed that landing a jet on a carrier was easier than setting down a conventional fighter.

For all the differences in jet landings and take-offs, most of the major problems concerning jet fighters have been solved. On the basis of the Boxer tests, the Navy feels that only practical details remain to be worked out, and a broad expansion of the jet program is already under way.

Fighting Five will be fully operational this summer. On the East Coast, Fighting Squadron Seventeen is getting set for sea duty with McDonnell FH-1 Phantoms. These squadrons will provide a nucleus of trained pilots and crewmen for other groups.

Both Furies and Phantoms are considered interim models (their successors may be the faster and longer-range McDonnell F2H Banshee and the Grumman F9F Panther), but they provide examples of what jet propulsion means to the U. S. Fleet. The Fury, for instance, has a top speed of more than" 550 m.p.h., and climbs to its fighting altitude faster than a mile a minute. At cruising speed, it can cover 1,500 miles during a four-hour flight; at top speed, it can stay aloft a few minutes short of an hour.

Fine for fighters, jet propulsion has one well-known limitation: it is least efficient at low altitude. And since many attack missions are flown "just off the deck," it is not yet practicable to use all-jet attack bombers. Therefore the Navy is limiting its initial jet program to fighters.

But the more versatile turboprop attack types may join the jet fighters, and eventually even the jets may be adapted to low-level operation. When that happens, the Navy's air arm can really cash in on the program begun by Fighting Five.



Posted March 16, 2024

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