Category Archives: Aircraft Carriers

Like a Plot from A Clive Cussler Novel, Billionaire Discovers USS Lexington Aircraft Carrier Lost in 1942

How the Remarkable History of the WWII Aircraft Carrier USS Lexington Continues.

Silence, darkness and cold. Those were the only things surrounding the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2) since she plummeted to her deep-sea grave on the sea floor two miles below the surface of the war-torn Pacific on May 8, 1942.

Until this week.

Like an improbable plot from one of Clive Cussler’s “NUMA Files” adventure novels, billionaire explorer Paul Allen and his own private fleet of deep-sea scientists used a remotely piloted submarine to discover the wreckage of the USS Lexington on Mar. 4, 2018. She lies on the bottom in 10,000 feet of water about 500 miles off the eastern coast of Australia where she sank. Photos show her deck guns still trained at a black liquid sky waiting for phantom Japanese Zeros, Val dive bombers and Kate torpedo bombers that disappeared into antiquity decades ago.

The USS Lexington’s wreck was discovered from Paul Allen’s private research vessel, the R/V Petrel, on Sunday morning at about 8:00 am local time in the Pacific. Brilliant color images of the Lexington and some of her aircraft were transmitted to the surface and shared around the world over the last 24 hours.

The crew of Paul Allen’s research vessel R/V Petrel watch video from their remotely piloted submersible as it explores the wreck of the USS Lexington last Sunday when it was discovered . (Photo: Vulcan Photo)

One of the most remarkable photos shows a beautiful, colorful Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter from U.S. Navy Fighter Squadron 3 (VF-3) that was aboard the USS Lexington at Coral Sea. The aircraft wears the “Felix the Cat holding a bomb” insignia common along with four Japanese kill markings on the right side of its fuselage below the canopy. The aircraft sits with its canopy open and its beautiful blue upper wing and fuselage and gray lower surface paint livery. It is the first time anyone has seen the aircraft since she was sent to the bottom in 1942. Despite the crushing depth, corrosive seawater and decades gone by, it remains in amazingly good condition.

Researcher Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations for Allen, was quoted earlier today on Geekwire.com in a story by writer Kurt Schlosser as saying that the USS Lexington was on a priority list of ships to locate by Allen’s team.

“Based on geography, time of year and other factors, I work together with Paul Allen to determine what missions to pursue,” Kraft said. “We’ve been planning to locate the Lexington for about six months and it came together nicely.”

Underwater images and video taken by the remotely operated submersible launched from the research vessel R/V Petrel also show large deck guns on the carrier along with aircraft like the F4F Wildcat and others. The advanced submersible robot camera vehicles used by Allen’s team can submerge to a depth of nearly 20,000 feet and transmit high-resolution video and navigation data to the surface.

Allen’s team also found the fabled USS Indianapolis last year. The cruiser Indianapolis was sunk by a Japanese submarine after a secret mission to deliver the first atomic bomb in 1945. The terrifying ordeal of the Indianapolis survivors became famous after it was featured in a monologue by the fictional character “Quint” in the Peter Benchley novel and movie, “Jaws”.

In 2015 Paul Allen’s team also located the wreck of the Japanese mega-battleship, “Mushashi”, sister ship to the giant Yamato battleship. Mushashi and Yamato remain the largest battleships ever constructed. Both were sunk in WWII.

The USS Lexington off Honolulu, Hawaii in February, 1933 with Diamondhead in the background. (Photo: U.S. Navy History & Heritage Command)

Significant history also surrounds the discovery of the USS Lexington making Allen’s find even more extraordinary.

The USS Lexington was the first full-sized fleet aircraft carrier to be sunk by aircraft launched from an enemy aircraft carrier in WWII. The Lexington took hits from several torpedoes and bombs launched from Japanese aircraft as it fought alongside the USS Yorktown with an opposing force of three Japanese carriers. Her deployment in the region was a critical strategic deterrent to an anticipated Japanese invasion of the Australian mainland that never came. About a year earlier the smaller Royal Navy HMS Hermes, one of the first purpose-built aircraft carriers, was sunk by Japanese dive bombers.

A Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bomber of VT-2 photographed in the wreck of the USS Lexington. (Photo: Vulcan Photo)

After the USS Lexington took multiple hits from Japanese aircraft on May 8, 1942, a massive explosion tore through her spaces at 12:47 PM. Gasoline vapor from the ruptured port aviation fuel tanks exploded. The giant explosion destroyed the ship’s main damage control station, but air operations continued despite the fires. Remarkably, all of the surviving aircraft from the morning’s strike were recovered by 2:14 PM.

Moments later at 2:42 PM another major explosion tore through the forward part of the Lexington, igniting fires below the flight deck on the hanger deck and leading to a power failure. Though assisted by three destroyers, the Lexington’s damage control parties were overwhelmed after a third explosion ripped through her hull at 3:25 PM. That explosion, the death blow to Lexington, cut off water pressure to the hanger deck preventing fire crews from containing the fire there. As a result, a final, enormous explosion from fuel and ammunition stored in her hold and magazines ignited an uncontrollable inferno on board.

Shortly after 3:28 PM her commander, Captain Frederick Sherman, issued the order to abandon ship. Despite multiple explosions and fires on board Lexington a remarkable 2,770 crewmen and officers were rescued. Tragically, 216 were killed in the Japanese attack on the ship and in the fire-fighting efforts that followed. The USS Lexington was scuttled (purposely sunk) by several torpedoes fired from the USS Phelps to prevent her hulk from falling into Japanese hands.

One of the final explosions on board the USS Lexington when she sank on May 8, 1942. (Photo: U.S. Navy History & Heritage Command)

The discovery of the USS Lexington’s wreck and the images made by Paul Allen’s research team provide a unique and invaluable insight into WWII history. This treasure of historical data would have likely remained lost forever if it weren’t for the wealthy investor’s remarkable drive for discovery and commitment to research.

Top image: A Grumman F4F Wildcat sits on the ocean floor in the wreckage of the USS Lexington. (Photo: Vulcan Photo)

Cockpit Video Shows F/A-18E Super Hornet Performing Case II Recovery With Low Visibility And Pitching Deck

Check out what happens inside the cockpit of a VFA-143 “Rhino” performing a Case II recovery procedure.

The footage below shows a recovery to the carrier in low visibility conditions of a Super Hornet (or “Rhino” as the aircraft is nicknamed aboard supercarriers) with the VFA-143 “Pukin Dogs” (based on the badge that can be seen on the pilot’s flight helmet).

Not as scary as a night landing, still quite interesting, considered that you can almost read the instruments and see all what the pilot does during the approach.

As explained before here at The Aviationist, all aircraft returning to the carrier have to enter the Carrier Control Aerea, a circular airspace within a radius of 50 nautical miles around the carrier, extending upward from the surface to infinity. Within the CCA, all traffic is usually controlled by the CATCC (Carrier Air Traffic Control Center) and inbound flights are normally in radio contact with the “marshal control” who radios clearances within the marshal pattern.

The actual procedure for holding and landing depends on the weather conditions.

Under Case I recovery (meaning more or less “good weather”, with ceiling of at least 3,000 feet and 5 miles visibility within the carrier control zone – a circular airspace within 5 miles horizontal radius from the carrier, extending upwar from the surface to 2,500 feet) the traffics wait their turn for final approach to landing circling in a holding pattern.

Case-II approaches are used when weather conditions are such that the flight may encounter instrument conditions during the descent, but visual conditions of at least 1,000 feet (300 m) ceiling and 5 nautical miles (9.3 km; 5.8 mi) visibility exist at the ship. Positive radar control is used until the pilot is inside 10 nautical miles (19 km; 12 mi) and reports the ship in sight.

According to the NATOPS manual, under Case-II conditions: “Penetrations in actual instrument conditions by formation flights of more than two aircraft are not authorized. Flight leaders shall follow Case III approach procedures outside of 10 nm. When within 10 nm with the ship in sight, flights will be shifted to tower control and pro- ceed as in Case I. If the flight does not have the ship in sight at 10 nm, the flight may descend to not less than 800 feet. If a flight does not have the ship in sight at 5 miles, both aircraft shall be vectored into the bolter/waveoff pattern and action taken to conduct a Case III recovery for the remaining flights.”

For jets and turboprops the holding pattern is a left-hand pattern more or less tangent to the BRC (Base Recovery Course – magnetic heading of the ship) with the ship in the 3-o’clock position and a maximum diameter of 5 nm.
Aircraft circle at altitudes from 2,000 feet upward at various levels with a vertical separation of 1,000 feet.

Once the flight deck is free for landings, the lowest aircraft in the “stack”, leave its altitude to enter the landing pattern while the flights above, one by one, descend to the lower level vacated by the preceding flight.

In accordance with the EAT (Expected Approach Time) the aircraft depart the holding in such a way to reach the ‘”initial”, 3 miles astern at 800 feet altitude. Thereafter a “break” and a subsequent spin pattern is flown at 1,200 feet within 3 nm of the ship.

Aircraft in the landing pattern, properly separated (no more than 6 at any given time), continue to fly the downwind at 600 feet, perform base turn and align with the ship, astern at about 350 to 400 feet.

From there the Improved Fresnel Lens Optical Landing System (IFLOLS) lights provide the pilot with a visual indication of proper approach path.

[Read also: All you need to know about arrested landings on U.S. aircraft carriers]

Enjoy the video.

Here’s Boeing Submission To The U.S. Navy MQ-25 Stingray Unmanned Carrier Aviation Air System Competition

Boeing’s MQ-25 unmanned aircraft system has been unveiled.

After teasing its shape with a mysterious tweet that included a photograph of an aircraft under protective cover on Dec. 14, as planned, Boeing has unveiled a better (still, partial) view of its submission to the MQ-25 Stingray unmanned carrier aviation air system competition (UCAAS).

Through its MQ-25 competition (with final proposals due on Jan. 3, 2018), the U.S. Navy plans to procure unmanned refueling capabilities that would extend the combat range of deployed Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler, and Lockheed Martin F-35C fighters. The UCAAS will operate from both land bases and the flight deck of its Nimitz- and future Ford-class aircraft carriers, seamlessly integrating with a carrier’s catapult and launch and recovery systems. The induction of the new tanker drone will offload some aerial refueling duties from the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleet.

“Boeing has been delivering carrier aircraft to the Navy for almost 90 years,” said Don ‘BD’ Gaddis, a retired admiral who leads the refueling system program for Boeing’s Phantom Works technology organization, in a company public release. “Our expertise gives us confidence in our approach. We will be ready for flight testing when the engineering and manufacturing development contract is awarded.”

According to Boeing the UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) is completing engine runs before heading to the flight ramp for deck handling demonstrations early next year.

The Navy issued its final request for proposals in October. Proposals are due Jan. 3.

With Northrop Grumman withdrawing from the competition in October 2017, Boeing, General Atomics, and Lockheed Martin are the three aerospace company competing for the initial development contract. The U.S. Navy has a requirement for 72 tanker drones, even though the service will initially only buy four examples of the winning design in order to assess whether the winner will be able to meet all the requirements before handing out any larger production deals.

Top image: Boeing photo by Eric Shindelbower

U.S. Department Of Defense Video Shows Unknown Object Intercepted By U.S. Navy Super Hornet And We Have No Idea What It Was.

This video shows the weird object as seen from a U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet’s ATFLIR (Advanced Targeting Forward Looking Infrared) pod. What is it? Any idea?

On Dec. 16, the NYT published an interesting story about a U.S. Department of Defense program that investigated reports of UFOs (unidentified flying objects). Along with interviews with program participants and records they obtained investigating the mysterious Pentagon program, The New York Times has released a video that shows a close encounter between an F/A-18F Super Hornet out of USS Nimitz and one of these UFOs back in 2004.

Take a look and tell me if you have an idea what that object might be.

Back in 2007, a user (cometa2) of the popular Above Top Secret (ATS) forum posted an alleged official CVW-11 Event Summary of a close encounter occurred on Nov. 14, 2004. Back then, when the encounter had not been confirmed yet, many users questioned the authenticity of both the event log and the footage allegedly filmed during the UFO intercept. More than 10 years later, with an officially released video of the encounter, it’s worth having a look at that unverified event log again: although we can’t say for sure whether it is genuine or not, it is at least “realistic” and provides some interesting details and narrative consistent with the real carrier ops. Moreover, the summary says that the callsign of the aircraft involved in the encounter is Fast Eagle: this callsign is used by the VFA-41 Black Aces – incidentally the very same squadron of David Fravor, formed Co of VFA-41, the pilot who recalled the encounter to NYT.

Anyway, here’s an excerpt:

FAST EAGLES 110/100 UPON TAKE OFF WERE VECTORED BY PRINCETON AND BANGER (1410L) TO INTERCEPT UNID CONTACT AT 160@40NM (N3050.8 W11746.9) (NIMITZ N3129.3 W11752.8). PRINCETON INFORMED FAST EAGLES THAT THE CONTACT WAS MOVING AT 100 KTS @ 25KFT ASL.

FAST EAGLES (110/100) COULD NOT FIND UNID AIRBORNE CONTACT AT LOCATION GIVEN BY PRINCETON. WHILE SEARCHING FOR UNID AIR CONTACT, FAST EAGLES SPOTTED LARGE UNID OBJECT IN WATER AT 1430L. PILOTS SAW STEAM/ SMOKE/CHURNING AROUND OBJECT. PILOT DESCRIBES OBJECT INITIALLY AS RESEMBLING A DOWNED AIRLINER, ALSO STATED THAT IT WAS MUCH LARGER THAN A SUBMARINE.

WHILE DESCENDING FROM 24K FT TO GAIN A BETTER VIEW OF THE UNID CONTACT IN THE WATER, FAST EAGLE 110 SIGHTED AN AIRBORNE CONTACT WHICH APPEARED TO BE CAPSULE SHAPED (WINGLESS, MOBILE, WHITE, OBLONG PILL SHAPED, 25-30 FEET IN LENGTH, NO VISIBLE MARKINGS AND NO GLASS) 5NM WEST FROM POSITION OF UNID OBJECT IN WATER.

CAPSULE (ALT 4K FT AT COURSE 300) PASSED UNDER FAST EAGLE 110 (ALT 16KFT). FAST EAGLE 110 BEGAN TURN TO ACQUIRE CAPSULE. WHILE 110 WAS DESCENDING AND TURNING, CAPSULE BEGAN CLIMBING AND TURNED INSIDE OF FAST EAGLE’S TURN RADIUS. PILOT ESTIMATED THAT CAPSULE ACHIEVED 600-700 KTS. FAST EAGLE 110 COULD NOT KEEP UP WITH THE RATE OF TURN AND THE GAIN OF ALTITUDE BY THE CAPSULE. 110 LOST VISUAL ID OF CAPSULE IN HAZE.
LAST VISUAL CONTACT HAD CAPSULE AT 14KFT HEADING DUE EAST.

NEITHER FAST EAGLES 110 OR 100 COULD ACHIEVE RADAR LOCK OR ANY OTHER MEANS OF POSITIVE ID. FAST EAGLE 100 WAS FLYING HIGH COVER AND SAW THE ENGAGEMENT BY FAST EAGLE 110. FAST EAGLE 100 CONFIRMS 110 VISUAL ID; 100 LOST CONTACT IN HAZE AS WELL.

CPA OF ACFT 110 FROM CONTACT 4000-5000 FT.

So, what’s your opinion on the video (BTW here you can find an interesting description of the ATFLIR symbology)? What’s that “capsule shaped (wingless, mobile, white, oblong pill-shaped)” object?

H/T to @obretix for the help preparing this article.

U.S. Navy C-2A Aircraft Carrying 11 Crew And Passengers Crashed In The Ocean Southeast Of Okinawa

C-2 Greyhound COD confirmed involved in the crash.

According to the U.S. Navy 7th Fleet, a United States Navy C-2A aircraft belonging to VRC-30 “Providers” carrying 11 crew and passengers crashed into the ocean southeast of Okinawa at approximately 2:45 p.m. local time on Nov. 22.

“Personnel recovery is underway and their condition will be evaluated by USS Ronald Reagan medical staff. The aircraft was en-route to the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), which is currently operating in the Philippine Sea. USS Ronald Reagan is conducting search and rescue operations. The cause of the crash is not known at this time.”

160707-N-NF288-020 SOUTH CHINA SEA (July 7, 2016) Distinguished visitors from Cambodia land on the flight deck of the Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). Ronald Reagan, the Carrier Strike Group Five (CSG 5) flagship, is on patrol in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jamaal Liddell/Release

The official release did not initially specify the type nor the unit of the aircraft involved in the crash. However, it seemed immediately quite reasonable to believe it is a C-2 Greyhound involved in a COD (Carrier Onboard Delivery) mission. Indeed, the Grumman C-2A Greyhound is a twin-engine, high-wing cargo aircraft, designed perform the COD mission to carry equipment, passengers (including occasional distinguished visitors) supplies and mail to and from U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, “ensuring victory at sea through logistics.”

8 out 11 people on board have been found. SAR operation underway to find and rescue the missing ones.

According to the U.S. Navy:

Eight personnel were recovered by the “Golden Falcons” of U.S. Navy Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC 12). The eight personnel were transferred to USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) for medical evaluation and are in good condition at this time.

“Our entire focus is on finding all of our Sailors,” said Rear Adm. Marc H. Dalton, Commander, Task Force 70. “U.S. and Japanese ships and aircraft are searching the area of the crash, and we will be relentless in our efforts.”

USS Ronald Reagan is leading search and rescue efforts with the following ships and aircraft: U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63); MH-60R Seahawk helicopters of the “Saberhawks” from U.S. Navy Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM 77); P-8 aircraft from the “Fighting Tigers” of U.S. Navy Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Squadron (VP) 8; P-3 Orion aircraft of the “Red Hook” U.S. Navy Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Squadron (VP) 40; Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Helicopter Carrier Japan Ship (JS) Kaga (DDH 184); and JMSDF Hatakaze-class destroyer Japan Ship (JS) Shimakaze (DDG 172).

This is the 6th C-2 lost since the type entered active service (a prototype YC-2A was lost on Apr. 29, 1965, during a test flight resulting in 4 fatalities):

 

  • On Oct. 2, 1969, C-2A BuNo 152796 from VRC-50, carrying 6 crew members and 21 passengers crashed in the Gulf of Tonkin en route from Naval Air Station Cubi Point to USS Constellation in the Gulf of Tonkin. All the 27 POB were killed but since their bodies were never recovered, they are listed as MIA (Missing In Action).
  • On Dec. 15, 1970, C-2A BuNo 155120 from VRC-50 crashed shortly after launch from USS Ranger, killing all 9 POB (4 crew members and 5 passengers).
  • On Dec. 12 1971, C-2A BuNo 152793 crashed en route from Cubi Point to Tan Son Nhat International Airport, resulting in the death of all 4 crew members and 6 passengers.
  • On Jan. 29, C-2A BuNo 155122 crashed while attempting to land on the USS Independence in the Mediterranean Sea, killing both crewmen.
  • On 16 November 1973, C-2A BuNo 152787 crashed into the sea after takeoff from Souda Bay, Crete. 7 of 10 POB died in the incident.

 

We will update this story as new details are made available.

In 2000, the C-2 began Service Life-Extension Program (SLEP) installations, which included improvements such as structural enhancements, dual ARC-210 radios, the Terrain-Awareness Warning System, the Traffic Collision-Avoidance System and a rewire of the aircraft to remove older and potentially hazardous Kapton wiring. Eight-blade NP2000 propellers were installed in 2010-2011. The Communication, Navigation, Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) system features components that expanded the aircraft’s communications capability by increasing the number of usable radio frequencies, therefore reducing channel congestion. As part of the navigation upgrade, a system combining Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment and an inertial navigation system were integrated to provide accurate positioning and velocity, allowing flight crews to perform precise landing approaches.

Top image: file photo of a C-2 Greyhound