Saturday, March 26, 2011

CONA Retros Part 2

Though not as glamorous as the fast jets (read: fighters), the trainers got a retro make-over, too. Ironically they got the really classic "Golden Age" schemes, which were the colors and markings of the 1930s.

In another touch of irony, the era that produced the most colorful of schemes also had one of the most structured regulations dictating the meaning and placement of markings of any era as well.

This Beech T-34C Mentor of VT-27 / CTW-4 is a good example. By 1930 the Navy started assigning solid color tails to the various bases and aircraft carrier air wings as a form of visual recognition. In this case, the Willow Green tail was the color given to aircraft attached to the carrier USS Ranger (CV 4) around 1935.

Along with the basic gray paint on metal and aluminum dope on the fabric control surfaces, the upper surface of the wing(s) were painted Orange Yellow (also called Chrome Yellow). All that made for a very colorful airplane.

But it gets better.

In the 1930s, Navy squadrons were comprised of eighteen airplanes, subdivided into two Divisions. Each Division had three Sections of three airplanes each. Each Section had its own color code. Each plane in the Section had its own markings protocols and each plane had a squadron number.

In this case, the front of the nose is black and there is a black band around the aft fuselage. There is also a black chevron on the upper surface of the wing and on the lower surface as well.

A full color band on the nose signified the Section Leader's airplane, as did the band on the aft fuselage. If the nose was only colored on the upper hemisphere it was the second plane in the Section. If it only had the lower hemisphere colored, it was the third plane in the Section. Neither the second or third airplane had the aft fuselage band.

They did have the colored chevron as this was a formation alignment aid.

Still with me? That means the T-34C above represented the Division 2, Section 4 Leader, the tenth plane in the squadron of the Air Wing of USS Ranger.

The alpha-numeric code on the side of the airplane tells you as much, too: 4-TW-10, or 4th Section of Training Wing (4), tenth airplane in squadron. The squadron Commanding Officer (CO) would fly the Division 1, Section 1, 1st plane in the squadron; the squadron Executive Officer (XO) would fly the Division 2, Section 2, 10th plane in the squadron.

See: easy!
This airplane doesn't have the aft band, which means it was probably circa 1940 as official color schemes were undergoing various changes in anticipation of wartime camouflage requirements. This McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) T-45C Goshawk of TW-2 does have the full nose color, thus making it the Division 2 Section 4, 10th airplane in squadron, but it doesn't have the corresponding black aft fuselage band. The black tail indicates it was assigned to USS Wasp (CV 7) at that time.

Incidentally, the alpha-numeric code on this airplane (2-TW-200) is a combination of 1930s styling mixed with modern numbering. In this case, instead of 2nd Division, the 2 reflects the fact this is a TW-2 airplane. Instead of 10 for the Leader, 200 is used, which is the current Modex (nose number) of the airplane in question. In modern usage Modex numbers ending in 00 (or "double-nuts") signify the CAG's airplane. CAG, of Commander Air Group, is the leader of the Air Wing. Each squadron assigns an airplane for the CAG to fly, and that airplane has a 00 number.

The second T-45C at the show, from VT-9 / TW-1, had the True Blue tail of USS Enterprise (CV 6) circa 1940. The full red nose shows it is the Division 1, Section 1 Leader, first airplane in the squadron, even though it, too, is missing the aft color band. Red was always assigned to Section 1; Black was always assigned to Section 4. 1-TW-101 is for Training Wing 1, with 101 symbolizing the first airplane in the squadron. (100 would actually be the CAG's airplane, but the 101 Modex is a nice combination of old and new.)

Incidentally, U.S. Navy is on the opposite side (port side) of both Goshawks, while U.S. Marines is on the starboard side.

A view of the upper wing surface of the True Blue tailed T-45C shows the right part of the red chevron. It also shows the early national marking consisting of a blue roundel with white star with red circle inside. Once we were at war with Japan, all traces of red were removed from U.S. and allied aircraft markings as too many gunners and pilots were shooting at anything red, resulting in a lot of friendly fire incidents.

Anyway, that's an abbreviated history of a very complex period. It actually gets more complicated and convoluted than what I've shared tonight, which makes it really fascinating to study. Regardless, it is a really colorful period in U.S. Navy history and a popular subject for modelers and enthusiasts. It certainly jazzes up a flight line full of dull gray airplanes!

More CONA colors later.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

CONA Retros Part 1

Certainly one of the highlights of the current Centennial of Naval Aviation year-long celebration is the painting of modern aircraft in the historical color schemes of past Navy aircraft. Over the next couple of posts we'll look at some of those schemes.

The first one is on a new Boeing EA-18G Growler - called Grizzly on the carrier to avoid confusion with the Grumman EA-6B Prowler. It's painted in the 1943 "three-color blue" scheme, which had a dark blue on the upper surfaces, intermediate blue on the sides and white on the bottom surfaces. You can't see it here, but the bottom of the outer wing panels are the intermediate blue color as the wings fold and the bottoms go vertical. If the wings had gone past the vertical so they faced upward, they would have been painted the dark blue.

By 1944 carrier-based aircraft became overall glossy Sea Blue. Moreover, Carrier Air Wings (CVW) became so numerous that a complex set of geometric markings were applied to the verticals and wings to denote their home carrier. This Boeing F/A-18C Hornet has a white tail with three horizontal Glossy Sea Blue stripes. This was the markings for aircraft belonging to CV 15 USS Randolph.

Navy aircraft in the immediate post-war period continued in overall Glossy Sea Blue. However, reserve aircraft were denoted by an International Orange band on the aft fuselage. This Boeing F/A-18A Hornet looks rather stylish in that scheme.

Starting in 1955 the color scheme changed again. This time the colors were Light Gull Gray on top, with Glossy Insignia White on the bottom and on the upper surface of the control surfaces. Much later it came out that the white was to reflect the heat of a nuclear blast from damaging the more fragile control surfaces of the aircraft.

Shore-based squadrons had the option of adding high-visibility markings at the discretion of the base commander. This F/A-18C Hornet from NAWS (Naval Air Weapons Station) China Lake has a striking International Orange scheme applied to its wings, nose, belly and tails. It really catches your eye!

The final scheme for tonight is a Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet (called Rhino on the boat so as not to be confused with the smaller and lighter Hornet) in the contemporary standard Tactical Gray scheme consisting of Light Compass Ghost Gray on the bottom and outer vertical surfaces and Dark Compass Ghost Gray on the top and inner verticals. The tail markings are the neat heritage scheme of VX-5 from the late 1960s to early 1970s. In a bit of Navy humor, VX-5 joined with VX-4 in 1993 to become VX-9. No kidding - 4 plus 5 equals 9.

Ya' gotta love it.

ADDENDUM: Added 26 March 2011 - the underwing colors on the EA-18G would have been Intermediate Blue even if the wing folded past the vertical. My error. Also, the lightning bolt marking on the tail was for an airplane assigned to USS Shangri La (CV 38) during World War II.

Also, the "X" on the tail of the Reserve F/A-18A was the actual letter tail code for aircraft assigned to the Naval Reserve Squadron in New Orleans in the late 1940s, the same station where the Hornet's squadron is currently located (VFA-204 River Rattlers). It's nice to see how well they matched airplanes with their retro schemes.

Finally, a data search shows that the F/A-18C in the very colorful China Lake markings is not currently stationed at China Lake but attached to the Fleet Readiness Center Southwest (FRCSW) located at North Island. Since that's where the West coast retro schemes were applied, it makes sense. I'm glad they chose the China Lake markings, though, as they are especially striking.