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.

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