I’m supposed to be on my way south in my Nanchang CJ-6A war bird. A rather large front, currently located over head, has canceled that. So on this rainy day I was poking around the net and found some great old footage.
Fifty years ago things were very different. It doesn’t look that way to the casual observer, but let me explain how drastically things have changed in Naval Aviation. Most people know that Carriers, had attack and fighter aircraft, However there were many more types: recce, electronic warfare, surveillance, etc. and even fighter and attack had specific sub specialties.
In fact, the US Navy had different types of aircraft carriers back then; CVA and CVS. C means carrier, V means fixed wing, A attack and S anti submarine warfare. Dedicated Battle Groups were built around each type. CVA BGs projected power ashore and on the sea. CVS BGs ruled under the sea.
Aircraft, like the BGs, specialized. Attack for example was divided into VAL, VAM, VAH and VAQ (light, medium, heavy and electronic). Light was the small A-4 Skyhawk, close air support and visual tactical strikes its specialty.
Medium was the A-6 Intruder (not in video), its specialty was all weather and night attack.
The large airline size jet was the A-3 Skywarrior, we called it the Whale. Its specialty was nuclear, in fact the aircraft was designed around “the bomb”. It is credited by many as having saved Naval Aviation by giving the CVA BG a real Strategic capability. Certainly they could do each others jobs, especially after nuc’s were shrunk. With advent of the “silver bullet” nuc, even the diminutive A-4 had a nuclear mission. Thus, by the time I was in the Navy the Heavies were converted to tankers KA-3 and electronic warfare EA-3, the A-5 became a photo recce platform, the RA-5 Vigilante. One of my aircraft, the EA-6B Prowler (a stretched A-6), did not make it to the fleet until the very end of Viet Nam, 1973.
Once the A-3 was no longer needed for nuclear duty it replaced the older AD-5Q Skyraider that had been waging the electronic war alone, because the prop planes couldn’t keep up with the rest of the air wing. My uncle flew the AD-5Q in VAW-11 during the time frame, an attack plane converted to electronic warfare, just like the EA-6B that I would fly twenty five years later.
The F-3 Demon was a pure fighter, as was the first F-8 Crusader off the cat. Their only job was air to air, dog fighting. In fact IMO the F-8 was the best pure dog fighter of its era. Not such a good carrier bird though, the Crusader had a horrific accident rate due mostly to the variable angle of incident wing (it popped up when taking off or landing, visible in video). But that is an entire separate post!
The second F-8 off the cat, was not a fighter, when you look closely there are no missiles or gun ports. Just what looked like square windows in the fuselage, it was a recce bird. Designed to take pictures only. Before and after a strike its job was to take pictures of the target. Before for planning, after for BDA (bomb damage assessment).
So what has changed? All these air wing missions are being replaced by one aircraft, the F-35. Not just those missions tho, the AV-8B Harrier capable of vertical takeoff and landing, and the USAF F-16 and 15 as well (if Air Force bean counters got their way the A-10 too).
There is an old saying: “Jack of all Master of none.”
The bean counters have tried before with the F-111; that was an abject failure. The Navy never bought it. Certainly the F-35 has been thus far, decades late, billions over budget and it still isn’t fully operational. But it has been done successfully once before: Fighter, Bomber, Recce, Electronic Warfare….
F-4 Phantom II; the greatest fighter ever built!
I love writing about aircraft and hope it shows in my books. I’m currently working on book five, COLD WAR HOT, in it we will enter the jet age!