by Tommy H. Thomason

Monday, June 27, 2011


It took longer than we hoped, but Scooter! is in the last stages of the publishing process and should be available in the fall. This is the final cover:

It is being published by Crecy Publications in England (Home Page), distributed by Specialty Press (Home Page) in the United States and available for advance order from Amazon, HERE.

See HERE for an example illustration that I posted a year ago.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

XF4U: the first to 400 MPH?

I just revised the entry on the XF4U's top speed as a result of a comment from Ron Lewis. Click HERE.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Brief, F4U Corsair-oriented History of Navy Color Schemes and Markings

1 October 2022: Expanded the gray/white scheme discussion thanks to Tom Chee providing F4U/AU aircraft history card data.

One of the useful aspects of the Vought F4U Corsair's long career is that it can be used to illustrate three decades of U.S. Navy color schemes and markings. With the exception of two schemes, one arguably and the other definitely experimental, it lasted from the "yellow" wings of biplanes of the 1930s through to the change to gull gray and white in the mid 1950s.

n.b. Federal Standard 595 was first issued in March 1956 to provide a reference for "Colors Used in Government Procurement." The colors are identified by five-digit numbers but no names. Before that, there was Federal Specification TT-C-595 issued in January 1950 that identified colors by four-digit numbers. It was preceded by  an Army/Navy Aeronautics Bulletins that identified colors by three digit numbers and names. For some, this will be a gross oversimplification of aircraft color specification history but it's not my specialty.

The XF4U-1 flew for the first time on 29 May 1940. In conformance with the exterior color scheme at the time, metal surfaces were painted with aluminized lacquer and fabric surfaces were finished with alumininized dope except for the upper surface of the wings (including the ailerons), which was painted Orange Yellow so an airplane could be easily spotted if ditched in the ocean. (It would float because like most Navy airplanes of the era, it was equipped with flotation bags in the wing.)

Note that the national insignia is a blue circle with a white star encompassing a red circle and that the propeller tip has bands of blue, yellow, and red.

The first scheme that the F4U missed (the first production airplane did not fly until mid 1942 and the prototype doesn't appear to have been repainted) was an overall Light Gray scheme with white markings that marked the prewar change to low visibility in early 1941 as illustrated by this Grumman F4F Wildcat. It also added the national insignia to the sides of the fuselage and removed it from the upper right and lower left wings.

The single shade of gray approach was short-lived and replaced with a Blue Grey over Light Grey scheme for carrier-based airplanes on 20 August 1941. On 5 January 1942, the national insignia was reinstated on the upper right and lower left wings.

Note that the red centers have been removed from the national insignia as of 15 May 1942 in order to avoid confusion with the Japanese red rising-sun markings. (The original scheme, which did not appear on the first production Corsairs, also had red and white rudder stripes that somewhat detracted from the camouflage effect and were removed by the same directive.)

In January 1943, the U.S. Navy released a specification that replaced the simple Blue Gray over Light Gray camouflage scheme scheme with a complex one that employed counter-shading and counter-shadowing. Four colors were used: Semigloss Sea Blue on upper surfaces, non-specular Sea Blue on the wing leading edges, non-specular Intermediate Blue Sides, and non-specular Insignia White on the lower surfaces. Four-place national insignia were again decreed on 1 February 1943 in order to further minimize the likelihood of confusion with Japanese markings which were six place.

It took some time for the Navy to repaint delivered aircraft and probably a month or more for the contractors to develop and switch over to color schemes in accordance with the specification. For example, VF-17, which was working up for combat, was still flying Corsairs in two-tone gray scheme with six-place national insignia when carrier qualifying aboard Charger in March 1943.

However, by the time that Bunker Hill was available for shakedown of its air group in July 1943, VF-17 had F4U-1s that had been repainted by the Navy rework/repair facility at Norfolk, Virginia in their version of the new multi-color scheme. (Click HERE for background on it.)
(National Archives 80-G-205087 via Jim Sullivan)

The addition of white bars with a red surround of the national insignia was decreed on 28 June 1943. At least one VF-17 F4U-1 received the change in time to participate in the pilot qualifications and proficiency operations on Bunker Hill in July.

 In August, VF-17 reequipped with factory new (and factory painted) F4U-1As for their departure on Bunker Hill to the Pacific. In September 1943 the red surround was ordered to be replaced by blue, again due to reduce the potential for confusion with the Japanese markings. (It had already been deleted in the Pacific by an edict on 31 July 1943.) Note the difference in demarcation between the upper and side colors on the repainted airplanes above and this one.
This VF-17 Corsair, BuNo 17640, is marked with 1 and "Big Hog" for the squadron commander, Tom Blackburn, who is fourth from the left. (The dark patches behind the "1" are reportedly repairs of bullet holes made when one of his pilots mistook his airplane for a Japanese fighter.)

The complex multi-color scheme was eventually replaced by an overall gloss Sea Blue one by a directive issued on 26 June 1944.
(F4U-1D on Essex July 1945 via Jim Sullivan)

It was eventually suggested, probably by Grumman, that the Insignia Blue surround of the national insignia was redundant and should be eliminated on all-blue airplanes. It was reportedly deleted well before the official authorization to do so was issued in June 1946. A red bar was added in January 1947 to reinstate all the colors of the U.S. flag.

Although no Corsairs were involved in the experimental (and again short-lived) unpainted approach of the early 1950s (click HERE for a brief discussion), there was an F4U-1A created from various wrecked Corsairs by Service Squadron 11 of Marine Aircraft Group 11 based at Espiritu Santos (Vanuatu). However, it appears to be not unpainted but instead have been given an aluminum paint finish. "Sally" was marked on the cowling.
Photo provided by Jim Sullivan.

 Some Corsairs lasted long enough in service to be repainted light gull gray (36440) and white in accordance with the change introduced on 23 February 1955 following the failed "unpainted" exterior experiment. It was first introduced, to an extent, with some replacements for F4U-4s assigned to the Navy Reserve squadrons at Olathe, Kansas and Seattle, Washington. The last of these in overhaul retained their blue outboard wing panels and rudders but the fuselage and inboard wings were gray/white and the elevators, flaps, and ailerons were white. My guess is that the antiglare panel was nonspecular dark blue but it could have been black.

These were overhauled at San Diego and delivered in September/October 1955 to augment the remaining all-blue Corsairs in those units. My guess is that stripping and repainting the fabric-covered outer wing panels and rudder was deemed to be too much trouble given the likelihood of early retirement of these airplanes. The Olathe Corsairs, for example, went into storage at Litchfield Park in June/July 1956; at least two of the Seattle Corsairs left for Arizona in September 1956.

A handful of AU-1s received the complete paint scheme. At least three—BuNos 129378, 129403, and 129411—were overhauled at San Diego in 1955 and delivered to Aircraft Engineering Squadron-12 at Quantico, Virginia between March and June 1956 to provide training for ground-based close-air-support controllers. Again, this last service tour was over in little more than a year with one being ferried to NAS Norfolk, Virginia in June 1957 and two at the end of August, where all three were stricken in October 1957.

New soft-cover Corsair books well worth your consideration have been published recently: Jim Sullivan has completely rewritten and re-illustrated his F4U Corsair In Action published by  Squadron/Signal Publications. Is is a very good summary of the various versions with many previously unpublished photos.

Rafe Morrissey and Joe Hegedus have authored The Vought F4U Corsair: A Comprehensive Guide, SAM Publications. As you might guess from the title, it provides more detail (and more than twice as many pages) as Jim's monograph, including coverage of the kits and decals that had been produced at the book's publication.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Navalized SNJ

Another recycled IPMS Tailhook Topics column. Boyd Waechter drew the illustrations. (The tailhook should angle downwards a bit rather than being parallel to the bottom of the fuselage - see the last picture.)
The addition of the C to the designation reflected the incorporation of carrier capability, minimally so in this case. The only significant changes were the addition of a tail hook and a protective fairing in front of the tail wheel.

The SNJ-4C depicted made the first landing aboard Bunker Hill on 21 June 1943. Unfortunately, this airplane ended up on its nose in the crash barrier that same day., an ominous beginning for CV-17. It was painted in the standard mid-1943 camouflage of blue gray over light gray feathered together, with the national insignia in four positions only.. This aircraft also had a .30 caliber machine gun in the nose and another in a tail gunner installation in the aft cockpit. There are photos of this airplane in the Winter 1969 Aero Album.

The SNJ-5C illustration is typical of the markings when used to qualify Naval aviator trainees in carrier takeoffs and landings aboard—for example, Monterey (CVL-26)— through the mid-1950s when they were replaced by the T-28C. The nose gun installation was faired over.

"DONT STALL" was stenciled in red on the fuselage just below the cockpit sill on some aircraft (note also the interior green turnover structure and that the canopy frames are not yellow).

At the time, the carrier approach was made just above stall speed without an angle of attack indicator for reference. Stalling was, of course, a very bad thing...

It would be hard to overdo the weathering...
Note also that the letters and numbers are stenciled on without much attention to sharp edges.

A set of detailed pictures of a fantastic SNJ-5C restoration can be found HERE.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


The U.S. Navy's involvement with liquid-cooled engines lasted long after air-cooled engines replaced them on its carrier-based fighters. Click HERE for a summary history and more information on the this entry's topic.

In mid 1944, the Bureau of Aeronautics asked North American to submit a proposal for a navalized P-51 Mustang. The resulting NAA-133 was based on its P-51H and to be powered by a Merlin V-1650-11 engine. The wing was redesigned to increase the wing area by 10 square feet (an increase in wing chord of about three inches since the wing span was not changed), substitute larger and slotted flaps, and incorporate wing folding. The ailerons were enlarged and hydraulically boosted.

The landing gear was strengthened and an arresting hook and catapult hook added.
The fin and rudder shown in dotted lines are in accordance with the relatively crude North American three view provided with the NAA-133 proposal. The overall fuselage length and fin height are in accordance with the dimensions on that drawing so it may be that the fin and rudder were raised as shown but I can't be sure that the chord of either the fin and rudder are correct.

The Mustang’s fuselage fuel tank was deleted and the wing fuel capacity was reduced to 150 gallons. The elimination of the fuselage tank allowed for a smaller horizontal tail while maintaining adequate longitudinal stability. The reduction in internal fuel capacity was to be offset by the addition of 50-gallon tip tanks when required.

There is a drawing on the interweb that shows the wings folded to a vertical position rather than continuing past vertical to reduce overall height. It also shows the tail wheel door extending aft to the rudder post. I don't have any corroborating information as to either detail.

The P-51H fin height was increased shortly after production began and presumably the same change would have been incorporated on a Navy Mustang.

There is an excellent P-51H kit available from Czech Master Resin:
It includes both the original and taller tail. Click HERE for a review.

A similar conversion to represent the P-51D carrier trials airplane could be made from any P-51 kit.

This is the illustration from my very first Tailhook Topics column for IPMS USA, which appeared in the Update, Volume 16 No.2:
No Bureau Number or "Navy" appeared anywhere on the aircraft in the few pictures which have been published. The aircraft retained the .50 caliber guns and wing bomb racks during the carrier trials. The tail hook was attached just aft of the tail wheel well with the hook point just behind the rudder post. The bottom of the rudder appears to have been just slightly cut out for the hook point.

The tailhook installation. Note that there is a hold-back link behind the hook point.

An even rarer P-51 was operated by the Navy as BuNo 57987. It was Army Air Force Serial No 41-37426, one of a production lot of Mustang Mk 1As that were to be delivered to the RAF, many of which were taken instead by the Army Air Force.
Note that the inlet to the belly air scoop has an opening that can be varied in area.