by Tommy H. Thomason

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Things Under Wings: Inflight Refueling Buddy Store

1 July 2015: Rick Morgan provided additional pictures of the early store that I've incorporated.

29 June 2015: Jim Rotramel provided additional information and photographs that I've incorporated in the post.

Compromises and innovations were necessary to accommodate the operation of jets from aircraft carriers. One of the enabling practices was inflight refueling. One approach was the development of a buddy store that could be added with minimal modification to any carrier-based airplane with an external stores capability. For the background on this, see and

There were originally two buddy stores used operationally, one developed by Douglas, which used the model number D-704 (D for Douglas, not design) and the other by North American, which was only used on the FJ-4B Fury. The Navy subsequently procured a virtually identical, lower-cost store manufactured by Sargent Fletcher, which also produced external tanks (see Sargent Fletcher subsequently designed an improved store, the A/A42R-1.
The external bulges on the original store were necessary to provide clearance for the hose reel.
For some reason, the bulges on the upper half of the store were larger than the ones on the lower half.
Jim Rotramel Photo 

There were two aft-facing status light on the original store. The left light was amber (yellow) and the right, green. When the basket had been reeled out and the store was ready to transfer fuel, the amber light went on. After the receiving pilot plugged into the basket and moved forward three to six feet, the amber light went out and the green light came on, indicating that fuel was flowing from the store.

Rick Morgan provided the following pictures which complete a walk-around set of the "D-704" store (he also reported that in the fleet, even the latest version from Sargent Fletcher is referred to as a D-704.

The original Sargent Fletcher store was used through at least 1985 based on this photo provided by Rick Morgan.
Note that the dedicated KA-6D tanker would often carry a buddy store as a backup in case its internal, aft-fuselage mounted system went "sour".

The afterbody of the later Sargent Fletcher store was modified to eliminate the bulges. The change resulted in a discontinuity in the exterior shape at the beginning of the hose-reel section. The opening in the aft end of the store was also slightly raked so it was at an approximately 90-degree angle to the basket as it was reeled in and out.
Jim Rotramel Collection

Just barely visible on the bottom of the store is the jettison tube for dumping fuel from the store if required.
Jim Rotramel Photo
This was a feature on the S-3 installation only. The opening is covered by a blank plate on the F/A-18E/F.
Another notable change to the later store was the fairing for the status lights on the after body. It had a deeper fairing for an additional light.
Jim Rotramel Photo

The green light on the upper left indicated that fuel was flowing to the receiving airplane. The yellow light on the lower left, when steady, indicated that the store was ready; when flashing, it indicated that the receiving pilot had pushed the drogue/basket too far forward and fuel flow to the probe had stopped. The red light on the upper light turned on when there was a hydraulic failure in the store so fuel couldn't be transferred.

According to Jim, there were at least five different versions of the later store, which is still in use. The first three were specific to A-6, S-3, and F/A-18E/F; the differences were internal. The next two incorporated a redesign of the Ram Air Turbine propeller hub on the nose of the store.

"D-704" Buddy Store Aftermarket Products


1/48: Coming soon from


A/A42R-1 Buddy Store Aftermarket Products
1/48:  (Click on resin, then 1/48, then WP48132)


  (Click on resin, then 1/72, the WP72069)

Note: the Wolfpack kits provide both types of RAT hubs

Friday, June 19, 2015

Sikorsky SH-3D BuNo 152711 "Old 66"

Jodie Peeler is my go-to person on the Sikorsky SH-3. It turns out that she probably knows more about the iconic “Old 66” than anyone else on the planet and helped with the development of a set of decals for it.

For background on the SH-3’s spacecraft crew recovery mission in general and Old 66’s career in particular, see: Back from Space but Not Home Yet


BuNo 152711 was an SH-3D delivered to the Navy by Sikorsky in March 1967 and served for much if not all of its career with HS-4, a deployable ASW helicopter squadron. 152711 initially wore the overall Engine Gray SH-3 livery but was repainted into the white/gull gray scheme the Navy directed for the SH-3 in mid-1967. This repaint probably happened during the aircraft's first major overhaul in 1968. In any event, the repaint had long been done by the Apollo 8 recovery in December 1968. (1)

When required for spacecraft crew recovery, SH-3s were temporarily reconfigured to provide more room in the cabin for rescue equipment and personnel. The major change was the removal of the AN/AQS-13 sonar equipment in most of the embarked helicopters. The hole in the cabin floor would be covered, but the sonar well would not be plugged.

Removing the sonar also made room for the installation of SARAH (Search and Rescue and Homing) equipment. This system provided the helicopter pilots with the ability to home in on the spacecraft’s radio beacon. It used Yagi-type antennas mounted at the top of the port and starboard sponson struts; the first recovery helicopter to utilize SARAH was the Gemini 12 recovery helicopter in November 1966. (2)

Starting with Apollo 10, the recovery helicopter was equipped with an uprighting sling made of half-inch nylon line. One end of the sling was attached to a weapons shackle; the other end was taped in place below the starboard cabin door. If the command module was apex-down (Stable II) after splashdown, a helicopter crewman could lower the free end of the sling to a swimmer in the water, who would attach the sling to the spacecraft. The helicopter could then pull the spacecraft over to upright (Stable I) position.

Other modifications to the prime recovery helicopter included installation of photo and film cameras on the starboard side. Two 70mm motion picture cameras and a 35mm still camera were carried on a specially-made mount on the starboard aft weapons position, and at least one camera was mounted on the starboard side between the sponson and the fuselage.

These cameras were pointed down to capture images of the recovery operation that could be analyzed after the mission. These supplemented the still photos and motion pictures captured by the PHOTO helicopter. The camera power cables were taped to the starboard fuselage and ran up to the starboard cabin window; on Apollo 8 they hung loosely, but starting with Apollo 10 they were more securely fastened along most of their length with speed tape.


During the Apollo 8 recovery 152711 wore no special markings except for the tail code NU, the side number 66, and squadron designation HS-4. It doesn't appear to have had the recovery ship's name stenciled on anywhere.
This began to change by the Apollo 10 recovery in May 1969, when HS-4 again got the recovery assignment. USS PRINCETON was stenciled on the sponsons of each aircraft, and since HS-4 had been reassigned to CVSG-59 after the disestablishment of CVSG-55, the air group code on the tail changed from NU to NT. (3)
Just before the Apollo 10 recovery, a special "welcome home" greeting was applied to the belly, below the main cabin door. As the Apollo 10 astronauts looked up at "Old 66," they would see a giant pair of Snoopy eyes staring back, and the words "Hello Dere Charlie Brown." (This was a reference to the Command Module call sign "Charlie Brown" and the Lunar Module call sign "Snoopy.") As it happened, in all the post-splashdown activity, the astronauts probably didn't see it.

Three months later, Apollo 11 made its historic voyage to the Moon, and HS-4 was conducting its third spacecraft recovery. 152711 had no changes to its markings except for a stenciled USS HORNET replacing USS PRINCETON on the sponsons, and two tiny Apollo spacecraft applied to either side of the nose, commemorating the Apollo 8 and Apollo 10 recoveries.

 In fact, 152711 still had the "Charlie Brown" greeting on the belly until just before the Apollo 11 splashdown. It was very quickly removed and replaced with "Hail Columbia" in time for the recovery on July 24. Upon landing aboard Hornet with the astronauts aboard, a petty officer ran up to the helicopter and placed a third spacecraft decal on the nose to signify the Apollo 11 recovery as shown in the following profile and picture. (4)

For a gallery of pictures of the Apollo 11 recovery on the USS Hornet website, see
Between July and November 1969 HS-4 switched to three-digit side numbers in the 3XX range. For most aircraft this was done by painting over just the old number and applying the newer and smaller one as shown here on NT315.

However, for the Apollo 12 recovery 152711 had its new number painted out and replaced with a smaller "66" on both sides; a "66" was also added to the top of the fuselage just behind the main rotor. The area where the old number was painted out on each side is obvious in some photos.

The CVSG-59 designation was added below USS HORNET on each sponson. A fourth Apollo spacecraft emblem was placed on the nose before recovery and then covered up; that cover was removed as the helicopter landed with the astronauts aboard, and a sign reading "THREE MORE LIKE BEFORE" was taped below the cockpit.

For a gallery of pictures of the Apollo 12 recovery on the USS Hornet website, see

The last recovery for HS-4 was the Apollo 13 mission in April 1970. The HS-4 side numbers had changed to 4XX by that point, but 152711 had kept her markings from the Apollo 12 recovery. The port side of the helicopter had minimal changes, but the starboard side, which would be seen up close on television and in photos, was given a quick and very non-standard repaint with idiosyncratic stenciling. (5)

A new coat of white paint was applied and the markings were redone; the "66" was painted in a slightly chunkier fashion than the Apollo 12 version, and "Albert the Alleygator," cigar clenched in his teeth and lit stick of dynamite in his paws, was painted on the starboard cabin door just before the recovery itself.(6)

Trim colors on the rotor cap, tail and sponson tips changed from blue to red for Apollo 13, and USS IWO JIMA replaced USS HORNET on the sponsons, although the CVSG-59 lettering remained. The Apollo spacecraft were replaced and reoriented, and again the Apollo 13 emblem was applied prior to recovery and revealed as the helicopter landed aboard Iwo Jima.
 The live coverage of the Apollo 13 splashdown, with plenty of live video from the photo helicopter, may be seen starting here: (7)

Note that the Yagi array had been removed from the sponson strut when this picture was taken.

Following Apollo 13, 152711 went back to its standard mission of anti-submarine warfare. In 1971 while aboard USS Ticonderoga it wore the modex NT-401; two years later, with HS-4 aboard Kitty Hawk, it wore 040 before finally ending up with the modex NH-740 (8). Even after repaints, however, 152711 still wore five Apollo spacecraft symbols on both sides of the nose. The aircraft's history was well known, and anecdotes from HS-4 crewmembers speak of VIPs being given tours of the helicopter or, in some instances, being flown aboard it.

Unfortunately, 152711 crashed into the Pacific off the coast of southern California during a dipping sonar practice mission on the night of June 4, 1975 and sank in 800 fathoms.

At least three preserved SH-3s have been repainted to resemble long-lost "Old 66." Two of these aircraft - BuNo 148999 aboard the now-preserved USS Hornet ( and BuNo 149006 in the Evergreen Aviation Museum ( - are themselves actual recovery helicopters, having recovered Gemini 4 and Gemini 7, respectively. 148999 had been repainted as "66" for the 1995 motion picture "Apollo 13." 149006 carries spurious "ABANDON CHUTE" markings on its belly that were not carried aboard 152711 during the Apollo operation. The third "Old 66" is BuNo 149711 aboard Midway in San Diego.


Revell provides the smallest (1/530th scale) but most complete representation of the Gemini or Apollo recovery missions utilizing the SH-3. It issued its SCB-27A/125 angled-deck Essex-class kit as USS Wasp (Kit H-375) in 1968, complete with a tiny Gemini spacecraft. The same kit was reissued as USS Hornet in the "Hornet + 3" boxing (H-354), with a tiny Apollo spacecraft and an ASW air group, in 1970.

The good news is that building any SH-3 recovery helicopter in the usual modeling scales is also a fairly simple matter, as the modifications for recovery were straightforward enough to be done while deployed. However, it’s better yet if you have a set of "Old 66" decals. These were issued in both 1:72 and 1:48 variants, both for the Apollo 8-12 variants and a newer sheet depicting the Apollo 13 markings (with bonus markings included for the Apollo 12 variant). The instructions packaged with the decal sets from Old 66 Decals provided scale drawings for cameras, the camera mounts, and Yagi antennas, and also provide details on how the aircraft's markings evolved through its brief time in the spotlight.

These decals were based on decades of research and the best information we could find at the time they were designed, and include extensive instructions showing the subtle variations for each recovery. A lot of work went into them, and we believe they're the most accurate decals yet produced for this historic helicopter. And, yes, that's Albert the Alleygator on our Apollo 13 sheet, not a frog.

 The Apollo 8-12 set has long since been sold out in both scales, but an improved reprint is in the works. However, the Apollo 13 decals in both scales and with the conversion instructions are now available through Starfighter Decals (

 Artwork for other recovery helicopters is being prepared and if there's enough interest, those projects may become decals in the near future.

Interior views of any SH-3 in this time period are hard to come by, let alone "Old 66" during the Apollo era. However, the following will get you on the right track.

With the exception of the later seats and aft cabin chutes seen in this picture, the cabin with the sonar removed and the well plated over should look more or less like this aboard a recovery helicopter, but with a four-seat sling:

The period-correct seats for the operator positions and the cockpit will look like these:

Keep the electronics at the operator's station. In scale you can't see that much inside a completed SH-3 model to begin with, but keeping the electronics in the cabin will suggest the SARAH equipment installed on board.

In the aft cabin, make and install a four-place sling seat opposite the starboard door. This provides seating for the three astronauts and one physician.

My favorite reference for any Sea King Project is "Famous Aircraft of the World No. 15," available from several sources. Although it covers pretty much all Sea King variants worldwide, it has a ton of detail views and is generally indispensable for the serious Sea King modeler. It will provide you with plenty of details for the cockpit and other areas you may want to detail.

1:72 SCALE:

The most accurate kit to date is the Cyber-Hobby SH-3. I recommend getting the SH-3H boxing, which includes a somewhat more accurate interior and some other components that were missing from the SH-3D and SH-3G issue. The SH-3H kit includes both styles of sponsons, the original "teardrop" shaped and the extended one fitted to reworked SH-3Ds and SH-3Hs. Follow the instructions in my build article here (, but do not build or install the AN/AQS-13 array and winch; instead, just put a little piece of plastic over where the sonar well would be in the floor. Install the two crew positions and electronics racks behind the "broom closet," however, and extend the sling seat to a four-person variant.

Here's what Atsushi Tanaka did with the 1/72 Cyber-Hobby kit:
 More images of his excellent build are here: (your results may vary).

As for other 1/72 kits, there’s the Lindberg SH-3...well, it's Lindberg and that was once upon a time. The 1960s Airfix Sea King, while a marvel for its time, has long since been surpassed by better kits. Fujimi's Sea King kits, while an easy build that results in a nice model, are long in the tooth and look a little simple. Revell-Germany's 2000-vintage Sea King kits not only require considerable modification for non-Westland Sea Kings, but suffer from sponsons that are at least 20% too small: the difference is very noticeable. Airfix has a new-tool Westland Sea King reportedly coming in late 2015 or early 2016 that was designed using modern technology and laser measurement of an actual helicopter. It isn't yet known if other Sea King variants will be tooled, again an issue because of very notable differences between Westland and Sikorsky-built Sea Kings.

1:48 SCALE:

The Hasegawa kit, reboxed many times and also offered by Revell-Germany, is the only 1:48 Sea King. Fortunately, it's a beautiful kit, and some versions come with the shorter teardrop sponsons (although if you can't find a boxing with those sponsons, a very nice set is available in resin from Belcher Bits: Unfortunately, Hasegawa molded the starboard door shut. Opening it not only requires delicate surgery, but means you're on your own in scratchbuilding the entire cabin aft of the cockpit. These are pictures of my build.

I recommend getting inspiration from David Weeks' exquisite Apollo 9 splashdown diorama, which used the Hasegawa kit as its basis; this article ( includes a link to a Powerpoint show David put together showing in-progress views.

Hasegawa released an SH-3D issue of its Sea King kit that included decals for 152711 in the builder's choice of NT-66 on Apollo 12 or NT-401 from Ticonderoga.

And that's the knowledge I've collected from two and a half decades of being interested in spacecraft recovery, and the ships and aircraft that made it all possible. I always welcome additional information and (gentle) corrections; feel free to send them to Tommy and he'll pass them along to me.


1. A tiny picture purporting to be of 152711 in Engine Gray circulated a few years ago on the Internet but was too distant a view to verify. 152711's original appearance is perhaps better illustrated by this picture of 152713: .The repaint was directed by MIL-C-18263E(AS) Amendment I of 26 July 1967; see p. 86 of Doll/Jackson/Riley, "Navy Air Colors, Vol. II" (Squadron/Signal, 1985).

2. Details on the SARAH installation aboard the helicopters are described by Bob Fish, "Hornet Plus Three: The Story of the Apollo 11 Recovery" (Creative Minds Press, 2010), p. 79-80.

(3) HS-4 as part of CVSG-55 had been with USS Yorktown roughly since the group's establishment in 1960. The air group was disestablished in September 1968, but an eight-aircraft HS-4 detachment remained with Yorktown for the Apollo 8 recovery that December. See, among others, the CVSG-55 summary at:

4. Correspondent Ron Nessen, who represented NBC in the three-correspondent television pool aboard Hornet, told this story on the air while the recovery was underway. See

5. The author's belief that 152711 received a starboard-only repaint is substantiated by a picture posted to the KPRC History Facebook page, showing station personnel (embarked to provide pool TV coverage of the splashdown) posing against the port side of 152711 aboard Iwo Jima. The markings on the helicopter are identical to its Apollo 12 markings.

6. A popular misconception is that the green critter on the door during the Apollo 13 recovery is an angry UDT frog mascot. This has been perpetuated in decal sheets and museum recreations, among other places. That green critter on the door during Apollo 13 was Albert the Alleygator, from Walt Kelly's "Pogo" comic strip. He wasn't on the door during the run-up to the recovery, and appears to have been applied just before the recovery itself.

7. Dana McCarthy, the co-pilot of 152711 during the Apollo 13 recovery operation, has an incredible Flickr album with lots of pictures from the recovery deployment, and some very helpful pictures of 152711: Among other scenes, McCarthy has a sequence showing the "reveal" of the fifth spacecraft emblem as 152711 landed. Also, see the Popular Science article in Note 14 for more details. Also, in addition to the link in the text, Ben Kocivar’s article “Waiting for Apollo 13” in the August 1970 issue of Popular Science mentions the live television from the recovery scene:

8. See, respectively: (for NT401) and (for NH040), and "H-3 Sea King," p. 23, for 152711 as NH740.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A3D (A-3) Wire Antenna Configurations

29 June 2015: I've added Richard Brumm photos of the fin antenna mounts on the KA-3B at the Western Aerospace Museum in Oakland, California.

High Frequency (HF) radios are used for communication over very long distances. The A3D's HF radio antenna was originally enclosed in the leading edge of the vertical fin. External wire antennas like the ones on the EKA-3B above therefore weren't present on bombers early on. Over time, however, many A3Ds began to sport them. Their termination points on the vertical fin suggest that they might have been integrated with the internal HF antenna: the attach points are near the top and bottom of the leading edge fairing, usually on the left hand side of the fin.
Richard Brumm Photo
Upper fin attach point:
Richard Brumm Photo

Lower fin attach point:
Richard Brumm Photo
Note that the lower antenna appears to have—from left to right—an insulator,  tensioning device, and ball/socket attach point, suggesting that it does not connect to equipment within the fin like the upper antenna.

There doesn't seem to be any consistency with respect to the number of antennas or their termination points. In the documentation that I have, only the A3D-2Q (EA-3B)—the electronic reconnaissance or ELINT version—includes an external HF antenna in its mission equipment suite.

For example, the lower attach point on some A3Ds is the right side of the fin.

I photographed a Reserve KA-3B with two antennas that were both attached in the upper position, one on each side (this may be rare).
On airplanes with only one antenna, it was usually the upper one. There are, however, examples of a single lower antenna.

The attach points at the canopy were generally the same on both bombers and variants; if there was only one antenna, it was usually attached to the left side (the rearward-facing-seat occupant was originally responsible for HF communications).

However,  the lower antenna on this A-3 seems to be terminated much higher on the canopy with both the lower and upper antenna terminated on the left side of the canopy (see Pawel's comment below).

And sometimes the lower antenna appears to terminate short of the canopy (note that in both of these examples, the lower antenna is attached to the right side of the fin).

This is TA-3B (A3D-2T) canopy shows the antenna post on the left rear side of the canopy and what looks like an antenna wire termination aft of the canopy on the right side. (Also note that on the TA-3B, the left rear seat on the flight deck faced forward, in part because these airplanes did not have the tail turret.)

Hopefully, someone will read this who knows the external antenna whys and wherefores and chime in.

What looks like venetian blinds in the right rear window of some A-3s is the sense antenna for the AN/ARN-59 DF system. There was a similar but much less prominent antenna here for the AN/ARR-15 MHF radio receiver in very early A3Ds.
 Note that this airplane has both the sextant port in the right rear window and the sextant bubble in the left rear window.

Monday, June 8, 2015

A3D-2 (A-3B) Skywarrior Bomb Bay

It's taken me a while to sort out some of the details so I hope someone is interested in knowing them. For the A3D overview post, see

The first surprise several months ago was that the bomb bay doors did not end at the aft bulkhead of the bomb bay.

It turned out that the aft actuator for the bomb bay door was actually located in the main landing gear wheel well just aft of the bomb bay.

(The mechanism is shown with the bomb bay closed; the bellcrank is vertical fore-and-aft and nearly vertical side-to-side.)

Note that on the Trumpeter 1/48 A3D/A-3 kits, the lack of recognition of this overlap appears to have resulted in the main landing gear wheel well being located several inches too far aft.

This odd arrangement may have resulted from the decision to increase the length of the bomb bay by six inches very early in production.

There is a slot in the belly above the aft end of the bomb bay door for the bellcrank and link to extend through.

 This is a very rough depiction of the location of the slot viewed from the side.

 The aft edge of the bomb bay door is scalloped to match the curve in the belly above the aft end of the bomb bay doors. (The big bite out of the aft lower/inboard edge of the door is for clearance with the fairing containing the in-flight refueling basket.)
Note the disconnected link hanging down from the door; it is the missing link in the picture above taken looking aft.

What I thought was a "missing link" in the forward bomb bay door actuator mechanism (see Bill Abbott's picture below) is almost certainly a lock to keep the door from closing when someone is standing in the bomb bay opening (see comment below). The door actuator is probably located on the other side of the bulkhead on which the mechanism is mounted. Given the lengths of the big white upper and small red perforated links, it would be impossible for an actuator to be located where the "missing link" is identified. In fact, there's probably a slot in the big white link for the small red one to go into when the bomb bay door is closed.
Bill Abbott took this picture of one that still had the red and white striped lock installed (note the remove-before-flight tag).

The depth of the Skywarrior bomb bay was established by the five-foot diameter of the earliest nukes using the implosion initiation mechanism. They were also armed in flight after takeoff requiring access to the bomb bay from the cockpit.
The full depth wasn't needed for smaller nukes and conventional bombs, so a removable auxiliary fuel tank was added to the top of the bomb bay. Its support structure incorporated bomb rack shackles so the airplane could still be utilized as a bomber.

The extra fuel capacity became particularly useful when the Whale began to be utilized for inflight refueling;
The tanker hose reel was mounted in the aft end of the bomb bay.
For more of Bill Spidle's KA-3B walkaround pictures, go to

The hose reel assembly looking forward from the right side:
The drogue fairing;
Note the retractable fuel dump boom that augmented the standard wing fuel dump capability to get down to landing weight quickly.