by Tommy H. Thomason

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Shoulder Harness Redux

Surprisingly, given the sudden stops that were likely to occur in a ditching or carrier-landing arrestment (not to mention being stopped by the barrier), U.S. Navy carrier airplane seats did not have shoulder harnesses before mid 1942.

It may be that ditchings and crashes in the years between the world wars may have been relatively rare, although a black eye, missing teeth, or a scar on a naval aviator's forehead from encountering his gun sight or instrument panel was not unusual. Shoulder harness were also thought by the Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) to impede escape in the event of a crash or perhaps considered by the pilots to be a nuisance in using the early gun sight or the plotting board that slid out of the instrument panel, which required leaning forward. (The U.S. Army also did not adopt shoulder harnesses before the war but the Brits did.)

Nevertheless, the benefit of an upper body restraint began to be recognized in the fleet in early 1942. In John B. Lunstrom's excellent The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl Harbor to Midway, he wrote that VF-42's Walt Hass, after he had ditched a Grumman F4F Wildcat in March 1942 for the second time, designed a "special harness" to keep his face away from the gunsight in the event of another. (The squadron also requested that BuAer provide shoulder harnesses, which were not forthcoming at the time.) It's probably unit-level initiatives that resulted in reports that some F4Fs had shoulder harnesses at the battle of Midway in early June 1942. Dick Best reportedly stated that the new SBD-3s delivered to VB-3 in May 1942 had shoulder harnesses.

Jim Maas, who is the subject matter expert for the Brewster F2A Buffalo, reports that a BuAer change order to install shoulder harnesses in it was issued on 12 June 1942, to be accomplished "as soon as practicable" but no later than the next major overhaul. According to the January 1948 issue of Flying Magazine, the requirement to modify F4Fs to add shoulder harnesses was issued on 18 June.

The following article that appeared in the 15 June 1943 issue of Naval Aviation News suggests implementation took time:
Unfortunately, it doesn't provide any dates for implementation and interestingly enough, omits mention of the F2A. It also does not include the SBD-5, which suggests that these were already equipped with shoulder harnesses at the factory; the first delivery was April 1943.

An article in the 1 January 1944 issue of Naval Aviation News suggests that shoulder harness implementation was still being driven at the local level (VC-19 was a composite squadron operating FM Wildcats and TBM Avengers off escort carriers in the north Atlantic by late 1943).

More information on shoulder harness implementation would be welcomed.

No comments:

Post a Comment