by Tommy H. Thomason

Monday, April 4, 2016

Halcyon Days

USS Intrepid (CVA-11) Genoa, Italy November 1961
Robert L. Lawson Collection via Angelo Romano

I enjoy taking a close look at pictures of air groups like the one above, examining the details for items of interest. (Click on it to see a bigger version).

In this case, there were several. Starting at the bottom and working clockwise around the edge of the deck, the side number on the F8U-1E (note the radome for a visual-assist radar provided on this variant) in the foreground consists of two naughts, indicative of its assignment to the air group commander, Cdr J. L. Holbrook. His name and rank are painted on the fuselage side below the canopy sill. However, the airplane has the yellow trim color of the second squadron, in this case VF-33. Later on it became fashionable to have one CAG airplane in each squadron, assigned the side number X00 and trimmed with a "rainbow" of the colors in the air group.

One feature I hadn't noticed on the early F8U-1s was a yaw vane on the nose just ahead of the windscreen (protected by a red cover on these F8Us). It isn't present on later models. It was clearly a vane initially and seems to have changed to a probe before it disappeared.

An F8U-1P, side number 913, is parked next to CAG's airplane. Note that the tail fin is marked with a logo resembling a film strip. It has black stripes bounding a maroon center with white stars. I have yet to get a handle as to when the trim color for the 8th and 9th squadrons became maroon.

The VA-65 AD-6 Skyraiders at the stern of the ship are trimmed in international orange (not red as it sometimes appears to be on some illustrations) as assigned to the 4th squadron. However, I had thought that the AD squadrons were generally the 5th squadron, with the 3rd and 4th squadrons being light attack.

The third squadron, VA-66, appears to be trimmed in dark blue, whereas the standard color was light blue. Note that these appear to be factory fresh A4D-2Ns with dark gull gray anti-glare panels in front of the windscreen. By contrast, the fifth squadron, VA-76, is flying the older A4D-2s, which, having probably come from a Navy depot following overhaul, have black anti-glare panels. Their green trim appears to be both darker and faintly metallic compared to the light green standard, but it should be apparent by now that those were guidelines. The A4Ds from both squadrons still have the gray rudder rather than a white one, which was a subsequent change to the original gray/white scheme.

The F4D Skyrays in the center of the pack are the 1st squadron's, which was assigned red for a trim color. VF-162, however, has trimmed its Fords in black accented with gold stars. Note that the closest one has a refueling probe extending from its left external fuel tank, a kludge unique to the Skyray.

I had thought that the 1st squadron was generally assigned day fighters and the 2nd, all-weather fighters. However, this doesn't appear to be a rule. As it happens, in those halcyon days when new fighter types were being delivered to the fleet almost every year, an air group generally had three fighter squadrons assigned, although only two went out on a deployment. The one left behind was typically transitioning to a new type and not ready for prime time...


  1. It is forgiven that you can't get a handle on the Air Wing trim colors. That is because, after years of digging, I have found that not one single cruise in the Two Letter code era ever conformed to the Air Wing type/squadron/color assignments. Two came close, but one cruise was actually a reserve wing, and the other was a West Coast wing with an east coast Tail Code pair. (AE, CVG-13 on the Connie, and AH, CVG/W-16 right after formation)

    Here's a post I put up a while back, you might find it both informative and amusing at the same time.

    Readers should keep in mind that in order to actually be following the regs, the VF and VA squadrons need to be in the proper 100-500 order, with designations in numerical order, and in the color order of Red, Orange-Yellow, Blue, Int'l Orange, and Green.

    Part of the problem with this not working is that right about the time in the single code era that this system was set up (different than that on the Blue aircraft), it was discovered that even though the parent Air Groups had six squadrons (in 1956), operating only five (or even four) was more practical, and the Air Task Groups were still pulling squadrons from the Air Groups for their deployments.

    There was an attempt in the early sixties to get the squadrons redesignated to match their Air Groups,,,,,but it didn't last long, and that idea was dropped. (that is why you see early VF-213 Phantoms marked in Black Trim, 600 on the nose, and painted as VF-116)

  2. Oh, and just after posting that link, I realized that CVG-9 *might* have gone completely according to the regs on their Ranger cruise. If my memory is right, and all five "correct units" were on their.

    NG-1xx VF-91 with F8U-1 day fighters and Red trim
    NG-2xx VF-92 with F3H night fighters and Yellow trim
    NG-3xx VA-93 with A4D light attack and Blue trim
    NG-4xx VA-94 with A4D light attack and Int'l Orange trim
    NG-5xx VA-95 with AD-6 medium attack and Green trim

    or course, right after this, VF-91 was redesignated to VF-194 and went into the already messed up CVG-19 (NM), and VF-142 repainted their brand new F-4 Phantoms into VF-96 and joined CVG-9 as the 6xx unit, with black and yellow tail stripes.