United States Navy Aviation

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Fighter Squadron 24 was originally commissioned as Fighter Squadron 211 in June 1955 at NAS Moffett Field, flying the FJ-3 Fury, and was deployed aboard USS Bon Homme Richard. In 1957 the squadron transitioned to the F8U Crusader, and on March 9, 1959, was redesignated Fighter Squadron 24. Making deployments to the Western Pacific aboard USS Midway, USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) and USS Hancock from 1959 to 1975, the squadron earned the Presidential Unit Citation, Navy Unit Commendation (2 awards), Meritorious Unit Commendation (5 awards), Battle Efficiency Award (1972), Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (3 awards), and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

On May 19, 1967, while deployed aboard USS Bon Homme Richard as part of Carrier Air Wing Twenty One, Lieutenant Commander Bobby C. Lee and Lieutenant Phillip R. Wood became the first VF-24 pilots to shoot down MiG aircraft over North Vietnam. Both MiGs were downed with AIM-9 Sidewinders. On July 21, 1967, Commander Marion H. Issacks (XO) and Lieutenant Commander Robert L. Kirkwood scored the 3rd and 4th MiG kills for VF-24 with 20 mm guns and Sidewinder missiles. Lieutenant Junior Grade Philip W. Depewolf scored a probable kill. The Fighting Renegades established their reputation early as MiG killers by becoming one of the Navy’s first “Ace” squadrons.

In 1975, VF-24 made its last F-8 Crusader cruise aboard USS Hancock, and upon return to San Diego, transitioned to the F-14 Tomcat and received their first aircraft on December 9, 1975.

Naval aviation officially began on 8 May 1911 when Captain Washington Irving Chambers submitted a requisition for two aircraft to be built by Glenn Curtiss.

Before that, on 14 November 1910, Eugene Ely, a civilian pilot, took off in a 50-hp Curtiss plane from a wooden platform built over the bow of the light cruiser USS Birmingham anchored in Hampton Roads, Virginia. On 18 January 1911, Ely, flying a Curtiss pusher, landed on a specially built platform aboard the armored cruiser USS Pennsylvania at anchor in San Francisco Bay.
In July 1919, the Naval Appropriations Act provided for the conversion of the collier Jupiter into a ship specifically designed to launch and recover airplanes at sea. It was commissioned as the USS Langley, the nation’s first aircraft carrier. The engineering plans for this conversion were modified in November 1919 and included catapults to be fitted on both the forward and aft ends of the deck. The USS Ranger was the first ship of the U.S. Navy to be designed and built as an aircraft carrier; the ship was commissioned on 4 June 1934.

In addition, during the late 1920s and early 1930s the Navy introduced a rigid airship program. The Navy saw these as long-range scouts and launch platforms for Sparrowhawk fighters. The program never got up to speed because of two devastating crashes. The Akron crashed on 3 April 1933, killing 73 men, including Admiral William Moffett, a strong supporter of the program. The second crash, the Macon on 12 February 1935, took four Sparrowhawk fighters down with it; all but two of the crew survived the crash.

The development of aircraft carriers and carrier operations sparked a revolution in military affairs, completely and irrevocably changing the prosecution of war at sea. But that would not occur until 1941.

On 7 December 1941, carrier aircraft of the Japanese Imperial Navy launched a devastating attack on Pearl Harbor and the military and air installations in the area. The three aircraft carriers of the Pacific Fleet were at sea and were spared attack. With this attack, the face and philosophy of naval aviation changed forever. The great dueling battles between battleships became obsolete virtually overnight. Dramatic and historic events would follow.

In April 1942, the USS Hornet launched 16 B-25 bombers in an attack against the Japanese mainland led by Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle. The famous Doolittle Raid lifted sagging American morale and shocked the Japanese. In May 1942, the Battle of the Coral Sea saw the first large-scale battle involving naval aircraft. In June 1942, at the Battle of Midway, the Japanese navy lost four carriers, one cruiser, 250 aircraft, and 3,500 personnel, most to naval aviation. The United States lost one carrier (Yorktown), 132 aircraft, and 300 men. Most historians say Midway marked the turning point of the Pacific War. At the Battle of the Mariana Islands, the Japanese lost two carriers and about 300 aircraft to U.S. Navy and Marine pilots.

Naval aviation was also an integral part of the island-hopping campaign waged by U.S. ground forces. Whether preceding or during a battle, Navy aircraft supported the ground forces with bombing and strafing runs.

On 3 October 1942, the Navy took delivery of the first production models of the F4U Corsair. Over the course of the next 10 years, until the last one rolled off the Chance-Vought assembly line in Dallas in December 1952, the aircraft would live up to its nickname—“Swift Ship”—although its domain was the clouds rather than the sea. During World War II, Corsair pilots downed 2,140 Japanese aircraft, achieving an 11:1 kill ratio.

The atomic age arrived over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. USAAF generals attempted to diminish the Navy’s role in aviation by declaring long-range bombers equipped with atomic weapons had made conventional forces obsolete. The National Security Act, signed by President Harry S. Truman on 18 July 1947, furthered the bomber barons’ clout by creating the independent U.S. Air Force.

In post-war America, the military services engaged in debates over their respective roles and missions. By far the bitterest pitted the Navy against the Air Force. The Navy believed that the atomic mission could be carried out partially from the decks of carriers and managed to obtain funding for a 1,090-foot flush-deck supercarrier to be called USS United States. The Air Force argued that money for the ship would be better spent on a fleet of giant B-36 bombers.

The years following World War II also marked a time of transition for naval aviation. With dwindling defense budgets and bitter interservice rivalry, the very existence of seabased airpower was questioned. Strategic bombing employing the atomic bomb had supplanted the Navy as the nation’s first line of defense and minimized the importance of tactical aviation. The severity of the situation was such that by mid-1950 a carrier fleet that numbered 98 at the end of World War II had been reduced to 15.

The so-called revolt of the admirals essentially preserved naval aviation’s role in the post-war world, yet new carriers would be needed to implement it. Experience was demonstrating that existing carriers, designed to launch and recover propeller-driven aircraft, were having difficulty handling jet aircraft. On 30 October 1950, the secretary of the Navy approved a budget that included provisions for a new large-deck carrier. In its final form, the 1,036-foot, 60,000- ton carrier possessed a look all its own, featuring a small island structure, angled deck, and more powerful steam catapults capable of operating the Navy’s largest heavy bombers. On 1 October 1955, the U.S. Navy commissioned its first supercarrier, USS Forrestal.

On 25 June 1950, North Korean tanks and troops swarmed across the 38th Parallel into South Korea in an attack that took the world by surprise. In keeping with a subsequent resolution by the United Nations Security Council, President Harry S. Truman committed U.S. military forces to battle. On 3 July 1950, USS Valley Forge, in concert with the British carrier HMS Triumph, launched the first naval air strikes of the war, attacking facilities at Pyongyang. In this engagement, U.S. Navy F9F-2 Panthers scored naval aviation’s first jet kills, shooting down two North Korean Yak-9 aircraft. Eleven large attack carriers, one light carrier and two escort carriers took part in the conflict. Navy and Marine pilots provided close ground support throughout the war.

By July 1953, when the cease-fire was signed, U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aircraft had logged 189,495 sorties. Jets had successfully demonstrated their value in combat, and the helicopter had come of age as a transport and search-and-rescue platform. Most important, the aircraft carrier had demonstrated its value as a flexible platform for power projection in a limited war, a role that continues to this day.

Though the Korean War marked the dawn of the jet age, propeller-driven aircraft like the F4U Corsair and AD Skyraider logged 75 percent of all offensive sorties flown by carrier aircraft. The Corsair lived up to its World War II reputation as a tremendous close air support platform. Ten communist aircraft fell to Corsair guns during the Korean War, including a MiG-15 jet fighter. The Skyraider demonstrated its versatility in supporting troops or knocking out significant targets. In the latter mission it was greatly aided by the fact that it could carry as much ordnance as a B-17 Flying Fortress. The two mainstays in Navy and Marine Corps jet squadrons were the F9F Panther, a rugged aircraft built by Grumman, and the F2H Banshee by McDonnell.

The Navy lost its first aircraft over North Vietnam, an F-8, during a photoreconnaissance mission. Throughout the war, carriers stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin and the South China Sea provided close air support against the Vietcong and North Vietnam. Perhaps the crowning moment for naval aviation was during the fall of Saigon in April 1972. In an 18- hour period, Marine Corps helicopter pilots air-lifted more than 7,000 American and Vietnamese civilians from the U.S. Embassy compound to carriers waiting offshore.

In the early 1970s, the Navy introduced the F-14 Tomcat, and the Marine Corps accepted the AV-8 V/STOL Harrier. At the end of the decade, a new fighter-attack aircraft, the F/A- 18 Hornet, was undergoing flight-trials. The submarine threat was confronted by the addition to the fleet of the Light Airborne Multipurpose System (LAMPS), which combined shipboard electronics with the SH-2D helicopter. During the 1970s, two nuclear super carriers, Nimitz and Eisenhower, were commissioned; Carl Vinson was launched.

As 1980 ended, the latest LAMPS version was under test in a new naval airframe, the SH-60B Seahawk. In addition, at decade’s end the Navy’s latest heavy-lift helicopter, the CH- 53E, was ready for acceptance by a Marine Corps squadron. They are still operational in 2001.

In 1990, during Operation DESERT SHIELD, carrier- and land-based Navy aircraft provided logistical, reconnaissance, and interdiction duties during the buildup of Coalition forces. On 16 January 1991, the beginning of Operation DESERT STORM, Navy aircraft launched from carriers in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. DESERT STORM saw the first combat use of the Navy McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18. DESERT STORM ended on 27 January 1991, but Navy and Marine aircraft continued to patrol the no-fly zones over Iraq after the turn of the century.

As of 2001, there were 12 aircraft carriers in the Navy’s fleet. Nine were nuclear-powered, and the other three were fuel oil–powered. A thirteenth carrier, USS Ronald Reagan, will join the fleet in 2003.Naval aviation also played a significant role during the U.S.War on terror that began in 2001.

References Knott, Richard.“U.S.Naval Aviation at 90.”Aviation Week and Space Technology (9 April 2001).

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