Friday, February 3, 2017

The Friday Flyby - Q1, 2017

Shamelessly stolen from Tuna
So yeah, it's been a while since I've done a Flyby. Used to be weekly, then roughly one a month, then every other month. Then it became rather sporadic, so it's been a while, I thought it was time to do one. Probably past time, so here is the inaugural First Quarter - 2017 Friday Flyby. (I can see it now, here's the 2020 Decade Flyby, the 22nd Century Flyby, presuming my descendants keep the blog going that is. Heh.)

Tuna's account of his visit to the Naval Aviation Museum down in Pensacola brought back a number of fond memories, The WSO received her Naval Flight Officer wings there. Great ceremony with an awesome tour of the museum afterwards. Now I saw two aircraft that were outside the building, one was the obvious F-14 Tomcat at the entrance, the other was an F/A-18 in Blue Angels livery just outside the atrium where the kiddo got her wings. Little did I know that there were other aircraft outside! Tuna's photo of the F-3D tipped me off to that. An interesting aircraft is that one.

Back in the day most aircraft flew during the day. Why? Well, at night it's tough to see where you're at and where you're going without the right instruments. A long time ago pilots were lucky to have an airspeed indicator and an altimeter! Some aircraft didn't even have that. If you can see where you're at that's no problem. At night? Yes, things get interesting. If the aircraft is alone in the dark that's one thing, put other aircraft up there and yeah, most pilots would want to stick to the hours of daylight. Even in these modern times a lot of pilots don't have an instrument rating allowing them to putter around in the wee hours.

As time went on, especially in war, it became necessary to fly at night. The bad guys couldn't see you to shoot at you. The Zeppelins which bombed Britain in World War I came at night. In World War II the Germans came at the Brits during the day, and suffered heavy losses to British fighters and antiaircraft. So they started bombing at night. Which the British also resorted to later in the war as they too discovered that trying to bomb German cities during the day was just too costly.

As the bombers switched their activities to the hours of darkness, means were explored to attack those bombers at night. Eventually radar sets became small enough to be mounted in aircraft, not the smaller single seat fighters as the radar sets were still rather bulky. So twin-engined aircraft which had not been very useful during the day were converted to night fighters. One guy to fly and pull the trigger, the other guy to stare at the radar and equipment and tell the nose gunner where to go.

Eventually purpose-built night-fighters were designed and deployed, during World War II the United States had its first purpose built night-fighter, the P-61 Black Widow.

P-61C Black Widow at Udvar-Hazy (Source)
So perhaps by now you're wondering where the OAFS is going with all of this. Well, the F-3D Skyknight (also known as the Skynight) in that opening photo is the second, and last, purpose built night-fighter ever deployed by the United States military. These days nearly all military aircraft are meant to be all-weather, day or night capable. In the old days those night-fighters just couldn't hack it during the day, pigs really against standard day fighters. Not the case in these modern times.

Another thing I found to be awfully cool...

What's that? More pictures? Sure, I can do that.

A U.S. Navy Douglas F3D-1 Skyknight (BuNo 123763) from Composite Squadron VC-3 "Blue Nemesis" in flight. VC-3 was home based at Moffett Field, CA (PD).
A U.S. Marine Corps Douglas F3D-2Q Skyknight (BuNo 124618) of Marine Composite Reconnaissance Squadron VMCJ-2 "Playboys" in flight. VMCJ-2 was based at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, NC (PD).
Maintenance on an APQ-35 radar of an F3D-2 in Korea, 1953. (PD)
Maintenance on the Westinghouse APQ-35 radar of a Douglas F3D-2 Skyknight night fighter of Marine night fighter squadron VMF(N)-513 Flying Nightmares parked at airfield Kunsan in the Summer of 1953. Note APQ-35 standing on the right and the radar housing beyond. (PD)
For those who have been around here a while, no, I'm not in either of those two previous photos, though I did work on aircraft radar at Kunsan, that was many years in the future. Yes, I was alive in 1953, though I was quite young... (No, Juvat never flew the Skynight, at least I don't think he did...)

Four Douglas F3D-2 Skyknight night fighters of Marine night fighter squadron VMF(N)-513 "Flying Nightmares" parked are on the flight line at Pyeongtaek, Korea (K-6), in 1952-53. (PD)
Now about that radar. One of the things the Skynight was used for was in testing early versions of the Sparrow air-to-air missile, which was Your Humble Scribe's raison d'être in his early days in the Air Force, as the mighty F-4 Phantom's radar set was used to guide the AIM-7 version of the Sparrow. That very radar is the thing I tweaked, aligned, and maintained over my first seven years wearing the blue*. The old Skynight's were used to test the Sparrow-1. A long time ago.

Sparrow I's during tests on a F3D Skyknight in the early 1950s (PD).
A U.S. Navy Douglas F3D-1 Skyknight (BuNo 123748) launches an AAM-N-2 Sparrow missile at the Naval Air Weapons Testing Center, Point Mugu, CA, in 1950. (PD)
There are a number of websites which cover the old Skynight other than Wikipedia. Here, here, here, and here, for instance. Also that Marine squadron mentioned above, VMF(N)-513, the Flying Nightmares, they later became VMA-513, their website is here. They went on to fly the mighty F-4 Phantom and the venerable AV-8 Harrier. (Sadly they were decommissioned in 2013.) It is worth noting that an F-3D of VMF(N)-513 made aviation history by scoring the first radar kill on an enemy jet aircraft at night. The VNA-513 website notes that the F-3D scored 10 night kills over Korea for the loss of one Skynight. Some good photos of the Skynight on the USS Intrepid in NYC are here.

Another interesting thing about this aircraft was how the crew got out of it in a hurry. No ejection seats, no pop the canopy and jump, oh no, nothing like that. There was a chute between the two seats which the crew were expected to slide down, departing the aircraft from underneath. Oh yeah, don't forget to pull that ripcord! Interesting stats (and pictures) over at Project Get Out and Walk, a most interesting place to visit.

A U.S. Navy aviator bails out through the cockpit floor of a Douglas F3D-1 Skyknight at Naval Air Facility El Centro, CA. (PD)
Um yeah, no thanks. But I suppose it beats the alternative of riding the bird down to the ground! (Another way of playing chutes and ladders I suppose. Climb a ladder to get in, slide down a chute to get out. Use the chute to parachute... Yeah, I'll stop now.)

Did you notice the side number in Tuna's photo, 12 7/8? Yeah, what's up with that? Well, I looked that up for you...

Tigercats, Corsairs, F3Ds - all the aircraft of VMF(n)-513 painted with side number 13 kept going missing. An F3D was painted with the number 12 7/8 to foil the curse. (Source)
Leave it to the Marines to come up with a "common sense" solution. (Uh, do we have to have a "13" in the squadron?) It is humorous though. (I wonder if the 12 7/8 in Tuna's photo is the same one as in the photo above. If it is I'm guessing it's been painted since the Korean War. Yes, it was repainted, see below.)

Though at first glance the Skynight is something of an odd looking bird, it actually has quite a storied history. It was even used in Vietnam for electronic warfare until it was replaced by the EA-3A "Electric Intruder."

US Marine Corps EA-6A Intruder electronics aircraft of VMCJ-2 Playboys aboard USS America in 1974 during a visit to Scotland. (Source)
I'm sure ORPO1 can relate to that!

Want to know who designed the Skynight?

Douglas Aircraft Company chief designer Ed Heinemann (1908-1991). (Source)
Indeed, the same fellow who gave us the A-4, Heinemann's Hotrod! A bird Lex was most familiar with in his Key West days.

Douglas A-4 Skyhawk (Source)
At NAS Oakland in October 1953. The wartime camouflage on the Reserve hangar is still there. (Source)
Four U.S. Marine Corps Douglas F3D-2Q Skyknights (BuNo 124596, 125806, 124850, 127060) of Marine Composite Reconnaissance Squadron (VMCJ) 3 in flight near Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, CA, in 1958. Of these aircraft 125806 later crashed into sea off Vietnam on 31 July 1965 while in service with VMCJ-1. Both crew were killed. (PD)
A former U.S. Navy Douglas F-10B "Skyknight" (BuNo 124598) in service with the U.S. Army in May 1980. This aircraft was flown under contract by Raytheon and is today on display at the U.S. National Museum of Naval Aviation at Pensacola, FL. (Source)
I'll bet that that bird is the one in Pensacola but with a different paint job. Probably an interesting story behind that. (Surprised me to see "ARMY" on the bird. Raytheon? Hey, I know those guys...)

In my research I kept coming across photos of a swept wing version of the Skynight. Never happened, it was planned to do that and re-equip the jet with the J-46 engine. Said engine never made it into production. But the redesigned bird looks pretty awesome!



It's only a model...**

The Skynight was in service through the Vietnam War. (You might note that some photo captions call it the "Skyknight" which was the official name, "Skynight" was unofficial. It was also called the "Drut" by the Marines. What's a Drut you might ask, look at it backwards. Shaun pointed that out in Tuna's post as well. He knows his carrier birds!) According to Wikipedia -
Skyknights continued in service through the 1960s in a gull white color scheme, when their contemporaries had long since been retired. In 1962, when the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force unified their designation systems, the F3D-1 was re-designated F-10A and the F3D-2 was re-designated F-10B.
The U.S. Navy continued to use the F-10s for avionics systems testing. The F-10 was used as a radar testbed to develop the APQ-72 radar. The nose of an F-4 Phantom was added to the front of an F-10B. Another F-10 had a modified radome installed by the radar manufacturer Westinghouse. Yet another TF-10B was modified with the nose from an A-4 Skyhawk.[29] In 1968, three Skyknights were transferred to the U.S. Army. These aircraft were operated by the Raytheon Corporation at Holloman AFB where they were used testing at the White Sands Missile Range into the 1980s; they were the last flyable Skyknights. (Source)
Hhmm, a Skynight with a Phantom radome? The horror!

A pretty interesting jet, we actually have one here in Little Rhody over at the Quonset Air Museum, which is currently closed and may never reopen. From what I understand, you can't get close to the birs they still have. Sigh...

It's always sumthin'.

I don't see the Skynight anywhere! Google Maps

With a tip from Jack - downloaded Google Earth, went back in time, and voilà, the Quonset Air Museum when it was still open and still had a Skynight.


To the left of the big red arrow...

* Actually olive drab, but our service dress uniforms were blue. Not that we wore those on the flight line mind you.
** Yes, that was a lame Monty Python reference.


  1. "For those who have been around here a while, no, I'm not in either of those two previous photos, though I did work on aircraft radar at Kunsan, that was many years in the future."

    While it IS true that Sarge was not in either of those pictures, that would be because the aircraft in question were Navy. Meticulous research by my humble self came up with this picture of Sarge working on the radar for an Air Force F-86D at Kunsan.

    Pictures never lie and it was on the Internet, so it's doubly true.


    Thanks for the Flyday Fryby.

    1. Back when I was serving in one of Her Majesty's Air Forces apparently.


  2. I've always liked seeing shots of aircraft over The City.
    I lived near Moffet Field for quite awhile in my adolescent, teen, and twenties.
    Went toa number of open house events.
    The blimp hangar was quite a structure.

    1. That is a nice photo. It's also fun flying over The City in person, even in a commercial airliner.

      Blimp hangars tend to be, how do you say, huge.

    2. Shhh!

      Someone had to get the reference....

  3. Thanks for the post. It is up to the usual awesome standards.

    Paul L. Quandt

  4. And a photo of the FID, (Forrestal's nickname because of her motto, First In Defence.)

    Great post!

  5. You beat me to the punch; I was gonna remark on how young you looked back then. You know your readers!

    There were still Druts being used as currency beaters and parts chasers in the late 70's and early 80's. I almost got a ride in one at naso but it went t/u on the dto and the stars just never lined up.

    What the heck is the problem with the QAM? They've got a Mig-17 on the ramp and I'm pretty sure it's a crime to not make a Fresco available to the public.

    While not purpose-designed as night fighters the navy had F4's and F6's with wing mounted radar pods beginning in 1944. They did good work. The history of night fighters is fascinating. Butch O'Hare lost his life to fratricide in an early attempt to develop the concept. Of course the RFC was doing night fighting way back in WWI.

    Great post; as usual you've started my day off on the right foot. :)

    1. That hangar in the overhead shot had the roof semi-collapse a couple of winters ago after a big snowfall. The state condemned the building they had to close the place. There was some talk of reopening if the JFK went to Quonset but now that's up in the air as well. Money is tight, our roads are all shite so I doubt they museum will ever reopen. The Navy had loaned them a few aircraft, to include a Turkey, but they took them back when the museum closed.

      Sigh, it would have been cool to visit the place, I only learned of its existence after it closed.

      There were numerous attempts to equip day fighters as night fighters with varying levels of success. Very few purpose-built night fighters were designed, mostly because the state of technology as time went on made all fighters night (and day) fighters.

  6. FWIW,
    If you use Google Earth, there is an image from 8/2016 that shows it to be still there. To the left of the F-14.
    The google maps image may not always be the most recent image. Using Google Earth, that image may be from 2013.


    1. Downloaded Google Earth, the latest version doesn't have it.

      Bummer. But thanks Jack.

  7. Sarge,

    How do I post or send a pic?
    Check the time slider to make sure your looking that the imagery date of 8/22/2016.
    I'm an old imagery analyst, Google Earth has more capability than what was available to me on active duty back in 80's, 90's and when I retired in the early 00's.
    Did you download Google Earth Pro? It should still be free


    1. Got it Jack! Updated the post to show Quonset when the F-3D was still there.


    2. Sarge,

      Glad to be of help.
      I think you need to take the 1 hour drive over there.
      That image was last year.
      They do appear to moving those aircraft around a lot for being closed.


    3. Does seem odd. But it's definitely closed.

  8. Great post Sarge!

    I marshalled one at NAS Atsugi in 1966. It was kind of a WTF is THAT?? moment on the ramp as they taxied in. My step-dad flew one a couple of times when he was a FASRON pilot during the Korean war. He said he did NOT care for the egress procedures since it was a death sentence at low levels.

    1. Thanks.

      Yeah, egressing from the Drut looks a bit dicey. Down low? Nope, no thank you.

  9. Mad love for that P-61 at Udvar-Hazy...just 600 hours total time on it, too. Sigh. As for that "closed" Quonset museum, why didn't you say something when I was there? We could have probably done some over-flight photography and we could likely have paid a close-up visit of the "Over the fence" variety as well. Hell, it's just a misdemeanor even if we did get caught, which I seldom do.

    1. I didn't know of it until last year, otherwise yeah, I would have been all over that with you.

      Heh. More boarding ladders my friend?

    2. So...Murph, when was the last time you were in Pensacola? Just a little whistful hero worship here.

    3. The canopies on the F-4 right?

    4. @ Sarge...Next time. There will always be a next time. And most plane offer hidden treats like boarding ladders to those who probe discretely.
      @ Juvat...I ave yet to make Pensacola but now it's just a few hours away so I'm savoring the anticipation.

    5. Oh dear, Murph goes to Pensacola. Docents beware!

  10. Thanks for the post, and picking up on my hint. Glad to be a muse'ing.


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