Wednesday, January 15, 2020

A Deeper Look...

Douglas A-1E Skyraider at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
(Source)
Some of you no doubt recognize that opening photo from juvat's post on Monday, which detailed the circumstances of Bernard Fisher's Medal of Honor. So now you're probably asking yourself why I'm using that photo again and the answer is fairly simple. I looked at the picture then did a double take when I saw the tail hook. Seeing the tail hook made me look at this (the bit in the circle) -


That circled bit looks an awful lot like a Navy/Marine Corps Bureau Number or BuNo. Let me explain something here which may not be apparent to the casual reader. That is, the Navy and the Air Force tend to paint/mark their aircraft differently. Using the Skyraider as an example, Air Force aircraft look like this -

(Source)
Note the big white "tail number" on the vertical stabilizer, "517," preceded by the smaller number "27" underneath the "AF," which stands for (duh) "Air Force." (FWIW the first number is the last digit of the year the aircraft was built, in this case 1952. Apparently all USAF Skyraiders were marked with 1952 as the year of manufacture, Joe Baugher's website has this to say -
The following serial numbers are out of sequence. These were A-1 Skyraiders transferred from the Navy to the USAF and assigned USAF serial numbers based on their BuNos, prefixed by 52. USAF records indicate that there was an abortive attempt in 1968 to assign 53, 54 and 55 as prefixes to newer model Skyraiders as they were acquired by the USAF, but later in that same year the records show that the prefixes were all changed back to 52. This means that all USAF Skyraiders, no matter the model, were assigned a 52 prefix. (Source)
The "TT" tail code indicates that this aircraft belonged to the 602nd Special Operations Squadron out of Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Navy Base in Thailand. (I had no ideer that NKP belonged to the Thai Navy.) (Source)

Navy aircraft look like this -

(Source)
Part of the BuNo is painted on the tail and the entire BuNo is painted on the fuselage under the horizontal stabilizer (see detail below). The big letters indicate which carrier "owns" these birds (USS Intrepid (CV 11) in this case), the Navy also paints the squadron number on the bird as well (VA-176 "Thunderbolts" here) and something the Navy calls the modex or "side number" -
A modex is a number that is part of the Aircraft Visual Identification System, along with the aircraft's tail code. It usually consists of two or three numbers that the Department of the Navy, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps use on aircraft to identify a squadron's mission and a specific aircraft within a squadron. These numbers are painted conspicuously on the aircraft's nose—or, on helicopters, sometimes on the aft portion of the fuselage or forward portion of the empennage. Modexes are also painted less conspicuously on other aircraft areas (i.e., fin tip, flaps, etc.). Shore-based aviation units use either two-digit or three-digit modexes, while carrier-based units always use three digits. (Source)
Detail showing the BuNo and the tail number mismatch.
The two Skyraiders depicted have modexes of "404" and "409." (Note that the BuNo under the horizontal stab does not match the number under the "AK," I'm still digging into that. Might be a future post, might not be. Odd that.)

Anyhoo Major Fisher's aircraft originally came from the Navy, but for some reason that particular aircraft had the BuNo and a non-standard tail number ("32649"). That may (or may not) have been standard practice for that squadron. While all that is interesting, for certain values of interesting, the odd markings on that bird aren't the point of this tale. Chasing down all of that information led me to chase this down as well, remember the caption of that photo on juvat's post?
This was the actual aircraft he flew on the mission.  It shortly thereafter was shot down and badly damaged but was recovered, refurbished and now is on display at the US Air Force Museum at Wright Patterson AFB.
 Well, yes and no. Here's another photo of 32649 from the NMUSAF -

This Douglas A-1E was severely damaged in combat in South Vietnam. It is the aircraft that was flown by Maj. Bernard Fisher on March 10, 1966, when he rescued a fellow pilot shot down over South Vietnam, a deed for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. The aircraft was restored and is currently on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)
(Source)
Actually Major Fisher flew this aircraft after it had been damaged and then repaired and returned to service. Joe Baugher's website has this to say -
52-132649 Douglas A-1E Skyraider
Ex USN BuNo 132649 transferred to USAF. Used in rescue of downed airman March 10, 1966 at Special Forces camp at A Shau, for which Maj Bernard G. Fisher was awarded the Medal of Honor. This plane is now on display at National Museum of USAF, Dayton, OH. The plane at Hill AFB, UT is actually a VNAF Skyraider made up to look like this aircraft. There is a photo of this plane lying on a scrapheap (not sure of the date). With 1st Air Command Squadron 34th Tactical Group , this plane caught fire and crashed while on interdiction mission near Can Tho, South Vietnam Mar 21, 1965. Both crew KIA. Air Force claims they recovered this plane with CH-54 Skycrane and repaired it at Tan Son Nhut AB and returned it to Bien Hoa and repaired it. (Source)
That mention of "Both crew KIA" made me sit up and ask "Who were they?" A casual mention of crew having been killed in action with no mention of who they were. That bugs me, these guys gave their lives, we should know who they were. Well, the A-1 Skyraiders website answered the question for me, after some digging. The first clue was the date the men were killed, 21 March 1965. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial website provided this after a search for casualties on that date -

(Source)
Two Air Force captains KIA on the same date, had to be the crew of 32649 I figured. I was correct. Searching the Wall's website further, yielded the following -
Captain Campbell was a member of the 1st Air Commando Squadron, flying A-1E Skyraiders, out of Bien Hoa Air Base, RVN. He and Captain Jerry Hawkins were KIA when their aircraft, serial number 52-132649, caught fire and crashed during an interdiction sortie near Can Tho. The aircraft, was deemed salvageable and was airlifted, to Tan Son Nhut, Air Base, where it, was repaired and returned, to the 1st ACS. On 10, March 1966, this Skyraider, was flown, by Major, Bernard Fisher, when he performed, a daring rescue, of a fellow, pilot, at the A Shau, Special, Forces Camp, a feat, for which Major, Fisher, was awarded, the Medal, of Honor. The aircraft, is now, on display, at the National, Museum, of the USAF, in Dayton, Ohio. (Source)
Captain Hawkins was a member of the 1st Air Commando Squadron flying A-1E Skyraiders out of Bien Hoa Air Base. He and Captain William Campbell were KIA when their aircraft, serial number 52-132649, caught fire and crashed during an interdiction sortie near Can Tho. The aircraft was deemed salvageable and was airlifted to Tan Son Nhut, Air Base, where it was repaired and returned to the 1st, ACS. On 10 March 1966, this Skyraider was flown by Major Bernard Fisher when he performed a daring rescue of a fellow pilot at the A Shau Special Forces, Camp, a feat for which Major Fisher was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The aircraft is now on display at the National Museum of the USAF in Dayton, Ohio. (Source)
The A-1 Skyraiders page had pictures of these men as well -

Back row: Capt Donald E. Jones, Capt Richard E. Bolstad (POW '65-'73) (2014/02/21), Capt Jerry J. Tighe, Capt William H. Campbell (KIA 65/03/21), Capt J.R. Johnson, Capt V.L. Brown Front row: Maj Gail F. Kirkpatrick, LtCol John J. Knight (1981/08/07), LtCol E.L. Surowiec (2005/04/20), Maj R.A. Jones.
(Source)
Back row: Capt Charles C 'Vas' Vasiliadis, Capt E.H. Richmond, Capt B.D. Gregorios (2010/04/08), Capt J.H. Winston, Capt Harland M. "Sonny" Davis, Jr. (KIA 72/07/07 F-4D) Front row: Capt Warthom J. George, Capt Donald S. Hynd, Capt Jerry P. Hawkins (KIA 65/03/21). NP/I: Col E.J. Witzenberger
(Source)
It pays to take a deeper look sometimes, guys like these need to be remembered.

Brave men doing a tough job.



42 comments:

  1. Thanks for bringing this up. I really enjoy the "inside baseball" views on little factoids. They often lead to really interesting things if you are astute enough to notice them, and have enough Perry Mason in you to dig out the good stuff. I never knew the reason tail numbers on Navy aircraft were like that. Now I know what a modex is. It'll probably be in the next 2 movies I watch, and at least one crossword puzzle....

    I remember reading about Major Fisher. My uncle that served in the USAAF, CBI theater, had the same first name, pronounced the same way too. Little hooks like that help me remember things.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The different numbers on Navy aircraft puzzled me until The WSO explained it all to me. Helps to have family in the business, as it were.

      Delete
  2. Interesting post, Sarge. Thanks for remembering the sacrifice of those two warriors. May they Rest In Peace.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Low and slow, flying in the face of fire, those guys clanked when they walked.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Probably why the Spad had such a big engine.

      They did indeed clank.

      Delete
  4. All respect to the men and machines, but....

    Man, the Skyraider looks dorky with the itty-bitty pilot head just barely sticking up in the cockpit.

    And we all know how big those AF guys’ heads are, so the plane must be truly MASSIVE.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I wonder if the non-matching numbers on the Navy bird are due to it being a frankenplane, that is, made out of pieces parts of two semi or pert near totally destroyed birds.

    Or maybe someone was having fun and decided to screw with future historians, actual or amateurual.

    Or maybe an attempt to screw with Vietnam photo-analysts.

    Hmmm.

    Weird.

    So why the big-arsed canopy on the plane in question vs the simple bubble canopy of the planes below it that you use as reference for AF and USN numbers explanation?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Some models had a 2-place side-by-side cockpit, which had the giant canopy.

      Delete
    2. Beans - Standby for the non-matching number story. Spent some time tracking that down, the more I read about the Spad, the more I like that bird.

      Delete
    3. a bear - The A-1E introduced side-by-side seating for a pilot and co-pilot, this model was also known as the "Fat Face" Spad.

      Delete
    4. Amazing how that in time of war the need for low, slow and loiter is needed, and then tossed away after the fighting.

      Did not know that there was a 'luxury family model' of the Spad. Add two more seats and cargo pods in place of armaments, it would make a nice family plane...

      Delete
    5. From Wikipedia: "The Skyraider went through seven versions, starting with the AD-1, then AD-2 and AD-3 with various minor improvements, then the AD-4 with a more powerful R-3350-26WA engine. The AD-5 was significantly widened, allowing two crew to sit side-by-side (this was not the first multiple-crew variant, the AD-1Q being a two-seater and the AD-3N a three-seater); it also came in a four-seat night-attack version, the AD-5N. The AD-6 was an improved AD-4B with improved low-level bombing equipment, and the final production version AD-7 was upgraded to a R-3350-26WB engine." Only worked with Skyraiders a few times but grateful that they carried a full day's worth of ordinance on each flight. regards, Alemaster

      Delete
    6. An awesome aircraft, designed by the great Ed Heinemann!

      Delete
    7. "Ordnance"...………..Alemaster

      Delete
  6. Boy! Talk about a poorly written caption for that picture!"The aircraft was restored and is currently on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. " How about...The aircraft was restored. Maj Fisher flew it on the mission and it is now on display...

    Also, that photo looks like a class 26'd aircraft to me. I didn't realize we were so hurting for airplanes back then.

    Good sleuthing there, Sarge!

    BTW..."The Road" is done. Expecting construction to start at the end of the month. The Automatic Cash Rifle has been switched to full automatic and high rate of fire mode.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, that caption is weak.

      I do believe the special ops squadrons were hurting for aircraft at that time and yes, that bird looks really broken but the Spads were built tough.

      Expect another sleuthing post tomorrow, there's times I'm like a dog with a bone, just can't let it go.

      I think I speak for the readers when I say that we expect reports on the construction of The Lair. Oh yes, and pictures!

      Delete
  7. I think the number beneath the horizontal stabilizer is the BUNO. I believe the Skyraiders were on loan to the USAF, and the Navy wanted them back, eventually, so having the Bureau of Aeronautics Number easily available would help with both maintenance records, and inventory, when they were returned.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Air Force kept the BuNo as the serial number, simply adding "52-" to the front to indicate the year the majority of the Skyraiders the Navy gave them were built. The last two digits of the year an aircraft was built are typically part of the Air Force serial number. The birds weren't on loan, the Navy was phasing them out so they were transferred outright to the Air Force.

      Stay tuned.

      Delete
  8. The old man tells of a friend of his, a navy pilot flying one of these over Vietnam who got shot down and went feet wet to get away. He tells how the pilot relates as how he got out of the cockpit after entering the water and swimming and swimming and swimming until he finally broke the surface only to watch as the tail of the aircraft sank. Tough old birds. You should hear the old paratrooper generals talk as they sorta of ooch around the bar to get their next drink. No, no, 873 parachute landings didn't mess up my back, it was the wild sex!.....sure.

    I wouldn't know a BUNO from an SSN if weren't for this place. :) Well, perhaps as the former middle east force salvor I would, but I'm not telling.

    Look!!!!! I can comment again!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's good to have you back in battery Cap'n!

      Good one vis-a-vis the paratrooper generals...

      Delete
  9. Unless I miss my edamucated guess, those frankenspads have been made over from widebodies to resemble A-1H's as flown by VA-176. The single seat versions (last flown as A-1H's) didn't have the stewardess boarding hatch aft on the starboard side. I haven't tried to look this back up yet, but a few Spads were also configured for the COD mission, and iirc they did have the stewardess doors. I misremember whether the non-COD widebodies (or fat faces) had the doors. Those Able Dogs could do just about anything. Just for fun, read up on the Sandblower profiles. And as we all know, the AD was the first aircraft to land on the far side of the moon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Um, please forget that last sentence. I wan't supposed to tell anyone yet.

      Delete
    2. S'okay, the first on the far side of the moon were Rumplers.

      Delete
    3. PA #1 - I did wonder about that door, but not enough to track it down. Thanks for enlightening us.

      Delete
    4. HMS D - The kosher food distributors? (Just kidding, now I have to figure out your reference. The Rumpler Taube perhaps?)

      Delete
  10. You do know the first thing to land people on the moon was a GRUMMAN LEMCAT!

    ReplyDelete
  11. In regard to "Talking with his hands" LT Pete Russell returned to Viet Nam with VAL-4 flying the OV-10 Bronco. On 26 May 1969 he was KIA. https://www.navalaviationmuseum.org/history-up-close/museums-ov-10-bronco-memorial-fallen-naval-aviator/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Damn, that sucks. I'll need to do a post on him I think.

      Delete
  12. The Navy uses 3 digit number to designate the 'mission' of the aircraft and that has NOTHING to do with the BUNO (Bureau Number assigned by big Navy during procurement). Triple nuts 000, is typically the CAG's bird. A Carrier air wing (CVW) had the following (back in the day)- Modex numbers in the 1xx and 2xx series were VF(F-8 and F-4), 3xx, 4xx, 5xx series were the A-7, A-4, and AD-1 squadrons.

    5xx or 6xx side numbers were assigned to the EW (EA-6B) depending on the number of attack squadrons attached.

    7xx was the onboard helo squadron (SH-3).

    The last two digits identify an individual aircraft within a squadron, 101, would be the squadron's CO, xx2 squadron's XO, up to however many birds the squadron had (nominally 9 or 10).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've also heard the modex be referred to as the side number.

      Delete

Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.