by Tommy H. Thomason

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Well, That Was Special

On 10 July 2013, the Northrop Grumman X-47B made the first unmanned, autonomous, arrested landing on an aircraft carrier at sea.
 U.S. Navy photo MC3 Kevin J. Steinberg
I think I've included enough qualifiers as did the Navy press release (although for some reason it didn't mention Northrop Grumman). They are necessary because this wasn't the first or even second autonomous carrier landing. See Nevertheless it was the first without an on-board pilot to take over in the event of a malfunction, a significant step in demonstrating the maturity of the technology required to operate an unmanned airplane from an aircraft carrier. 

The at-sea landing was preceded by a very careful buildup program that included shore-based launches and arrested landings. The first at-sea event was a deck handling evaluation aboard Harry S. Truman in December 2012.

This was followed by the first catapult launch at sea from George H.W. Bush in May 2013, erroneously claimed to be the first catapult launch of an unmanned airplane at sea (see

The final build up event was a series of at-sea touch and goes with the hook up in late May 2013.

At that point, the Navy had enough confidence that nothing untoward would happen during the first at-sea landing to invite the Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, and the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm Johathan Greenert, to stand on the LSO platform.
Note that the flight deck is lined with C-2 CODs, another expression of faith in the X-47B's computers to keep it inside the foul lines.

The event was not really marred by the X-47B taking its own waveoff on its third landing attempt and being directed to fly back to NASA's Wallops Flight Facility for a shore-based final recovery. That proved that self-check features in the on-board computers were functioning as intended to keep the X-47B from continuing an approach with a possible fault in a critical system.

The two X-47Bs will soon be retired to museums at Patuxent River, Maryland and Pensacola, Florida. Time will tell whether the bright future of operational Unmanned Combat Air Systems lies ahead or will go unrealized...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Planet 1/72 XF10F

The Westinghouse J40's only victim was the ambitious Grumman XF10F Jaguar (the other programs using the J40 managed to transition to other engines in its place*) with a variable sweep wing**:

I had published a few notes on the Planet 1/72 kit on my draft Tailhook Topics website:

Navy Bird over on Britmodeler perservered where I hadn't and did the kit justice. His build series:

This is a picture of Navy Bird's finished model:

For more finished pictures of, and notes on, his excellent model are here:

*For more on the Westinghouse engine saga, see

** For more on the XF10F program, see and or better yet, buy my book on U.S. Navy jet fighter development:

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

AD Armor-All

The question comes up from time to time about the presence and effectivity of the exernal "armor" on the AD (A-1) Skyraider. This is evident as clearly scabbed-on plates on the forward fuselage sides and belly.

The additional shrapnel protection actually dates back to early 1952 and was retrofitted to AD-3 and AD-4 Skyraiders as described in this May 1953 Naval Aviation News article.
(If you click on the image and then double-click—for a Mac—or right click to "view" it, it gets bigger.)

This was the kit, as shown on the AD-6 Standard Aircraft Characteristics chart:
 It should be noted that this kit was in addition to the basic protection provided:

One way to tell if an AD has the deflector plate kit added is the step on the side of the fuselage. If it's a kick-in door, it hasn't been; if it's external, like a little ledge, then it has been.

An AD-4 that does not have the  kit:

An AD-6 with the kit:
Crop from a Pete Bulban photograph

One AD configuration for the nuclear-strike mission was to remove the deflector plate kit, the AERO pylons on the outboard wing panels, at least two of the 20mm cannon, and anything else not mission-critical that added weight and/or drag and cover any holes with speed tape.