Friday, May 21, 2010

The V-Plot Thickens, And Some Clarified Zippers

Mystery in Glossy Sea Blue

Mark Nankivil started it all a blog or so ago when he sent in some really tasty photos of St Louis Navy Reserve Hellcats and Corsairs, a couple of which had their Bureau Numbers prefixed by the letter "V".  I'll be the first to admit that my archives could be more complete than they presently are, but there's a lot of stuff there and I had nothing, not one scrap of information, on the practice of placing that letter in front of the BuNo on anything the Navy flew during the 1940s. Nothing. Zip. Nada. That led in turn to a call for help to Rick Morgan and Tommy Thomason, both regulars around here and both People Who Would Know, except this time they didn't know either. The mystery deepened. Somewhere in there I forgot to ask Jim Sullivan about it, but he was kind enough to provide some insight that clears things up a little bit. Then Mark Nankivil, the guy who started this whole thing, provided further information. It was a Group Effort to be sure, and we finally began to Get Somewhere.

That was when I started looking at some of my older enthusiast's publications, mostly because I'd looked everyplace else and come up with a dead end each and every time. First up was Bill Kilgrain's 1973-vintage monograph, Color Schemes and Markings; U.S. Navy Aircraft 1911-1950, IPMS Canada. There, sitting on the cover and thumbing its nose at me was a photograph of a St Louis FG-1D with a V-prefixed bureau number! Unfortunately, there was no textual comment regarding same, although there was an annotation that the Reserves sometimes placed the letter "N" in front of the aircraft's type designation (see that NF6F-5 photo) to designate a training role, which was corraborated by Rick, Tommy, and Jim. The corollary mystery of the "N" prefix was thereby solved, but that still left the "V" with no explanation.

Another reference that seemed to be of use was an old Squadron/Signal publication entitled Navy Air Colors Vol.2, 1945-1985 by Tom Doll, Berkley Jackson, and Bill Riley. That series of books, often overlooked by "serious" aerospace historians, cites regulations and specifications and is a largely ignored treasure. It doesn't clear up that "V" business either, but it does define the orange-yellow stripes, numbers, and "US NAVY" under the horizontal stabs. Another piece of the puzzle fell into place regarding those photos. We were getting somewhere!

That brings us up to Right Now, and here's what I think we know:

  1. The "N" prefix means trainer, and was used by the Naval Reserves immediately postwar to define aircraft with a training mission , which in many respects seemed to be the Reserve's role 1945 to 1947.
  2. The orange-yellow stripes and markings weren't really an anomaly but rather a defined practice cited in regulations.
  3. The Mystery "V" has yet to be satisfactorily explained and will remain that way, at least to me, until we can find a document that authorizes it. If any of you have that document please scan it and e-mail it to me at . Please!
Meanwhile, here's some of the ongoing correspondence I've been priviledged to receive on the subject:

From Tommy Thomason:
Short answer - I don't know. I have read (United States Navy Serials 1941 to 1976) that the purpose for this marking was not known but that the practice had died out by 1950. Remember that, post war, the services had more airplanes than they knew what to do with or could afford to operate.
It probably has something to do with the retention plan for that particular aircraft and was associated with the immediate post war practice of adding an A- or N- ahead of the aircraft designation painted on aircraft, as in A-F6F-5. No prefix meant a first line aircraft capable of unlimited combat operations. A- meant a second line (obsolescent?) aircraft. N- meant suitable only for training.

The V prefix presumably meant something like it was not to be put into overhaul but stricken at the end of the current service tour. The only two examples I've seen are an A-F6F-5 with the BuNo preceded by V and an N-SB2C-5 with no V. It may be that all N aircraft were to be stricken at the end of the current service tour and this particular F6F-5 was on its second service tour so it was headed for the bone yard as well, whereas an A-F6F-5 on its first tour would not have a V and go to overhaul so it could do a second tour, but it would come out of that first overhaul with a V ahead of the BuNo.

But I'm really making things up, other than the A- and N- practice, which is from Elliott Volume 2. In that Elliott, he also says that the V is "an accounting code not intended for aircraft display."
From Mark Nankivil:
Thanks to Mark Aldrich, we now have an answer to the question!

"As far as the "V" prefix goes, it was reasonably common on reserve birds in the 1945-46 time period and was meant to indicate heavier-than-air. This coincided with the brief usage of the "N" prefix for the type designation for reserve aircraft as shown on the FG-1 and F6F images you scanned. Those are great examples of a seldom seen marking that was fully endorsed by BuAer."
From Rick Morgan:
Guys: The more I look at this , the more I suspect the “V-Buno” is not for “heavier than air”. While I can’t find the ‘smoking gun’ quite yet, a lot of period documentation talks about the V-6 program, which apparently was the post WWII reserve program, which is also referred to repeatedly as the “Voluntary Reserves”, which is what we later called Selected Reserves, or SelRes. Right now, and it’s just a guess, I tend to believe the Reserves were assigned a distinct group of aircraft and that the V-buno was one way they were distinguished from the Active Duty force. This appears to have lasted from 1946 to Korea, when the war, with its call-ups and mass movement of airframes, made the whole thing irrelevant. Of course you could ask why they didn’t use “R”, to which I have no answer.

Two things that might help (other than finding the instruction that would clear it all up!): A shot of a Lakehurst Reserve blimp and its Buno- is it a “V” or “Z”?

Another thing would be a shot of an active duty aircraft with a “V-buno”…. Although I haven’t seen one yet.

Ain’t this fun?
And finally, from Jim Sullivan:
Just read your latest article from Replica In Scale. I believe that the 'V' prefix was briefly used to designate a Reserve aircraft. I wouldn't want to state that as a fact, but that is the way I understood it. After the close of WWII, the Reserves had some funky ideas about markings as seen on their planes. One of those was the use of the 'N' before the aircraft type, i.e, NFG-1D or NF6F-5. Another was the deletion of the fuselage insignia and the use of international orange numbers and letters. That lasted only a short time as the transition to more standard markings soon returned. Reserve aircraft then carried forward the use of the international orange fuselage band and maintained that for many years. I have attached several shots of Corsairs in the early Reserve markings. Two are from NRAB Minneapolis, MN and the other is from NAS New York. The two Minneapolis birds were shot by the late Bob Stucky and the New York Corsair is in my collection but I am unsure of the identity of the original photographer.
So we're no closer now than we were before, but we've definitely got some Heavy Hitters working the problem! Stay tuned, folks; I doubt we've seen the end of this one! Meanwhile, how about a couple of photos from the collection of Jim Sullivan to sweeten the pot a little bit?

BuNo 88231, an FG-1D out of Minneapolis showing the early orange-yellow bands and numbers. The aircraft type is prefixed by an "N" but the BuNo is given simply as 88231. Note that this aircraft exhibits the typical rocket stub launchers common to late-War Navy and Marine aircraft, while the St Louis-based FG-1s and F6Fs shown in our last installment were fitted with rails. So much for standardization! Bob Stucky via Jim Sullivan

Another Minneapolis bird; an FG-1D that's displaying its orange-yellow wing markings to advantage. Note that the tailhook is in place. The antenna treatment (not a topic of discussion in this missive but interesting nontheless) is shown to advantage. The BuNo is 88395 and is sans "V", but the "N" is in front of the type designator.  Bob Stucky via Jim Sullivan

And finally, here's 92215 flying out of New York. Once again we have the early treatment, but this time the legend "NAS NEW YORK" appears in orange-yellow under the cockpit. There's no "V" anywhere in sight but the "N" is there in front of the designator again.  Sullivan Collection

One final thing to consider: Rick Morgan pointed out that the single-charecter unit letter on the fins of the St Louis birds actually superceded the two-letter designation system ("U" for St Louis and "F" for Fighter, then simply "U" for St Louis). The St Louis birds with the later International Orange fuselage band all seem to have that "V" in front of their BuNos, as does the earlier shot of the Hellcat. All of the aircraft we've seen with the early orange-yellow treatment have the "N" prefix to the aircraft type designator, but only those from St Louis have the "V". Finally, the air-to-air shot on the cover of Kilgrain's book (which I'm not showing because of that copyright thing) has the International Orange reserve stripe with a "V" in front of the BuNo.

One final question and we'll leave this subject for tonight: Was the "V" in front of the bureau number unique to St Louis? You've now seen all the photos of this topic that I've been privy to. Anybody out there know the answer?

A Zipper With a Can

Several installments ago we ran some photos of two-seat F-104s, one of which was fitted with an enormous "can" behind the afterburner, presumably to reduce the Zip's considerable IR signature. All I had at the time was speculation, but now there's more, this time from Hubert Petzmeier, a fellow who runs a must-visit F-104 site at   .

The aircraft was flying out of China Lake during June of 1963 and was in fact performing trials involving the attempted masking the F-104's IR plume. F-104D 57-1315 was the testbed. The mod obviously never made it to production!  USAF

And a SLAR Zipper That Wasn't
Also from Hubert, and with considerable clarification of that Chinese F-104 with the funny nose:

- It was not SLAR equiped, it was LOROP (Long Range Oblique Photography) in the extended nose
- there was NO F-104 equipped 4 TRS, it was the 12th TRS.
Hubert also supplied a really neat shot of one of the birds, but I can't get it to download to this blog so you're going to have to visit his site to view it. Here's the link to the specific picture:  . Check it out, and spend some time on Hubert's site. It's well worth your visit. Thanks, Hubert, for explaining that photo for us! 

And a Fond See You Soon

That's it for tonight, ya'll. Be good to your neighbor, and we'll see you again next week!

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