VC-5 HISTORY, BY WM. E. "BILL" SCARBOROUGH
The atomic-bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World
War II proved the feasibility of the employment of these weapons - and
created immediate problems for Naval Aviation! If the U.S. Navy was to
continue as the nation's "First Line of Defense", a capability to
deliver these weapons was an urgent requirement. There was no
carrier-based Naval aircraft in service or on the drawing boards
capable of lifting the bombs then in the stockpile. the Mk I "Little
Boy" used at Hiroshima or the Mk 3 "Fat Man" dropped at Nagasaki.
Either of the weapons grossed some 10,000 pounds and measured about 5
feet in diameter - dimensions far beyond the carrying capability of any
carrier-based bomber then in service.
But, the Navy did have the record-breaking long-range Lockheed P2V
NEPTUNE and recognized this patrol plane as a possible interim solution
to the problem of delivering nuclear weapons. If the plane could take
off from a carrier, it could reach targets beyond the reach of any
land-based aircraft then in service.
The P2Vs bomb bay could be modified to accomodate the "Little Boy"
weapon and tests conducted aboard CORAL SEA and MIDWAY in 1948
demonstrated the plane's capability, aided by jet-assisted (JATO)
units, to takeoff from a carrier. The P2Vs could not land aboard
following a mission, but could ditch near her task force if a friendly
land base was not within range. With these key elements identified,
planning continued at top priority to provide the Navy this new role as
soon as possible.
Spearheading the project was Captain (later Vice Admiral) John
T."Chick" Hayward, with the active support of then-Chief of Naval
Operations (CNO) Admiral Forrest Sherman. Twelve new P2V-3 aircraft
were diverted to the project and, following modification to give them
carrier take-off and "Little Boy" carrying capability, were
redesignated P2V-3C and delivered to newly-commissioned Composite
Squadron Five (VC-5).
VC-5 was commissioned at Moffett Field on 9 September 1948 with
Commander (later Vice Admiral) Frederick L. "Dick" Ashworth Acting
Commanding Officer. Captain Chick Hayward assumed command on 3 January
1949, Dick Ashworth remaining on board as Executive Officer. The
squadron was the first of three planned to give the Navy nuclear weapon
delivery capability, utilizing the P2V as an interim vehicle while an
all-out, top-priority effort to design and produce a fully
carrier-capable atomic bomber continued.
Personnel for the new squadron, both officer and enlisted, were
selected on the basis of record reviews and interviews. Prospective
flight crews and ground personnel who would be involved in weapon
handling required special security clearances based on full background
investigations. VC-5 was to serve as a training and development
squadron for the program and was manned at almost 100% above its normal
allowance to provide personnel for planned future squadrons.
Deliveries of the modified NEPTUNES began late in 1948 and at the end
of January 1949, four of the new planes were on board, plus eight older
model P2V-2s utilized as trainers. By the end of March the squadron was
operating sixteen P2Vs and had 45 officers and 349 enlisted men on
board. Major emphasis in the flight training program was on instrument
and navigation, stressing celestial navigation on long over-water night
In February, three P2V-3Cs were flown to NAS Patuxent River for
training in JATO-assisted heavy load takeoff. On completion of this
exercise on 4 March, the NEPTUNES flew to Norfolk and were hoisted
aboard CORAL SEA. On the 7th, all planes were launched successfully,
the first, flown by squadron CO Capt. 'Chick' Hayward, loaded to 74,000
lbs. gross. The other two planes launched at 65,000 and 55,000 lbs.
Later in March two additional crews deployed to Norfolk and were
launched from FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT at 65,000 lbs gross on 26 March.
On 26 September 1949 the squadron demonstrated the capabilities of the
P2V-3C for the Joint Chiefs of Staff by take offs from MIDWAY and FDR
off Norfolk. Captain Hayward flew the plane off MIDWAY, with Secretary
of Defense Louis Johnson riding the copilot's seat for the take off.
On 5 October, a P2V-3C flown by squadron XO Commander Dick Ashworth
took off from MIDWAY, at sea off Norfolk, and established a record for
distance flown by an aircraft launched from a carrier. After take off,
the NEPTUNE flew across the Caribbean to Panama, then to Corpus
Christi, Texas, and on to San Diego for landing. Total distance flown
was 4,880 miles in a flight time of 25 hrs 40 min.
These flights clearly established VC-5's capability to launch from a
carrier and fly to targets in excess of 2,000 miles. from the launch
point, returning to a friendly base.
In November the squadron's. complement was increased to 90 officers.
and 674 enlisted, in preparation for the commissioning of a second
squadron, VC-6, at Moffett Field in January 1950. Aircraft allowance
was also increased to twelve P2V-3C and twelve P2V-2 training aircraft,
the latter to be replaced as the AJ-1 SAVAGE aircraft became available.
In anticipation of the need for a true carrier-based nuclear weapon
delivery aircraft, the Navy had requested proposals from a selected
group of experienced Navy aircraft contractors in January 1946. After
reviewing the responses received, that of North American Aviation was
selected and on 24 June 1946 the company was awarded a contract for
three prototype XAJ-1 SAVAGE aircraft. Although the company was deeply
involved at the time with major USAF development projects, the new Navy
contract was given top priority.
A full-scale mockup of the XAJ-1 was completed in record time and was
reviewed on 15 October 1946 by a Navy Board from the Bureau of
Aeronautics. The Board was concerned by a number of the XAJ's design
features but after the company agreed to changes, the mockup was
approved and production of the prototypes at the company's Inglewood
(Los-Angeles) facility began.
First of the XAJs was completed in June 1948 and company test pilot Bob
Chilton made a successful first flight from Los Angeles International
Airport on 3 July 1948. In spite of the loss to accidents of two of the
three XAJs, the test program was continued and the company received a
production contract for the AJ-1 aircraft.
Deliveries began in 1949, and VC-5 received its first AJ on 1 September
1949, picked up at the NAA plant by squadron CO Chick Hayward. After an
overnight stop at Moffett Field for inspection by the squadron, Capt.
Hayward ferried the plane to NAS Patuxent River for use in the Navy
flight test program.
For VC-5, 1950 proved a momentous year. On January 6th, VC-6 was
commissioned at Moffett Field with Cdr. Dick Ashworth as CO.
Thirty-three officers and 295 enlisted men were transfered from VC-5 to
the new squadron, which began operations immediately utilizing P2Vs
transfered from the original squadron.
VC-5 training for flight crews continued to emphasize bombing,
navigation and instrument flight. Most of the AJs alloted to the
squadron had been delivered but the new planes were plagued by many
problems and flight time in them proved disappointingly low.
During the first six months of 1950, the squadron flew only about 250
hours in the AJ, versus 3,250 in the P2V. In April, orders were
received transfering the squadron from Moffett to NAS Norfolk and
activities in connection with the change of home port began immediately.
First action was the dispatch of a crew of three officers and 20
enlisted men to the new station to begin preparing for the arrival of
planes and personnel. The giant R60 CONSTITUTION aircraft of Fleet
Logistics Air Winqs were utilized for transcontinental flights with
personnel and material being moved to Norfolk. Squadron aircraft were
ferried cross-country in June and by the 26th, the squadron was
officially located at its new home port.
In mid-April Capt. Hayward and Operations Officer Cdr. Eddie Outlaw
flew two AJs to Norfolk, where the planes were hoisted aboard CORAL
SEA. On the 21st, the planes were launched from the ship with no
problems encountered, the first AJ carrier take offs and a milestone in
the development of the AJ and the heavy attack squadrons.
During July and August, crew training concentrated on preparations for
qualifying the plane and pilots aboard ship. Utilizing the facilities
of NAS Patuxent River, all available AJs were flown there from Norfolk
daily, with each crew scheduled to complete a minimum of 30 field
carrier landings. In addition to pilot training in carrier approach and
landing, the program was designed to establish procedures for the
operation of this multi-engine, tricycle landing gear plane aboard the
As a follow-up to this initial training., each crew was scheduled to
make at least two landings into the field arresting gear, (Morest) at
Patuxent. This provided additional practice in carrier landing
techniques and also tested the AJs landing gear and arresting hook. A
daily schedule of field carrier landing practice continued at the US
Coast Guard Air Station at Elizabeth City, NC. interrupted on 19 August
by a hurricane evacuation as a major storm approached the coast. AJs
were flown to Roanoke, VA and the P2Vs to Glenview, but all plane-E.
returned when the storm veered out to sea.
31 August proved a landmark date in the squadron history and in that of
the AJ and the heavy attack program when VC-5 pilots qualified aboard
CORAL SEA, at sea off Norfolk. The first AJ landing was made by Capt.
Hayward. with Admiral Stump, ComNavAirLant, as a passenger. On his
second and qualifying landing, Capt. Hayward had Assistant Secretary of
the Navy for Air Floberg as a passenger. The other squadron crews
followed, some making two landings to qualify and others a single
landing. Limited aircraft availability forced this modification of the
usual standard of six to eight landings to qualify and also required
the planes to shuttle between the ship and NAS Norfolk to change
In mid-October the squadron deployed a detachment to the Naval Station
at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for intensive training. FCLP and tactical
exercises were flown during the first week, with a move aboard FRANKLIN
D. ROOSEVELT for carrier operations the second week. All crews made
refresher landings and flew tactics from the ship and the ship's
company conducted deck handling drills with the AJs.
This productive well-planned and executed exercise came to a tragic
conclusion on 27 October 1950 when LCDR Dave Purdon and his crew in an
AJ crashed into the sea off the bow of the ship on their take-off run.
Dave and the crewman, Chief Edward R. Barrett, were lost but B/N LTjg
Ed Decker escaped from the wreckage with minor injuries and was rescued
by the plane guard helicopter. Analysis of witness statements. and
movie and still photos failed to positively identify the cause of the
accident but the most likely cause was determined to have been an
inadvertent engagement of the flight control gust lock.
On 21 November all AJ-1 aircraft were grounded until safety of flight
service changes had been incorporated, with estimated completion of the
changes in January 1951. Flight training continued with the available
P2Vs during the remainder of the year, supplemented by an intensive
ground training program. As modifications to the planes. were completed
the AJs were individually ungrounded for test and training in
preparation for the deployment of a detachment to Port Lyautey. By the
end of January 1951 most AJs were back in commission though the last
were not completed until 14 March.
On 5 February the detachment of six AJs and three P2V-3Cs departed
Norfolk for Port Lyautey, via Bermuda and the Azores. The detachment
completed the Atlantic crossing, the first ever for carrier aircraft,
without any major problem enroute. One AJ grounded for parts in the
Azores but arrived in Port Lyautey on February 12th. In Norfolk, crew
training in preparation for carquals continued during April and May and
on 14 and 15 May, 3 VC-5 and most of the VC-6 crews qualified aboard
For the detachment in Port Lyautey, priority during the remainder of
February was given to FCLP and preparations for carrier operations with
the Sixth Fleet in the Med. On the 26th, five AJs were embarked aboard
FDR for intensive training in deck handling, practice weapon loadings
and simulated strike missions. Three AJs were catapulted from the ship
on the 27th, another first for the AJ.
An otherwise excellent ship-board operating period ended tragically on
the 6th of March when a crew was lost following an in-flight fire.
Plane commander LCDR Wick Wickendoll, squadron flight surgeon Dr Clyde
Fairless and crewman R.J. Lopez were aboard the plane, which crashed
into the sea in the vicinity of the ship. Again, the cause of the
accident could not be positively confirmed but was probably the result
of a failure in the jet engine.
As a result of this and numerous other problems encountered during
ship-based operations, a decision was made to restrict the AJs from any
extended operations aboard the carriers. Instead, the planes were to
remain at an advance base until needed, when they would be deployed to
the ship. From mid-March to late May the detachment conducted
inspections and made modifications to the AJs, assisted by personnel
from North American who had been flown to Morocco to aid the squadron.
A major change, intended to decrease the flammability of the AJ, was
the replacement of the standard hydraulic fluid with water- base
Hydrolube. Unfortunately, Hydrolube proved incompatible with the AJ
hydraulic system and an epidemic of system and component failures
followed. Four detachment AJs were aboard CORAL SEA May 20 to 23 for
simulated strikes and live bombing but the operation was plagued by
failures similar to those experienced earlier aboard FDR. Additionally,
what was described as "constant and complete hydraulic failures" were
experienced, blamed on the new Hydrolube hydraulic fluid.
On 25 May, three AJs from the detachment led by Cdr. Eddie Outlaw
rendezvoused with ORISKANY in the Straits of Gibralter as the ship
entered the Med' to join Sixth Fleet. In another first for VC-5, all
three planes landed aboard with no diffilcuty, the first AJ landings
aboard an ESSEX-class carrier. After lunch, the planes were catapulted
and flew back to Port Lyautey. Capt. Hayward was detached on 11 June,
relieved by Cdr. Eddie Outlaw who was, in turn, relieved by Cdr. John
T."Tomrny" Blackburn on 14 July 1951.
The AJs were grounded again on 11 June for a major modification program
to incorporate safety of flight changes and to return the hydraulic
system to the standard fluid. Operations, both in the detachment and in
Norfolk, were severely restricted. Flight training was conducted in the
P2Vs, emphasizing instrument flying and bombing. CNO ungrounded the AJs
in August, effective for the planes individually as the modification
program was completed. Four of the detachment aircraft were completed
by mid-October, when the detachment was scheduled to be relieved, and
the remaining two planes were transfered to the relief squadron.
On 15 October the detachment at Port Lyautey was relieved by VC-6, and
departed for Norfolk. The f'light, via the Azores and Argentia, was
eventually completed though several planes were delayed when problems
were experienced enroute. An engine failure at Argentia delayed one P2V
ten days. An AJ with a fuel leak, accompanied by a P2V, diverted to the
RCAF Base at Greenwood, Nova Scotia, for repairs. These last two planes
arrived at Norfolk on October 18th. Ground crew personnel flew home via
Fleet Logistics Wing aircraft. On arrival at Norfolk, detachment
personnel and aircraft were immediately involved in preparations for a
major fleet exercise, LANTFLEX, scheduled to start on 3 November.
With no AJ operations for almost five months, immediate refresher
training for crews scheduled for carrier operations during the exercise
In spite of the fact that only four AJs were available, VC-5 met all
commitments during LANTFLEX. At the start of the exercise on 29
October, an LSO and a maintenance crew were airlifted to Roosevelt
Roads to board MIDWAY.
On 3 November, two AJs landed aboard the carrier and on the following
day, flew two simulated special weapon strikes. During the exercise, a
total of nine strikes were flown, four day and five night, with weapon
drops completed on all missions. Although no intercepts were completed
by the opposing "Black" forces, one AJ flying as a decoy was ruled
"shot down" as it left the target. A total of more than 90 hours were
flown, with eight carrier landings during the exercise. In late
November the VC-5 LSOs were ordered to VC-6 on temporary duty to assist
in night qualifications of the squadron pilots. A concentrated effort
of day and night FCLP followed by three days aboard MIDWAY qualified
seven crews, each with twenty landings. The operation was completed
On 27 November, VC-5 was given a surprise administrative/material
inspection by ComHatWing ONE, assisted by personnel of VC-7. The
timing, hard on the heels of the return from Port Lyautey and the fleet
exercise, made this a difficult inspection. However, it was passed with
a grade of "GOOD" - an excellent mark under the circumstances.
As the year drew to a close, the heavy attack program was reorganized,
with new squadrons commissioned, the old ones reorganized and, in some
cases, assigned to new bases. VC-8, Fasron 51, Fasron 52, and Fasron 51
Detachment One were commissioned and VC-5, VC-6, and VC- 7 were
reorganized as supported, vice self-supported squadrons.
For VC-5, the action resulted in a major reduction in personnel
allowance, with officers reduced from 44 to 22 and the enlisted
allowance dropped from 355 to 209. Most of the transfers were to other
Heavy Attack Wing commands.
To add to the complications of the situation, NAS Norfolk was closed
for resurfacing in early December, necessitating the move of aircraft
and support personnel to NAAS Oceana for operations. VC-7 joined VC-5
there and the two squadrons conducted a joint maintenance and flight
operation from a quonset hut on the outskirts of the station. To add
further difficulty to the situation, VC-5 was ordered to prepare to
move to the Jacksonville area for a change of home port, effective 1
January 1952. Squadron aircraft were flown to Jacksonville during the
last week of December, supported there by newly commissioned Fasron 51,
which would provide maintenance for the squadron in the future.
This review of Composite Squadron Five-'s first four years ends here.
During this period, the squadron pioneered the heavy attack concept and
developed tactics which assured the success of carrier-based aircraft
capable of launching attacks on targets beyond the reach of land-based
aircraft then in service.
The successful P2V NEPTUNE operations provided the Navy with a nuclear
strike capability at a critical period in the development of roles and
missions for the post-WW II armed services - when the future of
aircraft carriers, and perhaps even the Navy, was at stake.
The introduction of the AJ, albeit marked by tragedy with the loss of many
lives and aircraft, was in the end successful and the SAVAGE served for
years in a variety of roles not even considered during its conception
END OF VC-5 HISTORY (up to 1952 that is)
This page was "archived" from Chuck Huber's HATWING ONE web site at http://community-2.webtv.net/charles379/USNComposite/page5.html. I assume that it
is more or less in the public domain. What appears to have been the
cover of the original hardcopy document is at http://community-2.webtv.net/charles379/USNComposite/page3.html.