Saturday, November 28, 2009

I did not know that...

The U.S. Navy's Curtis F9C Sparrowhawks are some of the coolest planes ever; sleek little biplane fighters that operated from the rigid airships of the USN.


I'd never realized that they were in service for almost three years and that they performed over 100 successful midair "hookups" in their first month of trials alone. According to the pilots, once you got the hang of it, it was easier than lining up a landing on a regular airstrip. I wonder if there's a unit history published someplace? Or hopefully one of the fliers left an autobiography...

It would be a shame if every single Sparrowhawk pilot had passed away without any of them leaving a memoir; they were sole eyewitnesses to a very unique little chunk of aviation history.


EDIT: A search for deck plans so I could get a feel for the hangar arrangements turned up a discussion at a forum called "airshipmodeler.com", which proves that there truly is an internet discussion forum for every interest under the sun. Do you reckon they have arguments about "Which blimp for bear?"

19 comments:

John Peddie (Toronto) said...

Probably so...to be followed by the thread about Blimp 870 vs. Blimp 500.

Then there's the one about the used M 1100 Blimp with only a few wear marks for $125,000. Good deal???

Peter said...

The National Navy Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL has one of those aircraft on display, along with pictures of it docking with its mother airship. It's a fascinating piece of history, isn't it?

Buddy said...

The now-defunct magazine "Wings/Airpower", did a feature article on these aircraft. Very interesting, if I recall. I have the issue but would have to dig it up. If memory serves me, they were not very good at ground landings... The trapeze went through several designs before getting it right, and costing a few aircraft to boot! If you want, I can dig it up and send you a copy?

Tam said...

That would be awesome!

Wolfwood said...

If you're defending a blimp then you want an aircraft built in a year beginning in "4". At least, if you want any kind of knock-down power at all.

wv: "Hastry" = generic term for a Pop Tart

Butch_S said...

The mothership/parasite fighter didn't work out so well when it was later attempted with the XF-85 Goblin.

http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=586

krazmo said...

I've read an anecdote, either in Smithsonian or in a book about US rigid airships that I can't lay hands on right now, that talks about the Sparrowhawks and landing gear.

Apparently, they weren't allowed to fly without their gear, but the pilots, wanting to do a flyby of a ship carry FDR, defied regs and flew with just a drop tank to extend their range.

It ended up being normal practice when over water.

krazmo said...

Also, you really need to play Crimson Skies on your new XBOX:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crimson_Skies:_High_Road_to_Revenge

John A said...

Oddly, I had assumed the planes were mounted to several external hooks and had not considered an internal hanger. Silly me.

This might be a view of the hanger -
http://blog.usni.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/h80773.jpg

from http://blog.usni.org/?p=3323

see also http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2006/s2708.htm

Both imply there are views of the internal works of the airship/dirigible, including video, but my search skills are inadequate.

"The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) succeeded in locating and surveying the debris field of the Macon in February 1991, and was able to recover artifacts from it. The exploration included sonar, video, and still camera data, as well as some artifact recovery.


In May 2005 MBARI returned to the site as part of a year-long research project to identify archaeological resources in the bay. Side-scan sonar was used to survey the site."

Anonymous said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parasite_aircraft

DirtCrashr said...

There's a bit of Unit History at the Moffett Field museum - mostly pictures and models. The Unit emblem is a very big, fat man on a trapeze catching a very thin and skinny guy. I believe it was 100-hookups and no screw-ups.

The pilots of the Sparrowhawks were pretty proud of the planes and their record. For that time their variation was a pretty hot little rocket, with all the extraneous weight removed including that drag-inducing landing gear seen in the picture. Instead they had an additional fuel tank to give added range. The Navy crew would re-install the gear when they were to land on terra-firma.

IRRC from talking with the docent at the museum, they had an elevator-arm that the planes approached and attached-to, and then it swiveled them to hanging points on the left and right, up inside the Macon.

Dad went to school (Annapolis) with Captain Wiley's son Gordon, we visited them when he was the Naval Atache in Bangkok and he visited us when we were south of Calcutta. His own sons both were Navy pilots who were lost off carriers in the Med.

I'll see what I can dig up when I go to the Museum next time, it's just down the street.

FatWhiteMan said...

My grandfather was in the Navy 1921-1953. He told me once of watching planes land and launch from airships over Chesapeake bay when he did a stint as a pilot on the Navy Secretary's yacht.

PA State Cop said...

The one crashed airship they found Akron/Macon ? still some Sparrowhawks in the onboard hanger when they found her. They realy were a hot little plane for the time.

Ritchie said...

Fast forward to WWII-the Brodie Attachment was a rig featuring 2 spars over the side of a ship.A cable between them carried a wheeled trolley which a light aircraft would use to arrive and depart by hooking onto the trolley.
http://www.ww2aircraft.net/forum/aviation/l-4-piper-cub-7665.html

WV-bobesses-well, there is a ship involved.

Buffboy said...

Given my experience landing biplanes, IE, landing blind, given the short coupled, high on the narrow landing gear, look of that one, I'd say hooking to blimp would be a lot easier than setting that critter down on a runway. You can actually see the hook mechanism, you certainly couldn't see the runway.

Anonymous said...

similar one:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zveno_project

Soviets tried this with heavy bombers and fighters.

Even had 8 aircraft latched onto one TB-3. It got up with only 2, but six others could latch on later and refuel.

..like they say, for every problem, there exists a straightforward impractical solution.

-Schmidt

Tam said...

I'm familiar with the Soviet one, but like almost all the other parasite programs, theirs was only used to launch.

The Sparrowhawks were pretty much history's only true parasite fighters operating from flying carriers; as some above have mentioned, they sometimes operated without conventional landing gear to save on drag and weight.

(...and both "true" and "fighters" are keywords here. The Zveno project launched fighters, but they generally returned home under their own power, like the Maya flying boats or the Mistel composite bombs, while the quasi-successful B-36/RF-84 FICON program was only ever used for reconnaissance.)

Steve Skubinna said...

In the early seventies the Naval Institute Press published a book titled Akron and Macon: Flying Aircraft Carriers of the US Navy. It's available on ABE.

The concept still amazes me. Perhaps it was a technological dead end, but for the sheer coolness factor alone it deserved to survive.

DirtCrashr said...

And imagine that, for all is massive size, if you turned of the engines it was silent.
I love driving by and seeing that big-ass old hanger out there. Nothing today compares with it. With a good squeeze you could fit three of the RMS Titanic inside, hull to stacks, bottom to ceiling...