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Copyright 1997 by Leonard G. Barton.

Aircraft Pictures and Squadron Histories

NEW - For aircraft modelers only

Here is a series of detail pictures of a faded Skyray at Pima Air Museum. These are not pretty, but well suited for their intended use. Taken and contributed by Mark Nankiville, scanned and formatted by the author. Use the index sheet to find the number print you need. (Clicking on the index will not work at this time.) Smaller pictures, about 50kb each, are here, four times higher resolution, about 400 to 500kb each, are here. Please download only what you need - there is some redundancy in the pictures.

Hi fellow aviation enthusiast:

I recently obtained a scanner and scanned the first of these pictures out of an old shoebox. They were taken around 1959 at Naval Air Station, North Island, in the San Diego region. I have always thought that the Skyrays of VFAW-3 had the coolest paint job on the most shapely aircraft in the fleet. Since I like to use high resolution pictures for my screen background and find them hard to find on the net, I am putting these pictures here for your enjoyment, noncommercial use, or scale model documentation.

Additional pictures have been recently contributed by Mark Nankivil, whose father (A. A. Nankivil) was a pilot with VFAW-3.

(Click on the picture for an 832 by 624 high quality jpeg - 515 kb)


Squadron Mission

[Patch] VFAW-3 (Fighter Squadron, All Weather), was in the late 1950's the only U. S. Naval element of the North American Defense Command (NORAD). NORAD's duty was to detect aircraft approaching Alaska, Canada, and the Contiguous United States ("CONUS" in "milspeak"), to verify the incoming aircraft against filed flight plans, and if a descrepency was detected, fighter aircraft would be "scrambled" to investigate. Should incoming soviet warplanes be detected it would probably be a hostile combat action- likely the start of a nuclear war.

While not carried on the aircraft, the insignia of NORAD appeared on the squadron's hangers. The squadron area was secured by armed guard crew consisting of a petty officer (with .45 cal. automatic) and a crew of seamen armed with .30 cal. carbines. The squadron, like most others in the navy, was self contained for all normal maintenance, including electronics repair and modification.

Similar national air defense duties had been performed in the San Francisco bay area by a squadron flying Grumman F9F Panthers around 1954. These were scrambled from Alameda NAS.

The Aircraft

The first Navy aircraft capable of supersonic speed in level flight, the F4D was chosen for this ground based interceptor role because of its exceptional rate of climb (almost thirty thousand feet in ninety seconds from a standing start). The afterburner of the "Ford" made an incredible racket and everyone on Point Loma, Coronado Island and bayside San Diego knew when a scramble was in progress - these could occur infrequently or several times a day or night. Training flight takeoffs were made without afterburner.

The aircraft is "tailless", being a highly modified delta wing (actually a wide fuselage with highly swept wings) with curved leading and swept trailing edges. For landing and takeoff the large wedge-shaped fairings adjacent to the variable nozzle engine exhaust were put into a pitch up position, enabling the elevons to be kept in a normal position, ensuring good pitch and roll control.

Paint Variations

[Plain_Paint_Skyray] As originally delivered, the aircraft had a synthetic black rubber covering over the honeycomb fiberglass nose cone covering the combination search and fire control radar antenna, RF section and fire control computer. This black nose configuration can be seen in some of the static models currently available. When the aircraft were repainted, the rubber was removed and all but the tip of the nose painted. This allowed the use of a much larger insignia, since the side number could then be moved forward.

There were many variations on the stars and lightning bolts theme, the patterns evolving with each repaint. In the large side view above, the aircraft on the far right is seen to have a darker gray upper forward fuselage. In other pictures on these pages some plain paint versions of this squadron's aircraft can be seen in the background. Also seen in these is the extension of the elevon top pattern to the tip of the bottom, not seen in the front view of number 26 below.

Fuel stores

Additional external fuel is carried in the large, droppable 300 gallon underwing tanks. The red ribbons draped over the tanks are attached to pins that prevent accidental release while the aircraft is on the ground.

Fire Control and Weapons

The F4D carried a combined search and single target tracking radar (APQ-50A) and a sophisticated analog computer, with electromechanical servos and resolvers driven by electron tubes. Aircraft relative wind was detected by pressure differential vane detectors driving slotted probes with anti-icing heaters. When on the ground, the probes were covered to avoid damage, and the probe covers can be seen as red objects located at the base of the aircraft side number and on the chin. Detection of aircraft relative wind was essential since one of the aircraft weapons was unguided 2.75 inch rockets, with proximity fuses, with a total of twenty-four carried in two pods on the pylons outboard of the external fuel tanks. These rockets would weathercock into the relative wind upon launch and the computer accordingly adjusted the pilot's aiming point (presented to the pilot on a "heads down" CRT display).

The aircraft also carried a "heads up" aircraft sighting device for use with 20mm cannons, when such were installed (these were not used by VFAW-3). This gunsight is a relatively simple device, using collimated light from a sighting reticle reflected from a turn rate responsive gyro mirror, whose restraining force (which determines the lead angle) is controlled by a radar range controlled magnetic computer using saturable reactors.

Also carried by VFAW-3 on its inboard stores points was a launcher rail for its preferred weapon, the Sidewinder missile. The Sidewinder has a spinning gyro detector and image chopper that causes the missile to home on hot spots such as the exhaust of a target aircraft. Designed with the electronic simplicity of a table model radio and the mechanical simplicity of a washing machine, the Sidewinder offered exceptional economy, reliability, and effectiveness and is still in use today.

(Click on the picture for an 832 by 624 high quality jpeg - 137kb)


Other externals

An additional electronics package was carried externally near the centerline.

The squadron would periodically go to Yuma, Arizona, for practice firings of 2.75 inch rockets. At these times a small photo/radar pod would be carried in place of the launcher rail. This was used to determine miss distances in firings of 2.75 inch rockets against a towed target shape.

Another external store carried was a target towing rig, consisting of a motorized reel, armored tow cable, parking ring, and a lightweight finned target with internal corner radar reflector.

USN Commander Eugene Valencia

This famous World War Two flying ace (23 aircraft downed) went on to lead VF(AW)-3 as a full Commander. Under his leadership as Executive Officer the unit twice won NORAD's highest honors for efficiency and readiness, winning over all other NORAD squadrons, all of which were US Air Force units. (McDonnell Douglas photo EST-C-525)

In this picture we can clearly see the 2.75 inch rocket pods and the access doors to the drop tank safety pin points.

(Click on the picture for an 832 by 624 high quality jpeg - 176kb)


Was the Skyray Dangerous to Fly?

In my short (two year) tour with VFAW-3, three aircraft and two pilots were lost. A young ensign over rotated on takeoff and wound up in the shallow Pacific Ocean waters beyond the end of the runway, suffering only minor injuries. The airframe was a complete loss, with some of the more durable equipment salvaged by the squadron technical staff for spare parts. Another time an experienced pilot flew off at 0430 and neither pilot nor aircraft was ever seen or heard from again. In the third case, a Skyray on a night landing crashed and burned in the relatively small space (less than half a city block) between two hangers, quite some distance to the side of the runway. The wreckage appeared to have been almost dropped on the spot in one piece, with only a few yards of skidding and relatively little collision damage seen. This might have been the result of a flight condition more frequently seen in the Air Force F-100 SaberJet and known there as the "Saber Dance", where there is sufficient trust (at almost vertical aircraft attitude) to keep the the aircraft up, but insufficient airspeed to control it.

Skyrays in Action

Over San Diego

(Click on the picture for an 832 by 624 high quality jpeg - 150kb) [Douglas_F4D_Skyray]

An inflight view over San Diego. NAS North island is the larger airfield, with San Diego's commercial field across the channel and below that the Naval Recruit Training Center (Navy Boot Camp). The town of Coronado with its famous Hotel Del Coronado is south (to the right) of the NAS and further south is the Marine Corps Amphibious Training Center and Silver Strand Beach State Park. McDonnell Douglas photo EST-C-594

Welcome Aboard

(Click on the picture for an 832 by 624 high quality jpeg - 152kb) [Skyray_Landing_on_Hornet]

October 1957 - a Skyray of VF-23 lands on the carrier Hornet during carrier qualifications. The landing signal officer and crew are seen to the right, while in the distance watchful destroyer crew is ready for a rescue. Photo by A. A. Nankivil. This squadron then cruised on the USS Hancock.


Without the drop tanks and missiles the aircraft shows off its curvaceous lines. Here we can clearly see the retractable tailwheel, extended between the legs of the V shaped tail hook structure.

On Deck

(Click on the picture for an 832 by 535 high quality jpeg - 142kb) [Skyray_on_Hornet]

A Skyray of VF-21 on the USS Hornet. Crew members on the flight deck wear color coded pullovers. The crewman in the brown shirt is a member of the squadron technical staff and is probably the aircraft's plane captain, responsible for aircraft preparation and tie-down. Photo by A. A. Nankivil.


(Fleet Air Wing Training Unit Pacific) Note that this also carries "PA" on the tail, designating this particular fleet air wing.

(Click on the picture for an 832 by 624 high quality jpeg - 117kb)


Some Models of the Skyray

(Photo of F4D model below provided courtesy of The Buck Hill Company, Inc.)


Below is another model - far more accurate in shape (note the narrow flat plate armored windshield and correctly slim nose).

(Photo of F4D model provided courtesy of Pacific Products Gallery)


Click here for Skyray Page Two (Marine Skyrays)"

About the pictures

The full scale VFAW-3 aircraft photos of side #24 and #26 on this page are copyright 1997 by Leonard G. Barton. Commercial use prohibited without written permission, but feel free to use for your screen saver or backgrounder, or post on your noncommercial page with copyright notice and credit. Feel free to link to this page provided that your page does contain advertising banners, does not open a subwindow and does change the browser button functionality.

The #24 and #26 aircraft images were scanned from new 5 by 5 prints made from 120 color negative. The low cost camera introduced chromatic artifacts, seen as yellow and blue fringes at high contrast edges. Chromatic artifacts were reduced by adjusting red and blue channels to conform to the green channel, with individual channel sharpening and edge sharpening. I am presently developing automated methods for these adjustments and will apply them to higher quality scans taken directly from the negatives. If you are interested in techniques for improving color photos taken with low cost cameras, or require higher resolution fragments for scale model documentation, e-mail me (Attn: LGB).

Coming this summer - a number of closeup detail shots for scale model builders.

Coming this year: A series of skyray models you can make from paper faced foam board.

Can You Help?

If you have comments or questions, or additional information or photos concerning aircraft or squadrons of this era (especially info on the F4D, VFAW-3, or the earlier Alameda operation), please e-mail me (Attn: LGB)

For additional information on the F4D see "http://www.csd.uwo.ca/~pettypi/elevon/baugher_us/f006.html. This is an entry in an excellent encyclopedia of aircraft specifications.

Revised June 1998

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