Sunday, April 17, 2011

100 Years of U.S. Navy Air Power

Review by Bill Doughty
“Where are our aircraft carriers?”
It’s a question the Commander in Chief asks when facing crises, according to Kennedy, Kissinger and Clinton -- and personally attested to by former President George Herbert Walker Bush in his forward to One Hundred Years of U.S. Navy Air Power, edited by Douglas V. Smith, of the Naval War College.
The ability to project power from the sea and the agility/flexibility of patrol planes, helicopters, jets and other Navy aircraft, past and present, is celebrated in this book, published to coincide with the Centennial of Naval Aviation.
With fifteen chapters, each written by a professor, historian or strategist, the book “tells a tale rife with courage and sacrifice, dangerous experimentation and awe-inspiring innovation, tenacity and dedication,” according to Bush, Sr.
Glenn Curtiss
The development of naval aviation is shown in the context of history by Dr. Stephen Stein, who teaches at the University of Memphis.  Practical aviation started in 1783 with the first balloon flights.  Ten years later, France’s Revolutionary Army used observation balloons, although Napoleon found little use for them in his war with Britain.  
Civilians operated balloons for the Union Army in the American Civil War to sketch Confederate fortifications and artillery positions.
We see the fragile beginnings of carrier aviation with Eugene Ely’s flight in a Curtiss pusher airplane from USS Birmingham (CV-2) on Nov. 14, 1910.
When World War I began, the U.S. had less than one tenth the number of airplanes as Russia or Germany and about a fifth as many as Britain.
In Chapter 4, “Ships in the Sky,” Professor John E. Jackson writes about lighter-than-air craft and tells the story of Akron (ZRS-4), a Goodyear-Zeppelin fleet airship that demonstrated an unprecedented ability to gather intelligence.  Akron was lost in 1933 in a violent storm, with a loss of 73 of the 76 crew, including Rear Adm. William A. Moffett.
The book introduces us to other proponents of naval aviation:  Adm. Joseph Mason “Bull” Reeves, President (and former assistant secretary of the Navy) Franklin D. Roosevelt, Marine Corps 1st Lt. Alfred A. Cunningham, Coast Guard Cmdr. Frank Erickson, inventor Glenn Curtiss, Adm. Ernest J. King, Lt. John Towers, Lt. Cmdr. Henry C. Mustin and Capt. Mark Bristol and Adm. Charles Badger, along with the pantheon introduced in Revolt of the Admirals.
How did leaders deal with geographic challenges in the Pacific in WWII?  What did Adm. Reeves do to organize carrier flight deck operations?  How did fighters and patrol aircraft evolve and how was rotary wing aviation born?  Why did naval aviation succeed in Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East?  All good questions explored in One Hundred Years of U.S. Navy Air Power. 
In Chapter 13, “Naval Aviation in the Korean and Vietnam Wars,” Professor Gary J. Ohls says that strong weapons and skilled personnel are not enough to prevail in war:
“The most important lesson of Korea and of the history of warfare in general is that wars are won by adequate strategy and not tactical or operational excellence alone.  This seems to have been completely lost on America’s leaders of the 1960s.”  Knowing how to attack may not be as important as knowing whether to attack, with an understanding of the full spectrum of capabilities.
Dr. Mike Pavelec, who teaches at the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies at Maxwell Air Force Base, shows in Chapter 14 how the Navy developed a perspective of Maritime Strategy when it introduced aircraft and submarines, giving the Navy a 3D aspect in integrated abilities above, below and on the surface of the oceans, helping advance a new naval and maritime strategy.

F-14 and F\A-18 aboard USS Enterprise (CVN-65)

In “Conclusions” Douglas V. Smith returns to the question asked by U.S. presidents and advisors:  “Where are our aircraft carriers?”
Smith says it’s no accident that nearly half of American presidents since WWII -- six of 13 -- have served in uniform in the U.S. Navy:  Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Bush (41).
“All came to their office aware of the options afforded by, and comfortable with, the strategic and operational applications of Navy -- and particularly carrier air wing -- aviation as an instrument of national power.”
Smith concludes, “In the centennial year of U.S. Navy air power it is hoped that all Americans pause to salute those patriots who have ‘carried America’s flag into battle in pursuit of a just cause.’  They have shaped America’s history and will continue to do so in the second century of U.S. Navy air power.”
Speaking of a good cause, recently the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), along with various Navy patrol squadrons and helicopter squadrons and other assets, joined other U.S. military teams and the Japan Self-Defense Force to perform humanitarian relief missions in Operation Tomodachi, in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
This review only scratches the surface of what can be learned about the history, heroes and hardware in One Hundred Years of U.S. Navy Air Power, must reading for anyone interested in the topic.  This book is published by the Naval Institute Press and is available at

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Memorial, Senate Resolution, SOS, Recovery: CoNA

by Bill Doughty

A Marine aerial observer’s memorial service, a State Senate resolution, an ‘SOS’-in-the-sand rescue and the recovery of a downed helicopter in Kaneohe -- all in the past five days in my home state of Hawaii -- made the week especially poignant during this centennial year for naval aviation.
The memorial service for Cpl. Jonathan Faircloth of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363 was held April 7 at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe, Oahu.  He lost his life when his CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter went down on the night of March 29.  Three other Marines were injured.
State Senator Will Espero paid tribute to Cpl. Faircloth in a speech on the Senate floor at the State Capitol April 5 during a resolution honoring the Centennial of Naval Aviation.
   Last week we experienced the tragic loss of a Kaneohe-based Marine - Corporal Jonathan D. Faircloth, crewmember of the downed CH-53D helicopter.  His memorial service will be held on April 7.  His death reminds us of the dangers faced by our military service members who put their lives at risk every day on our behalf.  Corporal Faircloth was part of the naval aviation family.  We join with our Marine Corps and Navy family in mourning his loss.
   Naval aviators - Navy and Marine Corps - have put themselves in harm's way for 100 years, training, testing, and - when called upon - fighting to defend freedom... They patrol the skies to defend us.
   Naval aviators provide humanitarian relief.  They provide support for Pacific Partnership to build peace and prevent war.  They are saving lives in Japan...
   We want to take this opportunity to recognize, in absentia, the naval aviators, including the "Skinny Dragons" of VP-4 who cannot be here today because they are participating in Operation Tomodachi, helping the people of Japan after the earthquake and tsunami there.  This is our opportunity to recognize the courage, sacrifice and support of the families of naval aviators.  Representing VP-4 is Mrs. Kathy Newlund, wife of Commanding Officer Navy Commander Steven Newlund... (Speech presented by Hawaii State Sen. Will Espero)
On the same day as Cpl. Faircloth’s memorial service, naval aviators on Kauai responded to an SOS scrawled in the sand at a remote beach off of Kalalau.  The pilots and air crewmen from both sides of the Pacific and Hawaii were training at the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands.  
The aviators responded to a report of the SOS and saw a mirror flash.  A Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron Light HSL-37 SH-60B "Seahawk" helicopter, piloted and crewed by Helicopter Maritime Strike (HSM) Weapons School Pacific, of NAS North Island, Calif., and HSL-51, from Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan rescued two women, who were brought back to PMRF for emergency treatment and transported by ambulance to Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital.  The HSL-37 “Easy Riders” are located at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
On the next day, April 8, back at Kaneohe, Navy divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One worked to complete the recovery of the downed CH-53D helicopter.  The Navy divers worked hand-in-hand with Marines, the Coast Guard and various civilian agencies.
The recovery was successfully completed when the last two huge segments of the downed helicopter were lifted one at a time from a sandbar in Kaneohe Bay, brought safely back to the base and gently set down.
I’m almost finished reading One Hundred Years of U.S. Navy Air Power, edited by Douglas V. Smith, published in tribute to the Centennial of Naval Aviation, one hundred years of courage and commitment, achievement and progress.  It will be the next Navy Reads review.  
Special thanks to the previous guest review posted last month during Women’s History Month by Nancy Harrity, a friend and strategic thinker who helps us understand future communication now.  Nancy headed up the public affairs for the Pacific Partnership humanitarian and civic assistance mission in 2009.  (The 2011 mission just launched and can be followed at