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Operations at night are inherently slower than during daylight for the reason that it is difficult to see at night and the pilots and directors must necessarily take things easier on deck. Landings are slower since each pilot must take the time to line himself up with the ship before starting his approach, the planes can not move up the deck very fast with safety, and the parking of planes in the dark is no small problem. For these reasons safety must be a prime consideration and also propellers can not be seen at night and the tendency to taxi planes too close to each other and into people on deck is greater. Safety, of course, is always a prime consideration, but during day operations it is possible to get away with sliding over the edge of the line continually and operate without difficulty. Not so at night, and all precautions must be reviewed and re-reviewed with all hands.
The essence of any successful operation on a carrier is standardization. When the Fly Control Officer sits up in his cage and can't see what's going on, he must assume that operations are following the standardized procedures on deck, that these procedures are correct, and that the situation is being taken care of. Thus, the corrective action that he can take doesn't amount to much and if his crews don't have proper guides to follow, the snarl that can follow is worse than any tangle of mother's yarn that baby darling (?) could possible make, the difference being that this one can't be tossed into the waste can and must be straightened out.
Naturally, the quality of personnel in the key positions on deck plays an important part in this phase of the work. The plane directors must be drilled then drilled some more. Complete understanding and cooperation must exist between the pilots and those men and, in general, the work between the group and the ship must be closer and more cooperative than is necessary in a carrier operating a day group. Frequent conferences of the plane directors and pilots are recommended to air the difficulties from both ends (with the Air Officer and Group Commander present) to have all parties understand everyone else's problems.
As in any smooth working organization, authority to act in any situation must be delegated to the proper persons. Since the Fly Control Officer is unable to follow every move on deck and help keep things going properly, the initiative of every officer and man will be taxed to the utmost in handling situations as they arise. This means that authority delegated must be clearly defined and understood by all hands so that the correct action may be taken by the persons responsible for such action. Also, it will insure reports by everyone going to the proper persons.
The spotting problems vary directly with the number of planes on board. Since planes are operated in small groups at night, there is never a call for a larger number than can be spotted on the hangar deck and on the flight deck between barriers and the catapults with both catapults open for operation. Add to this, room down number one elevator for about three duds and ample space for the engineers to work on the planes on the hangar deck and you have the limitations on the complement of a night carrier. For this ship this was recommended as 36 VF(N) and 21 VT(N). At present we are operating with 33 VF(N), 1 VF(P) and 21 VT(N) and are doing so in the manner stated. For future operations, however, it would appear that 30 VF(N) and 24 VT(N) would be more desirable. This allows ample fighters to meet commitments and allows more of an offensive flexibility in the increased number of VT(N).
Reasons for keeping the spot on the flight deck forward in this manner are: Launches and landings are generally scheduled at the same time for night work and the time consumed in spotting back and forward at night prohibits moving many planes if schedules are to be met. Since only approximately half the deck crew is on duty, the time is further increased for complete respotting to the point where it is out of the question to do so.
NOTE: The complement currently on this ship is sufficient to meet all commitments that have been given it in operations to date.
Spotting on the hangar deck must be closely coordinated with the flight deck and planned far enough in advance so that it will be completed during daylight before the launch of the first night flight. As a consequence, the Flight Deck Officer is made the coordinator of all spotting and his word is law for hangar deck spotting.
The spots of the flight and hangar decks must be made during daylight using the air plan for the night as a guide. The daytime Flight Deck Officer is responsible that this is accomplished. Since night carriers normally are not called on for day flights, this is the main job of the day crews and calls for some study on the part of the Assistant Air Officer and his cohorts during the day.
It will be found that the above will normally have to be done in the afternoon and only a limited amount of reshuffling will be possible during the forenoon. During the early morning (first two or three patrols or first two strikes from the day carriers) the CV(N) will be called on to take aboard quite a few forced landings of the day planes. While the CV(N) may not be scheduled to keep a clear deck at this time, it nevertheless makes sense that it is the logical carrier to do so. Having just finished landing the dawn CAP (first day patrol in the air) its deck is spotted forward while all the day CV's are normally spotted aft; to take aboard a forced landing would mean a complete respot forward for the CV so doing. As a consequence, it is routine to keep the spot forward and do only that reshuffling of planes which will allow the deck to be readied for a landing in 5 to 10 minutes during the forenoon.
It will be found that the above practice must usually cease around noon as deck checks of planes must start about that time if planes to fly that night are to be readied for pilot checks early enough in the afternoon to weed out the duds and spot for the night's operations. General practice has been to use the entire deck, starting at noon, as necessary to accomplish these items.
A high priority is given to repairing planes from other carriers that have landed aboard. Visitors are always welcomed with open arms but the addition of extra planes in the spot limits the situation considerably and may make it necessary to cover one catapult to operation in the manner in which the CV(N) must.
The flight deck is usually spotted so that planes to be used are taken from only one row, generally the port inboard row for the first flight. Standby planes are taken from another row. This gives a minimum of planes to be moved forward to make room for the planes landing, as most of the planes in one row will be used for the flight being launched. Planes for the next flight can be spotted in another row (can be done by the day crews), and so on through the night. Planes on the hangar deck to be used should be spotted close to number 2 elevator so that they can be moved up into these rows easily between launch-landing times. The inboard rows are used as it is easier to move planes to either catapult than from an outboard row.
The subject of handling duds at night is one that warrants a great deal of study on the part of the Flight Deck Officer. Generally, if space can be left at No. 1 elevator, this affords the best place to do the shuffling necessary as duds occur. It is generally faster, however, to jam these spaces and leave space in the outboard rows aft of the catapults to place last-minute duds. This expedites the particular launch in progress. However, if planes are to be put in Condition 10 or 11 immediately after the launch and sufficient planes for this purpose are not available in the center rows, it may be mandatory to drop the duds down the elevator as they occur; this will allow the planes in the outboard rows to be moved forward to take over the condition watches as the others are launched. Care must be taken to have the hangar deck spot made so that these duds will not block other good planes at the forward end of the hangar deck that are placed there for use on later hops during the night.
As may be guessed from the above discussions of handling planes on deck, the Fly Control Officer has little to do with the actual handling of planes during the operations and will do well to even be kept abreast of the times on a very dark night. Thus, it will be found that the entire deck operation at night will hinge on the Flight Deck Officer and his assistants. As a consequence, it should be made clear to all hands, and absolutely no doubt left in anyone's mind, that the Flight Deck Officer must be kept apprised of all items that affect deck operations in any way. The Squadron Duty Officer must work through him in finding out the planes to use, the Aircraft Maintenance Officer must have his assistants all trained to report duds (temporary or otherwise) to the Flight Deck Officer as they occur. The Fly Control Officer and Air Plot must let him know immediately when any changes occur in the schedule. In short, the entire deck operation can be run smoothly or can be completely messed up by the Flight Deck Officer on his own hook or when not properly notified of information that he should and must have. He is a most important officer and the proper indoctrination and training of this officer will go a long way toward making successful the operations of a night CV.
In connection with the above, it must be noted that the biggest headache of deck operations at night is the lack of proper communications between the Flight Deck Officer and the Fly Control Officer. A recommendation has been made from this ship for a VHF walkie-talkie arrangement between station "FIREPLUG" (the Flight Deck Officer personally) and station "SQUIRREL CAGE" (Fly Control) in order that proper reports of expected delays, etc. may be made expeditiously and as they occur. It is understood that there are probably enough of the test models of these sets to issue three to the fleet for test in service; it is recommended that they be procured as soon as possible for the night CV. An alternate (and standby for the walkie-talkie) is suggested as follows and should be accomplished on a carrier assigned as a night CV before entering the combat zone if possible: Install telephone jack boxes in the flight deck along the centerline at thirty foot intervals from the last barrier to the catapults; this should be on the flight deck control circuit (1JG on this ship). The Flight Deck Officer can then carry on his belt a sound-powered handset and plug in whenever he has any report to make or when told to do so by Fly Control. A handset in Fly Control used by the Fly Control Officer will then give the direct communications necessary for smooth operations and coordination between Fly and Ship Control.
As the situation now stands, the Flight Deck Officer must take care of his business and report as he can find the opportunity to do so. This makes for delays in reports being received and can be very embarrassing. This is because the flight deck talkers are all off to the side of the deck and to reach them the Flight Deck Officer must leave his station or send his reports by messenger to the talkers to transmit to Fly Control. These third-handed reports have a habit of being somewhat inaccurate.
The question arises as to who handles the land and who the launch when operations are simultaneous. It is actually not safe to make the two operations at the same time and general practice has been to bring the first plane in with the last to be launched on the catapult. The Flight Deck Officer can then turn the catapulting operation over to the Flight Deck Chief and take over his landing station at Fly 2.
Signals on deck at night are the standard signals proscribed for all hands to use. A hint that will be of great assistance to pilots is as follows: On a dark night it is almost impossible for a pilot to know whether he's moving or not as he has no reference point by which to gauge his movement. However, if the plane director will give him a "come on" and remain in one spot until the plane has moved five feet the pilot will then realize that he is moving. The plane director can then move up the deck with the plane. Directors should be spaced closely enough, however, so that the plane moves faster than the directors and the pilot will have the continuous sensation of moving and will be better able to control his plane. Signals at night must always be very definite, for, though it is not generally recognized, the degree of turn, etc., that is meant by the plane director in the daytime is in a large part determined by the pilot from the director's facial expression. Another point worth mentioning is for directors not to give an "agitated stop" at night. In the daytime a clenched fist shaken will cause a hard application of the brakes but at night it looks like any other come on and will probably cost a tail surface (as happened once on here). The signal used by the pilot to signify that he is ready for the chocks to be pulled is a blimp of the gun followed by idling the engine momentarily. The signal for execution is the chopped throttle.
Control of the catapults at night is by use of red and green lights in the deck edge, the control box being in Fly Control. The Catapult Officer generally can not see planes after they are clear and it is the Fly Control Officer's responsibility to hold up the launch of a plane by means of this control light until the slipstream of the plane launched is clear. The Catapult Officer must check this light before and after the turn up before each launching. Other signals (by the directors and the Catapult Officer himself) are standard, using the red wands exactly the same as the plane directors. (Proposed revision of USF 77B recommends use of red and green wands on the catapults but the use of one color has proven better.)
Spotting of planes on the catapults at night can be done almost as quickly as during daylight. Much practice is needed by plane directors, however, and here the complete understanding between directors and pilots plays its most important role. Most time lost here will be found in the planes that overshoot the mark and have to be pushed back to the proper position. Should this happen, the director must be careful in giving a "push back" signal that the pilot can not misunderstand. This is done as follows: the director holds his wands overhead turned on; he swings them down, then turns them off as he brings them back overhead. This gives the push back only to the pilot; if the director leaves the wands on all the time, it is confusing to the pilot who is getting both a push back and a come on signal.
Several aids to spotting have been tried. Luminous markers in the spots for the wheels proved to be of little use and a flat white paint on deck has proven more suitable. A recommendation for a dim deck light to be installed in the spots for the inboard and tail wheels has been made and it is believed would be the best answer to the problem. These lights would be controlled by switches on the deck edge station, different sets of switches for different types of planes. In the meantime, flat white paint to mark these spots on deck is in use and in conjunction with dim lights in use by the spotters, has proven very satisfactory even on the darkest of nights.
Spotting boards are installed on deck to aid in getting the plane in the right place on the catapults. A board is placed so that it is lined up with the inboard side of the inboard wheel when the plane is in the proper position. A similar board is installed for the tail wheel. A line 45° to the centerline is painted so that the inboard wheel travelling down this line will, when it hits the board, be a little aft of its proper position. The plane director brings the plane so that its inboard wheel comes down this line; when the pilot feels the wheel strike the board, he holds the inboard brake; this swings the plane around so that the tail wheel strikes the tail wheel board; the director then gives "lock tail wheel" and moved the plane slowly forward the foot or so necessary to get it into position. The tail wheel will probably swing a little inboard out of alignment. To take care of this a "grease board", a piece of light metal secured to the deck in the vicinity of the tail wheel's position, is installed. The handling crew pushes on the inboard side of the plane, sliding the tail wheel over this board until it hits the tail wheel board and the plane is in position for the hold back fitting to be put in place.
The pilot's signal in use on this ship for ready after the turn up is to turn on dim running lights. This serves as a check that his lights are working and is a positive means of following him after take off. It may be desirable not to use all the lights and in this case it is recommended that the recognition light on the under side of the plane only be used.
The Catapult Officer must take his time in between shots as it can be fatal to shoot a pilot into the slipstream of another plane at night. More often than not the pilot is on instruments at the end of the catapult run and his instruments are not acting altogether normally. As a consequence, it will be found that he will "hold what he has" for much longer than in a day launch and will turn more slowly after he does start. However, it must be impressed on pilots that the right turn after take off must be made as soon as it is safe to do so and enough of a turn is to be made to definitely insure that the slipstream will not come back down the deck.
The generally slower operations at night must be accepted. It will be found that little or no maintenance can be accomplished on deck and a continual re-shuffle of planes dudded for minor troubles will be necessary throughout the night between launch-land operations. Bomb loading is also somewhat slower and the following has been found to be true on this ship as the necessary times for the loads indicated for flights of four planes. Times are from the word "go" to start the loads coming from the magazines.
If incendiaries are to be used along with the 100 or 500 lb. bombs add about 15 minutes because of the necessity for unpacking them in the magazines.
Positive control of aircraft is necessary during night approaches and landings. To obtain this control the Visual Fighter Director in Air Defense Forward is manned by an officer, preferably a pilot, who is termed "Snapper Control", and whose radio call is "Snapper". If two ships are operating, his call is the ship's call followed by the word "Snapper". Snapper is supplied with a VHF radio on the landing frequency and he wears split phones, the second phone being a sound-powered receiver on a circuit with CIC, Signals Aft, Fly Control, and station ASH. (The installation and operation of station ASH will be explained further below).
As planes approach the disposition CIC is given control over them by the Task Group FDO. CIC reports this fact to Bridge and Fly Control. As soon as "Hold Fire" is given by the Task Group Comdr. C.I.C. brings the planes in on orders from Bridge; at this point Bridge turns control of the planes over to Fly Control. Snapper is given control of the planes as soon as he can pick them up visually, reports this fact to Fly Control, who at this time usually, orders "Prep Charlie" via Snapper. Bridge keeps Fly Control informed of the situation as far as turning into the wind, "Hold Fire", etc. is concerned. When the ship is 30° from the wind line the victory lights are turned on to give the pilots a line by which to line themselves up. At the point "Charlie" is given. Planes fly by the starboard side at 300-500 feet and set their gyros on 0°. Proceeding ahead of the ship, they accomplish their check off list-to be completed before the second turn is started. As they enter the down wind leg Snapper gives "Plane on down wind leg, check off list". The pilot blinks his running lights and answers "This is Jones (Name of pilot) Roger"; this acknowledgement means that he has accomplished his check off list and tells the LSO who the pilot is that he is bringing in. At the proper time, Snapper gives, "Start your third turn", at which point the pilot turns in on a heading 90° to the landing course. (On Prep Charlie Snapper broadcasts the landing course). Normally during all this time the pilot will have been mostly on instruments, so that the "fourth turn" light is here used to signify to the pilot to shift from instruments and pick up the LSO visually. From here on in the LSO controls the pilot visually and, if necessary, by use of VHF radio.
This use of the radio in controlling landings is not considered a violation of good radio discipline as it expedites the landings and there are usually so few planes airborne at night that ample channels are available to prevent jamming any circuit in use tactically. Perhaps the most advantageous use of the LSO's radio, however, is to tell pilots why they were waved off in order that they may correct their next approach accordingly.
The use of Station ASH in conjunction with Snapper performs the important function of causing each plane in starting the fourth turn to be on the same relative bearing at the same distance from the LSO, regardless of the distance to the side of the ship when the plane started his third turn. This, of course, is the essence of a good carrier approach and positions the plane properly for the critical phase of his approach.
The following account of the installation and use of Station ASH was previously reported by CAG 90 and by this ship in an action report but is repeated here to make this report complete.
When CIC has given returning aircraft an altimeter setting, prospective landing course, brought them to within 5 to 10 miles of the ship, and switched them to the Snapper VHF Channel, they are turned over to "Snapper Control", who first proceeds to establish visual and radio contact. He then gives signal "Prep Charlie" or "Charlie" depending on the relative position of the carrier, the condition of the flight deck, and other contingencies on which landings depend. At night "Prep Charlie" means: Orbit ship at 500 feet, prepare to land. Sufficient aircraft are called down to maintain an orderly but active landing circle - 4 has been found to be a satisfactory number in conditions of good night visibility, no more than 2 in reduced visibility - the remaining aircraft are retained overhead or orbited aft in various stages of readiness to enter the landing circle as landings are completed. In cases of bad weather CIC may hold waiting planes in a clear area feeding them in to Snapper as conditions warrant.
Snapper observes planes throughout the landing circle but does not ordinarily establish direct control until a plane commences turn into downwind leg. This is contrary to the procedure described in USF 77(B)(Tentative) whereby the "Landing Director" commences giving instructions to pilots as they come abreast of the Island Structure on the upwind leg. The reasons for rejecting this procedure are as follows:
When plane commences turn onto downwind leg, Snapper takes over directions as follow:
Snapper: "Plane on downwind leg, check-off list; wheels, flaps, hook."
Pilot acknowledges by transmitting: "This is (name) Roger." The landing signal officer then knows who he is bring in and, in the case of wave-offs, corrective comments can be directed.
When the plane reaches the proper position (near the beam) Snapper directs: "Start your third turn." Snapper determines this turning point as a result of considering (1) force of relative wind, and (2) distance between plane's track and ship's track. Snapper obtains force of relative wind from direct reading of instrument at his station. He obtains a prediction of the plane's beam distance from an ASH radar installation as will be explained later.
Through practice, Snapper is able to turn each plane such that pilots arrive at the same relative position from the ship when they are first able to see the Signal Officer. If properly executed, the pilot will be in the groove about 100 yards before the cut.
In addition to these basic directions, Snapper effectively aids both the pilot and the landing signal officer by warning pilots early in the pattern of incorrect or dangerous altitudes and speeds, both of which he is in excellent position to observe.
It has been found that final approaches are measurably improved if the pilot is free after the third turn to concentrate on flying the aircraft at proper speed, altitude and attitude, by being relieved of the anxiety of trying to determine the point at which he should commence his final turn toward the groove. He is therefore assisted by the Landing Signal Officer who flashes an amber light, called "fourth turn light", on the plane when the pilot is in position to go on contact and respond to visual landing signals supplemented only, if necessary, by coaching from the Landing Signal Officer on the VHF landing channel.
Soon after a Snapper control had been set up on this ship, it became apparent that to fix a plane's third turn position on the downwind leg the variables of wind across the deck and range of plane from ship's beam must be known to Snapper. Wind over the deck was information readily available, but experience proved that it was not practicable to attempt to visually determine distance from a pinpoint of light which is all a plane shows at night on the downwind leg. Therefore an AN/APS-4 radar has been installed on the ship to supply accurate aircraft range data for Snapper. Operations to date have been very successful.
In locating the radar as follows, careful consideration was given to maximum scan with minimum sea return interference, availability of power and communication facilities, and quiet and safety for operators.
The scanner is mounted on the port side, outboard of the splinter shield between the 20mm mounts at frame 103 1/2. It is raised 10° above the horizontal to clear sea return and is so aligned that the center scribe mark bears 285° relative.
The scope and controls are located directly inboard in the light locker space just outboard of the air radio shop, which has a power supply as well as repair facilities.
A sound power phone circuit has been established as described above.
The first consideration for successful operations was to get range data on approaching aircraft to Snapper in time for it to be useful in determining the point of the third turn which is ordinarily near the beam bearing. Assuming that aircraft on the downwind leg are proceeding on a reciprocal of the ship's heading, the slant range shown by the radar when the plane is forward of the beam is converted trigonometrically to give a predicted range on the beam. It has been found that accurate predictions can be made when aircraft are bearing 325° relative and the information then reaches Snapper in good time. A sample approach would be handled as follows:
Note: This appears complicated at first glance, however with the use of prepared tables and with practice, readings and predictions are procured easily and accurately.
The operational radar officers of VT(N)90 originally undertook the responsibility of manning the Snapper radar during all night landings. Four enlisted radar operators from the squadron have now been trained and sufficient doctrine has been established in scope interpretation and in exchange of information with Snapper, so that they have been able to take over on a permanently assigned basis.
The Snapper radar has the additional advantage of being a potential substitute for visual control in conditions of low visibility or if aircraft return to the ship without lights. The approach pattern well beyond the third turn can be observed and controlled from the radar scope. Pilots are briefed on how best to avail themselves of this aid when conditions of visibility are limited. It must be stressed that the success of this method of controlling landing procedure is finally dependent upon the pilot conforming with specific details in flying a standard pattern. Timing of legs, rate of turns, airspeeds and altitudes are prescribed. Snapper, knowing the relative wind and distance of plane abeam can compensate for errors caused by shifting winds and pilot's inaccuracies by varying the position at which he direct the third turn. For example: With relative wind above 40 knots a plane on the downwind leg at a predicted beam distance of 2000 yards would be directed to make the third turn far forward of the beam bearing; whereas in a light wind a plane at 1000 yards would be directed to make the third turn abaft of the beam bearing.
Most favorable conditions are:
As soon after landing as possible, the pilots must turn off running lights. If they don't, the lights blind the plane directors on deck and ruin their night adaptation, and they are confusing to other planes in the final approach to the ship. A signal by the plane directors has been adopted as standard on this ship to remind pilots of this. This consists of holding the wands to form the letter "L" to the pilot as he moves down the deck. This has worked very satisfactorily and is recommended as a standard signal for all carriers at night.
That pilots of a night carrier group have a minimum of 50 day landings and 25 night landings before entering the combat zone.
That pilots be trained to operate under lighting condition BLACK but that condition GREEN be used except when bogies are in the vicinity. It has been felt throughout the period of operating that the "more light" condition for a shorter period is less dangerous to the force than the "little light" condition for the longer period made necessary by the inherent difficulties of such operations. The use of as many lights as practicable is also a boost to the morale of pilots, who feel that they are being given every break possible.
That the procedure necessary in bad weather or on dark nights (that described here) be used at all times so that when it is necessary to use it, it will not be foreign to anyone in the organization, and all hands will be confident of its efficacy. This has proven true in cases wherein planes have been brought in on the down wind leg purely by use of Station ASH with pilots 100% on instruments until given the fourth turn light.
The main conclusion to be drawn from the experience of this ship is that a night carrier can be made to operate and operate efficiently. Night flights should be held to as small a number of planes as will handle the mission assigned. Generally speaking, it is best not to have over eight planes to handle in launch or landing at one time but up to twelve can normally be handled under good weather conditions either in launch or landing without excessive strain.
With the present organization and complement of planes it is perfectly possible to run both day and night flights, the only restriction being the number of pilots on hand. During the Iwo Jima operation this ship maintained planes in the air continuously for a period of seven and a half days with no adverse effect on the efficiency of the crews. The pilots suffered somewhat since there were not enough of them present to share the load as it should have been. It is therefore practical to have a night task group which can provide its own day cover as well as carry out its night commitments. Or, if there should be one night carrier assigned to each task group, it could very easily supply its share of the day patrols, attack groups, etc., within the capacity of its complement provided sufficient pilots were on hand to carry the load.
The principles presented are believed to be sound. It is realized of course, that events of the future will cause many changes and improvements to be added. Night carrier work is still in its infancy and its value has therefore not been fully realized. When compared to the length of time that it took to evolve the present day day-carrier work, however, it is believed that great strides have been made toward making it a paying proposition and one that will take its place alongside the other basic and accepted forms of modern sea warfare.
Operations covered are from 24 December, 1944 through 31 May, 1945.