Friday, February 11, 2011

VX-31 Dust Devils Celebrate Naval Aviation's Centennial With Retro-Painted F/A-18 Hornet

By Lt. Brian Culver, VX-31 Public Affairs Officer

Throughout 2011, the Centennial of Naval Aviation (CONA) will be celebrated across the nation. Last year, Vice Admiral T.J. Kilcline, former commander of Naval Air Forces (CNAF) put the Navy’s year-long celebration plan in context when he said, “By supporting this important milestone each organization's hard work will serve to honor tens of thousands of naval aviation personnel and their families spanning many generations." Rear Admiral Mat Winter, commander of the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD), challenged his military and civilian team members to honor the aircraft and the weapons that made them so successful in combat. Like many other Navy squadrons around the globe, Air Test and Evaluation Squadron THREE ONE (VX-31) painted one of its aircraft in a special commemorative paint scheme--one that pays homage to the rich heritage of NAWCWD China Lake, Ca., and the significant flight test contributions to our warfighting capability. “The entire China Lake workforce played a pivotal role in the history of naval aviation and we wanted to honor those achievements,” said Cmdr. Brady Bartosh, VX-31 Commanding Officer. “The aircraft known as COSO 101 was chosen because it accumulated over 4,000 flight hours. The F/A-18 is the Navy’s primary strike fighter aircraft, serving in combat operations over Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan.”

Cmdr. Ian Anderson, VX-31 Executive Officer and military aviation history buff, researched China Lake’s history for a design concept that would evoke this facility’s rich heritage. “We focused on the 1960s,” Anderson said, “which saw the development and introduction of innovative new weapons technologies that revolutionized air warfare and increased the combat potential of carrier aircraft during the Vietnam conflict and the Cold War.” After settling on a design concept, Anderson contacted his longtime friend, Capt. Rich Dann, CONA Director of History and Outreach for CNAF. Dann is also a published aviation historian, artist and a recognized expert on naval aviation paint schemes. Based on Anderson’s concept, Dann created a template that gave COSO 101 the look of a Douglas A-4C Skyhawk (China Lake’s primary weapons test aircraft) as it appeared during the late 1950s through the mid-1960s. 

Two months later, Chief Warrant Officer Chris Obenland and volunteers from VX-31’s Contract Oversight Team put the plan into action. Chief Petty Officers Kenneth Smart and Paul Williams, along with Mr. Sean Corcoran, spray-painted the historic colors onto COSO 101. This is the second NAWCWD aircraft to receive a retro-paint scheme as part of the commemoration. A few months earlier, an S-3B Viking from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron THREE ZERO (VX-30) at Point Mugu, Ca., was painted to match the colors of the Navy’s SBD “Dauntless” dive bombers that were flown during the Battle of Midway in 1942. Both NAWCWD squadrons reside within NAVAIR, led by Vice Adm. David Architzel.

On May 5, 1947, Armitage Field was commissioned under the official title U.S. Naval Air Facility (NAF), U.S. Naval Ordnance Test Station, Inyokern, Ca. Even in the late 1940s era of post-war drawdown, NAF operated nearly every carrier-based aircraft type, including the first wave of Navy jets. 

From 1958 through 1969, China Lake’s NAF Flight Test Branch developed and tested a wide array of new conventional weapons on A-4 Skyhawks. The Snakeye, Walleye and Rockeye bombs, and the Shrike anti-radiation missile tested here were all used in Vietnam. 

In December 1976, China Lake’s NAF aircraft and flight test mission were reorganized into the new Aircraft Department of the Naval Weapons Center Test and Evaluation Directorate. The Aircraft Department was disestablished in May 1995. Its personnel and functions were incorporated into the newly created Naval Weapons Test Squadron (NWTS) China Lake, part of Naval Test Wing Pacific. At that time, the iconic "Dust Devil" was adopted as the squadron logo and mascot. In 2002, NWTS was redesignated the VX-31 “Dust Devils.”

This retro paint scheme is a great way to acknowledge our rich history and remind ourselves of the importance of what we do on a daily basis,” said Cmdr. Bartosh. “As long as NAWCWD has such dedicated, talented artisans and relevant aircraft like COSO 101, naval aviation will continue to be the premier power projection enterprise as we move into our next 100 years of service.”

VX-31’s CONA commemorative paint scheme evokes the look of China Lake’s mid-1960s A-4 Skyhawks.

A VX-31 Contract Oversight Team member applies “glossy gull gray” paint to COSO 101. U. S. Navy photo by Mike McGinnis

An A-4C Skyhawk from NAF China Lake test fires a Shrike anti-radiation missile in the 1960s. U. S. Navy photo.

VX-1's retro-painted COSO 101, seen on China Lake's flight line, evokes memories of the base's historic contributions to naval aviation. U. S. Navy photo by Mike McGinnis

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