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Old Slow and Ugly — Vought’s Kingfisher

16 March 2011

Old Slow and Ugly — Vought’s Kingfisher

Port side aspect of the Vought OS2U Kingfisher on display at the NASM's Udvar-Hazy Center (note the rack for a small bomb under the wing) — photo by Joe May

Back in the day before aircraft carriers became preeminent it was the battleship that was the capital ship in the world’s navies.  Naval aviation initially developed along many and varied pathways during the early 20th century. There were airships with airship borne aircraft, seaplanes for patrolling and attack as well as ship based floatplanes for scouting and gunfire spotting. One of the floatplanes that served in the U.S. Navy was the Vought Company’s Kingfisher, with a crew of two and a single main float with two wing floats — although a conventionally geared version was also in service and many of the world’s military forces.

Bows on view of the Kingfisher — photo by Joe May

She was affectionately called “Old Slow and Ugly” — not “old, slow and ugly” — a play off of the Navy’s designation of the aircraft as the OS2U. Like a pair of pants that are too old for wearing anywhere but the house and are too comfortable to throw away the Kingfisher comfortable for the pilot in the air as well as on the water.  She was well liked by her pilots for these qualities as well as her stamina staying aloft for as long as five hours, thought not quickly, boring holes through the sky.

The pilot's station and the radio operator/gunner station of the Kingfisher — photo by Joe May

Wikipedia has an excellent page on the Kingfisher and many nice photos including one of nearly ten men on an OS2U as it ploughs through ocean waves having rescued so many downed aviators on a single mission that flying was not possible. I suggest that you also read this article by James L. Noles, Jr. from the Air & Space Magazine February/March 2005 issue. The description of the launch from the catapult with a charge of gunpowder, and how the pilot and radio operator/gunner dealt with the event, is amazing and seems as if it was quite a ride. All aircraft must return home, but how did a pilot bring a Kingfisher back to a ship with no flight deck? This is detailed as well as wonderfully illustrated in the same article, too.

Rear aspect view of the OS2U Kingfisher (note the wing spoilers which were used when the full span flaps were deployed) — photo by Joe May

Several Kingfishers are on exhibit like the one pictured here at the National Air & Space Museum Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center — two of which I’ll probably see shortly and on display on battleships they were designed to serve, the USS Alabama and the USS North Carolina — as well as a land based Kingfisher at the Museo de la Revolución in Havana Cuba, which would also be nice to visit.

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