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BOOK REVIEW


CVW: US Navy Carrier Air Wing Aircraft 1975-2015, Volume 1 - F-4 Phantom II, F-8 Crusader, F-14 Tomcat A9 Aviation



Over the last 40-plus years, U. S. Navy carrier air wings have functioned as the backbone of American deterrence, power projection and enforcement of foreign policy, and when called upon, have served up a war-fighting capability second to none.  Carriers and their aircraft, aviators, and sailors all helped shape key events in the Cold War, various Middle Eastern and Mediterranean hot spots, and large-scale conflicts including the first Gulf War, the Kosovo conflict, and the ongoing Global War on Terror.  The phrase “Where are the carriers?” when a crisis erupts underscores the central role of U. S. naval aviation in the military history of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.  In this new e-book by author Mike Crutch, readers are treated to an exquisitely detailed look at the history of the F-4s, F-8s, and F-14s of U. S. Navy carrier air wings since 1975. 

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The e-book is provided as PDF downloaded following purchase (33 MB in size).  It is organized into an introduction, four chapters (Fighter Squadron Assignments by Carrier Air Wing; F-4 Phantom II Aircraft Histories 1975 to 1987; F-8 Crusader Aircraft Histories 1975 to 1987; F-14 Tomcat Aircraft Histories 1975 to 2006) and two appendices (MODEX/BuNo. Tie-Ups; Miscellaneous/Glossary).  It all amounts to a substantial 325 pages – rich with great photography and a remarkably informative text.

Crutch chose 1975 as the starting point for this book since that year was a turning point in the formation of the modern carrier air wing (CVW).  The Vietnam War had come to a close and CVWs were philosophically moving towards the “CV concept” with increasing squadron-level specialization involving air defense, strike, electronic warfare, and anti-submarine capabilities.  The book’s start date also coincides with the inaugural cruise of the F-14 and the twilight of the F-8 Crusader– though the book surely traces the history of the RF-8s that served well into the 1980s.  There’s also plenty of coverage of the final years of the F-4J, N, and S.

Chapter 1 provides a brief history of each CVW, from CVW-1, -2, -3, -5, -6, -7, -8, -9, -10, -11, -14, -15, -19, and -21.  Reserve air wings CVWR-20 and -30 are also given equal treatment.  This chapter covers a total of 135 pages.  Chapter 2 (49 pages) provides a history of every single F-4 in the inventory during this timeframe, organized by Bureau Number (BuNo.), and goes through all the different Modex numbers, squadron assignments and dates, and the final disposition of the airframe.  Chapters 3 (19 pages) and Chapter 4 (84 pages) do the same for the Crusader and the Tomcat, respectively.  Appendix 1 links F-4, F-8, and F-14 BuNo.s with their corresponding MODEX allocations.  Appendix 2 has a list of squadron establishment and disestablishment dates, the bibliography, and an extensive glossary of the sea of acronyms used in the text. 

Overall, this book is exceptional.  I say that not simply as a student of U. S. naval aviation, but also as an author.  The writing style is excellent, approachable, and eminently readable.  The technical aspects of the writing also seem flawless down to finest elements of grammar.  The depth of information is stunning.  This is particularly true in Chapter 1.  You really have to sit down with the book and begin reading to appreciate Mike Crutch’s depth, rigor, and subject matter expertise.  I have been around Navy jets and F-14s in particular since I was a kid, and I’d like to think I know a lot about these jets and their histories.  That said, I learned so much new information reading in this book.  

I understand that this book involved some 14 years of research and a number of FIOA (Freedom of Information Act) requests.  A lot of this material is new or is presented in rather unprecedented detail.  These include squadron-by-squadron descriptions of their participation in events such as the chronic Libyan “unpleasantness” of 1980s.  Details are provided for the many challenges to Ghadffi’s “Line of Death” in the Gulf of Sidra, Operations GUNS OF AUGUST and EL DORADO CANYON, and many near engagements.  This includes a pair of VF-74 Phantoms that nearly bagged a pair of MiG-23s at the same moment VF-41 Tomcats splashed two Su-22s in August 1981. 

Other histories are detailed, such as engagements over Lebanon, carrier power projection into Latin America during the nascent spread of communism in the area, workups and training exercises, confrontations with Soviet forces, and antiterrorism activities including hijacked airliner intercepts.  Even participation in movies such as The Final Countdown, Top Gun, and Executive Decision are noted.  Squadron participation in the once highly classified CONSTANT PEG program is described wherein U.S. aircraft flew ACM training hops against captured MiGs inside the Nevada Test and Training Range.  Another esoteric program that I had never head about and certainly caught my eye involved the use of VF-11 F-14s as targets for a space-based SDI infrared detection system and a few references to other heretofore classified activities that remain murky.  The book is filled with stories and narratives such as this.

Of course, large-scale events are equally covered, from the so-called “Tanker Wars” of the late 1980s Persian Gulf crisis, Operations EAGLE CLAW, DESERT STORM, DESERT FOX, ALLIED FORCE, NOBLE EAGLE, ENDURING FREEDOM, IRAQI FREEDOM, and others.  These sections are immensely detailed and very satisfying to read.  It is all standout information, but I was particularly engrossed reading about some of the DESERT FOX sorties.  Also rather absorbing were the accounts of the F-14s that blazed in and out of Afghanistan in late September 2001 on clandestine recce runs collecting intelligence for targeting planners, and then later dominating the airspace, dropping LGBs on hapless Afghan MiG-21s, and performing close air support in settings such as Operation ANACONDA.  A theme that runs through these chapters involves charting out the systems evolution and maturation of these various airplanes.  For example, there’s great technical details throughout on the evolution of the F-14, from the integration of the TCS and the “big engine” in the F-14A(Plus/B), transition to its strike-fighter and FAC roles, integration of the LANTIRN and digital TARPS pods, integration of LGBs and JDAMs, use of the ROVER system, and the F-14’s final combat sortie, cat shot, and retirement.               

The photography in the book matches the excellent text.  It’s visually awesome.  Some of the photos I recognize from previously published sources, but the vast majority are ones I’ve never seen before.  Readers will really feel like they are looking at a lot of new material because they are.  Some particularly gifted photographers contributed their work here, including David Baranek, William Barto, David Brown, Michael Grove, David Parsons, Dana Potts, and a few dozen others.

The glory days of mid-late 1970s F-4 and F-8 markings just make me happy to see.  What classic and beautiful paint schemes!  The same can be said for the photos here of contemporaneous F-14s, of course.  The text and photography of the F-4s, F-8s, and F-14s, also chronicle the evolution and variation of naval aircraft paint schemes from 1975 onwards – from high-visibility gull grey-over-white schemes to the elimination of white undersurfaces/control surfaces, toned down squadron markings, adoption of the low-visibility TPS scheme, and the eventual return to some color.  Oddities, one-offs, and experimental schemes are also covered thoroughly, such as the Heater-Ferris splinter schemes seen on a few F-4s and F-14s and temporary, water-based camouflage schemes.   

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I have no substantive critiques.  This is an excellent volume from cover to cover. I did note however one small factual error.  A few times in the text, Bethpage, Long Island, is described as the birthplace of all the F-14s.  Technically speaking, that was Grumman corporate headquarters and where major subassemblies were built (e.g., the nose, fuselage, and wings).  But all that was trucked out to Grumman’s Calverton Operations out on the east end of the Island.  That’s were they were assembled, flight tested, and handed over to the Navy.  Tiny detail, but I was there!  :)

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Overall, this book is remarkable.  I think it stands as the best-detailed and illustrated history of Navy CVWs I have ever seen.  It covers in authoritative detail the amazing range of activities seen by U. S. Navy Phantoms, Crusaders, and Tomcats over a 40 year-long span.  This is a MUST-GET book for fans of these airplanes, naval aviation, aviation in general, and researchers/writers alike.  Scale modelers will devour the information here and find serious inspiration for their builds.  I know I have!     

Mike Crutch mentions that there are other planned books in the series, and this one is just the kickoff – with a future Volume 2 (Skywarriors, Vigilantes, Intruders, Prowlers and Corsair IIs), Volume 3 (Hornets, Super Hornets and Growlers), and Volume 4 (Watchers, Sub-hunters and Rescuers; E-1B Tracers, E-2 Hawkeyes, S-2 Trackers, S-3 Vikings, SH-3 Sea Kings and H-60 variants).  Your readers cannot wait!

Sincere thanks to Mike Crutch for the review sample.  You can find out more and get your own copy at http://www.carrierairwings.com/.  You’ll also find the book on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/cvw19752015/ and his email contact is
a9aviation@gmail.com.  

    

Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale


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