To maintain fleet readiness, a ship's crew must be trained and proficient enough to effectively operate the ship in combat. Additionally, the ship and its equipment must be fully operational and reliable. Finally, the ship should have the supplies, ordnance and fuel on board required for the ship to conduct sustained combat operations.
About the same time as the ship was preparing, the air wing aviators conducted Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP), where they flew their aircraft to a simulated carrier deck at an airfield. These landings were observed by a Landing Signal Officer (LSO) who trained and certified that the aviators had demonstrated the proficiency required to land their aircraft on a ship at sea.
When the air wing arrived, the aviators were required to demonstrate proficiency during day landings before moving on to the more difficult night landings. In keeping with the "crawl, walk, run" concept, early operations were conducted with less than a full complement of aircraft. Again, as proficiency improved, the flight deck became more crowded with aircraft, and the crew was given more challenging scenarios. The air wing personnel were integrated into the ship's training program. They responded alongside the ship's company to fight simulated flight deck fires, acted as stretcher bearers for mass-casualty drills and performed first aid to simulated injured shipmates. Throughout this process, various experts assessed the progress of the crew and the condition of the ship's equipment. In the early phases of the training they assisted the crew with the training and the grooming of the equipment, but as time went on their role shifted to an inspection or certification responsibility. Each new day brought a more challenging flight schedule. More aircraft were launched and recovered during each event. The aircraft carried more complex load-outs of weapons, some of which were used on target drones or bombing ranges. Other Navy ships and aircraft simulated the enemy during later phases of the training. When the crew and the ship achieved an adequate level of fleet readiness, we were certified ready to deploy for combat operations.
Special Operations 1967
Carrier Qualifications for Grumman A-6A Intruders for the first time aboard a Midway-class carrier were accomplished aboard Coaral Sea during this pre-deployment period.
A-7A Cosair II Carrier Qualifications
Although initial carrier qualifications had been performed by 15 November 1966 aboard the USS America and the first operational A-7A squadron, VA-147, was commissioned on the first of February 1967, the A-7 was not yet cleared for combat. After satisfactorily completing fleet carrier qualifications testing on the first of June 1967 aboard the USS Coral Sea, the first combat-ready A-7A aircraft were delivered to Attack Squadron VA-147 Argonauts in the last quarter of 1967. Later that year VA-147 Argonauts deployed to Vietnam.
Special Operations 1968
A-6A Attack Squadron VA-52 Knightriders
The first time an A-6A Intruder had operated from a Midway-class carrier occurred a year ago aboard Coral Sea. This pre-deployment period Attack Squadron VA-52 Knightriders stationed at NAS Whidbey Island, WA, was in CVW-15 and preparing for its first combat cruise with their new A-6A aircraft. The Knightrider NL 401 at right shown on the apron ashore with ordinance loaded on inboard and outboard stations is getting ready for flight operations as part of the Carrier Qualifications. The ship and squadron operated off the west coast of the North America continent through the summer of 1968.
Royal Navy F-4K Phantom II
The ship conducted carrier suitability trials for the F-4K Phantom II, a Royal Navy variant. Peter Greengrass was kind enough to supply details about these Royal Navy aircraft. He is a keeper of a wealth of knowledge about the much loved F-4 Phantom aircraft.
Two F-4K Phantom II aircraft (XT597 and XT857) built for the Royal Navy were flown from St. Louis, MO, to NAS Alameda, CA, on July 11, 1968, presumably for craning aboard Coral Sea moored at her home port. Carrier Qualification Operations were conducted between July 15 and 22 1968, when both aircraft were operated aboard the ship. Following the sea trials the aircraft were flown to NAS Miramar, CA, on July 22, 1968; the next day they went on to Patuxent River, MD. The image above of XT597 was aboard USS Coral Sea.
General Dynamics/Grumman F-111B Aardvark
The Navy conducted a feasibility study to deploy a variant of the Air Force General Dynamics F-111 aboard aircraft carriers as the next generation fighter/interceptor. A special version of the Aardvark was designed for the Navy and designated the F-111B. Seven airframes were ordered and built, five of which were designated test and research airframes and two of which were designated operational. In 1968, U.S. Navy General Dynamics/Grumman F-111B BuAer 151974, became the only F-111B to perform carrier operations after completing arrestor proving tests at the Naval Air Test Center Patuxent River, MD, in February 1968. Carrier suitability trials were conducted aboard USS Coral Sea CVA-43 during the summer of 1968 (between war cruises). However, by the time the carrier tests took place the F-111B program was for all practical purposes cancelled. This opened the door for the F-14 Tomcat program to move forward. F-111B BuAer 151974 made 9-arrested landings, 10-catapult launches on the USS Coral Sea on June 23, 1968.
Special Operations 1969
VA-35 Panthers A-6A Intruder BuAer 151784, NL-505, making the 200,000th trap on the USS Coral Sea (CVA-43), 1 July 1969.