Vought OS2U Kingfisher
|Primary users||United States Navy|
Royal Australian Air Force
The Vought OS2U Kingfisher is an American catapult-launched observation floatplane. It was a compact mid-wing monoplane, with a large central float and small stabilizing floats. Performance was modest because of its light engine. The OS2U could also operate on fixed, wheeled, taildragger landing gear.
The OS2U was the main shipboard observation aircraft used by the United States Navy during World War II, and 1,519 of the aircraft were built. It served on battleships and cruisers of the US Navy, with the United States Marine Corps in Marine Scouting Squadron Three (VMS-3), with the United States Coast Guard at coastal air stations, at sea with the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy, and with the Soviet Navy. The Royal Australian Air Force also operated a few Kingfishers from shore bases.
The Naval Aircraft Factory OS2N was the designation of the OS2U-3 aircraft built by the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The OS2U first flew on 1 March 1938.
Design and development
In the late 1930s, Vought engineer Rex B. Beisel was tasked with designing an observation monoplane aircraft for the U.S. Navy suitable for a multitude of tasks including directing battleship fire. In replacing the standard biplane observation aircraft with a more modern monoplane design, Beisel incorporated innovations making it the first production type to be assembled with spot welding, a process Vought and the Naval Aircraft Factory jointly developed to create a smooth fuselage that resisted buckling and generated less drag. Beisel also introduced high-lift devices, spoilers and in a unique arrangement, deflector plate flaps and drooping ailerons located on the trailing edge of the wing were deployed to increase the camber of the wing and thus create additional lift.
For combat missions, the pilot had a .30-caliber Browning M1919 machine gun, the receiver mounted low in the right front cockpit, firing between the engine cylinder heads, while the radio operator/gunner manned another .30-caliber machine gun (or a pair) on a flexible Scarff ring mount. The aircraft could also carry two 100 lb bombs or two 325 lb depth charges. Additionally, the "Kingfisher", as it was designated, served as a trainer in both its seaplane and landplane configurations.
The first 54 Kingfishers were delivered to the U.S. Navy beginning in August 1940 and six had been assigned to the Pearl Harbor-based Battle Force before the end of the same year. Many of the following 158 OS2U-2s were attached to flight training at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, but 53 were assigned to equip the newly established Inshore Patrol Squadrons, based at NAS Jacksonville, Florida. In 1942, nine more Inshore Patrol Squadrons were established, all exclusively equipped with OS2N-1s built by the Naval Aircraft Factory.
The Kingfisher was widely used as a shipboard, catapult-launched scout plane on U.S. Navy battleships, heavy cruisers and light cruisers during World War II, as well as playing a major role in support of shore bombardments and air-sea rescue. Two examples showing the plane's rescue capabilities include the recovery of World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker and his crew from the Pacific in November 1942 and Lieutenant John A. Burns' unique use of the aircraft on 30 April 1944 to taxi airmen rescued from Truk Lagoon to the submarine Tang, which was serving rescue duty near the atoll on that date. In all, LT Burns rescued 10 survivors on two trips and was awarded the Navy Cross for his efforts.
Australia received 18 Kingfishers from a batch of aircraft ordered by the Dutch East Indies that was diverted to Australia in 1942. They were initially used as training aircraft for pilots destined for flying boats, but in 1943, they were used to equip No. 107 Squadron RAAF, which carried out convoy escort duties until disbanded in October 1945. One Kingfisher was used in support of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition in 1947–48.
Throughout its U.S. Navy service, the OS2U and even its predecessor, the Curtiss SOC Seagull served much longer than planned, as the planned successor, the Curtiss SO3C Seamew, suffered from an insufficiently powerful engine which was a complete failure. The OS2U was only slowly replaced in the latter stages of World War II with the introduction of the Curtiss SC Seahawk, the first examples reaching the U.S. Navy in October 1944.
- Prototype Vought Model VS.310 powered by a 450 hp (336 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985-4 engine, one built.
- Initial production variant as the prototype but powered by a 450 hp (336 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985-48, 54 built.
- Production variant with minor equipment changes and powered by a 450 hp (336 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985-50, 158 built.
- Based on the OS2U-2 with self-sealing fuel tanks, armour protection, two .30 cal (7.62 mm) guns (dorsal and nose mounted), and able to carry 325 lb (147 kg) of depth charges or 100 lb (45 kg) bombs, powered by a 450 hp (336 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN2 engine, 1006 built.
- Two aircraft converted with narrow-chord and high-aspect ratio wings, also fitted with full-span flaps. Not developed.
- Naval Aircraft Factory built OS2U-3 with a 450 hp (336 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN-2 or -AN-8 engine, 300 built.
- Kingfisher I
- British designation for the OS2U-3, 100 delivered to the Royal Navy.
- Cuban Naval Aviation
- Operated four aircraft between 1942 and 1959.
- Dominican Republic
- (Three aircraft)
- Six aircraft, 201 Squadron.
- 24 aircraft, not delivered in time for hostilities.
- Soviet Union
- 2 aircraft on the ship USS Milwaukee (Murmansk)
- United Kingdom
- Received 100 aircraft.
- United States
- United States Navy
- United States Marine Corps
- United States Coast Guard - the USCG operated 40 aircraft.
Aircraft on display
At least eight Kingfishers survive in collections of historic aircraft around the world:
- 5985 - Whale World, Albany, Western Australia. It is also waiting "to be restored." Originally built for Netherlands Navy in Dutch East Indies, it was transferred to the RAAF in 1942, serving with Seaplane Training Flight (later 3 OTU) and 107 Sqn before being sold as war surplus in 1945.
- bureau number unknown (marked #50) - Museum of the Revolution (Museo de la Revolución), Havana, Cuba. It is fitted with fixed landing gear rather than a float.
- 5985 - Pioneer Aero, Auckland, New Zealand. Currently undergoing restoration. Originally built for Netherlands Navy in Dutch East Indies, it was transferred to the RAAF in 1942, serving with Seaplane Training Flight (later 3 OTU) and 107 Sqn before being sold as war surplus in 1945.
- On display
- 1368 (marked #60, painted as 0951) - Obtained years ago from Mexico, this aircraft was previously displayed aboard the battleship Alabama and is now displayed inside the aircraft pavilion adjacent to the battleship in Mobile, Alabama. Unfortunately, the building and the aircraft sustained some damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
- 5909 - Boeing Aviation Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, DC.
- 5926 - National Naval Aviation Museum at NAS Pensacola, Florida. It was one of six OS2U-3 Kingfishers that were transferred by Lend-Lease to the Uruguayan Navy during World War II. This aircraft operated as a seaplane until 1958 and was obtained in 1971.
- 3073, (marked #8 based on assigned air group) - is on board the battleship North Carolina in Wilmington, NC. With the assistance of a Royal Canadian Air Force Piasecki helicopter, Lynn Garrison salvaged this Kingfisher from Calvert Island (British Columbia), during the winter of 1963. It crashed there on a ferry flight to Alaska during World War II. It was initially restored for display by volunteers at Vought Aeronautics in Grand Prairie, TX 
- In storage
Data from The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft
- Crew: Two, pilot and observer
- Length: 33 ft 10 in (10.31 m)
- Wingspan: 35 ft 11 in (10.95 m)
- Height: 15 ft 1.5 in (4.61 m)
- Wing area: 262 ft² (24 m²)
- Empty weight: 4,123 lb (1,870 kg)
- Max. takeoff weight: 6,000 lb (2,721 kg)
- Powerplant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN-2 radial engine, 450 hp (336 kW)
- Guns: 2 × .30 in (7.62 mm) M1919 Browning machine guns ( one on flexible mount for observer )
- Bombs: 650 lb (295 kg) of bombs
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
- Aichi E13A
- Arado Ar 196
- Curtiss SOC Seagull
- Curtiss SO3C Seamew
- Curtiss SC Seahawk
- IMAM Ro.43
- Mitsubishi F1M
- Edo OSE
- Stearman XOSS
- Noles, James Jr "Old, slow and ugly." Archived 2008-09-07 at the Wayback Machine. Air and Space, February/March 2005, p. 66.
- Hickman 2010, p. 59.
- Bowers 1990, p. 447.
- Doll and Jackson 1975, pp. 122–123
- Doll and Jackson 1975, pp.123, 127.
- Vincent 1998, pp. 54–59.
- Vincent 1998, pp. 61–62.
- Bowers 1990, p. 164.
- Bowers 1990, p. 169.
- Steinemann Air International February 1992, p. 73.
- "Vought OS2U (Kingfisher)." Archived 2012-04-03 at the Wayback Machine. Aviation Enthusiast Corner. Retrieved: 12 January 2011.
- "OS2U-3 Kingfisher/5985 in Australia." airliners.net. Retrieved: 12 January 2011.
- "OS2U-3 Kingfisher/5925 in Chile" (in Spanish language). Archived 2008-06-17 at the Wayback Machine. museoaeronautico.cl. Retrieved: 12 January 2011.
- "OS2U-3 Kingfisher/Unknown in Cuba." airliners.net. Retrieved: 12 January 2011.
-  http://www.pioneeraero.co.nz/. Archived 2017-04-06 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved: 5 April 2017.
- "OS2U-3 Kingfisher/1368." Archived 2012-09-04 at the Wayback Machine. USS Alabama Museum. Retrieved: 13 June 2012.
- "OS2U-3 Kingfisher/5909." NASM. Retrieved: 12 January 2011.
- "OS2U-3 Kingfisher/5926." National Museum of Naval Aviation. Retrieved: 12 January 2011.
- "OS2U-3 Kingfisher/Unknown at USS North Carolina." and sent to the battleship in 1971. The 2018 restoration of the Kingfisher was managed by a Wilmington resident and the Carolina Chapter of the Flight Deck Veterans Group (http://www.fdvg.org/single-post/2018/02/08/FDVG-Strikes-Again-with-Operation-Restoration-USS-North-Carolina).Archived 2011-01-12 at the Wayback Machine. USS North Carolina. Retrieved: 12 January 2011.
- "OS2U-3 Kingfisher/Unknown at Yanks Air." Yanks Air Museum. Retrieved: 12 January 2011.
- Eden and Moeng 2002, p. 1128.
- Adcock, Al. OS2U Kingfisher in Action (Aircraft in Action No. 119). Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc., 1991. ISBN 0-89747-270-5.
- Bowers, Peter M. United States Navy Aircraft since 1911. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1990, pp. 447–448. ISBN 0-87021-792-5.
- Doll, Thomas E. and B.R. Jackson. "Vought-Sikorsky OS2U Kingfisher". Aircraft in Profile, Volume 14. Windsor, Berkshire, UK: Profile Publications Ltd., 1974, pp. 113–136. ISBN 0-85383-023-1.
- Eden, Paul and Soph Moeng, eds. The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. London: Amber Books Ltd., 2002, ISBN 0-7607-3432-1.
- Hickman, Patrick M. The Aircraft Collection. Pensacola, Florida: The Naval Aviation Museum Foundation, Inc., 2010.
- Pattison, Barry. Kingfisher in the Antipodes. Glen Waverly, Victoria 3150, Australia: Red Roo Model Publications, 1998.
- Steinemann, Peter. "Protector of the Plate". Air International, Vol. 42, No. 2, February 1992. pp. 73–78. ISSN 0306-5634.
- Sturtivant, Ray and M. Burrow. Fleet Air Arm Aircraft: 1939 to 1945. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air Britain (Historians) Ltd, 1995. ISBN 0-85130-232-7.
- Vincent, David. "Kangaroo Kingfishers". Air Enthusiast, No. 77, September/October 1998. Stamford, UK: Key Publishing. pp. 54–62. ISSN 0143-5450.
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