Thomas F. Connolly

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Thomas F. Connolly
Thomas F. Connolly in 1965
Thomas F. Connolly in 1965
Born (1909-10-24)October 24, 1909
St. Paul, Minnesota
Died May 24, 1996(1996-05-24) (aged 86)
Holland, Michigan
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch  United States Navy
Years of service 1933-1971
Rank US-O9 insignia.svg Vice Admiral
Commands held VPB-13
USS Hornet (CV-12)
Carrier Division Seven
Naval Air Forces Pacific
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Legion of Merit (2)
Distinguished Flying Cross (3)
Air Medal (3)
Spouse(s) Margaret Hagy Connolly
Children Thomas F. Connolly Jr.
Susan Connolly Moya
Thomas F. Connolly
Medal record
Representing the  United States
Men’s Gymnastic
Olympic Games
Bronze medal – third place 1932 Los Angeles Rope climbing

Thomas Francis Connolly, Jr. (October 24, 1909 – May 24, 1996)[1] was an admiral in the United States Navy, gymnast and Olympic medalist in the 1932 Summer Olympics.

Connolly served in Navy for 38 years. Over his career he served in World War II, oversaw the development of a program that later evolved into the United States Naval Test Pilot School, commanded two aircraft carriers, and served as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air Warfare, retiring from that post in 1971.

Connolly was instrumental in the development of the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. The plane was named in his honor and for Thomas Hinman Moorer, then Chief of Naval Operations.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Connolly was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. Most of his childhood was spent in Los Angeles.[2] He attended the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1929, he received an appointment for the United States Naval Academy.[1]


Connolly competed at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles where he received a bronze medal in rope climbing.[1] This was the fourth and last time this was an Olympic event. There were five competitors in the event.

Naval career[edit]

Connolly graduated 52nd out of a class of 435 at the Naval Academy.[4][5] Following graduation from the Naval Academy in 1933, Connolly was ordered to Naval Air Station Pensacola for flight training, and subsequently received his naval aviator wings.[6] In 1939 he was assigned to conduct post graduate studies in aeronautical engineering at the Naval Academy[7]. He received a master's degree in the subject at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1942.[8][5] In March 1943, Connolly assumed command of Patrol Squadron 13 , at which time they were flying Consolidated PB2Y Coronado aircraft.[9] He remained at that posting until September 1944.[10] During his time in command, the unit saw action at the Gilbert Islands, the Marshall Islands, and bombed Wake Island.[11] While serving in command of this unit, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal, both with two gold stars indicating additional awards.[6][1]

In 1944, Connolly was assigned to Naval Air Station Patuxent River as Assistant Director of Flight Test.[5] He became one of the first 50 USN pilots to pilot a jet plane, flying a YP-59A on February 24, 1945.[12] During his time at Patuxtent, Connolly found that working with multiple personnel from different fields that nobody communicated in the same technical language. As a result, he recommended starting a school within the command to train pilots and engineers to use the same language. This school began operating in 1945. This school became the Test Pilot Training Division, and would later evolve into the United States Navy Test Pilot School. In early 1947, he commenced a tour at sea as executive officer of the USS Rendova, completing the tour in September, 1948.[13][14] Connolly returned to Patuxtent and became the second commander of the Test Pilot School in December 1948.[5][14] In 1948 while at Patuxtent, he co-authored the textbook "Airplane Aerodynamics", which became a standard textbook at multiple universities.[6][8][15][16] While in command of the school, he qualified as a helicopter pilot.[6][17] Connolly remained the commander of the school until April 1951.[14] In June 1951 he assumed command of Heavy Attack Squadron Six (VAH-6), remaining in that post until July 1952.[14] His next posting came that month as the Experimental Officer at the Naval Ordnance Test Station.[18]

On August 21, 1957, he assumed command of the USS Hornet (CV-12). During his time as commander, Hornet deployed to the Western Pacific in the United States Seventh Fleet area of operations.[19] He remained in command until August 25, 1958.[20] In 1958, he assumed the position of Assistant Chief of the Pacific Missile Range within the Bureau of Aeronautics. It was during this time that he put together a group which came to be known as the "Connolly Committee". That group's seminal work was "The Navy in the Space Age". This group's work and recommendations were approved by the Chief of Naval Operations on July 13, 1959,[21] and became pivotal in the development of the Navy Navigation Satellite System, the first system of its kind in the world.[22][23] Following this posting, Connolly was Commander, Carrier Division Seven.[24]

From May 18, 1964 to August 28, 1965 he was Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Fleet Operations and Readiness. During this posting he was the Director of the Combat Consumables Requirement Study (Non-Nuclear Ordnance Study), for which he received the Legion of Merit.[25][26] On October 30, 1965 he became Commander, Naval Air Forces Pacific in a ceremony held onboard USS Ranger (CV-61).[27][28][29] On November 1, 1966, he was appointed to the position of Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air Warfare.[2] He remained in that posting until his retirement on August 31, 1971.[30]

Role in F-14 development[edit]

During the time of his posting as DCNO for Air Warfare, the Navy was developing the TFX Program. The Navy's version of this replacement for the F4 Phantom II was the General Dynamics–Grumman F-111B. As American air operations in the Vietnam War ramped up, the Navy's requirements for the plane evolved to include capabilities for air combat manoeuvring, a task for which the F-111 was not designed.[3] Responding to this, Connolly set out requirements for a replacement naval interceptor.[31] In 1968, during testimony before the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services, Connolly was asked by chairman John C. Stennis for his opinion on what would make the F-111B work for naval service. He responded "There isn't enough power in all Christendom to make that airplane what we want!".[32] On being contradicted by Secretary of the Navy Paul Ignatius, who referenced a report written by Connolly the prior year that praised the F-111B, Connolly reversed himself.[33] Nevertheless, Connolly's testimony was the death knell for the F-111B project, with it being cancelled in May 1968.[34] Subsequently, Connolly effectively became the F-14 project manager.[2]

Later life[edit]

Following retirement, Connolly lived in the McLean, Virginia area until the early 1990s, when he moved to Holland, Michigan.[8] He worked as a consultant on national defense.[1][5] Connolly died May 24, 1996 in Holland, Michigan from emphysema and an aortic aneurysm at the age of 86.[2][8] His wife of 58 years passed away April 26, 2010.[35]


Connolly was awarded Tailhooker Of The Year in 1969 by the Tailhook Association.[36] In 1998 he was inducted into the Naval Aviation Hall of Honor,[37] and in 1999, he was inducted into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame.[23]


  1. ^ a b c d e Gjerde, Arild; Jeroen Heijmans; Bill Mallon; Hilary Evans. "Tom Connolly Bio, Stats, and Results". Olympics. Sports Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Jr, Robert McG Thomas (9 June 1996). "Thomas Connolly, 86, Top-Gun Admiral, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  3. ^ a b Supercarriers : the forrestal and kitty hawk class (First ed.). [S.l.]: Naval Inst Press. 2014. pp. 82–83. ISBN 978-1-59114-180-8. Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  4. ^ "Graduating Class, June 1933". Annual Register of the United States Naval Academy: 24. 1933–1934. Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "TPS" (PDF). Naval Aviation News. July–August 1983. pp. 14–15. Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Navy Missile Chief, Noted Psychiatrist, La Salle Forum Speakers". La Salle. Vol. 4 no. 2. 1960. p. 7. Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  7. ^ "LIST OF OFFICERS SELECTED FOR POSTGRADUATE INSTRUCTION IN SCHOOL OF THE LINE, 1939" (PDF). Bureau of Navigation Bulletin. 26 November 1938. p. 1. Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  8. ^ a b c d Levy, Claudia. "T.F. CONNOLLY DIES". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  9. ^ Roberts, p. 412
  10. ^ "Patrol Squadron of the US Navy". Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  11. ^ Roberts, p. 409-410
  12. ^ EvansGrossnick2015a, p. 251
  13. ^ "Thomas Connolly - Isea and Lcm @ NSWCCD |". ZoomInfo. Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  14. ^ a b c d "The Enterprise" (PDF). Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  15. ^ "Navy pilots, U.S." Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  16. ^ Thompson, Rick. "Pax profiles 082815". Issuu. p. 22. Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  17. ^ EvansGrossnick2015a, p. 264
  18. ^ Babcock, Elizabeth (2008). Magnificent mavericks : transition of the Naval Ordnance Test Station from rocket station to research, development, test, and evaluation center, 1948-58. Washington, DC: Naval Historical Center and the Naval Air Systems Command. p. 194. ISBN 978-0-945274-56-8. 
  19. ^ "Hornet VIII (CV-12)". Retrieved 1 February 2018. 
  20. ^ Miles, Dwayne. "USS HORNET Commanding Officers". Retrieved 1 February 2018. 
  21. ^ EvansGrossnick2015b, p. 311
  22. ^ Wilbur, Ted. "Space and the United States Navy" (PDF). Chief of Naval Operations. pp. 46–49. Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  23. ^ a b "Thomas F. Connolly | Air Zoo Aviation Museum & Science Education Center of Kalamazoo, Michigan". Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  24. ^ "Honolulu Star-Bulletin from Honolulu, Hawaii on June 24, 1961 · 2". June 24, 1961. Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  25. ^ "Valor awards for Thomas F. Connolly". Military Times. Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  26. ^ "Decorations & Citations" (PDF). All Hands. Bureau of Naval Personnel. April 1966. p. 62. Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  27. ^ "AirPac Command Changes, VAdm T. F. Connolly Takes Post" (PDF). Naval Aviation News. December 1965. p. 2. Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  28. ^ "Naval Air Force, US Pacific Fleet". Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  29. ^ EvansGrossnick2015c, p. 295
  30. ^ EvansGrossnick2015c, p. 297
  31. ^ LaGrone, Sam (27 February 2016). "Navy Pushing New Name for Unmanned Aerial Tanker: RAQ-25 Stingray - USNI News". USNI News. United States Naval Institute News. Retrieved 1 February 2018. 
  32. ^ Hutchison, Harold. "The F-35 isn't the first time the Pentagon has tried to make one airplane for 3 branches". Business Insider. Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  33. ^ Pearson, Drew. "Admirals Revolt over F-111B". American University Library - Special Collections. Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  34. ^ Baugher, Joe. "General Dynamics F-111". Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  35. ^ "Margaret Connolly, 95". Holland Sentinel. Retrieved 2 February 2018. 
  36. ^ "Tailhook 2015" (PDF). The Tailhook Association. p. 18. Retrieved 2 February 2018. 
  37. ^ EvansGrossnick2015a, p. 277