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Iowa Class: Shipboard Aircraft

os2u.jpg (18066 bytes)
An OS-2U Kingfisher spotter plane
is being loaded on the port catapult for takeoff.

Imperative to a ship's gun effectiveness is the ability to determine where fired rounds are impacting. This spotting can be done in several ways; one of which is the use of aircraft. The Iowas, as did almost all large warships built before and in the beginning stages of radar, have employed several different types of aircraft during their over 50 years of service.

As originally outfitted the Iowas carried between two and three OS-2U Kingfisher observation planes. These aircraft could fly high above a sea or land target and adjust, by radio, the gunfire from the ship. The Kingfishers also had a secondary mission of search and rescue. In this role a Kingfisher could launch from the battleship, search for, find, and transport the pilot back to the ship.

The main problem with the use of ship based aircraft was the extreme difficulty of recovering the planes. The aircraft was very difficult to land in anything but calm seas and the ship had to come to a complete stop for recovery thus making the ship an easier target for enemy gunners. The Kingfishers were replaced by the new Seahawk observation plane in late 1944 - early 1945.

Advances in radar technology eventually led to the removal of the seaplanes and the catapults from all four of the ships around 1948. This left the large fantail area of the ship empty of equipment. It wasn’t long until it was occupied by the newest addition to military airpower: the helicopter. While not used for specific fire spotting missions, the helicopter was vital for search & rescue missions, ferrying troops between ships, and transportation of supplies during both the Korean and Vietnam wars.

In late 1986 the USS Iowa was the first of the class to receive the new Pioneer RPV system which consists of a ground control station, two portable control stations and eight Pioneer aircraft. The missions of the new system are surprisingly similar to that of its predecessors. They are reconnaissance, surveillance, search and rescue, weapons targeting, and target damage assessment. This system offers all the benefits of conventional aircraft, but has the added quality of small size, stealth, ease of recovery, low cost, and eliminates the need to send pilots into hostile airspace. The modern Iowas also land six types of helicopters: the UH-1 Iroquois, H-2 Seasprits, CH-46 Sea Knight, CH-53 Sea Stallion and the LAMPS III SH-60B Seahawk.

Right: The Remotely Piloted Vehicle (RPV) using its expendable rocket to assist in takeoff.  A few seconds later, the rocket will be ejected to save fuel by reducing drag and weight.

rpv.jpg (13248 bytes)


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Last modified: Thursday, June 29, 2000