“Here we go, here we go, here we go!” – No, not the chant from fans at a football match, but the cries emanating from the two loadmasters of VRC-40 ‘Rawhides’ sat at the rear of our C-2A Greyhound, as they warn us we are just seconds from ‘trapping’ on board the deck of the nuclear powered American aircraft carrier – the USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN-69). Even with a sedate approach speed of around 105mph the Carrier on-Board Delivery, or COD as it is better known, comes to an abrupt halt in just 2 seconds. Sitting backwards and with only two very small portholes for windows, the experience is as exciting as it is terrifying. When it’s time to leave, the Cat Shot off the deck takes you from zero to 128mph in under 3 seconds leaving you hanging in your straps. A truly exhilarating experience – for us, the ride of a lifetime, but for the sailors of the Rawhides, it is merely business as usual.

Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 40, or VRC-40 ‘Rawhides’ as they are more commonly known, were commissioned on July 1, 1960 and NAS (Naval Air Station) Chambers Field, Norfolk VA became their first ‘home’. Flying the Grumman C-1A Trader in the COD role, the ‘Rawhides’ flew the type for nigh on 30 years before transitioning onto the Northrop Grumman C-2A in April 1986 beginning their first logistic operations on the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) a month later. The unit also flew the North American Sabreliner CT-39E in the executive airlift role until September 1990, when budget cuts saw the last of the type assigned to them (serial 158382) retired.

The C-2A Greyhound, normally operated by a crew of four (two pilots and two loadmasters), was derived from the Northrop Grumman E-2A Hawkeye and the first flight of this incredibly reliable workhorse took place on November 18, 1964. With two prototypes converted from E-2A airframes, a further 17 were rolled off the production line between 1965 and the end of 1968, the United States Navy (USN) being the one and only user of the type. Sadly, the first C-2 prototype (BuNo 148147) was tragically lost on April 29, 1965, when it was forced to make a landing on the water of Long Island Sound, the crew being lost to exposure despite rescue efforts.

Designed to land on USN nuclear powered aircraft carriers (CVN), the C-2 Greyhound with its folding high wing is used to transport high priority cargo – conveying up to 10,000lbs at a time including jet and helicopter engines, food, medicine, mail and passengers, and thus providing logistical support to Carrier Strike Groups (CSGs) around the globe. In its passenger role, 26 people can be crammed aboard, as previously stated sitting backwards, and with little natural light, it can be a somewhat nauseating and disorientating experience!

With the Greyhound’s ramp capable of being opened during flight, the type has the capability to ‘airdrop’ cargo, personnel or other supplies be it in theatre or in the humanitarian role. In theatre, it is an approved special warfare asset and can be used to airdrop the inflatable craft used by SEAL (Sea Air Land) units, while the capability also means it can be used as a search and rescue (SAR) asset – be it dropping life rafts, provisions or carrying out an ‘overwatch’ task.

Powered by two Allison T56-A-425 Turboprops producing 4,600shp each, the Greyhound can cruise at 299mph (259kts) and, thanks to a pressurised cabin, the type has a ceiling of 30,000ft and a range in excess of 1,300 nautical miles. With that in mind, the type also has an Auxiliary Power Unit, or APU, onboard providing the capability to start engines in remote areas or airstrips making the aircraft a highly versatile platform.

The Greyhound features a large aft cargo ramp and door, supplemented with a powered winch for the ease of hauling large and heavy cargo aboard. A cage system helps to tie down the cargo while restraining it from moving fore and aft during the carrier operations. The catastrophic results of a ‘cargo shift’ during a launch were captured on video on December 15, 1970, when the load shifted as C-2A BuNo 155120, operated by VRC-50 ‘Foo Dogs’, launched from the deck of the USS Ranger (CV-4). The cargo shifted to the rear of the aircraft, which subsequently ended up nose high causing the aeroplane to stall and crash into the sea, sadly killing all nine souls onboard.

Naval Aviation, by its nature, is a dangerous business and between 1965 and 1973, seven aircraft were lost with a total of 59 fatalities. That said since the last recorded fatality involving a C-2A – BuNo 152787 lost in November 1973 – the type’s safety record has been superb. The decrease in the loss of life and airframes will no doubt have been linked to the upgrade to C-2A standard. Between 1973 and the recent ditching of BuNo 162175 on the 22nd November 2017, there have been just two major incidents recorded in those 44 years: BuNo 162153 overrunning the runway at MCAS Cherry point in 2003 which led to the undercarriage collapsing and a subsequent fire, and BuNo 162178 conducting a belly-up landing at NAS Chambers Field following an unsafe undercarriage indication in August 2005. The reduction in accidents, fatalities and safe operation of the Greyhound over the last 44 years is a huge credit to the aircraft’s manufacturer, the maintenance teams and crews who operate it in all weathers, 365 days a year. November 2017’s loss was an aircraft from VRC-30 DET 5 “We Deliver” based at MCAS Iwakuni (callsign Password 33), the incident seeing it ditch into the Philippine Sea 500 miles Southeast of Japan en-route to the USS Ronald Reagan on a routine cargo/pax sortie. Eight of the 11 passengers and crew were rescued within 30 minutes but sadly three are unaccounted for, including the pilot Lt Steven Combs. The cause is still under investigation.

“The thoughts and prayers of the entire team aboard Ronald Reagan go out to the families and friends of our fallen shipmates,” said Capt. Michael Wosje, Commander, Carrier Air Wing Five (CVW 5) in a statement.
“We are thankful for our professional search and rescue teams and their incredible bravery. The entire Navy team is working together to investigate the cause of this mishap and we will remain focused on our mission to operate forward in a safe and professional manner to ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.”

In 1984, a contract saw 39 new C-2A airframes built to replace some of the older and fatigued airframes within the fleet – these ‘new builds’ were given the designation C-2A(R), the ‘R’ standing for re-procured. Based on the improved Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeye this time, the aircraft were fitted with uprated engines and avionics with the first delivered in 1985 and the last in 1990 bringing the total to 58 C-2’s delivered since 1964.

The lifespan of the C-2A(R) Greyhound was limited to 10,000 flight hours and 15,000 landings, but the C-2 would normally reach its limit on landings before flight hours. Once the limit had been reached the aircraft were no longer considered serviceable and required structural changes to prolong the use of the aircraft.

However, in 2001 the Fleet Readiness Centre Southwest (FRCSW) prepared to deliver a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) to the C-2A(R) COD fleet. The SLEP would increase the projected life of the aircraft to 15,000 flight hours and 36,000 landings which would allow the aircraft to operate until the year 2027.

The work involved removing the centre wing section to carry out structural enhancements/strengthening and installation of the new 8 bladed NP2000 Propellers. A new ‘glass’ cockpit was fitted bringing with it a number of new enhancements including GPS, Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS), Terrain and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), Dual CAINS II navigation system, a crash survivable flight incident recorder and the ARC-210 Radio system. The first upgraded C-2A(R) SLEP Greyhound took flight from the NAVAIR Depot at NAS North Island on the 12th September 2005, and the last aircraft to undergo the SLEP was delivered back to VRC-30 during 2011.

VRC-40 received its first C-2A(R) just under a year after transitioning to the C-2A, with C-2A(R) BuNo 162157 being delivered on March 12, 1987. This was soon followed by three other examples that year namely; BuNos 162151, 162152 and 162160 – the arrival of those airframes seeing the retirement of their last C-2A (BuNo 155121) in June 1987. Three more deliveries followed in 1988 with BuNos 162166, 162168 and 162142 all arriving that year.

Still based at NAS Chambers Field, and commanded by CDR Bill “Rooster” Kluttz, the ‘Rawhides’ are complemented with over 300 personnel and, at the time of writing, have 12 aircraft on strength. Consisting of five deployable detachments (Det 1 through 5), VRC-40 deploy a pair of aircraft with a detachment of around 60 personnel rather than the whole squadron going en-masse – unlike most USN squadrons. The detachments support multiple CSGs through the Second, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Operational areas, which covers a huge area stretching from Norway to the Caribbean and from the Mediterranean to the Middle East. Each year the squadron carries out in excess of 1,000 arrested landings and Cat Shots while carrying over 3,000,000lbs of mail and cargo.

The squadron, when not deployed, maintain a high tempo of flying currency from NAS Chambers Field by carrying out practice carrier approaches at the nearby Naval Air Landing Field (NALF) Fentress – pilots have just 14 days before their ‘carrier landing’ currency expires. Requalifying sees pilots undertake Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP) approaches on land rather than actual approaches to a carrier.

Flown into a ‘box’, FCLPs make use of marked carrier box on the runway at NALF Fentress by flying approaches, landings and ‘wave offs’ which are instigated by the Landing Signals Officer (LSO) who is normally a pilot himself, and controls the MOVLAS (Manually Operated Visual Landing Aid System) – using a handheld trigger. Sited in an air-conditioned glass box a mere 10 feet from the runway edge, the LSO can give varying signals to the aircraft on approach using the MOVLAS either letting them land or roll, or wave off and going around. Recurrency requires some six FCLPs to be carried out by each pilot.

Having undertaken three detachments in the last two years to the 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility,  AeroResource were lucky enough to undertake a ‘Cat and Trap’ with the ‘Rawhides’ whilst visiting the USS Dwight D Eisenhower in December 2016 as the carrier supported Operation Inherent Resolve which was covered extensively in our subsequent articles – USS Dwight D Eisenhower Inherent Resolve and USS Eisenhower Aircraft Carrier Operations).

The last four VRC-40 ‘Rawhide’ deployments in order have been as follows:

  • Det 3 March 11, 2015 – November 23, 2015 USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) CVW-1 C-2A 162+++/44 C-2A 162+++/41 (port change from Norfolk VA to San Diego CA via Middle East)
  • Det 2 November 16, 2015 – July 13, 2016 USS Harry S Truman (CVN-75) CVW-7 C-2A 162165/40 C-2A 162155/53
  • Det 3 June 1, 2016 – December 30, 2016 USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN-69) CVW-3 C-2A 162165/51 C-2A 162171/50
  • Det 2 January 21, 2017 – August 21, 2017 USS George H Bush CVN-77 CVW-8 C-2A 162159/46 C-2A 162168/45

The C-2A(R) Greyhound has a superb safety record and is a trusted and battle proven asset. However, it would appear its days are numbered with Northrop Grumman losing out to Bell/Boeing for the next generation COD – its V-22 Osprey being procured over a further updated version of the E-2/C-2 airframe. Believed to have been given the designation CMV-22B, 44 have been ordered with production due to commence in 2018 and deliveries due to start two years later. The Osprey does have its shortfalls however, including a much shorter range, the ability to carry just 23 people and as it stands, the F-35 spare engine transit cases won’t fit in the Osprey. That said, there are benefits including the versatility of the aircraft with its vertical take-off and landing capability meaning the full carrier deck will not need to be cleared during operations, it is fully SAR capable and has the ability to operate from remote locations and other ship decks.

57 years on and VRC-40 continue to operate across many continents using their trusted C-2A Greyhounds, providing the much-needed stores and parts to keep the finely tuned Carrier Strike Group cogs turning and ensuring the embarked Carrier Air Wing can function to its required capability. For the near future, we will continue to see the mighty COD continue to fly, but only time will tell if the VRC-40 transitions to the CMV-22B or like so many US Navy squadrons, inscribed to the annals of history.

Our thanks go to the DPAO and media team at Commander Naval Forces Atlantic, to our hosts Lt Giancola and Lt Massel and the men and women of VRC-40 for their superb hospitality.