An aircraft carrier is often called a “city at sea,” and keeping a floating platform that is in constant motion resupplied is a logistical challenge. While underway replenishment provides fuel, ordnance, food and other bulk items, the aircraft assigned to the Carrier On-board Delivery mission, known to all as the COD, play an important role delivering passengers, cargo, and most importantly mail to deployed flattops.
COD operations began during the Korean War with the modification of World War II-era TBM Avengers for the mission. Humorously, Transport Squadron (VR) 24 adopted as the centerpiece of their insignia a cod to reflect their role. However, a modified torpedo-bomber was at best a temporary platform and following the successful introduction of the S2F Tracker antisubmarine warfare aircraft, the Navy looked to this platform as a possible carrier on-board delivery airplane.
Designated the TF-1 Trader (redeisgnated C-1A in 1962), the airplane boasted the same performance characteristics of the S2F, but with changes to the design. This included a wider and deeper fuselage to accommodate nine passengers or 3,500 lb. of cargo. The fuselage cabin could also be equipped with litters one atop the other for transport of non-ambulatory passengers. In addition, each of the airplane’s two engine nacelles was extended to house two seven-man life rafts for safety in the event of a forced landing at sea. Significantly, the airplane could make a deck launch from an Essex-class carrier with just two knots of wind over the deck if necessary. Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation also converted four of the 87 Traders produced to the TF-1Q configuration to train carrier crews by simulating enemy electronic attacks against the ship and the type also served as effective training platform for S2F crews. However, it was as the COD that the TF-1 was most identified.
The Trader entered service in 1955 and operated from the Navy’s flattops for the ensuing 33 years. Among the missions they flew during their lengthy period of operations was flying support for ships engaged in the quarantine during the Cuban Missile Crisis and, during one 23-day stretch in 1969, simultaneously supporting six carriers operating off Vietnam moving over 200 passengers and 23,000 lb. of cargo. In addition, Lieutenant Donna L. Spruill became the first female naval aviator to carrier qualify in a fixed-wing aircraft when she completed 10 traps in a C-1A Trader on board the carrier Independence (CV 62) on June 20, 1979.
C-1As were the last piston engine aircraft operated on board U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and during their twilight years were something of a novelty. “The Navy’s oldest airplane, described as the dinosaur of the Navy’s air arm, and a gasoline-guzzling puddle jumper with the creature comforts of an outhouse, continues to be the most beloved by thousands of sailors in the fleet,” one newspaper reporter noted in an article about the C-1A in 1984, reflecting the airplane’s role in delivering mail to those deployed. The last C-1A retired from its duties on board the training carrier Lexington (AVT 16) on September 27, 1988.
The museum’s C-1A (Bureau Number 136754) was accepted by the Navy on June 30, 1955, and four years later it was assigned to Lexington (CVS 16) when that carrier returned from a Far East cruise. The airplane deployed in the ship when she embarked on what would turn out to be her final cruise to the Pacific, and remained with Lexington when she was reassigned to the Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, Florida, as the Navy's designated training aircraft carrier in 1963. For the next thirteen years she logged hundreds of flights between Forrest Sherman Field on board NAS Pensacola and the deck of "Lady Lex," in the final years of her service averaging double the monthly flight hours as C-1As assigned to the fleet. After the airplane passed the 15,000 hour mark, the decision was made to retire it from service and it was donated to the then-Naval Aviation Museum. It is painted in a Bicentennial paint scheme of the type popular in naval aviation during 1976, the last year of its active service.
Manufacturer: Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation
Dimensions: Length: 42 ft.; Height: 16 ft., 3 ½ in.; Wingspan: 69 ft., 8 in.
Weights: Empty: 16,631 lb.; Gross: 24,600 lb.
Power Plant: Two 1,525 horsepower Wright R-1820-82WA engines
Performance: Maximum Speed: 280 M.P.H. at 4,000 ft.; Service ceiling: 24,800 ft.; Range: 1,110 miles
Crew: Two pilots and one aircrewman