By the end of WWII, the scourge of the submarine was being met head on by aircraft designed to find and attack both surfaced and submerged submarines. But early radar and detection equipment was heavy, and no single aircraft could house all the equipment and still operate from Navy carriers. For a time, the Navy employed a two-plane solution in the Grumman AF Guardian, with one aircraft acting as the hunter while the other acted as the killer. But this was only a stopgap arrangement until a more permanent solution could be found.

A U.S. Navy Grumman S-2E Tracker of Anti-Submarine Squadron 27 (VS-27) in flight (US Navy)

The Navy found that solution in the Grumman S-2 Tracker, their first dedicated, all-in-one antisubmarine warfare (ASW) aircraft. The high wing monoplane was powered by a pair of Wright R-1820 Cyclone radial engines and had a top speed of 280 mph with a range of 1,350 miles. Its large fuel load meant that it could spend up to nine hours in the air hunting for enemy subs. The large (yet still cramped) fuselage housed two pilots and two systems operators who worked a radar and a magnetic anomaly detector housed in a boom that could be extended from the tail. Deployable sonobuoys were added later, and targets could be attacked with a mixture of torpedoes, depth charges or mines. The S-2 entered into service in 1954, and Grumman eventually produced nearly 1,300 hundred Trackers.

Grumman C-1A Trader approaching the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CVA-64) ca. 1974 (US Navy)

While the Tracker proved to be a solid sub hunter, its large airframe also made it useful for other missions. Following the success of the Tracker, Grumman modified the aircraft to become the C-1 Trader. With its electronic gear removed, the Trader became the primary aircraft for carrier onboard delivery, or COD. Powered by the same Wright radial engines as the Tracker, the Trader could haul more than 10,000 pounds of cargo, mail, supplies or personnel to the carrier battle group. Grumman produced a total of 87 Traders, and they served until 1988, becoming the second-to-last radial-engine powered aircraft to fly for the US Navy (the Convair C-131 Samaritan served until 1990).

A Grumman E-1B Tracer of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 121 (VAW-121) in 1971 (US Navy)

But Grumman wasn’t done yet. With the addition of a radar and with radar tracking gear installed in the fuselage, the E-1 Tracer became the Navy’s first purpose-built carrier-borne airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft. A large aerodynamic radome mounted atop the fuselage housed the Hazeltine AN/APS-82 radar to track enemy aircraft in flight, and twin vertical stabilizers replaced the single vertical stabilizer of the S-2 and C-1. Though conceived as as stopgap measure until the more powerful and sophisticated Grumman E-2 Hawkeye entered service, the Tracer joined the Navy in 1958 and saw action early in the Vietnam War, where it was used to vector US fighters to intercept enemy aircraft and to provide early warning of imminent fighter interception to strike aircraft. A total of 88 were built, and the last Tracers were retired in 1977.

While the Tracer has been retired and struck from US Navy rolls, the Argentine Navy still operates a handful in their original ASW role. The COD Trader still boasts 9 airworthy aircraft, and they can be seen on the air show circuit, like this C-1A from the USS Independence nicknamed Miss Belle. Following a crash landing in 2002, it underwent an 11-year restoration before returning to the skies in 2013.

The C-1A Trader Miss Belle takes off from Fort Worth Alliance Airport (Photo by the author)
The cockpit of the C-1A Trader Miss Belle. No flat screens in here. (Photo by the author)
Cockpit detail of the Grumman C-1A Trader Miss Belle

Connecting Flights



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