A Not So Brief History of the Carrier Onboard Delivery, or COD

We mentioned a bit ago Brazil contracting to bring four C-1A Traders back into service, with an overhaul and update, to support their carrier both as a Carrier Onboard Delivery aircraft and as a tanker.

And yesterday, we brought news that the Navy has apparently decided the future COD for its carrier strike groups would be a variant of the V-22 Osprey.

Let’s spend a bit of time on the COD.

First up, speaking of the C-1A, there are a couple in the hands of private owners who fly them on the Warbird circuit here in the US.

'Miss Belle' at an air show in 2014. (photo via Doug Goss)

Memory fails me in my advancing years. I can’t recall if the Grumman I saw at the Goshen airshow in 98 was a C-1A (maybe this one!) or a US-2A, which was a standard S-2A Tracker that had all its ASW equipment stripped out, and was used as a utility plane.

As mentioned, the first dedicated COD for the US Navy was a modification of the World War II TBM Avenger torpedo bomber. Stripped of armament, it could haul the mail and a handful of passengers.

Long after the TBM was superceded as a combat aircraft, the TBM-3R served to transport priority passengers and cargo, serving well into the mid 1950s.

As previously noted, the UF-1, later redesignated the C-1A Trader, became the backbone of COD services through the late 1950s, the early 1960s, and soldiered on until the early 1980s.


The Trader was the last piston powered aircraft flown from US carriers.

The Trader was first supplemented, and later replaced in service by the C-2A Greyhound. Much as the Trader was an adaptation of the S-2 Tracker, the Greyhound took the wings, engine and empennage of the E-2 Hawkeye, and used a new fuselage to quickly produce a COD variant.

The first batch of C-2s were built in the early 1960s. After years of hard work, the C-2A was replaced by… well, more C-2s. The Navy contracted with Grumman to build a second batch of Greyhounds in 1984. The original batch has been retired, but the second production batch has been refurbished and updated with new propellers, much as the E-2 fleet, and continues in service.

But wait! There’s more!

While those are the primary aircraft used in the Carrier Onboard Delivery role, there are a few also-rans, a one-off, and some ideas that never came to fruition.

The Douglas A-1 Skyraider is legendary for its service in Korea and Vietnam as an attack aircraft. But Douglas also built a combat capable version that could (and did) double as a utility aircraft. The AD-5 (later A-1E) widened the fuselage a bit, and extended the vertical stabilizer, and replaced the single seat bubble canopy with a “greenhouse” that had a side by side cockpit for two, and seating for about 8-10 in the back.

Courtesy Detail and Scale.

The “Five” also served as the basis for quite a few night attack and electronic warfare variants of the Skyraider, including a predecessor to the E-1B Tracer and E-2 Hawkeye.  The Navy tended to use their –5 models as station hacks and utility aircraft, but the Air Force eventually used most of the vanilla A-1Es in Vietnam (or turned them over to the South Vietnamese Air Force) and used them to great effect as attack aircraft and in the Sandy role to support Combat Search and Rescue. Indeed, MAJ Bernie Fisher was flying an A-1E when he earned the Medal of Honor.

Much as the S-2 Tracker inspired a COD variant, the S-3 Viking did as well, but to  a much lesser extent. One S-3A was stripped of armament and sensors and had its cabin fitted for up to six passengers or two tons of cargo. Primarily used to support carrier operations in the Indian Ocean, its great range and (relative) speed made it useful for ferrying people and critical cargo from Diego Garcia to the carriers on Gonzo Station.

File:US-3A DN-SC-87-06468.JPEG

Recently Lockheed proposed pulling S-3s from mothballs and fitting them with a new fuselage to serve as CODs and tankers, but the extensive design and fabrication work required meant that idea was pretty much a non-starter when new build C-2s or V-22s were on the table.

Lockheed Wants To Bring The S-3 Viking Back From The Dead

While no COD variant of the venerable A-3 Skywarrior was built, it wasn’t uncommon for it to haul one or two VIPs when transiting from place to place. And for a time, the CNO used a VIP version as his personal transport, though I’m unaware of any CNO using it aboard a carrier.

Remember we mentioned the Navy had Grumman build a new batch of C-2s in the mid-80s? When word came out that the Navy was looking to replace its 1960s era Greyhounds, a couple of off the wall proposals for COD replacements were made.

Both McDonnell Douglas and Fokker proposed carrier capable variants of airliners for the job!


McD’s DC-9 proposal.

F28 COD 1

Fokker also realized a tanker would be popular.


Neither proposal went much beyond some general sketches and marketing pics. It wasn’t so much that the Navy didn’t think a viable carrier variant could be made, but that operating such large aircraft from the tight confines of a carrier deck posed some real issues. If the plane broke down while aboard, it would really screw up the carrier’s ability to launch and recover other aircraft.

Speaking 0f big aircraft onboard, we can’t discuss COD w
ithout mentioning the largest trash-hauler to land aboard a carrier.

Yes, Jimmy Flatley III successfully landed and took off a C-130 Hercules from the USS Forrestal clear back in 1963. By the way, no tailhook, and no catapult!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uM5AI3YSV3M]

But just because you could, doesn’t mean you should.

While we’re at it, a couple other oddballs pretending to be CODs, both of which have been featured here before.

The XC-124.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buh7_xLG4ZE]

And the QSRA,

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_eDutgh4IU]

We might not have chosen the V-22 to replace the C-2, but the fact is, someone has to provide priority cargo and personnel transport to the carrier group, and the V-22 is in production and in service. Better a bird in the hand than a power point program in the bush.