What's all this CAG stuff?

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of a CAG aircraft, here it is. The CAG is the carrier air group commander. Now historically, each squadron generally allocates two aircraft to receive special treatment in terms of paint schemes. One is assigned to the CAG (who usually doesn't fly the plane) and it contains the colors of all the squadrons on the ship. Each squadron is given a color and this is pretty well standardized.

Colors were determined by an OPNAV instruction. The 1968 color call out was: red is the first squadron and its planes have nose numbers in the 100 range, Yellow is 200, Light Blue is 300, International orange is 400, Light green is 500, Black is 600, Insignia Blue is 700, Maroon is 800 and 900. Therefore, the CAG bird would have in its special colors, all the different shades used by the squadrons on the ship. Naturally, not all CAGs had nine different units aboard and often times used any of the colors that it deemed interesting. This was determined by the colors of the unit as much as by anything else. Oddly, there are few instances of two squadrons having the same colors on the same ship. For some reason the 1xx and 2xx have always been red and yellow if there has been any color at all.

In 1975, there was a change to these colors, with numbers 0xx ( VAW) being insignia blue, 610-617 (VAQ) being Maroon, 700-715  (VS) being Dark green and 730-745, (HS) being Magenta. A 1982 change moved VAW's to 600-603 modex , VAQ to 604-607 modex, HS/HC to 610-617, VS to 700-713 and the addition of VFP in the 115-117 series and a black color. To my knowledge, there has been no change to these numbers or colors, though several of the missions (VFP and VS) are no longer being done. 

Historically, 100 and 200 series were fighters, 300 and 400 light attack, 500 medium attack, 600 heavy attack and 700, 800 and 900 were things like helos or ECM or ASW or photo recce birds. With the diminishing of types aboard carriers (which first began about the mid 1980s with the removal of the Phantom and Corsair II from the inventory), not only have the colors gone awry, but the missions no longer fit the modex other than the first two.

All the CAG birds were also called 'double nuts' as the nose number (or modex, and I don't know what the word means) ended in 00. This meant that the CAG bird from the first squadron was 100, the second 200 and so on. The Squadron commander's plane was and is often similarly painted, but only used the squadron color instead of the various shades applied to the CAG bird. His aircraft nose number ended in 01.

When the rage was to low visibility paint schemes in the mid 80's and on into the early 90's many units did not have any color in the CAG or Squadron commander's assigned aircraft and the blazing color that was so often seen in earlier years went away. This is slowly returning to many units though the multi-hued rainbow is often replaced with just unit colors in place of shades of grey. The addition of a black tail is something that is a recent addition in the last decade or so. I'm not sure of why, but maybe it helps to tone down the colors that are added.

Here are some prime examples :

NOTE: All photos from the Fly By Nite Archives and cannot be copied or otherwise used without express permission.

100 series modex or nose number. Note that trim colors are in red. VF-1 Tomcat (158982) circa 1974

200 series nose numbers. Trim color for this VA-192 A-4C Skyhawk (145132) is yellow

300 series nose numbers. This USS Kitty Hawk VA-22 A-7E (157435) is trimmed in medium blue

400 series nose numbers. Green is the color of this USS Saratoga A-7E (156852)

500 series with orange trim on this VA-176 A-6E (155658) from the USS Independence
This USS Ranger based VA-145 A-6E shows a 500 nose number with light green trim

From the USS Constellation, is this VAQ-130 det 4 EKA-3B Skywarrior has a 600 modex and maroon trim

The 600 series has been shared by many types. This black trimmed HS-8 SH-3H Sea King (152130) from the USS Constellation at least has the traditional color.

This VS-33 S-3A Viking (160126) is a CAG bird with no special CAG colors and is typical of S-3 squadrons in that it uses the squadron colors and not a specific assigned color. This image is most unusual in that the aircraft  does not have drop tanks, something that was just about standard equipment for the Viking. This is also a pretty standard early scheme with a tan radome and hard edges between the colors. The white bit behind the canopy is also indicative of an early scheme.

COMING SOON: A Gallery of CAG Birds past and present.