Vought OS2U-1 Kingfisher

Heavy warships of every nation carried float planes into battle.


This week I’ll take a look at one such plane meant to ride with the American fleet.

Even before the idea of aircraft carriers with full strike groups, came the idea of putting an observation or spotting aircraft on a warship.  More than ashore, battleships and cruisers needed help correcting the accuracy of their guns.  A plane with an observer could help direct a ship to its target, and guide shellfire where it was meant to be.

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By the time of World War II every major navy had at least some ships with an on board flight department.  In US practice this meant two or three planes on every class of Battleship and Cruiser. Two types of plane were in use at the start of the war; the OS2U Kingfisher and SOC Seagull.  Those who read my earlier “What’s in a Name” post may recall that the US naval designation system for aircraft put a function code at the start of the designation.  So the “OS” and “SO” parts of these aircraft designations mean about the same thing; “Observation Scout” or “Scout Observation”.  Yes, those are different sequences. What’s the difference you ask?  Well an OS type aircraft is for Battleships while an SO type aircraft is for Cruisers.  Except the smallest of American Cruisers, the Omaha class, they got OS type aircraft.
I couldn’t make this up!  The difference was in the size of the aircraft and size of the aircraft handling equipment on the ship.  The Os2U Kingfisher was a bigger more capable aircraft with 450 horse power.


Armament on the Kingfisher was light. It had a .30 in the nose firing between the cylinders (so its invisible in this build) and another .30 for defense in the radio operator’s compartment. It could carry two 250 lb bombs or depth charges under the wings.


The side numbers (1-O-1) would be read as 1st Battleship division, Observation squadron, 1st Aircraft. That means the Arizona was a part of the 1st Battleship division.

When the war started several things were quickly learned about float planes.  To start, they were highly flammable and should never be left on a ship going into battle!  Fairly early on, American ships all had gunnery radar so the float planes were not normally needed for their original purpose.  At least not in a naval battle, they would sometimes still call shot for shore bombardment.  But they kept busy with several other functions; like air-sea rescue, “inner air patrol” which was an anti-submarine patrol in close to a Task Force, and miscellaneous currier/light transport missions. In short, most of the things helicopters do in the fleet today.


This paint scheme, blue-grey over grey, was ordered applied in September of 1941. Aircraft at Pearl Harbor were in the process of being repainted to this order on December 7. Some really nice color photos exist showing that the 1st Battleship Division aircraft were all wearing beautiful new paint in November of 1941.

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This subject is from the Monogram kit with Aeromaster decals. This is a really old kit!  Detail is crude, almost non-existent in the interior.  The float is underscale.  This type really needs a more modern kit!  But it does mostly look the part (outline is pretty good).  This particular aircraft was one of the very first American planes destroyed in World War Two, it was part of the USS Arizona air group and went down with its ship.


The SBD and OS2U both carry the “S” for scout in their type designations. But a “Scout-Bomber” is very different machine from an “Observation-Scout”! The Dauntless shown here had about three times the power and could carry about three times the bomb load as the Kingfisher. Both aircraft shown here are in the blue-grey over grey scheme order in September 1941; but the markings are slightly different. In January of 1942 the order went out for national insignia above and below both wings and the red and white rudder stripes all to make aircraft more identifiable. But it was soon decided that ANY red could cause confusion when facing the Japanese so in May 1942 the rudder stripes were removed and the red insignia centers were painted over in white.

One of the Arizona’s Kingfishers being hoisted back on board. (from West-Point.org)

(from Pacific War on-line Encyclopedia)

The much smaller SOC Seagull on a cruiser catapult (from navypilotoverseas.wordpress.org)

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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17 Responses to Vought OS2U-1 Kingfisher

  1. Another great post Dave! I had no idea that float planes were so flammable. Despite the advent of gunnery radar, it seems that they still carried out an extremely useful role in anti-submarine warfare and Air Sea Rescue, Fascinating article and another beautiful build!

    • atcDave says:

      Thanks Rich.
      Apparently the flammability thing didn’t occur to most users until the shooting started. Early in the war there were even incidents of ships igniting their own aircraft with gunfire.
      It didn’t take long to figure out they needed to either be airborne or ashore when entering action.

  2. A fabulous model there even if it’s not scaled accurately, most would never know. A great write up of a lesser appreciated aircraft. Love it!

    • atcDave says:

      Thanks! I think this particular Monogram kit is so well known by modelers we’ll all be confused if one with the proper sized float is ever released!

  3. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Got one in my stash right now.
    Built one 43 years ago and gave it away to one of my students.

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah this one really goes back to an early age of the hobby!

      • Pierre Lagacé says:

        At that time, it was one of the finest model kits.
        Thin canopies… much more cockpit details.
        That was 45 + years ago.

      • atcDave says:

        Yeah it was one of the first generation of kits that were a little more than just a toy.
        It really is amazing how far the sophistication of plastic kits has come.

  4. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Reblogged this on My Forgotten Hobby and commented:
    Bring back fond memories

  5. GP Cox says:

    Very meticulous work, congrats!

  6. jfwknifton says:

    Thank you, a really interesting blog post about a little known aircraft, although I have a feeling that a few were delivered to the Royal Navy at the beginning of the conflict. And a beautifully made kit too, by the way.

    • atcDave says:

      Thank you! And yes, the Royal Navy used a few. I think around 1500 total were built, so it wasn’t a large number in any case. A few were also lend leased to Russia. But if I ever get to it (!) I’ve got a set of decals for a FAA Kingfisher based in England 1943. It looks great in roundels! (my reference says “No. 703 Sqn”, I’m not sure if that’s associated with a particular ship or just a naval base)

  7. John says:

    In the next month or two, Kitty Hawk is releasing a 1/32nd Kingfisher. The interior detail looks to be incredible. I have always had a thing for the 1943 Tri-color camoflage with the red surround on the insignia. I will probably go that route.

    • atcDave says:

      Wow that sounds awesome! I’m jealous.
      Yeah I think the tri-color is one of the more attractive schemes of the war, and the Kingfisher will look great in it.

  8. Barry Ervin says:

    Great article about the Kingfisher. However, the SO2U only existed in the form of one prototype, the XSO2U. It was designed for use on cruisers, but never went into production. It was about the same size as the OS2U and had the same power, 450 hp, but used a highly unreliable Ranger engine which was the main cause of it not being awarded a production contract. It actually had a slightly longer wingspan but may have been lighter, because I’m not sure how it was supposed to be an improvement? So all Vought floatplanes in service on both battleships and cruisers were OS2U Kingfishers with only minor differences between different production series.

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah I don’t know what the intent was with the SO2U or that whole next generation of “SO” aircraft. In essence, it blurred the line between cruiser and battleship floatplanes; which was a plenty blurry line to begin with anyway!
      During WWII, at least early on, it seems consistent that Kingfishers went on Battleships and Omaha class cruisers; while Seagulls went on the other cruisers. But there was a development program to replace Seagulls with a new type — that was significantly similar to the Kingfisher? Perhaps weight, as you mention, or some other performance characteristic was more in line with the SOC as opposed to the OS2U? I don’t know. But in the end, apart from some ships getting the next generation SC Seahawk, it was a dead end technology. Helicopters quickly replaced float planes post-war.

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