U.S. Crash Boats Emblem
U.S. Crash Boats

Modernizing the Fleet

During the Korean War USAF personnel in the field realized that they needed additional boats and the 85 ft. boat was the most desirable model. However, it had not been updated since WWII and they wanted to update the electronics, heating system, and some medical items. They submitted their requests but nothing happened. The problem was that the requests wound up in the HQ USAF Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations office and they had no idea as to what the boats did or why the boats were needed. Further they had no idea as to what they would cost or how to go about finding out. Nor could anyone else in the HQ Air Staff offices offer any more expertise or help.
 
All crash boats in USAF inventory had been purchased by the Army or Navy during WWII and turned over to the Air Force to use. The Air Force had no one to develop and defend a budget for new boat construction before Congress. To go unprepared was considered career suicide. When the USAF was spit from the Army, Military Occupational Specialty numbers were converted to AF Specialty Classifications and all officer authorizations in marine careers had been eliminated by the Air Force. So the Air Force had to ask the Army to go through their files to find an officer with a marine MOS who might have transferred to the Air Force in 1947. The Army came up with Lt. Col. William Bodenstein, who had served on rescue boats in the Southwest Pacific during WW II and was still in the Air Force Reserve. He agreed to take on the task of the budget and more.
 
He informed his superiors that in order to prepare a budget he needed some basic information: What was the mission of the boats? What size boats were needed? Where? How many? He then asked what capability did the USAF have for design, engineering, procurement, etc. for these boats. The answer to all questions was a short but not so sweet: None!
 
Once he learned how the boats were being used, he realized they were never intended for live-aboard crews for extended periods, nor for the severe winter weather. None of them had what became common pleasure craft technology of the 1950’s, radar, depth sounder, SSB radio, electric heating systems, or electric blankets. The 63s were even more primitive, as described earlier.
 
Bodenstein contacted the Navy and they could and would pull the Mk2 specs on the 63 ft. boats and offered to incorporate the improvements he wanted, except the heating system which would require major changes to the design. The boats built to original specs were Mk2s but those built later, incorporating the upgrades, would be Mk3s.  When Bodenstein took his data back to the USAF bosses, they went ballistic, higher than their missiles! They argued over design, materials, and other matters about which they were totally unqualified to judge since they had no experience building boats.
 
The Air Force agreed to procure a limited number of the Mk2 (the Navy referred to them as Mk3s) boats as a makeshift measure to get something to Korea quickly without the requested updates from Communications, Supply, or Maintenance. The situation in Korea was critical and the one thing the USAF did not have was time. Communications succeeded in eliminating the depth finders and most of the other electronics upgrades except the surface search radar.
 
For the modernized boats, the Mk3s (Navy Mk4), the Supply command wanted to maximize the commonality of components currently in USAF inventory. Communications command wanted no communications or electronics equipment not currently in use by the USAF. The USAF had nothing that would substitute for marine surface search radar, nor a depth finder. Maintenance and Medical Staffs had their own additional demands. Finally the OPS bosses realized that they could not have all the features they wanted, particularly any that would require major engineering redesign of the Mk2 boat. With the above information, Bodenstein went to work on the budget.
 
If the 63 footers seemed difficult, they were a walk on the beach compared to getting 85s into the field. Again these were WWII designs, procured by the Army Quartermaster Corps. Contrary to some reports, the Army quickly gave the Air Force copies of the original plans and specs but they were no longer in the boat buying business, per the DOD reorganization of 1947, so they could offer no further help. The Navy was responsible for watercraft procurement for all service branches. The Navy was willing to procure more of the boats and handle contracting of the job as long as the Air Force had the funds. However, it would not accept responsibility for updating the plans or specs, nor would is accept responsibility for performance after delivery. In addition, the Air Force would have to be responsible for supplying the builders all of the government furnished items needed, such as aircraft radios, engines, IFF units, or any other Air Force specified special items. The Navy had no engineering or historical data on these boats, thus they were a completely new and foreign design to the Navy engineers and architects. The Navy attitude was that they had not designed the boat, nor had they contracted the original purchase, so they would not be responsible for the final product.
 
Then there was the issue of engines. While Packard was not out of business; they produced their last car in 1958, by 1954 its financial condition was deteriorating and the Navy no longer used the 4M-2500 engines as the PT boats had been discontinued. The Air Force Depot had been barely able to get by with spare parts purchased from used parts dealers all over the country for this out of production engine. There was no reliable outside source for overhaul of the engines; it would have to be done “in-house”. The power plant closest to the Packard that was in production was a 1,000 hp. cast iron Caterpillar diesel the Navy used in their minesweepers, but that was 500 hp. less than the aluminum Packard and its size and weight were nearly twice that of a Packard. The engine room of the 85 was too small to accommodate two of the engines and the hull framing would not support the weight.
 
94 Ft. Experimental Rescue Boats
 
 
Lt. Col. Bodenstein convinced the Air Staff that the best course was to contract with a naval architect to design a completely new boat using three of the above diesels and procure one of the boats for testing and evaluation before production, but the Air Force decided to build two, perhaps for political reasons. After the usual politics and CYA meetings and negotiations, the Army agreed to contract a naval architect to design a new boat incorporating the Air Force “wish list”. Once the design had been accepted by the Air Force, the Navy would handle procurement as long as the Air Force had the financing, but would accept no responsibility for any design flaw or vessel performance after delivery. All the Navy would do was to guarantee that it was built to specs. Why the Army was involved at all, I do not know.
 
Two 94ft prototypes were built for the USAF in 1953 incorporating additional features for use in cold climates such as Korea. R-21-1251 was tested for several months at Langley on the Chesapeake Bay, the other at Hamilton AFB in California. Powered by 3 Packard 4M-2500 engines, (already out of production for several years) it had a range of 2000 miles with a cruise speed of 33 knots, 42 max and a crew of eighteen. It has been written that the original plan was to power the boats with three 1000 hp. cast iron diesels described above but they could not provide the needed performance. Further, USAF supply officers wanted a “powertrain in a box” so that everything from the engine to the propellor  could be pulled as a unit, even though crews would still need access to the individual components within the box to do routine maintenance such as changing oil, servicing fuel injectors, and changing or cleaning filters. This would require a significant redesign of the experimental boat. This may have been required with the hope of experimenting with other powertrains even after the boats were in production. They knew that the diesels were not going to produce satisfactory performance and this would be a way to upgrade the entire powertrain with a minimum of down time.  It should be mentioned that by the 1950s gasoline was out of favor as an energy source in marine applications and diesel fuel was preferred for safety reasons.
 
According to the book "U.S. Small Combatants", at some point the boat's proponants powered the boat with three of the Packard 1M-3000 engine developed in 1947, to cruise at 40mph with a 51mph maximum. To use this engine in production they would have had to convince Packard to resume engine production or license the design to another manufacturer. Internet sources indicate forty of these were built and they were a sixteen cylinder version of the proven 4W-2500 engine, developing 2,500hp each.  Four of the 750 hp. Packard diesels, model 1D-2270, discussed in the Engines section  produced only 28mph. cruise and 33 mph maximum in the 94 ft. boat.
 
 
The Air Force supply people still wanted the boat built from parts and pieces in Air Force inventory without consideration for the corrosive environment of marine operations and still did not want electronics added to the boats that was not already in USAF inventory. That included such marine basics as a fathometer (depth finder), SSB radios, etc. This was typical of UASF management of rescue boats; if it didn’t fly, it didn’t matter. Because “the brass” could fly, they knew how to build boats better than the Navy, which had been in the business for generations.
 
Testing revealed many malfunctions and equipment failures, which caused delays while the boats were repeatedly returned to the builders’ for correction and modifications. Attempting to use aircraft hardware, particularly instruments and electrical connectors (cannon plugs) in a marine environment caused so many problems that tests were rarely completed without delays and rescheduling. Other than the 2 boats, no more were built.
 
After about three months of slow progress Lt. Col. Bodenstein requested relief from active duty and went back to civilian life.  He said that before the testing program was finished, the Korean War was over and nobody was concerned about the project any more. Both experimental boats eventually wound up as surplus in salvage yards; one at Hamilton and one in Bangor, Maine.
 
A different source states that they were transferred to the Navy in 1956 and were assigned to the Beach-Jumper Unit at Little Creek, VA becoming US Navy hull numbers C-3727 and C-3728. R-21-1252 (C-3727) had a fire during its Navy Service and was scrapped. R-21-1251 was reportedly sold to the "Lundeberg Seamanship School" at Piney Point on 20 June, 1968 and then vanished until about 2005, when she was listed for sale in New Jersey under the name "New Bucaneer". There are additional Pictures of the 94' experimental boats under Photos & Missions.
 
 
55 FT. Experimental Rescue Boat
 
There is much less documentation available but there are photographs from the National Archives and Records Admin.  in the Photos & Missions section that confirm the existance of an experimental crash boat, R-22-1325, 55 ft. LOA with a 16 ft. beam, built by Grebe Boatyard in Chicago in 1953/54. From the air she cannot be mistaken for any other crash boat. She was tested in 1954 with several engines and had a maximum speed of 70 MPH with 2 post war Packards of 2,000 BHP each. Those engines must have been highly supercharged 4M-2500s  or they were the fairly rare 1M-3300 Packards. With two 750 BHP Packard Diesels, model 1D-2270, she ran 47 MPH.  With two Hall-Scotts she did 40 MPH. 70 MPH was too quick; she flew like an offshore race boat with a rooster tail to match. According to the AAF-USAF CRBA newsletter, this boat was owned by Allen Valek of Delray Beach, FL. as of 1990, and had been  converted to civilian yacht. However, the photo in the article does not appear to be the same hull as the NARA photos in the Photos and Missions section of this website.
 
45 or 40 Ft Experimental Rescue Boat
 
The 42 ft. Owens rescue boats of World War II were in need of replacement by the early 1950s and after the Korean War the USAF was interested in a brand new 40 or 45 ft. boat. Some records refer to a new 45 ft rescue boat and photos from N.A.R.A. refer to a 40 ft. boat. While it is possible that the USAF was developing two different designs, very close in size, while planning to replace crash boats with heliocopters, it is more likely that one record or the other has mis-identified the prototype boat. .At the time, the USN Beauships was having 46 ft. boats built for themselves as well as the Coast Guard. The USAF decided to procure these boats until the testing and final approval of a new 40 or 45 foot boat was completed. This never came into being as the 46 foot boat proved to be very satisfactory and the 40 or 45 ft. program was scrapped. There is documentation to verify that the USAF took delivery of 10 of the 46s between 22 August and 1 October, 1956. Their Navy  hull numbers are in the database elsewhere on this website, but I have not come upon their USAF hull numbers. However, they were designated as R-3-****. One boat, R-3-737 was assigned to the 8th CRB Flight at MacDill. Three others were assigned to other bases along the east coast, perhaps for evaluation. The balance were delivered to a depot in Bayone, NJ but the entire USAF Crash Boat Service was terminated before the remainder were ever put into service.