Douglas A/B-26 Invader

Target tug aircraft

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Associated reading

Target towing page 2 - Staff Sergeant Robert O'Connell (retired) - Nellis AFB, Las Vegas Nevada

Target tugs - In detail

The towed target operators were unique, in that they were volunteer aircrew, but they had no award of an aircrew wing, (brevet), to indicate their airborne duty, but they did enjoy their few additional Dollars flying pay and aircrew rations.
Some towed target operators had already completed one or more flying tours with other flying commands.
The twin drum winch, each drum carried 1,200 feet of seven strand 10 cwt cable, the last 100 feet of cable, between 100 feet and 90 feet was coloured RED, and between 20 feet and 10 feet was coloured YELLOW, to identify the approaching last 100 feet, the end of the cable terminated in a spliced loop, a swivel unit was fitted between the cable loop and the rope halyard, which had spliced loops at each ends and was of sufficient length to clear the aircrafts tail, the target was fitted to the halyard via a "weak link " loop made from 2 lb breaking strain cord.
by now the aircraft would be approaching the range and the pilot would be ready for the target to be deployed.
The T.T.O. By this time has attached the prepared flag target to the towing cable so he is now joined in his rear cockpit with a 5 feet 5 inch, weighted pole with a 20 feet long by 5 feet 5 inch wide target rolled around it, there can`t have been much spare space in there, on the command by the pilot " Stand by to launch", the T.T.O. then pays out the halyard through the launching hatch into the airflow, releases the winch brake, followed by the pilots command, "Stand by, Stand by" these commands being repeated by the T.T.O. then the command "Launch, Launch", the T.T.O. obey`s watches it open and applies the winch brake, he then visually inspects the cable and target and reports, " Target Streaming" pilot acknowledges "Target Streaming", pilot advises " Pay Out, Pay Out", and the T.T.O. gives the advice " Paying Out" releases the winch brake and pays out the cable to the required length, and advises the pilot "Target Streaming In Full Tow", unless there is a problem with the target.

So with the tug now flying the tow line, at an altitude between two and six thousand feet, clear of cloud and on a line approximately one mile "East" of the mean shore line its just a matter of awaiting the first briefed customer who will fly his number of passes on the towed target using live ammunition and camera gun until the detail is completed, the tug will continue to fly the tow line until the next aircraft joins and is given the signal to commence his shoot. This continues with successive aircraft, until either the tug leaves the tow line, or the target is so damaged, or shot off in some cases, that a new target is fitted and the tug rejoins the tow line or the tug returns to base.

In the event that the detail is completed, usually three aircraft, who`s ammunition could be coloured Red, Blue, Black or left Plain. If the tug aircraft is returning, with exercise completed, the pilot will join the circuit at normal circuit height, but make his final approach to the dead side of the circuit and at 200 feet above airfield level, with the intension of dropping the target and 1,200 feet of cable in the designated dropping zone. The pilot and T.T.O, then go through the command and response procedure: pilot, "Stand By To Drop",.T.T.O " Standing By To Drop" the T.T.O. is observing the drop zone and would advise the pilot of any hazard on the drop zone. Pilot, "DROP, DROP, DROP" And the T.T.O immediately releases the winch brake and allows the cable to run off the winch drum and then reports, "Cable and Target Dropped", Roy said from this point they could indulge in some legitimate low flying when going round again to join for a circuit to land, while they were going around, followed by the landing, two ground borne members of the T.T. Flight, alerted by air traffic control, were folding up and recovering the cable and then returning to the section, sometimes, before the dropping aircraft had landed and taxied back to the T.T. Flight dispersal.

In the event of the target snagging on the aircraft, the pilot would have been advised by the T.T.O. as to the nature of the foul up, and would contact Local Air Traffic Control and on his return to the Milfield circuit would see the Crash fire and rescue vehicle, and an Ambulance awaiting his landing, these mishaps were not infrequent, nor were the occasions when a target was pitched through the launch hatch without it being attached to the cable, know as finger trouble - failure to extract the digit, a source of amusement for the innocent and embarrassment for the T.T.O. to blame.




When the Royal Air Force decided it did not want to adopt the Douglas A-26 Invader into service, orders had already been placed for numerous aircraft and some had been completed. Douglas had completed 33 Invader B.Is but with no takers, ferry crews flew the planes to Sacramento, California, where they were placed into storage - but not for long. The new operator would be the US Navy but they did not want the Invader in its combat form.

In actuality, at this point, America was building combat aircraft faster than needed and in April 1945 the first consignment of RAF Invaders went to the Navy with the designation JD-1. Stripped of armament, the Navy reasoned these aircraft could have an operational role as target tugs and general hacks. In all the Navy would receive 150 Invaders with Bureau Numbers 77139-77224, 80621-80622, and 140326140377 being assigned. It is interesting to note that a A-2613-45DL 44-34217 (BuNo 5799) and a A-26C-40-DT 44-35467 (BuNo 57991) were assigned to the Navy during 1945 as XJD-1s. Also it is presumed that the Navy did its own modifications (including a unique nose modification) to remove armament and install equipment needed for the new mission.

Some of the aircraft were modified as JD-1Ds to be utilized as directors for drone flights. Surviving aircraft were redesignated UB-26Js and DB-26Js in 1962. The Navy "Jay Dees" were operated by utility squadrons - VU-2, -3, -4, -5, -7, and -10 into the 1960s and they were utilized as hacks, drone directors, and target tugs. Some of the most brightly painted aircraft in the Navy inventory, these aircraft had insignia yellow flying surfaces with (initially) glossy sea blue fuselages which were later changed to engine gray. Also, the aircraft often carried red and dayglo trim. Although many of these planes were stored surplus at the Navy's NAF Litchfield Park, Arizona, it is interesting to note that none survived to become Warbirds nor Counter Invaders.

The USAF version used was the TB-26B/C and the Navy version the JD-1
The 4th Tow Target Squadron, based at Geroge AFB in the late 1950s ( shown below ) had a mix of several different B/C versions.
All had the Orange Tow target markings on all the upper surfaces, and some had the Red Arctic markings on the tail and wings
Invaders that operated out of Japan also had yellow markings applied.
Following successful conversion of the USAAF A-26B Invader into target tug configuration in 1945 (designation XJD-1), the US Navy acquired 140 JD-1s converted from A-26Cs, for operation by US Navy Squadrons VU-3-4/ -7 and -10. Some were converted subsequently for the launch and control of target drones.


Above, the US Navy JD-1's that were used for target towing and general utility were superseded by the DC-130A variant of the C-130 Hercules.
The aircraft above was used by the 4th Tow Target Squadron, based at George AFB in the late 1950s









Above, in 1945, the US Navy acquired one USAAF A-26B and one A-26C for testing. They were assigned the designation XJD-1 and were given the Bureau of Aeronautics numbers of 57990 (ex A-26B-45-DL 44-34217) and 57991 (ex A-26C-40-DT 44-35467)
Shown in the above seven shots is the second XJD-1 (BuNo 57991) of two USAAF A-26C Invaders assigned to VJ-4 at NAS Norfolk, for USN utility work. A total of 140 A-26Cs were acquired for Navy use as JD-1 (UB-26J) target tugs and JD-1D (DB-26J) drone control aircraft. USN.
The above aircraft was one of two factory fresh A-26 Invaders. An A-26C-DT and an A-26B-DL
The JD-1s were operated well into the 1960s by seven US Navy utility squadrons ( VU-1, VU-2, VU-3, VU-4, VU-5, VU-7, and VU-10 ) as target tugs, drone directors, and general utility aircraft. Those that were modified as drone directors were redesignated JD-1D. As a teenager back in the 1950s.
They also operated from the NAS Chincoteague, Virginia on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

In 1962, the surviving JD-1s were redesignated UB-26J in accordance with the new Tri-Service designation system. The JD-1D drone directors became DB-26J


Above, the TB-26 B Invader was adapted for Air Target Towing Missions and was used by the Chilean Air Force during 1968 in the 8th Fighter Group, based in Antofagasta, Chile.
This airplane is now preserved in the Aeronautical Air Museum, in Santiago, Chile, and was painted in the old all black scheme.



 The above shot shows the cable access aperture.
On the earlier Invaders the cable was hand wound in and out via a winch in the cabin where the remote gun station once sat, on the later versions an air driven system was installed.
The opening behind the bomb bay is where the cable with target sleeve was let out.

Civilian target tugs


Above, Air Spray operated a former military jet fighter along with an A-26 Invader, to pursue revenues in a totally unrelated market – aerial target towing.
The jet, a 1958 Canadair F-86E Mk.6 Sabre, sported the company’s bright yellow livery and served the Canadian Forces at Cold Lake, Alta.
Air Spray also used A-26 Tanker 11 for target towing work (as pictured above).
Darcy Hankins an engineer with Air Spray at the time wrote:
It was only a 3 day contract unfortunately and as I mentioned we had some problems with the target releasing and spooling the cable out. Generally once the target is realeased there is some means of softening the initial jerk of the cable before it starts to reel out the wire. There wasn’t a good system in place to do this and a couple of the launches immediately snapped the wire before it could start it’s spool out (with the target plummetting into the weapons range of course). The aircraft was crewed by Jock Mackay (a contract Air Spray pilot) and myself. Once realeased the target took aprox 25 minutes to reel out. After the session was finished a wire cutter mounted aft of the target reel would shoot a .22 caliber slug with a cutting anvil into the wire to realease the wire and target over which ever area was designated the abort zone.
All of this was done at Suffield Weapons range in Southern Alberta, Canada.
The aircraft used stock bomb shackles to mount the towing mechanism ( I will try to find some more pics for you ) and a simple switch panel was installed in the cockpit to allow release, cable cut and emergency cable cut (a secondary .22 cal cutter ). The reel system employed a tach generator/ writer to advise that the reel was turning and how fast the wire was being deployed..
The airplane handled all this very well of course other than being a little control heavy on that wing for takeoff.






The above shot was supplied by Leif Hellström, via leo kohn

Serial #: 41-39223
Construction #: 6936
Civil Registration:
Name: None
Status: Restoration
Last info: 2004


Alex Oser, circa 1950.
- Acquired from USAF as scrap.
Texas Railroad & Equipment Co, Houston, TX, Feb. 19, 1952-1954.
- Sold to Armee de L'Air.
Delivered to Armee de L'Air as 4139223/Z-009.
- BOC: Nov. 1954.
- SOC: Oct. 20, 1965.
- Converted to B-26Z Target Tug.
- Withdrawn from service, Sept. 1965.
- Stored at Mont De Marsan AB, 1972.
- Gate Guard at Saintes-Thernac AB, France, 1978
Musee de l'Air, Paris-Le Bourget, 1993-2004.
- Restoration to airworthy, Tremons, 1994.
- Loaned to Ailes Anciennes Toulouse, Toulouse, France, 1996-2004.
-- Undergoing rstoration.

Associated reading
I've been trying to find out what the metal guards are installed for on the tail plane of the Invader below.
It turns out they were a precautionary and interim measure taken during certain target tug operations at Nellis AFB.
These protective guards were originally developed by the 47th ADG
Read below for some associated reading on the topic




The above three shots were kindly donated by Scott Lindley



The above two shots, Notice any similarities to the wire guard on this De Havilland DH-98 Mosquito TT35 target tug, operated by 3 Civilian Anti Aircraft Co-operation unit based at Exeter Airport.



Above, two CASA 2-111D's with a target drone under the belly and tail plane guards similar to the Mosquito shown above.


Textile tow targets


90% (AB), 0% (B)










A-26, A-4, T-2, A-6, F-4, F-14, A-7, F/A-18



The TDU-32A/B and TDU-32B/B aerial banner tow targets are effective low-cost devices for air-to-air and surface-to-air gunnery training. They are constructed of nylon fabric and are rectangular in shape. The TDU-32B/B is laser retroflective, while the TDU-32A/B is radar reflective. The TDU-32A/B and TDU-32B/B banner tow targets have a weighted steel tow bar and bridle assembly attached to the rectangular fabric panel. There is 60-foot safety nylon webbing bridle attached between the tow bar and tow cable. Both nonradar- and radar-reflective panels are 7 1/2 feet by 40 feet. For visual tracking, the panels have a 12-inch orange border and a 48-inch orange bull's eye centered on the white portion. The targets, attached approximately 1,800 feetbehind the tow aircraft, are launched from the runway by standard drag takeoff procedures. Target recovery is accomplished  by dropping the target in a recovery area following the mission.


Steel cables used in target towing are manufactured specifically for that purpose. Three of the several types of cables used are discussed here: the 3/32-inch, 7 by 7 cable; the 1/8-inch, 7 by 19 cable; and the 1/8-inch, 1 by 19 armored cable. The 3/32-inch cable comes in 10,000-foot spools, has a minimum breaking strength of 920 pounds when new, and is 7 by 7 in construction. It consists of seven strands; each strand has seven wires, and is commonly referred to as 7 by 7. This cable weighs 1.5 pounds per 100 feet. The 1/8-inch cable is shipped in either 11,500- to 12,500-foot spools or 7,000- to 7,500-foot spools. It has a minimum breaking strength of 2,000 pounds when new. It is 7 by 19 in construction (7 strands, 19 wires per strand) and weighs 2.9 pounds per 100 feet. The 1/8-inch-armored cable is shipped in spools. It has a minimum breaking strength of 2,160 pounds. It is constructed of one strand of 19 wires, with a flat armoring wire swaged spirally around the strand with a minimum of 6 turns per inch. The armored cable weighs 4 pounds per 100 feet. These cables are not lubricated. The use of grease, oil, paraffin, or other lubricants on the cable is a fire hazard. An explosive vapor is created in the towing aircraft as the cable is reeled out at high speeds. Since the cables are not lubricated, they must be stored in a dry place, or cleaned and coated with corrosion-preventive compound according to instructions. Continual use of a cable reduces its strength. Target towing subjects the cable to severe stress in addition to the damage caused by gunfire. You need to inspect cables frequently. The cable should be repaired or replaced if there are indications of fraying (broken wires), birdcaging (partial unwinding of the strands along the cable), or snarling (unwinding of the strands and wires at the end of the cable). Running a cloth along the cable will help you locate broken wires, as they will catch in the cloth. Never run your bare hand along the cable because the broken wires will catch in the flesh. Also, you should never use a knot to attach a target, since the knot weakens the cable by 50 percent or more. An eye splice is recommended for this purpose.

Mk 1 Target Leader

The Mk 1 target leader is used to attach targets and target-release messengers to the release ring. In turn, the target ring is held by the Mk 7 Mod 4 target release. When the target is dropped, the leader and ring drop with it.

The leader is a 34-inch length of 5/32-inch diameter 7 by 19 steel cable swaged into a yoke at one end with an eye at the other end. To use the leader, you attach the bridle eye of the target to the yoke of the leader. Then, secure the eye end of the leader with a shackle to the release ring or snarl catcher that slides along the tow cable.

Mk 8 Target Release Ring

The Mk 8 target release ring is made of casehardened alloy steel and is about 3 inches long. The smaller eye is 1/2 inch in diameter, while the larger eye is 1 1/2 inches in diameter. You should attach the target leader to the smaller eye (securing eye). The larger loop (hole) slides along the cable, and is held by the target release when the target is towed with a reel. Release rings are also used in drag takeoffs and container launchings. In container launchings, you should attach the ring directly to the towline, and then to the target-release device of the aircraft.


Klein "Chicago" Grip

The Klein "Chicago" grip provides a means of transferring the target drag load from the reel o a structural member of the towing aircraft. This procedure is used to take the strain off the reel while the target is streamed. The grip is a standard commercial item. It is about 10 inches long and composed of a series of spring-loaded linkages and a shackle. Compressing the entire grip in line with the extended shackle opens the jaws. It will grip bare wires, solid or stranded, from 0.081 to 0.162 inch in diameter. A cable to the aircraft’s internal structure first secures the grip. Then, it is attached to the tow cable near the outrigger sheave. Slightly unwinding the reel transfers the load from the reel to the grip. The greater the drag load, the tighter the jaws grip the cable.


Do NOT apply loads greater than 1,500 pounds to the grip. It will accept cable with a much greater breaking strength than that of the grip itself. As a safety measure, set the reel brake while the grip is in use, keep the clutch in the IN position, and keep the slack in the tow cable between the grip and reel at a minimum.



There are two basic classes of tow targets—textile and rigid tow targets. Textile tow targets are flexible targets woven from a synthetic fiber, such as nylon. Rigid tow targets are made of a rigid material, such as fiberglass. They are shaped and constructed to prevent drag and withstand severe air loads when towed at high speeds. This type of target is normally finned stabilized. All rigid targets provide an auxiliary aid for the radar fire control system in the attacking aircraft.


Maintenance performed on targets is based on the concept that maintenance should be performed at the lowest maintenance level capable of performing the work. All maintenance is performed in accordance with approved NAVAIRSYSCOM maintenance plans, maintenance instruction manuals, and maintenance requirement cards. Organizational maintenance activities are responsible for maintaining target logbooks, target discrepancy books, target performance reports, and the Visual Information Display System/Maintenance Action Forms (VIDS/MAFs).


Logbooks are maintained for each target, and are the administrative means of providing managers with target age, status, operational history, modification, configuration, and transfer and receiving data. This information is maintained throughout the target's life cycle. Refer to OPNAVINST 8000.16 for a list of all applicable publications for target systems.


The Target Discrepancy Book, maintained by maintenance control, for each target assigned is set up by target serial number, which must accurately reflect the status of all pending maintenance requirements as shown on the maintenance control and work center VIDS board. Discrepancy books are not maintained on tow banners and tow lines. The Aircraft Inspection and Acceptance Record, OPNAV 4790/141 separate flight records on target drones.


There are many safety precautions associated with the target towing service. Some of these safety precautions are:

Preservatives and lubricants may NOT be used on tow cables. Friction caused by high-speed reeling-out generates heat. This heat can generate explosive vapors from the lubricants in the tow compartment.

A cable should be uncoiled by standing the coil on its edge, holding the end, and unrolling the coil. Do NOT attempt to take cable from either a coil or roll by pulling the cable when the coil or roll is lying flat. The cable will snarl and kink.

When you cut nylon towline, the ends have to be bound. Otherwise, apply enough heat to the cut ends to melt the nylon. This prevents raveling.

Safety tow webbing must be used between the target and the end of the towline. When the pilot shoots off the towline, this webbing can prevent it from becoming tangled in the target. Multistrand safety webbing’s (100 feet long) are used with banner targets.

The snarl catcher must NOT be used during air-to-air gunnery exercises. It may clamp on the towline before it reaches the end of the cable. This means there will be a long, free section of the cable whipping about behind the target.

All personnel involved in target towing operations must know the standard hand signals for controlling aircraft on the ground.

Perform a preflight inspection of all tow equipment.

Make sure you are clear of the cable when launching a target.

Do NOT wear loose clothing when operating rewind equipment. Keep your hands clear of moving parts when the equipment is in operation.

Observe RADHAZ precautions when working with cable cutting cartridges and tracking flares.

Exercise caution when it is necessary to work in close proximity of pneumatic, hydraulic, spring, or cartridge-operated components.