The primary plane aboard Tuscaloosa and Wichita was the Curtiss SOC Seagull. The Seagull flew scouting and observation missions, including assisting in directing gunfire. The seaplanes were launched by catapult (aided by a gunpowder charge) and then recovered by crane.
SOC Seagull is launched from USS Astoria (CA-34, a New Orleans Class Cruiser) in 1942.
Recovery of an SOC Seagull aboard the Astoria in 1942.
The Seagull originated in 1933 and later planes were designed to replace it. Nevertheless, it served through the entire war on some ships because of its performance and ability to be stored in a smaller hangar.
The Tuscaloosa could hold four planes. During takeoff, Tuscaloosa's catapults were turned so as to launch to sea. Tuscaloosa's aviation capabilities can be seen in some of the Detail Pictures and also the annotated diagram in the Picture Gallery. Also, a very nice set of pictures is available at a site for the USS Augusta (CA-31), a heavy cruiser from the earlier Northhampton class with similar aviation capabilities. For some pictures and a description of aviation aboard a New Orleans class heavy cruiser) USS San Francisco, see this site of a first person account aboard USS San Francisco.
The aviation capabilities of Wichita were similar to Tuscaloosa, except that like the Brooklyn class of light cruisers and the subsequent Baltimore class of heavy cruisers, aviation on Wichita was located aft, rather than amidships as on Tuscaloosa and other New Orleans Class heavy cruisers.
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Type: scout/observation aircraft, single-engined biplane on floats.
Crew: 2: pilot, observer/gunner
Armament: two .30 cal machine gun, one forward-firing and one rear-firing; up to 650 lbs. of bombs
Length: 26' 6"
Height: 14' 9"
Wingspan: 36' 0"
Wing Area: 342 sq. ft.
Empty Weight: 3,788 lbs.
Max. Weight at takeoff: 5,437 lbs.
Engine: 1 Pratt & Whitney engine, 600 hp
Range: 675 miles
Cruise Speed: 133 mph
Max. Speed: 165 mph at 5,000 feet
Ceiling: 14, 900 feet