Category Archives: planes

A-10 Hawg’s New Role As a Storm Chasing Aircraft.

This A-10 is undergoing conversion to a storm chasing aircraft.

This A-10 is undergoing conversion into a storm chasing aircraft.

As retirement looms for the USAF’s A-10 Hawg, the National Science Foundation and Zivko Aeronautics have teamed up in a $13 million dollar project to convert one aircraft into a platform to deploy sensors in thunderstorms.

A computer server system will be installed where the weapons system used to be. The system will use sensors on the wings to detect things like wind speed, pressure and movement of a storm. The information is then sent to researchers working on the ground.

“So they’ll get real time, first-hand knowledge of whatever it is they want to sample,” Schneider said.

The A-10 will be equipped to release small sensors into the storm, similar to what was done in the movie “Twister”. The only difference is the sensors will be released from above the storm instead of below it.

“We’re actually going to drop ours out of the wing tips and the wheel pods,” said Schneider.

Learn more from the video in the article above.

From the National Science Foundation:

Since the retirement of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSMT) T-28 in 2005, the storm research community has been without means of obtaining in-situ measurements of storm properties.  In 2010 the National Science Foundation (NSF) took steps to remedy this.  The Foundation decided to sponsor the Center for Interdisciplinary Remotely Piloted Aircraft Studies (CIRPAS) at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, to requisition a Fairchild A-10 from the US Air Force.   A year later, the USAF agreed to lend a mothballed A-10 to the US Navy, to be regenerated, reinforced for storm penetration, instrumented for scientific research, and operated by CIRPAS in collaboration with scientists at SDSMT.

The A-10 is a rugged aircraft deisgned to take a lot of punishment from the battlefield. That same strength will be of value when doing the storm research. From Popular Mechanics:

“Conventional research aircraft avoid these severe storms, so they’re basically outside looking in,” meteorologist and veteran storm-chaser Joshua Wurman of the Center for Severe Weather Research in Boulder, Colo, tells PM. “We want to study the worst weather, but we’re trying to keep the [plane] outside the worst weather. With the A-10, we don’t have that limitation.”

A couple of the Thunderbolt’s targets will be supercell thunderstorms, which birth tornadoes, and mesoscale convective systems, giant storm clusters that can produce thunder and lightning, pounding hail, and damaging winds. Ground-based radar systems can track wind and precipitation in these systems fairly well from a distance. But to understand how temperature and humidity contribute to tornado formation, for example, researchers need to get at the heart of the storm.

The A-10 started off as a platform designed to save lives on the battelfield. It’s an interesting twist the A-10 will now be saving civilian lives in the US.

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Facia Georgius: Guadalcanal From The Marines’ Perspective

Below is a re-posting of a blog piece I wrote for USNI in August of 2011.  A bonus is a spirited exchange between the author of the blog (yours truly) and Jim Hornfischer.   Few elements of the Navy-Marine Corps rivalry engender as much emotion as the Marines’ utter contempt for Frank Jack Fletcher.  In fact, I had a long and enjoyable conversation with a RADM a couple weekends ago about the very incident described below, and he was entirely in agreement with my assessment of Fletcher’s blunder.   As the 72nd anniversary of the beginning of the epic struggle for the Solomons approaches, I suggest Hornfischer’s books highly.  Despite our differences regarding Fletcher, his books are a must-read to a serious historian of the Pacific War.  And he portrays brilliantly how thin the line was between success and failure in the struggle for the Solomons.  

The medal above is the “George Medal”, which was an unofficial award commemorating the early struggles of the Marines on Guadalcanal. The image depicts, legend has it, the sleeve of Frank Jack Fletcher, with his hand dropping a hot potato onto the Marines ashore. The inscription is “Facia Georgius“. “Let George do It”.

Let me state that, in my opinion, James D. Hornfischer is unquestionably one of the finest writers of Naval history in the last half-century. His books, especially Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, are iconic works that tell superbly the tales of the US Navy in the Second World War in the Pacific. However, during a recent episode of MIDRATS, Mr. Hornfischer’s assertions about the US Marines’ history of the Guadalcanal campaign are entirely incorrect. The issue at hand in those assertions is the decision of Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher to depart the Guadalcanal area on the morning of 9 August 1942, after just two days of supporting the amphibious operations ashore.

Fletcher was concerned with the risk to his carriers, Saratoga, Wasp, and Enterprise, by having them tied to support of operations ashore. While understandable, what Fletcher refused to acknowledge was that with amphibious operations, once the landing takes place and forces are ashore, a commander is all in, and must support the forces ashore. The landings by the Marines were the entire reason for having Task Force 61 in the waters of the Solomons. Admiral Turner (commanding the amphibious task force, TF 62) and First Marine Division Commander General A. A. Vandegrift argued the point heatedly in a conference aboard Saratoga, but to no avail.

Chapter 5 of the splendid History of the First Marine Division, “The Old Breed” (Infantry Journal Press, 1949), begins:

The feeling of expendability is difficult to define. It is loneliness, it is a feeling of being abandoned, and it is something more, too: it is as if events over which you have no control have put a ridiculously low price tag on your life.

When word got around Guadalcanal in the second week of August that the Navy had taken off and left the Marines, the feeling of expendability became a factor in the battle.

“I know I had a feeling” says a man who was there, “and I think a lot of others felt the same way, that we’d never get off that damned island alive. Nobody said this out loud at the time. I was afraid to say it for fear it’s come true”.

“But”, says a Captain, “there was an awful lot of talk about Bataan.”

Even the greenest Second Lieutenant in the Division knew enough to understand that an amphibious operation cannot be sustained without Naval support.

The Guadalcanal Campaign, the official historical monograph published by the USMC History Division, is somewhat more matter-of-fact, but still states:

The withdrawal of the supply ships, therefore, was, from a troop standpoint, little short of a catastrophe, but Admiral Turner’s decision was not changed.

And sums up the situation of the Marines ashore this way:

The withdrawal of the transports had left the Marine forces with only a part of their initially scanty supplies ashore. Ammunition supply was adequate, but the situation in the matter of food was serious. Even with the acquisition of a considerable stock of rice and canned food from the captured Japanese area, supplies were so short that it was necessary on 12 August to begin a program of two meals per day. There was a similar shortage of defensive material, barbed wire (of which only 18 spools were landed), and entrenching tools and sand-bags.

The most serious shortage of all, however, from the point of view of the engineers who were charged with the completion of the airfield, was that of specialized equipment necessary for the task. No power shovels had been landed, nor dump trucks.

So, on 9 August 1942, the day Admiral Fletcher departs with his warships of TF 61, and the cargo vessels of Admiral Turner’s Amphibious TF 62, the Marines of the First Marine Division are ashore. But not all of them. Vandegrift’s reserve, the 2nd Marines, is still embarked. Those that are ashore have barely 96 hours of ammunition. They are short of food. The enemy strength and disposition is largely unknown. Their lifeline, the airstrip, is not yet repaired and has no aircraft. They are all but defenseless against the frequent Japanese air strikes.

Vandegrift and his staff had agreed to come ashore with an initial load plan that represented significantly less than their minimum requirement due to constraints on cargo space, with the promise that the Navy would surge supplies to them. Now, most of even that small amount was out of reach of his Marines, headed to sea in Turner’s cargo holds, as the latter was forced to withdraw when Admiral Fletcher’s warships departed.

But for three absolutely miraculous occurrences in the fortunes of war, the Guadalcanal landings might have been a disaster comparable to the loss of the Philippines just a few months before.

The first occurrence is that the Japanese commander, caught off guard, underestimate both the strength of the landing force (believing only a few thousand ashore), and the fighting spirit of the Marines, and did not move decisively to reinforce the small garrison on Guadalcanal with elements of the 17th Army that were available. (A single reinforced battalion of the 28th Regiment, about 1,100 Japanese, was given the mission of re-taking the island.)

The second was the fortuitous capture, with slight damage, of a single bulldozer, which the Marines used to maximum effect to complete a 2,700 foot airstrip on the Lunga plain. Without that stroke of luck, several weeks likely would have passed before any aircraft could have operated out of Henderson Field.

The third near-miracle was the capture of large stores of Japanese canned fish and rice, which becomes a staple of the Marines’ diet in the absence of rations still in the holds of the Navy ships.

Meanwhile, the arduous task of building of bunkers and of obstacles to defend the Marine positions and the all-important airfield, was done by hand in the searing jungle heat. The Marines, short of wire and sandbags, improvised as best as possible. By the time the 2nd Marines arrived (22 August) and additional supplies were landed, the Marines had been engaged in a number of short, sharp fights with the Japanese, the first of dozens and hundreds of bloody slugging matches in the rotting heat of the jungle on Guadalcanal.

The fight for Guadalcanal has been well-documented, and by the time last of the First Marine Division embarked for good from the island, the Division had suffered nearly 700 killed, 1,300 wounded, and more than 8,000 sick with malaria and other jungle diseases. For veterans of that time on Guadalcanal, men who didn’t have our perspective of inevitable victory either on Guadalcanal or in the Solomons, their resentment of (at the time) the US Navy and of Admiral Fletcher (which persists to this day) is entirely warranted.

Fletcher’s departure with his carriers, claiming the need to fuel (“always fueling”, wrote Morrison) was an exceedingly poorly considered move. His decision to do so infuriated Admiral Turner, commanding TF 62, who understood that his ships and their cargo were they keys to survival for the Marines ashore. While Fletcher’s aircraft carriers were precious commodities, his decision to minimize risk to those units had the effect of placing the entire of Operation Watchtower in considerable danger of failure. The lack of supplies and support which the Marines ashore endured in the opening weeks of the fight for Guadalcanal negated Vandegrift’s plans for immediate offensive operations (with an expanded airfield) to clear the island, left them all but defenseless to Japanese air and naval forces, and prolonged what became a protracted and savage fight under unspeakably miserable conditions.

In his efforts to protect his carriers, Fletcher inexcusably risked something even more precious and irreplaceable. The only trained and equipped amphibious force that the United States had in the entire Pacific. The loss of the carriers would have had severe operational implications, but defeat on Guadalcanal, resulting in an evacuation, or worse, capitulation, would have been strategic disaster.

Attempts at “reassessment” of Fletcher’s decision to pull support for the Marines on Guadalcanal, and justifying that decision six decades hence as “prudent”, are exercises in revisionism mixed with ample doses of 20/20 hindsight. The Marines’ bitterness at Fletcher is well-placed. Asserting differently dismisses the situation the Marines faced in mid-August of 1942 vis a vis the enemy as well as their own logistics. The Marines would gain a new respect for the Navy once Fletcher and the overmatched and timid Ghormley are replaced, the latter by the legendary William F. Halsey, who immediately visited Vandegrift and the Marines on Guadalcanal. Halsey’s “battle-mindedness” and promise of the support of the Navy was a refreshing and comforting change from his predecessor, and was immediately reflected in the morale of the Marines ashore.

Mr. Hornfischer’s goal in his exploration of Naval history, to put himself (and his reader) in the shoes of the commander, is extremely admirable. He would be remiss, however, if the sets of shoes he places himself in do not include the muddy boondockers of a First Division Marine on Guadalcanal. Were Mr. Hornfischer able to interview the First Marine Division veterans of Guadalcanal forty years ago, he would have gotten their perspective on those weeks without Navy support, expressed in the most colorful of language. Which needs no revision.

***********************************

Interesting comments from the esteemed author, James D. Hornfischer:

I’m delighted to find this colloquy unfolding in this reputable forum between such well-informed service professionals.

As I tried fervently to convey in NEPTUNE’S INFERNO, I’m sympathetic to the plight of the Guadalcanal Marines who were forced to persevere without air cover or full provisions for a period of time that they could not know at the time. Doing their business under these conditions, they were gallant and resourceful as ever. They are entitled not only to their pride, but also their chagrin. The question is whether the study of this history should end there. Is their heat-of-the-moment rage sufficient to serve as the final word on Frank Jack Fletcher and the Navy’s performance in the campaign? This question pretty well answers itself in the asking.

The blogger labels as revisionist any assessment of Fletcher that does not comport with the partisan, Corps-centric assessments formulated during and immediately after the war and abetted by Samuel Eliot Morison (and never rebutted by Fletcher himself).

The Marines’ resentment of Frank Jack Fletcher was well placed in its day. Our burden today is to see it in light of everything else we know about the complex circumstances that attended the campaign. Most of these, of course, were invisible from the beach. In NEPTUNE’S INFERNO I tried to thread that needle without resorting to the kind of interservice partisanship that characterizes many of the Corps-centric accounts of the campaign.

Admiral Nimitz instructed his commanders at all times to operate under the guiding star of “calculated risk,” that is, to weigh the potential benefits of an action against its potential costs and drawbacks. In choosing how long to expose the Pacific’s only three carriers in direct support of the Guadalcanal landings, Admiral Fletcher determined how much risk he was willing to accept in the opening act of Operation Watchtower. He informed his colleagues in advance of the operation and his decision was extensively debated in advance.

Today, it’s all over but the shouting. History bears out the wisdom of his determination. The Marines were left without carrier air support from the carriers’ withdrawal on August 9 until August 20, when the USS Long Island delivered the body of the Cactus Air Force. The consequences of those eleven days of exposure turned out, happily, to be negligible. The Japanese did nothing to seriously threaten the U.S. position on Guadalcanal during that time. The carriers returned in time to fight the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. (His conduct of the battle demonstrated the sincerity of his caution; he ordered one of his three carriers, the Wasp, out of the battle area to refuel.) Fighting with one hand behind his back, so to speak, he used the Enterprise and Saratoga to deflect the Japanese push. He saved his fleet for that moment and the others that followed. One could well speculate that had he left his carriers near Guadalcanal continuously from August 7, they might have been struck, making the close victory of Eastern Solomons impossible and imperiling the Marine position even more seriously.

This, much like Marine partisans’ complaints of “inexcusable risks to the landing force,” is a fruitless exercise in speculation. It’s only proper to damn Fletcher—or say the “risk” he took was “inexcusable”—by assuming an alternate universe of events where his decisions led to disaster. That’s when you ask the question Why and cast the arrows of judgment at the perpetrators.

It seems reasonable to judge the final wisdom of a particular risk by looking at the results that flowed from it. If we do that, there is no compelling basis for labeling Admiral Fletcher anything other than a winner.

As events actually unfolded, the Battle of the Eastern Solomons marked the beginning of the Navy’s sustained commitment to fight in defense of the Marine position on Guadalcanal, risking its most valuable assets the whole way through. By the time it was over, the Navy had fought seven major naval actions in which its KIA outnumbered infantry KIA by a factor of nearly 3 to 1.

It is entirely coherent to sympathize with the authentic anger of the Marines on Cactus, and simultaneously recognize the balance of merit favoring Admiral Fletcher’s controversial decision. The Marines lacked air cover for eleven days, and a large portion of their supplies, and suffered the bracing uncertainty how long those circumstances would attend.

By the time it was over, the three-to-one KIA ratio stood starkly apparent to anyone who was watching, and victory absolves all sins. General Vandegrift remembered the November 13 deaths of Admirals Scott and Callaghan with his famous dispatch “lifting our battered helmets in deepest appreciation.” To wallow in the bile of interservice partisanship, from a tendentious evaluation of a fragment of events, in spite of the actual outcome of history, is little more than a parlor game that negates the final judgment of the 1st MarDiv commander himself regarding the performance of the fleet. Nearly 70 years after events, we can do better than that.

*********************************************

And response from the “blogger”:

The questioning of Admiral Fletcher’s decision to remove the carriers of TF 61 from supporting the Marines ashore at Guadalcanal is far more than “a fruitless exercise in speculation”, or “bile of interservice partisanship”.

To assert that because the Japanese failed to take advantage of a golden opportunity to interdict the US drive into the Solomons and bring about a potentially crippling strategic setback, the decision Fletcher made to withdraw was correct is to assert that “all’s well that ends well”. Such is a singularly dangerous approach to the study of military history, as it goes great lengths toward the already-prevalent tendency to believe that the winners have little to learn from an ultimately successful outcome.

In any amphibious operation, support from the sea is critical to success, irrespective of the service executing the amphibious assault. Nimitz’ concept of “calculated risk” is in no way sufficient to excuse the willful passing of initiative to the enemy in the very place that was the US main effort at the time in the Pacific. Fletcher left Vandegrift without the forces and supplies to execute his plan ashore, in fact with barely enough to defend a thin perimeter against an enemy whose strength and disposition was largely unknown. That the enemy did not seize that initiative is to our eternal good fortune. We have several bloody examples of what happened in amphibious operations when the initial advantage of the initiative is allowed to pass. At Anzio seventeen months later, Army General Lucas dithered in his beachhead while Kesselring acted, reinforcing the threatened area as fast as he could with every available formation at his disposal. The result was a costly slugging match against what was by then an enemy well prepared to meet the breakout. We should be grateful that Hyakutake was no Kesselring.

It remains speculation, as well, whether Fletcher represented truthfully to Ghormley that both General Vandegrift and Admiral Turner had stated that 96 hours was the time required for full unloading of the transports. Both had done so, and had argued vehemently against Fletcher’s decision while aboard Saratoga.

No, this debate is not “partisan service” anything. Initiative is among the most precious commodities on the battlefield, to be surrendered only at dear cost. Fletcher did so, or rather forced Vandegrift ashore to do so, but the Japanese did not take it. He was, as were the Marines ashore, fortunate in the extreme.

As stated above, the Marines by and large came to respect greatly the efforts of the Navy in the waters around Guadalcanal. It has been a subject of intense study on my part, and worthy of the highest of admiration for the bravery and tenacity of the American Sailor. However, the anger of the Marines and their contempt for Fletcher is understandable. The loss of the transports and the Division reserve crippled the commander ashore, and prevented the undertaking of immediate offensive operations that could have cleared the island before Japanese reinforcements arrived in significant numbers. Instead, Guadalcanal became a protracted and bloody fight on the island and in the surrounding waters that ended only with the evacuation of the Japanese survivors in early 1943.

Fletcher’s decision should be recognized for what it was, a major tactical blunder that could have had severe strategic consequences. That he, and his boss, Ghormley, were removed from command, speaks volumes. That is true, seventy years or seven hundred years after the battle.

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Dash 80 First Flight- 60 Years Ago Today

Not the first commercial jet transport, but certainly a game changer. The Boeing Model 367-80, commonly referred to as the Dash 80, was the prototype for what became the Boeing 707, 720, and C-135 families of aircraft. Even today, the descendants of the Dash 80 serve throughout the world.

 

Model 367-80, The Dash 80

And yes, Tex Johnson really did barrel roll the Dash 80 over Lake Washington.

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Harmonizing

When’s the last time you saw an actual P-51D firing actual .50cal machine guns? Well, here’s your chance. Parrothead Jeff sent this along.

 

You’ll notice not a lot of rounds were actually hitting the target. The best aerial marksmen in the world won’t do well if the guns aren’t “harmonized.” You’d expect the guns in the wing of a fighter to point straight ahead. But in fact, you want them to point inward ever so slightly. Ideally, the stream of fire from all six guns would converge at a point 250 to 300 yards ahead of the fighter. That was typically considered the maximum range a pilot could effectively shoot in aerial combat in World War II. And of course, the idea was to have the greatest possible weight of fire hitting the enemy at once.

The mounts in the wing of fighters allowed both for the guns to be securely and firmly mounted, while also allowing the direction of the gun to be dialed in. The process was straightforward, if rather time consuming. The plane would be placed on the range with the tail elevated as shown, at the distance desired, let’s say 250 yards from the target. Then one by one, each gun would be fired for a very short burst, with the armorers noting the point of impact, then adjusting the guns until they were on target, center mass. After all six guns were adjusted, a final burst would confirm the guns were harmonized.

Each plane had small differences in tolerances, so each plane had to be individually adjusted. However, once the actual adjustments were known (say, for instance, gun #1 needs 4 clicks up and 7 right to be on target) each time the guns were removed for cleaning and reinstalled, the same clicks could be applied. An occasional confirmation firing would suffice to ensure the guns were still harmonized.

Note also that while the Browning .50cal is externally quite similar to the gun used by ground forces, it’s been designed to have a significantly higher rate of fire, about 750rpm, versus 500-550 for the ground version.

Even today, the guns of fighters have to be fired on an actual range to ensure they’re pointed where the pilot thinks they are.

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USS Ranger Flight Ops Off Vietnam 1972

From the good old days. The heart aches for the variety of aircraft on the flight deck in those days (ok I wasn’t born in ’72 but still).

 

 

 

 

SPOILER ALERT: Yeah, you can have that Viggie trap at the end. That quite frankly scared me a little and gave me a few gray hairs.

h/t to Comm Jam for the Facebook post.

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Cutaway Thursday: McDonnell Douglas F-4X-VG

The McDonnell Douglas F-4X-VG was a design proposal to improve the carrier landing characteristics of the venerable F-4 Phamtom 2 in US Navy service. This eventually lost out to Grumman’s F-14 Tomcat but like the Tomcat the F-4X-VG has a variable geometry wing. The Navy passed on this proposal due to the VG-X’s apparent inablility to carry the AWG-9/AIM-54 Phoenix weapons system suite.

F-4X-VG

 

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Cutaway Thursday: Convair B-36J Peacemaker

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Bronco Monday

A pair of OV-10G+ Broncos in Black Pony markings stopped by this weekend to visit the Fort Worth Air Museum for the museum’s Founders Day.

 

Now, the Navy’s been pretty quiet about just what they’re currently doing with the Broncos, but you may have noticed that the pilots were wearing expeditionary camouflage uniforms, rather than the more conventional flight suit.

Not sayin’… just sayin’…

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Intrepid Tiger II – EW in the USMC

USMC EA-6B Prowler

USMC EA-6B Prowler

The primary asset for electronic warfare in the USMC has been the venerable Grumman EA-6B Prowler (and to a lesser extent, recently, RQ-7 Shadow UAVs). These airframe utilize the ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System (TJS) to monitor and disrupt threat radars and communications on the battlefield. Lately during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, the Prowler (in addition to US Navy and Airforce EW assets) to jam cell phone integrated improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The Prowler has been in USMC service since the early 1970’s and due to airframe age have very recently been replaced by the EA-18G Growler, in US Navy service. The USMC has no plans to operate the Growler and will gradually phase the Prowler out to opt for an EW version of the F-35 Lightning 2. As for 2013, the USMC operated 4 squadrons (called VMAQs-) of Prowlers.

The decision of the USMC to opt for an EW version of the F-35 is already pretty controverisal. The USMC will operated the F-35B (the STOVL) version. It’s unknown whether or not the USMC will develop an “electronic attack” version of the F-35B (perhaps EF-35B) or add EW as another task for the F-35 to d0. The later would be possbile in terms of hardware given the AESA radar but in high threat environs, the single pilot would likely become task saturated. Most likely, the USMC would depend on the Navy’s Growlers and the USAF EC-130 aircraft. In a high threat “day-one” area either aircraft wouldn’t be able to escort the F-35. Most likely, both the EC-130 and Growler provide jamming coverage in at a relatively safer distance from a target area i.e “stand-off jamming.”

Meanwhile facing IED threats in Afganistan, the gradual drawdown of the USMC’s Prowler fleet, and continued delays in the F-35, the USMC would be left without an organic EW capability. It was recently revealed in 2008 that the USMC has developed a “podded” EW solution, called the Intrepid Tiger II for it’s Harrier fleet:

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In 2008 the USMC took dealing with the improvised explosive devices threat into their own hands and what they ended up with was a cost effective and highly adaptable jamming and communications intelligence pod that should be a model of how to satisfy future urgent “niche capability” needs.

It is called the Intrepid Tiger II and it looks very much like a ALQ-167 threat simulation podused for training by NAVAIR and its “Red Air” contractors. The pod itself is about the same size as a AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missile, with various aerials emitting from its tubular body. This configuration makes the pod capable of being deployed aboard the AV-8B Harrier jump-jet and its aerodynamic impact on the jet’s performance is so anemic that the aircraft’s flight computer does not even need a software update to carry it, it just treats it as an AGM-65 Maverick missile.

During the system’s rapid design phase, engineers made use of off the shelf parts in order to bring the program’s costs down and shorten the urgently needed pod’s developmental time-span. The first eight pods cost about a million dollars each, which is a bargain considering that anything with the words “new” and “military” next to it usually has an appalling price tag. When you look at what the Corps gets for that million bucks, Intrepid Tiger II is an all-out steal.

RTWT

The Intrepid Tiger is also highly automated (there’s only one pilot in the Harrier) and can, interestingly be operated either by the pilot and/or a remote ground station via datalink. The USMC hope to integrate the pod with other airborne platforms (Hornet and Cobra chiefly). While Intrepid Tiger does provide a limited solution in the face of the drawdown of the Prowler, and it also provides theather commanders with another EW asset option as current options aviable are “low density, high deman” meaning there aren’t enough to go around. The downside is that the Harrier doesn’t have much of a loiter capability (if someone needs on-station coverage) and you aren’t getting the same capability in terms of jamming coverage and power as you would from a dedicated EW platform.

But hell, something is better than nothing and the USMC deserves kudos for coming up with something.

Intrepid Tiger has already been test flown on Harriers from VMA-214 and is expected to be deployed with VMA-211 when they return to Afganistan later this year. 

 IMO, for the USMC to maintain an organic EW capabilty, they should opt for the Growler (an EW F-35 is a naive pipe dream and pointless gamble). The training infastructure is already there in the Navy and additional purchases would lower the unit costs. That said, because of the very high optempo of current national EW assets, Intrepid Tiger is a decent “ad hoc” organic EW platform and could develop into something useful for other services.

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Old School Carrier Jet Ops

Mostly from a British perspective.

A lot of folks around the naval centric blogs roll their eyes at the Chinese aircraft carrier, and reassure themselves that it took the US 50-60-70 years to learn to operate carriers.

No.

It took about a decade.

Take a look at carrier aviation circa 1950. Sure, there were early jets, but most everything else operated just as it did in World War II. Straight decks, hydraulic cats for the jets, but everything else was a deck run take-off, the flat approach via an LSO with actual paddles leading to a “cut.”  Cyclic operations weren’t the norm, but rather the deck load strike was the usual operation. Night operations were still limited to a select group of specialty planes in each air group.

Fast forward a decade, and virtually all that had changed. The prop plane was most assuredly on the way out. The angle deck was in the fleet. The steam catapult was in service, allowing vastly heavier jets to be safely launched. The flat approach to a cut had been replaced by the constant rate of descent to a controlled crash type approach, with the paddles of the LSO being replaced by the “meatball” mirror landing system. Cyclic operations were the norm, and every carrier aviator was expected to fly and fight day and night.

The US accident rate in this period of technical and procedural change was appalling. But we learned. And while the Chinese may not be the most innovative people around, they’re smart enough to study what we have done. Of course, they too will face a steep learning curve. But if they are willing to pay the price, there’s no reason they cannot establish a quite credible carrier aviation ability in a similar time period as we did.

Back to the video, yes, yes indeed that is a jet landing on a giant rubber mat with no landing gear.

The three big innovations in post-World War II carrier technology are generally seen as the angled deck, steam catapults, and the mirror landing system. And all three were British inventions. But as you can tell by the rubber mat, not all British carrier innovations were all that successful, or even well thought out.

I have no doubt that it was quite expensive to refit the carrier with the flex deck for trials. And of course, some sort of dolly would be needed for deck handling and launching. And of course, the time needed to lift the jet from the deck and put it on the dolly would considerably slow the cycle of landing operations.

Still, it is a  fun video, and great to see some lesser known British birds, and some planes better known for their land based operations running the deck.

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Why can’t we build a new airplane?

Spill and I were mulling it over the other day, talking about the CH-53K and the F/A-18E/F, versus the MV-22 and the F-35. 

Today, virtually all successful aviation acquisition programs are evolutions of existing aircraft, while every new airframe is a developmental hell.

Off the top of my head, I can’t really think of any successful, well managed new airframes (that is, started on a fresh sheet of paper) since the Teen Series fighters, and the H-60 family of helicopters.

What say you?

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Iron Birds

Static test airframes, or more commonly called, “iron birds” are partially built, non-flying airframes or old formerly flying airframes that are used by agencies and manufacturers to test either the strength of than airframe, various design components or aircraft subsystems (avionics, flight control, engines, etc).

The iron birds used for strength testing are typically full-scale representations of the aircraft that are rigged to giant gantry cranes with weights and strain gauges attached. See the pic:

Lockheed's F-35 test airframe installed on gantry cranes with strain gauges.

Lockheed’s F-35 test airframe installed on gantry cranes with strain gauges.

Once installed on the cranes the airframe is literally pulled and pushed to properly simulate all the aerodynamic forces that the aircraft will encounter throughout it’s flying career.  Often the iron birds are tested till destruction.

This is a VC-10 undergoing wing fatigue testing. Note the bending wing.

This is a VC-10 undergoing wing fatigue testing. Note the bending wing.

Some iron birds are formerly flying airframes that have accumulated too many flying hours and are no longer consider safe to fly. These aircraft are typically stripped of most equipment (engines mostly) and used to test various aircraft subsystems in support of other programs.

This NASA's F-8 Crusader iron bird that was used to test software for NASA's Digital Fly-By-Wire program in the 1960s,

This NASA’s F-8 Crusader iron bird that was used to test software for NASA’s Digital Fly-By-Wire program in the 1960s,

 

As the latest example of NASA's iron bird, this is an F/A-18 Hornet used by NASA to support many of the F/A-18 test programs.

As the latest example of NASA’s iron bird, this is an F/A-18 Hornet used by NASA to support many of the F/A-18 test programs.

Iron birds aren’t limited to NASA. The US military also used them for the same purposes.

This B-2 at the National Museum of the USAF was never an actual flying airframe. This "aircraft" appropriately named "Fire and Ice"was used for fatgiue and climatic testing.

This B-2 at the National Museum of the USAF was never an actual flying airframe. This “aircraft” appropriately named “Fire and Ice”was used for fatgiue and climatic testing.

A close up of "Fire and Ice's" nose gear door.

A close up of “Fire and Ice’s” nose gear door.

You can learn more about that particular aircraft here.

As an aside, old airframes are also typically used as maintainance trainers in the military. These are called ground instructional airframes:

images 080613-F-1322C-001

 

 

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Hizzoner’s Last Flight

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There’s something that you’ll want to go read over at I don’t know; ask the skipper:

It wasn’t necessarily his last flight evah. It was his last flight in that particular tour of duty, in that squadron, on that boat. Then again, there was certainly no guarantee of another sea-based sortie. This fella – if I remember the callsign correctly – we will refer to as Tex from this point forward. His call sign sounded similar. It might have even rhymed.

Go read the rest.

Make sure to add the blog to you daily read too. Lots of great stuff there.

What a great way to hang up the spurs.

 

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RC XC-142

So, a while back, we posted on the experimental vertical take off cargo plane, the XC-142. Five were built and tested, but the type was never ordered into production or service (though it came a good deal closer to that than many other VTOL products of the day).

It is a rather obscure aircraft. But wouldn’t you know it, some Radio Control modeller liked the challenge of building and flying one.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOtVyxwNHQg

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Cutaway Thursday: HAL Tejas

The HAL Tejas is a 4+ generation single seat, single engine multirole fighter built primarily for the Indian Airforce and Navy. Slightly smaller than the F-16 the Tejas first flew on 4 January 2001 as the technology demonstrator called the LCA.

Here you can learn more about the Tejas.

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The Indian Government has it’s own website on the Tejas. Lots of interesting inside info here.

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Infographic: U.S. Navy Fighters 1917 – 2010

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by | April 30, 2014 · 1:51 pm

Flying Boats

Grab your coffee. At 51 minutes, this is a long one. But for me, a real treat. The best part is toward the end when you see quite a bit of the interior of the JRM Mars flying boats.

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Flying the F-35B

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Lockheed Martin’s online magazine, Code One, has a very interesting article on flying the F-35B. For those in Rio Linda, the B-model is the STOVL variant of the F-35, designed for use by the United States Marine Corps.

Flying the F-35B isn’t at all like flying the Harrier from the previous generation. As a matter of fact the flight control system in STOVL mode is completely different from the Harrier:

Capt. Brian Miller, who came from the F/A-18D, explained the transition in simple terms: “In a Hornet, we had a center stick. In the F-35, we have a sidestick. I don’t even think about the difference now. Once I landed and took off in the simulator a couple of times, I was comfortable the stick location.”

Learning the F-35B’s short takeoff/vertical landing procedures:

“You would think former Harrier pilots would have an advantage with the F-35B STOVL modes since they have experienced those modes before,” continued Miller. “They may be more versed in the engineering dynamics and physics of STOVL operations. But in terms of cockpit controls, STOVL mode in the F-35 is almost completely backwards from the Harrier. So F-18 pilots may have an advantage since they don’t have to unlearn STOVL habits.”

…and from another pilot Capt. Jonathan Thompson, a former Harrier pilot now with the VFMA-121: “The F-35B is designed to be very intuitive in hover mode,” he explained. “To a pilot coming from a conventional fighter, hover mode is intuitive. Push down on the stick and the aircraft goes down. Pull back on the stick and the aircraft goes up.” Hover mode control in a Harrier, however, is a little different. Up and down movement is controlled with the throttle. Left and right movement is controlled with the stick.

“Whereas I used to pull back on the stick to point the thrust down to land the Harrier in hover mode, I push forward on the stick to land the F-35 in hover mode,” Thompson continued. “That said, the F-35B hover technique is just as easy to learn and just as easy to become second nature. Former AV-8 pilots just have to be more deliberate until STOVL mode operations become more routine. Short takeoffs and vertical landings are some of skills and habit patterns we develop in the simulator.”

The fact that transitioning from the F/A-18 to the F-35B may be easier than going from the AV-8B to the F-35 struck me as counterintuitive. As with most of aviation, transitioning between different types involves unlearning potentially bad or unsafe habits.

Go read the rest.

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The Maces made a video you have to see to believe…

It IS a good video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnsxWrPUHN8&feature=youtu.be

Stolen from Bill, who posted it over at The Lexicans.

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First Flight of the Intruder

Spill was kind enough to remind me that today marks the anniversary of the first flight of the Grumman A2F-1 Intruder, more popularly known by its post-1962 designation, the A-6.

Given that our dad was flying in an A-6A the very day we were born, we’ve always had a strong affinity for the Intruder.

And as someone not overly blessed in the looks department, we’ve also liked that the Intruder may have been ugly, but it got the job done.

To borrow a pic from Tailspin Tommy

And of course, there’s plenty of videos of the old gal.

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The Return of the Flying Dorito? Or “What the heck was that over Texas?

Planespotters in Texas and now Kansas have recently been seeing some very unusual looking aircraft overhead. The shape of these high flying mystery jets is similar too, but NOT the same as, the B-2 Spirit bomber, better known as the Stealth Bomber.

These sightings have, of course, cranked up the rumors and theories.

Today we have new pics that are the clearest yet.

A mysterious flying object was snapped flying over Wichita, Kansas by Jeff Templin. It resembles a similar unidentified aircraft streaking across the skies of Texas last month

The triangular shape certainly calls to mind one of the biggest procurement failures of the latter half of the 20th Century, the Navy’s failed A-12 Avenger II program.

The A-12, planned successor to the fabled A-6 Intruder attack aircraft, was eventually cancelled before the first was ever built due to staggering cost overruns and the massive weight gain of the design.

http://aviationintel.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/A-12-Avenger-II-Experimental-Stealth-Bomber-Side-View-Angle.jpg

But you can see from the picture above, the triangular shape of the mystery jet is certainly very, very similar to the A-12.

Who knows if the jet over Texas is manned or a drone, or what?

What say you?

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Cutaway Thursday: Boeing 2707

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Last week we did the Boeing Model 733 which evolved in to the Boeing 2707 (the 2 perhaps indicating that it was a mach 2 capable airplane). Anyway, this is a far better cutaway of the similiar aircraft AND it gives an indication of just how complex the actual airplane would have been.

The most recognizable difference between the 733 and the 2707 is the position of the variable geometry wing in relation to the horizontal stabilator. As you can see here, in full sweep, the is flush to the stab making it a delta shape simlar to the F-14 Tomcat. The 733 also features a variable geometry wing but at full sweep the aircraft resembles the B-1 Lancer in planform.

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Today I Learned…

Or, as they say on Twitter, “TIL.”

The Grumman EA-6B Prowler is a four place electronic warfare plane that specializes in jamming enemy radars and communications.

Like virtually all tactical jets, the crew rides on ejection seats.

 

In the video above, you’ll see all four seats fire at intervals of about half a second. If you look carefully, you see that they fire the back seats first, then the front seats. Additionally, the seats fire at a very slight angle outboard from the aircraft to generate separation between the seats. To cause the seats to angle outboard, the rocket motor is very slightly off centerline of the seat. Having the thrust line off centerline causes the angle of flight.

Here’s a picture of a test of the S-3B Viking, with a similar 4 seat ejection.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/54/S-3A_escape_sys_China_Lake_NAN1-72jpg.jpg

What I learned today was that the firing handles of the various seats in the Prowler were color coded so the seat maintainers could ensure the proper seat was installed in the proper location in the cockpit.

  The GRUEA-7 Ejection Seats are simply superb—all I did was attach brass handles.  On the Prowler, the firing mechanisms on top of the ejection seats are color coded to help the aviators ensure that the correct seat has been installed.  The seats were painted the appropriate colors, (white for the left rear seat; orange for the right rear seat; purple for the right front seat; brown for the left front seat) and installed.

Sadly, in the video above, the pitching motion of the Prowler as it went off the bow caused the pilot’s seat to collide with another seat, killing the pilot. The three Electronic Countermeasures Officers (ECMOs) were recovered.

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Cutaway Thursday: Boeing Model 733

Boeing 733 SST

The Boeing Model 733 was the never-to-be-built US counterpart to the European Concorde and Soviet TU-144. Subsequent research is unclear whether the design started at a delta wing planform or started as a swing-wing that was eventually dropped due to increased weight and complexity.

You can learn more here.

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Cutaway Thursday: IL-76MF “Candid”

Apologies to reader but I’ve been a little overwhelmed with other (read personal) things over the past few weeks. Anyway this week’s cutaway is Ilyushin’s IL-76 (NATO codenamed “Candid”).

The Candid first flew 2 days ago in 1971 and is the primary tactical transport aircraft for Russian military forces. Quite a few Candids were involved in moving Russian forces to Crimea and continues to support Russian forces in theater.

IL-76 CutawayYou can learn more about the IL-76 here.

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