Category Archives: planes

20 November 1943 Tarawa; Keep Moving

Originally posted 20 November 2009:

The buildings in the “regimental area” of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina are modest, post-war brick buildings that, to the visitor’s eye, look more or less alike. Yet, each of the Marine Regiments of the Second Marine Division has its own storied history and battle honors.  As Captain J. W. Thomason wrote in his Great War masterpiece Fix Bayonets, these histories represent the “…traditions of things endured and things accomplished, such as Regiments hand down forever.”

There are symbols of these honors for one to see, if you know where to look. On a thousand trips past those symbols, there is one that never failed to make me pause and reflect. On the headquarters building for the 2d Marine Regiment hangs their unit crest. Aside from the unit name, the crest contains only three words. They are in English and not Latin, and they are not a catch phrase nor a bold proclamation of a warrior philosophy. They are simple and stark. Across the top of the unit crest is the word “TARAWA”. And at the bottom, the grim admonition, “KEEP MOVING”.


It was 66 years ago on this date that the Second Marine Division began the assault on Betio Island, in the Tarawa Atoll. The island, roughly two thirds of the size of my college’s small campus, was the most heavily fortified beach in the world. Of the Second Marine Division, the 2nd Marine Regiment (known as “Second Marines”) landed two battalions abreast on beaches Red 1 and Red 2. The assault began what was described as “seventy-six stark and bitter hours” of the most brutal combat of the Pacific War. More than 1,000 Marines and Sailors were killed, nearly 2,300 wounded, along with nearly 5,000 Japanese dead, in the maelstrom of heat, sand, fire, and smoke that was Betio.

Assault on Betio's Northern beaches

Assault on Betio’s Northern beaches

Marine Dead on Beach Red 1

Marine Dead on Beach Red 1

I will not detail the fighting for Betio here, as there are many other sources for that information. Nor will I debate whether the terrible price paid for Betio was too high. What cannot be debated is the extraordinary heroism of the Marines and Sailors who fought to secure the 1.1 square miles of baking sand and wrest it from the grasp of an entrenched, fortified, and determined enemy. The fighting was described as “utmost savagery”, and casualties among Marine officers and NCOs were extremely high. As one Marine stated, initiative and courage were absolute necessities. Corporals commanded platoons, and Staff Sergeants, companies.

Marines assault over coconut log wall on Beach Red 2

Marines assault over coconut log wall on Beach Red 2

The book by the late Robert Sherrod, “Tarawa, The Story of a Battle”, is a magnificent read. Another is Eric Hammel’s “76 Hours”. Also “Utmost Savagery”, by Joe Alexander, who additionally produced the WWII commemorative “Across the Reef”, an excellent compilation of primary source material. For video, The History Channel produced a 50th anniversary documentary on the battle, titled “Death Tide at Tarawa”, in November 1993. I also highly recommend finding and watching this superb production. It is narrated by Edward Hermann, and interviews many of the battle’s veterans, including Robert Sherrod, MajGen Mike Ryan, and others, who provide chilling and inspiring commentary of the fighting and of the terrible carnage of those three days.

 Master Sgt. James M. Fawcett, left and Capt. Kyle Corcoran salute Fawcett's father's ashes on Red Beach 1. MSgt Fawcett's father landed on Red 1 on 20 Nov 1943.

Master Sgt. James M. Fawcett, left and Capt. Kyle Corcoran salute Fawcett’s father’s ashes on Red Beach 1. MSgt Fawcett’s father landed on Red 1 on 20 Nov 1943.

Tarawa remains a proud and grim chapter in the battle histories of the units of the Second Marine Division. Each outfit, the 2nd, 6th, 8th, and 10th Marines, 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Tracks, and miscellaneous support units, fought superbly against frightful odds and a fearsome enemy. It is on the Unit Crest of the 2nd Marines, whose battalions paid the highest price for Betio, that the most poignant of those histories is remembered. Three simple words: “TARAWA; KEEP MOVING”.



Filed under armor, Around the web, Artillery, aviation, Defense, doctrine, engineering, guns, history, infantry, leadership, logistics, marines, navy, planes, ships, SIR!, Uncategorized, veterans, war, weapons, World War II

Grumman TF-1Q

TF-1Qs 13785 (background) and 13788 (foreground) assigned to VAW-33 "Firebirds."

TF-1Qs 13785 (background) and 13788 (foreground) assigned to VAW-33 “Firebirds.” Note the dorsal antennae for the ECM equipment.

Grumman’s Model G-96, known as the TF-1Q (later designated EC-1A Trader), is a little known variant of the C-1 Trader carrier onboard delivery (COD) aircraft (which itself is a version of the ubiqitious S-2 Tracker carrierborne antisubmarine aircraft. The TF-1Q was the first dedicated electonic warfare (EW) training platform.

The first TF-1Q was delivered in 1957 to VAW-33 in San Diego. The TF-1Q carried a crew of 5 total, including 2 pilots and 3 ECM operators. The TF-1Q shared the same airframe as the C-1A Trader and therefore a volumoius fuselage in which to carry a wide variety of ECM (electronic countermeasure) equipment including:

Recievers for train operators on how to conduct electronic intelligence (ELINT) included:

  • ALQ-2 radar warning reciever (E through I bands, with the antenna for the equipment mounted in the tail)
  • AAR-5 ECM receiver (covering the A band)
  • ALR-8 ECM recieving units, comprising of the APR-13 (covering the A and B bands) and the APR-9 (covering the B through I bands)
  • APA–69A ECM direction finder
  • APA-74 Pulse Analyzer


An APA-74 Pulse Analyzer

An APA-74 Pulse Analyzer

The TF-1Q differed from the C-1 Trader in many ways. The compartive greater weight meant the TF-1Q did not operate from aircraft carriers. Also the TF-1Q was limited in range and altitude.

There were 4 total TF-1Qs. Provding bi-coastal EW training, coverage  2 TF-1Qs each were assigned to VAW-33 (later redesignated VAQ-33 “Firebirds”) then based at NAS Quonset Point, RI and the other 2 went to VAW-13 (later redesignated VAQ-130 “Zappers”) at then at NAS Alameda, CA. Additional tasking of these squadrons included providing EW “Red Air” for both east and west coast squadrons. These aircraft privided valuable realistic EW training for crews aboard ships.

As mentioned there were 4 TF-1Qs (listed bureau numbers follow):

  • 136783: TF-1Q to EC-1A 1962. Was stored at Western International Aviation in Tuscon, AZ. Airframe scrapped.
  • 136785: (fate unknown, probably scrapped.
  • 136788: TF-1Q to EC-1A in 1962. She was converted back to C-1A Trader at some point. She was lost 2 April 1982 while on a COD flight from the USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN-69). All 11 aboard were killed.
  • 13688: was FAA registered N788RR which was cancelled (and now belongs to a 2000 SOCATA SOCATA-TBM700) and reregisted as N6788 which expired June 2013.

Here are a few photos I found of some of the TF-1Qs 13788:

13788-2 136788 136788-2


The History of U.S. Electronic Warfare Volume 2.


Filed under aviation, Electronic Warfare, planes, training

New Zealand Skyhawks

When the A4D-1 Skyhawk first entered service with the US Navy and Marine Corps, it was simple almost to the point of crudity. For instance, to pare down the weight, it didn’t even have a battery. External power carts were needed to start the aircraft. The only “sophisticated” avionics on board was the AJB-3 computer used for the delivery of nuclear weapons. A combination of an attitude indicator and  crude analog computer, it guided a Skyhawk pilot through an “idiot loop” over the shoulder toss. It was good enough for nukes, but nowhere near precise enough for conventional weapons. Regular bombs and rockets were delivered using essentially the same aiming technology as a World War II dive bomber or fighter.

Later models of the Skyhawk introduced air-to-ground radar, but even that was more an aid to navigation than anything else, and weapons delivery was still contingent upon clear skies and an ability to actually see the target. And again, the actual delivery was made using the  same techniques as in World War II.

This lack of precision delivery avionics explains why Argentinian A-4B and A-4C aircraft had to press their attacks on British warships in the Falklands to insanely close ranges, to the point where their fuses didn’t have enough time to arm.

Eventually, digital computers would find their way into modern avionics. One nifty tool that quickly gained popularity was the Continuously Computed Impact Point mode. A digital computer would assess the attitude of the aircraft, its airspeed, known winds, type of ordnance selected, and altitude, and predict the impact point. As the mode implies, that process is updated continuously. It made visual dive bombing much, much easier, and much more accurate.

Updating older aircraft to take advantage of these new systems, and new smart weapons such as the Maverick missile, became a very popular option, especially for smaller air forces. And one of the smallest air forces was the Royal New Zealand Air Force. The RNZAF had operated 10 A-4K Skyhawks (essentially an A-4F with minor changes) since the 1970s. In 1986, they began an upgrade program that included the installation of the APG-66 radar (used in the F-16A) and other modern avionics, including the ability to fire the Maverick missile, the 1000 pound GBU-16 laser guided bomb,* and the AIM-9L Sidewinder missile. Known as Project KAHU, the upgraded Skyhawk was a formidable little jet, and the success of the project is evident by the subsequent upgrade of surplus A-4Ms to A-4AR standard for Argentina.

In 1998, the New Zealand government finally decided to replace the A-4 with the F-16, but in 2001 a newly installed liberal Labour government cancelled that plan, and instead decided to drop the combat mission from the RNZAF, leaving it with just transport and maritime patrol capabilities.

The KAHU Skyhawks were retired into long term storage until 2011, when they were bought by Draken International. Today they serve as contract adversary aircraft supporting US Navy and Air Force training.

*It could carry and drop the bomb, but had no designation capability. That laser designation would have to be provided by a controller on the ground, or an allied aircraft.

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Tracer 601, Ball, 3.2

If you’ve ever seen Top Gun, you’ve seen Maverick and Goose return to the carrier, and the Landing Signal Officer calls “Three quarters of a mile, call the ball.”

The ball call in naval aviation tells the LSO far more than simply that the pilot has the optical landing system in sight.

The reply is as shown in the title, Tracer 601, ball, 3.2. First, let me steal a post in it’s entirety from Steeljaw Scribe.

“Hawkeye, Ball…”

Since the E-2A went to sea in the early 1960’s, “Hawkeye” was the name used for the ball call to the LSOs. Later iterations of the E-2C continued that practice but distinguished the a/c type by markings on the nose (a white “II” for Group 2 E-2s, or a “+” for H2Ks today). The Advanced Hawkeye, however being heavier than the E-2C required something more than just “Hawkeye” but kept to a single word. In doing so, VAW heritage was called upon and just as “Steeljaw” has been used for special evolutions for the new Hawkeye, the E-2’s predecessor, the E-1B Tracer (or WF – ‘Willie Fudd’) was called upon. Now, with an E-2D on the ball, you’ll hear “Tracer, ball…”

Click to much greatly embiggenfy.

The first part of the reply tells the LSO (and more importantly, the arresting gear operators) what type of aircraft is on approach. That matters, because the arresting gear is adjustable, providing varying amounts of braking power based on the weight of the aircraft being arrested.  The arresting gear is always set to the maximum permissible landing weight for a given type of aircraft. But if the engine weight is set wrong, the result can be a broken aircraft, a parted arresting wire, or a failure to stop the aircraft in time. All these possibilities can lead to damage or loss of an aircraft, or worse, loss of life.

The second element, “601” is the aircraft’s MODEX number. Each squadron in an airwing is assigned a range of numbers, starting with 100 for the first squadron, 200 for the second squadron, and so on. With 5 E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes in a squadron, you’d normally see the MODEXs assigned as 600, 601, 602, 603, and 604.  Calling the MODEX lets the LSO know which crew he’s dealing with, as well as helping the Air Boss keep track of which crews he has airborne, and which are recovered.

The final element, the “3.2” is the remaining fuel on board the aircraft, measured in thousands of pounds, in this case, three thousand, two hundred pounds. Telling the LSO (and the Air Boss) the fuel on board helps keep them informed. Should the aircraft bolter (that is, not make an arrested landing, for whatever reason) knowing the fuel on board lets them know how much longer the aircraft can stay airborne. That helps them decide when or whether to send the plane to a tanker, or “Bingo” them, that is, divert them to a shore base.

A ball call can also contain a final element, either “Manual” or “Auto.”  This tells the LSO if the plane on approach is manually controlling the throttles, or letting the autothrottle (actually the Approach Power Compensator) control the approach.  Which method is used impacts how the LSO controls the approach and what calls he makes for corrections on the approach.


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Crusaders Attack!

Which, they did a fine job of it, but never liked it. The most common attack employment of the Vought F-8 Crusader in attack was as flak suppression for Alpha Strikes over North Vietnam. But the preferred mission for Crusader drivers was always and ever hunting MiGs.

I’ll admit I never knew about the Shrike tests. And I can guess that the ‘sader guys were quite happy they never got tasked for the Iron Hand mission.


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Hornet Ball 2015

Full screen and 1080, there’s some gorgeous photography in here. As well as a good bit of splodey.

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Su-34 Fullback

H/T to Steeljaw Scribe for tweeting a link to the vids.

The Sukhoi Su-34 (NATO reporting name: Fullback) is Russian Air Force’s successor to the Su-24 Fencer in the long range strike role. It recently made its combat debut in Syria, making strikes against forces opposing Russia’s long time ally, Assad.

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