Tag Archives: planes

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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Forward Air Control in Vietnam

Great video on Air Force and Marine Forward Air Controllers in Vietnam, with O-1s, O-2s, and OV-10s. There is good gouge on the shadowy Raven FACs and the operation to recover Bat 21. The only thing missing is coverage of the Army’s O-1 operations. It’s long, so just bookmark this for later tonight.

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OV-10A Bronco in Vietnam

This is a marketing video. Most of the footage is from Vietnam, but there’s some developmental stuff in there as well. You’ve probably seen most of the clips, but I don’t think I’ve posted this particular video before.

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