Tag Archives: planes

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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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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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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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.


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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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.


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

It IS a good video.


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.


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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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.


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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Youthly Puresome

Growing up in a NavAir family, one of the pleasures every quarter was the arrival of The Hook, the magazine of the Tailhook Association. A collection of sea stories, historical monographs, and updates on people, places and goings on in the world of carrier aviation, it had fantastic pictures and interesting news.

And for about 20 years, it also featured the Further Adventures of Youthly Puresome, the humorous tales of derring do of Jack Woodall, as a young carrier pilot. Sadly, in a reshuffle of the Tailhook site, the archives were lost. But Jack finally has a website, and the archives of his fantastic sea stories is available for all.

They’re in .pdf format, but don’t let that stop you from some great writing.


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A brief note on Navy airplane designations

Jason’s lovely pics of an FG-1 reminded me I’ve long, long meant to post on the arcane methodology of Navy aircraft designations prior to 1962.

Very briefly, the alphanumeric system was based on the role of the aircraft and it’s manufacturer, and how many previous types that manufacturer had produced, followed by numbers for variants on a basic type, and often additional letters for minor changes or specific mission equipment.

In this case, the FG-1 (probably an FG-1D) the “F” is for Fighter. “G” is for Goodyear. The “-1” is for the first variant produced.

Smart observers recognize that the plane is a Corsair. Well, yes it is. The basic Corsair was built by Vought, and designated the F4U. “F” again for Fighter, “U” for Vought (the manufacturer’s designator letter didn’t always make a lot of sense). The “4” tells us this was the fourth fighter type for the Navy designed by Vought.

Because of the incredible increase in demand for airplanes during the war, and limited capacity of the primary builders, many types were ordered to be built by other firms, many of which hadn’t built whole airplanes before. Hence, Goodyear was tapped to build Corsairs. As noted, while they were virtually indistinguishable from a Corsair off the Vought lines, they received their own designation. Brewster Aircraft also received contracts to build Corsairs (under the designation F3A), though poor quality control meant none of these actually entered combat.

One of the most famous Navy planes of World War II was the Douglas Dauntless SBD. In this case, “S” meant Scout, “B” for bomber, and “D” for Douglas.  It was replaced by the SB2C Helldiver. Scout Bomber, Curtiss, second Scout Bomber built for the Navy by Curtiss (the SBC was also named Helldiver).

In 1961, my dad was flying the R4D-8. In 1962, he’d climb into the same plane, but now it was a C-117D.

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LASD Super Puma

So I flipped on KCAL 9’s news to see the familiar green/gold paint job of a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department helicopter conducting a SAR mission near Pasadena. But instead of the familiar surplus SH-3H Sea King, I was surprised to see an AS332 Super Puma.


As it turns out, LASD’s Aero Division just bought three used Super Pumas to replace the SH-3H fleet.

On Wednesday, October 3, 2012 in Long Beach the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Aero Bureau held a press conference to unveil the new Super Puma Helicopters.
The County of Los Angeles recently approved the acquisition of three previously owned Eurocopter AS 332L1 Super Puma helicopters by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) Aero Bureau. These ships will replace the aging former United States Navy Sikorsky SH-3H Sea Kings currently operated by Sheriff’s Aero Bureau.
With parts and support for the three H-3’s becoming more expensive and difficult to obtain, the decision was made to replace them. The three AS 332L1’s that LASD is obtaining will continue the long tradition of the Department’s Air Rescue-5 program.

Anybody know who the original operator was?

By the way, the US Navy has a couple Pumas under contract to conduct Vertical Replenishment from some of its logistics ships.

And the hikers the LASD picked up today? Looks like they’re safe and sound.


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FJ-2 Fury

Around 1944, the Navy started to get interesting in a jet powered, carrier capable fighter. The advent of jets in the European theater, coupled with the diminishing  returns of increased horsepower of piston engines meant sooner or later then Navy would have to operate jet powered fighters simply to keep up.

North American Aviation (NAA), with little experience working on Navy products, put forward a proposal for what was essentially a jet powered P-51 Mustang. The Wings and empennage were very similar to its piston engined predecessor.

Designated the FJ-1 (Fighter, first type built by NAA, first model) and name Fury, it first flew in September of 1946. It was not a resounding success, and only 31 were built.

File:FJ-1 in flight.jpg

FJ-1 Fury

But while the FJ-1 wasn’t terribly successful as a carrier borne aircraft, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with it structurally, and most of the basic design concept was quite sound.

So when the Air Force started to look for replacements for its first generation F-80 and F-84 jets, NAA took their experience with the FJ, and melded it with German World War II research in swept wings to provide higher speeds. The result was the legendary F-86 Sabre. Beyond the swept wing, the F-86 was pretty much an entirely new design, though the basic layout was similar, and the FJ experience also provided a great deal of experience in designing a jet fighter.

File:North American F86-01.JPG

F-86 Sabre.

The success of the F-86 prompted the Navy to take another stab at an NAA product, this time a virtual clone of the F-86 modified for carrier operations.

In spite of being a completely new design, this second attempt was still designated in the FJ series, being the FJ-2 Fury (being a completely new design, it more properly should have been designated the F2J-1).

This new Fury first flew 62 years ago today, on December 27, 1951. Low speed handling around the carrier was still less than wholly satisfactory. Additionally, production of the FJ-2 competed with the Air Force’s need for F-86s. Eventually, 200 FJ-2s would be built, with most serving with Marine Corps land based squadrons.

File:FJ-2 Fury VMF-312 c1955.jpg

FJ-2 Fury. It’s similarity to the Air Force F-86 is obvious in this pose.

File:FJ-1 FJ-2 NAN5-52.jpg

FJ-1 (Left), FJ-2 (Right)

The re-engined FJ-3 was externally very similar, but replaced the FJ-2’s J47 engine with the more powerful J65.  While the FJ-3 was still not a particularly good carrier aircraft, it was a significant improvement over the FJ-2, and eventually over 500 would be built, operated by both Navy and Marine fighter squadrons.

FJ-3s would eventually be equipped with the AIM-9/GAR-8 Sidewinder missile, and a fixed air-to-air refueling probe, in both cases, among the first Navy aircraft to be so equipped.


FJ-3 Fury equipped with Sidewinder missiles.

Even as the FJ-2/3 series was in testing, the Navy sought a further improved variant. With a completely redesigned wing, and a new internal arrangement that shared only the basic configuration, this final Navy version, the FJ-4 Fury, was really a new plane, and more properly should have been designated the F3J. Even so, the FJ-4 Fury clearly shared some of the DNA of its predecessors.

File:FJ-4B six rocket pods NAN9-57.jpg

FJ-4 armed with 2.75” rocket pods. Note the refueling probe on the port wing.

The FJ-4B would introduce a new, critical capability to Navy carriers. Mated with the new, second generation of “small” tactical nuclear weapons, the FJ-4B introduced an ability for the Navy to perform nuclear strikes that didn’t require huge bombers such as the AJ Savage or the A3D Skywarrior.

The FJ-3 and FJ-4 would serve into the 1960s, though mostly replaced in frontline service by F-8 Crusaders and A-4 Skyhawks. After the 1962 Tri-Service designation system was adopted, the FJ series became the F-1.

The introduction of the FJ-2 with its swept wing and near transonic speeds meant Naval Aviators would have to learn some new concepts about flying, particularly about critical Mach numbers. And so the Navy helpfully produced a video for the fledgling Fury flyer.

Incidentally, given the shennanigans with the FJ designation, you should know there was yet another FJ fighter. Back in 1944, there was interest in a “navalized” carrier capable version of the P-51.  A Mustang was modified and carrier trials were conducted but it was not adopted for production or use. The modified Mustang was designated the FJ-1 Seahorse, and so the FJ-1 Fury really should have been the F2J.  The Seahorse is a story for another day.


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Time for Santa to start his preflight.

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Flight Deck Friday from SteelJawScribe

SteelJawScribe shares a little dope on what’s gonna be on the scope next week.


SJS really needs to get back to doing a regular FdF.

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Spectre Gunships Face Retirement

Relax. It’s the older “H” models. The U-Boats will still be doing pylon turns over the troops.

We let troops retire after 20 years. I think after well over 40 years, we can let a bird retire.

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The Wright Brothers

We tend recall that Orville and Wilbur were  a couple of bicycle mechanics. What we don’t often recall is that they not only built the first airplane, they also did so in a methodical, scientific manner, establishing some of the fundamentals of sound aerodynamic engineering, such as the use of wind tunnels, that endure to this day.

And it was on this day 110 years ago that the first successful flight of their odd little machine opened the door to heavier than air flight.


File:First flight2.jpg

Thanks to Spill for reminding me.

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The Changing of the Guard- Maritime Patrol from P-3 to P-8

For over half a century, the P-3 Orion, an Anti-Submarine patrol plane developed from the Lockheed Electra airliner, has supported the Navy’s Maritime Patrol mission. Intended as a sub hunter, the Orion also performed surveillance of surface shipping in both open water and in the littorals, most famously in the Cuban Missile Crisis but also along the coasts of Vietnam. In the past decade, the Orion fleet has provided yeoman service providing overland Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

But the Orion fleet is aging and worn out. And so the time has come for its replacement to arrive. And so the Boeing 737 has been adapted as the P-8A Poseidon.  In development the last few years, the first few Maritime Patrol squadrons have transitioned from the P-3 to the P-8. And as of yesterday, VP-16 achieved Initial Operational Capability, and has forward deployed two Poseidons to Japan.  

131129-N-ZZ999-017 JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Nov. 29, 2013) -Patrol Squadron (VP) 16 Commanding Officer Cmdr. Bill Pennington Jr. takes off on a P-8A Poseidon No. 429 aircraft from Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Nov. 29.

Still, it will take several years for the Orion community to transition. The last P-3s are currently scheduled to retire in 2019.

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Will the A-10 Be Shot Down?

The Air Force is looking to trim older platforms (that’s airplanes to you and me) from its inventory to free up money to operate and maintain the rest of its fleet. We wrote briefly a couple days ago that the KC-10 was among the platforms being considered. Heck, the Air Force is even looking at retiring the F-15C fleet. But no proposal will generate more howls of outrage among the public and especially among the ground pounders than the thought of retiring the A-10 Warthog fleet.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — As an old Warthog pilot, Lt. Gen. Stanley E. Clarke III spoke in near mournful tones Wednesday of the likely mothballing of the venerable A-10 close air support aircraft and tank killer.

“Can we save the A-10?” was the question from the audience Wednesday at the Air Force Association’s Air & Space Conference here.

Clarke, director of the Air National Guard, came at the question in roundabout fashion. He loved flying the A-10 Thunderbolt, better known as the “Warthog,” Clarke said. He noted that the plane was “near and dear to land warriors” for its GAU-8 Avenger, a 30mm rotary cannon that is the heaviest such weapon mounted on an aircraft.

But the Air Force was “looking at reducing single mission aircraft,” Clarke said, and under the sequestration process “we’re not getting any more money – that option is out.”

The Air Force “has to have a fifth generation force out there” of stealthy, fast and maneuverable aircraft, and the low and slow A-10 just didn’t fit in, Clarke said.

“We’re on board with moving towards Air Force 2023,” the concept for the future of the force which has no room for the A-10, Clarke said.

Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, also declared his affection for the A-10, which happens to be an aircraft he has 1,000 hours flying.

“I love that old ugly thing,” Welsh said.

However, the chief of staff explained the service has to take part in finding over a trillion dollars in cuts to the defense budget over the next ten years because of sequestration. In this budget environment, he said the Air Force will likely be unable to afford the Warthog.


I think this is pretty dumb. The Air Force just spend a ton of money on refurbishing most of the active Warthog fleet to extend their service lives and make them capable of employing modern smart weapons.

But I can also see why the Air Force thinks this is a viable option. And a large part of it is the existence of those smart weapons.  When the A-10 was conceived and bought almost 40 years ago, there simply weren’t a lot of smart weapons, and the few that existed were hideously expensive.  Most Close Air Support missions would rely on old fashioned dumb bombs and cluster munitions (and yes, of course, the gun).  To be at all accurate, you had to get down in the weeds, which suited the A-10 just fine. Other jets, such as the F-4? Not so much.

Fast forward to today, and virtually no CAS missions are flown that don’t employ a precision guided weapon, most commonly the JDAM GPS guided bomb. With JDAM and similar weapons, there’s no real need to get close. The pilot doesn’t have to see the target. He simply has to have the coordinates, plug it into the bomb, and he’s reasonably assured a direct hit. That’s something other jets like the F-16, the F-15E Strike Eagle, and soon the F-35 are more than capable of doing. And have been doing for some time now. Heck, the B-1B has been doing it over Afghanistan for years now, and is a popular weapons because of its huge payload and good endurance.

Further, we’ve had the luxury in the wars of the past decade of almost total air dominance, with virtually no enemy air defense capability. But the Air Force knows this will not always be the case. The proliferation of modern MANPADS short range air defense missiles will make future COIN battlefields hazardous to low flying aircraft.  Syrian rebels have had some success against Assad forces, downing both helicopters and jets.  So using a high altitude jet flying above MANPADS range with some standoff capability via JDAM or other weapons makes a lot of sense.  Conversely, a lot of the CAS capability, ISR capability, and long loiter time ground commanders ask for can be provided by assets like the MQ-9 Reaper. And if a Reaper is shot down, you don’t have to go rescue the pilot. And should a more conventional war break out, the A-10 would be at even greater disadvantage against a wider array of air defense systems.

So while I think retiring the A-10 would be a bad idea, I don’t think it is an indefensible one.

But I know I’m gonna need earplugs for the howls of outrage about to come.


Filed under Air Force, planes

Name that plane

No google. Ya either know it or you don’t.

And no, it’s not the Fairey Gannet



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TACAMO, ARES II, and some odds and ends


And of course, as soon as I put the camera away, a C-2 Greyhound in hi-viz markings came by.  :{


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Plane Pron Tuesday

Not the greatest quality pics, but it’s better than nothing.



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An Airshow

As I was waiting for the ferry to run me to Guemes Island yesterday, I struck up a conversation with a fellow passenger. He was from out of state,  and not familiar with life near a Navy town.

He said to me, “I thought the sequester pretty much grounded all the airshows. What’s the airshow going on just to the south?”

I explained that it was Naval Air Station Whidbey, and that it was just normal operations.

He was not convinced. He was certain it was a display put on for someone’s pleasure.

Nope. The free daily airshow is just a benefit of living near “The Sound of Freedom.”


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