Tag Archives: planes

Almost there… Doc rolls out.

You know FiFi, the only flightworthy B-29 Superfortress in the world. Well, with a little bit of luck, Doc will be airborne this year. And today was Doc’s rollout after a stunning 300,000 man-hours of restorations. Doc still has a ways to go before she’s flightworthy, but the progress has been terrific.


Filed under planes


Currently the only flying B-29, FiFi has been in my neighborhood all week. Sadly, the press of our domestic duties has kept us from visiting the Palm Springs Air Museum to have a closer look. On the other hand, we’ve had a chance to see her in her element a few times in the last few days.



Filed under planes


We’ve long admired a great many British aircraft, and disdained oh so many French aircraft. Which puts us in a bind, because we want to really like the Jaguar, but it’s half British, and half French.  By the 1960s, the costs of developing a tactical aircraft were so high that smaller nations struggling to maintain a realistic aviation industry decided to partner up with other nations in bilateral and joint projects. There’s a long, long, long list of projects that failed, for technical reasons, budgetary reasons, inability to decide on work share, and diverging tactical requirements. But a few programs have actually worked out pretty well. The Panavia Tornado comes to mind, as well as its successor the Typho0n. Among the earliest successful joint programs was a partnership between BAC and Breguet to form SEPECAT, a joint company that designed and built the Jaguar, a supersonic light strike/ground attack aircraft that served Britain and France from the early 1970s through well into the 21st Century.

The Jag is a single seat* twin engine supersonic low/medium altitude jet that was used primarily in three roles:

  1. Nuclear strike
  2. Close Air Support
  3. Tactical Reconnaissance

In spite of its sleek lines, what the Jag wasn’t was a fighter. While it could carry Sidewinder (or similar) short range air to air missiles, that was more a matter of self defense. It didn’t even have radar. Instead, it had a respectable (for its day) navigation/attack system to guide it to its target.

And to be honest, it really wasn’t supersonic, either. That is, with no external stores, and given time and altitude, sure, it could break the sound barrier. But down low, and carrying its normal war load, no way. But it was pretty fast down low, which was the whole point.

There are four wing stations for external store under the wings. There are also two wing stations over the  wing, rather unusually, where the Sidewinders were carried. There is also a centerline station. Typically, the Jag would carry two drop tanks under the wings, a chaff dispenser on one wing and a jammer pod on the other, and a couple of 1000lb bombs on the centerline.

In addition to service with the RAF and the French AF, the Jag has had respectable overseas sales, especially in India, but also in Oman, Ecuador, and Nigeria.

Grab a cup of coffee. This is a fairly interesting look at life in an RAF Jag squadron. At around the 15 minute mark, there’s some spectacular low level flying in what I suspect is Star Wars Canyon in Oman.

The French Navy also looked at a carrier capable version, but the word is that it was somewhat awful around the boat.

*There are also two-seat operational trainer variants that retain combat capability.


Filed under Air Force, planes

Steam Powered Airplanes

In the first third of the 20th Century, steam engineering was, in many ways, far more advanced than internal combustion engineering. Of course, steam power was a much more mature technology at the time. It makes some sense then that someone would attempt to use it to power another new technology, one very dependent on reliable power, the airplane.

Of course, the rapid improvements in conventional gasoline powerplants for airplanes left the steam powered aircraft as little more than an odd footnote in history.

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Filed under planes

(Don’t) Meet Your Maker In A Martin-Baker

We think it goes without saying that military aviation is fraught with hazards. Actually, it is a great deal safer today than in days past. But even so, it is still quite hazardous.  It is not at all unusual for 10 percent, or even 25 percent of a given fleet of tactical aircraft produced to be lost to maintenance, operational, or combat losses over the course of a type’s service life. For instance, Canada lost 110 of the 235 CF-104s it operated in 25 years of service, or 46%.

Right up to the end of World War II, when an aircraft was in distress, the crew left by bailing out, that is, simply stepping out of the cockpit or fuselage. But the speeds of aircraft by the end of the war, and the speeds of jets soon after the war, increasingly made that a very hazardous proposition. A pilot bailing out was quite likely to strike the empennage with fatal results.

And so, the ejection seat was born.

Early ejection seats were mostly of the “gun” type. A cartridge much like a huge blank shotgun shell was fired into a closed, telescoping tube attached to the pilot’s seat. The shell filled the tube with expanding gasses, causing the tube to extend, and forcing the seat up the rails it was mounted on. Also called a catapult, this gun mechanism was sufficient to force the seat and pilot high enough to clear the vertical stabilizer of the stricken craft.

The gun type seat wasn’t without its drawbacks. First, it imposed very high g-loads on the pilot. Spinal injuries were to be expected. Second, getting the seat over the tail was about all the early ejection seat accomplished. The pilot still had to separate himself from the seat and manually pull a ripcord to deploy his parachute. This complication actually raised the minimum safe bailout altitude, as it took time, time in which the pilot would be falling to earth.

While a great deal of development of ejection seats early on focused on safely egressing at supersonic speeds and high altitudes, it turned out that most emergencies tended to happen at lower speeds and altitudes. What was really wanted was a seat that could safely allow a crewmember to escape at very low altitude. Simply using a larger gun charge wouldn’t work. That would merely exacerbate injuries to the crewmember’s back.

And so, the British firm, Martin-Baker opted to use a rocket motor. The catapult was still there, to give the seat its initial impetus. But a rocket motor would then loft the seat to a higher level. As an added bonus, the combination of the gun and rocket gave a greater total vertical vector, but a imposed a lower g-load on the pilot.

Other advances included automatic separation of the pilot from the seat, and automatic deployment of the parachute.

As time has passed, ejection seat designers have added improvements to seats to continuously expand the envelope of where and how a crew can successfully eject.  First, there are “zero/zero” seats, where a pilot can be at zero airspeed and zero altitude and successfully eject.


Other improvements include not just automatic deployment of the parachute, but ballistic deployment, where pyrotechnics are used to speed up the deployment of a parachute.

At one time, the US Navy was working on a vertical seeking ejection seat that would allow ejections inverted from very low altitudes.


A modern ejection seat in a high performance fighter such as the F-35 is quite sophisticated.

Speaking of sophisicated, Martin-Baker isn’t the only manufacturer of ejection seats, but they do have one of the best PR departments in the business. If you use a Martin-Baker seat, you are eligible for induction into their Tie Club.

The primary objective of the Club is to provide a distinctive tie to be worn with civilian clothing which therefore provides a visible sign of the members’ common bond. Every Club member is given a certificate, membership card, patch, tie, pin or a brooch for the women. All the Tie Club memorabilia depicts a red triangle warning sign which is the recognised international danger symbol for an ejection seat.

Every good company knows that your best salesmen are your customers. 

The Russians, by the way, are no slouches in the bang seat business. Their excellent K36 series seat was forced to put on a convincing display at the Paris Air Show a time or two.



Filed under history, planes


To call the Boeing B-52 iconic would be something of an understatement. The last B-52H rolled off the lines in 1962. Fifty-three years later, the Air Force still operates a fleet of 74 of the behemoths, and is tentatively scheduled to retire them around 2040, almost 80 years after the last delivery.

Foxtrot Alpha takes a look at a proposal that has again risen, one that would seem to be a no-brainer- replacing the ancient TF33 engines with a modern turbo fan.

The USAF is kicking around ‘creative concepts’ under which it could re-engine its fleet of 74 ever evolving B-52H Stratofortresses. With the bombers remaining in front-line service until at least 2040, and considering that flying with eight 1960s vintage TF33 engines is far from fuel efficient (burning 3k gallons an hour), re-engined B-52s should make great financial sense.

It’s been looked at before, and the old MAACO issue came up. Pay me now, or pay me later. And the Air Force chose poorly to pay later. What should have been a fairly easy choice in the days of Reagan defense spending was deferred for other priorities. Of course, back then, the Air Force thought the B-2 would replace the B-52, not just complement it.

The usual suggestions for the replacement engine show up in the article. One engine not mentioned that was a tad surprising is a somewhat less modern engine, the JT8D-219.

The basic JT8D, most familiar to folks as the powerplant of the DC-9, is itself a low-bypass turbofan adaptation of the J52 turbojet that powered the A-6 Intruder and EA-6B Prowler, and later marks of the A-4 Skyhawk.

The –219 uses an increased bypass ration fan to increase thrust, decrease specific fuel consumption, and as an added bonus, lower the noise footprint.

The –219 was specifically designed to replace the JT3D series of engines on 707 based airframes. And of course, the JT3D is the civilian designation of the TF33 powering the B-52. The –219 has already been selected to replace the engines on the Air Force’s fleet of 16 E-8 JSTARS radar surveillance planes, though the funding fell through.


You’re probably also somewhat familiar with the Air Force’s Boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona. Where the retired airplanes of the services are (almost literally) put out to pasture. Many are used as sources of spare parts, and others merely awaiting recycling into beer cans.

What you may not realize is that it is fairly common to pull aircraft out of there and put them back into service. The term of art used is “regeneration.” While some aircraft types are regenerated fairly often, others, not so much.

For the first time, a B-52H has been regenerated.

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) – History was made in Tucson at the world famous “Boneyard.” Perhaps you were lucky enough to see the B-52 Stratofortress fly over the Old Pueblo on Friday.
For the first time, the Air Force regenerated a B-52 from the Boneyard, which is technically called the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (309 AMARG). AMARG is a one-of-a-kind specialized facility within the Air Force Materiel Command structure.

One of the things that makes this interesting is that the B-52 fleet falls under the auspices of START II nuclear forces treaty. All earlier marks of B-52 were very visibly chopped up (with the exception of a few museum pieces).

No mention was made of why a BUFF had to be regenerated. Which, to me raises the question, which one already in the fleet needs to be retired, and why? Hmmm.


Filed under Air Force, planes

Bush Flying-Indonesia Style

I’ve never been to Indonesia, but having casually studied air crash investigations for a couple decades now, I have a couple hard and fast rules about aviation safety.

  1. Never fly on a Russian airline.
  2. Never fly on an Indonesian airline.
  3. Never fly on a plane that is going to crash
  4. See Rules 1&2 above.

Indonesia has atrocious weather, poor infrastructure, an occasionally lax aviation regulatory agency, and the attendant astronomical accident rate.  On the other hand, with so much of the island nation scattered about in miniscule hamlets high in the mountains, and virtually no road network, flying is pretty much the only viable means of transportation to many places. The government therefore subsidizes considerable use of small airplanes to provide passenger and freight service throughout the nation. Many of the pilots flying here are British or Europeans seeking to build up enough flying experience to be competitive for regular airlines back in Europe. Then of course, there’s the long, long tradition of eccentric British expatriates making themselves at home in the most remote corners of the world.

Old Air Force Sarge came across this 47 minute video that looks at the bush flying in Indonesia. Spill, my friend, you may want to watch this with your eyes closed. Some of the flying isn’t too bad. Some of it is straight up validation of Rule 2 above.


Filed under planes