Monthly Archives: August 2017

First T-34C Solo

By lex, on January 24th, 2011

I’d like to introduce you to the CEO and sole-proprietor of a million dollar corporation.


Well, at least for 1.6 flight hours he was all that.

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By lex, on January 18th, 2011

One hundred years ago today, Eugene Ely made history by executing the first ever shipboard arrested landing:

Ely’s flight, which came only seven years and one month after the Wright Brothers flew their first plane, was in every way historic. Though Ely had flown a plane from a Navy ship off Hampton Roads, Va., in 1910, no one had ever landed aboard a ship.

Ely, a self-taught pilot who represented the Curtiss Airplane Co. was just the man for the job. “If I did not believe I could do it without injury to myself or my machine, I would not attempt it,” he said.

The Curtiss firm had a primitive “flight deck” 130 feet long and 32 feet wide built on the stern of the Pennsylvania at Mare Island. Canvas screens were rigged on each side to catch the plane if it missed the deck. The major problem was how to stop the airplane, which would land at a speed of 50 or 60 mph.

The solution was to rig up 21 ropes across the deck, with a 50-pound sandbag attached to each end. The ropes were designed to catch a hook rigged under the plane and stop it — a primitive version of the tail hook system used on aircraft carriers today.

The Pennsylvania was anchored 300 yards off San Francisco’s Folsom Street wharf, surrounded by small boats. The event was heavily advertised — it was part of a big air show in San Bruno — and a crowd of perhaps 75,000, “a vast multitude” the papers said, was on hand aboard boats and along the bay shoreline to see Ely’s flight.

In doing so, Ely redefined cool forever, emptied jails and orphanages, filled countless public houses, seriously damaged the concept of chastity, set the stage for ten thousand broken hearts and forever dashed the self-regard of countless Air Force pilots who – ever after – would have to content themselves with second best.

In response the Air Force turned to crud.

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Echo Range

By lex, on January 15th, 2011

So, there I was reading Dave “Bio” Baranek’s excellent Topgun Days –  a first person narrative of the glory days of Tomcat Aviation at Naval Air Station Miramar – when I got to his chapter on the Electronic Warfare range embedded within the NAS China Lake restricted area. And: I thought it’d be better to share my Echo Range story before reading his chapter. To avoid the potential plagiary that might be in it.

First, let us dispense with the necessary militaria: “Echo Whiskey” is the phonetic for EW, which in turn stands for “electronic warfare.” Thus is the Echo Whiskey range reduced to the Echo Range, and what great good fun it is, for those who hope, some day, that they might get shot at.

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On the Ownership of Words

By lex, on January 14th, 2011

Occasional readers will be aware that their correspondent likes Sarah Palin. Not likes in any, “She’d make a great president” kind of way. Because I’m not convinced that she would. But in a heart’s-in-the-right-place, plain spoken mother-woman-pol of self-made success kind of way. Who’s hot.

What’s to hate?

Well, plenty it seems. The latest red flag in the eyes of the haters is Palin’s use of the words “blood libel” to describe the libel that she was somehow responsible for the mad lunacy which resulted in bloodshed in Tucson. The haters point out that “blood libel” has a very specific historical meaning, and that it therefore cannot apply to goyim.

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Banner Tow

By lex, on January 12th, 2011

When I was a lad, my first hack at aerial gunnery was in the mighty T-2C Buckeye, a high performance radial interceptor.  It didn’t have an actual gun, of course, but the jet did have a pseudo high tech laser optical gunsight to score “hits” on a banner towed a couple thousand feet behind an instructor in his own T-2C. Which didn’t work, of course.

I wondered at the time how much we paid for that gunsight.

Gunnery in the T-2C was executed in what was known as a “straight line” pattern. The tractor pilot flew a constant heading for 50 miles or so at 200knots. Gunners started from a “perch” couple thousand feet above and to the right of the tractor aircraft also at 200kts, same heading. From there you rolled in a left overbank until nose on to the banner.

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Just Nuts

By lex, on January 9th, 2011

Six people are dead in Tucson, and a sitting US congresswoman is in critical care after having survived an assassination attempt. This is both a personal tragedy for the families of the victims involved, and a national stain – we’re not long on political assassinations, over here. Getting rid of politicians is what the ballot box is for.

I watched enough of Jared Lee Loughner’s YouTube channel to realize that the kid was just plain nuts. Delusional. Possibly paranoid. Waiting to go off, looking for a reason. Any reason at all might do. Even none.

What are you going to do? Some people are just wired wrong. Drug abuse usually doesn’t help.

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By lex, on January 9th, 2011

The Chairman sees the need for the services to do a little self-evaluation after a decade on the line:

As he enters his last year as the nation’s top-ranking officer and as the military enters its 10th year of war since the Sept. 11 attacks, Admiral Mullen is openly voicing concerns that professionalism and ethical standards across the armed forces are being severely challenged by the longest period of sustained combat in the nation’s history…

“We’ve learned a lot about ourselves in the last decade; some of it’s been pretty unpleasant stuff,” Admiral Mullen said in an interview. “I want us to understand what we’ve seen, to a depth that we can ensure that our moral compass stays true, our ethical compass stays true.”

The conference is the first such introspective session into “military ethos” organized specifically at the request of a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It will examine a subtle set of political and social challenges to military integrity, like a potential slide toward partisanship among the officer corps, especially retired generals and admirals acting as television commentators, and whether the behavior of up-and-coming leaders fits with the image the military as an institution wants to exhibit to the nation.

A particularly relevant topic on the agenda is how the next generation’s generals and admirals should express their best, unvarnished military advice to the nation’s civilian leadership, and what to do when they disagree with the eventual policy. Admiral Mullen has said there are just two choices: an officer obeys the policy and follows it with enthusiasm or resigns.

Hovering over that discussion will be memories of the bruising, closed-door debate about shaping a strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan that many at the Pentagon and the White House said soured civilian-military relations…

The discussion is also expected to touch on whether service members have the right to a different persona online, like on Facebook or in a blog, than they do in uniform.

If this is to be a free and open discussion, might be it could do some good. If it’s to be an exercise in message control, not so much.

Given that military subordination to civilian rule is inbred and given, there are three issues at play here, really: 1) The open role of flag and general officer retirees, who are (finally) free to express their opinions publicly, 2) the behind-the-scenes role of serving senior officers who, having given their best professional military judgment and seen it disregarded by the political arm, found a way to make their disagreements public, and 3) bottom dwelling scum suckers like your humble scribe, who – whilst on active duty and then again after retirement – have had the temerity to punch up above their station.

I fully agree with The Chairman that serving officers of flag and general officer rank have the right and responsibility to give their best military opinion on the instant question and then fall in line behind policy. This is nothing new, and what those same officers would expect from their staffs: When it comes to execution, it’s either get on the train or get run over by it. You’re on or you’re off. Get on board or join the wounded.

We shoot the wounded.

When it comes to retirees, I think I beg to differ, with certain caveats: A warrior can be a warrior up to commander/captain rank (O-5/O-6), but I suspect that when you become a flag officer you have to also be a bit of a politician. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Politics is the art of the possible, and the possible shifts with the winds of the zeitgeist. Which can be hard for the officer corps especially, brought up to think in terms of black and white, of right or wrong, of absolutes: Winds might blow ten degrees one way, and they might blow ten degrees another, but the runway doesn’t change. In a democracy there is inestimable value in graybeards free of political constraint voicing their opinion on the public stage, so long as their pecuniary interests are understood. If the retired three star thinks that the political branch is making a huge mistake because they’re reacting to a misinformed public opinion – always the strategic center of gravity in a democracy – that’s one thing. If he’s disagreeing because of his relationship to Big Huge Contractor, that’s another thing entirely. The people have a right to know, and it doesn’t much matter how much that steams the collar of a serving four star who has his own political master to placate. While the military is indeed subordinate to the civilian branch, we swear our oaths to the enduring Constitution, not to transitory governments.

Which brings me to my final point. The point of my right to “a different persona online, like on Facebook or in a blog” than I had in uniform.

Which is harder than it looks.

I started this blog as a serving naval officer, recently returned from a war, with stories to tell and very much aware that there was a gap in understanding between the public we served and the forces that served them. I sought to enlighten and entertain, and to have my strongly held opinions be challenged and informed by those who both agreed and disagreed with me.  Although conservative by nature – but no Republican – I strove to seek a certain political ambivalence. I used a “different persona” because I wanted to shield both my superiors and my subordinates from any consequences of my online activities – as a terminal O-6, I had no illusions about personal impacts.

But then there was the Max Cleland case in 2002, which was awful. And which led in turn to the 2004 presidential bid of John Forbes Kerry, which was ridiculous. It was about that time that I shed my pretensions to neutrality and expressed a partisan preference. This was not an easy thing to do.

The military serves neither the GOP nor the Democratic Party – it is the country’s defense. It is not good for the country to believe that the military – or perhaps, more specifically, its officer corps – belongs to one political party or another. It’s not good for the military either.

But Kerry ran on a “secret plan” to end the war in Iraq, and most of us thought his plan consisted of losing it. Our military mission is to fight and win the nation’s wars – it’s understandable I think, even if perhaps not forgivable, why so many in the milblogging community came out against the candidacy of the junior senator from Massachusetts. And once you’ve broken the seal on that, everything else follows after. Tax policy, school vouchers; the list goes on. Sure, the officer corps tends to be conservative: Who else would lay their lives on the line at modest pay to defend the institutions of the status quo?

Fundamentally I think it comes down to this: It is not so much that the military became political, as that the military sensed that politicians were twisting national security issues to political ends. Politics used to end at the water’s edge. It doesn’t any more, and yet the legions still deploy, sent forward by the political class.

With respect, Admiral Mullen, I don’t think it’s us.

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A Fair Cop

By lex, on January 8th, 2011

Diana West has an interesting take on the issue of Enterprise‘s CO:

As one retired vice admiral put it to the Post, “What bothers me is that Capt. Honors’ behavior set a standard that allowed for sexual innuendo.”

Funny. What bothers me is that Capt. Honors’ behavior didn’t set any standard at all.

This should come as little surprise. Perhaps the greatest triumph of the Left in the last 25 years has been the junking of military standards regarding the sexes, a set of traditional attitudes that was slow to dismantle itself in the wake of the 1960s sexual revolution. Indeed, the military could be, and was, seen as a bulwark against the social changes wrought by a metastasizing feminism in the civilian world that would go on to kill, among other things, such concepts as “mixed company” and its prohibitions on “bad language” and other social shields. These had allowed for the existence of now-lost refuges such as reticence and discretion, which, in turn, provided shelter for a kind of privacy and intimacy that is all but unimaginable in our over-exposed world of TMI (too much information).

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By lex, on January 4th, 2011

The WaPo’s Richard Cohen – who spent a couple of months in the army as a reservist, and is therefore counted among his peers as a military expert – is apparently longing for the good old days, when the Vietnam era draft caused patriotic liberal elites to burn their draft cards and the country to lose a war:

The all-volunteer military has enabled America to fight two wars while many of its citizens do not know of a single fatality or even of anyone who has fought overseas. This is a military conscripted by culture and class – induced, not coerced, indoctrinated in all the proper cliches about serving one’s country, honored and romanticized by those of us who would not, for a moment, think of doing the same. You get the picture.

Talking about the picture, what exactly is wrong with it? A couple of things. First, this distant Army enables us to fight wars about which the general public is largely indifferent. Had there been a draft, the war in Iraq might never have been fought – or would have produced the civil protests of the Vietnam War era. The Iraq debacle was made possible by a professional military and by going into debt. George W. Bush didn’t need your body or, in the short run, your money. Southerners would fight, and foreigners would buy the bonds. For understandable reasons, no great songs have come out of the war in Iraq.

I’m am sure that last sentence means something to Mr. Cohen. I just haven’t got the foggiest notion what it might be.

What is understandable is that, safely ensconced in his beltway cocoon, taking the taxi to all of the better cocktail parties in Georgetown, Mr. Cohen may not personally meet many people who have skin in the game. Not soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines. Not their families. Whose “proper cliches” he condescends to as they sacrifice their youth, and sometimes their lives, in the service of something larger than themselves.

He should get out more.

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Round Up

By lex, on January 3rd, 2011

Two out of three pax got sick on me yesterday, and I was beginning to fret. As was, one presumes, my weekend employer. Who stands to gain no word of mouth when that selfsame mouth has been wracked with expectorant contortions.

Firstus was a husband and wife team, herself a comely and voluble internal specialist veterinarian. Which I guess I thought they all were, not knowing that veterinarians had specialties, like. Hizzoner was very nearly a mute, confining his responses to monosyllables. I was left to wonder – not for the first time – about the strange vagaries in life that throw two people on the same boat.

He was a big feller too, and I’ve noticed a certain trend among the retired policemen, firefighters, building contractors and the like, once they’ve gained a certain avoirdupois: They often get sick.

I have no overarching theory as to why this should be true. I only make the observation.

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