Lockheed A-12 in flight (US Air Force photo)
In wandering down assorted internet rabbit holes, I came across a couple of historically interesting articles about the A-12/SR-71 series of aircraft. The first was from the April, 1964 issue of Air Force Magazine with speculation on the mission and performance of the newly announced A-11. I’m impressed with what the author was able to deduce from unclassified information in 1964.
Another interesting article is from the CIA website. (I’m still conflicted about the CIA having a web site.)
(Cross posted at Air Pogue)
What is now the USAF Para Rescue concept was born in the Army Air Force during WWII out of the need to drop rescue personnel in remote locations to assist downed air crews. Their mission has evolved over the years. In the late 1940’s and 1950’s the cold war mission of the Air Force placed aircraft over areas where the only practical extraction was via ground, and the PJ’s (para jumpers) we survival experts who dropped to downed crews with the skills to keep them alive till help arrived. During the Viet Nam conflict the mission evolved into combat search and rescue, with the HH-3 and HH-53 helicopters becoming famous as “Jolly Green Giants.” With the Iraq and Afghanistan wars the mission was again modified to support special operations.
|Yours truly providing a familiarization briefing to US and Columbian Special Forces troops. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Chris Massey/Released)
Angel Thunder is an annual Personnel Recovery exercise where US and foreign forces can practice their combat search and rescue skills. This year our unit was involved in several supporting missions. In the video above, the Blackhawks without the refueling probes were ours. The grey ones with the probes are the Air Force Pavehawks. Those special forces troops and the Columbian special forces guys shown were some of our customers. We did several air assaults with them, and I was lucky enough to crew on three of them.
As part of this years exercise, we started by transporting the “White Cell” staff around for their various planning and coordination sessions. The White Cell are kind of like the umpires of the exercise. Other activities we were involved in were unconventional recoveries and a downed aircrew exercise. For the downed aircrew exercise we flew a mission that was supposed to put a Navy/Marine remote air control tower at a local airport. The scenario had two ships shot down and a third damaged, with hostile ground activity requiring the downed crews and passengers to navigate cross country to the pick up point. While we knew there would be a downed crew scenario, none of us knew when or how it was to come down. The remote tower people were completely taken by surprise, and were not happy campers having to hike through mountainous desert with all their gear. With them were a couple SERE (survival school) instructors evaluating the exercise. After a strenuous 4 hour hike they made the PZ (pickup zone) in time for our Apache gunship escort to clear the area for us while we went in for a night recovery using night vision goggles. This is pretty much how we make our money in Army aviation. Fortunately for those on the ground one of the crew chiefs who was shot down with them gave them a brief on what to expect when we showed up. A night helicopter pickup is not like you see in the movies – it’s loud, blinding and painful, particularly in the desert where the debris kicked up by the rotor wash all seems to head for your face. It’s also disorienting being dark and dusty. Being an exercise, we took our time picking them up to make sure we had everyone strapped in safely before picking up. In a hostile area we would make sure we had the right number of people, close the doors and go.
For our air assault missions we would fly to Tuscon, pick up our troops and fly to the exercise area in Florence for the insertion. The scenario was four friendlies had been captured and were being held by the bad guys. Our ODA (Operational Detachment A) Team and the Columbian Special Forces soldiers would assault the target buildings and either gather intelligence, capture a high value target, rescue the hostages, or all of the above. Being an exercise, of course the first couple of raids came up empty. The first two raids were night operations, so there isn’t much video of them. The final raid was done during the day, with the troops rescuing the hostages, and capturing the “high value target,” who regrettably succumbed to his injuries (simulated!).
This was an excellent two weeks of training – we flew 180 hours plus another 130 hours of simulator training for some of our new crew members. We got to work with other services, federal and local agencies, foreign military and the special operations community, which is always a good time. We also made some connections with people we can hopefully train with in the future.
On the wash rack
It’s easy to forget that for every hour of flight time there are several hours of maintenance time. The amount varies per airframe, but is substantial. Most of the maintenance comes in the form of inspections, preventative maintenance and phase (time driven) maintenance. The amount of time actually having to fix broken stuff is only a small part of it. Here a crew chief washes his helicopter, a regular occurrence even here in the desert.
|Parked in a field in Canita, Panama
(Cross posted from Air Pogue)
It can be forgiven if the image that first comes to mind at the words “military mission” involve weapons, body armor, and troops moving to contact. After all, for the last decade we’ve been involved in shooting wars in several countries. There is another kind of mission that has been getting less press, but is important none the less, that being the humanitarian mission. The National Guard unit I belong to along with other Guard, Reserve and active duty Army and Air Force have spent the last several months in Panama providing medical aid and engineering support in the form of building schools and clinics for the Panamanian people as a part of Operation Beyond the Horizon. Being a Blackhawk unit our support has been peripheral to main mission, consisting of standing by in case a medical emergency required evacuation to one of the hospitals available. We also moved medical supplies and people around the country side and did a little training along the way.
More after the break…
The runners waiting to start
At the moment I’m in an NCO school at Ft Eustis, Virginia. On of my classmates found out that Spartyka Nation was running a benefit 5k run for the Wounded Warrior Project at Virginia Beach this weekend, and we decided to go. As it turns out one of our group had been assisted by the WWP, so there was a personal element to the trip. Virginia Beach, while a major tourist attraction, is no stranger to the military with a strong Naval presence at nearby Norfolk, Oceana and Little Creek as well as nearby Ft Eustis and Langley Air Force Base. With those kinds of neighbors, it’s not surprising there was a good turn out even though it was a little cool.
The runners waiting to start
The run itself was an out and back along the boardwalk which made for a nice running surface. It was the typical gaggle at the start, but within a couple of minutes everyone was sorted out and running at whatever their comfortable pace was. It was a pleasant run, and a great way to get off post and get a little fresh air.
The group of us from class
For information on similar events check out http://www.spartykanation.com and http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/.
National Guard UH-60A
Trying to take low light pictures of a helicopter that is supposed to be hard to see at night provides some interesting challenges…
(Cross posted from AirPogue)
…Showing some thigh! Well, not really, but it is a little more exposure than the engine usually gets.
We have regular inspections on our helicopters, many of which are based on flight hours. They range from the 40 hour and 120 hour inspections which get progressively more thorough to the phase maintenance where major disassembly, inspection and repairs take place. This engine was pulled as part of a phase inspection. During the borescope inspection of the compressor some damaged blades were found so the case was split so the blades could be repaired. You can see a very clear picture of the first five stages of compression in our engine – a sixth stage is just out of sight on the left. The inlet side of the engine is to the right, with the accessory module on top of it. Think of all the stuff on your car engine – starter, alternator, oil pump, fuel pump, etc., all that stuff is driven off this module. On the left side of the picture is the hot section of the engine. Those holes around the outside of the casing are where the fuel injectors go. When the engine is running a ring of fire that doesn’t touch any of the case or combustion liner (it’s way too hot) provides all the energy to power the helicopter, in this case about 1500 horsepower. Not attached at the moment, although you can see it on the bench near the wall to the left is the power turbine section. All the hot air from the hot section spins a couple of turbines that turn the shaft sticking up in the air which is attached to the main transmission in the helicopter. Interestingly enough, 80% of the air that goes through the engine provides cooling, only 20% is used for combustion. That’s a lot of energy in a small place.
Cross posted at http://airpogue.blogspot.com/
View up from level 7
Having grown up and served during the cold war prior to the present unpleasantness, artifacts of that era hold something of a fascination to me. Since Her Accuracy also seems to have quite the interest as well, over the years we’ve managed several trips, some of which (like the Trinity test site) are not particularly easy to get to. One of the common frustrations I have is that very few places let you inside an exhibit – I’d love to explore a B-36, for example, but the places that have one restored to near operational status are understandably hesitant to let the unwashed masses rummage through their irreplaceable exhibits.
This weekend we visited the Titan Missile Museum just south of Tucson which is the exception to that rule. Complex 571-7 in Green Valley, Arizona was operational from 1963 till the Titan II was decommissioned in 1987. One of 54 site around Tuscon, Little Rock and Wichita, someone had the amazing foresight so suggest saving a silo complex for posterity. Bless them, whoever they are!
November 9th – Kat has posted at neptunuslex.com about a get together at Shakespeares. Of special interest to those around San Diego!