Category Archives: Air Force

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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Book Review: Vietnam To Western Airlines

Vietnam

Imagine for a moment that you are an airline Captain or First Officer who is also a Vietnam aviation veteran. You’ve leveled off at cruising altitude, the autopilot is on, and it is a dark, quiet night.

You naturally start up a conversation with your left or right seater to while away the hours.

You learn that he also flew in Vietnam, and you hear his story. Sometimes the story you are hearing is the first time it’s been told, outside of his family.

There were stories told, from veteran to veteran.

After a few of these stories, you have the idea to put them in a book “someday”, and you ask your fellow crewmen if they would put their own stories to paper for you.

The years go by and a lot of these stories are sitting in a box in your garage.

There’s others that you get from your friends who know other Western Airlines Vietnam veterans with their own stories.

Thirty-seven stories and 25 or 30 years later, the book is finally published.

I’ve just described this wonderful book, Vietnam to Western Airlines.

It was loaned to me by a friend, who also happens to be a retired Western Airlines pilot.

He had been telling me about this book for some months and naturally, since Western merged with Delta in 1986, 28 years ago, I figured that this book must have been published years ago.

It came out just last year.

Virtually all of the writers will tell you how a typical mission went from takeoff to landing. You’ll hear from a B52 pilot who was involved in a midair collision with another B52, and another B52 pilot who will tell you how a typical Arc Light mission went.

There is a story involving 2 Navy A-1 pilots searching for a downed Air Force pilot. Night was coming; they were running low on fuel but didn’t want to abandon their fellow airman. The rescue involved the use of a cigarette lighter and a co-operative carrier captain, and couldn’t have been imagined by the best Hollywood screenwriter.

You’ll land at a remote Special Forces camp – so close to the Ho Chi Minh trail you could hear the convoys at night – and ferry Montagnard tribesmen in your C-7 Caribou. You’ll wonder how the Green Berets – in the middle of nowhere, always had clean, starched and creased uniforms.

Fly with a Marine in his UH-1 “Huey” on a typical mission to help besieged Khe Sanh. He brought supplies and took out the wounded and dead – for 77 days.

He learned quickly to time his ground time to 25 seconds – loading, unloading and refueling – because the North Vietnamese mortar men could reload in 32 seconds.

Learn from an Air Force FAC (Forward Air Control) pilot flying the little Cessna O2 about how he did his work – and did you know – once they arrived in-country they went to an orientation school informally named “FAC-U”?

Who says the military has no sense of humor?

Did you know that the Navy had a squadron of OV-10 pilots – called the “Black Ponies”?

You’ll read amazing stories from these pilots and others who flew F4s, F105s, F100s, A-4s, C-130s, AC-130s , even an EC-121.

I don’t want to reveal the entire book here but give you just a sample of things I learned. There are 37 fascinating stories, and the editor said that was just a sample of the Vietnam pilots who flew for Western Air Lines.

One other thing that intrigued me – even amused me.

More than one aviator quoted from a book entitled “Tactical Aerodrome Directory, South Vietnam”

Consider it like a Jeppensens for small airports and dirt strips throughout South Vietnam. You pilots who complain about certain difficult conditions in airports here just consider the warnings this book gave on various strips.

It was life and death seriousness during the war, but funny today. Just believe me, the warnings they gave for South Vietnamese airstrips don’t exist here.

If it weren’t for Bruce Cowee capturing and editing these stories, they would have been eventually lost forever. Equal thanks  go to his friends who gave us their stories.

This book is one of the few that having finished, will stay in my library and not passed on to a friend. This one was loaned but I am getting a copy.

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A-10 Hawg’s New Role As a Storm Chasing Aircraft.

This A-10 is undergoing conversion to a storm chasing aircraft.

This A-10 is undergoing conversion into a storm chasing aircraft.

As retirement looms for the USAF’s A-10 Hawg, the National Science Foundation and Zivko Aeronautics have teamed up in a $13 million dollar project to convert one aircraft into a platform to deploy sensors in thunderstorms.

A computer server system will be installed where the weapons system used to be. The system will use sensors on the wings to detect things like wind speed, pressure and movement of a storm. The information is then sent to researchers working on the ground.

“So they’ll get real time, first-hand knowledge of whatever it is they want to sample,” Schneider said.

The A-10 will be equipped to release small sensors into the storm, similar to what was done in the movie “Twister”. The only difference is the sensors will be released from above the storm instead of below it.

“We’re actually going to drop ours out of the wing tips and the wheel pods,” said Schneider.

Learn more from the video in the article above.

From the National Science Foundation:

Since the retirement of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSMT) T-28 in 2005, the storm research community has been without means of obtaining in-situ measurements of storm properties.  In 2010 the National Science Foundation (NSF) took steps to remedy this.  The Foundation decided to sponsor the Center for Interdisciplinary Remotely Piloted Aircraft Studies (CIRPAS) at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, to requisition a Fairchild A-10 from the US Air Force.   A year later, the USAF agreed to lend a mothballed A-10 to the US Navy, to be regenerated, reinforced for storm penetration, instrumented for scientific research, and operated by CIRPAS in collaboration with scientists at SDSMT.

The A-10 is a rugged aircraft deisgned to take a lot of punishment from the battlefield. That same strength will be of value when doing the storm research. From Popular Mechanics:

“Conventional research aircraft avoid these severe storms, so they’re basically outside looking in,” meteorologist and veteran storm-chaser Joshua Wurman of the Center for Severe Weather Research in Boulder, Colo, tells PM. “We want to study the worst weather, but we’re trying to keep the [plane] outside the worst weather. With the A-10, we don’t have that limitation.”

A couple of the Thunderbolt’s targets will be supercell thunderstorms, which birth tornadoes, and mesoscale convective systems, giant storm clusters that can produce thunder and lightning, pounding hail, and damaging winds. Ground-based radar systems can track wind and precipitation in these systems fairly well from a distance. But to understand how temperature and humidity contribute to tornado formation, for example, researchers need to get at the heart of the storm.

The A-10 started off as a platform designed to save lives on the battelfield. It’s an interesting twist the A-10 will now be saving civilian lives in the US.

Git Sum!

Git Sum!

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Cutaway Thursday: Convair B-36J Peacemaker

20140521-155441-57281211.jpg

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Angel Thunder 2014

(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.

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Iron Birds

Static test airframes, or more commonly called, “iron birds” are partially built, non-flying airframes or old formerly flying airframes that are used by agencies and manufacterers to test either the strength of than airframe, various design components or aircraft subsystems (avionics, flight control, engines, etc).

The iron birds used for strength testing are typically full scale representations of the aircraft that are rigged to gaint gantry cranes with weights and strain gauges attached. See the pic:

Lockheed's F-35 test airframe installed on gantry cranes with strain gauges.

Lockheed’s F-35 test airframe installed on gantry cranes with strain gauges.

Once installed on the cranes the airframe is literally pulled and pushed to properly simulate all the aerodynamic forces that the aircraft will encounter throughout it’s flying career.  Often the iron birds are tested till destruction.

This is a VC-10 undergoing wing fatigue testing. Note the bending wing.

This is a VC-10 undergoing wing fatigue testing. Note the bending wing.

Some iron birds are formerly flying airframes that have accumulated too many flying hours and are no longer consider safe to fly. These aircraft are typically stripped of most equipment (engines mostly) and used to test various aircraft subsystems in support of other programs.

This NASA's F-8 Crusader iron bird that was used to test software for NASA's Digital Fly-By-Wire program in the 1960s,

This NASA’s F-8 Crusader iron bird that was used to test software for NASA’s Digital Fly-By-Wire program in the 1960s,

 

As the latest example of NASA's iron bird, this is an F/A-18 Hornet used by NASA to support many of the F/A-18 test programs.

As the latest example of NASA’s iron bird, this is an F/A-18 Hornet used by NASA to support many of the F/A-18 test programs.

Iron birds aren’t limited to NASA. The US military also used them for the same purposes.

This B-2 at the National Museum of the USAF was never an actual flying airframe. This "aircraft" appropriately named "Fire and Ice"was used for fatgiue and climatic testing.

This B-2 at the National Museum of the USAF was never an actual flying airframe. This “aircraft” appropriately named “Fire and Ice”was used for fatgiue and climatic testing.

A close up of "Fire and Ice's" nose gear door.

A close up of “Fire and Ice’s” nose gear door.

You can learn more about that particular aircraft here.

As an aside, old airframes are also typically used as maintaince trainers in the military. These are called ground instructional airframes:

images 080613-F-1322C-001

 

 

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Cutaway Thursday: Lockheed F-104 Starfighter

My all time favorite of the “Century Series” fighters, the first flight of the F-104 was this week, on 4 March 1954. Strangely, it had a relatively short career with the USAF but enjoyed far more success with NATO countries.

f104g_cutaway

You can learn more here at the International F-104 Society’s webpage.

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