Category Archives: FA-18

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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Formation Go

By lex, on December 18th, 2010

Military aircraft typically fly from point to point in formation. The two-ship formation offers mutual support for the minimum tactical aviation element while reducing the burden of gaining individual flight clearances. It also permits an efficient use of airspace and provides an opportunity for leadership; a senior aviator often serves as mentor for his more junior partner.

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Upside Down

By lex, on December 2nd, 2010

The US military, at least since World War II, has preferred generally to throw money at combat superiority – especially air superiority – rather than bodies. Certain of our Cold War adversaries used a decidedly lower tech/people heavy approach: “Quantity,” Uncle Joe Stalin mused, “has a quality all its own.”

The Heritage Foundation’s Mackenzie Eaglen and Dr. Lajos Szazdi – try saying that one three times fast – have an interesting article analyzing the implications of losing both qualitative and quantitative advantage in any future air campaign.

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Hornet Gear

By lex, on October 9th, 2009

Occn’l Reader Peter finds a lovely photo of the Super Sh!t Hot, World Famous Golden Dragon CAG jet departing off Cat 3 (click on the pic for higher).


One of the first aircraft systems lectures I gave as a junior officer was on the FA-18 landing gear. The trailing axle lever arm assembly that you see fully extended on the port main landing gear and partly extended on the starboard is actually quite an elegant (albeit complicated) design that allows for compact stowage at low relative weight compared to older carrier designs.

Carrier landings impose tremendous stresses on aircraft landing gear, which is why tactical naval aircraft tend to have such robust landing assemblies compared to their USAF counterparts. The FA-18 axle lever arm allows for a rolling transfer of landing and take-off loads, and requires a somewhat articulated series of trailing and planing links to ensure that the gear extend and lock down properly.

The axle lever arm and planing link (in particular) were initially “under-engineered”, however. The first is milled from a solid block of titanium, and is on its third generation, having demonstrated an unfortunate tendency prior to redesign to shear after a few hundred arrested landings, while a planing link failure (which prevents the main landing tire from aligning with the aircraft’s longitudinal axis) resulted in one of the first Hornet fatalities.

Thanks for the pic, Pete!


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On the wire

By lex, on April 11th, 2007

The four-ship typically comes in level at release altitude. For a 45 degree dive bombing pattern that’d be around 5000′ above ground level (AGL). Aligned with the attack heading, the lead will push it up to the planned release airspeed – typically around 450 knots calibrated airspeed – and the savvier wingmen will ensure that their jets are trimmed out in yaw as they attain release speed: Even modern jets get “bent,” and what is trimmed for level flight at 300 knots won’t always work at 450, while uncorrected yaw is a source of bombing inaccuracy. Once over the target, dash one will call, “Lead’s breaking,” on the aux radio, followed by his wingmen every four seconds or so thereafter, 2, 3, 4.

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By lex, on September 3rd, 2009

For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return. — Leonardo Da Vinci

I was walking across a footbridge from one cube farm to another yesterday with a co-worker and I couldn’t help but notice the towering cumulus clouds billowing over the Cuyamaca mountains east of the county. Hovering like jovial gods in the thermals that gave them birth. Bright faced, but changeable. Concealing an inner darkness that reveals not their truth. Waiting only for an updraft to hurl them through the freezing level and turn their smiling faces to wrathful frowns. Placid valleys and echoing canyons in the skies between them like hallways. Athwart them the hall bullies, edging in. Uncommitted.

Was a time, I remarked to her, when I could put the blowers in, climb up in the vertical and touch their faces. Rolling over on my back over the top all but whooping with delight. Gather speed down the back side to try it again. Play pretend atop a $40 million fighter that the cloud is a mountain and how low can you go?

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Ringside seat

By lex, on October 14th, 2006

The first day of our assessment yesterday and there wasn’t much for your humble scribe to do, straightaway,  the experts had fanned out, and were doing that expert thing. I was left to my own devices.

I went up to the flag bridge, one level below the pilot house to get a workout in. As a space whose tactical importance is much diminished by the video-screen nature of modern naval combat, it functions now as a cardio gym for senior officers. It’s on the O-9 level, or 10 steep-pitched ladders up from where I have parked my slops, so it would be something of a workout just getting there, except that the ship’s XO has been so kind as to lend me a key to the captain’s elevator. We are feeling rather chuffed at our importance, these days.

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