Category Archives: FA-18

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).

HornetGear

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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Icarus

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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The Wing

By lex, on June 1st, 2009

Carrier Air Wing 11, now ably led by CAPT Brett “Pops” Batchelder – I think I may have flown an instructional hop with him once when he was a lieutenant junior grade in flight school – was my last air wing as a squadron commanding officer, but it took me a while to recognize them: Of the seven permanently assigned squadrons, only HS-6 and VAQ-139 remained intact since 2001. There’s been a lot of churn.

The wing now consists of two Rhino squadrons, VFA-14 and VFA-41, with the former flying the single seat (baby!) FA-18E, and the latter the two-seat Foxtrot. The “legacy” Hornet squadrons were VFA-97 from Lemoore flying Lot XII Charlies, and VFA-86 from the east coast flying (I believe) Lot XV aircraft (at least they had the IFF interrogator blades on the nose).

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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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Homework, part II

By lex, on June 7th, 2006

Long, repetitive and boring, but the work’s done and maybe one reader may enjoy it.

Or not.

Now give me my “A.”

Abstract: Over the course of the first decade of its lifecycle, the FA-18 Hornet aircraft evolved from a troubled acquisition program designed to fulfill a limited, albeit crucial role on a few aircraft carrier decks into the most successful aircraft program in US Navy history. It did so not by exceeding expectations in any one area, but by being “good enough” in every area, by using modularity in design and by answering cultural and political issues effectively.

homeworkpart2a

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T.I.N.S.

By lex, on March 12th, 2006

I’m feeling vaguely dyspeptic and out of sorts in this blogging thing, for all that I had a wonderful bike ride this afternoon up the coast. Carmel Valley to Del Mar, and up that miserable hill. Then down again, through Solana Beach, which soon gave way to Cardiff and then finally Encinitas. At Swami’s in Encinitas I turned around and came back the way I’d gone, to the tune of 23-odd miles or so of a very pleasant day.

So to put it all away and just write something, I thought it’d be fun to share a mini-sea story with you.

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Wacko

By lex, on June 1st, 2005

I was thinking the other day about how much of the interest in militaria tends to accrue to the gear, rather than the gear-er. For my part, I’ve always thought that it was the people who made the Navy great (and other people, although only occasionally, who can make it miserable). We spend long months far from home in enforced proximity with people whom we might not otherwise choose to associate – surface warfare officers and submariners, for example. But as aviators, especially in the somewhat rarefied air of single-seat strike fighter squadrons, we generally tend to get on pretty famously. You just meet a lot of really great people.

Wacko was one of them.

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Iwo Jima

By Lex, on Sat – February 19, 2005

Was it only 60 years ago?

Somehow it feels like more ancient history.

The WSJ has a great op-ed up today from historian Arthur Herman on the sacrifices made on the beaches, and in the Grinder. After a sustained pounding by naval gunfire and bombers, the Marines went ashore for over a month of bloody murder.

Even before the attack, the Navy’s bombardment of Iwo Jima cost more ships and men than it lost on D-Day, without making a significant dent in the Japanese defenses. Then, beginning at 9 a.m. on the 19th, Marines loaded down with 70 to 100 pounds of equipment each hit the beach, and immediately sank into the thick volcanic ash. They found themselves on a barren moonscape stripped of any cover or vegetation, where Japanese artillery could pound them with unrelenting fury. Scores of wounded Marines helplessly waiting to be evacuated off the beach were killed “with the greatest possible violence,” as veteran war reporter Robert Sherrod put it. Shells tore bodies in half and scattered arms and legs in all directions, while so much underground steam rose from the churned up soil the survivors broke up C-ration crates to sit on in order to keep from being scalded. Some 2,300 Marines were killed or wounded in the first 18 hours. It was, Sherrod said, “a nightmare in hell.”

And overlooking it all, rising 556 feet above the carnage, stood Mount Suribachi, where the Japanese could direct their fire along the entire beach. Taking Suribachi became the key to victory. It took four days of bloody fighting to reach the summit, and when Marines did, they planted an American flag. When it was replaced with a larger one, photographer Joe Rosenthal recorded the scene–the most famous photograph of World War II and the most enduring symbol of a modern democracy at war.

Yet, in the end, a symbol of what? Certainly not victory. The capture of Suribachi only marked the beginning of the battle for Iwo Jima, which dragged on for another month and cost nearly 26,000 men–all for an island whose future as a major air base never materialized. Forty men were in the platoon which raised the flag on Suribachi. Only four would survive the battle unhurt. Their company, E Company, Second Battalion, 28th Regiment, Fifth Marine Division, would suffer 75% casualties. Of the seven officers who led it into battle, only one was left when it was over.

This was my father’s generation, the tale of his time. He was a merchant marine officer on the New York to Murmansk run, and saw some horrible things along the way – but nothing, I am sure, to match the Hell on a small island that was Iwo.

But it was not just his tale, World War II and the fight against fascism – from the current distance, viewed down the lens of history it seemed to be national narrative. Somehow our national participation has grown in size over the passing years – not quite as remarkably perhaps as has the size of the French Resistance: Many more resistance fighters were “active” members after the liberation was complete than ever were during the years of Vichy collaboration. But in our national myth, everyone was there – fighting if they were men, joining the nurse corps, or serving in factories (remember Rosie the Riveter) or keeping the home fires burning if they were women.

But it’s not really true of course – many fought, and the nation was at war, but life went on at home, even with a draft. Even with millions of men under arms. One of my friends from church is a member of that generation, and he was one of those who made his way through the war in business, because the country didn’t really stop while the soldiers went to war. And my friend, when he talks about those times, nearly always seems to regret that his part of the tale did not involve heroic service in foreign lands. He is now over 80, and has accumulated a number of regrets – but it is this I think, that he regrets most bitterly. And it is not that he should, because the industrial capacity of the nation won the war nearly as certainly as did her soldiers, Sailors, airmen and Marines.

I grew up in Virginia, which means of course that I grew up within convenient range of many battle fields. I have walked the Wilderness, looked down upon Fredricksburg from the heights over the river, visited Appomatox Courthouse. I have been to Cold Harbor, looked up upon the Little Round Top at Gettysburg and wondered how it could have happened that men could shake out battle flags, form up lines and walk up that long field into the plunging fire.

But all of that is truly ancient history.

These World War II veterans are among us still. We can still hear their voices. And they can still teach us.

I have been to Iwo Jima – when I was stationed in Japan, we used to fly down there to practice our carrier landing patterns prior to going aboard ship for carrier qualification. It is a small, small place to have held such death. One wonders that it did not sink under the weight of the blood of 28,000 who died there on both sides. I have walked up LST beach with Suribachi to my left, glowering down from its fog-shrouded heights. Looked right and seen more rising terrain, an elevated sea wall to the right. I have made the long climb through soft volcanic sand and finally waist high grass, to get to an uncertain summit, and everywhere, seen the mouths of cave and tunnel systems in which the fanatic hordes poured out in counter-attack after counter-attack.

In nothing but tennis shoes and a bathing suit, I have found myself panting and out of breath, and thought about the men who waded ashore that day, 60 years ago today, with 80 pound packs and the noise and their brothers falling all around them like blades of grass beneath a mower. And I have wondered how they did it, and if we, whom they made, are made of the same stuff.

After Fallujah in November, I believe that at least some of us are. As for the rest, perhaps in 60 years’ time we will learn about how our great campaign to once again liberate millions from tyranny and throw down fascism of a different stripe was truly national in character. I am sure that if this great task we are embarked upon is successful, that will be the narrative.

Success, it is truly said, has many fathers.

———–

Update – thanks to Oyster, for this pic, taken from Suribachi, looking down the beach:

iwojima0205

 

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