Friday, July 31, 2009

August 1, 1966

Another long day in a long air war, during the year the US should have won the Vietnam War ...

Four US aircraft were lost in SEA:

F-104C 56-0928, 435TFS 8TFW, flying out of Udorn AB, was lost to a SAM while flying CAP for an Iron Hand mission over North Vietnam. The pilot, Capt. John Kwortnick, was killed.

F-105D 62-4380, 13TFS 388TFW, Korat AB, was lost to AAA fire eroute to attack the Thai Nguyen rail yard. Pilot Capt. Ken Walter, ejected and spent 7 years as a POW.

F-104C 57-0295, 435TFS, 8TFW. The 435th had a run of bad luck on this day, losing two of its Starfighters. This one was was also lost to a SAM while covering the Thai Nguyen rail yard attack. Lt. Col. Arthur Finney was killed instantly.

O-1E 56-2550, 20TASS 505TACG was downed by groundfire near the DMZ. Pilot Lt. Col. E Abersold was recovered with light injuries.

A side note - the F-104's deployment to the Vietnam theater was nothing short of a disaster. the aircraft was useless for ground attack. It was used primarily as an anti-MiG defender for air strikes, and as point defense for airbases from attack from the North Vietnamese Air Force (a threat that never materialized). Every mission it was used on in SEA was a testament to the aircraft's inability to perform any of those missions.

Longbow Apache - Outlaw13's Current Ride

Good friend Outlaw13 is currently on his third vacation over in the sand box. His office while over there is this awesome aircraft, the AH-64D Longbow Apache ...

Bad guys do not want to see this helicopter near them. Unfortunately for them, they rarely see it until it's much too late to run......

XB-70 Valkyrie - Awesome!

Here is some Youtube footage (courtesy of of the XB-70 Valkyrie, North American Aviation's Mach 3 nuclear bomber prototype. Designed in the early '60s, this awesome flying machine was obsolete before it left the ground.

Despite it's incredible performance, the Valkyrie was designed as a high altitude bombing platform, specifically to strike the Soviet Union. Development of SAMs (surface to air missiles) made this approach to delivering nuclear weapons invalid - the aircraft would have been shot down before it reached the target.

Two XB-70s were completed. They were used as test and research platforms. One was lost in a mid-air collision during a photo-op. The other survived, and is currently enshrined at the USAF Museum in Dayton.

Some folks think this thing is wierd looking. I think it is one of the most beautiful large scale aircraft ever built.

SR-71/D-21 Launch/Accident Footage

The SR-71 Blackbird was one of our greatest aeronautical achievements. A Mach 3+ spy plane, designed in the early '60s, gave the US a manned recon platform unequalled by anyone else in the world. The aircraft, though long retired by budget cuts, still holds many world speed and altitude records.

A program was initiated in the early '60s to use the SR-71 as a mothership/launch platform for the D-21 - a ramjet powered spy drone, that would extend the reach of the Blackbird well into Soviet territory (without endangering the crew). the D-21 looked much like a miniature Blackbird.

Although development was finished, and the D-21 used operationally for a few times, the program was not successful, and the D-21s were retired (long before the Blackbird).

Here is a video of the first test launch of a D-21, along with a fatal accident where the launch was not successful. It is narrated by Kelly Johnson, Lockheed'd genius aircraft designer and founder of the 'Skunkworks'. I can't embed the video directly, the person who posted it disabled the embedding feature. However, it can be reached via this link:

There is some amazing stuff out on Youtube!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Obama Threatens to Veto Additional F-22s

Obama the Immaculate has threatened to veto his own defense bill, after Senators added funds to build an additional 7 F-22 fighters.

Obama, and his lackey in the Defense Department Gates, have stated they want to cap production at 187 aircraft. This figure is far less than the Air Force had previously determined was the minimum combat effective number of aircraft, 381, and lightyears from the original planned production run of 700+.

The F-22 is an air superiority fighter. It is intended to fight and defeat the latest Russian and Chinese fighters, which are used by those nations and dozens more around the world. Without the Raptor, air superiority over the battlefield cannot be assured, putting our ability to win a major conflict in serious doubt.

The F-22 is extremely expensive - it has been overengineered, the victim of poorly structured contracts, and low production numbers. Economy of scale never came into play with the Raptor, simply because of the low numbers. The additional 7 aircraft would have cost about $350 million each. That's a lot of money, but a drop in the Obama bucket.

7 aircraft is about half a squadron's worth. Their procurement would mean another combat deployable unit in the USAF, and with the incredible shortfall of aircraft the Air Force is facing, that could be critical in upcoming conflicts.

Update - Both House and Senate versions of the upcoming defense budget deleted all funding for the F-22, except a small amount to be used to shut down the production line. So, F-22 production will end after 187 jets have been completed. Arrogant, short sighted idiots ......

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Castration of the USAF, Part Deaux

The Air Force is running out of airplanes ....

Aircraft retirements, due to age or to budget cuts, have far outstripped new aircraft procurement since the early 1990s.

Let's take a look at the particulars:

F-15A/B/C/D - The Eagle is the air superiority fighter for the USAF. A late '60s design, first production examples reached the front line in 1975. Almost all A and B models have been retired. Most C and D models have been retired. The last air superiority Eagles were built in the mid '80s. After the next round of retirements, coming this next year, less than 200 of these will be operational in USAF and ANG service. This aircraft's direct replacement is the F-22 Raptor.

F-15E - Strike fighter version of the Eagle, was built in the late '80s and early '90s. These aircraft are not being retired yet, but they are not numerous. The operational force hovers around 200-225 aircraft. There is no direct replacement for the Strike Eagle on the boards, though the F-35 is supposed to take over some of its missions.

F-16A/B/C/D - the Fighting Falcon is a mid-70s design. All A and B models have been long since retired. Most C and D models have been retired. Appx. 300 more will be retired in the next year or so. The last USAF Falcons were produced in 1994. Due to its numbers, the Falcon has been the backbone of USAF/AFRES/ and ANG fighter strength for almost 3 decades. The F-35 is to replace the F-16.

A-10 - The Thunderbolt II has risen in importance since the first Gulf War. It was thought to be on its way to the junkyard in the late '80s, but the need for a dedicated close air support platform resurrected it. Multiple upgrades have been performed to extend service live and lethality - the Hog is now expected to serve well into the 2020s. About half of the original production run has been lost or retired, but the remainder is a highly thought of, highly used asset. There is no direct replacement on the board, though some tout the F-35 as its followon.

C-130 - the Venerable Hercules has been around since the early 1950s, and still provides the military with the majority of its theater level transport capabilities. The latest model, the J, continues in slow production, in spite of Pentagon efforts to kill it off. Hundreds of Hercs have been retired, hundreds more will need retirement in the coming decade. There is no replacement on the boards.

C-5 - the largest transport plane in the USAF, the Galaxy comes in two basic models - A and B. the A models were built in the late '60s and early '70s. They are maintenance nightmares, and their in service capability is miserable. The B models were built in the mid-80s, and provide an important long haul capability for large cargo. Numerous attempts to upgrade the C-5s have been proposed over the years, and all of them have been stalled by budget cuts. As a result, the USAF is seeking congressional permission to retire all the A models. There is no replacement for the Galaxy on the boards.

C-17 - The Globemaster III is the current mid-level transport for the USAF. It has filled a critical need for moving cargo, and is still in low rate production, in spite of Pentagon attempts to kill it off. The USAF will end up with a fleet of around 200 of these critical aircraft, far less than needed if the C-5 and C-130 retirements planned come through. There is no replacement for the C-17 on the boards.

KC-135 - the primary (and only) aerial refueling aircraft in the USAF/AFRES/ANG. Hundreds of this workhorse were built by Boeing, with the last ones coming off the production lines in 1964. Hundreds of A and E models have been retired due to age. Hundreds more A models have been rebuilt as R models, and will continue to serve for decades to come. I have seen estimates that tsome of these aircraft will reach 80 years old by the time they are finally retired. Strange as it may seem, aerial tankers are the most important aircraft in the USAF - without them, the Air Force could not function. Replacement has been a hot project for years now, but is not decided. Competition between Boeing and Airbus to produce its replacement has been marred by corruption, political fighting, changing specifications, and international gamesmanship between the companies. The contract for development still has not been awarded.

B-52 - The Old Fort has been around for over 50 years. The newest one off the production line was purchased with FY 1961 money! The only model still in service is the H, and it is seen as a critical component of worldwide force projection. Less than a hundred of them still serve. Upgrades are constant. Projections see the last of them being retired in 2040!

B-1 - The USAF has several times tried to get rid of the BONE. 100 were originally produced, about 60 remain in service today. Numerous upgrades have kept the airplane current - it is a great bomb truck. Will it continue, who knows - it seems there is a new effort to get rid of them about every 5 years or so.

B-2 - This wonderplane is a '80s design. Less than 20 of them are operational at any given time. They are a powerful force, but their lack of numbers would make them ineffective in a prolonged major war.

There are other, more minor aircraft in the mix, but those are the main players.

In addition, in the late '80s and '90s, several aircraft types were retired out of the inventory, with little or no replacement: C-141, KC-135A/E, F-4C/D/E/G, RF-4, A-7, F-111A/D/E/F, EF-111, B-52G, SR-71.

It's a sad state of affairs ... The USAF is running out of aircraft, and the few replacements that have been identified are years away from being available.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Castration of the USAF, Part One

The United States Air Force is at a critical crossroads. At no point before in its 62 year history has it faced such fundamental changes in its makeup, mission and future. Lack of funding, aging weapons systems, incompetent civilian leaders making conflicting decisions, changes in the conflicts we are fighting, and the stress of long lasting ongoing operations are raising troubling questions about how the USAF will exist in the future.

Volumes can be written about all facets of this discussion. I will try to boil it down to a bit smaller equation. It will take me a few posts to do so, but if you have any interest in this key component of our defense forces, you might be interested.

First, a very basic lesson on how the USAF is organized these days.

The active duty Air Force consists of major Commands. Air Combat Command, Air Mobility Command, AF Special Operations Command, and Air Education and Training Command are the ones I will concentrate on. They control the vast majority of aircraft and crews used operationally.

Air Combat Command controls offensive, combat oriented aircraft. Fighters, bombers, attack aircraft, and command and control aircraft fall under their control.

Air Mobility Command controls transport aircraft.

Special Operations Command controls aircraft designated for use in special operations, duh....

Air Education and Training Command controls aircraft and operations that train USAF personnel, be it pilots, maintainers, or others.

In addition ...

The Air Force Reserve Command controls various units kept in 'reserve' status. These units consist of personnel and aircraft that can be used to bolster active duty units as needed.

The Air National Guard consists of units organized as units controlled by their individual states. They are part of the individual states' defense and service structure, and are nominally controlled by each governor. ANG units can be called to active duty service (federalized) by the federal government as needed for national defense.

Prior to the Gulf War, active duty units, reserve units, and Air Guard units pretty much kept to themselves. Reserves and Air Guard units were truly 'weekend warriors', using hand me down aircraft and equipment after it was deemed unneeded by the active duty forces.

Extensive requirements of the Gulf War caused this seperation of forces to end. Reserves and guard units augmented active duty forces as never before, and set a standard that continues today. Reserves and Guards now provide a large percentage of Air Force assetts under the Total Force concept.

Is that boring enough for you? Stay tuned ....

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Title Photo

I shot the title photo of the Lone Star Flight Museum's B-17 while leaning out the side port of the museum's B-25 Mitchell. This photo was out over the Gulf of Mexico, off Galveston.

My cousin (by marriage) Gumby is driving the Flying Fort. He is the Museum's Chief Pilot. Standing behind him is Tuna, an ex-USAF pilot with substantial flight time in the F-4 Phantom and F-117 Nighthawk.

Gotta tell you ... doing this is fun!

July 1, 1966

On this day in 1966, four US aircraft were downed in Southeast Asia by enemy fire.

F-105D 59-1722, 354TFS 355TFW, flying out of Takhli was shot down over North Vietnam. The pilot, Capr. Lewis Shattuck, was lucky enough to eject and was picked up by a USAF HU-16 Albatross amphibian. Capt. Shattuck's luck ran out 10 days later, when he was again shot down, this time being captured and becoming a POW for 7 years.

F-105D 62-4354, 13TFS 388TFW, flying out of Korat, was also lost over North Vietnam. The pilot, Lt. Burton Campbell, was captured and spent 7 years as a POW.

A-4E 150017, VA-155, flying off the USS Constellation, was shot down over North Vietnam while attacking a POL site. The pilot, Navy Cdr. Charles Peters, ejected from his stricken craft, but did not survive.

A-1E 52-133890, 602ACS 14ACW, based at Udorn, was lost during a SAR mission. The pilot, USAF Maj. Robert Williams, did not make it out of the craft before is crashed.

One day in a long air war ....