Saturday, October 31, 2009

Deadly Week for US Military Aviators

This past week has been a brutal reminder that our military fliers are constantly exposed to danger, whether in a war zone, doing normal operations, or just training.

Thursday, a Coast Guard HC-130H collided with a Marine AH-1W off the Southern California coast, killing all 9 people on both aircraft. The USCG Hercules, s/n 1705, operating out of USCG Station Sacramento, was involved in search operations for a missing small boat. The Cobra, one of two escorting a pair of CH-53E troop transport helicopters, was operating out of Camp Pendleton on a routine training mission. The collision occurred at night. Extensive SAR efforts found debris, but no survivors.

On Wednesday, a Navy T-34C training aircraft, went down off the Texas coast. The two seat aircraft was on a training flight out of NAS Corpus Christi. As of late Friday, no trace of the aircraft or crew had been found.

Monday, two seperate accidents occurred in Afghanistan. There is no indication, at least so far, that enemy fire was the cause of either incident.

First, Marine AH-1W Cobra and UH-1N Huey aircraft collided in the southern part of the country, killing both on the Cobra and two of the four Marines on the huey.

Second, an Army CH-47D Chinook crashed during an anti-drug operation, while carrying service members, Afghan soldiers, and civilian (DEA/CIA) agents away at the conclusion of the operation. Seven US service members and 3 civilians on the chopper were killed. 26 more people were injured in the crash. Some reports state the chopper was under fire at the time, other reports say it was an accident.

Flying in the military is a dangerous game. No matter how much effort is given to safety, the nature and sheer amount of flying being done for operations and training mean that accidents will happen - no comfort to the loved ones of those who were lost, but it's the nature of the business.

Update - I missed one. A Navy TH-57C Jet Ranger training helicopter assigned to TAW-5 at NAS Whiting Field crashed near Milton, FL. The aircraft was on a normal training flight when it went down. Fortunately, both crew members got out with minor injuries.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Castration of the USAF: Part Trey - the ANG

The Air National Guard are units that belong to each state, giving the states their own individual military air assets. The main purposes of the ANG is to supplement the regular USAF as needed, and to provide emergency assistance within their own states during times of disaster.

In the 40's, 50's, 60s, and '70s, the Air Guard were very much considered weekend warriors. Using hand me down aircraft and equipment from the regular USAF, the units were rarely called upon to support their active duty counterparts. Most times ANG units were called up for active duty service, they went to stateside bases to backfill for active duty units deployed overseas.

In the '80s, a change started to occur, where the ANG was more closely integrated with active duty forces. Their equipment was upgraded, and though in many cases not the same capability as the active duty units, it was getting much closer. ANG units made more and more overseas deployments, to train in real world situations. These efforts were about to pay off.

The first Gulf War saw the first large scale use of ANG units on the frontline of combat operations. Transport, aerial refueling, and combat units were counted on heavily during the buildup, war, and aftermath.

Throughout the '90s, ANG units became critical components of frontline operations. With the military drawdown imposed by Clinton in 1994 and 1995, active duty units simply weren't enough to cover the commitments. Post 9/11 this became even more critical. OIF and OEF operations simply could not have been sustained for as long as they have been if it hadn't been for ANG units.

Now, for the bad part....

During the '90s and '00s, the ANG was upgrading its aircraft, to where it was flying almost the same stuff as active duty units. Fighter aircraft in particular were pretty much equivalent both in capability and age. However, very few new aircraft were being purchased for ANG use, and very few new ones were being bought for active duty use. Hence, aircraft in both sides of the service were being used up, to the point of having to be retired, and not being replaced. There are no more aircraft for the USAF to hand down to the ANG.

The ANG's limited fighter resources (and pretty much everything else) are running out of service life, and are going to end up retired to the Tucson desert long before they can be replaced. There are already units shutting down because they don't have aircraft to fly.

The USAF's efforts to buy new aircraft have not included any efforts for the ANG. Even though the active duty folks count on the Guard, they aren't helping them out at all with aircraft procurement. With a shortage of dollars to spend on the military these days, the ANG is being forgotten.

The ANG is fighting this, and actually, for the first time in its history, trying to procure aircraft on its own. They are talking about purchasing new build F-16s, F-15s, and even F-18s, to meet its own needs and to cover its active duty commitments. Whiel the Pentagon is hung up ont he F-35 being the answer to all its aircraft questions, there will not be any F-35s made available for the ANG for at least a decade. The ANG needs aircraft now, and they are smart in trying to pursue new build aircraft that are cheaper, and proven in design and capability.

Title photo - 111th Fighter Squadron, 147th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, based at Ellington ANGB in Houston, painted up this F-16C, s/n 84-1393, to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the base. Photographed the day before it was retired in June of 2008 by yours truly. The unit's F-16s ran out of service time, and were all retired to the desert. With no replacement aircraft available, the unit converted to drone operations - now its remaining pilots spend their time in trailers 'flying' drones located halfway around the world. This unit, with a long, proud history of service used to fly F-16s, F-4s, F-101s, F-102s, F-86s, P-51s ... all the way back to Jennys .....

Monday, October 19, 2009

Oct. 20, 1966

US aviation forces suffered a bad day in Southeast Asia on this day. One incident shows with clarity the lengths to which Search and Rescue efforts for downed aircrew would go.

F-4C 63-7518, 433TS 8TFW, was lost during an attack on a truck park in southern Laos. The crew, Maj. Breckenridge and Lt. Merrick, were able to eject about 10 miles south of the target.

HH-3C 65-12778, 38ARRS, flown by Maj. Youngblood was hit repeatedly by automatic weapons fire while trying to hoist one of the Phantom's crew aboard. It crashlanded about a mile away, with no casualties. The crew and the Phantom pilot were picked up under heavy fire by a second HH-3C, which then found and picked up the second Phantom crewman. The downed HH-3C helo was destroyed to keep it from falling into enemy hands.

A-1E 52-132410, 602ACS 14ACW, was lost to enemy fire while involved in covering efforts during the rescue of the Phantom's crew. The pilot, Capt. Wagener, did not make it out of the aircraft before it crashed, and died on the scene.

In other action:

A-4C 147775, VA-172 USS Roosevelt, was lost on an armed recon mission over North vietnam. The pilot, Lt. Purrington, successfully ejected and was captured.

A-4C 148592, VA-153 USS Constellation, was shot down after dropping its bombs on a railway bridge in North Vietnam. The pilot, Lt. Edwards, rode his aircraft down and was killed on impact.

F-104C 56-0918, 435TFS 8TFW. Another Stafigther lost during the type's miserable SEA performance, Capt. Tofferi's jet was shot down by automatic weapons fire while on an armed recon mission in northern Laos. He did not eject, and was killed.