Wednesday, April 21, 2010

EADS Reenters KC-X Competition

EADS (Airbus) has reentered the USAF's KC-X competition. Northrup-Grumman announced its withdrawl from the competition back in February. N-G had been partnered with EADS to offer the KC-30, a militarized tanker version of the A330 airliner. N-G backed out, seeing that the refined requirements set out in the competition gave Boeing's KC-767 a big advantage in the competition. Basically, N-G decided to stop throwing good money after bad, and handed the contract to Boeing.

Well, Airbus has decided to attempt to push the KC-30 by itself, without N-G as a partner. I rate their chance as slightly better than Obama shrinking the Federal government.

N-G's bid included some powerful incentives - assembly of the KC-30 would have been in Alabama, benefiting a large number of US companies and creating a large US workforce to produce the 179 aircraft the contract covers. EADS' bidding on its own would seem to not have that advantage - the aircraft will undoubtedly be built in Airbus' European factories.

Airbus has a very poor record of delivering new design aircraft on time. Their long going A-400M project to build a medium capacity airlifter is so far behind schedule, so far above projected costs, that many of the partner countries have backed out of the project and chosen to buy C-17s and new model C-130s instead.

The KC-X contract is worth at least $35,000,000,000. I understand why EADS would want to try to get it, but I don't understand why they are getting back in when the deck is stacked so far against them. I see this as a waste of money for EADS, and a big embarrassment when their aircraft loses to Boeing again.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mustang Magic

I had heard about this mass gathering of Mustangs a couple of years ago, but had just now stumbled upon some video on Youtube. Decent quality video at that. The occasion was on Sep. 30, 2007, at Rickenbacker Airport in Columbus OH - the Gathering of Mustangs.

There is nothing that sounds like a Merlin powered Mustang. Arguably the best fighter aircraft ever built (given it's time period), it is a magic machine. Easily the most prolific fighting warbird still in existence, it is a treat to see one or two at an airshow. For this meet, 20 (yes TWENTY) of them were in attendence. I truly wish I had been there to see this - a sight that hadn't been seen since the days of WWII - twenty P-51s in formation!

Very cool.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

NAVAIR - 2 Crashes Claim 4 Lives

A VAW-121 E-2C Hawkeye, BuNo 166508, based on the USS Eisenhower crashed in the Arabian Gulf on a normal mission on March 31. The aircraft lost power on one engine while returning to the carrier from its surveillance mission. The pilot held the aircraft steady while the other 3 crew members bailed out, but was unable to get out himself before the plane impacted the water. He gave his life so the others could get out safely.

A VT-86 T-39N Saberliner training aircraft, BuNo 165513, based at NAS Pensacola, crashed near Atlanta on April 12, killing three on board. The same area was the site of another T-39 crash back in 2006, which killed all 4 on board.

Military aviation is a deadly serious business, even during normal operations.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It's a Hawg's Life

The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbotl II was designed in the early '70s to meet a USAF requirement for a tank killing close air support aircraft. It's primary purpose was to defeat the anticipated Soviet tank attack that would come through Germany, should war ever break out.

The A-10 was designed around it's huge 30mm GAU-8 Gatling gun. Firing rounds of depeleted uranium at 2,000 or 4,000 rounds per minute, this awesome weapon was capable of chewing up a tank in short order. 11 weapons hardpoints allow the aircraft to carry a massive amount of varied ordanance.

The A-10 almost immediately gained the nickname 'Warthog' due ito its ungainly appearance. Indeed, few actually refer to the jet as Thunderbolt, most folks just call it 'The Hawg'.

Equipped with twin tails, twin engines, multiple redundant controls, and an armored titanium coccoon around the pilot, the Hawg was designed to take a lot of punishment and get its pilot back home. It is not a fast jet, max speed is about 450mph, but it is highly manueverable, and quiet. Most of its work is done at low level.

Production was 707 airframes, not counting pre-production, buiilt from 1975 to 1982.

With the end of the cold war, many in the Air Force pushed for the retirement of the A-10, saying it was redundant. Some of the earlier airframes started going to the boneyard in the late '80s. It's reprieve came in the form of Desert Storm.

DS operations showed that the A-10 was far from obsolete. It destroyed hundreds of Iraqi tanks and vehicles. 18 A-10s were hit by enemy fire, 4 of which were downed. 2 more A-10s were lost in landing accidents. More than 1 A-10 brought its pilot home after taking significant damage.

The post DS force drawdown initiated by Clinton saw the A-10 active duty force hit hard, with several wings being deactivated. The A-10, however, continued to prove its worth over Bosnia. It has been a critical component of the Global War on Terror, and its presence over Iraq and Afghanistan has been constant since our forces liberated those countries.

Today, about half of the A-10s built are still flying. The majority have been through multiple upgrades and service life extensions that will keep them active for at least another 15 years. While the F-22 and F-35 are set to replace the F-15 and F-16, there is no replacement on the boards for the A-10.

Once the stepchild of the pointy-end fighter Air Force, the 'Hawg continues to prove its worth, and will outlive the jets that came after it - the very ones that were supposed to have made it obsolete.

Lone Star Flight Museum's P-47D Thunderbolt "Tarheel Hal' sitting besides its namesake, A-10A Thunderbolt II 79-0147, 47FS 917WG, at the Hawg's home base of Barksdale AFB. Photo by yours truly.

Friday, April 2, 2010

'Vark Dump and Burn, Aussie Style

The F-111 Aardvark was operated only by two forces - the USAF and the Australians. The aircraft has never received its due, in my opinion. A friend, Quizmo, flew these incredible aircraft out of Lakenheath and Cannon, before moving on to Beagles.

The F-111 served in A, C, D, E, F, G, EF- and FB- versions. A Navy version, the B, was initially developed, but was found to be totally unsuitable for carrier operations. Sadly, the last American Aardvarks were retired back in the mid-1990s, but the Australians still fly them.

The F-111 has a fuel dump nozzle uniquely placed - between the two engine exhausts. If the dump was turned on while the jet was in afterburner, a 100 foot long torch shot out the rear of the aircraft. The USAF deemed this to be too dangerous to allow, but the Aussies jumped on it and used it to great delight at airshows and other events.

Here are a couple of Aussie 'torches' for your enjoyment ....

Romania Chooses F-16 Over F-35

Romania has signed a deal to purchase 48 F-16 fighters from the US. 24 of the aircraft will be new build Block 50s, to be delivered by 2020. The remaining 24 will be refurbished Block 25s, recently retired from US use and now sitting in the boneyard in Tucson. The deal is said to be worth $4.5 billion, including spares and training. This will give Romania two squadrons of capable fighter bombers, compatible with NATO standards.

The order was chosen over an offer for 24 F-35s at a cost of over $6 billion (at current aircraft cost, which is very likely to go higher), none of which would be delivered before 2020.

One has to wonder - if the F-16 is still so potent a weapon that it is first choice for foreign orders, why is the USAF retiring so many of them prematurely?

Warlords Resurrected

Marine Fighter Squadron VMFA-451 (Warlords) has been resurrected from the dead, at least for a little while. The squadron stood up this week after a 13 year absence.

VMFA-451 started it's service back in 1944. It saw action in every major conflict the US has had, up to and including Desert Storm. The squadron last flew F-18As, and was deactivated back in 1997 as the military drawdown of the Clinton Administration rolled on.

The Navy, Marines, and Air Force try hard to keep historical lineage going in its flying squadrons. VMFA-451 was re-established in order to officially keep it's heritage intact. The squadron will be renumberd VMFA-501 today at Eglin AFB, where it's initial cadre will begin training in preparation to receive the F-35B (when it finally makes it into fleet service). The resurrection of -451 and then renaming it to -501 keeps the Warlords lineage intact. However, I really don't know why they didn't just leave it as -451.

Photos - F-18A 163118, seen landing at NAS Dallas on Dec. 7, 1991, while conducting ACM missions against the locally based Phantoms of VMFA-112.

F-4J 153860 carrying the spectacular markings the squadron had during the BiCentennial of 1976, seen at its home base of MCAS Beaufort.

A Very Small World

Back when I spent many hours hanging out on the approach end of Runway 17 at NAS Dallas, the sight of fleet squadron aircraft coming in transient was enough to make my camera shutter click fast and hard. Navy Dallas was a reserve base. Most of the Navy and Marine transient aircraft that passed through were RAG birds. Seeing fleet aircraft was a treat.

One day in July of1986, I shot a rather non-descript A-6E belonging to the VA-75 Sunday Punchers. BuNo 161660, AC-503, was in between cruises on the USS JFK at the time. Nasty, worn grey camoflage, but it was still a fleet bird. For some reason, it stuck in my mind over the years - it was the only VA-75 A-6 I ever saw at Navy Dallas.

Fast forward to 2006. I am in my local post office., mailing yet anouther care package to Outlaw13 over in the sand box. The clerk, who I had come to know by name over the past couple of years, asked about the package - he had seen me send many of them to that APO address. I told him where it was going. He mentions that he flew in the Navy. Oh yeah, what? I was a BN (bombadier/navigator) on A-6s. Which unit? VA-75. He mentions he does not have any pictures of the aircraft he flew in during training or active duty service. I tell him I have many A-6 pictures, taken over the years. He lends me his log book, so I could see if I had pictures of any birds he flew in. There is an entry for July 1986, flying in BuNo 161660, passing through NAS Dallas on the way to San Diego.

See where this is going?

Of all the folks who flew in the Intruder, I photographed him 20 years previously, landing out at Navy Dallas. I was on the starboard (that's right to us non-squid type persons) side on approach. The BN sits in the right seat. I look at the photo carefully, he's looking right at me as the plane goes by. Can't see his face because the visor is down.

I make a large print of the photo and give it to him. He confirms that the helmet markings were his, and the dates match up.

An amazing coincidence. The A-6 is gone now. Navy Dallas is long since closed. VA-75 is no more. The USS JFK has been decommissioned. I don't shoot nearly as many photos as I used to. After this much time and change, for the circumstances to come together just as they did defy the odds, for sure. Not exacly earh shattering, but I found it amusing.