Tag Archives: Military

Warbirds – F-117A Night Hawk

Today’s Warbirds article is on a decidedly ugly aircraft – the Lockheed Martin F-117A Night Hawk.  Pilots and aviation enthusiasts know the aircraft as “Nighthawk”, “woblin’ goblin”, or just plain “goblin”.  Arab troops nicknamed the aircraft “Shabah” (ghost) during the Gulf War.

Developed at the infamous Skunk Works, the F-117 ushered in a new era in “stealth” aviation with her first flight on June 18, 1981.  The goal was to create a single-seat, ground-attack aircraft with the ability to evade radar through use of innovative shapes and materials versus active jamming.  Rapid delivery beginning in 1982 led to operational capability by October 1983.  The Air Force denied the existence of the aircraft until a grainy photo surfaced in 1988.  The public debut finally occurred in 1990 when 2 were flown to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and placed on display for a crowd of tens of thousands.

The combat history of the F-117A begins in December 1989 with strikes by two Nighthawks against targets in Panama during Operation Just Cause.  The true test of its capabilities really began during Desert Storm.  Comprising only 2% of the aircraft deployed for operations against Iraqi forces, the F-117A accounted for more than a third of all bombing runs on the first day.  And though they were the only aircraft allowed to strike inside the limits of Baghdad, none of the 36 deployed for the conflict were touched by hostile fire.  After the end of the Gulf War, the Nighthawk continued to operate in the region to enforce compliance with U.N. programs designed to deny weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Only one F-117A has been lost to enemy action.  On March 27, 1999 during Operation Allied Force, an Army of Yugoslavia SA-3 detonated near an F-117A piloted by Lt. Col. Dale Zelko.  The aircraft had been targeted using ground observation beginning from take-off in Italy and long-wave radar that detected the plane when the bomb bay doors were open.  The pilot ejected safely and was quickly recovered by Marine Corps combat search and rescue.  the wreckage was not bombed because of the proximity of civilians.  This allowed  Russian personnel to inspect and examine the remains.  Technology from this wreck has proved useful to both China and Russia in the development of their own stealth aircraft.

Though they were supposed to remain operational through 2011, early deployment of the F-22 Raptor led to early retirement of the F-117A in 2008.  Because of the sensitivity of the technology, Nighthawks were deemed inappropriate for export sales.  However, the fleet of F-117A’s has not been scrapped.  Instead, they remain in climate controlled hangars at the Tenopah Test Range in “mothballed” condition – possibly awaiting later reactivation or sale.  F-117A’s have been sighted in flight as recently as 2010.

If you want to see more great photos of the Nighthawk, check out the archives at AviationSpectator.com .  Details on specifications and capabilities can be found on the Federation of American Scientists website.

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D-day Photo Montage

Just a few quick photos of the preparations for, execution of, and aftermath of the D-Day invasion (Operation Overlord) June 6, 1944.  Thank you for your sacrifice.

D-Day – 73 years ago today

U.S. paratroopers fix static lines for thier before dawn jump over Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

AP File Photo

Warbirds – F4U Corsair

Considered by many to be the best carrier based fighter-bomber of World War II, today we honor the May 29, 1940  first flight of the F4U Corsair on Warbirds.

Despite early issues with getting Corsair squadrons qualified for carrier landings, the Marine Corps had no reservations about using her as a land-based fighter beginning in 1942.  The navy restricted the planes from carrier landings until early 1944.  Despite the Corsair’s superior performance in almost all categories, veteran Navy pilots preferred the F-6 Hellcat as it was easier to land having less tendency to bounce.  Many naval aviators disparagingly called the F4U “hog”, hognose”, or even “bent-wing widow maker”.

The F-4 Corsair’s combat debut in 1943  was as part of the fiasco near Kahili known as the “Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre”.  4 P-38s, 2 P-40s, 2 B-24s, and 2 F4Us were lost with no more than 4 Zeros downed.  Despite this rocky first encounter, Marine pilots soon learned to take advantage of the Corsair’s superior capabilities and six .50 caliber machineguns versus Japanese fighters.  These ground based squadrons would operate in some of the Pacific theater’s hottest zones like Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, Philippines, Marshall Islands, Palaus, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.

The F4U has had a star-studded cast of pilots.  Charles Lindbergh served as a test pilot and evaluator while Hall of Fame baseball player Ted Williams was a flight instructor for the F4U at Pensacola.  Among Marine Corps Corsair pilots there were 15 confirmed aces and 4 Medal of Honor recipients.  The first Corsair Ace was Second Lieutenant Kenneth A. Walsh while the most famous was probably Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington f the Blacksheep Squadron (VMF-214).

Having seen service with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, Royal New Zealand Airforce, and the U.K. Royal Navy Fleet Arm, the end of WWII did not spell the end of the Corsair’s career.  The F4U would serve with Argentinian, El Salvadoran, French, and Honduran militaries.  Combat roles would include the First Indochina War, the Suez Crisis, the Algerian War, and War of Tunisian Independence.  But, the Corsair would truly shine as close support aircraft and night fighter during the Korean War.  Ensign Jesse L. Brown, the U.S. Navy’s 1st African-American naval aviator, flew Corsairs on combat missions from the USS Leyte (CV-32). He was shot down on December 4, 1950 and became the first U.S. Navy officer killed during the Korean War.

F4U Corsairs feature prominently in media.  John Wayne starred in a film about Marine Corps aviators called Flying Leathernecks.  The made for television movie and follow-up series Baa Baa Black Sheep fictionally portrays the actions of Greg “Pappy” Boyington and the Black Sheep Squadron (VMF-214)

You can view a very thorough history of the Vought F4U Corsair on YouTube in this 5-part series.

(If you have suggestions of other aircraft to cover in upcoming Warbirds posts, please put them in the comments.  Thanks.)

It’s Never Too Late To Stand Up For What You Believe In

Some will say it’s too hard or that they have no time.  Others will claim they have done their time or given enough.  A brave few – a tiny remnant of those among us – will still do what they know needs to be done.

Here is to Samuel Whittemore, aged 80.  Alone, he attacked a British relief column and killed three British soldiers on April 19, 1775 near Arlington, Massachusetts.  In the process he was shot in the face, bayoneted 13 times, and left for dead.  When found, he lay in a pool of his own blood; trying to reload his musket.  Out of what I would imagine is a pure stubborn refusal to allow the Redcoats the pleasure of his death, he recovered and lived to the ripe old age of 98.  He is rightly honored as the Official State Hero of Massachusetts.

samuel whittemore

Here we have the longest serving aircraft in the American air arsenal – the iconic B-52 Stratofortress.

Design for this leviathan began way back in 1946.  Developed to carry nuclear and conventional munitions for cold war deterrence, the BUFF (Big Ugly Flying Fellow) made its maiden flight on April 15, 1952.  Activily serving since 1955, 744 B-52’s have been built.  The last one constructed left the factory on October 26, 1962 yet there are no plans to replace it.  The combination of durability, affordability, and flexibility have led the Air Force to plan for the use of the B-52 through 2040.

B-52s have seen service during the Cold War, Vietnam, Operation Desert Storm,  Operation Allied Force in Yugoslavia, and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Footage of the modern B-52 in action.

Ever wonder what carpet bombing looks like?

BUFF has never dropped a nuclear device in combat but she did drop the first hydrogen bomb.

B-52 is number 1 of the worrld’s Top Ten Bombers of all time!

Just because she’s old that doesn’t mean she’s broke.  If you want to scare the crap out of some tinpot dictator, you can leave the cruise missiles at home.  Just tell him that the B-52s are in the air!

(FYI – BUFF also stands for Big Ugly Fat F#cker.)

UPDATE:  January 4th, 2017 – An unarmed B-52 on a training mission over Minot AFB lost an engine mid-flight – literally.  Due to a “catastrophic engine failure”, the assembly “shelled itself” according to Air Force officials.  Massive damage could have caused the engine housing or cowling to crumble and fail allowing the engine to plummet into a riverbed about 25 miles from the base.  The bomber landed safely and none of the 5 crew were reported injured. The aircraft in this incident was reported to have been built in 1961.

Warbirds – AV-8A Harrier

In honor of the Hawker Siddley Harrier’s first flight on April 1, 1969 , I present you with the latest edition of our ongoing “Warbirds” series.

The Harrier, as most people consider it, is actually a family of aircraft.  The first and only operational family of jump jets ever developed.  The main versions of the family in order of development are the Hawker Siddeley Harrier, British Aerospace Sea Harrier, Boeing/BAE Systems AV-8B Harrier II, and BAE Systems/Boeing Harrier II.  Initial work began on the series as early as 1957 in cooperation between airframe maker Hawker Aircraft and engine manufacturer Bristol Engine Company on the project P.1127.

What came from this project was a fixed-wing aircraft that absolutely embodies the spirit of aviation innovation.  First operational jump jet.  First capable of hovering.  First to fly backwards (WHAT!).

When you think of the Harrier, the first thing that comes to mind is often the Falklands War between Britain and Argentina in 1982.  Deep in the South Pacific and over 8,000 moles from home, the Harrier saw her first combat in some of the world’s worst flying conditions.  While deployed, Harriers flew over 2000 sorties – over six per aircraft per day.  though 10 Harriers of various types were lost to ground fire or mechanical failure, none were lost in air-to-air combat.

After the war, the first generation of Harriers saw continued Cold War tasking, but declining service with British and American forces.

Most of the continuing production was earmarked for export to NATO and allied countries.  But, this wasn’t because of any failings.  Rapid advances in avionics, navigation, and propulsion would give birth to a next generation of jump jet.  A new partnership between McDonnell Douglas and British Aerospace would soon bring the world the Harrier II.  These aircraft serve still today and have seen combat during the Gulf War, Yugoslavia, the Iraq War and Afghanistan.  Though slated to be replaced by the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II, the Harrier II still serves the USMC, British armed forces (G-5/7/9 series), Spanish Navy, and Italian Navy.

UPDATE:  2012  America suffers greatest aircraft loss since Vietnam when Afghan terrorists breach security at Camp Bastion; destroying 6 USMC Harriers and damaging 2 more.  In addition, 2 Marines and 9 Nato personnel lost their lives.

Warbirds – F-16 Fighting Falcon

Our latest edition of Warbirds brings us to the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon.  This storied Cold War veteran took its first flight on January 20, 1974.

f-16 fighting falcon thunderbird

Requests for proposals in the 1972 Lightweight Fighter (LWF)  initiative brought five companies into competition.  General Dynamics and Northrop were eventually awarded contracts for prototype production.  During a near disastrous taxi test the XF-16 was forced into an unscheduled first flight to avoid destroying the aircraft.  Despite this, the Falcon went on to win the joint U.S. and NATO Air Combat Fighter competition – outperforming the Saab 37E “Eurofighter”, the Dassault-Breguet Mirage F1M-53, the SEPECAT Jaguar, and the Northrop P-530 Cobra (similar to the XF-17).  Citing better maneuverability, greater range, and lower operating costs, the Secretary of the Air Force announced in 1975 its intent to order the first 650 F-16’s.

f-16 fighting falcon line drawing

The first delivery of an F-16A to the USAF occurred on January 6, 1979.  Operational deployment began on October 1, 1980 with the 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Hill AFB in Utah.  Since then, over 4500 units of a variety of models have been built.  Air forces of 25 nations have had the F-16 in their service.

f-16 fighting falcon weapons load display

The first combat experiences of the Falcon took place during the 1981 Lebanese Civil War.  F-16s of the Israeli Air Force (IAF) successfully downed in air-to-air combat a Syrian Mi-8 helicopter and a MiG-21.  Later that year, a combined flight of IAF F-16s and F-15s destroyed the nearly completed Iraqi nuclear plant at Osirak.

In the 1980s, NATO and US deployment of the F-16 provided an effective counter to the massive deployments of Warsaw Pact aircraft in Eastern Europe.  Innumerable aerial challenges occurred through the end of the Cold War, but no real combat.  The first action seen by US and NATO F-16s occurred during the 1991 Gulf War – Operation Desert Storm.  From January 16 to February 28, F-16s flew over 13,000 sorties with seven aircraft lost.  Of these losses, only three were due to enemy fire.  Despite their heavy operational tempo, it would be 1992 before the first USAF F-16 would get an air-to-air kill.  During enforcement of the US/UK no-fly zones over Iraq, an F-16D shot down a Mig-25 with an AIM-120 AMRAAM.  This event also marked the first kill by an AMRAAM missile.

f-16 fighting falcon burning iraqi oil wells

F-16s continued to provide vital service throughout the next two decades.  Action was seen in the Balkans in ’93,’94, and ’99 as well as Pakistan from ’86 to ’88 against  Afghan Air Forces.  Later, the Falcons saw combat in Operation Iraqi Freedom (’03-’10) and during operations of the IAF in Lebanon in ’06 as well as from ’08 to ’09.  Today, Japanese and South Korean F-16s routinely deal with aerial challenges from Russian, North Korean, and even Chinese threats.

f-16 fighting falcon show of force

With the ongoing upgrade scheme, the USAF plans to keep the F-16 in service through 2025.  However, with the delayed acquisitions of the F-35 Lightning II, the Fighting Falcon may see its US service extended well beyond that date.  You should expect to see them in the air forces of other nations quite a bit longer.

This is a great documentary on the USAF Thunderbirds, their history, and the F-16. Enjoy!

Spirit of WWII Would Serve Us Well Today

A friend on Facebook (thanks J.R.) shares a great quote from a book by WWII B-24 bomber pilot Ralph Welsh.  We should start each day with this in our heads and hearts.

“I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon if I can. I seek opportunity, not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I want to take the calculated risk, to dream and to build, fail and succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole. I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence, the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence, nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud and unafraid. To think and act for myself, enjoy the benefits of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say, ” This I have done..””

 

The book is WOW!: An anthology with 149 World War II stories of bombing missions, personalities, diverse life experiences by Ralph Welsh.  Check it out at Amazon.com.

WOW! by Ralph Welsh

 

Warbirds – B-1B Lancer

Today’s installment of Warbirds brings us to the supersonic, swingwing marvel the B-1B Lancer.  Unofficially known as the “Bone” (from B-one), the development and deployment of this strategic bomber increased pressure on the Soviets and helped shorten the Cold War.  The B-1’s first flight took place on December 23, 1974.

b-1b lancer wireframe

Envisioned in the 60’s as a Mach 2 replacement for the B-52, it was hoped that the Lancer would have the range and payload capacity to meet or exceed her predecessor.  Actual development of the aircraft didn’t start until the 1970’s and the design changed many times as political views of what her mission would be were revised.  President Carter actually cancelled the B-1A program after 4 aircraft were built in another misguided attempt to placate the Soviet Union.  But, the Reagan administration resurrected the project in 1981 to counter mounting worldwide Soviet adventurism.  Subsequently, Rockwell received a contract in 1982 and B-1B became operational with the U.S. Air Force October 1st, 1986.

b-1b munitions layout

It was known early on that the Lancer would not be able to take the place of the Venerable B-52.  What was envisioned was a strategic bomber that had the ability to elude Soviet radar and strike without warning deep within enemy territory.  Many viewed this capability as destabilizing in a Nuclear world.  However, the necessity of countering the perceived threat of the B-1B forced the Soviets into ever more unsustainable research, development, and defense spending.   Without ever delivering a nuclear weapon, the Lancer helped shorten the war.

020419-F-6655M-021

In the 90’s, further development proceeded on the “Advanced Technology Bomber” (which became the B-2 Spirit), leading to a role change for the B-1B.  Part of the fleet was converted over to a fledgling conventional munitions capability.  However, engine issues prevented the Lancer’s participation in the Gulf War.  It would be 1998 before B-1Bs would take part in Operation Desert Fox and undertake conventional combat operations.  That successful mission against Saddam Hussein’s regime would presage deployments in Kosovo, the invasion of Iraq, Operation Enduring Freedom, and they continue to perform “armed overwatch” in support of ground forces in Afghanistan today.

B-1B Lancer bombing run

Of the original 100 built, only 93 remain in the inventory and a good portion of those are in reserve storage.  Without the refits and upgrades that the Obama administration has placed on hold, the aging B-1Bs are looking ahead to retirement in the 2030s.  Debate continues over the true effectiveness of the Lancer as further deployment of the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber continues.

Further information on “Bone” can be found on the U.S. Air Force website on the B-1B Lancer Fact Sheet or in the Air Force documentary below.

 

b-1b bomber takes off over vegas at night