Tag Archives: warbirds

Warbirds – P-38 Lightning

To honor the anniversary of the first flight of the P-38 Lightning on January 27, 1939 we present to you some great footage in this new edition of Warbirds. This iconic aircraft emerged from United States Army Air Corps specifications drawn up in 1937. It was designated an “interceptor” to bypass the bureaucratic restriction of less than 500lbs of armament in pursuit aircraft. USAAF ordered an initial 55 aircraft in 1939 with the initial lightnings deployed with the 1st Fighter Group’s 27th Pursuit Squadron in July 1941. The first Lightnings to see service in WWII were unarmed F-4 photo reconnaissance version with the 8th Photographic Squadron in Australia. Armed P-38’s began operating in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska in May 1942. At the end of a 1000 mile patrol in August, a pair of Lightnings of the 343rd Fighter Group, 11th Air Force encountered and downed a pair of Japanese H6K “Mavis” flying boats. These were the 1st kills recorded for the aircraft nicknamed by the Japanese “two planes, one pilot”. In the European theater, P-38 Lightnings earned a fearsome reputation among Axis aircrews.  After 26 P-38’s destroyed 31 aircraft near Tunis in April 1943, it earned the nickname “fork-tailed devil” from German aircrews.

Over the course of its operational life, over 10,000 P-38’s were built.  It was the only American aircraft to serve continuously from start to finish of World War II.  Over 100 pilots became aces piloting this plane with several earning the Medal of Honor.  Her most famous mission is considered to be the interception of the transport and escorts of Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto; resulting in his death.  Over a dozen working examples of this famous Warbird remain airworthy today and can often be seen at air shows.  If you get the chance to see one in action, you wont be disappointed.

Without further ado, here is some great video.

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!

Warbirds – B-24 Liberator Heavy Bomber

December 29th marks the anniversary of the first-flight of the Consolidated B-24 Liberator.  Designed by Consolidated under the name Model 32, in 1939 the proposal was offered to the War Department as the highest flying, fastest, and most advanced heavy bomber that American forces would have at their disposal.  Though having a shorter hull and less wing area, the innovative design features of the B-24 resulted in a lighter aircraft with substantially greater carrying capacity.  Only nine months after the awarding of the contract, the first prototype took flight.

b-24 liberator line drawing

Often forgotten alongside the more famous B-17 Flying Fortress, the Liberator is still the most produced American military aircraft of all time.  More than 18,400 units were delivered by war’s end; over half coming produced at the Ford Motor Company Willow Run plant at Belleville, Michigan.  At peak, this purpose-built production plant rolled out B-24s at a rate of one per hour.  Over 1000 crewmen slept in cots at the facility just to accommodate testing and delivery of the bombers.

b-24 liberator willow run assembly line

b-24 liberator willow run assembly line final assembly

The B-24 entered service in 1941 with the British as transports and anti-submarine coastal patrols.  The first American B-24 to see action was the lone Liberator stationed at Pearl Harbor and it was destroyed on the ground during the Japanese attack December 7th, 1941.  Despite this less than heroic debut, the legacy of this aircraft is one of the most storied of WWII.  During the war, crews of the Liberators would earn every honor available to our aviators; including the awarding of several Medals of Honor.

http://youtu.be/YWOk2–CY6E

Notable crewmen on B-24s included:

  • George McGovern – pilot (Senator and Presidential candidate)
  • Jim Wright – bombardier (Congressman and Speaker of the House)
  • Stewart Udall – waist gunner (Congressman, Secretary of the Interior, author, and conservationist)
  • Jimmy Stewart – pilot, squadron commander (actor)
  • Robert Altman – co-pilot (film director)
  • Don Herbert – pilot (actor, host of TV show Ask Mr. Wizard)
  • Louis Zamperini – bombardier (Olympic runner and POW)

B-24 Liberator with Jimmy Stewart as pilot

By the end of its service life, dozens of B-24 variants flew with a whole host of nations, including:

Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Czechoslovakia, Germany (as Beuteflugzeug, captured aircraft, India, Italy, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Romania (At least three B-24Ds and one B-24J were rebuild from wrecks around Ploiesti in 1943–44.), Poland, Portugal, Soviet Union, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States

In its time, the B-24 was one of the most advanced and effective heavy bombers in the world.  Though crews (and history) seem to prefer the B-17, the lessons learned during the creation, evolution, and service of the B-24 would lead to the development of the B-32 and B-36.  These Warbirds would carry the Liberator’s legacy forward through Korea, to Vietnam, and into the height of the Cold War.  Today, only 3 of these historic bombers remain airworthy.

B-24 Liberators over Ploiesti Oil Fields 1943 low level run

B-24 Liberators over Ploiesti Oil Fields 1943

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

Warbirds – F-35B Lightning II

Time for another edition of Warbirds.  this time we have an exciting video from the sea trials aboard the USS Wasp (LHD-1) of the F35B Lightning II.  This beauty emerged from the Joint Strike Fighter program as the 5th generation multi-role fighter.  I am not normally a huge fan of jack-of-all trades aircraft, but it seems as if the detractors have been proven consistently wrong about this bird; in all but price at least.  Hopefully this made-in-America, next generation stealth fighter will perform as well as we all hope.

Her first flight was completed on December 15th, 2006.

f-35 lightning ii night flight

 

F-35B Lightning II in Thunderbirds colors

Lost and Found – October 26th Edition

What to remember about October 26th…

  • 1775  King George III speaks to parliament declaring the American colonies to be in rebellion; authorizes military force to end it
  • 1776  Benjamin Franklin sets sail from Philadelphia for France to negotiate aid and an alliance
  • 1825  360 mile Erie Canal is completed after 4 years
  • 1861  The Pony Express officially ends operations; replaced by modern transcontinental telegraph system
  • 1881  In Tombstone, Arizona the Earp brothers confront the Clanton-McLaury gang in a legendary gunfight at the OK Corral
  • 1940  Maiden flight of the P-51 Mustang fighter
  • 1944  At the end of 4 days of air-naval conflict, Battle of Leyte gulf leaves Japanese fleet devastated and on the run
  • 1966  President Johnson makes surprise visit to troops in Vietnam
  • 2001  In response to 9/11/01 attacks, President George W. Bush signs controversial anti-terrorism law; The USA Patriot Act
  • 2002  Moscow theater siege ends with 50 Chechen terrorists and 150 hostages killed during Russian commando assault

Warbirds – AH-1 Cobra ,Super Cobra, and Viper

Today’s installment of Warbirds brings us to the venerable AH-1 Cobra / Super Cobra / Viper.  This iconic helicopter saw its debut in Vietnam and still serves to this day.  The AH-1’s first flight took place on September 7th, 1965.

AH-1W wireframe

In the late 1950’s Bell Helicopter was committed to the US Army’s air cavalry concept.  With  the realization that the UH-1 “Hueys” were more vulnerable to North Vietnamese and even Viet Cong ground fire that first envisioned, it was decided that an armed escort was needed.  To fill this role some UH-1s were upgraded to carry multiple machine guns and rockets.  However, their light armor, slow speed, and open architecture meant that they were ill suited to close support and a would provide no permanent solution.

During the development of the “Huey”, Bell had begun work on designs for an attack helicopter.  The D-255 “Iroquois Warrior” was their concept mockup that led to the building of the “Sioux Scout” built on the Model 47 airframe.  It included many of the modern attack helicopter elements such as a tandem cockpit, weapons mounts on stub wings, and a chin mounted weapons system.  However, the underpowered and undersized nature of the scout was deemed to be unsuitable.  The Army decided to go with the Advanced Aerial Fire Support System (AAFSS).  10 years and millions later, the spawn of the AAFSS, the Lockheed AH-56 Cheyenne was cancelled.

AH-1 Super Cobra weapons loadout

Despite not being chosen to compete for AAFSS, Bell went ahead with their development of a new attack helicopter based on many of the tried and true components in the UH-1.  With AAFSS development proving costly and slow, the Army announced that they were looking for quick development of an interim gunship.  Presented to the Army in 1965 as the Model 209, Bell’s prototype rolled out on September 3rd and was in the air just 4 days later.  Only 7 months later the AH-1G was selected over the other competitors – the  Boeing-Vertol ACH-47A, Kaman HH-2C Tomahawk, Piasecki 16H Pathfinder, and Sikorsky S-61.

With its own increasing use of helicopters, the Marine Corps was highly interested in adding a dedicated gunship to its growing fleet of support aircraft.  The Corps, however, determined that they needed increased reliability and firepower.  Out of these requirements Bell developed a twin-engine version designated the AH-1J.  Further upgrades were ordered for future Army models that would include better avionics, more powerful engines, and integration of the TOW weapons system for greater anti-tank capability.  These would lead to upgrades and designations of AH-1F, Q, and S.

Cobra Cap

Cobras of all sorts saw over a million operational hours during Vietnam.  They would also be used in the Invasion of Grenada, Operation Just Hope, and the Invasion of Panama.  By the 90’s, the Army began its transition from the Cobra to the newer AH-64 Apache.  Though being phased out, Cobras still played a vital role in the Gulf War, Somalia, and even some humanitarian operations.  the last Army AH-1 left service in March of 1999.

AH-1 Cobra from Marine Medium Tilitorotor Squadron (VMM) 161 on flight deck of San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Anchorage (LPD 23)

The Marine Corps was also interested in acquiring the Apache, but the request was denied by Congress.  It was felt that the cost of creating a ship-based version would be too costly and that the Marine Corps would be the only customer for such a specialized craft.  In response, a new wave of upgrades was applied to the fleet of Marine SeaCobras; turning them into SuperCobras.  models AH-1T, T+, and W would result in greater reliability, more power, integration of more advance avionics, and the capability to utilize AIM-9 Sidewinder and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles

israeli cobras over masada

By the end of the 1990’s, another denial by Congress of the Marine Corps acquisition of Apaches led to a new development wave.  Today’s AH-1Z Viper is the result.  It features a new four-blade, composite rotor system for better battle damage tolerance, reduced noise, and increased flight characteristics.  Additionally, the Viper has longer stub wings with an increased payload capacity.  And, to fully take advantage of increased force integration and communication, a fully modernized suite of avionics and electronics was included.  With these upgrades, the venerable AH-1 has continued to fill a critical vital role in both Iraq and Afghanistan during the Global War on Terror.

ah-1z viper

Over 2500 AH-1 aircraft of various models have been built since 1965.  They have seen service on battlefields around the world and with the armed forces of the US, Iran, Israel, Japan, Pakistan, Taiwan, and Turkey.  Today you will even find retired Army Cobras working in the US Forest Service and the Florida Division of Forestry for fire monitoring and suppression.

Below you can enjoy a clip of Cobras and Vipers in action.

Warbirds – F-22 Raptor

Today’s Warbirds article is on America’s first operational 5th generation fighter aircraft – the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.  Her first flight occurred on 7 September, 1997.

F-22 Raptor wireframe

Initial development of the aircraft was under the moniker YF-22.  It was Lockheed Martin’s entry into the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) competition.  Though Northrop’s YF-23 was stealthier and faster, the agility of the YF-22 (and possibly the adaptability to carrier operations) won out.  In 1991, the Secretary of the Air Force announced that the Raptor had won the competition and that he would recommend an order of 650 to 750 of the aircraft.

f-22 raptor Wallpaper

Produced at the Lockheed plant in Marietta, Georgia, the first production F-22 was delivered to Nellis AFB in Nevada in January of 2003.  Because of design changes made during development and production as well as rising costs, the Air Force reduced its announced requirement of aircraft to 381 in 2006.  Weight increased and capabilities were dropped; all in the name of cost efficiency.  Also, to garner wider support from Congress, subcontractors in 46 states were granted contracts for components for the aircraft.  It took roughly 1000 contractors and 95,000 workers to produce just two aircraft per month.  this production complexity led to even higher costs and more production delays.  In the end, from the initial order of 750 aircraft with a total cost of $26.2 billion, the Air Force would acquire only 187 Raptors for $66.7 billion.

F-22 Raptor weapon systems 2

The F-22 Raptor has 3 internal weapons bays that help maintain its stealthy mission profile.  It can carry six compressed-carriage medium range missiles in the center bay and one short-range missile in each of the two side bays. Four of the medium range missiles can be replaced with two bomb racks that can each carry one medium-size bomb or four small diameter bombs.  A key feature of this design is to allow weapons launch while maintaining super cruise speeds.  The aircraft does incorporate 4 additional hardpoints on the wings with 5000 pounds of carrying capacity.  However, use of weapons or fuel tanks on these mounts detrimentally affects maneuverability, speed, and stealth.

080921-N-4469F-017

By late 2005, the Raptor had reached its Initial Operational Capability.  Deployments began in 2007 with the stationing of 6 F-22’s from Hickam AFB in Hawaii to Okinawa, Japan.  However, computer malfunctions occurred as they crossed the international date line causing the aircraft to return home for 2 days of software upgrades.  Later overseas deployments would include Kadena in Japan, Osan AB in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, and other undisclosed locations in the middle east.  To this date, not confirmed combat participation by an F-22 has taken place.

F-22 Raptor countermeasures

Even today, bugs continue to plague the Raptor.  Cost per flight hour exceeds $68,000 and they require more than 10 hours of maintenance per hour of flight.  Though the stealth coatings on the aircraft are more durable than previous aircraft, a short deployment to Guam revealed numerous electronic failures caused by rain.  Most concerning of all are the reported hypoxia-like symptoms described by Raptor pilots during high gee maneuvering.  In 2012 Lockheed was awarded a contract to install a supplemental oxygen system to mitigate the problem.

F-22 Raptor crash

Initially touted as the next generation replacement for the F-117 Nighthawk, the F-22 Raptor program is already winding down.  The assembly line  at Lockheed is closed and the plans for the aircraft have been digitized and put away into secure archives.  As the F-35 is still non-operational, the services have fallen back on plans to repair their ageing F-15s and upgrading their F/A-18s.  Hopefully the existing fleet of F-22’s will be able to hold the line against the emerging threat of new Russian and Chinese 5th generation aircraft.

F-22 Raptor sun on the horizon

Here is some cool HD video of the F-22 in action.

And here is the Battle Stations video detailing the history of the F-22 Raptor.

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

Warbirds – B-25 Mitchell Medium Bomber

August 19th marks the anniversary of the 1940 first flight of the storied B-25 Mitchell bomber.  Named for pioneering military aviator General Billy Mitchell, nearly 10,000 of these Warbirds were built.  Variations included medium bomber, weather reconnaissance, ground attack, anti-submarine warfare, and VIP transport.

During WWII, Mitchells would see service all over the globe.  The skies over Europe, the Middle East, Italy, and the Far East would be darkened by the B-25 thousands and thousands of times.  Air Forces that would fly this aircraft would include the U.S Army, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, British, Canadian, Australian, Dutch, Soviet, Chinese, Brazilian, and Free French.

In the war in Europe, Mitchells supported ground troops from the Battle of El Alamein to D-Day.  After the successful landings in Normandy, squadrons of B-25s would be relocated to airfields in France and Belgium to support forces as they fought towards Berlin.

But, this Warbird earned her greatest fame with the daring Doolittle Raid of Tokyo on April 18, 1942.  16 aircraft took off from the pitching and rolling deck of the USS Hornet (CV-8) over 700 miles from the Japanese mainland.  They delivered their payloads without loss and then proceeded towards China with hopes of reaching safe territory.  Running low on fuel, most of the craft ditched.  Some of the crew were killed while others were taken prisoner by the Japanese.  All were considered heroes for having taken the war to the Japanese – shattering their invincible self-image.  The story of the Doolittle raid was made into the film Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo starring Spencer Tracy, Van Johnson and Robert Mitchum.

Original footage of the 1942 Doolittle Tokyo Air Raid.

Another notable incident in the Mitchell’s history is the 1945 Empire State Building crash.  On July 28, 1945, a B-25D on a personnel run from Boston flew into the building in heavy fog.  The three crew and 11 others died in the crash.  This incident led to the decision to engineer the World Trade Center to withstand the impact of a Boeing 707.  Unfortunately, the aircraft that hit the towers on September 11, 2001 had significantly higher masses and were travelling much faster than the 1960’s simulations took into account.

Specifications, history, and details of the Doolittle Raid in this video.

Archive video footage of the Doolittle Raid.

Warbirds – F6F Hellcat

June 26th, 1942 marks the first flight of Grumman’s F6F Hellcat.  Designed as the replacement for the F4F Wildcat, the Hellcat became the U.S. Navy’s premier carrier-based fighter aircraft.

Though Grumman was already working on the design to replace the Wildcat, the contract for the first prototypes wasn’t signed until June of 1941.  Using the design of the F4F as their starting point, the entire aircraft was re-engineered with one thing in mind – defeating the Japanese Zero.  Improve mechanical systems, a 25% more powerful engine, an armored cockpit with better visibility, more potent weaponry, and later even radar were added to this new Warbird.  Night-fighting capability and even a 2000 pound bomb payload capacity would enhance later versions of the F6F.

The Hellcat’s first saw enemy action on September 1st, 1943 when a pair from the USS Independence downed a Japanese “flying boat”.  Operational tempos increased rapidly for the Hellcats.  Engagements at Tarawa, Rabaul, and the Battle of the Philippine Sea saw kill counts soar.  With over 65,000 sorties flown by Hellcats during the war, F6Fs were responsible for over 5,000 downed enemy aircraft.  With only 270 Hellcats lost, they were responsible for over 50% of all U.S. aerial victories – an almost 19:1 kill-to-loss ratio.  Allied versions of the F6F build on this legacy.  Overall, 29 Navy, 2 Marine Corps aces, and one Medal of Honor recipient flew the F6F Hellcat.

The John Wayne film Flying Leathernecks (1951) features quite a bit of combat footage of the Hellcat in action even though F4U Corsairs were supposed to be the stars.  Spoilers like to point out that much of the footage is post-WWII and some even Korean War vintage.  Korea war the last theater of war in which U.S. F6Fs would see combat.