All posts in “Flightdeck Friday”

Flightdeck Friday (I): Ave Atque Vale – Three Years On

Today’s Flightdeck Friday is a repost from the day when our extended family here learned of Lex’s passing out at NAS Fallon.  It was a grim day – a hard day and as noted below, one myself and many of us who have hung up our spurs thought we were done with.  In honor and memory therefore – today’s repost.  We’ll return to our regularly scheduled series this weekend. — SJS sends.


I lost a friend today.

We have lost a friend, a father, husband — a comrade in arms. Fellow aviator and blogger-at-arms, Neptunus Lex, was killed earlier today when the F-21 Kfir he was flying in support of the Navy Fighter Weapons School (“TOPGUN”) adversary squadron crashed at NAS Fallon.   No word on the cause as yet.   Prayers and thoughts go out to his family — please likewise keep them in your prayers in the days/weeks to come.

Lex would be the first to tell you, upon asking (or not), that he was a fighter pilot.   And he was an accomplished one at that – having reached the pinnacle with command of a Hornet squadron and XO at TOPGUN (“not two words” he would say…).   He was a sailor at heart with a love for the sea and those who set forth thereon in grey-hulled ships – befitting of one who wore the gold wings of a naval aviator.   And he was a patriot in the truest and traditional sense with a deep love for this country and her people.   Indeed, his last work in this life was training a new generation of fighters to defend this nation.

Even so, what really set Lex apart was his eloquence, obvious love of the classics and an abilty to turn a phrase that would do his Irish ancestors proud.   Anyone who has spent time in the air or at sea comes to appreciate the change in perspective those alluring mistresses offer and how they come to change you.   It is the rare person, however, who is able to more than adequately express and convey that imagery, that perspective.   Lex was one of those rare individuals and you could readily see it in his work – almost all of which he shared gratis online.   Whether it was a semi-fictional account of a young aviator wrestling with carrier flight ops or surgical disection of a controversial subject, his wit, grace and command of the language marked him as a finely honed rapier in a field cluttered with dull broadswords and broken battle axes.   And it will be missed.

The time will come when we will take position and give our formal farewells with appropriate ceremony.   For now, I’ll leave with this thought from a fellow naval aviator and friend – part of a discourse from last night…

” We are, actually, pretty few, and we count our fellows as friends of a different sort.. And so when one of us leaves, it is noticed. It is one thing to fade, fade away. It is another to be taken by the mistress, to be here, and then gone. I thought she was done with leaving me to count. So I thought.”

I too thought my counting days finished – alas not so…

Fair winds Lex and God bless and uphold your family.   We’ll meet you at the rendezvous point…on the other side  at the Green.



Flightdeck Friday Red Star Edition (Красная Звезда издание) – The Tu-22 Blinder & Tu-22M Backfire


Today’s post begins a multi-part Flightdeck Friday – Red Star Edition series on the Tu-22M Backfire. We’ll look at the Tu-22 Blinder, the rootstock for the Backfire, the controversy it engendered at the height of the Cold War and SALT II nuclear arms limitation talks and eventually move to the version many of our readers are most familiar with – the Tu-22M3 Backfire C operating in the maritime strike mission. – SJS

Northern Pacific, 2015


Shifting as much as the confines of the harness connecting him to the ejection seat would allow, LTJG (soon to be LT) Scott “Hozer” Miller tried to ease the now persistent ache in his left hip. Cognizant of the big grey and white bomber a couple of hundred feet away, he tried, unsuccessfully one more time to relieve the ache. Giving up the effort for now as another futile attempt, he re-focused on the number three aircraft of a flight of three that he and a handful of other fighters from USS George Washington were escorting. They’d come out of the north on yet another long range, “show the flag” patrol in keeping with Russian leadership’s declared intent to reassert Russian will, Russian power on the world’s stage.

But it wasn’t the latest musings out of Moscow that was the focus of Hozer’s thoughts, it was the big silver and black missile semi-recessed in the belly of this, and the other two Tu-22M3 Backfire’s that was the center of his attention. The last couple of flights in the past few weeks had been clean – now this, and it had everyone’s attention from the first report.


“Chippy Two, Liberty” The E-2 was calling


“Chippy Two, AB wants Kodaks of your date’s payload along with the usual”

The strike group’s admiral, a former Tomcat RIO and CAG, wanted some close-up pics of the AS-4, no doubt reliving his JO days at the end of the Cold War.

“Roger, Two’s in”

Pulling forward, even with the cockpit he gently rocked his wings and got the pilot’s attention, indicating he was going to cross under – no point in getting anyone overly upset with all this iron out here.

A head nod and exchange of the usual pleasantries via the middle digit and he began his slow slide to the starboard side, pausing for the requisite pics along the way. As he emerged on the other side he mulled the size of the big bomber – for indeed it was exceedingly large. About 2/3 the size of the Bear he’d intercepted a week ago, there was a lethal grace about it that the Bear lacked. Maybe it was the emphasis the white underbelly and medium grey (freshly painted? Hmm, that might be worth noting in the debrief) painted upper body versus the unremitting silver of the Bear – or the fact that the Bear just seemed naked whereas the Backfire had the menacing, though ancient Kitchen it was hauling. Perhaps it was the remote controlled Gh-23 gun in the tail barbette – currently up and locked; sitting by itself, unlike the Bear’s tail gunner who tried to elicit a response with the tired old practice of holding up a Playboy centerfold. A tired wave of the hand was all he got for his efforts.

Still, with wings slightly swept and making good speed over ground as indicted from the solid undercast, there was a certain grace to big bomber. The realization of its mission was never far from his mind, nor would there have been any hesitation about launching one of the AIM-120Ds he was carrying should the call ever come.

For now, he was satisfied to having else besides the nagging hurt in his hip occupy his mind.

And with that, the throbbing resumed…


One of the things our imaginary pilot failed to appreciate in this encounter is that the Backfire is a survivor, emblematic of a manufacturer, Tupolev, that had survived foreign invasion and internal purges – indeed, Tupolev had been teetering on the brink of irrelevancy under Kruschchev in the early 1960s due to the Soviet premier’s preference for ballistic missiles over manned bombers, and the issues with the Backfire’s forebear – the Tu-22 Blinder, were suffering, not least of which was it’s growing reputation as a pilot killer. And just as the Backfire had emerged, almost phoenix-like from the ashes of that effort, now, here it is again, a talisman of the Soviet era of power and glory refitted, repainted and reminding the American’s that their alleged sea supremacy led by their big carriers would not go uncontested.


Part 1.  Swing and a Miss

By the mid-1950s it was already apparent to those given charge over Soviet nuclear planning that the Tu-16(NATO codenamed: Badger) would require replacement sooner than later as a deliverer of nuclear bombs. The Americans were already fielding supersonic interceptors with more on the way, and more troubling were hard at work on supersonic bombers, one of which the GRU was saying would fly higher and faster than any of their current or planned fighters could reach. Clearly, Tupolev would be the sourced manufacturer – Ilyushin and Myasishchev had demonstrated little competency where jet bombers were concerned and after the fiasco with the M-4, there was little appetite to repeat history by tasking Myasishchev with designing and building a supersonic bomber. So, Tupolev it was.

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Even at this stage, Tupolev’s design bureau (OKB-156) had been hard at work on a couple of design concepts, not as the result of any direction from the Kremlin or Long Range Aviation (Дальняя Авиация, Dalnyaya Aviatsiya), but rather trying to look ahead and anticipate where future requirements might comne from and what form they might take. Just one of the signature characteristics of a successful industrial firm.

Amongst the projects was a medium-range, supersonic bomber study, the Samolet 103. Originally based on a variation of the Tu-16 with four Dobrynin turbojets buried in the wing root (stacked vertically), the Samolet 103 design was sent back for further refinement by the design team who re-emerged with a novel concept. Instead of the wing roots, two engines would be placed in individual pods on either side of the vertical stabilizer, enabling a better juncture between the wing and fuselage and a wing itself more suited for supersonic flight. This would be the Samolet 105 for which metal began to be cut in 1956.

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Samolet 105

The prototype was finally completed in 1957 – but the first flight would not occur until 1958. To say there were “teething problems” encountered in the manufacture of engine and airframe would be a gross understatement. Certainly this was indicative of most aircraft projects of the time – be they Soviet, American British or other, for the boundaries of known aerodynamics, thermodynamics and control theory were being daily pressed. The crash and casualty rates for programs on both sides of the Iron Curtain certainly provided a metric for the difficulties encountered. The Blinder, as it would come to be known, though, was particularly disguised in that regard. And as flight testing commenced, whole new areas in aerodynamics were plumbed, at times financed with the lives of the crew.

Next week: There was a demon that lived in the air. They said whoever challenged him would die. Their controls would freeze up, their planes would buffet wildly, and they would disintegrate…The Blinder found that demon…


Flightdeck Friday: A Hawkeye For FID

So – after a sabbatical of sorts, Flightdeck Fridays will be returning to these parts.  In the intervening time I’ve been able to compile enough material to make for some…interesting topics.  Along the way, if there is something you’d like to see, drop a note to me and we’ll work it out.  Since this year is also the 10-yr anniversary of this blog, I’ll be pulling up and refreshing some of the classics along the way.  – SJS

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On 6 Jun 1967, the USS Forrestal departed Norfolk for her first deployment to Vietnam. Some 80 aircraft of CVW-17 were embarked (yes, we really did embark that many aircraft on a carrier at one time), and included:

  • Attack Squadrons 46 and 106 with 24 A-4E SKYHAWK light bombers
  • Attack Squadron 65 with 12 A-6A INTRUDER all-weather bombers
  • Fighter Squadrons 11 and 74 with 24 F-4B PHANTOM fighter-bombers
  • Heavy Reconnaissance Squadron 11 (RVAH-11) with 6 RA-5C VIGILANTE recon aircraft
  • Airborne Early Warning Squadron 123 (VAW-123) with four HAWKEYE airborne control aircraft
  • Det 59, Heavy Attack Squadron 10 (VAH-10) with four KA-3B SKYWARRIOR tankers
  • Det 59, Helicopter Squadron 2 (HC-2), with several UH-2A SEASPRITE utility and ASW helicopters
  • A VAP-61 detachment of RA-3B SKYWARRIOR intelligence collection aircraft

Headed east, the long way around Africa, FID would arrive at Yankee Station on 25 July 1967 as part of Attack Carrier Strike Group 77.6 (she was CVA-59 back then) – in company with USS Rupertus (DD-851) and USS Henry W. Tucker (DD-875) and commenced strike operations into North Vietnam and the ship and air wing began to settle into what passed for “normalcy” in Yankee Station ops.

Four days later, it would all drastically change.

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Forty-eight years later, the Navy History and Heritage Command is in the process of refreshing the Cold War exhibit that includes a 1/72 scale display model of the Forrestal just before the fire.  But there is a problem — see if you can spot it:

 CVA-59_01  CVA-59_03  CVA-5902

Yep, you guessed it.  The Hummer is MIA, but not for long.

Thanks to the superb modeling skills of LCDR Mike “Psycho” McLeod, USN-Ret. and the fiscal support of the Hawkeye Greyhound Association, the Screwtops will be taking their rightful place with the rest of the airwing on board NHHC’s Forrestal model very soon.  What will it look like?  Glad you asked:

E-2A AA 701 05 E-2A AA 701 04

Whet your appetite?  Good – head over to the Hawkeye Greyhound Association’s Portfolio page for the full selection of photos under the “Forrestal Project” header.  Once BuNo 152482 (logbook check) has assumed its rightful place on the flightdeck, we’ll update the photos accordingly.  And for reference, the VAW-VRC Foundation is working a similar project for the San Diego Air and Space Museum’s Lincoln model with two Hawkeyes and a COD – so a heads-up to our West Coast folk to be on the watch when that project is completed and please send pics our way!



“Air Raid Pearl Harbor. This is Not A Drill.” *

* Telegraph from Patrol Wing Two Headquarters warning of the attack on Pearl Harbor

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives:


Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.


2014 Hawkeye-Greyhound Symposium POSTEX


50yrs1-e1402447129923 Did you miss the Symposium this year?  Fear not – all you would like to know may be found over at the Hawkeye-Greyhound Association’s site – pics, briefs, and a summary.  Just head over here



Flightdeck Friday – Bonus Edition: “RAVEN ONE” by Kevin Miller

81UW5+-QwTL._SL1500_A good friend, fellow scribe and most importantly, a shipmate of the very best kind, CAPT Kevin Miller, USN-Ret. has just published his first novel, Raven One as an ebook with Kindle Books.  Hozer was an F/A-18 driver and served penance with me on the Navy Staff many passings of the Moon ago.  Over time we’ve gone back and forth over whether it was worth the effort to flesh-out the stories he was putting together into a skeleton novel and go through the grinding editing and marketing process to get published.  It is therefore that with a firmly penned OK that recommend this book to tailhookers and shorebound alike.  A quick bit about the book itself from it’s spot on Amazon:

Lieutenant Commander Jim Wilson, a fighter pilot aboard the carrier USS Valley Forge, is weary of combat over the skies of Iraq. He has been there many times since the late 90s, but now, as each passing minute draws him once again closer to combat, various other conflicts also complicate his life. His executive officer Commander “Saint” Patrick becomes unreasonably overbearing; his wife Mary, fed-up with their long separations, applies pressure for him to resign from the Navy; junior officers test his leadership skills as they act in unpredictable ways; and the raging sea outside serves as the only thing that separates him from events that will change forever his life and career. Imminent combat with the inhospitable and hostile countries over the horizon is the only constant he can depend on. 

Raven One places you with Wilson in the cockpit of a carrier-based FA-18 Hornet…and in the ready rooms and bunkrooms of men and women who struggle with their fears and uncertainty in this new way of war. They must all survive a deployment that takes a sudden and unexpected turn when Washington orders Valley Forge to respond to a crisis no one saw coming. The world watches – and holds its breath. 

Retired Navy Captain Kevin Miller fills his novel with flying action and adventure – and also examines the actions of imperfect humans as they follow their own agendas in a disciplined world of unrelenting pressure and danger.”

Here’s this link:  Raven One  now go and enjoy.

w/r, SJS

Flightdeck Friday – The Dive Bomber

 As a squadron of U.S. Navy dive bombers, flying at 12,000 feet, closed in on a Japanese target the sky ahead would fill up with bursting anti-aircraft shells as the Japanese defenders ranged in their guns. A high speed run in to 10,000 feet placed the squadron almost two miles high over the target in the 

p-aviation_art13midst of the bursting anti-aircraft fire. The leader signaled attack and rolled over into a vertical two mile dive, followed at 3 second intervals by the 12 planes of the squadron.

As pilot of the seventh plane in the formation Chuck Downey steepened his dive until he hung suspended from his shoulder straps, hands busy of the control stick and throttle, feet working on the rudders. Chuck looked straight down at the six planes below him with their dive flaps deployed. He was aware

“All of a sudden there was a huge flash. Everything blew up in my face about 400 feet in front of me … the whole thing just blew.” The Helldiver in front of Downey had exploded, hit by anti-aircraft fire. It had been flown by Johnny Manchester, a relatively young new pilot nicknamed “School Boy.”of them but did not see them… his eyes was focused on the Japanese warship below him, his target. He was also aware of anti-aircraft shells bursting around him but he did not see them…all that mattered was the target he was lining up in his sights…

“There was nothing there, no airplane, pilot, gunner, bomb, load of gas,” Downey recalls. “It was all just gone, no smoke, no nothing. The whole thing just blew … and I just kept diving through it.” His attention remained focused on his target as he passed through the cloud of fragments clicking like hail against his fuselage. He planted his bomb on the bridge of a Japanese cruiser, his target, and pulled out of his dive low over the water.

Got your interest yet?  If so, head over to a new blog about dive bombing by one of the few surviving Helldiver pilots who flew in the Pacific Theater – LCDR George Walsh, USN-Ret.
And if not — better check your pulse  ;-)

w/r, SJS

Project CADILLAC: AEW and the US Navy (Part Three)


1050L 24 Oct 1944. USS St. LO (CVE  63) is under heavy air attack. After successfully fending off the superior surface force of VADM Takeo Kurita’s Center Force, “Taffy 3” is now defending against a surprise air attack that has lasted some 40 minutes already. One of the features of this attack is the use of suicide attacks.

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The “Divine Wind” — Kamikazes.


In the midst of battle, St Lo is struck by a plane flown by Lt Yukio Seki. Penetrating the escort carrier’s unarmored flight deck, the plane and its bomb explode in the port hangar bay, igniting a massive fire with secondary explosions. When the bomb and torpedo magazine detonates, St. Lo is engulfed in flames and sinks 30 minutes later. Barely 6 days later, the carriers Franklin and Belleau Wood were struck by suicide aircraft. Both were forced to retire for repair before rejoining the fleet. This emerging threat, kamikaze attacks, were a hint of what was to come as the Fleet closed on the Japanese homeland. The urgency for getting CADILLAC’s capabilities operationally deployed was being underscored by increasing losses in the Pacific…

Development & Production



Recognizing the importance of the CADILLAC system, an early decision was made by the Navy to establish production coincident with its development. To be sure, this imparted significant risk to the program, but in light of its benefits this was deemed acceptable. To facilitate this plan, the project was divided into five parts: shipboard system; airborne system; airborne radar; radar transmitter; and beacons and IFF. So far, what had been brought together was still not much more than a conceptual model – it was time for building actual sets.  Development was undertaken in earnest shortly after approval in May 1944. Using ground-based radar located atop Mt. Cadillac and operating at low power to simulate the APS-20, work on the airborne elements, particularly the relay equipment was well underway. This arrangement allowed prolonged simulation of the air- and ship-board environment, contributing significantly to the shortened development timeline.

Progress was measured in the completion of each of the first 5 developmental sets envisioned. The first set flew in August 1944 – barely 3 months after the approval to begin work was received. Each subsequent system saw incremental improvements over its predecessor with the improvements folded back into the earlier models. By October 1944 a full-fledged demonstration was flown for the benefit of USAAF and USN leaders. These demonstrations consisted of 2 aircraft and 1 shipboard set and were flown out of Bedford Airport (later known as Hanscom AFB), Massachusetts. By all accounts, the demonstration was extremely successful, which boded well for the production units, forty of which had been ordered by the Navy in July 1944.

CADILLAC I Components.

CADILLAC I Components.

As more developmental sets were completed, permanent sites were established in Bedford and MIT (originally scheduled for Brigantine, NJ). The latter was established at MIT for evaluating the system in the heavy interference conditions expected in the operational environment. It was in this environment that the first major problem was uncovered as the system was found to jam itself – interference was so bad that rotational data as transmitted by the double-pulsed coding and passed over the relay link was virtually completely jammed. An extraordinary effort though on the part of the development team led to a triple pulse encoding scheme. With little time to fully test this new set-up (there was considerable rework in the synchronizers, relay receivers and decoders to be accomplished), the third set was packed off to formal Navy trials at the CIC Group Training Center, Brigantine, NJ that started in January 1945 – only two weeks behind schedule

In December, at the height of the crisis over finding a means to address the interference problem, DCNO(Air) disclosed to CADILLAC team leaders the urgency by which their equipment was required to combat the rapidly growing kamikaze threat. Even though CADILAC was already at the top of the Navy’s electronics development requirements, with the increased need, the Navy made available substantial numbers of officers, technicians, draftsmen and even a special air transport system to ease delivery of parts and personnel.

On the production side, a flexible system of generalized target dates were crystallized as designs firmed up, permitting incorporation of changes as experience was gained with the development units. Though this was undoubtedly the least economic process in terms of cost, the brute force development/production method was necessary to make sure delivery of the critical sets in time for the invasion of Japan — anything less than the very high priority CADILLAC carried would have hampered successful completion. Nevertheless, a production schedule was agreed to in June with BuAer that would start deliveries of operational systems with two in February 1945. This was later modified in November for first delivery of 1 set in March 1945 followed by 4 in April and then 8 per month afterwards.

Operational Testing


Not long after starting operational evaluations at Brigantine, more problems were discovered, centered primarily on interference issues in the shipboard environment. Again, most of us today are well aware of the hazards presented by the witches’ brew of RF in the CV environment. Mixtures of high-powered radars operating at different frequencies overlaid with HF, VHF and UHF voice comms provide an extremely challenging environment to develop and deploy a new system, even with the benefit of fifty plus years of experience. Without the benefit of that experience, the roadblocks encountered are not surprising. More modifications were made to the shipboard system with filters to screen out the extraneous radiation. Additionally, as more experience was gained with the APS-20 radar, it was determined that anti-clutter filters were needed to reduce the effect of large clutter discretes (returns) from the sea’s surface in and around the immediate vicinity of the AEW platform (typically out to 20 nm from ownship).  Mounting the antenna above the airframe would have resolved this problem, using the aircraft itself to screen out large clutter returns  within 10-15 nm from the platform, but that was not an option for the Avenger platform.


USS RANGER (CV 4) transiting the Panama Canal, July 1945.

On the West Coast, training in the TBM-3W for pilots and crewmen was performed by the Navy’s Fleet Airborne Electronics Training Unit (FAETU) in preparation for deployment. While the crews were in training, the USS RANGER (CV 4), recently returned from delivering aircraft to allied forces in Casablanca, entered Norfolk Naval Shipyard 17 May 1945 for a six-week overhaul, during which a CIC and the CADILLAC shipboard equipment were installed. Underway again in July, she arrived at North Island on July 25th where she loaded aboard her airwing. This airwing was different from the conventional wing in that it included several developmental concepts; among these were the CADILLAC-configured TBM-3Ws and the Night Air Combat Training Unit from Barber’s Point (NACTUPac). By August 1945 she was in Hawaiian waters conducting final CQ prior to leaving for Japanese waters when the war ended.

With the end of the war, CADILLAC was almost, but not quite completed. While the carrier-based component did not have a chance to prove itself in combat, the utility of carrier-based AEW was so clear and its applications so far ranging in impact that further development and deployment would continue post-war, with deployments on Enterprise and Bunker Hill. In addition to the carrier-based component, a second development was begun under CADILLAC II for a more robust airborne capability. That will be the subject for the next installment.


TBM-3W Data
Wing span: 54.2 ftLength: 41.0 ft
Weight (empty): 11,893 lbs
Weight (max): 14,798 lbs
Max Speed: 260 mph @ 16,450 ft
Cruise: 144 mph
Svc ceiling: 28,500 ft
Range (scout): 845 miles


To Be Continued…


The E-2 Hawkeye At Fifty


50yrs1This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the E-2 Hawkeye’s entry into Fleet operations.  Over the course of those fifty-years the aircraft has radically changed and grown in capabilities and mission focus, while visually remaining much the same as the first E-2A .  From Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq,  it has been a part of every conflict and some notable special missions. Developed as a purpose-built AEW platform to guide carrier-based fighters to intercept Soviet missile carrying bombers, it counts a multitude of missions that include battle management, post-disaster relief (air traffic control), SAR, counter-narcotics, and ASUW, to name but a few.  In its forthcoming iteration, the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, it will be a centerpiece in Navy’s integrated fires plan.  All that said, the E-2 also played a major role in my life for the better part of a 26-year career, and still influences it today.

So how do you recognize 50 years of service?  Well – you certainly throw a celebration – and this year’s Hawkeye Ball and Hawkeye Week in October will feature the 50 year celebration (more on that to follow).  An E-2C will be inducted into the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola (finally!).  And in the run up to Hawkeye Week this site and the Hawkeye-Greyhound Association’s site will feature articles on the historical background and lineage of the Hawkeye, along with personal memories collected from those who have flown and worked on the Hummer.  We’ll kick it off here in the coming days with an updated re-run of the CADILLAC I & II series from a few years back.  If any out there have stories or memories to share (and especially photos – we need photos particularly from the early days, due credit will be given and copyright enforced) please send them along.

Watch for the hashtag #HawkeyeAt50