All posts in “Flightdeck Friday”

Sea Story Saturday: Phantoms vs the Dragon Lady

U2vsF4B

 

Some few years back our readers may recall a post about the Battle of Palmdale we posted over at the USNI blog.  Long story short – a gaggle of F-89’s spent the better part of one evening diligently attempting to bring down a wayward F6F drone that had sipped the surly bonds of it’s controller and attempting to make a break for freedom – headed Los Angeles-way.  Successfully eluding the unguided (very) ordnance expended by the Scorpions, the lowly Hellcat eventually ran out of gas and crashed eight miles east of the Palmdale airport.  In between a rain of Mighty Mouse rockets fell on the countryside causing fires and almost striking an occupied station wagon.

That was 1956.  A decade later it was a little more serious – a U-2 was headed directly for Cuba in contravention to the President’s order forbidding overflights and a pair of F-4Bs from VF-74, forward deployed to NAS Key West were scrambled:

On July 28, the boredom was shattered. Shortly after 1 p.m. the bell went off. The timing was not unusual; we were frequently released from Alert Five status early. Still, my radio intercept officer, my wingman, and his RIO all ran to our aircraft. After a quick strap-in aided by our enlisted plane captains, we radioed for permission to taxi. Key West gave us priority and cleared us for takeoff, and we turned onto the duty runway. We were airborne three and a half minutes after the bell. Bill Reynolds, my RIO, switched to JARCC frequency and checked in. We fully expected to be released to fly yet another intercept training flight.

 

Instead, we heard this: “Backwash 202, turn right to heading 170.”

 

Bill responded with typical professionalism: “Backwash 202, roger, 170.”

 

What? I turned to a heading of 170 degrees, wondering what was happening.

 

The next thing I heard only made my heart beat faster: “Backwash 202, your bogey five right, 22.” Bogey?!

 

Bill, cool as ever, responded, “Backwash 202, roger.”

 

The next call explained why Bill had nothing on his radar scope. “Your bogey high. Go burner!” That spurred Bill to elevate the radar antenna and me to light the afterburners of both J-79 turbojet engines.

Read the rest here at Air & Space Smithsonian
VF-74

Midway 74 Years Later and the Dauntless on My Desk

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In every battle there is a moment when the combatants, and the world, seem to catch their breath. It is a fleeting moment, lost in the blink of an eye. But in that same blink, everything changes. Such moments are borne of desperation, of courage, of plain dumb luck. But they are pivotal —  for what was before is forever changed afterwards.  – SJS

SDB-3Of the 200-some odd models that populate my study and other places around the house, there is but one on my desk. It isn’t a plane that I have flown (though not for a lack of desire), nor is it even one I have had a working relationship with when I was on active duty. Indeed, it is one I have yet to even see in person except in a museum. That plane? It is an SBD-3 Dauntless but not just any Dauntless. It is in the colors and markings of the VB-5 “Black B1″ Dauntless flown by LT Dick Best at Midway. The reasons I have it there are manifold and it serves as a daily reminder thereto, some of which are gathered and summed below.

“As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”
– Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, December 2004

The Navy in 1942 was very much that kind of Navy — the one you have (had). Ships and aircraft that were in transition from an earlier age of technology and warfighting that hadn’t quite got the kinks worked out, whose replacements that did were still on the drafting boards or just now beginning construction and were months, if not years away from combat. Tactics that had been developed by “disruptive” innovators that had, as yet, to be fully tested in battle. A command structure that suddenly found itself engaged in worldwide fleet and joint operations. In light of these conditions, several actions had to occur prior to 4 June 1942 to enable the American victory at Midway.

Command and Planning. A theater commander, not a remote staff in Washington, needed to run the war in his theater at the operational level and below. Nimitz understood his forces and his commanders. He knew the thin line by which they hung and yet he trusted his task force commanders and their subordinates to be both aggressive and calculating in carrying the fight to the enemy, as epitomized in his OPORD for the coming battle:

In carrying out the task assigned, you will be governed by the principle of calculated risk, which you shall interpret to mean the avoidance of exposure of our forces without good prospect on inflicting, as a result of such exposure, greater damage on the enemy.

In studied contrast to the run-up for the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese planning for Midway was poorly thought out, egregiously evaluated, gamed and haphazardly executed (cf: the entire submarine picket plan). Indeed, it was put together and executed in such a toxic atmosphere of arrogance and bluster that even when one of the final wargame sessions showed American forces gaining an upper-hand because of gaps in the air search pattern, referees for the wargame manipulated the environment and other factors to bring about a successful conclusion for Kido Butai. As for dealing with changing factors at sea, commanders were loath to step outside the boundaries of the plan and demonstrate initiative. In studied contrast were the actions of the Americans from Nimitz’s orders based on calculated risk to Dick Best’s last minute change in targets. Curiously, the Japanese in planning a double prong approach with the diversionary strike at the Aleutians also broke one of their founding principles – that of concentration of forces. By diverting forces on a mission of questionable value and success for territory that would prove to be exceptionally harsh on man and machine they gained little, if any strategic value outside of propaganda for an over-wrought plan of entrapment.

One other, not inconsiderable item was the quality of intelligence and analysis provided, especially that of the cryptological staff hand-picked and led by CDR Joe Rochefort and LCDR Ed Layton. Much is made of the means by which they tricked the Japanese into revealing Midway as the intended target, thereby allowing Nimitz and Spruance to position the numerically smaller US forces to gain maximum advantage in the coming fight. Yet, again, one doesn’t just snap the fingers and wish this into existence. Rochefort and Layton were in this position because of recognition by their leaders, early in their respective careers as JOs possessing a particular or unique set of skills that needed to be developed and nurtured; skills that didn’t conform to what passed for the “traditional” career path and so incurred some risk on the part of the two officers in embarking on the same, especially in the fiscally austere climate of the late 20’s and 30’s in a Service not given to iconoclasts (or at least advancig their careers). Key to this discussion was the fact both officers spent time in country learning their Japanese language skills, underscoring the concept of understanding a culture and its nuances in addition to learning a language. In time, this understanding paid dividends as Nimitz encouraged Rochefort to think like the Japanese commander. All too often in the “modern” Navy we find such persons are marginalized and squirreled away in a niche many times as terminal O-4/O-5s because their utility and talents are poorly understood, ineffectually applied and careers haphazardly managed. So much so that when an intelligence gap is revealed, the system goes overboard and fills numerical gaps while papering over the quality ones. I have to wonder, even today, how many “analysts” are given over to a full, deep study of Chinese language, history and culture, to arrive at a fuller appreciation of Chinese strategic thought and execution, not unlike  their Russian cohorts (who, once the Cold War was over, were widely purged as being “unnecessary in the new peace” – Reset anyone? – SJS). My answer of late seems to be — not much as it seems individuals, groups and whole organizations are caught up in the wonderment of bright shiny objects (niche weapons) without an understanding of their purpose, application and the human factors behind them.

Flexibility and Adaptation to Changing Conditions. American plans for coordinated/supporting attacks on the Japanese were quite literally shot to hell with missed rendezvous, difficulty in locating the CVs and key elements (e.g., the torpedo attack) failing, as it was cut to pieces by Kido Butai‘s protective cover offered by fighters and AA. Even for the few that got off an attack before meeting the eternal deep, the torpedoes failed to properly arm and detonate; a reflection in no small measure of pre-war testing precepts and assumptions. Carefully crafted, scripted and geographically limited tests that ensured success in peacetime testing utterly failed the Fleet when it came time to put the weapon to the test in war, and at tremendous cost in lives and equipment.

All stop.

In case you passed lightly over that last, let me pause to re-emphasize that point — Carefully crafted, scripted and geographically limited tests that ensured success in peacetime testing utterly failed the Fleet when it came time to put the weapon to the test in war, and at tremendous cost in lives and equipment. By the way, this does cut both ways as adversaries then and now were and are prone to the same shortcoming.

In contrast, the Navy’s carrier-based dive bombers on the decks of Enterprise, Yorktown and Hornet represented a challenging, evolutionary process grounded in revolutionary views of naval warfare.

From 1923 to 1940, the US Navy conducted 21 Fleet Problems as it sought to understand, exploit and incorporate new technologies and capabilities while developing the tactics, training and procedures to employ the same should war present itself which, by the 1930s, was beginning to look more and more likely to the discerning observer. Conducted in all the major waters adjacent to the US, these problems covered the gamut of naval warfare from convoy duty, ASW, strike warfare and sea control. Most important, at least to this writer, was that this was the laboratory that tested the emerging idea of putting tactical aircraft at sea on board aircraft carriers. In doing so, the inherent flexibility of aviation across a broad span of warfare areas became apparent as the Navy’s leadership, rather, the Navy’s emerging leadership as epitomized by innovators from task force commanders, ship CO’s and down to squadron and section leaders, looked at naval aviation as something more than just a scouting force for the main battery of the fleet extant, namely the battleline.

B-17s_flyby_Rex

12 May 1938 Three Army Air Corps B-17s intercept the Italian liner Rex (inbound to the US).

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June 1942 IJN carrier Hiryu successfully evades high-altitude B-17 bombing attack.

Midway_-_The_Turning_Point

“Midway – The Turning Point” by Stan Stokes (http://www.stanstokes.net/#!blank/csac)

It was in this laboratory that the Navy developed the techniques and identified the requirements for long-range patrol aircraft and for carrier-based dive bombers, so different from the big, lumbering land-based bombers that the Air Corps’ advocates were saying would make ships obsolete by high altitude, “precision” bombing. Indeed, certain air power advocates in the military and in Congress were of a persuasion that no ship could stand to survive what these long-range, precision strike aircraft could deliver and moved to shift funds and support accordingly (Indeed, today we hear many of those same arguments ressurected against the carrier because of new classes and types of weapons whose unproven technical capabilites similarly trump what carriers could offer in defense. – SJS) Proof, however, would come at Midway when both forces were employed; the B-17s dropping their bombs from on high hit nothing but water because the fixed or cooperative targets they had practiced against in peacetime suddenly “discovered” maneuverabilty. But dive bombers from Enterprise and Yorktown ripped the heart out of the Kido Butai. And as the thousand-pounder from Lt Dick Best’s SBD Dauntless smashed through the Akagi‘s flight deck, a battle was turned and the course to winning a war was set. But it took visionaries to set the wheels in motion.

While the Japanese were the first to employ massed striking power using carriers and the strike at Pearl (and subsequent actions through SE Asia and the IO) validated the philosophy, they also failed to comprehend the inherent flexibility of carrier-based air and thus eschewed opportunities to utilize it in other scenarios, such as armed scouting, which in turn, led to less than robust search plans and reliance on out-dated search aircraft and methodologies.  They failed, in modern parlance, at C2ISR. The American practice of armed scouts for one, developed during the previously mentioned series of war games would prove time and again to be a critical discriminator allowing a quick first strike while alerting and enabling the larger force to disable and destroy as demonstrated in Lexington‘s strike on both Saratoga and Langley during Fleet Problem X (and replicated in Fleet Problem XI the following year), foreshadowing the American strikes on the Japanese CVs at Midway.

Training: The contrast between USN and USMC effectiveness in employing dive bombers at Midway was signatory. Using the same platform (SBD-3s) USN pilots scored major hits while minimizing losses to AA fire and fighters, whereas the Marines suffered significant losses for little, if any gain. The difference? Tactics, training and procedures or TTP. The Navy employed steep, usually greater than 70-degree, dives on the target whereas the Marines used much shallower, gliding approaches. The former minimizes your exposure time and profile to AA and challenges fighters which typically are not equipped for high angle dives, while increasing the likelihood of a hit.  Conversely, the shallower approaches employed by the Marines were more fitting to the requirements of close air support (as would be demonstrated time and again in the next few years in the Pacific island-hopping campaign). However, the anti-shipping approach requires considerable practice at obtaining the proper dive angle, avoiding target fixation and knowing how/when to pull out of the dive while avoiding over-stressing the airframe. Techniques and skills developed over time and encouraged and employed by informed and forward thinking leaders with lots of practice — underscoring the maxim about “training like you are going to fight” isn’t just a nice bulkhead slogan or Facebook meme.

Damage Control: Had the crew of the Yorktown not been so proficient in DC, particularly something as seemingly mundane as draining the avgas lines and filling them with inert gas prior to the battle of Coral Sea, the Yorktown may very well have been lost, leaving CINCPAC with only two carriers facing four, and forcing a different battle plan. Conversely, the almost lackadaisical approach the Japanese took in repairing Shokaku‘s damage or replenishing Zuikaku‘s air wing and repairing her light damage from Coral Sea’s action ensured their unavailability for Midway, keeping the balance of forces on a razor’s edge and enabling the Americans.  Damage control skills would be increasingly called upon as American forces pushed back across the Pacific in  the wake of Midway’s success.Slide1

Over the course of a twenty-six year career in the cockpit, on the bridge and ashore, each of these elements influenced and guided me; whether through self-study and actualization or in the form of guidance, direction and to use an overworked term, mentoring from others more experienced. As I progressed through studying and practicing my trade from the tactical to operational levels of war the lessons of Midway gained traction — more so in my latter years with the availability of new material and perspectives. In that time I have lived the difficulty of mustering and executing long-range war at sea strikes, even when aided by the (relatively) modern enablers of radar, UHF and SATCOM communications and networked datalinks. Of sorting friend from foe and assessing BDA and re-strike requirements. Of the difficulty in turning disparate bits of data into actionable intelligence and at the same time, understanding what we today call “left of launch” and “kill chains” – and how to defeat them through counter-ISR and -targeting efforts through operational and tactical maneuver and schemes.  Of providing reasoned discourse and advice to senior leaders who are bent on a particular agenda. Of building the “whole cloth” picture of a threat (or collection thereof) while eschewing the false certitude of a “slam dunk” in assessing the same and developing counters that may provide short term mitigation and while buying time for more effective measures in the pipeline or emerging on a thousand-plus whiteboards.

And along the way, even today in my present job, I wonder if and from whence the next Dick Best, Wade McClusky. Joe Rochefort, Ray Spruance, Chester Nimitz and Ernest J. King will come.

My earnest hope is that they are out there and when the time comes, when the battle hangs in the balance, when that moment of despair, courage or plain dumb luck offers the opportunity to turn events on their ear and gain the upper hand, that they will seize it with vigor and exploit it in the traditions of our Service.

As was done 74 years ago at Midway.

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Of Heritage and Advanced Hawkeyes

“Hawkeye, Ball…”

Since the E-2A went to sea in the early 1960’s, “Hawkeye” was the name used for the ball call to the LSOs. Later iterations of the E-2C continued that practice but distinguished the a/c type by markings on the nose (a white “II” for Group 2 E-2s, or a “+” for H2Ks today). The Advanced Hawkeye, however being heavier than the E-2C required something more than just “Hawkeye” but kept to a single word. In doing so, VAW heritage was called upon and just as “Steeljaw” has been used for special evolutions for the new Hawkeye, the E-2’s predecessor, the E-1B Tracer (or WF – ‘Willie Fudd’) was called upon. Now, with an E-2D on the ball, you’ll hear “Tracer, ball…”

heritage

Flightdeck Friday — #ww2flyover

 

Special day today in the DMV — 50 aircraft representing all theaters of operation and Services were gathered of a flyover in observation of the 70th Anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany (VE-Day) and the defeat that followed later that summer for Japan.  YHS chose to watch the big wings (figure that) muster and launch from Manassas Regional Airport  others like Pinch took to the Mall for the flyover.  Special day for the observers – even more so for those WW2 vets who were along for the ride in the WW2 warbirds for the flyover.

#respect

C-SPAN carried the full 45 minute event.

Our own view of the CAF’s B-29, Fifi, launching for the flight:

And a nice compilation by the local CBS affiliate:

World War II aircraft flew above the National Mall as part of the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the end to World War II. http://on.wusa9.com/1IVNKHW

Posted by WUSA 9 on Friday, May 8, 2015

 

Flightdeck Friday – A Look Back in Time

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Taking a break from the series on the Tu-22/Tu-22M — fear not, we’ll hit it again next week.  Instead, YHS has been busy working down the boxes of slides accumulated over the last several decades via a nifty little device that makes it easy to digitize them.  Today’s selection hails from the period 1980 – 81 and ranges from the Indian Ocean and the IKE/CVW-7 record deployment that year (347 days underway) and the reward awaiting the Bluetails of VAW-121 upon our return just before Christmas — that the New Year would bring an extended deployment to NAS Keflavik, Iceland forthwith to hunt Bears (of the Tu-95 variety) with the Black Knights of the 57th FIS.  We’ve written about that Cold War adventure in the early days of this blog – now you get to see some of the stills.

FLIGHTDECK FRIDAY RED STAR EDITION (КРАСНАЯ ЗВЕЗДА ИЗДАНИЕ) – THE TU-22 BLINDER & TU-22M BACKFIRE Part 2

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Part 1

1958

1958 was a year of ups and downs. The world’s first satellite launched in October 1957, Sputnik, came crashing to earth with the New Year. The Cold War gets ever hotter as nuclear tests continue (35 by theSoviets alone) and the means for delivery become faster and more complex. Across the Atlantic two signatory events take place – the laying of the keel for the world’s first nuclear aircraft carrier, the ENTERPRISE, is performed in the graving dock at Newport News, VA and half a continent west, the F4H-1 Phantom takes to the sky for the first time.

protoype_tu22

Back in Russia, gleaming silver, needle nosed prototype, obviously built for speed also begins preparations for its first flight. Samolet 105, the most complex design ever undertaken by Tupolev has been ready since December 1957 for its first flight – with the exception of its engines. The powerful (for their day) NK6 engines, unconventionally housed at the base of the vertical stabilizer[1] were still in their design phase, so lesser engines would power the prototype. Even as this prototype was being readied for flight, another improved one was in production. For Tupolev, it was perhaps fortunate that newer prototype was next in line. The changes it promised, or at least were hoped for, would be needed, as it was apparent from the first flight that speed was disappointingly below expectations.

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In the late 1950s, a bomber that was a sluggard would be a dead duck. “Speed is Life,” meant much to Soviet bombers in the late 1950’s. Across the Arctic ice cap, the US was building an extensive radar network that would support the surface-to-air missiles of the Nike family and family of interceptors led by the likes of the F-101 Voodoo, F-102 Delta Dagger, F-104 Starfighter and in the coming year, the F-106 Delta Dart, fast interceptors carrying missiles that packed a nuclear punch. For their part, the Americans were busy working out the bugs with their own Mach 2 supersonic bomber, the B-58 Hustler which had first flown in 1956. But more important to the leadership at Tupolev was the fact that Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party and Chairman of the Council of Ministers, was openly dismissive of the future of manned bombers, preferring instead ballistic missiles for their much shorter flight time and invulnerability to intercept. Continued failure would take the vaunted Tupolev name and industry and leave it relegated to fighting for transport and other aeronautical scraps with Myasishchev who had failed so spectacularly with the Mya-4 (despite what the Western analysts first thought). And so something had to be done.

Tu-22B Blinder

Tu-22B Blinder

Recent wind tunnel work was revealing the precepts behind “Area rule,” the design property that gave a supersonic aircraft a wasp-waisted or “coke bottle” mid-section that reduced drag at transonic speeds.   Discovered by NACA engineer Roger Whitcomb, it is a concept widely attributed to saving the F-102 from obscurity. Area rule was applied to the Samolet 105A. Taking flight a little over a year after the -105 prototype, the physical differences between the two were readily apparent, from the cockpit to the wing and landing gear. If it seems to the reader that there was a significant amount of “reinventing the wheel” going on here – you would be correct. A major issue affecting the progress of design at Tupolev (and others) was lack of access to data being collected in other design bureaus and by the military – there was no mechanism for sharing and indeed, the OKB[2] culture was steeped in secrecy with not so much the West in mind as other OKB. So it should come as no surprise that the 105A prototype crashed on only its seventh flight due to control flutter.[3] This was a harbinger of a variety of issues that plagued the Tu-22 program. The edge of known science and engineering practice was being expanded and like programs in other countries failures were happening in unexpected areas. Not long after the control flutter loss, another was lost this time due to an engine oil line that failed. Improvements were made in line with production – the most notable being a pitch-damping feature that sought to limit wing twisting. As the outer edges of the by now named Tu-22[4], it became clear limits would have to be imposed. By far one of the most serious was aileron reversal at high Mach, so a decision was made to limit the Tu-22 to Mach 1.4. For all that, there were no attempts to address one of the most egregious features, the downward ejecting seats for the crew of three. Clearly many crew were lost because of this design, but in the quest for the holy grail of speed, the cockpit was made impossibly narrow (also affecting pilot visibility straight out the nose) and the only way to exit the aircraft was through the underside. With many of the aircraft loses coming in the landing phase of flight, it should come as no surprise that the Tu-22 soon came to have a poor reputation with aircrew to match that held by maintenance crews. In all, the Tu-22 suffered about the same number of losses as the American B-58. The difference though, came with the loss per flight hour, which was substantially greater for the Tu-22 than the B-58 because the latter enter operational service earlier and enjoyed more flight time.

 Operational Service

Tu-22 Blinder C

Tu-22 Blinder C

Service entry by the Tu-22 was marked by its appearance at the 1961 Aviation Day flyover of Moscow. The Soviet Air Force intended for dual production of two versions – the Tu-22B that was armed with freefall bombs, and the Tu-22R reconnaissance aircraft with an initial batch of 42 aircraft to be procured for 1961. In truth, production was far short of that. The Tu-22B continued to be plagued by a variety of problems and were used initially for training, finally reaching an operational regiment by Sep 1963. The Tu-22R (Blinder C in NATO’s naming methodology) followed with cameras located in the bomb bay and nose of the aircraft. These were the first Tu-22s to be accepted into naval service and naval variants numbered 80 of the 311 Tu-22R produced. The value of a fast recce aircraft for naval service is highlighted in an article published in the Naval War College Review (Winter 2014) by LCDR Maksim Tokarev. Provocatively titled Kamikazes: The Soviet Legacy LCDR Tokarev wrote that a special reconnaissance-attack group (razvedyvatel’no-udarnaya gruppa, or RUG) would be detached from the MRA[5] division formation and consists of a pair of reconnaissance bombers with a squadron of missile-equipped bombers. The recce aircraft flew low and fat to avoid ship’s radar while the others launched their ASCMs at range (even without proper targeting) to draw off the AEW and fighter protection. Presumably undetected, the two recce aircraft flew to the center of the formation and marked on top the carrier with their only task being to send the exact position via radio before being vaporized. Small numbers when losses of up to 50% of a full strike – the equivalent of an entire MRA air regiment were expected to be lost. The reality of such a CONOPS required the design and integration of a supporting missile with the Tu-22, something that wasn’t envisioned with the original aircraft. The advent of the X-32 (Kh-22 is Westernized) missile complex would change this and provide a hint of the future.

Next week: Blinders in the Kitchen, Backfires on the Horizon.

Blinder02JRMod

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[1] Much was still being revealed about flight in the transonic and supersonic regimes at the time of the initial design of the Tu-22 prototype. Early work indicated the aircraft would pitch up around Mach 1 – a characteristic attributed to the swept wings and tai of the aircraft, hence podded engines at the base of the vertical fin was thought to reduce this tendency. Little thought was given to the maintenance implications as crews later hated to work on the aircraft for the very fact of the engine location.

[2] “Опытное конструкторское бюро” – Opytnoye Konstruktorskoye Buro, meaning Experimental Design Bureau. During the Soviet era, OKBs were closed institutions working on design and prototyping of advanced technology, usually for military applications

 

[3] Structures exposed to aerodynamic forces — including wings and aerofoils, but also chimneys and bridges — are designed carefully within known parameters to avoid flutter. In complex structures where both the aerodynamics and the mechanical properties of the structure are not fully understood, flutter can be discounted only through detailed testing. Even changing the mass distribution of an aircraft or the stiffness of one component can induce flutter in an apparently unrelated aerodynamic component. At its mildest this can appear as a “buzz” in the aircraft structure, but at its most violent it can develop uncontrollably with great speed and cause serious damage to or lead to the destruction of the aircraft

 

[4] It’s unofficial nickname among the crews was “Shilo” (шило) – the Russian word for “awl” due to its resemblance with the tool when viewed from above

[5] MRA: Morskaya Raketonosnaya Aviatsiya – Naval Guided-Missile Aviation

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.


Lex

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.

w/r,

SJS

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

tu-22_12

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

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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.

Russia-airspace-NATO

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

“Two”

“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.

Again.

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…

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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:

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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:

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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!

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