All posts in “history lessons”

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…”


PLA Navy, Recruiting and Strategic Communications

Recently – earlier this week in fact, the People’s Liberation Army (Navy), or PLAN, released a new recruiting video as part of a larger push begun in early August by the PLA for more recruits – and especially those with degrees.  Pushed to YouTube and other social media, it is at once slick and highlights the latest in the PLAN and PLANAF’s inventory (or at least the best CGI can bring):

Full length video here.

The video itself is broken into four defined segments – and here is where it gets interesting. The four segments: ‘Our Dream,’ ‘Call to Duty,’ ‘Honor of Gene'(sic), and ‘Seeking Blue Dream’ are also the only segments with English subtitles, save for the ending frames, and we will see why that is particularly intriguing and cautionary in a few.  I’ve taken the liberty to excise two of the segments – ‘Call to Duty’ and ‘Honor of Gene’ (let’s just agree to call it ‘Gene of Honor’… – SJS) for a little more detailed breakdown.

But first some background.

Our (remaining) stalwart readers will recall our calling attention some five years ago to the the importance of the South China Sea (and East China Sea too) and some particularly aggressive moves and statements made by the civilian Chinese researchers and explorers at the time.  Since then – especially in the past 4-6 months, the frenetic island building campaign by the Chinese in the Spratlys and elsewhere in the SCS has (finally) started to garner world attention.  While there are any number of articles, posts, etc. available on the web and elsewhere, the single best “go to” resource I have found and strongly recommend is the Center for Strategic & International Studies’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.  As described at their website:

The maritime environment in East Asia contains both promise and peril. The Indo-Pacific region is host to some of the world’s most important shipping lanes, facilitates huge volumes of regional trade, and boasts abundant natural resources. Competing territorial claims, incidents between neighboring countries, and increasing militarization, however, raise the possibility that an isolated event at sea could become a geopolitical catastrophe. This is all occurring against a backdrop of relative opaqueness. Geography makes it difficult to monitor events as they occur, and there is no public, reliable authority for information on maritime developments.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative seeks to change this. AMTI was conceived of and designed by CSIS. It is an interactive, regularly-updated source for information, analysis, and policy exchange on maritime security issues in Asia. AMTI aims to promote transparency in the Indo-Pacific to dissuade assertive behavior and conflict and generate opportunities for cooperation and confidence building. Because AMTI aims to provide an objective platform for exchange, AMTI and CSIS take no position on territorial or maritime claims. For consistency, all geographic locations are identified using the naming conventions of the United States Government as determined by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. – AMTI, 8 Aug 2015

Among the very useful resources at the site is the interactive timeline covering over 175 years of history in the Asian maritime domain.  For a relatively quick (ok, a good afternoon’s worth of time) survey of the history of the region is necessary to understand the complex relationships between overlapping claims, recognitions and the blood spilled over dashed lines on the chart.  Which brings me back to the topic at hand — the recruiting video.  See, while watching there were a couple of scenes that grabbed my attention for their placement within a recruiting video.  About 0:45 into the first clip below, following an extended sequence showing a fair bit of humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HADR) footage there is a cut to a sequence of islands – prominently featuring the Senkaku () Islands (Japan) or Diaoyu (钓鱼附属岛屿) Islands as they are called on mainland China:

Senkaku Islands

Additional imagery from what may well be the Paracel islands (in conflict with Vietnam) and Spratlys (in conflict with pretty much the rest of the SCS littoral) is followed by an orgy of ordnance from the modern day PLAN to underscore the point about capability and capacity of the PLAN.  But lest there be any doubt about China’s intent; be it prospective recruits with shaky patriotism or lesser nations and their hegemonic/interloper supporters, then the first few seconds of the second video should remove that doubt – at least that appears to be the intent.  Here is the key image:



What are you viewing?  This is a reconstruction of the naval clash that took place on 14 Mar 1988 on Johnson Reef in the Spratlys between Vietnam and China.  Accounts will vary depending on if you follow the Chinese or Vietnamese version – but PLAN film footage that surfaced around 2009 seems to validate the Vietnamese version.  In summary:

The 1988 clash at Johnson Reef saw Chinese naval frigates sink two Vietnamese ships, leaving 64 sailors dead – some shot while standing on a reef – and remains a point of friction between the two nations. But its broader significance lies in the strategic nature of the operation.

The battle’s aftermath saw China take and secure its first six holdings in the Spratlys – fortifications that remain important today, with one at Fiery Cross reef housing an early warning radar. Fourteen years earlier the PLA navy had routed the South Vietnamese navy to complete its occupation of the Paracels to the north – islands being built up into a formidable military base.
– Source: SCMP, Mar 2013

Here is a screen capture of the mostly unarmed Vietnamese workers holding their position, waist deep in water on the reef, as Chinese marines approached to move them off.


The video clip below (source) tells the rest of the story:

Sixty-four lightly and unarmed Vietnamese cut down and two transports sunk.  Hardly the heroic warship – to – warship slugfest the PLAN video made Johnson Reef out to be.  Indeed, this clip provides significant insight into the Chinese character and approach to conflict (and deterrence), especially when viewed in other engagements with India and Russia.  For those that think we can pull the Cold War playbook down off the bookshelf and use the same deterrence models – I would urge caution and a deeper study of what Kissinger called the Chinese “Offensive Deterrence” in his work, On China.

So – a recruiting video that (a) makes a case for China as a maritime nation (sequences 1 and 4) and reinforces its claims to disputed territory in the ECS/SCS via reconstructed (and retold) historical imagery interposed with images of a modern day PLAN’s range of capabilities.  I would argue it is indeed, less a recruiting video for more bodies and more a piece of educational video (“Why we need a navy”) directed at the larger domestic audience and a quiescently crafted piece of stratcom directed at China’s neighbors and you-know-who lurking over the horizon. An interesting exercise in messaging and filmaking when viewed in a vacuum – but China never does things in a vacuum.  On the 70th anniversary of the surrender of Japan, with attention of the world starting to focus in on the island building campaign in the SCS and direct pushback from the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan and possible regional cooperation to counter China’s push that is gaining US support and cooperation, one can, I believe, make a strong case that this is the opening fusilade of the social media and communications war to signal China’s intent and determination as the islands reach completion and IOC.

And about that end sequence…

“Sail on the broad sea and be brave and courageous”

Oh, BTW – anyone remember this from the 2007-2008 timeframe?  Has a familiar, er, tone about it…




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.


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.

Posted by WUSA 9 on Friday, May 8, 2015





Part 1


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.


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.


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.



[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.


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.



“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.




Call this one – “Generations.” From the left — my Grandpa (father’s side), first generation American of German descent who left his home in Illinois to join the Army and head off to the War to End All Wars, serving in France with the AEF. Next my Grandpa Jack – Army, Signal Corps who served from Alaska to the beaches and cliffs at Normandy, on the cutting edge of radar and long-haul communications.  Then my Dad, Bill, Army, Coastal Artillery and Signal Corps, Pacific Theater, also working in radar and other leading edge technology.  And me, Navy, Hawkeye NFO (there’s that radar link again, must be in the genes) and CO, VAW-122; Pentagon/9-11.  All volunteers.  Some served longer than others – some continued to serve in other ways.  Proud of ’em all and what they did.  

And across the width and breadth of this great land, let’s crack open the old photo albums, dust off the VCRs, load up the DVDs and for those vets still among us, let’s talk to them about their service.  Because there are many a family with history like this in the land of the citizen soldier, and the memories need to be preserved.  So on this forthcoming Veteran’s Day, to all who have served and those still serving – God Bless and thank you for your service.


Preserving History: USNI, Kickstarter and USS Indianapolis


WORLD WAR 2 was really the first multi-media war.  True – photography was present in the American Civil War (or as my late grandma used to call it “The Late Unpleasantness” among some of her milder epithets – but we digress).  Motion pictures were still embryonic and grainy when WWI burst on the scene and so most people’s information of the war came via print — newspapers mostly.  WW2 changed that as along with “traditional” media, a new breed of journalist, the photo-journalist, appeared and significantly added to the wartime narrative via imagery.  Human beings are visual creatures (and some say the male of the species especially so) and while the best of the traditional journalists could still catch you with a compelling story, it was the photo-journals that brought the war home.  In stark black and white or color (Kodachrome™ no less) we were flooded with imagery from the banal to the heart wrenching.  Through the pages of magazines like Look and Life we followed the war from the images of still burning ships in Pearl Harbor, across North Africa with Patton, above Occupied Europe in a Flying Fortress or from the decks of a warship like the USS Indianapolis, the war was in our parlors, soda stands, five-and-dimes and scattered about break rooms at our work places.  From the skyscrapers of New York, to the manufacturing plants outside Detroit to a Nebraska farm, the work of photographers like Edward Steichen (who assembled what came to be perhaps the most famous team of photographers during the war) gave heretofore unprecedented access into a global war supported by those most distant from it.

But it wasn’t just the “name” photographers who set this precedent.  Unheralded unit photographers captured and documented all the details of this massive war effort.  Photographers such as Alfred Joseph Sedivi, ship’s photographer onboard USS Indianapolis were every bit as important as the byline photogs and the story they told gives us today, a window into a piece of America’s history and heritage we might otherwise miss.  Except that today, that history, that noble heritage is literally crumbling away in the ace of the onslaught of time and environment.  The Naval Institute is endeavoring to preserve this heritage though and is working to both preserve and transfer photos to digital form — their first major undertaking in this effort is the preservation of  Sedivi’s work and other rare images from the Indianapolis.  Doing so requires fiscal support and hereto, the Institute is trying something new by funding through Kickstarter.  To quote the Institute:

the Institute has launched a effort to raise the funds needed to restore and digitize all 1,650 photos. With your generous donation, we can ensure that this important collection of photographs will be available for the survivors and their families, as well as historians, the public, and future generations. Once digitized, the collection will be made available for viewing online via the Institute’s website. More information about the photography collection of Alfred Joseph Sedivi in the current issue of Naval History magazine.  $3,000 goal would provide the funds to digitize the entire 1,650 photo collection and preserve the original photos, including preservation materials (archive boxes, poly slides for each photo). The Institute’s stretch goal of $7,000 would enable the purchase of a quality digital camera and copy stand mount allowing for the photo albums to be digitized without being taken apart.  The albums would then be preserved and properly stored in their original and current condition.  If funds raised total $10,000 or more, the Naval Institute will develop a traveling exhibition of the photographs to be displayed at museums and locations across the US. 

It is a worthy endeavor and early success would aid larger and more complex projects in the future.  Head over and read more about it here.  It’s our heritage at stake – let’s see what we can do to preserve it.



Happy Independence Day America!


To our family, friends, fellow Americans and expat friends of the blog around the globe – we wish you all a Happy Independence Day, this 4th of July In The year of Our Lord 2014.
And let us all take time today to reflect on the gift of Liberty and what Freedom has meant for us as a Nation, a People and in our personal lives.