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The Great Prometheus of the swamp

The just love the aesthetics of this 18-ton bad boy:

Tank fans and lovers of all things tracked will be quick to note that Prometheus is, in fact, a British Vickers-made FV433 Abbot tracked self-propelled howitzer and not an actual tank. However, the Cold War-era vehicle, which mounts a stubby 105 mm L13A1 gun, could serve as a tank destroyer in a pinch through the use of HESH shells in a direct fire mode.

Based on the hull and Rolls-Royce K60 powerplant of Vicker’s FV430 series vehicles– which included the very popular FV342 APC– the Abbot is about the same size and vintage as a U.S. M551 Sheridan light tank.

Nearly 150 Abbots were used by Royal Artillery regiments until they were replaced by the much larger AS-90 155mm self-propelled gun in the mid-1990s although a smaller number remain in service with the Indian Army.

Last week, I got to drive Prometheus around the swamps of East Central Florida on a video shoot for Guns.com at Tank America in Melbourne and had a blast while doing it.

Those examples of flat scrap to the right? Squashed cars, courtesy of Prometheus with yours truly squeezed into the driver’s hatch– while wearing a Hawaiian shirt

Expect video of the Florida “gun-cation” to follow in coming days.

Kampfflugzeug Phantom

The West German Luftwaffe began ordering the big F-4 Phantom II, with its twin smoky J79 engines, back in 1969 when it placed orders for the unarmed RF-4E recon variant. This was later expanded under the Peace Rhine program to include the very much armed F-4F from 1973 onward.

The below throwback film shows them in use in a Med exercise, flying from a NATO base in Sardinia in 1975.

In all, the Germans acquired over 200 R4/F-4s and kept the aircraft in front line service until 2013, logging more than 280,000 hours on the type, making the Luftwaffe one of the last Phantom Phlyers.

The below, from 2011, shows the type in service after 40 years, with Jagdgeschwader 71 Richthofen.

The Stoof delivered

People forget that the kinda dopey-looking Grumman S-2 Tracker ASW aircraft, known by the VS-squadron members that operated them as “Stoofs,” could carry a staggering amount of ordinance.

They could tote a 4,800-pound payload in the internal bomb bay and on six under-wing hardpoints and still operate from WWII-sized aircraft carriers. This included not only a wide array of torpedos, depth charges, and naval mines, but also rockets, dumb bombs, and other assorted party favors. By comparison, the Army’s North American B-25 Mitchell medium bombers that bombed Toyko with Doolittle in 1942 could only carry 3,600-pounds of bombs.

S-2 Tracker of VS-32 at Quonset Point, RI late 1960’s. Note the lineup.

Grumman S-2E Tracker Anti-Submarine Warfare aircraft (Bureau # 152339), of Anti-Submarine Squadron 37 (VS-37) from USS Ticonderoga (CVS-14) In flight over the Chocolate Mountain Weapons Testing Range, Yuma, Arizona in June 1970. This plane carries a four-rocket pod of Zuni 5-inch Folding-Fin Aircraft Rockets below its port wing. Photo USN 1148263

Argentine S-2 tracker belly showing off LAU-68 Folding Fin Aerial Rocket (FFAR) launchers designed for launching ballistic 2.75 MK-4 Mighty Mouse rockets and practice bombs

Argentine S-2 tracker belly showing off LAU-68 (FFAR) launchers designed for launching ballistic 2.75 MK-4 Mighty Mouse rockets. Practice bombs are also visible on her wings

Not bad for what is commonly just thought of as a “support aircraft” during the Cold War.

Hoxha’s underground airwing

Albania never stood a chance.

After the truly bizarre leadership of King Zog I (who started as prime minister in 1922 and by 1928 crowned himself) came Marxist strongman Enver Hoxha who was a Balkan emperor in all but title until he died in the 1980s. The cult of personality cultivated across numerous generations by Zog-Hoxa, LLC kept Albania frozen in time through the 1990s when the spell finally broke.

Which brings up to Cold War-era underground hardened concrete tunnels at Kuçovë Air Base, where some 80 MiGs, Yaks, and Chicom clones have been growing mold since 2000. The whole lot is apparently up for sale. As-is/where-is.

Aardvark, arriving

While, if you squint, this beautiful variable geometry warplane seems to be an early Grumman F-14 Tomcat landing aboard a carrier, tail hook down.

That’s where you are as wrong as can be.

The truth is, it is a navalized version of the General Dynamics F-111. The plane above, F-111B Bu. No.151974, made 9 arrested landings on, and 10 catapult-launches from, the carrier USS Coral Sea (CV-43) on 23 June 1968.

The plan was something majestic, like this:

However, that day in June was the only one in which the Aardvark was considered a carrier plane.

Go down the rabbit hole here.

Looking pretty good for something that doesn’t offically exist

A top-secret product of the Lockheed Skunk Works, the F-117 Nighthawk, better known as the original “stealth fighter,” first flew in 1981. After gaining IOC in 1988, they became public knowledge during the Gulf War after they helped take down some of the key strategic nodes of Saddam’s air defense and C4I network.

Officially retired in April 2008, just 59 production models were delivered. Of those, one, #82-0806 “Something Wicked”, was lost to Yugoslav SAMs over the Balkans in 1998 and just one scrapped, leaving the other 57ish Nighthawks (those on public display are early YF-117A “Scorpion” prototypes) to be put in what the Air Force described as “Type 1000” climate controlled hangar storage.

Thus:

However, for an aircraft that is supposed to be put to pasture sans their wings, they sure do get a lot of air time.

16,800 flight hours later

First flown in 1959, some 757 P-3 Orions were made by Lockheed and Kawasaki by 1990. The Royal Australian Air Force got into the P-3 biz in 1968, one of the first non-U.S. users, when No 11 Squadron started flying the type. In all, 10 P-3C Update II Orions replaced No 10 Squadron’s aging SP2H Neptunes in 1978 while 11 Squadron’s P-3Bs were in turn phased out by 10 P-3C Update II.5 Orions in 1984–85.

Nov. 1982: Australian, NZ and U.S. aircraft on a ramp during exercise Sandgroper ’82. Visible are seven Dassault Mirage IIIO and one Mirage IIID of No. 77 Squadron RAAF, two P-3C Orions of No. 10 Squadron RAAF, one Lockheed P-3B Orion of No. 5 Squadron RNZAF, and two P-3B (BuNos 152733 and 153418) of Patrol Squadron VP-1 Screaming Eagles, USN. The location is RAAF Base Pearce, north of Perth in Western Australia. DOD Photo DF-ST-83-07228

In 1997, 18 of the legacy P-3C models were upgraded to the country’s unique AP-3C Orion variants, which have continued to operate. In all, the type put in an impressive 50 years in Cold War ASW keeping tabs on Soviet subs, long-range SAR (two wrecked yachtsmen in the Vendee Globe race were located 1,200 miles from shore in 1996 by a P-3), and support missions all over the Pacific and the Indian Ocean.

The RAAF is replacing the type with 12 Boeing P-8 Poseidon (8 of which have been delivered) and as many as 8 MQ-4C Triton UAVs.

One survivor, AP-3C Orion #A9-659, is slated to be handed over to the Australian War Memorial in flying condition to preserve.

RAAF 659

Built in 1985, it took its final flight on 28 June 2018, having accumulated 16,800 flight hours. 659 spent three solid decades undertaking operations with the RAAF, including during the Cold War and in East Timor. In 2003 it was one of the first aircraft to deploy to Afghanistan as part of Operation Slipper.

It also conducted the first Australian P-3C operational combat mission over Iraq during Operation Falconer on 16 March 2003. The craft also took part in the 2014 search for Malaysian Airlines MH370, the largest and longest-range airborne maritime search operation ever conducted.

P-3s are still flown by Australia’s neighbor, New Zealand (who is set to fly them through 2025) as well as 15 other countries. The U.S. Navy continues to fly increasingly limited numbers of P-3C Baseline III Orions until Poseidon is fully fielded.

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