Category Archives: cold war

50 Years of F-15s

On 26 June 1972, the first of 12 pre-production demonstrator prototype YF-15A Eagles, Airframe # 10280 (later 71-0280), rolled out of the McDonnell Douglas hangar in St. Louis.

In USAF “Air Superiority Blue,” 10280 carries Sparrow AIM7 mockups and full-color markings

Just over a month later, on 27 July 27, 1972, decked out in high-viz orange test markings and under the control of McDonnell Douglas chief test pilot Irving L. Burrows, 10280 took to the California skies over Edwards AFB, the type’s first test flight.

The first pre-production prototype McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle, YF-15A-1-MC 72-0280, on its first flight near Edwards Air Force Base, California. Note the with McDonnell Douglas RF-4C Phantom II chase plane. (U.S. Air Force)

Six months after that, the Air Force ordered the type into full production and the rest, as they say, is history.

To date, F-15s have shot down 104+ enemy aircraft, mostly assorted MiGs, for zero air-to-air losses, leaving them with a serious claim of being the current, “World’s largest distributor of MiG parts.”

For those curious, 0280 is on display today at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

Throwback: Jester & Viper

Jester: “That was some of the best flying I’ve seen to date – right up to the part where you got killed.”

With the latest Top Gun sequel, I felt these striking images would be well-timed.

Official caption: “Showing off their camouflage versatility, a flight of TA-4J Skyhawks from the ‘Cylons’ of Attack Squadron One Twenty-Seven (VA 127) fly in formation with a Squadron A-4F Skyhawk. VA-127 has the mission of training aircrews in a realistic air combat maneuvering (ACM) adversary training environment.”

Although undated, they are from the early 1980s, before the unit was rebooted as VFA-127 flying F-5s and T-38s, and was a regular at NAS Miramar (“Fightertown USA”), about the time the original Top Gun was filmed.

Photographed by Bruce R. Trombecky. NHHC Photographic Section, Navy Subject Files, Aviation.

Photographed by Bruce R. Trombecky. NHHC Photographic Section, Navy Subject Files, Aviation.

You just have to love Heinemann’s Hot-Rod…

Spanish Guppies

The great shot below is from Cartagena, Spain, late 1970s showing assorted Balao-class Spanish Navy “Guppies” in the foreground to include SPS Narcíso Monturiol (S-35), ex-USS Jallao (SS-368); and SPS Isaac Peral (S-32), ex-USS Ronquil (SS-396). The boat to the far left should be SPS Cosme Garcia (S-34), ex-USS Bang (SS-385), the only other Guppy’d Balao-class smoke boat the Spanish had at the time other than the famous SPS Almirante García de los Reyes (E-1/S-31), ex-USS Kraken (SS-370), which had a different “Fleet Snorkel” sail from an earlier pre-Guppy modification while Bang, Jallao, and Ronquil were all GUPPY IIA conversions.

Also seen to the far right is a new French-made Daphne-class boat SPS Narval (S-64). Within a few years, a four-pack of Daphnes would replace all of the Spanish Guppies.

The Fletcher-class destroyer SPS Alcalá Galiano (D-24), ex-USS Jarvis (DD-799) is in the background as is the domestically-built Oquendo-class destroyer SPS Roger de Lauría (D-42).

The RN STILL has a Falklands-era pilot on the Job

One of the toughest sells of the new Top Gun movie is to digest the mere possibility that a 1986-era F-14 jock would still be in uniform and on flying status in 2022– as an O-6.

But wait, the British have a Sea King pilot who went down to the Falklands in 1982 on the “Harrier carrier” HMS Invincible who is still clocking in for work.

LCDR (yes, LDCR) Phil Thornton was the youngest pilot during the Falklands conflict and continues to serve in the Royal Navy, 40 years since facing danger in the South Atlantic.

Then LT Phil Thornton, baby-faced and headed for war. Note the Sea Harrier behind him.

Complete with “war beard” in the Falklands. His aircraft is a Westland Sea King HAS.5 XZ920. Decommissioned in 2016, XZ920 is now in private service with HeliOperations in the North Sea. The ship behind him is the Round Table-class LST RFA Sir Tristram (L3505) 

Sailing with No. 820 Squadron, Thornton spent the war on a mix of anti-submarine sorties, logistics missions, scouting for surface contacts, and acting as a decoy when needed for possible incoming Argentine missiles.

One C-SAR mission, to look for a missing Sea Harrier pilot with no top cover, brought him just off-shore of the area where said Harrier had just been knocked down. Acting in conjunction with another ‘King, his job was to draw off SAMs.

He said: “I climbed to 4,000 feet and started to release my eight flares in a line about three miles apart, all the time looking towards land for the tell-tale indications of a missile launch. It was very nerve-wracking.

“On reflection, after the war, I realized that we had been called forward early for this mission because we were all young, single men with little or no commitments.”

Of the deaths, 255 British military personnel killed in the Falklands across ten weeks of 1982, 86 were sailors.

 Thornton continues to serve the Royal Navy, working in the Flight Safety Centre at RNAS Yeovilton.

More here.


From the first shots to the last, the Royal Marines were involved in ground combat in the Falklands in 1982.

To open the conflict, it was the platoon-sized Naval Party 8901 that fired 6,450 rounds of 7.62 (along with five 84mm and seven 66mm rockets) in defense of the initial Argentine landings on 2 April, suffering three casualties. One section of RMs, led by Corporal York was even able to displace and hide out in the sparse countryside for three days.

Providing the muscle for most of 3 Commando Brigade in Operation Corporate, the RMs sent all three Commando battalions at the time (40, 42, and 45) along with most of the crack SBS frogmen and even the Mountain and Arctic Warfare training school cadre down to liberate the islands. The men of NP 8901, repatriated by the Argentines, clocked back in to get some payback, forming J Company of 42 Commando.

Royal Marines lined up for weapons check-in the hanger of HMS Hermes in the South Atlantic on their way to the Falklands in 1982

A Westland “Junglee” conducting fast rope training with RM Commandos on the way to the Falklands. It was an 8,000 mile trip from the UK to the “front”

The first ground combat of the liberation came with the recapture on 26 April of the windswept island of South Georgia in Operation Paraquet, conducted by 42 Commando and assorted SAS/SBS operators. 

Members of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines hoisting the Union Jack and White Ensign over Grytviken, capital of South Georgia, April 1982. Before the Falkland Islands could be recaptured the island of South Georgia had to be taken. On 26 April 1982, after a short naval bombardment, a force of Royal Marines, Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS) went ashore and the Argentine garrison surrendered. NAM. 1988-09-13-22

Then came the landings on East Falkland, kicking off the 25-day land campaign to liberate the island, ending with the Argentine surrender of Port Stanley. 

THE FALKLANDS CONFLICT, APRIL – JUNE 1982 (FKD 178) A Royal Marine of 3 Commando Brigade helps another to apply camouflage face paint in preparation for the San Carlos landings on 21 May 1982. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

40 Commando Royal Marines. Note the L1A1 Sterling sub machine guns .Falklands 1982

Royal Marine Snipers and a GPMG Gunner prior to the Assault on Mount Kent. Falkland’s War, May 1982. Note the L42 sniper rifle and early starlight scope

British Royal Marine armed with a Lee Enfield L42a1 during the 1982 Falklands war. AN PVS starlight scope sniper

Royal Marine RSM Chapman at Teal Inlet, a member of the elite Mountain Arctic Warfare Cadre with an M16, June 1982 Falklands. The MAWC fought it out with Argentine special forces for Top Malo House

Lacking transpo, 45 Commando famously “yomped” 56 miles in three days from their beach landing at San Carlos harbor to engage the Argentines, carrying everything they had on their backs.

“They faced bleak conditions – horrendous boggy terrain, wind, rain, sleet, low temperatures – not to mention a series of battles on hills outside the islands’ capital Stanley before reaching their objective,” notes the RN. “The Plymouth [based] unit then skilfully ousted Argentine defenders from the slopes of Mount Harriet in one of the final set-piece actions of the war before marching down into Stanley after the surrender.”

A column of 45 Royal Marine Commandos yomp towards Port Stanley. Royal Marine Peter Robinson, carrying the Union Jack flag on his backpack as identification, brings up the rear. This photograph, taken in black and white and color, became one of the iconic images of the Falklands Conflict. IWM FKD 2028

Retracing the Yomp in 2012: 

42 Cdo attack Mount Harriet

14 June, Royal Marines raised the Jack at liberated Government House, some 10 weeks after they saw it come down.

June 14 1982 Royal Marines prepare to raise the Falklands flag outside Government House

Royal Marine Commandos hoisting the original Union Jack at Government House, Port Stanley, 14 June 1982 NAM. 1988-09-13-24

The RN recently had three Falklands Royal Marines veterans; Russel Craig (then a 23-year-old RM), Stephen Griffin (also 23 at the time), and Marty Wilkin (then 26) talk to current recruits about their experiences in an incredible series, below:

Besides the initial invasion opposition, an outnumbered separate platoon of RMs famously gave the Argentines a “bloody nose” at South Georgia Island (followed later by Operation Paraquet by 42 Commando), and the men of 3 Cdo fought set-piece battles for the hills outside of Stanley at Mount Kent, Mount Harriet, and Two Sisters.

Of 255 British personnel killed in the conflict, the Royal Marines lost 27; two officers 14 NCOs, and 11 Marines, in addition to about three times that many wounded. While official battle honors fell on the Royal Navy (“Falkland Islands 1982”), RAF (“South Atlantic 1982”), and the British Army (“Falkland Islands 1982” with unit honors earned for “Goose Green,” “Mount Longdon,” “Tumbledown Mountain” and “Wireless Ridge”) for the campaign, as noted by Parliament:

“In accordance with a long-standing tradition which dates back more than 150 years, the Royal Marines do not receive battle honours for any individual operation or campaign in which they have been engaged. Instead, the corps motif of the globe surrounded by laurel is the symbol of their outstanding service throughout the world.”

The beret badge of the Royal Marines. The badge of the Royal Marines is designed to commemorate the history of the Corps. The Lion and Crown denote a Royal regiment. King George III conferred this honor in 1802 “in consideration of the very meritorious services of the Marines in the late war”. The “Great Globe”, itself surrounded by laurels, was chosen by King George IV as a symbol of the Marines’ successes in every quarter of the world. The laurels are believed to honor the gallantry they displayed during the investment and capture of Belle Isle, off Lorient, in April-June 1761.

Welcome Back, 11th Abn Div

Early last month, U.S. Army Secretary Christine Wormuth announced that U.S. Army Alaska– generally consisting of the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) “Spartan” and 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team “Arctic Wolves” of the 25th Infantry “Tropic Lightning” Division– will be redesignated as the 11th Airborne Division (“Arctic Angels”), constituting the nation’s third airborne division and second paratrooper (not “airmobile”) division.

Of course, it will still just be two brigade-sized, with the 4/25 IBCT(A) reflagging to 2nd Brigade, 11th Airborne Division, and 1/25 SBCT becoming 1st Brigade, 11th Airborne. The latter is expected to lose its Strykers and become light infantry, if not airmobile at some point. It should be noted that the only current “airborne” capable units of U.S. Army Alaska are two battalions of the 4th IBCT (A): 1/501st and 1/509th Airborne Infantry.

The 11th Airborne Division originally operated between 25 February 1943 and 20 June 1958 (then again briefly in the 1960s as an airmobile experiment that became the 1st Air Cav), first activated during World War II in the Pacific Theater for the liberation of the Philippines and the occupation of Japan.

General Kruger Discussing Plans For A Paratroop Drop With Officers Of The 11Th Airborne Division, 511Th Parachute Infantry Regiment. 4:30Am, 23 June 1945 At Lipa Airstrip, Luzon, In The Philippine Islands. (U.S. Air Force Number A60741AC)

They earned two MoHs, 13 Distinguished Unit Citations, 9 DSCs, 432 Silver Stars, and 1,515 Bronze Stars in combat through New Guinea, and Luzon, distinguishing themselves in the Raid at Los Baños. In all, the “Angels” of the 11th suffered 2,431 battle casualties between Nov 1944 and Aug. 1945.

One of its members was a young Rod Serling.

During the Cold War, the 11th Airborne visited Alaska several times in semi-annual Snowbird exercises, solidifying the relationship and lineage.

11th Airborne Paratrooper preparing to board an L4 Piper Cub for snow jump 1950s, via the 11th ABN Assoc

The activation ceremony for the 11th Airborne Division will be live on Facebook on USARAK’s page, at 0955 AKDT,  Monday, June 6th. 

11th Airborne Division “Arctic Angels” Activation & 1/25 Reflagging:

4/25 Reflagging to 2/11;

A-10 vs T-62, the Cold War Coloring Book

With lots of calls for a couple squadrons of A-10s to skip their looming re-winging and be warm-transferred to the Ukrainians (hell, the USAF has made clear they don’t want to keep them), and with trainloads of Cold War-era T-62s recently sighted heading to the front from Russia, the below circa 1972 coloring book seems very valid today.

Perhaps more than ever.


Goose Green at 40

The most significant land battle fought by modern Western armies since WWII took place some 40 years ago this week, pitting some ~700 British paratroopers of 2 PARA, augmented by elements of the Royal Marines and SAS, against some 1,200 Argentines including conscripts of the 12th (12IR) and ranger-style elite troops of the 25th Infantry (25IR) Regiment with supporting forces. Although fought in 1982, other than the use of a handful of shoulder-fired guided missiles and the fleeting presence of helicopters, it was not much different from a battalion-level scrap in 1945.

In the end, it came down to little groups of men with rifles, sub guns, and, yes, even bayonets, fighting for inches and paying with blood.

At the end of the day, 2 PARA suffered so many casualties– including its commander — to meet the historical definition of being decimated while the Argentines were all either killed or captured.

Cheerful soldiers of 2 Parachute Regiment, wearing full combat gear, celebrate the surrender of Argentine forces at Goose Green. By Hudson, Ronald (Sergeant) IWM FKD 2323

Argentine prisoners of war pass a wrecked Pucara ground attack aircraft, Goose Green, 1982 NAM

Despite their name and unit history, 2 PARA arrived in the Falklands by ship, made a “feet wet” amphibious landing on 24 May, and walked almost the entire route from San Carlos to Port Stanly across inhospitable terrain, fighting both at Goose Green and again a fortnight later at Wireless Ridge, then walked into Stanley for the liberation on 14 June.

Their only airlift, from Darwin to the Fitzroy, was a brief one on 2 June by the sole British CH-47 (Bravo November) that made it ashore in which some 81 Paras were crammed into the chopper. A second trap crammed 75 men. 

Talk about a rough three weeks.

Landing craft sail past HMS Fearless, carrying men of 2 Para from SS Canberra to San Carlos, during the Falklands War

Heavily laden British soldiers of 11 Platoon, D Company, 2 Para wait to embark in a helicopter at Fitzroy during the Falklands Conflict. The three seen are (left to right) Private Dave Parr (who was killed shortly afterward during the assault on Wireless Ridge – having earlier been shot at Goose Green), Lance Corporal Neil Turner, and Private Terry Stears. IWM FKD 2124

2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment enter Port Stanley on foot, in 1982. NAM. 2004-12-35-8

Just after Goose Green, Para-qualified Lt. Col. David Chaundler was rushed from a staff position with MoD in London, boarded an RAF C-130 for Wideawake Airfield on Ascension Island, then carried another 3,300 miles for a solo parachute landing into the sea from 1,500, feet into the South Atlantic, landing near the frigate HMS Penelope. Dubbed Operation Ursula, it remains the longest distance combat drop (8,000 miles all told) into an active conflict zone in history, and Chaundler, who led 2 PARA at Wireless Ridge, was the only member of the Parachute Regiment to jump during the Falklands.

Falklands land campaign, note the path of 2 Para at the bottom in dark red.

The British over the weekend marked the 40th Anniversary of the liberation of Goose Green, East Falkland.

“With a brisk wind blowing snow across the monument, a service of commemoration was held to remember those who gave their lives in the battle.”

Peter Kennedy was a 25-year-old Lieutenant at Goose Green and spoke in a recent 21-minute interview about the battle, in which he was suddenly thrust into leading the final attack.

Old Hunters Fading Away

Over the weekend, three high-mileage and very effective SSNs were put to pasture, accounting for a century of operations between them.

In the UK, two of the remaining class of seven Trafalgar-class submarines, built in the late 1970s and early 1990s– namely HMS/m Trenchant (S91) and HMS/m Talent (S92)were decommissioned 20 May 2022 at Devonport Naval Base.

Between Trenchant and Talent, they served a total of 65 years. This has included everything from the Indian Ocean and Med patrols, playing hide and seek with Soviet SSNs, to top-secret operations unknown, ICEX surfacing at the North Pole, and the like. Notably, Trenchant, AKA “Tiddly T,” in 2013 completed the longest patrol ever carried out by a Royal Navy SSN– 335 days and 38,800nm.

HMS Trenchant paying off in March 2021

HMS Talent

Of the class, this only leaves HMS/m Triumph (S93), now 29 years old, still on active service. 

Although originally scheduled for decommissioning in early 2021, the slow delivery of the Astute-class boats delayed the retirement of the two subs till this month.

With the aging HMS/m Triumph, this leaves the UK with only five active SSNs, just barely enough to keep one boat at sea.

As noted by the Admiralty:

Four Astutes have been commissioned, soon to be joined by number five, HMS Anson, which has completed successful diving checks. Like the T-boats before them, they are deployed around the globe daily: HMS Astute sailed to the Pacific and back with the Carrier Strike Group last year; HMS Ambush launched furtive raids by Royal Marines in Norway’s fjords as part of wider UK/NATO operations in the Arctic this spring, and newly-commissioned HMS Audacious has been on patrol in the Mediterranean has reached full operating capability on 4 April.

Commodore James Perks, Commodore Submarine Service, was quoted as saying:

“The Trafalgar Class developed a world-class reputation and defended UK interests unstintingly across the world’s oceans. The Astute submarines have now taken up the baton, continuing to protect the UK from threats with deeply professional submarine crews. As we look back with appreciation at the service provided by HMS Talent and HMS Trenchant, we can also look forward with excitement to the future.

We have some of the best attack submarines in the world in the Astute class and developments in submarine training mean that we will continue to have the best men and women sailing and fighting them, protecting our nation far into the future.”

Britain has retired 20 nuclear submarines since 1980 through their own dismantling program with the remnants of 7 stored at Rosyth dockyard in Fife, Scotland, and 13 at Devonport dockyard, Plymouth.

C-ya, Okie

Meanwhile, at the same time the Brits were saying goodbye to two Trafalgar class boats, on the other side of the world at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, USS Oklahoma City (SSN 723) was decommissioned, Friday, May 20. Awarded in 1981 and delivered in 1988, she is one of the first Flight II (with VLS) Los Angeles-class submarines decommissioned.

LA class sub USS Oklahoma City SSN 723 shows off her 12 Mk45 VLS tubes, in better days

The last Flight I sub, USS Olympia (SSN-717) was decommissioned in February 2021, though two Flight I boats will be converted to moored training ships. Four Flight IIs remain active as do 22 688i variants. The Navy also has at least 21 new Virginia-class SSNs active and a planned 45 more on the schedule.

Of note, OKC accomplished a lot in her 34 years at sea including being the first to transit to its patrol area in the Pacific Ocean via the Arctic Ocean, then circumnavigating North America by transiting back to the Atlantic Ocean through the Panama Canal and returning to her homeport in Norfolk. She also helped with a drug bust of some 11 tons of coke.

USS Oklahoma City (SSN 723) returns home to US Naval Base Guam after her final deployment, August 2021.

She’ll follow in the footsteps of the more than 130 other U.S. nuclear-powered submarines sent to spend their last days at the nation’s largest public shipyard, her reactor compartment stored, her hull cut up and sold for scrap, with possibly her sail or diving planes retained ashore as a monument.

Canberra Forever

In my normal travels around the Gulf Coast, I often find myself at the USAF Armament Museum outside of Eglin in NW Florida and one of the neater aircraft there, in my opinion, has always been a Martin EB-57B Canberra “Night Intruder,” SN 52-1516. 

This EB-57B S/N 52-1516 was last flown by the 158th Defense Systems Evaluation Group (158 DSEG) stationed at Burlington, Vermont, and was retired in 1980 when the 158th switched to an Air Defense, Tactical Air Command fighter role, running Phantoms.

Resplendent in its black scheme, the ECM aircraft was one of 22 converted from a standard B-57B bomber in the late 1960s after the aircraft was withdrawn from its bombing role due to block obsolescence (58 were lost by the USAF in Vietnam, half to ground fire).

Noir bomber…

The B-57 was the first aircraft of foreign design to be chosen for U.S. production since 1918 and was based wholly on the English Electric Aviation Canberra— the RAF’s first jet-powered bomber. While Martin built 403 over here, English Electric cranked out an armada of 949 in both the UK and Australia.

Low pass by RAAF 2SQN Canberra Bomber, Biak in the early 1970s

Developed immediately after WWII, Canberra was an amazing aircraft for its day. Using rotating bomb bay doors, it could carry up to 8,000 pounds of ordnance including early atomic weapons such as the British Red Beard and the Mark 7 Thor fission bomb. It had a speed of 580 mph– Mach 0.88– on its twin Rolls-Royce Avon R.A. 3 engines and an 800-mile combat radius. The type set a slew of aviation records in the early 1950s, including the first nonstop unrefuelled transatlantic crossing by a jet, and setting a 70,310 ft altitude record. It could cover the Aldergrove – Gander Atlantic crossing in just over 4 hours.

When you consider Canberra first flew in 1949– less than a half-decade after VJ-Day– this was top-notch stuff.

However, the Canberra, though used in combat as a bomber as late as 1982– more on that in a second– its second life saw it become not only a great ECM plane but also serve in weather and photo recon. In fact, the final U.S. use of the Canberra by the USAF was in such a role while the Brits flew the PR.9 variant with No. 39 (1 PRU) Squadron until July 2006 on strategic reconnaissance and photographic mapping missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, a span of 57 years of operational use.

Speaking of the Brits and the Canberra, besides its U.S and Australian use, the type was exported to 13 countries including Argentina who bought 10 B.62 bombers and two T.64 trainers in the early 1970s– when they were already considered obsolete– replacing downright ancient WWII-era piston-engined Avro Lincolns in the bomber role.

Argentina B.62 Canberra # B-102

Pressed into service in the Falkland Islands in 1982– some 40 years ago this month– eight flyable Argentine Canberras of Grupo 2 de Bombardeo made 54 sorties, with most combat missions being against British ground troops at night to help mitigate their age.

Nonetheless, two of those eight were swatted out of the sky:

  • One, B-110, was splashed by a Sea Harrier on 1 May, losing both its crew.
  • The second, B-108 was shot down by a Sea Dart from the Type 42 destroyer HMS Cardiff (D08) at an altitude of 39,000 feet on the next to the last day of the war, taking its pilot with it. 

As far as I can tell, it was the last combat loss for the type. 

Ironically, the RAF used Canberras in the conflict as well.

A pair of PR.9 photo recon aircraft were dispatched to Chile, where they were to operate with RAF crews under Chilean markings.

RAF Canberra PR 9 Photo Reconnaissance variant. Note the lack of wingtip tanks as seen on the U.S. Martin-made models

Ranging from Punta Arenas, at the very southerly-most tip of mainland South America, they could just make the Falklands and back and, as they could hang out comfortably above Angels 50, were immune to anything the Argies had to knock them down. The mission was hush hush and the stuff of a Tom Clancy novel.

From The Royal Air Force Museum Midlands

The Canberras were to fly via RAF Wyton to Keflavik in Iceland), then to Gander in Newfoundland, Canada, from there to March AFB, California, Belize in Central America, and then skirting the west coast of South America down to a point 30 miles (50 km) south of the Peruvian/Chilean border to land at dawn on a deserted stretch of the Pan-American Highway, with the road marked out by ground personnel firing Very lights. There, an RAF Hercules, masquerading under Chilean Air Force markings, would have been waiting to pump fuel from its own tanks.

From there it would fly to its final destination at Punta Arenas. From there they would have flown reconnaissance missions over the Falklands.

An RAF Lockheed Hercules actually carried out a test landing on the Highway, with Chilean Air Force personnel on board to close the road. But the political risks to Chile and the UK were such that the project was abandoned when the aircraft was still in Belize.

Finally, it would be remiss to talk of Canberra and not mention the last (known) user: a trio of Martin-built WB-57Fs flown by NASAs for high-altitude scientific research (and the occasional Air Force-tasked overseas deployment).

As described by NASA Astronaut (and former Navy SEAL) Jonny Kim last month: 

Why the WB-57? Because it provides high-altitude, pressure-suited operations to NASA astronauts in the space-equivalent zone (physiologically incompatible with human life). The WB-57 is a platform that enhances our understanding of the design elements behind pressure suits and the background required to operate procedures in a vehicle while being constrained to a pressure-suited environment. It’s a unique bird with a wingspan of 122′, max altitude of 65,000′ and powered by twin engines capable of 15.5k lbs of thrust each. Fun fact, the WB-57 was modified from the B-57 which was retired from the Air Force in 1983. When it’s not training astronauts, it’s performing research missions with its various science payloads.

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