Category Archives: USAF

More Vulcans

The Pentagon on Wednesday announced a 10-year contract to General Dynamics-Ordnance & Tactical Systems for new M61A1 Vulcan 20mm guns.

The firm-fixed-price award, for $88,275,000, was granted to Gen Dyn by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, based at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. Classified as an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity requirements contract, it will cover the purchase of new M61A1s in support of the F-16 fighter aircraft. Of this amount, some $7.8 million in funds set aside for Foreign Military Sales were obligated. Notably, 25 overseas allies fly the aircraft along with Venezuela, which probably doesn’t rate FMS dollars anymore.

Battlefield Vegas’ 20mm Vulcan nicknamed ‘The Hand of God’ at the Big Sandy Shoot October 2018. (Photo: Ben Philippi / Guns.com)

More on the Vulcan contract, and Gen Dyn’s work on the Next Generation Squad Weapon for the Army, in my column at Guns.com.

Grumman F-16?

In celebration of the South Dakota Air National Guard’s 75th anniversary this year, one of the 114th Fighter Wing’s 175th Fighter Squadron (FS) “Lobos” F-16s has been given a somewhat confusing special livery– that of a Marine WWII F4F Wildcat.

A blue and white F-16 from the 114th Fighter Wing, painted at the Air National Guard Paint Facility in Sioux City, Iowa was painted for the South Dakota Air Guard in commemoration of their 75th anniversary. U.S. Air National Guard photo: Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot

The heritage scheme represents the WWII F4F Wildcat flown by South Dakota native, Medal of Honor recipient, and Marine Corps ace Joseph J. “Joe” Foss, who was instrumental in founding the SDANG post-war and establishing its 175th FS, which received federal recognition 20 September 1946.

Foss (fourth from left) joins members of Marine Corps fighter squadron VMF-121 on a Wildcat wing at Henderson Field, Guadalcanal. (U.S. Marine Corps)

Foss, immediately after the war, was made a colonel in the USAAF and appointed to form an Air National Guard fighter squadron in Sioux Falls, equipped with P-51 Mustangs. In a little-known fact, he had begun his military service in 1939 as an enlisted man with a field artillery unit of the South Dakota guard, then hitchhiked to Minneapolis to enlist in the Marine Corps Reserves in 1940 in order to join the Naval Aviation Cadet program, making him ultimately a veteran of the Army, Marines, and Air Force, retiring from the latter in 1955 as a one-star general.

Either way, the cigar-chomping Foss, would have likely approved of the coyote tail flash. 

U.S. Air National Guard photo: Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot

Thunderchiefs and Skyhawk

It just doesn’t get much prettier than this.

Official caption: “Three Republic F-105B Thunderchief aircraft from the 508th Tactical Fighter Group, U.S. Air Force Reserve, and two U.S. Navy McDonnell Douglas TA-4J Skyhawk aircraft from Fleet Composite Squadron VC-1 flying in formation off Oahu, Hawaii (USA), on 25 January 1978.”

Source U.S. DefenseImagery photo VIRIN: DN-SC-82-02245 Author PH3 (AC) T.J. PFRANG. Via the National Archives.

Of note, both types saw extensive service in Vietnam with their respective branches, taking heavy losses in both cases. The photo was close to their swan song, as they were both set for imminent retirement. 

Fly By Night Outfit: Spooky does it

Official caption: “Air War In Vietnam, 1966: Crew of US AC-47 plane firing 7.62 mm GE miniguns during a night mission in Vietnam.”

The trio of General Electric GAU-2/M134 miniguns carried by the gunship was able to lay down a total of 6,000 rounds of 7.62 NATO per minute, or 100 per second.

The night attack of a U.S. Air Force Douglas AC-47D Spooky gunship over Saigon in 1968. This time-lapse photo shows the tracer round trajectories. National Museum of the U.S. Air Force photo 120517-F-DW547-001

Going well beyond the “whole nine yards”

AC-47 Spooky by Stu Shepherd

With less than 40 AC-47s of all types used by the USAF’s 3rd and 4th Air Commando Squadrons between 1964-69, few remained in U.S. inventory as most flyable examples were passed on to Southeast Asian allies (i.e. Cambodia, Laos, RVN, Thailand) after the much more capable AC-130 gunship entered service.

However, there is one that I happen to visit every time I head to Destin, located at the USAF Armament Museum, although it is actually just a modded C-47K Goony Bird (S/N 44-76486).

The AC-47D depicted emulates SN 43-49010 which was one of the first 20 C-47Ds converted to its AC-47D configuration by Air International at Miami, FL. The original was assigned to the 4th Special Operations Squadron, 14th Special Operations Wing, flying out of Udorn RTAFB, Thailand during the Vietnam War from 1969-1970.

Plastic Reminders

While visiting the offices of my local parish, I came across this and thought it was a good idea. For a sub-$20 donation, something small like this can have a big impact on people’s hearts and minds. These little plastic soldiers are a tangible reminder that can lead to folks reaching out to help support their local Veterans groups, USOs, and military non-profits. 

Spiny B-one

This epic Cold War photo has a lot going on, from the experimental desert camo livery of the Rockwell B-1 bomber to the dark Northwest Europe three-color scheme on the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark chase plane.

Official caption: “A left side view of a B-1 bomber aircraft, being followed by an FB-111 aircraft, over the base range during testing and evaluation, Edwards Air Force Base, 3/27/1981.”

USAF Photo -DF-ST-82-08096 by SSGT Bill Thompson via NARA

A closer look at the B-1 shows it to have a distinctive raised spine across the top of the airframe. This easily identifies it as Prototype Number 4 (SN 76-0174) whose spine housed test electronics. The last B-1A built as the Carter administration (“The B-1 bomber is an example of a proposed system which should not be funded and would be wasteful of taxpayers’ dollars”) canceled the high-performance strategic bomber, 76-0174 had its first flight in February 1979 then went on to spend most of its career as an avionics testbed for rebooted B-1B program.

Here’s another view taken seven months later, as the B-1A program had run out of money by April 1981 then was brought back out of storage by the Reagan administration. 

Official caption: “Left side view of a B-1 bomber (front) and an F-111 aircraft in flight. The B-1 is more than twice the length of the F-111, 8/1/1982”

USAF Photo DF-ST-83-11276 by SSGT Bill Thompson via NARA

A right underside view of a B-1 bomber aircraft on its first flight since April 1981. The same series shows her anti-flash white underside. DF-ST-8310359

By 1986, 76-0174 had been delivered to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright Field and soon picked up an operational green/gray camo scheme worn by B-1Bs, then an all-white full-color test program livery, before going back to camo. She is currently on display at the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum near Ashland, Nebraska, where it has been since 2003.

She’d look better in desert camo with a white belly, but that’s just me.

Willys & Worthog

We have previously covered the tale of the 190th Fighter Squadron’s 75th anniversary A-10 Thunderbolt II made up to emulate the antecedent squadron’s P-47D Thunderbolt’s Northwest Europe 1944 livery, including OD “ground attack” scheme with white cowling and tail stripes, WWII roundels, 8N squadron code, and D-Day invasion stripes.

A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II from the Idaho Air National Guard’s 124th Fighter Wing is painted with a heritage WWII paint scheme at the Air National Guard paint facility in Sioux City, Iowa. The paint scheme is designed to replicate the look of the original P-47 Thunderbolt as it appeared during the 2nd World War. The 124th Fighter Wing conceived the idea in order to commemorate the unit’s 75th anniversary and lineage to their predecessor, the 405th Fighter Squadron. U.S. Air National Guard photo: Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot

It is a striking aircraft, to be sure, and the squadron has recently added a companion Willys in a photo series that really does it justice.

Via the Idaho National Guard’s PAO:

The Idaho Military History Museum’s World War II 1941 restored Willys Jeep or the 124th Fighter Wing’s heritage A-10 Thunderbolt II Warthog, painted to resemble the World War II P-47 Thunderbolt.

The Jeep became one of the museum’s newest exhibits this year. Rob Lytle, a retired brigadier general, spent several months restoring the Jeep to get it operational again. Between 1941 and 1945, approximately 650,000 Jeeps were produced by the American Bantam Car Company, the Ford Motor Company and Willys Overland-Motors. This Jeep was painted to represent Idaho’s 183rd Field Artillery Battalion (155mm Howitzer-Tractor Drawn) and is similar to those the battalion operated in the European theater of operations between June 1944 and May 1945.

Earlier this year, the Idaho National Guard honored its heritage by unveiling the vintage-looking A-10 Thunderbolt II to pay tribute to the 405th Fighter Squadron’s P-47 Thunderbolts that provided aerial support during World War II. The wartime 405th Fighter Squadron returned to the United States in October of 1945 and was inactivated. It was reactivated and designated as the 190th Fighter Squadron, allotted to the Idaho Air National Guard, in 1946. The A-10 Thunderbolt II Warthogs came to Idaho in 1996.

F-35 Gets Cheaper, B-52 Gets New Engines, and B-1B Fades to Raider

An F-35A Lightning II from the 388th Fighter Wing takes off from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, for a training mission, June 22, 2021. The 388th Fighter Wing’s mission is to employ combat power with the Air Force’s most advanced 5th-generation fighter, and works to do so alongside the Air Force Reserve’s 419th Fighter Wing in a total-force partnership. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Kip Sumner).

Friday’s contracts from DOD included this gem, pointing out that F-35s now run about $68.7 million a pop, which is actually down a bit from the $80 million-per-aircraft price tag seen previously:

Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, is awarded a $1,099,631,252 modification (P00008) to a previously awarded fixed-price incentive (firm target) advance acquisition contract (N0001920C0009). This modification exercises options for the production and delivery of 16, Lot 15 F-35 Lightning II aircraft: 10 for the Air Force and six for the Marine Corps. Work will be performed in Fort Worth, Texas (57%); El Segundo, California (14%); Warton, United Kingdom (9%); Cameri, Italy (4%); Orlando, Florida (4%); Nashua, New Hampshire (3%); Baltimore, Maryland (3%); San Diego, California (2%); Nagoya, Japan (2%); and various locations outside the continental U.S. (2%), and is expected to be completed in May 2026. Fiscal 2021 aircraft procurement (Navy) funds in the amount of $439,938,432; and fiscal 2021 aircraft procurement (Air Force) funds in the amount of $659,692,820 will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity.

The 100 Year Bomber?

B-52A #1 employee rollout ceremony, Seattle, Washington, March 18 1954

Then there is this, a contract for 608 new Rolls-Royce F-130 engines for the 70 or so aircraft left in the B-52H fleet, or about 8.6 engines per each eight-engined strategic bomber, replacing the old Pratt & Whitney TF33s when have been out of production since 1988. Once they are re-engined, the USAF says the refreshed B-52s will be in service through (at least) 2045. As the newest Stratofortress airframe came off the line in 1962, this makes it increasingly possible that these could be the first 100-year-old warplanes still in service should that timeline get extended, especially if the dozen or so B-52H frames in the desert at Davis-Monthan and those on display are considered.

I mean think about it, the new Rolls-Royce engines are set to be delivered through 2038…and there is this gem from Tom Bell, Chairman & CEO, Rolls-Royce North America, and President – Defense, who said, “We are proud to join a truly iconic U.S. Air Force program and provide world-class, American-made engines that will power its missions for the next 30 years.”

Rolls-Royce Corp., Indianapolis, Indiana, has been awarded an estimated $500,870,458 indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract with a six-year base period for B-52 Replacement Engines, with a potential total of $2,604,329,361 if all options are exercised. This contract provides for 608 commercial engines plus spare engines, associated support equipment and commercial engineering data, to include sustainment activities, to be used on the B-52H bomber fleet. The location of performance is Indianapolis, Indiana, and work is expected to be completed by Sept. 23, 2038. This award is the result of a competitive acquisition in which one solicitation was posted and four offers were received. Fiscal 2021 research and development funds in the amount of $5,464,452 are being obligated at the time of award. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, is the contracting activity (FA8107-21-D-0001).

Bye, Bye B-ONE. Hello, Raider

Finally, 17 B-1Bs, of much more recent vintage than the B-52s but somehow in worse shape, were pulled from the line to make room for the new B-21 Raider, of which five are currently under construction. 

A B-1B Lancer, tail number 85-0074, taxis at Edwards Air Force Base, California, Sept. 23, 2021 for its final flight. The aircraft is the last of 17 Lancers previously identified for divestiture by Air Force Global Strike Command and flew to the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. (Air Force photo by Clay Cupit)

As noted by the Air Force: 

The 17 B-1B aircraft were retired from a fleet of 62, leaving 45 in the active inventory. Out of the 17 retired, one aircraft went to Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, as a prototype for structural repair actions. One went to Edwards AFB as a ground tester. One went to Wichita, Kansas, at the National Institute for Aviation Research for digital mapping, and one went to Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, as a static display for the Barksdale Global Power museum. The remaining 13 aircraft will be stored at the boneyard at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan AFB in Type 4000 storage. Four of those will remain in a reclaimable condition that is consistent with Type 2000 recallable storage.

The retirement of the aircraft did not affect the service’s lethality or any associated maintenance manpower, and allowed officials to focus maintenance and depot-level manpower on the remaining aircraft, increasing readiness and paving the way to for bomber fleet modernization to meet future challenges.

“Beginning to retire these legacy bombers allows us to pave the way for the B-21 Raider,” Bell said. “Continuous operations over the last 20 years have taken a toll on our B-1B fleet, and the aircraft we retired would have taken between 10 and 30 million dollars per aircraft to get back to a status quo fleet in the short term until the B-21 comes online.”

55 Years Ago: We have the technology

Such a captivating image of Atomic age wonder, hard to imagine it was real, and that it hails from September 15, 1966.

NASA research pilot William Harvey “Bill” Dana takes a moment to watch NASA’s converted NB-52B Stratofortress mothership (52-0008, Balls Eight) cruise overhead after a research flight in the Northrop HL-10 heavy lifting body. “HL” stands for horizontal landing, and “10” refers to the tenth design studied by engineers at NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va. On the left, John Reeves can be seen at the cockpit of the lifting body. NASA Photo.

More on the HL-10 here, more on Balls Eight here, and, since you came this far, a word about test pilot Major Steven Austin.

Back-to-Back Gulf War Champ: End of an Era

Beretta recently announced the end of an era as the final M9 pistol left the factory for bound for a U.S. military contract.

A variant of the Beretta Model 92, which was introduced in the 1970s, was adopted by the U.S. Army as the M9 in early 1984 to replace stocks of the M1911A1 that dated back to World War II. The initial five-year $56.4 million contract, to produce 315,930 units for the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard, ended up running more than three decades, greatly surpassing those numbers.

The famed Italian gunmaker built a plant in Accokeek, Maryland to produce the pistol, then moved production to a new facility in Tennessee in 2014.

The last U.S. martial Beretta M9, shipped last week.

More in my column at Guns.com.

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