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Ghosts of The Hump

During WWII, the thankless task of running the airlift over the Himalayas from India to China to supply KMT units fighting the Japanese was known as flying “The Hump.” Beginning in 1942 with a scratch force, by 1945 more than 600 aircraft were schlepping 71,000 tons a month, dedicated to the mission of keeping the Chinese in the war– which in turn tied down over 1.5 million of the Emperor’s troops.

A C-46A en route to China over the Himalayas. The job started with the 10th Air Force and morphed until the China National Aviation Corporation was carrying most of the cargo (U.S. Air Force photo)

It was not without cost, with over 500 aircraft lost or missing in the treacherous effort and 800 Allied personnel killed or never heard from again.

From the Hump Pilots Association:

Severe weather existed on the Hump almost year around. The monsoon season, with heavy cloudiness, fierce rain and embedded severe thunderstorms with turbulence severe enough to damage aircraft, existed from around May into October of each year. The late fall and winter flying weather was better with many VFR days. However, heavy ground fogs, with ground visibilities down to zero/zero, occurred almost nightly during the early winter, and severe thunderstorms still occurred over the route on an irregular basis. Winter winds aloft were extreme, often exceeding 100MPH. Most night flying had to be done by instruments from takeoff due to lack of any ground or horizon references, until well into western China.

Gen. Albert C. Wedemeyer, Commander, U.S. Forces – China, said that “Flying the ‘Hump’ was the foremost and by far the most dangerous, difficult and historic achievement of the entire war.”

And it looks like the Indian Army has located one of the lost flights:

“Based on the information received from local trekkers of Lower Dibang district, troops from #IndianArmy discovered the wreckage of a World War II vintage US Air Force aircraft in Roing district of Arunachal Pradesh. The 12 member patrol successfully carried out the arduous task on 30 Mar 2019. The patrol located the aircraft debris covered by thick undergrowth and deeply buried under five feet of snow. The patrol moved cross country for 30 kilometers in thick jungles and snow covered areas for eight days to trace out the wreckage. The region had seldom been ventured by anyone in the past and is even obscured from the air due to thick foliage.”

Hopefully, it is a plane that the crew was able to bail out of near a populated area and it went down miles later. If not, the fine men and women of the DPAA will bring them home with honor, and provide closure to their families.

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.

Air Force getting in on the M18 game

The USAF has used the M15, a K-frame S&W .38, since 1956 and continues to issue it for MWD (K9) training as the M9 can’t roll with blanks. It will finally be retired by the new M18, which can.

The U.S. Air Force is rolling out the new Sig Sauer M18 pistol to Security Forces units. The 9mm handgun — the smaller counterpart to the M17 adopted under the Army’s Modular Handgun System contract — replaces the Beretta M9, which has been in service since 1986.

A variant of the Sig Sauer P320 with a number of upgrades to include a coyote-tan PVD coated stainless steel slide and a removable top plate for optics, the more compact M18 can use a 17-round 9mm flush fit or 21-round extended magazine.

Importantly in USAF service, the gun will replace not only the M9 Beretta but also the M11– Sig P228s used by SOI– and old M15 S&W .38s used to fire blanks in military working dog training.

More in my column at Guns.com

The Energizer Bunny of single-engine fighters, still going strong at 45

Happy 45th birthday to the F-16 Fighting Falcon, which made its first official flight on this day in 1974.

The first flight of YF-16 was an unintentional takeoff at Edwards AFB in January 1974. Phil Oestricher was the test pilot. Photo Via Gen Dyn.

Now, with over 4,500 Vipers delivered to more than 26 countries, the F-16 is still in production, with F16V and Block 70 F-16s on the drawing board. Odds are, there will be at least some of the birds flying somewhere on active duty in 2074 when the type turns 100.

Of course, the same can probably be said of F15s and F-18s, which came from the same period.

 

Harold Brown, the MIRV-maker

Brown helped make the SSBN the go-to element of the nuclear triad and went on to become the 8th Secretary of the Air Force and 14th Secretary of Defense.

One of the most interesting SECDEFs to ever hold the position, Harold Brown, has passed away. A nuclear physicist, he joined the team (and later became the director at) what is now Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1952 and led the group that created a smaller nuclear reentry vehicle for the Polaris missile and its replacements. To have a grasp on what this meant, the follow-on Poseidon could carry as many as 14 367-pound W68 warheads, each capable of 50 kilo-tons, whereas a MIRV’d Polaris could only carry 3 W58 warheads with a yield of 200 kilotons each. A lot more bang for the buck.

Brown was tapped by McNamara to become DoD’s Director of Defense Research and Engineering in the Kennedy administration and was the 8th SecAF under Johnson (during which the F-4 quickly replaced the F-105, which was taking a beating over Vietnam). Taking a break from government positions while Republicans were in the White House, he returned to become Carter’s SECDEF. While Carter gets a bad wrap for miserly military spending– which he actually inherited from Ford– it should be pointed out that Brown managed to shepherd modest increases in the Pentagon’s budget in FY78-80, and was a cheerleader for Trident, ALCMs for B-52s, and the MX missile, as well as deploying Pershing IRBMs to Western Europe– staying true to his nuclear roots, while pushing for the SALT II treaty. It can be argued that all of the above helped keep the Soviets, who had a massive tactical advantage, on their side of the Curtain in the 1980s.

On the downside, Brown canceled the B1 bomber (which Reagan rebooted), eschewed increasing the armament on the Spruance-class destroyers (they were so ill-armed when first built that they were called “Love Boats”) and presided over the Desert One Debacle.

Brown passed over the weekend of pancreatic cancer at the age of 91.

F-22 math

 

A U.S Air Force KC-10 Extender refuels an F-22 Raptor fighter aircraft prior to strike operations in Syria, Sept. 26, 2014. These aircraft were part of a strike package that was engaging ISIL targets in Syria. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Russ Scalf)

The Air Force originally wanted a bunch of F-22s– like 750 besides test airframes– but in the end, due to budgetary reasons, just 187 operational aircraft were purchased.

Of those, some 55 were stationed at Tyndall AFB outside of Panama City, Florida– right in the path of Hurricane Michael on Oct. 10th.

While each that was air-ready sortied for points North (to Langley AFB), 33 had to be left behind for one reason or another to be sheltered in place, most designated Non-Mission Capable.

Footage from the base shown immediately after exhibited destroyed hangars with F-22s in the rubble (along with CV-22s and QF-16s) and hands went up across the aviation and defense community.

Well, chill, because it only looked bad.

All of the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets left behind when Michael hit Tyndall last month will be flown off the base for repairs by Monday, according to Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.

Which is great news, because the line is closed for good and each of these Raptors is almost invaluable at this point.

50 years ago today: The last flight of the X-15

NASA research pilot William "Bill" Dana is seen standing next to the X-15 rocket-powered aircraft after a flight in 1967. (NASA)

NASA research pilot William “Bill” Dana is seen standing next to the X-15 rocket-powered aircraft after a flight in 1967. (NASA)

At the National Air and Space Administration test pilot Bill Dana was at the controls of the North American X-15 rocket-propelled research aircraft when it made the 199th–and what turned out to be the final–flight of the X-15 program. It was Dana’s 16th flight in X-15s. A 200th flight was planned but never carried out.

He was flying the X-15-1 (AF Ser. No. 56-6670), which had been the first of three aircraft to participate in a series of tests that spanned a decade and resulted in major advances for America’s space flight program.

In the course of that research, the X-15s spent 18 hours flying above Mach 1, 12 hours above Mach 2, nearly 9 hours above Mach 3, almost 6 hours above Mach 4, one hour above Mach 5 and a few short minutes above Mach 6. The X-15 was hailed by the scientific community as the most successful research aircraft of all time.

During the program, 13 flights by eight pilots met the Air Force spaceflight benchline by exceeding the altitude of 264,000 feet/50 miles (80 km), thus qualifying these pilots as being astronauts. Dana himself, who touched 3,897 mph and reached 307,000 feet in the X-15 program, was one of these men.

X-15A-1, Dana’s last bird, is on display in the National Air and Space Museum “Milestones of Flight” gallery, Washington, D.C.

X-15A-2, (AF Ser. No. 56-6671), is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

X-15A-3, (AF Ser. No. 56-6672– shown above with Dana) crashed 15 Nov. 1967, taking pilot Michael J. Adams, USAF, with her.

Dana, USMA Class of ’52, was an Air Force officer chopped over to NASA in the early 1960s and retired in 1998 as Chief Engineer at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California. On 23 August 2005, NASA officially conferred on Dana his Astronaut Wings at age 75, almost 40 years after he earned them.

He died in 2014 at age 83.

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