Category Archives: USAF

Float Around and Find Out

Unless you have been in a cave in the woods the past week, the whole country was abuzz over the maneuverable Chinese “commercial weather” balloon that crossed from Montana to South Carolina.

Sure, it was essentially just rebooted 1950s strategic recon tech of the same sort that we used over the Soviet Union and the Middle East (see the 516 balloons launched during Operation Genetrix, for instance). Still, it made many folks doubt American Continental air defense and/or the political will to use it, for better or worse, which may have been the whole purpose if you think of it as a PsyOp.

Then again, maybe it was a dress rehearsal for a balloon-carried EMP device (2014 Congressional testimony: “[E]ven a relatively low-altitude EMP attack, where the nuclear warhead is detonated at an
altitude of 30 kilometers, will generate a damaging EMP field over a vast area, covering a region equivalent to New England, all of New York, and half of Pennsylvania.”).

But no matter what, the mechanics of the shootdown should be interesting to any student of military history.

The nuts and bolts, as detailed by the DOD:

An F-22 Raptor fighter from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, fired one AIM-9X Sidewinder missile at the balloon. The F-22 fired the Sidewinder at the balloon from an altitude of 58,000 feet. The balloon at the time was between 60,000 and 65,000 feet.

F-15 Eagles flying from Barnes Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, supported the F-22, as did tankers from multiple states including Oregon, Montana, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Canadian forces also helped track the overflight of the balloon.

The balloon fell approximately six miles off the coast in about 47 feet of water. No one was hurt.

The Navy has deployed the destroyer USS Oscar Austin, the cruiser USS Philippine Sea and the USS Carter Hall, an amphibious landing ship in support of the effort.

The shootdown area was perfectly planned for recovery, with the Coast Guard able to close down the impact area so the Navy could switch to salvage. Inside U.S. territorial waters, it can be cordoned off effectively while the shallow depth allows even scuba-diver level salvage ops. Naturally, a drop from 60,000 feet onto the surface (and the likelihood that its electronics were probably already remotely destroyed via a WP grenade or something of the sort once it beamed its last messages back to Bejing) means the intel gleaned will likely be of little value other than as a trophy, but still.

A window on the shootdown showed that the pair of F-22s that splashed the balloon– the type’s first documented air-to-air “kill” since taking to the air in 1997– were call-signed FRANK01 and FRANK02.

Why was this important?

The general theory is that this was a salute to 2nd Lt Frank Luke Jr., the famed Great War ace who zapped four German airplanes and 14 balloons in 1918 over the Western Front, making him the all-time American balloon killer of the conflict.

The more things change…

2nd Lt. Frank Luke Jr. with his biplane in the fields near Rattentout Farm, France, on Sept. 19, 1918.

Had a Navy or USMC F-18 or F-35 splashed the Chinese balloon, the flight callsign should have been DAVE01/02 as the first U.S. Naval air ace during World War I, LT David Sinton Ingalls, USNRF, was credited with four enemy aircraft and an observation balloon while flying with Royal Air Force Squadron 213.

“Shooting Down a Kite Balloon” Painting, Oil on Wood; By Bruce Ungerland; 1971; Framed Dimensions 50H X 43W NHHC NH 77664-KN

Warship Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023: The Kaiser’s Tin Cans do Broadway

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023: Kaisers Tin Cans do Broadway

Bain News Service collection, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ggbain-50381

Above we see, in the summer of 1920 a trio of once-sunk former torpedoboten of the old Kaiserliche Marine, anchored in New York City, from left to right ex-SMS V43, G102, and S132, with the newly commissioned Lapwing-class minesweeper USS Redwing (AM-48) outboard.

A closer look. Note that all the vessels have Union Jacks on their bows, as they are in possession of the Navy if not in direct commission. LC-DIG-ggbain-31137

Check out the inset, showing a little girl playing on G102’s forward 8.8 cm SK L/45 naval gun and her boater hat-wearing father close by. Besides four such guns, the 1,700-ton vessel carried six 19.7-inch torpedo tubes and could make 34 knots on her steam turbines, a speed that is still fast today. Another boater-clad man is inspecting the view from atop her wheelhouse.

German destroyer S132 in possession of the U.S. Navy, showing the mine laying stern. Note the stern of the minesweeper Redwing. LOC

German destroyers G102 and S132 in possession of the U.S. Navy, in 1920 in New York with a great view of Manhattan from the Hudson and the ships’ guns and searchlights. LOC

The vessels had been interned at Scapa Flow by the terms of the Armistice of 11 November 1918, then scuttled by their skeleton crews on 21 June 1919. Saved by the British, who worked quickly to beach these small craft along with a few others, they were turned over to the U.S. as war reparations as part of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1920, along with the German Helgoland class battleship ex-SMS Ostfriesland and the Wiesbaden-class light cruiser ex-SMS Frankfurt.

All five ships saw extensive action with the High Seas Fleet during World War I, including (except for SMS V43) the epic clash at Jutland. That service, while fascinating, is beyond the scope of this post but I encourage you to look into it if curious.

Scuttling of the German Fleet at Scapa Flow: Tug alongside scuttled German destroyer G 102 at Scapa Flow, June 1919. Of the 74 interned German ships at Scapa, 52 were lost– including all three of G102’s sisters– with the remainder saved by the British and divvied up post-Versailles. IWM SP 1631

Turned over to a scratch American crew, they were shepherded across the Atlantic to New York by the minesweepers Redwing and USS Falcon (AM-28).

The German Imperial Navy destroyer SMS G 102 is escorted to a U.S. port by the U.S. Navy minesweeper USS Falcon (AM-28), circa 1920. Note her six assorted torpedo tubes arranged front, aft, and center. NH 45786

Ostfriesland, Capt. J. F. Hellweg (USNA 1900), USN, in command, became the only German-built battleship commissioned into the U.S. Navy on 7 April 1920 at Rosyth, Scotland, and made New York under her own power, where she was decommissioned on 20 September 1920. Hellweg, who had spent his career in surface warfare including service with the Great White Fleet and in Mexico, went on to command the Naval Observatory and was certainly an interesting figure at parties. 

After their summer as “propaganda ships,” the three tin cans were soon stripped at Norfolk and disposed of off Cape Henry, Virginia, at the infamous hands of Billy Mitchell’s land-based aircraft, followed up with a coup de grace on the humble yet still floating 1,100-ton V43 made by assembled American battleships on 15 July 1921.

Via NYT Archives

Direct hit on G102, July 13, 1921. They were sunk during the Billy Mitchell aircraft bombing tests on German and U.S. Navy ships, showing the vulnerability of ships to aerial bombing, on July 18, 1921. Photograph from the William “Billy” Mitchell Collection, U.S. Navy Museum.

Anti-Ship Bombing Demonstration, 1921. Shown: G-102 showing smoke from a direct hit made by SE-5 with a 25-pound TNT-filled fragmentation bomb, June 21, 1921. From the album entitled, “First Provisional Air Brigade, Langley Field, Hampton, Virginia, 1921.” Note her tubes and guns have been removed. From the William Mitchell Collection. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

As for Redwing, she went on to be sheep-dipped and serve in the Coast Guard during Prohibition, then would return to Navy service first on the West Coast in 1929 and then on the East by 1941. Converted to a rescue/salvage ship (ARS-4), she was lost to an Axis mine off the old Vichy French navy base at Bizerte, Tunisia, during WWII on 29 June 1943.

Ships are more than steel
and wood
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
them know
That some ships have a

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May we all grow up to be Buzz Aldrin

Downing a pair of NorK MiG-15s while flying an F-86 Sabre as part of the famed 51st Fighter Wing over Korea would be the highlight of a career for most, but was just the opening act for Buzz…

Col. Edwin Eugene Aldrin Jr., (USMA 1951), besides flying 66 combat missions during the Korean war, shooting down two enemy MiG-15s, making three spacewalks as pilot of the 1966 Gemini 12 mission, serving as the lunar module pilot on the 1969 Apollo 11 mission where he was the second man to walk on the surface of the moon– and pack later a punch to defend that honor— just made his 93rd orbit around the sun while aboard this humble rock in style.

On my 93rd birthday, and the day I will also be honored by Living Legends of Aviation, I am pleased to announce that my longtime love and partner, Dr. Anca V Faur, and I have tied the knot. We were joined in holy matrimony in a small private ceremony in Los Angeles, and are as excited as eloping teenagers.

The oldest surviving moonwalker (only 4 of the 12 remaining) got hitched in combat boots, no less. 

130 Years Ago: Boxing up the Queen’s Own

The below image details Queen Liliuokalani’s 272-man Royal Household Guard being disarmed by Col. John Harris Soper, late of the California National Guard and a former Marshal of the Kingdom of Hawaii, following the overthrow of the monarchy in January 1893, while outgoing Captain of the Guard Samuel Nowlein looks toward the camera beside the bowler-hatted Soper. The Hawaiians stacked arms, turned over equipment, and list to “The Authority” notice read by Colonel Soper, who had been appointed commander-in-chief of military forces of the Provisional Government of Hawaii the day before.

Hawaii State Archives: Call Number: PP-54-1-001

Note the Union Army-style sack coats and kepis over white canvas trousers, and stacked “Trapdoor” Model 1873 Springfield breechloaders with Mills-style cartridge belts atop.

A small force of about 16 men were left to provide a ceremonial detachment to serve Liliuokalani in exile for another year or so.

Royal Guards in front of the house of Queen Lili’uokalani (known as Washington Place), circa 1893. Pictured here is the “fallen Queen’s house,” Washington Place, and the guard of sixteen, plus their captain. Photograph by Hedemann, 1893. It appears Nowlein is to the left, armed with a sword. Courtesy of the Bishop Museum.

Souper’s force also had the backing of the U.S. Navy, in particular, the Atlanta-class protected cruiser USS Boston, soon to be of Battle of Manila Bay fame.

As outlined by Lillich, on the Forcible Protection of Nationals Abroad, in International Law Studies, Vol 77, Boston’s Marines and Bluejackets were landed under the old “protection of lives and property” pretext:

When Queen Liliuokalani informed her cabinet that she planned to promulgate a new autocratic constitution by royal edict, some of her ministers informed the prominent American residents of the islands. These Americans requested the support of the U.S. Minister, John H. Stevens, and the protection of the U.S. Navy. Stevens arranged to have a detachment from the fifth USS Boston, a protected cruiser, land at Honolulu on 16 January 1893, for the ostensible purpose of protecting American lives and property. Curious to their stated purpose, the Americans were not stationed near American property, but rather were located where they might most easily intimidate the Queen.

The American presence served its function and on 17 January, Liliuokalani’s opponents deposed her and established a provisional government under the presidency of Sanford B. Dole. The provisional government requested that the United States assume the role of a protectorate over the islands. Mr. Stevens complied with the request and raised the American flag on 1 February. The Boston landed another detachment of Marines that same day, increasing the number of American forces in Honolulu to about 150 men. Subsequently, there was a change of administration in Washington, with President Cleveland disavowing the actions of Mr. Stevens.

On 1 April 1893, the American flag was hauled down and the landing force withdrew.

Sources: Baily 429-33; Ellsworth 93; Offutt 72-73

Fine screen halftone reproduction of a photograph of the USS Boston’s landing force on duty at the Arlington Hotel, Honolulu, at the time of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, January 1893. Lieutenant Lucien Young, USN, commanded the detachment and is presumably the officer at right. The original photograph is in the Archives of Hawaii. This halftone was published prior to about 1920. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 56555

Going further down the rabbit hole, the dour Soper, aged 46 in the top image, would become Adjutant General and Chief of Staff of the National Guard of the Republic of Hawaii and then the Hawaii Territorial Militia in 1900 when the islands were formally absorbed by the U.S., retaining that post through 1907 when he retired at the rank of brigadier general. Of note, he managed Soper, Wright & Company, a large sugar plantation on the Big Island.

The National Guard of Hawaii, formed to serve the Hawaiian Republic from 1893-1898, was a battalion-sized unit comprised of two companies of mostly whites recruited in Honolulu (most of the former Honolulu Rifles), one company of Portuguese volunteers, and one of Germans. Hawaii State Archives

As for Nowlein, the native Hawaiian and devoted monarchist would later play a big role in the so-called Wilcox Rebellion in 1895, named such due to its leader, Robert William Kalanihiapo Wilcox, a surveyor with experience in the Italian Army. Nowlein’s and Wilcox’s ~500-man force of Royalists would fight the much-larger Republican Hawaii National Guard, which was augmented by two companies of U.S. Army regulars and a battalion of local Citizen’s Guard volunteers, in three pitched battles across three days, ultimately failing. Pardoned of most of a resulting five-year prison sentence, the last Captian of the Queen’s Guard died in 1905.

In 1916, the U.S. Army’s 32nd Infantry Regiment was first organized at Schofield Barracks on Oahu. At its activation, it was known as “The Queen’s Own” Regiment, a title bestowed by the deposed last queen of Hawaiʻi, Liliʻuokalani. Although it long ago left Hawaii (1/32 has been part of the 10th Mountain Division in New York since 1996), it still retains the nickname as part of its lineage. 

32nd Inf memorial on Fort Benning. Note the islander’s “Kamehameha” war cap and “The Queens Own” scroll

The Royal Guard would remain disbanded for 70 years. 
In 1963, the state enrolled a small ceremonial guard, outfitted in pith helmets and Trapdoor Springfields, to be the Royal Guards of Hawaii. Drawn from members of the Hawaiin Air National Guard, each of its 42 volunteers has to be of full or partial Hawaiian descent. 
As noted by the state: 
They were re-established on November 16, 1963, marking the beloved 19th-century monarch King Kalakauka’s birthday celebration. Members of the unit go to great lengths to maintain period-correct uniforms, even refurbish original helmets all on volunteer hours, and use the Hawaiian language to call commands during their drills and ceremony. The members of the Royal Guard help the state and its Guard members to connect to their unique place in history serving as reminders of the heritage and history of their forbearers. 

Hawaii Air National Guardʻs Royal Guard posts ceremonial watch on the anniversary of refounding, November 16, 2021. (US Air National Guard Photos by Master Sgt. Andrew Lee Jackson)

Pacific Outpost Citadels: Full Speed Ahead in 2023

Interesting year-end contract announcements from DOD, emphasis mine:

Lockheed Martin Rotary and Mission Systems, Moorestown, New Jersey, is being awarded an undefinitized contract action (UCA), with a not-to-exceed value of $527,740,864, inclusive of all options. This UCA will be awarded for a sole-source, hybrid (cost-plus-incentive-fee and cost-plus-fixed-fee) modification (P00054) under contract HQ085121C0002. This UCA expands performance of the Aegis Weapon System to implement Integrated Air and Missile Defense capabilities into an Aegis Guam System. An initial obligation of $11,394,512 using fiscal 2023 research, development, test and evaluation funds will occur at the time of award. The work will be performed in Moorestown, New Jersey, with period of performance from time of award through Dec. 31, 2027. The value of the contract increases from $811,633,012 by $425,365,356 to $1,236,998,368. The Missile Defense Agency, Dahlgren, Virginia, is the contracting activity.

Gilbane Federal, Concord, California, is awarded an $118,368,220 firm-fixed-price contract for the construction of reinforced concrete pads and foundations in support of the installation of the Tactical Mobile Over-the-Horizon Radar equipment in the Republic of Palau. Work will be performed in the Republic of Palau, and is expected to be completed by June 2026. Fiscal 2019 military construction (Air Force) funds in the amount of $20,043,496 will be obligated at time of award and will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. Fiscal 2020 military construction (Air Force) funds in the amount of $98,324,724 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via the System for Award Management website, with three proposals received. The Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Pacific, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, is the contracting activity (N62742-23-C-1311).

Atlantic Diving Supply Inc., Virginia Beach, Virginia, has been awarded a $150,000,000 firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for airfield damage repair equipment. This contract provides updated capabilities to rapidly recover damaged airfield pavements. Work will be performed in Virginia Beach and is expected to be completed Dec. 28, 2027. This award is the result of a competitive acquisition and five offers were received. No funding is being obligated at the time of award. The 772nd Enterprise Sourcing Squadron, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, is the contracting activity (FA8051-23-D-0001).

Battle for Angaur Island, Palau Islands, September 17-October 22, 1944. Amphtracs Smash Against the Beach of Angaur. Guns ready, grim-faced Army-Infantrymen sweep toward the beach of Angaur island in the Palaus. This sharp photo of amphibious invasion was made by a Coast Guard Combat Photographer heading toward the beachhead in the first waves. It shows at close range an LVT(A) churning through the surf. Its caterpillar treads enable the landing vehicle tanks armored to creep over the hidden reefs that sometimes block the LCVPs (LOC LC-USZ62-99393)

Oh what a night!

Here’s hoping your New Year’s is off to a better start!

Official caption: “New Years’ morning, 1945, found this Douglas C-47 cargo carrier of the 14th AF on a China Road after a moonlit landing.”

“U.S. Air force Number 3A00987. Print received 16 Feb 1945 from BPR (Air Forces Group) Stamped: Passed for pub., U.S. Army Press Censor.” NARA 342-FH_000382

Fighting the battle of “the Hump” just to get into the War, the Fourteenth Air Force’s work in the China Burma India Theater (CBI), from inheriting the Flying Tigers of Claire Chennault’s American Volunteer Group just after Pearl Harbor and morphing to the China Air Task Force (CATF) before becoming the full-fledged 14th AF in March 1943, then two years fighting the Japanese across the sub-continent are largely forgotten.

Nonetheless, as noted by the National Museum of the USAF:

Despite supply problems, the 14th Air Force grew from fewer than 200 aircraft to more than 700 planes by the end of the war. American airmen in China destroyed and damaged more than 4,000 Japanese aircraft during the war. They also sank more than a million tons of shipping and destroyed hundreds of locomotives, trucks, and bridges while helping to defeat the Japanese in China.

“… I judge the operations of the 14th Air Force to have constituted between 60 percent and 75 percent of our effective opposition in China. Without the (14th) air force we could have gone anywhere we wished.” – Lt. Gen. Takahashi, Japanese Chief of Staff in China.

71st West Pac Christmas Drop

We’ve talked about the long-running Operation Christmas Drop exercise several times in the past.

Besides its obvious humanitarian “hearts and minds” goodwill in stretches of the Western Pacific that often don’t get a lot of attention, it also provides a chance for C-130 units around the Rim to get some real-world training should they be needed to, say, handle low-key resupply for isolated company-sized Marine rocket batteries dropped off on random atolls with little infrastructure but within range of Chinese maritime assets.

Anyway, the 71st OCD just concluded, seeing a few interesting things including seven Herky birds from the U.S. Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force (No.37 Sqn), Japan Air Self-Defense Force (401st Tactical Airlift Squadron), Republic of Korea Air Force (251st Tactical Air Support Squadron), and Royal New Zealand Air Force (No. 40 Sqn) taxi in formation during a multinational “elephant walk” at Andersen Air Force Base, in Guam.

“Operation Christmas Drop 2022” graphic placed onto a C-130J Super Hercules assigned to the 36th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Nov. 16, 2022. The artwork celebrates the 71st annual Operation Christmas Drop which is the longest-running Department of Defense humanitarian and disaster relief mission. Each year, the USAF partners with countries in the Pacific Air Forces area of responsibility to deliver supplies to remote islands in the South-Eastern Pacific. (U.S. Air Force photo by Yasuo Osakabe)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Furnary, 36th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron director of operations, uses a radio to communicate with C-130 pilots at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Dec. 10, 2022, during Operation Christmas Drop 2022. 

(Right to Left) A Japan Air Self-Defense Force C-130H Hercules assigned to the 401st Tactical Airlift Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force C-130J Super Hercules assigned to the 37 Squadron, Republic of Korea Air Force C-130H Hercules assigned to the 251st Tactical Air Support Squadron, Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130H Hercules assigned to 40 Squadron, and U.S. Air Force C-130J Super Hercules assigned to the 36th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron sit on the flightline at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam

Seven C-130 Aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, Republic of Korea Air Force, Japan Air Self-Defense Force, Royal Australian Air Force, and Royal New Zealand Air Force take part in an elephant walk to signify the end of Operation Christmas Drop 2022, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Dec. 10, 2022. 

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Furnary, 36th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron director of operations, salutes to an Air Force C-130J Super Hercules’ crewmembers at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Dec. 10, 2022, during Operation Christmas Drop 2022. 

In all, the C-130 crewmembers delivered 209 bundles with humanitarian aid totaling more than 71,000 pounds of cargo to more than 22,000 remote Micronesian islanders on 56 islands throughout the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau.

This broke last year’s record of 185 bundles.

These included snorkels, flippers and fishing equipment; rice, eskies, containers and cookware; and gifts including colouring pencils, books, sporting equipment and toys.

The box-build process gets a lot of involvement on base from the community, cumulating in a “Bundle Build Day” at Andersen.

After rigging, Andersen’s 734th Air Mobility Squadron and the 44th Aerial Port Squadron (Reserve Component) Port Dawgs partnered to load the 450-pound chute-rigged bundles and service the C-130s for continued sorties.

“It remains the longest-running U.S. Department of Defense humanitarian and disaster relief mission that is supported by multiple Herc fleets from across the region.”

Plumbing the Archives (and finding some gems!)

While I spend a lot of time digging through various archives, a new one is proving interesting. While the Associated Press’s video news archive on YouTube has been around since 2015 and has chalked up over 2 billion views, it is normally ho-hum at best, simply reposting the latest Hollywood gossip or political talking head that aired three days ago.

However, they have been blitzing the channel almost every morning for the past couple of weeks with some great short clips from the 1960s and 70s.

Among the more interesting gems I’ve noticed popping up lately (and getting single-digit views no less!):

The very early XV-6A (P1127) Harrier prototypes doing landing tests on the supercarrier USS Independence (CV-62) in June 1966.

An XB-70A Valkyrie prototype (#AV-2) crash out of Edwards AFB in the same month, featuring amazing footage of both AV-1 and AV-2 in flight.

The newly-commissioned (and soon to be tragically lost) Skipjack-class nuclear-powered submarine USS Scorpion (SSN-589) cruising on the surface.

A May 1974 clip of the amphibious assault ships USS Inchon (LPH-12) and Iwo Jima (LPH-2) in the Suez operating RH-53D minesweeper birds of HM-12 in an effort to clear the canal of mines sown in the Yom Kippur War, including a shot of Iwo with no less than seven big Sikorsky’s on her deck. The TF65 (Operation Nimbus Star) mission saw HM-12 sweep some 7,600 linear miles in about 500 hours of on-station time.

B-52 Strat carpet bombings in the jungle outside of Saigon in Nov. 1965, with fighter escort from an F-100 Super Sabre.

Israeli self-propelled artillery guns of the Yom Kippur War era including rare Soltam L-33 Ro’ems which were M4 Sherman tanks modded with a huge hull and a 155mm L/33 howitzer.

April 1978 clip of white-painted UN-marked French Panhard armored cars (including some 90mm gun-armed variants) rolling off an LST into Beirut

And a longer August 1978 piece on the Panavia Tornado– likely early prototype XX946– in tests with the RAF, including some great low-level passes at MOD Boscombe Down. Keep in mind that the RAF only accepted their first two production Tornado in July 1980.

Armed Overwatch Aircraft to pick up OA-1K designation

SOCOM plans to designate the new L3 Harris/Air Tractor AT-802U Sky Warden “Armed Overwatch” aircraft as the OA-1K in service, borrowing the old “O” (observation) and “A” (attack) nomenclature but mashing them together with the same “1” as used by the legendary A-1 Skyraider and O-1 Bird Dog of Vietnam fame.

The last operational “OA” type (disregarding the fact that forward air controller-piloted A-10 Warthogs are deemed OA-10s as they are physically unchanged and remain fully combat capable despite the redesignation) was so long ago that it meant something different– the OA-4 Dolphin was a circa 1930s Army flying boat with the designation standing for Observation, Amphibian.

If you ask me, the new aircraft should be the OV-11, following in the path of the OV-10 Bronco and OV- 1 Mohawk, but of course, nobody asks me.

Air Tractor has been pushing this variant as a “strike ISR” platform for the past few years, which made a lot of sense when the U.S. was heavily engaged in COIN warfare for the past 20 years. 

SOCOM plans to procure a total of 75 OA-1Ks, organized into four operational 15-aircraft squadrons and the remainder used by a training and conversion unit. Falling under AFSOC, some 200 pilots and another 1,000 ground crew will be learning how to fly and maintain tail dragger combat aircraft— something not fielded by the U.S. since the 1940s– over the next few years.

The overall maximum program cost if everything is fully funded is $3 billion, which is a staggering $40 million per aircraft but includes the training pipeline and support.

The mission statement, per L3 Harris:

The fleet of modern multi-mission aircraft will address SOCOM’s need for a deployable, sustainable single-engine fixed-wing, crewed and affordable aircraft system. It will provide close air support, precision strike, armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), strike coordination and forward air controller requirements for use in austere and permissive environments. The aircraft will be used in irregular warfare operations.

Many Hands Make Light Work

An important milestone occurred this weekend across 45 minutes on a humid and foggy Saturday morning for the Biloxi National Cemetery. The unit, which honors well over 17,000 of the nation’s veterans (going back to the war with Mexico) and their spouses, celebrated its 10th annual Christmas wreath drive.

Sadly, the number of wreaths grows each season. Total number of wreaths this year pushed the 25,000 mark

In an effort that costs the government or the VA nothing, a core of volunteers– heavy with youth groups such as Scouts and JROTC– covered the grounds with donated wreaths, making sure every gravesite had one.

Of course, the background work included local businesses donating funds for wreaths and new bows (replaced yearly) and further smaller teams of volunteers who worked all day Thursday unloading and Friday staging the wreaths/affixing new bows, but the work went cheerfully.

I am glad to have participated in this mission for the past several years with my family. 

I try to say a little piece and acknowledge the individual Veteran on each of the wreaths I install, in addition to taking it upon myself to cover the graves of those I knew personally.

A pole/broomstick/piece of PVC pipe (and a buddy to carry the other end) helps greatly.

Of course, the crowds of volunteers will be smaller on Jan. 7th when we go to pick them back up but, that’s part of the job!

If you have a national cemetery in your area that doesn’t do something similar, please think about starting such an effort.

If they already do, please join in the effort. Every pair of hands helps!

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