Category Archives: USAF

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

Flying Tigers Remembered in Taipei

The Republic of China Air Force, popularly known outside of Taiwan as the Taiwan Air Force, this month is celebrating two events, the Air Battle Over Hangchow, now commemorated as “Republic of China Air Force Day” and the 80th Anniversary of the First American Volunteer Group, popularly just remembered as Claire Chennault’s Flying Tigers, taking to the air.

The 14 August 1937 air battle over Hangchow, in which the first Chinese Air Force (of the Nationalist Kuomintang’s) fighter squadrons, the which Chennault had just been hired to advise, took to the air over Shanghai and Nanjing to provide the incoming Japanese bombers the first air-to-air threat they had ever experienced. The American-made Curtiss Hawk IIIs of the Chinese 21st, 22nd, and 23rd Pursuit Squadrons (borrowing the term used at the time for fighter squadrons in the U.S. Army) destroyed four Japanese Mitsubishi G3M Type 96 (Nell) long-range bombers without losing a single plane in return. The event is referred to these days by the Taiwan Air Force as “814” after its date.

Box art for the 1:48 Hawk III kit sold by Special Hobby (SH72223), depicting the events of 814 against IJN G3M2 “Nells”. The 30 or so Hawk IIIs used by the pre-war ROCAF were gradually replaced by Soviet fighter types they were destroyed, and Russian-built I-15 and I-16 types were imported to rebuild it.

Likewise, the Flying Tigers were formed in April 1941 with 100 former and on-leave American military aviators employed by the shell “Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company,” and were later married up with an equal number of crated Curtis P-40B Warhawks shipped via slow boat to Rangoon. By August 1941, 99 Warhawks were more or less assembled and on their way to the AVG training unit at Toungoo where they would be fitted with gunsights, radios, and wing guns which Curtiss was not allowed to supply. They would enter combat on 20 December 1941, 12 days after Pearl Harbor. 

1941 AVG Flying Tigers 3rd Pursuit Squadron in front of a P-40 Tomahawk fighter.

A “blood chit” issued to the American Volunteer Group Flying Tigers. The Chinese characters read, “This foreign person has come to China to help in the war effort. Soldiers and civilians, one and all, should rescue and protect him.” The same flag as flown by the old Republic is Taiwan’s current flag. (R. E. Baldwin Collection)

Hell’s Angels, the 3rd Squadron of the 1st American Volunteer Group “Flying Tigers”, photo by RT Smith.

To celebrate the two events, the ROCAF has specially designed a commemorative emblem incorporating both, showing “the spirit of victory, inheritance, and loyalty and unremitting struggle.”

It should also be noted that the service has an affinity for the Tigers’ characteristic “sharks mouth” nose paint. Here, seen on a ROCAF F-16 and F-CK-1

Warthogs Along State Highway 32

Four A-10s, pulled from the Arizona-based 15th Air Force’s 354th Fighter Squadron and the Michigan Air National Guard’s 127th Wing, landed on a four-lane stretch of Michigan state highway 32 as part of Northern Strike 21, a large-scale training exercise, in Alpena, last week.

While the Air Force has long trained to operate from roadways in Europe and Asia, and it is a common tactic often trained by overseas allies, it is super rare here in the states.

“This is the first time in history that the Air Force has purposely landed modern aircraft on a civilian roadway in the U.S.,” said the service in a statement.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alex M. Miller)

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alex M. Miller)

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alex M. Miller)

From the USAF: 

The 355th Wing participation in this exercise demonstrates the unit’s continued effort to refine its agile combat employment capabilities and Dynamic Wing concept, which improve its Airmen’s ability to operate from austere locations with limited infrastructure and personnel. The A-10’s ability to land on a variety of surfaces, like highways and unimproved landing strips, allows the Air Force to project combat airpower closer quickly.

“This proof of concept proves that we can land on any highway and continue to operate,” said Capt. John Renner, 354th FS flight commander and one of the pilots who participated in the highway landing. “The A-10 allows us to land a lot more places to get fuel, weapons and other armament so we can operate anywhere, anytime. This will allow us to get away from using built-up bases that our adversaries can target by moving much more rapidly.”

Two C-146A Wolfhounds [Dornier 328s] assigned to the Air Force Special Operations Command also executed highway landings as part of the exercise, highlighting the service’s ability to integrate and employ diverse missions in austere environments. These landings align with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr.’s “Accelerate Change or Lose” strategic approach by testing and proving innovative tactics that are not typically trained to, which positions the force to outpace any potential adversary.

“This is a small step toward increasing our confidence in operating from austere locations,” said Lt. Col. Gary Glojek, 354th FS commander. “We are increasing the number of areas we can operate from to generate and deliver attack airpower by operating from dirt and pavement runways. Accelerating change is all about seizing every opportunity to move forward to increase your readiness.”

The Michigan State Police assisted the operation by blocking off the rural highway in the LP.

“No speeding citations were issued during the exercise,” noted MSP on social media.

Mirages over the Keys

This month, Textron subsidiary Airborne Tactical Advantage Company has been supporting F-35Cs from Eglin AFB’s 43rd Fighter Squadron during a deployment to Naval Air Station Key West to help sharpen their Dissimilar Air Combat Training skills.

Providing contract adversary air OPFOR airframes, ATAC brought Mirage F1s with them to the Keys, still wearing very nicely preserved French Armee de L’air camouflage.

The company bought 63 former French Air Force Mirage F1B, F1CT, and F1CR fighters; 6 million assorted spare parts, and 150 spare Atar 9K50 engines for a total value of €25 million in 2017. Last September, they pulled down a contract to use their aircraft as training assets against the USAF in seven locations.

An F-1 Mirage with Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC) takes off from Boca Chica Field to provide adversary air support for training. 20 August 2021 U.S. Navy photo by Danette Baso Silvers

Running around in sometimes cranky obsolete high-performance jets can sometimes be hazardous. One of ATAC’s Mirages had an “incident” earlier this year at Tyndall.

They also do “red air” for the Navy.

Check out this trio of an ATAC Mk 58 Hunter, a former IDF Kfir C-2, and a Navy F-35C.

The Hunter dates to 1959 while the Kfir is a 1979 model. Meanwhile, the F-35C is Navy NJ-121 (BuNo 169160) of VFA-101 “Grim Reapers.” The Reapers were the Navy’s Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) based at Eglin until they shuttered the unit in May 2019, moving the mission to NAS Lemoore’s VFA-125.

Air Force Looks to go more Compact on its Sigs

The hallmark of the Army’s 2016 Modular Handgun System contract was to be able to use the selected pistol in a lot of different roles, and the Air Force is taking that to heart. The service, which fields some 125,000 M18 pistols, a mid-size variant of Sig Sauer’s P320, is seeking to order at least 3,000 kits that will convert them to this bad boy.

Sig introduced the P320 XCompact in 2019— after the Army had already selected the M17 and M18 MHS pistols. It sports a small profile, just 7-inches long overall, while still providing an optics plate, accessory rail, beavertail grip, and double-stack 15-shot mags. Overall length is 7-inches while height is 5.3-inches. Weight is 25.3-ounces.

As the “heart” of the P320 is a serialized fire control group that can be swapped between grip modules, by ordering a kit with the 3.6-inch barrel and loaded slide, along with the shorter grip of the XCarry, the USAF can get an essentially a shorty new pistol without having to jump through the hoops of having to actually acquire an entire shorty new pistol. Welcome to modularity.

More in my column at

Eagle and Lightning

The same photographer recently took these two shots from the same aspect at Hill AFB in Utah, and they really contrast the two fighters, showing off the best of 1986 vs the best of today.

A McDonnell Douglas F-15C-41-MC [86-0155 / AF86-155] Eagle from the Florida Air National Guard’s 125th Fighter Wing takes off from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, for a training mission with the 388th Fighter Wing, June 22, 2021. The 125th Fighter Wing is scheduled to receive F-35A Lightning IIs in the next few years and spent the week flying alongside the first operational F-35A unit, the 388th Fighter Wing, sharing tactics, techniques, and procedures to better each flying unit’s readiness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Kip Sumner)

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).

Constructed at St. Louis and delivered to the Air Force in 1986, 86-0155 has been assigned to the Florida Guard since 2006, flying from various bases in the Sunshine State on NORAD taskings, deploying to Europe in 2015 as part of the composite 159th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, in addition to its CONUS ADF duties. The airframe that rolled off the line just after, 86-0156, gained fame at the hands of Capt Jeffrey Hwang (48th FW, 493rd FS, RAF Lakenheath) when he shot down two JRV MiG-29s with AIM-120As26 March 1999 during Operation Allied Force.

Bicentennial Minuteman Corsairs

Last July 4th, we covered the NAVAIR Bicentennial schemes of 1976 so this is a good turnaround.

A pair of Ling-Temco-Vought A-7D Corsair IIs of the New Mexico and Colorado Air National Guard, respectively, flying over the Rocky Mountains. The “Sprit of 76” is 70-1048 of the 188th TFS, 150th TFG, NMANG out of Kirtland AFB. It was one of two Air National Guard A-7s that wore a special bicentennial scheme.

70-1048 served in the New Mexico Air Guard, first in the 188th and then in the 146th TFS under a more traditional scheme until it was transferred to AMARC in 1991 when the unit switched roles to become a refueling squadron. It was scrapped in 1997.

The second “Independence Day” bird was 72-0223 of the Louisiana ANG from the 75th TFS, 23rd TFW, at England AFB.

72-0223 went on to serve in the Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia ANG and was sent to the boneyard at AMARC in 1991. It was scrapped in 1998.

And another 1976 holdover, since you came this far:

MIG Alley

70 Years Ago Today.

Air Guard in MIG Alley by William S. Phillips, via the U.S. Air Force National Guard’s Heritage Collection

MIG Alley, North Korea — June 26, 1951 — During the Korean War over 45,000 Air Guardsmen, in 22 wings and other units, were called into active Federal service. The 136th Fighter-Bomber Wing, Texas ANG, was among the first Air National Guard units to be called. Flying the F-84E Thunderjet, the Texas Guardsmen moved to Japan in May 1951 and, shortly thereafter, became the first Air Guardsmen to enter combat in the Korean War. During the winter and spring of 1951, the Chinese Communist Air Force mounted a major air offensive against the United Nations air forces. The major contested area were the skies over northwestern Korea known as MIG Alley.

The U.S. Air Force retaliated by mounting a counteroffensive aimed at destroying the enemy’s aircraft and bases. In June 1951 the 136th’s 182d Fighter-Bomber Squadron was given the mission of protecting B-29 flights on bombing missions over North Korea.

On June 26, 1951, the pilots of the 182d were escorting four B-29s to an enemy airfield near Yongyu when five MIG-15s attacked the American bombers. Although relatively new to combat, the pilots of the 182d turned back the veteran MIG pilots. During the ensuing dogfight, 1st Lt. Arthur E. Oligher, assisted by Captain Harry Underwood, shot down a MIG-15–the first Air Guard jet kill. The Air National Guard went on to make an impressive combat flying record.

Today’s 182d Tactical Fighter Squadron, Texas Air National Guard continues to add to its impressive flying record.

Benko and The Goon

(U.S. Air Force Number 53334AC). National Archives Identifier 204829567.

Official caption:

Chengkung, China, copied 8/8/44 308th B.G. The crew of the Consolidated B-24 Liberator “Goon”. Left to right, back row: T/Sgt. Archie L. Fleharty, Cozad Neb; Capt. Samuel J. Skousen, Thatcher, Ariz; T/Sgt. Robert M. Kirk, Alpha, Ill; T/Sgt. Arthur J. Benko, Bisbee, Ariz; (now missing in action) S/Sgt Casper J. Chirielseisen, Washington D.C.; and T/Sgt. William Novak, Pueblo, Colo. Left to right, front row: 1st LT Malcolm S. Sanders, Madison, Wisc.,(now missing in action); 1st LT Daniel J. Palmer; 1st LT Ralph E. Bower, Columbia, S.C.; Capt. James J. Lichtenfels, Cincinnatti, Ohio; Maj. Robert F. Burnett, Buttonwillow, Calif.

Although the above is dated 1944, it was taken in late 1943. Goon was B-24D-20-CO Liberator s/n 41-24183
374th BS, 308th BG, 14th AF. The bomber was a functional loss on 14 November 1943 after a mission to bomb Hong Kong from 14th Air Force/KMT bases in Eastern China. Three of the crew stayed with the plane and managed to get it to the base at Kweilin, China. Five of the seven who bailed out were returned to duty and two were listed as missing (Sanders, Goon’s Bombardier, and Benko, Gunner/Asst. Engineer) were killed.

Pulled from bombing duties and disarmed, Goon was later used by the 1330th Army Air Force Base Unit as a transport in the CBI but was later lost in an accident in 1946, taking her four-man crew down with her into the Philippine Sea.

Of note, T/Sgt. Benko, was the highest USAAF gunnery “ace,” being credited with swatting no less than 16 Japanese aircraft out of the sky with his twin 50s including 7 of 29 Japanese Zeros in an aerial duel over Haiphong, on Halloween 1943.

The plane, along with Benko, was made famous in a January 1944 National Geographic, although at the time he was most likely already passed.

As detailed in Chennault’s Forgotten Warriors

An item of pride for the 308th was having the top gunner in all the air forces during World War II.   He was T/Sgt Arthur J. Benko of Bisbee, Arizona. A full-blooded Indian, he was Arizona skeet and rifle champion in 1939-40. He was a top turret gunner on the Goon.”
“Art belted his own ammunition, removing all tracers. He did this for two reasons; (1) He didn’t want the enemy to know he was being shot at; (2) tracer fire gave a false trajectory by losing weight as it burns in flight.”
“There was some skepticism at group headquarters as Benko’s score mounted so they sent an intelligence officer on one mission. Art sent seven Japs down that day and made a believer out of the officer.”
“Art’s record stood at 16 confirmed victories. Then homeward bound from a Hong Kong mission with one engine out and one faltering, the pilot, Sam Skousen, hit the bailout button so that maybe the plane could clear a mountain range. Benko and Lt. Malcolm S. Sanders landed on the Jap side of the river and were captured. Later, a Catholic missionary sent the Air Force photographs of their crucifixion.”
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