Category Archives: USAF

Trailblazing Eagle 0291

Only narrowly missing out on Vietnam, Frame 71-0291 was the second two-seat pre-production F-15B (TF-15A) Eagle off the McDonnell Douglas production line in 1975 and soon picked up a striking Bicentennial scheme that she showed off at a number of events to include the 1976 Farnborough International Air Show and the Japan International Aerospace Exhibition.

The company soon modified the scheme to make it a company showboat.

Eventually, 0291 became a test frame for a number of improvements including Langley Research Center’s non-axisymmetric two-dimensional (2-D) STOL nozzles, the Eagle’s FAST Pack Conformal Fuel Tank Program, LANTIRN, and the F-15E Strike Eagle Program.

Pre-production F-15B No. 2 (USAF S/N 71-0291) with 2D engine nozzles and canards, early 1980s, as research that was a part of the abandoned Eagle STOL/MTD program (NASA Glenn Research Center Collection)

Side view of prototype F-15E (converted F-15B, S/N 71-0291). (U.S. Air Force photo)

McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle prototype modified F-15B-4-MC-71-0291 in period “European 1” camouflage with 16 500-lb bombs

According to TDIA, “71-0291 was retired from the active inventory in the early 1990s and was used for battle damage repair training at Warner Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. It is reported to be on display at the Royal Saudi Air Force Museum at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in RSAF colors and markings.”

Of course, the Strike Eagle itself is still around and the USAF is slated to receive some new F-15EX examples, showing just how much 0291 continues to pay off.

Santa, C-130s, and isolated Pacific resupply

The U.S. Air Force, operating in conjunction this year with the Japan Self-Defense Force, just wrapped up the 69th annual Operation Christmas Drop, tossing out 3,200-pounds of humanitarian aid from the back of a moving Herky bird in 64 bundles over the course of a week to eagerly awaiting communities in Micronesia.

A bundle is airdropped from a C-130J Super Hercules, assigned to Yokota Air Base, Japan, onto Kayangel, Republic of Palau, during Operation Christmas Drop 2020, Dec. 10. By using low-cost low-altitude airdrop procedures, the U.S. Air Force and Japan Air Self-Defense Force were able to deliver humanitarian aid across the South-Eastern Pacific region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Gabrielle Spalding)

To be sure, it is a feel-good operation. Something to be proud of. Winning hearts and minds. 

However, keep in mind that such drops are real-world training for these same Western Pacific-based C-130 units 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.

Speaking of which, this year’s OCD was the first that saw bundles dropped on Peleliu.

For those keeping track at home, Peleliu was, of course, a hard-won strategic pin in the map on the push towards Okinawa and the Philippines in 1944-45. The historic island currently has a population of about ~400 locals and the WWII-era airstrip, seen towards the end of the OCD video, is in pretty rough shape.

That beat-down airstrip doesn’t negate the fact that places like Peleliu are getting important once again. Maybe important enough that C-130s ought to be practicing cargo drops there. Oh wait. 

MiG Alley at 70

Original Caption July 1953: “Fifth Air Force, Korea; As a bright mid-day sun beams its warm rays upon a forward UN airstrip in Korea, two sleek U.S. Air Force F-86 ‘Sabre’ jets of the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing become airborne, landing gear going up, fuel tanks filled to capacity and gun chambers filly loaded, bound for MIG-Alley in search of more Russian-built MIG-15s. Protecting Fifth Air Force fighter bomber operation from enemy swept-wing aircraft, MIG-killing ‘Sabre’ pilots daily patrol the skies over North Korea. Since shooting down their first MIG in December 1950, ‘Sabre’ jet pilots have destroyed 765 of the enemy interceptors.”

Photo 342-FH-4A-26483-91482AC via NARA https://catalog.archives.gov/id/148728240

The first Air Force F-86 MiG “kill” over Korea occurred 70 years ago today, 17 December 1950, when Lt. Col. Bruce Hinton, “commander of the 336th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, led a flight of four F-86s over northwestern North Korea. To trick the communists, the Sabre pilots flew at the same altitude and speed as F-80s typically did on missions, and they used F-80 call signs. Hinton spotted four MiGs at a lower altitude, and he led his flight in an attack. After pouring a burst of machine gun fire into one of the MiGs, it went down in flames.”

DAYTON, Ohio – Lt. Col. Bruce Hinton stands beside the North American F-86A Sabre in the Modern Flight Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. The museum’s F-86 is marked as the 4th Fighter Group F-86A flown by Lt. Col. Bruce Hinton on Dec. 17, 1950, when he became the first F-86 pilot to shoot down a MiG. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The F-86 would chalk up an impressive 10.15-to-1 kill ratio over the MiG-15 in “MiG Alley,” downing 792 (another 118 were scored as “probables”) against a loss of 78 Sabres.

To be fair, however, it should be noted that Navy LCDR William T. Amen, in a VF-111 “Sun Downers” F9F-2B Panther from the deck of USS Philippine Sea (CV-47), splashed a MiG-15 piloted by Soviet Air Force KPT. Mikhail F. Grachev (139th GIAP, 28th IAD) over the Yalu River on 9 November 1950, to claim the first jet-on-jet Navy “kill” in the conflict.

The Right Stuff

Brig. Gen. Charles Elwood “Chuck” Yeager, after service in WWII (where he finished the war with 11.5 official victories, including one of the first air-to-air victories over a jet fighter), Korea and Vietnam, holder of both the Collier and Mackay trophies, first (confirmed) man to break the sound barrier, and all-around good guy, passed away on Monday, aged 97.

Ironically, his last day on this humble planet was the 79th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, an event that enabled him to rapidly move up from being an aircraft mechanic in the USAAF to apply for flight training, eventually receiving his wings in 1943. The rest, as they say, is history.

Of course, he is best remembered for his deeds of October 14, 1947, when he became the fastest man in the world, dramatized below.

USAF Goes B&T

Last Spring, the U.S. Army announced they would be buying a small quantity (~350) of Sub Compact Weapons, ultra-compact 9mm SMGs for use by the special teams tasked with protecting high-value officers and dignitaries. The first decent sub-gun contract by the Pentagon this century, there were lots of bragging rights on the line and 10 different companies both foreign and domestic threw their hats in the ring, with Swiss-based B&T coming out the winner with their downright tiny APC9K.

Well, the USAF just jumped on the same train last month, ordering a smaller quantity, likely for similar uses.

After all, could you blame them?

More in my column at Guns.com.

How you Know you are Getting older

I saw this great image today, taken at the  Van Nuys Airport circa 1957, and the first thing I thought was, “Man, that F-86 Sabre is sweet.”

Whomp Whomp

For reference, in 1955, a gently modded California Air National Guard Sabre (F-86A-5-NA 49-1046) piloted by 1LT John M. (“Jack”) Conroy, dubbed the California Boomerang, pulled off a high-speed run from Van Nuys Airport to New York and back in record-setting time.

North American Aviation F-86A-5-NA Sabre 49-1046, “California Boomerang.” (California State Military Museum)

“John Conroy’s Coast-to-Coast-to-Coast dawn to dusk flight covered 5,058 miles (8,140.1 kilometers). The total elapsed time was 11 hours, 26 minutes, 33 seconds. His average speed was 445 miles per hour (716.2 kilometers per hour).”

200,000th M17/M18 Delivered to DOD

Sig Sauer has been trucking right along with deliveries of the Modular Handgun System pistols– the full-sized M17 and more compact M18– since 2017 and just announced they have delivered the 200,000th such 9mm sidearm to Uncle.

Of note, the M17 and M18 are in use by all four Pentagon-reporting service branches and some 451,586 are on the schedule.

The MHS system is a P320-based platform, featuring coyote-tan PVD coated stainless steel slides with black controls, utilizes both 17-round and 21-round magazines, and are equipped with SIGLITE front night sights, removable night sight rear plates, and manual safeties. The M18 is shown in the foreground while the M17 is in the back. (Photo: TACOM)

More in my column at Guns.com.

Hawk sighting

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, just one was scrapped, leaving the other 57ish Nighthawks (most of 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.

Last year, 82-0803 “Unexpected Guest” went on permanent display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

However, at least two still have their wings attached and are in flyable condition. Withness this footage of two F-117As leaving Miramar MCAS last week:

Have you seen what they are doing with Reapers lately?

No, not the guys in black shrouds that go around picking up souls, I’m talking about the very real drone series from General Atomics. Introduced in 2007 as a sort of super-sized version of the Predator, variations of the series have clocked six million flight hours and completed 430,495 total missions as of late 2019 while flying 11 percent of total Air Force flying hours, at only 2.6 percent of the USAF’s total flying hour cost– and maintaining a 90 percent availability rate.

The Air Force has quietly pulled off a couple of key mission enhancements in the past couple of months when it comes to Reaper.

In September, a Creech AFB-operated MQ-9 successfully went air-to-air, using an AIM-9X Block 2 Sidewinder missile against a target BQM-167 drone that was simulating an incoming cruise missile.

An MQ-9 Reaper, assigned to the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron, armed with an AIM-9X missile sits on the flight line, Sept. 3, 2020, at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Haley Stevens)

This month, they doubled the number of Hellfires that could be mission-carried by a Reaper, growing from four to eight.

A 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron MQ-9A Reaper carrying eight Hellfire missiles sits on the ramp at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., Sept. 10, 2020. This was the first flight test of the MQ-9 carrying this munition load. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Haley Stevens)

This new capability is part of the MQ-9 Operational Flight Program 2409, a software upgrade set to field by the end of calendar year 2020. Previous to this software, the MQ-9 was limited to four AGM-114s across two stations. The new software allows flexibility to load the Hellfire on stations that previously were reserved for 500-pound class bombs or fuel tanks.

“The hardware/launcher is the same that we use on the outboard stations,” said Master Sgt. Melvin French, test system configuration manager. “Aside from the extra hardware required to be on hand, no other changes are required to support this new capability and added lethality. The Reaper retains its flexibility to fly 500-pound bombs on any of these stations, instead of the AGM‑114s, when mission requirements dictate.”

Reaper, with about 200 airframes in USAF service, also has a maritime variant that readers of this page should find very interesting– the MQ-9B SeaGuardian which can be utilized for mine countermeasures, ASW, SAR, and general sea patrol with a 25 hour all-weather loiter time that is cheaper and less crew-intensive than a manned aircraft and could really free up a limited number of P-8s, P-3s, and HC-130Js for more dynamic taskings.

SeaGuardian

The SeaGuardian variants can carry a 360-degree patrol radar and two 10-tube sonobuoy pods, while still being able to clock in with Hellfires and 500-pound bombs if needed. If you told me they could find a way to mount an anti-ship missile and some Mk. 50 torps, perhaps on a paired aircraft operating in teams, I wouldn’t doubt it.

SeaGuardian is not science fiction. Last month the platform concluded a set of maritime test flights over the sea-lanes off the coast of Southern California and last week kicked off a series of validation flights on Oct. 15 for the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) in Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, Japan. 

Steel City Corsairs

Here we see a right side view of two Ling-Temco-Vought A-7D-11-CV Corsair II strike aircraft taking off during exercise Sentry Castle ’81. The Corsair to the right is carrying a blue AIM-9 Sidewinder exercise missile. Both of the aircraft are assigned to the 112th Tactical Fighter Group, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, based out of the Pittsburgh IAP Air Reserve Station. The photo was taken on July 9, 1981, by SSGT Marvin Lynchard, USAF.

DF-ST-82-07990

DF-ST-82-07990

Lynchard caught a great passing photo of 112th Corsairs lifting off, especially remarkable for early 1980s camera equipment.

v

Note the Sidewinder, the “flash white” underbelly, full-color markings complete with PA ANG shield, and forest top camo, standard for their intended mission of flying tactical ground support in Western Europe on a real-life REFORGER ala Red Storm Rising. DF-ST-82-07991

He also caught this guy…

2LT Robert S. Roth, the pilot aboard an A-7 Corsair II aircraft, prepares for take-off on a flight mission during exercise Sentry Castle ’81. The pilot is assigned to the 112th Tactical Fighter Group, Pennsylvania Air National Guard. DF-ST-82-07989

Note Roth’s squadron insignia, a Steeler’s flash with an A-7 worked in

As for the history, the 112th TFG was formed in 1942 as the 350th Fighter Group flying P-39 Airacobras with the Twelfth Air Force in North Africa, eventually upgrading to P-47 Jugs and taking the fight to Italy. Reformed as the 112th postwar and allotted to the PA-ANG, they were one of the last units to fly F-51D Mustangs before switching to jets (Sabers/Thunderstreaks) in 1954.

Upgrading to the F-102 in 1960, they performed NORAD air defense missions on 24-hour alert until 1975 when they switched to the less sexy but more modern A-7. The 112th would take the Corsair to war in 1989 during the Panamanian excursion but sit out Desert Storm. They were inactivated in 1992.

If you like these pictures, NARA has over 100 of Lynchard’s photos digitized, covering a wealth of DOD subjects through the early 1980s into the early 1990s. A great time machine. 

Enjoy!

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