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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.

B-17 Waist Gunner

The great Mel Blanc in “Position Firing” a 1944 USAAF Training Film on aerial gunnery, specifically using M2s from the chilly waist positions of a Flying Fortress.


Keeping acrobatic

ICYMI, check out these amazing images of the Canadian Forces 431 Air Demonstration Squadron (Snowbirds) along with the USAF’s Thunderbirds and the Navy’s Blue Angels. Some 151 years of friendship in one photo: three military jet teams from two countries sharing the skies over one common border. According to RCAF, it is the first time all three demonstration teams have flown together.

The oldest unit, the Pensacola-based Blues, formed in 1946 with F6F-5 Hellcats, are seen in their F-18C/Ds. Now the last Navy unit flying the older version of the Hornet (although the Marines will continue on) the Blues are expected to upgrade to the F-18E/F next year. They recently rocked Biloxi last month. I watched them from a kayak off Deer Island and they were great as usual.

The second oldest unit, the Nellis-based Thunderbirds, was formed in 1953 and have been rocking F-16C/Ds since 1993.

The Snowbirds, formed in 1971 as an evolution of the RCAF’s special Golden Centennaires group, has always flown the Canadair CT-114 Tutor, a downright cute two-place lead-in trainer produced in the 1960s. To put that into perspective, at the time the Snowbirds were formed, the Blues were flying the smoky Vietnam-era F-4J Phantom while the Thunderbirds were using the F-4E.

Everyone remembers where they were that day

Gil Cohen, “9/11”  National Guard Heritage Painting.

North Dakota Air Guard F-16 of the 119th Fighter Wing on a combat air patrol over the burning Pentagon on September 11, 2001, after the hijacked Flight 77 crashed into it.

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