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Stargazer still pumping em out after 25 years

The U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing, NASA, and Northrop Grumman used the latter’s Pegasus XL rocket to heft the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) spacecraft into orbit last night.

The cool thing about Pegasus is that it was carried aloft by the L-1011 Stargazer aircraft, which took off from the Skid Strip runway at CCAFS before reaching an altitude and location where the rocket was released for launch.

The Stargazer serves as the “air-breathing reusable first stage” of Pegasus, which, according to Boeing, is the first winged vehicle to accelerate to eight times the speed of sound.

A converted Air Canada Lockheed L-1011 TriStar built in 1974, Stargazer has logged at least 43 missions, launching 94 satellites since 1994.

That’s just not something you see every day

Well, Christmas IS right around the corner

The end of the U.S. military’s almost century-long love affair with seaplanes and flying boats came to an end when the Grumman Albatross was put to pasture in 1983.

While nearly 500 were made, and the platform was fielded by not only the U.S. Air Force and Navy but also by the Coast Guard as a SAR platform, only about three dozen or so airframes remain around the globe today, with an even smaller number still airworthy.

And, for fans of Jimmy Buffett and/or 20th Century Curtiss radial engines, this sweet circa 1951 HU-16E Albatross is up for grabs at Platinum.

Via Platinum

Using a pair of old-school Wright R1820s, she has just 822 hours on her since restoration and carries Coastie livery with her actual serial number.

“Flown regularly. Well maintained. Now only $395,000!”

From what I can tell, the serial number (51-7226) is from the USAF’s range back when they were classified as SA-16Bs, but she spent most of her career in Coast Guard service (UF-1G, USCG 7226) and was sold from the Smithsonian’s inventory in 1984.

For more information head to Platinum.

Vale, Nine O Nine and those who flew on her

In March 2014, I had to good fortune to take advantage of a leg of the Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom Tour and visited a three-aircraft flight that included a Consolidated B-24J Liberator (SN 44-44052, “Witchcraft”) a TP-51C Mustang fighter (42-103293, “Betty Jane”) and a late block 85 Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress (44-83575, painted as 42-31909, “Nine O Nine”).

It was a beautiful day and they were beautiful, and increasingly machines.

The original Nine O Nine survived the great Augsburg raid and 18 roundtrips over Berlin with the 8th Air Force over a 140 mission career in WWII. SN 44-83575, shown above in the more famous Fortress’ colors, was built too late for combat, then served as a rescue aircraft, Atomic instrumentation aircraft, and forest fire bomber until she was restored to her original WWII configuration in the 1980s by the Collings Foundation. (Photo: Chris Eger)

Sadly, yesterday at Connecticut’s Bradley International Airport, Nine O Nine was destroyed in the crash, and seven of the thirteen people on board were killed.

Sorry, no Peashooter II

The Boeing/Saab T-X was selected on 27 September 2018 by the Air Force as the winner of the Advanced Pilot Training System program to replace the aging Cold War-era Northrop T-38 Talon. The downright cute little twin tail trainer will, in all likelihood, be around for decades provided it is successful.

The USAF currently has some 500~ T-38A/B/C models in inventory, with the newest example coming off the lines in 1972. It is envisioned that some 351 new T-X aircraft and 46 simulators are to be supplied by Boeing as part of the $9 billion program to put the venerable Talon to bed.

The T-X could also go on to be a sweet little scooter for budget air defense/COIN if given underwing hardpoints, after all, Saab runs the Gripen and in the past developed the Viggen, Draken, Lansen, and Tunnan, which all had a solid pedigree.

The T-X does look pretty sweet though.

Both of the current two Boeing T-Xs in flight.

While I suggested “T-60 Peashooter II” as a name update, in honor of Boeing’s last cute little combat-ish trainer, I have been overruled and the U.S. Air Force has named it the T-7A Red Hawk to honor the Tuskegee Airmen who famously flew the red-tailed North American P-51 Mustang in World War II (after working their way through P-39s, P-40s, and P-47s). The “Red Tails” of the 332nd Fighter Group were renowned for their work plastering Axis ground targets and successfully escorting B-17s and B-24s in the ETO in 1944 and 1945.

Which is better than the Peashooter II anyway.

 

Just a bomber, at a gas station

“Bomber gas station,” diagonal view, Route 99 E., Milwaukie, Oregon, 1980 by John Margolies:

LOC LC-DIG-mrg-00004

Built at Vega Burbank as a B-17G, the plane is SN 44-85790. Flown to Rome 14 July 1945, it saw no combat and was soon sold as surplus post-VJ-Day. Purchased by Art Lacey or Portland, Oregon, 5 March 1947, it was named the Lacey Lady and used as gas station canopy at Lacey’s Bomber Gas Station in Milwaukie, Oregon until 1995. It is now under restoration to airworthy status by the B-17 Alliance Museum in Seattle, Washington.

The image is from the Library of Congress’ John Margolies Roadside America Photograph Archive which includes more than 11,710 color slides the roadside photographer snapped around the country from 1969 to 2008.  You should check out the other images and explore the real Americana.

Monsters from Mars, or Forts from Seattle, either way

Official caption: “Giving them the appearance of Monsters from Mars, the vapor trails left by these B-17 Flying Fortresses of the U.S. Army 8th AF leave their marls in the sub-stratosphere. Vapor trails left by Flying Fortresses of the U.S. Army 8th AF leave their marks in the sub-stratosphere. The curved trails were made by the fighters accompanying the B-17’s. The deadly .50 Cal. Machine guns, bristling from the leading Fortress, are plainly visible against the light reflected from the contrails.”

Note the fighter top cover. U.S. Army A.A.F. photo No. 26566 A.C. LC-USZ62-107648

Welcome back Space Command

United States Space Command (USSPACECOM) was formed originally back in 1985 during the height of the Reagan-era Star Wars flex that sent tremors through the hardworking proletariat missile troop commanders east of the Fulda Gap. Put to pasture in 2002, a decade after the Cold War thawed and Moscow became our new best friend, SPACECOM is back! 

SECDEF Dr. Mark T. Esper signed documents formally establishing U.S. Space Command as the nation’s 11th combatant command during a White House ceremony, 29 August.

Led by Air Force Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, the command “integrates the space capabilities of all services in maintaining the U.S. edge in space in an area of great power competition.”

The presser from SPACECOM itself:

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., Aug. 30, 2019 —
Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, Commander, U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM), ordered the establishment of two subordinate commands to support the warfighting efforts of the command — Combined Force Space Component Command (CFSCC), and Joint Task Force Space Defense (JTF-SD), immediately following the establishment of USSPACECOM Aug. 29, 2019.

Raymond appointed Maj. Gen. Stephen N. Whiting as CFSCC Commander, and Brig. Gen. Matthew W. Davidson as the Deputy Commander; with a mission to plan, integrate, conduct, and assess global space operations to deliver combat relevant space capabilities to Combatant Commanders, Coalition partners, the Joint Force, and the Nation.

Upon establishment, Whiting appointed Chief Master Sgt. John F. Bentivegna as the CFSCC Senior Enlisted Leader. Bentivegna will advise the Commander on matters influencing the health, welfare, morale and effective utilization of more than 17,000 CFSCC personnel.

CFSCC will plan and execute space operations through four distinct and geographically dispersed operations centers, including the Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC) at Vandenberg AFB, Calif.; Missile Warning Center (MWC) at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colo.; Joint Overhead Persistent Infrared Center (JOPC) at Buckley AFB, Colo.; and Joint Navigation Warfare Center (JNWC) at Kirtland AFB, N.M. Additionally, the CFSCC will execute tactical control over globally dispersed Air Force, Army, and Navy space units that command satellites in every orbital regime.

“It is an honor and privilege to take command of CFSCC. We are at the dawning of a new, exciting, and challenging era for space; and CFSCC will lead USSPACECOM’s efforts to better integrate space warfighting effects into the operations of terrestrial warfighters,” said Whiting. “Through our tactical units and operations centers, CFSCC will provide space capabilities such as space situational awareness, space electronic warfare, satellite communications, missile warning, nuclear detonation detection, environmental monitoring, military ISR, navigation warfare, command and control, and PNT in support of USSPACECOM and the other Combatant Commands.”

As one of its primary roles, CFSCC will plan, task, direct, monitor, and assess the execution of combined and joint space operations for theater effects on behalf of the Commander of USSPACECOM to directly support ongoing operations in other Combatant Commands.

CFSCC will also provide support to, and receive support from, partner Coalition operations centers including the Australian Space Operations Center, Canadian Space Operations Center, and the United Kingdom Space Operations Center. Additionally, CFSCC will build capacity through Coalition, Commercial, and Civil partnerships to achieve combined force objectives.

Furthermore, CFSCC will execute command and control of assigned multinational forces in support of Operation Olympic Defender (OOD), as directed by USSPACECOM.

“Through the standup of the CFSCC and multinational force agreements in OOD, we will out-pace competitor nations in developing our space capabilities, generate greater space force capacity than our competitors, and integrate highly advanced multinational space capabilities with terrestrial coalition warfighting capabilities,” said Davidson. “Last month the United Kingdom formally announced their decision to join Operation Olympic Defender, our named operation for space; and we are excited the Royal Air Force is now providing an officer to serve as the Deputy Director of the CSpOC. The U.K. is a close ally and trusted partner in space, and we are looking forward to additional allies and partners joining OOD shortly. We are unequivocally stronger together.”

On 18 July the former U.K. Defense Secretary announced the U.K. formally accepted the U.S. invitation to join OOD; and the U.K.’s intentions to send additional U.K. personnel to join other international space operators at the CSpOC at Vandenberg AFB.

Space operators from Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom are currently stationed at Vandenberg AFB, working alongside U.S. space operators in CFSCC’s CSpOC. Additionally, national liaisons from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom are stationed at Vandenberg AFB in USSPACECOM’s Multinational Space Collaboration office.

“Space has become exponentially more congested, contested, and degraded domain during the past several decades. Due to emerging threats, and advances in technology, we must partner with allies and like-minded nations to preserve access to space, and leverage coalition space capabilities to ensure warfighters downrange have the systems they need to defeat the threats they’re facing,” said Bentivegna. “The establishment of the CFSCC is the result of years of working alongside allies and partners in and through space. As a coalition, we will continue to defend our nations’ interests throughout the space domain.”

On the downside, their crest looks like it cost about $19.

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