Category Archives: USAF

Mines, Mines, Mines

Word is that Australia plans to invest the equivalent of $800 Million in new sea mines, sourced from Italy.

Comparatively, the Chinese have an active offensive mining development program counting an estimated 80,000 devices consisting of up to 30 types, including encapsulated torpedo mines and rising mines.

This comes as the Vigilance Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV), pitched by VARD for the Royal Canadian Navy’s future fleet, was shown off at CANSEC 2023, complete with a stern Cube modular minelaying system installed.

Vigilance Class Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) with The Cube System

The system uses 40-foot containers for a wholly “bolt-on” minelaying option

A digital mockup of the Cube minelaying system on HMS Tamar, another small OPV currently in the Pacific. 

Suffice it to say, these could fit inside the open below-deck mission bay of the Independence-class LCS– here seen on USS Cincinnati (LCS-20)– while still leaving the helicopter deck and hangar free.(Photo: Chris Eger)

Meanwhile, here in the States, the Air Force is working on a program for a single B-52 to drop a dozen 2,000-pound mines from a distance of 40 miles off, one that could be very useful in the Pacific one day.

An inert Joint Direct Attack Munition QuickStrike Extended Range mine is attached to a U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress assigned to the 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron, Barksdale Air Force Base, La., in early March 2023. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo 230524-F-AA323-1002)

From Air Force Strike Command:

A B-52H Stratofortress attached to the 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron validated the ability to deploy inert Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) QuickStrike Extended Range (QS-ER) mines from a standoff distance of more than 40 miles off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in early March 2023.

The QS-ER mine marries the concept of a Mk64 underwater mine to that of the GBU-64v1 JDAM Extended Range variant. The resulting weapon is the 2,000-pound QS-ER mine.

Traditionally mines are employed as unguided gravity weapons, forcing the aircraft to fly at lower altitudes and releasing the mines at multiple intervals rather than single releases. This means the mission cannot be accomplished in a contested waterway without accepting a high level of risk. But the QS-ER program changes this concept completely.

Marshal-Admiral, departing

80 years ago today: The ashes of Marshal-Admiral (posthumous) Isoroku Yamamoto return to the Empire of Japan aboard the Yamato-class super dreadnought Musashi, 23 May 1943, his last flagship, prior to a full state funeral to be held two weeks later.

He had been eliminated the month prior in a special mission (Operation Vengeance), in which P-38 Lightnings from the 339th Fighter Squadron downed his relatively lightly escorted transport bomber over Bougainville.

“Mission Accomplished” by Roy Grinnell, depicting Lt Rex Barber downing Yamamoto’s Betty, 18 April 1943

Legend had it he was found in the jungle, thrown clear of the wreckage, his white-gloved hand grasping the hilt of his katana, still upright in his seat under a tree. Less widely disseminated was that he was the recipient of a burst of .50 cal tracer.

While Yamamoto had indeed “run amok” across the Pacific for the first six months of the war, his track record for the last 10 months of his command was by far less successful. The command baton for the Combined Fleet would be passed to Admiral Mineichi Koga, who would also be killed when his plane went down in March 1944.

While Musashi has long been on the bottom of the Pacific, Yamamoto’s G4M1 Model 11 Betty, Manufacture Number 2656, Tail 323, is still on Bougainville and is a popular, if remote, attraction for those who know.

Warhawk Close-up

80 years ago. North African Campaign, Tunisia, May 1943: A great shot of a Curtiss P-40K-1-CU Warhawk from the 64th Fighter Squadron (The Black Scorpions), 57th Fighter Group, of Ninth Air Force, USAAF. The ground crewman is riding the wing to relay to the pilot to avoid ground obstacles that the aviator at the controls of the tail dragger is unable to see due to the angle. 

Via LIFE Archives

The above aircraft is “White 13” (SN 42-46040), “Savoy” assigned to 22-year-old 1st LT (later Capt.) Robert Johnson “Jay’ Overcash, and was likely taken either at Hani Airfield or Bou Grara Airfield in North Africa. Note the dot-dot-dot-dash (Morse= V) code and black scorpion on the aircraft’s fuselage along with the disembodied skull. Does it get any more moto?

The image was snapped just a couple weeks after the 64th Squadron famously mixed it up over the Sicilian straits with a German air convoy on 18 April during which 74 enemy planes, mostly transports, were claimed destroyed. The event was known in the 57th FG as “The Palm Sunday Massacre.”

Soon after this image was taken, 46040 was transferred further East to a Chinese KMT AF training unit in Karachi, India, and would be wrecked at Malir Air Base, India on 30 September, with the pilot trainee at the stick killed.

The unit, constituted as the 64th Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) on 20 November 1940, would end the war flying P-47s on interdiction and support operations in northern Italy.

In all, Overcash would be credited with 5 victories, an ace, the last two flying White 13 (then a P-47) on 26 April 1944, while escorting USAAF B-25s and RAF Baltimores on a bombing mission. Post-war, he transferred to the new U.S. Air Force and retired in 1980 as a U.S. Air Force Reserve Colonel.

Today, the 64th Aggressor Squadron of the 57th Adversary Tactics Group is still around, located at Nellis AFB Nevada.

Sub $1M Freedom Fighter Up for Grabs

Just going to come out and say it: if you are ever in Arizona, you have to check out the Pima Air & Space Museum, which has some 400 aircraft on display. I spent two days there, filming shorts for GDC, with a concentration on aviation gunnery, and one of the planes I spent some time with is the somewhat unsung F-5 Freedom Fighter, which is still in somewhat limited service around the globe despite the fact that the youngest one is still well over 30.

I mean, just look at it:

Two seater F-5B-50-NO, SN 72-0441, is dressed in the colors of the 425th TFTS which she flew with until 1989, including conversion to a GF-5B. Chris Eger photo

In related news, I saw last night where Code 1 Aviation in Illinois just listed a circa 1968 Northrop F-5A (SN 1009, FAA Reg N685TC) for sale, at a cool $950K.

Code 1 photo

Code 1 photo

She had been built originally for the Royal Norwegian AF as 89108 and later came to the States, being registered with the FAA in 1990. Of interest, the Norwegians, who fielded no less than 108 of the type, kept their F-5s flying as late as 2007.

From the ad:

This is a beautifully-restored, well-equipped example of Northrop’s versatile, lightweight, supersonic fighter thats still serving in several nations. With a maximum speed of over 700 knots, a maximum climb rate of over 30,000 feet per minute, and a ceiling of 51,000 feet, the F-5 is not for the faint of heart. But it is a surprisingly simple, reliable jet that can be your ticket to the rarified world of the fighter pilot.

Too bad the gun compartment is missing its twin Ford-built M39A2 20mm revolver cannons– but it does give the owner a potential cargo/baggage compartment. Code 1 Photo

Introduced in 1953, the M39 was the standard gun armament of the F-86H model Sabre, the F-100 Super Sabre, the F-101A/C Voodoo, and the F-5 series, effectively bridging the gap between the .50 cal M2/M3 guns of WWII and Korea and the subsequent M61 Vulcan. 

It was dubbed a revolver system as, although it was a single barrel, it used a chute-fed five-chamber cylinder to up the rate of fire to 1,500 rpm while allowing for better heat dissipation and less potential for a cook-off. Meanwhile, the Colt Mk 12 20mm cannons used at the same time by the Navy and Marine Corps on the F4D Skyray, F3H Demon, A-4 Skyhawk, F-8 Crusader, F-11 Tiger, and early A-7 Corsairs, were less reliable as its feeding mechanism was prone to jam under G-loading during high-speed dogfighting maneuvers. Chris Eger photo

Korean War era P-80 Shooting Star ‘Flies’ Once Again

Armed with six . 50 caliber machine guns in the nose with 200 rpg, the P-80 Shooting Star was one of “Kelly” Johnson’s kids and, with its first flight in 1944, only barely missed mixing it up with Luftwaffe Me-262s in combat over Germany. In fact, the prototype aircraft was developed by Johnson’s team in just 143 days, with the 262 as the goal to match/beat.

It nonetheless made a lot of “firsts.”

In addition to making the first U.S. transcontinental jet flight, the Shooting Star was the first American aircraft to exceed 500 mph in level flight, the first American jet airplane manufactured in large quantities, and the first U.S. Air Force jet used in combat. It was in an F-80C of the 16th FIS that the first American claim for a jet-versus-jet aerial kill was made when 1st Lt. Russell J. Brown reported that he downed a MiG-15 over Korea in November 1950– just six years after the type’s first flight.

In all, some 1,700 P/F/RF-80s were produced, along with over 6,500 of its dopey T-33 Shooting Star younger brothers, and the type remained in at least limited USAF and U.S. Navy service well into the 1980s.

Well, some 50 years or so since the type left U.S. martial service, an Iowa Air National Guard F-80 just took a flight, of sorts.

S/N 47-0171, a P-80C-1-LO built in Burbank in 1947, is the sole example constructed almost entirely of magnesium (talk about a nightmare if it ever caught fire!).

After service at the Wright Air Development Center as the only NF-80C model, she was later sent to the Air Force Museum and preserved on static display in Canton, Ohio, wearing Ohio ANG livery in the 1990s.

She was then restored and has been on display in the livery of the Iowa ANG’s 174th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (which flew F-80Cs from 1953 to 1955), at the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum aboard Camp Dodge since 2012.

Well, after a decade of outside display, she needed a new paint job and was taken to an ANG paint facility in Sioux City last September.

To get the aircraft back to the state headquarters last week after the refresh, she was carried via sling lift under an Iowa ARNG CH-47 Chinook of the Davenport-based B/171 Aviation Regiment.

Air National Guard photo Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot

Air National Guard photo Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot

Air National Guard photo Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot

B-17 rides likely over, at least for now

Back in 2014, I got a very close look and some airtime in the Collings Foundation’s Douglas-built B-17G-85-DL Flying Fortress, SN 44-83575. Although 83575 has spent her career as an air-sea rescue aircraft, she had been painted since 1986 as a tribute ship in the livery of the 91st Bomb Group’s famed Nine-O-Nine (42-31909), which had completed 132 consecutive missions in WWII.

She was a beautiful aircraft

Sadly, 83575 crashed in Connecticut in 2019, killing seven of the 13 aboard, while on a living history flight like the one I was on. Just the left wing and part of the tail remained.

Speaking of which, this, via the Yankee Air Museum:

Hello, The Yankee Air Museum decided to proactively cease flight operations of the B-17G Flying Fortress ‘Yankee Lady.’Recent inspections of other B-17s have discovered wing spar issues. As a result, we expect a mandatory Airworthiness Directive to be issued by the FAA in the next few weeks regarding the matter. Out of an abundance of caution, we are temporarily ceasing our B-17 flight operations and awaiting direction from the FAA regarding necessary inspections and repairs that will be required. It is expected that the B-17 will not fly during the 2023 flying season. Please note that this only affects the B-17.

More on the B-17’s wing spars, here.

Voodoo and Super Sabres over Alaska

In some of the more recent AP Archive dumps, I found this little gem: a ~2-minute original color (soundless) video from Exercise Ember Dawn III in Alaska.

Captured in September 1971, it shows a lot of aircraft that were dated even for that period and only had a few years left on inventory: Air National Guard F-100D Super Sabres, RF-101 Voodoo photo recon birds, and C-124 Globemaster transports, the latter disgorging O-2 Birddog FAC planes from their nose. For a cap, you even see a full-color Army UH-1 liaison Huey.

Too cool.



A closer look at Jolly’s new guns

The new Jolly runs FN’s updated EGM on both sides of the airframe

The next generation of “Jolly Green Giants” ride shotgun with a new gun mount system that was developed for the Air Force by FN

The mission of Combat Search and Rescue, or C-SAR, helicopters for the Air Force dates to Vietnam, where large camouflage-painted Sikorsky HH-3Es were given armor and machine guns for protection. Nicknamed the “Jolly Green Giant” for obvious reasons, the HH-3E was replaced by the smaller but more modern HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters in the 1980s. Then, with the Pave Hawks showing their age, the Air Force in 2016 embarked on a program to field the new HH-60W Jolly Green II Combat Rescue Helicopter. 

And the service wanted the next generation of Jolly Green to tote a better weapons suite, with FN getting the call from HH60W contractor Lockheed Martin to come up with something special.

Whereas FN already made the fast-firing (1,100 rounds per minute) M3 .50-caliber machine gun – which the Marines had already fielded as the GAU-21 – and a Medium Pintle System to mount it on helicopters, the new flexible mount on the HH-60W was made capable of carrying either the Air Force’s legacy GAU-18 .50-caliber machine gun with a 650- to 800-rounds-per-minute fire rate as carried on the HH-60 Pave Hawk, the M3/GAU-21, and the GAU-2, a 7.62mm NATO caliber electric M134 minigun with a 3,000 rounds-per-minute fire rate.  

The Air Force performed live-fire testing on the HH-60W Jolly Green Giant in August 2020 at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida “to verify the weapons systems functionality, accuracy, and to demonstrate the guns are safe to employ operationally.” (U.S. Air Force photos by Tech. Sgt. John Raven)

Further, the new mounts allowed the helicopter’s left- and right-side mounted guns to rotate independently, providing an almost 360-degree firing arc – including straight ahead. 

“This unique hybrid solution offers the user the capability to maximize the use of the machine gun in a wide firing window, allowing both lateral and fixed forward protection or target engagement,” notes FN. “It allows suppressive fire against light armored vehicles, suppressive fire in landing zones, and ground and aerial threat suppression.”

FN announced this month the company delivered 10 prototype mounts between 2016 and mid-2019 for use in initial flight operations and Air Force validation tests.

This was followed with 25 shipsets (each of two mounts in left-hand side and right-hand side configurations along with dedicated ammunition boxes for each caliber) delivered by October 2022, at which time the Air Force declared the HH-60W “combat ready.”  

The company began full-rate production of what is now dubbed the FN External Mount Gun System last November. Soon after, the Air Force announced that the 347th Rescue Group, operating with HH-60Ws, rescued two U.S. service members from a battlefield in the Horn of Africa in late December, the aircraft’s first CASEVAC mission.

Ultimately, the Air Force program of record calls for 113 helicopters to be delivered. 

80 Years Ago: Yanks and Ozzies Team Up to Close the Bismarck Sea

In early March 1943, Japanese RADM Masatomi Kimura was tasked with carrying out Operation 81, a scratch troop convoy running from Simpson Harbour in Rabaul to Lae, New Guinea. The run was short compared to what the Allies were trying to pull off in the Atlantic or even in the Medderterrainan– just 400 miles. Just six months prior, the control of that part of the Southwestern Pacific was firmly undecided but leaned heavily to favor of the Empire. Well, things had certainly changed by the time Operation 81 got underway.

Kimura was given eight destroyers– Asashio, Arashio, Asagumo, Shikinami, Tokitsukaze, Uranami, Yukikaze, and Shirayuki— all veterans of the Tokyo Express days of running fast nighttime convoys through Guadalcanal’s Ironbottom Sound.

However, this speedy force was shackled to eight slower freighters and transports. Besides 400 Imperial marines (of the Yokosuka 5th and Maizuru 2nd Special Naval Landing Party) these vessels were filled with some 6,500 troops of the Imperial Army including LtGen. Hatazō Adachi’s 18th Army Headquarters and half of the 51st Infantry Division (115th Infantry and 14th Artillery Regiments, plus supporting units). Adachi, a battle-hardened officer much-employed in the assorted China campaigns, had been appointed commander of the 18th some three months prior, and two of the Army’s divisions, the 20th and 41st, were already in New Guinea and he hoped to arrive with his fresh 51st, also drawn from the Kwantung Army in China, then kick off a renewed effort in New Guinea.

Well, things didn’t quite turn out that way.

Obstensibly protected by air cover provided by the carrier Zuihō’s fighter group flying from land, two Army flying groups (1st and 11th Hikō Sentai), along with the Navy’s shore-based 252nd and 253rd Air Groups, Kimura’s slow-moving (seven knots!) 16-vessel convoy was quickly spotted by Royal Australian Air Force and U.S. Army Air Force aircraft on 2 March 1942 and havoc ensued.

Over the course of the next two days, five RAAF squadrons (Nos. 6, 22, 30, 75, and 100) and no less than 18 USAAF squadrons of the 35th and 49th FG, 3rd AG, 34th, 43rd, and 90th BGs, would hammer the convoy and annihilate its aircover. The mix of aircraft involved was incredible, with the Ozzies running Hudsons, Bostons (Havocs), Beaufighters, Beauforts, and Kittyhawks (P-40s) and the Americans sending P-38s, P-39s, and P-40s to sweep Zeroes and B-24s, B-25s, B-17s, and A-20s for body blows.

Watch Bismarck convoy smashed! by official war correspondent Damien Parer on 3 March 1943 [courtesy of British Pathé]. Parer filmed the action from a plane cockpit over the shoulder of Flight Lieutenant Ronald Frederick ‘Torchy ‘ Uren, DFC. This film includes shots of air attacks on ships and rafts by Beaufighters of No. 30 Squadron RAAF, the first unit to go in for the attack on the convoy.

The images released of the carnage, some garnered at mast-top level, are still chilling today even in black and white low-rez.

In the end, all eight transports were sent to the bottom along with four of Kimura’s destroyers, with the survivors turning back. While the Japanese would pull 2,734 men from the water— and return them back to Rabul rather than continue on to New Guinea– over 3,000 perished.

Allied casualties were relatively light. Some 13 RAAF and USAAF aircrew were lost in the action, along with 6 Allied aircraft.

As noted by the NHHC, ” As a result of the losses, the Japanese never again risked sending a large convoy into water that was controlled by American aircraft.”

Unleash the Mosquitos!

As a postscript to what later became known as the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, LCDR Barry K. Atkins on the night of 3/4 March led ten boats (77-foot Elcos PT-66, 67, and 68; and the 80-foot Elcos PT-119, 121, 128, 132, 143, 149, and 150) of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron (PTRON) 8out of Milne Bay and Tufi, New Guinea, on a mop-up operation against the flotsam over Kimura’s convoy’s watery graves.

A PT boat patrolling off New Guinea. National Archives photo 80-G-53855 from the collection of Joseph N. Myers

As described by Bulkley in “At Close Quarters: PT Boats in the United States Navy”:

At 2310 the 143 and 150 saw a fire ahead, to the north. On close approach they saw it was a cargo ship, Oigawa Maru of 6,493 tons, dead in the water, with a large fire in the forward hold and a smaller fire aft. It seemed to be abandoned. At 800 yards the 143 fired a torpedo which exploded near the stern and the ship began to heel to port and settle in the water. Five minutes later the 150 fired a torpedo at 700 yards. This one exploded amidships and the ship sank, stern first, with a brilliant blaze of fire just before she went under.

The second group of boats, PT 149 (Lt. William J. Flittie, USNR), PT 66 (Lt. (jg.) William C. Quinby, USNR), PT 121 (Ens. Edward R. Bergin, Jr.,


USNR), and PT 68 (Lt. (jg.) Robert L. Childs, USNR), also saw the fire and began to approach it at slow speed. To Lieutenant Flittie, on the 149, the fire appeared as several lights on a stationary ship, and when it blazed up before taking its final plunge he thought the ship had put a searchlight on him. He fired one torpedo, the light went out immediately, and he could not find the target again.

The third group, PT 67 (Ens. James W. Emmons, USNR) and PT 128 (Ens. James W. Herring), also saw the fire. PT 128 fired two torpedoes at long range, 1,500 yards, the second at about the same time the 143 fired. Both of the 128’s torpedoes missed, but, seeing the explosion from the 143’s torpedo, the crew of the 128 thought for a time that their torpedo had hit.

After the sinking Lieutenant Commander Atkins ordered the three groups to search an area further to the west. All boats encountered heavy seas and frequent rain squalls, but found no more ships.

It was learned later that there were only two ships still afloat when the PT’s arrived in the area: the damaged cargo ship which they sank, and a destroyer which was finished off by planes the following morning.

On the 4th of March our planes returned and strafed everything afloat in Huon Gulf. Thousands of Japanese troops from the sunken transports were adrift in collapsible boats. For several days, the PT’s, too, met many of these troop-filled boats and sank them. It was an unpleasant task, but there was no alternative. If the boats were permitted to reach shore, the troops, who were armed with rifles, would constitute a serious menace to our lightly held positions along the coast.

At daylight on March 5, Jack Baylis in PT 143 and Russ Hamachek in PT 150 sighted a large submarine on the surface well out to sea, 25 miles northeast of Cape Ward Hunt. Near it were three boats: a large one with more than 100 Japanese soldiers and two smaller ones with about 20 soldiers in each. The men were survivors of the Bismarck Sea battle; the submarine was taking them aboard. Each PT fired a torpedo. The 143’s ran erratically. The 150’s ran true, but missed as the submarine crash dived. The PT’s strafed the conning tower as it submerged, then sank the three boats with machine-gun fire and depth charges.

Five days later Comdr. Geoffrey C. F. Branson, RN, Naval Officer in Charge, Milne Bay, received intelligence that a lifeboat containing 18 survivors of the battle had drifted ashore on Kiriwina, in the Trobriand Islands, 120 miles to the north of Milne Bay. The Trobriands were then a sort of no-man’s land; the Japanese held New Britain to the north, we held the New


Guinea coast to the south. The only military installation in the Trobriands was an Allied radar station on Kiriwina, which might be endangered by the new arrivals. Ens. Frank H. Dean, Jr.,12 took Commander Branson to Kiriwina in PT 114, captured the 18 Japanese, who were in a docile mood, and returned to Milne Bay the next day. One of the prisoners, who had been badly wounded a week earlier in the Bismarck Sea and almost certainly would have died had he not been captured, later sent his American-made money belt to “Skipper” Dean as a token of gratitude.

The Battle of the Bismarck Sea, a striking victory for airpower, convinced the enemy that he could no longer run surface ships from Rabaul to Lae. He never tried to again. The Fifth Air Force began operating from Dobodura, near Buna, in April, and thereafter the enemy was unable to send cargo ships or destroyers anywhere on the north coast of New Guinea east of Wewak. He could still move some supplies overland through the Ramu and Markham River Valleys, a slow and arduous undertaking, and he could operate a submarine shuttle service between Rabaul and Lae, but the great bulk of supplies had to be moved by coastal barges. The Air Force was to prevent the barges from operating by day, and the PT’s were to cut down the night traffic to such a thin trickle as literally to starve the enemy out.

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

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