Category Archives: USAF

Happy Mother’s Day: Blockbuster edition

Bombardiers and bomb technicians of the 7th Army Air Force photographed at Kwajalein in 1944 with a Mother’s day greeting for all the moms back on the homefront.

USAAF Photo No. 52453

Note the B-24 Liberator in the background and massive AN-M56 4000-pound demolition bombs (“Blockbusters’) in the foreground.
Captured from the Japanese in February of that year, by March 1944 the 7th AAF’s 11th, 30th, and 431st Bombardment Group (Heavy) were operating from Kwajalein throughout the summer and fall, plastering Guam, Truk Atoll, Wotje, Maloelap, and Wake Island. 

Happy 75th Brrrthday, 190th Fighter Squadron

Reformed with the lineage of the WWII 405th Fighter Squadron on 24 May 1946, the 190th Fighter Squadron of the Idaho Air National Guard was organized at Gowen Field, south of Boise. Flying F-51 series Mustangs into the Korean War era they moved into jets in mid-1953, first with the F-86A Sabre, then followed in rapid procession by the F-94A Starfire, F-89C Scorpion, F-86L Sabre Interceptor, F-102 Delta Dagger, RF-4C Phantom, and F-4G Wild Weasel as their mission changed greatly over the year processing from air defense to recon and SEAD.

Finally, in 1996, they switched to the glorious A-10 Thunderbolt, more popularly known as the Warthog, which they have flown for a quarter-century including several active combat turns in the sandbox.

In honor of the “old” 405th, a P-47 Thunderbolt unit of the 371st Fighter Group, 9th U.S. Air Force, the 190th is celebrating their 75th this month with a Heritage flight A-10 Thunderbolt in the forerunner’s Northwest Europe 1944 livery.

The 405th FS arrived in the European theater in April 1944 and started their war doing fighter sweep, dive-bombing, and escort missions over France just before D-Day, targeting railroads, marshaling yards, vehicles, gun emplacements, and strong points in a role familiar to today’s A-10. During Overlord itself, they patrolled the beachhead areas and continued the aerial barrage through to St Lo and across northern France and supported the troops on the ground at the Battle of the Bulge before pushing into southern Germany where they ended the war, earning a Distinguished Unit Citation.

“MUMBLIN JOE,” a Republic P-47D-20-RE Thunderbolt, serial number 42-76452, was assigned to the 371st Fighter Group’s 405th Fighter Squadron (squadron code 8N). The aircraft bore the name of pilot Lt. Arthur W. “Bud” Holderness Jr., with the individual aircraft letter of “H” aft of the national insignia on the fuselage. It is pictured here with 41 mission symbols, bombed up and headed out for another combat mission, probably from A-6 airfield in France in the summer of 1944, probably with Lt. Holderness as the pilot. Holderness, a 1943 USMA graduate, flew 142 combat missions with the 371st during the war, received the Distinguished Flying Cross, 19 Air Medals, the French Croix de Guerre, and was one of two pilots in his squadron to earn the Lead Crew Combat Pilot patch. He went on to have a long and successful postwar career in the USAF, retiring in 1971 as a brigadier general. (Via Capt Tom Silkowski, 190th Fighter Squadron, Idaho ANG)

“BLACK JACK” was another 405th Fighter Squadron P-47D (8N-O), shown here being serviced in an expeditionary setting between missions, probably at A-6, with the pilot whose name was on the ship and its assigned ground crew. They are, probably, from left to right, Corporal Anthony J. Tenore, Lieutenant John L. Jackson (who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross), SSgt Robert L. Teague, and SSgt Robert E. Vaughn. (Via Capt Tom Silkowski, 190th Fighter Squadron, Idaho ANG)

The Heritage A-10 includes the OD scheme with white cowling and tail stripes, WWII roundels, 8N squadron code, and D-Day invasion stripes.

Sadly, no Mumblin Joe nose art, though.

A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II from the Idaho Air National Guard’s 124th Fighter Wing is painted with a heritage WWII paint scheme at the Air National Guard paint facility in Sioux City, Iowa. The paint scheme is designed to replicate the look of the original P-47 Thunderbolt as it appeared during the 2nd World War. The 124th Fighter Wing conceived the idea to commemorate the unit’s 75th anniversary and lineage to their predecessor, the 405th Fighter Squadron. U.S. Air National Guard photo: Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot

 U.S. Air National Guard photo: Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot

U.S. Air National Guard photo: Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot

Buffs. Still clocking in at 67 years later

Few weapons systems survive active use longer than a generation before they are replaced by something more advanced developed from lessons learned from the previous system’s hard use in the field. Scratch that when it comes to the B-52 Stratofortress.

Below is an image of B-52A #1 at the Boeing employee rollout ceremony, Seattle, Washington March 18, 1954– 66 years ago today. The tailfin was too high for the hangar door and was later hoisted into place.

Now, in the platform’s 7th decade in service, the good old Buff is still ready and willing to go in harm’s way– and does so regularly.

Please don’t feed the Buffs…it will ruin their diets.

The last production Strat, B-52H AF Serial No. 61-0040, left the factory on 26 October 1962. As they are expected to remain in service until 2050, the youngest of the fleet will still be flying at age 92.

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.

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