27 August 2009

The McDonnell F2H Banshee introduced several new capabilites for tactical fighters in US Navy despite the presence of the Grumman F9F Cougar/Panther which was in service in larger numbers.

The high altitude performance of the Banshee was put to good use in reconnaissance versions that made high altitude photo runs of Chinese and Russian targets in the Far East during the 1950s, all done with no losses on any of the Banshee missions flown.

The long legs of the Banshee also made it the Navy's first nuclear-capable tactical aircraft- a single Mk7 (1650 lbs in weight) or a single Mk8 (3200 lbs) could be carried under the starboard wing. The aircraft also had an inflight refueling probe as well. In a demonstration of the capability, Navy squadron VX-3 flew three Banshees from the USS Midway which was 100 miles east of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Refueling from AJ Savage tankers, the three Banshees went "feet dry" near St. Augustine, Florida at tree top height on their way to strike practice targets near Lake Erie. Despite all of the USAF Air Defense Command units on the entire Eastern seaboard being alerted ahead of time, the Banshees successfully hit their targets and returned to the USS Midway after a second refueling over the Atlantic from AJ Savage tankers.

The F2H Banshee was also the first Navy fighter to have a space-stabilized radar antenna in the APG-37 intercept radar. This allowed the radar to maintain a lock on target even if the aircraft maneuvered.

Source: Combat Aircraft, August/September 2009. "Screaming Banshees" by LCDR Rick Burgess USN (Ret) p68-72.

26 August 2009

When the Douglas A3D Skywarrior first entered fleet service, its sole job was nuclear weapon delivery. Though crews were trained for conventional weapons delivery, some aircraft would be placed on nuclear alert on the deck. The Forrestal-class carriers carried a full 12-plane squadron of A3Ds, the smaller Midway-class carried nine A3Ds, and the smaller Essex class carriers had a three plane detachment of Skywarriors. Regardless of the size of the Skywarrior unit, two A3Ds were always on the flight deck fully armed with a nuclear weapon and guarded by a Marine unit.
The "ready" aircraft and alert crews were on 15 minute alert to launch and deliver its nuclear payload.

Source: Strike from the Sea: U.S. Navy Attack Aircraft from Skyraider to Super Hornet, 1948-Present by Tommy H. Thomason. Specialty Press, 2009, p83.

19 August 2009

The Hudson River VFR corridor is one of two pathways of airspace created by the FAA in 1971 to allow VFR traffic to operate clear of the busy Class B airspace of the New York City area. The corridor extends from the surface of the river to 1100 feet AGL with controlled airspace at 1101 feet on up. Aircraft in the corridor use a common frequency of 123.5 MHz to announce position and altitude; northbound traffic follows the Manhattan shore and southbound traffic follow the New Jersey shore. More than 200 aircraft use the corridor daily.

The other pathway is the East River VFR corridor which has been closed to aircraft unless under positive control since October 2006 following the crash that killed Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor.

Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology, August 17, 2009. "Midair Mystery- Collision follows decision to fly river route; Pilots face limits on popular VFR corridor" by Frances Fiorino, p52.

18 August 2009

The Black Arrow was planned as an inexpensive satellite launcher based on the technology of the earlier British Black Knight sounding rocket. Black Arrow would have given the United Kingdom an independent satellite launch capability. The first Black Arrow launch took place in June 1969, but the rocket veered off course. The second test eight months later went smoothly leading the way for Britain's first satellite launch attempt in September 1970. But this launch failed when the Black Arrow's second stage failed to fire.

In July 1971 the UK government canceled the Black Arrow but permission was given for one more launch on 28 October 1971 which put Britain's first satellite, Prospero, into orbit. However there would be no other launches or development and Britain henceforth limited its space activities with involvement in the European Space Agency, making the UK the first and only nation to abandon satellite launch capability.

Source: Spaceflight: The Complete Story from Sputnik to Shuttle and Beyond by Giles Sparrow. DK Limited, 2007, p56-57.

17 August 2009

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, six Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier II squadrons participated in the initial 26 days of combat flying nearly 2000 sorties from land bases in Kuwait and five of the Navy's big deck amphibious carriers. As the front lines rapidly moved northward towards Baghdad further away from the ships, the Harrier squadrons faced the problem of getting aerial refueling as high demand by other Coalition aircraft made tanking capacity scarce.

An out-of-action Iraqi air base at An Numaniyah was set up as for forward operating base to refuel the Marine Harriers. As the base's runways had been knocked out by Coalition air attacks, only the Harrier could use the base due to its unique V/STOL abilities. On 8 April 2003 a section of AV-8B Harrier IIs from VMA-542 landed at An Numaniyah at night, becoming the first Coalition tactical jets to touch down on Iraqi soil.

Source: Air Forces Monthly, August 2009. "Marine Harriers Over Iraq" by Warren E. Thompson, p80-81.

16 August 2009

During the war in the Pacific, the kamikaze threat required increasing numbers of fighters in the Navy's carrier air groups which in turn displaced bombers like the TBF Avenger. To give the fighters more offensive air-to-ground striking power, unguided rockets became standard for fighter aircraft like the Corsair and Hellcat. One of the ultimate unguided rockets to be used in the Pacific was the Tiny Tim, which was created by adding a 500-lb armor piercing bomb to the front of a standard oil well casing which was filled with rocket propellant. The oil well casing had the same 11.75 inch diameter as the 500-lb bomb. Finished off with a rocket nozzle and fins, the Tiny Tim was 10 feet long and weighed 1300 lbs.

The first firing took place in June 1944 and unlike previously used smaller rockets, it couldn't be fired off the rail due to the blast. As a solution, the rocket was dropped and a lanyard ignited the rocket motor once clear of the aircraft. The first aircraft carrier carrying Tiny Tim, the USS Franklin, was nearly sunk near Okinawa from kamikaze attacks before strikes with the rocket could begin. But the rocket was employed to effect against Japanese shipping by land-based Marine Corps PBJ bombers (B-25 Mitchells).

Source: Strike from the Sea: U.S. Navy Attack Aircraft from Skyraider to Super Hornet, 1948-Present by Tommy H. Thomason. Specialty Press, 2009, p17.

15 August 2009

To meet a 1943 US Navy requirement, shipbuilder Henry J. Kaiser's aircraft company, Kaiser-Fleetwings, designed and built the XBTK dive bomber to replace the Douglas SBD Dauntless. At a time when most of the major aircraft manufacturers were proposing larger and more complex aircraft, the XBTK was smaller and intended from the outset to operate from the US Navy's smaller escort carriers. Powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine, the Navy ordered two prototypes in January 1944 with twenty production aircraft subsequently ordered in October of that year. The XBTK made its first flight in April 1945 and only five aircraft were built and flown before the contract was cancelled in 1946 in favor of larger, more capable aircraft.

Source: Strike from the Sea: U.S. Navy Attack Aircraft from Skyraider to Super Hornet, 1948-Present by Tommy H. Thomason. Specialty Press, 2009, p28.

14 August 2009

During the Vietnam War, Lockheed P-3 Orions operated primarily in the maritime interdiction role, patrolling the 900-mile coastline of South Vietnam as part of Operation Market Time. Anti-infiltration missions were flown day and night to interdict the supply of arms and supplies to the Viet Cong. In addition, Orions also provided anti-submarine screening for the carrier battle groups operating off the coast of both North and South Vietnam.

But a little known mission of the P-3 Orion during the Vietnam War was that as a "pathfinder". Pathfinder P-3s acted as long range ferry escorts for USAF fighter jets making their way across the Pacific to the Southeast Asian theater. Ferrying aircraft to the war zone was faster than shipping them by sealift and the P-3s would provide navigation and communications relay to the fighter aircraft. During air-refueling, the P-3s loitered in the area in case of an emergency that would result in a pilot ejecting or ditching in the open ocean. The first pathfinder mission was flown on 20 January 1966.

Source: The Age of Orion: The Lockheed P-3 Story by David Reade. Schiffer Publishing, 1998, p23.

13 August 2009

The XB-52 and YB-52 Stratofortress prototypes' primary difference from the production Stratofortress was the tandem seating cockpit for the pilot and co-pilot. The revision came about during SAC commander General Curtis LeMay's review of the B-52 mockup which had a tandem cockpit. Classically for LeMay, he didn't hide his dislike of the cockpit arrangement, with his two primary concerns being that with a narrow cockpit, the instruments and controls would be smaller than idea and the co-pilot would be relegated to the status of a flight engineer with a rudimentary set of flight controls. LeMay's view was that the tandem cockpit sacrificed safety and he argued for side-by-side seating which some in the USAF viewed as more suitable for civilian aircraft than a high performance jet bomber.

Side-by-side seating allowed for larger cockpit instrumentation, some of which could be shared on a common instrument panel and the seating arrangement allowed for close coordination between the two pilots who could share full flying duties on long missions. LeMay's arguments won the day and in 1951 the design revision was accepted.

However, the XB-52 and the YB-52 were too far along in production to incorporate the change but it's not widely known that the change wasn't going to be implemented after the first several production aircraft were built. However, delays in the program allowed Boeing to fortuitously incorporate the side-by-side cockpit arrangement from the first production B-52A.

Source: Boeing's Cold War Warrior: B-52 Stratofortress by Robert F. Dorr and Lindsay Peacock. Osprey Publishing, 2000, p44-45.

12 August 2009

Despite the fact that the McDonnell Douglas F-4M Phantom II had the designation FGR.2 in RAF service (indicating fighter, ground attack and reconnaissance roles), only about 30 of the Royal Air Force's Phantom FGR.2s were actually reconnaissance-capable, having been modified to carry what was called the Phantom Reconnaissance Pod.

Built by EMI, the pod was based on a 500-gallon external tank, was 24 feet long, and weighed 2300 lbs. It contained five optical cameras, an infrared linescan unit, and a high-definition SLAR (sideways looking airborne radar). The film from the cameras could be developed inflight and theoretically ejected to ground forces to facilitate interpretation and dissemination.

Source: McDonnell Douglas F-4K and F-4M Phantom (Warpaint Series No. 31) by Steve Hazell. Hall Park Books, p33-34.

10 August 2009

Lebanon's first Hawker Hunters were six former RAF F.6s that were paid for by the United States in 1958. A further set of ex-Belgian Air Force Hunters were then added to the force in 1965-1966. A final order was placed in the 1975 with the deliveries completed in 1977 during a lull in the civil war. Operated by the 2nd Squadron of the Lebanese Air Force, the aircraft saw combat in the 1982-1983 conflict with two shot down and one heavily damaged. By the early 1990s the remaining Hunters were stored as the Lebanese Air Force concentrated its operations with helicopters.

With a new administration in place in 2008, the Lebanese Air Force planned to strengthen itself to replace the various militias around the nation. Quite remarkably, the stored Hunters are being returned to service with reports indicating at least six are now operational. It appears that the Hunters will be operated pending delivery of 6 to 8 BAe Hawk jet trainers from the United Arab Emirates Air Force.

Source: The Hawker Hunter: A Comprehensive Guide (Modelers Datafile 16) by Paul Bradley. SAM Publications, 2009, p35-36.

09 August 2009

As the Atlas ICBM entered service with the USAF in the late 1950s and early 1960s, there were numerous design changes taking place rapidly that would have to quickly disseminated from engineers at the Convair plant in San Diego where the missile were produced to Convair engineering liasons in the field that were assisting the USAF in standing up the Atlas ICBM force at bases throughout the country.

In most cases the changes being done flowed out from Convair and into the field. In on case, however, some inventive USAF base crew came up with fix that while ingenious, was potentially dangerous. At Francis E. Warren AFB in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the crews were having trouble with a water line that serviced an Atlas launch pad. It would freeze over easily due to the proximity of a liquid oxygen fuel line combined with the extreme winters in that part of the United States.

Base personnel built a wooden box around the problematic water line and filled it with horse manure. As the manure decomposed, it gave off heat that kept the water line from freezing. However, manure also made a great fuel source that combined with liquid oxygen could have had potentially explosive results. This was noted by a Convair field engineer who had it removed and being diligent, sent a memo back to Convair-San Diego about a change to not enact!

Source: Atlas- The Ultimate Weapon by Chuck Wallace with John Powell. Apogee Books, 2005, p71-72.

08 August 2009

Contrary to popular belief, QANTAS did not order its two Boeing 747SPs for the long distance Los Angeles to Sydney route. Rather, the airline's orignal plan was to use them to connect Sydney to New Zealand's capital, Wellington- located on the southern tip of the North Island of the New Zealand, Wellington had a short runway that made operations by regular 747s impossible. In addition, the airport was frequently affected by erratic winds and poor weather. QANTAS's original intent was to use the 747SP's ability to operate on shorter runways to serve Wellington with more profitable payloads despite the operational limits placed by the airport authorities for safety reasons.

The first QANTAS 747SP entered service on 6 February 1981 as QANTAS Flight 55 Sydney to Wellington, but had to divert to Auckland due to poor weather at Wellington.

Only QANTAS captains were allowed to land the 747SP at Wellington as the first officer monitored the approach which was conducted at 125 knots to insure that the landing could be made using the markers painted on the runway. Landing too fast, too high, or too long, was a mandatory go-around.

It wasn't until 1984 that the airline's 747SPs were used on the Sydney to Los Angeles route.

Source: Airways, November 2008. "QANTAS Double Trouble!" by Mac af Uhr, p51.

03 August 2009

In 1976 the leadership of the Military Airlift Command (MAC) were getting after-action reports from joint training exercises that the white top/gray color scheme of the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter fleet made the aircraft easy to spot even at long distances. At the time, the Aeronautical Systems Division (ASD) of the USAF had been testing a camouflage called Mask-10A that was IR-reflective and was being test-flown on the A-10. In July 1977 MAC asked that the Mask-10A be tested on the next Starlifter up for programmed depot maintenance. Testing showed the two-tone gray scheme added too much weight to the aircraft, absorbed dirt and grease too easily (it had a rough sandpaper like texture) and was difficult to wash. The aircraft had to fly in the Mask-10A scheme for two years before getting repainted in the camouflage scheme MAC ended up selecting, European One (two shades of green and dark gray).

At C-141 Heaven there is a great page of the actual aircraft as well as numerous pictures showing it in the Mask-10A scheme.

Source: C-141 Starlifter in Action (No. 1215) by John Burford. Squadron Signal Publications, 2009, p30.

02 August 2009

The USAF Thunderbirds converted from the F-100 Super Sabre to the F-4E Phantom in 1969 and at the time, it was the most extensive conversion carried out by the demonstration team. Because of the numerous metal alloys used in the Phantom's construction, instead of a baremetal base used previously, a special gloss white polyurethane paint was used as the base color that is still the base color used to this day.

With the 1973 oil crisis, the more economical aircraft was needed and the team transitioned to the Northrop T-38 Talon. The amount of fuel that a single F-4E used in a single air show could fuel five T-38 Talons doing the same show routine.

Source: The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II- A Comprehensive Guide for the Modeller, Part 1: USAF Variants (Modellers Datafile 12) by Andy Evans. SAM Publications, 2007, p104.

01 August 2009

In recent exercises, the Slovenian Air Force found that the PC-9 that are used as weapons trainers have such a low infrared signature that beyond 1000 meters lock-on is nearly impossible. In simulated engagements with F-16Cs of the US Air Forces Europe, the F-16s were unable to lock on to the PC-9s in a low-level engagement. The PC-9s used their high rate of turn of 30 degrees per second to turn inside the F-16s and fire a simulated AIM-9 with a successful "kill".

The counter to the low IR signature and turn rate of the PC-9 was to have a flight of F-16s at a higher altitude use their look down radar to provide targeting data for a low-flying second flight of F-16s.

Source: Air Forces Monthly, May 2008. "Slovenia's PC-9M Swift" by Emiel Sloot and Luc Honstra, p50.