31 August 2006

Flightdeck Friday!

P6M SeaMaster

Sea basing, you see, didn’t just spring from Sea Power 21. No, indeed it was the concept behind the most extreme, and last, seaplane the Navy considered buying back in the early 1950s. Developed as a parallel track/hedge to the first (cancelled) super carrier, the United States, the concept that evolved was centered on a large, fast jet powered seaplane capable of near Mach 1.0 speeds at low altitude, able to deliver the growing inventory of nuclear weapons in the US’s arsenal. Operating from dispersed locations in the littorals, this “Seaplane Striking Force” would provide a secure nuclear strike force that would not be tied to large, fixed and vulnerable airfields like the B-36 and B-52.

The design would be challenging from a number of aspects. In designing flying boats, a real compromise is called for between competing requirements for both aeronautical abilties whilst remaining a capable sea-craft. Usually festooned with pontoons to promote sea-keeping abilities, sea planes usually encountered large amounts of parasitic drag, slowing them as a result. Powered was usually via prop (radial or turbo-prop) powerplants as the use of jet engines with the copious amounts of air they sucked in, were considered problematic in the waterborne environment.

Rising to the occasion was Glenn Martin, noted designer of other seaplanes and some not so worthy conventional craft. Convair was the other competitor for the design, which was to carry 30,000 pounds of warload to a target over 1,500 miles from the seaplane's aquatic "base" and incorporate a low altitude dash of a Mach 0.9. On October 31, 1952, the Navy awarded Martin a contract for two prototypes, with the company designation of "Model 275" and the Navy designation of "XP6M-1", plus a static test article. This initial order would presently lead to further contracts for six pre-production service evaluation machines, with the designation of "YP6M-1", and up to 24 full-production machines, with the designation of "P6M-2".

The Martin design team was led by George Trimble, an aeronautical engineer who as head of the Martin advanced design department; J.D. Pierson, a hydrodynamicist; and J.L. Decker, a aerodynamicist. Using the P5M Marlin flying boat as a starting point, they developed a revised hull design, with a length-to-beam ratio of 15:1, which was felt to offer the best efficiency in both air and water. The XP5M-1 Marlin flying boat prototype was rebuilt to test the new hull design, with this test aircraft designated the "Martin Model 270".

The original powerplant was supposed to have been a Curtis-Wright turbo-ramjet engine, but the engine development program ran into trouble, and so the decision was made to fit the SeaMaster with four Allison J71-A-4 turbojet engines with 13,000 lb afterburning thrust each, mounted in pairs in nacelles above the wing near the wing roots. The J71 was a derivative of the J35 axial-flow turbojet, used on the Republic F-84 Thunderjet, and originally developed by General Electric as the TG-180 but passed on to Allison for full production.

The wings featured a sweepback of 40 degrees and ended in wingtip tanks that served as floats. The wingtip floats were also fitted with gear to help dock the aircraft. The SeaMaster was to have a pressurized cockpit and crew of four, including pilot, copilot, navigator / radio operator, and flight engineer.

The SeaMaster leveraged off Martin's advanced XB-51 attack bomber design, with features such as an "all flying" tee tail and a rotating bomb bay. The bomb bay flipped over in flight to expose munitions or camera payloads, and was pneumatically sealed to keep it watertight. The sole defensive armament was a remote-controlled tail turret with twin 20 millimeter cannon.

The first SeaMaster prototype was rolled out in secret on 21 December 1954, and performed its first flight on 14 July 1955, with Martin test pilot George Rodney at the controls. The flight test program revealed only one serious flaw: the engines scorched the rear fuselage, and so the use of afterburner had to be limited.

The Navy publicly announced the SeaMaster in November 1955, inviting the press to witness the rollout of the second XP6M-1 prototype. Unlike the first prototype, the second prototype was fitted with operational navigation and bombing gear. The test program continued smoothly until December 7, 1955, two days after the death of Glenn L. Martin. During a routine check flight for the first Navy pilot, the initial SeaMaster prototype crashed into Chesapeake Bay, killing all four aircrew on board.

The post-mortem revealed a control-system fault that caused the aircraft to pitch nose down, bending its wings down and ripping them off. The second SeaMaster prototype was refitted with new flight instrumentation and ejection seats. Test flights finally resumed in May 1956. Unfortunately, the second prototype went out of control in November during a flight test of a modified tail configuration. The aircraft broke up, but the crew were able to eject safely. The problem was traced to an error in the design calculations for the tail control system.

Despite the loss of both prototypes, the Navy still remained enthusiastic about the SeaMaster. A beaching cradle was designed to allow SeaMasters to taxi in and out of the water, and two LSDs (landing ship docks), two seaplane tenders, and the submarine USS GUAVINA were sent to shipyards to fit them as SeaMaster support vessels. A home base was set up at Naval Air Station Harvey Point, near Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

The first pre-production YP6M-1 was rolled out in November 1957, with flight tests resuming in January 1958. It featured afterburning Allison J71-A-6 engines, which were visibly "toed out" to reduce the effect of exhaust blast on the rear fuselage. The engine inlets were also moved back from the leading edge of the wing, presumably to reduce water ingestion. Five more YP6M-1s were built in 1958 and participated in an extensive flight test program, performing practice drops of conventional and (dummy) nuclear munitions, and evaluating day and night photoreconnaissance pallets.

The first production P6M-2 was rolled out in early 1959. The production SeaMaster featured more powerful non-afterburning Pratt & Whitney J75-P-2 turbojet engines with 17,500 lb max thrust each, providing a total increase of 12,000 lb thrust, and permitting a substantial increase in gross weight. The engine installation was visibly different: the engine exhausts in the XP6M-1 and YP6M-2 had been staggered, but they were parallel in the P6M-2.

Early in 1959 production P6M-2's began to emerge from the Martin plant, and the full potential of the design was realized. Installation of newly developed Pratt and Whitney J75 engines gave the P6M-2's nearly 12,000 more pounds of static thrust. This allowed the gross weight to be increased to 195,000 pounds from 171,000 pounds in the YP's. Increased weight meant a greater draft for the hull, which in turn necessitated raising the wing anhedral to zero degrees. Other improvements included full-visibility canopies and transistorized Sperry navigation and bombing systems. Production P6M-2's were equipped with midair refueling probes, and "buddy-pack" refueling kits were designed to fit inside SeaMaster bomb-bays, allowing fast conversion into tankers.

Pilots reported that the planes handled well and were capable of flying Mach .89 "on the deck." This was important, as the development of radar-guided surface-to-air missiles had made low-level flying an essential part of strategic penetration missions. The SeaMaster's wings were especially strong for the extra stress of high speeds through thick air; the aluminum skin at the wing roots was an inch thick. By contrast, the Air Force's B-47 could only manage about Mach .58 at low altitude, the newer B-52 only .55.

By the summer of 1959 all-Navy crews had begun flying three P6M-2's completed so far, and it appeared that operations could begin by early 1960. Rising costs, however, had led to two cutbacks, reducing the number of production items to eighteen, then eight. Then the bottom dropped out altogether. Citing "unforeseen technical difficulties," the Navy cancelled the entire program on August 21.

The decision was and still is highly controversial. More than $400 million had been spent on equipping the SSF, but during its long gestation period newer technologies had emerged. The development of the Polaris ballistic missile and submarine had finally given the Navy its strategic deterrent. Further, the atomic powered carrier Enterprise was going into service with long range nuclear capable strike aircraft, namely, the A3D Skywarriors and supersonic A3J Vigilantes.

Stunned, Martin engineers and executives tried to generate interest in an eight-jet transport version of the P6M, whimsically dubbed the SeaMistress, a huge nuclear-powered flying boat, and a supersonic seaplane somewhat resembling the Air Force Canberra. But there were no takers. Martin Chairman George Bunker announced that the company was now in the missile and electronics business. Fifty years of aircraft design and production was at an end.

Of the SeaMaster program little remains. The aircraft languished on the D Building ramp at Middle River for over a year after the cancellation before being scrapped. The "flying tails" and two rear fuselage sections were sent to Navy test facilities, while two sets of wing floats were used by a Martin supervisor to build a catamaran. Two tails, one fuselage section, and wing floats now belong to the Glenn L. Martin Aviation Museum.

P6M-2 SeaMaster

Wing Span 102 feet, 11 inches
Length 134 feet
Height 32 feet, 5 inches
Wing Area 1,900 sq. feet
Empty Weight 91,285 lbs.
Max Loaded Weight 176,400 lbs.
Maximum speed 630 mph
Service Ceiling 40,000 ft
Range 2,000 miles

* Maximum speed: 550 kt (630 mph, 1,010 km/h)
* Range: 1,700 nm (2,000 mi, 3,200 km)
* Service ceiling: 40,000 ft (12,000 m)
* Rate of climb: ft/min (m/s)
* Wing loading: 63 lb/ft² (310 kg/m²)
* Thrust/weight: 0.58

* Guns: 2× 20 mm cannon in tail turret
* Bombs: 30,000 lb (14,000 kg)





Next week -- Liberty's over time to get back aboard the CV and get underway. The junior service has a tradition of taking Navy designs and employing them with success. This one though, did not give much hint of the heraldry that would follow in the skies over Korea in it's better known form...

29 August 2006

What Army are you -- paint me British...?

Yeah, yeah, I know -- what's a Navy guy doing wondering what kind of army he is, but somethings look to be too much fun to resist...anyway here's my results:

You scored as British and the Commonwealth. Your army is the British and the Commonwealth (Canada, ANZAC, India). You want to serve under good generals and use good equipment in defense of the western form of life.

British and the Commonwealth






Soviet Union




United States


France, Free French and the Resistance






In which World War 2 army you should have fought?
created with QuizFarm.com

(h/t John @ Milblogs)

28 August 2006

Reflections on the Upcoming 5th Anniversary of 9/11

Folks, we're two weeks out and the vermin and carrion eaters are crawling out from the shadows. On the one hand, you have those who wouldn't mind another 9/11 if in the aftermath their political agenda is met. So a few innocents get off'd in the process, well, you know, it's "All For The Greater Good." Retch.

Then there's that bellwhether of considered thought and voice of reason -- you know, the BBC? Their plan? Well, check it out for yourself (h/t to the Phibian for smoking this one out -- look for "A Very American Witchhunt").

Pushing the above aside, there is, I think, a way we can remember this date in a manner giving due to those who were lost that terrible day. Go here (2996 project). Sign-up -- there are less than 103 names left to sign up for. Don't give publicity to the ones who planned and executed this evil event -- time's enough elsewhere to do so. Let's remember instead those who have left us and the ones that were left behind (the injured, the families and friends). (Update 29 Aug -- the 2996th name was claimed yesterday.)

Mind you, I'm not saying or advocating to forget -- I never shall. The day prior, I shall post my recollection from ground zero at the Pentagon, but the 11th is reserved for Collin Arthur Bonnett (NYC -- World Trade Center) and my shipmates from N513 and N3N5 and will be spent in quiet prayer and reflection.

What are your plans?

27 August 2006

The 'Conversation...' - Pt II

(Part I here)
Vital statistics:
Built: 7 Aug ust 2006
Delivered: 23 August 2006
Mileage by 27 August 2006: 730

...yeah, it's all that ...

26 August 2006

Saturday Comics

...and this is why nukes have PALs (well, one reason at least):

And whist you are tripping the blogsphere fantastic, check out this great blog, rife with the humor endemic in Naval Aviation.

Enjoy your weekend! - SJS

23 August 2006

Flightdeck Friday!

1212L/0812Z 16 June 1959. 78 nm east of Wonsan, North Korea, a P4M Mercator assigned to VQ-1 (BuNo 122209) is conducting another “ferret” mission in international airspace over the Sea of Japan. At the controls are LCDRs Don Mayer and Vince Anania. Fours hours into the mission a pair of silver MiG-17s approach the Mercator from high-astern, already commencing attack runs. Opening fire on the P4M the fighters make a series of attacks, striking and seriously wounding the gunner on the second pass. Diving from an operating altitude of 6500 ft, the Mercator strains for the presumed safety of the deck. The attackers continue until the P4m levels off fifty feet above the water, two engines out and severely damaged, barely staying airborne. Breaking off their attacks the MiGs head back to North Korea while the crew of the Mercator struggle and pray to get the aircraft back to the Japanese airbase at Miho, a top cover of USAF fighters finally overhead to provide escort duties. This crew was fortunate – unlike another P4M crew shot down off Shanghai with the loss of all hands back in 1956, BuNo 122209 would make it back to base, though not to fly again. Thus was another entry made in the blood log of the Cold War reconnaissance missions flown by Navy, Air Force and other Service and Agency crews during the Cold War.

One of the first platforms specifically modified for this mission was the Martin P4M Mercator. Originally conceived and fielded in competition with the better known Lockheed P2V Neptune, the Mercator was bought in a relatively small quantity and subsequently modified to the electronic reconnaissance mission or ELINT, with the designation of P4M-1Q. Assigned to VQ-1 (Pacific) and VQ-2 (Atlantic) the Mercator was well regarded by the crews who flew it. Larger than the Neptune and powered by a hybrid power plant consisting of two Pratt & Whitney R4360 Wasp Major 28-cylinder radial engines, the P4M was 100 knts faster than its Lockheed rival when using the auxiliary jet engines. For take-off and other portions of the mission requiring extra boost, a pair of J-33 turbojets (De Havilland Goblin clones) was fitted in the rear of the two enlarged engine nacelles, the intakes being beneath and behind the radial engines. The jets, like those on most other piston/jet hybrids, burned gasoline, not jet fuel. With a fuselage built around a large bomb bay, the Mercator had ample room for a host of ELINT gear, supporting antennas and the crew to man it. Up front, pilots particularly enjoyed the view provided from the convex canopy and comfortable seating positions, essential for the 8+hour missions the ferrets flew. Heavy defensive armament was fitted, with two 20 mm cannon in an Emerson nose turret and a Martin tail turret, and two 0.5 in (12.7 mm) machine-guns in a Martin dorsal turret. Side window gun positions were [art of the original design but later discarded.

The ELINT mission was a necessary, but perilous mission. Sometimes it consisted of just drilling holes off the coast of countries of interest, collecting whatever signals may be in the air. Other times missions were flown in a manner to deliberately provoke a response in an attempt to collect against special air defense emitters. It was a necessary mission as in those days the nuclear strike capability of the US was limited to long-range bombers that would have to penetrate the thickets of air defense radars and fighters to deliver their weapons. Other aircraft flying the mission included PB4Ys, RB-29s and RB-50s, and RB-45s, as well as C-47s camouflaged as transports, all sufering losses as well. Later, more specialized aircraft would assume the mission with the appearance of the U-2, SR-71, RC-135 and EP-3.

Besides the Mercator lost off Shanghai and the other that successfully recovered in Japan, a third Mercator was lost over the Mediterranean when it crashed at sea with the loss of all hands after successfully evading Soviet MiGs over the Ukraine when it ran out of fuel. Entering service in 1950, by 1960, the Mercator had been replaced in VQ-1 and -2 with the EA-3B Skywarrior. There are no known examples left.

In Honor of those who served in the shadows and paid the ultimate price

Next week: It floats, it flys, it delivers nukes and was the Navy's hedge and presumed answer to the B-52 -- the P6M Seamaster

Initiative and Decisiveness: Here's one from the "Able Dogs"

Recent discussion over in Lex's ready room on resurrection of the COIN mission and supporting aircraft types sent your humble scribe over to the Able Dog's site for some refresher training. In so doing, stumbled across this story that is timeless in its telling and lesson. Reproduced in part here in the hope that you, gentle reader, will visit and explore the home of the SPAD... (oh, and some good Crusader stories are found there too) - SJS

That is your target, attack!
CAPT George Carlton, USN (Ret.)

One night in the spring of 1966, tasked with a road recce south of Vinh,
North Vietnam, we were kept mostly "feet wet" as the weather on shore was well
below minimums with low ceilings and squalls. A flight of four AD-6s from the
VA-215 Barnowls, we were loaded with full 20mm ammo, magnesium parachute flares,
19-shot packs of 2.75 inch rockets, 250 and 500 pound bombs. After several
unsuccessful attempts to reach our assigned road segment, the bad weather
prevailed and as flight leader I decided to proceed to Danang for a
radar-controlled drop. Over the Gulf of Tonkin the weather was better with
ceilings rising to above seven thousand feet to the east.

Faced with persistent ordnance shortages during the spring of 1966, we
had several options for disposing of unexpected ordnance, after every effort to
put it on assigned or secondary targets had been expended. We routinely landed
back aboard with 20mm ammo and rockets, but bombs were another matter. The radar
controlled drop program at Danang was a good choice but not always an option due
to time and fuel constraints. After checking in with the controller at Danang
and establishing positive radar contact, the controller would vector the flight
(usually north toward the DMZ), assigning heading, airspeed and altitude. Having
advised the controller of the load to be expended (typically four to five bombs
per aircraft 250-1000 pounders), the internal system (a mystery to us) chose the
target and computed the dynamics of the drop. We could drop all at once or trail
the releases on interval. The controller called the shots and we dropped on
command, usually from around 12,000 feet, usually in foul weather and often at
night. Not seeing the targets was a frustration, compounded by never receiving
any bomb damage assessment (BDA)-all in all something of a hush-hush

22 August 2006

Braindead Politicians

Black Five covers it well here as does John at Argghhh! $223M for a bridge to nowhere, but an additional $7M for troops suffering brain injuries? Nooo... Mere words fail to describe the depths this Congress continues to plumb. Pathetic. Lamentable. Wretched. Piteous. --umm, no, they all seem so...inadequate.

"It's the End of the World as we know it..."

"But I feel Fine..." (h/t R.E.M. )

Welcome to Aug 22, or, as it is known in other quarters, the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427 -- the significance of which was first highlighted here . Suffice to say- we're still here. It may have been that the thwarted British Muslim plot to bomb airliners bound for the US may have been the surprise planned for today. If so, good (again) on those Brit and US agencies who thwarted the plan. And yes, count me in the camp that approves of the use of wiretapping and following the money trail to kill these kinds of plans. As will be noted on these pages when we close on the 5th anniversary of Sept 11, your scribe has a close, personal interest in matters of this kind.
The question may be asked as to how did we get to the point where there is such significance attached to this date, especially on a Muslim calendar which appears overpopulated with observances? It certainly didn't come from Mike Wallace's kiss-up interview -- all we needed to see there was ol' Mike stepping off the plane and waving a document proclaiming 'peace in our time.' Provided instead (in its entirety) is a cogent article from Patrick Poole on the roots of Ahmadinejad's messianic views. Normally I would follow with "enjoy" -- instead "read and beware."

Ahmadinejad’s Apocalyptic Faith
By Patrick PooleFrontPageMagazine.com August 17, 2006
(via Pajamas Media , h/t: Instapundit )

When Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes recently sat down in Tehran with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for an interview, perhaps the most important questions were the ones that went unasked. They talked about Hezbollah, nuclear weapons, Israel and President Bush, but the one question that ties all of these together in Ahmadinejad’s mind is his religious faith. It is the prism through which he views all of these other policy issues, which is why it is of singular importance to understand the ideology that drives this man. This was apparently lost on Mike Wallace.
No one can accuse Ahmadinejad of being circumspect about the religious views that shape his worldview. He speaks on those views quite frequently, but they are a taboo subject for Westerners unaccustomed to thinking that is self-consciously religious. The reactionary response is to dismiss it as mental instability or label it as “fundamentalist”, but facing the reality of a nuclear Iran, such a reaction is not only short-sighted and narrow minded, but possibly suicidal.

Ahmadinejad’s worldview is shaped by the radical Hojjatieh Shiism that is best represented by Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, the Iranian President’s ideological mentor and marja-e taqlid (object of emulation), of the popular Haqqani religious school located in Qom. The affection seems to be mutual: in the 2005 Iranian presidential campaign, Ayatollah Yazdi issued a fatwa calling on his supporters to vote for Ahmadinejad.

The Hojjatieh movement is considered to be so radical that it was banned in 1983 by the Ayatollah Khomeini and is still opposed by the majority of the Iranian clerics, including the Supreme Leader of the Supreme National Security Council, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei. That should be telling in and of itself. That opposition notwithstanding, it is believed that several adherents of the Hojjatieh sect are in Cabinet-level positions in Ahmadinejad’s government.

Most Shiites await the return of the 12th Shiite Imam, Muhammad ibn Hasan, the last direct male descendent of the Prophet Mohammed’s son-in-law Ali, who disappeared in 874AD and is believed to be in an invisible, deathless state of existene, or “occultation”, awaiting his return. Though it is discounted even by the most extremist clerics, a popular belief in Iran holds that the 12th Imam, also called the Mahdi or the sahib-e zaman (“the Ruler of Time”), lives at the bottom of a well in Jamkaran, just outside of Qom. Devotees drop written requests into the well to communicate with the Mahdi. His reappearance will usher in a new era of peace as Islam vanquishes all of its enemies. The Sunnis, who reject the successors of Ali, believe that the Mahdi has yet to be born.

But rooted in the Shiite ideology of martyrdom and violence, the Hojjatieh sect adds messianic and apocalyptic elements to an already volatile theology. They believe that chaos and bloodshed must precede the return of the 12th Imam, called the Mahdi. But unlike the biblical apocalypse, where the return of Jesus is preceded by waves of divinely decreed natural disasters, the summoning of the Mahdi through chaos and violence is wholly in the realm of human action. The Hojjatieh faith puts inordinate stress on the human ability to direct divinely appointed events. By creating the apocalyptic chaos, the Hojjatiehs believe it is entirely in the power of believers to affect the Mahdi’s reappearance, the institution of Islamic government worldwide, and the destruction of all competing faiths.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has clearly indicated that he is a true believer in this faith. It has been reported that he has told confidants that he anticipates the immanent return of the Mahdi. When he previously served as Mayor of Tehran, he advocated for widening the roads to accommodate the Mahdi’s triumphal entry into the city. One of his first acts of office as President was to dedicate approximately $20 million to the restoration and improvement of the mosque at Jamkaran, where the Mahdi is claimed to dwell.

This personal belief directs his official policies as President. He has publicly said, “Our revolution’s main mission is to pave the way for the reappearance of the 12th Imam, the Mahdi. We should define our economic, cultural and political policies on the policy of the Imam Mahdi’s return.”

However, Ahmadinejad’s messianism doesn’t stop with the Mahdi. In fact, he has made it clear that he believes he has personally received a divine appointment to herald the imminent arrival of the Mahdi, tacitly acknowledging his own role in setting aright the problems of the world.

His belief in a personal divine appointment was best confirmed after his speech to the United Nations last September, which was laden with references to the Mahdi. Upon his return to Iran, he met with Ayatollah Javadi-Amoli, where the two discussed an alleged paranormal occurrence while Ahmadinejad spoke wherein he related to the cleric:

On the last day when I was speaking, one of our group told me that when I started to say 'Bismillah Muhammad,' he saw a green light come from around me, and I was placed inside this aura. I felt it myself. I felt that the atmosphere suddenly changed, and for those 27 or 28 minutes, all the leaders of the world did not blink. When I say they didn't move an eyelid, I'm not exaggerating. They were looking as if a hand was holding them there, and had just opened their eyes – Alhamdulillah!

As the recipient of this divine appointment, he not only a leading actor in what he believes is a divine drama taking place on the world stage, but it also feeds the Gnostic elitism inherent in Hojjatieh ideology. Not only are his acts reflective of divine inspiration, they are also above questioning. As an interview back in May with Der Spiegel, while talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this “populist” makes clear his lack of enthusiasm for popular sovereignty:

It does not make sense that a phenomenon depends on the opinions of many individuals who are free to interpret the phenomenon as they wish. You can't solve the problems of the world that way. We need a new approach. Of course we want the free will of the people to reign, but we need sustainable principles that enjoy universal acceptance - such as justice.

Another part of his divine mission is confronting infidel world leaders and inviting them to accept Islam – a necessary step in Islamic warfare before attacking an opponent. In May, Ahmadinejad sent President Bush an 18-page letter calling for a change in the Bush Administration’s foreign polices and challenging him to embrace Islam. A similar letter was sent to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Robert Spencer of JihadWatch immediately recognized Ahmadinejad’s letter as a call to accept Islam – an opinion that Ahmadinejad later confirmed – that contextualized his respective letters as a pretext for future military confrontation and escalation.

Referring to his letter in his 60 Minutes interview, Ahmadinejad made it clear that rejection of his personal invitation to Islam would invite personal destruction for President Bush:

Please give him this message, sir. Those who refuse to accept an invitation to good will not have a good ending or fate.

The confrontational approach taken by Ahmadinejad colors his official decision-making as President of the Islamic Republic. The kidnapping of the Israeli solider by Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, resulted in the conflict between Israel and the terrorist organization that has killed more than a thousand people in Lebanon and Israel and displaced more than a million citizens in both countries. This provocative act by Hezbollah had to have the approval of Ahmadinejad and reflects the belligerence that marks virtually all of his policies related to the Middle East region and Iran’s relations with the West.

But it is the apocalyptic element to Ahmadinejad’s faith combined with Iran’s nuclear ambitions that should draw the most serious attention. He believes that a great cataclysm of bloodshed anticipates the return of the 12th Imam, in particular the destruction of infidels – Jews and Christians – that will usher in a new dawn of Islamic worldwide dominance.

With Israel in range of Iranian missiles, he has promised to “wipe Israel off the map”. Here Ahmadinejad draws from what Andrew Bostom recently identified as a theological current within the broader confines of Islam that holds that the destruction of the Jews will inaugurate the appearance of the Mahdi. Other Hojjatieh ideologues, such as one of Ayatollah Yazdi’s chief students, Mohsen Ghorourian, have openly advocated the use of nuclear weapons to assert Iranian/Islamic preeminence over Israel and the West.

In recent weeks Islam scholars have noted how Ahmadinejad’s selection of August 22nd to respond to the UN’s demand to cease the Iranian uranium enrichment program has roots in Quranic mythology. On July 27th, Robert Spencer wrote for FrontPage that this date corresponds to Muhammed’s “Night Journey” and ascension into heaven recounted in Islamic lore. Two weeks later, noted Islamic scholar Bernard Lewis reitterated these same concerns about the date chosen by Ahmadinejad’s government to respond to the UN’s demands. Could a nuclear event or other terrorist attacks directed against Israel, the West, or both, by Iran deliberately timed to coincide to utilize the perceived power of Islamic myth be in store? The scenario is not far-fetched.

Some commentators have dismissed the notion that Iran might launch an attack that would precipitate a catastrophic response from Israel and the US, relying on the Cold War logic of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). But yet again, the religious ideology that permeates the mind of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is extremely important to understand.

The whole structure of Shiite belief is built around a cult of martyrdom that assumes lethal retribution by the infidels against the true believers for their righteous conduct. Ahmadinejad constantly utilizes the Shiite images and slogans relating to martyrdom, as can be seen in his comments this past February in a speech reported by the IRNA:

We are all obliged to keep alive the culture of martyrdom-seeking in the society. Culture of martyrdom-seeking is our most effective weapon and best guarantee for our national security. Ruthless enemies who have a chronic enmity against our country and our nation have not succeeded in achieving their objectives so far thanks to the existence of this culture of martyrdom-seeking among our nation. He who is ready for martyrdom is always victorious. Martyrdom is the peak of mankind's perfection and the martyrs enjoy the highest status of humanity in this world and the Hereafter. People spend tough years of strenuous work in a bid to achieve the peaks of grandeur and pride, while our dear martyrs achieved those high peaks in shortest possible time.

An attack launched by Israel or the US that would kill tens or hundreds of thousands of Iranians would only serve to confirm the self-fulfilling prophecy of Shiite martyrdom and vindicate Ahmadinejad’s suicidal policies. In his mind, an apocalyptic act of self-initiated martyrdom unparalleled in Islamic history would undoubtedly serve to jump start the arrival of the Mahdi. In his religious calculus, the use of nuclear weapons is a win-win scenario. Such actions are not only entirely appropriate, but divinely sanctioned and wholly justified by the messianic and apocalyptic elements that Ahmadinejad and his ideological allies have attached to the Shiite martyrdom mythology.

We should then seriously consider the practical consequences of Ahmadinejad’s religious worldview and ask how this knowledge should help shape our foreign policy with regards to Iran and their nuclear ambitions. The political leaders in the West should understand that the Shiite and Hojjatieh beliefs play an integral role in shaping Ahmadinejad’s understanding of reality.

When he says that Iran’s nuclear development program are peaceful, he really means it. He has in mind the universal Islamic peace that will be established with the return of the Mahdi, and if rivers of infidel blood have to be shed to accomplish it, his religious faith leads him to understand that such is part of the divine plan. That is the way that ultimate “peace” will finally be achieved. And when he states that Israel will be “wiped off the map”, he unshakably believes that as well because it has been crafted into the overall religious narrative that guides his policies.

Because of this, we should understand that there is no negotiating position acceptable to them except for the complete and unconditional submission of the non-Muslim world to the rule of shari’a. Diplomacy is a vain illusion when dealing with adherents of this apocalyptic worldview. They have constructed an ideology where the most extreme actions on their part are not only justified, but divinely sanctioned; and all retributive responses by the “infidels” accounted for.

There is a glimmer of hope, however. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stands at the fringe of Iranian politics (which should illustrate how relative a term as “fringe” can actually be). Most hard line clerics do not share his vision and he is opposed by some of the leading politicians in Iran, like former President Rafsanjani. Our response should exploit those divisions. But that can only be done if we are relentless in constantly checking every move that Ahmadinejad makes. He cannot be allowed even the slightest victory. Allowing him any breathing room or agreeing to any concessions is fraught with extreme peril. A persistent escalation of hostilities between Iran and the US may force the hard line clerics to deal with Ahmadinejad on their own out of sheer self-preservation.

In conclusion, this brief examination has been intended to demonstrate that current Iranian policy is designed to vindicate the self-fulfilling prophecy of Ahmadinejad’s apocalyptic and messianic beliefs. This highlights that regardless of what West chooses to believe, we are in a religious war and we must fight it as such. At some point, we will be forced to take actions designed to shake their faith – a prospect that will not be well met by the postmodern pluralistic forces in the West. But the West and Israel is not the only one threatened: the Islamic world itself, Sunni and Shiite alike, is held hostage by this extremist religious ideology. When the day of reckoning comes for Iran, may our leaders fully understand the religious dimensions of the threat and have the nerve to do what is needed to protect our interests and security in both the short and long term. In this battle, there will be no substitute for victory.

21 August 2006

Powerpoint Riposte

Your humble scribe is back from TDY to the land of real mountains and clear air -- but a land also infected with the blot of PPT-itis. Alas, he returns to the epicenter of all that is malodorous about this infliction from Redmond, to find his classified and unclassified email boxes packed to the gills with -- you guessed it, more PPT briefs. Taking the prize was the 87mb, 112 page magnum opus from the engineers, with only 10 slides in back-up. The scribe dost believe there is a special circle in Hell reserved for originators of such works, coresident with traffic engineers from VDOT (that's Virginia Dept. of Transportation). Special pitchforks to those who produce briefs greater than 10mb -- you get the loop that has the engineers who designed the Springfield Interchange as your fellow travelers. Fear not, there is still time to repent of your evil ways. Remember the 10/20/30 Rule, or else...
(h/t: Chapomatic and enrevanche )

17 August 2006

Flightdeck Friday! (Part 2)

Continuing from yesterday's posting, today we look at some of the unique aspects of the Ford's operational history.

Flying the Ford:

The Ford, besides having a noteworthy climb rate, was also very maneuverable, featuring an incredible roll rate. One Navy test pilot who flew the Skyray said that Air Force chase-plane pilots were desperate to find a USAF machine that could out-turn it. As mentioned earlier though, the Ford did have weaknesses, significant ones. Along with its agility came a degree of instability, particularly in the critical transonic speed range, a steep glide ratio, being described as a "lead sled" and handling that some reported "bordered on the bizarre." In the hands of a skilled pilot it displayed promise (realized in the canceled follow-on F5D Skylancer), but could be a handful for a relatively inexperienced pilot. Modern digital fly-by-wire flight control systems would have tamed the Skyray, even exploited its instability to optimize maneuverability, but such things were almost unimaginable in its day.

Stability is regarded as a good feature for carrier landings, and getting a Skyray on deck could be tricky, one pilot saying that was where "the Ford really got your attention." It tended to "skid out" when the landing gear was lowered, because one main gear would drop before the other. Another Skyray pilot commented on watching one of his colleagues make "seven unsuccessful passes at the deck. We thought we might have to shoot him down, but on the eighth attempt he landed." The F4D-1 had a high AOA on its critical carrier approach, but pilots claimed the forward visibility was excellent and that was not such a problem.

Takeoffs could be tricky -- the main gear didn't go up together, either, causing the aircraft to skid out again -- though once pilots got used to the Ford they didn't have a problem with it. However, it was regarded as something of an amusement to watch green pilots try to get it off the deck. In general, it seems that the Ford's eccentricities were not regarded by most pilots as anything all that threatening, and those who enjoyed flying the machine said its idiosyncracies helped make it fun to fly.

The F4D also had a number of difficulties common among jet fighters of its generation. The cockpit was an ergonomic nightmare;with pilots complaining that the stick blocked the view of the radar display. A Navy ground crewman lifted two small mirrors from his wife and fitted them into a cardboard frame to build a periscope so the pilot could actually see the radar screen over the top of the stick. This scheme worked so well that the Navy ordered construction of a formal periscope with a plastic housing, and installed them in Fords in service as standard gear.

The F4D's range left something to be desired -- it was always flown with external tanks -- and the reliability of its subsystems, again a hallmark of aircraft of that era, was poor. Pilots had no confidence in unguided rocket packs for interception. The folding-fin rockets jinked around like crazy until the fins deployed, and the usual comment was "it was a wonder anybody could hit anything with them." Attacks on target drones apparently bore this out.

NORAD Operations:

The Ford’s interceptor qualities were formally recognized when VF(AW)-3 was “chopped” to NORAD for continental defense. Flying out of San Diego, the squadron’s aircraft were painted in one of the better recognized schemes in an era of already colorful Naval aircraft. As the only Navy squadron, VFAW-3 twice won NORAD’s trophy for best performing unit, placing above USAF squadrons in the process. During this time, VFAW-3 was deployed to Key West for the Cuban Missile crisis. That and a deployment to Taiwan in 1958 were the nearest the Ford would get to combat action.

Final Operations:

Eventually events conspired against the Ford – a shift towards multi-purpose aircraft as embodied by the new F4H Phantom and cancellation of a follow-on (F5D Skylancer) in favor of the F8U Crusader brought the Ford line to an end. A total of 419 production F4D-1s were built, the last was delivered on December 22, 1958. At least 230 others were cancelled. In September 1962, the F4D-1 was re-designated the F-6A under the new tri-service designation system, but was in service with only 4 frontline squadrons, all shore-based. The last active duty squadron to fly the Ford was VMF(AW)-542 in November 1963. The last Ford left service in February 1964.

Special Missions:

Because of its climb capabilities, the Ford participated in some extraordinary programs, some of which attempted to place a satellite into space from a rocket launched off the Skyray. Initially unsuccessful in the NOTSNIK/Project PILOT program, the follow-on, Project CALEB. The CALEB vehicle (NOTS-EV-2) was designed as an air-launched four-stage all-solid rocket vehicle capable of orbiting tiny satellites. The stages were a NOTS-500, an ABL X-248, a NOTS-100A and a small spherical NOTS motor. The orbital Caleb program was cancelled under pressure from the USAF which wanted to monopolize the satellite launching program, but the NOTS continued the program for suborbital missions. The first test launch, with one live stage only, occurred on 28 July 1960 from an F4D-1 Skyray aircraft and successfully placed an object in a sub-orbital trajectory.

The Ford was also used as a drone control aircraft, sporting another particularly colorful scheme in the process. One of its last duty posts was at the Navy Test Pilots School, where it was used to give students familiarity with how an unstable aircraft flew. Despite its idiosyncracies, the Ford appears to be remembered with some affection, tempered by an awareness of its peculiarities.

Specifications (F4D-1):

  • Performance: Maximum speed 722 mph at sea level, 695 mph at 36,000 feet. Cruising speed 520 mph. Initial climb rate 18,300 feet per minute. Service ceiling 55,000 feet. Combat ceiling 51,000 feet. Landing speed 134 mph. Normal range 700 miles, maximum range 1200 miles.
  • Weights: 16,024 pounds empty, 22,648 pounds combat, 25,000 pounds gross, 27,116 pounds maximum.
  • Internal fuel capacity: 640 US gallons; w/2 x 150- or 300-US gallon drop tanks total maximum fuel capacity was 1240 US gallons.
Museum Skyrays:

Examples may be found in many locations, but the best example is Pensacola, Fl. If you haven't been there yet -- you owe it to found in the National Museum of Naval Aviation, located in yourself to put this branch of the Smithsonian Institute's holdings on your travel itenerary.


Next week: We go ashore for a look at an aircraft that operated in obscurity but provided invaluable intelligence, sometimes at great sacrifice – the Martin P4M Mercator.

16 August 2006

Flightdeck Friday! (Part 1)

(The Scribe is flying back to occupied Virginia Friday, hence the early publication)

Presented this week: The Douglas F4D/F-6A Skyray. Another of Ed Heinemann’s now-classic designs, the F4D counted a number of firsts in its history, but like the F3H, would be victimized by the Westinghouse J-40. In its short life, the F4D (or as popularly known, “Ford”) claimed a world’s absolute speed record, the first for a carrier-based aircraft and several time-to-climb records. An interceptor by design, it served for a time with the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) as well as equipping Marine and Reserve units. The Ford is a personal favorite of your humble scribe – be warned then that this will be an especially image-intensive article this week and as such, Flightdeck Friday will be presented in two parts.


In 1947, the Navy opened competition for a delta-winged carrier-based fighter based on analysis of studies made during the war by German aeronautical engineer Dr. Alexander Lippisch. Of particular interest was the use in fast climbing interceptors. The Air Force was interested as well and Convair was busy with its interpretation which first flew in 1948 as the XF-92 and would later lead to the F-102 and F-106 (and XF2Y-1, which will be the subject of a future Flightdeck Friday). The aircraft would be powered by an afterburning version of Westinghouse’s experimental 7000 lb.s.t. Westinghouse XJ40-WE-6. Douglas was chosen over several other competitors and a contract let for a preliminary design.

As it evolved from the design process, the design concept stepped away from a pure delta planform to one that featured mid-mounted, low aspect ratio swept wings with rounded tips. Wing root mounted intakes provided air for the single engine buried in the fuselage, which also provided space for additional fuel. Heinemann, all too aware of the problems with the Westinghouse engine, designed the fuselage with considerably extra room to allow the use of other engines should the J40 fail to make it to production. The wing featured leading edge slats and elevons. Armament included 4 x 20mm cannon.


Pleased with what they saw, the Navy awarded a contract for 2 prototypes, to be called the XF4D-1 Skyray, in late 1948. The airframe was completed two years later, but the engine had experienced development delays and was late. In its place, Douglas installed the Allison J35-A-17 (rated at 5Klb thrust). First flight was January 1951 and an order for an initial batch of 12 aircraft followed in Feb 1951.

Although seriously underpowered with the J35, the F4D nevertheless demonstrated admirable flight characteristics and when a non-afterburning version of the XJ40 finally hit the street, it was installed in the “Ford”. With the upgrade, the XF4D finally was able to fly faster than the speed of sound.

In 1952 a production order was let for 230 F4D-1s and in 1953, an afterburner version of the J40 (XJ40-WE-8) was finally available and back fitted to the prototypes. With this version of the J40, the F4D could exceed the speed of sound in level flight, a first for carrier-based fighter. Now the full range of the aircraft’s performance envelope could be explored, beginning with a closed course absolute speed record of 752.944 mph, a first for a carrier-based a/c. Later that year, a 100-km record was set @ 728.11 mph.

As the problems with the J40 continued to manifest themselves, the Navy looked to alternate power plants and ended up selecting the Pratt & Whitney J57. Larger and heavier than the J40, adapting the J57 to the F4D would require extensive modifications to the airframe to adapt it.

Production and Fleet Operations:

The first production F4D-1 incorporating the redesign for the J57 first flew in June 1954. Some problems with engine stalls at high altitude were encountered in flight testing which led to redesigned intakes. With all the delays due to airframe redesign and subsequent fixes from tests, the first Skyray did not reach fleet units until 1956. VC-3 was the first to receive the F4D-1 and performed the service evaluation. The Be-Devilers of VF-74 were the first operational fleet unit to be outfitted with the F4D-1, replacing the F9F Cougars the squadron had just received 18 months previously. VF-74 made three deployments to the Med, twice aboard USS Intrepid (CVA-11). VMF-115 was the first Marine squadron to receive the F4D-1 in 1957. Other squadrons that flew the Ford were:

  • Navy: VFAW-3 (formerly VC-3), VF-13, VF-23, VF-51, VF-101, VF-102, VF-141, VF-162, VF-213, VF-881, and VF-882.
  • Marine: VMF-113, VMF-114, VMF-215, VMF-314, VMF-513, VMF-531, VMF-542.

Configured for the intercept mission, the F4D-1 was equipped with the AN/APQ-50A search/single-track radar which was tied into the Aero 13F fire control system. Underwing stores included 2.75” rocket pods, 2,000lb bombs, AIM-9 Sidewinder IR missiles and/or 300 gal drop tanks and a centerline electronics pod.

By most accounts the Ford was something of a handful to fly. Even with the J57, it was still a heavy aircraft and somewhat underpowered (as were most jets of that day). Speculation in some quarters were that it suffered from a flight condition more frequently seen in the Air Force’s F-100 Super Sabre known as the "Saber Dance" where there is sufficient trust (at almost vertical aircraft attitude) to keep the aircraft up, but insufficient airspeed to control it. At the high α required in the CV-landing environment, this would be problematic at best.

Still, in spite of the above, the Ford was a noteworthy performer, especially when compared to the other carrier aircraft in the contemporary inventory. It was legendary for its climbing ability in burner, as attested to in May 1958 when Maj Ed LeFaivre set 5 time to altitude records (3000 meters (9842.5 feet) in 44.39 seconds, 6000 meters (19,685 feet) in 1 min 6.13 seconds, 9000 meters (29,527.5 feet) in 1 minute 29.81 seconds, 12,000 meters (39,370 feet) in 1 minute 51.23 seconds, and 15,000 meters (49,212.5 feet) in 2 minutes 36.05 seconds).

To Be Continued Tomorrow