31 December 2006

Looking Ahead to '07

Some thoughts and wishes on the cusp of the New Year:

  • Blog direction: Have taken the downtime during the holiday interregnum to map out some new directions. There are ample commentaries re. the war in Iraq and the ongoing GWOT (or GWAT if one prefers). Adding my 2-pence worth would be but another pebble in that ocean while there are other issues that need addressing. This is not to relegate the conflict to 2nd class status and there is genuine concern in these parts about the direction and will of uniformed and civilian leadership. Nevertheless, that endeavor continues to sap efforts to build forces that enable our ability to act on a number of other geo-political fronts. It is to these theaters that interest and focus of these writings will turn. To wit -- several regional powers with messianic leaders at the helm look to assert themselves at our and our allies', partners' and friends' expense; North Korea, Iran and in our own backyard, Venezuela. Another regional player looks to breakout and become a global military power and an old foe is on the move again. We will examine political and economic decisions, force elements, strategy and tactics and implications for the US. For example, next week we meet the DF-31, MaRVs, open ocean surveillance and the challenges it poses.

  • Features to remain. Flightdeck Fridays and TINS Tuesdays will remain. Lots of interesting items for each are in the offing for the coming year -- heaven knows, one only need look to the Navy's experiments in the early 40's for the weird or downright bizzare to find material for Flightdeck Fridays. Additionally, the AEW story will continue, picking up with Cadillac II, the land-based leg of the Navy's AEW effort. Reflections too will continue to include the next installment in the resurrection of BuNo 160992 as well as some adventures on JFK, fun with missiles and little blue bombs (can a VAW squadron really win a bombing derby?) and chasing bad guys and battling Mom Nature in some of the most remote areas of this hemisphere.

  • Service and remembrance. Of course we will continue to support Project VALOUR-IT (bless you FbL!) and look forward to working closely with Curt and Team Navy for the '07 fundraiser. We also will be a continuing participant in the 2996 Project's 9/11 remembrance and possible similar effort for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And finally, some callouts/wishes for old/new friends and acquaintances from across the blogsphere:
  • For Skippy-san: Here's hoping the coming year provides the clarity, direction and venue you seek;
  • For Curt: What else but to build on Team Navy's success, for we all know who the real winners are;
  • For FbL: That the Fates or Powers That Be repay in full the extraordinary kindness and heart she has poured into supporting our men and women in uniform with a job that takes full advantage of her talents and nature;
  • For Mike: Success in the new curriculum as well as wisdom and discernment in deciding his future, near and long-term;
  • For Pinch: Continued healing (how's the shoulder coming?);
  • For Chap: Success in his new field of endeavor;
  • For Lex: Continued close association/partnership with Calliope; and finally
  • For all who have graced these pages with their presence and thoughts this year, my heartfelt thanks and hope that (1) we have a chance to meet and swap bald-faced lies at this spring's Milblogger's conference and (2) that you will have a safe and prosperous year to come!
Happy New Year y'all !

Steeljaw Scribe

29 December 2006

Flightdeck Friday - Flying Boats

Martin XPB2M-1 & JRM Mars

August 2004. While conducting a survey in Hawaiian waters of a Japanese mini-sub site, a NOAA minisub crew stumbled upon a large debris field, consisting of what appeared to be a seaplane keel and wings. Maneuvering the sub around the crew was able to clearly read the word "Marshall" still painted on the side of the wreckage. Unknown to the crew at the time, they had come across the final resting spot of the Martin Mars flying boat named "Marshall Mars, " one of the most famous of the five JRM-3 Mars flying boats operated by the Navy during and after WWII. Based on the West Coast, these aircraft ranged the Pacific, ferrying passengers, freight and when necessary, bringing wounded back to the States. An extraordinarily large aircraft, the Mars was the largest operational flying boat built and second in size only to Howard Hughes' "Spruce Goose" (the Goose weighed in at 200 tons gw while the Mars would weigh in at 165).

Throughout the 1920's and -30's, the Navy spent considerable effort in the development of long-range, sea-based patrol planes. Likewise, the commercial air travel industry also spent considerable time/effort as the "flying boats" offered the best possibilities for carrying large payloads long distances across the Atlantic and Pacific (the latter especially). Several major companies were involved -- Boeing, Sikorsky and Martin, to name a few. Boeing, of course, came to be known for its famous Clippers, which have come to define the exotic and romantic aspects of air travel in the late 1930s.

Over at Martin, considerable work was accomplished for the Navy in development of patrol aircraft, notably the PBM Mariner. While Consolidated was busy developing the soon to be famous PBY Catalina, Martin was contracted to build a huge long range seaplane which was heavily armed and envisioned as a" dreadnaught of the air." Starting with the PBM as a baseline, Martin scaled up the design to produce a prototype, the XPB2M-1 Mars.

This was a huge aircraft for the time -- weighing in at 140,000 lbs with a wingspan of 200 ft, the Mars was powered by four 2,000 hp Wright R-3350 engines turning laminated wood props. For comparison purposes, Boeing's XB-29 (which first flew in 1942) was 105,000 lbs and had a wingspan of 142 ft. The plane's interior was laid out with separate mess rooms, berths, and washrooms for officers and enlisted men. Its commander had a private stateroom and issued his orders from a desk behind the pilots' seats. A huge bomb-bay, located in the hull underneath the wings, contained racks capable of holding five 1,000-pound bombs each. When it came time to drop them these could slide out on either side along the lower edge of the wing.

Initial taxiing came to an abrupt end on the Friday before Pearl Harbor when one of the giant laminated-wood propellers threw a blade. It just missed the Martin flight engineer inside the hull and started a fire in one of the huge Wright engines (note that this was but the first time that fire would be an issue with the Mars). The stricken Mars had to be towed closer to shore to allow firemen to put out the blaze. When the smoke cleared serious damage to the starboard wing and number-three engine nacelle was apparent. Repairs took more than six months, by which time the plane's mission had undergone a complete re-evaluation.

Pearl Harbor showed that fast carrier planes made very effective bombers indeed, while German U-boats turned the Atlantic coast into "Torpedo Alley." Thoughts naturally turned to a "sky freighter" as an alternative way to ship supplies to Britain and other battlefronts, invulnerable to torpedoes. The industrialist Henry J. Kaiser suggested that, given Martin's blueprints for the Mars, he could quickly build hundreds of the planes in his west-coast shipyards. Martin's response was ambivalent. Although the company issued calculations suggesting that building the Mars in quantity would be more cost-effective than Liberty ships, Glenn Martin was not inclined to share his prize plane with another manufacturer. Kaiser joined forces instead with Howard Hughes; this was the origin of Hughes' 400,000-pound "Spruce Goose." Like Hughes, what Martin really wanted was government support for an even larger flying boat. Plans for the 250,000-pound Model 163, projected back in 1937, were dusted off and modernized. Building five hundred six-engine Model 193's could win the war, declared Glenn Martin, and company ads frequently depicted it as a postwar airliner. Meanwhile the Navy re-designated the original Mars as a transport, XPB2M-1R, and Martin began to remove its turrets and bombing equipment.

Long before either Mars transports or the Model 193 could have been ready, the tide had turned in the Battle of the Atlantic. The Mars was sent to the Pacific instead, where it built an impressive record between 1943 and 1945, carrying cargoes of up to 34,811 pounds. Particularly impressive was the plane's ability to carry ten tons of cargo on the critical California to Hawaii route.

In January 1945 the Navy ordered twenty more Mars transports, now designated JRM-1. In comparison to the original, their hulls were to be six feet longer and the split PBM-style tail replaced by a single 44-foot vertical fin. Fewer internal bulkheads and an overhead hoist would assist cargo-handling. Maximum take-off weight grew to 148,500 pounds. Recalling the China Clippers a decade before, the first JRM-1 was christened the "Hawaii Mars" in July 1945. It crashed just two weeks later in a landing accident on Chesapeake Bay. Four more JRM-1's were completed in 1945, but, in the wake of V-J Day, the Navy order was cut to six.

The Navy purchased its sixth and last Mars with Wasp Major engines, which enabled the single JRM-2 to carry an extra 18,000 pounds of cargo on the San Francisco-to-Hawaii run. The four earlier planes were eventually re-engined with Wasp Majors as well and designated JRM-3's. All five served in the Pacific, carrying military personnel, Korean-war wounded, blood plasma, and other priority cargo over the same routes as were once flown by the glamorous clippers. Like them, they were duly christened for Pacific destinations: Philippine, Marianas, Marshall, a second Hawaii, and Caroline.

A fire destroyed the Marshall Mars in 1950 not long after setting a record for carrying 308 passengers on a typical California-Hawaii run. This record would stand until the flight of the 747 almost two decades later. The other four JRM's served in the Navy (with VR-8 in the Naval Air Transportation Service or NATS) until 1956. They were then sold as surplus to Forest Industries Flying Tankers Limited, a Canadian firm, for a mere $100K. Currently, two still survive – the Philippine Mars and Hawaii Mars (the Marianas Mars crashed in an accident in 1961, and the Caroline Mars was destroyed in a hurricane a year later) and are used to drop 60,000-pound loads of water and fire retardant on Western forest fires.

General characteristics

  • Crew: four (with accommodations for a second relief crew)
  • Capacity: 133 troops, or 84 litter patients and 25 attendants
  • Payload: 32,000 lb (15,000 kg) of cargo, including up to seven jeeps
  • Length: 117 ft 3 in (35.74 m)
  • Wingspan: 200 ft 0 in (60.96 m)
  • Height: 38 ft 5 in (11.71 m)
  • Wing area: 3,686 ft² (342.4 m²)
  • Empty weight: 75,573 lb (34,279 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 90,000 lb (40,820 kg)
  • Max Takeoff Weight: 165,000 lb (74,800 kg)
  • Powerplant: 4× Wright R3350-24WA Duplex Cyclone 18-cylinder radial engines, 2,500 hp (1,865 kW) each


  • Maximum speed: 221 mph (356 km/h)
  • Range: 4,300 nautical miles (5,000 miles or 8,000 km)
  • Service ceiling: 14,600 ft (4,450 m)
  • Rate of climb: ft/min (m/s)
  • Wing loading: lb/ft² (kg/m²)

28 December 2006

How Lieutenant Ford Saved His Ship

There’s a different label we can attach to former president Gerald Ford, one that has been overlooked for 62 years: war hero.

Published: December 28, 2006 (New York Times)
East Hampton, N.Y.

FOR Americans under a certain age, Gerald Ford is best remembered for his contribution to Bartlett’s — “Our long national nightmare is over” — or, more likely, for the comedian Chevy Chase’s stumbling, bumbling impersonations of him on “Saturday Night Live.” But there’s a different label we can attach to this former president, one that has been overlooked for 62 years: war hero.

In 1944, Lt. j.g. Jerry Ford — a lawyer from Grand Rapids, Mich., blond and broad-shouldered, with the lantern jaw of a young Johnny Weissmuller — was a 31-year-old gunnery officer on the aircraft carrier Monterey. The Monterey was a member of Adm. William Halsey’s Third Fleet, and in mid-December, Lieutenant Ford was sailing off the Philippines as Admiral Halsey’s ships provided air cover for the second phase of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s “I shall return” Philippine invasions.

The Monterey had earned more than half a dozen battle stars for actions in World War II; during the battle of Leyte Gulf, Lieutenant Ford, in charge of a 40-millimeter antiaircraft gun crew on the fantail deck, had watched as a torpedo narrowly missed the Monterey and tore out the hull of the nearby Australian cruiser Canberra. Two months later, in the early morning hours of Dec. 18, the Japanese were the least of the Monterey’s worries, as it found itself trapped in a vicious Pacific cyclone later designated Typhoon Cobra.

Lieutenant Ford had served as the Monterey’s officer of the deck on the ship’s midnight-to-4-a.m. watch, and had witnessed the lashing rains and 60-knot winds whip the ocean into waves that resembled liquid mountain ranges. The waves reeled in from starboard, gigantic sets of dark water that appeared to defy gravity, cresting at 40 to 70 feet. In his 18 months at sea, Lieutenant Ford had never seen waves so big. As breakers crashed over the carrier’s wheelhouse, he could just barely make out the distress whistles sounding about him — the deep beeps of the battleships, the shrill whoops of the destroyers.

After his watch Lieutenant Ford had strapped himself into his bunk below decks, and it seemed that his head had barely hit the pillow when the Monterey’s skipper, Capt. Stuart H. Ingersoll, sounded general quarters, calling all hands to their stations. Lieutenant Ford bolted upright in his dark sea cabin. He thought he smelled smoke amidships. Racing through a rolling companionway dimly lighted by red battle lights, he reached the outside skipper’s ladder leading to the pilothouse and began to climb. At that precise moment a 70-foot wave broke over the Monterey. The carrier pitched 25 degrees to port, and Lieutenant Ford was knocked flat on his back. He began skimming the flight deck as if he were on a toboggan.

Just as he was about to be hurled overboard, Lieutenant Ford managed to slow his slide, twist like an acrobat, and fling himself onto the catwalk. He got to his knees, made his way below deck, and started back up again.

By the time he reached the Monterey’s pilothouse, the fighter planes in its hangar deck had begun slamming into one another as well as the bulkheads — “like pinballs,” Mr. Ford recalled 60 years later — and the collisions had ignited their gas tanks. The hangar deck of the Monterey had become a cauldron of aircraft fuel, and because of a quirk in its construction, the flames from the burning aircraft were sucked into the air intakes of the lower decks. As fires broke out below, Lieutenant Ford remembered the smoke he smelled when he’d bolted from his bunk.

Admiral Halsey had ordered Captain Ingersoll to abandon ship, and the Monterey was ablaze from stem to stern as Lieutenant Ford stood near the helm, awaiting his orders. “We can fix this,” Captain Ingersoll said, and with a nod from his skipper, Lieutenant Ford donned a gas mask and led a fire brigade below.

Aircraft-gas tanks exploded as hose handlers slid across the burning decks. Into this furnace Lieutenant Ford led his men, his first order of business to carry out the dead and injured. Hours later he and his team emerged burned and exhausted, but they had put out the fire.

Three destroyers were eventually capsized by Typhoon Cobra, a dozen more ships were seriously damaged, more than 150 planes were destroyed, and 793 men lost their lives. It was the Navy’s worst “defeat” of World War II. But the Monterey and nearly all of its men survived to take part in the battle of Okinawa, and the future president ended his Navy stint in 1946 with the rank of lieutenant commander.

Like his fellow World War II veterans, Mr. Ford returned home and resumed his life, rarely speaking publicly of his heroism. But in contrast to the public’s image of him as a clumsy nonentity, Mr. Ford was a man whose grace under pressure saved his ship and hundreds of men on it.

Robert Drury and Tom Clavin are the authors of the forthcoming “Halsey’s Typhoon: The True Story of a Fighting Admiral, an Epic Storm and an Untold Rescue.”

24 December 2006

Wise Men and Women Still Seek Him

Here is my wish for you and your loved ones - for a warm, Spirit-filled Christmastide; prayerful for our countrymen who go in harm's way and for wisdom on the part of our leaders in their decisions. Hope for the year to come -- hope for peace, salvation for the lost and safety and prosperity for all. - SJS

Jump over to FbL for a super story of the Christmas Spirit at the USO, post Denver-snowex...

His Birth Foretold

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Isaiah 7:14 (King James Version)

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined...For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:2, 6

The Birth (Luke 2:1-18)

1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

Wise Men Visit (Matthew 2:1-11)

1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,

6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

Why – Christ’s Mission

For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. Luke 19:10

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. Matthew 5:17

Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. Matthew 20:28

And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. 1 John 4:16

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. John 3:16-17

Salvation at hand

But if the wicked turn from his wickedness, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall live thereby. Ezekiel 33:19

Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. Luke 15:10

For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day. John 6:36-40

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Romans 10:9-13

22 December 2006

EMCON Charlie

Setting EMCON Charlie until after Christmas and various guests are departing the pattern/outbound. 'til then, limited posting (Flightdeck Friday returns next week).

19 December 2006

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like ...

OK, so why all of a sudden all the posts with Coral Sea playing a significant role? Well, in part, because YHS was once a Seabat (VAW-127) and participated in her decom (along w/CVW-13 and eventually the 'Bats themselves). In part because the Coral Maru had a personality all her own, decidedly more raw-edged than the big nuke boats on either side and that carried over to the CSEA/CVW-13 team. Skippy-san knows...right? Always felt like we had something to prove to the big ones across the pier. But mostly it's because of the most excellent website I stumbled across recently on all things Coral Sea. The sequence of photos for the "Chronicles of Naval Aviation" post a couple of days back came from that site, for example.

In the spirit of the season then, and courtesy the Coral Sea Tribute site, herewith The Christmas Poem (with a Coral Sea Twist):

T'was the Night Before:

T'was a few nights before Christmas and through Coral Sea,
Not a watch was stirring-not even intergrity.
The stockings were hung on the bunks with care
In hopes they'd absorb a little fresh air.

The sailors were squeezed all safe in their bed
In such odd shapes you'd swear they were dead.
Skipper in his kerchief and Exec in his cap,
Were trying to find Norfolk on the map.

When out on the flight deck there arose such a clatter
I rolled from my rack and fell with a splatter.
Away to the hatch I flew like a flash
Run over a butt kit aaand tore a big gash.

The moon on the crest of the new brewing strom
Gave light as an MAA caught a man out of uniform,
When what to my spray-filled eyes should I see
But a very heavily laden AD.

With the way the old boy handled that stick
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than a Banshee as on he came
In that sputtering bucking frame.

No Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, or Vixen.
But on its side were photo's of Ike and Nixon.
On and on he made his approach
As if he didn't even need a coach.

And on he came as he began his glide,
Although he was drifting a little to one side.
So on to the vessel's top his course he flew
With a plane full of toys and a letter or two.

And then in a twinkling he hit the barrier
On this efficient aircaft carrier.
Then out he jumped and off with a bound,
Up the smoke stack, and then down.

Then from the boiler room there came such a clatter,
But this time I knew what was the matter.
As quickly from the stack he reappeared
With his suit smoking, soiled, and seared.

T'was a nice suit with fur from head to foot,
Now all covered with fuel oil and soot.
The bundle of toys he'd flung on his back
Was now in a smoldering, burning sack.

His eyes how they twinged, his dimples how glarry,
His cheeks smarting-he looked pretty "hairy."
His drawl little mouth was chugging black smoke
And I'd sworn up and down he was goin to choke.

And the beard of his chin was there no more-
Only singed stubble where it'd been before,
But the stump of his pipe he still held in his teeth
As smoke engulfed his head like a wreath.

He had a hot face and just a as hot belly,
Though not shaking with laughter-cause he felt smelly.
He was short and fat, a right sour old elf,
But I laughed at him anyway just to spite myself.

A blink of his eye and a jerk of his head
Soon gave me to know he wished I'd drop dead,
But he spoke not a word and he really turned to
Distributing toys from forecastle to screw.

Then with his finger a thumbing his nose,
He received his signals from the flight deck PO's
And jumping into his plane and giving all it's do.
Away down the flight deack and away he flew.

Then we stopped to realize what all he'd been through,
And we sorta hated it too-
So we yelled and exclaimed as he flew out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to you"-and "have a good flight."

The More Things Change, The More They Remain The Same...

(From March 1955 Naval Aviation News, h/t Sid)
(2006: F-35 Flat Panel Cockpit)

18 December 2006

Calvin Time

I knew there was a reason I liked this strip so much (and miss it equally so) - grew up w/a toboggan and have the scars to show for it...

Chronicles of Naval Aviation: The Angled Flight Deck

Occasionally questions arise from those unfamiliar with Naval Aviation and, just as occasionally, we shall endeavor to address them here. One item that, certainly today, seems to be self-evident is the need for an angled deck for carrier operations. Like many other features of modern day CV/CVNs (e.g., armored flight deck), the angled flight deck was first employed by the Royal Navy. It wasn't until the advent of the Forrestal-class super carriers that we began incorporating angle decks in the original design (Essex- and Midway-classes were retrofitted). More than any other implementation, this feature contributed to a significant decline in the aviation mishap rate for naval Aviation. For any doubters of the efficacy of such a design feature, the following sequence of photos is provided (h/t: USS Coral Sea net).

(From the 1953 Med Cruise):

Narrative: Here is a series of five photographs that show an F2
Banshee's landing gone bad. The first picture says it's a Phantom but I believe
from the tailcode and the look of the plane that it is an F2H-3 Banshee from
VC-4 Det 6. (The author is correct, it is an
F2H-3 Banshee - SJS)

Photo's courtesy of the Ellis collection. Obituary of Pilot Ltjg.
Robert E. Berger. Submitted by his nephew Bob Loving.

Today that same case would see the aircraft continue down the angle deck, get airborne again and re-enter the pattern for another attempt (though on occasion with much unintended color)...


15 December 2006

"Never Again..."

Tonight, at sundown, begins the celebration of Hanukkah by our Jewish brothers and sisters. Coming as it does on the heels of the "the Holocaust is a Fake" conference of alleged "scholars" (and trust me, that term is extremely loosely applied) in Tehran, it reminds us of the continuing struggle between the Light of Truth and the Darkness of Evil. Reprising the background to Hanukkah:

The Hanukkah Story

Nearly 2,200 years ago, the Greek-Syrian ruler Antiochus IV
tried to force Greek culture upon peoples in his territory. Jews in Judea—now
Israel—were forbidden their most important religious practices as well as study of the Torah. Although vastly outnumbered, religious Jews in the region took up arms to protect their community and their religion. Led by Mattathias the Hasmonean, and later his son Judah the Maccabee, the rebel armies became known as the Maccabees.

After three years of fighting, in the year 3597, or about 165 B.C.E., the Maccabees victoriously reclaimed the temple on Jerusalem's Mount Moriah. Next they prepared the temple for rededication—in Hebrew, Hanukkah means “dedication.” In the temple they found only enough purified oil to kindle the temple light for a single day. But miraculously, the light continued to burn for eight days.

So for the last several days, these "intellects" gathered in Tehran have endeavored to snuff out the truth. However, as long as there are people like Eugene who refuse to let that happen, Truth will endure:

My grandfather had a little sister. I know what she looked like. I have seen the photo. A 1941 photo. Or was it 1940? I don’t remember exactly. It was a long time ago that I saw it last. My grandfather knew. But he has been dead for a while, so he cannot tell me. If the photo was taken in 1941, that is the year my grandfather’s sister died.
In his 60s, towards the end of his days, my grandfather got very sentimental. He had had three heart attacks, the first one when he was in his 40s, so he wasn’t good for much towards the end of his days.
He would sit on the couch, clutching his sister’s old photo, and cry. About 40 years had passed, but he would still cry. I can’t say for sure, but I suspect that, many years after my parents go, may they live a long life, I will cry exactly like he did. My people, the Jews, are like that. Cry babies.
So his sister lived, and then she died. It is a fact. I know that, because I have seen my grandfather cry over her photo.

This is a powerful post -- the rest is here. Be prepared though, this is no light and airy story or a Hallmark "feel good" moment, the Truth, as is wont, can be exceptionally brutal. Ignorance though, begets exceptional brutality. Read, remember, swear -- Never Again. (h/t Curt)

14 December 2006

Fun with Snow Globes

(click on the banner -- you will need Flash plug in)

Yeah, it's a front for a pharmaceutical, but at least this one is workplace safe....

12 December 2006

Reflections: The Resurrection of BuNo 160992 (Part II)

(Part I)

“Somewhere” the JG heard the MO mutter, “somewhere under all that crap is a pony and we have to find it, won’t we Will…” he said looking directly at the QAO.

“Oh great” he thought – “yeah, this is going to be one for the books if it doesn’t kill us in the process…” he replied. Turning to the stairs he headed topside for the brief wondering what other mischief the Fates held in store for him. Somehow, he thought, they’re just getting started…

Returning from the flight some 5 hours later, the JG beat a hasty retreat from an increasingly windy and cold flight line to the relative “warmth” of the hangar bay. Relative in that one’s breath could still very much be seen and if one wasn’t careful, it was very easy to slip on the various ice patches on the bay floor.

Over in the corner, the “penalty box” as he came to think of it, sat the squadron’s newest acquisition – BuNo 160992; AG 015. Her wings drooped to allow full access to the tail of the aircraft; the line crew was busy washing the aircraft down, valiantly working to remove the layers of bird dung that heavily encrusted her upper surfaces. Mixed in with the line folks were other available bodies drawn from across the maintenance department – AT’s and AE’s from his old division, the Avionics Division, mechs and airframes personnel from Aircraft and even an AZ and AK or two from maintenance control. Chiefs and airmen, all struggling to find the MOs pony.

“Well sir” his QA senior chief approached “it’s not as bad as we thought on first look – its worse.”

“How so Senior?” he replied, with a sense of sinking despair.

“Interior is gutted – Avionics has a real project on their hands since it doesn’t even have a computer cabinet in her. You’ve seen all the stuff missing outside...”

The JG nodded forlornly

“Well, the documentation is missing on a good part of that. All afternoon folks have been showing up from the Wing and the RAG with shopping carts full of odds and ends – ‘this is for 992’ was all that was said. Most of the parts don’t have any VIDS/MAFS. I don’t like it; I really don’t like it...”

“I hear you Senior, but we don’t have much of a choice now. How are we going to work splitting QA between here and Kef? It’ll be no picnic either place, but we really need our best folks here given...” He ended with a lame wave towards the aircraft.

“Working w/MCM it looks like we may have some volunteers to go to Kef w/us and we’ll be supplemented here with the RAG’s folks – QA and other shops worth. If you have a minute I think you should take a look inside for yourself”

Walking around the port nacelle and ducking under a wet wing, the JG stepped up to the main entrance hatch, resting on a stack of pallets because the hatch brace was missing.

Reading his thoughts, his senior chief said “Yes sir, it only gets better inside.”

Working his way up into the forward equipment compartment (FEC), the JG surveyed the scene with as dispassionate an eye as possible. Directly across from the main hatch, the big radar coaxitron was missing, as were several pieces of waveguide leading up to the rotodome. So was the big condenser package that made up the equipment cooling or vapor cycle system. Aft and to his right, the big cabinet that housed the processors, memories (8K wire core memories) and I/O units that made up the heart of the ATDS system was missing. Those three items alone were huge – little else in the backend could be worked upon until those items were installed and working. Looking further aft, back into the CIC compartment, his end of the plane, all the main display units were missing – big holes like empty eye-sockets in their place. Naturally the parachutes and seat pans were missing – if they had even come over from the other side installed the PR's would have pulled them now anyway for inspection and safe keeping. Turning towards the front he noted that all the PDS boxes were missing on the port side of the FEC were gone – no surprise there as many of the other aircraft in the squadron were likewise stripped of those boxes for their sister outfits. On the starboard side, at least most of the high-power boxes and cabling for the radar were still in place, save the modulator (there’d been a rash of failures wing wide of late, so again, no surprise there). Up front, the cockpit was relatively intact (though unbelievably filthy) save the CAINS interface which was – missing. On the way back he poked around the hydraulic “Christmas tree” noting with concern the heavy layer of old hydraulic fluid that clung to everything.

Stepping back out of the hatch he slipped and lost his balance owing to the unnatural angle the main entrance hatch sat at. Having left his helmet on out of habit, the worst that happened was a healthy scratch on the reflective tape and a sense that he’d just been kicked by the plane, which now stood to the side, glaring menacingly at him.

Walking back to maintenance control they discussed further details about the upcoming det and 015 as they were now calling it. Already a large sheet of paper w/ “015” was prominently displayed on the pilot’s side window.

“Well Senior, I’d hate to be the crew that had to fly her first – I know our guys are going to bust their tail fixing her, but something tells me it won’t be an easy job, for anyone. Glad I’m going to be in Kef for this one.”

Inside Maintenance Control a small group of aviators had gathered with the XO and MO. “Uh oh, this can’t be good” he thought.

“Wilbur, get on over here” the XO called out in his usual half-laughing manner. “You’re my CICO for the flight up to Keflavik – we’re leaving Saturday as part of an early det. (“Crap!” he thought to himself) Rest of the squadron will arrive about two weeks later. We’ll split sorties with the Reserves until the rest of the squadron arrives. The early maintenance det leaves tomorrow.”

Of course, ‘tomorrow’ was Friday...so he had exactly one day to get everything finished before leaving Saturday, including packing which he hadn’t even started yet. On the flip side though, he would get a leg up on his fellow JO's in the flight hour department.

Turning back to the assembled group the XO continued “Here’s the route of flight – from here we stop by Bethpage for a short stay to pick up some PDS boxes and then press to Goose Bay. We’ll RON there, and then strike out to Sonderstrom on the west coast of Greenland, refuel and then across the icecap to Keflavik. It’ll be a couple of very long legs with spotty comms (mostly VHF and HF) and it’ll be damn cold at altitude and on the deck. MO, let’s make sure each aircraft has a bowser with them.”

At the quizzical look from the JG the MO explained “The bowsers are needed to service the props – at the temps we’re expecting the prop seals on these prop domes have a tendency to shrink and bleed hydraulic fluid, big time. Also remember to take all your flight gear indoors with you when we land, otherwise it will get cold soaked almost immediately and be too cold to wear...”

Further discussions continued about crosswind limits and field arresting gear, Keflavik weather and more. Finally someone asked “Hey XO, do we have to take our poopy suits with us?”

To a chorus of groans the answer was yes, but we wouldn’t have to wear them until we started flying missions.

Later, sitting in his car out in the lot, the JG turned the day’s events over in his mind while running down a mental checklist of tasks to be accomplished before leaving. Well down at the bottom of the list were any and everything to do with that day’s acquisition. Just as well, he thought, there are bigger fish to fry. Pulling out of the parking lot he began framing how he was going to break the news to the girl he’d just started dating that he was going to be leaving much earlier than planned. Her reaction would speak volumes about any future they might have.

And 015? Well, a small crew was already making steady progress at assessing her state that evening. When he left Saturday, he was surprised to see the MODEX already painted on her nose, squadron seal and Battle ‘E’, Safety ‘S’ and AEW Excellence awards applied and the beginnings of the sunburst on the tail. A long worktable was setup along one side with piles of documentation on one end and parts at the other. An intermittent stream of personnel were entering and leaving, accompanied by muffled shouts and the occasional, well, actually frequent curse. The resurrection of 160992 was well and truly underway.

To Be Continued

Yes, that's ice on the inside of the window...

11 December 2006

Submitted Without Comment

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EA-6B Prowler

You are an EA-6B. You are sinister, preferring not to get into confrontations, but extract revenge through mind games and technological interference. You also love to make noise and couldn't care less about pollution.

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08 December 2006

Flightdeck Friday - Nuclear Fleas

Last week we went big – big planes, big ships, big nukes, big hair (no wait, that’s another story...). This week we go to the other end of the spectrum.

Arms Race - 1950

1950 and the nuclear arms race is well and truly underway. The Soviets had surprised the world with their first nuclear detonation the previous year at Semipalatinsk – a good 5 or more years earlier than the intel community had predicted. In a remote part of Kazakhstan, Sergei Korolev and a group of engineers were embarked on another endeavor which would prove equal, if not greater shock to the Free World seven years later. In the US, the press was on for both the “Super” (a thermonuclear device) and miniaturization of weapons for carriage on a wider variety of aircraft.

At Los Alamos, scientists and engineers of Sandia labs were working on producing a weapon smaller than the Mk 5, which was a more efficient implosion device, similar to “Fat Man” but suitable only for internal carriage on bomber aircraft. The core of the Mk7 was scaled down in size from that of the Mk5, retaining the same 92-point HE (high explosive) geometry of the Mk5. Similar economies of scale were realized with the common components with the Mk5 (e.g., arming, fuzing, and firing equipment of the HE core). Reduced in size (and weight) the now “lighter” Mk7, weighing in at some 1700 lbs, could be placed in a shape streamlined for supersonic, external carriage. Douglas Aircraft Company was contracted to develop the shell and interface for the weapon. Significant changes were required in the approach to arming and safing nuclear weapons now as well with external carriage. Previously, arming was accomplished by in-flight insertion of the physics package, thereby safing the weapon for launch/recoveries. Obviously, that would not be the case with tactical aircraft.

Code-named Thor, the Mk7 would be comprised (initially) of the Mk7 Mod 0 weapon and Mk 5 Mod 0 barometric fuse. The use of the latter ensured the earliest possible entry to operational use, but would require specialized delivery tactics and use of dive brakes on the weapon to ensure subsonic deliveries. Proof testing of the Thor concept was conducted during Operation Buster-Jangle test series, conducted at the (then) new Nevada proving grounds in late 1951 with yields of 3 – 31 Kt. With continued testing and refinement, an “emergency capability” was available by May of 1952. Later in 1952, the USAF embarked on a series of tests with the Low Altitude Bombing System (LABS) that showed the Mk7 could be safely and accurately released at angles of up to 75 degrees. Further work on and incorporation of a radar fuzing system to the barometric and contact/timer fuses formed the basis of the production model Mk7. Full production began in November 1952 and ran until February 1963 with the weapon remaining in the inventory until final retirement in 1967. A total of 17-1800 were produced.

The 'Competition'

While the Air Force was busy adapting some of its tactical aircraft for carriage of the Mk7 (notably the F-84F, -84G and F-100), the Navy was slower to adapt tactical aircraft. In part, this was due to resistance form the heavy attack community (which had the A3D in the pipeline), but a concerted effort on the par to of a core of Naval aviators, chief among them being CAPT Ramage (assigned to the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project at the time) and VADM T. L. Sprague, COMNAVAIRPAC started to turn this thinking around. Envisioning wide deployment among the many Essex class carriers still in the fleet (Note: at the time, only the larger Midway class were “nuclear capable” with their complements of AJ Savages – and these chiefly on the Atlantic coast) they also saw this as a means of forestalling monopoly of nuclear weapons by SAC. A successful demonstration of a Mk7 training shape with an AD on USS Princeton led to a series of briefings by a three man team, led by Ramage and consisting of a couple of academics from Sandia labs (CDR Jack Sloatman and Ted Youngs) set off to convince others of the efficacy of tactical jets carrying nukes off the smaller decks. Eventually they presented their arguments to SECNAV, Dan Kimball who was so impressed he set up an appointment for the team to present their proposal to CNO, who was duly impressed.

In the meantime, Douglas Aircraft was also noticeably busy, and not just from developing the A3D and nuclear weapons aero-shells. Work on a successor to the venerable AD was underway in the form of the A2D Skyshark. Basically starting off as an AD body mated to a turboprop, the XA2D evolved into a different aircraft in its own right. Twin counter-rotating props were mounted to an Allison T-40 turboprop engine. The program, however, was encountering severe setbacks, including one instance where the aircraft shed its props during a test flight. Clearly a replacement was needed and once again, Ed Heinemann led the way with another inspired design.

More Inspired Design from Ed H.

Examining the growing weight and complexity of modern combat aircraft, Heinemann’s team worked to reduce both and provide the Navy a proposal that was half of the 30,000 lb official specification. The Navy placed an order for a prototype and some pre-production model and thus the AD4 (later A-4) Skyhawk was born. With a small wingspan based on a modified delta planform, the AD4 shed the requirement for folding wings (wing span was a mere 27 ft – compare to the A3D at 72 ft). Without the compromise required of folded wings, the AD4 sported a much stronger, 3-spar wing with integral fuel tanks. The weight saving paid off in the form of a weight-carrying capability of around 5,000 lbs of mixed conventional and nuclear ordnance and fuel tanks. Working on the design of the Mk7, Douglas Aircraft had an idea of the compromises required by the size of the tactical nuke, especially when examining older aircraft designed before the Mk7 and the carriage challenges it provided (for example, the struts on the F2H-2 had to be over-inflated to accommodate the Mk7 and also carried a significant recovery-weight constraint). The characteristic “stilt” landing gear of the AD4 was but one direct result of addressing these limitations.

The XA4D-1 prototype first flew on 22 Jun 1954 and was followed by the first of the pre-production models in August of that year. Production AD4-1’s followed in September 1956 with initial deliveries to VA-72. The AD4-2 (later A-4B) differed form the -1 models in many details, chief of which were a slightly more powerful J65 engine (7800 lb static thrust vs. 7700 lb s.t.) and most importantly, in-flight refueling capability. The A-4B provided a significant boost to the Navy’s nuclear capabilities when it deployed. By the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Navy had the capability to deploy nuclear strikes across a broad range of mission areas – from long-range penetration as provided by the A3D (and soon, the new A-6 Intruder) from the big deck super carriers to short/medium range from Essex class CVs as provided by the Skyhawk and Skyraider. Of course these were also available from the big decks as well.


(From Nuclear Weapons and Aircraft Carriers):

Practicing the delivery tactics was fun with the LABS. A pilot approached the target at an altitude as low as he wanted, at a speed of 500 knots for jets. As he crossed over the IP or the target itself, depending on if he was going to loft/toss or do the OTS (Over The Shoulder) delivery, he pushed a bomb-release pickle on the control stick and started a 4-G pull up, now concentrating on the LABS instrument in the cockpit. The instrument gave an indication of wings level and vertical directional stability, plus the amount of deviation from the required 4-G force level. If the plane were steady in the pull-up, the crosshairs on the instrument remained in perfect horizontal/vertical presentation. When the bomb release pickle was pressed, a whistling tone was broadcast in the pilot's earphones and remained on until the bomb released, at approximately 45 degrees for the loft/toss maneuver and 110 degrees for the OTS. At that time the pilot could start his escape maneuver, rolling out or performing whatever routine he elected for escape.

Passing the Torch

However, change was afoot and soon the primary nuclear attack mission would be assumed by Polaris-equipped SSBNs which could provide a secure deterrent from their submerged patrols. Nevertheless, the conventional capabilities of these same aircraft would soon serve requirements in the skies over Southeast Asia very well. Nuclear capabilities would still be maintained by carriers through the remainder of the Cold War, finally being removed at the end of that period with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.


Hansen, Chuck. U.S. Nuclear Weapons: The Secret History, 1988.

Miller, Jerry. Nuclear Weapons and Aircraft Carriers: How The Bomb Saved Naval Aviation. Smithsonian Institute Press, 2001.

Swanborough, Gordon and Bowers, Peter M, United States Navy Aircraft since 1911. Naval Institute Press, 1990.

Cochran, Thomas; Arkin, William and Hoenig, Milton M. Nuclear Weapons Databook: Volume 1, U.S. Nuclear Forces and Capabilities. Ballinger Publishing, 1984.