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Mon May 25, 2015 at 09:35 AM PDT


by pwoodford

Reposted from Kossack Air Force by pwoodford

mday3Every Memorial Day I try to think of those who lost their lives in service to our country, but I can never focus on abstract deaths, nor on so many. I always end up thinking about fellow servicemen who died in uniform, by which I mean men I knew, classmates and squadron mates, friends and comrades, some distant, some close.

I am fortunate. My grandparents' generation fought the Great War. Both of my grandfathers served, one in the Army, one in the Navy. They survived the war, held onto their jobs during the Great Depression afterward, and lived long and happy lives. My parents' generation fought World War Two. My father and his three brothers went to war; all four came home and prospered during the boom years that followed. No one in my family served during the Korean War. Some high school classmates went off to Vietnam. A few didn't come back. I wasn't close to those kids; my friends and I went to college on deferments instead. I didn't join the Air Force until late in the Vietnam War. I expected to fight there, but the war was over by the time I graduated from pilot training.

My war was the Cold War. My fellow fighter jocks and I sat air defense alert in northern Europe, Alaska, and Korea. I intercepted Soviet bombers and reconnaissance aircraft over the Arctic, but the air wars I prepared and trained for never came. When one finally did, Desert Storm, my unit in Japan was ordered to stay in theater to defend South Korea. In 24 years I never logged an hour of combat time, never fired a shot in anger.

Nevertheless, from my first to my last day in the Air Force I was exposed to the price of war, and of training for war. One of my T-38 pilot instructors was a recently-returned Vietnam prisoner of war. My F-15 RTU instructor was a POW, and over the course of my career I served under, and flew with, several other POWs -- one of whom recently succumbed to wounds he suffered while trying to escape his Cambodian captors in the last weeks of the war.

Only a couple of classmates crashed and died during pilot training; during the three years I trained new kids to fly the T-37, just one fellow instructor pilot was killed in a crash. Once I started flying the F-15, though, the numbers began to stack up. Men I was close to, men I knew and flew with, squadron mates. Their deaths were, frankly, needless -- they died in training accidents, most caused by pilot error of one kind or another -- but they died preparing for war. They died for their country.

I try not to count the times I've put on my Class As to attend memorial services and funerals, the times I've flown missing man formations over the base chapel, the times Donna and I have sat with sobbing squadron wives.

But I do count the times, of course; who wouldn't? It's an even dozen, a negligible number for anyone who's been in actual combat, but each lost comrade is firmly in my mind on this and every Memorial Day.

Reposted from Kossack Air Force by Major Kong
The only course open to us now is to make an assault by fire on the barbarians under cover of night.

Sun Tzu
One byproduct of warfare, horrible as it may be, is that technology tends to make rapid advances. Wartime necessity drives innovation and governments are willing to pour money into any idea that might just give them an edge over the enemy.

That was certainly the case during the Second World War. We went from the last of the biplanes to the first jets in roughly a five year span. Electronics made similar leaps and bounds.

The problem is as old as warfare itself. How do you find the enemy, preferably without being found yourself?

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Fri May 08, 2015 at 02:36 PM PDT

Air-Minded: Dragons & Bolos

by pwoodford

Reposted from Kossack Air Force by pwoodford

A friend visited the Pima Air & Space Museum (PASM) in Tucson a few weeks ago. I told her if any particular airplane spoke to her, I'd write an air-minded post on it. Well, you never know what's going to catch someone's eye. In her case, it was one of our orphans, a Douglas B-23 Dragon.

Douglas B-23 Dragon, Pima Air & Space Museum (photo: Paul Woodford)
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Thu Apr 30, 2015 at 07:19 AM PDT

Air-Minded: Planes of Fame Photoblog

by pwoodford

Reposted from Kossack Air Force by pwoodford

During a recent motorcycle trip, I visited the Planes of Fame Museum in Valle, Arizona. The main Planes of Fame Museum is located in Chino, California; the Arizona adjunct is what I would describe as an overflow facility. It's off the beaten track, located halfway up the lonely road between Williams, Arizona and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

This was the first of what I hope will be many cook's tours of air museums in adjacent cities and states. When I told the folks at the desk I was a volunteer docent at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, they gave me the run of the place.

What I loved about this small museum, which houses just 40 or so aircraft, is that it's a working aircraft maintenance facility, not just a museum. Many of the aircraft on display are not just in flying condition but are actually flown. Several aircraft were being worked on in the main hangar while I was there, and outside, another group of mechanics was busy putting a Lockheed Constellation, once General Douglas MacArthur's VIP transport, back into airworthy condition for a one-time flight to the National Air & Space Museum in Washington DC. It was great to be able to amble around a working hangar, not a mere collection of static please-do-not-touch exhibits.

Photos below the orange squiggle ...

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Reposted from Kossack Air Force by Major Kong

I struggled to come up with a decent title for this one.

This is about the planes that were overshadowed by their more glamorous counterparts. Everybody loves Mustangs, Spitfires and Hellcats. I want to shed some love on their more dowdy cousins. The ones that did the work but never got the publicity.

So what criteria did I use? To be included the aircraft had to meet at least one of these criteria:

1. It had to have been mass produced. There are plenty of one-offs and oddballs amongst WWII aircraft but those probably merit their own diary.

2. It did the same mission as a better known aircraft or has been unfairly maligned by history.

3. It was arbitrarily chosen by the author. That's why.

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Mon Apr 06, 2015 at 01:24 PM PDT

Stars who served

by Major Kong

Reposted from Kossack Air Force by flitedocnm

I had a request to do a diary about entertainers who served in the military. Turns out it wasn't as easy as I thought.

This is in no way a comprehensive list. There were just too many to work with. The ones I've decided to go with were either the most notable or the most surprising. The ones that make you scratch your head and go "Him? Really?"

I've left out those who served only as an entertainer. Not that it wasn't important but I'd have to list just about every actor and musician of the day.

Some you probably knew about already but others might come as a surprise.

Where possible I've posted a picture in uniform but there are a few where I just couldn't find one.

In the course of putting this together I noticed some parallels.

Many joined the military right after Pearl Harbor. Others enlisted as soon as they came of age to do so. Many actively sought combat even when offered less hazardous postings. Several were wounded in action. Quite a few suffered from some form of Post Traumatic Stress for years after.

I figure enough of them served as aviators that this counts as an aviation diary.

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Fri Mar 27, 2015 at 01:52 PM PDT

Air-Minded: Letting the Team Down

by pwoodford

Reposted from Kossack Air Force by pwoodford

I don't have any brilliant thoughts or insights about Germanwings Flight 9525, where the co-pilot is suspected of committing mass murder by flying a plane full of passengers into a mountain in the Swiss Alps. I'm sad and shocked, of course, that any pilot would do such a thing.

I've always considered military and commercial flying a profession; i.e., a paid occupation involving prolonged training and a formal process of qualification and certification. We expect professionals to live up to high standards. Well, maybe not all professionals — insert lawyer joke here — but for sure doctors and airline pilots. We trust them with our lives. We have to.

We all know there are unprofessional doctors, but their numbers are minuscule and as a society we don't get overwrought about the occasional medical horror story. The same goes for airline pilots. Pilots have deliberately crashed packed airliners before, but it's very rare and I don't recall much hullabaloo over earlier incidents, at least in the West. I attribute this to the fact that earlier intentional crashes occurred in Namibia, Egypt, and Indonesia, the victims mostly black and brown.

This time the victims are white. This time the airline is a First World carrier. Now we're discussing the phenomenon of pilots committing mass murder almost as if we anticipate a rash of such incidents from here on out. Now we're talking about mandatory mental health testing and monitoring. Now we're talking about rules requiring the presence of two pilots on the flight deck at all times, which could mandate the presence of three pilots on every flight (because even professionals have to go potty sometimes). Pretty soon we might even be talking about increasing flight hour requirements for air transport pilot certification, upping airline pilot hiring standards to the point where only former military pilots with long records can get a foot in the door, maybe even increasing aircrew pay after years of cutting salaries and busting pilot unions.

I'm all for increasing hiring standards, bringing back the third crewmember requirement (it used to be standard, for those of you who've forgotten), and upping compensation. Treating professionals as professionals bolsters and encourages professionalism IMHO. Perhaps we'll modify crew resource management training to include teaching techniques for spotting signs of depression or other mental problems in fellow pilots — this is all squishy stuff and may not work, but perhaps it's worth a try. I'll just note that the captain of the Germanwings flight apparently didn't suspect a thing when he left his co-pilot alone in the cockpit on that fateful day.

I'll also note that depression affects people in all walks of life and professions. Most victims learn to live with it and function as well as anyone else. But there are some professions where, if you suffer from depression, you have to keep it hidden: among these are the military, law enforcement, and commercial flying. Airline pilots who suffer from depression believe — with good reason — the FAA will ground them if it finds out. Pilots who seek medical treatment for depression do it under cover and outside normal channels. Some won't seek medical treatment at all, regarding the risk of exposure as too high. This latest incident will only drive such pilots deeper under cover.

I struggle with the notion of someone bent on suicide deliberately taking innocent lives along with his or her own. Murdering innocent people while taking your own life isn't suicide, it's terrorism. Was the Germanwings co-pilot a terrorist? If he deliberately crashed that plane, yes he was, no matter his motive. Someone on Twitter last night claimed the Germanwings co-pilot was a convert to Islam. When I Google "Germanwings copilot converted to Islam" the links that come up all lead to right-wing hate sites, so for now I'm discounting it as a malicious rumor. If it turns out to be true, well, let's just say I wouldn't want to be a Muslim living in a Western country!

Another Twitterer, a serious journalist who writes about aviation for the Wall Street Journal, pointed out that pilot suicide/mass murder — in other words, a deliberate act of terrorism committed by a crewmember — has always been one of the possibilities in the disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370, although I've resigned myself to the thought that we'll never find the wreckage and never learn what actually happened.

Reposted from Kossack Air Force by Major Kong

It seems my earlier diary about the Lockheed F-104 caught the attention of a former USAF F-104 driver. He felt that I (and the USAF) didn't give the plane its due.

My first thought was "You mean somebody actually reads these things?"

In the interest of setting the record straight I'm posting his response. It's great reading and I think you'll find it interesting. I've left his name out but I have no  doubt that he is who he says he is. His list of credentials is to put it mildly, impressive.

I've added a few notes in italics just to explain the USAF jargon and technical terms.

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Sat Mar 14, 2015 at 12:53 PM PDT

B-52s for Israel? Oy vey!

by Major Kong

Reposted from Kossack Air Force by Major Kong
B-52H dropping high-drag bombs and IR decoys (flares).
There's been some talk lately about giving surplus B-52s to Israel, presumably so they can use them on you-know-who.

I believe the latest person to float this idea was Senator Tom Cotton (R-Crazytown). What should really scare you is this isn't the worst idea Tom Cotton has had by a long shot, and he's just getting started.

While this sounds like something the loud drunk three bar-stools over might have said, that's apparently not the case.

I've traced the origin back to an op-ed posted in the Wall Street Journal by a retired Air Force officer and a pro-Israel think tank called the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs or JINSA. Who's on the board of JINSA? Oh the usual suspects like Dick Cheney, Doug Feith, John Bolton and Joe Lieberman. That should give you and idea of who we're dealing with.

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Sat Mar 07, 2015 at 09:58 AM PST

Air-Minded: Propellers of the Stars

by pwoodford

Reposted from Kossack Air Force by pwoodford

I am the Nancy Grace of celebrity plane wrecks.

When I saw the first photos of actor Harrison Ford's crashed airplane on the golf course in Santa Monica, I immediately zeroed in on the propeller. Probably only someone trained as an aircraft accident investigator would do that. I am such a someone, and that is what I did.

Left side, undamaged propeller blade (photo credit: unknown)
harrison ford_2
Right side, snapped propeller blade (photo credit: unknown)

Propellers can give you essential clues right off the bat: was the prop producing thrust at impact, merely spinning in the wind, or stopped altogether? The prop, in turn, tells you what the engine was doing.

More below ...

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Thu Mar 05, 2015 at 07:37 AM PST

Ugly Duckling - PBY Catalina

by Major Kong

Reposted from Kossack Air Force by Major Kong
Not the prettiest thing but it got the job done. Just about any job you could think of.
In military aviation there are the "glamor girls" like the P-51, Spitfire and B-17 that get all the attention. Then there are their less glamorous cousins like the Hurricane, P-47 and B-24. The ones that do the dirty work but don't get the credit. B-24s were actually more numerous than B-17s but when have you ever seen one in a movie?

These are the workhorses. The ones you never hear about. The ones that do the heavy lifting but never seen to get the attention of their glamorous cousins. One of the least glamorous but most important planes of WWII was the PBY Catalina.

Not the prettiest thing but if you needed to be plucked out of the ocean there was no prettier sight than one of these.

I don't normally write about navy planes (buncha rust-pickin' squids) or flying boats or WWII for that matter, but I've had more than one request for a PBY diary so here goes.

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Reposted from Kossack Air Force by pwoodford

Once a year, civilian warbird and USAF fighter pilots meet at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona, to practice close formation flying for the upcoming airshow season. The program, which features historical and current military aircraft, is called Heritage Flight. The annual practice session at DMAFB is the Heritage Flight Training and Certification Course.

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Mixed formation with Sabres, Lightning, Mustang (photo: Paul Woodford)

I don't think the training session gets much publicity, at least not from the USAF, as you can tell by the out-of-date USAF links above. Sometimes I hear about it through the air museum; sometimes I don't know it's happening until I see Mustangs and Sabres flying overhead. When I know about it in time I'll drive to the base, park at base operations, and head out to the flightline with my camera. There are never more than 20 or 30 other spectators on hand. So it is with this year's training meet. Heritage Flight practice started yesterday but I didn't learn of it until late in the afternoon; this morning I drove to the base and joined a small group of spectators on the ramp by base ops.

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P-47 Thunderbolt (photo: Paul Woodford)

These days active USAF participation is small. There were three F-16s and two F-22 Raptors on the ramp. No doubt DMAFB will contribute an A-10 or two, but there were no F-15s, as there have been in the past, and somewhat surprisingly no F-35s either, even though there's a training squadron just up the road at Luke AFB. The rich guys with their restored warbirds outnumbered active USAF participants: there were at least four P-51 Mustangs, one P-38 Lightning, one P-47 Thunderbolt, one P-40 Warhawk, and two F-86 Sabres.

Here are a few thumbnails: as with the photos above, you can click on them to see the full sized images at Flickr. You can also click here to see my full Heritage Flight 2015 Flickr album.

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Raptor showing its weapons bays (photo: Paul Woodford)
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Mustang & Raptor (photo: Paul Woodford)
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P-38 Lightning (photo: Paul Woodford)
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P-40 Warhawk (photo: Paul Woodford)
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