28 September 2009

During the Cold War, McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagles assigned to the 57th Fighter Interceptor Squadron "Black Knights" based in Iceland made frequent intercepts of Tupolev Tu-95/Tu-142 Bear aircraft transiting and operating in the GIUK Gap (Greenland-Iceland-UK). One several occasions the encounters between the Eagle pilots and the Bear crews got "interesting".

At night, the Bear-F ASW version would frequently use its powerful searchlight to try and disorient the pilot of an approaching Eagle. One Eagle driver took issue with this tactic- he zoomed ahead, turned 180 degrees, and while closing in on the Bear nose-on, lowered his landing gear and the Eagle's landing lights lit up the Bear cockpit, frightening the Russian crew. While the Eagle driver was reprimanded for his "innovative tactic", the Bears stopped shining their seachlights at the F-15s.

On another occasion, the mechanics of the 57th FIS created a fictitious EW pod by attaching all sorts of spare aerials and parts to a standard baggage pod. It was attached to an alert Eagle and when it went out to intercept a Bear, the pilot rolled out next to the Bear with the pod in full view. A battery of cameras suddenly were pulled out by the Russian crew to photograph this "new" EW pod.

The younger Eagle drivers with the 57th FIS would often spread a Playboy centerfold across the canopy when flying next to an intercepted Bear. Usually the Russian crew smiled back and waved. On one occasion the Bear flight crew repeatedly extended and retracted the nose mounted refueling probe in response!

Source: F-15 Eagle Engaged: The World's Most Successful Jet Fighter by Steve Davies and Doug Dildy. Osprey Publishing, 2007, p129.

27 September 2009

In the postwar period three British turboprop aircraft vied to be the next DC-3 replacement- the Avro 748, the Handley-Page Herald, and the Aviation Traders ATL.90 Accountant. Only the Accountant (so named due its advertised "good economics"), never reached service.

Aviation Traders was founded in 1948 by Freddie Laker, one of Britain's foremost aviation entrepreneurs. His company dealt initially with the scrapping of surplus war aircraft and later moved into the modification of existing aircraft. In the 1950s Laker decided to take the company into the realm of full aircraft manufacturing. At the 1953 Farnborough Air Show, the company revealed a 28-passenger aircraft powered by two Rolls-Royce Dart turboprops designed to operate from austere airfields. A stretched version seating 42 passengers was also planned and a swing nose was planned to ease the loading of freight (which was why the nose wheel was set so far back in the design).

The prototype first flew in July 1957 but as Aviation Traders was not an established manufacturer the Accountant failed to attract any orders other than interest from the Indian Air Force. Laker didn't have the funds to continue supporting the project and he failed to find an established manufacturer to take on production of the design. The larger Fokker Friendship F-27 proved to be a dominating competitor in the market and after only five months of flying and 200 flight hours, the Accountant never flew again. It would be scrapped in 1960.

Source: British Airliner Prototypes Since 1945 by Stephen Skinner. Midland Publishing, 2008, p119.

26 September 2009

By mid-1971, the Royal Laotian Air Force had thirteen AC-47 "Spooky" gunships on strength and were conducting approximately 50 missions per month in support of government ground units as well as the Hmong tribesmen in the highlands. Though superstitious, the Laotion gunship crews readily adopted the Spooky call sign but would not operate the AC-47s seven crew members as Buddhist tradition regarded the number seven as an unlucky number. As a result, RLAF AC-47s went into combat either with one man short (six crew) or one man extra (eight).

Source: Gunships: The Story of Spooky, Shadow, Stinger and Spectre by Wayne Mutza. Specialty Press, 2009, p183.

25 September 2009

The powerplant of the Reno Unlimited Class racer Rare Bear is quite different from that of the standard Grumman F8F Bearcat. The Rare Bear has had the standard Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine replaced with a larger Wright R-3350 radial engine. Unlike the tempermental R-3350s that were used on the B-29 Superfortress, Rare Bear's engine utilized parts from R-3350s that were ruggedized for airline use- but since those engines were too heavy for air racing, only the parts that were absolutely necessary were used.

The supercharger was also customized using one from a Lockheed EC-121 Constellation as a basis. Since the Constellation's supercharger was designed for direct-head fuel injection, it wasn't compatible with the Rare Bear's engine, so it was modified to work with the Rare Bear's pressure carburetion system.

A stock R-3350 generates 2800 horsepower at 2600 rpm with 45 inches of manifold pressure. The modifications to the Rare Bear's engine gives it's R-3350 4000 horsepower at 3200 rpm and 80 inches of manifold pressure.

Source: Air & Space Smithsonian, November 2009. "The Bear is Back- Can an air racing legend win again at Reno?" by Preston Lerner, p45-46.

24 September 2009

The successor in the skies over Vietnam to the AC-47 Spooky gunship was the AC-119 Shadow which often carried the nickname "Big Dumb Brother" which was derived from a little known USAF evaluation program called Project Little Brother for a light, heavily armed ground-attack aircraft suitable for counter-insurgency roles. The hope was the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) would be able to field this smaller gunship as well.

Based at Eglin AFB, USAF evaluators gathered a Cessna 337 Skymaster, a Cessna 206, a Beechcraft S35, a Piper Cherokee Six, all of which were leased from their respective manufacturers and retained in their civilian schemes. Also, a Cessna 0-1 Bird Dog and a Cessna 0-2A Skymaster were pulled from USAF training units at Eglin. Joining the mix was the American Electric Pirhana, a single prototype high performance attack aircraft weighing only 2000 lbs.

The Little Brother candidate aircraft flew missions over Eglin's extensive ranges with minigun pods, napalm, free-fall bombs, rocket launchers and various gun installations. The favored platform in the program was the Cessna O-2 and the proposed O-2C would have higher powered engines, armor/self-sealing tanks, a side firing 7.62mm Minigun as well as the sensors and electronics for a pilot and gunner crew to fly and fight the gunship mission.

By the early 1970s Project Little Brother wound down to a close, but the sensors and avionics developed would form the basis of the more capable night attack sensors that would end up on the AC-119 and AC-130 aircraft during the War.

Source: Gunships- The Story of Spooky, Shadow, Stinger, and Spectre by Wayne Mutza. Specialty Press, 2009, p61-65.

23 September 2009

During the Berlin Airlift, the Royal Air Force used two Short Sunderland squadrons, No. 201 and No. 230, to augment airlift capacity by flying into Lake Havel (Havelsee) just west of Berlin. The Sunderlands were based near Hamburg on the Elbe River. They had a load capacity of 4.5 tons and were valued as salt carriers as their specially-treated airframes designed for operations in a sea environment made them resistant to corrosion. On the return flights to Hamburg, they carried manufactured goods and refugees, mostly German children.

Between July and December, when the Sunderlands had to stop operating due to the Havelsee freezing over, the Sunderlands flew over 1000 sorties, carried over 2500 tons of salt into Berlin and flew over a 1000 German children out. By the time the Havelsee thawed out in the spring, airspace saturation prevented the Sunderland operations from resuming.

Source: International Air Power Review, Volume 26. "Air Operations: Berlin Airlift" by Warren E. Thompson, additional material by David Donald, p168.

21 September 2009

During the Vietnam War, the USAF developed a whole series of downward ejecting dispenser pods that were authorized for use by the F-105 Thunderchief, the F-111, and the F-4 Phantom, but in practice only the Phantom used the pods. The pods varied little in external appearance and remained with the aircraft but the submunition payloads were a diverse range of air-dropped area denial mines designed for use against vehicles and enemy troops.

The most interesting of the payloads combined the SUU-41 dispenser pod with what was called the "Gravel" mine. The Gravel mine was a small antipersonnel mine triggered by the pressure of someone stepping on it- though it didn't kill, it certainly caused ruined the foot. The mine was essentially an explosive laden bag of cloth with no type of fusing as the explosive was simply triggered by pressure. To keep the mine inert while in the SUU-41 dispenser, they were packed in liquid Freon and as such, could only be carried and dropped by specially-modified F-4Ds with monitoring equipment to use the Gravel mine.

The WSO in the backseat monitored the temperature of the ten payload bays in each of the SUU-41 pods. Once the Gravel mines warmed to a certain temperature, warning lights came on to alert the flight crew that the mines were "live" in five minutes. Ideally, the mines were dropped while still cold and as the Freon evaporated, the mines would go live. After a period of time, mine's explosives went inert.

Only a handful of Phantoms assigned to the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at RTAFB Ubon in Thailand were able to use the Gravel mines.

Source: McDonnel F-4 Phantom- Spirit in the Skies, Jon Lake and David Donald, eds. AIRtime Publishing, 2002, p136.

20 September 2009

The Grumman F-14 Tomcat was the first fighter aircraft to rely on a digital computer to optimize its performance, primarily through the adjustment of the wing sweep. The aerospace company Garrett AiResearch won the contract from Grumman to design the F-14's central air data computer. Garrett's previous work was the air data computer on the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II, which was electromechanical in that it used watch-like gears and cams in an enclosure two feet long and three feet high. The same feat would be replicated in the Tomcat on a 40-inch square circuit board. Engineers and scientists created a six-chip processor containing 65 kilobytes of data that flew on the Tomcat's first flight in 1970.

While Intel Corporation gets credit for producing the world's first single-chip microprocessor in 1971, Garrett AiResearch's microprocessor beat it by one year but it used six chips instead of a single chip.

Source: Air & Space Smithsonian, September 2009. "Road to the Future...Is Paved with Good Inventions- The Tomcat's Brain" by Linda Shiner, p27.

19 September 2009

Weighing only 55 lbs and about the size of a bass drum, the first geostationary communications satellites were the three Syncom satellites built by Hughes in the 1960s. Syncom 1 was launched on 13 February 1963 atop a Delta rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. All communications with Syncom 1 were lost when the apogee kick motor was only a second left from its 22 second burn to put it into geostationary orbit.

Syncom 2 was launched 26 July 1963 and was more successful. After a month in near-geostationary orbit with the USS Kingsport in Lagos Harbor, Nigeria, acting as a relay, Syncom 2 allowed President John F. Kennedy to speak by phone to Nigerian Prime Minister Abubaker Balewa from the White House in the first satellite conversation between two heads of state.

Syncom 3 was launched a year later and reached true geostationary orbit in time to broadcast the opening ceremonies of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo in the first continuous satellite TV broadcast across the Pacific. Syncoms 2 and 3 would operate until 1966, providing telephone service home for US troops in Vietnam.

The Syncom ground station dish was 85 feet across, cost millions of dollars and only had a single channel. Today's home satellite dishes are less than 2 feet across, cost under $100 and provide over 300 channels.

Source: Air & Space Smithsonian, September 2009. "Spin Doctors- How three engineers launched the comsat revolution" by Guy Gugliotta, p25.

18 September 2009

In November 1976 a squadron exchange took place when the RAF Harrier GR.1-equipped No. 1(F) Squadron brought four Harrier GR.1s and a T.2 to Dijon AB in France. In a time-honored tradition of "zapping" the other unit's aircraft with some sort of temporary marking, one of the RAF crew drew a cartoon Harrier attempting to mate with the stork tail marking of the host unit, a Mirage IIIE of Escadre de Chasse 1/2 Cigones.

The night before the departure of the RAF crew, while the British guest were kept busy with the reception, a group of French air force personnel set to work on the Harrier T.2. The following morning when they arrived at the ramp, the RAF found their Harrier T.2 completely painted pink- the markings were masked and not overpainted and three coats were used- one sprayed and two applied with a roller. Amidst a festive departure (which included a low flyby of Dijon with the pink Harrier T.2 leading the GR.1s) the exchange group returned to RAF Wittering to great amusement of the personnel in attendance.

The squadron commander, however, felt less than amused. He ordered that no one from the exchange group would go home for the weekend until the pink Harrier was returned to its original scheme. However, it was discovered the French had used an emulsion based paint rather than a water-based paint and despite an entire weekend of effort, the pink Harrier ended having to be resprayed in its gray/green disruptive camouflage color as the pink paint settled in every panel line despite the efforts at removal.

Source: BAe/McDonnell Douglas Harrier by Andy Evans. The Crowood Press Ltd, 1998 (Crowood Aviation Series), p40-41.

17 September 2009

On 27 January 2000, Dee Porter, a Lockheed pilot under contract to the NASA Dryden Airborne Science program, became the first pilot to fly a Lockheed U-2 (in its NASA ER-2 version) through Russian airspace since the shootdown of Francis Gary Powers in 1960. Apprehensive about the safety of the overflight, Porter asked a Russian air defense general if the air traffic control centers and air defense systems would be notified in advance. Rather wryly, the general responded "There will not be a second incident."

Entering Russian airspace near the Finnish border, Porter was responsible for operating 17 different atmospheric experiments at various points in the route as designated by the NASA team's 250 scientists. The ER-2 was loaded with over a ton of scientific equipment for this particular mission.

At the time of the mission, Porter had 3,200 hours in the U-2, more than any other active U-2 pilot, having started his career in the U-2 with the US Air Force in 1980. During his first Arctic mission, Arctic survival instructors told him that ejection at high altitude where the ambient temperature was -83 Centigrade made survival irrelevant as he would be frozen by the time he reached the ground.

Source: 50 Years of the U-2- The Complete Illustrated History of the "Dragon Lady" by Chris Pocock. Schiffer Publishing, 2005, p380.

16 September 2009

In 1964 the Tripartite Kestrel Evaluation Squadron, or TES, was formed in the UK by the governments of the United States, West Germany, and Britain. The purpose of the TES was to perform operational trials with the Hawker P.1127 Kestrel.

Each nation provided personnel and pilots for the TES and West Germany was represented by Colonel Gerhard Barkhorn, who was the second-highest scoring ace in the Luftwaffe during World War 2 with 301 victories. The Germans participated in the TES to forward their own knowledge base with their own V/STOL project, the VAK.191. On one test flight, Barkhorn cut the throttle too early while in vertical landing mode and the Kestrel dropped quickly and destroyed the undercarriage. As Col. Barkhorn walked away from the crash-landing, he kicked the aircraft out of frustration and declared that the wrecked Kestrel was the "302nd Allied aircraft" he had destroyed.

Source: BAe/McDonnell Douglas Harrier by Andy Evans. The Crowood Press Ltd, 1998 (Crowood Aviation Series), p11-13.

14 September 2009

Originally equipped with the AIM-9B Sidewinder for close-range missile attack in Vietnam, the USAF replaced the mediocre AIM-9B with the Hughes AIM-4D Falcon that was used by the USAF's interceptor force. Though heat seeking like the Sidewinder, the Falcon proved wholly unsuitable for dogfighting as it was designed to shoot down strategic bombers. It required the seeker head be cooled down before launch and needed a direct hit to score a kill as it didn't have proximity fuzing. In what became known as the "Falcon Fiasco", the limited cooling time of the liquid nitrogen supply was only two minutes, usually less, and the seeker could not be pre-cooled. Once the nitrogen supply was exhausted, the missile was blind and referred to derisively as the "Hughes Arrow".

After he fired four Falcons in combat without success, Col. Robin Olds, commander of the 555th Tactical Fighter Wing in Vietnam ordered them off the USAF Phantoms in theater as he was convinced the Falcons cost him a fifth kill to reach ace status in Vietnam. Newer versions of the Sidewinder returned to the Phantom's arsenal as a result.

Source: Air & Space Smithsonian, January 2009. "Where Have All the Phantoms Gone? How a fighter-bomber-recon-attack superstar ended up as fodder for target practice" by Ralph Wetterhahn, p31.

13 September 2009

In 1975 the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) had just taken delivery of new streetcars from Boeing subsidiary Vertol. Though sleek and high-tech, the streetcars were maintenance nightmares that were not working as advertised and the MBTA was planning to sue Boeing. One Saturday morning, Robert Kiley, the chair and CEO of the MBTA, was alone working in his office when he was called downstairs as he had a visitor. Arriving alone, was Boeing CEO Thornton "T.A." Wilson.

Kiley took Wilson up to his office and Wilson offered to do whatever it took to restore Boeing's good name with the MBTA as he told Kiley he felt Boeing should not have strayed into businesses it didn't know as well when it acquired Vertol in 1960. T.A. Wilson offered to do whatever it took to fix the streetcars and if they failed to do so to the MBTA's satisfaction, Boeing would repay the MBTA's entire investment in the project- about $45 million in 1970-dollars.

In the end, the streetcars couldn't be made to work and Boeing repaid the MBTA its full investment in the project.

Source: Boeing Versus Airbus-The Inside Story of the Greatest International Competition in Business by John Newhouse. Alfred A. Knopf Books, 2007, p5-6.

12 September 2009

The windshield frame used on the Boeing 737NG not only traces its lineage back to 1958 and the first widely successful commercial jetliner, the 707, but it is an identical structure- the same windshield frame that fits any of the 6,106 737s (delivered as of July this year) will also fit any of the 1,831 727s built as well as any of the 1,010 707s built.

All that is about to change as Boeing and 737 windshield manufacturer PPG Industries are introducing for certification next year a design change in the windshield that should improve its bird strike resistance. While the actual glass technology has been updated since the first 707 rolled out, the frame and the hole patterns have remained identical through the 707, 727, and the 6000+ 737s so far. The newer design, however, will require a change in the framing structure for the first time.

Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology, September 7, 2009. "Bag That Bird- A slight size change prompts PPG Aerospace to design a new 737 windshield" by Michael Mecham, p48.

11 September 2009

When the first Douglas A4D-1 and A4D-2 Skyhawks entered service, they only had three weapons stations (one under each wing and centerline) and depending upon the number of external tanks carried, only one or two bombs could be carried, which significantly limited the Skyhawk's conventional weapons delivery role. At China Lake, test squadron VX-5 came up with a solution that used the Aero-15 outer wing weapons pylons from an AD Skyraider welded to an adapter that could be hung from a Skyhawk weapons station- this was called the MCBR- Multiple Carriage Bomb Rack. In 1959 sixteen bombs were dropped in a demonstration by an A4D Skyhawk for the Navy brass at MCAS Yuma.

The Navy immediately approved of the project and Douglas submitted an unsolicited proposal for a more refined device called the MBR- Multiple Bomb Rack. The first units went out to Skyhawk fleet units in 1960.

The next refinement came shortly after- the Navy's MCBR and Douglas' MBR only dropped the bombs and local airflow around the aircraft potentially could cause the bombs to bump into each other, affecting delivery or worse yet, triggering a detonation. A small pyrotechnic charge was added to each bomb rack to provide positive separation of the bomb from the rack, thus creating the MER- Multiple Ejector Rack, which could carry six bombs in two groups of three in tandem. The MER quickly entered fleet use and would be supplemented by the TER - Triple Ejector Rack, a shortened version that only held three bombs.

Source: Strike from the Sea: U.S. Navy Attack Aircraft from Skyraider to Super Hornet, 1948-Present by Tommy H. Thomason. Specialty Press, 2009, p101.

10 September 2009

In the late 1950s Lockheed was in the midst of developing a high speed, high altitude successor to the U-2 spyplane under the name Project Suntan. The aircraft in question, the CL-400, resembled a significantly scaled up F-104 Starfighter with large wingtip hydrogen-fueled engines. The project progressed to the point of a full-scale mockup being built along with several test articles including a liquid hydrogen tank and subscale wing components. The program ended when it was realized that the necessary technologies for LH2-powered supersonic flight were far in advance of the funding available.

Lockheed then turned its efforts to the Archangel program which ultimately resulted in the SR-71 Blackbird. Much of Project Suntan's engineering data, however, was turned over to Convair who used it to develop the Centaur upper stage booster that is still in use today on the Atlas launch vehicle and was also used on the Titan-series boosters as well.

Source: Lockheed Secret Projects- Inside the Skunk Works by Dennis R. Jenkins. MBI Publishing, 2001, p43-44.

09 September 2009

Now entering service, the Hawker 900XP business jet is the latest variant of a line of business jets that have been in continuous production since 1962, longer than any other civilian jet. Only the Boeing 737 comes close, having been in production since 1968.

The original production version, the Hawker-Siddeley HS-125, was built and designed with the airframe failures of the De Havilland Comet in mind (the HS-125 design originated with De Havilland) had a robust structure that was even approved for operations from unpaved and sod runways. No airframe in this family of aircraft has ever suffered a failure as a result.

The first HS-125s were powered by Rolls-Royce Viper turbojets which were loud and not only fuel-thirsty, but also oil thirsty as the oil wasn't recovered from the bearings of the engine and one of the tasks of the copilot was to pour more oil into the turbojet before each flight. The first big leap in the design came in 1976 when Garrett TFE731 turbofan engines were added to the 125-700, making it, along with the Lear 35 and Falcon 10, one of the first turbofan applications in business jets.

The next leap that made the design a commercial success came in 1983 when the 125-800 rolled out with new longer span wing and a wrap around windshield to reduce drag.

There is an apocryphal story that when they were designing the cabin cross section for the HS-125, De Havilland engineers went to the London clubs frequented by executives that they expected to form the market for the aircraft and measured them to be sure the cabin was sized properly.

Source: Flying, October 2009. "Hawker 900XP- The newest version of a first generation business jet is the best one yet" by J. Mac McClellan, p43-45.

08 September 2009

Burt Rutan and his company Scaled Composites were hired by Beech Aircraft in 1982 to build a five-eighths scale prototype of the Beech Starship. Based on the layout of his successful VariEze/Long-EZ kitplanes, Rutan became a vice president at Beech and even married the daughter of one of the aircraft company's executives.

Given the FAA's relative inexperience in certifying carbon-fiber composite aircraft at the time, once the prototype had been scaled up to a production article its performance fell below expectations and only 24 were built. The Starship would be the only Rutan design to achieve series production.

And his marriage? It was his third and it only lasted 20 months. By 1988 Rutan and Scaled Composites ended their relationship as well with Beech Aircraft.

Source: Aviation History, November 2009. "Top Pencil: Maverick Airplane Designer Burt Rutan Doesn't Just Think Outside the Box; He Completely Destroys It and Starts Anew" by Peter Garrison, p28-29.

07 September 2009

The first monoplane bomber to enter RAF service was the Fairey Hendon when it become operational in 1936 with No. 38 Squadron at RAF Marham, beating the Handley Page Harrow by just a few months. At a time when aviation technology was rapidly improving, the Hendon took nearly six years to develop and when it entered service, it was so hopelessly antiquated that only 14 aircraft were built and were rapidly replaced in operational service by Vickers Wellingtons.

Despite being a twin-engined aircraft, the wingspan of the Hendon was only 3 inches less than that of the Avro Lancaster yet a single engine on the Lancaster had more horsepower than both of the 600 hp engines of the Hendon. The Hendon's performance was only marginally better than the Handley Page Heyford biplane bomber it replaced.
Source: Military Aircraft Monthly, Volume 8, Issue 7. "...Peace in Our Time..." by Martin Derry, p14.

06 September 2009

As often as eight times in a year, a French Navy (Marine Nationale Aeronavale) Dassault Falcon 50M SURMAR (SURveillance MARitime) of the unit Flottille 24F deploys to Cayenne in French Guyana via Dakar, Senegal from its home base at Lann-Bihoue in France. While there, the Falcon 50M conducts patrols of the French exclusive economic zone offshore before Ariane rocket launches from the Kourou Space Centre to be sure the areas were the rocket's boosters fall back to earth are clear of shipping.

Source: Air International, August 2009. "SAR Dream Machine" by Henri-Pierre Grolleau, p50.

05 September 2009

Braniff International Airways would be the only customer for the Series 200 of the Boeing 707 jetliner. While the original 707 production version was designated the 707-120, Braniff's aircraft were 707-200s (actually 707-227s using Braniff's customer number). The -120 used the JT3C turbojet which provided 13,200 lbs of thrust and was the civilian version of the military J57 engine. The -227, on the other hand, used the more powerful JT4A engine with 15,800 lbs of thrust and was the civilian version of the J75 engine that was used on the F-105 Thunderchief, F-106 Delta Dart and the U-2. The JT4A (which was also used on the Douglas DC-8-20) gave Braniff plenty of extra power at some of the hot-and-high airports of the US Southwest and Latin America and did not require water injection for a takeoff boost.

Only five 707-227s were built- the first one was lost on a pre-delivery test flight on 19 October 1959. The remaining four were flown by Braniff until 1971 when they were traded to BWIA (British West Indies Airlines).

Source: Airways, October 2009. "Braniff's 'El Dorado Super Jet' 707s" by Ed Davies, p41, 44.