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Now for something happier – SpaceX Falcon Heavy successfully launches February 6, 2018

Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, blogfoolery, Flightline Friday, fun, non squitur, Society, technology, Victory.
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I don’t know if you got to see the launch, but over 5 million pounds of thrust shook Launch pad 39A at Cape Canaveral for the first time in 45 years as SpaceX’s first Falcon Heavy rocket conducted an almost entirely successful test flight.  I say almost entirely, because at the time I am writing this, it is not known if the core booster successfully landed on the drone ship in the Atlantic (the side boosters did land).

Footage of the launch below.

The payload was Elon Musk’s 2008 Tesla roadster fitted with a manikin in an astronaut’s suit.  They are still livestreaming footage of that, dubbed “Starman:”

Both the Tesla roadster and the 2nd stage of the Falcon Heavy are en route to a solar orbit that will have them pass somewhere out around the orbit of Mars.

While this initial version of Falcon Heavy was significantly dialed back in terms of thrust and payload potential, given how SpaceX has constantly, incrementally increased the thrust and payload of its Falcon 9, I expect them to do the same with Falcon Heavy.  I wouldn’t doubt if a nearly 6 million pound thrust version may enter service at some point.

The launch coverage was thoroughly enjoyable to watch.  The immense joy of SpaceX employees in the background, shouting and whooping it up as the rocket successfully executed each step of the launch cycle, was contagious.

Congratulations to SpaceX.  I think BFR and Mars colonization are a bit too ambitious even for Elon Musk, but what they have accomplished so far they have every right to be extremely proud of.

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USAF Hosting Largest Ever Red Flag Exercise, Featuring Massive GPS Blackout over Western US January 31, 2018

Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Flightline Friday, fun, non squitur, silliness, Society, technology, Uncategorized.
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Now I know why I didn’t do a Flightline Friday for months – I knew once I got started on the subject, I wouldn’t be able to stop.  You’re witnessing the transformation of this formerly dumb Catholic blog to a smart military blog.

Actually, I’ve been just pounded at work this week and when I get a moment, I want to read something “light,” which has meant military. Because nothing says light like war and death.

Red Flag is the world’s premiere, largest, most complex, most realistic air warfare exercise.  Red Flags are typically held 4-6 times a  year, always at Nellis Air Force base adjacent to Las Vegas and the sprawling Nellis Test and Training Range.  Red Flag 18-1 is the first of the year, as the name implies, and is also the largest ever held.  Not only that, it is also one of the most secretive, highest-end threat environments ever presented at Red Flag, which is saying something, because many aircrew maintain that after experiencing the rigors of Red Flag, actual combat seems rather dull and uneventful.  Red Flag generally prepares aircrews for the highest end fight, against the most complex defenses and the most skilled adversaries.  This year is no exception, as, for the first time ever, USAF will be making use of GPS-jamming technologies so powerful that normal GPS reception over almost the entire western US will be affected for several hours a day while the exercises are ongoing:

The year’s first iteration of the USAF’s premier set of aerial war games, known commonly as Red Flag, is kicking off today at Nellis Air Force Base just outside of Las Vegas, but this exercise will be different than any in the past. Not only is it the largest of its kind in the exercise’s 42 year history, but the USAF is going to blackout GPS over the sprawling Nevada Test and Training Range to challenge aircrews and their weaponry under realistic fighting conditions. The tactic will spill over throughout the region, with warnings being posted stating inconsistent GPS service could be experienced by aircrews flying throughout the western United States.

The NBAA Command Center reports the U.S. military will begin training exercises on the Nevada Test and Training Range between 0400Z until 0700Z daily. Training maneuvers will impact vast portions of the Western U.S. including California, Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Montana and New Mexico. FAA enroute ATC centers affected include Albuquerque (ZAB), Denver (ZDV), Los Angeles (ZLA), Salt Lake (ZLC), Oakland (ZOA) and Seattle (ZSE). Operations in R-2508 and R-2501 may also be impacted.

Arrivals and departures from airports within the Las Vegas area may be issued non-Rnav re-routes with the possibility of increased traffic disruption near LAS requiring airborne re-routes to the south and east of the affected area. Aircraft operating in Los Angeles (ZLA) center airspace may experience navigational disruption, including suspension of Descend-via and Climb-via procedures. Non-Rnav SIDs and STARs may be issued within ZLA airspace in the event of increased navigational disruption. Crews should expect the possibility of airborne mile-in-trail and departure mile-in-trail traffic management initiatives.

Those dates and the location perfectly correspond with Red Flag 18-1. The timeframe for the daily disruptions is also the same as the night launch and recovery period for Red Flag this time of year. Two major large force employment missions take place every day during the exercise, one during the light and one during the night, with each last roughly two to three hours.

This particular Red Flag includes players from the USAF, USMC, Australia and UK. [Those are the US’ top-tier allies and get access to the darkest and spookiest stuff.  Britain used to far and away be the most trusted in that respect, but more and more of late Australia is given the most favored nation status in access to highly classified capabilities and programs. Still, the two are easily the most trusted and given access to the most sensitive capabilities – and vice versa.  The militaries of the US, Britain, and Australia share as much, and are as integrated, as any in the world.] The very limited guest list of only America’s most trusted allies is indicative of a Red Flag exercise where high-end and sensitive capabilities will be put to the test. According to a press release from the USAF that was posted just hours ago, this seems to be an accurate assumption, with Colonel Michael Mathes, 414th Combat Training Squadron commander, stating:

“We’re trying a few new and different things with Red Flag 18-1… It’s the largest Red Flag ever with the largest number of participants, highlighting the balance of training efficiency with mission effectiveness… Red Flag 18-1 primarily is a strike package focused training venue that we integrate at a command and control level in support of joint task force operations… It’s a lot of words to say that we integrate every capability we can into strike operations that are flown out of Nellis Air Force Base.” [So Red Flag also often involves lower-tier allies, and even some nations that are only kinda sorta friendly, like India.  Adversaries are not invited. So, it’s not unusual for the Israeli Air Force to attend, or Colombia, S. Korea, and certainly other NATO nations.  But this one is reserved only for the closest allies, which says something special is going on]

If you read  yesterday’s single post, you know that the US presently has a significant vulnerability to anti-satellite weapons, which is another way to deny critical capabilities like GPS to US forces.  Powerful ground- or air-based jammers are another way to accomplish the same goal.  I’m glad, in a sense, to see USAF taking the threat seriously and training to fight in a GPS-degraded environment.  My brother-in-law who is apparently a genius at packaging ever-smaller and cheaper inertial navigation systems (INS) into aircraft, weapons, ships, and ground vehicles has his work cut out for him, but should stay busy for years.

A bit of a rah-rah video from USAF on this Red Flag 18-1.

Unfortunately, a Royal Australian Air Force Boeing EF-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft caught fire and was severely damaged during the exercises this week.  Apparently the crew were able to escape without injury, but the aircraft is likely a total write off.  It seems the starboard engine caught fire and burned through the empennage.

As to the threat, here’s a video the Navy released of Russian Su-27 Flankers – armed with live missiles – flying dangerously close to an EP-3E Aries II electronic surveillance aircraft over the international waters/airspace of theBlack Sea recently.  This kind of thing used to happen occasionally during the Cold War, but has been occurring regularly, several times a year, since tensions mounted with Russia over their intervention in the Ukraine/Crimea:

In some of those shots, that Flanker is single digit feet from the Aries.  Dangerous.  Lots of potential for bad things to happen with that kind of behavior.

Don’t Have a Freak Out – Russian, Chinese Anti-Satellite Technology Nothing New January 31, 2018

Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, Flightline Friday, history, It's all about the $$$, non squitur, silliness, Society, technology.
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This article from Hot Air is remarkably ignorant of history.  It does not mention, for instance, Program 437, which ran from 1962 until 1975, which involved launching a Thor missile from Johnson Atoll in the Pacific to down low earth orbit satellites and/or fractional orbit bombardment systems (FOBS) – a kind of nuclear warhead designed to behave like a satellite and thus attack by stealth, possibly from a surprising direction – like from the south.  This was an active US anti-satellite (ASAT) capability for over a decade.

And even Program 437 was preceded by another American ASAT system, Program 505, which used a Nike Zeus anti-ballistic missile missile to also target low earth orbit satellites and FOBS.  505 was phased out because Thor could reach much higher altitudes than Zeus, up to 800 miles above earth – really out of LEO territory and into medium orbits.  Both were armed with nuclear warheads to make sure they killed what they targeted, though they were accurate enough (at least Zeus was) to get skin-to-skin hits even way back in the very early 60s.  Satellites and ICBM reentry vehicles behave in extremely similar ways, if you have a capability against one, you have a capability against the other.  And right now, the US missile defense system is neither the world’s most advanced nor it’s most comprehensive.  Apparently, many other nations have concluded that shooting down targets on entirely predictable ballistic paths is not impossible.  Because it’s not, and we’ve been doing it for nearly 60 years, though the current Ground Based Mid-Course Defense system is kind of a kludge and has been starved of vital infrastructure for years (like enough radars to discriminate targets).

The thing is, all of our major world adversaries have had a similar capability for decades.  Pretty much, if you have the ability to orbit a satellite, you have the ability to shoot them down, at least the ones in LEO. Simply calculate the orbit of the target satellite, and launch your own to coincide with at some determined time, and blammo, no more satellite. The Soviets had a massive ASAT program from the 60s on, and deployed a number of ASAT systems, up to an including a 1 megawatt laser battle station prototype, which, thank God, failed to achieve orbit when it’s booster turned the wrong direction and fired it back into the atmosphere (that was in 1987, when the same Soviets were screaming to all the world, and had eager acolytes in the Western press doing same, that orbital laser battle stations were an impossibility.  They were actually way ahead of us at the time, and in some ways, still are).

Anyhoo, some statist media were trying to work up a panic today, eagerly parroting what their patrons in the Deep State wanted them to say, proclaiming that Oh My God, the bad guys are threatening us again!  It’s all much ado about nothing (or very little, and very old, news), but it does point up that, indeed, at present, the US has no viable, operational ASAT system, not because we don’t have the ability, or can’t afford it, but by deliberate act of policy. Any number of systems have been proposed, and a good number have reached the hardware stage, but demonrats in Congress (or the executive branch) have always managed to scuttle them, since we signed a stupid treaty in 1967 that pretends to ban warfare in outer space.*  Good luck with that:

China and Russia are developing anti-satellite missiles and other weapons and will soon be capable of damaging or destroying all U.S. satellites in low-earth orbit, according to the Pentagon’s Joint Staff.

The Joint Staff intelligence directorate, known as J-2, issued the warning in a recent report on the growing threat of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons from those states, according to officials familiar with the assessment.

The report concludes that “China and Russia will be capable of severely disrupting or destroying U.S. satellites in low-earth orbit” in the next several years, said the officials.

The capability to attack low-earth orbit satellites could be in place by 2020, the officials said.

Notice the subtle manipulation – there is a big threat, but it’s not quite real, yet.  We’re safe for now.  But you better pour billions into our pet project, or we’ll be doomed, doomed!

There actually is a real threat out there, but I think it has much more to do with how the US defense establishment has allowed its operations to evolve into this desire for an ultimate control, God’s eye view of the battlespace, requiring massive recon and even more massive data transfer capabilities.  Because the “gods” don’t want to be anywhere near an actual battlefield, which tend to be in hot, nasty, dusty, and sticky places.  They want to sit in their air conditioned cocoon in DC and call all the shots.  The only, or easiest, way to get worldwide recon and transmission of data is via satellite.  Thus, the US military is now incredibly, incredibly dependent on constant and massive satellite presence, a very very delicate system and one with a thousand and one dire vulnerabilities and single points of failure. Thus the screaming about the threat.  25 years ago, satellites were very nice to have an in some limited ways even vital, but the Gulf War could have been fought with a serious reduction in our satellite capabilities without a great deal of impact at the operational level.  Nowadays, literally everything runs via satellite, from the Predator footage that allows Obama to sit in the Oval Office and watch a terrorist get Hellfired in Yemen, to all the JDAMs/JSOWs/JASSMs and other “joint” bombs and missiles that now make up the overwhelming majority of the ordinance dropped by tactical aircraft, which, similarly, navigate via satellite.  There is still some sanity, many of these bombs and certainly the aircraft have embedded INS and other systems to back up and replace the GPS if need be, but a) those are just that, back ups, and not used much anymore, and b) the entire concept of operations, training, budgets, etc., are focused around constant availability of very expensive, very few, and very vulnerable satellites.  This actually is a very major concern for the US, because satellites are extremely difficult to harden, and they are very easy to find (there are ways around this, satellites do contain maneuvering fuel, but not very much, and a few orbit changes to avoid a threat will use that up very quickly.  Plus, moving them around causes them to not be where you need them to be when you need them – at least some of the less numerous kinds. Probably most of you would be shocked to know how FEW recon “spy” satellites the US has in orbit – even adding in the radar and other non-visual types, it isn’t even 10, and may be as few as 4 or 5).

Thus, ZUMA, which some of you may have heard of, was probably not actually a failed mission, but is almost certainly a prototype (or not so prototype) stealth satellite design.  That’s one way to avoid being targeted – many amateur astronomers, radio hobbyists, etc, are able to track all publicly acknowledged satellites by their transmissions (even if they cannot decode them), literally see them in orbit, etc.  It is known there have been some stealth satellites that were not visible to the ground and used transmission technologies that most ordinary enthusiasts could not ID and track.  Several of these have been orbited over the years.  ZUMA appears to be another one, but unusually large and with an unusual cover story.

*- While the Us has no acknowledged, purpose-built ASAT system at present, as recently as 10 years ago, the US very publicly shot down a satellite in LEO using an ABM missile (a Navy Standard 3 missile, our best ICBM defense weapon at this point).  If a nation has an operational ABM system, it most certainly has at least some measure of an ASAT capability. I’m sure Obama scratched any further development of that capability, even at the classified level, but perhaps Trump will turn it back on.

In the past, I’d have said that was a good thing.  Not so sure anymore.

Sorry I do have a lot of good Catholic stuff to get to but had little time today.  I’m really running late now, have a blessed evening.

Sorry for the atrocious pic – who would take it from between some fuzzy covers, and why? But it’s the only one that shows what we could have had, and almost had – a layered missile defense system covering almost the entire US with nearly 1000 interceptors (more could have been added later) with numerous, very capable and very hardened, targeting radars. Not sure why New Orleans and El Paso were left uncovered – Miami, too, apparently. This system wasn’t really good against SLBMs but with additional radars and interceptor sites, easily could have been. Yes it was expensive but at present we have almost no defense, and for some of the country, none at all, against a ballistic missile attack, nuclear or otherwise.
These are coverage areas of the proposed – and somewhat built – Sentinel ABM system, which later was called Safeguard under Nixon, and then cancelled by the commie Congress of the mid-70s that came in the national temper tantrum in the wake of Watergate, which was an absolute nothing burger compared to what the corrupt federal government is up to today, and has been since at least Jan 20 2009, when Obama turned it into the paramilitary enforcement branch of the demonrat party.

Flightline Friday: SpaceX Static Fires the Mighty Falcon Heavy January 26, 2018

Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Flightline Friday, fun, non squitur, silliness, technology.
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I haven’t done a Flightline Friday in ages.  Well, some important recent aerospace news – SpaceX, finally, after years of delays, appears about set to launch the Falcon Heavy rocket sometime in the next few weeks. The full stack was static fired for the first time on Wednesday – and they did it at Launch Complex 39A, from which all but one Saturn V launches took place.

The Falcon Heavy is not as powerful as the Saturn V, but it is in the same league.  It produces over 5 million pounds of thrust, to the Saturn V’s 7.7+ million (on Apollo 15).  The Space Shuttle stack made just over 7 million pounds, but most of that was from solid rockets, which are boring, and the Space Shuttle doesn’t fly anymore, so there.

Falcon Heavy, with 27 Merlin engines, will be able to loft about 70 tons into low earth orbit, and nearly 30 tons to geosynchronous orbit.  It also has very substantial capacities for escape velocity – about 25 tons to the Moon and 19 tons to Mars.  Those are the capacities with full expendability – no returning and landing any of the stages.  With reuse, the capacities are substantially reduced, especially to GTO and escape velocity.  Generally, the Falcon Heavy has capacities almost exactly half those of the Saturn V – one handicap is that SpaceX continues to use a relatively low energy upper stage powered by hydrocarbons, whereas Saturn V upper stages were cryogenic and powered by liquid hydrogen.   They also had way more thrust, especially the spectacular S-II stage.

Anyhoo, even though the test was very short, shock waves in the flame trenches of Launch Complex 39 like this have not been seen in over 45 years:

I cannot wait for one of these to launch from Boca Chica.  I will so be in South Padre, if SpaceX ever gets moving on their south Texas launch site.  Apparently the sand there is unusually unstable and they’ve had to do a lot more soil prep than they planned.  The bedrock is much deeper than thought, too – which, guys, the Rio Grande has been running through 1000+ miles of desert for thousands of years, that’s a lot of sand to dump into the Gulf, but whatever.  They say they are going to finally get started in earnest this year.  We’ll see.

 

Flightline err Tuesday: Showing the Flag in the Sea of Japan November 14, 2017

Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, Flightline Friday, foolishness, fun, non squitur, silliness, Society, technology.
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Every year, the RIMPAC exercise will feature some impressive shows of force, with as many as three US carriers, many US and allied escorts, and an occasional allied carrier or similar “capital” ship.

But RIMPAC is generally staged around Guam.  Last week, however, the following was recorded in the western Sea of Japan or East China Sea off the coast of North Korea:

That is USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), and USS Nimitz (CVN-68), along with what I believe is the Japanese JMSDF Izumo helicopter carrier.  There are a dozen odd escorts.

But the frankly cool part is looking down on the flyover by B-1Bs and Super Hornets.  That’s not a sight one sees everyday, a top-down aerial view of not only a large naval formation but also manned bombers and fighters.

Now the view from the carriers:

View from inside the Nimitz pilot house during the obvious PR event:

Amazingly, the USN managed not to have a collision in spite of all these ships being in such close proximity.  Top. Men.

Not sure how wise such a demonstration is in such close proximity to hostile shores.  That’s about $70 billion worth of hardware.

Since the USN only has 9 carriers, and typically two are in either refit (like USS George Washington right now, in refit for 2 years) or otherwise unavailable for every one deployed carrier, that’s basically the entire US carrier force right there.  I think there is one more in the Persian Gulf right now (Vinson?).  It is possible at times to take a force of 9 and have 5 deployed, but that’s about it, and only some of the time.  More than likely, only 3 are available on a day to day basis.

So the Brits with two Queen Elizabeth class ships basically have zero carriers, at least as a sort of worst case your enemy picks the day to start the war kind of scenario.

Anyhoo.   Love to see those Bones flying over the carriers, but the operational art the old SAC had……….I’m not sure it exists anymore:

Flightline Friday Extra: More Than Everything You Could Possibly Want to Know about APR-25/6 September 25, 2017

Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, awesomeness, Flightline Friday, foolishness, fun, history, non squitur, silliness, Society, technology.
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Early in the Vietnam War, partly due to amazingly poor planning, but even more due to unbelievably onerous targeting restrictions, US tactical aircraft started racking up heavy losses to North Vietnamese Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs).  The SAM in question was the SA-2, which had been known about half a decade at that point, the SA-2 having played a role in the shoot down of Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 in 1960.

Since the rules of engagement imposed by the Johnson-McNamara Administration forbade attacks on SAM sites under construction, or even possibly under construction, for fear of “accidentally” killing any Soviet “advisors” present and thus potentially escalating the war, US airmen had to wait until positive proof that a SAM site was operational before they could attack it.  The only positive proof accepted was their being attacked by that very SAM site.  Obviously this gave enormous initiative to the enemy, and made attacking SAM sites when they were most vulnerable impossible.

Defensive measures were needed, and needed quickly.  But how to defend against a radar guided flying robot whose only purpose in life was the kill you?  Fortunately, the problem was well understood. Indeed, specialist aircraft like intelligence gathering types had been equipped with limited numbers of what were then called radar homing and warning receivers (RHAW) for years.  SAC’s big bombers also carried radar warning and electronic countermeasures (ECM) gear of varying degrees of effectiveness, but much of this was far too large and heavy to fit into a tactical aircraft.

Fortunately, a small company in northern California, Applied Technologies, Inc, later part of Litton, now part of Northrop Grumman, came rushing to the rescue, in late 1965, with their “Vector IV” product.  Consisting of 4 roughly equally spaced radio frequency receivers and some very basic analog processing equipment, Vector IV entered service as the AN/APR-25/6.  This equipment was first fitted to specialist “Wild Weasel” SAM hunter aircraft, and later, to almost every tactical aircraft in theater – certainly, every one that went up North.  It was fairly effective, but became much more so when coupled with the North American “SEE SAMS” (clever) system, which added capability to discriminate targeting and launch radar signals from regular radar tracking signals.

The equipment worked pretty well, and losses were reduced.  The seesaw battle of the electronic wizards on both defense and offense continues to this day, but, generally speaking, since the APR-25/6, the US has held the upper hand (we think/hope – we haven’t been seriously tested in 25 years).

The video below is an actual training film for USAF aircrew in APR-25/6 operation and tactics.  It gets way down into the nitty gritty, discussing import of length and intensity of strobe, billboard notifications and their meaning, and the varying sounds the equipment picks up when illuminated by various kinds of search, tracking, and fire control radars (a radar is like any other radio frequency device, and thus its signals can be interpreted as a sound).  Techniques used to spoof APR-25/6 are also discussed.  Very interesting if you are a slavishly devoted geek like me, all others will probably find it mind-numbingly boring.

I post this mostly to keep a record of this highly esoteric material since this video was posted once before but pulled because someone asserted the data therein was still classified.  Of course, it is not.

A picture of what modern radar warning receiver (today’s term) displays looks like.  Gone is the analog signal intensity reading and guessing, replaced by digitally processed symbology indicating the type of threat, distance and bearing, with priority ranking, etc:

 

Flightline Friday: Early Vietnam Helo Operations September 22, 2017

Posted by Tantumblogo in Flightline Friday, fun, history, non squitur, silliness, Society, technology.
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This is a really excellent video find from December 1963, featuring very tired old Piasecki H-21 “Shawnee” (aka the Flying Banana) and brand new (if more than a bit underpowered) Hueys of the UH-1A and UH-1B models.

There is some excellent footage of very rare early Huey attack model setups, including fixed forward firing M1919 .30 cal machine guns of WWII vintage mounted on the landing skids, and the first attempts at mounting rockets on the Huey design.  The UH-1B came from the factory with the XM-6 armament subsystem, which included dual M-60 machine guns on each side of the aircraft in trainable mounts.  This was a vast improvement over the fixed machine guns of the UH-1A.  Also discussed is the original US Army air assault unit in South Vietnam, the Utility Tactical Transport Company.  At this time, Hueys were used entirely as attack birds or for medevac.  The stretched UH-1D capable of carrying 9-11 troops would not enter service in Vietnam until the 1st Air Cav arrived in numbers in mid-1965.

The UH-1A was always badly underpowered*, with an armament load of fixed gun and dual 8-shot rocket stacks, they could barely manage 80-85 mph, which allowed even the lumbering H-21s to “race” ahead of them.  This problem was solved by the UH-1B, which had a more powerful engine, allowing the Hueys much better speed to escort the Shawnees, but the problem repeated itself once the UH-1D and UH-1H entered service.  The slicks were again much faster than their escorts, weighted down with heavy loads of weapons and ammo in very draggy mounts.  This problem was initially solved by late B model and then Charlie model Hueys being equipped with still more powerful engines, but was ultimately dealt with by the introduction of the AH-1 Cobra in late 1967.

There is also demonstration of early tactics among both the troop carrying and the attack helos.  It is rather amusing to watch discussion of basic tactics which were described as being so effective the VC had no response to them – well, you could say, they figured out plenty of responses as the war went along.  The very simple tactics described in this video would be replaced by ever more sophisticated ones as the war went along, but the ever-resourceful Vietnamese were almost always a match for Yankee ingenuity, finding their own responses to evolving American methods.

There is a great deal of rare footage in this video, covering a critical phase of the War in Southeast Asia as combat became more and more Americanized – just as certain elements of the US military establishment desperately wanted:

 

*- UH-1A had a little more than half the horsepower of the later H, E, L, and M models.

The Deep State Can Even Fool Ron Paul September 19, 2017

Posted by Tantumblogo in asshatery, Basics, disaster, error, Flightline Friday, foolishness, It's all about the $$$, non squitur, scandals, self-serving, Society, technology.
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There is no more corrupt, insider-dependent government contractor than the entity known as United Launch Alliance (ULA).  Conceived as an obviously illegal monopoly and yet approved by the Bush 43 Administration, ULA was a way for giant defense contractors Lockheed and Boeing to avoid profit-inhibiting direct competition over space launch costs – which they were contractually obligated to do – in order to charge exorbitant launch vehicle and support fees and bilk the taxpayer out of billions of dollars; and this after having received further billions to develop two competitive launch vehicles whose contractual intent and obligation was to reduce the cost of “access to space” by 1/2 to 2/3 or more.

The obvious failure of the Space Shuttle program by the late 1980s left the United States in a very bad situation with regard to space launch – since the Shuttle had turned out to be an unbelievably expensive way to access space, and the only alternatives were derivatives of Cold War era ICBM-derived launch vehicles (with one exception), the US was falling badly behind European, Chinese, and then Russian alternatives which were often an order of magnitude or more cheaper than American launch vehicles.  Plus, many of the unmanned launchers were simply becoming so old they were unreliable and difficult to manufacture.  At some point the US might lose important space launch capabilities due to age.

The only bright spot in the US launch scene in the 80s and 90s was the reliable workhorse Delta II, which was cheap and had a great record but which was only capable of launching light and medium-weight payloads.  Delta II was actually cheap enough and reliable enough to compete with rivals from Europe and other nations.  But, it was a bit too limited in capability.

So, to insure continued access to space across the spectrum of mission needs and in the hopes of dramatically reducing launch vehicle costs, USAF began a program in the 1990s called the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle.  The deal was this: USAF would fund development of two different launch vehicle families, which became the Boeing Delta IV and Lockheed Atlas V, in the hopes that competition between these two launchers would result in greatly reduced launch costs.  McDonnell Douglas (later acquired by Boeing) and Lockheed agreed, and received several billion dollars each to pay for the development of the new boosters.  However, once development was concluded, and once it became clear that the Atlas V with its Russian-designed and built engines would be much cheaper (which resulted in some ugly industrial espionage by Boeing against Lockheed), the two largest defense contractors decided it was easier to renege on their original agreements and bilk the US taxpayer of further billions than it was to actually compete with each other, and so they merged their respective launch vehicle design, manufacture, and servicing organizations into a new entity called United Launch Alliance (ULA).  Somehow, unbelievably, USAF and the Bush Administration went along with this.

Launch costs immediately skyrocketed. Far from lowering launch costs, numerous payloads actually saw increased costs, especially once Boeing phased out the cheaper Delta II and forced the government payloads to ride on either the (often massively over-capable) Delta IV or Atlas V.

This situation persisted for a decade, until a plucky little company out of Hawthorne, CA, started launching commercial payloads at rates nearly an order of magnitude cheaper than ULA.  ULA tried to use their political clout to freeze SpaceX out, but finally the obvious success of SpaceX and the far greater value it represented could not be ignored, and the Air Force (reluctantly) started doling a few flights out to SpaceX under Congressional pressure. Still, USAF has generally preferred to stay with ULA for now, because SpaceX doesn’t create literally scores of six-digit executive positions a year for former O-6s and O-7s to occupy because of ostensible concerns over SpaceX’s success rate, but this is really weak, as Falcon 9 is at this point in its life cycle more reliable than either Atlas V or Delta IV were at a similar point in theirs.

Should SpaceX continue to grow and maintain an excellent overall record, ULA will be ruined.  Both Boeing and Lockheed will have to exit the space launch business as completely uncompetitive players.  Obviously, they do not want this, since space launch has meant billions to their respective bottom lines.  Equally obviously, they will engage their massive lobbying arms (SpaceX lobbies, too, but at a trifling rate compared to ULA/Lockheed/Boeing) and significant government support to try to win the competition by other means.

Thus it was rather sad to see both American Thinker and former Congressman Ron Paul fall for what is nothing but ULA propaganda, excoriating SpaceX for purported excesses at the public teat while making the ludicrous claim that SpaceX rockets can not achieve the same orbits as ULA launchers.  Really, casting United Launch Alliance as the good guy, the relative innocent in a competition of draining the public purse is just beyond the pale.  Anyone who knows anything about space launch would just burst out laughing at such a claim.  No organization in space launch worldwide is more lowly regarded in the commercial sector than ULA.  Yes that even includes the Chinese.

Regarding the orbits, these are corner of the envelope issues and have nothing to do with orbit achieved, but payload to orbit. Yes Falcon 9 at present falls a bit short of the much more expensive Delta IV and Atlas V, but that won’t be the case within a few months, once Falcon Heavy launches.  Falcon Heavy will bury Delta IV and Atlas V in every respect – including cost.  Falcon Heavy will put nearly 3 times the payload into low earth orbit as Atlas V, and at 1/3 the cost.

This is what terrifies ULA.  This is why they have been waging a massive PR campaign against SpaceX and, especially, the person of Elon Musk.  Typical of the statist drones they represent, they accuse their adversary of the very evils they themselves not only commit, but utterly depend on.  There are many legitimate criticisms of Elon Musk, that SpaceX is too government-dependent, that most all of his recent businesses depend on government subsidies, etc.  But all the above applies to ULA to much, much greater degree. SpaceX launches dozens of commercial payloads a year.   ULA rockets are so laughably expensive they haven’t launched a commercial payload in over a decade (sorry they launched one, but at the behest of the US gov’t for Mexico).

This is how the Deep State works – misinformation, lies, insider access, misdirection, bureaucratic stonewalling, self-interest, buffaloing well-intentioned  public servants, lobbyist support, etc., etc.  They pulled a fast one on Paul and some of his close associates.  It’s easy to see how they could, they know these matters intimately while most Congress-critters and others do not.  It’s easy for them to spin misinformation to concoct what seems like a very believable story for those outside this specialized industry.  ULA is one of the worst, but far from the only practitioner of this.  No one can be an SME across every possible subject the US government deals with.  That is how the Deep State has managed to create such vast sinecures for themselves – the more the government is down in the weeds of everyone’s business, the more room there is for corrupticrats to carve out very comfortable niches for themselves.  ULA had that going for a decade-plus.

This is just one, small example.  There are others, far worse.  This is what happens with a tyrannical Leviathan state.

Footage of AFRES PJs Rescuing Harvey Victims September 6, 2017

Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, awesomeness, Flightline Friday, fun, non squitur, Society, Virtue.
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Yes this may be getting pretty dated, but the military moves slow.  Several Air Force Reserve Rescue Squadrons were deployed from around the country to help with rescues. Equipped with (now quite long in the tooth) HH-60G Pave Hawk helos and probably the most serious special operators USAF has to offer – Pararescue Jumpers (PJs) – there are many nice scenes of families being rescued.  In fact, I watched the first rescue on the video live streaming on the internet last week from the perspective of the ground.  Quite interesting to see it from the other end:

Were those New York guys from the 101st Rescue Squadron on Long Island being cheeky with their big NY letters on the side of the copter?

This unit has actually historically made some quite impressive at-sea rescues.  They conducted themselves with professional aplomb in everything I saw in the videos.

 

Baby Daughter doing much better thank you and some Flightline Friday content August 22, 2017

Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, awesomeness, Domestic Church, family, Flightline Friday, non squitur, technology, thanksgiving.
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Thank you so much for your prayers.  My daughter has been home since late Thursday but required another 2 days to really recover.

Aye what a year.  All I can say is thanks so much and your generosity will not be forgottten. She started to really turn around shortly after I put out the mass request for prayers.  Yet another confirmation for how great our God is and how powerful – beyond our understanding – prayer can be.

I know I haven’t posted beans of late, very sorry, I really haven’t time for much of anything today (hopefully tomorrow), but here’s a little something non sequitur to tide you over if you care about this sort of thing – it’s some absolutely amazing footage of an Su-27P, probably of Belorussian origin, dogfighting with a USAF F-16 over Groom Lake/”Area 51″ in Nevada:

More images of the encounter below:

In truth this kind of thing has gone on non-stop since at least the mid-60s with the Constant Peg and Foreign Technology Division programs.  USAF pretended to kill this off in the early 00s but everyone rolled their eyes.

In reality, the fact that this occurred in broad daylight, in perfect clear conditions, and close to the border of the 8,000 square mile Nevada Test and Training Range (or close enough for super telephoto lens to grab these shots – probably no more than  6-8 miles from the Range’s boundary) almost certainly means USAF has far more modern and capable adversary aircraft for evaluation.  Su-27P is OK but dates from the late 80s.  Sukhoi has certainly turned out better variants of the endless Flanker series since (Su-27M Su-27SM Su-32 Su-33 Su-35 Su-30M Su-30MK Su-30MKK/I/M Su-34).

Space alien conspiracy theorists who try to penetrate the Range near “Area 51” report seeing Sukhois fairly regularly.  Some are surprisingly old – Su-22s, for certain.

That Flanker is a big b—h.  It’s got an absolutely enormous RCS, too, especially from the front, from what I have learned.

PS – May put this up with much more detail on Friday, but F-35 is, finally, 5 years late and billions of dollars over budget, starting to shape up.  Several score are in service with more and more active duty squadrons and the reports are extremely, extremely positive.  It’s kinematic/aerobatic performance is not so bad as it long appeared to be, and the integrated avionics/mission system are simply out of this world, a massive quantum leap in capability over everything that’s come before.

Still got fairly short legs and inadequate internal payload for stealth mode (thanks, Marine Corps and Congress!) BUT it is a far cry from the unmitigated disaster its widely been described as being.  I’ve been a very serious critic of the F-35 for nearly 20 years and think improved F-16s and/or Mudhens with a large F-22 buy would have more than sufficed for far less money, but this is what we’re stuck with and it does finally seem to be coming around.  It would be the height of idiocy to scrap the program now after ~$100 billion invested and with the investment finally about to start paying off.

The first practical functional software block (Block 3F) has been undergoing flight testing for months and should start to hit active training and tactical squadrons next month.  Given 6.5 million lines of code it’s hardly surprising it took some time to iron out difficulties, plus the program was very badly managed from a prototype to test to production standpoint, for political reasons the services were induced to place the aircraft in production far before it was really ready, and this has had the effect of adding a huge amount of cost while delaying overall full operational capability.  The good thing is these extremely extended service trials have revealed about all the bugs that could possibly be found.

We also have to note how much the procurement program has been derailed since McNamara royally screwed it up in the 60s, and then was made worse in the 90s.  The standards products have to meet to be qualified are ridiculously onerous, and teeny tiny corner of the envelope issues get turned into showstoppers.  Yes there have been not so teeny tiny problems with the F-35 but most of what is reported are situations that are unlikely to ever repeat themselves in real life.  That is one reason why it costs so much (and takes so long) to get complex systems into service these days, the test requirements are orders of magnitude more extensive (and in many ways just plain asinine) than they were in the 50s, 60s, and even well into the 80s.  Suffice it to say had the F-35 been developed along 1950s or 1970s lines it would have been judged an  unqualified success years ago.

Then again, it’s really an apples to oranges comparison.  Aircraft in the 50s and even early 80s were not nearly so software dependent, as they are today.

And every other engineer knows just how much the software engineers screw everything up.  Right, TE?