Boeing’s roots in Washington are legendary. With this in mind they painted up their flagship product, the 747-800F, with a giant 12 on the tail (for “12th man”) and GO HAWKS on the side to celebrate their local team making it to the Super Bowl. Then they took their actual flying ”Seahawk” and flew a precise route that outlined the numbers “12″ over Central Washington. Seen on flight trackers such as, it looks like this:









Although this is hardly the first time Boeing has virtually painted massive swathes of sky, having done it for the 787 and other products during testing, this is truly fantastic marketing on the side of the Boeing folks. Let’s face it, not everyone cares about aviation or the aerospace industry, but everyone watches the Super Bowl right?!?!





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25969-mathilda-southern-breeze-khalidia-nadineTycoon turned felon Jason Belfort, the inspiration for Martin Scorsese’s recent dark romp “The Wolf Of Wall Street,” was incredibly proud of his 167 foot long vintage yacht “Nadine.” Originally built in the early 1960s for fashionista Coco Channel, the yacht had undergone a serious structural upgrade, adding some 30 feet to its length, by the time Belfort got his hands on it in the early 1990s. Under his purview, the ship was renamed from ”Big Eagle” to “Nadine,” Fraudster, Jordan Belfort (R) with friends before a helicopter fafter his second wife who was most known for her work in beer commercials.

Once the stern had “Nadine” painted on it the ship began to accumulate  toys at a rapid rate. Waterslides, jet skis, high-speed boats and other party favors were packed onboard. Yet the most prominent of these luxuries were Belfort’s Bell 206 JetRangerIII and a futuristic kit-built “Seawind” seaplane. The Seawind in particular was fairly unique as it was said to be powered by an Allison C-18 turbine engine pushing a cut down three blade prop. Seeing as every Seawind I have seen has been piston powered, this thing must have been extremely fast, which makes sense considering who owned it!

By the time Belfort’s days as a corporate golden boy were coming to an end, ”Nadine” looked more like it belonged on a middle school boy’s bedroom wall then on “Lifestyles Of The Rich & Famous.” leo_article_story_mainApparently, the ship was the talk of the yachting community when she pulled into port, as the amount of frivolous toys per linear foot was unheard of at the time, if not bordering on totally absurd.

The “Nadine” sank off the coast of Palma in June 1997 during a bad storm, with the Italian Coast Guard rescuing all of the crew and passengers. Apparently all those toys may have helped in her sinking, as one of the watercraft lashed down on the bow broke loose and smashed through the forward saloon windows causing ”Nadine” to take on water at a fatal rate.

In the end Belfort’s downfall was that he literally wanted it all… Apparently this included his own aircraft carrier, air force and navy!

Click here to see what “Nadine” looked like inside, or at least before she sunk in the Mediterranean!


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More of the same from the DoD and USAF regarding borrowing from their existing fighter fleet’s capability to pay for their Death Star of boondoggles, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

F-35 'pushes the envelope'There is a new information out highlighting the continuing “teething problems” with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. Cracks in the jet’s motors and structures continue to plague the aircraft’s design, even though Lockheed has said for years that the cracking issues will be fixed in the near term. Then there are the same old usual suspects, the software is far behind schedule, data-fusion is unreliable, the helmet is still an issue and so on. The aircraft’s artificially fabricated and premature initial Operating Capability leaves so much to be desired that it is questionable what the aircraft’s role would be during any sort of combat operations. Then there is ALIS, the jet’s all-encompassing logistical support and mission planning networked database that is not even near being ready for prime time (and one has to think how vulnerable such an integrated system makes the aircraft in a wold of cyber warfare and weaponized malware). The aircraft’s vulnerability to battle damage is still a major concern as is the aircraft’s availability for sorties and the list goes on and on. In reality, the sheer multitude and magnitude of the F-35′s developmental issues has become par for the course for the program. In other words, bad news regarding this bloated and ridiculous concept is the overwhelming norm, not the exception to it.

kore0[1]I have said for years that there is no question that the F-35 will be a capable aircraft, but at what cost, both in terms of national treasure and opportunity cost in relation to procuring more relevant platforms while upgrading existing ones? Keep in mind that the Joint Strike Fighter concept is already almost twenty years old, and the F-35 itself has been flying for almost eight years. In a rapidly changing technological and strategic environment, this aircraft, especially in its A and C model formats, is simply becoming outdated and less than relevant, especially considering its huge price tag.

The reality that the USAF’s version will not be operational till 2016 at best, with the Navy’s version eventually coming on-line years behind that, is a hard and chaos-inducing pill for the DoD to swallow. But what exactly is “initial operational capability” really? With only the most basic capabilities available at best, and an airframe that is only available currently one-third of the time how does this “milestone” seem legitimate? It sounds like IOC capable squadrons will be a glorified and very expensive auxiliary test and evaluation flying clubs at best as the aircraft will lack many capabilities that even legacy F/A-18A/C/Ds have. But in a world where so many have so much hanging on this flawed program, telling the public and low information lawmakers that the F-35 is now “operational” probably seems like the best PR move available, regardless of the reality of the situation.

F35abcI would guess that at least one-quarter to one-third of this site is about the F-35 program, the good, the bad and the ugly. The truth is, at least from those who do not get a check from Lockheed or its many surrogates, is that the program is way over budget and way behind schedule, with declining baseline capabilities and overall performance standards. Furthermore,” we” don’t even know about the developmental status of the F-35′s many classified features. We can only guess that there are major issues in this department as well if the rest of the program is any sort of a barometer.

I have posited for years that the F-35 was a stupid concept to begin with, one that will gobble up the budget of the DoD for decades to come even though fantastic alternatives are available. Sadly, this gobbling has already begun, and the F-35 program is proving to be a very hungry beast even though only a tiny fraction of the proposed inventory has been fielded.

f35_taxi_firsttraining_20120307The Air Force has shrunk remarkably in size since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Hundreds of tactical fighters have been prematurely retired in order to “save money,” usually with the resulting diversion of dollars being rationalized as needed for “getting behind” the F-35 program. Additionally, the force that remains, a shadow of its formal self, has seen flight hours and readiness cut at an alarming rate. Yet the USAF at least came to terms with their black hole of a Joint Strike fighter program enough to move forward on an essential upgrade program for the cream of the USAF’s remaining F-16 Viper fleet, those being of the blocks 40/42/50/52. The program would see many of these aircraft upgraded to remain relevant for well over decade to come. In essence, these aircraft are meant to fill the capability and numerical gap left by the lethargic F-35 program. These upgraded F-16s would have to soldier on into the next decade, and possibly well into the one after that.

f-16-60-cockpit-largeThis F-16 upgrade configuration solidified this year and is now known as CAPES, or the Combat Avionics Programmed Extension Suite. This upgrade is a major one, and would include new large area cockpit displays (essential for delineating all the situational data a pilot has at their disposal), a state of the art digital electronic warfare system (ALQ-213), a new data link system that can exchange information via satellite (Integrated Broadcast System) and most importantly, an AESA radar, in this case the Northrop Grumman Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR). Along with this program these F-16s, numbering 300 in total, will receive an essential structural revitalization, commonly known as a service life extension program (SLEP), which will add between 2,000 to 4,000 hours to the airframe’s lifespan. SLEP makes sense as all those new avionics added under CAPES, and the jet’s pilot, would actually have a sound platform to whiz around in for the next twenty years.

WiscANG-F16-hangar4Sadly and illogically, sequestration and a darkening F-35 fiscal “black hole” have taken their toll, and it looks like the Washington’s priority remains the faltering F-35 program, as the rumor is that CAPES will be cancelled in the 2015 federal budget.  There are hopes that the accompanying SLEP will remain intact, but the budgetary axe hangs low over this program as well. If this proves to be true, it will be yet another idiotic act by those under the F-35 ether, or who have their next star or careers teetering on it.

The USAF’s capability gap, especially in the tactical aircraft field, is shrinking rapidly. Other nations, like China, are actively working on fielding AESA radars on their mainline non-silver bullet fighter aircraft force. The sickening reality that we cannot even afford to fund a logical upgrade of 300 existing and paid for F-16s is just another symptom of the DoD’s F-35 disease. The potential abandonment of CAPES basically says that the USAF, and its Washington surrogates, do not see keeping the air force they have viable, relevent or tactically effective, as a serious priority. Instead, it seems like they find it more important to invest deeper into the most volatile defense program in recent history, if not ever.

sdd_f35testa_136I ask the Washington decision makers behind such a misguided decision what their intentions are should a conflict break out where your enemy is more capable than uneducated men packing AK-47s and hiding in mud huts? How effective will your investment in the F-35 be when few, if any, are ready for sustained multi-role combat operations even into the next decade? Dollars-wise, I have not found an exact amount CAPES/SLEP would cost for the 300 F-16s that are currently planned to receive. Let’s just put the avionics upgrade at $15M and the structural upgrade at $10M. So $25M per jet. This would equal $7.5B for the entire upgrade program. How many F-35As is that? Let’s take the generous number of $120M per copy for the F-35A, that means we are going to deny the existing air force 300 extremely capable and cost-effective platforms in the immediate future in trade for a measly 62 F-35As that will be delivered sometime in the future, maybe.

definesmultirolef161At some point the USAF needs to come to terms with the value of numbers over topline capability. The “numerical advantage” if you will (see the Sherman Tank for proof of this concept). For many, if not the majority of tactical fighter missions, low observability, omnipotent situational awareness and virtually seamless sensor fusion is not a necessity. Additionally, an aircraft can only be in one place at one time, and the more complicated an aircraft is, that place ends up usually being on the ground broken. 300 upgraded F-16s that sport high bandwidth connectivity, an advanced electronic warfare suite, large color cockpit displays, and most importantly, a state of the art AESA radar is much more combat relevent than the promise of 70 F-35s sometime in the future. The F-16 CAPES/SLEP upgrade will give us a frontline “known commodity,” a reliable and effective combat tool that will be fiscally reasonable to operate during sustained combat operations.

The fact of the matter is that these theoretically upgraded F-16C/Ds do not only make themselves more survivable and potent alone. lockheed-F-16V-fighter-aircraftTheir radar picture and sensitive radar warning receivers can send their data to other aircraft that do not possess the same capabilities, especially un-upgraded F-16s that will be interoperating with them. In other words, one or two CAPES equipped vipers in a mixed formation of four or eight F-16s is much more capable and survivable than that same formation without a CAPES configured aircraft or two. In other words, by heavily upgrading 300 F-16s, the other 300 or so that will be serving alongside them also get a large majority of their situational awareness and targeting capabilities enhanced. In other words, this upgrade is not just an improvement for the airframes involved, it is a force multiplier for the total force overall.

F-35F16In the end the Air Force and Washington see the F-35 as too big to fail, but sadly this is not for strategic reasons. This mode of thinking is more about the fighter’s rocky export potential and the dollars it may bring home to the states it is built-in, along with the outcome of the careers of all those who so rabidly supported it. When it gets to the point that upgrading 300 F-16s has to be sacrificed for the F-35′s future, this almost perverse fixation on a single flawed weapon system becomes close to criminal. The CAPES/SLEP upgrade should be an absolute priority for USAF, DoD and Congressional leadership, not as an alternative to the F-35, but because of it and its never-ending developmental issues. If it is not, than those in power may have to answer to the families of the pilots who had to fight in antiquated equipment against the rapidly evolving weapons capabilities of a host of potential enemies, and did not come back to tell the American people how their Air Force got them killed in an attempt to buy 70 more aircraft that still only remain viable on paper.

Filed in News, Opinon, The F-35 Saga, Uncategorized | 9 Comments


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Check out this little time capsule of speed and heat! It looks like a Marine Hornet entering a close merge with an incredibly tight formation of dissimilar aggressors, in this case an F-5E Tiger II and an Israeli made F-21 Kfir! The F/A-18 Hornet in the foreground appears to belong to VMFAT-101 “Sharpshooters,” the Fleet Replenishment Squadron (pilot training squadron) for Marine F/A-18 aircrews based out of MCAS El Toro, CA at the time. The aggressors belong to VMFT-401 “Snipers” based out the MCAS Yuma, AZ.

This shot was most likely taken circa 1989 as the F-21 Kfir only flew in Navy and Marine Corps service for about four and a half years before the jets were returned to their lessor, Israel. Additionally, VMFT-401 flew both the F-5E/F and the F-21 while they were transitioning out of the F-21 and into the F-5E/F during 1989. You can also tell that this is a “Sniper” F-21 as it was the only squadron that flew these aircraft in the “Flogger” paint scheme to mimic the mach two capable Russian MiG-23. I wonder how long the Hornet pilot and their wingman, both probably in training, lasted against such a nimble, experienced and diverse threat?

These were truly heady times for naval air combat…

Filed in Just A Really Cool Picture | 3 Comments


YES! But it is a very tight fit…

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After doing some research it seems that the Special Operations guys will load a Humvee into a 160th SOAR MH-47 Chinook with a special forces team already seated in it as they cannot access the cabin when the HMMWV is packed inside as it is such a tight fit. On approach to the LZ they will start their engine and literally tear out of the back of the chopper once the ramp is lowered, probably with some help from one of the helicopter’s crew chiefs.

Carting a full-sized Humvee and its occupants (at least one) inside a lumbering tandem rotor Chinook is a pretty cool capability but it also a risky one. If the helicopter crashed or was hit by enemy fire the troops seated in the entombed Humvee would be locked inside, for lack of a better term, of their vehicle and would not be able to egress with the rest of the helicopter’s passengers and crew. Unless of course the driver was physically able to pull a “BA Baracus,” busting out the rear of the stricken Chinook. I do have to say, that such a feat would be one of the coolest things on earth to see go down with your own eyes. With this revelation in mind, let’s all hope that none of the Fast and The Furious screenplay writers are reading this blog…

Incidentally, the Spec Ops guys are not the only Chinook operators who cart around Humvees internally. It looks like the Michigan ANG also has a penchant for packing these trucks in their CH-47s as well.



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Check this video out guys! The RQ-170 sounds like something out of Sci-Fi film, probably due to the Sentinel’s unique engine inlet design, and it is not a bad little performer at all, check out that climb! Fast forward to 22 minutes and 57 seconds if the video does not start at that point.

For the most complete RQ-170 coverage on the net, please click this link. Included in all my work on the subject are my “RQ-170 Origins” special features, where you can learn about the long shadowy road leading to the RQ-170 Sentinel concept.

A huge thanks to Alex P. for sending this over. This site would not be possible without my readers’ insightful comments and emails, so please feel free to shoot me a note or a hot story at

Filed in Iranian RQ-170 Incident, video | 6 Comments











Aviation Photographer David Cherkasov agreed to share this incredibly detailed view of the Navy’s new multirole sub-hunter, sea control, attack and ISR aircraft, the P-8 Poseidon. Although the P-8 is based on the 737-800 airliner, it has been greatly modified to fulfill its multitude of military roles. Included in this shot are the aircraft’s additional electronic generators (lumps on motor nacelles), auxiliary cooling inlets, trap door FLIR turret, missile launch detectors, electronic service measures and integrated electronic warfare apertures, sonobuoy deployment tubes, DIRCM turret below the tail, outboard wing hard-points, and most notably its spacious weapons bay. If you can see anything else that should be listed comment below and I will add it to the list! I do have to say it is kind of sad that this new US Navy platform flew for an air show crowd and perspective customers in the Middle East (Dubai), yet one of the two customers it already has, the US tax payer (the other being India), has not seen it do such a pass at an air show…

For more of David’s outstanding photography, which spans the globe, click here!

Filed in Just A Really Cool Picture, Photo | 3 Comments


So I was getting caught up on youtube aviation videos and I came across this Lockheed Martin Skunk Works promo video. They show multiple systems in development or in the conceptual phase, including my personal favorite, the VARIOUS UCAV. Then up pops “Tomorrow’s Fighter” and what do you know, it’s a YF-23 with some wing and intake mods. Well I guess I am right, the USAF picked the wrong jet when it comes to the Advanced Tactical Fighter program! It is kind-of embarrassing when you throw a glitzy promo video like this together and pitch a variation of you competitor’s competing product from some two decades earlier! Yesterday’s losing fighter and an unnecessary replacement for the SR-71 Blackbird a decade and a half after its final retirement, what will America’s premier bleeding edge aerospace design house publicize next?!?!

lockheedF23 copy

Filed in Opinon, Photo, video | 9 Comments


image0101 copyCheck out this awesome image of the McDonnel Douglas/General Dynamics A-12 Avenger II’s cockpit concept circa the late 1980′s. The A-12, dubbed the ”flying Dorito” by detractors, was most likely developed from the “Sneaky Pete” stealth flying wing penetrator concept of the early 1980′s. It is not clear if a classified Sneaky Pete actually flew as a technology demonstrator during the 1980′s but many believe that it did. The A-12 program, also known as the Advanced Tactical Aircraft (ATA) initiative, was intended to replace the ageing A-6 Intruder as the Navy’s attack aircraft. The flying wing design allowed for a much lower radar and infra-red signature than a traditional airframe. In the end the A-12 design was struggling to reach its performance goals. The composite win and its cost was escalating rapidly. A-12-Avenger-II-Experimental-Stealth-Bomber-Side-View-AngleWith this in mind, paired with the end of the Cold War and shrinking defense budgets, then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney cancelled the A-12 outright, and the Navy’s gaze turned away from a purpose built, stealth technology-centric precision attack platform, over to evolving potential multi-role platforms already in service. The Super Hornet and a few very promising derivatives of the F-14 were proposed to fill the sudden gap left by the A-12′s cancellation. In the end the Super Hornet was chosen and the rest is history. None-the-less, a good portion of the concept for the A-12′s cockpit, an outgrowth of the F-15E and the “legacy Hornet’s” cockpit design, looks like it made its way to the F/A-18F Super Hornet a decade after the Avenger’s cancellation. Of particular note is the large “situational display” screen in the center of the rear and front cockpit pedestals as well as the touch screen up front controls.

2Fast forward over 20 years after the Avenger II’s cancellation, and only in the latter half of this decade might the Navy actually fulfill the low-observable attack capability in the form of the F-35C. Still, the F-35 is quite conceptually inferior to the A-12 when it comes to deep strike alone. The A-12 was to have close to double the range of the F-35C and far greater payload potential (figures found on the net regarding both these design parameters are misleading). Apparently, the composite wing spar structures were a major issue during the prototyping phase for the A-12, the technology simply was not there to make these structures reliably strong and light enough to meet the design’s goals. The Avenger also had composite skin durability issues, center of gravity problems, and an elaborate wing folding mechanism that was taking a lot of time and money to make work. Additionally, the jet lacked thrust in a big way. Fully loaded it was said that only 16 runways in the world could accommodate the A-12′s long takeoff roll. a12_k08Whether this statement is actually true is really beside the point, the A-12 needed more powerful motors.

Like so many other past combat aircraft designs, one has to wonder what the platform could accomplish using today’s material science, avionics, and powerplants. I have a feeling that if the A-12 were designed today, with its ample fuel supply, large radar apertures, low observable potential and sizable payload, it would be a fantastic aircraft for the current operational realities of the Pacific. Also, the original A-12 concept saw the aircraft as being multi-role, with air to air, electronic attack and reconnaissance capability being strong, but periphery elements of the aircraft’s menu of capabilities.. Additionally, I would argue that with emerging Distributed Aperture Technology and lock on after lock short range missiles, you do not even need a maneuverable fighter at all to dominate the skies. Less dependence on very non-stealthy tankers, longer on-station times, and a larger payload of air to air missiles would arguably offer a better air superiority capability than a short legged, 9g capable superfighter.

UCLASS_DeckEvening-1200-thumb-560x246-175588Then again, in some ways, a marginally downsized and highly modernized version of the A-12 is being tested on carriers today, in the form of the unmanned X-47B. Eventually its production successor, the UCLASS, will fill the role that the A-12 aspired to fill decades ago, although without a human being on-board….

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Filed in History, Just A Really Cool Picture, Photo | 8 Comments



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The testers at Chengdu are making some progress on their mammoth J-20 fighter. It looks like the concept has moved from a technology demonstration phase to a more missionized and refined prototype state. Here are the changes I can identify:

First off the canopy has gone form a single piece design, almost identical to the canopy found on the F-22, to a simpler two piece design with a bow separating the windscreen and the canopy. Reliably manufacturing a highly quality, optically uniform, single piece canopy with low observable properties, like the F-22′s, is not an easy or cheap task. With this in mind it looks like the Chengdu design team has opted for a simpler and less costly design, one that is also similar to the configuration found on the F-35.

The diverterless engine inlets hqve been tweaked to more closely resemble the F-35′s inlet design and shaping.

The control surface actuator “humps” below the wings have been streamlined.

Maybe most interesting of all of the J-20′s new design refinements is the inclusion of a gold-plated aperture for an electro-optical targeting system (EOTS) under the nose. This is a huge deal as clearly the Chinese are trying to build an analogue to the F-35′s cutting edge optical/IR targeting and visual situational awareness system and this window looks like an almost direct copy of the F-35′s. We know that a ton of the F-35′s design was stolen via cyber espionage by the Chinese and the J-20 is beginning to really illustrate the fruits of the China’s hacking adventures.

The vertical tail surfaces are also of a new design, with the corners “notched off” significantly.

Finally, the paint/surface application is a new design which appears to almost be a hybrid of the F-22′s and F-35′s schemes. Seen with this new paint job/radar absorbent material application, are differences in tone on the composite leading and trailing edges of the aircraft. As with fifth generation US aircraft, this usually means that antennas are contained inside these structures and/or they are high-priority radar defeating structures.

Filed in China Rising, News, Opinon, Photo | 11 Comments


F35-lightening-lockheed-martin-1The issues with the F-35B’s exhaust gasses, and the MV-22 Osprey’s as well, damaging the decks of America’s “L class” ships is nothing new. What is new is that America’s latest amphibious assault ship, the USS America, designed without a well deck to embark beach landing craft and their assorted tanks and vehicles, instead being focused on aviation operations, cannot handle the aircraft it was purpose-built to deploy.

Now think about that, the Navy decides that the MV-22 and the F-35B are so important to their “gator navy” that they build a much less versatile version of what traditionally are highly versatile ships known as Landing Helicopter Docks (LHDs), that cannot even handle their primary function that compromised the class’s range abilities in the first place. Basically, the LHA-6 ”America Class,” as it is designed today is an aircraft carrier. Sure it looks like the Wasp Class LHD that proceeded it, but once again it totally lacks the ability to deploy vessels from its stern. Instead it is built with Marine aviation almost totally in mind. Such a deviation from the proven Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) concept is controversial to begin with as the US Navy already has close to a dozen massive nuclear carriers that can handle more capable and longer ranged traditional fixed wing naval fighter aircraft. america-011Yet the fact that the deck of this new “state of the art” ship, that cost upwards of six billion dollars to design and field, cannot even provide sustained flight operations of F-35Bs and MV-22s because of the heat involved with exposing the ship’s deck to their exhausts. This is so bad, so wasteful its disgusting.

Hearing these officials trying to spin such obtuse designs blunders over and over again is getting so damn old and tiring that it is hard to even read these articles anymore. So the Navy says the next two Amphibious Assault ships won’t have this problem, jus the six billion dollar one they already have purpose built to operate these aircraft. Yet this is not an issue because according to Captain Mercer (quoted in the article) these aircraft carriers were not designed for sustained air operations? How contradictory is all this? Maybe the captain should look back to 2003′s Operation Iraqi Freedom, where amphibs were used as “Harrier Carriers,” embarking two dozen Harriers for combat operations (see picture below), and that was an operation to oust an impotent dictator, not a protracted peer state conflict in the Pacific! Or what about the recent ”Operation Odyssey Dawn” over Libya, where an LHD, and its Ospreys and Harriers, were used instead of a nuclear powered CVN for air operations? Harrier CarrierNews flash, you sound like a bunch of incompetent idiots that have no stewardship of America’s treasure or strategic dominance. They should take that ship, remove its proud name, and let it sit in dry dock until the manufacturer can install a deck surface that can sustain constant sustained flight operations of anything in the inventory presently or planned. If both the Osprey and the F-35B are exceeding their engine exhaust temperatures that were stated in relation to America’s deck design, then the manufacturers of these aircraft should pay for its refitting. In other words, it’s time for serious accountability.

america-016I am sure that some of you are reading this and the response is “jeez every new system has problems.” Guess what, you are part of the problem and I envy your ability to find employment where such small thinking and low standards are acceptable. This bait and switch defense procurement  situation, one that has become eerily circular in nature, is a much larger threat to national security then uneducated men in mud huts with AK-47s. A foe which we have spent trillions targeting and killing for over the last decade with little to show for it. If we cannot put a deck on a ship strong enough to complete its central mission than we do not deserve to remain the world’s super power. It is as simple as that.

Varyag LiaoningLet’s take a quick trip down memory lane here to see what we are up against. While the very namesake ship of our country cannot even support the aircraft it was designed to handle, even though we spent billions researching and developing this new “class” of ship, look at what China did with a rusted hulk. Seriously, look at these before and after pictures of the one-time Russian aircraft carrier hull Varyag and you tell me who will rule the seas in the coming decades. We have lost our resourcefulness and ability to work a problem efficiently. We throw piles of cash at designs in the hope that the money will mend their wows, when in reality its bad engineering in and bad capability out. Maybe we should drop all this CAD design and go back to slide rules. The Nimitz Class, the SR-71, and the damn Saturn V were built without a fraction of the automation we have now and in much less time than it would take today, with greater results than we could ever muster in this sad day and age.

The services, as much as they complain about tight budgets and declining investments in new technologies, are spoiled beyond belief. They can burn through national treasure at breakneck speeds with little to show for it without any sort of repercussions. Oh and to the guy who says “this diatribe does not sound like supporting the troops,” you too are part of the problem. Just thinking the military-industrial complex can do no wrong because some of those associated with these blunders where a uniform or have been deployed in harm’s way is asinine and indicative of a limited view of the complexities of America’s defense procurement issues. Supporting the troops means giving them equipment that actually works, in large enough numbers that they can actually be effective, while not bankrupting the nation in the process. Yes the number one threat to national security is our monetary policy, not China or the boy ruler of North Korea, and definitely not those aforementioned lunatics flying black flags on their vehicles and sleeping on dirt floors with their arms wrapped around their rusted AK-47. We have to get a handle on our priorities here and stop letting trumped-up boogeymen, low information congressional delegates and the civilian side of the defense apparatus get the best of our nation’s strategic future.

LHA6 picSome may be yelling at their screen right now saying “good lord Tyler it is just the deck of a ship,” fine, factually you are right. I will argue that this faulty deck, on a ship named USS America ironically, is a perfect metaphor for the mismanagement of our nations defense capabilities. If we cannot even built a boat that has a deck robust enough to do what it was already controversially intended to almost singularly do, for six billion dollars, then kiss your supremacy of the air and sea goodbye. We might as well just start negotiating a one-sided treaty with China over who controls shipping in the Eastern Hemisphere.

The Littoral Combat Ship, the F-35 program, the DDG-1000 and the list goes on and on of big promises, failed concepts, and hollowed capabilities. If the Navy were not in bed with its contractors, and congressmen were not pork gobbling gluttons, this ship would be returned to the manufacturer and funds would be withheld until it can handle constant cyclic operations as it was designed to. Alternatively, if its Lockheed and Bell/Boeing’s fault, that they built aircraft too hot to deploy on their intended motherships, then stop orders of these over-complex and gold-plated machines until they fix their exhaust temperatures or provide the USS America with a deck it can actually use. Anything else is bordering on criminal and the US tax payer and the individual war fighter is once again the voiceless victim.

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I was doing my usual Google Earth rounds when I sweeped across Treasure Island on San Francisco Bay and to my surprise there was the historic Hughes Mining Barge docked at one of the piers! Make sure you read my widely circulated piece on the HMB-1 & the Sea Shadow as well as the sad update that the Sea Shadow has been scrapped. It was widely assumed that the Sea Shadow and its HMB-1 mothership were both going to be scrapped together, as the HMB-1 was in fairly bad disrepair and the US Government would not allow the Sea Shadow to be used commercially. It ends up that the San Francisco based Bay Ship & Yacht company, who purchased both as scrap from the US Government for $2.5M after no museum had the creativity or cash to step up and adopt the historic duo, had big plans for the Hughes Mining Barge after all!

HMB1When the two Cold Warrior mechanical marvels went up for sale I was blown away that the Hughes Mining Barge, even with its cosmetic and mechanic deficiencies caused by years of neglect, was not a hot item for the private sector to get a hold of. It’s basically a huge movable dry-dock with a unique retractable roof. Certainly, such capabilities would cost many tens of millions of dollars to design and build in the current day and age, so why was there not a bidding war over the unique vessel as its potential commercial uses are many? Well it turns out that Bay Ship & Yacht saw the same business potential as I did, and they had the money to act on it. They have totally restored the Hughes Mining Barge, after cutting up the Sea Shadow as the surplus disposal contract stipulated, and turned the HMB-1 into a multi-use ship container, dry-dock, working berth, and especially a highly environmental friendly maritime paint and coating facility. Brilliant recycling of the HMB-1 on Bay Ship & Yacht’s part that will surely turn into big profits for the company’s owners.

So the HMB-1 lives on in a fully overhauled fashion and is already producing revenue for its proud new private owners. Although I find it terrible that no museum could display the HMB-1 and Sea Shadow together, I applaud the folks from Bay Ship and Yacht for recognizing the potential of what was recently a rotting hulk, although a very unique rotting hulk, and I wish them the best in their new endeavor. Who knows, maybe the new owners will get a call from Uncle Sam, who will realize the unique capability they sold off for penny’s on the dollar, and the humble HMB-1 will take on a new clandestine mission for its prior masters. When it comes to one-off defense technologies, things do have a strange way of coming full circle, and the HMB-1 is a Cold War survivor if nothing else…

More about the HMB-1′s new commercial role and restoration can be found at the links below:

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qh50donshipmilestonesIn the new era of unmanned combat aircraft so many “new ideas” are actually far from fresh. In fact, it is stunning to examine unmanned technologies from decades ago, and realize just how far ahead of their time they truly were. One such weapon system that was less than famous but highly innovative was the Gryodyne QH-50 DASH.

The “Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter” was developed out of a pressing need to bring more airborne anti-submarine capabilities to the US Navy fleet in the late 1950s, a time when the USSR was building submarines at a breathtaking rate. Additionally, many of the US Navy’s WWII era surface combatants simply did not have the room to embark a full size helicopter, yet modular upgrades to these ships’ sonar systems allowed for large leaps in submarine detection capabilities. Small_QH-50D_Color-Port_Side_FrontWhat resulted was a mismatch between being able to detect an enemy submarine and being able to actually attack the detected submarine, as the ship’s onboard weaponary could not range out to the horizon of its detection capabilities. With all this in mind the Gryodyne QH-50 DASH was born and fielded to the fleet by the hundreds.

The little unmanned helicopter weighed well over a ton fully armed, cruised at over 50 knots and sported a counter rotating rotor system (coaxial), which eliminated the need of a complicated tail rotor as well as reducing the craft’s “footprint.” DASH had the ability to haul a pair of Mk.44 acoustic torpedoes, or a mk.17 nuclear mine, a couple dozen miles from its mother ship. The idea was fairly simple, once the ship’s combat information center detected a hostile Russian sub within its midst, the little drone would fly out to the point of detection and unleash its deadly payload. The hunted sub really would have little early warning before the torpedo splashed down into the water and began its terminal attack phase, or if the Mk.17 was utilized, its chances of survival were very poor. Although simple in concept, the diminutive QH-50′s really did represent a large force multiplier when it came to America’s rapidly evolving anti-submarine warfare capabilities and vastly increased a dated destroyer’s “sphere of engagement.”

QH-50A_Flying_off_the_Hazelwood-ColorLooking back now, what was so ahead of its time was the QH-50′s means of control. Much like the latest and greatest unmanned aircraft of today, the helicopter utilized a now familiar two tier command and control system. An operator on the deck of the ship would control the helicopter manually during its launch and recovery while an operator in the combat information center, deep within the bowels of the ship, would control the drone during its mission using a semi-autonomous interface. Although the complexity of commands that could be executed by the unmanned helicopter were a far cry from modern systems, and its line of sight communications link was less than perfectly stable, the designers of the QH-50 had worked a similar, albeit more crude, control system as cutting edge unmanned systems like the Global Hawk today.

imagesYFT11Y37The QH-50 DASH spent over a decade in service, from about 1960 to 1970, and many were lost due to malfunctions, although expendability was part of the original design. Additionally, the robotic choppers’ unique capabilities were used for other functions as time passed, including directing naval gunfire for marine beach landings in a similar fashion as the highly publicized RQ-2 Shadows did during the first Gulf War. Although pulled from widespread naval anti-submarine warfare uses by the early 1970′s, with full size helicopters and fixed wing aircraft and longer range weaponary taking up the task, the DASH system continued to be used for targeting towing and other unmanned developmental tasks, such as adding tv cameras for true man-in-the-loop flight control. Autonomous vertical replenishment, a capability that is only now being proven by Lockheed Martin’s unmanned K-MAX, was actually proven back in the 1970s by the humble HQ-50.  Apparently, a small gaggle of the drones continued providing targeting towing and test duties at White Sands Missile Range all the way to 2006, just as the Navy’s “cutting edge” Fire Scout unmanned chopper program was beginning to mature.

id_uav_mq8_02_700Amazingly, the concept of a ship deployed light unmanned helicopter for surveillance and attack duties would re-emerge some forty years after the QH-50′s heyday in the form of the aforementioned RQ-8 Fire Scout. In many ways, the Fire Scout is the aircraft that the designers of QH-50 likely dreamed of, with the ability to target and engage the enemy over the horizon, from the deck of almost any surface combatant. As with so many drone concepts now being fielded today, the genesis of such capabilities can be found in the golden era of the jet engine, a time when creativity often outpaced technological capability. Now in an age of reliable and secure data-links, and the transistor for that matter, these concepts have come full circle and will finally get the chance to change air combat once an for all.

The Fire Scout, in the form of the MQ-8B and the larger Bell Jet Ranger based MQ-8C, is quietly evolving into the modular flying “swiss army knifes” of the American flotilla. Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout test preparations at Naval BasSurveillance, search and rescue, attack, and eventually anti-submarine warfare and material lift will become a function of pointing and clicking a mouse instead of “flying by the seat of  your pants,” allowing even the most dated and toothless naval vessels the ability to reach far over the horizon and deliver a deadly or life saving payload without putting an operator at risk. As innovative as such a set of capabilities may seem, their roots began to grow over a half century ago, in a little known, but highly innovative turbine powered pocket copter known as the QH-50 DASH, the Navy’s only operational vertical takeoff and landing drone, and the grandfather of the Fire Scout, a weapons concept that is considered incredibly innovative and relevant over 50 years after the DASH’s first deployment…


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I see some awesome military and aviation related photos daily, but these were the ones that really stood out to me.

This little mind twister is not a Photoshop creation and was taken at Hillsboro Airport here in Oregon by a friend of mine, and the purveyor of the highly popular Aviation-Pictures/Videos/News page on Facebook, Sterling Stroebel. And yes, that is Phil Knight starring at you on the winglet of Nike’s brand new G650.




























9602148244_3a9e37a685_k8743408453_e4771f253f_oUSS George Washington leads the George Washington Carrier Strike Group.Missile Defense Agency FTO-01 Flight TestSailors stand by a during high-speed turn.11240709955_8a60fc086f_o8241625586_66e1e617fc_oU.S. Marines and Civilians of HMX-1 gather for a group photo at the HMX-1 Hanger aboard the Marine Corps Air Facilty on Marine Corps Base Quantico in Quantico, Va., on April 11, 2013. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Sharon Kyle/Not Released)4-25th Spartans conduct Arctic heavy drop operation on sunny Alaskan day1511383_620372111337244_1288137011_n (1)

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154066-aafcccb0-587a-11e3-8974-69a7d7a3124cAs I have discussed for years, drones are going to start looking much more like organic species (if you have not read this article yet than please do now). The Army sees the value of hiding in plain site, this is why they are rapidly acquiring dozens of “Maveric” bird like drones for its Special Operations forces. Maveric has about an hour of flight time per battery battery and can be deployed by a single soldier. Additionally, the small drone is silent to anyone on the ground when it is at altitude. The uses for such a system are both plentiful and obvious.

131201_amazon_drone_apThis technology does represent a double edged sword though. In fact almost all micro-drone technology, that is proliferating throughout the commercial, and even civilian world, have a dark side. These small man-portable drones can be turned from surveillance assets to assassination tools by swapping out the payloads. Even the quad-rotor type hobbyist/commercial drones, like those controversially pimped to millions on 60 Minutes by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos recently, can carry around half a dozen pounds. Swap out that pair of earphones or cookbook you ordered with a warhead and you have a guided missile capable of some very horrific things. Now mutate that same capability into something that looks just like an ordinary bird and you present a real problem for those who work hard at protecting people and things. The line between missile and drone is blurring and will continue to do so as industry realizes just how useful a small, optionally suicidal drone can be. KAI’s Devil Killer is just one example of these new surveillance drones that possess a secondary capability as a guided weapon.

cram_centurionAs this technology continues to develop you will see new emphasis put on securing the airspace around VIPs and very delicate but important infrastructure on a level greater than anything we have seen before. Whereas the threat from direct fire has been paramount when it comes to personal security, the focus will begin to morph more and more into protection against nontraditional indirect fire, aka small drones with evil payloads. Currently, some C-RAM (Counter Rocket Artillary Motor) systems do have a latent counter-UAV capability. Systems like the ground based Phalanx, called the Centurion, for instance has a sensitive doppler radar and IR/EO search, track, and engage capability. But to be able to really protect one’s “inner sphere” when exposed to the outside world, especially in urban areas where firing self destructing 20mm ammo at 4500 rounds per minute is not good politics, light speed weapons, along with jamming, are the future. laserphalanx_2Currently, a laser version of the Navy’s staple “Phalanx” Close In Weapons System is in advanced testing and is capable of taking down small drones quickly, reliably and with minimal collateral damage. So do not be surprised if this system, or one like it affixed to a trailer, becomes an omni-present fixture around key high-value individuals and infrastructure.

Although the Maveric is innovative and probably a highly effective tool for our soldiers in the field, as time goes by such a well masked capability could, and most likely will, be used against us. It is just another piece of twine in the exciting but also unsettling new world of unmanned weaponry. One where the word “drone” will increasingly be associated with both friend and foe…

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