Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The "3-D" In 3-D Air Superiority

You may not have known it, but I also do 3-D art... have been growing and developing my skills for about 20 years now. And I just thought I'd throw some of my samples on here to show you. You can get prints in t-shirts, mouse pads, some art even is on hats, shower curtains and bed duvets of all sizes.

Surf over to http://www.IamFritz.com to see my whole selection.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Whole New Way of Aerial Combat Pt. 2

So before I get started, we need to look at exactly what the current big threat is...
 Flights of bombers hauling tons of cruise missiles.
The old Cold War Bears hauled one big ASM called the Kitchen. One very big and bad missile. Those days are gone, now. In the pic above, you can see that Tu-95s (whatever version they're up to now) can carry no less than 8 cruise missiles. And we don't even know what's in the internal bay. So, waves of Tu-95s releasing waves of missiles. They (cruise missiles ) were designed solely for for one thing. Run fast and stealthily to things and make them go away in a big puff of smoke, noise and sadness.

The new air-to-air Amraams, the AIM-120D, was designed to kill small, stealthy cruise missiles (and stealth fighters by the way. Ahem). But you can only hang so many missiles on a fighter before it can't take off, go fast or maneuver. And the modern bombers and some cruise missiles can be pretty squirrelly in transit. Which direction are they coming from? Which are decoys? High or low? And then there's ICBMs- a very real threat now that North Korea has rattled that saber, demonstrating the ability to hit the continental US with nuclear ICBMs. These things come screaming down from the sky, near vertical trajectories, and they're very, very fast. And what's our defense? There are basically two weapons- ANG Eagles loaded with Amraam-Ds, and Navy cruisers/destroyers with SM-3s. Both are great. But they also share limited range, limited payload, and would need to be in exactly the right spot at the right time... and need 100% hit rate. Aaaaand that's pretty impossible. It's appeared impossible to the Pentagon's top brass for years, too. And here's what they've been working on for the fix... Lasers. 
Light Amplified through the 
Stimulated Emission of Radiation.
AW&ST Feb 16, 2015: A defense contractor called General Atomics has been working on a full size UAV whose sole payload is a 9,000 canoe shaped 150kW laser pod. Testing is already underway, and has been highly positive. And by testing I mean a prototype on a mountain top shooting down drones and blasting ground targets dozens of miles away. It fires a 3-second burst, which takes out the nose cone of approaching missiles or fighter (which ruins their primary sensor and renders them unflyable) then shifts to the next target in 1-3 seconds, and fires again. The current unit can fire 10 times, then takes 3 minutes to recharge. And said recharge comes from the power of the jet itself. The problem with it is that while that testing has been going on, the GA labs have developed a smaller 3,000 lbs unit that has the same range and power output. Not tested in the world, but functioning perfectly fine in the lab.

But that one's not going into a UAV. You know where it's going? Well, what other aircraft is there that has canoe shaped "pods" that can hold 3,000 lbs and fight?

The FAST Packs/CFTs of an F-15 can hold up to 9,000 pounds of fuel, but a 
3,000 pound payload makes it lighter, faster and more maneuverable.
These lasers won't be on big, slow airliners- they'll be on fighters. Mach two, 9g turnin' n burnin', afterburnin', laser-blasting fighter planes. It's all part of a program the Pentagon is calling Eagle 2040.

That's right. As in F-15 Eagle.

I was at a certain Air National Guard base a couple years ago talking to some crew chiefs. And believe me, sometimes, they're more fun than the pilots are (I said sometimes, not always). When out of nowhere, the one guy said, "Well, our F-15s are going to be getting conformal tanks in a few years. It's already paid for, they just have to make `em." Conformal fuel tanks? On ANG fighters? I know, it didn't make any sense! But now, that we can see that said tanks won't be holding fuel, but lasers, it makes perfect sense.
Now, Air Force Special Operations Command said, "Hey! We want those on our C-130s! We could just sit up there and zap away at bad guys as long as we have fuel, and still take out any missiles they shoot at us!" But a ranking officer said, "No, not until we get them installed on our fighters." 

Another officer in charge of weapons development, and I'm sorry I lost the link but I'm looking for it, said he wanted two, not just one, but two of these installed on F-15 Eagles. That's one per CFT. So now, instead of engaging 4 or six fighters 10-20 miles away with AMRAAMs, and hoping you got them all before the merge, a single F-15 Eagle will be able to shoot down -I'm talking instantly confirmed kills- 20 bandits, in two minutes. And at ranges much greater than 20 miles... 

"Zap- Splash one". 

"Zap- Splash two". 

"Zap- Splash 3". 

And so on... 

...up to twenty. 

Yeah, "Zap- Splash Twenty." 

Twenty kills in a single sortie.

"Lead, I gotta turn cold and recharge," 

"Roger. I'm hot now so I'm re-engaging."

Imagine what a flight of four can do. 

Or a squadron.

And for tactics sake, AMRAAMs- I don't know if you're needed anymore. AIM-9Xs still are in case there's an exorbitant number of bad guys.I mean, I assume these lasers aren't that flexible in a dogfight. But -holy crap- watch out if they are. When they are, I mean. I assume guns will be retained, but maybe not. The engineering to balance the plane might be deemed too expensive (just throwing in a big lead weight is not that simple, actually, when you're working off the X or Y axis of a high performance airplane).

And you know what else that 3,000 lbs, canoe will fit into? Yep- the belly bay of an F-22 or F-35. Doesn't really matter how many missiles you can carry now, does it? Or if you can do a sustained 9g turn (which I'm still convinced the F-35 will be able to do once the FBW software gets it kinks debugged)?

And honestly, I've been looking at these "conformal" tanks they've been putting on F-18s and F-16s and saying, really? But now, it makes sense.

And remember how the Viper pilot said he shot down a drone BEHIND him with a data-linked AIM-9X?

I know it sounds crazy, but this stuff is developed and in testing. The theoretical bounds have been met or surpassed. Fellow jet heads, we are going into a completely new era now. Military aviation, in 20 years, is going to be a completely different ball game.

Now how long until our virtual "enemies" concoct their own lasers, or countermeasures? 

Some say Russia already has...

Aviation Week and Space Technology has been my primary source of information, as they tend to be ahead of everybody else anyway. See: AW&ST Feb 16, 2015, AW&ST Aug 17-30, 2015, AW&ST Sep 28-Oct 11, 2015

More sources to come as I dig them up

Monday, October 26, 2015

Whole New Way of Aerial Warfare Pt. 1

I've been doing research on military aviation since the 70s. As in, 1970s. I've read journals as a kid that you may not have even probably heard of. And I'm here to tell ya, there is something big- I mean BIG- coming around the corner in military aviation. More accurately, we're already turning it.

To begin, I'll take a look at how we got where we are now.

We're past the 100 year mark in aviation, and the same with military aviation. USAF, USN, USMC, etc.

Military aviation by itself was an amazing leap upward and onward in war-mongering. Instead of being limited to watching your enemy with spyglasses from a hill, you could now fly over the enemy and observe, even photograph his location, troop placement, headquarters, direct artillery...

photo courtesy BBC

...and eventually drop bombs. This was terrorizing to the guy on the ground. But amazing to the guy in command of the planes! And as time went on, bomb sights were invented that made the bombs more accurate. And airframes grew in strength, size and power to deliver bigger bombs more accurately. Laser-guided bombs, and eventually satellite space GPS wizardry would deliver bombs from such heights and distances that enemy ground targets only knew they were being bombed... when the bombs began to hit. No jet noises, no warning, nothing. This new control over teh battlefield was amazing and whoever owned the sky, would win the battle or even the war.

Air-to-air combat has undergone similar incredible growth. From the first rifle being leveled at another aviator at close range, to machine guns with rotor interrupters, to harmonized Gatling guns, getting close to the enemy meant more damage per swoop and swerve. Radar and heat-seeking missiles meant I only need to kind of know where you are, and you were killable when only a speck in the sky. Radars and computers turned that speck in the sky into a blip with targeting and intercepting information all available to the pilot- from 20 miles away. Up to one hundred miles away in some cases. Again, each advance gave one side an amazing advantage over their enemy, and it was good...

I'm not even going to get into radars, AESA radars, ECM jamming, Infra-red Search and Track... it's all so very, very advanced and complicated.

It has gotten to a point where pilots are pushed to their 9g limit, airplanes can't go any faster without melting in the air, they can't carry any more missiles without stalling out, and stealth... ECM... it's all maxed out.

Think about it. The arguments about which jet is best have become moot. Every fighter is maxed out for its role. Is the Su-35 or MiG-29 or MiG-31 REALLY any better than the F-15C, F-22A or Typhoon? No, they are not. Oh, their performance envelopes bulge in different places, but in a mix, it's all up to the pilots nowadays who's going to land on a runway, and who's going to land in a parachute harness.

But someone, in some government cubicle, has figured out how to bend it all around again, as the cry went out: It's time for new tech.

Is it smarter, faster missiles? Well, there are a few projects being worked on. The Cuda missile for the F-35. The new AA-3 for the JASDF. But no, that's not it.

The answer lay in the biggest, most spectacular, undersold, military aviation flops in history...

The Boeing YAL-1.

photo courtesy Boeing.com

The YAL-1 was a Boeing 747 whose whole capacity was filled with lasers, lasers fuel, laser things and other laser stuff. It was meant to orbit off a country's coast and shoot down ballistic missiles as they lifted off their launch pads before they even had a chance to get up high or come back down on targets of US interest with their tricky tricks like going hypersonic, or dispensing supersonic cluster munitions, etc.

The promise was amazing. Like all technological wonders (pay attention here, new tech and F-35 critics) it had hurtles and failures. But finally in the mid-90s, it began dropping simulated and real ballistic missiles out of the sky like nobody's business.

And just as they got it working, they, the Department of Defense, dropped it.

Seriously?  Dropped? Was this not too good to pass up? I mean, it was working! Why would they drop such a great weapon? 

I'll tell ya why- because it WORKED. But it wasn't meant to be a final product. It was a test bed. A technology development test bed. It was never meant to be deployed in numbers.

Digress to an air show at Hill AFB about this time. An Air Force Colonel had a tent with tons of brochures and shirts and stuff about the YAL-1. I approached him. He was sold on the tech and the project, I could tell. But the exchange naturally turned to the project's cancellation. And it was then that I heard something that I wish I had paid more attention to:

This colonel didn't blink when I brought up the cancellation, instead, he gave me a Clint Eastwood squint, and said, "Well, don't worry. We'll be seeing lots more of this to come."

... or words to that effect. I tried to talk a little more, but he seemed to lose interest then (was that it?). So I did, too.

But that line, despite my best efforts to forget it, stuck in my head. In part 2 of this article, I'll explain why.

Come back for Part 2 SOON

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

1000 Hits!

As I prep my big three-part series on new innovations in aerial combat (which will come across as cool and credible as it will amazing and "Are we really there yet?" I wanted to send out a big thank you to all my current and past visitors as I've rolled past the 1,000 hit mark.

Thanks! And the next 3 entries are well worth waiting for, believe me!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

As Promised- Sentry Eagle Video!

Here is the video I shot standing by the taxiway at the 173rd Fighter Wing training exercise Sentry Eagle 2015.

I know it took a while, but here it finally is...

Come back soon for what I think will be a very, very interesting discussion on the the next, big weapon system- and how it will change the nature of aerial warfare from the very core.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Recent Exchange on Facebook

The following photo triggered the following exchange in a Facebook Group called Fox One:

Me: "Peek-a-boo. You're dead."
Other Guy: "Until he meets - The doctor (sic) Suchoi..."
Me: "You're right. Dr Suchoi is killed from way beyond peek-a-boo range."

Said witty response earned me two (2) Likes.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Getting the Tomcat, Fair and Balanced Part II, Baby

Okay. So after my last entry, I found myself feeling something peculiar. It was intense love and awe, but it was blanketed over with hate, spite and contempt. And it was aimed at the F-14 Tomcat.

After all, the F-14 Tomcat, as I've noted way, way back in my blog, was my first combat aviation love. As a three-year-old no less.

And I regularly "Like" and comment on photos in the Facebook F-14 Tomcat Lovers page.

So why the deep hatred?

Well, I'm a guy, which means I know what I feel, but don't really care why I feel it. So it took me a bit to dig into my emotional circuitry and try and figure this out.

And yes, I did finish Osprey's Iranian F-14s in Combat. And I recommend you buy it.

What a read.

I was in awe of what the Iranian Imperial Air Force (IRIAF) claims to have accomplished with these jets. I mean, if only half of what they claim is true, still "Wow."

So I got my other F-14 books out: F-14 Tomcat: Bye-Bye BabyHow to Fly and Fight in the F-14 Tomcat, The Cutting Edge (which is a real steal now), Aero's Grumman F-14 (another steal on Amazon)... hours of old VHS tapes and so on. Still, "What an incredible jet!" And still, Hate.

I figured I'm have some great change of heart. An epiphany, if you will. All the excitement and awesomeness of the F-14 Tomcat blasting away my negative waves and my love for the bird would rise- like a Phoenix (pun intended). But that didn't happen.

I just felt more pissed than I did before. But I finally realized why.

We should NOT be protected by the F-15 Eagle and the F-18 Super Hornet.

We should be protected by the F-15 Eagle, and the F-14 Tomcat.

Don't get me wrong- the Super hornet is a great strike platform. If you don't mind hauling your carrier group within ASM range of the enemy's coastline. And if you don't mind that the enemy's strike force can now get 200% closer to you. And if you don't mind this compromise and that compromise.

But the F-14 Tomcat had a few advantages. Namely: Range, speed, payload, avionics, performance, I mean the list goes on. Did you notice that? Yes, that's all teh qualities of a fighter plane. And it outclasses the F-18E/F in every way.

Why the hell is the Navy flying the Superbug? Why wasn't the F-14 chosen, that new Strike 21 F-14E upgrade? Grumman HAD all the machinery for it. Ready to go! Just a nip and tuck. Brand new F-14Es were still cheaper than the deelopment of the F-18E/F. Not like the size-increasing, range decreasing, costly upgrade for the F-18.

Oh yeah, a Senator was bribed by Boeing Sales reps. I remember Aviation Week & Space Technology did a big story on it back in the 90s. But no one cared.

I hate the F-14, because after all it could do, it was murdered in cold blood by our government. Our CVGs are more vulnerable- and not by a little, by a lot- because of government corruption. It just plain pisses me off.

And great plane that it was- possibly, the best plane ever- I can't get past that is gone.

Yeah, I know. Pretty lame, huh?

Well, don't let me leave you as brokenhearted as I feel... watch a few YouTube videos of the Amazing F-14 Tomcat. And be sure to post in the comments below.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Getting the F-14 Tomcat, Fair and Balanced, Part I, Baby

OK, so I came down pretty hard on the F-14.

To make up for it, I have started reading Iranian F-14 Tomcats in Combat by Osprey Press. When I finish it, I will post both a book review and a new F-14 review.

`Cuz I know I came down kinda hard on you guys.


Got Feedback?

OK, a quick note. If you have feedback, as a few of you have, why are you e-mailing me? Type your responses below. Pro or against? Dead wrong or on the spot right? Just say it here! The conversation gets livelier, and things might even get learned.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tomcat Rules... as in, My Ruling on the Tomcat

Hello, feedback! Whew!

So, I got a little backlash and a little, "Never coming back to your blog again."

Welcome back, first of all.

So, a number of you were, how should I say, 'put out' when I threw in a snippet about how I thought the F-14D Tomcat was a superior air dominance platform than the F-15C Eagle.

Well, I blogged about this wayyyyy back. And if you care to go back and read it, you'll see that despite that, the F-15 is actually the better IN THAT IS ACTUALLY HAS FOUGHT FOR AND PAID FOR THE TITLE BEST FIGHTER IN THE WORLD.

Four nations have bought/manufactured/used the F-15A/C Eagle- Japan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the USA. None of them have lost a single jet in aerial combat. All but (officially) one has used them to effect in aerial combat and DOMINATED.

Compare this to the F-14A/B/D.... USA and Iran have used it. The US Navy used it very well, when anyone got close enough to fight it. A few times. Four? Five official kills in USN service? And Iran, DAMMIT people, you lost some in the war with... Iraq. Really?

Look, I always get flack for this, but facts are facts. And opinions are facts colored in with my favorite crayon color of the moment. Hence, it doesn't matter that the F-14 Tomcat may look better on paper. In the real world, it didn't. Matter of fact, add some Crayola to the F-14 in opinion, and use the "flame orange" and "burning yellow". because depending on the source, anywhere from two to 16 Tomcats have been lost in air-to-air combat. Yes, all Iranian.

I hear USN pilots calling "foul." And I get it. It was your magnificent bird. The Iranian were the red-headed step children who just cried loud until they got some, only to lose or break them. And the US Navy had some of the best fighter sticks in the WORLD. But she turkeyed out. She lost. At least two times. But two times against zero doesn't stack up.

Israel has had the F-15. And it's never lost. Oh, it's gotten peppered good a few times. 23 mm from a MiG-21. Another, Atoll up the engine- BOOM! And more, I'm sure. But each of those Eagles was flown back home, streaming precious Eagle fluids, landed, was repaired, and RETURNED TO THE FIGHT. EVERY Israeli F-15 is accounted for. As with the USAF, the IDF/AF (still called that? Not sure) has publicly accounted for every fighter, some have been damaged and forced to retreat, but then returned to fight another day.

Even Saudi Arabia, for whom flying the Eagle is a princely opportunity, and not an assignment earned by the best of their best (as in the USAF), has used the Eagle in combat, and never lost one in air-to-air combat. And except for a few pilots, the Saudi Air Force is widely regarded (because of above status statement) as lackluster (again, except for a few very skilled pilots). They've shot down enemy fighters with them, so yeah, they've been in the thick of it.

Against whom? Iraq. And, <ahem> Iran.

Final reason the F-15 is the best fighter in the world, in the real world? I can refer to it in the present tense. I can drive a half hour to a few hours and see them flying with my eyes. The Tomcat, very, very sad though it is, can only be referred to in the past tense.

Unless you talk about Iranian F-14s. Flown by Iran. Who have lost some.

And even then, that will only last until ours, or somebody else's, F-15s go up against them.

Then those F-14s be past tense, too.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Sentry Eagle 2015- Special Report

Just as I thought I had done almost everything Oregon National Guard F-15 I could, I finally... FINALLY... made it down to the Klamath Falls/Kingsley Field Sentry Eagle 2015 Open House.

Understand, this isn't something I just happened across, or just found out about. I've been trying to get down South to this semi-annual event for the better part of a decade! And it has been superlatively frustrating the incredible bad luck I've run into attempting to do so. But I finally got the trip planned, and the 4.5+ hour drive from Portland OR to the site, and I was not disappointed.

Klamath Falls lies well out off the beaten path in Oregon. The actual base, Kingsley Field is named after a heroic army aviator of World War II who saved the entire crew of his stricken B-17 (?) by parachuting them all out of the falling aircraft, then perishing before he could escape himself. It's called 'No greater love', bro.

The base itself is the USAF's sole training ground for F-15 Eagle pilots. Sole as in Tyndall now services F-22 Raptors, another awesome air dominance fighter you may have heard of. But I digress...

To begin with, it is my pleasure to point out the extreme professionalism and kindness I found in every individual I spoke with. Gone are the days when proud, haughty pilots or guards would refuse to address you, or speak in clipped "go away" sentences of the 90's. Everyone, from the pilots and crew chiefs to the medics and doctors, Airman to Colonel, everyone was kind, accommodating and professional.

The whole point of the on-base event was the graduation exercise of the F-15C students, as Kingsley Field is now the sole training ground for F-15 pilots of the USAF and ANG units. You can read more about this in the links below, and I encourage you to do so!

Visiting the base was a variety of other aircraft form other bases to provide Dissimilar Aircraft Combat Training (DACT) so the students would learn that not every potential enemy's air force flies F-15s, and how to counter different maneuvers and flight models. Visiting units brought F-16Cs (block 50 AND 52s with the bigger GE engines) from Arizona, Texas and South Carolina, and Super Hornets from Lemoore down South (%@#!- I know I'm missing someone). Oh, and let's not forget the Eagles from the California ANG. I know they train extensively up here, and they might have been supplying jets for students as well, having overcome the pilot shortage the unit suffered back when Montana moved  their jets down to the then-F-16 CANG at Fresno. Or, they just might have been here to kick some Viper and `Bug @$$.

Before I go any further, I want to point out: I spoke with a LOT of pilots and crew chiefs. Amd guards. And doctors, etc. I regret that I didn't write down all their names, ranks, etc. Plus, some would talk, talk, talk and then, "Oh, crap I have controller duty- I gotta go. Enjoy the show and Thanks for your support!" Maybe they were busy, or maybe I was nerding out on them. Point being, I didn't get as many names as I should have. But I got a couple, as you'll see, but it doesn't reflect all the brave souls I reached out to and connected with.

At the opening to the base, besides the aggressive but fun recruiting tents and activities, the non-fighter units were represented. I spoke briefly with Sergeant Copeland from the 173rd Communications Squadron who quickly had me wishing I was 20 years younger so I could join up and learn how to set up radio equipment in a combat zone. He was, again, professional, patient, and cool as a jewel. Conversing with him and the other airmen was a joy.

 The 173rd Security Forces was also deployed en masse, and my kids, eager to see what MOH and COD were showing them, quickly picked up a weapon and got a shot of reality about how heavy they really are. But my 9-year-old still managed to look very tough. My older sons were more interested in the bigger weapons. I, however, finally went for the biggest boom they had to offer.

Good trigger and muzzle discipline, boys. Didn't have to remind `em once.

When I first walked into the aircraft static display line, of course, there were lines to the F-15Cs they had on display. Both the Wing Commander's bird and their former Nellis/Adversary bird were right there, but there was no getting to them. But that's alright, as I've seen enough Eagle pits and even sat in a couple recently, so I could deal with that just fine.

Young American Day at the 142nd ANG Base 2009

I got a couple good shots though.

Then there was... a pink MiG-21UB. Pink. MiG. Had the Pink Panther on its tail. You bought a MiG.. .and painted it pink. It may make me a snob, but you're a goof ball. Here it is:

Next, there was a bright silver T-33 (?). What a beautiful jet. I have no idea why I walked past it. Seriously, it just didn't stick. Mystery. I would have loved to talk to the owner/pilot. But I didn't. And I have no idea why. Eagle overload? Yeah, that's it- Eagle overload. Stickin' to that.

<to be uploaded at a later date>

Next in line was a Shaw F-16 with that new silver/gray stealth paint. Or so I'd heard, unconfirmed. Aviation rags were calling it the same coating used on the F-35. So I stopped to ask, after snapping a pic:

Both a pilot and a crew chief confirmed that it was, in fact, a stealthy coating that significantly reduced its RCS. He went on to say that the F-16 had been selected for it since it already had a significantly stealthy design- forward wing angles, hidden engine face, etc. So it got the coating. Not all F-16s had it yet, but they would soon, at least that was the plan. He called Vipers with the old two-tone gray "old school" paint jobs.

The conversation then turned to the AIM-9Xs hanging off the outer/underwing pylons. He jumped way ahead of me, and just declared, "It's spooky to use the HSI to lock a -9X onto something behind me, a target drone, hit the button, and watch it loop up above and go behind me.  You're used to missiles going out in front of you. But this thing goes up, turns TIGHT, and goes behind you. Is it going to hit me? But no, it goes back and hits the drone I targeted a couple thousand yards behind me. It's amazing, but it's still spooky. I don't like it."

But, it works, and that makes it very cool.

HSI and "Off Platform" sources of data to target bad guys. Does the F-16 have new ECM systems to target something behind the jet?

"Nope, same as installed in all the -Cs back in the 80s. But, now we network more. And better. We go up there and it's not just my two-ship or my four-ship. There are all sorts of off-platform sensors we're tapping into to tell us who's where, and who they are. " "J-Stars, AWACS? "Oh, yeah, those and a bunch more I can't even talk about. But there are lots of other platforms that, under the right conditions, can even give me data constrained tight enough to put a missile in their schnoz if they're behind me and my on-board sensors aren't even getting a whiff of `em."

Wow. That was as cool as it was spooky. I spend a little more time with the pilot and a couple crew chiefs and their hoo-ah join the Air Guard run, and it's time to move on...

To my favorite jet in the Air Force... the F-15C Eagle.

Now don't get me wrong. I have/had another favorite. And as I blogged last year or so, I believe the F-14D, had it survived the political and funding battles, would be a slightly, barely measurably superior air dominance platform than the F-15. But it didn't. And I know that professionally it's petty, but that stained it for me. That and its lackluster (compared to the Eagle's 104:0) performance in the hands of the Iranians. Rest in peace, baby. You'll always be my first supersonic fighter love.

But the F-15 Eagle, there's my favorite jet going on about 4 decades now, ever since my older brother told me about the Israeli Air Force's record with them. And in the following paragraphs, you'll see even more.

I managed to talk to a few F-15 pilots. Yes, I swooned. And I always will. Go ahead. Judge me.

A lotta jet noise and a little walking around, I ran into "Axe." Axe was awesome. Even though he was going somewhere with things to do, he took a ton of time to listen to this Eagle fanboi riddle him with questions. He was also cool, professional and informative.

I joked with Axe about the first Eagle pilots I ever talked to at an airshow would not even respond to me, and were somewhat rude (as long term followers of this blog will already know). You know, at a recruiting event and all. He suggested they might have been fresh Eagle babies who had just graduated Tyndall and didn't quite yet know how to handle the tremendous weight upon their shoulders. It's hard to come out humble from the initial F-15 course, he said, even though they try to really ingrain humility for the opportunity into you.

This reminded me of when I met Colonel Jeffrey "Claw" Hwang, mighty, mighty Double Fulcrum Killer. As I praised the man as being one of my top 5 heroes, he actually said, "Thank you very much, but you're making it hard for me to be humble." That's a verbatim.

Myself and the good Colonel, a couple months before his retirement.

I asked Axe what he thought of, in 50 years, an all USAF force of F-22s and F-35s. He surprised me, when he explained a visiting General had just briefed them, among other things, that they should expect the F-15Cs they were currently flying to still be our front force fighters past the F-22s retirement. Not that we were off that badly budget-wise, but the F-15Cs were turning out to be incredibly robust, and serious funds were being allocated to update their avionics, sensors, etc. The F-22 is an awesome jet, but its job is turning out to be very specialized. The F-15 has proven itself a more versatile air dominance force, and will be in use for decades yet to come. 

I mentioned to him how I'd read and heard from other Guard pilots that the v3 radars on the F-15Cs can track and guide ordnance onto F-22s at range. He confirmed that, but politely declined elaborating more on it.

He did, however, mention that the F-15 community (like the F-16 community mentioned above) was going to get more networking soft- and hardware. All combined, Eagle pilots would become an even more destructive to enemy forces.

I asked Axe- hypothetically, as in if someone was looking to write a propaganda book about the 114th in a wartime footing, what would the USAF/ANG do if China parked a carrier off the Pacific coast?

He assured me that there isn't anyone in the World who currently has that capability. The extensive string of islands and friendly ports simply doesn't exist. BUT, he responded, as I pressed, if someone did park an aggressive carrier force off our coast, the 123rd Fighter Squadron would be moved down south to Klamath Falls, as well as a variety of other undisclosed FOBs so they could move to their wartime footing without being interfered with by civilian traffic, as well as concealing friendly force movements more from a more public eye.

I then went on to ask about the mini-series "American Fighter Pilot" which followed a group of Eagle babies through flight school at Tyndall. I explained that yes, I understood it was aimed at an MTV-mentality audience, but what specifically, are F-15 Eagle babies taught (i.e. specific maneuvers to defeat a MiG-29 500 yards behind you)?

Axe's chest puffed out a bit as he kind of fell into instructor mode. The course to become an Eagle pilot is far more stressful than other fighter courses, he pointed out. It's not just avionics and stick-and-rudder, but cultural (this is a definite referral to a pilot from the AFP series "Merkin" who insisted, to the dismay of his instructors, on dying his hair and keeping it longer than base leadership preferred). It had been found necessary long ago that to blend in with the best pilots, you had to master the culture as well. An instinctively awesome pilot who could not blend in at the bar would not make the 114th's cut. Sorry, Maverick.

He then went on to explain that  yes, specific moves are drilled into the students' minds, feet and hands until they can perform them automatically. And that unlike other fighter types' schools, F-15 graduate students know how to outmaneuver any and every other fighter, no matter what the long curved lines on paper show.With the their powerful mount, the excellence in training, the powerful culture emphasis, and narrower roles of an air dominance fighter, Eagle pilots being assigned to their first squadron would be better at air combat technique than graduating pilots of any other fighter type. And exercises like Sentry Eagle were the proof of that.

To wrap it up, he outlined all the places he'd deployed to in F-15 Eagles to shut up the saber rattling, and it covered every continent and every adversarial nation you've ever heard about in the news. It was an amazing account of the behind-the-scenes World affairs. I'm sad to admit at one moment my mind wandered as he described his adventures. I envisioned Bobble-head, perfect make-up news  anchors arguing like spoiled children about world affairs, as serious professionals like Axe, Psycho and Viking were out flying their 30 year old, Mach 2 steeds on a potential enemy's porch step.

Yes, these guys get around. They're confident, they're skilled, and I wished myself 30 years younger to try joining again, but this time avoid the hospital visit that kept me forever a civilian.

Right about then my family began passing out on the tarmac from the heat. Actually, I think my wife did. It was about 104 deg, you know.

So back to the mass take off. I snapped photos left and right, but with the Sun to my back and tall people in front, I had to hold the camera up high and a disappointing number of shots came out blurry. I did get lots of photos of the California ANG jets, including their aggressor jet, and my favorite 114th Eagle, the Shark Mouth Eagle, up close.

No, I don't bother taking pics of jets taking off on first visits. Maybe in two years, when the next big Sentry Eagle takes place, I'll have a better camera and get some take off footage.

My new favorite jet, the Shark Mouthed F-15... I've wanted to see this baby in action for sooooo long!

I also finally got to see the NO SLACK hangar. Who's that up on top I wonder?

It was heart-breaking at one point when one of the Viper pilot's jet broke down and he had to dismount. When the pilot got out, he walked "briskly" to the airmen surrounding his jet and was obviously upset. Not at them, but that he wasn't flying in the big last day exercise. The airmen calmed him down (got him off their back) and the guy walked around kicking at the ground. Finally a couple other airmen walked over and engaged him in soothing banter, and finally the pilot disappeared. A short while, the engine was being removed from his jet. Man, that musta sucked bad. 

And finally, if you're tall and sneak up to the front of a roped off crowd, and even joke about how people behind you can't see now, expect your pic to show up on the web:

The fighters taxied right past me and my crowd and it was awesome. The Vipers went first, The sleek, little fighters did some great take-offs, and some fun-looking roll-outs at the top as I watched with my Nikon Aculon 10x42/6deg binoculars. While the takeoffs were great, there was another airshow happening the human eye couldn't see a few thousand feet up!

Of course, the Super Hornets, who taxied after the F-16s, tried to show off their short little takeoff runs.

To which the 114th responded with their F-15D (you know, the family wagon version of the F-15C) which rolled short, yanked up and performed an exact duplicate climb to altitude that the F-18Es had done. IN YO FACE NAVEE!

Disappointments? I'd hope to meet the Instructor "Psycho." But it was to be expected that he'd be off busy somewhere. Also, Master Sergeant Shirar and Colonel Balakas, with whom I'd had previous dealings were as elusive as they were busy. But oh well, that's the nature of the beast, right? Right. Pros like those are the kind that keep events like this moving smoothly.

In conclusion, it was amazing! From the Pappy Boyington landing patterns, to the jet noise (I was hearing the Ocean for 3 days after) to friendly, professional citizen soldiers, to watching my sons kick butt on the recruiters' health challenges (one son beat the planking record of the day, and my other son came seriously close to the record in sit-ups). Posing under the famous F-16, F-4 and F-15 displays for my 9-year-old to snap photos of me geeking out. This long-awaited event was nothing less than I'd expected, except too short.

Big smiles awaited us at the gate with well wishes of safe journeys home.

Thank you, 173rd Fighter Wing! We'll see you again in two years, if not sooner! Keep up the great work, and God bless the Air National Guard!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Amazing F-15C Eagle, from the Land Of No Slack

As the excitement builds for this weekend's airshow, my mind goes back to an airshow from about 10-11 years ago(?)- my first Oregon Airshow after moving here. As we approached the parking area, an F-15 was turning, yanking and banking in the sky... very, very low above us. I saw the afterburner. I saw the clouds of boiling water over the wings. I saw the huge American Eagle on the tail. I was amazed- all the aviation books said the F-15 Eagle wasn't able to turn that well, that it was more of an interceptor. 

Maybe some Viper fanboi wrote those reviews, but the bird I saw tearing up the sky above my head appeared more than capable of turning with anything else out there. 

We parked just as it was wrapping up, and I approached a pilot in flight suit and patches. I told him how, during one turn, the Eagle went right over us, huge clouds of condensation on its wings, but it's afterburners weren't going yet there was a loud ripping/roaring sound. 

He smiled and shifted on his feet like he was trying to contain himself. He said, "You bet. That's the sound of the water boiling over the wing. I heard it too, but most people mistake it for afterburners." (or words to that effect) 

He went on, "Crowds usually don't get to hear it, but that guy was flying really low, so yeah, that's what it was." 

Shortly after that, tragedy struck another airshow when an American aviator crashed through some trees during a performance. USAF and USN performers were only designated flights and aircraft, and few and far between. Local aircrew only flew rare, occasional fly-bys for "safety's sake." 

But I will never forget the time I looked up, saw those Eagle-adorned tails, that shiny jet belly, and the roar of burning air above its wings. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Lightning II vs Fighting Falcon- Fight's On!

I hope if you're reading this you've already read one of the plentiful posts or re-posts about how the F-35 was recently "embarrassed" in its first mock air combat session with an F-16.

My thoughts really spun. I was disappointed at the report, to be honest, as my first reaction. I couldn't figure out why the jet Lockheed Martin and its test pilots had been touting as "having F-18 like maneuverability" got so slaughtered in the exercise.

My first thought was, "Wait a minute- I thought this thing had been limited to 3 or 7 G maneuvers. Nowhere in the article does it state that this limitation had been lifted. Maybe I'm meant to assume it was. Okay, maybe that was a stupid thought. But it was part of my process, so I put it in.

My second reaction came with, "If the F-22 pilots don't wear JHMCS because it doesn't fit sideways in the cockpit*, how COULD the F-35 pilot "check six"? But then, the -35's cockpit is a lot bigger than a Raptor's. And not by a little, by a LOT. Hold up two nose-on diagrams or even photos, and you'll see what I mean. So I left a question mark on this point and moved on.

My brain briefly skimmed over a point I've been reading by LM and the USAF since the 90s, when everyone was comparing the F-35 to the F-22: "The F-35 is NOT an air superiority fighter. It is a strike platform. It is a stealthy strike platform that, if caught in a pinch, has mean teeth to detect itself. We already have the F-22 for air superiority. Dominance." Okay.

So, people eventually moved on to comparing it to the A-10 that it's replacing. I mean, eventually, as soon as the replacing actually starts happening. The same arguments were said over and over. And I probably won't touch on those here. But Eventually this F-16 report came out and I'm going to deal with it. How?

With Charts. Because this is the Internet, and charts know everything.

In conclusion: The F-35 is not a replacement for anything. It is an entirely new way of doing air-to-ground combat. Enhanced Situational Awareness. Stealth. Stand-Off Kinetic Kill and Electronic Signal gathering beyond what 99.9% of people can even imagine. Amazing jamming ability. Reasonable speed, maneuverability, etc. And the ability to clean out an evil dictator's left ear from 40 miles away, 35,000' up with a 250 lbs. smart bomb.

Strafing, like snail mail and rotating channel knobs on a TV, is becoming a thing of the past. And while it may still be used in some rarer and rarer cases, the overall way we do kinetic war is changing dramatically. And in a day when the enemy burns you, skins or decapitates you alive on camera, stand off killing has become a must. Bear in mind that the new AC-130 only has one cannon, with huge bomb racks for SDBs on the wings. Yes, even the Spooky is ghosting out.

Am I anti-A-10? No, I'm not. The Warthog was THE plane for THE job in THE era it was designed for. But that era is wrapping up. The enemy has changed, technology has progressed, and war fighting theory-and capability- is marching on.

So you can get on the F-35 bullet train of military progress, or you can ride the A-10 into the museum with a Ya-hoo and a Giddy-up. Things, they are a-changing.

Feel free to comment in the space below!

*A-4 Skyhawks, often lauded as the US Navy's premier light strike aircraft in the Vietnam War, had this same limitation. New, un-broken-in flight helmets did not fit sideways in the cockpit, and pilots would sometimes get their head "stuck" when they suddenly suspected a threat was on their tail

Friday, July 17, 2015


I take on the damning F-16 vs. F-35 report right here. Should be up early next week. And you're gonna love it!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Why I Fly What I Fly When I Fly

I'm kind of a nut of a flight-simmer. I was born in US Navy/USAF air base land on the East Coast, and saw more fighters going over my head during play time than I saw my friends. I've always loved fighter planes, and been amazed by aircraft in general.

Skip a lot of boring mid-story, I now fly Strike Fighters 2 in many of its carnations. I know, I know, it's not the most technically involved flight sim, but its flight models, fuel usage and WEZs are the most accurate of any combat sim out there, there I fly it. QED.

So with all the versions of SF2, I will not fly in 2 theaters: Vietnam and World War II Europe.

Silly, right? Those are two of the most engaging, history-rich air combat regions in the entire World! I know that. I've read the books. I've seen the movies and documentaries, but I won't fly there. Matter of fact, I didn't even install SF2: Vietnam.

It's not a logical thing, you see. It's an emotional connection I have there. I have two late uncles who fought in France. Normandy Invasion and everything. And too many of my high school teachers fought and lost buddies in the Vietnam War. So, while I kinda celebrate this whole air combat thing, I don't like, respect, render sacred, whatever, certain of the killing grounds it's taken part in.

But I'll still take a Thud over Europe...

...an F-15E into North Korea (Very Falcon 4-ish)...

...an F-22 as well...

---even an F-15 over Norway...

---but I won't touch Vietnam jets over Vietnam, or WWII planes over Europe. I'm just that way.

The "F-15 Hasn't Battled Its Peers" Argument- Invalid!

People are jealous of the F-15's battle score. They may talk like skeptics. They might try to sound like thoughtful, learned military historians. But in the end, they just all come out sounding jealous.

The F-15 has won without loss, consecutively, consistently, because it is the best air combat fighter in the World. Until lately, it has had no peer, and most of the peers are allies anyways, so it doesn't matter.

Here's the reality of the issue: "Has it, the F-15, ever faced a peer?": 

If there's a bully in a school, no one challenges him because he's the meanest kid. There are other kids that are as big as him. There are maybe kids that are stronger than him. There may be kids who are bigger. But the bully is the bully, because he takes his size, his strength, combines it with a bully attitude, and becomes the meanest that there is. Are there peers this was or that in his school? Yes, maybe, maybe not. Point is, he's beat up everyone in the school and no one can do anything about it. This is the F-15's story. Wanna talk to the bully about what peers he's encountered? Well, truth is he doesn't have any, because he's the bully. Period.

Sp maybe on paper there's another jet that's deadlier, i.e. higher and tighter sustained turn rate, longer range radar, larger payload. But does that airplane have a 104:0 kill ratio? No? Then it's not there. It's not as tough. It's not as proven as the F-15 Eagle Air Superiority Aerial Bully. 

104:0 Bro. If you can beat that, you can have the title.

Feel free to comment in the space below!

Friday, February 13, 2015

The F-35 Lightning II- An Updated Look

The F-35, for those who are monitoring the actual progress and testimonials of the jet, is turning out to be an amazing, fantastic multi-role fighter.

For example, I have a military magazine where a current F-35 pilot/former F-16 pilot boasts it out-accelerates F-16s while carrying all the same pods and payload-per-weight. And he's flown side-by-side with Vipers to see this for himself. What's that saying? Speed is life: More is better!

At a briefing before Congress, a Navy Lightning pilot said it turns like an F-18. It's a longer video, but informative well worth the watch!

And, depending on who you talk to, ranges with them, or slightly farther than either.

The SA tools on this aircraft are coming into their own, and the targeting system is da bomb!

And 95% of the weapons delivery and other payload related tests have either gone according to plan or better. Find me another weapons development program with that kind of record?

Now I'm not stupid: This thing has taken a long, too long time to come about. And the cost has been way, way up there. But really, are they developing a single aircraft program with three versions? Or is it more like three different combat aircraft programs that kinda look alike? (See my previous entry, The F-15A/B/C/D/K/E/SG/SE/S/SA/WUT?)

And what else? A RADAR system that can track and jam F-22 radars while still looking for other aerial AND ground threats... what other super-secret capabilities does this aircraft have that can't tell us about? I'll bet the farm there's tons.

Are people looking for a new jet that goes Warp 6 and pulls 20G while keeping the pilot coherent enough to drop the bomb on the general in the train window while shooting down 50 Chinese fighters? Well sad news for ya- aircraft performance, in general, has been maxed out. Mach 2ish has worked just great for the last few decades (we can't make a metal that doesn't melt at higher speeds). Furthermore pilots can't turn more than 9 Gs more than a few times in a flight, and some only once at all. And despite the fun G test we all like to watch on the ground, routinely pulling 9 Gs (or even 7-8 Gs) while maintaining SA in a dogfight, watching out for other enemies, watching your target, monitoring your flight or wingman, etc. is even a real trick for most current aviators. So, yes, aircraft performance is maxed out, and the F-35 meets that max line just fine.

So take a look at the facts and relax. The F-35 is turning out to be the deadly strike fighter is was always projected to be, and more.

Feel free to comment in the space below!


The F-15 Eagle. Amazing plane, isn't it? 104.5 official kills. Some 30-50 more claimed but NON-official kills more. And no defeats in the air-to-air arena. Russian- and french- built jets have been running from it or falling in flames behind it for some 30 years now.

And now, with its amazing airframe and the advances in modern aerial electronic wizardry, there are all new versions of the jet coming out. The Israelis have several different versions now. The Saudis have the F-15S, and are getting all-new fancy F-15SAs, too. The Koreans have the F-15K Slam Eagle. And let's not forget the Singaporean F-15SGs, across the board considered the newest and best iteration of the Mighty Mighty Eagle.

And what is America stuck with? The F-15C.


Yeah, the F-15C. The F-15C came out back in the 80s. It included an engine upgrade (from P&W F-100-100 to P&W F-100-229), radar processor upgrades (from APG-63 v0 to APG-63 v1, and a few APG-70s), increased fuel (several hundred more pounds), more capable ECM housework (don't really follow ECM tech, tho I should. But you can see additional antennas under the nose and around it), and the ability to carry AMRAAM and track/kill multiple targets simultaneously.

And if you check modern records of what the F-15Cs of the USAF/ANG units are flying, they are still flying F-15Cs. Same jet inside and out for almost 25 years now, right?


Matter of fact, combined with the general rebuild of the entire Eagle fleet that happened in the late 2000s, these are entirely new jets. They might still have a few leaks, and a few hangar queens, but the Eagles sitting in hangars at ANG bases and so on are completely different fighters than the upgrades of the fleet in the 80s. Are they F-15Cs? No, they should be called something different- F-15Fs or something. Allow me to elaborate the whys:

Look at the other jets in the fleet: F-14s (RIP), F-16s and F-18s.

The F-14 Tomcat:

Three basic versions, but a couple more in reality. The F-14A had the famous AWG-9 radar system, TF-30 engines, extending glove vanes that worked with the sweeping wings at high mach speeds to restore COG lift, and a weak ACM suite. Basic model.

The Tomcat then got bigger engines, GE F-110 engines with more thrust, some computer upgrades with new HUD symbology, and some tweaking to the ECM. These changes alone got the jet a new designation, the -B.

F-14C was skipped for reasons I've long forgotten.

But then a bigger, more sweeping series of upgrades came to the aircraft... all of which were under the -D designation. New radar, newer computers, cockpit upgrades with newer screens and bigger, multi-function displays. Engines were tweaked more and the glove vanes were sealed shut, in some cases removed and built over completely. Faster, better, deadlier, smarter. Wow. Ladies and gentlemen, the F-14D Tomcat.

Wait. I mean, Bombcat. LANTIRN pods were added. Minor, and very clever, computer upgrades were added. Wiring and software for bombing was added, in phases, until the jet could drop (almost) every dumb and smart bomb in the US' inventory. As Tomcats deployed for war, bom drop pallets were being manufactured and uploaded onto the carriers as they loaded the `Cats too.

But wait, there's more! ROVER and GPS were added, allowing Bombcats greater troop communication abilities. Should some of these upgrades earned the venerable Naval Cat a new designation? Well, I think so. How's "F-14E Super Cat" strike you? Shoulda been.

And then it was retired.

And then there's the Iranian Tomcats, originally -As, that Russia helped them keep running with Russian Tumansky engines, Russian radars, arming them with SAM missiles, etc. No way of knowing (for the lay person) just how many different versions the Iranians are flying now.

Then the F-16. Baseline model, F-16A. upgrade its radar and give it newer, bigger engines, bigger computers, and it's the -C Viper. BUT... then upgrade its computer and engines again and start hanging all sorts of HTS and Lightning pods on it? Well, according to the F-14 model, it kinda qualifies as a new designation. But they didn't.

Not until they started shipping new F-16E/Fs (Block 60 or 50+) to other countries did it get a new designation. New AESA radar, hardware for overwing fuel tanks, built-in FLIR pods, new ECM suite built into the spine... See it? Looks really different, too. New designation, then.

Then there's the F-18.

Despite my personal, opinionated dislike for the Hornet, I am forced to admire it. But there have been SO. FREAKIN'. VARIATIONS. Even in USN service alone. F-18As, F-18A+, F-18B, F-18C, F-18D, F-18E, F-18F, F-18S, CF-18, I don't even know the Swiss or Kuwaiti designations off the top of my head. And how many different software and hardware (engine, radar, computer, ECM, etc.) upgrades has it gotten? Good grief!

And then there's the jump from F-18C/D to F-18E/F. It was sold as having 80% parts commonality with the older vanilla Hornets. But come on, in reality, it is an entirely new aircraft. Bigger wings, big strakes, cockpits 50% different, more store stations canted outward at that weird angle (I know, to prevent vibration and stores collisions on weapon release). Boeing was recently forced to admit there's only really about a 20% commonality of pieces. No kidding, this was not an upgrade. It was a different jet. Entirely. F-27 or something.

I could go on, but I've probably already killed the point.

Back to the F-15.

These new F-15 Eagles we have. Here, I'm referring to upgrades that all happened in the 2000s. Well, these upgraded and re-built F-15s that we have, aren't your daddy's -Cs anymore. They all have new engines. Upgraded with digital input/controls that make an already higher thrust engine work turns, climbs and so on more efficiently and efficiently add a "fake" couple hundred pounds of thrust.

And there are three different kinds of radar across the fleet now: The APG-63 v1, -v2 and v-3. The -v1, if I'm not mistaken, is the same mechanical dish with upgraded software. The -v2s are AESA radars (longer range, tons more reliable, etc.) , and the v3s are better AESAs that track and guide AMRAAMs onto stealthy targets. Targets like cruise missiles, T-50s, J-31s, and F-22s at Red Flag (Yes, the F-22 has lost its advantage at Red Flag).

The ECM suites have also been upgraded- you'll notice the antenna farm under the nose in 2000+ Eagles is different than the 90s Eagles. Included are new antennas and bumps on the back of the Eagles now... some of them. "Command Jets" I've heard them called, as they carry a kind of SADL local network for flights within 10-20 miles, in addition to the Link 16-based communication/SA link.

Then there's JHMCS (I didn't mention this for the -16s and -18s, but they have it too). This isn't some independent system a pilot just stick his head into. It's an integrated part of the aircraft. It's an expensive integrated part of the aircraft. And it is amazing how it lends such incredible SA to the pilot.

No, this is not an F-15C. At least, an F-15F, or more.

So why wasn't it re-designated? One word: Politics. (I hate politics)

Congress is kind of full of dumb people. Most of whom will go the way the prevalent wind is blowing. In an atmosphere of fund cutting for the DoD, Congress will not buy "new" military hardware. Congress would never fund all the new systems if they were numbered like brand new combat systems. "New stuff?" they would shriek in fiscal terror, "We can't afford new stuff!" So the DoD, in order to do the job they have to do (which includes protecting the dumb people) says, "New? Oh, no, sirs. This isn't new, we're just putting a new sticker on something we already have. It's  not new. No, sirree bob! Nothing new to see here!" They have to do this because it's easier to get Congress to fund new stickers to slap on aircraft, than it is to get them to fund an entirely new combat system. Nothing fancy, just dummy psychology.

Perhaps if the DoD had called the Raptor an upgrade to the Eagle... F-15R? ...we'd have gotten all 400 like we need.

Feel free to comment in the space below!