Dear Santa

SO then, what it would take to put you in this…uhhh, this…that is…hm.

History: The F4F  Grumman Wildcat began life on Grumman’s drawing boards as a biplane, but nevertheless became the Navy’s first monoplane fighter aircraft.

The Wildcat has no hydraulic system and a very simple electrical system. The landing gear is cranked up and down (28 cranks), and the flaps are vacuum powered.

Despite its simplicity, the Wildcat was a great technological advance over its biplane predecessors when it entered service in the late 1930’s.

Heavy, awkward, slow, and ungainly as it was, it was also a worthy ancestor to its faster, slightly sleeker, just all-around nastier little sister, the F6F Hellcat:

grumman_f6f_hellcat_3.jpg


Those rows of kill flags tell the Hellcat story all by themselves, but here’s a bit more.

The Hellcat was developed as an improvement upon a previous Grumman plane, the F4F Wildcat. The Wildcat was seeing heavy use in the Pacific theatre of the war, where US Navy pilots flew it from both land bases and aircraft carriers. In the constant escalation of weapons technology, a central feature of this massive industrialized war, the Americans were keen to improve upon the design and find something more effective.

The Hellcat was designed and produced at an accelerated pace. The first flight by a prototype took place on the 26th of June 1942, and by August 1943 is was being deployed in the Pacific.

The power beneath the hood of a Hellcat came from a Pratt and Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engine. This was an 18-cylinder, two-row, air-cooled radial piston engine with 2,000 horsepower.

This engine gave the Hellcat a maximum speed of 386mph.

From the moment it entered service, the Hellcat swung battles in the Americans’ favor. The first large air battle fought by Hellcats took place on the 4th of December 1943, in the Kwajalein area. 91 Hellcats fought 50 Mitsubishi A6M Zeros, one of Japan’s most successful fighters of the war. The Hellcats shot down 28 of the enemy planes and only lost two of their own.

Able to fight effectively day and night, the Hellcat became a constant presence in the skies during the Pacific war. For the Japanese, this was a source of fear and tension. For the Americans, it was a source of comfort. They referred to this constant Hellcat cover as the “Big Blue Blanket”.

When the ground-pounders start bestowing affectionate nicknames on your aircraft due to its effectiveness, that’s endorsement enough for anybody. Plenty more fun Hellcat facts rat cheer.

Getting back to the Wildcat, I realize I may have sounded a mite disparaging of the F4F’s looks above. But believe me, I did NOT mean to imply that the Wildcat was any kind of ugly. She wasn’t.

GummanWildcat.jpg


Pretty enough, beaucoup tough, and a damned good fighter for its era.

The Wildcat held the line in every U.S. carrier action in the Pacific from Pearl Harbor through the Guadalcanal Campaign in the face of the superior performing Zero.

The Wildcat’s legendary ruggedness, combined with the superior tactics of its pilots negated the performance advantages of the light weight, unarmored Japanese Zero. It continued in Service with the Navy and Marine Corps through 1945, even after higher performance fighters replaced them on the fleet aircraft carriers.

Despite its limitations Marine and Naval Aviators flying the Grumman Wildcat earned 8 Congressional Medal of Honor medals, more than any other single-engined fighter flown by US pilots in World War II.

A proud and noble record for sure. But let’s get right down to the nut-cuttin’, which is contained in the piece’s headline:

Yours for Just $1.3 Million 1944 Grumman Wildcat

A bargain at any price. Makes me wish I’d listened to my mama and been a lawyer instead of…well, whatever the hell I am.

Shredded!

Hol-eee CRAP.

Mechanic ‘Accidentally’ Fires Vulcan Cannon & Obliterates F-16 Sitting on the Runway
The F-16, hit by the cannon fire, caught fire and exploded having recently been refuelled and made ready for a training sortie due to take place later that day. Another aircraft received minor damage.

If anyone ever needed a reminder of the lethal dangers of working with live munitions, then a recent incident at Florennes Air Base in Belgium is the ultimate wake-up call.

It is thought a maintenance worker accidentally activated the six-barrel 20mm Vulcan M61A-1 cannon hitting another plane parked on the runway.

“You can’t help thinking of what a disaster this could have been,” he said. The area was secured and checked to ensure there was no further discharge of toxic substances.

They have pics of the smoking ruins, and they’re…gruesome. Naturally, the BAF brass SPRANG into action right away:

The Belgian Air Force was reluctant to discuss the cause of the incident until the full investigation had been completed but were quick to condemn Belgian newspaper De Standaard for an article for unfairly lampooning the Air Force for destroying one of its own aircraft.

“Unfairly”? A little history, which is always of interest to a geek like moi.

Two fighter squadrons, 1 Squadron, formed in 1917, and 350 Squadron formed in 1942 in Britain during World War Two, are based at Florennes.

The base was used by the German Luftwaffe during WWII up until its capture by the Allies in September 1944. Ju88, Bf110 night-fighters and Focke-Wulf Fw190 day-fighters were based at the airfield.

Following capture the Allies based the USAAF 430th Fighter Squadron here flying ground attack missions with P38 Lockheed Lightnings. At night the Americans flew Northrop P-61 Black Widows with the 422nd Night Fighter Squadron.

My fellow military-aviation buffs will be quite familiar with the hallowed P38, whose proud escutcheon is currently being disgraced by the F35 Lightning II. Amusingly, the less well-known Black Widow looks quite similar:

p61_large.jpg

Back to the F16, which still gets my vote as one of the prettiest fighters ever built.

The F-16, Fighting Falcon was developed by General Dynamics for the US Air Force as a superiority day-fighter and proved to be a versatile all-weather aircraft.

It’s also proved to be capable of kicking the crap out of the F35 in a dogfight—a bit of an unfair comparison, maybe, since avoiding a dogfight altogether is kinda the whole point behind the F35’s overall design.

Via MisHum, who quips: “We’ve all had bad days at work, amirite? I don’t think your day was ever quite this bad.” God, I should hope not.

There walked a man

As big a fan as I’ve always been of the great Jimmy Stewart, there’s still a lot about him I didn’t know.

20 February 1966: Brigadier General James M. Stewart, United States Air Force Reserve, flew the last combat mission of his military career, a 12 hour, 50 minute “Arc Light” bombing mission over Vietnam, aboard Boeing B-52 Stratofortress of the 736th Bombardment Squadron, 454th Bombardment Wing. His bomber was a B-52F-65-BW, serial number 57-149, call sign GREEN TWO. It was the number two aircraft in a 30-airplane bomber stream.

Plenty more to the Stewart story, of which you should definitely read the all. I’ll just toss some more in for the heck of it.

Concerned that his celebrity status would keep him in “safe” assignments, Jimmy Stewart had repeatedly requested a combat assignment. His request was finally approved and he was assigned as operations officer of the 703rd Bombardment Squadron, 445th Bombardment Group, a B-24 Liberator unit soon to be sent to the war in Europe. Three weeks later, he was promoted to commanding officer of the 703rd.

The 445th Bombardment Group arrived in England on 23 November 1943, and after initial operational training, was stationed at RAF Tibenham, Norfolk, England. The unit flew its first combat mission on 13 December 1943, with Captain Stewart leading the high squadron of the group formation in an attack against enemy submarine pens at Kiel, Germany. On his second mission, Jimmy Stewart led the entire 445th Group.

Following World War II, Jimmy Stewart remained in the U.S. Army Air Forces as a Reserve Officer, and with the United States Air Force after it became a separate service in 1947. Colonel Stewart commanded Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Marietta, Georgia. In 1953, his wartime rank of colonel was made permanent, and on 23 July 1959, Jimmy Stewart was promoted to Brigadier General.

During his active duty periods, Colonel Stewart remained current as a pilot of Convair B-36 Peacemaker, Boeing B-47 Stratojet and B-52 Stratofortress intercontinental bombers of the Strategic Air Command.

During his military service, Brigadier General James Maitland Stewart was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster (two awards); the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters; the Distinguished Service Medal; and the Croix de Guerre avec Palme (France).

General Stewart retired from the U.S. Air Force on 1 June 1968 after 27 years of service.

More stuff I didn’t know:

In World War II, Jimmy Stewart answered the same patriotic call as many men and joined the military. Even though Stewart was a working actor at the time, he felt the call to duty like anyone else and made it his mission to serve America in its time of need. For Stewart it wasn’t just about gaining the accolades and attaboys, he genuinely wanted to serve his country, but that came at a price. By the end of World War II he was suffering from PTSD, something that affected him deeply while filming It’s A Wonderful Life.

By the end of World War II Stewart wasn’t doing well. Men serving with him at the time said that he was suffering from battle fatigue, not in the sense that he was afraid of going into battle, but that he was worried about losing men while performing missions over Europe. This kind of “endless stress” is what grounded him for good towards the end of the war.

Both Stewart and director Frank Capra were dealing with their own personal demons while they were filming It’s A Wonderful Life, but Stewart was certain that he didn’t know how to act anymore. Biographer Robert Matzen writes:

If you watch that performance by Stewart, there was a lot of rage in it and it’s an on-the-edge performance because that’s what those guys were feeling — they were scared that this wasn’t going to work. That the audience wasn’t going to buy it. Donna Reed (playing Stewart’s wife in the film) is one of the eyewitnesses who said, ‘This was not a happy set.’ These guys were very tense. They would go off and huddle say, ‘Should we try this? Should we try that?’ And it proceeded that way for months.

Stewart’s pain and stress is evident in every scene of the film, it’s likely why the film is so affecting. 

Stewart died in 1997, bless his heart. They sure don’t make Hollywood celebs like they used to, eh? Then again, they don’t make Americans like they used to, either.

(First link via Insty)

“Daddy, how do airplanes fly?”

Correct answer: nobody really knows.

No One Can Explain Why Planes Stay In The Air

  • On a strictly mathematical level, engineers know how to design planes that will stay aloft. But equations don’t explain why aerodynamic lift occurs.
  • There are two competing theories that illuminate the forces and factors of lift. Both are incomplete explanations.
  • Aerodynamicists have recently tried to close the gaps in understanding. Still, no consensus exists.

In December 2003, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first flight of the Wright brothers, the New York Times ran a story entitled “Staying Aloft; What Does Keep Them Up There?” The point of the piece was a simple question: What keeps planes in the air? To answer it, the Times turned to John D. Anderson, Jr., curator of aerodynamics at the National Air and Space Museum and author of several textbooks in the field.

What Anderson said, however, is that there is actually no agreement on what generates the aerodynamic force known as lift. “There is no simple one-liner answer to this,” he told the Times. People give different answers to the question, some with “religious fervor.” More than 15 years after that pronouncement, there are still different accounts of what generates lift, each with its own substantial rank of zealous defenders. At this point in the history of flight, this situation is slightly puzzling. After all, the natural processes of evolution, working mindlessly, at random and without any understanding of physics, solved the mechanical problem of aerodynamic lift for soaring birds eons ago. Why should it be so hard for scientists to explain what keeps birds, and airliners, up in the air?

Even as extraordinarily broad and supple an intellect as Einstein’s couldn’t suss it all out:

In Germany, one of the scientists who applied themselves to the problem of lift was none other than Albert Einstein. In 1916 Einstein published a short piece in the journal Die Naturwissenschaften entitled “Elementary Theory of Water Waves and of Flight,” which sought to explain what accounted for the carrying capacity of the wings of flying machines and soaring birds. “There is a lot of obscurity surrounding these questions,” Einstein wrote. “Indeed, I must confess that I have never encountered a simple answer to them even in the specialist literature.”

Einstein then proceeded to give an explanation that assumed an incompressible, frictionless fluid—that is, an ideal fluid. Without mentioning Bernoulli by name, he gave an account that is consistent with Bernoulli’s principle by saying that fluid pressure is greater where its velocity is slower, and vice versa. To take advantage of these pressure differences, Einstein proposed an airfoil with a bulge on top such that the shape would increase airflow velocity above the bulge and thus decrease pressure there as well.

Einstein probably thought that his ideal-fluid analysis would apply equally well to real-world fluid flows. In 1917, on the basis of his theory, Einstein designed an airfoil that later came to be known as a cat’s-back wing because of its resemblance to the humped back of a stretching cat. He brought the design to aircraft manufacturer LVG (Luftverkehrsgesellschaft) in Berlin, which built a new flying machine around it. A test pilot reported that the craft waddled around in the air like “a pregnant duck.” Much later, in 1954, Einstein himself called his excursion into aeronautics a “youthful folly.” The individual who gave us radically new theories that penetrated both the smallest and the largest components of the universe nonetheless failed to make a positive contribution to the understanding of lift or to come up with a practical airfoil design.

Can’t recollect via whom I found this one; I suspect it was probably Insty, but a bit of searching around at his place didn’t turn it up. Whoever it was, my abjectest apology for failing to acknowledge the find with a return link. It’s a fascinating article all around, if you’re into the whole aviation thing. Which, y’know, I am.

The US Space Force is NOT a joke?

Saying it doesn’t make it so, I’m afraid.

Last month, not long before boarding a plane to Mar-a-Lago for Christmas, President Donald Trump signed legislation that created the newest military branch in the United States in more than 70 years: the Space Force.

The new Space Force instead exists inside the Department of the Air Force, in an arrangement similar to that of the Marine Corps and the Navy, which both operate under the Department of the Navy. There will be no secretary of space: As space-ops chief, (General Jay) Raymond now holds the organization’s highest position. The law also stipulates that the Space Force must be built from existing personnel in the Air Force, and does not have the authority to hire new people. The Space Force has simply absorbed the Air Force unit that focuses on space operations, the Air Force Space Command, which was established in 1982. Its members will remain Air Force officers, but those with space-related roles will become Space Force officers in the next year and a half.

Uh oh— with the Space Force under USAF purview instead of being a Space Navy, pretty much the entire output of every SF/space opera writer since Heinlein just went kaput. I bet David Weber, for one, just about had himself a mild stroke when he heard the news.

The prospect of a Space Force has been hazy since Trump first mentioned it, mostly because the proposal seemed to be a passing thought. “I was saying it the other day—’cause we’re doing a tremendous amount of work in space—I said, ‘Maybe we need a new force. We’ll call it the Space Force,’” Trump said back in 2018, to an audience of marines. “And I was not really serious. And then I said, ‘What a great idea. Maybe we’ll have to do that.’”

Your biggest official mistake so far, Mr Preznit sir, maybe even an unforgivable one. Why the obvious and totally spectacular name—Star Fleet, dammit!—didn’t occur to you is beyond my ken. Star Fleet already has the uniforms, rank structure, mission profile, and a cool logo ready to go.

On the other hand, though, maybe Trump prefers to wait for the United Federation of Planets to come into existence for that, perhaps as a matter of good taste. But such deference isn’t necessary according to the Star Trek canon itself, for cryin’ out loud:

Starfleet predates the Federation, having originally been an Earth organization, as shown by the television series Star Trek: Enterprise.

So there. Onwards.

The immediate future of the Space Force involves a lot of paperwork and a dash of symbolism, rather than new uniforms and fight songs. Raymond will join the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the military officials who advise the president directly, and the service must come up with and submit an organization plan to Congress in February.

While the Space Force is now official, a slight disconnect in reality remains.

I’d say so, yeah, only a goodish bit more than merely “slight.” How could it be otherwise, when the sad shell of the once-great NASA now lacks the hardware and wherewithal to boost humans into high Earth orbit anymore, and American astronauts are reduced to begging a lift to the ISS from the Russians, Indians, Chinese, Ethiopians, or whatever other third-rater out there might have a working rocket handy?

Jeez, even the Air Farce’s mainstay atmospheric platforms are creaky, leaky, and geriatric at fifty to seventy years young, while our supposedly latest and greatest design is looking like more of an albatross (or an apteryx) than an eagle. And just how do we regain our national mojo as doughty explorers of the Final Frontier when we’ve become such trembling ninnies about safety and risk-avoidance that we wet ourselves in fright at the thought of letting our kids play outside?

Maybe the creation of a Space Force with no readily usable spacefaring vehicles at hand could turn out to be a boost for nascent private outfits like SpaceX, and a lift to the spirits for those of us cake-eating civilians who still care about these things. But I can’t help but feel it’s a mildly embarrassing bit of hubris as well. Who knows, maybe we’ll live up to it someday. If we don’t, it’s a dead cert that somebody else will.

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