FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day December 18 through 21, 2017

The House Tears Up Plan For Full-Year DoD Budget Within Short Term Continuing Resolution

All Friends of FOD realize operating the Government and particularly the DoD under the continuing resolution process speaks to the acrimony within Congress.  As I mentioned in a previous edition of FOD, there had been an attempt to at least stabilize DoD’s much needed FY-18 budget by including a full-year defense spending bill as part of the short-term continuing resolution (CR) for the rest of Government.  Defense News is reporting House Republicans are tearing up plans to wed a full-year defense spending bill to a short-term continuing resolution for the rest of government.  House Republicans were working to hammer out a new agreement before midnight Friday so they can leave town for the Christmas recess. To avoid a government shutdown, they must successfully factor in what the slim GOP majority in the Senate can pass.  Debate over the CR had to be tabled so as to be able to modify and then re-vote for the tax overhaul bill.  Even as Republicans took a victory lap Wednesday to celebrate passage of a tax overhaul, a government shutdown loomed as plans for the defense-CR hybrid bill collapsed under the weight of unrelated provisions.  Conservative Republicans are said to have withdrawn support for the hybrid CR, in part over its inclusion of an $81 billion disaster relief package.  It remains to be seen whether the next CR will deal with other contentious issues like the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Veterans Choice Program or an extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  A large enough bloc of assertive House Republican defense hawks and fiscally conservative Freedom Caucus members backed the hybrid defense-CR that House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., allowed it to advance. But if those groups oppose a CR without higher defense spending, Ryan would need Democratic votes to pass the CR.  Several House Republicans said they hope to see a “clean” CR, with $5.9 billion in added defense funding requested by the White House — for missile defense, a troop surge in Afghanistan, and repairs for the collision-damaged U.S. Navy destroyers Fitzgerald and John S. McCain.  “Leadership’s going back to the drawing board on this one to figure out what they think can pass,” said Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Charlie Dent, chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies and co-chair of the moderate Tuesday Group.  “I can’t think of a bigger act of political malpractice after a successful tax reform vote than to shut the government down,” Dent said. “Talk about stepping on your own message. Really, how dumb would that be? Hey, but anything is possible around here. This is Congress.”


Boeing in Discussions To Buy Embraer

Even as discussions continue concerning a bitter trade dispute between Boeing and Bombardier, Boeing and Brazilian airplane manufacturer Embraer SA said Thursday that they are in discussions about a potential merger of sorts.  The talks are ongoing, but the companies cautioned in a joint release any deal would be subject to the Brazilian government, regulators and each companies’ boards and shareholders.  Boeing could face a challenge in gaining Brazilian government approval to buy the country’s aviation giant. Reuters, citing a government source, reported Brazil is open an Embraer partnership — but not a total sale of the company. Any deal which transfers control of Embraer is out, according to ReutersThe Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported Boeing is open to protecting jobs, the Embraer brand or structuring a deal that will maintain Brazilian government interest in the company’s defense business.  The WSJ said Boeing talks were on hold, so that the Brazilian government could weigh in. The government has the power to veto any sale of Embraer, which is one of Brazil’s leading manufacturers. Brazil’s government owns certain “golden shares” that would allow it to control any partnership agreement.  Among the world’s aircraft makers, the Sao Paulo-based company ranks third in size, behind Boeing and Airbus. Boeing has complained about the Airbus and Bombardier deal, saying that those firms get unfair subsidies from their host governments. Embraer’s commercial aviation CEO, John Slattery, said at the Dubai Airshow in November that the Airbus deal for control of Bombardier’s CSeries should generate a higher level of activity for Embraer.  The deal in progress would be a boon for Boeing’s current offerings due to Embraer’s strength in regional jets. Embraer rivals Canadian aircraft maker Bombardier in commercial jets with 100 to 150 seats, a product that is center stage of a bitter trade dispute between Boeing and Bombardier.  The U.S. Commerce Department on Wednesday finalized duties 292 percent on passenger jets made by Bombardier, a win for Boeing, which lodged the complaint. The suit alleges Bombardier received unfair government subsidies and dumped narrow-body jets below cost to No. 2 U.S. carrier Delta Air Lines. The Commerce Department first recommended the duties on Bombardier’s CSeries jets earlier this autumn.  Bombardier CEO Alain Bellemare on Thursday defended the discounting of new airplanes. Bellemare doesn’t deny that Delta received a good price, saying early customers for a fresh product rarely pay list prices. Steep discounts are common in the industry, to draw interest and attention to new planes.  Nobody pays retail!  As part of the safety and flight evaluation work I did for ALPA a few years ago I flew the E-175 (a slightly stretched version of the E-170) and the E-195.  The E190/195 models are a larger stretch of the E170/175 models fitted with a new, larger wing, a larger horizontal stabilizer and a new engine, the GE CF34-10E, rated at 18,500 lb.  These aircraft compete with the Bombardier CRJ-1000 and CS100, the Boeing 717-200 (no longer in production) and 737-600 (also no longer in production), and the Airbus A318. It can carry up to 100 passengers in a two-class configuration or up to 124 in single-class high density configuration.  They were both good aircraft, but at the time they did not have the provisions for ADS-B NextGen surveillance capabilities, nor data bus capacity for other avionics systems improvements coming down the line.  The ram-horn yoke looks different, but is easily adaptive.


North Korea Blamed For WannCry Cyber Attack

The US Government and the Trump administration have publicly blamed North Korea for unleashing the so-called WannaCry cyber attack that crippled hospitals, banks and other companies across the globe earlier this year.  “The attack was widespread and cost billions, and North Korea is directly responsible,” Tom Bossert, homeland security adviser to President Donald Trump, wrote in a piece published on Monday night in the Wall Street Journal.  “North Korea has acted especially badly, largely unchecked, for more than a decade, and its malicious behavior is growing more egregious,” Bossert wrote. “WannaCry was indiscriminately reckless.”  The White House was expected to follow up on Tuesday with a more formal statement blaming Pyongyang, according to a senior administration official.  The U.S. government has assessed with a “very high level of confidence” that a hacking entity known as Lazarus Group, which works on behalf of the North Korean government, carried out the WannaCry attack, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the government’s investigation.  Lazarus Group is widely believed by security researchers and U.S. officials to have been responsible for the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment that destroyed files, leaked corporate communications online and led to the departure of several top studio executives.  Many security researchers, including the cyber firm Symantec , as well as the British government, have already concluded that North Korea was likely behind the WannaCry attack, which quickly unfurled across the globe in May to infect more than 300,000 computers in 150 countries.  Considered unprecedented in scale at the time, WannaCry knocked British hospitals offline, forcing thousands of patients to reschedule appointments and disrupted infrastructure and businesses around the world.  The attack originally looked like a ransomware campaign, where hackers encrypt a targeted computer and demand payment to recover files. Some experts later concluded the ransom threat may have been a distraction intended to disguise a more destructive intent.  WannaCry was made possible by a flaw in Microsoft’s Windows software, which was discovered by the U.S. National Security Agency and then used by the NSA to build a hacking tool for its own use.  In a devastating NSA security breach, that hacking tool and others were published online by the Shadow Brokers, a mysterious group that regularly posts cryptic taunts toward the U.S. government.


US To Increase Military Presence in the Western Pacific

The Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John M. Richardson indicated the US is planning to increase its military presence in the western Pacific to cope with increased threats in the region.  He told a briefing aboard the USS Ronald Reagan in Japan on Tuesday that vessels from the Third Fleet in the eastern Pacific could be brought forward to reinforce their naval colleagues in the western Pacific.  However Chinese military experts believe the US is using the ongoing tensions over the North Korea nuclear crisis as an opportunity to reinforce its presence in the region, but its ultimate goal is to restrain a rising China.  Gee that’s a good secondary benefit.  And he also reiterated America’s concerns about Beijing’s artificial islands in the South China Sea, where China has territorial disputes with many neighboring countries.  “One can only draw certain conclusion about what are the intentions of the Chinese with respect to those islands. We will respond as we have always done, which is that we are going to continue to be present down there,” Richardson said.  For now, he said, North Korea was the “most urgent” task for the US navy in Asia as it became “more and more capable” with every new missile test.  Analysts said the missile was the regime’s most powerful to date, with an estimated reach of up to 13,000km – putting the entire US mainland within reach of Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal.  Song Zhongping, a Chinese military commentator for Hong Kong’s Phoenix Television, said the US was trying to use the North Korea nuclear problem to reinforce its Seventh Fleet in the western Pacific by shifting more aircraft carrier battle groups from the Third Fleet, which would be turned into a support force in the region.  The Chinese PLAN are in the process of developing two carrier battle groups – The Lianing and her sister ship, the Type 001A capable of supporting their claims in the South China Sea.


Thomas Fire Update

The Thomas Fire is a massive wildfire burning in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, and one of multiple wildfires that started in early December 2017 in Southern California. It has burned approximately 272,600 acres, becoming the largest wildfire of the 2017 California wildfire season, and the third-largest wildfire in modern California history.  The Thomas Fire also became the largest wildfire recorded in California during the month of December.  The Thomas Fire has resulted in two people killed, destroyed at least 1,313 structures, while damaging over 242 others; by December 14.  The Thomas Fire has cost at least $123.84 million to fight, and is currently estimated to be the 3th most destructive wildfire in California history.  The fire has forced over 94,607 residents to evacuate.  The Thomas Fire has seen over 8,300 firefighters mobilized to fight it, which has been the largest mobilization of firefighters for combating any wildfire in California history.  The fire began north of Santa Paula, near Steckel Park and Thomas Aquinas College, on December 4, 2017. The fast moving fire quickly reached the city of Ventura, where over 500 residences were destroyed that night.  The fire destroyed almost as many residences in several rural communities amidst the rugged mountain terrain of Ventura County. The fire threatened the Ojai Valley, and on December 13, the fire completely surrounded the area, including Lake Casitas.  The fire expanded into the Los Padres National Forest and threatened small communities along the Rincon Coast north of Ventura before moving into Santa Barbara County. The rugged foothills in the southern portion of the county burned as firefighters concentrated on protecting the communities of Carpinteria and Montecito (really big money communities).  The Thomas Fire is powerful enough to generate its own weather, indicating that the Thomas Fire had become a firestorm.  Currently it is only 40% contained, but the Santa Ana winds have abated somewhat in the last couple days allowing firefighters to have greater success in protecting structures.



Airborne Data Links Improves Fleet Capabilities

I’ve been following this story in the background for awhile, but now it’s out in the public sector as it were, so here are some updates.  US Navy experiments are proving that advanced airborne data-links will greatly improve the capability of the service’s carrier-based strike fighters and electronic attack jets even without the addition of new platforms.  During the U.S. Navy’s Netted Sensors 2017 (NS17) fleet experiment in August, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler crews were able to demonstrate and experiment with the capabilities of the Tactical Targeting Network Technology (TTNT) data-link to enable entire new capabilities. These included a Common Tactical Picture (CTP), Multi-Ship Electronic Surveillance (ESM), Growler Manned-Unmanned Teaming with the DASH-X/REMEDY unmanned system, and Network-Centric Collaborative Targeting (NCCT) technologies.  The operational Navy will adopt the new capabilities over time—over the course of several software upgrades for the F/A-18E/F and EA-18G—as it adjusts and at times strugges to maintain its lead over pier capabilities such as Russia and China. “This allows pilots to see the entire battle space by sharing their own aircraft’s sensor-developed tracks with tracks from other aircraft, developing a more complete air picture and improving overall situational awareness,” reads a release from the Naval Air Systems Command’s F/A-18 and EA-18G program office. “The CTP also enhances targeting capabilities, improving overall timelines and performance in the air-to-air threat environment.”  While the F/A-18E/F fleet will receive many of these upgrades to help keep them at the top of their game, the most impressive new capabilities will go to the Growler electronic attack aircraft community.  The Growler’s jamming platform capabilities will remain the centerpiece of the Airwing’s Network-Centric Collaborative Targeting (NCCT) efforts, which is designed to help the carrier air wing to defeat advanced surface-to-air missile threats such as the Russian-made S-400.  Like the other efforts in the NS17 experiment, the key enabler of the NCCT is the powerful TTNT data-link, which has many times the bandwidth and range of the traditional Link-16 network.  Reducing the time for cueing of sensors to develop targeting solutions through the use of joint data standards and interfaces enhance kill chain effectiveness. (A kill chain is the sequence of actions from detecting a target to engaging it in attack.),” the Navy statement reads. “Multi-sensor geolocation events were supported by all sensor nodes in the network and enabled by ‘fusion forward,’ with NCCT fusion engines located onboard U.S. ships for the first time.”  The entire point of the NS17 fleet experiment was to seamlessly link network sensors over the TTNT to all of the Navy’s ship and aircraft. The Navy’s long-term plan is for every battle space asset; ship, submarine and the aircraft to network to be part of a sensor as well as a shooter.


DC-3 First Flight

I forgot this one from yesterday.  One of the world’s more iconic aircraft, the Douglas DC-3 made its first flight on 17 December 1935 when Douglas Aircraft’s VP and Chief Test Pilot Carl A. Cover made the first flight in the Douglas DST, NX14988, at Clover Field, Santa Monica CA.  “DC” stands for “Douglas Commercial”. The DC-3 was the culmination of a development effort that began after an inquiry from Transcontinental and Western Airlines (TWA) to Donald Douglas. TWA’s rival in transcontinental air service, United Airlines, was starting service with the Boeing 247 and Boeing refused to sell any 247s to other airlines until United’s order for 60 aircraft had been filled.  TWA asked Douglas to design and build an aircraft that would allow TWA to compete with United. Douglas’ design, the 1933 DC-1, was promising, and led to the DC-2 in 1934. The DC-2 was a success, but there was room for improvement.  The DC-3 resulted from a marathon telephone call from American Airlines CEO C. R. Smith to Donald Douglas, when Smith persuaded a reluctant Douglas to design a sleeper aircraft based on the DC-2 to replace American’s Curtiss Condor II biplanes. (The DC-2’s cabin was 66 inches (1.7 m) wide, too narrow for side-by-side berths.) Douglas agreed to go ahead with development only after Smith informed him of American’s intention to purchase twenty aircraft. The new aircraft was engineered by a team led by chief engineer Arthur E. Raymond over the next two years, and the prototype DST (Douglas Sleeper Transport) first flew on December 17, 1935. Its cabin was 92 in (2.3 m) wide, and a version with 21 seats instead of the 14–16 sleeping berths of the DST was given the designation DC-3. There was no prototype DC-3; the first DC-3 built followed seven DSTs off the production line and was delivered to American Airlines.  The DC-3 and DST popularized air travel in the United States. Eastbound transcontinental flights could cross the U.S. in about 15 hours with three refueling stops; westbound trips against the wind took ​17 12 hours. A variety of radial engines were available for the DC-3. Early-production civilian aircraft used Wright R-1820 Cyclone 9s, but later aircraft (and most military versions) used the Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp, which gave better high-altitude and single-engine performance. Five DC-3S Super DC-3s with Pratt & Whitney R-2000 Twin Wasps were built in the late 1940s, three of which entered airline service.  Total production of all variants was 16,079.  Perhaps unique among prewar aircraft, the DC-3 continues to fly daily in active commercial and military service as of April 2017, more than eighty years after the type’s first flight in 1935. There are still small operators with DC-3s in revenue service and as cargo aircraft. The common saying among aviation enthusiasts and pilots is that “the only replacement for a DC-3 is another DC-3”.  The aircraft’s legendary ruggedness is enshrined in the lighthearted description of the DC-3 as “a collection of parts flying in loose formation”.  Its ability to use grass or dirt runways makes it popular in developing countries, where runways are not always paved.  The oldest surviving DST is N133D, the sixth Douglas Sleeper Transport built in 1936. This aircraft was delivered to American Airlines on July 12, 1936 as NC16005. As of 2011 the aircraft was at Shell Creek Airport (F13), Punta Gorda, Florida, where it was undergoing restoration. The aircraft was to be restored to Douglas Sleeper Transport standards, and full airworthiness.  The oldest DC-3 still flying is the original American Airlines Flagship Detroit (c/n 1920, the 43rd aircraft off the Santa Monica production line and delivered on March 2, 1937), which can be seen at airshows around the United States and is owned and operated by the nonprofit Flagship Detroit Foundation.


Typhoon Cobra

In those days before weather satellites or consolidated weather forecasting, a typhoon surprised Admiral William ‘Bull’ Halsey ships in the open western Pacific Ocean in December of 1944. Barometric pressures as low as 26.8 inHg (907 mbar) and wind speeds up to 120 kn (140 mph; 62 m/s; 220 km/h) in gusts were reported by some ships. Typhoon Cobra, is also known as the Typhoon of 1944 or Halsey’s Typhoon.  Task Force 38 (TF 38) had been operating about 300 mi (260 nmi; 480 km) east of Luzon in the Philippine Sea, conducting air raids against Japanese airfields in the Philippines. Despite warning signs of worsening conditions, the ships remained in their stations. Worse, the information given to Halsey about the location and direction of the typhoon was inaccurate. Unfortunately on December 17, Halsey unwittingly sailed Third Fleet into the centre of the typhoon.  The storm produced 100 mph winds, very high seas and torrential rain. TF 38 consisted of seven fleet carriers, six light carriers, eight battleships, 15 cruisers, and about 50 destroyers. The carriers had been conducting raids against Japanese airfields in the Philippines and ships were being refueled.  Many destroyers with their smaller fuel tanks were running low on fuel. When the storm hit, the underway replenishment efforts had to be aborted.  Damage to the fleet was severe. Some ships rolled more than 70 degrees. Three destroyers, SpenceHickox, and Maddox, had nearly empty fuel stores (10-15% of capacity) and therefore lacked the stabilizing effect of the extra weight and thus were relatively unstable. Additionally, several other destroyers, including Hull and Monaghan, were of the older Farragut-class and had been refitted with over 500 long tons (510 t) of extra equipment and armament which made them top-heavy.  SpenceHull, and Monaghan either capsized or were sunk after water flooded down their smokestacks and disabled their engines. Without power, they were unable to control their heading and were at the mercy of the wind and seas. Hickox and Maddox pumped seawater into their empty fuel tanks, adding enough stability to ride out the storm with relatively minor damage.  Many other ships of TF 38 suffered various degrees of damage, especially to radar and radio equipment which crippled communications within the fleet. Several carriers suffered fires on their hangars and 146 aircraft were wrecked or blown overboard. Nine ships— including one light cruiser, three light carriers, and two escort carriers—suffered enough damage to be sent to major ports for repairs.  The carrier Monterey was nearly lost to onboard fires when their airplanes broke loose from their tie downs and crashed into bulkheads and exploded during violent rolls. One of those fighting the fires aboard Monterey was then-Lt. Gerald Ford, later President of the United States. Ford later recalled nearly going overboard; when 20° and greater rolling caused aircraft below decks to career into each other, igniting a fire. Ford, serving as General Quarters Officer of the Deck, was ordered to go below to assess the raging fire. He did so safely, and reported his findings back to the ship’s commanding officer, Captain Stuart Ingersoll. The ship’s crew was able to contain the fire, and the ship was able to go back to just battling the typhoon.  USS Tabberer—a small John C. Butler-class destroyer escort—lost her mast and radio antennas. Though damaged and unable to radio for help, the ship remained on the scene to recover 55 of the 93 total sailors who were rescued. Captain Henry Lee Plage earned the Legion of Merit, while the entire crew earned the Navy’s Unit Commendation Ribbon, later presented to them by Halsey.  In the words of Admiral Chester Nimitz, the typhoon’s impact “represented a more crippling blow to the Third Fleet than might have been expected from anything less than a major action”. The events surrounding Typhoon Cobra were similar to those the Japanese navy itself faced some nine years earlier in what they termed the “Fourth Fleet Incident.”  This typhoon also led to the establishment of weather infrastructure of the US Navy, which eventually became the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.  A typhoon plays an important role in the novel The Caine Mutiny, (1951 Pulitzer Prize–winning novel by Herman Wouk) which is thought to be based on the author’s own experience surviving Typhoon Cobra.


Some Events From December 18:

1620 Mayflower docks at Plymouth Harbor

1862 Battle of Lexington, Tennessee

1941 Japan invades Hong Kong


Coxswain William Halford

William Halford enlisted in the United States Navy in 1869. He was serving in USS Saginaw, when she ran aground near Kure Atoll on October 29, 1870. Halford was one of four sailors who volunteered to sail the ship’s boat 1,500 miles to Honolulu for help, along with the ship’s executive officer, Lieutenant John G. Talbot. After great suffering, and 31 days at sea, the party reached the island of Kauaion December 19, 1870. In attempting to land through the heavy surf, all but Halford were drowned, but he managed to reach shore and bring help to his shipmates. He received the Medal of Honor for his bravery.  Halford was promoted to the warrant officer rank of gunner on April 14, 1871, and to chief gunner on March 3, 1899. He served in the Navy until 18 August 1903 when, after reaching mandatory retirement age, he retired after 34 years of active service.  When the United States entered the First World War, the Navy had a dire need for experienced officers like Halford. Military law at the time provided for retired officers, if placed on active duty during time of war, to be returned at the rank they would have achieved had they remained on active duty.  Halford was recalled to duty and promoted to lieutenant on July 1, 1918 and continued to serve until he died on February 7, 1919 at Oakland, CaliforniaA Fletcher-class destroyer, the USS Halford (DD-480) was named for Lieutenant William Halford (1841–1919).  Halford was one of the three Fletcher-class destroyers to be completed (out of six planned) with a catapult for a float plane, the others being Pringle and Stevens. It turned out to be not operationally suitable for the intended purpose, and the three ships were ultimately converted to the standard Fletcher-class configuration.  Halford received thirteen battle stars for World War II service.


And On December 19:

1998 President Clinton impeached

1777 Continental Army enters winter camp at Valley Forge

1972 Last lunar-landing mission ends

1732 Poor Richard’s Almanac is published


And On December 20:

1957 Elvis Presley is drafted

1989 The U.S. invades Panama

1803 The French surrender Orleans to the U.S.



F-14 Tomcat First Flight

On 21 December 1970, just 22 months after Grumman was awarded the contract, and reached initial operational capability (IOC) in 1973, the Grumman F-14 Tomcat made its first flight.  Chief Test Pilot Robert Kenneth Smyth and Project Test Pilot William Howard Miller took off on the very first flight of the F-14A-1-GR Tomcat, Bu. No. 157980.  Replacing the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, the F-14 served as the U.S. Navy’s primary maritime air superiority fighter, fleet defense interceptor, and tactical aerial reconnaissance platform into the 1990s. The Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night (LANTIRN) pod system were added in the 1990s and the Tomcat began performing precision ground-attack missions.  Beginning in the late 1950s, the U.S. Navy sought a long-range, high-endurance interceptor to defend its carrier battle groups against long-range anti-ship missiles launched from the jet bombers and submarines of the Soviet Union. The U.S. Navy needed a Fleet Air Defense (FAD) aircraft with a more powerful radar and longer range missiles than the F-4 Phantom II carried to intercept both enemy bombers and missiles.  The Navy was directed to participate in the Tactical Fighter Experimental (TFX) program with the U.S. Air Force by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. McNamara wanted “joint” solutions to service aircraft needs to reduce development costs, and had already directed the Air Force to buy the F-4 Phantom II, which was developed for the Navy and Marine Corps.  The Navy strenuously opposed the TFX as it feared compromises necessary for the Air Force’s need for a low-level attack aircraft would adversely impact the aircraft’s performance as a fighter.  Weight and performance issues plagued the U.S. Navy F-111B variant for TFX and would not be resolved to the Navy’s satisfaction. The F-111 manufacturer General Dynamics partnered with Grumman on the Navy F-111B. With the F-111B program in distress, Grumman began studying improvements and alternatives. In 1966, the Navy awarded Grumman a contract to begin studying advanced fighter designs. Grumman narrowed down these designs to its 303 design.  Vice Admiral Thomas F. Connolly, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air Warfare, took the developmental F-111A variant for a flight and discovered that it had difficulty going supersonic and had poor carrier landing characteristics. He later testified before Congress about his concerns against the official Department of the Navy position.  I believe he was asked by a Congressman if replacing the proposed engine with an engine with greater thrust would make the TFX a fighter.  His reply was, “There isn’t enough thrust in Christendom to make this aircraft a figher.”  It was a long limo ride back to the Pentagon with Robert McNamara.  In May 1968, Congress stopped funding for the F-111B, allowing the Navy to pursue an answer tailored to its requirements.  The name “Tomcat” was partially chosen to pay tribute to Admiral Connolly, as the nickname “Tom’s Cat” had already been widely used by the manufacturer, although the name also followed the Grumman tradition of naming its fighter aircraft after felines.

A Fighter Squadron 211 (VF-211) F-14A Tomcat aircraft banks into a turn during a flight out of Naval Air Station, Miramar, Calif. The aircraft is carrying six AIM-54 Phoenix missiles.

The Tomcat could carry the AIM-54 Phoenix or a combination of six AIM-7 Sparrow and four AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles.  Commonly, flying off the carrier this meant a maximum of two–four Phoenixes or Sparrows on the belly stations, two Phoenixes/Sparrows on the wing hard points, and two Sidewinders on the wing hardpoints.  Later on we added a bombing capability and 2001, the Joint Direct Attack Munition or JDAM was added to the Tomcat’s arsenal.  The F-14 was also fitted with an internal 20 mm M61 Vulcan Gatling-type cannon.  The participation of the F-14 in the 1991 Operation Desert Storm consisted of Combat Air Patrol (CAP) over the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf and overland missions consisting of strike escort and reconnaissance. Until the waning days of Desert Storm, in-country air superiority was tasked to USAF F-15 Eagles due to the way the Air Tasking Orders (ATO) delegated primary overland CAP stations to the F-15 Eagle. Photo above left shows a VF-213 Tomcat with LANTIRN pod on starboard wing glove station and LGB underneath fuselage.  The governing Rules of Engagement (ROE) also dictated a strict Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) requirement when employing Beyond Visual Range weapons such as the AIM-7 Sparrow and particularly the AIM-54 Phoenix. This hampered the Tomcat from using its most powerful weapon. This was in my opinion a ploy by the USAF to deny the F-14 a kill with the AIM-54 long range missile when the USAF didn’t and still does not have a long range air-to-air missile capability.   F-14Ds of VF-31 and VF-213 were upgraded with a ROVER III downlink for transmitting images to a ground Forward Air Controller (FAC).  I guess I could write pages on the F-14.  I have around 1400 hours in the F-14 and it was the aircraft I would have wanted to go to war in.   The official final flight retirement ceremony was on 22 September 2006 at Naval Air Station Oceana and was flown by Lt. Cmdr. Chris Richard and Lt. Mike Petronis as RIO in a backup F-14 after the primary aircraft experienced mechanical problems.  I was there for that last flight.


Pan Am 103 21 Dec

In one of the first events of state supported terrorism, the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi ordered and/or fully supported the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) detonating a bomb aboard Pan Am Flight 103The flight was a regularly scheduled Pan Am transatlantic flight from Frankfurt to Detroit via London and New York, on 21 December 1988.  The aircraft was a Boeing 747–121registered N739PA and named Clipper Maid of the Seas.  The aircraft was operating the transatlantic leg from London to New York and killed all 243 passengers and 16 crew, in what became known as the Lockerbie bombing.  Large sections of the aircraft crashed onto residential areas of LockerbieScotland, killing 11 more people on the ground.  At 18:58, the aircraft established two-way radio contact with Shanwick Oceanic Area Control in Prestwick on frequency 123.95 MHz.  The Clipper Maid of the Seas approached the corner of the Solway Firth at 19:01 and crossed the coast at 19:02 UTC. On the radar scope, the aircraft showed transponder code, or “squawk,” 0357 and flight level 310. At this point, the Clipper Maid of the Seas was flying at 31,000 feet on a heading of 316 degrees magnetic, and at a speed of 313 kt calibrated airspeed.  At 19:02:44, the clearance delivery officer at Shanwick transmitted its oceanic route clearance. The aircraft did not acknowledge this message. The Clipper Maid of the Seas‘ “squawk” then flickered off. Air Traffic Control tried to make contact with the flight, with no response. At this time a loud sound was recorded on the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) at 19:02:50. Five radar echoes fanning out appeared, instead of one.  British Airways pilot, flying the London–Glasgow shuttle near Carlisle, called Scottish authorities to report that he could see a huge fire on the ground.  The explosion punched a 50-cm (20-inch) hole on the left side of the fuselage (just below where the P in Pan Am is but on the left side of the fuselage). Investigators from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) concluded that no emergency procedures were being performed in the cockpit at the time of the explosion.  The cockpit voice recorder, located in the tail section of the aircraft, was found in a field by police searchers within 24 hours. There was no evidence of a distress signal; a 180-millisecond hissing noise could be heard as the explosion destroyed the aircraft’s communications centre.  Although the explosion was in the aircraft hold, the effect was magnified by the large difference in pressure between the aircraft’s interior and exterior, i.e., uncontrolled decompression of the fuselage. The steering cables disrupted and the fuselage pitched downwards and to the left.   Investigators from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) of the British Department for Transport concluded that the nose of the aircraft was effectively blown off, and was separated from the main section within three seconds of the explosion. The nose cone was briefly held on by a band of metal but facing aft, like the lid of a can. It then sheared off, up and backwards to starboard, striking off the No. 3 engine and landing some distance from Lockerbie, near Tundergarth church.  The fuselage continued moving forward and down until it reached 19,000 ft, at which point its dive became nearly vertical.  The rear fuselage, parts of the baggage hold and three landing gear units landed at Rosebank Terrace.  The fuselage consisting of the main wing box structure landed in Sherwood Crescent, creating a large impact crater where three homes previously stood. The 200,000 lb (91,000 kg) of jet fuel ignited by the impact started fires which destroyed several additional houses.  Investigators were able to determine that both wings had landed in the Sherwood Crescent crater, saying “the total absence of debris from the wing primary structure found remote from the crater confirmed the initial impression that the complete wing box structure had been present at the main impact.”  The British Geological Survey 23 kilometres (14 mi) away at Eskdalemuir registered a seismic event at 19:03:36 measuring 1.6 on the moment magnitude scale, which was attributed to the impact. According to the report, the rest of the wreckage composed of “the complete fuselage forward of approximately station 480 to station 380 and incorporating the flight deck and nose landing gear was found as one piece in a field approximately 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) east of Lockerbie.”  The initial investigation into the crash site by Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary involved many helicopter surveys, satellite imaging, and a search of the area by police and soldiers. The wreckage of the crash was scattered over 2,000 square kilometres and AAIB investigators were confronted by a massive jigsaw puzzle in trying to piece the plane back together. In total 4 million pieces of wreckage were collected and registered on computer files. More than 10,000 pieces of debris were retrieved, tagged and entered into a computer tracking system. The perpetrators had apparently intended the plane to crash into the sea, destroying any traceable evidence, but the late departure time of the aircraft meant that its explosion over land left a trail of evidence.  The fuselage of the aircraft was reconstructed by air accident investigators, revealing a 20-inch (510 mm) hole consistent with an explosion in the forward cargo hold. Examination of the baggage containers revealed that the container nearest the hole had blackening, pitting, and severe damage, indicating a “high-energy event” had taken place inside it. A series of test explosions were carried out to confirm the precise location and quantity of explosive used.  Fragments of a Samsonite suitcase believed to have contained the bomb were recovered, together with parts and pieces of circuit board identified as components of a Toshiba Bombeat “SF-16”, radio cassette player, similar to that used to conceal a Semtex bomb seized by West German police from the Palestinian militant group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command two months earlier.  A circuit board fragment, allegedly found embedded in a piece of charred material, was identified as part of an electronic timer similar to one found on a Libyan intelligence agent who had been arrested 10 months previously for carrying materials for a Semtex bomb. The timer was allegedly traced through its Swiss manufacturer, Mebo, to the Libyan military, and Mebo employee Ulrich Lumpert identified the fragment at al-Megrahi’s trial. Mebo’s owner, Edwin Bollier, testified at the trial that the Scottish police had originally shown him a fragment of a brown 8-ply circuit board from a prototype timer which had never been supplied to Libya.  Following a three-year joint investigation by Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), arrest warrants were issued for two Libyan nationals in November 1991. In 1999, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi handed over the two men for trial at Camp Zeist, Netherlands after protracted negotiations and UN sanctions. In 2001, Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was jailed for life after being found guilty of 270 counts of murder in connection with the bombing. In August 2009, he was released by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. He died in May 2012, the only person to be convicted for the attack.  In 2003, Gaddafi accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and paid compensation to the families of the victims, although he maintained that he had never given the order for the attack.  During the Libyan Civil War in 2011, a former government official claimed that the Libyan leader had personally ordered the bombing, though this was later denied.


Of Significance on December 21:

1967 “The Graduate” opens in New York; makes Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider famous

1985 Harry Chapin earns a #1 hit with “Cat’s In The Cradle”

1945 “Old Blood and Guts” dies

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