FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day December 22 through 27, 2017

Friends of FOD

Christmas vacation came along and I had to give my entire staff time off.  How unfair was that?


“You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out”

I trust every Friend of FOD had a great Christmas and enjoyed repeated watching of the classic Christmas movie, A Christmas Story.  It’s a 1983 movie set in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s in which the adult story teller is reminiscing on one particular Christmas when he was nine years old. Ralphie Parker wanted only one thing for that Christmas: a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. Ralphie’s desire is rejected by his mother, his teacher Miss Shields, and even a Santa Claus at Higbee’s department store, all giving him the same warning: “You’ll shoot your eye out.”  While we all remember the Old Man wins a “major award” in a contest.  The major award turns out to be a lamp in the shape of a woman’s leg wearing a fishnet stocking.  It was derived from the logo for Nehi (pronounced “knee-high”) pop, a popular soft drink of the period.  The Old Man is overjoyed by the lamp, but Mrs. Parker does not like it and a feud over it — referred to by adult Ralphie as “The Battle of the Lamp” — develops and results in the lamp’s “accidental” destruction.  I have the working replica of that major award lamp and the Red Ryder Carbine 200 shot Range Model air rifle because you never know when Black Bart may show up in your backyard.  Early in the movie, Ralphie, tells us, “Some men are Baptist, others Catholic; my father was an Oldsmobile man.” Although the Olds, a 1937 four-door sedan, was seen throughout the movie, usually covered in snow, its biggest role was during the family outing to pick up a Christmas tree. After the Old Man skillfully negotiated the price of the tree, and it was tied to the top of the car, the family began their trek back home, singing Christmas Carols along the way. However, the merriment was interrupted when the Oldsmobile blew a tire. The Old Man’s prediction, that he would change the tire in record time (four minutes), unfortunately this wasn’t realized, when the lug nuts, held by Ralphie, were knocked into the air. Without thinking, Ralphie said, “Oooh fuuudge!” He, of course, didn’t really say the word fudge.  He said the big one; the queen mother of dirty words, the f _ _ _ word.  OK, here’s some car trivia:  What engine was in that ’37 Olds?  Answer:  Why the straight six of course as distinguished by the front horizontal bar grill.  The eight cylinder model had a mesh grill design.  In a stretch of events, times and places, Air Force Times is reporting One of the Silver State’s most unusual and exclusive hunts is now under way at the Nevada Test and Training Range, where 15 hunting tags have been issued in three mountain ranges normally off-limits to the public.  For most big-game hunts in Nevada, all you need to do is buy a hunting license and get drawn for a tag.  For the trophy ram hunt on the test and training range, hunters and their helpers must pass a criminal background check, submit a full inventory of their firearms, vehicles and optical equipment, and take part in a mandatory safety briefing so they don’t accidentally blow themselves up or shoot their eye out!  This year’s safety briefing took place at the Clark County Shooting Complex. The hunt began at sunrise Saturday, Dec. 16 and lasts through sunset Jan. 1.  As part of those preparations, military personnel swept the roads and designated campsites for unexploded ordnance, put up signs and blocked some side roads to keep hunters out of target areas where explosive material and other hazards are likeliest to be found.  Each hunting party is provided with a detailed map showing where it can and cannot go — distinctions that have more to do with safety than national security.  And everyone who goes on the range has to pass the same background check and only the tag holder is allowed to shoot. How did all my Cast & Blast hunters miss out on this one?

Continuing Resolution Passed

Congress avoided a pre-Christmas government shutdown by passing a four-week budget extension on Thursday, again postponing negotiations on larger issues surrounding a full-year appropriation for the Department of Defense and other agencies.  The measure allows government operations to continue uninterrupted until Jan. 19, although still funded at fiscal 2017 levels. Along with preventing disruptions in military paychecks and potential furloughs for civilian workers, the measure also includes an extra $4.7 billion in supplemental military funds for missile defense and ship repairs.  This Continuing Resolution (CR) also includes an additional $2.1 billion in mandatory funding for the Veterans Choice Program, to keep those community care operations solvent into next spring.  As I’ve mentioned in FOD several times, this is no way to run a railroad and is both frustrating and damaging to military planners.  Such short-term budget deals are damaging to development contracts and to sustainability of military systems already fielded.  Additionally these delays add to the cost of programs and delay their delivery.  It decreases readiness and our ability to act and react appropriately to real world situations.  This is the third CR passed thus far during this FY and speaks to the inefficiency in Congress as well as the acrimony of its members.  Military Times is reporting Both House Tactical Air-Land Subcommittee Chair Mike Turner, R-Ohio, and House Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chair Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said they were disappointed the full-year defense funding was not included in the CR, but they trusted GOP leadership to deliver later, in bipartisan budget negotiations.  “[House Speaker Paul Ryan], has made a pretty strong commitment as to what his position is in those negotiations, so we were all able to support him in this continuing resolution,” Turner said.  “Leadership is in a strong position around full funding for defense. They are looking at what United States Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has asked for and seeing how we can deliver,” Turner said.  Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., was not present for the vote but decried the result in a statement afterwards.  “As we wait another four weeks in hopes that congressional leaders negotiate a compromise, the military will work overtime to keep an already dire situation from getting worse,” he said. “Readiness will continue to decline. Service members will not receive scheduled training. Ship maintenance backlogs will grow.”  “In a time when more service members are dying in routine accidents than in combat, and our sailors are working 100-hour weeks, asking the military to wait another four weeks for adequate funding is unacceptable. And it is a dereliction of the first and foremost duty of Congress to provide for the common defense.”  The bill’s military funding includes $4 billion for missile defense, with $200 million for the construction of a missile field in Alaska. It also includes $673.5 million to repair collision damage to the USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) and USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62)both involved in fatal accidents at seas earlier this summer.  The extra funding for Veterans Choice Program is the second cash infusion for the program this year, following a $2.1 billion boost in August. The program allows veterans to seek care from private-sector doctors at taxpayers expense, and was originally slated to expire last summer.  But lawmakers for months have been working on a permanent replacement for the program, and had hoped to pass an overhaul of VA community care programs by the end of the year. With those plans stalled for now, the extra money was again given by lawmakers to prevent veterans who currently rely on the program from seeing disruptions in their medical care.  Congress is on holiday recess until Jan. 3. When they return, they’ll have just 16 days before the next budget deadline and potential government shutdown threat.  During that time period there will be additional calls for discussions on other huge issues facing our society – immigration, healthcare, the federal budget and extending the national debt.  The rule of Congress seems to be, never decide today what you can put off for tomorrow.  The CR strategy of defense management has had a direct influence on the Marine Corps.  In the opening months of the Trump ­administration, top Marine officials talked a lot about a yearlong force structure review that recommended the Corps grow to at least 194,000 active-duty Marines.  That signaled a big jump from last year’s force of about 184,000 Marines.  The Corps emphasized a plan to grow jobs that need more Marines: counter-drone and air defense, information operations and anti-ship and sea control capabilities.  Marine Times is reporting those plans have faded in ­recent months, partly because United States Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has made ­restoring readiness his No. 1 priority.  “The ‘near fight’ is readiness. We still have an eye on potential growth, but readiness remains our immediate and ­determined focus of effort,” said Lt. Col. Eric Dent, spokesman for Commandant of the Marine Corps General Robert B. Neller.  The Marines are stuck with aging and obsolete equipment, shortages of spare parts and other problems caused by Congress’ inability to pass a spending bill on time. As a result, pilots are not getting needed flying hours, and the next generation of weapons systems remain far off.  This year’s budget bumped end strength up about 1,000 Marines, to a new force level of 185,000.  Mattis has told the Marine Corps to make the force it has as lethal as possible, so plans to grow beyond 185,000 are on hold as the Corps fixes the damage done to readiness by 16 years of war combined with budget chaos.


Boeing Scores Big With F-15 and KC-46 Foreign Contracts

There may have been a white Christmas in Seattle, but there was a green Christmas for Boeing.  It was announced last Friday Boeing has confirmed the long awaited contract for sale of F-15 aircraft to Qatar.  The contract calls for 36 F-15 fighters for Qatar and all the associated support effort that goes with it.  This contract comes in at $6.1 billion and is critical for Boeing, as it will extend the F-15 production line into the next decade. The only downside here was reported by Defense News who reported the U.S. government and Qatar finalized the F-15QA deal in June, then estimating a total value of $12 billion for 36 jets. When the deal was approved by the State Department in November 2016, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency estimated a total value of $21.1 billion for 72 jets — not an unusual circumstance, as the final agreed-upon contract award often is lower than DSCA’s initial estimates.  In an unrelated award, the USAF announced a separate contract award for one KC-46 for Japan with a price tag of $289 million.  While it’s only one aircraft, it is the first international customer for let’s say the much beleaguered tanker program and a symbolic victory over the Airbus A330 tanker.  Defense News also noted Friday’s deal could signify the start of greater international buy-in to the program, something that Boeing officials see as critical for making the program profitable and the U.S. Air Force sees as important for enhancing interoperability with partner nations.  “We are excited to partner with Boeing as we assist Japan in advancing its aerial refueling capabilities,” said Brig. Gen. Donna Shipton, program executive officer of tankers for the U.S. Air Force. “This is an important step in strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance and will enhance our interoperability with both nations flying KC-46s.”  Boeing’s agreement with Japan includes one KC-46, the non-recurring engineering work necessary to build it to Japanese requirements and logistics support, according to the contract announcement. Work is expected to be complete in 2021.  Importantly, the parties entered into a firm, fixed-price agreement for the KC-46, similar to Boeing’s current contract with the U.S. Air Force. That means that if Boeing is responsible for cost overruns, the company will have to pay for them.  So now Boeing needs to keep from shooting itself in the foot again and again with the KC-46.  And along that line the Federal Aviation Administration has certified the B-767-2C which is the modified B-767 commercial aircraft from which the KC-46 is derived.  One remaining final certificate for the KC-46’s military-specific equipment remains outstanding with the FAA.


Controversial USAF Weather Satellite Become a $500M Display

I must admit I have not been a follower of USAF weather satellites and even my most recent flights into and out of USAF bases never thought the existing suite of weather satellites resulted in a degraded weather forecast.  However there’s a new half billion piece of junk on display.  Defense News is reporting a weather satellite the Air Force spent some $500 million to build, then Congress ordered shuttered, is now on display at the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base.  Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson on Dec. 14 helped unveil the final Defense Meteorological Satellite Program spacecraft, DMSP-20, for display at the Schriever Space Complex. The weather satellite goes on display after years of back-and-forth between Congress and Department of Defense leadership over whether the satellite system was needed, should launch or would be dismantled.  Congress defunded DMSP-20 for fiscal 2016, including denying a request for $120 million to launch the system in 2018. Citing concerns about the costs of storing and launching the spacecraft, lawmakers ordered the cancellation and government officials shifted focus to outsourcing some of DMSP-20’s key duties — like monitoring climate change and providing mission-critical weather-monitoring over military areas of operation — to foreign allies and organizations like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  However, the Air Force in 2016 once again raised the specter of launching the satellite after setbacks in communications and function with the in-orbit DMSP-19. That satellite unexpectedly ceased communications and the Air Force halted recovery efforts in March 2016; the system failed two years into a five-year mission. Another satellite, DMSP-17, was reassigned to the failed system’s position, according to published reports.  Maybe the USAF should have purchased the extended warranty.  DMSP dates back to 1961 and currently includes five satellites, which “as a whole will continue to provide data used to create weather forecast models and provide crucial weather information for the foreseeable future,” according to an Air Force release.  The final DMSP satellite launched in 2014.  “This display represents a nearly 60-year history of environmental monitoring success by a satellite constellation that continues to provide crucial weather information to our nation’s leaders, civil users and war fighters,” Wilson said at the DMSP-20 unveiling.  It’s hard to polish a horse turd Ms Wilson. Just let it go.  You could have sent the horse turd to the U.S. Department of the Treasury  Steven Mnuchin.  Oh wait, that’s already been done.




Japan and South Korea May Retrofit Naval Ships For F-35

The ever growing tensions in the region are forcing both Japan and South Korea to investigate options to improve their naval vessels to facilitate operating the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter on board their respective ships.  Defense Times is reporting reports from unnamed military sources in their respective countries, Japan’s Kyodo news agency and South Korea’s Yonhap said that the short take-off vertical landing, or STOVL F-35B variant is being considered for operations from Japan’s Izumo-class DDH helicopter destroyer and South Korea’s Dokdo-class amphibious assault ship, turning them into combat-capable aircraft carriers.  Kyodo’s also reported that the F-35Bs could be used to defend Japan’s far flung southwestern islands, which lack long runways needed for conventional fighter jets to operate.  That strategy is being considered in response to North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear capabilities, as well as China’s rapid military modernization.  Modification of the ships to operate the F-35B will enhance flexibility and expand the range of missions, with Yonhap quoting a source as saying that the South Korean military is looking at “maximizing the strategic value of the vessel’s capabilities.” The ships can carry several helicopters during normal operations, with the Izumo and Dokdo class designed to carry a maximum of 14 and 10 helicopters respectively.  Both ship classes will however need to be modified extensively internally and externally to operate the F-35B, including the application of a thermally protective coating on areas of the flight deck to withstand hot exhaust gases during F-35B vertical landings, and possibly even reshaping the flight deck to allow rolling takeoffs.  They will also need to have the ammunition magazines hardened and enlarged to accommodate the F-35B’s weapons, while aviation fuel storage facilities will also likely need to be expanded to account for higher fuel consumption compared to helicopters.  Both Japan and South Korea have a single Izumo and Dokdo-class ship in service, with another ship of each class being constructed. The two countries are also operators of the F-35A conventional take off and landing version, with Japan and South Korea having 42 and 40 F-35As on order respectively.


Five Major Defense Issues For 2018

When you sit down over the next few days and jot down your New Years’ Resolutions, you might send some good karma along to President Trump who in the Fireball opinion has five major pressing defense issues that could use some resolution this next year.  Granted they will not be solved with the dropping of the ball in Times Square, but some improved dialogue with our allies and with members of Congress might see our nation on a better footing at this time next year.

The Defense Budget: The administration’s yet unseen, but long awaited National Defense Strategy is due out in January.  This blueprint is needed to establish a path forward the Services can then use to establish priorities for future spending.  As you’ll recall candidate Donald Trump promised a massive buildup of military strength, with thousands more troops, a 350 ship Navy and at least a hundred more combat aircraft.  That governing piece has at times eluded this President.  While I applaud his efforts to successfully boost the $700 billion defense budget, the specifics of appropriations funding for individual programs and projects does not lend itself to the Congressional committee system in place in both the House and Senate.  As I mentioned in the last edition of FOD and in the above piece on the CR, opportunities to expand program funding or even improve on the extended maintenance of existing ships, aircraft and hardware of all sorts has largely passed for this year.  Defense Secretary James Mattis has said the military needs 3 to 5 percent budget growth each year to pay for a sustained increase of the armed forces.  Additionally Congress must lift the current caps on defense spending.  And likely the recently passed tax bill – which could add another $1.4 trillion to the deficit – may (likely) squeeze defense spending and throw a nickel into the jacking gear of expanding and improving our military.

North Korea:  This past year has seen a major increase in tensions between the US and North Korea with a dramatic escalation in missile tests on the Korean Peninsula, cyberattack accusations and ramped-up rhetoric between Trump and the reclusive nation’s leader, Kim Jong Un.  Clearly hurling personal insults at another world leader has not worked.  Nor have increased sanctions against that government/family business.  North Korea has remained defiant and largely ignored the pushback, proceeding with intercontinental ballistic missile tests throughout the year — most recently with a launch in late November — and an apparent hydrogen bomb test in September.  The North Korea faceoff will likely remain front and center for the Trump administration in 2018, and will soon be thrown even more into center stage with the upcoming Winter Olympics in February. The Games take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea, roughly 50 miles from the Demilitarized Zone with North Korea.  Trump has repeatedly said the frequent missile launches are “a situation we will handle.” So far, however, he hasn’t offered much on what exactly the White House will do beyond current diplomatic efforts, ongoing military exercises and an increase in missile defense fundingExperts expect the North Korea situation to likely get worse in 2018.  The US imposed additional sanctions on two North Korean officials considered key to their country’s development of ballistic missiles.  Kim Jong Sik, a veteran rocket scientist, and Ri Pyong Chol, a former senior air force commander, are often seen on television and in photographs with leader Kim Jong Un, walking down the red carpet or sharing a smoke with him to celebrate a successful missile launch.  The sanctions by the Treasury Department mean that any assets the two men hold in the United States can be seized and that Americans are prohibited from dealing with them. More significantly, banks are prohibited from transactions with them involving U.S. dollars, which includes a considerable number of international transactions.  Here we are following the money!

Conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria:  US military forces actually engaged in combat in these areas certainly cannot be construed as “nation building”   Over the summer the President changed his previously advertized strategy of withdrawing troops in favor of an additional 3000 troops and an indefinite time commitment to the Afghan government.  For now, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said that the war in the country is “still in a stalemate.”  Meanwhile, ISIS — while ousted from its onetime twin capitals of Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria, by U.S.-backed forces — remains a threat in the Middle East. The group may be on the run, but it still holds pockets of territory and inspires and encourages lone wolf attacks.  Defeating ISIS is only part of the battle. Efforts to create lasting stability in the two countries is now next on the agenda for the administration.  This will be a difficult task and will require a strong State Department.  Syria’s civil war and its leader Bashar Assad will likely be a challenge for Trump in achieving such stability. Empowered by Russian and Iranian allies, Assad has unleashed atrocities on his own civilians, including an April 4 chemical weapons attack that was met with Trump ordering a missile strike on an airbase in the country.  The administration also has yet to articulate what the U.S. role in Syria will be or how long U.S. forces will stay.  Where the US withdraws its past influences allows the Russians and the Iranians to insert their influence.

Transgender Troops:  As I’ve mentioned before in FOD, I fear it’s a bit too late to reverse the policies established by former President Obama’s memo that allowed transgender troops to enlist and serve.  Trump in July blindsided top military brass when he wrote on Twitter that the Defense Department would bar transgender people from enlisting in the military and oust those already serving.  The White House followed the announcement by issuing a memo in August outlining the plan, which looks to bar transgender people from joining the military starting Jan. 1.  But the move has been blocked in court, with two rulings last week that rejected the Trump administration’s request to stall the enlistment.  Expect continued fights in the courts this year, but as with other social experiments where the military has been forced to lead the way, we will finds ways to accept transgender individuals.

Terrorist Threats in Africa:  Terrorism and jihadist groups such as Boko Haram and ISIS remain a major threat across the Sahel, the belt of nations that run across Africa immediately south of the Sahara Desert and includes Chad, Sudan, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and, most notably, Niger.  That nation holds more than 800 U.S. troops within its borders and is the location of a botched U.S.-involved reconnaissance mission that led to the death of four American soldiers in October.  The U.S. presence, largely unnoticed before the incident, reveals a greater extremist threat in the region and urgency within the Trump administration to quell the militant groups.  To that end, the U.S. has been pushing to use armed drones in Niger, and Trump has given the military more authority to conduct strikes and raids in Yemen and Somalia.  But military leaders have stressed that the armed route is only a short-term fix, and the administration will need a diplomatic strategy to stave off terrorist groups.  Again we will need a strong State Department.


LT Theodore G. Ellyson Becomes Naval Aviator No. 1

On December 23, 1910 Lieutenant Theodore Ellyson USN (USNA ’05) was ordered to North Island, San Diego, California for instruction in aviation under Glenn Curtiss. While at an Aero Club show on 28 January 1911 near the flight school, Ellyson took off in a Curtiss “grass cutter” plane to become the first Naval aviator. With a blocked throttle, this ground plane was not supposed to fly, and Ellyson was not proficient enough to fly. He slewed off left, cracking up the plane somewhat by making a wing-first landing. However, Ellyson was not injured and from then on he was considered to have made his first flight on this date. He also cooperated with Curtiss in the design of a pontoon for aircraft, and after Curtiss’ first flight on 27 January 1911, Ellyson went up with Curtiss in February to become the first passenger to go aloft in a floatplane. Later that month, he participated in experiments demonstrating the potential use of floatplanes from ships, when the aircraft was hoisted onboard USS Pennsylvania and subsequently lowered to the water for its return flight to North Island.  He nicknamed “Spuds”, and despite that first unsuccessful flight was the first United States Navy officer designated as an aviator (“Naval Aviator No. 1″). Ellyson served in the experimental development of aviation in the years before and after World War I.  Ellyson was awarded the Navy Cross for distinguished service in World War I for his development of successful tactics for the submarine chaser squadron.  Commander Ellyson was killed on 27 February 1928, his 43rd birthday, in the crash of a Loening OL-7 aircraft in the lower Chesapeake Bay while on a night flight from Norfolk, Virginia, to Annapolis, Maryland. His body washed ashore and was recovered in April 1928. He was buried in the Naval Academy Cemetery, in Annapolis.  Ellyson was designated the recipient of the Gray Eagle Award for the period 1911 to 1928, when he was the senior active Naval Aviator. In 1964, Ellyson was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio.


USS Pueblo (AGER 2) Crew Repatriated

In the FOD edition of 23 December 2016 I first mentioned the release and repatriation of the crew of the USS Pueblo (AGER 2) and in the 23 January 2017 edition briefly mentioned the capture of the USS Pueblo off the North Korean coast.  I’ve reread the enclosed link which gives some interesting perspectives on the lessons learned from this event entitled,  Lessons from the Capture of the USS Pueblo and the Shootdown of a US Navy EC-121—1968 and 1969  I would encourage you to take a look at it.


Treaty of Ghent

You’ll need to remember far back to your first American history course for this one.  The Treaty of Ghent was the peace treaty that ended the War of 1812 between the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Both sides signed it on December 24, 1814, in the city of Ghent, Belgium. The treaty restored relations between the two nations to status quo ante bellum, restoring the borders of the two countries to the lines before the war started in June 1812.  The Treaty was approved by the UK parliament and signed into law by the Prince Regent (the future King George IV) on December 30, 1814. It took a month for news of the peace treaty to reach the United States, and in the meantime American forces under Andrew Jackson won the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. The Treaty of Ghent was not fully in effect until it was ratified by the U.S. Senate unanimously on February 17, 1815. It began two centuries of peaceful relations between the U.S. and Britain, although there were a few tense moments such as the Trent Affair.


Vincent van Gogh Cuts Off His Ear

Vincent van Gogh was a Dutch Post-Impressionist painter who is among the most famous and influential figures in the history of Western art.

In just over a decade he created about 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings, most of them in the last two years of his life. They include landscapesstill lifesportraits and self-portraits, and are characterised by bold colours and dramatic, impulsive and expressive brushwork that contributed to the foundations of modern art. Van Gogh painted vivid scenes from the countryside as well as still-lifes, including his famous sunflower series.  Paul Gauguin came to stay with him in Arles, France and the two men worked together for almost two months. However, tensions developed and on December 23, in a fit of dementia, Van Gogh threatened his friend with a knife before turning it on himself and mutilating his ear lobe. Afterward, he allegedly wrapped up the ear and gave it to a prostitute at a nearby brothel. Following that incident, Van Gogh was hospitalized in Arles and then checked himself into a mental institution in Saint-Remy for a year. During his stay in Saint-Remy, he fluctuated between periods of madness and intense creativity, in which he produced some of his best and most well-known works, including Starry Night (below right) and Irises. After he discharged himself and moved to the Auberge Ravoux in Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris, he came under the care of the homoeopathic doctor Paul Gachet. His depression continued and on 27 July 1890, Van Gogh shot himself in the chest with a revolver. He died from his injuries two days later.  Van Gogh was unsuccessful during his lifetime, and was considered a madman and a failure. He became famous after his suicide, and exists in the public imagination as the quintessential misunderstood genius, the artist “where discourses on madness and creativity converge”.[6] His reputation began to grow in the early 20th century as elements of his painting style came to be incorporated by the Fauves and German Expressionists. He attained widespread critical, commercial and popular success over the ensuing decades, and is remembered as an important but tragic painter, whose troubled personality typifies the romantic ideal of the tortured artist.  If you’re afforded the opportunity to see an exhibit of his work, you’ll discover it well worth your time.


Voyager Completes Record Flight

The Rutan Model 76 Voyager was the first aircraft to fly around the world without stopping or refueling. It was piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager.The flight took off from Edwards Air Force Base‘s 15,000 foot runway in the Mojave Desert on December 14, 1986, and ended 9 days, 3 minutes and 44 seconds later on December 23, setting a flight endurance record. The aircraft flew westerly 26,366 statute miles at an average altitude of 11,000 feet.  The aircraft was first imagined by Jeana Yeager, Dick Rutan, and Dick’s brother Burt Rutan when they were at lunch in 1981. The initial idea was first sketched out on the back of a napkin. Voyager was built in Mojave, California, over a period of five years. I thought that only happened in fiction.  Voyager was built mainly by a group of volunteers working under both the Rutan Aircraft Factory and an organization set up under the name Voyager Aircraft.  Voyager’s world flight takeoff took place on the longest runway at Edwards AFB at 8:01 am local time on December 14, 1986, with 3,500 of the world’s press in attendance.   As the plane accelerated, the tips of the wings, which were heavily loaded with fuel, were damaged as they unexpectedly flew down and scraped against the runway, ultimately causing pieces (winglets) to break off at both ends. (The pilot had wanted to gain enough speed that the inner wings, rather than the fragile outer wings, would lift the plane; in 67 test flights, the plane had never been loaded to capacity.) The aircraft accelerated very slowly and needed approximately 14,200 feet of the runway to gain enough speed to lift from the ground, the wings arching up dramatically just before take-off. The two damaged winglets remained attached to the wings by only a thin layer of carbon fiber and were removed by flying the Voyager in a slip, which introduced side-loading, tearing the winglets off completely. Some of the carbon fiber skin was pulled off in the process, exposing the blue form core. Burt Rutan following with pilot Mike Melvill determined that Voyager was still within its performance specifications despite the damage and decided to allow the flight to continue. During the flight, the two pilots had to deal with extremely cramped quarters. To reduce stress, the two had originally intended to fly the plane in three-hour shifts, but flight handling characteristics while the plane was heavy prevented routine changeovers, and they became very fatigued. Rutan reportedly stayed at the controls without relief for almost the first three days of the flight. The plane also continuously reminded the pilots of its pitch instability and fragility. They had to maneuver around bad weather numerous times, most perilously around the 600-mile-wide Typhoon MargeLibya denied access to the country’s airspace in response to Operation El Dorado Canyon earlier that year, forcing precious fuel to be used. There were contentious radio conversations between pilot Dick and his brother as Dick flew around weather and, at one time, turned around and began doubling back. The belief on the ground was that he was flying the airplane sloppily and was wasting fuel. The strong and often conflicting personalities of Melvill and the Rutan brothers made for many vigorous disagreements over the radio during the world flight.  As they neared California to land, a fuel pump failed and had to be replaced with its twin pumping fuel from the other side of the aircraft.  The average speed for the flight was 116 miles per hour.  There were 106 pounds of fuel remaining in the tanks, only about 1.5% of the fuel they had at take-off.


Also On December 23:

1783 George Washington resigns as commander in chief

1620 Construction of Plymouth settlement begins

1972 Harris makes Immaculate Reception


Apollo 8 Christmas Eve Address

On Christmas Eve in 1968 millions world wide listened to the crew of Apollo 8 as they orbited the Moon.

William Anders:

“For all the people on Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you.”

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

Jim Lovell:

And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

Frank Borman:

And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called the Seas: and God saw that it was good.

“And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”

On December 25, 1968 the crew of Apollo 8 fired the Service Propulsion System (SPS) of the Command Service Module for the Trans Earth Injection (TEI) maneuver that would send them home.  TEI was a critical maneuver which had to be timed perfectly. It occurred while the spacecraft was on the side of the Moon away from Earth, and so the crew was out of radio communication with Mission Control in Houston, Texas. If initiated too soon, the Apollo capsule would miss Earth, or ricochet off the atmosphere. Too late and the capsule would re-enter too steeply and burn up.  The engine had to burn for precisely the correct amount of time to accelerate the space craft out of lunar orbit and to arrive at Earth at exactly the correct point in space where where our home planet would be 57 hours, 26 minutes, 56.2 seconds later, as it traveled in its orbit around the Sun.  This is rocket science.



And On December 24:

1864 Bombardment of Fort Fisher begins

1851 Fire ravages Library of Congress

1923 Coolidge lights first national Christmas tree

1972 Bob Hope gives his last show in Vietnam


Christmas Truce

The Christmas truce was a series of widespread but unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front of World War I around Christmas 1914.  The Christmas truce occurred during the relatively early period of the war (month 5 of 51). Hostilities had entered somewhat of a lull as leadership on both sides reconsidered their strategies following the stalemate of the Race to the Sea and the indecisive result of the First Battle of Ypres. In the week leading up to the 25th, FrenchGerman, and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into no man’s land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in carol-singing. Men played games of soccer with one another, giving one of the most memorable images of the truce. Peaceful behavior was not ubiquitous; fighting continued in some sectors, while in others the sides settled on little more than arrangements to recover bodies.  The following year, a few units arranged ceasefires but the truces were not nearly as widespread as in 1914; this was, in part, due to strongly worded orders from the high commands of both sides prohibiting fraternisation. Soldiers were no longer amenable to truce by 1916. The war had become increasingly bitter after devastating human losses suffered during the battles of the Somme and Verdun, and the use of poison gas.  This was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare. In 1915, the bloody conflict of World War I erupted in all its technological fury, and the concept of another Christmas Truce became unthinkable.


Some Other Events From December 25:

1939: Ralphie Parker receives the Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle

1776 Washington crosses the Delaware

1996 Young JonBenet Ramsey is murdered

1941 Bing Crosby introduces “White Christmas” to the world


And On December 26:

1776 Washington wins first major U.S. victory at Trenton

1941 Churchill addresses Congress

1606 King Lear performed at Court

1944 Patton relieves Bastogne


XFJ-2B Fury First Flight

On 27 December 1951, the North American XFJ-2B makes its first flight.  It was the third prototype in the test series of four aircraft.  These test aircraft were prototypes for the North American FJ-2/-3 Fury.  The FJ-2 and FJ-3 were a series of swept-wing carrier-capable fighters designed for the US Navy and Marine Corps and were an effort to ‘navalize’ the USAF’s F-86 Sabre.   A swept-winged jet was needed immediately to combat the superior performance of the swept-winged Soviet MiG-15’s then operating in the Korean War.  These aircraft had folding wings and a longer nose landing gear.  The longer nose strut allowed an increased AOA for launch and recovery.  In addition the larger oleo facilitated larger carrier landing loads. While sharing the designation of the straight-winged North American FJ-1, the FJ-2/-3 Fury was a completely different aircraft.  The FJ-2 became one of the first aircraft used to evaluate the first steam catapults on US Navy carriers.  And Friend of FOD MF Joe’s Dad flew Furys in the Navy.



Some Stuff From December 27:

1932 Radio City Music Hall opens

1864 Hood’s army crosses the Tennessee River

2004 Peyton Manning breaks single-season touchdown pass record


And Now I’m going skiing for a week