FOD Saying of the Day
When people tell me “You’re going to regret that in the morning,” I sleep in until noon because I’m a problem solver.
Update On USN Cockpit Oxygen Issues
The advent of Onboard Oxygen Generating Systems (OBOGS) on US military aircraft have had mixed benefits. Prior to OBOGS, military aircraft used Liquid Oxygen (LOX) systems. LOX systems required complex handling architectures so as to be able to handle LOX and LOX systems safely. LOX systems were expensive to operate, entailed risk to aircraft servicing personnel but they were dependable in delivering breathable levels of O2 to aircrew members. On occasion missions were limited by onboard LOX availability. OBOGS promised the elimination of expensive LOX systems, a decrease in personnel risk and an inexhaustible supply of breathable air to aircrews. Aircraft equipped with OBOGS have seen an increase in physiological episodes (PE) over the last decade and those episodes have seemed to increase as the age of these systems have increased. I’ve addressed several FOD articles to what’s being done to decrease the number of PE and more importantly to address the concerns of aviators. Studies, equipment inspections, engineering analyses have been completed, but no specific system deficiencies have been identified. It has been frustrating and points to the need to a major aircraft system redesign which would cost big bucks and would take years to retrofit. Now the latest from Navy Times: It has been nearly a decade since the Navy’s aviation community saw a dramatic spike in physiological episodes, or PE. High in the sky, in several air frames, more and more pilots were getting dizzy in the cockpit. They were disoriented, they couldn’t breathe and they became confused, imperiling lives, multimillion dollar jets and readiness in the process. The Navy has in the past year redoubled its efforts to disentangle the complex causes behind PE, which primarily involves oxygen loss in the cockpit, but can include decompression sickness and other problems. Pilots can lose consciousness in the grimmest scenarios, but symptom severity varies. While long-term fixes remain distant, officials say progress is being made on several fronts. But that effort has come under fire from lawmakers and other federal agencies in recent months. From the House Armed Services Committee to NASA, the Navy is facing criticism that it came at the crisis in a half-cocked fashion. A unified, service-wide effort to assess and solve PE did not start in earnest until last year, when the Physiological Episodes Action Team, or PEAT, was stood up. Rear Adm. Sara Joyner, a career aviator, and former CAG, (on the right in photo below) was tapped as the PEAT’s first commander. (Fireball note: I’ve heard this was just a stash job for her while she awaited further assignment in a flag billet.) But the Navy has announced she will leave that position this summer, after less than a year on the job, an abrupt transition that some lawmakers fear could imperil the team’s progress. PEAT acknowledges Naval Aviation Medicine was not brought into the fold until the team was formed. At the same time, the F/A-18, arguably the backbone of the service’s fighter world, has fundamental life support problems in the cockpit, issues that can only be fully solved by retrofitting every Hornet, Super Hornet and Growler with new parts, something that will take years. PE concerns among pilots in the T-45 community sparked a refusal to fly last spring and subsequent operational pause. These concerns are echoed in other airframes as well, leading rank-and-file pilots and jet maintainers to lose faith that leadership will listen to their concerns and solve the problem, according to NASA officials and lawmakers. Rep. Michael Turner, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee for tactical air and land forces, chided the “failure of the leadership of the Navy” on PE during a hearing this month. “Navy leadership was initially slow to respond to this issue that is having a direct effect on overall readiness and affecting the confidence of our pilots, as well as their ability to perform their missions,” the Ohio Republican said, according to a transcript. Naval Air Systems Command, or NAVAIR, was tasked by Congress to assess the service’s PE efforts in 2016, and the command brought NASA in to help with the assessment. NASA delivered a report to Congress late last year that pillories the Navy’s efforts on several fronts. Turner lauded the report’s insight, but bemoaned that it was full of “things that aren’t happening after things that aren’t happening after things that aren’t happening. “This has got to be fixed,” Turner said. “This has got to stop. And I don’t have confidence that we’re getting nearer to that. I believe that there are a number of things that are being done, and a number of things that are not being done, that are now being done because the (NASA) report said to do them.” Physiological episodes are not a new phenomenon. Pilots have in the past experienced side effects from the unnatural rigors of flying at such height and speed. To date, PE plague the Navy’s F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers and T-45C Goshawks, as well as versions of the Air Force’s T-6 and F-35. While final solutions to prevent dangerous changes in a cockpit’s pressure or oxygen remain a work in progress, mitigation steps taken in the past year have been fruitful, according to officials. Tweaks in the T-45 fleet resulted in a drop in PEs, but the root causes and solution are still being studied, according to the team. (Fireball note: My sources tell me they increased the min engine RPM at altitude by 2% to allow for greater bleed air pressure and thus bleed air availability at altitude, which effect air flow into the OBOGS.) “The mitigations put in place to date have greatly reduced the PE rate, improved warnings and cautions for the aircrew and fully restored confidence in the T-45,” the PEAT fact sheet states. On the Hornet and Growler side, PE related to breathing gas have “decreased significantly” in the past year, according to PEAT, while “aircrew concerns have increased as a result of rising trends in pressure-related PEs.” Before the establishment of PEAT, efforts were largely “stove-piped,” according to the NASA report, and there was no unifying entity to bring the initiatives together and compare notes. “Until recently, the absence of a single leader to coordinate and prioritize the Navy’s physiological episodes efforts resulted in organizational stove-piping and the exclusion of key stakeholders,” Clinton Cragg, a former submariner and NASA engineer who led the agency’s assessment, told Congress. “Investigations have been structured as if the physiological episodes were isolated events, rather than a series of related events.” Cragg said it was “unfortunate” that the Navy’s medical community was not part of the search for a PE solution until last year. Much of the medical effort to combat PE was taking place at the flight line level, with no guidance from higher command, the NASA report found. “They weren’t asked, so they didn’t participate,” Cragg said. “We were actually very surprised to hear that.” Rep. Niki Tsongas, the subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, called that shortcoming “particularly troubling.” “I think most members would assume that the Navy’s medical community would be tightly interested in all aspects of addressing the PE issue,” she said. “Those of us here certainly would be.” There have been 655 reported PE cases in the past five years, according to Navy figures, mostly involving Hornets and Super Hornets. PEAT officials said the severity of PE runs the gamut, and 75 percent are classified as low to moderately severe. While the service contends that PE rates are falling, officials did not provide a yearly breakdown of that data by Navy Times’ deadline. PEAT has for the first time established Navy protocols that warn aircrews of problems and fix the afflicted machines, Joyner told the House subcommittee this month. The team’s effort has brought not only Navy medicine and other service entities into the fold, but industry and academic experts as well, she said. Joyner noted that while jets keep going farther, faster and for longer, “we have encountered challenges in how to best support the human in the cockpit in an ever more dynamic environment.” .) (Fireball note: That’s BS CAG. We’re not flying aircraft farther, faster or longer.) The impact of such operations on the human body are not fully understood, she said. “Today, we benefit from oxygen systems that no longer limit prolonged operations,” Joyner told Congress. “Rather, it’s limited by the constraints of fuel, ordnance and human endurance.” The Navy’s renewed push to get on top of the PE problem exploded in earnest after T-45 instructor pilots refused to fly the jet last year, citing safety concerns they said were being ignored or downplayed by leadership. Such issues are not limited to those flying the T-45, the NASA report states. “There has been a breakdown of trust in leadership within the pilot community,” the report found. “This has been precipitated by the failure to find a definitive cause for the PEs, the implementation of ‘fixes’ that do not appear to work … and the belief that Navy leadership is not doing enough to resolve the issue.” A lack of information led aviators to seek other, unofficial insight on the PE problem, the report states. As a result, pilots reported to NASA that they sought PE information from maintainers, fellow pilots and engineers, instead of through official information channels. “Gathering information this way leaves room for inaccuracies and misinformation to spread quickly and gather consensus,” the NASA report notes. “Without trust in leadership, information produced in videos, testimonials, and (situation reports) makes little difference in the population’s perspective on PE progress.” The Navy’s PEAT now works to ensure that pilots receive updates on the cause of PE events they report up the chain, Joyner said. “The feedback loop has been strengthened, and we’re making sure that we’re getting that back down to the deck plates, to the aviators, site by site,” she told lawmakers. A multidisciplinary team now falls on malfunctioning jets to root out the PE’s cause. “That’s all communicated back to the pilots,” Joyner said. Before the T-45 pilot strike last spring, aircrews expressed “considerable dissatisfaction” with the lack of information they were receiving from NAVAIR, according to the Navy review. Aircrews were submitting documentation on PE incidents but hearing nothing back, the review found. NAVAIR briefed training wing personnel in early April, a few days after the first pilots opted not to fly. “It was not well received,” the Navy’s review found. “The (instructor pilots) felt the NAVAIR team lacked urgency and discounted the severity of a rapid onset hypoxia or the histotoxic condition by telling the (instructor pilots) they were probably hyperventilating.” Previous commitments prevented Naval Air Training and Naval Air Forces leadership from visiting the affected T-45 wings during those NAVAIR briefings. “During those dates, (the chief of Naval Air Training) was in Pensacola for the selection of the next Blue Angel Commanding Officer and (the Naval Air Forces commander) was participating in talks with the United Kingdom followed by travel to Yuma, Arizona,” the review states. “Despite their scheduling conflicts, both CNATRA and CNAF remained heavily engaged on the emerging issue.” Since then, Joyner said the Navy has “turned the curve” on the T-45 issues. An oxygen flow problem was determined as the likely cause of the jet’s PE incidents, and the PE rate stands at roughly a fifth of what it was right before the pilots went on strike, Joyner told Congress. (See my comment above.) On the Hornet and Growler side, the PEAT is aiming to replace several parts of the breathing and pressurization systems for those jets, according to Joyner’s testimony. The entire F/A-18 fleet will eventually see their oxygen generation, cabin pressure monitor and alert and pressure regulator valves replaced, according to Joyner. Still, that remains years away. (Fireball note: My sources are telling me some components are being redesigned so as to report potential system anomalies, but none are being developed to improve OBOGS partial pressure of O2 within the gas mixture being supplied to aircrew. Currently the component redesigns have not been finalized and hence there is no airframes change (AFC) that can be applied to the F/A-18 platforms.) PEAT officials said they anticipate that a production contract worth about $85 million for the work will not be awarded until 2020 (Fireball note: You have to have an AFC before you can negotiate it being incorporated into the assembly line process). Unlike the T-45, the Navy does not plan to install an automatic backup oxygen system in the F/A-18s, Joyner told Congress. (Fireball note: There’s no real estate available for a backup system.) While those permanent fixes remain years away, Joyner said the Navy has been able to make improvements to the F/A-18 that are resulting in a more stable system. “We see now that we are able to influence the pressure response on the aircraft,” Joyner told Congress. “We’ve been able to make noticeable and observable, measurable changes to the F/A-18, which are resulting in a better, more stable (environmental control system).” Tsongas noted that new F/A-18s continue to roll off Boeing’s production line. “At some point, paying $69 million for an aircraft we know has serious problems with its life support systems needs to be questioned,” Tsongas said. “I’m not calling for stopping production, but it seems clear that the Navy and Boeing need to work together and come up with improvements to the F/A-18 that make them safer … and to make sure every single new F/A-18 has those improvements built in from day one and we’re not back here a good number of years hence revisiting these same problems yet again.” During her days in the cockpit, Joyner said she experienced symptoms that fall on the spectrum of PE effects. “There were days when I came back and didn’t feel great,” she said in an interview. “The culture we were in, we didn’t point at the aircraft. Joyner said she is confident that the work of PEAT, and the infrastructure she guided in to place during her less than 12 months in command of the team, will continue after she moves on this summer. The Navy has not named her replacement and declined to comment as to why she is being moved so soon. Tsongas lamented Joyner’s fast departure and transfer to a Joint Staff gig. “Making the change so soon sends an unfortunate message to the entire Navy aviation community, including their families,” Tsongas said. Hopefully, Joyner’s successor won’t be rotated out so quickly, Tsongas said. “Because we know change does lead to setbacks,” she said. “And we can’t afford to lose any more time.” What does all this mean? PEAT doesn’t have the answers, they’re better at reporting back to pilots their concerns, but they don’t have a smoking gun.
US And China Projecting A New ‘Sharp Power’ In Asia
Japanese leaders and media are much closer to the action for influence in Southeast Asia. This from Nikkei Asian Review: As the world’s two largest economies compete to expand their spheres of influence, the U.S. and China are pushing separate development initiatives centered around the Indian Ocean. China has its Belt and Road Initiative, proposed in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, which aims to build infrastructure spanning from Asia to Europe and incorporating overland and maritime elements. The country has already spent a fortune building land routes and ports. Washington, for its part, has embarked on its own initiative to maintain the existing international order, the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy. In early January, experts on national security and economics from the right-leaning Hudson Institute, as well as former senior U.S. officials, got together to discuss the situation at the Washington-based think tank. “We need to keep our eyes wide open,” Daniel Twining, the president of the International Republican Institute, said of what China is aiming to do in the Indian Ocean. On top of soft power, such as Chinese opera, and hard power, as represented in its military buildup, Twining warned of a third form of power that is taking shape. “There is now this emerging form of sharp power,” he said. Countries like China gain “undue leverage” through massive infrastructure investments. The targets of these influence operations are not limited to small nations in need of aid, but also strong democracies such as Australia and New Zealand. Twining described this as a new tool kit of power and influence. “We need to catch up. There is conversation about our own competitiveness and how we sharpen the tools in that tool kit.” A similar debate is heating up behind the scenes at the White House, according to people familiar with the matter. The National Security Council met several times from November to December last year, after President Donald Trump returned from a five-nation Asian tour. The debate centered on how to counter the China’s growing exercise of power through the Belt and Road, and in other ways, and culminated in official approval of a U.S. riposte: the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy. Documents compiling specific measures were also greenlighted. The idea originated with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government; the Trump administration piggybacked on it. Although the White House documents are confidential, they have three main points, insiders say. The first urges the U.S. to work with its allies and friendly nations to maintain order based on freedom and the rule of law in the East China Sea, the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. The second, has to do with means: The U.S., Japan, Australia and India should strengthen their maritime patrols and work with the coast guards of other littoral countries to ensure that they can protect their own waters. The third calls on the U.S., Japan, Australia, India and other nations to assist in securing the sea lanes from Asia to the Middle East, and to develop ports in key areas — Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, and the Bay of Bengal. The strategy is led by U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis and Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. A leading thinker at the U.S. Defense Department said Mattis and McMaster are concerned that the Belt and Road is the avenue through which China intends to pursue its goal of becoming the world’s top power by 2049, as Xi proclaimed during last autumn’s Communist Party congress, posing a serious challenge to the U.S.-dominated geopolitical order. Like people, countries have certain DNA. It is rooted in the country’s history and culture. The U.S. has an instinctive urge to extend its sphere of influence westward. In 1620, English pilgrims on the Mayflower arrived at what would later become the U.S. East Coast. Having gained their independence a century and a half later, Americans slowly made their way across the continent and into the Pacific Ocean. In the 19th century, Hawaii was annexed and the Philippines became an American colony. Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 triggered an all-out war between the two countries. The same thing is happening now on the other side of the Pacific. China has its own instinct to extend its sway, so as to encompass its neighbors. This is symbolized by the Great Wall. China’s race to build the Belt and Road shows this awakening instinct. As a superpower, the U.S. has a survival instinct that will not countenance the emergence of a stronger rival. To ensure that, the U.S. will be have to counter a river of concrete, steel and money that China is using to build its Belt and Road. In the Maldives, former President Mohamed Nasheed has warned that the debt the island nation owes China is unpayable and that China will be in a position to take over infrastructure assets. Without firing a single shot, China has grabbed more land than the East India Company at the height of the 19th century,” he told the Nikkei Asian Review in an interview. As the Trump administration hones its new tools, it may find that the battle of sharp power is a draining one.
A Report From The South China Sea
Navy Times reports a Naval officer aboard a mammoth U.S. aircraft carrier brimming with F18 fighter jets said Saturday that American forces would continue to patrol the South China Sea wherever “international law allows us” when asked if China’s newly built islands could restrain them in the disputed waters. LCDR Tim Hawkins told The Associated Press on board the USS Carl Vinson that the Navy has carried out routine patrols at sea and on air in the strategic waters for 70 years to promote regional security and guarantee the unimpeded flow of trade that’s crucial for Asian and U.S. economies. “International law allows us to operate here, allows us to fly here, allows us to train here, allows us to sail here, and that’s what we’re doing and we’re going to continue to do that,” Hawkins said on the flight deck of the 95,000-ton warship, which anchored at Manila Bay while on a visit to the Philippines. When President Donald Trump came to power, Southeast Asian officials were uncertain how deep the U.S. would get involved in the issues in the South China Sea, where his predecessor, Barack Obama, was a vocal critic of China’s increasingly aggressive actions to assert its territorial claims. “We’re committed,” Hawkins told reporters. “We’re here.” In December, the Trump administration outlined a new security strategy that emphasized countering China’s rise and reinforcing the U.S. presence in the Indo-Pacific region, where Beijing and Washington have accused each other of stoking a dangerous military buildup and fought for wider influence. Washington stakes no claims in the disputed region, but has declared that the peaceful resolution of the long-raging disputes, along with the maintenance of freedom of navigation and overflight, are in its national interest. U.S. officials have said American warships will continue so-called freedom of navigation operations that challenge China’s territorial claims in virtually the entire South China Sea, including on seven artificial islands China built mostly from submerged reefs in the Spratly archipelago. That places Washington in a continuing collision course with China’s interests in the volatile region. In January, China accused the U.S. of trespassing in its territorial waters when the U.S. guided missile destroyer USS Hopper sailed near the Chinese-guarded Scarborough Shoal, which is disputed by Beijing and Manila. After voicing a strong protest, China said it would take “necessary measures” to protect its sovereignty. The nuclear-powered Carl Vinson patrolled the disputed sea prior to its Manila visit but did not conduct a freedom of navigation operation, Hawkins said. “That’s not to say that we won’t or we can’t, but we have not, up to this point,” he said. China has also opposed the Philippine military’s deployment of a Japanese-donated Beechcraft King Air patrol plane in late January to Scarborough, a Philippine official said on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to discuss the issue publicly. Chinese officials have relayed their objection to their Philippine counterparts, the official said. China and Japan have their own territorial rifts in the East China Sea. There was no immediate comment from Philippine military officials about China’s opposition to the surveillance flights at Scarborough using Japanese or even Philippine aircraft. U.S. and Chinese officials have declared they have no intention of going to war in the disputed sea, but their governments have projected their firepower and clout in a delicate play of gunboat diplomacy and deterrence. “We’re prepared to conduct a spectrum of operations, whether that’s providing humanitarian assistance, disaster relief in the time of an emergency, or whether we have to conduct operations that require us to send strike fighters ashore,” Hawkins said. “We don’t have to use that spectrum, but we’re ready to, in case we need to.” The U.S. Navy invited journalists Saturday on board the 35-year-old Carl Vinson, which was packed with 72 aircraft, including F18 Hornets, assault helicopters and surveillance aircraft. President Rodrigo Duterte has tried to back down from what he said was a Philippine foreign policy that was steeply oriented toward the U.S., but has allowed considerable engagements with his country’s treaty ally to continue while reviving once-frosty ties with China in a bid to bolster trade tries and gain infrastructure funds. U.S. Navy officials flew some of Duterte’s Cabinet officials as well as journalists Wednesday on board the carrier, where they viewed F18 jets landing and taking off as the ship patrolled the South China Sea. There are reports that the Carl Vinson will also visit Vietnam in its current deployment in the region, but Hawkins declined to provide details of future trips. China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have long contested ownership of the South China Sea, where a bulk of the trade and oil that fuel Asia’s bullish economies passes through.
Two DDGs Now In Black Sea
USNI News reports Under cover of darkness, U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG-71) slipped through the Bosporus Strait and into the Black Sea on Friday. The next day USS Carney (DDG-64) joined Ross.
(Fireball note: I don’t know why the author thought the under the cover of darkness was emphasized as the Turkish Government is always informed and must approve all such passages through the Bosporus Strait. Likely a Russian Akula or Victor sub was within 10,000 yards with a firing solution dialed in and also likely a USS Los Angeles SSN had firing solutions dialed in on them). The ships are operating are part of an unspecified regional “proactive” presence mission in the sea bordered by Russia, according to the Navy. “Our decision to have two ships simultaneously operate in the Black Sea is proactive, not reactive,” U.S. 6thFleet commander Vice Adm. Christopher Grady said in a statement. “We operate at the tempo and timing of our choosing in this strategically important region. By nature, ships are flexible, mobile forces.” While the U.S. didn’t specify a reason for the patrol, the destroyers arrive at a particularly tense period between Moscow and Washington. On Friday, federal prosecutors indicted 13 Russian citizens for being part of a systemic operation to spread misinformation during the U.S. 2016 presidential campaign. The patrol also follows a Feb. 7 incident in Syria in which pro-Bashar al Assad forces and Russian contractors attempting to assault a rebel headquarters were killed by U.S. airstrikes. The destroyers also arrived in the Black Sea during the fourth anniversary of the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia. Russia’s success hosting the games is thought to have helped President Vladimir Putin win the nationalist support he needed to proceed with Moscow’s forced annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. “The last time two U.S. ships operated in the Black Sea was July 2017, during U.S.-Ukraine co-hosted exercise Sea Breeze,” read a statement from the 6th Fleet. “U.S. 6th Fleet ships regularly conduct bilateral and multilateral patrols with our Black Sea partners and allies, including Bulgaria and Turkey, and to conduct exercises with other partners and allies.” Ross and Carney are two of four U.S. ballistic missile defense-capable destroyers that are forward deployed to Naval Station Rota, Spain and routinely patrol the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Ross and fellow forward deployed destroyer USS Porter (DDG-78) fired almost 60 Tomahawk land attack missiles in April in a retaliation strike against pro-Assad forces after the regime used chemical weapons against civilian targets.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Published
On this day February 18, 1885, Mark Twain publishes his famous–and famously controversial–novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn . Twain (the pen name of Samuel Clemens) first introduced Huck Finn as the best friend of Tom Sawyer, hero of his tremendously successful novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876). Though Clemens saw Huck’s story as a kind of sequel to his earlier book, the new novel was far more serious, focusing on the institution of slavery and other aspects of life in the antebellum South. Even in 1885, two decades after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn landed created instant controversy. And that controversy continues; for as late as 1950s, the book came under fire from African-American groups for being racist in its portrayal of black characters, despite the fact that it was seen by many as a strong criticism of racism and slavery. As recently as 1998, an Arizona parent sued her school district, claiming that making “Twain’s” novel required high school reading made already existing racial tensions worse. Aside from its controversial nature and its continuing popularity with young readers, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been hailed by many serious literary critics as a masterpiece. No less a judge than Ernest Hemingway famously declared that the book marked the beginning of American literature: “There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.”
Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 and was originally considered to be the ninth planet from the Sun. Pluto is a dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt, a ring of bodies beyond Neptune. It was the first Kuiper belt object to be discovered. In September 2016, astronomers announced that the reddish-brown cap of the north pole of Charon is composed of tholins, organic macromolecules that may be ingredients for the emergence of life, and produced from methane, nitrogen and related gases released from the atmosphere of Pluto and transferred over about 19,000 km (12,000 mi) distance to the orbiting moon. In 1906, Percival Lowell—a wealthy Bostonian who had founded the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, in 1894—started an extensive project in search of a possible ninth planet, which he termed “Planet X“. She theorized that wobbles in the orbits of Uranus.and Neptune were caused by the gravitational pull of an unknown planetary body. Lowell calculated the approximate location of the hypothesized ninth planet and searched for more than a decade without success. However, in 1929, using the calculations of Powell and William H. Pickering as a guide, the search for Pluto was resumed at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. On February 18, 1930, 23-year-old Clyde Tombaugh discovered the tiny, distant planet by use of a new astronomic technique of photographic plates combined with a blink microscope. His finding was confirmed by several other astronomers, and on March 13, 1930–the anniversary of Lowell’s birth and of William Hershel’s discovery of Uranus–the discovery of Pluto was publicly announced. The debate came to a head on August 24, 2006, with an IAU resolution that created an official definition for the term “planet”. According to this resolution, there are three conditions for an object in the Solar System to be considered a planet:
- The object must be in orbit around the Sun.
- The object must be massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity. More specifically, its own gravity should pull it into a shape defined by hydrostatic equilibrium.
- It must have cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.
Pluto fails to meet the third condition, because its mass is only 0.07 times that of the mass of the other objects in its orbit (Earth’s mass, by contrast, is 1.7 million times the remaining mass in its own orbit). Poor Pluto!
The New Search For A Ninth Planet
Despite Pluto being demoted, a new search is underway for a new ninth planet. Planet Nine is a hypothetical planet, in the outer Solar System. Its gravitational influence could explain the abnormal orbits of a group of distant trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) found mostly beyond the Kuiper belt in the Scattered Disc region, that region of our solar system beyond Pluto. This undiscovered super-Earth-sized planet would have an estimated mass of ten Earths, a diameter two to four times that of Earth, and an elongated orbit lasting approximately 15,000 years. Speculation about the possible existence of a ninth planet began in 2014. Astronomers Chad Trujillo and Scott S. Sheppard wrote in the journal Nature and compared the similar orbits of trans-Neptunian objects Sedna and 2012 VP113. In the photo below you see the planet Nine and in the distance you can barely see the orbit of Neptune around the Sun. In early 2016, Konstantin Batygin and Michael E. Brown described how the similar orbits of six TNOs could be explained by Planet Nine and proposed a possible orbit for the planet. Michael Brown has been professor of planetary astronomy at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) since 2003. His team has discovered many trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs), notably the dwarf planet Eris, the only known TNO more massive than Pluto. He has referred to himself as the man who “killed Pluto,” because he furthered Pluto being downgraded to a dwarf planet in the aftermath of the discovery of Eris and several other probable trans-Neptunian dwarf planets. (Be sure to watch this annimation file I was able to include). This hypothesis could also explain TNOs with orbits perpendicular to the inner planets and those with an extreme tilt, as well as the tilt of the Sun’s axis. Planet Nine is presumed to be the core of a primordial giant planet that was ejected from its original orbit, after encountering Jupiter, during the genesis of the Solar System. Others have proposed that the planet was either captured from another star, or its orbit may have been influenced by a distant encounter with a passing star.
Battle of Iwo Jima Begins
U.S. Marines landed on Iwo Jima, on February 19, 1945. During naval operations around Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima on February 18, U.S. Navy destroyers engage Japanese vessels off Iwo and Chichi Jima. USS Waldron (DD 699) is damaged after intentionally ramming a gunboat; USS Dortch (DD 670) sinks auxiliary submarine chaser Ayukawa Maru north-northwest of Iwo Jima; USS Barton (DD 722), USS Ingraham (DD 694), and USS Moale (DD 693) operating near Chichi Jima, sink Japanese guardboats No.35 Nanshin Maru, No. 3 Kyowa Maru, and No.5 Kukuichi Maru. The invasion followed three days of pre-invasion naval gunfire and aerial bombardment. Iwo Jima was pronounced secured on March 16. Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, described the invasion, and the Battle of Iwo Jima, for which 27 Medals of Honor are given, as one where uncommon valor was a common virtue. Iwo Jima was initially thought to be strategically important: it provided an air base for Japanese fighter planes to intercept long-range B-29 Superfortress bombers, and it provided a haven for Japanese naval units in dire need of any support available. In addition, it was used by the Japanese to stage air attacks on the Mariana Islands from November 1944 through January 1945. The capture of Iwo Jima would eliminate these problems and provide a staging area for Operation Downfall – the eventual invasion of the Japanese Home Islands. American intelligence sources were confident that Iwo Jima would fall in one week. In light of the optimistic intelligence reports, the decision was made to invade Iwo Jima and the operation was given the code name Operation Detachment. American forces were unaware that the Japanese were preparing a complex and deep defense, radically departing from their usual strategy of a beach defense. Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (below left) was assigned to command the defense of Iwo Jima. Kuribayashi knew that Japan could not win the battle. He had no hopes of being able to be resupplied with additional manpower, supplies or ammunition. He could not expect naval support, nor did he have any internal or external air support available to him. He hoped only to inflict massive casualties on the American forces, so that the United States and its Australian and British allies would reconsider carrying out the invasion of Japan Home Islands. The Imperial Japanese Army positions on the island were heavily fortified, with a dense network of bunkers, hidden artillery positions, and 11 mi of underground tunnels. The American ground forces were supported by extensive naval artillery, and had complete air supremacy provided by U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aviators throughout the entire battle. So successful was the Japanese preparation that it was discovered after the battle that the hundreds of tons of Allied bombs and thousands of rounds of heavy naval gunfire had left the Japanese defenders almost undamaged and ready to inflict losses on the U.S. Marines. Japanese combat deaths numbered three times the number of American deaths although, uniquely among Pacific War Marine battles, American total casualties (dead and wounded) exceeded those of the Japanese. Of the 21,000 Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima at the beginning of the battle, only 216 were taken prisoner, some of whom were captured because they had been knocked unconscious or otherwise disabled. The vast majority of the remainder were killed in action, although it has been estimated that as many as 3,000 continued to resist within the various cave systems for many days afterwards, eventually succumbing to their injuries or surrendering weeks later. Joe Rosenthal‘s Associated Press photograph of the raising of the U.S. flag on top of the 169 m (554 ft) Mount Suribachi by six U.S. Marines has become iconic and is captured in the Marine Corps War Memorial. The Medal of Honor was awarded to 27 U.S. Marines and U.S. sailors (14 posthumously), during the battle of Iwo Jima. 22 medals were presented to Marines (12 posthumously) and 5 were presented to sailors, 4 of whom were hospital corpsmen (2 posthumously) attached to Marine infantry units. Those 22 Medals of Honor were 28% of the 82 awarded to Marines in World War II. Hershel W. Williams (Marine Corps) is the only living Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima. Williams (age 93) is one of seven living Medal of Honor recipients of World War II; five soldiers and two Marines. One other Marine worth noting here is William D. Kelly. Commissioned a 2nd LT in 1944, he served as an infantry platoon commander during the Battle of Iwo Jima. He went on to serve as a company commander during the Korean War and as a battalion commander during the Viet Nam War. He retired in 1969 and has since passed. His son, Sean Kelly was my USNA plebe summer roommate and a friend of FOD. Sean notes his dad never discussed his combat experiences on Iwo Jima or in other conflicts, even though Sean became a fellow Marine. Sean forwarded me the enclosed a letter William wrote to his brother Kevin, shortly after Iwo Jima in which he refers to a $5 Hawaii overprint note he carried in his pocket during the Iwo Jima Campaign. 2015 commemorated the 70th anniversary of Iwo Jima. That same year Sean decided to honor his dad’s service by running in the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM). In subsequent MCMs Sean has worn the gold aviator wings of our close friend and classmate Chuck “Hogger” Peterson. Hogger served as a Marine and he too has passed. Sean also includes the names of other friends who have served and passed as a way to honor their service. This year Sean was able to raise of $25,250 for the Semper Fi Fund (the most of any single entrant). And here’s Sean with General John Kelly, White House Chief of Staff. The MCM is a great event. It’s now the fourth largest Marathon in the US and the ninth in the world. At its conclusion, the MCM course unfurls alongside the Arlington National Cemetery then offers a final, up-hill challenge to the finish at the Marine Corps War Memorial. This finish has remained unchanged since the inaugural running of the MCM in 1976. Thank you William Kelly and thank you Sean.
Lieutenant General Promotion List of 1777
On February 19, 1777 the promotion list for Lieutenant General in the Continental Army was released. Benedict Arnold found himself passed over for promotion by the Continental Congress. Despite the fact George Washington generally supported Arnold’s skill in the field, but regardless Arnold felt he had been slighted. He served with distinction with Ethan Allen and his men in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga. But he got into many disagreements with his fellow generals and thought they were claiming credit for his efforts. This reminded me of a poem I learned as a plebe from the U.S. Naval Academy’s Reef Points, entitled, The Laws of the Navy, which starts off with:
Now these are Laws of the Navy,
Unwritten and varied they be;
And he that is wise will observe them,
Going down in his ship to the sea;
Among other verses is this one:
Take heed what ye say of your Seniors,
Be your words spoken softly or plain,
Lest a bird of the air tell the matter,
And so ye shall hear it again.
While a general on the American side, Arnold obtained command of the fortifications at West Point, New York (future site of the U.S. Military Academy after 1802) overlooking the cliffs at the Hudson River (upriver from British-occupied New York City), and planned to surrender it to the British forces. The plan was exposed in September 1780. Benedict escaped to the British lines and was later commissioned into the British Army as a brigadier general. He died in London, ten years later, penniless.
B-757 Takes Flight
Boeing test pilots John H. Armstrong and Samuel Lewis (“Lew”) Wallick, Jr., made the first flight of the prototype Model 757 airliner, FAA registration N757A, serial number 22212 on February 19, 1982, one week ahead of schedule. The B-757 was intended to be more capable and more efficient than the preceding B-727. The focus on fuel efficiency reflected airline concerns over operating costs, which had grown amid rising oil prices during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. As development progressed, the 757 increasingly departed from its 727 origins and adopted elements from the 767, which was several months ahead in development. To reduce risk and cost, Boeing combined design work on both twinjets, resulting in shared features such as interior fittings and handling characteristics. Computer-aided design, first applied on the 767, was used for over one-third of the 757’s design drawings. In early 1979, a common two-crew member glass cockpit was adopted for the two aircraft, including shared instrumentation, avionics, and flight management systems. In October 1979 the nose was widened and dropped to reduce aerodynamic noise by six dB, to improve the flight deck view and to give more working area for the crew for greater commonality with the 767, as the T-tail was substituted by a conventional tail earlier in the year. Cathode-ray tube (CRT) color displays replaced conventional electromechanical instruments, with increased automation eliminating the flight engineer position common to three-person cockpits. After completing a short conversion course, pilots rated on the 757 could be qualified to fly the 767 and vice versa, owing to their design similarities. A new aft-loaded shape which produced lift across most of the upper wing surface, instead of a narrow band as in previous airfoil designs, was used for the 757’s wings. The more efficient wings had less drag and greater fuel capacity, and were similar in configuration to those on the 767. A wider wingspan than the 727’s produced less lift-induced drag, while larger wing roots increased undercarriage storage space and provided room for future stretched versions of the aircraft. The 757 was produced in two fuselage lengths. The original 757-200 entered service in 1983; the 757-200PF, a package freighter (PF) variant, and the 757-200M, a passenger-freighter combi model, debuted in the late 1980s. The stretched 757-300, the longest narrow-body twinjet ever produced, began service in 1999. Boeing still owns that original B-757 N757A. I’ve got a lot of time B-757 having flown both the -200 and the -300 for more than 4000 hours at NWA and in this first B-757aircraft as it was converted to a Flying Test Bed supporting the F-22 aircraft and does other research work as well. as a testbed for Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor avionics and sensor integration. The Boeing-owned aircraft was fitted with a canard above its cockpit to simulate the jet fighter’s wing sensor layout, along with a forward F-22 fuselage section with radar and other systems, and a 30-seat laboratory with communication, electronic warfare, identification, and navigation sensors.
LT “Butch” O’Hare Navy’s First Flying Ace
On February 20, 1842 LT Edward “Butch” O’Hare, became the Navy’s first flying ace when he single-handedly attacked a formation of nine heavy bombers approaching his the USS Lexington. He shot down five and seriously damaged a sixth. Previously to this historic flight, Lieutenant John Thach, then executive officer of VF-3, discovered O’Hare’s exceptional flying abilities and closely mentored the promising young pilot. Thach, who would later develop the Thach Weave aerial combat tactic, emphasized gunnery in his training. Photo above is of John Thach in the lead with Butch O’Hare on his wing. In 1941, more than half of all VF-3 pilots, including O’Hare, earned the “E” for gunnery excellence. Even though he had a limited amount of ammunition, he managed to shoot down or damage several enemy bombers. On April 21, 1942, he became the first naval recipient of the Medal of Honor in World War II. He was promoted to LCDR. In a mere four minutes, O’Hare shot down five Japanese G4M1 Betty bombers–bringing a swift end to the Japanese attack. With his ammunition expended, O’Hare returned to his carrier, and was fired on accidentally but with no effect by a .50-caliber machine gun from the Lexington. O’Hare’s fighter had, in fact, been hit by only one bullet during his flight, the single bullet hole in F4F-3 Wildcat port wing disabling the airspeed indicator. According to Thach, Butch then approached the gun platform to calmly say to the embarrassed anti-aircraft gunner who had fired at him, “Son, if you don’t stop shooting at me when I’ve got my wheels down, I’m going to have to report you to the gunnery officer.” O’Hare’s final action took place on the night of November 26, 1943, while he was leading the U.S. Navy’s first-ever nighttime fighter attack launched from an aircraft carrier. During this encounter with a group of Japanese torpedo bombers, O’Hare’s Grumman F6F Hellcat was shot down; his aircraft was never found. In 1945, the U.S. Navy destroyer USS O’Hare (DD-889) was named in his honor. On September 19, 1949, the Chicago, Illinois airport was renamed Chicago’s commercial airport O’Hare International Airport to honor O’Hare’s bravery. The airport displays a Grumman F4F-3 museum aircraft replicating the one flown by Butch O’Hare during his Medal of Honor flight. The Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat on display was recovered virtually intact from the bottom of Lake Michigan, where it sank after a training accident in 1943 when it went off the training aircraft carrier USS Wolverine (IX-64). In 2001, the Air Classics Museum remodeled the aircraft to replicate the F4F-3 Wildcat that O’Hare flew on his Medal of Honor flight. The restored Wildcat is exhibited in the west end of Terminal 2 behind the security checkpoint to honor O’Hare International Airport’s namesake. I always go see it when I’m passing through KORD.