FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day February 1st through 7th 2018

Saying of the Day

I thought growing old would take longer

Friends of FOD

Running a bit late with this edition.  Actually I tried to publish last night, but the internet connection in my hotel was too slow to make it work, so I went to bed. Working on the ’31 Chevy is …. It’s almost like a job, but costs me instead of pays me.


How China Could Takeover Taiwan Without A Shot Fired

I’ve mentioned here in FOD how freedom of the seas and in particular the South China Sea is important not only to the Asian nations in the region, but for all nations who depend upon the free exchange of goods and services through those contested waters.  China’s ability to restrict trade to selective nations of their choice is a weapon as old as the sea.  Taiwan has long been a thorn in the side of China since the communist government has been in place.  And while Taiwan has military ties with Japan and the US there are likely limits established as to what we might do if China were to act militarily.  A few days ago Asian Times reported rumors have swirled on both sides of the Taiwan Strait since the beginning of last year that Chinese President Xi Jinping was mulling taking back the wayward, self-ruling island of Taiwan in one fell swoop amid growing militancy among the Chinese masses.  Some have gone so far as to suggest that by the early 2020s the two sides would be in a state of belligerence as Xi, unlike his predecessors, has no scruples against waging a full-blown war to recapture what Beijing considers a renegade province.  They say that the year 2022, the end of Xi’s second tenure as the general secretary of the Communist Party of China, would be the deadline for him to exert his unrestrained powers to redeem the glory of the Middle Kingdom, after Xi has made “China dream” and “great revitalization” the tag lines of his rule.  “Xi’s grand visions will become empty platitudes if he fails to take back Taiwan before his second term ends, and in that case his ‘China dream’ will become a pipe dream, and he is fully aware of that,” said one analyst.  No one will doubt that China’s Central Military Commission and the People’s Liberation Army have in place a host of all-encompassing combat plans of tactics and deployment to suit all war scenarios, as well as stratagems to deter or fend off intervention by the US or Japan.  The Chinese military must have been updating these plans from time to time to reflect changes in geopolitics and Taiwan’s own defenses, for Xi to choose from should he feel that the time is ripe for a once-and-for-all, momentous action to tame and reclaim the island.  Meanwhile, Beijing has also been on a spree of building or inaugurating aircraft carriers, missiles, corvettes, destroyers, amphibious battleships and stealth fighters, fueling further speculation over whether Taiwan stands a chance when Xi, armed with the will of the rank and file, is girding for a new Chinese civil war.  While many observers believe Xi is readying the military and the nation for a showdown, a bid that will decide how he will go down in history, veteran military commentator Andrei Chang noted in the Kanwa Defense Review that the PLA’s big guns and ships may be for show to make Washington and Tokyo think twice before stepping in, and a trigger doesn’t have to be pulled now that Xi has a slew of non-military options at his disposal.  The Hong Kong-based current-affairs monthly SuperMedia also reported that among the many diplomatic and economic means to subjugate the island is issuing Taiwan Special Administrative Region passports and granting hukou (Chinese household registration) and permanent residency to the 2 million Taiwanese already residing in mainland China.  Previous reports also suggest that the PLA’s first overseas base, which sits right on the Horn of Africa in Djibouti (and discussed here in FOD previously), is aimed at Taiwan, since the resource-scarce island relies substantially on the narrow waterway linking the Suez Canal and the Arabian Sea for oil imports from the Middle East as well as trade with Europe. From the Djibouti base PLA troops could intercept tankers ferrying oil to Taiwan and seal off the island’s trade artery in no time.  Beijing’s frenzied investment and acquisitions targeting stakes in mines, oilfields and energy firms in the Belt and Road countries could also jeopardize Taiwan’s economic security should Beijing decree an embargo of crude oil and other natural resources, according to Chang.  Something they have been unwilling to do when it comes to dealing with North Korea.  The raft of economic, trade, financial and logistical measures short of a shooting war to contain Taiwan won’t provide an opening for Washington to weight in, yet given time, they could work to coerce Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen into coming to terms with Xi and accepting whatever he has in store for a treaty to create a future Taiwan Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.

Continue reading “FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day February 1st through 7th 2018”

FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day February 12 and 13, 2017

Following the Paris Peace Accords of January 1973, U.S. prisoners of war were returned during Operation Homecoming during February through April 1973.  On February 12, 1973, the return of U.S. POWs began when North Vietnam released 142 of 591 U.S. prisoners at Hanoi’s Gia Lam Airport.  The first 20 POWs arrived to a hero’s welcome at Travis Air Force Base in California on February 14. Operation Homecoming was completed on March 29, 1973, when the last of 591 U.S. prisoners were released and returned to the United States.  The U.S. government has steadfastly denied that prisoners were left behind or that any effort has been made to cover up their existence.  Several congressional investigations have looked into the issue, culminating with the largest and most thorough, the United States Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs of 1991–1993 led by Senators John KerryBob Smith, and John McCain. It found “no compelling evidence that proves that any American remains alive in captivity in Southeast Asia.


On February 12, 1947 – The first launch of a guided missile, the Loon, takes place on board USS Cusk (SS-348) The JB-2 Loon missile, a close derivative of the German V-1 flying bomb, beginning in the last year of World War II.  The Regulus I Cruise missile development followed early  Navy experiments with Submarine testing.  USS Cusk with  and USS Carbonero (SS-337) were converted as test platforms, initially carrying the missile unprotected, thus unable to submerge until after launch. The USS Growler (SSG-557), mentioned in FOD a few days ago, became one of two SSGs to test Regulus before the Navy moved on to the development of the Polaris missile program.





And let’s remember when we kids and had two days off from school in February.  One of which was today – Abraham Lincoln’s birthday!







George Gershwin an incredibly unique and gifted composer had always hoped to be able to gravitate from popular music into more general music category.  On February 13, 1924,  a concert, billed as an educational event, the “Experiment In Modern Music” concert was organized by  Paul Whiteman.  Whitman was an immensely popular leader of the Palais Royal Orchestra, and wanted to demonstrate the relatively new form of music called jazz deserved to be regarded as a serious and sophisticated art form. Toward the end of the program a young man named George Gershwin, then known only as a composer of Broadway songs, seated himself at the piano to accompany the orchestra in the performance of a brand new piece of his own composition, called Rhapsody in Blue“It starts with an outrageous cadenza of the clarinet,” wrote Olin Downes, critic for the The New York Times  wrote regarding the now-famous two-and-a-half-octave glissando that makes Rhapsody in Blue as instantly recognizable as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. George Gershwin pieced Rhapsody In Blue together as best he could in about five weeks, leaving his own piano part to be improvised during the world premiere. Rhapsody has come to be regarded as one of the most important American musical works of the 20th century.

FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day February 7 and 8, 2017

If you have visited Pier 86, site of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City, you likely noticed the USS Growler (SSG-577) on permanent display across the pier. This Growler was the second and final submarine of the Grayback class.  It was the fourth ship of the United States Navy to be named after the Growler type of Largemouth bass.  Growler and Grayback were the only two submarines built in this class as instead, the U.S. Navy redirected its nuclear deterrence efforts into submarine launched ballistic missiles (SSBMs) — the Polaris missile program.  Her predecessor, the USS USS Growler (SS-215) warrants our thoughts today however.  Growler-215 was a Gato-class submarine, launched on 02 November 1941 and commissioned 20 March 1942.  She saw immediate action in the Pacific theatre of operations during WWII.  Her first commanding officer and plankowner was LCDR Howard W. Gilmore, a ’26 grad of the United States Naval AcademyCommander Gilmore led the Growler and her crew on her first four combat patrols.   During her first patrol, on 5 July 1942 Growler attacked three enemy destroyers off Kiska, sinking one and severely damaging the other two, while narrowly avoiding two torpedoes fired in return, for which Gilmore received the Navy Cross.  On his second patrol, Growler sank four merchant ships totaling 15,000 tons in the East China Sea near Taiwan. Gilmore received a gold star in lieu of a second Navy Cross.  Growler continued to pursue and sink enemy shipping in the TrukRabaul shipping lanes on her fourth patrol.  On 11 January ‘43, she maneuvered inside a convoy’s escorts, and launched two torpedoes while surfaced.  They hit home sinking Chifuku Maru, a passenger/cargo ship.  Her war diary reports she was now within 400 yards of a Japanese destroyer.  She crash dives to avoid the destroyer and breaks off the attack. Gilmore then guided Growler through intense depth charge attacks.  A few days later, shortly after 0100 on 07 February, Growler stealthily approached another convoy for a night surface attack. The fast escort, Hayasaki suddenly maneuvered to ram Growler. Gilmore sounded the collision alarm and shouted, “Left full rudder!” — to no avail. Perhaps inadvertently, Growler hit the Japanese adversary amidships at 17 knots (31 km/h), heeling the submarine 50 degrees, bending 18 feet of her bow sideways to port, and disabling the forward torpedo tubes.  Simultaneously, the Japanese crew unleashed a burst of machine gun fire at Growler’s bridge, killing the junior officer of the deck, Ensign William Wadsworth Williams and a lookout, Fireman Third Class Wilbert Fletcher Kelley.   Gilmore himself wounded by the fusillade of bullets, commanded, “Clear the bridge!” He struggled to hang on to a frame as the rest of the bridge party dropped down the hatch into the conning tower.  The executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Arnold Schade — shaken by the impact and dazed by his own fall into the control room — waited expectantly for his captain to appear. Instead from above came the shouted command, “Take her down!” Realizing that he could not get below in time if the ship were to escape, Gilmore chose to make the supreme sacrifice for his shipmates. Schade hesitated briefly — then followed his captain’s last order and submerged the crippled ship.  Surfacing some time later in hope of reattacking the Hayasaki, Schade found the seas empty. The Japanese ship had, in fact, survived the encounter, but there was no sign of Gilmore, who apparently had drifted away in the night. Schade and Growler’s well-trained crew managed to control the ship’s flooding and limped back to Brisbane on February 17.  For sacrificing himself to save his ship, Commander Howard W. Gilmore was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, “the second man of the submarine force to be so decorated. Following refit and extensive repairs, the submarine was nicknamed the Kangaroo Express, as the refabricated bow proudly displayed two nickel kangaroos as decorations.


I’m sure there are a few FOD readers who recall “e” is one of the most interesting irrational numbers that arises naturally.  And because e =2.718281828459…, and because e begins with the digits 2 and 7, we celebrate e day on February 7the is one of those special irrational numbers like “pi” where π =3.141592653…. (celebrated on March 14th).  Then there’s the “phi” where = 1.6180339887…, which is the so-called “beauty ratio.”  The number e was “discovered” by several mathematicians (Oughtred, Huygens, Jacob Bernoulli (left) (not the Bernoulli of Bernoulli’s equation of fluid dynamics) – that was Daniel Bernoulli) , Mercator and Leibniz) (I’m sure you all remember those guys – everyone just a party animal) but they didn’t quite know they had stumbled on it and didn’t necessarily know its significance at first.  There are some curious properties of e.  

We start with n = 1 (where n is the denominator in the fraction of this expression and the exponent):                    ,

For n =2, the expression becomes:                    

and for n=3 the expression becomes:                .

As n> the number approaches but never quite = e.  

It’s better expressed in this graph:  

So what is e good for? See Exponential and Logarithmic Functions.  It is used extensively in logarithms (which was the only way to solve difficult calculations for hundreds of years before calculators came along), exponential growth (of populations, money (compound interest) or drug concentrations over time) and complex numbers (which were used to design the computer or mobile device you are reading this on).  Now that’s more info than you should ever have to know unless you run into that Oughtred dude at a party.  You’ll know him right off as he carries around an e number of beers, but has to pee after π beers.  No more math today!


During a Space Shuttle Mission on February 7, 1984, NASA astronauts Captain Bruce McCandless II, United States Navy, and Colonel Robert L. Stewart, United States Air Force, left the Space Shuttle Challenger (OV-099) on the first untethered space walk.  In doing so they became human satellites.  On this mission, McCandless conducted a spacewalk using the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU).  The MMU was designed and built by Martin Marietta Corporation (now, Lockheed Martin). McCandless made important design evaluations and contributed significantly to the final MMU product.  It is constructed primarily of aluminum. The MMU is powered by two batteries with 852 watts at full charge, and propelled by 24 gaseous nitrogen thrusters, providing 1.4 pounds of thrust (6.2 newtons), each.  Two hand controllers allowed for six-axis motion.  The MMU was designed to retrieve communication satellites, repair them, or facilitate their restoration or initial placement to their proper orbits.  It was used to capture Westar VI and Palapa B2 satellites.  In the below photo, he’s 320 meters away. In the safety review following the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, the MMU was judged too risky for further use.   Many activities planned for the MMU could by then be done effectively with manipulator arms or traditional tethered

EVAs.  By then, NASA had discontinued contracts that utilized the shuttle for commercial or DoD satellite capture/repair.  Let’s face it, those customers had gone away.  McCandless is the son of Bruce McCandless, and grandson of Willis W. Bradley.  Both were recipients of the Medal of Honor (MOH).  Bruce McCandless was awarded the MOH during World War II for his heroism on board the USS San Francisco (CA-38), during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, November 13, 1942.  (Read the book Neptune’s Inferno: The US Navy at Guadalcanal, it’s on the Fireball Book List).  Bruce McCandless II graduated second in his class of 899 from the U.S. Naval Academy (Class of 1958), along with John McCain and John Poindexter.  And he’s another Phantom driver, having flown the F-4B Phantom II (Phantoms Phorever) from the USS Enterprise during the Cuban Missile Crisis.


And speaking of the USS Enterprise, she was officially decommissioned just a few days ago, on February 3, 2017.  She was the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and the eighth United States naval vessel to bear the name. Like her predecessor of World War II fame, she is nicknamed “Big E”. At 1,123 ft (342 m), she is the longest naval vessel ever built.  The only ship of her class, Enterprise was, at the time of inactivation, the third-oldest commissioned vessel in the United States Navy after the wooden-hulled USS Constitution and USS PuebloThe Big E served 51 consecutive years, longer than any other US aircraft carrier.  She is being dismantled in Dry Dock 11 at the Newport News Shipbuilding, her original birthplace.  My USNA roommate, Doug Law, (a friend of FOD), deployed in her when he was assigned to VF-2, the “Bounty Hunters,” flying the F-14A Tomcat.  In the photo below you’ll see, Enterprise (center) operating with Coral Sea (top left) and Midway (top right) off Alaska during the FLEETEX 83 exercise. I’m there waving on the Coral Sea.  This exercise was memorable in that we conducted simultaneous carrier operations while Enterprise and Coral Sea steamed in close abeam formation.  Their airwing flew a normal pattern and we flew a right hand carrier pattern.  It goes against all you have ever done around the ship – break right – and there’s no gouge for the 180 as you’re looking at the roundown from the opposite angle.  At her inactivation ceremony, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced the next Ford-class carrier; CVN-80 would indeed be named Enterprise.  Thanks Big E!


For those friends of FOD of a certain age, February 7, 1964 marked the starting-point of the British InvasionFor on that day The Beatles‘ , John Lennon, Paul McArtney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, arrived in America at John F. Kennedy International Airport from London aboard Pan American World Airways’ Flight 101, a Boeing 707-331, serial number 17683, N704PA, named Jet Clipper Defiance. They were welcomed by an estimated 4,000 fans and 200 journalists.  During their first three week tour, they performed twice on The Ed Sullivan Show, singing one of their breakthrough hits, “I Want to Hold Your Hand“—which sold one-and-a-half million copies in under three weeks.




During the period January 22 through February 8, 1971, a Lockheed P-3 Orion, antisubmarine warfare patrol bomber under the command of Commander Donald H. Lilienthal, United States Navy, set a bunch of aviation records.  The crew (CDR Donald H. Lilienthal, Aircraft Commander; CAPT R.H. Ross, Pilot; LCDR F. Howard Stoodley, Pilot; LT R.T. Myers, Navigator; CDR J.E. Koehr, Meteorologist; ADJC K.D. Frantz, Flight Engineer; AEC H.A. Statti, Flight Engineer), took off from Naval Air Station Atsugi, Japan, and flew 11,036.47 kilometers (6,857.745 miles) non-stop to NATC Patuxent River, Maryland. The duration of the flight was 15 hours, 21 minutes.  This was a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record for turboprop airplanes. (FAI Record File Number 8070) The Orion’s course deviated around foreign airspace so the actual distance flown was 7,010 miles (11,218.5 kilometers).  The Orion was a standard production P-3C with no engine or fuel system modifications.  P-3C-110-LO Orion, Bu. No. 156512, was assigned to the Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent River. On 27 January, the same airplane set both FAI and National Aeronautic Association records for Speed Over a Straight Course of 15/25 Kilometers of 806.10 kilometers per hour (500.89 miles per hour) at NAS Patuxent River. (FAI Record File Number 8582).  That U.S. National Record still stands.   And on 08 February 1971, CDR Lilienthal and 156512 set five more world records for heavy turboprop airplanes. The P-3C climbed to a height of 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 2 minutes, 52 seconds; to 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) in 5 minutes, 46 seconds; to 9,000 meters (29, 528 feet) in 10 minutes, 26 seconds; and 12,000 meters (39,370 feet) in 19 minutes, 42 seconds. (FAI Record File Number 3400–3403) The Orion continued climbing until it reached a world record altitude of 14,086.1 meters (46,214.2 feet). (FAI Record File Number 8055).   You P-8 guys need to check your logbooks and see if you have flown this piece of history.  OK, it’s sub recce time – Name that sub? Answer at the bottom.





And this date in 2012 marked the end of an era as well.   NASA 911, the Boeing 747-100SR that has been used as a shuttle carrier aircraft (SCA), made its last flight on Wednesday, 8 February 2012, a 20-minute hop from Edwards Air Force Base to Palmdale Plant 42. The photo (left) shows both SCA’s (NASA 905 (N905NA) is in the foreground left and NASA 911 background – formation lead) in formation at the initial (over the mine east of EAFB). The SCAs were used to ferry Space Shuttles from landing sites back to the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, and to and from other locations too distant for the orbiters to be delivered by ground transport.  The orbiters were placed on top of the SCAs by Mate-Demate Devices, large gantry-like structures that hoisted the orbiters off the ground for post-flight servicing then mated them with the SCAs for ferry flights. As part of the Boeing led SCA mod, NASA 911 and NASA 905 were equipped with more powerful JT9D-7J engines in place of the standard airplane’s JT9D-7A engines. This increased thrust from 46,950 pounds to 50,000 pounds (kilonewtons) each. While carrying a space shuttle, the SCA’s maximum speed was 0.6 Mach (432 miles per hour, or 695 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and its range was only 1,150 miles (1,850.75 kilometers). It was first used in 1991 to ferry the new shuttle Endeavour from the manufacturers in Palmdale, California to Kennedy Space Center. NASA 911, was used as a source of parts for NASA’s  Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).  It is on loan for display to the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark in Palmdale, California.




Guadalcanal was mentioned above.  On February 8, 1943, Japanese troops evacuated the island and the Guadalcanal Campaign came to an end.  There are many accounts of this protracted battle.   In the months following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Japanese drove the Americans out of the Philippines, the British out of British Malaya, and the Dutch out of the East Indies. The Japanese then began to expand into the Western Pacific, occupying many islands in an attempt to build a defensive ring around their conquests and threaten the lines of communication from the United States to Australia and New Zealand. The Japanese reached Guadalcanal in May 1942.  When an American reconnaissance mission spotted construction of a Japanese airfield at Lunga Point on the north coast of Guadalcanal, the situation became critical.  This new Japanese airfield represented a threat to Australia itself, and so the United States as a matter of urgency, despite not being adequately prepared, conducted the first amphibious landing of the war. The initial landings of US Marines on 7 August 1942 secured the airfield.  It was renamed it Henderson Field after a Marine aviator killed in combat during the Battle of Midway.  Holding the airfield for the next six months facilitated one of the most hotly contested campaigns in the entire war for the control of ground, sea and skies. Aircraft operating from Henderson Field during the campaign were a hodgepodge of Marine, Army, Navy and allied aircraft that became known as the Cactus Air Force. Guadalcanal became a major turning point in the war as it stopped Japanese expansion. The US forces were really learning to wage war.  They were learning to prioritize logistics while dealing with limited assets as ‘Europe First’ was the order of the day.  Many paradigms were radically altered as a result of dealing with an experienced and ruthless foe.  In particular new techniques for operating cruisers and destroyers were forged in the crucible of night surface ship combat.  The waters of “Savo Sound” around and near Savo Island off the north coast of Guadalcanal would soon be nicknamed “Ironbottom Sound” as a result of this succession of battles and skirmishes.  After six months of fighting, the Japanese ceased contesting the control of the island. They finally evacuated the island at Cape Esperance on the north west coast in February 1943.  The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November ’42 marked the turning point in which Allied Naval surface ships took on the extremely experienced Japanese surface forces at night and forced them to withdraw after sharp action. The Japanese naval forces were never able to get better and the US naval forces never stopped getting better.  So again I recommend, Neptune’s Inferno: The US Navy at Guadalcanal.  It’s on the Fireball Book List.


Answer to sub recce:  Soviet Victor-III