9 of the most important tweets in military history - We Are The Mighty
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9 of the most important tweets in military history

Undaunted by the need for a proprietary algorithm and the fact that Twitter wasn’t founded until 2006, a group of military historians were able to dig up these tweets under the third ‘O’ of the HOLLYWOOD sign (just above WATM’s headquarters) after receiving a tip from the ghost of Jimmy Stewart in the American Legion Post 43’s men’s room. Like all important artifacts, these 9 tweets shed light on history (in this case in 140 characters or less):


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9 of the most important tweets in military history

(H/T to WATM’s Logan Nye for helping with these.)

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The RAF’s ‘Mach Loop’ turns intense fighter training into a spectator sport

If you’ve ever wanted to get an up close and personal view of fighter planes in training, but just never had the math scores to get into the cockpit, don’t lose hope. There is a magical place in Wales where the UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots conduct low-level flight training – and you can grab your camera and watch them fly on by.


9 of the most important tweets in military history
A C-130 in the Mach Loop (photo by Peng Chen)

The Machynlleth Loop, more popularly known as the Mach Loop, is a series of valleys in Wales between the towns of Dolgellau to the north and Machynlleth to the south. The area is well known among plane spotters and aviation enthusiasts as the place to so closely watch the RAF and its allies conduct maneuvers.

The Mach Loop is part of the British Ministry of Defence’s Tactical Training Low Flying Area and the pilots know there are troves of photographers watching the loop at all hours of the day… and they know exactly what the cameras want to see.

The RAF will fly Panavia Tornado fighters, as well as Eurofighter Typhoons and BAE’s Hawk Trainers through the Mach Loop, while the U.S. Air Force will fly F-15E Strike Eagles, F-22 Raptors, and even C-130J Super Hercules turboprop cargo planes.

The HD video shot from inside the cockpit of a Typhoon is also an incredible sight, especially for those of us who may never get to ride in a fighter, especially during a low-level flight exercise.
The ability to fly so close to the ground is an asset to a pilot’s skill set for many reasons. Non-stealth aircraft can fly low to the ground to penetrate enemy airspace, hit a target, and return to base. Flying so close to ground level can also allow pilots to escape from dangerous situations and surprise enemy aircraft. This is especially important, given how fighters perform against helicopters in combat.

Related: Air Force fighters got wasted by Army attack helos in this combat experiment

9 of the most important tweets in military history
An F-15 Strike Eagle in the Mach Loop in Wales (photo by Peng Chen)

Smaller fighters can fly as low as 100 feet off the ground, while larger planes, like cargo aircraft, can bottom out at 150 feet. If there’s an aspiring photographer out there who wants to fill their portfolio with amazing military aviation photos, it’s time to hop a plane to Wales.

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VA chief takes aim at veteran homelessness

The new Veterans Affairs chief shares the goal set by former President Barack Obama’s administration of ending homelessness among veterans, but says it’ll take longer than his predecessor predicted.


Reducing the number of homeless veterans nationwide from roughly 40,000 to 10,000 or 15,000 is an “achievable goal” for President Donald Trump’s administration, VA Secretary David Shulkin told The Associated Press during a visit to Rhode Island on Friday.

“This is a continuous problem of people finding themselves in economically difficult situations and then being out on the street or going from shelter to shelter,” Shulkin said.

Homelessness among veterans has been effectively ended in Virginia, Connecticut and Delaware and in more than 40 communities. The outgoing head of the VA, Robert McDonald, said in January that “we should be there” nationwide within a couple of years.

9 of the most important tweets in military history
Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the Honorable David J. Shulkin, visits the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, April 27. Shulkin, who visited the medical center for the first time, spoke with various providers throughout the facilities to learn about the medical care given at the hospital. (Photo by Megan Garcia, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Command Communications)

Shulkin, who formerly was VA undersecretary of health under Obama, said on Friday, “We’re still looking at a multi-year process.”

While advocates are encouraged to hear Shulkin’s commitment, some wish he was more ambitious.

“My personal take is, the VA secretary is being cautiously optimistic about what can be achieved and not wanting to kind of set the administration up for a missed goal,” said Lisa Vukov, who works to prevent and end homelessness in the Omaha, Nebraska, metropolitan area. “I’m a firm believer in setting your goals big because you achieve more that way.”

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said veteran homelessness can be ended during the Trump administration.

“There’s no reason we can’t achieve it if enough resources are dedicated to the fight,” said Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Shulkin said some veterans offered housing by the VA prefer other alternatives and high real estate prices and a shortage of available housing in some parts of the country make it hard to house veterans there. He sees the biggest challenge in Los Angeles.

Democratic Mayor Eric Garcetti said homelessness in Los Angeles is a long-term crisis, but the city has housed more than 8,000 veterans since 2014 and he’s fighting to ensure all veterans have a safe place to call home. Los Angeles voters approved a bond in November to raise $1.2 billion for up to 10,000 permanent units.

Navy veteran Chris N. Cardenas said there are some veterans who refuse help or have trouble accessing benefits because of mental illness or substance abuse issues, but 40,000 homeless veterans is far too many.

“That’s a very high number,” Cardenas said. “It can get down to zero for the ones that want the help.”

Cardenas, 52, said he stopped working as a deliveryman in Santa Fe because of problems with his right knee in 2013 and became homeless after he used up his savings. He moved into an apartment in the Santa Fe area in 2016 with the help of a VA grant program and is now a student at the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos.

“I’m at a loss for words because it’s so great,” he said. “It makes you feel like a functioning person in society.”

To get homeless veterans into permanent homes, the Obama administration used a program that was created in 2008 and combines rental assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development with case management and clinical services from the VA, so-called HUD-VASH vouchers. Some areas of the country currently have a waiting list for a voucher, including Los Angeles.

While programs for helping homeless veterans received funding increases in fiscal 2017, there’s less money for new HUD-VASH vouchers. There’s $40 million available, compared to $60 million for new HUD-VASH vouchers in 2016 and $75 million in 2015, according to HUD.

“We urge the VA to prioritize finishing the job and I have absolute confidence the new secretary has that commitment,” said Chris Ko, director of homeless initiatives for the United Way of Greater Los Angeles. “We need to see that commitment exercised in additional federal resources.”

Shulkin said he’s committed to maintaining the voucher program and continuing strategies that are working, such as housing people first and then pointing them toward help to confront the root cause of their homelessness.

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The Army wants to ditch the M249 SAW and give the infantry more firepower

The US Army is looking for an upgrade to the M249 squad automatic weapon, a mainstay of the infantry squad and its prime source of firepower.


According to a notice on the government’s Federal Business Opportunities website, first spotted by Army Times, the US Army is looking for the Next Generation Squad Automatic Rifle, or NGSAR, to replace the M249.

The NGSAR “will combine the firepower and range of a machine gun with the precision and ergonomics of a carbine, yielding capability improvements in accuracy, range, and lethality.”

The notice stipulates that NGSAR proposals should be lightweight and compatible with the Small Arms Fire Control system as well as legacy optics and night-vision devices.

9 of the most important tweets in military history
A M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) on a Stryker.(Photo by Patrick A. Albright, Fort Benning Public Affairs)

“The NGSAR will achieve overmatch by killing stationary, and suppressing moving, threats out to 600 meters, and suppressing all threats to a range of 1200 meters,” the notice states.

The FBO posting does not list a caliber for the new weapon. The M249 fires a 5.56 mm round, and the Army is currently examining rounds of intermediate caliber between 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm to be used in both light machine guns and the eventual replacement for the M4 rifle.

The desire to replace the 5.56 mm round comes from reports indicating it is less effective at long range, as well as developments in body armor that lessen the round’s killing power.

The M249’s possible replacement, the M27 infantry automatic rifle, has already been deployed among Marines and is now carried by the automatic rifleman in each Marine squad.

The M27 was first introduced in 2010, originally meant to replace the M249, but the Marine Corps is reportedly considering replacing every infantryman’s M4 with an M27.

9 of the most important tweets in military history
A Marine fires his M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle while conducting squad attack exercise in Bahrain on Dec. 1, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Manuel Benavides)

The notice also requires that the NGSAR come with a tracer-and-ball ammunition variant, which “must provide a visual signature observable by the shooter with unaided vision during both daylight and night conditions.”

The NGSAR should also weigh no more than 12 pounds with its sling, bipod, and sound suppressor. The M249 weighs 17 pounds in that configuration, according to Army Times. The notice does not include ammunition in its weight requirements.

The phasing in of M249 replacement should take place over the coming decade, the notice says.

 

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This is the Marine Corps’ first female boot camp mascot — and she’s adorable

Humans apparently aren’t the only ones breaking glass ceilings.


The Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, South Carolina just received its first female mascot, according to the Marine Corps Times.

The English bulldog, Opha Mae, is named after the first female Marine — Opha Mae Johnson, who enlisted in 1918, according to the Beaufort Gazette.

9 of the most important tweets in military history
Early female Marines (left to right) Private First Class Mary Kelly, May O’Keefe, and Ruth Spike. Photo courtesy of USMC.

She is “currently a poolee,” Marine Capt. Adam Flores told the Beaufort Gazette, “and will begin recruit training in the near future.” Opha Mae will be the 21st such mascot, but her starting date is currently unknown.

She will eventually take over duties, which include attending ceremonies and graduations, from Cpl. Legend, who is in poor health, the Beaufort Gazette said.

Here’s a video of Opha Mae:

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Watch China launch planes from its only aircraft carrier

Carriers are awesome. Even bad carriers are awesome. They’re floating fortresses with airstrips on the roof. They’re the original man-made islands.


And that’s why, potential adversary or no, China’s single aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, is pretty cool. It’s a smaller carrier built on a rusted relic purchased from Ukraine in 1998 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

9 of the most important tweets in military history
(Photo: YouTube/CGTN)

The former Soviet carrier was destined for a glitzy life as a floating casino, but the Chinese company that bought it gave the hull to the People’s Liberation Navy and it was treated for corrosion, given new engines and other major systems, and sent back to sea as the Liaoning, a combatant and training ship.

Now, the Liaoning is China’s only aircraft carrier in service, though another is almost ready for commissioning and more are reportedly under construction. The ship supports up to 24 J-15 fighters, though it typically carries fewer.

9 of the most important tweets in military history
(Photo: YouTube/CGTN)

The Liaoning is a darling of the Chinese propaganda effort, and its J-15 “Flying Shark” fighters are popular as well.

See China’s recent video of their launching J-15s off the Liaoning into the South China Sea below:

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Raids killed 35 ISIS commanders before Mosul offensive

U.S. airstrikes and special operations raids killed more than 35 ISIS military commanders in the run up to the Mosul offensive, which is proceeding according to plan, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Tuesday.


Carter also joined with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in stressing that the anti-ISIS campaign in Syria will be accelerated to encircle and then retake the self-proclaimed ISIS capital of Raqqa in northeastern Syria, in concert with the Mosul offensive.

Also read: Everything ISIS has lost at Mosul . . . so far

Last week, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, made similar remarks on a coordinated campaign against both Mosul and Raqqa. Votel stressed the “simultaneous application of pressure” on Raqqa and Mosul.

9 of the most important tweets in military history
75th Ranger Regiment conducing operations in Iraq, April 2007 | US Army photo

In opening remarks at an anti-ISIS coalition meeting in Paris, Carter said that the U.S. had been steadily targeting the Islamic State leadership in and around Mosul, “including many of the highest in the last 90 days. In fact, you might say the most dangerous job in Iraq right now is to be the military emir of Mosul.”

The efforts focused on “mid-tier leaders, which our special operations forces and our air forces have done remarkably well. We have caused a lot of confusion in the ranks of the defenders in Mosul by targeting a lot of mid-tier leaders there,” Carter said.

The strikes against the leadership “are going to pay off in the coming weeks” in the Mosul offensive as the Iraqi Security Forces press into the city itself, he said.

Carter said he expects to see moves against Raqqa to commence even as the advance on Mosul continues. “We want to see isolation operations begin, oriented at Raqqa, as soon as possible. We’re working with our partners there to do that, and so there will be some simultaneity to these two operations. We’ve long anticipated that.”

Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, overall commander of U.S. and allied efforts in Iraq and Syria as commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, was on board with the need to pressure ISIS in both Mosul and Raqqa, Carter said.

“While Mosul may be in the headlines, it’s not the only operation underway,” Carter said. He noted that Army Gen. Raymond A. “Tony” Thomas III, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, joined the anti-ISIS coalition meeting in Paris, which also focused on protecting Europe and the U.S. against the ISIS terror threat once Mosul and Raqqa have fallen.

Thomas has been put in charge of preventing ISIS’ “external operations,” Carter said. “That’s another critical issue that we’ll discuss today — our ongoing and intensive efforts to counter ISIL’s external operations,” he said, using another acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

“We are killing the ISIL terrorists who plot and would carry out such operations, impeding their movement across borders, and hindering their ability to use the Internet to spread ISIL’s hateful ideology,” he said.

Carter would not rule out that more U.S. and coalition troops might have to be deployed to the region to prevent an ISIS resurgence. He said that more trainers and advisers would be needed to prepare the Iraqis for a continuing counter-insurgency effort against ISIS and to train more Iraqi police and border control personnel.

Both Carter and Le Drian said that the Mosul operation is generally proceeding according to plan. “And while we know it will continue to be a tough fight — indeed, we’ll probably see more resistance as the fight goes on, and almost certainly as our partners approach the core of the city — I’m confident the Iraqi Security Forces will succeed,” Carter said.

On the outskirts of Mosul on Tuesday, Iraq’s elite Counter Terrorism Service units advanced to within two miles of the eastern city limits after pushing through the Christian town of Bartella and paused to allow other forces to move into place, Reuters reported.

At the Pentagon on Monday, U.S. military officials said that the advancing force consisted of about 20,000 Iraqi Security Forces and about 15,000 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. ISIS is estimated to have 3,000 to 5,000 fighters to defend the city where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the creation of a “caliphate” in June 2014.

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SOCOM and Marine Corps move closer to Ma Deuce replacement

There’s a lot going on behind closed doors in the ground services as planners see an opportunity to fundamentally change the mix of infantry weapons given bigger defense budgets and a command more receptive to change.


WATM earlier reported on moves in the Army to quickly outfit soldiers with an interim battle rifle capability with available 7.62 NATO chambered rifles to replace some standard-issue 5.56 M4s in the infantry squad and platoon. It now seems the service is set to issue an Urgent Needs requirement for over 6,000 battle rifles for soldiers in the fight now.

But in a move that analysts say could fundamentally transform the lethality of small units on the front lines, U.S. Special Operations Command and the Marine Corps have teamed up to find ways to replace some of their M2 .50 caliber machine guns and M240 machine guns with a new one chambered in an innovative round developed primarily for long-range precision shooters in the civilian market.

WATM reported in March that the services were taking a hard look at the Lightweight Medium Machine Gun developed by General Dynamics that fires the .338 Norma Magnum round — a relatively new cartridge that’s seen few military applications until now. According to sources in close touch with military planners, the .338 NM machine gun is 3 pounds lighter than the M240B and has double the range and lethality of the 7.62 round.

On May 11, SOCOM and the Marine Corps issued a so-called “Sources Sought” message to industry asking for a LWMMG that weighs less than 24 pounds, with a rate of fire between 500-600 rounds and which includes a suppressed and un-suppressed quick-change barrel.

9 of the most important tweets in military history
This slide from a recent industry briefing shows the LWMMG and its .338 NM round potentially reach targets beyond the .50 cal M2 range. Stats show an incredible 5x energy at 1,000 meters compared to the NATO 7.62 round. (Photo from General Dynamics)

The LWMMG should have the capability to accurately engage point targets out to 2,000 meters, SOCOM and the Marine Corps says.

The request is in answer to worries by military planners that the enemy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and other potential battlefields have widely-available small arms capabilities that can target U.S. troops at ranges Americans can’t reach with most weapons. Additionally, the M2 is extremely heavy and cannot be wielded by a single operator like the LWMMG can.

Documents show the 75th Ranger Regiment and Marine special operations units have successfully evaluated four LWMMGs and 16,000 rounds of .338 NM ammunition and want more.

The Sources Sought notice also includes a request for .338 NM ammunition with a polymer case rather than a brass or steel one — an effort to cut down on the overall weight of the system and allow more rounds per shooter. General Dynamics is well on its way to fielding a polymer-cased .338 round (less than 13 pounds for a 500-round box), and the Marine Corps is moving forward with outfitting its forces with polymer-cased .50 caliber rounds.

9 of the most important tweets in military history
The technology to develop lightweight rounds that can handle the heat and pressure of automatic fire is progressing rapidly. (Photo from General Dynamics)

“In my opinion, adoption of this capability is the single greatest small arms capability enhancement to the US military in the last century,” said one military small arms expert on the industry website SoldierSystems.net. “It offers the ability to deliver accurate sustained fire at ranges out to 2000m in a package which can be employed by one operator.”

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The ‘Chopper Popper’ scored the A-10’s first air-to-air kill…against an Iraqi helicopter

The A-10 Thunderbolt II, known affectionately as the Warthog, is the U.S. Air Force’s most beloved and capable close air support craft. Its low airspeed and low altitude ability give it an accuracy unmatched by any aircraft in the Air Force fleet. No matter what anyone in an Air Force uniform tells you.


9 of the most important tweets in military history
Sorry, Bruh. (U.S Air Force photo)

Read Now: Watch the effects of an A-10’s GAU-8 cannon on an enemy building

For one A-10 pilot, the CAS world was turned upside down in the First Gulf War. Captain Bob Swain was flying anti-armor sorties in central Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. After dropping six 500-pound bombs and taking out two Iraqi tanks with Maverick missiles, he saw potential tangos several miles away, just barely moving around.

“I noticed two black dots running across the desert that looked really different than anything I had seen before,” Swain told the LA Times in a February 1991 interview. “They weren’t putting up any dust and they were moving fast and quickly over the desert.”

He was tracking what he thought was a helicopter. When his OV-10 Bronco observation plane confirmed the target, Swain moved in for the kill. One of the targets broke off and moved north (back toward Iraq), the other moved south. The A-10 pilot tracked the one moving south but couldn’t get a lock with his AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles because the target was too close to the ground, just 50 feet above.

So he switched to the A-10’s 30mm GAU-8 Avenger cannon – aka the BRRRRRT.

9 of the most important tweets in military history

 

It would be the first air-to-air kill in the A-10’s operational history. But Swain didn’t know that. He was just concerned with taking it down and started firing a mile away from the helicopter. His shots were on target, but the helicopter didn’t go down.

“On the final pass, I shot about 300 bullets at him,” Swain recalled to a press pool at the time. “That’s a pretty good burst. On the first pass, maybe 75 rounds. The second pass, I put enough bullets down, it looked like I hit with a bomb.”

Swain’s A-10 became known as the “Chopper Popper” in Air Force lore and is now displayed on the grounds of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

9 of the most important tweets in military history

“We tried to identify the type of [helicopter] after we were finished, but it was just a bunch of pieces,” he later told the Air Force Academy’s news service.

After the war, Swain went back to his job flying Boeing 747s for U.S. Air and is still in the Air Force Reserve, now with the rank of Colonel.

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A videogame set in the trenches of World War I is surprisingly awesome

World War II has given the video game industry plenty of material, but a good World War I game is pretty hard to find.


Not anymore. A recently-released game set on the early 20th century battlefields puts players into the trenches, and it’s surprisingly good.

9 of the most important tweets in military history

The first World War was a very different kind of war. Soldiers often served in long stalemates between trench lines, or “went over the top” to attack the enemy. It was often a battle for just inches of more ground, and not allowing game players to move very far seems a bit counterintuitive in a game.

With the game “Verdun,” the developers took an innovative approach to this problem, and made a World War I game actually worth playing. The developers went to great lengths to use historically accurate equipment, uniforms, and weapons, and they used reconnaissance photos — and in some cases walked the ground — to recreate the landscape of 1914-1918 France.

9 of the most important tweets in military history

Still, a game that looks realistic could still turn out to be terrible. The gameplay is important, and “Verdun” excels in this area. While it’s a first-person shooter game, “Verdun” requires players to work along with their squad, much like they would if they really were in an infantry unit.

From Polygon:

What makes Verdun so different from other first-person shooters is the way battles ebb and flow. Some players are instructed to assault individual enemy strongpoints, while others are told to defend. Anyone who disobeys an order by moving outside the engagement area is killed — effectively shot on the spot for cowardice.

“The maps are a composition,” Hoebe said. “This imagery can all be found through Google. There are large collections of postcards on Flickr, but also Belgian towns post their historical collections online. I pretty much went through the extent of what could be found … and compressed this into on overall image.

The gameplay is unlike your typical World War II shooter or, any modern shooter for that matter. If you enjoy running around blasting the bad guys in “Call of Duty” while enduring quite a few hits, the realism of this game will certainly be a surprise.

“If you’re going into Verdun with a mind to cut about the place, emptying hot lead into the faces of all and sundry with reckless abandon, then you can quite rightly expect to be put into the ground very quickly. And many, many times, too,” writes Game Watcher.

There are three game modes: Frontlines, Attrition and Rifle Deathmatch. Deathmatch is the multiplayer slugfest you’d come to expect from most first-person shooters, except this one features no rocket launchers (sorry Doom fans) and only bolt-action rifles.

Frontlines is the game’s “campaign mode,” where you team up with your squad, ordered to capture or defend your ground. Attrition is centered around a single battle, with each side’s manpower levels being depleted as the player is killed and re-spawns.

“If nothing else, Verdun‘s given me an excellent understanding of what a mess World War I was,” Hayden Dingman wrote at PCWorld. “The game doesn’t have the best graphics, the best sound, the best character models, or what have you—and yet few games have so consistently stressed me out like Verdun.”

Here’s how the multiplayer gameplay looks:

NOW: These rare colorized photos show World War I like never before

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One of the Oregon militiamen guilty of semi-stolen valor, Ranger-style

As everyone watches the event in Oregon, which so far isn’t really a standoff, reporters are trying to figure out who the 12-150 people in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters building are.


9 of the most important tweets in military history
Ryan Payne speaks with Youtube vlogger Pete Santilli about the militia occupation of federal buildings at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: Youtube/Pete Santilli Show

Ryan Payne, a former soldier, is among them. He has been a prominent presence in the buildup to the occupation of the buildings in Oregon and claimed to have lead militia snipers who targeted — but didn’t fire on — federal agents during the showdown at the Bundy ranch in Nevada in 2014.

Payne claimed to be a Ranger on internet forums and during interviews early in the Bundy ranch standoff, but it’s been pointed out by a number of stolen valor sites that Payne never earned a tab.

“It’s all in the Ranger handbook,” Payne once said. “The Ranger handbook is like the quintessential fighting man’s story. You know, how to do this—everything to be a fighting guy. And having served in that type of unit, that was my Bible. I carried it around on me everywhere I went.”

The only Ranger-type unit Payne was in was the West Mountain Rangers, a militia that is likely not associated with the 75th Ranger Regiment.

Payne did serve in the Army and likely did some awesome stuff as a member of the 18th Airborne Corps Long Range Surveillance Company during the invasion of Iraq. The LRS is comprised of paratroopers who move behind enemy lines and conduct reconnaissance on enemy forces. But any paratrooper knows the difference between being Airborne and being an Airborne Ranger.

The difference is at least two months of grueling training, longer for the 34 percent of graduates who have to recycle at least one phase of the 61-day course. The difference is an assignment to one of the three battalions of the storied Ranger Regiment. The difference is earning the scroll, tab, and beret that are worn by actual Rangers.

It was after members of the Ranger community called him out that Payne switched from touting his fictional credentials as a Ranger to his actual “achievements” of targeting federal police officers with sniper rifles.

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Russia sold its enemy the metal for the greatest spy plane ever

In the ultimate irony of Cold War-era surveillance, one of America’s most effective spy planes — and literally the fastest plane ever built — could never have happened without the help of its intended target, the Soviet Union.


Turns out the Americans bought the metal it needed to help the SR-71 Blackbird withstand the temperatures of supersonic travel from its longtime rival Russia. These are just a few of the fun facts the Smithsonian revealed in a recent video on the plane.

The documentary features a tour of the SR-71 at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Former Blackbird pilot Buz Carpenter joins the tour, giving the lowdown on what kept the stealthy plane up in the air. Carpenter flew the SR-71 hundreds of times during its time in service, and he even flew the airplane that now resides at the Smithsonian.

The SR-71 had three nose options: A training nose, a radar nose, and a camera nose capable of taking a 72-mile wide photo. The film in that camera was 5 inches wide and 2 miles long. It had to be processed in 500-foot rolls.

The radar nose wasn’t required for navigation. The SR-71 had a pod that read the location of the stars in the sky and, as long as you gave the plane its initial position on the planet, the plane would know where it was anywhere in the world. This was 12 years before the global positioning system was first imagined by the U.S. military.

While the radar nose could assist with avoiding enemy ground fire, the Blackbird’s jamming and missile countermeasures usually meant — not to mention its 2,200 miles-per-hour speed — enemy surface-to-air missiles missed by a mile. Literally.

9 of the most important tweets in military history
Photo: US Air Force

That top speed meant the average temperature of the plane’s skin was upwards of 600 degrees. At that temperature, it couldn’t be built with aluminum, so it had to be built with 93 percent titanium – and that titanium came from Russia.

The Russians never knew to whom they were selling the titanium, but they sold enough to build 32 SR-71 Blackbirds — planes used primarily to spy on the Soviet Union. The windows were made of quartz and the plane was built with intentional gaps in the wings and fuselage to account for heat expansion during flight. The airplane grows about 2 inches in width and 4 inches in length because of the frictional heat. The hottest part of the plane could get to 1,200 degrees.

9 of the most important tweets in military history

The plane’s engines are unique to the Blackbird because no jet engine can absorb supersonic air. So they were specially designed to expand and contract with the airspeed. The extremely high airspeed gave the jet a unique sonic boom as it broke the sound barrier, and the Air Force routinely overflew foreign heads of state to remind them the U.S. could see them.

During the Vietnam War, President Richard Nixon ordered SR-71 pilots to fly over Hanoi and go supersonic to create a sonic boom as a signal to POWs held at the Hanoi Hilton. The booms let the downed pilots in the prison know that if they could escape, Navy SEALs were waiting on the North Vietnamese coast to help them.

Of the 12 Blackbirds rendered unserviceable (none were shot down), four of those came from tire failure. Engineers solved this by cutting the amount of fuel the plane carried during takeoff. A normal mission would see one or two in-flight refuelings. The plane had to refuel every two hours, either in air or on land.

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This Russian helicopter is an eight-bladed, troop-hauling, heavy-lifting beast

Russia’s Mil Mi-26 is one of the world’s largest helicopters and an absolute beast, capable of carrying 44,000 pounds, including 90 soldiers or 60 stretchers, anywhere. The 8 rotor blades are powered by two engines to generate the necessary lift.


Often called the world’s largest helicopter, it’s actually based on a prototype that was larger, the Mil V-12. The V-12 never went into full production, so the Mi-26 is the largest helicopter ever mass produced.

It was originally designed to carry heavy vehicles and ballistic missiles flown into country on large cargo planes. Now, the Mi-26 is used for a variety of military and civilian heavy-lift tasks, including sling loading large helicopters and carrying them to maintenance facilities.

Watch one of these monsters carry a Chinook in the video below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBP1cIh27Oo
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