The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
Oklahoma Air National Guard Airmen from the 138th Maintenance Squadron perform routine maintenance on an F-16 Fighting Falcon Oct. 6, 2016, in Tulsa, Okla.
U.S. Air Force Col. David Mineau, the 354th Fighter Wing commander, prepares to take off in an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft after finishing end of runway checks Oct. 10, 2016, during RED FLAG-Alaska (RF-A) 17-1 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. RF-A simulates the first 10 combat sorties of an initial surge during a conflict, enabling pilots to better understand the stresses of the environment.
A U.S. Army Soldier attending Ranger School simulates being wounded and yells for help while lying in the river during a mass casualty exercise at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla, Sept. 28, 2016.
Florida National Guard Soldiers, assigned to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, cross a rope bridge during a mountain obstacle course, part of the final day of the French Marines Desert Survival Course at Arta Plage, Djibouti, Oct. 10, 2016.
CHESAPEAKE BAY, Md. (Oct. 17, 2016) Aircraft CF-02, an F-35 Lightning II Carrier Variant attached to the F-35 Pax River Integrated Test Force (ITF) assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 completes a flyover of the guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000).
U.S. Marines and Soldiers from the Singapore Armed Forces stage their vehicles in preparation for the final exercise of Exercise Valiant Mark 2016 Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California Oct. 11, 2016.
Marines with 2nd Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (2d ANGLICO) prepare for tactical beach landing drills with 148 (Meiktila) Commando Forward Observation Battery, as part of exercise Joint Warrior on Cape Wrath, Scotland, Oct. 13, 2016. Joint Warrior is a multinational exercise which increases 2d ANGLICO’s capacity to operate and integrate with Joint, International, Interagency, and Multinational (JIIM) partnerships.
A U.S. Coast Guard H-60 Jayhawk departs Coast Guard Base Portsmouth, in Portsmouth, Va., on Oct. 10, 2016, following a a damage assessment of North Carolina. Coast Guard personnel have been working with numerous state and local agencies in response to the storm damage.
USCG Cutter Thetis crewmembers assisted the Royal Netherlands Navy (RNLN) HNLMS Holland crew, Dutch Marines and American Red Cross with loading supplies for the World Food Program USA at the Haitian Coast Guard station in Les Cayes, Haiti, this week.
After claiming last year that the F-35 would assume the close air support role once the A-10 was retired, U.S. Air Force officials this week showed signs that they are rethinking that strategy.
“My requirements guys are in the process of building a draft-requirements document for a follow-on CAS airplane,” Lt. Gen. Mike Holmes, the deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements, said at an Air Force Association breakfast attended by Phillip Swarts of Air Force Times. “It’s interesting work that at some point we’ll be able to talk [about] with you a little bit more.
“I have seen a draft of it, it’s out for coordination. It’ll go to the chief sometime this spring, and then we’ll fold that into the larger study we’re doing on the future of the combat air forces.”
Aviation experts, aficionados, lawmakers, ground troops, and even Air Force pilots pushed back hard against the notion that the F-35 would be as effective as the A-10 has been and continues to be in the close air support role. Critics complained that Air Force leaders were sacrificing warfighting capability in their desire to field the Joint Strike Fighter — an airplane that is a tech marvel on paper but that has experienced many setbacks during the test phase that have made it wildly over budget and massively behind schedule. Now Air Force officials appear to be bowing to the pressure.
“The question is, exactly where is the sweet spot … between what’s available now and what would the optimum CAS replacement be,” he said. “We’re working along that continuum to see exactly where the requirement is that you can afford in the numbers we need to be able to do the mission.”
Holmes mentioned that perhaps the future trainer — known as T-X — could be morphed into a CAS platform but warned that it would be premature to add that requirement at this time.
“We’re really careful with the T-X requirement because if we add requirements to T-X now, then it could become unaffordable and we can’t replace the trainer role that we need it to replace,” Holmes said. “There is an option down the road that you might take the airframe that’s designed for T-X and use it for some other use, we have some money in our budget that will let us do the studies to do that.”
But the most definitive admission of the folly of trying to force the F-35 into the CAS role came from Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein last month. “I would never look at you and tell you, ‘Hey, the replacement, one-for-one, for the A-10 is the F-35,'” Goldfein said.
Okay, you’ve heard all the complaints about the F-35. It’s super-expensive. It’s got problems getting ready for combat. But in the real world, there’s no other option. And as WATM has already explained, the Marine Corps desperately needs to replace its F/A-18 Hornets.
But suppose, instead of blowing their RD money on the F-35, the Air Force, Navy, and Marines had decided to pull out File A56-7W and instead replicate Airwolf? They’d have gotten a much better deal – and it might even have helped the Army, too.
Airwolf’s specs (click here for another source) reveal this helicopter already took advantage of some stealth technology, had modern ECM systems and sensors, and very heavy armament (four 30mm cannon, two 40mm cannon, and various air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles). All in all, it’s very powerful, even if it was the brainchild of one of the big TV showrunners of the 1980s and 1990s.
So, why does it beat the F-35? Here are some of the reasons.
1. It can operate off any ship
With a top speed of over Mach 2, Airwolf may have the performance of a fighter jet, but it takes off and lands like a helicopter – without the need for the complex mechanisms used on the V-22 Osprey.
Think of it this way; with Airwolf in its hanger deck every surface combatant and amphibious ship could carry what amounts to a Generation 4.5 fighter. Even the Littoral Combat Ships could handle Airwolf, giving them a lot more punch in a fight than they currently have.
2. It would replace more airframes than the F-35 would
The F-35 is replacing the AV-8B Harrier, F/A-18 Hornet, F-16 Fighting Falcon, and A-10 Thunderbolt II in U.S. service. Airwolf not only would replace all four of those airframes, but it would also replace all of the AH-1 and AH-64 helicopters in Marine Corps and Army service. The promise of the TFX program as originally envisioned in the 1960s could be fulfilled at last!
3. Better performance
According to an Air Force fact sheet, the F-35 has a top speed of Mach 1.6, a ceiling of 50,000 feet, and a range of 1,350 miles without refueling. Airwolf hits a top speed of Mach 2, a ceiling of 100,000 feet, and a range of 1,450 miles.
In other words, Airwolf would have the F-35 beat in some crucial areas. Now, the F-35 might have an advantage in terms of payload (fixed-wing planes usually have that edge), but the fact remains, Airwolf would have been a very viable candidate for that competition – and might have had the edge, given that the Army would have bought airframes to replace the Apache.
Oh, and here’s the Season 1 opener, just for kicks:
The promise of this seemingly futuristic weapon system is no longer a thing of mystery, speculation, or sci-fi movies, but rather something nearing operational use in combat. The weapon brings such force, power, and range that it can hold enemies at risk from greater distances and attack targets with a fire and kinetic energy force equivalent to a multi-ton vehicle moving at 160 miles per hour, developers have said.
The Office of Naval Research is now bringing the electromagnetic railgun out of the laboratory and into field demonstrations at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division’s new railgun Rep-Rate Test Site at Terminal Range.
“Initial rep-rate fires of multi-shot salvos already have been successfully conducted at low muzzle energy. The next test sequence calls for safely increasing launch energy, firing rates, and salvo size,” a statement from ONR says.
Railgun rep-rate testing will be at 20 megajoules by the end of the summer and at 32 megajoules by next year. To put this in perspective; one megajoule is the equivalent of a one-ton vehicle moving at 160 miles per hour, ONR information states.
“Railguns and other directed-energy weapons are the future of maritime superiority,” Dr. Thomas Beutner, head of ONR’s Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department, said in a statement. “The US Navy must be the first to field this leap-ahead technology and maintain the advantage over our adversaries.”
The weapon works when electrical power charges up a pulse-forming network. That pulse-forming network is made up of capacitors able to release very large amounts of energy in a very short period of time.
The weapon releases a current on the order of 3 to 5 million amps — that’s 1,200 volts released in a ten millisecond timeframe, experts have said. That is enough to accelerate a mass of approximately 45 pounds from zero to five thousand miles per hour in one one-hundredth of a second, Navy officials said.
Due to its ability to reach speeds of up to 5,600 miles per hour, the hypervelocity projectile is engineered as a kinetic energy warhead, meaning no explosives are necessary. The hyper velocity projectile can travel at speeds up to 2,000 meters per second, a speed which is about three times that of most existing weapons. The rate of fire is 10-rounds per minute, developers explained.
A kinetic energy hypervelocity warhead also lowers the cost and the logistics burden of the weapon, they explained.
Although it has the ability to intercept cruise missiles, the hypervelocity projectile can be stored in large numbers on ships. Unlike other larger missile systems designed for similar missions, the hypervelocity projectile costs only $25,000 per round.
The railgun can draw its power from an on-board electrical system or large battery, Navy officials said. The system consists of five parts, including a launcher, energy storage system, a pulse-forming network, hypervelocity projectile, and gun mount.
While the weapon is currently configured to guide the projectile against fixed or static targets using GPS technology, it is possible that in the future the railgun could be configured to destroy moving targets as well, Navy officials have explained over the years.
The Navy, DoD and even the Army are also experimenting with integrating the railgun hypervelocity projectile with existing weapons platforms such as the Navy’s 5-inch guns or Army Howitzer.
Possible Railgun Deployment on Navy Destroyers
Also, the Navy is evaluating whether to mount its new electromagnetic railgun weapon to the high-tech DDG 1000 destroyer by the mid-2020s, service officials said.
The DDG 1000’s Integrated Power System provides a large amount of on-board electricity sufficient to accommodate the weapon, Navy developers have explained.
Navy leaders believe the DDG 1000 is the right ship to house the railgun, but that additional study was necessary to examine the risks.
Also, with a displacement of 15,482 tons, the DDG 1000 is 65-percent larger than existing 9,500-ton Aegis cruisers and destroyers.
The DDG 1,000 integrated power system, which includes its electric propulsion, helps generate more than 70 megawatts of on-board electrical power, something seen as key to the future when it comes to the possibility of firing a railgun.
It is also possible that the weapon could someday be configured to fire from DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. Something of that size is necessary, given the technological requirements of the weapon.
For example, the electromagnetic gun would most likely not work as a weapon for the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship.
“Would you like to spend 30 days on an island where the fishing is good, food is excellent, housing quarters are modern and free movies are shown every night?” That was the Air Force’s pitch to attract volunteers to serve aboard the Texas Towers, a series of offshore early warning radar platforms built in the 1950s off the coast of Cape Cod and Long Island. These bizarre-looking structures, named for their resemblance to Texas oil rigs, were built to give our air defenses an additional 30 minutes of warning time in the event of an attack by Soviet bombers.
The call for volunteers, which appeared in The Airman magazine, brought a rush of applications. To further sweeten the deal, Airmen who served aboard the Towers were given two weeks of leave for every six at sea. But the reality of life aboard was nothing like what the Air Force had promised. The Air Force never found a safe way to take men on and off the towers, even in calm seas (which are rare in that part of the Atlantic). Supplying the towers was a logistical nightmare. It wasn’t long before the boarding procedures had cost the lives of two airmen and caused untold injuries.
Emergency plans and procedures were woefully inadequate. The same stability issues that would eventually lead to disaster earned Texas Tower 4 (TT4) the nickname “Old Shakey” among the crew.
Five towers were planned, three were built, one was doomed.
On the night of January 15, 1961, Texas Tower 4 toppled over in heavy seas and was swallowed by the North Atlantic, taking 14 Airmen and 14 civilian contractors to the bottom with it.
This is a story of WTF?!? Cold War engineering.
It’s a story of leaders who had all the warnings and ignored them.
And it’s the all too common story about what happens when service members are put in harm’s way by blatantly flawed technology and lowest-bidder contracts.
Design, Construction, and Good Intentions
The Texas Towers were designed to take anything the North Atlantic could throw at them. Probability studies at the time established a criterion of 125 mile-per-hour winds and 35-foot breaking waves, so they were expressly designed to withstand that.
No such structure had ever been built in the open Atlantic or anywhere in a depth of 185 feet. For reference, TT2’s legs measured only 160 feet long; the first 48 feet settled snugly into the seabed, the middle 55 feet were immersed in water, and the top 60 feet rose above the water’s surface.
The DeLong Corp — an engineering and construction company specializing in the design and construction of docks and similar structures — evaluated all the problems of TT4, installing in 180 feet of water, and formatted a fair estimate for all three towers. Their estimate for TT4 was a million dollars more than TT1 or TT3, given TT4’s greater depth. J. Rich Steers Inc., a competing engineering and construction company, submitted an estimate in the competition of DeLong and outbid them. Steers’ bid for TT4 was less than a quarter-million higher than their bid for TT3. DeLong would later testify that he assumed lack of knowledge on Steers’ part was the reason for this bid–which failed to consider the depth difference between the two towers. (See the table below.)
J. Rich Steers, Inc. and Morrison-Knudsen, Inc.
Raymond Concrete Pile ad DeLong Corp
Merritt-Chapman and Scott Corp
“The sea doesn’t get tired…”
In a hearing following the disaster, Delong testified the K-bracing for TT4 was the best-known construction method for the situation. He further explained any bracing generates additional resistance against the structure from the sea. To work properly, bracing needs to be left out of the water motion zone, meaning they had to keep bracing below any wave action. He said the use of pins in the legs of the tower would cause trouble because,
“The sea works on it at all times, causing an impact at the clearance. There is one thing we can all be sure of, the ocean is not going to get tired. You will get tired, or metal, or anything else will tire, before the ocean will get tired.”
According to Mr. DeLong’s testimony, the base of TT4 was not moored deep enough into the seabed. TT2’s bases were sunk 48 feet into the substrate. This was sufficient, based on DeLong’s experience in the Gulf of Mexico. TT4’s base extended just 18 feet into the sand bottom. He would testify, “you are on awful shaky assumptions that 18 or 20 feet is enough.”
J. Rich Steers built TT3 and TT4, and Mr. Rau, as the Vice President and chief engineer of J. Rich Steers, Inc., testified he was fully aware of the construction of TT3 and TT4. In addition, the Navy had a representative present during tower construction and erection. Captain Foster was a U.S. Naval Civil Engineer Corps commander who oversaw many large-scale projects before becoming responsible for Texas Tower 4. The legs, with their bracing, and platform were all constructed in Portland, Maine. The contractor, J. Rich Steers, requested an increase in the space between pins and the holes on the leg braces, originally designed to be 1/64inch. Pin tolerance increases to 1/16-inch for above water pins and expansions to 1/8 inch below water. The request for larger holes underwater was because the water made them difficult to insert. Upon consulting the design engineers, Captain Foster agreed to all of the tolerance increases.
Not the Navy’s Problem
TT4 would be damaged by the sea before it was even in position. After floating the legs into position out at sea, the construction crew had to ride out a storm. The rough weather damaged the legs’ diagonal braces. One brace broke off entirely.
There were only two options:
Sail the legs back to Portland, put the legs in dry dock, and install braces properly.
Or an engineer could rig braces underwater.
The Navy representatives managing the construction decided to upend the legs and design and install permanent underwater braces. The underwater braces were supposed to fit exactly as the originals had. But because only a stub against the leg remained when the brace broke off, the new braces were attached to the leg by two half sleeves, forming a collar which had to be bolted underwater around the joint.
These retrofitted braces didn’t solve the tower’s stability issues. A December 4, 1958 report detailed a series of underwater inspections called “Texas Tower No. 4; Stability and Deficiencies.” It explained that approximately half of the bolts were loose and could be extracted by hand. Immediate details established that the bolts were not of design diameter and length, something Captain Foster approved, and some holes were oversized. Effective July 1, 1959, Commander Foster was detached from his duty associated with TT4, and the Navy was no longer directly involved in any of its problems.
Tower Operations & Life Aboard
By the end of 1955, the first Tower, TT2, began radar operations. Its three radar domes protected an FPS-3A and twin FPS-6 height radars that were programmed to detect “targets of B-47 size, flying about 50,000 feet, up to 200 nautical miles away.”
Unfortunately, It was only after the tower was in place that the Air Force found low-altitude radar gaps in the tower’s range. The same targets flying at low altitudes, around 500 feet, were only noticeable by radar up to 50 nautical miles away. Airborne Early Warning and Control, also known as AEW&C, aircraft needed to patrol the oceans to provide adjunct coverage to the Texas Towers.
TT2 and TT3 stood firmly in waters that were 56 and 80 feet from their installation, respectively. TT4 was different in its design because it had underwater bracing to compensate for the extra stresses of being in 185 feet of water. Despite constant reports of excessive wobbling aboard TT4 and the crewmembers’ nicknaming it “Old Shaky,” in the summer of 1960, the contractor reported the original design strength restored. Each of the towers was different as each had its unusual movement. The crewmembers on TT2 reported the platform had a juggling motion, while TT3 was a twisting motion. TT4, however, weaved, wobbled, and lurched like a living thing.
On September 12, 1960, Hurricane Donna produced winds of 132 miles per hour and breaking waves over 50 feet, forces that exceeded all of the design specifications of up to 125 miles per hour and breaking waves up to 35 feet. These surpassing forces broke part of the below water bracing. The post-storm damage estimates afforded an overall strength of 55% of what it was before the hurricane.
Storm damage after Donna forced the Air Force and its construction contractor to begin renovating TT-4 on February 1, 1961. Donald Slutzky was a technical representative with the Burroughs Corp., who serviced computer data for a year on TT4. After the November hurricane, Slutzky and others aboard the Tower decided to leave, believing that the structure was unsafe.
The tower would shake, and the noise aboard was constant, and then there were the Russians. “Some nights, the lights were so thick you thought you were back at Coney Island,” one airman remembers thinking about the fleets loitering of Russian fishing trawlers swarming the towers.
There were even rumors of infiltration by Soviet frogmen. “A body of legends grew up telling of “damp footprints encountered in passageways and of mysterious strangers furtively sipping coffee in the mess hall at 3 a.m.”
What the towers lacked in comfort, they made up for in food, beer, movies, and calls home
The Airforce spared no expense in making life aboard the towers comfortable. Funds were 70% above their parent squadron, and food allowances were 14% over stateside allowances. The towers had hobby shops, pizza parties, barbeques, daily beer rations, and movies every night, but weeks aboard the platforms was enough to give even the most stable airman “tower fever.”
The isolation, bone-chilling cold, and screaming wind didn’t help, and unbearable noises were built into the tower. Diesel engines roared incessantly while air blowers whined, and radios echoed unnervingly down the steel hallways. In foggy weather, the world’s largest blow horn blasted every twenty-nine seconds. The horn of TT2 once hollered for three weeks straight while hidden in the fog.
Communication was essential for the towers and the shore. Not only was it vital for the radar reports to be transmitted back to the SAGE system, but without this line of communication, the tower would be incapacitated. Unlike so much about the towers, comms actually worked as intended.
Point-to-point tropospheric scatter systems, officially called FRC-56 but known as the troposcatter, transmitted and received messages from shore and were generally unaffected by atmospheric disturbances. They worked well for SAGE communications and the telephone circuits patched in. Voice communications through the troposcatter were reliably maintained, and anyone could call home after duty hours by merely dialing the Otis Operator through the troposcatter.
Supply and Evacuation
The 4604th Texas Support Squadron had its headquarters at Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod. It provided the Texas towers with staffing and controlled the towers’ activity. In addition, a supply ship, the USNS New Bedford or AKL-17, under Captain Manguel’s supervision, supported the Air Force Islands.
Getting to and from the tower was a significant problem encumbered by New England Weather. Calm days with good visibility are the exception, not the rule, in this corner of the Atlantic.
The escape procedures were limited to methods that were dangerous on a good day. Knotted ropes could be suspended over the side, and crewmembers could climb the ropes to get from the tower’s platform to ships floating in the sea below. Many crewmembers preferred helicopter transport to and from the tower, but Atlantic wind and weather ultimately dictated the service. The mission of flying to the towers was so dangerous that the helicopters only flew in pairs, so if one of them went into the sea, the other could begin rescue operations. Therefore, when one helicopter landed on the platform’s deck, the other had to hover overhead.
The only other way off the tower was referred to by tower members as the “Doughnut.” Nothing in nautical or aeronautical history resembles this device used to transfer personnel between the tower and supply ships, ninety feet below. A colossal aircraft tire innertube was inflated and picked up by the tower’s cargo crane and suspended over the black water. With passengers clinging for dear life, the tube was then lowered or plummeted straight down and onto the pitching and rolling ship. The trip was, in the words of one airman, “enough to make a paratrooper queasy.” Most mariners on the supply ships declined the invitation to come aboard after seeing the doughnut.
Too slow for missiles
Simultaneously, on November 16, 1960, the Airforce ceased the tower’s radar operations and reduced the crewmembers aboard from about 75 to 28, consisting of 14 Air Force and 14 civilian maintenance personnel. By that time, the invention of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) had rendered the towers obsolete, reducing their early warning advantage from 30 minutes to around 30 seconds.
Though their strategic usefulness was behind them, a major reason to keep the towers crewed was to prevent the Soviets from taking claiming them through salvage rights.
The collapse of Texas Tower 4
Captain Gordon Phelan was the Officer in Charge of TT4, and he made a special effort to communicate to the crewmembers onboard the day-to-day structural condition of the tower. His superiors cited his leadership for maintaining the high morale of fellow officers and subordinates aboard the doomed platform. He was recommended for the Legion of Merit when he prevented hysteria aboard the fully staffed tower during Hurricane Donna.
Phelan’s superiors would testify that the captain aboard the tower had the authorization to evacuate if he deemed conditions unsafe effective January 7. However, in a tragic miscommunication, this policy was not relayed to Captain Phelan until hours before the collapse.
Early on the morning of January 14, 1961, TT4’s weather advisory changed, calling for winds from 40 to 60 knots. At about 1330 hrs that afternoon, the AKL-17 completed its loading 202 tons of bulky equipment but no passengers from TT4 and cast off from the tower. Anticipating a North Atlantic Gale, Captain Phelan advised Captain Manguel to stay near the tower for possible evacuation as he would contact the 4604th Support battalion. Captain Manguel replied that if the evacuation was to remain an option, it needed to start while the weather was still good. Soon after, Captain Phelan informed Captain Mangual that the personnel would remain on the tower with the AKL 17 standing by. In other words, if evacuation became necessary, it would be too late to evacuate.
Texas Tower 4, as seen from the supply ship USNS New Bedford (AKL-17) PHOTO/ DOD
Major Stark, the officer in charge at the 4604th Support battalion, who could order an evacuation of the tower at any time, was back on Otis at the time and later testified that he was in a bowling tournament on base from 1300 to 1400. However, he felt confident no telephone call in from Captain Phelan because it would have been reported.
That evening, at 2130 hrs on Otis AFB, Major Stark briefed Major Sheppard that he did not believe the weather forecast was severe enough to warrant the tower’s evacuation. He spoke to Captain Phelan a couple of times during the day and thought there was no reason for alarm or concern of any kind, and that everything was going fine. Major Sheppard was not aware of the worsening forecast of 60-knot winds for TT4. Had he been, he would have directed the evacuation of the tower. Major Sheppard was not particularly concerned because the tower had “just gone through the same situation six days before without any difficulty or motion.” They concluded that Major Sheppard had no need to contact the tower, and he did not communicate until 1600hrs the following day.
On January 15, at 1018 hrs, the U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office issued TT4 a wave warning beginning at 1900 hrs, calling for easterly seas 17 to 20 feet. Neither TT4 nor the 4604th support squadron ever acknowledged this receipt. The sea had continued its turbulence and the wind was forecasted for gusts of 60 knots most of the day. At 1000 hrs, Captain Phelan was asked if he was concerned about getting off the tower and he replied, “Well, you know as well as I that we can’t get off now.”
At approximately 1300 hrs, Captain Phelan called his wife, who lived near Otis Airforce Base in Falmouth, MA. They had a long conversation. He told her that the tower was “gyrating,” a word Mrs. Phelan said her husband never used to describe the tower’s behavior. Captain Phelan told her it was rough on board, and she believed he was especially concerned about the wind and waves.
She asked him what would happen if the tower collapsed. He told her that it would not float.
She asked if there were any watertight compartments, and he replied, “absolutely not.”
Captain Phelan thought it was asinine for the AKL-17 to be around because it would be impossible to use the doughnut in such rough seas. If the tower fell, Phelan told his wife, no one would be saved, and the AKL or any other craft would be useless.
She asked if the tower would float for a short time to allow them to use the boat. He said,when it went in, it would go in real fast.
Finally, he called the Skipper of the AKL-17 and told him to go back home or his vessel would soon be swamped.
The Wasp or the bottom of the sea
Around 1530 hrs, Lieutenant Roberts amended the weather forecast to maximum gusts of 75 knots. When Captain Phelan had reported one gust of 72 knots, he said, “Well, now maybe they will do something about it.” Lieutenant Roberts testified that he interpreted this remark to mean that Captain Phelan had been previously trying to contact someone without success.
At approximately 1600, Captain Phelan reported to Major Sheppard that he heard a loud noise, and the tower sway increased. He thought another brace had broken, and there could be trouble if wind direction shifted.
Captain Phelan was concerned with a second storm on its way. When he suggested it would be wise to evacuate during a predicted lull between the two storms, Major Sheppard told him that as Tower OIC, he had discretionary authority to evacuate whenever he felt it was necessary. Captain Phelan then requested helicopters for the evacuation. Some time before 1745 hrs, Mr. Sheppard Called Captain Phelan and told him that the USS Wasp, an aircraft carrier, was being diverted and would arrive sooner than choppers from shore.
At about 1800, Captain Phelan called his wife and told her they were finally sending the USS Wasp and evacuating his crew with choppers. Safes containing classified materials were being thrown overboard. All hands were on deck, clearing the way for the helicopters. He told her the waves were 35 feet, and the wind was blowing 85 knots. The tower was breaking apart, he said. At approximately 1910 hrs, Captain Phelan advised Captain Mangual on the AKL-17 supply ship of their intent to be evacuated by air and that Captain Mangual should proceed to the nearest safe port.
At approximately 1915 hrs, Mr. Schutz called Otis to inform him all hands were still clearing the deck to receive choppers and then stated, “My next call to you will either be on the Wasp, or I will be in the sea. So long.”
At about 1920 hrs, Captain Manguel observed the tower’s signal on his radar screens aboard the AKL-17 when it suddenly disappeared.
He switched to another radar screen and was still unable to locate the structure. Captain Manguel, using the radio he had been in contact with Captain Phelan, called the radar station but received no response.
At 1933 hrs, he transmitted a “Triple X” message to the Coast Guard that “Texas Tower #4 had disappeared from radar contact, and he presumed that it was lost.”
Major search and rescue efforts recovered no survivors. One body was recovered from the radio room of the sunken Tower.
The exact cause of the tower’s collapse is unknown, but the most probable cause is the failure of the leg structure due to the ineffective bracing system between the A and B legs.
TT4’s platform leg design would never pass modern code checks, even for dead load only. Many structural members were loaded beyond yield, explaining the extensive damage TT4 suffered during Donna.
It was nothing short of a miracle that TT4 hadn’t gone down during Donna.
A recent inquiry into the collapse has yielded hindsight calculations that tell a more accurate story of what was going on structurally before and during the collapse. Design engineers had totaled the mass around 7500 tons, but current predictions automatically generate masses and include the hydrodynamic added weight of the water in flooded members. Therefore, design engineers omitted the extra 3,200 tons, and the structure’s predicted mass is a total of about 10,800 tons. Using pin connections over fully welded joints to eliminate secondary bending in joints, an accumulation of wear happened at the pin connections, causing the holes to enlarge.
Another weak point in the tower’s construction was the point where the legs met the seabed. TT4s legs were steel tubes with an outer diameter of 12.5 ft, reinforced with stiffening concrete to 50 feet below the surface. The lower part of the leg was hollow and used as ballast during transportation and installation and as a fuel tank after installation. This section is the weak part of the leg which broke near the footings during the fatal storm. The design engineers likely overlooked the possibility of the legs buckling.
TT 2 and 3
After the collapse of TT4, the remaining towers, TT2 and TT3, were inspected for safety, and their practicality was reassessed. New policies were drafted, but the lingering threat from the Soviet trawlers that loitered around the towers had to be accounted for. From 1961 on, if extreme weather conditions were forecasted, a tower evacuation down to a seven-member standby crew was to be ordered.
The purpose of the standby crew was to guard against the Soviet Sailors attempting to board the platform and claim possession on the grounds of salvage rights.
Considering the towers’ safety issues and their obsolescence, the Air Defense Command decided to phase out TT2 and TT3. A newer system, the Automatic Long Range Input (ALRI), would become fully operational by radars mounted on AEW&Con aircraft based out of Otis AFB, Massachusetts.
These planes already flew constant missions to scan the Texas tower radar web gaps, so they only had to increase their flight time to replace the coverage from the towers. The EC-121 aircraft flew countless radar surveillance missions by their nineteen-member crews in the 1950s and 1960s. The EC-121H Super Constellation, or the “Warning Star,” carried more than six tons of radar and computer communications equipment.
In 1963, ALRI stations became operational, and the towers were no longer needed. On January 15, 1963, TT2 was decommissioned, stripped of its communication and electronic equipment. The next phase would be to dynamite the legs and float the platform to shore. When the legs were dynamited, however, the platform plunged into the ocean and sank to the bottom.
Salvage was not possible. Like TT4, TT2 sits on the bottom of the ocean. TT3 was filled with urethane foam to make it buoyant, floated home, and scrapped.
Fall of the warning stars
On March 2, 1965, the 551st Wing at Otis AFB celebrated “more than 350,000 hours of early warning radar surveillance missions over the North Atlantic without an accident involving personal injury or a fatality.” Thse were the “warning star” early warning aircraft that had supplemented and eventually replaced the Texas Towers.
Less than 19 weeks later, on July 11, 1965, their good safety record was shattered when one of the Super Constellation aircraft developed fire, and the crew ditched the plane in the North Atlantic, approximately 100 miles from Nantucket. Of the 19 crew, there were three survivors, nine bodies were recovered, and the remaining seven were missing and presumed dead.
A similar accident happened the following year on Veterans Day when another Super Constellation crashed in the same general area as the first one. All 19 crew members were killed, and their bodies were never recovered.
Five months later, on April 25, 1967, the 551st AEW’s commander, Colonel James P. Lyle, was piloting another EC-121H when an engine fire broke out. The aircraft went down in the North Atlantic one mile south of Nantucket while attempting an emergency landing. There were fifteen fatalities and one survivor. Only two bodies were recovered. Colonel Lyle had presented folded flags to the next-of-kin of the men under his command from the previous crashes. Now it was his family’s turn to receive one.
The EC-121H aircraft was phased out, and the 551st Wing was deactivated on December 31, 1969. In total, 50 service members died in these three plane crashes, bringing the death toll of the North Atlantic Advanced Early Warning mission to over 78.
Image: U.S Air Force Museum
“You either drown, or you don’t.”
When Captain Phelan and the men of TT4 went down, there was no helm to command, no wheel or tiller to steer, and there was nothing they could have done on the night of January 15, 1961, to save themselves. They died in a structure that was built more like a building than a ship, and it certainly wasn’t watertight. As the captain told his wife on the telephone hours before the tower did this, if it goes in, it will go in real fast.
As he did during Hurricane Donna, Captain Phelan likely maintained command of the military and civilian men on board. There’s no evidence of panic, even though there was nothing to do but panic. The Airmen and civilians fought for each other and their lives to keep the helicopter landing area clear, but the helicopters had not taken off from the Wasp yet when the legs buckled and the tower went down.
We will never know if tower leadership was trying to contact Major Stark between 2 and 3 p.m., while the Major was occupied at a Bowling Tournament on Otis Air Force Base. All we know is that no action was taken by his command until it was too late.
The Texas Towers themselves are relics of the scrapheap of forgotten Cold War technology. But, this sort of preventable catastrophe, where military brass has all the warnings and fails to act, has repeated itself again and again.
Most recently, in July 2020, eight Marines and a sailor drowned when their twenty-six-ton amphibious assault vehicle sank off a California island. The incident resulted from inadequate training, a vehicle in “horrible condition,” and lapsed safety.
Untrained for the situation, in forty-five minutes after water first leaked inside, most service members hadn’t shed their combat gear and body armor. “The key moment in the mishap was when water was at ankle level… and the vehicle commander failed to order the evacuation of embarked troops, as required by the Common Standard Operating Procedures for AAV Operations,” the investigation officer wrote. “Instead, the vehicle commander was more focused on getting back to the ship, vice evacuating the embarked personnel.”
Water flooded the troop compartment, causing the AAV’s nose to rise, and then it quickly sank with eleven men still inside. Only three Marines made it to the surface — and only two of them survived. After the Navy recovered it from a depth of three-hundred and eighty-five feet of water, technical inspections and analyses of the amtrac revealed anomalies, loose or missing parts, and worn seals.
Sebastian Junger writes in The Perfect Storm, “everyone takes their chances, and you either drown or you don’t.”
It is that stark simplicity that makes seafaring professions so alluring and so deadly.
Men and women who earn their living at sea, in the military or as civilians, have long embraced the superstition that some among them are marked and that the sea will reclaim them eventually.
Whether it was nautical providence or just bad luck, the Atlantic had marked many among the original crew of the Texas Towers. After Hurricane Donna, the Air Force had ceased radar operations on TT4 and scaled the crew back from 75 to just 14, supported by an additional 14 civilian support personal. These were the 28 who went down that night in January 1961. Of the 50 fatalities from the subsequent “Warning Star” crashes, many had been survivors of Hurricane Dona, chosen by deep to join their fellow airmen another day.
About the authors:
Joshua Maloney served in the First Cavalry Division as an M1A2 SEP V2 loader and driver and as an HMMWV driver, dismount, and gunner. He has been a part of numerous combat and humanitarian aid missions. He has since gone on to advocate for student veterans as president of the Student Veterans of America Chapter at Cape Cod Community College.
Charles Daly is the co-author of Make Peace or Die: a life of Service, Leadership, and Nightmares.
New aircraft make up half the Navy’s $5.3 billion unfunded requirements list of items that didn’t fit in the 2018 budget request. But while the wishlist includes several upgrades to existing vessels, as well as new landing craft and barges, it doesn’t ask for any new warships.
Instead of ships, the unfunded requirements list prioritizes aircraft: $739 million for 10 F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighters takes first place, followed by $1 billion for six P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance planes, and $540 million for four F-35C Joint Strike Fighters. The fourth and fifth items are for upgrades to the Navy’s long-neglected infrastructure of shore facilities, reflecting military leadership’s desire to patch major holes in readiness.
about $3.4 billion of the request, or 63 percent, goes for weapons procurements. (The way the items are listed means this sum includes a small amount of RD funding as well). Of that, the lion’s share, $2.7 million, goes to buy new aircraft: the F-18s, P-8As, and F-35Cs, plus four cargo variants of the V-22 Osprey.
$1.3 billion, 24 percent, goes for facilities, counting both readiness funding (from the Operations Maintenance account) and Military Construction. $480 million, 9 percent, goes for other readiness needs, $330 million of it for aviation: logistics, spare parts, and general support.
$101 million, 2 percent, goes to research, development, testing, evaluation. (That’s not including small RDTE sums wrapped up in weapons upgrades we counted as procurement).
Just $90 million, 2 percent, goes to military personnel, filling holes in short-handed units rather than growing the force.
If you break the list up by priority ranking, you see some striking patterns. Almost all the procurement requests, $3.1 billion, are in the top 12 items, with the best odds of passing. What little RD money there is almost all comes in the top half of the list (items #1-24). Personnel requests, however, are clustered in the middle, with middling odds of being funded. Facilities is split: 53 percent of the request are in the top 12, 38 percent in the bottom 12, very little in the middle. Non-facilities readiness requests are almost entirely in the bottom half.
Specifically, when you discount lower-priority requests, procurement’s share jumps even higher, to 75 percent; facilities drops to 18 percent; other readiness to four percent; RD stays at 2 percent; and personnel falls to one percent of the request.
Yet despite all that emphasis on procurement, there are still no new ships. Congress will want to change that.
As such, they can not only strike within six feet of their aim point thanks to their precision guidance (an optional low-cost laser seeker will give the rounds the ability to engage a moving target), they can also travel over 12 miles when fired from a baseline mortar like the M120 120mm mortar or the M252 81mm mortar.
Now, imagine if these were dropped from a UAV from, say, 25,000 feet, as opposed to being fired by a mortar on the ground. During a presentation at the 2017 Armament System Forum in Fredericksburg, Virginia, hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association, Alan Perkins of UTC Aerospace Systems discussed how these mortars could be used on UAVs like the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper instead of the usual AGM-114 Hellfire missile.
The reason: The mortar rounds will have long range – in excess of 30 miles – when dropped from a UAV’s normal altitude. Furthermore their warheads are much smaller than the Hellfire’s. The 120mm mortar’s M57 round has about four and a half pounds of high explosive. Compare that to the 20-pound warhead on a Hellfire. That greatly reduces collateral damage, but when a 120mm mortar round lands six feet away from some ISIS terrorists, it still ruins their day.
In short, the old way of hitting ground targets for airplanes has become new again.
It’s not easy leading a country through wars and economic strife. All that hard work can in fact, make any man or woman hungry.
From cheeseburger pizza to custard pie, these are some of the favorite meals of US presidents.
Harry S. Truman
Famous chefs, including the easily-irritable Gordon Ramsay, have been known to criticize awell-done steak. Not Harry S. Truman though — he was once quoted as saying, “only coyotes and predatory animals eat raw beef.”
The 33rd President also enjoyed chocolate cake, chicken and dumplings, custard pie, and fried chicken.
As the President, you have at your disposal a button to send the world into a nuclear ice age. Fortunately, Lyndon B. Johnson used that power to instead install a button that was dedicated to have an aide bring him some Fresca.
If something smelled rotten in the White House, it may not have just been a White House scandal. President Richard Nixon was well-known to love his cottage cheese. It didn’t just end there though — the only President to resign in US history loved to have ketchup with his beloved cottage cheese.
As a hero for many in the Republican party, President Ronald Reagan’s economic policies has been debated for decades. However, he seldom showed his conservative side when it came to his favorite food: Jelly Belly jelly beans.
As a voracious consumer of these little treats, over three tons were consumed during his presidential inauguration in 1981.
He even had a special cup-holder designed for Air Force One so his jar of Jelly Belly beans wouldn’t spill during turbulence.
Just like a hot, juicy sex scandal, President Bill Clinton loved his hot and greasycheeseburgers.
Adorned with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, pickles and onions, his love for burgers was evenportrayed on an episode of Saturday Night Live. After health complications, he decided he would become a vegan in 2011.
In July 2007, then-White House chef Cristeta Comerford revealed that President George W. Bush loves his “home-made cheeseburger pizzas,” which is a Margherita pizza topped with minced meat, cheese, lettuce, and pickles (ew!).
President Bush also enjoys home-made chips, peanut butter, cinnamon bread, and pickles.
U.S. Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer 5 Christian Wade, a division gunner with the 2nd Marine Division, demonstrates how an M4-style short-barrel suppressor can get hot enough to cook — or even “vaporize” — bacon during a safety demonstration near Camp Lejeune, N.C., May 26, 2017, according to a release from the service.
The video, shot by Cpl. Clarence L. Wimberly, is part of the Marine Corps’ “Gunner Fact or Fiction” series designed to dispel common myths and misconceptions about the service’s weapon systems, the release states.
For every G above one that you experience, your weight increases by the G value. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds and experience 2 G’s, your weight increases to 300 pounds. At 5 G’s, you’re weight is 750 pounds (150 X 5).
A person’s G-tolerance depends on the body’s position, direction, and duration. Someone in the upright sitting position going forward experiencing front-to-back force will pass out at 5 G’s in 3 to 4 seconds. On the other hand, someone laying down feet first going forward can sustain 14 G’s for up to three minutes.
G-Loc — or passing out from G’s — happens when blood leaves the head, starving the brain of oxygen.
Beeding passed out due to shock while explaining his troubles to the flight surgeon. He was rushed to the hospital in critical condition when he woke up ten minutes later.
He made headlines when word got out that he sustain more G’s than John Stapp, who previously held the record at 46 G’s. Stapp famously used himself as a test subject in his cockpit design research to improve pilot safety against G-forces.
When asked about his achievement, Beeding was quick to point out that he was riding the sled backward and not forward like Stapp. He also said that his time at 83 G’s was “infinitesimal” compared to the 1.1 seconds endured by Stapp.
This clip from the U.S. Air Force Film “Pioneers of the Vertical Frontier” (1967) shows actual footage of both test pilots during their tests.
Mary Ryan has been the curator at the U.S. Naval Undersea Museum since October 2010. As curator, she leads the museum’s exhibit program, shapes the artifact collection, and connects the public to the museum’s rich subject matter. Mary has worked for 15 years as a curator, interpretive planner, and exhibit developer creating exhibitions and interpretive plans for museums and historic sites across the country. She earned her Master’s Degree in History Museum Studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Cooperstown, New York, and completed her undergraduate training in science and anthropology at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.
WATM: How did you decide to become a curator and a steward of our Nation’s history?
I discovered the museum field at a crossroads in my life, shortly after deciding not to attend medical school. I was immediately drawn to curatorial work — it’s intellectually challenging, always interesting and artifacts and exhibits have such power to tell meaningful stories. After completing a museum internship with an excellent mentor, I earned my graduate degree in history museum studies in 2008 and have worked as a curatorial and exhibit developer ever since.
When I joined the U.S. Naval Undersea Museum staff as curator in 2010, I didn’t know how much I would come to love the subject matter — the history, science, innovation and human ingenuity of the undersea communities is fascinating. I’ve met the most incredible people working here. It’s a privilege to do this job and serve these communities.
WATM: The U.S. Naval Undersea Museum was closed for COVID; what can attendees expect on their tour as it reopens?
We’re thrilled to share we reopened on May 24! We are excited to welcome visitors back to the museum. Initially, our open hours will be 10 AM to 4 PM on Monday, Wednesday through Friday, with weekend hours to resume as state and federal guidelines continue to expand.
Because the safety of our visitors, volunteers and staff is our top priority, we have implemented extra safety measures at the museum. We will be using a reservation system to ensure capacity stays within state guidelines (visitors can make a reservation here), disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces and limiting group sizes to 10 or fewer people. And for the short term, our exhibit interactives have been converted into touchless experiences. As always, there are no admission or parking fees to visit!
WATM: What virtual content do you have available?
We have a mix of virtual content for different ages and interests! We post social media content several times a week on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts — lots of “this day in history” posts, sailor profiles, artifact features, STEM activities, behind the scenes content. In the past five years, our virtual community has grown to more than 20,000 people across our platforms.
Our virtual 3D tour lets anyone explore our exhibit galleries from any location. Having a virtual tour became an invaluable resource while we were closed during the pandemic. Now that we’re reopening, it makes the museum accessible to many people who can’t visit us in person. A handful of our artifacts have been turned into highly detailed, interactive 3D models by The Arc/k Project, and more than 500 artifacts are digitized on our Flickr page.
WATM: What are some upcoming virtual events readers shouldn’t miss out on?
This past February we staged our biggest education program of the year, Discover E Day, entirely online. Following up on that success, our educator has teamed up with several local Navy groups to offer two virtual Navy STEM summer camp sessions July 13–15 and August 10–12. Families of local kids who will be in grades 3–8 this fall can email email@example.com for more information or to register; it’s free and all learning will happen via Zoom.
I would definitely encourage readers to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — we’re most active there and always posting new content! Keep an eye on our website, too, as we’re developing a new online collections page that will share digitized documents and finding aid for archival collections.
WATM: How can the public support the museum on its mission?
Our mission is to connect people to the U.S. naval undersea experience. Anyone who engages with our subject matter by learning about naval undersea history, technology, operations and people — whether through us or on their own — is supporting our mission.
As a federal organization, the museum is supported by a non-profit foundation that raises funds for education programs, new exhibits and artifact care and conservation. Their support allows us to take on projects that aren’t or can’t be funded by federal funding. Members of the public can support the museum by making a donation or becoming a foundation member.
We are lucky to have wonderful public support from the local community. Our volunteer corps includes more than 50 veterans, retired Navy civilians and community members that give generously of their time and expertise. Their contributions are almost immeasurable, and include greeting visitors, giving tours, operating the museum store, working with artifacts, supporting education programs and helping to build and install exhibits. Locals who are interested in joining our volunteer corps can learn more here.
WATM: Do you have anything you would like to say to the veteran and military audience?
Sharing the stories of undersea Navy veterans is an essential aspect of our work! There’s a lot we can’t say as a Navy organization because it’s not publicly cleared, but that just means we work harder to amplify the stories we can share.
We meet so many veterans at the museum and it’s an honor to be a place they can reminisce or show their families more about what they did in the Navy. To all the veterans out there, please come say “hi” if you visit the museum! Many of the volunteers who staff our lobby are veterans themselves. And if there is any way we can be of assistance, please reach out anytime!
WATM: What is next for you and the museum?
Every summer we host a popular education program called Summer STEAM, which offers hands-on science, technology, engineering, art and math activities for kids. Summer STEAM will be back this July and August with a twist: this year families can pick up activity kits to take home! Our educators and volunteers have been hard at work assembling kits to make this possible.
And coming next spring, we’ll open a new temporary exhibit called “Giving Voice to the Silent Service.” It’s an inside look at the strong collective identity that submariners share. While it centers on the submarine community, many of the ideas will resonate with anyone who served. This was one of the most interesting and fun exhibits I have ever developed and I can’t wait to see it come to life in our exhibit galleries!
It’s Saturday, but most of you enlisted fellows blew your paycheck last weekend and are now looking forward to sitting around the barracks this week. To alleviate your boredom, here are 13 military memes that made us laugh.
See, we know about you, privates.
Yay, submarines! A phallic object filled with phallic objects!