How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race - We Are The Mighty
Articles

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race

In 1967, the Space Race was in full swing. The Soviet Union had made a number of historic firsts, but the United States was racing to catch up while making a few firsts of its own. 

President Kennedy had challenged America to put a man on the moon within the decade. Long after his death, the memory of that challenge was fresh in the minds of everyone, especially those in the U.S. government who were working hard to make that happen. These include agencies such as NASA, the U.S. military and, not surprisingly, the Central Intelligence Agency.

But the United States wasn’t always so close to winning. In fact, for a time, it appeared to be behind — way behind. So far behind, in fact, the Americans were willing to do anything to catch up, even if that meant stealing the Soviet technology. 

They had the world’s first ICBM as well as the first artificial satellite

Declassified CIA documents describe their initial efforts to do just that. While they never conclusively stole Soviet space technology outright, they did have to make a huge effort to get some time alone with the tech. 

Many people know about Sputnik, the first man-made satellite in orbit. Not many others know about Luna (sometimes called Lunik), the first man-made satellite to hit the moon’s surface. Both successful missions took place in 1959. And the Soviets did what any superpower looking to dunk on their Cold War rival would do: they took a victory lap. 

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race

The USSR sent Sputnik and Luna on a world tour that included stops in the United States. The U.S. was losing the Space Race because the Soviets had better booster and rocket technology than they did. So the CIA decided it would learn everything it could about Soviet space tech through the traveling showcase.

Specifically, the U.S. wanted a detailed look at the USSR’s upper stage. Most in the CIA assumed the Soviets weren’t bold enough to bring an actual Luna on a world tour for everyone to see, but there were some who realized the USSR really had brought the real thing. One night, after the traveling exhibition was closed, CIA operatives gained access to the room. They discovered it really was an actual Luna module and the lone Soviet guard had disappeared.

The CIA spent a full 24 hours with the Luna, taking what information they could with them, but they wanted more. They wanted to get inside of it. That’s when they concocted a complex, almost absurd scheme that would have been stupid – if it hadn’t worked. 

That’s when they hatched a plan to steal Luna, get into it, and return the device before it could be found. They knew it usually had a large guard force posted as sentries at almost all times. They needed to get to it when the guard force was at its lowest number and find a way to get to it when no one would miss it. 

The operatives discovered that the Luna went unguarded when moving by train. A guard checked its crate in at the platform, but he didn’t know what was in each of the crates and there was no expected delivery time for its arrival at the show’s next stop.

CIA agents arranged for the Luna to be on the last truck out of an exhibition. When it was on the way, other CIA operatives tailed the truck, looking for when the Soviet guards rejoined their precious cargo. But the Soviets never came. The CIA stopped the truck driver and “held him in a hotel overnight” (the documents don’t mention how he was enticed (booze, guns or prostitutes were likely involved).

With the driver safely dispatched, the truck was parked in a salvage yard and covered up. At the rail yard, the lone guard there didn’t even know the last truck was expected and he knocked off for the night, none the wiser. The CIA kept a tail on him too, just to make sure he didn’t come to work early. 

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
Hey, not every heist requires a shootout

Back at the truck, CIA officers dismantled and photographed the Luna in detail, working through the night to get everything documented so that the Soviet booster technology could be analyzed.

They sealed everything back together, closed the crate and put the original truck driver back on the job. When the rail yard guard checked the crate onto the train in the morning, he suspected nothing and the secret Soviet space technology was on its way to the next stop.

Feature image: Photo by Sergiu Nista on Unsplash

Articles

Benefits restored to 4,200 veterans who are less dead than the VA thought

Over the last five years, some 4,200 living veterans were declared dead and had their benefits cut off by the Department of Veterans Affairs. After digging through records, Danny Pummill, the acting undersecretary for benefits at the VA, said the mistake was a function of the way record sharing is done between the Social Security Administration and the VA. When the SSA declared someone dead, the VA would immediately kill their benefits.


Florida Congressman David Jolly had a bone to pick with the VA. Responding to his constituents’ complaints about premature death notices, he headed a Congressional inquiry in 2015. When veterans tried to correct the errors in their mortal status, they found themselves in purgatory between the two agencies. In a written statement, Rep. Jolly remarked on the grave consequences of these kinds of mistakes.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
Rep. David Jolly

“We simply cannot have men and women who have sacrificed for this country see their rightful benefits wrongfully terminated because the VA mistakenly declares them dead,” Jolly wrote. “It has caused needless hardships for thousands of people who had their benefits terminated and their world turned upside down.”

The VA admitted its mistake to the congressman and then revived the affected veterans’ benefits as of May 2016. The VA also overhauled its death notice procedures. Now, a veteran will be notified of his or her death by mail to the last known address. The veteran will have 30 days to prove he or she is not dead. If the VA doesn’t hear from the veteran or their surviving family members, the benefits will be terminated.

 

Articles

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts

Aerial refueling has always been risky business. Tankers fly through the sky, loaded to the gills with flammable fuels while dragging long hoses or booms behind them as jets chase after them like hungry mosquitos.


But if that’s risky, the first aerial refueling was straight-up crazy. Wesley Mays, a famous daredevil of the late-1910s and early-1920s, climbed from one biplane onto another with a 5-gallon jug of fuel strapped to his back.

Three men worked together to pull off the stunt. Mays, the daredevil, was joined by two pilots, Frank Hawks and Earl Daugherty. Mays rode along with his gas can in the plane piloted by Hawks. Then, he climbed out of Hawks’ passenger seat and walked onto the right wing tip.

From there, he waited for Daugherty to bring his wingtip in range and grabbed it. Mays lifted himself onto the wing and worked his way between the planes’ wings and into the cockpit. He poured the gas into the engine and strapped himself into his waiting seat, sealing his place in history.

The Army Air Corps got in on the aerial refueling action 2 years later in Jul. 1923, but they needed a way to transfer much more than 5-gallons at a time. So they opted to use a tanker aircraft, a hose, and a receiving aircraft. First Lt. Virgil Hines flew a DH-4B outfitted as the tanker ahead of 1st Lt. Frank W. Seifert’s DH-4B receiver. Hines dangled the hose behind and beneath his aircraft where Seifert could reach it.

 

The fuel was transported without incident, but engine trouble in Seifert’s plane prevented the duo from achieving a planned endurance record. Still, they developed techniques that allowed another Air Corps team to set the record with a 37-hour, 25-minute flight in Aug. 1923.

Today, aerial refuelings are usually conducted by specially designed aircraft, though modified fighters and attack jets such as the F/A-18 have been pressed into service when needed. The Navy has even looked at using its unmanned X-47B as an automated tanker, but the two aircraft sit in hangars and have not yet been modified for the test missions.

Articles

That time a guy jumped out of a plane at 18,000 feet with no chute — and survived

On the evening of March 24, 1944, a Royal Air Force airman jumped out of his damaged bomber without a parachute.


Not only did he survive, but he landed with little more than bumps and bruises.

His name was Nicholas Alkemade. Or should we say, the “indestructible” Nicholas Alkemade. Born Dec. 10, 1922, Alkemade was a rear gunner on a four-engine Avro Lancaster its crew had nicknamed “Werewolf.”

In March 1944, the crew was on a bombing mission over Berlin, which went without incident. But on their way back to England, the bomber caught on fire after being razed by machine-gun fire from a German fighter. The order came from the Werewolf’s pilot to abandon the crippled bomber, but Alkemade wasn’t wearing his parachute, since the gunner’s area was too cramped for it to be worn all the time.

When he tried pulling his chute out of storage, it was in flames. The plane was going down and he had few options.

“I had no doubts at all that this was the end of the line,” he told Leicester Mercury years later. “The question was whether to stay in the plane and fry or jump to my death. I decided to jump and make a quick, clean end of things. I backed out of the turret and somersaulted away.”

So out he went, headed from 18,000 feet above the Earth to the ground at 120 miles per hour. He lost consciousness during the descent, which would have been the end of this story. Except, three hours later, Alkemade — now safely lying on the ground — opened his eyes.

The RAF Museum picks up the story:

He was lying on snowy ground in a small pine wood. Above him the stars were still visible, only this time they were framed by the edges of the hole he had smashed through the tree canopy. Assessing himself, Alkemade found that he was remarkably intact. In addition to the burns and cuts to the head and thigh, all received in the aircraft, he was suffering only bruising and a twisted knee. Not a single bone had been broken or even fractured. Both of his flying boots had disappeared, probably torn from his feet as he unconsciously struck the tree branches. Being of no further use, Alkemade discarded his parachute harness in the snow.

Though his incredible survival arguably made him the luckiest man in the world, his luck soon changed. He began to blow on his emergency whistle, which got the attention of German civilians nearby. After he was taken to a local infirmary, he was interrogated by the Gestapo the next day.

He told them what happened, and like anyone else would, they basically called bullsh-t.

“You say you fell from a plane, but you have no parachute,” the Gestapo interrogator asked him, according to the Mercury. His interrogators accused him of burying it and being a spy, until he told them to find his discarded harness, along with the crashed aircraft that was nearby, according to the RAF Museum.

The Germans investigated and found he was legit. They even gave him a certificate stating, “It has been investigated and corroborated by the German authorities that the claim of Sergeant Alkemade, No. 1431537, is true in all respects, namely, that he has made a descent from 18,000 feet without a parachute and made a safe landing without injuries, the parachute having been on fire in the aircraft. He landed in deep snow among fir trees.”

Alkemade spent his next 14 months as a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft III in Poland, and returned to England after the war ended. He died in 1991.

Intel

The new stealth fighter designed by South Korea and Indonesia has been revealed

Developing and building a high-cost, low-volume product in the 21st century is extremely resource intensive. It’s for this reason that companies and nations across many industries are seeking partnerships to embark on such undertakings. While some joint projects like the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ have found commercial success, others like the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter seem to hit roadblock after roadblock. Although it has hit some snags, the prototype reveal of the joint South Korean/Indonesian KF-21 Boramae stealth fighter is a sign of good progress.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
President Moon Jae In speaks at the KF-21 unveiling (KAI)

With a total project cost of $7.9 billion, the Boramae (Korean for Hawk) is not a cheap plane. Indonesia’s commitment of 20% of the development costs and a purchase of 50 examples upon completion helped to offset the hefty price tag. Despite late payments earlier in development, Indonesia’s Minister of Defence Prabowo Subianto attended the KF-21’s rollout ceremony on April 9 and confirmed that the partnership was intact. Moreover, the stealth fighter is slated for export which will further offset the costs incurred by Indonesia and South Korea.

The unveiling of the prototype KF-21 took place at the Korean Aerospace Industries facility in Saechon, South Gyeongsang province. South Korean President Moon Jae In addressed the attendees calling the KF-21, “a historic milestone in the development of [South Korea’s] aviation industry.”

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
The first prototype KF-21 during final assembly at KAI (KAI)

Development of the Block 1 variant is scheduled to be complete by 2026 with 40 aircraft delivered to the Republic of Korea Air Force by 2028. ROKAF plans to acquire a full fleet of 120 KF-21s by 2032. They will replace the arsenal of aging F-4E Phantom II and F-5E/F Tiger II fighter planes. The KF-21 is also intended to compliment South Korea’s acquisition of 60 F-35A Lightning IIs and the older F-15K Slam Eagle and F-16C/D Falcon fighters.

The Block 2 air-to-ground variant will require further development than the exclusively air-to-air Block 1. Its scheduled completion date is yet to be announced. However, the Block 2 is expected to carry advanced weapons like the GBU-12 Paveway II, GBU-31/38 JDAM, and GBU-54/56 Laser JDAM. With six under-wing hardpoints, four under-fuselage hardpoints, and an expected payload of up to 16,975 pounds, the KF-21 will be able to deliver a lot of fire from the sky. With a planned top speed of Mach 1.83 and a range of 1,800 miles, it will also have the legs to move around the modern battlefield.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
Concept artwork of the KF-X, now the KF-21, armed with MBDA missiles and JDAMS (MBDA)

Although the ROKAF already outmatches the Korean People’s Air Force of North Korea, which is equipped primarily with Cold War MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters, China and Russia are on the cutting edge of modern stealth fighter technology. While the ROKAF’s F-35A serves as the tip of the fighter wing’s spear, the KF-21 will provide a domestically-produced augmentation to the Joint Strike Fighter. It will also be more capable than the F-15 and F-16 as a frontline fighter. Moreover, the KF-21 created 12,000 jobs in South Korea between 2016 and 2020. President Moon announced that the project is expected to create another 10,000 once mass production begins. South Korea has the goal of becoming the world’s seventh-biggest aviation industrial power by the 2030s. If the KF-21 lives up to its hype, they just might be.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 facts you should know about Ukraine

Ukraine has become a defining feature of the 2020 presidential election season. Here are some facts to help you better understand Ukraine’s role on the global stage:


How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race

Traditional Ukrainian embroidered blouses.

(Source: Shutterstock)

Ukraine 101

Medieval Ukraine, known as “Kievan Rus,” was the birthplace of Slavic culture. Ukraine was formerly part of the Soviet Union and became an independent country in 1991. The country has long been known as the “breadbasket of Europe” due to its fertile soil. Although its economy has improved steadily since 2000, Ukraine continues to suffer from poverty and corruption. Ukraine is a close ally of the United States, and polls have shown a generally positive attitude toward the U.S. by Ukrainians.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race

Ukrainian soldiers take cover during a mortar attack in eastern Ukraine.

(Source: Sergei L. Loiko)

Ukraine has been at war since 2014

Ukraine was rocked with instability in 2014 due to a political protest movement called “Euromaidan.” Russia seized this opportunity to invade Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and claim it as Russian territory while also stirring up pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Crimea was conquered without bloodshed, and a large proportion of Crimea’s residents actually support the annexation. The insurrection in eastern Ukraine, however, quickly became violent.

Today the Ukrainian military continues to fight heavily armed, Russian-backed separatists and Russian military forces (although Russia publicly denies the latter) in eastern Ukraine. The conflict, which has claimed at least 13,000 lives and displaced over 1.4 million people, has since become a stalemate.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race

Euromaidan protestors battle police in central Kyiv in 2014.

(Source: Reuters)

Euromaidan was a really big deal

In 2014, growing discontent against president Viktor Yanukovych erupted in a massive protest movement. The activists, who hoped for a Ukraine more oriented toward Western Europe, accused Yanukovych of being a puppet of Vladimir Putin trying to pull Ukraine closer into Russia’s orbit. The Euromaidan movement led to street battles between police and protesters and over 100 deaths.

Euromaidan eventually succeeded, however. Yanukovych abandoned the presidency and fled to Russia, where he remains to this day. (In 2019 a Ukrainian court convicted him, in absentia, of treason.) Euromaidan was historic because it reflected the will of many Ukrainians to choose a trajectory free of Russian domination, but it also aggravated simmering tensions within Ukraine’s population and triggered Russia’s armed interventions in Crimea and the eastern regions.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race

Mural in Kyiv depicting a Ukrainian Cossack strangling Vladimir Putin, represented as a snake.

The Ukrainian population is deeply divided

Many Ukrainians, especially in western Ukraine, are staunch Ukrainian patriots. They take great pride in Ukrainian culture, history, and language and generally hold negative attitudes toward Russia.

More eastern regions of the country, however, have larger percentages of Ukrainians who speak Russian as a first language and consider themselves more Russian than Ukrainian. This is the root of the current war in eastern Ukraine, and the reason many Ukrainians in Crimea welcomed Russian annexation in 2014.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race

(Source: WorldAtlas.com)

Choose your words carefully when referring to Ukraine

There are some semantics involved when speaking of Ukraine which cannot be divorced from the country’s complicated history and politics. Even the name “Ukraine” means “borderland” in Russian. The Ukrainian capital city has historically been transliterated as “Kiev,” the traditional Russian spelling, although the Ukrainian-language “Kyiv” is increasingly preferred.

Likewise, many English speakers incorrectly refer to the country as “the Ukraine,” a dated reference to the Soviet era when Ukraine was a Soviet republic (similar to saying “the Midwest” in relation to the United States). Both the Ukrainian government and many Ukrainians strongly discourage the term “the Ukraine.”

Even language itself is contentious: the majority of Ukrainians can speak both Ukrainian and Russian, but the use of either language can be seen as a political and social statement by the speaker.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race

President Volodymyr Zelensky

(Source: Getty Images)

Ukraine’s current president is literally a comedian

Current president Volodymyr Zelensky, whose phone call with President Donald Trump in July 2019 has triggered controversy within the United States, was a comedian before being elected in a landslide in 2019. He is most famous for playing the lead role in “Servant of the People,” a hugely popular sitcom about a schoolteacher who is unexpectedly elected president of Ukraine.

The 41-year-old Zelensky ran for office as a reformer whose priorities include fighting corruption and negotiating an honorable end to the war. Zelensky also wants to maintain U.S. support, particularly American shipments of “lethal” aid such as anti-tank missiles, which Ukrainian troops need to counter the Russian-equipped rebels.

Although a longtime Ukrainian patriot, Zelensky’s first language is Russian, and he has been criticized for not being entirely fluent in Ukrainian.

MIGHTY HISTORY

President Johnson’s naked press conference and 5 historic events from the first Air Force One

On a hot, sunny day in 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson had just delivered a stump speech during his campaign for the presidency. According to white House reporter Frank Cormier’s book “LBJ: the Way He Was,” once on board Air Force One, the President started taking questions about the economy from the press. In the middle of the QA session, Johnson took off his pants and shirt, then “shucked off his underwear… standing buck naked and waving his towel for emphasis” as he continued talking.


The U.S. Air Force 707 code named Special Air Mission (SAM) 26000, referred to as Air Force One while the President is on board, has a long and storied history.

President Johnson swore into office aboard Air Force One

 

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race

 

After President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963, Johnson was sworn in aboard SAM 26000 by U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes, the only woman to swear in the President of the United States.

Kennedy’s body was returned to Washington from Dallas on board

Kennedy’s body was ferried back to the nation’s capital with his widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, accompanying him. A portion of the plane’s wall had to be torn down to make room for the casket. The same plane performed a high-speed flyover over Kennedy’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.

Air Force One flew Nixon on his historic trip to China

 

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race

In 1972, President Richard Nixon made a visit to Communist China, the first for a U.S. President, opening official diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China for the first time since the Nationalist regime fled to Taiwan in 1949. The division between Soviet and Chinese Communism combined with a thaw in U.S-China relations led to arms treaties with the Soviet Union.

Three former Presidents represented the United States in Egypt via Air Force One

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by the Egyptian military’s own Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli during a Victory Day parade. Islambouli was secretly a member of the Islamist extremist group Gama’a Islamiyya (Islamic Group). Islambouli emptied a full magazine into the Presidential grandstand, killing Sadat and four other dignitaries while wounding 28 others. The reason for the assassination was Sadat’s agreement to the 1979 Camp David Accords, a peace treaty normalizing relations between Egypt and Israel, brokered by then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, President Carter, and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat

In 1981, President Reagan sent Carter along with former Presidents Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon to represent the U.S. at Sadat’s funeral aboard SAM 26000. The three were old political rivals and tensions on the flight ran high, including a dispute over who received the biggest steak at dinner. According to Carter’s 2014 memoir, “A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety,” the tensions were finally broken by none other than Nixon, who “surprisingly eased the tension with courtesy, eloquence and charm.”

It flew two Presidents to their final resting places.

After LBJ’s death in 1973 and Nixon’s death in 1994, SAM 26000 flew the remains of the former Commanders in Chief to their respective homes and final burial sites in Texas and California.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
Johnson in 1972, four years after leaving political life.

This specific plane is no longer in use as the Presidential airplane. The current Special Air Mission is 28000, and is a Boeing 747 (more accurately a VC-25, the military version of the 747). The Presidential 707 (SAM 26000) which saw all this history can now be seen at the Air Force Museum on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. President Reagan’s 707 (SAM 27000) can be seen at the Air Force One Pavilion at the Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race

Articles

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other

Next-generation fighter jets, simulated aerial combat, and some of the best pilots from the US, British, and French air forces – no, this isn’t a scene from the next Hollywood blockbuster. It’s the latest combined exercise testing pilots’ ability to operate, communicate and dominate in a combat environment.


Called “Atlantic Trident,” this month-long exercise at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, focused on anti-access and aerial-denial missions, which were meant to place the US, British, and French pilots in situations that tested their limits and capabilities.

“This exercise is great because it brings our best and some of our allies best fighters together to train and learn from each other in a very challenging environment,” said Col. Pete Fesler, 1st Fighter Wing commander. “It’s also a great way to test the capabilities of these advanced aircraft.”

The advanced aircraft participating included the F-22 Raptor, the F-35 Lightning II, the Eurofighter Typhoon, and the Dassault Rafale – all of which bring a lot of capabilities to the fight. The aircraft were supported by USAF Air Combat Command E-3 Sentry airborne early warning and control aircraft and Air Mobility Command KC-10 Extender refueling aircraft.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard

According to Lockheed Martin, the Raptor’s unique combination of advanced stealth, supercruise, advanced maneuverability, and integrated avionics allow it to “kick down the door,” and then follow up with 24-hour stealth operations and freedom of movement for all follow-on forces – fully leveraging the Raptor’s technological advantages.

The F-35, meanwhile, is no slouch, either. The F-35 combines fifth generation fighter aircraft characteristics — advanced stealth, integrated avionics, sensor fusion and superior logistics support — with the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history. This means the Lightning II can collect and share battlespace data with other friendly aircraft and commanders on the ground and at sea.

“The F-35 brings an unprecedented combination of lethality, survivability, and adaptability to joint and combined operations,” said Maj. Mike Krestyn, an F-35 pilot with the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race

Pilots of both the F-22 and F-35 refer to their jets as aerial “quarterbacks,” capable of controlling an airspace by locating, identifying and sharing the location of enemy threats within a battlespace.

Then, allied aircraft like the Typhoon and Rafale can use their advanced weaponry to eliminate these threats.

All of these advanced aircraft provide lethality never before seen in aerial combat, and their pilots training and flying together enhances tactics, ensures coalition teams are on the same page and strengthens relationships.

“The Air Force and our partners must seek opportunities to develop, expand and sustain relationships wherever possible,” said Heidi Grant, deputy under secretary of the Air Force for International Affairs. “This enables us to amplify our collective strengths and improves our ability to confront shared challenges.”

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
USAF photo by Tech Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

 

From the pilots’ viewpoint, this is also a matter of “training like we fight.”

“We won’t go to war without our allies,” said Capt. Nichole Stilwell, a T-38 pilot with the 71st Fighter Training Squadron. “So we have to train together to make sure we get the most out of our capabilities.”

The Human Element

But, none of these capabilities mean anything without one crucial component.

“People,” Fesler said. “It doesn’t matter how advanced an aircraft is if we don’t have quality people flying and fixing them.”

It’s easy to get distracted by the sleek aircraft and their state-of-the-art capabilities, but this shouldn’t take away from how important the human element still is to air operations, he added.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
USAF photo by Tech Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

“There is so much more to this than simply flying an advanced jet and shooting stuff,” Fesler said. “There are people on the ground making sure these planes fly, people in support functions making sure missions happen and go smoothly, and there are people making sure pilots receive the training they need to be effective.”

So, exercises like this are really all about people – training them, developing them, testing them – and relationship building, he added.

Throughout the exercise, US, British and French pilots planned, flew and evaluated missions together, working side-by-side to develop tactics and talk about lessons learned from each day’s flights.

“This type of training is invaluable,” said Royal Air Force Wing Cmdr. Chris Hoyle, 1 (Fighter) Squadron. “It really places a premium on people and relationships, which both are very important to our success as allies.”

These bonds and friendships made at Atlantic Trident can also carry over into other operations.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
USAF photo by Tech Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

“This is a great foundation for us to build on,” Hoyle said. “Some of the US or French people I’ve met, or some my guys have met, can really create great opportunities in the future. If I need something, I can pick up the phone and call … and then the relationships we started here can really pay off down the road.”

Still, as pilots of each aircraft are quick to point out, a conversation about people can’t happen without talking about maintainers.

“We simply borrow the jets for a little while, the maintainers own them,” said Krestyn. “They fix them and care for them and then they let us use them.” This sentiment is echoed by Hoyle.

“As pilots, we have the easy part,” he said. “We fly the plane, but it’s the maintainers and support personnel who make everything happen. It doesn’t matter how advanced a jet is, if no one fixes it or makes sure it’s able to take off and accomplish the mission, then it’s a useless piece of equipment.”

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
USAF photo by Tech Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

Sharpening the Sword

Once these advanced fighters do get in the air, testing them and their pilots is still important. This is where the adversary squadrons come in.

Made up of T-38s from Langley and F-15E Strike Eagles from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, these “adversaries” acted as enemy combatants during the exercise to test friendly force’s air-to-air abilities.

Flying outdated, past-their-prime trainer jets against the most technologically superior fighters in the world may seem futile, but the adversary pilots have a different outlook.

“I think of it as our sword is very sharp, we just help make it sharper,” Stilwell said. “We make pilots adapt their tactics, we make them think and we try to test them as much as possible.”

At the end of the day, though, exercises like Atlantic Trident do more than give pilots time behind the stick. These exercises are providing relevant, realistic training so that when pilots do experience stressful combat situations for the first time, they are prepared.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
USAF photo by Tech Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

“Air superiority is not an American birthright,” said Gen. David Goldfien, Air Force Chief of Staff. “It’s actually something you have to fight for and maintain.”

Air superiority doesn’t just mean having the most technologically sophisticated aircraft in the world. It also means having highly trained and experienced pilots to fly them.

Working together also helps each of the players learn to speak the same language – that of winning.

“Really, the goal of exercises like this is to train and learn together so that on day one of a future conflict, we dominate,” Fesler said.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the top brass actually tried to prevent Pearl Harbor attack

Army Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short and Navy Adm. Husband Kimmell, the senior Army and Navy defenders at Pearl Harbor, certainly fell short in December, 1941, and their failures compounded others in the weeks leading up to the infamous battle.

But the fact that they received nearly all of the blame for the failures at Pearl Harbor is a miscarriage of justice that overlooks their many requests for additional weapons, land, equipment and troops. Such requests, if granted, would have allowed defenders on the island to much more quickly and effectively sling lead back at their Japanese attackers.


Take, for starters, Then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall’s letter to Short on the day Short took command, Feb. 7, 1941 — exactly 10 months before the attack.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short commanded Army forces in Hawaii for the 10 months before the Pearl Harbor attack.
(National Archives)

In the letter, Marshall opens with an assessment of Short’s new Navy counterpart, Kimmell, and how Kimmell had recently complained about shortages of defensive Army materiel.

Marshall explains, point-by-point, when he will provide certain pieces of equipment to Short and why other pieces cannot be found. He acknowledges a shortage of:

  • Anti-aircraft guns, especially .50-cal. machine guns and 3-inch anti-aircraft guns
  • Planes, especially fighter and pursuit planes, but also medium bombers
  • Barrage balloons, of which the U.S. had only just began real manufacture

Short accepted Marshall’s timeline for new equipment delivery and immediately started working with Kimmell on a wishlist for improving their defenses. The list got continuously longer as the men identified additional weak points in their position.

In meetings that also included Rear Admiral Claude C. Bloch, the men decided that they needed additional land over which to disperse aircraft, a move that would’ve drastically reduced the number of planes that could be damaged in a single enemy wave.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
Army Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short, left front, and Navy Admiral Husband Kimmell, right front, visit with British and American Navy officers.
(U.S. National Park Service) 

The three men also called for improvements of harbor defense and anti-aircraft defense as well as the purchase of spotlights.

Similarly, the group agreed upon new rules for air operations around Hawaii, specially noting how important coordination would be for pursuit and intercept of an enemy air attack as well as how bombers would be controlled when leaving Hawaii to attack an enemy fleet.

As the meetings were going on, Short had already dispatched two of his highest subordinates to the mainland to watch intercept operations. The idea was to learn how to best set up operations on Hawaii with new equipment being put in at Pearl, including radars for identifying attacks from as far as 80 miles from shore. They returned December 4, too late for their ideas to be implemented before the surprise attack.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
If you often have to line your aircraft up and can’t properly disperse them, you really want well-trained air defense crews.
(U.S. Air Force archives)

Not that the radars would have completely changed the situation on the ground, since air defense crews were often not allowed to practice emplacing their guns in position during exercises because most of their positions were on private property. And almost none of them had engaged in live gunnery practice due to ammo shortages and the prioritization of sending what ammo was available to the Philippines or the Azores.

As all this was happening, Marshall was recommending to President Franklin Roosevelt that Hawaii was near impregnable and that planes and other important assets could be moved off of the islands to reinforce other positions. As a result, Short lost 9 of his 21 heavy bombers to the Philippines.

Then, Short received the Nov. 27, 1941, “Do or Don’t” message, which essentially told him that an attack could come at any time, but that he must prepare for it while ensuring that absolutely none of his preparations alert the local populace or appear to be aimed at Japan, since that could sway public opinion should war break out.

Negotiations with the Japanese appear to be terminated to all practical purposes with only the barest possibilities that the Japanese Government might come back and offer to continue. Japanese future action unpredictable, but hostile action possible at any moment. If hostilities cannot, repeat cannot be avoided the United States desires that Japan commit the first overt act. This policy should not, repeat not be construed as restricting you to a course of action that might jeopardize your defense. Prior to Japanese action you are directed to undertake such reconnaissance and other measures as you deem necessary, but these measures should be carried out so as not, repeat not, to alarm the civil population or disclose intent. Report measures taken. Limit the dissemination of this highly secret information to minimum essential officers.

The telegram carried Marshall’s name, but had actually been written by committee in Washington while Marshall was in Louisiana.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
The delayed warnings on December 7 took it from unlikely to impossible that interceptor planes and bombers could make it into the air before the Japanese planes got to them.
(U.S. Air Force archives)

Finally, though Washington knew for hours before the attack that it would likely start at 1 p.m., they waited to send word to Short and only used telegram when they did.

Short and Kimmell saw the telegram after the attacks.

In the end, American planes on Hawaii were concentrated in too few places for effective dispersal; air defenders were under-trained, under-equipped, and under-supplied; defense infrastructure was underdeveloped; and what improved defense measures Short and Kimmell were able to implement despite supply shortages were still a few months (or, in some cases,a few weeks) from full maturity.

The general officers cannot sidestep the fact that their respective commands took massive losses in an attack which had been proven possible by American forces almost a decade previous.

But it is not fair for the American public and Washington to lay the blame solely on them when priorities and complacency in Washington, as well as breakdowns of important communications, left the commands under-supplied and under-informed at the start of American involvement in one of mankind’s bloodiest conflicts.

Articles

4 planes the Americans borrowed from Britain during World War II

The United States was the “Arsenal of Democracy” in World War II, but even this arsenal had to get a little help from allies. The British, in fact, loaned us some of their planes during that conflict. Here are four planes we borrowed from the Brits.


1. Supermarine Spitfire

Yes, even though the United States had the P-40, P-38, P-47, P-51, F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat, and the F4U Corsair, they had to acquire the plane that won the Battle of Britain.

The American Spitfires mostly saw service in North Africa and Italy, according to SpitfireSite.com, until they were replaced by P-51s. United States Army Air Force Spitfires scored almost 350 kills during World War II.

The Spitfire is also notable for being the plane that got Jimmy Doolittle chewed out by Eisenhower.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
Spitfire LF Mk IX, MH434 being flown by Ray Hanna in 2005. The Spitfire served with the USAAF in the Mediterranean Theater from 1942-1944. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

2. Airspeed Horsa

Okay, this is technically a glider. Still, the United States needed a glider to bring in heavy gear for units like the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. The Airspeed Horsa fit the bill with its ability to carry a lot of troops and gear, and the United States got 301 of the planes for D-Day, according to the book World War II Glider Assault Tactics.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
An Airspeed Hora glider under tow. The United States got over 300 of these for D-Day. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

3. Bristol Beaufighter

This was a multi-role heavy fighter, which packed a huge punch (four 20mm cannon, six .303-caliber machine guns). According to Combat Squadrons of the Air Force, the United States operated four squadrons of Beaufighters in the night-fighter role. These squadrons operated in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, eventually switching to the P-61 Black Widow.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
The Bristol Beaufighter, which equipped four USAAF squadrons in World War II. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

4. De Havilland Mosquito

This plane was very versatile, used for photo reconnaissance, as a night-fighter, as a heavy fighter, and even as a light bomber. The Army Air Force used a number of these planes in all of those roles during World War II, but historynet.com noted that most of them were crashed because this airborne hot rod was difficult to fly.

America may have missed out — the Mosquito is considered a legend.

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
A de Havilland Mosquito NF Mark XIII of No. 256 Squadron RAF, caught in the beam of a Chance light on the main runway at Foggia Main, Italy, before taking off on a night intruder sortie over enemy territory. The USAAF equipped squadrons of bombers, night fighters, and recon planes with the Mosquito. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Even today, America’s importing warplanes: The A-29 Super Tucano is a Brazilian design, while the AV-8 Harrier was British.

Articles

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of Aug. 19

More funny military memes than you can shake a stick at.


Actually, there’s just the 13. You might be able to shake a stick at 13 things. Look, just check out the memes:

1. Seriously, that guy you hate sucks so hard. He shouldn’t be promoted (via Pop Smoke).

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
Maybe. We don’t actually know him. Or you.

2. This would sting less if it weren’t true (via Pop Smoke).

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
The only way to make this more correct would be if the dude on the far left was a 40-year-old specialist.

SEE ALSO: Navy names Arleigh Burke destroyer after World War II Marine hero

3. Garden warfare has been a neglected specialty that we need to reinforce (via Sh*t my LPO says V2.0).

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
Plants are one of the only ways to properly counter zombies.

4. Look, first sergeant. We both know I have neither the power nor the inclination to fix this (via Team Non-Rec).

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
I am predisposed to taking bets on who breaks a limb first if you want in on this action.

5. If you really wanted your freedom, there’s always the dishonorable discharge (via Why I’m Not Re-Enlisting).

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
The ETS route takes forever.

6. Perfect screengrab, but Will Smith got sent to Bel Air instead of 29 Palms (via Team Non-Rec).

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
Marines aren’t so lucky.

7. Wait, do the Coast Guardsmen really wear life preservers during basic training drills?

(via Coast Guard Memes)

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
You’re right, Coast Guard. That is so much worse than the Army and their 30+ pounds of armor.

8. “Why yes, it is the SF of the Air Force,” is not technically a lie (via Military Memes).

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
If he says that you’ll be infantry or special operations, he’s full of it.

9. That dead sprint only matters if the star chambers are properly cleaned (via Pop Smoke).

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
Bet you leave the armory more slowly than went there.

10. “Oh, you had to get a new backpack to carry your notebooks? How cute.”

(via Military Memes)

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race

11. Wait, the sign clearly says that adult supervision is required (via NavyMemes.com).

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
Where are all the chiefs?

12. Joint Terminal Attack Controllers may be cocky, but everyone’s fine with it if they can get effects on target (via Military Memes).

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
Don’t pray for deliverance, bring it with you.

13. Or, “When people complain about the backseat of a car.”

(via Military Memes)

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
Oh, your legs are cramped. Are they really?

Articles

This pilot landed his F-15 with only one wing

The F-15 is an amazing aircraft that was designed to go head-to-head with the Soviet’s MiG-25 and was the top dog for years, most notably during Desert Storm where American and Saudi Eagles took it to the Iraqis in a big way.


The F-15 has endured because its design was years ahead of its time, and a great data point behind that fact is the time Israeli pilot Zivi Nedivi landed his jet with only one wing. Nedivi had one of his wings sheared off in a midair collision with an A-4 Skyhawk during a training event. Nedivi’s Eagle went into a rapid roll by the crash and he told his navigator to prepare the eject.

Nedivi turned on his afterburners in an attempt to stabilize the jet. The move worked. After his aircraft stabilized, he decided to attempt to land at a base 10 miles away. Because of the fuel coming from the damaged fuselage, neither he nor his wingman knew that the F-15 was missing a wing.

Hear the rest of this amazing story from Nedivi himself in this video:

Articles

6 reasons to fear the knife-hand

The “knife-hand” is the multi-tool gesture of the military. Actually, you can think of it as a Swiss army knife – pun intended.


The knife-hand is used in a plethora of ways ranging from administrative to instructional and even to gauge anger, according to Terminal Lance creator Maximilian Uriarte. “Never, anywhere in the Marine Corps, have I ever seen the knife-hand so flagrantly used. I always took note, however, that the higher the knife-hand is on the drill instructor, the more pissed off he is.” 

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race
Image courtesy of Terminal Lance

Perhaps the reason the knife-hand commands so much attention is because they’re deadly, according to Duffel Blog. Here are six videos showing knife-hand devastation:

1. A Marine demonstrates the knife hand knockout on his curious buddy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ej5mQODqwM

2. Another Marine nearly hits the deck after a knife hand attack.

3. This guy takes two hits but is still able to walk.

4. It’s a good way to stop friends’ annoying shenanigans (if you know what you’re doing).

5. This nice couple practices their knife hands in front of their kids.

NOW: 23 photos of drill instructors terrifying the Hell out of Marine recruits

OR: Marine veteran chokes the hell out of a guy trying to rob a gas station

Do Not Sell My Personal Information