Remembering the last flight of the world's fastest plane - We Are The Mighty
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Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane


On October 9, 1999, the storied run of the Lockheed Martin SR-71 came to an end after more than 30 years of carrying out covert surveillance missions at an altitude three times as high as Mount Everest.

The SR-71, or “Blackbird” as it’s commonly known, was developed by Lockheed Martin’s legendary Skunk Works crew. It was a triumph of engineering that combined the most advanced technology available at the time in a way that hasn’t been replicated since.

The SR-71 flew in the US Air Force for more than 30 years, breaking records for speed and distance that stand to this day. In the photos below, relive the stunning legacy of the world’s fastest plane.

“Everything had to be invented,” Skunk Works’ Kelly Johnson said of creating the SR-71. The insane heat and speed of the Blackbird necessitated titanium construction, which was a first. Tools needed to be invented to deal with the brittle titanium alloy.

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane

To manage the intense temperatures of Earth’s upper atmosphere, and to help baffle radar detection, the plane had to be painted jet black.

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane

The plane also featured an extremely low cross section and swooping angles, which made it a nightmare for radar detection devices.

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane

Because of the stratospheric altitudes the Blackbird traversed, pilots needed to wear fully pressurized space suits.

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane

The SR-71 was operated by a pilot and a reconnaissance systems officer. The purpose of the plane was to photograph hundreds of thousands of miles of terrain for analysis.

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
A pilot mans the brakes as the SR-71 is towed out of the hangar.

Here’s a look at the cockpit of the world’s fastest plane. The SR-71 was equipped with twin jet engines that were most comfortable flying at over three times the speed of sound.

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane

And again, because the plane was flying at 80,000 feet and its sole objective was surveillance, the SR-71 was unarmed.

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane

And because the SR-71 had no missile defense, the standard operating procedure was to simply crank the throttle and outrun any enemy. In the history of the Blackbird, not a single one was shot down. Twelve were lost due to mishaps, however.

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane

The Blackbird family logged 3,551 sorties by 1990 and 11,675 hours above Mach 3.

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane

Though it has now been out of service for 16 years, the SR-71 remains a point of pride for the US military and a popular attraction at museums around the country.

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane

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The Air Force may offer a ‘fly only’ option to keep more pilots in its jets

The Air Force’s pilot shortage has leaders worried not only about filling gaps in the immediate future, but also how the military and civilian airlines may suffer without fine-tuned aviators in decades to come.


As a result, Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, if given permission, may start a small group tryout for pilots testing a new program in which aviators stay at their home-duty stations longer, thus increasing their longevity and likelihood to stay in service, the head of the command told Military.com in an exclusive interview.

“Should we go with a ‘fly-only’ track?” Gen. Carlton Everhart II said in an interview July 26.

Everhart said he envisions something like this: “You stay with me for 20 years, and I let you fly. You … could maybe [make] lieutenant colonel, but you may not make higher than that.”

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
Gen. Carlton D. Everhart II, left, Air Mobility Command commander, shakes hands with Chief Master Sgt. Chris Hofrichter, 514th Maintenance Operations Squadron. USAF photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen

“Then, [we] allow you to stay at your home station for three to four years instead of two to three, so you can get some longevity,” he continued. “Then, it’s not just [flying airlift cargo or tanker planes]. You could go to [Air Education and Training Command] and help out there for three to four years to help bring on new pilots.”

“To sweeten the deal, as you come into your career, maybe in the last four years, we allow you on a ‘dream sheet’ to put your top three choices, try to get you moved to there so you can establish your family and where you want to retire,” he said.

Everhart said the ‘fly-only’ effort would still encompass wing, squadron, and group duties and deployments but — bottom line — “it’s longevity.”

The same aviator retention bonuses would also apply, he said.

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

“The idea being explored is seeking airmen volunteers for a professional ‘fly-only’ aviator track comprised of anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of the AMC flying force,” said Col. Chris Karns, spokesman for the command, in an email. “This small group of airmen would be linked to flying jobs throughout a career.”

AMC has nearly 49,000 active-duty members and civilians; 42,000 Air Reserve component military; and 35,000 Air National Guard members, according to the command.

RELATED: The Air Force is running out of pilots

The mobility Air Forces has roughly 8,500 total force pilots. Throughout the Air Force, active-duty mobility pilots total 5,125, Karns said. Active-duty pilots assigned to AMC installations total 2,866.

How airmen will be selected for the ‘fly-only’ program is still being determined, the officials said, as well as how many will be involved.

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Charles Rivezzo

Everhart said his teams are looking at the program to establish more fixed methodology behind the effort, but would like to “look at it in the next three to four months” to begin a trial run.

“There’s certain things we have to do to code these folks … and I’ve introduced the notion and got a tentative nod from [Air Force Chief of Staff Gen David Goldfein],” he said. “I think there’s merit there, but I’ve just got to work all the way through it, then do the small group tryout and see where we go.”

“I’m not taking anything off the table because I need them with me, I need them to fly with me,” he said.

The Issues Wearing Out Pilots

Goldfein and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson have said the service was 1,544 pilots short by fiscal 2016, which includes 1,211 total force fighter pilots — with the deficit expected to grow.

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
USAF photo by Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen

Everhart said the Air Force stands potentially to lose 1,600 pilots who are eligible to separate from the service in the next four years.

He has been working with an AMC aviation retention task force for the past few months, trying to come up with recommendations as a result of airman feedback.

That feedback includes: Flying has become secondary to administrative duties; airmen desire more stability for themselves and their families; they lack support personnel; and they fear the impact of service politics on their career paths.

Airman feedback has resulted in one concrete move — the removal of additional duties, a common complaint.

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
USAF photo by Lt. Col. Robert Couse-Baker

In August, the service began removing miscellaneous responsibilities known as “additional duties” typically assigned to airmen at the unit level. It has since cut 29 of 61 additional duties identified under Air Force Instruction 38-206, “Additional Duty Management.”

Some duties were reassigned to commander support staffs, and civilians will be hired to take on some other duties in coming months.

ALSO READ: 23 terms only fighter pilots understand

Other areas are also getting scrutiny: Officials are looking at accession and promotion rates, giving commanders more freedom to think of creative solutions, and working with US Transportation Command to look at deployment requirements, Everhart said.

“We’re working hand-in-hand with headquarters Air Force A3 … so we don’t get in crossways with each other, and can we, as solution sets, put these across the entire broad perspective of the Air Force,” he said, referring to Lt. Gen. Mark C. Nowland, head of operations, plans and requirements.

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
USAF photo by Senior Airman Christopher Callaway

He’s also in communication with Lt. Gen. Gina M. Grosso, the Air Force’s chief of manpower, personnel, and services, and the Air Force Personnel Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, he said.

Lessons learned from these discussions and trial programs could then be applied to the fighter pilot community, Everhart said, but that’s still a ways out.

But the Air Force is not the only organization in crisis.

Working With Civilian Airlines

Boeing Co., the US’ largest aerospace company, on July 26 said it predicts that in the next 20 years, North American airline companies will need 117,000 new pilots to keep up with commercial demands, CNN reported.

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
USMC photo by Sgt. Keonaona Paulo

Everhart said this incentivizes both sides to work together.

Last May, the Air Force met with representatives from civilian airline corporations such as American Airlines and United; academic institutions such as Embry Riddle University, an aeronautical university; civil reserve airfleet institutions such as FedEx; and Rand Corp., a nonprofit institution that provides research and analysis studies on public policy.

The groups established working areas, Karns said, that need critical attention, such as exploring ways to make a career in aviation more desirable; finding ways to reduce the cost of earning a civilian aviation certification — for example, a debt relief program; looking at enhanced data analysis to establish a baseline for what is actually required to meet national pilot need; exploring potential alternate pathways to becoming a pilot — possibly by accelerating timelines; and improving the effectiveness of “shared resources” of pilots who fly for both the military and commercial airlines.

“We’ve got another airline meeting coming up in September,” Everhart said, in which leaders will discuss the secondary phases for these working areas.

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
USAF photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen

“We need to instill in the hearts of our American public what … aviation is all about,” he said.

Rotating Air Force Assets

AMC already employs a rotational system to keep its aircraft sustainable longer.

“In an effort to extend the life service of various mobility fleets and enhance aircraft availability, we’re looking to work with the Guard and Reserve to rotate aircraft more regularly and consistently to avoid disproportionate wear-and-tear on systems,” Karns said. “What has been known as enterprise fleet management is adjusting to what is called ‘Total Force effort to sustain and modernize the fleet.’ ”

The system rotates aircraft from the three components more often in order to “shrink … and no longer have that airlift gap,” Capt. Theresa Izell, a maintenance officer, said in March during an AMC media day at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Rito Smith

Could that system be applied to the pilot gap — moving pilots flying various platforms throughout, or qualifying pilots to fly more platforms?

“I think you’ve got something there,” Everhart said. “I think we already do that with cross training. We do some cross training for airframes as far as pilots flying tankers versus cargo, but I have to explore that more. I haven’t looked at it from the human dynamic prospect — and I think that’s something to pull back [on]. I love it.”

Love for Country

Everhart reiterated that time in service always comes back to the willingness to serve.

In June, the Air Force unveiled a new tiered Aviation Bonus Program, an expansion of Aviator Retention Pay that puts into place the cap authorized for the incentive under the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA.

Should they choose to stay, fighter and drone pilots, for example, are slated to receive the highest maximum bonus of $35,000 a year, while special operations combat systems officers would receive the least at $10,000. Officers have until Oct. 1 to decide whether they want to extend their service.

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Alystria Maurer

The number of pilots taking the aviator retention bonus for AMC has also slightly declined, Karns said. In 2015, the “take-rate” of pilots choosing the bonus and choosing to re-up into the Air Force was 56 percent; in 2016, that number dropped to 48 percent, Karns said.

While bonuses matter, Everhart reiterated it’s not always about the money.

“They stay in the military because what’s in their heart, and their service to America. They really believe [in] an American fighting force. That’s why they stay,” he said.

“The bonus? Sure, that’s sweet. But that’s not why I stayed,” Everhart said. “I stayed because it’s service to the nation. And that’s what I’m finding out across the board” from other pilots.

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At military town hall President says Colin Kaepernick should appreciate troops’ sacrifice

Service members and their families at Fort Lee, Virginia, asked the Commander in Chief tough questions during a town hall meeting broadcast by CNN Sept 28.


President Barack Obama covered varied topics, including the Syrian civil war, sending more U.S. troops to Iraq, issues affecting veterans and protests during the playing of the national anthem.

When a soldier asked the president for his opinion about football players taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem, Obama said that honoring the flag and the anthem “is part of what binds us together as a nation,” but that he also respects the right to have a different opinion.

“We fight sometimes so that people can do things that we disagree with,” he said. “But that’s what freedom means in this country.”

He said American democracy can be frustrating at times, “but it’s the best system we’ve got. And, the only way that we make it work is to see each other, listen to each other, try to be respectful of each other, not just go into separate corners.”

The president added, “I do hope that anybody who is trying to express any political view of any sort understands that they do so under the blanket of protection of our men and women in uniform and that that appreciation of that sacrifice is never lost.”

Hosted by CNN’s Jake Tapper, the town hall-style event included questions about sending 600 additional U.S. troops to Iraq to help in the coming offensive against the Islamic State. Obama said the decision to send troops into harm’s way is the most important one he makes.

“I’ve always been very mindful that when I send any of our outstanding men and women in uniform into a war theater, they’re taking a risk that they may not come back,” the commander in chief said. “And so, there has not been a change from the time I came into office to the time that I leave office in which that is not a somber decision.”

The president said the nature of the missions has changed during his tenure. In Afghanistan, U.S. troops have transitioned from a combat role to an advise-and-assist role, with about 9,000 U.S. service members there.

“In Iraq, our goal is to provide air support, and we’ve flown 100,000 sorties, 15,000 strikes, to decimate ISIL,” he said. “But our job is not to provide the ground forces that are rolling back territory. That’s the job of the Iraqis, where we provide training and assistance [and] logistical support.”

U.S. special operators are in Iraq and Syria to go after high-value targets and to gather intelligence, the president said. He noted that about 5,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, and about 300 are in Syria.

“But, it’s the nature of the role that has changed, rather than how I assess it,” the president said. “I am always mindful that any time our men and women in uniform are in a war theater, there is risk.”

U.S. personnel are engaging in a fight that is dangerous, the president said. “Each and every time we make a decision, I want to make sure that the Pentagon is describing how it is that those folks are going to add to our ability to dismantle ISIL in a smart and sustainable way,” he said.

The president told the service members that he constantly reviews options as he looks at the Syrian civil war. “There hasn’t been probably a week that’s gone by in which I haven’t re-examined some of the underlying premises around how we’re dealing with the situation in Syria, and explored whether there are additional options that we haven’t thought of,” he said.

Those include military options, the president said. “We have, by a mile, the greatest military on Earth, he said. “And we are going to always be in a position to defend the United States, defend our personnel, defend our people, our property and our allies.”

Obama said the question he always asks himself as commander in chief is whether inserting large numbers of U.S. troops will provide a better outcome.

“There have been critics of mine that have suggested that, well, if early enough you had provided sufficient support to a moderate opposition, they might have been able to overthrow the murderous Assad regime,” he said. “The problem with that is, as we’ve seen, that the Assad regime is supported by Russia. It’s supported by Iran.”

Because the Assad regime did not directly threaten the United States, Obama said, any deployment of troops would have violated international law.

“And unless we were willing to sustain a large presence there and escalate, if and when Russia or Iran got involved, then we were going to be in a situation where at some point the situation would collapse, except we would have a bunch of folks on the ground, and be very much overextended,” he said.

The key in Syria at this point, the president said, is to get the parties involved to talk together on diplomatic and political tracks.

“We will try to mitigate the pain and suffering that those folks are undergoing,” he said. “This is part of the reason why our approach to refugees, for example, has to be open-hearted, although also hard-headed, to protect our homeland.”

The Veterans Affairs Department received some criticism from the audience, and the president acknowledged the validity of the complaints. VA medical care must improve, he said, adding that there has been progress. The department had been underfunded for years, Obama said, noting the administration has increased its funding by 85 percent. But this is not a problem that will be solved by throwing money at it, he said. The department, he added, has to change procedures and its culture.

The president noted that VA makes 58 million medical appointments per year. Like a large ship that has turned and is on the right course now, he said, it will take time to reach its destination.

“We now have a situation where about 80 percent of individuals who interact with the VA are satisfied that they’re getting timely treatment,” Obama said. I want that to be 100 percent, and that requires more work.”

 

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Why it’s a big deal that Cyber Command is now a combatant command

President Donald Trump announced on August 18 that he would elevate US Cyber Command to its own unified combatant command.


“I have directed that United States Cyber Command be elevated to the status of a Unified Combatant Command focused on cyberspace operations,” Trump said in a White House press statement.

“This new Unified Combatant Command will strengthen our cyberspace operations and create more opportunities to improve our Nation’s defense,” the statement said. “The elevation of United States Cyber Command demonstrates our increased resolve against cyberspace threats and will help reassure our allies and partners and deter our adversaries.”

This would be the US’ 10th unified combatant command, which are combat branches that operate regionally, such as Pacific Command, or world-wide, such as Special Operations Command, often in support of regional commands.

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
Photo from Wikimedia Commons user Colin

Cybercom will “help streamline command and control of time-sensitive cyberspace operations by consolidating them under a single commander with authorities commensurate with the importance of such operations,” the statement said.

Elevating Cyber Command will help secure funding for cyberspace operations, Trump said.

Trump also said that Defense Secretary James Mattis will study whether Cyber Command should split from the NSA altogether. But Mattis’ recommendations will be “announced at a later date.”

Two former senior US officials told Reuters on August 17 that it would be a 60-day study.

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Paul Revere’s midnight ride wasn’t as amazing as these other 5

Paul Revere is the most famous of the riders who conducted midnight rides but while he deserves praise for his patriotism throughout the struggle for independence, his 16-mile midnight ride was actually pretty tame compared to what other riders in the war experienced.


A 16-year-old girl rode 40 miles and rallied 400-men. Another rider rescued Thomas Jefferson, other signers of the Declaration of Independence, and many members of the Virginia legislature.

So, here are 6 of the most famous and badass people who conducted rides during the Revolution:

1. Paul Revere, the most famous of the riders

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
See other important tweets from military history.

See other important tweets from military history.

Paul Revere got most of his fame from a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Poem, Paul Revere’s Ride. While the poem makes it sound like Revere conducted an epic, all-night ride, he actually only made it 16 miles before he was caught by Redcoats and had his horse confiscated. He did manage to warn most of the people between Boston and Lexington though.

2. Jack Jouett rescued so many leaders, including Thomas Jefferson

In Jun. 1781, Jack Jouett was eavesdropping on some British soldiers when they mentioned a plan to capture Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson and most the Virginia General Assembly. Jouett flagged this as a major party foul and rode 40 miles through the dark to warn the Revolutionary leaders, allowing them to escape capture.

3. Sybil Luddington raised 400 militiamen and earned Washington’s praise

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
Photo: Public Domain/Anthony22

Sybil Ludington was the 16-year-old daughter of a militia colonel when the British attacked nearby Danbury. Sybil rode out into the countryside to rally her father’s troops and got 400 militiamen ready to fend off the British Army, saving the town. She continued to conduct rides for much of the war. Gen. George Washington praised her for her contributions to the Colonial effort.

4. Samuel Prescott got word through to Concord when Paul Revere was captured

Local doctor Samuel Prescott was headed home from visiting his fiancee when he ran into Revere and William Dawes who were headed from Lexington to Concord. Prescott volunteered to ride with them and was the only one who managed to escape the British patrol and make it to Concord. The militiamen clashed with the British there later that day, holding the Redcoats at a bridge and killing 14.

5. William Dawes, the other rider with Paul Revere

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
Photo: Public Domain

William Dawes and Revere left at about the same time from Boston but took a different route. Dawes barely made it out of the city before it was locked down. He later rejoined Revere at Lexington but managed to escape the British when Revere did not.

6. Israel Bissell (may have) ridden 345 miles in 5 days to warn people across 5 states

The legend of Israel Bissell states that he was recruited by a militia colonel on Apr. 19, 1775 to take word of the Battles of Lexington and Concord to Hartford, Connecticut. The brave rider then supposedly rode another four days through another three states for a total of 345 miles.

Recent historical inquiries have found evidence that Israel Bissell may have actually been Isaac Bissell who rode from Boston to Hartford. While this still would be an impressive 100-mile ride, it’s not exactly a five-day marathon. Other cities on the route may have gotten word from the normal postal system which would’ve carried the message forward as important news.

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This athlete left the NFL to serve. Now he wants back in

Glen Coffee was a superstar at Alabama — an SEC First Team running back in 2008, Coffee decided to skip his senior year with the Crimson Tide and throw his name into the NFL draft.


He was picked up by the San Francisco 49ers in 2009 in the third round of the draft and played a decent season there, rushing for 226 yards with 11 receptions for 76 yards and one touchdown.


But according to a Washington Post profile, Coffee quickly fell out of love with the gridiron and wanted to something more with his life.

“I just felt like the league and that path wasn’t for me,” he told the Washington Post. “I just knew that I didn’t want to waste, for me, my younger years doing something that I didn’t want to do. That was kind of my viewpoint on the situation.”

In 2013, Coffee enlisted in the Army with the intent to become a Ranger. He didn’t make it into special operations, but he was assigned to the 6th Ranger Training Battalion in Florida to help America’s commandos hone their craft. But now Coffee wants back into the NFL — a tall task for a player who’s been out of the game for nearly a decade.

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
Glen Coffee during parachute training. (Photo from AL.com)

The closest analogy would be Deion Sanders, who sat out four NFL seasons before returning to the Baltimore Ravens in 2004.

“I can tell you, he’s in great shape,” Coffee’s agent Ray Oubre told a Bay Area news outlet. “The man doesn’t have a six-pack, he’s got a 12-pack. He’s been waiting for the right time to hopefully get a workout with someone and show what he can do.”

The 30-year-old free agent might have a tough time attracting a team given this year’s crop of talented young running backs who are eligible for the draft on April 30. But with his Army training and military focus, this “squared away” soldier might have what it takes to get back in.

“My cardio and endurance is definitely a lot better right now,” Coffee said during an interview with The Post in 2015. “Because in football, you’re not really in shape. People think you’re in shape, but you’re really not. Not like that.”

 

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Here’s how NORAD will be tracking Santa’s Christmas trip this week

A joint command between the U.S. and Canada, NORAD’s primary mission is to detect and respond to threats in and around North American Airspace. But once a year, NORAD uses its sensors to track Santa’s progress. Interested parties can keep track of where he is by checking social media, calling the hotline, checking email, or visiting the special website.


Here’s the tech that makes the Christmas Eve operation possible:

Santa’s departure

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
Photo: flickr/Josua

NORAD coordinates with Santa’s elves to get real time intel on Santa’s departure time. This ensures that when Santa’s sleigh enters monitored airspace, NORAD isn’t surprised. The North Warning System is made up of 47 radar stations strung across northern Canada and Alaska that are designed to find and identify objects entering NORAD airspace. The NWS only covers the northern most part of the continent, so the radar operators quickly hand off tracking to teams watching satellite coverage.

Santa’s flight

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
Santa, the world’s most experienced pilot, usually flies his sleigh but rode in a jet to festivities with the US Air Force on Dec. 5, 2015. Photo: US Air Force Airman 1st First Class Ashleigh S. Pavelek

After radar operators confirm Santa has entered NORAD airspace, a group of satellites known as the Defense Support Program begin tracking the flight. DSP was launched to detect the infrared signatures emitted by ballistic missiles so the missiles could be intercepted before striking North American cities.

DSP satellites are so sensitive, they can actually see the unique infrared signature of Rudolph’s nose. According to NASA and NORAD, Rudolph’s nose gives off about the same amount of heat as a small missile launch, which explains how the reindeer stay warm in the arctic atmosphere.

Santa’s honor guard

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
Painting: Creative Commons Gene W. Ritchhart

Once NORAD began tracking Santa, they realized that jet pilots could be given the unique experience of getting to fly with their hero. Every year, select Canadian and U.S. pilots are granted the chance to escort Santa. Canada launches CF-18 pilots to greet Santa while the U.S. hangs out in F-15s, F-16s, and F-22s.

Santa slows to run with the fighter jets, allowing the pilots to wave to Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and Rudolph.

Santa Cams

Of course, NORAD doesn’t want just pilots to get a glimpse of the world’s jolliest elf, so they installed a number of high-speed cameras around the world to track Santa’s progress and feed live video to children through the NORAD Santa website. The camera’s provide much of the tracking information for Santa’s journey outside of North America.

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
This teddy bear covered down on a phone station during the NORAD tracks Santa mission 2013. Photo: US Air Force Master Sgt. Chuck Marsh

To track Santa this Christmas Eve, check out the website or download the phone app, “NORAD Tracks Santa.” You can also keep tabs through Twitter, Facebook, or by calling volunteers at 1-877-HI-NORAD.

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6 cool Coast Guard systems from the past

The Coast Guard may not have a lot of hulls, but what they have, they make very good use of. In fact, they were able to keep old ships in service for a long time, and they even bring in some unique systems. Here’s some of the cool stuff they’ve used over the years.


1. Casco-class high-endurance cutters

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
USCGC Castle Rock (WHEC 383) during her service. (USCG photo)

After World War II, the Navy had a lot of leftover vessels. The Coast Guard took in 18 Barnegat-class small seaplane tenders and used them as high-endurance cutters for over two decades.

While many were scrapped or sunk, the USCGC Unimak (WHEC 379), stayed in active service until 1988. One ship, the former USCGC Absecon (WHEC 374) may have remained through the 1990s after being captured by North Vietnam.

The Barnegats had a five-inch gun, two twin 40mm mounts, two twin 20mm mounts, and were even fitted with 324mm torpedo tubes.

The 1987-1988 version of Combat Fleets of the World noted that the North Vietnamese had fitted launchers for the SS-N-2 Styx anti-ship missile on the former Absecon.

2. HU-16 Albatross

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
A HU-16E Albatross during the 1970s. The Coast Guard kept this plane in service until 1983! (USCG photo)

Helicopters took a while to develop. Before that, the best search-and-rescue assets were flying boats and amphibian aircraft.

The Grumman HU-16 was one asset that handled this mission after World War II. The Air Force put it to use during the Korean War, and it also saw action in the Vietnam War.

In Coast Guard service, the survivors of a 91-plane purchase of HU-16s stuck around until 1983 – and civilian versions still operate today.

It’s not surprising the plane lasted so long. According to specifications at GlobalSecurity.org, the Albatross had a range of over 1600 miles and a top speed of 240 miles per hour. Let’s see a helicopter do that!

3. HH-52 Seaguard

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
U.S. astronaut Frank Borman, Gemini 7 prime crew command pilot, is hoisted out of the water by a U.S. Coast Guard recovery team from a Sikorsky HH-52A Seaguard helicopter during water egress training in the Gulf of Mexico. (NASA photo)

This amphibious helicopter was the epitome of the specialized aircraft the Coast Guard bought when it could.

Imagine being able to land on the water to retrieve a survivor, but not needing to make a long takeoff run.

According to a Coast Guard fact sheet on this helo, the capability was necessary because there was no rescue swimmer program at the time. That omission was rectified in the 1980s, and in 1989, the last HH-52 was retired. By that time the fleet of 99 helos had saved over 15,000 lives.

4. Boeing PB-1G Flying Fortress

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
A U.S. Coast Guard Boeing PB-1G Flying Fortress search and rescue plane in flight. (USCG photo)

After World War II, the Army Air Force had a lot of planes lying around – many of which had been built too late for them to see action.

The legendary bomber served as a search-and-rescue asset for 14 years, using a lifeboat slung underneath for that mission. The Coast Guard’s fact sheet notes that another legendary plane, the C-130, eventually replaced the Flying Fortress in their service.

5. MH-68A Stingray

Remembering the last flight of the world’s fastest plane
A Coast Guard MH-68 Sting Ray helicopter crew prepares to take off for a patrol of the Savannah River to provide security during the G8 Summit while Air Force One sits in the background. USCG photo by PA3 Ryan Doss

The Coast Guard once had a specialized unit, HITRON 10 (Helicopter Interdiction Squadron 10), that specialized in stopping the flow of drugs into the U.S. To do that, the service got a special helicopter, the MH-68A Stingray — a version of the Agusta A109.

With a forward-looking infrared system, an M240 machine gun, a M82A1 Barrett sniper rifle, and other high-tech avionics, this helo was a lethal hunter. According to Helis.com, the eight-plane force was retired in 2008, and the Coast Guard modified 10 MH-65s to the MH-65C standard to replace them.

6. Sea Bird-class Surface Effect Ships

This three-ship class was fast (25-knot cruising speed), and they were perfectly suited for the drug interdiction mission in the Caribbean.

The lead ship, USCGC Sea Hawk (WSES 2), and her two sisters, USCGC Shearwater (WSES 3) and USCGC Petrel (WSES 4) were commissioned in the 1980s and cost $5 million each. While they primarily focused on drug interdiction, they proved very capable assets in search-and-rescue missions as well.

They all left service in 1994.

But in an era where drug smugglers have “go fast” boats, they might be useful now.

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This makeshift armored vehicle is actually an ISIS suicide bomb truck

As anti-ISIS forces retake Mosul and march on Raqqa, more and more of the terror group’s mystique is falling away. It’s hard to be the international bogeyman when your forces are suffering defeats across your caliphate.


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Not pictured: ISIS victories. (Photo: CJTF Operation Inherent Resolve YouTube)

But one of ISIS’s most prominent battlefield weapons is still deadly frightening, the armored vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. While VBIEDs were already common in Iraq and Afghanistan, ISIS upped the ante by creating especially effective armored versions and then employing them like artillery — softening their enemy’s lines and breaking up attacks.

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A captured ISIS vehicle-borne improvised explosive device is displayed where it is held by the Kurdish Peshmerga in Iraq. (Photo: YouTube/ Sky News)

For the Iraqi Army, the Kurdish Peshmerga, and other anti-ISIS forces, understanding these weapons is a matter of life or death. But typically, the weapons are destroyed before they can be captured, either because the soldiers hit it with a rocket, tank, or artillery round, or because the operator triggers his explosive cargo.

This makes it relatively rare that a suicide vehicle is captured intact. But there have been a few, and Sky News got the chance to tour one of these captured vehicles during the Iraqi military’s initial punch into Mosul.

The vehicle, captured by Kurdish Peshmerga, had been heavily modified with the removal of any unnecessary weight, the addition of thick, heavy armor, and the installation of a massive amount of explosives.

See the full tour of the vehicle in the video below:

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This Naval Academy grad is trying to become one of America’s newest astronauts

On Day 1 of her training as an astronaut, Navy Lt. Kayla Barron walked out of NASA’s Johnson Space Center and watched with her new colleagues as the moon partially blotted out the sun.


Eclipse glasses in hand, the Naval Academy graduate said she began to get a sense of her place in at the agency. The astronauts are some of NASA’s highest-profile employees, but Barron said they’re just one part of the team.

“Everybody here is really excited about what they’re doing and doing really interesting things,” Barron said August 22 in an interview. “In a big-picture sense, everybody comes to work for the same reason.”

Barron, 29, was working as an aide at the academy in Annapolis when she was selected earlier in the summer to become an astronaut. She’ll now embark on two years of training with 11 other NASA candidates and two Canadians.

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2017 NASA Astronaut Class. (from left) Zena Cardman, Jasmin Moghbeli, Jonny Kim, Frank Rubio, Matthew Dominick, Warren Hoburg, Robb Kulin, Kayla Barron, Bob Hines, Raji Chari, Loral O’ Hara and Jessica Watkins. NASA photo by Robert Markowitz.

Many of the lessons will focus on the workings of the International Space Station, but there is a chance that members of the 2017 class — the agency’s largest in years — could end up on a mission to Mars.

“There’s a lot for us to learn, a lot of new things to master,” Barron said.

Among them: working from the back seat of a training jet, practicing spacewalks in a pool, and getting to grips with speaking Russian.

Barron was initially interested in pursuing a career as a naval aviator, but couldn’t meet the eyesight requirements. But now NASA will train her on its supersonic T-38 jets, working alongside a pilot and learning about making quick decisions and communicating clearly and getting used to extreme G-forces.

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A T-38 Talon. Photo from USAF.

Barron will keep her Navy rank but said NASA’s astronaut office blends military and civilian cultures — a reflection of the varied backgrounds of the trainees.

“It’s an interesting kind of melting pot,” she said.

The trainees are expected to bring their own ideas to the class and learn from one another.

Barron, who has a master’s degree from the University of Cambridge and served as one of the first female officers on a submarine, said her military experience taught her about working as an engineer under extreme conditions.

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An astronaut performing a spacewalk. Photo from NASA.

“I think that gives me a bit of perspective on how you can keep your equipment and team running when you’re in a hostile place with limited resources,” Barron said.

During a question-and-answer session between the trainees and three astronauts on the International Space Station, biochemist Peggy Whitson said being able to fix things is one of the most important parts of the job.

“You can’t be hesitant about taking something apart and putting it back together,” Whitson said.

Barron, who said she’s both excited and nervous about learning Russian, asked the astronauts what advice they had about working with crew members from other nations.

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The International Space Station. Photo from NASA.

Col. Jack Fischer said that it was important not just to learn the language but to gain an understanding of the other culture.

“It’s no different from how you would figure out how to get along with anyone in a small-group dynamic,” he said.

Barron is originally from Richland, Wash., but will now be living in Houston near the space center.

“We all live out in town,” she said. “We have a real life outside of work.”

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Here are the best military photos of the week

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:


AIR FORCE:

Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Rarang, Senior Airman Tormod Lillekroken and Staff Sgt. Seth Hunt, all 2nd Air Support Operations Squadron joint terminal attack controllers, walk along a road as part of a training scenario during exercise Serpentex 16 in Corsica, France, March 15, 2016. JTACs are considered qualified service members who direct the action of air and surfaced-based fires at the tactical level. They are the Airmen on the ground with the authority to control and call in airstrikes on target.

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U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Sara Keller)

Airman 1st Class Anthony Mahon, of the 436th Airlift Wing, performs a visual inspection on a C-17 Globemaster III during thick fog prior to the aircraft’s launch from Dover Air Force Base, Del., March 17, 2016. Experienced reservists from the 512th Airlift Wing frequently train active-duty Airmen in various career field tasks.

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U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Bernie Kale

ARMY:

Soldiers assigned to 2d Cavalry Regiment, with support from a 12th Combat Aviation Brigade (Griffins) CH-47 Chinook helicopter crew, conduct sling load training with a M777 towed 155mm howitzer during an exercise at the 7th Army JMTC’s Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, March 22, 2016.

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U.S. Army photo by Sgt. William Tanner

Soldiers, assigned to Joint Task Force-Bravo, conduct pre-flight checks on a U.S. Army South UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, March 10, 2016.

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U.S. Army photo by Martin Chahin

NAVY:

WATERS SURROUNDING THE KOREAN PENINSULA (March 23, 2016) Sailors clean an F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to the Black Aces of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 41 on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). Providing a ready force supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, John C. Stennis is operating as part of the Great Green Fleet on a regularly scheduled U.S. 7th Fleet deployment.

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U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Andre T. Richard

ATLANTIC OCEAN (March 20, 2016) An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the Gunslingers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 105 takes off from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), the flagship of the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group. Dwight D. Eisenhower is underway conducting a composite training unit exercise (COMPTUEX) with the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group in preparation for a future deployment.

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U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class J. Alexander Delgado

MARINE CORPS:

Marines assigned to Marine Air Control Group 28, conduct an underwater gear shed during a basic swim qualification course at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, March 16, 2016. Marines are required to demonstrate proficient combat water survival skills to complete the basic qualification.

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U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jered T. Stone

A candidate assigned to Delta Company, Officer Candidates Class-221, breaks the surface of the murky water of ‘The Quigley’ at Brown Field, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, on March 15, 2016. The mission of Officer Candidates School (OCS) is to “educate and train officer candidates in Marine Corps knowledge and skills within a controlled, challenging, and chaotic environment in order to evaluate and screen individuals for the leadership, moral, mental, and physical qualities required for commissioning as a Marine Corps officer.”

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U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Patrick H. Owens

COAST GUARD:

Seaman Anthony Fritz conducts firefighting training aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Albacore in Bristol Bay, Rhode Island, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2015. The Albacore is an 87-foot cutter home ported in New London, Connecticut.

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U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Chief Petty Officer Armando Medina

Two MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crews from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point conduct a practice formation flight around the Island of Oahu, March 4, 2016. The Dolphin aircrews along with an HC-130 Hercules aircrew practice proficiency with multiple aircraft flying at once.

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U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle

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The United Nations seeks to head off rise of killer robots

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U.S. Army


Pentagon plans envisioning smart, autonomous weapons able to instantly react and respond to combat situations may run up against a proposed United Nations ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems.

The UN is hoping to head off autonomous killing systems before countries begin making them part of their arsenals, though the US, Russia and others appear to be in no hurry to slow the advance of killer robots.

Just last week Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work told a national defense forum in Washington, D.C., that a strong deterrence strategy in the future will depend partly on having weapons systems that “learn” in real-time and operate autonomously.

Automated battle networks boosted by advances in computing power and network attacks already has combat operations moving at cyber speed, Work said.

“This trend is only going to continue as advanced militaries experiment with these technologies, as well as others like hypersonics,” he said. “In the not-too-distant future, we’ll see directed energy weapons on the battlefield which operate at the speed of light.”

But the UN is hoping to head off autonomous killing systems before countries begin making them part of their arsenals.

Christof Heyns, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, told the British newspaper The Guardian in October that research and development is well underway.

“A lot of money is going into development and people will want a return on their investment,” Heyns told the paper. “If there is not a preemptive ban on the high-level autonomous weapons then once the genie is out of the bottle it will be extremely difficult to get it back in.”

When UN delegates met in Geneva in April to discuss a proposed LAWS convention, the head of the American delegation said the US believes that “a robust policy process and methodology can help mitigate risk when developing new weapon systems.”

The Pentagon has established a directive for how the US would consider plans for developing such systems, Michael Meier told the group.

“We would like to make clear that the Directive does not establish a US position on the potential future development of [LAWS] — it neither encourages nor prohibits the development of such future systems.”

During a meeting on LAWS in October, the US called it premature to consider a ban on LAWS and reiterated that it neither encourages nor prohibits the development of such weapons, according to Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a group made up of nine human rights and peace organizations.

Russia sounded much like the US, according to the group, which quoted that delegation as saying banning such systems is premature since, “for the time being we deal with virtual technology that does not have any operating models

Work, in his presentation in Washington last week, quoted Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of Russia’s General Staff, as saying Russia is preparing to fight on a roboticized battlefield.

“And [Gerasimov] said — and I quote — ‘In the near future, it is possible that a fully roboticized unit will be created, capable of independently conducting military operations’,” Work said.

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Here is how aerial gunners were trained to fight their way past the Luftwaffe

The United States Army Air Force’s daylight bombing campaign in Europe involved thousands of bombers, and tens of thousands of crewmen. While there were pilots, crew chiefs, radiomen, bombardiers, and navigators on planes like the B-17, about 40 percent of the crew were aerial gunners.


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A U.S. Army Air Forces Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress flying through flak over a target. A hit by flak lead to the capture of Brigadier General Arthur Vanaman, placing ULTRA at risk. (USAF photo)

What did it take to get these specialists ready? In some ways, it didn’t take long – maybe a few weeks. But these gunners had to learn a lot. Maintenance of their machine guns was vitally important. But they also had to learn to hit a moving target – because the Nazi fighters trying to shoot the bombers down were not going to make things easy for them.

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Messerschmidt Bf 109. (Photo: Kogo CC BY-SA 2.0)

So, what did it take to teach gunners how to hit a moving target? Well, for starters, there were lessons on maintenance for both a .30-caliber machine gun (mostly used early in the war) and the M2 .50-caliber machine gun, and how fix them when they jammed. Then, they had to learn how bullets traveled downrange, and how to adjust for the drop of the bullets from the guns.

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A look at the ball turret of a B-17 Flying Fortress, carrying a pair of M2 .50-caliber machine guns. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

When that was done, the trainees were started on full-auto BB guns at an indoor range. Once that was mastered, they then did a lot of skeet shooting with 12-gauge shotguns.

Yep, a popular shooting sport was used to train the folks whose job involved keeping Nazi fighters from shooting down a bomber with ten airmen on board.

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The training went on to include live-fire of the machine guns, as well as how the turrets used on planes like the B-17 and B-24 worked. Aircraft recognition — including knowing an enemy fighter’s wingspan — was also very important.

Following that, they took to the air, and learned how to fire the guns while wearing the gear they’d need on board a bomber – including a life vest, parachute, and the helmet.

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B-17 gunners wearing bulky sheep-shearling flying clothing to protect against the deadly cold at the altitudes typically flown in Europe.— At 25,000 feet, the temperature could drop below -60 degrees Fahrenheit. (U.S. Air Force photo)

As you can imagine, this included a lot of learning and skills to master. You can see an introductory video for aerial gunners made during World War II below.

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