Anyone with a passing interest in military aviation knows names like Immelmann, von Richthofen, Rickenbacker, and Boyington. Here are 9 lesser-known aces whose aerial accomplishments rival those of the legends:
1. Francesco Baracca (Italy)
The most successful Italian ace of World War I, with 34 confirmed victories.
2. Indra Lal Roy (India)
India’s most successful fighter pilot, with 12 kills (2 shared). He remains the only Indian fighter ace to this day.
3. Ivan Kozhedub (Russia)
Credited with 64 victories, Kozhedub is the top scoring Allied ace of World War II. He’s also one of the few pilots to shoot down a Messerschmitt Me 262, one of the Luftwaffe’s early jets.
4. Josef Frantisek (Czechoslovakia)
Credited as the top scoring RAF ace during the Battle of Britain. He refused to fly in formation but was allowed to fly as a “guest” of RAF 303 (Polish) squadron. In the air he would break off and patrol areas by himself where he knew enemy aircraft would be.
5. Ilmari Juutilainen (Finland)
94 confirmed aerial combat victories during World War II against the Soviets . . . and from Finland. Thirty-four of his kills came while flying a Brewster Buffalo.
6. James Jabara (United States)
First American jet-versus-jet ace in history and the second-highest-scoring U.S. ace of the Korean War. He received the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, and the British Distinguished Flying Cross for his accomplishments in combat.
7. M M Alam (Pakistan)
Alam downed 9 Indian aircraft during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. On one sortie he shot down 5 Indian aircraft in less than a minute — the first four within 30 seconds — which remains a world record that is unlikely to be beaten.
8. Shahram Rostami (Iran)
During the Iran-Iraq War Tomcat pilot Shahram Rostami shot down 6 Iraqi fighters: 1 MiG-21, 3 Mirage F1s and 2 MiG-25s (the first to do so).
9. Giora Epstein (Israel)
History’s highest scoring jet ace, with 17 confirmed kills during the Six Day War, the War of Attrition, and the Yom Kippur War.
Topical humor has always been a big part of Saturday Night Live history and there have been plenty of military stories in the news to inspire its writers over the last four decades. As the show celebrated its 40th anniversary with a three-hour special that aired on Sunday, February 15th, we’ve combed through the SNL archives and selected the 10 best military-themed sketches.
1. Bruce Willis wants to bring some John McClane-style Die Hard heroics to a Black Ops mission in Afghanistan.
2. General David Petraeus (Will Forte) testifies to Congress about the progress of the surge in Iraq.
3. It’s time to build a coalition to fight Iraq’s nuclear capabilities, but General Colin Powell (Kenan Thompson) seems to have turned into Fred Sanford since his retirement.
4. A TV pitchman (Harry Shearer) explains why you need to spend $50,000 on a Pentagon-approved MacDouglass Drummond wrench.
5. An Air Force fighter pilot (NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon) wins elementary school Career Day over carpet salesman Seth Meyers.
6. Weekend Update’s Seth Meyers examines the Winners Losers in the General David Petraeus/Paula Broadwell/Jill Kelley/General John Allen scandal.
7. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (Darrell Hammond) updates the media on progress after the United States invades Afghanistan.
8. Tired of the Congressional debate about whether to invade Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney (Darrell Hammond) goes all Doctor Strangelove and rides a missile to Baghdad.
9. Test Pilot Mustang Calhoun (Dennis Quaid) is just plain crazy.
10. Two dumb Marines (Kevin Nealon and Dana Carvey) bring spies to the US Embassy in Moscow.
These just skim the surface. There are dozens of military-themed sketches from SNL. Tell us your favorites in the comments below.
The Air Force and the Navy have their own little rivalry going.
Granted, United States Navy pilots are pretty good in many respects, and so are the planes, but the Air Force claims they’ve got air superiority. So when they need to buy a plane from the Navy, it’s… awkward — especially when it involves bombers, something that should be the purview of the Air Force.
Here are six of the most…notable acquisitions the Air Force ended up making from the Navy.
1. Douglas A-24 Banshee
While better known as the SBD Dauntless, the Army Air Force bought a number of these planes. Aviation historian Joe Baugher noted that some were intended to help defend the Philippines, but the outbreak of World War II saw them diverted to New Guinea. Others saw action in the Aleutians and Gilbert Islands.
2. Curtiss A-25 Shrike/Helldiver
The Army Air Force got the SB2C — the notorious “Son of a [Bleep] Second Class” — during World War II. Joe Baugher noted that the Army Air Force never even bothered using them in combat, either exporting them to the Royal Australian Air Force or handing them over to the Marine Corps for use from land bases.
3. Douglas B-66 Destroyer
When the Air Force was looking for a replacement for the A-26/B-26 Invader as a tactical bomber, they settled on a version of the Navy’s A3D Skywarrior. However, the Air Force planned to use it very differently, and so a lot of changes were made, according to Joe Baugher.
The B-66 turned out to be an ideal electronic-warfare platform. One was famous under the call-sign “Bat 21,” leading to one of the most famous — and costly — search and rescue efforts in history.
4. Lockheed RB-69A Neptune
The Air Force was looking for some planes for electronic intelligence missions around the Soviet Union and China when they settled on taking seven P-2 Neptune maritime patrol planes from the Navy, and designating them as RB-69As.
Aviation historian Joe Baugher reveals that the exact origin and ultimate fate of these planes is a mystery, probably intentionally so, given the top-secret nature of intelligence-gathering flights over China and Russia.
5. Douglas A-1 Skyraider
Joe Baugher reported that the Air Force found this classic warbird to be so suitable for the counter-insurgency mission in 1962, they took 150 A-1Es from Navy surplus. The planes were modified for dual controls.
In fact, the Air Force wanted the plane as early as 1949, but harsh inter-service rivalry (including controversy stemming from the “Revolt of the Admirals”) meant the Air Force had to wait to get this plane. It was a fixture on search-and-rescue missions during the Vietnam War.
6. Vought A-7 Corsair
This is probably one of the most successful purchases of a Navy bomber by the Air Force. As was the case with the Air Force basing the B-66 off the A3D, they made changes to the A-7.
Most notable was giving it the M61 Vulcan and a thousand rounds of ammo. Yes, the Air Force gave the A-7 the means to give bad guys the BRRRRRT! The A-7s saw action over Panama in 1989, and were even used to train F-117 pilots. The A-7D was retired in the early 1990s with the end of the Cold War.
Adam West was born, and drafted into the Army, as William West. In the military, he was in charge of standing up TV stations at San Luis Obispo, California, and Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. But if it seems odd that the star of a farcical show like the 1966 version of “Batman” got his start in the Army, it was actually the perfect way to prepare for such a ridiculous show.
Here are six reasons why:
1. Renaming everything to some arbitrary standard like “bat cuffs,” “bat time,” and “bat channel,” makes sense for anyone who has had to relearn names for Velcro, Duck Tape, and zipper
Those are ridiculous ways of referring to Velcro, Duck Tape, and zippers, which are all brand names that the Army can’t use in official doctrine. So young Billy West would have gotten used to using the Army names. It was probably easy to start calling everything “bat” later in life.
2. Dealing with a group of ne’er-do-wells like the “Batman” villains is old hat for anyone who has dealt with an Army squad
Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, Archer, and other crazy villains were always hatching insane schemes in the Batman TV show. But, once again, the Army would’ve prepared the future Bruce Wayne for this.
Soldiers decide to get high with spice and bath salts? Yup, sounds about right. Troops smuggling liquor overseas by pouring it into Listerine bottles and mixing in food coloring? Seen it. Enlisted hijinks are basically Silver Age Batman ridiculous, just without the fancy gadgets and costumes.
3. Having to mentor a grown adult while treating them like a child is how all specialists deal with new privates
One of the more awkward truths about the Batman is that Robin, the Boy Wonder, was actually a 21-year-old man when the show began. The grown adult Adam West had to act like mentoring another grown man while treating him like a child wasn’t sort of weird.
But again, the Army is perfect preparation for this. After all, most specialists have only been in the military for a few years and they can be assigned responsibility of a private first class who has been in the Army a couple of years. So, 24-year-old supervising 20-year-olds.
4. Spending all of your time with an attractive lady without giving in is easy for any NCO who had to ignore their co-ed lieutenant’s good looks
One of Batman’s greatest villains was Catwoman, who definitely had a thing going on with Batman. But Batman refused to give in to it (though he almost kissed her once, and a later incarnation of Batman ran off to Europe with her).
But any specialist or sergeant who has pulled overnight duty with an even moderately attractive officer knows what it’s like to weigh the consequences of “fraternization” over and over. Chances are, young and attractive Billy West had to say no to a few female sergeants and officers, or at least find the right place to give in without getting caught.
5. Only in the military and “Batman” can the little stuff be crucial during an emergency
This is a small one, but most organizations will let little things go during an emergency. But Batman doesn’t accept any of that crap from Robin. Proper grammar is important, and Batman corrects Robin even as Catwoman tries to get away on a rocket.
You know, just like a sergeant major yelling about gloves during a firefight or reflective belts during literally anything.
6. Working within made-up rules is easy for anyone who has dealt with UCMJ and Rules of Engagement
Batman runs into some pretty stupid bureaucratic problems during the show, like that time the Riddler sues Batman (while using riddles to explain his scheme, because of course he did) for false imprisonment and assault.
Russia has been saber-rattling so hard that cracks are forming in the blade and the hilt seems to be falling off. The military has been embarrassed by a number of of high profile failures and missteps in the past few years.
To be clear, the Russians aren’t helpless and certain units are deadly. They have a large nuclear arsenal, some of the world’s quietest submarines, and an impressive new tank. But here are six reasons Russian military planners can’t be sleeping easy.
2. Their only aircraft carrier needs a tug boat escort and can’t launch fully-armed planes.
The Russians have one carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov. The ship was launched in 1985 and began active duty in the fleet in 1991. In 24 years, it has served only four frontline deployments. It requires tugs to accompany it in deepwater in case it breaks down at sea and needs to be refueled every 45 days. The crew has trouble completing the refueling missions however, sometimes spilling the fuel across the ocean instead.
Meanwhile, even when everything is working to plan, the Kuznetsov has troubles. It isn’t a proper carrier and launches aircraft from a bow ramp rather than catapults, limiting her jets to low takeoff weights with limited fuel and ammunition. Plumbing problems in the ship limit the number of functioning latrines to 25 for her full crew of nearly 2,000. In 2011, U.S. Navy ships trailed the Kuznetsov to her home port to rescue the Russians if the ship sank.
3. They rely on conscripts and soldiers forced into contracts.
Russian Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev, then-head of the National Center for Defense, bragged in 2014 that “two army brigades, 12 special forces units and five battalions of airborne troops and marines were manned entirely with contract servicemen,” according to RT, a Russian media outlet. But, that’s the first time the Russian military has had more contract soldiers than volunteers in its history. And, first-term contract soldiers aren’t “volunteers” the way they are in America.
For decades, the U.S. military and its private-sector partners have been working toward a technology straight out of science fiction: robotic suits.
And it’s no surprise. Exoskeletons could add to soldiers’ natural strength, letting troops lift seemingly impossible loads and dart across the battlefield at incredible speed.
Currently, the military is exploring creating an Iron Man-like specialized suit through the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) program. The suit would provide soldiers with enhanced mobility and protection, and it would most likely run on top of an exoskeleton base.
Today’s exoskeletons vary in utility, but they can allow soldiers to carry 17 times more weight than normal and march with significantly less strain on the body. With an XOS 2 suit, for example, a solider can carry 400 pounds but feel the weight of only 23.5.
Although robotic exoskeleton suits have been in development for over 50 years, things really started picking up speed in the 1990s, leading to more and more interest from the U.S military. Now, it’s a clear priority.
As former Air Force Chief of Staff General John Jumper said: “We must give the individual soldier the same capabilities of stealth and standoff that fighter planes have. We must look at the soldier as the system.”
Early 1960s: The Man Amplifier
Throughout the early 1960s, Neil Mizen developed the early stages of the Man Amplifier at Cornell University’s Aeronautical Lab. The suit was intended to have powered gears at the joints to provide additional support and strength.
Although it was hoped that the Amplifier would have military and scientific uses, Mizen could not master the system’s powered gear system, and the suit was never completed. Even so, his research went on to inspire future exoskeleton projects.
1965: The Hardiman Suit
One of the first powered iterations of exoskeletons was General Electric’s 1965 Hardiman Suit, which was co-developed with the U.S. military. The suit built upon the research done for the Man Amplifier.
The Hardiman was intended to lift 1,500 pounds; however, the suit never managed to act as a fully unified machine, and controlling it proved impossible.
Instead, research was focused on one arm of the suit. The arm managed to lift 750 pounds, but it weighed three quarters of a ton alone. The suit was deemed impractical, and the project was eventually abandoned.
1997: The Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL)
In 1997, the Japanese research firm Cyberdyne started the earliest prototype of the Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL). The South Korean and U.S. militaries offered to fund the program, but the company wanted to avoid military applications for its technology.
The first prototypes of HAL were created at Tsukuba University with the aim of assisting the disabled and elderly with their daily tasks. The original HAL systems were attached to computers, and the batteries alone weighed 49 pounds.
The HAL 5
In 2013, the fifth-generation HAL prototype, HAL 5, received a global safety certificate for worldwide medical use. It was the first powered exoskeleton to receive this certification.
The HAL 5 is a full-body exoskeleton that weighs a total of 22 pounds. The system functions by sensing bio-signals on the surface of the skin, causing the exoskeleton to mirror the user’s movement. The suit can function for about an hour and a half on a full charge. The suit was used by relief workers during efforts to clean up the partial meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant, because the suit could allow workers to wear more protective gear and work longer shifts without tiring as quickly.
The Berkeley Lower Extremity Exoskeleton (BLEEX)
The Berkeley Lower Extremity Exoskeleton (BLEEX) entered development in 2000 with a $50 million grant from DARPA. The prototype allowed wearers to carry upward of 200 pounds while feeling no additional weight. The exoskeleton was even capable of traversing rough terrain for extended periods of time.
The BLEEX has been designed so that the legs can be easily removed from the back if the device loses power — thus transforming it back into a standard backpack.
Springtail Exoskeleton Flying Vehicle
In 2001, Trek Aerospace ran its first test of the now-defunct Springtail Exoskeleton Flying Vehicle. The Springtail was considered for military development and even allowed for vertical flight. But ultimately, the project was deemed impractical and never took off.
The Springtail was unique in that it would allow soldiers to fly and hover, effectively taking the role of a personal vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicle. The Springtail had a maximum speed of 113 miles per hour and could fly for 184 miles and carry a payload of 358 pounds.
Also in 2001, U.S. Army Rangers veteran Monty K. Reed set up North Seattle Robotics Group. The group opened the They Shall Walk non-profit, dedicated to developing LIFESUIT exoskeletons for the disabled.
Reed had a parachute accident while in the military in 1986 that left him with permanent back injuries. During his recovery, Reed became fascinated with the exoskeletons in Robert Heinlein’s novel “Starship Troopers.” The LIFESUIT is in a late stage of development, and it has entered widespread medical trials.
In 2000, Sarcos, an engineering and robotics firm in Utah, began designing the XOS Exoskeleton after receiving a grant from DARPA. DARPA accepted Sarcos’ exoskeleton design in 2006, and production of prototypes began that year.
The XOS had to stay connected to a power source to maintain movement. But the suit performed remarkably within this limitation: The XOS allowed users to lift significantly more weight than they could previously. Its actual-to-perceived-weight ratio was 6:1, meaning that a 180-pound load would feel like only 30 pounds.
A lighter, more efficient XOS
In 2007, the defense giant Raytheon purchased Sarcos. In 2010, Raytheon-Sarcos released the XOS 2. The XOS 2 featured a host of improvements over the XOS.
The XOS 2 suit allows users to lift heavy objects at an actual-to-perceived-weight ratio of 17:1. The suit also required 50% less energy than the XOS, while also weighing 10% less than its predecessor.
The XOS 2 is also touted as being more precise, faster, and more portable than the XOS. The military is considering using the XOS 2 in its TALOS project.
The Human Universal Load Carrier
The Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC) began development in 2000 with Berkeley Bionics, which later changed its name to Ekso Bionics. The HULC was a third-generation exoskeleton system, and it incorporated features from two previous Ekso Bionics prototypes.
The HULC was proved to augment the strength of its wearers, allowing them to lift 200 pounds without impediment. The HULC also lowered the wearer’s metabolic cost, meaning soldiers could march with a load while having a decreased oxygen consumption and heart rate.
The HULC’s Military Applications
In 2009, Ekso Bionics licensed the HULC to Lockheed Martin for research into possible military applications. Lockheed continued its development of the HULC along the same lines as Ekso Bionics, but it increased the functionality of the suit to match the military’s needs.
HULC is multi-terrain operational, supports front and back payloads, and has enough power to last for an eight-hour march before having to be recharged. HULC allows a user to perform deep squats or crawl while wearing it, and it supports upper-body lifting as well. HULC is one of the exoskeletons currently being examined by the military for possible use in its TALOS Iron Man suit.
The X1 Mina — NASA’s Exoskeleton
NASA announced that it was creating an exoskeleton as part of a partnership with the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. The X1 Mina Exoskeleton will have dual functionality. In space and low-gravity environments, the joints of the suit will be stiffer, providing the astronauts with exercise to combat muscle atrophy.
NASA also envisions that the X1 can be used by paraplegics and others with disabilities to provide support while walking. In this case, the X1’s joints can be loosened, providing support to the wearer without being physically taxing.
The Warrior Web Program — DARPA’s Exoskeleton Of The Future
DARPA began its Warrior Web program, aimed at creating a soft and lightweight under-suit that protects wearers’ joints and helps increase the amount of weight a soldier can easily carry while using less than 100 watts of power. One of the most promising designs has come from the firm Boston Dynamics.
The Warrior Web program has produced small exoskeleton-like clothing designs that are meant to be worn under normal uniforms. The overall goal of the program is to increase the endurance of soldiers by lessening the strain on their muscles.
Over the past 50 years, exoskeletons have gone from an unproven and even slightly fanciful technology to systems with medical and aerospace applications. They are becoming lighter, more energy-efficient, and more flexible — meaning that it is probably just a matter of time before the U.S. develops a practical military version.
Naval historians still argue about the legacy of the battleship. Critics call them too vulnerable and too expensive, while supporters laud their sheer offensive capability and awesome firepower. Whatever the opinions, the battleship will always have an important place in U.S. military history. Here are 19 pictures that show why:
The “Great White Fleet,” sent around the world by President Theodore Roosevelt from 16 December 1907 to 22 February 1909, consisted of sixteen new battleships of the Atlantic Fleet. The fourteen-month long voyage was a grand pageant of American sea power.
One of the Great White Fleet’s Connecticut-class battleships at Villefranche, France, circa January 1909. This ship is either USS Vermont (Battleship No. 20) or USS Minnesota (Battleship No. 22).
“Crossing the line” ceremony as the Great White Fleet crosses the Equator, turning “Pollywogs” into “Shellbacks.”
The bridge of the USS Connecticut circa 1908. Note the ship’s name in lights.
Officers sporting ceremonial attire about the USS Connecticut.
U.S. Army aviation pioneer Billy Mitchell started an inter-service and inter-warfare specialty argument in 1921 when he demonstrated how bombers could take out a battleship. He later testified before Congress that “1,000 bombardment airplanes can be built and operated for about the price of one battleship.”
The USS Arizona was the pride of the fleet through the 1930s and is pictured here at sea with President Hoover aboard.
Things went very badly for the U.S. Navy’s battleship fleet, including the USS Arizona, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
The American war machine kicked into high gear after Pearl Harbor. Here the battleship Iowa is launched from New York Naval Shipyard in 1942.
Battleships were used extensively in the Pacific Theater during World War II, primarily for naval gunfire support during amphibious landings.
Here the USS New Jersey launches shells at the beach to soften up the LZ for the Marines as they get ready to take Okinawa.
Here the USS Missouri offers some gunfire support of her own in 1944.
Always the master of optics, MacArthur insisted that a battleship be the venue for the Japanese surrender. The ceremony was held aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.
Battleships were brought back into service during the Korean War. Here the USS Wisconsin sails between the destroyer Buck and heavy cruiser Saint Paul off Korea, February 22, 1952.
On May 6, 1956, the USS Wisconsin collided with the USS Eaton, a destroyer, in heavy fog off of Hampton Roads and sustained severe damage to her bow.
As part of Navy Secretary John F. Lehman’s effort to build a 600-ship Navy in the 1980s, and in response to the commissioning of Kirov by the Soviet Union, the United States recommissioned all four Iowa-class battleships. Here the USS Iowa is seen shelling targets in Lebanon in 1984.
The Iowa met with disaster on April 19, 1989 when an explosion in the center gun room killed 47 of the turret’s crewmen and severely damaged the gun turret itself. Two major investigations were undertaken into the cause of the explosion, one by the U.S. Navy and then one by the General Accounting Office and Sandia National Laboratories. The investigations produced conflicting conclusions.
Today guests can visit the USS Arizona memorial where oil still seeps from the wreck resting against the bottom of Pearl Harbor.
And guests can also visit the Iowa-class battleships in various cities around the country, including the USS Wisconsin docked in Norfolk, Virginia.
And lets not forget what is perhaps the greatest tribute to the battleship of all: Cher’s video for “If I Could Turn Back Time,” shot aboard the USS Missouri docked in Long Beach on July 1, 1989. (And Navy officials were not happy with Cher’s outfit.)
There have been countless military books published about how infantry conduct their impressive maneuvers and tactics.
Troops on the ground spend countless days learning to efficiently execute those specific movements with their squad, so when enemy contact breaks out, each member is ready to go.
Commonly, some of the rules we spend hours learning need to be broken, depending on the situation. But, in the heat of battle, there are some rules that, if they’re broken, lead to people getting needlessly hurt.
In the crazy land of Afghanistan, the bad guys like to use IEDs instead of fighting real like men. Because of that threat, the engineer, or the guy who walks out in front patrol, has to use a specialized metal detector to search for the buried devices.
After the engineer clears a narrow walking lane, it’s essential that no one steps outside of that isolated and protected area. A crappy thing could happen if a troop does step outside that path.
This U.S. Marine carefully sweeps his Valon metal detector from side-to-side with the hopes of finding an IED before it finds his patrol. (Image from Wikipedia Commons)
2. Maintain constant rear security
Rear security is all about “covering your six.” The last man in the patrol is expected to keep a constant eye out for any threat that gets to close to the back of the patrol. In the event that a potential risk comes to close, it’s goodbye bad guy — if that last man does his job right.
3. Follow dispersion
Before a patrol sets out, the squad leader will dictate how far apart he wants each troop to walk from one another. This dispersion helps minimize secondary injuries to nearby troops if an IED goes off.
It’s sh*tty enough when one guy goes down, but it’s even worse when multiple get injured.
4. Don’t touch or even look at the local females — if you’re a male
Many Afghan males find it highly offensive if American males touch or even look at their wives or daughters. The consequences could be fatal for the women, and no one wants that.
So to help this situation, we turn to the services of the FET — or Female Engagement Team — who are allowed to work with the local females.
Requirements officers at the Pentagon and defense companies like to tout the “beyond visual range” capabilities of modern aircraft. On paper, these days a pilot could earn ace status and never see his or her opponents.
However, air wars aren’t fought on paper, and history has shown that in spite of all the sensors and early warning platforms chances are very high that a bad guy or two will make it into the visual arena. At that point it’s down to a good old-fashioned dogfight, mano-a-mano.
Here are the main thoughts that go through a fighter pilot’s mind in that dynamic environment:
1. “What kind of bandit am I fighting?”
This is where homework comes in. A fighter pilot needs to be able to recognize what kind of airplane he’s up against at the longest possible range and any aspect, and he needs to know what the capabilities of that airplane are including aerodynamic characteristics and weapons performance. This kind of recognition determines what kind of fight a pilot should attempt.
2. “What’s my weapons loadout?”
Fighter pilots have a saying: “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.” So it’s best to bring a gun to a knife fight . . . or at least bring a long, sharp knife to a knife fight. A pilot has to know what weapons he has on the jet at all times and be ready to select the right one and pull the trigger in an instant. Few things as wasteful as committing a missile outside of the acceptable envelope, especially in a multi-bandit environment.
3. “Where’s my wingman?”
Not only does a pilot need to keep track of where the bad guys are around him, he also needs to know where his wingman is. In the chaotic world of high-G this demands a lot of physical exertion and very clear, concise comms over the radio.
4. “What’s my airspeed?”
Depending on the type of fight, faster isn’t always better. If a pilot wants to out-turn a bandit he needs to have the jet flying at the optimum airspeed to carve max angles, not zorching around supersonic.
5. “What’s my altitude?”
Fighter pilots have another saying: “You can only tie the record for low flight.” True ‘dat! So it’s smart for a pilot to keep the scan going to stay aware of how high above the ground he is. Plus, different jets have different performance characteristics at high and low altitudes, so a pilot might want to take the fight higher or lower depending on what kind of airplane he’s up against.
6. “What’s my fuel state?”
Like flying into the ground, flaming out solves a bandit’s problem for him. It’s easy for a fighter pilot to get tangled up in the phone booth in max burner and drive himself way below his fuel ladder. “Tanker posit!”
7. “Which way is home?”
Killing all the bandits makes this problem less stressful, but short of that, a savvy fighter pilot needs to know the correct direction to bug out when the opportunity presents itself. Otherwise he’s going to have to fight his way back through the mess he just worked hard to get out of, and that’s a good way to get killed.
Secrecy is one of the best currencies in war, so it’s sometimes best for commanders to keep their best assets hidden from the enemy and the public. While the military has admitted that most of the units on this list existed at some point, a lot of their missions were classified for decades before being disclosed to the public. For the units that are still operating, America still only gets glimpses into their secret activities.
1. Task Force 88/Task Force Black
They may or may not be the same group and they may or may not still be in operation. Task Force Black and Task Force 88 are names floating around the media for the unit that conducted raids against terror organizations in Iraq and Afghanistan during the height of the wars. The unit was commonly described as being a joint U.S.-U.K. force made up of the best that SEAL Team 6, Delta Force, and the British SAS had to offer. Controversy erupted when they were blamed for a cross-border raid into Syria. There is speculation that Task Force Black may be back in operation to destroy ISIS, if it ever stopped.
2. 6493rd Test Squadron/6594th Test Group
These Air Force units existed from 1958 to 1986 and were tasked with catching “falling stars.” They would fly out of Hawaii and catch film canisters falling from America’s first spy satellites. The satellites, part of the Corona program, orbited the Earth and took photos of Soviet Russia. Then, the satellites would drop their film canisters over the Pacific ocean where these Airmen would try to snatch the canisters out of the air.
The recovery process was surprisingly low-tech. A plane with a large hook beneath its tail would try to catch the canister’s parachute as it fell. When the planes failed to make the grab or the weather was too bad to attempt it, Coast Guard rescue swimmers in the unit would fish the film out of the water. The unit boasted a perfect record with more than 40,000 recoveries in 27 years. When its airmen weren’t snatching film from the air, the unit supported rescue missions near Hawaii. It was credited with 60 saves.
3. Delta Force/Combat Applications Group/Army Compartmented Elements is more well known, but still pretty secret
Like many of the units on the list, Delta has gone through a few name changes over the years. Formation of an elite counter-terrorism unit had been proposed multiple times in the 1970s and Delta Force is widely believed to have been formed in late 1977. Its operational history got off to a horrible start with the failed Operation Eagle Claw in 1980. Since then, Delta has distinguished itself in combat from the invasion of Panama to the Gulf War to hunting Osama Bin Laden in the Tora Bora Mountains. Since the unit is still operational, many of their missions remain classified.
5. 7781 Army Unit/39th Special Forces Operational Detachment
Operating in Berlin from 1956 to 1984, this team of green berets went through a few names during their history. They worked to keep West Berlin safe from communist incursions but also prepared to foment resistance if the city was taken over. Trained in classic spy craft skills, they were equipped with Bond-like gadgets such as cigarette-lighter guns and C-4 filled coal.
The Office of Strategic Services was formed in 1942 with the very broad mission of collecting and analyzing strategic information and conducting “special operations not assigned to other agencies.” Since few agencies had special operators in World War II, this gave the OSS a lot of room to run. Under Col. William “Wild Bill” Donovan, the tiny agency conducted raids, smuggled weapons and spies, supported resistance groups in Axis territory, and collected intelligence. The OSS even employed the first “sea, air, and land” commando in U.S. history.
When the Great War began in 1914, the armies on both sides brought new technologies to the battlefield the likes of which the world had never seen. The destruction and carnage caused by these new weapons was so extensive that portions of old battlefields are still uninhabitable.
World War I saw the first widespread use of armed aircraft and tanks as well as the machine gun. But some of the weapons devised during the war were truly terrifying.
The flamethrower was especially useful because even just the idea of being burned alive drove men from the trenches into the open where they could be cut down by rifle and machine gun fire.
The terrible nature of the flamethrower, Flammenwerfer in German, meant that the troops carrying them were marked men. As soon as they were spotted, they became the targets of gunfire. Should one happen to be taken prisoner, they were often subjected to summary execution.
The British went a different way with their flamethrowers and developed the Livens Large Gallery Flame Projector. These were stationary weapons deployed in long trenches forward of the lines preceding an attack. The nozzle would spring out of the ground and send a wall of flame 300 feet in the enemy’s direction.
These were used with great effectiveness at the Somme on July 1, 1916 when they burned out a section of the German line before British infantry was able to rush in and capture the burning remnants.
2. Trench Knife
Even with the advent of the firearm, hand-to-hand combat was still a given on the battlefield. However, with the introduction of trench warfare, a new weapon was needed in order to fight effectively in such close quarters. Enter the trench knife.
The most terrifying trench knives were developed by the United States. The M1917, America’s first trench knife, combined three killing tools in one. The blade of the weapon was triangular which meant it could only be used for stabbing, but it inflicted terrible wounds.
Triangular stab wounds were so gruesome that they were eventually banned by the Geneva Conventions in 1949 because they cause undue suffering. The knife also had a “knuckle duster” hand guard mounted with spikes in order to deliver maximum damage with a punching attack. Finally, the knife had a “skull crusher” pommel on the bottom in order to smash the enemy’s head with a downward attack.
Along with the trench knife the Allies developed other special weapons for the specific purpose of trench raiding. Trench raiding was the practice of sneaking over to enemy lines’ and then, as quietly as possible, killing everyone in sight, snatching a few prisoners, lobbing a few explosives into bunkers and high-tailing it back to friendly lines before the enemy knew what hit them.
As rifles would make too much noise, trench raiding clubs were developed. There was no specific design of a trench raiding club, though many were patterned after medieval weapons such as maces and flails.
Others were crude handmade implements using whatever was around. This often consisted of heavy lengths of wood with nails, barbed wire, or other metal attached to the striking end to inflict maximum damage.
When Americans entered the fight on the Western Front they brought with them a new weapon that absolutely terrified the Germans: the shotgun. The United States used a few different shotguns but the primary weapon was the Winchester M1897 Trench Grade shotgun. This was a modified version of Winchester’s model 1897 with a shortened 20″ barrel, heat shield, and bayonet lug.
The shotgun, with 6 shells of 00 buck, was so effective that American troops referred to it as the “trench sweeper” or “trench broom.”
The Germans, however, were less than pleased at the introduction of this new weapon to the battlefield. The effectiveness of the shotgun so terrified the Germans that they filed a diplomatic protest against its use. They argued that it should be outlawed in combat and threatened to punish any Americans captured with the weapon.
America rejected the German protest and threatened retaliation for any punishment against American soldiers.
5. Poison Gas
Of course any list of terrifying weapons of war has to include poison gas; it is the epitome of horrible weapons. Poisonous gas came in three main forms: Chlorine, Phosgene, and Mustard Gas.
The first poison gas attack was launched by the Germans against French forces at Ypres in 1915. After that, both sides began to develop their chemical weapon arsenals as well as countermeasures.
The true purpose of the gas was generally not to kill — though it certainly could — but to produce large numbers of casualties or to pollute the battlefield and force the enemy from their positions.
Gas also caused mass panic amongst the troops because of the choking and blindness brought on by exposure causing them to flee their positions. Mustard gas was particularly terrible because in addition to severely irritating the throat, lungs, and eyes, it also burned exposed skin, creating large painful blisters.
Though artillery had been around for centuries leading up to WWI, its use on the battlefields of Europe was unprecedented. This was because of two reasons.
Second, because the world had never seen such concentrations of artillery before.
Artillery shells were fired in mass concentrations that turned the earth into such a quagmire that later shells would fail to detonate and instead they would simply bury themselves into the ground. Massive bombardments destroyed trenches and buried men alive.
Artillery bombardments were so prolific that a new term, shell shock, was developed to describe the symptoms of survivors of horrendous bombardments.
Whenever a new weapon sees widespread deployment, all the rules get rewritten. The draft version of the new rules can be a bit strange though. Here are five crazy ways Britain thought it might get a handle on Germany’s U-Boats in World War I.
1. Training seagulls to sh-t on the periscopes
There is no explanation of how the seagulls would be trained to do this. Admiral Sir Frederick Inglefield, head of all “motor-boat patrols” (discussed below), believed seagulls would defecate on submarine periscopes if properly trained. The blinded submarines would then be forced to surface or attempt to escape the harbor.
2. Hammers and bags
The British tried to stop the submarine menace with a “motor-boat patrol.” There were hundreds of these boats, each with at least two crew members. The boats would patrol designated areas near the coast looking for periscopes. But only 1 in 10 was armed.
So, if the crew spotted a periscope, they were supposed to sneak as close to it as they could in the boat and then swim the rest of the way. One man would take a canvas bag and pop it over the periscope while the other would swing a hammer as hard as he could to break the periscope.
3. Meeting submarines under the surface with top notch swimmers and sharp hammers
There’s no record of the British ever attempting this method, but someone proposed the Royal Navy select some especially strong swimmers. When a submarine was spotted these swimmers could swim to the hull and attempt to hit it with a pointed hammer, piercing its hull and sending it down.
4. Training birds and sea lions to watch for periscopes
In an effort to more quickly identify submarines working near British and Allied shipping, the British Navy attempted to train seagulls and sea lions to chase periscopes. The training was done by creating dummy periscopes that dispensed food.
This was supposed to work in two ways. First, any submarine that raised its periscope while the ocean was covered in paint would be blinded as the paint covered the periscope glass. Second, the paint was generally green which may confuse the submarine captain as to what depth he was cruising at, possibly causing him to move higher in the water which would expose his hull.
Artillery on the shore or motor boat patrols could then target the blind, exposed U-boat. While this tactic was proposed to the Royal Navy, it’s not clear that they ever attempted it. This could be because they didn’t have enough green paint to cover the surface Great Britain’s 19,491 miles of coastline.