The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts - We Are The Mighty
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The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts

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


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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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How the legendary U-2 spy plane landed on an aircraft carrier

The famed U-2 “Dragon Lady” reconnaissance and spy aircraft is an icon of the Cold War still in service today. It’s crewed by some of America’s most elite pilots, and even then the finicky plane is typically landed on a large runway with the assistance of a “chase car” that coaches the pilot to the ground.


The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
A U-2 Dragon Lady spy plane comes in for a landing. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt Aaron Oelrich)

The U-2 has wheels aligned like bicycle tires and an 80-ft. wingspan, forcing pilots to carefully guide the plane down the runway just to keep from accidentally banging the tips into the asphalt and ruining the plane.

That’s why it’s so crazy that a group of Air Force and CIA pilots and crew tested the U-2G, a modified version of the spy plane, and certified the Dragon Lady onboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger.

After CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down over Soviet airspace during a flight from Pakistan to Norway, it became harder for the State Department to convince allies to allow U-2s to be based in their countries.

To get around the sudden restriction in land bases willing and capable of handling the planes, the CIA decided to test the possibility of deploying the U-2s on Navy aircraft carriers.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
(GIF: YouTube/Military Videos)

The USS Ranger was selected for the top-secret tests which went surprisingly well, but the only declassified mission of a U-2G launched from a carrier took place in the South Pacific where two Dragon Ladies flew from California to Hawaii to the USS Ranger.

The Ranger delivered the U-2s to a launching point, and the planes sampled the air around the test site to learn more about French nuclear efforts.

See more touch-and-go landings from the USS Ranger trials in the video above.

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6 lessons today’s military could learn from old cartoons

Wisdom comes in all sorts of places. Here are 6 lessons modern military leaders could learn from Bugs Bunny, Pinky and the Brain, and Winnie the Pooh:


1. Don’t rely on technology to solve all your problems

via GIPHY

Yes, F-22s, M1 Abrams, and Apache helicopters are sexy marvels of engineering, but they can’t win wars on their own. In a 1982 battle, Syria lost all of its fancy surface-to-air missile batteries in only two days of fighting because, instead of keeping them mobile or emplacing them in hard-to-template areas, they deployed them near bathrooms so they wouldn’t have to dig latrines.

2. A plan that is “so crazy it just might work!” usually doesn’t

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
GIF: YouTube/winniethepooh414

For all the flashy tricks in war, the best plan is often relatively simple. Don’t make a nine-step plan with 100 moving parts when you can send in an infantry company and get the job done. More moving parts equal more failure points.

3. Take care who you’re getting your advice from

via GIPHY

Not all intel is trustworthy. Plenty of locals are willing to provide fake tips to U.S. troops to get rid of political or business rivals. Troops in Afghanistan learned this the hard way when Pech River Valley residents got rid of families in Korengal Valley by siccing Americans on them. Soldiers deployed to the Korengal Valley footed the bill for those early mistakes.

4. Pick your allies and recruits wisely.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
GIF: YouTube/TammieRD’s channel

Allies have to be rigorously screened. Some of the senior Iraqi political and military allies of the U.S. stripped their own army of key leaders, neutering it and leaving the country ripe for takeover by ISIS. Now U.S. troops are filtering back into the nation to redo the work they thought they completed just a few years ago.

5. Don’t bring more gear than you need

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
GIF: YouTube/8thManDVD.com™ Cartoon Channel

Whether it’s a training ruck march or troops establishing a new combat outpost in country, packing should be done according to mission requirements. Food, water, ammo, and batteries are essential. Everything else should be scrutinized before it’s packed.

6. Don’t let your actions become predictable

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
GIF: YouTube/Adeem Works Studios

All militaries practice battle drills and write doctrine, even if they call them something different. This is vital to make sure that all units know what to expect from one another. But, they need to take care that they don’t make their actions predictable for the enemy. When trucks stop 50 meters from a suspected IED, insurgents will immediately begin planting secondary IEDs 50 meters from a primary.

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This Marine earned two medals of honor by age 19

Vietnam-era Marine and Hue City veteran John Ligato once remarked that the most ferocious fighting machine the world has ever seen is the 19-year-old pissed off Marine. In the case of John J. Kelly, he couldn’t be more right.


The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
Look at this handsome Devil… Dog.

Kelly joined the Marines in May 1917, just one month after the U.S. Congress declared war on Germany. The Chicago native was soon in France with 78th Company, 6th Regiment, 2d Division. That’s where he would earn the Army and Navy versions of the Medal of Honor — at the same time.

In October 1918, Kelly was in Blanc Mont Ridge in France, which the Germans occupied since 1915. The French were joined by two divisions of the U.S. Army and Major General John Lejeune’s 2d Division of Marines — including Pvt. John Kelly.

At the start of the near-monthlong battle, Kelly ran through no-man’s land, 100 yards ahead of an allied artillery barrage — straight toward a machine gun nest.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
Kinda like that, with less shield. (DC Films/Warner Bros.)

He chucked a grenade into the nest, killing one of the Germans. Then he took out the other using his sidearm.

Private Kelly returned to his line — again through the artillery barrage — but this time he brought back eight German soldiers at gunpoint.

The American advance at St. Etienne turned the tide of the Battle of Blanc Mont against the Germans. By Oct. 28, the area they occupied since the very start of the World War was now firmly in Allied hands.

Kelly was awarded both the Army and Navy Medals of Honor by General John J. Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, in 1919. With the war over, Kelly left the military and returned to civilian life.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
Kelly receiving his Medal of Honor

He returned to his native Illinois, where he died in 1957.

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This intense 360 video shows the dangers of fighting during the Civil War

Although trench warfare was made famous during the battles of WWI, it was originally the brainchild of a French military engineer named Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban in the 17th century.


Fast-forward to 1861 when the Civil War started. The implementation of entrenchments as a form of defensive posturing was commonly overlooked.

As the war raged on, infantry units began dominating the battlefield as troops increased their use of the rifled muskets and Gatling guns. These new deadly weapons caused the need for entrenchments as a form of cover.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban — the first known architect of trench warfare.

Related: This intense first-person video shows how dangerous life was in the trenches of WWI

The trenches used during the Civil War were primitively constructed from wood logs, as engineers and other materials needed to build them properly were in short supply.

For nine long months, both sides of the fight battled it out in a series of man-made tunnels that stretched more than 30 miles long.

When the Civil War ended in 1865, an estimated 620,000 people lost their lives during the multi-year skirmish — nearly two percent of the population.

As time would go on, trench warfare was famously utilized and modified throughout military history. Today we commonly refer to trenches as fighting holes.

Also Read: This is actual footage of the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri

Check out the American Heroes Channel‘s video below for this powerful 360 video of a Civil War firefight re-enactment below.

(American Heroes Channel, YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

The infamous Polish cavalry charge against the Nazis actually worked

On Sept. 1, 1939, the Nazi war machine rolled into Poland, touching off World War II in Europe. Nazi propaganda would have the world believe Polish cavalry were intentionally charging Nazi tanks, thinking they were no more than the toothless dummies the Treaty of Versailles allowed them. In the aftermath of these battles, the dead horses and cavalrymen appeared to back this claim and the world would believe the myth of the Polish cavalry for much of the war. But in reality, there was a Polish cavalry charge that was a tactical success.


The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts

(Laughs in Polish)

The Poles had very little chance of retaining their country during World War II. The Nazis invaded Poland at one of the heights of their military power. The Soviets invaded Poland from the other side. Poland stood little chance of fighting them both off – but that doesn’t mean the Poles didn’t try. The Polish had already fought off the Red Army in the 1919-1921 Polish-Russian War, but this time, things would be different.

Poland has a pretty spectacular military history, even if it wasn’t a country for much of that time. Napoleon recruited Polish troops, as did the Russian Tsar and the Hapsburg monarchy. It was probably Polish forces who kept Eastern Europe from falling to Muslim invaders in the 1600s, as Polish troops were critical to winning the Battle of Vienna. The final death blow to the Ottoman invaders was the now-famous cavalry charge led by the elite Polish Winged Hussars. The Hussars cleared the Ottomans from the battlefield and delivered a rout so hard, Muslim armies would never threaten Vienna or Western Europe again.

So yeah, the Poles are no joke – but time passed, and Poland fell behind in its military development while Nazi Germany famously re-armed in a way that would make any dictator’s mouth water. The Soviet Union had a large army, even if it wasn’t as well-trained or well-equipped. The Poles still fought both valiantly and nowhere was that more apparent than at Krojanty.

On the first day of the Nazi invasion, the Germans broke through the Polish Border Guard very early in the day, which forced the rest of the Polish defenders in the area to fall back to a secondary defensive position. In order to make an orderly retreat and not lose all of the defenders to German infantry, someone had to cover the retreat and force the Germans to slow their advance. That fell to the 18th Pomeranian Uhlan Regiment, a cavalry regiment that saw action fighting the Red Army in the 1919 war with the USSR. They would make one of history’s last great cavalry charges.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts

No, they weren’t wearing wings but that would have been awesome.

The 18th Pomeranian Uhlan Regiment found the Nazi German 76th Infantry Regiment, comprised of 800 armored reconnaissance vehicles along with 30 heavy guns, waiting to advance on the free city of Danzig. The 76th was actually part of the left wing of the XIX Panzer Corps under Gen. Heinz Guderian, which had been slowed across the line by Polish resistance. In order for the Poles in the area to get to the secondary defense of the River Brda, the 76th would have to take heavy losses, which would cause a delay for the entire motorized division on the Nazi left flank.

What would a cavalry unit do in a situation where the enemy is sitting around, waiting for orders? Charge, of course. The Poles took the enemy by surprise with a heavy cavalry charge of two squadrons, consisting of 250 angry Poles on horseback. They completely disbursed the German 76th. It was a complete tactical success, allowing for the rest of the defenders to make it to the relative safety of the River Brda. The Polish cavalry was quickly disbursed itself, however, by a German counterattack of heavy machine guns from nearby armored vehicles. They lost a third of their cavalry, but the rest of the defenders lived on to fight again.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘Mad Jack Churchill’: The officer who carried a sword, bagpipes, and a longbow into battle

The German Wehrmacht and Adolf Hitler’s panzer corps devastated the British military through France and Belgium. Hitler twice stopped his forces from delivering the kill shot on British troops at the French port known as Dunkirk — the location of one of the largest naval evacuations in history. Historians predict that Hitler’s decision to halt his army for three days in May 1940 was to give Winston Churchill, Britain’s new prime minister at the time, “a sporting chance” — despite having them completely surrounded.

While Hitler and Churchill were making strategic moves far and away from front-line combat on the battlefield, another Churchill was gaining near-mythical status for his otherworldly tactics, brazen leadership, and his mystifying ability to confuse the enemy and inspire his peers. On May 27, 1940, Lt. Col. John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill stood at the base of a tower and watched a German patrol approach a hill overlooking the French village of L’Epinette.

The first Nazi officer who appeared in sight was hit center mass from 30 yards — sparking the signal for the ambush. The German’s deadly wound was not from a gunshot but from an arrow fired from a longbow. Alongside two infantrymen from the Manchester Regiment, Churchill unsheathed his basket-hilted claymore medieval sword and commanded orders to maneuvering elements to take out the remaining German patrol. The British officer’s legend leading men in combat armed with a bow and arrow was born, and throughout World War II he repeatedly proved the worth of his nicknames — “Mad Jack” and “Fighting Jack.”


The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts

Jack Churchill, far right, leads a training exercise, sword in hand, from a Eureka boat in Inveraray. Although this is a training mission, he did carry a sword, longbow, and bagpipes in combat. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

But who exactly was “Mad Jack” Churchill, and what emboldened him to carry medieval weapons into modern combat?

Churchill was born in British-controlled Hong Kong and raised among Anglo-Scottish parents in England alongside his two brothers, Thomas and Robert (both would also have stellar World War II exploits). He received his education at a private institution called King William’s College on the Isle of Man and Royal Military College in Sandhurst, England. Here he fostered a passion for history and poetry and had a romanticism toward adventure that birthed a broader fascination for castles, plants, animals, and insects.

He was commissioned into the 2nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment in 1926 and arrived in Rangoon, Burma, to receive further training. He rode a Zenith motorcycle 1,500 miles from his signals course in Poona, India, mistakenly crashing into a water buffalo along the way. In Burma, he balanced his motorcycle on railroad ties as he listened for any signs of oncoming trains. While on duty he participated in flag marches traveling down the Irrawaddy River, Burma’s largest and most frequented commercial highway, to visit villages to collect intelligence on suspected bandits.

The Other Churchill – WWII Hero Jack Churchill

www.youtube.com

Before he left Burma and later the Army with a decade of service in 1936, he learned to play the bagpipes in Maymyo — now known as Pyin Oo Lwin — Mayanmar, an interest piqued by his Scottish heritage. He worked as a newspaper editor in Nairobi, Kenya, and his chiseled jawline led to gigs in male modeling. The adventurer gained attention in England as an entertainer, took a small role in the 1924 film The Thief of Baghdad to advise on archery techniques, and even showcased those skills from 200 yards at the World Archery Championships held in Oslo, Norway, in 1939.

After earning the statistic for the last bow and arrow kill by a British officer in combat, Churchill volunteered for No. 2 Commando, a special operations unit that gained notorious status for daring coastal raids. Dressed in a kilt and holding a set of bagpipes, Churchill played an impressive rendition of the tune March of the Cameron Men before the commandos took part in the ironically named Operation Archery (sometimes called the Måløy Raid), against German positions on the island of Vågsøy, Norway.

During the Italian amphibious landings in Sicily and Salerno he personally captured 42 German soldiers and an 81mm mortar team armed with only his sword. “In my opinion, any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed,” Churchill later reasoned. During a nighttime commando raid in Yugoslavia on the island of Brac, Churchill was wounded, captured, and imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin. He tunneled a route out of the prison camp with another Royal Air Force prisoner but was captured and transferred to a more secure location in Austria, where he successfully escaped once more.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts

Major Jack Churchill examines one of four captured Belgian 75s. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

He was found by an American reconnaissance unit eight days later walking on a busted ankle after train hopping 150 miles across the Swiss Alps near Brenner pass. Following the war and into his 40s, he rescued an estimated 500 Jewish doctors and patients held hostage at a hospital in Jerusalem after the Hadassah Convoy Massacre in 1948.

“People are less likely to shoot at you if you are smiling at them,” he quipped while holding his blackthorn cane. In the 1950s, “Mad Jack” retired from military service with two Distinguished Service Order awards and found a passion for refurbished steamboats along the Thames. He also participated in motorcycle speed trials to quench his thirst for excitement.

“He didn’t brag about these things at all, but he would be happy to talk to anyone who asked, particularly if it was over a couple of nice glasses of wine in the evening,” his son Malcolm later said. Churchill was a humble warrior beyond what history proclaimed. He died in 1996 at age 89.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.


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This is what happened to the soldiers from ‘Platoon’

The Vietnam War was a tough time in American history. The country was divided over the conflict, and protesters spoke out against the government in all sorts of ways.


Many veterans of the conflict returned home and were forgotten. But in the 1980s, a raft of new movies about the conflict hit the silver screen. One of the most successful was Oliver Stone’s “Platoon.”

While it made a huge impact at the time, did you ever wonder what happened to the brave soldiers from Platoon?

Well, we looked into it, and here’s what we found.

Related: Here’s what the Marines of ‘Full Metal Jacket’ are doing today

FYI. This is strictly fan fiction.

Chris Taylor

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
(Source: Orion)

This young and naive kid who gave up a bright future in college to join the Army infantry had an interesting time after the war. He had some trouble with the law, his vision went to sh*t, and he changed his name to Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn. But he also learned that he could throw a mean fastball.

After getting out of jail for grand theft auto, Vaughn made the Cleveland Indians baseball team and helped win them a pennant.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts

Due to his overwhelming popularity, Vaughn turned to partying and excessive drinking. He checked himself into rehab and stayed for so long, he left as a certified anger management therapist.

True story.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts

Sgt. Elias

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
(Source: Orion)

Now, everyone thinks that Sgt. Elias was killed when he gunned down in the Vietnam jungle — not true. That was just a government cover-up for a secret experiment he doing.

Elias’ real name is Norman Osbourne. Yes, the founder of Oscorp. He was testing a chemical that could turn humans into superhumans. Once the first round of human testing was possible, he quickly faked his death before heading to New York.

Unfortunately, the testing didn’t go as planned and he turned himself into freakish Green Goblin.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts

Sadly, he attempted to take down one of the many superheroes who protect The Big Apple, and he met his doom.

Sgt. O’Neill

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
(Source: Orion)

All this tired soldier wanted to do was take some much-needed RR to avoid a massive third act firefight. Well, O’Neill eventually made it back to the states after seeing fierce combat in the Vietnam jungle.

He decided the Army wasn’t for him anymore and was discharged. O’Neill became a sports writer but got beaten up by an Italian football coach during an interview.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts

After collecting an undisclosed monetary settlement, O’Neill curled his hair and went on to become an Internal Medicine doctor at Sacred Heart Hospital.

He changed his name to Perry Cox and was placed in charge of all the medical residents.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts

The frustration he feels every day causes him to get nasty bloody noses which he treats with shock therapy.

Also Read: 7 life lessons we learned from the grunts in ‘Platoon’

Sgt. Barnes

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
(Source: Orion)

Soon after Chris shot him in the chest, combat medics arrived on the scene and patched Barnes up in time. After a few years of therapeutic healing and some facial plastic surgery, Barnes made a full recovery.

His recovery was considered nothing short of a miracle, and he managed to fulfill a lifetime dream of becoming a major league baseball catcher.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts

He eventually made amends with “Wild Thing” after informing him that Elias was actually a crazy f*cker. The two played alongside one another for a few seasons before Barnes became the ball club’s manager.

In the offseason, Barnes moonlights as a Marine Corps sniper and travels deep into enemy territory taking out high valued targets.

But don’t tell anyone we said that — Op Sec and all.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts

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Navy patrol plane has ‘safe’ close encounter with Russian fighter

A Russian fighter came within 20 feet of a United States Navy maritime patrol aircraft over the Black Sea. However, unlike past encounters, this close approach doesn’t have the Navy angry.


According to a report by FoxNews.com, the Russian plane was armed with six air-to-air missiles.

Despite that, the plane’s crew described the encounter as “safe and professional,” a marked contrast to incidents such as the buzzing of USS Porter in the Black Sea earlier this year.

Last year, another P-8 had a Russian plane come within ten feet of it.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
A P-8A Poseidon assigned to commander, Task Force 67 participates in a photo exercise during Exercise Dynamic Manta 2017. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ford Williams/Released)

The incident comes about a month before planned Black Sea exercises that the United States will be involved in. Russia has expressed concern over the deployment of American ships to the Black Sea in the past, claiming they are a threat to Russia.

“After approaching a plane at a safe distance the Russian pilot visually identified the flying object as a U.S. surveillance plane P-8A Poseidon,” the Russian military claimed in a statement.

American military officials noted that the Russian plane approached the P-8 “slowly” during the hour-long encounter.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
Dmitriy Pichugin. (Creative Commons)

“While this one was considered by the flight crew to be safe and professional, this sort of close encounter certainly has the possibility to become dangerous in a hurry,” an anonymous American defense official said.

Yesterday saw a Russian Su-24 Fencer come within 70 miles of the Carl Vinson carrier strike group, prompting the South Koreans to scramble two F-16 Fighting Falcons to intercept the plane.

The Fencer has been used in many of the buzzing incidents the Navy has claimed were “unsafe and unprofessional” in recent months.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
A pair of Russian Air Force Su-27 Flanker aircraft. (Dept. of Defense photo)

Russian aircraft have also approached Alaska a number of times in recent weeks, prompting the United States to scramble F-22 Raptor air dominance fighters on at least one occasion.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The heroic — and nearly forgotten — legend of ‘Pappy’ Gunn

When people mention “Pappy” — otherwise known as Gregory P. Boyington of VMF-214 — the “Black Sheep Squadron” immortalized in the late 1970s series “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” comes to mind.


There is a good reason; Boyington, a Medal of Honor recipient, is the top-scoring Marine Corps ace with 28 kills. He was also an ace with the Flying Tigers (six kills).

But there is another Pappy who did much to help turn back the Japanese in the Pacific Theater. This was Paul I. “Pappy” Gunn.

“Pappy” Gunn had served in the U.S. Navy for twenty years before retiring to start airlines in Hawaii and the Philippines. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, he returned to the service — and received a Distinguished Flying Cross for flying in medical supplies to besieged troops on the Bataan Peninsula. He was evacuated to Australia, and in the summer of 1942, he began his major contribution to the war effort.

Gunn started to add M2 .50-caliber machine guns to the noses of A-20 Havoc light bombers. The planes had been okay, able to carry a ton of bombs, but bombing from high altitude often didn’t work with ships. So Gunn began modifying the A-20s, and later the B-25s, with M2s scavenged from fighters that had brought back their pilots, but which wouldn’t be repaired. He also developed the tactics these planes would use.

 

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
9th Air Force Douglas A-20G or A-20H over France. Note the solid nose holding six M2 .50-caliber machine guns. (US Air Force photo)

It was a very lethal masterpiece. Word filtered back to the manufacturers, Douglas and North American, and soon new versions of the B-25 and A-20 were out, built and inspired by Gunn’s field modifications. One version of the B-25 would carry 18 forward-firing M2s — the firepower of three P-51 Mustangs!

These planes would make their mark in the Southwest Pacific. Japan was trying to reinforce troops in New Guinea, where the Americans and Australians were fighting fiercely. Gunn’s modifications would be put to the test in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Japan sent eight transports, escorted by eight destroyers to deliver nearly 7,000 troops to Lae from Rabaul.

On March 3, 1943, they began. The Japanese force was simply unprepared to handle the Allied firepower. Despite cover from 100 fighters, their convoy was savaged. The strafing, combined with skip-bombing and mast-height bombing, tore the transports and half the destroyers apart. Only 1200 troops and practically no equipment made it to Lae.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
Planes from the 5th Air Force carry out a low-level attack during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. (US Air Force photo)

Gunn would serve throughout the war, retiring as a full colonel. He then went back to re-building the airline he had started prior to World War II breaking out. In 1957, he was killed when his plane crashed during a storm. While not well-known, Gunn’s legend is one that does the United States Air Force proud.

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4 unmanned fighters that are being developed for the next war

The major nations of the world have been in an air-to-air arms race since the first fighter pilots fired pistols at each other in World War I. From machine gun mounts to jet engines to stealth technology, the race has always been about making the human in one cockpit more lethal than the other.


It now appears that the race is moving to an entirely new stage where the goal is to make autonomous drones that can kill while the pilot is either in another cockpit or an office far away. While the manned F-22 Raptor is still the king of the roost and F-35 pilots are gearing up for their combat debut, these are the unmanned fighters in development to replace them in the future:

1. BAE’s Taranis

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
The British Taranis UCAV flies during testing. (Photo: BAE Systems)

The Taranis unmanned combat aerial vehicle has ruffled a lot of feathers in Europe where large groups oppose autonomous weapons of war. While Taranis will likely be capable of full autonomy, the Ministry of Defense and British Aerospace Engineering have said the unmanned combat aerial vehicle will function as a “man in the loop” system. A human decides what’s a target and the system engages approved targets.

Taranis is primarily a strike aircraft, meaning that it goes after ground targets. But it’s capable of fighting enemy planes and could fly from Britain to continents outside of Europe with limited input from pilots and crew.

 

2. F-16s (Yeah, those F-16s)

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts

America’s current entry for an autonomous fighter now that the X-47B will most likely become a flying gas station is actually an old airframe — the F-16 Falcon.

The “Loyal Wingman” program calls for upgrading fourth-generation aircraft like F-16s with autonomous controls, software and hardware upgrades that will let computers fly the jet. Then human pilots in F-35s or F-22s would be able to fight with a few drone F-16s and F/A-18 Hornets backing them up.

The Navy is still interested in developing a next-generation unmanned fighter, but that’s far in the future, while unmanned F-16s could be fighting within a few years.

3. DRDO AURA

India’s Autonomous Unmanned Research Vehicle is a technology demonstrator under development by the country’s Defense Research and Development Organisation. The final weapon is designed to carry its weapons internally and be capable of self-defense, reconnaissance, and striking ground targets.

The exact level of “self-defense” capability the AURA will have has not yet been announced, so this could be a ground-attack drone with limited air-to-air capability. The program appears to be behind schedule but was initially slated for a 2015 prototype and a 2020 completion.

4. Sharp Sword

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
China’s Sharp Sword UCAV conducts a taxiing test. (Photo: Youtube/arronlee33)

China’s Sharp Sword is so wrapped in secrecy that no one’s sure what its ultimate mission will be. It has gone through some iterations and prototypes, but a blended-wing design that flew in late-2013 is the best known version.

It appears that China’s Sharp Sword is based on Russia’s mothballed “Skat” UCAV which has languished for years. China’s primary need for a stealth UCAV is for naval operations in disputed regions of the South and East China Sea.

That means it will need something to defend itself against fighters from U.S. carriers. If it doesn’t get integrated air-to-air weapons, expect it to act as a sensor for ground-based defenses and possibly take on an anti-ship role.

European-NEUROn_-_Dassault_Aviation-UCAV-drone-sits-on-display The Dassault nEUROn is a Pan-European UCAV designed for strike capabilities and technology testing. (Photo: Aerolegende CC BY-SA 3.0)

In addition to the UCAVs discussed above, there are a number of new drones designed to surveil and strike ground targets. Russia’s Skat was canceled, but its technology is incorporated into a new platform developed by Sukhoi, the same company that makes the PAK FA T-50.

Countries in the European Union, including Britain, are working together to develop a new UCAV for hitting ground targets that is based on the Taranis and the nEUROn, a UCAV produced by France; Italy; Sweden; Spain; Greece and Switzerland.

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How close is North Korea to being a nuclear threat really?

While a leaked US intelligence report suggests North Korea now can build warheads small and light enough to fit inside its intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons experts doubt that Pyongyang can develop an operational ICBM with a reliable warhead capable of hitting the US mainland.


Reports about the intelligence community’s consensus on North Korea’s weapons capability came this week as Pyongyang and Washington exchanged war threats.

The July 28 analysis from the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, disclosed August 8 by The Washington Post, concludes that Pyongyang has “produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles.” On August 10, NBC News quoted unnamed US officials as saying the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, as well as other intelligence agencies, agreed with the assessment.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kyla Gifford

Key questions unanswered

Miniaturization technology was one of the major hurdles in Kim Jong Un’s nuclear and missile programs. If the DIA assessment holds true, the regime is now closer to achieving its ambition: striking the continental US with a nuclear-tipped ICBM.

Determined as North Korea is to become a full-fledged nuclear power, experts say several important questions about its capabilities remain.

David Albright, a former UN nuclear inspector, told VOA’s Korean service the DIA assessment appeared to have ignored “uncertainties and caveats” about the reliability of the miniaturized warhead, once it is loaded atop an ICBM, and little is known about the chances that the payload will reach its target.

Pyongyang already can miniaturize nuclear warheads and mount them on its medium-range Rodong missiles, which have been test-launched repeatedly since the early 1990s. Albright said it might be possible, but less likely, that they could do the same with an ICBM.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Difficulties only begin at launch

Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, explained that a nuclear warhead must survive the entire ICBM mission – the rigors of blastoff, possibly from a mobile launch vehicle, the flight into space and then a blazing re-entry into the atmosphere – before it can detonate above its target.

Failures can occur, Albright noted, because of the much more exacting requirements of the Hwasong-14 ICBM missile system, which has been tested only twice, and just within the past month – not enough to establish its reliability.

“Countries spend a lot of time working this problem to try to build up what they call the reliability of the warhead in a delivery system, and it just takes time,” Albright said. “I think I would be skeptical that North Korea can do it right now.”

Michael Elleman, senior fellow for missile defense at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, had similar views. But in terms of volume, he said, if a warhead can fit inside the payload bay of Pyongyang’s Scud-type short-range missile, which has a relatively narrow diameter, any of the regime’s other missiles, including the Hwasong-14, certainly could accommodate it.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
Hwasong missile (North Korean variant). (Photo: KCNA)

Lighter warheads travel farther

It is not yet clear by how much the North Koreans can lighten their missiles’ payloads, which would extend their range.

“It is still a question mark as to whether they can threaten deep into the United States,” Elleman said.

However, he told VOA, it appears the North Koreans’ rockets could deliver a 500-kilogram warhead as far the western portions of the continental US

Further undercutting confidence in the North’s technical capabilities is a lack of clarity about the Kim regime’s mastery of atmospheric re-entry technology for the warhead, a crucial requirement for operational ICBMs.

For long-range flights, Elleman said, “the re-entry velocity, when it comes back into the Earth’s atmosphere, is much higher, and so the protection mechanisms for the re-entry vehicle [must be] more rigorous, to survive the much greater amount of heat and the vibrations as it slows down, passing through … thicker and thicker [air] as you get closer to the surface.”

Tests show ‘substantial progress’

Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, is now a professor at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, and he has visited North Korea seven times and toured its nuclear facilities.

Hecker said in an interview with The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that making miniaturized warheads robust enough to survive the extreme conditions of ICBM flight “is very demanding and takes time, particularly because warheads contain materials such as plutonium, highly enriched uranium, high explosives and the like.”

“These are not,” he added, “your ordinary industrial materials.”

However, Hecker added in a separate interview this week, Pyongyang’s latest two missile tests, of their ICBMs, “demonstrate substantial progress, and most likely mean they will be able to master the technology in the next year or two.”

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, founded in 1945 by scientists who worked on the US Manhattan Project and built the first atomic bomb, has for 70 years published the “Doomsday Clock,” intended as a measure of how close the world is to a thermonuclear war – or to midnight, on the clock, because that could lead to a worldwide cataclysm.

The Doomsday Clock stood at three minutes to midnight in 2016. The scientists involved advanced it in late January this year, and it is now just two minutes and 30 seconds short of midnight.

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The US Air Force has an absurd plan for replacing the A-10 Warthog

The US Air Force has presented several plans for replacing the beloved A-10 Warthog close air support attack plane over the years, but their latest plan takes the cake as the most absurd.


As it stands, the Air Force wants to purchase or develop not one, but two new airframes to eventually phase out the A-10.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
U.S. A-10s and F-16s take part in an Elephant Walk in South Korea | US Air Force photo

First, they’d pick out a plane, likely an existing one, called the OA-X, (Observation, Attack, Experimental), which would likely be an existing plane with a low operating cost. Propeller-driven planes like the Beechcraft AT-6, already in use as a training plane for the Air Force, or Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, which the US recently gave to Afghanistan for counter-insurgency missions, are possible options.

Related: Here’s a friendly reminder of how big the A-10 Warthog’s gun is

The OA-X would fly with A-10s in low-threat air spaces to support the tank-buster, however this option appears to make little sense.

A sub-sonic, propeller-driven plane can perform essential close air support duties in much the same way a World War II era platform could, but it’s a sitting duck for the kind of man-portable, shoulder-launched air defense systems becoming increasingly prominent in today’s battle spaces.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
Mobile air defenses are already widespread, and only gaining ground. | YouTube screenshot

Next, the Air Force would look to field an A-X2 to finally replace the Warthog. The idea behind this jet would be to preserve the A-10’s CAS capabilities while increasing survivability in medium-threat level environments.

So while an update on the 40-year-old A-10 seems to make sense, the funding for it doesn’t.

The Air Force expects a “bow-wave” of costs in the mid-2020s, when modernization costs are looming and can’t be put off any further. This includes procuring F-35s, developing the B-21, procuring KC-46 tankers, and even possibly embarking on the quest to build a sixth-generation air dominance platform.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James seemed puzzled by the proposed plan to replace the A-10, saying in an interview with Defense News, “everything has a price tag … If something goes in, something else has to fall out.”

Air Combat Command chief Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, noted to Defense News his doubts that the proposed replacements would be a good use of limited public funds.

“If you look at the things within the combat Air Force portfolio that I’m responsible for in modernization and taking care of those systems, I don’t know where the money would come from,” Carlisle said. “And if we got extra money, in my opinion, there’s other things that I would do first to increase our combat capability before we go to that platform.”

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
The US Air Force has a shortage of planes, where perhaps money could be better spent. | U.S. Air Force photo by Andrew Breese

Also, Carlisle doubted the need for a plane to operate in low-threat or “permissive” airspaces, as they are fast disappearing.

“Given the evolving threat environment, I sometimes wonder what permissive in the future is going to look like and if there’s going to be any such thing, with the proliferation of potential adversaries out there,” he said.

“The idea of a low-end CAS platform, I’m working my way through whether that’s a viable plan or not given what I think the threat is going to continue to evolve to, to include terrorists and their ability to get their hands on, potentially, weapons from a variety of sources.”

Furthermore, the Air Force’s proposal seems to run contrary to other proposals to replace the A-10 in the past. For a while, Air Force officials said that the F-35 would take over for the A-10, and though the F-35 just reached operational capability, it was not mentioned as part of the newest proposal.

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts
US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Corey Hook

Air Force General Mark Welsh told the Senate Armed Services Committee that other legacy fighters, the F-16 and F-15 could fly the A-10’s missions in Iraq and Syria until the F-35 was available, but that idea was also mysteriously absent from the Air Force’s two-new-plane proposal.

The Air Force, expecting huge costs in the near future, is wise to try to slash costs, and retiring an airplane and all the associated infrastructure makes an attractive target, but the A-10 represents just 2 percent of the Air Force’s budget, and has unique capabilities that no other aircraft in the fleet can hope to match.

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