Drones have been in the fight longer than you think - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think

Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles have been the rage lately. The Navy has been testing the X-47. Bell is offering the V-247 Vigilant for a number of missions. But one UCAV served in the active force way before drones became so popular.


Meet the QH-50 Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter, or DASH, which entered service in 1963.

DASH was intended to give the Navy’s modified World War II Allen M. Sumner and Gearing-class destroyers a long-range anti-submarine weapon. Capable of operating up to 22 miles away from a ship, and carrying two Mk 46 anti-submarine torpedoes, DASH could kill just about any submarine in the Soviet arsenal.

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think
A QH-50 Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter (DASH) on board USS Joseph P. Kennedy (DD 850). (U.S. Navy photo)

With a top speed of 80 nautical miles per hour, and a range of 71 nautical miles, the QH-50 did not have a lot of endurance to hunt. It was intended to simply deliver its payload. It was small — just under 2,300 pounds — and at just under 13 feet long and with a 20-foot rotor diameter, the DASH was able to give these World War II ships a new lease on life.

That said, DASH was not without its problems. The electronics in its era were not reliable — and that is about as understated as calling Jar Jar Binks annoying. Eight out of ten airframe losses were blamed on failures of its early-1960s vintage electronics. One out of ten losses was due to “pilot error” (if such a thing is possible with a UAV), and another ten percent was due to failures in either the engines or airframe.

DASH served with the fleet for six years before it got the chop. While the official reason for the cancellation was unreliability, it should be noted that DASH was being fielded to the fleet around the time the Vietnam War escalated and was at its height. While some QH-50s were modified to serve as spotting aircraft for naval gunfire (a role later filled by the RQ-2 Pioneer), most were retired. Japan was the only other user; they kept their QH-50s operating until 1977.

DASH today is largely forgotten, but it was arguably one of the first UCAVs to see wide deployment — decades before America decided to hang AGM-114 Hellfire missiles on MQ-1 Predator drones.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Flying for more than 60 years, today’s Dragon Lady is nothing like the past

Since the mid-1950s, the US Air Force’s U-2 Dragon Lady has been cruising the upper reaches of the atmosphere, snooping almost totally unnoticed.

While the mission is pretty much the same, the aircraft doing it are much different.

“The ‘U’ in U-2 stands for ‘utility,’ so a lot of people are like, ‘OK, 1955, what are we doing in 2019, when we’re flying F-35s and F-22s … why are we flying the U-2 that was built in 1955?'” Maj. Travis “Lefty” Patterson, a U-2 pilot, said during an event hosted by the Air Force in May at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York City.

“Much like the Corvette, which has been around for a long time, there’s been a lot of different versions of [the U-2],” Patterson said. “The U-2s that we fly now, they were all built in about the mid-’80s.”

“The jets are actually pretty new,” U-2 pilot Maj. Matt “Top” Nauman said at the event. “They’re a lot newer than people anticipate, even though it’s been flying for more than 60 years.”


Drones have been in the fight longer than you think

The last of the original batch of U-2A aircraft at the US Air Force Museum.

(US Air Force)

‘It’s just the name is old’

The U-2A was the first to fly, when its massive wings accidentally turned a high-speed taxi test into a flight test in August 1955. It was followed by the U-2C, which had a new engine.

To overcome range limitations, the Air Force and the CIA outfitted U-2As and U-2Cs for aerial refueling; they became U-2Es and U-2Fs, according to The Drive.

In the early 1960s, the desire for more range led to the development of carrier-capable variants. Landing on a carrier, proved challenging, though, and several U-2As were modified with stronger landing gear, an arresting hook, and wing spoilers to decrease lift. These became the U-2G and U-2H.

The U-2R, which first flew in 1967, was 40% larger than the original and had wing pods to carry more sensors and fuel, allowing for high-altitude stand-off surveillance. (The U-2R was tested for carrier operations, but a naval variant of the U-2 never entered service.)

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think

A U-2 on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS America.

(US Navy)

The last U-2R arrived in 1989, and since 1994 the US has spent id=”listicle-2638876726″.7 billion to modernize the airframe and sensors. After the GE F118-101 engine was added in the late 1990s, all U-2s were redesignated as U-2S, the current variant.

Between 2002 and 2007, Lockheed upgraded the U-2’s 1960s-era cockpit avionics with the Reconnaissance Avionics Maintainability Program, or RAMP, replacing dials and gauges with multifunction displays, an up-front control and display unit, and a secondary flight-display system, according to Military Aerospace Electronics.

The new displays were more user-friendly and offered a better view of the ground to the pilot, who previously had to look into a large tube in the center of the cockpit. RAMP also made the radio controls easier to reach.

The most recent cockpit upgrades were completed in 2013, Lockheed said last year. Other modifications have been floated in the years since, aimed at keeping the U-2’s sensors robust and resilient.

The Air Force currently has about 30 of the single-seat U-2 for missions and four of the two-seat TU-2, which is used for training, based at Beale Air Force Base.

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think

Lt. Col. Lars Hoffman in a new Block 20 U-2S, with a redesigned cockpit, at Osan Air Base in South Korea, June 20, 2006.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt Andrea Knudson)

Each U-2 gets a full overhaul every 4,800 flight hours, or about every six to eight years. Because the airframe doesn’t spend a lot of time under high stress, the current lifespan for a U-2 is into the 2040s and 2050s.

The Air Force still has a few of the U-2s built the late 1960s, but those have been converted, Patterson said.

“Everything’s modern — just the airframe itself came out in ’69. The engine, the cockpit’s all new,” he added. “But most of the aircraft that we have, they’re all built in the mid-’80s, about the same time as the B-2 stealth bomber.”

The newer models, Patterson said, “are about 40% larger [and] significantly more powerful than the original lot of U-2s that you saw when Gary Powers was flying over the Soviet Union, when the Cuban missile crisis is occurring, so it’s a totally different aircraft — modern glass cockpit, so we have screens. We have extremely advanced sensors.”

“So it’s not an old aircraft. It’s just the name is old.”

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think

A U-2, with a satellite communications system on its back and antennas on its belly, over California, March 23, 2016.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo)

‘Mr. Potato Head’

By the mid-1960s, US officials were already talking about retiring the U-2, but it survived and has outlasted other reconnaissance aircraft, like the SR-71, which were more expensive to operate.

Unlike satellites, a U-2 can be sent to peer at an area of interest on relatively short notice. It also has advantages over unmanned aerial vehicles, like the RQ-4 Global Hawk, Patterson said.

“When you think about some of the capabilities that our adversaries are able to put into the field pretty quickly and pretty cheaply — GPS jamming and things like that — it definitely pays dividends to have a human being that’s able to react real-time to developing situations.”

A human pilot is also better with unfamiliar surroundings, he said. “I can deploy anywhere in the world because I don’t need to program a new airfield. I can just take my airplane and land it … and I can take off within hours.”

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think

U-2 pilot Maj. Ryan before a sortie in Southwest Asia, Feb. 2, 2017.

(Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tyler Woodward)

Nauman and Patterson both touted the U-2s versatility.

“The ability for this platform to adapt to the newest imaging technology is a key piece of” its continued relevance, Nauman said. “With the size, weight, and power … we’re talking about 5,000 pounds of payload.”

That’s 2,000 pounds more than the RQ-4’s payload. The U-2’s ceiling is also above 70,000 feet — more than 10,000 feet above the ceiling of the RQ-4.

The U-2 can also test technology at high altitudes before it makes the leap to space. “The ability to actually get the most modern technology before it gets to space is kind of what makes us relevant,” Nauman said.

Other technology and payloads can be swapped onto the U-2, helping “to keep the cost down, accelerate development timelines, get these things in the air, and make sure that we run through all the issues,” Patterson said. “Then we can proliferate those [things] throughout the Air Force.”

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think

US Air Force Senior Airman Charlie Lorenzo loads test film into a camera in preparation for a U-2 mission in Southwest Asia, April 17, 2008.

(Air Force photo by Senior Airman Levi Riendeau)

“The U-2’s almost like Mr. Potato Head,” Patterson said, describing its adaptability.

“So you can take a pod off here and a nose off here and put a new thing on pretty quickly, just because it’s got big wings, it’s got a big engine, so we’ve got a lot of size, weight, and power advantage over a lot of other high-altitude aircraft.”

The most well-known U-2 sensor is probably its optical bar camera.

“It’s effectively a giant wet-film camera. … It fits up in the belly of the aircraft. It’s got about 10,500 feet of film” that used to be made by Kodak, Patterson said. “In about eight hours, we can take off and we can map the entire state of California.”

The U-2 no longer does overflights of unfriendly territory, Nauman said. But its suite of cameras and sensors allow it to pick up details whether it’s looking straight down or looking hundreds of miles into the distance.

“Let’s say we don’t want to fly that camera in the belly. We can take the nose off, and we can put a giant radar on the nose,” Patterson said.

“With a big radar up in there in the front,” you can gather imagery out to the horizon, he added. “If you think about how far you can see if you’re parked off somebody’s coast with a 300-mile looking glass, it’s pretty phenomenal.”

The U-2 can also be outfitted with what Patterson described as “like a big digital camera” with a lens “about the size of a pizza platter.” With multiple spectral capabilities, “it’s imaging across different pieces of the light spectrum at any given time, so you can actually pull specific data that these intel analysts need to actually identify” the composition of particular materials.

Signals payloads also allow the U-2 to pick up different radars and other communications.

“We have a number of antennas all across the aircraft that we’re able to just pick up what other people are doing,” Patterson said. “We bring all that on board the aircraft, and we pipe it over a data link to a satellite and then down to the ground somewhere else in the world.”

“While we’re sitting by ourselves over a weird part of the world doing that [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] mission, all the information we’re collecting is going back down to multiple teams around the globe.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This ship is so lethal because of its primary weapon – US Marines

One look at the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1), and you know you are looking at a powerful vessel. Just the size alone – about 40,000 tons – makes it a significant asset. But much of what makes the Wasp such a lethal ship isn’t so easy to see when you just look at her from the outside. In this case, what’s on the inside matters more.

One of the biggest changes between the Wasp-class vessels and their predecessors, the Tarawa-class amphibious assault ships, is the fact that they can operate three air-cushion landing craft, known as LCACs. Tarawas can only operate one. This is because when the Tarawa-class was being designed, the LCAC wasn’t even in the fleet.


The Wasp, of course, was able to be designed to operate more LCACs. As such, while these ships are the same size, the Wasp is able to unload the Marines on board with much more speed. Since Marines and their gear are her primary weapons, this makes her much more lethal. It doesn’t stop there.

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think

Despite both displacing about 40,000 tons, USS Wasp (LHD 1), the fatter ship on the left, is far more capable than USS Saipan (LHA 2).

(Photo by U.S. Navy)

The Wasp is surprisingly versatile. In Tom Clancy’s non-fiction book Marine, he noted that the Wasp-class ships in the Atlantic Fleet that are not at sea are part of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s emergency planning. The reason? These vessels can be configured as hospitals with six operating rooms and as many as 578 hospital beds.

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think

Yeah, she has helos, but she can also haul a couple dozen Harriers. So, pick the method of your ass-kicking: Air strikes, or 2,000 ticked-off Marines.

(Photo by U.S. Navy)

These ships can also carry MH-53E Super Stallion and MH-60S Seahawk helicopters configured for the aerial minesweeping role. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, two of the Wasp’s sister ships operated a couple of dozen AV-8B Harriers each as “Harrier carriers.”

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think

In a pinch, the Wasp can even refuel her escorts. Why risk a tanker when the amphibious assault ship can top off a tank?

(Photo by U.S. Navy)

The eight ships in the Wasp class will be around for a while. According to the Federation of American Scientists USS Wasp is slated to be in service until as late as 2039! Learn more about this versatile and lethal ship in the video below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPzNLPSkIUg

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the most successful fighter pilots in history are all Nazis

When Erich “Bubi” Hartmann died in 1993, he was still the most successful fighter pilot in the history of aerial warfare. With an astonishing 352 kills, his record is all but assured until World War III comes around. He’s not the only former Nazi Luftwaffe pilot whose name is at the top of the list. In fact, the top ten pilots on that list all have German names, including Gerhard Barkhorn (301 kills), Günther Rall (275), and Otto Kittel (267).

How did one of the most notably absent air forces in history rack up such impressive kill counts?


Drones have been in the fight longer than you think

Hint: They had to be good because their bosses were so bad at their jobs.

The reason German pilots scored so high is a combination of skill and time in the air. There’s probably also a dash of luck in there, if they managed to survive the war. Since the Luftwaffe saw its best successes at the beginning of the war, taking on obsolete and unprepared air forces in enemy countries, Nazi pilots were fighting for years before American pilots. When the war came home, the number of German pilots dwindled, and enemy targets over Germany rose.

A skilled pilot could rack up quite a kill count in that time, especially if they had to fight until the whole war was over, or they were killed or captured.

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think

And they did.

(U.S. Army)

In contrast, American pilots would be sent home, or rotated out after a certain amount of time spent in the air. At the height of World War II, allied fighter pilots were required to spend at least 200 hours behind the stick of a fighter aircraft before being eligible to be rotated home. American pilots dutifully fought the required amount of time and went home for some RR.

Even Richard Bong, the Army Air Forces’ highest-scoring ace – the “Ace of Aces” – scored 40 kills in the Pacific Theater from September 1942 until December 1944. His stay was extended because he was also training pilots in the Philippines. He ended up spending much longer in the area, leading missions and training pilots. Even though he wasn’t allowed to seek combat opportunities, Bong still racked up an astonishing 40 kills against the Japanese.

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think

It seems being one the top aces of any war is just a matter of time… and not getting shot down.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why the Air Force is on a mission to fix its uniforms

The U.S. Air Force for months has been working to redesign gear and flight suits used by female pilots after many years of ill-fitting equipment.

But why stop there? It’s also updating current flight suit and gear designs to improve comfort and ease of wear, according to officials working on the project. At the same time, officials want to streamline and expedite the process of shipping these uniforms and support gear anywhere across the world to meet a unit’s requirement.

Since his tenure in the Air Force, Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein has called for improved, better-fitting uniforms — not only for comfort, but also for safety.


“We have women performing in every combat mission, and we owe it to them to have gear that fits, is suited for a woman’s frame and can be [worn] for hours on end,” Goldfein told reporters at a Defense Writers Group in Washington, D.C. last year.

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think

Capt. Lauren Kram, assigned to the 13th Bomb Squadron, poses for a portrait on Feb. 19, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kayla White)

Officials have been eager to create and field uniforms and flight equipment with better fit and performance, and make them more readily available for female aircrew, said Maj. Saily Rodriguez, the female fitment program manager for the human systems program office.

The problem for decades has been limited sizes, which has resulted in female airmen tailoring their own flight suits, or just wearing a suit too tight or too loose.

Rodriguez and her team have been tasked to “specifically … look at how the female body is shaped,” with a goal of “tailoring that flight suit to be able to accommodate the female shape,” she said in an interview with Military.com Thursday.

The project was launched within the Air Force Lifecycle Management Center, with Rodriguez focused on the female perspective for better-fitted uniforms and gear.

“Everything that touches an aircrew member’s body, we manage in the program office,” she said. That includes everything from flight vests; G-suits, which prevents the loss of consciousness during high levels of acceleration or gravity pressure; helmets; boots; and intricate gear such as bladder relief apparatus.

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think

Participants of the Female Flight Equipment Workshop demonstrate the issues women face with the current survival vests at AFWERX Vegas, Las Vegas, Jan. 30, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bailee A. Darbasie)


Some improvements have been made already. In November 2018, the service began delivering upgraded Aircrew Mission Extender Devices, also known as AMXDmax, for bladder relief. The device collects urine in a cup for men and a pad for women, and can hold 1.7 quarts of urine, according to the service. The Air Force said it had expected to deliver roughly 2,000 to crews service-wide by the end of this month.

Beyond female flight equipment, the office is gearing up for improved uniforms and devices for all.

“We’re going to be adding on what’s called the ‘combat-ready airman,'” Rodriguez said, “which is going to look at more roles than just aircrew members to ensure that those airmen, men and women, are being outfitted in standardized uniforms as well, that suit their need to be able to properly do their duties they’re assigned.”

Officials are still defining what a ‘combat-ready airman’ is, but the term eventually will “encompass the larger Air Force” beyond aviators, she said. As an example, work has begun on better-fitting vests for female security forces airmen.

“It all comes down to making sure that airmen have gear that they can use and … perform their missions,” Rodriguez said.

Getting uniforms Amazon-quick

On the shipment management side, leaders are using the Battlefield Airmen Rapid Resource Replenishment System, or BARS, a central equipment hub that sorts various gear and can ship the clothing directly to airmen across the globe.

The system was created to quickly field resources to deployed airmen, such as Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) airmen, pararescue and special tactics operations in Air Force Special Operations Command, said Todd Depoy, the special warfare branch chief for the special operations forces and personnel recovery division within Air Force Life Cycle Management Center. Gear ranges from scuba gear to climbing equipment, Depoy said.

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think

An HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter, assigned to the 66th Rescue Squadron, flies during training on Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Feb. 22, 2018.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Kevin Tanenbaum)

“BARS is a cloud-based software program … with [an additional] inventory control,” Depoy told Military.com. The program has been around a little over a year, he added.

The internal system, created and hosted by Amazon, gives individuals the authority to head to a computer and mark what they need and have it shipped over — with the proper military approvals, Depoy said.

“There is a checkpoint, but if they need something, they can go in and order it, and those items are on the shelf,” he said.

The items are stored and managed by the Air Force at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana.

Unlike in years past where it could take months to get gear overseas, it now takes between a few days and a few weeks, depending on the location, Depoy said.

The goal now is to speed up the existing process for men’s gear, and implement a similar one for female flight suits.

“BARS is an existing system, but I’m currently adding our ACC female aviators into the system,” said Shaunn Hummel, the aircrew flight equipment program analyst at Air Combat Command’s A3TO training and operations office.

Lately, Hummel has been working to add female flight suits, jackets, boots and glove to the list of available gear in the system. His job is to work with the Defense Logistics Agency to appropriately stock facilities so airmen can access items via BARS.

In September 2018, ACC made a bulk buy of roughly id=”listicle-2635292502″ million worth of these items, Hummel said.

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think

Capt. Christine Durham (left), Pilot Training Next instructor pilot, gives a briefing to her students prior to a training mission at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Austin, Texas, Feb. 5, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Sean M. Worrell)

“We’re working with DLA to try and decrease the lead time and increase productivity for the manufacturing of these suits,” Hummel said April 16, 2019. Female flight suits “are not manufactured all the time until there is a consistent demand of them.”

Hummel explained there are 110 different flight suits — between the “women” category, for curvier women, and the “misses” category, for those with slimmer builds — and they also have different zipper configurations.

Zippers have been a problem for men as well as women. Very tall or very short airmen may find their zippers ill-placed to relieve themselves conveniently, the service said in a recent release.

“We’re making sure we’re using data … to assess what are the sizes we need to get women outfitted” by cross-referencing stockpiles through the various offices, Rodriguez added.

Right now, the teams are working together to get more feedback on how the programs are working, and what else could be done to improve standard gear to keep pilots and aircrew safe in flight.

The service has held several collaborative “Female Flight Equipment Workshops,” the release said.

Rodriguez said it wants more airmen speaking up.

“We have an effort underway looking at how we can streamline feedback from the user … so that we can use it when we’re looking for improvements in the future,” she said.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is why the F-117 Nighthawk was so groundbreaking

When you think of goblins, the mythical creatures portrayed in Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter films might come to mind. Traditionally, the goblin has been a mischievous, sneaky monster. So, in one sense, it’s fitting that this cunning creature found its way into the nickname of the first operational stealth aircraft.

The F-117 Nighthawk was nicknamed the “Wobblin’ Goblin,” mostly due to its handling characteristics — after all, it didn’t look like a conventional plane and it required computer assistance to remain in controlled flight. It might not sound ideal, but those were some of the realities of flying the first operational stealth fighter. Well, more accurately, it was a light bomber that usually carried two GBU-10 laser-guided bombs or four GBU-12 laser-guided bombs.

While most planes using laser-guided bombs on high-value targets often faced greater risk, the F-117 was perfectly suited for the task.


The reason? It was extremely hard to detect on radar. It was, for all intents and purposes, invisible to enemy forces on the ground, effectively negating many surface-to-air missiles of the time. With that, the F-117 was able to operate at the best possible altitude and fly the best possible profiles for covertly deploying laser-guided bombs.

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think

F-117s en route to Saudi Arabia.

(USAF)

According to MilitaryFactory.com, the F-117 was initially in service in 1983, a “black project” that operated in the Nevada desert for five years until the Air Force officially acknowledged it. The plane made its combat debut in Panama, where the planes achieved their objective. In Desert Storm, they hit many heavily-defended targets, flying 1,200 sorties with no losses. Often, the only warning that a F-117 was attacking was when its target blew up.

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think

A F-117 gets fuel from a KC-10 Extender.

(USAF)

The F-117 also saw combat over the Balkans, where one was shot down, and during Operation Iraqi Freedom. With the introduction of the F-22 Raptor, the F-117 was eventually retired and taken back to the Nevada desert, where these high-tech Goblins lurk in case they’re needed again.

Learn more about this sneaky plane in the video below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJv722N5OtA

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY TACTICAL

NASA wants to build a ‘quieter’ supersonic aircraft

NASA has taken another step toward re-introducing supersonic flight with the award of a contract for the design, building, and testing of a supersonic aircraft that reduces a sonic boom to a gentle thump.

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company of Palmdale, California, was selected for the Low-Boom Flight Demonstration contract, a cost-plus-incentive-fee contract valued at $247.5 million. Work under the contract began April 2, 2018, and runs through Dec. 31, 2021.


Under this contract, Lockheed Martin will complete the design and fabrication of an experimental aircraft, known as an X-plane, which will cruise at 55,000 feet at a speed of about 940 mph and create a sound about as loud as a car door closing, 75 Perceived Level decibel (PLdB), instead of a sonic boom.

Once NASA accepts the aircraft from the contractor in late 2021, the agency will perform additional flight tests to prove the quiet supersonic technology works as designed, aircraft performance is robust, and it’s safe to operate in the National Airspace System.

Beginning in mid-2022, NASA will fly the X-plane over select U.S. cities and collect data about community responses to the flights. This data set will be provided to U.S. and international regulators for their use in considering new sound-based rules regarding supersonic flight over land, which could enable new commercial cargo and passenger markets in faster-than-sound air travel.

Articles

This is Hollywood’s favorite machine gun for killing zombies and bad guys

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think
Charlton Heston offs undead nightstalkers in the ’70s cult film “The Omega Man.” (Warner Bros. screen capture)


In real life, the Smith Wesson M76 submachine gun was a weapon for men who fought in the shadows.

Created as a replacement for an embargoed firearm popular with American clandestine operators and special forces during the 1950s and 1960s, it combined a rapid rate of fire with the ability to attach a suppressor.

But the M76 is also a movie gun that Hollywood has generously splashed all over the silver screen.

Some film historians say it earned the honor of being the first “zombie apocalypse gun.”  Charlton Heston packs one in the ’70s cult classic The Omega Man, where his character Col. Robert Neville sprays deranged nightwalkers with automatic fire after bio-warfare wipes out most of the world’s population.

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think
Then there is Heath Ledger’s Joker, who wields one against Batman in the 2008 epic The Dark Knight. As the Joker stumbles out of a wrecked van, he fires an M76 and shrieks, “Come on, I want you to do it, I want you to do it. Come on, hit me. Hit me!”

The development of the M76 is a story that is part American ingenuity, part Swedish politics, and all about ensuring special operators could continue to use a choice weapon.

The M76 replaced the Carl Gustav M/45 Kulsprutepistol, a 9 x 19 mm submachine gun with a 36-round magazine manufactured in Sweden that was a favorite of covert forces.  The M/45 actually was the main submachine gun of the Swedish Army from 1945 until it phased out in the 1990s, but reserve units carried it until 2007.

The Americans who used the weapon began to call it “the Swedish K.”

Journalist Michael Herr in his memoir Dispatches describes “Ivy League spooks,” CIA agents who carried the Swedish K as their preferred weapon as they drove near the Cambodian border.

Soon, SEALs and Green Berets used the Swedish K because much of their fighting was in the narrow confines of a jungle environment where firepower and maneuverability were more important than range and accuracy.

SEAL team members also liked the fact the Swedish K is an open-bolt weapon, which allowed it to be fired almost immediately after a frogman crossed the beach.

“You could see why it would be preferable to the US Thompson or M-3 Submachine gun,” said Alan Archambault, former supervisory curator for the U.S. Army Center of Military History and a retired Army officer. “A friend of mine who served with Special Forces in Vietnam relatively early on told me that by using foreign weapons like the Swedish K it also helped to conceal the US presence a bit. I also think that Special Ops men tend to like unusual weapons rather than using standard US issue weapons.”

Light, rugged, capable of firing 550 rounds a minute and unfailingly reliable, Swedish Ks soon became a weapon in the arsenals of covert forces, particularly those operating in Southeast Asia as the United States became more and more involved in what became the Vietnam War.

“I know my friend was proud of using a Swedish K in Vietnam,” Archambault said. “It was one more way the Special Forces were set apart from the typical ‘line doggies.’ It goes along with the Green Beret and other elite designations.”

However, in 1966 the Swedish government adopted the position of officially opposing U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Pacifist Sweden placed an embargo on military supplies exported to the United States, including the Swedish K.

The decision particularly troubled the U.S. Navy SEALs, who decided to turn to a domestic supplier for a copy of the Swedish K.  The Navy approached Smith Wesson and by 1967 the company produced a clone, the M76.

It had all of the good qualities of the Swedish K as well as few refinements including a higher rate of fire (720 rounds per minute). It also could be fitted with the SG9 suppressor.

In addition, Smith Wesson experimented with a version of the M76 that electronically fired caseless ammunition. The gun actually worked well, but the caseless ammo was easily damaged by rough handling so the project was scrapped.

M76s found their way into the hands of SEAL team members and some Green Berets, where they are were used successfully during many covert operations. But as the Vietnam War began to wind down demand for the weapon decreased; more powerful weapons soon replaced it.

By 1974, Smith Wesson ceased production of the M76.  However, the weapon remained in use in the Navy, where it was still used in some instances by SEAL teams or it was issued to helicopter pilots for self-defense in case of a crash landing.

Law enforcement agencies also purchased the weapon. In fact, the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center destroyed a cache of M76s where New York state law enforcement agencies maintained an arsenal.

There was even an attempt to revive the weapon during the 1980s. In 1983, Mike Ruplinger and Kenneth Dominick started a company called MK Arms after acquiring the rights to the M76 from Smith Wesson. The company manufactured both new weapons and replacement parts for existing M76s that were still in military and law enforcement inventories.

However, the M76 gained new life as a movie weapon where it was featured prominently not only in the films already mentioned but also Magnum Force, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Dog Day Afternoon and Black Sunday.

But perhaps it is in The Omega Man where the M76 gets the most screen time.

Not only does a leisured-suited, eight-track-tape-playing Charlton Heston have one in hand during almost every scene, the weapon used in the film introduces an innovation: the tactical light. In several scenes, the movie’s armorer used C-clamps to attach a flashlight to the gun’s barrel so Heston could hunt the film’s nightwalkers more efficiently.

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The Army’s new weapon sight allows soldiers to shoot around corners and through smoke

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think
Photo: Youtube/US Army


DARPA isn’t the only organization that’s giving soldiers sci-fi weaponry. Engineers for the U.S. Army have designed a night vision/weapons system that will give soldiers the ability to run up to the corner of a building at night, poke their weapon around the wall, and engage an enemy obscured by smoke and dust.

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think
Photo: US Army

Two new tools work together for this. First, the Enhanced Night Vision Goggle III mounts to a soldier’s helmet. The ENVG III has both night vision and thermal capabilities. Troops can switch modes. There is even a combined mode where the soldier sees standard night vision but red outlines highlight thermal energy sources like people or vehicles. The thermal sights can see through most smoke and dust.

In addition, the Family of Weapons Sights – Individual, or FWS-I, mounts on the weapon and communicates with the ENVG III. The FWS-I has its own sensors that can see details up to a kilometer away and magnify images for the soldier to aid in target acquisition. At any range, it can provide a targeting reticle on the ENVG III, so the soldier always knows where a proper trigger squeeze would put a round at any moment.

The FWS-I can also be mounted on multiple weapon systems including the Army’s carbines, rifles, light machine guns, and recoilless rifles. New versions are in development for use on heavy machine guns like the .50-cal, grenade launchers like the Mk. 19, and sniper rifles.

Soldiers have provided positive feedback on test versions of the technology and earlier models of the ENVG have already been fielded. The ENVG III is expected to reach troops in 2017 and the FWS-I is slated for 2019.

Check out the video below for an idea what the soldier will see during engagements.

NOW: 11 incredible videos of weapons firing in slow motion

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Memphis Belle: The legendary B-17 flying fortress

The “Memphis Belle” a B-17F Flying Fortress of the Eighth Air Force would become the most famous of the 12,750 B-17s produced by Boeing during World War II. The plane and her crew would become immortalized, first by the Army who filmed her crew for a documentary prior to a War Bond tour and later by Hollywood who made a fictionalized feature film on the exploits of her crew.

The casualty rates were so high, that the United States put a 25-mission limit on crews. If a crew flew 25 combat missions and survived, they were rotated back to the states. But none of the crews were surviving that long. The Memphis Belle was one of the first to do so.

Background

The air war for the United States in 1942 and early 1943 was a bloody affair. The United States had entered the war just months before, and Britain decided to pressure the German war machine by bombing it around the clock. The British would bomb at night, the Americans by day.

The Allies didn’t yet have fighters that had the range to escort the bombers to their targets and back. The German Luftwaffe was a formidable adversary with very experienced fighter crews. The German anti-aircraft artillery which they called “Flak” was accurate and plentiful.

In the early days of daylight bombing, the Germans exacted a terrible toll on the new American formations. Casualty rates were appalling. It was here that Captain Robert Morgan and his crew would step into the war.

B-17F 10-BO, manufacturer’s serial number 3470, USAAC Serial No. 41-24485, was added to the USAAF inventory on July 15, 1942, and delivered in September 1942 to the 91st Bombardment Group at Dow Field, Bangor, Maine. The aircraft was deployed to Prestwick, Scotland, on September 30, 1942,  and stationed at a temporary base at RAF Kimbolton on October 1, and then finally to her permanent base at RAF Bassingbourn, England, on the 14th of October.

The marking on the sides of the fuselage bore the unit and aircraft identification markings of a B-17 of the 324th Bomb Squadron (Heavy); the squadron code “DF” and individual aircraft letter “A.”Read Next: The Eighth Air Force, “The Mighty Eighth” Was Born on This Day 1942

Morgan decided to name the plane after his sweetheart back home, a woman named Margaret Polk from Memphis, TN. Originally the plane would be named after Morgan’s nickname for Polk, which was “Little One” but after he and co-pilot Jim Vennis saw a film where the main character had a riverboat named the “Memphis Belle”, the name stuck. Morgan brought it up to the crew and they voted for it.

The drawing on the fuselage was from a pinup by artist George Petty that was in Esquire magazine in April of 1941 issue. Corporal Tony Starcer, copied the Petty girl pinup on both sides of the forward fuselage, depicting her bathing suit in blue on the aircraft’s port side and in red on the starboard. The Memphis Belle was born.

Air War Over Europe

Morgan and his crew flew their first mission over Europe on November 7, 1942, at Brest, France. The command of the American Air Forces and the Pentagon set the incentive of 25 missions for crews to reach to be rotated back to the United States. But no one was reaching that threshold. Casualties among the bomber crews in those early dark days were at 80 percent.

In interviews much later, Morgan summed up the horror of the early days of the airwar in describing the awful casualties suffered by American aircrews in the first days of the bombing campaign.

“Eighty-percent losses means you have breakfast with 10 men and dinner with only two of them.”

Memphis Belle had her share of difficult scrapes with German fighter planes and flak and on five different occasions had an engine shot out. Another time, a diving German Focke Wulf  Fw-190 came straight at the plane and riddled the tail with holes setting it on fire. After the fire was out, Morgan climbed back into the tail to survey the damage.

His comments, captured by History.net tell of the difficulty he had in bringing the ship back safely. “It looked like we had no tail at all,” Morgan said. “I got back in the cockpit and flew back to the base in two hours. It was tough flying, and tougher than that to set her down. The elevators were damaged so badly that the controls jammed. Somehow we managed to get down safely.”

The American bomb groups were taking on tough, well-defended targets including the Focke Wulf plant at Bremen, locks and submarine pens at St. Nazaire and Brest, docks, and shipbuilding installations at Wilhelmshaven, railroad yards at Rouen, submarine pens and powerhouses at Lorient and aircraft factories at Antwerp.Read Next: The Australian Army Chief Got it Wrong…Bring Back the Punisher

During her 25 missions, Memphis Belle gunners were credited with shooting down eight German fighters with another five probable kills. They damaged 12 more fighters and dropped over 60 tons of bombs on the German war machine.

After their 25th mission, the crew which had been the subject of a war documentary by Hollywood director William Wyler, the crew was rotated home on a 31-city war bond tour. The men were treated as heroes wherever they stopped. Only one female was ever allowed to fly with the Belle. Stuka, a Scottish terrier bought by co-pilot Jim Vennis in England accompanied the crew and was spoiled with the rest of the crew.

One of the stops was in Memphis where Polk was in attendance, although interestingly enough the two never did marry but did remain life-long friends. Morgan put on a stunt at his own hometown of Asheville, NC where he flew the Fortress down the main drag in town and turned it between two large buildings on its side.

General Henry “Hap” Arnold, gave Morgan the choice of any assignment he wanted. He chose to transition to B-29 bombers and bomb the Japanese. He took part in the first raid on Tokyo in November of 1944. After flying 50 missions he was sent home for good. He remained in the Air Force and retired as a Colonel.

Memphis Belle Not the First to Complete 25 Missions

Unlike the feature film that came out in 1990, the Belle was not the first plane to fly 25 missions in Europe. That distinction belonged to Captain Irl Baldwin of the 303rd Bomb Group and the plane “Hell’s Angels” named after a Howard Hughes, Jean Harlow film from back in the day. Baldwin completed his 25 missions a week before Morgan did. Memphis Belle was the first to complete 25 missions and return to the United States. Baldwin and his crew would go on to fly 48 missions before returning to the U.S. for their own bond tour in 1944.

I met Baldwin at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Savannah, GA a few years before he passed away. And in talking to him, you got a great sense of how difficult life was for those bomber crews over Europe.

Asked which was worse, the fighters or flak he smiled and answered…”Yes!” He said, “it didn’t matter how large the group was when those German fighters were coming head-on into the group, you’d swear to God every one of them was firing at you.”

He added, “Once they’d open up it looked like they were winking at you and the next thing was those cannon shells ripping past.”

I asked how he managed to survive 48 missions where so many didn’t last long at all.

“Some of it is pure luck,” he said. “There is nothing you can do about flak and those German gunners were good. They’d get your range and it looked like you could walk from burst to burst with touching thin air.”

“But the other thing we learned right away was that we had to be better pilots. The only way we could survive the fighters was fly wingtip to wingtip. That way all of our guns could be trained as one. If the Germans could get in between the bombers of the group, and they were some great pilots, they’d cut you to pieces.”

Baldwin too transitioned to B-29s after his War Bond tour. But he never got the chance to fly in combat over Japan. “Right after I got there, we dropped the bomb,” he said with a shrug. “I got there a few days too late.”

Asked why he’d volunteer after already flying so many combat missions, he shrugged again. “We were at war and I felt I was better suited for it than other guys.”

“Besides,” he added, “ I figured the Germans were the best we’d go against. If they couldn’t get me I didn’t think the Japs could.”

This article was originally published on May 17th, 2020.

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

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It’s not the Beretta M9 that sucks, it’s the ammo

There’s a decades-old argument about which pistol round is better that stems from a more basic argument about terminal ballistics – which is just a fancy term for what happens when bullets hit living things.


The two sides of the argument are between those who believe fast, lightweight rounds do more damage, and those who believe heavy, lower-moving rounds impart more energy and “stopping power” on the target.

Listen to the WATM podcast to hear our veteran hosts and a weapons expert discuss the M9 and why ammo matters: 

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Given its history of weapon adoption, it seems the Army is a proponent of the fast, lightweight department. First it swapped out the 7.62mm M14 for the 5.56mm M16, then the .45 1911 for the 9mm M9. While many agree with the first change (sorry M14 lovers) some still think the M9 should never have been adopted without changing the ammunition recipe beforehand.

Here’s why.

Full metal jacket ammo is really great for sending rounds through paper, but its aerodynamic and hydrodynamic design makes it zip through tissue without dumping most of the energy behind it into the target. Shot placement can compensate for this by hitting harder stuff like bones or vital organs, but under the stress of returning fire, that’s damn tough for even the seasoned Delta operator to land perfect hits with a sidearm.

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think
An M9 service pistol’s magazine rests on the firing line next to a scoring sheet during a pistol qualification course aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., April 7, 2015. (U.S. Marine Corps photo taken by Cpl. Alexander Mitchell/released)

Ideally, a round will dump all of its energy into a target, which reduces the need for shot placement at the cost of reduced penetration. On a rifle, this is a big drawback. It means if Johnny-Jihad is hiding behind a plywood shack, the rounds will expand in the wooden walls and lose most of their power. With a sidearm, most shooters aren’t trying to blast bad guys through walls – it’s a weapon of last resort.

So when a trooper needs to draw his M9, he shouldn’t have to worry about the bullets failing to stop his attacker.

If the military wants to put the M9 on even-footing with the M1911’s fight-stopping power, it might only need to swap out the M882 round with the good stuff being issued to American law enforcement officers.

Heck, Rangers have been running heavier, jacketed hollow-points for years. This isn’t news to the brass.

A little more than a year ago, the Army declared its Modular Handgun System should be able to operate with special ammunition like jacketed, hollow-point rounds.  The so-called XM17 is slated to replace the M9.

In fact, one recommendation is to replace the lightweight 112gr M882 FMJ cartridges with heavier 147gr expanding hollow-point rounds like those employed by Ranger elements during combat operations. These heavier rounds don’t just expand better in their targets, they’re also subsonic.

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think
Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jesse Paquin, assigned to Expeditionary Combat Camera reloads an M9 pistol during practical weapons course training at Naval Support Activity Northwest Annex, July 28. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Eric Dietrich)

This has two major advantageous. First, it makes them better suited to pistols and submachine guns equipped with sound suppressors. And second, it provides a more consistent flight path since the bullet doesn’t go transonic.

That all said, many agree the M9 does have some serious mechanical shortcomings. Slides cracking, junk magazines in the early days of the G-WOT, and the gun’s open-slide gobbling up sand all contribute to a pistol clearly not at home in desert warfare.

But with new magazines that work much better, reinforced slides and a proper maintenance schedule, many experts say the M9 beats the hell out of the 1911 it replaced — but only with proper ammo. Hague convention be damned, expanding ammunition isn’t designed to cruelly maim soldiers but to drop them more reliability. Plus, these same rounds are nearly always stopped by walls, putting fewer civilians at risk in adjacent rooms.

Lastly, if you’re worried about our guys getting hit with these types of rounds, don’t be. Expanding ammunition amplifies the effectiveness of body armor, since both are designed to dissipate force. So as long as Joe has his body armor on, hollow points won’t do any more than a standard pistol round.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why the new Russian missile may just be hype

Okay, by now, you’ve probably heard that Russian President (seemingly for life) Vladimir Putin recently unveiled some new nuclear weapons. He made some big claims about them, but let’s be honest, it’s really just a lot of hype since these systems are still in development.


Putin claims that the systems cannot be intercepted by American missile-defense systems being deployed to protect NATO. The freshly revealed nuclear systems include an underwater drone capable of attacking American ships or harbors, a nuclear-powered cruise missile, and a hypersonic weapon.

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think
Russia’s new underwater drone is apparently launched from an Oscar-class submarine. (Wikimedia Commons photo by RIA Novosti)

Putin claimed that the new Russian systems were developed in response to American efforts to develop a missile defense system, but it seems as though at least one of these weapons may not be ready for prime time. Reports claim that the nuclear-powered cruise missile has crashed on several test flights in the Arctic. Russia’s long-range underwater drone also remains in the research and development phase.

America may already be on the road to neutralizing the nuclear cruise missile and the hypersonic weapon. The United States has deployed a laser weapon system on ships like the San Antonio-class amphibious ship USS Portland (LPD 27). Other lasers have been tested on the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter and ground mountings and there are plans to deploy lasers on fighter jets and a UH-60 Blackhawk airframe. In one test, using a ground-based laser system, defenses shot down five drones.

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think
A hypersonic weapon traveling at Mach 20 has about as much chance of evading a laser as this drone did.(U.S. Navy photo)

Lasers travel at the speed of light, roughly 186,000 miles per second. By comparison, Russia’s hypersonic weapon, purportedly capable of traveling Mach 20, would reach a speed of 15,225 miles per hour. With the United States turning to lasers, there’s little chance Russian weapons will outpace American defenses.

In short, the United States has already made huge strides in developing an effective defense against two of Russia’s allegedly “invincible” weapons.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is what Boeing’s new stealth tanker looks like

The Navy wants a drone tanker that can launch from ships. And Boeing Co. has thrown its hat in the ring with a futuristic design.


On Dec. 19, Boeing offered a public peek at its design for what the Navy is calling the MQ-25 Stingray: an unmanned aircraft system that can offer in-air refueling to the service’s fighters, including the F-35C.

Drones have been in the fight longer than you think
A Navy F-35C Lightning II is drogue refueled by a KC-10A during a training mission near Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., April 10, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Kelly)

General Atomics revealed concept art of its proposal for the MQ-25 earlier this year, publishing photos of an aircraft with wide wings, almost fighter-like in silhouette. The prototype aircraft Boeing revealed today has a domed top and thicker body.

In all, four companies were expected to compete for the MQ-25 contract, including Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. However, Northrop, expected to compete with its X-47B blended-wing-body UAS, dropped out of consideration in October.

To date, Lockheed has only published teaser images of what its unmanned tanker prototype would look like.

“Boeing has been delivering carrier aircraft to the Navy for almost 90 years,” Don ‘BD’ Gaddis, the head of the refueling system program for Boeing’s Phantom Works, said in a statement. “Our expertise gives us confidence in our approach. We will be ready for flight testing when the engineering and manufacturing development contract is awarded.”

Also Read: The Navy wants this drone to extend its fighter range beyond 1k miles

According to the Boeing’s announcement, the prototype aircraft is now completing engine runs and had yet to take its first flight. Deck handling demonstrations are set to begin in early 2018.

The Navy’s unmanned tanker program had been renamed and re-envisioned multiple times as officials juggle requirements and capabilities. The program was formerly called CBARS, Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System, before being renamed the MQ-25.

According to Naval Air Systems Command, the MQ-25 will not only deliver “robust organic” refueling capability, but will also interface with existing ship and land-based systems, including those providing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

The competing companies have until Jan. 3 to get their full proposals in; Boeing expects to pick a design in the second quarter of 2018.

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