A recently-released investigation by the Department of Justice reveals that a company using prison labor to make life-saving equipment for the Pentagon sold more than 125,000 defective helmets to the services, some that even failed to stop bullets in ballistic tests.
The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General said a public-private venture between the government-run Federal Prison Industries and the civilian company ArmorSource LLC produced Advanced Combat Helmets and Lightweight Marine Corps Helmets that were “not manufactured in accordance with contract specifications.”
“The investigations found that the ACH and LMCH had numerous defects, including serious ballistic failures, blisters and improper mounting hole placement and dimensions, as well as helmets being repressed,” the report said. “Helmets were manufactured with degraded or unauthorized ballistic materials, used expired paint and unauthorized manufacturing methods.”
The Justice report said ArmorSource failed to properly oversee the production of the helmets by federal prisoners and was forced to pay $3 million in restitution, while the Federal Prison Industries facility that manufactured the helmets beginning in 2008 was closed and the staff transferred.
In all, the report says 126,052 helmets were recalled costing the government over $19 million.
The Federal Prison Industries is a government-owned corporation formed in 1934 to give job opportunities and income to federal inmates. The products made by FPI are sold only to the U.S. government and it does not compete with private companies.
From 2006 through 2009, Ohio-based ArmorSource produced the helmets for the Department of Defense. ArmorSource was paid more than $30 million, then subcontracted production of the ACH and the LMCH to FPI in 2008.
The ACH is a personal protective equipment system designed to provide ballistic and impact protection U.S. troops. It’s also designed to mount existing night vision, communication, and nuclear, biological, and chemical defense equipment.
When FPI produced 23,000 LMCHs from its facility in Texas, the first 3,000 shipped in 2008 were found to be defective. Eventually, the Army’s Office of Inspector General found FPI-produced ACHs were also defective.
The Army’s IG investigations found “endemic manufacturing problems” at FPI. The facility in Beaumont, Texas, was not making the helmets according to specifications and both helmet types were full of defects, including:
Finished ACH helmet shells were pried apart and scrap Kevlar and Kevlar dust was added to the ear sections, and the helmet shells repressed
Helmets were repressed to remove blisters and bubbles in violation of contract specifications
LMCH and ACH had edging and paint adhesion failures, respectively
FPI did not obtain approval from the DOD before it changed the manufacturing process
LMCH Certificates of Conformance were prepared by inmates at the direction of FPI staff and signed by FPI staff months after the LMCH helmets were delivered falsely certifying that the helmets were manufactured according to contract specifications and had the requisite material traceability
LMCH helmet serial numbers were switched or altered
The helmets were sold to DoD anyway, and FPI used pre-selected helmets for inspection, against the DoD specification that random items be inspected. ArmorSource did not provide oversight of the helmets’ construction and did not ensure proper inspection of the product, the report says.
A surprise inspection of the Beaumont, Texas-based FPI facility found the inmates using a variety of improvised tools to build the helmets. This put the lives of those overseeing their work (as well as fellow inmates) at significant risk, the report says.
The Justice Department claims no casualties are known to have occurred because of the defective helmets.
A news broadcaster affiliated with the terrorist group ISIS has released an Android app that teaches children the Arabic alphabet — and it’s full of references to weapons and jihad.
Al Bayan Radio, which broadcasts ISIS propaganda on radio waves in the Middle East and through its Android apps, made the app available to supporters on the encrypted messaging app Telegram and other platforms ISIS commonly uses. The app isn’t available on the Google Play store, but can be accessed through files shared online.
This app is the latest step in Al Bayan’s expansion — the radio network broadcasts on FM frequencies in the Middle East, but has also recently released other Android apps and Telegram channels that distribute its propaganda to a wider audience.
The app has games for memorizing and how to write the Arabic letters in addition to including a nasheed (a cappella Islamic songs) designed to help teach the alphabet. The lyrics in the nasheed are littered with jihadist terminology, while other games within the app also include militaristic vocabulary with more common, basic words. Words like ‘tank,’ ‘gun,’ and ‘rocket’ are among the first few taught within the application.
The site took posted these screenshots from the app:
The website noted that this is ISIS’ first app, however, aimed exclusively at children.
But it’s far from the only example of ISIS (which is also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh) trying to indoctrinate children under the pretense of educating them.
The group has also released textbooks that teach various subjects using weapons and other terrorist motifs.
Children have also featured prominently in photos and videos that ISIS has distributed through its various propaganda networks. They are shown at training camps and in schools, leading experts to worry that children living in ISIS territory are being indoctrinated with terrorist ideology at a young age, which could be difficult to reverse whenever ISIS is defeated.
Troops on the ground spend a lot of time talking on the radio to a variety of commands and assets: planes and helicopters overhead, their headquarters, and artillery lines, and as they do, they use certain brevity codes and calls to make these communications fast and clear.
Here are 13 of the codes troops really love to hear when they’re outside the wire:
Ground controllers give an aircraft the go-ahead to drop bombs or fire other munitions on the ground with the word “Attack,” and the pilot replies with “attacking.” Troops love to hear this exchange because it means a fireworks show is about to start on the enemy’s position.
The official meaning of “bird” is a surface-to-air missile, but troops sometimes use it to mean a helicopter. Since helicopters bring missiles and supplies and evacuate wounded troops, this is always welcome.
3. Bomber/CAS/CCA callsigns
While these callsigns change depending on which air unit is providing them assistance, troops love to hear any callsign from a good bomber, close air support, or close combat air pilot. These are the guys who drop bombs and fire missiles.
4. “Cleared hot”/”Cleared to engage”
The ground controller has cleared an air asset to drop bombs or other munitions on their next pass.
5. “Danger close”
The term means that bombs, artillery, or other big booms are being fired in support of ground troops but that the weapons will fall near friendly forces.
While danger close missions are exciting to see in movies and troops are happy to receive the assistance, soldiers in the field usually have mixed feelings about “danger close” since an enemy that is nearly on top of them is about to die, but they’ll also be near the blast.
Service members on the ground don’t like needing a medical evacuation, but they love it when the “Dustoff” bird is en route and when it finally lands. It’ll take their wounded buddy off the battlefield and will typically replenish the medical supplies of their corpsman or medic, making everyone safer.
Fire control uses “Engage” to let operators of a weapons system know that they’ve been cleared to fire. This could open up the mortar section, gun line, or other firing unit to attack the enemy.
8. “Good effects on target”
A bomb or artillery rounds have struck the target and destroyed it, meaning something that needed to die has, in fact, died.
This is said by the ground controller or artillery observer to let a plane, artillery section, or other weapons platform know that it successfully dropped its munitions within a lethal distance of the target. If the target survived anyway, the ground controller may say “Repeat,” to get more rounds dropped or may give new firing directions instead.
It stands for “return to base” and troops love it because it means they get to head home and take their armor and packs off.
The artillery line uses “shot” to say that they’ve fired the rounds requested by the forward observer. The FO will reply with “shot out” and listen for the word “splash,” discussed below.
This is the unofficial term for a small resupply dropped from a plane or helicopter, typically in a body bag. Troops short on ammo, water, batteries, etc. will request them. Medical supplies aren’t generally included in a speedball since the helicopter can just kick a normal aid bag out the door.
The firing line tells an observer “splash” five seconds before a round is expected to hit the target. When the observer sees the detonation from the round, they reply with “splash out” to let the artillery unit know the round hit and exploded. The FO will then give the firing line adjustments needed to hit the target or confirm that the target was hit.
Navy planners have for years been working on ways to make its battle groups less vulnerable to threats from long-range missiles, developing sophisticated radars, close-in defense and using aircraft to keep the bad guys far enough away that a launch would be futile.
But what hasn’t changed is the size and relative lack of maneuverability a Navy ship — especially an aircraft carrier — would have in the open sea.
So China has reportedly developed a specialized anti-ship ballistic missile that it could fire from the mainland and target a specific ship over 1,000 miles away. Dubbed the Dong-Feng-21D, the missile is a two-stage, solid rocket booster with a maneuverable warhead that is reported to be able to avoid ballistic countermeasures.
While Navy analysts are nervous about the missile’s ability to destroy a carrier with one hit screaming out of the atmosphere at Mach 10, others argue that China still has a long way to go before it can find and target a ship over 1,000 miles away and continue updating the DF-21D warhead’s guidance in an electronic countermeasure environment.
ISIS is quickly losing ground in the Middle East thanks to American and Russian airstrikes and Kurdish, Iraqi, and Syrian ground forces. The so-called caliphate is on the ropes and it looks like it may actually fall. But even as its armies fall back under attacks from the Islamic coalition, adherents to ISIS’s violent philosophy have launched deadly attacks in western countries. The bloodiest was in Paris in 2015 where 130 were killed. More recently, 49 Americans were killed on June 11 during an attack on the patrons of an Orlando nightclub.
To carry out violent attacks across the world despite being surrounded at home, ISIS relies on two groups of potential terrorists. The first is ISIS members who fought in Iraq and Syria to launch attacks abroad, such as Mohamed Abrini and Najim Laachraoui. These two men were suspected members of ISIS who played key roles in the Brussels bombings in 2016. Intelligence agencies track people returning from Iraq and Syria and had flagged both men.
The second group ISIS relies on is harder to track, though usually less trained than veterans of the Iraq and Syria conflict. These are disenfranchised, unhappy Muslims or potential conflicts living in countries that ISIS would like to target. Rather than trying to send fighters to all the countries they would like to attack, ISIS sends its propaganda to those countries and tries to find potential terrorists who just need a few nudges into radicalization. Only a few will actually decide to become terrorists, but each of those is another potential terrorist like the San Bernadino or Orlando shooters.
First, there are tips for traveling to Iraq and Syria to fight and support the caliphate, something ISIS considers the duty of all Muslims. Muslims who refuse to do so are “apostate,” a status punishable by death. Next, Dabiq regularly features articles glorifying fighters who have died for ISIS, especially those who died in a terror attack. Finally, it routinely runs articles about how great it will be when the U.S. invades.
No joke. ISIS is actively campaigning for an open war with the West. The name Dabiq is actually the name of the land where ISIS thinks the “crusader” armies will burn. Every issue opens with this quote:
The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify — by Allah’s permission — until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq.
The magazine is spread throughout the world and translated into Arabic, English, French, and German. These translations are expertly done. The English version reads like it was written by a native-born English speaker, and it might have been.
ISIS has adherents from around the world as well as hostages it can rely on to make sure its message is perfectly pitched to different countries. “Jihadi John,” the British-born ISIS executioner killed in a drone strike in 2015, was in charge of making sure propaganda aimed at English-speakers was effective. And ISIS can also lean on British journalist and hostage John Cantlie who was captured in 2012 with James Foley.
Cantlie is especially interesting since he often writes for Dabiq and sometimes hosts videos that spout ISIS propaganda. Former hostages who knew Cantlie in captivity have said that he is regularly beaten and starved off-camera, but his words seem authentic when he delivers them. This is thanks to the magic of editing.
But, while Cantlie is definitely edited, ISIS doesn’t do it the way you might imagine. They allow Cantlie to call them all terrorists and to write about ISIS fighters dying as long as he also condemns America for airstrikes and talks about government services offered by ISIS.
Issues of the magazine and other propaganda talking points are spread through the use of social media, pro-ISIS websites, and the dark web. The terrorist group’s Twitter game was legendary until the social media company and hackers began shutting down the accounts as fast as ISIS supporters could open them. While this leaves the total number of ISIS accounts about level, it reduces the number of followers each account can get before it is deleted, lowering the group’s reach.
Finally, ISIS directs many potential recruits to videos of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born imam who spent most of his formative years in Yemen. Al-Awlaki was known for spouting a particularly violent interpretation of Islam and was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011.
Al-Awlaki had connections to some of the 9/11 hijackers, the 2009 Fort Hood shooter, and the attempted downing of a plane in 2009 by a bomber wearing explosive underwear. Omar Mateen, the Orlando shooter, was known to have watched al-Awlaki videos. While al-Awlaki is dead, many of his lectures are still available on YouTube and other outlets.
Add YouTube and Twitter accounts and other propaganda outlets, and it’s easy to see how potential terrorists are able to find ISIS’s messages and continue down the road to radicalization.
Russia recently summoned Israel’s ambassador to deliver a message: The days of launching air strikes in Syria are over.
According to a Reuters report, the Russians were hopping mad over a recent Israeli air strike in Syria they said was targeting an illegal arms shipment to Hezbollah. The Russians say the strike aided the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
At present, Russia has a limited number of aircraft in the region, centered around the Su-24 Fencer strike plane and versions of the Flanker (including the Su-30, Su-34, and Su-35).
The Russians may be small in numbers, but it backs up the Syrian Air Force, which has a substantial number of MiGs – mostly MiG-21 Fishbeds and MiG-23 Floggers, along with about 50 MiG-29 Fulcrums of varying models. Likewise. Russia has deployed the S-400 surface-to-air missile system, but many of the air defenses on the ground are Syrian, and older model missiles.
In essence, the Russian deployment was corseting the Syrians.
The Israeli Air Force is primarily centered on the F-16 Fighting Falcon – FlightGlobal.com reports that Israel has 77 F-16C and 48 F-16D Fighting Falcons on inventory, plus about 100 F-16I Sufa fighters.
Israel also has about 80 F-15A/B/C/D/I fighters as well, according to the Institute for National Security Studies. Many of these planes have been customized with Israeli electronics – and the engineers of Tel Aviv are masters of electronic warfare.
The commander of Sweden’s air force, Mats Helgesson, recently made the bold statement that his country’s Saab Gripen E fighter could beat Russia’s formidable fleet of Sukhoi jets with none of the expensive stealth technology the US relies on.
“Gripen, especially the E-model, is designed to kill Sukhois. There we have a black belt,” Helgesson told Yle at a presentation in Finland, where Sweden is trying to export the jets.
Russia’s Sukhoi fighters have achieved a kind of legendary status for their ability to out-maneuver US fighter jets in dogfights and pull off dangerous and aggressive stunts in the air, but Gripen may have cracked the code.
The Gripen can’t carry the most weapons and has no real stealth. And it isn’t the longest-range, the fastest, or even the cheapest jet. But it has a singular focus that makes it a nightmare for Russia’s fighter jets.
Justin Bronk, an aerial-combat expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider that like the A-10 Warthog was built around a massive cannon, the Gripen was built around electronic warfare.
Virtually all modern jets conduct some degree of electronic warfare, but the Gripen E stands above the rest, according to Bronk.
Montage showing the different phases of an acrobatic maneuver performed by a Sukhoi Su-35.
Gripen pilots don’t like to show their cards by demonstrating the full power of the jet’s jamming in training. But the one time they did, it completely reversed the course of the mock battle in training, Bronk said.
“Several years ago the Gripen pilots got tired of being made fun of by German Typhoon pilots and came to play with their wartime electronic warfare and gave them a hell of a hard time,” Bronk said. One of the Gripens was “reportedly able to appear on the left wing of a Typhoon without being detected” by using its “extremely respected” jamming ability, Bronk said.
“It would be fair to assume the Gripen is one of the most capable electronic warfighters out there,” he said, adding that the Gripens that baffled the Typhoons were of the C/D series, which have much less powerful electronic-warfare capabilities than the E series Gripens that Helgesson described.
To defeat Russia’s fearsome fighters and surface-to-air missiles, the US has largely turned to stealth aircraft. Stealth costs a fortune and must be built into the shape of the plane.
If Russia somehow cracks the code of detecting stealth-shaped fighters, the US’s F-35, the most expensive weapons system in history, is cooked.
But Saab took a different, and cheaper, approach to combating Russia’s fighters and missiles by focusing on electronic attack, which gives them an advantage over stealth because they can evolve the software without a ground-up rebuild, according to Bronk.
Saab plans to update the software on the Gripen E every two years, giving it more flexibility to meet evolving challenges, according to Bronk.
Map from 2016 showing Russian air-defense deployments.
But Bronk noted one issue with electronic warfare.
“The problem with basing a survival strategy around an electronic warfare suite is you don’t really know if it’s going to work,” he said. “Even if it does, it’s going to be a constant battle between your adversary and you” to get the edge on the enemy fighters as wave forms and methods of attack continuously change.
However, Sweden benefits from a Russian focus on US fighters. “Sweden is too small really to optimize your counter-electronic warfare capabilities against,” Bronk said.
If war broke out between Russia and the West, Russia would likely try hardest to push back on US electronic warfare, rather than against Sweden’s Gripen Es, of which there would be only a few dozen.
The whole concept of the Gripen E is to “operate in Swedish territory, take advantage of all sorts of uneven terrain under cover of friendly surface-to-air missiles with a superb EW suite which should in theory keep it safe from the majority of Russian missiles and air to air threats,” Bronk said.
Additionally, the Gripen E can fire almost any missile made in the US or Europe.
“If you couple a very effective radar with excellent EW and a Meteor, the most effective longest range air-to-air missile which is resistant against [Russia’s] jammers … There’s no reason not to assume it wouldn’t be pretty damn effective,” Bronk said. “If you’re a flanker pilot, it’s probably a very scary thing to face.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
So, when we say “2014” that means about 49 days that WATM was live, but thanks to you, our rapidly growing audience, we have had some hits. Here are the Top 10 among them (ranked using a proprietary algorithm that uses page views, video plays on two domains, and editorial intangibles):
Mylee Cardenas had a plan: stay in the Army until they begged her to leave. But her dreams of becoming a career soldier were derailed by cancer. See how she finds her second wind in life as a model and actress.
The V-22 Osprey was the first generation of “tiltrotor” aircraft, and now the manufacturer is introducing the “Valor,” a prototype that claims to take the Osprey’s unique capability to the next level. How will it work, and will the Army buy it?
Happy New Year from the WATM team, and look for many more great videos at The Mighty TV in 2015.
As the owner selling an excavated underground Minuteman II missile site in Missouri on eBay, California investor Russ Nielsen reads the pulse of America’s darkest fears.
The number of people visiting the historic property’s eBay information page spikes like an EKG in a heart attack.
Ordinarily, the curious property located near Holden, MO, may get some 70 online views a day, Nielsen said by phone this week from California.
When Donald Trump won the presidency last November? Boom. The site was getting 140 to 150 hits a day.
And now, as North Korea’s volatile leader Kim Jong Un defiantly sends ballistic missiles over Japan, survivalists and the frightened are back at some 150 views a day.
“It’s definitely a ‘prepper’ kind of thing,” Nielsen said, referring to the slang term for people who want to be prepared in the event of widespread calamity and disorder.
Bomb shelter companies across the nation are reporting a boost in sales.
The selling price for Nielsen’s unique property, though, is steep for most people, he said. It’s going for $325,000. He’s had five potential buyers who were serious since he put it up for sale in the fall of 2015, he said. A couple of them are still trying to raise the financing.
What Nielsen recovered — at great cost and effort over a span of two years — is the “Mike-1” Minuteman II missile launch facility that housed the missileers who controlled the triggers to 10 of the 150 intercontinental missile sites scattered across central Missouri under the command of Whiteman Air Force Base.
Most of the Minuteman II sites — including all of the Missouri sites — were decommissioned some 20 years ago. Their shafts were buried under a mix of concrete, mud, and rock that was meant to deter any thoughts of reactivating them.
The project, including the maddening bureaucracy in getting his quixotic venture approved, turned into such a laborious boondoggle that Nielsen admits he wouldn’t have done it knowing what he knows now.
But, having endured it, he has relished the many inquiries he has received from veterans who served underground those many decades ago — “Ratmen,” they called themselves. The history of America’s Cold War has been fascinating.
The Minuteman II missiles represented the height of America’s Cold War arsenal, with about 1,000 of them forever ready to launch.
Some 450 sites with Minuteman III missiles remain ready in Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming.
Not surprisingly, some of Nielsen’s most interested potential buyers have had an eye on the site’s unique history as well as its accommodations in the event of a national disaster.
One potential buyer has been trying to gather financing for an historical movie project, he said. Another has interest in turning it into a residential training facility for martial and military arts.
Not surprising for a property whose curb appeal requires a bit of imagination.
Snipers are considered one of the most dangerous warfighters in the battlefield — taking out targets from concealed and undisclosed locations while homing in on prey that has no clue that they’re in the crosshairs.
With many legendary snipers in the history books, Hollywood loves to make movies about the single-shot heroes who man the ranks of America’s martial might.
One of our guilty pleasures is seeing the good guys duke it out with the enemy — either in close hand-to-hand combat or from far off positions with surprise direct head shots from precision shooters.
So check out the Hollywood sniper shots that we often rewind, rewatch and relive the awesomeness time and time again.
1. The 2,100-yards-out
With so many badass moments we saw in the movie “American Sniper,” one single sniper shot stands out the most. This Clint Eastwood-directed war tribute features an epic duel — sniper vs. sniper — between Bradley Cooper’s legendary Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle and his insurgent nemesis.
2. One shot, one kill, no exceptions
Hitting a moving target at distance is crazy complicated. But under the guidance of a Marine sniper — some of the best in the business — you’ll be able to get the confirmed kill as shown in 1993’s “Sniper” directed by Luis Liosa.
3. Right through the eye
Steven Spielberg knows how to tell an effective story, and he did just that directing 1998’s critically-acclaimed “Saving Private Ryan.”
After showing the world how American troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, he successfully captured the moment of when Pvt. Jackson (played by Barry Pepper) takes out a German sniper with a perfectly aimed round right through his scope.
4. Female VC Sniper
In most cases, it’s not okay to cheer for the villain, but as Stanley Kubrick showed us in 1987’s “Full Metal Jacket,” female snipers can be just as efficient and deadly as the men.
This death shocked viewers as one of our beloved characters made a simple mistake — and paid the price.
5. Pop shot and catch
Sniping is sometimes a team effort – just ask the real Navy SEALs who filled the roles of 2012’s “Act of Valor” who killed the enemy while barely making a sound.
6. 5 Rounds = 5 targets
A sniper’s greatest tool is his power of concealment. Russian-born sharpshooter Vasili Zaytsev (played by Jude Law) used that knowledge as he whacked five unsuspecting Germans in 2001’s “Enemy at the Gates.”
Most of what is lying around in the dusty expanse of the aircraft graveyards around Tucson, Arizona is readily identifiable and not entirely remarkable.
Ejection seats from old F-4 Phantoms. An old CH-53 helicopter hulk. An interesting find over there is a fuselage section of a Soviet-era MiG-23 Flogger. No idea how it got here. Other than that, it’s just long rows of old, broken, silent airplanes inside high fences surrounded by cactus, dust, sand and more sand. An errant aileron on a dead wing clunks quietly against the hot afternoon breeze as if willing itself back into the air. But like everything here, its days of flying are over.
But there… What is that strange, manta-ray shaped, dusty black thing lying at an angle just on the other side of that fence? It may be an old airfield wind vane or radar test model. But it also may be…
(U.S. Air Force photo)
I had only read about it and seen grainy photos of it. I know it’s impossible. The project was so secret not much information exists about the details even today. But I stand there gawking through the chain link fence as the ruins of the other planes bear silent witness. It’ like the corpses of the other airplanes are urging me to look closer. To not leave. Their silent dignity begs me to tell this story.
After nearly a minute of studying it through the fence I realize; I am right. It is right before my eyes. Ten feet away. Despite the 100-degree heat I get goosebumps. And I start running.
I quickly locate a spot where the entire fence line opens up. I skirt the fence and in a couple minutes running around the sandy airplane corpses I’m inside. There, sitting right in front of me on its decrepit transport cart and dusted with windblown sand, abandoned in the Sonoran Desert, is one of Kelly Johnson and Ben Rich’s most ambitious classified projects from the fabled Lockheed Skunk Works.
(Lockheed Martin photo)
I just found the CIA’s ultra-secret Mach 3.3+ D-21 long-range reconnaissance drone. The D-21 was so weird, so ambitious, so unlikely it remains one of the most improbable concepts in the history of the often-bizarre world of ultra-secret “black” aviation projects. And now it lies discarded in the desert. The story behind it is so bizarre it is difficult to believe, but it is true.
July 30, 1966: Flight Level 920 (92,000 ft.), Mach 3.25, Above Point Mugu Naval Air Missile Test Center, Off Oxnard, California.
Only an SR-71 Blackbird is fast enough and can fly high enough to photograph this, the most classified of national security tests. Traveling faster than a rifle bullet at 91,000 feet, near inner-space altitude, one of the most ambitious and bizarre contraptions in the history of mankind is about to be tested.
“Tagboard” is its codename. Because of the catastrophic May, 1960 shoot-down of Francis Gary Powers’ Lockheed U-2 high altitude spy plane over the Soviet Union the CIA and is in desperate need of another way to spy on the rising threat of communist nuclear tests. Even worse, the other “Red Menace”, the Chinese, are testing massive hydrogen bombs in a remote location of the Gobi Desert near the Mongolian/Chinese border. It would be easier to observe the tests if the Chinese did them on the moon.
The goal is simple, but the problem is titanic. Get photos of the top-secret Red Chinese hydrogen bomb tests near the Mongolian border deep inside Asia, then get them back, without being detected.
Lockheed Skunkworks boss Kelly Johnson and an elite, ultra-classified small team of aerospace engineers have built an aircraft so far ahead of its time that even a vivid imagination has difficulty envisioning it.
Flat, triangular, black, featureless except for its odd plan form as viewed from above, like a demon’s cloak, it has a sharply pointed nose recessed into a forward-facing orifice. That’s it. No canopy, no cockpit, no weapons. Nothing attached to the outside. Even more so than a rifle bullet its shape is smooth and simple. This is the ultra-secret D-21 drone.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
The D-21 is truly a “drone”, not a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA). Its flight plan is programmed into a guidance system. It is launched from a mothership launch aircraft at speed and altitude. It flies a predetermined spy mission from 17 miles above the ground and flashes over at three times the speed of sound. It photographs massive swaths of land with incredible detail and resolution. And because of its remarkably stealthy shape, no one will ever know it was there.
Today the D-21 rides on the back of a Lockheed M-21, a specialized variant of the SR-71 Blackbird, the famous Mach 3+ high altitude spy plane. The M-21 version of the SR-71 carries the D-21 drone on its back up to launch speed and altitude. The it ignites the D-21’s unique RJ43-MA20S-4 ramjet engine and releases it on its pre-programmed flight.
Chasing the M-21 and D-21 combination today is a Lockheed SR-71, the only thing that can keep up with this combination of aircraft. It is the SR-71’s job to photograph and film the test launch of the D-21 drone from the M-21 launch aircraft.
There have been three successful launch separations of the D-21 from the M-21 launch aircraft so far. In each of these flights, even though the launch was successful, the D-21 drone fell victim to some minor mechanical failure that destroyed the drone, because, at over Mach 3 and 90,000 feet, there really are no “minor” failures.
Today Bill Park and Ray Torick are the flight crew on board the M-21 launch aircraft. They sit inside the M-21 launch aircraft dressed in pressurized high altitude flight suits that resemble space suits.
Once at predetermined launch speed and altitude the M-21/D-21 combination flies next to the SR-71 camera plane. Keith Beswick is filming the launch test from the SR-71 camera plane. Ray Torick, the drone launch controller sitting in the back seat of the tandem M-21, launches the D-21 from its position on top of the M-21’s fuselage between the massive engines.
Something goes wrong.
The D-21 drone separates and rolls slightly to its left side. It strikes the left vertical stabilizer of the M-21 mother ship. Then it caroms back into the M-21’s upper fuselage, exerting massive triple supersonic forces downward on the M-21 aircraft. The M-21 begins to pitch up and physics takes over as Bill Park and Ray Torick make the split-second transition from test pilots to helpless passengers to crash victims.
The triple supersonic forces rip both aircraft apart in the thin, freezing air. Shards of titanium and shrapnel from engine parts trail smoke and frozen vapor as they disintegrate in the upper atmosphere. There is no such thing as a minor accident at Mach 3+ and 92,000 feet.
Miraculously, both Bill Park and Ray Torick eject from the shattered M-21 mother ship. Even more remarkably, they actually survive the ejection. The pair splash down in the Pacific 150 miles off the California coast. Bill Park successfully deploys the small life raft attached to his ejection seat. Ray Torick lands in the ocean but opens the visor on his spacesuit-like helmet attached to his pressurized flight suit. The suit floods through the face opening in his helmet. Torick drowns before he can be rescued. Keith Beswick, the pilot filming the accident from the SR-71 chase plane, has to go to the mortuary to cut Ray Torick’s body out of the pressurized high-altitude flight suit before he can be buried.
The ultra-secret test program to launch a D-21 drone from the top of an M-21 launch aircraft at over Mach 3 and 90,000 feet, is cancelled.
The D-21 program does move forward on its own. Now the drone is dropped from a lumbering B-52 mothership. The D-21 is then boosted to high altitude and Mach 3+ with a rocket booster. Once at speed and altitude the booster unit drops off and the D-21 drone begins its spy mission.
After more than a year of test launches from the B-52 mothership the D-21 drone was ready for its first operational missions over Red China. President Nixon approved the first reconnaissance flight for November 9, 1969. The mission was launched from Beale AFB in California.
Despite a successful launch the D-21 drone was lost. In the middle of 1972, after four attempts at overflying Red China with the D-21 drone and four mission failures, the program was cancelled. It was imaginative. It was innovative. It was ingenious. But it was impossible.
So ended one of the most ambitious and outrageous espionage projects in history.
1604 Hrs. December 20, 2009. In the Back Storage Yard of the Pima Air Space Museum Outside Tucson, Arizona.
I pet airplanes when I can. I’m not exactly sure why, maybe to be able to say I did. Maybe to try to gain some tactile sense of their history. Maybe to absorb something from them, if such a thing is possible. Maybe so that, when I am old and dying, I can reflect back on what it felt like to stand next to them and touch them. I don’t know why I touch them and stroke them, but I do.
The fully restored Lockheed D-21 drone at the Pima Air Space Museum outside Tucson, Arizona.
(Pima Air Space Museum photo)
The D-21 is dusty and warm in the late afternoon Arizona sun. Its titanium skin is hard, not slightly forgiving like an aluminum airplane. It gives away nothing. Silent. Brooding. After I touch it my hand came away with some of the dust from it. I don’t wipe it off.
Sometime later in the coming years, the D-21B drone, number 90-0533, is brought inside the vast restoration facility at the Pima Air Space Museum and beautifully restored. Now it lies in state, on display inside the museum.
But when I first found it sitting abandoned in the storage yard, dusty and baking in the Sonoran Desert sun, it felt like its warm titanium skin still had some secret life left in it.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
What’s old is new again. So it is with rye whiskey. In the 17-and-1800s, Bourbon’s spicier, dryer sibling was once the pre-eminent whiskey on this continent. But after prohibition, American’s taste for the stuff waned. Thankfully for the whiskey drinkers of today, times have changed. Our golden age of whiskey has turned back the clock and rye is resurgent. Whiskey, drinkers of all stripes cant seem to get enough of the brown stuff and as their pallets are becoming increasingly adventurous, rye’s spice is becoming more and more a called shot. Not only is it great on the rocks but, rye is killer in a summer cocktail. Whether you like your whiskey neat, on the rocks or in a mixed drink, here are five rye whiskeys to try.
1. Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye
New for this year, Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye was recently named the best in class at the San Fransisco World Spirits Competition. Bottled at 119.6 proof, Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye is quite capable of kicking you in the teeth if you’re not careful, but all that undiluted flavor will also waltz beautifully along your tastebuds. It’s a thick, rich mouthful with spicy, peppery notes playing off a deeply satisfying caramel sweetness.
Best Enjoyed: With a couple of cubes.
2. Willet Family Estate Single Barrel Rye
Well-balanced and richly complex, Willet rye never fails to impress. It’s peppery spice is enhanced with deep rich dark fruit flavors. It can be a bit tough to find, so if you come across it a retail, stock up… and give us a shout, so we can replenish our bar.
Best Enjoyed: In a Manhattan. While great on the rocks, the Willet’s thick, cherry richness can elevate an ordinary Manhattan to the level of craft cocktail.
3. Rittenhouse Rye Bottled in Bond
If you’re totally unfamiliar with rye, Rittenhouse is the place to start. Long a bartender favorite, Rittenhouse is not quite a spicy as some but still has tons of flavors to discover, citrus, vanilla and chocolate to name a few.Bottled at 100 proof, Rittenhouse easily stands out in a substantially iced cocktail.
Best Enjoyed: You can sip this one, but where it really shines is in a cocktail like an Old Pal. At under $30, this is a great rye for experimenting.
4. High West Double Rye
For the last several years, High West has been concocting some of the tastiest and most creative blends on the market. But until recently, they weren’t making their own spirit to formulate their creations. Finally the first batch from their new distillery is ready and High West has incorporated it into the latest release of their Double Rye. It’s a spice-forward whiskey with notes of honey, mint a cinnamon.
Best Enjoyed: We love the Double Rye in cocktails. It makes a great Old Fashioned but if you’re feeling a little more adventurous and up for pounding a few ice into pellets, try it in a rye mint julep.
5. Lock Stock and Barrel 16 Year Rye
Made from a mash of 100% rye, Lock Stock and Barrel 16 Year Rye is big, bold and intense. A glass of this rye is so chalked full of flavor, you can get lost in it’s amber waves and before your know it you’re three drinks deep. It’s a pricey indulgence, but it’s one of the best bottles you’re likely to try, if you can find it.
Best Enjoyed: Sip it… Slowly.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
Three war graves have vanished – looted in the name of the almighty dollar.
Or in this case, the currency in question is the Indonesia rupiah. And others — including two of the most famous losses of World War II — are at grave risk.
The HNLMS Java. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
According to a report by NavalToday.com, three Dutch vessels lost during the Battle of the Java Sea have now been completely looted. Nothing is left of the cruisers HNLMS De Ruyter and HNLMS Java, or the destroyer HNLMS Kortenear, which were the graves of almost 900 Dutch sailors who perished when they sank.
The Battle of the Java Sea was a serious defeat for the Allies in the early stages of World War II.
In a night-time surface battle, Japanese ships sank the De Ruyter, Java, Kortenear, and the British destroyers HMS Jupiter and HMS Electra. The British heavy cruiser HMS Exeter was badly damaged in the battle, which cost the lives of 2,300 Allied personnel.
The Dutch vessels are not the only ones at risk.
The USS Houston in the 1930s. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
The Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth and the American heavy cruiser USS Houston (CA 30), sunk in the Battle of the Sunda Strait, also have been looted for scrap metal, although not to the extent of the Dutch vessels.
Also, two capital ships sunk in the early days of the war — the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Repulse, both war graves, have been desecrated by looters.
Even wrecks off the United States have not been immune to looters paying a visit.
According to a 2003 U.S. Navy release, the Nazi submarine U-85, sunk in 1942 by the destroyer USS Roper (DD 147) about 15 miles off the coast of North Carolina, was visited by private divers who took the vessel’s Enigma machine.
The divers claimed to not realize they weren’t supposed to take items from the wreck. The United States Navy eventually allowed the code machine to be donated to the Altantic Graveyard Museum.