In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the MiG-29 Fulcrum and the F/A-18 Hornet had plenty of opportunities to go head-to-head. There was the ever-present possibility of the Cold War turning hot, a potential meeting during Desert Storm, and again, an opportunity to clash over the Balkans. Even today, deployed carriers operate Hornets while several potential adversaries (like Syria, Iran, and North Korea) have Fulcrums in service.
This, of course, begs the question — which plane would win a dogfight? Let’s take a closer look at each.
Let’s start this off with a look at the F/A-18 Hornet. According to aviation historian Joe Baugher, the Navy was looking for a plane to replace the F-4 Phantom and the A-7 Corsair in Navy and Marine Corps service. As a result, they got a very versatile plane – one that could help protect carriers from attacking Backfires, yet still carry out strike missions.
The baseline F/A-18 Hornets have a top speed of 1,190 miles per hour, an unrefueled range of 1,243 miles, and are armed with an M61 Vulcan cannon and a wide variety of air-to-ground weapons. Additionally, Hornets are typically armed with AIM-9 Sidewinder, AIM-7 Sparrow, and AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles. The Hornet is a very versatile plane that has seen action across the globe, from Libya to the War on Terror.
The MiG-29 Fulcrum, on the other hand, was one of two planes designed for fighting NATO planes for control of the air. The Fulcrum entered service in 1982 and was intended to be complemented by the Su-27 Flanker. The plane earned a bit of fame by playing an important role in Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising and Dale Brown’s Flight of the Old Dog.
The MiG-29 has a higher top speed of 1,519 miles per hour, but a lower unrefueled range of 889 miles. It has a 30mm cannon, and primarily carries the AA-10 Alamo and AA-11 Archer air-to-air missiles. Over time, the Fulcrum has evolved to carry some air-to-surface weapons, including bombs and missiles.
So, which of these planes would win in combat? The Fulcrum’s speed and the power of the AA-11 Archer would give it an advantage in a close-in dogfight. The problem, though, is getting close enough for that dogfight. The Hornet offers its pilot better situational awareness through hands on throttle-and-stick (HOTAS) controls and advanced avionics. In a deadly duel where any single mistake can be fatal, being prepared is key.
As always, it depends on which plane’s fight is fought and how good the pilots are.
The trap bar deadlift isn’t a true deadlift. It’s somewhere between a squat and a deadlift. As a hip hinge stickler. it’s hard to watch just about every video I’ve seen of soldiers conducting this movement. There’s too much knee flexion most of the time.
The trap bar deadlift DOES use more knee flexion than a traditional deadlift. BUT it doesn’t need all the hip flexion you guys are giving it.
The reason there’s more knee flexion is because the handles on the trap bar are closer to your center of gravity than the bar is during a conventional deadlift. This means you don’t need to hip hinge as far forward with a trap bar.
But you still need to hinge.
You should only be bending at your knees, and hips for that matter, as far as you have to in order to reach the ground. If any part of your body is moving, but the bar isn’t, you’re wrong.
It’s a little bit like a squat and a little bit like a deadlift.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Neysa Canfield)
It’s not a true squat
This may seem like a weird statement. It’s called a deadlift, not a squat so obviously, the trap bar deadlift isn’t a true squat. Hear me out though.
Lower body movements are generally broken into two main groups:
Knee dominant movements
Hip dominant movements
The king hip dominant movement is the deadlift. The king knee dominant movement is the squat. The trap bar deadlift isn’t wholly a hip hinge like the conventional deadlift, and it isn’t wholly knee dominant like the back squat.
It’s somewhere in between the two.
Which if we’re being honest is how you should ideally pick something up. The trap bar deadlift assumes that you’re getting the weight as close to your center of gravity as possible, and you’re recruiting the most amount of muscle as possible (quads, hamstrings, and glutes).
Your hips should be lower and your knee angle should be smaller.
SO…It’s a hybrid
This is actually good. It means you can get more quad involved in the movement than a conventional deadlift. It also means you can get more hamstring involved than a traditional squat. This means you can be stronger in the trap bar deadlift…if you train for it properly with correct form.
The handcuff hinge is the go-to movement to teach a hip hinge. We are taught by people who don’t know what they’re talking about to fear lifting with our hips, often because lifting with the hips is confused with lifting with the back.
Your hips AKA your hamstrings and glutes can be the strongest muscles in your body if you train them using hip hinge movements like the deadlift or good mornings.
Use the handcuff hinge to help you commit the hip hinge pattern to your neural matrix. Check out the video above for specifics on how to perform it.
This is a really basic way to prep for this test.
(I made this.)
How to train: 3 MONTH PLAN
Because the trap bar deadlift is a hybrid between the squat and the deadlift, it’s super easy to train for. You should simply break up your strength days into three main lower-body movements. It can look something like this:
Monday: Conventional or Sumo Deadlift 3 sets of 3-10 reps at RPE 8
Wednesday: Back Squat 3 sets of 3-10 reps at RPE 8
Friday: Trap bar Deadlift 3 sets of 3-10
Your rep scheme should change every 4-6 weeks. Let’s say your ACFT is Jan. 1, I would break up your rep scheme to something like this leading up to the event.
Oct 7- Nov. 2: Sets of 10 reps
Nov. 3-30: Sets of 6 reps
Dec. 1-28; Sets of 3 reps
You’re busy; don’t waste your time doing Alternate Staggered Squat Jumps or Forward Lunges. They lack the ability to load heavy enough and are unilateral movements that require a balance component that’s completely irrelevant to the trap bar deadlift. If you have a plan that uses these movements, throw it in the garbage.
Being strong doesn’t necessarily mean you’re cool.
This article is intended to give you some basic information on the trap bar deadlift. It is by no means exhaustive. Respond in the comments of this article on Facebook or send me a direct message at firstname.lastname@example.org with your sticking points, comments, or concerns on the trap bar deadlift.
I’m also making a push to keep the conversation going over at the Mighty Fit Facebook Group. If you haven’t yet joined the group, do so. It’s where I spend the most time answering questions and helping people get the most out of their training.
Promotions are an exciting event in a military career, and celebrating them comes standard. The question, however, comes in what type of celebration to expect — essentially, how big is too big? And what’s the “norm” for each rank and service branch?
Because everyone who gets promoted to a new rank is presumably doing so for the first time, there’s a steep learning curve. You can talk to others or attend services of those ahead of you in order to learn what’s expected by you as the service member.
Big or small, salute them all!
It doesn’t matter if you’re getting your first promotion or your 10th, it’s something to be excited about! Enjoy your achievement and bask in the progress of your career. Don’t overlook a promotion for it being “small,” but rather take time to pat yourself on the back.
This is a big deal; you’ve earned it!
Early career promotions
Consider that, earlier in one’s career, promotions will come faster. It’s easier to climb the ranks your first few years in. There’s nothing wrong with this, only to keep in mind that in years to come, promotions won’t come as easily, or as frequently.
It’s a good idea to communicate this to friends and family, too. So they aren’t expecting fast pay jumps … and to give them a better idea of how the military works. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep your loved ones in the know for a better communication process about your future.
Pinning and pomp and circumstance
No matter what rank you’re pinning, there will be some type of ceremony. Keep in mind that, depending on the circumstances, they could be a big deal, or something simple. For instance, if deployed, you might have a fast “here’s your new rank” get together. While, when stateside, you can invite loved ones and plan an actual event.
In general, you get to choose someone to pin (or velcro) on your new rank. Decide who you want this person to be, whether a family member, co-worker or someone else who’s made a profound influence in your life. Ask them in advance, and if they aren’t associated with the military, coach them on what/when to add said insignia.
Promotion ceremonies usually come with much tradition and history. These traditions will vary based on branch, unit and career path. Be sure to get in on the fun and play up whatever will take place. As a member of each branch, you’re likely to know what’s ahead and how the ceremony will play out.
For instance, army members might exchange coins, Marines will march in and out of their promotion stance, and so forth.
Reaching the big jumps
When reaching higher ranks, more is expected on promotion day, most notably a cake! Sources say, even at 8 a.m., a cake will be eaten, and showing up without one is simply not done.
Whether enlisted or an officer, upper ranking soldiers will host a reception to celebrate their big day, and the size of that reception often depends on the rank itself. In general, this is usually E7 or O4 and above, while E9 or O5/O6 will host an even larger celebratory event. Each branch will have its own nuances, so check with those in your unit, or scour the net for best practices with each upcoming promotion.
When a promotion sits ahead, consider the best way to celebrate. Not only to bask in your achievements but to follow within military traditions based on your achievement and branch.
Through the cockpit windscreen, Capt. Robert Morgan saw flashes of light from the wings and engine cowling of a German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 at his 12 o’clock and closing at an incredible rate. Each wink of light from the fighter’s wing root meant another 20mm cannon shell was heading directly at his B-17F Flying Fortress at over 2,300 feet per second.
Having no room to dive in the crowded formation of B-17 bombers of the 91st Bomb Group, he pitched up. The Luftwaffe fighter’s shells impacted the tail of the aircraft instead of coming straight through the windscreen.
Over the intercom Morgan heard his tail gunner, Sgt. John Quinlan, yelling that the aircraft’s tail was shot to pieces and what was left was in flames.
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)
It was January 23, 1943. Morgan and his nine crewmen aboard the “Memphis Belle” had just fought their way through a swarm of Luftwaffe fighters, dropped their bombs on a Nazi submarine base in the coastal city of Lorient in occupied France and were fighting to survive the return trip to the Eighth Air Force base in Bassingbourn, England. Morgan began calculating if the crew should bail out and become prisoners of war before the tail tore completely off the bomber trapping the crew in a death spiral culminating in a fiery crash.
A moment later, Quinlan reported that the fire in the tail had gone out. The “Memphis Belle” and its crew would survive the mission; the crew’s eighth and the bomber’s ninth.
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)
They would have to survive 17 more missions to complete the required 25 to rotate home. All would be flown during a period of World War II when the Luftwaffe was at the height of its destructive powers.
Against all odds, the “Memphis Belle” crew flew those missions, their last to once again bomb the U-boat pens at Lorient on May 17, 1943, before returning safely to England for the final time. Bottles of Champagne were uncorked and radio operator Tech. Sgt. Robert J. Hanson collapsed onto the flightline and kissed the ground.
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)
For the “Belle” itself, it was only mission 24 and the plane had to fly once more with an alternate crew on May 19.
The B-17 and its crew would be the first to return alive and intact to the U.S. They were welcomed as heroes and immediately embarked on a 2 ½-month, nationwide morale tour to sell war bonds. The tour was also to encourage bomber crews in training that they too could make it home. It made celebrities of both the “Belle” and its crew.
Ironically, the two and a half months of press conferences, parties and glad-handing officers and politicians was about the same amount of time during the “Belle’s” combat tour that 80 percent of the 91st Bomb Group’s B-17s and their crews were lost to German fighters and anti-aircraft fire.
“Eighty percent losses means you had breakfast with 10 men and dinner with only two of those 10,” Morgan said in an interview after the war. During the totality of the air war over Europe more than 30,000 U.S. Airmen aboard heavy bombers, like the B-17, would be killed.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
Seventy-five years to the day after that 25th mission, the Museum of the U.S. Air Force will honor the bravery of those bomber crews, some of the first Americans to take the fight to the Nazis in WWII, when they unveil for public display the largely restored B-17F, Serial No. 41-24485, “Memphis Belle” as part of a three-day celebration, May 17-19, 2018.
According to the museum curator in charge of the “Memphis Belle” exhibit, Jeff Duford, the weekend will include more than 160 WWII re-enactors showcasing their memorabilia, WWII-era music and vehicles, static displays of other B-17s, flyovers of WWII-era aircraft and presentations of rare archival film footage. The “Memphis Belle” will be the centerpiece of an exhibit documenting the strategic bombing campaign over Europe.
“The ‘Memphis Belle’ is an icon that represents all the heavy bomber crewmen who served and sacrificed in Europe in World War II,” Duford said, “In many ways the ‘Memphis Belle’ is the icon for the United States Air Force.
“You look at the U.S. Marines, they have this wonderful icon of the flag being raised over Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima and everyone recognizes that. It symbolizes service and sacrifice and tenacity and teamwork. Well, the Air Force has that symbol too, and it’s this airplane. It demonstrates teamwork. The crews had to work together. The planes in formation had to work together. The formations had to work together with the fighter escorts.”
The service and sacrifice of the young men still leaves Duford awestruck even after working on the “Belle” project for a decade.
(U.S. Army photo)
“How does one climb inside of this aircraft knowing that they are probably not going to come home? And they don’t do that one time; two times; three times; 10 times – they have to do it 25 times,” said Duford. “Once they got inside the airplane, they had no place to run. There were no foxholes to be dug. The skin on those airplanes is so thin that a bullet or flak fragment would go through it like a tin can because that’s essentially what it was.
“The odds were that every 18 missions, a heavy bomber was going to be shot down. So when you think the crew had to finish 25 missions to go home, statistically it was nearly impossible. It was one-in-four odds that a heavy bomber recruit would finish their 25 missions. Those other three crew members would’ve been shot down and captured, killed or wounded so badly they couldn’t finish their tour.”
The fact the “Memphis Belle” crew survived their tour was of great value to the U.S. Army Air Forces in maintaining support for the daylight strategic bombing campaign over Europe, which was still, in fact, an experiment.
“Back then, there was no book on high altitude strategic bombing. The generals didn’t know any more than we did. They had to figure bombing strategy as we went along,” said Morgan in a book he would write after the war, “The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle”.
The B-17 was named the “Flying Fortress”, because it was bristling with .50 caliber machine guns covering every angle of attack by German fighters, save one. The theory was that all that defensive firepower would be amplified by heavy bombers flying in tight formations, called “boxes”, enabling them to protect each other from attacking fighters.
While the German Messerschmitt and Focke-Wulf fighters sometimes paid a price for attacking the formations, they soon developed tactics that exploited a design weakness in B-17Fs, like the “Memphis Belle”.
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)
While twin .50 caliber machine guns in top and belly turrets and the tail and single .50 cal. gunners protected the bomber, the 12 o’clock position was covered by a lone .30 caliber machine gun – no match for the German fighters. Because the bomber formations had to fly straight and level to initiate their bombing run, the Luftwaffe fighter pilots began attacking the formations head on. The ensuing carnage was ghastly.
“The secret to the B-17 was the capability of flying in tight formations, so tight that the wings were often almost touching,” wrote Morgan. “We were able to put out an amazing amount of firepower… but, I also positively feel that was a bit of divine intervention for our crew.”
While the addition of Allied fighter escorts helped fend off some German attackers, the fact that the B-17s had to fly at 25,000 feet or lower to maintain any semblance of accuracy on target put them in the range of the deadly German 88mm anti-aircraft gun. No amount of machine guns or friendly fighters could counter the dense flak approaching targets while flying straight and level.
Bomber crews had to just grit their teeth and pray.
“They felt like they were a great crew. They were tightly knit, confident and dedicated to what they were doing,” said Duford. “However, being in those formations, flying straight and level with enemy anti-aircraft and fighter aircraft, there certainly was a little bit of luck for them too.”
Luck, both good and bad, was also a factor in the “Belle” crew, despite not being the first crew to complete 25 missions, being the one to return to the U.S. for a bond and morale tour.
The “Belle’s” selection for the morale tour was the result of a film project about the strategic bombing campaign that was the brainchild of USAAF Gen. Hap Arnold and a Hollywood director, William Wyler, who had volunteered to serve his country in the best way he knew how.
It was hoped that a film documenting a bomber crew as they successfully completed a combat tour would calm new recruits, who were hearing stories of the carnage overseas, and assuage the doubts of the public, press and politicians that strategic bombing was a failure.
Wyler, an immigrant who was born in the Alsace region of modern-day France when it was part of the German Empire prior to World War I and who would go on to win three Best Director Academy Awards, including one for “Ben-Hur”, was commissioned as a major and headed to England with a film crew to document the fight in skies over Europe.
Wyler and his cameraman flew with B-17 combat crews and began filming missions of a B-17F of the 401st Bomb Squadron of the 91st Bomb Group named “Invasion II”. His staff also began interviewing and making publicity photographs of the crewmembers, as they drew closer to completing 25 missions.
However, on April 17, 1943, the reality of war spoiled the Hollywood ending during their 23rd mission to Bremen, Germany. Invasion II crashed after being hit by flak over Borhmen, Germany, setting the cockpit and wing on fire. The crew managed to bail out, but all became prisoners of war.
Wyler regrouped and found a plane and crew with the 324th Bomb Squadron that was also close to completing their combat tour. The “Memphis Belle”, named for Morgan’s girlfriend, Margaret Polk of Memphis, Tennessee, and its crew took center stage.
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)
While the crew of “Hell’s Angels” completed their tour on May 13, 1943, four days before the “Belle”, there was no film of that plane and crew. Consequently, it was the “Belle” and its crew that would fly mission 26 back to the U.S. and receive a hero’s welcome.
Wyler’s film, “Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress”, would be released and distributed by Paramount Pictures the following year.
(National Museum of the U.S. Air Force photo)
It was a film that came with a high price tag. One of Wyler’s cinematographers, 1st Lt. Harold J. Tannenbaum, a veteran of World War I, was killed in action during the filming when the bomber he was in was shot down over France on April 16, 1943.
Until the end of the war, the “Belle” was used as a training aircraft, but instead of being torn apart for scrap like most of the other 12,700 B-17s built during the war, the city of Memphis, Tennessee, put the aircraft on display for nearly 50 years.
The historic aircraft came to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in October 2005, when work began on a careful, multi-year conservation and restoration effort including corrosion treatment and the full outfitting of missing equipment.
Casey Simmons arrived shortly after the “Memphis Belle” as a restoration specialist for the museum.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
From the beginning, it was apparent that priority one in the restoration was getting it right. His first assignment was to fabricate a glycol heater that was missing from inside the left wing. No visitor to the museum would ever see it.
“I know it’s there and that’s cool because it’s going to get all the parts that it needs to be a complete aircraft,” said Simmons. “When you don’t have the part you try and find a part from another airplane or you go to the blueprints and make the part completely from scratch.”
While the museum has other B-17s in its collection, the “Memphis Belle” requires a whole other level of patience and dedication.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
“Other restoration projects are typically a general model of a certain aircraft. So it represents a lot of them. This one is a specific aircraft, so you have to get it right; exactly to the rivet,” said Simmons.
The museum specialist did not try to restore the “Belle” to how it rolled off the Boeing line, but utilized films, photos and records from its time in combat to bring the B-17F back to fighting trim, scars and all.
“There are certain damage spots on the “Memphis Belle” that were fixed over time, so we have to make sure that those show up on the aircraft the way they were,” said Simmons. “If they put five rivets in an area as opposed to the standard four that are supposed to be there, we have to get that correct… When you go through video footage, old film footage, or photographs, and you do find a little glimpse of what you’re looking for, that’s a big moment. We have to get it right for those bomber crews.”
The bravery of those bomber crews continued after all the whoopla back home died down. Even Morgan was eager to get back in the fight.
While on a morale tour stop in Wichita, Kansas, Morgan caught a glimpse of the future of strategic bombing, the still secret B-29 Superfortress. He volunteered immediately to train on the new bomber and earned command of his own squadron of B-29s that deployed to Saipan in the Pacific Theater.
On November 24, 1944, his 869th Squadron of the 497th Bomb Group was the first, other than Doolittle’s Raiders in 1942, to bomb Tokyo. He would go on to complete another 24 combat missions in the B-29 before the end of WWII. He retired from the U.S. Air Force Reserve in 1965 as a colonel.
While the restoration and display of the “Memphis Belle” will ensure the story of the dedication, bravery and airmanship of its 10 crewmembers that returned home safely in 1943 honors all the Airmen that fought in WWII, Duford is particularly enthusiastic that the exhibit will allow Museum of U.S. Air Force visitors to learn the story of the little known 11th crewmember of the “Memphis Belle”.
As much as any Airman, he embodied the spirit and sense of duty shared by all the heavy bomber crews.
“It’s the story of one of the waist gunners, Emerson Scott Miller,” said Duford. “You don’t see him in any of the war bond photos and you don’t see his name listed as one of the ‘Memphis Belle’ crew members. He came overseas as a technician repairing the autopilot systems on B-17s. He was safe. He didn’t have to fly the missions but he decided he wanted to do more and volunteered to fly in combat. He joined the ‘Memphis Belle’ crew after they had flown about nine or 10 of their missions. So he had flown 16 of his missions when the rest of the ‘Memphis Belle’ crew completed their 25th.
“Capt. Robert Morgan really wanted Scott Miller to come back on the war bond tour, but Miller hadn’t finished his 25th mission, so he had to stay. While the ‘Belle’ crew was celebrated and famous and there were parties for them, Scott Miller was still flying in combat.”
Fittingly, Miller finished his 25th mission aboard another B-17 on July 4, 1943, but for him, there were no parades, no press conferences, no meeting movie stars and no special duties.
“We got in touch with Scott Miller’s family,” said Duford. “They donated a trunk full of artifacts, and so Scott Miller has a place in the exhibit and his story will be told… He could have just simply done his duty repairing those autopilot systems and gone home safe. But he put his life on the line and then was forgotten. Now he’s going to be remembered now and for generations to come.”
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
Imagine the U.S. building a statue of Ho Chi Minh in the middle of New York City. Or one of Nikita Khrushchev in Washington DC. As unlikely as its sounds for a mighty empire to build such a monument to a once-great, potentially vanquished foe, that’s how Ancient Rome used to roll. No matter what your high school history teacher told you, the Romans were not always the preeminent ancient group of ass-kickers history gives them credit for.
Mighty Carthage would field its greatest commander, Hannibal Barca, against Rome. He would turn out to be a leader so great even the Romans would build statues in his honor.
It didn’t end well for Carthage but Rome famously got its ass handed to it a few times.
Don’t get it twisted, Rome in its heyday did kick a lot of barbarian ass from Londinium to Mesopotamia and is worthy of its reputation. But before any of that, the young Roman Empire wasn’t even as big as modern-day Italy. In the Punic Wars, they chose the wrong empire to square off against. Carthage was much more powerful than tiny Rome, and its leadership was much better at fielding armies. One of those was Hannibal Barca, known to history simply as “Hannibal” (when you’re famous on the level of Cher, Madonna, or Jesus only one name is required).
Hannibal fought Rome from the start of the very first Punic War, but it was the Second Punic War where Hannibal was really unleashed. After crushing Roman allies in modern-day Spain, he left on his now-famous crossing of the Alps to hit Rome from behind, a move no one expected, least of all Rome. It was a move that shocked the ancient world and allowed Hannibal to plunder parts of northern Italy for almost a year. The following Spring, he crushed a Roman army at Cannae, killing or capturing some 70,000 men.
That face when you kill 70,000 Romans on their home turf.
For almost a decade, Hannibal and his army slogged around the Italian Peninsula, defeating the Romans and killing thousands in battles at Tarentum, Capua, Silarus, Herndonia, and Petelia. Tens of thousands of Romans died at the hands of Hannibal and his army, but time was not on his side. The Romans would not give in, and Carthage was losing ground elsewhere. Rome gained new allies and fresh troops, while Hannibal couldn’t take a Roman harbor. It ultimately doomed him. He would be recalled to Africa where he was defeated by the Romans at the Battle of Zama, his invincibility finally shattered.
Rome would never get its hands on its greatest enemy. Hannibal died after escaping from Roman soldiers, circumstances unknown. To this day, no one is sure where he escaped to or where his final resting place was. What they know is that for decades, Romans lived in fear that he might mount an army and return to exact revenge. When Rome was in its full glory days, and the threat of Hannibal’s return was diminished by time, the Romans built statues of the man in the streets, an advertisement that they were able to beat such a worthy adversary.
Fans get to see Carrie Fisher one last time in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” and it was no easy feat to bring her to the screen one more time.
“It was a massive kind of problem, I mean, puzzle really. It was a gigantic puzzle,” visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett told Insider of the challenge the Industrial Lights & Magic team at Lucasfilm faced.
Fisher died in December 2016 after her filming for the last “Star Wars” movie, “The Last Jedi” wrapped. At first, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy told “Good Morning America” the actress wouldn’t appear in “Episode IX.” But, in July 2018, Disney announced unused footage from “The Force Awakens” would be utilized to bring Fisher to life to close out the Skywalker saga.
How exactly do you repurpose footage from a previous film to work for “Episode IX”? Very carefully.
Guyett and creature effects supervisor Neal Scanlan spoke with Insider Monday on the Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank, California, about the difficulty of bringing Fisher’s scenes to the screen and the importance of making sure her performance came across as authentic.
General Leia Organa is seen in “The Last Jedi,” above.
‘TROS’ director J.J. Abrams originally thought they could do Leia digitally. They realized that wasn’t going to work.
“The first conversation I had with [Abrams] about it was that he thought we could just do a digital version of Leia,” said Guyett.
That wasn’t going to work.
“So say you went along that path. The issue that he had with that was that the performances that she gave at any moment would just be authored by some other actress or actor,” he added. “[Abrams] didn’t want that. He wanted to be able to look at this movie and say, ‘That’s Carrie Fisher playing Leia.'”
The team accomplished that with a stand-in, a mix of Fisher’s past performances, and a digital character.
That’s not all footage of Fisher moving around in “TROS,” but it’s very convincing.
What are we looking at when we see Leia in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’? Fisher’s face was put onto a digital character.
“When you see Leia in ‘Episode IX,’ basically it’s a live-action element of her face with a completely digital character,” explained Guyett of what the audience is seeing.
This was done because they wanted to make sure that Leia’s look in “The Rise of Skywalker” was distinct from her look in the previous two films.
“The reality of doing this is that you want her to have a new costume,” said Guyett. “It would be weird if she just looked like she did in ‘Episode VII’ or ‘Episode VIII.’ You want her to have a new hairstyle because she’s very specifically part of ‘IX.’ So we knew that we were going to have to do all of that.”
If you’re imagining that ILM simply cut and pasted Fisher’s face onto a body, it wasn’t that simple. ILM visual effects supervisor Patrick Tubach told Eric Eisenberg at Cinemablend the team tracked Fisher’s posture and body movements from “The Force Awakens” to apply to their new scenes in “TROS.”
One of the biggest challenges was matching Fisher’s voice to specific scenes in ‘Episode IX’
This is where the puzzle comes into play. Abrams and co-screenwriter Chris Terrio wrote scenes based off of the dialogue available to them from Fisher’s unused footage.
“The mechanics of that then became very much in J.J.’s court, initially, about writing scenes using lines that we knew we had access to so you can break it down in this massive pre-plan thing where you write the script, and you base it around deliveries,” explained Guyett of how Leia started to come together.
There were times where they found the right dialogue, but it wasn’t the correct intonation. They had to just move on.
“We went back through all that footage and you can see, ‘Oh, how did she deliver this line?’ You know, ‘Never underestimate a droid.’ Once you’ve got whatever the line is, once you’ve got that kind of library, you can start feeling the emotional quality,” he continued.
Imagine sifting through footage to figure out the perfect place to utilize a line of dialogue or a particular delivery. It had to be just right. There were times where they found the right dialogue, but it wasn’t the correct intonation. They had to just move on.
“Some things just didn’t work,” said Guyett. “Even though [Fisher] might be saying the right thing, she’s saying it the wrong way. So sometimes we’d abandoned certain ideas within the script. But basically the premise is now you have to stage the scenes and integrate her into those scenes, which is a massive undertaking.”
Daisy Ridley was looking at someone dressed up to look like Princess Leia while performing scenes with the character.
There was a stand-in for Fisher on set so the actors had someone to play against
When you see Daisy Ridley, Kelly Marie Tran, or any other cast member acting next to Fisher in “TROS,” there was always someone acting opposite them.
“There was great effort made to represent Carrie in those moments as well,” Scanlan told Insider. “There was a huge respect. It’s not just a visual effect. It wasn’t, ‘Oh, she doesn’t exist.’ There was actually a person there and the hairstyle and straight makeup. [We] found a place for [the cast] to feel comfortable and to feel that there’s some way we were representing Carrie in some physical entity.”
“We had a fantastic stand-in for Princess Leia who looked at all the footage and tried to learn the lines and represent Carrie as best as possible so that if you’re acting against her you’re not just looking at an empty space, you’re looking at a human being who’s delivering the line,” added Guyett.
There wasn’t a lot of wiggle room to fix things after filming
“The thing that I reiterated to [Abrams] about a million times was we had to get it right on the day we shot it,” said Guyett.
Roger Guyett (left) is seen on the set of “The Rise of Skywalker.”
“When you do something, quite often, you might do something and go, ‘OK, well we can fix that.’ We can change the timing of that explosion of something or whatever later on in post [production] or maybe that creature’s moving too fast or whatever. This was something we couldn’t do that with. We had to get it right on a day.”
During production, when the team looked at a moment with Leia, they made sure it had elements that they were going to use. Test composites of scenes were done to make sure everything would fit right and then they would go back and re-edit the scene together to make sure it felt authentic and correct.
“Having been through this process, you can put your hand on your heart and you can say every one of those performances is delivered by Carrie Fisher,” said Guyett.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Virtual recruiting teams, outreach to civic leaders and 770 more recruiters on the ground are helping the Army sign up more new soldiers this year in some of America’s largest cities.
Recruiting is up 27 percent in Minneapolis over this time last year. New York City has improved 19 percent and Baltimore is up 17 percent, according to Army Recruiting Command figures for April 2019.
Cities are where the people live, so the Army needs to recruit there, said Under Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy. Until this year, however, recruiting success typically seen in the rural South was not shared by the big cities.
“We’re trying to bring a lot of balance to our recruiting effort and focus in on the largest metropolitan areas in the country,” McCarthy said.
A recruiter hands out a water bottle from a table of Army items near the Eutaw Street gate during an Orioles game May 3, 2019.
(Photo by Gary Sheftick)
Last year, Army senior leaders selected 22 cities to apply those efforts. These were areas with large populations that had little exposure to soldiers because most were located far from active Army training centers.
Senior leaders began meeting with mayors of those cities. McCarthy, for instance, first met with the mayor of Chicago, his hometown. He has since met city leaders in Baltimore, Houston and Orlando.
“We’ve got to get out there and forge relationships,” he said.
At the Baltimore meeting, city officials decided that Army interests aligned with one of theirs: keeping youth out of trouble. As a result, the city opened up all 43 of its recreation centers to recruiters.
“It was a great meeting because it opened doors,” said Col. Amanda Iden, commander of the Baltimore Recruiting Battalion, who sat with McCarthy at the meeting table.
“They’ve given us carte blanche access” to the rec centers, she said, adding her recruiters “don’t just play basketball and do sports with these kids,” they actually provide educational aids to help students study.
A young fan slaps five to the Orioles mascot as Staff Sgt. Antwon Yourse (left) and Staff Sgt. Bryan Lenis of the Baltimore Recruiting Company watch May 3, 2019.
(Photo by Gary Sheftick)
Recruiters uploaded the Army’s “March2Success” software on computers at the centers so students could study there for college boards and other entrance exams.
“You want to take the LSAT, LCAT, MCAT, all those other different tests, the GMAT, SAT, AECT, it’s a tool to teach you how to take tests,” Iden said, “and it focuses on your weaknesses.”
Meetings with city officials also help open up schools to recruiters.
“It’s a relationship,” Iden said. “It’s about getting to know leaders, principals and guidance counselors.”
Recruiters are there to help students and influencers — such as parents and teachers — make “informed decisions,” she said. It’s not just about “trying to pull you into the Army,” it’s about helping students be successful and explaining options, she said.
Many students and influencers don’t know the Army has more than 150 career paths, said Col. James Jensen, director of the USAREC Commander’s Initiatives Group.
They don’t know Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, has the world’s only school that certifies students in handling hazardous material for serious nuclear-biological-chemical threats, he said, adding graduates can get a job at dozens of agencies once they leave the Army.
They don’t know that military police officers are automatically certified in 32 different states and can become state police officers without attending that state’s police academy, he said.
“We’re trying to expand the audience and touch not only the potential applicants, but the influencers, too,” Jensen said. “Especially within the latest generation, influencers hold a huge amount of weight with the decisions to go into the military.”
Influencers are among the target audience for “Meet Your Army” events in many of the cities. These events often include senior Army leaders returning to their hometowns for speaking engagements mixed with editorial boards, meetings with civic leaders and other public forums.
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville, for instance, returned to Boston April 14, 2019, to throw out the first pitch at a Red Sox game. The next day he ran the Boston Marathon — all part of the first-ever “Boston Army Week” proclaimed by the mayor.
Nearly 30 different events took place during the week, including an expo on the Boston Common that had the Army Special Operations Command “Black Daggers” parachute team jump in. Over 30 Army units and 10 senior Army leaders also took part.
Sgt. Chobie Van Rossum, a Baltimore area native assigned back to the city as a recruiter, stands on Eutaw Street during an Orioles Game May 3, 2019, to discuss Army opportunities with potential prospects and influencers.
(Photo by Gary Sheftick)
These events maximize resources, Jensen said.
Beginning later this year, new mobile Army recruiting platforms will participate at events such as the one in Boston, Jensen said. These semitrailers will include video-game terminals where visitors will be able to play against members of the Army’s new esports team, consisting of soldiers who will compete at gaming events across the country.
Virtual recruiting teams
Last year USAREC tested the concept of virtual recruiting teams at some of its battalions. Now each of the Army’s 44 recruiting battalions have VRTs that focus on social media.
The teams consist of three to six soldiers proficient in all types of social media. These VRTs are currently manned at about 80 percent, Jensen said, but he added they will be going up to 100 percent by this summer.
The Baltimore Recruiting Battalion’s VRT stood up in September with three members at its headquarters on Fort Meade. Each of the battalion’s six recruiting companies across Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia also have liaisons who work directly with the VRT, Iden said.
These VRTs are “force multipliers” for recruiters, Jensen said. When a potential candidate responds to a social media post and asks a question, the virtual recruiters will initially respond, then pass the prospect off to a neighborhood recruiter, Jensen said.
“This helps the recruiter on the ground with less prospecting and more processing,” he said, “putting [prospects] in boots.”
The VRTs have access to “segmentation” data from the command’s G-2. The Recruiting Command has identified 65 different types of neighborhoods or “segmentations” based on demographic data from the last U.S. census.
Sgt. Chobie Van Rossum (left) and Staff Sgt. Antwon Yourse of the Baltimore Recruiting Company hand out water bottles as they discuss opportunities in the Army with young fans attending an Orioles game May 3, 2019.
(Photo by Gary Sheftick)
“There’s a plan for every zip code,” Jensen said.
One of the main segmentations in downtown Baltimore is the “Urban Modern Mix,” Iden said. Characteristics for people in this segmentation include listening to urban adult contemporary music and having an interest in boxing. Virtual recruiting teams use such data to help target their social media posts, she said.
In a Chicago test that began in October, the Army is “micro-targeting” different neighborhoods and changing Internet ads weekly if they don’t resonate with particular segmentations. The pilot program is about to expand to Boston, officials said, and perhaps to more cities in the future.
In another pilot program, the recruiting company in Baltimore is partnering with the Maryland National Guard. In most areas, the National Guard has its own recruiters, but the five recruiting stations in the Baltimore area sign applicants up for the Guard. In return, the Guard provides assets to help recruit at different events, Iden said.
Recruiters also partner with the Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks to plan participation in events such as the African American Festival in August.
“It’s inherent when you are amongst the public that you will integrate” and form partnerships, Jensen said.
During the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the mayor signed the city up for the Army’s Partnership for Youth Success program.
Under the PaYS program, recruits are guaranteed two job interviews at the end of their enlistment. For instance, if recruits pick the city of Houston, they might interview for a job with the Department of Public Works and Engineering.
Recruits are 15 percent more likely to sign up with the Army if they are offered the PaYS program, McCarthy said.
Staff Sgt. Bryan Lenis of the Baltimore Recruiting Company hands an Army water bottle to a young fan at the Eutaw Street concessions of Camden Yards during an Orioles game May 3, 2019.
(Photo by Gary Sheftick)
About 900 different companies and agencies across the country are now part of the PaYS program. The Baltimore Police Department is a partner and Iden said the Maryland State Police are about to sign up.
With these initiatives, recruiting is now up in 18 of the 22 focus cities, according to USAREC. But still, “there are cities all over the country where we know we have to do better,” McCarthy said.
Jensen cautions that it will take time. “While these initiatives go on, this is a plane in flight,” he said of the Army’s recruiting force. “We have to deliver every day. So you’ve got to be very cognizant of what you’re doing and how many ripples in the water you do to the recruiting force.”
Since the Army Training and Doctrine Command gained oversight of all accessions in September, he said focus and unity of command has improved.
“Having the TRADOC commander has been absolutely phenomenal,” he said. “Now it really helps us get after our mission and stay focused on our mission, and they [at TRADOC] handle a lot of the things that we used to have to handle.”
The TRADOC focus has brought more total Army assets to help with recruiting, he said, and more senior leader involvement to help educate influential audiences about the Army.
“I think it’s a requirement for every leader of this institution to get out there and talk about the U.S. Army as an organization, to educate our fellow countrymen, to encourage young men and women to take a hard look at this profession,” McCarthy said.
Hearing the devastating fires that are ripping through Australia right now is heartbreaking, but one family is really stepping up, and their father would be really proud. Steve Irwin’s kids are continuing his wildlife preservation legacy and have already saved 90,000 animals in their homeland.
According to CNN, The Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin’s daughter, Bindi, and the rest of the family, have rescued and treated over 90,000 animals who were injured in the recent wildfires in Australia. The Australia Zoo, which is owned and operated by the Irwin family, and their conservation properties, are not endangered by fires raging right now, and they’ve taken in and cared for animals affected by the fires. The 21-year-old shared the Wildlife Hospital at their zoo is “busier than ever” and they will continue to help as many animals as they can.
The environmental activist and conservationist has been sharing photos on her Instagram account of some of the animals that her Wildlife hospital has seen and treated, and the stories of some who, sadly, they could not safe. Blossom, a possum, was featured along with powerful words urging others to help how they can.
“Devastatingly, this beautiful girl didn’t make it even after working so hard to save her life,” she writes. “I want to thank you for your kind words and support. This is the heart-wrenching truth, every day is a battle to stand up and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.”
Statistics show almost a third of koalas in Australia’s New South Wales region may have been killed in the raging bushfires, and there’s no question what Bindi and her family are doing to try and help is incredible.
The family shared how others can get involved in caring for the animals who have been harmed. “If you would like to lend a hand, the local fire stations could sure use donations as they are working so hard to keep everyone safe,” she writes. “One of our team members is currently fundraising to construct drinking stations on our conservation property due to the critical drought. You can find his fundraiser by visiting the link in my bio.”
“Together we can make a difference to help our planet in this time of devastation.”
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
A Chinese warship threatened a US Navy destroyer during a tense showdown in the South China Sea in late September 2018, according to new details of the encounter.
A Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy Type 052C Luyang II-class destroyer challenged the US Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur during a routine freedom-of-navigation operation near the disputed Spratly Islands. The Chinese warship sailed within 45 yards of the American vessel, nearly colliding with the US destroyer.
The Chinese vessel “approached USS Decatur in an unsafe and unprofessional maneuver in the vicinity of Gaven Reef in the South China Sea,” where it engaged in “a series of increasingly aggressive maneuvers accompanied by warnings for Decatur to depart,” a spokesman for the US Pacific Fleet said in a statement. The Decatur was forced to change course to avoid a collision.
A transcript of the radio exchange between the two naval vessels obtained by the South China Morning Post from the British Ministry of Defense shows that the Chinese ship threatened the Decatur, warning that it would “suffer consequences” if it did not move.
“You are on [a] dangerous course,” the Chinese destroyer warned over the radio. “If you don’t change course, [you] will suffer consequences.”
“We are conducting innocent passage,” the Decatur reportedly replied.
In a video of the incident, an unidentified Navy sailor can be heard saying that the Chinese ship is “trying to push us out of the way.”
The video is a little unclear, but there appear to be ship fenders deployed off deck, Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, noted on Twitter. He explained that “fenders are designed to mitigate the kinetic impact of a collision,” adding that the deployment is “clearly an indication of preparedness for such an eventuality.”
Ankit Panda, a foreign-policy expert who is a senior editor at The Diplomat, called the incident “the PLAN’s most direct and dangerous attempt to interfere with lawful US Navy navigation in the South China Sea to date.”
Unsafe or unprofessional encounters between the US Navy and the Chinese military are, however, not particularly uncommon. “We have found records of 19 unsafe and/or unprofessional interactions with China and Russia since 2016 (18 with China and one with Russia),” Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a spokesman for the US Pacific Fleet, recently told CNN.
A number of these incidents involved dangerous Chinese intercepts of US Navy aircraft. In August 2018, the Chinese military sent a total of six warnings to a US Navy P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance plane, warning it to “leave immediately and keep out.”
It is potentially noteworthy that the details of the showdown between the US and Chinese warships in the South China Sea came from the British Ministry of Defense, as a British naval vessel also found itself in a standoff with the Chinese military in the South China Sea not too long ago.
In early September 2018, China dispatched a frigate to to take on the UK Royal Navy amphibious assault ship HMS Albion when it sailed too close to Chinese outposts in the Paracel Islands. China called the incident a provocation and warned that it would “take all necessary measures to defend its sovereignty and security.”
The US Navy is apparently expecting incidents like this to occur more frequently going foward. The US and China “will meet each other more and more on the high seas,” Chief of US Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said Oct. 30, 2018.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Making Alita, the humanoid main character in “Alita: Battle Angel,” work next to live-action characters onscreen was the biggest challenge for the visual effects team to bring to life in the film.
You may not have realized it, but a lot of work went into making the character’s big, bright brown eyes look just right, especially after the film’s first trailer.
“We had our original design, all based on the original artwork and [producer] Jim [Cameron]’s artwork and [director] Robert [Rodriguez]’s artwork, and even after the first trailer that came out, we got some criticism online about, ‘Hey, the eyes are too big. They don’t look right. Uncanny valley,'” visual effects supervisor Eric Saindon told Insider during a visual effects press day for the film at the Walt Disney Studios lot.
Here’s how Alita looks in the first trailer released for the film.
(20th Century Fox)
Based on the Japanese manga series “Gunnm,” the film follows a female cyborg, Alita, who has trouble remembering her past.
Saindon said the visual effects team spoke with Cameron and Rodriguez after the trailer came out in December 2017 to see what they thought of the criticism and whether or not they should change Alita’s look at all as a result.
“‘Do we want to shrink the eyes?'” Saindon said. “They came back and both said, ‘Absolutely not, we’re going to go bigger on the eyes.'”
“We didn’t actually go bigger on the eyes, but we did enlarge the iris,” Saindon continued. “We reduced the amount of sclera, the white around the eyes, and it sort of just popped everything back together. It popped her to be that manga character, but to be able to sit next to a live-action character. You never questioned it.”
You can see how Alita changed from that first trailer to the final film here. It’s a subtle change you may not have noticed:
Alita’s face is also softened a bit more in the final film. The lighting in this scene is a bit brighter on her face now.
(20th Century Fox)
Why Alita’s eyes were the most important to get just right
For the team, it was important to get the eyes right because not only is that the first thing you see when you meet Alita, but they believed that was going to be one of the main things that helped sell the believability of the character to audiences.
“Eyes are really critical in an actor’s performance,” said animation supervisor, Mike Cozens. “That’s why, you know, as shots get more intimate, we cut in closer and closer… Eyes are sort of what are telling you what’s going on inside the head, keeping that performance alive in the eyes, beyond the design and into performance was really critical, a critical part of the storytelling.”
Here’s how Alita looks when she opens her eyes for the first time in the films first trailer versus the final film.
(20th Century Fox)
“Truly, the eye size shouldn’t matter,” added visual effects supervisor for Lightstorm Entertainment, Richard Baneham. “Ultimately, when we look at a screen, I think it’s point-four of a second for us to read whether there are eyes onscreen or not. We immediately, as humans, go to that, because we want to understand how somebody is emotionally, what their state is. It’s what we do when we meet people, it’s how we read the room.”
Baneham said that regardless of the eye size, you can usually tell a person’s emotional state almost instantly through posture and their facial expression. That’s why it was important to get Alita’s eyes just right.
“So long as you communicate properly the emotional state of the character, the eye size, not that it’s irrelevant, it shouldn’t be the thing that’s in the way,” added Baneham. “We often say on our side, you don’t smile with your face, you don’t smile with your mouth, you smile with your eyes… As soon as you, you can cut to a pair of eyes and tell whether somebody’s smiling.”
If you covered up everything but Alita’s eyes in this image, you would be able to tell she’s smiling.
(20th Century Fox)
This isn’t the first time a trailer’s criticism has resulted in changes to a film.
After the release of the first trailer for the Sonic the Hedgehog film in April 2019, the video game character’s design sparked criticism and jokes online.
The image on the left shows Sonic’s original design. The image on the right shows how Sonic looks after the redesign.
How does the “Alita” visual effects team feel about receiving audience criticism right away after a trailer’s release?
“I didn’t mind hearing input from the outside world. It really solidified us, though,” said Saindon of reactions to the first trailer. “It kind of got everybody together and the real choices that were made beforehand kind of held. There was hardly any change, if you will, because I remember having, we had various different sizes and stuff out there and we were pretty big on the trailer, and it just kind of stayed there. It just made everybody reconsider what they were doing.”
“Whether she had big eyes or not, towards the end, I think all of us realized it was worthwhile worrying about it, and certainly it’s all about this expression that’s getting through or not getting through and worrying about that.”
Most of Alita’s design comes directly from the performance of actress Rosa Salazar who embodies the character.
(20th Century Fox)
Baneham added that it’s about making sure the audience invests in the character and comes along for the journey.
“That’s what you care about first and foremost, is making sure when the audience watch the movie, they’re not thinking about the technical aspects of the movie in any way, sort or form. They go on this, hopefully, immersive journey with the character,” said Baneham of what he wants viewers to get out of watching “Alita.”
“All the changes that happened afterward were not about, you know, pandering to the noise in any way. It was about bettering the character,” Baneham added.
“Alita: Battle Angel” is one of 10 finalists in the visual effects category at the 92nd Academy Awards. The Oscar nominations will be announced Monday morning.
This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.
The following is an excerpt from the first book by Air Force veteran and Hollywood writer Dan Martin. Titled Operation Cure Boredom, it’s a hilarious collection of short stories chronicling the adventures of Martin’s 1990-1994 enlistment in the world’s best Air Force.
This chapter, called “Guest on the Range,” is about the extraordinary lengths Martin went to in order to qualify on the firing range as a junior enlisted Crew Chief:
One of the things I learned while holding a loaded semiautomatic rifle was that I shouldn’t “goof around.” Apparently it’s distracting and unnerving to the other participants at the firing range. The angry sergeant on duty pointed this out, adding that it was irresponsible and unsafe. But everyone was so serious, so uptight, so concentrated.
Colton continued making the rest of us laugh, lightening the mood. We only managed to annihilate the dirt mounds behind the paper people. At the end of the session, when I learned that I had failed the firing range test and had one more chance to pass it or be discharged from service, I stopped goofing around.
In order to maintain a good standing with the U.S. Air Force, one must complete the annual firing range test. If you fail the retest, pack your bags because you’re heading home on an early discharge. Not wanting to go back to Long Island so soon, I concentrated and passed the retest, barely. For the following annual firing range test, I made arrangements to get help, mostly by ensuring that I was out of the country on assignment, whereupon the test was lost to bureaucracy and ultimately waived. But the year I got married and stopped going on so many TDYs was the year the test came back to haunt me.
I had taken a second job at this point, working in a liquor store not far from the Louisiana Downs racetrack, not because I was saving to buy a house and raise a family, but rather to help pay off all the loans. We had financially backed ourselves into a corner between the cars, furniture, and vacations we simply charged on credit cards. We had to have them because we were a responsible adult married couple. In my third year of military service, now that I was no longer on TDYs, I was unable to escape the firing range.
At the time I had enlisted in the Air Force, it is key to note that nobody, with the exception of the security police, the special ops guys, and maybe a few fighter pilots, had a useful knowledge of weapons, let alone were able to locate the safety. For the rest of us, the firing range seemed to only serve the purpose of reminding us what weapons looked like. I hit my targets by mistake, and self-defense skills were measured by how fast I could run a mile. Although the chow hall on the base displayed a sign upon entering that read “Those Carrying Automatic Weapons May Go to the Head of the Line,” I can guarantee that had my base ever been attacked, it would have been captured within minutes. A massive army of children riding atop Saint Bernards and wielding broomsticks could have charged the main gate and I’d have to think twice about holding my ground. Broomsticks hurt.
Now faced wit having to take the firing range test, I came to the conclusion I needed someone to help teach me how to pass it. Unfortunately, asking for help within the military community was not exactly the option I wanted to exercise. I was all too aware that I had joined the one branch of the military that didn’t require you to use handheld weapons. But asking for help was like a plumber you hired asking you to show him what a pipe fitting looked like.
We were supposed to at least pretend we knew what we were doing. There were a few guys in my squadron who grew up hunting the small animalsI always associated with my local park or the garbage cans on a trash night. But even one of them managed to book himself a trip to the emergency room. Firing a hand cannon with one hand and a large ego, he managed to adorn his forehead with a welt the size of a grapefruit, the recoil smacking him with the pistol hard enough to make him forget the date. Knowing that I was proficient in neither accuracy or emergency room small talk, I decided to search for a teacher who was not in the military.
I knew I could find someone, I had done it before.
My brother piqued my interest in firearms when he shot our father with a flare gun. To be fair, it was a misunderstanding. My father had explained to Peter that he was grounded for some infraction of the rules. Peter said no, then shot him. From the moment my father stepped into his room to confront him, he should have take notes of Peter’s nautical emergency rescue kit, now open on his desk. Normally tucked away on his lobster boat, the flare gun was now strangely instead in Peter’s hand. Moments later, the flare bounced off my dad’s chest and zipped around the carpet, finally coming to a halt near the hamster cage, melting a small hole in the synthetic rug the size of a potato.
The room immediately turned a blindingly bright white color only the Coast Guard could love, and by the time my father regained his vision and looked through the smoke, presumably to grab Peter’s neck and snap it, my brother had used the diversion to jump out the window, eluding punishment for yet another night. Peter was not the best communicator, nor was he ever considered a good candidate for “negotiator,” but I quickly learned by observing his actions that perhaps I didn’t need to learn to communicate with words. Being a shy teenager who was also lacking command of a large vocabulary, talking problems out and reasoning with each other just seemed time-consuming. That night, I came to understand the power of a gun and realized aloud, “Guns are awesome.”
I wanted to test it out for myself. So I found an instructor who chose as my first target the happy, winged creature symbolizing love that perched outside my bedroom window each morning. It was just sitting there on the branch, singing, ruffling its feathers like most swallows do. I was seventeen. My instructor was twelve. The BB gun was pumped with enough pressure to launch a kitten into space. Then I aimed and pulled the trigger, sending the bird reeling over backward in a cloud of feathers and guilt. When it was all over, Jason explained it was normal to feel nauseated:
“It’s okay. You’ll be fine. But I gotta go. My mom’s taking me to see The Little Mermaid.“
That would be the last time I let a twelve-year-old whisper “kill it now” in my ear. While I learned that it was an amazing feeling to hold an object that has the ability to sway opinions, after the incident with the swallow, I decided guns weren’t really for me. Though committing arson on my father’s vegetable garden was acceptable, a gun was just taking things too far.
Now face with the firing range test, my search for a weapons instructor finally came to an end the day I met Barry, the assistant manager fo the liquor store where I worked nights. The day I walked in and inquired about a job, he was sitting behind the manager’s desk. I explained that I was looking for employment. He regarded me for a moment, then asked if I’d mind working with a fat pig name Clarence, pointing to the skinny guy behind the register. I said I thought this would be fine. He then led me on a tour through the massive walk-in refrigerator to show me where all the different beers were stacked. He asked me if I had any back problems preventing me from lifting boxes. I said no, then noticed his back brace and realized this was the best possible answer I could have given. Barry nodded his head up and down, seemingly trying to decide if I was going to work out, then wrenched open a bottle of Boone’s wine and washed down a handful of unknown pills. Needless to say, I was intrigued. Then he pulled a .22-caliber, long-barreled pistol out of his pants. It was fitted with some sort of custom-made silencer and he asked me if I’d ever seen such a thing of beauty. I said I hadn’t. Then he aimed it at a can of Milwaukee’s Best and fired, leaving a fountain of amusement in his wake.
I accepted the job on the spot.
It wasn’t until a week into the job that I learned that Barry hadn’t been the assistant manager at all. He was just an unstable employee whom the actual manager was afraid to fire. He called himself the assistant manager, and nobody argued with him. Although, looking back, it should have occurred to me, since Barry had given me a bonus one day for a job well done with a case of Miller Lite. But this guy could handle a weapon, even while hallucinating and mumbling, so who was I to question it?
Initially, I was a little nervous about taking a second job because the supervisors in my squadron tended to frown upon moonlighting, even though many of the enlisted guys I knew did it anyway. I had reached out to may coworker Tony Coloccini, who had confided in me that he also had a second job at a liquor store chain and would put in a good word. A week later, I was standing in this rundown liquor store. Needing money, and not wanting to be seen, this was the perfect job. Barry, the firearms expert, was the gift I was looking for.
Barry would walk up and down the aisles with an aimless purpose to do nothing but strut. Occasionally, he’d say he was going to take inventory or stock the shelves. But there was always some condition that prevented him from doing any actual work. He could never bend over to reach the bottom two shelves because of a bad back, nor could he stand on small ladder, claiming he once fell off one and preferred to avoid them. He couldn’t ever read inventory lists or do the ordering because he always forgot his glasses and, I suspect, couldn’t write.
This always left me wondering what Barry’s function in the store actually was until one night some suspicious-looking guys walked in and were greeted by Barry stroking a .44 magnum long barrel. This is a gun more commonly used to take down a helicopter or a Tyrannosaurus Rex, I imagine. They immediately turned and walked out. In short, the story had never been robbed since Barry started working there two years prior. And in a neighborhood where crime seemed to be the gross domestic product, Barry’s value went a long way.
As a result, the place became kind of a safe hangout for Barry’s friends who all lost their money at the track and would come in and shoot the shit with him for a while. This eventually led to the question of could have a bottle of Thunderbird or Mad Dog 20/20 and pay him back tomorrow. Barry always said yes, and, of course, would always forget that he did. In fact, unsurprisingly, Barry forgot a lot of things. He forgot to shower and shave. He forgot that you couldn’t scratch off twenty-five instant-win lotto tickets and not pay for them. And once he even forgot his gun was loaded and shot out his own windshield, or so Clarence, who had witnessed the incident, told me.
The store closed each night at midnight and by the end of the first month, Barry, Clarence, and I found ourselves on the same schedule. We got to know each other pretty well and enjoyed each other’s company and displayed our newfound friendship by developing a routine after locking up every night that involved petty theft, drinking, and soon enough, firearms practice.
Anyone else, I think, would have been alarmed by the double holster he wore to work every day, accompanied by a different set of pistols. Or, perhaps, the cocktail of pharmaceuticals, vodka, belligerence, and the dash of hallucinations that housed this human being. But one night, as we were leaving, he quick-drawed his pistols and unleashed a few rounds on the speed sign on the side of the road, hitting it perfectly without aiming and I knew I found my instructor.
The first problem with asking Barry about being my sharpshooting mentor was just trying to catch him in a moment when he was actually visiting Earth. I timed my approach carefully, since Barry was known to spend the first part of each night shift with his head down on the manager’s desk, occasionally snapping awake with a look of fear behind his milky eyes. Some nights, because the desk was located behind a small wall, his abrupt and frightening rise from the ninth circle of hell would cause a customer to drop a bottle of alcohol.
“Barry, I was wondering if you could teach me to shoot a gun and possibly–”
“Absolutely. Grab a case of beer and meet me at the trunk of my car.”
I can only assume that in the event that the local police force, the National Guard, and the entire US Army found themselves overmatched, Barry was their red phone emergency call. to find that Barry possessed a lot of weapons was not a surprise. To find that each of his weapons came with its own quick-release latch, strapped into the truck of his car, was. Barry, who stood at about five feet, two inches, drove a 1973 four-door Lincoln Continental. I t had a trunk big enough to carry a pond stocked with trout.
What should have worried me most was that somewhere over the course of his life, he came to the conclusion that it was a good idea to haul around enough ammunition to take out Shreveport, just in case he had to. Also worrisome was the stun gun he had as a “back up” in case all else failed. But honestly, what concerned me most was not passing the firing range test.
“What is that?” I asked, pointing at a weapon only Arnold Schwarzenegger could handle.
“Needed something for a crowd. Made it myself. Fully automatic.”
We stared by setting up in front of what appeared to be a fenced-off electrical power station. It was located a short distance behind the liquor store and far away from the road. I inquired it if seemed troubling that, essentially, we were shooting at a potential eleven o’clock news story, but Barry explained that it was metal and would not explode, so no need to worry.
“No one’s gonna lose power,” he added.
“I meant the ricocheting bullets.”
“What about them?”
“Won’t they ricochet into us?”
“Unlikely. Now, do you want my help or not?”
Before we began, I tried to explain that there were no moving targets on the firing range, to which Barry explained that I was a woman. I said it wasn’t necessary, but that maybe we should start with something easy like a Coke can. But Barry insisted these were the basics and handed me a contraption that resembled a howitzer. Then he switched it to automatic and yelled, “Pull!”
Clarence lobbed a bottle of Bartles & Jaymes strawberry wine cooler into the sky. The weapon was so heavy that aiming it wasn’t really an option. I just sort of heaved it up, like throwing a heavy rock, and squeezed the trigger as best I could. The recoil forced me to the ground like a cannon blast. All the while, as I kept my finger on the trigger, I could have sworn I heard the faint but distinct sound of my mother crying.
It’s safe to assume that the Air Force was the right branch for me. Placing a wrench or a screwdriver in my hands at least ensures that any pain inflicted will be minimal and blunt and kept within the radius of me. Putting a loaded weapon in my hand is like strapping sharp knives to a small boy and sending him off to play tackle football with the other kids.
As expected, I missed everything, except for the power grid, a line of cypress trees, a storage shed, and the planet below our feet, which really took a kick in the balls that night. Also in the line of fire was human safety.
“F*ck this,” Clarence said, “I’m out of here.”
“Calm down,” Barry yelled. “Just stand behind him.”
“But that’s where the shed was!”
This is how it happens, I thought. This is how morons die. You always read in the paper, or hear on the news, about a couple of friends from a basement in Colorado Springs, just hanging out with a bottle of Jameson when one best friend shoots the other. There’s never any great detail about the incident. One buddy “accidentally” shoots the other. But the news anchor always includes that one fatal clue: “He thought the safety was on,” “He didn’t know it was loaded,” “He didn’t think that doing shots from the barrel was that big of a deal.” As a viewer, you sit eating your bowl of cornflakes at one o’clock in the morning, thinking to yourself, f*cking morons, and then turn the channel back to TMZ to find out what the latest Disney starlet thinks of terrorists.
But there we were, throwing a few back, shooting wildly at fast-moving wine coolers with automatic weapons and talking about how awesome it would be if Lynyrd Skynyrd could come back from the dead and play one more time. We deserved nothing more than a really stupendous obituary in which the editor would mercifully, thinking about our families, substitute the word “manslaughter” for “accidental.” The caption under the picture in the newspaper would read: “One man arrested after shooting his two best friends.” Then I realized the scariest part was that Barry and Clarence would be forever connected to me as “best friends.”
“You know what. I’ve got to get going,” I announced suddenly.
“What? But you haven’t even tried the sniper rifle yet.”
As I drove away from the scene of tomorrow’s headline, I watched Clarence crack open a bottle of something, then rummage through Barry’s trunk, reappear with the stun gun and chase him around the car, laughing.
The following week, I took the firing range test. I was really sweating hard, as this retest was a make-or-break moment – a few misplaced shot was all the difference between being able to stay in the Air Force and pay my bills and a less-than-honorable discharge, leading to financial ruin and divorce. I hit a few dirt mounds but managed to place a few on the paper target. Upon finishing, I approached the sergeant in charge of the scoring. I handed him the paper enemy that had clearly gotten away with only a few scratches.
“Huh,” he said, looking at the target. “Not great,” he observed.
I began to panic a little there. I saw my life as it truly was: a meager existence in a sham marriage, depressed and held down at twenty-one years of age by my own rash stupidity. I would have to call my parents and see if they were cool with the Stranger and I living in my old bedroom. I would have to get a minimum-wage job to pay off a mountain of debt. I began hyperventilating, seeing this whole terrible near-future play out when I suddenly heard the sergeant ask me:
“What’s your job again?”
He rolled his eyes, and in a gesture of exasperation, made a check mark next to my name.
“F*ck it. You passed. See you next year.”
“Told in a collection of vignettes, Operation Cure Boredom is a coming of age story in camouflage. From dodging alligators, to surfing the inside of a plane at 30,000 feet, to being taken hostage by a Frenchwoman, and sex education in church, this absurdist portrait of life in the military is both an iconic look at listlessness in wartime, and the whirlwind journey of a young man getting the adventure he didn’t know he needed.” – Amazon
ISIS terrorists recruited from western countries like the US and UK always kept their distance from each other because of the threat of drone strikes, according to a captured member of the terror group.
Parvez left the UK to join ISIS in 2014 but was captured in Baghuz, the final ISIS bastion in Syria, according to the BBC. The government has stripped him of citizenship.
In an interview from prison he described the extreme fear among western members about being killed by drones.
An MQ-1 Predator drone over southern Afghanistan.
“So, people wouldn’t want to be associated with one another just in case.”
“Because we didn’t actually have the list of who’s on the drone list or not. So we’d really be scared of, OK, this guy might be, and this guy might be.”
“So it’s better I just keep to myself,” he said.
A number of key ISIS figures have been killed in drone strikes.
They include media director Abu Anas al-Faransi in March 2019, British ISIS fighter Mohammed Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John,” in December 2015, and British defector Sally Jones in October 2017.
Parvez also told BBC reporter Quentin Sommerville that he regrets joining, wants to come home, and never knew the “realities” of being part of ISIS.
“I didn’t know there was something waiting for me like that so most of the foreign fighters, when you do talk to them, the first thing they say to you is that we would never ever have come if we had known the realities of ISIS,” he said.
“There was many times where I thought ‘time to pack up and leave,’ and there’s many times I did try to pack up and leave but the reality was that it wasn’t as easy as it sounds.”
General Mazloum Kobani, the commander-in-chief of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said that his forces liberated the last ISIS stronghold in the village of Baghuz, ending the terror cell’s presence in Syria.
ISIS is still active in Iraq, and parts of Africa.
Last week, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk ruffled some feathers during a discussion with Air Force Lt. Gen. John Thompson at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium. The controversial tech mogul, who is no stranger to drawing headlines and occasionally criticism, voiced concerns over America’s apparent love affair with Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, first calling for competition for the advanced fighter, and then going further to say that the era of manned fighter jets was over.
“Locally autonomous drone warfare is where it’s at, where the future will be,” Musk said. “It’s not that I want the future to be this, that’s just what the future will be. … The fighter jet era has passed. Yeah, the fighter jet era has passed. It’s drones.”
Elon Musk, chief engineer of SpaceX, speaks with U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. John Thompson, the Space and Missile Systems Center commander and program executive officer for space.
Musk went on to say that even the F-35 wouldn’t stand a chance against a sufficiently advanced drone that coupled computer augmented flying with human control.
When the story broke, we here at Sandboxx pointed out that Musk is right that a technologically advanced drone could potentialy do a lot of things a manned aircraft couldn’t — including manage hypersonic maneuvers that would leave most human pilots unconscious as a result of the G-forces. Scramjet technology has proven effective at propelling unmanned aircraft to hypersonic speeds in the past, and it seems entirely feasible that this tech will find its way into UCAVs (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles) in the future.
An X-51A WaveRider hypersonic flight test vehicle is uploaded to an Air Force Flight Test Center B-52 for fit testing at Edwards Air Force Base.
But, we noted, the problem with Musk’s bright idea is that information traveling at the speed of light is actually too slow for the sort of control drone operators would need for such a platform. Even with a somewhat local operator, as Musk pointed toward, the time it would take to relay sensor data from the drone to the operator, followed my the operator processing the information and making a decision, followed by those commands being transmitted back to the drone is simply too slow a process for the split-second decisions that can be essential in a dog fight.
In other words, Musk’s plan is hypothetically right, but likely won’t work in practice for some time to come.
“For a long time, we’re still going to need the manned aircraft on the fighter and bomber side,” Air Combat Command chief Gen. Mike Holmes, an F-15 Eagle pilot, said Wednesday during the annual McAleese Defense Programs Conference. “We will increasingly be experimenting with other options, [and] we’re going to work together.”
U.S. Air Force Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command, watches a mission video during a visit to the 363rd Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.
The future of air combat likely will include some combination of manned and unmanned aircraft, which is exactly the future the Air Force’s Skyborg program is aiming for. Using “loyal wingman” armed drones like the Kratos Valkyrie, the Air Force hopes to couple fighters like the F-35 with support drones that can extend sensor range, engage targets, and even sacrifice themselves to protect the manned aircraft. In theory, one F-35 could control a number of drones that bear the majority of the risk, flying ahead of the manned jet.
“We can take risk with some systems to keep others safer,” the Air Force’s service acquisition executive, Dr. Will Roper said. “We can separate the sensor and the shooter. Right now they’re collocated on a single platform with a person in it. In the future, we can separate them out, put sensors ahead of shooters, put our manned systems behind the unmanned. There’s a whole playbook.”
The combination of the sort of technology in play in Skyborg and rapidly developing hypersonic propulsion could put the power of hypersonic platforms in the hands of fighter pilots, just likely not in the jets they’re flying.
Of course, doing so would greatly increase the mental load on pilots in the fight, particularly if their means of controlling their wingmen drones is too complex. One of the selling points of the F-35 that doesn’t get much play in the press is its ability to fuse data from disparate sensors into an overlapping augmented reality display. Prior to this advancement, pilots had to read and manage multiple displays and gauges, combining the data in their minds to make decisions. In the F-35, friendly and enemy assets are clearly identified with colored indicators, as are air speed, altitude, and other essential information. At night, pilots can even use external cameras with their augmented reality helmets to look through the aircraft at the ground below.
This is what an F-15 pilot has to keep track of while flying combat missions.
A complex drone-control interface could be a step backward in a pilot’s ability to manage the flow of data, but a DARPA experiment first revealed in 2018 might just be able to solve that problem.
At the time, Justin Sanchez, director of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office, explained that two years prior, DARPA had successfully utilized what he called a “Brain Computer Interface” to put one volunteer in control of not one, but three simulated aircraft at the same time. The “N3 System,” as they call it, could give pilots the ability to manage their drone wingmen using only their mind.
“As of today, signals from the brain can be used to command and control … not just one aircraft but three simultaneous types of aircraft,” he said at the “Trajectory of Neurotechnology” session at DARPA’s 60thanniversary event
In later experiments, volunteers even experienced feedback from the aircraft, transmitted into their brains to feel like a tingling sensation in the hands when the aircraft was pushing back against steering in a certain direction. The only problem is, currently, this system only works for volunteers who have had surgically implanted electrodes in their brain. The volunteers were all people with varying levels of paralysis, as this same technology could feasibly be used to control exoskeletons that could help a patient regain the ability to walk.
“The envisioned N3 system would be a tool that the user could wield for the duration of a task or mission, then put aside,” said Al Emondi, head of N3, according to a company spokesperson. “I don’t like comparisons to a joystick or keyboard because they don’t reflect the full potential of N3 technology, but they’re useful for conveying the basic notion of an interface with computers.”
So, while it’s true that a drone isn’t subject to same physical limitations a manned aircraft is, the tradeoff is that a drone would need to have an extremely advanced, fully autonomous flight system in order to execute maneuvers at the fuzzy edge of its capabilities, because communications lag would make such performance impossible in a human-controlled drone at a distance. If the drone weren’t under the control of a nearby pilot, the only choice would be to give the drone itself decision making capabilities, either through an on-board processor, or through an encrypted cloud computing process.
To date, that level of tech simply doesn’t exist, and even if it did, it would pose significant moral and ethical questions about what level of war fighting we’re comfortable relinquishing to a computer. Friendly fire incidents or unintentional civilian casualties are complicated enough without having to defend the actions of a Terminator drone, even if they were justified.
In the future, it seems entirely likely that drones will indeed be more capable than manned fighters, but they still won’t be able to fly without their cockpit-carrying-counterparts. A single F-35 pilot, for instance, may head into battle with a bevy of hyper-capable drone wingmen, but the decision to deploy ordnance, to actually take lives, will remain with the pilot, rather than the drone, just as those decisions are currently made by human drone operators.
Elon Musk is right that drones can do incredible things, but he’s wrong about the need for human hands on the stick. The future doesn’t look like Skynet, but it may look like the terrible 2005 movie, “Stealth.”
Elon Musk may be good at building rockets, electric cars, and even tunnel boring machines, but when it comes to predicting the future of warfare, he’s just as fallible as the rest of us.