Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider

I tested at least ten handguns and found the Heritage Rough Rider to be the best cheap but good handgun.

I got into guns in my early 20s, which meant I didn’t have much money to spare. I learned everything I could about determining a gun’s true value and the best places to find the lowest prices. With proper preparation, you can find many affordable handguns perfect for target shooting, home protection, and more.

The Heritage Rough Rider is fun to shoot and easy to maintain. It’s also suitable for home defense because you don’t need much physical strength to aim and shoot it at close range accurately.

It’s not the only cheap handgun that you’ll want to know more about. Other options I found have additional safety features, increased durability, and more features you might be surprised to find on firearms in this price range.

Keep reading to learn more about real cheap but good handguns:

The best cheap but good handguns

While always keeping the price in mind, I also considered ease of use, quality of construction, suitability for target shooting and defense, and other relevant factors.  

Heritage Rough Rider 6.5” Blued Revolver

Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider

>>Check Price Here<<

Inspired by classics from the Old West, Heritage’s Rough Rider is affordable, accurate, and easy to shoot. It’s reliable and powerful enough for home protection but fun and lightweight enough for a day target shooting at the range.

It’s a 22 Long Rifle revolver with a micro-threaded, machined barrel, an authentic flat-sided hammer, and a cocobolo grip. The handsome combination of wood and steel has a true Western-style that turns the gun into a true work of art you’ll be proud to show off.

Pros:

  • Powerful but lightweight and easy to aim
  • Hammer block provides added misfire protection
  • 22 long rifle with a 6.5” barrel
  • Classic Western style

Cons:

  • Gun powder makes the gun get dirty fairly easily

Ruger Wrangler Silver Cerakote Revolver

Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider

>>Check Price Here<<

Ruger’s Wrangler is an awesome and affordable gun for shooters of any experience level, including total beginners. It’s not only easy to grip and shoot, but it’s also loaded with safety features, including a transfer bar mechanism and loading gate interlock.

Every component used is precisely engineered and durable. It has a Cerakote finish, a proprietary blend of ceramic and polymer that protects against scratches, dings, and weather damage.

The barrel is cold-hammer forged for precise rifling that results in reliable accuracy. Additionally, aiming is made even easier with the front blade and integral notch rear sights.

Pros:

  • Durable Ceratoke finish
  • Easy, accurate aiming
  • Multiple safety features
  • Synthetic grip with Single-Six pattern

Cons:

  • Single action limits firing speed

Taurus Spectrum 380 Auto

Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider

>>Check Price Here<<

Weighing 10 ounces with a 2.8” barrel, the Taurus Spectrum 380 is one of the cheapest concealed carry pistols around. It has a low profile with fixed sights, allowing it to stay hidden but also delivering quick accuracy when drawn.

Additionally, the extended mag holds an additional round, giving you a capacity of 6 + 1. It also extends the surface area of the grip, making the small pistol surprisingly comfortable to hold.

Pros:

  • Easy to conceal
  • Extended grip
  • 6+1 capacity   

Cons:

  • It might be hard to hold if you have large hands

Guide To Cheap But Good Handguns

I’ve purchased cheap guns that turned out to be awesome and others that were total duds. Here’s my advice to find great guns every time.

Features To Look For In A Cheap Gun

Finding a good cheap gun does require some flexibility because some features are limited. Here’s a look at what to expect:

  • Size – Cheap guns are generally small, with many concealable options.
  • Type – You’ll find a fairly robust selection of both revolvers and compact automatics.
  • Caliber – Most cheap revolvers at .22s while most cheap automatics are 380 Autos (ACP)
  • Magazine – Cheap revolvers typically hold six shots. With an automatic, look for an extended mag, which holds seven rounds.

Here’s a video with more information on cheap guns:

New Vs. Used

You can buy a cheap handgun either new or used. While a used firearm can have low prices, it’s not always the best value in the long run. A used gun’s longevity depends on how well it was cared for.

Determine the used gun’s value by carefully examining it for damage. Also, try to fire it at a range if possible. If you’re familiar with guns, and can find a used one in good condition, you can save.

However, if you’re part of the record-setting trend of first-time gun buyers, I recommend you buy new instead of used. A new gun includes a manufacturer’s guarantee and won’t have any potential damage due to neglect or age.

Conclusion

All of the cheap guns listed have value far beyond their price tag. They’re great for target shooting, display, and even provide some ability for personal defense. Plus, they’re easy to conceal and maintain.

My absolute favorite is the Heritage Rough Rider revolver. It’s a blast to shoot, and it has a classic cowboy style that looks great on the mantle. However, if you’re looking for something more concealable, I recommend the Taurus Spectrum.

Which gun is your favorite? Check out the following links for more information, or to buy these guns for yourself:

You don’t have to spend a fortune to buy a fun, reliable handgun!

Articles

6 Navy bombers that flew for the Air Force

The Air Force and the Navy have their own little rivalry going.


Granted, United States Navy pilots are pretty good in many respects, and so are the planes, but the Air Force claims they’ve got air superiority. So when they need to buy a plane from the Navy, it’s… awkward — especially when it involves bombers, something that should be the purview of the Air Force.

Here are six of the most…notable acquisitions the Air Force ended up making from the Navy.

1. Douglas A-24 Banshee

While better known as the SBD Dauntless, the Army Air Force bought a number of these planes. Aviation historian Joe Baugher noted that some were intended to help defend the Philippines, but the outbreak of World War II saw them diverted to New Guinea. Others saw action in the Aleutians and Gilbert Islands.

Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider
A-24B Banshee, the Army Air Force’s version of the SBD Dauntless, at a base on Makin Island. (U.S. Air Force photo)

2. Curtiss A-25 Shrike/Helldiver

The Army Air Force got the SB2C — the notorious “Son of a [Bleep] Second Class” — during World War II. Joe Baugher noted that the Army Air Force never even bothered using them in combat, either exporting them to the Royal Australian Air Force or handing them over to the Marine Corps for use from land bases.

Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider
An A-25A Shrike in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)

3. Douglas B-66 Destroyer

When the Air Force was looking for a replacement for the A-26/B-26 Invader as a tactical bomber, they settled on a version of the Navy’s A3D Skywarrior. However, the Air Force planned to use it very differently, and so a lot of changes were made, according to Joe Baugher.

The B-66 turned out to be an ideal electronic-warfare platform. One was famous under the call-sign “Bat 21,” leading to one of the most famous — and costly — search and rescue efforts in history.

Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider
An EB-66E Destroyer electronic-countermeasures plane. (U.S. Air Force photo)

4. Lockheed RB-69A Neptune

The Air Force was looking for some planes for electronic intelligence missions around the Soviet Union and China when they settled on taking seven P-2 Neptune maritime patrol planes from the Navy, and designating them as RB-69As.

Aviation historian Joe Baugher reveals that the exact origin and ultimate fate of these planes is a mystery, probably intentionally so, given the top-secret nature of intelligence-gathering flights over China and Russia.

Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider
One of seven RB-69A Neptune ELINT planes the Air Force acquired. (U.S. Air Force photo)

5. Douglas A-1 Skyraider

Joe Baugher reported that the Air Force found this classic warbird to be so suitable for the counter-insurgency mission in 1962, they took 150 A-1Es from Navy surplus. The planes were modified for dual controls.

In fact, the Air Force wanted the plane as early as 1949, but harsh inter-service rivalry (including controversy stemming from the “Revolt of the Admirals”) meant the Air Force had to wait to get this plane. It was a fixture on search-and-rescue missions during the Vietnam War.

Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider
An Air Force A-1E Skyraider loaded with a fuel-air explosive bomb. (U.S. Air Force photo)

6. Vought A-7 Corsair

This is probably one of the most successful purchases of a Navy bomber by the Air Force. As was the case with the Air Force basing the B-66 off the A3D, they made changes to the A-7.

Most notable was giving it the M61 Vulcan and a thousand rounds of ammo. Yes, the Air Force gave the A-7 the means to give bad guys the BRRRRRT! The A-7s saw action over Panama in 1989, and were even used to train F-117 pilots. The A-7D was retired in the early 1990s with the end of the Cold War.

Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider
Three U.S. Air Force A-7Ds in formation. Air Force Corsairs flew thousands of sorties with only four losses. (U.S. Air Force photo)

MIGHTY TACTICAL

NATO invites Russia to observe its massive war games

NATO allies and a handful of partner countries are gearing up for the alliance’s largest joint military exercises in decades.

Ahead of the Trident Juncture exercises, which are expected to include 45,000 troops, 10,000 vehicles, 60 ships, and 150 aircraft from 31 countries training side by side in and around Norway in fall 2018, the alliance is stressing strength and transparency, and just invited Russian observers so they can get the message up close.

The US Navy admiral commanding the exercise hopes Russia will take them up on the offer.


“I fully expect that they’ll want to come. It’s in their interests to come and see what we do,” Admiral James Foggo told reporters at the Pentagon on Oct. 5, 2018, “They’ll learn things. I want them to be there so they can see how well [NATO allies and partners] work together.”

“There’s a strong deterrent message here that will be sent,” he said. “They are going to see that we are very good at what we do, and that will have a deterrent effect on any country that might want to cross those borders, but especially for one nation in particular.”

Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider

Soldiers load an M777 howitzer during live-fire training at the Grafenwoehr Training Area in Germany, Sept. 10, 2018, as part of Exercise Saber Junction 18.

(Army photo by Markus Rauchenberger)

So far, Russia has yet to accept the offer.

The drills, Article 5 (collective defense) exercises, will include land, air, and amphibious assets training to repel an adversary threatening the sovereignty of a NATO ally or partner state. The admiral refused to comment on whether or not the exercise would include a nuclear element, as an earlier Russian drill did.

Although it was previously reported that these exercises are the largest NATO drills since the Cold War, they are actually the biggest since 2002, Foggo clarified at Oct. 5, 2018’s briefing. The allied drills come on the heels of massive war games in eastern Russia involving tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Russian and Chinese troops preparing for large-scale military operations against an unspecified third country.

The purpose of Trident Juncture, according to handouts presented at Oct. 5, 2018’s briefing, is “to ensure that NATO forces are trained, able to operate together, and ready to respond to any threat from any direction.”

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

Articles

Will this AR-15 weapon light live up to all the hype?

A gear porn bulletin from WATM friends The Mad Duo at Breach-Bang-Clear.


Remember. At the risk of sounding orgulous, we must remind you – this is just an advisement, a public service if you will, letting you know these things exist and might be of interest. It’s no more a review, endorsement or denunciation than it is an episiotomy.

Grunts: Orgulous.

We’ll warn you in advance—we don’t know too much about this WML (Weapon Mounted Light) from Firefield (@firefieldtm). The PR company that notified us about it doesn’t do the best job of explaining things, or of providing decent imagery (at least, not the correct imagery, though that doesn’t necessarily have nuthin’ to do with the quality of the ole’ lumens) but we’ll tell you what we do know.

Given how they describe it, and the pitiful number of lumens it pushes out, it’s going to be hard not to make fun of it…though we shall endeavor to persevere.

Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider
The Firefield Charge AR weapon light looks a heck of a lot like the PEQ-4, which is tacticool AF. (Photo from Firefield)

BLUF: This is a gear porn bulletin, provided as a public service to you epistemophiliacs out there by the Mad Duo. It’s not a review, nor is it an endorsement. Neither is it approbation or denunciation.

Grunts: Epistemophilia

The Charge AR works off a single CR2 battery, pushing 180 lumens of “blinding light” for up to 3.5 hours, activated by either a push-button or pressure pad. You’re gonna want one because, “Low-light shooting situations call for an easily accessible flashlight accessory. Whether in a home defense, tactical or hunting situation, clear line of sight and quick target acquisition are extremely important.”

Plus, it kinda looks like an AN/PEQ 4.

Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider
Firefield says the Charger AR can mount to a rifle’s side rail so it doesn’t interfere with the forward sight. (Photo from Firefield)

As you can read, Firefield has the dramatic prose down pat! Not surprising. After all, their gear is Forged in victory. “Transform fear to power, panic to excitement and chaos to glory with Firefield.”

*Cue Wilhelm Scream here.

The Charge AR is 2.2 ounces and manufactured of aluminum, with an anodized matte black finish. It’s compatible with both Weaver and Picatinny rails (a distinction they felt important to make) and designed to throw light offset from the rail to allow use unimpeded by an AR front sight post.

The MSRP on the Charge AR is $35.99 on the Fire-field website, which is good news for everyone saving their dollar bills for the dancing moms.

You can probably find it online for even less if you look.

The direct link to the Charge AR is here:

FEATURES

  • Powered by 1 single CR2 battery
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Push button or pressure pad operation
  • Low profile design

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Battery life (hours) – Light-3.5
  • Battery Type – CR2
  • Body Material – Aluminium
  • Bulb Type – LED
  • Height (in/mm) – 1.1/28
  • IP Rating (waterproof) – IP55-water resistant
  • LED Output – 180 lumens
  • Length (in/mm) – 2.2/56
  • Maximum Recoil – 800g’s
  • Mount Type – Weaver/Picatinny
  • Operating temperature, F/C – -17° to 48° / 0° to 120°
  • Shockproof – Yes
  • Weight (oz) – 2.2
  • Width (in/mm) – 1.65/42

Note—if you were wondering, Pic rails and Weaver rails are damn near the same thing. Pic rails are MIL-STD-1913; their grooves are to be .206-inches wide and should have a center-to-center width of .394-inches to be considered in spec.

Articles

The F-35A cockpit is like something out of a movie

The Air Force’s new F-35A multi-role, stealth Joint Strike Fighter brings an unprecedented ability to destroy targets in the air, attack moving enemies on the ground and beam battlefield images across the force in real time, an Air Force pilot told Scout Warrior in a special interview.


The stealth fighter makes it much easier for pilots to locate, track, and destroy enemy targets across a wide range of combat circumstances  including attacks from farther ranges than existing fighters can operate, the F-35A pilot said.

Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider
An F-35A Lightning II from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, takes off from Nellis AFB, Nev., Feb. 2, 2017, during Red Flag 17-01. This is the first F-35A deployment to Red Flag since the Air Force declared the jet combat ready in August 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

Speaking to Scout Warrior as part of a special “Inside the Cockpit” feature on the F-35A, Air Force Col. Todd Canterbury, a former F-35 pilot and instructor, said the new fighter brings a wide range of new technologies including advanced sensors, radar, weapons for attack and next-generation computers.

Although he serves now as Chief, Operations Division of the F-35 Integration Office at the Pentagon, Canterbury previously trained F-35 pilots at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Canterbury is uniquely positioned to know the F-35’s margins of difference because he has spent thousands of hours flying legacy aircraft such as the service’s F-15 and F-16 fighters.

“The F-35 is a dream to fly. It is the easiest airplane to fly. I can now focus on employment and winning the battle at hand as opposed to looking at disparate information and trying to handle the airplane,” Canterbury told Scout Warrior.

Canterbury was referring to an often-discussed technological advance with the F-35 called “sensor fusion,” a system which places radar, targeting, navigation and altitude information on a single integrated screen for pilots to view.

As a result, pilots can rely upon computer algorithms to see a “fused” picture of their battlespace and no longer need to look at different screens for targeting coordinates, air speed, mapping and terrain information, sensor feeds or incoming data from a radar warning receiver.

The F-35s Electro-Optical Targeting System, or EOTS, combines forward-looking infrared and infrared search and track sensor technology for pilots — allowing them to find and track targets before attacking with laser and GPS-guided precision weapons.

Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider
Lt. Col. Christine Mau, 33rd Operations Group puts on her helmet before taking her first flight in the F-35A at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Marleah Robertson)

“I can turn my head and look left or right. There is an aiming cross on my helmet, an aiming symbology that tells me how to get there. The system will swivel over to the point on the ground I have designated,” Canterbury described.

The EOTs system is engineered to work in tandem with a technology called the Distributed Aperture System, or DAS, a collection of six cameras strategically mounted around the aircraft to give the pilot a 360-degree view.

“I can look through the airplane and see the ground below me. I can look directly below me without having to obscure my vision,” Canterbury said.

The DAS includes precision tracking, fire control capabilities and the ability to warn the pilot of an approaching threat or missile.

The F-35 is also engineered with an Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar which is able to track a host of electromagnetic signals, including returns from Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR. This paints a picture of the contours of the ground or surrounding terrain and, along with Ground Moving Target Indicator, or GMTI, locates something on-the-move on the ground and airborne objects or threats.

Also read: This is why Trump’s announcement about 90 F-35s was a big deal

The F-35’s software packages are being developed in increments; the Marine Corps declared their Short-Take-off-and-Vertical-Landing F-35B with software increment or “drop” 2B.

Block 2B builds upon the enhanced simulated weapons, data link capabilities and early fused sensor integration of the earlier Block 2A software drop. Block 2B enables the JSF to provide basic close air support and fire an AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile), JDADM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) or GBU 12 (laser-guided aerial bomb), JSF program officials have said.

The next increment, Blocks 3i will increase the combat capability even further and Block 3F will bring a vastly increased ability to suppress enemy air defenses.

The Air Force plans to reach operational status with software Block 3i this year. Full operational capability will come with Block 3F, service officials said.

Block 3F will increase the weapons delivery capacity of the JSF as well, giving it the ability to drop a Small Diameter Bomb, 500-pound JDAM and AIM 9X short-range air-to-air missile, Air Force officials said.

Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider
F-35A smiling for the camera. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

Canterbury also talked about how Air Force engineers and experts were making progress building a computer library in the aircraft called the Mission Data Files.

“Experts are working feverishly to catalogue all of the threats we might face,” he said.

Described as the brains of the airplane, the mission data files are extensive on-board data systems compiling information on geography, air space and potential threats in known areas of the world where the F-35 might be expected to perform combat operations, he explained.

Consisting of hardware and software, the mission data files are essentially a data base of known threats and friendly aircraft in specific parts the world. The files are being worked on at reprogramming laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Air Force officials have said.

The mission data packages are loaded with a wide range of information to include commercial airliner information and specifics on Russian and Chinese fighter jets. For example, the mission data system would enable a pilot to quickly identify a Russian MiG-29 if it were detected by the F-35’s sensors.

The mission data files are being engineered to accommodate new threat and intelligence information as it emerges. For instance, the system might one day have all the details on a Chinese J-20 stealth fighter or Russian T-50 PAK FA stealth aircraft.

The first operational F-35A fighters have already been delivered to Hill Air Force Base in Utah, and Air Force leaders say the service has launched some small mini-deployments within the US to prepare the platform for deployment.

Apart from its individual technologies, weapons, sensors and systems, the F-35 is perhaps best appreciated for its multi-role capabilities, meaning it can perform a wide range of different missions from close-air support and air-to-ground attack to air-to-air engagements and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR.

Related: Here’s how the F-35 slaughtered the competition in its latest test

The aircraft’s sensor technologies allow the platform to perform a much greater ISR function than previous aircraft can, giving it a “drone-like” ability to gather and disseminate surveillance information.  As part of this, the F-35 can also use a specially engineered data-link to communicate in real-time with other F-35s and other aircraft and fighter jets.

“With the data-link’s network interoperability, we can talk to each other and talk to fourth-generation aircraft as well,” Canterbury explained.

The F-35A can function as a reconnaissance aircraft, air-to-air fighter, air-to-ground fighter or stealth aircraft engineered to evade enemy air defenses, Canterbury explained.

“While stealth is important in the early phases of warfare to knock out integrated air defenses and allow fourth-generation fighters to fly in, we don’t need stealth all the time,” Canterbury said. “I can use my stealth and electronic attack to see an adversary well before he sees me.”

For instance, the F-35A is well-suited to loiter over an area and provide fire support to units on the ground in a close-in fight.  In order to execute these kinds of missions, the F-35 will have a 25mm Gatling Gun mounted on top of the aircraft operational by 2017.

The F-35 has 11 weapons stations, which includes seven external weapons stations for bombs or fuel.

“If we don’t need stealth, I can load this up with weapons and be a bomb truck,” Canterbury explained.

Eventually, the Air Force plans to acquire more than 1,700 F-35As.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How the F-35 flies the line between failure and success

In recent months, a slew of bad press for Lockheed Martin’s long-troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has once again made calling the 5th generation jet a failure culturally en vogue. From overt statements about the aircraft’s financial woes to newly announced tech issues causing “strategic pauses” in development and even an apparent lack of confidence in the aircraft coming out of the Air Force’s top brass, the Joint Strike Fighter program hasn’t faced such an uphill battle since the Pentagon first decided it wanted a single aircraft that could hover like a Harrier, fly supersonic like an Eagle, sneak past defenses like a Nighthawk, and land on carriers like a Super Hornet.

With all of this bad press, the inclination for some is to simply dismiss the F-35 program as an egregious acquisition debacle and nothing else. After all, the aircraft still can’t go into full-rate production because of a laundry list of issues, hundreds of delivered airframes may never actually be combat-ready, and the Air Force isn’t even sure they can afford to operate an F-35-focused fleet… With all of that piled up in the “con” column, it’s easy to see why some people never make it past those cons to begin with.

Assessing the F-35’s worth: Concept vs. Reality

Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider
The Boeing X-32, left, and the Lockheed X-35 competed for the DoD contract to produce the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) in 1997. (photo / Boeing)

The truth is, the F-35 isn’t a concept–it’s an aircraft–and that’s an important distinction. Concepts can usually be neatly filed under right or wronggood or bad. Real things, by and large, aren’t so easily organized, and often (when it comes to new technologies) are as much a product of their challenges as their original design. Every groundbreaking military aircraft program has faced setbacks, and while no aircraft program has ever cost as much as the F-35 promises to in its lifetime, that cost doesn’t negate the real capability the fighter brings to the table. Let me be clear–this isn’t an argument in favor of the F-35 program, or even necessarily for the jet to keep its lauded position atop the Air Force’s priority list. It’s just an objective observation about what this fighter can do.

Again, as a concept, we can neatly file the intent behind the F-35 in the “good idea” category and the execution behind paying for it in the “bad idea” one–but in terms of this specific aircraft made of nuts and bolts, those distinctions aren’t quite as important as they are to the broader discussion. We can either take the significant leap in capability the F-35 offers and find a way to shoehorn it into a pragmatic model for spending as we move forward… or not. Lessons learned from the F-35’s acquisition debacle should certainly inform how America sources its next fighters (or anything for that matter), but in terms of the F-35 itself, only time travel could solve most of these past headaches… and time travel is one of the things Lockheed Martin has yet to deliver.

So let’s divorce ourselves from the emotion tied to dollar exchanges ranked in the trillions, forget about the frustration we’ve felt as the F-35 program has languished behind delays, and look at this fighter for what it was meant to be, what it is, and what it can be in the years ahead. Past failures in one column don’t necessarily mean future failures in another, after all.

The F-35 might be a horror story in accounting, but it’s also a massive success from the vantage point of its trigger pullers.

Asking for the impossible

Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider
The X-35 Joint Strike Fighter demonstrator (U.S. Air Force photo)

The first studies that would lead to the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program as we know it began in 1993, with America shopping for a short take-off, vertical-landing fighter that could operate in the modern era.

Soon, the Pentagon took notice of other fighter programs in development and posited a theory: If America could find one airplane that could replace a whole host of aging platforms, it would shrink acquisition cost, streamline maintenance and operation training, remove many of the logistical headaches tied to operating a large number of aircraft in far-flung theaters, and make everyone’s day that much easier and less expensive. In hindsight, of course, those goals weren’t just naive, they may have been the program’s first major problem.

Lockheed Martin, the same firm responsible for the world’s first operational stealth aircraft, the F-117 Nighthawk, and the world’s first operational stealth fighter, the F-22 Raptor, would ultimately beat out Boeing for the Joint Strike Fighter contract, thanks to their track record in the field of stealth and impressive technology demonstrators.

Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider
Lockheed’s F-117 Nighthawk (top) and F-22 Raptor (bottom). (U.S. Air Force photo)

Today, meeting the broad requirements of three American military branches and at least two foreign partners is one of the F-35’s biggest selling points… but in the late 1990s, it was akin to Kennedy’s announcement that America would put a man on the moon within the following decade. It was a good idea on paper… but nobody really knew how to make it actually happen.

“If you were to go back to the year 2000 and somebody said, ‘I can build an airplane that is stealthy and has vertical takeoff and landing capabilities and can go supersonic,’ most people in the industry would have said that’s impossible,” Tom Burbage, Lockheed’s general manager for the program from 2000 to 2013 told The New York Times.

“The technology to bring all of that together into a single platform was beyond the reach of industry at that time.”

Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider
(Lockheed Martin)

But money has a way of making the impossible start to look improbable… and then eventually, mundane. The Saturn V that kept Kennedy’s promise about the moon was the most complex and powerful machine ever devised by man, and by Apollo 13–just NASA’s third mission to the moon–the American people already thought the rocket’s trip through space was too boring to watch (at least until everything went wrong). Likewise, building a supersonic, stealth fighter that can hover over amphibious assault ships sounded downright crazy, that is, right up until it was boring.

Making the impossible mundane costs lots of money

Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider

In order to meet the disparate needs of a single aircraft that could replace at least five planes across multiple military forces, Lockheed Martin chose to devise three iterations of their new fighter.

The F-35A would be the closest to what might be considered a traditional multi-role fighter–intended to take off and land on well-manicured airstrips found on military installations the world over. The second, dubbed the F-35B, would incorporate a directional jet nozzle and hidden fan to provide the aircraft with enough lift to hover and land vertically for use aboard Marine Corps amphibious assault ships or on austere, hastily cleared airstrips. Finally, a carrier-capable variant dubbed the F-35C would boast the greater wingspan necessarily for lower speed carrier landings, along with a reinforced fuselage that could withstand the incredible forces tied to serving aboard an aircraft carrier.

Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Rufus)

The plan was to leave as much about all three iterations as identical as possible, so parts, production, training, and maintenance could be similar enough regardless of the operating theater. That plan would prove infeasible almost immediately.

“It turns out when you combine the requirements of the three services, what you end up with is the F-35, which is an aircraft that is in many ways suboptimal for what each of the services really want,” Todd Harrison, an aerospace expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said.

Lockheed Martin’s team of designers began with the simplest version: the landing-strip-friendly F-35A. Once they were happy with the design, they moved on to the F-35B, which needed to house its internal fan right in the middle of the aircraft’s fuselage. As soon as they began work on the F-35B, it became clear that simply copying and pasting the F-35A design wouldn’t cut it. In fact, they were so far off the mark that it would take an additional 18 months and $6.2 billion just to figure out how to make the F-35B work–something you’d think might have come up prior to securing the contract.

Real cheap but good handguns that you should actually consider
(Lockheed Martin)

This was the first, but certainly not the last, time a problem like this would derail progress on the F-35. To some extent, these failures can largely be attributed to poor planning, but it’s also important to remember that the F-35 program was aiming to do things no other fighter program had ever done before. Discovery and efficiency don’t always walk hand in hand–and to be clear, Lockheed Martin had no real incentive to make the Joint Strike Fighter work on a budget.

Concurrent Development: The dirtiest two words in aviation

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(Lockheed Martin)

The United States knew that what they were asking Lockheed Martin to deliver wouldn’t be easy. Stealth aircraft programs from the F-117 to today’s B-21 Raider have all faced a struggled balance between price tag and capability, but with so many eggs in the F-35 basket, the stakes quickly ballooned. With highly advanced 4th generation fighters like Russia’s Su-35 and China’s J-10 already flying, and their own stealth fighter programs in development by the 2000s, America was in trouble. The dogfighting dynamo F-22 was canceled in 2011 after just 186 jets were built, making the F-35 the nation’s only fighter program on the books. This new jet would have to be better than everything in the sky today and for decades to come… and it had to start doing it immediately.

To make this possible, the Pentagon believed the best approach would be “concurrent development,” or just “concurrency.” The premise behind concurrency is simple: You begin production of the new aircraft once the design is settled, and then you go back and make changes as testing highlights any issues that may need to be addressed. On paper, this looked like a way to begin fielding these new, highly capable fighters, training pilots and maintainers, developing tactics, and settling the fighter of the future into service as it matured. In reality, however, it meant building F-35s before they’d been fully tested and then spending billions to go back and fix the old jets after testing was complete.

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The first F-35B built at the Cameri, Italy, Final Assembly & Check-Out (FACO) facility rolls out May 5. (Aeronautica Militare Photo)

Issue after issue bubbled to the surface. By 2017, they’d become so serious that the Air Force began to consider just abandoning the first 108 F-35A’s they’d received (and the $21.4 billion they’d spent on them) simply because fixing them would be too expensive. By the end of 2020, Lockheed Martin once again postponed full-rate production, with a long list of issues yet to be resolved.

And amid all of this spending rose yet another financial hurdle: the immense cost of operating the F-35. While a top-of-the-line but decidedly non-stealth F-15EX may cost as much as $28,000 an hour to fly, the F-35 costs at least $44,000 per hour… and each F-35 airframe is only rated to fly for less than a third of the total hours an F-15EX can. In other words, the F-35 has been egregiously expensive to develop and promises to stay egregiously expensive to operate. As a result, the Air Force is now considering adding another, cheaper fighter to the mix despite planning to order more than 2,000 total F-35s over its lifetime. The fact of the matter is, the jet is just too expensive to use for some jobs.

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(Lockheed Martin)

“I want to moderate how much we’re using those aircraft,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. said of the F-35.

“You don’t drive your Ferrari to work every day, you only drive it on Sundays. This is our ‘high end’ [fighter], we want to make sure we don’t use it all for the low-end fight… We don’t want to burn up capability now and wish we had it later.”

So… the F-35 is a failure?

Not so fast. It’s easy to spiral down the acquisition rabbit hole until you start shaking your fist at the sky, and if you only read up until this point in this article or similar ones, it makes sense that you’d feel secure in lumping the F-35 in with flying aircraft carriers and pigeon-guided missiles as yet another mistake on Uncle Sam’s bar tab… but these vantage points are missing one incredibly important bit of context: The opinion of the warfighters who fly them.

In terms of responsible spending, you’ll probably only hear the F-35 program defended by Air Force officials and Lockheed Martin employees, but in terms of sheer capability, you can find lots of folks singing the F-35’s praises.

“My wingman was a brand new F-35A pilot, seven or eight flights out of training,” Col. Joshua Wood, 388th Operations Group commander, said about flying with F-35s in the Air Force’s large scale Red Flag exercise. “He gets on the radio and tells an experienced, 3,000-hour pilot in a very capable fourth-generation aircraft: ‘Hey bud, you need to turn around. You’re about to die. There’s a threat off your nose.’”

According to Wood, that same “brand new” pilot would rack up three kills against those enemy pilots in just the next hour.

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(Lockheed Martin)

These stories tend not to get as much reach as the bad news for a few important reasons. The first is that bad news sells, and folks are more likely to click on an article highlighting an expensive American failure than they are a tactical success story. The second is a bit more nuanced: While we tend to think of fighter operations in terms of scenes we’ve seen in the movie, “Top Gun,” the F-35 doesn’t simply operate in those terms.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is slower than the F-15, can’t fly as high as the long-retired F-14, carries less ordnance than an F/A-18, and wouldn’t be a match for the F-16 in an acrobatic competition. In terms of just about all of the things that we think fighters have to do, the F-35 is worse than the old jets we watched our parents fly in the 1970s… But there’s a good reason behind that–and it isn’t just about stealth.

Data fusion, not stealth, is the F-35’s most potent weapon

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(Lockheed Martin)

Yes, the F-35 can fly faster than the speed of sound, deliver its payload to unsuspecting targets in highly defended airspace, and then land vertically on the deck of a helicopter carrier… but all of that is just part of what makes it special. The most important part, many would argue, isn’t its ability to avoid detection or even deliver ordnance: It’s the F-35’s ability to soak up information and process it into something our oversized monkey brains can actually use in a fight.

Despite their bravado, fighter pilots are made out of the same guts and water as the rest of us–and that really makes their jobs a lot harder than most people realize. Not only does it take an incredible amount of physical resilience just to manage the rigors of flying in a combat environment, but it also takes a huge amount of mental bandwidth and focus.

Pilots managing even the best 4th generation fighters have to split their attention between as many as 20 dials and readouts in their cockpits, all while keeping their eyes on the horizon and skies around them, looking out for enemy aircraft or surface to air missiles, among other things.

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Some folks crash their car because they’re changing the radio station. Imagine keeping tabs on all of this and the bad guys shooting at you. (Cockpit of an F-111 Aardvark, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force)

Because each of those dials, sensors, and screens are fed by independent data streams, it’s up to the pilot to scan all of them, and the skies, and then combine all of that info in his or her head… even when two sensors offer contradictory information. And that’s assuming all those gauges can help in a dogfight.

“In my cockpit, what I had displayed for me was what I had on my own radar and what I could hear in my headset, and that was it,” Former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein said in 2019. Goldfein flew the F-16 and F-117 as a pilot. “My job was to figure out mentally, in this 3-D, god’s-eye view, what was going on over hundreds of miles of battlespace.”

The F-35, with its incredibly expensive custom helmets and powerful onboard computers, takes all of that information and then adds more, gleaning data from other aircraft, ground assets, satellites, and even Navy vessels. The computers file and sort all of this information and then translate the deluge into a single, convenient trickle right in front of the pilot’s eyes. Instead of trying to manage a dozen gauges and your view of the enemy, F-35 pilots see all the pertinent info they need right in their line of sight, offering info on enemy targets, friendly assets, and mission objectives at a glance–but that’s not all this flying supercomputer can do.

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“The mission commander now is taxiing out, hasn’t even taken off yet, and is already getting input from what’s happening in space and cyber,” Goldfien said. “As soon as you pilot that airplane up, it’s already starting to fuse and collect.”

The F-35’s data fusion does give its pilots better situational awareness than any tactical aircraft to come before it, but that value multiplies as the data is shared across other aircraft and assets. A single F-35 in a formation has proven to make its 4th generation wingmen more deadly thanks to relaying such a thorough understanding of the battlespace. As a result, many pilots have taken to calling the F-35 a “quarterback in the sky.” Sure, it’s on the field too, but its game-changing capabilities make it a leadership platform. F-35 pilots have even successfully engaged targets using weapons from ground vehicles by relaying target information in real-time.

The F-35’s data fusion capabilities may get less attention than its stealth, but the truth is, stealth is a 50-year-old concept (with plenty of ongoing application), and data fusion is the future.

What is the F-35’s future… and what should it be?

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(Lockheed Martin)

It seems entirely possible that the U.S. Air Force does pursue a “5th gen minus” fighter that’s cheaper and less stealthy than the F-35, but more capable in contested airspace than an F-16, but that doesn’t mean the F-35 will just be sent out to pasture.

While once seen as the future workhorse of American and allied air power, the F-35 program has been a victim of its own lofty aspirations, reaching into Lockheed Martin’s grab bag of capabilities and coming out with a few more than America’s already bulging defense budget could handle. We may not actually see 2,000 F-35s flying under America’s banner in the long run, but then, maybe we don’t have to for it to be a success yet.

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U.S. Air Force Capt. Kristin “Beo” Wolfe, F-35A Lightning II Demonstration Team commander and pilot, takes off from Selfridge Air National Guard base for the 2020 London SkyDrive Air Show in Canada Sep. 12, 2020, Harrison Township, Mich. T(U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Kip Sumner)

Lockheed Martin drew some criticisms in 2019 when they told Japan that they could build a new stealth fighter that bridges the capabilities of the F-35 and F-22 while all coming in at a lower cost, seemingly acknowledging the fiscal irresponsibility of the F-35 program to date. There’s another way to look at that statement though: The first time you do something will always cost more than the second. As time goes on, that advanced technology becomes more commonplace and less expensive, and then a new expensive technology comes along to take its place. We should expect the next stealth fighter to either cost a whole bunch less or do a whole bunch more. That’s just the nature of warfare and technology.

That next fighter, as well as others like the NGAD, will benefit from expensive mistakes made in the F-35’s development, as well as the incredible lessons learned about avionics, secure networking, and operating in contested airspace. Do those valuable leaps offset the financial boondoggle that has been F-35 acquisition over the past 14 years? No. The F-35 may be jam-packed with game-changing technology, but capability is not, in itself, a measure of cost-effectiveness.

If your opinion of the F-35 is derived on paper, as a measure of carried ones and zeros split with commas, its probably safe to say you think it’s a failure… but the F-35 wasn’t built to operate on paper. This fighter was meant to give America’s warfighters an edge over the competition, and if you ask the guys and gals flying it, that’s exactly what it’s done.

So, is the F-35 an acquisition failure or is it a tactical success? The complicated truth is… it’s both.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

Intel

This is the ultimate special operations weapon

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Image: courtesy of FN Herstal


NATO wanted a replacement for its 9x19mm Parabellum firearms; what it got is the ultimate special ops weapon.

The FN Herstal P90 is a compact but powerful sub-machine gun. It was designed for vehicle crews, support personnel, special forces and counter-terrorist groups.

It’s an ugly futuristic-looking weapon. The bullpup design with ambidextrous controls and top-mounted magazine make it unconventional. But make no mistake, this is an incredibly useful weapon. It’s so effective that it’s currently in service with military and police forces in over 20 nations throughout the world, according to this video.

Watch:

American Heroes Channel, YouTube

Articles

How this ‘dog’ blasted Axis subs to smithereens

Just before America’s official involvement in World War II, Fido was born. It took a while for Fido to be ready to serve, though. Only 4,000 were fielded – down from a planned 10,000 — largely because Fido was so effective.


For Fido, though, the mission was a one-way trip.

Now, you dog lovers out there, don’t go flying off the handle. Fido wasn’t some poor canine conscripted for use in war to be blown to bits while killing the enemy. No, this “Fido” — as the sailors who used it against enemy subs took to calling it — was purely machine. A torpedo, to be exact.

Okay, technically Fido’s designation was as the Mk 24 Mine, but this torpedo was unique in that it could sniff out enemy submarines.

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Diagram of the Mk 24. (US Navy graphic)

According to UBoat.net, Fido’s “nose” consisted of four hydrophones placed at equidistant points around the body of the Mk 13 aerial torpedo. These gave the torpedo steering directions as they detected the skulking submarine and guided the torpedo to a direct impact on the hull. That’s when a 100-pound high-explosive warhead would do its job. The result should be a sunken enemy submarine.

Fido could go at a speed of 12 knots and its batteries would last for 15 minutes. It could be dropped from up to 300 feet high by planes going as fast as 120 knots. Submarines could increase their speed to try to outrun it, but their batteries would run out very quickly, forcing them to the surface, where they’d be sitting ducks to American guns. If they didn’t go fast, the torpedo would catch them.

Fido was used on anything from a TBF Avenger to the PBY Catalina. It took a little less than a year and a half for Fido to make it from the drawing board to its first enemy kill. Fido claimed 33 Axis submarines in the Atlantic (32 German, one Japanese), and four more in the Pacific (all Japanese).

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USS Roosevelt (DG 80) launches a Mk 54 MAKO torpedo, the evolutionary descendant of the Mk 24 Fido. (US Navy photo)

Fido was, in one sense, the progenitor of today’s advanced air-dropped anti-submarine torpedoes, the Mk 46, the Mk 50 Barracuda, and the Mk 54 MAKO. Such is the legacy of a torpedo that sniffed out Axis subs.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers

A drone-killing, directed energy weapon prototype is now in the hands of Marines. The Compact Laser Weapons System — or CLaWS — is the first ground-based laser approved by the Department of Defense for use by warfighters on the ground.

“This was all in response to a need for counter unmanned aerial systems to take down drones,” said Don Kelley, program manager for Ground Based Air Defense at Program Executive Officer Land Systems. “We developed a CLaWS prototype for Marines to use and evaluate.”

In recent years, the Defense department has assessed directed energy weapons — more commonly known as “lasers” — as an affordable alternative to traditional firepower to keep enemy drones from tracking and targeting Marines on the ground.


CLaWS is not intended to be a standalone system for Marines to use to counter enemy drones. Rather, if the prototype continues to do well in the current research and development phase, it will serve as a component to an overall system used to counter drones.

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“We’re providing CLaWS to Marines as a rapid prototype for evaluation,” Kelley said. “Depending on the results, CLaWS could become part of a larger capability set.”

Rapid prototyping, rapid delivery

The GBAD program, managed within the portfolio of PEO Land Systems procured the CLaWS prototype through the Defense Ordnance Technology Consortium — or DOTC — which was commissioned by the then-Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics to foster collaboration between government, industry and academia regarding ordnance technology development and prototyping.

“The typical acquisition timeline can be lengthy,” said Lt. Col. Ho Lee, product manager for GBAD Future Weapons Systems at PEO Land Systems. “But this project, from start to finish — from when we awarded the DOTC contract, to getting all the integration complete, all the testing complete, getting the Marines trained, and getting the systems ready to deploy — took about one year.”

From a production standpoint, Lee said that the program office and its partners integrated various commercial items to create CLaWS.

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(U.S. Marine Corps)

“We’ve been doing rapid prototyping, rapid delivery,” said Lee. “With this and a lot of the other efforts we are doing, we are using items currently available and integrating them to meet a capability. Little development, if any, went into this.”

Leveraging expertise for increased lethality

Obtaining the green-light to deliver and deploy CLaWS requires a bit more finesse, which is why PM GBAD leveraged DoD interagency partnerships to fulfill the need.

The operational use of new laser weapons, such as CLaWS, requires approval from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, as it involves various factors such as legal reviews, concepts of employment, rules of engagement, tactics, potential collateral damage and human effects, proposed public affairs guidance and other relevant information.

“This program lives and dies with the leveraging of expertise and resources with others,” said Kelley. “It’s about getting these capabilities quickly into the hands of Marines and being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

Move fast and laser things

As Marines evaluate the CLaWS systems over the next few months, the GBAD program office already has their next target in mind: upgrading it.

Depending on the results, the program office says it could incorporate the CLaWS into other fixed-site and mobile C-UAS defeat capabilities.

“What’s interesting about CLaWS for the Marine Corps is, usually for things like this, we’re on the back end,” said Lee. “With this one, we’re actually in front. Everybody is watching closely to see what’s going to happen.”

This article originally appeared on Marines. Follow @USMC on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why the Navy doesn’t use these small boats with a big punch

Back in World War II, patrol torpedo, or PT, boats were the scourge of the Japanese Navy. These vessels were so small, they weren’t even measured in tons, but rather by feet. The Elco PT boat was 80 feet long, and the Higgins PT boat was 78.


Many were discarded after World War II, but the Soviet Union, China, and some NATO allies brought the concept back, this time equipping them with anti-ship missiles, like the MM38/MM40 Exocet, the Penguin, and the SS-N-2 Styx.

In the 1980s, the United States got into the game with the Pegasus-class hydrofoil.

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The patrol combatant missile hydrofoils USS AQUILA (PHM 4), front, and USS GEMINI (PHM 6), center, lie tied up in port with a third PHM. The Coast Guard surface effect ship (SES) cutter USCGC SHEARWATER (WSES 3) is in the background. (US Navy photo)

The Pegasus was all of 255 tons, according to the Federation of American Scientists. It carried some serious firepower, though: A single 76mm gun, like those used on the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates (and later, the Coast Guard’s Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters) forward and eight RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles. That’s a lot more than what you see on today’s Littoral Combat Ships.

The Navy bought six of these vessels and based them at Key West, Florida. There, they helped keep an eye on Fidel Castro’s dictatorship and pitched in to fight the War on Drugs. With a top speed in excess of 45 knots, these boats could chase down just about anything on the waves, and their firepower gave them a good chance of defeating any vessel the Cuban Navy could throw at them. That said, these vessels were expensive to operate and suffered from short range.

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USS Aries (PHM 5), the only survivor of the six missile-armed hydrofoils the Navy operated in the 1980s. (US Navy photo)

With the end of the Cold War, the PHMs were among the many assets retired. All six were retired on July 30, 1993. Four of the vessels were scrapped immediately. A fifth, USS Gemini (PHM 6), became a yacht for a brief time before she went to the scrapyard. The lone surviving vessel in this class is the former USS Aries (PHM 5), which is slated to become part of a hydrofoil museum.

Articles

This is perhaps the fastest shotgun in the world

Fostech Outdoors’s Origin-12 is a beast of a weapon and may be the fastest cycling shotgun in the world.


The gas powered build of the Origin-12 allows it to unleash hell at an insane rate of fire — if your trigger finger can keep up.

“This thing can smoke an AA-12 in terms of speed,” said Eric in the IV8888 video below. “Bear in mind, an AA-12 is only about 360 rpm.”

via GIPHY

Released in 2013, the Origin-12 comes standard with a five-round 12-gauge magazine or an optional 30-round drum.

The design of the Origin-12 is made to greatly reduce recoil. The barrel is placed lower than the chamber and butt stock.

“In-line shotguns, when you shoot them, they climb. Pure physics will tell you about this firearm,” Fostech Outdoors executive Judd Foster said at SHOT Show 2016. “When you shoot it, it takes recoil out of it, and it punches you on target.”

via GIPHY

According to Fostech Outdoors, there will soon be conversion kits to allow 7.62 and 5.56mm fire coming in 2018. If you’re interested in having a forward grip, check out the Origin-12 SBV. It’s an arm braced, smooth bore, 12-gauge non-NFA Firearm.

“The Fostech Origin-12 is an awesome piece of hardware. As far as I know, its is the fastest cycling shotgun in the world, ” IV8888’s Eric said.

via GIPHY

Check out the IraqVeteran8888 video down below:

WRITER’S NOTE: I would like to personally thank you, the community, for bringing this beauty to my attention. The inspiration for this post goes to Marc Allen from this Facebook post. Thank you very much for your support. You rock!

Related: This automatic shotgun fires 360 rounds of bad intentions per minute

(Iraqveteran8888, YouTube)
MIGHTY TACTICAL

Blue Angels order awesome new jets for 2021

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels are poised to receive new, retrofitted F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter aircraft in the next few years.

The Navy on Aug. 13, 2018 awarded Boeing Co., the F/A-18’s manufacturer, a $17 million firm-fixed price contract to configure nine F/A-18E and two F/A-18F aircraft to the standard Blue Angels’ aircraft structure. The squadron, which typically maintains 11 aircraft, currently flies the F/A-18C/D models.


While an upgrade, the new aircraft would not house the common nose cannon system used for strike operations. Like the Air Force Thunderbirds, the demonstration team uses “clean jets,” aircraft without missiles or bombs.

However, the Blue Angels’ F/A-18s are “capable of being returned to combat duty aboard an aircraft carrier within 72 hours,” if necessary, according to the team’s fact sheet.

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The Blue Angels F/A-18 Hornets fly in a tight diamond formation, maintaining 18-inch wing tip to canopy separation.

Boeing will configure the aircraft at its St. Louis facility, according to the contract announcement. The fiscal 2018 budget, once appropriated, will fund the work, the announcement said. The new jets are expected to be completed in December 2021.

The Blue Angels recently announced a new roster of officers for the 2019 show season.

The squadron selected three F/A-18 demonstration pilots, an events coordinator, flight surgeon, and supply officer to replace outgoing team members, the Navy said in August 2018.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Unique Russian Tu-134 UBL nicknamed “Black Pearl” intercepted over the Baltic

Four Belgian Air Force F-16AM jets are deployed to Siauliai, Lithuania, to support NATO BAP (Baltic Air Policing) mission in the Baltic region since September. As part of their mission to safeguard the airspaces over Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and the Baltic Sea, the Belgian Vipers (just like the fighters of all the other air forces which support the BAP mission with rotational deployments to the Baltic States) are regularly scrambled to intercept Russian/non-NATO aircraft that fly in international airspace near NATO airspace.


While Il-76s, Su-27s and other interesting “zombies” are often escorted over the Baltic, the Russian Navy Tu-134 UB-L, RF-12041 nicknamed “Black Pearl”, that the BAF F-16s intercepted last week is a real first. The Belgian Air Force shared an IR image (most probably taken by the F-16’s SNIPER Advanced Targeting Pod used in air-to-air mode for long range identification) of the rare bird, along with a file photo of the same aircraft taking off in 2019:

The Tu-134UB-L, NATO reporting name Crusty-B, is a variant of the civilian Tu-134B aircraft designed to train Tu-160 and Tu-22M3 strategic bombers aircrews (in particular, the Tu-134 was chosen because of the thrust to weight ratio and landing/takeoff characteristics were similar to those of the Tu-22M). The Tu-134UB-L (Uchebno-Boyevoy dla Lyotchikov, Russian for combat trainer for pilots) is indeed a Tu-134B airframe with a Tu-22 nose. According to Russia’s Warplanes Vol. 2 by Piotr Butowski, a total 109 Tu-134UB-L were built, with the first one making its maiden flight in March 1981.

Noteworthy, according to some sources, the “Black Pearl” is no longer used as a trainer, but was converted to be used for transportation tasks in 2017.

Whatever its current mission is the Tu-134UB-L RF-12041 is an extremely interesting and rare aircraft. Let’s just hope the BAF will release more images of this beauty!!

This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.

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