The Army’s recent order of a four-bore rifle prototype made some waves. It’s a pretty exciting piece of technology, but if it gets picked up, it won’t be the first four-barrel weapon that American troops have fielded. And while this new prototype rifle fires 6mm rounds at an impressive rate, the older system packed a bigger wallop.
This older four-barrel system wasn’t a rifle, however, it was a rocket launcher called the M202 FLASH. “FLASH,” in this case, stood for FLame Assault SHoulder weapon. It packed four 66-millimeter M74 rockets that were held together by a clip.
As the full name of the rocket launcher suggests, the rockets were equipped with incendiary warheads. It replaced the traditional flamethrowers that had seen a lot of action in World War II, much to the relief of the grunts who once carried them.
Traditional flamethrowers, like this M2 being used in the Pacific Theater, were effective, but had a lot of drawbacks.
Traditional flamethrowers were backpack-mounted. The canisters on their backs were filled with what was, essentially, jellied gasoline. To make matters worse for the GI carrying a large, flammable target on their back, they had to get within 47 yards of the enemy to use a traditional flamethrower.
While flamethrowers were devastating to enemy positions and extremely effective at clearing terrain, the guy who carried it on his back was in danger of becoming a very crispy critter should his flamethrower get hit. And there’s no hiding who’s carrying a flamethrower. This made the specially-trained operators a target.
The M202 entered service in 1978 and has seen action in the Global War on Terror.
The M202A1 eliminated a lot of those drawbacks. Any number of grunts could be trained to use the system. The weapon is still distinctive but, according to U.S. Army Training Circular 23-2, it has a maximum range of just over 800 yards. While you’re not always going to be firing from maximum range, it’s a lot better than being within a stone’s throw.
Each of the M74 rockets fired by the M202 packed about 1.3 pounds of what the Army called a “thickened pyrophoric agent,” called triethylaluminum. This burned at temperatures of up to 2200 degrees Fahrenheit, similar to white phosphorus (“Willie Pete”).
The M202 has been obscured — largely because it had its share of hiccups. Still, it’s seen some action in the War on Terror — and in a few of our favorite movies and games. The M202 made an appearance in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando, Capcom’s Resident Evil, and Overkill Software’s Payday 2.
The final “Fortnite” season 10 event ended suddenly, with every player’s screen going black and showing a black hole graphic instead. As millions of gamers tuned in to streams and their own games, they suddenly lost the ability to login (the only action on the display is an “Exit” button), and the official “Fortnite” Twitter account tweeted “This is The End.”
It’s likely not the actual end of “Fortnite,” the wildly popular battle royale game that overtook the gaming community starting in 2017. Rather, the gameplay map that fans have used the past two years is likely going to be replaced with a new setting.
If the tweet wasn’t enough confirmation, “The End” was definitely a planned sequence by “Fortnite” creator Epic Games, as the “lobby” of the game showed a special galaxy collapse animation for those who were in it at the time of the server power-down.
Other players in the game saw the world collapse in front of them, and the “Fortnite” status menu showed the phrase “Anomaly Detected” for all its different features.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet has been the backbone of the US Navy’s carrier air wings for just over a decade, following the retirement of the legendary F-14 Tomcat. Reliable, versatile and thoroughly adaptable, the Super Hornet is everything the Navy hoped for in a multirole fighter and more.
But its age is starting to show quickly, especially thanks to increasing deployment rates due to a need to fill in for unavailable older “legacy” Hornets being put through service life extension programs. This has resulted in more wear and tear on these big fighters than the Navy originally projected.
So to keep its fighter fleet relevant and as sharp as ever, the Navy has finally decided to give the go-ahead on picking up brand new Super Hornets from Boeing’s St. Louis, MO plant, while simultaneously upgrading older Super Hornets currently serving. However, these new fighters will come with a few new features that their predecessors don’t have, making them even more potent than ever before in the hands of the Navy’s best and brightest.
While Boeing previously pushed the Navy to consider buying a smaller amount of F-35C Lightning II stealth strike fighters in favor of more F/A-18E/Fs, the aviation manufacturer’s new plan is to develop a Super Hornet that’s capable of seamlessly integrating with the F-35C, making the combination extremely deadly and a huge asset in the hands of any Navy task force commander while underway.
Though the Super Hornet was originally designed in the 1990s to be able to fly against comparable 4th generation fighters, this new update, known as the Advanced Super Hornet or the Block III upgrade, will keep this aircraft relevant against even modern foreign 5th generation fighters today.
Boeing has hinted at the Block III upgrade for the past few years, pitching it constantly with mixed results. Earlier this week, Navy brass confirmed that a plan to buy 80 more Super Hornets was in the works, fleshed out over the next five years.
These new fighters will likely be the first to carry the Block III upgrade, while older Super Hornets will enter overhaul depots between 2019 and 2022, returning to the fleet upon completion of their updating.
Among the most drastic changes these new Super Hornets will come with, as compared to the ones the Navy currently flies, is a completely revamped cockpit, similar to the one used in the F-35. Instead of smaller screens, a jumble of buttons, switches and instrument clusters, Advanced Super Hornets will have a “large-area display” which pulls up every bit of critical information each pilot needs to successfully operate the aircraft onto one big screen, reducing workload and strain.
Additionally, a new networking system will allow Advanced Super Hornets to communicate data more efficiently with Lightning IIs, EA-18 Growler electronic attack jets, and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft.
It’s likely that the Advanced Super Hornet will include some kind of stealth coating, painted on the surfaces of the aircraft to absorb or deflect radar waves. (Photo from Boeing)
Block III will also include new infrared search and track (IRST) sensors that’ll allow Super Hornets to detect and engage low-observable threats from longer distances. Given that stealth has become an important factor in modern fighter design, it’s likely that the Block III update will also include some kind of stealth coating, painted on the surfaces of the aircraft to absorb or deflect radar waves. The US Air Force and Marine Corps already use similar coatings on F-22 Raptors, F-35s, and select groups of F-16 Fighting Falcons.
The upgrade will also give Super Hornets the ability to fly with Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFT) for the very first time, providing an extension in operating range without sacrificing space on weapons pylons beneath the aircraft’s wings. With more flexibility in terms of weapons carriage, the Navy hopes that Super Hornets will not only be able to fly air superiority missions, but will also function as a flying arsenal for F-35s, which (through data links) could launch and deploy munitions from F/A-18E/Fs while on mission.
The program cost for upgrading currently-active Super Hornets will be around $265.9 million, between 2018 and 2022, while the cost of the 80-strong order for new Super Hornets will come to around $7.1 billion. This massive upgrade also signals the Navy’s interest in investing more into assets it currently fields over developing brand new next-generation fighters as broader replacements, generally to save costs while still maintaining the ability to deal with a variety of potential threats America’s enemies pose today.
You had choices when you showed up at the recruiting offices at your local strip mall. If you didn’t pick USAF you missed out, and here are 9 reasons why:
1. We call each other by our first names and don’t get hung up on rank. (It helps us prepare for not working as a grocery store bagger when we separate.)
2. Because Chuck Norris.
3. The Air Force coined the term “counterspace operations” because it couldn’t be contained to just this planet.
4. The Air Force has the best and the most expensive toys. This is why the Air Force budget is the largest. You’ve only seen the B-2 because we wanted you to see the B-2. The other ones are the //redacted//, the //redacted//, and best of all the //redacted//.
5. The Air Force ages gracefully. (The SR-71 Blackbird is still the coolest thing ever made for the US military.)
6. Iron Man and the War Machine are stationed at Nellis Air Force Base.
7. The enlisted have the same or better operational survival rate than the officers.
8. No service delivers more freedom in one serving.
Military uniforms have been made from a variety of fabrics over the years: Cotton, wool, polyester blends… all have had their turn as what uniforms are made of. Now a new spin on one of the oldest fabrics could come into play.
That fabric, of course, is silk, which first entered the scene in China almost four millennia ago. Only this isn’t the silk that is used for the high-fashion dresses you see on the red carpet. That is from silkworms. According to a report from Marketplace.org, this silk is from spiders.
Okay, before you get carried away – no, this is not quite like the Spider-Man suits. The key, though is that the spider silk is strong. It has to be. Spider silk makes webs, which spiders usually use to catch food.
There’s just one problem. You need a lot of spiders to make silk, and spider’s just don’t get along with each other. We’re not talking things that can be worked out. Face it, when the critters you are counting on to produce material try to eat each other, productivity’s gonna be taking a nosedive. That doesn’t get the uniforms made.
So, the answer has been to genetically engineer silkworms to produce spider silk. This is not the only method in operation. Michigan State University researchers have figured out how to make a silk-like product from the deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, of spiders, and DNA sequencing is becoming much cheaper than it was in the past.
Either way, the material that is produced will have far more applications than the Kevlar used in the uniforms of present day. The spider silk could also be used to make protective underwear as well as improved body armor. That’s good news for the troops.
After whiffing on its recruiting goal in 2018, the Army has been trying new approaches to bring in the soldiers it needs to reach its goal of 500,000 in active-duty service by the end of the 2020s.
The 6,500-soldier shortfall the service reported in September 2018 was its first recruiting miss since 2005 and came despite it putting $200 million into bonuses and issuing extra waivers for health issues or bad conduct.
Within a few months of that disappointment, the Army announced it was seeking soldiers for an esports team that would, it said, “build awareness of skills that can be used as professional soldiers and use [its] gaming knowledge to be more relatable to youth.”
By January 2019, more than 6,500 soldiers had applied for a team that was expected to have about 30 members. In September 2019, the Army credited the esports team, one of two new outreach teams set up that year, as having “initiated some of the highest lead-generating events in the history of the all-volunteer force.”
“It’s essentially connecting America to its Army through the passion of the gaming community,” Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Jones, noncommissioned-officer-in-charge of the team, said in January 2019.
Team members who were competing would train for up to six hours a day, Jones said at the time, and they received instruction on Army enlistment programs so they could answer questions from potential recruits.
“They will have the ability to start a dialogue about what it is like to serve in our Army and see if those contacts are interested in joining,” Gen. Frank Muth, head of Army Recruiting Command, said in early 2019.
Thousands of soldiers play esports, Muth said, and the audience for it has grown into the hundreds of millions — West Point even recognized its own official esports club in January — but the appeal wasn’t obvious at first to Army leaders, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Friday.
“This was one [idea] that when the first time Gen. Frank Muth briefed … Army senior leadership, we’re like, ‘What are you talking about, Frank?'” McCarthy told an audience at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
“We’re about 18 months into it,” McCarthy said, and with that team, Army recruiters were “getting their finger on the pulse with 17- to 24-year-old Americans. What are they into? How do they communicate? And [finding] those right venues and shaping our messaging to talk about here’s the 150 different things you can do in the Army and the access to education and the kinds of people that you can meet and being a part of something as special as this institution.”
In 2019, the Army rolled out an esports trailer with four gaming stations inside, as well as a semi-trailer with eight seats that could be adjusted so all eight players played the same game or their own on a gaming PC, an Xbox 1S, a PS4 Pro, and a Nintendo Switch, Jones, the NCO-in-charge, told Task Purpose in October.
One of the senior leaders dispatched to an esports event was Gen. Mark Milley, who was Army chief of staff at the time and is now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which is the president’s top uniformed military adviser.
“He said, ‘You’re going to make me do what?'” McCarthy said Friday. “Then when he went, he learned a lot, and he got to engage with young men and women, and what we found is we’re getting millions of leads of 17- to 24-year-olds to feed into Army Recruiting Command to engage young men and women to see if they’d be interested in a life of service.”
The esports team is part of a change in recruiting strategy, McCarthy said, that has focused on 22 cities in traditional recruiting grounds in the South and Midwest but also on the West Coast and the Northeast with the goal of informing potential recruits about what life in the Army is actually like as well as about the benefits of serving, such as money for college or soft skills that appeal to employers.
The service has also shifted almost all its advertising spending to digital and put more uniformed personnel into the Army Marketing Research Group to take more control of its messaging.
McCarthy on Friday called it “a comprehensive approach” to “improve our performance in a variety of demographics, whether that’s male-to-female ratios or ethnicities.” That geographic focus yielded “a double-digit lift” among women and minorities, McCarthy said last year.
After the 2018 recruiting shortfall, service chiefs, including then-Army Secretary Mark Esper, said schools were not letting uniformed service members in to recruit. Anti-war activists attempted to disprove that claim by offering ,000 to schools that admitted to barring recruiters.
But recruiting has improved year-over-year, hitting the goal set last year and being ahead of pace now, McCarthy said.
“This has been a major turnaround, because I think we just got a little lazy and we started losing touch with young men and women … but you have to sustain this,” McCarthy added. “We’re in a war for talent in this country — 3.5% unemployment, they have a lot of opportunities.”
“We travel to a lot of American cities, and we meet with mayors and superintendents of schools and other civic leaders to try to educate those influencers, to try to help us in recruiting, and it’s yielded tremendous benefit.”
You may think that the last Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon will be flying its last in 2048. That is, of course, what the Air Force is saying, but you’d be very, very wrong to believe it. The last Air Force F-16 will be flying for decades after its supposed retirement.
Don’t just take my word for it: Look at what happened with the F-4 Phantom. The real last flight of the F-4 for the United States Air Force was in 2016, not the mid-1990s when the last F-4G Wild Weasels were sent to Davis Monthan Air Force Base to be laid to rest in the boneyard. Instead, those F-4s were converted into QF-4 Phantom target drones.
Over 5,200 QF-4 Phantoms were built and gave the United States over two decades of service as target drones. With so many F-16s built, it was a natural fit to transition these ‘retiring’ airframes from front-line combat to serving as target drones. These unmanned aircraft help keep pilots current and provide a way to test the performance of air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles.
So, how can we be so sure the same fate awaits the Fighting Falcons? Well, it’s already happening. The QF-16 first flew in 2013, an unmanned craft created by converting an A-model Falcon. The plan calls for at least 200 of these drones to be created through modifications by Boeing. Like the F-4s, the QF-16s will still be able to be flown by pilots. They will have weapons and radars removed, though. They will also be rigged with a self-destruct system, in case they go wild.
Moments before a QF-16 fulfills its purpose — in the sights of another plane. (Boeing photo)
Other planes that have served as target drones include the QF-100 Super Sabre, QF-102 Delta Dagger, QF-104 Starfighter, and QF-106 Delta Dart. The QF-4 Phantom was the most recent full-scale aerial target.
Learn more about how the F-16 will fly for decades after its so-called ‘retirement’ in the video below.
You’ve got lazy glutes and your knees are paying the price.
The valgus knee collapse, yes, you read that correctly. It’s that brutal-looking event that happens when your glute medius doesn’t know how to pull its weight.
If your knees are caving in when you squat, fix it by focusing on twisting your knees out and engaging the upper outside corner of your glutes AKA your glute medius. For some of you that simple correction will be enough to relieve your knees and clear up any pain.
In between sets of squatting perform 12-15 reps of the glute bridge. Really focus on squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement and keeping your knees pointed out while bridging. This will cue your glutes to stay on when you get back to your sets of squatting.
It’s not always the glutes’ fault; sometimes the hip flexors are just as guilty. The majority of us spend all day sitting down with our psoas muscles and the rest of the hips flexors gang shortened and disengaged. It’s not totally their fault for not taking part in the squat.
By engaging your hip flexors, you’ll find it easier to sit back and down rather than crumbling forward into your knees like you may be doing currently.
Give your hip flexors some resistance between sets with your hands and force them to actively close your hip angle.
If that simple cue doesn’t work for you, use a resistance band to give you some errr…. resistance. Hang it up high and hold onto it with both hands. Then actively pull yourself down into the squat position by engaging your hip flexors.
The box isn’t there to make your life easier. It’s there to help you make the squat as efficient and gainful as possible. Put that box behind you and stick your ass out and back to the box. Just touch it with your butt and stand back up. Don’t linger down there relaxing.
Hit your obliques and rectus abdominis. Chops and ab wheel roll-out will do the trick here. Throw them at the end of any workout and go for 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps. They will make your core so stable that your knees won’t ever feel the secondary effects of a weak spine ever again.
Only squat once per week. Unless you love squatting or are competing you don’t need to do it more than 1 time a week. You have 3 major lower body movements; the squat, the deadlift, and the hip thrust. There’s no need to squat, especially if your knees bother you.
Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, has been a major issue in the War on Terror. These injuries are severe and can have a lasting impact. Current helmets, while effective against some combat hazards, such as fragments and, in some cases, bullets, aren’t so great at preventing TBI.
A Swedish company, MIPS, has developed a helmet technology called the Brain Protection System. This technology, which is part of their MIPS:F2 solution, helps protect the wearer from TBI and concussions by mitigating the effects of rotational motion.
The company claims that one reason helmets haven’t protected troops from concussions or TBI is because they’re tested all wrong.
Most companies test their helmets by dropping them on a flat surface in a perfectly vertical fashion, but when people fall, how often does it happen like that? We’re willing to bet it’s not very often. In fact, falls are anything but predictable, and those odd angles and impacts are what cause rotational motion, which is conducive to TBI.
To prevent that motion, the Brain Protection System uses a low-friction layer between the liner and the outer shell that permits the helmet to slide, allowing it to absorb more rotational force.
MIPS doesn’t normally make helmets for the military. Instead, their specialty is helmets for snow sports, where TBI and concussions are common. However, the applications for both law enforcement officers and military personnel are evident.
“With the MIPS:F2 system, we can not only expand that technology into more sports helmet models, but also we can help keep safe those who put their lives on the line to protect our communities every day,” Jordan Thiel, CEO of MIPS said in a release.
Just how long it will take for this technology to be fully fielded is a matter of budgets, but anything that lowers the number of TBI and concussions is a good thing.
Blackhawk is in the midst of reinventing itself. Josh Waldron, who founded and ran SilencerCo, took the reins as president last year.
No more yelling
Note in particular that we’re no longer yelling “Blackhawk!” — as the exclamation point has been excised from the over two-decades old brand. It’s emblematic of the new leadership at Blackhawk and the revitalization they wish to propagate throughout the company. Waldron’s been pushing hard to transform the company’s culture and brand, build a passionate team, and release innovative products.
So it’s fitting that the first full-scale product launch from the new team is the Blackhawk T-Series, a new line of retention holsters and successor to Blackhawk’s ubiquitous and controversial Serpa holsters.
The type of retention provided by holsters is commonly referred to as ranging from level 1 to 3 (or 4). A level 1 holster only has passive retention, whereby friction keeps the pistol in place in the holster. Most concealed carry holsters are in this category. Level 2 holsters add active retention on top of friction, using some sort of mechanism that the user must actively disengage before they can draw their weapon. This could be a thumb break snap, as you might find on a leather holster, or some sort of button or lever. A typical application for this type of holster is law enforcement or open carry, as it provides additional security against someone accessing your sidearm. A level 3 holster adds yet another retention mechanism, such as a hood; these in particular are commonly used by uniformed law enforcement officers.
The highlight of the new T-Series system is its thumb-actuated retention release. By simply acquiring your master grip on the gun, your thumb naturally falls on the release lever. Pushing inward toward the gun with your thumb, as you would as you acquire your grip anyway, releases a spring-loaded trigger guard lock and allows you to draw the weapon. The release lever can only be accessed from directly above, making it more secure in a potential scuffle.
The level 3 duty holster version features a secondary retention mechanism, a spring-loaded rotating strap that loops behind the pistol’s slide. Whereas some other holster systems require two separate motions to clear the first and second retention, the T-Series releases both the trigger guard lock and the strap in one fell swoop by pressing the thumb lever.
The polymer holster benefits from a two-stage manufacturing process that results in a strong Nylon exoskeleton with a soft-touch elastomeric inner liner that’s waterproof, slippery, and noise-dampening.
As commonly found on concealment holsters, a screw adjusts the friction provided for passive retention. It tightens or loosens the holster to your preference. The backside of the holster features Blackhawk’s three-hole pattern to attach belt loops, spacers, and quick detach attachments. The hole pattern allows you to configure the holster vertically or with a forward or backward rake. The offset belt loop on our sample was robust (much more so than Blackhawk’s mass market belt loops and paddles) and can be screwed down to bite into a belt rig.
Removing the derp from the Serpa situation
In our range session with the T-Series holster, we found the thumb-actuated release to work well and to be very intuitive. The primary adjustment we had to make was to make sure to keep our thumb vertical when grabbing the gun rather than sweeping the thumb into place; the latter would result in hitting the shields around the lever and fumbling the draw. Additionally, we also had to adjust to the lack of a speed cut on the front of the sample holster, which fully shields the entire slide and rear sights.
The new system addresses key complaints about the Serpa system. First, the trigger finger isn’t tasked with any other job than simply being a trigger finger. There’s even a relief molded into the outside of the holster to guide your trigger finger safely. Instead, the thumb releases the retention, and it does so in a very intuitive motion for quick and efficient draws. Second, if you pull up on your gun before depressing the release on a Serpa, it stays locked. The T-Series will release the retention when the lever is pressed whether or not you’re yanking on it like a teenage boy. Finally, the Serpa’s retention latch is susceptible to locking up when clogged with debris. We’ve observed this ourselves during some training evolutions years ago. Blackhawk says the new T-Series has additional clearance specifically for debris and a different spring design to avoid this problem.
We also noticed that the new materials did mute the distinctive sounds of holstering and unholstering. It was by no means ninja-quiet, but certainly wasn’t as loud as typical kydex or polymer holsters.
Blackhawk put a lot of thought and attention to detail into the design and manufacturing of the T-Series. This bodes well for the new Blackhawk, with or without an exclamation point.
The T-Series will initially be available for Glocks and in black, with support for additional pistols to come later in the year as well as variants with a speed cut that will be red dot compatible and options for weapon-mounted lights.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has accused the United States of giving a false account of a recent encounter between the two states’ navies in the Persian Gulf, after Washington blamed Iranian vessels for harassing its ships.
“We advise Americans to follow international regulations and maritime protocols in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman, and avoid any adventurism and false stories,” the IRGC said in a statement on its official website on April 19.
The force warned that any “miscalculation will receive a decisive response.”
The U.S. Navy had said that 11 vessels from the IRGC made “dangerous and harassing approaches” toward U.S. naval ships in the Gulf on April 15.
NASA astronaut Col. Tyler N. “Nick” Hague waits to be lowered into the pool containing a mockup of the International Space Station at the Johnson Space Flight Center’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory for Extravehicular Activity training in Houston, Tex., Apr. 27, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
(Editor’s note: The following is a reposting of an Airman magazine story and an episode of BLUE, which aired in 2017 on AFTV, about Air Force astronauts assigned to NASA. Additional information from NASA is added to mark the culmination of a nearly decade-long goal to once again launch American astronauts from U.S. soil via NASA’s Commercial Crew Program with SpaceX and Boeing. On Wednesday, May 27, 2020, Air Force Col. Robert Behnken and retired Marine Col. Douglas Hurley are scheduled to pilot the inaugural, manned mission of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.)
A new era of human spaceflight is set to begin as American astronauts once again launch on an American rocket from American soil to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will fly on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, scheduled to lift off on a Falcon 9 rocket at 4:33 p.m. EDT May 27, from Launch Complex 39A in Florida, for an extended stay at the space station for the Demo-2 mission.
As the final flight test for SpaceX, this mission will validate the company’s crew transportation system, including the launch pad, rocket, spacecraft, and operational capabilities. This also will be the first time NASA astronauts will test the spacecraft systems in orbit.
Behnken and Hurley were among the first astronauts to begin working and training on SpaceX’s next-generation human space vehicle and were selected for their extensive test pilot and flight experience, including several missions on the space shuttle.
Behnken will be the joint operations commander for the mission, responsible for activities such as rendezvous, docking and undocking, as well as Demo-2 activities while the spacecraft is docked to the space station. He was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2000 and has completed two space shuttle flights.
It is a career in space that had its beginnings in the Air Force ROTC program at Washington University in St. Louis.
“The Air Force felt strongly that I should get a physics degree, and so I did that. But I was interested in engineering, and I did a mechanical engineering degree as well,” Behnken said in a 2017 interview with Airman magazine.
“It was a time, in 1992, that the Air Force was not bringing everybody immediately on active duty… I had a pretty long wait, so I applied for graduate school and an educational delay, and the Air Force looked kindly on that. I got that opportunity and picked up a National Science Foundation fellowship in the process, so I had a way to pay for school; the Air Force let me take advantage of that until I had earned my PhD at Caltech.”
Behnken’s first assignment was as a mechanical engineer at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, working on new development programs at the Air Force Research Laboratory. It was there that his commanders, both test pilot school graduates, suggested he plot a similar career course.
“The lieutenant colonel and the colonel said, ‘Hey, you should think about test pilot school,'” Behnken said. “I applied and was accepted, and ended up out at Edwards Air Force Base (California) doing some flight tests on an F-22 when it was very early in its development process before being selected as an astronaut and moving to Houston.”
Behnken flew two Space Shuttle missions; STS-123, in March 2008, and STS-130, in February 2010. He performed three spacewalks during each mission.
His training for the Crew Dragon mission has been unique among recent astronauts.
“Training for these missions is really wrapped into the development process. We’re learning the vehicles as they’re designed and built, and then that will be part of our training material,” Behnken said.
“All of us are Air Force and Navy test pilot school graduates and we’re really participating in a development process so that we can then kind of bring our space flight experience to the designs as they come to the table. If there’s something that needs to be changed, we give them that feedback, and then they figure out what the cost impact is and decide how well they can incorporate our feedback into their design.”
Lifting off from Launch Pad 39A atop a specially instrumented Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon will accelerate its two passengers to approximately 17,000 mph and put it on an intercept course with the International Space Station.
Once in orbit, the crew and SpaceX mission control will verify the spacecraft is performing as intended by testing the environmental control system, the displays and control system and the maneuvering thrusters, among other things. In about 24 hours, Crew Dragon will be in position to rendezvous and dock with the space station. The spacecraft is designed to do this autonomously but astronauts aboard the spacecraft and the station will be diligently monitoring approach and docking and can take control of the spacecraft if necessary.
After successfully docking, Behnken and Hurley will be welcomed aboard the station and will become members of the Expedition 63 crew. They will perform tests on Crew Dragon in addition to conducting research and other tasks with the space station crew.
Although the Crew Dragon being used for this flight test can stay in orbit about 110 days, the specific mission duration will be determined once on station based on the readiness of the next commercial crew launch. The operational Crew Dragon spacecraft will be capable of staying in orbit for at least 210 days as a NASA requirement.
Upon conclusion of the mission, Crew Dragon will autonomously undock with the two astronauts on board, depart the space station and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Upon splashdown just off Florida’s Atlantic Coast, the crew will be picked up at sea by SpaceX’s Go Navigator recovery vessel and return to Cape Canaveral.
The Demo-2 mission will be the final major step before NASA’s Commercial Crew Program certifies Crew Dragon for operational, long-duration missions to the space station. This certification and regular operation of Crew Dragon will enable NASA to continue the important research and technology investigations taking place onboard the station, which benefits people on Earth and lays the groundwork for future exploration of the Moon and Mars starting with the agency’s Artemis program, which will land the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface in 2024.
“It’s a pretty exciting job. As a test pilot, the thing that we all hope is that we might get a chance to test a new airplane. We’re getting to test a new spacecraft. We’ll be the first people to fly on this vehicle, so we’re really the space test pilots for a brand-new spaceship, which is pretty cool,” Behnken said.
(Editor’s Note: Originally posted July 24, 2017, this article concentrated on the training of Air Force Col. Tyler Nicklaus “Nick” Hague, as he was the next of the Air Force astronauts scheduled to fly to the International Space Station. His first launch was on Soyuz MS-10, which aborted shortly after take-off on October 11, 2018. His second launch, on March 14, 2019, was successful, taking him and his fellow Soyuz MS-12 crew members to join ISS Expedition 59/60. He would spend just more than 202 days in space and completed nearly 20 hours of extravehicular activities, or space walks, before returning to Earth in October of 2019.)
On the rare instances when Col. Tyler N. “Nick” Hague returns from a day at the office and walks through the door of his own home, the oldest of his two boys occasionally asks, “Daddy, were you in space today?”
Not such a childish question when you consider the actual distance and travel time when Hague finally rides into space aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket in September of 2018.
It will only take him about 12 minutes to arrive in low-Earth orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, only 249 miles above the planet’s surface. In comparison, Hague traveled two miles farther when he was just a boy of 12; a total of 251 miles from his home in Hoxie, Kansas, to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he first laid eyes on the place where his journey into space would actually begin – the United States Air Force Academy.
“Growing up in western Kansas, staring up at the sky at night, seeing all those stars, I’ve always wanted to do something involved with space,” said Hague. “I couldn’t find a better program in terms of being able to study astronautical engineering with building actual satellites and doing all that hands on work at an undergraduate level. That just didn’t exist anywhere else at that time and so that was the place I wanted to go.”
He graduated from the academy and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1998 and began a 20-year journey that would bring him to the International Space Station to begin a six-month mission as flight engineer on ISS Expedition 57/58.
During this journey, Hague earned a masters degree in engineering from MIT, worked on advanced spacecraft technologies at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, flight tested at Edwards AFB, California, completed a five-month deployment to Iraq to conduct experimental airborne reconnaissance in 2004, returned to the Air Force Academy to teach astronautics, became an advisor for the U.S. Senate on national defense and foreign policy, served as a congressional appropriations liaison for United States Central Command at the Pentagon and finally as deputy division chief for research and development at the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization before being selected for astronaut training in 2013.
“I applied the first time (to the astronaut training program) in 2003, so it took 10 years and three applications in order to finally get selected,” said Hague. “Twenty years ago could I look at what was going to lie before me and map all of that out that would connect that point to this point? There are all these different opportunities that I would have never been able to line up on my own, but the service in the Air Force has made it possible.”
When he finally received his crew assignment, Hague quickly learned that being an astronaut still means racking up a lot of miles on earth.
In this calendar year of mission training, Hague has logged five flights from Houston to Star City, Russia, where he has spent 33 weeks training on the Russian ISS modules – which make up half of the station – and the Soyuz launch vehicle.
When combined with flights to the European Space Agency training facility in Colon, Germany, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Tsukuba Space Center north of Tokyo for eight more weeks of training on those agency’s modules this year, Hague is closing on 100,000 miles of travel within the Earth’s atmosphere to prepare for the relatively short commute to ISS.
Much of Hague’s time in Star City is spent training for that 12-minute trip aboard Soyuz into space and the corresponding return trip six months later. A training emphasis that fellow Air Force astronaut Col. Michael Hopkins explains exists for a very good reason.
“The majority of your training will be associated with the ride up and the ride home. We have a two-year training flow and as much as a year of your time during that two years will be spent over in Russia and your time in Russia the majority of that time is being spent on the Soyuz vehicle,” said Hopkins, who has already spent six months aboard ISS in 2013-2014. “But just like airplanes, the critical phase of flight is take off and landing. That’s when if anything goes wrong, when you don’t have that much time to deal with it. Aboard the ISS you usually have days if not weeks to assess and correct a problem.”
The overseas travel has two-week breaks when Hague returns to Houston for training on the US systems and for extravehicular activity (EVA), or spacewalks, and an opportunity to sleep in his own bed for a change. This fierce training and travel tempo is one of the drawbacks for astronauts, as well as their spouses and children.
NASA astronaut Robert Behnken, STS-130 mission specialist, takes a break in the mission’s second session of extravehicular activity (EVA) for construction and maintenance on the International Space Station in February of 2010 to allow air scrubbers to remove CO2 that had built up in his space suit. During the five-hour, 54-minute spacewalk, Behnken and astronaut Nicholas Patrick connected two ammonia coolant loops, installed thermal covers around the ammonia hoses, outfitted the Earth-facing port on the Tranquility node for the relocation of its Cupola, and installed handrails and a vent valve on the new module. (Photo/NASA)
“I spend six weeks in Star City, and then come back for a couple weeks, and then I’ll go back for six weeks,” said Hague. “There is a stress on the family, and they miss out on the things that I could be doing with them at home, and on the weekends. I’m TDY a lot, but my family’s making the same kinds of sacrifices that I see service families making day in and day out. I think that, that’s something that everybody that wears a uniform can appreciate.”
However, NASA has embarked on a new collaborative mission with commercial partners SpaceX and Boeing to provide an alternative to Soyuz for manned trips to and from the ISS. Cooperation in the development of new low-orbit launch vehicles by these commercial companies based in the United States will provide the Air Force with more orbital lift options and will also bring astronauts closer to home for training and for longer periods of time.
“It’s important for us to be able to return launch to Florida. You know, from a crew perspective, I can tell you that it makes it a whole lot easier on the crew, because you stop having to send people (to Star City, Russia) for six weeks at a shot over, and over, and over again and reduce the strain on the families,” said Hague.
“It’s also important from a redundancy perspective. Right now it’s Soyuz only, so if something happened with the Soyuz, now we’re looking for a way to get astronauts up there. It’ll provide us that flexibility to continue to fly Soyuz, and fly out of Florida and for the Russians to do the same.”
Once again the Air Force is a lynchpin in the development of a barrier breaking technology as astronaut Col. Robert Behnken is one of four test pilots for the commercial spacecraft and Hopkins is part of the team developing communications, displays and procedures for the new launch vehicles.
“Currently, my major focus is on one of those commercial crewed vehicles. It’s the Boeing CST-100 Starliner. I’m working as one of the CAPCOMs for that program; the communicator who would be talking to the astronauts in the vehicle as they’re going uphill and docking to the station,” said Hopkins. “There’s a lot of new material that we have to learn and figure out what the launch day is going to look like and what docking is going to look like and what the landing is going to look like.”
After one unmanned test of both the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, two-astronaut crews will fly subsequent tests before operational flights will begin taking six astronauts per flight to the ISS. Astronauts, such as Behnken, will not only flight-test the vehicles, but they are deeply involved in the design and development phase of the vehicles that is currently underway.
“The training for these missions is really wrapped into the development process. So we’re learning the vehicles as they’re designed and built, ” said Behnken, veteran of two of the Space Shuttle missions that built the ISS and the only active-duty member of the test crews. “(The test crews are) Air Force and Navy test pilot school graduates, and we’re really participating in a development process so that we can bring our space flight experience to the designs as they come to the table… that should wrap up around mid-2018 for both vehicles, and hopefully if the schedules hold, that’s when we’ll fly in space.”
These astronauts are the most recent in a continuing legacy of Air Force support of NASA and space exploration since the space program’s inception.
A total of eighty-five Air Force astronauts have traveled into space, from three of the first NASA astronauts, the Mercury Seven, Lt. Col. Gus Grissom, Col. Gordon Cooper and Major Deke Slayton, to two of the crew of Apollo 11, the first humans to set foot on the Moon, Col. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Maj. Gen. Michael Collins to Col. Jack Fischer, flight engineer for ISS Expedition 51/52, currently traveling at over 17,000 miles per hour (5 miles per second) for 25,000 miles on each of his 15.5 orbits per day aboard ISS.
Still more, like Hague, are in training for upcoming flights, and numerous Air Force personnel support both manned and unmanned NASA missions.
“The Air Force is supporting the mission on a daily basis,” said Hague. “It’s flight docs assigned here, search and rescue crews that are helping bring us home, we’ve got the range support for launching cargo and soon we’re going to be launching Americans back out of Florida. There’s also guys that are looking at all the radar coming back down from space trying to track space debris and they help us prevent things from flying into the Space Station, so they’re protecting us on a daily basis.”
Of course, participation in the civilian space program reaps great benefits for the Air Force from supporting space exploration and research. “The Air Force gets access to space, and so from an expense standpoint, NASA’s already paid for that, now all you have to do is develop your experiment, and then we can get it onboard,” said Hopkins. “Then you get the astronaut’s time. We don’t go and charge the Air Force for the time of the astronaut on board that’s executing their experiment. You’re getting access to a microgravity laboratory, right? It’s a very unique laboratory, in fact the only one in existence.”
The Soyuz TMA-04M rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Tuesday, May 15, 2012 carrying Expedition 31 Soyuz Commander Gennady Padalka, NASA Flight Engineer Joseph Acaba and Flight Engineer Sergei Revin to the International Space Station. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The partnership between the Air Force and NASA is a collaborative research relationship that fills gaps in each other’s research and facilities.
According to Dr. Morley Stone, chief technology officer of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio, the Air Force benefits from NASA’s experience with human performance in microgravity environments, as NASA benefits from the Air Force’s research in the macrogravity realm of high sustained G-forces.
Both are participating in research on hypersonics, autonomous systems, artificial intelligence and materials that can survive extreme environments.
“I would say certainly NASA is up near the top, as probably our most important federal partnership,” said Stone.
Life aboard the ISS is tightly scheduled to accommodate the necessary daily planning conference with ground controllers, two hours of exercise necessary to maintain the astronauts’ bodies in a microgravity environment, performing EVA for scheduled station maintenance or repairs and conducting the experiments sent to ISS by researchers on the ground, military and civilian.
However, on occasion, there are small gaps where astronauts can indulge the kid inside that still looks upon the cosmos in wonder. Behnken had such an opportunity on his second STS mission to install components on the ISS. During an EVA to install the cupola observation window for Earth observation and photography, Behnken and a crewmate exerted themselves to the point that exhaled carbon dioxide was building up inside their suits faster than the air scrubbers could eliminate it.
“My partner and I had both worked harder than the suit could keep up with, and we got the chance to take about a 15-minute break,” said Behnken.
“They told us to “Attach yourself to the space station, and sit there, and look around. And don’t breathe too hard, because we’re trying to catch up with the scrubbing that’s on the suit.
“When you’re outside on a spacewalk, you get a panorama view that just can’t be captured with any of the windows … You get to see sunrises, and sunset, and that angular view of the atmosphere with thunderstorms lightning themselves up,” said Behnken.
“It’s of the whole majesty of the Earth, which is just awesome.”
U.S. Air Force pilot Bill Crawford is a stealth pilot, someone who has risen to the very top of an extremely challenging field. But to hear him tell it, it can all be chalked up to a very simple secret, a secret that will sound familiar to anyone who has served in the military.
Kill and Survive: A Stealth Pilot’s Secrets of Success | Bill Crawford | TEDxRexburg
His trick is becoming the best in the world, studying and refining himself and his processes until he’s above whatever cutoff he needs to clear. And that includes the time in college when he learned that the Air Force was cutting fighter pilot training slots from about 1,000 a year to 100 per year. In order to make sure he cleared the cutoff, Crawford became the best.
Not the 100th best, not the 10th. He received a scholarship that year for being the single best.
And he wants everyone to have the chance to be the best in the world at whatever it is they do.
In his TEDx talk, Crawford talks about bombing Baghdad, conducting inflight refuelings, and, most importantly, conducting the post-mission debrief. The after-action review.
And, yeah, that’s a big part of Crawford’s secret. As anyone in the military can tell you, all the branches have some sort of process for reviewing mission performance and success (two different things) from any operation. Crawford’s version from his Air Force career is asking five questions:
What went right?
What went wrong?
The Army had a slightly different version. What was supposed to happen? What did happen? Why? What should we, as a team, sustain about that performance? What should we change? But all the branches have some version of this process.
And this self-review is key to understanding modern military success. If you look at old articles from the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, plenty of hand-wringing in the West was about the pain, death, and destruction Russia inflicted, but many military leaders worried about Russia’s review process after the invasion.
That’s because the most successful organizations and individuals define their processes and actively assess whether or not they are doing it the best way they can. Russia hadn’t historically reviewed their successes all that deeply. But they decisively won the war on the ground in Georgia in five days, then they reviewed their success for how to do better.
And that meant that they wanted to improve their processes. Crawford wants everyone to learn to do that process in their own life just like the American military has for decades, and Russia now does as well. And the process is simple.
But it’s also hard to do. Crawford and his team had to do their debrief from bombing Baghdad right after they landed. So, right after completing 40-hours of flying and bombing, they had to go sit in a room and discuss their process, their success, and what they could do better.
But if you can make yourself do all that, you’re more likely to get better. And if you keep getting better, you’ll be the best.