Secretary of Defense James Mattis goes by many badass nicknames, including “Mad Dog,” “Warrior Monk,” and “Chaos.”
So it’s only fitting that the aircraft he usually flies on while functioning his official capacity is known by an equally badass name — “Nightwatch.” Its name hints at its original mission — a doomsday plane, equipped to provide the president and high-ranking members of the military with the ability to retain control of America’s offensive forces in the event of an all-out nuclear war or cataclysmic event.
Nightwatch now serves as an airborne command post for the SECDEF, allowing him to remain in touch with the U.S. military he oversees while traveling anywhere in the world, especially useful should the unthinkable occur.
The Air Force possesses four Nightwatch aircraft — converted Boeing 747-200 jumbo jet airliners. Like their civilian counterparts, these airplanes come with a considerable operating range and internal carriage capacity. However, that, and a passing external resemblance, is where all similarities end. Underneath the hood, these are completely different aircraft with unique systems and sensors that allow it to do what no other aircraft in the Air Force can.
Unlike a commercial Boeing 747, these aircraft, officially designated E-4B Advanced Airborne Command Posts, lack the rows of plush seats, fold-out meal trays and entertainment screens. Instead, each E-4B is divided up into compartments for its Battle Staff, a joint services team of controllers and coordinators ready to interface with various military units should they be called into action.
Nightwatch crew quite literally have the ability to call virtually connect to any phone number in the world, thanks to a complex satellite communications suite aboard the aircraft. It’s this suite that allows them to also relay commands and orders to America’s nuclear arsenal, forward-deployed submarines and Navy battle groups operating around the globe, or even to speak directly with the President at secured locations.
Because Nightwatch was designed during the Cold War, where nuclear war was still a distinct possibility, it was built to fly with incredible endurance. Defense analysts estimate that each E-4B could spend up to seven days flying continuously with the help of aerial refueling, though the Air Force has only actually flown its E-4Bs up to 35 hours in testing thus far.
The cockpit of the aircraft looks just as it would in the 1980s, with a few modifications. Instead of LCD screens and touch-pads, the Air Force has kept the original analog gauge-type flight instruments, as they’re less susceptible to failing after experiencing an electromagnetic pulse blast from a nuclear explosion.
That’s right… the E-4B is built to be able to fly through the immediate aftermath of a nuclear detonation without sustaining any damage to its systems. The entire aircraft is sealed off and pressurized with special “scrubbers” in its air conditioning system constantly filtering out harmful particles that may find their way inside the cabin. Should an E-4B actually fly through nuclear radiation, its crew inside will be completely safe and sound. The aircraft also carries a considerable amount of rations and potable water for its crew, as well as sleeping berths and its own troubleshooting staff, ready to assist with technical malfunctions and glitches as needed.
However, flying theses monsters isn’t very cheap at all – each Nightwatch costs an average of around $159,529 per hour to fly. Sourcing parts for the fleet isn’t easy either, especially considering that Boeing ceased production of the 747-200 platform decades ago.
It’s estimated that by 2039, all four E-4Bs will have served out their entire useful lifespans, and will have to be replaced, this time with an even more capable long-range aircraft that will assume the mantle of being America’s doomsday plane. Until that day comes, Nightwatch still serves at the Secretary of Defense’s pleasure, ferrying him around on official trips and visits as a visible sign of American military power.
Well, we did and here are six reasons why we think the movie should have been about him.
6. We would have gotten the back story on how he got his epic scar. Just look at that thing and tell us you don’t want to know more about it. Is it from a hand grenade or did he knife fight someone or what?
5. Remember when he shot that woman? We’re not condoning executions, but seeing Sgt. Barnes interrogation methods a few more times could have been cool.
4. Besides the scene where Barnes threatens Chris with that cool looking blade, that knife doesn’t make another appearance. If that film were about him, we probably would have seen Barnes use in on the enemy troops once or twice in hand-to-hand combat.
You could slice and dice the enemy with this sharp and badass looking blade — no problem. (Source: Orion)
3. Pvt. Taylor (Charlie Sheen) would have just been a whiny boot replacement — which he was in the beginning — that no one cares about since the film would have been in Barnes’ perspective.
You just murdered the star of our fictional version of the film — you better cry. (Source: Orion)
2. Sgt. Barnes is a pretty lethal killer, but we could’ve gotten a glimpse of what made him that way. Although we discussed his epic scar earlier, it would be cool to get a flashback or two focusing on some of this bloody missions he was on before Taylor showed up.
1. Barnes would have eventually snapped and put his non-alpha male platoon leader Lt. Wolfe in his place — and audiences would have loved to see that sh*t go down.
It’s about to go down — if the movie was about Barnes. (Source: Orion)
Doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital have said that an American soldier wounded by an explosion will be the first person in the U.S. to receive a penis transplant. They also said that up to 60 more injured veterans may undergo the procedure.
For privacy reasons, the hospital has not identified the patient beyond describing him as “a soldier injured by an explosion.”
IEDs do a lot of damage to lower extremities, including the penis. The New York Times reported in Dec. 2015 that almost 1,367 men were wounded in the genitals in Iraq and Afghanistan. The team at Johns Hopkins hopes to pioneer the treatment for them.
The donor organ will be taken from a recently deceased man with similar skin color and age to the patient, according to Business Insider. After the surgery, the patient will need a few months before they have full use of the organ. Sensation, urination, and sexual arousal are all possible over time.
A huge battle featuring the Battletoads, Ninja Turtles, Ultraman, Mechagodzilla, a team of Spartans from Halo, and about a thousand other beloved pop-culture and childhood icons is something we sadly had to leave behind once all our action figures were cleaned up and mom called us down to dinner.
Kinda like that — but not at all.
Well, not anymore.
Hundreds of pop culture references from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and recent years are featured heavily in Steven Speilberg’s new film, Ready Player One. It’s a film the director says was three years in the making and required the coordination of hundreds of artists and creatives the world over — including author Ernest Cline. Cline’s 2011 sci-fi novel of the same name was also filled with these great easter eggs.
The film is about the quest for such an “easter egg,” which, for the unfamiliar, is an inside joke, hidden message, or secret feature created by the designer of a work. Watching or reading Ready Player One is a lot like trying to get to the center of the world’s largest Matryoshka nesting doll of easter eggs.
Set in a poor area of Columbus, Ohio in the year 2045, film centers around Wade Watts, a young gamer inside the Oasis, an open, massively multiplayer, online world – essentially, it’s a video game that has supplanted the real world in popularity. The Oasis is populated primarily by other gamers and almost everyone has a customized avatar. Wade’s avatar is called “Parzival” and, in the Oasis, he’s on the quest for the greatest easter egg in history.
The Oasis’ late creator, James Halliday, left a series of clues to help people find hidden keys. Once all three keys are collected, the winner can claim the easter egg – Halliday’s fortune and ownership of the Oasis. Watts, in his quest, stumbles upon another gunter (or “egg hunter”), Samantha (also known as Art3mis) and three gamers he knows only through the Oasis: Aech (pronounced “H“), a samurai called Daito, and a ninja called Sho.
Together, as they unlock the secrets to finding the keys, they have to contend with billionaire businessman Nolan Sorrento, CEO of Innovative Online Industries. IOI’s corporate villain has seemingly unlimited resources, unlimited lives, and a vast army of digital slaves helping him wrest ownership of and monetize the Oasis, an idea anathema to the god-like Halliday’s vision.
By the time we get to the Battle of Castle Anorak (Anorak being the name of the late Halliday’s avatar), Parzival has rallied the entire Oasis – the entire world – to fight to keep their digital world pure. Rolling in the DeLorean time machine from Back to the Future, wielding crowd-pleasing weaponry, like Monty Python’s holy hand grenade, and fighting alongside horror movie legend, Chucky, Parzival and friends take on IOI’s respawning army of employees.
I know, it seems like a lot — even if you’ve already read the book. But look: If you’re a fan of the pop culture of the 1980s, this is the movie for you (listen up, Gen-Xers). The film loves the 1980s as much as you do. More than that, Ready Player One is a throwback to the popcorn-peddling, fun, thrill-ride of movies from the 80s.
Even if you don’t love video games or cheeky 80s references, there’s still something for everyone to love in Ready Player One. This is a movie for your inner pop-culture fan.
Just make sure you’ve seen The Shining before you go.
Just as dust gathers in corners and along bookshelves in our homes, dust piles up in space too. But when the dust settles in the solar system, it’s often in rings. Several dust rings circle the Sun. The rings trace the orbits of planets, whose gravity tugs dust into place around the Sun, as it drifts by on its way to the center of the solar system.
The dust consists of crushed-up remains from the formation of the solar system, some 4.6 billion years ago — rubble from asteroid collisions or crumbs from blazing comets. Dust is dispersed throughout the entire solar system, but it collects at grainy rings overlying the orbits of Earth and Venus, rings that can be seen with telescopes on Earth. By studying this dust — what it’s made of, where it comes from, and how it moves through space — scientists seek clues to understanding the birth of planets and the composition of all that we see in the solar system.
Two recent studies report new discoveries of dust rings in the inner solar system. One study uses NASA data to outline evidence for a dust ring around the Sun at Mercury’s orbit. A second study from NASA identifies the likely source of the dust ring at Venus’ orbit: a group of never-before-detected asteroids co-orbiting with the planet.
“It’s not every day you get to discover something new in the inner solar system,” said Marc Kuchner, an author on the Venus study and astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This is right in our neighborhood.”
In this illustration, several dust rings circle the Sun. These rings form when planets’ gravities tug dust grains into orbit around the Sun. Recently, scientists have detected a dust ring at Mercury’s orbit. Others hypothesize the source of Venus’ dust ring is a group of never-before-detected co-orbital asteroids.
(NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith)
Another ring around the Sun
Guillermo Stenborg and Russell Howard, both solar scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., did not set out to find a dust ring. “We found it by chance,” Stenborg said, laughing. The scientists summarized their findings in a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal on Nov. 21, 2018.
They describe evidence of a fine haze of cosmic dust over Mercury’s orbit, forming a ring some 9.3 million miles wide. Mercury — 3,030 miles wide, just big enough for the continental United States to stretch across — wades through this vast dust trail as it circles the Sun.
Ironically, the two scientists stumbled upon the dust ring while searching for evidence of a dust-free region close to the Sun. At some distance from the Sun, according to a decades-old prediction, the star’s mighty heat should vaporize dust, sweeping clean an entire stretch of space. Knowing where this boundary is can tell scientists about the composition of the dust itself, and hint at how planets formed in the young solar system.
So far, no evidence has been found of dust-free space, but that’s partly because it would be difficult to detect from Earth. No matter how scientists look from Earth, all the dust in between us and the Sun gets in the way, tricking them into thinking perhaps space near the Sun is dustier than it really is.
Stenborg and Howard figured they could work around this problem by building a model based on pictures of interplanetary space from NASA’s STEREO satellite — short for Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory.
Scientists think planets start off as mere grains of dust. They emerge from giant disks of gas and dust that circle young stars. Gravity and other forces cause material within the disk to collide and coalesce.
(NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory)
Ultimately, the two wanted to test their new model in preparation for NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which is currently flying a highly elliptic orbit around the Sun, swinging closer and closer to the star over the next seven years. They wanted to apply their technique to the images Parker will send back to Earth and see how dust near the Sun behaves.
Scientists have never worked with data collected in this unexplored territory, so close to the Sun. Models like Stenborg and Howard’s provide crucial context for understanding Parker Solar Probe’s observations, as well as hinting at what kind of space environment the spacecraft will find itself in — sooty or sparkling clean.
Two kinds of light show up in STEREO images: light from the Sun’s blazing outer atmosphere — called the corona — and light reflected off all the dust floating through space. The sunlight reflected off this dust, which slowly orbits the Sun, is about 100 times brighter than coronal light.
“We’re not really dust people,” said Howard, who is also the lead scientist for the cameras on STEREO and Parker Solar Probe that take pictures of the corona. “The dust close to the Sun just shows up in our observations, and generally, we have thrown it away.” Solar scientists like Howard — who study solar activity for purposes such as forecasting imminent space weather, including giant explosions of solar material that the Sun can sometimes send our way — have spent years developing techniques to remove the effect of this dust. Only after removing light contamination from dust can they clearly see what the corona is doing.
The two scientists built their model as a tool for others to get rid of the pesky dust in STEREO — and eventually Parker Solar Probe — images, but the prediction of dust-free space lingered in the back of their minds. If they could devise a way of separating the two kinds of light and isolate the dust-shine, they could figure out how much dust was really there. Finding that all the light in an image came from the corona alone, for example, could indicate they’d found dust-free space at last.
Mercury’s dust ring was a lucky find, a side discovery Stenborg and Howard made while they were working on their model. When they used their new technique on the STEREO images, they noticed a pattern of enhanced brightness along Mercury’s orbit — more dust, that is — in the light they’d otherwise planned to discard.
“It wasn’t an isolated thing,” Howard said. “All around the Sun, regardless of the spacecraft’s position, we could see the same five percent increase in dust brightness, or density. That said something was there, and it’s something that extends all around the Sun.”
Scientists never considered that a ring might exist along Mercury’s orbit, which is maybe why it’s gone undetected until now, Stenborg said. “People thought that Mercury, unlike Earth or Venus, is too small and too close to the Sun to capture a dust ring,” he said. “They expected that the solar wind and magnetic forces from the Sun would blow any excess dust at Mercury’s orbit away.”
With an unexpected discovery and sensitive new tool under their belt, the researchers are still interested in the dust-free zone. As Parker Solar Probe continues its exploration of the corona, their model can help others reveal any other dust bunnies lurking near the Sun.
Asteroids hiding in Venus’ orbit
This isn’t the first time scientists have found a dust ring in the inner solar system. Twenty-five years ago, scientists discovered that Earth orbits the Sun within a giant ring of dust. Others uncovered a similar ring near Venus’ orbit, first using archival data from the German-American Helios space probes in 2007, and then confirming it in 2013, with STEREO data.
Since then, scientists determined the dust ring in Earth’s orbit comes largely from the asteroid belt, the vast, doughnut-shaped region between Mars and Jupiter where most of the solar system’s asteroids live. These rocky asteroids constantly crash against each other, sloughing dust that drifts deeper into the Sun’s gravity, unless Earth’s gravity pulls the dust aside, into our planet’s orbit.
At first, it seemed likely that Venus’ dust ring formed like Earth’s, from dust produced elsewhere in the solar system. But when Goddard astrophysicist Petr Pokorny modeled dust spiraling toward the Sun from the asteroid belt, his simulations produced a ring that matched observations of Earth’s ring — but not Venus’.
This discrepancy made him wonder if not the asteroid belt, where else does the dust in Venus’ orbit come from? After a series of simulations, Pokorny and his research partner Marc Kuchner hypothesized it comes from a group of never-before-detected asteroids that orbit the Sun alongside Venus. They published their work in The Astrophysical Journal Letters on March 12, 2019.
“I think the most exciting thing about this result is it suggests a new population of asteroids that probably holds clues to how the solar system formed,” Kuchner said. If Pokorny and Kuchner can observe them, this family of asteroids could shed light on Earth and Venus’ early histories. Viewed with the right tools, the asteroids could also unlock clues to the chemical diversity of the solar system.
Because it’s dispersed over a larger orbit, Venus’ dust ring is much larger than the newly detected ring at Mercury’s. About 16 million miles from top to bottom and 6 million miles wide, the ring is littered with dust whose largest grains are roughly the size of those in coarse sandpaper. It’s about 10 percent denser with dust than surrounding space. Still, it’s diffuse — pack all the dust in the ring together, and all you’d get is an asteroid two miles across.
Using a dozen different modeling tools to simulate how dust moves around the solar system, Pokorny modeled all the dust sources he could think of, looking for a simulated Venus ring that matched the observations. The list of all the sources he tried sounds like a roll call of all the rocky objects in the solar system: Main Belt asteroids, Oort Cloud comets, Halley-type comets, Jupiter-family comets, recent collisions in the asteroid belt.
“But none of them worked,” Kuchner said. “So, we started making up our own sources of dust.”
Perhaps, the two scientists thought, the dust came from asteroids much closer to Venus than the asteroid belt. There could be a group of asteroids co-orbiting the Sun with Venus — meaning they share Venus’ orbit, but stay far away from the planet, often on the other side of the Sun. Pokorny and Kuchner reasoned a group of asteroids in Venus’ orbit could have gone undetected until now because it’s difficult to point earthbound telescopes in that direction, so close to the Sun, without light interference from the Sun.
Asteroids represent building blocks of the solar system’s rocky planets. When they collide in the asteroid belt, they shed dust that scatters throughout the solar system, which scientists can study for clues to the early history of planets.
(NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab)
Co-orbiting asteroids are an example of what’s called a resonance, an orbital pattern that locks different orbits together, depending on how their gravitational influences meet. Pokorny and Kuchner modeled many potential resonances: asteroids that circle the Sun twice for every three of Venus’ orbits, for example, or nine times for Venus’ ten, and one for one. Of all the possibilities, one group alone produced a realistic simulation of the Venus dust ring: a pack of asteroids that occupies Venus’ orbit, matching Venus’ trips around the Sun one for one.
But the scientists couldn’t just call it a day after finding a hypothetical solution that worked. “We thought we’d discovered this population of asteroids, but then had to prove it and show it works,” Pokorny said. “We got excited, but then you realize, ‘Oh, there’s so much work to do.'”
They needed to show that the very existence of the asteroids makes sense in the solar system. It would be unlikely, they realized, that asteroids in these special, circular orbits near Venus arrived there from somewhere else like the asteroid belt. Their hypothesis would make more sense if the asteroids had been there since the very beginning of the solar system.
The scientists built another model, this time starting with a throng of 10,000 asteroids neighboring Venus. They let the simulation fast forward through 4.5 billion years of solar system history, incorporating all the gravitational effects from each of the planets. When the model reached present-day, about 800 of their test asteroids survived the test of time.
Pokorny considers this an optimistic survival rate. It indicates that asteroids could have formed near Venus’ orbit in the chaos of the early solar system, and some could remain there today, feeding the dust ring nearby.
The next step is actually pinning down and observing the elusive asteroids. “If there’s something there, we should be able to find it,” Pokorny said. Their existence could be verified with space-based telescopes like Hubble, or perhaps interplanetary space-imagers similar to STEREO’s. Then, the scientists will have more questions to answer: How many of them are there, and how big are they? Are they continuously shedding dust, or was there just one break-up event?
In this illustration, an asteroid breaks apart under the powerful gravity of LSPM J0207+3331, a white dwarf star located around 145 light-years away. Scientists think crumbling asteroids supply the dust rings surrounding this old star.
(NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Scott Wiessinger)
Dust rings around other stars
The dust rings that Mercury and Venus shepherd are just a planet or two away, but scientists have spotted many other dust rings in distant star systems. Vast dust rings can be easier to spot than exoplanets, and could be used to infer the existence of otherwise hidden planets, and even their orbital properties.
But interpreting extrasolar dust rings isn’t straightforward. “In order to model and accurately read the dust rings around other stars, we first have to understand the physics of the dust in our own backyard,” Kuchner said. By studying neighboring dust rings at Mercury, Venus and Earth, where dust traces out the enduring effects of gravity in the solar system, scientists can develop techniques for reading between the dust rings both near and far.
This article originally appeared on NASA. Follow @NASA on Twitter.
The 11-minute film “Launch ‘Em!” plays like “Airplane” or “Hot Shots!” It’s a spoof of carrier operations that takes jabs at the entire aircraft carrier — with pilots falling down escalators, the skipper blowing smoke through communications tubes, and flight deck personnel falling down aircraft elevators.
But unlike “Airplane” or “Hot Shots,” “Launch ‘Em” was made by the same people the movie is making fun of, Navy aviators and the carrier personnel who support them.
It was filmed on the USS Hancock in the late 1950s and copies now reside in a few libraries across the country, including the San Diego Air Space Museum which uploaded the below copy to YouTube:
In the early days of the Atomic Era, American scientists were fascinated by the idea of sending an entire colony of humans to Mars using an engine propelling a ship with a series of controlled atomic bomb blasts behind the craft. They called the project Orion, after the constellation featuring man in the stars.
The project itself, led by physicists Ted Taylor and Freeman Dyson, began in 1958 at General Atomics and was ended only after the United States signed the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963 with the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom.
Taylor was the leading nuclear weapons designer at Los Alamos. His idea for the Orion engine protected the capsule from the explosions by a large, flat “pusher plate,” that was 1,ooo tons, 100 feet in diameter, and one foot thick.
The Orion project required a high-thrust and high efficiency impulse engine, expected to be gained from the nuclear explosions. Chemical-fueled engines of the time produced high thrust but had low efficiency. Electric ion engines are the opposite, producing low thrust, but are very efficient. Scientists felt the Orion engine provided the best opportunity for travel to another planet.
The bigger the rocket, the more fuel it needs to lift off. Many are mostly fuel tanks attached to a small ship. The ship would ride like a saucer, on top of the bomb’s mushroom cloud. Atomic bombs give a million times more energy than rocket fuel. If a ship could survive the blast, it would be easy to lift it into space.
“The space exploration of those days was looking at the universe through a keyhole,” Dyson said in an interview in the 1990s. “We wanted to open the door.”
The size of the vehicle used would be directly proportionate to the bomb yields. The smallest proposed diameter was 17-20 meters in size with the largest having a mass of 8 million tons, the size of a small city.
Dyson’s designs for the thermonuclear powered Orion proposed a top speed of 3-5 percent of light speed, which would require 44 years to reach Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to our own.
In the earliest versions, scientists proposed the ship take off from the ground, causing significant nuclear fallout, radio active dust and ash blown into the atmosphere and left to fall back to Earth. Excessive fallout was one of the driving reasons for the signing of the Test Ban Treaty.
For almost 80 years, the aircraft carrier has been the most powerful warship on the high seas. Just over six decades ago, the carrier reached a new level of potency when the angled deck was introduced. Some carriers were re-fitted with it while others were designed with the advanced tech from the get-go — but how did a shift in the deck make carriers even deadlier?
First, let’s take a look at how carriers operated in World War II and, to a large extent, in the Korean War. The naval aviation workhorse of those conflicts, the Essex-class carrier, had a straight-deck design. To deliver some hurt to the enemy, carriers would launch “deckload” strikes, sending off most of their air group (in World War II, this consisted of 36 F6F fighters, 36 SBD Dauntless dive-bombers, and 18 TBF Avenger torpedo bombers).
USS Intrepid (CV 11) in 1944. Her propeller-driven Hellcats were easy to stop when they landed.
Carriers, at the time, could either launch planes or land them — they couldn’t do both at the same time. When launching deckload strikes of propeller-driven planes, it wasn’t an issue. All planes would leave at once and, later, all return. When it came time to bring aircraft home, the propeller planes were easy to stop — they were light and slow relatively to the jets that had just started to come online.
The use of jets off aircraft carriers changed things – the F9F Panthers were faster and heavier than the World War II-era piston-engine fighters. It is easy to see how a jet that misses the wires could make things very ugly.
Jets were a game-changer for several reasons: They were faster and heavier and, thus, needed more space to stop. They also didn’t have the endurance to wait for other planes to launch. So, how could they find the runway space needed to operate these new tools of war? Building larger carriers wasn’t a complete solution — this wouldn’t eliminate the issue of stopping jets should they fail to catch the wires.
The British decided to create an angled deck, thereby allowing a jet that missed the arresting wires a chance to go around.
(Animation by Anynobody)
Then, the British came up with the idea of angling the landing deck of carriers. Angling the deck gave the jets enough room to land and, if they missed the wires, they could go back around and try again — stopping the jet with a barrier became an absolute last resort.
Before and after photos of USS Intrepid showing the angled flight deck.
(Compilation of US Navy photos by Solicitr)
Not only did the angled deck allow for the use of jets, it also made carriers deadlier in general. Now, they could launch and land aircraft at the same time. This meant that a carrier could send a major strike out and, at the same time, land its combat air patrol. All in all, the angled deck had a very unintended (but welcome) consequence on carrier performance.
Check out the video below to see how the Navy explained the angled flight deck to sailors.
CLEMSON, S.C. — Expect to be impressed when you meet a Marine, but when that Marine is a 96 year-old Pearl Harbor survivor who challenges you to a pull-up contest, prepare to be blown away.This is one of many things Clemson University student Will Hines of Spartanburg has learned in conducting the Veterans Project, an ongoing undergraduate research project to collect and preserve the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations can hear those stories directly from the men and women who lived them.
Former Marine Staff Sgt. Robert A. Henderson’s story begins in Hawaii on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, as a plane with a perplexing paint job thunders overhead “close enough that I could have thrown a rock and hit it” toward a row of U.S. Naval ships docked in the harbor, he said.
He thought it was part of a drill until the plane dipped and released a torpedo. The violent chaos in the two hours that followed would define much of the 20th century.
Henderson, relaxed in a comfortable chair in his Spartanburg living room, describes in gripping detail the 51 months of combat he experienced, culminating in the Battle of Okinawa.
“I was in the first and last battles of the war,” he said.
Hines videotapes every word. One copy will go to Henderson and his family, and one copy will go to the Library of Congress to be preserved forever.
When asked how he stays so healthy at 96. Henderson takes Hines out to his garage to show off his home gym, where he exercises three times a week. He demonstrates by doing 12 pull-ups without breaking a sweat, and dares Hines to match him.
Interactions with truly amazing veterans like this are just some of the fringe benefits students who participate in the project enjoy. The Veterans Project is an example of community-engaged learning at Clemson, which has a military history dating back to its founding in 1889.
Hines, a junior business management major from Spartanburg, became involved in the project because of his life-long fascination with history.
“I’ve been interested in veterans since I was little. I met my great uncle when I was about 7 years old. I found out he landed on five islands in the Pacific, and I asked him a ton of questions,” he explained. “I was able to interview him in high school — for fun, not for anything specific — which helped me become closer to him. He was wounded twice — once on Okinawa from a grenade rolled down a mountain. Meeting him really influenced how I became interested in studying the history of America’ s conflicts.”
The Army has chosen a new semi-automatic sniper rifle, replacing the M110 which entered service in 2008.
According to reports by the Army Times, the winning rifle was the Heckler Koch G28. According to the the company’s website, the G28 is a version of the HK 417 battle rifle — itself a variation of the AR-10 rifle.
This came after a 2014 request for proposals for a more compact version of the M110. The M110 is being replaced despite the fact that it was named one of the Army’s “Best 10 Inventions” in 2007, according to M110 manufacturer Knight’s Armament website.
So, what is behind the replacement of a rifle that was widely loved by soldiers after it replaced the M24 bolt-action system? According to Military.com, it was to get something less conspicuous as a sniper rifle. The M110 is 13 inches longer than a typical M4 carbine, something an enemy sniper would be able to notice.
Being conspicuous is a good way to attract enemy fire.
The new M110A1 does provide some relief in that department, being about 2.5 inches shorter than the M110. More importantly for the grunt carrying it, it is about three pounds lighter than the M110.
Both the M110 and the M110A1 fire the NATO standard 7.62x51mm cartridge, and both feature 20-shot magazines. The Army plans to spend just under $45 million to get 3,643 M110A1s. That comes out to $12,000 a rifle, plus all the logistical and support needs for the Army, including the provision of spare parts.
The Army has long made use of semi-automatic sniper rifles. During the Vietnam War, a modified version of the M14 known as the M21 was used by the service’s snipers. One of those snipers, Adelbert Waldron, was America’s top sniper in that conflict, scoring 109 confirmed kills.
President-elect Donald Trump named three members of his national-security team Nov. 18, including his pick for Attorney General, CIA director and National Security Advisor.
According to multiple media reports, retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn was selected to be Trump’s National Security Advisor, while Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions was chosen for the Attorney General slot.
Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo was asked to serve as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo was picked to head the Central Intelligence Agency. (Official congressional portrait)
Flynn, who had been a strong supporter of Trump on the campaign train and was a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, served in a number of posts during his Army career. He took part in Operations Urgent Fury and Restore Democracy, then served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan prior to taking charge of the DIA.
Flynn’s service decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Bronze Star with three oak leaf clusters, the Meritorious Service medal with five oak leaf clusters, and the Army Commendation Medal with five oak leaf clusters.
Flynn’s tenure as DIA director was marked by controversy, leading him to retire in August 2014.
Representative Pompeo was first elected to Congress in 2010 and was re-elected to his fourth term in 2016. Prior to entering Congress, Pompeo served for five years in the United States Army, reaching the rank of captain, then went to Harvard Law School before founding an aerospace firm and becoming president of an oilfield equipment company.
Pompeo has been an advocate of a hard line with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Pompeo has served on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
Senator Sessions is in his fourth term, having first been elected in 1996. Prior to his election, he served as a United States Attorney for 12 years.
During his service as a U.S. Attorney, his 1986 nomination as a federal judge was derailed. Sessions later ran for Attorney General of Alabama serving two years before winning his seat in the U.S. Senate.
While best known for his tough positions on illegal immigration and border security, Sessions was the sponsor of the HEROES Act of 2005, which boosted the death gratuity benefit to $100,000, and upped Serviceman’s Group Life Insurance coverage to $400,000. The legislation became law later that year.
Sessions served on the Senate Committee on Armed Services, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, the Senate Committee on the Budget, and the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Sessions also served in the Army Reserve from 1973-1977, reaching the rank of captain.
Both Flynn and Sessions had been reportedly under consideration to serve as Secretary of Defense in a Trump administration. Had Flynn been nominated for that post, he would have needed a special exemption from rules mandating civilian leadership of the Pentagon.
Located near Clovis, New Mexico, near the Texas panhandle, Cannon Air Force Base employs around 5,800 people, including military and civilian personnel. Some of their civilian personnel include contracted radio-frequency calibration technicians in the Air Force Precision Measurement Equipment Laboratory (PMEL) program. Their job is to repair and recalibrate precision measurement equipment that is used for testing, measuring, or diagnosing other systems.
Precision is a matter of life and death
Every single machine and piece of equipment used by the Air Force and the military must work perfectly. That means each device has to operate at the highest level of precision. The civilians and AF personnel at PLEM are responsible for calibrating equipment used in just about every phase of maintenance. Specialists ensure everything works right. If it doesn’t, serious issues can happen. These experts comb over every single measurement too, to make sure aircraft is safe to operate. Sometimes this means they’re looking at increments as small as in the millionths!
Specifically, radio-frequency calibration technicians working at PMEL at Cannon AFB make sure every single piece of equipment is fully functioning. For instance, imagine that a drone’s calibration is slightly off. That could cause dire, perhaps even deadly consequences. The same is true for a bomb on target or any other equipment used by the Air Force. The radio-frequency calibration technicians in the PMEL make sure all devices are operating with pinpoint accuracy so that no unintended results occur.
Watch out for shocks
All Air Force test, measurement, and diagnostic equipment used to manage weapons and other support systems go through PMEL for calibration before use. This is what makes the US Air Force the best in the world. They use measurement standards that can be traced through the Air Force Primary Standards Laboratory to the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It is an exact science, emphasis on “exact,” that the Air Force could not succeed without.
Working with electricity, the job has its risks, that’s for sure. In fact, it’s not all that uncommon for technicians to zap themselves. To counter this, they often work on electro-static discharge (ESD) benches where they can ground themselves with a piece of wire. That way they won’t die if they get electrocuted in the process of recalibrating and repairing equipment.
There is no Air Force without the behind-the-scenes crew
Aside from outside contractors and government civilians, the Air Force also has trained personnel who work in the PMEL. The Air Force even has a specific PEML training program that entails eight and a half weeks of basic military training followed by 124 days of technical training. While the men and women who work on the front lines tend to get most of the credit and glory for US Military success, the people behind the scenes, such as those working in the PEML at Cannon Air Force Base, are just as valuable.
The Pentagon’s oft-criticized missile defense program has scored a triumph, destroying a mock warhead over the Pacific Ocean with an interceptor that is key to protecting U.S. territory from a North Korean attack.
Vice Adm. Jim Syring, director of the Pentagon agency in charge of developing the missile defense system, called the test result “an incredible accomplishment” and a critical milestone for a program hampered by setbacks over the years.
“This system is vitally important to the defense of our homeland, and this test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat,” Syring said in a written statement announcing the test result.
Despite the success, the $244 million test did not confirm that under wartime conditions the U.S. could intercept an intercontinental-range missile fired by North Korea. Pyongyang is understood to be moving closer to the capability of putting a nuclear warhead on such an ICBM and could develop decoys sophisticated enough to trick an interceptor into missing the real warhead.
Syring’s agency sounded a note of caution.
“Initial indications are that the test met its primary objective, but program officials will continue to evaluate system performance based upon telemetry and other data obtained during the test,” his statement said.
Philip E. Coyle, a former head of the Pentagon’s test and evaluation office and a senior fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, said the May 30 outcome was a significant success for a test that was three years in preparation, but he noted that it was only the second success in the last five intercept attempts since 2010.
“In several ways, this test was a $244 million-dollar baby step, a baby step that took three years,” Coyle said.
The previous intercept test, in June 2014, was successful, but the longer track record is spotty. Since the system was declared ready for potential combat use in 2004, only four of nine intercept attempts have been successful.
“This is part of a continuous learning curve,” said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, ahead of the current test. The Pentagon is still incorporating engineering upgrades to its missile interceptor, which has yet to be fully tested in realistic conditions.
North Korea says its nuclear and missile programs are a defense against perceived U.S. military threats. Its accelerating missile development has complicated Pentagon calculations, most recently by incorporating solid-fuel technology into its rockets. The step would mean even less launch warning time for the United States. Liquid fuel is less stable and rockets using it have to be fueled in the field, a process that takes longer and can be detected by satellites.
Underscoring its uninterrupted efforts, North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile on May 29, 2017 that landed in Japan’s maritime economic zone.
In the May 30 U.S. test, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency launched an interceptor rocket from an underground silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The target was an intercontinental-range missile fired from a test range on Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific.
According to the plan, a 5-foot-long “kill vehicle” released from atop the interceptor zeroed in on the ICBM-like target’s mock warhead outside Earth’s atmosphere and obliterated it by sheer force of impact, the Pentagon said. The “kill vehicle” carries no explosives, either in testing or in actual combat.
The target was a custom-made missile meant to simulate an ICBM, meaning it flew faster than missiles used in previous intercept tests, according to Christopher Johnson, the Missile Defense Agency’s spokesman. It was not a mock-up of an actual North Korean ICBM, and details of its exact capabilities weren’t made public.
Officially known as the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, the Pentagon likens the defensive tactic to hitting a bullet with a bullet. With congressional support, the Pentagon is increasing the number of deployed interceptors, based in California and Alaska, to 44 from the current total of 36 by the end of 2017.
While the May 30 test wasn’t designed with the expectation of an imminent North Korean missile threat, the military wants progress toward the stated goal of being able to shoot down a small number of ICBMs targeting the United States.
Laura Grego, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has criticized the missile defense program, called the interceptor an “advanced prototype,” meaning it is not fully matured technologically even if it has been deployed and theoretically available for combat since 2004. A successful test on May 30, she said, could demonstrate the Pentagon is on the right track with its latest technical fixes.
“Overall,” she wrote in an analysis prior to the test, the military “is not even close to demonstrating that the system works in a real-world setting.”
The interceptors are, in essence, the last line of U.S. defense against an attack by an intercontinental-range missile.
The Pentagon has other elements of missile defense that have shown to be more reliable, although they are designed to work against medium-range or shorter-range ballistic missiles. These include the Patriot missile, which numerous countries have purchased from the U.S., and the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, which the U.S. deployed this year to South Korea to defend against medium-range missiles from North Korea.