This time, we will go to the plane that everyone in the Air Force loves…and yet, it keeps ending up on the chopping block. That’s right, it’s time for us to discuss the Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II.
Why it is easy to make fun of the A-10
Let’s see, it’s slow. It doesn’t fly high, if anything, the plane is best flying very low.
As any of its pilots will tell you, it’s ugly — but well hung. (U.S. Air Force photo)
It’s not going to win any airplane beauty pageants any time soon due to being quite aesthetically-challenged. Also, when it was first designed, it was a daylight-only plane with none of the sensors to drop precision-guided weapons.
Why you should hate the A-10
Because it has this cult following that seems to think it can do just about anything and take out any one. Because its pilots think the GAU-8 cannon in the nose is all that — never mind that a number of other planes took bigger guns into the fight — including 75mm guns.
If your idea of self-care is eating paleo and running ultra marathons, I’ve got news for you – you’re missing out.
Self-care goes way beyond the way you feed or train your body: It’s about health at multiple levels. At its core it requires attention to regulating your nervous system – to regularly giving your brain and endocrine system (your body’s network of hormone-producing glands) the chance to calm down and return to normal levels.
This type of self-regulation is important for your physical and mental performance whether you’re an elite athlete or an everyday person of any age.
Pain isn’t always weakness leaving the body
As a veteran, you know that the military does a great job attaching metrics to physical fitness. Service members are required to pay attention to their physicality, and intensity is emphasized. These are good things in many ways. After all, you can’t see improvement without testing your body’s limits.
However, the military often falls short on the topic of balanced wellness. Many veterans leave their time in service physically broken, with muscular imbalances, and hold fast to the belief that if training is hurting, it’s helping. We might even think that only malingerers, failures, and dirtbags take time to care for themselves.
I’m not here to suggest that you give up your high intensity training. But I am here to say that the whole point of intensity should be about using it to increase your performance in a smart and productive way.
Whether your goal is muscle growth or cardiovascular improvement, attaining your specific training objectives will be easier when you lower your blood cortisol levels (the stress hormones your body produces).
You can do this by practicing self care and something called “mindful movement.”
But isn’t mindful movement for hippies?
Mindful movement is as useful for grunts as it is for POGs as it is for civilians. Here’s what career infantry officer Maj. Gen. Thomas Jones, USMC (Ret.), has to say about it:
“For many years as an infantry officer, I worked feverishly to build resiliency in combat Marines. However, and unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was a civilian that I learned that I was missing the central, necessary ingredient…to crafting resiliency: a thorough understanding of the physiology of stress within the body…I learned that mindfulness enabled me to personally address stressors with positive outcomes.”
Mindfulness is a form of self-care, and what it really means is that you’re paying close attention to your breath and body so you can discover how to care for yourself. For example, if you notice that you have really tight hips, you should work to correct the problem instead of ignoring it. This type of awareness is a very calming thing – we can use breath as a vehicle to connect our (sometimes very) disconnected mental and physical selves, and it can let us know how we need to adjust our training or lives to perform more effectively.
When we’re busy and stressed, paying attention to the needs of the physical body is one of the first things to go. However, we can benefit tremendously from figuring out when we’re not in a rested state and then working to provide our bodies and minds with opportunities to relax.
Why are mindfulness and self-care so good for me?
When we effectively manage stressed out bodies and minds, our levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) are lowered. Lowering cortisol is helpful because it improves our brain’s ability to function and our body’s ability to perform.
Alternately, high levels of cortisol encourage your body to seek out and crave simple carbs and store them as fat. Too much cortisol also impairs upper-level cognition in our brains – making it harder to think clearly, experience empathy, and communicate effectively. It can also degrade our physical performance.
Finding ways to lower our stress – even if only for a few moments – has the opposite effect and is incredibly beneficial to us.
So what does a drop in stress hormones feel like? Think about the last time you enjoyed an activity or training – when you took a deep breath in and you just felt that “Ahhh!” feeling – even if you were working hard and running up and down trails. You may find it while running, skiing, doing yoga, getting a deep tissue massage, or even lifting weights. Some people call it a “click,” or a “shift.”
That moment will look different for everyone, but when you find it, take note.
If I want to practice self-care – where should I start?
The first and most important step to practicing self-care is to commit to managing your time so you can structure a plan for success.
Next look at how what you’re doing on a daily basis makes you feel. Tune into that and take notes for a few days. Do you feel depleted at the end of a day? Energized? Hopeless? Keyed up?
Once you have a read on how you’re doing, begin to expand your skills. If you only know one or two tools to make yourself feel better, the good news is that you have lots of room to grow. Continue to do what you already know you like and benefit from, then learn and add in a couple of new options to your wellness program and nutritional choices.
Pay attention to how you’re treating your body with food. Consider taking fast food and soda out of the options column for yourself. If you don’t want to take them out, then look to add items that taste amazing and are healthy. Instead of restricting, add in.
If you feel overwhelmed as you think about all the training and wellness options out there, consider plugging into an organization or non-profit that can teach you helpful skills. As a veteran, if you can imagine a self-care or mindful movement option, a non-profit probably exists that supplies it.
Self Care Resources
Outdoor Odyssey – Funded weeklong retreats for wounded, ill and injured active-duty and veteran warriors, designed to craft a definitive plan for the future with the support of a team. Designed and operated by those who have been there!
Outward Bound – OIF/OEF veterans can enjoy all-expenses paid week-long trips rock climbing, dog sledding, sailing, and more, as they learn the value of compassionate leadership.
Sierra Club Military Outdoors – Power ski, ice climb, whitewater raft and more alongside fellow veterans in some of America’s most stunning backcountry.
Just Roll With It Wellness Retreat – This free three-day retreat teaches self-care and mindfulness practices, gives you the opportunity to connect with other veterans interested in physical and mental health, and includes a travel stipend.
Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas is a U.S. Marine veteran and wellness coach who writes about resilience building, creating strong communities, and the science of spirituality. You can find her new book, “Brave, Strong, True: The Modern Warrior’s Battle for Balance”, here.
There are obvious signs that technology had advanced in warfare. We see it in just the evolution of the M270 MLRS. But it is also obvious in the development of something far more humble: The pup tent.
The versions in use since the Civil War were pretty much a sheet of fabric called a shelter half, along with a folding pole and stakes. Two soldiers would each take their half, tie `em together, and set the tent up for two. Each shelter half and associated supplies came in at about five and a half pounds, according to olive-drab.com.
Now, why might that matter today? Well, yeah, you have Forward Operating Bases, Combat Outposts, and all that, but sometimes, when the grunts are on a patrol, they need to haul that shelter with them. In today’s day and age, when they can carry up to 200 pounds, they need to find some ways to lighten the load.
Today, though, that shelter is very different. At the Association of the United States Army expo in Washington, D.C., one company outlined a new version of the pup tent. Litefighter has developed a complete shelter known as the Litefighter 1. This is a small tent that troops can carry that comes in at under four and a quarter pounds, according to the company’s website.
This tent can be used as a free-standing tent with or without a rain fly, a lightweight hasty hooch, a bug-net over a standard cot (with or without the rain fly), and as a free-standing scout hide-site with camouflage netting. It can be easily assembled or disassembled, and fits easily into rucksacks.
While a new pup tent doesn’t generate the excitement of watching a MLRS fire off its rockets, or troops sending lead downrange, it counts. Especially when the troop in the fight has been able to get a good night’s sleep before the engagement.
Most of what is lying around in the dusty expanse of the aircraft graveyards around Tucson, Arizona is readily identifiable and not entirely remarkable.
Ejection seats from old F-4 Phantoms. An old CH-53 helicopter hulk. An interesting find over there is a fuselage section of a Soviet-era MiG-23 Flogger. No idea how it got here. Other than that, it’s just long rows of old, broken, silent airplanes inside high fences surrounded by cactus, dust, sand and more sand. An errant aileron on a dead wing clunks quietly against the hot afternoon breeze as if willing itself back into the air. But like everything here, its days of flying are over.
But there… What is that strange, manta-ray shaped, dusty black thing lying at an angle just on the other side of that fence? It may be an old airfield wind vane or radar test model. But it also may be…
(U.S. Air Force photo)
I had only read about it and seen grainy photos of it. I know it’s impossible. The project was so secret not much information exists about the details even today. But I stand there gawking through the chain link fence as the ruins of the other planes bear silent witness. It’ like the corpses of the other airplanes are urging me to look closer. To not leave. Their silent dignity begs me to tell this story.
After nearly a minute of studying it through the fence I realize; I am right. It is right before my eyes. Ten feet away. Despite the 100-degree heat I get goosebumps. And I start running.
I quickly locate a spot where the entire fence line opens up. I skirt the fence and in a couple minutes running around the sandy airplane corpses I’m inside. There, sitting right in front of me on its decrepit transport cart and dusted with windblown sand, abandoned in the Sonoran Desert, is one of Kelly Johnson and Ben Rich’s most ambitious classified projects from the fabled Lockheed Skunk Works.
(Lockheed Martin photo)
I just found the CIA’s ultra-secret Mach 3.3+ D-21 long-range reconnaissance drone. The D-21 was so weird, so ambitious, so unlikely it remains one of the most improbable concepts in the history of the often-bizarre world of ultra-secret “black” aviation projects. And now it lies discarded in the desert. The story behind it is so bizarre it is difficult to believe, but it is true.
July 30, 1966: Flight Level 920 (92,000 ft.), Mach 3.25, Above Point Mugu Naval Air Missile Test Center, Off Oxnard, California.
Only an SR-71 Blackbird is fast enough and can fly high enough to photograph this, the most classified of national security tests. Traveling faster than a rifle bullet at 91,000 feet, near inner-space altitude, one of the most ambitious and bizarre contraptions in the history of mankind is about to be tested.
“Tagboard” is its codename. Because of the catastrophic May, 1960 shoot-down of Francis Gary Powers’ Lockheed U-2 high altitude spy plane over the Soviet Union the CIA and is in desperate need of another way to spy on the rising threat of communist nuclear tests. Even worse, the other “Red Menace”, the Chinese, are testing massive hydrogen bombs in a remote location of the Gobi Desert near the Mongolian/Chinese border. It would be easier to observe the tests if the Chinese did them on the moon.
The goal is simple, but the problem is titanic. Get photos of the top-secret Red Chinese hydrogen bomb tests near the Mongolian border deep inside Asia, then get them back, without being detected.
Lockheed Skunkworks boss Kelly Johnson and an elite, ultra-classified small team of aerospace engineers have built an aircraft so far ahead of its time that even a vivid imagination has difficulty envisioning it.
Flat, triangular, black, featureless except for its odd plan form as viewed from above, like a demon’s cloak, it has a sharply pointed nose recessed into a forward-facing orifice. That’s it. No canopy, no cockpit, no weapons. Nothing attached to the outside. Even more so than a rifle bullet its shape is smooth and simple. This is the ultra-secret D-21 drone.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
The D-21 is truly a “drone”, not a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA). Its flight plan is programmed into a guidance system. It is launched from a mothership launch aircraft at speed and altitude. It flies a predetermined spy mission from 17 miles above the ground and flashes over at three times the speed of sound. It photographs massive swaths of land with incredible detail and resolution. And because of its remarkably stealthy shape, no one will ever know it was there.
Today the D-21 rides on the back of a Lockheed M-21, a specialized variant of the SR-71 Blackbird, the famous Mach 3+ high altitude spy plane. The M-21 version of the SR-71 carries the D-21 drone on its back up to launch speed and altitude. The it ignites the D-21’s unique RJ43-MA20S-4 ramjet engine and releases it on its pre-programmed flight.
Chasing the M-21 and D-21 combination today is a Lockheed SR-71, the only thing that can keep up with this combination of aircraft. It is the SR-71’s job to photograph and film the test launch of the D-21 drone from the M-21 launch aircraft.
There have been three successful launch separations of the D-21 from the M-21 launch aircraft so far. In each of these flights, even though the launch was successful, the D-21 drone fell victim to some minor mechanical failure that destroyed the drone, because, at over Mach 3 and 90,000 feet, there really are no “minor” failures.
Today Bill Park and Ray Torick are the flight crew on board the M-21 launch aircraft. They sit inside the M-21 launch aircraft dressed in pressurized high altitude flight suits that resemble space suits.
Once at predetermined launch speed and altitude the M-21/D-21 combination flies next to the SR-71 camera plane. Keith Beswick is filming the launch test from the SR-71 camera plane. Ray Torick, the drone launch controller sitting in the back seat of the tandem M-21, launches the D-21 from its position on top of the M-21’s fuselage between the massive engines.
Something goes wrong.
The D-21 drone separates and rolls slightly to its left side. It strikes the left vertical stabilizer of the M-21 mother ship. Then it caroms back into the M-21’s upper fuselage, exerting massive triple supersonic forces downward on the M-21 aircraft. The M-21 begins to pitch up and physics takes over as Bill Park and Ray Torick make the split-second transition from test pilots to helpless passengers to crash victims.
The triple supersonic forces rip both aircraft apart in the thin, freezing air. Shards of titanium and shrapnel from engine parts trail smoke and frozen vapor as they disintegrate in the upper atmosphere. There is no such thing as a minor accident at Mach 3+ and 92,000 feet.
Miraculously, both Bill Park and Ray Torick eject from the shattered M-21 mother ship. Even more remarkably, they actually survive the ejection. The pair splash down in the Pacific 150 miles off the California coast. Bill Park successfully deploys the small life raft attached to his ejection seat. Ray Torick lands in the ocean but opens the visor on his spacesuit-like helmet attached to his pressurized flight suit. The suit floods through the face opening in his helmet. Torick drowns before he can be rescued. Keith Beswick, the pilot filming the accident from the SR-71 chase plane, has to go to the mortuary to cut Ray Torick’s body out of the pressurized high-altitude flight suit before he can be buried.
The ultra-secret test program to launch a D-21 drone from the top of an M-21 launch aircraft at over Mach 3 and 90,000 feet, is cancelled.
The D-21 program does move forward on its own. Now the drone is dropped from a lumbering B-52 mothership. The D-21 is then boosted to high altitude and Mach 3+ with a rocket booster. Once at speed and altitude the booster unit drops off and the D-21 drone begins its spy mission.
After more than a year of test launches from the B-52 mothership the D-21 drone was ready for its first operational missions over Red China. President Nixon approved the first reconnaissance flight for November 9, 1969. The mission was launched from Beale AFB in California.
Despite a successful launch the D-21 drone was lost. In the middle of 1972, after four attempts at overflying Red China with the D-21 drone and four mission failures, the program was cancelled. It was imaginative. It was innovative. It was ingenious. But it was impossible.
So ended one of the most ambitious and outrageous espionage projects in history.
1604 Hrs. December 20, 2009. In the Back Storage Yard of the Pima Air Space Museum Outside Tucson, Arizona.
I pet airplanes when I can. I’m not exactly sure why, maybe to be able to say I did. Maybe to try to gain some tactile sense of their history. Maybe to absorb something from them, if such a thing is possible. Maybe so that, when I am old and dying, I can reflect back on what it felt like to stand next to them and touch them. I don’t know why I touch them and stroke them, but I do.
The fully restored Lockheed D-21 drone at the Pima Air Space Museum outside Tucson, Arizona.
(Pima Air Space Museum photo)
The D-21 is dusty and warm in the late afternoon Arizona sun. Its titanium skin is hard, not slightly forgiving like an aluminum airplane. It gives away nothing. Silent. Brooding. After I touch it my hand came away with some of the dust from it. I don’t wipe it off.
Sometime later in the coming years, the D-21B drone, number 90-0533, is brought inside the vast restoration facility at the Pima Air Space Museum and beautifully restored. Now it lies in state, on display inside the museum.
But when I first found it sitting abandoned in the storage yard, dusty and baking in the Sonoran Desert sun, it felt like its warm titanium skin still had some secret life left in it.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
Team Red, White Blue’s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. This effort is focused on bridging the civilian-military divide through a shared interest in physical activity like running, hiking, CrossFit workouts, and yoga classes, along with participating in social and service-oriented events. Spread across 199 chapters all over the world, the 110,000-member veteran’s group established in 2010 is geared toward creating a place for former servicemembers to meet and do a little PT — and invite their friends and family along to join them.
But while having lots of members and a host of chapters across the country is a great thing for a young veteran service organization, there’s a challenge in keeping it all connected. That’s why Executive Director Blayne Smith and his colleagues decided to link up with Team Red, White Blue’s various members with a little run among friends.
And what if this little run wasn’t so little? What if it spread across the entire country?
“We really wanted this to be a unifying event for the organization and to demonstrate the power and the inspiration that comes with a community of veterans working on an epic undertaking together,” Smith said. “We figured if we could run a single American flag averaging 60 miles a day … that would be a demonstration of the good that we could do together if we all worked together formed as a team and committed to a big goal.”
So in 2014, on a shoestring budget and with just a couple company reps doing most of the logistical legwork, the Old Glory Relay was born. Now spanning 4,216 miles and involving upwards of 1,300 runners and cyclists, the 2016 Old Glory Relay will see an American flag passed between participants — including veterans and their supporters — down the West Coast, across the desert Southwest, through the Deep South, and ending in Tampa, Florida, after 62 days culminating in a Ruck March on Veterans Day.
“For this year we decided to go even bigger. It’s a bit more ambitious, it’s a longer route but more members and more chapters will get to participate,” Smith said. “There’s something really powerful about running a few miles carrying an American flag. It’s really invigorating to run with it and hand it off to the next person knowing you’ve done your part to get it across the country.”
With the support of the presenting sponsor, Microsoft, along with other partners, Amazon, Westfield and Starbucks, the race began at the Space Needle in Seattle on Sept. 11. The relay will be following a route through Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles through the end of the month. The relay then turns east, through Phoenix, Tucson and San Antonio before crossing the South through the Florida Panhandle to Tampa.
Team Red, White Blue has done a ton of legwork to prepare for the relay, mobilizing local chapters to help carry the flag and get their communities energized to cheer runners along. Smith said school kids, local police and fire stations and residents along the way all turn out to motivate the runners and keep the relay going. And while the event is geared toward unifying the chapters and its members in a good cause, it’s the spirit of shared sacrifice and appreciation for the men in women who served in uniform that really makes the Old Glory Relay special.
“This is what happens when you slow people down enough to move on foot through a town with an American flag and see what happens. All those human connections start to happen,” Smith said. “America is a beautiful place. But the most beautiful terrain in America is the human terrain, and you don’t see it if you don’t slow down. And that’s what this is all about.”
You can support Team Red, White Blue and the Old Glory Relay by following the Old Glory Relay website, sharing your own photos and videos with the hashtag #OldGloryRelay, and by tracking Old Glory via the “OGR Live” webpage for up-to-the-minute information on the runners’ and cyclists’ status.
The day started like any other Thursday fly day. We briefed, put on our flight gear and stepped to the jets. Startup, taxi, takeoff and departure to the airspace all went as planned.
Upon reaching the outer limits of Salt Lake City airspace, I felt the cabin pressurize, the air conditioning stop and a warning tone annunciate in my headset and on the panoramic cockpit displays.
While maintaining aircraft control and keeping a safe distance from my flight lead, I looked at my Integrated Caution and Warnings, or ICAWs, and saw that I had an “IPP FAIL” warning along with an advisory telling me that I was now using the auxiliary oxygen bottle instead of the Onboard Oxygen Generation System, better known as OBOGS.
In the F-35 Lightning II, loss of the Integrated Power Package, or IPP, means loss of OBOGS, cabin pressurization, cooling functions to many vehicle systems, backup generator power and numerous other functions.
From my emergency procedures training, I knew the first steps in the 11-step checklist were to descend below 17,000 mean sea level, manually turn on the backup oxygen system, bring the throttle to idle for five seconds and actuate the flight control system/engine reset switch. These critical steps made sure I wasn’t exposed to any physiological effects from the cabin depressurizing or losing the OBOGS and hopefully reset the IPP without further troubleshooting.
A US Air Force F-35A from the 421st Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, takes off during Operation Rapid Forge at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, July 18, 2019
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)
Unfortunately, these initial actions did not reset the IPP, so I radioed my flight lead to let him know what was happening. He confirmed that I had completed the initial checklist actions, gave me the lead and backed me up in the checklist. I saw no other abnormal indications other than the IPP warning, so I began the process to manually reset the IPP. At this time, there was no urgent need to land, so we maintained our flight plan to the airspace with hopes a successful reset would allow us to continue our mission.
I began the reset procedure, and after a few minutes, the IPP FAIL went away, indicating the jet believed I had a successful reset; however, things did not seem right in the cockpit. The air conditioning seemed weak and I did not feel or see the cabin pressurize as expected. Realizing this, I pushed my power up to military power, or MIL, and within a few seconds got a second IPP FAIL warning.
After the second failure, my flight lead and I concurred that we needed to return to base quickly. It was a warm day in September, and degraded aircraft cooling could be an issue. He took the radios and began coordinating with Salt Lake Center Approach while I finished up with the checklist.
I turned my cabin pressure switch to RAM, or ram air, which allows for outside air cooling for flight critical systems and also turned off my nonessential avionics to reduce the cooling load. We declared an emergency, approach cleared us to our normal recovery pattern and we began to prepare for landing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.
A US Air Force F-35A, from the 421st Fighter Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, takes off at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, during Operation Rapid Forge, July 16, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kyle Cope)
As we pointed to our recovery point, another ICAW annunciated, indicating degraded cooling to my flight control system. This ICAW was expected when the IPP failed; however, when I opened the checklist, I initially went to the failed cooling page, which told me to land as soon as possible. I told my flight lead, we pointed directly to the field for a visual straight-in approach, and I began to dump fuel — something I should have considered prior to this point due to still having roughly 13,000 pounds of fuel; well above what I wanted to land with.
We switched to the supervisor of flying, or SOF, frequency and updated him on our plan. The SOF backed us up and made sure we were all on the same checklist. This was when I realized that I needed to reference the degraded cooling checklist, which was right next to the failed cooling checklist. It did not change our game plan, but it was something I could have handled better during the emergency procedure.
As I flew to a 5-mile final, my flight lead told me to focus on flying a good final and adhering to all normal checklists. The last thing either of us wanted was to make an emergency situation worse by flying a bad approach.
At 5-mile final, I put my gear handle down and the gear extended normally. Seconds after putting my gear down, I heard another warning tone and saw another ICAW, this time indicating some serious cooling issues had occurred to my voltage converters, which are critical for several aircraft functions that allow us to land. This ICAW starts a worst-case, 14-minute timer for gear, brake and hook actuation.
I did not have time to reference my checklist since I was already on 5-mile final, so I told my flight lead to confirm checklist steps with the SOF, primarily for immediate concerns and after-landing considerations. The landing was normal, and I elected to taxi clear of the runway and shutdown as soon as possible since I now had multiple cooling issues.
Crew chiefs with the 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit work on an F35A Lightning II returning to Hill Air Force Base, Utah, after a two-month European deployment, July 31, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)
Overall, IPP FAILs are not common in the F-35, but they do happen from time to time and we train frequently to emergency procedures in simulators to handle them correctly. As a young wingman in a single-seat fighter, I learned — and confirmed — five good lessons that I believe are applicable for any airframe and pilot:
Always maintain your composure and accomplish each phase of flight or emergency procedures one step at a time.
Take your time and maintain control of your aircraft before digging into a checklist.
Use the resources around you to back up your diagnosis and decisions. This will allow you to focus on the highest priority tasks. In this case, I had an awesome flight lead who took the radios and trusted my ability to handle what I was seeing. The supervisor of flying backed me up on checklist management and our game plan, and Salt Lake Approach Control got us where we needed to go in an expedited manner.
Checklist management is critical, especially in a single-seat, single-engine aircraft with hundreds of different checklists. I believe this was something I could have done better as we made our recovery back to Hill AFB.
Once you are on final and prepared to land, focus on making a good approach and landing a bad aircraft, as to not make a bad situation worse. My flight lead did a great job reminding me of that and making sure my mind was in the right place as we approached final.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The VH-3 Sea King has faithfully served Marine Helicopter Squadron One since 1962, operating as the official rotary transport for every president for over 55 years. But even though the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rings through for many pieces of military hardware, these aging Sea Kings, known as “Marine One” whenever a president is aboard, need to be replaced.
A lack of parts, considerable flight hours, and performance inefficiency (by today’s standards) make a worthy case for why the Sea King needs to be supplanted by something newer, faster and more capable. Just last week, Sikorsky’s answer to HMX-1’s request for a new helicopter took to the skies above Owego, New York, for the first time.
Known as the VH-92A, Sikorsky and its parent corporation, Lockheed Martin, hopes that this helicopter will be what finally sends the Sea King to a museum in the coming years.
The VH-92 is based upon Sikorsky’s S-92, a proven multipurpose utility helicopter that has been functioning in the civilian world as medium-lift platform since 2004. When it enters service with HMX-1, the VH-92 will have been refitted with a new interior and a slew of other features needed for presidential transport.
It has taken years for a suitable replacement for the VH-3 to materialize as part of the Presidential Helicopter Replacement Program (VXX). The program was initialized in 2003, though it suffered a setback in 2009 when Lockheed Martin’s proposal – the VH-71 Kestrel – was nixed even though the Department of the Navy had already spent billions of dollars building 9 Kestrals for HMX-1.
The following year, VXX was restarted, and a joint Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky team offered a revamped S-92, replete with a comfortable and plush interior worthy of the president and other VIPs who would be using the aircraft from time to time. In 2014, the S-92 proposal was selected and the VH-92 began taking shape.
These new presidential transports will only bear an external resemblance to their civilian counterparts. Their insides will be completely redone as per the requirements of HMX-1 and the Secret Service.
This includes defensive systems that afford each VH-92 a degree of protection against threats on the ground, from shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, to heavy-caliber machine gun rounds.
In addition to armoring the VH-92, all fleet helicopters will receive advanced communications systems, allowing the president to interact with members of the government and military while flying. Redundancy and safety systems round off the rest of the tricked-out VH-92’s modifications list.
HMX-1 also operates the VH-60N White Hawk, essentially UH-60 Black Hawks reconfigured for VIP transport. These aircraft have been serving in the presidential fleet since the late 1980s, and will also be replaced in part, or as a whole, by the new VH-92s.
The VH-92, like its soon-to-be predecessor, won’t just operate in North America… it will also serve as the president’s short-range transport overseas on official visits. Like the VH-60N, it will be able to be folded up and stowed inside US Air Force strategic airlifters like the C-5M Super Galaxy for foreign travel.
Replacing the Sea King isn’t the only big move HMX-1 has made in an effort to modernize its fleet. The squadron’s complement of CH-53 Sea Stallions were recently replaced with newer, more versatile MV-22 Osprey tiltrotors, which can function like both a helicopter and a fixed wing aircraft. Older CH-46 Sea Knights, formerly used as support aircraft, are also on their way out.
HMX-1 is expected to begin taking delivery of its new VH-92As in 2020, phasing out the VH-3D and VH-60N soon afterward.
Although any memorial that properly honors the sacrifices of those who serve the nation is worthy of respect, some resonate with veterans more than others. Here are 7 that are popular because of what they represent and how they represent it:
The Korean War Veterans Memorial features 19 sculptures of men on patrol with all branches represented. A wall of academy black granite runs by the statues and reflects their images, turning the 19 into a group of 38. The number 38 refers to the number of months America fought in the war and the 38th parallel where the war began and ended.
The juniper branches and granite strips on the ground symbolize the rice paddies of Korea and the billowing ponchos call back to the bitter weather on the Korean Peninsula. There is also a Pool of Remembrance, an honor roll, and a dedication stone. The stone reads:
Our nation honors her sons and daughters
who answered the call to defend a country
they never knew and a people they never met
5. Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall
“The Wall” is one of the simplest and most striking war memorials. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall lists the over 58,000 American casualties of the Vietnam War by name in the order which they died. The black granite reflects visitors’ faces as they read the names, encouraging reflection and contemplation.
Because many Vietnam vets felt The Wall wasn’t enough, another statue was added to the grounds in 1984. “The Three Soldiers” statue represents the soldiers and Marines who fought in the war and is positioned so that the three men depicted in the sculpture appear to gaze on the names inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
6. Vietnam Veterans Memorial of San Antonio
The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial of San Antonio depicts an actual scene witnessed by Austin Deuel, an artist and Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam. It shows a radio operator looking up for an incoming Medevac helo during fighting on Hill 881 South on Apr. 30, 1967.
About 11,000 American women were stationed in Vietnam during the war there, serving primarily as nurses but also in communications, intelligence, and other specialties. The Vietnam Women’s Memorial was created to honor their sacrifice and to promote understanding of their role in providing care and comfort for the wounded.
Just before 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 28, 1959, in the clear sky 5 miles north of Prescott, Arizona, something went wrong aboard an Air Force C-121G Super Constellation aircraft. The pilots, Navy Lt. j.g. Theodore Rivenburg and Cmdr. Lukas Dachs, had mere seconds to react as their large transport plane stalled 1,500 feet above the rough granite and cactus-covered ground below.
Rivenburg and Dachs throttled up their four-radial piston engines and tried to raise the nose as the silver plane made a right turn 2 miles south of the Prescott Municipal Airport. As the turn tightened, the bank steepened and the Super Connie snap rolled into a near-vertical dive.
The pilots had no time to recover.
March 1, 1959, cover of the Arizona Republic with news of the Constellation Crash outside Prescott, Arizona. Courtesy of Newspapers.com.
Witnesses driving on state Route 89 told an Arizona Republic reporter that the plane “exploded ‘like an atom bomb’ as it slammed into the ground alongside the highway.”
In addition to Rivenburg and Dachs, the crash killed everyone else on board, including Lt j.g. Edward Francis Souza, Petty Officer 2nd Class James Miller, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Calvin Coon.
Sixty-one years later, the reasons behind the accident remain a mystery. The Air Force investigated, but the plane wasn’t equipped with a flight data recorder, so investigators had limited information about those terrifying final moments. The Air Force’s redacted crash report, released via a Freedom of Information Act request, notes good weather and no mechanical issues, and describes the crash’s cause as “undetermined.”
Remnants of wreckage from the C-121G that crashed near Prescott, Arizona, on Feb. 28, 1959. Photo by Brandon Lingle/Coffee or Die Magazine.
Over the years, scrub brush and manzanita grew over the blackened scars of the accident site. Monsoon thunderstorms and winter winds veiled the scraps of aluminum and wiring beneath sand and gravel. The bright Arizona sun turned the relics a pale gray. With each year, fewer and fewer of those who remember the crash remain. The tragedy might have faded completely if the city of Prescott hadn’t purchased 80 acres that included the crash site in 2009 to create a recreation area on the land.
By chance, the Prescott trail manager and some concerned citizens recovered the lost saga, and the city of Prescott dedicated the Constellation Trails to the memory of the crew in a powerful combination of history and outdoor recreation.
The vision for Lockheed’s Constellation aircraft began in a 1939 meeting between Howard Hughes and corporate brass. Hughes wanted a fleet of commercial aircraft for moving passengers and cargo across the country, and Lockheed wanted his business. The result was a first-of-its-kind commercial plane that, according to Lockheed, featured the industry’s first hydraulic power controls, cruising speeds faster “than most World War II fighters at 350 mph,” and a pressurized cabin for 44 passengers that allowed the plane to fly above most bad weather, creating a smooth and comfortable ride.
The Lockheed VC-121A Constellation 48-0614 Columbine was the personal aircraft of Dwight D. Eisenhower when he was commander at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in the early 1950s. It is now preserved at the Pima Air Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
By 1942, the military saw the Constellation as a potential transport, and in 1944 Hughes broke cross-country speed records in the olive-green military version called the C-69. After World War II, TWA bought the military’s C-69s and converted them into commercial aircraft. In 1951, Lockheed introduced the Super Constellation, which featured “air conditioning, reclining seats and extra lavatories,” as well as unheard-of fuel efficiency.
From the 1950s through the 1970s, Super Constellations crisscrossed the globe as commercial and military workhorses. They saw action in Korea and Vietnam. In addition to hauling troops and cargo, Super Connies ran rescue missions, mapped Earth’s magnetic field, acted as the earliest airborne early warning platforms, hauled scientists to Antarctica, served as the Navy Blue Angels’ support plane, and even became the first Air Force One under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The crew of the ill-fated Super Connie, tail number 54-4069, was assigned to Navy logistics support squadron VR-7 at Moffett Field, California. The unit — part of the joint Military Air Transport Service, or MATS — moved people, patients, cargo, and mail throughout the Pacific. As part of the MATS, precursor to Military Airlift Command, the Navy operated and maintained the aircraft that belonged to the Air Force. According to a 1959 Naval Aviation News magazine feature on the unit, VR-7 helped maintain a supply line from California to Asia and the Middle East.
THE LAST LOG ENTRY CAME AT 1:44 P.M. […] MINUTES LATER, WHILE FLYING NORTH, AF 4069 MADE THAT RIGHT TURN INTO OBLIVION 2 MILES SOUTH OF THE PRESCOTT AIRPORT.
The southern route passed “through Hawaii, Kwajalein, Guam, and the Philippines. From Manila, the Embassy route continues on to Saigon, Bangkok, Calcutta, New Delhi, Karachi, ending in Dhahran.” And the northern route ran from “California west to Hawaii, Wake Island, thence to Tokyo, returning by way of Midway Island to Hickam.”
The magazine said that the aircraft could carry 76 passengers or 67 litter patients or a payload of more than 10 tons. And in terms of size, “the big Connie exceeds two railroad boxcars in length. If upended, its wings would easily tower higher than a 10-story building.”
The crew was on a nine-day temporary duty trip for training to orient themselves around Naval Air Station Litchfield Park, now Phoenix Goodyear Airport. The Prescott airport’s tower logs show AF 4069 practiced approaches and touch-and-go landings at the airport the day before the crash. Around 8:45 a.m. the following morning, the plane arrived in the area for more practice. At 11:32 a.m., AF 4069 left the area, returned to NAS Litchfield Park, switched aircrews, and took off again at 12:45 p.m.
The No. 1 Wright R-3350 engine starts on Lockheed Super Constellation Southern Preservation of Australia’s Historical Aircraft Restoration Society at Illawarra Regional Airport. The aircraft is an ex-US Air Force C-121C (Lockheed Model 1049F), c/no. 4176, s/no. 54-0157. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
After departure, the crew most likely conducted high-altitude training, “basic air work and emergencies” until 1:30 p.m. The last log entry came at 1:44 p.m. when the crew reported a forest fire 20 miles south of Prescott. Minutes later, while flying north, AF 4069 made that right turn into oblivion 2 miles south of the Prescott airport.
“The nose came up and a roar of power was heard,” the Air Force crash report states. “The right wing dropped sharply as the plane entered a near vertical dive to the ground, with the right wing leading at time of impact.”
The report continues, “Witness states the gear and flaps were up,” and the next two lines are blacked out.
The “Findings” section says, “The primary cause of this accident is undetermined,” and “investigation of the wreckage revealed no material or mechanical failure.” The last line before a redacted paragraph of recommendations says, “the aircraft apparently stalled too close to the ground to effect recovery.”
The reason for the stall is unknowable.
Constellation Trails. Photo by Brandon Lingle/Coffee or Die Magazine.
The FOIA response came with scanned copies of 23 black-and-white photos of the crash scene. It’s tough to make out much in many of them. The images show big splotches of black and gray with hand-drawn dashed lines and explanations. One photo stands out: Two men stand on the highway looking into a hole, hands tucked in their pockets and fedoras tilted on their heads. In the top middle of the frame, a bucket from a ’50s-era backhoe hangs ready to dig. The text on the photo says: “Location of #4 prop dome 6’2″ depth under highway.”
Chris Hosking, Prescott Trails and Natural Parklands coordinator, had no knowledge of the accident when he began planning the area’s trails. While performing an archeological survey to check for Native American ruins and other historic artifacts, he noticed “all these aluminum shards everywhere.”
So he reached out to Cindy Barks, a reporter at the local paper, the Prescott DailyCourier, who helped him figure out that an airplane had crashed there decades before. He knew then that the community should do something special to honor the fallen aviators.
The city chose to name the trail system after the fallen Constellation. One of Hosking’s son’s friends, Cody Walker, read about the project and stepped up to lead an effort to build a monument and host a dedication ceremony as part of an Eagle Scout project.
The memorial plaque dedicating the trails to those who died in the Super Constellation crash of 1959. Photo by Brandon Lingle/Coffee or Die Magazine.
“He went the extra mile,” Hosking says. “He contacted some of the families of the five airmen who were lost in that crash.”
Several of the aircrew’s children, other family members, and unit alumni came to Prescott for the ceremony.
“It was really emotional, you know, because some of these kids were too young to know their dads,” he says. “They knew their dads died in Arizona, but they didn’t know where or why or what happened, so that was a cool way to put some closure on that whole event for them.”
The Constellation Trails weave through sublime rock formations called the Granite Dells. The red granite boulders look like the backdrop of an old Western movie and have served as the set for many early Westerns and other films since 1912.
Constellation Trails. Photo by Brandon Lingle/Coffee or Die Magazine.
Hosking designed a trail system with an outer loop and multiple cut-throughs to the center. Near the trailhead, scrub oak passageways filter the sunlight, and as the trail gains elevation, the rock formations become more and more impressive.
With names like North 40, Ham and Cheese, Hully Gully, Hole in the Wall, Lost Wall, Ridgeback, and Ranch Road Shortcut, the routes in the Constellation Trail system sound like amusement park rides.
“I usually come up with the names,” says Hosking, an avid mountain biker. “Usually it’s a landmark or a view or something that happened there.”
Carving the trails among granite boulders and navigating rock walls and cacti is hard work. While the community funds the projects, there’s no dedicated workforce to actually build the trails, so Hosking depends on a local volunteer group composed primarily of local retirees called the “Over the Hill Gang.”
The Over the Hill Gang volunteers building the Constellation Trails in 2011. Photo courtesy of Chris Hosking.
“We get about 10,000 hours of volunteer time out of those guys,” says Hosking of the group, which started with four volunteers and now has 60 or 70 active members. “I come up with a crazy plan and design, and then those guys come out and we build trail.”
They built the trails in the Dells with hand tools because they couldn’t get heavy machinery past the boulders. Doing so takes significantly more time and effort.
John Bauer, a retired Air Force navigator, has volunteered with the Over the Hill Gang for more than 10 years, and the Constellation Trails were the first he helped build.
“I loved building those trails,” says the former F-4 weapons systems officer, who also served as a navigator on C-130s and C-141s.
These days, Bauer loves to move boulders, and with the rocky topography of the Dells, he was in luck.
The Over the Hill Gang volunteers building the Constellation Trails in 2011. Chris Hosking is on the left and John Bauer is second from left. Photo courtesy of Chris Hosking.
“Some of the trails in other areas are not as interesting — scraping the weeds off a piece of dirt,” the retired lieutenant colonel says. “I’ve done a lot of that, but it doesn’t give me the same amount of joy as moving rocks.”
The trailhead sits at the north end of the park, and the trails gain elevation as they work their way south. According to Bauer, the high ground near the back of the trail system proved the most challenging to build.
“There was a short little connection that went through a very narrow and steep canyon,” he says. “That was probably one of the most difficult parts because working in those little canyons, it’s hard to move the boulders around.”
With rock bars, leverage, sweat, muscle, and grit, the crew cleared an awe-inspiring trail.
Chris Hosking uses a backhoe to build the Badger Mountain trail near Prescott, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Chris Hosking.
“The bigger the boulder, the more people we need to move them,” Bauer says. “We’ve moved some pretty gigantic boulders.”
Small pieces of the aircraft still lie scattered throughout the area. The crew gathered the pieces they found and placed them next to the memorial near the trailhead.
“If you went out and off the trails, off into the shrubs and stuff there, you could still find pieces of that airplane even after all these years,” Bauer says.
The Constellation Trails are just a few miles of trail in an area that features 104 miles of city-owned trails, as well as hundreds of additional miles of trail on nearby Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land. Easy access and the variety and number of trails has made this stretch of northern Arizona a hiking and mountain biking destination.
Chris Hosking. Photo courtesy of Chris Hosking.
To understand the Constellation Trails, and the larger Prescott Trail System, it’s important to understand a bit about their creator.
Hosking, originally from the United Kingdom, trained as an industrial designer and spent time in the Silicon Valley working for Apple. One day the lifelong outdoorsman realized, “I didn’t really like that living — that particular lifestyle — so I kind of went freelance and moved up to Mammoth Lakes up in the Sierras.”
While in the Sierras, he delved into trail design. Eventually, Hosking and his wife wanted a bigger town to raise their kids in, and after some research, Prescott ended up No. 1 on both their lists. They arrived in Prescott in 2006, and soon after he became Prescott’s trail master.
In 14 years, he’s taken Prescott from 24 miles of trails to more than 100.
“I would put Prescott up against any community in the country as far as the quality of trails, the variety of trails, the access,” he says. “I wouldn’t put it in the same category as Moab. Moab’s like Disneyland — you go there and it’s got every type of trail. We’re not that, we’re a real town with a great trail system.”
Chris Hosking mountain biking at the Constellation Trails, near Prescott, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Chris Hosking.
Hosking attributes the success to the area’s excellent topography, a variety of vegetation, and a volunteer work crew “who don’t mind busting their ass to get things done.”
“I see Prescott as kind of the whole package because it’s a great place for people who live here, and it’s got a huge variety of very easy trails, and then it’s got very technical trails, and everything in between,” he says.
Gil Stritar, a Prescott Valley resident who hikes nearly every day, says the Constellation Trails are his favorite in the area because of the ease of access and excellent views.
“There’s beautiful photo ops in the narrows sections,” he says. “Most trails in the Granite Dells have big drop-offs and are more remote, so this is a good family choice. Also, this is the most scenic trail in the Dells in my opinion.”
According to Hosking, all the years of hard work, purchasing land, working agreements, and designing and building trails have come into focus this year as the COVID-19 pandemic has spiked visits to trails sometimes by 200 percent to 300 percent. The Constellation Trails have seen 100 percent more traffic.
Constellation Trails. Photo by Brandon Lingle/Coffee or Die Magazine.
“When you have gyms closed and everything is closed, the only way people can really get out and exercise is by going on trails,” Hosking says. “It’s helped us realize what we’ve done and what a benefit it’s been to the community because now people can get out and go hike and get away from things, so we have a lot of stuff to be thankful for.”
Prescott has a large hiking and mountain biking community that’s growing thanks to the National Interscholastic Cycling Association.
“We’ve got seven teams in the area,” says Hosking, including the top two teams in Arizona. “All those kids getting into mountain biking means their parents are getting into mountain biking.”
While some ride their mountain bikes on the Constellation Trails, Hosking says there are usually more hikers due to the rocky terrain and challenging aspects of the trails.
He likes to ride there when he feels like beating himself up and says his favorite trail is “the one I’m on!”
The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Since it’s 4th of July, we found the most patriotic photos among the best military shots:
USS Chancellorsville (CG 62) arrived in Yokosuka to join the forward deployed naval forces deployed to Japan. Like and share to welcome the Chancellorsville crew to the U.S. 7th Fleet.
Sailors engage in a simulated aircraft fire in the hangar bay of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). Harry S. Truman is underway conducting tailored ship’s training availability (TSTA) off the east coast of the United States.
The U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon performs during the sunset parade at the Marine Corps War Memorial, Arlington, Va., June 30, 2015. The Honorable Mr. Ashton B. Carter, Secretary of Defense, was the guest of honor for the parade, and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, was the hosting official.
Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia – Sgt. Maj. Ronald L. Green, the 18th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, presents medals to the Marine Corps Sitting Volleyball Team during the Department of Defense Warrior Games at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.
U.S. Airmen with the Bagram Air Field Honor Guard stand ready to present the colors during the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing change of command ceremony at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, July 1, 2015.
Thunderbirds Solo pilots perform the Opposing Knife Edge Maneuver during the Minnesota Air Spectacular practice show June 25, 2015, at Mankato Regional Airport, Minnesota.
A UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter crew chief, assigned to the Alaska National Guard, conducts water bucket operations during a firefighting mission south of Tok, Alaska.
Paratroopers, assigned to 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army Alaska, conduct an airborne operation on Malamute Drop Zone, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
“I will ensure that my superiors rest easy with the knowledge that I am on the helm, no matter what the conditions.” – Surfman’s Creed
The U.S. Army is testing new recoilless rifle technology designed give soldiers shoulder-fired rockets that are lighter and more ergonomic and in future, make them safe to fire in tight urban spaces.
Testers at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland are evaluating upgrades to the M3 recoilless rifle, also known as the Multi-role Anti-armor Anti-personnel Weapon System, or MAAWS. The improvements will make it more ergonomic, six pounds lighter and shorter.
Maneuver officials at Fort Benning, Georgia, are also conducting a live-demo on the new Shoulder Launched Individual Munition, or SLIM, as part of the Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiments, or AEWE, 2017.
SLIM is a new lightweight, disposable shoulder-fired rocket, made by Aerojet Rocketdyne. It weighs 14.9 pounds and is designed to be safely fired from inside enclosures without causing hearing or respiratory system damage, Army officials at the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence at Benning maintain.
“At 14.9 pounds, it lightens the soldier load, increases engagement lethality and flexibility by eliminating the need for multiple specialized rocket systems with single purpose warheads,” according to a recent press release from MCOE.
Officials from Benning’s Maneuver Battle Lab will document findings in an initial report on live fire capabilities Nov. 1 and present them in conjunction with the AEWE 2017 Insights Briefing to the public on March 1, 2017.
Findings from the assessment of SLIM and other technologies will inform the material selection process for the Individual Assault Munition capabilities development document and final production decision, Benning officials say.
The Individual Assault Munition, or IAM, is a next-generation, shoulder-launched munition being designed for use by the Objective Force Warrior.
IAM will also contribute to survivability by enabling soldiers to engage targets from protected positions without exposing themselves to enemy fire, Army officials maintain. The new weapon is being designed to combine the best capabilities of the M72 LAW, M136 AT4, M136E1 and M141 BDM and replace them in the Army arsenal.
Meanwhile, Aberdeen test officials are testing improvements to the M3 MAAWS . The 75th Ranger Regiment and other special operations forces began using the recoilless rifle in 1991.
The Army began ordering the M3 for conventional infantry units to use in Afghanistan in 2011. The M3 weighs about 21 pounds and measures 42 inches long. The breech-loading M3 fires an 84mm round that can reach out and hit enemy bunkers and light-armored vehicles up to 1,000 meters away.
Program officials will incorporate modern materials to “achieve input provided by U.S. Special Operations Command and other services’ users,” said Renee Bober, Product Manager for the M3E1 at U.S. Army Project Manager Soldier Weapons, in a recent Army press release.
To assist in the project with funding and expertise, the M3E1 team turned to the Army Foreign Comparative Testing Program and began working with the M3’s Swedish manufacturer, Saab Bofors Dynamics, for testing and qualifying its next-generation weapon, known as the M3A1.
Saab unveiled the new M3A1 in 2014. It’s significantly lighter and shorter than the M3 recoilless rifle. It weighs about 15 pounds and measures 39 3/8 inches long.
The Army project team traveled to Sweden so they could observe and validate the vendor’s testing instead of duplicating it back in the U.S., said William “Randy” Everett, FCT project manager.
“It was an innovative solution that saved more than $300,000,” he said.
When testing and qualifications are completed in spring 2017, it is scheduled to go into type classification in the fall of 2017, Army officials maintain. After that, the system will be available for procurement to all Department of Defense services.
The upgraded weapon will able to fire the existing suite of MAAWS ammunition, Army officials maintain.
One of the upgrades will include a shot counter. For safety reasons, a weapon should not fire more than its specified limit of rounds.
Right now, soldiers are manually recording the number of rounds fired in a notebook provided with each weapon. The shot counter will help the system last longer because soldiers can keep a more accurate count of how many rounds go through each weapon, Army officials maintain.
All five branches of the U.S. military have earned high marks from American adults, according to a Gallup poll.
More than three in four of Americans surveyed who know something about the branches have overall favorable views of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard, according to Gallup. More than half have a strongly favorable opinion.
In Gallup’s annual Confidence in Institutions poll released May 26, at least 72 percent of participants expressed “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the military in the past eight years.
“This Memorial Day, Americans will once again have the opportunity to honor those who fought and died in service of their country,” Gallup’s Jim Norman said. “It comes at a time when the percentage of Americans who are military veterans continues to shrink, even as the nation moves through the 15th year of the Afghanistan War — the longest war in U.S. history.”
Broken down by branch, Air Force had the highest favorability rating of 81 percent — 57 percent “very favorable” and 24 percent “somewhat favorable” rating. Other branches were Navy and Marines each at 78 percent, Army at 77 percent, and Coast Guard at 76 percent.
Differences exist by political party, race, and age.
The biggest gap is among Republicans and Democrats with about a 30 percentage point difference. The largest is for the Navy with 74 percent favorability rating by Republicans and 39 percent among Democrats.
Republicans, non-Hispanic whites, and those aged 55 have more favorable views of each of the five branches than Democrats, non-whites, or those younger than 35.
Those surveys also were asked to list the most important branch. Air Force was No. 1 (27 percent) followed by the Army (21 percent), Navy and Marines (20 percent each), and 4 percent say the Coast Guard is the most important branch to national defense.
Gallup conducted telephone interviews April 24-May 2 with a random sample of 1,026 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error is 4 percentage points.
Once America entered World War I some of the first forces it sent to France were those of the newly-formed Air Service. Among those troops was a relatively famous racecar driver and mechanic who would become America’s ‘Ace of Aces’ during the war: Eddie Rickenbacker.
When Rickenbacker enlisted in the Army, he had dreams of flying but was shipped to France as a driver for the General Staff due to his experience as a racecar driver. His advanced age (27 at the time) and lack of a college degree also disqualified him for flight training – but he was undeterred.
Assigned as the driver for Col. William ‘Billy’ Mitchell, Rickenbacker took the opportunity to bother him until the Colonel finally allowed him to attend pilot training. Rickenbacker still had to claim he was only 25 though.
Eddie completed pilot training in just 17 days and received his commission. However, Rickenbacker’s superior mechanical abilities from his days as a racecar driver sidetracked his flying career and got him assigned as the engineering officer at the Air Service Pursuit Training facility.
After finding a replacement, Rickenbacker was finally assigned to a combat flying unit – the 94th Aero Squadron – in March 1918. The squadron began flying combat missions in early April, and Rickenbacker wasted no time getting in on the action. On April 29th, Rickenbacker scored his first aerial victory and also his first Distinguished Service Cross for a vigorous fight and pursuit of a plane into enemy territory to shoot it down.
During May 1918 Lt. Rickenbacker downed five more German airplanes while earning an additional four Distinguished Service Crosses, each time attacking and dispersing larger formations of enemy planes.
Rickenbacker, through a lucky streak that seemed to last his entire life, also gained a reputation for surviving close calls and crash landings. In July 1918 in a particularly harrowing incident, “he barely made it back from one battle with a fuselage full of bullet holes, half a propeller, and a scorched streak on his helmet where an enemy bullet had nearly found its mark.”
A few days later he was grounded by an abscess in his ear but was back flying by the end of July. However, with his last kill at the end of May he would go many months without another victory.
Then on September 14, Rickenbacker started a remarkable streak, claiming his seventh kill and sixth Distinguished Service Cross. He downed another plane the next day. On September 25, he was promoted to Captain and made commander of the 94th Aero Squadron.
He promptly volunteered for a solo patrol, during which he encountered a flight of seven German planes below him. Rather than be thankful that no one saw him, he dived on the formation and attacked the shooting Germans, downed two enemy aircraft, and forced the rest to retreat. For this action, he was awarded his seventh Distinguished Service Cross.
Twelve years later, in 1930, this award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
At the beginning of October, Capt. Rickenbacker had 12 aerial victories. He was the leading living American pilot and was dubbed the ‘Ace of Aces’ by the press. He disliked this title because all three previous holders died in combat.
Despite his discontent with the new title, Rickenbacker led the 94th through severe fighting until the end of the war. During that time, Rickenbacker shot down ten enemy aircraft and three balloons, making him an official “balloon buster.” He also earned his eighth Distinguished Service Cross of the war – a record that hasn’t been broken.
Capt. Rickenbacker ended World War I with a total of 26 aerial victories to his credit, the American ‘Ace of Aces’ for World War I and the rank of Major. The Army promoted Rickenbacker as he left active duty but he never claimed the promotion. He felt his “rank of Captain was earned and deserved.” The public referred to him to as “Captain Eddie” for the rest of his life.
After the war, Rickenbacker went into many ventures in the automobile and aviation industries and survived many more brushes with death. He survived a near-fatal crash in early 1941 that had him out of action for almost a year. During World War II, while on a personal mission to deliver a message to Gen. MacArthur from President Roosevelt and to inspect American aviation facilities in the Pacific, the plane he was flying in lost its way and was forced to ditch in the Pacific Ocean.
Rickenbacker and the surviving crew members endured over three weeks of life rafts before rescue. Consistent with his dogged determination Rickenbacker completed his assignment before returning to the states, despite losing 60 pounds and suffering from severe sunburn.
Rickenbacker, without formal education past age twelve, would eventually rise to control his own airline, Eastern Air Lines, and make it the only self-sufficient, free-enterprise – he accepted no government subsidies – airline in America for many years. He was also the majority owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway for many years during which time he significantly improved the track.
Captain Eddie retired in 1963. In 1972 he suffered a stroke, his last near-death experience. He recovered from the stroke but while visiting Switzerland he contracted pneumonia, and his luck finally ran out. He passed away July 23, 1973, at the age of 82 – a renowned fighter pilot and successful businessman.