Anti-submarine warfare is something that the Royal Navy takes very seriously. Historically, there’s good reason for it: German U-boats have twice tried to blockade Great Britain and each attempt brought about great peril.
Once upon a time, anti-submarine warfare involved ships deploying depth charges but, now, the most effective weapons come from the sky – dropped by helicopters. Choppers are versatile and can be deployed on a variety of sea-faring vessels, which, in essence, makes every destroyer, frigate, and cruiser currently serving into a capable anti-submarine system. Helicopters aboard these ships can fly a fair distance and carry a couple of anti-submarine torpedoes each.
To fill this role today, the Royal Navy relies on the AgustaWestland AW159, officially designated the Wildcat HMA.2. This chopper is a highly evolved version of the Westland Lynx that has served on the Royal Navy’s ships since 1971. But today’s Wildcat has come a long way.
The Wildcat HMA.2 entered service in 2014. It has a top speed of 184 miles per hour, making it one of the fastest helicopters in the world. It has a range of 483 miles and is armed with a pair of either 7.62mm or .50-caliber machine guns.
In terms of anti-submarine armament, the Wildcat uses a pair of Stingray torpedoes. These torpedoes have been around since 1983. They travel at 45 nautical miles per hour and have a roughly five-mile range. It’s warhead packs nearly 100 pounds of high explosive, which is enough to punch a hole in most submarines.
The Wildcat, though, is not limited to carrying torpedoes. It can also carry anti-ship missiles, like the Sea Skua, which saw action in the Falklands and during Desert Storm, making it a formidable tool in nearly any naval scenario.
Learn more about this rotary-wing Wildcat that’s hotter than Sandra Bullock’s character in Speed in the video below.
When the B-52 is over 60 years old, and a large number of F-15 Eagles are over 30, it seems surprising that the Air Force is looking to replace a plane that won’t even be in service for twenty years until later this year.
However, according to an Air Force News Service article, the Air Force is looking to replace the E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, which didn’t achieve its initial operating capability until December 1997 according to an Air Force fact sheet. This plane is an all-seeing eye that looks for and tracks ground targets, using the AN/APY-7, a 24-foot long synthetic aperture radar, according to a Northrop Grumman data sheet.
So, why is this system, which isn’t even old enough to drink, suddenly planned for replacement? The answer is in the airframe.
The E-8, like the E-3 Sentry, is based on the Boeing 707, a jet that first flew just over 59 years ago. With the exception of Omega Aerial Refueling Services, nobody operates this aircraft commercially.
Furthermore, according to a 2015 FlightGlobal.com report, the E-8s were produced by acquiring second-hand 707s. A September 2016 Air Force report noted that those second-hand 707s had as many as 60,000 flight hours before they had been purchased for conversion.
One JSTARS that had to be written off was built in 1967, according to DefenseTech.org.
In other words, these are old airframes and they’ve had a lot of use – even before the Air Force gave the 16-plane fleet over 1 million flight hours collectively (as of this past September). That is an average of 62,500 flight hours per plane — meaning that some of the E-8 aircraft could have in excess of 120,000 total flight hours.
That’s the equivalent of 5,000 days in the air.
What is the Air Force looking towards in replacing the E-8C? The JSTARS recapitalization project is likely to involve a smaller jet. According to a 2014 report by Aviation Week and Space Technology, Northrop Grumman is testing a new JSTARS based off a Gulfstream V business jet.
Boeing’s web site is touting a version of the 737 jet as its entry, attempting to partially piggyback on experience with the Navy’s P-8 Poseidon.
Brig. Gen. Edward L. Vaughan is the Air National Guard Special Assistant to Maj. Gen. Scott F. Smith, the Director of Training and Readiness, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Arlington, Va. The directorate, encompassing seven divisions and the Air Force Agency for Modeling and Simulation, is responsible for policy, guidance and oversight of Air Force operations.
General Vaughan also serves as the lead for the Air Force Physiological Episodes Action Team (AF-PEAT) and co-leads the ad hoc Joint-PEAT, along with Navy Rear Adm. Fredrick R. Luchtman.
General Vaughan completed Reserve Officer Training Corps at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and received his commission as honor graduate from ANG’s Academy of Military Science. He previously served in leadership roles at the squadron, group, wing and higher headquarters levels in both the mobility and combat air forces. General Vaughan commanded the 156th Airlift Wing, Puerto Rico, and Detachment 1 of the 13th Air Expeditionary Group (formerly the 13th Expeditionary Support Squadron), Antarctica.
During an interview with Airman Magazine, Gen. Vaughan discussed his new post leading the joint investigation of Unexplained Physiological Episodes (UPEs) and his experiences as a mobility and combat airman and safety officer.
Airman Magazine: Please tell us about your new job investigating Unexplained Physiological Episodes.
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: As part of my role working in A3T, I’ve been tasked by the A3 Lt. Gen. Mark Kelly to lead the Physiological Episodes Action Team, also known as the PEAT.
PE stands for physiological episode or event. Essentially it’s any anomaly in the interaction among the aircrew, equipment, and environment that causes adverse physical or cognitive symptoms, which may impede the ability to fly..
What we’ve done across the Air Force and all aircraft, but most recently with the T-6 fleet, is to investigate what causes PEs. In some cases an Unknown PE will immediately reveal to us what happened. Maybe there was some sort of contamination in the cockpit due to an oil leak or some other fumes, so we’re able to identify it as a known physiological event.
In other cases, pilots will experience symptoms, come down and land, report them and we don’t know exactly what the cause is until we investigate further.
Members of the Navy Physiological Episodes Action Team and Air Force PEAT listen to a discussion between Rear Adm. Fredrick R. “Lucky” Luchtman (left) and Air Force Brig. Gen. Edward L. “Hertz” Vaughan (right) as they lay the ground work for the Joint Physiological Episodes Action Team, or J-PEAT.
(Photo by Scot Cregan)
Airman Magazine: Tell me about the PEAT. What is the structure and objective of the team?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: The AF-PEAT is Air Force Physiological Episodes Action Team. Now, previously this has been known as the UPE IT or Unexplained Physiological Events Integration Team. We’re working very closely with our Navy partners and they came up with a pretty good name – Physiological Episodes Action Team. In the interest of both jointness and keeping it simple for all the flying community, we’ve aligned names with the Navy.
Of course, that’s not the only thing we’ve learned from the Navy. The Navy’s had some great success in exploring what happens in physiological episodes, what happens to aviators, and we’ve been able to learn a lot from them and they’ve learned from us as well.
Airman Magazine: How does the PEAT operate?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: We have two meetings per week. Every Friday the Air Force PEAT meets. Who is on this action team? The answer is those people who are required for that particular meeting.
We’ll have the topics of the week, sometimes we’re looking at specific incidents with airplanes, specific episodes, and other times we may be investigating new equipment that’s coming out, new procedures, new training or maybe there’s the results of an investigation that we’ll need to review. We have standing members of the team, about half a dozen, that are there at every meeting.
Then we have another kind of a second layer of folks, which gets us up closer to 20 people, who come in as needed. That second layer includes folks from the acquisition community or the 711th Human Performance Wing. We don’t necessarily need to have them come to every meeting, but there’s times we really need somebody from human performance wing present. That’s one meeting.
Then immediately following that meeting, we have, what I call the Joint-PEAT. It’s really an ad hoc Joint Physiological Episodes Action Team with the Navy. It is very much a joint effort in that we work closely together and meet weekly to keep a steady battle rhythm so as things come up during the week, if they’re not an emergency or if it’s not something that we’ve got to address right at that minute, we’ll be able to put it together on Friday. We know that once a week we’re going to have a meeting where we can sit down face-to-face and hash these things out.
My Navy counterpart is Rear Adm. Frederick Luckman, he goes by “Lucky”. My call sign is “Hertz”. We immediately got to a Hertz-Lucky professional friendly demeanor. We go through an awful lot of coffee. He and I meet as often as we can to share data. Like I said, we cannot share the information fast enough.
The Navy is doing a lot of good work. They had a series of issues with physiology not only in the F-18, but T-45s, and they’ve had very good success in their T-6 fleet. They have a T-6 fleet that’s about half the size of the Air Force’s. They have slightly different models, some of theirs are newer models, but the oxygen systems are very similar.
The Navy adopted early on, in response to some of the lessons they learned from other airframes, significant maintenance practices in their T-6 oxygen system that we found very useful. We watched the Navy adopt those, saw the results of it and in those cases we’ve been able to adopt it exactly the same way that they have.
Brig. Gen. Edward L. Vaughan, head of the Air Force Unexplained Physiological Events Integration Team, and Rear Adm. Fredrick R. Luchtman, Navy Physiological Episodes Action Team lead, discuss ongoing efforts to minimize the risk of Physiological Episodes.
(U.S. Navy photo by Cmdr. Scot Cregan)
Airman Magazine: How does the timely resolution of PEs, affect training and readiness?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Looking at the National Defense Strategy, lethality is the primary objective and, for the Air Force, that equates to readiness. Are we ready to fight? You know, the question is readiness for what? Ready to do what? It’s ready to prosecute the war, ready to fight. In some cases, being ready to go out and influence and be that presence where we need to be.
If we’re having equipment struggles, delays in our programs, or we’re having to stand-down aircraft or cancel missions because of physiological episodes that will get in the way of us being ready. It will get in the way of us executing any plans we may have out there. So it’s important for us to get the information back, put the fixes in, get those funded, fielded and executed as quickly as possible. Once we do that, we’re going to enhance readiness and capability as we grow toward the Air Force We Need.
It also eliminates a distraction. Anytime you have aircraft mishaps of any kind, anytime you have a cluster of these PEs, it’s going to create a distraction, not just for the frontline airman, but for their families, and anybody else associated with it. Anybody involved with the operation and maintenance will have a distraction. That distraction takes our eye off the readiness ball. That’s one of the reasons that you’ll see the PEAT, Physiological Episodes Acting Team, embedded right in A3T. A3T’s tasking is training and readiness.
Airman Magazine: What types of symptoms are commonly associated with PEs?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Symptoms span the spectrum of what can happen to people on airplanes. I’ll caveat this with Air Force aviators receive extensive training in physiology and what may happen to them in tactical aviation. All pilots and other aircrew going through their initial training, experience the hypobaric chamber, we call it the altitude chamber. They get used to what it’s like to operate at high altitudes and what happens during decompression. They also have routine refresher training in all aspects of aviation physiology.
One of the main reasons for doing that training is so that each aviator can learn what their individual symptoms will be. No two people will react the same to an aircraft or environmental stimulus and, in fact, the same person may have different reactions on different days based on fatigue, fitness, nutrition, or other personal factors.
It’s important for each aviator to have a sense of what symptoms they might have, especially the early onset symptoms, so they can take early appropriate action to safely recover the aircraft or get out of the environment that’s causing the problem.
Some of these symptoms can range from things like tingling in the extremities, fingers and toes, headaches or nausea. There are actually cases of folks having euphoria, while other folks may become belligerent. They know if you’re flying along and all of a sudden you just feel a little irritated for no particular reason it may be time to check your oxygen system, look at the environment you’re in or determine if that’s caused by something else. Then take appropriate action to mitigate the risk.
Airman Magazine: You have said that when investigating and mitigating PEs, “We can’t share information fast enough.” Describe what you mean and how that process can be improved?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Sharing the right information and then making sense of the information is very important in dealing with this phenomenon. What we do right now in the Air Force is we listen to the pilots. Pilots will land and give us a debrief – What happened? When did it happen? What types of conditions were going on in the airplane?
You’ll find that in the Air Force fleet, and the Navy fleet as well, most of the aircraft have pretty sophisticated sensors when it comes to their engines and other aircraft systems. When they land that information is downloaded, aggregated, and acted upon. Much of the critical data is available real time and available to the pilot for immediate action. Each aircraft is slightly different as technology improves, but the amount of data that we’re able to download from a given flight is enormous. But hard data on the human weapon system is slim to none.
This gets into right into some of the themes of Secretary of the Air Force has talked about going into artificial intelligence, big data analytics. How do we deal with all this data, make some sense of it and not run down the wrong path to get a wrong conclusion?
I will tell you one area though, where we’re still struggling, not only the Air Force, but also the Navy and our colleagues at NASA, is collecting data from the actual human weapon system.
We want to know things like pulse rate, oxygen content in the blood, cognitive functions, any anomalies with eyesight, but these are very hard things to sense independently without interfering with the aviators while they conduct their mission.
That’s a fascinating area of research that’s happening out at the 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in conjunction with the Navy Medical Research Unit Dayton. What they’ve started to do, both those labs working together and along with some NASA support, is fielding some prototypes, such as sensors that might go, for example, in the (oxygen) mask or on the pilot’s helmet.
We actually know real-time information about the oxygen system in an airplane. We have sensors on the actual system to know the content of oxygen and other gases that might be presented to the aviator. What we don’t know is what happens in system losses; what happens between the actual oxygen production or the oxygen source and the pilot’s breathing. Furthermore, we don’t know the pilot’s ability to uptake that oxygen. There’s a lot of medical and physiological processes that we need to monitor better.
A technique called Hybrid 3D Printing, developed by AFRL researchers in collaboration with the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, uses additive manufacturing to integrate soft, conductive inks with material substrates to create stretchable electronic devices.
(Wyss Institute photo)
Airman Magazine: What does the end state of this research look like? Are you talking about monitoring physiological responses of pilots during missions in real time?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: That’s absolutely correct. We’d like to get to an end state where the human weapon system is instrumented in such a way that’s noninvasive and nonintrusive. The aviators won’t feel the sensors and it doesn’t interfere with their duties at all, but that that data is available just like you would read all the instruments on an engine. We’re trying to figure out, is that five years from now, two years from now or 20 years from now?
If you think of the human on the loop or in the loop going forward, especially in cyber systems and integrating across all-domain operations, it’s going to be more important than ever to make sure that the human weapon system is keeping up and that we’re able to monitor that.
So we’re looking at sensors that might be wearable. A lot of folks out in the community are familiar with wearable fitness monitors and the chips that go in your shoes if you’re going to run a race to keep track of where you are. One of the challenges we have in aviation is the sensors that might be worn in commercial practice that people might buy at a local store are not suitable for the aviation environment, particularly tactical aviation.
Not only do you have the pressure and temperature anomalies that occur as airplanes travel up and down, but in tactical aviation, fighters, bombers and training aircraft, there’s an awful lot of G-loading. There can be anomalies that go from high altitude to low altitude in very short order and that has a lot of wear and tear on the sensors. Some sensors are embedded in clothing and depend on contact with the skin. For example, in order to prepare themselves for a mission, aviators will strap down tighter than you might in an automobile to keep them safe, but that may also cause bulges in the clothing that interferes with sensory contact. There’s a lot of research yet to be done and a lot of development ahead of us.
I’m looking forward to the Air Force potentially investing more in that research. I’m especially impressed with our ability to work with our joint partners with the Navy and the Army, which is coming on board later this month, in this PEAT effort. They’ve got a lot of exciting things happening in their aerospace medicine field and then NASA has been a partner throughout. You really can’t beat, from an intellectual capacity standpoint, having partners like the 711th Human Performance Wing and NASA. We’ve got the best partners in the world.
Airman Magazine: Are there other interagency or commercial partners in the research and investigation of PEs?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Absolutely. Some of the companies that produce our aircraft have divisions dedicated to human physiology and enhancing the ability of the human to perform in or on the loop. They provide enhancements such as providing sensors and digital displays. In some cases, even an augmented reality display, which we have in many aircraft, where there’s a lens that comes over one eye and not only can you see your environment, but that lens will produce a heads-up display of images that will help you interpret what you’re seeing on the ground.
Not only do we have industry partners that helping us with this, we also have universities and some international partners. Primarily we’re working through the Navy to access the folks that are doing that work on the outside, but we’re going to start working a little more with our international affairs group here in the Air Force to foster those partnerships.
Airman Magazine: Do you see a time when human sensor capability will be baked in rather than bolted on?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: I think we’re going to get to that point. Right now, we’ve got to be sensitive to the fact, that if we start utilizing every sensor that’s available commercially, we run the risk of interfering with the mission and maybe causing a distraction. The last thing we want to do is have sensors be the cause of problems. We want the sensors to help us solve those problems.
We’re looking at ways to prototype these things. Edwards Air Force Base, for example, where we do a lot of research and development flight testing, has been very instrumental in working with the 711th Human Performance Wing and the system program offices for the airplanes, to include the T-6, F-15, F-16 and others, in doing some remarkable testing that gives us great foundational data. That foundational data is important to determine where we do the development going forward. Also, we recently shook hands on an agreement with the Civil Air Patrol to help us collect, assess, and sort through the many commercially available wearable sensors.
Airman Magazine: What’s the benefit to the force of being able to process and utilize PE data faster?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: So for example, right now if we have a physiological event in the aircraft, we typically execute emergency procedures, get to a safe backup source of oxygen if it’s available, descend to an altitude where it’s safe to breathe ambient air and then land as soon as possible at the nearest suitable airfield.
Perhaps what will happen in the future, with sensors on board, you may be able to head off that emergency. Sensors may alert the pilots to the fact that they are entering a phase of flight or a set of activities or an environment, where they’re at higher risk of these kinds of anomalies. By alerting the pilot to that, they may be able to mitigate it or avoid a physiological event.
Furthermore, if there is a situation in flight, the sensors on board that gives them real time readings may enable them to do a better job of assessing what’s going on.
But this is where it gets insidious. With physiological events, one serious possible symptom is an inability to assess the situation.
Now that’s a pretty extreme symptom, but you may have those situations come up. In which case, presenting the data to the pilot as numbers or another traditional data format might not be as useful as, maybe, an alert light. There are some programs out there that cause the oxygen mask to vibrate a little bit. We do this with the control stick in airplanes as well. With such an equipped aircraft if you were to get into a stall, the control stick vibrates, They call it a stick shaker. Applying these proven technologies to other areas are all in prototype and being tested.
Zach Demers, an aerospace engineer, demonstrates the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS) in an F-16 flight simulator at the Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
(Photo by Master Sgt. Brian Ferguson)
Airman Magazine: Weren’t you involved in the adoption of another pilot safety system?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Formerly, I served as the Air National Guard’s national director of safety. Part of our safety portfolio is flight safety and in that we have some advanced fourth and fifth- generation aircraft, but we also have legacy systems out there. Systems that don’t have baked-in ground collision avoidance systems.
We worked very hard with the system program office and the Pilot Physician program in the United States Air Force to bring on board these Auto G-CAS systems (Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System). We have confirmed saves in situations where the pilot may have lost awareness. It doesn’t have to be a physiological event. It can be task saturation or other things that cause the pilot to lose awareness of proximity to the ground. Traditional GCAS systems will alert the pilot, such as an X symbol in the heads-up display, letting them know they’re near the ground and need to pull back on the stick.
In the Auto G-CAS, the aircraft sensors can actually determine the point where the pilot can no longer recover, due to the limits of human reaction time, and the system takes over the jet and recovers it for the pilot. As soon as the aircraft is in a safe regime, it returns the control back to the pilot. And that’s also had a couple of great saves for us.
Airman Magazine: You mentioned the Pilot Physician program, what is that and are they involved in the J-PEAT and investigating of UPEs?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan:Pilot Physician is a very unique program in the Air Force and its highly specialized. These are individuals are rated aviators of all sorts, but primarily pilots. Then they go to medical school and change their job category. So they’re no longer primarily pilots for the Air Force, they’re now physicians for the Air Force.
They’ve enabled to help us understand what’s going on both operationally and medically and where those two things meet. In other situations, you have pilots who were trying to describe what’s happening to them in the airplane and then you have medical doctors trying to understand that description. There can be things lost in translation between the communities.
The Pilot Physicians speak both aviation and medicine fluently, are able to identify with the pilots and, in many cases, have flown that exact aircraft being investigated.
Lt. Col. Jay Flottmann, pilot physician and 325th Fighter Wing chief of flight safety, explains how a valve in the upper pressure garment and the shape and the size of oxygen delivery hoses and connection points contributed to previously unexplained physiological issues during F-22 flights.
(Photo by Senior Airman Christina Brownlow)
Airman Magazine: Are there specific examples of investigations that benefitted from Pilot Physician experience and expertise?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Lt. Col. James “Bones” Flottman was the Pilot Physician directly involved in the F-22 investigation that we did a few years ago. The F-22 had a series of physiological episodes. He was the one that was able, as an F-22 pilot and a physician, to credibly determine that it was a work of breathing issue.
It was a combination of factors, we don’t need to go into all the specifics right here, but he was able to bridge the gap between pilot practices, things they’ve been taught to do and things they did through experience, and what was happening medically. That resulted in improvements in the whole system – improvements in some of the hardware and improvements in the pilot practices. Not only was he able to help the investigation team solve that, he was able to then go back and credibly relate this to the pilots, restoring faith both in the system, in the Air Force process.
There’s another one that is a friend of mine, retired Col. Peter Mapes. Dr. Pete Mapes is a classic Pilot Physician. He was a B-52 pilot and a fantastic doctor, as are all of them. He and I worked closely together on Auto G-CAS, as well as several key people in engineering and operations. He was really the driving force, along with Lt. Col. Kevin Price, at the Air Force and the OSD level to push that development and production through, especially for the legacy aircraft.
He also had a role in many other aviation safety improvements to include helicopters, specifically wire detection. A lot of helicopters have mishaps because they strike power lines. He was instrumental in getting some of those systems put into helicopters and out into the fleet.
He was also instrumental in improving some of the seat designs and some of the pilot-aircraft interface designs as well. Really too many to mention.
Another great a success story for the Air Force, when it comes to the Pilot Physician program is Col. Kathy Hughes, call sign “Fog”. She’s flown the T-38 and A-10, a great flying background, and has been a wonderful physician for the Air Force. She really explored the use, the application and the design of our G-suits and was able to help the Air Force evolve into a full coverage G-suit. So now the G-suits that our fighter aviators fly are more standardized and more effective than the previous generations of flight suits. Thanks, in large part, to her work. I recently met her at aviation safety conference where she is helping commercial interests design better ejection seats.
That’s just three examples. There’s a whole laundry list.
We also have advising both the Navy and Air Force PEAT, Col. William P. Mueller; call sign “Ferris”. Col. Mueller was an F-4 fighter pilot and now one of the top physicians in aerospace medicine. He’s been absolutely invaluable in helping us understand what’s going on with the physiological episodes. He not only sits on the Air Force PEAT, but he also has a permanent membership sitting on the Navy’s PEAT. So he’s part of that joint interaction and offers a fearless perspective on improving training.
Col. Kathryn Hughes, a pilot-physician and director, Human Systems Integration, 711th Human Performance Wing, sits on the stairs of a centrifuge at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, April 22, 2016.
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: I like using the email analogy. So most of us have email. Those that work in an office may have one for work and one for personal use, or maybe even more than that. If you’re like me at all, if you skip checking your emails for even one day, you find yourself in a huge email deficit. Now imagine all the sensors, whether it’s a cyber system, aircraft systems, space system, and each piece of all the data being collected as an email coming to you. Within minutes you would be completely overwhelmed with data. So we’re going to rely on systems to help us sort through the data and present those things that are most important now for decision making.
Those other pieces of information that we might want later for analysis, it will store those and present them at the appropriate time. So that gets after artificial intelligence. We need these systems to work with the human in the loop. We don’t necessarily want it to be standalone. We want it to be integrated with humans and that’s where the real challenge comes in, because as an aviator flying an airplane, the data I want right at that moment to prosecute the fight, may be different than the data a cyber operator working with me in that operation may need at that same moment. Artificial Intelligence or underlying data systems will have to be smart enough to give the data to the operator that’s needed to make the right decision.
I recently spent some time with Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. I asked him about this wicked technology problem of applying artificial intelligence on the tactical edge. His advice about leveraging cloud technology to perform advanced operations on big data, where and when needed, has been invaluable.
Airman Magazine: How does recorded data on individual pilots allow you establish baseline physiology and find relationships between PEs that may occur in aircrew from different units and bases?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: We’re already finding benefit from that data, so the 711th Human Performance Wing is working very closely, in this case with the T-6 system program office, and some big data analytic gurus. These folks will take large volumes of data and slice and dice it to find where there might be some differences from what would be considered a baseline or normal.
Then they can dig into those differences and see if there is something to learn. They’re finding a lot of great results that help us improve the systems. Because physiological events involve humans and each human has such a different reaction and an individual person will have a different reaction on a different day, it can be difficult to look at a small sample size and draw any big lessons. We need large sample sizes and that’s where you can start to kind of tease out the pieces of the data that are going to move us forward.
As we worked with the Navy on the Physiological Episode Action Team we have found that pilots in the Air Force and the Navy are more informed than ever. They know people in the tech business and the pilots talk amongst themselves and share information and they’re finding these wearable sensors.
Most of the wearable sensors are not suitable for aviation use. They just can’t provide good data under those conditions, but it’s worth exploring. Talking to Admiral Luckman, we wanted to find a way to get these sensors, and most of them are small things like fitness monitors, that just aren’t allowed in our environment right now, into the cockpit just to see how they survive a flight. The Civil Air Patrol, which flies general aviation aircraft, fly with their smart phones and other types of equipment.
They have a tremendous safety record, but they also have a completely different set of rules than we do. They typically just follow the AIM and the FAA civilian flight rules. Most of those flight rules don’t have any prohibitions on bringing equipment in your pocket or your flight bag.
So recently we sat down with some of the leaders of the Civil Air Patrol to work out a memorandum of understanding whereabouts we’ll get these ideas and sensors to our pilots in the fleet. Some of them will appropriately go through Air Force and Navy channels and may end up being something of a program of record in the long term.
Others that we can’t cross that gap and into the system, we’ll offer those to Civil Air Patrol and, at their option, they can start flying those. It’s not official flight test, but they can at least tell us, does this thing survive a flight up to 10,000 feet and back. And that piece of information might be just enough. That then allows our system program office with the labs to start taking a closer look.
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: So that’s a great question and that’s why I think the development of sensors and better understanding of baseline human physiology is so important.
The RPA environment is just the tip of the iceberg. As we look at humans in the loop or on the loop, human physiology, whether it’s in cyber, RPAs, intel, space, any of the other missions that we’re doing, is a very important consideration.
What we don’t have yet is a tremendous amount of baseline data. What’s physiology supposed to look like in those situations? So when it’s different, how would we know it? That’s some of the work that’s going on right now at the labs is base-lining that data.
I will tell you that while the environment of RPAs is uniquely different than the environment in airplanes, but it’s not always easier. You have a lot of folks that are out there engaged in very serious operations, life and death situations, that they are dealing with for hours on end and then go home every night to their families and to would be a normal environment. Most people have coping mechanisms to deal with that. But that’s one of the areas of research that folks are looking at in the labs – how do we better prepare people to go back and forth between these kinds of environments?
Maj. Bishane, an MQ-9 Reaper pilot, controls an aircraft from Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. RPA personnel deal with the stressors of a deployed military service member while trying to maintain the normalcy of a day-to-day life.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)
Airman Magazine: Let’s shift gears and talk about your career history. How does leading PEAT differ from your past experiences as a safety officer at a wing or a squadron?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Prior to this, I worked for Secretary Mattis in OSD reserve integration. We basically informed OSD policy relative to the seven different reserve components out there to include the Air National Guard.
Before that, I served as commander of the 156th Airlift Wing. As a wing commander, it is a minute-by-minute duty to make risk decisions and it’s very important to realize the consequences of those decisions and understand that whole risk matrix.
In my current position, I’m not a commander of anything. I’m not really in charge of folks specifically. We have a team, but we come together as required. So this job is more informative. One of our primary roles is to inform commanders. As they give us data, we give them back context so they can make better risk decisions.
It also allows the labs to put a focus on their studies enabling the system program offices to acquire and improve systems to support the mission. So this job is very different in that respect.
I think having been a commander previously helps me understand what these commanders they need to hear and how they want to receive that data so it doesn’t overwhelm them.
Airman Magazine: What is it you would like the pilots and aircrew to know about you, the PEAT and their part in preventing and mitigating PEs?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: I traveled to Randolph Air Force Base and I had the opportunity to meet with some of the higher headquarters staff. I met with the commander of 19th Air Force and I was very encouraged and reassured with everyone’s openness to really solving this problem as aggressively and quickly as possible, talking about physiological episodes, but also, in a broader sense, the sustainment of the T-6 and sustainment of other airframes for which people might be interested.
I feel good about where that’s going. I also had a real eye-opener when I had an opportunity to meet with some of the T-6 pilots. We met off base. We decided to meet in a restaurant in a casual environment. We wanted that format because I wanted to hear really unfiltered what some of these T-6 pilots, who are some of the most experienced pilots in the Air Force flying that mission, that airframe. I was able to learn a lot. They have great faith in their chain of command and leadership. They have valid and serious concerns about physiological episodes, as does the commander all the way up to the chief of staff and the Secretary.
I think being able to hear their perspective, share with them my firsthand knowledge of meeting with senior level commanders in the Air Force bridged some gaps. I also was able to hear some very specific engineering questions and connect some of those pilots directly with some of the engineers at the system program office and some folks within their own chain of command that they just haven’t connected with yet. Just trying to get those dialogues going, because the solutions that the air Force is putting into place, whether it’s T-6 or any other airframe, are usually phased. Some of them require major investment, money and time-wise, and those take a little longer to accomplish.
So how do you bridge the gap between today and when we get to that promised land if some of those bigger fixes and it comes down to some solid risk management? In the case of the T-6, there’s a whole list of maintenance protocols that we handle and emergency procedures for the pilots that don’t necessarily reduce the number of these events, but they can reduce the severity and certainly mitigate the consequences. That’s what we’re trying to do. We don’t want a situation where any physiological episode goes far enough to lead to a permanent injury or harm of an aviator destruction of property. We want to catch those things as early as possible through these mitigation techniques.
Another thing I got to do when I was at Randolph was shadow the maintainers as they did maintenance on a T-6 that had a physiological episode. In the past, when these things would happen, there wasn’t a specific protocol. They would do their very best to look at the oxygen system, but there wasn’t a protocol on how to do that.
T-6 Texans fly in formation over Laughlin AFB, TX.
(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Allen)
Over the last year, with the help of a lot of the pilots, doctors, chain of command folks, human performance wing – a big team effort, when the airplane lands after one of those instances it’s an automatic protocol for that oxygen system.
In most cases it’s removed and a new one is put in and the suspect system then gets this thorough going over at the depot level and not only do we fix that, that particular system and return it to service. We’re able to learn a lot and collect data points. In some cases, we don’t find the specific cause in that system and then we look elsewhere – maybe more pilot interviews, talking to the doctors and trying to piece it together.
The protocols that are out there now not only helped mitigate the consequences of these events until we field new equipment, but they also help us in collecting data that will inform better decisions going forward.
Lt. Col. Charles Daniel, a pilot with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 773, walks towards the AH-1W Super Cobra prior to its final flight at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, New Orleans, on Oct. 14, 2020. (Robert Brown/U.S. Marine Corps)
After 34 years of service and more than 930,000 flight hours, the AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopter made its final flight last week. Maj. Patrick Richardson, with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 773, flew the last Super Cobra flight out of Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans.
The Marine Corps has transitioned to the “Zulu” variant of the aircraft, the four-bladed AH-1Z Viper.
“This final flight is very important for us to honor the aircraft,” Richardson said in a video released by Bell Helicopter. “… It’s an honor to be the last guy to fly one. I never thought I’d be in this position.”
The dual-blade helicopter Richardson flew over New Orleans on Oct. 14 was received by HMLA-773 in 1994, he said. Marines flew it in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2005. Lt. Col. Charles Daniel, the squadron’s executive officer, said in the video that he flew the aircraft making last week’s final flight during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Marines also flew the Super Cobra in Iraq, Somalia, the Gulf War and with Marine expeditionary units operating on Navy ships around the world.
Both Richardson and Daniel called the Super Cobra’s final flight bittersweet. Richardson said he flies the AH-1Z Viper, while Daniel said the AH-1W’s retirement coincides with the end of his own career.
“I’ve had a lot of great memories in this aircraft,” Daniel said. “It has gotten me back safe every time and done everything I ever asked it to do. I enjoyed every moment of my time with the Whiskey and the Marines around it.”
The newer AH-1Z Viper is faster, carries more ordnance, has an all-glass cockpit, and can stand off further from the fight, Daniel said.
The Super Cobra’s retirement represents just one transition for Marine Corps aviation. AV-8BHarrier squadrons are saying goodbye to that aircraft as the service transitions to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The Marine Corps is also in the process of upgrading its aging CH-53E Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopter to the powerful new CH-53K King Stallion.
Wondering what it takes to cut the mustard in Special Forces selection?
The time of my first (just) two-year enlistment in the Army was coming to an end. I originally enlisted for the shortest amount of time in the Army in the event that if I really hated it too much I only ever had two years to endure. There were two things that I was positively certain of:
I really DID want to stay in the Army
I really did NOT want to stay right where I was in the Army
It wasn’t a matter of being so fervent about wanting to excel into the ranks of Special Forces soldiers at that time; rather, it was the matter of getting away — far away — from the attitudes and caliber of persons I was serving with at the time in the peace- time Army as it was. I understood, so I thought, that the way to ensure I could distance myself from the regular army aura was to go into Special Forces, namely the Green Berets.
(Special Forces Regimental insignia)
That was a great path forward, but with a near insurmountable obstacle — you had to be a paratrooper! Jumping from an airplane in flight was fine by me, the problem associated with that was that most airplanes had to be really high up before you jumped out of them. I was then as I am still horrendously terrified of heights — woe is me! My fear of altitudes was keeping me from going to Airborne Jump School and stuck in my current morass of resolve.
Well, just two short years in the regular “go nowhere, do nothing” Army and I was ready to jump out of high-in-the-sky airplanes parachute or no parachute. I was ready to jump ship!
Jump School was indeed terrifying despite the small number of jumps, just five, that we were required to make. All of the jumps were in the daytime though mine were all night jumps. All that is required to qualify as a night jump is to simply close one’s eyes. I did. I figured there was nothing so pressing to see while falling and waiting for the intense tug of the opening of the parachute, so I just closed my eyes.
(Every jump can potentially be a night jump, so says I — Wikipedia commons)
There were 25 of us paratroops headed to the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC) upon graduation from Jump School. I was the highest ranking man even as an E-4 in the group, so I was designated the person in charge of the charter bus ride from Jump School to Ft. Bragg, NC for the course — of course! I imagined that duty would not entail much on a bus ride of just a few hours. I was shocked when approached by two men from my group who wished to terminate their status as Green Beret candidates.
Well, the course certainly MUST be hard if men are quitting already on the bus ride to the course.
“Sure fellows, but can you at least wait until we get to Bragg to quit?” I pleaded.
Once at Ft. Bragg, it was our understanding that we were on a two-week wait for our SFQC class to begin. Our first week we tooled about doing essentially nothing but dodging work details like cutting grass and picking up pine cones. The second week was an event that the instructors called “Pre-Phase,” a term that I didn’t like the sound of and braced for impact.
“Pre-Phase,” in my (humble) opinion, was a pointless and disorganized suck-athon. It was a non-stop hazing with back-breaking, butt-kicking, physical events determined to crush the weak and eliminate the faint of heart. In the end we had a fraction of the number of candidates that we started with. I noted that of the 25 men I brought over from Jump School, only me and one other very reserved soldier survived. We nodded at each other and shook hands at the culmination of the mysterious Pre-Phase.
“Good job, brother-man!” I praised him.
“Thank you; my name is Gabrial, you can call me Gabe,” he introduced.
“Great job, Gabe — George is my name — please, call me Geo!” I invited.
The documented entry-level criteria included the ability to pass the standard Army Physical Readiness Fitness Test (APRFT) in a lofty percentile, though one I am loath to admit I do not remember. There was also a swim test that was required of us to perform wearing combat fatigues, combat boots, and carrying an M-16 assault rifle.
We did it in the post swimming pool. It was a bit of a challenge but by no means a threat to my status as a candidate. I was nonetheless dismayed at several men who were not able to pass it after having gone through all they had. It was sad.
(Special Forces have a charter for conducting surface and subsurface water operations — Wikipedia commons)
The first month of the SFQC was very impressive to me as a young man barely 20 years old. It was all conducted at a remote camp in the woods where we lived in structures made of wood frames and tar paper — barely a departure at all from the outdoor environment. We endured many (MANY) surprise forced marches of unknown distance, very heavy loads, and extreme speed that were hardly distinguishable from a full run.
Aside from the more didactic classroom environment learning skills of every sort, there were the constant largely physical strength and endurance events like hand-to-hand combat training, combat patrolling, rope bridge construction with river crossings, obstacle course negotiating, living and operating in heavily wooded environments. We learned to kill and prepare wild game for meals: rabbits, squirrels, goats, and snakes. Hence the age-old term for Special Forces soldiers — “Snake Eaters,” a moniker I bore with proud distinction.
(Survival skills are essential in Special Forces — Wikipedia Commons)
We all had to endure a survival exercise of several days alone. There were dozens of tasks associated with that exercise that we had to accomplish in those days: building shelter, starting and maintaining a fire for heat and cooking, building snares and traps to catch animals for food, and building an apparatus to determine time of day and cardinal directions.
Since the same land was used time after time by the survival training, it was understood by the cadre that the land was pretty much hunted out, leaving no animals to speak of for food. Therefore there was a set day and time that a truck was scheduled to drive by each candidate’s camp to throw an animal off of the back. When the animal hit the ground it became stunned and disoriented. We had just seconds to profit from the animal’s stupor to spring in and catch it before it ran away… or go hungry for the duration.
Hence the sundial I built and my track of the days, to have myself in position to capture my animal when the time came. The time and the truck came. I crouched along the side of the terrain road. The cadre slung a thing that was white from the truck. It hit the ground and was stunned. I pounced on what turned out to be a white bunny rabbit.
“Oh… my God!” I lamented earnestly in my weakened physical and mental capacity, “I’ve stumbled into Alice in Wonderland’s enchanted forest… I can’t eat the White Rabbit!”
(He’s late, he’s late, for a very important date — Wikipedia Commons)
Some men were unfortunately unable to capture their rabbits in time before they ran away. One man was overcome by grief at the prospect of killing his rabbit — his only source of companionship. He rather built a cage for it and graced it with a share of the paltry source of food that he had. Me, I was a loner and swung my Cheshire rabbit by the hind legs head-first into a tree. I ate that night in solace and in the company of just myself.
Men who could no longer continue sat on the roadside each morning and waited for a truck, one that I referred to in disdain as the hearse, to be picked up and removed from the course. One of them was carrying a cage lovingly constructed from sticks and vines in which sat therein a nibbling white rabbit. The man was washed out of the course for failing tasks, backed up by quitting. There was no potential for a man to return for a second time if he had quit on his first try — quitting was not an option.
The event that cut the greatest swath through the candidate numbers was the individual land navigation event. It lasted a week or so with some hands-on cadre-lead instruction, some time for individual practice, culminating in a period of several days and nights of individual tests. The movements were long, the terrain difficult, the stress level very high. Every leg of the navigation course was measured on time and accuracy — we had to be totally accurate on every move, and within the speed standard.
(SF troop candidate during Land Navigation Phase of SFQC moves quickly with heavy loads — DVIDS)
I recall a particular night when all of us lay in our pup tents waiting for our release time to begin our night movements. Just as the hour was on us a monumental torrent of rain began to gush down. The men scrambled and clambered back to their tents like wet alley cats. I performed a simple mathematical equation in my head:
time equals distance
hiding in a tent for an undetermined period equals zero time
zero time equals zero distance
choosing one’s personal comfort over time equals failure
I had a Grandma Whipple’s rum-soaked cigar clenched tightly in my teeth; it was lit before the rain but no more, and I assure you most fervently that it was never in any way Cuban! Plowing through the vegetation for many minutes I came to a modest clearing that I came to be very familiar with over the days. It told me that I was thankfully on course for the moment. The rain was tapering off generously and I felt a leg up on the navigation for the night.
I reached for my cigar but there was none there save the mere butt that remained clenched in my teach. To my disgust the waterlogged cigar had collapsed under its weight and lay in a mushy black track down my chin and neck edging glacially toward my chest. There would be no comfort of the smoke, nor deterrence of mosquitoes by the smoke of the Grandma Whipple’s rum-soaked positively non-cuban cigar that night.
More than five months later I sat on my rucksack (backpack) of some 50 lbs just having completed a timed 12-mile forced ruck march, nothing any longer between me and graduation from the SFQC course. There were plenty of things to think of that had happened or did not happen to me over the nearly half-year, though I somehow chose the bus ride from Jump School to Ft. Bragg to ponder. How rowdy and arrogant the crowd had been, all pompously sporting green berets that they hadn’t even earned yet. Me, I had chosen to wear my Army garrison cap — nothing fancy.
I filtered through the events that had taken each man who had not already quit from that arduous bus ride from Jump School. I remember how they had all failed or quit one by one except that one brother whose hand I shook at the end of pre-phase.
Buses pulled up to move us back to some nice barracks for the night, some barrack at least 12 miles away by my calculation. Usually everyone snatched up his own rucksack by his damned self, but on this occasion the brother next to me pulled up my rucksack to shoulder height for me in a congratulatory gesture of kindness.
I in turn grabbed his rucksack in the same manner though with a deep admiration and respect for the man who had come all the way with me from Jump School through the SFQC fueled by reserved professionalism. His name was Gabriel, but I just called him Gabe.
The Cold War must have been an amazing time to be a weapons manufacturer for the U.S. government. Like some kind of early Tony Stark (I guess that would be Howard Stark), if you could dream it, you could build it, and chances were very good the CIA would fund it. From funding LSD tests using prostitutes and their johns to a secret underground ice base in Greenland to trying to build an actual flying saucer, there was literally no end to what the CIA would try.
What they ended up actually building and then using was much less fun and much more terrifying. We only found out about it because Senator Frank Church decided to do a little investigating.
Among other things, he found a gun that caused heart attacks, a weapon that had been used against the U.S. political enemies and beyond.
Spurred by the publication of Seymour Hersh’s article in The New York Times in December 1974, the United States Congress decided to look into just what its internal and external intelligence agencies were doing in the name of the American people using their tax dollars. What they found was a trove of legal and illegal methods used by the CIA, NSA, FBI, and even the IRS. Among the abuses of power discovered by the Church Commission was the opening of domestic mail without a warrant and without the Postal Service’s knowledge, the widespread access intelligence had to domestic telecommunications providers and adding Americans to watch lists.
Even the Army was spying on American civilians.
The most shocking of the Church Commission’s findings was the targeted assassination operations the CIA used against foreign leaders. Allegedly, Fidel Castro wasn’t the only name on the CIA hit list. Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem, and Gen. René Schneider of Chile were all targets for CIA-sanctioned killings.
Castro alone survived 600 assassination attempts.
The clandestine service had its people researching all sorts of various ways to kill its targets. The CIA soon latched on to poisons, ones that were undetectable and appeared to mimic a heart attack. They found it in a specially-designed poison, engineered for the CIA. Only a skilled pathologist who knew what to look for would ever discover the victim’s heart attack wasn’t from natural causes. To deliver the poison, the injection was frozen and packed into a dart.
Darts from the new secret assassination gun would penetrate clothing but leave only a small red dot on the skin’s surface. Once inside the body, the dart disintegrated and the frozen poison inside would begin to melt, entering the bloodstream and causing the cardiac episode. Shortly after, the deadly agent denatured quickly and became virtually undetectable. They even brought the gun to show Congress.
The Church Commission and its findings caused a massive frenzy in the United States. People became hungry for more and began to get hysterical in the wake of any news about the CIA. In the aftermath of the Church Commission, President Ford (and later, Reagan) had to issue executive orders banning the tactics of targeted assassinations by the CIA and other intelligence agencies.
What became of the poison dart gun is anyone’s guess.
You may think that when a plane is retired by the Air Force, the Department of Defense is simply done with it. The only options from here are being sold second-hand, getting scrapped, becoming a museum installation, or getting lucky and becoming a civilian warbird. Well, there is another option – planes can continue to serve, but that service usually comes to a fiery end.
That’s because old fighters make for useful target drones. These eight successful fighters all found use well after retirement.
A F6F Hellcat meets its end at the hands of an AIM-9B Sidewinder missile in 1957, more than a decade after the end of World War II.
1. F6F Hellcat
Over 11,000 F6F Hellcats were produced, so it’s no surprise that this classic ended up doing target drone duty. In the late 1950s, Hellcats served as targets for the early versions of the AIM-9 Sidewinder. Today, the FAA shows only 11 registered Hellcats.
The QF-86 Sabre was still in service with the United States military in 1991 – four decades after F-86 Sabres blasted Commies out of the sky.
(U.S. Navy photo by PH2 Bruce Trombecky)
2. F-86 Sabre
The most famous plane of the Korean War didn’t leave service when the Air National Guard retired its last F-86 in the 1970s. Instead, F-86s served as target drones in the 1990s — long after they dominated MiG Alley.
A F-16 Fighting Falcon takes down a QF-100 Super Sabre in a test of the AIM-120 AMRAAM.
3. F-100 Super Sabre
The F-100 Super Sabre also saw years of post-retirement service as a target for missiles. The AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile’s deadliness was honed on QF-100 Super Sabres.
The F-102 served as a target drone into the 1980s.
Former President George W. Bush’s old steed saw some service as a target drone for a decade after its retirement. The last of the QF-102/PQM-102s were shot down in 1986.
The Air Force bought less than 300 F-104s, but some became target drones.
5. F-104 Starfighter
This plane didn’t see much service with the United States, but was purchased in large numbers by American allies. The QF-104 extended the F-104’s otherwise brief service with the United States military.
The F-106 Delta Dart was replaced by the F-15 in the 1980s, but those that were turned into target drones came within a couple of years of serving into the 21st century.
6. F-106 Delta Dart
The F-106 Delta Dart succeeded the F-102 as an interceptor in the 1960s, so it seems natural the QF-106 would succeed the QF-102/PQM-102 force as targets. The Delta Dart’s last mission as a target drone was in 1997.
The QF-4 Phantom served for over two decades as an oversized clay pigeon for various missile tests.
(Wikimedia Commons photo by Jon Hurd)
7. F-4 Phantom
The F-4 was a workhorse for the United States Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps for decades. However, it also put in roughly two decades as a drone. It finally flew its last mission in 2016.
The QF-16 Fighting Falcon will be serving as a target drone for the foreseeable future.
(USAF photo by MSgt. J. Scott Wilcox)
8. F-16 Fighting Falcon
The F-16 replaced some F-4s in active United States Air Force service – as well as in the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. Now, the first QF-16 target drones are taking flight as targets for missile tests.
The fighters that end up as target drones meet a noble end. Though they no longer fly missions in-theater, they ensure that the missiles used by American military personnel are reliable.
Paracord, commonly known as “550-cord,” is a simple, nylon, kernmantle rope that was originally used by paratroopers in World War II for suspension lines. The tiny bit of fabric is designed to have a minimum breaking strength of 550 lbs — hence the unofficial name.
But the usefulness of paracord has extended far beyond Airborne units. Throughout the decades that’ve followed its introduction, troops have found many creative and ingenious uses for the cord. Here’s what makes it such a versatile tool:
Paracord is abundant in nearly every supply room
The main reason why so troops use paracord for virtually everything is that supply rooms have spools of it laying around. If you ask nicely, they can toss you a bunch off the hand receipts.
On a post-9/11 deployment, the cord (and ponchos that are rarely used in the desert) is used to zone tents, marking off the area “owned” by each troop.
Paracord can secure anything
The cord can support up to 550 pounds before you run the risk of snapping it. For most tasks, this is more than enough. Because of its strength, it’s the go-to tie-down strap for many military operations.
It’s used for everything, from acting as a stand-in shoelace or belt to securing sensitive equipment, like NVGs and rifle optics. The U.S. Army trusts paracord.
It’s perfect for arts and crafts
On a deployment, you’ll have plenty of downtime. Troops get pretty ingenious when coming up with ways to pass that extra time. It’s not uncommon to see troops learning how to make key chains, rosaries, and survivalist bracelets out of 550-cord.
The idea here is that if a troop ever needs some cord, they can snap off the plastic that holds their little doll together and unwind several feet of it for good use. When a troop doesn’t need some cord, they have a toy. Joy!
Paracord can be used everywhere
The cord is remarkably durable. The strength comes from the interwoven braids and the outer cord protects those braids from withering in the elements, making it water and sand resistant. 550-cord can easily hold together a radio antennae through a hot Afghan summer.
But it really has been used everywhere. In a 1993 repair of the Hubble Space Telescope, senior engineer Mark Neuman fixed things up with thermal blankets with 35 feet of paracord. This means that the -billion-dollar astrological marvel was fixed using about of paracord.
It can become a makeshift anything
If you’re in a bind and all you have is your trusty paracord bracelet, you’re in luck because this stuff can be made into anything. The cord’s guts can be great for sewing, fishing, and starting a fire while the outside can make a great shoe lace or trap.
An XQ-58A Valkyrie unmanned aerial vehicle undergoing testing with the U.S. Air Force was damaged during its third flight test, forcing its next test to be delayed until an investigation is complete, officials announced Oct. 10, 2019.
The Valkyrie drone was hit by “high surface winds” and also suffered “a malfunction of the vehicle’s provisional flight test recovery system” and landed in a damaged state at the testing ranges in Yuma, Arizona, on Oct. 9, 2019, the Air Force said.
The drone is part of the Air Force’s Low-Cost Attritable Strike Demonstration program, an effort to develop unmanned attack aircraft that are intended to be reusable, but cheap enough that they can be destroyed without significant loss.
“We continue to learn about this aircraft and the potential … technology [it] can offer to the warfighter,” said Maj. Gen. William Cooley, commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory, in a released statement.
“This third flight successfully completed its objectives and expanded the envelope from the first two flights,” Cooley added. The flight lasted 90 minutes, officials said.
“We have gathered a great deal of valuable data from the flight and will even learn from this mishap,” Cooley said. “Ultimately, that is the objective of any experiment and we’re pleased with the progress of the Low Cost Attritable Strike Demonstration program.”
The Air Force did not say how long it will take to investigate the setback, nor when officials can anticipate its fourth flight.
In partnership with Kratos Defense, the drone’s manufacturer, officials previously completed a second test in Yuma on June 11, 2019.
The Air Force has been working to expedite the prototype program, which in the near future could incorporate artificial intelligence. AFRL in recent months has also been working on the “Skyborg” program, aimed at pairing AI with a human in the cockpit.
The goal is to incorporate the Skyborg network into Valkyrie. The drone’s purpose would be to operate alongside manned fighters, so the machine can learn how to fly and even train with its pilot.
The XQ-58A Valkyrie unmanned aerial vehicle.
Valkyrie, a long-range, high-subsonic UAV, has incorporated a lot of lessons from Kratos’ other subsonic drone, the Mako, according to Kratos Defense CEO and President Eric DeMarco.
“Mako continues to fly for various customers with all types of payloads,” he said during an interview at the Paris air show in June. It was designed to carry electronic warfare or jamming equipment, infrared search and track sensors and offensive and defensive weapons, he said.
“Mako [is] a test bed, running a parallel path with the Valkyrie, so when the Valkyrie is ready, those payloads can more easily be ported over and integrated into Valkyrie because they’ve already been demonstrated in an unmanned platform,” DeMarco said.
Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said during the show that there’s potential to field some Valkyrie UAVs quickly — roughly 20 to 30 — for experimentation before the service pairs manned fighters with the drone by 2023.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
The E-6 Mercury is arguably the deadliest aircraft in the arsenal of the United States Navy. Its lethality is extreme, even though it doesn’t carry any weapons. Sounds odd? Well, when you look at what the E-6 does, then seeing it as the Navy’s deadliest plane isn’t a stretch.
According to a Navy fact sheet, the E-6 is a “communications relay and strategic airborne command post aircraft” that is tasked with providing “survivable, reliable, and endurable airborne command, control, and communications between the National Command Authority (NCA) and U.S. strategic and non-strategic forces.” The nickname they have is TACAMO – or TAke Charge And Move Out.
When the plane first entered service in 1989 as the E-6A, it was designed solely for the communications replay role. This meant it passed on messages from the President and Secretary of Defense to the force of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. The 14 Ohio-class submarines can each carry 24 UGM-133 Trident II missiles – and each of those have the ability to carry up to 14 warheads, either a 100-kiloton W76 or a 475-kiloton W88.
That said, in the 1990s, the DOD was dealing with a cold, hard fact: Their force of EC-135C Looking Glass airborne command posts were getting old. However, with the fall of the Soviet Union and the “peace dividend,” new airframes were out of the question.
The E-6As soon were upgraded to add the “Looking Glass” mission to their TACAMO role, and were re-designated as E-6Bs. This now made them capable of running America’s strategic nuclear deterrence in the event of Doomsday. The Navy has two squadrons with this plane VQ-3 and VQ-4, both of which are based at Tinker Air Force Base.
So that is why the E-6B Mercury, a plane with no weapons of its own, and which may never leave American airspace, is the deadliest plane in the Navy’s arsenal.
Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s top-of-the-line S-400 missile defense system has caused a diplomatic spat between Ankara and Washington and led NATO’s southernmost member to miss out on the F-35 stealth fighter jet, but it could actually prove fatal to Moscow’s plans to take on US F-22s and F-35s.
Articles on the threat posed to the F-35 program by the S-400 are a dime a dozen, with experts across the board agreeing that networking Russian systems into NATO’s air defenses spells a near death sentence for allied air power.
Additionally, scores of US experts have argued that Turkey’s S-400 could get a peak at the F-35’s stealth technology and glean important intelligence on the new plane meant to serve as the backbone of US airpower for decades to come.
But something weird is going on with the US’s laser focus on F-35’s security. Michael Kofman, a senior research scientist at CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization, told Defense One this should be cause for concern.
An F-35A Lightning II.
“For some reason coverage tends not to ask the question of how are Russians planning to deal with the potential problem of US intelligence being all over their system in Turkey,” he said.
“Russians are not crying about selling their best tech to a NATO country, despite the obvious implications for technology access. That should make us wonder,” he continued.
Basically, while Russia’s installation and support for S-400 systems in Turkey may give it intel on the F-35, Turkey, a NATO country, having Russia’s best weapon against against US airpower could spell doom for the system.
If the US cracks the S-400, Russia is in trouble
Russia relies on its missile defenses to keep its assets at home and abroad safe as it pursues increasingly risky military escalations in theaters like Ukraine and Syria. Defeating these systems, potentially, could leave Russia vulnerable to attack.
But if the US can take a look at Russia’s S-400 “depends entirely on what conditions the Russians manage to hold the Turks to in terms of allowing NATO (US) access to inspect the system,” Justin Bronk, an aerial combat expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider.
Russian S-400 batteries in Syria.
(Russian Defense Ministry)
“It’s potentially a very valuable source of previously unavailable information about a threat system which is a specific priority for the alliance and the US has never come into possession of an S-400 before,” Bronk said. However, “it may be that the system is actually operated by and guarded by Russian personnel in Turkey which could complicate things,” he continued.
Also, Russia’s export version of the S-400 doesn’t exactly match the version they use at home, but a former top US Air Force official told Business Insider that the US already has insight into Russia’s anti-air capabilities, and that the export version isn’t too far off from the genuine article.
Russia needs the money?
“Russia will sell them to whomever will give them the cash,” the source continued, pointing to Russia’s weak economy as a potential explanation for making the risky move of selling S-400 systems to a NATO country.
So while Russia may get some intelligence on the F-35 through its relationship with Turkey, that road runs both ways.
Furthermore, while US stealth aircraft represent individual systems, Russia’s missile defenses serve as an answer to multiple US platforms, including naval missiles. Therefore, Russia having its S-400 mechanics exposed may prove a worse proposition than the F-35 being somewhat exposed to Russian eyes.
“Getting a look at the system architecture and the hardware would still be extremely valuable for NATO,” Bronk concluded.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Many researchers are working to create the next revolution in drones for both war and peace. At the University of Pennsylvania, teams of researchers headed by Dr. Vijay Kumar are making progress on autonomous UAVs. Since they’re autonomous, they don’t need human operators, just the command to begin a task.
The robots created at Kumar Labs are designed for disaster relief and agricultural work, but could change the way the infantry operates, assaulting contested buildings and objectives alongside troops and performing a variety of services.
The first step to moving drones from overwatch in the skies to clearing buildings with squads is getting them into the buildings. The autonomous UAVs created by researchers weigh between 20 grams and 2 kilograms, feature a quad-rotor design that allows hovering, and are nimble, allowing them to fly through small windows or openings.
Of course, if multiple drones are needed on a mission, the drones have to be able to enter the building and move around without interfering with each other or the human squad. UPENN researchers have created different ways for the drones to behave around each other. The copters can simply avoid one another while working independently or on a shared task, follow a designated group leader, or operate in a coordinated swarm as shown below.
Once inside of a building or a village, the drones would get to work. They could move ahead of the squad and create 3D maps of buildings the squad or platoon expects to hit soon.
The little UAVs are capable of lifting objects on order individually or as part of a team. Fire teams that are decisively engaged could quickly request more ammo be brought to their position and see it arrive slung underneath the autonomous drones. Medics could designate a casualty collection point and begin combat casualty care as more supplies are ferried to them. Drones could even be used as suicide bombers, moving explosives to a point on the battlefield and detonating their cargo.
The drones can also construct obstacles. While currently limited to cubic structures made from modular parts, the drones build according to preset designs without the need for human oversight. Platoon leaders could designate priorities and locations of simple construction and the drones would begin completing their assignments. Metal frames could be placed inside windows and other openings to prevent enemy drones from accessing structures. Mines or flares could be placed by drones on the approaches to the objective, slowing an enemy counterattack and warning friendly forces.
Of course, the copters are also capable of completing the traditional drone mission: Surveillance. While not as fast as the larger drones already in use, they could extend the eyes of the drone fleet into buildings. Also, since they can follow preset waypoints, the drones could continuously patrol an assigned area on their own, only requiring a human’s interaction when they spot something suspicious. The drone can even perch on an outcropping or velcro itself to a landing spot, allowing it to turn off its motors and become silent.
Dr. Kumar discussed the robots, the science behind them, and where he hopes to take them during a 2012 TED Talk.
In a stunning story of split-second decision-making under pressure, heroic, selfless action, and remarkable airmanship, the drama of what really happened in a burning B-1B bomber over Texas on May 1, 2018 has finally been revealed.
June 2018 in Washington, Secretary of the Air Force Dr. Heather Wilson finally told reporters and Air Force personnel what has been secretly talked about on back-channels since the incident occurred, Air Force Times Tara Copp reported.
A B-1B supersonic heavy bomber from the 7th Bomb Wing at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas was returning from a routine training sortie on May 1, 2018. The aircraft’s young crew of four, the senior aircraft commander — likely the instructor, the copilot, an offensive systems operator, and the defensive systems operator were on board. The names of the crew have not yet been released.
A fire warning light illuminated in the cockpit. According to credible reports, it was likely the number three engine on the aircraft’s right wing located closest to the fuselage. The number two and number three engines are the closest to the complex apparatus that moves the B-1B’s variable geometry swept wings. They are also close to the aircraft fuel tanks.
The crew initiated the emergency checklist procedures for extinguishing a fire in an engine. It was likely calm but businesslike in the cockpit.
The fire continued. The final item on the emergency checklist is: “Eject”.
The early B-1A prototypes were originally designed with a crew escape capsule that rocketed off the fuselage as one unit. The escape capsule was not engineered into production B-1B bombers when the program was renewed in 1982 by the Reagan administration. As a result, four lighter weight individual Weber Aircraft ACES II (Advanced Crew Ejection Seat II) ejection seats were installed in production B-1Bs. The ACES II is a proven and effective ejection seat with well over 600 successful crew escapes and the lowest frequency of user injuries of any ejection seat in history.
When the aircraft commander ordered the ejection of the crew from the burning aircraft over Texas the first crewmember to actuate their ejection seat was the right/rear seat on the aircraft, the Offensive Systems Operator.
When the crewmember pulled the ejection seat handles the hatch above the OSO’s ejection seat exploded off the aircraft. But the Offensive Systems Operator ejection seat did not fire. The Offensive Systems Operator was trapped under an open hatch on an armed ejection seat in a burning aircraft. Other than having a fire in the cockpit, this was a worse-case scenario.
Dr. Wilson told reporters that, “Within two seconds of knowing that had happened the aircraft commander says, ‘Cease ejection. We’ll try to land.”
Secretary Wilson told reporters on Monday that after the ejection sequence was initiated in the B-1B, “That did two things. First the airman who’s sitting on an ejection seat where he’s pulled the fire pins ― and sits there for the next 25 minutes. Wondering whether ― it’s like pulling out the pin on a grenade and holding it as you come in to land. And not knowing whether the next piece of turbulence is going to cause you to launch.”
Having cancelled the ejection of the crew from the burning bomber, the aircraft commander declared an emergency and diverted to Midland International Air and Space Port between Midland and Odessa, Texas, over 150 miles from their original base at Dyess AFB.
The pilot and flight crew flew the B-1B the entire way to Midland while it was on fire with a missing hatch, had no cockpit pressurization and an armed ejection seat that could fire at any moment without warning. Even the impact of a normal landing could have triggered the ejection seat to ignite its rockets and leave the aircraft.
The crew recovered the aircraft to Midland without injury or further damage to the aircraft, saving every member on board and the 400 million-dollar B-1B.
Dr. Heather Wilson concluded her recounting of the heroic B-1B crew’s actions by acknowledging, “The courage it took and the valor represented by that aircraft commander who decided, ‘We are going to try for all of us to make it, rather than sacrifice the one guy who can’t get out.’ Those are the men and women who choose to wear the uniform of the United States Air Force.”
The B-1 incident led to a temporary stand-down of the whole B-1 fleet as all ejection seats were inspected. The grounding was lifted on Jun. 19, 2018.
Featured image: the B-1B from Dyess AFB after the May 1, 2018 emergency landing in Texas. Notice the missing hatch on top of the aircraft. (Time Fischer/Midland Reporter-Telegram)
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.