The 10 worst Air Forces in the world - We Are The Mighty
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The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

When it comes to things like air superiority, if you don’t have to think about it, you’re probably winning. The ground pounders in the Armed Forces of the United States have it pretty good in that regard. They can be reasonably sure that if they’re going into a combat situation, death will likely not be coming from above.


The Army and Marine Corps know they can count on airmen to have the best food and the worst PT tests, but as long as those airmen can lift bombs and bullets onto aircraft and get the stuff to the fight, everyone is blessed from on high. Everyone allied with the United States, that is.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world
#blessed.

But what happens to ground troops who can’t depend on US airpower to ensure “death from above” isn’t the last thing they hear? There are countries whose armed forces have to deal with things like that. Some countries go to war and send in ground forces without really thinking about an air force. If air power isn’t a priority, going to war in the 21st century is a terrible idea.

We’re not here to make fun of countries who don’t have an air force, especially if they aren’t going around rattling sabers all the time. You never hear about Costa Rica wanting to invade Belize for their strategic scuba gear caches. No, Costa Rica is too busy getting rich from Americans on yoga trips to worry about things like war. Meanwhile, Iran is constantly talking smack to Israel while rolling around in F-14 Tomcats that Israel can see from the the runways where their F-35s take off.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world
Iran: 30+ years of Top Gun references. You know they love it.

But just because something is a little old doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its uses. If it works and the country can maintain its effectiveness, then why get rid of it? If a country has antiquated equipment but is still rocking it after all these years, we won’t take points off. Some things are just timeless.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world
You magnificent, old bastard.

The reason a country’s air force makes the list is because they’re patched together with bubble gum and wishes and expected to fight a war with awful training, no funding, and little regard from the government for the lives of the people expected to keep their terrible air forces flying.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

A Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 Hornet gives a shrug as it parks on the flight line at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Chase Cannon)

10. Canada

It’s still hard to see such a stalwart U.S. ally make the list, but here we are. In our last rundown of the world’s airborne worst, Canada was the least worst of those listed. Last time, we specifically mentioned how terrible the state of Canada’s Ch-124 Sea King fleet was. Just to get them airborne required something like 100 hours apiece.

Replacing them was just as laborious; it took more than 20 years of political wrangling to get to a point where they could first fly its replacement, the Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone. But the helicopter fun doesn’t stop there. The bulk of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s helicopter fleet is flying the Bell CH-146 Griffon, a bird known to cause constant, debilitating neck pain in most of the pilots who fly it.

Canada never learned from its own cautionary tale – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pushed the F/A-18 Super Hornet for Canada’s next-gen Strike Fighter to replace the aging CF-18s ordered by his father in the 1970s while the rest of its Western Allies are upgrading to the F-35.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

Can you see this stealth fighter? So can everyone else’s radar.

9. China

Yeah, I know most of you are calling bullsh*t immediately, but hear me out. For all its talk, China isn’t currently capable of global reach, and isn’t expected to be until 2030. It has a relatively small number of early-warning aircraft and aerial tankers. Most of its aerial fleet are licenses or rip-offs of other, better fighting systems. And the vaunted Chinese Chengdu J-20 fighter was rushed into production with a less-than-adequate engine, which negates any stealth capabilities it has and weakens its performance as a fifth-gen fighter.

That’s a pretty embarrassing misstep for an air force that wants to strike fear in the hearts of the world’s second-largest air force: the U.S. Navy.

More than that, when was the last time China did anything with its air force other than attempt to intimidate weaker neighbors in the South China Sea? Historically, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force has a tendency to get in way over its head. It wasn’t a real factor in the Chinese wars with India and Vietnam (though you’d think an air force in the 20th century would be), but where it was a factor – the Korean War, the Taiwan Strait Crises, and the U.S.-Vietnam War – a lack of any air combat doctrine and investment in air power led to heavy losses and big lessons for the PLAAF.

It wasn’t until after the Gulf War of 1991 that Chinese leaders decided to really give air power another shot, both in terms of technology and investment. China still has a long way to go.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

Greece, full of historical artifacts – like its air force.

8. Greece

There are a lot of training accidents in the Hellenic Air Force. After a Greek Mirage 2000 crashed into the Aegean Sea April 2018, a look back at the incidents reported to Greek officials found 125 people died in 81 crashes between 1990 and 2018. Two of those were Greek fighter pilots trying to intercept Turkish jets.

Since the Greek government debt crisis, the Greek military has to be incredibly cautious with the money it spends. Every time a Greek fighter has to scramble to intercept a Turkish fighter in their airspace, it bleeds Greece of Euros better spent elsewhere. That might be why Turkey does it more than a thousand times every year – and there’s nothing the Greeks can do about it except go up and meet them with antiquated equipment due to the steep budget cuts demanded by Greece’s creditors.

Turkey will soon be flying F-35s like most NATO allies, while Greece (also a NATO ally, but Turkey doesn’t care) will be “intercepting” them with F-16s at best, and maybe an F-4 Phantom at worst.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani not sitting in a museum piece, but an actual Iranian Air Force F5F fighter, first build in the 60s and still used in Iran.

(FARS News Agency)

7. Iran

The F-14s flown by Iran these days were first introduced under President Richard Nixon. Don’t get me wrong, Iran’s air force should be given props (see what I did there?) for keeping the aging fleet airborne. Iran’s F-14s were purchased by the Shah or Iran and, when he was overthrown, the U.S. wasn’t exactly keen on providing spare parts to the Islamic Republic. They were able to kick ass against Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi air force in the Iran-Iraq War, but that was then and this is now.

Those things are held together with duct tape and wishes by now, with only seven operational Iranian Air Force F-14s. The Islamic Republic now has to use homegrown technology to replace certain avionics systems and weapons on its aging aircraft, even going to far as to claim an old American F-5F was an Iranian-built fourth-gen fighter in 2018 because it had a lot of Iranian-built components.

In fact, Iran is just using F-5s as a blueprint to Frankenstein “new” fighters from its old garbage – most of which is leftover from the Shah or was captured from the Iraqis. Even the IRIAF’s ejection seats can’t save its pilots.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

This Ukrainian Su-25 isn’t landing… at least, not on purpose.

(The Aviationist)

6. Ukraine

Ukraine has a definite Russia problem. Not content to simply let his divorce with Ukraine happen, Russia’s Vladimir Putin is out to give Ukraine headaches wherever possible and Ukraine can do little about it. Russia-backed separatists operate with near-impunity in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region and, when the Ukrainian Air Force is able to act, they often either kill civilians or get shot down on the way.

Its aircraft go down without enemy help, as seen in the 2018 Su-27 crash in Western Ukraine that killed Lt. Col. Seth ‘Jethro’ Nehring of the California Air National Guard. The Flanker went down as the pilot was familiarizing the American with its capabilities. In fact, other Su-27s have crashed, including one at an air show that killed 83 people. The National Interest said these crashes are either a result of poor maintenance, poor training, and/or daredevil flying. The truth is probably a combination of the three.

To top it all off, Ukraine’s air force is so old it was mostly handed down from the Soviet Union after the fall of Communism in the east. The old airframes are no match for the advanced surface-to-air missile being fired at them from the separatists. When Russia captured 45 planes from Ukraine’s Su-29 fleet in annexing Crimea, they probably did Ukraine a huge favor.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

PAF: Caveat emptor.

5. Pakistan

On any global list of sh*t-talkers, Pakistan has historically rated very high, especially toward its longtime arch-nemesis, India (although new Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan seems more conciliatory). The Pakistanis see India as an existential threat, and are not likely to stop anytime soon.

So, after fighting four pitched wars against India and losing all of them, prioritizing air power would seem to be the way forward if Pakistan was still going to rattle the saber every so often. RAND Corporation studies still declare that the Indian Air Force would have air supremacy in any war against Pakistan. Only very recently has Pakistan decided it would be best to upgrade their fighter aircraft. So, in a joint venture with China, they created a bargain-basement version of the F-16, the JF-17 Thunder, which now makes up the bulk of the PAF.

To give you an idea of how (in)effective the Thunder is, China doesn’t fly it. Neither does anyone else. Immediately dubbed the “Junk Fighter-17 Blunder,” the aircraft is dangerous to fly at lower speeds, it can’t fly as fast as older Pakistani airframes (and certainly not as fast as India’s fighters), and it can’t use similar avionics and munitions as its other fighters, which was one of the missions in creating the fighter in the first place. If all they wanted to do was replace their old fleet, then mission accomplished. If they wanted to beat India in an air war, well, it doesn’t look good, but it remains to be tested.

Aside from the JF-17, the PAF lags behind India in terms of both numbers of combat aircraft and the actual serviceable aircraft fielded at any given moment. It also lags behind its rival in terms of training and ability. Even when facing superior Pakistani firepower, skilled Indian pilots still manage to best the Pakistanis.

It’s a good thing the two countries face a nuclear detente.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

4. Mexico

Mexico has been fighting a war against the cartels for over a decade now, and all it got them was an increase in violence that made them the “Syria of North America.” In all that time, not only did the Mexican government decide not to invest in its air forces, it actively allowed all of its fighter aircraft to retire. Mexico has zero fighters.

While fighter aircraft aren’t necessary as a deterrent for aggressive neighbors, the cartels the country is actively fighting regularly uses aircraft to violate Mexican airspace and move illegal substances that fund the ongoing fight against the Mexican government and rival cartels. The aircraft the FAM does fly cannot fly high or fast enough to intercept aircraft used by drug smugglers and their leadership.

The Mexican Air Force has gone full Afghanistan with its fleet, focusing on drones, light attack aircraft, and troop transports. This is particularly bothersome to its northern neighbors, especially the United States, who considers the defense of the hemisphere a multilateral issue. Without Mexican air power, the U.S. may have a soft underbelly. Moreover, the Mexican Air Force is not a separate entity from the Army and the Air Force commander is tucked away in some headquarters building somewhere, giving air power guidance to no one.

As far as external threats go, an Army War College study says that the Mexican Armed Forces, including the Air Force, are incapable of defending Mexico from an external threat.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

The Royal Saudi Air Force: Missing more targets before 9am than most air forces do all day.

3. Saudi Arabia

Despite being at war in Afghanistan for over 17 years, the one thing the United States can be sure of is the superiority of its Air Force. In a prolonged conflict, a good Air Force positions its resources so that it has positive control over that battlespace. When Saudi Arabia fights a prolonged war, not so much. Welcome to 2019, where the Saudi-lead coalition against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen is about ready to begin another year of abject failure.

Not only has the Saudi coalition turned Yemen into an ongoing humanitarian crisis, no amount of foreign training is making the situation any better. Moreover, it’s just making the United States look bad. The U.S. Congress may soon vote over whether or not American participation in the conflict can continue after the Saudis used an American-made bomb to hit a school bus of civilian children in Yemen, killing 40.

That’s not even the first incident of indiscriminate killing of civilians. In October, 2016, Saudi warplanes hit a civilian funeral in an attack that killed 155 Yemenis. The problem with the Royal Saudi Air Force isn’t that their planes are antiquated, the problem is their choice of “military” targets.

Get your sh*t together, Saudi Arabia.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

North Korean MiG, complete with glorious people’s revolutionary crocheted ejection seat cover.

(KCNA)

2. North Korea

Of course North Korea is going to be near the top of the list. The only reason the DPRK is not at the very top is because it’s not actively trying to fight a war right now. Usually Kim Jong-Un is talking some kind of smack about invading the South or nuking America, but, in 2018, he mostly just got praise for not doing all that stuff.

But Kim still holds on to power with use of the North Korean military. While the Korean People’s Army isn’t exactly considered a formidable fighting force, the tactic of holding hundreds of artillery guns to South Korea’s head works for him. Of all the things Kim Jong-Un has done to the South, using his Air Force is not one of them.

The reason for this is probably because his air force is still relatively similar to the ones used by his grandfather Kim Il-Sung and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army against UN forces in the last full-scale war fought on the Korean Peninsula – the 1950-1953 Korean War. As a result, the North Korean air force is widely acknowledged as the least threatening arm of the North Korean military.

I imagine that the purpose of the North Korean Air Force is to take the brunt of any initial counterattack from U.S. and allied air forces in the event of a war. Sure, it’s a large air force, but it won’t last long in a war.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

Syrian MiGs doing what they do best.

1. Syria

It’s a really good thing the Syrians are being backed up in the air by Russians because, if they didn’t, the Syrian Civil War would last a lot longer than it already has. Almost every other power present in the region violates Syrian sovereignty on a near-daily basis. Israel, Turkey, and even Denmark have entered Syrian airspace, with Israel and Turkey both scoring air-to-air kills against Syrian Sukhoi fighters old enough to have fought against the U.S. in Vietnam.

It’s also not great to be an airman in the Syrian Air Force. Besides getting shot down by everyone (including a U.S. F/A-18 Super Hornet), Syrian fighter pilots face advanced surface-to-air missiles their airframes are not prepared to evade, they accidentally veer into neighboring countries (even getting shot down in Israeli airspace), and were the first target of President Trump’s retaliatory strike for the Syrian military’s use of chemical weapons.

Within 16 months of the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, a Syrian Air Force pilot flew his MiG-21 to Jordan, where he defected. The only surprise is that there aren’t more SAF defectors – as of 2015, Syrian pilots have spent as many as 100 days behind the sticks of their aircraft. At one point, security in Syria’s air force was so bad, they had to move their fighters within Iran’s borders so they wouldn’t be targets for other, better air forces.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Biden attributes burn pits to the cancer that killed his son

The brain cancer that killed former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Maj. Beau Biden, might have been caused by burn pit exposure in Kosovo and Iraq, Biden said in a recent interview.


“Science has recognized there are certain carcinogens when people are exposed to them. Depending on the quantities and the amount in the water and the air, [they] can have a carcinogenic impact on the body,” he said in a PBS NewsHour interview early this month.

Beau Biden, a judge advocate general (JAG) officer in the Delaware National Guard, died from brain cancer in 2015. He had been deployed to Iraq in 2009, and worked as a civilian lawyer with the U.S. attorney’s office in Kosovo.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world
Beau Biden with his mother, Dr. Jill Biden.

A book published last year, The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers, by former Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Hickman, includes a chapter on Beau Biden’s cancer and its possible links to burn pit exposure.

In the interview, Joe Biden said he had been unaware of any potential link before reading that book.

“There’s a whole chapter on my son Beau in there, and that stunned me. I didn’t know that,” he said in the interview.

Burn pits were routinely used in Iraq and Afghanistan to dispose of waste. Although government officials have declined to establish a firm link between burn pits and veterans’ health problems, including rare forms of cancer and respiratory diseases, the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2014 established a registry for veterans to log their exposure and complaints.

Also Read: Veep shows ‘Late Show’ audience he’s struggling over vet son’s death

More than 120,000 veterans have logged themselves in the registry. An estimated three million are eligible to join, according to the VA.

A federal judge last year dismissed a major lawsuit by veterans, contractors and their families against KBR, a defense contractor, for operating burn pits they claimed caused deadly respiratory diseases and cancer.

But the judge dismissed the suit, saying that KBR cannot be held liable for a Pentagon decision to use burn pits for waste disposal.

MIGHTY HISTORY

9 photos of escort carriers, the U-boat killers

Fleet-sized aircraft carriers, such as the USS Enterprise and USS Midway, captured the public’s attention during the air battles of World War II.

But the majority of the US Navy’s aircraft carriers during the war were actually smaller, lesser known vessels: Escort carriers.

There were five different classes of escort carriers, all of which varied slightly. But in general, they were about half the size of fleet-sized carriers.

The Casablanca-class, which had the largest number built with 50 hulls, typically carried 28 aircraft, including 12 Grumman TBF Avengers torpedo bombers and 16 F4F Wildcats fighters, Timothy Bostic, a reference librarian at the Navy Department Library, told Business Insider.

Referred to as “Jeep carriers” or “baby flap tops” by the press, escort carriers were slow, lightly armored and had few defensive weapons.

But they were also expert at hunting and killing enemy submarines, and exacted a heavy toll on Germany’s U-boats.

Here’s how they did it.


The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

The USS Long Island underway in May 1943.

When German U-boats began sinking convoy ships in the beginning of the war, Great Britain asked the US for help, which responded by building escort carriers. The first escort carrier was the USS Long Island, which was built from an old freighter and launched in January 1940.

Source: US Navy

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

The USS Chenango (CVE-28) off Mare Island Navy Yard, California on 22 September 1943.

The US then built four more from oiler hulls, including the Chenango, which were sent to help with landings in North Africa, where they proved extremely successful in anti-submarine warfare. This led to the building of dozens more and deployments to the Pacific.

In total, the US built and launched 78 escort carriers between 1941-1945.

Source: US Navy

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

The USS Sangamon (CVE-26) anchored off the the Solomons in 1943.

Escort carriers had initially been used to protect convoys, ferrying planes, among other duties. But by 1943, the US had evolved its tactics to hunt and kill U-boats.

Source: US Naval Institute

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

The USS Bogue (CVE-9) underway near Norfolk in June 1943.

In May 1943, the USS Bogue scored the first escort carrier kill of a German U-boat after spotting the surfaced U-231 and sent a Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber after it, which released four depth bombs and took it out as it tried to submerge.

Source: US Naval Institute

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

A US Navy landing signal officer guides a Grumman TBF-1 Avenger on board the USS Card.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

The USS Core (CVE-13) in 1943 or 1944.

But what led to the escort carriers’ eventual success over the German U-boats was the Allies code-breaking U-boat radio traffic in 1943, providing escort carriers with accurate locations of enemy submarines.

Source: US Naval Institute

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

USS Card (CVE-11) underway off Virginia in March 1943.

This breakthrough also allowed the Allies to hunt and kill German U-tankers, or “Milch Cows,” which refueled the short-range U-boats at sea.

Source: US Naval Institute

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

The US Navy escort carrier USS Santee (CVE-29) anchored in October 1942.

This new knowledge of German U-boat and U-tankers allowed the Allies to evolve their tactics, sending escort carriers with destroyers away from their convoys to hunt and destroy the enemy submarines.

Source: US Navy

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

USS Card CVE-11 in 1944.

By the war’s end, escort carriers had sunk a total of 53 German U-boats.

Source: US Naval Institute

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

Articles

China to deploy its first home-built aircraft carrier

China has quietly been reaching a naval milestone: They floated their first indigenous aircraft carrier on April 23, 2017. The vessel is sort of a half-sister to their current aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.


The Liaoning was once the Varyag, Russia’s second Kuznetsov-class carrier. If you’ve followed WATM, you probably have heard about the Kuznetsov’s many problems. The splash landings, the hellacious accommodations, and the need for oceangoing tugs to sail along because the engines are shit are just the tip of the iceberg for the Kuznetsov. During that carrier’s first-ever combat deployment in 2016, the Russians flew the Kuznetsov’s air wing from shore bases. Or course, their video tribute glossed over all those realities.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world
The Liaoning. (JMSDF photo)

And the Chinese decided to copy this less-than-successful vessel – which probably should be hauled away to the boneyard.

According to DefenseNews.com, the new vessel, reportedly named Shandong, is almost a copy of the Liaoning. The big difference is in the arrangement of phased-array radars. But it has the same limited capacity (roughly 36 planes). Appropriately, the carrier has been designated as he Type 001A, while the Liaoning was designated Type 001.

The Liaoning has made some trips to sea. Japan took photos of the Liaoning and some escorts near the South China Sea, one of the biggest maritime flashpoints in the world, last year.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world
China’s carrier Liaoning

The Shandong, though, may be the only ship in her subclass. The DefenseNews.com report notes that China is no longer testing the ski ramp – and instead has been trying to build catapults for launching aircraft. According to GlobalSecurity.org, China is planning to build two Type 002 aircraft carriers, followed by a nuclear-powered design, the Type 003.

The Type 002 carriers are slated to include catapults – which are far better at launching planes than the ski jump on the Kuznetsov-class design, and displace anywhere from 70,000 to 80,000 tons. The Type 003 will displace about 100,000 tons and be comparable to the Nimitz and Ford-class carriers.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

China has stated a goal of having 10 aircraft carriers by 2049.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn? Here’s why you should know

The opening scenes of Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn introduce viewers to a charismatic and devoted father deep in the joys of parenthood. Crawling on the floor, swimming and blowing out birthday candles with his toddler and infant sons, he is right where he should be. Until the day he isn’t. Through interviews, reports and a thoroughly researched investigation, the filmmaker poses some incriminating questions.

Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn? Was it the mechanic who told him his helicopter was cleared for flight two hours before it slammed tail-first into the ocean? Was it the manufacturer who produced the faulty wiring blamed for the explosion? Was it the upper ranks of the Navy who disregarded multiple letters of concern purportedly choosing flight hours over safety? How about the Congressional and Executive branches of our government that teamed up with arms manufacturers and focused on new bloated defense contracts instead of investing in the people and machinery already in place?

Van Dorn’s wife, Nicole, living in the shadow of her husband’s unnecessary death, is on a mission to find out. Catalyzed by her and others’ search for answers, this gripping 2018 documentary investigates events leading up to Navy lieutenant J. Wesley Van Dorn’s death one month before his 30th birthday. His untimely demise occurred during a training exercise when an explosion killing three of the five crewmen aboard caused the crash-prone helicopter to fall from the sky into frigid waters below. Van Dorn was not the only one who had expressed concerns about the safety of this aircraft, nor was he the only one to die in it as a result of misguided leadership and mechanical failure.

Written, directed, and narrated by Zachary Stauffer as his first feature documentary, this film offers a sobering look into chronic institutional failings that have resulted in 132 arguably preventable deaths. Diving unforgivably into one family’s agonizing loss, Stauffer invites us to ponder heavy questions while constructing a wall of outrage in his viewers. What is the price of a life? How many lives does it take before change takes place? When will avarice and the “just get ‘er done” attitude stop undermining the American defense establishment?

Built by Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin subsidiary, the MH-53E Sea Dragon is the Navy’s nearly identical version of the Marine Corps’ CH-53-E Super Stallion. Since entering service in 1986, it has never succumbed to enemy fire but holds the worst safety record in the Navy’s fleet making it the deadliest aircraft in military history. The 53-E is a powerful machine used by the Navy for dragging heavy equipment through water to sweep for mines while the Marine version is used for transporting people and gear.

Stauffer explains that due to issues with these aircraft that cropped up even in their initial test flights at the manufacturer and in training missions, the Navy tried to get away with using less powerful helicopters and alternate minesweeping tactics but nothing was as effective as the relic Sea Dragon. Since they were fated to be replaced at some point, the higher ranks avoided investing too much into them so funding for spare parts and maintenance was lean. Members of Congress allegedly chose the path of greed and corruption when defense contractors offered them flashy new weaponry and vehicles as well as comfortable retirement packages. The upper echelons flourished while those training, fighting, and dying on the ground, as well as the American taxpayers, suffered needlessly as top-down decision makers claimed their hands were tied.

With fewer and fewer resources, those maintaining the Sea Dragon had to do more with less. They began cutting corners and developing bad habits. When voicing their worries in person or through over a dozen letters and memos to the upper ranks, they were “belittled, humiliated and cut down,” as one pilot explained. More than 30 years before Van Dorn’s crash, Sikorsky recommended replacing the faulty Kapton wires on all Navy aircraft. This was suggested not once, not twice, but three times before the Navy decided to start looking into the issue. Eventually they named Kapton as the highest ranked safety risk in the fleet and devised a long-term plan to replace it in phases but claimed to never have enough funding to refit all the wiring in the 53s. Only months prior to Van Dorn’s crash the Pentagon re-budgeted funding away from this critical project. Thus, problems that had been escalating over decades while the issue was known and actively overlooked perpetuated, yet the birds were still allowed to fly.

By the time Van Dorn signed on the dotted line in 2010, the run-down helicopters that required about 40 hours of maintenance for a single hour of flight time should have been retired. He and his wife made the decision together to request a spot in the squadron flying 53s because others told them it was an ideal position for a family man who wanted to be home for dinner every night.

Van Dorn was one of those who voiced his opinions about the safety of this aircraft. In an ominous voice recording foreshadowing his own death, he stated “If anyone should care about what’s happening on that aircraft, it should be me and the other pilots, I think. It makes sense to me, because I’m the one who’s going to get in it and have something terrible happen if it doesn’t go right.” His wife Nicole later explained that, “He felt that no matter what he said or what he wrote or who he complained to, nothing was changing.”

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

On a particularly cold morning in January 2014, Van Dorn’s own portentous sentiments were realized 18 nautical miles off the coast of Virginia Beach. Chafing from a single nylon zip tie exposed naked wiring to a fine spray of fuel causing it to arc, sending a blast of fire into the cockpit. Hours later Nicole lay on her husband’s chest just before they pronounced him dead.

Dylan Boone, a Naval aircrewman and one of two survivors of the wreck declared, “You don’t expect to give up your life for this country because you were given faulty equipment.”

Dynamic cinematography combined with a subtly haunting score by composer William Ryan Fritch creates the backdrop for this solid investigative report. Crisp and flowing visuals paired with thrilling military footage complement the feelings portrayed by those interviewed. These primary sources include Van Dorn’s mother, wife, friends, and fellow airmen as well as a mechanic, pilots, a general, a Pentagon Analyst and a military reporter. Throughout the documentary they and the narrator explain the multifaceted issues connected to Van Dorn’s death and the trouble with the 53s from a variety of angles.

Woven skillfully together, a poignant story is told of decades of negligence that continues to result in tragedy. Wholesome home movies of a young involved father raising two sons with his lovely wife are contrasted with the aching void ripped into the Van Dorn family’s home after his death. Stirring visions of military life ignite the urge to join in viewers who have ever felt compelled to do so, whereas the deep frustration of stifled dreams and a scarred body and soul are almost tangible to someone who has been there before as hard truths are drawn out throughout the film.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

Centering on the death of a handsome, beloved father, husband and seaman who was liked by all humanized an issue that might have otherwise been unrelatable. Utilizing the audience’s heartstrings as a focal point was a powerful way to bring attention to a predicament that could have been swept under the rug. Despite the fact that the C-53 airframes experienced serious accidents more than twice as often as the average aircraft and that internal investigations were performed with alarming results, the Navy continues to risk its servicemembers’ life and limb to keep these helicopters performing their critical mission in the air. With this in mind, this documentary might just put enough pressure on the Navy to make the changes necessary to save an untold number of lives.

Winner of the Audience Award in Active Cinema at the 2018 Mill Valley Film Festival, Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn is an intriguing and effective piece of military reporting presented in comprehensible terms for the layman. It is a successful examination of not only the serious failings of a controversial aircraft and the misled priorities keeping it aloft, but also hints toward the fact that anyone who brings up the disturbing issue of safety of these helicopters will be forced out of service. I would recommend this professional-level documentary, especially to anyone with interests in the military or national defense.

The Navy, the Pentagon, Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin declined to participate in this well-researched film. Major funding to make this documentary possible was provided by supporters of the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and Investigative Studios.

After viewing this film, you can decide for yourself who killed Lt. Van Dorn. Regardless of the answer, his unwarranted death will not have been completely in vain if it successfully carries out his final mission: righting the deep and longstanding problems with the CH-53 helicopters, thus preventing the death and destruction of countless others just as it ultimately took him.

Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn is available for purchase or streaming through Amazon.


MIGHTY SPORTS

Why former NFL player decided to join the Army

A former NFL Arizona Cardinals cornerback is training for his new team — the Army.

Spc. Jimmy Legree is in his second week of Basic Combat Training; after he graduates he’ll continue training at Fort Gordon, Georgia, to become a communications specialist.

Serving in the military was one of his childhood goals, said Legree, who is assigned to D Battery, 1st Battalion, 19th Field Artillery.


“I went a different route by going to college and playing football, but once that window was closed I reverted back to my Plan A, which was joining the military,” said Legree, who graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2013.

There are similarities between football and BCT, and it was an easy transition for him, he said.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

Spc. Jimmy Legree, D Battery, 1st Battalion, 19th Field Artillery, is in his second week of Basic Combat Training at Fort Sill, Okla.

(Fort Sill Tribune staff)

“You have your head coaches and that’s similar to drill sergeants who are correcting any mistakes that you make, said Legree, who played two seasons for the Cardinals.

“In football you wear a helmet and shoulder pads, and here you wear your ACH (Advanced Combat Helmet) and all your equipment.”

Former Arizona Cardinal and Army Ranger Cpl. Pat Tillman is an inspiration for him, said Legree.

“He is definitely inspiring — his passion for the game, and his passion for the country was motivation for me,” Legree said.

Legree’s parents were not in the military, but other extended family members and some of his friends have served in the armed forces, he said. His brethren of former teammates supported his decision to join the military.

Legree enlisted at Charlotte, North Carolina.

“Once they (recruiters) found out I played for the NFL they were all ecstatic, but definitely excited to get me enlisted, get me going.”

Legree is treated no different than the other 215 trainees in the battery, said Capt. Steven Paez, D/1-19th FA commander. The trainees came here to become professional American soldiers and everyone is treated the same.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

Spc. Jimmy Legree (with mouthpiece) practices combatives Dec. 11, 2019, with Pvt. Anthony Randolph at Fort Sill, Okla. Legree, who played two seasons for the Arizona Cardinals, is in his second week of Basic Combat Training.

(Fort Sill Tribune staff)

Paez said he learned Legree had played in the NFL when he was serving him Thanksgiving dinner. (It’s an Army tradition where senior leaders serve junior soldiers the holiday meal.)

“I noticed he was a little older (age 28) than everybody else, and I asked him what he was doing before he got here. He said, ‘I was in the NFL.'”

Legree is not the oldest trainee in the battery, Paez said. The oldest is 34 years old; the youngest is 17.

Senior Drill Sergeant (Staff Sgt.) Jason Aqui, D/1-19th FA, described Legree as a mature, humble, positive, and quiet trainee.

“I’ve definitely noticed that he brings the platoon together to accomplish its tasks,” Aqui said. He was also one of the more physically fit trainees coming into BCT.

Drill sergeants will take advantage of Legree’s maturity and put him into leadership positions as the 10-week BCT progresses, Aqui said.

The battery will graduate Feb. 21, 2019, and Legree said he is already thinking of a long military career.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Here’s how the Guard is helping mudslide victims after fires

California Air National Guardsmen from the 129th Rescue Wing are providing search and rescue support in Southern California for those impacted by the recent mudslides.


The 129th Rescue Wing has deployed an HH-60G Pave Hawk Helicopter with air crews and two elite Guardian Angel pararescuemen to Santa Barbara Municipal Airport and are performing search and rescue operations in the surrounding areas adversely impacted by the recent mudslides.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world
A California Air National Guard HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopter with air crews and two Guardian Angel pararescuemen from the 129th Rescue Wing Moffett Air National Guard Base, Calif, provide search and rescue operations after Southern California mudslides, Jan. 10, 2018. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Cristian Meyers)

The aircraft is one of eight California National Guard aircraft and a dozen high-water vehicles supporting mudslide-response efforts. The California National Guard and the 129th Rescue Wing are working closely with the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office and stand ready to send additional personnel and resources as needed.

“Like we’ve done time and time again, your local Air National Guardsmen answered the call at a moment’s notice to help those in need,” said Col. Taft O. Aujero, 129th Rescue Wing commander. “The extraordinary women and men of the 129th Rescue Wing are always ready to execute our life-saving mission.”

Also Read: This Airman and his wife rushed to help wildfire victims

Over the last few months, hundreds of these Silicon-Valley based Airmen deployed to support relief efforts in Texas for Hurricane Harvey, in Florida for Hurricane Irma, in Puerto Rico for Hurricane Maria, and in California for the Wine Country Wildfires and the Thomas Fire.

The 129th Rescue Wing is credited with saving the lives of more than 1,100 people since 1977. From arid deserts and snow-covered mountain tops to urban and rural settings, 129th Rescue Wing Air guardsmen can reach any destination by land, air, or sea. Equipped with MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft, HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopters, and Guardian Angel teams (pararescuemen, combat rescue officers, and SERE Specialists), the 129th Rescue Wing conducts combat search and rescue missions, as well as the rescue of isolated persons on board ships, lost or injured hikers, and medical evacuations across the West Coast.

Lists

5 cheap summer vacations for military families

When I’m choosing what vacations we want to take for the summer, I like to take advantage of ALL the discounted (if not FREE) options available to our military family.

So since I’m a huntress for deals and cheap escapes, here are some ideas that we spouses can benefit from this summer.


1. Reunite with your favorite FRIEND/FAMILY!

I just thought recently about all my distant friends (due to PCS) that I miss. I crave their company and miss laughing with them and watching our kids play together. So here’s an idea for a vacay (on the cheaper side).

During the summer is the perfect time to pack up the kids and take a road trip. We’ll take some time to spend a few days crashing at our friends’ house. Depending on how we plan it, the cash costs will mostly be for gas and some food. Maybe an outing, but you can do activities that don’t cost much money. Just do the things that you commonly did when you were stationed together like letting the kids play at the park, walking through the mall, and even cooking together. We may even get a girls night and leave the kids with the hubbys!

2. Take advantage of Space-A with Armed Forces Vacation Club



Typically when we hear Space-A (space available) we think of the free flights that are offered from base to base. This space available with Armed Forces Vacation Club is for resorts that allow you a week’s stay at a fixed rate of $349 for the room. The rooms are priced per unit, not per person so you can have 6 people in your room and the price will be the same. They are currently running a sale for $299. You can choose to vacay in a variety of places like Texas, Florida, the Bahamas and more.
Less than $50 per night, fixed price of $349 in early May 2018. That’s a SEVEN night stay for less than $300 bucks. Yes, rush and get that!

3. Check out lots of military travel deals for Hotels



If you are just looking to get out of town make sure you plan ahead so you can get ALL your savings!

You can check out sites like goseek.com that will give you a listing of hotels that offer military savings on their price per night. The savings range from $8-$445 a night depending on where you choose to stay.

4. Drive to another base!



Sometimes you just need a CHANGE of scenery. Here’s a way to STAYcation. For example, if you are stationed in a place like Jacksonville Florida, you have access to two bases…and those are NAS Jax and Mayport. Mayport’s lodging sits right on the beach. Rooms include 2 queens and a kitchenette, free wifi, free breakfast and pets are allowed. Ocean view rooms on the 2nd and 3rd floor are $85 per night and 1st floor beach access rooms are $77 per night.

So if you’re close by…BOOK THAT!

No matter where you are in the country, you can probably plan something similar!

5. Theme Parkin’ it

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Active duty military gets free entry into Seaworld, Busch Gardens and Sesame Place along with 3 dependents. But there are other theme parks you can explore and enjoy that offer military members (active and retired) admission at discounted prices. This list details over 30 locations that offer military deals with savings up to 45%.

There are plenty of ways you can plan your vacay! Whatever you choose, have fun, be safe, and SAVE a few bucks in the process!

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Navy PC boats get a new mission and more firepower

The Navy is completing a host of sweeping modernization upgrades to its fleet of 14 Patrol Coastal (PC) boats by integrating new laser-guided weapons, communications technology, drone sensors, and navigation systems to enable the ships to respond to newly emerging littoral and coastal area enemy attack possibilities.


“This modernization consists of numerous upgrades that support coastal patrol and interdiction surveillance, which are important aspects of littoral operations outlined in the Navy’s maritime strategy,” Colleen O’Rourke, spokeswoman for Naval Sea Systems Command, told Warrior Maven.

The sweeping PC Boat modernization overhaul is intended to extend the service life of the 1990s-era PC boat fleet into the mid-2020s and beyond. The expected service life of a PC is roughly 30-years, O’Rourke said.

Also read: Here’s what the Navy’s carriers in the Pacific bring to the fight

Of greater importance than simple service life extension, quite possibly, is that the upgrades are aimed at enabling PCs to keep pace with fast-changing surface threats in areas such as piracy, mines, small boat attacks, and potential long-range enemy attacks made possible by drones or modern sensors.

In recent years, the Navy has been arming its fleet of PCs with Raytheon-built Griffin B surface-launched, laser-guided missiles able to hit targets at ranges up to 4 kilometers. The idea is to give the 179-foot long, shallow-water PCs the ability to destroy targets at ranges farther than their onboard guns can reach.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world
Engineman 3rd Class Edward Bessette scans the horizon for contacts and potential aggressors from aboard the Cyclone-class patrol boat, USS Chinook (PC 9). (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class William F. Gowdy.)

Extended range offensive firepower is intended to give the PCs enhanced surface warfare technology to position the craft for modern surface and shallow water threats. Laser-guided Griffin missiles, reaching what Raytheon developers describe as “beyond gun range,” give the boats an ability to strike threats such as swarming small boats at greater standoff distances. The attack capability enhancements, fortified by advanced sensors, better enable PCs to address multiple threats simultaneously or respond to approaching enemy fire more quickly. The Griffin can provide 360-degree coverage for the ship.

Related: Navy tests unmanned ‘swarmboats’ to patrol ports

The weapons adjustments are particularly well suited for the Navy’s 5th Fleet area of operations which covers much of the Middle East including flashpoint areas such as the Straits of Hormuz; tensions with Iranian small boats have at times emerged in some shallower waters near the Iran border which offer an important commercial and military passageway from the Persian Gulf to the open ocean.

The Navy upgrades also include unmanned aerial surveillance systems for 5th Fleet PCs, O’rourke added. This brings the prospect of networking ISR assets with targeting sensors and weapons to improve attack possibilities by relaying targeting information across longer distances. Navy PC boat Mk 52 7.62mm and MK 38 25mm guns are also being upgraded.

(U.S. Navy | YouTube)The Griffin employs a dual-mode navigational technology using semi-active laser technology and a GPS-aided Inertial Navigation System, according to Raytheon developers.

The weapons upgrade process begins with the installation of the launcher and weapons control system, Forward Looking Infra-Red Systems’ BRITE Star II sensor/laser designator, and Raytheon’s Griffin B (Block II) missile, Navy officials said.

More: Why the Navy doesn’t use those cool flying boats anymore

The 25-foot wide PCs have an eight-foot draft and can reach speeds up to 35 knots. With a crew of 28, the ships are equipped to stay at sea for periods up to 10 days. Many PCs stationed at 5th fleet headquarters in Bahrain are equipped with enhanced communication suites, improved navigation systems, and an improved diesel engine control system. They also have two stabilized, electro-optic 25mm gun mounts, Navy officials added.

Articles

The Philippine military has wiped out an ISIS training camp

ISIS-linked militants in the Southern Philippines have conducted a series of violent clashes with government forces, killing at least 7 soldiers but suffering the loss of over a dozen fighters.


The 10 worst Air Forces in the world
Philippine Marines train on automatic weapons in classes from the US Marine Corps. Photo: US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jerome S. Tayborn

The militants come from at least three separate groups that have pledged allegiance to ISIS. One of the smaller groups launched an attack on a small army outpost on Mindinao, an island in the southern Philippines. The Philippine Army repelled the attack and then countered, killing 12 militants but losing six of their own soldiers.

The counterattack was aimed at an ISIS training camp. ISIS flags have been flying at camps on Mindinao for months, but it’s not clear if these are new camps or just new flags.

In fighting with other ISIS-aligned groups, including the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the Philippine Forces lost another soldier but killed an unknown number of militants.

The group Abu Sayyaf was routed in Dec. 2015 when 300 Philippine soldiers with artillery and air support attacked the main camps and killed their leader, Najib Hussein. But, they’ve continued to attack government positions throughout the south.

“[Islamic State] influence is growing stronger and it is expanding,” Rodolfo Mendoza, a senior analyst at the Manila-based Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research told AFP.

Despite Philippine forces finding ISIS flags, bandanas, and other items on the battlefield, other experts assert that the Philippine groups’ allegiance to ISIS is just a ploy for the Islamic State’s money and weapons.

“It really has nothing to do with ideology,” Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College, told reporters. “This is all about resources.”

The groups involved in the worst of the fighting have existed for years longer than ISIS, and their violence has been going on for years.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How to fly the Little Bird’s ancestor

If you ever saw the movie Black Hawk Down, you saw the “Little Bird” kick some serious butt out there. Officially, it comes in two variants, the MH-6 (a small transport that holds as many as nine troops, according to GlobalSecurity.org), and the AH-6 (a small but powerful attack helicopter that usually carries miniguns and Hydra rockets, per GlobalSecurity.org).


The 10 worst Air Forces in the world
A MH-6 Little Bird. (USASOC photo)

These helicopters serve well, but they had an ancestor that is much less known. That was the OH-6 Cayuse, also known as the Loach, which first flew in 1963, according to MilitaryFactory.com. Back then, it was made by the Hughes Tool Company’s aviation division, and was known as the Hughes 500 in the civilian market. And yes, that company was owned by the Howard Hughes – mastermind behind the Glomar Explorer and Spruce Goose, among other projects.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world
This photo of Howard Hughes was taken 25 years before the OH-6 first flew. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The OH-6A was not armed, other than whatever pilots took aboard. But it was small, nimble, and fast. The Army bought over 1,400 choppers, but the Army soon was forced to re-assess its procurement decision. Massive losses in Vietnam (over 650 airframes) and training (297 more) caused the Army to realize they needed a new helicopter.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world
An OH-6 Cayuse in flight. (U.S. Army photo)

In 1969, the Army bought a version of the Bell 206, which became the OH-58, and which would serve for almost five decades. It seemed like the end, but some U.S. allies bought the OH-6, and some found their way to what would become the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the Nightstalkers. In the wake of “Desert One,” the Army unveiled new versions using an improved version of the OH-6, the first “Little Bird” helicopters to serve America’s special operators.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world
OH-6D with the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force. (JGSDF photo)

Articles

Here’s what Mattis has to say about his loyalty to the White House

Secretary of Defense James Mattis dismissed murmurings Aug. 31 of an ideological divide between himself and President Donald Trump.


During a press briefing at the Pentagon, Mattis recalled the now-viral “hold the line” speech he gave in front of US service members in Jordan in August, in which some of his comments about division in the US were construed as an ethical separation from Trump.

During the Aug. 31 briefing, Mattis elaborated on the intended meaning behind his words, which he said were influenced by Trump’s recent speech on Afghanistan.

“If you’ll remember, the first, I don’t know, three, four, five, six paragraphs was about America coming together,” Mattis said. “And so, fresh in my mind a couple hours later, and I used that theme to say that, you know, we’ve got to come back together, get that fundamental friendliness. You guys — military guys, you hold the line as our country comes back together.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world

“I’m using the president’s thoughts, and they thought that I was distancing from the president,” Mattis continued. “So I mean, it shows how ludicrous this really is.”

“I mean, I’m not trying to make fun of the people who write along those lines,” Mattis said of the narrative that he was distancing himself from Trump. “I think this is more someone’s rather rich imagination,” he said.

Theories of a divide between Trump and other White House officials — most notably Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the National Economic Council director Gary Cohn — have spread as Trump continues to baffle critics and supporters following his administration’s response to the deadly Charlottesville, Virginia, rally and continued provocations from North Korea.

During an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Tillerson fueled rumors of a White House rift when he was asked whether anyone doubted Trump’s values. “The president speaks for himself,” he responded.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis enters Michie Stadium before the 2017 graduation ceremony at West Point. Army photo by Michelle Eberhart.

Cohn took a more direct approach, publicly criticizing Trump’s response to the Charlottesville protests and saying the White House “must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning” white nationalist and white supremacist groups.

Mattis expressed confidence that divisiveness in the US was not a threat to the military’s unity in the field.

“The way our military is organized, the leaders — and by leaders, I mean the sergeants and the gunnery sergeants, the chief petty officers, the lieutenants, the captains — there is such a cohesion to the US military,” Mattis said. “There’s a reason this is a national jewel, this US military. It’s a national jewel. And that almost insulates it in a very proud way from something like we saw in Charlottesville.”

“That’s not to say it’s not a concern, because this lack of a fundamental friendliness among all of us, something I think the president brought up very well in those opening paragraphs of the Afghanistan speech … I agree a hundred percent with the way the president characterized that,” Mattis said.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How to prepare to be a passenger in a combat fighter

“Raven 08, Deci Tower, cleared for take-off, wind calm.”


I’m in the backseat of a Tornado IDS belonging to the 154° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 6° Stormo (Wing) from Ghedi, currently deployed to Decimomannu airbase, Italy, for the yearly training activity in the Sardinian firing ranges. The words of the controller, that I can hear quite clearly before the noise will spread through the cockpit making all the subsequent communications barely readable, have a double meaning to me: first, they give the “go ahead” to the most exciting part of my flight in a Tornado (the very first one on this kind of aircraft); second, they mark the end of the long and delicate stage of the jet flight preparation; a preparation that determines either the success or failure of the sortie from the journalistic point of view.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world
Italian aircraft IDS Tornado flies over a live fire range in exercise Eager Centaur II in an undisclosed location, Southwest Asia, March 14, 2016. Eager Centaur II is conducted to complete initial joint terminal attack controller training and exercise the SPMAGTF-CR-CC Fire Support Coordination Center, to include combined arms live-fire tactics, techniques, and procedures. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Clarence A. Leake)

A flight in a jet usually lasts between 45 and 110 minutes (longer if it includes aerial refueling, but it’s not the case): in my case, fully exploiting the (short) time available to “observe” a mission from the inside and collect all the photos and video material for both aviation magazines, this blog and its connected social networks, is paramount. A flight in a combat aircraft represents an almost unique opportunity and it is important to make the most out of it. If something in the backseat goes wrong, if a camera body fails or a lens proves to be unsuitable for the photo session, there will hardly be a second chance. In about 20 years I’ve had this opportunity quite a few times, hence here are a few suggestions based on my little (if compared to others) experience in a combat aircraft. If you are going to fly in a fast jet for the first time, because you were invited or simply because you’ve paid for a ride, maybe the following few tips will help you maximize your experience.

Even though the thrill of flying in a jet fighter is always the same, learning from the past mistakes as well as the experience gained over the years, have been pivotal to perfecting the preparation of the mission so as to minimize the risk that something unexpected can jeopardize the reportage’s success. For example, during one of my first jet flights, to have a back-up in case of problems with the main camera, I decided to put a compact camera in one of the pockets of the flight suit, the one located more or less over the right’s lower leg. Fortunately, I did not need it. In fact, I hadn’t taken into account that the anti-G suit, dressed over the normal flight suit, would have made the “emergency” camera inaccessible during the flight! Since then, I only use the pockets of the anti-G pants for all those small accessories I might need in the cockpit.

The 10 worst Air Forces in the world
Senior Airman Crystal Cash refuels a 125th Fighter Wing F-15 Eagle on the way to exercise Vigilant Shield 15, Oct. 20, 2014, near MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Brandon Shapiro)

With regard to the flight gear, in addition to my mask, I always try to use my own helmet, which is also easily recognizable by the bright yellow-green checkerboard on the cover. However, this is not always possible: for instance, in the case of the Eurofighter, the aircrews have to use the specific flight equipment designed for the Typhoon flight line which differs from that used on any other Italian Air Force aircraft and includes, among the other things, a Gentex ACS (Aircrew Combat System) helmet and an EFA / ACS mask. For my flight in the Tornado, I had to use to an HGU-55G helmet, with the characteristic 154th squadron’s “red devil” symbol painted on the cover, that I was lent by the unit.

Back to the preparation of the mission, once the flight gear’s check and fitting have been completed, I think the most important thing is the inspection of the rear cockpit of the aircraft: it is essential to know how to “move” in the backseat, where to attach the GoPro so that it is both stable and reachable (to modify some settings or move it), evaluate the size of any storage compartment to see if it can be used to accommodate a camera body or lens. In fact, digital cameras have greatly simplified life in a jet: when I was still using color slide films I needed to change the rolls several times during the flight. This forced me to continuously estimate the number of photographs I could take so that I didn’t run out of shots during a maneuver: in order to replace the finished roll with a new one, it was necessary to remove the gloves, be more or less stable (that is, in level flight) and have the time to safely remove and store the used roll before inserting a new one; an operation that would take just a few seconds in other conditions but, performed in a very narrow space, strapped into the ejection seat, wearing the heavy helmet, the mask, the Secumar, etc., was, especially at the beginning, quite challenging. With the advent of digital photography, this problem has been solved.

Also Read: This WW2 Ace fought for both sides of the war

Returning to the preparation of the flight, once understood how to move (or not move) in the rear cockpit, it is important to discuss with the crews that will take part in the mission and determine which phases of the missions will be suitable for some aerial shots. Although I have had the opportunity to arrange “pure” air-to-air photo sessions, I usually prefer to take part in missions that bring me in the aircraft’s operational environment: I am a journalist and I find it much more interesting for my readers (and for myself) to see and recount the mission from a privileged point of view, focusing on both the tactical aspects of the flight and the technical details of the employed weapon systems. This means that the time available for photography is normally reduced to about ten minutes: during the transition to the operating zone or during the RTB (Return To Base) phase.

Obviously, a sortie with well-defined operational goals leaves little room for aerobatics or formations flying in favor of light: if you are part of a 3-ship that is acting as “Red Air” in a 4 vs 3 supersonic training mission, as in my flight in the Eurofighter, the aircraft will fly towards the operational area in fighting wing, with a significant spacing from one another, and the time for close formation will be reduced to a few minutes. However, as I have already explained, I prefer a few clicks from a realistic operational situation rather than taking part in a sortie that is particularly cool from a photographic point of view, but “poor” from the operational one. Generally, “how to arrange the aircraft” and “when to take photographs” are topics discussed with the aircrews during the briefing and reviewed, if necessary, during the flight, asking the pilot in the front seat to assume a specific attitude so as to obtain a particular shot.

Dealing with the photographic equipment, in addition to the GoPro and camera, I bring with me what I need inside a large removable pocket that comes with velcro to be attached to the anti-G at the thigh: here is where I put spare batteries or extra lenses, like fisheye and zoom for the iPhone, used to take short videos or photos that complement the work of the DSLR camera. As for the camera, I strongly recommend removing any type of strap to prevent it from coming into contact with the stick, throttle or, worse, with the ejection seat handle. From 1999 to today, I have carried several camera bodies with me, but the lens I prefer in the back seat is almost always the Canon 28-135 USM, an extremely reliable, versatile and lightweight lens, more than adequate for my needs. If you do not have hundreds of flights under your belt, photographing air-to-air from the cockpit of a military aircraft is not an easy task: properly framing the other jets during some maneuvers requires some physical effort (the camera is subject to the same accelerations as aircraft meaning that in a 5 g turn the camera weighs five times its weight on the ground …) and gives very nauseous feelings, too. Luckily, I have never needed it, but I always bring a bag for nausea in the anti-G pocket; I also drink a lot of water and limit carbohydrates, alcohol, or spicy foods ahead of flying. Anyway, pro photographers, with hundreds if not thousands of flight hours in fast jets, such as Katsuhiko “Katsu” Tokunaga, Jamie Hunter, or Frank Crebas (to name but few), may provide much more expert advice about air-to-air photography and related tips and tricks.

The opportunity to fly in a high-performance aircraft every now and then has given me some exciting and long-lasting memories: the formation aerobatics with the TF-104, the BBQ (Ultra-low level flying) with AMX, the LIFT (Lead In Fighter Trainer) sortie with the T-346A or the supersonic BVR (Beyond Visual Range) interception flown as Aggressor with the Eurofighter.

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