David Burnett was a U.S. Army Special Operations Crew Chief with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. You might know it better as the “Night Stalkers.” He even wrote a book about his time with the Night Stalkers. His latest project isn’t about the Army, however. It’s for the Army, for the military. It’s an invention borne of necessity – as all great inventions are – and could save lives.
In short, David Burnett wants you out of his helicopter as soon as possible.
While he was in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, troops would board his Chinook for the ride, normally hanging their go bags and other gear inside with carabiners and bungee cord. These are the usual, practical things with which American troops deploy to combat zones. While sitting in a brightly-lit flightline with the cabin lights on, this was no big deal. But U.S. troops, especially special operators, don’t fly to the enemy with the cabin lights on. They’re usually flying in at night, blacked out. It was in those situations David Burnett realized he and his Chinook were spending a lot more time on the ground than they wanted.
The good guys were having trouble releasing their stowed gear. It was still connected to the aircraft. All the old methods of fixing their gear didn’t offer quick-release functionality. David Burnett decided he was going to do something about that.
The Tac Clamp was born.
Burnett’s creation isn’t just a metal clamp. It can be hooked and fastened for quick release, or it can be placed on a tactical track for movement in a ready room, a hangar, arms room, or even the back of an aircraft. With the push of a button, the Tac Clamp will release its iron grip and let the special operator free to bring the fight to the enemy – and it works. It works really well. Burnett’s clamp has been submitted to aircrews at MacDill Air Force Base for review and is currently being field-tested by Navy Search and Rescue teams.
“I deployed with the 160th five times as a crew chief, and I saw this problem constantly on the aircraft and on vehicles too,” Burnett says. ” The reason was because all of these outdated methods they were using don’t offer quick release and is not very intuitive. This is something you clamp inside the aircraft but is not exclusive to the aircraft. If they were doing a ground assault and they can hook the Tac Clamp in their gear and just push a button to release it.”
Burnett even created a Tac Clamp for aerial photography.
Currently, Burnett is working on getting one of the military branches to accept the Tac Clamp for consideration for small-business contracting programs. He currently has two proposals submitted, one for the Air Force and two for the Army. It’s been a long road for Burnett, but he hasn’t given up. What he’s offering is something he’s seen a need for in the military, one that could potentially save American lives. He’s already getting feedback on his aluminum clamp from troops in the field.
“Troops tell me they need a small version, made of hard plastic, one they can attach to their kit,” says Burnett, who enjoys the innovation. “All branches of service, they’re realizing they can streamline innovation process by allowing small businesses to propose their technologies and get new products and innovative technologies fielded within 18 months.”
Editor’s Note: This is part two of George Hand’s story about his Special Forces team operating in Alaska. Read part one here.
I admit I got some pretty decent shuteye in that Patrol Base (PB). I ate cold food because I just don’t care, plus heating food is such a hassle in the field. I did heat up a canteen cup of coffee, and of course we had plenty of water thanks to the run to the babbling brook.
I took my shift on security which was sitting in a Listening Post/Observation Post (LPOP) a few hundred meters to the rear of our PB for a few hours being quiet, listening, and — you guessed it — observing. It was the usually tearful boredom save for the herd of Caribou that went meandering some 700 meters out. I had binos hanging around my neck tucked just inside my jacket which made for a closer pleasing eyeful of the herd.
When I was relived, I headed back to the PB and helped build the explosive cutting charges to take down the RF tower. We didn’t want to build those forward in the hide sight because it’s bad policy to plan on doing any work in a hide site other than shutting-up, being still, and freezing.
To cut the cylindrical steel at the base of the tower we built Diamond charges — shaped like an elongated diamond and duel-primed on both ends of the short axis with blasting caps:
(Diamond High-Explosive Steel Cutting Charge [photo courtesy of the author])
C-4, in simple block form, made up the two other charges that were to cut the support cables. Our plan was to tie all three charges in together so they would detonate as near simultaneous as possible. I caught a slight whiff of burning time fuse. Another team was calculating the burn time of the fuse. They cut a length of fuse, burned it, and timed the burn so they would know how long of time fuse they needed to give us three minutes to get away from the tower once the fuse was ignited.
Gosh, a breeze picked up and as God is my witness I saw a piece of paper blow by that looked like a page out of cryptography One-Time Pad (OTP)… and it was! I lunged to grab it. Our Commo Sergeant must have been in the process of encrypting his next message transmission to our Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Anchorage.
I moved to his location and sure enough he was shacking up a message:
“Hey, dick… think you’ll need this?”
“Wha… woah — where did you get that??”
“Oh… it just kinda came blowing by.”
“Bullshit! Gimme that!!”
He snatched it up, struck up a lighter under it, and burned it — a thing he was supposed to do before he ever laid it down.
“Here, sign this, dick!”
He passed his his burn log for my signature as a witness to the burning of the crypto page. He was the best commo man I ever knew, just had some housekeeping issues. He set to constructing his quarter-wave doublet antenna; in those days we used the High-Frequency bandwidth (3-30 MHz) and bounced our radio signal off of the ionosphere. He needed to cut his antenna length to match the frequency he was going to transmit on.
(An example of a crypto One-Time Pad [OTP] page [photo from the author])
I find it interesting that the Army has not used the HF band for such a long time, depending on satellites and Internet for most of its communication. Now days, satellites are being targeted for disruption, and the military is actually going back to the dependable HF band for backup communications. It was used during the Russian mercenary Wagner Group attack on U.S. troops in Syria; that battle ended in some 250 dead Russians.
Departing our patrol base, we slipped along tundra quietly to our hide sight. When we got close, we could occasionally spy the RF tower target through openings in the bush. Team Daddy halted us and laid us down while he moved forward with an Engineer Sergeant to have a reconnaissance of the terminal hide area.
He was gone long enough for us to get to freezing again. He lead us into the area where we laid down and established our hides: we stretched camouflage nets out low to the ground. We spread foliage on the top and sides were also covered up. Once inside, there was only enough room for two men to lay prone.
To our front was an open field of some 100 meters by 75 meters. We were just back off of the edge of the field where the men on watch could see the tower and the support corollary building. It was concrete with a pickup truck parked near the door — someone, likely a technician or maintenance person, was in there.
It was time to be cold for the next 24 hours. I went out with our commo man to help him construct an antenna and make his commo shot. He couldn’t do it from our hide site; we had to push back to the rear a thousand meters and sneak that transmission back to the FOB. It was great to be up out of the hide and moving around.
Twenty-four hours later we tore down our hides and packed up our rucks. Leaving the rucks behind, we took six pipe-hitters — half of our Green Beret detachment — and crept through the field ahead toward the tower. The other six pipe-hitters surrounded the target tactically establishing security for the demolitions teams. One of the security teams was blocking the access road incase the pickup returned, upon which they were to pull him out of the vehicle and detain him until the target was destroyed.
Our diamond charge went on smoothly and I paid out lengths of explosive det cord to the cable teams. All went together without a blunder. We collapsed back to our hide site leaving one man to tie in and fire the charges. Security remained in place. Team Daddy was glancing at his watch often, then finally lifted his hand-held radio:
“Bergie, this is Tango Lima, over…”
“Tango Lima, this is Bergie, ready to fire, over…”
“Bergie, stand by to fire in fife, fo-war, tree, two, one — fire!”
Even from our distance we heard the faint *pop* of the two M-60 fuse igniters fire. After about a nervous minute we witnessed brother Bergie, the trigger man, approaching quietly. He had stayed a little while to make sure he had a good fuse burn. I admired his dedication in that instance. He went to his ruck and laid to wait with the rest of us.
Team Daddy in typical fashion was observing his watch and called over his hand-held to the security teams:
“Standby for detonation in fife, fo-war, tree, two, one…”
And there came an ear-splitting *CCCRRRRAAAACCCCCKKKKK* of high-order C-4 expanding at 24,000 feet per second followed seconds later by a ground-shaking cacophony of steel slamming onto the ground with sheiks and groans of twisting steel.
“Security, collapse to hide site,” Team Daddy called out, followed seconds later by the panting pipe-hitters from the security perimeter. We threw on our rucks and stepped out smartly some 90 degrees from our original target approach azimuth.
(Destroyed tower [photo courtesy of the author])
Approximately 20-minutes into the walk, our Senior Medic pulled Team Daddy aside for some bad news; he had left his hand-held radio back at the hide — major blunder. How could we possibly return to the target so soon after destruction? We simply had to, that was is just the way it was.
Team Daddy had the men form a PB while he, the medic, and I went back for the radio. The sun had been steadily dropping lower to the horizon. Dark would be to our advantage as we swung around to make our approach to the hide site from the bush rather than the open field.
Doc found his radio immediately once we got there. There were a number of first responder vehicles scattered around the ruined target site with men milling around. We scampered like rabbits back in the direction of the patrol base. With Team Daddy up front and me walking in back, Doc from the middle kept turning around looking with awe on his face.
“What’s the deal, Doc?” I finally had to ask him.
“It’s going back up! The sun is… it’s going back up! It dropped low but it never went below the horizon and I swear to you its going back up now!!”
“Well, yee-haw, Daktari… so you saw it too, yeah? You saw the sun not set — was that cool or what??”
(“It dropped low but it never went below the horizon and I swear to you its going back up now!!”
In London’s Westminster Abby there is St. George’s Chapel, where on one of the chapel’s walls hangs the Commando Association Battle Honors flag that lists where the Commandos fought and died during World War II from 1940 to 1945.
Under the word COMMANDO in gold letters is a stylized portrayal of a singular knife – the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife.
Soldiers throughout history have always carried blades as weapons and as tools. Yet, no other knife is more commonly associated with WW II elite forces or possesses more mystique than the Fairbairn-Sykes knife.
Commonly referred to as the “F-S knife” or “F-S dagger,” it is still issued to British Royal Marine Commandos, the Malaysian Special Operations Force, Singapore Commandos and Greek Raiders. In addition, the image of the knife is part of the emblem of United States Army Special Operations Command (Airborne) as well as the emblems of special forces units in Holland, Belgium and Australia.
Yet, it is a weapon born out the experience of dealing with 1930’s knife fights in Shanghai and developed by two men who had no scruples about dirty fighting. In fact, William Fairbairn and Eric Sykes taught an entire generation of warriors that one of the quickest, quietest and deadliest ways to kill Germans was cold steel thrust into Nazi vitals – preferably from behind.
“The Commando dagger would become a symbol not just to the men who were issued it, but also to British civilians at a time when Britain was on the back foot, and any deadly way to strike back at the Germans was considered a boost for morale,” wrote Leroy Thompson is his book Fairbairn-Sykes Commando Dagger.
Whether it was the Roman pugio (a short-bladed dagger that served as a legionnaire’s backup weapon), bowie knives wielded on both sides of the U.S. Civil War, or the “knuckle duster” trench knives of the Great War, soldiers have always carried blades for use in close-quarters fighting.
However, from the late 19th century until World War II many European generals thought it was unseemly for soldiers to bring personal knives into combat. Some thought it would reduce reliance on the bayonet and diminish the fighting spirit of soldiers.
Other commanders deemed rough-and-tumble knife fighting downright “ungentlemanly” – there’s a reason why betrayal is often called a “stab in the back.” Killing face-to-face with the bayonet was considered the more honorable way to dispatch the enemy.
However, the beginning of World War II reinvigorated belief in the close-combat knife as an essential weapon.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill was less fussy about how British troops killed the soldiers of the Third Reich. He placed great stock in commando forces, covert operations, and what he called “ungentlemanly warfare.”
The newly created Special Operations Executive taught knife-fighting as part of agents’ training. So did the British Commandos and airborne forces.
That meant there was a demand for a specific kind of knife that would be used to quietly kill the enemy, preferably in a surprise attack.
“In close-quarters fighting there is no more deadly weapon than the knife,” Fairbairn wrote in his manual Get Tough! How to Win in Hand-to-Hand Fighting (1942). “An entirely unarmed man has no certain defense against it, and, further, merely the sudden flashing of a knife is frequently enough to strike fear into your opponent, causing him to lose confidence and surrender.”
Fairbairn would have known: During his 20-year career with the Shanghai Municipal Police, he fought in hundreds of street fights against assailants armed with knives and daggers. His friend and colleague Sykes served on the same police force and faced the same adversaries in what was at the time one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
In 1941, both men collaborated on the knife’s original design. Although the knife went through several variations during the war, it remained a double-edged stiletto well-balanced like a good sword and suited to thrusting and cutting more than slashing an opponent.
The models made by high-quality cutlers were manufactured from carbon steel so they could be honed razor sharp.
David W. Decker, a U.S. Navy veteran, knife-fighting expert, and collector of F-S knives, said a man trained in the use of the Fairbairn-Sykes knife learned confidence and aggression. In the hands of a properly-trained individual, it is a fearsome weapon.
“The knife has tremendous capacity for penetration of an enemy’s clothing, web gear and person,” Decker said. “A vital part of the training was the instruction in hitting lethal targets on the human body. Many of these targets had to be reached through the rib cage, so the slender blade was most efficient. The approximately seven-inch blade is capable of reaching all vital organs. Fluid in the hands, the grip was designed like that of a fencing foil to enhance the maneuverability of the knife.”
Another advantage of the F-S dagger was its ease of carry, said Decker, whose website chronicles the development of the knife and has photographs of many examples.
Relatively lightweight compared to other combat knives of the time, it was easily concealed or secured in a battle dress cargo pocket. Some men carried them strapped to their legs, tucked behind their pistol holster, or in a boot.
The needle-nosed point and razor-like edges of the dagger sometimes caused problems, Decker said. For example, one British commando could not pull the dagger out of the body of a German sentry because the knife was stuck in his ribs.
“At least one knife-maker was quoted as saying he made knives for stabbing Germans, not peeling potatoes,” Decker said, indicating some manufacturers made F-S knives with smooth edges so a soldier could remove the blade more easily from the enemy’s body.
Despite differences in quality and manufacture, the F-S knife gained popularity with both British and American soldiers during the war.
Members of the U.S. Army Rangers and Marine Raiders carried versions of the knife. U.S. Army Gen. Robert T. Frederick, commander of the 1st Special Service Force known as The Devil’s Brigade, based his design for the V-42 stiletto issued to his troops on the F-S knife.
Today, the F-S knife remains an iconic symbol on both sides of the Atlantic of what it means to qualify as an elite soldier.
At Fort Benning, Georgia, there is the Ranger Memorial. Behind two stone pillars holding a stylized Ranger tab are two smaller pillars and a knife sculpted in stone – a Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife.
Often dubbed the “Second Pearl Harbor,” the West Loch disaster in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, saw six large landing ships explode, burn, and sink on May 21, 1944, after their cargoes of ammunition and fuel caught fire. The LSTs were moored in a large formation of 34 ships preparing to take part in the invasion of Saipan in the Marianas Islands. LSTs were designed to deliver 10 fully combat-ready tanks onto beaches during amphibious landings and could carry hundreds of tons of supplies.
At Pearl Harbor, the ships were carrying mostly fuel and ammunition, including mortar rounds from a failed test to employ LSTs and their smaller cousins, landing craft tanks, as mortar platforms to support beach assaults.
Soldiers were unloading mortar shells from LCT-963 and onto trucks on LST-353 on May 21 when a fireball suddenly erupted from LST-353.
The Navy was never able to identify a definite cause, but an accident with a cigarette or a mortar round going off and igniting the gasoline fumes have been advanced as probable causes.
Regardless of how the first fire started, its progress through LST-353 was fierce, and the rising heat triggered a second, larger explosion that filled nearby ships with hot shrapnel and spread flaming debris through the docking area.
The other ships, also filled with fuel, ammunition, and other supplies, began trying to get clear while rescue vehicles rushed in to try to save sailors, Marines, and soldiers and put out the flames.
The military also lost three LCTs, 17 tracked vehicles, and eight artillery pieces.
The Navy rallied after the incident, finding new ships and men to take over the mission. The LST fleet for the invasion of Saipan launched only one day late and made it to the Marianas quickly enough to invade on schedule on June 15, 1944.
A media blackout kept most of America from hearing about the incident until it was declassified in 1960. Even today, it remains relatively unknown.
Be careful how you dial the newly minted Tricare East’s 800 number, or you could unintentionally end up on what appears to be a phone sex hotline.
That’s a lesson one Tricare East user learned the, er, hard way Jan. 24, when she misdialed the Tricare East contractor by one digit. Instead of dialing Humana’s number 1-800-444-5445, she dialed 1-800-444-5455.
“Hey there hot stuff,” a sultry female voice greets callers. “I’ve been waiting for your call. Are you ready for some tantalizing fun?”
It gets, uh, hotter from there. But for a $7.99 access fee plus $4.99 a minute, with a surcharge of $8.99 for “certain selections,” you hear even more than we did.
To be sure, the greeting is more entertaining than the one on Humana’s Tricare East number.
“Welcome to Humana Tricare East,” it states. “Medical emergencies should hang up and dial 911.”
Tricare East and its new 800 number rolled out Jan. 1 as the system shifted from a three contractor, three region system — Tricare North, South, and West — to the two contractor, two region system of Tricare East and West. Tricare East is managed by Humana, while Tricare West is managed by Health Net Federal Services.
We stopped our unofficial investigation into the incorrect number short of entering our corporate credit card information — we didn’t think the bean counters would understand such research. But we’re not worried about the number showing up on the phone bill. After all, the recording promises that the whole thing is “discreetly billed.”
Neither Humana nor Tricare officials responded by deadline for requests for comment. But what is there to really say about this, anyway?
Based on the Army’s UH-60 Black Hawk, the HH-60G Pave Hawk is a highly modified version with upgraded communications and navigation suite. The forward-looking infrared system, color weather radar and an engine/rotor blade anti-ice system, enables the Pave Hawk to fly in bad weather. The in-flight refueling probe and auxiliary fuel tanks allow the Pave Hawk to outdistance other rescue helicopters.
The Pave Hawk’s crew of pararescue airmen can utilize its hoist, capable of lifting 600 pounds, to perform personnel recovery operations in hostile environments. The HH-60G is also used for civil search and rescue, medical evacuation, disaster response, humanitarian assistance, security cooperation/aviation advisory, NASA space flight support, and rescue command and control.
Design and development
In the early 1980s, the Air Force began its search for a replacement of the aging HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopter. The Air Force acquired UH-60 Black Hawks and modified them with a refueling probe, additional fuel tanks and .50 XM218s machine guns. These helicopters were renamed “Credible Hawks” and entered service in 1987. In 1991, the Credible Hawks and new Black Hawks were upgraded again and re-designated to Pave Hawk.
After almost 40 years of service, the HH-60G Pave Hawk will be replaced by the HH-60W. Increased internal fuel capacity and new defensive systems and sensors will provide increased range and survivability during combat rescue missions. The fleet of HH-60Gs will be fully replaced with 112 HH-60Ws by 2029 with the first delivery scheduled for 2020.
The HH-60 has operated during operations Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn, Enduring Freedom, and continues to operate in Resolute Support and Operation Inherent Resolve, supporting coalition ground operations and standby search and rescue for U.S. and coalition fixed-wing combat aircraft.
U.S. Air Force pararescuemen, 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, secure the area after being lowered from a U.S. Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawk during a mission Nov. 7, 2012, in Afghanistan.
(Photo by staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)
Personnel from 305th Rescue Squadron flew HH-60 Pave Hawks to rescue “Lone Survivor” Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, after his four-man team was ambushed in the mountains of Afghanistan and he was the only one to survive. After Hurricane Katrina in September 2005, more than 20 active-duty, Reserve, and National Guard Pave Hawks were deployed to Jackson, Miss., in support of recovery operations in New Orleans and surrounding areas. Pave Hawk crews flew around-the-clock operations for nearly a month, saving more than 4,300 Americans from the post-hurricane devastation.
Within 24 hours of the Tohoku, Japan, earthquake and tsunami in 2011, HH-60Gs deployed to support Operation Tomodachi, providing search and rescue capability to the disaster relief efforts.
Since then Pave Hawks have been instrumental in saving lives during natural disasters and major floods.
An HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter from the 129th Rescue Wing, California Air National Guard, flies over Pardee Reservoir, in Lone, California, Saturday, April 14, 2018, during interagency aircrew training with CAL FIRE. Cal Guard helicopter crews and support personnel gathered for three days of joint wildfire aviation training to prepare for heightened fire activity in the summer and fall.
(Photo by Senior Airman Crystal Housman)
Did You Know?
PAVE stands for Precision Avionics Vectoring Equipment
To improve air transportability and shipboard operations, all HH-60Gs have folding rotor blades.
Primary Function: Personnel recovery in hostile conditions and military operations other than war in day, night or marginal weather
Contractor: United Technologies/Sikorsky Aircraft Company
Power Plant: Two General Electric T700-GE-700 or T700-GE-701C engines
Thrust: 1,560-1,940 shaft horsepower, each engine
Rotor Diameter: 53 feet, 7 inches (14.1 meters)
Length: 64 feet, 8 inches (17.1 meters)
Height: 16 feet, 8 inches (4.4 meters)
Weight: 22,000 pounds (9,900 kilograms)
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 22,000 pounds (9,900 kilograms)
Fuel Capacity: 4,500 pounds (2,041 kilograms)
Payload: depends upon mission
Speed: 184 mph (159 knots)
Range: 504 nautical miles
Ceiling: 14,000 feet (4,267 meters)
Armament: Two 7.62mm or .50 caliber machineguns
Crew: Two pilots, one flight engineer and one gunner
Unit Cost: .1 million (Fiscal year 2011 dollars)
Initial operating capability: 1982
Inventory: Active force, 67; ANG, 17; Reserve, 15
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
The aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is the biggest ship in the Russian navy and the most visible symbol of the Kremlin’s military power. This October, she will travel to the Mediterranean and carry out air strikes in Syria, according to a report from the Moscow-based Tass news agency.
There is a general rule for news about Russian warships. Like most things in life — don’t believe it until you see it. The first problem is that the Tass report, which reverberated throughout the Russian and Western press, relied on a single anonymous “military-diplomatic source.”
Nor is this the first time rumors have spread about the Admiral Kuznetsovgoing to war in Syria. The Russian navy denied a 2015 report which claimed as much.
But this is not to say you should totally disbelieve it, either. Recent activity surrounding the Admiral Kuznetsov may indicate an upcoming combat deployment.
First, here are several reasons to doubt it.
Admiral Kuznetsov has never seen combat, nor would she be of much practical military use. The 55,000-ton carrier has a bow ramp, not steam catapults, requiring her aircraft to shed weight before taking off. This means her planes will go into combat with less fuel or bombs than the ground-based fighters Russia has already deployed to Syria.
This is on purpose. The Soviet Union designed Admiral Kuznetsov as a “heavy aircraft-carrying missile cruiser” to support a surface battle fleet, foreign policy writer Taylor Marvin pointed out.
This makes her less flexible than U.S. supercarriers, and it’s the reason she packs anti-ship missiles for sinking other vessels, but cannot launch fully gassed-up strike planes with heavy bomb loads suitable for attacking targets on land.
Worse, the conventionally-powered Admiral Kuznetsov has problems. Poor maintenance, defective steam turbines and shoddy boilers means she’s unreliable — which is why Russia sends an ocean-going tug with her, wherever she goes.
A video of one of these tugs hauling the carrier in bad weather during a 2012 voyage appeared last year. It has an utterly awesome and appropriately Russian soundtrack.
“Carrier operations, particularly high-tempo strike missions, are an extremely complex logistical and operational dance, with lethal consequences for mistakes,” Marvin wrote. “Since the USSR and Russia has had little opportunity to build these skills, and none to test them in combat, any strike missions from the Kuznetsov would be limited and mostly for show.”
Russia would take a big risk … for not much gain. This doesn’t mean the Kremlin wouldn’t take the risk. There is circumstantial evidence to suggest — although in a speculative fashion — that the Russians may be preparing to do just that.
For one, Admiral Kuznetsov is planning a voyage to the Mediterranean this fall. “It is true. There is such a plan,” Adm. Vladimir Komoyedov, chairman of the State Duma defense committee, told Tass on June 28.
Su-33 and Su-25 jets recently landed on the flattop, last spotted sailing in the Barents Sea. MiG-29Ks — a carrier-launched version of the muscular, multi-role Fulcrum — will arrive “in the coming days,” according to a July 4 reportby Interfax.
The news agency reported that the arrivals are in preparation for a “long hike” planned “roughly in the middle of October.”
The MiG-29K and its two-seater KUB variant are Soviet-era designs revived for the Indian Navy after it purchased the Kiev-class flattop Admiral Gorshkov — renamed INS Vikramaditya — in 2004. However, the planes themselves are brand new, pack advanced avionics and can drop precision-guided bombs.
The Su-33 is an air-superiority fighter, and the Su-25 is a close air support plane. Tass’ source said the carrier will go to Syria with “about 15 fighters Su-33 and MiG-29K/KUB and more than 10 helicopters Ka-52K, Ka-27 and Ka-31.”
But it gets weirder.
Russia went to war in Syria in September 2015. That month, Admiral Kuznetsov was completing a three-month maintenance stint near Murmansk.
Then in October, she appeared in the Barents Sea … for combat training.
That’s unusual, because the Russian aircraft carrier is a snowbird; she heads south late in the year. More specifically, she sails into the Mediterranean, which she did during her four previous deployments — all during winter.
October is not winter. But the Barents Sea and the carrier’s home port at Severomorsk are beyond the Arctic Circle, where flight operations are particularly dangerous beginning in mid-October due to the polar night, when there is little light.
Sergei Ishchenko, a military commentator and former navy captain, found that perplexing. “Only extraordinary circumstances could have forced training flights from the carrier during the least suitable time of the year,” he wrote for the website Svobodnaya Pressa.
“It’s obvious that the war in Syria is that circumstance.”
Russia might not have a chance to deploy its carrier in combat again for awhile. In early 2017, Admiral Kuznetsov will head into dry dock for a two-year overhaul shortly after she returns from the Mediterranean. The war may be over by the time her repairs are done, giving the Kremlin a tiny window to signal military prowess with its flattop.
More curious is what’s happening with the MiG-29Ks.
These warplanes train at a runway with a ski-ramp in Yeysk, Russia, along the Sea of Azov. The Kremlin built this facility in 2012 as an alternative to a similar ramp runway in Nitka, Crimea — then part of Ukraine — which Russia leased. Russia captured Nitka during its February 2014 invasion, but the facility is apparently not suitable for MiG-29Ks.
And according to Ishchenko, the MiG-29K unit — the 100th Shipborne Fighter Aviation Regiment — was not fully trained as of January 2016.Admiral Kuznetsov is useless without those multi-role fighters and their pilots. “Victory in that war demands actual, not potential, power,” Ischenko wrote. “And the Admiral Kuznetsov still lacks its full combat power.”
Hence the reason why the carrier is back in the Barents Sea for the second time since last October, now with MiG-29Ks on the way … on a crash course for an upcoming combat mission.
At least, that’s the theory. We’ll find out in a few months.
The Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 2004. These countries don’t have much in the way of air assets. According to FlightGlobal.com, as of 2017, the three countries combined have three L-39 trainers, one L-410 transport, three C-27J transports, and 13 helicopters that operate either as search-and-rescue or training assets.
The NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission was established just after these countries joined NATO and is designed to protect their airspace. The mission usually consists of detachments of aircraft — four initially, but in recent years, as many as 16 aircraft have been sent for this mission — that operate out of airbases in Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia.
On Jan. 8, the United States ended its most recent run as part of this mission. Four F-15C Eagles from the 493rd Fighter Squadron, part of the 48th Fighter Wing, were deployed to Lithuania for four months. They worked alongside F-16AM Fighting Falcons from Belgium for this mission.
These four months proved to be fairly busy, according to the Air Force Times. Russia has been aggressive with its neighbors, most notably Ukraine. Since tensions with Ukraine have heated up, NATO routinely sends two detachments. The American detachment operated out of Šiauliai International Airport in Lithuania.
Russian Air Force Su-30 (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
While there, on at least two occasions, the American pilots intercepted Sukhoi Su-30 Flankers. These multi-role jets, assigned to the Russian Navy, flew near the airspace of the Baltic States. The U.S. Air Force F-15s were scrambled in response to intercept them. These encounters were caught on tape.
You can see these encounters on the video below. One thing you won’t see are the types of buzzing stunts that Russia has pulled on American ships and planes in the past.
The Black Samurai, despite sounding like a name that’d be more at home in a movie or a comic book than the real world, is a genuine nickname given to a mysterious man from feudal Japan, otherwise known only as Yasuke.
The rank of samurai was, of course, considered one of great prestige and it came with a number of perks including a salary, land, a stipend of rice, servants and the ability to kill commoners who offended them without consequence. In regards to that last one, kiri-sute gomen (literally: authorization to cut and leave) was a right granted to samurai that allowed them to kill anyone of a lower rank (even other samurai of lower rank) for any perceived slight against their honor. While this has little to do with the story of Yasuke, we couldn’t not mention the fact that samurai had the ability to basically murder people without consequence, so long as a given set of restrictions was honored, such as doctors and midwives were exempt to a certain extent, that the blow had to come directly after the affront and not later, a witness to the slight was required for proof a slight was in fact made, etc. etc. But in the general case, samurai were of such high standing that dishonoring one in front of a witness was a great way to end one’s life.
Given the highly regarded position samurai enjoyed, it was seldom an honor doled out to foreigners and, as such, there are less than a dozen confirmed examples of a person outside of feudal Japan being allowed to call themselves samurai. Amongst this select group of foreigners, Yasuke not only stands out for being speculated to have been the first, but also because he was the only one who was black.
Little is known about Yasuke’s past, so little in fact that we know neither where he was born nor his original name. It’s mostly agreed that Yasuke hailed from somewhere in Africa, though which area exactly has never been conclusively established, with Mozambique mentioned most in accounts of his life. This is thanks to the Histoire Ecclesiastique Des Isles Et Royaumes Du Japon written in 1627 by one Francois Solier where he claims Yasuke was from that region. However, it’s not clear what his own source for that information was and he wrote it almost a half century after the last known direct documented evidence of Yasuke.
Whatever the case, originally believed to have been a slave captured sometime in the 1570s by the Portuguese, Yasuke was bought by and became the servant of an Italian Jesuit and missionary called Alessandro Valignano. Valignano was famed for his insistence that missionaries to Japan become fluent with the language, requiring a full two years of study in Japanese, which helped his group stand out and be more successful than others. As for Yasuke, he travelled with and served Valignano for several years until the pair made port in Japan around 1579.
Upon arriving in Japan, as you might expect Yasuke immediately became a subject of intrigue and curiosity, both because of his apparently extremely dark skin and his intimidating stature. Variously described as being between 6 feet 2 inches and 6 feet 5 inches tall, Yasuke towered over the Japanese populace of the period, with males only averaging about 5 feet tall at the time. Beyond his height, he is said to have possessed a powerful, chiselled physique. According to legend, Yasuke’s very presence inspired both terror and curiosity in locals to such an extent that several people were supposedly crushed to death in an attempt to make their way through a large crowd that had gathered to see him. Other stories tell of people breaking down the doors of the places Yasuke was staying just to catch a glimpse.
Whether any of that is true or not, sometime in 1581 while visiting Japan’s capital, Yasuke came to the attention of a man who is considered one of the people ultimately responsible for the unification of Japan, famed Japanese warlord Oda Nobunaga. Nobunaga apparently insisted on meeting the mysterious dark-skinned stranger who was causing such a commotion in his city. Upon meeting Yasuke, according to an account by Jesuit Luis Frois, Nobunaga apparently ordered Yaskue to be roughly scrubbed with brushes to prove that his dark skin was real and not artificially done with ash, charcoal, or the like.
It’s from this first meeting that one of the only known accounts of Yasuke’s appearance comes from, with this fateful meeting documented in the Lord Nobunaga Chronicle:
On the 23rd of the 2nd month March 23, 1581, a black page (“kuro-bōzu”) came from the Christian countries. He looked about 26, 24 or 25 by Western count or 27 years old; his entire body was black like that of an ox. The man was healthy and good-looking. Moreover, his strength was greater than that of 10 men…. Nobunaga’s nephew gave him a sum of money at this first meeting.
Presumably thanks to Valignano requiring missionaries to Japan to learn Japanese, it appears at this point he also required it of Yasuke, as Nobunaga was said to have greatly enjoyed conversing with Yasuke and was intrigued to learn about his homeland. He ended up liking Yasuke so much that he eventually took him as his own, or rather officially Valignano gifted him to the warlord.
Nobunaga, who was known to have a fondness for other cultures, which is in part why he was allowing Christian missionaries to operate in the area, gave his newly found confidant the name Yasuke. Although technically still a slave in the sense that he had to serve Nobunaga, Yasuke quickly rose in stature in the eyes of Nobunaga, with Yasuke ultimately given a house, salary, and servants of his own. During his rise, he apparently served as Nobunaga’s weapon bearer and bodyguard and was otherwise seemingly treated as an equal by his peers. Yasuke was also eventually given a katana from Nobunaga, apparently conferring the title of samurai upon him as only samurai were permitted to carry such a weapon at the time. It’s also noteworthy that he wore the traditional armor of the samurai when in battle. Yasuke also had the frequent extreme honor of dining with Nobunaga, something few others were allowed to do.
Yasuke’s time with Nobunaga was cut short, however, when the warlord was betrayed by one of his generals, Akechi Mitsuhide, a year later in 1582. In a nutshell, Nobunaga was at the Honnō-ji temple in Kyoto, taking with him only a contingent of 30 pages and guards. For reasons unknown, though perhaps just a simple power grab, Mitsuhide chose to betray Nobunaga at this point, surrounding the temple and attacking. Yasuke is known to have been there and fought alongside Nobunaga, but ultimately when defeat was imminent as the temple burned around them, Nobunaga chose to commit ritual suicide rather than be captured.
Legend has it, whether true or not isn’t known, that one of Nobunaga’s last acts was to order Yasuke to carry Nobunaga’s head and sword to his son and heir, Oda Nobutada.
Whether he actually did this or not, it is known Yasuke managed to escape and joined Nobutada who himself was under attack at the time by a separate contingent of Mitsuhide’s soldiers at nearby Nijō Castle.
Nobunaga’s son was eventually defeated, committed ritual suicide, and Yasuke was captured by Mitsuhide’s men. Apparently unsure what to do with the foreign samurai, or even whether they should consider him a true samurai or not despite that he wielded the sword and wore the traditional armor, they chose not to kill him and instead left it to Mitsuhide to tell them what to do.
In the end, while there is some contention, it would seem Mitsuhide decided to dishonor Yasuke by not allowing him to commit ritual suicide and instead had him returned to the Jesuits. Whether Mitsuhide did this out of pity or contempt for Yasuke is a matter of contention, though it’s noteworthy that there was little in the way of racism towards black people in Japan at the time because so few black people ever visited the country anyway.
From here, as unlikely as it’s going to sound, Yasuke, the giant, Japanese speaking black, now ronin, samurai who supposedly caused crushing crowds wherever he went, disappeared from history, even in the Jesuit’s own accounts. This has led some to speculate that he did not stay with the Jesuits and even some speculation that, if becoming a samurai wasn’t enough, that he became a pirate after this, meaning his moniker could have potentially been not just The Black Samurai, but the ultimate in badass nicknames- The Black Pirate Samurai, though there is unfortunately no hard documented evidence that he actually became a pirate.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
WWI movies are sadly rather rare in comparison to WWII, perhaps because of America’s late entry and comparatively light casualty count. The so-called “War to end all Wars” was unable to bring an end to the violence, instead ushering in a seemingly endless variety of new weapons and tactics. Battle continues to exist, but World War I changed it forever. These movies will show you exactly how WWI changed the world, for better and worse.
This French film starring Audrey Tautou and Gaspard Ulliel follows a woman named Mathilde as she searches for her beloved fiancé who has disappeared from the trenches of the Somme during the war. Her fiancé, along with four other soldiers, was convicted of trying to escape military service, and sent to “No Man’s Land” to meet his end at the hands of the Germans. However, Matilde refuses to believe her fiancé is dead, and through her investigations and battlefield flashbacks, Matilde and viewers alike discover the brutalities and atrocities of World War I.
Joyeux Noel—written and directed by Christian Carion—is a fictionalized retelling of an actual historical event. In the December of 1914, a German opera singer travels to the front line to sing carols for the Christmas holiday. A truce from all sides commences, and the various soldiers come together to exchange gifts and stories from home. This film gives the perspective of the French, Scottish, and German men sent off to war, and details not only the disconnect of the higher ups from the sacrifices of the battlefield, but the negative fallout from a Christmas truce which celebrated humanity.
The German-British biographical film The Red Baron boasts stars Matthias Schweighöfer, Joseph Fiennes, Lena Heady, and Til Schweiger. Based on the fighter pilot Baron Manfred von Richthofen, who was one of the most acclaimed German pilots of World War I, this film follows his journey of disillusionment. While at first Richthofen regards combat as an exciting challenge, his growing feelings for the nurse Käte and the time he spends in the military hospital opens his eyes to the true extent of war’s atrocities.
This box-office hit was turned into a drama film after the original novel of the same name was published in 1982 and a subsequent stage play was adapted in 2007. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie stars Jeremy Irvine in his big screen debut, as well as other notable actors such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, and David Thewlis. A beloved Thoroughbred—Joey—belonging to a young English farmer is sold to the army, and over the course of four years he experiences the dark realities of war through the hands of the English, German, and French soldiers. Telling stories of desperation, loss, determination, and love, War Horse captures the scope of World War I on and off the battlefield.
Flyboys—featuring James Franco during his rise to stardom—follows a group of American men who enlist in the French Air Service in 1916. In a squadron known as the Lafayette Escadrille, volunteers including a Texan rancher, a black boxer, and a New York Dilettante undergo training which can’t even begin to compare to the rain of fire in air combat. As they face battle, some rise as heroes, while others succumb to enemy fire. Though these characters are fictional, their actions and fates were based upon real men who became the first American fighter pilots.
Three British soldiers find themselves stranded in No Man’s Land in this 2013 Australian film. Survivors of an Allied charged gone wrong, they won’t survive for long if they can’t find a way out of the muddy purgatory. German forces close in on the men, and an all-out attack from both sides could get them killed in the crossfire. With grenades exploding and time running out, will the soldiers make it through the night?
A bit of a change of pace, Oh! What A Lovely War is a British musical comedy directed by Richard Attenborough. Though the film—like its characters—starts out upbeat and optimistic, a darker perspective gradually consumes the tone. Mostly focusing on the Smith family as different members go off to war, the action also tackles infamous events that occurred during World War I, such as the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the truce during the Christmas of 1914. Keep an eye out for cameos from notable actors like Maggie Smith and Laurence Olivier.
First broadcast by the BBC as a television drama, this 1999 film is based on the non-fiction book The Vanished Battalion by Nigel McCrery. After the men of King George V’s estate joined the 1/5th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment, they went into battle at Gallipoli under the command of the manager of the estate, Captain Frank Beck. However, no soldiers returned from that fateful battle. Rumored to have disappeared after walking into a strange mist, the Royal Family sends an investigator to discover the truth behind the odd disappearance of the soldiers.
With Gary Cooper in the titular role, Sergeant York is based on the diary kept by the real-life Sergeant Alvin York. This film takes viewers from York’s humble beginnings as a farmer in Tennessee to his rise as one of the most celebrated American servicemen of World War I. Though York is an incredible marksman, his recent devotion to religion leaves him feeling conflicted about taking lives in war. As battle leaves no room for the indecision of men, York must kill or be killed, and rise to the occasion when the lives of his fellow soldiers are endangered.
For the viewers with a taste for the artsy out there, the 1963 recording of Benjamin Britten’s classical “War Requiem” acts as the soundtrack to this film, with no spoken dialogue to contrast the music and lyrics. As some of the lyrics of Britten’s composition are pulled from poems written by World War I veteran Wilfred Owen, the film uses Owen as the central character. Using imagery that depicts the horrors of war, the nonlinear narrative also branches out to portray other soldiers, as well as a nurse. This film stars notable actors Nathaniel Parker, Tilda Swinton, Laurence Olivier, and Sean Bean.
First filmed in 1930, the 1938 remake of The Dawn Patrol is the one best remembered by film buffs. Based on John Monk Sunders’s short story “The Flight Commander” and directed by Edmund Goulding, it stars Errol Flynn, David Niven and Basil Rathbone as pilots with the 59th Squadron, Royal Flying Corps (today’s Royal Air Force). A significant amount of footage from the 1930 original was reused to lower production costs, although that doesn’t detract from the film’s themes of death, fear and the stresses of command. It’s also known for “Stand to your glasses steady”, a wartime pilots’ song still sung today.
Though not without its historical inaccuracies, 1981’s Gallipoli is a World War 1 classic. Directed by Peter Weir and starring Mark Lee and Mel Gibson, it depicts two young Australians on their way to the disastrous Dardanelles campaign. On their journey they—like their country—come of age and lose their innocence as the Great War lingers on. Gallipoli is sometimes criticized for its anti-British bias, but the final scenes, depicting the slaughter at the Battle of the Nek on August 7, 1915, are unforgettable.
1957’s Paths of Glory is one of the all-time classic anti-war movies. Stanley Kubrick directed the adaptation of Humphrey Cobb’s novel, with Kirk Douglas starring as Colonel Dax. Dax is forced to defend his men not against the enemy, but their own troops when his superiors demand summary punishment after they fail an impossible mission. Paths of Glory examines war differently, looking at cowardice, betrayal and the disregard for ordinary soldiers by their commanders. Hailed as a classic now, it was highly controversial in its day.
The Trench is a rather overlooked gem. An independent production released in 1999, it stars a pre-Bond Daniel Craig as a battle-hardened veteran about to begin 1916’s Battle of the Somme. July 1, 1916 is believed to be the worst day in British military history, with some 57,000 men killed, wounded, missing or captured on that day alone. The Trench follows Sergeant Winter (Craig) as his platoon prepares to go over the top. Claustrophobic, grim and often depressing, it’s still a superb depiction of daily life in the trenches on the Western Front.
1930’s All Quiet on the Western Front, adapted from the 1929 novel by Erich Maria Remarque, is a classic not only within the genre, but filmmaking itself. Directed by Lewis Milestone, the film achieves (ahem) a milestone in its depiction of World War 1. From their initial patriotic, nationalistic fervor, a group of young Germans lose their innocence (and their lives) amid the carnage of the Western Front. 1979’s television adaptation, which won a Golden Globe, is also worth watching. The novel’s title came from a German Army communiqué issued near the war’s end reading “Im Westen nichts neues”, which translates most directly to “in the West, nothing new.”
The underground war fought on the Western Front and at Gallipoli has been, until recently, a rather overlooked aspect of WW1. With both sides facing stalemate, above ground tunneling and detonating vast mines beneath enemy trenches became one way to try breaking the deadlock. Both sides deployed Tunneling Companies, often composed of skilled laborers and miners drafted for their specialist skills. The underground war involved stealth, patience, nerves of steel and the constant risk of being buried alive as tunnelers tried to explode counter-mines to destroy their opponents. Beneath Hill 60 follows one of Australia’s tunneling units as they prepare to destroy German defenses at Messines Ridge, and has a truly tragic ending.
Released in 1976, Aces High is a combination of R.C. Sherriff’s Journey’s End and Sagittarius Rising, the memoir of RFC ace Cecil Lewis. Colin Firth plays rookie pilot Croft; the movie follows him over his first (and last) week as a frontline fighter pilot. Directed by Jack Gold, it also stars Malcolm McDowell as squadron commander Gresham, cracking under the constant strains of casualties and command. Christopher Plummer plays veteran pilot Uncle Sinclair, who takes Croft under his wing, all while Simon Ward’s Lieutenant Crawford is driven mad by constant fear. At this point, the average life expectancy of a rookie RFC pilot was a matter of days. Mostly around 20 years old, these rookies had two choices: Learn quickly, or die.
This 1962 epic had all the usual Hollywood trappings without the now-customary Hollywood schmaltz. The cast alone makes it worth watching. Peter O’Toole plays the legendary T.E. Lawrence, sent to assess and advise Arab forces in their campaign against the German and Turkish opposition. Instead, Lawrence turned himself into a WW1 legend—and the Arabian forces into a major threat against their opponents. Lawrence was always torn between loyalty to his country and his Arab ‘irregulars’, and O’Toole plays him masterfully. Lawrence was also right to be suspicious of British intentions in the region, especially when British officials claimed not to have any.
Released in 2008, Passchendaele focuses on the experiences of a Canadian WWI soldier, Michael Dunne. Written, directed by, and starring Paul Gross of Due South fame, Passchendaele was partly inspired by the experiences of Gross’s grandfather Michael Joseph Dunne on the Western Front. The grim opening scenes, in which Dunne bayonets a German soldier through the forehead, were taken directly from Gross’s grandfather’s experience. While the battle scenes are graphic, Passchendaele is far from a guts’n’glory epic or a voyeuristic gorefest. The effects of the war, both on those Canadians who fought and those who remained at home, are well portrayed without being unduly schmaltzy or overly worthy. Unfortunately underpromoted on its release, it’s well worth watching.
Howard Hawks, one of early Hollywood’s most celebrated directors, was obsessed with aviation. He transformed this interest into a prolific career in movies when he realized that he could film the stunts he loved so much as part of a larger narrative. Although 1930’s original The Dawn Patrol (mentioned earlier) is said to be even better than 1926’s The Road to Glory, Hawks’s earlier film is still available for viewing today and exemplifies the ways in which World War 1 was portrayed in the interwar years in the United States.
Released the year after The Road to Glory, Wings is not only a great WWI film—it was also the first movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. The film stars silent film starlet Clara Bow as Mary Preston a girl wildly in love with her neighbor, Jack Powell (Charles Rogers). When Powell is sent off to France, Mary follows as an ambulance driver. This war-romance drama, which was also one of the first to show nudity, remains relevant and utterly watchable to this day.
If you’re looking for a WWI movie to watch alongside a more sentimental viewer (perhaps your mother), you can’t go wrong with Testament of Youth. This film, based on Vera Brittain’s memoir, focuses on how women (particularly the middle class) were impacted by World War 1. Although Brittain tried first to write a novel based on her experiences, she soon realized that the grief and pain she felt made it impossible for her to write about anything but her personal feelings and choices. Alicia Vikander’s turn as Brittain may wring a tear from even the most cynical viewer.
Sometimes, civilians have a difficult time relating with troops. In many cases, they just don’t know how to talk to them. Realistically, it’s pretty easy. After all, we’re simple creatures; we like a handful of things — alcohol, tattoos, and anything else that’s fun with a dash of self-destruction. We’re, essentially, the kings and queens of counter-culture — “rebels with a cause,” as we were once described by a Marine general.
That being said, there are plenty of civilians out there who fit right in with the troops — usually those who work in a select few professional fields. The following are the civilian professionals that get a ton of love from the troops.
But, before we kick this off, I want to make it clear you don’t have to work in one of these fields for troops to appreciate you. Troops appreciate support of any kind — even if it’s a simple “thank you.”
You should never piss off your bartender, honestly.
(U.S. Air Force)
Easily topping this list is your friendly neighborhood beer-slinger. Troops love to drink and, although some troops might find themselves embroiled in “friendly” disagreements with their bartender after kicking back a few, a good service member will always respect the person behind the bar that helps them wind down after a long week.
Tattoo artists are almost always cool with service members.
Troops love tattoos, too. For each new piece, a troop will sit on the chair or bench for hours at a time — so you kind of can’t help but become friends with your tattoo artist. Artists in a military town tend to understand troops because they tattoo a lot of us. They know what we like to talk about and they can probably all draw a perfect eagle, globe, and anchor with their eyes closed.
Okay, okay. The ones from the shop on base aren’t always bad.
(U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer’s Mate Chris Desmond)
Troops need haircuts and a good barber is hard to find. If you’re lucky, you’ll find that one place off-base that isn’t too expensive and leaves you with a better cut than the clowns on base shop can offer.
A lot of respect goes both ways in this regard.
Life, especially one spent in the armed forces, leaves you with a lot of complications. As warfighters, we spend a lot of time working on our own bodies and training to deliver harm to the enemies’. Although doctors have a much more thorough understanding of human anatomy, troops certainly have a lot of questions.
Doctors specialize in fixing humans and grunts, well, we specialize in the opposite. Plus, grunts have medical professionals embedded with us in the form of medics and corpsman, who are usually the best friends any troop could have. So, we sort of lump all doctors in with them.
Kieran L. asks: Who started the conspiracy theory about the moon landing being fake?
Since the early 1970s conspiracy theorists have created ever more elaborate stories about how NASA faked the moon landings, much to the annoyance of the literal hundreds of thousands of people who worked in some capacity to make these missions a reality, and even more so to the men who were brave enough to sit in front of a massive controlled explosion, take a little jaunt through the soul crushing void of space in an extremely complex ship built by the lowest bidder, then get into another spacecraft whose ascent engine had never been test fired before they lit the candle, and all with the goal of exiting said ship with only a special suit between them and oblivion. And don’t even get the astronauts started on the paltry government salary they earned in doing all that and the hilarious lengths they had to go to to provide some semblance of a life insurance policy for their families should the worst happen during the missions. So who first got the idea that the moon landings were faked?
While it’s highly likely there were at least a few individuals here and there who doubted man could accomplish such a thing a little over a half century after the end of period in which humans were still hitching up covered wagons, the first to really get the moon landing hoax story going popularly was a writer named Bill Kaysing. How did he do it? Kaysing self-published a book in 1976 called We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle.
Released a few years after the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, Kaysing’s book popularly introduced some of the most well known talking points of moon landing deniers, such as that the astronauts should have been killed when they passed through the Van Allen radiation belts, noting the lack of stars in photographs, the missing blast crater below the lunar modules, etc. Beyond these, he also had some more, let’s say, “unusual” and occasionally offensive assertions which even the most ardent moon landing denier would probably rather distance themselves from.
Not exactly a best-seller, Kaysing’s book nonetheless laid the ground work for some of what would come after, with the idea further gaining steam in part thanks to the 1978 film Capricorn 1, which shows NASA faking a Mars landing and then going to any lengths to keep it a secret. As for the film, director Peter Hyams states he first got the idea for such a movie when musing over the Apollo 11 mission and thinking, “There was one event of really enormous importance that had almost no witnesses. And the only verification we have . . . came from a TV camera.”
Not an accurate statement in the slightest on the latter point, it nonetheless got the wheels turning and he ultimately developed a script based on this notion.
As to how Kaysing before him came to the conclusion that NASA faked the moon landings, the story, at least as Kaysing tells it, is that in the late 1950s he managed to view the results of a highly secretive internal study conducted by NASA on the feasibility of man successfully landing on the moon that concluded, in his own words: “That the chance of success was something like .0017 percent. In other words, it was hopeless.”
Kaysing doesn’t explain how NASA came up with such a precise figure given all the unknown variables at the time, nor why he put the qualifier “something like” followed by such an extremely exact number. He also did not name the report itself. And, in fact, as far as we can tell, NASA never conducted such an all encompassing study on the feasibility of a successful moon landing in the 1950s. Whether they did or not, we did find in our research looking for that report that NASA conducted a feasibility study on the proposed designs for several manned rockets immediately prior to Apollo program to decide which contractor to use. This, of course, has nothing to do with Kaysing, but we figured we’d mention it as we like to deal in facts and reading Kaysing’s various works has us feeling like we need to be cleansed a little by saying things that are actually true about NASA in this period.
Astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong in NASA’s training mockup of the Moon and lander module.
In any event, Kaysing would later assert that he determined from this report that there’s no way NASA could have improved these 0.0017% odds in the time between the results of this supposed study and the moon landings about a decade later.
Now, if Kaysing was just some random guy shouting in the wind, it’s unlikely anyone would have listened to him. Every conspiracy theory origin story needs at least some shred of credibility from the person starting it to get the fire going. For Kaysing’s assertions about the moon landings, this comes in the form of the fact that for a brief period he worked for Rocketdyne, a company that made rockets for the Apollo program. Not an engineer or having any similar technical expertise whatsoever, Kaysing’s background was primarily in writing, earning an English degree from the University of Redlands, after which he naturally got a job making furniture.
As for the writing gig he landed with Rocketdyne, his job was initially as a technical writer starting in 1956 and he eventually worked his way up to head of technical publications. He finally quit in 1963, deciding he’d had enough of working for the man.
After quitting, to quote him, “the rat race”, in 1963 Kaysing traveled the country in a trailer with his family, earning his living writing books on a variety of topics from motorcycles to farming.
This brings us to 1969 when he, like most everyone else in the world with access to a TV watched the moon landing. While watching, Kaysing recalled the supposed NASA study he’d seen all those years ago, as well as that engineers he’d worked with at the time in the late 1950s claimed that while the technology existed to get the astronauts to the moon, getting them back was not yet possible. He later stated he further thought,
As late as 1967 three astronauts died in a horrendous fire on the launch pad. But as of ’69, we could suddenly perform manned flight upon manned flight? With complete success? It’s just against all statistical odds.
Despite often describing himself as “the fastest pen in the west”, it would take Kaysing several years to write the book that introduced one of the most enduring conspiracy theories to the world.
As for why NASA would bother with the charade, he claimed NASA worked in tandem with the Defence Intelligence Agency to fake the moon landings to one up those pesky Russians. While certainly good for the country if they could get away with it, the benefit to NASA itself was, of course, funding. Said Kaysing, “They — both NASA and Rocketdyne — wanted the money to keep pouring in.” As to how he knew this, he goes on “I’ve worked in aerospace long enough to know that’s their goal.”
Model of Soviet Lunokhod automatic moon rover.
So how did NASA do it? He claimed that the footage of the moon landing was actually filmed on a soundstage. When later asked where this soundstage was located, Kaysing confidently stated that it was located in Area 51. As he doesn’t seem to have ever given clear evidence as to how he knew this, we can only assume because it’s not a proper space related conspiracy theory if Area 51 isn’t mentioned.
Kaysing also claimed that the F-1 engines used were too unreliable so NASA instead put several B-1 rockets inside each of the F-1 engines. Of course, in truth these wouldn’t have been powerful enough to get the Saturn V into orbit even if its tanks were mostly empty. (And given the frost and ice clearly visible covering certain relevant parts of the Saturn V here, it’s apparent the tanks could not have been mostly empty). There’s also the little problem that the clusters of B-1s he described couldn’t have fit in the F-1 engine bells and you can see footage of the F-1 engines working as advertised, with no clusters of engines anywhere in sight. Nevertheless, despite these problems with his story, he did purport that the Saturn V was launched to space as shown (though at other times has claimed that in fact as soon as the rocket was out of sight it was simply ditched in the ocean and never made it to space). Stick with us here people, he changed his story a lot over the years.
Whatever the case, in all initial cases, he claims the astronauts were not aboard.
(And if you’re now wondering how the U.S. fooled the Soviets and other nations tracking the rockets during these missions, he claims a way to fake signals was devised, allowing for tracking stations on Earth to think the craft was headed for the moon and, critically, successfully fooling the Soviets who were indeed closely tracking the missions to the moon and back.)
So what did Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins do during the mission if they weren’t zipping around in space? In the first edition of his book, Kaysing claims that they flew to Las Vegas where they mostly hung out at strip clubs when they weren’t in their rooms on the 24th floor of the Sands Hotel.
We can’t make this stuff up, but apparently Kaysing can.
Kaysing goes on that at one point one of the trio got into a fistfight with someone in broad daylight over a stripper. Sadly Kaysing doesn’t reveal which of the men did this, nor how he knew about it, so we’re forced to assume it was Buzz Aldrin who is the only member of the three we definitely know actually has gotten in a fist fight.
The Apollo 11 lunar landing mission crew, pictured from left to right, Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot.
In this case, in 2002, a 72 year old Buzz Aldrin punched Bart Sibrel who is a “we never landed on the moon” conspiracy theorist, “documentary” maker, and cab driver. Sibrel invited Aldrin to a hotel with Sibrel telling him he was making a children’s TV show on space. Once Aldrin arrived at the hotel, Sibrel pulled out a Bible and tried to get Aldrin to put his hand on it and swear that he had walked on the moon. Needless to say, Aldrin was pretty irritated at this point. Things got worse when Sibrel called Aldrin a “liar” and a “coward”, at which point Aldrin punched him.
As for his defense, Sibrel states, “When someone has gotten away with a crime, in my opinion, they deserve to be ambushed. I’m a journalist trying to get at the truth.” Unwilling to sway on what that truth is, however, Sibrel states, “I do know the moon landings were faked. I’d bet my life on it.” Not all is lost, however, because he states, “I know personally that Trump knows the moon landings are fake and he’s biding his time to reveal it at the end of this term, or at the end of his second term if he’s re-elected.” So, rest easy everyone, the truth will come out soon enough apparently.
In any event, going back to Kaysing’s book, he states that shortly before the astronauts were supposed to begin broadcasting from the moon, all three men arrived on a soundstage deep within the confines of Area 51 and ate cheese sandwiches. He also states that along with cheese sandwiches, NASA provided the men with buxom showgirls while at Area 51. Presumably this was the only way to pry the astronauts away from the strip clubs.
After eating the no doubt delicious sandwiches, Aldrin and Armstrong put on some space suits and pretended to walk across a fake moon set while reading out some, to quote Kaysing, “well-rehearsed lines” in a performance he called “not great” but “good enough”.
A description we personally feel is a little unfair considering it has apparently fooled seemingly every scientist on Earth then to now, including ones working for the nation directly competing with the US to land on the moon who would have relished any opportunity to even allege the whole thing was faked in a credible way, let alone prove it and embarrass the U.S. utterly in front of the whole world. But, unfortunately, as you might imagine, the Soviets at the time were monitoring the whole thing quite closely with their newfangled technology and so never got the opportunity to disprove the landings.
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin poses for a photograph beside the deployed United States flag during an Apollo 11 Extravehicular Activity on the lunar surface.
Amazingly Kaysing also claimed in his book that the fake moon landing footage was filmed live and that there was only “a seven second delay” between Armstrong and Aldrin’s performance and the broadcast the world was watching. Thus, had even a fly buzzed across the set, NASA would have only seconds to notice and cut the feed, lest such a mistake or inconsistency be noticed in the footage people would be watching for the rest of human history.
As for the splash down and recovery, he claims the astronauts were eventually put on a military cargo plane (a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy) and simply dropped from it in the capsule. As for how he knew this, he did provide a source for once, claiming that an airline pilot he talked to had seen the Apollo 15 module drop from a cargo plane. Who this pilot was, what airline he worked for, if he offered any evidence to support his claim, such as a flight log showing him piloting a plane in the area during the time of the splash down of Apollo 15, or even when he talked to said pilot, however, he fails to mention.
As for the moon rocks brought back, these were apparently meteorites found in Antarctica as well as some that were cleverly made in a NASA geology lab.
As to how NASA was able to keep the lid on things, despite nearly a half a million people working on the Apollo Program in some capacity, not just for NASA but countless independent organizations, he claims NASA simply only let those who needed to know the whole thing was a hoax know.
So following this reasoning that means all these scientists, engineers, etc. working on all the components and various facets of the mission were genuinely trying to make the moon landing happen, including knowing the requirements to make it happen and testing everything they made until it met those requirements… Meaning what was built and planned should have been capable of doing what the mission required…
That said, Kaysing admits a handful of people here and there would have had to know the whole thing was a sham, and thus NASA simply paid off those who could be paid off, promoted those who preferred that reward, threatened those who still wouldn’t go along, and murdered those who still resisted, which we’ll get into shortly.
The ridiculousness of many of these claims and how easily they crumple under the slightest bit of scrutiny is likely why in the 2002 re-release of his book Kaysing changed his story in various ways, including claiming that the engines on the Saturn V actually did work and that Collins, Aldrin, and Armstrong did go to space after all, instead of going to hang out with strippers in Vegas. He then states that all three men orbited the planet while pre-recorded, not live, footage was shown on Earth.
The swing arms move away and a plume of flame signals the liftoff of the Apollo 11 Saturn V space vehicle.
Despite, to put it mildly, straining credibility on pretty much everything he said from start to finish and him providing absurdly specific details, generally without bothering to provide any evidence whatsoever backing up these claims and changing those specific details frequently over time, Kaysing’s book and subsequent work nonetheless helped spawn the still thriving moon landing hoax conspiracy theory.
As for Kaysing, he didn’t stop there. He continued to sporadically come up with new allegations against NASA, including that the agency murdered the astronauts and teacher aboard the Challenger explosion. Why would they do this when the whole Christa McAuliffe thing was supposed to be a publicity stunt to get the public more interested in space travel, science, and what NASA was doing? According to Kaysing, “Christa McAuliffe, the only civilian and only woman aboard, refused to go along with the lie that you couldn’t see stars in space. So they blew her up, along with six other people, to keep that lie under wraps…”
Speaking of things that Kaysing said that are ridiculously easy to debunk with even a modicum of effort, we feel obligated to point out that Christa McAuliffe was not the only woman on board. NASA astronaut Judith Resnik was also killed in that tragedy.
Not stopping there, Kaysing also claimed the deaths of the Apollo 1 astronauts were intentional as one or more of the astronauts aboard was about to blow the whistle on the upcoming hoax plan. We feel obligated to point out here that, as previously mentioned, he also used this fire as evidence of NASA lacking expertise to get a man to the moon… Meaning according to Kaysing this fire was somehow both intentional to murder a few astronauts and also accidental owing to NASA’s incompetence.
Moving swiftly on, NASA officials also apparently had others killed, including safety inspector at North American Aviation Thomas Baron who wrote a report on NASA safety protocol violations after that tragic Apollo 1 fire.
It’s at this point, we should probably note that in the 1990s Kaysing decided to sue Jim Lovell. You see, in 1996 Lovell publicly stated “The guy is wacky. His position makes me feel angry. We spent a lot of time getting ready to go to the moon. We spent a lot of money, we took great risks, and it’s something everybody in this country should be proud of.”
Lovell also wrote to Kaysing asking him to “Tear up your manuscript and pursue a project that has some meaning. Leave a legacy you can be proud of, not some trash whose readers will doubt your sanity.”
Unwilling to stand for his good name being publicly besmirched, Kaysing naturally sued Lovell for defamation, though the case was eventually dismissed and nothing ever came of it.
Kaysing continued to assert that the moon landings were a hoax right up until his death in 2005, in between writing books on cookery, motorcycle safety, farming, taxes, survival, how to subsist on very little money, and travel guides, as well as making occasional appearances on such shows as Oprah expounding on his conspiracy theory work.
A 1963 conceptual model of the Apollo Lunar Excursion Module.
On the side he also promoted micro-housing as a solution for homeless people and ran a cat sanctuary called “FLOCK”, standing for “For the Love of Cats and Kittens”. So, yes, Kaysing was a man whose passions included micro housing, cats, survival, travel, living off almost nothing, and rapidly coming up with conspiracy theories. If only he’d been born later or the interwebs invented sooner, this man could have been an internet superstar.
Whatever the case, Kaysing’s death understandably garnered a mixed reaction from the scientific community, with few finding the ability to muster much sympathy for a man who accused NASA of murdering people.
Gone but not forgotten, Kaysing’s ideas have actually gained in popularity in recent years, particularly among younger generations according to various polls, such as one done by space consultant Mary Dittmar in 2005 showing that 25% of people 18-25 doubted man had ever walked on the moon.
This is all despite the fact that it’s never been easier to definitively debunk Kaysing’s various assertions. Not just via reading the countless explanations by scientists definitively addressing point by point every idea ever put forth by moon landing conspiracy theorists, there’s also the fact that there are literally pictures taken in the last decade showing clear evidence of some of the equipment sitting on the moon, including for the Apollo 11, 14, 15, 16, and 17 landing sites. Even in some cases showing the tracks left by the astronauts and the shadows from the flags planted themselves.
Naturally, moon landing deniers simply claim these photos too were faked, although why China, India, and Japan should cater to NASA on this one when they independently took pictures of their own verifying the moon landings is anybody’s guess.
We’ll have much, much more on all this in an upcoming article on How Do We Know Man Really Walked on the Moon?
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.