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4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline

It must be so tempting, staring down an awesome piece of military hardware… just sitting there, waiting for someone to take it for a spin. The maintainers know everything about their plane, tank, or other vehicles, right down to the last detail.


Imagine anyone’s surprise when one of these vehicles just up and leaves when its not supposed to. Sounds unlikely, but it’s happened a lot more than one might think.

1. Sergeant Paul Meyer gets sick of his wife, steals a C-130

On May 23, 1969, Meyer, a U.S. Air Force crew chief stationed at RAF Mildenhall, England, took off in a C-130E, and very quickly crashed into the English Channel. His body was not found, but he was assumed to have died on impact.

 

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline

The USAF investigation showed Sgt. Meyer was “under a considerable amount of stress” in the days leading up to the theft. He was married just eight weeks before his deployment to England and his wife constantly badgered him to come home – because she was being sued by her ex-husband.

On top of his marriage difficulties, he failed to pass for promotion despite allegedly being better qualified than his peers who did get promoted. Meyer was grounded and restricted to barracks for being arrested in an alcohol-related incident.

The same night he was arrested, he called the fuels unit on the base to fuel up his C-130. He then took an officer’s flight clothes and GOV, then drove to the flightline.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
A C-130E at REF Mildenhall in 1984.

 

He did not crash on takeoff. He climbed, turned north, and made his way over the Channel. He called his wife over the radio until he lost control and crashed.

2. An Army PFC takes a Huey to the White House

Army Pfc. Robert K. Preston washed out of Army flight school in 1973. The 20-year-old was apparently determined to get under the rotors of an Army aircraft – by any means necessary. On Feb. 17, 1974, Preston stole a Bell UH-1 Huey Helicopter from Fort Meade, Maryland, and flew it down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, stopping at a trailer park along the way.

 

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
Screenshot of NBC’s coverage of the incident.

Preston, who held a civilian pilot’s license for fixed wing aircraft, completed 24 weeks of Army aviation training before washing out for “deficiency in the instrument phase.” Yet, Maryland State Police pilots who chased Preston called him “one hell of a pilot.”

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
Chart of Preston’s flight from Tipton Field to Washington (FAA)

The helicopter buzzed the Washington Monument and the White House itself before touching down amid a hail of Secret Service buckshot. Preston was injured in the gunfire, sentenced to one year in prison, and fined $2,400.

3. A USAF Mechanic steals an F-86 Sabre, regrets nothing

When the F-86 Sabre appeared in the Air Force fleet in the 1950s, pilots needed a year of training to fly it. Airman 1st Class George Johnson, however, took the initiative. On Sept. 20, 1956, he hopped in the cockpit of a Sabre and went for a ride.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
Airman George Johnson in a T-33 in late 1955. (George R. Johnson)

 

Johnson was a mechanic with dreams of flying. Unfortunately, a burned retina from staring at an eclipse meant a plane like the F-86 was forever out of reach. As part of a routine functional check one day, he asked the tower to clear the runway for a high-speed taxi test, which was actually a thing.

Except when it reached the right speed, Johnson took off with the plane – literally. But he had no way down. No chute. No experience. The officers of the day had to talk Johnson down. Johnson was court-martialed and fined almost $200, sentenced to six months confinement and loss of rank to Airman Basic.

He later served the rest of his enlistment.

4. A Marine becomes a mechanic – then steals an A-4M Skyhawk

Lance Cpl. Howard Foote couldn’t become a Marine Corps pilot because he got the bends during a glider test. He had to settle for becoming a mechanic.

But the dream of flying a USMC fighter never left him. One day in 198 he gassed up a Skyhawk and took it for a joyride.

 

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
LA Times clipping

Foote landed his plane much easier than anyone else – he was an accomplished pilot already. But he still served time in the brig for his chicanery.

BONUS: U.S. Army soldier steals a tank, goes on a rampage

In 1990, a California veteran named Shawn Nelson lost a medical malpractice suit to a local hospital, who counter-sued for thousands. His wife filed for divorce in 1991. Both parents died of cancer in 1992. His brother became hooked on meth.

By 1995, his business went defunct and he lost everything and was facing homelessness. In April of that year, his live-in girlfriend died of a drug overdose.

On May 17, 1995, Nelson calmly drove to a California National Guard armory in San Diego and forced his way into a 57-ton M60A3 Patton tank. Though unarmed, Nelson still drove the tank off the base.

For 23 minutes, he led police on a slow-speed chase through local residential neighborhoods as he rampaged over utility poles, hydrants, and at least 25 cars.
Eventually, the tank got caught on the median of State Route 163, where police ordered Nelson to leave the vehicle. When he instead tried to free the tank, the police shot him. Nelson died from his wounds, the only fatality.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is what makes the Javelin missile so deadly

There’s always been a competition between armored units and infantry. As far back as the Middle Ages, developments in technology constantly shifted who had the upper hand. For example, gleaming knights of old wore heavy armor that protected them from most weaponry — at least until the Battle of Agincourt introduced the piercing, infantry-wielded English longbow. Throughout history, technologies developed back and forth, until, finally, the gun firmly established that an ordinary grunt could beat armor with a good shot.


However, World War I drastically changed that dynamic. The tank emerged as the modern equivalent of armored knights, seemingly untouchable by infantry. The armored edge continued to grow through World War II. Even with the development of the bazooka, the best way to kill tanks was either with other tanks, or to call in artillery or air strikes. Times were tough for infantry.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
The FGM-77 Dragon anti-tank missile. (U.S. Army photo)

The development of the FGM-77 Dragon and the BGM-71 Tube-launched Optically-tracked Wire-guided (TOW) missile helped American grunts, but these still had problems. First, the wire guidance meant that anti-tank teams had to stay in one location to guide the missile. Any sudden moves would put the missile off course. As you might imagine, remaining stationary in the face of a tank isn’t a great idea.

Second, the missiles had a huge back-blast, which would immediately alert enemy armor to the idea that they’re being attacked. This, coupled with the wire guidance, meant enemy tanks knew when and where to look for anti-armor specialists. TOW teams were lucky: The missile’s range of 2.3 miles allowed the crews some standoff distance. Folks with the Dragon, sporting a range of just under a mile, often found themselves within heavy machine-gun range upon firing.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
(Minnesota National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Ben Houtkooper)

Thankfully, these issues have been addressed with the introduction of the FGM-148 Javelin. With a maximum range of about 1.5 miles, it gives the crews the ability to stand off. More importantly, it’s a fire-and-forget missile with a much-reduced backblast. So, even if the launch position is detected, the team can move to a new location, leaving enemy fire to rain upon an empty foxhole. The missile can attack the top of an armored vehicle (useful against tanks like the Russian Armata) or carry out a frontal attack.

That is why the Javelin is so deadly: It gives the light infantry a fighting chance against tanks. When you consider that “light” units, like the 82nd Airborne, are usually followed by heavier units with lots of tanks, the Javelin’s importance becomes very apparent.

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DARPA just announced it’s one step closer to building a hypersonic space plane

The Pentagon’s research and development shop is moving one step closer toward building a hypersonic space plane that could shuttle satellites or people into space in record time.


In an announcement on Wednesday, DARPA said that Boeing, which was selected for phase one of the project, would keep working on its advanced design for the Experimental Space plane (XS-1) program with additional funding for phases two and three.

While Phase One of XS-1 was more of a drawing board/concept phase, phases two and three are all about actually building a space plane and conducting flight tests, demonstrations, and hopefully, delivery of a satellite into orbit.

Here’s how DARPA describes what it hopes XS-1 may one day pull off:

The XS-1 program envisions a fully reusable unmanned vehicle, roughly the size of a business jet, which would take off vertically like a rocket and fly to hypersonic speeds. The vehicle would be launched with no external boosters, powered solely by self-contained cryogenic propellants. Upon reaching a high suborbital altitude, the booster would release an expendable upper stage able to deploy a 3,000-pound satellite to polar orbit. The reusable first stage would then bank and return to Earth, landing horizontally like an aircraft, and be prepared for the next flight, potentially within hours.

Related: Mysterious Air Force space plane lands after 2-year mission

Since it’s DARPA, the project is focused on national security, and there’s no doubt the Pentagon could save plenty of money and time by launching satellites via a low-cost space plane. But the agency also notes in its announcement that another goal is to “encourage the broader commercial launch sector,” and it will release testing data out to companies who are interested during phases two and three.

So it looks like the military won’t be the only ones having fun flying planes into space, Mr. Skywalker.

DARPA has been behind a number of huge technological advances that have made their way to the private sector, like the Internet, a ton of the components of modern-day computing, and GPS, just to name a few.

“We’re delighted to see this truly futuristic capability coming closer to reality,” said Brad Tousley, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO), which oversees XS-1. “Demonstration of aircraft-like, on-demand, and routine access to space is important for meeting critical Defense Department needs and could help open the door to a range of next-generation commercial opportunities.”

Check out the demo video below:

MIGHTY MOVIES

The stakes are high for American veterans fighting ISIS

People enlist in the military for a number of reasons, ranging from anywhere between the insane, “I love shooting stuff” to the more pragmatic, “I need the college money.” Many of us also join because it’s the right thing to do — at least, in our minds. Many who joined the U.S. military in the days following the September 11th attacks are looking down the barrel at their 20-year anniversary. Others joined because the rise of ISIS gave a clear picture of what evil looks like in this world.

Some needed a more direct route to the fight against ISIS. So, they traveled through Iraq or elsewhere to get to Syria, where they could join the Kurdish YPG, the People’s Protection Units, and the YPJ, the Women’s Protection Units, to form the front line against ISIS onslaught in Syria.

You can now actually watch the struggle to liberate the people of Iraq and Syria from the grips of the Islamic State. Hunting ISIS is on History every week on Tuesday at 11pm and it is a no-holds-barred look at the Westerners with the Kurds. Watch the pain and horror of those who suffer under ISIS as well as the elation of civilians and children as their homes are liberated.


The series follows a lot of vets around, but features primarily PJ, a Marine Corps veteran, and his team of Western volunteers as well as Pete, from New Jersey, who leads a team of medics supporting Peshmerga fighters in Iraq.

The lives of American combat veterans fighting ISIS in Syria was documented by camera crews who followed them through checkpoints and training and into their front-line lives in Syria. They came from all over America and all walks of life. Some picked up where they left off as veterans of the Iraq War and others simply wanted to stop the reign of terror, theft, rape, extortion, and violence that comes with ISIS occupation.


4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
It takes a lot of ammo.
(History)

But they’re risking a whole lot more than their lives — they could be risking their own freedom.

United States law says anyone who “enlists or enters himself, or hires or retains another to enlist or enter himself, or to go beyond the jurisdiction of the United States with intent to be enlisted or entered in the service of any foreign prince, state, colony, district, or people as a soldier or as a marine or seaman … shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”

But that all depends on the interpretation. In the 1896 Supreme Court decision of Wiborg v. United States, the Court held that it was only illegal if the American was recruited into a foreign service. In the case of Wiborg, Americans armed themselves and made their way to Cuba to train and assist Cuban rebels fighting Spain while the U.S. was at peace with Spain.

The Kurds don’t actively recruit Western fighters, but they also don’t have a state. The Kurds are the world’s largest ethnic minority without a country of their own. Before the ISIS war, there were some 23 million Kurds in the region. But that all depends on how the Kurdish armed forces act on their own. The Peshmerga in Iraq is a pro-Western fighting force. But the Kurdish YPG in Syria – home of the International Brigades – is considered a terrorist organization by America’s NATO ally, Turkey.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
(History)

You may remember the name John Walker Lindh, an American captured fighting with the Taliban in the days after 9/11. One of the key components to his defense was that he was in the armed forces of another state – the Taliban were the recognized government in Afghanistan – and that he personally didn’t attempt to join al-Qaeda or attack the United States.

The exact number of Americans and other western volunteers fighting ISIS isn’t known for sure, but the Kurds know most of them are military veterans. Though considered terrorists by Turkey, the United States considers all Kurdish forces to be an essential part of the fight against ISIS.

The one thing that is clear is that they can expect no direct help from U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria. The military and State Department are not obligated to aid volunteers in the two countries (American volunteers have, in fact, been turned away by the U.S. military). If they were caught at the checkpoints on their way back, they would go straight to a local jail.

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The story of the iconic Soviet general and the secret order for a special kind of Coca-Cola

As World War II ended and the Iron Curtain fell over Eastern Europe, relations deteriorated between the Soviet Union and its Western allies.

The Soviet repudiation of the West and of capitalism went as far as banning business with Western companies, as there was no reason to trade with “imperialist” powers.

That created a problem for one of the most revered Soviet military leaders, marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Zhukov, who oversaw many of the USSR’s greatest victories against the Nazis.

The problem? Zhukov had developed an intense liking for Coca-Cola, a drink now illegal in the Soviet Union. Not only that, but Zhukov also feared that being seen consuming such a recognizable Western product would lead to punishment.

In an effort to maintain good ties, the Truman administration undertook a covert effort to get Zhukov the soda he wanted.

A cultural icon

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
Soldiers the front lines of the Cassino Front drink the first Coca-Cola to reach US troops in Italy on March 16, 1944. (PH/Sherman Montrose ACME)

Coca-Cola’s steadfast support for the Allied war effort helped make it both distinctly American and recognizable worldwide.

As the US entered the war, Coca-Cola President Robert Woodruff ordered his company “to see that every man in uniform gets a bottle of Coca-Cola for 5 cents, wherever he is and whatever it costs the Company.”

The soft drink was seen as an important morale booster and thus a wartime necessity. Coca-Cola bottling plants sprang up close to front lines all over the world to get the drinks to Allied troops as fast as possible.

More than 100 employees known as “Coca-Cola colonels” were even given the Army rank of technical observer and deployed to the front to ensure soldiers got their Cokes quickly and efficiently.

In 1943, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, a fan of the drink himself, ordered 3 million bottles to the front in North Africa. He also requested enough supplies and materials to refill 6 million more bottles every month.

When Richard Bong, a US Army pilot in the Pacific theater, set the American record for air-to-air-combat victories in January 1944, Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, the head of the Army Air Forces, sent him two cases of Coke as a reward.

By the end of the war, Allied military personnel had consumed 5 billion bottles of Coke from 64 bottling plants around the world.

‘White Coke’

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
Zhukov, Eisenhower, and Montgomery at a banquet at Allied headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1945. (Keystone-France\Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Zhukov acquired his taste for Coke after drinking it during a meeting with Eisenhower after the war. Zhukov could enjoy Coke in meetings with Western officials but not at home, as the Soviet Union had banned Coca-Cola outright.

No alternative sated Zhukov’s thirst for Coke, but in 1946, he had an idea: If the drink were delivered without its distinctive caramel color, it could possibly be passed off as vodka.

Zhukov asked his American counterparts to see if such a feat was possible. Gen. Mark W. Clark, commander of US forces in the American sector of Allied-occupied Austria, eventually passed the request to President Harry Truman, who contacted James Farley, chairman of the Coca-Cola Export Corporation.

Coca-Cola was actually in the process of expanding its business operations in Austria, and one of its employees was assigned to the effort. A company chemist soon made a clear version of the drink by removing caramel from the ingredients.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
Zhukov, then Soviet defense minister, demonstrates a bayonet thrust at the military academy at Dehradun, India in January 1957. (CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

At Zhukov’s request, the new beverage wasn’t put in the usual Coke bottles but instead in unmarked, straight-edged bottles. To create a communist-friendly appearance, Coca-Cola even used custom-made white caps emblazoned with a red star on the bottles.

Fifty crates of “white Coke” were delivered to the Soviets in Vienna. While all other goods entering the Soviet occupation zone were stopped and inspected, Coca-Cola was able to deliver the crates without interference.

In the end, the rare olive branch between East and West amounted to little more than a personal favor between wartime colleagues.

It’s not known what became of the drinks or their bottles, and the exchange had no effect on the deteriorating relationship between the two blocs.

It didn’t even earn Coca-Cola better treatment, either. Its rival Pepsi eventually gained a virtual monopoly in the Soviet Union, which the Soviets maintained — once trading several warships for $3 billion worth of Pepsi — until 1985.

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

Feature image: Bettman/ Getty Images

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This is what you need to know about Hawaii’s ancient special forces

Hawaii has a very different history than the rest of the United States. The islands’ native culture thrives in its memory, perhaps because that “destiny” didn’t manifest itself in Hawaii like it did in the lower 48.


Related: This martial art was originally developed to beat up Nazis

It’s a tribute to Hawaiians’ strong links to the past that so much is known about the islands’ ancient culture. But Hawaiians weren’t always a unified people. Each island had its own chief who vied for power among the others.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
Hawaiian Koa Warriors fighting using the Lua art.

To attack a rival’s island, a chief couldn’t just get 50,000 guys on chariots to roll over to their territory like rulers could in the ancient Middle East. Wars required amphibious operations and small unit combat.

Enter the Koa Warriors.

The Koa were the elite among the regular armies. They fought with Lua, the Hawaiian martial art, and went into combat barely clothed. Their main tactic involved using less-skilled fighters to shoot projectile weapons on an enemy. And when the enemy infantry closed in, the Koa would pummel them into submission.

Beat that, Ohio.

They used a variety of weapons, from the oars they rowed with shark-tooth edges, to knuckle dusters, daggers, and garrottes.

Learn more in the video:

American Heroes Channel

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This battleship went from Pearl Harbor to D-Day to nuclear tests

The D-Day landings featured an immense fleet – including seven battleships.


One, HMS Rodney, was notable for being the only battleship to torpedo another battleship. However, one of the American battleships came to Normandy via Pearl Harbor, where she was run aground.

That ship was the battleship USS Nevada (BB 36). The Nevada was the lead ship in her class, the other being USS Oklahoma (BB 37). According to the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, when she was built, she had ten 14-inch guns (two triple turrets, two double turrets), 21 five-inch guns (many in casemates), and four 21-inch torpedo tubes.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
USS Nevada (BB 36) shortly after she was built. (U.S. Navy photo)

The Nevada did not see much action at all (although nine sailors died from the influenza pandemic that hit in 1918) in World War I. In the 1920s and 1930s, she carried out normal peacetime operations.

On Dec. 7, 1941, she was moored alone on Battleship Row. When Kido Butai launched the sneak attack on Oahu, the battleship was hit by a torpedo, but her crew managed to get her engines running, and she made a break for the open ocean.

As she did so, the second wave from the six Japanese carriers arrived. The Nevada took anywhere from six to ten bomb hits, and the decision was made to run her aground.

The Nevada suffered 50 dead and over 100 wounded, but Pearl Harbor would claim two more casualties. In “Pearl Harbor: Why, How, Fleet Salvage and Final Appraisal,” it was reported that two men were killed by hydrogen sulfide on Feb. 7, 1942, while working to salvage the Nevada.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
Damage to USS Nevada after the attack on Pearl Harbor. (U.S. Navy photo)

Nevada would return to Puget Sound for permanent repairs and refitting, gaining a new dual-purpose batter of eight twin five-inch gun mounts. She took part in operations to re-take the Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska from the Japanese, then she went to the Atlantic.

On June 6, 1944, she was part of the armada that took part in Operation Overlord, and continued to provide fire support until American troops moved further inland. In August of that year, she took part in Operation Dragoon, the landings in southern France.

She then returned to the Pacific, taking part in the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Off Okinawa, she suffered damage from a kamikaze and from Japanese shore batteries.

The ship remained mission-capable, and she would later return to Pearl Harbor for repairs before re-joining the fleet to prepare for the invasion of Japan, stopping to pay a visit to a bypassed Japanese-held island.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
USS Nevada fires on Nazi positions during D-Day. (U.S. Navy photo)

After Japan surrendered, the Nevada was sent back to the West Coast, and prepared for Operation Crossroads. Painted a bright orange color to serve as an aiming point for the B-29 crew assigned to drop an atomic bomb, she got lucky.

According to the book “Final Voyages,” the B-29 crew missed her by about a mile — and she survived both the Able and Baker tests. She was later used as a target and sunk, with the final blow being an aerial torpedo according to the Naval Vessel Register.

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History’s 4 wildest benders by senior officers

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
Photo: morberg/CC2.0


Sometimes the hardest drinking sailors and soldiers are the ones supposed to be keeping everyone else in check. Here are four times when officers led the barroom charge:

1. The guy in charge of 450 nukes got too drunk for the Russians in Moscow.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
Photo: US Air Force

It takes a lot too be considered too drunk in Moscow, but Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Carey took a trip there in Jul. 2013 and managed it. Among other incidents during the trip, he allegedly went to a Mexican restaurant to meet two suspicious foreign women, got extremely drunk, and tried to convince the restaurant band to let him play with them. Carey was later fired from his position.

2. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (may have) drunkenly rode through Army camps.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Mathew B. Brady

The famously-alcoholic Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was in a steamship on the Yazoo River in 1863 when he ran into journalist Sylvanus Cadwallader. Cadwallader later described working with Grant’s security detail and aides to unsuccessfully stop his drinking by confining the general to his wardroom.

Grant reportedly escaped to the shore and then to another ship, finding alcohol in both locations. He later drunkenly led the newspaperman and others on a chase through a federal army encampment, kicking up campfires and strewing equipment in his wake. Historians have cast doubt on the story though, pointing to other accounts that said sickness confined Grant to his room on the trip.

3. A Confederate general got so drunk during a battle that he couldn’t attack.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Kurz Allison

Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Cheatham’s drunken escapades would be tame if it weren’t for the setting. He drank to excess and rode his horse, whooping and hollering until he fell off. Not a big deal, except that he did it in front of his men while he was supposed to be leading them into battle.

At Stone River, this resulted in Cheatham’s two brigades being late to the attack, allowing Union Forces on the run to regroup and re-establish their lines. The recovered Union forces later managed a stunning artillery barrage that caused 2,000-3,000 casualties in four hours.

4. A Navy admiral was fired for drunkenly wandering a Florida hotel naked.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
Photo: US Navy

Rear Adm. David Baucom was one of the Navy’s top logistics officers until he was fired for wandering around a Florida hotel naked and drunk on Apr. 7, 2015 during a conference.

Baucom had been drinking heavily the night before, continuing until he banged his head on a stool, peed his pants, and had to be escorted back to his room. He woke naked and attempted to enter his bathroom but used the wrong door, exiting the room and becoming trapped outside. Two female hotel guests spotted him looking for a towel to cover up with before a peer got him back to his room.

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That time AI won a flawless victory against a human fighter pilot in a DARPA dogfight

DARPA’s AlphaDogfight trials have officially come to a close with Heron Systems’ incredible artificial intelligence pilot system defeating not only its industry competitors, but going on to secure 5 straight victories against a highly trained U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot, without the human pilot scoring a single hit.


Eight teams were selected to create artificial intelligence (AI) “agents” that would be capable of simulating a real dogfight between fighters, referred to as within-visual-range air combat maneuvering, more formally. The first two rounds of this competition saw these virtual pilots engage with one another in simulated combat environments in November and again in January. This third round of AI dogfighting included similar competitions, with the four finalist firms squaring off in a round robin. The event then culminated with the hands-down victor, Heron Systems, taking on a real human fighter pilot in another simulated fight.

And Heron really brought the heat, with its artificial intelligence system ultimately securing the AI championship by defeating Lockheed Martin’s AI system.

Heron consistently proved to have the most accurate targeting apparatus of any AI agent, as it engaged opponents with laser-accurate gun strikes often in the first merge of the fight.

“It’s got to keep that opponent in that one degree cone to win the game,” Ben Bell, Heron’s Senior Machine Learning Engineer, told Sandboxx News.

“You saw that a lot with Lockheed, we’re both nose on, we’re both creating damage, but when their nose is off by that one degree, that’s where we were able to win a lot of these engagements.”

That superior aiming capability was on particular display when squaring off against the U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot representing humanity in this battle for what some consider to be the future of aviation. While the pilot’s name was not released due to OPSEC concerns, DARPA did provide his callsign: Banger. They also explained that Banger was not just a working fighter pilot, he’s a graduate of the Air Force’s Weapons Instructor Course, which could loosely be described as the Air Force’s “Top Gun” school, for the movie buffs out there. The real Top Gun, of course, is a Navy school called the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline

Heron’s AI system racked up the first four wins against Banger in quick succession, leveraging its incredibly precise aiming to whittle Banger’s aircraft “life” down in a series of looping merges. In the fifth and final bout, Banger changed approaches, sweeping his aircraft out away from Heron’s F-16 and creating separation with high-G turns.

However, the new tactics only seemed to delay the inevitable, with Heron managing to kill Banger’s F-16 once again, without the human pilot managing to get a single shot on target.

Heron’s AI pilot was widely described as “aggressive” by DARPA staff and the Air Force pilots on hand throughout the competition. Under control of Heron’s AI, the virtual F-16 would practically play chicken with its opposition — something the human pilots were quick to point out would be a violation of training regulations in a real simulated dogfight. Of course, in an actual dogfight, there are no such limitations… but Heron’s aggression may still have been turned up just a bit too high to serve as a reasonable wingman.

“It’s important to realize that a BFM (Basic Fighter Maneuvers) engagement can occur in any direction and any altitude. We’ll often begin with a basic starting parameter to develop a site picture to reference, but a real engagement doesn’t have those cuffs,” Major Justin “Hasard” Lee, an F-35 Pilot instructor and former F-16 pilot, tells Sandboxx News.
“The enemy always has a vote, meaning they always reserve the right to do something you’re not expecting. When that occurs you have to find a creative solution to counter the unexpected problem. “

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
F-16 Fighting Falcon (DoD Image)

According to Bell, their AI agent placed an equal emphasis on damaging the opponent and minimizing its own risk.

“If the agent sees a 51% chance of scoring a kill as it heads into a neutral merge, it’s going to take it,” Bell explained.

Of course, aside from some really exciting video game playing, this entire exercise had official purposes too. DARPA is not only seeking to improve drone aircraft systems, they’re also looking to increase the level of trust between human pilots and AI systems. In the future, these same sorts of artificial pilots will likely be flying alongside humans, and other similar systems will fly along with them in the cockpit of their own aircraft.

By outsourcing some tasks to a highly capable AI, pilots can focus more of their bandwidth on situational awareness and the task at hand. We’ve already seen this approach lead to data fusion capabilities in advanced platforms like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which automates simple tasks and provides the data to the pilot by way of helmet mounted and heads up displays.

Bell explained that the current AI agent used to secure this victory could be adjusted to prioritize its own safety to a higher degree, which might make pilots a bit more comfortable with its approach to combat. He also pointed out, however, that just because something’s scary to human pilots, doesn’t mean it isn’t effective.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
A U.S. Navy Grumman F-14A Tomcat of Fighter Squadron 213 (VF-213) “Black Lions” flown by CDR Greg “Mullet” Gerard and LTJG Don “Coach” Husten engages a General Dynamics F-16N Viper aggressor aircraft flown by Lieutenant Commander George “Elwood” Dom during training at the Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) at Naval Air Station (NAS) Miramar, California. (US Navy Photo)

“Trust comes from being able to execute a mission with a high degree of success. There’s some point where you have to say you know that it works and in all the ways we tested it, it was superior to its opponent.”

He went on to clarify, however, that there will certainly be “some give and take” between their engineers and real pilots moving forward.

When asked about Heron’s ace in the hole, its incredibly accurate targeting system, Bell made sure to point out that the way in which this competition was executed was to the human pilot’s disadvantage. Banger was flying in a simulated environment using a VR headset, which doesn’t equate that well to a real fight in the real sky, and gives their computer pilot instant awareness of its surroundings.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline

However, that VR environment may have also worked in Banger’s favor, as his final bout against Heron’s AI saw him executing a number of 9G maneuvers that would have taken a significant toll on a human pilot. Heron’s system, on the other hand, would not be physically affected by executing these maneuvers in a real aircraft.

“Dogfighting, or Basic Fighter Maneuvers as we call it, is an incredibly complex and dynamic environment. The most difficult part is perceiving what the adversary is doing,” Lee explains.
“You’re looking for minute changes in their lift-vector which foreshadows their next move. That’s why it’s important to have good vision (which can be corrected with glasses or surgery).”

While going undefeated against a highly trained human pilot is a great feather for Heron System’s cap, this doesn’t mean the end of human fighter pilots is near. DARPA’s goal isn’t to replace humans in the skies, but rather to supplement them with capable drone assets and an auto-pilot system that could conceivably make human pilots far more capable, by freeing up their mental bandwidth in a fight.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Russia’s new exoskeleton probably isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

One of Russia’s largest defense contractors, Rostec, released new footage of their most advanced military exoskeleton in use on Monday, and as is so often the case when Russia makes such an announcement, a number of media outlets have taken their claims at face value in their reporting.


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However, historical precedent would suggest that we might want to hold off on congratulating Russia on cracking the exoskeleton egg. Russia has a long history of headline-grabbing military tech claims that have repeatedly proven misleading at best, and downright fabricated at worst.

Perhaps the most egregious falsehood Western Media briefly fell for in recent past was the Russian bipedal robot dubbed “Borris” that was unveiled in December of 2018 at the Putin Youth Forum in the city of Yaroslavl, Russia. The robot performed impressively, seemingly handling a number of complex tasks with ease, suggesting to many that Russia may be further along in the robotics game than many had previously suspected.

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That is, until some people began to notice that it looked an awful lot like their incredible new Boris robot was actually nothing more than a person in a robot suit.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline

(Screen capture from Russian State television)

That theory was soon proven true.

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The tweets translate to:

“At the youth forum Putin was shown “the most modern robot Boris”. But this is just a man in a suit.”
“Here is that “modern robot” for you – an exclusive photo of the preparations for Putin’s youth forum in Yaroslavl.”

Of course, that wasn’t Russia’s first robotic claim to be full of hot air in 2018. In April, famed AK-47 maker Kalashnikov unveiled their own intimidating battle suit that was hailed by Western media outlets as something “straight out of Aliens the movie,” despite actually being little more than a statue with automated arms… that bears a closer resemblance to Robocop’s Ed-209… in that it too can’t go up stairs.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline

Kalashnikov claimed a more mobile version would be unveiled in 2020, but has yet to manifest. (Kalashnikov)

Not all of Russia’s exoskeleton or robotic failures have been quite so openly fabricated, and indeed some could be chalked up to little more than Russia’s propaganda machine spinning up faster than the nation’s real military technology could keep pace. Such was likely the case with Russia’s (once again) headline-grabbing Uran-9 unmanned ground combat, or infantry support, vehicle.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline

Russia’s Uran-9 in rehearsal for the Moscow Parade (Dmitriy Fomin on Flickr)

The entire world reported on Russia’s announcement that their armed infantry drone, the Uran-9, would be deployed to Syria for combat operations and further testing. The fact that Russia was already placing an armed, semi-autonomous robot into combat suggested to many that Moscow was demonstrating a significant lead when compared to Western efforts to do the same… but after a flurry of coverage regarding the deployment, coverage ceased regarding it’s use. The reason was that Russian state-media outlets (where most Western coverage of these advancements are derived) stopped covering the platform.

It wasn’t until months later that the Uran-9’s long list of deficiencies made its way to the public, not through press coverage picked up by the West initially, but rather after discussions between military leaders held months later found their way online.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline

Uran-9 unmanned combat ground vehicle displayed in 2016 (WikiMedia Commons)

In 2018 discussions at a Russian security conference called “Actual Problems of Protection and Security,” held at the N.G. Kuznetsov Naval Academy in St. Petersburg, made their way to the press. The truth regarding the Uran-9, it was revealed, was not nearly as impressive as its coverage in the West would have suggested.

A.P. Anisimov, a Senior Research Officer from the 3rd Central Research Institute of the Russian Defence Ministry, concluded that the platform was incapable of performing the tasks it was designed for. Press coverage claimed a three-kilometer range for the control of the ground drone, but the truth was that operators lost control of it at distances as short as 300 meters or any time they lost line of sight. Operators lost complete control of the vehicle for at least one minute on new fewer than seventeen separate occasions, with two of those instances lasting longer than an hour.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline

Keeping it on the truck for the Moscow Parade was probably a good decision. (Dmitriy Fomin on Flickr)

Other significant issues included the chassis repeatedly failing, forcing repairs in the field, the cannon failing to function on six different occasions, and its targeting system proving so poor that engaging targets at any distance was almost impossible.

Of course, does a history of making up news related to Russia’s military exoskeleton and robotic capabilities in the past mean this new Rostec system is similarly more hype than function? Not necessarily. Exoskeleton design has been at the top of many firm’s priority list in recent years. In fact, the Marine Corps started receiving real robotic exoskeletons for testing earlier this year, though the Corps is focused on using them for logistics, rather than combat — as the margin for error is much higher in a warehouse than a firefight.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline

Marine Corps exoskeleton (Sarcos Defense)

Of course, America’s tech innovations aren’t immune to being propagandized either, but the Marine Corps’ decision to slow the introduction of exoskeletons until the technology is robust enough for combat at least seems like a more realistic progression.

There are a few more related announcements made by Russian military tech firms recently that later proved to be bunk, aside from their unconfirmed claims about the capabilities of real (and likely largely functional) platforms like the Su-57 stealth fighter, the PAK-DA stealth bomber, or the Su-70 Okhotnik-B stealth UCAV.

In 2018, Russia claimed to have developed active camouflage that could hide soldiers and even vehicles behind a Predator-style cloak of invisibility. Those claims were also made by Rostec, the same firm responsible for this new exoskeleton, and have yet to materialize.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline

The Ratnik-3 combat suit. (Rostec)

In another social media gaff, Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti tweeted that Vladimir Putin was observing the exercises of Russian military robots, again hyping Russia’s emphasis on combat robotics. The news outlet reported that the students were demonstrating their own robot invention.

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However, it was soon revealed that the robots were actually South Korean-sourced toys that can be purchased on Amazon.

In other words, based on historical precedent… it would be logical that we hold our applause until some evidence of Rostec’s system actually functioning properly in field conditions finds its way to the media.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.


Articles

5 things to consider when deciding whether to buy or rent at your next duty station

With every move comes a host of decisions — schools, recreation, safety, length of commute — but among the most important ones is whether to buy or rent your home at your new duty station. Here are 5 things to consider when making that call:


1. Can you finance the home using your VA home loan benefit?

There are a bunch of advantages to using a VA loan. VA home loans require zero money down, and because they’re underwritten by the U.S. government, sellers are usually comfortable with accepting offers from buyers using them. Also, VA home loans can be assumed by qualified buyers, which is a great option when considering the volatility of the military lifestyle. For more information check out the VA’s site here.

2. Can you build equity during the time you’re in that area?

Nobody buys a home to lose money in the process. Before you buy, consider the real estate market trends. Are home pricing rising or falling . . . and how quickly? Making money on a home after owning it a short time is ambitious, but not impossible in the right market.

3. Can you sell your home quickly when you get orders away from the area?

Just like in the previous bullet, market conditions are important when considering how quickly you could sell your home when the time comes. The easy way to assess this is to consider how many “for sale” signs there are on the street around your desired home. If there are a lot of them you might want to think twice about buying, especially if you’re only planning on being in the area for a couple of years or less.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline

4. Could you turn your home into a rental property if you got orders away from the area?

If the rental market is active in your area you might consider turning your home into a rental property. In some areas, the amount an owner can charge for monthly rent exceeds the owner’s mortgage payment, which allows the owner the retain all the associated tax benefits while continuing to build equity. But owners should also consider the responsibilities of being a landlord, not the least of which is keeping track of how the tenant is treating the property.

5. Is the duty station where your home is one to which you’re likely to return?

Will your career path bring you back to the area? Would you consider staying there once your time on active duty is over? And would you be willing to rent the home (see the previous bullet) in the meantime? If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then the equity timeline can be stretched out and the risk of buying is reduced.

To start the process, check out Zillow.com’s cool buy/rent calculator here.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Someone just tried to send poison to Mattis in the mail

Two letters sent to the Pentagon, including one addressed to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, have tested positive for ricin, a defense official told VOA on Oct. 2, 2018.

The envelopes containing a suspicious substance were taken by the FBI on Oct. 2, 2018, for further testing, according to Pentagon spokesman Army Colonel Rob Manning.


The two letters arrived at an off-site Pentagon mail distribution center on Oct. 1, 2018. One was addressed to Mattis, the other was addressed to Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson, an official told VOA on condition of anonymity.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline

The Pentagon, headquarters of the US Department of Defense.

The Pentagon Force Protection Agency detected the substance during mail screening, so the letters never entered the Pentagon building, officials said.

“All USPS (United States Postal Service) mail received at the Pentagon mail screening facility [Oct. 1, 2018] is currently under quarantine and poses no threat to Pentagon personnel,” according to Manning.

Ricin is a highly toxic poison found in castor beans.

This article originally appeared on Voice of America. Follow @VOANews on Twitter.

Articles

There are still no answers for the KC-130 crash that killed 16 Marines

Military investigators are trying to piece together the cause of a crash that killed 15 Marines and a sailor in Mississippi in July, but it could be a year or more until any information becomes public.


In the meantime, the Marine Corps’ fleet of KC130T transport planes remains grounded. That plane is similar to the one that crashed near Itta Bena on July 10.

April Phillips, a spokeswoman for the Naval Safety Center, said August 21 that final reports often don’t become public for 12 to 18 months following a crash. Even then, much of the information in the reports is often withheld from public view.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
KC-130 Hercules. DOD Photo by Senior Airman Tyler Woodward.

“Ours are done solely to ensure what happened doesn’t happen again,” Phillips said, saying that various military commanders must endorse the report before it’s finished.

Marines and other investigators finished collecting debris August 3, recovering all of the plane’s major components, said Marine Forces Reserve spokeswoman Lt. Stephanie L. Leguizamon. She said last week that there’s still work going on to clean up the crash area.

Naval Safety Center investigators are both reconstructing the wreckage and interviewing witnesses. Their report will ultimately include recommendations to enhance safety.

Victims included nine Marines based at Stewart Air National Guard base in Newburgh, New York, who flew and crewed the plane, plus six Marines and a Navy Corpsman from an elite Marine Raider battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The passengers were headed for pre-deployment training in Yuma, Arizona. Cargo included at least some ammunition.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
Screen capture from DoD.

Brig. Gen. Bradley S. James has told reporters that whatever went wrong began when the plane was at cruising altitude. Most of the plane pancaked upside down into a field, but part of it, including the cockpit, broke off and landed far from the fuselage and wings. Debris was scattered for miles over fields, woods, and ponds.

Witnesses said they saw the plane descend from high altitude with an engine smoking, with some describing what pilots call a “flat spin,” where a plane twirls around like a boomerang.

Phillips said the plane didn’t have an in-flight data recorder. That, plus the lack of survivors, could make the debris crucial to determining what happened.

4 times enlisted troops stole planes from the flightline
KC-130T. Wikimedia Commons photo by Jerry Gunner.

“A lot it, in this case, is likely to come from forensic evidence,” she said.

Phillips said the C-130 and its variants have historically been one of the safest planes operated by the Marine Corps. The Navy classifies its most serious incidents as Class A mishaps, involving death, permanent disability, or more than $2 million in damage. Only two in-flight Class A mishaps were recorded before the Mississippi crash, both in 2002. A KC-130R experienced a flash fire and crashed into a mountain in Pakistan while nearing an airfield, killing seven people. A KC130F crash landed shortly after taking off inCalifornia, causing injuries but no deaths.

The New York squadron is the last Marine unit flying the KC-130T version and is scheduled to upgrade to a newer version in 2019. Only the remaining 12 KC-130Ts are affected by the grounding.

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