This is Russia's improved airborne infantry fighting vehicle - We Are The Mighty
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This is Russia’s improved airborne infantry fighting vehicle

Armored vehicles, like cars, get a makeover from time to time. Improved versions emerge, often as operational experiences and new technologies are assessed. One big proponent of this iterative process is Russia, which pays special attention to its infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers.

For instance, let’s look at the BMD series of airborne infantry fighting vehicles. These vehicles are intended to back up paratroopers with some heavy firepower. The original BMD, the BMD-1, was a hybrid between a light tank and an armored personnel carrier. And, just as they did with as the the BMP, the Russians made wholesale improvements to the BMD with each new iteration.


The BMD-1 featured a 73mm gun and the AT-3 Sagger anti-tank missile as its primary armaments. The BMD-2, however, used a 30mm automatic cannon and either an AT-4 Spigot or AT-5 Spandrel anti-tank missile.

The BMD-2 entered service in the 1980s, and featured a 30mm 2A42 autocannon as its main armament.

(DOD)

Why the shift from a 73mm gun to a 30mm? According to WeaponSystems.net, the reason was that the 73mm gun had… well, performance issues. To be precise, it was simply not as lethal as desired. The 30mm autocannon packed more punch, so it made the cut.

The BMD-2 can hold at least four grunts while packing iits lethal 30mm autocannon and a choice of anti-tank missiles.

(Vitaly V. Kuzmin)

The BMD-2 could also carry grunts, just as the BMD-1 did. Sources here differ on the exact configuration, but most say the BMD-2 carried four grunts and had a crew of three. That’s a slight step down from the capacity of the BMD-1, but given the greater lethality of the vehicle, we’d call that a fair trade.

Oh, and the BMD-2 can parachute in, like the BMD-1.

(Vitaly V. Kuzmin)

The BMD-2 series got further upgrades to handle the AT-14 Spriggan anti-tank missile, also known as the Kornet. According to most sources, it never was exported outside the Soviet Union — but some say India was able to get their hands on a few.

Learn more about Russia’s upgraded airborne infantry fighting vehicle in the video below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otXAf7GtanY

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY CULTURE

Watch: A National Guard Chaplain activated in Los Angeles shares his story

Over the last month, the United States (and parts of the world) erupted in protests after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmuad Abery. While their deaths drew the ire of many Americans, they set off an angry and passionate reaction to the bigger problem of police brutality and systemic racism.

Unfortunately, protests can be marred by people taking advantage and the marches that have occurred in all 50 states have seen some people take to rioting and looting. While the vast majority of protests have been peaceful, the magnitude of people on the street and looting caused some states to activate their respective National Guard units.


Director and Army Veteran Robert Ham was able to link up with National Guard Chaplain Major Nathan Graeser who was part of a California National Guard Unit that was assigned to downtown Los Angeles. With the noise of protestors in the background demanding reform of police and the end of the systemic racism that plagues this country, Graeser talked about why the National Guard was there and the mood of the troops. When asked about the atmosphere in the area Graeser said, “Seeing this today, I kept thinking to myself… this is what makes America great.”

Mighty Talks | Chaplain Graeser

vimeo.com

In addition to being an Army Chaplain in the California National Guard, Nathan is also a social worker. He is an expert on programs and policies that support service members transitioning out of the military. Nathan is an advocate for veterans and leads multiple veteran initiatives in Los Angeles. He has spent thousands of hours counseling veterans and their families to deal with the challenges of service and returning home.

Graeser talks about the disconnections we have with one another, exacerbated by COVID-19 and how those disconnections flared up in the wake of these deaths. He knows, because he sees the same disconnection with his soldiers and with veterans as they themselves struggle to connect to the community they took an oath to serve.

But, Graeser said he sees the similarities between the young soldiers and young protesters, “These 19 year olds,” referring to the guardsmen, he said, “They are thoughtful, they are kind, even their interaction with the looters is as gentle as can possibly be.”

While the riots have been waning, the cries for action have not. What does the future hold for the rest of 2020 and beyond? We can only guess at this time.

But there is hope in what Graeser sees.

“We are out here to see what the next chapter is,” he shared. “One thing I know is wherever we go, we are going to need everybody.”

hauntedbattlefields

This is why Gettysburg is the spookiest battlefield in America

Long after around 7,800 soldiers died in the three day battle of Gettysburg, tourists and ghosts hunters claim to encounter the fallen.


The remote village offers over ten different ghost tours that run year round for guests to get a glimpse of the supernatural at several prominent sites from the battlefield. People report the sunken gut feelings along with hearing faint echos of the battle that occurred.

Related video:

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The site of the infamous downhill bayonet charge at Little Round Top is a common location for sightings of energy balls (or will-o’-wisps) spiraling around the forests. Captured on photo, many believe it to be enough proof that they need.

(Image via Ghost Village)

Another hot spot for spirits in Gettysburg is Sach’s Bridge. The 100-foot expanse not too far from the battlefield is frequently covered in fog.

A group of paranormal investigators went to the bridge to try and get photos or EVP recordings. While there, the fog came back in. They say that they saw lights, heard the sounds, and claim shadowy figures rushed past them.

(Image via Trip Advisor)

And then there’s the graveyard.

Visiting the graveyard at night is can be unsettling. The fog returns and ghost hunters say that the ghosts want them to leave. The wind ‘pushes’ the visitors away from the grave stones.

(Screengrab via YouTube)

Now, there is a perfectly logical reason for all of these. The will-o’wisps of Gettysburg could be floating dust and pollen, since most sightings of “orbs” come during the spring time. There’s nothing supernatural about fog appearing before sunrise and lingering throughout the day. And even in the final picture, snow melting from the gravestone first isn’t unique.

Skeptics can poke holes in nearly everything about the paranormal activities in Gettysburg as being hyped by the locals to keep tourism up. Still, nothing takes away the gut feeling of being on the hallowed grounds of the most pivotal battle in American history.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

More A-10s will get new life via new wings

It’s a signal that the effort to kill the A-10 is dead, instead of the A-10 itself – which is what usually happens to anything trying to kill the A-10 Warthog. After trying to bury the plane for nearly a decade, the Air Force has not only finished refitting some of its old A-10 Thunderbolt II airframes, the branch has decided to expand the effort to more planes. The re-wing projects will cover 27 more of the Warthogs through 2030.

So the Marines can expect excellent close-air support for the foreseeable future.


“Hey Taliban, what rhymes with hurt? BRRRRRT.”

The news comes after the Air Force finished re-winging 173 A-10s in August 2019 when the Air Force awarded a 0 million contract to Boeing to expand the re-winging effort to include more planes. Even as the battle over the future of the airframe raged on in the Air Force, at the Pentagon, and in Congress, the A-10s were undergoing their re-winging process, one that first began in 2011. Ever since, the Air Force has tried to save money by using the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for close-air-support missions or even giving that role to older, less powerful planes like the Embraer Super Tucano.

Despite its heavy use in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the fact that the airframe is beloved by warfighters on the ground, the Air Force effort to retire the plane stems from the perception that close-air-support missions can be done better and with less risk to the plane and pilot by higher-flying, more advanced aircraft like the F-35.

Talk BRRRRRT-y to me.

The A-10 was first developed in the 1970s, at the height of the Cold War, to bust tanks and provide the kind of cover artillery might otherwise give, but with a faster, more mobile, and efficient delivery. A slow flyer, the A-10 is a kind of flying tank. But it’s more than an aircraft built around a gun (the GAU-8 Avenger fires so powerfully, it actually slows the A-10 down) the Thunderbolt II features armor, redundant systems, and a unique engine placement that makes it a difficult threat against most conventional anti-air defenses.

The Air Force’s main reason for getting rid of it was that the Thunderbolt II isn’t suitable for modern battlespaces and that most of its missions could be done by the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The new re-winging effort is a signal that fight is likely to be over and that the Air Force’s close-air support mission is a much bigger deal than previously expected.

While some may question why the A-10 is getting an extended life when the F-35 can supposedly fill that role, the guys on the ground will tell you it’s all about the BRRRRRT – they live and die by it, sometimes literally.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Here’s why Zippos are the unofficial lighter of the military

Zippos and American warfighters go hand-in-hand.

If you watch a movie and see troops lighting up a cigarette, you’ll probably notice that Zippo in their hand. Search-and-destroy missions in the Vietnam War were often referred to as “Zippo missions.” There’s simply no denying the fact that American troops have long had an intimate relationship with Zippos.

Here’s why:


Troops are always searching for reliable gear as, oftentimes, the stuff we’re issued is absolute trash. That’s where Zippos come in. They’re reliable and compact, two criteria that “military-grade” items tend not to satisfy. But it’s not just that they work well — they’ve had a long history with troops.

Zippos during WWII were primarily used to light cigarettes. Vietnam, however, was another story.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

The American Zippo Manufacturing Company was founded in the 1930s, but when World War II started, the company ceased all production for consumer markets altogether and instead manufactured lighters exclusively for troops being sent to war. Millions of them were carried by troops and, no matter what, they knew they could rely on their trusty, metal lighter to spark their cigarette during a long day of ass-kicking.

Some units who performed these Zippo missions were referred to as “Zippo Squads.”

(U.S. Army)

Zippos took on a different function during the Vietnam War. Aside from reliably lighting cigarettes, they were used to light flamethrower tanks when the built-in, electrical igniter didn’t work. They were also used as mirrors to shave, to heat up popcorn, and the list goes on.

In fact, Zippos became synonymous with Vietnam War operations as troops would raze villages with lighters on seek-and-destroy missions. But Zippos weren’t just for burning things down — they actually became a kind of cultural timepiece.

Some of the best pieces of military history.

(Photo by Joe Haupt)

In Vietnam, troops began engraving designs onto the sides of the hardy, metal lighters as a way to pass the time. By looking at those engravings, we’ve been able to glean some insight into the mindset of troops from the era. It might have been just an idle habit at the time, but such historical artifacts are invaluable for future generations.

The practice of engraving Zippos is one that carries over to modern-day service members. It may not be as popular as it once was, but troops all over still use the iconic lighter to spark up cigarettes or even burn frayed paracord.

Regardless, one thing is for sure — Zippos remain one of the most iconic pieces of unofficial military gear.

MIGHTY GAMING

Why ‘Far Cry 5’ is the most veteran AF game ever

The Far Cry video game series has always gone above and beyond in placing the player in a beautiful, open world and pitting them against a cunning and well-written antagonist. The graphics in the most recent installment are as crisp as you’d expect from the series, the gameplay is phenomenal, and plenty of critics are already singing its praise, but what sets this game apart from every other shooter is the storyline.


This time around, instead of exploring some scenic island fighting against drug-running pirates or a prehistoric valley against neanderthals, Far Cry 5 pits the player against deranged cult in a fictional county of Montana.

You play as a Sheriff’s deputy tasked with arresting Joseph Seed, a cult leader who is a mix of David Koresh, Jim Jones, and a hipster douchebag. There’s a palpable eeriness as you walk through his church’s compound and Joseph is seemingly compliant at first. He lets you handcuff him before saying, “you’ll never arrest me.” As you make your way back to the helicopter, one of his followers hurls himself into the propellers, allowing Seed to escape back to his followers, kicking off the game.

And, yes, the hipster cult leader even has a manbun.
(Ubisoft)

The player is then saved by the first of many veterans you’ll encounter in the game, Dutch. He’s a loner Vietnam veteran who has shut himself off in a bunker while the world goes to sh*t outside. Inside his bunker, you’ll find plenty of little references to real-life military units, like an homage to the 82nd Airborne patch (the “AA” has been replaced by the number “82” in the same style) and a patch that’s the shape of the 101st, but with the XVIII Corps’ dragon.

He offers to help you out and gives you something to wear something other than your uniform, which includes (and I’m not making this up) some 5.11 gear.

No word on if the guy has his own unapologetic military apparel line yet u2014 maybe in the DLC.
(Ubisoft)

The next veteran who helps you out is Pastor Jerome Jeffries, a Gulf War veteran turned Catholic priest. He’s holed up in his church with the few citizens who haven’t been indoctrinated by the cult. While there, you set up a resistance to buy time until the National Guard can come reinforce. You must band together with the rag-tag group of remaining people to take down Seed and his followers.

Basically how every Chaplain assistant sees themselves after ETSing.
(Ubisoft)

Which brings you to the third main veteran in the storyline, Grace Armstrong, a U.S. Army sniper who deployed to Afghanistan. She’s one of the characters that fights alongside you throughout the game, providing fire support from a good distance.

Though his veteran status remains unknown, you’ll also come across a companion named Boomer. Boomer’s a dog who, if he gets hurt, can be healed with a nice belly rub. It’s the little things in this game that make it amazing.

He’s a very good boy.
(Ubisoft)

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This Green Beret lived in a cave before receiving the Medal of Honor

After spending two months in college, Gary Beikrich decided he wanted to join the Army and become a distinguished member of the Green Berets — and that’s precisely what he did.


Once Gary enlisted, he trained his way through the tough pipeline and earned the elite title of Green Beret. With a sincere desire to help others, he received advanced training as a combat medic before shipping out to the dangerous terrains of Vietnam.

In 1967, Gary was assigned to 5th Special Forces Group stationed in the Kon Tum Province.

Related: This was the first African American to receive the Medal of Honor

Gary and his team were ordered to protect and teach a group of Montagnards tribesmen located in the area. The experience of working with the loyal tribesmen allowed Gary to go “native,” spending days without speaking a word of English.

On the early morning of Apr. 1, 1970, the NVA decided to attack Gary’s camp — one he worked so hard building up. As the enemy rained down heavy artillery into the area, the massive force tore through the peaceful compound — causing allied forces to suffer terrible casualties.

Gary sprang into action and rendered treatment. Then, boom!

A 122mm artillery shell landed near Gary and shrapnel ripped into his back, causing a spinal cord concussion. Now immobile, two of Gary’s trusted Montagnards tribesmen came to his aid. The men assisted Gary around the compound so he could patch up the other wounded as quickly as they could — until he finally collapsed.

The two Montagnards tribesmen that assisted Gary. (Source: Medal of Honor Book/ Screenshot)

Bleeding and severely wounded, Gary was placed on a medevac and was sent back home to the States. After recovering, Gary went back to college as a pre-med student. But his time in the classroom didn’t last long; Vietnam protesters tormented him, shouting hateful remarks.

Gary decided to pack his van and drive away, eventually finding a peaceful area all to himself — a cave.

Literally.

One day, Gary went to the post office where he received his mail, and an unexpected message was waiting for him. The Army veteran was to receive the Medal of Honor for his bravery and service during that enemy raid.

Also Read: This Green Beret was the first Medal of Honor recipient in Vietnam

Gary was presented with the Medal of Honor on Oct. 15, 1973, from former President Richard Nixon.(Source: Medal of Honor Book/ Screenshot)

Check out Medal of Honor Book’s video below to hear Gary’s story from the Green Beret legend himself.

Medal of Honor Book, YouTube
MIGHTY GAMING

This is why becoming a Spartan from ‘Halo’ would actually suck

When you think about the Halo series of video games, you probably reminisce about a great story, an excellent multiplayer experience, and a slew of badass weaponry that makes us yearn for the future. If you’ve played even a single story mission, then you know about the Spartans: highly trained, augmented super soldiers designed to withstand any condition and defeat any enemy. In theory, it sounds pretty cool to be a Spartan. In reality, however, it’d suck. Majorly.

In the world of Halo, the SPARTAN-II program started as a way to combat insurrectionists and later became a way to stem the advance of the alien empire known as The Covenant. The goal was to pair advanced exoskeleton technology with a mechanically and biologically enhanced soldier.

But the process of creating a Spartan, were it to happen in real life, would be brutal, unethical, and extremely controversial. Here’s what a to-be Spartan would experience:


Still, the procedure was pretty unethical…

(Bungie)

Recruitment

Candidates, typically between the ages of 5 and 6, are kidnapped by Office of Naval Intelligence recruiters. These candidates are then flash cloned and the copy is sent home. Unfortunately, because the science behind flash cloning wasn’t totally sound, these clones would often die a week or two later, leaving parents mystified and grief-stricken.

How did ONI find candidates? Well, they gathered genetic information during a vaccination program. But if you’re thinking that’s just another reason not to vaccinate your children, just remember that this is what they got in exchange:

It might’ve hurt like a b*tch, but Spartans were nearly unbreakable. Fair trade?

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Janessa Pon)

Skeletal augmentation

The first step in enhancing candidates is grafting materials onto bones to increase their strength. The goal is to make the bones of the candidates nearly indestructible, but those who undergo the process say it feels like their bones are all being broken.

The worst part is that this process only covers about 13% of the skeletal system so… maybe they could have just had some milk instead? Or maybe some grape juice?

This is nothing for a Spartan.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Darhonda V. Hall)

Muscular augmentation

It’s safe to say that casually flipping over a Scorpion tank requires some insane strength. So, as part of the SPARTAN-II program, all sorts of proteins are injected into candidates’ muscles. Sounds cool, right?

It might… until you hear that it feels like napalm is coursing through your skin and your veins are being ripped out of your body.

You have to be a little crazy to try and become a SEAL, but at least it’s your choice.

(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric S. Logsdon)

Attrition rate

The attrition rate for real-life special operations units is ridiculously high. Many don’t make the cut and, if you don’t, you’re out — but at least you’re not dead.

In the SPARTAN-II program, candidates that survived the augmentation process often died from physical side effects. Out of the 150 children that started out in the program, only 33 made it all the way through to the end, becoming the super soldiers who would go on to kick some serious alien hide.

Articles

Watch this huge guided missile destroyer turn on a dime

The Arleigh Burke class of guided-missile destroyers is huge – and they are some of the most powerful ships in the world.


These 9,000-ton ships are armed with a five-inch gun, two Mk 41 vertical-launch systems (with 90 to 96 cells), two triple 324mm torpedo tubes, and a 20mm Mk 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon System. Some even carry two MH-60R Seahawk helicopters.

USS Gonzalez at a more sedate pace. (US Navy photo)

But sometimes, the firepower ain’t the solution. Far from it, in some cases. Say the Iranians are up to their usual… antics. That is when the destroyer will need to move.

The ship can go fast – over 30 knots, thanks to her gas turbine propulsion. She also can turn – and for a ship this big, she turns on a dime.

USS Farragut (DDG 99) comes out of a high-speed turn. (US Navy photo)

Do those turns matter? You bet they can. The fast turn can help avoid one of those “fast attack craft” the Iranians use. If a torpedo is fired, the turn can also buy time once the ship’s AN/SLQ-25 Nixie goes off.

Torpedo seekers do not have a long range, so the turn at high speed can allow the ship to escape an attack.

What can happen when a torpedo hits: South Korean and American officers walk past what os left the ROK Navy corvette ROKS Cheonan (PCC 772). A non-contact homing torpedo or sea-mine exploded near the ship March 26, 2010, sinking it, resulting in the death of 46 ROK Navy sailors. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Jared Apollo Burgamy)

You can see the destroyer USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) make one of these high-speed turns in this video below. Making such a turn does take practice – mostly because if the gear ain’t stowed right, there is likely to be one hell of a mess. But a mess to clean up is much better than a torpedo hit.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Vih4tGmqjs
MIGHTY HISTORY

Pound for pound, these were the deadliest boats of World War II

They were made of wood, carried no heavy guns, and would sink at the drop of a hat. But they were fast, hard to hit, and could kill nearly anything afloat. Pound for pound, the deadliest boats of World War II weren’t the carriers or the legendary battleships, they were the humble patrol torpedo boats.


Battle Stations: PT Boats (War History Documentary)

youtu.be

America invested heavily in capital ships in the inter-war years, concentrating on battleships and carriers that could project power across the deep oceans. Combined with destroyers and cruisers to protect them, this resulted in fleets that could move thousands of miles across the ocean and pummel enemy shores. It was a good, solid investment.

But these large ships were expensive and relatively slow, and building them required lots of metal and manpower. There was still an open niche for a fast attack craft like the Italian motor torpedo boats that had famously sunk the SMS Szent Istvan in World War I.

Boat builders who had made their name in racing lined up to compete for Navy contracts. They held demonstrations and sea trials in 1940 and 1941, culminating in the “Pinewood Derbies” of July 1941.

PT-658 transits the water at the Portland Rose Festival in 2006. The boat was restored by volunteers and features its full armament and original engines.

(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ralph Radford)

These were essentially races between different boats with either weapons or copper weights installed to mimic combat armament, allowing the Navy to see what designs were fastest, most nimble, and could survive the quick turns with a combat load.

Not all the vessels made it through. Some experienced hull and deck failures, but others zipped through the course at up to 46 miles per hour. A few boats impressed the Navy, especially what would become the ELCO Patrol Torpedo Boat. Higgins and Hulkins also showed off impressive designs, and all three contractors were given orders for Navy boats.

The Navy standardized the overall designs and armament, though the contractors took some liberties, especially Higgins. They were all to be approximately 50 tons, made of mahogany, and carry two .50-cal. machine guns. Many got up to four torpedo tubes and a 20mm anti-aircraft gun, while a few even got mortars or rockets.

They were powered by aviation fuel and three powerful engines.

U.S. Navy patrol boats zip through the water during exercises of the U.S. east coast on July 12, 1942.

(U.S. Navy)

All of this combined to create a light, powerful craft that was fast as hell. Two gunners on a PT boat at Pearl Harbor were credited with the first Japanese kill by the U.S. in World War II when they downed an enemy plane.

The little boats would distinguish themselves over and over again, even though there were only 29 in the Navy at the start of the war. Gen. Douglas MacArthur slipped out of the Philippines on a two-day trip through the enemy fleet with Lt. John D. Bulkeley on a PT boat. Bulkeley would earn a Medal of Honor for his actions.

The boats launched constant attacks against Japanese ships, hitting them with Mk. 8 torpedoes. The Coast Guard used 83-foot designs for their submarine hunters and patrol boats, many of which saw service at D-Day where they served as the “Matchstick Fleet” that rescued drowning soldiers.

Also at D-Day, similar landing craft made by Higgins were modified to fire rockets at the shore to suppress shore positions.

Navy Lt. j.g. John F. Kennedy on PT-109.

(U.S. Navy)

But it was during island hopping across the Pacific where the torpedo boats really earned their fame. As Japan’s fleet took heavy losses in 1942 and 1943, it relied on its army to try and hold islands against the U.S. advance, and the Navy’s “Mosquito Fleet” was sent to prey on the ships of the “Tokyo Express.”

Japan’s destroyers and similar vessels could slaughter torpedo boats when they could hit them, but the U.S. patrols generally operated at night and would hit the larger ships with their deadly torpedoes, using their speed to escape danger. It wasn’t perfect, though, as Lt. j.g. John F. Kennedy would learn when PT-109 was rammed by a Japanese destroyer, forcing Kennedy and 11 survivors to swim through shark-infested water for hours.

The patrol boats served across the world, from the Pacific to the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, and thousands of sailors from the Coast Guard and Navy served on these small vessels, downing tens of thousands of tons of enemy shipping.

Articles

The RAF’s ‘Mach Loop’ turns intense fighter training into a spectator sport

If you’ve ever wanted to get an up close and personal view of fighter planes in training, but just never had the math scores to get into the cockpit, don’t lose hope. There is a magical place in Wales where the UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots conduct low-level flight training – and you can grab your camera and watch them fly on by.


A C-130 in the Mach Loop (photo by Peng Chen)

The Machynlleth Loop, more popularly known as the Mach Loop, is a series of valleys in Wales between the towns of Dolgellau to the north and Machynlleth to the south. The area is well known among plane spotters and aviation enthusiasts as the place to so closely watch the RAF and its allies conduct maneuvers.

The Mach Loop is part of the British Ministry of Defence’s Tactical Training Low Flying Area and the pilots know there are troves of photographers watching the loop at all hours of the day… and they know exactly what the cameras want to see.

The RAF will fly Panavia Tornado fighters, as well as Eurofighter Typhoons and BAE’s Hawk Trainers through the Mach Loop, while the U.S. Air Force will fly F-15E Strike Eagles, F-22 Raptors, and even C-130J Super Hercules turboprop cargo planes.

The HD video shot from inside the cockpit of a Typhoon is also an incredible sight, especially for those of us who may never get to ride in a fighter, especially during a low-level flight exercise.
The ability to fly so close to the ground is an asset to a pilot’s skill set for many reasons. Non-stealth aircraft can fly low to the ground to penetrate enemy airspace, hit a target, and return to base. Flying so close to ground level can also allow pilots to escape from dangerous situations and surprise enemy aircraft. This is especially important, given how fighters perform against helicopters in combat.

Related: Air Force fighters got wasted by Army attack helos in this combat experiment

An F-15 Strike Eagle in the Mach Loop in Wales (photo by Peng Chen)

Smaller fighters can fly as low as 100 feet off the ground, while larger planes, like cargo aircraft, can bottom out at 150 feet. If there’s an aspiring photographer out there who wants to fill their portfolio with amazing military aviation photos, it’s time to hop a plane to Wales.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This Dragonfly stung the Communists in Vietnam

When you think of companies that deliver combat aircraft to the United States military, you probably think ‘Lockheed’ and ‘Boeing’ right away. Historic companies like Grumman, Curtiss, and McDonnell-Douglas might also spring to mind — but not Cessna. However, that company delivered a nifty little counter-insurgency plane.


The Cessna O-1 Bird Dog FAC aircraft. (USAF photo)

Over the years, Cessna delivered some slightly-modified, single-engine planes, like the O-1 Bird Dog, which was used for spotting artillery fire and by forward air controllers. The company also delivered the T-37 Tweet, which served a valuable jet trainer for over five decades — but the Tweet proved it could be more than a trainer.

A Cessna T-37 Tweet aircraft from the 85th Fighter Training Squadron, Laughlin AFB, Texas, flies over Lake Amistad during a training mission. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andy Dunaway)

As the Vietnam War heated up, the United States was looking for a plane to support troops on the ground. To fill this need, Cessna converted 39 T-37 Tweets into new A-37As, dubbed “Dragonfly.” The converted planes performed so well, the Air Force ordered another 577. The National Museum of the United States Air Force notes that 234 of these were sent to South Vietnam.

Cessna YA-37A Dragonfly in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The fall of South Vietnam meant that a number of these planes fell into the hands of the Communist regime that ruled Vietnam. However, the A-37 was soon acquired by other American allies, and also saw service with Air Force Special Operations Command as well as the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard.

A-37 at Lackland Air Force Base. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The A-37 had a top speed of 506 miles per hour and a maximum range of 932 miles. It could carry a pilot (for close-air support missions) or a pilot and observer (for use as a forward air controller). It was armed with a 7.62mm Minigun, which meant the Dragonfly could deliver kind of a mini-BRRRRRT to the enemy, and it had eight hardpoints for bombs, rockets, or guns.

Cessna A-37B minigun compartment detail. (U.S. Air Force photo)
MIGHTY HISTORY

Britain’s highly successful balloon attack against the Nazis

In perhaps one of the oddest British strategies against Nazi Germany, British troops launched almost 100,000 hydrogen-filled latex balloons into Nazi-controlled territory to set fires and short out power wires as part of Operation Outward.


Women’s Auxiliary Air Force members recover a kite balloon.

(Royal Air Force)

Operation Outward was the result of an accident. Barrage and observation balloons in World War I got more coverage than in World War II, but the floating sacks of hydrogen were widely used in both conflicts. You can actually spot them in some of the more famous D-Day photos from later in the day or over the days and weeks that followed.

(The 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion was the only Black combat unit that came ashore on D-Day, though plenty of Black logistic and engineer units were there on June 6.)

But in September 1940, a few British barrage balloons broke free during a storm and drifted across Scandinavia, pissing the Scandinavians all the way off. The steel tethers these balloons dragged behind them had a pesky habit of shorting out power lines and otherwise damaging infrastructure.

A U.S. Army Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, known as JLENS.

(U.S. Arny)

Ya know, about like what happened when that JLENS aerostat (blimp, basically) broke free in October 2015.

But when it happened in the Scandinavian countries in 1940, the Brits were all, “Wait, what’s bad for the goose is bad for the gander, so let’s apologize to Scandinavia but then do the same thing, on purpose, to Hitler’s Third Reich. Screw those guys.”

The British relied on a couple infrastructure advantages for this plan. Britain’s electrical grid was more developed, and therefore more susceptible to disruption, but it also featured faster circuit breakers. This meant that Britain’s grid, if hit with balloons trailing wires, would suffer relatively little damage. Germany’s, with slower breakers, had a real risk of losing entire sections of the grid or even power plants to balloon disruptions.

So, even if it led to a balloon trading war, Britain could expect to hold the upper hand. And so weather balloons were filled with hydrogen, fitted with either spools of wire or incendiary devices, and floated over the channel into Germany.

An “incendiary sock” like those used to burn German towns.

(UK National Archives)

The wires were relatively thin. Experimentation showed the designers that they didn’t need the thick steel of normal tethers to short lines, cause electrical arcs, and damage German power distribution. The electrical arcs were the real killer, draining power from the grid, overworking the components of the power generation, and weakening the transmission lines so they would later break in high winds.

The incendiary devices were filled with wood shavings and paraffin wax.

Both types were made to fly over the channel at a little over 20,000 feet, then descend to 1,000 feet and do their work. They needed winds of about 10 mph or more to be as effective as possible.

And they worked, well. The idea wasn’t to cripple Germany in a single blow, but to cost them more in economic damage and defensive requirements than it cost Britain to deploy them. And, thanks to the low-cost materials Britain used, Britain only had to pay around the U.S.equivalent of .50 per balloon. Shooting a balloon down could cost much more than that in ammo, and that was if it was shot down by air defenders. If fighters had to launch, the fuel and maintenance would be astronomical.

And balloons that weren’t shot down could easily do hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage. In 1942, a balloon launch overloaded a power plant at Böhlen so badly that the plant was completely destroyed. And while the power was off in this and other events, German units were made less ready for combat, and German wartime production was slowed.

Assessments found during and after the war painted a picture of constant disruption on the German side. In occupied France, there were 4,946 power interruptions during the program, most of them caused by the balloons. In 11 months from early 1942 to early 1943, Germany had 520 major disruptions of high-voltage lines.

And at a cost of .50 a balloon plus the wages of balloon launchers, mostly members of the Women’s Royal Navy Service, the more than 99,000 balloons launched were a hell of a deal.