One of the first-ever Special Forces underwater operations wasn’t targeted against an enemy. Rather, it was to assist in the search and recovery of 26 Americans who had perished in a freak aircraft collision.
On March 7, 1958, a United States Marine Corps (USMC) R4Q (C-119) “Flying Boxcar” transport and a United States Navy (USN) AD-6 Skyraider fighter were returning to Okinawa-Naha Air Force Base (AFB) after a mission in the Philippines. As they prepared for their final approach to the base, the weather suddenly turned to rain, seriously limiting visibility. The pilots, thus, decided to make an instrument landing. At that crucial moment, however, the Navy Skyraider lost its communication with both the USMC transport and with the control tower. The Marine pilots frantically tried to reach their Navy colleague on the radio, to no avail. Moments later, the Skyraider smashed into the fuselage of the R4Q, turning both aircraft into a fireball of debris and human flesh.
After the aircraft were lost from the radar, the call went out to the standby Search-and-Rescue (SAR) crews. SAR planes and helicopters from Naha AFB and other bases scrambled into action and scoured the cold Pacific Ocean for traces of the wreckage with hopes of finding survivors. After days of futilely combing the ocean, the search was called off.
In the end, the wreckage of both aircraft was discovered on the floor of the Pacific about three miles offshore. Faced with a delicate and complex recovery effort, the Marine Corps and Navy turned to the Green Berets of the 1st Special Forces Group (SFG). Dive operational detachments were then assigned to the task. In the end, after Herculean efforts, they managed to recover all 26 bodies.
In the wake of their success, the Commanding General of the IX Corps sent a letter to the 1st SFG. “In times of such tragedy and sorrow, it is most gratifying to know that local military personnel and organizations, as exemplified by the First Special Forces Group (Airborne), may be relied upon to render promptly such outstanding professional assistance,” he wrote. “I am confident that the parents, wives and loved ones of the deceased share my deep appreciation and sincere thanks for [your] outstanding contribution…to the successful accomplishment of the search and salvage operation.”
Tragically, a number of the Green Berets who participated in the recovery operations would be killed in action in Vietnam a few years later.
The year 1958 was a bad one for the C-119. In total, an astounding five aircraft were lost due to accidents, with a total loss of life of 34 service members. But the venerable Flying Boxcar continues to serve in numerous capacities in the U.S. military.
Two members of Marine Special Operations Command received valor awards for their heroism during a gun battle in 2017 with al Qaeda militants in Northern Africa, a spokeswoman for U.S. Africa Command confirmed on Aug. 15, 2018.
While on a three-day operation to train, advise, and assist partner forces in the unnamed country — which the command withheld due to “classification considerations, force protection, and diplomatic sensitivities” — the Marine Special Operations Team on Feb. 28, 2017, became engaged in a “fierce fight against members of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,” according to one of the award citations for the unnamed Marines, who are often referred to as “Raiders.”
The two award citations for the Navy Marine Corps Achievement Medal (with “V” distinguishing device for valor) were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Task Purpose. Despite redactions of names and the specific Marine Raider team involved, the citations provide a glimpse of a battle between Americans and militants on the African continent that had not previously been made public.
While the specific country where the battle took place remains unknown, Northern Africa consists of Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara, according to the United Nations.
Africa Command spokeswoman Samantha Reho told Task Purpose in a statement that partner forces initially engaged and killed one al Qaeda fighter with small arms fire before calling for helicopter support. Militants then attempted to flank the Marines and partner forces from the rear, leading the Marines to “return fire in self-defense.”
United States Military Achievement Medals.
According to one citation, the Raiders’ communications chief and assistant element leader — typically a sergeant or above — “provided critical communications relay and ensured proper positioning of partner force elements.” The citation went on to say the Marine, while under accurate enemy fire, provided immediate trauma care for a fellow Raider who was wounded and helped evacuate him into a partner force helicopter that was hovering six feet above his position.
The second citation for an element member on the team — typically a sergeant or below — captures how the battle raged from the helicopter overhead. While onboard the partner force helicopter, the Marine fired at militants below, coordinated close air support, and directed the gunners and pilots on board the aircraft.
The militants responded with accurate fire, however, and a partner force soldier behind the helicopter’s M60 machine gun was shot twice in the foot, after which “[the Marine Raider] took control of the M60 and continued to suppress the enemy while treating the wounded gunner,” the citation said.
“He then accompanied the helicopter during the casualty evacuation of the Marine Raider and a second casualty later in the day, and conducted two re-supply deliveries all under enemy fire,” the citation added.
The partner force ultimately secured the site of the battle and “assessed two enemies were killed,” Reho told Task Purpose. The wounded Marine was evacuated and has since made a full recovery.
The gun battle between Marines and al Qaeda militants took place seven months before a deadly battle between ISIS militants and U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers who were advising partner forces in Niger. The Oct. 4, 2017 ambush resulted in the deaths of four American service members and led the Pentagon to conduct a major review of U.S special operations missions in Africa.
This article originally appeared on Task Purpose. Follow @Taskandpurpose on Twitter.
No, we’re not talking about the 1985 Brat Pack classic of the same name. This St. Elmo’s Fire is more akin to the phenomenon of the green flash at sunset or sunrise. It appears as an eerie blue or violet glow, usually accompanied by bursts of what appear to be lightning.
As with many meteorological mysteries, St. Elmo’s Fire was named by sailors of old. They couldn’t understand what caused the glow around their ship that looked like a sort of divine fire and named it for St. Erasmus. Also known as St. Elmo, he is the patron saint of sailors. The appearance of the mysterious glow was said to be a good omen of the saint watching over the crew, scary though it may be. However, we now know that there’s a scientific explanation behind the strange lights.
St. Elmo’s Fire is a luminous plasma discharge from a pointed object. This is why it usually emanates from the nose of a plane or the mast of a ship. The glow and subsequent discharge typically occur when a plane or ship comes near a thunderstorm or volcanic activity. It can also occur on the tops of buildings and electrical towers.
When the electrical field around a pointed object builds a sufficient charge, it ionizes the air around it. This turns it into plasma. The blue/violet color is the result of nitrogen and oxygen, which make up the majority of the atmosphere. Although the glow and discharge bursts can sometimes make a hiss or buzz, St. Elmo’s Fire itself is completely harmless.
Flying near or through a thunderstorm or volcanic activity is generally inadvisable. Lightning strikes and reduced visibility pose great dangers to safe navigation. In the case of British Airways Flight 9, volcanic ash can cause engine flameout. While St. Elmo’s Fire is associated with flying in these conditions, the plasma discharge itself has no effect on an aircraft’s safe flight.
If a flight or cruise ever takes you near a thunderstorm or volcanic activity, keep an eye on a pointed object like the plane’s wingtip or the ship’s mast. You just might be able to spot this fascinating phenomenon for yourself.
These 7 snipers reached out and touched the enemy from a long way away:
1. The British sniper who nailed three 1.53-mile hits
Cpl. of Horse Craig Harrison was providing sniper support in a firefight between his buddies and Afghan insurgents. Near the end of the three-hour battle in Nov. 2009, Harrison spotted the enemy machine gun team that was pinning everyone down. He lined up his sights on the targets that were over 1.5 miles away.
Each shot took 6 seconds to impact. He fired five times. Two shots missed but one round ripped through the gunner’s stomach, another took out the assistant gunner, and the last one destroyed the machine gun.
2. A Canadian sniper who took out a machine gunner in Operation Anaconda
During Operation Anaconda, the bloody hunt of Afghan militants in the Shahikot Valley in Mar. 2002, Canadian Cpl. Rob Furlong was watching over a group of U.S. troops and saw an insurgent automatic weapons team climbing a ridge 1.5 miles away. His first two shots narrowly missed but the third broke open the gunner’s torso and left him bleeding out on the ground. The shot barely beat out Master Cpl. Arron Perry’s shot discussed below.
3. Another Canadian sniper in Operation Anaconda who took out an observer from nearly the same distance
Canadian Master Cpl. Arron Perry was also supporting U.S. troops in Operation Anaconda when he spotted an enemy artillery observer 1.43 miles away. Perry took aim at the observer and nailed him. Perry held the record for world’s longest sniper kill for a few days before Furlong beat it.
4. The Ranger whose longest-American kill is still mostly secret
Sgt. Bryan Kremer was deployed to Iraq with the 2nd Ranger Battalion in Mar. 2004 when he took a shot from 1.42 miles away and killed an Iraqi insurgent. The details of the battle have been kept under wraps, but his Mar. 2004 shot is the longest recorded sniper kill by an American.
5. The Marine legend who set the world record with a machine gun
Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock is one of the most respected names in the Marine Corps and set the record for longest kill in 1967 with a machine gun. The record stood for 35 years before Perry beat it.
Hathcock had an M2 in single-shot mode with a scope mounted on the top. He saw a Vietcong soldier pushing a bike loaded with weapons and took two shots. The first destroyed the bike and the second killed the soldier.
6. The South African sniper who recorded hits from 1.32 miles while killing six officers in a day
A South African battalion deployed in a U.N. brigade fought viciously against the M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. During the Battle of Kibati, an unnamed South African sniper killed six M23 officers in a single day in Aug. 2013. His longest kill that day was an amazing 1.32-mile shot.
7. The Army sniper who tagged Taliban who walked into his personal firing range
Snipers sometimes fire at different objects on the battlefield to collect information about how their rounds move through the air at a given location. Spc. Nicholas Ranstad had been firing at a boulder near his position, leaving a small trail of white marks on the rock.
Gen. David L. Goldfein’s four-year tenure as the 21st U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff is coming to an end. As he takes stock of a period marked by ground-breaking achievements, including birth of the U.S. Space Force, the evolution of Joint All Domain Command and Control, and unprecedented challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, his most poignant – and treasured – memories are the bonds he forged with Airmen while engaging with them around the force over the years.
CSAF 21 Gen David L. Goldfein – The Exit Interview
“Our Airmen are the most incredible, patriotic and disciplined,” he said in a recent interview. “This might be the next greatest generation. Every one of them joined the service while the nation was at war, and their innovative spirit, and willingness to endure hardships to serve in uniform is really inspiring.”
During his frequent travels, Goldfein gained a reputation for seeking out Airmen – often young in their service – to get a better understanding of who they are and to hear their stories. On one occasion in 2019, after meeting all day with air chiefs from more than a dozen nations about space, he struck up a conversation with a young officer. The officer mentioned that he was a second-generation Airman. Without hesitation, Goldfein asked the officer, “You got your phone? Call your dad.” The father and Goldfein had a 10-minute conversation while the startled officer watched.
“I always ask two questions: tell me your story, and what does it mean to be a part of the squadron they are in,” he said. “I’m asking them deeper questions, questions about the culture of the organization. What we want that answer to be is something along the lines of, It means I’m a valued member of this organization, it’s a high-powered team, the Airman to my right and to my left are some of the best Airmen I have ever worked with in my life, and we are doing something really important that is much bigger than myself. If we get that part right, so many other things are going to go right.”
Gen. David. L. Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, talks to a group of total force recruiters during the Bluegreen Vacations 500 NASCAR race in Phoenix. The general talked to the recruiters and answered any questions prior to the race. (AIR FORCE PHOTO // MASTER SGT. CHANCE BABIN)
The Air Force Chief of Staff position demands expertise in military doctrine and operations, as well as skill for developing policy, crafting priorities and helping assemble the Air Force’s budget request. It also requires acute political awareness since Goldfein represents the Air Force before Congress, influential think tanks and the public.
Goldfein, 61, is responsible for the organization, training and equipping 685,000 active-duty, Guard, Reserve and civilian personnel serving in the United States and overseas. As Chief of Staff, he also held a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As he prepares for his 37-year Air Force career to come to an end as the senior uniformed Air Force officer, Goldfein will take with him an approach to the job that was equal parts cerebral and disciplined.
“When I stepped foot on the Air Force Academy campus, only my wildest dreams would’ve ever allowed me to see myself in this seat,” he said. “It truly is the honor of the lifetime to be able to lead the service that has played such an integral part of my life.
Cadet David L. Goldfein and Dawn Goldfein at the the Air Force Academy.
He is a command pilot with more than 4,200 flying hours including combat missions in Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, and most famously, Operation Allied Force when, in 1999, he was shot down flying a mission over Kosovo. His rescue only reinforced to him the important role – and valor – of combat search and rescue teams. It is also a reason that the naming this year of the Air Force’s newest combat rescue helicopter, the HH-60W as the “Jolly Green II,” carried special meaning.
“We don’t know, as young leaders, especially as young officers, when a young Airman is going to risk everything to pull us out of bad guy land, or a burning truck or an aircraft….and risk everything to save us,” he said. “All we know is on that day, we better be worthy of their risk. And so it is all about character, and what the nation expects of those who were privileged to serve in uniform.”
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfien talks to Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright after touring the new HH-60W combat rescue helicopter at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 27, 2020. During the event, the HH-60W was given the name “Jolly Green II,” following the legendary tradition of the Vietnam-era HH-3E Jolly Green and HH-53 Super Jolly Green crews who pioneered the combat search and rescue mission. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // STAFF SGT. JAMES RICHARDSON)
During his four years as Chief of Staff, Goldfein led multiple initiatives to improve and update the Air Force’s warfighting capability: including enhancing the service’s multi-domain capability, pushing to increase the number of operational squadrons to 386 by 2030, and the birth of the Space Force. He played a major role in bringing the F-35s into the fleet, as well the development of the B-21 strike bomber and the T-7A Red Hawk trainer aircraft, among others. The push to 386 was necessary, he said, to build “the Air Force we need” and to reconfigure the force to address China, Russia and other near-peer nations.
He and other Air Force leaders understood that the National Defense Strategy marked the reemergence of the long-term and strategic competition with China and Russia. The Air Force’s goal is to compete, deter, and win this competition by fielding a force that is lethal, resilient, rapidly adapting and integrates seamlessly with the joint force and its allies and partners. Expanding number of squadrons laid the groundwork to enhance the forces preparedness, and in turn will increase the number of fighting units, he explained.
“Today, we are the best Air Force in the world,” he said in 2018. “Our adversaries know it. They have been studying our way of war, and investing in ways to take away those advantages. This is how we stay in front.”
With an increase in fighting units underway, Goldfein led the way on a new, more universal, approach to communicate and fight: not only across all military branches, but between aircraft, operators and commands as well. He was one of the originators of a new, linked and network-centric approach to warfighting known as Joint All Domain Command and Control in which elements from all services from air, land, sea, space and cyber are seamlessly linked to overwhelm and defeat any adversary.
Members of the 6th Special Operations Squadron, perform a training exercise showcasing the capabilities of the Advanced Battle Management System at Duke Field, Fla., Dec. 17, 2019. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // TECH. SGT. JOSHUA J. GARCIA)
“Victory in future combat will depend less on individual capabilities and more on the integrated strengths of a connected network available for coalition leaders to employ,” he said in 2019. “What I’m talking about is a fully networked force where each platform’s sensors and operators are connected.”
In addition to spearheading the move to Joint All Domain Command and Control operations, Goldfein used his close working relationships with senior leaders, including Department of the Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett and former Secretaries Heather Wilson and Deborah Lee James, to realize some of the most sweeping changes for the Air Force in recent years.
He focused efforts on maintaining bonds with existing allies and partners while developing new global relationships. In 2019, he became the first Air Force Chief of Staff to visit Vietnam since the end of the Vietnam War.
He pushed the Air Force to embrace “agile basing” and to return to a more expeditionary mindset. Both efforts enhanced flexibility and scalability of units to address threats even in harsh, distant and contested areas. Goldfein drove this mindset by getting the wings to “train like they fight.” He also pushed units to deploy together, rather than deploying as aggregations of individuals rounded up from all over the Air Force.
“The next fight, the one we must prepare for as laid out in the National Defense Strategy, may not have fixed bases, infrastructures and established command and control, with leaders already forward, ready to receive follow-on forces,” he said in 2018. So, it’s time to return to our expeditionary roots. The expeditionary Air Force framework Secretary Peters and Gen. Ryan laid out remains valid today. But, it must be adapted and updated to support the Joint All Domain Command and Control operations of the 21st century.”
After initially being uncertain about the need for a separate Space Force, Goldfein reflected on his journey to a different understanding. He now sees himself as one of the Space Force’s strongest advocates.
Goldfein understood the need to shift the Air Force’s culture to make the service more diverse, he and former Secretary James recognized the benefits of diversity and to address problems connected to racial and criminal justice inequity in his first few years in office. This continued to be a focus when Barrett and Goldfein, for example, recently asked the Air Force Inspector General to examine the service’s promotion and military justice record so inequities can be better identified and addressed.
In early 2020 Goldfein also brought about changes to the Air Force’s official anthem to make the lyrics more inclusive. Goldfein didn’t go many places where he didn’t boast on his “best friend, Dawn” and his daughters and granddaughters. He often explained how they kept him grounded, and helped him appreciate the sacrifice our Air Force families endure. Dawn pushed to make improvements for Air Force families when she chaired the “Key Spouse Conference” and was an advocate for universal licensure. Goldfein actively embraced both.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright learn about new innovations being made at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, May 14, 2020. Airmen at Team Minot, in the midst of a global pandemic, demonstrate the ever adapting ability of the Global Strikers to CSAF General Goldfein and CMSAF Wright during their visit to Minot Air Force Base. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // AIRMAN 1ST CLASS JESSE JENNY)
Perhaps the single most influential voice over Goldfein’s four years as chief was that of Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright. The tight bond between the two men was widely understood and often on display. It also was genuine.
“They don’t come any better than Chief Wright,” Goldfein said recently. “He is one of my closest life-long friends…. He’s the guy that I lean on the most.”
Goldfein and Wright took an active approach together to address resiliency, mental health and the overall culture of the force, often appearing side-by-side with Airmen. The close partnership came into clear view recently in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the national call for racial justice. Goldfein and Wright were prominent in their public calls for reform within the Air Force.
“Something broke loose that day, and what broke loose was there shouldn’t be any resistance to making meaningful changes in our United States Air Force to make sure we celebrate all of us, that we are a force that includes and embraces all of us,” he said. “History is not on our side here. If we follow history, we will be pretty excited for a couple of months and will make some marginal changes, we will feel good about ourselves, and then other things will pop up and this will be pushed to the back burner,” he said, referring to past efforts to address racial and criminal justice inequality. “Let’s prove history wrong this time.”
With a goal of a more inclusive Air Force always in mind, Goldfein made a point to show his appreciation and kinship to the Airmen he was able to meet.
Goldfein concedes that many people and events shaped his tenure. But, aside from his wife Dawn and Wright, none was more influential than his countless interactions with Airmen of all ranks and capabilities across the Air Force. It was shaped as well by a separate and tragic moment, the death of Air Force Master Sgt. John A. Chapman in 2002, and in 2018 when Chapman was awarded the Medal of Honor.
“While I never met John, I feel like I know him because his picture hangs in my office, as it has for the past two years,” Goldfein said in 2018. “… At difficult times and when faced with hard decisions, I can look at that picture and find strength in his strength, and I’m reminded that leading and representing Airmen like John Chapman remains the honor of a lifetime.”
Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, Chief of Staff of the Air Force David L. Goldfein and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright present a plaque to Valerie Nessel, wife of Medal of Honor recipient Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, during the Hall of Heroes Induction Ceremony at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va., Aug. 23, 2018. Sergeant Chapman was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for actions on Takur Ghar mountain in Afghanistan on March 4, 2002, an elite special operations team was ambushed by the enemy and came under heavy fire from multiple directions. Chapman immediately charged an enemy bunker through high-deep snow and killed all enemy occupants. Courageously moving from cover to assault a second machine gun bunker, he was injured by enemy fire. Despite severe wounds, he fought relentlessly, sustaining a violent engagement with multiple enemy personnel before making the ultimate sacrifice. With his last actions he saved the lives of his teammates. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // STAFF SGT. RUSTY FRANK)
That realization, Goldfein would often say, was his North Star.
As Goldfein’s time as Air Force Chief of staff comes to an end, he feels confident in the selection of the next Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr.
“I feel closure. I didn’t get everything done, I wanted to get done, but we certainly got a lot done, and I’m feeling so good,” he said. “I’ve been watching Gen. Brown for years, I got to see his intellect, his mind and work. He’s a brilliant, operational and strategic thinker. I’ve seen him interact with Airmen, and he’s just absolutely phenomenal. So, I’m feeling great about this opportunity to hand the Air Force over to a guy that I admire, and a good friend as well.”
Pierre Markuse, Flickr
The Office of Strategic Services and the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force were all set to painstakingly document every aspect of the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. And yet, the little footage that survives comes from the work of one combat cameraman — Hollywood director and then-Capt. John Ford.
Captain Ford was recommended for the Distinguished Service Medal for his work on that day. His citation reads:
“The returning film was assembled under his directions, and an overall D-Day report, complete with sound, was completed on D plus 5, and was shown to Mr. Winston Churchill. Copies were also flown to President Roosevelt and Mr. Stalin.”
The rest of the footage was lost a result of the invasion itself and of one junior officer, a Maj. W.A. Ullman, who unceremoniously dropped much of the footage shot on the American-led Omaha and Utah beaches into the English Channel.
An entire duffel bag, filled with D-Day footage.
On Utah and Omaha beaches, combat cameramen carrying bulky 35mm cameras and film made for easy targets for Nazi machine gunners defending Hitler’s shores. Even cameras mounted to landing craft didn’t survive the carnage.
The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration occasionally goes through its extensive records. One writer, Audrey Amidon, found what she believes is a once-secret film reel possibly shown to Allied troops in France on D plus 7.
She found the reels in separate, non-sequential Army Signal Corps catalogs, identified as combat footage taken from D-Day to D plus 3 — the first documentary of the invasion of Fortress Europe by the Allies.
NARA cites a document from the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force that could be proof the documentary film found by Amidon is the one shown to the troops in France. It refers to the above film as “an uncensored film of the assault on the French Coast.”
The fierce fighting on D-Day and the clumsiness of one Major are the reason we see the same footage of D-Day over and over again.
Feature image uploaded by Pierre Markuse via Flickr
Military drop tanks are attached under fighters and bombers, giving them extra fuel to extend their range, but easily falling away if the plane gets in a fight and needs to prioritize agility and weight over range. The drop tanks are light, aerodynamic, empty shells when not filled with fuel, and that actually makes them a great starting point for hot rods.
And the hot rod community noticed these tanks during the Cold War, with some innovative spirits snapping them up to create tiny, fast cars. Now, these “lakesters” are quick racers that humans will cram themselves into to race across salt flats and other courses.
Getting ahold of a steel drop tank to convert was easy for a few decades after World War II, but enthusiasts now have to look harder for longer to find one of the few remaining, unconverted drop tanks.
A P-38 Lightning with its drop tanks during World War II.
And they aren’t likely to get much help from the military. Modern militaries have often opted for more exotic materials for new drop tanks, reducing their weight and, therefore, the fuel usage of the plane. A lighter drop tank costs less fuel, and so provides more range, but the composite materials aren’t always great for racers.
It will only get worse, too. Drop tanks have a massive drawback for modern planes: They increase the plane’s radar signature while reducing the number of weapons it can carry. So the military and the aviation industry are shifting away from drop tanks, opting instead for “conformal fuel tanks.”
These are auxiliary tanks made to fit like a new, larger skin on an existing plane. They’re a little harder to install, and they can’t be jettisoned in flight, but they extend range with less drag and a much lower radar penalty. And they can be packed tighter to the body of the jet, allowing the plane to keep more of its agility than it would have with heavy tanks hanging from its wings.
Sorry, racers. Keep looking for the World War II-classics.
Three years after the first prototype for the Black Hawk aircrew trainer was set up and implemented as a training aid at Fort Bliss, Texas, that technology has been enhanced.
A team from System Simulation, Software and Integration Directorate, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command Aviation & Missile, also known as AMRDEC, has developed the Collective Aircrew Proficiency Environment. Crew chiefs and gunners can train in a realistic setting where they see and hear the same things simultaneously.
Because there was no funding, Joseph P. Creekmore Jr., S3I aviation trainer branch chief and BAT Project director, said BAT team members used borrowed or discarded materials to work on the CAPE during breaks between scheduled projects.
It paid off.
“Design began over a year ago at a somewhat frustratingly slow pace for the BAT Team but, week by week and part by part, the CAPE device took shape and became the device we have today,” Creekmore said.
Manuel Medina, assimilated integration technician with Systems Simulation and Software Integration Directorate, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command Aviation Missile, demonstrates the capability Collective Aircrew Proficiency Environment.
(Photo by Evelyn Colster)
The singular focus of the Army’s modernization strategy is making sure the warfighter and their units are ready to fight, win, and come home safely. As the head of the BAT Project, Creekmore said he believes the Army needs the CAPE to contribute to and ensure readiness in aircrews.
“Because we are a nation that has been continuously at war since 9/11, all the BAT Projects’ Army aviators have experienced combat overseas,” Creekmore said. “They all went into combat as part of a trained team.
“They all survived combat because they fought as a team. All the BAT Project’s former and retired Army aviators know to their very core that, to fight and win America’s wars, the Army must train as it fights and that includes training as a full aircrew,” Creekmore explained. “So, from Day 1, the BAT Project dreamed and planned for an opportunity to demonstrate an excellent whole-crew trainer that would contribute to the readiness of all U.S. Army Air Warriors.”
CAPE and BAT are linked using an ethernet connection. Creekmore said the nine locations with fielded BAT devices only need a tethered CAPE to provide Army aviation units with a way to train a complete UH-60 aircrew.
Manuel Medina, S3I assimilated integration technician, said he was blown away when he was first introduced to this technology. “Back when I was in, we didn’t even have anything like this… If we had the flight hours and the maintenance money to train, we would.”
According to Jarrod Wright, S3I lead integrator who built the BAT, many aircraft incidents are a result of some type of aircrew miscommunication.
Manuel Medina, assimilated integration technician with Systems Simulation and Software Integration Directorate, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command Aviation Missile, demonstrates the capability Collective Aircrew Proficiency Environment that is tethered to the Black Hawk Aircrew Trainer.
(Photo by Evelyn Colster)
“What we’re trying to do here is … teach that crew coordination to allow pilots and crew chiefs to train like they would in combat with two devices tethered to each other,” said Wright, who spent more than eight years as a crew chief.
“In combat, no UH-60 breaks ground without its full complement of two rated aviators, a non-rated crew chief/door gunner and a second door gunner,” Creekmore explained. He said this type of equipment and training is necessary to maintain the high performance level and proficiency that exists in our Warfighters.
“This environment allows you, not only to train, but to evaluate potential crew chiefs and door gunners,” Wright posited. “You’re not throwing someone in there and saying, ‘I hope he gets it’.”
Medina, also a former gunner and crew chief, said this technology can benefit the Army in many ways. Not only can maintenance costs, flight hours, fuel, and training dollars be reduced, but the BAT and CAPE systems focus on considerations like spatial orientation or disorientation, response to changes in gravity, and susceptibility to airsickness. These devices mimic conditions crews see in flight and can identify adverse reactions while minimizing inherent risks.
The BAT Project team has high hopes for the CAPE.
“It is my hope that … the Army invests in further development of the CAPE and then fields it as BAT mission equipment so we can get this critical training capability in the hands of UH-60 aircrews throughout the Army,” Creekmore said.
Wright said the potential exists to use this technology to train complete crews in rescue hoisting and cargo sling load — any scenario they might encounter in any type of combat or rescue situation. He even sees the possibility for the BAT and CAPE to be used as preparation for hurricane relief or similar missions.
The Aviation Missile Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.
The Air Force has planes for every mission, but those planes aren’t always doing missions for the Air Force.
In October 2018, the Defense Department comptroller released the latest reimbursement rates for each service branch’s planes and helicopters.
These costs are generally calculated based on fuel use, wear and tear, and personnel needs — the branch providing the aircraft also typically provides a pilot and crew, an Air Force spokeswoman told Business Insider.
The document lists four categories for reimbursement: other Defense Department components, other federal agencies, foreign-military sales, and “all other.”
“When determining the hourly rate, agencies should utilize the appropriate rate category,” the document said. “The ‘all other’ annual billable rate will be used to obtain reimbursement for services provided to organizations outside the Federal government.”
Below, you can see Air Force aircraft reimbursement rates for users that fall into the “all other” category — that’s you.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Betty R. Chevalier)
A-10C Thunderbolt — ,454
The A-10C Thunderbolt, also known as the Warthog, is the US Air Force’s premier ground-attack aircraft and perhaps the best in the world, renowned by foot soldiers for its ability to absorb punishment and dish out even more with its 30 mm cannon.
The Air Force has a total of 281 A-10s in its inventory. As of mid-2018, 173 of them had gotten or were in the process of getting new wings.
The future of the roughly 100 that still need wings has been the subject of debate between Air Force officials, many of whom want to retire the Thunderbolt and move on to other platforms, and members of Congress, who want to see the fearsome gunship continue flying.
The AC-130J Ghostrider.
(US Air Force photo)
AC-130J Ghostrider — ,541
The AC-130J is the latest variant of the AC-130 gunship, upgraded with enhanced avionics, as well as integrated navigation systems, defensive systems, and radar. It is also modified with the Precision Strike Package, which has a mission-management system that puts sensors, communications, and order-of-battle and threat information into a common picture.
The Ghostrider — a name officially designated in May 2012 — is still relatively new, having completed developmental tests and evaluation in June 2015. As of 2016, the Air Force planned to have 32 Ghostriders in the active-duty force by fiscal year 2021.
The aircraft has struggled, particularly with its 30 mm and 105 mm guns. But the commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing said last year the gunship would probably be “the most requested weapons system from ground forces in the history of warfare.”
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brian Ferguson)
B-1B Lancer — ,475
Of Air Force aircraft, the B-1B Lancer packs the largest payload — 75,000 pounds — of both guided and unguided weapons and is the “backbone” of the US long-range-bomber force.
It has a ceiling of 30,000 feet, which isn’t the highest of the Air Force’s bombers, but it is the fastest, capable of topping 900 mph, or a little over the speed of sound at sea level.
In order to comply with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, signed by the US and the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the Lancer was modified to make it incapable of carrying nuclear weapons, a conversion process completed in 2011.
As of late 2016, the Air Force had 64 Lancers — two for testing — all of which were in the active force.
A B-2 Spirit.
(US Air Force photo)
B-2A Spirit — ,012
The B-2A stealth bomber arrived at the Air Force in 1993, six years after the first Lancer was delivered.
Unlike the Lancer, which is designed for high-speed, low-altitude strikes, the Spirit flies higher — up to 50,000 feet — and slower. It’s also capable of hauling nuclear weapons.
As of the end of 2015, there were 20 Spirits in the Air Force active-duty fleet, one of which was for testing. The only operational base for the B-2 is Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, so add that flying time into your budget.
(US Air Force photo)
B-52H Stratofortress — ,919
Pricewise, the B-52 is a bargain compared with its bomber counterparts, but the Stratofortress is well over a half-century old, reaching initial operating capacity in spring 1952.
Flying at 650 mph and up to 50,000 feet with a payload of 70,000 pounds of both conventional and nuclear weapons, it can conduct strategic strikes, close air support, and maritime operations.
Its unfueled range is more than 8,800 miles. With aerial refueling, its range is limited only by its crew’s endurance.
At the end of 2015, there were 58 B-52s in use by the Air Force’s active-duty force and another 18 being used by the Air Force Reserve. They’re all H models and are assigned to the 5th Bomb Wing at North Dakota’s Minot Air Force Base and to the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.
A C-130J Hercules.
(US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas Grimes)
C-130J Super Hercules — ,651
The C-130J is the latest addition to the C-130J family, replacing older C-130Es and some C-130Hs with more flying hours.
Technology on the C-130J reduces manpower needs and operational and maintenance costs. The J model also climbs higher and faster and can fly farther with a higher cruising speed, in addition to taking off and landing in a shorter distance.
As of June 2018, the Air Force had 145 C-130Js in active duty, with anther 181 being used by the Air National Guard and 102 by the reserve component.
A C-17 Globemaster III.
(US Air Force photo)
C-17A Globemaster III — ,236
The C-17 is the most flexible member of the Air Force airlift fleet, able to deliver troops and cargo to main operating hubs or to forward bases.
“The C-17 was designed for multi-role functions,” Maj. Steve Hahn, an instructor pilot with the Air Force Reserve’s 301st Airlift Squadron, said in 2010. “Its strategic and tactical abilities join the missions of the C-5 (Galaxy) and C-130 (Hercules) into one aircraft. It does everything, and not many aircraft can do that.”
As of mid-2018, there were 157 C-17s in active service, 47 in use by the Air National Guard, and 18 being used by the Air Force reserve.
A C-5M Super Galaxy.
C-5M Super Galaxy — ,742
The C-5M Super Galaxy — the modernized version of the legacy C-5 aircraft — is the largest aircraft in the Air Force inventory, tasked with transporting troops and cargo.
It can carry oversize cargo, including 50-foot-long submarines, over intercontinental distances, and doors at the front and back allow for it to be loaded and offloaded at the same time.
Its maximum cargo is 281,000 pounds, and the longest distance it can fly without refueling is just over 5,500 miles — the distance from its base at Dover Air Force Base to the Incirlik air base in Turkey.
In August 2018, Lockheed Martin delivered the last of 52 upgraded C-5s, bringing 49 C-5Bs, two C-5Cs, and one C-5A up to the M variant and wrapping up a 17-year overhaul effort. The work extends the C-5 fleet’s service life into the 2040s.
(US Air Force by Louis Briscese)
E-4B — ,123
The E-4B is an expensive aircraft with an invaluable mission.
It serves as the National Airborne Operations Center, providing a highly survivable command, control and communications center where the president, defense secretary, and joint chiefs of staff can direct US forces, execute emergency war orders, and coordinate actions by civil authorities if ground command centers are destroyed.
The Air Force has four E-4Bs in its active force, and at least one is on 24-hour alert. In addition to an advanced satellite-communications system and an electrical system to support it, the E4-B is hardened against electromagnetic pulses, if that’s something you’re worried about.
An F-15E dropping a bomb.
(US Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)
F-15E Strike Eagle — ,936
The F-15 is an all-weather, highly maneuverable tactical fighterdesigned to gain and maintain air superiority. It became operational in 1975 and has been the Air Force’s primary fighter jet and interceptor for decades.
The F-15E is two-seat integrated fighter for all-weather, air-to-air, and deep-interdiction missions. The Air Force has 219 F-15Es in total.
The first F-15E was delivered in 1989, about a decade after the F-15C, a single-seat fighter, and the F-15D, another two-seater. The latter two are also available, but they’ll cost you a little be more — ,233 for the C model and ,045 for the D model.
An F-16 Fighting Falcon.
(US Air Force photo)
F-16C and F-16D — ,000 and ,696, respectively
Despite the low price, the F-16 is considered one of the most capable fighter aircraft out there.
It arrived in 1979, built in partnership between the US, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway.
The F-16C/D started arriving in 1981 and are the single- and two-seat counterparts to the F-16A/B, bringing improved cockpit control and display technology.
As of late 2015, the Air Force had 1,017 F-16s across its active, reserve, and guard components.
An F-22 Raptor.
(US Air Force Photo)
F-22A — ,005
Reaching initial operating capability in December 2005, the single-seat F-22 is considered the Air Force’s first fifth-generation fighter, incorporating low-observable technology that gives it an edge over air-to-air and surface-to-air threats.
Caught between low-intensity wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a crushing global recession in 2008, and the Pentagon’s move toward the F-35 in the late 2000s, the F-22 program was shut down in 2009. As of September 2015, there were 183 F-22s in use by the Air Force.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stormy Archer)
F-35A — ,501
The F-35A Lightning II is the Air Force’s second and newest fifth-generation fighter, reaching initial operational capability in August 2016.
The US, the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Denmark, Norway, and Australia were involved in the F-35’s development.
The F-35A is meant carry out air-to-air combat and ground-attack missions, replacing the F-16 and the A-10, while bringing next-generation stealth technology, enhanced awareness, and reduced vulnerability to the US and allies, several of whom have already received their versions of the fighter.
There is also a carrier variant — meant to replace the Navy’s F/A-18s — and a short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing variant, which is meant to replace the US Marine Corps’ AV-8B Harriers and F/A-18s, as well as the UK’s Harriers and Sea Harriers.
The F-35 has also become the most expensive weapons program in history, and hiccups during its development process have not improved its perception.
The KC-46A Pegasus.
(Boeing/John D. Parker)
KC-46A Pegasus — ,740
The KC-46A aerial-refueling tanker is the newest addition to the Air Force, with officials accepting the first one from Boeing on January 10.
The program was delayed for years by technical problems, and Boeing has eaten more than .5 billion on the program, as the firm is responsible for any costs beyond the Air Force’s .9 billion fixed-price contract.
Six tankers have been accepted by the Air Force, but Boeing is not out of the woods. Deliveries were suspended earlier this month by the Air Force because of problems with foreign objects, tools and other debris, left aboard the aircraft.
Will Roper, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics, said it would likely be “some time” before the Air Force began accepting tankers again.
An HC-130J Combat King II.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Trevor T. McBride)
HC-130J Combat King II — ,001
The HC-130J — an extended-range version of the C-130J — replaces HC-130P/Ns as the only dedicated fixed-wing personnel recovery platform in the Air Force inventory. It’s tasked with rapidly deploying to recover downed aviators in enemy territory and with all-weather expeditionary personnel-recovery operations.
An MC-130H Combat Talon II.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Micaiah Anthony)
MC-130H Combat Talon II — ,166
The MC-130H Combat Talon II provides infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply of special operations forces and equipment in hostile or denied territory. Secondary missions include psychological operations and helicopter and vertical lift air refueling.
The Combat Talon II is based on the C-130, with structural changes that include a stronger tail to allow high-speed and low-signature airdrops. It also has terrain-following and terrain-avoidance radars that allow it to fly as low as 250 feet in poor weather.
The MC-130 first flew in 1966 and has operated around the world — an MC-130E landed in the Iranian desert in April 1980 to support Operation Eagle Claw, a failed attempt to rescue Americans being held by Iran.
MC-130Hs were also used to seize an airfield in southern Afghanistan for ground operations there in 2001, and in 2003, an MC-130H was the first US aircraft to land at Baghdad International Airport. As of the beginning of 2016, the Air Force has 18 MC-130Hs.
An LC-130 Hercules.
(US Air Force photo)
LC-130H — ,774
The Air Force has a lot of cargo planes, so you have a lot of options. But what if you need to go to Antarctica? Well then you’ll need the LC-130H, the polar version of the C-130.
The US is the only operator of ski-equipped LC-130s, which the 109th Air Wing describes as the “backbone” of US transport within Antarctica, where it supports an array of scientific endeavors, and as a provider of transportation between McMurdo Station and New Zealand.
(US Air Force photo by Josh Plueger)
OC-135B — ,435
Night or day, austere or hospitable, ice or solid ground, the Air Force’s airlift fleet can do it all.
But what if you need to conduct an unarmed observation flight over territory belonging to one of the signatories of the 1992 Open Skies Treaty? That’s where the OC-135B comes in.
A modified version of the WC-135B, its main mission is to take pictures, and it’s outfitted with equipment and systems to support its cameras and camera operators.
That includes one vertical and two oblique KS-87E framing cameras, which are used for low-altitude photography — about 3,000 feet above ground — and one KA-91C panoramic camera, which scans from side to side to give each photo a wide sweep. It’s used for high-altitude photography — roughly 35,000 feet.
As of spring 2014, there were two OC-135Bs in the Air Force inventory.
A T-38 Talon.
(Department of Defense)
T-38C Talon and T-6A Texan — ,156 and 7, respectively
The T-38 Talon is a high-altitude supersonic jet trainer, used for a variety of operations because of its design, ease of maintenance, high performance, and safety record. Air Education and Training Command is its primary user of the T-38, employing it for specialized undergraduate pilot training, preparing pilots to fly F-15s, F-16s, F-22s, A-10s, and B-1Bs.
The T-38 first flew in 1959, and 1,000 of them were delivered between 1961 and 1972. The planes and their components have been modified and upgraded since then, and the Air Force had 546 in usewith the active force as of January 2014.
The T-6A Texan II is also a jet trainer, though it only has one engine and is also used by the Navy.
The first operational T-6A was delivered in May 2000. Joint Primary Pilot Training, the Texan’s main mission, began in October 2001. Production of the aircraft ended in 2010, and the Air Force has 446 of them in use by its active force.
(Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kristin High)
U-2S Dragon Lady — ,496
Along with the B-52, the U-2 is one of the only Air Force aircraft introduced early in the Cold War that’s still in use.
Despite its age, its prowess is unquestioned. At 70,000 feet, the curvature of the earth gives it a field of vision of about 500 miles. In one mission, it can map all of Iraq.
Built in complete secrecy, the U-2A first flew in August 1955. The spy plane’s early history is marked with two high-profile blemishes — a 1960 shootdown over the USSR, which led to the capture of pilot Gary Francis Powers, and a 1962 shootdown over Cuba, which killed pilot Rudolf Anderson Jr. But it remains in use as one of the US’s premier surveillance aircraft.
All U-2s have been upgraded, adding a new engine that resulted in it being designated the U-2S. Pilots train on one of five two-seat aircraft designated as TU-2S. (The Air Force announced recently that it would change the training process.)
The U-2 is based at Beale Air Force Base in California, but it rotates worldwide. As of September 2015, there were 33 U-2s in use by the active force, including the five trainers and 2 ER-2s in use by NASA.
(US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ryan Labadens)
WC-130J — ,472
Not every Air Force aircraft is for combat or transport. The WC-130 Hercules is used by the Air Force Reserve for weather missions, flying into tropical storms, hurricanes, and winter storms to gather data.
The WC-130J is a C-130J reconfigured with palletized weather instruments. At its optimum cruising speed of 300 mph it can stay aloft for almost 18 hours. A typical weather mission can last 11 hours and cover 3,500 miles.
As of mid-2014, only 10 WC-130Js were in use, all of them belonging to the Air Force Reserve. They operate out of Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, flown by the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron — the Hurricane Hunters.
A US Air Force WC-135 Constant Phoenix.
WC-135C/WC-135W Constant Phoenix — ,173
Getting ahold of the Constant Phoenix may be tough. The Air Force has only two of them, and they have a highly specialized mission: collecting particles, gas, and debris in order to detect any nuclear or radioactive events.
Then-Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower commissioned the Constant Phoenix program in September 1947. Two years later, one of the program’s aircraft picked up evidence of the first Soviet nuclear test while flying between Alaska and Japan. Forty years later, the WC-135W helped track radioactive debris from the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in the USSR.
The WC-135s are the only planes in the Air Force inventory conducting air-sampling operations, which are now done in support of the 1963 Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The treaty prohibits countries from testing nuclear weapons above ground.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
While attending Sig Sauer Range Day, a camera attached to a spotting scope at the 500 yard range set aside for the Sig Cross caught our eye.
It was a Tactacam, a company who originally got involved with producing cameras and mounts for bow hunting.
Their first scope related product was the FTS, Film Through Scope for $139. This allows a Tactacam camera ($199-$429) to be attached to a scope while still being able to use the scope in a traditional fashion. Or it’s sold as a complete package with an MSRP of $569.
Now, we’ve seen and used similar products before, such as the Phone Skope Skoped Vision Pro, which uses your cellphone as a camera, as well as the Torrey Pines Eagle Eye for which you need to supply your own GoPro.
However, the star Tactacam was showing off was their new system which has an integral 4k camera system and attaches to a spotting scope.
The camera features an articulati USB-C, accepts a Micro SD card, and has a micro-HDMI out.
While there are a number of products which allow to record spotting scope footage, many of them are a pain to setup and can ultimately be kind of janky (we have several ourselves). Mounting was accomplished with a simple clamp mount and a twist; the locking turrets on the camera are integrated into the body.
Tactacam also has an app to connect your camera to your phone for hands-free viewing, but our preference would be to use the micro-HDMI out with a portable field monitor. When a camera is mounted, the less you have to touch the spotting scope, the better, as the magnification level exponential amplifies any itinerant movement.
MSRP for this setup Tactacam is not yet set, but we’re told the entire system will go for in-between 9 and 9–not too shabby for a system that includes a dedicated 4k camera. In the meantime, you can visit Tactacam online here.
Starboard quarter view, taken while the USS Thresher was underway on April 30, 1961. (U.S. Navy/J.L. Snell)
Nearly six decades after a Navy submarine plummeted to the bottom of the sea during a deep-dive test, families of those lost in the tragedy are finally getting a look at hundreds of documents about the accident the service has long kept under wraps.
The Navy on Wednesday released the first 300 pages of a court of inquiry on the catastrophic 1963 loss of the nuclear-powered submarine Thresher. The documents provide details into the Navy’s worst undersea accident, which claimed the lives of 129 men onboard.
While Navy leaders say they’re committed to being transparent with the families and the public about what caused the Thresher — the first sub in its class — to sink, it took a court order to reach this point.
Capt. Jim Bryant, a retired Navy submarine officer, sued his former service in 2019 to get it to release the full 1,700-page report on the Thresher accident. A federal judge ordered the Navy in February to begin releasing portions of that report monthly to the public.
“I think I’m doing the Navy a favor,” Bryant told Military.com this week. “This is a significant historic event … and the reactions were very sound. It’s a really good story here for the Navy.”
Rear Adm. Bill Houston, director of the Undersea Warfare Division at the Pentagon, told reporters Tuesday that Navy leaders don’t believe the newly released Thresher documents “will shed any additional light on her loss.” Still, he added, the Navy is committed to releasing additional portions of the report monthly, despite much of it remaining classified.
“This process requires coordination between many organizations, and takes time to be done correctly,” Houston said. “But the Navy knows this is the right thing to do.”
He declined to comment on Bryant’s lawsuit prompting the documents’ release.
The first batch of documents released this week includes witness and exhibits lists, findings of facts, opinions, recommendations and initial testimony. Families were notified in a letter sent last month from Vice Adm. Daryl Caudle, commander of Naval Submarine Forces, that the Navy was working to declassify the documents and make them public.
Joy MacMillan and her brother Tim Noonis lost their father, Walter “Jack” Noonis, to the Thresher accident. Both credited Bryant for the time he put into pushing the Navy to release the documents. The decision to do so “should have been automatic,” MacMillan said.
“We would definitely want to know,” she said. “We know it won’t bring them back, but it does help to understand how something like that could have happened to our family.”
MacMillan’s mother, who passed away in 2016, had four children under the age of 10 when the Thresher sank.
“It was intense, but I think my mom did a fabulous job picking her boots up and marching forward, but I would never say that it was easy,” MacMillan said. “I feel that it would’ve been an honor to all the moms to get this information.”
Bryant said the families — along with the rest of the public — deserve access to the answers.
“Naval history is important,” he said. “And when the technology is no longer of danger to national security — well, I think we should know about it.”
How Tragedy Led to Change
The Thresher had just completed a months-long overhaul period when — on April 10, 1963 — the sub began dive tests off the coast of Massachusetts.
It was accompanied by the submarine rescue ship Skylark, which received garbled communications about the Thresher experiencing minor difficulties.
The court of inquiry determined that the Thresher sank due to a piping failure that resulted in a loss of power and the inability to blow ballast tanks quickly enough to avoid sinking. Houston said this week that the Navy stands by those initial determinations.
Bryant wanted to know more, though, and was unsatisfied with the Navy’s original decision to publicly release just 19 of the 1,700 pages of documents from the court of inquiry. It was only after a Freedom of Information Act request failed to shake loose the documents that he took the Navy to court.
The families and the public have a right to know more about the decisions that led up to the accident, he said. In 2018, Bryant wrote a piece for the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine arguing that data showed the Thresher “very likely had already sunk below her 1,300-foot test depth limit when she reported minor difficulties.”
“The result,” he wrote, “was a hull collapse that could have been avoided with more testing and better planning.”
Noonis, who said he’s read everything he could find publicly on the Thresher, said he’d like the Navy to further analyze acoustical recordings of the Thresher accident that were picked up by the Navy’s Sound Surveillance System, known as SOSUS.
Bryant described an analysis Navy Reserve Lt. Bruce Rule provided during 1963 testimony about what the SOSUS picked up on the Thresher’s sinking. According to Bryant’s April 2020 Proceedings article titled “USS Thresher (SSN-593) Disaster: Ten Questions Our FOIA Lawsuit Hopes to Answer,” Rule’s observations reject the Navy’s assessment that there was major flooding on the sub before implosion.
While Noonis said he’d like to see the Navy take another look at that claim, he isn’t holding out much hope — especially since the service isn’t releasing the documents by choice.
“They were forced to release it,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of faith in the government coming out and changing their conclusion. … Bureaucracies aren’t fond of finding fault with themselves.”
People who study technology need access to any information available about major accidents to understand the decisions leading up to them, so they don’t repeat the same mistakes, Bryant said this week.
Despite the battle over the documents, though, Bryant credits the Navy with taking important steps in the aftermath of the Thresher tragedy to help prevent other undersea mishaps. That’s why he said he wants to see the service share any documents it has that can help others understand what went wrong.
Houston said the Thresher remains a defining event for the submarine service. Every new Navy submariner learns about the vessel.
“From day one, every new submariner checking onboard discusses the impact of Thresher to the submarine force, and the significant improvements that transpired as a result of her loss,” he said.
The Navy’s Submarine Safety program, known as SUBSAFE, was born out of the Thresher accident. SUBSAFE has “drastically improved quality control and assurance in the fabrication, construction and maintenance of submarines,” Houston said.
“Since the program’s inception, no SUBSAFE-certified submarines have been lost at sea,” he said.
MacMillan said she’s grateful the accident led to change, but said without the Navy releasing the full probe, no one can be certain all possible steps have been taken to prevent something similar from happening again.
“Was it the main coolant pump? Was it just a push too fast for a deeper dive in the Cold War?” she said. “It really does feel like it’s been [more than enough] time to know what really occurred.”
Now, as the Navy begins releasing never-before-seen documents on the accident that prompted those changes, Houston said the service must balance being transparent while still protecting information relating to national security.
Bryant said he and his attorney feel the Navy’s plan to release about 300 pages connected to the Thresher probe every month is reasonable, but noted they’ll be closely monitoring what is held back or redacted.
If the Navy refuses to declassify information they feel should be made public, Bryant said, “We’re going to fight them over it.”
MacMillan said she hopes the documents being released prove to the public that it’s possible to take on powerful organizations that might be reluctant to release information. Bryant didn’t have a stake in the Thresher accident, she said, but fought to do the right thing.
“If you work long and hard enough, you can get to the truth,” she said. “… As a 6-year-old child kind of still frozen in that time period, I think it’s high time that they come up with something.”
While Black Hawks, Apaches, and Chinooks usually get top billing when the Army comes out to play at air shows and sporting events (plus the occasional MH-6 Little Bird when special operation aviators come to play), the service does have another helicopter quietly working behind the scenes to plug crucial gaps: the UH-72 Lakota.
But another reason the Lakota doesn’t usually get on the front page is that it doesn’t deploy. It wasn’t purchased to deploy, and then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told Congress that it couldn’t go overseas as currently configured. It simply doesn’t have the necessary systems to protect itself from enemy fire and keep its pilots alive after crashes.
But the missions the Lakota can do are still important. It’s a workhorse that can fly in rough weather and provide assistance during disaster response. That’s a big part of why it’s primarily flown by National Guard units. It may not be expected to fight and win in the deserts of the Middle East, but it can hoist a family out of hell or high water during a wildfire or flood.
(Fort McCoy Public Affairs Office Scott Sturkol)
And it can do so at a discount. It costs 30 to 50 percent less to fly per flight hour than a Black Hawk according to Sikorsky estimates, partially thanks to the lack of all those protective systems that a Black Hawk has.
This is especially valuable when the UH-72 is used as an air ambulance, which it often is. Litter crews can load a patient in quickly and safely from multiple angles, and the helicopter can carry two litters and a medic per flight. In its utility role, it can carry eight troops instead of the two passengers.
All of this makes the Lakota great for homeland security and disaster response, and the Army has even made it the primary helicopter in its training fleet.
But don’t expect it to become the shiny crown jewel in the Army’s fleet. Modifying the Lakota to take on the Black Hawk’s mission or anything similar would drastically drive up costs and, without upgraded engines, adds little in terms of capability. And the Army is already shopping for more exotic designs like the tilt-rotor V-280 Valor and Sikorsky’s S-97 Raider with its compound rotor and push propeller.
Everyone knows about the famous 4077th MASH, or Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. But if you ever wanted to see the kind of docs that Michael Bay or Jerry Buckheimer would do a movie about, look at the Air Force’s Special Operations Surgical Teams, or SOSTs.
A MASH unit usually had about 113 people. In 2017, Combat Support Hospitals began transitioning to Field Hospitals. According to the Army, the conversion reconfigures the 248-bed CSH into a smaller, more modular 32-bed FH with three additional augmentation detachments including a 24-bed surgical detachment, a 32-bed medical detachment, and a 60-bed Intermediate Care Ward detachment. The FH and the augmentation detachments will all operate under the authority of a headquarters hospital center.
According to the Air Force web site, the SOST is much smaller. It has six people: an ER doctor, a general surgeon, a nurse anesthetist, a critical care nurse, a respiratory therapist, and a surgical technician.
The MASH and CSH have trucks and vehicles to deliver their stuff. SOSTs only have what they can carry in on their backs. Oh, did I mention they are also tactically trained? Yep, a member of a SOST can put lead into a bad guy, then provide medical care for the good guys who got hit.
In one Air Force Special Operations Command release, what one such team did while engaged in the fight against ISIS is nothing short of amazing. They treated victims who were suffering from the effects of ISIS chemical weapon attacks, handled 19 mass casualty attacks and carried out 16 life-saving surgical operations. A total of 750 patients were treated by these docs over an eight-week deployment.
Again, this was with just what they carried on their backs.
At one point, the team was treating casualties when mortar rounds impacted about 250 meters away. The six members of the team donned their body armor, got their weapons ready and went back to work. Maj. Nelson Pacheco, Capt. Cade Reedy, Lt. Col. Ben Mitchell, Lt. Col. Matthew Uber, Tech. Sgt. Richard Holguin, and Maj. Justin Manley received Bronze Stars in February 2018 for their actions.
It takes a lot to get into a SOST. Fall selection is quickly approaching:
Fall 2021 Selection
Applications Due: 3 Sep 2021
Phase 1 (record review): 9 Sep 2021
Phase 2 (in-person selection): 17–21 Oct 2021
** Report date 12 October for COVID testing. **
**These dates are subject to change based on mission requirements.**
Learn more and apply here: https://www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil/Special-Tactics/Battlefield-Surgery/
One thing for sure, these are the most badass folks with medical degrees!