On July 29, 1967 the USS Forrestal was deployed to the Gulf of Tonkin for operations against Vietnam when the unthinkable happened: an electrical surge on an F-4 Phantom caused the accidental launch of a Zuni rocket into a combat-loaded A-4 Skyhawk.
The plane burst into flames, and its fuel spread across the flight deck. In a hellish chain reaction, bomb after bomb exploded, rocking the entire ship. The fire raged for hours, killing 134 sailors, destroying 24 aircrafts and more than $70 million in damages.
This mishap exposed gaps in the Navy’s lax culture, poor firefighting ability and response time. The fleet took note and overhauled its entire training program. New regulations and improvements were made to training and processes, much of which are still in use today.
Also of note is that future senator John McCain, a lieutenant commander at the time, barely escaped the first explosion near the stern by unstrapping from his seat, jumping from his A-4’s refueling probe, and sprinting as fast as he could toward the bow.
There’s a saying in the Navy that training publications are written in blood. Here’s why that statement is 100 percent true:
It all started with an accidental rocket launch.
Fuel and fire spread throughout the flight deck causing a chain reaction of ordnance explosions. There were nine massive explosions like the one below within the first five minutes. The two firehose teams in the first explosion were completely wiped out.
A fire at sea is a sailor’s worst nightmare because there’s nowhere to go. You have to fight the fire or die. Some were blown overboard by the blasts. Others had no choice, burn or jump.
This video (actual footage of the mishap) shows how the sailors eventually got the fire under control and saved the Forrestal:
We know the key facts of what happened on April 18, 1943. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was killed when his Mitsubishi G4M Betty attack bomber was shot down by a Lockheed P-38 Lightning flown by Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier Jr., marking the “Zero Dark Thirty” moment of World War II.
But it took a bit more training to get the most out of the P-38.
Lockheed helped out in this regard by making a training film, using expertise from their production pilots. The takeoff procedure was different, mostly in not using flaps. The plane also was very hard to stall.
The plane did have limitations: A pilot needed to have a lot of air under him, due to both the compressibility that early models suffered, and the speed the P-38 could pick up in a dive. The pilot couldn’t stay inverted for more than 10 seconds, either.
The film also showed some P-38s modified as trainers. The film shows one trainee being shown how to deal with propellers running wild. The pilots were also trained to feather props.
The P-38 was surprising easy to fly as a single-engine plane. The film shows Tony LeVier, a noted test pilot, simulating an engine failure during takeoff.
The P-38 was a superb fighter, even if the Mustang, Hellfire, and Thunderbolt got most of the press. Put it this way, America’s top two aces of all time, Maj. Richard Bong and Maj. Thomas McGuire, flew the P-38 plane in World War II and combined for 78 confirmed kills.
The training film is below. Now you have a sense of what it was like to fly the plane that killed Yamamoto.
In a U.S. territory half a world removed from the continental United States, what does it mean to be American? To find out, Meals Ready To Eat host August Dannehl shipped off to the far reaches of Pacific Micronesia, to Guam.
Guam is a tiny island with a full dance card of seemingly competing cultural histories. Its indigenous people, the Chamorro, called it home for 4000 years, but after the island was “discovered” by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, it experienced several centuries of European colonization, capture, and rule that heaped Spanish, Catholic, American, and Japanese cultural influence atop the foundations of its identity.
But where other territories with similar fraught histories stumble through the modern era in crisis and without a firm sense of collective “self,” Guamanians wove themselves into the fabric of democratic and multicultural America. They celebrate their 21st century hybridity with exuberance, with fervent patriotism and military service, and with a food culture so funky and delicious, people travel from all over the globe to get in on it.
Why choose? (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)
In Guam, you find patriotism in its purest form, animated by gratitude for life. Guamanians have earned a deep understanding of how precarious human existence can be, whether it’s an island in the middle of the ocean or an oasis in the heart of the desert or a small, blue planet in the void of space.
Guamanians don’t just feel gratitude, they act on its behalf. As a people, they serve in the U.S. military at a higher rate than any of the 50 states.
When the Americans came and liberated us, they became family. That patriotism from our ancestors or those even living today, it continues on. And that’s an honor to be part of a nation that gives freedom, to be part of something greater than this tiny island…that’s what makes us American. —Sgt. Joleen Castro, U.S. Air Force
Their service reflects their dedication to the American ideal, yes, but it’s also an expression of inafa’maolek, or interdependence, the core value of the Chamorro people. Guamanians, at the deepest level of their tradition, celebrate collective prosperity, unity and togetherness. They celebrate the good.
Unsurprisingly, they throw incredible parties. (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)
Fighting fires is hungry work. And since firefighters spend long hours, even days, at the fire station, it naturally falls to some schlub rookie to lace up an apron and put food on the table. That’s normally how it goes.
But Meals Ready To Eat doesn’t profile normal.
In South Philadelphia, there’s a fire station where things go down a bit differently. That’s because the members of Philly’s Fire Engine 60, Ladder 19 are lucky enough to count a gourmet chef among their ranks. In fact, he outranks most of them. He’s Lieutenant Bill Joerger, he’s a former Marine and this kitchen is his by right of mastery.
It is a little weird for a ranking officer to spend hours rustling the chow. It’s a little strange that he goes to such lengths to source ingredients for his culinary art. It’s a bit outlandish when those meals are complex enough to necessitate a demo plate.
But Bill Joerger doesn’t care about any of that. When not actively saving lives, he cares about honing his cooking skills, eating well, and creating — in the midst of a chaotic work environment — some small sacred space where everyone can relax and just be people together.
“You have the brotherhood in the Marine Corps, and it’s the same as being in the firehouse…it’s some satisfaction for me to know that I’m producing a good meal for these guys after the things that we deal with on a daily basis.”
Meals Ready to Eat host August Dannehl spent a day with Joerger at the firehouse, experiencing the often violent stop-and-start nature of a firefighter’s day and, in the down moments, sous-cheffing for the Lieutenant. The story of how Joerger found his way from the Marine Corps to a cookbook and then to the firehouse kitchen is a lesson in utilizing one’s passion to impose some order in the midst of life’s disarray.
The B-29 Superfortress was arguably the most advanced bomber to fly in World War II. While two of them, the Enola Gay and Bock’s Car, are the only planes to ever use an atomic bomb in anger, much of a B-29 pilot’s work was not glamorous at all.
It was downright tedious in some ways. So tedious in fact, the pilot of the Enola Gay had a tape measure and a tire-pressure gauge to check the spacing on various components and to make sure the plane’s tires were pumped up.
Yeah, the aircraft commander had to do that grunt work!
The B-29 was a complex aircraft — an inevitable consequence of its advanced technology. In fact, a training film for B-29 pilots focuses less on the airborne part of the flying and more on the ground checks needed and the pre-flight checklist.
Aviation historian Joe Baugher noted that the B-29A that was the mainstay of the World War II bombing campaign against Japan featured four remote-controlled turrets, each with two .50-caliber machine guns. The tail turret had the two .50-caliber machine guns, but also a 20mm cannon.
As raunchy comic Andrew Dice Clay would put it, “There’s a Sunday surprise!”
The B-29 could also carry up to 20,000 pounds of bombs, and it had a top speed of 357 miles per hour. The famed Mitsubishi A6M Zero, by comparison, had a top speed of 322 miles per hour. A total of 3,970 B-29s were produced, and each had an 11-man crew.
The training film below about flying the B-29 shows all the work that went into preparing to take off.
Could Boeing be out of the fighter business in the near future? That question has been kicking around in recent years as air forces are looking to advanced planes like the Lockheed F-35 Lightning or for cheaper options like the Saab Gripen.
A big reason is that Boeing’s entry for a new Joint Strike Fighter, the X-32, lost that competition. A 2014 report from DefenceAviation.com noted that Boeing was producing an average of four jets a month.
The company has made some sales for versions of the F-15E Strike Eagle, but aside from Australia, there have not been many export orders for the F/A-18E/F Super Horner and EA-18G Growler (granted, the Marines could use the Super Hornet to replace aging F/A-18C/D Hornets in a more expeditious manner). The company has marketed the Super Hornet to India in the wake of the problems India has had in adapting the Tejas for carrier operations, and did a video promoting an advanced F-15C.
Boeing is not completely out of the light jet business. It has teamed up with Saab for an entry into the T-X competition that also includes the Lockheed T-50 and the T-100 from Leonardo and Raytheon. It also recently got an order for 36 F-15QAs from Qatar, according to FlightGlobal.com. Qatar also bought 36 Eurofighter Typhoons and 36 Dassault Rafales.
Boeing is also preparing for an upgrade to the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet line. The Block III Super Hornet will feature conformal fuel tanks for longer range and improved avionics, including a new radar and better electronic countermeasures systems. President Trump’s budget proposals did include buying 80 more Super Hornets.
Such purchases could only be delaying the inevitable. The Navy and Air Force are reportedly planning a sixth-generation fighter in the FA-XX project, but that may still be years into the future.
The recent collisions involving the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) have generated a lot of headlines.
But there have been other collisions – though they are certainly rare events, according to a June USA Today article. But even one is far too many, and some have been even worse than that suffered by those two destroyers.
April 26, 1952: The USS Wasp (CV 18) collides with the USS Hobson (DD 464)
While making her way to the Mediterranean Sea, the Wasp was conducting night-time flight operations when she made a course change. A deadly combination of a surface-search radar and a poorly-thought out course-change by the destroyer caused the Wasp to ram the Hobson. The impact broke the Hobson in half and killed 176 sailors, including the Hobson’s captain.
The Wasp was repaired and back in action within 10 days. The Navy ultimately blamed the commanding officer of the Hobson for the collision.
June 3, 1969: The HMAS Melbourne rams the USS Frank E. Evans (DD 754)
For over two decades, the United States was a member of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization. This alliance also included Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Thailand, the Philippines, France, and the United Kingdom. SEATO was hoped to be a NATO for the region, but it never reached that potential — although allies did hold exercises.
Five years previously the Melbourne had rammed and sunk an Australian destroyer.
During an anti-submarine warfare exercise, there was a near-miss between the Melbourne and the destroyer USS Everett F. Larson (DD 830). Despite that near-miss, tragedy struck when in the early-morning hours of June 3, the Frank E. Evans cut in front of the Melbourne. Her bow was sheared off and sank, causing the deaths of 74 American sailors.
The collision resulted in a Navy training film, “I Relieve You, Sir,” or “The Melbourne-Evans Incident,” that was used to disseminate the lessons learned from this tragedy.
November 22, 1975: The USS Belknap (CG 26) collides with the USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67)
This collision is notable for the extensive damage the Belknap sustained. During operations in the Ionian Sea, the Belknap and John F. Kennedy collided. A burst pipe sent fuel onto the guided-missile cruiser, and a massive fire melted the Belknap’s aluminum superstructure.
Eight sailors died, and 48 were injured. This collision actually has shaped the ship that is the backbone of the fleet today. After studying the collision and fire, the Navy decided to make the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers out of steel.
The Belknap was rebuilt over the course of four years, and served as the flagship of the Sixth Fleet from 1986 to 1994, before she was sunk as a target in 1998.
February 9, 2001: The USS Greeneville (SSN 772) rams the Ehime Maru
The Improved Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarine USS Greeneville collided with the Ehime Maru, a fishery training ship for a high school while surfacing. The Ehime Maru sank very quickly, with nine people dead as a result.
A number of civilian visitors were aboard the sub at the time, and the failure of the Greeneville’s captain to ensure that their presence didn’t hamper military operations was a contributing factor to the fatal incident.
The next year, the Greeneville would collide with the amphibious transport dock USS Ogden (LPD 5), and suffer minor damage.
March 20, 2009: The USS Hartford (SSN 768) collides with the USS New Orleans (LPD 18)
Navigational chokepoints are called that because maritime traffic has to go through them, and they are very narrow. This doesn’t leave a lot of room for error or complacency.
According to a 2009 Military Times report, though, the crew of the Hartford got complacent, and the Los Angeles-class submarine and the San Antonio-class amphibious transport collided.
Prompted by the recent news of Jon Stewart’s retirement. Augie Dannehl, host and production coordinator with WATM talks about the veteran immersion program which allowed interested veterans an inside look at the secrets behind The Daily Show’s greatness.
When the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) came under attack multiple times in October 2016, the ship was able in at least one instance to use its defenses to shoot down the incoming Noor anti-ship missiles.
But there are times when a ship can’t shoot down the missiles – and thankfully, U.S. Navy vessels have plenty of options.
There are a number of reasons why a U.S. Navy ship may not be able to fire. In some cases, it may be due to restrictive rules of engagement. Other times, the inability to shoot may be due to battle damage. Perhaps there’s concern about what a miss might do.
In those cases, the Navy relies on decoying an inbound missile in one of several ways.
One option is via electronic countermeasures, or “ECM.” Specifically, the goal is to interfere with the guidance systems on the missiles by confusing or blocking the seekers on radar-guided ones.
The confusion angle is very simple. An ECM system like the AN/SLQ-32 would create false targets. This gets the missile to hopefully chase into empty ocean. Another method is to reduce the seeker’s effective range with jamming. This would allow the ship to get outside the seeker’s ability to acquire a target — again sending the missile off on a merry chase to nowhere.
However, missile makers are wise to the countermeasures and haven’t stood still. The field of electronic counter-countermeasures exists to help make seekers both more powerful and more intelligent, enabling them to beat the ECM. Thankfully, there is another option.
Most U.S. Navy ships also have launchers for chaff. Like the deception portion of ECM, it creates a false target for a missile seeker. Unlike the deception portion of ECM, since it is actually physically metal, it creates a real “target” for the seeker to home in on.
Furthermore, firing a bunch of the rockets makes a bigger “target” – which the incoming missile will hopefully go for.
You can see a Burke-class destroyer launch a chaff rocket in the video below.
These are known as “soft” kills. The enemy missile is negated, but it is misdirected as opposed to being shot down. “Soft” kills do have a potential to go bad, though.
During the Argentinean air attacks on the Royal Navy on May 25, 1982, a Royal Navy frigate, HMS Ambuscade, fired off chaff to decoy incoming Exocet anti-ship missiles. The missiles flew through the chaff cloud and locked on to the Atlantic Conveyor, a merchant vessel carrying supplies for the British forces. Two missiles hit the vessel, which sank three days after being hit.
Explosive Ordnance Disposal is going to be a career field that lasts for a long time. This is because unexploded stuff is all over the place, some dating back to the Civil War. Germany and the United Kingdom have had to deal with bombs from World War II as well in the past year alone.
The problem isn’t just the old ordnance. There is also the need to deal with the newer stuff. This generally falls into the category of the improvised explosive device, or IED. The folks called in to deal with the ones found in time are the EOD units.
To get into an EOD unit takes a lot of training. According to the Air Force’s recruiting web site, you need to spend 163 days following basic training and Airman’s Week to become an “Enlisted Airman with credits earned towards Explosive Ordnance Disposal” before going to the United States Navy’s EOD school.
A 2015 release by the Air Force noted that the service has a need for 134 new EOD techs a year. The service has recently changed its training for that role, which includes a greater emphasis on hands-on learning for those becoming EOD team leaders.
Watch the video to check out some Air Force EOD techs as they train by using beer cans stuffed with C4 to deal with a van.