Interlude – Pardon my Intruder

There is comfort in listening to familiar pieces of music and also, in my view, from re-reading a favourite book.  From time to time I re-read Stephen Coonts’ Flight of the Intruder, and when I do, I’m always a little bit impressed with the laconic style and its evocation of life as a US Navy A-6 pilot in 1972. I’ve never read any of Coonts’ other novels, and only realized a few days ago there was actually a sequel (Final Flight, published 1988) and a prequel to the sequel – (The Intruders, published 1994!) to Flight of the Intruder.  I should have a look at them when I have time.

I’ve had two or three copies of Flight of the Intruder in paperback, one of which came free with the computer game of the same name,  and all have continued their journeys in life  – i.e. I never got any of them back.  I decided to buy a cheap copy from Alibris a few months ago, and ended up to my delight with a 1986 first edition, published by the the Naval Institute Press, for the grand total of 99 cents (plus shipping, which was more than the cost of the book.  No matter.)

Having read it again a few days ago, I was thinking a little bit more about A-6s and aircraft carriers, and cast my mind back a little.  It occurred to me that almost exactly forty years ago, in February 1977,  I found myself in the Bay of Naples,  standing on the flight deck of the USS John F Kennedy (CV-67) with a few of my secondary school friends.  It was an amazing experience, and how we got there is probably best left to another blog entry.  I still don’t know how one of the teachers wangled the visit – it was certainly more interesting to me than a free afternoon dodging the citizenry of Naples.  My visit was not long after the incidents of September 1976 in which the destroyer Bordelon collided with the JFK during night replenishment, and an F-14 dropped off the ship after a catapult issue. The resulting race with the Soviet navy to recover the aircraft and its AIM-54 Phoenix missiles was redolent of Clive Cussler or Tom Clancy.

USS John F. Kennedy , 1968.

USS John F. Kennedy (at that time designated CVA-67) underway in the Atlantic Ocean during her shakedown cruise in November/December 1968. Visible on the flight deck are EA-3B, A-4, RA-5C, and F-4 aircraft of Carrier Air Wing 1 (CVW-1).  I’ll have a look at a bigger picture another time and try to identify the helicopter. 
(U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation photo)

I remember that one of our guides on the tour was a Bombardier-Navigator (BN) from one of the A-6 Squadrons embarked on the JFK.  He had a fairly marked accent from one of the Southern states, and when one of the teachers asked him what would happen if the proverbial balloon were to go up,  he replied “This is all for one Nucular Strike” –  Cue stunned silence from group of English school kids.

Grumman A-6E Intruder, 1976

Typical of what I might have seen at the time – US Navy Grumman A-6E Intruder Bu No 154142 “AB-504” of Attack Squadron VA-34 “Blue Blasters” aboard the USS John F Kennedy, 1976.
By RuthAS (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Looking back, it was quite an experience.  I sorely regret that I ran out of 35mm film for my camera and hadn’t had a chance to stock up before the excursion.  There were F-14s,  S-3s, A-6s of different kinds, (they didn’t want us to photograph an EA-6B on the flight deck), A-7s, a couple of E-2s and apparently a C-2A Greyhound which one of the guides said looked like “something Jimmy Doolittle would have flown”.  One of our hosts was an S-3 pilot (I think) who seemed like the archetypal well groomed ROTC youth transposed into uniform on his first tour – he didn’t seem much older than us, although he clearly was. The A-6 guy was much older and a little more grizzled, and it pains me when I think back, that no-one asked him if he or any of the A-6 crews had been in action in South East Asia.  I am sure some of them must have done so.  This was only 1977 after all,  and even Steven Coonts was still serving in the US Navy – he was honorably discharged in 1977 with the rank of Lieutenant.

Now, CV-67 has been decommissioned and the new Gerald R Ford Class CVN-79 will take the JFK name in 2020.  The A-6, A-7 and F-14 are all retired from the US Navy.  The S-3 retired from front-line service in 2009 although there is some unconfirmed speculation that mothballed S-3s could be returned to USN service in 2019 as tankers, in the face of perceived ballistic missile threats from the naval forces of the People’s Republic of China.

I’ve said in some other piece of writing, familiar books and familiar records are a time machine.  Listening to a piece of music I first heard in 1981 transports me instantly to the location where I first heard it because of some vivid memory.   I hadn’t quite made the connection between Flight of the Intruder and my cruise round the Mediterranean in 1977, but I have now. I tip my hat in a little salute to that day 40 years ago.

Coming Soon to a Museum in Ohio

I happened to be perusing Facebook a couple of days ago (as you do these days, “ubiquity” being the watchword) when I saw this little item from the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

I wondered about the date, but May 17, 2018 is the 75th anniversary of the Belle’s last mission.  It’s very fitting and I shall be on of the throng making their way up to Dayton to take a look. I missed it on the only occasion I was in Memphis, I was catching a connecting flight and there wasn’t enough time to go and take a look.  It was also some time in the evening and pelting with rain, which wouldn’t have helped.

There are a lot of familiar pictures of Memphis Belle on the Interwebs,  but thanks to a recent effort by Senior Airman Nathan Clark of the 97th Mobility Air Wing at Altus Air Force base, Oklahoma,  I am able to share a photo of Memphis Belle which a few people may not have seen.  I had never seen it before.  Thank you!!

Students from Altus schools pose with the Memphis Belle, in 1946

Students from Altus schools pose with the Memphis Belle, in 1946 at Altus Army Air Field. The famous World War II bomber was stored in Altus AAF briefly after the war. Altus Air Force Base began as a twin engine training base in World War II and since then has supported many air mobility, missile, and training missions as well as routinely deployed Airmen and aircraft overseas and to humanitarian missions. (U.S. Air Force Photo by 97th Air Mobility Wing Historian/ Released)

I think I said in my FB post at the time, that this does raise the question of what the NMUSAF are going to do with their other Combat veteran B-17,  the much-travelled B-17G 42-32076 Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby when the Belle is installed.  A page on Wikipedia speculates that Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby will be transferred to the Udvar V. Hazy site in Washington DC  “once restoration of the Memphis Belle is completed in 2015.”

B-17G 42-32076

B-17G 42-32076 “Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby” at the National Museum of the USAF in Dayton, OH.

B-17G 42-32076 "Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby" 1944

B-17G 42-32076 “Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby” after her forced landing in Sweden, 1944

Speaking purely personally,  I would love to see her go back into the restoration hangar to try and correct or update some of the cosmetic aspects of the restoration done in the 1980s,  specifically the Olive Drab/Neutral gray paint scheme applied to cover the sheet metal work that was carried out to restore her to her original bomber configuration.   See the pictures above for an idea of how she looks now and how she looked after landing in Sweden in May 1944.

It is my belief that restoration techniques have advanced sufficiently – citing B-29 Doc as an example –  to allow her to be restored in her original unpainted state. I do acknowledge though, that Doc hasn’t undergone the same degree of modification that Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby experienced.   That’s just me. I have no desire to cause any offense to anyone who may have worked on the restoration.  Times were different then, and some techniques were simply not available.

On a positive note, the other delightful prospect is that yet another B-17 is in the works at Dayton,  this being B-17D 40-3097 The Swoose  (seen below in 1944)which was transferred from the Smithsonian Institution to the NMUSAF in 2007.  There are pictures of the two veteran B-17s side by side in the restoration facility at Dayton.  I may be an old romantic but it would be wonderful to see the three combat veterans sitting together somewhere before the illustrious group is dispersed, although I suspect that timing may not allow this to happen.

B-17D 40-3097 "The Swoose"

B-17D 40-3097 “The Swoose” in bare metal finish, 1944. (Smithsonian Institution, Public Domain)

 

 

 

Blue Skies, Gene Cernan

Having mentioned Apollo 17 in what turned out to be the final post of 2016 on this blog, I couldn’t let the passing of Eugene Cernan, Apollo 17’s Mission Commander, go unremarked.  Captain  Eugene Andrew “Gene” Cernan, USN,  passed on January 16, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  It’s always sad when these veterans and dare I say, heroes pass.  We may not know their like again.

Captain Eugene A.

Captain Eugene A. “Gene” Cernan, USN, (1934-2017)
Gemini 9A, Apollo 10, Apollo 17
(Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

On Another Day in December

Harrison H. Schmitt

Scientist-astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt stands by the American flag during a moonwalk on the Apollo 17 mission. Home, that small dot in the blackness of space above the flag, is a quarter-million miles away. 
Schmitt, Gene Cernan and Ron Evans made the Apollo program’s final journey to the moon in December 1972. (NASA – Public Domain)

I don’t have much to add to this as the picture itself is amazing.   The minute Earth floats just above the American flag, 44 years ago,  as Harrison Schmitt and Gene Cernan walk on the lunar surface in the final Apollo Mission.  Apollo 17 lasted from December 7 to December 19, 1972, and had many memorable features including the only night launch of an Apollo mission.  Harrison Schmitt,  in a conversation I heard a few years ago said of the launch”Did you see it?  I missed it!”

I was asking my history class last week if they thought 17 was a strange number  for the last Apollo mission.   I will have to read the official history again but I do believe that enough Saturn Vs were built for numbers 18, 19 and 20, but the Nixon administration’s budget cuts of the early 70s put paid to the effort.

On a personal note (since there ought to be one)  I actually met Harrison Schmitt a couple of times a few years ago (I think it was 2009) in a previous job.  Once as a speaker in a series of talks about the Manned Space Program and once again to talk about his book.   I found him to be a very sociable guy  – he has after all been a politician and public figure for many years,  and he chatted easily with his audience, and was very much at ease for a talk he gave.   I dutifully joined the line to purchase and have him sign a copy of his book  Return to the Moon:  Enterprise, and Energy in the Human Settlement of Space. (New York,  Copernicus, 2006) in which he advocates a series of privately funded return missions to re-establish a colony on the Moon for energy extraction and low gravity manufacturing.   Interesting stuff.

Since we saw the tiny blue dot which is the earth floating above the flag in the first picture,  it would be appropriate to note that Harrison Schmitt is probably (I think he says he is) the man responsible for another fairly classic image of the Earth  from any Apollo mission,  this is the picture commonly known as the “Blue Pearl”

Earth seen from Apollo 17

The Apollo 17 crew caught this breathtaking view of our home planet as they were traveling to the Moon on Dec. 7, 1972. It’s the first time astronauts were able to photograph the South polar ice cap. Nearly the entire coastline of Africa is clearly visible, along with the Arabian Peninsula. (NASA – Public Domain)

One Day in December – Tom and Wally meet Jim and Frank

Whenever I get a quiet moment I go and look at Bryan Swopes’ excellent This Day in Aviation,  and frequently find something I would like to re-broadcast. Sometimes I just share the entry on my Facebook page,  and sometimes I want to expand or amplify something he’s written usually because I find something interesting that I’ve looked up in addition to the original article.   This is one of those occasions.

 Gemini 7 spacecraft photographed from Gemini 6

This photograph of the Gemini 7 spacecraft was taken from Gemini 6 during rendezvous and station keeping maneuvers at an altitude of approximately 160 miles above the Earth. Gemini 6 and Gemini 7 launched on December 15, 1965 and December 4, 1965, respectively. Walter M. Schirra, Jr. and Thomas P. Stafford on Gemini 6 and Frank Borman and James A. Lovell on Gemini 7 practiced rendezvous and station keeping together for one day in orbit. (NASA – Public Domain)

December 4th 1965  was the launch date of Gemini VII  with Frank Borman and Jim Lovell, both on their first space flights.  Gemini VII was a long-duration mission, and although they were to be target,  they would be part of the first rendezvous in space with another manned spacecraft, in this case Gemini VI, which by a series of mischances would be launched later than its sequential successor.

I wanted to know who was in Gemini VI,  since Bryan Swopes recorded the date simply as the launch of Gemini VII.   The information was forthcoming from Wikipedia.  The crew of Gemini VI was Wally Schirra, on his second space flight,  and Tom Stafford, on his first.

Gemini VI was scheduled for launch on October 26th 1965 and was supposed to rendezvous and dock with an Atlas-Agena rocket which was launched shortly after the astronauts boarded their craft.   Apparently something went horribly wrong in staging, and the Agena exploded on separation from the Atlas booster.  Gemini VI was canceled.

The Gemini VI-A mission  was conceived after Gemini VII was launched – Stafford and Schirra in VI would rendezvous with Bormann and Lovell in Gemini VII.   The next putative launch of VI was scheduled for December 12, 1965 and failed when the main engines shut down prematurely.   Standard procedure should have been for the Astronauts to eject, but Schirra declined to do so, as he didn’t feel the booster was vibrating or showing signs it was liable to explode.  He also had considerable doubts about ejecting through the hatch of the Gemini capsule which had also been on 100% oxygen for some considerable time.  “”We would have been two Roman candles going out, because we were 15 or 16 psi, pure oxygen.”

Eventually Gemini VI launched on December 15, 1965. The rendezvous was made on that day. The Gemini spacecraft got as close as 1 foot. They were not equipped to dock, but clearly would have been able to do so had it been feasible.

Gemini VI re-entered and splashed down on December 16th, 1965.  Gemini VII returned on December 18th, 1965. According to Borman the last couple of days of the mission were “bad.” The novelty had worn off after 14 days in orbit in a Gemini capsule.

If you’re in my part of the world, you might be interested to know that the  Gemini VI capsule is  currently on display at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City.  Gemini VII is  at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Thomas P. Stafford (left), pilot, and Walter M. Schirra Jr. Gemini 6

Astronauts Thomas P. Stafford (left), pilot, and Walter M. Schirra Jr., command pilot, pose during a suiting up exercise in preparation for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Gemini VI two-day mission. Image ID: S65-56188

James A. Lovell, Jr (left) and Frank F. Borman - Gemini VII

James A. Lovell, Jr (left) and Frank F. Borman, II, Prime Crew of Gemini VII (NASA – Public Domain)

 

Stars In The East

I was perusing a couple of news articles earlier in the week relating to the Word Trade Organization’s latest intervention in the Boeing / Airbus spat.

A sentence or two hiding at the very bottom of an article by Simon Jack in the BBC News website caught my eye.  The United States and Europe, he says, are not the only countries who are giving questionable subsidies to aircraft manufacturers.  Bombardier, he says,  receives governmental subsidies from the Canadian government. An even bigger threat to the A+B (Airbus and Boeing) duopoly is making itself known, not necessarily for the right reasons, in the east.  It’s a company I’d never heard of previously, but I’m not terribly familiar with the highly competitive world of commercial civil aviation.

Jack thinks the least regarded threat to A+B comes from COMAC, the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, Ltd.  Established in 2008, COMAC is currently engaged in the production of a couple of aircraft, which are intended for China’s rapidly expanding internal airline market.

COMAC ARJ21

COMAC ARJ21 Xiangfeng “Flying Phoenix”
By Peng Chen (Flickr: China ARJ-21)
CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The first jet to be marketed is the ARJ21, originally developed by Aviation Industry Corporation of China, and which looks very much like a scaled down (some sites less charitably say “warmed over”) DC-9 / MD-90. This may be partly due to the fact that the factories producing the ARJ21 are the same factories that participated in the abortive attempt to build the MD-90 in China, which ceased after two examples (of the 40 proposed) were completed in 2000.  COMAC’s claims for the ARJ21 as a wholly indigenous product are further undermined by its wing, which is a product of the Antonov Design Bureau in the Ukraine, and the engines and avionics, which are are predominantly American.

The ARJ21 was a key project in the 10th Five-Year Plan of China which began March 2002. The fact that by December 2016 only six aircraft have been produced, and only two of these are in airline service in China, is perhaps indicative of the struggle that the project has encountered. COMAC has been trying for several years to gain American FAA type approval for the ARJ21, a necessary step for its products to operate globally, and that this has not been forthcoming.

COMAC’s other product, The 168-seat C919, is intended to be a direct competitor with A320 and venerable Boeing 737 families.  Although looking good at its roll-out  (see the YouTube video below) with a projected first flight in 2017, the development path may conceivably be as rocky as the ARJ21.

It’s certainly very tempting to think COMAC is waiting in the wings for some kind of coup, but one also needs to consider that the competition is in some cases very well established already. Embraer and Bombardier, while admittedly competing for third place behind A+B. demonstrate that COMAC has a longer march to market than our amorphous fear of Chinese business may suggest, however justified we may feel considering their near stranglehold on multiple sinews of world manufacturing.

A quick look through Wikipedia will produce the following figures of aircraft which its editors (reasonably) feel to be comparable with the ARJ-21 and C919.

Boeing 737 family (9,247 units produced) – 737 MAX forthcoming
Airbus A320 family (7,297 units produced) – A320neo forthcoming
Embraer E-Jets (1158 units produced)
Bombardier CRJ700 series (788 units produced)
Bombardier CSeries (10 units produced)
Sukhoi Superjet 100 (114 units produced)
Antonov An-148 (39 units produced)
Mitsubishi Regional Jet (4 units produced)
Irkut MC-21 (1 units produced)

Of particular interest are the recognizably Russian types produced under the umbrella of UAC, the United Aircraft Corporation.

Sukhoi Superjet 100

Sukhoi Superjet 100-95B EI-FWA of Irish regional airline CityJet crew training at Prestwick Airport, UK, June 2016. The Sukhois are intended to replace the airline’s Avro RJ85s
By Mark Harkin (EI-FWA Sukhoi Superjet 100-95B) CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Vladimir Putin created UAC in 2006 by merging governmental holdings of Ilyushin, Irkut, Sukhoi, Tupolev, and Yakovlev into a new company in which the Russian government holds a majority stake. UAC effectively consolidates Russian private and state-owned companies engaged in the production of commercial and military aircraft. While some western journalists may perceive a commercial threat from COMAC, it would seem to be that a star rising slightly nearer in the east might also bear scrutiny.

Articles mentioned in the text are listed below.

Simon Jack at http://www.bbc.com/news/business-38131611 Exclusive: WTO rules Boeing’s state subsidies illegal (28 November 2016). The article discussed the subsidies paid by the State of Washington to encourage Boeing to build the wings of the 777x aircraft there.

A later article (in the same day) http://www.bbc.com/news/business-38131617 Boeing tax break ruled unlawful by WTO said that the United States government has been given 90 days to drop the special tax exemption or subsidy.

The New York Times mentioned http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/28/business/international/world-trade-organization-rules-against-boeing-tax-break-for-new-jet.html? that this was the latest volley in a spat between Airbus and Boeing dating back 12 years in which each side has accused the other of raking in millions of dollars in special governmental aid.

Forbes’ article http://www.forbes.com/sites/scotthamilton5/2016/11/28/wto-boeing-ruling-gives-airbus-good-pr-but-its-meaningless/#1a1e8c0c4a3c was interesting in that it pointed out that
the WTO has no enforcement powers, the United States was likely to appeal the ruling and that this particular case will be echoing round the courts for at least two more years.

Support Your Local Fly-In

Today (November 5th) at the Atkinson Municipal Airport in Pittsburg, I attended a Veterans’ Appreciation Warbird Fly-in. It was nice for several reasons. I didn’t have far to go – the airport is abut two miles from where I live. I’ve never seen so many people at the airport and never seen such an interesting gathering of types. It was a very pleasant morning and my thanks to all the folks who made such an effort to put it all together. It would also be appropriate to remember all the veterans who were there, and those who weren’t.

All the photographs in this blog entry are my own work and  licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Nanchang CJ-6

A couple of Nanchang CJ-6 having fun during the morning. (Own photo)

 

T6 Arrival

One of the three T-6s in attendance. This one is interesting having “modern” RAF roundels and the crest of No 1 FTS (the oldest military pilot training school in the world – celebrated its centenary in 2009) on its rudder. It wears an all black scheme reminiscent of the Tucanos currently flown by 1FTS at RAF Linton-On-Ouse, Yorkshire.

 

Grumman FM-2 Wildcat and Cessna 0-1 "Bird Dog"

Grumman FM-2 Wildcat N551TC and Cessna 0-1/L-19A ‘Bird Dog’ 51-12167 N5242G – Veterans of different wars, together at the Atkinson Municipal Airport, Pittsburg, KS.

 

T-33 arrives

If this really is Lockheed T-33A-5-LO 56-3689 then it has a fairly interesting story.   Joe Baugher says: “3689 assigned to NASA Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC), Ellington Field, TX. Registered as NASA 939. Assigned to NASA Langley Research Center, Langley Field, VA Sep 28, 1970 to Mar 30, 1971. Registered as NASA 513. Assigned to 155th TRG, Nebraska ANG, Lincoln, NE. Registered to Heritage Air LLC and flying again, using the old NASA registration number of N939NA.”

 

FM-2 Wildcat N551TC

FM-2 Wildcat Bu.47160 N551TC. This example has had quite a life postwar. According to the Warbird Registry it was used as an instructional airframe by a trade school in Montana between 1950 and 1956, at which time it was sold and converted to be a crop sprayer. It seems to have been rescued and restored again in the early 1970s.

 

Slepcev Storch

Slepcev Storch N78018 “The Slepcev Storch (English: Stork) is a Serbian type-certified, kit and ultralight STOL aircraft, designed by Yugoslavian-Australian Nestor Slepcev and currently produced by Storch Aircraft Serbia in several different versions. The ultralight version is a 3/4 scale replica of the Second World War Fieseler Fi 156 and is supplied as a kit for amateur construction or as a complete ready-to-fly-aircraft. The aircraft was first flown in 1994. It was originally manufactured by Slepcev’s company, Slepcev Aircraft Industry of Beechwood, New South Wales, Australia. The company was later renamed Storch Aviation Australia. The aircraft was type-certified in 1999 to the Joint Airworthiness Requirements – Very Light Aircraft (JAR-VLA) standard. Production then moved to Serbia where a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale microlight category model was developed.” (Wikipedia)