Monday, October 20, 2014

Cope Thunder

As I’ve mentioned earlier, Cope Thunder was up until recently, PACOM’s version of Red Flag.  With the eruption of MT Pinatubo and subsequent evacuation of US Forces from the PI, Cope Thunder was moved to Eielson AFB AK.  The exercise has been renamed Red Flag Alaska.  It’s airspace is 67000 sq miles as opposed to Nellis with 12000. 

Cope Thunder was both my first and last advanced aerial combat training exercise.  (The terminology is from Sarge’s official source.  My definition is “closest thing to combat without real missiles”.)  In between, I participated in a bunch of Red Flag and variations thereof (stories to follow). 

The other big difference in the exercises was airpace,  Nellis was big and for the most part over uninhabited desert.  Cope Thunder was not very big. 

Cope Thunder Airspace is essentially everything to the left of the black line
BTW that Heart Shaped object on the left side are the Spratley Islands 530 nm from Hong Kong, 180 nm from Clark

The measurement line on the map above is 95 miles long.  That’s forever in Rhode Island terms, but 10 minutes at combat speed in a loaded F-4.  It also was highly populated and thus restricted to subsonic.  Which the guys understand, but… the difference between high subsonic and transonic (where the supersonic shockwave starts to form and the sonic boom begins, but the aircraft isn’t technically supersonic) is only a few knots apart.  The technical difference between transonic and supersonic is lost to those on the ground for some reason.  

That restriction had the effect of further reducing the airspace.  Most missions were planned for a west to east attack axis going feet dry at Iba with a north west egress to the east of High Peak until feet wet.  Made the bad guys planning effort a bit easier. (They capped Iba and High Peak)

The other unrealistic airspace point was it was next to impossible to get into fuel problems.  In last week’s episode, I describe a low altitude high speed chase that terminated with a simulated kill just as Betty lets me know it’s time to go home.  Out of AB, steep climb to the high 40s, exit the airspace, turn south, enter initial, pitch out and land.  All without touching the throttle, except to pull it to idle in the flare.  Not realistic, even in a Korean Scenario.

I've heard that is not the case in Red Flag Alaska.  Fuel awareness is a big deal when you’re 500 nm from home.

So, Juvat, if it takes airspace the size of Alaska to conduct this exercise, why do we do this?

There’s a well-known phenomenon about aerial combat.  The most likely time for a pilot to be lost is the first 10 missions (the second most likely is the last 10, but "get-home-itis" is hard to train for). Both exercises attempt to train pilots as realistically as possible to get them the equivalent of those first 10 missions.  As such, the exercises were each about 2 weeks long. All three of the squadron’s I was in when I participated in the exercises deployed early in the week prior to the start. 

One of the coolest feelings I’ve experienced is to be the Mission leader of a hundred ship package at the end of the runway at Clark.  Takeoff time is fast approaching.  The last of the package is finishing arming and you can see that flight’s #4 salute the arming chief and pass a thumbs up to his element lead who passes it to #2 and just like the tumbling dominos the thumbs up races through the package and arrives at your wingman who passes it to you.  You’re a go!  Advance the throttles to get rolling, on to the runway and into burner.  Gear up, flaps up, out of burner.  #2 joins to tactical spread, #3 and 4 join to spread on the other side.  A wall of Eagles and we’ve only been airborne a couple of minutes.  Gotta love it!

But, how do you get to this point?  The Saturday prior to the Monday startex would begin with a mandatory aircrew meeting.  That would begin with the typical hoorah speech about great training, but…restriction this, airspace that, no supersonic, no lowfly, blah, blah, blah.  In one ear, out the other, no contact with brain matter in transit.  Cope Thunder found a way to get our attention. They showed us this video. The crowd was yucking it up at the start but got very quiet by the end. I apologize for the quality. The training is realistic and mistakes have real costs.

Ok, Boss, you got our attention.

Two other videos from Cope Thunder, taken about a year before I got to Kadena, some pretty cool cockpit stuff in both. The first has some pretty good HUD video of gun kills.   The second is taken from the back end of a 67TFS F-15D, and given the beeps and squeeks coming over the intercom, the pilot didn't give any breaks to the back seater.  As Buck would say, when you got nothin', roll film.

 Rest in Peace, Trout 21

Sunday, October 19, 2014


'Twas a fine day.

Weather was perfect for the mowing of the grass. Not too cool, not too warm.

Just. Perfect.

Found this song, I don't know why I like it so. But I do. The lyrics touched me.

Sunday Afternoon

Why are you inside? That grass isn't going to cut itself.
As Sasha the cat points out, there is grass to be cut.

I've waited the better part of 36 hours and the grand experiment appears to be a failure.

For Friday night when I got home from work, I decreed that the grass must be cut.

I have waited and waited to no avail.

No helpful lawn fairies cut the grass in the wee hours of the night.

Therefore, as always, I need to put on my "big boy pants," sally forth and fire up the mower.

So for the next couple of hours, I will be chasing the roaring beast back and forth, hither and yon.

Cutting the grass.

And people are amazed when I tell them "I like winter."

I shall return.

We'll keep an eye on things from here. You got this?

Yeah Anya, I got this.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Who Cries at The Death of a Tree?

Behind the fence which bounds our property is a small copse on a vacant lot. The trees there are starting to change the color of their leaves, many are already shedding summer's glory as winter prepares to sweep south into this land hard by Narragansett Bay and not far from the mighty Atlantic Ocean.

I have seen these trees bending to the power of a hurricane. I have seen them as the first leaves began to bud in the early spring.

These trees have provided shade in the hot summer when I needed a break from chasing the lawn mower around the yard.

I have watched the first flakes of snow floating from the sky, gently caressing each branch as the snow fell silently to the ground.

I have also seen them in the harsh winter's light of a roaring blizzard when it seemed nothing could possibly live in such cold.

For fifteen years I have watched these trees, this remnant of a forest which once spread nearly unbroken from the shores of Cape Cod to the beginnings of the Great Plains on the other side of the Mississippi.

Today I came home and something felt out of place. Something seemed to be missing.

Something felt, not right.

Looking again at "my" trees I couldn't see it at first. How do you see that which is not there?

Then I realized, one of the trees was gone.

If you look at that photo, the two tall trees just back of the shed, there is a gap. You don't know this, but I do. A tree once stood there. Brother (or sister) to the one just to the left of the gap.

I walked in a bit of a daze towards the garden. Looking over the fence, there it was, a tree, fallen to the earth. Cut down by some human with a chainsaw.

I don't know the reason. Perhaps it was diseased. Perhaps the owner of that vacant lot wanted the wood and might return later to cut it up for firewood.

I don't know the circumstances, I don't know the whys and wherefores of the need to cut that tree down.

All I know is that there is a gap in the skyline, a hole.

I remembered one fine spring morning listening to the song of a cardinal high in that tree. He was happy, spring was in the air. Winter was dying.


Now that tree is no more. Never again will the cardinal sit high in those branches and sing his song of spring. No more will the birds find shelter in its leafy embrace.

That tree is gone.

So I ask you, who cries at the death of a tree?

I do.

Perhaps I grow too sentimental in my old age...

Wicked Awesome Aerial Stuff Part 2

Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada
Home of Red Flag

(USAF Photo in the Public Domain)
In my never ending quest to provide quality blog material, I will often stumble across some mighty fine videos, this one from Battlefield Sources. The video opens with AWACS, KC-135 tanker and B-1 bomber take offs, then I spied one of ORPO1's jets from the 416th Flight Test Squadron. It was all excited I was!

The video has a lot of flightline stuff and a lot of cockpit stuff. No cheesy music anywhere to be heard. Which is sometimes its own reward.

As it's Saturday and I slept in this morning, I'm a little late out of the gate. But The Missus Herself is in California and no one is supervising me, so this is what you get. Yup, pure sloth. When that happens, at Chez Sarge, we roll tape (so to speak...)

Enjoy - I promised you Air Force and now you get Air Force.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Friday Flyby - October 2014

Before this tank killer came on the scene...
(U.S. Air Force photo by MSgt William Greer)

There was this beast...

Ju-87 Stuka Flight over Poland, 1939
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1987-1210-502, Polen, Stukas by Hoffmann, Heinrich CC

Before we dig in here, just want to mention that yes, the Flyby is back. On a trial basis, so to speak. Right now I'm thinking of making it a monthly thing as opposed to weekly as it was in days of yore. (Hence the title reflects the month, rather than the date, as it did in olden times.) Now with that bit of "administrivia" out of the way, let's dig in!

The Ju-87 Stuka (which is a German abbreviation for Sturzkampfflugzeug, which is simply the German word for dive bomber) did not begin World War II as a tank buster. That came later in the war and only on the Russian front.

At the beginning of the war the Stuka was mainly responsible for close air support and was pretty effective at that job. As long as there weren't any enemy fighters in the neighborhood. For the Stuka was kind of slow and ungainly with those fixed landing gear and a top speed of only 242 mph. Though there was a rear gunner, he only had a single machine gun.

Not something to sneeze at, but not much use against a good man in a fighter.

The Stuka was very effective in both Poland and France in the early part of the war when the Luftwaffe had air superiority over the front. And that siren you hear so much about (well, you hear about it if you're a WWII buff, as I am) it was a real thing. The Germans mounted one on either landing gear strut, usually both. They called it the Jericho-Trompete, or Jericho trumpet. Like the horn that brought down the walls of Jericho in the Old Testament.

It was kind of eerie and rather demoralizing to men who have been pounded by German artillery, strafed and bombed, attacked by tanks and are generally on the run as their generals try to figure out this Blitzkrieg thing.

The Battle of Britain opened up with the Stukas going after shipping in the English Channel, heavily escorted by Me-109s as the Germans wanted the RAF Spitfires and Hurricanes to react to those shipping attacks in order to wear the RAF down.

Later, the Stukas went after the aerials of the Chain Home radar stations along the southeast coast with very little effect. Little effect on the radar aerials that is. The Stukas were shot to pieces by the nimble Spitfires and Hurricanes.

This clip from the film Battle of Britain shows this nicely. (Though the Stuka attack profile isn't "quite right" as they say. Since when does Hollywood ever get it right?)

It's my understanding that the film company actually had a flyable Stuka used sparingly during filming. So those scenes above used a lot of special effects. Those effects seem primitive now but I remember being impressed when I saw this movie in the theater back in the '70s. (Let me see, I think I went and saw that film six times. Have watched it many times since. It's not bad. Oh yeah, I loved Trevor Howard's portrayal of Air Vice Marshal Keith Park. He's in that clip.)

Here's the "proper" technique for "moving mud" with a Stuka -
Flying at 4,600 m (15,100 ft), the pilot located his target through a bombsight window in the cockpit floor. The pilot moved the dive lever to the rear, limiting the "throw" of the control column. The dive brakes were activated automatically, the pilot set the trim tabs, retarded his throttle and closed the coolant flaps. The aircraft then rolled 180°, automatically nosing the aircraft into a dive. Red tabs protruded from the upper surfaces of the wing as a visual indicator to the pilot that, in case of a g-induced black-out, the automatic dive recovery system would be activated. The Stuka dived at a 60-90° angle, holding a constant speed of 500–600 km/h (350-370 mph) due to dive-brake deployment, which increased the accuracy of the Ju 87's aim.
When the aircraft was reasonably close to the target, a light on the contact altimeter came on to indicate the bomb-release point, usually at a minimum height of 450 m (1,480 ft). The pilot released the bomb and initiated the automatic pull-out mechanism by depressing a knob on the control column. An elongated U-shaped crutch located under the fuselage swung the bomb out of the way of the propeller, and the aircraft automatically began a 6 g pullout. Once the nose was above the horizon, dive brakes were retracted, the throttle was opened, and the propeller was set to climb. The pilot regained control and resumed normal flight. The coolant flaps had to be reopened quickly to prevent overheating. The automatic pull-out was not liked by all pilots. Helmut Mahlke later said that he and his unit disconnected the system because it allowed the enemy to predict the Ju 87s recovery pattern and height, making it easier for ground defences to hit an aircraft.
Physical stress on the crew was severe. Human beings subjected to more than 5 g forces in a seated position will suffer vision impairment in the form of a grey veil known to Stuka pilots as "seeing stars". They lose vision while remaining conscious; after five seconds, they black out. The Ju 87 pilots experienced the visual impairments most during "pull-up" from a dive.
Eric "Winkle" Brown RN, a British test pilot and Commanding Officer of Captured Enemy Aircraft Flight section, tested the Ju 87 at RAE Farnborough. He said of the Stuka, "I had flown a lot of dive-bombers and it’s the only one that you can dive truly vertically. Sometimes with the dive-bombers...maximum dive is usually in the order of 60 degrees.. When flying the Stuka, because it’s all automatic, you are really flying vertically... The Stuka was in a class of its own." Wikipedia
Stuka dive attack
(Ju87V2 by Aleksej fon Grozni Public Domain)

In 1943 in the East, the ever increasing numbers of Soviet tanks required an answer, the Stuka returned to combat in it's G variant sporting a couple of 37mm cannon. It was known as the Kanonenvogel, the "cannon bird."

Ju-87G Kanonenvogel of Schlachtgeschwader 2
(Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-655-5976-04, Russland, Sturzkampfbomber Junkers Ju 87 G by Grosse CC)

Probably the most famous Stuka pilot was Hans-Ulrich Rudel. There was a bit of a kerfuffle regarding this man recently due to his input being sought on the design of the A-10. It was much ado about nothing. The man was an expert ground attack pilot, you do solicit the opinions of experts when designing something. Of course, there are certain types who will wet their knickers at the thought of asking a former Nazi for anything.

From whom do you think we learned a great deal about rocketry? It wasn't the Boy Scouts. You do what you gotta do sometimes. As Rudel died back in 1982, seems fishy that the anti-A-10ites bring that up now.

Anyway, Oberst Rudel knew his business and practised it very well indeed.

Hans-Ulrich Rudel
Oberst, Deutsches Luftwaffe
(Via Wikipedia -

Hans-Ulrich Rudel (2 July 1916 – 18 December 1982) was a Stuka dive-bomber pilot during World War II. The most highly decorated German serviceman of the war, Rudel was one of only 27 military men to be awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, and the only person to be awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit goldenem Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten), Germany's highest military decoration at the time.

Rudel flew 2,530 combat missions claiming a total of 2,000 targets destroyed; including 800 vehicles, 519 tanks, 150 artillery pieces, 70 landing craft, nine aircraft, four armored trains, several bridges, a destroyer, two cruisers, and the Soviet battleship Marat. Wikipedia
I had a model of the Stuka when I was a kid. 1/24 scale by Airfix. It was a big model, I'm surprised it survived as long as it did. But I had it for a long time. I'm sure it's still somewhere in The Olde Vermonter's attic. Or was. I do wonder what happened to that bird?

Chase this link to see a beautiful rendition of this model. Lots of great photos.
Needless to say, mine was not this nice, nor this detailed!

So there you have it, another Old AF Sarge favorite. (I know, I know. I have so many favorites, but hey, if it flies...)

"Junkers Ju 87B-2 Stuka" by Kaboldy - Own work.
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons CC

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Breaking Even

Interstate 195, which runs between Cape Cod and Providence, RI
Google Maps Street View
So Wednesday I had to take The Missus Herself to the airport for the first stage of her latest mission to California. Flight was scheduled to leave at approximately 1006 local, departure from Chez Sarge was set for 0800 local. Everything went according to plan.

Until we got half way to Providence on that road shown above, I-195, what I like to call "The Moron Highway." The road was this slowly moving (think less than 5 mph) nightmare. People were swapping lanes willy-nilly, all seeking the Holy Grail of the faster moving lane.

Like the Grail, that didn't exist.

I call this road "The Moron Highway" for several reasons. One is the tendency of many travelers on this road to camp out in the middle lane and go under the virtual speed limit. The other is the tendency of some travelers to hit the far left lane to pass someone, then stay there all the while slowly decelerating back to being under the virtual speed limit.

Not to mention the multiple times I've seen occupants of that middle lane texting on their cellphones. Or reading the newspaper. Seriously, reading the newspaper. What, dude can't afford an iPad? I mean, who reads newspapers anymore?

So displays of idiocy on this particular highway are not unknown.

What's that? What's a "virtual speed limit"? Simple, you have three speed limits on any highway in the U.S., and they are:
  1. The actual, posted speed limit. Which is what you see on the signs beside the road, if you're paying attention. On I-195 (outside of Rhode Island) that speed limit is 65 mph.
  2. The "I think I see a cop" speed limit. Which is typically 5 to 10 mph under the posted speed limit. Why people do that is beyond me. I shocked a buddy once by actually passing a state trooper. "You just passed a cop!" he said, all aghast. "Dude, the cop was doing 55, the speed limit is 65. He's a cop, not a pace car."
  3. The virtual speed limit. This is that mystical "keeping pace with traffic" speed limit. It's the "safety in numbers, they can't stop all of us" speed limit. This can be anywhere from 5 mph to 20 mph above the posted speed limit. I kid you not. In Massachusetts, on the interstate highway system, 85 mph seems to be the standard.
So, that's what I call the virtual speed limit. I've even had police officers confirm that. One used this phrase (after pulling me over) "Geez Sarge, keep it down to 75 like everyone else, willya?" No, I didn't get a ticket but the trooper thought I passed a semi with a bit more panache than he thought prudent. In hindsight, I have to agree. (But damn it, it felt good to go 85 after trailing this a-hole for twenty miles!)

So. Where was I? Oh yeah, on the way to T.F. Green in Warwick, Little Rhody's airport of choice.

So there I was (see any Juvat post), stuck in traffic, watching the clock tick down to the "we're not gonna make the flight" time.

We were now moving at a sluggish, stop and go, 10 mph pace. Well, when we weren't at a dead stop. Saw one kid pull into the median (grass and trees, about 50 yards wide) and cross over to the other side. (No, no, no. Not that "other side," the other side of the interstate!) The look on his face was priceless. At first I was offended at his scofflaw attitude. A few minutes more of sitting, not moving, I began to admire the young lad's devil-may-care, eff-this, attitude.

Shortly thereafter, the love of my life decided to take command of this mission and directed Your Humble Scribe to take the next exit. We can skirt this mess, she said with confidence, and get back on the interstate on the other side. (No, no, no. Not that one. I thought we covered this?)

I protested that, surely all of those other folks getting off at the exit have the exact same idea. Which means that we would just be exchanging one traffic jam for another. Only the other one would also have the "joy of traffic lights."

The Missus Herself was giving off signals now that her "suggestion" to get off at the next exit was "directive in nature." So, good trooper that I am, I aimed Big Girl's nose at the exit and got onto the "surface roads," as the men and women of law enforcement are wont to call them (at least that's what all those episodes of Cops taught me).

There we traveled at a lusty and robust 40 mph for all of about a quarter of a mile.

Then we were, once again, in traffic Hell.

After a great deal of foul language, imprecations against whatever cruel fate decided to snarl traffic on this day and a lot of "You're an idiot" looks from the mother of my children, we aborted the "let's skirt this mess" concept and got back on the interstate. About a mile west of where we'd left it. Further on, but no closer to our goal. Which, I remind you, was the airport.

Traffic was no longer stalled, now it was sluggish. Turning to the answer to my prayers I said, "We're gonna need a miracle to get you to the airport on time."

(Hhmm, why does she keep sighing and shaking her head?)

At that point traffic began to move. I mean really move. Slowly we approached the "I think I see a cop" speed limit, passed that, got to the actual speed limit and then, lo and behold, traffic was flying, a good 10 to 15 mph above the posted speed limit. We had a chance. A slim chance, but if nothing else went wrong, we would make it on time.

Now as the airport exit came insight, I told The Missus Herself that I would drop her off at the Departures area so she could begin the checking in process while I sought a place to park the car. Oddly enough, she agreed. Not that I was expecting an argument, well, I was but that's a tale for another time.

Dropped her off, headed for the parking lot.

We've won!

Got to the United counter to find the lady of my dreams shaking her head and looking all adrift.

"What's wrong?" I asked. (I have a keen sense when it comes to detecting trouble.)

"Stupid machine says that I don't have a reservation."

"Hhmm, let me try."

Nope. Nada. Nothing. Ain't no damn reservation.

Then the lady behind the counter says, "Oh, that flight has been delayed. So we cancelled your reservation."

We've lost! Despair, doom and despair. Oh shit, oh dear. What do we do now?

Then the lady of the counter says, "Because it's going to be so late, we've booked you on another flight. You'll get to L.A. in time to make your flight to Fresno. Here's your boarding pass."


I don't know. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes...

You break even.

A text message received at 0238 local informed me that The Missus Herself was at The WSO's house. Safe and sound. Mission accomplished.