Aerospace World

Aug. 1, 2004

Airman Killed in Iraq

SSgt. Dustin W. Peters, 25, was killed July 11 when the Army convoy in which he was riding in Iraq was hit by an “improvised explosive device,” according to a USAF news release.

Peters, a native of El Dorado, Kan., was attached to the Army’s 494th Truck Company at Balad AB, Iraq. He had deployed from Little Rock AFB, Ark., to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing in February. He was on his fourth deployment since arriving at Little Rock in November 2000.

Pilot Killed in Midair Collision

Air National Guard Maj. William E. Burchett, of Arlington, Tenn., died May 17 when his F-16 collided with another Falcon during a training mission over the Indiana-Illinois border.

The pilot of the second fighter, ANG Maj. Thomas R. Sims, was injured when he ejected, but he was treated and released.

Both pilots were with the Indiana ANG’s 181st Fighter Wing, Hulman Arpt., Ind. Burchett, who was an Air Force Academy graduate, had more than 2,300 flying hours in F-4, F-16, and T-38 aircraft.

Officials are investigating the cause of the accident.

Missouri ANG First To Fly F-15Cs

The Missouri Air National Guard will become the first ANG unit to fly C model F-15s when the newer Eagles are sent to the 131st Fighter Wing at Lambert-St. Louis Airport this fall.

The F-15Cs will replace the A models the wing has flown since 1991.

“We’re scheduled to get the first ones in the August-September time frame,” Col. Mike G. Brandt, wing commander, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He added that the dates have not yet been finalized.

Currently the 131st owns 17 F-15As, which are nearly 30 years old. Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Oregon also have ANG units that fly F-15As.

DOD Creates New Space Office

The Defense Department on May 3 created a new National Security Space Office, combining three existing space offices into a single entity. The office is headed by Air Force Maj. Gen. C. Robert Kehler.

The office consolidates the National Security Space Integration, National Security Space Architect, and Transformational Communications offices.

Kehler, who previously led the NSSI, told Inside the Pentagon that the combination was the “next logical step” in continuing to meet the goals of the 2001 Space Commission.

Vermont May Gain Active Airmen

The Air Force may ask the Vermont Air National Guard to host active duty airmen at the state’s F-16 wing, according to Maj. Gen. Ronald J. Bath, USAF director of strategic planning. Bath noted that Vermont “has an F-16 unit with enough ramp space and infrastructure capacity for more planes.”

The Air Force is considering moving active duty aircrews and maintainers to Vermont and increasing the number of aircraft at the 158th Fighter Wing, Burlington Arpt., Vt. The arrangement would be part of a USAF concept called Future Total Force that is designed to increase combat capability by utilizing active, Guard, and Reserve forces in a different way.

“You can call them blended, integrated, merged, affiliated, associated, or partnered units,” said Bath. The end result is to make the best use of existing resources.

USAF has had associate units, where one component shares aircraft with another component, for several years and has a blended wing, comprised of active and Guard personnel, at Robins AFB, Ga. The Vermont proposal is unique because the state currently does not have any active duty USAF facilities.

Active duty airmen would “blend into the community, as opposed to having the big base infrastructure we are used to,” said Bath.

“Hanoi Taxi” Flies Again

To highlight the end of his 44-year career, Reserve Maj. Gen. Edward J. Mechenbier flew the C-141 dubbed the “Hanoi Taxi” to Vietnam in late May to recover the remains of two servicemen who had been listed as missing in action during the Vietnam War.

The 62-year-old Mechenbier, who had flown aboard the Hanoi Taxi 31 years earlier as a newly released prisoner of war, was the last Vietnam-era POW still serving and the oldest Air Force pilot still flying. He retired June 30.

His POW ordeal began in June 1967 when, on his 113th combat mission, his F-4C Phantom was shot down. He had been targeting the Vu Chu railroad complex about 30 miles northeast of Hanoi on that mission, when he was a first lieutenant. He spent nearly six years in the Hoa Lo prison—the notorious “Hanoi Hilton.”

Mechenbier, an Air Force Academy graduate, served in all three Air Force components. He left the active duty force in 1975 and flew with the Ohio Air National Guard for about 16 years, before transferring to the Air Force Reserve in 1991.

USAF Takes UH-1H Training

The Air Force is assuming control of its UH-1H helicopter undergraduate pilot training at Ft. Rucker, Ala. The Army is retiring its UH-1Hs at Ft. Rucker and plans to transfer some to Air Education and Training Command, but the aircraft and flight training mission will remain at the post, where USAF helicopter pilots have trained for 35 years.

AETC officials, who announced the change in June, expect the transfer of helicopters to be complete in September. The Air Force began using a “blue” curriculum in late May. Previously, USAF pilots had been taught using an Army curriculum for half the course, said Maj. Larry Walker, AETC’s program manager for helicopter undergraduate training.

The first phase featured Army contract instructor pilots (IPs) using Army instructions and procedures, said Walker. During the second phase, Air Force IPs took over, using USAF instructions and procedures.

The training will still come in two blocks, but the Army contract IPs will now use Air Force procedures. The change eliminates the transition phase from Army to Air Force procedures that preceded Block II, enabling USAF to add more mission training such as night vision goggle flights.

Walker emphasized: “We’re not doing things better than the Army. The Army trains great pilots. We just train our pilots for different missions.”

Roche Eyes European Systems

Air Force Secretary James G. Roche said recently that US defense industry consolidations left DOD too reliant on a few contractors; consequently, he wants to see increased competition from European manufacturers.

London’s Financial Times reported in June that Roche said EADS previously “was not prepared” to compete with Boeing for USAF’s aerial refueling aircraft business—but now the European conglomerate is.

“I have always wanted to have a situation where you take this trans-Atlantic thing seriously,” Roche said. “It’s the only way we’re going to discipline the big airframe makers in the United States.”

Private Spaceflight Succeeds

On June 21, SpaceShipOne, a privately financed, piloted vehicle competing for the $10 million Ansari X-Prize, reached an altitude of approximately 62 miles. The event marked the first manned spaceflight not backed by a government.

The 90-minute flight originated and ended at Mojave Arpt., Calif. The spacecraft, which was flown by test pilot Michael W. Melvill, was carried aloft by a mother ship named White Knight, a twin turbojet research aircraft, which first flew in August 2002. White Knight released SpaceShipOne at nearly 50,000 feet.

After separation, Melvill fired the hybrid rocket on the bug-shaped spacecraft, which then ascended at Mach 3 to 62.2 miles, as verified by ground-based radar. A trim problem during the flight caused Melvill to begin his descent 22 miles off course, but he was able to correct and return to Mojave. He became the first private pilot to earn astronaut wings.

The spacecraft was designed by Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites company, and the project was financed by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, who said he had invested about $20 million in the effort.

Although a true spaceflight, the altitude of 62.2 miles missed the X-prize target of 62.5 miles. Rutan said the ship would fly at least two more times to fulfill the prize requirements.

The Ansari X-Prize was established in 1996 to spur the creation of a civilian spaceflight industry. About a dozen teams have been competing for the X-prize, using a wide variety of approaches.

US Drops Immunity Resolution

The United States on June 23 withdrew its effort to secure an extension of immunity from prosecution by the United Nations’ International Criminal Court.

The draft resolution would have covered military personnel from the US and other nations that have not ratified the treaty that created the court, which was set up in 2002. The US secured such a resolution in 2002 and again in 2003, but it expired June 30.

The 2003 resolution had 12 yes votes out of the 15-member UN Security Council. However, this year, the news of the Iraqi prisoner abuses by US personnel created reservations among many council members, according to a State Department news release.

The US decided to forgo “action on the draft at this time in order to avoid a prolonged and divisive debate,” said James B. Cunningham, deputy US ambassador to the UN.

The US had long been concerned that the ICC, as laid out, could leave troops vulnerable to spurious or revenge-motivated trials for alleged war crimes. (See “Disorder in the Court,” October 2002, p. 36.)

Without a new resolution, said Cunningham, the US must “take into account the risk of ICC review when determining contributions to UN authorized or established operations.”

Army Chief Says NK “Vulnerable”

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker said in June that South Korea is “exactly the place you don’t want Cold War-style stuff,” because a large, garrison-style army plays to North Korea’s strengths. That is why he favors the proposed cuts to the US presence in South Korea.

“The last thing you want to do with somebody who’s got a million people under arms is to go and try to meet them symmetrically,” Schoomaker told the Defense Writers Group June 15. “What you want to do is make that [standing army] a huge disadvantage for them,” he said. “You want to fight them differently. That’s what we’ve got the capability of doing.”

The US has announced it may reduce its 37,000 troops in South Korea by 12,500. However, the Pentagon is in the process of spending $11 billion to upgrade its force on the Korean peninsula and has made other moves to increase combat power in the region, such as stationing bombers on Guam, within easy striking distance of North Korea.

“The best way to fight is on our terms,” Schoomaker asserted. North Korea’s communist regime is “hugely vulnerable if we fight it our way,” he said.

New Reserve Pay Center Opens

All Guard and Reserve payroll functions will be handled in one location with the opening of the new Reserve Center of Excellence in Cleveland. Defense Finance and Accounting Service officials formally opened the new center June 29.

Payroll actions that were conducted in Denver and Indianapolis are moving to the new center. All pay actions for Guard and Reserve forces, regardless of service, will be under one roof.

Officials noted that the consolidation of reserve payroll operations did not eliminate any jobs in the Denver or Indianapolis facilities.

Navy To Replace P-3s

DOD on June 14 announced selection of Boeing to develop a replacement for the Navy’s fleet of P-3 Orion aircraft. The Lockheed Martin P-3s are used for maritime surveillance and patrol, with antisubmarine operations a primary mission.

The $3.9 billion award puts the Multimission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) program into its initial development phase. Ultimately, a buy of 108 operational aircraft could be worth as much as $20 billion for Boeing. The new aircraft is supposed to enter service in 2013. Boeing plans to derive the MMA from its 737 commercial platform.

In announcing the decision, Navy acquisition executive John J. Young Jr. said that it’s “becoming urgent” to replace the aging P-3 fleet with a new airframe and “enhanced capability.” He added that both Boeing and Lockheed Martin “produced high quality proposals,” but the Navy determined that Boeing could deliver the aircraft sooner. “That helped tip the scales,” said Young.

Academy Cadet Pleads Guilty

On June 8, Air Force Academy Cadet 3rd Class Douglas L. Meester pleaded guilty to charges of dereliction of duty, conduct unbecoming an officer, and indecent acts. Originally, he had been accused of raping a freshman female cadet in October 2002.

Academy officials dropped the original charges, including rape and forcible sodomy, in return for a pretrial agreement that called for Meester to enter a guilty plea on the remaining charges. (For background on this news item, see “Upheaval at the Academy,” January, p. 56.)

Meester received a reprimand and a $2,000 fine. He remains a cadet at the academy.

Russians Begin Open Skies Work

In early June, according to the State Department, Russia and Belarus conducted their first Open Skies Treaty observation flight over the United States. The US has already flown 10 observation missions over Russia and Belarus since the treaty went into force Jan. 1, 2002.

The Russia-Belarus team’s TU-154 aircraft arrived at Travis AFB, Calif., from which it flew to Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, to begin its overflight of the US.

Russia and Belarus were slated to fly a second mission sometime this year. A US escort team accompanies the Russia-Belarus team during the flights.

The Open Skies Treaty, which currently has 30 participating nations, originally was negotiated between members of NATO and the Warsaw Pact and signed in 1992. It allows all participants to gather information about military forces and activities in what the State Department calls “one of the most wide-ranging international efforts to date to promote openness and transparency.”

US Returns Power to Iraqis

The United States on June 28 ceded power to the nascent Iraqi government, two days ahead of the declared deadline to transfer power. At an impromptu and low-key ceremony in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, said he was confident the new Iraqi government “is ready to meet the challenges ahead.”

Bremer left Iraq by Air Force C-130 shortly after the ceremony that marked the dissolution of the CPA and the end of direct US control over Iraqi affairs. The size of the US military force in Iraq is expected to remain steady for the foreseeable future while the nation attempts to stabilize.

Rumsfeld Opts for Shifts at Two Key Spots

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld broke with tradition June 16 when he announced his choices to lead North American Aerospace Defense Command and US Strategic Command.

Navy Vice Adm. Timothy J. Keating was nominated for a fourth star and assignment as head of North American Aerospace Defense Command, a job that had been held by an Air Force general since NORAD’s founding in 1957.

If confirmed by the Senate, Keating would replace USAF Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart, who has been NORAD chief since early 2000 and head of US Northern Command since it was established in 2002 in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Eberhart will retire at the end of the year. Both headquarters operate out of Peterson AFB, Colo.

Keating previously served as director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon.

Rumsfeld announced the nomination of Marine Corps Lt. Gen. James E. Cartwright to receive a fourth star and lead STRATCOM, a job that previously always went to an Air Force or Navy four-star. The STRATCOM headquarters is at Offutt AFB, Neb.

The Senate, on June 8, confirmed Cartwright, who replaced Adm. James O. Ellis as STRATCOM chief in a July 9 ceremony at Offutt.

Cartwright previously served as director of force structure, resources, and assessment for the Joint Staff.

STRATCOM, which has been led by two Air Force and three Navy flag officers since its creation in 1992—after deactivation of USAF’s Strategic Air Command— took over SAC’s headquarters and facilities at Offutt. In October 2002, STRATCOM absorbed the functions of US Space Command, which had always been led by an Air Force general.

The 2002 merger expanded STRATCOM’s role beyond its historical nuclear mission and added new, worldwide responsibilities, including planning for global strike, information operations, and missile defense.

ANG Pilot Found Guilty of Dereliction

More than two years after a deadly fratricide incident in Afghanistan, the Air Force found Illinois Air National Guard F-16 pilot Maj. Harry Schmidt derelict in performance of his duty during the April 17, 2002, bombing. Schmidt has said he will appeal the decision.

Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, 8th Air Force commander, issued his decision July 6, less than two weeks after Schmidt withdrew his request to contest the charges against him through a court-martial. A year earlier, on June 19, 2003, the Air Force had offered the pilot the option of a nonjudicial process rather than a court-martial, but, on June 25, 2003, Schmidt declared he wanted to be tried by court-martial.

However, on June 24 of this year, Schmidt told the Air Force he wanted to undergo a nonjudicial hearing instead. Carlson, who is the presiding officer in the case, accepted his request the same day.

Schmidt presented his case on July 1 in a one-hour appearance before Carlson.

In finding the pilot guilty, Carlson said that Schmidt had “flagrantly disregarded a direct order” and had “exercised a total lack of basic flight discipline” and “blatantly ignored the applicable rules of engagement and special instructions.” As punishment, Carlson issued a written reprimand and ordered Schmidt to pay $5,672, the maximum amount provided under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Schmidt could have faced 64 years of confinement had he been convicted at a court-martial. His flight lead, Maj. William Umbach, was previously cited for “leadership failures” and retired with a reprimand.

The attack on the Tarnac Farms area killed four Canadians and injured eight.

(For additional background on this case, see “Aerospace World” news items: “ANG Pilot Seeks Court-Martial,” August 2003, p. 11, and “Pilots Blamed in Canadian Deaths,” August 2002, p. 16.)

Protocols Not Ready, Air Defenders Scrambled

In mid-June, a report on the immediate response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks concluded that the US government’s existing hijack protocol “was unsuited in every aspect for what was about to happen.” Neither the FAA nor NORAD was trained to handle such an event; yet, according to the report, the individuals involved were “proactive” and thought “outside the box.”

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, otherwise known as the 9/11 commission, on June 16-17, held its final public hearing, during which it released staff statement No. 17. The commission also heard testimony from various military and FAA officials.

The staff report, which detailed the events of Sept. 11 as developed from documents, interviews, voice recordings, and other material, represented “work to date” that could be revised “in light of new information.”

According to the report, there have been some “conflicting accounts of how and when actions by the FAA and NORAD transpired on Sept. 11. Those “inaccurate accounts” have “created questions about supposed delays in the military’s interception of the hijacked aircraft,” stated the report. The report went on to say that such inaccurate accounts also deflected questions about “the military’s capacity to obtain timely and accurate information from its own resources” and “overstated the FAA’s ability to provide the military timely and useful information that morning.”

However, the staff report maintains that “an accurate understanding” of the events reflects no discredit on the operational personnel.

DOD and FAA officials admitted that they did not have procedures to handle a hijacked aircraft being used as a weapon. “” USAF Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart, NORAD commander, told the commission in June.

Eberhart said since then, NORAD forces “remain at a heightened readiness level.” And, he said, the President and Secretary of Defense have created new rules of engagement to respond to hostile acts within domestic airspace.

Prior to 9/11, the FAA’s traditional communications channel with the military during a crisis was through the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon, a retired FAA official, Monte R. Belger, told the commission. There was no formal direct channel to NORAD.

Now, said Belger, there are direct communications links between FAA facilities and NORAD.

According to the 9/11 commission staff report, NORAD personnel “made the best decisions they could, based on the information they received.”

Army Also Improving Air-Land Coordination

Army Lt. Gen. Franklin L. “Buster” Hagenbeck, who commanded Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan in 2002, said in June that his service has taken to heart the lessons of that campaign and is working to improve the coordination between its ground forces and air elements.

Anaconda was notable partly for the lack of coordination between the Air Force and Army during the first three days of the battle.

The Army has “instituted some training programs, joint training efforts, to ensure that we know how each other [the Air Force and Army] think and … work on a battlefield,” Hagenbeck told the Defense Writers Group. He added that the Army also is conducting “more robust air support” training.

Hagenbeck said the subsequent experience in Iraq has shown these efforts to be “very effective.”

Hagenbeck initially was critical of Air Force actions in Anaconda. (See “Aerospace World: After Leaving USAF Out of Anaconda Planning, Army General Blasts Air Support,” November 2002, p. 14.) In comments in an internal Army publication, Hagenbeck said fixed-wing aircraft were largely ineffective against fleeting targets.

Although Anaconda had been in planning for weeks, the Air Force was not notified of the operation until 24 hours before its start. Hagenbeck’s comments inspired the Air Force and Army leadership to work together more closely at the highest levels.

Better coordination at the general-officer level was not the only improvement to come from Anaconda, Hagenbeck said in June. After 72 hours, “the people on the ground and the pilots all figured out how to make these things work,” he noted.

The Army is now trying to institutionalize those lessons and is also increasing the resources it devotes to the air-to-ground mission—much as the Air Force is doing through its recent focus on battlefield airmen.

Hagenbeck said air-to-ground coordination is now a major point of emphasis,” for the Army.

Moorman To Head New Look at Space Future

Retired USAF Gen. Thomas S. Moorman Jr. will head a new study of the military and commercial launch market to help the service better plan for its future rocket needs. The study will reprise one that Moorman performed in the mid-1990s that led to the creation of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.

Moorman, now a principal with Booz Allen Hamilton, was tapped to do the study by Michael W. Wynne, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics.

Peter M. Teets, undersecretary of the Air Force and DOD’s executive agent for space, told reporters at the Pentagon in June that Moorman is charged with evaluating whether “through process discipline, … you can have low launch rates and still have … efficiency and moderate cost.” He said Moorman will do “a fine job of relooking at the launch business.”

The study was to begin in June, and a final report is due in December, but Teets said some interim reports will be used by those working the 2006 defense budget.

Moorman’s previous study forecast a growing market for commercial and military launch services that could support two competing rocket programs—Boeing’s Delta and Lockheed Martin’s Atlas programs. However, soon after the study was completed, the “tech bubble” burst, new emphasis was given to fiber-optic land lines, and satellites proved unusually long-lived, greatly curtailing the demand for launch services.

Teets has said that he wants to preserve competition between two prime contractors in the launch arena. “We need to maintain both those families [of launch vehicles] to protect against uncertainties, not just in terms of failure of a [particular] rocket,” said Teets.

He noted that, while the US is enjoying a run of good luck with its space launches, “launch failures tend to go in cycles.” Eventually, added Teets, “we’ll lose another one.”

However, the House Appropriations Committee has suggested that maintaining two rocket producers is unnecessarily expensive. The Air Force admits that the cost of maintaining two companies in the launch business exceeds $50 million per year.

Also, given Boeing’s current debarment for ethical lapses in its rocket program, Teets said he would likely have to award a single rocket contract to Lockheed in the next few months to support a classified payload launch. He hopes that Boeing will be cleared to resume doing rocket business with the government in time for the next competition this fall, which will cover 24 launches.

— John A. Tirpak

The Iraq Story Continues


By June 25, a total of 850 Americans had died while officially supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom—848 troops and two Defense Department contractors.

Of those casualties, 629 were killed by hostile action, while the other 221 died in noncombat incidents, such as accidents.

President Bush declared major combat operations in Iraq complete on May 1, 2003. Since that time, 710 troops have died in Iraq: 518 in combat and 192 in nonhostile incidents. The two DOD civilians were killed in the line of duty earlier this year.

Command Changes in Iraq

Army Gen. George W. Casey, on June 24, was confirmed by the Senate to take over command of US forces in Iraq. President Bush announced Casey’s nomination June 15.

Replacing Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez as the top military official on the ground, Casey is the first four-star commander to operate out of Iraq. During the major combat phase of Iraqi Freedom, Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks ran the war primarily from US Central Command headquarters in Florida.

Casey previously served as Army vice chief of staff, and his appointment is expected to clarify an in-country command structure that had Sanchez commanding while just one of several three-star generals working in Iraq.

Yankee Go Home

A survey by the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority, which administered Iraq until the June 28 power transfer, found that Iraqi confidence in coalition forces had dwindled markedly by the summer. Results of the survey of 1,093 Iraqis were obtained by Newsweek.

Pollsters sponsored by the CPA found that 55 percent of Iraqis said they would feel safer if the coalition forces left Iraq immediately. Also, about 80 percent of the respondents said they had “no confidence” in the civilian or military forces overseeing the nation.

According to the poll, 71 percent of the respondents depended upon other Iraqis for their sense of security. Coalition forces provided a sense of security for only one percent of those polled, while 18 percent said the Iraqi police were their primary source of protection.

Iraqi Air Force Gets First Two Aircraft

The nascent Iraqi Air Force purchased its first two airplanes in June, US Central Command announced. The Australian-built SB7L-360 Seekers are reconnaissance aircraft that will be used to help protect energy infrastructure and “aid in border and coastal security,” according to a CENTCOM news release.

The airplanes are “fitted with high-resolution surveillance systems, digital video recording hardware, and other reconnaissance technology,” CENTCOM said. The Seekers were purchased from Jordan, which has offered Iraq “a gift of 16 helicopters and two C-130 aircraft to augment the force,” the statement continued.

“This purchase represents a significant leap forward in … [Iraq’s] ability to surgically find and respond to sabotage on infrastructure,” said Marine Corps Capt. Jeremy DeMott, a security transition officer.

News Notes

By Tamar A. Mehuron, Associate Editor

  • Gen. Paul V. Hester, Air Force Special Operations Command commander, took command of Pacific Air Forces on July 2, replacing Gen. William J. Begert, who retired. Hester was commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, where he was replaced by Lt. Gen. (sel.) Michael W. Wooley on July 1.
  • President Bush, on June 18, nominated Army Lt. Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, currently serving as senior military assistant to the Secretary of Defense, as commander of US Southern Command, Miami. If confirmed, Craddock would replace Army Gen. James T. Hill.
  • PACAF airmen on deployment to the US Central Command theater now have dedicated, contract flights to take them directly to Southwest Asia. Previously, the airmen were routed from Japan through Atlanta or Baltimore on the East Coast, then on through to the theater, a journey that took as long as five days.
  • Northrop Grumman began assembly of the F-35’s center fuselage in May, officials announced. The company is scheduled to deliver the first center fuselage to Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for the Joint Strike Fighter, in May 2005.
  • In a related F-35 development, Northrop Grumman delivered a crucial avionics system to Lockheed Martin two weeks ahead of schedule. Based on software-defined radio technology, the F-35 avionics system is much lighter and smaller and features multiple functions capability vs. the traditional single function radios.
  • Air Combat Command has been conducting final operational testing of a software upgrade slated to be fielded on F-16s this summer. The software works with the new Link 16 data link system to connect pilots with other aircraft, command and control aircraft, and air operations centers. At the same time, European allies flying F-16s will receive upgrades with compatible capabilities.
  • The remains of Col. Lester E. Holmes, a pilot listed as missing in action during the Vietnam War, were returned to his family on May 18 for burial. On May 22, 1967, enemy fire downed Holmes’ O-1E aircraft while he was on a forward air control mission over Quang Binh Province, North Vietnam. The aircraft spiraled to the ground, according to another forward air controller who saw it. There was no emergency radio beacon, and intense enemy activity in the area prevented a search and rescue operation. In July 1998, US officials recovered human remains that subsequently were identified as Holmes.
  • An F-15 with the 325th Fighter Wing, Tyndall AFB, Fla., crashed into the Gulf of Mexico while on a training mission May 21. The pilot, Lt. Col. Patrick Marshall, ejected and was reported in good condition. USAF will investigate the accident.
  • The collision of two F-16s March 9 was caused by pilot error, concluded an accident board report released June 15. The collision occurred during a basic fighter maneuver training engagement over the Atlantic Ocean. Both pilots landed their aircraft safely at Shaw AFB, S.C., and were unharmed. Both were assigned to 79th Fighter Squadron at Shaw.
  • A safety board is investigating the cause of a June 14 crash of an MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle. It crashed while returning from a training mission at the Nevada Test and Training Range. There were no injuries or property damage.
  • USAF estimated engine damage caused by two separate mechanical failures Feb. 3 on an E-4E National Airborne Operations Center aircraft at nearly $4 million, according to an investigation report released June 7. The crew declared an in-flight emergency and landed safely. A turbine blade had fractured and moved through sections of the turbine, damaging an engine. In a second, unrelated failure, the casing that surrounds the turbine blades to increase air flow dropped into the turbine air path. There was no indication of which happened first.
  • USAF officials are investigating the June 18 crash of an F-15C at the Nevada Test and Training Range while on a training mission. The pilot ejected and was taken to the hospital for evaluation. Both the pilot and the aircraft were assigned to the Air Force Weapons School at Nellis AFB, Nev.
  • The 2003 Air Force Battlelab Project Officer and Enlisted Project Officer of the Year awards went to 1st Lt. Brian Herman, Information Warfare Battlelab, Lackland AFB, Tex., and TSgt. Ronald Newpher, Air and Space Expeditionary Force Battlelab, Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, respectively.
  • USAF pararescueman SSgt. Joshua A. Swartz, now stationed at Pope AFB, N.C., received the 2004 Non Commissioned Officers Association Vanguard Award for heroic action in Bayji, Iraq, on April 8, 2003, when he pulled an injured Army ranger from the hood of a burning vehicle, took him to safety, and treated the severe wounds. Swartz was wounded and under fire at the time. His efforts saved the ranger’s life and helped in rescuing the rest of the team.
  • Exceptional leadership displayed by four airmen during their Air University course work earned them the Secretary of the Air Force Leadership Award. The four are: Lt. Col. James Vechery, US Transportation Command, Scott AFB, Ill.; Maj. Mitchell Monroe, 721st Air Mobility Squadron, McGuire AFB, N.J.; Capt. Patrick Farrell, 33rd Fighter Squadron, Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C.; and MSgt. Sharif Rahim, 335th Training Squadron, Keesler AFB, Miss.