June 1, 2009

The Gates Budget

Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently fired the Air Force Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Air Force for supposedly mismanaging nuclear weapons. But we all know they were fired for having “next-war-itis.” We all know that planning by the Air Force has to take in all the “what-ifs.” If that is next-war-itis, then so be it [“Editorial: The Air Force That Comes Next,” May, p. 2].

In today’s newspaper, there is an article that says that Secretary Gates wants to cut the funding for the F-22 and other unnamed weapons systems. His reason given is the “smaller, lower-tech battlefields the military is facing now and expects in the coming years.” Lower-tech? Where has Secretary Gates been lately? Certainly not studying the Iraq-Afghanistan battlefields. We have very high-tech battlefield airmen calling in air strikes by very high-tech aircraft—aircraft that have already served their useful lives in a short period of time—not to mention the high-tech armored vehicles, tanks, soldiers’ and airmen’s high-tech personal armament, etc. The various unmanned aircraft that are in high demand are as far away from low-tech as you can get!

What we need is a Defense Secretary and Joint Chiefs of Staff who still have next-war-itis, planning for all the “what-ifs” and the weapons systems necessary for it.

MSgt. Larry Merritt,

USAF (Ret.)

Corry, Pa.

Crumbling Infrastructure, Too

This past week, it came to me that the Air Force has been pretty much transforming into what I call an “Antique” Air Force [“The Air Force Accepts More Risk,” April, p. 26]. Not only are the vast majority of the aircraft old, or becoming ancient, but the infrastructure is also becoming atrociously bad.

We have a building here at Robins AFB, [Ga.], building 125, that opened in 1942. The facility is a four-hangar building with three floors of office areas on the north and south sides of the building. In other words, it’s huge.

The vast majority of the sprinkler systems are from 1954. [National Fire Protection Association Code] 25, which we’re mandated to comply with, dictates that sprinkler heads must be changed out after 50 years, or a 10 percent sample base must be removed and tested every 10 years. That puts the sprinkler heads at 55 years old and getting older every day. Currently, there is no plan or funding to replace or test these sprinklers. My question is: How much are we willing to lose? The building is made of wood and houses four C-5s at any given time, along with countless engines and other parts.

This is a typical building for the Air Force. Most bases have been encountering these issues and don’t have any answers.

The average age of the fire trucks is nearly 20 years old. The P-19 crash truck is a Vietnam-era vehicle and one of the primary pieces of equipment on any airfield. Office cubicle furniture is so old that electrical systems built in the furniture often short out and/or catch fire. Tens of thousands of employees complain of the heat and AC units in their buildings.

I’m beginning to call this an Antique Air Force because that’s what we’re driving and flying. By the way, we’re starting to see firefighters younger than the trucks that they’re driving.

Yes! Fixing these things will take enormous amounts of money. Get over it. These issues aren’t going away, and they won’t get better on their own. This is the price for our freedom. It is expensive—not to mention, can you think of a better “stimulus” plan than investing back into America? I’d rather see our tax dollars paying for our military’s future than throwing it over in some Third World country that hates our guts. Somalia comes to mind.

Joseph Carroll

Warner Robins, Ga.

Preparing for World War

Being a child of the 1940s, I found the April edition of your fine magazine full of fun-to-read stuff with regard to World War II. Most especially did I enjoy the full-color spread of the late 1930s-early ’40s aircraft by Warren E. Thompson [“Preparing for World War,” p. 40]. Since most of the magazines and books of the era were printed in black and white, the impact of color was lost in the presentations. When color photographs started to become more widely printed, there was a plethora of World War II photographs to choose from, so the colorful aircraft from the prewar era were largely ignored, which is why a color section like Mr. Thompson’s is so appreciated by the likes of me.

I did see one photo that deserves a bit more explanation, however. On p. 47 is shown an aircraft reputed to be a Bell P-39 (photo No. 4) that grabbed my attention, due to its yellow wings and natural aluminum fuselage, indicative of the Navy. On p. 395 of Ray Wagner’s American Combat Planes (1960 edition), you will find the same photograph (except it is black and white) and identified as the Bell XFL-1, an adaptation of the P-39 for the Navy and evaluated along with the Grumman XF5F-1 and the Vought XF4U-1 (guess which one won). The XFL-1 had a tail wheel rather than the tricycle gear of the P-39, a raised cockpit canopy, and a tail hook under the rear fuselage (which is visible in the photograph). With a top speed of 338 mph at 11,000 feet, it was in the same ballpark as the existing Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat. That fact, plus the Navy’s bias against liquid-cooled engines for carrier work and the superior performance of the Corsair, automatically relegated the XFL-1 to the category of interesting might-have-beens.

Interesting add-on to the XF5F-1 Skyrocket’s write-up is that it formed the genesis for the far-more-successful F7F-1 Tigercat, which I used to see flying around the circuit at El Toro MCAS and actually touched at the Orange County Fair one year. What a beautiful aircraft it was! I recently saw one make a touch-and-go at the Oxnard Airport earlier this year.

Since you gave coverage to the Boeing XB-15 (also known initially as the XBLR-1, for experimental bomber, long range), it would have been nice to have seen coverage of the Douglas XB-19 (XBLR-2), which I thought was a nicer looking aircraft. My father worked for Douglas during the war years, putting together tail cones for the A-26 Invader, and brought a full-color print of the XB-19 home that I admired for years. Both were severely underpowered, but proved beneficial for testing large, long-range aircraft.

As icing on the cake, I was delighted to read the “Airpower Classics,” which covered the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, an aircraft I thought was an absolutely ideal Luftwaffe fighter. If the Luftwaffe had concentrated production on the Fw190 rather than the Me/Bf 109, it would have been interesting. But that’s another “what-if” of history.

Thanks so much for your efforts in putting together an outstanding magazine with a great balance of articles pertaining to the present state of the USAF and its illustrious past. Much of what I see currently coming to pass is a return to the funding and mentality of the Depression era of the ’30s, and we all know where that left us in regard to preparedness and equipment quality when World War II rolled around! Dare we lose the value of the lessons history has taught us

Robert Taylor

Ventura, Calif.

As a retired Air Force command pilot and amateur naval aviation historian, I enjoyed looking at the photographs which Warren Thompson collected for his “Preparing for World War” article in the April issue. I learned of the Curtiss A-18 for the first time by seeing it in the article (the photograph appears to be printed backward, however, based on the apparent direction of rotation of both engines). I was pleasantly surprised to see so many Navy paint schemes and manufacturers included in the article.

The Grumman XF5F-1 (photo No. 1, p. 45) not only looked like a child’s toy airplane, there were probably many toy airplanes built in its likeness as it was the inspiration for the superweapon flown by the Blackhawk Squadron in the “Blackhawk” comics during World War II. It is one of the Navy prototypes that actually made it into the Army, in highly modified form, as the XP-50, though it didn’t fare any better there than it did in the Navy. It’s hard to believe it came from the same company that designed what is, in my opinion, the most beautiful “round engine” fighter ever produced, the Grumman F7F Tigercat.

One item definitely in need of correction is photo No. 4, p. 47. The aircraft is not a P-39 Airacobra as identified, but rather the Navy Bell XFL-1 Airabonita, which was similar in appearance to the P-39, but very different in many technical aspects of the design.

Col. Richard L. Perry

USAF (Ret.)

Albuquerque, N.M.

The Mission-Adaptive Air Force

As I read “The Mission-Adaptive Air Force” [April, p. 48], I am encouraged that the entire Air Force, under the leadership of General Schwartz, is structuring, training, and operating as a total fighting force. The Air Force is no longer a few pilots who were the warriors. We are back to the basics of being a military fighting force.

Col. Don Hengesh,

USAF (Ret.)

Petoskey, Mich.

Doolittle’s Raid

I have always been in awe of the heroism and airmanship displayed by Doolittle’s Raiders, and John Correll’s account [Doolittle’s Raid, April, p. 56] was excellent. However, there is a factual error in his story.

In August 1971, the cadet wing was returning to the US Air Force Academy at the end of their summer programs for the start of the academic year. I was assigned to work in the cadet wing command post for that particular day. Shortly before noon, we were notified that the Doolittle Memorial Case, on display at the academy at the time, had been vandalized. The cadet officer-in-charge immediately dispatched me to secure the area.

I spent the rest of the afternoon guarding the memorial, with its broken lock and missing bottle of brandy, lost in the shuffle of the day’s activities. Thankfully, none of the goblets had been disturbed. I remained there until early evening, when a commissioned officer happened by. He queried me as to what I was doing and, after I explained, left. He returned about 15 minutes later with a security policeman in tow, and I was dismissed from my post.

This incident remains, to this day, the most shameful act of vandalism I have ever encountered. The perpetrator, and the stolen bottle of brandy, have never been found. General Doolittle was very respectful and circumspect when informed, stating his belief that someone other than a cadet must have done this.

Mr. Correll stated the bottle of brandy has been in the case since 1960. In reality, that original bottle was replaced after its theft.

Lt. Col. Stephen M. Strack,

USAF (Ret.)

Oxnard, Calif.

LBJ’s Sandbox

Regarding the picture of President Lyndon Johnson, center, and top aides [as they] ponder a map of Vietnam in 1968, p. 64, April 2009 issue [“Paradox List”]: It is not a map they are pondering but rather a model of the Khe Sanh area. It has been said that the impressions we gain of terrain where we live in the first 20 years of life are the most lasting. President Johnson came to appreciate a good aerial photo but, like many people who grew up in flat country, he had a tendency to envision landforms in Vietnam as being flatter than they actually were. This was especially true of the terrain encompassing Khe Sanh. Hundreds of photos and intelligence cables delineating communist activity in the area arrived in Washington each day. Locations were often expressed in hard-to-understand grid coordinates. The President was having difficulty grasping the situation around Khe Sanh, especially from high-altitude photos acquired by SR-71 missions.

Sensing the President’s difficulty, Richard Helms, the deputy chief of intelligence, asked Arthur C. Lundahl, the director of the National Photographic Interpretation Center, if he could do anything to assist the President. Lundahl thought a terrain model centered on Khe Sanh might do the trick. Lundahl, in turn, asked me to have the model constructed using aerial photography and to make sure that all succeeding aerial photos produced and sent to the White House could be orientated to the model. The model was constructed in just three days and sent to Walt Rostow, the President’s special assistant for national affairs. He was briefed on the model and, in particular, in the use of a special grid that could be superimposed on it to pinpoint new activity and developing military situations reported by cable.

President Johnson is shown being briefed on the model by Rostow. The President was pleased with the model and the ease with which he could relate to communist activities in and about the Khe Sanh complex. The President always approached the model with the same intensity with which military planners use terrain models. Observing this continued interest and obvious attachment, Rostow dubbed the model “The President’s Sandbox.” Personnel in the White House situation room and the President’s staff subsequently came to refer to it in that same way. Strikes were ordered from information received and reflected on the model. In the photo, you can see the hinges on the model case, the grid, and areas deemed of special interest.

Normally, after any military operation, when models were no longer necessary, they would be returned to the National Photographic Center for storage. The President, however, kept the Khe Sanh model, and I understand that it is now a part of the collection at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Tex.

Dino A. Brugioni

Hartwood, Va.

Minus One

I read with great interest the article about 1st Lt. Gary Foust’s mission out of Malmstrom AFB, Mont. [“Gary, You Better Get Back In It!,” April, p. 68]. I was the weapons controller assigned to control that mission, call sign Huntress 36, in the SAGE building only a few blocks from the 71st FIS flight line. The flight checked in minus one F-106.

I was informed that that one aircraft aborted the mission. After a radar hand off from ATC, the flight of three proceeded to the training area north of Malmstrom, where I proceeded to set a one-on-three mission. Shortly after the lead called a “judy,” I listened to

Lieutenant Foust’s wingman try to help him recover his aircraft from the flat spin. After he punched out, the flight lead confirmed a good chute, followed by a call that he was safely on the ground. I’ve visited the National Museum of the United States Air Force several times and always go by to visit 787 on display there.

Col. Bill Hall,

USAF (Ret.)

Fairfax, Va.

As a former SAGE intercept director (Bangor Air Defense Sector,1965-67), I was fascinated by “Gary, You Better Get Back In it!,” telling the story of a pilotless F-106 landing in Montana in 1970. I am curious, however, about why the 71st FIS was doing ACM training. I controlled hundreds of intercepts by F-89, F-101, and F-106s out of Loring and Dow Air Force Bases, all of which involved fighter vs. bomber tactics. Dog fighting of the kind described in this article was not part of the training program. Of course, the internal gun had yet to be installed in the F-106, so the only weapons were the Genie and the Falcons, which were useless in a close-in encounter.

After reading this article, it makes one wonder how the datalink modified close control system we used to “fly” the F-106 from the SAGE blockhouse might have worked in bringing the aircraft down for a landing (at least in empty Montana)—and also to ask why it took us so long to develop the UAV concept used with such success today in Southwest Asia.

Maj. Mark M. Bonnot,

USAF (Ret.)

St. Louis

The Matterhorn Missions

I feel a great compliment is due John Correll for his history of the initial activities of the XX Bomber Command and the real disasters in correcting the problems connected with those first combat missions from the CBI [“The Matterhorn Missions,” March, p. 62]. I was a crew member of the 58th Wing, 462nd Grp, 768th Squadron, which took our olive drab B-29 to the CBI from Kansas via Gander Lake, Marrakech, Cairo, Karachi, to Piardoba, India, with an advanced base in China at Kiunglai. Mr. Correll was able to tell the story very well with fuller details of what the mechanical problems of the B-29 were and how they were solved—better than the historians have done in the past and better than those from the wing itself. Due to the lack of details and information, the XXI Bomber Command has been ignored in the part it played through trial and error in making the B-29 such a great aircraft. I would just point out a few additional details.

Having formed the crews in October 1943, each crew went to one of the four B-29 bases in Kansas, with ours being at Victoria. There was one B-29 on the field. Each crew member of the original crews was flying as a specialist. Of course, the pilot and copilot were interchangeable; the bombardier was also a backup for the navigator and vice versa. The radio member was also a repair specialist, while the engineer was supposed to be an engine specialist, but this seldom happened. However, the gunners were all specialists, with the right gunner being a power plant (engine) specialist on the Wright 3350 engine. The left gunner was an electrical specialist, the tail gunner was a sheet metal specialist and the central fire control/senior gunner was a specialist on the completely new type of remote gunnery system. With most of the crews’ flight training being made in B-17 planes, the crews were not able to completely obtain the knowledge of the new B-29s before being rushed to go to the CBI. I think secrecy kept the XX Bomber Command unreported!

Another setback in training was production delays, which Mr. Correll points out, but in spite of the crews’ familiarity with the plane, the “ground crews”—the mechanics primarily—never had much time to learn repair on an actual B-29, as they were shipped by ship on Feb. 16, 1944, just as production of the B-29 was picking up and rolling off the production line. As the result, the aircrews had to learn to maintain the planes on the trip to the CBI, when they left on Easter morning of April 9, 1944. The entire period of the 58th Wing being in the CBI, the enlisted crews worked daily on their aircraft to maintain their planes’ engines and particularly when on missions in China. Again, the ground crews left early by ship to the Marianas island of Tinian, leaving the flight crews to maintain our planes until we got to Tinian. On April 29, 1945, we left the base in India, flying the Hump to Luliang, China, just south of Kunming, arriving at 1140 hours for lunch, then changed [to] a prop governor and took a short nap before leaving for Tinian at 1800 hours, arriving Tinian at 0730 hours on April 30, 1945. We were 16:50 flying hours out of Piardoba, India. From then on we had men to repair and maintain the plane, while we were able to increase the number of bombing missions and rest some between. Of our original crew of 11, only five of us finished our 35 missions and rotated home for furlough, and the war ended as we hit Seattle and were discharged.

W. Hanes Lancaster Jr.

Johnson City, Tenn.

More Tanker Talk

With regard to “Air Force World: Fast(er) Track for KC-X?” in the March 2009 issue [p. 12], and “Tanker Requirements Scrub” in “The John Young View” in the January issue [p. 52], thus far discussions I’ve seen on the new tanker issue have been on the competition specifications/requirements and on the cost-effectiveness of a single-source buy. However, I have not seen too much on the effect upon day-to-day operations and planning with a tanker force that includes KC-30s.

Both tanker competition candidates—the KC-30 and the KC-767—are outstanding aircraft that meet or surpass competition specifications for both cargo hauling as well as refueling ability. However, the KC-30 is an outsize aircraft—“more,” as the first bid team termed it—compared to its direct competition, the KC-767. This is even truer for the legacy tanker, the KC-135, which it would replace. The 30 is in a different class to the extent that, as Boeing noted, they would have offered a projected KC-777 if they’d known of the desire for a “more” tanker.

If KC-30s are procured, it appears this disproportionate difference in size will reveal its significance to airlift mobility planners as the new planes work their way onto mobility schedules. Mobility resource schedulers may find themselves gradually edging away from assigning KC-30s to remote deployed SEA locations because it would be counterintuitive to have all that capacity out on refueling tracks if cargo awaits airlift at various locations around the globe. They’d want those big-belly 30s where the airlift capability need is the greatest, and might find themselves, as time went on, arranging for the smaller plane—legacy 135s, most likely—to fly those remote tracks instead.

By the same token, AEF deployment planners will find themselves rounding up as many 30s as they can. As the competition specs anticipated, the 30’s hauling capacity can potentially cut the mobility resources needed for such movements. Similarly, 30s would be terrific for tanker express work—might even revolutionize it once the realization hits that more than incidental cargo could be carried. In other words, it appears as though the 30s would make a great deployment resource. The smaller (legacy) plane would be (and is) a great deployed asset.

Such a split would work through at least the second projected buy, as legacy tankers are gradually replaced. However, the number of legacy tankers eventually will diminish to the point that the KC-30 force will pick up the deployed mission. As this publication often notes, however, the pace of global mobility operations has been and is forecast to be at surge levels for the foreseeable future. In such a case, scheduling conflicts may appear as the 30’s value as a cargo hauler edges into its refueling mission.

The solution appears to be a mixed force that includes KC-30s and some tanker not in the “more” category. Besides the long-cited reason (avoidance of a fleetwide grounding), the mixed force might ease day-to-day mobility planning by enabling appropriate mobility asset assignment to the deployed and deployment missions. A 767 win or a split buy would obviate this factor, but if it doesn’t, somehow keeping the Boeing line warm might pay off operationally in the future.

Steven Agoratus

Hamilton, N.J.