21 November, 2014

Profile 95: JUST STARTED—"176" the B-24M as flown by the RAAF

It all begins here—a quick pencil sketch.

It's pretty crude, but if you think about it, this scrawl is crucial because it marks the all-important first step.  It means I'm committed and there's no moving back...and when it comes to drawing B-24s, I have cowardly tendencies to toss what I've done and go back to simpler things like P-40s and U-2 spy planes.

See, B-24s are complicated airplanes. With nearly 18,500 made, the B-24 is the most produced multi-engine bomber, ever.  But within that number are a bewildering assortment of variations, sub-variations and field modifications that make doing a specific airplane with any kind of accuracy, difficult.

But, there's good news in that "176" doesn't just exist on paper, it also exists in metal, too!  Right now, she's being restored by The B-24 Liberator Memorial Fund of Australia Incorporated as a testimony to their country's WWII history and the people behind it.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about my task.  Mine is easy.  the LMFA's is...not so much. Founded in 1988, they've been cutting, scouting, riveting, polishing, begging, borrowing and whatever else you do to bring their bonafide RAAF B-24 into public view.   That's nearly 30 years!  Yet, when she's complete, "176" will be the only B-24 in the southern hemisphere and one of only about 16 in existence (that's a .0009% survival rate)!

Over the next 5-6 weeks, I'll be sharing my progress and also my conversation with RAAF B-24 crew.   I can guarantee my rendering of 176 will be ready for public viewing before the real thing is ready.  But, judging by the smiling faces and glimmering aluminum in the picture below, Australia won't have that much long to wait.

You can find a TON more photos of the restoration project by clicking on 176's Facebook page.

In the meantime, I've got a little catch-up to do with folks Down Under...I'm only about 10% done.

15 November, 2014

Profile 93: FINISHED— "The greatest weapon never fired." - the Minuteman I missile

Behold, the Greatest Weapon Never Fired.

Hold that thought.

By the time I reached school, 99.9% of American schools were no longer practicing Civil Defense nuke drills.  But mine did.

See, growing up in North Dakota, we all suffered under the bumpkin anxiety that came from having one of the smallest populations, worst climates and most sheltered cultures in the nation.  Never mind that we were sitting on a bajillion dollars in oil or that you could leave the front door open while on vacation.  North Dakota basically sucked.  Except for one detail in which we were all extraordinarily and diabolically proud:  if North Dakota seceded from the rest of the Union, we'd be the THIRD.  MOST.  POWERFUL.  NATION.  ON.  EARTH.


Missiles.  Specifically, the nuke missiles that were poked into silos all across the state.  And the clinched nuke missile is the venerable LGM-30 Minuteman family.

Have a look up top—it's the LGM-30B Minuteman* I (MM I) missile, the first in a 3-version lineage that not only made North Dakota (almost) almighty but also proved out the bizarre reality that you can win a war by not firing a shot.

Minuteman missile sites.
Courtesy: National Park Service

First deployed near Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana in 1962, 800 of the MM I's were eventually planted in South Dakota, Missouri, Wyoming and of course, North Dakota.  And though they were capable of reaching their targets (presumably in Russia) in about 30 minutes, their real job was to scare the hell out of everyone.  Which they did.

Remember "The Cuban Missile Crisis"?**   It was the Minuteman I that gave President Kennedy the extra confidence to draw a red line through Cuba and tell the Russians to go home.  Can you imagine Russian nukes pointed at us from 90 miles away?  I can't and am glad Kennedy couldn't either.

I remember as a kid listening to an adult scoff at the idea of 'Mutually Assured Destruction' (or MAD).  "Mad?!  More like Madness!  We need to get rid of these (nukes) right now!" he exclaimed.

Movie still from War of the Worlds (1953) where the pastor doesn't use
the sense God gave him
and tries reasoning with the aliens by singing hymns.  He got fried.

The reality is that nukes won't be going away any time soon.  The machinery of diplomacy, national pride and human nature is so complicated, it's going to take decades—maybe more—to truly dismantle the world's nuclear weapons systems***.  Whereas this is a fantastic goal, it's just not realistic right now.  So, in the words of Stanley Kubric's Dr. Strangelove poster, we need to "stop worrying and love the bomb."

"Love? The bomb?!"

Sure!  And it's easy, too.  Follow along.  :)

First, every once in a while, look north and salute the men and women who are making sure that the all-important deterrent factor is real, ready and sharp.  They're called Missileers and though you'll never see their work at an air show (that'd be cool though), they have to serve-out the ironic existence of being able to do what they don't want to do in order that it never happens.
I asked Missileer Col Charlie Simpson (ret) how he processed this peculiar, last-act mission and he stated, "My real mission was ensuring that this (last act) never happened!  Throughout my service, and still today, those of us involved in strategic deterrence know that the real key is to have a force so strong, so flexible and so dedicated to the mission that an enemy would never consider starting a nuclear war."

Second, forget the idea that nukes have only been used twice—once each on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Instead, know that nuclear weapons have been used every day since and flawlessly, too.  This is where the word "deterrence" comes in.  We don't need a mushroom cloud to know nukes are doing their job.

Thirdly, whenever your talking-head of choice utters the words "Foreign Policy," listen carefully and ask questions until you have an opinion.  The world is a dangerous place and one of a nation's supreme duties is to protect its future from unwanted outside influence.  There's no saying when the next Cuban Missile Crisis is going to pop up but if/when it does, our leaders will be carrying a mega-ton burden.  On our backs.

Next up:  The mighty Atlas missile!

Blast doors of the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

*Why the name Minuteman?  The LGM-30's predecessors used liquid fuel propellants that took time to prepare for launch.  In the case of the Atlas and Titan I missiles, about 15 minutes for each one.  The Minuteman used solid fuel propellant that could be ignited right away.  As a Missileer about "Guaranteed delivery in 30 minutes or less."

**Kennedy vs. Khrushchev/Castro.  Click here.

***And this is why it's so important that no new nations get nuke tech, too.

14 November, 2014

Profile 94: JUST STARTED—the U-2R as flown by Stan Rauch, 5th RS

Whoa... (repeat) whoa!

                   "The Dragon Lady" is here...
                                                ...and I'm drawing her!

From Jonny Quest (1965):  quite possibly the best cartoon ever made.

The U-2 is right-up-there (pun intended) with the SR-71 in terms of cloak and dagger mystery.  Granted, it doesn't fly Mach 3+ and doesn't look like an alien spaceship but when it comes to drama, intrigue and triple-dog-dare secrecy, she is the slinky siren of aircraft.

And to top it off, the only airplane currently flying that demands more from her pilot is the...maybe...well..there is none.   A U-2 rating is the kind of pedigree that silences a bar full of rowdies like the sudden slapping of swinging doors and the jangle of spurs.  Don't believe me?  Watch this space and I'll illustrate why over the coming weeks.

Drawing all-black aircraft is a terrific challenge, so I am going to be taking my time.  We'll be done before year-end though.

In the meantime, I recognize that this is a rarified opportunity for all of us to find out what it's really like to fly this amazing aircraft on missions that are even more so.  So.  If you have a good question, send it to me and if I use it, it'll be answered here and you'll get a pilot-signed print of my artwork as a memento.

In the meantime, in case the U-2's peculiar lines aren't unique enough, have a look at the picture below.  That's our man, suited up and ready to go...somewhere.


PS - my email:  john@johnmollison.com

Profile 92: FINISHED— "444" the F-102A Delta Dagger as flown by Jim Eisenmenger, 509th FIS


Ya'know, the Deuce illustrates the old adage that, "Wars aren't finished with the same weapons that started them."

As stated before, the F-102 was a purely Cold War creation—designed to fire Falcon missiles into the butt-end of a Soviet bomber stream.  Period.   How it got to Vietnam is purely an exercise in Preparedness.  And that's a good thing.

WWII ace Don Bryan explained to me the differences between Planning vs. Preparedness.   In Planning, the process addresses a defined set of expectations and desired outcomes.  In Preparedness, the process addresses a variety of expectations and diverse outcomes.  One process honors focus, the other the ability to adapt.  Don was a bigger fan of the later but that's a different post altogether...


That an Interceptor designed to fire missiles at a bombers ended up in the highly tactical and mobile environment of Vietnam was definitely not part of the overall plan.  But it did show excellent preparedness.  After all, what if the Ruskies had given the North Vietnamese a squadron of Tu-95s*?!

It doesn't matter. The NVAF never mounted a strategic bombing campaign.  So, Deuce drivers like Lt. Jim Eisenmenger flew almost all of their missions escorting B-52s during the "ARC LIGHT" close-air-support strikes on targets below the DMZ.

B-52 angles away, probably back to Guam.
Courtesy: Jim Eisenmenger

Jim explained to me what a typical mission was like; two 102's would take off from their base in Udorn, Thailand and join a three-ship B-52 strike inbound from Anderson AFB in Guam.  Once they met-up, the scene was straight out of WWII in that the escort would curve above the bombers in order to slow down their ground-track to meet the B-52s.

"They were about .78 Mach and though the 102 had really great slow speed handling, we had to be ready to act so we S-turned over them so we could keep our speed up."

Operations over SEA required a higher level of navigational awareness than the preceding conflicts of WWII and Korea.  The faster speeds, narrow boundaries and complicated "rules of engagement," only added to the complexity of using the big Deuce in-country.

Here.  Have a look at the map below. It's a general map of Vietnam that Jim had tucked away in his G-suit.  It may be vintage 1969,  but it provides a unique glimpse into what it was like to fly ops over there.  The markings are courtesy of some unknown, unsung intelligence officer.
GCI Map of Vietnam
Courtesy: Jim Eisenmenger

First, notice the red dotted arcs radiating south of "Bullseye," otherwise known as Ha Noi.  They're 50 miles apart.  To give you an idea of how fast things could change, an F-102 flying at with a ground speed of 500mph would cover the distance between the DMZ and Ha Noi in about 15 minutes.  And, at it's narrowest point, Vietnam is only about 30 miles wide.  Just a blink.

The black radii and peculiar names like "Point Crab" and "Waterboy" are actually Ground Control Intercept (GCI) stations that helped interceptors like the 102 locate, track and intercept targets.  The 509th was based at Udorn, about 100 miles west of the Thai/Laos border.  If you locate the center of the map, move up to find the GCI station, "Invert," Udorn is where the number 70 is written.  Jim & Co. were indeed, well-prepared for the attacks that would never come.

However, look at the crudely colored black solid and hashed areas.  Those are areas judged to be 'more desirable' in the event of having to ditch or bail out.  I asked Jim what the significance of each area meant and he laughed.  "I have no idea.  And I don't think (the Intel guys) had any idea either!"  He did note that they looked nice on the map, however. "It's nice to know where and where not to bail out," he said with a wry smile.

Jim flew 52 combat missions and only one of those crossed the DMZ.  When I asked if any particular ones were notable, he was quick to say that none really were.  Of course, he could recall the tiny flashes of AAA against the black jungle during night missions but he was also quick to state the flashes were more interesting than dangerous; I got the impression that for Jim, flying the F-102 was rather routine.   In 1969, the routine ended.  SEA '102s were ordered home; their intended mission simply wasn't going to happen.

"When the 102s were being pulled out, I was happy to go home.  But later—now—I wish I would have stayed."


Sometimes you need to bring your own table decor to coffee.
If you want one, click here.

"I don't know..." he thought for a moment, then offered, "Maybe I wanted to get my 100 missions?" He took another drink of iced tea, then self-consciously adjusted the plastic stand that held the die-cast model of 444 that he'd bought as a memento.   "But I was qualified for the 102 and that's what I flew."  I wondered if there wasn't a hint of regret that he couldn't tell me something spectacular...

But "spectacular" isn't the point.  After so many years of listening to "c-stories," I've come to appreciate people's whole story as more important than just the exclamation points.  Perhaps that's more of a function of talking to old warriors in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s—they not only remember the wars but the "peaces" in between.

Months later, over another cup, Jim was more interested in talking about the changes that have taken place since his Deuce days.

"Back then, we were graduating (thousands) of pilots a year.  We were probably killing more pilots in accidents and such than there are actually flying fighters today!" he quipped.   Indeed, there are less than 200 of the tech-bursting F-22 Raptors in service right now compared to the 1,000 F-102s that were built.   And the Raptor not only does the job of the Deuce, it also replaces the rest of the Vietnam-era suite like the F-4 (5,000+ made), the F-105 (800+ made) and, if pin-point efficiency is worth anything, maybe even the B-52.** (700+ made). It's an imprecise statement, but in many ways, one airplane today is doing what thirty used to do.

Progress, eh?  But the progress of efficiency hasn't come cheaply.  In adjusted dollars, the $1 million dollar price tag of the 1963 F-102 would be more like $10 million dollars today.  A lot of money, sure, but not nearly as much as the F-22's current price of $150 million.  We're doing more with fewer folks but paying over ten times the price to do so.

Is it worth it?  Who knows?!  The next war will reveal that when it happens.  In the meantime, I hope you see the irony in the pictures below.  It looks like we should have kept a few '102 around.

F-102 vs Tu-95    F-22 vs Tu-95
The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?  ;)

*Actually, the NVAF had a handful of Russian Il-28 "Beagle" medium bombers.  But all things considered, they wouldn't have gotten much past that first dotted red line on Jim's map...

**Just checkin' if you're awake.  Nothing replaces the B-52.  Ever.