24 December, 2014

Profile 94: FINISHED—"339" the U-2R as flown by Stan Rauch

"It's like riding a bicycle with a 25 foot long two x four strapped across the handlebars!" he stated (somewhat) proudly. 

But the more I thought about it, it seemed as if he was soft pedaling it a bit.  Sure, the analogy itself was basically correct, but his version made it seem too easy.  Instead, I came up with a better one.  So let me rephrase the quote, "It's like two guys on unicycles holding onto the ends of a 60' pipe.  Strapped across is a 104 foot 2 x 4.  And they're riding at 100 miles per hour."

There.  I fixed Stan's analogy of what it's like to land a U-2R. 

Hold that thought and have a look above.  Behold "The Dragon Lady" in all her spectral glory.

Though her lines are simple and easy to draw, it was an especially challenging airplane to do.  For one, the black paint is rough and reflects light in peculiar ways.  If you look hard enough, you'll see that the "light source" I used to mentally guide my work is physically impossible.  But I had to in order to show the distinctive features of the airplane.

Secondly, U2-Rs are shape-shifters—pods, antennas and bumps can come-on/off like Lego® blocks. Of the 60 second-generation U-2s built they’re all a little different depending on the mission.  Photographs don't help either as the black finish shows little detail.  Stan talked me through the airplane's progress as best he could, but I bet we're missing a bump or wire somewhere.

But third, the real difficulty in drawing the airplane is that it there's no way to capture the amazing performance envelope.  An F-4?  Sure.  Hang a bunch of ordnance under the wings.  A P-51?  Sure.  Add a row of swastikas under the cockpit and you're good.  But the U-2?!  It's a black tube with fins.

And that gets us to the question, "So what IS so amazing about the performance envelope?"

"If you're going to understand the U-2, you have to understand where it flies.  And that's at very high altitude. And things are different up there," stated Rauch.   "That's why it needs those long wings with the 1000 square feet of surface.   To generate all the lift it can."

In case you're not a wing nut, the long wing isn't necessarily needed to climb to altitude.  It's needed to maintain altitude.  At 70,000+ feet, the air is exponentially 'thinner' than at, say, 35,000 feet where airliners typically fly.  In fact, take a 757 and lift it to 70,000 feet and it'll stall, sink and plummet, ripping itself apart long before it gets back to a normal altitude.   But the U-2's wing is big enough to keep the U-2's light weight aloft in this "boundary-layer before outer-space" realm.

Right now, Stan is breathing pure oxygen.

And that's why the U-2 pilots wear space suits.  Fully pressurized, the pilots work inside their hermetically sealed environment, breathing 100% oxygen (the rest of us breath more like 21% oxygen).  Above, the sky—if you can call it that—is pure black and blends into the purest of blues to a curved horizon. 

In spite of the sometimes hazardous missions, Stan was quick to point out that it's "peaceful up there."  In the rarified atmosphere, there's no tail wind, head wind, no drift, no nothing other than the thrust of the engine.  Calculating ETAs between bases becomes an exercise in precision.  No airplane can nail their "arrival time" like a U-2.  However, though the air is smooth and horizon vast, the flight envelope is small.  Very small.

How small?  Well, cruising at 70,000+, the maximum speed (VNe) and the stall speed (Vs) are only 10 knots apart.

Go ahead and read that again.  10. Knots.  Apart.

If those figures don't mean anything to you, imagine driving a motorcycle at 65 miles per hour in LA traffic.  Ten feet behind is a semi trailer loaded with steel.  Ten feet ahead is a semi-trailer loaded with gasoline.  And there are semi's to the sides, too.  Whatever you do, you have to do carefully, methodically and precisely.  Because if you don't...

"You mustn't stall a U-2 at altitude.  If the wing loses lift, it's not going to get it back.  By the time the airplane gets to denser air, the airplane has probably already spin itself into pieces due to g-forces.  The tail will go first."

You've probably figured out that the U-2 is rather delicate.  Compared to an F-16 fighter, a U-2 can only handle a relatively small g-force load.  So, flying it operationally is an exercise in extremely precise flight management; so precise, it's not really humanly possible.  Go ahead and read that again.  Not. Really. Humanly.  Possible.

"You get on autopilot when you are operating in the higher altitudes, " Stan explained.  "You can handle (flying manually) for up to around 50,000 feet, but it's a sensitive airplane and it can get out of control very quickly.  At the highest altitudes, (Human) reactions just aren't that fast."

"So is that why the U-2 is so hard to fly?"

"No.  The autopilot is a great system and I never doubted its performance.  Sure, the environment is tough, but the U-2 does it really well.  The real challenge of flying the U-2 is landing it. 

Ok.  Before I get back to the unicycle and 104 foot two x four analogy, watch the video below.  

If you noticed, the U-2 accelerated very quickly and almost instantly disappeared into the clouds.  In fact, a U-2 can climb out at 70 degrees with a light fuel load.   That's getting close to dang near vertical.  And did you notice how quickly it got off the ground?  That's because the wing that works so hard at 70,000ft is hyper-performing at ground level.  If the U-2 has a 'problem' it isn't that it's too delicate or too tricky.  It's that down low, flies too well.

Ok.  See the airplane below?  That's my drawing of Dick Rutan's "Voyager" aircraft.  It was the first airplane to fly around the world without landing.  It's a brilliant piece of engineering—ultra light weight, hyper-efficient engines and...look at that wing.  Long, skinny, it slices through the air like a samurai sword and lifts like an elevator.

Regarded as one of the great innovations in aeronautical design, the Voyager wing has a Lift:Drag ratio of 27.  Meaning, it lifts 27x more than the resistance it creates by moving through the air.  In comparison, a seagull wing(s), which can cruise along the sea-driven breezes for seemingly hours, is about a 10.   But a U-2?


"Landing is the hard part." Stan says flatly.  "That's the last 30 seconds of the mission that might have been 9 to 11 hours in length.”

Ok.  You probably noticed in the U-2 clip that the landing gear is a little odd.  It's a bicycle-style set up with a wheel in front and a smaller wheel in back.   And if you look out at the tips of the ginormous wings, there are skinny, plug-in wheel assemblies called pogos that drop-off as soon as the wings produce lift on takeoff.   They're NOT landing gear.  Instead, the proper name is,  “ground taxi wing support gear.”

And did you see the red Pontiac G8?  That's the chase-car team and it’s commanded by another U-2 pilot. The team’s job is to drive behind the aircraft during the landing phase and radio to the pilot the distance in feet between the landing gear and the runway.

The Approach of a U-2 to the runway is carefully managed.  And here's where Stan's analogy of the bicycle comes into play.  Since the landing gear affects the ground on a single axis, the airplane is extraordinarily sensitive to cross winds.  Anything more than 15kts is too much.  (A 747 can handle about 30-40kts). 

The trick is getting the wing to stop working.  Spoilers—flaps of metal that pop up to 'spoil' the wing's lift—speed brakes and huge flaps are all used to negate all that glorious flying power.  On final approach, the pilot is using a mixture of lift negating devices, retarding of throttle and judicious inputs of rudder to keep the airplane on a very controlled descent and lined up perfectly on the runway centerline.  Crossing the numbers (the numbers at the end of each runway), the U-2 should be at about 40 feet and traveling at 110 mph with the speed decreasing.   This is why the chase-car team drives faster cars. 

Coaxing, tuning and cajoling the Dragon Lady to earth, the pilot hears a steady report of altitude from the chase-car  - 10 feet.  9 feet.  8 feet...and when the pilot hears 1 foot he holds the aircraft in that position and then all of that glorious wing stalls and the aircraft settles gently to the runway, and...*erk!*  He's steering a big, black bicycle down the runway.  At about 90 miles an hour. 

Ok.  Have another look at my drawing.  If you notice the wingtip, there's a slight white line.  And if you notice up-close, you'll see there are tiny jags on the bottom like a saw blade.  Those are skids...because eventually the wing WILL* lose its ability to keep parallel to the ground and one tip will dip.  And drag a short distance.

It's a unique operation to be sure. The chase team catches up and two guys run up with those pogos, lift the wing up, insert them, and the U-2 pilot taxis back to the hardstand as if nothing weird happened.

Extraordinary airplane.  And flown and crewed by extraordinary people.  And, proof-positive that the forces of nature, though powerful, can be mitigated with a little thinking, confidence and skill.   Ok, a lot of thinking, confidence and skill.  

So where did Stan 'get' all that thinking, confidence and skill?   Surprisingly, it wasn't by flying high.  Instead, it was by flying low in…well, more about that next year.

2015 is setting up to be a great one for—as I say—talking to "old guys and drawing their airplanes."

*Stan says that in a strong enough headwind, the wings start trying to lift the airplane before it even begins its take-off run.

Oh.  And two more things.  See that little white sliver by the tail?  That's a tail trim position indicator.  The tail flight surfaces of a U-2 can pivot forward or backwards (slightly)as a single unit to trim the aircraft for increased stability in flight.  And in case you're wondering if the U-2 is damaged by dragging its wing along the ground, it isn't.  Through careful flying, by the time the tip hits the ground, the U-2's speed is low enough that the friction between the tip and ground doesn't generate forces beyond the airframe limits.

Profile 98: IN-PROGRESS— "Kunk's Klunk," the P-38J flown by James Kunkle, 370th FG

I probably shouldn't doodle in church.  But sometimes, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

Have a look above at the progress shot of "Kunk's Klunk" - the P-38J-10 from the 401st FS of the 370th FG.  Below, you'll see my opening sketches, drawn on my journal, the day this project was started, December 7.

Typically, I have a little 'nicer' pencil sketch to open a project, but this one had a sense of urgency that put it on the fast-track.  I'd just sent out a notice to a group on my email list that I'd been commissioned to fill a P-38-sized hole on a patron's office wall.  Since I try to always pair my artwork with talking to the pilot, I put out the call, "Anyone know of any WWII P-38 pilots around?!" and the response was not only quick but remarkable in that it was echoed:  "You have to talk to Kunkle!"

If I've learned anything about interviewing old guys, it's this:  opportunity is like the UPS guy—when it knocks, it isn't going to wait.  So, I pushed what was on my 'drawing table' out with one hand and dialed the man with the other.  Of course, it hadn't hurt that a few folks had cleared my approach but he was more than willing, "Draw my airplane?! Sounds great!  What do you want to know?!"

Ok.  Pause that train-of-thought.

Virtually everyone has had that "Think fast!" moment.  Usually, it involves something hard like a frisbee.  "Think fast!"  Ziiiiinggg - bonk!

Throwing frisbees at unprepared people is not a recommended practice.  But if there's an arena that honors quick-thinking, it's that of aerial combat.  Everyone knows this, there's nothing new in that thought.  However, I've always wondered why there are some people who can make quick decisions while others can't.  Why some people can quickly duck and/or snatch the frisbee and whip it right back...while others get a black eye.

Though I don't really have any solid conclusions yet, my experiences seem to point to the idea that the ability to make quick decisions isn't necessarily born and it isn't necessarily a function of 'aggressiveness.'  Instead, it's as if it is somehow stored.  Like a computer program.  When it's not needed, it sits there.  But when it's needed, point-click, engage.

Joe Foss had a thought about this—he believed that some people were dead before they went into combat.  He attributed this predilection to lack of a quantity of confidence.  But Don Bryan had a different take; he attributed the success or failure probabilities to a quality of preparedness.   Though the debate is probably academic, think about it—imagine what would happen if we could eliminate the failures of panic, fear or indecision; what would that look like?

Well, until the elixir is bottled and packaged, "it" looks like Jim Kunkle.

In the photo above, Jim is standing in front of a P-38 Lightning, the main aircraft he flew during WWII.  With her twin engines, long wings and twin fuselages, it's one of the most distinctive looking aircraft ever built.  Though it was a rather-good fighter plane (America's top ace Richard Bong flew one), it was also an effective tactical fighter-bomber.

As a strafer, it was brutal.  Four .50 caliber machine guns and one 20mm cannon poked out of the nose of the fuselage-pod.  In Star Wars terms, a steady burst from her guns could bore-through buildings, trucks and trains like a light saber.  But the real damage was done by the 3,000lbs of bombs and/or rockets hung underneath.   Compare that to the 4,000lbs carried by a B-17.  Granted, the B-17 would carry more bombs.  But in terms of efficiency, nothing could beat the tactical precision of the 9th Air Force's P-38s (and P-47s).

You can well imagine the harassing power of a squadron of well-armed P-38s scrounging around the Front Line, looking for anything that moved...

Anyway, have a look at the graphic below.  It's not completely to scale, the spacing is too close and I may have the actual positions off a bit.   But for now, those factors aren't important as this will give you enough of an idea of what is going to happen next.

There are 16 P-38s shown.  Four flights of four, each in the distinctive "finger-four" formation.  In each flight of four, there are two elements.  And in each element, there's a leader and a wing man.   Got it?  Ok.   Now, see the purple heart?  That's what's called "Purple Heart Corner."  Or, as some others have called it, "Tail End Charlie."

Regardless of what you call it, it's not a desired place to be for all the obvious reasons.  Anyone who's watched a nature show knows that it's always the antelope at the back of the pack that gets nailed by the cheetah.  Of course, having a good wingman around to help each other "check six" mitigates the misfortune but on this day, Jim's wingman aborted, leaving Jim alone.

Last.  Guy.  In.  Line.   And headed to Aachen.  Germany.  Where they were not welcome.

"Around August (of 1944), the Germans started using different tactics against us.  Since we were mostly attacking ground targets, they'd wait until we were busy and vector into us from the rear.   So, what we did was start putting the more experienced guys in the back of the formation.  Our job was to look backwards." Knowing the threat-potential and perhaps doubly-keen on account of being without a wingman, Jim knew his role and constantly checked behind.

And wouldn't you know it, there they were—a rapidly expanding smudge to the west.

"BREAK!  BREAK!"  Jim hollered.  "BREAK!"

But there was no break.  A few fruitless twists of knobs and flicking of switches made Jim quickly realize that his radio was out!  And being the last guy in the formation, any waggling of the wings was useless, especially with target just ahead...

What's a guy to do?!

Well, for ME, I have to complete this project.  But for you?  Come back in about two weeks when I post the finished P-38.  And when I state "finished," I mean it—as in 'finished into a million pieces.'

Profile 100—JUST STARTED: "Our Mary," the Republic P-47D as flown by Edwin Cottrell, 48th FG

"The end of a matter is better than its beginning and patience is better than pride."
                                                                            Ecclesiastes 7:8 NIV

Stuff gets heavy when you quote the Old Testament, doesn't it?  Well, this is a heavy story.  Not woeful heavy or sentimentally heavy.  More like "make you think 'heavy'."

But before we get into that, have a look above.  It's my opening sketch of a P-47D-23 named "Our Mary" that belonged to the 493rd Squadron of the 48th Fighter Group.  As an image, the airplane is just another of the 1,000's of P-47-shaped cogs in the WWII war machine. But after this story is finished, "Our Mary" will represent one those not-uncommon but certainly impossible moments of humane inhumanity.

How's THAT for heavy?!

Well, have a look at the photo below.  When I first started this project, it was the only known photo of the airplane and all I had between my questions and her pilot's recollections.  Though I think we're going to be ok in bringing Our Mary back to life, old warriors seem to have much better recollection regarding people rather than things.

In other words, Our Mary's pilot remembers more about the guy on the wing*, (Crew Chief, Red Nichols), the regular pilot of the airplane (George Pullis) and the two guys who died on December 17, 1944 (James Watson and Art Sommer) than the color of the words painted on the cowl.

It's time to meet Lt. Edwin Cottrell.

"That was a long time ago, John," Ed says.  "I'm afraid I wasn't paying that much attention to the markings on the airplane.  But I remember the day very well."   And well he should because he was on the edge of America's most costly battle of WWII, The Battle of the Bulge.

Over the past 24 hours,  German infantry and armored units sprung their audacious sledge-hammer-like swing through Belgium in a spectacular fury.  Taken off guard, American forces faced the Blitzkrieg-style war that had gobbled up France, Belgium, Poland, the Ukraine and (parts of) Russia in the war's early years.

Of course, it was a stupid move, especially with the 20:20 hindsight that time inevitably provides.  But in the moment, chaos reigned and the Germans prevailed.

Ok, hold that thought.  I need to take a tangent; it'll make sense later on.

I remember a conversation with WWII ace Walker "Bud" Mahurin where he seemed to be almost apologetic of the Luftwaffe's failure to protect Germany.  He explained how the Nazis made certain Luftwaffe leaders into scapegoats for loss of aerial superiority.  Never mind the Nazi's ridiculous strategies, tactics and inability to wage war against the rest of the world.  Of course many of the German pilots resented it and switched their loyalty to a kind of code of honor rather than the regime.

Yeah, it's tough to humanize anyone wearing that logo (i.e. swastika).  But fellow P-47 pilot Morrie Magnuson explained war like this, "War is conducted by leaders and acted out by followers. It doesn't make the followers innocent.  It just makes the leaders more responsible."

Indeed, Ed recalls the words of a friend who survived the infamously cruel Bataan Death March. "He said that 99% of the Japanese were vicious.  Just vicious.  But it was that 1%—that 1%—that made life bearable, if even just enough to survive."

Got that?  Ok.  Back to the story.

It was a dreary morning even without the hammering of retreat going on just a few miles away.  At the rough forward-airfield of Sint Troiden (St. Trond to the Ami's) days of icy rain created bone-chilling puddles that sloshed into leather boots and flying suits.  A sodden blanket of gray blocked out the sun and snow fell from the sky in big, wet flakes, leaving the P-47s of the 493rd Fighter Squadron to soak up the cold out in the open.  In spite of it all, it was going to be a hot day and everyone knew it.

Being a "new" pilot, Ed hadn't the seniority to rate his own airplane.  On this day, he drew "Our Mary," the regular mount of George Pullis.  To George, the woman on the nose had enough significance to warrant the pinup.  But to Ed, Our Mary was simply a tool of the trade.  And he was going to put her to work somewhere near Koblenz, Germany.

The 48th FG was part of the 9th Air Force.  And though there were plenty of tangles between the Luftwaffe, the majority of the 9th's work was tactical, close-air support.  "Trains, tanks and trucks," as it's often said, and the P-47 was particularly effective in eliminating them.  Armed with eight .50 calibre machine guns and able to carry 2,000+lbs of bombs, P-47s scrubbed the countryside of anything that moved.

When asked for specifics, Ed paused for a moment, then stated, "Our target?  I believe they were tanks.  Yes...we were attacking tanks.  I'm pretty sure they were going to be going up toward The Bulge and we had to stop that."   And so, the 493rd was tasked with pinching off the flow of German equipment towards the north.

So, while the starters whined, the engines coughed and the cold aluminum skin vibrated to life, Ed's mind was not so much on meeting the Luftwaffe as he was steeling his mind to get in low, put the bombs on target and get back to base.

Which he did.

But no one would have guessed how.

Stay tuned to the next post because things are going to move very quickly from here on out.

*Nichols is on the wing to help direct the taxiing of the big-nosed airplane around the airfield.  Kind of a cool job if you ask me...

12-26-14 UPDATE:  WHOO HOO!  Significant Progress Alert!!   Man, this is turning out to be a fantastic project...

05 December, 2014

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

It's done!  At least 'on paper.'

Have a look at "176"—the RAAF B-24M being restored in Australia, right now.    My artwork will be used by the B-24 Liberator Memorial Australia to help fund their operations.  It's not my place to announce plans—watch their Facebook page.  But I do know this: the "B-24LMA" are ON IT and it's going to be cool.  ;)  I hope they raise a bundle.  They need to.

I don't think I need to go into detail about how restoring an antique airplane—albeit a four engined bomber—is somewhat less complicated than creating life on another planet.  But suffice it to state, the process started in 1988.   Since then, the Aussies have taken 176's crusty hulk and gone from this:

To this!
Source:  Judy Gilbert, B-24 Liberator Memorial Australia

The quantity of time, energy and money that has gone into this restoration is staggering and the quality of it all is even more so.  In fact, consider...

...the process started in 1988.  2015 will be the group's 27th year.
...the B24LMA puts 14,500 hours into 179's restoration, annually.
...30+ volunteers work on the restoration.
...179 will be flyable with all the systems working but it won't fly.*
...the total tab for restoration will be north of $750,000.**
...it'll be done when it's done (not much longer though as they have 90% of the parts).

So, while (we're) all waiting for her completion,  have a look at the graphic below.  It's the summation of all the proofs, leading into the finished piece.  In relation to everyone else's work, I had the easiest go of it, don't you think?

Source: Me.  Timelapse of about 30 days of work.

I got to interact a bit with the volunteer team and had to ask, "Why do you do this?!"  For a group with such a pointed focus, the motives were diverse.  Love of aviation history, national pride, mechanical joy, social interaction and the time-honored "get's me out of the house" were all offered as answers.

But there's an unspoken reason, too. They all get it.

"Get what?"  Good question.  But before I answer that,  I've got a really funny joke about what it's like to teach History in America. But I've been told not to post it due to the fact that it could considered "offensive."  Of course, it doesn't have anything to do with race, sexual orientation, legal status, income, political affiliation or physical attributes.  Instead, it's about the priority that our average school system places on the subject.

I'm not here to offend.  But the fact is, History, as a subject matter, is all-too-often given short shrift.  Specifically, how it's taught.  Too often, the study is a rote-learning of names, dates and places then tested with forgettable multiple-choice answers of little or no consequence to anything other than a semester grade.

Source:  Me and some image I found.  Who drew Frank?! Whoever you are, you're awesome.

That's why bringing "176" to life is so brilliant:  it's a tangible expression of how human life on earth works.

For example.

• The B-24's secret to long range and load carrying capability was due to one persistent freelance inventor and a large corporation willing to listen to a "little guy's" big idea.

• B-24s were built by women who entered the labor force to support the war effort.  In the process, they made an immeasurable impact toward the advancement of equal rights.

• B-24s were crewed by ten people; a team of individual expertise where life or death could hinge on the performance of the weakest link.

• B-24s were very "green" - of the 18,000+ made, only about 20 remain.  The rest were recycled into toaster ovens, cars and beer cans.  Swords into ploughshares, eh?

• Operating 50 Aussie B-24s required the skills of 5,000 people in just one town in Australia (Tocumwal).  When the war was over, their experience helped them find new work elsewhere.

And most importantly...

• The cruel and intolerant culture of WW2 Japanese imperialism was squashed.

See, 176 isn't just an old airplane.  It's fresh inspiration.  And that's the "get it" that binds all of us who know the value of connecting the past to the present.  We've discovered when we pay attention to the past, the payoff is a better future.

And here's to the future of 176!

(raises a rivet gun in toast)

Source:  Anthony Potter Collection via Getty Images

*Judy Gilbert, B24LMA Secretary, stated, "If we took it up and bent it, we'd get lynched!"  And the costs of Airworthy Certificates, maintenance and fuel would be staggering.

**$750,000 is raw cost.  Add labor?  All the donated this'n that?  You're talking millions.

04 December, 2014

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

You can't meet a U-2 pilot without wondering, "So what did you really do?"

After all, it's a top-secret aircraft carrying top-secret gadgetry on top-secret missions...and what about that little capsule of cyanide that every U-2 pilot is rumored to have in his pocket?

I had to ask.  And Stan immediately answered with a detailed analysis of the U-2's handling characteristics.  Repeat.  Handling characteristics.  That wasn't what I asked.

Ooookay then.  But what did I expect—his flight log?!  Don't get me wrong.  I'd love to have a look.  And maybe with my Minox camera, too.  But whether we like it or not, there are secrets best kept.  As an "almost Millenial" I get the persistent need-to-know and effervescent demand for transparency.  But I'm old enough and experienced enough to know when such needs are reasonable.   I didn't push it.

Thankfully, Stan knows when to throw the dog a bone.

Minox spy camera.  Yep. I got one! Don't know what I'm going to do with it but if I ever need to break into an office and take pictures of letters, I'm set.

"Well, there's a mission that I think you'd find interesting."

"Really?  Do tell!"

"Ever hear of the Mayaguez?"

Hold that thought for a minute so I can bring you up to speed.  Have a look at the progress-shot above.  Though it looks basically done, it's a long way from it.  The rough, black, radar-absorbing finish is diabolically tricky to recreate and there's much more research to do to make sure I get all the right bumps, curves and lines that conceal the U-2R's stash of techno sorcery.  I figure there's at least 15 more hours to go.  Which is just a few hours more than a typical U-2 mission.

Typical?  Well, in terms of initial goal, yes.  There are two basic missions a U-2 will fly:  Photographic and SIGINT.

Photographic missions shouldn't need explanation.  However, as a visualization, have a look at the picture below.  It was actually taken in 1944 by an F-5* flying recon over southern France.  The original photo is about 12" square and so detailed, it just begs to be examined with a magnifying glass.  You can well imagine how imaging technology has increased since then!     Yet, a photo pass is essentially the same process as when the first cameras were put in WWI biplanes.  Fly, point, click, run home with the evidence.
Photo courtesy Burt Hawley, 23rd PRS

SIGINT is a different story.  The acronym stands for SIGnals INTelligence and a SIGINT mission is a complicated, involved and carefully choreographed exercise in which the U-2 plays but a link in a long chain.  SIGINT is all about finding, capturing and interpreting the myriad of signals that emanate from a country, a group or even an individual.   Signals like radio.  Television.  Microwave.  Radiation.  Cell phones.  Even the signals thrown off by electrical grids.  On a SIGINT mission, the U-2 is actually the middle-man between the source and the interpreter.

Ok.  Have another look at the drawing on top.  See those black cylinders taking shape under the wing?  Those, as well as the nose, are full of tech that are accessed and manipulated, not by the U-2 pilot, but by men and women in downlink stations hundreds if not thousands of miles away.

Like this.
Not to scale, of course.  If it was, that'd mean the U-2's wingspan would be about 2,000 miles wide.

These missions are grueling; eight, ten, twelve hours of sitting, clad in a restrictive space suit, flying a precision course to relay invisible data to gawd-knows-where.  And the U-2 pilot isn't up there simply holding the antennae. The sub-space environment and narrow flight envelope call for tremendous focus and extraordinary skills (more about that the next post!).

Now's a perfect time to get back to the Mayaguez.

On May 12, 1975, the Vietnam War may have been "over," but it was still smoldering sparks.  One of those sparks was just getting ready to roar into its own hellish inferno in Cambodia.  The country's communist contingent, the Khmer Rouge, were spoiling for a fight.

Emboldened by the fall of South Vietnam, the Khmer Rouge "Navy*" discovered an American cargo ship en route to Thailand from (the former) South Vietnam.  They seized the ship, imprisoned the crew and flipped President Ford the bird.

Click here.

A little context is in order here.  The U.S. was still bleeding from the various wounds of the Vietnam War.  On one side, it hurt to see former promises come to naught with the fall of South Vietnam.  On the other, American Might had weakened and was being taunted by virtually anyone with a rock to throw.  Including the barbaric Khmer Rouge.

Therefore, when the KR commandeered the Mayaguez, President Ford was in no mood to take anyone's spit.  Two days later, the KR's navy port was bombed and a team of Marines were sent in to rescue the prisoners.

It didn't go smoothly.

In the end, at least sixty died**, three choppers were lost, diplomatic relations with Thailand were damaged...but President Ford's approval rating rose 11 points on account of his unwillingness to take any grief.  It was a tough call but the crew came home safe.

(There really should be a movie about this).

But above it all, Stan Rauch orbited in his U-2.  On May 15, during the heat of the conflict, he was "on the spot," as the only airborne U-2 in that part of the planet.  At the time, he didn't know what to expect, only that the pre-mission briefing included going to a specific radio frequency and personally relaying information relating to the Mayaguez.  In other words, for all the high-tech at his disposal, he was going to have a very personal but low-tech role.

"So what did you do?"

"I relayed transmissions received from a Command and Control entity onto an unknown entity."

"You mean your U-2 was transmitting..."

"No.  I physically relayed information.  Everything I heard, I transmitted."

"Via voice?!"

"Yes.  What I heard, I spoke.  The relayed transmissions were boosted long-range as the result of the (U-2's) high altitude."

"For how long?"

"About eight hours."

"To whom?!"

"I don't know."

"Didn't they say, 'thanks' or..."




"So this 'unknown entity'...they remained unknown for the whole mission?"


"Yes." (laughs) "I just transmitted (on the pre-briefed frequency).  It was an unusual mission for sure!"

This is a still from the tv show, "Green Acres."  Remember it?  I didn't.  Just like I didn't remember the Mayaguez.
But evidently, in Green Acres, you dressed up like James Bond before climbing a telephone pole to make a phone call.

Well, so much for the glamor of international intrigue.  Stan played telephone operator.  For eight hours.  And for those eight hours, he was probably the most highly paid, highly valued and certainly highest-altitude telephone operator, ever.   I asked him if he remembered anything specific that he spoke and he said that it seemed like play-by-play stuff; "...forces moving into position,"  "ready to board ship..." Really, read about the incident by clicking here and you'll know a hell of a lot more than Stan did at the time.

There was also the time the Egyptians "painted" Stan's U-2 while flying recon missions in support of the Camp David accords of 1977-78.***  Stan recalls flying down the Suez Canal area and seeing the tell-tale lights blink-on as Egyptian missile sites 'greeted' him... I probably could have pressed him for more mission info but I know what happens when amateurs trifle with pros.

That is, until he let me in on a little known secret that the U-2 would actually carry skid fif0w 3249 hifi a89d,,l1! a523... (transmission fades)

Stand by.   I'll have this U-2 finished in about a week and in my final post, Stan will describe the complexities and nuances of flying this incredible airplane.

Have a look below.  Looks like fun, yes?  Evidently it is.  If you're capable in the first place...

*Of course, the erudite among us know the F-5 was a P-38 Lightning fighter turned into a photo recon machine by switching out the machine guns with cameras.  Want to know more?  Click here.

**Though I can make a good case they weren't actually human beings, I'm including Khmer Rouge in the number in addition to the 38 Americans soldiers that were killed—15 in combat action and 23 more when one of the rescue helicopters crashed. 50 more Americans were wounded for a total casualty-count of approximately 130.

***Of course you remember the famous Camp David accords, don't you?  That was when peace finally came to the Middle East and everyone became fast friends. (cough cough).

03 December, 2014

Profile 97: JUST STARTED— the "Pave Knife" pod of the 433rd TFS

From what I know, there are three things taxpayers don't want from their military:  too much power, too many losses and waste.

And there are three things the military doesn't want from the people it serves:  weak leadership, weak support and weak kit.

Have a look at the sketch above.  It's a partial drawing of an F-4 Phantom with a pod hanging from one of the hardpoint rails. It's called "Pave Knife."  And it's also a warm-fuzzy moment between taxpayer and military—one of those weapons that really did everything it was supposed to do at little cost, high efficiency and amazing effectiveness.  In fact, Pave Knife paved much of the way for today's 'smart weapons.'

Over the next post or two, I'm going to explain Pave Knife's operation and success via Air Force personnel who used the thing in SEA*, one of whom is Weapons Systems Officer (WSO) Dean Failor, 433rd TFS to give first-hand account.

"You're acquired and locked, Dean.  Pickle away!"

This is Dean in front of an F-4 from the 334th during a later TDY in 1972.

*SEA = South East Asia.