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As the United States Air Force entered the Viet Nam War in full mode in 1965, it was faced with multiple challenges. The missions varied from air superiority to ground support to counterinsurgency. The air force was able to meet these challenges through an evolution of both doctrine and equipment. When the air war began over North Viet Nam in 1965, the F-4 Phantom, the newest fighter-bomber in the USAF inventory, had no guns but utilized long range air to air missiles for defense. After a series of dogfights with the slower but more nimble Soviet built Mig-17s, the F-4s were modified to carry the M-61 gattling gun. The M-61 was developed in the late 1950s and fired 20mm projectiles. It was developed from the earlier M-39 gattling gun, which fired the standard .50 cal. rounds. The M-61 was a marked improvement over the M-39 in firepower, with the M-61 having three times the rate of fire of a long-barreled .50 cal. machinegun. Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers, designed for the strategic nuclear role, were modified to carry conventional bombs for carpet bombing missions against Viet Cong troop and supply concentrations. C-130 transports were also converted to gunships, firing both gattling guns and artillery at night on suspected Viet Cong positions. These planes were refined throughout the war in terms of both electronics and firepower. Transport aircraft also defoliated thick jungle underbrush and dropped flares in support of ground operations.
In both Gulf Wars, USAF doctrine was to destroy the entire spectrum of Iraqi targets within a week, unlike the gradual approach taken over North Viet Nam in the 1960s. These attacks were designed to destroy the Iraqi leadership, degrading their military capabilities and will to fight. Unlike both Korea and Viet Nam, these missions were coordinated with the air forces of several nations. As many as 700 sorties were flown on a daily basis with the A-10 Thunderbolt proving an effective tank killer. An important aspect of air operations in both Gulf Wars was the large number of tactical aircraft deployed. With few forward bases and a three-fold increase in aircraft over the Viet Nam War, an effective tanker fleet was imperative. While many KC-135 and C-130 tanker planes were beginning to show age, they remained effective in refueling the tactical air forces of the United States and other allied nations, whenever and wherever needed. Laser-guided weapons also came into use, providing precision strike capability for both isolated ground targets and strategic urban targets, as well as the global positioning system or GPS, from which to acquire targets from satellite plotting data. Once an area was secured, C-17 cargo planes, able to operate from short, unimproved runways, supplied the local population with needed food and building materials from which to renew their communities. Such aircraft have also provided relief on a global scale to areas suffering from the effects of earthquakes, tsunamis, diseases and other natural disasters, proving the USAF a true force for peace.
September 18 marked a landmark date for both military aviation and the aviation community at large, for it was the sixty-seventh anniversary of the United States Air Force. While much has changed during those years, the mission of the USAF remains that of preserving peace. During this blog, we will review the decisive missions of the USAF since its inception in 1947.
The United States Air Force became an independent armed service on September 18, 1947, as a result of the National Security Act Of 1947. Previously, military aviation functions were divided between the United States Army Air Forces (land based) and the United States Navy (sea based). While the Army Air Forces operated as a de facto separate military branch during World War ll, they remained organizationally a part of the U.S. Army. The success of large scale ground support and strategic bombing efforts during the war gained momentum for a separate air force, co-equal to the army and navy. By the end of the war, a number of military leaders, such as Douglas MacArthur, favored the creation of an independent air force.
Less than a scant year after its creation, the newly formed United States Air Force faced its first major test in the Berlin Airlift. After World War II, the German capital was divided into four occupation zones, as was the German nation as a whole. The Soviets believed if they could deny the Western Allies rail, canal and road access to the city, West Berliners would be forced to accept food, fuel and other material aid from the Soviet Zone, forcing the western powers out of the city. In June 1948, all land access to Berlin from the western zones was blockaded. While there was no formal agreement establishing land routes to Berlin, there was a written agreement in 1945 which guaranteed three 20 mile wide air corridors providing free access to Berlin. Supplying the city’s food and fuel needs was a daunting task, with approximately 1,500 tons of food and 3,500 tons of fuel required daily. However, the USAF and the RAF pooled their resources and were able to dedicate a force of 1,000 planes to the effort. In command of the airlift was Maj. Gen. William Tunner, who had reorganized the airlift between India and China during World War ll, doubling the tonnage and hours flown. Although the lift only provided 90 tons a day the first week, it had reached a 1,000 tons the second week. By January 1949 over 5,000 tons of cargo were delivered each day – exceeding pre-blockade levels. In May 1949, the Soviets reopened land routes to Berlin from the west.
When the Korean War broke out in June 1950, Fifth Air Force fighters were first responders to provide ground support to the beleaguered South Korean forces. These missions were initially flown from bases in Japan, but once the ground situation stabilized a number of bases were established in South Korea for both ground support and offensive air patrols. The USAF began the war with the piston engine P-51 Mustang of World War ll. The P-51 was ideally suited for the close air support role in Korea, as it was an agile aircraft and could operate from the short, temporary airfields near the frontlines, unlike the jets of the era. Speaking of jets, Korea was the first war in which air to air combat was conducted by jets. The early jets, such as the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star and the Republic F-84 Thunderjet were adequate in the ground support role, as well as dogfighting the Yak piston engine fighters flown by the North Koreans. However, this changed in late 1950 with the introduction of the Soviet built Mig-15. The Mig-15 was a swept wing jet interceptor (unlike the straight winged F-80 and F-84) and a generation ahead of both planes in design and performance. In order to address the imbalance, North American F-86 Sabres were sent to Korea. The F-86 had a 35 degree swept wing and was developed from captured German designs at the end of World War ll. Although the MIg was slightly faster and had a higher service ceiling, the Sabre was an overall better aircraft, equipped with innovations such as a radar gun sight. F-86 pilots were also better trained than their Chinese and North Korean counterparts, ending the war with an eight to one kill ratio. Transport aircraft, such as the twin-boomed Fairchild C-119 Boxcar were used extensively not only to supply ground forces, but also to evacuate civilians from the frontal areas.
My grandson and I were looking at pictures of rc helicopters online and we saw the picture of a strange looking craft. Unlike a conventional helicopter, which has a large main rotor centered above the cabin with a smaller rotor mounted at the tail, this unit had its rotors mounted at the end of four bars, extending from the center. The helicopter in question is called a quadcopter and is one of the fastest growing types of rc models. During the course of this blog, we will trace the development of quadcopters, as well as some of the reasons for their current popularity.
While manned quadcopters were first tested in the 1920s, rc model applications began in Japan in the early 1990s. Although the tests were successful, the quad units were never marketed internationally. During the early phases of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military was in need of a means of conducting reconnaissance in support of ground operations. These missions were first conducted by small rc planes mounted with cameras. While the rc aircraft were effective camera platforms, the need for a hover capability became apparent. Experiments were conducted with a number of designs, with a practical rc quadcopter developed by the late 2000s.
Radio control quadcopters have only recently come into use due to the processing power required to not only keep all four rotors turning, but at a synchronized speed. RC quadcopters represent the merging of several technologies. The first being a solid state gyro system from which to steer the craft, followed by high capacity batteries to provide increased flight endurance, along with digital camera technology for video and still photo observation. Many of them are constructed of a carbon-fiber material, similar to that on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. These copters are quite durable, with some test units surviving crashes in excess of 100 ft.
The quadcopter is a popular rc vehicle for a number of reasons. To begin with, it has fewer moving parts than a conventional rc helicopter and is easier to fly. While a conventional rc copter may need pitch adjustments to its main rotor while in flight, the quadcopter runs via four flat-bladed rotors. To control the quad in flight is merely a matter of controlling the power to each of the rotors. Quadcopters are also relatively safe from wind conditions due to their balanced structure. Quad units are simplier to build and repair than conventional rc helos. A number of quads are equipped with multi-colored led lights, enabling night flights. With current battery and engine technology, many quadcopters can fly in excess of 30 min. Finally, the quads are built around the ever present camera, an afterthought on a conventional rc copter.