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Aviation News

WILLIAM GUY REDMOND JR.

 

We often define the pioneers of aviation in terms of pilots, such as Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and Chuck Yeager. While being the first to set a record or fly a new type of aircraft carries a certain glamour, such efforts would not be possible without a large number of unsung heroes in the form of designers, engineers and technicians to take a plane from a mere drawing to it’s first flight.  During this blog, we’ll follow the life of one of these heroes.

William Guy Redmond Jr. grew up in Dallas, earning a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering from Southern Methodist University in 1944.  Mr. Redmond then served as a Radar Electronics Officer in the United States Navy, receiving advanced radar training at both Bowdoin College and the Massachusetts Institute Of Technology (MIT) in 1945.  After his discharge from the navy in 1946, Guy worked as an engineer designing and maintaining pipe organ systems.  The following year, he went back to SMU, serving as a faculty member until 1949, earning a BS in Electrical Engineering from the university the same year.  Guy then left SMU in order to pursue a graduate degree in Electrical Engineering, which he received from MIT in 1951.

The 1950s was a time of intense development for both aviation and rocketry.  Jet aircraft were now capable of flying faster than the speed of sound while rockets were able to reach the fringes of space.  Mr. Redmond began his aerospace career with Vought Corporation in 1951 as a servo engineer.  He both designed and invented a number of flight servo relays, inventing a servo trim system used in the F4J Fury and RA5C Vigilante naval aircraft and later the popular Lockheed L-1011 jetliner.  He later served as Electronics Project Engineer on the F-8 Crusader, the predominant naval fighter aircraft of the era.  In 1958 Guy’s career branched out into missile development, serving as head of advanced missile controls.  During that time he created a flexible rocket engine flight control system, which provided both thrust vector control off the launcher, as well as aerodynamic control with airspeed.  Subsequent tests led to Vought producing the Lance missile for the US Army.

 

LLRV#1

 

In 1960 Guy became Chief Of Automatic Flight Control Systems for Vought, which proved to be an assignment of historic proportions.  The following year President Kennedy addressed a joint session of Congress with the stated goal of sending astronauts to the moon and safely returning them by the end of the decade.  Many technical issues loomed from this announcement, most notably a propulsion system which could function in an airless environment, in which the aerodynamic features of an aircraft were of no use.  Also, a sophisticated guidance system was necessary to achieve a precise landing on the lunar surface, in addition to docking with the lunar orbiter.  Mr. Redmond began work on such a guidance system, utilizing automatic throttles and electrical system monitors actuated by computerized signals – a fly- by- wire system.  A fly-by-wire control is a purely electrically signaled control system, necessary in the environment of space. The FBW system is interposed between the astronaut/pilot and the control surfaces of the spacecraft/aircraft.  The computer is able to modify the manual inputs of the pilot in accordance with programmed control parameters. Gyroscopes fitted with sensors are mounted in the spacecraft to sense movement changes in the pitch, yaw and roll axes.  A fly-by-wire system also utilizes several backup computers, in case of failure of the main guidance system.  Guy’s efforts bore fruit with first successful flight of the Lunar Module in 1964.  He later contributed to the design of digital fly-by-wire systems.

Mr. Redmond served as Avionics Engineer on the Space Shuttle program, both designing and developing a number of innovative solutions. He retired from the Lockheed Martin Missile And Fire Control Division at the age of 89.  During his 65 years in the field of engineering, he received 12 patents, as well as  a Technical Innovation Award from NASA, in addition to recognition from both Congress and the Governor Of Texas – making him a true hero of aviation.

NOTE:

I wish to express my appreciation to Nicole Van Schaick, granddaughter of Mr. Redmond, who provided valuable documentation in preparation of this blog.

This blog is the first of a series about the heroes of aviation.

FLY BY WIRE

FBW#1

 

 

Ever since powered flight was first achieved by Wilbur and Orville Wright in 1903, the aviation community has sought both safer and more efficient methods of aircraft flight control.  During the course of this blog, we will trace the development of fly by wire control systems from the basic electrical controls of the 1930s to the enhanced computerized systems of today.

For about thirty years after the Wright Brothers first flight, pilots controlled an aircraft by direct force, by moving control wheels, sticks and rudder pedals linked to cables and pushrods , which pivoted control surfaces on the wings and tails. However, as engine power, speeds and aircraft weight increased, more force was required to effectively direct aircraft control surfaces.   Mechanical and hydraulic control systems were introduced to compensate for the increased power needs upon control surfaces.  Such systems were relatively heavy and necessitated a careful routing of flight control cables through the plane by systems of cranks, pulleys, hydraulic pipes and tension cables.  Although the mechanical and hydraulic systems provided a substantial boost to aircraft controls, they required multiple backup systems in the event of failures, further increasing weight in the design of the aircraft.  Another problem of the hydro/mechanical systems was their insensitivity to outside aerodynamic forces such as spinning, stalling and vibrations during flight.

Electrical transmission to a plane’s control surfaces was first accomplished in 1934 on the Soviet ANT-20, the Maxim Gorky.  The series of mechanical and hydraulic connections were replaced with electrical ones.  This was an extremely large aircraft for its day and the electrical connections worked flawlessly until the collision of the aircraft the following year, proving the potential of electrical flight control.  However, a dedicated electronic signal avionics control system was not tested until 1958 on the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow.  Ironically, the first vehicle to utilize an electronic flight control system without mechanical or hydraulic backup was the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle or LLRV, which flew successfully in 1964 as part of the Apollo moon program.

A fly by wire control system is a computer system, which monitors pilot control commands and related factors such as altitude, airspeed and angle-of- attack.  The FBW system then relays these pilot inputs to the flight control surfaces in order to keep the aircraft within its designated flight envelope, or safe flight parameters of the aircraft at various speeds, altitudes and other flight conditions.  The fly by wire computer employs electrical signal inputs to create electrical signal outputs which affect the flight control surfaces to produce the desired aircraft attitude.  FBW computers utilize both analog and digital processing with digital units first appearing in quantity in the late 1970s.  The essential difference between digital and analog units lies in how they process information.  Analog computers work in a continuous cycle in which data can accept an infinite set of values, resulting in no loss of data.  The primary limitation of analog units is the time required to initially configure the hardware to the aircraft, in addition to the difficulty of upgrading existing hardware.  Digital systems operate in a designated time environment, in which values are finite.  Any loss of data is supplemented by relatively high resolution and sampling rates, which minimize data loss.  Upgrading a digital unit is merely a matter of downloading current software, achieving a smooth transition coupled with reduced software and maintenance costs.  The flight control systems offer both redundant computer processing and circuitry in case of failure of the primary unit.

Fly by wire technology offers a number of advantages.  Aircraft weight is greatly reduced since mechanical and hydraulic linkages are no longer necessary.  Safety is enhanced due to both redundancy of electrical circuits as well as a quick response and processing time from the FBW unit, supplanting the skill of the pilot.  Fly by wire systems benefit military aviation by allowing engineers the latitude to design an aircraft which may be inherently unstable, but yet be able to attain superior maneuverability under the parameters of the fly by wire computer.  FBW systems require fewer parts and less fuel usage while providing more comfort for passengers because of more precise handling characteristics.  Fly by wire control systems provide for greater safety by establishing control parameters within the capability of the plane with digital units compatible with the entire range of aircraft sensors.

 

 

POP THE HOOD

HOOD#1

 

The recent grounding of 128 planes of the Southwest Airline fleet along with a number of private aircraft accidents have placed a renewed emphasis on aircraft inspections. During the course of this blog, we will examine the inspection process, as well as the human factor.

While many processes in today’s aviation are performed electronically, the inspection of an aircraft is still largely done by visual observation. An aircraft inspection may range from a casual walk around the plane to a detailed inspection involving a complete removal of aircraft components, utilizing complex inspection aids. The first step of conducting an aircraft inspection involves collecting the required forms and reference materials from which to document the inspectionThe aircraft log books must be reviewed to provide background information and a maintenance history of the aircraftChecklists are utilized to ensure all items are included, appropriate to the scope of the inspection. Additional publications provided by the aircraft manufacturer and the Federal Aviation Administration are useful guides for inspection standards. Conceptually, aircraft inspections may be planned on either a flight hours or a calendar basisAircraft functioning under the flight hour system are inspected when a specified number of flight hours are accumulated. The flight hour system requires more documentation than the calendar inspection, as well as placing limits on the number of hours an aircraft may be flown. Different parts and operating systems on a plane may also have varying hour limits between inspections. The calendar inspection system establishes a regular interval between aircraft inspections, specifying a given number of weeks between each inspection. The calendar system is both simple and efficient, with scheduled replacement of components with hourly operating limits replaced on the date nearest the hourly limit.

The criteria governing the airworthiness of a plane is specified by the Code of Federal Regulations, which prescribes maintenance and flight operations standards. Title 14 of the CFR establishes the requirements for annual and 100 hour inspections. Private aircraft with less flying hours are subject to annual inspections while commercial planes must have a complete inspection every 100 hours. While both inspections are identical in detail, there a few differences. A certified air frame and power plant maintenance technician can perform a 100 hour inspection, while an annual must be performed by a certified air frame and power plant maintenance technician with inspection authorization. Also, the 100 hour inspections are more rigid in their maintenance schedules, allowing only a 10 hour overflight beyond the 100 hour limit to the inspection site. Since annual inspections may be quite extensive and detailed, the progressive inspection program was developed. The progressive inspection program divides the inspection process into four to six phases, the completion of which amounts to an annual inspection. Under the progressive program, an inspection phase is usually completed within a couple of days – minimizing the downtime of an aircraft. If the required phases are not completed within a twelve month period, the remaining phases must be completed before the end of the 12th month from when the first phase was completed. Owners and operators contemplating a progressive inspection program must submit a written request to the FAA Flight Standards District Office having jurisdiction over where the applicant is located.

No matter what type of inspection program an airline or operator utilizes, human error is always a factor. Historically, human error studies have emphasized flight crew performance with a more recent emphasis on air traffic controllers. Air safety studies have largely neglected human factor issues affecting the performance of aircraft maintenance personnel. This has been a serious oversight, since human error in aircraft maintenance has had an equally dramatic effect upon the safety of flight operations as pilot or air controller error. Both aircraft maintenance and inspection tasks can involve a variety of duties, creating an environment for error. Maintenance personnel frequently work under time pressures, especially in high traffic segments, in which the carrier seeks to maximize profits while minimizing aircraft turnaround times. Aircraft maintenance technicians are increasingly servicing fleets which are increasing in age, with many planes in service for over twenty years. These aircraft require an intense inspection regimen to detect signs of fatigue, corrosion and general deterioration. Concurrently, new technology aircraft are entering service with the world’s air fleets, with features such as composite materials, environmentally friendly engines and built-in diagnostic equipment. The need to maintain air fleets of multiple technology tiers will require both a highly skilled and educated technical force to meet present and future demands of the aviation industry.

 

 

 

 

LOCKHEED AND HUDSON

The recent discovery of an aluminum panel on Nikumaroro atoll in the South Pacific has renewed interest in the search for the Lockheed Electra flown by the aviatrix Amelia Earhart. During this blog, we will follow the development of the Electra, as well as its civil and military roles.

ELECTRA#1

In spite of the Great Depression, the early 1930s was a time of expanded air traffic, in both the passenger and cargo categories.  Lockheed developed the Electra to compete with the Boeing 247 and Douglas DC 2.  The Electra was the first all metal plane built by Lockheed and complied with a 1934 federal requirement that all aircraft carrying mail had to be powered by more than one engine, due to a series of crashes with single engine planes.  It was also Lockheed’s first major move toward becoming a key manufacturer of transport aircraft.  The Electra was a cantilever low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction, with retractable tailwheel landing gear and a tail unit incorporating twin fins and rudders.  The prototype was first flown in 1934, with the Model 10 entering service later that year.  By the late 1930s the Electra was flown by eight major airlines, resulting in a production run of 148 aircraft.

However, it began to decline in both the cargo and passenger roles by the beginning of World War II, due to the introduction of larger aircraft types such as the Boeing Stratoliner.  The Electra was relatively easy to fly and could be modified for a variety of tasks.  A modified Electra was used to conduct wing de-icing tests with a system that utilized hot gasses from the engine exhausts.  Sidney Cotton, an Australian executive who used an Electra Model 12 for business trips, modified the plane to carry cameras, taking clandestine photographs of German and Italian military installations over a three month period just before the beginning of World War II.  Perhaps the two most famous flights of the Electra were that of Amelia Earhart, in her attempted around the world flight in 1937 and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 meeting in Munich with Adolf Hitler.

While civil interest in the Electra began to decline, the military potential of the plane increased.  Lockheed, in an effort to promote foreign sales, sent cutaway drawings of the plane in 1937 to various publications, displaying the aircraft as both a civilian airliner and a converted military bomber.  The following year, the British purchased a modified version of the Lockheed Model 14 Super Electra airliner to supplement its Avro Anson maritime patrol aircraft, the Lockheed planes designated as the Hudson Mk I.  The aircraft quickly entered production with 78 aircraft available to the RAF by the start of the war in September 1939.  The RAF received an additional 410 planes via the Lend Lease program.  The Hudson was originally armed with two fixed Browning machine guns in the nose along with two .30 cal. machine guns in a dorsal turret.  As the war progressed, the Hudson’s armament increased with the addition of two waist guns and a single ventral gun.

Operationally, the Hudson achieved a number of firsts.  It was the first aircraft deployed from the British Isles to shoot down an enemy aircraft in October 1939.  A Hudson was the first US plane to sink a German U boat (U 656) and the first Canadian aircraft to do the same (U 754), both in 1942.  In 1941, an attack by an RAF Hudson based in Iceland forced U 570 to surface, causing the submarine’s crew to display a white flag and surrender – the aircraft being the first to capture a warship.  In the Pacific, the Hudson was equally effective, with an RAAF Hudson being the first to make an attack on the Japanese Troopship Awazisan Maru  off the Malayian coast, an hour before the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Saburo Sakai and other Japanese aces have praised both the durability and maneuverability of the Hudson in protracted aerial combat.

While outclassed by larger bombers later in the war, the Hudson was available at a time when it was most needed.  Although difficult to take off and land, it was easy to fly.  It was a versatile aircraft, performing a variety of missions ranging from antisubmarine patrols to transporting agents behind enemy lines, as well as a trainer aircraft for bomber pilots.  The Hudson was noted by its pilots for exceptional agility for a twin-engine plane.  Perhaps the most enduring tribute to the Hudson was it spawned the development of two other successful Lockheed aircraft, the Ventura and the P-38 Lightning.

HUDSON#2

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHARGE EM UP

Within the past fifteen years there has been a revolution in both types and capabilities of rc model batteries.  During this blog, we will attempt to analyze current types of batteries on the market and their best uses.

The NICAD or nickel cadium  battery was the first battery in use for rc models and has served the radio control pilot for decades.  NICAD batteries were first developed in Sweden, with the first practical batteries produced in 1906.   Nickel cadium batteries were first produced in the United States in 1946 and radio control enthusiasts began to use them in the 1950s.  They were popular because they had a higher power to weight ratio than gasoline engines in use on rc models of the time, although they had a limited endurance.  Nickel cadium batteries offer the advantages of a low internal charge resistance, producing high currents.  These batteries also have a relatively low self discharge (retaining its charge while stored) and their performance is not drastically affected by fluctuations in temperature.  Some of the disadvantages of NICADS are they are both heavier and bulkier than newer technology batteries, are not environmentally friendly, as well as gradually losing their charge capacity if not periodically drained and recharged.  Despite the availability of newer battery types, some rc hobbyists continue to use them when extremely fast performance Is required.

BATTERIES#1

Nickel-metal hydride (NIMH) batteries are chemically similar to nickel cadium cells while utilizing a hydrogen-absorbing alloy instead of cadium.  An NIMH battery has two to three times the capacity of an NICAD battery.  Nickel-metal hydride batteries were first tested in 1967 using a lanthanum alloy, which was both expensive to produce in addition to having a limited charge life.  After extensive testing in the 1970s and 1980s a practical battery using  a mischmetal alloy was developed in 1987.  NIMH batteries have the advantages of a higher capacity than NICAD batteries, in addition to retaining more of their charge capacity over time and being more environmentally friendly.  Nickel-hydride batteries can lose their charge faster than other types, and require an outside charger for peak efficiency, unlike NICAD batteries.  NIMH batteries are lighter than nickel-cadium units and more subject to breakage with imported batteries often running below stated capacity.  NIMH batteries are most often used in transmitter and receiver packs of rc model units.

A lithium polymer or LIPO battery is a rechargeable battery of lithium-ion in a soft pouch type structure, unlike NICAD or NIMH batteries.  The cells of the LIPO batteries contain liquid electrolytes with the polymer barriers used to separate the battery cells.  The electrolytes may also be gelled by a polymer additive to conduct current.  Lithium polymer batteries have been in use since the mid 1990s  and have a very high power to weight ratio.  They retain much of their charge in storage and are resistant to temperature changes.  However, they are sensitive to overcharging and rapidly discharging, posing a fire hazard due to the polymer chemicals.  RC models such as quadcopters now routinely use LIPO batteries attaining performance and endurance greater than many gas powered units.  There are two recent variations of LIPO technology which overcome some of the basic LIPO battery limitations.  The LifePO4 is more resistant to overcharging and discharging than the basic LIPO battery, as well as being less flammable .  The LifePO4 has an ever higher power to weight ratio than a regular lithium polymer battery.  The A123 battery, a modified LifePO4 utilizing nano technology, is able to deliver current at an even faster rate than the LifePO4 with greater safety.  Such batteries give the rc pilot revolutionary advantages of weight, performance and safety.

 

 

 

AN EMPTY COCKPIT

PILOT#1

When one makes the decision to become a pilot, they first realize how many hours and how many dollars are involved in order to complete the training – a regimen not everyone can sustain.  During this blog, we will explore current employment trends for commercial pilots, as well as the underlying causes for pilot shortages.

When the Airline Deregulation Act passed in 1978, the government no longer controlled airline industry scheduling, staffing or fares.  With the market saturated with new airlines, the industry now controlled who they hired and how much they paid them.  The airline segment entered a period of intensified competition between existing airlines with new ones entering the market.  While these conditions created an increased demand for commercial pilots, flight schools were able to keep pace with the demand due to the expansion of the national economy.  This growth began to slow in the 1990s, with a number of airlines such as Precision, Atlantic, TWA and North American either being absorbed into another airline or leaving the industry, creating a surplus of available pilots.

On the heels of the airline consolidation of the 1990s came another event which brought a drastic impact upon the industry – the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.  These attacks brought about enhanced security measures and related costs to be borne by the airlines, in addition to creating a climate of fear, which devastated the industry as a whole.

Financial considerations are another factor affecting the supply of pilots.  The major airlines (those serving international routes) currently require a pilot to have a Bachelor’s degree along with completion of their Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate.  The tuition required to complete both courses of study is easily in excess of $100,000, leaving entry level pilots saddled with debt for a number of years.  To make matters worse, competition is keen for the relatively few openings at the major airlines, forcing many graduates to begin their careers working for the smaller regional airlines, subcontractors who operate smaller jets and turboprops on behalf of the major carriers.  These airlines offer starting salaries in the $20,000 to $25,000 range, low by industry standards, with advancement to captain often taking at least five years.  Pilot tuition further increased in 2013, to satisfy a new FAA requirement of 1,500 hrs. training for safety purposes.  The previous requirement was 350 hrs.  Starting salaries at the major carriers average between $35,000 to $40,000 per year.  By comparison, a 2LT in the USAF, with flight pay and allowances, earns approximately $50,000 per year.

So, is there a current pilot shortage?  Several criteria may be used to gauge current and future staffing levels.  One indicator, additional air routes, would suggest a surplus of pilots in the near term.  After 9/11, the airline industry went through a drastic reduction in staffing.  While the industry has largely recovered from this, it has been a slow one with traffic still not at pre 9/11 levels.  In 2012, Boeing conducted a study which forecast a need of 70,000 pilots by 2024.  This is, in part, based upon a projected demand of new aircraft orders at an increase of 1.4% per year over the next decade.  The results of this study are a mixed bag, suggesting a slow expansion at the major airlines with a corresponding reduction at the regionals.  Flight school enrollment is another factor of pilot supply.  While flight school enrollment has experienced a gradual decline over the last ten years, a recent General Accounting Office study indicated a demand of an additional 42,000 pilots between now and 2024.  The study determined the projected pilot pool to be adequate to meet anticipated needs.  However, the 1,500 hr. training requirement imposed by the FAA upon flight schools delays the certification of future pilots by an additional 12 to 18 mos., limiting the available pipeline of entry level pilots.  The extension of mandatory retirement from age 60 to 65, approved by the FAA in 2007, will serve to reduce pilot attrition.  This is partially offset by a reduction of former military pilots entering the airline force, which they believe has limited pay and growth potential.  Furloughed pilots, whose positions were cut from their respective airlines due to unprofitable routes and other factors, are an ever present part of the pilot pool.

While the various studies and factors appear to offset one another, two problems remain certain.  The cost of completing an Airline Transport Certificate coupled with a Bachelor’s degree now averages about $125,000, which could make an aviation career a domain of the wealthy.  The other half of this problem is the relatively low starting salaries offered by the regional airlines.  At the current levels, it takes entry level pilots ten years or more just to pay off the ATP training.  Airlines and/or government assistance must be made available to insure the best qualified applicants serve as pilots.  While the regional airlines have traditionally been stepping stones to careers with the majors, the regionals must seek to improve pay, benefits and overall working conditions to promote stability within their pilot force.  A flight captain with ten or more years of service with the major airlines averages from $120,000 to $200,000 per year, the regionals about 60% of that.  If these two problems can be addressed, we’ll not only have an adequate pilot supply but a highly capable one.

 

 

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ll

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.

C-130#1

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.

A-10#1

HAPPY BIRTHDAY I

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.

BERLIN#2

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.

F-86#1

 

THE RISE OF THE QUADS

QC#1

 

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.

 

 

ARMY AIR

In 1947, the U.S. military was in a state of transition.  Just two short years after the end of World War II, the USAF was established as a separate service, as well as the OSS or Office Of Strategic Services of World War II being replaced by the Central Intelligence Agency or CIA – an agency with much broader powers and resources.  With the onset of the Cold War, some of the traditional roles performed by the armed services were being revised to meet the new environment in which they were to operate.  We will examine the role of Army aviation from its earliest days to the dedicated ground support role of today.

Army aviation actually began during the Civil War, in which both Union and Confederate forces used balloons for communications and artillery observation.  While such missions could be hazardous at times, the balloons were effective in both roles.  By World War I aircraft were used in direct ground support, along with other duties such as observation and establishing air superiority over the battlefield.  While the ground support role of aircraft was proven during World War I, the Air Corps leadership lost interest in the concept between the wars in favor of large strategic bombers.  However, this began to change as the United States entered World War II, due to a series of large scale ground exercises in 1940 and 1941.  In June 1942 the War Department authorized the Field Artillery to maintain a small unit of spotter planes organic to the ground forces and independent of other Air Corps units.  Small planes, such as the L-4 Grasshopper proved their worth in every theater of operations.

In 1947 the National Defense Act was passed, in which the Air Force was created as a separate service, equal to the Army and Navy.  This left Army aviation with a narrowly defined mission of providing limited ground support and logistics to ground units and to disrupt enemy supply lines and communications near the line of battle.  As a result of the Key West Agreement in 1948, Army aviation assumed the responsibility of transport and dispersion of troops under conditions of a nuclear battlefield.  While the National Defense Act stripped the Army of most of its fixed wing aircraft, this proved to be a blessing in disguise, as it allowed the Army to devote more research toward rotary wing aircraft, or helicopters.  During the Korean War the Army made significant advancements in its helicopter fleet, making it an essential item of the modern battlefield.  Medical evacuation in Korea was particularly successful, with approximately 600 helicopters evacuating more than 23,000 casualties.

Army Air

Although helicopters were successful in support roles, the Army was slow to develop them for a ground attack role.  Part of this was due to the philosophy of massive retaliation during the Eisenhower Administration, in which USAF strategic bombers played the dominant role.  Also, as tactical nuclear weapons were developed in the mid 1950s, the Army began to restructure its organization around them in the belief that large scale conventional wars were obsolete.  However, as the Soviets began deploying tactical nuclear weapons of their own, the Army leadership realized the potential of a limited conventional war and began to prepare both hardware and doctrine for it.  Due to experience in the Korean War, the Department of Defense authorized the Army to modify and test existing helicopters as attack platforms.  While the tests were partially successful, it was clear larger helicopters with more capable engines were necessary for sustained fire support.

By 1960 the United States was finding itself more deeply involved in Southeast Asia and needed a means of providing close ground support, the helicopter being the ideal weapons platform.  As a result of a Pentagon study that year, a new generation of helicopters was authorized.  Purchase of the Bell UH-1 “Huey” and the CH-47 Chinook helicopters were approved, the Huey arguably the most important aircraft the Army ever procured, with many still in service today.  The extensive use of helicopters during field exercises in 1963 and 1964 validated the concept of the airmobile division.  However, when the 1st Air Cavalry (Airmobile) Division began operations in Viet Nam, there was a shortage of artillery support with Air Force and Navy ground support lacking accuracy.  To surmount this problem, the Army developed the AH-1 Cobra, the first dedicated ground attack helicopter.  The Cobra, armed with 2.75 in. rockets, was so effective that many ground commanders requested fire support from Cobra units, as opposed to regular tube artillery.  Viet Nam proved that helicopters were both survivable and effective.  Operational statistics revealed for a maximum force level of 2,600 helicopters in country, one copter was hit for every 1,147 sorties with one shot down for every 13,461 sorties flown with one aircraft lost every 21,194 sorties.

Army aviation had proven its value again as a vital part of the combined arms team.  With both the airmobile and aerial field artillery concepts validated and the subsequent use of helicopter gunships as anti-armor weapons, Army aviation has truly progressed from the days of mere artillery spotting – becoming a separate branch of the Army in 1983.  In the Gulf War, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan, Army aviation has proven itself a force to be reckoned with.