Author Archives: Dario Leone

How the AC-130 destroyed at least 20 vehicles per night during Vietnam War

During the early days of Vietnam Conflict, the US developed a special kind of attack aircraft to stop the flow of enemy troops and supplies: the gunship.

The Gunship aircraft, born from the conversion of cargo aircraft into powerful aerial weapons armed with big guns, were based on the concept of the circling attack.

In other words, the guns were mounted on the left side of the gunship so that the plane could fly a bank circle, achieving a good accuracy in strafing the target by using high velocity guns with a caliber of at least .30.

The first two types of gunships developed by the US were the twin-engine piston powered Douglas C-47 Skytrain and Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar, but the final leap was made relying on the size, speed and heft of the Lockheed C-130 Hercules which became known in the gunships world as the AC-130 Spectre.

The first AC-130As were deployed in Vietnam in 1968. They were armed with two 20 mm and two 40 mm cannons and they flew their first missions teamed with F-4s, which had the task to attack and destroy with cluster bombs the enemy AAA (Anti Aircraft Artillery) that opened fire against the gunship.

During the first missions  the Spectre was also able to achieve an aerial victory when on May 8, 1969 an AC-130 shot down an enemy helicopter, as told by Wayne Mutza in his book Gunships The Story of Spooky, Shadow, Stinger and Spectre .

But the AC-130s were best and widely used from October 1969 to April 1970, the so called dry season, during which the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) trucks transported ammunition supplies by using the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Spectres crews, that had the task to hunt trucks, were able to destroy and damage 25 of them in one mission: among these there were also AAA vehicles and, some times, the gunships came back to the base badly damaged. In the 1969-1970 dry season the NVA moved about 68,000 tons of provisions on the Trail, 47,000 tons of which were destroyed by the 12 deployed AC-130s with their 20 mm high density rounds and 40 mm Bofors cannons.

The 1970-1971 was even busier for the gunships since American and South Vietnamese soldiers began moving into Laos: in fact, while the numbers of AC-130s increased from 12 to 18, the western part of the Trail became filled with an always increasing number of vehicles coming from east, where interdiction sorties had concentrated. Therefore, during this period a gunship could destroy more than 25 trucks per night and the 1970-1971 dry season ended with 58,500 tons of material destroyed.

By the end of the 1971, after the NVA increased the number of the armored vehicles and the caliber of guns along the Trail, the U.S. deployed the first example of AC-130E.

As explained in detail by Wayne Mutza in his book, the new Spectre model was armed with a new more potent gun, the M102 105 mm Howitzer which replaced one of the Bofors cannons on the left side of the gunship.

The first Howitzer was installed in a gunship after it was repaired from some battle damages. Since it could fire from a distance of 12,000 meters, the Howitzer highly increased Spectre stand-off capabilities: the result was a higher kill ratio against trucks, since a vehicle hit by a 105 round had only a 10% chance to be still operable.

During its first Vietnam deployment this single howitzer-mounted AC-130E destroyed 75 trucks and damaged 92 ones with the 105, and destroyed 27 vehicles and damaged 24 ones with 40 mm fire in 32 missions.

4th Special Operations Squadron

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

Here’s how Israel managed to get three second hand B-17 Flying Fortress bombers

When the Egyptian Air Force started attacking Tel Aviv on May 15, 1948, the day after Israel announced independence, the Jewish state felt the need to respond to the Egyptian air raids. In spite of the large U.S. market of World War II surplus equipment, the only heavy bomber that was readily available and could procured was the Boeing B-17.

The B-17 Flying Fortress bombers were acquired thanks to Al Schwimmer, a World War II USAAF (United States Army Air Force) flight engineer that during the second half of 1947 purchased and delivered the surplus transport aircraft that eventually built up the Israeli Air Force Air Transport Command.

Schwimmer (the founder and first CEO of Israel Aerospace Industries) found the future Israeli bombers among the Flying Fortress aircraft already flying with the numerous start-up airlines formed after the end of WWII.

As reported by Bill Norton in his book Air War on the Edge, A History of the Israel Air Force and its aircraft since 1947, two B-17s (s/n 44-83851 and 44-83753) were acquired for 30,000 USD from Charles Winters which used them for his freight business between Florida and Puerto Rico, while two more planes were purchased from Donald H. Roberts of Tulsa. The four B-17s were legally registered, commercially modified and above all, they were airworthy airframes, meaning that they could fly on their own power all the way from the U.S. to Israel.

Planned route for the Flying Fortress was Miami to San Juan, Puerto Rico; San Juan to Santa Maria, Azores; and Azores to Zatec Czechoslovakia, for an epic 10,600 kilometer flight of at least 38 hours duration over the Atlantic Ocean and across the Iron Curtain.

The first three B-17s took off on Jun. 11, 1948 and their ferry flight was explained by David Goldberg, who was the co-pilot of one of the three bombers. Goldberg released his impressions for Wing Magazine Volume 11, February 1981. The same story was later reported also in Shlomo Aloni & Zvi Avidror book Hammers Israel’s Long-Range Heavy Bomber Arm: The Story of 69 Squadron:

“I had flown B-24s with the 15th Air Force in Italy during the war. While making cargo runs out of Miami in the spring of 1948, I was contacted by phone and asked if I’d be interested in earning $ 1000 to ferry an airplane to Europe. I said sure. […] A few days before we were to depart I was asked if I’ d fly as co-pilot instead of pilot, since they now had found a colonel who was supposed to have had a great deal of B-17 time, and, also, his name would look better on the documents. The money was the same, so I agreed. Our flight from Miami to San Juan, Puerto Rico, was uneventful. Besides the colonel and myself we had picked up a navigator and about ten young men classified as ‘cargo handlers’.”

The rest of the ferry flight was quite a scary adventure which saw Goldberg flying the B-17 most of the time: “The colonel got roaring drunk at San Juan and stayed that way up to departure time. The next morning we have managed to pour him into the plane, and the navigator and I flew it out. From San Juan we were heading to the Azores Islands. That would take 21 hours, and we had 24 hours of fuel on board. When we were about 10 hours out the colonel was coming around to relieve me so I could get some rest. I had just fallen asleep in the back when I was awakened with a great deal of excitement and told that Cohen, the navigator, had fallen through a glassed-over section in the floor of the nose that had been put there for aerial photography. The guy was barely hanging on, and was slowly being sucked out by the slipstream. I ran back to the cockpit to get the aircraft slowed down. Col. B— had gone to pieces and was shaking like a leaf. I slowed the plane down and put it on auto-pilot and went down to help pull the navigator back in. We succeeded, but he was absolutely useless after that, and we now had to find the Azores without him.”

Incredibly Goldberg and his aircrew were able to find the Portuguese islands: “By a stroke of luck we were able to pick up the airway radio beacon from Santa Maria after 20 hours of flying – but the weather had turned bad and the ceiling was low. The island is covered with mountains, and Col. B— then announced that an instrument approach would be too risky, so he was going to ditch the plane off the coast. I said that was crazy, and that I would make the approach. He refused to get out of the left-hand seat. It was time for some drastic action. I grabbed a fire extinguisher and told him I’d crush his skull if he didn’t get out of the f—-ing seat. He left, we landed safely… And I completed the rest of the flight to Czechoslovakia alone in the cockpit!”

As already said, after reaching Santa Maria, Azores, the three B-17s were planned to fly to Zatec, Czechoslovakia, but since the American authorities were not far behind, the bombers had to move on quickly. So, with the prior consent of French officials the crews filed a flight plan for Ajaccio, Corse, but instead they landed at Zatec on June 17, where the Israeli airlift was going on in earnest.

However the American press reports had already uncovered the affair from June 16, when news circulated that several American surplus warplanes had departed from Ajaccio to Palestine: moreover, despite arrangements, the French would not confirm the arrival of the aircraft at Ajaccio and they were declared missing.

The public exposure of the three B-17s’ epic flight made the delivery of the last bomber really difficult: in fact the fourth Flying Fortress never reached Israel since, at the request of the United States, Portuguese officials impounded the aircraft indefinitely at the Azores.

However three B-17s arrived in Israel and thanks to them the Israeli Air Force was able to respond to the Egyptian bombings only two months later, when the three Flying Fortress raided Cairo: these bombers were also the first aircraft flown by the legendary 69 Squadron Hammers, that today flies another Boeing product, the powerful F-15I Ra’am (Thunder).

Image credit: Wiki

 

Look Ma, No Hook: how a C-130 Hercules managed to land on an aircraft carrier

The story of  the C-130 Hercules that landed on USS Forrestal

Even if, nowadays, the C-2 Greyhound is the biggest transport aircraft designed specifically for carrier operations, on Oct. 30 1963, in an attempt to investigate the possibilities of using the C-130 for logistic support for U.S. fleet, a Hercules made an experimental landing on the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal (CVA-59).

With the successful test, which took place in moderately rough seas in the North Atlantic 500 miles off the coast of Boston, the Hercules became the largest and heaviest aircraft to ever land on an aircraft carrier, a record that stands to this day.

The idea behind this unusual test was the so-called “Super Carrier Onboard Delivery” (Super COD) aircraft.

The COD concept was born to resupply aircraft carriers with urgently needed items. At the beginning of the 1960s, the airplane used for such task was the Grumman C-1 Trader, a twin piston-engine aircraft with a limited payload capacity and 300-mile range, the Chief of Naval Operations ordered to assess the possibility of operating a bigger transport airplane aboard the Norfolk-based USS Forrestal (CVA-59).

As explained by Joseph Earl Dabney in his book Herk: Hero of the Skies the C-130 was selected for its stability and reliability, combined with a long cruising range and the capability of carrying large payloads.

The crew for this historic test consisted of Lt. James H. Flatley III, pilot; Lt. Cmdr. W.W. Stovall, copilot; ADR-1 E.F. Brennan, flight engineer; and Lockheed engineering flight test pilot Ted H. Limmer, Jr.

When Lt. James H. Flatley III was told about his new assignment, he thought somebody was pulling his leg. “Operate a C-130 off an aircraft carrier? Somebody’s got to be kidding,” he said.

According to Dabney a KC-130F refueler transport (BuNo 149798), on loan from the U.S. Marines and delivered on Oct. 8, 1963 was chosen for the historical trial.

Lockheed’s only modifications to the original plane was a smaller nose-landing gear orifice, an improved anti-skid braking system, and removal of the underwing refueling pods. “The big worry was whether we could meet the maximum sink rate of nine feet per second,” Flatley said. But, the Navy was amazed to find they were able to better this mark by a substantial margin.

The initial sea trials started on Oct. 30 1963 and were conducted into a 40-knot wind: however the crew successfully performed 29 touch-and-go landings, 21 unarrested full-stop landings, and 21 unassisted takeoffs at gross weights of 85,000 pounds up to 121,000 pounds.

At 85,000 pounds, the KC-130F came to a complete stop within 267 feet, about twice the aircraft’s wing span as remarked by Dabney on his book.

The Navy discovered that even with a maximum payload, the plane used only 745 feet of flight deck for takeoff and 460 feet for landing. These achievements were confirmed by Lockheed’s Ted Limmer, who checked out fighter pilot Flatley in the C-130 and stayed on for some of the initial touch-and-go and full-stop landings. “The last landing I participated in, we touched down about 150 feet from the end, stopped in 270 feet more and launched from that position, using what was left of the deck. We still had a couple hundred feet left when we lifted off.”

The plane’s wingspan cleared the Forrestal’s flight deck “island” control tower by just under 15 feet as the plane roared down the deck on a specially painted line.

As explained by Dabney, Lockheed’s chief engineer, Art E. Flock was aboard the USS Forrestal to observe the testing. “The sea was pretty big that day. I was up on the captain’s bridge. I watched a man on the ship’s bow as that bow must have gone up and down 30 feet.”

The speed of the ship was increased 10 knots to reduce yaw motion and to reduce wind direction: in this way, when the plane landed, it had a 40 to 50 kts wind on the nose. “That airplane stopped right opposite the captain’s bridge,” recalled Flock. “There was cheering and laughing. There on the side of the fuselage, a big sign had been painted on that said, “LOOK MA, NO HOOK.”

The analysis of data collected by the U.S. Navy during the tests highlighted that the C-130 Hercules could carry 25,000 pounds of freight, fly for 2,500 miles and eventually land on a carrier. However, the procedure was considered a bit too risky for the C-130 and the Navy decided to use a smaller COD aircraft. For his effort, the Navy awarded Flatley the Distinguished Flying Cross.

In the video below you can see the trials conducted by the Hercules on the USS Forrestal and described in the article.

 Image credit: U.S. Navy

 

How three different versions of the F-101 Voodoo played a crucial role in the Cuban Missile Crisis

Born as a long range escort fighter for U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command (SAC) bombers, the McDonnell F-101 was developed in several versions. Both were involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The McDonnell F-101 Voodoo was a supersonic fighter plane which flew with the United States Air Force (USAF) and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).

The F-101B was configured as a two seat interceptor for the Air Defense Command (ADC), the F-101C was used as tactical bomber relying on its beefed-up structure, and the RF-101C was the tactical reconnaissance version of the F-101C. These three models were used or kept on alert during the tense moments of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

When a U-2 revealed the presence of the Soviet R-12 (SS-4 in NATO designation) theater ballistic missile sites in Cuba on Oct. 14 1962, post-mission analysis highlighted the presence of SA-2 surface to air missiles.

With several SAM batteries surrounding Cuban missile sites, subsequent reconnaissance missions had to be flown by fast tactical aircraft flying low level “recce” missions. Tactical Air Command (TAC) RF-101As and Cs as well as by U.S. Navy RF-8A Crusaders were tasked to spy on Soviet progress on the island.

F-101 imagery

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

After President Kennedy announced that photos from American reconnaissance planes had disclosed the presence of Soviet surface to surface missile armed with nuclear warhead at Cuba, U.S. homeland air defense forces were put on heightened alert status, preparing for the imminent war.

“In the Air Force, while our bombers reinforced their around the clock airborne alert flights, fighters deployed to and near Florida, in preparation for tactical strikes, while our air defense units sent interceptors to emergency fields, for both survival and readiness should Soviet bombers attack,” Jonathan Myer, an F-101B pilot, recalls in Ted Spitzmiller’s “Century Series The USAF Quest for air supremacy 1950-1960book.

“I remember our 13th FIS (Fighter Interceptor Squadron) aircrews listening tensely to President Kennedy’s October 22nd speech, as some of us prepared to deploy from Glasgow AFB (Air Force Base), Montana, to the municipal airport at Billings.”

The deployment was accomplished with the F-101Bs loaded with both the pair of AIR-2A Genie unguided rockets with nuclear warheads and the pair of infrared-homing AIM-4C Falcon missiles, mounted in the “rotodoor” (the F-101B weapons bay’s rotary armament door).

“We flew there fully loaded, in pairs and with our AIR-2A nucs and IR missiles ready for war, while maintenance and supplies followed by truck. Landing on Billings’ unprepared runway incurred a few cut tires, while our makeshift alert area was cordoned off and a 24 hour phone alert set up in a hangar. […] Fortunately, no Soviet escalation ensued and a couple of weeks later we returned to Glasgow to resume regular alert and training,” Myers says.

Bon Hanson was instead an 81st TFW (Tactical Fighter Wing) F-101C driver, who gave his account to Spitzmiller, explaining the preparations for a nuclear strike mission that had to be undertaken across the Atlantic Ocean, after the take off from RAF Bentwaters: “I was on alert the day the Cuban Missile Crisis balloon went up. It was around 0900, and we went to RED cockpit alert until nightfall, and then reverted to 15 min. But, initially we really thought we were going! And for the next week or more the whole wing was loaded and ready to launch! It was serious!”

Eventually, the Soviets withdrew their missiles from Cuba and the U.S. removed their Jupiter missiles from Turkey and later from Italy, thus avoiding World War III.

RF-101C Voodoos flew the reconnaissance flights that the provided Washington the required evidence that Soviet nuclear missile site were being removed from Cuba.

Top image credit: U.S. Air Force via Aircraftinformation.info

 

Can the Sukhoi Su-30 have the edge over U.S. fighters in aerial combat?

Su-30s would beat F-15s every time. But…..

We recently explained how, 10 years ago, Exercise Cope India put the Indian Air Force Su-30 against U.S. Air Force F-15C jets with results that are still open to debate: since the drills took place during F-22 budget reviews, some analysts affirm the Air Force intentionally accepted the challenging ROE (Rules Of Engagement) to gain more Raptors. Others claim this version of the story was invented to try to save face after the Indians achieved an impressive 9:1 kill ratio.

Even if we might never know the truth, it’s undeniable that, at least on paper, the Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker has been one of the best Russian combat planes.

The Su-27 belongs to the same class of the U.S. F-14 and F-15, but unlike the American fighters it can fly at an angle of attack of 30 degrees and can also perform the “Pugachev Cobra”.

In a Cobra, the plane suddenly raises the nose to the veritical position (or beyond) before dropping it back to the normal flight, maintaining more or less the same altitude through the entire maneuver.

The Su-27 and its “Cobra” have been the highlight of many air shows from the end of the 1980s to the middle of the 1990s. But, since then, the Flanker maneuverability has been furtherly enhanced.

The improved multirole Su-30MK is a Flanker variant fitted with both canard forewings and thrust-vectoring nozzles which have improved its agility.

But how can this kind of maneuvers be used in combat?

A clear idea comes from an authoritative source: Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine.

In “Su-30MK Beats F-15C ‘Every Time’” published in 2002 on AW&ST, David A. Fulghum and Douglas Barrie reported that the Su-30 used its maneuverability to beat the F-15 in several engagements conducted in a complex of 360-deg. simulation domes at Boeing’s St. Louis facilities.

According to the article (that is often referenced by Indian media outlets to highlight the presumed Su-30 superiority on the American fighter jets) an anonymous USAF officer explained that in the case of a missed BVR missile (like the AA-12 Adder) shot by the Flanker, the Su-30 could turn into the clutter notch of the F-15′s radar, where the Eagle’s Doppler was ineffective.

As the AW&ST story explained in detail, this maneuver could be accomplished making a descending, right-angle turn to drop below the approaching F-15 while reducing the Su-30′s relative forward speed close to zero: even if this is a very old air combat tactic, the USAF officer said that the Sukhoi could perform effectively this maneuver thanks to its ability to reduce rapidly its speed and then quickly regain it.

If the Flanker driver performed correctly the maneuver, the Su-30 was invisible to the F-15’s radar until the Eagle was inside the AA-11 Archer IR missile range, since the F-15’s Doppler radar relied on movements of its targets.

As pointed out by the USAF officer, this tactic “works in the simulator every time,” however, only few countries have pilots with the required skills to fly those scenarios.

This happened about 10 years ago.

In the meanwhile, American pilots have received their F-22 Raptor stealth planes (facing also some serious problems).

But some unique features, such as the power of its engines and its superb aerodynamics, make the Flanker, in the right hands and in the proper scenario, a great dogfighter and a very tough enemy for every western jet WVR (Within Visual Range).

Moreover the Su-30 could carry the short range IR missile AA-11 Archer which in the ‘90s was the best short-range AAM in the world since it could be linked to the pilot’s helmet fire control system and was capable to be fired at targets until 45 degrees off the axis of the aircraft: both these capabilities were not possessed by the AIM-9M, the main western short range missile at the time (later replaced by the AIM-9X Sidewinder).

Image credit: Wiki