Category Archives: Military Aviation

These U.S. Marine Corps VMAQ-2 EA-6B Jets Have Just Completed The Prowler’s Final Deployment Before Retirement

The final operational chapter of the Prowler career has just been written by the U.S. Marine Corps “Death Jesters” and their six EA-6Bs jets.

Marine Corps Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron-2 (VMAQ-2) “Death Jesters”, the last of four Marine Prowler squadrons, has just completed its final deployment in Qatar, with the last six EA-6B in the U.S. military inventory.

Four aircraft, using radio callsign “Trend 01-04” landed at Lajes, Azores, on their way back to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, from Al Udeid, Qatar, on Nov. 12, 2018. The remaining two aircraft would follow in a couple of days (they were left behind due to technical issues).

The first pair (“Trend 01-02”) was supported by “Blue 52”, an Air Force Reserve KC-135R operated by the 916 Aerospace Refuelling Wing at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, that also landed at Lajes.

Interestingly, one of the aircraft, 163047/CY-05, sported “Agent 007” markings inside the split trailing edge air brakes as the following image shows:

EA-6B 163047/CY-05 with 007 markings landing at Lajes field.

The EA-6B was born out of military requirements during the Vietnam War. It entered service in 1971 and 170 aircraft were produced before the production was terminated in 1991. For more than four decades, the Prowler has been “at the forefront of military electronic warfare allowing high-profile air combat missions.”

162934/CY-01 about to land at Lajes field on its way back to CONUS after the EA-6B’s last deployment.

During the last deployment the aircraft have supported Operation Resolute Support and Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan as well as Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria. The primary mission of the aircraft was to support ground-attack strikes by disrupting enemy electromagnetic activity and, as a secondary mission, to gather tactical electronic intelligence within a combat zone, and, if necessary, attacking enemy radar sites with HARM missiles.

Despite their age, the EA-6Bs have been among the most important assets in the air war against Daesh: they eavesdropped “enemy” radio signals and jammed those frequencies in order to prevent terrorists from talking one another on the radio or cell phone, or use portable transmitters to trigger IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices).

Actually, rather than the obsolescence of the onboard EW (Electronic Warfare) sensors, the main issue that has affected the Prowler fleet what has been keeping the legacy aircraft in the air.

“It’s not an easy airplane to work on. Nowadays, components tell you they need to be replaced, skilled troubleshooting doesn’t exactly exist the way that it used to and working on this plane is very much a different skill,” Lt. Col. Andrew A. Rundle, VMAQ-2 commanding officer, said in a recent release.

A U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler, assigned to Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2, banks away after receiving in-flight fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron (EARS) during an aerial refueling mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve over Iraq, June 28, 2018. The 28th EARS is assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Operations Group and supports various operations in countries such as Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. In conjunction with partner forces, Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve defeats ISIS in designated areas of Iraq and Syria and sets conditions for follow-on operations to increase regional stability. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Keith James)

“You could think you know what is wrong with it and you fix what you think is wrong only to find it had nothing to do with what was wrong and it didn’t help or fix anything,” explained Gunnery Sgt. Kevin Randall, VMAQ-2 maintenance control chief. “You could troubleshoot for days in the wrong direction, but because it is an old airplane there are lots of wires and things that don’t even go to things anymore and through updates and upgrades there are things that cause problems that you never would have thought. Changes that were made 10 or 15 years ago have surfaced and reared their head.”

Marines deployed with Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2 pose for a group photo on the ramp at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Aug. 16, 2018. Marines with VMAQ-2 are taking part in the final EA-6B Prowler deployment before the final six aircraft in the U.S. military inventory are retired. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jose Diaz/Released)

On the maintenance front, Randall acknowledged some challenges with those who have come to the EA-6B in recent years with the aircraft’s sunset on the horizon.

“Almost every air mission that people have heard about since the 1970s likely involved a Prowler in some way and we don’t talk about it,” said Randall. “I think that’s the cool thing we all know in the back of our heads. The public reads that bombing missions happened here or we got so and so or completed this mission and you read about the flashier airplanes such as the B-1s, the F-18s, the stealth fighters that took off from wherever, but you never read about the Prowler that had to be in the area days prior or had to be around the area to complete its mission to allow the bigger mission to happen.”

The U.S. Navy retired their Prowler fleet in 2015, shifting the EA (Electronic Attack) workload to the EA-18G Growler. The Death Jesters will retire the EA-6B Prowler in 2019, the second-to-last U.S. Prowler Squadron, the VMAQ-3 Moon Dogs, was deactivated last spring.

All images courtesy APS – Associação Portugal Spotters (Portuguese Spotters Association) unless otherwise stated.


Everything You Need To Know (And Probably Don’t) About The X-15 Flight Shown In The Opening Scene Of “First Man”

There is much more in Neil Armstrong’s flight, the longest X-15 flight in the entire research program, than a movie can show.

If you haven’t done it already, I would suggest you to reserve a few hours and watch “First Man”.

The movie opens with a pretty intense scene showing Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) piloting a North American X-15 during a test flight. Although the hypersonic rocket-powered research aircraft built in three examples and capable of Mach +6 speed appears only for a few minutes at the beginning of the movie, I think most of our readers will find it interesting to know something more about the opening scene’s flight.

Beware: spoilers ahead.

The first question that came to my mind during the movie were: what was the goal of that test flight? and, did the test go exactly as depicted in the movie?

In order to find an answer to these questions I asked some help to Paul Raveling, who runs an extremely insightful website at, with a section completely dedicated to the X-15 Hypersonic History. I was already in contact with Paul, who had provided a lot of interesting information about Delamar Dry Lake and the other emergency landing sites for the X-15, so it was natural to me to ask him for additional details.

This U.S. Air Force photo shows the X-15 ship #3 (56-6672) in flight over the desert in the 1960s. Ship #3 made 65 flights during the program, attaining a top speed of Mach 5.65 and a maximum altitude of 354,200 feet. Only 10 of the 12 X-15 pilots flew Ship #3, and only eight of them earned their astronaut wings during the program. Robert White, Joseph Walker, Robert Rushworth, John “Jack” McKay, Joseph Engle, William “Pete” Knight, William Dana, and Michael Adams all earned their astronaut wings in Ship #3. Neil Armstrong and Milton Thompson also flew Ship #3. In fact, Armstrong piloted Ship #3 on its first flight, on 20 December 1961.

Let’s start from the very beginning. The so-called “Neil Armstrong’s reentry skip” was flight “3-4-8” on Apr. 20, 1962.

Flight “3-4-8” means these three things:

  • X-15 #3 (USAF contract & tail number 56-6672)
  • 4th free flight of this X-15 (#3)
  • 8th flight of this X-15, counting all three types of flights: Free flights (launched), captive carries, and aborts (not launched, returned to landing by the B-52 )

“On my web page I also called it Flight 51, the 51st X-15 free flight, but 3-4-8 is the proper designation. Neil Armstrong noted that point when I exchanged email with him for his review of that flight’s page on Being correct and precise goes with the job in engineering, and Neil was well qualified as an engineer,” says Raveling in an email.

“Flight 3-4-8, which was the first one I documented on”, he explains. “Despite plans to document at least a couple dozen “X-15 adventure” flights, I got busy with other things after doing only that one flown by Neil and the first X-15 free flight, the glide flight flown by Scott Crossfield. There’s also a PowerPoint presentation for Bob White’s FAI world altitude record flight. The center of that presentation follows the flight in real time: It took 10 minutes 20.7 seconds from launch to touchdown, covered about 315 miles horizontally and 110 miles vertically. It’s challenging to narrate that, someday soon I should record narration in the PowerPoint file.”

“Flight 3-4-8’s major lasting legacy was that it changed the plan for how to do winged reentries safely from orbit. In trying for a planned test point for G limiting by the MH-96 that didn’t work, Neil demonstrated that maneuvering vertically can very easily produce a skip off the aerodynamically usable atmosphere and loss of control at a critical time. That X-15 flight triggered changing plans for how the then-future Space Shuttle would do reentry energy management — the “skip” risk was eliminated by using roll reversals. There’s a follow-on story about how we nearly lost Columbia on STS-2, in an automated reentry. Because of the time required for a fix to go through software QA, ex-X-15 pilot Joe Engle flew that reentry manually — the only time it was done in Shuttle history. (Some web sources whose authors are unaware of that exception say incorrectly that the Shuttle never flew a manual reentry.)”

Neil Armstrong after flight 3-4-8. Image: NASA via

This page on Paul’s website provides tons of information and geeky details about that mission, including the pilot’s report.

First of all, it lasted 12 min. 28.7 sec: the longest X-15 flight of the entire research program. The rocket burned for 82.4 sec and the maximum speed the X-15 reached is Mach 5.31. The peak of the test flight was at 207,500 feet. Then, flight 3-4-8 was the first flight using the ball nose (“q-ball” air data sensor), and initial checkout of the MH-96 flight controller. Here’s what does this mean according to what reported at

The MH-96 was an experimental adaptive controller on the #3 X-15. The first two X-15’s gave the pilot a right-hand sidestick and a center stick for aerodynamic flight controls, a left-hand sidestick for reaction controls outside the atmosphere, and a separate stability augmentation system. The MH-96 integrated all of these functions into one device, controlled by the right-hand sidestick.

The MH-96 noted how responsive the aircraft was to aerodynamic controls, using stabilator and rudder to control attitude, and adaptively changed control response to suit flight conditions. In dense low-altitude air it used low gains: A given stick movement produced a relatively small control surface deflection. In the thin air of high altitudes it produced larger control surface deflection for the same stick input. When the air was too thin for these controls to work it used the same sidestick to operate reaction controls, the small hydrogen peroxide thrusters located in the nose and the wings. While leaving or reentering the atmosphere it automatically balanced and blended use of the two types of controls.

The plan was called for a step up in altitude to 205,000 feet following the preceding flight’s top at 180,000 feet. The air launch occurred over Mud Dry Lake, in Nevada, from a NB-52B “mothership”. Interestingly, as many as 4 chase aircraft supported the X-15 throughout its mission: 3x F-104s and 1x F-100.

Almost everything went as planned until the X-15 started descending. Here’s an excerpt from

As the X-15 descended through about 160,000 feet a warning light came on indicating low hydrogen peroxide supply for the #1 APU.  Armstrong initiated  transfer of residual hydrogen peroxide from the engine turbopump supply, and the warning light extinguished at about 115,000 feet.  At about 90,000 feet smoke poured into the cockpit from above the instrument panel as atmospheric reentry heating burned off paint.

Neil Armstrong did additional stability and control checks as the X-15 re-entered the atmosphere, testing roll maneuvers at high angles of attack (AOA).  He flew about 15 to 16 degrees AOA as forces built to 4 g’s.  The MH-96 has a load limiting function that should trip in the range of 4 to 4 1/2 g’s, commanding a reduction in pitch attitude to avoid excessive g forces.  In Armstrong’s own words

I elected to leave the angle of attack in that mode [15-16 degrees] … it wasn’t obvious that we were having any g limiting so I left it at this 4 g level for quite a long time hoping that this g limiting might show up.  It did not and apparently this where we got into the ballooning situation.

Due to maintaining a high angle of attack the X-15 pulled up and essentially skipped off the top of the atmosphere, returning to space.  In this near-vacuum there was insufficient drag to slow it and the wings could not develop enough aerodynamic force to turn it.  Back to Neil Armstrong’s description

At this point I heard the second transmission from NASA 1. …I expected from my simulation work ‘you’re about 20 miles north,’ but the transmission I got was “turn hard left.

“…With the left turn command which I followed with 60 degrees left bank angle and 15 degrees angle of attack, I did not properly appreciate the altitude I was at.  I was apparently at an altitude above that which I had expected to be and which caused me to go sailing merrily by the field.

X-15 approaches normally were from the north, with a 360-degree spiral to final approach starting from about 20,000 to 30,000 feet and ending with a touchdown on Rogers Dry Lake.  On this flight the X-15 cruised by with excess energy, too high and too fast to enter the approach spiral. Going south past the base at about 1 mile every 2 seconds, the flight path passed the Mojave Desert towns of Lancaster and Palmdale. Beyond Palmdale are the San Gabriel Mountains, and beyond them is the Los Angeles basin.As I saw Palmdale going by I was in a 90 degree bank angle and essentially full deflection on the stabilizers… We were having no heading change.  The proper thing to do at that point would have been to roll to a greater bank angle [than 90 degrees, rolling somewhat inverted] and try to get that thing down to a lower altitude so I could turn faster. However, my indicated airspeed said 190 knots and that seemed from my past simulation experience to be what should have been adequate to turn the heading but it really wasn’t.  Finally I did allow the nose to drift down and picked up approximately 350 knots indicated airspeed and was able to get about 3 g at this point.


Armstrong quickly considered and rejected the long runway at Palmdale, El Mirage Dry Lake to the east, and Rosamond Dry Lake to the West.  He settled on stretching his glide to the south lakebed at Edwards.  Two chase planes joined up as Armstrong was lining up for a straight-in approach, aiming for the middle of the south lakebed. The farther they went, the shorter it seemed the glide would be.  The X-15 finally landed successfully on the lakebed — and when one of the chase pilots was asked how much clearance there was with the Joshua trees at the edge of the lakebed his answer was “Oh, at least 100 feet … on either side”.

You can find the planned versus actual flight path on Raveling’s website: you will easily notice how flight 3-4-8 skirted Los Angeles Basin area, flew over Pasadena and the Rose Bowl, some 45 miles south of Edwards AFB and easily understand why it turned into the longest X-15 flight ever….

“In general the First Man movie got important details of Flight 3-4-8 right but did Hollywoodization of turbulence and showing Neil barely clearing the crest of the San Gabriel mountains,” Paul Raveling explains. “My offhand guess is that his crest-crossing would have been at perhaps 50,000 feet, some day I’ll work up a simulation for that. Neil actually couldn’t tell exactly where he was because downward visibility was so crummy from the X-15’s cockpit.”

Actually, the movie was also wrong about the year the “Neil Armstrong’s reentry skip” occurred: the text says 1961, but the event occurred in 1962.

Neil Armstrong’s flight depicted in the movie, “3-4-8”, did not occur in 1961, as the movie says, but in 1962. (Screenshot: credit Universal Pictures).

Moreover, “Hollywood missed one real thing that should have been a natural: Neil reported smoke emanating from above the instrument panel at about 90,000 feet during reentry. That apparently was fairly normal due to some paint burnof, especially in the area to the nose gear well, immediately ahead of the cockpit. The nose and leading edges heated up to a peak of about 1,200 degrees on X-15 reentries from high altitudes. X-15 reentries took up to about 30 seconds, usually starting around 160,000 feet at a bit over Mach 5 and finishing around 60,000 feet.”

Indeed, we have published images that document the damaged caused to the X-15A-2 serial number 56-6671 by the Mach 6.72 mission on Oct. 3, 1967: the aerodynamic heating almost melted the airframe…

The nose of the North American X-15A-2 serial number 56-6671 damaged after the record setting mission on Oct. 3, 1967.

“The most important thing the First Man movie got right was Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of Neil’s character traits. The movie does note appropriately but barely that he was an engineer. It would be appropriate to say engineering was his prime passion, though that point was more evident to other engineers than it would be to most in the public. His favorite quote was “Science is about what is, engineering is about what can be”. Neil also considered science to be an integral part of engineering,” says Paul Raveling.

It’s worth mentioning that X-15-3 (56-6672) made 65 flights during the program. It reached attaining a top speed of Mach 5.65 and a maximum altitude of 354,200 feet. Out of three X-15s built by North American for the program, Ship #3 is the only X-15 that has not survived, as it was lost on Nov. 15, 1967, when it entered hypersonic spin at Mach 5 and broke apart killing USAF Test Pilot Maj. Michael J. Adams.

Top: composite image made of screenshots (credit: Universal Pictures).

SPOILER ALERT: Photos Surface of “Maverick” in High Altitude Pressure Suit (After Ejection?) on Set Of Top Gun Sequel

Does “Maverick” Eject From An SR-72 in “Top Gun: Maverick”?

Interesting photos hit Hollywood social media via this morning showing actor Tom Cruise on the set of “Top Gun: Maverick”. The photos, that appear to be “leaked” spy shots from a smartphone but could also be intentional studio publicity plants intended for social media to hype the upcoming 2020 release of the “Top Gun” sequel, may provide clues about a possible plot for the movie.

Before you keep reading, this article may contain plot spoilers for “Top Gun: Maverick” and is entirely speculative. We’ve received no insider information from script writers and the ideas expressed here are strictly those of this writer based on daily research of the media surrounding the ongoing production of the film. This is Hollywood entertainment reporting, not military aviation journalism. We’re taking some creative license with speculation we wouldn’t do with factual military aviation reporting. This is all about entertainment.

That said, continue under your own responsibility and don’t complain too much.

The set of photos that originally appeared on show Cruise in his character as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell wearing an all-black flight suit. The interesting thing is that the flight suit appears to be a high-altitude pressure suit similar to the actual ones worn by high altitude reconnaissance pilots in aircraft like the U-2 and SR-71. Notice the wide, round neck ring for a pressure suit helmet and the two fittings to the suit for life support and pressurization.

It looks like Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell may be an experimental high altitude, hypersonic pilot based on guesses made from photos that surfaced today on the entertainment Instagram account (Photo: @thehollywoodpipeline)

It gets more interesting. Cruise appears to have make-up on and weathering to his high-altitude pressure suit that recall several scenes from previous aviation movies like “The Right Stuff” where a pilot has ejected from an aircraft. Cruise looks slightly “singed” in his costume and make-up, as if he survived ejection from an aircraft mishap in the plot of the story.

Let’s think about this: In the last “Top Gun”, U.S. Navy fighter pilot Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell rises to prominence as a renegade fighter pilot but suffers personal loss in a training accident when his Radar Intercept Officer in an F-14 Tomcat, Lt. JG Nick “Goose” Bradshaw dies in a training accident. Maverick goes on to find redemption in combat and the arms of lilting civilian Top Gun instructor and astrophysicist Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood. Further plot twists provide secret revelations about how Maverick’s father and how he died a hero in combat due to classified circumstances.

Fast Forward to the production of the upcoming sequel, “Top Gun: Maverick”. Several observers of photos of the F/A-18F Super Hornet painted with Maverick’s callsign and MiG kills (although they look oddly like F/A-18 “kills”) noticed that Maverick has only progressed to a Navy Captain based on what is written on the aircraft. Was Maverick busted down for some additional transgression? Has he been held back in promotion because of involvement in some classified program? It has been 32 years since Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell went to Top Gun fighter weapons school and scored his first MiG kill. You’d think a career that long that started with so much promise combined with his Navy family heritage may have gotten him to flag rank by now. But according to what is stenciled on his canopy coaming, Maverick languishes along as an officer at a lower pay grade. Why?

Today actor Tom Cruise as “Maverick” was photographed on set wearing a singed high altitude pressure suit with smoke smeared on his face as though he just survived an ejection. This scene is being filmed at the leading edge of the movie’s production, and at the start of a break from filming on U.S. Navy ships that has been speculated as waiting for Navy F-35C capability to come online and be included in the film’s plot and production along with some use of remotely piloted aircraft or drones.

Is this patch on Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell’s high-altitude flight suit from a fictional top-secret new hypersonic aircraft test program like the SR-72? Photos surfaced today on the entertainment Instagram account (Photo: Via Instagram.)

Will we see (now) Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell as a secret test pilot for a highly classified yet-to-be released stealthy experimental hypersonic aircraft?

Think about the context of the black space suit photos here. It’s just a guess, but the elements of the plot could fit together- and again this is a total guess: The story may open with Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell now part of the secret development of the SR-72 hypersonic reconnaissance spy plane. Even more sensationally, his back-seater is a civilian test pilot and astrophysicist named Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood, Maverick’s old flame from the 1986 “Top Gun”. There is another accident for Maverick in the secret test aircraft over a classified test range. Maverick manages to eject at ultra-high altitude and speed and barely survives, but his civilian test systems operator on board the aircraft does not survive the mishap. Remember; in a scene like this we would not have to see Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood’s face, it would be concealed beneath a high-altitude flight suit helmet. Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is thrown back into despair over the loss of “Charlie” in the accident and the plot accelerates from there. This plot guess meshes with additional scenes where Tom Cruise is shown on a new motorcycle with actress Jennifer Connelly who will play a single mother who runs a bar near the base. It could make sense that Maverick seeks consolation with Jennifer Connelly’s character in the film. This also may completely wrong- it’s all just speculation based on today’s “leaked” photos.

A close look at the pressure suit and astronaut-style helmet fittings on Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell from photos that surfaced today on the entertainment Instagram account (Photo: Via Instagram.)

Following the template for “hooking” audiences in movie plots that has been successful in every James Bond movie, “Top Gun: Maverick” may open with an action sequence where “Maverick” is in the new secret hypersonic test plane and experiences the accident we have theorized about (one more time, this is just a theory). That leads to what we have seen in the photos leaked (or intentionally “leaked”) today.

One essential part of Hollywood filmmaking solidly in place since the 1930 production of the Howard Hughes film, “Hell’s Angels”, which could be considered the original “Top Gun”, is the generation of hype and speculation. Different from factual reporting on military aviation news, entertainment hype is all about speculation and sensation. In the words of writer and film critic Karina Longworth who recently wrote a book about the real-life Hollywood starlet mistresses of Howard Hughes titled, Sex, Lies and Stardom in Howard Hughes’s Hollywood, Howard Hughes was a master at hype before a film release. “[Hughes] told everyone he was the greatest through publicity, and they believed it,” Longworth told the Hollywood Reporter’s columnist Katie Kilkenny in a November 9, 2018 interview.

Just like the leaks and rumors propagated through Hollywood media in 1930 for “Hell’s Angels”, speculating about the plot for “Top Gun: Maverick” with its delayed release is both entertaining and helps the keep the anticipated sequel top-of-mind for aviation film enthusiasts. In Hollywood, it’s all about the hype. In a year and a half, we’ll know if any of our wild guesses were right.

The Royal Air Force Has Just Rolled Out Another Tornado GR4 In Special Color Scheme

The Royal Air Force has just unveiled another special-colored “Tonka” ahead of the retirement of the aircraft from active service in March 2019.

Few days after the IX(B) Sqn unveiled theirs, the 31 Sqn, also based at RAF Marham, and one of the remaining Tornado units in RAF service, rolled out the aircraft ZD716/DH with a special livery that celebrates the 34 years of operations with the multirole aircraft.

The “Goldstars” have operated the Tornado since 1984, initially from RAF Bruggen, Germany, and then from RAF Marham since August 2001. Following the retirement of the Tornado, in March next year, 31 Squadron will stand down after 35 years of Tonka operations but will in due course reform to operate the Protector RG.1, the RAF designation for the MQ-9B SkyGuardian.

During this more than three decades of operations with the Tornado, 31 Squadron has taken part in the 1991 Gulf War and the Squadron has continued to fly on regular operations over Iraq. It also specialised in the SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) role with the Air Launched Anti Radiation Missile ALARM Anti Radiation Missile. Then, in 1999, during Allied Force operation over Serbia and Kosovo, the Sqn operated from Solenzara airbase, in Corsica. After moving to RAF Marham in 2001, the squadron took part in Operation Resinate South and Operation Telic over Iraq. In 2005, the Squadron became the lead RAF Tornado GR4 unit to accept the Brimstone missiles into service, a weapon that was widely used by the RAF Tornado in combat beginning in 2011, during the Libya Air War, and later in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The tail section of the special-colored Tornado GR4 of 31 Sqn. (Image credit: RAF/Crown Copyright)

As already explained in a previous post, “Tonka” is an unofficial nickname of the British GR1 and GR4 aircraft, earned by the aircraft in the early days of service (beginning of the 1980s).

Top image: Crown Copyright/RAF

Australian Military In A “Rebecca Black Situation” as Dislikes Mount over Memorial Video on YouTube

Three Times as Many Thumbs Down to “Wear My Medals on The Left” As Thumbs Up.

On Nov. 6, 2018, the Australian War Memorial posted a music video on YouTube by the choral group, “Sisters in Arms” of the Australian military. Just like the well-intentioned viral Rebecca Black “Friday” video of 2011 that garnered a staggering 127-million views with 3.3-million “thumbs down”, this attempt at a pop music/military inspiration mash-up seems to have stepped on a social media landmine.

As of this writing over three times as many people have given “I Wear My Medals on the Left” a “thumbs down” as have liked it. Despite professional production and sound quality, the video seems, well, just weird. And while supporting the troops and their sacrifices is a noble sentiment, the video and song have an uncomfortable feel to them. Even if you have stood in awe of a chorus of M1 Abrams tanks firing a salvo downrange, something about a fresh-faced folk singer doing sassy nose-crinkles while singing about it just feels off. It’s like casting Taylor Swift in a remake of “Full Metal Jacket”.

Dislikes for the video on YouTube have accelerated in the last 24 hours when we first checked in on it. Initially about 50% of the responses to the video on YouTube were “thumbs up”. Now the trend has rapidly reversed with 1,400 “thumbs down” compared to only 378 “thumbs up”.

“The Daily Mail” tabloid trounced the video. Columnist Hannah Moore of Daily Mail Australia wrote, “Three female defense force members have been slammed for their part in a song promoting women serving in the military.” Moore went on to write, “Members of ‘Sisters in Arms’, a three-piece ensemble made up of one woman from the army, one from the navy and one from the air force, have been subject to brutal attacks online since the song went up, with many believing the tune has disadvantaged women who are serving.”

This isn’t the first time a music video has portrayed women’s role in the military. Other depictions have not been subject to nearly as much social media vitriol.

In March 2012 pop sensation Katy Perry released the video for her single, “Part of Me” from her successful “Teenage Dream” album. The video depicted Perry as a jilted girlfriend who joins the U.S. Marines to become an infantryman after a relationship gone bad. The U.S. Marines contributed to the production of the video with U.S Marines, Marine equipment and aircraft featured in the video that earned 724,369,130 views on YouTube with 2.6 million “thumbs up” to 146 thousand “thumbs down”. The key difference is likely that the Katy Perry video was intended for and released to a young, pop music audience whereas “Wear My Medals on the Left” is a made by military, made for military production that appears to have not resonated with its intended audience.

Military themed music video like this one from Katy Perry with the U.S. Marines have worked in the past. (Photo: Via YouTube.)

“Wear My Medals on the Left” has also taken a beating on the Australian War Memorial Facebook page where one viewer wrote on the comments page, “You may have meant well, but this is NOT a positive message. As a woman, I’m so embarrassed by this song I am almost lost for words. How are women ever meant to fit in and be taken seriously in their role in Defense when this is how you promote them? The lyrics are so weak and corny. Sorry but you totally missed the ball on this one.”

Debate about the song aside, the video provides a few good looks at the Australian Defense Force. Part of the video shows a Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) mission being launched from the HMS Adelaide landing helicopter ship (LO1). The aircraft shown are an SH-60 Seahawk of the 816 Squadron and an MRH90 helicopter of 808 Squadron. There is also a brief glimpse at an Australian CH-47D Chinook on the flight deck of the Adelaide.

If you make it through the video you do a couple glimpses of Australia’s air arm. (Photo: Via YouTube.)

If you can hang in there long enough with the video you also get a look at some Aussie PC-9 trainers, a few Australian F/A-18s and an impressive formation of C-130s. Noticeably absent are any new Australian F-35A Lightning IIs.

The theme of the visuals and the feel of vocals and singers doesn’t seem to match well in a military/motivational setting. (Photo: Via YouTube.)