Tag Archives: Douglas DC-3

This is the DC-3 plane the State Dept denied to Stevens and Security Support Team at U.S. Embassy in Libya

According to the CNN Security Clearance blog, the State Department denied a request by the security team at the U.S. Embassy in Libya for continued use of a DC-3 plane earlier this year.

Even if the presence of the white Dakota belonging to the DoS Air Wing (Department of State) would not have helped stopping the terrorist attack on the Benghazi consulate on Sept. 11 the news that the diplomatic mission was denied the support of a plane (based on the assumptions that a special flight would have been chartered had it been necessary) raises questions over whether the State Dept. properly addressed security concerns and requests coming from the Embassy in Tripoli.

The DoS Air Wing provides a wide variety of missions, including reconnaissance and surveillance operations, command and Control for counter-narcotics operations, interdiction operations, logistical support, Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC), personnel and cargo movement by air, aerial eradication of drug crops (currently only in Colombia).

Interestingly, the DoS DC-3 N707BA was often spotted at Malta, after the end of Operation Unified Protector.

The aircraft had been deployed to Iraq before being moved to Libya. When commercial flights were resumed to Tripoli and Benghazi, the aircraft was moved back “to other State Department business.”

Although quite obsolete (since it is based on a 1930s concept), the turboprop is quite effective because it is extremely efficient, reliable, requires little ground support and can operate also from unpaved runways.

That’s why the DoS, based at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, still operate it on several known and clandestine missions across the world (including Afghanistan).

Image credit: Brendon Attard

[Special Feature] D-Day: a +1000 Aerial Armada (including troop-carrying gliders) to take back occupied Europe

At 22.15 on the evening of Jun. 5 1944, the first engine on the first plane spluttered into life announcing the biggest airborne operation ever undertaken: delayed by 24 hours due to poor weather conditions, the Allied forces were about to take back occupied Europe.

That night, some 13,000 U.S airborne troops comprising of the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions were to be transported in a vast fleet of 925 DC-3 Dakotas along with the British 6th Airborne Division (some 6,000 strong) and Canada’s 1st Parachute Battalion (some 500 in strength), over the English channel to the Cotentin Peninsula (Normandy).

Also a further 5,000 troops were transported into combat in some 700 gliders. Two were the main types of gliders used in the action. The first was the Waco CG-4A, a U.S designed and built assault glider which had first taken to the air during 1942 and became the most numerous built glider of WWII with about 13,900 examples built.

The other type used was the British Built and designed Airspeed Horsa Glider; smaller than the CG-4, the Horsa first flew in on Sept. 12, 1941 and was first used operationally in Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily. It could carry a squad of 25 troops with a later Mk2 version being larger with a hinged nose so that a Jeep could be carried.

Both Gliders were basically a wooden frame covered in a wax covered fabric to keep weight to a minimum; no armoured protection here, it meant that furniture manufacturers could assemble parts of the glider in vast numbers quickly.

The 1000+ fleet had the issue of flying in the dark without lights so mid-air collisions were a big risk. To minimise this, all aircraft took off from dozens of airfields all over southern England and used an air corridor that took them south to the Island of Guernsey where they then turned east and over the combat area.

Navigation was still in its infancy and was not very accurate and, once over France, the airborne troops were scattered. Because of the poor navigation and heavy flak that the aircraft encountered prior to their respective drop zones many airborne troops found themselves miles from their intended drop zone.

Many of the troops were killed whilst still in the air swinging from their chute; others drowned when they landed in flooded fields and were weighed down by the vast amount if kit that they wearing at the time.

Those that survived the jump found themselves on their own and had to form groups and fight objectives that they hadn’t trained for. Their ultimate objective was to secure an area inland from the landing beaches so that a beach head could be established.

Eventually, as history states, they succeeded. But at a huge cost.

The glider borne troops proved to be very effective, the large “Barn Door” flaps on the Horsa Glider gave it a very high rate of descent allowing the glider to be landed in a confined space.

A good exmple of this is that during the night of Jun. 5 and 6, 1944 a force of 181 men took off from RAF Tarrant Rushton Dorset, Southern England in Six Horsa Gliders with the task to capture Pegasus Bridge and its sister bridge a few hundred yards east, over the River Orne.

The operation was aimed to stop German armour attacking the landing forces and to capture the two strategically important bridges to cover the eastern flank of “Sword”, one of the landing beaches.

Five of the six gliders landed within 50 yards of the objective taking the defending German forces by complete surprise and completed their task within 10 minutes with the loss of two men.

That night, the sight of vast swarms of troop-carrying aircraft must have been impressive. Their overpowering numbers gave the Allied forces the upper hand.

Richard Clements for TheAviationist.com

Image credit: Wiki

All the war tech you'll find in "Act of Valor" action movie

There are various reasons why “Act of Valor”, the movie released on Feb. 24, 2012, is interesting from the military geek point of view.

First of all it features the Navy SEALs some of which are not actors but regular guys, active duty military that have taken part to the most dangerous U.S. special operations all around the world; missions that, as the movie clearly shows, are often (if not always) supported by cargo planes, helicopters, combat planes, and drones.

The movie opens with footage of a High-Altitude Low Opening (HALO), a type of airborne jump that is repeated another couple of times during the story, during daylight and at night. As they did during a recent operation in Somalia.

Noteworthy, unlike it happened during Operation Neptune’s Spear, the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, the SEALs assault on a riverside compound is not performed using fast-rope and stealthy Black Hawks choppers. However, the exfiltration of the hostage involves two MH-47G Chinooks of the 160 SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment) carrying SOC-Rs (Special Operations Craft  – Riverine), high speed boats used for insertion/extraction ops and fire support into a low-to-medium threat environment in a riverine area.

During the exfil operation the SEALs use a RQ-11 Raven drone,  a man-portable UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) controlled directly by the ground troops. The Raven is a relatively small bot whose ability is to automatically follow a moving target that was selected by touching the screen of the ROVER-like ground control system. Even if I’m not sure that the kind of imagery delivered to the end user and the targeting features are exactly as portrayed in the movie, the system should work in this way: once a series of pixels was selected, the systems tracks the movements of those pixels on the ground.

The movie features also a very well known Predator used for an unusual (or at least scarcely advertised) role for this asset: COMINT (Communication Intelligence) rather than the typical SCAR (Strike Coordination And Reconnaissance). Actually, if I recall correctly, the drone is used in the movie to detect environmental sounds coming from the compound, a task I’m not sure can be achieved with the current available sensors.

The first kill of the movie is worth a mention, since a sniper takes out an enemy sentry and when the dead man falls back into the river one of the SEALs is under the water with his hands above the surface to grab the body before it splashes.

Along with some interesting footage filmed on the flight deck of USS Bonhomme Richard amphibious assault ship, another interesting scene is the assault on a yacht and accompanying boats involving a Mark V Special Operations Craft and an HH-60 Sea Hawk using the Fast Rope Insertion Extraction System (FRIES), to let the SEALs descend on the target vessel.

Also interesting is the use of  a SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV), an underwater watercraft deployed from a submarine to reach the Somalian coast.

Although they can be considered no more than warbirds, the movie also features a white Grumman HU-16 Albatross seaplane and an uncolored Douglas DC-3 cargo both landing in the desert.

On a side note: the official Act of Valor poster (the one used in Italy and UK, not sure it is the same in the U.S.) shows an HH-3F Pelican helicopter on the right hand corner: a type of chopper used by the U.S. Coast Guard and Air Force in the Vietnam War and phased out 20 years ago (in the U.S., Italy is still using them, even if it is replacing its ageing fleet with the new HH-139).