Space Launch System: An Expensive Effort to Relive Apollo Glory?

By Scott Spangler on March 22nd, 2021 | Comments Off on Space Launch System: An Expensive Effort to Relive Apollo Glory?

The news has been full of stories about the successful test of the Space Launch System’s core of four RS-25 engines at Mississippi’s Stennis Space Center on March 18. But the more I read, the more the tacit central theme of the project seems to be a multibillion-dollar effort of a middle-aged agency to relive its Apollo high school glory days.

Reinforcing this impression is the person nominated as the next NASA administrator. Bill Nelson, a former senator from Florida, was a key player in the in the political effort that directed NASA to undertake the SLS program in the first place. As a low draft number who took photos durng the evacuation that wrote Vietnam’s final chapter, I’m naturally skeptical, not to mention cynical, about any politician’s program because more often than not, they serve some unspoken ulterior motives, especially when such politicians found deferments from more direct participation.

If you doubt that, consider this. SLS will be the most powerful booster NASA has built since Apollo’s Saturn V. Engineers designed and built that heavy-lift rocket to meet the needs of the focused and well-defined goal that preceded it, President Kennedy’s challenge to send humans to the moon and return them safely to earth before the 1960s burned the last page of its calendar.

In 2010, senators wrote the legislation that directed NASA to design and build a rocket that would lift heavy things. They did not include in that legislation any specifics what those heavy things might be. I’m sure the engineers who designed the SLS would have liked to have had that information. Maybe that’s one reason why the program, like most government projects, blow well past their rosy projections of schedule and budget.

It might have been worth it had the SLS debuted some new technology or capabilities. But it is nothing more than the spaceflight equivalent of a midlife crisis muscle car. Like the Saturn V, the SLS will loft heavy things into space and beyond Earth orbit, and like the Saturn, NASA gets one launch per booster, and each liftoff will run $2 billion, give or take.

Since NASA had to build the SLS, it had to find something heavy for it to lift. They started with an asteroid research mission. Eventually, the agency settled on Artemis’s return to the moon and then the fantasy flight to Mars. NASA schedules Artemis’s first flight carrying humans for 2023. We’ll see. Given our political and economic unpredictability, guaranteeing the future realization of any promise made today is pure fantasy.

If there is any hope for our aerospace future it is that the technical and scientific pragmatists displace the politicians striving to relive their high school glory days and hope to bask in the reflected glory of humans who undertake dangerous and expensive journeys into space that would be more effectively, efficiently, and economically made by machines.

Perhaps the Artemis I mission is the culmination of the SLS midlife oxymoron. I’m all for investing in developing new technology that expands our exploration capabilities, but spending more than $2 billion on a test flight to make sure the Orion crew capsule is safe for humans to relive the flight of Apollo 8, which looped around the moon on Christmas Eve in 1968?

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Hasta la Vista Mike

By Robert Mark on March 11th, 2021 | Comments Off on Hasta la Vista Mike

Click above to Listen – Run time 4:27

(Podcast Text)

I think it was Mark Twain who cynically spoke about “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics” to explain how easily lists of numbers can be manipulated to tell some pretty extraordinary stories. And let’s face it … lists of numbers can be pretty dry, unless you can add some context.

Take the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re someone who trusts numbers, they show the virus has claimed 2 and a half million lives around the world … more than half a million in the US.

How do you even get our hands around that? Do you know 2 and a half million people, or even a half million? I sure as hell don’t.

Sometimes it takes just a single person for those numbers to make sense. At least that worked for me when I learned recently my friend Mike Collins had passed away.

At 59 he was AOPA Pilot’s Technical Editor and Director of Business Operations. COVID snatched him away after a couple of really awful weeks in the hospital.

Mike was a guy I was proud to call a friend. Not a close buddy, buddy kind of friend, but one of the regular dozen journalists I run into at aviation events.

Mike was the kind of guy, who’d pick me out of the crowd with a simple “Hey Rob,” before a quick catch-up session.

He was an extraordinary photographer and adventurer, like when he sat right seat in Mike Laver’s MU-2 for a trip around the world. In over 30 or 40 hours of flying, he never missed feeding photos and videos back to the AOPA mothership, for the rest of us to enjoy.

AOPA Pilot’s Editor-in-chief Tom Haines said, “If you’ve ever held a copy of AOPA Pilot or Flight Training magazine in your hands, over the past 29 years, you’ve benefited from the work of Mike.”

In a look back at Mike’s career, Haines said he learned the biz as a newspaper guy in North Carolina before becoming editor of the Southern Aviator. Tom said, “I knew I could toss any assignment Mike’s way and he’d figure out how to bring back a terrific story—almost always with a human angle to it.” I also loved Mike’s incredible knack for translating techno babble into great stories.

Early on he learned how to match his impressive video skills with the newest drone platforms. He was also an early podcaster and even a beermaker. Now why doesn’t that surprise me? Mike once said, “Photojournalism is all about storytelling. And aviation is full of great stories just waiting to be told.”

Here’s one Mike moment I remember. I was writing a story for AOPA Pilot some years ago about checking out in the L-39 jet. The magazine sent Mike to Chicago to handle the photos while I flew the jet. We arranged to use a restored SNJ with a back seat aimed rearward as Mike’s photo platform.

There was just one problem. The flight came together in the middle of January, so Mike was dressed like he was headed for the north pole. Think about the wind chill with an OAT of 10 F and a 135 mph.

In tight formation for the air-to-airs, I could see the fur on his big parka flapping wildly in the breeze, so I squeezed the mic button, “Hey Mike. You keeping warm over there?” He responded with “I’m freezing my butt off,” then silence.

After we landed the L-39 I was feeling really guilty having spent a couple of hours in a nice warm cockpit while Mike was freezing in the SNJ. “Are you starting to defrost Mike?” I said as I approached the big yellow bird. He didn’t even flinch. “Oh sure,” … “that was a blast. Let’s go do it again.” That was Mike. Check out “Flying a Real Jet to Make Like Maverick” at and you’ll see some of the awesome photos Mike shot.

Mike Collins left behind his wife Janette Prince, as well as two daughters and a son.

For the full scoop on Mike’s career, click on “Saying Goodbye” at You’ll also find a list of organizations where you can make a donation in Mike’s honor.

We’re all going to miss you Mike.

From Chicago, I’m Rob Mark for Jetwhine and the Airplane Geeks.

Review: Devotion, a Unique Look at the Korean War

By Scott Spangler on March 8th, 2021 | Comments Off on Review: Devotion, a Unique Look at the Korean War

paperback-coverTipped off by the movie being made about its story of Jesse Brown and Medal of Honor recipient Tom Hudner (see “Devotion: Bearcats, Corsairs, and Real Moviemaking Oh My!”), I found the book in our local library system. In Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice, author Adam Makos surprised me. Not only did he tell the story of Brown and Hudner, he told similar stories of heroism and friendship of the Marines the aviators were closely supporting from the air as they fought their way out of the Chosin Reservoir early in the Korean War. But what made these 445 well-illustrated pages unique were the first-person recollections of the participants.

This historical gift exists because a 26-year-old Makos summoned the courage to walk across a hotel lobby, introduce himself to Thomas Hudner, a speaker at a 2007 veteran history conference he’d just attended, and asked if he could schedule an interview. Hudner agreed, and one interview led to many more with Hudner and more than 60 real-life “characters” in the book, carrier pilots, Marines, their spouses, siblings, and offspring. Makos found the bones of their stories in the nation’s archives, but like a gifted anthropologist, he fleshed them out with their recollections that are so concisely vivid that you’re with them in the cockpit or frozen foxhole.

When I started reading, I thought I had a good working knowledge of the Korean War and the particulars of Jesse Brown’s final flight, which ended behind enemy lines northwest of the Chosin Reservoir when ground fire created an oil leak that led to an engine failure. But new and often corrective information surprised me on every page. Unable to stop turning pages, I devoured every one of them in two nocturnal marathons that went past 0130.

leyteWith VF-32 embarked on it, the USS Leyte (CV-32), an Essex-class carrier homeported on the East Coast, was in the midst of a Mediterranean cruise when it was reassigned to Korea. This is where it connects with the Marines in the story, and a chance encounter with the 18-year-old Elizabeth Taylor connects them with the aviators of Fighting 32. And the ship carried the Marines on the first leg of their journey to Korea to bring the undermanned post World War II divisions closer to their fighting strength. On its way to Korea from a supply stop in Japan, the Leyte carried to Korea the first cohort of Marine helicopter pilots, including Charlie Ward. They shared a ready room with VF-32, and Ward would see Brown and Hudner again, and fly Hudner away from the two downed Corsairs northwest of the Chosin Reservoir.

Because he outranked Brown, I’d always assumed Hudner was the flight lead, but it was the other way around because Brown had more flying experience. After graduating from the naval academy, Hudner served a year in the surface Navy before putting in for flight training, and he flew Skyraiders before joining VF-32. After two years of architectural studies at Ohio State, Brown became the Navy’s first Black naval aviator through the NavCad program. After earning his wings he went to VF-32, which was flying Bearcats. Just before the Leyte’s Med cruise, the squadron transitioned to Corsairs and a close-air support mission.

hudner_presentationOver the years I’ve read various, often conflicting, accounts of Brown’s final flight, when he died, and what transpired afterwards. The book discusses briefly these media machinations, which withheld the truth from Brown’s wife, Daisy, until she finally met Hudner at the White House when Truman draped the Medal of Honor around his neck.

When Brown landed on the mountainside, the terrain rippled Corsair’s R-2800 from the nose, bending the fuselage and pinning his right leg between the center pedestal and the outside of the cockpit. With a message relayed by squadron mates overhead, Ward returned to his helo base for an axe. Despite their best and strenuous efforts, the tough old Corsair did not yield. But by then, after giving Hudner a message for his wife, Brown was gone.

According to photo recon planes, the North Koreans were also unsuccessful. When the Leyte’s captain asked if he should steer close to the coast to launch a helo with the flight surgeon could surgically remove Brown, Hudner shook his head and said, “Sir, those mountains are teeming with Chinese and that helicopter makes an easy target. There’s a good chance more men are going to get killed…I know Jesse wouldn’t want that.” The skipper had a second plan, a warrior’s funeral officiated by a flight of four carrying napalm. “I think Jesse would understand,” Hudner said, “And, sir, our squadron should be the ones to” conduct this funeral flight.

There are very few nits to pick with this book. The primary one is the author’s desire not to confuse civilian readers with military terms. This is why he consistently referred to the Leyte’s island, which rises above the carrier’s flight deck amidships on the starboard side as the “tower” and the officers mess or wardroom as the “dining room.” On the other hand, Makos did a superb job describing race relations by showing, not telling. Just as readers feel like they are in the cockpit or frozen foxhole, they will be silently in line to the air group commander’s office door to deliver their contribution to a college education fund for Brown’s daughter, Pam.

adam-tom-kpaTom Hudner’s final words to Jesse Brown were, “We’ll be back for you.” In 2013, at age 88, he took matters into his own hands and traveled to North Korea. Military officers were waiting when he arrived. Two days later, in the capital of Pyongyang, Hudner put on his Medal of Honor, faced “a North Korean colonel and his staff,” and asked them to begin a search for Brown’s remains. The colonel read the prewritten reply, North Korea’s supreme leader “granted approval to his army to resume the search for the remains of MIA American servicemen—beginning with Jesse Brown.”

With photos from the Adam Makos website, the author continues to deliver first-person history because he traveled to North Korea with Hudner. Jesse Brown, who died on December 4, 1950, still rests somewhere northwest of the Chosin Reservoir. His wingman, Thomas Hudner, died on November 13, 2017 and is now at rest at the Arlington National Cemetery.

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Devotion: Bearcats, Corsairs, & Real Moviemaking Oh My!

By Scott Spangler on February 22nd, 2021 | Comments Off on Devotion: Bearcats, Corsairs, & Real Moviemaking Oh My!

Devotion-1Nothing ruins the enjoyment of a good aviation film more thoroughly than computer-generated images. Real moviemaking, filming real airplanes is what makes movies like “12 O’Clock High” and “Top Gun” so memorable. That’s why I’m eagerly awaiting “Top Gun: Maverick” and a new film that aims at the advanced, HD technology used in Top Gun 2 on F4U Corsairs and an F8F Bearcat in the Korean War story of Jesse Brown and his wingman, Medal of Honor recipient Thomas Hudner.

The film is based on Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice, written by Adam Makos (and I’ve just ordered a copy). Ensign Jesse Brown was the Navy’s first African-American fighter pilot, and Lieutenant Junior Grade Thomas Hudner was his friend and section leader in Corsair-equipped Fighter Squadron (VF) 32. Over North Korea, the ground fire brought down Brown on a close-air support mission for the Marines fighting their way out of the Chosin Reservoir on December 4, 1950.

Jesse-LeRoy-Brown-e1612161046848With the ground fire hitting the Corsair’s oil tank, Brown made a forced landing on a snowy mountainside. Smoke wafted from the downed Corsair’s cowling and Brown waved from the cockpit but did not get out of it. Realizing the rescue helo they’d call would not arrive in time, Hudner belly-landed his Corsair near his friend and attempted to free him from the cockpit after he put out the fire with snow. Hudner could not free Brown’s legs, even with the aid of the crew of the helo when it arrived.

With the film’s production team striving to shoot as much of the film as possible “in-camera” (meaning real airplanes in flight), they turned to aerial coordinator Kevin LaRosa Jr., who’s done a lot of air-to-air work in films including “Captain Marvel” and “Top Gun: Maverick.” One of those cameras will be the new 6K digital camera, the Red Komodo. The producers told LaRosa that they wanted what he delivered for Maverick, times 10.

cinejetLaRosa has compiled a fleet of 11 aircraft, Corsairs, Bearcats, Skyraiders, and MiGs, all repainted in accurate squadron colors (VF-32 Bearcats and transitioned to Corsairs for Korea). With helicopters and the CineJet, L-39 with a nose-mounted camera, they have been shooting somewhere in Washington. The aerial director of photography is Michael FitzMaurice, who also shot the air-to-air for Maverick.

All I’ve seen are the trailers to Maverick, and the best one is the extended Super Bowl version that offers a tantalizing behind-the-scenes look at its aerial production. So get vaccinated so we can achieve herd immunity and return to theaters so we can finally see these films on the big screen, better yet, the overwhelming IMAX!

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

B-17 Concrete Ordinance? The Disney Bomb

By Scott Spangler on February 15th, 2021 | Comments Off on B-17 Concrete Ordinance? The Disney Bomb

220px-Victory_Through_Air_Power_posterYouTube is a good weekend destination when the wind chill is in double digits because it usually inspires a curiosity quest. It started with The Doc Furness War, a 96-minute aggregation of 16-mm color motion pictures taken by the flight surgeon of the 92nd Bomb Group based at Paddington, UK. If you’re curious about life at a World War II B-17 base, this one covers all aspects of life, from passes to London to flying combat missions (with none of the Memphis Belle film you see in so many other productions).

The narrator does an excellent job of expanding the moving images with detailed words. He explained, for example, that the long, pointy cylinders the crews were mounting below the B-17’s wings, one on either side of the bomb bay were “Disney Bombs.” A US Army Air Pictorial Service film said General Doolittle’s men called it the “Disney Swish.” The B-17s dropped the 18-foot bombs on hardened targets like submarine pens and rocket sites.

So what’s the connection to Disney? And is that Mickey Mouse’s Disney? Apparently, the weapon was inspired by the bomb that took out a Nazi sub pen in a propaganda film, Victory Through Air Power, made by Walt Disney.

400px-Disney_Bomb_DiagramBut wait, the story is even more unexpected. A Royal Navy officer, Captain Edward Terrell, who served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Service with the Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development, imagined the weapon, officially known as the “4500-pound Concrete Piercing/Rocket Assisted” bomb. The solid-fuel rocket boosters gave it the added Swish to penetrate 16 feet of solid concrete. Gravity alone accelerated the Britain’s 10,000-pound Tallboy bomb to 750 mph. The Disney hit at 990 mph.

Built in three sections, the thick armor piercing steel warhead was 11 inches in diameter and filled with 500 pounds of explosive. The center section, 19 inches in diameter, held 19 3-inch rocket motors. The tail section held the necessary electrical circuits and wind-powered generator fan blades. A time delay or barometric sensor ignited the rocket motors, and the bombers had to drop the rocket-accelerated weapons precisely from predetermined altitudes.

In other words, the Disney Bomb rarely hit its intended targets. And this explains why the British bomber command, which usually practiced area bombing at night, never launched a Disney bomb. Believing the Army Air Forces claims of its daylight bombing accuracy, founded on the Norden bombsight, the British joined forces with Doc Furness’ outfit, the 92nd Bombardment Group.

220px-Disney_Bomb_LoadingDuring a March 1945 raid on submarine pens under construction at the port of Farge, not far from Bremen, 30 B-17s launched 60 Disney Bombs. One of them hit the target. Given this success rate, Disney development ended not long after the war. Clearly, all it needed was the GPS guidance system used on today’s Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs). In 2009, the 8th Air Force scored another hit when the body of a Disney Bomb, and its 500-pound warhead, were extracted from the thick concrete roof of a bunker in Watten, a V-2 launch bunker, now a private museum.

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Crowdsourced SciFi Dictionary is Time Travel Gateway

By Scott Spangler on February 8th, 2021 | Comments Off on Crowdsourced SciFi Dictionary is Time Travel Gateway

As a word merchant, dictionaries are my favorite books whether they are online or old school paper, and not because I am a less than stellar speller. The most fascinating are historical dictionaries, like the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), that trace a word’s life from its birth of first usage through its lexical and linguistic maturation. Words cannot describe my joy at discovering the new Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction (HD/SF), because the aerospace endeavors we today take for granted were considered science fiction not that long ago.

prof-mad posterIts editor, I learned, is Jesse Sheidlower; he started this ongoing project when he was an editor at large at the OED. No longer formally affiliated with the OED, this work in progress continues to illustrate the core vocabulary of science fiction and related fields. Like the OED, the HD/SF employs crowdsourced research. (For an entertaining and informative explanation of how this process evolved, read The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester or watch Mel Gibson and Sean Penn in the title roles in the 2019 film on Netflix.)

As a work in progress (no dictionary is ever finished because our lovely language never stops evolving), the HD/SF is still collecting verifiable evidence in the form of quotations from printed sources. The site also seeks moderators who are dedicated science fiction and detail geeks who will actively edit its content. If this is you, check out How to Help.

Aside from the words that live in the dictionary, what makes it a worthwhile read is the many ways into it. One way is by subject, from Aliens and Dimensions to Propulsion and Weaponry. Or you can look at the list of Most Quoted Authors, starting with Robert A. Heinlein, with 178 quotations. For a quick read, the menu offers New Entries (since site relaunch), today topped by “Afrofuturism n. (1993)” defined as “a movement in literature, music, art, etc., featuring futuristic or science fiction themes which incorporate elements of black history and culture.”

If you like surprises, select the Random Entry menu item. F.M. Allen introduced The Little Green Man as the title of his book, published in 1895, the debut of “a stereotypical inhabitant of our space; a person of peculiar appearance.” Naturally, you can search the dictionary by headword and author. Or you can do what I did this weekend, watch it snow and scroll through the HD/SF’s 35 pages.

aerocarAerocar is the word that hooked me. The image the word brings to mind is Molt Taylor’s post-war flying car, which first flew in 1949. But I learned that Fred C. Smale introduced the word in a story he wrote in 1900 for Harmsworth Magazine, the “Abduction of Alexandra Seine.” And you can read it by clicking the “page image” button, and find the passage. “Bowden Snell was now developing the film in his room at the Flash office, and the aerocar which had brought him was still outside the large bay window swinging gently to and fro at its moorings in the summer breeze.” That sounds like urban air mobility to me.

If I haven’t already, I’ll stop here before I exemplify Sturgeon’s Law. Based on a statement by Theodore Sturgeon in the early 1950s, it wasn’t quoted as a humorous aphorism that maintains that 90 percent of a body of published material or knowledge is worthless, “usually later cited as 90 percent of everything is crap.”

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Why Student Pilots Shouldn’t Carry Passengers

By Robert Mark on February 3rd, 2021 | Comments Off on Why Student Pilots Shouldn’t Carry Passengers

Good pilots become better pilots with experience. One of an aviator’s top hurdles on the way to gaining the best experience is becoming a practical risk manager. When does a flight make sense considering the fuel available, the cargo, the weather, the time element and a few other concerns? And when is a flight a bad risk for many of the same reasons, or to put it more bluntly, when do some flights simply represent a stupid risk?

Like the advice most parents offer their teenagers about late-hour adventures, especially when they’re behind the wheel of a vehicle, nothing good ever seems to happen in the middle of the night. Sadly, that applies to flying too as the NTSB explained in a recent preliminary report of an accident that occurred on December 16, 2020, near Bossier City, Louisiana.

Photo courtesy of FlightAware

The pilot of a PA-28 – N55168 – departed Shreveport Downtown Airport (DTN), Louisiana at 4:17 am when the local weather was reported as a 600-foot overcast and 10 miles visibility making the airport IFR. The pilot, however, was not instrument rated. Per the NOTAM, Downtown Tower was also not staffed at the time the aircraft departed. The airplane crashed about 20 minutes later at 4:35 am claiming the life of the pilot and the single passenger on board. The preliminary report offers a couple of insights into what might have been going on in the pilot’s mind that morning.

But this strange early-morning adventure turned reckless when the report noted pilot possessed only a student pilot certificate at the time of the accident. Student pilots are, of course, prohibited from carrying passengers at any time. So, what in the world spurred this aviator on to make a flight when so many issues were already conspiring against him and his passenger?

An airport security video and records show that DTN’s pilot-controlled lighting (PCL) was activated at 0412 and an airplane departed Runway 14 at 0417 squawking a VFR 1200 code. Nearby Shreveport TRACON (SHV) controllers saw the target appear on their radar at 0418.

The Piper flew an irregular flight path headed east after takeoff, but the airplane seemed to pause to maneuver over Barksdale Air Force Base (BAD) for most of the remaining time it was airborne, perhaps for a little sightseeing excursion? The area around the Air Force Base is dotted with obstacles that reach between 500 and 800 feet AGL. A low cloud deck with 10 miles of visibility would at least have helped the pilot see some of these obstacles if they were looking. An SHV approach controller called the air base control tower to let them know the Piper was flying overhead between 600 and 1,800 feet MSL. Believing the airplane might be experiencing an emergency of some kind, the Barksdale controller cranked up the base’s runway lights to full brightness and tried unsuccessfully to contact the pilot by radio.

Late in the flight, radar showed the airplane in a left descending turn before all data ended at 0439. The airplane impacted a remote, wooded terrain on the air base’s property during which the left wing completely separated from the fuselage and the right wing partially so. Most of the airplane was crushed during impact which meant the two people aboard must have died instantly.

When the NTSB reviewed the CFI’s records related to the student pilot, they showed the instructor had endorsed the student about a month before the accident to fly locally in the DTN traffic pattern, but only with the instructor’s express approval before each flight. The instructor also emphasized to the pilot that they were never allowed to carry passengers. The student pilot never contacted the instructor before the December 16 flight. This first NTSB report did not indicate any conversations the instructor might have had with the NTSB about this student’s state of mind.

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Aviation Photographers, Are You a Hoarder or Archivist?

By Scott Spangler on January 25th, 2021 | Comments Off on Aviation Photographers, Are You a Hoarder or Archivist?

USAF Museum Bldg 4Photography is an activity pursued by many interested in aviation. For photographers who started before the digital age, storing slides, negatives, and prints was not only an out of space problem but also spacious signal that might suggest a hoarding problem to the uninitiated. Digital image storage in the cloud or on a hard drive is virtually unseen and more circumspect.

The answer to the headline’s question depends on how easily photographers can find a specific photo. No matter how the images are stored, if a filing system will produce a desired photo in a short amount of time, you have an archive. If you don’t even look for the photo because you don’t have (or can’t make) the time to wander through mountains of shoe boxes or three-ring binders, or terabytes of digital images, you’re a hoarder.

Archiving takes time, but don’t avoid it with the rationalization that there is little chance of you finding a future use for the image, so why bother. The answer is simple—because you never know when an unconsidered but valuable use of the photo may reveal itself. If you doubt that, consider this recent story in the New York Times, “It Spied on Soviet Atomic Bombs. Now It’s Solving Ecological Mysteries.”

05SCI-CORONA-SATELLITE-promo-threeByTwoSmallAt2XTo summarize, declassified Corona spy satellite photos are providing the terrain information that is help helping scientists measure the death march of our changing climate. Or in the words of a scientists quoted in the article, “It’s Google Earth in black and white.” Unlike today’s eyes in the sky, Corona satellites, created in 1958 and first launched in 1960, and its immediate successors, all used 20-pound rolls of film. The satellite sent its film to the processor in a small reentry pod that the Air Force snatched in midair as it parachuted toward the ocean.

Even more remarkable is that the government kept the more than 850,000 images after they had served their intelligence purposes. And it retained them still after declassifying them in the 1990s. (If you’re interested in the rest of this story, see this Times story, “Inside the CIA, She Became a Spy for Planet Earth.”)

Or maybe it was not so remarkable. Of the 145 Corona film drops, 120 were successful. That’s a lot of 20-pound rolls of film. Like many photographers, maybe the government retained the images because it took less time, money, and effort to leave them in storage than it did to deal with them.

050421-F-1234P-002It could be worse. The image that opens this story is the Boston Camera, on display at the National Museum of the US Air Force. Otherwise known as the K-42, it is the largest aerial camera ever built. Designed and built by Boston University (hence its name) in 1951, it weighed about 3 tons and was carried by the ERB-36D, a recon B-36 Peacemaker, and later a C-97 Stratofreighter. With a fixed focal length lens of 240 inches with an aperture of f8, it created 18-by-36-inch images on its roll of film with a shutter speed of 1/400th of a second. With a maximum resolution of 28 lines per millimeter, it could see a golf ball from 45,000 feet.

The space needed to archive these negatives is not what boggles my mind. As a photographer who spent a good deal of time developing film in an old school wet darkroom, I can’t imagine what it would be like to dip and dunk a robust roll of film that is a series of 18-by-36-inch images. But having invested the time to archive my image of the camera after my visit to the Air Force Museum, I retrieved it for this story in less than a minute.

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

When You’re Alone in the Cockpit

By Robert Mark on January 19th, 2021 | 2 Comments »

A freshly minted CFI friend of mine called me recently almost completely out of breath with the exciting news that he’d managed to grab a few hours of loggable time in the right seat of an old Citation II, a bird that certainly turned out to be a great training ground for me too. It was also my first type rating. This guy was rather surprised that even though he’s been flying a glass-cockpit Cirrus SR-22 for the past 1,000 hours, everything in a jet seemed to happen so much faster than anything he’d flown before. How right he is. I thought the steam-gauge Citation II was a grand training environment from the Navajo Chieftain I’d been flying alone, once I figured out who was supposed to do what of course. Most of the rest of my flying time – except as an instructor – was as part of a crew and honestly, I think I became a little spoiled with an extra brain and another set of eyes, ears, and hands closeby.

A little jet time gives pilots something else that’s pretty important too, the proximity of another qualified pilot to help share the navigation radio and the endless work of dealing with ever-changing weather, and the passengers, all while learning the ropes of operating in the flight levels where speeds are measured in Mach numbers.

Time and Training Go Marching On

Of course in the past couple of decades, aircraft like the Cirrus and single-engine turboprops; the TBM, the PC-12 as well as a number of light jets, all glass-cockpit equipped, are now certified to be flown by a single pilot. With some previous jet time, flying one of these complex machines alone shouldn’t be too tough you’d think, except it often is. In fact, there are quite a few single-pilot certified jets and turboprops that operators have come to realize can become quite a handful when the chips are down. They’ve responded to these safety concerns by adding an extra pilot in bad weather. That doesn’t mean any of these aircraft unsafe of course … far from it. But having just one human in the chain of command can under stressful conditions can overwhelm most any pilot if they allow the airplane to move faster than their brain.

The video you’ll find at the end of this story was produced a couple of years ago by the NBAA’s Safety Committee Single-Pilot Working Group to highlight just how easy it can be for a highly automated airplane to get way out in front of the pilot at the controls. Why not grab a cup of coffee and spend 10 minutes watching the mess our pilot John manages to get himself into.

On a side note, you may recognize the PIC in this story making his on-screen debut. I confess it’s me. While I wrote the first draft of the script, I didn’t create this training video alone. The people at CAE in Dallas were kind enough to donate some Phenom 100 simulator time to the Safety Committee to allow us to shoot the video. I also had plenty of help from other committee members including Tom Turner from the American Bonanza Society, Dan Ramirez, who at the time was working for Embraer, Jim Lara from Gray Stone Advisors, Mike Graham, now with the NTSB, BJ Ransbury from Aviation Performance Solutions, Tom Huff, Gulfstream Aerospace’s Aviation Safety Officer, Bob Wright from Wright Aviation Solutions, Phil Powell our ace cameraman and of course Scott Copeland who I spent hours with in Savannah turning our raw footage into the video you’re about to see. We all hope you learn something from the time spent.

Rob Mark, Publisher


P-82 Reveals One Pilot’s Remarkable Story

By Scott Spangler on January 11th, 2021 | Comments Off on P-82 Reveals One Pilot’s Remarkable Story

USAF-60As it would any dedicated aviation geek, the photo of the P-82 Twin Mustang with Betty Jo emblazoned on its nose at the start of a New York Time’s obituary caught my attention. So did the headline, “Robert Thacker, 102, Dies; Survived Pearl Harbor to Fly in 3 Wars.” The subhead only added to my confusion. “This unarmed bomber was caught in the thick of Japan’s attack. He went on to fly some 80 missions in World War II and to become a record-setting test pilot.”

Okay, so what does that have to do with the P-82 Betty Jo, which I’ve admired during my visits to the Museum of the United States Air Force? As a reward for my continued reading, the obit answered my question about a half-dozen paragraphs later. With the war over less than two years, in February 1947, Thacker and his copilot, Lt. John Ard, flew Betty Jo from Hickam Field in Hawaii to New York City—nonstop—in 14.5 hours. The 5,051-mile flight is the sanding nonstop record for a prop-driven fighter.

Just to make that flight interesting, a mechanical glitch prevented Thacker from dropping some of the P-82’s four auxiliary under-wing tanks, so he had to adjust for asymmetric drag for a good portion of the flight. Betty Jo, the name of Thacker’s wife, had 30 minutes of fuel in its tanks when it landed in New York. Geez, my backside and leg hurt just thinking about it.

1024px-North_American_F-82B_(060728-F-1234S-018)More importantly, learning Thacker’s story reminded me that people make aviation history every day. And if they survive a signature event nearly every aviator knows, like piloting a B-17 that arrived in Hawaii in the midst of the attack on Pearl Harbor, they continue to make history, although it may not be as well known. It should be a reminder to all of us to wonder what happened to history’s participants in the weeks, months, and years that followed.

Thacker went on to fly 80 missions in the Pacific and European theaters, an accomplishment of remarkable survival in itself. After the war, he joined the cohort of test pilots at what is now Edwards Air Force Base. In Korea he flew B-29 missions, and in Vietnam, “high altitude missions” with (as yet) no telling tidbits of their details.

What is most telling about Thacker’s character and passion for flight is summarized by what ignited it, a model airplane the 8-year-old received from his father. As shown by his biography by the Academy of Model Aeronautics, his passion for flying models never waned. Before the war, he flew a hand-launched rubber-band-powered pusher model in the Junior Birdman of America, sponsored by Hearst Newspapers. After the war, he competed in the 1975 and 1976 National Scale Glider Championships. He designed the model of the Bowlus Baby Albatross glider, featured in the September 1975 issue of Model Builder, and he designed the Giant Ducted Fan BD-10 featured in the February 1994 Flying Models.

Col. Bob ThackerEach of us leaves a legacy compiled by our everyday acts of personal history. Some are better known that others, but few are as lasting and rewarding to succeeding generations as Thacker’s. After retiring and returning to California, he was looking for a place to fly his models. After meeting with the general, he helped establish the Joint Military RC Flyers, which welcome civilians and has been running at Marine Corps enclave of Camp Pendleton since 1970. – Scott Spangler, Editor