New Radar in S. Russia to Go on Combat Duty Early in 2013

December 28 (RIA Novosti) – A new-generation Voronezh-DM class anti-missile radar will enter combat duty near the town of Armavir in Russia’s southern Krasnodar region in the beginning of 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday.

“The radar will monitor the Russian airspace in the southern strategic vector,” Putin said at a Kremlin meeting with newly-appointed and promoted high-ranking military officials.

The Armavir radar will replace the Gabala radar station, which Russia had leased from Azerbaijan for 10 years.

via New Radar in S. Russia to Go on Combat Duty Early in 2013 | Defense | RIA Novosti.

This is just another reminder that the Russians aren’t against ballistic missile defense. They’re against the US having ballistic missile defense.

The XC-142

Longtime readers know I’m not at all a fan of the Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey program. But most of my objections to the program center on its costs, not on the aircraft itself. Personally, I think it is a pretty neat bird. And I enjoy watching them fly by en route from MCAS Miramar to 29 Palms. But every time someone tells me how revolutionary it is, I feel a strong urge to remind them that it is hardly new concept.

Almost from the first time helicopters flew, engineers started tinkering with ways to combine the speed characteristics of an airplane with the vertical take off and landing of a helicopter. After all, the rotors that lift a helicopter look an awful lot like the propellers that move planes forward. Was there a way to use one set of blades for both jobs? Taking off and landing a propeller driven plane from a tail sitting position was tried, but was soon found to be impractical, mostly because the pilot would have to fly looking over his shoulder.

Pretty soon, the concept of rotating either the entire wing, or just the rotors, from the vertical to the horizontal was tested. A variety of test aircraft were designed, built and tested throughout the 1950s. Most were little more than test-beds to explore the concept of a convertible plane.

By 1959, enough experience had been gained with tilt-rotor and tilt-wing test beds that the DoD actually began to consider designing a plane that could eventually enter service. After a couple more years of effort, the Tri-Service Assault Transport Program began in 1961, with the Navy as the lead agency for DoD. Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV) in partnership with the  Hiller and Ryan companies, was awarded a contract to design and build a prototype tilt-wing transport that would have better range and speed than existing helicopters. 

The resulting aircraft, the XC-142A would be the closest a convertiplane would come to entering service until the MV-22 joined squadron service with the Marines 40 years later.

One interesting administrative note, the XC-142A was numbered in the regular tri-service designation system under the conventional transport series, and not in the convertible aircraft series. It really should have had a designation of XCV-XXX. One can only guess, but perhaps the program managers felt the XC-142A was so much more likely to be bought in numbers than previous aircraft, that it should not share a series of what had heretofore been strictly test beds. And, rather annoyingly for your author, the XC-142A does not appear to have even been given a nickname or popular name.

On a conventional helicopter, each blade of the rotor is independently articulated. That is, it changes its angle of attack, or pitch, continuously throughout its rotation around the hub, and does so independently from the other blades. At any given time, each blade of a rotor is at a different pitch. Conventional propellers, even though they have variable pitch, do not do this. Instead, all blades of a conventional propeller change pitch simultaneously, and maintain that pitch setting throughout their journey around the hub. Helicopter rotors use this articulation to tilt the rotor disc forward or backward or side to side to provide thrust in the desired direction of flight, in addition to providing the lift to keep the helicopter in the air. But this articulation is also rather complex. That’s why when you look at the hub of a helicopter rotor, there’s all sorts of fiddly bits.

Previous convertible planes had suffered from excessive vibration and complexity, and LTV was at pains to avoid this. And so they came up with a pretty simple solution.  By vastly overpowering the aircraft with four T64 turboprops, and using conventional propellers only slightly larger than normal, they had more than enough lifting force to meet the requirements. What was needed was a way of controlling the aircraft in hovering flight without adding the complexity of full articulation to the props.  Since the entire wing rotated, the ailerons, normally used to control roll, could be used instead to control yaw in hovering flight. The airflow from the propellers would be sufficient to make the ailerons effective. Roll control in the hover would be provided by differential clutching of the outboard propellers. Pitch control in the hover would be by means of a small horizontal rotor at the very tail of the aircraft. In conventional flight modes, conventional control surfaces would be used.

One additional layer of complexity (and thus weight and cost and maintenance) that could not be avoided was crosslinking all four engines to a common drive shaft.  Imagine the XC-142A in a hover. Should one of the engines fail, particularly an outboard engine, the loss of lift on one side would cause an uncontrollable roll and loss of the aircraft. The answer was to have all four engines driving a common shaft, so even if a quarter of the total power was lost, the thrust would still be delivered symmetrically.

Aside from the whole tilt-wing thing, the XC-142 was a fairly conventional transport design. A boxy fuselage with a split ramp at the rear, with tricycle landing gear, with main mounts retracting into blisters along the fuselage side. In fact, because its propellers weren’t too large, it could take off and land conventionally with no tilt to the wing at all.

This was a very ambitious program. Remember, when the contracts were signed, the UH-1, CH-46, and CH-47 were just being accepted for service.

Right click, open in new tab to greatly embiggenfy.

Five aircraft were built, and put through their paces.

The aircraft actually flew quite well, and its performance met the required specifications. But several things conspired to keep the XC-142 as a historical curiosity, and not a long serving warhorse.

First, the cross-linked driveshaft was troublesome. It produced excessive vibration (like virtually all its predecessors) and was less than wholly reliable. Problems with the shafting would lead to hard landings and damaged aircraft. And excessive vibration in a testing environment could only be seen as a harbinger of frequent failure in any future service environment.

Secondly, the utility of what would inevitably be an expensive aircraft was questioned. An XC-142 might lift 30 troops 100 miles twice as fast as a helicopter, but if it cost more than twice as much to buy and operate, buying two helicopters suddenly looks a lot more appealing.

Third, just as the XC-142 began to fly, the US was becoming ever more deeply involved in Vietnam, and the bulk of defense spending was going to fund that war and the machines needed right then, not some time in the future.

One by one, the each of the services in the Tri-Service program dropped out. The remaining aircraft were transferred to NASA, who used them for testing until 1970, when the last survivor was transferred to the Air Force Museum.

It’s odd that I couldn’t find a single decent video of the TC-4C, a plane with almost 30 years of service, but was instantly able to find quite a bit of good footage of this also-ran.






Thanks to Jason Camlic, who inspired this post via a post of his on Facebook. I can’t figure a good way to link traffic to him, but he’s always a great source of ideas and interesting tidbits from the world of aviation.

There Were Two Rocket Launchers Turned in at LA’s Gun Buyback Program – Politics – The Atlantic Wire

The final numbers from the massively successful one-day gun buyback in Los Angeles have arrived: 2,037 firearms, including 75 assault weapons and two anti-tank rocket launchers were traded in for supermarket gift cards — no questions asked. But … but … we have so many questions. The first being, who in Los Angeles had military-grade rocket launchers in their house(s)?

via There Were Two Rocket Launchers Turned in at LA’s Gun Buyback Program – Politics – The Atlantic Wire.

OMG!! Panic!

Really? LAPD goes through a buy-back program from time to time, and something like this usually happens.

That’s an AT-4 (M136). Here’s the thing, once the round has been fired from an AT-4, it’s just a fiberglass tube. It has no military value. The only way you could hurt someone with it would be to bludgeon them about the head and shoulders.

Expended AT-4s were common training aids in most units, and unlike real weapons (like bayonets) didn’t need to be locked up or accounted for. They were just there.

And the LAPD surely has enough veterans to recognize that these empty tubes pose absolutely no threat to anyone. So I can only surmise they are prominently displaying them in a scurrilous effort to create fear among the public about scary assault weapons.

Intrepid Museum, Home of Shuttle Enterprise, Reopens after Hurricane Sandy Closure |

The space shuttle and museum on Manhattan’s west side sustained damage during the late October hurricane, and while the museum isn’t fully operational quite yet, the damage to the space shuttle was minimal, however dramatic looking, officials said.

The tip of Enterprise’s vertical stabilizer, the back tail resembling a whale’s dorsal fin, tore off when the inflatable pavilion fell down around it. However, it broke on a seam, making it a relatively simple repair, said Intrepid’s president, Susan Marenoff-Zausner.

via Intrepid Museum, Home of Shuttle Enterprise, Reopens after Hurricane Sandy Closure |

In all the massive trauma caused by Hurricane Sandy, I missed that Enterprise was damaged. They did prepare for the hurricane by raising the generators that maintained the inflatable structure around the test shuttle. The generators still were hit by a six-foot wave of flood water, which shorted them out.

intrepid damage

In an effort to bump up traffic, let’s talk Army Chow!

I can cook. I just can’t cook very well. I mean, it’s certainly edible, as long as we’re talking about making pork chops, or grilling a chicken breast. My primary concerns when cooking are ease of prep, speed, and ease of cleanup. I mean, I’m usually just cooking for one. And as a smoker, my taste buds went AWOL years ago.  And my cookbook may not be the best.

Some of my friends take their food just a little more seriously

And then there is Army chow. I’ve written several times about MREs and T-rats and other elements of the Army’s Field Feeding System. Most of the emphasis on the research being these field rations has been on food preservation technologies.  But there’s also a surprising amount of research on the nutritional side of the equation as well, extending back to the days of the Revolution, and ongoing even today.

Craig might find this long research paper on the diets of soldier’s in the Civil War interesting. (.pdf warning)

Keeping Labor Costs Down, People’s Republic of China-style


Using slave labor can significantly reduce indirect costs to manufacture.  Any economist will tell you.  Prisoners of a still-repressive Communist Chinese regime have no FLSA, no medical care, no grievance policy.  They do have a labor union, though.  Alas, controlled by Beijing.   Doubt there is much help from that quarter.

“If you occasionally buy this product, please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right Organization,” the unsigned letter read. “Thousands people here who are under the persicution [sic] of the Chinese Communist Party Government will thank and remember you forever.”

The writer said the product was made in Masanjia Labor Camp in Shenyang, China, where laborers work for 15 hours a day without time off on the weekends and holidays, making only 10 yuan ($1.61) per month.

Common “wisdom” is to refer to the PRC as having a capitalist economy and communist government.  With the great majority of important industrial activity taking place in state-owned enterprises, and with a seemingly grim confirmation of rumors of a slave-labor work force, such “wisdom” should be questioned thoroughly.
Some would probably ask what the complaining is all about.  Why those ingrates in Unit 8, Department 2 have housing and food provided by a benevolent government, and should consider that to be compensation in lieu of pay!  In fact, it seems to be a great idea for a business model!    If only such a workers’ paradise were possible here….

The “Tic”

As the magnificent Grumman A-6A Intruder was accepted for service with the Navy and Marine Corps as the premiere all-weather/night attack aircraft, the Navy began to prepare to transition aviators from older platforms to this state of the art jet.

The first squadron to be equipped with any new type aircraft is always the Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS). For historical reasons, the FRS is commonly referred to as the RAG, from the old World War II era “Replacement Air Groups”* The FRS is the “schoolhouse” for any given type of aircraft, responsible for transitioning squadrons from older aircraft into the new type, training maintainers, and eventually ensuring a steady stream of trained aircrew to fleet squadrons.  Aviators graduate from flight school knowing how to fly. The FRS teaches them how to fight.  Attack Squadron 42 (VA-42) (.pdf) was the first of eventually three FRS Intruder squadrons.

While the Navy had long operated multi-place tactical aircraft, the highly complex nature of the Intruder meant its two man crew shared far more of the workload than in previous aircraft. The Bombardier/Navigator (B/N) wasn’t just nice to have, but the very key to exploiting the heart of the Intruder, the Digital Attack Navigation Equipment (DIANE), the complex of radars and computers that gave the Intruder its all weather capability. At about this time, non-pilot flying officers were just transitioning from the designation as Naval Aviation Observers to Naval Flight Officers (NFO).  No longer second-class citizens in the Naval Aviation hierarchy, NFOs would be equal partners, eventually becoming eligible for squadron command, carrier command, higher rank.**

Training a Naval Aviator to fly the A-6 posed no new challenges. An instructor pilot could simply occupy the B/N’s seat, and offer instruction. But training an NFO in the A-6 was a little harder. Instructor pilots were poorly suited to training B/N’s on DIANE, and in any event, were a little too busy flying the plane to offer meaningful instruction. And Instructor B/N’s weren’t pilots, so they couldn’t fly the plane.  And until student B/N’s had achieved a certain basic proficiency with the complex navigation and attack systems, it was unwise to pair them with a student A-6 pilot to begin actual crew training.

So the training of student B/N’s became something of a chokepoint in the FRS pipeline. What was needed was a way to provide them with hands-on training on the actual equipment, under the instruction of a competent B/N instructor, while airborne, but without having to put them up in an Intruder.

At the same time, Grumman had just started producing one of the very first purpose built “executive transports,” the Gulfstream. The Gulfstream was a twin-turboprop powered low wing transport that could offer luxury seating for 8 or a commuter passenger layout for up to 28. 

Grumman and the Navy grafted the nose of an A-6 onto the Gulfstream, and added additional Bombardier/Navigator instrument panels in the back, and the TC-4C Academe was born.

Right click to greatly embiggenfy.

The first of an eventual total of nine TC-4C aircraft was delivered in January 1968 to VA-42. The great B/N bottleneck was no more. And while the TC-4C was officially name Academe, it was almost always referred to as the “Tic.”

With the exception of one tragic accident that killed 12, the Tic had a good reputation as easy to fly and maintain, and a highly effective training tool for the Intruder community. Each of the three Intruder FRS, VA-42 for East Coast Navy squadrons, VA-128 for West Coast Navy squadrons, and VMAT-202 for Marine Intruder squadrons, would operate three TC-4C.

As the Intruder was modified and developed from the A-6A to the A-6E TRAM, the Tics were modified to match the capabilities of the Intruder. The Tic remained in service until 1995, when the retirement of the A-6 rendered it surplus.

The Gulfstream family, of course, would go on to become the jet-powered, swept wing business jet of the rich and famous, and just about the ultimate status symbol.


*Similarly, the commander of a Carrier Air Wing (CVW) is still popularly called the “CAG” from “Carrier Air Group.”

**Which makes sense. If the next Nimitz or King is denied a worthwhile career just because he doesn’t have 20/20 vision, the Navy is just shooting itself in the foot. And in a lot of communities, such as the E-2 and EA-6B, arguably, the pilot is just there to drive the bus, while the NFOs in back get on with the real work.

Morning Links

Really? Seriously? Is there not ONE damn thing this administration does that isn’t full of lies and deceit?


And there’s no way anyone saw this coming….


Kalashnikov in intensive care. Of course, he’s 93, so it’s not a terrible shock.


To horn in a bit on Roamy’s territory, this clip from SpaceX is pretty cool.



Happy Boxing Day to our friends up north, and across the pond.


Operation Christmas Drop, Via the ONT:


With a little luck, we may even have some content later today, or early tomorrow!