The First Naval Battle for Guadalcanal 12-13 November 1942

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The bloody slugging match for the island of Guadalcanal and the surrounding seas reached its peak fury seventy-three years ago this week.  Between November 13th and 15th, 1942, a pair of violent clashes in the waters north and east of the island marked a watershed in the eleven-month long Pacific War.  Those clashes would come to be known as the First and Second Naval Battles of Guadalcanal.

The stage was set for this far-flung, savage, running fight a week earlier, when US intelligence gleaned that the Japanese 17th Army was going to make one last, large attempt break the Marine perimeter to overrun Henderson Field.  General Hyukatake, commanding 17th Army, had been arrogantly dismissive of the US Marines’ combat prowess, and entirely slipshod in his intelligence planning.  The Japanese had tried three times to break the Marines’ lines, once in late-August (at the Ilu River), in mid-September (Edson’s Ridge), and again in late-October, which was the first serious thrust, directly at Lunga Point and the airfield.  Each time, the Marines (and in October, joined by the Army’s 164th Infantry) held firm and slaughtered the Japanese in large numbers.  Hyukatake had waited far too long.  Had his efforts been strong during the almost two weeks in mid-August during which the Marines had neither Naval nor air protection, the predicament of the 1st Marine Division might have been extremely grim.  Now, after grievous losses, Hyukatake was to be reinforced for one last major push.

In light of the latest intelligence, Admiral Richmond K. Turner had taken Task Force 67, loaded with troops and supplies, toward the island.  The transports of TF 67 unloaded under intermittent air attack from Bougainville, but managed without serious losses.    The Japanese had pushed a bombardment force of two battleships, a cruiser, and eleven destroyers into the waters north of Guadalcanal with the mission of destroying the airfield and preventing the Cactus Air Force from interdicting the eleven transports packed with Japanese soldiers, supplies, food, and ammunition.  The US Navy had two task groups protecting the transports, under Admirals Daniel Callaghan and Norman Scott.  Those forces combined, along with remaining escorts from Turner’s transport group, to form a powerful group of two heavy and three light cruisers, and eight destroyers (under Callaghan, aboard San Francisco).

The two forces sighted each other almost simultaneously, at approximately 0125 on 13 November.  Admiral Callaghan, regrettably, had not employed any ship with the improved SG radar in his van, which meant that the Japanese, even in the poor visibility of the night, negated his technical advantage with their superior night combat skills.  The confused melee began at extremely close ranges, and was filled with confusing orders, hesitation, and ferocity.  The IJN battleship Hiei was badly mauled by dozens of 5-inch hits on her bridge and superstructure, pummeled by US destroyers that were so close that Hiei’s 14-inch guns could not depress to engage them.   She suffered at least three 8-inch hits, likely from San Francisco, her steering gear was shot away, and she was a shambles topside.  Hiei and sister Kirishima managed to exacted revenge on Atlanta and San Francisco, landing large caliber (14-inch) hits on both.  The riddled Atlanta drifted across San Francisco’s line of fire, and was almost certainly struck by the latter’s main battery, adding to the carnage on board.    When the action finished less than an hour later, four US destroyers had been sunk, Altanta was a wreck, Juneau and Portland had taken torpedoes, and San Francisco had been savaged, leaving her with only one 8-inch mount in action.   Both American admirals, Norman Scott aboard Atlanta, and Daniel Callaghan on San Francisco, had been killed.  Admiral Abe, the Japanese commander flying his flag on Hiei, had been wounded.

The Japanese attempted to take Hiei in tow, but US air attacks from Guadalcanal and Espiritu Santo further damaged the battleship, and she sank in the late evening of 13 November off Savo Island.   Similarly, efforts throughout the day to save Atlanta were unsuccessful, and just after 2000 on 13 November, the cruiser was scuttled on the orders of her captain.   Juneau, down fifteen feet by the bows and listing from her torpedo wounds, was proceeding to Espiritu Santo at 13 knots when she was struck by a torpedo from the Japanese submarine I-26.  Her magazine exploded, breaking her in two.  Witnesses say Juneau disappeared in twenty seconds.   Fearing the submarine threat and believing very few could have survived the explosion, the senior surviving American Officer (Captain Hoover, aboard Helena) made the agonizing decision to leave the survivors for later rescue.  About one hundred men had survived the sinking, but after eight days in the water, only ten were rescued.  The rest perished from exhaustion, wounds, or sharks, including the five Sullivan brothers.

Aside from the eventual loss of Hiei, the Japanese lost two destroyers sunk, and four damaged.  Japanese killed had numbered around 700, about half the total of Americans killed in the action.  With little in front of him, Abe might have sailed in to bombard Henderson Field at his leisure, but instead he withdrew.  With his withdrawal, Abe had turned a potentially serious tactical reverse into a strategic victory for the US Navy and Marine Corps.  Yamamoto, who had planned the operation, was forced to postpone the landings.  Furious, Yamamoto fired Abe, and ordered a new bombardment force under Vice Admiral Kondo to neutralize the airfield the next day, 14 November.   So ended the First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the first act of the tense drama, setting the stage for the second.

Grumman E-2X Hawkeye

By the 1990s the Grumman E-2 Hawkeye had already been about 30 years old. Also, at the time Grumman had spent considerable research resources into conformal antenna arrays such that the Navy requested that Grumman look into fitting a conformal array to the Hawkeye. Grumman began looking at ways to integrate the conformal array radar while maintaining most of the Hawkeye’s airframe commonality, landing gear and subsystems.

Grumman proposed the E-2X powered by the GE TF-34 turbofan (the same engine that powers the S-3 Viking and A-10). The conformal arrays would be fitted to the leading edges of the wing, fuselage sides, trailing edges and horizontal tail trailing edges. In order to house the array in the horizontal tail dihedral was removed and replaced by the same tail used in the C-2 Greyhound.

Removing the rotodome also had some effects to flying qualities when compared to the original E-2. longitudinal stability in the pitch axis necessitated a wing glove that also had additional fuel (which would make up for the fuel volume lost in the wings from antenna accommodation). The other major challenge in the E-2X was how to accommodate the TF-34 engines with changing the E-2C landing gear:

General Electric TF-34 Turbofan powers both the S-3 Viking and A-10 Warthog.
General Electric TF-34 Turbofan powers both the S-3 Viking and A-10 Warthog.

The solution was to “wrap” the TF-34 engine intake and exhaust ducts around the landing gear utilizing a split fan exhaust system…”

TF-34 cutaway drawing.
TF-34 cutaway drawing.

The resulting drag penalty would be overcome by using a slightly more powerful version of the TF-34.

Placement of the conformal array posed some unique problems. There were some problems with aircraft volume and weight distribution. The proposed number of transmitters posed weight and cooling problems resulting in additional complexity and therefore weight. Not to mention resulting changes to the flight control system based on the constraints of operating from an aircraft carrier.

Grumman's display model of the E-2X Hawkeye.
Grumman’s display model of the E-2X Hawkeye.

The E-2X was presented to the Navy and the E-2X program was shelved.

Source: The Aircraft Designers: A Grumman Historical Perspective.

The Marketing People at 5-Hour Energy Should be All Over This!

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From the Daily Caller:

The top defense secretary in North Korea was allegedly executed in a hail of anti-aircraft fire, South Korean news outlets say, for falling asleep at a meeting where Kim Jong-un was speaking.

Though there remains some skepticism regarding the event, certainly there seems to be some credence to the possibility that General Hyon Yong-chol was done away with, because we know that the DPRK has the facility for such an ostentatious (and messy) display of brutality.

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But there is a marketing opportunity here.  The annoying 5-Hour Energy commercials could become quite a bit more compelling.  “Feeling tired?  Falling asleep in a meeting with the boss?  Don’t be blasted into smoking lumps of bone and flesh!  Drink 5-Hour Energy!  Now in pomegranate, berry, grape, and citrus orange!”

Wouldn’t it be irony that staunch Communist KJU was the entrepreneurial inspiration for a Capitalist marketing campaign?    Sure, the FDA has some warnings about 5-Hour Energy Drinks, such as prolonged use causing heart attacks.  But it still has to be less harmful than half a dozen 14.5 slugs to the cranium.

Maybe 5-Hour Energy can pick up the NKPA as a sponsor, to go along with NASCAR and Jim Furyk.  Or maybe not, as acquiring personal wealth is a leading cause of being shot to pieces in North Korea.

Steam Powered Airplanes

In the first third of the 20th Century, steam engineering was, in many ways, far more advanced than internal combustion engineering. Of course, steam power was a much more mature technology at the time. It makes some sense then that someone would attempt to use it to power another new technology, one very dependent on reliable power, the airplane.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_yowX1_1sEg]

Of course, the rapid improvements in conventional gasoline powerplants for airplanes left the steam powered aircraft as little more than an odd footnote in history.

Cutaway Thursday: Boeing YC-14

The Boeing YC-14 was a twin enigne STOL (short take-off and landing) transport aircraft that completed in the USAF Advanced Medium STOL Transport (AMST), basically an attempt to replace the C-130. The YC-14 was competing against the YC-15 (which evolved into the C-17) in the AMST program, which we covered here.

YC-14-artwork-cutaway

The YC-14 is currently on display that the Pima Air and Space Museum. You can learn more about the YC-14 here.

Beijing Air & Space Museum

Global Aviation Review has a fascinating photo essay on the Beijing Air and Space Museum. Located at Beijing University and sometimes called the China Aviaiton Museum, there’s a rare and unique collection of aircraft that those outside of China rarely get to see and it offers an interesting glimpse of Chinese aviation history.

Something you won't see anywhere else, a P-47 and across the way, a MiG-9.
Something you won’t see anywhere else, a P-47 and across the way a MiG-9.

The Beijing Air and Space Museum has one of the very few Northrop P-61 Black Widow:

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Another unique exhibit featuring the Chinese built MiG-15 and MiG-17 with the Northrop P-61 Black Widow.

Head on over to Global Aviation Resource to take a gander at more of the Museum.

Fascinating stuff behind the Bamboo Curtain

AC-235 Gunship Lite

One of our longstanding frustrations with the way the US purchases airpower is that it has so often sought the comprehensive solution to a perceived problem, and not the 80% solution at 20% cost.  Rather than buying low cost platforms for low threat environments (such as Iraq and Afghanistan) in modest numbers, the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps insist on flying their dwindling number of strike fighters. An airframe has a finite number of flying hours available. And they’re being wasted droning over virtually secure airspace. The only push in the US for low cost solutions is coming from the Special Operations community, and they are getting pushback from the mainstream services.

The AC-130U is the definitive gunship conversion of a transport aircraft. But there will only ever be a handful of them. They’re such good aircraft because they are so lavishly equipped. They’re astonishingly expensive. I’ve seen quotes of a flyaway cost of about $190 million dollars!

The C-27J program looked at building a low cost roll-on package for the Spartan to provide top cover.  That dream died when the Air Force smothered the program in its crib.

But the idea of putting some weapons and sensors onto a converted transport has merit. Witness the Marine Corps deployment of C-130J Harvest Hawks.

And other nations are catching on as well. The latest is Jordan. Jordan teamed with ATK to field a conversion of the popular CN-235 light transport into the AC-235 gunship.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4oyplReZg0?feature=player_embedded]

That’s actually a pretty robust capability. As Think Defence notes, integrating the APKWS guided 70mm rocket is a no-brainer as well. With very good sensors (the SAR/GMTI radar is quite handy), and presumably a system similar to our ROVER that allows sensor video to be shared with troop units on the ground, the long endurance of an AC-235 allows much more than merely providing supporting fires. The top down view can allow a commander to exercise much better control over his forces, as well as providing a better picture of the enemy.

The US Coast Guard is buying a handful of CN-235s for Search and Rescue. They were going to buy more, but instead they’re taking delivery of a handful of C-27Js that were intended for Army and Air Force use. Would it be so hard for the services to buy a few more and convert them to AC-235s*?

*The  Air Force quietly operates a pair of vanilla CN-235s for unknown purposes. My supposition is they are used to quietly move Special Forces troops around in Africa or other places that operations aren’t secret, but where a discrete footprint is desired.

The Herc

On the 23rd of August, 1954, the first C-130 Hercules took to the air. They’ve been in production ever since. That’s an incredible 60 years. They’re still rolling off the lines. 

I’ve ridden in Hercs flown by the active Air Force, the Air Force Reserves, the Air National Guard, and even by the Marines. 

The Hercules is best known as a tactical intra-theater airlifter, moving up to 92 troops, or 64 paratroopers. That’s still its primary job.

But such a sound basic design has lent it to adaptation to other roles as well. Famously, the various gunship versions of the AC-130 have been with us for well over 40 years. But it also served as a maritime patrol plane, a search and rescue platform, and electronic reconnaissance bird, an airborne command post, and airborne early warning  radar post, an aerial ambulance,  a weather reconnaissance plane, a drone launcher and controller, a special operations platform, a bomber,  a tanker, a firefighter, an electronic jammer, a psychological operations platform, VIP transport, civilian freighter, and a satellite recovery system.

Well over 2,300 Hercs have rolled off the line in Marietta, GA. The list of countries that operate the C-130 is so long, it’s its own wikipedia entry.

It may usually land on concrete, but it’s perfectly happy to land on dirt. Or even on steel.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uM5AI3YSV3M]

It can drop heavy loads via parachute, or LAPES.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgg3iRaVnbw]

It also put on a pretty good airshow!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjZMWI77b84]

Happy Birthday to one of my favorite all time planes, the Mighty Lockheed C-130 Hercules!

Meet your maker in a Martin-Baker

Ejection seats have been a regular component of tactical aircraft since the Second World War. Original seats did little more than propel the pilot high enough to clear the tail in  a bailout. Later seats added improvements, but still were little more than a blank charge firing the seat up the rails. A great leap in capability came with the introduction of the rocket powered seat, which in addition to the catapult gun used a rocket to add vertical vector to the seat’s trajectory, eventually resulting in the “Zero/Zero” seat that could theoretically safely eject a crewmember from a plane with zero airspeed and zero altitude.  But even Zero/Zero seats have limitations. Research, testing, and improved products continue to this day, enlarging the envelope from which aircrew can successfully eject from stricken aircraft. Concurrent with enlarging the successful ejection envelope are developments which seek to minimize the injuries aircrew will sustain in an ejection. For instance, more powerful, longer burning rockets mean a lower initial acceleration vector, which results in fewer spinal injuries. Devices such as restraints to reduce flailing in the windstream also reduce injuries.

Let’s take a look at some of the testing underway for the Martin-Baker seat for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6HoIRoYlXM&w=448&h=252&hd=1]

A successful seat has to get the pilot clear of the airplane and through the canopy. Explosive line charges are used to fracture the canopy. A drogue chute stabilizes the seat, while the seat’s rocket boosts it in altitude. A ballistic charge deploys the main chute.  On some seats, airbags are used to provide separation between the seat and the pilot. A new feature on this seat is airbag curtains to stabilize and protect the pilot’s head and neck.

No, no live pilots featured.* Instead, anatomically functional dummies are used. Sharp eyed observers will notice the tests performed at altitude use a Gloster Meteor as the testbed aircraft- a role it has performed almost from its introduction in the mid-1940s.

*In the early days of ejection seats, live test subjects were actually used.