Air and Space Reading

Some things I’ve been perusing lately concerning aeronautics and aerospace

The WW2 flying wing decades ahead of it’s time

Flying wing designs gained some credence in the 1950s, mostly due to the efforts of Jack Northrop, who had been inspired by seeing some of the Horten’s sports gliders in the 1930s. The captured Ho 229 may also have encouraged him. Northrop’s unsuccessful YB-35 flying wing bomber design of the late 1940s, was hamstrung by massive vibration problems caused by the propeller-driven engines, showing that the Hortens were right to have used jets in the Ho 229. Northrop’s later jet-propelled YB-49 design used jet engines, and while it never went into service, it paved the way for the company’s B-2 Spirit stealth bomber decades later, a design which certainly shares some physical similarities with the Ho 229.

When U.S. air force discovered the flaw of averages

Out of 4,063 pilots, not a single airman fit within the average range on all 10 dimensions. One pilot might have a longer-than-average arm length, but a shorter-than-average leg length. Another pilot might have a big chest but small hips. Even more astonishing, Daniels discovered that if you picked out just three of the ten dimensions of size — say, neck circumference, thigh circumference and wrist circumference — less than 3.5 per cent of pilots would be average sized on all three dimensions. Daniels’s findings were clear and incontrovertible. There was no such thing as an average pilot. If you’ve designed a cockpit to fit the average pilot, you’ve actually designed it to fit no one.

The A-10 lives to fly another day

It’s a striking about-face from just a couple years ago when they were saying the A-10 was obsolete. Then again, they’ve been saying that for 30 years. The obsolescence of close air support in general has always been just around the corner for the past 70 years. Since now the A-10 won’t be allowed to phase out completely until a CAS replacement is ready, we need to start planning for the Warthog 2.0

According to Sprey, the A-10 is by far the most survivable aircraft for the low-altitude, low-speed CAS mission. But almost every aspect of the A-10 can be vastly improved using modern materials and construction techniques. However, The key to producing a new warplane quickly, on time and to budget is to use the best existing technology rather than trying to invent entirely new hardware and software.

The audacious rescue plan that might have saved space shuttle Columbia

As with every other task involved with the rescue, there was no room for error, and there would be no second chances. Atlantis would be launched with an all-veteran crew, with selection for the mission biased heavily toward astronauts who demonstrated fast adaptation to microgravity (there was no time to be space-sick) and high aptitude at EVA and rendezvous. The report names no names, but it does indicate that an assessment revealed a pool of nine EVA candidates, seven command candidates, and seven pilot candidates available in January 2003 whom NASA felt could have undertaken the mission.

Which brings us to one of the all time great movies about the space program

You’re damn right they are! Know what they accomplished living up there in a tin can for five months? Because of men like these, we’ve taken the first step off this little planet. The moon trip was a walk around the block. We’re going to the stars, to other worlds, other civilizations. Men will be killed in this effort just as they’re killed in cars and airplanes……and bars and…

20 thoughts on “Air and Space Reading”

  1. A-10

    That’s one of the few things I’ve read from Pierre Sprey that I agree with and I’ve had the same thought myself. The A-10 was recently upgraded with more modern avionics (Can you imagine going to war with 40 year old electronics and communications systems in your plane?) but the basic concept and architecture of the machine as a weapon is completely sound.

    We should build another 100-200 of them with modern engines, modern kevlar armor underplating, and keep the gun and basic structural plan. This would be an ideal off-the-books black project because there will be very little in development and a short limited production run, much like the F-117. It’s the kind of thing we could sole source to someplace like Boeing’s Phantom Works, which is the old McDonnell Douglas group. This will keep them viable for the future and give them an opportunity to provide the USA with a much needed resource.

  2. “If you’ve designed a cockpit to fit the average pilot, you’ve actually designed it to fit no one.”

    I remember another mishap in cockpit design from my days at Douglas. I can’t remember anymore which planes were involved but it may have been the F4D and the F5D

    The F 5 D was a follow-on of the F 4 D which was the first supersonic carrier airplane. The F 4 D was actually a preliminary design but the Navy bought it. The cockpit had an ejection seat. I can’t remember the details anymore but, as I recall, the seat had a pre-ejection lever on each side which cut cables running through the base of the seat. Maybe that was the A 4 D. Anyway, the pilot who was going to eject had to pull the pre-ejection levers on each side of the seat, then pulled a shade-like thing over his face and the canopy went off, followed by the seat ejection.

    The problem was that the next design, of either the F 4 D or the F 5 D had ditching levers in the exact same spot. If the plane went off the carrier deck or ditched and was upside down, the ejection seat was useless. The pilot pulled up the ditching levers and was released from the seat so he could open the canopy and swim out.

    The problem came when a test pilot had to eject from the later plane. He was used to pre-ejection levers and pulled the ditching levers in the newer plane. Then he ejected and slid off the side of the seat and hit the vertical stabilizer, killing him.

    When the Navy decided, probably for political reasons, to cancel the F 5 D which was really the plane Douglas was designing when it built the F 4 D, the chief engineer of the project walked into the CEO’s office in El Segundo and shot himself. It was his project he had worked on for years.

    I left for medical school not long after.

  3. The A 10 could be built with a smaller gun the shoots 20mm, for example, and could carry more ordnance. The 30mm was designed to kill tanks and probably is overkill for what we see in Afghanistan.

    The Air Force has NEVER been interested in close air support. If they ever succeed in killing the plane, the Army should get them.

    Martha McSally has been a big advocate in Congress and flew A 10s in Iraq. I contribute to her campaigns even though I don’t have a house in her Tucson district anymore.

    I might move back.

  4. I remember reading somewhere that the 30mm gun has some quirks because of its size where they had to add some chemical additive to the ammo in order to avoid mucking up the canopy too much after it fired (that unmistakable BBRRRRRRtt), but then the chemical would get sucked into the turbofan engines reducing time between maintenance. A smaller gun would probably fix that issue.

    I know Sprey rubs a lot of people the wrong way because he’s so singularly focused on the CAS mission. There are indeed some legitimate queations about survivability against modern anti-aircraft missile systems that he doesn’t seem to have much interest in answering.

    On the other hand, if it wasn’t for him there’s a good argument to made that Iraq and Afghanistan would have gone a lot worse for us without his plane in the fight. With no real alternative coming anytime soon we’ll be relying on his plane for a long time to come. The F-35 is just a catastrophic failure. It’s complete vindication for Sprey and his entire philosophy.

  5. ” The key to producing a new warplane quickly, on time and to budget is to use the best existing technology rather than trying to invent entirely new hardware and software.”

    Should be engraved in every room in the Pentagon. The F35 is an object lesson in how not to do it.

  6. The 30mm GAU-8 was designed to kill tanks. And it is damned good at it. While YMMV, I think that the ability to kill tanks is a good benchmark for CAS. If nothing else, in one of the Brit papers I read [can’t remember which one I saw it in tonight] there was an article about the Baltic Republics being under threat from a Russian attack, and how the Russians were moving forces into position now, and how NATO couldn’t do diddley-squat about resisting it as of now. There are a number of adversaries whose armies have a large number of tanks, and since our ground forces are stretched, logistically challenged, handicapped by our political ROE’s, and tied down in the wrong places; being able to put a hurting on them from the air would be a handy thing.

    The GAU-8 round kills tanks with pure Newtonian physics. Kinetic energy = Mass x Velocity squared. It is not an explosive round. It is made of depleted uranium, which is about the densest, most massive material you can use as a projectile manufactured in large numbers.

    In case there are any SJW’s having conniption-fits at the concept of “depleted uranium” hanging about, a short description.

    Uranium is primarily made up of 2 isotopes, U-238 [99.3%] which is extremely heavy and totally inert, and U-235 [0.7%] which is the radioactive stuff that can be used to make nuclear weapons. There are also a man-made isotope, U-233 that can be made from thorium and an extremely rare isotope U-234, but they are not a factor here.

    Uranium enrichment is the process of refining raw uranium to increase the concentration of U-235 to a point where it can be used to fuel a nuclear reactor [2-3% U-235] or to make a nuclear weapon [70% U-235]. Incidentally, a nation claiming that it only wants nuclear power reactors has no reason to ever enrich past 3%. If it does more than that, it is making nuclear weapons.

    When you refine, you remove the U-238 from the material. That U-238 is heavy, dense, inert as far as radiation is concerned, and has had all nuclear material removed. It has been “depleted” of its U-235. Hence depleted Uranium. Harmless unless it is shot at you, or unless you drop a chunk on your foot.

    You need the 30mm round to give the necessary projectile mass, and the oversized case filled with propellant to give the projectile enough kinetic energy on impact to punch through tank armor [and ignite anything/one it hits]. It does not scale down to 20mm, especially for a standard 20 mm rotary cannon.

    I’d keep the GAU-8 in any Warthog 2.0 until and unless something really better comes along. Also, in passing, in the 1980’s we lived on a ranch, with our house in a little valley. One day, I heard . . . unusual aircraft engines. I went out the front door and saw 4 A-10’s in a fingers 4 formation go over the house at about 200 feet practicing NOE flying. My wife still remembers me yelling, “Hot damn! Warthogs!”.

  7. I think that is one of the best aviation magazines out there. And they are nice enough to leave all of their articles on the web. As far as the A-10 story I heard is that back in the 80s the Air Force didn’t want it whereupon the Army said they’d take it.

    Which the Air Force then reluctantly took them because God forbid the Army shouldn’t have any fixed wing aircraft.

    Robert Kaplan wrote a couple of great books on the modern US military and he made an interesting observation – that the A-10 pilot has little in common with his other Air Force pilots – and more in common with the WW2 Army Air Force pilots.

    They live and breath close air support.

  8. “Hot damn! Warthogs!”

    I grew up with them training over our neighborhood all the time, flying out of our Guard base just outside of town. I can still see them looping around as we played touch football in the street. Looking back the one thought in mind is, wow, they could have easily cut us down where we stood, hahaha.
    Just kidding.
    It’s comforting now to think we could have effectively assaulted the next town over with superior air cover.

  9. “A-10 pilot has little in common with his other Air Force pilots – and more in common with the WW2 Army Air Force pilots. ”

    It reminds me of a scene in another great movie, Fail Safe and may also give some insight into everybody back then being far from average:

    Colonel Jack Grady, USAF: We’re the last of the lot, Flynn. Don’t kid yourself about that. The next airplanes, they won’t need men.

    Billy Flynn: You’ll be too old, anyway.

    Grady: After us, the machines. We’re halfway there already. Look at those kids. Remember the crews you had on the 24s? Jews, Italians, all kinds. You could tell them apart. They were all people. These kids. You open them up, you find they run on transistors.

    Flynn: Nah, they’re good kids, I tell you.

    Grady: Sure, you know they’re at their jobs, but you don’t know them. How can you? Get a different crew every time we go up.

    Flynn: That’s policy, Grady. Eliminates the personal factor. Everything’s more complicated now. Reaction time’s faster. You can’t depend on people the same way.

    Grady: Who do you depend on?

    Officer: Alright, gentleman. The sky awaits.

    Grady: You know something, Billy? I like the personal factor.

  10. Nobody remembers Arthur Godfrey now but he used to fly his own DC 3 to do shows in other cities. He was a huge entertainer in the early days of TV.

    Also, the real source of doctrine on CAS is the Marine Corps. They have always led the way on cooperation between air and mud.

    A friend of mine was the most famous Marine Corps fighter pilot in Vietnam and he also flew 60 sorties in Gulf War I. His name is Manfred Reitsch and his call sign was Fokker.

    He got into trouble with the wing commander for flying combat missions in the Gulf when he was supposed to stay at his desk. As a result, he was passed over for general and retired. He then went into business and about three years ago sold his company for $23 million.

    Not a bad record for a penniless kid whose German mother got him out of Europe to Minnesota after his German soldier father died suddenly and mysteriously in a Russian POW enclosure in east Germany in 1946. He flew nearly 700 missions in Vietnam and was the first Marine Top Gun pilot.

    He took a home movie camera with him in Vietnam and I once spent a day showing “home movies” of close air support missions to an old flying buddy and Manfred.

  11. I’ve met people involved in the space program, so I’m sure there would be no shortage of volunteers or sense of urgency. I would bet they could get Atlantis up there. I would like to think the Columbia crew would have the wherewithal and will to live to endure the dire situation on board and the diminishing oxygen.

    The space suits look like a huge problem. Scrambling around trying to put them on with no assistance and passing them around would be a stretch. Even now after all we’ve learned and been through we still have problems with the space suits in routine situations.

  12. RE: averages

    The average American adult wears a one cup bra and has one testicle.

    Good luck finding anyone fitting this average description.

  13. The average American adult wears a one cup bra and has one testicle. Good luck finding anyone fitting this average description.


  14. The main reason the XB-49 was abandoned was an incurable instability that plagued its testing. All flying wings exhibited this instability, especially during stalls, and had to wait for the advent of cheap reliable computers to assist the pilot. Test Pilot Robert Cardenas really like the plane, but he said it needed a lot more work to be an operational bomber, and since the B-36 and B-47 were easier to get finished, the B-49 project was cancelled.

    Years later, in the 1980’s, Jack Northrop was taken to see what his company was doing with the B-2, he told everyone assembled this was why God has kept him alive for the past 25 years.

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