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U.S. Navy’s Adversary F/A-18E Super Hornet Has Been Given A Su-57 Felon Color Scheme

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VFC-12 F/A-18E Su-57
The F/A-18E of VFC-12 in Su-57 color scheme. (All images: VFC-12)

One F/A-18E Super Hornet of VFC-12 now sports a paint scheme inspired by the Russian Su-57 Felon.

A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet “Red 12”, belonging to Fighter Squadron Composite Twelve (VFC-12), the “Fighting Omars”, based at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Virginia, has been given a paint scheme with a paint scheme that features the profile of a Russian Air Force Su-57 Felon.

The aircraft has made its first public appearance on Jun. 18, 2021, in a FB post about the retirement ceremony of VFC-12’s Commanding Officer CDR Runzel. Interestingly, the F/A-18E sports the name of VFC-12’s new Commanding Officer, CDR Scott “CAWK” Golich on the canopy rail.

VFC-12 F/A-18E Su-57
VFC-12’s new commander officer name appears on the canopy rail of “Red 12”.

VFC-12 is the U.S. Navy adversary squadron. The unit has started the “migration” from  “Legacy” Hornets to Block I F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Along with “Red 12” at least another Super Hornet, an F model, “Red 22” appears to have been delivered to the squadron.

The “Flying Omars” of Fighter Squadron Composite VFC-12, have always operated Hornets in camouflage schemes which mimic the patterns used by some Russian Air Force fighters, like Su-27 Flankers, Su-30SMs, Su-34 Fullbacks and Su-57 Felons. In 2019, we reported about an F/A-18D Hornet two-seat aggressor aircraft painted in a unique pixelated aggressor color scheme similar to the one shown by the Sukhoi Su-57 fighter.

Paint schemes similar to their Russian counterparts are a distinguishing feature of U.S. Aggressors and Adversary jets whose liveries replicate the paint schemes, markings and insignas of their near peer adversaries, so that pilots in training who come within visual range of these adversary jets get the same sight they would see if they were engaging an actual threat.

The new F/A-18E “Red 12” of VFC-12 shows a color scheme sported by the Su-57 prototype nicknamed “White Shark”: it appears to be painted in such a way the silhouette of a Su-57 is seen from distance, a scheme referred to as “Mako”. This reminds what the Russians did on the Su-57 with bort number 053 that, wearing a a special pixelated camouflage on the underside of the aircraft that mimics the plan view shape of the Hunter remotely piloted aircraft, was seen at MAKS 2019.

Some other interesting color schemes should be applied to the Adversary Super Hornets in the coming months, some of those can be found in this article published at The War Zone last year.

Another image of the new adversary F/A-18E Super Hornet.

H/T Steve Fortson for the heads-up!

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Video: Backpack Helicopter Is Amazing… And Terrifying!

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The video from Down Under is riveting. In it, the developer—there’s much mystery behind this project and the company, called CopterPack—but the video sure looks real, though the technology itself is as problematic as it is impressive.

The company doesn’t discuss the machine in any great depth, except to say that it’s made of carbon fiber for strength and light weight, and that it’s got auto-leveling tech built in to help the pilot keep things under control. The twin rotors, one on each side, spin inside their own carbon fiber ducts, and can pivot individually to provide lateral, forward and backward control. It’s simple and it appears to work really well.

The craft is electrically powered, though just how long one could fly it on a single charge isn’t yet known, though we can’t imagine it would be very long.

But the primary concern that we have is for the safety of the pilot, whose pretty helmeted head is sitting inches away from the blades whirring away at speeds that must surely be cause for concern. Then again, it might be moot, as the backup system for the failure of the backpack copter is by all appearance none at all. 

Categories: How to Become a Pilot

Friday Photo: Santa Paula

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Click on image for full size.

The view: KSZP – Santa Paula, CA

The pilot: Patrick Coughran

The mission: Working on getting my PPL, just passed my 10th hour of dual received!

The memory: Learning to fly at CP Aviation at KSZP has been a trip. It feels like Santa Paula is what GA used to feel like in its heyday: one small runway, one taxiway, no tower. Nothing but Cessnas, Ercoupes, Stearmans, Citabrias. Life at SZP is simple. The core ethos? The pure love of flying.

Want to share your “Friday Photo?” Send your photo and description (using the format above) to: [email protected]

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California Drought Exposes A Missing Plane Thought To Have Crashed In 1965

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With California suffering a severe drought, the levels of lakes in the state have receded to record lows. This includes Folsom Lake, a large reservoir near Sacramento, where technicians testing underwater sonar equipment came upon the unmistakable outline of a small plane on the lake’s bottom. The definition of the scan is very good, thanks to the unfortunate circumstance of the record low water levels in Folsom Lake caused by the drought. Unprecedented numbers of large wildfires in the western part of the country last year were also associated with these same dry conditions. But it wasn’t good enough, it turned out, to make a positive ID on the aircraft resting on the lake bed.

The plane that the sonar team discovered, or so thought Placer County Sheriffs, was initially thought to be a Comanche 250 that was involved in a midair collision in 1965. The crash, according to local news reports, resulted in the deaths of all four aboard the Comanche, though the plane and three of the victims were never found, until earlier this month, even though searches were conducted regularly, as recently, in fact, as seven years ago.

But just a few days ago, the story took an unexpected twist, when a second, more detailed scan revealed that the plane was not the missing Comanche but, rather, a different one that went down in 1986 with no fatalities.  

There are no plans at present to recover the plane.

Categories: How to Become a Pilot

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s a VariEze!

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Bob Purdy loved airplanes all his life. When Bob was eight years old, in 1927, Charles Lindbergh flew The Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic from New York to Paris and inspired a national passion for planes. As a kid, Bob hung around airports and flew models. After graduating from high school in Detroit, he worked for the Ford Motor Company and became a tool and die maker. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, he and his two brothers enlisted in the Army Air Corps. Bob then flew B-24 Liberator bombers over Italy, was shot down, captured by the Nazis and spent time in Stalag Luft I, the prison camp near the North Sea. After the war he returned to Detroit and in 1954 moved to California.

We married when I was in my 40s and he was in his 50s. From our home in Berkeley, he loved to go to air shows in San Jose and Watsonville. He then renewed his pilot’s license, rented Piper Cubs and we flew around California. His day job was teaching machine shop at the East Bay Skills Center in Oakland. One day he said, “I think I would like to build an airplane.” My clueless response was, “That’s nice.”

He spent several months looking at kits available for those building airplanes at home and finally settled on Rutan’s VariEze. Burt Rutan was an airplane designer in Mojave, California, where, in 1975, he designed the VariEze made of foam and fiberglass. After creating a sensation with it at the Experimental Aircraft Association show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Rutan developed kits that homebuilders could buy. About 2000 VariEzes were under construction by 1980, with some 300 flying by late 1980. (The sale of kits ended in 1985.) 

Building an airplane

Kit construction

Homebuilding 40 years ago was a lot more complicated than today’s quick-build kits.

With enthusiasm, in 1976 Bob bought VariEze Kit #216, a number we later painted on the plane. The aircraft was unique in many ways. Rather than constructed of metal, it was made of foam and fiberglass and finished with coats of epoxy. The plane was a pusher, that is, the engine was in the rear. It rested on three wheels, two under its wings and one under the nose. The tail, or canard, was in the front and the wing tips had added winglets. To counter balance the weight of the rear engine, the plane had to rest on its retracted nose wheel on the ground.The pilot sat in the front and the passenger in the rear, tandem style.  

As it turned out, building the VariEze was very hard. The whole concept of molding fiberglass was very new. Bob used a hot-wire cutter to slice the plane’s foam core to shape, then covered the core with epoxy resin and fiberglass cloth. As he began to use the epoxy coating on the fiberglass core, he discovered that the fumes activated his asthma, so he designed a helmet for protection. The helmet received fresh air from an old vacuum cleaner blower installed on our house’s roof. It blew fresh air through a hose going through the window into his mask. He bought cotton shirts from Goodwill for 25 cents that he could throw out after one use and wore rubber gloves. Later, a less toxic epoxy came out, but for us it was too late.

Bob precisely followed the kit’s instructions, made paper templates and carved and covered the foam cores. He found an aircraft engine that he liked and bought it; we polished it up and featured it as a sculpture in the living room. He implemented the engineering needed to build the aircraft and installed its flying instruments. 

In 1978, I had a new job in Carbondale, Illinois. A friend gave us an old trailer to load up the plane’s pieces and cart it to the Southern Illinois Airport. There he found a hangar to share with another VariEze builder.  

Bob’s next task was to find another engine. After much thought he decided that the engine he had bought in California would not function well on a plane that had an engine that pushed from the rear, so he sought another, the 100-horsepower Continental O-200 engine that Rutan recommended. In Highland, Illinois, there was a used airplane parts store called Wick’s Aircraft Supply that had a huge hangar with parts from twisted turkeys (crashed airplanes) that hung from the walls and rafters. There, he bought a four cylinder engine with very few miles on it. He also found a wooden propeller that would be good for the plane. It was a beautiful sculpture so we hung it as an art piece over the fireplace until it was needed. 

After several months of intense construction, the day arrived for the VariEze’s first flight. We called together a few friends on April 16th, 1979, at 6:30 am, dawn, when the air is very still. To start the engine, Bob had to spin the prop by hand until it caught; the plane did not have an electric starter. We all held our breath as he climbed in, took off, made several laps around the field and landed safely. 

Then he had to fly the plane for 40 hours in order for it to be inspected and certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. This is a fairly rigorous process. After inspection, he had to fly hours of test flights in non-populated areas to make sure everything was operating properly. Only after that could he carry passengers. His days were filled with doing touch-and-goes at our local airport. Passing inspection was like achieving knighthood.

Flying around Illinois was an adventure. Although we normally flew at 5,000 feet, we enjoyed tracing the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers at 500 feet; they called it wet beaming. I acted as navigator. We flew along the rivers over ports, bridges, barges, and scows. If we could not figure out exactly where we were, we could fly down to 200 feet and read the name of a town off of its water tower. 

Naturally, we wanted a picture of the plane in flight, so a friend took the door off his 1946 Luscombe, strapped me in the passenger seat, and flew near the VariEze where I could take photos. What fun.

The Finished VariEze, N216EZ 


The finished product.

The VariEze was small, its body only 15 feet long and wingspan 23 feet. The whole plane weighed 580 pounds. Each wing tank held 12 gallons of fuel and a spare tank held another 2.5 gallons. Its maximum takeoff weight was 1,050 pounds. With 28 gallons of gas, a full fuel load left a margin of only 326 pounds for the total weights of the pilot and the passenger. Bob weighed 150 pounds and I somewhat more, so weight was an issue. 

As it turned out, we two could fly comfortably for about 300 miles before landing for fuel. It travelled at about 150 miles per hour and used about 5 gallons of gas an hour. The plane was covered with a long clear plexiglass canopy; we had good visibility so I could enjoy aerial photography.

We had to land at general aviation airports, not those used for commercial aircraft. The runway had to be at least 3,500 feet long and paved. We only flew during daylight and in good weather. We always had radio contact with the airport tower who would guide us into landing. The VariEze was a hot little plane; we landed at about 70 miles per hour.

Our First Journey

On Memorial Day, May 28, 1979 we took off on our first long journey and flew from Carbondale to Charlevoix, Michigan, a shakedown cruise of about 600 miles. It truly was a shakedown cruise, not only for the plane but for us.

We stopped at small airports about 150 miles apart for refueling. Our first landing was at Champaign, Illinois, where we discovered that Bob forgot the gadget that unscrews the gas tank cap, so I went into the airport gift shop and bought a pair of kindergarten scissors and they worked just fine.

Our next stop was at Meigs Field, a single runway airport that was located along Lake Michigan across from the Chicago Loop. As we flew in, the tower complained that he could not see our tiny little white plane coming from across the lake until we appeared and landed. This inspired Bob to later install a light in the plane’s nose. Just 15 minutes before we landed, a DC-10 passenger plane landing at O’Hare in Chicago lost its engine; this caused quite a stir. We didn’t see it, but we received a lot of comments on the safety of flight. Bob’s response was, “All engines are put on by someone, and I know who put on mine.”

On landing at Charlevoix’s airport, the nose wheel collapsed and we ended up skidding to a stop nose down. This created a problem as to how to take off, so while I visited with Charlevoix family, Bob sneaked off to repair the wheel. After returning to Carbondale and consulting with Rutan, he redesigned the wheel and Bob installed the new one. Since his was amongst the first VariEzes to be completed, Bob had the honor of discovering needed revisions.

The VariEze caused a sensation in Michigan when we landed; it was written up in the Charlevoix Courier and the Detroit Free Press.

Memorable Landings

In June we left for California with two VariEzes, Bob Mudd’s N295EZ and our N216EZ. We stopped at small airports about 150 miles apart, heading toward Albuquerque, Mudd’s new home. They all had tiny, one-room offices and gas for fueling. Tucumcari, New Mexico’s was deserted, not a human for miles; they left a courtesy car for travelers. We gassed up and they trusted us to pay. 

Sandia Mountains

Flying a single engine airplane across the country allows you to see some amazing view.

In Albuquerque, it was quite a challenge to land at 5,000 feet altitude. We could see New Mexico’s mesas, fluffy cloud patterns, the Sandia Mountains—astonishing beauty. 

A very important stop was in Mojave to visit Burt Rutan. Although we arrived at 6 pm, Rutan was out testing his next model, the LongEze, and was extremely hospitable; three VariEzes had flown in that day. He checked over the plane and made some suggestions, allowed us to tour his workshop and took us to a motel. Gaining his praise compared to earning a Ph.D.

Our Last Flight

After enjoying our VariEze for several years, in 1984 we had an experience which led us to the realization it was time to sell. We flew north to a small airport at Shelter Cove, California, where we planned to spend the night. Unbeknownst to us, it was the height of the salmon fishing season and there was no place for us to stay. The cove was thronged with boats unloading salmon and full of fisher folk. It was clear that we must fly home before dark.

The problem was that when the VeriEze engine flew for a while, it was hot. And when the engine was hot, it was difficult to restart. In order to get us home, Bob had to hand push the propeller many times until the engine caught. When he was finally successful, he was exhausted. Then, an exhausted Bob had to fly the plane to Buchanan Field. Bob was now somewhat older. It was clear that his flying days had ended.

When Bob listed the plane in an aircraft newspaper, he had to be very careful to whom he sold it. The VariEze was a fast plane that required careful maintenance. He finally found a buyer who could handle it. 

There is now a VariEze on the roof of the Hiller Airport Museum in San Carlos, California, that I gaze on with fond memories as I drive by on Highway 101 toward San Jose. Bob loved to fly; building and flying the VariEze was the realization of a dream. 

Latest posts by Margot Smith (see all)

Communicate Like a Pro Pilot

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In addition to being first through the sound barrier, Chuck Yeager was the originator of that low-key distinctive West Virginia drawl that generations of military pilots mimicked if they wanted to be guilty of having the “right stuff.”

No matter how serious the emergency, pilots have taken his lead and sounded cool, calm and in control. But more than that, General Yeager had the gift of transmitting the most information in the fewest words. With his recent passing, we owe it to him to follow his lead to be excellent pilots and accurate communicators.

Flash forward to today. Airline pilots and air traffic controllers handle some of the busiest airspace in the world, with considerable skill, brevity and poise. However, spend a little time monitoring the local airport frequencies, and you may be less impressed by the professionalism. While most pilots are good communicators, there are still too many long, rambling and unprofessional transmissions eating up the airtime available to controllers and other pilots. Eventually, runway incursions, which skyrocketed in the early 2000s, brought some of these communications issues to a head. So, what to do?

Good Listening And Situational Awareness

Listen more and talk less. One of the time-honored lessons in Air Force flight training is the proper use of the dreaded “brain disconnect switch,” aka the microphone button. Every pilot has, at one time or another, depressed the microphone switch and wondered what they are going to say next. Others deliver a long and rambling soliloquy that would make old Will Shakespeare proud.

Psychologists tell us that extroverts generally compose while they are speaking, and introverts think first and speak second. Both work, but for aviation, let’s channel our inner introvert. All pilots should remind themselves that airtime, for the air traffic controller, is an extremely limited commodity. The more we can communicate in the shortest amount of time, the more ATC has time to work its magic, and the more time there is for other pilots to get a word in edgewise.

Young military student pilots are coached to keep their transmissions short, compose their thoughts prior to depressing the microphone button, and anticipate the variety of responses they may receive. This last item, anticipation of what might come next, is a byproduct of good situational awareness. Much of what we know about the “air picture” as we enter a busy airport is derived by what we hear on the radio. Thus, good situational awareness depends on good listening skills and benefits us all. So, listen first, think next, then transmit!

Sterile Cockpit

One of the major enemies of good listening is internal cockpit chatter. Following several accidents occurring after inattention due to non-aviation-related conversations, the FAA established the sterile cockpit concept. Since 1981, airline crews have been required by the FAA to conduct only flight-related conversations during specific phases of flight. Airline crews adopt sterile cockpit procedures when climbing up and descending back down again through 10,000 feet. This airspace, which is more densely populated with our little aluminum and carbon fiber machines, is also the busiest section of the flight for airline crews.

Clearances come hot and heavy, traffic calls and radar vectors are acknowledged, and multiple checklists completed. Nonessential conversation is simply verboten within and without the cockpit.


While the majority of midair collisions occur in day VFR conditions within 5 miles of the airport, sterile cockpit procedures are not required for general aviation pilots. In any event, the 10,000-foot altitude trigger is impractical for most GA aircraft. However, setting some pre-agreed lateral sterile cockpit limitations with your passengers and other pilots on board may suffice. For example, the first radio call before you enter Class B, C or D airspace, or the first call on the CTA frequency, is an excellent time to eliminate nonessential chatter. Enlisting your passengers to listen carefully to the controller’s instructions and call out traffic can avoid missed radio calls and increase flight safety.

If you have a chance to visit your local tower or radar facility, take the opportunity to see things from their point of view.

If all else fails, many audio panels have a setting to isolate the pilot from the cabin interphone, allowing the passengers to chatter on about the scenery and vacation plans, while the pilot attends to the business of flying. In any event, these modified sterile cockpit procedures can eliminate missed radio calls, ATC clearance failures, and that pesky call from the controller asking if the pilot is ready to copy a phone number to call after landing.

Proper Terminology

Most pilots grew up on great movies like “Top Gun” and “Battle of Britain,” and along with them, a cornucopia of nonstandard but truly entertaining communications like “tally-ho on that traffic,” “climbing to angels 21” and” bandits at 12 o’clock high” began appearing in the vernacular of Cessna 172 and Piper Cherokee wannabe aces. However, a quick review of the pilot controller glossary fails to yield any of these colorful terms. Today, the requirement for complete understanding between pilot and controller has continued to increase as the airspace becomes busier. Simply put, pilots and controllers need to speak in a simple, clear and standardized manner, where appropriate. The pilot controller glossary is a bit of a dry read, but its use can simplify many situations.


For example, the controller needs to hear the aircraft’s full call sign each time a new clearance is sent and received. No ifs, ands or buts; it is a requirement. So, we can all save time and frustration by responding with the full call sign and new clearance. This is especially true with taxi clearances at complex airports or landing sequencing at busy general aviation training airports. In the same spirit, the pilot has a requirement to read back the entire clearance accurately.

Recently, at the home drome, the tower controller asked a visiting Cessna 182 to “extend the downwind for traffic.” The pilot responded with, “uhh, okay, downwind.” It took two more awkward transmissions by an incredibly patient tower controller to clear up this communications failure…while the other five aircraft in the traffic pattern hung on every word! The solution: full call sign and complete clearance read back, no exceptions.

When standardized terminology fails, there is no substitute for plain and simple English. The pilot/controller glossary does not pretend to cover all situations. If the pilot knows what they want and can communicate it clearly without eating up a lot of airtime, the controller is more likely to be able to make their dreams come true. General aviation is often much less scripted than airline and military flying, so simple English, used in a thoughtful manner, usually carries the day. Remember, this should be a partnership between equally professional controllers and pilots.

Often, after a major military exercise, the pilots and controllers would get together and share what worked and what could be improved. These were great events. If you have a chance to visit your local tower or radar facility, take the opportunity to see things from their point of view. The controller wants to know what you want and needs you to respect the limited time they have to dispense instructions to the many aircraft they are controlling.

Communicate Like A Pro!

So, the next time you prepare to take off into the wild blue yonder to demonstrate your incredible aviation skills, take a moment and think about how you might improve your communication skills. Try imagining what you sound like to others. Do you listen carefully and make your responses and requests simple and blessedly brief? Does your sterile cockpit habit result in nary a missed radio call or misheard ATC clearance? And do you always hear yourself responding with your full callsign and clearance in plain English? And yes, it is still okay to sound just a little bit like that iconic test pilot from West Virginia with the right stuff. Just maybe, the late General Chuck Yeager is listening from up on high, and we ought to make him proud! 

Really short and really soft fields—flying C-123s in Vietnam

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The Fairchild C-123 was powered by R-2800, anti-detonation injected, reversing prop engines. The also had antiskid brakes. We had the capability to get rid of all of the fuel we were carrying. The fuel was carried in nacelle tanks behind the engines and two pylon-mounted tanks on the wings. We had four switches overhead to drop either one or several or all of the tanks. The aircraft was unstable, as if it were mounted on a pinnacle trying to fall off. When it rained you got wet in the cockpit. During the rainy season, we wore ponchos and carried all of our maps in plastic wrap.

I was stationed in Saigon, Vietnam, with the 19th Air Commando Squadron flying C-123 aircraft. We achieved an extremely proficient operational ability in all aspects of flying the aircraft. We did this by operating the aircraft into and out of some of the most demanding landing sites imaginable. We landed on roads, fields, sidewalks (Song Be City), and runways made of grass, laterite, sod, clay, asphalt, and PSP steel planking. This was done at a rate of from 20 to 30 minutes between landings and a rate of up to 20 to 30 times per day. This led to the high proficiency necessary to accomplish the demanding missions of our operations.

When we accessed the performance charts to plan an operation, we would subtract 50 feet (each pilot set their own minimums) from the runway length available and use that runway length as “slop” for the takeoff or landing. To determine how much weight we could take out of a site, we would work backwards in the performance charts from the runway length minus 50 feet and go back through the chart to see what total weight we could use for that length. Subtracting our current weight from that performance chart weight gave us the weight of load we could accept.

C-123 landing

An assault landing is a fairly dramatic event.

We definitely got enough practice of short field, soft field, and slick field takeoffs and landings, as we were doing them almost every day and numerous times each day. The landing for short landing areas were what we called “assault landings.” Configuration and positioning the aircraft on short final could be done from any altitude. You simply flew until the runway disappeared under the nose of the aircraft, then accomplished the assault landing configuration, with prop levers full increase, throttles closed, gear down, and flaps full down. The aircraft would descend between 3000 and 4000 ft/min and appeared as if it were backing up away from the runway. You would hold this until it appeared that you are on a reasonable final approach angle.

Then the throttles would be advanced to hold this angle in transition to the angle of attack indicator. We flew the angle of attack indicator, and used throttles to adjust the touchdown point until just above the touchdown point. Then we would close throttles, flare, touch down, lift the throttles, and pull them into full reverse thrust. Full reverse thrust gives us about 80% of max power. At really short runways, we would stay in reverse thrust until the swirls came around from behind and pretty much put us IFR (zero visibility). We would stay in reverse until we felt that we were either stopped or backing up and then we came out of reverse. Needless to say, we were on our antiskid brakes while all of this was happening. Empty I think we could stop at about 700 to 900 feet.

Stabilized approaches, for the most part, were used at larger runways but each of the other landing areas had various obstacles or other reasons that we could not do that. For example, Song Be had a mountain directly in line with the landing area and also had a large tree to the right of the runway about 50 feet from the end of it. This necessitated a close-in, slanted base leg with an offset to the runway until passing the tree. After passing the tree, you quickly offset back to the right to touch down in the middle of the landing area. There was a walkway in the middle of the landing area and you had to get your nose gear on and stay on that walkway to prevent your wingtips from hitting chain-link fences on both sides of the runway. The runway is listed as 120 feet wide. Our wingspan was 110 feet. Turning around at the end was accomplished with the flight mechanic outside on intercom headset, while we maneuvered, similar to doing an automobile three-point turn on a narrow highway. It took about maybe six to eight turns and backups to accomplish this turnaround.

The photo above displays how proficient we were by showing an approach and landing on the very approach end of a very short runway. This was illustrative of our crews’ ability to maneuver the aircraft and touchdown with precision. If you look closely, you can see the end of the runway just under the landing gear. This is the proficiency that we strived for.


Many landing areas had no paved surfaces whatsoever.

We got shot at a lot while in Vietnam, mostly on our drop missions where we were low and slow. And we took quite a few hits, mostly coming from underneath the aircraft, going through the bottom of the aircraft and out the backbone of the aircraft. Unfortunately the elevator and rudder controls cables were fed up and back through the backbone of the aircraft. Needless to say, we did suffer control cable separation after being hit with ground fire. Therefore, we would often practice flying and maneuvering without different control availability. This practice gave us confidence that we could fly the aircraft without various controls to maneuver the aircraft.

Slick runways—we had them. The second picture that accompanies this article was taken at Quan Loi and is listed in our airfield directory as “use only when dry.” You had to be on top of your game to land here and keep the aircraft on the runway. Taxiing in the parking area was something else. You could turn the nose wheel steering max one way and add 100 RPM opposite the nose wheel position and the aircraft would turn opposite of the nose wheel. You could not put the brakes on and stop the aircraft. You had to find a rut and when you felt the main year go into it, you reversed the props to stop it in the rut. If you shut down without doing that, the aircraft would start to slide because the parking area was on a slant. Everybody referred to it as slicker than “greased owl s__t.”

Takeoff from a short field was done by pulling the yoke all the way back and wrapping the left arm around the yoke to the elbow. Throttles to max power, using the torque gauges; check all instruments and release the brakes. The aircraft would lift off when it was ready to fly. During takeoff from short fields, when we lifted off we were 15 knots below power-off stall speed. That meant that if you lost power, you stalled and you came down (hit the ground) from however high you were. We normally lifted off and leveled off a few feet above the runway or field and accelerated until we at least got past power-off stall speed. We now had 15 knots to go to get past minimum single-engine control speed. If you lost an engine prior to reaching the minimum single-engine control speed, then usually the procedure was to pull the other engine and put the aircraft down. Now you know why the aircraft was modified, adding the jet engines.

We hauled everything imaginable including people, combat troops, paratroopers, cargo of all descriptions, ammunition, vehicles, trailers, fuel bladders, drums, foodstuffs both frozen and fresh, animals, mail, and the wounded or dead. We also had flare missions. Our missions with the above included air para-dropping or free dropping and air landing.

Latest posts by Ralph Grigg (see all)

Anger Aloft

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June 15, 2021

THIS PAST WEEKEND, airport boardings in the United States broke two million mark for the first time in fifteen months, bringing passenger totals to about 75 percent of pre-pandemic levels. That’s the good news. The bag news is, along with the long lines and suddenly full cabins has come a well-publicized rise in so-called “air rage” incidents, several of which have resulted in flight diversions, injuries to passengers and crew, and arrests.

What gives?

Air rage is nothing new, but the dynamics are a little different this time. Not surprisingly, a majority of the latest incidents revolve around masks. This is nothing if not predictable, given how politically charged mask wearing has become, to say nothing of the discomfort factor. But although nobody enjoys wearing masks on a plane, their use is mandatory and the rules aren’t changing any time soon (not before September at the soonest, when TSA’s mandate is up for renewal). People have little choice but to comply, which is both the problem and the solution.

While it might seem a stretch, the anonymizing effect of masks could have a role here too. It’s all but impossible to accurately gauge a masked person’s expression, which, at the make-of-break point of a hostile encounter, can in some people trigger anger or even violence. The fears, frustrations, and aggravations of the past year, meanwhile, have left many people traumatized and on edge.

We’re also seeing a rush of bodies into a system that, in terms of staffing, is lagging weeks or months behind. TSA staffing is down, and many airport restaurants and facilities remain closed. This means longer wait times for just about everything, which leaves people irritated and frazzled even before they step aboard. Some of the checkpoint lines I’ve witnessed over the past few weeks are the longest I’ve ever seen.

Another factor is a demographics shift among flyers. Business travel remains by and large curtailed, while a growing number of leisure travelers are taking advantage of cheap tickets to budget vacation spots. Many of these people are infrequent flyers unfamiliar with the rules and hassles of air travel, and thus more prone to acting out.

Then we have alcohol. Historically, inebriation is a factor in more than 80 percent of air rage incidents. The most recent statistics are incomplete, but several airlines have temporarily banned alcoholic beverages in their economy cabins.

Above and beyond all of this, meanwhile, are the baseline stressors of air travel: noise, crowds, kids, cramped seats, delays. None of these things is going away, and neither is air rage as a phenomenon. Flying has long had a way of bringing out the worst in people, and this will go on. What airlines need to figure out is how to keep the numbers from rising disproportionately.

A zero-tolerace approach to inflight violence is absolutely essential. That being said, could carriers be a little less heavy-handed in how they set the table, so to speak? Air travel was already a confrontational experience in some respects, and has grown more so under COVID: more rules, more being bossed around, more repercussions if you disobey. I understand the need for a tough stance, but at some point the onslaught of public address warnings and threats can have a detrimental affect, inciting rather than calming those who are prone to hostile behavior in the first place.

Which isn’t to blame airlines. The affronts and hassles of flying are duly noted, and getting on a plane is no longer the rare and special event that once beckoned our imaginations and, in turn, our best Sunday suits and behaviors. But that’s hardly an excuse for what we’re seeing. This is ultimately a behavior problem squarely on the shoulders of passengers. And, if you ask me, it’s symptomatic of our society’s increasingly shitty behavior in general. Are we coarser and more unruly as passengers, or as human beings? It’s maybe more of the latter than we care to admit.

Perhaps the best antidote is nothing more than a gradual return to normalcy. Fortunately, that seems to be where we’re headed.


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Two Russian Tu-160s And Four Flankers Intercepted By Italian F-35s, Danish F-16s and Swedish Gripens Over The Baltic

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Tu-160 F-35
One of the two Tu-160s involved in the June 15, 2021 mission over the Baltic. (Image credit: Russian MOD)

Two Russian Tu-160s, two Su-27s and two Su-35s were escorted at various stages by NATO and Swedish fighters in the Baltic region.

Two Russian Tu-160 (NATO reporting name “Blackjack”) bombers carried out an 8-hour mission over the neutral waters of the Baltic Sea on Jun. 15, 2021. Interestingly, the two “White Swan” missile-carrier bombers were escorted by two Su-35S aircraft of the Aerospace Force and two Su-27 fighters of the Baltic Fleet’s naval aviation during their trip.

The Tu-160s belong to the 121st Guards Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiment stationed at Engels-2 Air Base in Saratov, Oblast, southwestern Russia, the only unit to fly the 14-16 Blackjack bombers believed to be operational with the Russian Aerospace Forces.

The Russian Long Range Aviation (LRA) mission in the Baltic region caused several NATO aircraft in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) duty to scramble: Italian Air Force F-35As, Royal Danish Air Force F-16s and Swedish Air Force JAS 39 Gripens were scrambled to identify and shadow the Russian “package” as it progressed across the region.

The crews of Russian long-range aircraft regularly perform flights over the neutral waters of the Arctic, the North Atlantic, the Black and Baltic Seas and the Pacific Ocean, Russia’s Defense Ministry said.

Today’s intercept comes less than a week after the first close encounter between an Italian F-35 and a Russian Su-30SM escorting an An-12 transport aircraft flying to/from Kaliningrad oblast, off Estonia.

As already explained, the Italian F-35A involved in the intercept are two of the four Lightning II aircraft, belonging to the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing), from Amendola Air Base, in southeastern Italy, that are currently stationed at Amari, in Estonia, where they arrived on Apr. 30, 2021, to carry out the augmenting role in NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission. The Italian F-35s, operating within the Task Group Falco of the Task Force Air Estonia, in support of “Baltic Eagle II” (as the mission has been dubbed at national level), will remain in Estonia for the BAP mission until August.

As a matter of fact, no photographs nor videos of the most recent intercepts were released by NATO and Italian Air Force. However, it is possible that some images will be made available in the next few days (as happened for the F-35’s first intercept in support of BAP on May 14, whose photos were cleared many days after the event), as the number of intercepts increases.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Sailplane Hitches A Ride On A Tornado

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A sailplane pilot over the weekend was soaring along in his motor glider near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in smooth air when the variometer started to sing. Unbeknownst to pilot David Evans, he was riding a tornado aloft. And he even captured the event on video.

You might know that this wasn’t a bona fide twister. It was more like a starter tornado—known as a landspout. And nothing bad happened, though we would counsel keeping a far greater distance from these whirlwinds, but in Evans’ case, he wasn’t aware of the phenomenon until the funnel cloud had already formed.

A landspout looks like a mini tornado, and it pretty much is, in that it’s a fast-spinning cyclonic cloud. A close cousin of the landspout is the waterspout. These form over water where landspouts, as the name conveys so well, form over land. Whereas tornados are associated with strong convective activity, landspouts can be hatched over dry land in relatively benign conditions, as is the case in the video. The power of a landspout is also far less than that of a convection-spawned tornado, with maximum wind speeds of around 70 mph, which equates to around an EF-0 tornado. Still, they are powerful enough to wreak havoc with objects, people and critters. Waterspouts, by the way, can capsize good-sized boats. They are to be avoided, as are landspouts.

Such mini twisters are rare in Oklahoma, which is well known for their full-sized cousins. But an area much farther north, just east of Denver, Colorado, is the landspout capital of the world because, according to meteorologists at Penn State University, the terrain “is naturally ripe for landspout formation because air flowing over the local rugged terrain can lead to the low-level convergence and circulation needed for landspout formation.”

Which is what we’re seeing here. Cool, yes, but have we mentioned that it’s way too close for comfort!

Video credit: David T. Evans

Categories: How to Become a Pilot

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