Category Archives: Air and Naval Weapons

The Navy’s Oxygen Thieves

You may have seen headlines lately about the Navy’s problem with pilots sucking air, or rather, oxygen, or rather rather (and here is the nub of the problem) lack of oxygen.

This has been in the news lately because the Navy’s O2 delivery failures are so profound that men are coming to fear their jets. This spring, the plane in the hot seat is the T-45C Goshawk trainer, a derivative of the British BAE Hawk (but among the US systems on the Navy version is the problematic oxygen system). The Navy took all 197 of its T-45Cs off the flight schedule for three days (Friday, Saturday and Sunday), and Navy boffins interviewed the troubled T-45 IPs at length, although the planes were supposed to have been back in the air yesterday, with the unidentified problem still unidentified.

The concerns arose from physiological episodes caused by contamination of the aircraft’s Onboard Oxygen Generation System, the Navy said.

Navy engineers earlier this week conducted interviews with the T-45C pilots.

The T-45 problem is severe, with the fleet averaging three incidents a week of “physiological episodes” suspected to be due to OBOGS failure or underperformance (“suspected” because there’s no solid evidence apart from the ramp-up in incidents). Some pilots are flying, but not wearing their oxygen masks, relying instead on the airplane’s pressurized cockpit — a system for which the mask is considered a mandatory backup.

The safety concerns are driving Naval Aviation wild.

This issue is my number one safety priority and our team of NAVAIR program managers, engineers and maintenance experts in conjunction with Type Commanders, medical and physiological experts continue to be immersed in this effort working with a sense of urgency to determine all the root causes of PEs along multiple lines of effort,” said Vice Adm. [Mike] Shoemaker [Naval Air Forces Commander].

However, this is not entirely new news. Consider this story:

[T]he head of naval aviation said this week that resolving the dangerous problem is his top safety priority.

Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, the commander of Naval Air Forces, told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies this week that Marine Corps and Navy aviation leaders were pushing forward with a multi-pronged approach that included better training for pilots and a close analysis of apparent problems with the onboard oxygen generation system.

“Where cabin pressurization has issues, we’ve adjusted the warnings we get in the cockpit and adjusted the emergency procedures for how we respond to various scenarios,” Shoemaker said. “We’ve been out to the fleet to talk about how to test, how the maintainers work and maintain those systems.”

Sounds like damn near the same quote, but it’s from August 2016, and the plane having OBOGS problems was the F-18 series. And they’re still having OBOGS problems, too. All in all, the Navy has lost at least 15 lives due to what they euphemistically term “physiological episodes” — and the Air Force, you may recall, had OBOGS trouble with the F-22A, as well.

Combat Aviation Oxygen in a Nutshell

Oxygen sustains most life, including human life. Humans evolved near sea level in an atmosphere with about 21% oxygen, and we need to have a good percentage of that to function at all. But as the air thins, and the pressure of air goes down, at altitude, the partial pressure of O2 declines concomitantly.

Lack of sufficient partial pressure of oxygen leads to oxygen-poor blood, in medical terms, “histotoxic hypoxia.” To make it worse, the symptoms of hypoxia are a bit like the symptoms of ethanol intoxication,  in that the first thing that goes is the victim’s judgment about his own intoxication and abilities.

So as far back as the 1920s, aviation physiologists and flight surgeons understood that to fly at altitude, H. sapiens must have supplemental oxygen. This can be in a pressurized cockpit or cabin (which is why you don’t die in the thin air of Flight Level 350), or with supplemental oxygen breathed through a nasal cannula (only used in small private planes to 18,000 feet) or oxygen mask.

There are three main ways to provide the breathing oxygen: compressed in gas form in a pressurized tank, in liquid form with a generator that converts the LOX to breathable oxygen gas, or through the use of an On Board Oxygen Generation System (OBOGS), which uses chemical reactions to produce oxygen on the fly

The OBOGS has a number of advantages:

  1. It does not depend on installed tankage for gaseous or liquid oxygen, therefore it is theoretically a “bottomless” supply for missions of arbitrary duration;
  2. it is much lighter and takes up less space, thereby allowing designers to increase the aircraft’s performance (in line with Bréguet’s Range Equations);
  3. It is less vulnerable or vulnerability-enhancing to a combat aircraft than a tank full of ready oxidant, for reasons that should be obvious;
  4. Digitally controlled, in theory it is more easily and comprehensively monitored.

Oxygen generators have also their own disadvantages:

  1. Those that generate O2 from chemical reaction can be a fire hazard. Oxygen generators are commonly used for emergency oxygen on transport aircraft, led to the ValuJet onboard fire and crash in Florida. A similar device used in submarines, a Self Contained Oxygen Generator, exploded on the British sub HMS Tireless in 2007 due to oil contamination, killing two submariners and gravely injuring a third. (The UK sub fleet had numerous other fires and failures with the devices).
  2. They are much more complex than tank and LOX systems.
  3. They contain a catalyst that is supposed to enable trapping the nitrogen and releasing oxygen and inert argon. But the system is dependent on the catalyst, and the Navy’s initial catalyst is unavailable.
  4. They are so dependent on dry intake air that they are critically vulnerable to moisture and contaminants. And an airplane that is launched by steam catapult from a ship heaving in salt-water seas, and that gets soaked in fuel during aerial refueling, is practically a petri dish for contamination.

For a good overview of the problem by an aviation-literate writer, see this report by David Cencotti at The Aviationist.

For an aircrew perspective, try this article by an F-18 WSO (wait, what does an F-18 Guy In Back do? Aside from take the ugly chick at the O-Club? He’s the second aviator in a one-crew ship).

For a good, graphics-rich (if promotional) walkthrough of the physiological and technical issues with Gaseous O2 (GOX) and LOX that led to OBOGS, see this file from Honeywell (.pdf). It’s somewhat dated (2008, featuring abandoned jets like the Nimrod and F-14), but the principles are adequately explained. Note that every type has its own, unique, OBOGS.


The Navy has extended the grounding of the T-45C fleet indefinitely.

Cling-On SJWs Still Naming Ships for Obscure Politicians

Having forgotten many Naval heroes and distinguished ships of the past, the Navy named a Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, DDG 117, after an obscure political horse-holder for various Democrats, including LBJ, Saturday. The ceremony took place at one of the yards that builds these ships, Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

The future USS Paul Ignatius is named in honor of the Honorable Paul Ignatius, who served as assistant secretary of defense for installations and logistics and later as secretary of the navy between 1967 and 1969, both under President Lyndon B. Johnson. Ignatius had previously served as a commissioned lieutenant in the Navy during World War II. The future USS Paul Ignatius will be the first ship to bear his name.

So we’ll have a ship named after this obscure bureaucrat from LBJ’s micromanagement of Vietnam, one of Macnamara’s Harvard Business School beancounters, but we haven’t had one named after Esek Hopkins since 1945, or John Glover since 1990, or Abe Whipple since 1992, and that’s just distinguished Revolutionary War Naval heroes.

Who was behind this? As it turns out, the outgoing social justice warriors who have gutted the Navy rushed to lock in names for the Navy’s ships through 2024. While some ships were named after Medal of Honor heroes — mostly Marines — a number were named with a social message in mind. One Burke-class is named for a pioneering Navy… nurse. Others for service members whose distinction was to be a member of a particular race. Others… bedamned if they didn’t name one for Arleigh Burke (who deserves it if only for fighting the Kennedy brothers within an inch of court-martial to try to save Brigada 2506).

But Ignatius is puzzling. At least the nurse was the first Navy head nurse (stop snickering, you in the back rows). Why Ignatius, who wasn’t first at anything?

Well, when you read the following, bear in mind that his son is Washington Post columnist and Washington society kingpin David Ignatius.

“When the future USS Paul Ignatius joins the fleet, it will serve for decades as a reminder of Secretary Ignatius’s service to our nation as both a naval officer and as the civilian leader of our Navy and Marine Corps,” said the Honorable Sean Stackley, acting secretary of the navy. “This ceremony will honor not only the service of this ship’s distinguished namesake but also the service of our nation’s shipbuilders, who, for centuries, have helped make ours the greatest Navy in the world.”

It will serve for decades as a reminder that a guy named Sean Stackley wanted to give a slobbering tonguebath to a fellow Washington glitterato. Who knows, maybe if there’s a United States when the Ignatiuses and Stackleys are done profiting from underselling it, there will be a ship named USS Sean Stackley some day.

If there’s going to be a United States to do something that stupid, the US and particularly the US Navy has to pull its head out of its bilge drain with utmost dispatch.

Here is the Navy’s boilerplate on what DDG-117 is and what it can do.

Paul Ignatius will be the 67th Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, the fifth of 14 ships currently under contract for the DDG 51 program. The DDG 51 class provides advanced combat capability and survivability characteristics while minimizing procurement and lifetime support costs due to the program’s maturity. DDG 51 destroyers are warships that provide multi-mission offensive and defensive capabilities. Destroyers can operate independently or as part of carrier strike groups, surface action groups, amphibious ready groups and underway replenishment groups. DDG 113 and follow-on DDGs are being built with integrated air and missile defense (IAMD) capability.


via Navy to Christen Guided-Missile Destroyer Paul Ignatius > U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE > News Release View.

Of course, you probably wonder who the hell Esek Hopkins, John Glover, Abraham Whipple were. Hopkins was the first commander of the Continental Navy, who was ultimately sacked because he couldn’t outbid privateers for seamen. Glover was the first commander of a commissioned US ship, also the hero of the evacuation of Long Island and the crossing of the Delaware, therefore the First of the Gators, although he was technically an Army officer. Whipple, originally a privateer for the British against the French in the Seven Years’ War, was arguably the Colonies’ first naval victor — in 1772, he led the burning of His Majesty’s Ship Gaspee, which had run hard aground. Later he served both as a naval officer and (more lucratively) as a privateer, capturing dozens of British ships (once, 11 at once). The British captured him in 1780, and then his war was over.

Of Revolutionary War naval officers of distinction, only John Paul Jones and John Barry have active units named for them. And the motto of Barry was at some recent time changed to, we are not making this up, Strength and Diversity. Diversity is Our Vibrancy!

And the ship after DDG-117, DDG-118, will be named for… another politician, but at least a distinguished one, and a decorated veteran: Daniel Inouye.

Canoe U: Twilight of the Naval Academy

The US Naval Academy, bastion of 19th-Century traditions, producer of all our admirals for good or ill until after World War II, cradle of innumerable Navy and Marine heroes, has come to a milestone in its last decades of cultural decline: it recently threw an institutional wobbler over an opinion expressed by one of its most distinguished graduates of the Vietnam era.

An opinion he expressed in 1979, which for newspaper editors, Social Justice Warriors, this year’s USNA grads and other innumerates, was 38 years ago.

For the record, 38 years is more than double the amount of service the mean Academy graduate gives to the nation. And the Marine in question is still serving, albeit in a lesser capacity, as a United States Senator.

The individual in question was Jim Webb, United States Senator from Virginia, once (briefly: the high-strung Webb quit in a snit) Secretary of the Navy; once a bestselling novelist; and once, not long after graduation, a Marine platoon leader upon whom a grateful nation bestowed the Navy Cross, a decoration that used to be respected at the Academy. (Webb also has “lesser” decorations, including the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts). Unlike today’s Academy persons, Webb sought out combat, sought out the fight, and fought to win. It is the sort of person the Academy no longer respects.

Webb was to have been honored Friday as a “distinguished graduate” by the Naval Academy Alumni Association, but withdrew Tuesday evening: “I am being told that my presence at the ceremony would likely mar the otherwise celebratory nature of that special day. As a consequence, I find it necessary to decline the award.”

Better he should have spit in somebody’s eye — but once an officer and a gentleman, always an officer and a gentleman, one supposes.

At issue was a paper he wrote in 1979 objecting to the admission of women to the nation’s military academies on the even-then-unfashionable, but still-not-unreasonable, grounds that assignment of women to frontline combat roles is at best disruptive, and at worst dangerous. Perhaps lethally so.

No one talks about the changes that have come to the Academies since female integration. The cultural change is part of it. There is less direct and physical athletic competition, and more bureaucratic, social-climbing, and backstabbing competition. That suits the girls better. There is less focus on courage — as the Webb hecklers’ veto shows, it’s no longer a value — and more focus on careerism. That’s what the girls want. But even the curriculum has changed: the challenging, engineering-focused and math-heavy courses of yesteryear that provided a pressure all of their own have given way to touchy-feely verbal-games courses, because the girls all were channeling Math Is Hard Barbie.

The initial SJW entryist women were all about: “don’t change anything for us, we just want to compete on a level playing field.” And maybe they thought they meant it. But their successors have demanded more and more coddling and kid-glove treatment.

They promised a feminized Academy would just keep cranking out heroes, they just didn’t have to have Webb’s testosterone overload, or Arleigh Burke’s ability to run fuel consumption problems in his head. How’s that working out for us?

We give you the spirit of the Naval Academy, post-feminization: Holly Graf, a “pre-designated woman-in-command success story” who was relieved in well-deserved disgrace.

The spirit of the Naval Academy: small craft misnavigated into Iranian waters and then surrendered obsequiously.

The spirit of the Naval Academy: the wooly-headed, near-lunatic procurement of ships that have no business in harm’s way.

There are still fighters in the Academy, but would they claim to be the majority? There are still fighters in the Navy, but why feed a tail of half a million to field a few platoons of SEALs?

The Academy is by far the most expensive way to produce officers. If it does not produce superior officers, meaning combat leaders — and we would defy anyone to demonstrate that it does — why do we have it?

Now, Bob McManus touches the third rail of why the Naval Academy has declined to the point where a graduate (’68), who’s a certified no-$#!+ he-ro, is unfit to be recognized for a degree of service to Navy and nation. A lifetime of service, like him or not, that is almost certain not to be matched by any of the Unique and Special Snowflakes™ of the enervated Class of 2017.

Webb could have been dead wrong about all of it, of course, even if 40 years of experience with gender integration strongly indicates otherwise. The Navy’s ongoing shipboard pregnancy epidemic and the difficulty most women have coping with traditional infantry-training standards suggests that the debate is far from settled.

via Silencing an American hero: the shame of the Naval Academy | New York Post.

The Navy cannot demonstrate that Webb was wrong. History, instead, seems determined to prove him right. But the new catechism of American public religion stands not upon a doctrine nor on an ideal, but a slogan: Diversity Is Our Vibrancy™. It’s the Mein Ehre Heißt Treue of a new orthodoxy that Shall Not Be Questioned. It’s institutionalized admiration for the Emperor’s New Clothes.

It’s careerism, institutionalized.

The Naval Academy and its recent, participation-badge and proportionately distaff Alumni may be celebrating their unpersoning of Webb. But what that says to the rest of us, whose taxes fund the Anachronism in Annapolis, is that our money has been squandered in this, as in so many other Naval endeavors.

It’s time to pull the plug. And while we’re at it, let’s retire the Army and Air Force Academies. They, too, have become controlled by people whose mission is the institution, not the mission (as Conquest’s Laws predict). They are fully converged social justice institutions, and at best orthogonal, and worse directly opposed to the mission of a functional military.

The Naval Academy has had a good run, but its glories are in the past. It’s time for it to go.

For More Ships, Navy Needs… More Money

USS John F. Kennedy,CVN 79, starts to take shape. Almost two years construction up to this point.

What’s the difference between an admiral and a drunken sailor? Answer’s at the end.

Ships are big. And, to steal a word from the President’s Twitter stream, building more ships is going to cost us… “bigly.”

$80 to $150 billion bigly. And that’s the Navy number, before it’s inflated with cost overruns to make sure there is No Retired Admiral Left Behind, and because some future SecNav may want to add to or remove the Transgender Head on the Poop Deck.

The Navy, at least, is talking about building actual Navy ships, not the science fiction experiment that was the DDG-1000 class, or the two mission-weak, firepower-absent and capability-poor “social justice cruisers,” the LCS or Literal Comedy Ship.

The exact size of the future fleet doesn’t matter right now, but rather the Navy just needs to start boosting its investment in shipbuilding quickly – which means buying many more Virginia-class attack submarines, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and Ford-class aircraft carriers in the next few years, [Vice CNO ADM Bill Moran] said.

“I’m not here to argue that 355 or 350 is the right number. I’m here to argue that we need to get on that trajectory as fast as we can. And as time goes on you start to figure out whether that number is still valid – 10 years from now, 20 years from now 355 may not be the number,” Moran said today at the annual McAleese/Credit Suisse “Defense Programs” event.
“Our number, give or take, to get to 355, or just to get started in the first seven years, is $150 billion. That’s a lot of money.”

A larger, more capable fleet is a good idea. Building instead of mothballing carriers, destroyers and attack/all-purpose subs is a complete and welcome reversal from what we’ve seen for the last dozen-plus years.

But is anybody confident that the Navy and its cozy little cabal of shipbuilders can manage a big-ticket project?

Well, ADM Moran starts off with, “give us the money and we’ll start to figure it out.” That’s not very reassuring.

Moran told USNI News following his remarks that dollar figure wasn’t exact but was based on the Navy’s best guess for how much it would cost to immediately begin a fleet buildup. A Navy official told USNI News later that one internal Navy estimate put the cost at about $80 billion over the seven years, whereas a Congressional Research Service estimate was closer to $150 billion.

OK, so now we’ve seen three independent estimates: 80, 150, and 155. That means that, based on government procurement history, building the ships will probably cost, not the average, $128 billion, but the sum of $385 billion.

“When you look at the number that started our 355 trajectory, to jump-start it – in order to jump-start it we think we need to build an additional 29 or 30 ships in the first seven years,” he said.

If it’s thirty ships, that’s an obscene $13 billion per hull. But he’s already waffled it down to 29, so it’s $13.3. But wait! Once Congress gets hold of it and demands fewer ships built in more Congressional Districts, maybe we’re looking at 20 or 25 ships. The Navy will certainly still spend every dime, so we’ll be sending our sailors to sea in new 1970s designs that average $15 to $19 Billion per ship.

Someone’s making out, and it’s not the nation’s ability to project sea power.

“When you do all that math, it’s a lot of money that we don’t have. But we were asked to deliver on that, so we’ve passed along what we think it would take. And obviously, any number you give in this environment is going to be sticker shock. So that’s why I say don’t take me literally, all it is is a math equation right now.”

Those 30 ships would mostly come from three ship classes in serial production today.

The Virginia-class submarine Minnesota (SSN-783) is “pressure hull complete,” signifying that all of the submarine’s hull sections have been joined to form a single, watertight unit. Newport News Shipbuilding photo.

“We definitely wanted to go after SSNs, DDGs and carriers, to get carriers from a five-year center to a four-year center and even looked at a three-year option. So the numbers I will give to you are reflective of those three priorities, because those are the big impacters in any competition at sea,” he told USNI News.

This is actually sensible. How about a stop-work order on the born-obsolete Literal Comedy Ship, before one of them gets into a sea fight with an Iranian Boston Whaler and loses, uh, bigly?

“Amphibs come later, but I’m talking about initial, what are we building that we can stamp out that are good. We know how to build Virginia-class, we know how to build DDGs.”

via Moran: Navy Needs Additional $150B to ‘Jump-Start’ Path to 355 Ships.

You just don’t know how to build them reasonably, do you?

You see, the difference between an admiral and a drunken sailor, is that the drunken sailor spends his own money. The admiral spends yours. 

Some Sense on Somali Pirates, from a Former Opponent of Theirs

This article about the Somali pirate seizure of a tanker appeared in a bit of an out-of-the-way place, but we were tipped to it — not least because the author is an old Ranger buddy with whom many a German beer was hoisted, back in the day.

“Those khat-chewing thugs are at it again,” I thought, recalling my maritime-security job almost 5 years ago off the east coast of Africa. Somali piracy, though, had seemed to have died off since then…

The online story elaborated: Pirates have hijacked an oil tanker off the coast of Somalia, Somali officials and piracy experts said Tuesday, in the first hijacking of a large commercial vessel there since 2012. … The area where the hijacking occurred is overseen by the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which is based in Bahrain. … It was not immediately clear what the pirates’ intentions are, but it may become one of the Trump administration’s first international tests.

The journalistically cautious “not immediately clear what the pirates’ intentions are” made me laugh. Intentions? Hijack then occupy (for as long as necessary) this non-US ship with grunt pirates while the clan’s CEO negotiates a high-dollar ransom of vessel, cargo, and crew—a big business deal via satphone from Mogadishu. It’s relatively easy money, too, if the targeted merchant vessel has no armed security personnel aboard.

We Americans are, I think, guilty of viewing too many world events through “It’s about US” lenses. Sure, it’s possible Somali pirates decided to test the new American president. After all, the US Navy has ships in the area….

Keep it Simple, Stupid (KISS) often has worked for me—the simplest theory often is the right one. This week’s hijack probably wasn’t about Trump; rather, Somali pirates simply saw an opportunity to score, after a long dry spell, and acted. Maybe the maritime industry had let its guard down in the HRA. You can bet DVDs of the “Captain Phillips” movie have been passed around in coastal areas of Somalia; pirates in 2017 probably won’t make the mistakes—exploited by our Navy and its SEAL marksmen—others made in 2009.

You’ll be better informed about Somali pirates and countermeasures if you Read The Whole Thing™. It’s written by a guy who’s been in those very waters on private MARSEC missions, deterring those very pirates.

What would actually work for the pirates of the 21st Century is what worked for the pirates of the 17th and 18th Centuries: a good dose of hanging at the yardarm, along with a thorough bombardment of the towns and harbors that emit them.

Pirates still are hostis humanae generis and ought to be treated that way. You don’t break a malaria epidemic by negotiating with the mosquitoes.


Pearl Harbor Defense — Better than it Gets Credit For?

The American side has always looked at Pearl Harbor as a terrible defeat — which it certainly was — and an embarrassing failure of defense. There were several formal investigations and uncountable books and magazine articles assailing this or that level of American preparedness. But one thing hasn’t really been given much credit, and that’s the readiness of Navy anti-air gunners. At least a skeleton crew was standing-to on each gun as the Japanese attacked, and many of them got their guns into action.

Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero at Pearl Harbor. Illustration by Darryl Joyce. (Actually, we think he has the color wrong).

The second wave got a lot more resistance than the first, and that AA resistance was one of four reasons that Admiral Chuichi Nagumo gave when he turned down air element commander Mitsuo Fuchida’s entreaties for a second strike delivering a third, decisive wave:

Even in the first attack, the enemy’s antiaircraft fire had been so prompt as virtually to nullify the advantage of surprise. In a further attack, it had to be expected that our losses would increase out of all proportion to the results achievable.

Nagumo, a cautious admiral intent on preserving his own force, knew he’d gotten a tough blow in. (His other three reasons were: the first attack had done as much as could be expected, and the Japanese were up against diminishing returns; Japanese SIGINT indicated the US still had 50 large patrol or bombing planes on Oahu, and they and the unlocated submarines and carriers were a threat to the fleet; and, the Japanese lacked good aerial or submarine reconnaissance and screening.

Ironically, the subs Nagumo worried about were almost all tied up in harbor; neither they, nor Admiral Kimmel’s HQ which overlooked the sub anchorage, were attacked at all during the actual strike. The Japanese SIGINT probably overstated the presence of large US aircraft, too, as the Navy’s patrol planes were nearly zeroed out by the attack.

In the end, we’ll never know how a counterfacual would have gone. A bolder admiral would have listened to Fuchida. Would the strike have further crippled the Pacific Fleet, perhaps by damaging the subs or fuel storage that survived the initial attack? Or would it have allowed the American carriers, which had been northwest reinforcing Wake Island, to set upon Nagumo’s task force?

For years to come, historians and surviving officers (which included both Fuchida and attack-planning air staff officer Minoru Genda on the Japanese side) would debate this.

But we wonder — did those AA gunners of the morning of 7 December 41 ever get the credit that Admiral Nagumo was willing to give them? Nagumo didn’t survive the war (he committed ritual suicide as the US captured Saipan from him) to speak up for them, or for his own decisions.

Perhaps some questions are not only destined, but meant to have no answers.

This Fokker Needs Your Help

There are not many Fokker Dr.I Triplanes left in the world.

How few are they? Well, actually, there are zero survivors of the thousands made. There are, however, replicas of varying quality, some of them, like this one, built from original plans and therefore quite good.

But it has a problem. Maintenance has been deferred for several years while museum management kept the once-flying bird inside on static display, and now that a new generation of managers want it back in the air, it needs a ton of work.

Which needs a ton of money ($90k). And with barely over a week to go, the plane’s owner, the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum at the Rockland County Airport in Maine is tens of thousands short of their goal on Kickstarter…

Moreover, this is the kind of Kickstarter campaign that is funded all-or-nothing — if the Kickstarter clock runs down and the Fokker isn’t Fokking funded, then  the curators get zero for the project (and those who put up money get it back).

Here’s some of what they say about their fund-raiser.

We’re in the middle of the centennial of World War I, and the Owls Head Transportation Museum is embarking on a mission to return the Red Baron to the skies with its full-scale, flying 1917 Fokker Dr.I reproduction. This aircraft is one of the most iconic aircraft in history, and none are better known than those flown by Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the Red Baron. Even 100 years after his death, people of all ages still recognize his name and can conjure the enduring images it provokes.

Since the doors opened in 1976, the Owls Head Transportation Museum has been a bastion of transportation technology in its truest form. As an operational museum, virtually every vehicle in the museum’s collection runs, flies, or drives. As one of our original pieces, the Dr.I was built in the 1970s by founding Trustee Kenneth Cianchette and has been seen flying over the skies of Owls Head, thrilling and teaching audiences for decades. That is, until recently.

In 2014, it was discovered that the Dr.I was in need of considerable repair and maintenance. From new fabric to cover the wooden wings and body, to repairs to the intricate and delicate wooden structures, and a complete engine overhaul, this airplane requires total restoration. Because there are no original examples in existence—and artifacts are few and far between—getting this aircraft running and back in the sky is especially important. This flying example is one of only a few in the world, and it is the duty of Owls Head to preserve its historical significance by returning it to airworthiness.

In telling the story of the infamous flying ace, the Owls Head Transportation Museum brings visitors face-to-face with the technologies that fueled the early 20th Century and teaches younger generations about why those technologies are still significant today. Once completed, our Dr.I will enlighten, entertain, and educate our visitors through first-hand interaction with the plane. Please help us return this piece of history to the skies as we honor the centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I.

What is it worth to you to see the Red Baron back in the skies of the Western Front mid-coastal Maine? Perhaps nothing, if you live far away. That’s OK; as always, when we plug some charity here, we have donated or intend to, even though we don’t always get out there to see it.

(We used to fly into this airport a lot, and so we had a membership at the museum. But that was over ten years ago).

When Defense Contractors Hire Losers

USS Cowpens arrives in San Diego, April 2013. The captain would be relieved a little over a year later. This is the ship that had one of the bogus bomb threats last year.

When defense contractors hire losers, hilarity ensues. Briefly. It’s not very funny when it all finally shakes out. Two laborers on Navy contracts in San Diego just got indicted for separate incidents of bomb threats.

Why bomb threats? They weren’t terrorists, or trolls. They just were lazy, and wanted paid time off work while the Navy chased its tail over bogus threats. It’s all a grand lark until the grim guy in the suit is talking about plea bargains and Federal prison — and he’s your lawyer.

Two men who have worked as Navy contractors face potential prison time and fines for making bogus bomb threats that resulted in mass evacuations of naval ships moored on San Diego Bay in recent months.

Joshua Rice, 26, and Roberto Rubio, 22, were arrested and arraigned in federal court Wednesday. The two San Diego residents each face up to five years behind bars and a $250,000 fine if convicted of issuing hoax threats.

Rice is charged in a grand jury indictment with reporting to Navy security personnel that he saw the word “bomb” scrawled inside of a portable toilet near three vessels docked at Naval Base San Diego on the morning of May 17, knowing there was no true threat.

At the time, Rice was working for American Marine, a ship repair and rehabilitation company.

Rubio is charged separately with writing “9-24-16 400 bomb” on an interior wall aboard the USS Cowpens, a guided-missile cruiser, on Sept. 24 and reporting the phony threat to another contractor. Rubio was then employed as a welder for Navy contractor BAE Systems.

via 2 Contract Workers Charged in Series of Bomb Threats at Navy Base – Times of San Diego.

The USS Cowpens is a Ticonderoga-class cruiser that bears the name of a Revolutionary War victory — and a WWII light carrier. But it didn’t really need any more bad publicity, after a romantic entanglement with one of his subordinate officers led the Navy to sack the captain (and his girlfriend) a couple of years ago.

It could have been worse. A few years ago, a high-functioning autistic guy hired to do some painting in the Portsmouth Navy Yard started a fire on the boat he was working on, USS Miami. The fire essentially destroyed the billion-dollar boat, and the loser got more time off than he was counting on — about 17 years in Club Fed.

Now, you might ask why defense contractors hire such losers in the first place? We can explain, and it only takes one word: money. From a Beltway contractor point of view, every dollar “wasted” on the people that actually provide the service you are selling in the contract, is a dollar that can’t be “invested” in the sort of inside-Beltway drones that secure the contract in the first place. So most DOD contractors are incentivized to provide the lowest quality workforce for the highest per-hour cost (to the Government; 90% of it stays in-Beltway). And so you have incidents like this, not just in 2016 like these current defendants, but every couple of years.

The A400M Airlifter is in Trouble. How much trouble?

It was a tempting deal for European nations: an airlifter with the capability of the C-17 for the operating cost of the old standby, the 1950s-vintage C-130 Hercules. Plus, it would be all-European and not subject to the winds and williwaws of American politics and foreign policy, which tend to strike Europeans as puzzling at best, and bat-guano crazy at times.


Airbus Industrie was going to do this by applying all its advanced processes and technologies from its airline experience to the A400M Atlas. Nations with fleets of aging C-130s and Transall C-160s rushed to sign up, and planned their airplane retirements for the arrival of the new cargo lifter in 2011.

They’re still waiting. What went wrong? France24:

Originally planned for 2011, the plane’s launch was delayed until 2013.

The A400M’s delivery has also run into substantial delays due to a string of technical problems and different requests from the governments.

An A400M plane crashed during a test in May 2015 near Seville in Spain, killing four of the six people on board and seriously injuring the two others.

And new faults were discovered in the propellor engines last year.

They’re actually turboprops, of course.

Airbus A400M Compared to the two US competitors. Wall Street Journal graphic.

On Wednesday, Airbus said its profits nosedived in 2016 due to charges related to problems with the plane.

Speaking to reporters when the group announced the results, [Airbus CEO Tom] Enders said that Airbus needed “the cooperation of clients… to push the programme forward and end the haemorrhaging.”

It turns out, what Tom is gathering the customers for next month in Madrid is a bit of the old hand-out begging: Airbus is being crucified, financially speaking, by penalty clauses in the A400M contracts, and he wants the buyers to waive further penalties.

Which certainly suggests we haven’t seen the end of delays.

Airbus delivered 17 A400M in 2016, compared with 11 in 2015 and has delivered two of the military transport planes so far this year.

But the Germans alone were counting on 12 planes in 2016, and didn’t get them all.

Who pledged to buy A400Ms? (The grounding from a 2015 test-flight accident was long ago lifted).

Still, the project, after a half-decade of delays and billions over budget, is at least delivering airplanes, and they can take off, land, navigate, and haul cargo. So far, the crews love and trust the new ship.

That’s all fine and good, but as is common for new airplanes with a lot of new engineering, they’re not being delivered with all capabilities. For example, they can’t air-deliver paratroops or cargo, yet. The promised self-defense system (anti-missile countermeasures) is still a prototype. A helicopter air-refueling package hasn’t shipped, forcing France to go shopping for C-130s to support special operations and SAR helicopters, or forego the benefits of substantial investment in refueling systems on the receiving side.

The delays have cost Germany alone €300 million, by requiring a life-extension for its Transalls, some of which are fifty years old.

Thomas Wiegold of calls it “a question of perspective,” (Awful German Language warning, although quotes from English sources remain in English). Wiegold notes that while the Luftwaffe and therefore the German MOD is unhappy with the plane, the RAF and therefore the UK MOD are well pleased by it. (The RAF also operates Hercules and C-17 cargo aircraft).

Airbus, for their part, is hinting that buyers must be prepared for either more cost overruns or more delays, because “Airbus is too important to Europe.” Ender is making the argument, implicitly, that Airbus now is too big to fail. The Germans, for their part, seem to be sticking to the contract, saying in effect, “This is what you signed, live up to it. Or compensate us for the costs your failure to perform has imposed on us.”

The latest problem relating to cracks in combustion chambers of the engines is just one more setback, but setbacks, delays and overruns are the norm and not some rare exception, in extreme engineering tasks like this.

We’re reminded of the one engineering manager at North American Aviation who, on military or NASA contracts, always came in on time and on budget. Company executive Tex Johnston (the former Boeing test pilot who famously rolled the KC-135/B707 prototype during a public demonstration), asked the prodigy how he managed it, when everyone else always underestimated.

“Well, I get my three best engineers to make an estimate.”

“Ah, and then you average them!”

“No, sir. Then I add them up.”

And that’s how it goes in cutting-edge engineering. Especially with a demanding customer who’s spending Other People’s Money (like a single MOD, let alone a bunch of them).

The Long Journey of U-534

Of all the hundreds of U-boats that were built, very few survive. One is the U-534, sunken only to be raised, displayed, abandoned again, and finally being repurposed as a sliced-and-diced tourist attraction on the Mersey River in the northwest of England.

This approximately 20 minute promotional video tells U-534’s story, from its last mission, to its last desperate fight with two Liberator bombers, to its recovery from the bottom of the sea, it’s abandonment to the elements, and finally, to its survival in Liverpool. The boat sank into a fissure deep in the Kattegat, yet all but two of the crew lived — the five or six of them who didn’t get out in time still managed to escape, like a handful of the survivors of the American sub Wahoo, from a torpedo-room escape trunk. A young radio operator was among the escapees, but did not exhale to equalize pressure as he rose, and died horribly as a result.

The attacking Liberators didn’t fare as well — one did sink the U-boat with depth charges, but not until after the gunners on U-534 had shot the other bomber down with the loss of its entire crew.

There is a great deal of information about this ill-fated submarine on the net. For instance, this page is the first of several that show some of the materials recovered from the boat, including documents that were readily restored to legibility. Here’s a report of what it was like to visit the boat during its near-abandonment on a quay in nearby Birkenhead. U-595’s armament was interesting, with lots of rapid-firing AA guns and three new homing torpedoes.

U-595 is one of only four U-Boats to survive. The others include sister Type VIIC/40 U-505 at the Chicago Museum of Science and Technology, which was captured during the war; near-sister Type VIIC/41 U-995, taken by Norway postwar and later acquired by German veterans as a memorial, on the water’s edge at Laboe; and the advanced Type XXI U-2540, which was raised a dozen years post-war (it had been scuttled) and served the Bundesmarine as Wilhelm Bauer.  U-2540 has been restored to WWII condition as a museum ship, and is the only U-Boat still afloat.

There is one mystery remaining: why did U-534 fight? Despite the survival of most of the crew, this remains unclear. You see, the fight took place after Admiral Dönitz had surrendered to the Allies, and instructed all boats at see to fly white flags of surrender and to give themselves over to Allied forces. The captain committed suicide shortly after the end of the war. The most probable reason is prosaic: the boat hadn’t received Dönitz’s message.