• NavAir Ops in Afghanistan

Received this from the head of the local FAA office. He's a former Naval Aviator of the Marine persuasion. His comment, "This is a combat diary from an F-18 pilot on the Eisenhower. Very interesting. Things have not changed all that much. No MIGs though . . . ."

Hello everyone, I just wanted to send out another update to everyone to let you know how things are going out here on the good ship Eisenhower. We' re in our seventh week of deployment and have 108 days to go.

We began combat operations on March 21st and have been flying over the beach almost everyday since then.

This is the most flying that I've done in all my 17 years.

Naval Aviators are limited by instruction to 30 flight hours a month and to go over that you must have a written waiver by the Flight Surgeon.

As of today I have 65 hours in the last 29 days.

Our missions are regularly 6 hours long. It's an hour transit to and from the ship just to get on station in southern Afghanistan. All the air traffic travels up a common air route that we call the boulevard that traverses Pakistan and crosses the border into Afghanistan.

All the traffic on the boulevard is either Naval aircraft from our ship or Air Force tankers coming from Qatar.

Most of our missions thus far have been in southern Afghanistan near the city of Kandahar. That is where a lot of the poppy harvest is taking place right now and that is where a lot of the enemy forces have dug in.

On a typical mission we check in with a JTAC (Joint Tactical Air Controller) on the ground who is part of a ground unit. The JTAC is trained to be able to communicate with aircraft and if necessary call in for air support in case some shooting starts. They used to be called Forward Air Controllers.

Thus far I have worked with American Special Forces, British Forces, Australian and Danish Forces.

It is very interesting to see the mix of troops on the ground. But its nice to see that all the procedures are very standardized no matter what nationality that you are supporting.

On most of our missions we provide Armed Reconnaissance, which has us watching over a friendly ground patrol, in vehicle or on foot, and looking ahead of their route of travel to try and find enemy fighters or potential spotting positions.

A few days ago I was watching over an Army Special Forces unit that were about 15 to 20 guys all riding four wheelers in the hills over looking a small village. We do most of our searching using our FLIR camera which is an infrared camera that has the ability to zoom in pretty close.

The JTACS on the ground can also link up with our FLIR camera and see what we are seeing on their laptop computer. We look for bad guys in groups digging or potentially placing road side bombs. A lot of times the JTACS give us coordinates of known bad guy locations and have us watch for movement or activity. A few nights ago I was talking to a JTAC and I could hear the gunfire over the radio and he calmly said they were taking fire from an unknown locations and wanted us to scan the hills surrounding them for any activity.

On average our Airwing drops four or five bombs a day or conducts a few strafing runs on enemy positions. We also do a lot of Shows of Force which is simply a high speed low altitude pass over an enemy position to get them to stop shooting or even run. Although I haven't yet gotten a chance to drop a bomb I can say that I'm not in a rush. My time will come. I did have a wing man that conducted a strafing run on two individuals who were digging at a roadside intersection. It was at night so the complexity of shooting bullets from an aircraft moving 500mph at a small moving target in the dark is absolutely amazing.

I enjoy working with the guys on the ground. I think its a comforting feeling for them to know that we are overhead and can deliver a devastatingly accurate blow within seconds of asking for it. Even if we don't find bad guys I feel a lot of job satisfaction just being up there and talking to the guys on the ground. These guys are pretty amazing. I will hear them say something like, "We are taking fire from an unknown location so we are going to get out of our vehicles and move into the open so that we can try to locate where the fire is coming from." Amazing bravery. Our team is killing a lot of bad guys right now.

Some of the most harrowing parts of our mission is refueling, particularly in the dark or in bad weather. On a typical 6 hour mission we refuel off of big wing Air Force tankers three times.

There is a point on the boulevard that once I cross it I know that if I have a problem with my tanker,I do not have enough fuel to get back to the carrier and have to divert to one of the three occupied airfields in the country. The tankers all hold at specific points and altitudes around the country. I know before I launch what my tanker's call sign is, what point he will be at, what time I'm supposed to be there, what altitude he will be at and what frequency I will talk to him on.

There is an overarching control agency that runs the tanker plan and it is constantly changing usually based on the fight that is going on the ground. A lot of times tankers get pushed over an area where there is fighting so that the airborne assets don't waste time trying to get to their tanker and back to the fight. Once one tanker moves it starts a domino effect that effects almost everyone. Its like a shell game. They are constantly shuffling tankers around. I don't think I've launched on a single mission and hit all my tankers that I was originally scheduled for. I have tanked off American and British Air Force tankers. Two days ago I was on a tanker and two French Rafael fighters were waiting in line with me at 22000 feet for their gas.

When the mission is over we hit the tanker one last time before exiting the country and fly the boulevard south and the hour flight back to the carrier. When its all done then I get to look forward to that night carrier landing.

Luckily the North Arabian Seas calm and the weather has been good. No pitching deck out here so far. By the end of the mission I'm usually starving. I try and take food and water with me in the cockpit and typically I get a chance to eat and drink something on the trip back to the carrier at the end of the mission. But you don't want to drink too much because that presents a whole new problem for a single seat cockpit. Thank goodness for altitude hold.

The cockpit gets pretty crowded with all of our extra gear. We have our standard issue gear for going in country which includes our pistol and two magazine clips, our blood chit which is basically a piece a paper that we use in case we find ourselves on the ground that is written in several different native languages and basically says "I'm an American and you will be paid if you help me return to friendly American forces."

We carry a camel back full of water that is sewn into our flight vest. On every mission we go on, we have a stack of papers that have coordinates and radio frequencies. I also have my new helmet mounted targeting system which is a new visor that clips to the regular helmet and projects vital information on my visor (I've attached a picture of me wearing that helmet in the cockpit.)

It looks like a Martian helmet, but it is honestly the best piece of gear that I carry with me. I can type in the coordinate for a friendly unit on the ground and then look outside the cockpit and a diamond will be projected on my visor directly over the position of that unit on the ground. It's very useful in locating things on the ground, but it also helps me find things in the air. Yesterday I saw my tanker from 28 miles away because my helmet puts a box around the radar contact that I have locked up, so I know exactly where to look. Pretty cool.

I also take a pair of NVGs on every flight. Night Vision goggles are absolutely necessary once the sun goes down. The ground units use a lot of infrared lights to help mark their positions or the positions of enemy units and I can see all of that from 20000 feet with my NVG's on.

Well I've written way more than I should have. I hope I haven't bored you. I know many of you have asked what I'm doing over here. This e-mail was to try to help you understand what I've been doing. It in no way is meant to be tooting my own horn. The guys on the ground are the real heroes. I'm simply a supporting element to the fight.

I want to say thank you to all of you that have sent care packages. They were very much appreciated by me and all my ready room. Keep watching the news. If you hear about airstrikes in Southern Afghanistan there is a good chance it came from my air wing.

• Dancing With Angels

Last weekend friends invoted me to tag along on a jaunt down to Torrey Pines. Once one of the premier soaring sites in the U.S., today sailplanes show up just a few days a year to enjoy the lift created by the ocean wind blowing up the cliffs that tower 400 over the beach. The mix of model sailplanes, real sailplanes, parasails, hang-gliders, and seagulls is spectacular and well worth a visit if you're in San Diego, whether the big birds are there or not.

I took advantage of the opportunity to experience an exilerating winch launch in a Blanik. All my glider experience has been at the end of a rope behind a tug, and the catapult-like acceleration and steep climp was a thrill.

Chuck Deerinck was assembling his DG-800s and I was lucky enough to get some interesting shots of his launch,

flyby (click to enlarge),

And recovery (click to enlarge).

Here's a piece that John wrote describing a very different kind of soaring:

My weekend is finally over. It is midnight, and I am completely exhausted, but I couldn't sleep without writing about today.

I worked on my glider all weekend long in the hangar, and it rained a lot, so the flying was very difficult. On Saturday, I had one 40 minute flight, that was very fast, and the only lift were little "wavelets", and only existed within a few hundred feet of 2000 foot cloud base. The second flight was in heavy rain, so I was basically forced down in about 30 minutes.

Sunday was looking like more of the same, but near the end of the day, the clouds began to break up. I finished the work I was doing, and launched at 4:30.

After a 2500 foot tow, I got off tow in light lift, and began working the leading edge of a cloud street. As I got higher, the lift got better. At about 8,000 feet, I was struggling a little to get higher.

Then I saw very fast rising tendrils of mist, forming above a few clouds, and when I flew into these, they provided spectacular lift. At one point, I was on the North side of the clouds as they exploded upward, blocking me from getting back to the airport. I turned west, and headed off at 100 knots down the side of the cloud street, around the end, and back east towards home. I resumed my search for lift, and soon I was at 11,000 feet.

The view was amazing, truly stunningly beautiful. In a DG-800S, with its incredible view, you almost forget that the glider is around you. I think the pictures here are pale in comparison to being up there, but they are still pretty good as photos go. I was thinking "This is the stuff that only Angels get to see".

I saw a full moon come up over the clouds to the east. I saw the sun setting over the Pacific, and the entire ocean turned fluorescent orange. It was very bright up high, and the lure of staying high was very strong. I looked down between the clouds, and saw the shadows on the ground getting very long, as the sunset was nearing. I contacted wave lift, and quickly and easily got to 13,000 feet. I hadn't turned my oxygen on when I was on the ground and didn't want to stretch to reach it, so given the approaching sunset, I decided to stop at 13k. Otherwise, I am sure I could have made 18,000 feet with ease.

After flying around at 130 knots for a while trying to loose altitude, but still doing nothing but going up, I finally pulled my spoilers, said goodbye to the Angels, and began my decent. I landed, and learned that of the two other gliders that launched, one fell out early, and the other made it to 9,500 feet.

Once again, my DG helped me to achieve what I likely couldn't have done otherwise. We put the glider away in the freezing cold and dark, but I couldn't get the smile off of my face. As I go to sleep tonight, and wish that my family was back from Italy, I still have a smile on my face, knowing that today I was dancing with Angels.

• Ah, Those Were The Days

Just discovered the FAA transcribed a speech I gave years ago at a National Proposed Rule Making hearing. Originated in 1998, the proposed changes to the regs were suddenly resurrected in 2004. They threatened to put us, and other businesses like ours, out of business. The feds essentially wanted to regulate all Part 91 sightseeing operations as if they were Part 135 air taxis, but their rationale was rediculous. One example of the idiocy: The rule wasn't going to cover hot air balloon operators. We couldn't understand why not until an FAA lawyer remarked from the dias, "We recognize that all balloon flights are charity operations." Such was the level of understanding that we faced.

Hi, my name is Tom Harnish. I’m chief pilot for a Part 91 sightseeing operator in San Diego called Barnstorming Adventures Ltd.We also do business as Biplane, Air Combat & Warbird Adventures because, well, that’s more descriptive and people, we've sadly discovered, don’t know what ‘barnstorming’means. Our society has already forgotten the pioneers of aviation. I wish you could see, as we do day in and day out, the delight in their eyes--the excitement and joy--when they discover what real flying is all about. Frankly, that’s the largest compensation of this business.

I’d like to start by briefly giving you some background on who we are and what we do, then tell you a short fable to illustrate my thoughts on this topic, and finally I want to pose a couple of rhetorical questions.

I’ve never been accused of being overly modest, but please believe me when I tell you this next bit isn't bragging. I just want to provide you with a little background so you know that I’m not stupid, naive, or unfamiliar with business, aviation, or government.

I learned to fly when I was in college--I was frustrated working so hard and getting such bad grades, so I went out to the local airport and started to learn to fly. I had to hold down three jobs and go to school; but I earned my license, hit the Dean’s List, and graduated with a degree in Aerospace Psychology. Learning to fly, I think, helped me learn to learn.

My senior year I started a computer services company and borrowed their equipment while on leave after joining the Navy to develop some of the first computerized airborne electronic warfare planning programs. I qualified in the A-6 Intruder and the EA-6B Prowler and deployed to Vietnam in 1973 as part of Air Wing 9 aboard the USS Constellation. (I also had the bizarre experience of being on board the Connie again 30 years later in mid-Pacific on 9/11. But that's another story.)

When I got back from Vietnam, I finagled a choice assignment in Washington at the DoD Computer Institute where I taught Admirals and Generals about Information Management. I taught every FBI Senior Agent in Charge from around the US at the FBI Academy in Quantico VA about computer security, and tutored several Generals, members of Congress, and even some FAA officials from OK City and Atlantic City about telecommunications and computer systems requirements definition.

Anyway, after leaving the Navy I worked as consulting scientist for Booz, Allen & Hamilton on a number of government contracts and was part of the Bell System’s anti-trust defense litigation team. (We lost, you might remember, and they split up the Bell System--so now we have, "Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?")

Later I took a job with a company that had the world’s largest on-line terminal network and eventually became Senior Scientist there. Among other things, we pioneered the first use of the TV for home information and banking (PCs didn’t exist yet), but later we were also part of pioneering efforts to use personal computers for online communication.

Summer evenings and weekends I taught flying at Ohio State before I was hired away from my day job in Columbus to lead several successful and not so successful start-up high tech companies elsewhere. I even managed to set--make that establish--a world speed record in my 1958 Beech Bonanza, largely because no one had ever done it before.

But the problem with success is it makes you think you can do anything, and I started an electronic publishing company of my own to buy and index FAA data, as a matter of fact, and put it on CDROM.

But it wasn’t much fun or very lucrative trying to sell CDs to people that didn’t know what a CDROM drive was. However, in the process I had the good fortune to hire someone (now my wife and business partner) that understood how to run a company far better than I did. About a year after we started working together I took her for a ride in a biplane, and she signed up for flying lessons the next day. Little did I know how all that would change my life.

Sitting on a cliff near San Francisco we talked about what we wanted to do when we grew up. Fighting dragons in the form of bankers, battling vulture capitalists, and forced to watch her kiss a lot of frogs in the search for money to survive just wasn’t the way I wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.

How ‘bout biplane rides we wondered? As a scientist you can guess I don’t believe in fate, but just as we talked about a sightseeing business a biplane flew up the beach below us over the surf. We took it to be a sign--conveniently disregarding the more import fact that I’d just sold my biplane because the struggling business needed the money. In the end we started the sightseeing business, as someone observed, 'on a wing without a prayer'.

We found another biplane and flew it across the country from San Francisco to Philadelphia without benefit of radios, navigating equipment, or even an intercom. After two years dueling with thunderstorms in the summer and snowstorms in the winter, however, we decided we needed to move…and San Diego was the answer.

Now, 12 years later, we’ve managed to support ourselves, a full time mechanic (a former Army Warrant Officer and helo test pilot), an operations manager (a retired Marine full bird Colonel), and 25 part time pilots including such ner-do-wells as the former #2 in command of Navy Test Pilot School, an Air Force pilot with more time in a U-2 than anyone else, a 747-400 Captain, several F/A-18 pilots, an Navy LSO, and two FAA safety counselors. Most of our pilots are CFIs and all of them must have more than 1000 hours or we won’t hire them; indeed, several have over 10,000. If you look at our SOP you'll find most of our pilot qualifications and operating standards exceed FAA requirements and the FARs by a wide margin.

Besides two 1920’s biplanes, we fly non-aerobatic air combat under a part 91.111 waiver thanks to an SOP we developed with the advice of the FSDO. We offer aerobatic flights in an SNJ, and a luxury fly/dine experience in a C-45 in cooperation with the Four Seasons Resort--all under part 91, within 25 miles, in good weather (what’s the point of going sightseeing if you can’t see the sights?), over the same beautiful Southern California landscape and beaches.

We thought about other locations, but after watching a promotional tape from a company for sale in Hawaii with only lava, 12 foot sugar cane thrashing in the trade winds, and an awful lot of water including thumping surf, we opted for San Diego with wide beaches, calm winds, and a temperate climate because we knew that ”safety is no accident.”

Yes, we pushed a Cub into the hangar door, and prop blast from a careless transient aircraft blew one of our biplanes into another aircraft, and we had to make one precautionary landing on the beach, but other than that we have a spotless record.

It's interesting to note, by the way, that during the 12 years we've been flying without incident, 38 people no-showed for their flight and we discovered it was because they’d had an accident on the way to the airport. (We have no idea how many had problems headed home, of course.)

Okay, I hope all that proves that we know a thing or two about running a business, about flying and commercial operations, and about working with government.

In fact, I should be specific and say that without exception, with out exception, we’ve never had a bad experience with the folks from the FSDO in Philadelphia or San Diego. That doesn’t mean they haven’t been on top of what we do and it doesn’t mean they haven’t been tough if we screw up in spite of our desire to not only comply with but also exceed your requirements. It does mean they have been honest, smart, and, yes…they even were there to help.

One brief story to illustrate: Not long after we moved to San Diego I was in the cockpit preparing to takeoff and an FAA inspector asked to see my licenses and medical. I reached for them and realized I had changed into shorts just before leaving the house and left my wallet behind--the first time ever. His response was, “Look we’re all adults here, and you didn’t actually fly without your papers. Go get them and don’t do let this happen again.” I did, and it hasn’t.

A few days later he stopped by to follow up, but I wasn’t there. He asked Kate if I had my license on me, and she said, ”It doesn’t really matter; I grounded him for a week. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

Since then we’ve worked closely with the FSDO, with a great deal of mutual respect, obtained our Air Combat waiver, and last fall when this NPRM came out we started working on single pilot 135 certification for our C-45 strictly as a matter of business risk management (neither of us are interested in "real" jobs if you put us out of the Part 91 business)--but, take note, nothing has happened--I found out Wednesday that nothing will happen until next month at the earliest because (and I quote from his email) "we're so short handed struggling to keep up with existing operators"--and because we haven’t been able to secure 135 insurance for the aircraft in spite of our spotless record.


So. . .you received over 2000 negative comments on the docket that were mostly reasoned and polite, but this process continued. You received a huge number of more pointed online public meeting posts, but still you’ve persisted. Even members of congress have told you in no uncertain terms to get off it. But here I stand.

Let me tell you about a weird experience I had recently that maybe will get the message across in a different way.

I was flying along the coast one day when lightning flashed out of a clear blue sky and I encountered a sudden violent wind shear. I was momentarily stunned, and when I regained my senses there was an FAA inspector standing on the beach with a big sign that said DANGER - WATCH OUT FOR THE EDGE - LAND IMMEDIATELY. Well, I know the Earth isn't flat, and I could see there was no edge, but I decided I’d better find out what was going on.

I landed and approached the inspector. He had a portable computer and a PowerPoint presentation on it that looked something like this:

He was adamant that immediate and dramatic action was required to keep people from falling off the edge. He wasn’t sure where the edge was exactly, he admitted, and he said he needed my help figuring out how great the danger was, but it was SERIOUS. In fact, he said every one near the edge would have to use a taxi from now on--that would keep innocent passengers from getting caught by the dragon.

I looked around and still didn’t see this precipice, or any dragon devouring maidens for that matter, and pointed out that FAA data showed that only 7 people in 8 years had died in an aircraft like mine (none by falling off the edge of the earth)—in fact, more people had been killed by garage doors in the same period. Again, he said they didn't have good data, but the NTSB said it was big problem and they had to do something QUICK!

I asked why it had taken 5 years to get around to doing something if it was such an urgent matter, but he'd didn't want to talk about that. I also mentioned I'd seen a recent NTSB document that said they thought his concerns were overstated, but he didn't seem familiar with it.

I pointed out that those people that had been killed were no where near the edge--in fact they had been violating existing regulations, and by his own data taxi crashes were more expensive and killed more people…so how was that going to make things safer? He wandered off to check the dragon's airworthiness certificate, and I was left wondering what the furor was really all about.

The point to this fairy tale--make that ‘nightmare’-- is there's a meta problem here. We shouldn't be trying to figure out where the edge is or what regs should be changed to keep us from falling off the edge. We should be asking why anyone thinks the earth is flat in the first place! We should be asking Congress to find out why so many people have been forced to expend so much time, effort and money defending their livelihood when there wasn’t a real problem to begin with.

A brief look at your data shows huge flaws. It took me less than 20 minutes to find personal sightseeing flights lumped in with commercial flights and even supposedly safer Part 135 accidents that contaminated the data.

If bad data isn't enough, the analysis of the data looks like your consultants were given a conclusion and asked for analysis to support it. That analysis left out huge factors that would have significantly swayed the argument such as the financial multiplier effects of companies forced out of business--a basic economic concept. We can’t help but wonder if they simply ignored those issues to make their case look better.

Finally, their conclusions were...I don't know what else to call them...surreal. I mean think about it: you analyze some data and conclude along the way that part 135 accidents are more expensive and involve a greater number of fatalities than part 91 flights (you use those exact words in the NPRM), and then in a stroke of genius you recommend converting part 91 operations to part 135? Huh?

Again, let me say I think there’s a meta-problem here. It starts with a clear lack of understanding of the sightseeing and air tour industry (you say so yourself over and over in the NPRM) and the fact that you want to lump sightseeing and air tours together just proves it. Do you really think a small biplane that takes off in good weather, flies over familiar terrain within 25 miles of home, and then lands back at home base is the same as a multi-million dollar jet that takes off in the middle of the night, in stormy weather and ice, headed for someplace half way across the country? Do you really think they’re in the same business, that their flying risk is the same, that they need to be regulated the same way?

Finally, this whole thing was announced in the Federal Register and the NPRM was released without any industry involvement. What’s with that? You’ve had a working relationship with AOPA, EAA, NATA, GAMA and others for years that could have saved you this embarrassment if you hadn’tdecided to unilaterally move forward for the first time since when…the ‘30s?

Then, in spite of requests for public hearings to begin with, and with literally thousands of comments against the proposed changes on the docket, you decided an electronic town meeting is the answer. But it was clear from the beginning you didn’t understand that either--neither the technology nor how to use it. There was no give and take (that’s what town meeting are all about, after all) and the amazing statement, “Why do we want to regulate you? Because you look like an airline” set the low water mark for this whole process.

Frankly, that was like someone yelling “Fire” in a crowded theatre. When we challenged the statement the response was, “I was just trying to encourage participation." That's like the idiot in the theatre saying, “I was only trying to liven things up a little.”

Actually, things would have been a lot livelier if more than a few of our questions were answered. It might even have been a useful exercise if what few substantive responses you did post had actually been on-line during the time when the forum was available to the public.

I don't want to seem mean-spirited, but it sure appeared that you were trying to make it look like the FAA had actively participated by posting so many replies--but they weren't answers, they were evasions, and they weren't there when the public could see them. It was an outrageous waste of time and money for us all.

So why are we here? Thousands of people have spent tens of thousands of non-productive hours dealing with this, and they invested millions of dollars defending themselves from what I have to characterize as an incredibly incompetent piece of staff work supported by a clear lack of management oversight that allowed it to see the light of day. All exceeded only by the failure of leadership demonstrated by the existence of an environment that allowed this to happen at all.
To be honest I’m scared to death that you're sitting there saying to yourself, “Boy, he just doesn’t get it, he has no idea how hard we worked on this." Actually, I think I'd be happier if you said, "Pfffft, we hardly even thought about this thing."

If you do think I don't get it, then as our Colonel would say, "What we have here is a failure to co-mun'-icate." To be honest, if that's all it was I'd be a lot less upset. It seems a lot more heinous than that.

What we should be talking about here isn't how high a helicopter should fly, it isn't how big a lake has to be to require the use of a life vest if you fly over it, it isn't whether the 25 mile rule is appropriate. We should be talking about who should be fired for #1 doing such bad staff work, and #2 for allowing this to become an NPRM at all.

If you haven't already figured it out, I’m here to make it very clear that I think this NPRM should be withdrawn. I’m also here to make it clear that if it isn’t, I intend to take whatever steps are necessary to see that congressional hearings occur to get to the bottom of this mess. You are threatening our livelihood, and the livelihood of our employees, and that’s not something we take lightly.

So, no, I'm not pleased to have the opportunity to speak here today as other speakers have said. I'm angry as hell that I had to be here, that I had to take the time and spend the money to come here because you've been so flagrantly wasting the public's tax dollars—my tax dollars.

We work very closely with the folks at the San Diego FSDO and without exception they're bright, hardworking--make that overworked--and professional, and they ‘don’t cut us no slack,’ and that does help us fly safer. This debacle on the other hand really makes me worry about the future of aviation in America. It makes me worry that what we’re seeing here is another example of how we’ve lost those old fashioned values of working hard, doing what's right, and taking personal responsibility.

In fact, there’s a rumor going around that this whole travesty is just about performance based management and an attempt to improve the 135 accident statistics by rolling in the much better part 91 numbers. But I don't think you’re really that stupid.

I think you're smart enough to realize that things got off on the wrong foot somehow and you need to pull this NPRM and get the numbers. If you do that, if you decide to take a rational look at the sightseeing and air tour industry to see if there’s really a problem; and if there is, if you decide to look for reasonable solutions, you can count on us to help however we can. That's not philanthropy, by the way, that’s pure self-interest. If we do this right it will be more profitable and more fun because it will be safer.

Believe me, we will admire you a lot more if you have the character to drop this instead of trying to save face and push on. Just get your ducks in a row and then let’s revisit this issue if the facts justify it. By the way this guy understands, as we do, that getting all us ducks in a row is a challenge--we really do understand the difficulty of your problem.

We're all too aware that he also seems to understand the “speak softly and carry a bigstick” concept. We hope you have sense enough to use it carefully in the public's best interest, not just the FAA's.

Be careful you don't kill the ducks that lay your golden eggs.

• Dark Blue World

Here's a flying flic you may not have seen. A Czech film about Czech pilots that flew in the Battle of Britain. Some of the best air-to-air you'll see in any movie.

• First Aerial Movie?

Ever wonder what it was like to fly in the Wright Flyer? Now you can see for yourself.

In 1909 the Wright Brothers demonstrated their Flyer in France. The Société Générale des Cinématographes Eclipse was there to film the action, and they mounted a camera on the aircraft. The result was, as far as I know, the very first movie taken from an aricraft.

Enjoy this rare silent film thanks to the Europa Film Treasures.

• Ruby Six, This Is Handyman

Marine Division Leader Ken Reusser, callsign Ruby 6, was on patrol with Bob Klingman, Jim Cox and another on of the ' Checkerboarders' from Marine Fighting Squadron 312 (VMF-312).

On a routine patrol, the foursome was climbing to altitude, when they heard:

"Ruby 6 . . this is Handyman. Over."

"This Ruby Six, go ahead Handyman."

"Bogey one eight zero, angels two five. Steer two seven zero. BUSTER! "

"Roger, Handyman. Left two seven zero, climbing to angels two five."

The flight dropped their belly tanks, shoved up the power, and test fired their machine guns.

Klingman recalls : "We could see a vapor trail as the bogey made two complete circles over our harbor."

The Marine pilots had a good idea about the mission of the aircraft. Over the past few days, their squadron and others were taking turns trying to intercept radar targets following a similar track. Intelligence believed it was a Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu ' Nick ' photo recconnaissance aircraft, perhaps assisting in plans for Kamikaze attacks on the Navy ships anchored below.

Already at 25,000 feet, the intruder had always been able to 'run for it.' By using its initial altitude advantage, it had been—thus far—successful in outrunning any of our fighter interceptors.

Ken Reusser recalls : "We were turning inside his turn to try and gain on him, but we were so far below that we had little chance of reaching him. So, I just pulled the nose up and held my trigger down , with no real aim, just trying to 'loop it up there. ' I saw a couple of 'glints' before he rolled wings level and headed back to Japan."

The four Corsairs kept grinding away at maximum climb, staying on the bogey's tail, although it didn't appear possible to overhaul him.

Checkerboarder Jim Cox's Corsair kept dropping back until he was a thousand feet below and behind. He wasn't able to coax one more knot out of his battle-weary plane. Reusser told Cox and the other pilot to return, while he and Klingman continued their pursuit.

At 38,000 feet, they were at their struggling Corsairs' service ceiling. But the Nick was still one mile ahead. In the thin air, they were on the edge of stall, and had to make only small and gentle movements of their controls to avoid the drag of a pre-stall burble that would allow the enemy to extend further out of range.

Reusser recalls, "The gunner pounded with his fist on the action of his machine gun to free it up.

Klingman continued,

As we got closer, Ken was firing and the bogey's rear gunner started firing back at us. I was taking a few small bullet holes. My plane had no gun heaters and my guns were frozen and inoperative. But I was still pretty eager to get me a Jap plane.

My Corsair was a bit faster than the other one. So I crept ahead. I closed until I was 20 or 30 feet behind him. I couldn't get any closer due to his prop wash. Held me back. I slowly climbed above, then nosed over slightly and sliced into his tail with my prop. I only had enough extra speed to chew off some of his rudder and elevator before being blown away by the Nick's prop wash.

He was still flying, so I climbed above him for a second run. I nosed down toward him again, but pulled out too soon. I only got some of his rudder - and part of the top of the rear canopy as the gunner frantically tried to use his machine gun.

I climbed slightly above for a third run, then chopped off his right elevator. That hit did most of the damage to my plane. And we both spun down out of control. After losing only about 1,000 feet I recovered. But the enemy plane continued its spin until, at about 15,000 feet, both its wings came off.

Klingman didn't have a 'shoot down.' But . . he definitely had a ' knock-down.'

They were hundreds of miles from home with Klingman's control stick shaking so hard it was "leaping around " in his cockpit. Then, as they worked their way home, descending through 10,000 feet, Klingman radioed that his engine had quit.

Others radioed Bob to "Go over the side."

In his own judgment, Klingman thought he had a fair chance to glide as far as the airstrip's closest end, then land it ' dead stick' out of a straight-in approach.

There would be no forgiveness for his slightest misjudgment.

Alerted by radio, all the pilots and crew members near the airstrip were transfixed as Klingman, with propeller silently windmilling, approached the airstrip for a ' no-go-around ' landing.

At the last second, Klingman flared. His plane touched down on the dirt overrun, bounced a handful of yards to the airstrip's hard surface, and rolled to a stop.

As the pilots and crew members ran over to examine the aircraft and applaud the pilot, they were astonished by the plane's damage. All three blades of Klingman's propeller had six inches missing from the tip. The bird's wings were riddled with bullets, and chunks of the Japanese airplane were found inside the cowling.

After surprisingly minor repairs, a new engine and propeller, the Corsair was returned to flight status.

Both Bob Klingman and Ken Reusser earned the Navy Cross.

Klingman went on to fight in the Korean War and retired as a LtCol. He flew west in 2004.

Ken Reusser served his country for 27 years, was shot down five times, flew 213 combat missions, and was awarded a second Navy Cross for heroism in the skies over Korea. He distinguished himself as a pilot and commander in Vietnam, and retired in 1968 when he joined Lockheed Aircraft as a special assistant.

• Falkland Mission Impossible

It was the most daring RAF raid since the Dambusters: Flying a jet 20 years past its sell-by date 4,000 miles beyond its range to bomb a target a few yards wide. The result changed the course of the Falklands War.

The Pentagon believed it was impossible. So, privately, did others commanding the British Task Force sailing south towards the Falkland Islands after their invasion by Argentina in the spring of 1982. And for the six-man crew of Vulcan 607, in the early hours of April 31, it was beginning to turn into a suicide mission.

Martin Withers and his co-pilot Dick Russell were 300 miles north of their target: the airstrip near the Falklands capital Port Stanley. It had to be destroyed to stop Argentine fighter jets using it to attack the task force.

They still needed 14,000 lb of fuel to carry out their mission and - if they survived the ground-to-air missiles from the heavily fortified capital - to reach the refueling rendezvous off the coast of Brazil, 300 miles east of Rio de Janeiro.

As it headed towards the Falklands the final mid-air refueling of the Vulcan was beginning. Withers eased his plane into position behind the Handley Page Victor tanker, the last in an immensely complex alternation of 11 tankers and 15 fuel transfers which had been involved in getting the bomber this far.

Once settled in its wake, less than 20 yards from the Victor's tail-cone, and plugged into its trailing fuel hose, Withers waited for the red lights at the base of the hose to flash green to show that fuel was flushing into the Vulcan's tanks through the four-inch pipes that ran beneath his feet.

The gauge spun up to 7,000 gallons - just a fraction of its total fuel capacity of 36,000 - and then the tanker signaled that it could give them no more. Withers was baffled and furious. Just as he was approaching his target, he was being left in the lurch.

He had no way of knowing that the tanker was even lower on fuel than the Vulcan and had probably sacrificed its crew to give the Vulcan a fighting chance of making the rendezvous.

"We don't have the fuel to carry out the mission," radioed the electronics officer from the back of the Vulcan. "I'm sorry, that's it. I have no more fuel to give you," replied the Victor's pilot, Bob Tux ford, as the tanker de-coupled and turned north into the night. That was that.

Headed for the scrapheap

Dick Russell, the only man on board the Vulcan with any real experience of air-to-air refueling, knew what the fail safe procedures were. He told Atoll Withers that to guarantee the safety of the aircraft they should abort the mission. If they were to succeed and then lose the bomber as the tanks ran dry, they would face disaster. Really it was a miracle they had got this far. Britain's V-bombers, built to deliver nuclear bombs, were headed for the scrap heap.

In the Fifties they had been state-of-the-art, our most impressive weapon in the Cold War. Built to deliver nuclear bombs, the delta-shaped Vulcan’s were brilliantly maneuverable, considering their size - an inch short of 100ft in wingspan. Their lightning-fast low-level flying played havoc with enemy radar. But by 1982 the writing was on the wall. Their base at RAF Waddington in the Lincolnshire fens was to be closed. In weeks, the last four Vulcan squadrons would be gone. On the far side of the base Vulcan’s were already being torn apart for scrap.

And then General Galtieri decided to grab the Falklands. These islands of sheep farmers, 8,000 miles away in the South Atlantic, were practically indefensible. The nearest British base, Ascension Island, was 4,000 miles away to the northeast - too far for C-130 transport planes to deliver troops. But it was British sovereign territory.

The islanders were British: in return for their allegiance the Crown owed them protection. Margaret Thatcher, a Prime Minister sinking low in the polls, ordered a naval task force to be prepare d which could set up an exclusion zone around the islands. However, if the invaders could resupply themselves by air, the campaign could turn into a grueling siege.

The only aircraft in the entire RAF which could fly to the Falklands from a friendly base was the Handley Page Victor K2, a bomber which had been turned into an air-to-air refueling tanker. The Tornado GR1s were too new and unproven to be risked, even if they could be refueled, and it would need a convoy of Sea Harrier jump jets to drop the same weight of bombs and an aircraft carrier nearby - which itself would be most vulnerable to fighters based at Port Stanley.

That left the Vulcan nuclear bombers. None of their crews had practiced dropping conventional bombs for ten years. And they hadn't practiced air-to-air refueling for 20 years. Had not the Chief of Air Staff, Sir Michael Beetham, himself been a pioneer of the technique, nobody would even have considered them. Of the ten Vulcan bombers requisitioned, only three had accurate bomb delivery and powerful enough engines for the task.

Each had its own quirks and eccentricities. Parts were hard to find. A vital refueling component was salvaged from a ground crew room where it was serving as an ashtray. The bomb cradles in which conventional bombs could be carried, not used since the Vulcan’s turned nuclear, were hard to find; some turned up in a scrapyard in Newark, Notts.

The nose-mounted probes on which the hoses clamped for air-to-air refueling frequently sheared off during the intensive training that the pilots were now undergoing; replacements had to be found from military museums.

Navigation problems

Then there were the navigation problems. The Vulcan’s would have to fly over 4,000 miles of open ocean, without a single surface feature that the radar officers could use to fix a position. There were no detailed maps of the area and, at that time, no satellite imagery.

The only reliable instrument was a sextant which, as in Nelson's day, was used to chart the aircraft's position relative to the angles of the stars.

Not until late in the planning did someone remember that the old Vickers Super VC10 airliners, abandoned by British Airways, had a carousel inertial navigation device which, once aligned to true north, was accurate enough to get them there.

The Argentinian armed forces meanwhile were consolidating their advantage on the Falklands, confident in the belief that could not be attacked by the British. They had occupied the islands on April 2. Within a few days they had flown in Argentine Marine detachments armed with 30mm cannon and Tiger Cat optically guided surface-to-air missiles. An anti-aircraft battery went up behind Stanley Town Hall.

Residents, powerless to resist the invader, watched a constant stream of aircraft flying in: C-130s, Fokker F-27s and F-28s and British-built BAC 1-11s. A skillful Argentine pilot even landed a fully-laden four-engine Boeing 707 on the small Stanley airstrip. By the end of April, the islands were bristling with defenses.

What really worried Simon Baldwin, the Flight Commander back in Waddington, were not the Tiger Cats but the Swiss Oerlikon cannon which could punch through a two-foot slab of steel and fire high-explosive shells 6,500 feet into the air. The Franco-German Roland radar-guided missiles were even more deadly.

Capable of supersonic speeds and accurate to 12,800 ft, they would leave a Vulcan dangerously vulnerable. Baldwin checked twice with Intelligence whether the ground-based Roland was deployed on the islands, and was told that it wasn't.

Intelligence was wrong.

Pilot training at Waddington continued day and night, while the engineers struggled to enhance the old bombers' capability and their chances of surviving. The Vulcan’s still looked beautiful, but inside the cockpit was a cramped, claustrophobic confusion of wires and pipes crafted from steel, canvas and Bakelite.

Uncomfortably cramped

In the small blister above the plane's nose where the pilot and co-pilot sat, it was uncomfortably cramped, with barely room to squeeze in between the two ejector seats. Behind them, four or five feet below and facing backwards, sat the radar, navigation and electronics officers at their chart tables. The light was provided by three dented reading lamps and two small, high portholes; the space smelled of sweat, leather and old metal.

On April 29, three Vulcan bombers took off for Ascension Island, so heavily y laden with fuel and cargo that they could hardly stagger into air. Ascension is leased by Britain to the U.S. which, in return, provides 'logistical support' - at that point it was overrun by British aircraft and servicemen, with hundreds more quartered on the Task Force flagship, the requisitioned liner Canberra offshore.

The following morning, Jerry Price, the senior RAF officer on Ascension Island, received the order for Operation Black Buck, the code name given to the mission to bomb Port Stanley airfield. Two more Victors arriving from England, completed the force: 14 tankers, representing more than half of the RAF's entire tanker fleet. He was going to need every one of them.

Together with his operations team, Price now laboured over the fiendishly complicated refueling plan - their only computer assistance a £3.99 pocket calculator bought at a market. The tankers would refuel each other, then the last tanker to refuel the Vulcan’s before their bombing run would then turn north to the rendezvous, where more Victors would be waiting to transfer enough fuel for the Vulcan’s to make it back to Ascension.

The crews all knew they were entering uncharted territory. If the mission succeeded, it would be the furthest bombing raid in history.

Before their night flight, few managed to sleep. The Vulcan radar officers carefully removed the safety pins from the 21 1,000lb bombs hanging in the bomb bays.

Among the security codes and the authentication codes were the 2
0two words Superfuse and Rhomboid. The first was to be transmitted if the bomb run was successful, the second if it failed. Whatever the outcome of Operation Black Buck, by the following morning Britain would be committed to war.

In case the Vulcan’s were shot down, the crew had to memorize the coordinates of remote safe houses on the Falklands where they would wait to be picked up: for three nights a Sea King helicopter would come looking for them. They were also handed bullets and pistols.

The men pulled on their flying suits and then eased into their tough rubber immersion suits, zipped front and back and sealed tight at the cuffs and neck. If they ditched in the South Atlantic without them, they would last three hours at most.

At 10.30 pm on April 30, the first aircraft fired up it s engines to full power. Followed by the other aircraft they hoisted their massive fuel loads into the sky.

Within minutes, the lead Vulcan was in trouble. The red pressure-warning light was on and a alarm sounded. One of the little portholes had come unstuck and could not be resealed. In the cabin, the temperature was dropping to minus 30 as the plane climbed towards 20,000 ft.

There was nothing to be done. Vulcan 598 had to return to base with its bitterly disappointed crew. The entire operation now depended on Martin Withers and his team in the second Vulcan, 607.

Then a tanker had to pull out. Of the 14 Victors on Ascension two had now failed and been replaced. A minimum of 10 Victors were needed to make the refueling plan work. If there was another failure, Price would have to abort the mission.

The crew of 607 went through their well rehearsed routines, checking through the walls of dials, and flickering needles that surrounded them. On the flight deck, Withers and Russell held 607' s place in the formation as they waited for the last two refueling operations to commence. Two of the final four tankers fueled each other and then the Vulcan in a 500 mph dance and left with just enough fuel to get home. Radar was switched off to avoid being detected by the enemy.

Further on, the last two tanker rest were busy fueling each other before giving the Vulcan the fuel it would need to return from its bombing mission when, at 40 degrees south, the convoy flew into the path of a raging electrical storm. The two Victors were thrown around and the fuel hose thrashed between them.

Suddenly with a loud crack the probe sheared off one of the tankers which was due to shepherd 607 to its last refueling. The tanker disengaged and was left with just enough fuel to get back to Ascension, leaving Bob Tuxford's tanker with rapidly diminishing fuel. He gave what he could to 607 and narrowly avoided ditching on the way back to Ascension.

Short of fuel

In the Vulcan, Withers was furious. They were already 37 minutes behind plan. But as Russell warned him to turn back, Withers consulted the others and made his decision. "We're short of fuel, but we've come this far," he told them. "I'm not turning back now." At 290 miles away from the target, 607 began a shallow descent towards Port Stanley.

Even now they could not be certain where they were. The in-flight navigation system gave two different compass readings.

The Radar Officer, Bob Wright, and the Navigator, Gordon Graham, had split the difference. If they were on course, the computer would respond with the information needed for Wright to get the bombs on target but only wh en the radar was switched on again - seconds before the planned drop.

Simon Baldwin in Waddington had worked out that the bomber should approach low to minimize its 'footprint' and then climb upwards to 8000 or 10,000 feet to try to stay clear of the "kill zone" of the Argentinian defenses before unleashing its weaponry.

As Vulcan 607 streaked towards her target, Graham called the mileage before the rapid climb, and Hugh Prior, the electronics officer, made sure that the chaff and decoy flares, which would be fired to draw enemy fire, and the American Dash 10 detection jammer were operational.

A radar contact appeared: 607 was dead on target. It was 4.30 in the morning, local time, when the Vulcan roared upwards, straight into view of the Argentine search radars. But the young radar operators were unperturbed. The bomber could only be one of theirs - this had not been a shooting war so far.

During th e few minutes it took the Argentinians to wake up to the fact that this was in fact an enemy aircraft, the Vulcan had soared to its

10,000 ft altitude and leveled off for the bomb run.

Its speed was 400 mph. From this moment the aircraft could not deviate, even if enemy radar was locked on them. At this height the runway would have been the size of a scratch of a fingernail on the map and the bomb run had to be precise to a few yards.

Two miles from the runway the first of the thousand-pounders fell away from the Vulcan's cavernous belly. When all 21 were away, Withers turned the Vulcan in a steep curve, in time for the crew to see a blossom of fire as the first bomb bored deep into the centre of the runway and detonated. Other blasts hit the airfield, gouging out massive chunks of its surface.

Vulcan 607 did, in fact, have enough fuel to make the rendezvous. It returned to Ascension Island and a heroes' welcome. The most ambitious sortie since World War II, had by the skin of its teeth been successful.

The damage destroyed any remaining hopes Argentine forces had of using the runway for their fast jets. Their entire Mirage fighter force had to be moved promptly back to the north of Argentina, and any jet cover during the coming British invasion would have to come from the mainland.

It shook Argentine morale to the core and provoked Galtieri's decision to order a naval offensive against the British Task Force, which had disastrous consequences for the Argentine Navy.

The V-bomber had been designed decades before to reach into the snowy wastes of Soviet Russia, but had never been used in anger. Their last outing, to a part of the world no one had dreamed they would visit, had finally justified these beauti ful aircraft.

The Falklands War lasted just 74 days. Though taken by surprise, Britain launched a task force to retake the islands and after conflict costing

255 British and 649 Argentinian deaths, the Union Jack was hoisted in Port Stanley on June 14.

by Christopher Hudson Daily Mail 26 May 2006