Category Archives: Air and Naval Weapons

Helicopter SOF Insertion/Extraction Among our Allies

The indispensable Thomas Wiegold’s Augen Geradeaus blog entertained and informed Tom’s readers in April with these two videos of helicopter operations. He promises more on rotary wing operations soon, but these two videos on a single theme deserve to be shared and discussed. We’ll go a little deeper than Wiegold does by comparing what we see in the videos to what we can say, publicly, about American practices.

First: Exercise Summer Shield in Latvia, featuring Canadians and others (including Yanks) fast-roping and extracting with a Latvian Mi-8 helicopter.

The Mi-8 is one of the best helicopters in the world, and far more capable than its US counterparts, the H-46, H-1 or H-60. Its rotor system is highly developed on the solid basis of Mikail Mil’s early copy of Igor Sikorsky’s fully-articulated rotor (which was, as demonstrated by a famous patent-law case, a copy of Pitcairn’s autogyro rotor-head), so it’s about as dependable as a helicopter gets. The engines will run on just about any grade of fuel you can get to burn, including home heating oil. Maintenance is simple (for a helicopter) and requires few bespoke tools. All in all, a great machine. (Even US SOF uses a few of them now and again).

The system they’re using appears identical to the American Fast Rope Insertion Extraction System. Developed by the USMC as a safer and higher-throughput system than the previous rappelling/STABO system used in Vietnam by SF and other long range patrol elements, it’s been begging to be unified with something like Rhodesian Fire Force / stop group tactics in counterinsurgency, but instead is used mostly in the context of reconnaissance and small combat or direct-action patrols.

For Latvia, employing the proven, on-hand Mil for special operations is a no-brainer.

Germany has taken a different approach, as this article, the title of which translates as “Tailor-made for a Moment of Surprise,” discusses at the official site The German SOF rotary-wing unit, Helicopter Wing 64 in Laupheim, operates two types: the new Airbus (formerly Eurocopter) H145M LUH SOF, suitable for most all-weather insertion and extraction missions, and the Sikorsky H-53 for missions that have a greater requirement in terms of range or lift. We couldn’t get that to embed here, so you’ve got to go there.


The H145M is particularly suited for urban operations and other uses where landing zones are restricted and is extremely maneuverable, thanks to its rigid rotor system (which Eurocopter inherited from the former Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blöhm designs). The rotor system also makes it immune to mast bumping, a bane of the teetering-rotor design that made some maneuvers in the Huey too dangerous to attempt.

The 64th Helo Wing flies for the two Bundeswehr SOF elements, the Kommando Spezialkräfte KSK and the naval version, KSM. “The Special Operations Forces are our customers, and we enable them to take the key terrain that they need,” one of the H145M pilots explains.

The Bundeswehr’s helicopters can handle a wide range of insertion and extraction methods, includin FRIES, rappelling, and parachute delivery. And so far, the KSK troops seem to like the new helicopters. They like the fact it doesn’t have a big transmission tower in the middle of the cabin, unlike the now-retired UH-1 aircraft; one KSK jumper was quoted as saying, “Naturally, it makes no difference to us which machine we jump out of, but one has to say that this one here is damned quiet and offers a lot of room.”

Mit dem Hubschrauber: Kanadische ‚Tactical Air Insertion‘, deutscher Spezialkräfte-Heli : Augen geradeaus.

History records that SOF units that have dedicated special operations helicopter support, that train and rehearse together, tend to outperform ad hoc lash-ups of shooters and flyers. It was the failure of such a task-organized chimera in 1980 that led to the foundation of the United States’ dedicated SOF helicopter capability. (The lesson of dedicated SOF helicopters had been learned in Vietnam, and lost afterward; one of the most effective SOF helicopter units of the Vietnam War was the RVNAF 219th Squadron, generally known by its call sign, the Kingbees.

Finally, the military helicopter Puma and Super Puma that came from French designs through the international Eurocopter, then as Airbus helicopters, are widely used in Europe’s North Sea oil fields as offshore transports. After an accident with a Eurocopter 225LP on 29 April, Norway and Britain have forbidden offshore operators from using the machines, although they can still use them for search and rescue. The Norwegian civil aviation authority’s statement is here; a Guardian story suggests that the rotor blades departed the aircraft in flight, causing an uncontrolled descent to the sea and killing the 13 souls on board. Airplanes, generally, are eager to fly, which is why heavy winds wreak havoc on parked ones. Helicopters? They’re eager to do that to you.

The Konduz Report

This AC-130 time exposure was shot over Iraq, but it's pretty typical. The tracers are a psychological weapon.

This AC-130 time exposure was shot over Iraq, but it’s pretty typical. The tracers are a psychological weapon.

The US military has finished its investigation into the attack on the Konduz Trauma Center operated by Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in  the early hours (local) of 3 October 2015.

The story of the attack is as simple as it is banal: the guys on the ground and the guys in the air miscommunicated, and the ground guys identified the wrong building to the air guys, who then destroyed it, as requested. But the identified target wasn’t the compound full of Talban; it was the NGO’s hospital.

On Sep. 30, 2015, Sep. Afghan forces and a small element of US Special Forces attempted to re-take the City of Kunduz, which had been seized by the Taliban. The US and Afghan forces established a small base on an Afghan Police compound in Kunduz and repelled several Taliban attacks between Sep. 30 and Oct. 2. The US Special Forces element on the ground had been engaged in heavy fighting for nearly five consecutive days and nights at the time of the airstrike on Oct. 3.

On the night of Oct. 2, 2015, the Afghan forces decided to attack an insurgent-controlled site, and requested air support from the US Special Forces element on the ground. An AC-130U Gunship was directed to provide the requested support. The AC-130 launched from its airfield in Afghanistan 69 minutes earlier than the crew had originally planned due to an emergency call, so they did not get all the information they would normally have received before a mission. While en route to Kunduz, one of the AC-130’s critical communications systems failed, resulting in an inability to receive updates from and transmit information to multiple command headquarters. Additionally, after arriving in the operating area, due to significant threats to aircraft in Kunduz, the AC-130 took defensive measures that degraded its ability to locate ground targets. These factors all contributed to the incident.

It looks like it has a lot of sensors, but... GIGO.

It looks like it has a lot of sensors, but… GIGO.

When the aircrew arrived near Kunduz in the early morning on Oct. 3, 2015, they attempted to locate the Taliban-controlled target site. The Afghan forces provided the correct grid coordinates for the target site to the U.S. Special Forces commander on the ground, who then relayed them to the aircrew through a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC). Due to distance of the aircraft from the location at issue, the aircrew was initially unable to locate the target structure. When the grid coordinates were entered, the system directed the aircrew to an open field. The aircrew then attempted to visually identify the target structure based on a description relayed from the Afghan forces through the JTAC.

Based on this discussion over communications systems, the aircrew identified a structure that they believed to be the Taliban-controlled target structure, but was actually the MSF Trauma Center. Before the engagement, one aircrew member, the TV Sensor Operator, identified the correct structure as possibly fitting the described target. However, following several attempts to clarify which structure was the actual target requested by the Ground Force Commander and the JTAC, the aircraft’s weapons systems were redirected to the originally viewed structure (MSF Trauma Center).  The MSF Trauma Center generally  matched the general physical description of the Taliban-controlled target structure which was approximately 400 meters away.

The MSF hospital in Konduz burns.

The MSF hospital in Konduz burns.

The investigation identified several human errors by the aircrew and ground personnel that contributed to this tragic incident, including poor communication, coordination, and situational awareness.  The investigation confirmed that MSF officials provided the correct  grid coordinates for the MSF Trauma Center to several U.S. government officials and that the location was properly entered on the U.S. military’s “No Strike List” database, but that the aircrew did not have ready access to this database during the strike.  The investigation also concluded that the MSF Trauma Center did not have an internationally-recognized symbol to identify it as a medical facility, such as a Red Cross or Red Crescent that was readily visible to the aircrew at night.  Throughout the couse of the engagement, all members of the ground force and the aircrew were unaware the aircrew was firing on a medical facility and mistakenly believed that it was firing on the intended target, an insurgent-controlled structure approximately 400 meters away from the MSF Trauma Center.

At approximately 2:08 a.m. local time on Oct 3, 2015, the aircrew began firing on the MSF Trauma Center under the mistaken belief that it was the Taliban-controlled target compound.  Starting at approximately 2:19 a.m. MSF personnel notified several US government representatives that the MSF Trauma Center was being engaged.  Due to the fighting around Kunduz, it was initially unclear who was engaging the MSF Trauma Center. Following a series of relayed messages through multiple echelons of command, the U.S. Special Forces commander on the ground eventually realized that the AC-130 was engaging the MSF Trauma Center – not the Taliban-controlled structure the crew believed it was engaging – and halted the strike at approximately 2:38 a.m.  The investigation determined that the steps taken by several U.S. military personnel during this period were inadequate.  The investigation found that the airstrike resulted in at least 30 deaths and 37 injuries at the MSF Trauma Center.  Since the investigation was completed, MSF has increased the number of reported casualties to 42 deaths and 229 other claims.  The US Government has relied primarily upon MSF for casualty estimates, and these numbers have not been independently verified.

That pretty much wraps the factual summary of the report. To state the conclusions in the more direct terminology used by, say, NTSB:

  1. The mishap was indeed an accident, not a crime.
  2. The probable cause of the accident was the USAF AC-130’s misidentification of the MSF Trauma Center as a nearby enemy-held structure.
  3. The attack continued for 11 minutes before MSF contacted US HQs and concluded after 19 more minutes when the USSF commander on the ground finally realized the AC was striking the wrong building.
  4. Contributing factors included:
    1. System failures on the AC-130;
    2. Procedural shortcuts, ditto;
    3. Delays at US headquarters, caused in part by the ponderous nature of those HQs;
    4. Lack of a night-vision-readable protective marking on the hospital (we doubt the US has advised MSF and other protected-structure owners how to mark their structures so that the markings are visible in NV or thermal observation devices, so this is less an indictment of MSF than it appears).

There are numerous other small cock-ups — the whole paper trail is hundreds of pages long — that could be added to the list, but those are the big ones.

The whole thing might have been forestalled, or at least stopped sooner with less loss of life, had the USSF been further forward, but that would violate ROE dictated from Washington and designed solely with a view to domestic politics.

These conclusions are unlikely to satisfy those howling for scalps, so 16 scalps have been provided for their education and recreation.

It is notable that the Afghan National Forces, who often take a savage briefing in the Beltway press, do not seem to have committed any of the significant errors. Unlike in the last Battle of Konduz, in 2001, neither the Taliban nor the Afghan National Forces, appear to have included significant numbers of Konduz natives, yet the Afghan Army provided the correct grid coordinates to the USSF element and their JTAC. The JTAC committed several procedural errors (for which he has been decertified), but provided the correct grids to the orbiting AC-130. The AC crew, not for the first time with this airframe, had screwed their navigation systems up to the  point where they decided to disregard them completely and work by eyeball. (That exact same thing was a significant factor in the last AC-130 botched strike we’re aware of, in 2002. We are certain that the AC crew studied that attack, but in the heat of combat did not recognize that they were falling into the same pattern that the 2002 mishap crew did).

Law-ScaleAndHammerMost of the press focus has been on the scalp counting, briefly described here:

The investigation identified 16 U.S. service members whose conduct warranted consideration for appropriate administrative or disciplinary action.  The Commander of US Forces-Afghanistan concluded that certain personnel failed to comply with the law of armed conflict and rules of engagement.  However, he did not conclude that these failures amounted to a war crime.  The label “war crimes” is typically reserved for intentional acts — intentionally targeting civilians or intentionally targeting protected objects.

The comprehensive investigation concluded that this tragic incident was caused by a combination of human errors, compounded by process and equipment failures.  The investigation found that this combination of factors caused both the Ground Force Commander and the air crew to believe mistakenly that the air crew was firing on the intended target, which was an insurgent-controlled site approximately 400 meters away  from the MSF Trauma Center.

Just as an aside, we’d note that the same analysis of culpability probably applies to the Russian Army shootdown of an airliner over the Ukraine. It wasn’t a war crime, just a tragic screwup. But the difference between the two nations’ responses is interesting. Can you download the Russian internal report, even with redactions? Did they accept any blame and pay any compensation? Rhetorical questions.

One of the real underlying problems here is the limits of back-up inertial navigation on airborne systems. It was cutting edge technology in 1966, and was, and is, good enough to get a nuclear missile to minute-of-city accuracy. Given modern solid-state accelerometers, it should be a lot better. But the irreducible problem with INS is that it’s vitally dependent on starting at an accurate known starting point. GIGO is in effect here.

Another contributing factor is certainly the five days of unrelieved combat the ground forces had been in at the time. This is caused, partly, by the drawdown and by ROE that prioritize the appearance of operations over the reality of operations.

Unfortunately, included in the hundreds of pages of recommendations is more procedure-lock, more lawyer supremacy, more bureausclerosis of all kinds.

It’s classic US Military response to a disaster: do more of what caused it.

We struck out trying to find a releasable, selectable-text version of the document on a public-facing website. This document at cryptome appears identical; we OCRd an executive summary for discussion here. If time permits, which at the moment it doesn’t, we suspect we’d find a lot more of interest in these 727 pages. (To be sure, probably 600 of those pages are almost blank military forms, or content-free boilerplate, but we haven’t got time to sort out the sheep from the goats right now).

Japan Tests X-2 Stealth Jet While Buying F-35s

At first glance, the X-2 Shinshin looks like a jet of the F-“teen” generation, but on closer inspection the hard chines and crafted angles of a stealth airframe are apparent. From the Daily Mail:

Japan F-2

The jet took to the air for the first time in its seven-year development cycle just last week. Its prime contractor is a name that resonates in Japanese aviation, Mitsubishi.

The Japan Air Self Defense Force has an urgent need to update its airframes to match the nation’s first-class airmen and electronics — not to mention, to keep pace with regional competitors.

Japan’s first stealth fighter jet has successfully taken to the skies as the country joins a select group of world military powers wielding the radar-dodging technology.

The X-2 jet took off from Nagoya airport in central Japan on its maiden test flight as dozens of aviation enthusiasts watching the event erupted in applause as it lifted off.

The single-pilot prototype safely landed at Gifu air base, north of Nagoya airport, after a 25-minute flight with ‘no particular problems,’ said an official at the defence ministry’s acquisition agency.

via Japan’s X-2 stealth fighter jet completes its maiden flight with ‘no particular problems’ | Daily Mail Online.

Many Japanese squadrons still fly upgraded F-4EJ “Kai” (“Improved”) fighters, an airframe that first took to the air in 1955.


The US last deployed F-4G Wild Weasels in the Gulf War, and immediately thereafter began expending its F-4 fleet as QF-4 target drones. Other Japanese types include F-15s (which are manufactured locally) and the domestic F-2, which is a ringer for the F-16 but is larger in most dimensions in order to have more Pacific-suitable range.

JASDF AIR_F-2_Armed_AA-3s_lg

The F-2 order was capped at 94 airframes, and 18 of them were destroyed in the March 2011 tsunami.

The Japanese wanted to purchase the F-22 Raptor, but the pro-China tilt of the foreign policy establishment managed to prevent transfer of this effective aircraft to the island nation. This leaves the JASDF stuck with the F-35 — with costs rapidly blowing past what might have been spent on the F-22, but far less capability. However, Japanese officers are confident that this aircraft will meet their needs, and plan to buy 42, of which the first handful are under construction. After the four pilot aircraft are built in the USA, the remaining 38 will be constructed in Nagoya, Japan.

Japan F-35


The Chinese have tested a number of stealth designs (Chengdu J-20 below) but there is no visibility on combat readiness or operationalization of these prototypes.

Chinese AIR_J-20_1st_Flight_Underside_lg

For their part, Chinese analysts seem to think that their own plane is superior.

At this time, the X-2 is only a technology demonstrator and experimental aircraft, and is not envisioned as a prototype for a warplane. For that aircraft, known to the JASDF as the F-3, the conceptual design phase seems to still be ongoing.

However, even if the X-2 fails to make any of its milestones, it has done something that neither Russian, nor Chinese, nor American designers have done: make a plane that combines attention to low observability technology and just plain eye appeal.

Home, on a Wing and a Prayer

Ignore the childish video-game splash screen. This video shows an SA-6 hit that an A-10 took and kept on booking, bringing the pilot — and the plane — home.

Supposedly, the plane wasn’t even written off after this but restored to combat status. That doesn’t seem possible, looking at that shredded starboard wing. But in fact, it’s true. A decade later, pilot and plane were reunited at the 75th Fighter Squadron when Paul “PJ” Johnson took command of the unit. The story also mentions something that the video doesn’t — Johnson was awarded the Air Force Cross for this flight.

Johnson had a great line:

the 20-year-old A-10s “may no longer be cutting-edge technology, but they still are cutting-edge airpower.”

Of course that was 15 years ago, but it’s still true.

Here’s a great site on the work of the unsung repair crews and their efforts to bring shot-up Warthogs back on the flight line. (One, with 300 holes in it, was flying combat missions again in 7 days):


The Floggings Will Continue…

plea for flogging“..until morale improves.” But the US Navy eliminated one of the three legs of the Royal Navy triune tradition, as described by Churchill, flogging, in the 19th Century. As the Navy more than any other service takes pride in a reputation for centuries of high tradition untainted by low progress, this change was not without its opponents. One of them penned a jeremiad, A Plea in Favor of Maintaining Flogging in the Navy, which was printed and circulated as a pamphlet, a copy of which is in the Naval History and Heritage Command archive, bearing two Navy Department Library stamps (2 Jan 1884 and 3 Jul 1885). A handwritten note admits “date and authorship unknown.” The whole thing is reproduced at but we’ll share a couple of excerpts. The intro:

As at the present time a great effort is being made to abolish the law which authorizes flogging in the Navy as one method of punishment, a member of that service desires to express his views upon the subject.

The Navy is the armed police of the country upon the ocean; its purposes are warlike, and its service is that of emergencies, whilst its duties are always rendered precarious by the nature of the element upon which it exists. It is maintained by the Nation, for the protection of its commerce upon the high seas, and in those countries of the globe, whose laws are unequal to as sure the safety of vessels visiting their ports. Thus, the guns of numerous cruizers, keep the ocean a secure highway for traders; and the presence of a man of war, in distant and half civilized ports, is almost the only surety the merchant possesses for the undisturbed prosecution of his business. The ultimate use of the Navy, is of course, as a means of offence and defence afloat in the event of a war.

One wonders what this 19th Century naval officer might think of Ray Mabus and today’s political admirals. There seems to be no one in a high position of authority that understands, of the Navy, that “its purposes are warlike.”

To prepare ships of war, for the services that may be desired of them, at any moment, they are carefully provided with heavy armaments, comprising the most improved inventions for the whole sale destruction of human life; and they are thronged with men, who are more zealously taught to wield these instruments of death, than they ever were to fear God and obey his commandments.

That certainly has not changed in the rough sequicentury since. What else hasn’t changed?

[T]here is always, in every ship, a knot of abandoned and incorrigible vagabonds, sweepings of the jails and streets, the outcasts of the shore, who herd with the vicious portion of the seamen, and form a turbulent and unruly gang; setting at defiance all moderate attempts to govern them, and having the fixed purpose, so far as in them lies, of shirking duty and of over turning decency, order and law on board.

Hmmm. Maybe that has. One suspects our circa 1840-80 officer would find today’s officers congenial companions, but be quite taken aback by the relative reduction of that fraction of the enlisted crew.

The crew cannot be set to work in solitary cells, neither can they labor in apartments common to those of a certain trade, and be shut up alone for the night. They are not all rogues, and cannot be treated as such; and if they were, the penitentiary system is totally opposed to the duties, and inapplicable to the necessarily gregarious habits of ship board, and to the contracted limits between the decks.

And that brings him to…

It is not contended that flogging on the bare back, with the cat-o’-nine tails, should be the sole and the universal method of punishment on ship board: far from it. An infinite variety of milder forms answers perfectly for the generality of offenders. But there are occasions when such an appeal is necessary, to prevent the spreading of disaffection, which, under milder and more remote measures would disorganize a ship; there are, and ever will be, cases that nothing but the lash will reach, and occasionally, some hardened reprobates who care not for the pain and degradation of the lash, until its repetition, combined with other extremes, brings even them into subjection.

Lenient schemes are of no avail with such characters, and reprimand and persuasion are but mockeries. It is only by carrying into effect the severities of the law, and by having the support of the well-disposed of the crew on such occasions, that order is preserved.

Do Read The Whole Thing™. There are many lessons here, so many we can’t put our fingers on them all. He goes in to some depth about why a system of seeking higher quality volunteers would never work, and yet, since 1972, with some glitches here and there, it has worked. On the other hand, he’s quite right that human nature has not changed. What the Navy did was become more selective about its sailors, a selectivity made possible, perhaps, by automation and improved shipbuilding materials changing what the Navy needed in a sailor from the physical toughs of the 19th Century to the highly skilled enlisted specialists the service needs today.

Incidentally, one of the things the author thought crewmen well flogged for was, “to commit filthy nuisances in improper places,” which is now, in 2016, the only right that the current Secretary of the Navy would extend to them.

This Day in 1918: The Death of Richthofen

98 years ago today, the highest-scoring ace and one of the most intriguing figures in the Great War perished after a long morning of gunfighting in the sky. We refer, of course, to Manfred v. Richthofen, known as “The Red Knight” to his German public, and “The Red Baron” to the rest of the world. This video is a computer rendering of Richthofen’s last flight, insofar as can be ascertained.

Richthofen’s mount, the Fokker Dr.I triplane, was dominant (thanks to its staggering rate of climb, primarily) when first introduced, but a year in the air war was an eternity, and the Sopwith Camels of the Royal Air Force were its superior. Richthofen had also flown the Albatros; he would not live to fly the best fighter of  the war, the Fokker D.VII.

There is a rather glaring small arms error in the generally correct video. How many of you will spot it?

When All Marines are Mud Marines

USMC EGA eagle globe and anchorThat day is rapidly approaching when the Marines’ fabled “Every Marine a Rifleman, uh, Rifle Entity” slogan will be literally true: when the last few flyable Marine jets and helicopters join the 70% that are already down for maintenance and lack of spare parts.

In some cases, like the non-Super F/A-18s, spare airframe parts have not been made in such a long period of time that Marines have to raid museums for them.

Sometimes it takes the Marines 18 months to get parts for early model F-18 jets whose production was halted in 2001.

“We are an operational squadron. We are supposed to be flying jets, not building them,” said Lt. Col. Harry Thomas, Commanding Officer of VMFA-312.

But hey, the Marine-hating Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, has a plan. He’s going to replace the parts, and the 30,000 Marines that he’s dumped, who otherwise might have installed them, with genuine fabulous fairy dust, thanks to his laserlike focus on transgender toilets for all.

It’s not like cutting corners has real consequences, eh?

Lt. Col Harry Thomas, call sign “Crash,” deployed to the Pacific with 10 jets last year. Only seven made it. A fuel leak caused his F/A-18 to catch fire in Guam. Instead of ejecting, he landed safely, saving taxpayers $29 million.

You know, if Thomas flew an operational mission and lost three of his jets, Mabus would have him canned. If he loses three jets because Mabus diverted O&M funds into social engineering, well, crickets then, and how do you like your fierce new tranny cans?

But hey, that was the low point, right, 7 of 10 jets operational. Just about anywhere, 70% is passing, and Ray Mabus grades on a curve so it’s an A…

But that wasn’t the low point:

Right now only two of his 14 Hornets can fly. His Marines deploy in three months.

“We are supposed to be doing the type of maintenance like you would take your car to Jiffy Lube for replacing fluids, doing minor inspections, changing tires, things of that nature, not building airplanes from the ground up,” he added.

Marine jet pilots are down to 4 hours a month, less than Chinese or Russian peers and down from 25-30 hours in the air BM, which seems like a suitable acronym for Before Mabus.

What they’re doing with the spare time is unclear, but odds are it’s attending SHARP briefings or working on flash cards of the fifty-odd Genders-with-a-capital-G that Mabus’s Navy considers superior to the ancient Cismale Heteronormative Patriarchy.

The latest Beltway Brainstorm is just to keep flying 1980s- and 90s-vintage F/A-18s, already committed to fly 2,000 hours beyond their design life of 6,000 hours, to 10,000 hours or more.

And the Marines’ helicopters? Apart from a baker’s dozen tiltrotor squadrons, which finally allowed the retirement of the last LBJ-era CH-46s last year, they operate patched and bandaged 1970s versions of  Vietnam War types.


Cool, Your Jets

Well, actually, anybody’s jets are cool. There’s a great post on the history of the jet engine at The Arts Mechanical, including this ~45 minute History TV video.

The video is a great overview of early jet development. (Our favorite bit is Irv Culver’s practical approach to prototyping, as recounted by a junior engineer. You’ll see what we mean). The video oversimplifies the MiG-15/F-86 performance comparison, but it’s good.

Rare video of Heinkel and Caproni-Campini experimental jets is shown. (No reference to Coanda’s 1911 experiments, but you can’t have everything in 44 minutes).

The whole post, though, is a treasure trove of more information on jet development. Check out all the videos and links!

Towards the end of his post, he wonders why GE was chosen to develop the Whittle in their (now, largely abandoned) Lynn, Massachusetts plant. That question we can answer: GE was the major maker of turbosuperchargers, which we now call turbochargers, for American aircraft use. (The video addresses the turbo ancestry of jet engines, a little). Turbos were used to boost power at all altitudes, but also to “normalize” an engine, allowing the engine to produce its rated horsepower even in thin stratospheric air. (There would still be losses to the low air density, because the propeller would move fewer air molecules. Can’t supercharge that). And turbochargers require the same kind of precision manufacture of turbine wheels, bearings and ducts, and the same kind of high-temperature materials, required by turbojets. Turbocharger ancestry is particularly evident in early, centrifugal-flow turbojets.

The Lynn plant may be slowly decaying, but GE is still at the top of the turbine game. This article at MIT Technology Review describes a novel, more efficient, pressurized turbo-generator.

The Problem of Busting Bombers

This B-17 made it home to England with pilot Allen Lewis still aboard. He had his crew bail out.. they all made it back to friendly lines.

This B-17G made it home to England with pilot Allyn Lewis still aboard. He had his crew bail out.. they all made it back to friendly lines. Source.

In World War II, the Giulio Douhet-inspired saying, “The bomber will always get through,” was on every set of lips in the command structure of the British and American bomber elements. What they didn’t say out loud was, “If you start off with enough bombers to saturate the defenses, and steel yourself to some staggering losses.”

Quite a few B-17s lost their noses (usually to flak, sometimes to fighters or bombs from another bomber overhead) and kept flying.

Quite a few B-17s lost their noses (usually to flak, sometimes to fighters or bombs from another bomber overhead) and kept flying.

RAF Bomber Command and the 8th Air Force did indeed take some staggering losses. The 8th had it relatively easy compared to their British cousins — and there were more killed in the 8th than in the whole United States Marine Corps in World War II. Yeah, all those bloodbaths on all those islands? The 8th got creamed worse than that. But just about always, they got through, and bombed, if not the intended target, something belonging to Jerry.

But losing the tail meant losing control. The crew had seconds only to abandon ship. None of the ten men on this B-17 did.

But losing the tail meant losing control. The crew had seconds only to abandon ship. None of the ten men on this B-17 were able to, and they joined the 8ths long honor roll.

The Germans threw everything they had at the bomber offensive, although it took them a while to get serious about it. By “everything” we mean:

  • single-engine and heavily-armed twin-engine day and night fighters, armed with a range of guns, cannons and rockets;
  • the most saturated gun air defenses the world has ever seen, with guns from light machine cannon of 20mm up to big bruisers of 105 and 128 mm (or as the German nomenclature ran, 10,5 and 12,8 cm), fighters and guns alike; all controlled by,
  • a radar and radio control network of a sophistication unequaled until the development of NORAD and SAGE in the 1950s; and finally,
  • jet and rocket planes, and developmental air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles, too late to do the Germans any good but in plenty of time to give Russian and American aeronautical engineers (and even British aeronautical engineers, which were still a world-class thing in 1945) lots of good ideas for the next arms race.

For an 8,8 cm or 10,5 cm Flakanone, or a battery, battalion or great veritable screaming forest of the guns, destroying the plane was relatively assured — hitting it, that was the hard part. The fighter drivers had the opposite problem — they could hit Lancasters, B-24s or B-17s, but more often than not they’d blow all their ammo into (or at least in the direction of) their targets, and watch the stately bombers fly on to rain death and destruction on German industries and cities. A plane couldn’t carry a bomber-busting 88, or even a 75 (they tried, with a recoilless 75. It was more trouble than it was worth). So they decided to try to teach the fighter pilot to kill, not just hit, the enemy.

"If a Fortress begins to suffer, don't yet dream of victory palms. Keep shooting! Many have come to regret celebrating too soon."

“If a Fortress begins to suffer, don’t yet dream of victory palms. Keep shooting! Many have come to regret celebrating too soon.”

horrido_schiessfibelThe mechanism for this instruction: a mock-grade-school primer, like the ones we’ve already seen for German tanks. Horrido, the Fighter’s Shooting Primer, had a cover graced with a cartoon of a smiling German FW-190 jock zeroing in on a doomed Russian in a Lavochkin. The cartoonist signed “Trautloft,” which makes us wonder if it was Luftwaffe ace Johannes Trautloft. (The internal illustrations and cartoons were done by Berlin commercial artist Thomas Abeking, a second-generation first-call illustrator for German industry at the time). The Fibel, published 23 June 1944 as Dienstvorschrift (Luft) 5001, was a tactical guide, complete with a warning: “Do Not Bring on Combat Flights!” lest the tactics, techniques and procedures inside be captured by the enemy.

Sight picture drill, using a woman.. "get closer"... then in the last image, she's homely: "Break away!" Lower, a B17. Using the wingspan to estimate distance..600m "closer in!".. 300m "open fire, still closer in"... 150m "keep shooting!"

Sight picture drill, using a woman.. “get closer”… then in the last image, she’s homely: “Break away!”
Lower, a B17. Using the wingspan to estimate distance..600m “closer in!”.. 300m “open fire, still closer in”… 150m “keep shooting!”

Written in a familiar tone with lots of cartoons, the principal parts of the book were a general discussion of air combat ballistics and marksmanship; a specific overview of the fire control systems and switchology of the two most numerous day fighters, the Me109G-6 and the Fw190A-6; and hortatory, motivational content.

Instead of a lot of instruction in air combat maneuvering, this is all about how to get hits, and enough hits to justify risking your neck approaching a formation of day bombers. The biggest “secret,” something every fighter ace had stressed since Boelcke’s Dicta of 1916: get close, don’t miss.

Closer in is 9 times more effective. "At this distance, don't shoot! Save ammo, it's very expensive." "And it's also embarrasing when one gets there" (200m) "and would really like to, but can't any more." The pilot's looking at an empty round-counter at right.

Closer in is 9 times more effective. “At this distance, don’t shoot! Save ammo, it’s very expensive.” “And it’s also embarrasing when one gets there” (200m) “and would really like to, but can’t any more.” The pilot’s looking at an empty round-counter at right.

The problem with any manual, even one as informal as this, is that tactics constantly evolve in an environment of enemy contact. This had happened with fighter tactics with, for example, the frontal attack, not discussed in the booklet, proving devastating against the F-model and earlier B-17s, which could only bring two to three guns to bear forward. The advent of the G-model with its remote-controlled chin turret , and the B-24J equipped with a full, manned gun turret in the nose, raised the risk of the frontal attack. German fighters quickly adapted to the new risk profile, changing to a preferential use of multidirectional attacks.

Note also that the mini-manual is aimed only at the individual junior pilot. There is absolutely nothing here about organizing or leading fighter combat, or operational unit tactics, something to which squadron leaders and higher officers gave much thought and discussion. It’s beyond the scope of this small attempt to increase the efficiency of the air defense of the Reich.

"What good is all the bullet spraying, if they're only hitting the general area?"

“What good is all the bullet spraying, if they’re only hitting the general area?”

As the Schießfibel was not published into a vacuum, but into a constantly changing tactical and operational environment, the historian’s question, borrowed from Mark Rylance’s character Rudolf Abel in Bridge of Spies, “Did it help?” can’t be quantified, or even, really, answered. So we have to answer the question of its effectiveness with an unsatisfying, inconclusive shrug. We don’t know if it did any good. We know it didn’t win the war for Nazi Germany, but by the Summer of 1944 nothing would have done Nazi Germany any good, with the possible exception of overthrowing Hitler.

Here’s a .pdf version of the Fibel for your enjoyment. We are hosting it here to spare them the bandwidth, but we found it on this Czech war-history site.

Horrido Jagers Schiessfibel.pdf


“One Last Word!” — For German Fighter Pilots, 1944

In 1944, the Germans published a breezy, cartoon-filled booklet for fighter pilots flying against hard-to-kill four-engined bombers in defense of the Reich, attempting to get the word out to that most un-bookish type. Even the title was calculated to appeal to the devil-may-care fighter jock: “Horrido! Jaegers Schießfibel” used the Luftwaffe victory exclamation, “Horrido!” (adopted from German’s remarkable 5,000-word “hunter’s language”; supposedly a prayer to the apocryphal St. Horridus, patron of hunters, and therefore the fighter arm), and presented itself as a “Fighter pilot’s” (which in German is the same word as “Hunter’s”) “primer.”


It began, and ended, on a marksmanship theme, and with a card-players’s analogy:

Hits are Trumps!

… And closed with “One Last Word!” — like an Apple keynote address, in the Steve Jobs era. (Not suggesting Jobs was a Nazi fighter pilot; just that showmanship and the arts of persuasion are eternal). Our translation of that last word, from page 34 of Horrido, is:

When you, with your combat ready machine roar through the sky, you are the lord of over 1200 hp and over the destructive effect of 60 to 80 shots per second. What sole combatant in the world has ever had at his disposal such concentrated combat power?

–None! Be proud of that!

But the Homeland has expended many thousands of hours of work, and exhausting overtime hours, in order to put such an outstanding weapon in your hands. She trusts you to employ it courageously and effectively!

Your machine has only a few seconds to be effective in aerial combat. In these seconds you have to get everything – everything, without exception – out of it. If you don’t fire accurately then, all the labor, effort and sweat of the homeland is in vain — and the enemy triumphs.

For that reason, recognize the errors you make, and drill them out by diligent practice. Hits are Trumps!

That was followed by this cartoon on p. 35, the last printed page in the document.



No one else feels like the hunter does;
Battle and victory so concentrated;
That makes us happy, proud, and glad;
Hunting, to… Horrido!

The meaning of Horrido! in this case, Victory or a Trophy.