March 12, 2013
Turn 40 professional “freerunners” loose in an airplane boneyard, start the cameras rolling, and here’s what you get.
The video, organized by Tempest Freerunning in Los Angeles, was shot over two days in February, at the boneyard near the Mojave Air & Space Port. The result looks like a mashup of Lost and the Step Up movies.
February 4, 2013
The aviation inspection checklist seems to go on forever. There are more than 40 items to evaluate on the catapult list alone. Add another 39 for the arresting gear systems, and you still won’t have completed even one page of the nine-page spreadsheet. But it’s all in a day’s work for members of the Inspection and Survey team, who inspect all of the U.S. Navy’s ships and reports on their readiness. The system was put in place by Congress 130 years ago, and last month the U.S. Navy announced major changes to its ship inspection program.
Ships used to be inspected every five years; now they’ll be evaluated every 30 months. The inspections are critical: In the past, reports the Navy Times, commanding officers have been relieved of duty if their ship failed to pass. In 2010, the cruiser Philippine Sea and the frigate Nicholas failed inspection. In 2011, the cruiser Mobile Bay failed; Rear Admiral Rob Wray, president of the Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) noted “severe problems with engines, missiles, guns, links, comms and aviation.”
We asked Captain Kris Croeber, director of external operations on the Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) to explain how inspectors—the Board has around 60 of them—evaluate a ship. Croeber, who has been an INSURV inspector for three years, spoke to us by email last month.
A&S: How long is the training, and what does it consist of?
Croeber: The most important part of the training of an INSURV inspector is the years of maintenance and operational experience a member brings to the board; our inspectors arrive at the board with an average of over 20 years of experience. The training for a newly reported inspector includes required reading (instructions, references, and navy technical standards) and several under instruction (UI) inspections: this is on-the-job training that includes pairing up with a qualified inspector. The average training time is 3 months, but that depends on the experience the member arrives with and how long it takes the new member to gain the required proficiency.
A&S: How long does an inspection take, and how many inspectors evaluate each ship?
Croeber: A typical inspection will take 5 work days and is completed by a team of 15 to 25 uniformed inspectors and approximately 40 technical assistants (depending on the ship size and installed systems); a CVN [nuclear aircraft carrier] or LHD/LHA [amphibious assault ships] will be about double that. Inspectors with qualifications and experience in each particular area of a ship will inspect their portion and a qualified senior inspector (a captain with significant experience at sea) will compile all the data from the individual functional areas and pull it all together.
A&S: When you inspect an aircraft carrier, what are you looking for on the flight deck, the hangar bay, etc.?
Croeber: We inspect all installed equipment aboard the ship. For an aircraft carrier, we are not just inspecting the aviation aspects. Everything from propulsion to habitability to combat systems is inspected. From an aviation aspect, the operation and material condition of everything on the flight deck and hangar bay (catapults, arresting gear, visual landing aides, fuel systems, firefighting, electrical power, elevators, etc.) must support uninhibited flight operations. The crew operates their equipment to demonstrate it based on standard operating procedures…. We observe as the crew conducts the equipment checks.
A&S: How many inspections do you complete in a year?
Croeber: Each inspector completes an average of approximately 20 inspections a year.
A&S: What’s the most difficult part of the job?
Croeber: Telling a ship’s crew that even though they have worked hard, certain systems or equipment do not meet the Navy’s material readiness standards. We have to give the crew and their chain of command the unvarnished truth, but sometimes that can be unpleasant. On the other hand, in the pursuit of determining the unvarnished truth, there are many instances that we are able to help the inspected ship. For example, by noting issues that pertain to Integrated Logistics Support, or other issues, the ship can then use this information to more easily correct the equipment that is not performing to standards.
A&S: What’s the most rewarding aspect?
Croeber: The opportunity to share my knowledge and experience of a 27-year career with young sailors to help them do their jobs better and prepare their ship for combat.
December 18, 2012
When World War II broke out, Britain was gripped by “Fifth Column Neurosis,” an almost universal belief that the country was riddled with enemy spies, not all of them human. Ben MacIntyre writes in the wonderful Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies (Crown, 2012), “When six cows stampeded on the tiny island of Eilean Mor in the Scottish Hebrides, this was immediately ascribed to secret enemy activity. That the spies were invisible was merely proof of how fiendishly clever they were at disguising themselves. Even pigeons were suspect, since it was widely believed that enemy agents had secret caches of homing pigeons around the country that they used to send messages back to Germany.”
Pigeon paranoia was actually a logical response. More than 100,000 pigeons flew missions in World War I, including the heroic Cher Ami, a Black Check cock carrier pigeon, part of the U.S. Army Signal Corps in France. Cher Ami delivered 12 important messages within the American sector at Verdun. On his last mission, on October 4, 1918, he was shot through the breast and leg, but still managed to deliver his message—which saved 194 troops of Major Charles S. Whittlesey’s “Lost Battalion.”
During World War II, some 250,000 pigeons were deployed by the British, part of a special section of MI5 headed by Flight Lieutenant Richard Melville Walker. Walker was convinced, says author MacIntyre, “that Nazi pigeons were…pouring into Britain, by parachute, high-speed motor launch, and by U-boat.” The anti-avian frenzy was so extreme that “Some experts claimed to be able to identify a pigeon with a German ‘accent.’ ”
“Animal-based espionage and sabotage was all the rage among Allied plotters,” explains MacIntyre. British Special Operations Executive agents stuffed dead rats with explosives, while the Americans worked on a plan to attack Japan using Mexican bats carrying incendiaries. But Flight Lieutenant Walker, who “flourished in that gray area between ingenuity and insanity,” says MacIntyre, gets top honors for his Pigeon Contamination Plan.
Walker disguised hundreds of British pigeons as German pigeons (by decking them out with forged leg rings and counterfeit German wing markings), and sent them off to infiltrate and take down the German war machine from within. The plan was a bust, says MacIntyre: “The Germans never detected the double-agent pigeons in their midst.”
Avian spies are still among us. In May 2010, police in Punjab, India, arrested a pigeon believed to be spying for Pakistan. (The bird was kept under armed guard in a special air-conditioned room and refused visitors.) In January 2011, Saudi Arabian officials detained a vulture, stating it was an unwitting Mossad operative. And on December 10, 2012, Sudanese officials in the Darfur region of Sudan arrested a vulture, alleging it was on a surveillance mission for Israel. (The bird’s leg tag was marked “Israel Nature Service” and “Hebrew University, Jerusalem.”)
November 29, 2012
For 20 months during World War II, northern Italians were caught between the retreating Nazi front and invading Allied forces. As confusion reigned, one story circulated among civilians time and again: An elusive and unidentified airplane, nicknamed “Pippo,” was said to fly over northern Italy each night—solo—sometimes strafing and bombing the landscape, other times performing reconnaissance. In all of the accounts of Pippo found in newspapers, letters, diaries, and oral histories, not a single person claimed to have seen Pippo. But the aircraft’s distinctive sound made it easy to recognize.
The nicknaming of solitary night intruders wasn’t unusual, writes folklorist Alan Perry (Gettysburg College) in his 2003 article in the Journal of Folklore Research. Members of the U.S. Army Air Forces’ 416th Night Fighter Squadron, assigned to the Ninth Air Force in the European Theater of Operations, referred to the Junkers Ju-88 flying overhead as “Reccie Joe.” Marines who fought on Guadalcanal had the Japanese “Washing Machine Charlie” to deal with. And GI’s fighting in North Africa and Italy called the night fighter they heard “Bed-Check Charlie.” (“Bed-Check Charlie” also made an appearance during the Korean War.)
What made Pippo different was that your political allegiance determined his identity. For those who opposed the Germans, Pippo, says Perry, was a friendly Allied pilot conducting reconnaissance. For those upset that Italy had betrayed its former German ally, Pippo was a sinister German intent on dropping bombs.
Perry looked for evidence of lone fighters waging psychological warfare in northern Italy. He notes that in 1944, “night intruder missions became an integral part of Operation Strangle, an effort to destroy German attempts to reinforce ground troops.” Night fighter squadrons of both the RAF (the 255th, the 256th, and the 600th) and the U.S. Army Air Forces (the 414th, 416th, and 417th) were part of this effort. Could Pippo have been a Bristol Beaufighter, a Northrop P-61, or a de Havilland Mosquito? Some Italian historians lean toward the Mosquito.
An interesting footnote: During Perry’s research, he ran across a contemporary piece in the daily Il Giornale by correspondent Fausto Biloslavo. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Biloslavo was sent to Afghanistan to cover the U.S.-led bombing of Afghan training camps and Taliban air defenses. Biloslavo writes, “The scheme for the raids is always the same: before the attack an airplane with normal wings, not delta shaped like the fighters, circles very high above the targets. It’s either a reconnoitering aircraft or an electronic jewel that interrupts enemy communications and perhaps advanced defense weapon systems. In fact, we’ve noticed that during the flight of Pippo, as we’ve nicknamed him, there is no way to use the satellite phones. Soon after, the bombers come in pairs of two and dive upon their targets.”
November 21, 2012
Two months ago, on a flight from Brisbane to Melbourne, Australia, a crocodile got loose in the cargo hold of a Qantas aircraft. “The animal was quickly and safely secured when the aircraft arrived in Melbourne,” a Qantas spokesman told The Australian.
It’s not the first time a croc flew. Two years before that, a crocodile—carried on board in a large duffel bag—allegedly escaped on a Filair flight from Kinshasa to Bandundu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “Pandemonium ensued,” reported msnbc.com. The Let L-410 Turbolet crashed, killing 20 on board. (The croc escaped, but was killed by ground crew.)
The earliest reference we can find of crocodilians becoming airborne dates to 1929. Yoav Di-Capua writes (in the summer 2008 issue of the Journal of Social History), “[I]n 1929, at the age of thirty, a bored employee at Bank Misr named Muhammad Sidqi decided to replace his wooden office chair with a posh leather seat in an airplane cockpit. Resigning his position, he enrolled in a German aviation school. A few months later…he purchased a modest monoplane with a 45-hp. engine and an overall weight of less than 250kg. With the enthusiastic cooperation of the Egyptian authorities, on December 15th he left from Berlin, and, via Dresden, Prague, Vienna, Venice and Malta, made his way to Libya. With him in the cockpit was a small crocodile that was presented to him in Berlin as a gift for the Cairo Zoological Gardens.”
On January 26, 1930, thousands of people — including the Egyptian Prime Minister — gathered to watch Sidqi land on a Cairo airstrip. The mob swarmed the rickety aircraft as it landed, and triumphantly carried the newly minted pilot through the Cairo streets. The next day the newspapers covered Sidqi’s feat, but “Not a word was written on the fate of the small crocodile that had bravely accompanied Sidqi on his perilous journey back home,” notes Di-Capua.
Next Page »