Blue Angel Knife Edge Pass

Was down at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach over the past 4 days for their annual air show.  As usual, it was a great time and the Blue Angels were the headliners, shared with the Canadian Snowbirds.

One of the shots that air show photographers look for is that crossing shot at show center where the team opposing solo pilots approach from opposite sides of the airfield, seemingly in in a head-on pass and end up passing by each other in a breathtaking maneuver.

As a photog, you try to capture that moment.  You need, though, a great deal of luck coupled with good reflexes, a fast shutter speed on your camera and a good multi-frame mode.

I think I captured a pretty good one (above) of Blue Angel #5 passing behind #6 at show center. I was tracking #6 coming from the right and started the shutter a second or so before what I thought would be the merge, and the timing worked out great.

Here are a few other show center passes I’ve managed to capture over the years.

Oceana, 2015

Below, USAF Thunderbirds,  Atlantic City, 2015

Below, Canadian Snowbirds, Oceana 2018

below, Breitling Flight team, Manassas Air Show, 2015

Below, Manassas Air Show, 2015

Below, Canadian Snowbirds, Oceana Air Show, 2018

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The Last Tomcat

Oceana Air Show, 2006. This was the last appearance of the Tomcat at the Oceana show. The aircraft was on her last legs by now, down to only a few squadrons as she was being phased out of service. Size, maintenance issues (even though practically all of these aircraft had low flight hours on them and were all D models – the very latest in the design,) a fundamental change in the strategic sea-based mission of the United States Navy, and just the desire to have a newer platform on the decks in the F/A-18 E and two-seat F aircraft meant the demise of the Tomcat was nigh.

The end of the Soviet Union 16 years prior was, in my opinion, the biggest reason for the end of the Tomcat. For so many years we had to be concerned about that opening in the North Atlantic called the Greenland-Iceland-UK gap, or GIUK where the Soviet navy would come through in the event of Grand Hostilities between the forces of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. As such, carrier battle groups would be sent up into that North Atlantic region to handle any Soviet sortie of surface action groups. Protecting the carrier battle group was paramount, and the long range of the Tomcat coupled with the long range of the Phoenix missile system allowed us to hopefully “shoot the archers before they shot their arrows” – bag the Soviet aircraft/bombers before they could release their anti-ship cruise missiles.

This was called the “outer air battle” and was a core tactic for the US Navy and Tomcats for much of its life through the 70s, 80s, and into the 90s.

So, when the Soviet Union went away that particular tactic and need went away, as well. The Tomcat hung around for an additional 15 years, morphing into a Jack AND Master of all or many trades, especially after the end of the A-6 Intruder medium attack aircraft.  The Tomcat, or “Bombcat” as it came to be known, turned out to be an excellent bombing platform, with powerful engines and a stable airframe that, when incorporating a laser designation system like the LANTIRN pod, could put a 2,000 lb laser guided bomb through a window pane of choice. Sweet.

But that wasn’t enough to save the Tomcat in a world that didn’t need such capabilities with the advancement of the upcoming Hornet airframes and models.

And, with the Imperial Iranian Air Force still flying Tomcats from the 80 (79 delivered) they purchased during the Shah years, no Tomcats were left flyable here in the US lest spare parts make their way to Iran through a black market. That means, unfortunately, you’ll never see a Tomcat fly again in the US, not at an airshow, not as some billionaire toy, not anywhere – unless we make nice with Iran and the Ayatollah again and they let us have one back.

Don’t hold your breath.

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McRaven Resigns from Defence Innovation Board

I haven’t gotten really political much – or at all – on the Instapinch 2 during this reboot. That may change, depending on if I can wean myself away from that vacuous and vapid sucker-of-life-force Facebook.

This particular tidbit pretty much flew under the radar the last week or so with the Kavanaugh news and Hurricane Florence getting all the press:

McRaven Resigns from Pentagon Innovation Board

William McRaven, the retired four-star admiral who led U.S. Special Operations Command from 2011 to 2014, has resigned from the Pentagon’s technology advisory board following a public critique of President Donald Trump, Defense News has learned.

How do I feel about it? Great. For all his honorable military service and leadership and blah blah blah, his defense of a ultra-hyper Obama flack  John Brennan, who voted a straight Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) ticket back in the 1970s and was (read this next line carefully) later named to head the CIA, is inexcusable and as far as I’m concerned negates right across the board any claims of cogent and critical leadership or critical thinking skills when it comes to these issues.  In short, I’d be hard pressed to trust the judgment of McRaven when he states Brennan has “unparalleled integrity” (again, Brennan voted for CPUSA leader Gus Hall for President and Angela Davis – yes THAT Angela Davis for Vice President.)

That whole “Defense Innovation Board” is something that came out of then-SecDef Ashton Carter and leans, precipitously and hugely (you could also say “bigly”) liberal:

On the whole, political donations from board members skewed heavily liberal, with members donating almost $2.4 million to democratic candidates and political action committees (PACs), compared to just over $236,000 to GOP causes, according to disclosed campaign finance figures going back to 1998.

I, for one, am pretty certain I don’t want a bunch of liberals/progressives/socialists to be entrusted with coming up with anything related to US policy, much less military/national security. I’m sorry, but I’d rather a less hyper-partisan group do what innovative thinking that needs to be done.

McRaven has puffed up Brennan with questionable fluff such as calling him

“…a man of unparalleled integrity, whose honesty and character have never been in question…”

Obviously, some Trump Derangement Syndrome going on there.

So yes, I’m glad McRaven is gone from that organization – and more should go – and I hope he enjoys his retirement and disappears into the hedges and we don’t hear from him again.

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Orange Selfie

Some orange flight suit lovin’! Selfie in an F-14D during an acceptance flight during duty at the Grumman facility in Calverton. As part of equipment issue while assigned to the Defense Plant Rep Office, we were given a couple of the standard Grumman orange flight suits, accutramented for our Navy status. I liked them – they had regular POCKETS in the front and were comfortable working “uniforms.”

The wings are back, so we had some smack on the airplane. With the hint of a dark blue sky, I’m wondering if this was the high speed dash test of the flight acceptance profile where we’d get up to mach 1.2 or so at 40k or thereabouts. Right after the high speed dash, we’d throttle back and elevate up to 50k for the altitude check. Couple of times we’d nudge up to 55k. I was always amazed at the view up there – from being off Long Island in W-105 you could see everything from southern Maine down to the Delmarva peninsula. Beautiful.

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On The Cat

Camelot 101, our squadron jet with CO Dan “Chopper” Chopp on the RIO cockpit rail and XO Pete “Strick” Strickland” on the pilot rail, gets loaded up on catapult 2 on JFK.

At this particular point, the pilot has been signaled to sweep the wings out and you can see the RIO looking to the left, toward me and my camera, to ensure clearance and the wings won’t hit anything as they sweep forward. The pilot is concentrating on line up, following the director’s signals carefully to ensure the jet is lined up properly on the cat. Two green shirt hook up petty officers are near the nose gear watching the line up. It will be their responsibility to ensure a good hook-up between catapult shuttle and the aircraft launch bar.

Lots going on at this point. Weight board has been rogered by the RIO, your scan has jacked up a notch as those wings move and the jet is getting closer to launch. If there are weapons loaded, the “hand’s up” weapons arming evolution is coming by the ordnance guys (ordies) and the pucker factor is increasing rather expeditiously.

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The Tailhook

Carrier-based fixed-wing aircraft (to differentiate from helicopters and other rotary-type aircraft) need a tailhook that grabs a steel wire spanning the deck to land on an aircraft carrier. Unlike a land-based field where there are 8,000 or 12,000 foot long runways, the landing area on an aircraft carrier is a mere 700 feet long, with the target area where the wires are is only about 150 feet long.  If you miss that landing area, the hook does not grab a wire and yo go flying again.

So, it is important – vitally important – that the tail hook of the landing aircraft contact the deck, stays in contact with the deck, and grabs one of those wires (called a “cross deck pendant,” or CDP, if you are into technical nomenclature.)

The tailhook assembly of an F-14 (and was probably the same with other jets of the era) had a dashpot hydraulic system attached to it, charged up to 800 psi designed to keep that hook in the DOWN position when the aircraft landed. Here, you can see the smoke generated by the hook dragging along the nonskid-covered HY-80/100 steel making up the deck of CV-67. Without that 800 psi of pressure keeping that tailhook down, the initial impact of the hookpoint with the deck would make the tailhook bounce or skip up and over a wire (hence the term “hook skip”), also potentially bouncing up and impacting the aircraft to where it could do some severe damage and/or the aircraft would never grab a wire. VF-14, USS JFK, late 1980s.

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John McCain, RIP

A piece I wrote up with my thoughts on recently passed Senator and retired US Navy Captain John McCain.

John McCain passed away this afternoon at his home in Arizona, surrounded by family. I never personally knew the Senator. He was already into his first Senate term when my Navy career started in the mid 80s and I never had an opportunity or reason to interact with him.

I do have a bit of a Navy-related kinship with him, however. He was a squadron mate of my later father-in-law back in the 1960s for a bit, a number of my Dad’s contemporaries of that time knew and served with John McCain, and my Dad, as a carrier-based A-4 pilot (the same plane McCain flew) went out on missions just like the one McCain was shot down on, over Hanoi and other parts of North Vietnam. The saying “There but by the grace of God went my father” comes to mind.

There will be – has been – no shortage of commentary on the Senator’s political career, much of it of a negative and oftentimes discourteous and raucous nature. I’ll leave that to others to comment on. I prefer to remember the senator and retired Navy captain for his Navy career, a true reflection of Admiral William “Bull” Halsey’s quote that “There are no extraordinary men… just extraordinary circumstances that ordinary men are forced to deal with.” Whether you believe John McCain was an ordinary man or not, what he went through from 1967 until 1973 was extraordinary.

On a mission over Hanoi in North Vietnam, only his 23rd mission into that combat arena, McCain’s plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire.

With a wing blown off his jet, the only option left for then Lieutenant Commander McCain was to eject. Any ejection out of a jet is a roll of the dice – and with the A-4 Skyhawk, a single seat subsonic attack aircraft that has been described as an aircraft “you wore rather than climbed into” given its tight cockpit confines, riding a rocket seat out of an out of controlled aircraft from the close quarters of a cockpit can prove to be problematic, at best.

The ejection ended up breaking both his arms and a leg. His parachute, automatically deploying immediately based on the low altitude, deposited him into a lake in downtown Hanoi. From that day, 26 October 1967 until his repatriation with the other US POWs in February 1973 McCain was a “guest” of the North Vietnamese at the Hanoi Hilton.

By any definition those years were an extraordinary experience for LCDR McCain, and as far as I’m concerned he conducted himself with honor and distinction – and in an extraordinary manner. That experience alone should garner the respect from every American. Strapping on a piece of aviation hardware and heading out to take your place at the tip of your country’s national security spear is an honor that few are given. To accept and perform that mission, along with whatever consequences that comes with it, is the definition of respect.

There a saying in the Navy when shipmates pass away – “Fair winds and following seas,” meaning fond wishes for a smooth and calm passage. For an aircraft carrier-based naval aviator though, those “following seas” implies a downwind recovery on the ship, with winds at your back.

Rather, I’ll wish the Senator and former Naval Aviator a carrier with a bone in her teeth, a ready deck, a strong 20 knots of wind down the angle, and an OK-3 wire trap as you head west.

Godspeed, John McCain. Blessings to your family and loved ones on your passing.

These thoughts were posted on the Eagle PAC Web site at

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Be the Boss!

The Air Boss is the Almighty on an aircraft carrier, controlling just about everything aviation-related on the ship and in the immediate vicinity.

This is the placard that he reads from into the flight deck/ship announcement system (called the 1MC) to let everyone on the flight deck and throughout the ship know that its time to get ready to go flying.

Anyone who has spent time on an aircraft carrier flight deck has heard this, and if you put on whatever voice of authority you have and read this aloud, you TOO can be the Boss!

Photo taken on USS HARRY S TRUMAN Primary Flight Control atop the island.

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Tucked in tight with Camelot 106. This was no doubt on a cross-country transit to Fallon, hence the ferrying of the two orange TACTS (Tactical Air Combat Training System) pods. Also called ACMI for Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation, these are the devices that transmit aircraft data to a central land-based computer via data link through communication towers erected on a land-based or sea-based range.

From what I can tell, these sorts of instrumentation devices are like the Flinstone car these days with updated, 21st century equipment that uses GPS for location (vice tower triangulation) with better, more efficient data transfers and an engagement playback system that will run on any laptop computer vice only in the “TACTS Trailer.”

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Sometimes you just put your camera up and take a snapshot, hoping something will come out.

When we flew at night from the beach (NAS Oceana) it was usually to get some carrier landing practice (known as FCLP for Field Carrier Landing Practice) at an outlying field near Oceana or whatever base we were at.  If I remember correctly, this shot was while headed back to Oceana after some touch and go’s at a field down in North Carolina. It doesn’t show much other than that gorgeous sunset and the right-hand upper ejection look for the GRU-7 Martin-Baker ejection seat.

Still, it kind of conveys how sweet that ride was and some of the eye-ball pleasing views you can get from that experience.

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