Category Archives: Cold War

VF-103 and the Jolly Rogers

VF-103 and the Jolly Rogers

VF-103 and the Jolly Rogers


The Jolly Roger (Skull and Crossbones) that you see above is emblazoned on the tail of an F-14 Tomcat. It has graced the aircraft of several different US Naval squadrons.  In this case, it is part of VF-103 and has quite a history. It didn’t start as the Jolly Rogers, but it flies the name proudly today.

The squadron designated VF-103 (known as the Sluggers) was put together on May 1, 1952. At the time they flew the FG-1D Corsair and was part of Carrier group CVG-10. The squadron was stationed in the Mediterranean. In 1957 the squadron switched to the F8U-1 Crusader, a supersonic jet, a first for the squadron.

In 1958 during the Lebanon crisis (yeah, that’s been going on for a while) the USS Forrestal and VF-103 were dispatched to the region. They arrived after the crisis abated.  After switching plane models several times in the early 1960’s they finally settled on the F-4B Phantom II. The plane that would make up the squadron until 1980.

During the height of the Vietnam War, VF-103 took part in Operation Linebacker. In 1972 one of the pilots of the squadron shot down a Russian MiG 21 with an air to air missile during a night flight. The first only (so far) MiG kill for the US Navy.

VF-103 would be one of the last air squadrons to transition to the legendary F-14 Tomcat in 1983. During that decade the squadron would be involved in several operations. It would be on the front line of Cold War. With the coming of the Gulf War in 1991, VF-103 flew escort for the bomber groups, did reconnaissance and bomb assessment missions.

The Jolly Rogers

All that brought us to this. In 1995 VF-84, a sister squadron that was known as the Jolly Rogers and used the Skull and Crossbones insignia was disbanded. Rather than see the name and insignia leave the Navy, VF-103 did away with their Slugger moniker and adopted the name Jolly Rogers and the infamous insignia. They would go on to take part in the Kosovo conflict and on into Operation Iraqi Freedom. Finally, they gave up the F-14 and transitioned to the F/A-18. In 2016 the Jolly Rogers were actively engaging with the ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria.

To this day the Skull and Bones fly with the Jolly Rogers where ever they are needed.

The Quonset Hut A Home Away From Home

The Quonset Hut A Home Away From Home

The Quonset Hut, A Home Away From Home

A small city in the middle of nowhere made up of the same style buildings. Semi-circular, corrugated metal, long and low. That is a Quonset Hut you see making up these small cities that have served as makeshift homes and office for the military since the early days of WWII.

In 1941 the US Navy was looking for a lightweight, general purpose prefabricated building that could be shipped anywhere in the world. The George A. Fuller construction company won the bid and the first of many of these huts rolled off the assembly line.

During WWII over 150,000 of these buildings were produced and after the war, they were sold for about $1,000 to the civilian market with many turned into small starter homes for families. Colleges turned them into cheap student housing, many churches and small business invested in the steel half-shells. Some military bases, especially overseas, still make use of these and other similar designs. You can even buy the kits on eBay if you wanted to have a new one for whatever purposes.

Odds are you have seen them in one place or another. If you were or are military I can almost guarantee it. They will always be a symbol of the industriousness and flexibility of the armed forces. The ones in the picture above were deployed during the Vietnam War and served as a hospital and administration.

Oh and the name, Quonset Hut? It comes from where they were originally manufactured, Quonset, Rhode Island. Which is famous for exactly nothing else!


AH-1 Cobra: Small Package, Big Punch

AH-1 Cobra: Small Package, Big Punch

AH-1 Cobra: Small Package, Big Punch

Above is a decommissioned version of the AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter. One of the workhorses of the Vietnam War.  From 1967 when it first entered service until 1973 over 1,000 of these saw service.  Over that time they accumulated over 1 million hours of operational time.

Their main mission was close fire support of the infantry. They also served as escorts for the troop helicopters and as highly mobile rocket artillery platforms. Basically, they did whatever was needed. During the war, almost 300 were lost due to combat and other incidents.

The Cobra comes in a number of variants that served many different roles and as such. They have seen a lot of action. Starting in Vietnam, then the invasion of Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989. The 1991 Gulf War saw the AH-1 and its variants in action. In they were on the scene in Somalia and again later in 1994 during the armed intervention in Haiti.

In 1999 the US Army officially pulled the AH-1 from active service. They found a home though with NATO and other allies. Over the years they have served a vital role for the US Forest Service, not as gunships, but as firefighting equipment. The AH-1W SuperCobra and AH-1Z Viper still are used by the US Marine Corps.

The AH-1G HueyCobra, the most common one in Vietnam had a maximum speed of 171mph and an effective range of 357 miles. For armament, it depended on the job but could include: 2 7.62 mm miniguns, 2 M129 grenade launchers, rocket pods, and additional minigun pods. Basically, for a small chopper, it packed a heck of a punch.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall

The Fall of the Berlin Wall


In August 1961 East German forces started work on a barbed wire and concrete barrier separating East and West Berlin. It was built to keep Western “Fascists” from polluting the hearts and minds of East Berlin. It was also built to stop the massive influx of refugees moving from east to west. Eventually, the barbwire became a wall that prevented anyone from crossing. Except at the predetermined checkpoints, which rarely allowed anyone to pass. And so the Cold War had a physical symbol that embodied the separation of east and west.

It would not stand forever.

In 1989 tensions between the US and Soviets were starting to thaw as the buzzwords of Glasnost and Perestroika started charting a new path between the superpowers. On November 9th of that year, the spokesman for East Berlin’s Communist Party let it be known that at midnight that day German citizens would be allowed to cross into West Berlin. The intention was to slowly work towards a reintegration of the two societies. The problem was that once a trickle starts, it easily can become a flood.

By the time midnight came around Berliners from both sides lined up at the gates, beer and champagne flowing freely. Once the checkpoints were open people from both sides crossed the checkpoints and as the party started to reach epic proportions people started to pick pieces off the wall. Before long the small hammers and picks of the partakers became cranes and bulldozers and before long the Wall was down. Pieces of it were sold as souvenirs, big chunks sent to museums all over the world. Including the piece above. As it was being built it was a symbol of oppression. When it came down it became the ultimate expression of freedom.

#coldwar #berlin #fallofthewall

Barter Kit, For When Things Go Bad

Barter Kit, For When Things Go Bad

Barter Kit, For When Things Go Bad

So, you are a US Navy pilot and you find yourself in the unenviable position of having to bail out over enemy territory. Maybe you were shot down, maybe you had mechanical issues, either way, you are about to be in deep trouble.

Luckily when you were preparing for your mission you put on your flight suit which contained a number of compartments. In those compartments are the survival tools that you may need in exactly this situation. Besides a first aid kit and such you have your handy, dandy Barter Kit.

The Barter kit was a small molded rubber case which measures 5 1/2″ by 4″. When opened there are 5 form fitted compartments. Two gold rings, marked as being 100% gold. A small charm with the image of a fish, several links of gold chain and the real beauty, a Swiss made 21 jewel Milus Instant Date watch with a band.

No, this was not a pilot’s early retirement present. In fact, the purpose was to give the downed pilots something of value to trade to either civilian. Or possibly even enemy soldiers to help them get back to their lines and to safety.

The kit above was a variation that was used in the South East Asia theater during the war. Another version used in the Atlantic had three gold rings and a number of gold coins.

If you were down and found yourself on the wrong side of the line, this little kit could very well be the difference between life and death.



The Berlin Airlift


The Berlin Airlift

The Berlin Airlift

The Berlin Airlift was one of the first events of the burgeoning Cold War. It saw the Western powers facing off against their former ally the Soviet Union. The picture above depicts diorama of the event, but let’s look at it a little more.

At the end of WWII Germany was divided into several occupation zones split between the US, The United Kingdom, and The Soviet Union. The split Berlin four ways between the US, UK, France and Soviet Union. The question of how to rebuild and reunify Germany became a political hot topic. No one could quite agree and Berlin was at the center of the argument. Sitting deep within the Soviet occupation zone the city was almost an island unto itself.

In January 1947 the US and UK merged their German occupation zones.,This move that caused great discomfort to the Soviets. By 1948 the Western powers had taken steps to grant their occupied section of Germany and Berlin statehood. It was to serve as the primary bulwark against Communist expansion into West Europe. The Soviets responded in kind within their occupation zone. Germany officially became split in two.  As part of this and in an attempt to gain control of the city, the Soviets implemented a blockade of the Western part of the city blocking all major, road, rail and canal links to the outside.

The Blockade

Neither side wanted war, but the people of West Berlin needed supplies. As an answer, the US and UK opted to fly supplies in through an air corridor that was agreed upon at the end of the war. They gambled that the Soviets would not be willing to go to war. During the height of the crisis that ran from June 1948 to May 1949 the West was able to land almost one supply plane every 45 seconds in one of the major airports and were also able to put in place a counter-blockade of East Berlin, these things combined caused the Soviets to lower the blockade, but also solid split Europe for the better part of fifty years.

To B-1B or not to B-1B

Scale model of a B-1B bomber

To B-1B or not to B-1B


The above is the B-1B Lancer and for a good chunk of the later Cold War this was to be one of the primary aircraft that would deliver nuclear payloads, should it ever be needed.

Originally conceived in the 50’s and into the 60’s the idea was to create a replacement for the venerable B-52 that would have extended range and supersonic capabilities. The first of the prototypes, the B-1A, flew on December 23, 1974. Originally slated to cost in the area of $40 million, By 1975 the projected cost had ballooned to over $70 million per aircraft.

By the time that Jimmy Carter took over the presidency, this B-1 program, and several others were on the chopping block because of their expense and the feeling that would be no better in payload or penetration of enemy airspace than the B-52. Carter killed the program and decided to focus instead on ICBMs and “modernizing” the current B-52 fleet.

Upon taking office in 1981 President Reagan decided that the B-1 could fulfill a designated role. He ordered 100 of the planes to be constructed.  The B-1B officially joined the US armory on October 1st, 1986.

It has a max airspeed of Mach 1.5 at high altitude and Mach 0.92 at low altitude.  With a combat radius of almost three thousand miles. The crew of four would be able to deploy over 125,000 pounds of ordinance on a given target. Conventional as well as nuclear. The most amazing thing? With potential upgrades and increased capabilities, the B-1B could potentially be in services until 2038 or later!

Of course, the photo above is a model of the unit.


The F-4 Phantom

The F-4 Phantom

The F-4 Phantom


The F-4 Phantom is one of the most iconic military airplanes in American history. As much as the Huey is seen as a symbol of the Vietnam War, the Phantom has to run a close second.

During the war, it served a number of roles, from the main air superiority fighter to ground attack and close support. Even later in the war, it became an important reconnaissance tool also. Not bad.

It first flew in May 1958 and was introduced into front-line service in 1960. It was manufactured until 1981 and in total, more than 5,000 found their way into service. Officially retired in 1996 by the US military it saw use in foreign services until 2013 (Germany).

Oddly enough it is not in a military role that it has been the most impressive. During the 1960’s, as NASA was working on the technology to take a man to the moon. They needed an aircraft that could be used to film the test launches and provide data to the designers. The F-4 was the only airplane that could keep up. So armed with cameras under its wings, this warbird was instrumental to the space program.

Of course, some would argue that the five years that is served as the primary platform for the US Navy’s Blue Angles (1969-1974) ranks up there as its coolest moment.

The plane in the picture is currently undergoing restoration at the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, MI. It is sort of strange to see such a majestic machine with its guts torn out and sort of empty. It helps to know that after so many years of service though it is somewhere they will take care of it.


Fishbed and Badger, NATO Designation Unmaksed

MiG-21PF Fishbed by the NATO Designation

NATO Designation Unmaksed


The airplane in the photo above is the Mig-21PF a Soviet workhorse of a fighter plane that goes by the NATO Designation “Fishbed”. Walking through any aircraft museum, or reading and studying about military aircraft, some of the names for the Soviet planes seem a little weird. Fishbed, Badger, Bear, Blackjack, Fulcrum. We seem them all the time and I for one always was a little curious as how those names were picked. If you know, don’t say anything yet. This is the fun part.

The familiar names for the “enemy” aircraft come through NATO, and are deigned to give each aircraft a clear and easy to understand name, generally based around words that don’t come up in conversation so that there can be no confusion.

Who decides the names? This next bit is lifted straight from Wikipeida:

The assignment of the names for the Russian and Chinese aircraft was once managed by the five-nation Air Standardization Coordinating Committee (ASCC) (now called the Air and Space Interoperability Council, or ASIC, which includes representatives of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States), but that is no longer the case.

The Breakdown


Here is where it gets fun.

Single syllable NATO Designations denote fixed wing, prop driven aircraft.

Multiple syllable names indicate a jet aircraft.

The first letter of the NATO designation tells you what kind of aircraft it is.

F for fighter.

B for bomber.

C for cargo. (Also commercial aircraft and airliners.)

H is for helicopter.

M is for (get this) miscellaneous.

So the Soviet aircraft known as the Bear, propeller based bomber. The Badger? Bomber jet. The fabulous MiG-29 Fulcrum? Fighter Jet. The Red Dawn worthy MI-24 Hind, H is for helicopter. And just for fun, The La-11 Fang? Starts with f so fighter plane, but only one syllable so it must be a propeller type.

I wish I had known this during all those years reading Tom Clancy books! (The good ones, before Jack became President.) One last thing. The Soviets do not use the NATO designation for their aircraft, why would they? Well, except for one. They like the name Fulcrum for the MiG-29 as it represents the integral nature of the aircraft in the defense plans.  I don’t know, I think Fishbed sounds kind of cool also…

Ever Hear of Davy Crockett? No, the other one!


Have you ever wanted your own person Atomic Weapon? Why bother with missiles and bombs when this little beauty will allow you (with help from a couple of friends) lay the smack down on your neighbors, stray cats, or that pesky town down the road that never has enough parking when they put on their farmers market.

What you see above is the M29 Davy Crockett.

This 155MM short-range nuclear weapons system allowed the infantry to get into the atomic fun at a maximum range of 2.5 Miles and warhead that was equivalent to 40 tons of TNT.

It could fire both directly at targets or be lobbed for greater range. It was designed to be used against enemy infantry, armor or against fortified positions.

Two versions of the system were deployed. One was mounted on a jeep and could be fired from that platform. The other was deployed in an armored personnel carrier, when at the firing location the launcher would be set up on a tripod. A later variant was employed at the end of its service by the  US 82nd Airborne Division. This version was attached to 1/2 ton truck and could be airdropped wherever it was needed.

Production of this piece started in 1956 and in the just over 2,000 were made and were deployed in units from 1961 through 1971.

Tested several times with live rounds (read as atomic warheads), and more often with depleted uranium rounds,  they suffered from very poor accuracy and while they did provide a big boom, their most devastating effect was radiation. From the point of detonation to 500 feet the radiation dosage would be lethal, and probably lethal out to about a quarter-mile. Which really gave the crews very little margin for error.

That just goes to prove, close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and portable atomic warhead launchers. Like its namesake though, I am fairly certain it could take down a bear.