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.
What Makes a Tomcat Go?
Why these of course.
The Grumman f-14 Tomcat has been one of the most iconic Navy fighters of the modern age. Sure they are long in the tooth and are pretty much passed by now, but thanks to Top Gun they will always have a special place in our collective hearts, and that above is what made them go.
The Pratt & Whitney TF30 was first put into production in 1964 and were being built up until 1986 and while they functioned well in other aircraft, in the F-14 that had some issues with compression stalls at high angles of attack when the throttles were moved aggressively.
In other aircraft these stalls were able to be compensated for, but in the Tomcat, because the two engines were so widely spaced apart it could cause the plane to go into a spin that was VERY difficult to recover from. Just ask Goose. The major issues were finally resolved in a new version of the engine that started seeing service in the F-14A in the late 80’s.
The engine was used in the following aircraft models:
- F-111 (General Dynamics)
- F-111C (General Dynamics)
- EF-111A Raven (General Dynamics/Grumman)
- F-111B (General Dynamics/Grumman)
- F-111K (General Dynamics)
- F-14A Tomcat (General Dynamics)
- LTV A-7A/B/C Corsair II
If you are curious you can find out some more about the engine at the Pratt & Whitney site here.
A Controlled Crash
That above is a glider of the model used by the Allied forces during D-Day. A glider, if you are not familiar, is a plane shaped vehicle that has no engines, is towed by another plane and when released, glides gently to the ground.
That is until you load it with infantrymen, equipment, and everything needed to confront the Nazi’s. At that point it basically becomes a rock that falls quickly and instead of the nice soft landing, generally becomes a controlled crash. Sounds terrible doesn’t it? Well, it was, but it served a really good purpose.
First of all, gliders once released from their tow plane are basically silent. No noise means they are more difficult to find in the sky and thus more difficult to shoot down. It also makes it harder to determine where the will land.
Second of all, the troops that were parachuted onto a battlefield, they would often scatter and be dispersed. This means that it would take longer to get them into the fight and time would be lost getting them organized. Coming in with a glider meant the troops would land in the place and in theory be ready to get into the fight. (If they survived the landing.)
Lastly, they were cheap. Most of the trips for these were one way, as many did not survive the experience. So they were made of the wood and cheaper materials, which meant the could be mass-produced cheap.
End of an Era
The end of WWII saw pretty much the end of gliders. The advent of helicopters pretty much replaced them for military use. Unlike gliders, helicopters can pick the troops back up after the battle is over. Today some special forces teams will use gliders for their missions, but pretty much the gliders were something that had its one specific moment in time.
During the Vietnam War, that was the most beautiful thing you can see. Helicopters were the lifeline for the troops out in the bush. They brought you reinforcements, food, water, ammunition, clean socks and eventually they would take you somewhere at least marginally safer than where you were.
The helicopter above is a CH-47 Chinook, a very big brother to the classic Huey that was the face of the war. The CH-47 entered service in 1962 and amazingly are still being produced and are in service today. Sixteen countries have these in their arsenal. Including Iran who purchased a large number from us in the 70’s and still have many in service today.
It can reach a top speed of 196 mph, has a range of 450 miles and can lift approximately 28,000 pounds of cargo, if arranged properly.
Originally used in some of the roles mentioned above supply and troop transport. Eventually it became an invaluable tool for the artillery section. Its enormous lifting capability meant that it could take big guns and there crews up into the mountains faster, easier and safer than transporting them overland. Once established the Chinook could keep the fire bases supplied with massive amounts of ammunition. This allowed them to function for extended periods of time. Having these artillery emplacements in strategic locations were vital to war effort. They could provide support to forces in the field at a much greater capacity.
During the war, nearly 750 of these big birds were in service with almost 200 lost to combat or accidents. Pretty high percentage. I can guarantee you that if you were out in the field and saw one of these flying overhead, your heart skipped a beat.
The Sopwith Camel
Of all the aircraft of WWI, the Sopwith Camel has got to be one of the most recognized. Heck, if nothing else it is the “plane” that Snoopy’s dog house was supposed to be during his battles with the Red Baron. Above is an authentic Sopwith Camel that is being restored at the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo Michigan. Yes, I know the bicycle wheels on the plane scare me also.
The Sopwith Camel came into the service with the British Royal Flying Corps in June of 1917 and served though January 1920.. During that time the Camel saw several different variants. The versatile design also saw service with the American Expeditionary Force. Also the Australians, Belgians, Canadians, and the Russians.
With a maximum speed of 115 MPH and a range of about 300 miles it could reach an altitude of 21,000 feet with its 130 hp engine. Best known for its agility in the hands of a skilled pilot it was an amazing machine. One of the different variants had a shorted wingspan so that it could be based on ships. Another was a night fighter version that had the twin machine guns mounted above the top wings. This was to prevent the muzzle flash from causing night blindness.
One pilot, Major William Barker, took his Camel into the air for 404 operational hours from September 1917 to September 1918. During that time he shot down 46 enemy aircraft and balloons. To this day he is still the most successful pilot in the history of the RAF. Not bad for a plane who’s most famous pilot was a cartoon beagle.
So, some people say that the pen is mightier that the sword. Sometimes that may be true, but it can also be said that the sometimes the most devastating shots come not from a gun, but a camera.
Above in the picture are cameras that were used during WWII to gather intelligence and determine the effectiveness of bombing missions.
It should be no surprise that the first gun cams came about during WW1, used mainly for training by the British Royal Flying Corps were special versions of the Lewis machine gun were fitted with cameras and took pictures when rounds were fired.
By the time WWII came about, most aircraft contained versions of these cameras. In fact when you are watching a shows about WWII and see all that great dogfight footage, odds are they came from cameras like this.
Besides recording aircraft kills, the cameras were used to determine effectiveness of bombing. By rolling the film during bombing missions it would be much easier to determine whether a target was destroyed, damaged or missed. Sometimes this footage would be released to the public via newsreels, to show the people at home just how that war was going. Another application has seen footage from these cameras being used to identify resources from the other side of the fighting. Pilots and aircraft, units and soldiers.
This technology has continually improved as time has gone by. Between having the cameras on the aircraft, on the personnel and now on satellites, war has never been covered so well.
WWI saw the advent of many aspects of war that we take for granted nowadays. Tanks, chemical weapons, machine guns and airplanes. For almost one hundred years now these have been part of most conflicts on the globe. The picture is a replica of one of the models that the Allies used. The Americans started using them in late 1917 and the model continued in use for various countries well in to the 1920’s.
The Spad S.VII pictured has a basic bi-plane design, the combination of the wings set low to give the aircraft maximum lift and stability, while giving the pilot the most possible visibility. The body was cloth and wood, powered by a V8 automobile engine that could get it up to about 140 MPH. Not much by today’s standards but that was literally flying back then.
The Spad was armed with a single .303 Vickers machine gun that was synced to be able to fire through the propeller. The gun was mounted on top of the engine compartment and placed so that pilot would be able to clear jams without much difficulty, as they were prone to occur.
Armed with 189 of these fighters, the United States Amer Air Service began it mission in Germany, using some of these planes as front line units, but alas as trainers for the new version that was to be released shortly.
Even though they came late to the fight, tools such as the Spad VII were among those used by the US to turn the tide of the war, or at least break the tie, depending on who you ask.