Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Gooney Bird will never die.

I was excited by a recent photo on the front page of the NY Times...a DC-3 spraying dispersant over the Gulf of Mexico BP oil spill. Amazing. The DC-3...still serving.

More affectionately known as the Gooney Bird, the DC-3 began life in 1935 when American Airlines asked Donald Douglas for an improved sleeper-transport. It cut the cross-country time down to 15 hours with three refueling stops.

The airplane in the photo applying dispersant is operated by Clean Gulf Associates and is built by Basler Turbo Conversions. Pretty amazing -- they take the DC-3 airframe, add PT6 turboprop engines plus new fuel, hydraulics, electrics, and avionics. And they get about 35% improved performance. Sweet.

My DC-3 Stories

In the winter of 1980 I was a Navy flight instructor flying the T-2C. I caught a DC-3 ride from NAS Key West to NAS Chase Field in Beeville, TX. We stopped to refuel in New Orleans. The weather in Texas was pretty bad, and the crude instrumentation in the DC-3 was not reassuring. It was a rough ride and it took forever.
That was my last flight in a DC-3.

I saw my last commercial DC-3 fly out of Honolulu in 1995. I had a consulting gig. Every day at dawn I would drive to the Naval Station Pearl Harbor, and usually I could see a lone DC-3 from Kamaka Air taking off from Honolulu airport. It flew cargo to Molokai and Lanai. It would lumber off just after dawn when the rest of the island was still sleeping, and the sound of those big avgas reciprocal engines on Hawaii would rock you right back to WWII. I can almost smell the exhaust now.

Tell me your DC-3 stories.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Time to pull the plug on the F-35 JSF

On 12 April 2010 I had a letter to the editor published in Aviation Week & Space Technology. In that letter, I advocated for the termination of the F-35 Lightening II aircraft, arguing that:

- There is no current or (projected) future threat that the F-35 would address, therefore no sense of urgency.

- The F-35 is simply unaffordable, having grown way, way beyond justifiable costs.

Today, I discovered that way back on March 20th, the GAO had prepared a scathing report on the F-35 program, citing cost overruns, testing disruptions, and numerous schedule delays. You can read the report here:

I stand by my earlier letter. Time to terminate the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, gather up the lessons learned, and restart.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Robert White, X-15 test pilot and space pioneer, dies

I want to pause a moment to reflect on the astonishing career of Major General Robert White, who passed away March 19, 2010. Robert White was not nearly as well known as some other early USAF test pilots, such as Chuck Yeager, but he was equally -- perhaps more -- famous and accomplished.

Nearly 50 years ago, Robert White was the Chief Test Pilot for the X-15 rocket-powered airplane. I remember being in awe of him as I built my model X-15.

He was the first man to break Mach 4. And the first man to break Mach 5. And the first man to break Mach 6 -- > 4,000 mph at an altitude of 59 miles

That was 50 years ago. No one has come close since. And at last he has slipped the surly bonds of Earth, and danced the skies on laughter silvered wings. Farewell Robert White.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

USAF launched unmanned "shuttle"

Surprisingly, the USAF has actually held the first launch of their robotic shuttle, the X-37B. When the NASA Space Shuttle program retires later this year, this will be the only launch-and-return vehicle in the entire US space inventory...and it's unmanned, and really a mini-shuttle, being only about 16 feet wide.

But, it's an interesting idea and darn well worth pursuing. Without a manned crew, both endurance, safety, and payload are improved. Undoubtedly the X-37B will carry classified USAF surveillance and detection equipment...and perhaps more, maybe real scientific experiments...but the important thing is it can return to Earth.

Will be fascinating to watch this vehicle, which is now aloft, and see how this first flight goes.

Friday, April 23, 2010

F/A-18 Super Hornet III ? Maybe.....

I've been interested lately in some suggestions that Boeing (I still want to say McDonnell Douglas) is quietly offering an upgraded Super Hornet III design, to more-or-less replace the existing F-35 Lightening II. The idea being that the F-35 is just too expensive and offers minimal enhancements over today's aircraft and certainly not over an enhanced Hornet.

Interesting idea that should be considered. I do think the F-35 is too expensive, too troubled, and will offer minimal enhancements in capability, particularly for the USN.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

EADS re-enters USAF Tanker Competition

Overcoming a previous withdrawal by partner Northrup Grumman, EADS -- the European consortium that makes the Airbus -- has decided to re-enter the competition for the next generation USAF tanker. This is great news as 1) the procurement needs competition to ensure a fair deal for the Govt, and 2) the Airbus A330 is probably the better airplane for this job, and I would say certainly better than the nearly 50 yr old 767.

So, I'm
happy to see this development, and hope for a fair and spirited competition.

Monday, February 25, 2008


The news arrived via an email from my former Commanding Officer, J.R Hutcinson. CDR Decoy Marksbury, a veteran of numerous carrier deployments, 9000 hrs flight time, 900 carrier landings, and countless moment of hilarity, maturity, bravery, and limitless friendships --- had passed away. Dead of a heart attach at age 63 years young, following a weekend of skiing with his family in Reno, NV.

Decoy leaves behind a wonderful family - his wonderful (and immensely patient ) wife Lora, daughter Julie, a son CAPT Joh Marksbury
USMC, currently based in Washington, DC. But more that that, he leaves behind a reputation of being one the best pilots, best officers, and best people that this Aviator had ever come to know.... Decoy was a giant in Naval Aviation.

I met Decoy ... his real name is Johnsten NAS Cecil Field in the mid 1970's. I was a nugget, just learning to fly the A-7E, an airplane in those days that was the most complex aircraft to fly, and one of the most capable -- all because it had an onboard computer, inertial nav, a HUD, and tons of other toys that the rest of the fleet wouldn't have until the F-18 cam
e along in the mid 1980s. And it had one pilot, and barely enough room for his ego.

A-7 pilots knew they were special because the plane they flew, the only one in the Navy with a single pilot and a single engine...but no limits on the danger of the missions to undertake. We were a cocky bunch, and rightly so...and Decoy was
the cockiest. He and I met several times at Wing social events. He was funny, irreverent, and yet wholesome. I admired him from the beginning.

Decoy hung around VA-72 at Cecil Field until they threw him out. He love the "Bluehawks". Still does, even they've been long gone since 1999. He went to the Naval Air Training Command. I met him there again in 1979-81. I was a flight instructor in T-2Cs, and Decoy flew the TA-4J. This was at NAS Chase Field in Beeville, TX, a sleepy place where you felt perfectly justified spending a lot of time at the local O'Club. Friendship and camaraderies came easily. And we flew ourselves senseless. Really racked up the hours and became incredibly proficient. Peak performance.

I soon left for the East Coast to join an Admiral's staff. Decoy finagled a second tour flying TA-4Js. Amazing.

In 1984 I volunteer to go to Midway/CVW-5 home based in Japan. It was long-standng desire on my part to see Japan and do something different, and although it probably jeopardized my promotion to Commanding Officer, it was worth it. Midway and CVW-5 did, without question, the best flying I ever did in my 20 years of being a part of Naval Aviation. Better missions, better aircraft, better wingmen. And low-and-behold, there was Decoy the Strike Ops officer on board Midway. He flew with VA-56, my squadron a lot. And we valued every minute of it. He had great experience, great judegement, insight, and a zeel for the work that was simply uncontrolled and totally contagious. And he could fly an airplane with the absolute best of thebest. A damn good pilot. A dependable wingman. A buddy on liberty. Rarely do civilians get to experience that kind of bonding.

VA-56 and CVW-5 went through a huge transition/decommissioning following our last curise in 1986. The plans to transition to the F-18 had fallen way behind schedule, and there was little reason not to decommission the squadrons and take other assignments. I went to Washington DC to serve in the Pentagon on the staff of the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF). I was the analyst who advised SECDEF on Navy and Marine Corps tactical aircraft programs. One program I had aegis of was the new Navy jet trainer, the T-45. The program was behind schedule for the worst of reasons, it just wasn't performing well and there were serious discussions of redesigning the entire aircraft. Then CNATRA staff nominated a young Navy CDR to help liaison the T-45 rollout--- of course, it was Decoy Marksbury. So yet again, even at the end of his career, I had the pleasure of working with him. And he made the T-45 spades.

It was the end of a long, valued, memory-field relationship when I learned Decoy had died. I will miss him. I will miss the men like him who had that unique combination of skill, bravado, courage, and strength to fly Navy excel as an Officer in the service of his country, as a father devoted to his family, and as a lifelong friend to so many of us who now are lesser because of our loss.

...Lord Guard and Guide the Men who Fly...