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McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle

Single-Seat Air Superiority Fighter with Secondary Attack Capability

Figure 1: F-15 Eagle. United States Air Force 081922-F-8732E-201.


In the mid-1960s, the U.S. Air Force was concerned. Vietnam was showing that the F-4 could barely take on second-generation Soviet fighters such as the MiG-19 and MiG-21. At the same time, it was known that the Soviet Union was testing superior third-generation fighters. At the low end, the MiG-23 “Flogger” appeared to be a superior fighter to the F-4.[1] At the high end, the speedy MiG-25 “Foxbat” was a trisonic interceptor and reconnaissance aircraft, although the U.S. mistakenly believed the MiG-25 was an agile fighter. After briefly considering and rejecting the F-14, the Air Force released specifications in 1968 for a no-holds-barred air superiority fighter with minimal air-to-ground capability. It would be a modern counterpart to the P-51 Mustang of World War II and the F-86 Sabre in Korea. Although air-to-ground...

Lockheed F-104 Starfighter

The Zipper.

Designed as a day fighter, the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter was created by placing the most powerful available jet engine in the smallest possible fuselage. USAF pilots called it the Zipper or the Zip.

Source: United States Air Force

Key Points

It was the first aircraft to do sustained Mach 2 flight and the first to hold speed and altitude records simultaneously, as well as the first to reach 100,000 feet.

The Starfighter had a terrible safety record. It had tiny wings, a thin, heavy fuselage and a T-tail that created serious aerodynamic issues. In addition, early J79 engines were notoriously unreliable.

The USAF bought some F-104s for the Air Defense Command as stopgap interceptors until F-106s arrived. It also bought some F-104s as interim fighter-bombers until the F-105 was available.

The USAF only purchased 296 F-104s. The small fuselage limited internal fuel capacity and prevented it from having a powerful radar. When F-105s and F-106s arrived, only...

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15bis

In November 1950, a fleet of small but very fast MiG-15s began to devastate United Nations fighters and bombers over North Korea. These new swept wing fighters were much faster and more maneuverable than U.S. Air Force fighters being used in the Pacific Theater at the time.

Only when the U.S. rushed F-86 Sabres into the fight several months later did the U.S.-led U.N. operation have a comparable fighter. Even then, there were far more MiGs than F-86 Sabres. Fortunately, these fighters remained in a small area in the north of North Korea called “MiG Alley.” MiG-15s denied U.N. forces air superiority until the U.S. learned to take advantage of the North American F-86s capabilities. Even the mighty B-29s were reduced to night bombing.

Figure 1: MiG-15 at Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor.

Most of these new MiG-15s were the improved MiG-15bis model. In World War II, the Soviets produced some of the best aircraft in the world, and they moved quickly into jets. They...

North American F-86E Sabre

Birth of the Sabre.

After World War II, countries built many aircraft designs to try to discover the best ways to use jet engines in fighters. All but one of the new designs by North American, with the exception of the F-86 Sabre, were originally proposed with straight wings. However, captured engineering data from postwar Germany showed the advantages of swept wings. As an aircraft approaches the speed of sound, the leading edges of some parts of the aircraft reach Mach 1 earlier than other parts. Affected sections emit shock waves perpendicular to the aircraft, sapping the aircraft’s speed and causing buffeting. (To people watching the aircraft fly by, these shock waves appear to form a cone around the aircraft.) Once an aircraft passes the sound barrier, this “Mach shock” bleeds off, but getting to that point proved to be difficult. By sweeping the wings back, designers could delay Mach shock on the wings, allowing the aircraft to fly closer to the speed of sound. After...

Boeing B-52 Stratofortress

Intercontinental Strategic and Tactical Bomber

B-52 dropping up to 81 1,000 pound bombs. Air Force Photograph 041105-O-9999G-012

Since the 1950s, the Boeing B-52 has been America’s “big stick.” This massive and far-ranging aircraft began as a high-level strategic nuclear bomber, changed to a low-level nuclear strategic bomber when Soviet anti-aircraft missiles improved, and then evolved again into a conventional bomber in Vietnam. Although the B-52 remains nuclear capable, its role since the 1960s has been to drop massive loads of conventional bombs. Although its official name is Stratofortress, nearly everybody calls it the BUFF—the Big Ugly Fat Fellow. Early models of the B-52 had a crew of five—two pilots, a bombardier, a route navigator, and electronic weapons systems officer, and a tail gunner. Today, in the B-52H, it flies without a tail gun or tail gunner.

The B-52 was born in October 1948. Boeing engineers traveled to Wright Field, Ohio, to pitch a new bomber to...

VF-6: The Deadly Night of December 7, 1941

ENS Gayle L. Herman’s Wildcat (U.S. Navy Photograph NH 97485)

The night of Dec. 7, 1941, was cold and rainy. Personnel on Ford Island still huddled in ditches, makeshift shelters or hangars, waiting for the Japanese Navy to come back and finish the job. But there was more death to come that night. A hundred miles from Hawai‘i, an Enterprise air-search force was returning near dusk after failing to find the Japanese fleet. With light fading and aircraft short of fuel, Enterprise sent six F4F Wildcat fighters to instead land on Ford Island’s runway. All were members of carrier fighter squadron VF-6. In minutes, five aircraft were shot down, with three of the pilots killed — all by friendly fire.


Hebel and Menges

With LT(jg) Francis F. “Fritz” Hebel in the lead, the flight approached a blacked-out Oahu, the only light coming from fires of the morning attack. Wingman ENS Herbert H. Menges flew alongside Hebel. Following were ENS...

Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter (And T-38 Talon)

In the 1950s, with jets growing larger and more expensive, Northrop developed a design for a small, simple, and inexpensive — yet still supersonic — aircraft.

The aircraft used two GE J85 engines weighing less than 500 pounds, yet producing up to 5,000 pounds of thrust.

The Air Force initially adopted the design as the two-seat T-38 Talon supersonic trainer. This is still its main advanced trainer today.

The F-5 version was built as a high-performance, inexpensive export fighter for U.S. allies. Early models were the F-5A and F-5B Freedom Fighter. Later models were the F-5E and F-5F Tiger II.

Our bird is an F-5A built in 1968. It was initially sold to the Shah of Iran and later traded to Jordan.

F-5s are still used today as adversary aircraft in dissimilar air-combat training.

In Vietnam, the USAF used F-5s in the brief Skoshi (small) Tiger program. Afterwards, the aircraft were loaned to the Republic of Vietnam Air Force. The aircraft proved to be good bomb haulers...

The Mig-21 Fishbed

In Vietnam, the great air rivalry was between the massive F-4 Phantom II and the small MiG-21, which American’s called Fishbed. Both were Mach 2 fighters, although most dogfights were fought at much lower speeds. However, they took very different paths to achieve their high speeds.

The F-4 was designed as an interceptor to shoot down Soviet bombers threatening the fleet. To be effective over very long ranges, and to accommodate advanced radar electronics and a second crew member to run the electronics, the F-4 had to be a huge machine with two powerful engines. As with many U.S. aircraft of that era, it was designed without guns. However, when it was doing counter-air work, it had a heavy arsenal of four radar-guided missiles and four heat-seeking missiles. There was nothing stealthy about the F-4. Its engines smoked like a locomotive, and it was visible from miles away. The Phantom II was a battle axe.

In contrast, the MiG-21 was a rapier. It was a small aircraft—barely...

LT Frank A. Erickson at Ford Island Control Tower, December 7, 1941

From the Ford Island control tower, LT Erickson watched in horror as men drowned in the harbor. Boats tried to rescue the sailors, but they could not get through the flames. The frustrated Erickson remembered an article about new kind of aircraft called the helicopter. Helicopters could hover over a position, making them perfect for flying to swimming sailors and hosting them to safety. LT Frank A. Erickson spent the rest of his career in the United State Coast Guard making his dream of rescue helicopters real. He was, in many ways, the father of Coast Guard helicopter rescue.

LT Frank A. Erickson was the early morning duty officer for Naval Air Station Pearl Harbor. From his post in the Administration Building on Ford Island, LT Erickson watched the morning flag- team prepare to hoist the colors. Following that, he would be relieved. Suddenly, bombs began to fall near the southern end of the base. As LT Erickson turned toward the shipyard, he could see torpedo bombers...

Douglas C-47/DC-3 “Cheeky Charlie”

Douglas C-47/DC-3 “Cheeky Charley”

Twin-engine Military Transport and Cargo Aircraft with a Crew of Three

Figure 1: The Cheeky Charley in Hawaii, in Military Camouflage Source: www.oldprops.ukhome.net

Key Points

  • The C-47 “Gooney Bird” was a military version of the Douglas DC-3, which entered service in 1936. The DC-3 is one of the most important transport aircraft of all time.
  • More than 16,000 civilian and military versions of the DC-3 were built.
  • C-47s could carry 28 passengers or 6,000 pounds of cargo, at a cruising speed of 160 mph, over a range of up to 1,600 miles. Civilian DC-3s normally served 21 passengers in seven rows of seats, with two on one side an isle and one on the other.
  • C-47s were used everywhere in World War II. They hopped among in the Pacific to fly long distances. They also flew supplies “over the hump” from India to China.
  • After World War II, most C-47s and other military variants were sold as surplus to airlines, making the...

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