Nov 162013

    The “Up Front” commentary by AW&ST Senior Business Editor Joseph Anselmo (April 2,2012) got this senior citizen to thinking: Was the “space business” ever really meant to be a place for “we” to stay in? Growing up in Southern California during the halcyon days of the aerospace industry, my friends and I were raised on the “Promise of Tomorrow” as portrayed in the newly constructed Disneyland, and on the Sputnik-induced fear as spoofed in the movie “The Russian’s are coming”.

In those days, going into space was called the “Space Race”, not going into the “Business of Space”.  To win the space race against the Russians, there was a plan. Goals were set, objectives were achieved, and national pride was bolstered by being first on the moon. Mission accomplished. But what about the “business” of space?

Maintaining a manned presence in space never really had a business plan, certainly not in the sense that your local banker would expect if you came in for a loan. Rather, the public was assured of the “promise” of tomorrow’s unimagined benefits such as new technologies, new materials, perhaps even new or improved medicines manufactured in the weightlessness of space. All this to be achieved as our nation “invested” more and more into an hopeful results that lay just over the horizon.

Well, the public has since learned that government investment means spending our tax dollars, and that  hope is not a plan you can count on, certainly not in the costly business of space.

Charles Dusenbury

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Dec 042012

“A Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel stealth unmanned aerial system spied on Osama bin Laden the night before the special operations unit raid that successfully killed bin Laden at his mansion compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, according to an initial report by the National Journal.

The U.S. Air Force has never released a photograph of the Sentinel, developed by Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works, but it does acknowledge its existence, earning it the nickname the “Beast of Kandahar,” after the airfield it operates out of in Afghanistan…

Though its capabilities have never been formally outlined, the mission suggests the Sentinel is an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, whose multiple secretive missions might have consistently been related to bin Laden. The RQ UAV designation indicates that the system did not carry any weapons. The stealth body of the aircraft lead experts to speculate that the system was being used either over Iran or Pakistan, since the Afghanistan Taliban, according to a 2009 AFP news agency report, does not use radar systems….

UAS attacks more than tripled under the Obama administration and the leadership of Leon Panetta in the CIA, particularly along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border…”

[Excerpts from a UAV organization this writer belongs to:]

The RQ-170 Sentinel is reported to be operated by the 30th Reconnaissance Squadron at Tonopah Test Range, Nevada under the Air Combat Command, 432nd Wing, Creech AFB, Nevada. It is said to be a Lockheed Skunk Works project.

You may recall that the Have Blue/F-117 Skunk Works designed aircraft flew out of Tonapah. Reports have it that the RQ-170 has been operating out of Kandahar since 2007.

More informtion available at:

Nov 162013



Arms Race: a thing of the past? Perhaps if one drives a Volvo with a fading peace-symbol or is a federal budget planner very much under the gun.

Certainly many, this writer included, are not surprised to learn that China is rapidly advancing in the world of technology. After all, read the fine print under this or any other electronic device and you will no doubt find it arrived on a Slow Boat FROM China. What is surprising is the admission that our nation lacks the intelligence, not the bright people, to assess and meet the challenges of China’s growing military clout. The following brief excerpts from Aviation Week, the Wall Street Journal, and the Economist, raises considerable concerns. One glance at these comments and you may agree, America does indeed have a race problem, an Arms Race problem.

“With the surprise rollout and high-speed taxi tests of China’s newest J-20 fighter, a stealth prototype, theU.S. Navy’s top intelligence official admits that the Pentagon has erred in its estimates of the speed with which Beijing is introducing new military technology  The aircraft’s existence was not a surprise to the intelligence community; but “one of the things that is. . . true is that we have been pretty consistent in underestimating the delivery and initial operational capability of Chinese technology weapons systems,” says Vice  Admiral David J. Dorsctt, deputy chief of naval operations for information dominance and director of naval intelligence. Two recent examples of misanalysis have been the J-20 fighter and the TF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (AIV&ST Jan. 3, p. 18). Moreover, there is evidence that China’s advances include high-performance engines and missiles that display a new level of technical maturity and performance.” (Aviation Week online)

BEIJING—China conducted the first test flight of its stealth fighter just hours before U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates sat down with President Hu Jintao here to mend frayed relations, undermining the meeting and prompting questions over whether China’s civilian leadership is fully in control of the increasingly powerful armed forces.

SYDNEY—U.K. Secretary for Defense Liam Fox emphasized Tuesday the importance of the next generation U.S. F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to counter China’s development of its own stealth jet, after Britain and Australia agreed to strengthen defense cooperation in Asia during talks in Sydney.

Tom Burbage, general manager of the F-35 program for Lockheed Martin Corp., said Beijing’s progress in developing the J-20 has created a “stronger sense of urgency” throughout the Asian-Pacific region about air-force modernization. He said Japan, South Korea and Singapore are now engaged in bilateral discussions with U.S. government officials over the F-35.

China insists that its growing military and diplomatic clout pose no threat. The rest of the world is not so sure.

But perhaps Shakespeare said it best:  “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your intelligence reports!”

Nov 112013

Boeing just revealed its most recent HALE (High Altitude Long Endurance) PHANTOM UAV. To read the Phantom’s performance goals of several days endurance at over 65,000ft is déjà vu all over again at the Hiller Aviation Museum. Suspended from the ceiling, the 1980s CONDOR spreads its magnificent 200ft wing span across the top of the entire museum’s displays.

Here; listen and read for yourself. The voice may be familiar, even if the facts are new.

Condor Final wav

Nov 142013

Selex Sistemi Integrati (SSI) is developing Passive Air Surveillance Radar. It is referred to as a “bi-static system”, that is, one in which the receiver is widely separated from “non-cooperative” transmitters.

In other words, it does not have its own transmitter. Instead, it uses regular FM radio transmissions that bounce of an object. It can also use digital TV transmission or even cell phone frequencies to detect the target.

Obviously, this would make this system very hard to detect and destroy. Multiple antennas can give 3d coordinates.

The following link will take you to “Defense Technology International” article. Click on “inside” to read the rest of this very interesting magazine.

Selex Sistemi Integrati (in english, though linking to it in Italian was very tempting):

At first this seemed like a very original and off the wall idea, but then it was recalled that both Marconi and Tesla had noted that radio beams could be reflected and received. Indeed, what is now called radar was early on an irritating static reflection.

What goes around comes around, or is that merely a passive reflection.

Tesla, in August 1917,  gave the following:

For instance, by their [standing electromagnetic waves] use we may produce at will, from a sending station, an electrical effect in any particular region of the globe; [with which] we may determine the relative position or course of a moving object, such as a vessel at sea, the distance traversed by the same, or its speed.

Marconi in a 1922 paper he wrote:

I also described tests carried out in transmitting a beam of reflected waves across country . . . and pointed out the possibility of the utility of such a system if applied to lighthouses and lightships, so as to enable vessels in foggy weather to locate dangerous points around the coasts…

Oh, did the top photo of rather spindly radar look familiar? Perhaps “Chain Home” came to mind.

Or perhaps you were picturing the German Bf 110G-4 night fighter, ya?

Nov 112013

“Dubbed Osa’s Ark for its definitive zebra paint scheme based on the S-38 filmmakers/authors Osa and Martin Johnson flew over Africa in the 1930s.

Igor Sikorsky’s first flying boat design, the S-38’s maiden flight was in 1928. It was called “The Explorer’s Air Yacht” and “The Flying Yacht,” and a total of 110 were produced and used by adventure seekers and fledging airline companies. Schrade’s S-38 reproduction was built with original Sikorsky plans by the late Buzz Kaplan’s “Born Again Restorations,” of Owatonna, Minnesota.

Beginning August 20, he will make a charity flight from Minnesota to Berlin, Germany, in cooperation with The Wings of Hope, which provides support for other humanitarian organizations worldwide through the coordination of air transport for rescue workers, supplies, and patients. From Minnesota, the S-38 will cross Labrador, South Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, Faeroe Islands, London, Brussels, and Frankfurt, before arriving in Berlin.”

In the early 1950s, this writer recalls watching the B&W TV program I Married Adventure”. Osa Johnson hosted the showing of films that she and her photographer husband, Martin Johnson had made in a lifetime of exploration in Africa and Borneo. Martin was killed in the crash of a commercial DC-3 in Newhall, CA on approach to Burbank Airport.

There is now a display in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Borneo commemorating the couple’s many expiditions there. Interestingly, in WWII that north Borneo town and its neighboring Sandakan were attacked by the B-25 Strafers of the 345th Bomb Group “Air Apaches”. Another episode of interest to this writer.

The home museum of the Martin and Osa Johnson Foundation is in Osa’s home town of Chanute, Kansas. More on the Johnson.s remarkable life in a later blog. It would be fun to do a whole PowerPoint presentation on this fascinating couple.

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Dec 042012

“On a cool November morning in 1917, a young Kansas couple sailed into the South Pacific dawn…” Now how’s that for a great start to a biography? “As the sun rose higher above the horizon, the great banks of mist that had clothed the mountains began to disappear, revealing the high green valleys of the Big Nambas.”

Having come ashore, as Martin and Osa climbed up a heavily forested hill, they were suddenly surrounded by several natives and their leader Nihapat, “…the  most frightful, yet finest type of savage I have ever seen. A magnificent sight—six feet tall, with bushy hair, a full beard, and a stick through the cartilage of his nose…” Perhaps the Martins may have actually been the first to say, “I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” This was only the first of many close calls over the next twenty years of pioneering the production of real-life natural history films in the South Pacific, Borneo and Africa.

Why are Martin and Osa Johnson not very well know these days? Perhaps their successful commercialism and public notoriety was looked down upon by “serious” explorers. Heaven knows they actively sought and exploited publicity; show business was their business. Producing dramatic footage of charging animals and threatening savages certainly added excitement and fulfilled the public’s stereotypes of “Darkest Africa”.

The Johnsons were on the lecture circuit, presenting and narrating their films to live audiences. Just picture the scene in a contemporary movie of the times, “King Kong”. The great white hunter pulls back the curtain to reveal the giant ape to an astonished crowd. No more astonishing really than how two kids from the dusty Plaines of Kansas could have created a lifetime of filming adventure and introducing an astonished public to the wonders of the broader world hitherto beyond imagining.

For the sharp-eyed of my readers, that single engined Sikorsky in the top photo is an S-39. The Johnsons had both models. As an aside, the modern reproduction of the twin-engined S-38 was named “Osa’s Ark” even though originally it was the single engined plane so named.

The quotes in the first paragraph at the beginning of this blog are from the book, “They Married Adventure”:

There exists in Kansas a town of about 10,000 souls named Chanute, which calls itself the hub of southeast Kansas. It is here, in 1894 that Osa was born. It is now home to the Martin and Osa Johnson Museum, called the Safari Museum:

The town itself was named after Octave Chaunute, an aviation pioneer in his own right, was by 1901  exchanging many technical letters with the Wright Brothers:

Photos of  glider-shaped kites flown by the Wright brothers, including one photo by Chaunute on a visit to Kitty Hawk:

The aircraft photos are from a large and interesting collection:

Dec 042012

Iran recently released photos of equipment  they threaten can be used for swarm attacks on shipping in the Persian Gulf. The concept of course is to overwhelm a ship’s defenses by sheer numbers. These first images illustrate craft utilizing ‘ground-effect’ technology. I question how much weight of weaponry they could carry, how stealthy to radar, and as one who has done a bit of boating, I wonder how these behave on rough water?

The concept of ‘wing-in-ground-effect’ (WIG) vehicles is certainly not new. There have been many concepts and attempts over the years. Here is an extreme example.  From 1987 into early 1990’s, the Russian navy operated the MD-160 Lun. Nearly as big as the Spruce Goose, it had eight turbojets, six missile launchers, and advanced radar tracking on the nose and tail. Two things to note of interest: it is skimming over smooth water, and those dates correspond to the fall of the Soviet Union.

And then there is this fleet of Iranian mini subs in the following illustration. Speed, range, guidance, and that pesky question of heavy munitions comes up again. Both types of equipment shown here are based out of the port of Bandar Abbas, strategically located just west of the Strait of Hormuz. Several interesting topics come to mind, which will be enumerated below. As an aside, if someone had told me when I was a young man that this is what I had to do to get 72 virgins, or even one for that matter, I might have just moved to West Hollywood.

Seeing these crew members at attention on these mini subs reminded me of a photo I had seen taken in Kure,  Japan soon after the surrender.

The common term then was midget subs, but the picture has a giant effect. All these midget subs stacked like cord wood, as well as thousands of aircraft, were being held back for a massive last-ditch suicide attack against the inevitable invasion ofJapan by thousands upon thousands of young American boys and men. The resulting carnage unleashed had Operation Downfall come to pass is beyond imagining.

A pre-invasion study estimated that conquering Japan would cost 1.7 to 4 million American casualties, including 400,000 to 800,000 fatalities.  Japan would suffer five to ten million Japanese fatalities.

Numbers too awful to contemplate, and unfortunately often forgotten. Certainly such statistics were not considered  by those arrested in 1995 at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum for throwing ash and blood on the cockpit display of the Enola Gay.

Today, the Enola Gay and many other representative aircraft which have served to protect our rights to free self expression sit proudly in the Udvar-Hazy Center adjacent to Dulles Airport. A place well worth a visit.

Dec 042012

A bunch of you have indicated you would like to go up to the Hiller with me for another tour. Great. Anytime. Let’s set the date. Being associated with the museum and the terrific staff and bunch of volunteers there is one of the best experiences of my life. Each visit I learn additional things from the exhibits, the staff, the experiences of the retired docents, and often from our very knowledgeable visitors.

The photo above gives you a full sweep of 100 years of mechanized flight. From the earliest open stick and wire biplanes on the right, through slick composite skinned jets and Boeing’s SST, and into the future of aerospace represented by the blue seats to the left. There, each year, hundreds of young people have the opportunity to go through an entire ground school, air traffic control, and virtual flight learning experience.

Another trip up to the Hiller? You bet! Just name the day.

Dec 042012

Credit to for the above photo. Interesting to see the Red Star on the fuselage. The pilot was still inside. On his remains were found the Glory Order III Degree and Military Red Banner Order medals.

The above picture and the excerpt below are from :

This amazing Bell P39 was located at the bottom of Lake Mart-Yavr within the Russian Arctic Circle in the summer of 2004. As with other recoveries over the years, it was discovered by a fisherman who saw the silt covered outline through the crystal clear water.

The P39 sat on the bottom of a shallow lake at a depth of 5m, covered and buried up to the top of the propeller spinner in fine silt. Covered in silt, no markings were initially visible but after a little brushing, a red star appeared together with a yellow serial on the fin and rudder. With the serial now known, a search through the archives showed the pilot had disappeared on a transfer flight in November 1944.

Taking advantage of the good weather, the recovery team used air bags, tripod frames and a truck winch to bring the P39 to the shore. It caused concern that when the P39 emerged both the cockpit doors were still closed. Usually, if it was a water landing, one or both would have been jettisoned allowing for a quick exit. If the lake had been frozen, the team would still have expected one door to be open following any force landing.

The reason soon became apparent; for some unknown reason, the pilot had not exited the P39 and his remains were located in the cockpit. Missing for 60 years, the pilot was buried on 6 October 2004 with full military honours at the Glory Valley Memorial, near the Litza Valley, NW of Murmansk.