Archive for the 'Aviation & Space' Category


Good SpaceX Discussion at PJ Media

Saturday, October 13th, 2012

There is a good discussion about the SpaceX mission here:

I have a comment in there somewhere.


Blog has been Reactived! – Thank NASA SOCIAL!

Friday, October 5th, 2012

After almost two years to the day I’ve reactivated my blog.

I’ve been selected by ‘NASA Social’ to act as a ‘Social Media Reporter’ for the October 7 launch of the NASA/SPACEX Commercial Resupply Mission #1.

I’ve arrived at the Kennedy Space Center and am blogging from the Press Annex at Launch Complex 39. To say I am Gobsmacked is to understate.

I’ll be taking pictures, tweets, and recording video for YouTube.

My first video update is here.


EF-111A Training Flight, August 1987

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

I recently found an old VHS tape I made way back in ’87 when I was an EF-111A EWO in the 42d Electronic Combat Squadron, RAF Upper Heyford, UK.


Control Vision Anywhere Map Considered Unsatisfactory

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

At Air Venture 2007 I purchased an iPac based Anywhere Map GPS with XM weather from its manufacturer, Control Vision.

I had trouble with it for several months, and then it seemed to start working. Last winter I posted a review of the product here. My review was favorable overall. Today I updated the review to reflect more experience with the unit.

I’ve since had a lot of trouble with my Anywhere Map. XM weather only works occasionally, and today the GPS function died (‘no database found’ error).

I’ve had it with Anywhere Map. It’s a kludge of consumer parts held together with a flaky windows program.

I get sick every time I think about it. I could have had a Garmin for another $500. Garmins cost more because they are worth it. Now I’m stuck with this broken toy.

Don’t make the mistake I did.

If you need a reliable GPS/XM weather system, buy Garmin.


Hovering at 328,000 Feet

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

In my last entry I wrote the following:

I found myself wishing I had some kind of magic ability to hover without machinery. Something that would just suspend me silently in a transparent bubble at about 5000 feet so I could just absorb the sights.

I was just describing a sort of day dream I had while flying a Piper.

It turns out that up the road in Dallas someone is really working on making my day dream possible, although the hovering would involve a machine, and would occur at a much higher altitude than 5,000 feet:



It turns out that Armadillo Aerospace up in Dallas is working on a suborbital vehicle that might implement my hovering bubble idea. 

There are a lot of technical nits to pick with this concept, for sure.

On the other hand, there could not be a more ultimate ride than this!


Ein Kleiner Nachtflug

Saturday, February 9th, 2008

I had gone a month without flying, so on the spur of the moment I did a short flight last night.

 Piper Archer landing at night

I went from Austin (KAUS) to nearby Taylor (T74), did a couple of full stops, bought gas, and went back to Austin. It was a cool night, the sky was perfectly clear, not a trace of mist or cloud. There was no moon. The stars that night were big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas!

I must have seen over a hundred airplanes. They were everywhere I looked.

I slowed down for a couple of minutes over Taylor and just tried to take everything in. I started to find the noise of the Archer’s motor to be bothersome. I actually considered shutting it off for a brief moment before sanity interposed itself.

I found myself wishing I had some kind of magic ability to hover without machinery. Something that would just suspend me silently in a transparent bubble at about 5000 feet so I could just absorb the sights.

There was so much to see! Police cars with flashing lights on the ground. Rotating beacons flashing in all directions. Airplanes of all sizes all around. And the stars and planets arrayed in their full glory.

I love flying at night. I know its dangerous which is why I rarely take passengers. But it can be magic.


Image courtesy Dr Moores, used under CC license


Who’d of thunk it?

Friday, February 1st, 2008
What military aircraft are you?

EA-6B Prowler

You are an EA-6B. You are sinister, preferring not to get into confrontations, but extract revenge through mind games and technological interference. You also love to make noise and couldn’t care less about pollution.

Personality Test Results

Click Here to Take This Quiz
Brought to you by quizzes and personality tests.

Hat tip: Captain Lex


I have to say it Rob, it sucks to be you ( at least on that one day)

Monday, December 24th, 2007

For a while I’ve been following the blog of a USAF navigator who morphed into a regional airline pilot. To be honest, I’ve occasionally felt a little envy since he gets to fly for a living.

But on one particular day, it really sucked to be Rob.


How Cool Is This?!?

Friday, November 30th, 2007

Hat tip: Aviation Geek


Spark Vark Questions

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

I have a Google alert for the phrase ‘EF-111′, just for old times sake.

Usually they are for either a Seiko watch or brief mention of the airplane in an article about the Navy Growler airplane. The other day I got an alert that originated from an author of an upcoming DVD concerning the F-111 family of aircraft.

He was asking for former F-111 crew members to answer a few questions about the airplane. I sent him a note saying I’d be glad to answer his questions, I try not to be the old retired living-in-the-past geezer, but I’ll talk about my glory days if I think someone is really interested.

Just for the record, here are his questions about the Raven, and my answers:

“What were the EWO’s responsibilities?”

To give you some background, lets talk about what an EWO was. All EWOs started as graduates of what was then called Undergraduate Navigator Training (UNT). Most EWOs followed UNT with attendance at a specialized electronic warfare training course, although some navigators attended this course after an operation tour as a navigator.

EW school for me was six months long, but it got shorter in latter years. After UNT/EWO school our new EWO attends what was then called ‘fighter lead in’ where he (no women in the Raven) flew the AT-38, then replacement training in his end assignment airplane. New EWOs bound for the EF-111 would first attend the basic F-111A school before the EF-111A qualification course. Only a handful of EF-111 EWOs came straight out the training pipeline, most had at least one operational tour in a fighter.

There were a lot of former F-4G EWOs in the EF-111A, I was one of these. We took the conversion course into the F-111A before attending the EF-111A school at Mt Home AFB. Both the F-111A and EF-111A courses were the same for both pilots and navs. Flights and simulators were done as crews in most cases.

The F-111A conversion course was the most difficult training I have ever experienced. Very little of my F-4 experience was really relevant, the two airplanes being so different. The F-111 is far more complex than the F-4.

The EF school was a little easier for me, because from an electronic warfare point of view there was a lot of overlap between the F-4G and EF-111 in terms of required EW knowledge.

The F-4G and EF-111A formed an unbeatable team for destruction of enemy surface to air systems. In the EF-111A EWOs were expected to know everything about airplanes that the pilots knew, but pilots were not expected to know as much about electronic warfare as an EWO. To be fair, many EF-111A pilots studied until they were equal to their EWOs in technical EW knowledge, but this wasn’t required.

The practice in all models of the F-111 was to accomplish highly detailed mission planning for each mission. Mission planning was a primary WSO/EWO responsibility. All F-111 navigators were expected to be able to fly the ‘black line’ exactly, and arrive within a few seconds of the tasked time at each point on the plan, day or night, fair weather or foul, high or low altitude.

Besides the basic navigation planning the EWO had to plan how to employ the ALQ-99E jammer. The EF-111 carried ten jamming transmitters. There were a variety of different transmitters to choose from depending on the Raven’s targets. Most had steerable antennas.

The ALQ-99E jammer was programmed by the EWO, either by a very long and time consuming key entry system using the cockpit keypad (located where the right control stick is on other F-111s) or by a flight planning device which could save the program to a data tape. The EWO could program the system to look for specific threats based on received radar characteristics and position from the Raven, or it could be set to preemptively jam targets, received or not. There was a program for each transmitter.

Should the ALQ-99E computer fail (a rare occurrence) the EWO could manually control the transmitters using a control panel on the right console.

After mission planning the crew stepped to the airplane. The F-111 was designed as a two pilot airplane, much more so than the F-4. In the EF-111A we expected the EWO to conduct an entire preflight inspection of the airplane just as the pilot did.

Once both crewmembers inspected the airplane we would strap into the very comfortable cockpit. The F-4 cockpit was about like that of an 1850 steam locomotive in terms of comfort. The F-111 was like that of a new Lincoln Continental in terms of comfort.

The EF-111 retained the same flight control system and terrain following radar as the F-111A. These systems required complex checklist procedures after engine start. The EWO read the checklists and the pilot performed most of the actual steps. The EWO had to program the ALQ-99E and inertial navigation system, both complex tasks.

In the latter years of the system we received digital INS systems similar to those in the F-16.

“How did the EF-111 defend itself?”

The Raven had self-protection chaff and flares, and it had a fairly primitive self-protection jammer. The F-111 fighters sometimes carried AIM-9 missiles, but the operational Ravens did not. The operational Ravens (as opposed to our test bird) did not have a combining glass.

Our main defense in the F-111 was our great speed, especially speed at low level.Given even a little warning the Raven was very hard for a fighter to catch. The F-111 was the fastest airplane in the USAF inventory after the SR-71, and with 30,000 pounds of fuel we could both fly fast and fly a long time compared to smaller fighters.

For the Raven to operate in an orbit then some degree of local air superiority was required.

“Did it fly into combat with the strike package, or work as a stand-off jammer?”

Yes. Depending on the mission the Raven might orbit in an area jamming radars in the area while multiple attackers passed through the area. If a Raven was dedicated to a low level strike then it could egress at low altitude, pop up to altitude in order to provide jamming support during the most dangerous portions of the attackers ingress, and then withdraw with the last of the attackers.

Thanks to its great range and high speed it was rarely necessary for the strike package to change its plans to accommodate the Raven. The Raven could always be at the right place at the right time. This isn’t always true for our friends in the slower, shorter range EA-6B.

“What equipment did it carry to do the job (what did the ALQ-99 consist of?)?”

The Raven was a modified F-111A. It had a higher power engine (P109 I think), needed because it always flew at max weight. The engines were fitted with 25KVA generators developed for the F-14.

The right stick was removed and replaced with the computer keypad. The radar handle was moved from the right console to the center, enabling the pilot to perform radar navigation when needed.

The radar systems were identical with the F-111A except that the very large analog display tube with a hood was replaced by a smaller digital display unit in the Raven.

The ALQ-99E had three main subsystems, receivers, transmitters, and controls. The receivers and most of the receive antennas were in the ‘football’ on top of the vertical stabilizer. The former weapons bay, covered by the ‘canoe’ fairing, contained the ten interchangeable jamming transmitters. Most of the transmitters had steerable horn antennas, the lower frequency jammer antennas were mounted on the sides of the fuselage.

Near the rear of the fuselage were cooling doors that opened when the master radiate switch was selected.

The ALQ-99E was controlled by an IBM 4pi computer via the keypad, EWO display, and manual control panel in the cockpit. The ALQ-99E was powered by the main aircraft generators. When the ALQ-99E was activated with a combat jamming program there was an immediately noticeable aircraft deceleration due to the sudden generator load. We did lose generators from time to time, we were working them very hard.

“What did you like most about the EF-111?”

Everything. Flying the Raven was a fantastic experience. The airplane just breathed power. It was very, very, very fast. The flight control system was decades ahead of its time, giving a smooth comfortable ride no matter how low and fast you flew.

The crew capsule was extremely comfortable, nothing like the F-4.

As an EWO I was at the center of the action, I was busy every minute of the flight. Every single F-111 flight was an adventure. I never had a boring flight in the F-111. 

Ravens in the boneyard

The Raven was retired in 1998.