F-22 in the Wind
The B-1 was designed, dropped, then re-adapted. Today it’s treated like the bastard child of USAF bombers. I still maintain that the answer to USAF efforts to not be “peers” with our enemies (I use that term correctly) is not to create another wonder weapon, but to build out the [fifth-gen] aircraft we already have—the F-22 [See “How Long Will the B-1 Last,” January/February, p. 30].
But, I fear that is a word into the wind now. Let’s see how long it takes any real numbers of this new super-secret fighter we’ve prototyped to actually reach front-line service. I’m betting a decade, minimum.
Norman E. Gaines
I was a boom operator for over 30 years, from 1954 to 1984. I flew in KB-29Ps, KC-97s, and KC-135As. I agree the fiasco of the KC-46 tells us, as retired Colonel Samuel writes in your November issue [p. 6], that it’s time to get the boomer on his belly again, or at least back in the rear of the tanker. In the KB-29P days, for refueling the boom had to move from the aft fuselage area back to the tail compartment after the plane was depressurized. On the way back, it was always a good idea to grab the APU (auxiliary power unit) gas can as you went by … you never knew if you would be isolated in your refueling compartment for 40 minutes or four hours.
Refueling F-84s was not on the strict timetables of today’s refuelings. You did your work seated on a uncomfortable plywood-type seat. You had excellent vision looking down over the top of the flying boom, which was similar to the ones used today. Of course the aircraft would have to be depressurized again for you to return to your scanner position carrying your walk-around bottle of oxygen, and that APU gas can that you might have made use of!
When I eventually moved into the KC-97s, I figured to be in “hog heaven” for the newly discovered comfort and ease of operation. And that got ever better in the KC-135. I can’t imagine that the general in Colonel Samuel’s experience might have thought laying down refueling might be uncomfortable. To me, it is the preferred position. In times during SEA (Southeast Asia) operations, the boom pod, with its three pallets (KC-135) was akin to a bed away from home. It was an honor and a privilege for me to have such a great Air Force job for over 30 years.
CMSgt. Richard P. Hoff,
It is clear to see that “Belly-Flop” was not part of the KC-10 boomer’s life [“Letters: Belly-Flop,” November 2020, p. 4]. They had three first-class lounge chairs to use—center was the boomer, with the student, visitor, or friend right alongside. They sat in front of a world-class picture window of the action. I wish Colonel Samuel could see one. My wife and I agree that the lounge chairs are very comfortable during refueling operations!
TSgt. Reginald E. Holden,
The saga of the KC-46 reminded me of a little-known bit of C-17 drama. Late in development and before the merger with Boeing, McDonnell Douglas (MD) offered a series of cost and weight savings options to the Air Force. One involved the ditching latches, which need to be in place in the event of a water landing to keep the large cargo door from opening. These were designed to be activated by a switch on the loadmaster’s station in the forward cargo compartment. MD suggested changing these to manual—saving weight, software, and other costs.
As the assistant deputy chief of staff for requirements at Hq. Air Mobility Command, I thought this made some sense, since in the event of a possible ditching I thought a visual check on the latches would be in order. As we dug into this issue further, we learned that there was not a single case of an Air Force four-engine jet (some C-130 turboprops had faired better) aircraft going into the water that was considered a survivable impact! The implication was that all the water life-support equipment, including rafts, had not saved a single life! Perhaps the time had come to eliminate the life rafts in the C-17.
These rafts were particularly complex, involving pyrotechnics to cut away upper-wing skin and catapults to pitch them free of the hopefully floating aircraft. Considering the initial cost, maintenance costs, life-support manning, and significant lifetime fuel burn hauling the rafts around, a case could be made to eliminate them. Alas, although considered at the highest levels of the Air Force, the decision was made to retain them, where they remain to this day unused. Perhaps the next generation will re-look [at] the raft issue.
Col. Michael R. Gallagher,
I first piloted KC-135s back in the days of Strategic Air Command alert, when they were only about 17 years old. Now, the airframes are approaching 65.
Despite our affection for the sterling performance of our old Stratotankers, it’s time for the Air Force to accelerate efforts to effectively replace them, before their history is forever tainted by catastrophe. Sixty-five years before the first KC-135 flew, the airplane had yet to be invented.
Col. David R. Haulman,
There is a glaring omission in the ISR section of John A. Tirpak’s “Desert Storm’s Unheeded Lessons” [December 2020, p. 30]. There is no acknowledgment of the contributions of the RC-135V/W Rivet Joint. The airplane(s) and crews arrived within two weeks of Saddam [Hussein’s] invasion of Kuwait and are still serving in the area. The unit is the longest continuously deployed organization in the theater.
Maj. Pete Siegel,
n “Desert Storm’s Unheeded Lessons” wasn’t intended as a comprehensive history; it was, rather, an examination of current capabilities in comparison to a comparable, but more modern threat. For a thorough examination of the RC-135’s role in Desert Storm, search our online archive for “Ears of the Storm,” from 1992 (https://www.airforcemag.com/article/0292ears/).—The Editors
A few suggestions for the B-52 mods in the future [See “BUFF Up,” October 2020, p. 36]:
First, in the space where the tail gun used to be, install a powerful, off-the-shelf APU, perhaps from the 747-800 or 777 programs. The fuel intake could be from the aft tank, the bleed air line could be run in a dorsal fairing outside the fuselage on top, up to the wing leading edge. This would allow B-52 ops globally without ground support equipment, along with possibly extra electrical power for directed-energy weapons to be fitted in the future.
Second, the aft end of each underwing fuel tank could be removed and replaced with a hose-and-drogue assembly, allowing the future “B-52K” to refuel probe-equipped aircraft while on the way to the target. This would allow, for instance, a fighter escort to accompany the B-52K almost anywhere on the globe’s surface, even over the North Pole. Consider that Sargent Fletcher had developed, years ago, fuel tanks for the F-16 that contain an extendable probe, enabling an F-16 to take fuel from drogues as well.
Third, a rear-facing tail, warning active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar could be installed, along with a rear-facing launcher, similar in concept to the RIM-116 launcher on Navy ships. The RIM-116 could be fitted with an AIM-120 compatible data link and directed onto trailing aircraft or even possibly large surface-to-air missiles. It would nevertheless provide rear hemisphere situational awareness.
Fourth, the external fuel tanks could also be modified so that the front or rear section contained a high-gain, data link antenna for control of man-in-the-loop missiles, such as the AGM-142, SLAM-ER, etc. The data link antenna module or the hose-and-drogue modules could be installed or removed as required, with no disturbance of center of gravity or aerodynamics. Some wiring would have to be run up the leading edge to the fuselage.
Fifth, instead of mounting a pod in a non-optimum position underwing, why not take an off-the-shelf, large electo- optical turret, such as the MX-20, and make the necessary physical mountings to put two in place of the enhanced flight vision system (EVS) blisters. The current EVS is pretty much useless in the B-52’s high-altitude mission set. This would allow, for instance, the two weapon systems officers in the back to sequentially laser designate vehicles in a column and wipe out an entire mechanized battalion in one run from 40,000 feet with, say, Griffin A-type weapons.
Sixth, design conformal ejector fairings to allow perhaps a half-dozen AIM-120 type air-to-air missiles to be fitted under each external fuel tank for launch against forward hemisphere targets assigned by the new AESA radar. This would be a convenient place to hang them.
The B-52 could become a true “Stratofortress” and shoot its way into a target area, destroying everything around and under it.
MSgt. Chris Dierkes,
Westhampton Beach, NY.
MiG, not Raptor
Not to be overly picky, but the photo on p. 40 of the latest issue (Jan/Feb 2021), purported to depict “two USAF F-22 fighters”, actually depicts two MiG-31s escorting one of their own—and probably not “approaching Alaska” (MiG-31s don’t often escort Tu-95s on EW and recce missions of this type; the MiG-31 is a defensive and not an offensive weapon by its very nature).
Fort Worth, Texas
- Mr. Miller is correct. The photograph on p. 40 of the January/February issue shows two Russian MiG-31 fighters, not USAF F-22 fighters, escorting two Russia Tu-95 bombers. We regret the error.—The Editors