Saturday, August 29, 2009

Flock of Ospreys

I think it'd be pretty hard to find a modern military aircraft that's stirred up more controversy than the V-22 Osprey. Sure, the F-22 is expensive and much of its role arguably obsolete, but it's still the best damn air superiority fighter in the world.

The Osprey, on the other hand, seems to be one teething problem after another. Engine exhaust that warps unprepared decks and lights landing zone foliage on fire. HIGE (Hovering in Ground Effect) issues when operating aboard ship with one engine over the side. Numerous crashes during its development phase that killed nearly two dozen people. Mechanical and maintenance problems caused by a lack of parts. Public relations disasters in many areas of its deployment, from falsified maintenance records to massive cost overruns. It hasn't lived up to its promised range and speed requirements.

Nonetheless, I'll admit: I'm a fan of the airplane, or at least its concept. When pushing aside the logistics, costs, and general public relations issues, the aircraft is a marvel of engineering. Unlike many other bloggers who hope it fails and want the U.S. to buy up a ton of modernized CH-53s or CH-47s, I'd actually like to see it succeed. The last I've heard its situation appears to be improving, with its deployment ships learning how best to operate their new toy.

Until today, I'd only seen one before in real life. In 2007, I took a Caribbean Carnival cruise out of Fort Lauderdale. The FLL Air & Sea show was in full swing as we were getting ready to depart. The USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) pulled into Port Everglades and docked right beside us, right in front of my balcony. On her deck sat a V-22.

USS Kearsarge getting pushed into her berth.

V-22 Osprey onboard

V-22 getting maneuvered about by a tug with a Princess cruise ship leaving beyond it.

Well, this morning, I was running some errands near Pensacola Regional Airport. Driving past the main airport entrance, I happened to look left towards the terminal. Heliworks - our local helicopter FBO that sits next to the terminal - sometimes has odd aircraft over the weekend. I've seen CH-53s, CH-47s, CH-46s and other military hardware there before.

A gaggle of strange rotors and twin tails peeked up beyond the fence. What the...?

After a quick U-turn, I drove into the parking lot adjacent to Heliworks. And there I found five V-22s from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron VMM-266. Odd aircraft indeed!

This is a perfect example of why I always keep a camera on me. I took a couple of panoramas and a bunch of standalone shots.

Five Ospreys of VMM-266

A Continental Express Beech 1900 taking off beyond.

Cloudy nose-on.

Ah! There's the sun.

Broad rotors.

Funny how dirty the engine nacelles are. These aren't exactly two decades old.

Rotors up.

Pilots from Navy Training Air Wing Five (TAW-5 NAS Whiting) tying down their H-57, with their (possible) future ride in the background.

That's our new TRACON to the right of the tower. Hopefully we'll be there in October.

It's funny; I wasn't the only one intrigued by these strange airplanes. I was there maybe ten minutes taking these shots, and no less than a dozen cars pulled up to admire the Ospreys. Parents with kids in tow, old ladies, photographer-types with long lensed cameras - a bizarre crossection of people, all fascinated by these aeronautical oddities.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

In the News

It's kind of funny when the aircraft you work - or may wind up working in the future - appear as front page news in the local paper.

The articles below relate to Choctaw Field and Whiting NAS. Here's where these fall within our radar map:

From the Northwest Florida Daily News:

Navarre Potential Destination for F-35

NAVARRE — Eglin Air Force Base officials hosted a meeting Tuesday to discuss an alternative that would use Choctaw Field in South Santa Rosa County for the Joint Strike Fighter training mission.

The meeting introduced three alternatives that are being considered in the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the bed-down of the F-35 jets.

Of the three alternatives introduced, Choctaw Field (also known as Alternative 3) would have the greatest impact on the Holley-Navarre area.

The alternative would add a runway to Choctaw’s main airfield for the F-35 or use the current runway and add a landing, helicopter and assault area on the east side of the existing airfield. Either option would conflict with the existing Navy training at the airfield.

Two residents spoke at the meeting. Both favored using Choctaw Field, calling the potential noise “the sound of freedom.”

David Del Castillo lives 13 to 15 miles from Choctaw Field and saw several advantages.

“I believe that placing military aircraft at Choctaw Field, or anywhere in this area, is very good for the community. It’s also good for the Air Force,” he said. “I believe that Highway 87 directly connecting to Choctaw Field offers a lot of advantages. Heavy cargo could be brought in by trucks, never having to impact communities in Navarre. It could potentially provide employment to the community.”

Choctaw Field is located on the far west corner of Eglin Air Force Base’s range between East Bay and State Road 87 south of Interstate 10.

The airfield would be an hour commute for Joint Striker Fighter students who will attend classes in the training school under construction at Eglin.

Increased activity at Choctaw Field also could interfere with Bob Sikes Airport, Whiting Field and Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport, according to a brochure available at the meeting.

Another alternative suggests Choctaw and Duke Field share the mission with Eglin’s runways. Two parallel runways would be built at Eglin and Choctaw would be used as one of two outlying fields.

An additional alternative would move the Joint Strike Fighter training to Duke Field. That option calls for building a landing, helicopter and assault area, and use either the existing runway or add a parallel runway east of the existing one.

“We support whatever the military needs to do,” said Sherry Del Castillo after the meeting.

However she did express one disappointment.

“I’m disappointed Santa Rosa County officials weren’t here to speak on our behalf,” she said.

The meeting was the first time Navarre has been included as a possible destination for the F-35.

Choctaw Field was excluded as an option previously because its runways could not support the mission and were already used by the Navy, base officials said in an interview in March.

Most of the F-35 discussion has centered on Valparaiso, where city officials are extremely worried about the jets’ noise.

Many of the alternatives presented involve building additional runways at a cost that was not included in the original BRAC funding. Estimated costs of the alternatives were not available but would be included in the final draft of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

I'm morbidly curious as to how a unit of nearly fifty supercruising F-35 fighters based ten miles from our two busiest facilities will affect our already completely whacked unique operation.

New T-6B Texans Arrive at Whiting NAS

From the Pensacola News Journal:

A pair of T-6B Texan II aircraft taxi down the runway at Whiting Field Naval Air Station Thursday morning Aug. 27, 2009. T-6B Texans are among the first of new training aircraft to be delivered to NAS Whiting Field. The Texans scheduled to replace the current T-34 trainer as Navy's primary flight trainer.

Louis Cooper - August 27, 2009: Threatening skies did not keep the next generation of training air craft from arriving at Whiting Field Naval Air Station this morning.

Whiting's Training Air Wing 5 took delivery of its first two T-6B Texan II training aircraft, which will replace the T-34 Turbo Mentor. The older craft have been in use by the Navy since 1978.

"It's pretty exciting to be bringing in a new training system that is going to train these airborne warriors for the next couple of decades," said Marine Col. John Walsh, commodore of Training Air Wing 5.

He pointed out that the T-34 he trained in at Whiting in 1987 is still in use today.

"You can see around here we're not big fans of the cash for clunkers program," Walsh said, with laughter from the crowd assembled in a hangar.

"We like to keep things flying around here. The taxpayers buy things for us, we take good care of it and we put it to good use."

The new plane will fly a maximum of 316 knots, where as the old one topped out at 280 knots. Whiting will receive periodic shipments of the new plane until it reaches a total of 156 on 2015. Student pilots will begin using the new planes in April.
These two were doing laps around North Whiting this morning. Fast airplanes. I'm wondering how well they're going to mesh in the pattern with the South Whiting helicopters.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

"Day 483" has just published a new 1000 word short story of mine titled "Day 483". EDF posts a new short story every day, 365 days a year. They have a pretty strict selection process, so I'm pleased that they included my story in their roster.

The story is a dark historical piece about an infamous period in 20th century history: the Siege of Leningrad during WWII. For 900 days, the Nazis blockaded the Soviet city and left its citizens starving to death over three brutal arctic winters. It is estimated 1.5 million Russians perished, most simply fading away from the hunger and the cold.

"Day 483" is a glimpse into the horror of those desperate times:

Any feedback is welcome. Feel free to post comments beneath the story.

Punching Holes in a Leaky Hull

I'm going to break from the norm on this blog and make one comment on the new contract:

We've all heard the arbitrators' results by now. Truly bittersweet. I know many were hoping we'd see the last three years of the White Book erased and everybody made whole again. That's obviously not what happened.

Yes, I'm happy that myself and the other new guys are getting a phased raise over the next three years. That'll be very nice. I'm looking forward to many of the other changes in the TAUs as well.

However, I am not happy that the people who have the most to offer - both to the public for safety and to us neophytes who need them to pass on their decades of experience- are getting the short end of the stick. They stuck their necks out for us three years ago in fighting the B-scale, and now they get shafted.

Given the economy and the need to compromise, I wasn't expecting everyone to walk away completely satisfied. Would I have liked a full, immediate raise? Sure. Would I have liked back-pay for the thousands of dollars of per diem myself and my classmates rightfully deserved - and did not receive - during our Tower class in early '07? Of course. Who wouldn't? But such is the nature of compromise. You lose one thing to gain another.

But the old guys and gals? They really didn't gain a thing. There was no compromise. And it sucks - for them, for us trainees, and for the flying public. They no longer have a real reason to stay past retirement.

We have two people eligible to retire. We have two more eligible within the next few months. We just lost one person to a staff position. Another one just got promoted to supervisor. Since I've been here, we've had an additional seven people either retire or transfer to other facilities as supervisors. Insofar as I know, there are no new developmentals scheduled for this year, though there is a rumor of one or two transfers.

If those four potential retirees decide to go, that leaves us with nineteen CPCs and six Developmentals to run a nine scope, 24/7 operation. The six day weeks and 10 hour days many other facilities have been living with are almost certainly in our future.

Am I looking forward to the pay and other changes? Sure. But I think in some ways we're losing more than what we're gaining. Some things - like experience - just can't be replaced.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Blues

We continue to have visitors in our neck of the woods: my parents and some family friends. I took them to see the Blue Angels practice over at NAS Pensacola. Aside from my dad - who is a phenomenal aviation photographer - none of them had ever seen the Blues perform before. The same goes for my wife. They all came away very impressed.

My wife kept talking about the sound they made, how it just knocks you in the gut. It was the first time she's ever heard afterburners. Her favorite part, of course, was the "sneak pass" where the two solos come screaming by at nearly Mach 1 - one from directly behind the crowd and the other along the airfield.

Here are some pics I took with my little point-and-shoot camera. I can't wait to see the ones my dad took with his far-superior image-stabilized camera equipment.

The diamond flight in formation, smoke on and condensation popping off the wings.

Shooting for the moon

Solos doing a high-alpha pass

Solo climbing out after the high-alpha, condensation breaking off the leading edge extensions

Solo coming back down

When the Blues practice, we completely shut down the airspace around NAS Pensacola. This restriction has a radius of 6 miles and goes out to 10,000 feet, and usually lasts from 8:30am to 9:30am on the days the Blues are practicing.

It's funny to watch Sherman's Training Wing 6 scatter like ants before the dreaded 8:30am rolls around. No one can arrive or depart while the Blues have the field, so Sherman usually pumps out T-6 Texan IIs, T-39 Sabreliners, T-1 Jayhawks, and T-45 Goshawks like it's nobody's business. We'll go from two stripbays full of proposals to nothin' in no time flat.

Once the Blues start taxiing out, the gates lock up tight. A few weeks back, we had this one Jayhawk coming in at around 8:25am. The controller working Sherman tried to get him in and called up the tower. The guy was descending like a rock, flooring the gas pedal, and was only a few miles north of the field. "Sorry" the tower sup said. "The Blues are on the move." The Jayhawk had to divert to Mobile, AL.

It's just the way it goes with the Blues.