The F-104 Flies Again (in Norway)

7 10 2016

This week The Aviationist ran a cool article documenting the first flight of a newly restored CF-104 Starfighter, in RNoAF livery.  It was the culmination of a 13-year-long restoration project – talk about heart!


For those unfamiliar, the F-104 Starfighter was a Cold War-era interceptor designed to fly at high speeds from air bases in the Arctic, to intercept Soviet nuclear bombers.  It could reach 48,000 feet in altitude within one minute after takeoff.  Compare that to the usual 30 minutes or so that it generally takes a modern commercial airliner to reach 30,000 feet (granted, they could do so quicker if they wanted to).



The flight took place in Bodø, Norway.  The videos linked from the Aviationist article have some stunning shots, from which we took some still screen-grabs.  Enjoy.

screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-9-54-09-am screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-9-44-23-am


Check out the smoke trail it leaves behind, especially compared to the F-16 chase plane!





Evidently more is in store for the F-104, overall. In August of 2016, the BBC ran an article stating that a cubist company, CubeCab, is teaming up with Starfighters, Inc. to launch microsatellites into orbit!  What a cool concept!  We will be watching for updates on this topic.


Here are the extraordinary videos that were in the Aviationist article:


This one is for the hardcore aviation buffs (long video taken from the ground, with some great sounds as the planes fly overhead):


Friday Cold War Update

7 06 2013

It’s been a while since we’ve posted some Cold War history stuff.  Let’s have a look at a couple of items recently discovered by the RttRL staff.

First up, we have a very unusual tourist destination in Ukraine:  Chernobyl.  As in, THAT Chernobyl (is there any other?).

On 26 April 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in what is now Ukraine but was formerly and at the time known as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic suffered a catastrophic explosion during a planned systems test.  The rupture of the reactor caused a fire which spread radioactive smoke across the local region and parts of Europe.

Curious what the long-abandoned nearby town of Pripyat looks like these days? Well now you can take a tour of parts of it.  Check out the pictures from the Chernobyl tour website:


I’m sure this was posed for effect – it works:







Next up we have a nice vintage clip or two of a C-130 Hercules, of the aerial refueler tanker variety, landing on an aircraft carrier without the usual benefits of the arresting hook and wire system to slow the aircraft down, or the steam-driven catapult system which usually launches them airborne:

Cold War History: Domestic Propaganda

26 03 2012

I came across this public service announcement, evidently issued by the U.S. Air Force and Convair, a onetime producer of fighter aircraft (and “A Division of General Dynamics” as you can see in the poster):

Thanks to Vintage Ads and user spuzzlightyear for this find:

Be assured, if that picture were to scale, that milkman would be cowering in fear on the ground, shattered milk bottles all around him.  Then again, anyone would have done the same; that would be a “low pass” if ever there was such a thing!  That lead plane appears to have barely cleared the roof of the house in the background.  OK, it probably was not meant to be scale, but it’s funny to imagine.

(As an aside, we have been out in the desert up on a small plateau surveying the landscape, and have had fighters come screaming right over us.  It is terrifying – it’s like the biggest bird you ever saw came swooping down at you so fast that you never saw nor heard them coming.  It flashes over you and then it’s gone, and a split second later a deafening roar as the sounds catches up.  It’s quite terrifying as you can probably imagine.)

The caption, for those of you having a hard time reading it, reads (their emphasis):


Freedom Has a New Sound !

All over America these days the blast of supersonic flight is shattering the old familiar sounds of city and countryside.

At U.S. Air Force bases strategically located near key cities our Airmen maintain their round the clock vigil, ready to take off on a moment’s notice in jet aircraft like Convair’s F-102A all-weather interceptor.  Every flight has only one purpose – your personal protection!

The next time jets thunder overhead, remember that the pilots who fly them are not willful disturbers of your peace; they are patriotic young Americans affirming your New Sound of Freedom!

Published for better understanding of the mission of the U.S.A.F. and Air Defense Command

Convair – A Division of General Dynamics Corporation


Basically they are saying, when you start getting upset by all of the screaming jets and sonic booms, remember that it’s not simply a bunch of “fighter jocks” messing around up there, but rather they are practicing to be able to (hopefully) save your ass in the case of an attack.

I love where they chose to capitalize the letters (we call that “Initial Casing”, as opposed to ALL CAPS, in editorial jargon), and where they chose to emphasize using the italics.  In “round the clock vigil,” why don’t they italicize the word “vigil”?  In the last part, why did they include the word “your” in the italics?  Very strange, and yet somehow it fits into that 1950s design dynamic.

The F-102 Delta Dagger was an early supersonic jet fighter interceptor, one of the “Century Series” of aircraft, designed primarily to fly up to intercept and destroy incoming Soviet bombers.  To carry out that mission, they stood by on high alert, fueled and armed on runways around the U.S. (and the world) with crews at the ready.

It was the first operational supersonic interceptor in the Air Force inventory.  One of its design elements was the incorporation of what was then a very advanced fire-control system, which used radar and an automated computer system to direct the pilot where to fly the aircraft in order to automatically launch its missiles toward the incoming bombers.

Incredibly, by today’s standards, the fire-control radar reached out only 30 miles and began tracking targets individually at 15 miles!  Assuming both the F-102 and the incoming Soviet bombers were traveling at or near Mach 1 – the speed of sound, roughly 700 mph near sea level – that distance would be closed awfully fast.

Another aspect of its design was its internal missile bay.  Most fighters back then, as well as now, carried their weapons on external mounts under the fuselage and wings, called pylons.  However, in order for this early interceptor aircraft to achieve supersonic speeds, the Convair designers built a system into the fuselage where doors opened up beneath the plane and exposed the missiles only when they were ready to fire.

You can see a fine picture of that here:

In the cockpit, I love the early radar screen with the shade hood, above the flight instruments.  The pilot would be looking right “down the barrel” of the radar scope, to steer his airplane towards the incoming threat.

Cold War History: The Kuril Incident – Seaboard Flight 253

3 02 2012

This morning I received the always-interesting weekly post from FlightAware, which had an article about an American military charter airliner full of U.S. military personnel flying to Vietnam in 1968, which strayed into Russian airspace and was forced to land on a small island near Japan by two Soviet MiGs.

Seaboard World Airlines Flight 253A left McChord Air Force Base near Seattle on July 1, 1968 to fly to an American air base in Japan, and then on to South Vietnam (Cam Ranh Bay).  It was a Douglas DC-8 that had been chartered as “a proving run on the ability of the new DC8-63CF to fly nonstop from the U.S. West Coast to Japan” as well as serving the practical logistical purpose of troop transportation.

However, along the way they unknowingly drifted off course – to the north, and into the forbidden Russian airspace.  In the atmosphere that existed at that moment in time, in July of ’68, things were still heating up in Vietnam (and going badly).  As Captain Bill Eastwood puts it in this fine account he wrote about it:

“We were at the midpoint of the Vietnam War when this incident occurred in 1968. The Tet Offensive had begun in January. The intelligence ship Pueblo had been captured by North Korea six months earlier and was still being held.”

At the same time, the two adversaries were making progress in the form of a nuclear nonproliferation treaty.

According to Eastwood, the MiGs fired their cannons as a warning and final instruction to the airliner to immediately follow them to a landing strip on one of the Russian-held Kuril Islands northwest of Japan.

The Kurils are an interesting part of the world, with indigenous populations of Eurasian ancestry.  They stretch from the northern end of Japan to the Kamchatka Peninsula of eastern Russia.  The map below shows how the islands transferred ownership between Japan and Russia over the modern era based on treaties and wars.

The Russians had (and still have, by the looks of it) a small air base on one of the islands closest to Japan, called Iturup.

Here’s some fun with Google maps:

I believe this is the old Soviet interceptor airfield where they landed:

You can see the parking apron referred to in Capt. Eastwood’s account in the upper middle here:

Chance Vought “Flying Flapjack”

5 01 2012

Sometimes you have to wonder, “what were they thinking?”

Such is the case when you first see the XF5U-1, aka V-173 or Flying Flapjack.


The Chance Vought Corporation was an aircraft manufacturer (now known as Vought Aircraft Industries) who became famous during WWII for their iconic carrier-based fighters, the F4U Corsair. Later, during the Cold War, they produced the F-8 Crusader and the derivative A-7 Corsair II jet fighters.

The flying pancake or “flapjack” as they used to be known, was a “discoidal” shaped wing – a round wing, essentially – that had small horizontal structures sticking out of the tail area, and twin rudders.  It had two engines with massive 16-foot diameter propellers.


It could fly as slowly as 40 MPH and as fast as – get this – 425 MPH. That would be quite a ride in that airframe, I’d wager.

The U.S. Navy ordered it built for testing purposes in 1942, based on designer Charles Zimmerman’s design. However it was not to make it into production due to the advent of and wide acceptance of modern axial flow jet engine technology.

A fun story I read related how one time, when they flew it down to New York for a Navy Day show, beachgoers on the Long Island Sound reported seeing a “flying saucer” nearby! 


Robert Edison Fulton, Jr. – Inventor and Adventurer

16 12 2011

In one of my typical research side-trips, I came across this fellow, Robert Fulton, Jr. I originally was going to post about his novel surface-to-air extraction system (below), but I quickly found that Fulton himself was quite an interesting guy; an adventurous type, he rode a motorcycle around the world based on a glib comment (from him) at a dinner party:

At a dinner party at his friends’ house, a young woman asked him if he would be sailing home soon.

He answered: “No, I am going around the world on a motorcycle.” Robert Fulton would say for the rest of his life that he had no idea why he said such a thing.

He rode a Douglas motorcycle, fitted with extra gas tanks, lots of luggage (for water and supplies), and “common automobile tires” to enable him to find spares and make repairs more easily abroad. He travelled from England through France, Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Greece. Eventually he ended up in Damascus and rode through the Syrian desert to Baghdad.

He rode sixteen kilometers on the road out of Damascus. Then he saw a sign showing the way toward Baghdad. It was here that the road ended. In front of him was the great desert. Robert Fulton was alone for most of the trip. He worried about his motorcycle. If the engine failed, he could die of lack of water before anyone could find him. He could fall off and break a leg or arm. The severe heat could kill him. But the motorcycle did not fail him. He survived the fierce heat. He arrived safely in Baghdad.

(Quote courtesy of: )

He ended up going through Afghanistan, India, Vietnam, China, Malaysia and Japan, took a ship to San Francisco, and rode cross-country to New York. Now that’s quite a trip even today, with modern motorcycles and equipment (and support infrastructure along the way, modern roads, etc.). Imagine that kind of trip in 1932!

His grandfather was ran stagecoach passages through the Old West, in the post-Civil War days, which ended up becoming the Greyhound Bus Lines, later when his uncle took over the business.

He died in 2004 at age 95. Here’s a great interview the NY Times did with him in March of 2000.

Fulton surface-to-air recovery system –STARS

During the Cold War, the U.S. military and CIA decided they needed a way to retrieve people and cargo from the ground, using an airplane, without actually landing the aircraft. Basically, they anticipated a need to retrieve people (like spies) from the ground who are out of helicopter range (which can obviously remain airborne with no horizontal velocity, and don’t require an airstrip to land).

Beginning in the early 1950’s, Robert Fulton devised this extraction system – what was later termed STARS for Surface-to-Air Recovery System.

Basically, on the ground the person (or cargo) wears a harness, attached by a long rope to a weather balloon. The balloon is set adrift, and an airplane with a special rig on the nose, wings and cargo compartment flies into the rope (beneath the balloon), and snags the person or cargo on the ground. The person being lifted gets a “swift kick in the pants” as I read somewhere, as they become airborne and begin “flying” behind the aircraft, which then uses a winch to reel them in. Sounds terrifying if you ask me!

See it in action below.





MC-130 pickup:

Cargo pickup:

It was even featured in a James Bond movie, Thunderball, at the end: