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: