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I struggled to come up with a decent title for this one.

This is about the planes that were overshadowed by their more glamorous counterparts. Everybody loves Mustangs, Spitfires and Hellcats. I want to shed some love on their more dowdy cousins. The ones that did the work but never got the publicity.

So what criteria did I use? To be included the aircraft had to meet at least one of these criteria:

1. It had to have been mass produced. There are plenty of one-offs and oddballs amongst WWII aircraft but those probably merit their own diary.

2. It did the same mission as a better known aircraft or has been unfairly maligned by history.

3. It was arbitrarily chosen by the author. That's why.

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Mon Apr 06, 2015 at 08:46 AM PDT

Stars who served

by Major Kong

I had a request to do a diary about entertainers who served in the military. Turns out it wasn't as easy as I thought.

This is in no way a comprehensive list. There were just too many to work with. The ones I've decided to go with were either the most notable or the most surprising. The ones that make you scratch your head and go "Him? Really?"

I've left out those who served only as an entertainer. Not that it wasn't important but I'd have to list just about every actor and musician of the day.

Some you probably knew about already but others might come as a surprise.

Where possible I've posted a picture in uniform but there are a few where I just couldn't find one.

In the course of putting this together I noticed some parallels.

Many joined the military right after Pearl Harbor. Others enlisted as soon as they came of age to do so. Many actively sought combat even when offered less hazardous postings. Several were wounded in action. Quite a few suffered from some form of Post Traumatic Stress for years after.

I figure enough of them served as aviators that this counts as an aviation diary.

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It seems my earlier diary about the Lockheed F-104 caught the attention of a former USAF F-104 driver. He felt that I (and the USAF) didn't give the plane its due.

My first thought was "You mean somebody actually reads these things?"

In the interest of setting the record straight I'm posting his response. It's great reading and I think you'll find it interesting. I've left his name out but I have no  doubt that he is who he says he is. His list of credentials is to put it mildly, impressive.

I've added a few notes in italics just to explain the USAF jargon and technical terms.

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Sat Mar 14, 2015 at 12:52 PM PDT

B-52s for Israel? Oy vey!

by Major Kong

B-52H dropping high-drag bombs and IR decoys (flares).
There's been some talk lately about giving surplus B-52s to Israel, presumably so they can use them on you-know-who.

I believe the latest person to float this idea was Senator Tom Cotton (R-Crazytown). What should really scare you is this isn't the worst idea Tom Cotton has had by a long shot, and he's just getting started.

While this sounds like something the loud drunk three bar-stools over might have said, that's apparently not the case.

I've traced the origin back to an op-ed posted in the Wall Street Journal by a retired Air Force officer and a pro-Israel think tank called the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs or JINSA. Who's on the board of JINSA? Oh the usual suspects like Dick Cheney, Doug Feith, John Bolton and Joe Lieberman. That should give you and idea of who we're dealing with.

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Thu Mar 05, 2015 at 07:37 AM PST

Ugly Duckling - PBY Catalina

by Major Kong

Not the prettiest thing but it got the job done. Just about any job you could think of.
In military aviation there are the "glamor girls" like the P-51, Spitfire and B-17 that get all the attention. Then there are their less glamorous cousins like the Hurricane, P-47 and B-24. The ones that do the dirty work but don't get the credit. B-24s were actually more numerous than B-17s but when have you ever seen one in a movie?

These are the workhorses. The ones you never hear about. The ones that do the heavy lifting but never seen to get the attention of their glamorous cousins. One of the least glamorous but most important planes of WWII was the PBY Catalina.

Not the prettiest thing but if you needed to be plucked out of the ocean there was no prettier sight than one of these.

I don't normally write about navy planes (buncha rust-pickin' squids) or flying boats or WWII for that matter, but I've had more than one request for a PBY diary so here goes.

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My job frequently involves what we call "deadheading". This has nothing to do with the Grateful Dead, in fact there's little to be grateful about. It involves me being just another business traveler trying to get to where the company needs me.

This means I get to spend a lot of time in airports. More than I care to sometimes but that comes with the job. Fortunately airports on average are getting nicer than they used to be.

In no particular order here are some of my favorites and least favorites. I'll only hit the ones I've been through as a passenger. Some airports I only see from the cargo side, which is usually off in some far corner that you never see.

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Wed Feb 11, 2015 at 11:30 AM PST

When airliners attack!

by Major Kong

No, this isn't about A-10s or airliners turned into bombers (it never works well). It's about what happens when the automation we take for granted turns around and bites us.

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One of the best looking aircraft of all time. Everything about it says "Built for speed".
The F-104 is one of those planes that seemed to have everything going for it. It's a specialized fighter, right? Aren't those supposed to be better?

Unlike most late 50s and early 60s tactical aircraft, it was specifically designed to be an air-superiority fighter. It didn't start out life as an attack aircraft like the F-4 or a nuclear interceptor like the F-106.

It was designed by the legendary Kelly Johnson, the guy who came up with everything from the P-38 to the SR-71.

Korean War fighter pilots who had tangled with enemy MiGs wanted something that was light, simple and capable of exceptional performance. As the saying goes: be careful what you wish for.

Tainted by scandal and haunted by a high accident rate, the F-104 was probably a better fighter than history gives it credit for. In skilled hands it could be deadly, but it could be just as deadly to the unwary.

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Sun Jan 18, 2015 at 12:23 PM PST

Speed of Heat - SR-71 Blackbird

by Major Kong

Probably one of the most photographed aircraft of all time. For a 50-year-old design it still looks futuristic.
Few airplanes in history have the mystique of the SR-71 Blackbird. Capable of flying to the edge of space, it looks like it could go into orbit if it wanted to. Designed before I was born, retired in the 1990s, we're still talking about this thing. It set so many speed and altitude records I don't have room to list them.

I have seen an SR-71 fly exactly once in my life. Way back in 1983 I was still an ROTC cadet on my summer training camp at Eglin AFB. An SR-71 made an emergency landing there with an engine problem.

We got to venture into the maintenance hanger while the engine was being worked on and get fairly close to the sleek, black beast. We even got to meet the crew superheroes who flew it! Quite an experience for a kid still in college.

When it was finally fixed we got a break from our daily routine to watch it take off. It thundered into the air, circled around the field, and made a low pass down the runway while rocking its wings before heading off. I'll never forget that sight.

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Textbook definition of "ground effect". This was probably not standard operating procedure.
What looks like a 707 but isn't? A DC-8 of course but there was another.

The annals of aviation history are full of promising designs that just never managed to find their niche. The Convair 880/990 was one of those "seemed like a good idea at the time" designs.

Commercially it was a flop and caused Convair to leave the airliner business for good.

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Sat Jan 10, 2015 at 04:57 AM PST

Are Electric Airliners Possible?

by Major Kong

Electric cars are a hot topic these days but I recently have read some interesting stuff about electric aircraft.

Airbus thinks that they may be able to field a large electrically powered commercial aircraft in the next 20-30 years.

Airbus E-Fan. Could this be the future of aviation?
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Wed Jan 07, 2015 at 01:48 PM PST

The Other Guys - Soviet Airliners

by Major Kong

We got to see the Tupolev 104 a while back, now let's take a look at the other Russian airliners.

Any time you're talking about Soviet airlines you have to keep a couple things in perspective. They had to operate under some pretty challenging conditions. Distances were vast, navigational aids were sparse and airfields could be rather primitive.

Also keep in mind that not everyone in the Soviet Union was allowed to travel. You had to be "politically reliable" to be allowed on an airplane. Back when Western airlines were dressing flight attendants in hot-pants and mini-skirts, Aeroflot chose theirs partly for political reasons. Couldn't have them defecting the first chance they got.

Aeroflot flight attendants dressed pretty conservatively for the era.
During the Stalin era aircraft designers had to watch themselves as well. The great Andrei Tupolev designed the TU-2 bomber from a prison cell.

All this made designing airliners for the Soviets a bit more challenging than what Western designers had to deal with.

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