Heating Up

Today, more than ever, concerns about the realities of global warming had spotlighted the need of change inside the United States’ already struggling civil aviation industry.

As the new Obama administration tries to muscle the US aviation industry to take harder steps in an attempt to steam the runaway effects of climate changes, look for state and regional officials to push hard for a deep examination of the role played by aviation plays in the overall environmental situation.

While cars, factories and power generating plants are the indisputable leaders in the pollution race, it now appears that aviation is moving up the ladder.

In California, where a Republican governor has bolted the party’s line on climate changes, civil aviation officials are currently compiling data on how much pollution airports and aircraft generate.

Early last year, the Air Quality Research Center at the University of California at Davis, showed an aerial image of what one early victim of rising San Francisco Bay water might look. It was of a submerge Oakland International airport. A frightening image still resonating in the minds of those who saw it.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is a public health organization that oversees air quality in nine counties surrounding the Bay, including four large airports: the San Francisco International, the mentioned Oakland facility, the San Jose International and the US Air Force’s Travis Air Force base. The agency reported last fall that aircraft’s share of the pollution index is increasing in comparison to more traditional platforms such as cars, factories and power plants.

The main concern about aviation air pollution comes in the form of unburned hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions. New issues, primarily the degradation of Earth’s radiance balance, are now joining the ever increasing list of environmental concerns.
For more than two decades, concerns about the loss of Earth’s protective stratospheric ozone layer have been driving regulatory provisions. Now particulate matter is gaining more attention because of the general public’s concerns about greenhouse gases.
Estimates of how much aviation contributes to global pollution vary depending of its definition. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) placed aircraft related pollution at around 3.4% of the total radiation ‘forcing’, a figure of climate change, excluding its effects on cirrus clouds. ICAO expects that figure to increase twofold over the next twenty years.

In an interview with Michael Mecham back in 2007, atmospheric scientist, Donald Wuebbles said that “the climate change impact is potentially the most serious long-term problem facing the aviation industry”.
Five years ago, most regulatory constraints were focus on NOx emissions, now carbon is getting a much visible profile because of the greenhouse effect.

The equalizer? Fuel prices! The continuing high price of aviation fuel has placed a greater emphasis in developing fuel-saving engines. That alone will reduce aviation’s carbon footprint.

The US military is also getting into the act. The Pentagon wants cleaner burning fuels, but its experiments with Fischer-Tropsch type of synthetic fuel mixtures has been prompted because of the country’s overly dependency on foreign sources rather than innovating push.

The Defense Department overall fuel consumption is almost the same of what the largest US carriers burn. As with the civilian industry, the Air Force has a targeted goal of cutting back emissions. If the Pentagon can arrive at their propose standard of producing 100 million gallons of a 50/50 synthetic-petroleum mix by early 2010, it can cut up to 15 million pounds of carbon particles and 1.2 billion pounds of CO2.

While such industry and military initiatives proceed, the biggest issue for the government is how to accurately measure aviation pollution. For this, the Transportation Department has been working since the early 2000s in developing a computer program that can model emissions dispersals in the vicinity of airports. Its set to become operational in the summer of 2010.

– Raul Colon

“Building an army in the air, regiments and brigades of winged cavalry on gas driven flying horses”,
The America Air Entry into the Great War

By late 1916, three years of continuing and savage fighting had ravaged much of northern France and the Low Countries. A dreaded stalemate had descended over the Western Front. By January 1917, and after showing early promise, the air campaign that visionaries thought would magically deliver a knockout blow to the enemy’s will to fight, did not materialized and in fact, it can be argued that it exacerbated the horrendous stalemated of the trenches. Aviation pioneer Orville Wright wrote in December 1916 that “neither side has been able to win on account of the part of the aero plane has played. The two sides are apparently equal in their aerial equipment and it seems to me that unless present conditions can be changed, the war will continue for years!” The only hope Orville saw of ending the war promptly was if the Allied achieve “such overwhelming superiority in the air that the Germans’ eyes can be put out” But by early 1917, the only real opportunity to accomplish Orville’s proposition rested with the United States and on April, that possibility grew with America’s entry into the War to End all Wars.

Along with the US entry in the war came boosting remarks by many American commanders about what the new American power could bring to the table. General Squier, the US Army’s top aviation officer remarked that “America would put the Yankee punch in the war and sweep the German lines”. This sentiment was echoed in Washington where the nation’s leaders blindly believed that the American way and know-how will carry the day for the exhausted Allies. No where was the sentiment more palpable than in the War Department, where Secretary of War, Newton Baker declared that “a huge American aviation program would be an expression of America’s traditions of doing things on a splendid scale”. The seeds were planted for the US to develop and deploy the grandest air armada the world had ever seen. And if America planed to deploy such a “splendid force”, they needed a strong willed man to lead it.

A brash, self promoting, aggressive and extremely capable, thirty-seven year old Major named William “Billy” Mitchell was the choice. The young Mitchell became a converted to the cause of air power sometime in the early 1900s. By 1906, he published an article on the Cavalry Journal stating that “Conflicts no doubt will be carried out in the future in the air”. In the spring of 1917, Mitchell and several other Army officers were sent to France as military observers to learn about air tactics and operations. Mitchell heard the news of the US declaration on war while he was traveling in Spain. He immediately boarded the first train he found bound for Paris. In Paris, Mitchell opened a small office with two French military liaison officers attached to it. It was there that the brash Mitchell began to craft numerous air plans and operational packages that he would cable to Washington for further study. In his papers, Mitchell wrote about the size of the Army’s air arm, America’s manufacturing capabilities and his goals for a massive industrial effort concentrated on aircraft design and development. There are rumors, albeit without much evidence to support it so far, that Mitchell played a pivotal role in French Premier Alexandre Ribot’s request to Washington for 4,500 new aircraft, 5,000 pilots and 50,000 mechanics early in the summer of 1917.

The “outrageous” proposal caught the US General Staff completely off-guard. But it did find a sympathetic ear on the President and his allies in the US House of Representatives. In July 1917, the House passed the largest, single piece appropriation bill ($ 640,000,000) in the country’s history. Unfortunately for the Allied, no amount of money was able to cover the fact that by the mid 1910s, America’s industrial base was unable to mass produce the numbers of aircraft the Bill intended. Even with the decision to manufacture only European design, America’s industries were inadequate set up for the task. This was a daunting task for an industry that “only” produced 87 airplanes the previous year. The Americans were years behind Europe. Something “must be done” said a surprise President Wilson. In the spring of 1917, the President appointed Howard E. Coffin to head a committee for the mobilization of the nation’s resources towards mass production of aircraft and its systems. Coffin, a workaholic automobile executive, promptly applied his automaker, assembly line methods to the aircraft industry. He was so sure of his methods that a few months after his appointment, Coffin boosted to The Saturday Evening Post that “fifty thousands open roads to Berlin” will be available very soon. To make his promise a reality, Coffin had to employ several unorthodox methods. Chief among them was the creation of the Spruce Production Regiments. In 1917, the US had a sever shortage of spruce lumber, a vital ingredient in the construction of aircraft frames. To combat this, Coffin recruited 26,500 soldiers and placed them in massive logging camps all along the Pacific Northwest. He also shifted all aircraft engine production into one single model, the American Liberty engine. The Liberty was the brainchild of two auto engine designers, JG Vincent of Packard Motor Car Company and EJ Hall of Hall and Scott Motor Car Company. On May 1917, both men was urgently summoned to Washington and told that they will be sequestered in a hotel room until they came up with a workable and innovating design. With the help of workers from the National Bureau of Standards, they did it in just five days. The first Liberty engine rolled out of the production lines in December.

If designing and building a workable engine turned out to be relative easy, building the aircraft itself turned to be a long and painstaking process. It was soon realized inside Washington circles that the Americans would take years, even a decade, to catch up with the Europeans in aircraft design and development, so the decision was adapted to standardized few of the Europeans models. Planes such as the Italian Caproni bomber, the French SPAD, and the British Bristol fighter as well as the DH4; were viewed as firm and basic concepts from which the massive US industrial base could made “copies” of. But the reality was, as it is today, that aircraft manufacturing and design goes hand in hand. The degree of hand craftsmanship so integrated in all European designs clashed with the American way of mass production. The production problem would lead to countless delays and setbacks on the productions lines. Tens of millions of dollars were “wasted” on producing Italian and British aircraft. For example, the failure to properly adapt the Liberty to heavier Caproni bomber meant that the vaunted Italian bomber would be underpowered for its task. The same goes with the DH4 conversions. The DH4 was the only aircraft type the American mass produce (1.400 units were sent to France), but once it arrived on the front, the American DH4 proved to be an unreliable air platform. The Liberty engine, which was adapted to fit a smaller engine section, gave the plane a bigger torque than its airframe could take. Pilots who try to run the engine at full throttle usually discovered that the plane’s airframe began to disintegrate in mid air. Such was the traumatic experience of American manufactured aircraft than by the end of the war, more than 80% of all US Air Service pilots were flying French made aircraft.

No matter which planes they flight, Mitchell was determined to make the American air effort in the war as grandiose as he could. It must have shock the inflatable Mitchell the news that Brigadier General Benjamin Foulois was appointed Chief of the Air Service, “an artillery man” as Mitchell usually called him. Foulois arrived in France in the fall 1917 ready to take command of one hundred officers and around three hundred men. The next summer saw Foulois take overall command of air operations for the American First Army under the command of “Black Jack” Pershing. For Mitchell the appointment of a “land commander” to such a prestigious (and a post he himself held briefly) was adding insult to injury. He repeatedly clashed with his new leader. So much so that Foulois wrote a letter to Pershing asking him to relive Mitchell from all active commands and to “ship him to the US for good”. Pershing’s response was as pragmatic as his management skills. He knew men like Mitchell would form the cornerstone of his Army’s air arm. Pershing would live with a hotheaded officer as long as he delivers in the battlefield. Foulois was “asked” by Pershing’s chief of staff to accommodate the brash, but highly innovating Mitchell. Foulois abdicated and in July 1918, ceded to the young officer the top tactical command of all United States air forces in Europe.

Mitchell did not have long to bask in the glory of his new command. A few weeks later, Pershing’s First Army was given its own sector on the Western Front, the Saint-Mihiel salient. A twenty four mile long bulge in the lines that the Germans had held since their 1914 Verdun campaign. Now, four years later, the newly arrived Americans were given the task of straightening out the bulge. The situation was tailor made for Mitchell’s newly developed tactics. The brash American would have under his command the largest air armada the world had ever seen, 1,418 aircraft, around 700 of them from French operated squadrons. Their assigned task was more complex than any air effort so far in the conflict. First, they will sweep the salient’s skies of any German fighter paving the way for the second phase of the operation: the strafing of enemy positions. Meanwhile, after achieving air superiority, the artillery spotting package began to pin point German troop concentration areas for artillery bombardment attacks.

On the early hours of September 12th, and in the mist of a strong southwest winds, Mitchell’s massive air armada took to the air. With more than 700 fighters in their fold, the force was prepared to face the new Fokker D.VII, a single seat fighter that came too late to alter the results on the front. In fierce air to air combat, the Allies were able to clear the Saint-Mihiel sector of any organized German resistance. Without fighter cover, the Germans on the ground were sitting ducks. For most of the American offensive, Allied fighters and bombers pounded away at the retrieving German columns near Vigneulles and St. Benoit. “Dripping down at the head of the column I sprinkled a few bullets over the leading teams”, recalled the famous American air ace, Eddie Rickenbacker. “Horses fell right and left…The whole column was thrown into the wildest confusion” added an exuberated Rickenbacker. The clearing and strafing strategy proved so successful that Mitchell employed it a moth later in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. On October 9th, a force of two hundred bombers and one hundred fighters attacked with impunity the German ground formations in the largest, single daytime raid of the war.

The Saint-Mihiel air success was, for the most part, due to the enormous scarifies and valor exhibit by the American airmen and their ground support personnel. It’s a testament to them and their visionary leaders that the 1918 battle for the important Saint-Mihiel salient resulted in a clear Allied victory instead of another stalemate. And although the Americans did not built an “army in the air”, their new air tactics and the implementation of old concepts by their leaders, more noticeable, the brash Mitchell; accentuated the American entry into the War to End all Wars.

– Raul Colon

The First World War, Hew Strachan, Penguin Books 2003
World War I, HP Willmott, Covent Garden Books, 2003
The Illusion of Victory, Fleming, Basic Books, 2003
The US Air Force: A Complete History, Group West Publishing 2004

Caribbean Intervention: The United States Air Effort over Haiti

The United States have a long standing history of military interventions in the Caribbean since the early 1890s. A trend that continued during much of the Twenty Century with US operations in the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Panama and finally, Haiti. The small country of Haiti on the Island of Hispaniola has been ruled by a military dictatorship during much of its existence. It was not until 1990 and the election of President Jean-Beltran Aristide that the country enjoyed its first true contact with democracy. Unfortunately, that contact was short lived. The fragile Haitian democracy was overthrown by elements of the military within a year of Aristide’s election. What followed him was a series of weak civilian politicians and several military juntas which left the country in an even more precarious position. The last of those military dictators, General Raoul Cedras, assumed control of the country in 1993. Cedras and some of his officials negotiated a series of deals with the United Nations which would have paved the way for Aristide to comeback into power. But time and time again, Cedras neglected to meet UN conditions resulting in the Security Council Resolution No. 940. The (UN 940) authorized all member states to use force, if necessary, to restore Haiti’s legitimate president to power. With the threat of a large American military intervention, Cedras finally capitulated to UN demands and in an August accord with former US president Jimmy Carter the Haitian strongman finally permitted Aristide to return home. A date was set for the ousted President triumphant return home, the 16th of October 1994. This time, the US would not sit back and wait for Cedras to change his mind as he has so often have done before. The Americans wanted to pressure the General to live up to his word this time. Thus the threat of force was viewed by many in Washington as the only alternative to exert that pressure and restore democracy to the Haitians.

Accordingly to the UN mandate of July 1994, the United States took the lead in assembling a Multinational Force (consisting on a huge US contribution and small elements from a few Caribbean nations) to outs Cedras and restore democracy in Haiti. In early 1994, the US’ Department of Defense began preparation for an invasion of that small Caribbean nation. Two plans were carved out. The first, Operation Plan 2370 called for an overwhelming military assault from the air, sea and land against a resisting enemy. While OP 2380 envisioned a large force being deployed into the country with limited, if any, organize resistance. In the end due to the somewhat calm political situation in the country, it was a modified version of OP 2380 which was finally implemented. On September 19th, 1994 a contingency of 2,000 US ground troop, most of whom members of the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division based at Fort Drum, New York; were airlifted to ashore from US Navy warships assigned to Task Force 190 located just off the Haitian coastline. The US Army venerable fleet of UH-60s were use to ferry the troops inland while a force of AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters provided close support to the formation. All Army helicopters, fifty-strong, utilized the USS Eisenhower (CVN-69) as their main staging area during those critical early hours. The first time an Army air operation was launched from a Navy carrier since Vietnam.

The role of the US Air Force in Operation Uphold Democracy was less visible than on previous conflicts. The AF’s assets were utilized primarily as a supporting structure with a few notable exceptions. Elements of the AF air transport system such as units of C-5s stationed at Dover AFB in Delaware and at Griffiss AFB in New York; augmented by C-141s and C-130s from McGuire AFB in New Jersey; were use to transport troops and equipment from the US mainland to one of the Navy’s largest bases, Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Puerto Rico. To monitor activity in the skies above the theater, the AF deployed E-3 Sentries from the 552nd ACW based at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma. For air cover, twenty four F-15C Eagles of the 33rd Fighter Wing were dispatched from Eglin AFB in Florida to Roosevelt Roads where they were joined by nine KC-135 refueling tankers. Because a full fledge invasion was not require, all F-15Cs returned to their home base after only four days in the theater. The rest of the AF component consisted of three EC-130E from the 42nd ACCS, 355th Wing based at Davison/Monthan AFB, Arizona. The EC-130s were use extensively to survey the battlefield. A single RC-135 River Joint aircraft was deployed to monitor electronic signals emanating from the theater. For close air support, the AF sent two pair of AC-130H Specter gunships to the area.

The workhorse of the AF’s force was its KCs tankers. KC-135s flew 297 sorties, totaling 1,129 flying hours, during the initial days of the operation. This high sortie number had not been seen in the Caribbean since the Granada operation almost ten years before. The sheer number of US troops, the initial 2,000 deployment was augmented by 15,000 more ground troops within a week, assured the stability of the country as its moved back to democracy. On March 31st, 1995, the powerful US-lead MNF transferred its responsibilities for security to a broader assemble UN Peacekeeping Force which as of today, still guarantees the security and stability of Haiti as it begins to stabilize itself.

– Raul Colon

How to Make War: Fourth Edition, James F. Dunnigan, HarperCollins Publishers 2003
The Encyclopedia of 20th Century Air Warfare, Editor Chris Bishop, Amber Books 2001

The First One: General Benjamin Delahauf Foulois

In the historied life of the United States Air Force there’s had been a few officers who had stood up. A few, whom their contribution had shaken the very foundation of the service they represent. Much of them are relative household figures. Names such as Hap Arnold or LeMay are widely known in circles outside the military establishment. But for every Arnold or LeMay, there’s a Foulois. A brilliant and innovating pioneer, what Foulois lack in name recognition, he had in the admiration of the service he dedicated his life to improve.

Benjamin Delahauf Foulois was born on a small Connecticut town on the 9th of December 1879. He attended public school until he began his “pluming” career along with his father. He quickly realized that pluming was not in his future an in 1898, young Foulois enlisted in the First US Volunteer Engineers. He went on to serve in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American conflict. He took himself out of the volunteer corps and reenlisted on the regular Army the following year. Later on 1899, he saw combat action on the Philippines where he was assigned to mapping the island of Mindanao. After the Philippines, Foulois went on to attend the prestigious Army’s Infantry/Cavalry School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In the mid 1900s he participated in operations with the Army of Cuban Pacification. After his service there, he enrolled at the Signal School. It was at the school that he first felt in love with the idea of flying. He commenced to study technics and technical data relating to this new and exiting field. Following his stay there, young Foulois was assigned to the Office of the Chief Signal Officer in Washington, DC.

By the mid 1909, the now second lieutenant, piloted the Army’s first operational ready dirigible. He was also one of the first officers to be introduced to Orville and Wilbur Wright’s Flyer. In fact, he was Orville’s passenger during the Flyer’s last test flight at Fort Myer flying at nearly forty miles per hour. He had the distinction of being the only US Army pilot active between 1909 trough 1911. In 1910, he took the Army’s only available airplane, Signal Aeroplane No I, to San Francisco where he taught himself to fly, mostly by crashing. He corresponded frequently with the by now famous Brothers stating his flying experiences and suggestions. By 1914, Foulois, now a captain, took overall command of the Army’s first fully operational flying squadron, the First Aero Squadron based at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. The new squadron was equipped with the newest Curtiss plane, the JN2 biplane. They first saw action during General John J. Perishing’s Mexican Punitive Expedition in March 1916. Although the overall perception of the aerial component of the Expedition, was that of a failure, Foulois and his team did gained value experience, specialty on the logistic aspect of aviation.

The next conflict America would enter, the Great War, found the now major Foulois in command of the Joint Army and navy Technical Committee. It was in this post that the young major first learned how to craft and manage a military procurement budget. The office he headed dealt with the development of the aircraft as a military weapons platform on a large scale. There, Foulois prepared a detailed $ 640 million budget, an massive figure at the time; which eventually passed both houses of congress. A major achievement and one that would give him much satisfaction during the rest of his life. During the dreadful years of the War to end All Wars, Foulois was temporarily promoted to Brigadier General and proceeded to serve in several aviation post across Europe. He first was named Chief of Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces, later on he was reassigned to Assistant Chief of the Air Service, Service Supply Division where he put in play the input gather during the Mexican Expedition. He even helped craft some of the air aspects of the Treaty of Versailles.

After his war tour, Foulois returned to Fort Leavenworth with the now permanent rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was briefly assigned base commander of the Mitchel Field in New York. In 1927, Foulois was promoted once again, this time to brigadier general and appointed Assistant Chief of the Air Corps. It was there that the enigmatic Foulois would make an enduring mark. During the May 1931 Air Coast Defense Exercises, Foulois employed all of the Air Corps’ airborne assets in a series of logistic and tactical trials that provided the ground work for the Army Air Corps’ World War II strategy. The success of the exercises earned him another star for his uniform and the promotion to the coveted Chief of the Air Corps post. He once again, had the distinction of being a trailblazer because he was the first Chief who was actually a combat aviator. While acting as Chief, Foulois re-organized the curriculum of the Air Corps’ Tactical School as well laying the groundwork for the eventual establishment of an independent office dedicated to tactical and strategic thinking. The office would be later known as the General Headquarters Air Force. He also drove the Air Corps to expend more time and effort in the development and eventual deployment of advance air platforms. The XB-15 and B-17 programs were a direct result of this effort.

As his star was rising, an incident occurred that dampened Foulois’ reputation for years. In the winter of 1933-34, contract difficulties caused the nation’s air mail delivery service to be suspended. Immediately, Foulois offered the government his Air Corps. As the spring moved in, the Army Air Corps began to assume regular mail delivery duties, but the Corps, not trained for this sort of profile, began to crumble under the stress of the operation. Regular casualties began to mount. During the spring’s months, 66 air crashed occurred, mostly due to poor weather patterns, insufficient mission training and the introduction of nigh flying, killing twelve men and injuring fifty more. As the Corps began to adjust to the realities of in-country flying, the crashes and for that matter, casualties commenced to drop. By the summer, the Corps mail operations ran almost without incidents. Nevertheless, the whole affair became a public humiliation for the Corps and its leader. The incident, which would be known as the Mail Fiasco tarnished the Air Corps leadership image with the public for a generation.

Exhausted, Foulois finally retire from the Army Air Force on January 1st 1936, following thirty seven years of frontline service. In 1956 he became the president of the Air Force Historical Foundation. A post he would serve until 1965. Two years later, on April 25th 1967, Benjamin Foulois passed away. The passing of this great visionary and pioneer was remembered by the Air Force in a quiet ceremony. Today, Foulois’ vision remains the core of the US Air Force’s main logistic strategy. A tribute by itself to the vision Foulois inserted into the Air Corps in the early 1930s.@

– Raul Colon

More Information:
wikipedia: Bernard Adolph Schriever
Astronautics Now
General Bernard A. Schriever
The Space Review
Air Force Link
Arlington National Cemetery Website

The Forgotten Visionary

When we think about strategic bombing doctrine, and its early proponents and converts within the United States armed forces, we naturally thought of men of such status as the famous and controversial William “Billy” Mitchell or the colorful Benjamin “Benny” Foulois – seldom, if ever, does the name of Edgar S. Gorrell come to our mind. A sad example of what writers called “phantom lagoons”. In those early days of aviation, when writers tended to enlarge the personal profiles of anyone who could achieve a milestone in this new field of human endeavor, some names gathered more recognitions than others. This type of reporting or writing only enhanced the profile of those controversial and colorful characters, leaving other equally important names in the history of aviation in a historical lagoon. One of those men stuck in the phantom lagoon was Colonel Edgar S. Gorrell of the US Air Service.

Gorrell began his military service after graduating from the US Military Academy at West Point in the spring of 1912. After a relatively un-distinguished Army career, Gorrell decided to enlist in the infant Air Service when the US declared war on the Central Powers in April 1917. Two months later, Gorrell was deployed to France as part of the spearhead of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). His unit, the Bolling Mission, arrived at the French capital in July of the same year, well ahead of the AEF main force. In France, young Gorrell was assigned to the new US Air Service Technical Section. The Section’s main objective was the development of an attack and bombing strategy to be implemented against German targets deep inside the Kaiser’s homeland. Here is where the first steps towards the US air strategic doctrine, a policy that has dominated America’s air campaign strategy since then, began to take shape. Heavily influenced by the great British’s strategic visionary Major General Hugh M. Trenchard, who was at the time head of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and his liaison at Paris, Major Lord Tiverton, who in September 1917 had proposed to the RFC that a new and more destructive type of aerial assault be implemented in order to submit ordinary Germans to the full power of the Allies new weapons; Gorrell began to form the outlines of what could have become the main US strategic bombing campaign plan on the Western Front. By October, Gorrell’s outlines had become a more serious technical proposal than he originally thought, one that he presented to the AEF commanders in mid November 1917. The proposal called for a massive bombing campaign against German troop concentrations, dockyards, industrial areas and major population centers deep inside Germany itself. The new American plan, as the paper was later known, utilized all of Tiverton’s four main concepts first presented to the RFC in September. The first of these concepts was the determination of bombing targets, distances, enemy offensive and defensive capabilities around them, projected casualties figures and weather patterns around the selected zone. Next was the evaluation of America’s, and its Allies, overall air resources and capabilities assigned to the determined objective. This was followed by logistical studies and planning implementation mechanisms. Last, Gorrell encouraged commanders to plan their assaults on areas where the impact of saturation heavy bombing would cause the greatest effect to German civilian moral, which was the plan’s original combat target.

The similarities between Tiverton’s and Gorrell’s papers were one of the reasons that the name of Gorrell is seldom known outside military aviation historians today. As the American Plan moved up through the chain of command, it gained more and more converts among field commanders, and although the Plan was not implemented because of aircraft production shortages and training shortfalls, it was of such depth that it went on to serve as the cornerstone of the US Army Air Corp’s bombing doctrine during the Second World War. In the early months of 1918, before the great German offensives of the spring, Gorrell wrote a second paper titled “The Future Role of American Bombardment Aviation”. This paper followed almost the same path as the American plan. It called for the same four principals when preparing to engage an enemy with aerial power. But by the time the paper was ready for serious consideration, an Armistice was signed in a railway car outside Versailles ending the War to End all Wars, and thus the paper was relegated to some obscure long term planning divisions. De-mobilization was at top of the American commanders minds, but this did not mean that the two papers were neglected or even ignored, in fact, the opposite occurred. During the inter-war years, much of Gorrell’s visionary ideas were implemented in the Army Air Corps Tactical Manual, forming the backbone of the US air effort little more than twenty years later.

Edgar Gorrell’s natural traits helped him shape American military aviation tactics for decades. His selflessness enabled him to incorporate foreign-developed concepts into his own ideas and his analytical mind made him redefine those concepts and apply them to the American reality, thus forming a new thesis on the use of American air power. A thesis that would dominate US Air Force’s strategic doctrine ever since those months in 1917.

– Raul Colon

1 U.S. Air Force: A Complete History, Air Force Historical Foundation 2006
2 Air Power: The Men, Machines and Ideas that Revolutionized War, Stephen Budiansky, Penguin Books 2004

Four Aircraft that Changed
the way Mail was Delivered

Once upon a time, the world moved at a slower pace than it does today. No mass media, no 24-7 news channels, and no next-day mail delivery service were available. But with the advent of the aircraft as a functional operational machine, the world changed completely in an instant. In the past, mail was delivered on horses, trains, boats and even primitive automobiles and/or four-wheeled trucks, these methods of delivery took days, weeks or even months in some instances; but with the invention and development of the airplane, mail delivery reached a new dimension. Thus the airplane had a direct effect on how people could communicate throughout great expanses of territory. They shortened, not the distance between sender and receiver, but the time the mail took from getting from the originating party to the end user. In the course of the early aircraft-supplied mail delivery system, four very distinct aircraft stood out from the pack. These four represented the epitome of air cargo delivery in an age of constant development and improvements.

In the spring of 1911, an early sample of the Wiseman-Cooke airplane was the first flying machine to deliver mail in the United States, when pilot and aviation pioneer Fred Wiseman carried a pack of letters from Petaluma to Santa Rosa in California. The complete eighteen-and-a-half mile trip was covered by Wiseman in two full days. Many mechanical difficulties, common on those early flying machines, delayed his trip. When he was airborne, the Wiseman-Cooke plane could only muster speeds just short of seventy mile per hour. Slightly built and very similar in airframe construction to the famous Wright Brother’s Flyer, the Cooke was powered by a Hall-Scott V8 engine modified to give the 670 lbs airframe enough speed to clear the ground. The next generation of mail delivery airplanes instituted a big move forward with the inception of the Curtiss JN-4, also called the Jenny. The Jenny was an advanced version of an early Curtiss JN model used mainly as a training aircraft during the Great War by the British Royal Flying Corps. Introduced in mid 1915, the JN-4 had a fuselage of 27′-4″ in length with a height of 9′-10.5″. Total wing area for the Jenny was 352 sq ft. A Curtiss designed OX5 in-line piston engine, capable of generating nearly seventy miles per hour, powered the JN-4. After the War ended in August 1918, the United States Postal Office adopted the Jenny as it’s first official air mail carrier plane. But the Jenny’s relatively small operational range, (it could operate only about one hundred and seventy five miles without refueling and maintenance); made it ill-suited for long-range mail delivery. It also did not help that the Jenny’s payload capacity was only three hundred pounds. Soon after its incorporation into the US Mail System, the Jenny was retired from front line service in less than a year.

When the US Postal Service bought the JN-4s, they also acquired a small group of de Havilland DH-4 airplanes from the US Army Signal Corp supply depot. The Airco, (or de Havilland), DH-4 was a two-seater daylight medium bomber produced in Great Britain. The DH-4 had an airframe 30′-8″ in length and a height of 10′-5″. When in combat, the DH-4 was armed with a single 7.7 mm Vickers machine gun mounted on the front of the cockpit, and another Vickers gun placed in the back of the fuselage for defensive cover – features removed for civilian operations. The DH-4 could carry up to 460 lbs of bombs internally, making the cargo payload a more manageable one. The plane was powered by one Roll-Royce Eagle VIII Vee piston engine capable of providing the aircraft with top speeds of just under 143 mph. The de Havilland’s operational range was an improvement over the other aircraft examples utilized by the Postal Service; it could operate at a range of 435 miles without any stops. As soon as they arrived, and after re-fitting, the DH-4 entered front-line service with the Postal Office. This plane was exactly what the mail service was looking for. It could carry a relatively large payload for long distances. But, as with all of the aircraft of the time, it fell victim to the newer, improved and less expensive aircraft coming along.

These two above mentioned aircraft represented a leap forward in aviation design. They were basically a tubular frame covered by sheets of canvas. The first departure from this design concept adopted by the Service was an impressive, albeit, dangerous one. The first US Postal Service all-metal aircraft was Germany’s Junkers JL-6 plane. First developed for military use in March 1917; the aircraft never saw significant combat in the Great War. A civilian version was introduced in the spring of 1919. It were to be the world’s first all metal monoplane use to ferry civilian passengers, doing so from the mid 1920 onward. But the JL-6 was a flawed design. Its electrical wire system was not properly insulated causing the plane to catch fire on mid-air. Many attempts were made to correct the problem, and all were unsuccessful, this fact lead the Postal Service to retire the JL-6 from front line service in the summer of 1921.

Today, the United States Postal Service utilized the latest commercial aircraft available and the best that technology can offer, this with the sole purpose of providing the customer with the best delivery capability the Service can offer. But in pioneer days of aviation, the Service needed to adapt promptly to new technology, new operational system, and by trial and error; they did. These four distinct planes, each of one served the Service in its own capability, proved that the aircraft was indeed, a practical and affordable mean of mail transportation, and on those days, this was a leap forward.

– Raul Colon


More information:
Fad to Fundamewntal: Airmail in America

Early Development of the United States
Defensive Missile System

As the tactical integration of the continental defenses in the United States in the later stages of World War II evolved, the airplane emerged as the main offensive weapon platform. It had demonstrated that its strategic advantage was un-rivalled at the time. The airplane, especially the bomber, was capable of delivering a heavy bomb payload to far and away locations with devastating effects. This concept was proven over the skies of Spain during that country’s civil war and then over the first two years of World War II. But the action that really made the bomber a weapon of fear was the bombing of Dresden, a major German city, in the later part of the war. The city’s destruction in just one day is widely recognized as the starting point for the development of the strategic annihilation of a city-wide target. As these developments were taking place overseas, the United States began to develop and deploy Interceptor Commands Units all around their coastal areas in late 1941. These units were a combination of two major assets that were to be re-arranged in order to provide a more reliable anti-aircraft system. The first, were the attachment of units of Army Air Forces to Interceptor Command and their deployment near major coastal cities in America. Also, on March 1942, the United States Army constituted the Army Anti-aircraft Command (AA). The newly created command would have control over all Costal Artillery Anti-aircraft Army Units as well as that of the Army’s Interceptor Commands. During the next months, the United States Army developed more advanced anti-aircraft weapon systems. At this time, rockets were staring to appear as accepted weapon systems. Radar, developed in Britain before the war, was rapidly becoming a serious method of detecting and tracking incoming targets. When the war ended in Japan on August 1945, the United States had over 331 active AAs battalions world-wide, with around 246,000 troops at their disposal.

On June 1945, Bell Labs, acting on a request from the Army, commenced the development the first integrated defensive missile system. The Army’s first surface-to-air missile system program was based on an internal Army memo suggesting that the United States must not waste any more time in the development, and ultimately, deployment of an advanced radio-controlled anti-aircraft rocket system that could protect major cities in America against bombing from the air. The new program was code-named Project Nike, after the winged goddess in the Greek mythology. Three months later, with the surrender of Imperial Japan, the U.S. Army started its massive de-mobilization. Most of the active AA units in Europe and the Far East were de-activated and shipped home along with their equipment, the same holds true for the AA battalions in Continental America. The majority of them were de-activated within weeks of the armistice. But the situation would change dramatically in three years. By 1948, the Cold War had broken out in Europe – countries on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain were engulfed by the Soviet Union, and a new age of terror had arrived. America began a prompt process of re-arming and re-organizing its coastal defenses and the U.S. Army re-started its missile development programs that had been shutdown after the war. At the beginning it was anticipated by high ranking officials in the newly created United States Air Force, that high flying interceptor fighters would be the main layer of defense against massive Soviet bomber formations and first generation Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) coming inbound from Soviet mainland bases. U.S. Air Force Strategic bombers as well as the Navy carrier-based attack planes would also participate in the defense of the continent, but it was clear early on, that a new mechanism for dealing with the bomber and, more importantly, with the offensive ballistic missile, was needed. A missile defense system that could replace the outmoded conventional Anti-Aircraft-Artillery guns was imperative to the defense of America. The three services, Navy, Army and the Air Force, revamped their respective missile development programs with the idea of fielding a continent-wide defense missile platform as quickly as possible. In the end, the Navy dropped out of the running, but the Air Force and the Army would fight for the next two decades over control of the missile systems and its funding. A fight that would make a possible deployment of a workable defense missile system a long and tedious process. The main responsibility for the defense of the United States against bomber attacks was assumed by the Air Force in the early 1950s. The Air Force went on to develop the Defense in Depth Strategy that would form the backbone of the U.S. Cold War continental defenses. The new strategy called for the use of high-frequency early warning radar stations along with ‘ready for take-off’ interceptor fighters and long-range anti-aircraft missiles positioned around the perimeter of the U.S. If this defense system was breached by a Soviet force, the U.S. Army would activate its own batteries of anti-aircraft missile systems located around key U.S. industrial and military sites.

In the mid 1960s, the United Stated Air Force was ready to deploy its first advance surface-to-air missile defense system, the Bomarc. The Bomarc was to have a 440 mile range of operation, but constant problems with their guided system limited the deployment of the system from nation-wide, integrated system to a more regional basis. On the other hand, the U.S. Army had fielded its own missile defense system since 1953, the Nike. The initially deployed surface-to-air Nike system used the Nike-Ajax liquid fueled missile with an operational range of thirty miles as it’s main interceptor asset. By the late 1958, there were over two hundred Nike missile batteries in the U.S., primarily defending nuclear research facilities and depots. On December of 1958, the Army began the process of supplanting its Nike-Ajax missile with the more advance Nike-Hercules. The Hercules was a leap forward in the development of a surface-to-air missile. It was propelled by solid-fuel which gave the missile an operational range in excess of seventy five miles. The Hercules was also the first interceptor missile with a nuclear warhead capability. About one hundred Nike sites were upgraded with the Hercules. Of these facilities, around fifty were redeployed to defend the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command bomber bases. The Air Command was the United States primary source for massive nuclear retaliation after a Soviet attack. The key component of the Nike system was an advanced early-warning radar. The U.S. Defense Department was committed from the beginning to building a series of interlocking radar stations that would allow the Army to monitor the perimeter and selected interior parts of the North American continent. The goal of the system was to provide the Air Force and Army with up to five hours of warning to respond in case of a Soviet bomber attack. The U.S. Air Force took the lead in the design, development and deployment of radar systems. The first significant anti-aircraft radar platform was the LASH-Up system. It was designed by the Air Force to cover America’s costal centers and major nuclear production facilities. In 1949, LASH-Up radar stations numbered just seven, but by the end of 1951, the system grew to fifty stations. The LASH-Up system was eventually replaced by the PERMANENT system, which was to number seventy-four radar locations by mid 1952. The U.S. early warning radar system was supplemented by the thirty four stations of the PINETREE LINE system located across the vast Canadian territory, which in theory could provide the Air Force with two additional hours of warning in a case of a surprise attack.

In the summer of 1957, the U.S. Department of Defense approved the production of its more ambitious early detection radar system, the Distant Early Warning (DEW) radar line and the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) air defense control system. The DEW consisted of a series of radar stations fifty miles part, stretching along the northern boundary of the North American continent, several miles north of the Artic Circle. In 1962, the system was upgraded to include an imaginary line from Midway Island to Scotland. The DEW radar line was the outmost line of early warning and it was assisted by the Mid-Canadian Line, the PINETREE Line, the PERMANENT radar system and the Gap Filler Radar System. By the mid 1960s, the U.S. Navy had joined the club with its ship and air-borne radar picket units. With all of these layers of protection, America was still susceptible to one weapon platform, the intercontinental ballistic missile. The SAGE system incorporated the latest in computer technology to support the estimated fifty Air Force Combat Direction Centers it was schedule to defend. The Combat Direction Center was the predecessor of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, NORAD. Its main function was to coordinate all aspects – radar, sensors, the interceptor aircraft squadrons and the anti-aircraft missile batteries – of the continental air defense system. SAGE became partial operational in 1958 and was fully deployable in early 1961. Each of the massive 275 ton SAGE tracking and targeting computers were housed in four-story windowless buildings. Because of their immense size and the fact that they needed to be located above ground, they were extremely vulnerable to any air attack. Still, SAGE was the first truly integrated tactical command system in the United States. It linked the Air Force’s Air Defense, Tactical Air and Strategic Command with the Army Air Defense Command and ARADCOM’s Nike missile system. This capability gave NORAD the necessary resources to detect and track and inbound aircraft coming to the North American continent.

– Raul Colon

More information:
wikipedia: Bomarc Missile
The Pinetree Line
SAGE Air Defense

A Brief Look at the United States Airport Runway-Taxing Approach Information Guidelines for 2007

The United State Department of Transportation, via the Federal Aviation Administration, has set-up a series of guidelines for the regulation of the approach by aircraft to a complex airport environment. The FAA describes a complex airport environment as an airport facility of medium to high traffic volume; such as is the case with regional hubs or international airports. The FAA stressed on its 2007 Instrument Procedures Handbook the importance of pilots performing a detailed examination of the landing airport and it’s runway environment prior to the aircraft’s approach procedure. A detailed review of the runway distance, the turn-off taxiway, and the route of taxi to the selected parking area, are all important safety topics that need extensive briefing prior to landing. In addition to the current condition of the assigned runway, conditions such as the wetness of the pavement, the crossing wind patterns, and the possible contamination of the runway are all additional factors that the FAA recommends the pilot investigate prior to his or her approach.

The National Aeronautical Charting Office (NACO) has supplied pilots with detailed airport charts from 2000 to the present that include a runway sketch on each approach chart, to provide the pilot with vital airport information. In addition, the FAA has mandated that a full-page airport diagram be published on yearly basis. The diagram needs to include the latitude and longitude information required for the initial programming of the Flight Management Computer (FMC) on-board the aircraft. The included latitude/longitude grid will show the pilot the specific location of each parking area on the airport area for use in initializing the FMS system.

(photo, via author)
(photo, via author)

Pilots making approaches at complex airports, need to familiarize thewmselves with the complete airport environment – specifically its runway-taxiway configuration, prior to commencing an instrument approach. The possible combination of high taxi volume, poor weather patterns and the ground controller workload could make the pilot’s performance on the taxi-runway environment every bit as critical as his or her performance once airborne. These rules are designed for the safety of the pilot and the nearby ground personnel. The FAA guidelines clearly take this situation very seriously and so should the pilot.

– Raul Colon


More information:
National Aeronautical Charting Office