Category Archives: Aviation

Charles Lindbergh’s 122nd Birthday

Born on February 4, 1902, Charles Augustus Lindbergh would be 122 years old today. Although mostly remembered as an aviator and U.S. military officer, he had a wide range of interests besides aviation – among them politics and international relations.

A prominent member and spokesman of the America First Committee, Lindbergh was strongly opposed to President Franklin Roosevelt’s foreign policy.

(Photo: Charles Lindbergh as a 25-year old, in 1927 – the year of his historical flight from New York to Paris).

Like many of his contemporaries, Lindbergh believed that Soviet communism was by far the greatest threat to America, and thus advocated a neutral stance toward the NSDAP’s rise in Germany.

This was indeed a very popular opinion among the American public at the time, and easily the majority. The way America had been drawn into World War 1 just a little more than two decades earlier played a major role in this.

Lindbergh later wrote:

I was deeply concerned that the potentially gigantic power of America, guided by uninformed and impractical idealism, might crusade into Europe to destroy Hitler without realizing that Hitler’s destruction would lay Europe open to the rape, loot and barbarism of Soviet Russia’s forces, causing possibly the fatal wounding of Western civilization.

Lindbergh died on August 26, 1974. During his life, he had witnessed both world wars (fighting for the U.S. in WW-2, albeit unofficially), the enormous rise of commercial aviation, the first nuclear weapons and the beginning of the nuclear age, the electronics revolution, the Cold War and the split of Europe into a free market Western part and a communist Eastern part, the Cold War’s proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam, the Cuban missile crisis, the culture wars of the 1960s, and the space race culminating in the first manned moon landings.

Almost 50 years have passed since Lindbergh’s death. Today’s world includes the Russian invasion of Ukraine, North Korean saber rattling against South Korea, the People’s Republic of China openly talking about (and practicing) the invasion of Taiwan, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and the aftermath of the attack on Israeli civilians originating from the Gaza Strip — all of which could easily compound and escalate into a global conflict with the potential for nuclear weapons being used.

I often wonder how, if he was alive today, Charles Lindbergh would judge the contemporary geopolitical situation, and the state of America and Western Civilization, in 2024.

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50 Years Later

50 years after it had taken him and his fellow astronauts John Young and Ken Mattingly to the Moon, U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles Duke (ret.) visits the command module of the Apollo 16 spacecraft.1 (Young passed away in 2018, and Mattingly in 2023).

The photos below show “Charlie” Duke as a U.S. Naval Academy midshipman in 19572, and (back row, third from left) as a student at the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School class 64-C3, which commenced in August 1964 at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The commandant at the time was Chuck Yeager.

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Unmanned Aggressor Drones Could Simulate 5th Generation Fighter Jets

Blue Force Technologies

North Carolina-based Blue Force Technologies, a composite aerostructures maker and Boeing supplier, is proposing UAVs which can mimic “the electronic signature, performance and tactics of Chinese or Russian 5th generation J-20 or Su-50 fighters”, according to a recent article in

Named “Fury”, the purpose of the firm’s design study is to provide a much cheaper training aid for aircrews practicing intercept maneuvers against the latest generation of Russian and Chinese fighter jets. To accomplish this, the Fury UAV will “look, act and smell” like the real thing – at least beyond visual range. The advantage, compared to conventional training against manned aircraft representing the enemy is much lower cost. Many of the Fury parts, including the jet engine, can be sourced from existing, commercial production lines and off-the-shelf parts.

Blue Force Technologies

While the advantages for training purposes are obvious, I believe this technology can easily be adapted for another purpose. If drones can be built to simulate enemy fighters to on-board radars, and ground or air based early warning systems, then such drones can also be configured to mimic an F-16, F-15, F-22 or F-35, for example. And this would make it possible to use these UAVs as decoys. They could be sent into contested airspace for the purpose of triggering the enemy’s air defense systems.

Once these UAVs are “lit up” by enemy radar and the adversary launches surface-to-air missiles, the locations of mobile radars and mobile missile launchers are much easier to detect. They can be immediately targeted before the enemy can reposition them. Even if such a counterattack is not successful, the enemy will at least have used up some of his surface-to-air missiles to shoot down relatively low-cost drones.

If the technology works and large-scale production can bring down the cost, the introduction of large numbers of such decoy drones into a contested airspace could thoroughly confuse and disrupt hostile air defenses. Concealed among many decoy drones, the “real items” would be ready to strike the enemy’s air defenses while they are distracted and triggered by the decoys.

This is an emerging defense technology worth keeping an eye on.

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This too, is U.S. air power. The image shows the interior of the first American military cargo plane on a relief mission to Kathmandu, Nepal, following the earthquake.

Interior of C-17 on the way to Nepal

Photographer unknown. Click to enlarge.

Aircraft fact sheet
Type: Boeing C-17 Globemaster III
Crew: 3: 2 pilots, 1 loadmaster
Payload: 170,900 lb (77,519 kg) of cargo
Length: 174 ft (53 m)
Wingspan: 169.8 ft (51.75 m)
Height: 55.1 ft (16.8 m)
Empty weight: 282,500 lb (128,100 kg)
Max. takeoff weight: 585,000 lb (265,350 kg)
Powerplant: 4 × Pratt & Whitney F117-PW-100 turbofans, 40,440 lbf (180 kN) each
Cruise speed: Mach 0.74 (450 knots, 515 mph, 830 km/h)
Range: 2,420 nmi / 2,785 mi (4,482 km) to 5,610 nmi (10,390 km). Unlimited with aerial refueling.
Service ceiling: 45,000 ft (13,716 m)
Takeoff run at MTOW: 7,600 ft (2,316 m)
Landing distance: 3,500 ft (1,060 m)
Final assembly: Long Beach, California

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My Take On The Mystery Of Flight MH370

My attention has been gripped by the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370. To begin with, it is exceedingly rare for a modern jetliner to just vanish over the ocean without making a distress call. (But it did happen in 2009: Air France Flight AF447).

And yet, MH370 is even stranger. Just like with AF447, there was no distress signal. Flight controllers only suspected a problem after the plane failed to respond at an expected time. In the case of AF447, investigators pulled the plane’s automated ACARS transmission data and realized the plane had been in big trouble. By contrast, the last available ACARS data from MH370 report nothing unusual at all. Then, they terminate.

Of course, once air traffic control recognized the plane as missing, the initial search activity was conducted along the scheduled route. A failure to find anything could have meant the flight never went that way, or that widely dispersed wreckage and fuel oil slick on the water had simply been overlooked.

But within days, news surfaced about the plane’s radar transponders and automated communications gear not functioning. Apparently, these systems went down minutes before the last voice transmission was made. This is very odd indeed, because if these systems malfunction, both pilots would see warnings on their screens, and yet, the last voice transmission indicates nothing unusual.

This was followed by revelations that INMARSAT data indicate the plane was still airborne at least 7 hours after takeoff, but not along its planned route. Meanwhile, uncorroborated reports suggested the plane had been spotted by military radars in airspace not listed in the flight plan. And, there have been claims that the plane first rose unexpectedly to 45,000 feet (which is almost impossible with a heavy fuel load and certainly dangerous, since it could make the plane unstable and stall). Then, the plane is said to have descended to as low as 5,000 feet, which (if done deliberately) would have seriously compromised its range.


Did someone turn off ACARS, the radar transponders and radio-based navigation systems to deliberately produce “radio silence” – the way it has often been done in military flying? (Then why wasn’t the satellite link severed as well?)

Much has been made of the fact that civilian and even military radar coverage in the region is not what one might expect. There are gaps, and a knowledgable pilot could have navigated without detection. I assume the pilot could have used of a handheld GPS device after turning off the plane’s built-in ADS-B. But to avoid radar, the pilot might have to descend at the expense of range and speed.

Given its fuel load, a quick look at the map shows that the Beijing-bound Boeing 777 could have reached as far as India, Pakistan and perhaps even North Korea – at least at optimal cruising altitude. But certainly not at prolonged flying at low, ground radar evading altitudes.

Adding to the mystery are the two people at the controls: Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah (53) and First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid (27). Both have been exposed on Australian TV for unprofessional conduct in the cockpit. And Mr. Shah was apparently a critic of Malaysia’s regime and supporter of the controversial opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim. Both pilots were Muslims, although no information has been made public indicating any link to Islamic extremism.

Many theories have been put forth. But in my opinion, each of them has serious flaws.

Conservative engineering and redundancies mean that modern jetliners very rarely crash as a result of one single cause. In almost every disaster, there are many contributing factors and a series of interconnected failures. It is strange that so far, not a single indication for any sort of such problem has been found.

One interesting theory I have read would have something on the plane catch fire shortly after the last voice transmission at 1h19 local time. At that exact time, Hamid transmitted a standard “good night”, suggesting everything was peachy.

Here’s the theory: Shortly thereafter, smoke fills the cockpit. The pilots may struggle with smoke hoods while trying to figure out what the heck is going on. Perhaps they make a last ditch effort to climb in order to starve the fire of oxygen, but stall out at 45,000 feet. One of them takes the plane into a recovery dive, while the other reprograms the autopilot for the best possible runway he can come up with.

Shortly thereafter, both pilots lose consciousness before being able to issue a distress call. The autopilot guides the plane out over the Indian Ocean. At this point it is essentially a zombie plane flying itself. Eventually, electrical failures disable the control surfaces. The aircraft becomes unstable and goes down. (See: “A Startlingly Simple Theory About the Missing Malaysia Airlines Jet”, by Chris Goodfellow).

Sounds compelling, but this does not sufficiently explain why ACARS went offline at 1h07 (if that is indeed the case), without either of the pilots noticing a warning — fully 12 minutes before Hamid’s final “good night”. [Update 2014-04-11: The Malaysian civil aviation authority later confirmed to Reuters: “We would like to confirm that the last conversation in the transcript between the air traffic controller and the cockpit is at 0119 (Malaysian Time) and is “Good night Malaysian three seven zero.”]

The other possibility is of course foul play in one form or another.

As you might imagine, the Internet has lit up with all kinds of conspiracy theories, but there is just too much speculation to give credence to any of them.

On the other hand, the two most obvious terrorism scenarios are also problematic.

If a suicidal terrorist-pilot wants to crash a plane and murder all passengers, he can do so. (This has happened in the past. For instance: Egypt Air Flight  MS990/MSR990). If he is a sole proprietor, he’d first need to knock out the other pilot. A determined individual can accomplish this by a variety of means. But then, there’s no need to fiddle with communications gear, unless the purpose is to make the plane (or the wreck) disappear.

This leaves the possibility of a meticulously prepared and cleverly orchestrated hijacking – a cunning, dramatic plan never seen before, taking the world by surprise. Far fetched? Well, so was 9-11.

And why has nobody claimed responsibility? Well, nobody did after 9-11. For some time after, the origins were (and to some degree are) still a mystery the world is hungry to hear about.

Terrorism is mainly psychological warfare.

The aim of the 9-11 attack was not simply destruction, but to generate maximum psychological impact. This can only be enhanced by a strong global media response. The painstakingly difficult investigation after the 9-11 attack, the missing pieces of information, the mysteries and loose ends all inevitably led to wild public speculation and theories. This was, of course, what the terrorists had hoped for.

It is a miscalculation to assume that terrorists would always be quick to claim credit. In the case of something truly dramatic, not fessing up and letting the world engage in wild speculation serves to maximize global attention.

If MH370 had quickly been found to be a suicide pilot, sabotage or a bombing causing the certain doom of all passengers, it would quickly fade from global consciousness, just like Egypt Air Flight  MS990/MSR990.

A mystery, on the other hand, can live on forever. And aviation mysteries seem to be especially predestined to capture global attention for a long time. Let’s assume the wreckage of Flight MH370 is not found in our lifetime. Then, future generations would carry on the search the way we now still wonder about Amelia Earhart, even though her last flight was only one of many to crash on similar endeavors, and even though Earhart was not even a highly competent pilot by comparison.

A more adventurous terrorism scenario I have heard goes like this: The plane was hijacked with the intent of using the passengers as hostages. (But then, where are the passengers now?)

Or, a particularly sinister plot: The plane is hijacked, the pilot(s) throw it into radio silence, take it to 45,000 feet, depressurize the cabin, incapacitate everyone in the cabin, then take the plane to a secret landing strip. Perhaps the plane is refueled and takes off again. At a safe location far away, the aircraft is covered with camouflage netting or rolled into a hangar. In the second part of the plan, perhaps months later, the aircraft is used as a guided missile. Perhaps it could even carry a nuclear warhead.

Well, I don’t know about you, but to me this sounds more like something a Hollywood screenwriter would come up with.

Personally, I think the most likely scenario is still some sort of accident. But terrorism cannot be ruled out.

How about the other scenarios? Until the wreckage is found, I think we will never be able to discount the terrorism. However, if it really was a hijacking (and not just a deliberate crash), then let me propose yet another theory. I do this because I have not seen it mentioned anywhere.

If it wasn’t an accident, here’s my theory: a botched hijacking.

What if we are looking at an attempted, but failed hijacking? Perhaps the plan was to take the aircraft, with its passengers alive, to some big airport where the passengers could be gloatingly paraded before the world press. (Such hijackings were very common in the 70s and 80s. See: List of aircraft hijackings). Only this time, something went wrong. Perhaps one pilot was the perpetrator but failed to permanently disable the other. Or perhaps crew members or passengers fought back. (This too, has happened before: United Airlines Flight 93).

So there you have it. More questions than answers!

Let me know what you think! Please post your comments below:


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Refueling the Spirit

I love this picture! Here, a B-2 Spirit from Whiteman Air Force Base Mo., detaches from the boom of a KC-135 Stratotanker, assigned to the 22nd Air Refueling Wing McConnell Air Force Base Kan., after being refueled. The photo was taken by Airman First Class John Linzmeier, USAF.


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This video shows a California Air National Guard C130J of the 146th Airlift Wing performing an approach and airdrop of fire retardant on the Rim Fire in the Yosemite area. Such maneuvers are very risky, and the professional skill these aircrews are displaying are immense. Here is what it looks like from the cockpit:


The aircraft is coming is so low that the automatic landing gear warning is going off repeatedly. (Normally, this warning is supposed to alert the pilot that the wheels are not deployed during a landing approach). In this instance, the warning is probably annoying, but it cannot be disabled easily.

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Chuck Yeager Turns 90

One of the greatest and most inspiring living Americans, US Air Force Major General (ret.) Chuck Yeager is celebrating his 90th birthday today. He still lives in California, and I hear he is still keeping his pilot’s license current.

[P.S.: Chuck Yeager passed away on December 7, 2020].

Chuck Yeager’s autobiography, Yeager is one of my favorite books, and I own several, slightly tattered copies. (It was co-written with Leo Janos, a speechwriter and ghostwriter who was known for writing speeches for the President Lyndon Johnson. He authored and co-authored notable books including Skunk Works – A Personal Memoir Of My Years At Lockheed).

Yeager is a captivating account not only of the man’s boyhood and military flying career, but also an insight into the mindset and values of the generation of pilots who ushered in the jet age, built the U.S. Air Force, and fought the Cold War.

The first edition of Yeager was published by Bantam in 1985, but it is still in print as paperback.

In 1989, a follow-up appeared: Press On – Further Adventures In the Good Life (co-written by former Newsweek editor Charles Leerhsen and Yeager) deals mostly with the legendary pilot’s life after retirement and his love for fishing, hunting and backpacking.

Charles Yeager on Wikipedia.

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Charles Lindbergh

Today is the birthday of one of my heroes, Charles Lindbergh: aviation pioneer, author, inventor, world traveler, explorer, environmentalist, intelligence agent, social and political activist, philanderer and — toward the end of his life — hermit and recluse.

For most people alive today, the extent of fame and admiration heaped upon Lindbergh during his lifetime is hard to appreciate. After his transatlantic flight in 1927, practically every man, woman and child in America and Europe knew his name. (Contrary to what many people think, Lindbergh was not the first person to cross the Atlantic by plane. He was the first person to fly non-stop from New York to Paris).

Lindbergh was a complicated, multifaceted and controversial man of many secrets. On the one hand, he neither cared for party politics nor for politicians. On the other hand, he was an American isolationist, a strong supporter of the America First movement who prominently advocated a neutral American foreign policy — as opposed to a military engagement in Europe.

To underline his views before World War II, Lindbergh expressed admiration for the German Nazi party. To be more precise: Many years before the Holocaust and Nazi brutality during the subsequent war became known, Lindbergh expressed admiration for the rapid progress the German people were making at the time.

While America was only slowly (if at all) recovering from the Great Depression, Hitler’s regime, almost overnight, eliminated corruption, inflation and unemployment. After suffering from many years of disastrous economic conditions, the German people seemed to be doing better each year. The Reich was making huge advances in science and technology, the aviation sector being of particular interest to Lindbergh.

Lindbergh’s assessment of the strategic situation in pre-war Europe was that if Britain and France attempted to answer Hitler’s provocations with military power — without first building up its military aviation sector — both countries would fare very badly against the more modern Nazi forces. (Lindbergh’s analysis was shared by many high ranking military officers in France, Britain and in the United States. In hindsight, we know that Lindbergh’s assessment of the Luftwaffe’s strength before the war was perhaps a little exaggerated, but fundamentally correct).

Back in America after living in Europe (and touring Nazi Germany), Lindbergh became active as an influential spokesperson for groups lamenting America’s drift toward war. During these politically charged times, the American pro-war propaganda machine began to loudly denounce Lindbergh as a Nazi-sympathizer and anti-Semite. (I believe he has neither, but more likely the victim of a campaign to ruin his character and undermine his influence as an opinion leader who had proven to be quite capable of rallying the masses).

To understand this, one must comprehend the historical context. After WW-I, the stock market crash in 1929, and the resulting Great Depression the average American had very little appetite for another war in Europe. Truth be told, there were quite a few Americans who looked with a certain amount of admiration at how the German Reich’s new leadership was improving the horrendous economic problems of the German people practically overnight. In the process, the Nazi party had also wiped out the once very powerful German communist party and prevented a bolshevik Germany — a fact that did not escape American anti-communists.

Lindbergh (and many other Americans at the time) thought that a strong Reich would keep Stalin’s Soviet Union under control, thereby making American involvement unnecessary and unwise.

Even after the Third Reich’s quick victory against Poland in 1939, the vast majority of the American people remained “non-interventionists”, who wanted no part in the brewing European conflict. Opposed to them were the “interventionists”, who believed that Hitler had to be stopped at all cost, even if it meant going to an all-out war in Europe.

Lindbergh argued that the United States was in a virtually impregnable position. Not only did Nazi Germany have no strategic ability to invade or harm the US homeland, it had shown no attempt whatsoever to develop military capability that could threaten America. Lindbergh proclaimed that when interventionists said “the defense of England” they really meant “defeat of Germany.” The non-interventionists also accused American industrialists of having purely financial motives for driving America to war.

The political tensions and attacks on Lindbergh boiled over after a speech he delivered to a rally in Des Moines, Iowa on September 11, 1941. In that speech he identified the forces pulling America into the war as “the British, the Roosevelt administration, and the Jews”. While he expressed sympathy for the plight of the Jews in Germany, he argued that America’s entry into the war would serve them little better. Lindbergh said, in part:

It is not difficult to understand why Jewish people desire the overthrow of Nazi Germany. The persecution they suffered in Germany would be sufficient to make bitter enemies of any race. No person with a sense of the dignity of mankind can condone the persecution the Jewish race suffered in Germany. But no person of honesty and vision can look on their pro-war policy here today without seeing the dangers involved in such a policy, both for us and for them.

Instead of agitating for war the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way, for they will be among the first to feel its consequences. Tolerance is a virtue that depends upon peace and strength. History shows that it cannot survive war and devastation. A few farsighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed to intervention. But the majority still do not. Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government.

[Wayne S. Cole, America First: The Battle against Intervention, 1940-41 (1953)]

These remarks must be seen in the political context, and in view of the fact that Lindbergh, all his life, was a staunch and principled pragmatist who approached every problem with unemotional analysis.

Before the war, Lindbergh (who after the war expressed great disgust after learning of the extent of the Holocaust) held the view that if Hitler’s Third Reich and Stalin’s Soviet Union were left alone with each other, they would sooner or later smash each other to pieces — without the sacrifice of American lives, and without a global war. Had this come to fruition, one might argue that America would have been spared around 200,000 fatalities in the European theater. And since Nazi Germany would have wiped out or at least seriously decimated the Soviet Union, the whole Cold War, the nuclear arms race and all its global consequences would never have happened.

Lindbergh’s views were quite popular before the war and made a lot of sense when seen from the perspective of the 1930s.

As for the Holocaust: Although the US was already engaged by supporting Nazi Germany’s enemies financially and with massive arms shipments earlier, the United States and Germany officially did not go to war until 1941. Only two months later, on January 20, 1942, at the secret Wannsee Conference, the Nazi leadership, now overburdened by heavy losses in the campaign against the Soviet Union, supply shortages as a result of the British fleet’s campaign, and America now joining the war officially, decided to implement the “Final Solution” – the annihilation of all Jews under the Reich’s control.

The question of whether the US military engagement in Europe (as well as other American policies and military strategy) accelerated, was a contributary factor, or perhaps even one of the culpable causes of the steady escalation of Nazi brutalities during the war is one of the politically most intensely charged subjects in all of history, and remains so even today.

But back to Lindbergh:

When America was attacked at Pearl Harbor, Lindbergh changed his anti-war stance overnight. Now he felt that his country needed his skills. But at that time, the Roosevelt administration and J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI had practically declared him an enemy of the state. As a consequence, the US military rebuffed Lindbergh’s offer to go on active duty and fight for his country.

But Lindbergh was not to be deterred. He joined the war effort in the Pacific as a civilian and flew more than 50 combat missions in support of the US Marine Corps and the US Army Air Force (the predecessor of today’s US Air Force). In addition, Lindbergh’s work as a pilot trainer and consultant made tremendous contributions to tactics, procedures and technology in American military aviation.

Long after Lindbergh’s death, it was discovered that he had a secret family in Germany (as well as several mistresses), which he successfully kept a secret from both the press as well as his American relationships.

Lindbergh may have been a man of many flaws, but one of even greater virtues, a man who spent his life unafraid of traveling over rough and rugged roads, toward the unknown, and daring to fly even the stormy skies.

Recommended reading:

A Scott Berg: “Lindbergh”. First published in 1998 (now in paperback)

Lynne Olson: “Those Angry Days – Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s Fight over World War II, 1939-1941”. Published 2013. ISBN-13: 978-1400069743.

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