Sunday, October 28, 2007

Abe Karem and His World Record Helo

The Boeing (because it bought Karem’s company, Frontier) UAV helo called the ‘Hummingbird’ just set a new record for unrefueled helicopter flight endurance.

12.1 Hours!!!!

And it didn’t even use its max fuel capacity.

This system’s success means the world will have to rethink what exactly a helo can and cannot do.

I’ve been following this project for quite a while. I’ve followed it because the inventor Abe Karem made a huge impression on me when my old unit was helping test one of his earlier UAV designs, Project Amber (we called it the ‘Albatross’). While you may never have heard of it, you’ve probably heard of its descendents: the Predator and now the Reaper.

In the 80’s, I was a fly on the wall for about 15 minutes that seemed like an hour once when Karem was in our shop telling one of our engineers what we could do to get a few more easy knots out of our XBQM-106As.
Everything about Karem struck me as him being an “Aero’s Aero”- I swear the man can visualize pressure gradients, airflow and drag.

Note: For the curious, the closest (not very) to accurate info about the -106A out there is probably here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

25th Annual Military History Seminar

As my few readers who are not my friends may have deduced, I haven’t been blogging much lately because it is done in my ‘free’ time and I don’t have much of that these days. But I wanted to pass along my experience from two weekends ago at the University of North Texas (UNT).

I attended UNT's Military History Center’s 25th Hurley Military History Seminar on October 13th and it was a day very well spent. The more than 250 attendees were a pretty interesting cross-section of academics from UNT and elsewhere, North Texas (Including the Dallas-Fort Worth area) civic and business leaders, and current and past leaders of many veteran groups. Attendance was by ‘invitation only’ and I can’t thank Dr. (BGen) Hurley enough for being kind enough to put my name on the list.

I originally inquired about attending the event because I very much wanted to hear the first lecturer, Dr. Victor Davis Hanson speak. I’ve read most of his books on the ancient Greeks and warfare, have listened to or viewed many of the media events in which he’s appeared, and own a fairly extensive collection of audio files containing his lectures and debates over the years. I believed (correctly as it turned out) that I already knew much of what he was going to say on the subject of "The Significance of Ancient Warfare for the Present and the Future", but I also knew he had just returned from Iraq and was very interested in both what he might tell us about his experience and what others might ask him in the Q and A portion of the program.

The second lecturer was (for me) an additional and unexpected treat. I found out a week before the seminar that it actually was a seminar and not just a lecture by Dr. Hanson, and that there would be an afternoon session with Dr. Thomas A. Keaney (“The Future of Warfare: Politics and Technology”) of Johns Hopkins University (and former BUFF driver). Initially, his name seemed vaguely familiar and I’m embarrassed to say that at first I didn’t recognize exactly who he was. I asked a colleague in the D.C. area if he knew anything about Dr. Keaney, and he responded with a reminder that Dr. Keaney was the co-author of the “Gulf War Airpower Survey” which is, as my colleague reminded me, “possibly the finest account of an air campaign ever put together”. My embarrassment comes from the fact that I had used Dr. Keaney’s work as a key source document for modeling force employment scenarios for several different analyses in my last position, as well as a key reference in my grad school capstone project. I chalk the lapse up to the anonymity of government work and the fact that you never appreciate what you get for free. I’m certain I would have remembered the name if I would have paid for the reference.

The Hanson Session

Dr Hanson, as I mentioned earlier really didn’t present anything in the lecture portion of his session that I hadn’t heard before, but it is always wonderful to listen to someone speak extemporaneously on a subject so completely within his grasp and command. History departments on American campuses are rather polarized on the subject of military history as a rule, and while it could have been my imagination, it seemed that more than a few of the non-veteran attendees in my proximity were highly uncomfortable with some of Dr. Hanson’s assertions and observations, especially those on the unchanging nature of man and warfare. Dr. Hanson made his usual iron-clad case on every point... which seemed to make some audience members even more uncomfortable.

In the Q and A portion of the session, the question as to the nature of future warfare and need for traditional forces was raised. Dr. Hanson stated that he did not completely agree with the Fukuyama point of view that we are at or near the End of History . Dr Hanson noted that even if the entire world was composed of liberal Western democracies, all it would take (due again to the unchanging nature of man) for things to start breaking down again would be for an “innkeeper in Austria or Denton Texas” to decide he/she didn’t like the way the world was going and start making statements to that effect, and start gathering fellow travelers who also believed in the same vision to start shaking things up. Since the world is clearly nowhere near a “Kumbaya” moment at this time, and judging by how the audience reacted, I think he may have provided some attendees serious food for thought. This moment, I believe, also served as solid ‘battlefield prep’ for the second lecture.

Dr Hanson’s most memorable anecdote that I had not heard before (or had forgotten), was used to emphasize the point that in warfare, it is the human and societal ‘will’ that decides when a war is over or 'won'. He recounted that he at one time knew that his father, who had flown as a gunner on B-29 missions over Japan, had landed in Japan after the war. He had assumed at one point that it had been in 1946 or later, until his father told him it had been in late August of 1945, immediately after the surrender and before the occupation of Japan was really underway. Dr Hanson asked his father if he wasn’t worried that someone might decide to try and kill them since they had been bombing Japan fiercely even before Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His father replied that no, he hadn’t been concerned at all. When he asked his father why he hadn’t been concerned, his father replied (I’m paraphrasing and working from memory here until I get a copy of the lecture) “Because we knew that they knew that we could just start bombing them again if we wanted to”. Unfortunately Dr. Hanson was dealing with some health problems and couldn’t stay for the book signing later in the day, but even though he was apparently in some pain, it was not obvious or really even evident when he was at the lectern.

Dr. Hanson’s experience in Iraq as he related it solidly reinforces the public position of CENTCOM and General Petraeus, and Dr. Hanson is still writing more revealing articles about his Iraq visit at his website.

There was venue change this year for lunch and the second session.....

You can't really tell from the photos, but there were quite a few women and couples in the crowd and a good cross section of ages represented overall.
The Keaney Session

Dr. Keaney spoke after the luncheon. His topic “The Future of Warfare: Politics and Technology” went very much to the heart of the problems of modern defense planning. I particularly enjoyed his ‘timeline presentation’ where he pointed out that now in 2007, we think these x scenarios are the most probable futures, but did we think this ‘present’ was a probable future in 1997? Or did we think that we would be dealing with something else? Dr. Keaney was able to carry this analogy all the way back through the early 20th Century, pointing out that for every ten years going back in time, a significant disruptive event in the middle of that decade changed what we had seen as the future and were planning for, into a very different future that we then faced. He also pointed out that each of these possible futures that came true were not really surprises, but that they were known and had been previously tagged as ‘improbable’.

Dr. Keaney reminded the audience that during the Cold War, defense planning was easier because we had to deal with the Soviets and all other lesser contingencies could be dealt with as they popped up. Without a ‘big’ problem in front of National Security planners and the relative decline in defense spending (IMHO vital national defense is just as subject to ‘out of sight-out of mind’ stupidity as anything else), the consequences of picking the wrong ‘probables’ or even ignoring the ‘unlikelies’ are much greater. I thought this point was a great one to make because while it is all too obvious to those of us who lived and ‘fought’ the Cold War, there is a generation of academics, pundits and policy wonks out there now that only have an abstract and second-hand notion of the actual differences between then and now.

The most interesting question posed to Dr. Keaney was from what had to have been a young ‘emerging’ academic on the other side of the room and for some reason couldn’t have been asked without using the terms ‘Bush Administration’, ‘this Administration’ or ‘the Administration’ 4 or 5 times. Without the political emphasis it boiled down to:
The Commander in Chief had said that he was going to transform and streamline the military and now he is talking about adding/beefing up the military – what gives?
Dr. Keaney ably pointed out that what most of the young man was comparing was the ideas and plans of a Presidential candidate on the one hand, who on the other hand just a few months after taking office no longer had the luxury of a ‘quiet time’ in defense to carry out all the overhauling and changes that were originally envisioned. Dr Keaney also reminded the audience that defense "transformation" was not necessarily about changes in weapons and hardware, but about organization, processes, and communication (information age anyone?) and that while there were opportunities for ‘bargains’ in defense spending, not everything can be a bargain.

These are just my general observations of the seminar and may have more after I receive my DVD copies of the sessions.

Monday, October 15, 2007

SR-71 History Lesson

I was at another great military history function here in Texas this weekend that I (just maybe) would have been tempted to pass up and go listen to these guys if the opportunity had presented itself.

It would have been a pretty tough decision.

More later....

Sunday, October 14, 2007

N409L (Not So Mysterious Plane) Busts Bush Airspace

Corrections made thanks to a commenter who reminds me there are two Redmonds in the Northwest (Since I was born in and lived in Oregon you would think I would have remembered that.) "
cbaker97814" also informs me that "JCB" are the initials of the owner of Lancair, so my first guess was right: a 'principal' of Lancair DOES own it. As the cheerful commenter noted: I could have checked my facts more". But that means I would have had to put another 5 minutes into the project and then it would have been even later before I went to bed. I give myself an "A-" for the ten minutes of investigative journalism.

Hmmmm. Anyone heard who was flying this plane (owned by a New Orleans aviation (and more) attorney and prominent aircraft manufacturer) yet?

The original (corrected post) ...

Just heard this on the late (11PM Texas Time) news.
Apparently, it is believed that a light plane violated the airspace (probably inadvertent) over President Bush’s ranch today.

The report, while not identifying the name of the pilot, showed video of the plane on the ground in Addison, TX. The plane is a Lancair with retractable gear and a big “28” on the vertical tail surface and what looked like sponsorship markings on the fuselage. The registration was N409L.

This plane might someday be in the Smithsonian
Didn’t the reporters think the markings a little out of the ordinary? Couldn't they find anything else about the airplane?

It took less than 10 minutes to Google up the following:
1. This exact plane (Lancair IV) is a multiple FAI world record holder.
2. It is owned by “JCB5 INC” of Redmond, Oregon
3. The pilot who flew it at Reno for Lancair is a noted freelance experimental test pilot with his own website .
4. The plane is the PROTOTYPE Lancair IV and...
5. The plane raced at Reno and won at least twice
6. Redmond Oregon is the home of Lancair (and NOT Microsoft)

I will be surprised if “JCB5” is not a limited liability enterprise for Lancair (or one the principals) that protects them from potential adverse financial impacts that a bad racing experience could otherwise generate. (No longer a Second guess: a Microsoftee is involved.)

A smart reporter would have called Lancair right away to find out.

The airspace around Crawford is made for inadvertent penetration. This must be like the bazillionth time it's happened. If the President is home, the controlled airspace is huge. If he's away, it is only about a 3 mile radius around his ranch. Like they say in ground school: Woe be unto the pilot who doesn't read the latest NOTAMs.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Conservatives at the Gates

And only the ‘”Tenure Ramparts” are keeping them out!
Note: Part of this is also cross-posted as part of a comment at Greg Mankiw’s Blog.

Volokh Conspiracy has a great series of fresh analytical posts on the latest numbers (referenced by someone in an earlier comment) defining the liberal-conservative-libertarian divide.

My favorite parts:

A Title:

And an ‘Update’:
“Among actual scientists, in the physical and biological sciences, the percentage who identify themselves as Marxists is zero.””

Loved the ‘actual’ reference.

What shall we do M’Lord?
As to the defenses that liberal academics have erected to conservatism on campus. I’m still not too worried about it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


AKA "Does anyone actually READ anymore?"

The hazards of the internet or any communications medium that does not allow direct real-time interchanges composed of iterative Sender-Message-Receiver cycles was brought home to me again this week: when I posted a comment to an article about Burt Rutan at a great little blog called Jet City Journal.

Kevin Pedraja’s Jet City post was about a Discover piece on Burt Rutan with a particularly insightful observation:

I had the opportunity to meet him once. He is an odd guy, but very compelling. Definitely an iconoclast.
To which, since I had just attended a lecture given by Rutan, I commented:

It is good to see him carrying his message beyond the fold, even if he is, as you say, an odd guy. I would say he generally comes over as a jerk, but a little while ago, just before it was announced that Northrp [sic, my fat fingered typo in the original] Grumman was buying the remaining interest in Scaled Composites, he gave a lecture at Northrop that was very entertaining and gave attendees great insight into his product development model. He also echoed what many of us already know: if Congress holds [t]he purse strings you can't 'test' anything anymore, you are only allowed to demonstrate'. Rutan accurately characterizes 'R&D' these days as no 'R' and all 'D'.
My comment, in turn, was commented on by two others (to date) who somehow translated my “I would say he generally comes over as a jerk” statement into me writing or asserting that he WAS a jerk.

This is why the USAF in its wisdom many years ago changed their communications training from emphasizing the “Sender–Message-Receiver” model to pounding into us the ‘improved’ “Sender–Message-Receiver-FEEDBACK” model in an effort to cut down on open-loop communications.

So, to clarify before I sign off (and now posted to the Jet City piece): I did not imply, state, hint, comment, pronounce, or otherwise express in any way, shape, or form that Mr. Rutan was a 'jerk'. I do not KNOW if he is indeed a ‘jerk’ (I actually suspect he is not – at least by my definition). I characterized his public demeanor as generally coming off (seeming, perceived, appearing to be) as a ‘jerk’.

Now, I may have to caveat this statement ever so slightly by adding "over the years", since he might have mellowed since my best reference points, but my original comment still stands.

Maybe someday, someone MIGHT be interested in what I meant in the first place, although if one bothers to read all the comments added to original post with a disinterested eye, one could probably deduce what I meant.

I also suppose it would have been worse if I also pointed out that brother Dick Rutan comes over as a much nicer guy than Burt. ;-)

BTW: This is also a good example of the power of ‘trigger words’. Would the word ‘jerk’ have had the same effect on people if I had placed it after my complimentary (to Mr. Rutan) statements and at the end of my comment?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Associated Press Discovers "Cold War was Hell!"

Do we have to wait until 2066 before they find out about the current war?

Robert Burns (definitely NOT the poet) has dropped yet another non-story on the public via the AP titled “US Considered Poisons for Assassinations”. James Taranto could file this under ‘Breaking Story From 1948’, only the joke in this case would be the fact that the story IS from 1948.
It is full of fun factoids that are harmless enough up front where the article establishes early that radioactive poisons were only one possible weaponization option under consideration, and in the end were NOT given a high priority nor were they slated for implementation:
Work on a "subversive weapon for attack of individuals or small groups'' was listed as a secondary priority, to be confined to feasibility studies and experiments.
But deep in the article, the author drops a juicy quote from a one ‘Barton Bernstein’.

Barton Bernstein, a Stanford history professor who has done extensive research on the U.S. military's radiological warfare efforts, said he did not believe this aspect had previously come to light.
"This is one of those items that surprises us but should not shock us, because in the Cold War all kinds of ways of killing people, in all kinds of manners - inhumane, barbaric and even worse - were periodically contemplated at high levels in the American government in what was seen as a just war against a hated and hateful enemy,'' Bernstein said

Now normally I could (and would) let that little bit of nauseous hand-wringing at the end of the quote slide on by without comment, but......

Barton Bernstein is to my mind a ‘serial historical revisionist’. Professor Bernstein earned a special place in the Air Force Association’s archives on the controversy surrounding the Enola Gay exhibit at the Smithsonian back in 1995 as part and parcel of his apparent quest to convince the world that dropping the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was anything but neccessary. He has also revealed himself to be quite a delightful Reagan ‘denier’ (2002 transcript and audio here). Just add today’s article to Bernstein’s revisionist ‘pile’ and resist the temptation to ask the good professor in what way the 'hated and hateful enemy' might not have been anything BUT hated and hateful. Two words prof'.....Joe and Stalin.

As to the article's author....
IMHO Robert Burns has made a career out of writing disparaging and slanted articles on the military and defense with lots of puff pieces in between as filler. I consider him a ‘Military Writer’ only in the same manner as General Schwartzkopf regarded Saddam Hussein a ‘Military Strategist’.