Looking for the Unusual
Once in a while, we run across a subject that is seldom discussed and that we think we should let readers in on. Of the four feature articles in this issue, three of them fall into that category. First, when was the last time you read a pilot narrative describing the sinking of a ship when the pilot was flying a jet, not something swinging a huge propeller up front? Antiship missions did not die with V-J Day. In fact, Lon Nordeen’s piece, “Jet-Age Naval Warfare,” takes us out over the waters around Iraq, Iran, and Libya and puts us in A-6s, A-7s, and Hornets while naval aviators do what they’re trained to do. It’s interesting stuff that most of us have forgotten ever happened.
In “Rental Bad Guys,” Brick Eisel gives us an inside peek on how our air forces, specifically the U.S. Air Force, are renting faux Russians to play bad guys during air-combat training. Various contractors are supplying jet fighters flown by former military instructor-pilots to increase the number of aggressor training aircraft available without having to pay tax dollars for combat birds that will never actually defend the United States. This is a worldwide trend that has given rise to mini air-forces-for-hire, which replicate the performance and tactics of the forces our guys are likely to face.
For a decidedly different editorial approach to the B-29, we are running the feature “A Reunion of Icons,” written by Randy Sohn, an old friend who is universally recognized as one of the premier warbird-checkout pilots in the world. He tells the tale of requalifying Enola Gay pilot, Paul Tibbets, in the Commemorative Air Force’s B-29 FIFI for a 1976 airshow. It’s an interesting perspective on a pilot who made history and an airplane that helped him do it.
The war in the Pacific is often described as “island hopping,” which oversimplifies the Pacific Theater of Operations. In some areas, such as the Truk Atoll, the Japanese had been building facilities for 20 years, giving the atoll the nickname “Gibraltar of the Pacific.” The name signified both its importance and the impregnable nature it presented as a target. Being an atoll, it was not simply an island but a ring of large and small islands on which the Imperial Japanese Navy had built a number of airfields and harbors from which they could launch attacks throughout the Pacific. As such, the U.S. Navy was tasked with taking it out of the war, which was seen as being a major offensive. The deep-water-lagoon anchorage alone covered 800 square miles. Tom Cleaver’s article, “Destroy Truk!,” takes us through the initial attacks, named “Operation Hailstone” in February 1944, using the words of the pilots who were involved.
The back-page column, Tailview, is different in this issue, if only because I tell of a recent unusual personal experience that centers around WW II. It is literally a tale about a message in a bottle and an unexpected conclusion.
Have at it and enjoy.
The EA-6B has been the tactical eyes and ears of the U.S. Navy battlefield since the 1970s and is being replaced by the EA-18G Growler. (Photo by Check Six/GNH)