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)

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