Tractor Therapy

I’ve been looking around for an old, but not ancient, compact diesel tractor with 4WD and a front end loader. I finally found one, it was nearby, and the price was right. Needs some cosmetic touch-up but starts and runs great. As a local dairy farmer told me, a tractor is great but not until you have a front end loader do you have a real tool.

We’ve dubbed the tractor Little Blue.

Here’s a video of its first working outing (June 27), wherein my goal was to level a rough area in front of the horse barn.

In the 6 days since, I’ve put another couple of hours on it and moved at least 40 wheelbarrow loads of dirt and horse manure. I’ve just about got the hang of using the loader to dig and level the ground, something we really needed done.

Just thinking about digging up and moving all that dirt with a shovel and wheelbarrow makes my back hurt. With Little Blue, I didn’t even break a sweat.

Nothing like some tractor therapy to put a smile on a man’s face.

8 Military Cessna Citations

Few people, if asked, would include the Cessna Citation in a list of military aircraft. Although primarily a business jet, 68 military Cessna Citations have served the US in four branches of the US military as well as with Customs & Border Protection, and many Citations continue to serve today.

US Navy T-47A/Citation 552 (Kansas Aviation Museum photo)

US Navy T-47A/Citation 552

US Navy

1. Naval Flight Officer Training

In the early 1980s, the US Navy needed to replace its fleet of aging North American Rockwell T-39D Sabreliners used in the Undergraduate Naval Flight Officer (UNFO) training program. Following a competitive procurement process, the Navy awarded Cessna Aircraft a contract for 15 modified Citation S/II aircraft in 1984. Cessna called the new version the Model 552, and the Navy designated it the T-47A. The T-47 soon became the first in a line of Citations that found military applications.

Compared to the Citation S/II, the T-47A had more powerful engines (P&W JT15D-5 turbofans), a 5.7-foot shorter wingspan (46.5 feet vs. 52.2 on the S/II), a 0.8-foot longer fuselage to accommodate the nose-mounted radar (the same one used on the F-14 Tomcat) and three student radar stations in lieu of the S/II’s executive seating. This combination gave the T-47A an edge over the S/II in acceleration, rate of climb maximum speed (Mach 0.733 vs. Mach 0.721 at 40,000 feet).

The Navy issued a $160 million, five-year UNFO/Training System Upgrade contract (with an optional for three more years) for a turnkey training package. FAA certification for the T-47A was received on November 21, 1984, with deliveries to the Navy beginning in December. This contract helped pull Cessna out of 1983’s slump and $18 million loss.

To provide the required total training program, Cessna teamed with Northrop Worldwide Aircraft Services, Inc. (NWASI) for pilots and maintenance personnel and Singer/Link for the radar training simulators. Cessna delivered 15 T-47A aircraft to Training Air Wing Six at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. Although the Navy assigned the aircraft sequential serial numbers, they retained civilian “N” numbers on the tail with “NAVY” stenciled just below the horizontal stabilizer and the military star-and-bars on each engine pod.

Final deliveries lagged six months behind schedule due to some operational deficiencies, including unexpected radar target acquisition range limitations (quickly corrected by the radar contractor). Other problems necessitated installation of:

  • Hydraulically-actuated, graphite-composite Fowler flaps extending farther inboard than standard (improved lift-to-drag ratio in landing configuration);
  • Aileron boost system and geared aileron trim tabs (improved roll rates); and
  • Impact resistant polycarbonate windscreen able to withstand the impact of a five-pound bird at 455 KIAS (due to the high speed, low altitude operations).

NWASI hired the first T-47A pilots in January 1985, almost all with prior military flight experience (primarily in fighter aircraft). NWASI carefully screened the pilots, who had to be approved by the Navy’s T-47 Training System Manager and whose job was to follow the guidance provided by the UNFO students — closely supervised by UNFO instructors — during departures, arrivals, and airborne intercept training.

The standard UNFO training mission required two T-47A aircraft (taking turns flying as the interceptor and the attacker) with two or three students and one UNFO instructor on each aircraft. An unusual feature was that the UNFO instructor (a non-pilot) was actually the mission commander, and his authority included all facets of the mission, including veto rights over safety-of-flight decisions.

In the training area over the Gulf of Mexico, a ground controlled intercept officer radar vectored the two T-47s to an initial intercept set-up with 500 feet altitude separation. Once the student NFO on the interceptor T-47 confirmed radar contact on the attacker T-47, he assumed control of the intercept and attempted to direct the pilot to a successful stern intercept. On each training sortie, the students alternated NFO responsibility.

The T-47 program also introduced students to low-level navigation procedures over the flat, featureless inland terrain of Florida and southern Alabama, usually at 500 feet AGL and groundspeeds up to 330 KIAS. The students took turns vectoring the pilot to the entry point for the low level route, directing speed and course corrections, and calculating wind drift and fuel consumption.

Short-lived program

In 1992, the Navy replaced the T-47A with contractor-operated T-39Ns (refurbished and upgraded T-39Ds). In seven years, the T-47A fleet had logged over 100,000 flight hours, a 95-percent mission completion rate, only a handful of minor incidents, and no major accidents. However, rumors suggested that the T-47 fleet had begun to show structural wear-and-tear and also may not have met Navy desires for high altitude performance. Cessna mothballed all T-47s in a hangar, where a subsequent fire destroyed all but one.

US Air Force

2. Tanker-Transport Training System

In 1989, a General Dynamics-Cessna team (GD owned Cessna at that time) entered a variation of the Navy T-47A in a competition for the potentially lucrative US Air Force Tanker-Transport Training System (TTTS) aircraft. I worked on the proposal at GD, and we all felt very confident in T-47’s suitability. It easily met all defined performance requirements and had an excellent record in a training environment similar to that envisioned for the TTTS. Ultimately, acquisition cost (and maybe those structural rumors?) drove USAF to select the newly developed, and relatively untried, Beech Aircraft BeechJet, which has served successfully as the T-1A Jayhawk for the past 15 years.

3. OT-47B Tracker

But the story of military Citations did not end there. In June 1995, USAF awarded Cessna a $40.8 million contract for five OT-47B Tracker aircraft for DoD’s counter-drug missions. Although based on the original T-47A, the OT-47B incorporated a longer fuselage, upgraded engines, the radar from the F-16 Fighting Falcon, and an infrared imaging system. The Trackers are operated by Aviation Development Corp., with headquarters at Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama (and may be a CIA-run company). Ten years ago, I discussed this program with Lieutenant Colonel Frank Pratt at the Reconnaissance Systems Program Office at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, who confirmed that the aircraft would be used in operations where the Rules of Engagement were uncertain and where the “bad guys” were, indeed, truly “bad.” Available records indicate that an OT-47B (crewed by three contractor pilots and a Peruvian Air Force officer) monitored the downing of a US missionary plane by a Peruvian AF Cessna A-37B Dragonfly on April 20, 2001.

US Army UC-35A/Citation Ultra

US Army UC-35A/Citation Ultra

US Army

4 & 5. UC-35A & B

In January 1996, the US Army awarded Cessna a $157 million contract for 35 UC-35 aircraft to supplement their aging Beech C-12s for passenger and light cargo transportation. The Army deployed these commercial off-the-shelf Citation 560 Ultra V aircraft to bases in the US, Germany and South Korea. In 2000 and 2001, the Army also bought four larger, higher performance Citation Ultra Encores (designated the UC-35B). UC-35 pilot training became the responsibility of the Army National Guard unit at Bridgeport, West Virginia, which qualifies experienced Army fixed wing pilots in the UC-35 after four weeks of classroom, simulator and inflight training.

US Marine Corps UC-35D/Citation Ultra Encore

US Marine Corps UC-35D/Citation Ultra Encore

US Marine Corps

6 & 7. UC-35C & D

Beginning in November 1999, the US Marine Corps also purchased two Citation Ultras (UC-35C) and 11 Encores (UC-35D) as operational support aircraft to replace their CT-39 Sabreliners. The Marine Corps accepted the last UC-35D on March 21, 2006, with Captain Mark Stone, program manager, noting that they “have the distinction of being Naval Aviation’s least expensive aircraft operate.”

Marine Corps UC-35s are based in the US, Japan and Qatar. The Qatar unit (VMR-1) flies sorties in support of the ongoing “War on Terror” throughout the Middle East, often flying personnel and equipment into Afghanistan and Djibouti for quick reaction missions in these hot combat areas. Major John Gale, VMR-1 Operations Officer, says, “What makes us unique is that we have more flexibility to respond and adapt to get people in and out of theater. . .we get request from all the services to assist them with their needs.”

CBP Interceptor

CBP Interceptor

US Customs & Border Protection

8. C-550 Interceptor

The Customs & Border Protection’s Air and Marine division began flying the C-550 Citation II Interceptor in the late 1970s to intercept and track airborne drug smugglers and has been used effectively in Panama, Honduras, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Mexico and Aruba. The Interceptors, with a crew of three (pilot, copilot, and sensor operator), can operate from remote landing strips and was the first commercial aircraft fitted with the USAF F-16’s fire-control radar. You can read more about the CBP in my post Cessna Guarding the Borders.

Citations Continue to Serve

Thus, although USAF retired its last operational Cessna (the T-37 jet trainer) in 2007, Cessnas will continue to serve reliably and efficiently for many more years in the Army, Marine Corps, and CBP. Cessna Aircraft Company’s military heritage remains active, strong and proud.

The Sex Talk

Kangoroos having sexI turned 13 in 1960. That’s when my mother decided it was time for The Talk. You know, the one about sex. She sat me down in the den, pulled out the appropriate volume in the Encyclopedia Brittanica, and opened it to a full-color, illustration of the female body and one of the male body. It consisted of an underlying diagram of the skeletal structure with several clear plastic overlays that, in sequence, added internal organs, muscles, and, finally, the visible exterior.

I guess she thought I hadn’t already found that diagram or, for that matter, my dad’s monthly issue of Playboy.

But she plowed ahead, in a matter-of-fact way, to discuss sex from a clinical perspective. Sort of a this-goes-here-and-does-that approach. I don’t think either of us were very comfortable with the whole discussion. As a result, it didn’t last long.

At the end, Mom said a few words about being in love first and not trying any of this until after you’re married. I nodded agreement and wandered off to see if I could sneak a peek at the latest Playboy without anyone catching me.

Fast forward two years.

Dad and I were in the car. Without pulling off the road or even glancing at me, he asked me, “Do you understand all you know about sex?”

Now, what do you suppose a 15-year-old boy would say to that question? (Remember, this was in 1962 and a very different era; Bill Clinton had not yet brought sex, oral and otherwise, into polite conversation at the dinner table.) That’s right, I replied uneasily, “Yes.”

He sort of shrugged and added, “Just remember that you want to refrain from any of that stuff until after you’re married. Like I did.”

Right there, my young BS meter slammed to the top peg. I knew three things for certain about my dad:

  1. He had not married Mom until he was 28 (she was 19).
  2. I was born just short of 9 months after their wedding (I was always an excellent math student so knew what that implied).
  3. He flirted openly with every woman he ever met, including every one of my girlfriends, even seemed to revel in whatever attentions they paid to him.

So, would you have believed him?

Yeah, me neither.

Were either of those talks worthwhile? I guess Mom’s was at least accurate and honest, but Dad’s was one of those why-did-you-bother moments.

How did I do with my two daughters. Uhm, well…I let their Mom handle it. I’m sure she did a fine job. I doubtless would have gotten embarrassed, verbally fumbled around, and overall made a mess of it. Looking back, I wish I had at least tried to present the male perspective, but I never had a sister and just didn’t know where to begin. Given the parental examples I had to use a baseline, what would you expect?

Are today’s kids better off with the nonstop onslaught of sexually explicit material coming at them from all directions? I can see no evidence that they are. Somehow, sex has become cheapened in the ill-considered pursuit of openness and early exposure. I wish we could transport today’s kids back to 1960 and let them finish growing up.

Oops. They’d probably run headlong into the sexual revolution of the late 1960s.

Cessna and World War II Gliders

Cessna Warbirds, The War Years, front coverToday, I’m posting another excerpt from Cessna Warbirds, The War Years (1941-45): The T-50 Bobcat and the Cessnas Impressed into Military Service. This excerpt is a section from “The Cessna Story” chapter.

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horizontal-bar-3x150pxWorld War II

To meet the demands of these military orders, Cessna built new manufacturing facilities and a two-story administration building on 640 acres of company-owned real estate. In 1941, Cessna’s employment swelled in just seven months from 200 employees to 1,500. Production soon increased even more as the Army Air Corps added orders for new versions of the T-50—the AT-17 trainer and the UC-78 utility and cargo airplane. By the completion of the T-50 production run, 5,399 aircraft had been delivered. During the war years, Cessna designed and built several experimental aircraft for the military market, but none reached production.

Cessna’s Depression-era experience with gliders resulted in other military orders during WW II. On September 4, 1942, Cessna was one of 16 companies to receive orders to build 1,500 Waco-designed CG-4A gliders in preparation for the invasion of Europe. Cessna, the prime contractor for their portion of the production, subcontracted assembly to other Wichita manufacturers, mostly Boeing. Half of the orders were eventually canceled, and Cessna delivered the final CG-4A in January 1943. Parts and sub-assemblies had been manufactured by a multitude of small manufacturers from communities across the country—including wings made in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Beatrice, Nebraska—and all three major aircraft companies in Wichita (Cessna, Beech, and Boeing) had a hand in the final assembly. Colonel Ray G. Harris, Army Air Force Supervisor of the Midwestern Procurement District, said, “It is a story of industrial and Army cooperation and evidence of the ability of American industries to undertake a job that even a year ago would have been unbelievable.”

The fuselage of the CG-4A consisted of welded steel tubing, the cockpit framework chrome molybdenum steel, the wings and tail wood, and the entire aircraft was fabric covered. The box-shaped fuselage could accommodate either 15 fully equipped infantry troops, a standard Army Jeep, one quarter-ton truck with its four man crew, or a 75 mm howitzer and three-man crew. Normal personnel entry was through the aft doors, but the entire nose section (including the cockpit) hinged upward for the loading of vehicles or howitzers. With a maximum gross weight of 7,500 pounds the CG-4A could be towed at speeds up to 150 mph behind aircraft such as the C-46 and C-47. The invasion of Sicily in July 1943 brought the first combat use of the new gliders. After the war, although none of the troop gliders were authorized for civilian use, many were sold as war surplus. The customers discarded the aircraft and kept the excellent packing crates (each glider came in a three-crate kit) to use as storage buildings or to recycle for their high-grade lumber.

CG-4A gliders lined up on ramp in front of Boeing facility in Wichita, Kansas

Cessna’s subcontracted CG-4As at Boeing plant in Wichita, circa 1942.

In September 1942, the War Department awarded Cessna the Army Navy “E” Award for production quality, work stoppage avoidance, production problem-solving, maintenance of fair labor practices, quality management, labor force performance, excellent accident record, and subcontracting expertise—the first Wichita company to win this prestigious award. Cessna received the award four more times during the war years.

During WW II, Cessna also built components of the Boeing B-29 Super Fortress and the Douglas A-26 Invader. At peak wartime production, Cessna employed 6,074 in 468,000 square feet of facilities. As the war ended, and after $191,753,000 of wartime sales, Cessna returned to civilian aircraft production.

After V-J Day, Cessna employment dropped to 1,800 and soon plunged even further to 450. Cessna concentrated on single-engine airplanes with the highly successful Models 120 and 140, designed with post-war GI Bill flight training in mind, and the more powerful and comfortable four-place Models 190 and 195. As the Model 120 and 140 gained success in 1946, employment again surged to 1,873 and production jumped to 30 airplanes per day as annual sales climbed to $6,327,663.

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Calm Down, Steve Doucy!

I just couldn’t believe it. While watching Fox & Friends this morning, I heard Steve Doucy, usually a voice of reason, get all worked up because the lunatic who opened fire on the Dallas police station drove an armored van purchased online. He and guest Kurt Knutson expressed shock that all sorts of military equipment was readily available on eBay. Ohmygod. Here’s the video clip for those who missed the show:

This is the same idiotic mindset that considers it an overwhelming invitation to disaster that people can buy an AR-15, usually called erroneously an “assault weapon” (which is no more an “assault weapon” than my Ruger 10/22, it just looks meaner).

Apparently, Doucy and Knutson are unaware that private citizens have been buying ex-military hardware for a lot longer than the Internet has existed. Where do they suppose all those glorious warbirds that thrill people at airshows came from? The tooth fairy?

Considering that thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of people own and operate ex-military hardware of all kinds, it doesn’t exactly seem like a major threat to national security when one lunatic goes nuts and attacks a police station while driving his legal armored van.

Here are just a few samples of really cool ex-military hardware on sale right now:

Got a spare $5M? How about a Russian MiG-29?

Currently licensed and flying in the US.

Or how about a Saab Draken for less than $500K:

You’ll be the center of attention when you pull in for gas at your local airport.

Maybe you prefer to keep your feet on the ground and would prefer a tank (no price listed, but if you have to ask…):

Soviet T-72 battle tank beats the hell out of an ATV for roaming the rough.

In case you’re wondering, it’s not just foreign equipment for sale, but there is more of the foreign stuff because it tends to be cheaper. However, right now in the US there are people flying retired war machines like the F-4 and F-104 as well as armored personnel carriers and tanks retired by the US military.

I’d much rather that the government sell all that expensive equipment, allowing people to preserve and showcase it for future generations, than junk it for scrap value.

As for the Fox commentators worrying about private folks owning armored vehicles, I guess they think only CEOs and other rich folks should be able to buy serious protection while, say, roaming the Wild West streets of Chicago.

One bad apple, in this case, does not mean there is something fundamentally wrong with the acquisition and operation of ex-military hardware. When it’s sold on the open market, the weapons have to be decommissioned unless you’re willing to fork over some big bucks and submit to a background check. I don’t think very many would-be terrorists are going to be interested.

I guess Doucy never attended an airshow to be wowed by all those fantastic old warbirds or any other display of military hardware no longer needed by the military.

Calm down, Doucy. The world as we know it is not about to end just because some ex-military equipment is sold on eBay. Really, it’s not.

CAF B-29 Fifi flying over TX.

Aircraft like this B-29 “FIFI”, flown today by the Commemorative Air Force, dropped NUKES on Japan. ©Walter P. Shiel. All Rights Reserved.