Blue Angels at the Reno Air Races 2016

Some photos from the Blue Angels show at the Reno Air Races: with Google (until they decide to kill Photos the way that they killed Picasa?)

[Tech details: the now-discredited Canon 5D Mark III (we all need a Mark IV!) and the 200-400/4 zoom lens with built-in teleconverter. Incompetence papered over with motor drive and cropping in Picasa. It was a real pleasure to return to the Canon user interface after a multi-year sojourn in the Sony wilderness. On the other hand when it was time to capture a little video I said to myself “How come I can’t see the video in the viewfinder (optical) or on the rear screen (washed out by the sun)?”]

Separately, for those who wanted to see where tax dollars go to die, the Air Force brought a couple of F-35 fighter jets there.


Watching the Blue Angels it occurred to me that few people would say “Wow, we need to spend $400 billion on some new fighter jets because these F-18s aren’t very maneuverable.”

I had an off-the-record talk with a couple of Air Force guys. They couldn’t come up with a scenario in which any fighter is useful other than a hot war with China or Russia: “We’re dropping bombs from F-15s just because we needed to give them something to do.” But we need the F-35 for dogfights? “No. The F-35 is the everyday fighter. You send out 30 and hope that 20 come back. The F-22 goes out, kills 30 bad guys, and comes back before the enemy knows it was there.” Why don’t we just have F-22s and the older fighters then? “They shut down production of the F-22 because the F-35 was just around the corner and was going to be a lot cheaper. Now the F-35 is the same price and it would be too expensive to restart the production line for the F-22.”

Complicating matters is the fact that the old planes have a limited airframe life, e.g., 6000 hours for an F-18. So we can’t just run the old ones forever like we do with transports and bombers, at least not without a lot of inspections and perhaps strengthening.

The Air Force guys described new software (Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System) added to the F-16 fighter jet that will save the airplane from pilot error or incapacitation (article/video). If we assume that human-piloted fighter planes do have a future (i.e., that the aerial battlefield will not belong to a swarm of inexpensive drones), I’m wondering if it wouldn’t have been smarter to spend $400 billion on software to assist human pilots in the existing airframes.

14 thoughts on “Blue Angels at the Reno Air Races 2016

  1. Several years ago at Reno they had an F22 do some flights as a technology demonstrator. The aircraft can do amazing things with it’s ability to vector thrust. It flew in ways that didn’t even look plane-like compared to an F18. It’s a shame they can’t make more. (With them and a modernized A-10, it’s not clear why we would need any other single-seat American combat aircraft)

  2. There are no more human fighter jets being planned, so that is taken care of. The F-22 would be $1 billion per plane, in today’s dollars. So you never have F-22s at Hanscom field.

  3. The maneuverability of the F22 is not very relevant. They’re made to fly in formation straight at air defense installations, lobbing off smart missiles as needed on the way. They don’t really dogfight. The point is the relatively stealthy front profile and the MADL/IFDL comms network in the formation, such that the formation is supposed to have superior situational awareness.

  4. They don’t really dogfight.

    Beside “Top Gun” in 1986, have there been any real “dogfights” since 1945?

    The guys I know that were in Vietnam tell me that US air-power only dropped tons of bombs.

  5. “The guys I know that were in Vietnam tell me that US air-power only dropped tons of bombs.”
    Robin Olds would disagree with you.

  6. For both space exploration and war planes, it seems like remote control vehicles should be able to do many of the jobs which we need doing. Also, it seems like an F-16 or F-15 would be able to handle any foreseeable fighter plan/bombing tasks, to me. I am not clear on why we need these new fighters.

  7. ¿A Few Questions for Phil?

    The Canon camera interface is much preferred over the Sony. How often have you carried your Canon and/or Sony gear on a trip in the past 3 years?

    What is your dream camera kit? Why don’t you have a photographic studio in your hangar? Do you like to shoot photos when you fly airplanes? Have you ever flown a remote control drone for photography?

    Golf is a life sport, a skill game and it gets people walking outside. Why do you dislike golfers? Did you ever try it?

    Would you organize your introduction/intensive database course this fall? I’ve missed your last offerings and really would like to attend. I need help with a database project and get stuck with the computer mechanics/TCL kung-fu (I do understand a command line and can use a soldering iron).

    Why do the telephone, software and computer companies think the concept of files and folders so difficult to learn?

    How do you keep up your momentum to read and write everyday?

    What is your next big project? If Picasa goes down the drain, couldn’t you whip up a like for like replica that scales?

  8. The previous gen fighters would be promptly shot out of the sky in a serious war against multiple possible countries. This point also arises with the weird A10 fanboy discussions. The A10 is utterly useless against any serious modern forces on account of improved manpads. It’s literally only for shooting up brown peasants, which can be done more cost effectively with modern artillery (if it really needs to be done at all; I certainly don’t think so).

    The need for the new-gen fighters is predicated on fighting a major war against a major industrial power, where it doesn’t rapidly go to nukes. I have no idea whether that assumption makes any sense or not. The Chinese and the Russians also seem to think that plowing money into modernized fighters is worthwhile, but that could very well just be the same sort of boondoggle scam running in all three countries.

  9. Oh well, government defense contractors have put food on the table for four generations of my family. My grandmother has been enjoying my grandfather’s pension from one of them for 40 years.

  10. RickHap: Those are a lot of questions! Let me try to answer the ones that are at least loosely related to the original post.

    How often have I carried Canon or Sony gear on a trip? If it isn’t an expert witness trip where I’m going to be stuck in a law firm’s conference room most of the time I always bring at least a Sony APS-C mirrorless camera. links to pictures that were taken either with the Sony A6300 and better quality 18-70mm zoom lens or an iPhone 6 Plus.

    A dream camera kit? There isn’t one! A 600/4 lens is a dream for a bird photographer and a nightmare for a landscape project.

    I haven’t flown drones. My track record with radio-controlled aircraft has been rather poor over the years. Maybe this latest GoPro drone will be interesting?

    Golf: Not on-topic, but I will answer anyway. I don’t think Mindy the Crippler would appreciate it if we took a multi-hour walk without her and I don’t think the typical golf course would be happy to accommodate her.

  11. I’m wondering if it wouldn’t have been smarter to spend $400 billion on software to assist human pilots in the existing airframes.

    Spend $400 billion to take over from the pilot when he blacks out due to g forces? Doesn’t it make more sense to spend $400 billion so that the pilot is sitting in a chair on the ground in Missouri so he is not subject to g forces in the 1st place? No ejection or oxygen system needed, no concern about being taken prisoner and held as a bargaining chip/propaganda tool. You can run the plane up to the maximum g force tolerance of the airframe, not the pilot who is the weakest link. Get the pilot some VR goggles so he feels as if he is inside the cockpit. There is nothing that can be done by a pilot in the cockpit that can’t be done by a pilot on the ground. The Air Force hates the idea that the age of the brave lone fighter pilot/knight in shining armor is over, but the age of the fighter pilot is over.

  12. How is a fighter going to be remotely piloted when the air is crackling with jamming signals and potentially the comms satellites have been shot down?

  13. How is a fighter going to be remotely piloted when the air is crackling with jamming signals and potentially the comms satellites have been shot down?

    You give the plane an autonomous mode as a fail safe.

    How well is a human pilot going to operate if he is cut off from his command and control and GPS doesn’t work anymore?

  14. F-35 program = too big to fail. They’ll build 300 or so and move on to the drone age. That probably works out to $1B per plane too. DOD procurement has no shame. The only armament I ever saw that looked like a billion dollars was a ballistic missile submarine, and the nuclear sub program had its own administration all the way back to Rickover.

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