Thursday, January 1, 2015

Trivia Time: How are an F-104 Starfighter and an EP-3 ARIES alike?

USAF F-104 Starfighter

Since it's the New Year, I figured I'd check back in with Sarge's squadron here at the Chant with a little history quiz. So what could an F-104 Fighter Jet and a lumbering Patrol Aircraft variant have in common?  Any guesses?  You still have one of your lifelines available. Want to phone a friend?

Yes, they are both Lockheed products, but that's too obvious.  Could it be that both are beautiful aircraft?  No, that would be a bit subjective of me, and I think the P-3 Orion variant is a bit ugly.  All those bumps and things sticking out keep it out of the good-looking category of aircraft for me- apologies to all my EP-3 friends out there. Ok, I only know one guy who flew EP-3s.  Are they even in the Navy?  The Japanese version is even worse- more warts and zits than a girl I once dated.  At least the EP-3B, painted black, had a little more of a "cool" factor though.  No, you don't get to get make any snide comments about the beauty of my beloved Viking- Only I can make fun of my aircraftThis quiz may seem hard, but to again quote the men of Delta House, don't think of it as work, the whole point is just to enjoy yourself!

Alright, one is the F-104 Starfighter, and the other is based on the P-3 Orion- a constellation in the shape of a man with a club, a sword, and a shield- a starfighter if there ever was one.  But no, that's not it either.

Might it be some sort of calculation using 3 and 104? To quote Chevy Chase, "It was my understanding that there would be no math."

How about design? One is a long, thick, dihedral wing mounted low on the fuselage, and the other has a short, thin, mid-mounted anhedral trapezoidal wing.  That makes sense considering the very different missions they were designed for.  So design isn't the answer.

They sure don't sound alike, one being a turboprop and the other a jet, using the G.E. J79 engine.  The Starfighter is one of the cooler sounding birds though:


The video is 5 minutes long, but :10-:25 makes my point.  Love that whistle!

Getting tired of my little quiz?  How about a hint?  It has something to do with the NSA and a former State Treasurer of Nebraska.

Well, in 1965, the NSA was doing what it does best- tapping into foreign transmissions, collecting SIGINT during Viet Nam. Any idea now?  

The title of the article I read on the "MILINET: Articles Bundle" is "The NSA Listened as Chinese MiGs Shot Down American Warplanes." It's from the blog "War is Boring"

It was Sept. 20, 1965 when the navigation equipment aboard Capt. Philip Smith’s F-104 Starfighter failed.
Smith’s mission was to escort an airborne early-warning plane patrolling above the Gulf of Tonkin. Instead, his supersonic jet strayed over Hainan Island—through airspace belonging to the People’s Republic of China.
Chinese radars detected the incoming F-104. MiGs raced towards the American jet, shooting it down. Smith survived the incident. China imprisoned the captured pilot, freeing him in 1973.
So an Air Force Pilot was shot down by the Chinese.  If you know who the State Treasurer for Nebraska was, you've probably figured out the answer by now- LCDR Shane Osborne, who left active duty in 2005, going on to serve Nebraska as its Treasurer, had his own run-in with some Chinese Fighters a few years prior.  His incident is widely known, but I'll recap a bit here. Then-LT Osborne was flying an EP-3 well off the Chinese coast when he and his 23 member crew were intercepted by two Chinese J-8 fighters.  The Chinese pilot was bold, but lived up to the adage that there are no old, bold pilots as he collided with the surveillance aircraft, cutting his jet in half. The mishap killed him and severely damaged the EP-3, which forced Osborne to make an emergency landing on Hainan island. 

The reason for the recounting of a 50 year old story is that a few weeks ago, the NSA and  Pentagon released 170 out of 1600 soon-to-be declassified documents.  The documents are related to POWs and MIAs from the war, and some deal with SIGINT reports after our pilots were shot down- not just by Vietnamese aircraft, but by Chinese fighters as well.

I didn't realize that China had played a hostile role in the air war over Viet Nam, although I'm not quite the history buff as our esteemed host.  However, to be more specific, they played a role in an air war over Chinese territory, but I won't digress too much.  The documents mainly refer to US pilots shot down over Viet Nam, but the ChiComs were aggressive against our pilots when near China, intercepting and killing several pilots.
 It’s a little known and politically sensitive aspect of the war in Vietnam.  "It appears that possibly as many as 10 Chicom fighters...reacted to the hostile aircraft over Hainan Island" noted a Sept. 20th report following Smith's capture.
This was significant in that the shoot-down of Captain Smith, according to the report, was supposedly a change of pace for the Chinese, who had been less aggressive in an incident earlier that year.  In April of '65, MiG-17s had shot down and killed the pilot and WSO of an F-4 Phantom.  I'm no NSA analyst, but I tend to think that any incident in which a country shoots down one of our aircraft is a pretty aggressive act, whether it be 10 of their aircraft against one of ours or just two.

“On this [April 9] occasion the Chicoms appeared to be exerting considerable effort to avoid an engagement,” the report states. “Although presented with apparently favorable circumstances for an attack on the intruding hostile aircraft.” 
 The article details more of the report, which you can read here, mentioning how over a three month period in 1966-67, fishing boats fired on US aircraft, and later that year, LT Robert Flynn, an A-6 Intruder Bombardier/Navigator was captured and held in China until 1973.  CDR Flynn later commanded VT-86 in Pensacola where yours truly and The WSO were trained.  CDR Flynn, who earned the DFC for the mission, passed into the clearing from his home in Gulf Breeze FL last May.    

The report appears to relate to this incident, and compares it to the September  shootdown. “It does emphasize again the continued Chicom sensibility to U.S. combat/recon acft [sic] operating near or over Hainan claimed airspace,” the report states.
Yeah, no kidding.  I don't really understand why the reports minimized the Chinese actions in April 1965, they weren't friendly to the US and this was years before Nixon warmed to them, but I know I wouldn't have understated their aggression.

Another batch of reports came after the death of Cmdr. Joseph Dunn. On Feb. 14, 1968, Dunn flew his propeller-driven A-1 Skyraider from the Philippines to the USS Coral Sea aircraft carrier. As Dunn neared Hainan, “probably MiG-17s” attacked and shot down the pilot. 
Dunn’s body was never found.
Not sure that any different analysis of Chinese posture would have prevented these incidents from happening, it was war after all, but  the truth coming out might help us from being doomed to repeat it.
“It is expecteg [sic] that Chicoms will continue defensive patrols along pattern established in past, reacting aggressively only when Chicom-claimed territorial airspace is violated,” one of the reports stated. 
As the US pivots west toward China, LCDR Osborne (USNR) and his Patrol Aircraft bretheren, would probably agree.

A Chinese fighter jet conducted what is being describing as a "dangerous intercept" of a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon in international waters off the island of Hainan in the South China Sea earlier this week, the Pentagon confirms. (Aug 22, 2014 Report)

Happy New Year by the way.


  1. Great post Tuna! I didn't put two and two together in your quiz, but I did know about the Chinese Shootdowns. Sitting in the kitchen, listening to the guys in my Dad's squadron who had just come back from Vietnam was very interesting. Learned a lot about things that just weren't talked about.

  2. "...but :10-:25 makes my point. Love that whistle!"

    Close your eyes and it could be a Hornet.

    The Chicoms were just a tad persnickety in the '50s and '60s.
    They monitored all manner of "traffic" in their vicinity.
    They became quite agitated when DDs on Formosa Patrol would make a turn west, toward the mainland, instead of to the east, and send a "SERIOUS WARNING" through diplomatic channels.
    It was almost an honor for the crew of the destroyer receiving the warnings and it seemed some ships actually skirted as close to territorial waters as possible in order to incur the wrath of the Chicoms.
    It probably never occurred to them we were there as much to keep the Nationalists from invading the mainland as the other way around [or for even more self-serving purposes].

  3. Nicely done Tuna.

    I have never trusted the Chicoms and was disturbed when Nixon legitimized them.

    The Republic of China are our friends. (Not saying "Taiwan" was intentional.)

    Not those Red bastards.

    /End rant

    1. Well, the denizens of Kaohsiung were always very friendly when I went there in my ship ;-)

    2. Hahaha! It's good to have friends in port.

  4. One big difference, Osborne violated a BUNCH of SOPs... Smith was just in the wrong place at the 'right' time...

  5. Other than stating he was "forced" to land on Hainan I purposely left out anything regarding his decision making. I personally think he should have sent 23 heroes to heaven but I wasn't there.


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Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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