Canada has become something of a collector of second-hand military aircraft as of late after purchasing 25 surplus F/A-18A/B Hornets from Australia to augment their own tired Hornet fleet of a similar vintage. Now they are officially trying to get their hands on Germany's single defunct and totally inoperable RQ-4E Euro Hawk, a variant of the RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) drone.
German officials had characterized the aircraft as worth very little due to its present state, one in which major components have been stripped from its airframe, stating that it is worth not much more than "scrap value." You can read a complete background on Germany's failed RQ-4E program, what state the defunct airframe exists in, and Canada's odd interest in it in this past article of ours.
Today's news that Canada is actually moving forward with an attempt to acquire the mothballed airframe was first reported on by Reuters. The report states that Canada, which doesn't operate any Global Hawk variants at all, has indeed placed a bid on what's left of the aircraft, according to an official statement from the German Ministry of Defense. The dollar figure of the potential sale remains unknown.
Canada is thought to be interested in the aircraft to monitor its vast and remote territorial holdings and the expanses of water surrounding the country, including in the increasingly contested Arctic. Missions would include monitoring shipping and fishing and the migration of icebergs, among many others.
The Canadian government had hoped to have a fleet of drones flying these missions by now, but the program to acquire them is now being pushed into the coming decade, with an operational capability occurring sometime in the first half of the 2020s, at the soonest.
Reuters notes that NATO may also end up bidding on the aircraft. The North Atlantic military alliance has ordered its own fleet of five Global Hawks, under what is known as the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) program. AGS is shared capability between 15 of the 29 NATO members and is expected to be operational and available to them by the end of this year.
But the configurations of these aircraft and Germany's RQ-4E are not the same, as Germany's aircraft is designed primarily to collect signals intelligence. NATO's aircraft, known as RQ-4Ds, have a high degree of commonality with the U.S. Air Force’s Block 40 RQ-4Bs, which are primarily focused on ground surveillance.
With this in mind, it is most likely that Germany's aircraft would be used for spare parts by NATO. Germany also acquired a number of ground control stations as part of the RQ-4E program, which could be compatible with NATO’s RQ-4Ds. If so, the alliance would look to buy them along with what’s left of the Euro Hawk airframe as part of a package deal.
A sale of the RQ-4E airframe and any remaining associated equipment to either party would allow Germany to finally wash its hands of the Euro Hawk debacle for good. Nearly two decades ago, the German government had planned on buying five RQ-4Es, but European aviation authorities repeatedly refused to certify the aircraft to fly over the continent due to concerns about the risks the unmanned aircraft could pose to civilian air traffic.
Combined with big cost overruns and long delays, Berlin decided to nix the program in 2013 after spending a whopping $793.5 million and getting just one prototype to show for it. Now Germany just wants to unload the craft in order to get any money back from the boondoggle. A new Global Hawk with the necessary ground support equipment costs roughly $120M new.
It's unclear how much utility Canada thinks it can get out of the hulk of a single one-off Global Hawk derivative or just how much money it will take to return the aircraft to an operational state and refit it with sensors applicable to the surface surveillance mission set. It’s not even clear how valuable it would be to NATO for spare parts at this point, either.
With all this in mind, the Trudeau government might be bargain hunting for another second-hand aircraft, but in the case of the Euro Hawk, they could end up just adding a new and equally sad chapter to its already depressing history.
One of the Portland based F-15Cs belonging to the 142nd Fighter Wing had some landing gear trouble after a morning training mission today. As a precaution, the 41-year-old jet (78-0473) made an emergency barrier engagement landing on Portland International Airport's runway 28L.
As is custom in the fighter community, the wingman flew alongside the stricken jet on final approach, before accelerating off just before touchdown. Thankfully the plane's gear didn't fail and the F-15C pilot was able to make a beautiful arrested landed. Check out KOIN 6's sweet video coverage of the landing below.
These types of landings don't all go that smoothly, depending on the aircraft's malfunction and the environmental conditions, they can be quite violent. But incidents like this are exactly why the BAK-12 arresting gear is embedded towards each end of the south runway at PDX. It retracts into its surface when commercial and general aviation aircraft are using the runway and is deployed by the tower remotely when fighter operations are taking place. When 28L/10R is closed for repairs, emergency landings under most circumstances have to be diverted to McChord Air Force Base, which is located 100 miles to the north of PDX.
America's F-15C/D fleet is made up of its oldest fighters in service, with the newest being 33 years old. The decision to continue upgrading the fleet so that it can fly and remain tactically relevant for decades to come, something that will come at a substantial cost, or replace it with new F-15X advanced Eagles appears to have finally been made. As it sits now, the Defense Department will ask to begin procuring the F-15X as part of the 2020 defense budget. Congress still has to approve that request.
Inflight emergencies, called IFEs in military aviation parlance, are far more common than most would think across the tactical fighter community. But the F-15C/D fleet, in particular, has been hit hard by these events as the oldest jets march towards a half century in age. In January, two F-15Cs based out of Kadena Air Base in Okinawa actually had to make emergency barrier engagement landings in opposite directions on the same runway. You can read about this crazy incident in this previous article of ours.
The 142nd Fighter Wing remains one of the USAF's premier fighter units. Their jets, which now feature APG-63V3 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars and the ability to carry the Sniper targeting pod for long-range visual identification day or night, are tasked with defending American airspace from Northern California to British Columbia. A pair of fully armed primary quick reaction alert (QRA) jets and two backup aircraft are ready to launch within minutes to intercept potential threats or aircraft in trouble, as they famously did during the theft of a Horizon Air Q400 at SEATAC airport by a troubled ground support agent last summer.
You can see exactly what an aerial intercept by the 142nd Fighter Wing looks like in the exclusive video posted below and read about the procedures that go along with it here.
Thankfully an and machine came out of this incident unscathed, but it is another reminder of just how dangerous the fighter jet flying business can be.
USS Zumwalt(DDG-1000) has been undergoing trials and combat systems outfitting in and around her home port of San Diego. The ship's metamorphosis into an operational combat ship is something we have been following closely. Recently, we reported on additions to her stealthy frame that would only hurt the size of radar signature. These included an exposed mast and a number of communications aerials bolted directly onto her deckhouse instead of being integrated into it seamlessly. Now, a new photo shows her fitted with twin 30mm Bushmaster cannons for the very first time.
The Zumwalt class, as we know it today, is a shadow of what it was originally envisioned to be. The vessel's capabilities and low-observable design have been progressively watered-down as part of an ongoing initiative to save money. With just three of the vessels being built, all of which are now in the water, the Navy decided to largely cut their losses and move on from trying to make the once billed as transformational Zumwalt class ships all that they could be. You can read all about this saga in this past special feature of ours.
The ramifications of producing just three vessels of the class and the cost cuts that came with it have gone so far as making the ship's 155mm Advanced Gun Systems (AGS), which takes up nearly the forward third of the entire ship, totally useless. Its ammo became too expensive to purchase in small quantities. Not long after this revelation, the Navy changed the class's mission to focus more on standoff strike and anti-surface warfare. It is possible that even nuclear strike could also be added sometime in the future.
Regardless, at this point, there is a real possibility that the AGS will be torn out of the ships entirely without ever firing a shot.
Another one of these cost cutting measures was swapping out the 57mm Mk110 guns mounted in stealthy cupolas above the ship's hangar with 30mm Bushmaster cannons that were not specifically adapted to conform to the ship's reduced radar signature. The Bushmasters were quite literally 'off the shelf' as they are found on the service's Littoral Combat Ships equipped with the Surface Warfare Mission Package and on San Antonio class amphibious assault ships. The idea was that money could be saved by switching to the far less capable system, both in terms of acquisition and integration, as well as sustainment over time.
It's worth noting that the 57mm Mk110 deck guns are also in service aboard the Navy's Littoral Combat Ships, so it's not as if an entirely new system was being added to the Navy's logistical network. The 30mm Bushmasters are cheaper in every respect, but they are also in a completely different class, capability-wise.
USNI News noted that the 57mm guns fire at a rate of 220 rounds per minute and have a range of over nine miles, while the 30mm Bushmaster fires at up to 200 rounds per minute and has a range just over two miles. The 57mm also has fargreater destructive power and some very exciting 'smart' ammunition options that the 30mm lacks entirely.
The Mk110 guns would have been integrated into the Zumwalt's advanced combat system. The 30mm Bushmaster, on the other hand, is a standalone and self contained system that is as close to 'plug and play' as you can get for the capability it provides. The operator literally sits inside the cupola and directs the cannon using thermal and electro-optical sensors built into the turret.
The Navy issued the following response to USNI's 2014 report on the matter:
At the time of DDG 1000 Critical Design Review in 2005, the MK110 (57mm) close-in gun system (CIGS) was selected to meet the DDG 1000 ORD Key Performance Parameter. The basis of that decision was the expected performance of the gun and its munition, coupled with desire for commonality in USN and USCG. Through 2010, various analysis efforts were conducted to assess the performance of potential cost-saving alternatives to the Mk 110 CIGS, for both procurement and life-cycle costs. The results of the analysis for alternative systems to the MK110 CIGS were not conclusive enough to recommend a shift in plan.
A follow on 2012 assessment using the latest gun and munition effectiveness information, concluded that the MK46 was more effective than the MK110 CIGS. Based on that assessment, approval was received to change from the MK 110 CIGS to the MK 46 Gun System. In addition to the increased capability, the change from MK110 to MK46 resulted in reduction in weight and significant cost avoidance, while still meeting requirements. DDG 1000 is planned to have two medium range MK46, 30mm Close-in Gun Systems that will provide a robust rapid fire capability and increased lethality against hostile surface targets approaching the ship.
You can take this statement anyway you like, but similar ones have been par for the course when it comes to justifying the Zumwalt class's decaying capabilities. Everything from the ship's drastically downgraded radar system to its low-observable design have been justified ambiguously by the term 'still meeting requirements,' albeit the exact nature of those requirements, or how fluid they have been, remain largely undisclosed.
Freedom class LCS with Surface Warfare Mission Package installed. " />
It's also unclear what level of impact the installation of the Bushmaster cannons will have on the ship's radar cross-section. The 57mm guns were designed to be encapsulated in stealthy turreted cupolas when not in use. The fact that they were integrated into the ship's combat system also meant they were mounted lower on the upper hangar enclosure in their wedge-shaped, faceted cupolas. The 30mm guns will not be concealed at all, they sit higher atop a trapezoidal structure with their turrets and barrels always exposed.
Still, the 30mm cannons will help the Zumwalt class put up some defense against potential small boat attacks. The ship's stealthy design made incorporating 25mm chain guns, which are the primary heavy-duty force protection armament on US Navy surface combatants, not possible. But the added capabilities the Mk110 offered, from possessing four times the range and far more stopping power than the Bushmasters, to being able to potentially counter some aerial threats if the Navy wished to integrate that capability, that were lost by the switch is significant regardless of how the Navy tries to spin it.
We also have to stress that all of these cost reduction measures have a cumulative impact on the Zumwalt's ability to wage war and where they can do it. In fact, maybe the persistent degradation of the vessel's low observable design is a good metaphor as any for its overall combat capability. Each small change may not be damning in itself, but they add up over time to the point that one really has to ask what did the Navy buy here after spending tens of billions of dollars on the program? And most importantly, after spending all that money developing and building these ships, is spending a comparatively tiny amount more to get these vessels to perform as they were originally envisioned to really not worth it?
In the end, the Zumwalt class will likely prove itself to be hugely capable even in its final downgraded form. But with just three vessels built, the tiny fleet is more likely to be part of an experimental force that eventually cannibalizes itself just to stay alive in any form than the game-changing fleet of stealthy ships that the program was originally envisioned to be. But even lessons learned from their existence will be more limited because of their compromised state.
It's just troubling that even before they set sail operationally, the DDG-1000s already have us wondering 'what could have been.'
Editor's note: A big thanks to our friend MrWasabi for letting us use his photo for this piece.
Hogs are running wild over Hawaii! A-10s from the 442nd Fighter Wing based at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri have made the long flight to the Pacific island paradise to conduct a wide range of training with other assets forward deployed to the region or that already call the islands home. This has included close air support exercises with B-52H Stratofortress that hopped over from their temporary base on Guam, as well as MV-22 Ospreys from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 268 (VMM-232) 'The Red Dragons' based out of MCAS Kaneohe Bay on the island of Oahu. Thankfully, public affairs brought along a photographer for a cooperative sortie with A-10s and MV-22s, with stunning results to show for it.
The MV-22s and A-10s teamed up for a joint escort insertion training mission, in which the A-10s would provide direct cover for MV-22s as they practiced infiltrating into a target area and dropping off forces once there. This type of sortie shares some similarities to the Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel (TRAP) mission set—a form of combat search and rescue focused on the recovery of downed aircrew that the Marines and their Ospreys amazing at.
A-10s and MV-22s are quite wonderfully paired. The A-10 offers a heavy-hitting and hardy armed escort and close air support capability that, unlike attack helicopters can, keep up with the tiltrotor Ospreys. It is also far more adept at open operating at very low levels and has superior endurance than other fixed-wing tactical jets. The A-10 crews are masters at employing their airframes in the 'Sandy' role, scouting and clearing landing areas and providing overwatch and fire suppression as the rescue crews go about their business on the ground. See this past article of mine for more info on the A-10 and this unique mission.
Marine Osprey crews have been experimenting with pairing with different fixed-wing platforms for the escort insertion missions, including turboprop light attack planes. You can read more about this in this past piece of ours.
Regardless, here are some gorgeous shots of the Missouri-based A-10s escorting Ospreys during training around Hawaii:
The A-10s presence at MCAS Kaneohe Bay is slated to last into the first week on March. An official advisory reads:
From February 11th to March 2nd, there will be an increase in aircraft activity aboard Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Oahu residents may see and hear increased aircraft activity surrounding the base. Maintenance may occur overnight to ensure the safe operation of all aircraft.
The increase of aircraft activity is in support of the installation producing readiness for our service members stationed and or visiting the installation.
The U.S. Air Force’s 442d Fighter Wing will be deployed to the base and supporting U.S. Marine Corps and Air Force unit training aboard the P?HAKULOA TRAINING AREA, Hawai‘i.We truly appreciate the understanding and continued support of local communities for our service members and their mission.
Oahu has seen a major uptick in military aircraft exercises as of late, some of which are more publicized and others. Most notably, the B-2 Spirit force has started to make Hickam Air Force Base a temporary home as of late. This has resulted in some incredible photos too, but let's hope we get some more pics and maybe even some videos of the 'Hog's visit to paradise!
This has been one of the wildest weeks on this site in memory. And frankly, after days of nights bleeding into mornings and mornings bleeding into nights, with random naps thrown in to get where we needed to go, I have nothing left in the tank. So I am going to keep this really short.
The Bunker is open!
This is a weekend open discussion post for the best commenting crew on the net, in which we can chat about all the stuff that went on this week that we didn't get to. In other words, literally an off-topic thread.
Just yesterday, we reported that the F-14 Tomcat used in the production of Top Gun 2, as well as Tom Cruise, were spotted aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Now, new photos have come to light showing that same aircraft entangled in the ship's crash barricade. As we noted in our previous piece, this is the first time a Tomcat has been on the deck of an operational U.S. Navy carrier in years. In addition, we have also obtained more information on where this particular Tomcat, which is now dressed-up for the film with phoenix-like insignias, came from.
The fact that the F-14 is set up to appear as if it made an emergency landing into the ship's barricade indicates that this is likely the culmination of a tense action sequence in the film. The barricade is a nylon net that is attached to the ship's arresting gear system that 'catches' a stricken airplane that cannot, or has a very low probability of, 'trapping' normally aboard the ship by catching one its arresting wires.
The barricade is also used if an aircraft has only one shot at landing and there are no other divert airfields available that it can safely make it to. The usual alternative to a barricade engagement is an ejection, a dangerous affair that is even more perilous out in the open ocean and especially in bad weather conditions. An ejection also means the total loss of an aircraft, the airframe that may be packed with packed with sensitive technologies sinking to the ocean floor.
It's worth clarifying again that this aircraft is not flyable. There are no flyable Tomcats anywhere in the world outside of Iran. Getting one back in the air in the U.S. would be nearly impossible due to bureaucratic red tape and cost, among other factors.
As for the origins of the Tomcat used in the production, the jet is F-14A #159631, the 178th Tomcat Grumman built, which has called the San Diego Air And Space Museum's Gillespie Field Annex in El Cajon home for years.
Multiple sources have told us the elements had taken their toll on the jet, which has sat outside for years. It was in need of restoration with certain components showing alarming signs of corrosion. Clearly, lending the plane to star in Top Gun 2 would give the beleaguered airframe stardom unlike any other Tomcat that calls a museum or gate guard position home. Lending the jet to be used in the movie would turn the F-14 in need of help into a top attraction and the production budget of the film clearly helped clean it up for shooting.
With that in mind, the phoenix symbols now painted on its airframe sort of have a second meaning outside the movie's plot. This retired plane was really given a second shot at life and will surely be treasured going forward.
We will continue to give you updates as Top Gun production aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt unfolds. Stay tuned!
Derek "Maestro" O'Malley was a young fighter pilot rising quickly in the ranks when he decided to make a particularly crass gag video. What came next was nothing he ever imagined. All that he had worked for was suddenly at stake. But the Air Force gave him another chance, one that he ran with and has since achieved incredible heights of success, becoming the wing commander of the prestigious 20th Fighter Wing based at Shaw Air Force Base. Then, just days ago, it was his turn to make a disciplinary decision just like his superiors had in regards to his mistake a decade and a half ago. This one would be far more publicized. Now Colonel O'Malley relieved the first female demonstration team leader the Air Force ever had, Captain Zoe Kotnik, after just two weeks on duty. His decision made international headlines and the details surrounding it are still shrouded in secrecy.
After the video he created years ago, which is infamous in the fighter pilot community, was published on this site in relation to the ongoing story about the dismissal of Zoe Kotnik, O'Malley made the decision to reach out to us to share his story publically for the first time. And an amazing and intimate one it is. It speaks to the failings in all of us and how it's not necessarily how you fail, but how you redeem yourself and use your experiences, no matter how unpleasant, to become a better person and a more thoughtful leader.
Judging by his responses alone, we need more people like O'Malley in the top echelons of the USAF's leadership, ones who have learned to see the potential in people even when it is highly inconvenient to do so. For a force that is struggling to retain personnel, including pilots and maintainers—those who are absolutely critical to its core mission—giving people a second shot when it is possible to do so is really a necessity not a luxury.
So, without further ado, here is my remarkable interview with the colorful commander of the 20th Fighter Wing:
Can you tell us the entire story of how this video came about?
I'll start early just to give you context. I have an identical twin brother. His name is Colin O'Malley and he and I are very right-brained, creative people, we've got a very active sense of humor. In high school, I was the student body president, he was the vice president and we had our own "Colin and Derek O'Show" and we would do funny videos, so comedic videos and having a sense of humor, is something that's been a big part of our lives. My brother is a professional composer and musician, he's actually an orchestrator, Yanni's primary orchestrator... He does a lot of work for Disney and television, so he's very successful. He writes a lot of jingles as well
With that background, I am now many years later, a young fighter pilot, a young captain in Kunsan Air Base, Korea. That's a one-year remote assignment, so you're there without your family in a very remote location. It's a lot of fun, but it's a very different environment.
In Korea, of course, it's very humid and it's a very high operations tempo, so we're flying a lot. There's a lot of big exercises as you're practicing being in a high state of readiness in case something happens in Korea, and as we fly out over the Yellow Sea, we have to wear anti-exposure suits. And these are, you know, effectively dry suits. And they're very hot.
When you're flying you're okay, but you can imagine wearing these in the hot summer in Korea? So, Gold Bond powder is a primary product.
One day I'm talking to some of my fellow fighter pilots and we're joking about Gold Bond, I just started talking to them—"Hey we should do a little commercial." As the Chief of Weapons and Tactics—I was the chief instructor in the squadron—I'm in charge of all the upgrades and making sure everybody is the best they can be, I've been through our equivalent of Topgun to the Air Force, the U.S. Air Force Weapons School. So, I'm in a very prominent role there in the squadron to lead these fighter pilots.
When your weapons officer says "Hey let's make a commercial" everybody jumps says "Yeah that sounds like a great idea." So, I told my brother about Gold Bond, and he came up with the jingle that you hear in the video, which is very catchy. And that's him singing on there, so he composes that and sends it to me there in Korea, and I play it for everybody and it's a big hit.
That morning, Saturday morning, I get everybody up and we're there in our dorms, and we filmed the little commercial that you saw. In every fighter squadron on Fridays, you usually get together and you’ll tell stories about flying from the week. Mistakes people made, funny stories, those kinds of things, and then we’d show funny things like the Gold Bond video. I showed the video, it was a big hit, everybody laughed, and then that's the end of it, it was not ever intended to go anywhere else of course.
This is pretty much pre-YouTube at that time right?
It is. I think YouTube was just emerging, but certainly, the notion of a viral video is not a term that any of us had heard yet. This is late 2004 timeframe. Eventually, this video gets in the hand of our rival squadron and they start sending it to each other. And then it gets emailed all across the base and then very quickly gets emailed all across the Air Force, and quickly spreads. You know, it becomes truly a viral video.
I was actually traveling home, it was around December time frame, going home for Christmas. You get a mid-tour when you're there in Korea to go home, and as I'm walking through the airport somewhere in the United States, I see on somebody's laptop the video playing.
And I remember looking at the guy I was traveling with saying "Uh-oh, I think I might be in trouble." Because we just had no idea that the video would go outside the squadron. And now here I am, across the world, and it's on somebody's laptop! So, at that point, I got the sense of how big of an issue this was.
Of course, you've seen it, it doesn't represent the Air Force the way I want to represent the Air Force, it doesn't represent me the way I want to represent myself. As they should have, the Air Force looked into it, they weren't happy with the video, and I definitely got in some trouble. I won't go specifically into the punishment that I received, but I definitely got in trouble, to the point where I had to work hard to recover.
I remember when I was called into the Wing Commander's office, there to receive my punishment. I looked at him said "Sir I'm so sorry, this is totally my fault. Please don't punish all the other guys that were in this. They followed their Weapons Officer into this, so please just let me take the brunt of it." And for the most part, that's what happened. I was grateful that they let me own that.
After my one-year assignment in Korea I’d been invited to go teach at our Weapons School, which is very prestigious—our F-16 Weapons School. Weapons School is the Air Force’s version of Topgun where you graduate you get the trophy and you get invited back as an instructor. That is what I had been given the opportunity to do. Once this video broke, the Air Force was considering changing my assignment and was really looking hard at what they were going to do with me. Fortunately, they ended up letting me go to Nellis, to the Weapons School to be an instructor.
When I got to Nellis, my Wing Commander pulled me aside and said "You know Maestro, if you work hard, you're going to be able to redeem yourself from this. So, just put your nose to the ground and get to work and be the best instructor officer you can be, and we're going to put all this behind you." And I really appreciated that, and I took him at his word, and I worked really hard at the Weapons School, won many awards there as a top instructor, used a lot of my video skills for the forces of good—I did a lot of videos for the Air Force and for the Weapons School that to this day are still used there.
I just tried to really prove to the Air Force that this was not who I was and that I was willing to do what I had to do to make things right.
I remember during all this, I would get a lot of emails from people that were angry about the video and I didn't blame them. I remember one, in particular, was from a commandant of cadets at an ROTC detachment at a college and he wrote me on my government email and said "If this is the Derek O'Malley that did this video, you just took us back 30 years. Please keep this junk off the internet, you're really shaming the Air Force, shame on you." That was an eye-opening email to me, so I wrote him back and I still have the email to this day. It's something I read, and I remember when I shared this with my squadron at a commander's call I read the letter to them. Not only what he had said, but my response to him.
I explained "I lead men and women in combat, I'm a Weapons Officer, I have a Distinguished Flying Cross, I’ve done all these things, and I should’ve known better. Maybe it is easier to dismiss me as an officership failure. And I don’t blame you if you do. Fortunately, the men and women I’ve led into combat, and now lead recognize that good people, even great people, make mistakes. Maybe that’s the best lesson for your cadets. Regardless of our intentions with this video, I take full responsibility.”
He wrote me back and thanked me and shared the message with his cadets. It's been a memorable lesson for me. It's shaped the way I handle command, and the way I handle Airmen that make mistakes under my command.
Next, I was selected to the F-35 initial cadre. At this point, I definitely was in a position where from an Air Force perspective I was on the road to full recovery and I had the opportunity to do wonderful things. I was flying the F-35 at Nellis and I was commanding an operational test squadron that was testing the F-35 along with other aircraft, and this was around the time when General Welsh [Air Force Chief Of Staff at the time] implemented what I'll call a cultural revolution across the Air Force, but particularly in fighter pilot circles.
He pulled all the wing commanders together and said "It's time to clean up the crudeness and some of the things that have been propagating across our culture. This isn’t the environment that we want.” He knew it wasn't how we wanted to represent ourselves as the Air Force and he took the initiative to correct it.
I remember my Wing Commander talking to all the squadron commanders explaining "Hey, we need to straighten up, clean this stuff up in your squadrons, and get back to the professional environment that we need. Doesn't mean we can't have fun, but there are some lines that we just shouldn't be crossing."
I remember standing up in front of my squadron and telling them the changes that were happening, the things that we weren't going to do anymore, and that we never should have been doing. And I shared with them this entire experience as I'm sharing it with you, because I wanted them to hear it from me, and then to know that these changes that General Welsh was rolling out, that I believed in them. That I knew that they were important and that I wasn't just spouting the party line and then saying "Oh, wink wink, I'm the Gold Bond guy, we're going to keep doing things the way we always did it on the side here." I've done that same thing at every level of command and shared the same experience.
We all do things that are stupid sometimes, but in the business that we do here in the Air Force, we've got to have an environment where everybody feels safe. And I feel like anything that I did in the past, or that we all did without even realizing it, that made this environment feel unsafe, or a place where people didn't want to work, was wrong. We've got to get away from that.
I'm grateful for the changes that I've seen across the Air Force in that respect.
When you talk to younger pilots under your command about your experience, you have a bunch of them there at Shaw AFB, what's their reaction?
Just recently when I first took command, I sat down and did an all call with the pilots and officers and shared this story. This video, at least in the fighter pilot world, while I'm not happy about it, is well-known. There's probably not an F-16 pilot in the Air Force that doesn't know of that video and that I did it. So, when I became the Wing Commander, I thought it was important to discuss it with the pilots.
I shared it with them and it was a good opportunity to be real, to show them that I still have a sense of humor and that we can have fun and joke around and be human. But at the same time, we've got to remember that we should hold ourselves to a higher standard. I felt like that resonated. I'm not telling them to change who they are, I just want them to recognize that who we were before isn't who we want to be anymore, we're better than that now.
When you talk to younger pilots under your command about your experience, you have a bunch of them there at Shaw AFB, what's their reaction?
Just recently when I first took command, I sat down and did an all call with all the pilots and officers and shared this. I worried that it would come off like kind of a lecture of "Hey don't do this kind of stuff," but really... they all know this. This video, at least in the fighter pilot world, you know I'm not happy about it, but there's probably not an F-16 pilot in the world that's in the Air Force that doesn't know of that video and that I did it. So, you know when I became the Wing Commander I thought about saying "You know this is going to pop up" and I thought that it would, I thought it was important to discuss it with the pilots.
So, I guess as I shared it with them it was a good opportunity to be real, to show them that I still have a sense of humor and that we can have fun and joke around and you know, be human. But at the same time, we've got to remember that people are watching us and that we've got to be better than some of the stuff that we used to do. And I felt like that resonates to some extent. I'm not telling them to change who they are, I just want them to recognize who we were before isn't who we want to be anymore, we're better than that now.
Are airmen being systematically trained to realize the pitfalls of this type of thing? Is there just a training video they see or are they actually hearing about stories like yours in context to the current environment that's out there right now, especially in regards to social media?
The Air Force core values and the way we train people to conduct themselves would lead you towards "Hey let's not post ridiculous stuff about ourselves on the internet." And I think there are enough examples out there like mine that people know "I probably shouldn't do that." I also think our young officers are way smarter on social media than any of us are.
Hearing it from people that are just repeating a message is one thing, hearing it from someone like you has an entirely different impact. If I was a young airman, I'd listen to this and say "Hey this is where I want to be in ten years, and after hearing this, yeah I wouldn't pick up the camera and do that." Maybe there's a greater opportunity here?
I agree, and when I share this story, it isn't just about social media and how you communicate on those platforms. For me, it's broader. It's about recognizing that every one of us has done something we regret. And you can learn from it, you can move on. Don't forget that you're not defined by the mistakes you make unless you choose to let them define you."
So, on second chances. This is your story and obviously there's an issue that's ongoing. In your letter that you published [about removing Zoe Kotnik from her command] I believe you said that you hope that the individual takes the best advantage of a second chance or something along those lines. Is that something that is your position or do you see that more of as an Air Force position?
I wrote every word of that, that was not a prepared statement that anybody gave me, it is absolutely how I feel and embodies the way I lead. That was right from the heart.
What goes into making a disciplinary decision? How does the process work?
For most issues on Shaw Air Force Base—the 20th Fighter Wing—I am what we call the 'convening authority.' So, I have jurisdiction on what happens. But the Air Force widely tries to push autonomy and decisions down to the lowest level possible.
For example, I have 18 squadrons in my wing and those squadron commanders handle their own disciplinary actions within the squadron. They don't funnel that all to me. It's only when we're talking about more significant offenses, where maybe somebody might get discharged, those kinds of things, that it starts to come up to a higher level.
You have this experience in your past, yet look how far you've come. I've read your resume, it is filled with some of the most incredible flying positions the Air Force has to offer. Today you command thousands of people on one of the service's most important bases. What advice can you give those that find themselves in a 'Gold Bond' like predicament now? Not just in regards to not doing something stupid, but after the fact, once a bad decision has already been made? What can they do to make the best out of a bad situation?
That's a great question. I'll just talk broadly instead of talking about specific situations, but I can think of several cases here since I've been a wing commander where I've had someone in my office because something didn't go well for them. And of course, when you're coming to the wing commander's office and you've done something wrong, you're fearful. They are worried about what's going to happen.
One of my favorite memories here in the wing was a time where a young man came into my office who made some significant mistakes, and I suspect he thought that his career was over. I sat there and talked to him, I was very stern and I think he thought "Okay here we go."
I paused for a second and I held up what was potentially a discharge letter, and I tore it up right in front of him and I said "You know what? I believe in you, and my Command Chief believes in you, and your Squadron Commander believes in you. I want you to go back down to your squadron, I want you to learn from this, I want you to put it behind you, and I want you to move on and be the best Airman that I've ever seen in this wing. Prove to us that we made the right decision."
That's the message, right? I think it's so important to have a commander, and I hope my commanders embody this, it can't just be me, where we see the best in people. So, even when people do things that are just bad sometimes, we look at them and we see through that and we see past it and we recognize that there is so much potential here that we need to harness. That is how I approach it.
From the Airmen's point of view, as I interact with them, it’s important that they can see themselves in me. If I’m always perfectly articulate and don’t show any vulnerability, I think it makes me seem unreachable. Nobody can relate to that. I want them to see that we’re very much the same and that there is no reason they can’t be a wing commander or whatever else they want to become. So, I start there. I sit down with them. I call them by their first name. I ask them about their family, their interests, their goals.
Now getting directly to your question, I tell them I know what it feels like to think that you’ve disappointed everyone that believes in you and that you’ve destroyed your career. And the easiest thing to do right now is to give up. But we need leaders in our Air Force that know what it’s like to be in their shoes. We need leaders that can look beyond a mistake or a momentary lapse in judgment and see the hidden potential in our Airmen. That’s the kind of leader I want them to become, so I ask them if they’ll take the steps necessary to put their mistakes behind them and join me in the revolution. Some say this is a one mistake Air Force. Not on our watch!
Obviously, it's not easy in the internet age where social media can keep circulating something that you find personally and professionally unpleasant. But you combated this for years, didn't you?
I thought to myself "Once something is on the internet it never goes away." People always say that and I thought "Is that really true?" I mean of course an EMP, that could wipe it out, but that's not an option! So, I did some research on copyright and realized that I had grounds to have it copyrighted. In fact, even by making the video I already had the copyright of it. But just to make it official I filed a copyright, I have the certificate to this day, and for the past fourteen years, every month, maybe twice a month, I go through the internet and I do 'Gold Bond cleanings.' I find the video and I reach out with the DMCA notices and I have it taken down. This thing pops up probably every month, I'll see at least one, and I just snipe it. I’ve spent hundreds of hours over the past 14 years suppressing this video!
And it's funny because you'll see commentary on the internet, maybe you did as you researched this story. People think the government is doing this and the Air Force is somehow involved in this big conspiracy to keep 'Gold Bond' off the internet. Little do they know it's just little old me. I don’t do this because of my Air Force career, I received my punishment and I had the opportunity to recover. It's never been about preserving my career, and I always knew eventually it could come out as it did this week, but I had a young son at the time, he's 18 now, and I challenged myself thinking "I don't want him to come across this."
And I did, I kept it away from him, he didn't see it until he turned 18 and I finally showed it to him. He actually didn't think it was that funny. He was disappointed after all those years. I guess I overhyped it.
There is another video of me on the internet that ties to my twin brother. As you may know in the fighter pilot world we have callsigns, you get a nickname and it's kind of who you are. My call sign is 'Maestro.' And that's based on my twin brother being a Maestro... And that's just another one that's out there. I haven't tried to suppress that one.
At this point, why even chase it anymore? Why not let people learn from it? You're a man of very high stature, you've done amazing things in your life and are clearly a huge asset to the USAF. What's there to hide from? It's an inspiration to people who do make a mistake and look to come back from it to go on to incredible success.
Yeah, it does change things now. This is very different, this is the first time someone has publicly told the whole story. While I’m not proud of the video, I wouldn’t trade the lessons I learned from those experiences. I wouldn’t be the father, friend, Airman or leader I am today without them.
As I look at the video now, I am grateful that’s not who we are as an Air Force anymore. Still, young Captain O’Malley should have known better. I’m grateful that my leaders saw something in me that was worth saving and gave me a chance to reach my full potential. That’s exactly what I will do every single day I have the privilege of leading Airmen.
But you're right this does change things. This may finally free me from my penance of monthly 'Gold Bond cleanings.'
We have been following the production of the highly anticipated sequel to Top Gun closely, a movie that is now deep in production. Last time we discussed the movie's development was in regards to the revelation that the F-14 Tomcat would make at least a cameo appearance in the film, if not having a starring role. This came as photos leaked of Tom Cruise interacting with an F-14 at a snow-covered aircraft shelter at an airport near Lake Tahoe and also shooting some scenes in the vicinity around it. The jet, which was a real aircraft that was likely pulled from a museum, had special phoenix markings unique to the movie, as well. Now that same jet has appeared aboard an operational U.S. Navy aircraft carrier at Naval Station North Island in San Diego.
Images of the jet show Cruise and a production crew working around the Tomcat that is positioned on one of the carrier'stwo bow catapults. So it, is quite likely that this aircraft will be seen operating from an aircraft carrier in the film and is more than just a single scene plot tool within the script. Apparently, the airframe was also used for scenes shot at NAS North Island, which is colocated with the naval base.
In the photos, the Tomcat is also packing an AIM-9 Sidewinder with orange bands, indicating it is a live round. This is certainly for the purposes of filming. The USS Theodore Roosevelt is rumored to be used for the movie's production, so that is likely the carrier we are seeing the Tomcat on. There is a chance that it will set sail with it onboard, which would indicate extensive shooting of the Tomcat while at sea.
Also, keep in mind that this is not a flying aircraft. It is being used as a static prop for ground footage. There are no flying Tomcats anywhere in the world aside from in Iran. The Navy retired the type in 2006 and most were either chopped up or demilitarized and sent to museums. Getting one flying for the movie would be very costly and nearly impossible due to red tape surrounding the Tomcat's sensitive export controls due to their continued use by Iran. There are plenty of other issues as well.
In other news, I have heard from two sources that aerial filming is ongoing and actual footage of aircraft in flight be used extensively in the movie. This is great news as it was worried that nearly all of the flight sequences would be fabricated with CGI, negating one of the original film's best attributes.
Regardless, the Tomcat is back aboard an operational supercarrier for the first time in over a decade which is bound to warm the hearts of many who remain superfans of Grumman's swing-wing Fleet Defender.
The United States Air Force has removed Captain Zoe Kotnik, the first women to lead one of the flying force's demonstration teams, after being in the position for just two weeks. Kotnik took the reins of the F-16 Viper Demonstration Team in parallel to a potent media blitz on behalf of the Air Force. The announcement was seen by many as an exciting example of how women are becoming an ever more dominant force within the service's ranks and pilot culture.
You can read all about Kotnik and her rise to such a prominent flying position in this previous piece of ours. Suffice it to say that in a year when the Air Force is set to make a major media splash with the highly anticipated blockbuster action film Captain Marvel, which stars Brie Larson as a superhero that has a fighter pilot past, axing its first female demo team lead is far from convenient.
I removed Capt. Kotnik from her position as the commander of the Viper Demo team yesterday, because I lost confidence in her ability to lead the team.
I know that loss of confidence is a common response from the Air Force, whenever someone is removed from a command position, and I think it’s important to understand why we take this approach.
We have thousands of Airmen across our Air Force serving our country, and not one of them is perfect. As good people, like Capt. Kotnik make mistakes, I want them to have the opportunity to learn from them without being under public scrutiny, and to continue to be a part of this great service. They’ll be better for the experience, and in turn, we’ll be better as an Air Force.
In these types of situations, I never forget that we’re dealing with real human beings, that I care deeply about, and that we are charged to take care of. This will be a difficult time for Capt. Kotnik, but she’s surrounded by wingmen that will help her every step of the way.
It was exciting to have the first female demo team pilot here at Shaw, but I’m also just as excited about the many other females that are serving with great distinction across our Air Force. I’m proud to serve with them, and I’m inspired by them. Even as I speak, another female pilot from the 20th Fighter Wing is flying combat missions in the Middle East.
Maj. Waters, last season’s Viper Demo pilot has resumed command, so the team is in great hands, and the show will go on. We’re looking forward to another amazing season with this team.
Col. Derek O’Malley Commander, 20th Fighter Wing
It's not all that uncommon for the Air Force to remove people from command, but it is quite rare that something like this occurs after just a matter of days of taking up the new position. We don't know for certain the circumstances surrounding this abrupt dismissal, but it's very likely that we will soon.
The Air Force Academy grad turned F-16 pilot was very active on Instagram, regularly communicating with her tens of thousands of followers, but it appears that she shut down her personal account.
We will update this post as more information comes available.
It's amazing to think that the B-2 Spirit's first flight was nearly three decades ago. On July 17, 1989, the world's first stealth bomber took to the skies for the very first time. What came next was years of intricate testing that brought the Air Force and industry together to transform the bat-winged bomber from an exotic flying machine into America's deadliest flying weapon. A video montage recently posted online shows this process, and the B-2 in general, like you've have never seen them before.
We were recently treated to a series of beautifully produced videos celebrating the B-2's creation from the jet's manufacturer, Northrop Grumman. Those videos were great, but this B-2 Combined Test Force highlight reel is absolutely awesome for a number of reasons.
First off, it shows so many unique elements of the B-2's development, many of which we have never seen before. Beyond that, it has a surprisingly good 'vintage' soundtrack that is paired with some sweet editing that really works to capture the esprit de corps among the sprawling team of people who gave birth to the Spirit.
As the video notes, at its peak, the B-2 test program involved over 2,000 dedicated people, six B-2s, and a C-135 avionics testbed. It completed over 23,600 individual test points that occurred over 989 missions and 5,242 flight test hours. In the end, all this work was done for just 21 airframes, but to this very day, the small fleet of B-2s is considered a national treasure and linchpin of national security that is capable of executing a surprisingly wide array of missions. These include nuclear and conventional strike missions.
With that in mind, it's good to remember those who blazed the stealth bomber trail and how they did it. It's also worth noting that the B-2's own development continues till this very day with the 72nd Test and Evaluation Squadron playing a central role in those efforts.
Maybe what becomes most clear when watching the test montage video is that the B-2 still looks totally alien even after plowing the skies for 30 years. In fact, the plane remains so technologically sensitive that even disposing of it will be a major logistical undertaking.
Thankfully, we still have years to marvel at the B-2 before she heads to the boneyard or meets the scrapper's blade.