Friday, January 05, 2007

Fly-By Final

For what it's worth, here are some final numbers on the fly-by that honored former President Gerald Ford at his funeral in Grand Rapids. F-15E Strike Eagles from the 4th Fighter Wing, based at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, conducted the fly-by, with tanker support from KC-135s assigned to Air Mobility Command.

Number of fighters generated (prepared/crewed) for the fly-by: 40

Number of aircraft that launched (including airborne) spares: 25

Number of F-15Es in the fly-by: 21

Number of KC-135s supporting the operation: 8

Cost to the taxpayers: Not cheap (a single KC-135 costs $11,128 an hour to operate; fighters are less expensive, but it's still pricey)

Value to the nation in honoring a fallen Commander-in-Chief: Priceless.

6 comments:

eatyourbeans said...

Barely half of the planes actually performed their mission. Is this normal? (not a rhetorical question)

Civicus said...

what is your opinion on a draft? I served for four years in the Marine Corps and I think it's what every 18 year old should do.

warhorse said...

Hmm ... My understanding is that the Strike Eagle, with drop tanks and conformal tanks, has an unrefueled range in excess of 3,000 miles. Granting that it is good to have some margin for contingencies such as the delay that actually occurred, I am still puzzled as to why it was felt necessary to have such massive tanker support for a mission which was only about 1,500 miles round trip. Can you offer any insight?

WAR46 said...

Every fighter wing is required to practice air refueling to maintain proficiency. Thus,with tanker support, the trip to Grand Rapids becomes a training mission instead of an unfunded special trip. This allows the wing to meet both training and special duty mission requirements without gouging the taxpayers too much.
Also, drop tanks create drag and increase fuel burn. And since the intent is to practice air refueling who needs them.

sammy small said...

Its not uncommon for aircraft to go down for problems at any stage.
Even if the problem can be fixed in an hour, its too late because the flight doesn't wait. Four airborne spares for a flight of 21 is normal. They probably turned back after the first refueling.

Just to provide an example of a flight dogged by problems, I once briefed as a 4-ship, walked out the door as a 3-ship (i.e. lost one scheduled tail number for mx at the last minute), taxied as a 2-ship (lost one during startup checks), and took off as a single ship (lost another prior to takeoff). Thats what I call a bad day for maintenance.

Spook86 said...

A quick reply for all interested in this topic:

First, it is somewhat typical to generate/launch more aircraft than are actually required. That way, if one or two drop out, you've got spares on the ground and in the air to replace them. And BTW, the military typically uses a "buddy" abort system. If one plane has to turn back, a wingman goes with him, just in case. Under that system, you need more "spares" to replace acft that abort for mechanical reasons.

Additionally, I'm told that the 4th Wing at Seymour is getting ready for a major inspection. As you might guess, aircraft generation is one of the items up for evaluation. In preparation for that inspection, the fly-by for President Ford became a "freebie" for practice,allowing the wing to conduct a large-scale generation, exercising the same skills they will use during the inspection.

As for the number of tankers, that may seem a bit high, but planners always want to ensure that the fly-by jets have enough fuel. As it turns out, the formation spent more than an hour circling, at fairly low altitude, which means they burned up a lot of gas in the process. Under that scenario, it's better to have extra tanking capability, rather than an insufficient number. And, I'm not sure that eight is necessarily excessive. We postulate that Israel would need 6-7 tankers (minimum) to send 24 combat aircraft against Iran, a flight that's not much farther than the round-robin between Seymour and Grand Rapids. 21-24 F-15Es can burn a lot of gas, particularly when they have to hold for an extended period before getting the "go" for the flyby, so perhaps 8 is not that excessive.

One more thought: a fly-by for a presidential funeral is something that's a feather in the cap for any AF or Navy unit. I'm sure that AMC (which owns the tankers) wanted to show the flag, and expend a maximum effort in making its contribution to the mission.

Sammy--I've seen the same thing happen on other occasions, particularly with F-4s.

Hoplite--I do not favor a return to the draft under present circumstances.