Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Forgotten Element of the Fly-by?

Viewers of President Obama's prime-time press conference might have noticed a significant omission. During a hour of give-and-take with the press, there wasn't a single question about Monday's fly-by debacle in New York.

Never mind that lots of New Yorkers are still ticked. Or, that many questions about the airborne photo op remain unanswered. The White House has appointed a deputy chief of staff to look into the matter and his report will (most likely) be released on a Friday afternoon, six months from now. That's the cue for the MSM to drop the matter and let Louis Caldera hang onto his job. Not surprisingly, Mr. Obama's friends in the press corps are only too happy to comply.

But the fly-by scandal may not die as quickly as Mr. Obama--or the media--would like. A little digging shows the "training mission" could be a bit more complex than the White House will admit.

For starters, Air Force sources have confirmed that the F-16s that escorted the VC-25 over Manhattan are assigned to the Alabama Air National Guard, not the D.C. Guard as the AP (and other media outlets) originally reported. The Alabama guard has painted some of its Vipers in a distinctive "red tail" paint scheme, honoring the legendary Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. One of the fighters observed over Manhattan had the same markings.

Why does that matter? The distance from Dannelly Field in Montgomery (where the F-16s are based) is roughly 750 miles from New York City. According to the Pentagon, the fighters logged just under four hours of flight time during their mission. During that time, they burned as much as 20,000 pounds of fuel, based on an optimal cruise speed and a configuration that included two external tanks.

With "two bags of gas," an F-16 has a maximum fuel capacity of 11,900 pounds. Subtract the "divert minimum" that pilots must maintain for safety (typically 1,500 pounds), and the amount of on-board fuel drops to just over 10,000 pounds. So, the F-16s had to take on extra gas somewhere between Montgomery and the Big Apple.

In other words, there was at least one in-flight refueling as a part of the mission--and possibly two--requiring at least one tanker aircraft. So, factor in the added expense of a KC-135 or KC-10 and its crew. At the beginning of this decade, the cost of each Stratotanker flying hour was pegged at more than $10,000. Operating a KC-10 is even more expensive, just over $13,000 an hour. Multiply that cost by three to five hours, the typical length of a tanker sortie.

That may not seem like much, considering the total bill for the photo-op was at least $300,000. But it also shows a level of planning (and support) that the White House hasn't discussed. Obviously, in-flight refueling is a routine part of USAF operations. But adding tankers to the equation expands the coordination process, and increases the overall cost of the photo op.

How much was actually spent on the New York fly-by? We still don't know--just as we don't know why it was suddenly necessary to update public relations photographs for Air Force One. Will the forthcoming White House report discuss those issues? Don't bet on it.


SwampWoman said...

Heh. The "press" were undoubtedly given the questions that they were allowed to ask. Until such time as we get actual people asking important questions and verifying the answers again, I won't be watching any "press" conferences.

Unknown said...

what took the pictures? there is no mention of a photo plane and it should be seen in the shots from the ground.

owr084 said...

Sigh... Photoshop would have been so much cheaper...

Paul Gordon said...

Good Lord!

You're actually surprised that the question wasn't raised in the worship service?


Paul G. said...

You're right, Air Force One flying over Manhattan IS a priority of national importance that shouldn't be lost among minor issues like wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, a melting economy, a destroyed auto industry, oh, and a flu pandemic.

BTW, I could be wrong, but can't fighters refuel at Air Force bases such as Andrews? Or only in the air?

Mike said...

I was a pilot in one of the F-14 squadrons featured in “The Final Countdown.” As I recall, we wrote off at least some of those sorties to training, with the justification that the Navy was getting some very good PR.
Unfortunately, the movie was a career-ender for our then-Executive Officer, who was a rising superstar in the fighter community. You’ll note from the link that there are two sides to that sad story. (Like most of the guys, I was more interested in meeting Katharine Ross (never did) than anything else.)
Anyway, it’s not as if the Brass didn’t know the Navy was subsidizing Hollywood. It’s just that when the issue came up, a very fine naval officer got hung out to dry.
So I’m glad you’re paying attention. Why all the secrecy if this was just an AF 1 photo update? Why the fighter escort? Why bring the F-16s all the way up from Alabama? And was anyone on AF 1 besides aircrew?
You should also ask yourself: Would the Air Force, given the mission of photographing AF 1 in a Statue of Liberty flyby, have set it up like this?
I’ll be interested to see who gets to fall on his sword. If he’s in the Air Force, then my BS meter will peg out.

David M said...

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CharlesVegas said...

I'll look for it again, but I thought the accounting of the mission released by the Air Force showed the fighters logged less than 2 hrs flight time. Also, the call sign of the escorts was was "Capital", which someone said was used by Andrews AFB F-16s.

kitanis said...

"Sigh... Photoshop would have been so much cheaper..."


But there is a DOD Policy against "creating imagery" like that..

<-Ex USAF Graphics Specialist

cf said...

I blogged this for American Thinker a few days ago--someone advanced then what seemed to me a plausible theory that the fly by was related to the filming of a movie called Red Tail, a tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen.
His theory was that as the credits rolled, we'd see a red tail escorting the first Black president in a flight over ground zero.
Have you heard anything like that?

kitanis said...

Well CF..

The 187th Fighter Wing at Montgomery has historical lineage to the 332nd Fighter Group of WW II..

They have jets painted with Red Tails... so this might be plausable.

Storms24 said...

I'd suspect that the Vipers flew up from Montgomery the night before and then returned the day after the photo-op. Still, the whole affair simply adds to appearance of "amateur hour" that has become our American presidency.

thegreatbeast said...

Don't forget that there is a rumor floating around that this fly-by was done as a 'favor' to the very generous contributor to Democrat politicians George Lucas, who happens to be making a film on the Tuskegee Airmen. This buzzing of NYC would make some dramatic footage.

Aerospook said...

Hmm, we have a VENUS flight (multiple aircraft) of which an F16 will break off from and become Capitol92 (DC Air Guard)......more and more interesting

JWM said...

You don't link to an AF confirmation the fighter was Alabama ANG.

And I can't find one.

Can you or anyone on the thread help with a link?

I'll keep checking back.

John in Carolina