Greetings from The Aero Experience Team


The Aero Experience is a celebration of Midwest aviation and aerospace achievement. We invite you to join us as we explore the treasures of Midwest aviation through first-hand experiences. Our contributors take turns flying lead, and we are always looking for new destinations. Check in with The Aero Experience frequently to see where we will land today, and then go out and have your own aero experiences!

Blue skies,

Carmelo Turdo, Mark Nankivil and Fred Harl - The Aero Experience Team

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Midwest Military Aviation Achievements Celebrated During Recent Missouri Aviation Historical Society Meetings

By Carmelo Turdo
The Missouri Aviation Historical Society (MAHS) has featured several programs celebrating Midwest military aviation for the July and August monthly meetings held at Creve Coeur Airport.  Each meeting presentation featured a St. Louis-made, McDonnell Douglas fighter aircraft that played a significant role in the defense of the United States: The F-4 Phantom II in July and the F-15/ASAT program in August.  Each program featured a unique perspective that included first-person participants and special guests that added authenticity to our collective experience.  

July Meeting: A Tribute to Bob Little

The July meeting, A Tribute to Bob Little, was inspired by several previous MAHS events featuring both the F-4 Phantom II and McDonnell Douglas test pilot Bob Little.  Mr. Little was a guest at the 60th Anniversary celebration of the first flight of the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo (flown by Little) in November of 2014.  More recently, Mr. Little was also present at the arrival of the McDonnell Douglas (Q)F-4E Phantom II at the Spirit of St. Louis Airshow in May 2016.  Minutes after the Phantom II was secured, Mr. Little, the McDonnell Aircraft test pilot who flew the fighter's first flight in 1958, met the USAF pilot, Lt. Col. Ron King, who will be the last pilot to fly a Phantom II in the U.S. later this year.

Missouri Aviation Historical Society President Dan O'Hara presented the background of Mr. Little's aviation career, from his service flying P-51 Mustangs in World War II through his McDonnell Aircraft and McDonnell Douglas test pilot and corporate executive career.  

Following the presentation, Jacqui Poor introduced the new film, "Legendary WWII and Test Pilot, Bob Little," she produced for HEC-TV about Mr. Little's career and the last appearance of a McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II in St. Louis in May 2016.  Viewers can see the video in the HEC-TV archives at the link above.  The capacity audience in attendance showed the great local interest in the contributions of Mr. Little and the end of an era for the F-4 Phantom II.  Mr. Little himself was unable to attend the meeting, but it is hoped he will be available at a meeting this fall to visit with a grateful Midwest Aviation community.

Screen shot from HEC-TV "Legendary WWII and Test Pilot, Bob Little"

August Meeting: The F-15 ASAT Program

The August meeting, held just last week, featured a presentation on the F-15A ASAT tests at Edwards AFB, CA by Mr. Gary Bohn, former USAF test pilot and McDonnell Douglas (later Boeing) engineer.  Mr. Bohn was a test pilot assigned to the ASAT program, and he flew two of the five ASAT launch flights and chase flights on other test launches from 1984-86.  The ASAT was an anti-satellite test vehicle officially known as the ASM-135 Air-Launched Miniature Vehicle (ALMV) carried by a USAF McDonnell Douglas F-15A Eagle specially equipped with the weapons pylon in the center under fuselage location generally used for the large external fuel tank.  The ALMV relied on kinetic energy (striking the target like a bullet) to disable a satellite in the event of hostile action taken against U.S. satellites by the then Soviet Union.  It was envisioned that ALMV-equipped aircraft at several U.S. Air Force bases would be ready to attack enemy satellites within a three hour launch window if the deterrent effect of their presence failed.  The then Soviet Union had a ground-based ASAT weapon program, and development of the U.S. ASAT program was a national security interest.         

Proposals for a U.S. ASAT weapon were being discussed throughout the late 1970s and into the early 1980s, and the ALMV program began development by 1982.  Propulsion was provided by a solid fuel first stage modified SRAM rocket and a second stage LTV Altair 3 equipped with liquid hydrazine thrusters for steering control to the target.  A combination of Honeywell laser gyroscope, infrared detector and the spinning motion of the second stage were used to acquire and destroy the target.  The ASAT was essentially a mix of equipment that was available and not an organic design, leading to multiple failures in ground testing and one out of five total launch successes where everything worked as expected and an actual satellite was hit.  Three other successful test units used guidance to a star or point in space, and one launched successfully but did not guide to the target star.

Throughout the test program, the U.S. Congress fought to cancel the program amid hopes of negotiating a treaty with the then Soviet Union to ban ASATs.  In 1985, Congress banned the ASAT tests against actual targets, and so several of the latter tests used stars to test the guidance systems.  The program was cancelled altogether in 1988 when the technical and political shortcomings could not be overcome.  

Mr. Bohn's first-hand accounts of his ALMV launch and chase plane flying experiences were invaluable to our greater understanding of the U.S. ASAT program and added greatly to the contribution of the Missouri Aviation Historical Society to the preservation of Missouri's rich aviation history.  Check back soon at the Missouri Aviation Historical Society for upcoming monthly meeting announcements.

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