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1 May, Invasion Stripes
The black and white stripes that decorated aircraft during D-Day were known as Invasion Stripes. The Allied Command implemented the six stripe configuration ahead of the OVERLORD landings in 1944 to help assist forces on the ground with identification. The only aircraft that did not have Invasion Stripes were bomber aircraft, largely due to the gap of bombers in the Luftwaffe. Invasion stripes were phased out by the end of 1944, but were reintroduced in subsequent conflicts, primarily during the Korean War.
2 May, Prototype Atomic Cannon, T1
Atomic Annie was a 280 MM heavy gun that was capable of firing an atomic artillery shell. However, the 280 MM design was not what was originally planned by the U.S. Army. The original concept took the gun barrel from the M1 240 MM Howitzer - Black Dragon and mated it to the T72 carriage. Only one 240 MM prototype was produced before the requirements were changed to increase the gun size to 280 MM. The T1 prototype remains preserved at the Virginia Military Museum.
4 May, The End of the U-boat Menace
On this day in 1945, the U-boat War had technically come to an end when the Kriegsmarine ordered a cease of operations at sea. Dozens of German U-boats still at sea, however, continued their assaults, having been unable to confirm orders by one way or another, due to a collapse in rank structure and communications with Berlin. The Battle of the Atlantic would continue for a few more days before ending on 8 May after U-320 was sunk. The Steamer Ship Black Point was the last Allied vessel sunk by U-boats in the Atlantic on 6 May.
5 May, The ASM-135 Anti-Satellite Missile
The ASM-135 ASAT is one of the only missiles in it's class. Air-launched and tasked with the destruction of satellites in orbit, it was first tested on 13 September 1985. A modified F-15A, named the Celestial Eagle, piloted by Doug Pearson registered the kill of the P78-1 Solwind satellite. A total of 15 of the 112 proposed missiles were produced before the project was terminated in 1987. RDE and data collected from the ASM-135 went into the development of the currently used, ship-launched RIM-161 SM3 missile with a similar mission.
7 May, The Big Crow Laser System
The KC-135 platform has fielded dozens upon dozens of missions since it was first flown in 1956. One of the more interesting missions belongs to the NKC-135A Big Crow variant. Big Crow was a designation provided to two aircraft that were equipped with an on-board laser system. The system was used in tests up through the 2000s, with successful interceptions of air-to-air missiles as early as 1975. It was also used as a target for the much later Boeing YAL-1 laser platform. Both Big Crow aircraft have been since removed from service, as well as their successor in the YAL-1 as of 2014.
9 May, The B-1A Lancer
It came earlier than some think. While the introduction of the "Bone" occurred in 1986, it's heritage begins much earlier than that. The B-1 Lancer can trace it's beginnings to a 1955 USAF requirement that specified the need for a supersonic, strategic bomber. However, the Lancer was not the first choice. That honor went to the XB-70 Valkyrie. Riddled with a series of unfortunate problems, however, the Valkyrie was destined to fail and for several years after the programs cancellation, the requirement was not filled. When Richard Nixon assumed the presidency in 1969 however, the project was restored. The absorption of North American into Rockwell resulted in project research from the XB-70 being used in a new design - what would become known as "the Bone."
10 May, A Tale of a Howitzer
Sometimes fact is crazier than fiction. This M115 8-IN Howitzer may seem ordinary, and to the unknowing passerby that'd be correct. However, this particular M115 in Memorial Park at Rock Island Arsenal has a unique history behind it. Refurbished by the Arsenal, it was sold to Iran in 1977. It was then used in the Iran-Iraq War, where it was captured by the Iraqi's. Later, during Operation Desert Storm, it was used again and recaptured by the Americans. It was sent back to be restored at Rock Island Arsenal, and was put on permanent display thereafter - where it still resides today.
11 May, 35th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment
This flag, belonging to the 35th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment, rests in the Museum Enterprise Center at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia. The 35th CIR operated along the east coast during the American Civil War from 1864 through 1866. The focal point of engagements occurred in Florida, where no fewer than five battles took place. By around this time in May of 1864, the 35th CIR was preparing for operations on St. Johns River. Additional operations took place in the Carolinas.
12 May, Area 51
Restricted Area 4808 North. That's the official name given to a stretch of airspace that covers a region just to the north of Las Vegas, Nevada - more commonly known as Area 51. The airfield within it as served as a source of lore since it's establishment during World War II. It has served as an operational area for RDE from the U-2 spy plane to the Have Blue project. The airfield also served as an auxiliary airfield for captured foreign aircraft to be examined and tested, especially during the Cold War era. Today it is attached to Nellis Air Force Base.
14 May, Operation Desert Fox
Tensions in the Persian Gulf are nothing new. Conflict has raged in the region for millennia. A lesser known operation took place in December 1998 however, during a campaign known as Operation Desert Fox (ODF). Officially, ODF was a joint-airstrike between the U.S. and the U.K. against Saddam Hussein's regime. The joint force was particularly interested in striking targets that were capable of building weapons of mass destruction. The campaign wrapped up in just three days with a coalition victory. However, the effectiveness of the campaign remains a matter of major scrutiny to this day.
15 May, Little David
It's common today to think of artillery in terms of 75, 105, and 155 mm. 203 mm isn't even out of the question, but in the history of artillery, sizes up to 914 mm can be found. One example of this is as recent as World War II, where the U.S. created a mortar known as Little David. The 914 mm mortar was stationary and built in a pit. Little David was never used in combat, instead it was used to simulate bombing and aid in ballistic studies. While it was slated to enter combative service, World War II ended before such arrangements could be made. The sole Little David mortar can be seen today at Aberdeen Proving Grounds.
18 May, The 38th Parallel
The Korean Peninsula was divided at the end of World War II, separating the communist North from the westernized South. The Soviet Union backed the government in the North, while the United Nations backed the South. This was initially established by agreements outlined at the end of the war. By May of 1946, however, exchanges across the 38th parallel led to a need for a permit to cross the border. Militarization of this line and increasing pressure following government establishment by both powers set the stage for what would become the Korean War.
19 May, The Bomarc Missile System
Early Cold War missile systems had some pretty amazing designs, or some pretty bland ones. In the case of airspace defense, the Nike missile system handled ICBM interception and bombers. However, by the 1960s the need for a more rapid response to inbound threats arose. Thus, the USAF implemented the ramjet powered Bomarc Missile. Bomarc had a unique capability due to it's design. It was capable of flying over 400 miles in horizontal flight after being launched to it's cruising altitude by its booster stage. Bomarc also had the honor of being the first radar guided surface-to-air missile, being introduced in 1959 and totally retired in 1972.
20 May, The F-15ACTIVE
The F-15 has seen some stuff. From dozens of variants, the F-15 has also been one of the most receptive to modifications for research purposes. The craziest of these modifications belongs to NASA. From various times from 1988 through 2008, NASA ran several programs on the F-15. The most well known of these was ACTIVE (Advanced Control Technology for Integrated Vehicles). ACTIVE explored modifications to yaw-control and thrust-vectoring technology. It was preceded by the F-15S/MTD and succeeded by the F-15IFCS. All of these used the same F-15, and had the same characteristics with modified and upgraded engines, front canards, and vectoring nozzles. The front-canards were cannibalized from F/A-18 Hornets.
21 May, The Boeing X-32
With the (ridiculous) news of the F-35 crash at Eglin today, I thought we'd look at the past a little bit, and examine (and laugh) at the F-35's brother that wasn't invited to the party. The X-32 was Boeing's submission to the JSF program and first flew in 2000. The X-32, originally known as "Monica", featured a pronounced chin-lip engine intake that distinguishes it in many depictions. This feature was not part of the original 1996 design. The original concept featured a much less pronounced intake more similar to that of the F-16. Ultimately it was dozens of design and functionality flaws that caused the DoD to select the X-35 over the X-32. Perhaps, thankfully, that was the case - maybe...
22 May, The B-36 Peacemaker
It's time in the sun was short, and riddled with controversy. The B-36 Peacemaker was the premier post-World War bomber. However, the B-36 suffered from a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The requirement was ordered by the U.S. Army in 1941, but the war ultimately drew-down resources for its development. By the time the aircraft first flew, it was 1946, and restructure was on the horizon for the U.S. military. It was introduced finally in 1948, but not before the smaller and faster B-47 was introduced the year before. The newly established USAF had decided to pursue Boeing's 460-series of designs as well, which would lead to the B-52 just four years after the B-36's introduction.
23 May, The Northrop YF-23
The best of all worlds. In preparation for the upcoming feature article this month, let's get a little "spiritual." The YF-23 was Northrop's entry into the ATF program in the 1990s. Smaller, sleeker, faster, and stealthier, the YF-23 incorporated features from a large cross section of aircraft. This included both models of the F-15 (including the then-new Strike Eagle), the F/A-18, and even the then-still-classified B-2 Spirit bomber. The design was done for innovation, but the rest - not so much. Most of the repurposed fighter components were selected to reduce cost and rapidly present a flyable prototype ahead of FY1991. The first YF-23 hit the skies a month before the YF-22 in August of 1990.
26 May, ARL's Flechette Shotgun
During the late 1950s and into the 1960s, the U.S. military was setting its sights a little bit higher. The Space Race was in full swing, and the eventuality of weapons in space was increasing. The problem that space presented was problems with firing projectiles if the need came to pass. The solution to the problem was air-compressed flechette rounds fired either singly or in a burst. This enabled sure-fire results in zero gravity. The designs were also presented for more conventional use, such as this concept by the Artillery Research Laboratory for U.S. Army Weapons Command. The flechette would also see presentation in the later Special Purpose Individual Weapon (SPIW) in the 1960s through the 1970s.
27 May, The F-4 Phantom II
On this day in 1958, the XF4H-1 made it's first flight. The initial test flight did not go smoothly due to a hydraulics failure. Subsequent flights went off without a hitch however, and the aircraft was selected by the Navy for it's fighter-bomber requirement later in the year. Eventually in the 1960s, the USAF also purchased the aircraft from McDonnell Douglas. Prior to introduction, the aircraft was briefly designated the F-110, and had three names associated with it: Satan, Mithras and Spectre. However, by 1961 it was formally declared that it was to be known as the F-4 Phantom II.
28 May, Target Selection for the Atomic Bomb
On this day in 1945, target selection was finalized in Washington for the use of the first Atomic Bombs. The target selection process was handled by a Target Committee which consisted of members from the Manhattan Project, the U.S. Army Air Force, and members of Project Alberta. Project Alberta was functioning as the top secret wing of the USAAF that was tasked with bomb deployment - specifically by way of modifying B-29 Superfortresses. The targets selected were Kokura, Hiroshima, Yokohama, Niigata, and Kyoto. Nagasaki replaced Kyoto in the list on 25 July.
29 May, XM146 105-mm Rapid Fire Howitzer
Rapid-fire artillery was a subject of frequent research during the Cold War. The U.S. Army, having just completed work on a 115 MM rotary and closed-breech rocket launcher for the USMC, began studying the feasibility of a rotary field gun or howitzer. The howitzer was to be 105 mm and capable of firing six consecutive shells. No examples of this howitzer are known to be in existence, and the project seems to have been cancelled before much could have come from the project. The concept drawing from WECOM's ARL of the XM146 105 mm Rapid Fire Howitzer is dated from May of 1963, and is seen to borrow many characteristics from the XM70.
30 May, 1LT Frank Luke
Born on 19 May 1897, 1LT Frank Luke was an ace pilot who flew for the U.S. Army Air Service during World War I. Luke was able to claim 18 victories through his death during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, ranking behind CPT Eddie Rickenbacker who had 26. After his death, the U.S. Army dedicated Luke Field in Hawaii in his honor. Transition of the installation to the Navy resulted in the field being renamed to NAS Ford Island. Subsequently, the name was given to a new field in Arizona. In 1947, that airfield was renamed to Luke Air Force Base after the passing of the National Security Act.