Today I flew one of our last S-3B aircraft to the "boneyard" in the middle of the Arizona desert, more formally known as the Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC) at Davis Motham Air Force Base. AMARC has served, since the early 1940's, as a graveyard for retired, scrapped, or abandoned US aircraft.

As the S-3 approaches the end of its service life, we are flying most of them to AMARC, where they will be wrapped in plastic and aluminium foil, drained of fuel and oil, and parked in vacant dirt lots to bake under the desert sun. One day, if aliens invade from outer space, these wartime reserves can be activated (alongside other aircraft dating from the Korean war) and theoretically brought back into service. More likely, they'll be donated to museums or sold at bargain basement rates to foreign militaries, to whom obselescent 1970's U.S. technology is advanced enough to seem like magic (a la Arthur C. Clarke).

I, too, am approaching the end of my service life in the Navy. At the behest of the Navy, I have mastered the flying characteristics, weapons systems, and tactics of a Cold War aircraft and flown it to the maximum extent of its aging capabilities. Unfortunately, the remaining S-3 pilots are just as cheap, obselescent, and expendable as the aircraft, and so it is time for me to leave the service.

Today, I signed away custody of aircraft 724, the 160,155th aircraft manufactured for the U.S. Navy. She, like me, has seen war and peace, the majestic beauty of a dawn catapult launch, and the sometimes-terrifying, ominous deck-rush during a night recovery. She has, like me, far exceeded performance expectations and striven to find relevance in aviation's contribution to our defense. Sometimes, like me, she has even succeeded in these efforts. But, like me, she is closing a chapter of her life, and so it seems only fitting that I end this journal.

Creepingivy started this journal for me a long time ago, and now it ends. I may start another, but I bid this one, and the life it narrated (at least, whenever I got around to updating it) farewell.

And to you, aircraft 724, farewell-- it's been a great ride.

Of course, pictures are mandatory...

The long taxi from the runway, through semi-blasted wasteland, and security fences to the AMARC facility.

With the engines still cooling, techs begin scavenging spare parts and prepping the aircraft for cold storage.

724's final resting place in the Arizona desert. Rust in peace.

A signature on 724 for posterity. Farewell!



Five years ago, I sat in a squadron ready room watching the world turn itself inside-out on cable news. While I wasn't there in person, nor directly connected to anyone lost on that day, on September 11th, my world changed completely.

Going through my archives, I found this forum post written by a then-inexperienced lieutenant stuck on duty that day. He couldn't go home, or even leave the base. Tanks were parked at base gates; Humvees were armed with 30mm grenade launchers, training them on street-side traffic. All civilians were evicted from the airfield; there was no place to eat, sleep, or drink. The vending machine didn't have enough change to break a $1 bill. Bereft of anything else to do, this lieutenant logged onto Cybersphere and joined the troubled discussion going on there: "Did you know anyone in the towers? Have you heard from her? I saw a warning about my city. Who could have done this...?" After a few minutes of introspection, the lieutenant typed out the following post.

That lieutenant, eventually, turned into me. I'm not sure how much he and I still have in common.

(Thanks to [info]kingfox for saving this post for me, all those years ago).

> [-] [18347]---From: Incognito at Wed Sep 12  3:13am 2031---
> [-] Subj: Green deck
> [-] In carrier aviation, we say we have a 'green deck' when
> [-]  ready to launch aircraft. Today, even before the attacks
> [-]  took place, you had carriers with green decks landing and
> [-]  launching planes already around the world; that's routine.
> [-]  Within hours of the WTC being hit, you had two more. There
> [-]  are more on the way; I'm a pilot assigned to one on the
> [-]  west coast. Although I won't be going today, or tomorrow,
> [-]  or possibly for a few weeks, I've been told that my
> [-]  squadron is 'up at bat'. My carrier has a green deck.
> [-] The question now is what to do with us. People are worried
> [-]  about bloodbaths. People are worried about innocent
> [-]  civilians as casualties of our bombs, of wanton U.S.
> [-]  attacks on other countries.
> [-] I can't speak for the leadership, but let me tell you this.
> [-]  Ultimately the bombs and missiles are put on target by
> [-]  somebody not so different than each of you. They're a
> [-]  little older than the median CS player age. They've gone
> [-]  to your same schools and colleges. You might even know
> [-]  one. They pull the trigger and they're professionals.
> [-]  Their strikes will be meticulously planned and
> [-]  professionally executed-- but not against civilians.
> [-]  Mistakes will be made, but they'll be made in good faith.
> [-]  Civilians won't be targeted. Will the be hit? Probably,
> [-]  but not on the magnitude that some predict. I'm not one of
> [-]  the few who'll go over the beach and strike, but I'll be
> [-]  there covering them when they return and protecting our
> [-]  forces at sea. We're not so different than any of you, and
> [-]  we all share your same concerns. We have a conscience, the
> [-]  same as you.
> [-] Today I saw our entire country flood its bloodbanks with
> [-]  donors even before the smoke had cleared. In other
> [-]  countries, when calamity occurs, I see looting and bodies
> [-]  being dragged through the streets. Today I read about
> [-]  concern for Islamic minorities and heard arguments against
> [-]  our government and its international policy. In other
> [-]  countries I see minorities and dissidents being lined up
> [-]  and shot. 
> [-] Today I also saw that our country doesn't have to be
> [-]  leveled or nuked or burned to the ground to be destroyed--
> [-]  if we allow these actions to make us paranoid and
> [-]  vindictive, our way of life will rot to its core. And
> [-]  today I've never felt more strongly that our silly
> [-]  Baywatch-watching quibbling international-bully
> [-]  idiosynchratic sometimes-racist country deserves to
> [-]  survive. I feel this way because I've seen us as
> [-]  individuals be concerned and generous and caring even
> [-]  under horrifying attack from those with which we have no
> [-]  personal quarrel.
> [-] Make no mistake, we are in a fight for survival. The
> [-]  questions now narrow down not to who is responsible; while
> [-]  this is a worthwhile question, it's not the most
> [-]  important. People ask; "Is Osama Bin Laden behind this?"
> [-]  The question really must be: "Is Osama Bin Laden our
> [-]  enemy?" Now is a time for us to find our enemies, those
> [-]  who would perpetrate more acts of terrorism against us,
> [-]  root them out, and destroy them utterly with the full
> [-]  power that we can wield. We must survive in good faith and
> [-]  with a relatively clean consicience, but in order to be a
> [-]  nation of concerned, contemplative, just-minded inviduals
> [-]  who discuss foreign policy over Starbuck's, we must first
> [-]  _survive_. If, by negotiation and peaceful acts we cannot
> [-]  convince or deflect those who would attack us again, then
> [-]  we _must_ be prepared to dispose of them aggressively and
> [-]  without mercy. Sometimes the best option is neither
> [-]  popular, elegant, simple, clean, enlightened, or peaceful.
> [-] Nobody hopes more than I and others like me in the military
> [-]  that we'll be able to resolve the rest of this crisis
> [-]  without bloodshed. But the realist in me knows that the
> [-]  world is a terrifying place and that violence must
> [-]  sometimes be used to deflect further violence. If it
> [-]  indeed comes down to that, we will have a green deck.
> [-]  
> [-] --Incognito sends.


My entries are about as long as those software EULA's (Click "Yes" to continue installation) and probably get read about as much. I've been busy the last month or so, but here's the executive debrief:

1. Got roped into organizing a change of command ceremony involving about 500 people, a band, and a ceremonial flag detail. Things went well until 5 minutes prior to the ceremony start. Noticed something was missing: the ceremonial flag detail hadn't showed up. They finally did with 2 minutes to spare, but didn't know where to stand. Things turned out well: Resembled a train-wrecky version of "A Wedding Story" where the wedding coordinator wants to shoot himself in the head, but gets better.

2. Flew (comm air) to Jacksonville, FL twice. Found out that east coast military is very anal. Unnerving evaluation flight with a co-pilot who is shaped exactly like a sausage and likes to hum along to J-Lo songs. Later, drunk friend attempts to compliment stripper by declaring, "You could park a bike between those!" Had to smooth over relations with diplomacy. Did three things rarely seen in FL gentlemen's clubs: 1) Tipped 2) Bought two consecutive lap dances 3) Did not have a mullet. Am now a rock star in said establishment.

3. Flew (tac air) to Key West, FL by way of Ellington Field, TX. Have decided that Key West is cool: Kind of like a never-ending Jerry Springer episode set to a Jimmy Buffet soundtrack.

4. Flew three bombing hops for student pilot and co-pilot training. Unnerved by the fact that the bombing target looks exactly like a white double-wide trailer.

5. Flew (tac air) back from Key West via Lakland Air Force Base, TX with squadron CO as co-pilot. CO insists that Air Force "flight kitchen" serves the best food for lunch. Am suspicious, but his enthusiasm is probably a direct order. Am impressed by Air Force cafeteria security and procedures: military ID and security checkpoint. Lunch Lady has us fill out several forms which require us to specify everything from type/model/series aircraft to social security number to preference for "nutritional supplement A" or "nutritional supplement B". Lunch Lady spends several minutes preparing elaborate lunches. Presents  them in hermetically sealed boxes stamped with US AIR FORCE FLIGHT FOOD SERVICE seals. We open the boxes. Contents: 1) Vending machine triangle sandwich 2) Apple 3) Vending machine granola bar 4) Vending machine Diet Coke.

But I ordered "nutritional supplement B"...

6. Mocking unsavior because he, a rabid atheist, just happened to be in Germany at the same time they went Pope Crazy. Ha!

7. Wife (not on LJ) and I are shopping for a new house. Banks are funny organizations. Bank A says: "You are pre-approved for $X". $X buys us a studio apartment in the worst part of town, kevlar body armor not included. Bank B says: "You are pre-approved for $Y". $Y buys us a dream home in a nice part of town, but bankrupts us in about 30 seconds. Could be worse-- I could own the double-wide on the bombing range in Florida.

8. Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines kicks ass.

9. Taking 5 days of vacation to go up to Santa Barbara this weekend. Thank god!

10. Click "yes" to continue installation.

Knights of the Old Republic 2

If the movies were like KOTOR 2, they'd go something like this:

Cutscene: Darth Vader slices off Luke's hand. The scene pans to another camera angle, where Luke's hand reappears. The camera switches to a view inside Luke's head, allowing you to see Vader from the inside of Luke's nostrils.

"Join me, and we will rule the Galaxy as father and son."
Dialog options:
1. Yes.
2. [Pursuade] Yeah.
3. [Awareness] Yep.
4. [Demolitions] Uh huh.
5. Never mind.
6. What do you know about this planet?

Selecting any option leads to the same pre-rendered movie, which shows Luke (wearing the wrong costume) plummeting down into a ventilation shaft.

Cut to the scene at the end of Return of the Jedi, where the Ewoks are dancing. Roll the closing credits.

Additional content detailing what happened between Luke falling and the Ewoks dancing is available as an easter egg buried somewhere on the DVD.

KOTOR 2 tanked a perfectly good game concept.

Abort! Abort! Abort!

Today's flight started out with a brief from a student who'd just gotten back from his initial carrier landing qualification in the jet. He still had that wide-eyed cheater-of-death look about him that you get after successfully guiding the large, fat S-3B Viking into multiple collisions/landings on the ship's ridiculously tiny landing area for the first time at night. During our preflight brief, he stated, many times, that his primary goal during today's inflight refueling lesson would be "self preservation". Now, I found this a little odd-- isn't that always a given? I mean, it's like going to the grocery store with a list like:
1. Eggs
2. Bread
3. Don't die

I pushed aside my suspicions about why he felt the need to specifically address "self preservation" issues in the brief and we strapped on the jet and launched.

Now, conventional wisdom has it that a student's first look at inflight refueling training is one of the more sporty flights. Aerial tanking requires that the tanker aircraft reel out a large basket at the end of a short hose. The receiver aircraft extends a probe (commence phallic references) and maneuvers it into the fitting on the basket while both aircraft are flying at 250 KTS. Once the probe latches into the basket fitting, gas is pumped from the tanker aircraft's refueling pod, through the hose, and into the receiver aircraft. When done in a standardized and non-exciting manner, it looks like this:

Some complications that can result from this operation include overrunning the basket and having it break the windscreen, knocking the probe off with an off-center engagement, sucking the basket down your own engine intake, or colliding with the tanker (which happens to be carrying about 12,000 lbs. of fuel today).

Part of my feeble pre-flight attempts to avoid these possibilities and "teach" the student involved a safety brief. In this, I told the student that if I saw an unsafe situation developing (e.g. about to ram the tanker like Grond hitting the gates of Minas Tirith) I'd call out "abort", which meant it was time to drag the throttles to idle, smoothly back away from the tanker, avoid the basket, and reset for another run. What could be more reasonable?

Once airborne we waited in line behind another student and got to watch her have a go at tanking. This is pretty common; several students are usually assigned to one tanker for training. It can be an uncomfortable situation, watching another student flail around behind the tanker, and it often causes the waiting student to fail his morale check. Today was no different. It went sort of like this:

Me: "So, as you can see from your friend's progress, it's all about making very small, smooth corrections in close".
(Other student bangs probe into side of basket, infuriating basket. Basket begins wild, lateral oscillations attempting to bash out student's windscreen. Student's control surfaces deflect full elevator, aileron as jet flees impending scything motions of basket and hose.).
My student: "Uh, that looks a little hard."
Me: "Oh no, you'll pick it up quickly. It's like riding a bike."
(Other student begins another approach. Overcorrects in close, receiver jet pitches wildly, greatly disturbing basket. Basket, quick like cobra, strikes several vital areas of jet using Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique. Basket's finishing move involves striking side of other student's fuselage and then dipping briefly into student's engine intake. Miraculously, basket does not actually contact student's fan section, which is rotating at thousands of RPM).
My student: "Did I mention that my primary goal is self preservation?"
Me: (Getting suspicious) "Yeah, I think we covered that".

Soon the other student's jet departed, returning home for a thorough maintenance inspection. In the meantime, it was our turn.

The first few attempts were about par for the course. They involved a few successful plugs, and no small amount of me saying "ABORT" in urging, soothing tones. There's an "Oh Jesus" handle in the cockpit that I really wanted to grab, but since gesturing, flinching, or reaching for emergency items in the cockpit tends to frighten and dishearten students, I folded my hands in my lap, accepted my fate, and thought:

Fear is the mind killer.

Our fateful, final encounter began as a low-to-high engagement where the probe rammed the lower edge of the basket and set it into a series of wild gyrations that can probably only be described by higher order chaos theory equations.
My student, faced with a whipping basket in front, a fuel-filled tanker above, and placid blue sky below, chose the greater of three evils and pitched up in an evasive maneuver... directly at the tanker.
As we closed into melee range directly behind the tanker's tailcone, the basket launched a fierce+jab combo attack against our radome, resulting in a series of loud THUMPs.
As we fled for our life, the basket took an attack of opportunity and struck the underside of the aircraft, somewhere near the landing gear door. It scored a crit threat, but couldn't confirm the crit, because my student was in Full Defense at this point.

Eventually, we cleared to the right side of the tanker (standard "clear to the right" position is about 25' off the tanker's wingtip. My student, whose eyes were the size of dinner plates with all blood drained from his face and skin the color of #ffffff decided to take a position about 25 astronomical units away from the tanker. I didn't complain). The tanker crew, noticing that we'd suddenly veered away from them so quickly that we'd taken on a red doppler shift, asked, "Hey, are you guys complete?" I took a look at our windscreen (which appeared undamaged), and then I looked at the refueling basket.

The refueling basket is made out of a semi-rigid webbing of metal linkages and nylon. When it takes bludgeoning damage, the nice, round, aerodynamically stable frame gets bent out of shape. Typically you see one side get caved in, presenting a "kidney bean" shape that's harder to work with, but usable. Our encounter had completely blown the basket's webbing apart and collapsed its framework. It was completely flat, veering back and forth in the slipstream, and parts of it were flapping so quickly that the entire assembly was blurred. Mentally, I moused-over the basket and saw its health bar was a thin yellow sliver with text that read, "Critically wounded". On the radio I replied to the tanker guys, "Uh, negative, and we're going home. And you might want to get your basket looked at. It's just a little damaged."

Upon an uneventful return to base we found out that the plane's natural damage reduction had absorbed the worst of the basket strikes, resulting in just a few nicks and scratches. There was no entry on the student's grade sheet for "self preservation", but if there was, I would've marked it "below average".

Ah, fame and glory

So those of you who know me would've noticed by now (I hope) that I'm the first one who'll point out that aviation isn't necessarily all the fame and glory it's worked up to be. No, I don't get to play volleyball in my dogtags, or hit it with Kelly McGillis in the elevator. Today's flight was a case in point.

While recovering from what should've been a benign unusual attitude (part of today's "final exam" flight involved putting the aircraft into various nose high/nose low attitudes and then evaluating how the student pilot recovers), my intrepid student overcontrolled and spiked us into a spectacular negative-g maneuver. This part probably bears a little background explanation. "Zero-G" is astronauts gracefully floating around in the International Space Station, eating perfectly spinning globules of Tang. For example, Baron Harkonnen floating around in Dune-- no problem. "Negative-G", on the other hand, is like the Magic User spell "Reverse Gravity"-- i.e. Baron Harkonnen getting squashed flat against the ceiling. My student today applied Baron Harkonnen-squashing levels of nose-down stick to the aircraft.

Now, the venerable S-3B Viking is a fairly capable aircraft, but you don't throw it around in negative-G maneuvers for the same reason that you don't take the exit off-ramp in grandma's Winnebago at 100 MPH (161 kmh). And why is that? Because the dinner china, grandma's bridge game, and the S'mores will fly around the interior cabin with Newtonian fury. And that's what happened to me today as the student's flight publications, emergency procedures manuals, and other assorted dry goods bounced around the cabin like pachinko balls. I, being somewhat expectant of various levels of student chicanery, actually secured my cockpit items. But the student's Baron-squashing maneuver apparently exceeded the limit load factors of various pieces of velcro, snaps, and other fasteners holding things like emergency pump handles, map cases, and my water bottle in place, because those were added to the general melee that ensued. For several seconds, every loose screw, dust bunny, and the complete inventory of my student (along with my water bottle) swirled with tornadic fury in the cockpit. If I had a butterfly net, I could've retrieved it all. Instead, I was focused, with some interest, on seeing if we were going to recover from the Baron-squashing maneuver without hitting the water.

Once we succeeded in regaining some semblance of upright, 1-G flight, the real fun began. I shook off my 3d6 of subdual damage and took stock: Approximately fifty dozen random items were strewn throughout the cockpit, threatening to slip into various mechanical crevices and interrupt minor cockpit functions, like control of the aircraft, pressurization, or the general fly/don't fly function. To rectify this, I had to give the student very clear, precise instructions, "Fly in a circle here. Don't crash", safed up the ejection seats, and then crawled around on my hands and knees collecting various books, pencils, and random items. A flight manual floated 15 ft. before coming to rest atop an ejection seat actuator box (many hours of practice at the game "Operation" assisted in its retrieval). The APU pump handle came to rest (after making some distressing clanging noises against some fragile-sounding objects... but everything seemed fine afterwards) wedged between the GPDC (computer) memory unit and a dangerous-looking wire harness. And my water bottle... where the hell did my water bottle go?

And so, with vast sums of taxpayer-financed training to back me up, I crawled around the floorboards of a jet for several minutes today, looking for a water bottle and other random items. (Somehow I doubt this'll ever make it into a movie, because it even beats out flying a plane full of rubber dog sh*t out of Hong Kong). I eventually gave up, we returned to base, and on landing rollout, the bottle emerged on its own and thumped against the side of my seat. Mission successful.

Now, during my advanced briefing to new pilots, I will add to my list of "don't do" items (which currently includes things like "pretty please don't fly into the ground"): "Please don't apply Baron Harkonnen-crushing levels of negative G when recovering nose-high."

Does anybody know anything about 3d rendering?

I could get addicted to this thing.

Ok, so my latest dead-end schtick these days is I'm trying to get back into art. (In fact, that's the only reason I'm updating the CS website... just so I have an excuse to churn out art). I give this latest fad about 2-3 months, tops, before it sputters out. But, I have a copy of 3D Studio Max 5 and a copy of Maya 5 (purchased from a nice man in Hong Kong who was later apprehended by the customs police). I've been messing with 3dsmax, and by ripping off somebody else's model of a Lamborghini, I came up with this aerodyne (which I used for an illo on the website):

So my idea is that I want to do a bunch of 2-D art, scan and color it in Photoshop, and then use a 3-D renderer to make backgrounds (like aerodynes flying across a cityscape or something). But I'm clueless about 3-d rendering. Should I keep using 3dsmax or try Maya? Should I get Bryce instead?


I'm actually in such a reminiscent mood that I created this new LJ account just so I could write about it.

I've been back on CS off and on for a bit. I'm thinking about converting the whole thing to d20 rules, but I'm not sure if it'd be worth the effort. Recently I updated the CS website. I've got a feeling I'll be done with CS once the website's complete. Things are just so different now.

So my question is, for those of you who were there while I was gone...

   ...what happened to CS?