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Posts Tagged ‘1964’

Let’s play a game.  What do the following phrases have in common?

It’s You Again
The Gospel According to Luke
I’m Your Man
Your Memory Wins Again
It Wasn’t His Child
Love, Me
Lighter Shade of Blue
Every Other Weekend
Matches
Rebecca Lynn
The Hole
If I Didn’t Have You
You Had Me From Hello
The Coast of Colorado
I Believe
Wish You Were Here
If a Man Could Live on Love Alone

If you don’t know, they’re all hit songs that reached the top (or close to the top) of the country music charts. And all of them were either written or co-written by Skip Ewing. Born in California on March 6, 1964, he began to develop his musical talents at an early age. An accomplished musician as a teenager, he set out to make music that meant something, to write songs that told a story. And based on the list above (only a partial list which includes numerous #1s and at least one “Song of the Year”), I’d say he did a pretty good job.

If you have any of his studio albums (I think I have them all, including his Christmas album), you’re awfully fortunate. If you don’t, go out and just read the lyrics to some of his songs, and you’ll quickly discover his remarkable talent as a writer. It’s an ability that other great talents have taken advantage of, from Sawyer Brown to Reba McEntire, from Randy Travis to Kenny Rogers.

I don’t listen to much country music anymore, but when I do, it’s usually Skip Ewing. If you can find any of his music, you owe it to yourself to buy it.  You won’t be sorry, because he’s one of the very best at his craft.

Happy Birthday, Skip Ewing!!

Recommended Viewing: Matches – Sung by Sammy Kershaw, but written by Skip Ewing. The video just makes a great song that much greater.

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The earthquake that rocked Alaska on March 27, 1964 needs no special introduction.  It is the most powerful earthquake recorded in the Northern Hemisphere.  Only two others, the great Chilean earthquake of 1960 and the 2004 quake off Sumatra (which caused that terrible tsunami), have approached or surpassed the Alaskan quake’s strength, which struck in the Prince William Sound area shortly after 5:30pm on Good Friday.

Geologists believe that earthquakes occuring along subduction zones tend to be more powerful than quakes along standard fault lines, because greater stresses build up as the upper plate passes over the lower.  The Alaskan quake was of that type and, while I wasn’t alive when it happened, the pictures show tremendous damage.

The land buckled and heaved during the 4-minute quake, permanently rising as much as 30′ (the Kodiak area) in places while dropping 10′ in others, creating new beachlines and opening fissures in the surface.  In the photo above, you can see how the beach areas of Middleton Island on the left slid nearly 12′ from its original level on the right.

Of course, the forces we are discussing here were astronomically stronger than any man-made structures.  Anchorage was heavily damaged, as were a good number of smaller cities and towns.  In fact, significant damage was reported over an area covering more than 50,000 square miles from a quake that was felt over more than half-a-million square miles.  Thousands of major aftershocks over the next 18 months served to terrorize an already stunned populace trying to put their lives, homes, and infrastructure back together.  But its effects were even more far-reaching.

The rapid shift along the plates triggered tsunamis that were detected throughout the Pacific Ocean and caused widespread damage.  While deaths from the quake itself (falling buildings, etc.) were incredibly few (10-15, depending on your source), 120 fatalities were caused by tsunamis.  Crescent City, on California’s northern coast, was particularly hard hit, where 14-foot waves were responsible for 11 deaths and millions of dollars of damage.

But the location of the Alaskan earthquake (well off the equator in the upper Northern Hemisphere) also caused the planet to wiggle, which means that the effects of the quake were seen worldwide.  Small tsumani waves were detected in Cuba, small boats were reportedly capsized off Louisiana’s coasts, and water oscillations were seen in Africa.

Here in the central United States, we occasionally mention the fabled “big one” that supposedly will someday strike the San Andreas Fault and knock the most heavily-populated parts of California into the Pacific, while simultaneously casting a wary glance in the direction of the New Madrid Fault, knowing we stand on shaky ground ourselves.  But I think a good number of us would like to believe that “the big one” has already come and gone, striking the Alaskan coast 46 years ago (as of this writing).

Time will tell if that belief stands up to the motion of the tectonic plates.

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As has been discussed before, the U.S. Government tends to favor multi-taskers in the process of aircraft procurement.  The more missions a proposed platform can perform well, the better the chance it will be selected for development and deployment.  But one could argue that it’s possible to take the “multi-role” concept too far.  The government did on at least one occasion, and it resulted in ruined careers, a lot of fighting between the services, and one of the most controversial aircraft to enter the inventory.

In the 1960’s, the Air Force was looking to replace the Republic F-105 Thunderchief.  The Thud was classified as a fighter bomber, but the “fighter” part should have been typed in an itty-bitty font.  It was pretty much just a bomber.  It was fast and could carry a reasonable payload.  And despite having a single engine, it was an extremely tough aircraft (typical of Republic designs).

Meanwhile, the Navy wanted to replace the F-4 Phantom II as its front-line fleet-defense fighter.  In an age when missiles and enemy aircraft were becoming more advanced, it was (correctly) believed that the Phantom didn’t have the radar or missile technology to provide adequate force projection (and force protection).

Simultaneously, the services had been researching the feasibility of new technologies, most notably (for our lesson) swing-wing technology.  The Navy was interested because unswept wings gave good low-speed lift, best for slinging aircraft off the deck.  Swept wings were best for high-speed travel and ease of flight at low altitude, along with a slightly smaller radar signature.

Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, looking to save some money, ordered the Air Force and Navy to work together and build a common platform.  He might as well have been asking Democrats and Republicans to come together on taxes and health care reform, because that’s how likely a solution was.

In defense of the two departments, it should be noted that each had a specification that was substantially different.  The Navy needed fleet defense, which in the 60’s meant good range, Mach-2+ speed, solid fighter capability, and the ability to carry a massive radar and fire the just-as-massive Phoenix missile.  Most importantly, the plane had to be light enough to be shot off a carrier.

The Air Force also needed Mach-2 speed and a powerful radar.  But it also required the ability to carry a substantial bombload, fly well over Mach 1 at very low altitude (for the penetration mission), and employ computer-controlled terrain following.  It did not need to be carrier-launched.

It was called the TFX project (Tactical Fighter eXperimental), was awarded to General Dynamics, and was designated the F-111.  Initially, A-models would go to the Air Force and B-models to the Navy.  The A-model flew for the first time on December 21, 1964 and McNamara had high hopes that both services would benefit from the new swing-wing, twin-engined plane.  His hopes would be dashed in rather comical fashion.

The Navy needed a takeoff weight of 50,000 pounds, and the F-111 wasn’t even close.  So the Defense Department initiated the Weight Improvement Program.  The 111 was still too heavy, so along came the Super Weight Improvement Program.  It still wasn’t enough, so there was (I’m not making this up) the Colossal Weight Improvement Program.  At this point the Navy had a prototype aircraft with plastic gauges that was still too heavy and couldn’t even perform as well as the Phantom it was scheduled to replace.  The Navy finally told McNamara to forget it and went with Grumman’s F-14 Tomcat (also a swing-wing platform), which turned out to be a great move.

The Vietnam War would give the F-111, officially named the Aardvark, its first taste of combat.  It would not be a good experience, but that’s a story for another day.

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It’s an airplane that spent most of its life shrouded in secrecy.  The missions it flew were even more top secret.  It leaked fuel like a sieve when it sat on the ground, but it could tear through the air!!  It flew faster than the rotational velocity of the earth, giving it the appearance of out-pacing the sun.  You could eat breakfast in New York City, fly to LA in this plane, and eat another breakfast earlier (time-wise) than you ate in New York.  At full chat, this airplane covered 33 miles a minute, making it faster than the bullet fired from a 30-06 rifle.

That’s the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird in a nutshell.  Developed by Kelly Johnson’s “Skunk Works”, the SR-71 was another in Lockheed’s rather unconventional designs that just flat-out worked, such as the P-38 Lightning and U-2. Like the U-2, the Blackbird was designed for high-altitude reconnaissance.  Unlike the U-2, it was meant to fly at extremely high speed.

The designation “SR-71” is actually connected with another plane we’ve discussed:  the XB-70 Valkyrie (see?…70…71).  After its failure to reach full production, the Valkyrie was considered as a recon plane, but when Lockheed showed off its aircraft (called the A-12), the Air Force chose it, calling it the SR-71.

In order to fly so quickly, Lockheed used special engines.  At lower speeds, they operated like a standard turbojet engine.  But they became ramjets at extremely high speed, as the cone on the front of the engine would slide back, allowing air to pass into the engine.  When the air went around the cone, it was compressed, generating heat that, when combined with fuel and exploded, produced even more power.  It takes a scientist to fully understand it…and I’m not one of those.

The intense heat of air friction expanded the plane several inches as it flew (and heated the skin to well over 500°F), so at rest, the panels were gapped slightly, sort of like expansion joints on the Interstate.  The fuel cells were similar, so they leaked on the ground.  The plane would take off and, after sufficiently warming up the skin (and sealing the tanks), the Blackbird would refuel for its missions.

The plane was packed full of cameras and sensors and recorders for use in its spy work, which it did for nearly 25 years.  From its first test flight on December 22, 1964 until its final retirement in 1998, the SR-71 was the primary spy plane of the United States.  Only 32 were built (the tooling was destroyed in 1968).  12 were lost in accidents, but only 1 crew member perished.

Though now retired, the Blackbird’s mission is still important.  Satellites provide good coverage, but their regular orbits provide the enemy a “satellite schedule”.  Aircraft provide additional, on-the-spot coverage for which the enemy cannot plan.

Maybe the SR-71’s successor is already flying…maybe it’s the Lockheed Aurora…maybe it’s not.  Whatever the case, that successor has a most formidable reputation to uphold.

Recommended Reading:  SR-71 Revealed:  The Inside Story – Ok, this is one I don’t have in the inventory, but is it too late to get it on my Christmas list?

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