You found the blog. Now find my books, articles, and music projects - LOUDFAST. Take a little trip:

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Power in the Pines

The New Jersey pine trees in the vicinity of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst shook off the persistent airshow rain of a soggy Saturday May 20 – one that saw no aircraft venture skyward – and rebounded in spectacular fashion on a sunny Sunday. Day two of the Power in the Pines Air & Space Open House featured sun, clouds, and breezes, but most importantly, dry conditions. And attendees turned out in masses, eager to take in the first airshow at McGuire in five years.

The fact that neither of the marquee US air teams – the USAF Thunderbirds or USN Blue Angels – were on hand seemed to be of no concern to the thousands who filled the flight line to capacity, eager to see everything from static displays and educational installations to headlining flights by F-15, C-17, and F-16 Venom aircraft.

The lines were long but the rewards exciting: opportunities to explore various aircraft that operate from McGuire, including the venerable tri-engine KC-10 refueling aircraft. Now reaching the end of their service life, the KC-10s on display were attended by crews with an understandable, slight air of melancholy - particularly in light of the KC-135s being chosen to soldier on despite being much older aircraft. The new generation KC-46s were also open to the public, fueling boom operators explaining to visitors how they control fuel transfer operations remotely and essentially virtually from stations facing rearward from just behind the flight deck. And speaking of flight decks, one of the longest lines – and slowest moving – was the one to climb up narrow steps from the cargo bay of a C-17 to visit the cockpit. Everyone seemed to find the wait well worth it.

By the time Capt. Aimee Fiedler wrapped up her thrilling F-16 Viper demonstration flight - her aircraft appearing even more imposing thanks to its unique paint scheme - aviation fans were already looking toward the next public gathering at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, coming in 2025.

For now, though, enjoy these images from the 2023 Power in the Pines Air & Space Open House.

Click on photos for larger images. All photos: Frank Moriarty/Aerospace Perceptions

The lineup of the Power in the Pines Air & Space Open House fully entertained this vast crowd, estimated at eighty-five thousand people.

An hour wait was a small price to pay for the rare opportunity to climb up to the cockpit of a C-17 Globemaster.

The aviation action got underway with passes by four large refueling and cargo planes, including the soon-to-be-retired KC-10 Extender tanker (upper) and C-17 Globemaster strategic transport aircraft.

One of McGuire’s KC-135 Stratotankers, easily identifiable with its tiger tail markings.

The current generation USAF refueling aircraft, the KC-46 Pegasus, taxis in the distance between two F-16Cs assigned to the Viper Demonstration Team.

A US Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin banks hard left during its program.

A friendly wave from a crewmember in an intimidating vehicle, the Bell AH-1Z Attack and Reconnaissance helicopter.

Roadside assistance, USMC style. One massive CH-53E Super Stallion was on hand for walkthroughs, while another starred in a very effective demonstration of aerial vehicle relocation.

A star of the show was this historic C-47, the actual plane that led the air assault at the pivotal battle of World War II, the D-Day/Normandy attack. Following this plane were over 800 (yes, 800!) more C-47s like this one. They carried over 13,000 paratroopers and, acting in conjunction with the massive amphibious assault of the allies, turned the tide of the war against Hitler’s forces.

The F-15C Eagle interacts with the atmosphere over the flight line during a high-speed pass early in its program.

Powering into an inversion, the maneuverability of the F-15C brought the crowd to their feet.

A pair of North American Aviation Texans, designated as SNJ-2s for their US Navy service, prepare to demonstrate precision flying capabilities.

The SNJ-2s arch across the skies, leaving a smoke trail as evidence of their formation aerobatics.

One of McGuire’s own C-17 Globemasters demonstrated the full capabilities of this essential transport aircraft.

Headlining the day, the USAF F-16C Viper Demonstration Team’s principal aircraft sneaks up on the flight line from behind to noisily initiate its portion of the program.

Capt. Aimee Fiedler demonstrates the evasive capabilities of her F-16C, deploying countermeasure confusion for the opposition while climbing hard and away.

Friday, April 28, 2023

The Great Divide

Like most people with an interest in spaceflight, I watched SpaceX’s launch of a Starship vehicle on April 20. Following up on that liftoff, yesterday I had an opportunity for an in-depth viewing of the events from that day, courtesy of the Everyday Astronaut website, which has crafted an excellent collection of launch angles gathered into a single video. It’s a 14-minute portrait of the doomed flight of – I’m sure you can say it with me by now – “the most powerful rocket ever launched!”

From a safe distance the liftoff of SpaceX’s first Starship vehicle appears to be a nearly serene spectacle. Photo: SpaceX

My reactions during this granular viewing of the new video were not much different than my feelings witnessing the initial launch video stream. From the prolonged pad blasting hurling debris and an oddly drifting liftoff to the destruction of the vehicle after control was ultimately lost, any sense of wonder was suppressed somewhat by a series of “That doesn’t look right…” and “Is that supposed to do that?” moments.

One of the more obvious “that doesn’t look right” moments of the Starship launch, as numerous engines in the Super Heavy first stage assembly appear to have not ignited or have failed. Screen grab: SpaceX Video

In the days since the Starship’s short-lived and explosive flight, there has been a lot of scorching debate over the development methodologies of both NASA and SpaceX. I’m optimistic that there are people cheering on all spaceflight developments - no matter the source - as a silent majority. But there has been no shortage of hot-headed vitriol publicly expressed in the wake of the Starship’s ascension, perhaps inevitably reflecting the kind of divisiveness now characterizing American society.

Many people on one side criticize NASA for swallowing massive outlays of government funding in service of what they perceive to be a plodding pace of progress. The agency’s supporters point to last year’s first unmanned mission of the Space Launch System, one that successfully sent the massive vehicle and its Artemis payload into orbit, followed by a lengthy excursion to the moon where numerous orbital exercises were achieved before a successful return to Earth. Striking back, critics bizarrely lambast SLS for its dependence on older, proven engine technology, as if pulling off what was essentially an incredibly complex proof-of-concept lunar mission should not really count.

SpaceX, on the other hand, is often judged by rapid progress that many believe is measured in the outcome of “try it and see what happens” moments. The attitude is personified by Elon Musk’s April 14 tweet: “Success maybe, excitement guaranteed.” It’s an approach that has drawn the passionate support of a huge SpaceX fan base, with a disturbing undercurrent bearing cheers for the megalomaniac musings of the erratic, polarizing Musk.

Food for debate: if Starship was a NASA program, would a flight at this development stage ever have been attempted?

A SpaceX Starship is envisioned as the lunar landing vehicle for NASA’s Artemis program, carrying astronauts from orbit around the moon to the surface. Conceptual Image: SpaceX

Regardless, SpaceX and NASA are locked in as partners in the exploration of our solar system and the ramping up of ambitions for manned spaceflight, dependent on each other. One can only hope that the serious working relationships necessary among both entity’s branches of administration, science, and engineering are shielded from the hot keyboard conflicts being waged by the public on social media battlefields.


Starship launch video collated by Everyday Astronaut:

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

A Change in the Game

A favorite pastime at Aerospace Perceptions headquarters involves breaking out the big telephoto lens (no, the really big one!) and hoping for the right weather and sun conditions to allow photography of United States Air Force refueling operations taking place 26,000 feet overhead. An array of KC-135 Stratotanker, KC-46 Pegasus, and the soon-to-be-retired KC-10 Extender have all been spotted in the skies directly above, providing fuel to thirsty F-15 and F-16 aircraft on patrol. But in the future, the parameters behind such operations may well be very different, with a fundamental change in the game.

Refueling complete, an F-15 banks away from a USAF KC-10 Extender. Photo: Frank Moriarty/Aerospace Perceptions 

Recently Airbus Defense and Space announced they have taken major steps toward Autonomous Air-to-Air refueling as focus continues to hone in the usage of unmanned aircraft in addition to traditional vehicles. In one test over the Gulf of Cadiz off the shores of Spain, an Airbus A310 MRTT jet tanker interacted with a DT-25 unmanned drone. Control of the drone transitioned from ground control to the airborne tanker, which autonomously directed the DT-25 into position for refueling. Although no fuel was transferred from the tanker to the drone, the operation acted as a proof of concept for the development of autonomous fuel transfer while in flight.

Airbus A310 MRTT in the process of taking a major step toward autonomous refueling. Photo: Airbus 

 “The success of this first flight-test campaign paves the way for developing autonomous and unmanned air-to-air refueling technologies,” said Jean Brice Dumont, Head of Military Air Systems at Airbus Defense and Space, in comments provided by Airbus. “Even though we are at an early stage, we have achieved this within just one year and are on the right track for manned-unmanned teaming and future air force operations where fighters and mission aircraft will fly jointly with drone swarms.”

The full Airbus press release can be found at this link:

Video of the operation is viewable via YouTube:

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Hubble Vision

Thirty-three years ago today, I found myself once again in Florida wondering if I’d ever see a space shuttle launch. Despite making several long-haul trips to Kennedy Space Center, the temperamental technological complexity of the Space Transportation System had rewarded me with nothing but disappointment.

On this trip, three days earlier, I’d once again stood on the turf of the press site at KSC, anxiously watching the famed countdown clock descend to just four minutes before Discovery was due to loft the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit on mission STS-31. And that was the moment when the clock froze, technicians discovering a faulty valve in an auxiliary power unit.

STS-31 flight crew logo reflecting Discovery’s precious cargo, the Hubble Space Telescope. Image: NASA

Two weeks later, on April 24, 1990, I was back in the shadow of the massive Vehicle Assembly Building, the countdown clock again making its agonizing journey down to main engine start and the moment of ascension when the Solid Rocket Boosters kicked in. We sailed past the four-minute mark, down to one minute, watching each second pass, 33, 32, 31… Wait, still 31? The clock is stopped at 31? A recalcitrant valve was the culprit this time, but the issue was quickly resolved. The countdown resumed, Discovery came alive with a surge upwards at zero, and I witnessed one of the greatest aerospace sights I could possibly imagine.

My view from the Kennedy Space Center press site as Discovery hauls the Hubble Space Telescope “uphill” into orbit. Recorded, of course, on film. Photo: Frank Moriarty/Aerospace Perceptions

Though I returned to KSC numerous times over the decades that followed, and covered STS-135 Atlantis as that mission brought the Space Shuttle program to a close, I remain envious of my fellow media members for whom witnessing spaceflight is a regular occurrence.

Still, it was a privilege to attend the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, a payload that would have a seismic impact upon astronomy and our understanding of the vast realms that surround our solar system.

But now, with the successful launch and 2022 implementation of the new James Webb Space Telescope, the question becomes: what now for Hubble?

The Hubble Space Telescope at work, photographed May 19, 2009 – the last time the telescope had visitors. Photo: NASA

Already the subject of several technically challenging servicing missions – most recently in 2009 – Hubble is confronting the spacecraft mortality that most objects in orbit inevitably confront. Though Hubble will continue to contribute to science into the 2030s, the telescope’s orbit is slowly decaying.

In 2017 Sierra Nevada Corporation proposed utilization of their Dream Chaser “space plane,” to be launched by an Atlas V and then returning to Earth to a gliding landing, much like the Space Shuttle. In between, a crew would service Hubble and prepare it for a renewed lifespan.

But it wasn’t until September 22, 2022, that concrete action was taken. On that date, NASA and SpaceX, in a partnership with its manned mission Polaris Program, announced a Space Act Agreement to look into the feasibility of using SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft “to boost the agency’s Hubble Space Telescope into a higher orbit with the Dragon spacecraft, at no cost to the government.” NASA was quick to caution in its release, “There are no plans for NASA to conduct or fund a servicing mission or compete this opportunity; the study is designed to help the agency understand the commercial possibilities.”

The SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour, photographed two years ago near the International Space Station. Could a Dragon play a role in extending the lifespan of Hubble? Photo: NASA

It was envisioned that gathering technical data and analyzing all aspects of this proposal to determine “whether it would be possible to safely rendezvous, dock, and move the telescope into a more stable orbit” would take roughly six months of study. Which means that at any time now, we could hear the results of this initial effort.

Although inevitably NASA will some day face the challenges of deorbiting or disposing of Hubble, if that final chapter can be held off for an additional period of decades in the name of science, the legacy of the Hubble Space Telescope will become even more remarkable. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Going for the One

Most people are aware that whatever United States Air Force plane is carrying the president immediately is designated “Air Force One.” But it’s safe to say the image that comes to mind when the vast majority of people hear that designation is the massive, four-engine Boeing VC-25A.

Air Force One/VC-25A takes to the skies at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on September 17, 2022. Photo: Frank Moriarty/Aerospace Perceptions

Based on the regal and legendary Boeing 747-200 passenger airplane, the two VC-25A’s are fielded by the Presidential Airlift Group assigned to the Air Mobility Command’s 89th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. First entering presidential service late in 1990, the VC-25As conjure a majestic aerial presence whenever they take flight.

Last week, however, public attention turned to the future and a next generation of presidential aircraft, the new Boeing VC-25B. Based on the later generation 747s, and therefore larger than the VC-25As, the goal as always is for the new aircraft to provide dependable transportation with enhanced communications and security capabilities. As the USAF has noted in a press release, “Modifications to the aircraft will include electrical power upgrades, a mission communication system, a medical facility, an executive interior, a self-defense system, and autonomous ground operations capabilities.”

While the enhanced functional features of the VC-25B were planned all along, one aspect of these aircraft remained uncertain: their appearance.

Then-President Donald Trump revealed his plans for a revamped Air Force One in an exclusive granted to ABC's chatty Good Morning America broadcast in June 2019. Video image: ABC News

In June 2019, then-President Donald Trump revealed his vision for a complete re-vamping of the look of Air Force One, which had shared design cues stretching back to the Kennedy era. The Trump design looked more like a commercial aircraft, heavy on contrast. It called to mind the paint schemes of Trump’s pre-presidential private jets, with a strident, blood-red stripe extended nose-to-tail busily bordered above dark blue.

President Trump soon had a model built reflecting his plans for Air Force One, the replica strategically placed to hopefully generate envious glances from other world leaders such as Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, seen here with Trump in June 2019. Photo: Evan Vucci/Associated Press

Trump found the new livery to be perfect; last week the Air Force begged to differ. Pointing out that the issue of appearance did not demand final specification until this later stage of the VC-25B program’s development, the Air Force rationally pointed out an issue with the dark blue expanses demanded by Trump. “A thermal study later concluded the dark blue in the design would require additional Federal Aviation Administration qualification testing for several commercial components due to the added heat in certain environments,” noted a USAF press release issued on March 10. The bottom line is Trump’s vision will remain unrealized.

United States Air Force concept art of the final approved design scheme for the VC-25B aircraft. Image: USAF

The new final design elements – recently approved by President Joe Biden -  are far less weighty, sympathetically continuing the current design theme with minor modifications. Overall, the scheme is one that portrays the aircraft as part of the skies it travels through via cloud-white and sunny-day-blue sections, accented with a single, narrow gold center-line stripe.

The new Boeing VC-25B depicted at rest, ready for presidential flight duty. 
Image: USAF

But just don’t expect to see these new VC-25Bs in action any time soon. Delivery dates for these two new presidential aircraft have slipped from September 2026 and February 2027 to most likely some time in 2027 and 2028.

Friday, March 3, 2023

It's About Time

With a renewed focus on manned lunar missions growing in importance, what might have once been considered an interesting wrinkle is beginning to loom as a real concern: time. Specifically, how is time to be defined, measured, and recorded in lunar activities.

That's one big time zone... Photo: Frank Moriarty/Aerospace Perceptions

Will United States explorers utilize chronographs set to Houston time, Chinese crews to the clocks of Beijing? Time moves faster on the surface of the moon. 56 microsceonds a day doesn’t sound like much, but it eventually adds up, especially when precise orbital calculations depend on accuracy. And the parameters of time even vary from the lunar surface to vehicles and objects in orbit above the moon.

This dilemma is nothing new. The International Space Station was designated on Coordinated Universal Time, based on atomic clocks. But that’s just one orbital installation. The moon is obviously a much larger territory.

Buzz Aldrin prepared to track time on Apollo 11's voyage to the moon. Photo: NASA

Space agencies around the planet are beginning to exchange ideas about the creation of a universal lunar time zone – “a common lunar reference time,” described the European Space Agency’s Pietro Giordano, who engineers navigation systems.

Marcia Dunn, a highly-regarded space correspondent for Associated Press, covered this topic earlier in the week. Her reporting can be read here:

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Red Flag, Checkered Flag

NASCAR’s biggest race, the Daytona 500, takes place this weekend. And in racing, nobody wants to see a red flag before the checkered flag. But in the realm of aviation, it’s a different story.

From late last month into February, Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada has hosted one of several major exercises that take place every year under the name Red Flag. With thousands of miles of airspace on hand, Red Flag offers pilots, crews, and many other personnel the opportunity to hone their skills under realistic air combat conditions.

While there are Red Flag exercises restricted to United States military only, the iteration that has just concluded brought together international partners to team up with our aviators. Which means our skies hosted a number of aircraft rarely seen in the United States. Yesterday a flight of four Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft and a large Airbus Voyager KC tanker/transport plane took off from Las Vegas headed home on the long flight back to England.

Fortunately, these planes took a break after flying across the US, landing at Dover Air Force Base late yesterday. And with Dover located just down the road from Aerospace Perceptions headquarters, I made it a point to be on hand to welcome these special visitors to Delaware as the sun set. I hope you’ll enjoy the photos. 

Click each image to see larger sizes…

All photographs: Frank Moriarty/Aerospace Perceptions

For more on Red Flag visit:

For more on Eurofighter Typhoon visit:

For more on Voyager KC visit:

In a stroke of luck, in the moments between the Typhoon flight and the Voyager landing, a beautiful Boeing 747-400 on a freight mission for Atlas Air also arrived on the scene. I can’t let that majestic sight go undocumented!