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February 05, 2004

GWB's Airplane

Without entering the fray on the AWOL controversy, (You probably can guess where i come down on that one, anyway.) i wanted to shed some light on the plane George W. Bush learned to fly back in the day. Kind of a bookend to my famous post on his father’s plane (and this gives me an excuse to recycle that link yet again).

Truth be told, the F-102A was almost obsolete by the time George W. Bush began flying them. But in it’s day, Convair’s Delta Dagger was pretty badass. It was billed as the first supersonic all weather fighter. It first flew in 1955 and began operational service about two years after the Korean armistice. Nine hundred and seventy-five were built by the Convair division of General Dynamics between 1955 and 1960. It was used sparingly in Vietnam. Later, some planes were sold to The Greek and Turkish air forces, and it flew during the Cyprus conflict of 1974.

It was big. If i’m not mistaken, i think it was the biggest fighter we’ve ever had. At over 68 feet long, it was almost six feet longer than the F-4E Phantom, which was no midget itself. But with only one engine, the Delta Dagger weighed half as much as an F-4.


The weight difference makes sense when you consider the mission of the F-102A. It’s kind of misleading to call it a fighter, because that’s a term that encompasses a wide variety of planes that were designed to do vastly different things. It’s more accurate to call the Delta Dagger an interceptor.

To understand the job of an interceptor, as opposed to a pure air superiority fighter, you have to remember what we were afraid of back in the Fifties and early Sixties. These were the early years of the Cold War, before intercontinental ballistic missiles. If a nuclear war happened, it would have been fought by long range bombers penetrating the enemy’s homeland to drop bombs just like in World War II.

To defend against these long range bombers, the superpowers relied on early warning radar to detect an attack and interceptors to stop it. The idea was to shoot down the bombers as far away from the homeland as possible. Early warning radars needed to detect the bombers while they were still far enough away for the defending interceptors to take off and get within range.

Thus, speed was the one overwhelming requirement for a true interceptor. Maneuverability was not so important. These planes were like dragsters, not formula one cars. They needed to get within range of the bombers fast, so they could shoot them down before the bombers crossed into homeland territory or got near their targets. The Delta Dagger had no guns; interceptors weren’t intended for dogfighting.

We had the Delta Dagger, and it’s unbelievably fast successor, Convair’s F-106 Delta Dart. The Russians came up with the Yakovlev Yak-28 and the huge Tupolev Tu-28 Fiddler. Perhaps since it was the first of its kind, Bush’s Dagger was relatively slow compared to the Delta Dart and the Russian Fiddler. The Dagger’s top speed was only 825 mph, while the Dart went 1,587 mph.

The strategy was for interceptor units to be ready to scramble on a moment’s notice, in the event of a nuclear attack. They would race towards the incoming bombers and fire air-to-air missiles as soon as they came into missile range. i would guess that the range of an interceptor was important, but then the range of the air to air missiles would be added to the aircraft range.

i don't want to sound like i’m minimizing the contributions of the brave pilots who flew the F-102A. Those men stood guard so my parents could sleep at night during a very dangerous period of the Cold War. Still, flying the F-102 was not the same as flying a Phantom over Vietnam. Interceptor pilots sort of pointed their plane in the right direction and stomped on the gas pedal. The radar automatically guided the plane into attack position and fired the missiles.

Thankfully, we never discovered whether interceptors would have been enough to stop a nuclear bomber attack. There was a period of time when military planners thought that the wave of the future would be faster and faster bombers. But that ended in the early 1970s when strategic planning had abandoned the idea of nuclear bombers penetrating enemy territory. The new method of nuclear war relied on inter-continental ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and submarine launched missiles. Obviously the interceptor was no defense against these newer strategic weapons. The nuclear missile made the long range bomber obsolete. And when the bomber was no longer needed, the interceptors became extinct too.

Although the Delta Dagger remained in service until 1974, the U.S. Air Force began moving its interceptors to National Guard units at the end of the sixties. So by the time George W. Bush graduated from his T-33A trainer into an F-102A at Ellington AFB, his unit’s mission had already begun the transition from air defense on 24 hour alert status to pilot training.

It’s a tricky thing to try to place a value on one individual’s service in the Armed Forces. Who am i to judge? i have a friend who has the seemingly cushy task of serving on the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman as an administrative clerk. Besides the fact that she’s sitting in a gigantic floating target, she’s doing a hell of a lot more to serve her country than i am doing, even if her duties are somewhat mundane. i would never denigrate her service, because she volunteered and every person in the military is there to protect me.

Obviously, flying an obsolete plane in a training squadron is different than driving a boat in the Mekong Delta. Still, they also serve who only stand and wait. Bush had the misfortune (or good fortune, depending on your perspective) of being born a few years too late for his chosen mission. We shouldn’t hold it against him that he became an interceptor pilot at a time when that mission was winding down for reasons he probably was not aware of when he joined. If he had served in the 147th Fighter Interceptor Group a few years earlier, he would have been on the front lines of the Cold War, a far more important and potentially dangerous war than Kerry’s Vietnam. i don’t think that lessens the value of his service to our country one bit.

Bonus trivia question: What is the plane in the picture doing?

Posted by annika, Feb. 5, 2004 |
Rubric: History & Science & Technology & annikapunditry


"Bonus trivia question: What is the plane in the picture doing?"

You mean other than from taking off?

Posted by: Matt on Feb. 5, 2004

The flaps appear to be in a landing position. So I think the bonus trivia answer is the plane is landing. (And though I am no Pilot or Aerospace Engineer, I believe the jet would have to take off with afterburners with the fuel tank configuration pictured. And since I don't see evidence of afterburners...)

Posted by: The Maximum Leader on Feb. 5, 2004

i'd say landing as well, due to the deployed speed brakes and the AoA would be consistant with the landing flair of an intereceptor.
additionally, this plane might well be a trainer, target drone, or flight test model, as a combat varient would not have the high vis paint scheme.



Posted by: coyote on Feb. 5, 2004

What is it doing? Wasting fossil fuels, oppressing the downtrodden, reinforcing the military-industrial complex, and going through the taxpayers' money at twice the speed of sound, Annika. What else could a good liberal like me answer? :-) Cheers.

Posted by: Hugo on Feb. 5, 2004

I hope Kerry denigrates Bush's service. There are a whole lot of us who served in peacetime, many more than those who on the actual front lines. We'll be happy to tell Kerry how we feel.

I served 1980-84, in Europe, and while I was not in immediate danger, I served my country with honor. My Uncle flew EC-130s for the Pa. National Guard for 30 years. To imply that his service or any other Guard member's service was not real military service is a slap in their faces.

Posted by: albo on Feb. 5, 2004


there are serious questions regarding the assertion that bush blew off his service that need to be answered. there is evidence that suggests that bush not only pulled strings to avoid active duty during wartime, but also failed to report for duty as ordered. i would love to see this addressed, as IF it is false, then i can rest a bit easier knowing that the president is not a spineless coward, and IF it is true, then to brand him as such and remove him from a position to put others in harms way.

i don't think ANYONE (other than active duty guys) would distinguish between AD / reserve / guard / etc.

as a person who has served both AD and reserve i can attest that there is some "ribbing" between the two, but when the bullets are flying around you, it boils down to the fact that all involved are indeed "brothers in arms"



Posted by: coyote on Feb. 5, 2004

hehe Hugo, you slay me..

we used to call it:

"turning perfectly good fuel into perfectly loud noise"



Posted by: coyote on Feb. 5, 2004

Coyote, those 'serious' questions have been answered - by no less an authority than the New York Times (among others). President Bush's time in the military was no different than many others in like circumstances. In fact he actually served more time than the minimum required, it was just spread out over a longer than minimum time. The reserves are funny that way, you see flexibility you don't get in the active duty side.

Posted by: Ted on Feb. 5, 2004

Aside from the use of the word 'homeland' (pet peeve) this is a nice piece of writing annika!, 'twas a good little history lesson you gave over lunch. now back to work...

Posted by: Scof on Feb. 5, 2004

Congratulations Max and Coyote. The plane is landing.

Too bad Rustler, you jumped the gun and missed the airbrakes.

Scof, i'm wasn't happy with that word choice, but i couldn't think of a word to describe both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.'s territories that fit other than "homeland."

Posted by: annika! on Feb. 5, 2004

Oh, and Coyote, i don't think the plane in the picture was a trainer - only one seat. Flight test model is a possibility. Probably not a drone since it's obviously landing and target drones didn't land. At least not in one piece. i doubt it's a tester, since it's someplace cold, by the look of the snow on the ground. Many interceptor squadrons were based up north, to guard against bombers coming over the north pole. Indeed, i've seen pics of the Daggers from Vietnam and they were painted camo. Since interceptors weren't really meant to encounter the enemy except at very long range, i don't think paint scheme mattered much. My guess is that the plane in the picture was in active service as an interceptor, although some smart person will probably recognize the markings and tell me i'm wrong.

Posted by: annika! on Feb. 5, 2004

My beef with the Bush went AWOL stuff is that most of it is conjecture; the Alabama ANG guy said he doesn't remember Bush, but that doesn't prove anything; Generalis likely don't remember lots of random airmen that come through. FOIA requests show that he served the required number of days for his discharge, plus he had like 18 months active duty to earn his wings (longer, if I'm not mistaken than Gore's service).

I also think it's BS to say this was all about avoiding Vietnam. In 1968 when he signed up, the ANG wing he signed up for actually had units deployed in Vietnam, so it's not like it was a completely safe-ride.

Posted by: roach on Feb. 5, 2004

No, didn't miss it--just badly misinterpreted it! Shit happens.

Posted by: Matt on Feb. 5, 2004

This might be a National Guard aircraft. They tend to have their unit colors painted on the aircraft. In North Dakota, we used to see Fargo's "Happy Hooligans" all the time, black letters on a bright yellow band on the tail.

Posted by: Ted on Feb. 6, 2004

F-102A , tail no 561379, 317th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, landing, probably from a barrier combat air patrol (BARCAP) mission at Elmendorf AFB in 1958 or 1959.

The "Checkertail" identifies it as a 325th Fighter Group aircraft. The only F-102s operated by the 325th in Alaska belonged to the 317th FIS, which was assigned to Elmendorf between late 1957 and early 1960.

The orange paint was applied to interceptors operating in the arctic so they could be found if they went down in the snow.

Posted by: CW on Feb. 6, 2004

The orange paint initially made me think this was a PGM-102A "Pave Deuce" drone, landing in manned-operator mode, but -379 was not converted to a drone.

There is a slight possibility that this photograph could have been taken at Keflavik, Iceland, but the 317th never deployed there and the photo looks a little more like Elmendorf than Kef to me (especially if you look at the other photo on the internet of this same aircraft at the same time - the mountain range in the background looks like Alaska not Iceland).

This aircraft's sister-ship 561378 was "on the stick" at Kef as a static display for many years, but I still think this photo was in Alaska.

And by the way - those who say "President Bush went AWOL from the Air Guard" have absolutely no idea what they are talking about, and sound very ignorant.

Posted by: CW on Feb. 6, 2004

well CW, that intelligent and well documented argument has me convinced.

if you guys were not so damm paranoid maybe you would have read that i'd like to see it completely resolved, with facts.. so the farking thing can be put to bed.

it KEEPS coming up, because it seems that there is evidence to support both arguments.

anyway, there are enough other reasons to replace bush..

now here is a thought...

nominate some OTHER republican, this time a real centrist, and you'll get my attention and possibly a vote.



Posted by: coyote on Feb. 6, 2004

Impressive, CW. Rack him!

Posted by: annika on Feb. 6, 2004

"AWOL" means "Absent Without Leave", and applies only to documented failure to appear at muster (or miss a ship's movement, or equivalent) while on active duty.

A Reservist (or Air Guard member) is not legally obligated to show up to "weekend drill" (Inactive Duty Training), or even to "Annual Training" (AT). Participation in both those activities, while on inactive duty (Ready Reserve) is entirely voluntary.

The only time a Reservist can be called "AWOL" is if he or she is mobilized for active duty (such as when being sent to Iraq) and doesn't show up.

Not showing up for weekend drill may be documented as either authorized absence (AA) or unauthorized (U). If you call your commander and say "I can't come, please give me an authorized absence", normally an AA will be given and the only penalty is that you do not receive pay or retirement credit for that weekend period. If you do not call, and simply do not show up, you can be given a "U". After a certain number of "U"'s, a Reservist, or Air Guard member, can be separated from the Reserve. Even "U"'s are not "AWOL", and are very common.

For example, if someone were sick, or posted overseas with a civilian job, and they either didn't coordinate where they were or someone didn't get the right word, they might get "U"'s for not showing up. They might even be transferred from the "Ready Reserve" to the "Standby Reserve" (as it was called at the time - it's now called the "Individual Ready Reserve"), which is sometimes referred to as being "separated". But once they came back, if the commander approved, they could be reinstated. THIS IS NOT WHAT HAPPENED IN BUSH's CASE.

I looked at what President Bush was doing from May 1972 until May 1973, the period when he was supposedly "AWOL". The record indicates that he was in Alabama, working on a political campaign, and that he requested to "drill" with a Guard unit at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery. That request was approved. RIGHT THERE it is established that his absence from the Texas Air Guard was authorized, and he didn't get "U"'s. Again, this is a common arrangement. I have done the same thing more than once in my own Reserve career.

Upon his return to Texas in May 1973, his commander in Texas had no record of his having completed drills in Alabama. THIS IS NOT UNUSUAL. He may or may not have actually had time to drill while in Alabama, and it really doesn't matter. If he had drilled in Alabama, there would be no way for the Texas Guard to know about it unless either he (Bush) or the Alabama Guard sent the forms to Texas. You can bet the Alabama Guard wouldn't have done so unless Bush stood over them supervising, because the clerks responsible for this function are notoriously lazy. And Bush wouldn't care unless he wanted to get the "retirement points" which he didn't because he didn't intend to spend a career in the Air Guard, and he wasn't getting paid anyway (not that he would have cared about the pay). IT WAS ALL VOLUNTARY IN ANY CASE.

The key fact, however, is that when he returned to Texas, he did 36 days of active duty, in effect "making up" the drills he missed while in Alabama, and discharging his responsibility for the year, even though he didn't really have to, and it didn't really matter.

So, anyone who says "Bush was AWOL" from the Texas Air Guard is ignorant, both of the official record in this case, and of how the Reserve and Guard work.

Posted by: CW on Feb. 6, 2004

nice CW,

but..here is a little quote from the texas code of military justice..

"§ 432.131. Absence Without Leave

A person subject to this chapter shall be punished as a court-martial directs if the person without authority:

(1) fails to go to his appointed place of duty at the time prescribed;

(2) goes from that place; or

(3) absents himself or remains absent from his unit, organization, or place of duty at which he is required to be at the time prescribed."

care to do the research this time rather than presenting anecdotal eveidence?


i love this game.


Posted by: coyote on Feb. 6, 2004

Because GWB obtained authorization to drill in Alabama, his absence from his Texas F-102 unit was explicitly authorized. Once in Alabama, whether he completed the drills or not, he was not AWOL from Texas. The key words in the TCMJ section on AWOL are "prescribed" and "required". He was not "prescribed" to drill at Ellington during the period May 72 until May 73, and he was not "required" to be there - no inactive duty Reservist or Guardsman is. No further research is required, and the evidence provided is widely documented on the internet, not anecdotal. (I got it from an anti-Bush site, actually, who didn't understand that what they were presenting exonerated, rather than indicted, the President of their accusations.)

Were you a military lawyer, you would know that the AWOL section of the UCMJ (or TCMJ, which is "assimilated" from the UCMJ) only applies to active duty. At no time during the period was GWB on active duty.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go to weekend drill.

Posted by: CW on Feb. 6, 2004

kudos to you cw, for showing up and honoring your commitments.

sounds like you are ok with people using loopholes to get over on the system.

as usual, im not convinced. can you show me some hard evidence that there are parts of the UCMJ / TCMJ that don't apply to members of the guard under certain circumstances?

when i was in the USMCR, orders were orders, and blowing them off had huge consequences.



Posted by: coyote on Feb. 6, 2004

All of the UCMJ applies to Reservists and Guard Members. I do not know Texas law, but I imagine the "assimilated" TCMJ applies to all members of the Texas National Guard and Texas Air National Guard. That's not the point.

The point is that GWB did not violate the AWOL section of either the UCMJ or TCMJ because the term "AWOL" does not apply to an inactive duty Reserve or Guard member not showing up for inactive duty drill. To be precise, that section can be applied to an inactive duty member - but only under specific circumstances. For example, if you were assigned to a guardpost while on weekend drill, and deserted that post, you could be charged as AWOL.

But ordinarily no one is "ordered" to show up for weekend drill. You could be, to be perfectly correct, but it is not normally done. In the case of GWB, he obtained authorization to be somewhere else. He never failed to show up anywhere he was "ordered" to be. That's not a loophole. That's how the system is supposed to work.

Reservists not showing up for drill weekend with their unit is an everyday occurance - that's why it's called "inactive duty". Every month I have several members of my command who don't show up, for various reasons, work commitments being the most common. Usually I know where they are. If what you say had any merit, I'd be charging all those people with being AWOL.

If the Texas Guard had wanted GWB to show up, for example if they were mobilized, they could have ordered him to do so, and charged him under the UCMJ if he didn't. That didn't happen, the record clearly shows it didn't happen, and to continually insinuate otherwise appears to be purely politically motivated and without factual merit.

By the way, given your interest in what GWB did in the National Guard, have you looked into John Kerry's duty status in 1970 and 1971?

I really have to hit the road now.

Posted by: CW on Feb. 6, 2004

Well, I'm way late on this but I did think "landing"...not that I'll ever be able to prove that. It's enough to know I was right...even if I am the only one who will ever know it.

Posted by: Serenity on Feb. 7, 2004

The whole Bush was AWOL meme is fatuous. It rests on the fact that a then-Colonel does not remember a First Lieutenant from thirty-odd years ago. People, the only way a Colonel would remember a First John thirty years later is if that Eltee screwed the pooch in such a spectacular fashion that the story is still being told after the fifth drink at the O club.
The key to survival for a JO is to stay off the Colonel's radar as much as possible. So it was in the Greek Phalanxes, the Roman Legions and the Air Guard.
Since Coyote wants documentation, here it is. I present to you one Honorable Discharge. Had Dubya not completed all requirements of his service he simply would not have gotten one. No matter that his Daddy was an obscure Congresscritter, had he not completed his service he would have gotten a different discharge, maybe a General or an Unsatisfactory but not an HD. It's that simple. No amount of alleged pull or conspiricy theories can get around the fact of that Honorable Discharge.

Posted by: Peter on Feb. 7, 2004

I also know jack shit about aircraft, but I said landing just because taking off was so obvious that Annika wouldn't have asked. I did look to see if I could find control surfaces that would indicate 'up' or 'down' but don't even know enough to spot those. Airbrakes? Fuggeddaboudit. Then it did sink in that there was no afterburner flame, so went with landing as my final answer

I love reading stuff like this that teaches a bit about something about which I know absolutely nothing. Thanks for a great read, Annika!

Posted by: Light & Dark on Feb. 7, 2004

Landing in reverse using magno-technology.

Posted by: David on Apr. 26, 2004

Most definitely landing (air brakes), most definitely NOT Elmendorf,(no mountians or terrain even possibly coming close to AK) no "checkered flag" in AK,EVER) and who cares about AWOL, Bush WILL be re-elected

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