Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fallon Naval Air Station

Date Placed: September 30, 2010
Letterbox: Traditional
Carver: Kirbert
Planters: GreenJello and Teancum
Location: Veterans Memorial Park, Fallon, Churchill, Nevada
Status: Active

The Naval Air Station in Fallon, Nevada is the United States Navy's premier air-to-air and air-to-ground training facility. Since 1996, it has been home to the Naval Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN), and the surrounding area contains 84,000 acres (340 km²) of bombing and electronic warfare ranges. It is also home to the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center (NSAWC), which includes TOPGUN, the Carrier Airborne Early Warning Weapons School (TOPDOME) and the Navy Rotary Wing Weapons School. Navy SEAL Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) training also takes place here.

If you've ever wondered what it would be like to watch these marvelous jet aircraft in action, then take a moment to go visit Veterans Memorial Park, located just across the street from the military facility. You can watch the jets take off and land, and zoom above your head in impressive fashion.

Directions: From Highway 50, head south on Wildes Road about 3.5 miles. When you reach the corner of the high fence enclosed area of the Air Station, you will turn left on Pasture Road. Follow the road a little ways further; the park is located at the intersection of Pasture Road and Drumm Lane.

Standing on the cement pad in front of the stone altar to the BBQ gods, sight the tree at 320 degrees. (There is a geocache at 280 degrees, if you're interested). Behind that tree, under sticks and rocks, is the box. PLEASE REHIDE EXTREMELY WELL so that those searching for the geocache don't accidentally stumble upon it!

Notes: Most training exercises are done on weekdays. There are a few exceptions when special maneuvers are done on weekends, but your best bet is to visit the park during the mid-morning Monday through Friday.

Many thanks to Kirbert for carving the wonderful stamp in this box and providing the aircraft history below.

History: Entering the early 1970's, the Air Force had been flying very large, expensive fighter aircraft. It was decided to fund the construction of two smaller, cheaper demonstration prototypes to explore their potential. The Lightweight Fighter program pitted the General Dynamics F-16 against the Northrop F-17. The F-16 was clearly the better of the two, and the Air Force ordered them into production on the spot -- to the surprise of just about everyone. None of the manufacturers involved had been told that the demonstration program might lead to production contracts.

The F-16 was up to the task, though, and only required minimal revisions to become a successful combat aircraft for the Air Force.

The Navy was essentially told by the Pentagon that they should consider buying these lightweight fighters as well -- their fighters up to then had been even larger, heavier and more expensive than the Air Force's. But the Navy rejected the F-16 and selected the F-17 instead. It was claimed that this was because the landing gear on the F-16 was unsuitable for carrier landings and that the Navy wanted twin-engine aircraft, but those were just excuses -- the Navy already had aircraft with landing gear similar to that of the F-16, they already had single-engine aircraft, and their own studies showed that they lost more twin-engine aircraft due to engine failures than single-engine aircraft. The real reason was pride: the Navy had never purchased an aircraft that had been chosen by the Air Force first, and they weren't going to start now.

The next problem was that the Navy apparently had no interest in a lightweight fighter. They were more interested in a "multirole" fighter, something that could replace several of their existing planes. So they added features and capabilities into the F-17 until it grew so bulky that it couldn't perform well, then switched to
larger engines to bring the performance back, then larger fuel tanks to maintain the desired range, etc., etc. In the end the plane became so unrecognizable that it was renamed the F-18 and later the F/A-18 to reflect its multi-role capability. And Northrop was so overwhelmed by the changes demanded that they brought on McDonnell Douglas to help out -- and eventually McDonnell Douglas took over the F-18 program completely, resulting in lawsuits that went on for years.

The development program went on so long that the joke was that "The Navy is going to have a low-cost fighter no matter what the expense!" When it finally went into service, it was a fine aircraft, no doubt-- but a far cry from the "lightweight fighter" it had started life as.

You can read all about the F/A-18 Hornet on Wikipedia.

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