The Model 147T, a variant of the Model 147H with a more powerful engine, could climb as high as 75,000 feet. The Model 147T was the basis of the Model 147TE that Ryan Aeronautical developed specifically for recce flights along the border of North Korea. A Model 147TE is pictured here shortly following launch. Ryan Aeronautical photo

On Oct. 7, 2001, a U.S. Air Force MQ-1 Predator drone flying over Afghanistan zeroed in on a building CIA analysts suspected of housing Taliban leader Mullah Omar. The Predator launched a Hellfire missile that struck a vehicle, killing several of the mullah’s bodyguards.

The Predator strike was hardly the first time U.S. military and intelligence agencies had sent aerial robots into battle. As early as World War II, the military tinkered with remote-controlled bombers.

And drones played an important — and today largely unheralded — role in the bloody, two-decade U.S. air war over Vietnam and surrounding countries in…


An excerpt from ‘Drone War: Vietnam’

A Model 147SK launches from USS ‘Ranger’ in 1970. U.S. Navy photo

The U.S. Navy was a big user of Ryan Aeronautical Q-2C target drones, and Navy carrier battle groups operating in the Gulf of Tonkin borrowed imagery from the U.S. Air Force’s operational Model 147 Lightning Bugs flying from Bien Hoa in South Vietnam.

By 1967 the Navy had decided it wanted front-line drones of its own. What follows is an excerpt from Drone War: Vietnam, my nonfiction book about the first drone war.

At first, the fleet wanted the Lightning Bug as a sort of fast-acting anti-cruise-missile platform. During the Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors in June…


An excerpt from ‘Drone War: Vietnam’

A Model 147SK launches from USS ‘Ranger’ in 1970. U.S. Navy photo

The U.S. Navy was a big user of Ryan Aeronautical Q-2C target drones, and Navy carrier battle groups operating in the Gulf of Tonkin borrowed imagery from the U.S. Air Force’s operational Model 147 Lightning Bugs flying from Bien Hoa in South Vietnam.

By 1967 the Navy had decided it wanted front-line drones of its own. What follows is an excerpt from Drone War: Vietnam, my nonfiction book about the first drone war.

At first, the fleet wanted the Lightning Bug as a sort of fast-acting anti-cruise-missile platform. During the Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors in June…


An excerpt from ‘Drone War: Vietnam’

Various subvariants of the Model 147S flew more than half of all Lightning Bug sorties between December 1967 and the end of the war in 1972. The four longest-serving Lightning Bugs were Model 147SCs, most notably ‘Tom Cat,’ which completed 68 missions, compared to just three missions for the typical Lightning Bug. Teledyne Ryan photo

On Dec. 17, 1965, U.S. president Lyndon Johnson met with his advisers in the White House. Johnson wanted to halt the air campaign over Southeast Asia in order to give diplomats a chance to work out some kind of peace agreement that might end the war.

Secretary of Defense Bob McNamara warned Johnson that the Joint Chiefs of Staff would oppose de-escalation. Johnson was insistent. “Try to sell our enemies that we want peace,” he said. “We owe this to the American people. We can’t do this if we are dropping bombs on the enemy.”

The bombing pause began on…


An excerpt from ‘Drone War: Vietnam’

Various subvariants of the Model 147S flew more than half of all Lightning Bug sorties between December 1967 and the end of the war in 1972. The four longest-serving Lightning Bugs were Model 147SCs, most notably ‘Tom Cat,’ which completed 68 missions, compared to just three missions for the typical Lightning Bug. Teledyne Ryan photo

On Dec. 17, 1965, U.S. president Lyndon Johnson met with his advisers in the White House. Johnson wanted to halt the air campaign over Southeast Asia in order to give diplomats a chance to work out some kind of peace agreement that might end the war.

Secretary of Defense Bob McNamara warned Johnson that the Joint Chiefs of Staff would oppose de-escalation. Johnson was insistent. “Try to sell our enemies that we want peace,” he said. “We owe this to the American people. We can’t do this if we are dropping bombs on the enemy.”

The bombing pause began on…


The Model 147T, a variant of the Model 147H with a more powerful engine, could climb as high as 75,000 feet. The Model 147T was the basis of the Model 147TE that Ryan Aeronautical developed specifically for recce flights along the border of North Korea. A Model 147TE is pictured here shortly following launch. Ryan Aeronautical photo

On Oct. 7, 2001, a U.S. Air Force MQ-1 Predator drone flying over Afghanistan zeroed in on a building CIA analysts suspected of housing Taliban leader Mullah Omar. The Predator launched a Hellfire missile that struck a vehicle, killing several of the mullah’s bodyguards.

The Predator strike was hardly the first time U.S. military and intelligence agencies had sent aerial robots into battle. As early as World War II, the military tinkered with remote-controlled bombers.

And drones played an important — and today largely unheralded — role in the bloody, two-decade U.S. air war over Vietnam and surrounding countries in…


Anatomy of terror, on an indie film set

I’ve made several tiny horror movies. But I’ve only shot one scene that actually scared me during production. Now I’m trying to understand why. That way, I can scare my audience, too.

It was May 2020. We’d made most of House Monster while socially-distanced. Actors shot their own scenes and I edited them together. For a key scene, we needed to get together. Our hero (Jennifer Hill) and the monster that follows her character into quarantine, played by Josh Kern.

We all got COVID tests and rented a local theater. Lisa Ashworth did Josh’s makeup. I set up the shot…


Vaccine in production at Pfizer’s Kalamazoo plant. Pfizer photo

Prioritizing vaccine-recipients is painful triage for advisory panel

by DAVID AXE

Experts advising the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have officially recommended who should be next in line for the growing, but still limited, supply of novel-coronavirus vaccine.

The 14-member Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices wants to protect the most vulnerable Americans — those over the age of 75 — while also getting a head-start on protecting the tens of millions of essential workers who keep the economy functioning, as well as younger people who are the most likely to transmit the disease.

The ACIP panel voted 13 to one to approve the guidelines on Sunday…


Flickr photo

by DAVID AXE

Rolling out a coronavirus vaccine, which looks closer than ever after promising results from Pfizer were announced this week, was going to be tricky no matter what.

The process is in even more trouble under lame-duck, election result-denying Trump. While Democrats and experts have been sounding the alarm on how delaying the transition process could impact everything from national security to the budget, experts say the interregnum could send vaccine distribution off the rails.


Mike Amason in LECTION. Defiant Productions capture

Mike Amason plays the mayor in LECTION. He also helped produce the film and oversaw construction, props and transportation.

by MIKE AMASON

LECTION presented a new challenge, building a set almost literally from scratch with no materials and scant resources. The trees we scavenged from logging operations in the area looked good as structural members on paper, but didn’t want to go together. The first “dwelling” we built fell down a half dozen times in different directions before we subdued it.

The mayor’s treehouse was a love-hate relationship. Great view of the action once there, but downright iffy trying to get up to it. The Rube Goldberg ladder-and-bridge system leading up to the house was always a thrill, with…

David Axe

I write about war and make weird little movies.

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