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"We're the New York Times. Don't tell us about reality; we live in our own world."

Last week, the New York Times had a breathless scoop: President Bush and Prime Minister Blair were so eager to go to war with Iraq, Bush was actually ready to provoke the fight, on a par with the Gulf of Tonkin incident and Hitler's engineered conflict with Poland (in which German soldiers in Polish uniforms staged an "attack" on Germany). Bush, they say, suggested that US spy planes be painted with UN colors and markings so Saddam would be tricked into "attacking" UN aircraft.

Now, before I go any further, let me lay my credentials on the table: I have none. As I have frequently said, I am a nobody from nowhere with a nothing job and no life. I have no inside sources, no secret documents, no "dirt" that would contradict any element of the TImes' story. All I have are facts, suppositions, and logic -- and with those tools, their story simply doesn't hold up.

During World War II, the Allies did a great deal of experimenting with reducing the visibility of aircraft. At the time, radar was still in its infancy; the most reliable aircraft-detection device was still the Mk I human eyeball. At night, it was pretty easy; just avoid the spotlights. But during the day, aircraft tended to stand out as stark silhouettes against the sky.

One experiment that had surprising success involved actually putting lights on the underside of the plane. It seems counterintuitive that one can hide something by shining lights from it, but at high altitudes the lights helped wash out the plane's silhouette and blended it into the sky.

The lesson out of this is that aircraft are most often recognized by their silhouette. Their shape is their most distinctive trait. That's because other details, like coloring and markings, are only visible when the aircraft is fairly close to the observer.

Try it yourself. Go look at aircraft some time. See just how low they have to be before you can make out which airline the plane belongs to, and how quickly they become just dark shapes against the sky.

And those are just airliners -- they normally fly at 30,000 to 35,000 feet. The "observation planes" being referred to are U-2 jets, and those normally cruise at least twice that altitude. They're rarely even visible from the ground. We could paint them pink with great big purple polka-dots and no one would notice. Hell, we could plaster them with renditions of the infamous Danish Mohammed cartoons and fly the plane over the entire Muslim world and not a single whacko would riot.

So, there shoots down (so to speak) the basic notion of re-painting surveillance aircraft. But I know what a lot of you are saying -- Bush is a notorious dim-bulb, who's to say he didn't suggest it anyway?

Well, how about remembering that Bush was an Air National Guard fighter pilot. A key part of pilot training is aircraft recognition -- and pilots are taught to look at silhouettes. And he most likely spent a great deal of time looking up at aircraft, and he is bound to remember how difficult it is to see coloration and markings.

Yeah, perhaps the Times actually got it right. It is possible that the memo actually exists, and is accurate. But there are enough factual flaws and questionable suppositions that they cite that send my BS detector into overdrive. Toss in the Times' historical trend of getting stories wrong (or just making stuff up) that slams Bush, and this memo story just reeks.


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Comments (15)

Since were SUPPOSING, I not... (Below threshold)
bryanD:

Since were SUPPOSING, I noted the word "surveillance" and not "spy" presaging the word "plane" in the story. This COULD mean a common forward observation plane such as an (OH-3?) Bronco; a push-prop job as I recall. For a recon plane they were loud but very straight-up-and=straight-down maneuverable. Annoyance potential: Very High!

Actaull, not to be picky, b... (Below threshold)

Actaull, not to be picky, but U-2 spyplanes are quite visible from the ground, BUT it has to be a real clear day and they have to help you find them by dumping fuel to leave a line in the sky so you can tell where they are. If these conditions are met, you can see them easily with the naked eye.

Oh, please, Prince of a Tho... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Oh, please, Prince of a Thousand Enemies, nit-pick away! Like I said, my whole piece is supposition and theory; if you have actual FACTS to contribute, please bring them to the table.

In that vein, I should point out to bryanD that the US hasn't used OH-10 Broncos in some time. The Air Force phased them out in the 80's and the Marines in 1995. I can't find a citation for when the Navy retired its Broncos, but they got rid of them a long time ago -- the last reference I can find is from 1970. Oh, and bryan: the Bronco has two forward-facing props.

J.

Ahem.Have a <a hre... (Below threshold)

Ahem.

Have a look here Jay Tea.

The US already had a plane painted in UN colors, from the Clinton administration when they used it to conduct surveillance flights for UNSCOM.

Hans Blix reported on January 27, 2003 to the UN that Iraq was not cooperating in letting them fly surveillance flights. January 31, 2003 Bush wonders aloud whether Saddam would shoot at such a plane. February 8, 9, and 10 - the Iraqi government agrees to surveillance flights. February 17, the US flies exactly such a mission Bush spoke about, at the behest of the UN, with a U-2 surveillance plane.

More background on the New York Times funny-business here.

Have a nice Sunday!

Actually, the story is usel... (Below threshold)
TomB:

Actually, the story is useless because Saddam had already been firing on planes since the cease fire in 91. which essentially broke the terms of that cease fire. Wether the planes had US or UN markings is of no concern.

As soon as he fired on coalition aircraft, the cease fire ended.

My creds...Capt, U... (Below threshold)
Faith+1:

My creds...

Capt, USAF, 1988-1995, pilot, F-16.

Flew several missions in Operation Southern Watch. Over Iraq. As a UN mission. Specifically the enforcement of UNSCR 688.

Was fired on on two occasions by Iraqi SAM sites and was targeted multiple times.

We didn't need to "fake" UN markings to have Saddam guilty of firing on UN aircraft operating on a UN sanctioned mission. This had happened on mulitple occasions.

Why would Bush need to "fake" UN markings when we already had multiple aircraft fired upon on UN missions?

When we flew UN missions do people think we re-painted our aircraft bright white and the letters "UN" on them? Maybe they did that to ground vehicles but not to military aircraft. That would just be stupid.

Whole thing smells like a bogus story from someone not knowing the real history or anything about military ops.

My creds...... (Below threshold)
TomB:

My creds...

Capt, USAF, 1988-1995, pilot, F-16.

Nice. Steal my thunder why doncha?

;-)

Plus President Bush was tra... (Below threshold)
Hornet:

Plus President Bush was trained by the Air Force to fly the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger - a plane designed as a air defense interceptor. His job was to shoot down incoming Soviet bombers/recon aircraft. Therefore, he has experience on how aircraft are acquired and targeted.

One explanation for the subject even being broached was for the express purpose of knocking it down. Deductive Logic. Eliminate the impossible options first so that time is not wasted by inexperienced staffers in putting together a proposal that cannot be implemented.

If any of you think you cou... (Below threshold)

If any of you think you could see markings on a plane (specifically two letters on a tail) from any kind of altitude that a U-2 flies, you've ingested something and it probably wasn't legal.

We might fly a U-2 to gather info for the UN, but it wouldn't be the UN flying or owning the plane. Given that, any anti-aircraft unit with more than ten minutes of training would know who owned a U-2. There ain't no way anyone else is flying a U-2. Even if they managed to see it from the ground, a U-2 is black. It's a special paint formula, so all you might see is a silhouette - if you saw it. They fly at 80-90 thousand feet. Tell me you can see markings if you see it at all. They aren't made for low-level flight. They are made to go up, stay up, and land. The airframe isn't made for low-level sustained flight. I suppose they could handle it once or twice, but if you've ever seen one in for maintenance, you'd know what I mean.

Our aircraft were there , in support of the UN anyway. Raise your hands if you think the UN has an air force in the first place (outside some c-130's or something)! If you raised your hand, report for urinalysis immediately.

As for me, I'm retired from 20 years active duty in the Air Force.

VW

All this talk of tail numbe... (Below threshold)

All this talk of tail numbers and visibility at altitude is entertaining, but I was more struck by Jay's reference to the "Mk I human eyeball". Nice piece of equipment, that is...

"and bryan: the Bronco has ... (Below threshold)
bryanD:

"and bryan: the Bronco has two forward-facing props.".......Oooo! I could tell you enjoyed typing that! Hey, I was a ground-pounder; the only fun we got to have was trading two tunas for a can of fruit cocktail! And the marine corps discontinues nothing forever! I've HEARD of C-rats stamped "Grand Armee" (note the caps!!)

As you can see from <a href... (Below threshold)

As you can see from my post, they already had a U-2 plane with "UN" on the tail back when it was flying for UNSCOM. No doubt they would use the same one again. As if that matters at all.

The New York Times should release the damn document instead of hiding behind it to create their own fantasy world.

In relation to TomB's comme... (Below threshold)

In relation to TomB's comment, I dug out this 2001 article that I found a while back that has reference to Sadaam's troops shooting on U.S. aircraft. Here's an excerpt:

Pentagon Web sites list page after page of hostile incidents U.S. planes have faced in the skies over Saddam's territory, everything from getting "lit up" by radar to having to dodge missiles and anti-aircraft fire.

For three months last summer, while Tack's squadron VAQ-134 flew missions over northern Iraq from an Air Force base in Turkey, shooting incidents erupted virtually every day.

Okay, you have thrown down ... (Below threshold)

Okay, you have thrown down the gauntlet of "facts" before my whiskered nose, so, the facts that I have are from personal experience. You can see the plane at altitude, but the day has to be clear and it is much easier when the plane dumps fuel to let you know where to look. The SR-71 used to do the same thing. As for seeing numbers and markings, of course, with the naked eye, you cannot see them, but why bother? It's not any real secret where the U-2 flys from, so you put someone out on the flightline with a cellphone and he can relay the info to you when the plane takes off. Now, if this doesn't address the question, what do you expect from a rabbit? I'm always thinking about two things, carrots and sex.

Now I might be completely m... (Below threshold)
Umm:

Now I might be completely missing the point, and I'll add that I too have no cred to speak of on this subject, but it seems to me the idea wouldn't be for the iraqi's to recognise the plane, but for it to be shot down over Iraq, and then when the inevitable images of a downed US plane came out it would have clear UN markings. With a smoldering UN plane on the news the world over, the US and UK would have the causus belli to invade. I think whoever suggested in the comments above that most likely this idea was posited simply to be rueld out was probably right, as there are some pretty clear flaws in it.




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