Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Nature Note:Meadow Vole

A meadow vole(Microtus pennsylvanicus) scampered across the driveway one August morning,from under a hedge to under an eastern red cedar.It was a rare sighting of the small mammal,a rodent most people never realise is around.They mainly eat grasses,roots,twigs and other vegetable matter and do not come indoors;nor are they considered a pest.*The meadow vole's colouration is variable,from reddish to blackish brown or gray,and it has a short tail.They range from Northern Canada and Alaska down the Rockies and Appalachians south to New Mexico and Northeast Georgia,favouring meadows,marshes and woodland glades.*These rodents have a system of runways and burrows.Prolific,they nest below ground or under rocks and logs in a grass or shredded bark nest.In winter,they nest under the snow.They are sometimes called field mice,and some species of voles are known for a cyclic buildup and crash of population,keyed to the food supply.*The meadow vole is pretty much of a ghostly creature.In more than 20 years,I have only noted them a handful of times along the Pennsylvania-Maryland border.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Marine Corps F-35B Aces Night Landing

On 12 August,the F-35 Integrated Test Force from NAS Patuxent River,Maryland embarked with two F-35B Joint Strike Fighters on the USS Wasp(LHD-1)for Development Test Phase Two,or DT-II.The US Marine Corps characterises the 18 day test as a key milestone on the path to F-35B initial operating capability,or IOC.The short takeoff-vertical landing aircraft successfully completed eight night landings last Wednesday,piloted by Marine Lt.Colonel C.R."Jimi" Clift,who said the landings went extremely well.This puts the aircraft on course for IOC in 2015,the Marine Corps said.*Besides the dramatic night landings,DT-II consists of expanding the wind envelope for launch and recovery,as well as evaluating mission systems;aircraft operations on a moving flight deck;and shipboard sustainment of the F-35B.*DT-II is the second of three planned shipboard tests of the advanced warplane.An onsite engine removal was also performed in record time to ensure the aircraft's readiness for deployment.When DT-II has been completed,the US Navy and Marine Corps should have enough data to support certification for future shipboard operations,the Marine Corps noted.*The Wasp,an amphibious assault ship which carries a mix of helicopters and STOVL aircraft,had been modified with a composite deck coating for additional heat protection,and installation of equipment to monitor environmmental effects and collect data during the test,as well as relocation of lights and sensors to better accomodate F-35B shipboard landings.*The F-35B is the planned successor to the AV-8B II Harrier,currently the backbone of Marine Corps combat air power.Its development has been a long and costly process,but the successful test should garner more support for continuing the program.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Philippines Seeks More US Troops

The government of the Philippines is seeking more US troops to rotate through Philippines military bases,as well as pre-positioned equipment.It is on a temporary basis,the Philippines stresses.Negotiations are to begin today,Wednesday.*Hundreds of US troops currently rotate through the Southeast Asian nation,providing counterterrorism training and holding annual combat exercises with Filipino forces,in response to internal threats by various militant groups,including one linked to al-Qaida.*The Philippines wants a bigger US presence to deter foreign incursions in its territorial waters as well,providing more maritime security and maritime domain awareness,as well as natural disaster response.In recent times,they have become preoccupied by territorial disputes with China and Vietnam.Last year China seized a lagoon off the country's Northwest coast inside the Philippines 200-mile/332 kilometer exclusive economic zone,the Filipino government says.China also claims a shoal further south which was occupied by Chinese troops in 1995.*The US had previously maintained Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Base.In 1991,the Pinatubo volcano erupted,devastating both US bases.Clark was closed permanently,but Subic was restored.In 1992,the US left Subic as well when the Philippines Senate refused to ratify a new base lease agreement,against the wishes of President Corazon Aquino.*In November 2012,the Benigno Aquino III government invited the US Navy and Marine Corps back to Subic Bay on a semi-permanent basis.The new negotiations are intended to extend this presence to other areas besides the Southern Philippines,where Subic Bay is located.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

USCGC Healy Underway in Arctic

One of the two functional icebreakers in the US inventory,USCGC Healy(WAGB-20)is on a four month deployment that includes three scientific missions.The first of the missions,HLY 1301,began on 29 July and ends on 15 August.This blog reviewed a number of AloftCon photos giving the view from the ship's bow.It has encountered open sea to moderate fractured ice,but nothing really substantial as far as ice goes.It visited a small harbour,then a pier where a white ship with two radomes was tied up.It also visited a more urbanised channel with a warehouse and two bridges in the background.The second and third cruises will be National Science Foundation missions.The entire package is called Arctic West Summer 2013 and ends in October.*The Healy is a platform for a broad range of research activities,with more than 4200 square feet of lab space;electronic sensor systems;oceanographic winches;and accomodations for up to 50 scientists.It also supports other Coast Guard missions,such as logistics;ship escort;search and rescue;environmental protection;and law enforcement.*According to the ship's Public Affairs Officer,ENS Rebecca Follmer,the current deployment began on 11 July after five months of intensive preservation and maintenance at Vigor shipyard,Seattle.In June,they had shakedown and sea trials,when the crew refreshed their sea skills and trained new crew members;conducted engineering tests;flight operations;small boat operations;and several drills.They bid farewell to departing crewmembers,wishing them fair winds and open leads,and welcomed new ones.*The first two weeks of July,they had loaded science equipment,including coring equipment from Oregon State University for the second mission;food stores;and general ship's supply;changed the oil in the engines;and completed several final repairs.Shortly after getting underway,the Healy conducted flight operations with a MH-65D helicopter from Air Station Port Angeles.The crew thoroughly cleaned the ship for two days and made way to their first stop of Kodiak,Alaska,ENS Follmer reported on 13 July.