Jul 30

Paying Off Your Loans



Everybody has debt.  And, I assume, we all want to pay it off.  But how quickly should we pay it off?  Did you know that on a $100,000 home mortgage at 12.0% interest, increasing your monthly payment by only $100 (from $1,100 to $1,200) will save you nearly $50,000 of interest paid over the course of the loan?  Now do I have your attention?

Here’s another scenario.  You’ve cancelled your credit card with a remaining balance of $3,499 (you know, from the new Mac Pro you bought).  Your credit card has an interest rate of 15% and requires a minimum monthly payment of $40.  In some moment of madness, you decide that making the minimum monthly payments will be a good idea.  If you die in sixty years, you will not have come close to paying off that small balance.  In fact, when you die, the new balance on that card will be $2,441,399.88, and you will have paid over $2.4 million in interest.  Of course, the credit card company would never divulge this information to you.

In both of these situations, you only have one loan.  What if you’re a recent college graduate (like my wife and I) and you have several smaller loans and would like to find the fastest, most cost-effective way to pay them off?  For that, I present you with an Excel spreadsheet I created.  You may even be surprised to find that you will spend less on interest just by paying off your loans in a different order.

I’ve tried to make the spreadsheet as simple as possible, with buttons and drop-downs to help you add/edit/sort your own loans.  Once your loans have been added and the details specified, the spreadsheet will automatically populate a payment plan for you.  It will tell you the projected date when all of your loans will be paid off, how much you will have paid in interest, and how large the loans will have gotten with accrued interest.  For fun, sort your loans by different criteria (there are drop-downs for sorting at the top of the spreadsheet) and change your monthly payment.  You’ll be surprised how much things like that will ultimately affect your payment plan, and it’ll be good knowledge for you to better understand your own loans.

If you don’t have any loans currently but are about to start college (or are considering getting five separate credit cards), I still strongly recommend opening this spreadsheet and putting in bogus loan values for your speculative debt.  The misinformation or simply lack of understanding among my peers when it came to financial responsibility (and future debt) was immense in college.  Sure, college loans generally have a better interest rate than credit card or auto loans.  And, sure, you could pay your $80,000 loans off over the next thirty years … but do you know that, when all is said and done, on that $80,000 loan, including interest, you may end up paying something upwards of $150-$200,000?

I could continue with example after example of loan payments and the penalties incurred if you don’t pay attention to your interest rates and monthly payments, but my main point is that you need to stay on top of your loans, and the best way to do that is to make a plan for them.  That’s where I hope my spreadsheet can help you; it has helped me come up with a simple way to quickly pay off Jess’ and my school loans in only a couple of years.  Not only that, but after putting my own loans into this spreadsheet and sorting them in different ways, I found that paying them off in a different order than I originally perceived to be the best would save me about $350.  That may seem like nominal savings to you now, but my wife and I (comparatively) don’t have that much school debt−so imagine how much would be saved if we did, or in the future when we have a home mortgage and maybe a car payment or two.  When that time comes, knowing this information will save us thousands or tens-of-thousands (see my first example).

Let me know if you have any issues with the spreadsheet or if you have any ideas that might make it better−I’m always open to ideas!  And happy savings :).


For your convenience, especially if you are a soon-to-be or current college student that may be unfamiliar with much of loan lingo, I’ve provided some guidance that will help you better understand loans and the spreadsheet.

  • Status:  A word or two describing the state of the loan (ex. “Open”, “Enrolled”, “In School”, “Closed”).
  • Loan Name: A unique name to help you identify the loan.  This is a required field, and it must be unique from all other loan names.
  • Account Number:  The account number given by the lender for this loan.
  • Lender: Every loan has a lending institution that granted you the loan.  For your reference, put the name of that institution here (ex. “The Department of Education”, “Capitol One”, “Collins Community Credit Union”).
  • Type: The type of loan this is, either generically (ex. “School Loan”, “Credit Card”) or specifically (“Stafford”, “Direct”, “Perkins”).
  • Interest Subsidy:  Subsidization is a type of assistance you may get from the lender or another financial institution (or the government) to help you with the loan or its interest.  For example, if your loan payments or interest are deferred for six months, your loan is “subsidized”.  If your loan does not have any sort of assistance with it, it is “unsubsidized”.  An unsubsidized loan begins accruing immediately.  This is a required field.
  • Interest Rate:  The percentage rate at which your loan gains interest annually.  This is a required field.
  • Minimum Payment: Most loans require a minimum monthly payment. The payment plan will deduct minimum payments each month so your payment plan is accurately generated. This is a required field—just input $0 if your loan does not require a minimum payment.
  • Due Date:  The date on which payments are expected to begin for this loan.  In the same of a subsidized loan, this should be the date your interest will start accruing.  This field is required.
  • Initial Balance: The initial amount that the loan was worth.  This field is required.
  • Current Balance: The current amount that the loan is worth.  This will be the same as the initial balance if you haven’t already started paying toward this loan.  This field is required.


Download Sample Loan Payment Plan Spreadsheet
For an example of how the spreadsheet will look when it’s filled in with loan values, download the sample spreadsheet above.

Download Ready-to-Use Loan Payment Plan Spreadsheet
For a ready-to-use spreadsheet that you can more easily enter your own loan information into, download the template spreadsheet above.


Jul 17

Ernie’s Adventure

What … Is This?

If you’re like my brother and me, you love old-timey computer games almost more than the latest and greatest shoot-em-up.  For as long as I can remember, my brother and I have loved playing classic puzzle games like King’s Quest, Commander Keen (yah, I realize that’s not really a puzzle game), and, later, games like the Myst games.

As such, after years of my brother and I writing our own useful programs, Andrew had a brilliant idea.  “Hey, why don’t we write an old-school adventure game with lousy DOS graphics?  You know, in the fashion of King’s Quest and the like?”

This was an idea through most of 2008, began development in 2009, and became what it is now sometime in 2010.  Obviously, we could have put effort into making these graphics cutting edge … but that would kind of defeat the purpose.  We intentionally made this game for nostalgic purposes.

The music is pure genius, I must say.  Any likenesses you may here throughout the game to other old-timey games you’ve played is purely coincidental.  Don’t sue us.


Alright, I Follow.  So Who’s Ernie?

Ernie was my dog.  I don’t say “was” because he’s dead or anything terrible like that−I say “was” because he now belongs to my brother.  I now have a new dog named Dante, and he and Ernie get along great.  But I digress.

When Andrew started developing The-Yet-To-Be-Named-Old-School-Game, he needed something to fashion it after, and he wanted it to be something he and I had in common, since we had the same affinity for such games.  Ernie must have been trotting by at the time, because he decided to make him the main character.  And thus development began.


Uh, I Didn’t Play Old-Timey Games.  What Do I Do?

Use the arrow keys to move the Ernie character around.  When you walk up to an object you’d like to do something with, type the action.  Then press enter.  Yes, type.  For instance, if you walk up to a shiny object on the ground, try typing the command “get key” and pressing enter.  Don’t know if it’s a keep?  Try the “look” command to see what’s around you.  Be specific.  If you see a person, type “look person”.

The key to these old game typing commands is verb noun.  So to talk (verb) to aperson (noun), you’d type “talk person”.  Don’t know the name of the person?  Type “look” and maybe the description will tell you the name of the person in the screen.

Type “inventory” to see a list of the items in your … you guessed it … inventory!

Oh, and as I said before, this was intentionally made as a DOS-style game.  That means your mouse won’t work at all.  If you’d like to access those menus at the top, press Alt and use the arrow keys to navigate.


The Nerd-Speech in This Post is Minimal.  Anything to Add?

Yah.  The game can also be run on Mac, if you’re interested, but the build isn’t as stable, and, frankly, I didn’t feel like dealing with getting it to that state.  Deal with it.  If you’dreally like to see the game run on Mac, you’re more than welcome to brave the build yourself.  You can find it on Andrew’s Google Code repository here.  Don’t say I didn’t warn use.  Seriously.  Not a pretty build.  And even if you do get it to build, I’ve only gotten it to run a few times, and it does crash from time to time.

And speaking of crashing, it may crash a bit on Windows Vista.  I don’t think we got all of the Vista bugs worked out because, well … it’s Vista.  Not worth our time.  But it worked consistently on Windows XP and Windows 7.  Anyway, you know, we offer this game with absolutely no guarantee or warranty.  And it should work just fine for you.  I promise.



If you’re a fan of the classics, or you just really like stalking the work I do, or you just want to take my old dog on a walking-tour of my parent’s house, it’s certainly worth a play through!

And, since a lot of the commands and scenarios on this game are very Laird-specific, I’ll leave comments and such enabled on this page so people can post and help each other out if absolutely necessary.



Jul 08

The End of an Era for NASA

STS-135: The Final (Shuttle) Launch

This morning marked the beginning of the end of an era.  I say the beginning of the end because the era does not conclusively close until next week, when the Space Shuttle Atlantis returns safely the Earth.

The beginning of the end happened at 11:29 A.M. EST as Atlantis’ rocket engines propelled the 4.5 million pound vehicle off the pad and, in eight and a half minutes, out of the Earth’s atmosphere, into space, and up to a speed of 17,320 mph.  (For the astute reader, you’ll note that this means it must be travelling at over 4.81 miles per second as it left the Earth’s atmosphere.)


Ominous weather taunted the launch of this shuttle all week, but all systems were a go this morning, and aside from a slight hold at T-minus 31 seconds (due to the GOX Vent Hood not registering with one of the sensors as fully retracted), Atlantis left the pad and disappeared into the heavy blanket of clouds above in less than forty seconds.

What you may not realize is that, at the time of the launch, according to NASA’s own protocol, the shuttle technically had the red light.  Yesterday, storms were furious around Cape Canaveral, and lightning even struck the ground twice just around the launch pad.  Luckily, there was no significant damage done to the pad or the surrounding area.  The weather, however, persisted.

NASA’s launch safety protocol dictates that precipitation cannot occur within twenty miles of the launch pad during a launch.  This morning, after all launch systems reported back “go”, the weather crew came back without a go.  It wasn’t a no-go, per se.  They just hadn’t reached a verdict yet.  This was at the T-minus 9 minute hold; it was definitely raining within the twenty mile radius.

Ultimately, Mike Leinbach, the Shuttle Launch Director, who gave the launch a go under the assumption that the weather would continue to move away from the launch pad before launch.  This was not a dangerous maneuver, as if weather hadn’t gone as predicted, the launch could have been scrubbed down to the thirty second mark.

The weather was so variable in fact, that Mike Moses, Launch Integration Manager, said in the post-launch press report that the decision to fill the External Fuel Tank (ET) this morning, a six hour process that costs $500,000 to undo, was settled over a game of darts. But the calls were made.  The delays, insignificant.  And after over 1,000 onboard systems were a “go”, STS-135, the final shuttle of its kind, launched safely from Pad 39A this morning.  But this is only the end of one era.  The end of the space shuttle era.  It seems Americans and the media have focused so intently on the ending of this era that they’re acting as though NASA is closing its doors for good.

Nearly one million people were present to watch Atlantis liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center this morning.  That doesn’t include the tens of millions of viewers watching the stream live from all around America and the world.  Certainly this was a momentous occasion—the conclusion of the near $200 billion dollar space shuttle program’s 30-year reign—but NASA has plans to return to space.  They just need a new vehicle to do it in.

The aged space shuttles weren’t originally built to optimal safety standards (you can thank the government for NASA budget cuts on that one), so they’re being retired.  Though the shuttles could continue to fly safely, NASA has brighter plans for the future.  My hope is that the one million people at Cape Canaveral chanting, “U-S-A … U-S-A” and “GO, GO, GO!”, as well as the cubicle-confined fans (like myself) shouting “Get ‘outta here!” from their desk chairs mourn only the conclusion of the shuttle generation, but not the death of NASA.


Eye on the Prize

The Space Shuttle Atlantis was hauling its crew and cargo to the International Space Station, a $100 billion dollar structure in a low-Earth orbit (about 220 miles out).  The Space Shuttle itself was designed primarily for this purpose even—a low-Earth orbit. But what about deep space exploration?  That’s exactly what NASA said.  Orion, the vehicle being built for the future of space travel, is being designed with manned deep exploration in mind.  It’s slated for a completion date of 2016, and it is expected to launch that same year assuming NASA gets a contractor to build a rocket for it and assuming that rocket is also completed by 2016. The Orion space capsule follows the primitive design of the Apollo spacecraft, but with much more of a vision.  Obviously, we’ve advanced quite a ways technologically since the Saturn V rockets boosted the Apollo capsule into space.  The aim for Orion is that she’ll have the reliability and safety the old Apollo spacecraft with the ingenuity and technology of the future.  She’s being built with the purpose of landing a man (or woman) on the surface of Mars.


But … Why Space?  It’s a Money Hog!

A money hog?  Because the space shuttle cost us nearly $2 billion each?  For the $450 million dollar price tag per mission?  Because the shuttle burns more than two million pounds of solid propellant in the two minutes after takeoff?  Because a satellite can cost upwards of $300 million to launch?

Sure, NASA is expensive.  We get it.  But can you name me a way to advance society that doesn’t cost a pretty penny?  You can debate it all you like, and you can argue that the budget for NASA is too large, or that the tax break NASA gets (that’s coming from your pocket) is too much, but the fact remains: NASA paved the way for your current way of life, and space exploration, especially through NASA, will mold the lives of our future generations.

Unfortunately, the advantage of space exploration is currently evading our current administration.  Yet in an economy continually teetering just above and below a 10% unemployment rate, I’d say the jobs created by subcontracted construction of rockets, satellites, space vehicles, space equipment, and research and development projects are nigh invaluable.

Lockheed Martin, the primary contractor for the Orion project, has published posters that boast, “Orion is being built near me!”  And, as a means of spreading out the love (and keeping the primary decision to scrap the project out of the hands of the government), they’ve spread the research, development, and construction work for Orion out over twenty-six separate contractors all over the country.  Not only are they stimulating jobs in the economy, but they’re also inspiring families and the job market alike with the excitement of being involved (directly or indirectly) in the future of the space age.


Don’t Care.  I Still Don’t Need NASA

Perhaps you’re still not convinced.  Maybe you still think you you don’t need NASA, and that NASA has done nothing to personally effect your life and loved ones.  Then I’ll leave you with these thoughts:  well over 1,700 technologies, many of which you use daily, were brought to you from the multi-billion dollar space program and NASA …

… The fibrous material in your tire tread.  Your home’s insulation.  Velcro.  Image processing (which gave you all the technology from a steady cam to image enhancement to HD movies to a personal video and still camera the size of your palm).  Prosthetics.  The GPS in your phone … not to mention the satellite that your phone, television, and possibly even your internet connection talk to … not to mention these satellites are now used to predict weather patterns, tornados, hurricanes, and more.  Health and safety equipment from ventricular devices to help your heart pump blood to more lightweight material that firefighters can wear when entering a burning building.  Cordless tools …

… and much, much more.


Thanks, NASA, for all the work you’ve done not just for our country, but for the entire world.  For inspiring my brother and I to investigate computers, technology, and spacecraft.  For the sense of camaraderie you gave Americans with each other, the rest of the world, and the universe this morning.  For the life changing technology you’ve given us.  Keep shedding more light on the infinite galaxies out there left to explore.

Jun 25

How Well Do You Know Jess and Alex?

Well, the wedding quiz results are in!  First off, we’d like to offer our congratulations to Jacob Waid and Sarah Anderson for earning the highest score of anyone who took the quiz (including family): 106%! There prize has yet to be determined, but when we do think of it, we’ll give it to them over a home-cooked meal at The Laird Apartment on a weekend of their choosing.

Second of all, we feel obligated to congratulate anyone who got over 100%, even if they didn’t technically win, so our congratulations also go out to David and Sarah Benson who received 103% on the quiz.  While you don’t win anything, we’re still pretty impressed that you did so well and happy that you’re obviously reading our blogs.  Also, thanks for the teapot.  That thing is awesome.

If you’d like to know your individual score, comment on this post or shoot one of us an email and we’ll look it up for you.  However, upon grading this quiz we did realize that we apparently made it way more difficult than we had originally anticipated.  But, hey, if the four people above could get over 100%, it obviously wasn’t impossible.

Confused as to what we’re talking about?  Well, during the reception of our wedding we had a quiz we gave our guests: How Well Do You Know Jess and Alex? We also gave this quiz to the guests at our Iowa reception.  Before we get into the more interesting averages and statistics on how well those who took it did, we’ll post the quiz below for those of you who didn’t get the chance to take it.


How Well Do You Know Jess and Alex?

The Friendship

1.) Where did Alex and Jess first meet?
A.) Getting Started Weekend at Cedarville
B.) An Arbor Day Tribute
C.) East Iowa Bible Camp
D.) A Finnish All-Saints Day party

2.) When Alex and Jess were just friends, how regularly was Jess asked if they were dating yet?
A.) Never
B.) Once or twice
C.) Once a week
D.) Daily

3.) What was the occasion on which Alex went to Jess’ house and met her family?
A.) The 4th of July
B.) Jess’ Birthday
C.) The Pumpkin Show
D.) Jess’ mother’s birthday

4.) What did Alex do during Alex and Jess’ first encounter that caused Jess to believe he was not mentally stable?
A.) He jumped off a high roof into a pile of leaves
B.) He ate a cotton ball
C.) He smashed a pop can on his head
D.) He explained why a proof of NP-completeness is theoretically impossible

5.) What was unusual about the circumstances in which Alex professed his (soon to be) love to Jess?
A.) He was seeing another girl
B.) She was seeing another guy
C.) She had already turned him down twice
D.) He knew she refused to date homeschoolers

6.) What was Jess’ first reaction when Alex told her that he “may not be altogether convinced that [he] couldn’t potentially be completely opposed to the idea of sort of maybe possibly dating [her] at some point in the future”?
A.) She burst out into tears
B.) She kissed him
C.) She expressed mutual feelings of interest
D.) She laughed at his joke


The Dating

7.) What did Alex give Jess over Easter that finally caused her to realize her feelings for him?
A.) A promise ring
B.) A plate of pizza rolls
C.) A necklace
D.) A letter

8.) What is the anniversary of Alex and Jess’ first date?
A.) April 30, 2010
B.) October 31, 2010
C.) November 2, 2010
D.) They can’t remember

9.) What restaurant did Alex and Jess go to on their first date?
A.) Chipotle
B.) Chinese Restaurant
C.) Texas Roadhouse
D.) William’s Eatery

10.) What kind of flowers did Alex buy for Jess on their first date?
A.) Daisies
B.) Roses
C.) Lilies
D.) Tulips

11.) Aside from his undying love, what else did Alex use to bribe Jess when he  asked her to be his girlfriend?
A.) A stuffed dog
B.) A promise ring
C.) A bag of her favorite coffee
D.) A Symphony bar


The Engagement

12.) When Alex asked Jess’ father for permission to marry her, where did they go to talk?
A.) Beans n’ Cream in Cedarville
B.) Chipotle in Springfield
C.) The Underdog Café in Yellow Springs
D.) New China restaurant in Xenia

13.) Where did Alex propose to Jess?
A.) On an ancient burial ground
B.) At a Yellow Jackets game
C.) In a hot air balloon
D.) At the top of a tree

14.) Aside from an engagement ring, what else did Jess receive from Alex when he proposed?
A.) A bouquet of roses
B.) A stuffed dog
C.) A poem he had written
D.) A matching pair of earrings

15.) After Alex’s proposal to Jess, they headed back to Alex’s house.  What did Jess think was waiting there?
A.) A wrapped gift
B.) A birthday party
C.) A pile of dirty dishes
D.) Nothing special

16.) Regarding the question above, what was actually waiting at Alex’s house?
A.) A candlelit dinner
B.) A wrapped gift
C.) An old friend
D.) An engagement party

17.) Who helped Alex distract Jess for the afternoon before he proposed?
A.) Emilie Lynch
B.) Joey and Jenna Woestman
C.) Kylee Husak
D.) Kara Rathburn

18.) Who assisted Alex in planning the surprise engagement party?
A.) Emilie Lynch
B.) Joey and Jenna Woestman
C.) Kylee Husak
D.) Kara Rathburn

19.) Where did Alex and Jess have their engagement pictures taken?
A.) John Bryan State Park
B.) Cedarville Park
C.) Indian Mounds
D.) Ellis Park


The Random

20.) When was Alex and Jess’ first kiss?
A.) Sometime before they were dating
B.) On their first date
C.) When Alex proposed
D.) Today, obviously

21.) What is the name of Alex and Jess’ vehicle?
A.) Josué
B.) The J2K
C.) Jaclyn
D.) Jeeves

22.) What is the name of Alex and Jess’ soon-to-be puppy?
A.) Ernie
B.) Henry
C.) Tyke
D.) Maxwell

23.) What is Alex and Jess’ favorite thing to do together?
A.) Going on walks
B.) Coffee dates
C.) Romantic dinners
D.) Staring into each other’s eyes

24.) Whose wedding anniversary will Alex and Jess now share?
A.) Stephen and Ashley Willcox
B.) Joey and Jenna Woestman
C.) Andrew and Laura Laird
D.) Dennis and Vicki Rathburn

25.) What state will Alex and Jess be moving to after they return from their honeymoon?
A.) Iowa
B.) Indiana
C.) Maine
D.) Staying in Ohio

26.) Where have Alex and Jess both worked?
A.) Cedarville University
B.) Rockwell Collins
C.) East Iowa Bible Camp
D.) The Savings Bank

27.) What is Alex and Jess’ mutually favorite restaurant?
A.) Chipotle
B.) Red Lobster
C.) Olive Garden
D.) Texas Roadhouse

28.) Over the course of their relationship, what video game did Alex get Jess addicted to?
A.) Mass Effect
B.) Portal
C.) Commander Keen
D.) F.E.A.R.

29.) What new skill has Alex started teaching Jess since they became engaged?
A.) Cooking
B.) Computer programming
C.) How to do a hand stand
D.) How to touch her tongue to her nose

30.) What is the name of Alex and Jess’ first dance song today?
A.) Mae – Sometimes I Can’t Make it Alone
B.) Mae – Ready and Waiting to Fall
C.) Mae – The Sun and the Moon
D.) Mae – The Everglow


Bonus Fill-in-the-Blank Questions:

31.) In Jess’ bridal outfit, what is “Something Old”?

32.) In Jess’ bridal outfit, what is “Something New”?

33.) In Jess’ bridal outfit, what is “Something Borrowed”?

34.) In Jess’ bridal outfit, what is “Something Blue”?

35.) Where did Alex purchase the ring that Jess is wearing?



And the results are in!  We’ll post the answers to the questions … eventually.  But for now, let’s just get the quiz results out there!

Ohio Results

Highest score: 106.67%
Lowest score: 26.67%
Average score: 60%
Standard deviation: 16.97%

I suppose we could curve it to make those numbers look a little better.  Plus, that’s a pretty large standard deviation … everybody add 10% to your score so we look like better teachers!

Iowa Results

Highest score: 103.33%
Lowest score: 0%
Average score: 36.67%
Standard deviation: 24.84%

The highest score at the Iowa reception goes to Kara Rathburn, who tied the second-highest score at the Ohio reception.  She doesn’t win a prize since she’s our sister.  However, congratulations anyway!

The lowest score goes to the other side of the family:  Jenna Woestman.  Who signed her name at the top and subsequently didn’t answer a  single question.  Come on, Jenna.  We expect you to apply yourself a little more!  It’s also worth noting that Jenna’s husband, Joey, got an impressive 73.33% … and of the questions he answered, he didn’t get a single one wrong!  Unfortunatly, Jenna must have been rubbing off on him, because he left several blank, and that’s why his score was so low.

What we can really glean from these results is that the Ohioans read our blog much more diligently than the Iowans.  Believe it or not, the answer to every question (save two, I believe) can be found in the Once Upon a Cotton Ball series!  The average score was a lot lower, and the standard deviation was way higher … Iowans, you can add 10% to all of your scores as well.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it look too much better, comparatively.  We still love you!  And, hey, we live here.  So you have all the time in the world to get to know us and learn the right answers!



Thanks to everyone that participated, came to our wedding, sent us cards, gifts, money, and your love.  Thanks for being a part of our new life together, and thanks for making our wedding, reception, Iowa reception, and moving process such a wonderful occasion!  We love you all.

Jun 14

North American P-51 Mustang

One-hundred-seventeen days.  Almost four months.  What could you build in one-hundred-seventeen days?  Perhaps I should rephrase that: what could you build in one-hundred-seventeen days on a government contract? Certainly not an entire aircraft, from the ground up, from scratch-paper to rolling it out of the hanger?

But it has been done.  The North American P-51 Mustang was ordered just one-hundred-seventeen days before the first prototype was rolled out.  That’s an incredible achievement right there.  Before the aircraft even got off the ground, putting all of its air superiority aside, the entire plane was designed and put together in less than four months.  It was flying less than two months after that.


Why was the P-51 ordered you might ask? In the early 1940’s as World War II was ramping up, North American Aviation (NAA) realized we had no fighters that met the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) strict requirements, and we were in desperate need of an aircraft that could protect daytime bombing formations deep into Germany.  So in March of 1940, 320 new P-51 aircraft were commissioned by NAA.

It wasn’t until 1943 that enough P-51s were available to start doing some good.  Pilots found that the aircraft was an excellent long range escort fighter.  Finally, it was possible for the RAF to carry out their bombing missions at night, and the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) to carry out their bombing missions in the day time with P-51 escort.

As the war wrapped up, jet powered aircraft started to develop.  While many of the earlier aircraft in the Allied fleet couldn’t compete against the faster jet aircraft, the P-51 could.  This allowed the P-51 to be picked as the top piston powered aircraft during the end of the war.

The USAAF consolidated much of its P-51 fleet after the end of the war.  A few upgrades were made to the plane through the 1950’s and the fighter lasted much longer than other piston powered fighter planes.  While much of the world was looking to jet powered fighters, the P-51 continued to have a role even into the 1960’s.  Finally, the last two military P-51s flew in 1968 as chase planes for a military helicopter.  The last P-51 that was downed in military combat flew in 1965.

The P-51 played a vital role in winning Wold War II.


By May of 1945 the top three P-51 groups had shot down 4,950 aircraft; this amounted to half of the USAAF total kills in the entire European theater.  Keep in mind that was only the top three groups, and if you break that down by day, it amounts to over 6.75 kills per day.

The two top scoring aerial combat groups (which exclusively flew P-51s) had 1,229 kills just between the two of them.  During the European campaign, the RAF and USAAF used the P-51 in 123,873 sorties.


Machine guns were the dogfighting weapon in World War II.  The P-51 had four 0.30 inch M1919 Browning machine guns and two 0.50 inch M2 Browning machine guns in its wings.  Two more 0.50 inch M2 Browning machine guns were mounted under the engine of the aircraft and were synchronized to fire between the propeller as it rotated.  This technology was developed in WWI and was known as gun synchronization gear.

The P-51 was capable of carrying ten 5 inch long rockets that were mounted under the wings similar to today’s missiles.  It could also carry 2,000 pounds of bombs under the wings in place of the rockets.  On long range missions the later models could replace the weapons with external fuel tanks to extend their range by 300 miles.


The P-51 Mustang was a top of the line machine for its time.  Powered by the Merlin V-1650 engine, the first models boasted a top speed of 437 mph, which could keep up with the earliest jet powered aircraft.  The final model, the P-51H, could hit 490 mph.  The P-51 would cruise at around 275 mph and at about 41,900 feet.  Its range was over 1000 miles.  When the P-51D was introduced an additional 300 miles were gained with drop tanks on the wings.

How much did a P-51 cost?  In 1945 the government paid $50,985 for each aircraft.  Converting that to 2011 dollars it would cost around $628,000 to buy a P-51.  After the war, the government sold many of their P-51s for civilian use, some for as little as $1,500.

A total of 16,766 P-51 Mustangs were built.  Many of them were sold to other Allied countries.  It was thought of as the top long range escort fighter of its time.  Many still fly today in homage of the original lead fighter of the USAAF.


Sadly, it’s not likely that you’ll be out drinking lemonade on your porch one day and see a formation of P-51s flying over anymore.  You will mostly likely have to go to a museum or an airshow to see one.

There has been a trend over the past few years to do “heritage” flights at airshows with a WWII era plane flying along side one of today’s modern fighters.  Many times the P-51 is chosen for this task.  If you’ve been to a recent airshow and seen one of these “heritage” flights, then it’s possible you’ve seen a P-51.

It’s even harder to see a P-51 in the movies.  There was only one movie made that centers around the P-51 and that was a 1957 film called Battle Hymn.  There are a handful of other movies that you catch glimpses of P-51s: Empire of the Sun, Saving Private Ryan, Memphis Belle, and The Tuskegee Airmen all have a few scenes with P-51s flying.

If you get a chance, head over to an airshow and catch a glimpse of the one of the finest WWII era fighters built.  It will be a trip worth taking.

If you don’t get a chance, buy your own P-51 Mustang model or remote control plane from Amazon! Just follow the links below:

Andrew Laird (usually referred to as “The Brother”) is the sibling of Alex Laird. He shares the same love for airplanes as Alex does and is the guest author of this post.

Jun 11

McDonnel Douglas F/A-18 Hornet

The Fighter/Attack series is one most people are familiar with, and probably the most well-know set of aircraft the Unites States Navy and Air Force produce.  Unfortunately, the understood distinctions between each aircraft are not that well known.  Most commonly, all fighter aircraft are referred to as an F-16.  If you don’t believe me, just look up a few YouTube videos; you’ll be able to see variances in the details of the aircraft, but most of the videos are  will call the aircraft an F-16 … it’s sad, really.

But I digress.

Let’s talk about the second most awesome plane in the Fighter/Attack series (the most awesome being the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, but this aircraft, unfortunately, will not be at the Quad City Air Show): the F/A-18.  And, just to make things interesting, let’s Tarantino this post and get to the interesting stuff first!


Where You’ve Seen It

If you recall, the Fat Albert of the Blue Angels was a C-130.  Well, the most recent bread of Blue Angels themselves happen to fly F/A-18 Hornets.  That’s where this post comes in as relating to the Quad City Air Show—not only will their be ground displays of a standard F/A-18, but the Blue Angels will put on a show flying their F/A-18s as well.

The media?  F/A-18s have made appearances in the following popular Hollywood movies: Godzilla (I’d say the scene is obvious enough), The Rock as they attack Alcatraz, Independence Day (the aircraft that Will Smith is shown flying), Clear and Present Danger where an F/A-18 is shown dropping a laser-guided bomb on a vehicle, Tears of the Sun in the final battle, and the F/A-18 Super Hornet, a two-seat variant of the F/A-18 Hornet stars, in Behind Enemy Lines.

Think you saw the F/A-18 in Transformers?  You’d be right!  The Transformers Decepticon, Starscream, morphs into an F-22 Raptor, and flying through the city (when Starscream smashes them down) are also F-22s.  However, the fighters shown lifting off the carrier part-way through the movie are Hornets, and I actually know the pilot who was flying the F/A-18 shown taking off from the carrier!

Ever seen that video of a fighter jet flying and safely landing after losing a wing?  That’s an F/A-18.  The Hornet was the first aircraft of its kind to have the unique ability to be able to safely fly with up to 80% of a wing removed, thanks to some amazing thrust-control software developed by … you guessed it, Rockwell Collins.  I’m not 100% certain, but I believe that functionality has also been implemented in the F-22 Raptor.

Finally, the F/A-18 is one of the most common fighter jets you see at an airshow, next to the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F-15 Eagle, so it’s likely that if you’ve been to an air show or two, you’ve probably seen the Hornet or a variation thereof.



The F/A-18 is powered by two massive power plants mounted on its rear.  The power plants are each F404-GE-402 afterburning engines, capable of thrusting over 18,000 pounds.The weight of the F/A-18 at takeoff is 22,000 pounds.  The thrust-to-weight ratio is nearly 1-to-1, which lends to the aircraft’s amazing maneuverability.

The fighter can hold over 11,000 pounds of fuel in its internal tank and nearly 7,000 pounds in its external fuel tank.  On takeoff, the aircraft will be loaded with different amounts of fuel depending on its roll during flight.  For instance, if it is performing an attack mission, the external fuel tank will not be filled.  However, if is performing a longer-range attack mission, the external fuel tank will be filled, and the plane may weigh up to 52,000 pounds on takeoff.

The Hornet is 56 feet in length, only 15 feet in height, and has a wingspan of 40 feet—again, its very close length-to-width ratio lends to amazing maneuverability during combat.  When loaded with fuel and missiles, the fighter can fly just over 1,000 miles non-stop.

It’s hard to talk about a fighter jet without touching its speeds.  You ready for this?  The F/A-18 has a top speed of mach 1.8—that’s 1,370 mph.  That’s less than two hours to fly coast-to-coast in the United States at its widest point (excluding Alaska, of course).


On the Carrier

And while we’re on the subject of dimensions and speed, we should probably talk about the planes use on aircraft carriers, since it was designed with that storage in mind.  Certain later F/A-18 models (E and F) have collapsible wings for better storage on an aircraft carrier, but the standard models (A-D) do not.  This isn’t a huge issue, however, since their wingspan is only 40 feet.  Carriers range in size, but depending on the mixture of aircraft its holding and whether they have collapsible wings or not, a carrier can usually hold anywhere from 85 to 140 fighter planes.

Fighter jets, though extremely powerful, do not have enough thrust to get their aircraft up to liftoff speed before the end of the very short carrier runway, usually around 300 yards or less.  By comparison, United States air regulations require commercial landing strips to be a minimum of 4,033 yards.  So you can see that the fighters are working with a lot less runway here.  So how do they get up to speed?  Four continuous catapults.

A plane cannot lift off the ground until the proper amount of air is moving over the wings to generate lift.  The amount of air needed to generate lift depends on the weight and dimensions of the aircraft, but the catapults on an aircraft carrier, which are entirely steam driven, help lung fighters up to their necessary speed (about 170 mph) before the end of the runway.  It takes that catapults only two seconds to do this.  Usually, they planes don’t quite make it to their necessary speed, which is why you’ll see the heavier fighter jets dip toward the sea just after takeoff of an aircraft carrier.  But don’t worry.  There’s still 240 feet between the flight deck and the thrashing sea, which is plenty of room for the plane to gather the necessary airspeed to gain altitude.

Of course, all of this is just for takeoff.  How does a plane land on such a short runway?  Oh, and you know how a flight deck may be up to 300 yards long for takeoff?  Landing planes come in at a different angle, and they usually only have about 166 yards.  When they lower their landing gear, they also lower a tail hook.  The tail hook is just what it sounds like—a hook that protrudes down from the fighter jet and grabs the arresting wires that are stretched across the carrier’s landing deck.  These wires are pulled tight and screech the aircraft to a halt on the flight deck.

But what if the pilot misses the wires?  Landing on an aircraft carrier is one of the most difficult things a fighter pilot may ever do, so there’s a good chance he may miss the wires.  This means he has to immediately takeoff, fly a loop, and try landing again.  This also means that fighters land on an aircraft carrier at a very high rate of speed compared to a normal runway.  Which also means that as soon as the pilot hits the flight deck, rather than pulling his engines back or slamming on the breaks, he throws the engines to full throttle.  Why?  Because the moment he is signaled that he missed the arresting wires, he needs to be above his 180 mph to take off the other end of the carrier again.  When an aircraft misses the arrest wire, it is known as a “bolter”.  The landing deck of an aircraft carrier is slanting upward at a 14 degree angle from the rest of the aircraft so it can assist bolters in quickly getting back up to a safe altitude after missing the arresting wires.



Unfortunately, the F/A-18 has no weapon systems … I’m just kidding.  But seriously.  The Hornet comes equipped with a nose-mounted 20 mm M61 Vulcan gatling gun that houses nearly 600 rounds.

The F/A-18 can hold up to nine missiles: two on the wingtips, four under the wing, and three under the external fuel tank.  If you see an equipped F/A-18, it may be carrying Hydra 70 or Zuni rockets, or it may be equipped with AIM-9, AIM-132, IRIS-T, or AIM-120, AIM-7 or AIM-120 air-to-air missiles.  There are also five types of air-to-surface heat-seeking missiles that the Hornet may be carrying, or a few AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile.

You think that’s all?  Of course not.  The Hornet can also be used as a bomber.  The F/A-18 can carry up to eight different types of bombs, including Paveway laser-guided bombs, cluster bombs, JDAM precision-guided bombs, B61/Mk57 nuclear bombs, and more.


History and Cost

Boy, after starting with all the cool stuff, the history of the aircraft seems kinda bland, doesn’t it?  If you answered “yes” to that, I question why you’re even reading blogs about airplanes … after all, without aircraft history, we wouldn’t be making bigger, better, faster, and more agile aircraft every decade.

McDonnell Douglas developed the F/A-18 Hornet after gaining the contract from the United States Navy’s Naval Fighter-Attack Experimental program.  The goal of this program was simple:  create an agile aircraft that could replace the Skyhawk, Corsair II, and Phantom II, performing better in every respect than its fighter-series predecessors.  Both the Navy and the Air Force needed a short-takeoff aircraft that was versatile enough to be used on a land-based air base or stored on and launched from an aircraft carrier.

The Navy proposed a design for the aircraft that illustrated a single-man aircraft that could be easily used for bombing and could then defend itself from attacks while it returned to Home Base.  The F/A-18 certainly meets that goal with its superior dog-fighting capabilities, and it proved this ability in Operation Desert Storm, when one aircraft would dog-fight its way to its target, bomb the area, and return to base without a scratch.

The F/A-18 was first tested in 1978 and entered the service in 1983.  The F/A-18 Super Hornet, a two-seater variant of the Hornet developed by Boeing, was introduced in the early 1990s after the Navy retired the F-14 Tomcat, A-6 Intruder, and EA-6 Prowler all at once … without first considering an alternative (oops).

A single F/A-18 Hornet costs just under $40 million.  The F/A-18 Super Hornet costs nearly $60 million.  The fleet size of the F/A-18 family is nearly 3,000 aircraft.

Finally, let’s talk about the cockpit of the aircraft.  Like previous military aircraft I’ve covered, the radio communications and control panel were developed by none other than Rockwell Collins (though, again, we never get credit for this on any of the Wikipedia pages).  Last, but certainly not least, in the late 1990s, Rockwell Collins developed a technology that would automatically adjust engine thrusts in the case of a serious malfunction of aircraft damage.  Originally, the functionality was intended to provide a safe landing for a fighter aircraft if it lost up to 60% of its wing, but the final program allows the F/A-18 to lose up to 80% of one wing and land safely!  Now that’s impressive for an aircraft that may weigh up to 51,000 pounds when filled.

Oh, and here’s a fun fact: though you may think of the F/A-18 as a “heavy” aircraft due to its many pounds by comparison to, say, you’re car, it’s actually classified as a light-weight fighter.  In fact, when the Navy bid the program in the first place, a light-weight fighter was one of their requirements.

Think the F/A-18 Hornet is one of McDonnel Douglas’ finest creations? Buy your own model or remote control version by following the Amazon links below:

Or, if you’re really ambitious, save up a bit for an even bigger scale model:

Jun 05

Boeing AH-64 Apache

Has there ever been a moment in your life in which you’ve seen something and your thought has been, “This is it … I’m about to die.”  Perhaps you’ve been out hiking and you’ve seen some form of wildlife.  Maybe it’s been when you stood on the edge of a massive cliff (I felt this way when I went to the Grand Canyon).  If you’re like Jess, it’s probably been when you’ve seen a spider.

But I don’t think anything could really prepare you for a real life confrontation with today’s aircraft: the Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopter.



The Lockheed AH-56 Cheyenne

Think of the Cheyenne as the Apache’s older, fatter brother that ended up being a major disappointment, dropping out of college after the first month.  When hope in the family business was lost with Big Brother Cheyenne, the parents turned to Boeing to save the day with brother Apache.

In 1966, the United States Army was in the market for a jet-assisted attack helicopter that, as a secondary goal beyond defensive escorts, could also dash ahead (up to 244mph) for an offensive front.  Lockheed’s AH-56 was meant to be that helicopter.  Unfortunately, after exceeding the budget, the weight, procuring too many technical difficulties for the Army’s taste, and more than one fatality during test flights, the Army cancelled their contract with Lockheed.  Ten Cheyenne helicopters were completed during production—only four survived testing, three of which are on display at various museums.


The Apache Concept

Unfortunately, the Army still needed a jet-assisted helicopter for armored air transportation.  Solutions had been found to many of the technical difficulties the Cheyenne had experienced, but the program was already so over budget that Lockheed was not given the chance to embrace the fixes themselves.  In a new bid, Boeing won production rights to a dual-engine attack helicopter; the dual engines resolved most of the stability issues the Cheyenne had.  A more compact design (due partially in part to the dual engines) led to a lighter aircraft, which fulfilled the Army’s maximum weight requirements.

What the Army really wanted was an aircraft like British Aerospace’s Harrier Jump Jet.  Unfortunately, the Key West Agreement denies the Army the rights to own or produce its own fixed-wing aircraft.  This may seem like a strange policy for a division of the Department of Defense to agree to, but it essentially separates the various types of aircraft owned by each division of the United States Military.  The Air Force controls most of the fixed-wing aircraft, the National Guard and the Army own primarily helicopters, etc; it helps maintain division of roles.  Anyway, their solution to a Harrier-like aircraft without mounting wings was a jet-assisted helicopter.


The Production and The Cost

In 1976, four years after the Cheyenne program was cancelled, the concept for the AH-64 was approved.  Two more units were produced, surpassing the Army’s desires for the aircraft, and in 1982, the AH-64 was approved for full production.

The initial production model was known as the AH-64A, a unit that cost $20 million to produce.  In March of 1997, an upgraded version of the AH-64 was developed and called the AH-64D.  This model featured improved sensory systems and enemy detection, superior armor plating, and a safer glass cockpit.  With the improved sensory systems on the AH-64D comes the dome you see on the very top of some of the aircraft.  This dome features advanced targeting technology and radar for targeting.  The dome is elevated so far above the rest of the aircraft so the aircraft can be hiding behind a hill, but the radar targeting system can still lock onto an enemy and fire.

The unit cost of an AH-64D Apache today is about $18 million.  At this time, nearly all AH-64As in existence have been upgraded to AH-64Ds.  To this day, over 1,100 Apache attack helicopters have been developed and are used in action.

One cost the AH-64 Apache did not incur that the Cheyenne did was fatalities in testing.  From the beginning, the Apache helicopter was always a much more stable and controlled design.


The Presence and The Sightings

You’ll know when you see the AH-64 Apache.  Most likely because you’ll suddenly find that your pants have been soiled and your legs are shaking involuntarily.  Don’t believe me?  After the AH-64As huge success in non-confrontational combat, the AH-64D was developed with a primary goal of taking advantage of the Apache’s terrifying facade and making it that much more so.  During the Gulf War, only five years after the public release of the new attack helicopter, three Apache helicopters were deployed on a particular mission to help eradicate Iraqi troops.  The moment the Apache helicopters arrived, as they rose over the horizon and came into the enemy troops’ vision, 10,000 Iraqi troops threw down their weapons, fell to their knees, and lifted their arms in surrender; the helicopters never fired a single shot.  Since only two crew members reside in each Apache helicopter, that means six soldiers successfully overthrew 10,000 hostile troops.

Other ways to identify it are by its unusual length for a helicopter—or the fact that it’s a helicopter with twin jet engines, one mounted on either side.  The Apache measures 58 feet in length, 16 feet in height, and has a 17 ft. “wing” span.  The diameter of the rotors is 48 feet, making the rotor disc area 1,809 sq. ft.  When loaded with an average capacity, the Apache weighs a little over 15,000 pounds.  They can have up to two fuel tanks—one internal, one external— totaling over 8,000 pounds of fuel on takeoff.  However, if the AH-64 is on a short-range attack mission, the external fuel tank can be swapped out for 16 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles or 76 70 mm rocket pods.

Which reminds me, an attack helicopter wouldn’t be very complete without its armaments.  Boeing’s AH-64 is always equipped with one 30 mm chain cannon, which may host up to 1,200 rounds.  Though this helicopter has no bombing capabilities, it can have any combination of the following air-to-surface missiles: AGM-114 Hellfire, AGM-122 Sidearm, or BGM-71 TOW.  If an Apache confronts you, it may also be loaded with AIM-9 Sidewinder or AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air heat-seeking missiles.  Finally, the AH-64 Apache can also carry 70 mm rocket pods, as mentioned above, as well as 127 mm rockets.

Other than seeing an Apache attack helicopter at an air show, you may have seen a few make an appearance in the movie Fire Birds, a 1990 film starring Nicolas Cage as an Apache pilot.  Transformers fan?  The “Spinster” Transformer character morphs into an Apache attack helicopter.  The AH-64 also makes appearances in the 1991 movie Toy Soldiers.

Think the AH-64 is the sweetest helicopter around (like me)? Buy your own model or remote control version by following the Amazon links below:

Jun 03

Lockheed C-130 Hercules

My brother and I have always had an obsession with airplanes, spacecraft, and NASA that borders on the unhealthy.  Our obsessive endeavors have taken us annually to the Quad City Air Show, where we have drooled at our magnificent dreams hovering just before our eyes.

This year’s edition of the Quad City Air Show is just around the corner—June 18-19.  And as a tribute to those momentous dates, I have decided to release a special on each of the aircraft that will (cross your fingers) be present or performing at the Quad City Air Show this year.  Today’s installment is the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, an enormous transport aircraft built for the United States Air Force during the Korean War.


The Bid

In the post-World War II era, The Korean War shed light on the fact that the current military transport aircraft were simply insufficient; their advancements simply hadn’t kept up with the aircraft and crew they were transporting.  So in 1951, the United States Air Force put out a new General Operation Requirement for leading manufacturers to bid on.

The aircraft needed to be able to host any of the following: 92 passengers, 72 combat troops, or 64 paratroopers.  It also needed five crew members to be operable.  It had a requirement to be able house cargo in excess of 400 sq. ft.  And it would be the first transport aircraft to host a rear-entry ramp—a ramp big enough to fit even the biggest military vehicles—a ramp that could be used for air drops.

In the running for the bid were the usual big-name airliners: Boeing, Douglas, Fairchild, Lockheed, and Northrop, just to name a few.  Lockheed won the design bid and, ultimately, the contract to develop the plane, with their 130-page proposal for a quad-turboprop beast designed specifically for heavy cargo, long-range transportation, short-strip takeoffs from unprepared runways, and the amazing ability to still maintain altitude with one engine down.

After being awarded the winning bid, but before signing the paperwork to accept the contract, a Lockheed engineer remarked to the project leads, “If you sign that letter, you will destroy the Lockheed Company.”  The program was seen as a trivial pursuit for the Lockheed Company as the C-130 would be a defenseless transport aircraft and Lockheed was known for its more combatant pursuits.  Even still, the contract was signed, and Lockheed promptly put 2,000 more units of its prototype into production.

Because I’m a fan of shameless plugs, though Lockheed was the primary contractor on the aircraft and built most of the visible components, the Heads Up Display (HUD), which is the majority of the control panel and radio communications within the cockpit of the aircraft, was developed by Rockwell Collins.


The Crew and The Payload

The original C-130, as there have been many editions of the aircraft since then, required five crew members for flight operations: two pilots, one navigator, one flight engineer, and one loadmaster.  The modern C-130 only requires three crew members.

The maximum possible weight of the C-130 is 42,000 pounds.  An average payload during its lifetime is 36,000 pounds.  The cargo of a C-130 may simply consist of palettes full of military or civilian supplies, or it may be carrying vehicles.  For example, its cargo bay could carry up to three Humvees, or two M113 tanks (it could probably carry more space-wise, but each of these tanks weighs in at about 12 tons).

Though the standard C-130 Hercules was bid primarily as a non-combatant cargo aircraft, it has been practically used for offensive attacks by means of its payload ramp.  For instance, a low-altitude flyover with the payload ramp let out can easily lend to the dropping of an M551, a “light” tank (weighing in at 15 tons) designed with an air-drop in mind.  The Hercules has also been used on some occasions to drop “daisy clutter” bombs from its easily accessible payload.


The Power

The C-130 can be the host of 21 tons of cargo.  It can drop a 15-ton tank directly out of its payload.  It can hold enough fuel for not only itself, but also for an aircraft it may be meeting to refuel.  And under this stress, how does the Hercules itself fair?  Quite well, actually.

With an average payload weight, the Hercules can still travel just over 1,200 nautical miles.  That’s nearly halfway across the United States.  On the one hand, that may not seem very far considering it’s a cargo aircraft.  On the other hand, it can make that trip in only a little over three hours, and it does it while carrying 21 tons of cargo, not including its own weight, which is itself nearly 38 tons.  Think about that.  That means that, at takeoff, the plain is lifting 77 tons, or 155,000 pounds, off the ground.  To put that into perspective, the United States Department of Transportation does not allow a semi to weigh more than 40 tons.  And the C-130 is doing nearly twice that.  In the air.

The maximum speed of a fully loaded C-130 is 345-417mph, depending on the model.  The aircraft has a 132 ft. wingspan, is 97 feet long, and stands nearly four stories (38 feet) high.  The plane’s ceiling is safely at 28,000 feet, and the aircraft requires 3,290 feet of runway to takeoff and an absolute minimum of 1,500 feet to land.  Carrying an average load, the plane can slow to the surprising speed of 115mph before stalling.


The Cost

It’s really the reason you’ve been reading this long, isn’t it?  You want to know what a plane like this costs.  It depends on the model built.  The C-130E cost $11.9 million to build, the H-series cost $30.1 million, and the C-130J costs $48.5 million, to name a few.   Of all types, a total of 2,300 C-130s have been produced.  If you’re like me, you’ll want to know what the cost of the entire fleet is.  Unfortunately, there’s no simple calculation of these numbers that will lend to an accurate portrayal of that cost.  Economic variances since the C-130 was first developed will lend to errors in this calculation.  So we’ll just have to be satisfied to know that the biggest, most powerful, and most expensive C-130J costs something close to $50 million per unit.


The Sightings

Ever been to an air show?  More than one?  Then you’ve probably seen the Blue Angels and their chubby companion, Fat Albert.  Fat Albert is probably one of the most well-known C-130s, and he’s known most for his weight.  At nearly every show, he lifts off using Jet-engine Assisted TakeOff, or JATO, to help him lift his overweight body off the ground.

The Lockheed C-130 Hercules is also seen in the movies The Green Berets (John Wayne fans?) and The Perfect Storm.  In fact, the footage shown in The Perfect Storm is actually real life footage of National Guard HC-130P refueling a distressed HH-60 helicopter.  And, of course, the plane that takes out that ugly scorpion at the beginning of Transformers was an AC-130, the combatant relative to the C-130.

If you live near an Air Force base, you’ve likely seen one of these freighters lifting into the sky.  They’re easily identified by their immense presence, four five/six-blade propellers, elongated underbelly, huge tail fin, wings along the top of the plane (rather than through the mid-section), and slow maneuvering.  As far as size goes, the Hercules is single most impressive aircraft in the world (save the Boeing C-17 of course).

May 14

Once Upon a Cotton Ball, Epilogue

We said …

Today is the day.

In just a few short hours, Jess will put on a beautiful white dress and Alex will suit up. With friends, family, and loved ones gathered together from all over the country, we will stand in front of Jess’ home church and commit our to each other. What a beautiful and special day it will be!

Today will be a flurry of activity, but we wanted to pause and let you all know where we are headed from here. Through reading our story, you’ve caught a glimpse of the thrilling journey we’ve been on over the past several years, and some of you have walked right along beside us through it. But whoever you are, you hopefully know us a little better now, and are probably wondering what is next.

Well, after the wedding day we have all been waiting for, we are jetting off to an undisclosed honeymoon location, which Alex has been hard at work planning for months. After a week of enjoying wherever it is we are headed, we’ll be moving to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In just over a week, Alex will be starting a job at Rockwell Collins as a software engineer. A few weeks later, Jess will be beginning an internship at Aid to Women and who knows where she’ll go from there!

The weeks and months ahead will be an incredibly exciting time for us, as we begin our new life as Alex and Jessica Laird. We have come a long way—from that first meeting when Alex choked down a cotton ball to the two of us saying “I do”—and we could not be more thankful to Him for the indescribable ways that He has blessed us.

With that, we would like to say “thank you”. Whether you are a complete stranger or someone who watched it all happen firsthand, we truly hope you have enjoyed reading our story as much as we loved writing it together. Our relationship would not be what it is without the thoughts, prayers, encouragement and support that many have given us from day one.

To those of you who will celebrate with us today, we can’t wait to share in the joy of it together with you! Thank you so much for being a part of our life.

In Christ,
Alex & Jess

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”

-Song of Songs 6:3

May 13

Once Upon a Cotton Ball, Part 13

He said …

“And that’s the last one,” my Dad said, tossing the final bag from the van into the living room.

“Sweet! Thanks for all your help, guys.”

Dad pulled me into a hug and smacked me on the back. “No problem. That’s what parents are here for, right?”

I sunk down to the couch and looked around the dirty walls, ragged carpet, and stained floors. It was exciting to be living off campus this school year—even if our house did look like it belonged in a slum.

The parents took Jess and I out for dinner. Afterward, we huddled around for hugs and prayers, said our goodbyes, and they got into the van for the long journey back to Iowa. And while they were making the treacherous journey back to Iowa, Jess and I stood in the doorway to my kitchen, looking over the disgusting mess that was my uncleaned house.

“You know. My parents own apartments, and when we were younger we used to have to clean them.” I waved one hand toward the scum-filled kitchen and the other to the rest of the house. “This is the … second most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Wow. I’d hate to hear about the most disgusting thing,” Jess said as she covered her mouth, presumably to keep from vomiting.

“I wouldn’t tell you about it even if you asked. Well, show we clean?”

“That sounds like my idea of a romantic night!”

And clean we did. For hours. Upon hours. The place was so disgusting in fact, taking so many hours to clean, that we had to break the cleaning event up into two days. But as we cleaned, we did what we always did; we cranked up the tunes, sang loudly and off key, talked about our lives, laughed, and had the best time we possibly could. Because we were together.

We reminisced of camp and how we both missed it—it was nice to have Jess to empathize with now. We talked about the crazy things we had done over the summer, the fun dates we had gone on, the best walks we had taken. She told me how much she loved my family and the way we interacted with each other. And I refrained from telling her that I wanted her to be a part of that family.

We had only been dating for three short months at this point, but we both knew where our relationship was going. We both had known where it was going before it had even officially started. It was probably one of those things we both knew from birth, we just hadn’t met each other yet—and apparently when we did meet each other, we were really bad at catching on. Anyway, in the last few weeks, we had become comfortable enough with our future that we began teasing each other about it. Specifically, Jess began teasing me about proposing. She was, as most girls who are in love are, very anxious about getting a sparkly ring.

We thought we knew everything about each other before we started dating. But the summer brought exciting adventures for the both of us, and taught us new ways to investigate each others lives. We were closer than we had ever been—and most people we knew didn’t even know that was possible after observing a friendship like ours had been. Honestly, neither did we.


“When are they getting here?!” Jess was jumping up and down on the couch. I was standing calmly on the floor, looking up at her with my arms crossed.

“Will you get down from there? You’re going to kill yourself. And they’ll be here any minute.”

Jenna and Joey, my sister and brother-in-law, were visiting for the weekend. We had big plans. Young’s Jersey Dairy for ice cream, smoothies in Yellow Springs, food from somewhere delicious. And, if possible, they were going to stay for the party on Saturday. The annual festivities of Pyhäinpäivä.

Jenna was, how you say, great with child, so everything the family did seemed to be slowed immensely by her painfully lethargic pace. “They probably stopped to pee. Or Jenna got some sort of weird craving,” I reasoned. “Pregnant women do that, you know. Hold on, I need to run upstairs for a minute.”

Finally, Jenna and Joey arrived, Jenna in all of her pregnant glory. First stop: tour of the campus. This was, after all, Joey’s first time at Cedarville. We took him around and pointed out all of our favorite benches, all our favorite paths for walking, and all our least-favorite class rooms.

“Okay, so when do we get ice cream?” Joey questioned. “Jenna keeps telling me about this amazing ice cream. And I wanna put pickles on it.” Either the tour had made him strangely desirous of ice cream, or Jenna’s pregnancy cravings were seeping into his blood stream.

“Oh, we have to drive there. Are you guys ready for that? Then we can walk around Yellow Springs for a while.”

“Ugh, more walking.” Jenna was usually about ten feet behind us when we were walking. It’s not easy carrying two people around with you.

At Young’s Jersey Dairy, we ate ice cream, petted goats, and Jenna even tried to feed a goat ice cream. Jess and I found a pumpkin patch which we tried to hide in, but some little kid found us. We took the remainder of our cones to Yellow Springs and started meandering the streets. Unfortunately, most of them were starting to close. Naturally, we blamed Jenna for her slow walking.

We spent a good amount of time in the toy store, eventually buying something for our little nephew, Hank. Then, we went and got smoothies.

“We have serious issues,” I suggested to the group.

“How do you figure,” Jess asked.

“Well, we’ve gone from ice cream cones to smoothies. And now we’re getting ready to go eat dinner.”

We were standing out front of the smoothie shop, sitting at one of the tables.

“So, where do we want to go eat?” Jess sipped her smoothie and thought vigorously.

“Well, you know …” Joey shot a look at Jenna. “Jenna’s getting pretty tired. She probably needs to lay down for a bit before the party tonight. Can we meet up with you guys later and you can just go eat without us?”

Jess looked puzzled and disappointed. After all, the main reason Jenna and Joey were there in the first place was to hang out with us—and they weren’t going to be there that long. But babies always win. That’s the rule.

“Sure. We’ll just come find you guys are we eat,” I affirmed.

“Well, why don’t we all just go somewhere in Cedarville? Subway? Colonials?” Jess suggested, trying to keep the group together.

“No, no. Jenna has too many weird allergies. We’ll just go grab something ourselves. You two go eat somewhere else.” Joey was weird. And persistent. And Jess wasn’t one to argue, so she gave up.

We waved goodbye to Jenna and Joey as they loaded into their car—luckily Jess and I had brought our own car. “So, where do you want to eat,” I asked, poking Jess in the tummy.


As if it was even really an option. The two of us had already started walking hand-in-hand in the direction of Williams, our favorite restaurant in Yellow Springs, before I had asked her the question.

It was an unusual time for dinner, so there was no wait before we were seated. They sat us at a nice picnic-like table on the patio of the restaurant. Like the sloppy gentlemen that I felt like at the moment, I headed straight for my chair and didn’t even think to pull the chair out for Jess. I perused the menu as Jess talked about a million things: what a wonderful semester this was, how exciting it was for Jenna and Joey to be having a baby, how sad it was that they couldn’t come—should she graduate early? Maybe go work at camp again next summer?

I focused intently on her. But Jess seemed far away. I mean, I could see her sitting there just fine—but I felt like I couldn’t reach out and touch her for some reason. I tried, just to be sure. Successfully, I grabbed her hand across the table. Yep, still there.

I ordered the Salmon. Jess ordered the Lomo Saltados. We enjoyed our meal, but it ended too quickly, as it usually did.

“I thought of something,” I told Jess as we were leaving the restaurant after our meal.

“Yah, what’s that?” Jess said, reaching over and taking my hand.

“I have a present for you. I will give it to you … momentarily.”

“But why can’t I have it now?” Jess asked giddily. She did so love presents.

“I don’t know. Just doesn’t feel right.” I looked down at shoes and kicked a rock.

“Well, what would make it feel right?”

“I have just the thing! But we’ll need to take a detour on the way home.”

We hopped in the car and began to drive, Jess pestering me as to the location of our drive, me still feeling like Jess was at the end of a long tunnel. Her present was in the backseat, safely stored under a few sweatshirts.

As we pulled into the parking lot of Indian Mounds, Jess’ face lit up. Her favorite surprises involved presents and walks, and our favorite place to walk was Indian Mounds!

She pulled out her phone and looked at the time, frowning a little bit. “Um, shouldn’t we be getting back soon though? I mean, people will be waiting for us at the party.”

“They’ll be fine, I’m sure.” Reminiscent of months before, I got out of Josue, opened the back door, and pulled out two sweatshirts.

“Can I have my present yet?” Jess said, bouncing up and down like a little girl that had to pee really bad.

“Nope. But you do get to carry it.” I withdrew a large gift bag from the backseat and closed the door. I handed her the bag. “It requires a sunset.”

“I know where we can see one of those!” Jess grabbed my hand and pulled me down the path before I could finish pulling my sweatshirt on. We had watched the sunset dozens of times from atop the Indian Mound at the end of the winding trail. It was one of our favorite places not only because of it’s prime sunset-viewing potential, but because it was where I had first asked her to be my girlfriend.


She said …

The walk was a perfect idea. Everything was going completely according to plan. I had managed to keep Alex away from the house all afternoon, and was very proud of myself. The afternoon had been so much fun, and little did Alex know, it was about to get much more exciting. You see, he thought we were going back to the house just in time for our not-so-traditional Halloween Party. What he didn’t know was that Kylee and I had been secretly planning a surprise birthday party for Alex for months. When we returned from our impromptu walk in the park, he would find all of our friends hiding in the house, ready to jump out and wish him a happy 22nd birthday, which was in just a few days. It was a perfect plan.

During dinner, I had started to wonder if Alex suspected something. He seemed … distracted. After ordering salmon, one of his favorites, he mostly just pushed the food around on his plate, barely eating any—very unlike him. I also noticed that I had done most of the talking. This wasn’t completely unusual, but Alex had been much quieter than normal. I wondered if he was catching on but just trying to play it cool. Although he was very good at surprising me, I’m not that great at surprising him—I get too excited to hold in secrets.

I had also gotten nervous when Joey suddenly announced that Jenna needed to go lie down. Sure, she was rather, um, large. But the plan had been for them to help me distract Alex all afternoon and evening until the party. The two of them heading back to the house so early was way too risky—what if Alex had offered to go with them? It could have ruined the whole plan. Thankfully, Alex had suggested we stay in Yellow Springs.

But now, things were all coming together. After a delicious dinner, a walk in the park, and a surprise present in my hand, Alex’s surprise birthday party would be the perfect end to a perfect day. I was sure things couldn’t get any better.


He said …

As we walked, Jess kept glancing down into the big bag filled with tissue paper. Trying to cheat and see what her present was before she got to the mound. I jabbed her in the side and scowled at her.

Finally, we made it to the clearing where the enormous mound sat. We headed for the long, wooden staircase and ascended the mound, skipping every other step. Jess beat me to the top, plopping down facing the sun, setting her present beside her. I sat down next to her and lay my head on her shoulder.

“Can I have my present now?”

“Not now. The sun still hasn’t gone down!”

Jess furrowed her eyebrows at me, then stared intently at the sun as if she were making it go down faster with her gaze. We sat there for a long time, but I don’t recall if we said much. It was like any other time we watched the sun go down. Sometimes, we just enjoyed spending the moment together, not saying a word.

As the sun dipped just below the tree line and I realized Jess wouldn’t be able to see her present if I didn’t give it to her soon, I turned to Jess. “Okay, you can open your present now.”

Before I could even finish my sentence, Jess tore the tissue paper out of the bag and pulled the contents out into her lap.

She held her present high in the air triumphantly. “A stuffed dog! He’s so cute!” She beamed as she pet his soft fur, glancing quickly back in the bag as if she thought there should be something more to the gift. But there was nothing more in the bag.

“Yup, and you have to name him before we go back.”

“Hmm.” Jess stared at the stuffed dog for a long time. “What should I call him?”

“Well, I’ve been calling him Pumpkin. I don’t know why. It just seemed to have a ring to it. But you can name him whatever you want.”

“Then Pumpkin it shall be! Today is Halloween, so it’s a perfect name.” Jess said, thrusting the puppy up into the air again. She plopped him in her lap and threw her arms around me. “He’s awesome. The best puppy I’ve ever gotten. Thanks.”

I pushed her nose and said, “So, you think the puppy can hold you over for a little while longer until you get a ring?” She had been teasing me a lot about proposing to her. Even though it was something we both knew was going to happen eventually, I hadn’t really given her a specific time frame.

Jess sighed. “I supposed he could hold me off a little while longer.”

“How much time do you think he can buy me?”

Jess picked up Pumpkin and looked him mischievously in the eyes. “I’d say … a week or so?”

“A week, huh?” I said, smiling at Jess. “What if he only had to buy you, say, thirty seconds?”

Jess looked at me puzzled. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a little, maroon box. I shifted myself to be in front of her and got down on one knee. I said a lot of things, many of which I can’t remember, since the entire evening had really been a blur up until this moment. But my speech was concluded with, “Jessica Nicole Rathburn. I love you. And I want to spend the rest of my life with you. So will you marry me and let me be your husband?”

I popped open the little box that contained a sparkly diamond ring from Helzberg diamond.


She said …

“You’re proposing to me now?!”

Alex snapped the box back shut. “Well, I can wait a few more weeks if this isn’t a good time for you.

“No, no! Open it back up!” I pried the box back open. “Yes, I’ll marry you! I’ll be your wife!”

Blinking back tears of surprise and happiness, I scrambled to my feet and hugged Alex tight. Was this really happening??

It was almost completely dark, so Alex flipped open his phone and directed its light to something very sparkly within the tiny box. I gasped when I saw the light reflected back at me. The ring was absolutely gorgeous—exactly what I would have picked out for myself. Alex definitely knew me well.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of the ring, nor could I wrap my mind around that fact that Alex and I were engaged. After the long, twisted path our friendship had taken, we were now going to get married!

As the sun faded completely behind the trees, we stayed on the hilltop, talking and soaking in every last bit of the moment we could. Finally, we knew we had to head back because it was getting pretty dark. Thankfully, we had made this walk back in the dark a few times before.

Suddenly, I felt my phone buzz in my pocket. It was Kylee, asking where we were. Oh shoot, the party! With all of the excitement of Alex’s proposal, I had completely forgotten that there were a ton of people waiting at his house for his surprise birthday! We had to get back—and fast! As casually as I could, I tried to speed things along for our walk back.

Before long, we had made it back to Alex’s house. Now, with a sparkly ring on my finger, I was even more excited for the party. What a perfect time to announce our engagement, with all of our friends around to celebrate!

As we got the dark house and walked in, I shoved Alex forward, knowing that all of our friends were hiding in the darkness to surprise him. Suddenly, the lights flipped on and everyone yelled “Surprise!” I glanced around the room, and the first person I saw was my sister. Wait, my sister? A huge banner hung from the ceiling saying, “Congratulations Jess & Alex!”

Wait, what? Suddenly, it all started to click. I turned to Alex, tears back in my eyes, and saw him grinning from ear to ear.


He said …

[Two months earlier …]

“It has to be absolutely perfect, whatever I do,” I said to Kylee as we sat in The Irish Democrat eating our tasty burgers and discussing my impending engagement. “Every girl wants to have the best proposal story.”

“Oh, absolutely. So, what’s our timeline here?”

“I’m thinking … beginning of next semester.”

“So January or February. Valentines Day?” Kylee suggested.

“Ick. Too many people do Valentines Day. Besides, I hate Valentines Day. I’d like to propose of my own volition, thank you very much.”

“Okay, no Valentines Day. What other requirements.”

“Well, food, flowers, a walk, a party.”

“You’re going to have a hard time going on a walk in February in Ohio.” Kylee pointed out.

“Aw, shucks, that’s a good point.”

“Well, how do you feel about the summer.”

“I love the summer,” I said. “It’s my favorite season! But it’s much too far away.”

“Okay. Well, is the walk necessary?”

I looked at Kylee with one eyebrow raised. “It’s Jess and me. We don’t do anything without going on a walk at some point. A walk is more necessary than the flowers are.”

Kylee thought for a moment. Then nearly jumped out of her seat in excitement. “I’ve got it!” She cheered, loud enough that we got a few stares from other patrons of the restaurant.

“Hit me!”

“Can you do it by your birthday?”

“I suppose I probably could. Why?”

“We throw you a surprise birthday party!”

“I don’t see how this benefits me proposing to Jess … and you kind of just ruined the surprise.”

“No, no.” Kylee explained. “It’s not really a birthday party for you. It’s really an engagement party for her!”

I started tracking with where Kylee was going with this. “Woah! So you mean you’d tell her that she was planning a surprise birthday party for me. And she’d do all the preparations for such an event. And, inevitably for a surprise birthday party, you have to get the birthday boy out of the house … so when she gets me out of the house for a walk, I propose!”

“Bingo!” Kylee high-fived me across the table.

“Okok. However, my birthday is not on a weekend. But Pyhäinpäivä is, and it’s just before my birthday! What if we did some sort of a trio. A Pyhäinpäivä celebration, which everyone expects, so she won’t expect me to get suspicious. A birthday celebration, which will distract her from what’s really going on which is … a proposal celebration, which will be planned by you and me!” This was an excellent plan, I thought.


Over the next couple of weeks, Kylee slowly put the idea of a surprise birthday party for me into Jess’ head. “After all, you only turn twenty-two once,” she had said to her. “We should make it special!”

Slowly, Jess began to accept the idea. And Kylee was subtle enough that, eventually, Jess thought the surprise birthday party was her own idea! After the idea had settled, Kylee fed Jess all the necessary information. The date it needed to be, the people that needed to be invited, how to get me out of the house.

“Here’s an idea,” Kylee suggested to Jess one evening. “You’ll want Jenna and Joey to come over for his birthday party, right?” Jess nodded. “Okay, so have them come over for the weekend so Joey can ‘tour the campus’, since he’s never been, and then you can use them to get Alex out of the house.”

This ended up being a fine idea, but I failed to realize that I would eventually want Jenna and Joey to leave so I could actually propose. So, I used Jenna’s large belly to my advantage. I told her to play sick so Jess and I could go out to eat on our own. Luckily, Joey’s persuasive ways helped with this. All the while, Jess was still convinced that the reason she was getting me out of the house was for her surprise for me, so she was completely surprised when she realized that I was proposing to her on our walk.


She said …

[After the engagement party …]

Alex and I were engaged. Engaged! I had never been so happy or excited in my whole life. Once Alex explained how he had been planning the proposal and the party and every last detail, I was completely blown away. I had my dream proposal, the kind that every girl hopes for.

Best of all, I had my dream fiancé, and I couldn’t imagine spending my life with anyone else.

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