An F/A-18D Hornet with Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 242, and a KC-130J Hercules with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 152, conduct simulated aerial refueling during the 41st Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force – Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Friendship Day at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, May 5, 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Aaron Henson)

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Capt. Jahmar Resilard and Capt. Austin Smith were hurtling over the Pacific Ocean at 280 miles per hour. From inside the cockpit of their U.S. Marine Corps fighter jet, they kept their eyes on the hulking fuel tanker flying ahead. Off to their right, two Marines in a second jet assigned to Fighter Attack Squadron 242 did the same.

The moon was below the horizon. The lights on all three aircraft were turned off. In total darkness, 50 miles off the coast of Japan, the two jets were to stick their noses into fuel hoses trailing behind the tanker's wings.

Even for the most prepared aviators, the training mission was not simple. Doing it at night made it even trickier. The night vision goggles fastened to their faces badly constricted how much they could see, like wearing binoculars to operate heavy equipment.

It didn't help that Resilard had only executed a nighttime refueling once before in his career, more than a year earlier. His qualification to do so had formally lapsed, but no one realized it because a known glitch in the Marine Corps' training tracker had yet to be fixed.

Resilard gained on the tanker, a behemoth capable of carrying more than 12,000 gallons of fuel. He connected gingerly to the hose.

“Good flow," Smith assured him from the backseat of their cockpit.

The second Hornet had connected to the tanker's other fuel hose. As the gas poured in at a rate of hundreds of gallons a minute, the three Marine Corps aircraft turned a wide, careful oval inside the safety of their approved airspace.

The December 2018 flight was part of a week of hastily planned exercises that would test how prepared Fighter Attack Squadron 242 was for war with North Korea. But the entire squadron, not just Resilard, had been struggling for months to maintain their basic skills. Flying a fighter jet is a highly perishable skill, but training hours had been elusive. Repairs to jets were delayed. Pleadings up the chain of command for help and relief went ignored.

“Everyone believes us to be under-resourced, under-manned," the squadron's commander wrote to his superiors months earlier.

And now, in perhaps the world's most volatile theater, a Marine Corps general had ordered up a rushed set of exercises. The aviators in the air over the Pacific, investigators later found, had been given so little time to adjust their sleep schedules in order to fly at night that inside their F/A-18D Hornets that night it was as if they were legally drunk.

“Don't have a good feeling," Capt. James Wilson, the pilot of the second Hornet, had texted to his wife before taking off that night. “Love you."

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Just shy of 80 years ago — a lifetime by many people's standards —Thomas Horton trained to fly in a bomber made of balsa wood.

Yes, that wood: The lighter-than-air material you buy in pre-punched sheets to assemble your kids' toy gliders, the wood that sinks to the thickness of a saltine when you step on it.

Horton flew three generations of the World War II wooden aircraft, formally titled a de Havilland DH 98, but nicknamed the Mosquito, in 111 missions over Germany. And nearly 80 years after he left New Zealand to do it, his native country bestowed its service medal on him.

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An E-2C Hawkeye, attached to the "Screwtops" of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 123, performs a fly-by for family and friends of crew members during an air power demonstration held by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65) during a three-day Tiger Cruise on December 16, 2007. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class George R. Kusner)

WASHINGTON — On night missions in the 1980s, when the beam from the E-2 Hawkeye's radar swept over the cockpit, pilots could generate electrical arcs by holding the metal base of their flashlights close to the metal paneling around them.

The arcs "would kind of light up the cockpit at night every time the radar went by," said retired Hawkeye pilot Navy Capt. Ralph Ricardo.

The Hawkeye is an early warning aircraft that is highly recognizable by the large dome-shaped radar on top of the plane. It is used to protect aircraft carriers, detect enemy aircraft or missiles, and act as an airborne command station for the Navy's fighter jets.

In flight, the Hawkeye's dome would complete a full rotation and the beam would sweep above the cockpit about every 10 seconds.

Some pilots at that time wondered what the radar was doing to them when swept past, if it could create such electrical arcs.

"Then, about halfway through my tour, all the sudden they decided to put the gold coating on all of the windows and the escape hatches," Ricardo said. After that, the pilots couldn't create the same electrical arcs, he said.

"It was obviously to keep the radar out of the cockpit," Ricardo said. "I thought … I've been flying for years without it, what's been happening to me in the meantime?"

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