What can I say, I dig military technology and geopolitics... maybe a little too much. That's why I'll be running Jalopnik's new military sub-site Foxtrot Alpha. And just like the name suggests, it's going to be awesome.
Where did all of this start? I would have to say with a certain massive flying boat built mainly out of birch by Howard Hughes. I was maybe six or seven years old when my parents surprised me with a diversion from our Disneyland holiday to a huge white geodesic dome sitting on the edge of Long Beach Harbor.
I was into the HK-1 Hercules, popularly known as the Spruce Goose, before this time, along with aviation in general, although I cannot figure out exactly why. I remember walking through the entry of the dome, getting our tickets, and turning the corner into the dark and cavernous heart of this big round structure. There it was, just sitting there, all lit up. It was glorious. From that day on my life would be on a peculiar track, one where aviation, military technology and foriegn policy became not just a hobby, but an obsession.
As the years went by I got deeper and deeper into the subject matter, I wanted to know every bit of info available about every single weapon system, and before the time of the "interwebs" this was a very tedious and challenging task. I learned that really knowing what was going on in the world mattered, and the space between foreign policy, politics and military capabilities was much smaller then most really cared to realized. It was as if external circumstances, key people, and the ingenuity of man all came together to make pivotal moments in our world's history, for better or worse. Simply put, I found this cause and effect relationship truly fascinating.
I was only about ten years old, but I watched the coverage of Desert Shield and Desert Storm as if it was my Super Bowl. Watching events progress on CNN at the time I felt incredibly knowledgeable for my age, but at the same time I also felt like I really needed to learn so much more. I was in awe seeing all the different weapon systems and America's foreign policy apparatus work as one integrated, yet at times clumsy, machine to effect a certain outcome.
From this point on I knew I was "different" than other kids. Sure I had lots of friend and was the outgoing kid in school, but everyone else loved sports or didn't have much of a passion for anything at all. I felt like the most fascinating game in life, the one with the highest stakes, was geopolitics and warfare. Football, basketball and the rest were fun to play, but just seemed like cheap, simplistic simulations of the real deal. Till this day I am amazed that people will know the whole starting lineup of such and such team but will have no idea who the Speaker Of The House or Secretary of State is. Nothing against sports at all, I just could not figure out how for some it was more interesting than world events and the people and technology that drive them.
Being a military technology junkie during your entire youth is kind-of a solitary endeavor. Sure, there are other kids who knew the difference between an F-16 and an F-15, but there wasn't anyone to discuss Clausewitz or the latest issue of World Airpower Journal with. Perhaps such an independent passion was a good thing, as it makes you dig deeper and compete with yourself, build your knowledge base be more independent at a young age. It also allowed me to start distilling down key thoughts and rules about foreign policy that have really stuck with me ever since, and I continue to refine them to this day.
Fast forward to high school and I fell into photography, hard. Even with digital photography's amazing economics, post processing manipulation potential and clarity, there is nothing like going into the darkroom with so much on the line and seeing what you saw in your minds eye molecularize in front of you. There is just something totally meditative about the developing process and that red glowing atmosphere. It was pretty clear that I had a talent for shooting, and for all four years I was highly involved with every aspect of the school's photo program. Years later, this would prove to be an invaluable experience.
College was, well, a blur. I went to University of Oregon, just a couple hours south of my hometown, Portland, Oregon. I had a great time, fraternity life to the max and all that nonsense. Between school and the burning of brain cells I continued to keep up with my study of aerospace and military tech, and my views on foreign policy really began to gel.
For instance, I believe that we put too much focus on predicting another nation's actions based on a ruler's personalities, speeches, diplomatic footsie and gaming concepts like the rational actor model. Although all these tactics are very useful, I think so many in the foreign policy arena lack a serious understanding of one of the biggest tools in the toolbox when it comes to foreign policy: Military capabilities.
I believe that one of the most accurate ways to predict what a nation or ruling party's biggest ambitions and greatest fears are is by looking at the military capabilities they are fielding today, and those they are working toward fielding tomorrow. My reasoning behind this is that talk is cheap and you never can tell exactly what is going on in someone's head, but the procurement of military hardware, weapons research and sustainment is piggy-bank-shatteringly expensive. You can say whatever you want, but developing a nuclear weapon or a fifth generation stealth fighter tells me more about what you are planning for your strategic future, and who you worry about in your bed at night, than any speech or psychological profile ever could. It is literally putting your money where your mouth is, or in some cases, where your mouth is not at all.
After selling my first business a few years after graduating college I picked up digital photography and paired it with my passion for aviation. This dichotomy really worked for me and I fell back in love with the whole photo thing all over again. Within a year I was flying all over doing photo work for one reason or another and meeting great people in uniform from bases around the US.
Now, the better half of a decade a later I am amazed where my photography has taken me and where they have shown up, from the Reagan Library to the cover of a Breitling catalog. You can see some of my work at my showcase site, www.hangar71.com (which is also greatly in need of an update) and all my work in chronological order is posted over at http://www.flickr.com/photos/vector1…
A good five years after I started shooting again, my brother, who has a strong position in internet start-ups, kept telling me to start a blog and write about defense issues and military technology. After dragging my feel I decided to give it a shot and, with that Aviationintel.com was born. That site opened up some fantastic opportunities for me.
I really focused conveying the big picture to my audience, whether it be about defense procurement or a new weapon concept, and how it all fits into the military's larger goals, or lack thereof. I also found that few outlets actually gave people a wide angle view of how all these programs tie together, or at the very least, accurately fill in the blanks as so much of this world remains in the classified shadows. I also realized that people actually crave detail. I realize that it is a twitter world now days, but when it comes to incredibly complex topics like state of the art weapon systems, people desperately want to know more, and this was precisely what I aimed to give my readers. Finally, Aviationintel.com was not a news site. Far from it actually. It was a site where I broke down in detail fairly complex topics, and shared my opinion on these topics at will.
Within a short amount of time I became known for my commentary on military technology and procurement and their relationship to key foreign policy events and goals. In particular my work on unmanned systems, secret programs, Operation Neptune's Spear, the RQ-170 incident and especially the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program have been my calling card. Beyond Aviationintel.com, my work has been featured all over the world, from Rolling Stone Magazine to working as a key source for the popular TV program "Nova." I am also regularly featured on talk radio programs to discuss defense issues and military history.
That takes us to the present, here at Jalopnik and the creation of Foxtrot Alpha. My goal here is to give readers something they cannot give anywhere else. That being in-depth analysis military technology and operations while openly courting a debate on controversial issues. I wan this to be a place where readers can come to find out more and not just to read some repackaged news. A place to learn not just what happened but why it happened.
A place where the commentary is unafraid and straight to the point. Most of all I want Foxtrot Alpha to be a place where you have a say in the content. I read every single comment I get and try to respond where applicable. I appreciate your insights greatly and I am a fan of corrections. Additionally, I need your help in making this site the very best of its kind on the internet. If you have any leads, story ideas or just want to drop me a not please do so at any time, it would be greatly appreciated: Tyler@Jalopnik.com
With your help, I hope we can make Foxtrot Alpha the best bottom-line defense coverage in the world, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate the positive response so far.
Now, with that nerdery behind us, here is a little more about me:
- Favorite Cars (hey this is Jalopnik for f's sake!): "Classic:" In love with the '59 year at GM, Impala, Cad, Vette, all heaven. "Muscle Car:" '70 GTO Judge in Orbit Orange Ram Air IV with the M21 four speed wide ratio. "Antiquated 80's:" Vector W8. "Supercar:" Lambo Aventador Roadster.
- Cars I wish I never sold: 63 Impala SS, 85 CJ7, 68 GTO
- Favorite Movie: Tie between Robocop & Pulp Fiction
- Favorite Acting Performance: Joaquin Phoenix in "The Master"
- Favorite Drama TV series: Tie between Sopranos & Star Trek Deep Space Nine
- Last meal on earth: I think it would be an In N' Out double-double, heavy on the spread, with a large fry and a shake
- Where I want to go next: Bulgaria to check out some of those freaky soviet super-monuments!
- Thing I get asked to do most: Standup comedy and to explain what I think happened after horrible plane crashes.
- Favorite Comedy TV series: A tie between Curb & Eastbound And Down
- Coolest place I have ever been: Istanbul for "Star Wars" like cool factor, Capri for the all around most intriguing.
- Best Concert: iHeartMUSIC festival in Vegas
- Jet I would love to have flown: F-16N, the hottest Viper ever built or the F-14B
- Notable figure I would want to have dinner with dead or alive: Ben Franklin
- Notable figure I would want to party with dead or alive: Sinatra (because you get the whole rat-pack too!), Elvis would be a close runner up
- Great aviation experience that I wish I could do again: Spending hours in the F-14A full motion simulator as kid back in the mid-90's just weeks before TOPGUN did their final departure from Miramar. Sure the new high-fidelity sims are insanely cool, but this was the real deal, nuts & bolts, shoot approaches on the boat, 1980's vintage virtual Tomcat. I would have to go to Iran to get this same experience again!
If you made it this far I feel flattered! Thanks a ton for reading guys and once again please shoot me an email if you have any leads, story ideas, great pics or videos!
Romance and Adventure!