In our annual Style & Design September issue: The world’s most innovative and lust-inducing new cars, including Porsche’s speedy hybrid; Michael Hastings’ story of the low-tech, lightweight Kiowa helicopters and the gutsy pilots who fly them in the Afghan War; outspoken new USC football coach Lane Kiffin sounds off; and many more perfect things.
In our annual Style & Design September issue: The world’s most innovative and lust-inducing new cars, including Porsche’s speedy hybrid; Michael Hastings’ story of how low-tech, lightweight Kiowa helicopters and the gutsy pilots who fly them are changing the face of the Afghan War; outspoken new USC football coach Lane Kiffin sounds off; and many more perfect things.
From Perfect Things–The Hybrid Supercar:
At the Geneva auto show last March, a gunmetal gray vision rolled onto the show floor that made every speed freak around the world breathe a sigh of relief. “The Porsche 918 Spyder provides the answer to whether there can be high-performance cars in the future,” says Detlev von Platen, CEO of Porsche North America. “Many have said they are finished. This car shows they are not.”
The 918 is a plug-in hybrid, and Porsche predicts that it’ll go about 15 miles in electric mode. But using the 918’s electric motors to glide down to the country club would be as misguided as using Château Lafite Rothschild to flush your toilet. Better to depress the e-Boost button on the steering wheel and deploy those electrons in anger, appending the 218 hp of electric thrust to the mid-mounted V-8 engine’s 500 hp for short, violent bursts of acceleration. This is the real reason why Porsche is tinkering with hybrids: glorious speed.
The Spyder’s sinuous bodywork, with its fenders tightly hugging the wheels, evokes the 1954 550-1500 RS Spyder. But the details — retractable ram-air intakes hovering above the engine, an active rear wing that raises and lowers depending on the speed, a center console that looks like a next-gen iPhone — all point toward the future. In fact, the 918 is intended to eclipse the performance of its predecessor, the Carrera GT hypercar, yet still get 78 mpg (when you’re not indulging in the e-Boost).
Technically, the 918 is just a concept. But pragmatic Porsche doesn’t waste time on flights of fancy — its last “concept” was the Boxster. At Geneva the company said it would build the 918 if it received 1,000 orders. So far it has 2,000. [est. $630,000; porsche.com/usa]
Read the full article in MJ’s September issue…
From Michael Hastings’ America’s New Cavalry:
The ambush began at 8 in the morning, as rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire shook the dirt at the small outpost on the Pakistani border. Taliban fighters had taken up positions on the mountainside
overnight, sneaking in on a path known for ferrying suicide bombers into Afghanistan. I crouched behind a row of sandbags, 100 yards from an Afghan soldier who’d spent the previous night smoking hash. He was now shooting a PKM machine gun, laughing wildly while wearing only flip-flops, boxers, and a ripped T-shirt. Nearby, the infantry platoon of 20 Americans I was embedded with were firing their own weapons at boulders and cave openings, trying to hit an enemy they couldn’t see.
The soldiers tried to call in artillery support, but because they couldn’t pinpoint where the firing was coming from, their request was denied. It was another dicey shit fight on some worthless hill in Afghanistan: American troops under attack, wondering if this would be the time the Taliban would get the upper hand.
That’s when I heard a thwump-thwump-thwumping — the distinctive sound of rotor blades. I looked over my shoulder, and two small helicopters were cutting high across the horizon. It seemed as if they were floating over the mountaintop, pausing like a pair of deranged hummingbirds ready to dart to the ground. They came in hot — the first one swooped directly overhead, strafing the mountainside with .50-caliber fire; the second let loose with four rockets. With each boom, the Americans on the ground let out a hoot —
enjoying a brief respite from the fighting to watch the fireworks show. The Kiowas came around for a second pass. The whole strike took maybe three or four minutes, but when it was finished, there was no more firing coming from those mountains. The insurgents had either been killed or run away. Either way the Kiowas had put a quick end to the threat.
This wasn’t my first encounter with the helicopters officially known as OH-58 Kiowa Warriors — just the most harrowing. During the five years I’d spent covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I had often seen these tiny birds, each about the size of a Suburban, flying around. They aren’t nearly as pimped out as the $32 million Apaches or as intimidating to look at as the workhorse-like Black Hawks. But they are wonders of precision, buzzing the landscape at less than 50 feet or zipping in and out of canyons and mountain passes like lethal mosquitoes. On more than one occasion while working in Baghdad, I had watched from my balcony as the Kiowas got scary-close while circling the hotel — probably providing security for a VIP or escorting a ground patrol.
It’s this agility that has made the Kiowas and their ballsy pilots arguably the most vital air weapons of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. America’s counterinsurgency strategy, erected on the notion that the best way to fight terrorism is by nation building in these countries, has put an emphasis on limiting civilian deaths and property damage. In this kind of war — one with no traditional fronts, no columns of tanks to take out, but instead groups of insurgents holed up in populated areas or craggy mountainsides —precision trumps brute force. That has translated into a significant scaling back on the use of artillery and “fast mover” aircraft like fighter jets and the more deadly Apache helicopters, which can fire from miles away.
With their ability to get in close to the enemy, the Kiowas, nearly discarded remnants from the Vietnam War, have emerged as America’s modern-day cavalry. Not only are these nimble helicopters particularly useful in spotting roadside bombs — the number one killer of U.S. troops — they are one of the last high-powered weapons infantrymen can call on to bail them out when taking fire. “They pack a pretty good punch and are reasonably precise,” says John Pike, a military analyst at GlobalSecurity.org. “If you were dealing with the Soviet Union, a 15-megaton bomb would suffice. But in Afghanistan, where you are fighting smaller enemy units hiding in villages, you need an aircraft like the Kiowa.”
And you need a special kind of pilot — one willing to wage low-altitude gunfights on an almost daily basis. “Our job is to put ourselves between the infantry and the enemy,” explains Chief Warrant Officer and Kiowa pilot Krystian McKeown. “If we aren’t getting shot at, we’re not doing our job.”
Read the full article in MJ’s September issue…
From Paul Solotaroff’s Crunch Time For Boy Wonder:
It was D-Day-plus-two at the University of Southern California, and the quad was on full lockdown. There were guards posted up at the practice field, chains on the gates of the oval track, and officers patrolling the concrete stands, checking forearms for visitor wristbands. Forty-eight hours after its football program was hit with nuclear sanctions — the deletion of its BCS title in ’04; exclusion from bowl games in 2011 and ’12; and the loss of 30 scholarships over the next three years, a shock-and-awe strike by the NCAA after its probe into the dealings of its former star tailback Reggie Bush — the school was in a frenzy of self-enforcement. Lane Kiffin, its young and supremely confident new coach, had prepped for months to confront bad news, but this was beyond his worst nightmare. As he walked the strip between the athletic building and the field where he was staging a one-day camp for high school football players, he gaped at the white-shirted compliance cops conversing on walkie-talkies. “You kidding me?” he muttered under his breath. “It’s like Shawshank all of a sudden.”
For years Kiffin had been one of the most quotable men in the sport, a barb-tossing, baby-faced starter of feuds with championship coaches and team owners. But since landing at USC — his “dream job,” he calls it — and leaving his last employer, the University of Tennessee, rudely in the lurch last winter, he’d been on his best behavior. He’d said the right things here, stayed off the back pages, and deftly recruited two killer classes of kids while cracking down on a team that cratered last season, losing four times in conference play. But now, after two days of media siege — sound trucks crowding the palm-lined square and news crews camped on the steps of Heritage Hall, the steel-and-stucco eyesore of postwar construction that houses the football office — Kiffin was quietly boiling. He hadn’t seen his kids for four days, he had missed his five-year-old daughter’s dance recital, and his eyes were red from lack of sleep, the weight of the week landing hard. “This was payback for SC winning so much. The penalty doesn’t begin to fit the crime.”
Well, maybe. But Bush, the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner (the school is giving back the tainted award), did drive to games in a car so pimped it made the cover of Dub magazine, and his family was quartered in a San Diego manse that beggared some of his coaches’ homes. All told, almost $300,000 in cash and favors were allegedly laid out by two men hoping to represent Bush when he turned pro in ’06. Surely, someone should have noticed that the superstar was being paid like one in college, but none of then-coach Pete Carroll’s staffers, of whom Kiffin was one, claim to have seen a thing.
“These agents had nothing to do with our program or with Reggie coming here — he was already here. In the past, schools got crushed for paying kids to enroll. We didn’t do that, and don’t have to.”
He cited SMU and Alabama as past offenders rightly punished for that crime, then fumed about the ban’s collateral damage. “The players here now, they’ll barely feel it — they’ll play one game less a year and move on. It’s my staff that’ll take the hit in three years, when we’re down 30 guys and playing freshmen. That’s what burns me — those men and their families. How are they to blame for what happened?”
However earnest Kiffin sounds, loyalty has never been his strong suit. In Oakland, where, at 31, he was the youngest head coach in NFL history, he offended Al Davis within hours of being hired (he referred to him as Al, which no one does; Davis, duly piqued, called him Lance), twitted his defensive coordinator as a stooge of the owner, and insulted his players as fat and lazy to reporters eager to publish his taunts. At Tennessee, where he brought a monster staff in to revive an exhausted program, he mocked Florida coach Urban Meyer, a two-time champion, as a recruiting cheat, provoked Alabama’s Nick Saban with a stream of jibes, and incensed his own boosters with a slew of violations that brought NCAA probers to town. Then, after raising a ruckus in both places, he was out the door fast for a better job, leaving behind a rubble of dashed hopes. Loyalty, thy name was not Lane.
“Meanwhile,” he bristled, “other schools are smelling blood, calling my juniors and seniors. They’re calling our recruits now, saying, ‘SC’s done, they’re finished.’ I can’t wait till September is all I’ll say. They’re gonna see a fury coming at ’em.”
Read the full article in MJ’s September issue…
Joel McHale, Steve Nash, Jordan Romero, Jamey Johnson, Anderson Cooper, and the man who swam Everest; old-school artisans, prefab houses, smarter ski goggles, an ax-handled bat, and a guide to buying jeans that actually fit; classic American retreats, post-collapse Iceland, low-country seafood boils, a spicy new bourbon, and the three words Ray Lewis would tell his younger self if he could travel back in time: “Use a condom.”