Author Archives: Dario Leone

These may be the only F-22’s Achilles’ heels in a dogfight against 4th gen fighter jets

Considered almost unbeatable in the air-to-air role, the F-22 successfully debuted in combat, taking part in air strikes against ISIS targets. But what if the F-22 found a 4th Gen. opponent?

Even though we don’t know much details about them, missions flown by the F-22 Raptor over Syria marked the combat debut of the stealth jet.

As already explained, the radar-evading planes conducted air strikes against ISIS ground targets, in what (considering the 5th Generation plane’s capabilities) were probably Swing Role missions: the stealth jets flew ahead of the rest of the strike package to cover the other attack planes, dropped their Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs) on designated targets, and escorted the package during the way back.

Considered that it could not carry external fuel tanks (to keep a low radar signature), the F-22 were refueled at least two or three times to make it to North Syria and back to the UAE, flying a mission most probably exceeding the 6 – 7 hours flying time.

Raptor’s stealthiness is maintained by storing weapons in internal bays capable to accomodate 2x AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, some AIM-120C AMRAAM air-to-air missiles (the number depending on the configuration), as well as 2x 1,000 pound GBU-32 JDAM or 8x GBU-39 small diameter bombs: in this way the Raptor can dominate the airspace above the battlefield while performing OCA (Offensive Counter Air) role attacking air and ground targets. Moreover its two powerful Pratt & Whitney F-119-PW-100 engines gave to the fifth fighter the ability to accelerate past the speed of sound without using the afterburners (the so called supercruise) and TV (Thrust Vectoring), that can be extremely useful, in certain conditions, to put the Raptor in the proper position to score a kill.

All these capabilities have made the F-22 almost invincible (at least on paper). Indeed, a single Raptor during one of its first training sorties was able to kill eight F-15s in a mock air-to-air engagement, well before they could see it.

These results were achieved also thanks to the specific training programs which put F-22 pilots against the best US fighters jocks in order to improve their abilities to use the jet’s sophisticated systems, make the most out of sensor fusion, then decide when and to execute the correct tactic.

The Raptor has a huge advantage against its adversaries as demonstrated by the F-22’s incredible kill ratio against USAF Red Air (which play as enemy air forces during exercises) and its F-16s and F-15s, during the exercises undertaken in the last decade: for instance, during exercise Noble Edge in Alaska in June 2006, few F-22s were able to down 108 adversaries with no losses, while during the 2007 edition of the same exercise, they brought their record to 144 simulated kills.

In its first Red Flag participation, in February 2007, the Raptor was able to establish air dominance rapidly and with no losses.

As reported by Dave Allport and Jon Lake in a story which appeared on Air Force Monthly magazine, during an Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI) in 2008, the F-22s scored 221 simulated kills without a single loss.

Still, when outnumbered and threatened by F-15s, F-16s and F-18s, in a simulated WVR (Within Visual Range) dogfight, the F-22 is not invincible.

Raptors refuel

Apparently along with the Rafale, one aircraft which proved to be a real threat for the F-22 is the Eurofighter Typhoon: during the 2012 Red Flag-Alaska, the German Eurofighters not only held their own, but reportedly achieved several kills on the Raptors.

Even though with don’t know anything about the ROE (Rules Of Engagement) set for that training sorties and, at the same time, the outcome of those mock air-to-air combat is still much debated (as there are different accounts of those simulated battles),  the “F-22 vs Typhoon at RF-A” story, raised some questions about the threat posed to the Raptor by advanced, unstealthy, 4th Gen. fighter jets.

In fact, even though these aircraft are not stealth, Typhoons are equipped with  Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) systems and IRST (the Infra-Red Search and Track), two missing features on Raptors.

The Typhoon’s HMD is called Helmet Mounted Symbology System (HMSS). Just like the American JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System) which is integrated in the U.S. F-15C/D, F-16  Block 40 and 50 and F-18C/D/E/F, HMSS provides the essential flight and weapon aiming information through line of sight imagery. Information imagery (including aircraft’s airspeed, altitude, weapons status, aiming etc) are projected on the visor (the HEA – Helmet Equipment Assembly – for the Typhoon) , enabling the pilot to look out in any direction with all the required data always in his field of vision.

The F-22 Raptor is not equipped with a similar system (the project to implement it was axed following 2013 budget cuts). The main reason for not using it on the stealth jet is that it was believed neither an HMD, nor HOBS (High Off-Boresight) weapons that are fired using these helmets, were needed since no opponents would get close enough to be engaged with an AIM-9X in a cone more than 80 degrees to either side of the nose of the aircraft.

Sure, but the risk of coming to close range with an opponent is still high and at distances up to 50 km an aircraft equipped with an IRST (Infra-Red Search and Track) system, which can detect the IR signature of an enemy fighter (that’s why Aggressors at Red Flag carry IRST pods….), could even be able to find a stealthy plane “especially if it is large and hot, like the F-22″ as a Eurofighter pilot once said.

Summing up, the F-22 is and remains the most lethal air superiority fighter ever. Still, it lacks some nice features that could be useful to face hordes of enemy aircraft, especially if these include F-15s, Typhoons, Rafales or, in the future, the Chinese J-20 and Russian PAK-FA.

David Cenciotti has contributed to this post.

Top it off: Tankers refuel RED FLAG-Alaska

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

F-15 Eagle vs CF-18 Hornet vs F-16 Fighting Falcon: a pilot’s perspective

Although they are two different airframes, the F-15 and the F-18 have similar avionics, as you can read in the following interesting story released by an experienced Eagle driver.

Disclaimer: the story is based on an interview to an F-15, published on a magazine profiling the F/A-18 Hornet.

Developed as a multirole naval fighter, the McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F/A-18 Hornet has become the backbone of  the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps and several air arms around the world.

Among them there is also the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), formerly known as Canadian Forces Air Command, that began receiving a slightly modified version of the standard legacy Hornet, designated CF-18 (Canadian military designation is CF-188), in 1982.

Two years later, the first CF-18 fighter planes were also delivered to the Canadian units permanently based in Germany to replace their aging CF-104 Starfighter.

Some U.S. Air Force pilots stationed in Europe had a chance to learn more about the CF-18 capabilities. One of them was an F-15C pilot, Robert I “Scout” Winebrenner, who flew with Canadian Hornets while he was assigned to 32 Tactical Fighter Squadron in Soesterberg, the Netherlands.

In fact, during his tour of duty in Europe, Winebrenner became a Tactical Leadership Program (TLP) instructor and, as such, he had the opportunity to experience several observation flights aboard the two seat variants of the aircraft belonging to the units that took part to the exercise.

As Winebrenner recalls in Issue 23 “McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A/B/C/D Hornet” of Aviation Classics magazine, most of these flights were in the F-16s used by several European air forces, and in the Canadian CF-188B Hornets.

Dealing with the F-16, “Scout” explains that he never felt really comfortable in the Viper (as the Fighting Falcon is nicknamed by the fighter pilots community) cockpit even though the plane’s HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) feature provided the ability to perform myriad tasks without moving the hands away from the stick and throttles.

In particular, the radar scope located between the legs in the early “A” blocks felt like a “foreign object” in the first few flights on the F-16.

On the contrary his perspective from the CF-18 cockpit was completely different, as everything was where it was supposed to be.

The switches, knobs and gauges had a familiar look. Not surprising, since both the Eagle and the Hornet were McDonnel Douglas products and came from the same St. Louis plant.

Still, according to Scout, there were other reasons.

First of all, he felt extremely comfortable in the Hornet cockpit, to such an extent, after his very first flight on the plane, he said to the Canadian pilot who was flying in the front seat the following words: “You know, this could be completely over-the-top misplaced confidence on my part, but after that flight, I have the feeling that I could walk out there fire one up, and go out and fly the airplane, run the systems and even employ it tactically…just like that.”

During his several sorties on board Canadian Hornets, Winebrenner discovered that several functions of the CF-18 cockpit were even better than those owned by the Eagle one, such as the displays arrangement: whilst most Hornet fighter jocks put their radar display on the right MFD, the system was flexible and let the pilot chose the preferred arrangement.

He put his on the left (where the radar display is located in the F-15 cockpit), and “felt right at home.”

Moreover he liked the slightly larger HUD (Head Up Display), which gave to the cockpit a  more modern appearance. The 70° gimbal limit was great. The stick grip was also well designed with the extra control knob (the ‘castle’ switch), and the same stick grip was fitted in the F-15C with the Multi-Staged Improvement Programme (MSIP) modification to run the Multi-Function Colour Display (MFCD) that worked also as Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS) terminal.

But Winebrenner also found few things that he didn’t like about Hornet avionics, the first of those was the radar.

“Not that the Hughes APG-65 was a bad radar – far from it. But the narrower beam width and brute force of the F-15’s APG-63 was superior for most air-to-air situations. Moreover, the APG-65 was optimized for over-water operation, and incorporated some rather severe side-lobe suppression techniques which drastically reduced detection range if the Hornet was at lower altitude over land. The Eagle’s radar did similar things, but not anywhere near to the same extent.”

Thanks to its brute force and power, the APG-63 was better at dealing with Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) than the APG-65.

Another thing that Winebrenner liked more in the F-15C than in the CF-18, was the visibility in the cockpit, especially in the rear cockpit; however, in this case, we can’t but notice that the Eagle pilot was not impressed by the large single-piece bubble canopy with no forward bow frame that makes the Lockheed Martin F-16, at least the single seat, by far the fighter jet with the best 360° visibility of any combat plane in the world.

But, as a disclaimer, we told you at the beginning of this article that the interview was published on an issue dedicated to the F/A-18 Hornet….

Image credit: RCAF

 

How an Israeli F-15 Eagle managed to land with one wing

The famous episode when an Israeli Air Force F-15 was able to land with one wing.

The F-15 is not only a famous MiG Killer.

The legendary Eagle is also a very robust aircraft, that can survive some serious damages. As shown by a very well-known incident which occurred in 1983, in the skies over Nahal Tzin in the Negev desert, in Israel, during a mock aerial combat between two Israeli Air Force F-15Ds and four A-4Ns, when one of the Eagles, the F-15D #957 nicknamed ‘Markia Shchakim’, 5 killmarks, used for conversion of a new pilot named Zivi Nedivi, collided mid-air with one of the Skyhawks.

As explained in No Wing F-15, an interesting piece written by John Easley, Zivi didn’t immediately realize what had happened: he felt a big jolt and saw a huge fireball caused by the A-4 explosion, followed by radio communications according to those the Skyhawk pilot had successfully ejected.

He realized that the F-15 was badly damaged when the aircraft fell in a very tight spiral after a huge fuel leak from its right wing.

After regaining the control of the aircraft Nedivi was ordered to eject but decided not to bail out since he was confident he could land the plane at the nearest airfield, 10 miles away, even thought the F-15 was flying on vapors: he began to reduce speed but the missing right wing (that the Israeli pilot was still unaware of) caused a new spin.

Then just before ejecting, Nedivi decided to light the afterburners, gaining speed and managing to somehow control the F-15 once again.

Once he reached the air base, he lowered the tail hook, touched down at about 260 knots, which was twice the speed recommended for a standard landing, and managed to stop the plane about 10 meters before it engaged the Safeland Airfield Arrester Barrier.

As told by Easley, it was only after he turned back to shake his instructor’s hand, that Zivi discovered that he had flown and landed without a wing!

After the mishap, McDonnell Douglas, inquired by the Israeli Air Force, affirmed that it was impossible for an F-15 to with one wing only, but once they received the photo of the Eagle flying without one wing, they said that, pilot skills aside, damaged aircraft had been able to return to the base thanks to the lift generated by both its engine intakes and its fuselage.

Nevertheless proving once again its tremendous strength, after two months the Eagle received a new wing and returned to fly, as you can see in the picture below.

F-15 957

Image credit: Wiki

In the following video you can hear Zivi Nedivi himself explaining how he was able to land without its right wing.

 Top Image credit: Israeli Defense Force

 

[Video] Ten of the most dangerous carrier deck mishaps

Take off and landing from an aircraft carrier can be extremely dangerous.

Even if they are extremely important to project power across the globe, aircraft carriers and their flight decks are among the most dangerous working places all around the world.

Planes and helicopters that operate from aircraft carriers and huge ships face space constraints, weight limits, challenging weather conditions and, usually, unavailability of a nearby divert airfield: that’s why in spite of a lot of training and skills, something goes wrong every now and then.

The following video shows some famous and other less known mishaps, close-calls and incidents aboard U.S. and foreign aircraft carriers and warships at sea.

Obviously there are many other videos available on the Web. Let us know which one in your opinion is the most shocking or somehow interesting footage showing a carrier deck mishap.

 

How a Syrian nuclear facility was destroyed by the Israeli Air Force 7 years ago today

On Sept. 6, 2007 the Israeli Air Force (IAF) conducted a precision air strike, code-named Operation Orchard, against a Syrian nuclear installation.

Even if Israel has never publicly admitted that some of its aircraft destroyed the facility, some details about the mission have been either disclosed or leaked throughout the years.

Some of them are well described in the book The Sword of David – The Israeli Air Force at War, written by Donald McCarthy.

According to McCarthy, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1964 to 1968 before becoming a respected and well informed historian, the information for Operation Orchard is alleged to have come from Ali Reza Asgari, an Iranian general disappeared in February 2007, who may have been the source of the intelligence required by the Syrian nuclear site attack.

After gathering the required details, the Israelis planned a secret mission that was launched on Sept. 6 2007, at night.

At least a four F-16I Sufa (Storm) jets and another four F-15I Ra’am (Thunder) aircraft crossed the Syrian border, in bound to the nuclear plant located near the city of Dir A-Zur, in eastern Syria.

McCarthy points out the fact that Syria as well as other Arab countries were equipped with advanced Russian air defense systems, such as the Pantsir-S1 (SA-22 Greyhound as reported by NATO designation), claimed to be immune to electronic jamming. At the time of Operation Orchard, Syria operated twenty nine of these advanced air defense systems, so it remains unclear how the IAF aircraft flew undetected into the night sky out over the Mediterranean Sea, across the Euphrates River and along their route to the nuclear facility.

As explained by McCarthy, according to the most widely accepted theory the strike force included one or more Gulfstream G550 aircraft, equipped with the IAI Elta EL/W-2085 radar system.

Indeed, the success of the operation was largely attributed to effectiveness of the Israeli Electronic Warfare platforms that supported the air strike and made the Syrian radars blind: some sources believe that Operation Orchard saw the baptism of fire of the Suter airborne network system against Syrian radar systems.

This system, combined with the F-15Is electronic warfare capabilities, shut down Syrian air defense systems, providing the other airplanes the cover they needed to hit and destroy the Dir A-Zur nuclear plant.

F-15I Orchard

After the attack, the initial reports stated that the IAF aircraft had almost entirely destroyed the nuclear site, claims that were also confirmed by the comparison of pre and post-attack satellite imagery.

Even if the incident was shrouded in secrecy, Turkish media outlets reported that external fuel tanks were found on the ground not far away from the Syrian border: as reported by Shlomo Aloni & Zvi Avidror in their book Hammers Israel’s Long-Range Heavy Bomber Arm: The Story of 69 Squadron, these external fuel tanks were identified by foreign press as belonging to F-15 aircraft.

Operation Orchard showed the capabilities of the Israeli Air Force, capabilities that were most probably used to carry out an air strike on a weapons convoy and military complex near Damascus, at the beginning of 2013. As done in 2007, on the night between Jan. 29 and 30, 2013, Israeli bombers entered and egressed the Syrian airspace almost completely undetected by the Syrian air defenses: a sign that Syrian radars can do nothing against Israel’s Electronic Warfare systems, most probably further improved to embed the capability to inject malware from F-16s into enemy networks.

Image credit: IAF