Author Archives: Dario Leone

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

 

The F-16 and the Forward Air Controller (Airborne) mission

The Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon is the western world’s most prolific fighter of the last 40 years.

Born in response to LWF (Light Weight Fighter) requirement for a small and agile fighter, the Viper has become U.S. Air Force’s standard multirole jet.

Among the many tasks that the F-16 can perform, there is also the Forward Air Controller (Airborne) or FAC (A) mission.

In the cool video below you can see the strafing run of eight F-16CJs belonging to 22nd and 23rd Fighter Squadrons from Spangdahlem AB, during a NATO FACs exercise held at Nordhorn Range in Germany on Aug. 20, 2009.

But which are the skills requested to perform a FAC(A) mission?

In this kind of mission, the airborne platform has also the task to allocate fighters to targets designated by the ground troops.

Even if the FAC(A) concept dates back to WWII and, later, Korea Air War, nowadays the job generally requires a single seat plane, with a quite busy pilot who runs the radios, coordinates the attack runs with the ground troops, writes down some specific data information and flies the aircraft.

Aircraft flying FAC(A) missions usually carry a wide variety of ordnance such as dumb bombs, white phosphorus rockets (used to mark targets for inbound attackers) and also 20 mm rounds which flank the latest precision guided munitions that the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) and Sniper targeting pod (along with Link 16 and other on board tech) make more efficient.

The FAC(A) manages the Close Air Support stack, that is the vertical pier of airplanes that respond to the FAC(A)’s call for support.

While flying his own airplane and avoiding enemy Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs) and Anti Aircraft Artillery (AAA), the FAC(A) must keep track simultaneously the CAS stack which is made up of different types of aircraft, with many different types of air-to-ground munitions most of the times, and furthermore they have different loiter times, airspeeds and ability to hit targets on the ground.

Moreover the FAC(A) also coordinates army artillery fires. Therefore, it’s a quite busy mission!

The F-16, a fast jet that offers its pilot an impressive visibility, can carry plenty of ordnance, is maneuverable even at low-speed and high AOA (Angle of Attack) and can effectively cooperate with different types of aircraft, is the perfect asset to perform FAC(A) missions.

Another aircraft quite good in the same role is the OA-10 Warthog.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force