Category Archives: Aviation

Up close and personal with NASA’s Global Hawk drones at Edwards Air Force Base

NASA operates the giant Northrop Grumman Global Hawk drone to collect weather data.

On Feb. 5, NASA showed off its newest and smartest unmanned Global Hawk aircraft to reporters at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center located on Edwards AFB, CA.

Shorealone Films photographer Matt Hartman went there to report about the NASA’s Global Hawk fleet.

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These aircraft have been helping NOAA scientists, researchers and forecasters with gathering weather information from altitudes and conditions not suitable for humans.

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The missions tasked by these aircraft can last almost 24hours without refueling.

The Sensing Hazards with Operational Unmanned Technology (SHOUT) project led by the NOAA Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Program, will deploy the NASA Global Hawks carrying a suite of meteorological sensors and deploying dropsondes during four research flights in February.

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According to the NASA website, the agency acquired its three drones from the U.S. Air Force. These are among the very first UAS (unmanned Aerial Systems) built under the original Global Hawk Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrator development program sponsored by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).

The Global Hawk is a gigantic drone: 44 feet in length it has a wingspan of more than 116 feet, a height of 15 feet, and a gross takeoff weight of 26,750 pounds, including a 1,500-pound payload capability. It is powered by a single Rolls-Royce AE3007H turbofan engine and features a distinctive V-tail.

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The engine cover, aft fuselage and wings are constructed primarily of graphite composite materials; the center fuselage is made of aluminum, whereas various fairings and radomes feature fiberglass composite construction.

NASA’s Global Hawks made the headlines last week, after a hacker under the name of @CthulhuSec and the hacking group AnonSec started posting massive data belonging to NASA on Pastebin: such leaked data included around 150 GB of drone logs as well as 631 aircraft and radar videos along with 2,143 email address of NASA employees.

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Interestingly, not only did the hacking group exfiltrate data from NASA’s network, but they also claim to have achieved “semi-partial control” of one of the agency’s Global Hawk drones by replacing the original .gpx file (containing the aircraft’s pre-planned route) with one crafted to direct it along a different route; a claim that has been denied by NASA.

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This is not the first time civil or military drones are hacked.

The Intercept has recently reported that GCHQ and NSA compromised video feeds from Israeli drones from a base in Cyprus.

Previously, Iran claimed to have captured a CIA’s RQ-170 Sentinel drone by hijacking it.

U.S. Air Force Predator drones were reportedly infected by a malware that captured all the operator’s keystrokes in 2011.

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All images: Matt Hartman

Stunning Air-to-Air photographs of the Latvian Baltic Bees Aerobatic Display Team

The Baltic Bees Jet Team is an aerobatic team which took part in several events in Poland this year. Here are some amazing air-to-air shots of the team, taken in connection with the Poznan Aerofestival.

The Latvian Baltic Bees team flies six L-39 Albatros jets, capable of reaching speeds close to 900 kilometers per hour, with 22 meters per second climb rate.

The aircraft used by the team are painted in a characteristic blue-yellow-striped color scheme, with a silhouette of a bee, painted under the fuselage. What is interesting, the team offer aerobatic flights for “civilians”: they provide a chance to fly a quasi combat aircraft (with the instructor pilot) to people who have always dreamed of flying a fighter jet.

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The Baltic Bees provides these services as one of a few companies in Europe.

Filip Modrzejewski, editor-in-chief of the Foto Poork website, accompanied the Latvian pilots last year, during their transfer from Jurmala (close to Riga) to Poznan. The team flew to Poland in order to take part in the Aerofestival air show, taking place at the Ławica airport in Poznan.

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The whole cruise, in a “Diamond Trail” formation, took place at FL250. Filip was tasked with taking photos of the team, flying in the jet No. 5, piloted by Valery Sobolev, as this was the best position for him to take good shots – all aircraft were visible during the climb, or during a low-pass. In case of air-to-air photo-shoots, good communication is the key – thanks to that it is possible to achieve good photographic position.

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Notably, next year’s edition of Aerofestival has been already scheduled on May 28 and 29, 2016. At the moment, the details related to the planned highlights remain unknown. We will – most certainly – attend the event and provide you with a report.

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The photos in this post include some shots shot on the ground.

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All Images – Credit: Filip Modrzejewski / Foto Poork.

 

Online flight tracking exposes FBI Aerial Surveillance over San Bernardino Mosque after Terrorist Attack

FBI aircraft have been particularly active over San Bernardino, California, during and after the mass shooting.

As already highlighted on Twitter, several assets, including FBI planes and media helicopters, could be tracked online on Dec. 2, during the San Bernardino terrorist attack.

Interestingly, the following days, the FBI conducted aerial surveillance in the vicinity of the Dar Al Uloom Al Islamiyah-Amer mosque in San Bernardino.

The activity was conducted by an aircraft registered to PXW Services (a fake company established by the FBI), that loitered for 4 hours near the mosque on Dec. 3. Similar surveillance missions were conducted the next day, including a flight by another FBI aircraft with registration number N404KR.

The mosque was visited regularly by one of the attackers, Sayed Farook, and is approximately 5 miles away from the initial attack site at the Inland Regional Center.

You can view an animation of the surveillance flight (based on FlightRadar24 data) prepared by The Aviationist’s contributor Eric Rosenwald here:

Many thanks to Eric Rosenwald for contributing to this post.

JANET, America’s Most Secret Airline, Is Hiring

Area 51 airline is hiring.

Janet airline is the name of a small fleet of passenger aircraft that serve the famous Area 51, the U.S. Air Force top-secret base in the Nevada desert, along with some key military airbases used for research and development, including the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale CA and Tonopah Test Range, Nevada.

JANET, that unofficially stands for “Just Another Non Existent Terminal”, is a shuttle service operated by AECOM, a private defense contractor, from a terminal at Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport, with a small fleet of Boeing 737-600 jets, sporting the peculiar overall white with red cheatline livery, along with  two Beechcraft 1900s and three Beechcraft 200Cs painted white with less noticeable blue trim stripes.

Well, our friend and journalist Ian D’Costa has just discovered that the secret airline is hiring.

Here’s what he posted in an article he published on TACAIRNET website:

“Aside from military aircraft with proper clearance, Janet flights are the only aircraft in the United States, let alone the rest of the world, allowed to access Restricted Area 4808 North, the airspace above and around Groom Lake. As you can imagine, flying for Janet, while probably not terribly exciting, is a hell of a cool job, and recruiting tends to be very selective and exclusive.

AECOM listed the job posting for a First Officer based out of Las Vegas very recently on their official careers website, adding in the listing that there is a requirement for a background check and the ability to hold a Top Secret clearance from the US government. Aside from that, prospective pilots have to be deemed medically fit and have to have logged time in the Boeing 737, preferably the 737 Next Generation (737NG) family of jet airliners. A candidate applying for the First Officer’s position with Janet should also apparently have a minimum of 2000 hours generated in fixed wing aircraft, of which at least 1000 hours have to be in turbine-powered (jet) aircraft. It’s also preferable for the candidate to possess high-performance aircraft experience, though apparently not a strict requirement. This potentially gives former military pilots a competitive edge over civilian counterparts. Previous experience as pilot-in-command (PIC) of an alien spaceship or the Millennium Falcon not required either.

So if you qualify, and you can find them… maybe you can join, the Janet team.”

As a side note, in spite of their secretive nature of its operation JANET flights (that, by the way, use “Janet” as callsign) can be tracked online on Flightradar24.com as the following tweets (courtesy of @CivMilAir) prove.

 



Top image credit: Wiki

 

We went to Germany to meet the An-225 Mriya, the world’s largest airplane

An-225 Mriya Stopped Over In Leipzig. And We Went There To Meet The Giant.

On Nov. 12, we visited Leipzig international airport, Germany, in order to have a closer look at the largest airplane in operational use: the Antonov An-225 Mriya.

Known under the NATO codename “Cossack”, the An-225 covered a route between Gostomel (Ukraine, homebase for the Mriya), Leipzig (Antonov airlines cargo hub), Doncaster and Baku.

Since both Antonov Airlines (using Mriya and the An-124 Ruslan cargo planes) and the Russian Volga-Dnepr Airlines company (operating Ruslan airlifters) are located in Leipzig (although the terminals are located in different parts of the airport), there is always a good chance of meeting at least one of the Antonov’s giants at the airport located in central Germany, to the southwest of Berlin.

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The Antonov An-225 has been designed at the end of Cold War. The main purpose of the aircraft was to carry the Soviet “Buran” space shuttle and parts of the “Energia” rocket on its back.

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At the moment, the sole existing example is used commercially, as an international cargo transporter.

Mriya is not the largest aircraft ever built – this title belongs to the Hughes H-4 Spruce Goose hydroplane, however, this aircraft made only a single flight. The Antonov’s name – Mriya – means “Dream” in Ukrainian language.

An225 closeup

The size of this aircraft is beyond anything one can imagine. For the sake of comparison, it must be noted that the cargo bay is longer than the distance of the first flight in history, made by the Wright brothers. Anyway, you won’t have a clear idea of the size of the Antonov’s largest airframe until you get an opportunity to meet it personally.

An225 and An124

Here’s the route the An-225 followed on Nov. 12 from Doncaster to Leipzig.

An-225 route

An-225 route (credit: Flightradar24.com)

Image credit: Jacek Siminski