With nuclear powered drones, endurance could stop being measured in hours and would be measured in months with excess power used to power better communications and surveillance equipment.
Sandia and Northrop started the project to try and resolve three problems associated with drones with what they call “ultra-persistence technologies”: insufficient “hang time” over a potential target, lack of power for running sophisticated surveillance and weapons systems, and a lack of communications capacity.
The Sandia-Northrop project team looked at power supplies for large to medium sized UAVs before finally settling on nuclear power: not surprising, since Northrop Grumman patented a Helium Powered nuclear reactor as long ago as 1986 and its widely known designs for nuclear powered aircraft date back as far as the ’50s.
The project team found that nuclear power provided far more time on target and intel per mission than any other power source by quite a margin. It was also the most cost effective power source in that it eliminated the need for expensive support infrastructure near hostile territory.
And it would enable drones to carry more weapons or reconnaissance sensors.
Sandia went out of its way to say that the project is now complete and that no equipment was built or tested and this project was nothing more than a feasibility study, perhaps showing how sensitive this technology is.
There are worries that public opinion would not accept the idea of such a potentially dangerous technology, hence Sandia’s rather over the top statement.
Fears of this technology are understandable after the amount of drones that have been lost, both during combat operations and training. The risk is turning the drone into a sort of dirty bomb or the sensitive technology falling into the wrong hands of terrorists or enemy forces.
Therefore there will be no nuclear powered drones. For the moment….
With a ceremony for employees, customers, former executives and elected officials, including U.S Rep. Kay Granger and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, Lockheed Martin celebrated the 4,500th delivery of the F-16 at its Fort Worth production facility, in Texas, on Apr. 3, 2012.
The 4,500th example is a F-16 painted in desert camo and is a Block 52 model destined for Morocco.
The first production orders for the F-16 date back to 1975. Since then the Fighting Falcon (nicknamed “Viper” in the fighter pilots community) has been produced in partnership with 5 countries and sold to a grand total of 26 countries.
The Fort Worth company has a further 70 F-16s on order book, planes destined to Morocco, Turkey, Egypt, Oman and Iraq, which should keep the production line open until at least 2016.
Lockheed Martin, that has recently announced a new variant, the F-16V, including a new glass cockpit, a new mission computer and data-link architecture, as well as a brand new active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, is hoping to surpass the sales figures for the F-4 Phantom which stood at 5,195 many of which were replaced by the F-16.
Image credit: Lockheed Martin
One of the highlights of the ceremony was a video of an interview with retired test pilot Phil Oestricher, who also attended the ceremony, which included footage of the January 1974 accidental first flight, when Oestericher took the plane airborne during a high speed taxi test after encountering severe control problems. The video below (although not being the one showed at the ceremony) shows that first flight test “accident”.
Sun ‘n Fun is a “Fly-in” and airshow held each annually at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport in Lakeland, Florida, usually in April.
Participants include pilots flying their own homebuilt, vintage, restored ex-military aircraft, as well as some current display team and soloist. Among the others (including the Commemorative Air Force’s B-29 “Fifi”, world’s last flying Superfortress; the Black Diamond team and several military and civil aircraft in static display), this year’s edition featured the USAF Thunderbirds, the U.S. Navy F-18 East Tactical Demo of the VFA-106 “Gladiators” and the USMC AV-8B Harrier Demo of the VMA-542.
The accompanying selection of photographs was taken by Al Clark during the practice airshow, Friday, Mar. 30, and during the official airshow on Saturday, Mar. 31. The photos were taken from off the airshow grounds in order to facilitate better photographic opportunities.
If you want to know which other planes were at Lakeland during the last weekend, the following video provides an overview on some of the hundred other aircraft attenting Sun n’ Fun 2012.
Several news agencies have been running a news story, that appeared first on the Foreign Policy website, according to which Israel has secured the use of at least one of four former Soviet era airbases in Azerbaijan. Something that was often speculated in the last weeks.
At what first appears an unlikely alliance is anything but. Even Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev described his country’s relationship with Israel as an iceberg: “Nine-tenths of it below the surface” in a leaked memo by Wikileaks during 2009.
Azerbaijan and Israel signed a $1.6 billion arms deal for drones and missile defense systems as recently as February. Israel is also Azerbaijan’s largest oil customer so once all of this is pieced together the bigger picture starts to become apparent, even if no one really knows the full extent of the military links between the new allies.
Foreign Policy mentions that one former CIA analyst doubted that Israel will actually launch strikes from Azerbaijan describing it as “too chancy” politically and Azeri officials have already denied the possibility that IAF was granted access to local airbases.
Image credit: U.S. Air Force
Indeed, the likely scenario is that the strike jets will not launch from the Caucasus but that they could recover to the airbases in Azerbaijan after the strikes on the nuclear facilities in Iran and could either return home or launch follow up strikes thereafter.
What makes this scenario favoured is also that the main airbases in Azerbaijan are supposed to be closely monitored by Iranian observers and, unless the Israeli plans to use improvised airfields, any deployment of Israeli planes before the attack would be a clear sign of an imminent kick-off of the strike.
On the other hand, having an airbase close to Iran would also the IDF the opportunity to deploy and eventually launch ELINT or SIGINT sorties prior to the strike as well as Combat Search And Rescue (CSAR) missions should the need arise.
This short but interesting video (which looks like the result of several footages mixed together) shows one of the most intruguing planes operating with the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force: the F-14 Tomcat.
Along with scenes seemingly excerpted from Top Gun movie, the video (most probably coming from from the Iranian TV series Shoghe Parvaz) shows some AIM-54 Phoenix air-to-air missiles, with several live examples being shown, even if the majority of the F-14s is filmed flying unarmed.
Noteworthy, as could be noticed on a previously published video, the IRIAF F-14s fly without the IFR (In-Flight Refueling) probe cover because, as explained by Dario Leone, a reader of this blog and an F-14 expert, when they were produced and delivered to Iran they were supposed to be refueled by the U.S. KC-135s whose basket is different (and the cover could get jammed with it) from the ones used by the U.S. Navy S-3s or KA-6s.
For the same reason, during Desert Storm, the U.S. F-14s, that had to be refueled also by Air Force tankers flew without the cover.
There are also images dating back to the early 2000s of U.S. Navy F-14s flying without the cover. According to other sources since the “hatch” blocked quite frequently, especially during low temperature operations, it was removed to prevent it from making air-to-air refueling impossible.
Written with The Aviationist’s Editor David Cenciotti