According to an esteem by Flightradar24.com, around 60% of the civil airliners and only a small amount of business jets and military aircraft have an ADS-B transponder. This means that, although you will never spot a Stealth Helicopter nor Air Force One broadcasting its position, speed, altitude and route on the Web, you can still catch some extremely interesting planes. As the evasive US Air Force C-32Bs (a military version of the Boeing 757), operated by the Department of Homeland Security and US Foreign Emergency Support Team (FEST), used to deploy US teams and special forces in response to terrorist attacks.
I was wrong.
Although even the Flightradar24 FAQs confirmed that the Air Force One, the world’s most famous and important aircraft, should NOT be visible on their website, for a few seconds around 19.40UTC, the U.S. Air Force’s VC-25 (mil version of the B747), with registration 82-8000, transponder code 3614, advertised its position in the public domain while over Baltimore, descending through FL120 at 310 kts, heading towards Washington D.C. (for landing at Andrews AFB).
I don’t really know the reason for this quick appearance of the AF1 on FR24. A human error? A quick test? Hard to say. I’d expect the IFF Mode 5 with encrypted Mode-S and ADS-B to be paramount on the aircraft carrying the POTUS.
Once again a Foreign Emergency Support Team C-32 (B757) with registration 02-4452, belonging to the 227 SOF (Special Operations Flight) based at McGuire AFB, NJ, appeared on both FlightRadar24 and PlaneFinder on arrival to Andrews AFB just before 08.38UTC on May 15. Noteworthy, using LiveATC radio stream on KDCA approach I’ve heard it using an unusual callsign “Jenna 71″ being vectored for an ILS approach for RWY 19L at Andrews AFB. The aircraft hasn’t used one of the callsigns used by the 227 SOF (the most usual of which is “Terra”) but “Jenna” or “Jena” that according to some websites should be used by non-FBI aircraft and non-FBI flight crews involved in FBI operations. For instance, another FBI callsign reported to be use by FBI flights is “Ross”.
Here’s a part of the radio comms of Jenna 71 with KDCA Approach from LiveATC.net archive:
One or two days ago, I read that Flightradar24.com had added a new feeder in Washington DC. So, on Sunday May 08, 2011 at 19.50 GMT I thought it would be nice to try to see which kind of traffic crosses the airspace in the DC area. As soon as I moved the cursor on the East Coast of the CONUS I noticed an aircraft showing the “No Callsign” label. I clicked on it and what I saw really struck me:
The aircraft broadcasting its position, serial, speed, altitute, etc. to everyone was the famous C-32B serialled 00-9001 belonging to the 227th SOF based at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J. This is considered a “black” USAF plane as it is operated by the Department of Homeland Security and US Foreign Emergency Support Team (FEST) and it usually appears in the most unusual locations all around the world. Aircraft spotters have been trying to track its movements and they often report this and few other C-32Bs (B757s) of the Air Force Special Operations Command using bogus serial numbers and always changing Hex codes. Don’t you believe it is somehow weird that such elusive aircraft, deploying US teams in response to terrorist attacks or (as someone speculated) to transport prisoners, was transmitting full ADS-B over the US?
At least two Internet resources have been providing a comprehensive set of tools to monitor on a 24 hours basis the traffic that has been operating in the airspaces between Malta and Tripoli FIR: Flightradar24 and LiveATC.net. The first gives you a sort of “radar picture” built thanks to the ADS-B messages broadcasted by the planes while the latter provides live air traffic control (ATC) broadcasts from air traffic control towers and radar facilities around the world and also from Malta. Information gathered by means of this two freely available resources are then spread by aircraft enthusiasts (and not only) using Twitter with the result that as soon as a particular aircraft appear above the Mediterranean sea, something strange happen or a particular communication is heard, almost instantly, the news reaches every place of the world. As an expert in military aviation I’ve been closely watching this “information flow” and, as I was often asked by Twitter followers, blog readers and journalists which was the most unexpect or unusual traffic that was heard or seen operating in the airspaces to the south of Malta, I think that it may be useful to summarize here some of the most interesting stuff that was monitored in the last week even if it has already been published on Twitter and on other online magazines and media which created Live Blogs (like Malta Today) or built up Twitter Live pages (like La Repubblica.it in Italy) by importing through the Twitter APIs those tweets containing a particular hashtag (i.e. #Libya or #Tripoli). In fact, those media don’t always give an explaination of the reasons why a traffic is interesting.
Anyway, don’t miss the chance to follow user FMCNL on Twitter if you want to be updated on latest movements.
Mar. 5, 2011
Before 09.30Z French Air Force Transall C-160G tail F216, call sign COTAM 2096
09.30Z a NATO AWACS controlling the Libyan airspace for any suspect activity using the front end callsign “NATO 07″ requested to Malta ACC if it had “any information on aircraft with squawk 2017, position about 85 miles east of our”. The answer from Malta was that “it should be a Falcon 900, at FL340, with destination Mitiga, according to Flight Plan”. A few minutes later, the Libyan Government 5A-DCN contacted Malta ACC on its way from Amman to Mitiga. The news was reported by all media that speculated of a “Libyan aircraft challenging a NATO AWACS”. Read here what was really weird in that episode….
14:35Z RA 519 EP 3 from Moron in contact with Malta
17:21Z Lion 491 US C-130 involved in the Tunis airlift with Malta
21:30Z SUM 9071 Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations Il-76TD RA-76429 showing on flightradar to Tunis FIR
23:46Z Apex 17 RAF Nimrod R1 returning to Akrotiri handed over to Athinai Cntrl. This kind of aircraft due to have been retired at the end of March are now to be kept in service for at least another three months, as it was reported by the BBC, most probably due to the need to use this strategic platform during the Libyan crisis.
Mar. 8, 2011
23.30Z AXIS 10 US EC-130H Compass Call with Malta ACC. The EC-130H performs electronic/information warfare tasks.
Mar. 9, 2011
Around 00:00z USAF EC-130J of the 193d Special Operations Wing (193 SOW) of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard using c/s RCH1024 was monitored using Mode-S most probably deploying to Souda Bay. The Commando Solo is a particular version of the EC-130 that is used for psychological operations (PSYOP) and is capable of broadcasting TV and radio on all bands. Last version should be able to provide WiFi access by dropping Access Points to the ground (has to be confirmed).
Around 00:20Z Malta ACC warned Air Malta 7489 that a previous flight reported an unknown traffic W of Gozo that didn’t show up on radar.
Beginning around 08:30Z three Libyan Government aircraft departed Tripoli for various destinations:
5A-UAC Bombardier BD-700 went to Lisbon Purtugal (via Luqa Malta)
5A-UAA Bombardier BD-100 Challenger 300 went to Paris Le Bourget Airport
5A-DCN the Falcon DA-900 went to Cairo
Mar. 10, 2011
10:10Z Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A330 5A-ONF out of Tripoli east bound as AAW430 appeared shortly on FL390
13:45Z 5A-ONH AAW220 east bound from Tripoli. It was returning to Libya as AAW241 at 19:28Z
17:13Z USAF RC-135W Rivet Joint c/s OLIVE 24 in Maltese airspace
20:45Z Unusual comm heard on LiveATC. NATO 02 to Malta ACC: “we have a traffic behind us 9 miles. Can you confirm the level?”. Malta: “FL340″
Mar. 11, 2011
04:40Z Hellenic Air Force C-130 tail 743 flying as HAF356T arrived in Athens after departure from Tripoli with released crew of Dutch Navy helicopter NRN277 from frigate Tromp captured by the Army of Gaddafi on Feb. 27.
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