Some interesting markings were noticed on the fuselage of a U.S. surveillance plane at RAF Mildenhall, in the UK. The reason behind them, is (somehow) unknown.
Traditionally, fighter jets that scored an air-to-air kill sport special markings (that may have the shape of stars, crosses, roundels, downed aircraft’s profile or silhouette, etc) painted on the sides. Similar markings (bombs, missiles, type of target etc) are also worn by fighter bombers to show the amount of ordnance spent by that specific aircraft against ground targets.
During “peacetime” operations, similar markings are sometimes applied to those aircraft that have scored simulated kills during mock air combat training, have dropped a new kind of weapon (on the range, for testing purposes), or have flown a specific mission. Needless to say, the markings which celebrate virtual kills are less significant than those earned during a conflict…..
However, not only tactical planes and fast jets wear these markings, as the image on this post, taken last month at RAF Mildenhall by photographer Gary Chadwick proves.
The photo shows the “mission markings” applied above the crew entry hatch, on the left hand side of the RC-135U Combat Sent 64-14849 “OF” with the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron/55th Wing of the U.S. Air Force: five hammer and sickle symbols along with the silhouettes of four aircraft carriers (outline reminds that of U.S. flattops rather than Russian Navy Admiral Kuznetsov).
The RC-135U is believed to be involved in missions to monitor the Ukrainian crisis since August 2014.
The Combat Sent is one of the most secretive U.S. surveillance planes that can simultaneously locate, identify, and analyze multiple electronic signals. It provides strategic electronic reconnaissance information, performing signal analysis by means of a wide variety of commercial off-the-shelf and proprietary hardware and software, including the Automatic Electronic Emitter Locating System.
Above: RC-135U refueled by KC-135 over Norway during mission out of RAF Mildenhall, UK, in September
A U.S. Air Force pilot has celebrated 9,000 flying hours on the B-52.
Lt. Col. Steve Smith, with 93rd Bomb Squadron from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, has the most flying hours in the B-52 Stratofortress: on Oct. 8, 2014, he has reached 9,000 flying hours in the iconic strategic bombers.
Smith, achieved the milestone during a flight from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. As the image shows he celebrated the 9,000th flying hour in a “Buff” with a special shoulder patch.
By the way, the next aviator is 2,000 hours behind him.
The little but decisive role played by B-52s during Kosovo crisis.
The iconic U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber, symbol of the U.S. nuclear deterrence, has taken part in all the wars fought by Washington in the last 50 years (Syria, so far, is the only exception).
Among the conflict that saw the involvement of the “BUFFs” there is also Operation Allied Force, the air campaign conducted against Serbia in 1999.
As recalled by Bill Yenne in his book “B-52 Stratofortress The Complete History of the World’s Longest Serving and Best Known Bomber” the first calls for NATO to intervene with military airpower in response to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s campaign of ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians, date back to the summer of 1998.
Two more Stratofortresses arrived at the UK base on Feb. 22, 1999 as part of the military build-up in Europe in anticipation of a war in the Balkans which would involve strategic bombers as well as several tactical planes, forward deployed at several airbases located in Italy and few other European countries. By the end of the war, 25 B-52s belonging to the 2nd Bomb Wing from Barksdale Air Force Base and 5th Bomb Wing from Minot Air Force Base would take part in the air strikes.
The aircraft were annexed to the 2nd Air Expeditionary Group that included B-1B Lancers from the 28th Bomb Wing from and KC-135s of the 22nd Air Refueling Squadron, Mountain Home Air Force Base.
Operation Allied Force was launched on the night of Mar. 24.
Among the 250 U.S. combat planes that conducted the first air strikes there were also seven B-52s carrying AGM-86C Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missiles (CALCMs) aimed at the Serbian IADS (Integrated Air Defense System). Between 30 and 50 air-launched cruise missiles, targeted Serbian air defense sites, during the opening stages of the air campaign.
As soon as most of Serbian air defenses were made harmless, the B-52 transitioned from stand-off weapons to general purpose bombs and cluster bomb units, dropped on Serbian army positions and staging areas.
Two more B-52Hs arrived from the 5th Bombardment Wing at Minot AFB in North Dakota, to Fairford on Apr. 29: like the Viet Cong and the Iraqi Republican Guard, Milosevic would soon discover the tremendous power of a B-52’s bomb load is a horrible thing to endure, and experiencing it firsthand is a horrible way to make that discovery.
Leaflets written in Serbian, that warned bombardments by B-52s, were also dropped over the Kosovo capital, Pristina. As reported by Yenne, the BBC translated their warning message: “The Yugoslav Army forces are warned to leave Kosovo, because NATO is now using B-52 bombers to cast Mk 82 bombs, weighing 225 kilograms each… Every B-52 bomber can carry more than 50 such bombs. These aircraft will be after you until they drive you out of Kosovo… and prevent you from committing atrocities… If you want to survive and see your families again, you should abandon your units and firearms.”
As the amout of air strikes peaked between the end of May and beginning of June, some of the most persuasive missions of the war were flown by the B-52s on the first weekend of June 1999 at a place on the Kosovo – Albania border called Mount Pastrik, where the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) was fighting a sizable Serbian army force.
The results of the raids were reported by several networks around the globe such as the CNN which on Sunday, Jun. 6 stated that the NATO used B-52 bombers Saturday night into Sunday to strike areas in Kosovo, near its border with Albania. There was also military activity along the border between Albania and Kosovo.
Other B-52 strikes concentrated in an area near Gorshub, in Yugoslavia, just inside the border. The mountain plateau was also the scene of a day-long artillery and mortar battle between Yugoslav forces and KLA. Further details were added by the Reuters that on Wednesday, June 9, reported that a NATO B-52 bomber caught two Yugoslav Army battalions in the open after Serbia stalled on pulling its troops out of Kosovo . The B-52 dropped sticks of gravity bombs on the troop concentrations near the Kosovo – Albania border Monday, carpeting a hillside area where some 400 to 800 soldiers were estimated to have been in the field. Moreover the Reuters added that NATO military spokesman Gen. Walter Jerts confirmed that “heavy bombers had been diverted at short notice to attack troops in Kosovo.”
The same day Dana Priest of the Washington Post wrote that “at least a month ago, NATO commanders began using B-52s to herd troops on the ground into more open and vulnerable areas (because there are no NATO troops on the ground to do this). […] On Monday, a pair of B-52s and B-1Bs dropped 86 Mk 82s… on a concentration of several hundred Serb troops near Mt. Pastrik region.”
Few days after this air raid, on Jun. 10, NATO ratified the terms of an international peace plan and stopped the seventy-eight-day air campaign. Two days later as told once again by Dana Priest “Slobodan Milosevic unexpectedly capitulated…Milosevic signed an agreement allowing the invasion of 50,000 NATO soldiers – but as peacekeepers, not warriors.”
A great achievement, reached also thanks to the BUFF aircrews who played a small but vital part in Operation Allied Force.
A quite unusual photo caught a U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command’s CV-22 Osprey with the full moon in the background.
Taken close to RAF Mildenhall, UK, on Oct. 7, 2014, by Gary Chadwick, the spectacular photo in this article shows a U.S. Air Force CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft with the 7th SOS (Special Operations Squadron) flying a night mission with a full moon in the background.
The 7th SOS is a component squadron of the 352nd SOG (Special Operations Group) whose role is infiltration and exfiltration of troops from hostile, sensitive, behind-the-enemy-lines locations.
The famous mission planned to lure North Vietnamese MiGs into air-to-air combat.
During the last months of 1966 the North Vietnamese MiG-21s from Phuc Yen airfield claimed several victories against the American F-105 fighter bombers urging the Air Force to do something to reduce Thunderchiefs losses.
His plan was to fly the Phantoms at the same speed and altitude of the F-105s, in such a way the formation would appear on the Vietnamese radar screens as “standard” Thunderchief formations. Once the “simulated” Thud formation was spotted, Mig interceptors would be scrambled towards the intruders finding themselves to fight against the powerful Phantoms armed with air-to-air missiles instead of the bomb laden F-105s: an aerial ambush.
Olds studied a plan that saw the Phantoms simulate the routes, call signs, refueling areas, speeds and altitudes which would normally be used by the Thunderchiefs.
The F-4s from the 8th, 355th, 366th, and 388th TFWs took part to the mission, alongside with the F-105s from the 355th and 388th performing their regular Iron Hand duty. The Operation Bolo officially went off on Jan. 2, 1967 even if the meteorological conditions, especially over the target area, were bad.
Seven flights of four F-4Cs, using car company names as callsigns (Olds, Ford, Rambler, Vespa, Plymouth, Lincoln and Tempest), led by Olds himself (who obviously commanded “Olds” flight), were launched from Uborn airbase.
The first flight “Olds”, led by Olds himself arrived over Phuc Yen at around 15.00 local time but noticed no defensive reaction by the North Vietnamese Air Force. As Olds formation was about to leave the area of operations to leave room to the incoming Ford flight, the first MiGs (whose scramble had been delayed by 15 minutes by the GCI controllers because of the overcast conditions) emerged from the clouds below.
A 15 minutes battle against aggressive MiG-21 pilots raged in the skies within a 15 mile radius of Phuc Yen, with the Fishbeds that attacked in two pairs, one from 6 o’clock and the other from about 12 o’clock.
As told by Olds to Walter J. Boyne for his book “Phantom In Combat,” the F-4s turned against the nearest attackers.
Unfortunately, the first one to pop through came up at Olds 6 o’clock position. Olds broke left, trying to get away of the enemy line of fire, hoping that his wingman would take care of him. At the same time he saw another MiG pop out of the clouds in a wide turn about his 11 o’clock position, a mile and a half away. He went after it ignoring the one behind and fired missiles at the Mig just after this disappeared back into the clouds.
But another MiG appeared after few seconds: “I’d seen another MiG pop out in my 10 o’clock position, going from my right to left; in other words, just across the circle from me. When the first MiG I fired at disappeared, I slammed full afterburner and pulled in hard to gain position on this second MiG. I pulled the nose up high, about 45°, inside his circle. Mind you, he was turning around to the left, so I pulled the nose up high and rolled to the right. This is known as a vector roll. I got up on top of him and, half upside down, hung there and waited for him to complete more of his turn, and timed it so that as I continued to roll down behind him I’ d be about 20° angle off and 4,500 to 5,000 ft behind him. That’s exactly what happened. Frankly, I am not sure that he ever saw me. When I got down low and behind he was outlined by the sun against a brilliant blue sky. I let him have two Sidewinders, one of which hit and blew his right wing off” Olds explained in “Phantom In Combat.”
Six more MiG-21s were shot down that day, followed by other two Fishbeds on Jan. 6 scored by 555th TFS aircrews. Nine MiG-21s lost in a matter of few days caused a post defeat stand down for the NVAF, a claim confirmed by the fact that once the MiG-21s reappeared in the skies they had changed their tactics in dogfight against US F-4s.
In fact ground control would vector them to a 6 o’clock position well outside the range of Phantoms radars. The MiG-21s would then go supersonic as told by Boyne, gathering plenty of “smash” by reaching Mach 1.4 or more, and once launched heat seeking Atoll missiles they would zoom-climb away to safety.
However as reported by Boyne in his book, a working paper produced by the U.S. Seventh Air Force Tactical Air Analysis Center, the success of Operation Bolo is largely attributable to several factors like:
The overall planning and development of mission strategy and tactics, which accurately anticipated and fully exploited enemy reaction, and the attention to detail in the planning phase with particular focus on total force interaction in relation to both position and timing.
An intensive training program for 8 TFW combat aircrews which emphasized every facet of total mission to include missile capabilities, aircraft and missile procedures, MiG maneuverability, radar search patterns, MiG identification, flight maneuvering and flight integrity, radio procedures, fuel management, tank jettison procedures etc.
High degree of discipline, both ground and air, displayed by all participants.
Nevertheless the success of Operation Bolo was also the result of both leadership and tactical skills, two properties owned by Robin Olds, who still represents the natural embodiment of the fighter pilot.
In the video below you can see the facts described in the article as well as hear the explanation of the Operation Bolo from Robin Olds himself.