Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force

[Photo] U.S. A-10 Warthogs during aerial refueling over Afghanistan

An interesting gallery of U.S. Air Force’s A-10s being refueled over Afghanistan.

Taken on Jul. 10, 2014, the images in this post show U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft assigned to the 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, refueled over Eastern Afghanistan by a KC-135 Stratotanker with the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar July 10, 2014.

Operation Enduring Freedom

The A-10′s armored fuselage, maneuverability at slow speeds and low altitude has made the Thunderbolt (known as Warthog by its pilots) one of the best (if not the best) CAS (Close Air Support) asset throughout Operation Enduring Freedom (and several more operations, including Desert Storm).

Operation Enduring Freedom

However, the U.S. Air Force has plans to retire the A-10C aircraft between 2015 and 2018, even if the deadline might be postponed until 2028.

Operation Enduring Freedom

Image credit: U.S. Air Force


The story of a legendary F-14 pilot and the gun kill on an F-15 that could sell Tomcats to Japan

Known and unknown stories of a legendary F-8 Crusader and F-14 Tomcat pilot

Look at the picture above.

It’s a 8” x 10” frame of a 16 mm gun film shot which shows an  F-15 Eagle locked through an  F-14 Tomcat Head Up Display, at 250 feet, with piper on the Eagle’s pilot, gun selected, master arm on.

Even if the photo itself is already very interesting, the story behind it, is by far more fascinating. In fact, the naval aviator at the controls of the Tomcat can be considered a sort-of legend.

As explained by Alvin Townley in his book Fly Navy, most probably other pilots have scored more kills, held higher ranks or more prestigious commands, but few living aviators embody the untamed nature of aviation like the one-of-a-kind legend known to decades of F-8 Crusader and F-14 Tomcat pilots: Joe “Hoser” Satrapa.

A skilled rifleman, Joe joined the Navy with the aim to fly a jet fighter.  His passion for guns guided him after the flight school graduation, in 1966, when he was called to opt for the F-4 Phantom or the F-8 Crusader. The Phantom had no guns and Satrapa thought: “No guns? What kind of aircraft is this with no guns?” and he immediately chose the “Last Of The Gunfighters” as the Crusader was dubbed by aircrews.

But the “Satrapa legend” began the day he was given the callsign “Hoser” (even if he is also known as “Da-Hose” or “D-hose”), during a mission at the gunnery range in which he was flying the tail position in a flight of four Crusaders. He cut off the preceding aircraft as they approached the target and started shooting from two thousand feet up, one and a half miles out, hosing off all his bullets in one pass.

His flight leader J.P. O’ Neill told him to return to the airfield at El Centro and the same night O’ Neill had the final say on the incident when he nailed Satrapa: “Lieutenant junior grade Satrapa, for hosing off all his bullets in one pass, will hence forth be known as Hoser. That’ ll be five bucks.”

Hoser was also widely known during the Vietnam War as a fearless F-8 pilot who regularly carried a good forty pounds of lethal ordnance, in case he was suddenly forced to eject from his aircraft and face an entire platoon of North Vietnamese Army regulars.

As explained by George Hall in his book Top Gun – The Navy’ s Fighter Weapons School, Hoser’s interest for guns continued when he transitioned to the F-14 Tomcat.

During the AIMVAL/ACEVAL (the Air Combat Evaluation/Air Intercept Missile Evaluation) fighter trials that put the F-14s and the F-15s against the F-5Es to test new weapons and tactics which took place from 1974 to 1978 at Nellis Air Force Base, Hoser (assigned to the VX-4 evaluators) was put in a 1 vs 1 against an F-5.

As the two combatants sat side-by-side on the Nellis runway, awaiting tower clearance for takeoff, Hoser looked over at his opponent, reached his hand up over the control panel, and mimicked the cocking of machine guns in a World War I Spad. A thumbs up came from the other cockpit, meaning that guns it would be, the proverbial knife fight in a phone booth, forget the missiles.

Both jets took off.

As soon as they reached the assigned area, the fighters set up twenty miles apart for a head-on intercept under ground control. Seven miles from the merge, with closure well over 1,000 knots, Hoser called “Fox One”, a Sparrow missile away, scoring a direct hit.

As they flashed past each other, the furious F-5 driver radioed, “What the hell was that all about?” “Sorry.” said Hoser, “lost my head. Let’s set up again. Guns only, I promise.”

Again the two fighters streaked towards the pass, again at seven miles Hoser called “Fox One.” The F-5 driver was apoplectic.

Hoser was first back to the club bar, nursing an end of the day cold one as the flushed Aggressor stomped in. “Hoser, what the hell happened to credibility?” the F-5 pilot asked. Hoser replied “Credibility is DOWN, kill ratio is UP!”

This story became very popular around Topgun, alongside the lesson learned: from 1 vs 1 to forty-plane furball, expect anything. But never expect your enemy to be a sweet guy.

Still, Hoser’s best experience during the AIMVAL/ACEVAL most probably came after the end of the trials. Even if Tomcat and Eagle drivers could not engage each other, Hoser and his RIO Bill “Hill Billy” Hill with  Dan “Turk” Pentecost and Frank “Fearless” Schumacher onboard the second F-14, went 2 vs 2 against a couple of F-15 instructors from 415th Training Squadron (415th Flight Test Flight).

As told by Hoser to airwarriors.com “All pre-merge heat and radar missiles didn’t count. It was GUNS only at the merge.”The two Tomcat split the fight into two 1 V 1 with one F-14 high and the other low with fair lateral separation. Once Hoser and Hill Billy closed for a 250ft, gun kill on their Eagle, a minimal communication over the radio took place as Hoser recalls. Hoser: “Where are you Turk?” Fearless:”Right above you Hoser” Hoser: “We got two cons! Who’s out front? “Turk (mildly offended): “Who do ya think?”

Both Eagles were gunned, “knock it off” was called, and the Tomcats RTB’d with a 500 knot, 6.5g, half second break at Nellis.”

But there was something more:

“Knowing the gun camera film would be destroyed by the Nellis Photo lab, it was covertly sent to a secret contact at Grumman for processing. Bout a month later, December 6, the door slams open and General Knight, with 2 of his staff, doggie wobble heads entered demanding to know “who and where are Hoser and Turk?” Falcon (J.W. Taylor), OinC (who was the Officer in Charge) stepped up asking if he could be of assistance. The General responded with, “Your fighter jocks have no idea how their playful antics affect important political decisions!”

Well, as General Knight proceeded to explain, Japan had contracted for twenty one F-15s, but an article in Aviation Week had talked about the F-14 being superior to the Eagle. With gun camera film to prove it, Japan was considering buying F-14s instead.”

The General wanted and received all copies of the gun camera film, the TVSU/VCR (the Television Sensor Unit and the Voice Cockpit Recorder) and audio recordings on his desk the following day, but few months later Hoser asked to Falcon: “Hey Falcon, I know ya got a copy of that 16mm gun film…. how bout it?” JW returned few moments later with a copy of the film from which the above Tomcat gun camera image comes.

F-14 VX4

Image credit: U.S. Navy

An unusual view of Exercise Red Flag at Night, from Nevada Desert

The night operations have become a mainstay of Red Flag. Given most modern air campaigns begin with night operations, these Red Flag exercises are a valuable training opportunity for pilots and crews to safely experience a complex, coordinated exercise in the dark.

The U.S. Air Force’s Red Flag Exercise 14-3 took place Jul. 14-25 at Nellis Air Force Base, over the NTTR and adjacent airspace. Participants in 14-3 were primarily of USAF origins, with the exceptions of aircraft from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and a French Air Force C-130.

Missions typically took place twice a day – from about 2 -3:30 pm, and 9:00 – 10:30 pm.

Having observed the exercise in daylight from areas near Rachel, NV, I determined to experience the night operations. Not a photo taking opportunity, I anticipated radio chatter, aircraft noise, and perhaps the ability to pick up some aircraft silhouettes if they passed by at low level during ingress or egress to/from the range.

Night missions usually include but are not limited to CAP (Combat Air Patrol), Interdiction, Deliberate and Dynamic Targeting, SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses), and Combat Search and Rescue.

Nighttime in the Nevada desert is deathly quite and dark providing one with a spectacular view of the cosmos (with only slight interference provided by the lights of Area 51 and the town of Rachel). Given the proximity to Area 51, I can’t help but ponder what stories these night skies would tell if only they could talk. I could stay awake all night for that conversation! The impact of the cosmos and the solitude (helped by the lack of a wireless signal) moves me to ponder humanity’s aspirations – both noble, and misguided.

As the darkness deepens the solitude is broken by the radio chatter of AWACS, air-to-air refueling operations, tactical squadrons, and air-to-air chatter as the aircraft stage.

I am pleasantly surprised as the night permits a global sense of the exercise. The tankers that are unseen in daylight far to the east – are now clearly visible flying their tracks due to their navigation and anti-collision lights. It appears (for safety) all aircraft fly with their navigation lights illuminated and strike aircraft also utilize their strobes (their may have been exceptions).

As aircraft patrol overhead, their paths are easy to follow, and one can clearly see their afterburners kicking on and off as they maneuver. Flares illuminate the night sky, and strike aircraft make their way to designated targets at what appears to be medium altitudes.

Red Flag at night

Sonic booms reverberate in the mountain valleys, and then a growing roar to the east forces my eyes closer to the horizon. Two strike aircraft in trail undoubtedly utilizing LANTIRN roar past a few hundred feet off the deck on range ingress, and a few moments later return on egress. Most probably an F-15E as the F-16s are no longer equipped with that kind of pod.

Red Flag at night 3

At medium altitude two B-1B’s in trail formation pass directly overhead with afterburners blazing as they accelerate on range ingress executing their attack. Some moments later on egress they return, flares deployed every few seconds as they disappear quickly to the east.

Red Flag at night 4

The 20 minutes of intense activity fades back to a high altitude dance with a few final aircraft flying CAP, and then the stillness of the Nevada desert takes back the night.

Buffeted by the desert wind, and with a final gaze at the cosmos I surrender to sleep hoping that the day will surpass the night.

Todd Miller lives in MD, US where he is an Executive at a Sustainable Cement Technology Company in the USA. When not working, Todd is an avid photographer of military aircraft and content contributor.


U.S. airborne communication plane could be tracked on the Web for 9 hours during air strike that killed Taliban leaders in Afghanistan

At least seven Taliban militants were killed following a NATO air raid Afghanistan. Noteworthy, a sign of the developing operation may have been a U.S. Air Force E-11A BACN plane orbiting over southeasern Ghazni province, clearly visible on Flightradar24.com.

Although many military aircraft are equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) transponders they are usually turned off during real war operations. In fact, by automatically broadcasting the plane’s callsign, GPS position, speed and altitude, these special transponders provide information about the plane can be received by ground stations, by other nearby aircraft (thus enhancing situational awareness) and also by commercial off-the-shelf or home-built receivers.

Flightradar24 and PlaneFinder have a network of several hundred feeders around the world who make the flight information received by their home kits available for anybody on their websites, or by means of their smartphone apps.

Even though some pilots have confirmed they are well aware of the above mentioned websites and for this reason are instructed to turn off their transponders when involved in real operation, during the opening stages of the Libya Air War, some of the aircraft involved in the air campaign forgot/failed to switch off their mode-S or ADS-B transponder, and were clearly trackable on FR.24 or PF.net.

Three years later, a U.S. plane involved in war mission over Afghanistan could be monitored for several hours as it circled at 41,000 feet to the southeast of Ghazni.

The aircraft did not broadcast its mission callsign, but based on the hex code FR24 could identify it as a Bombardier Global 6000 aircraft, an advanced ultra long-range business jet that has been modified by the U.S. Air Force to accomodate Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) payload.

Within the U.S. Air Force, the modified jet is designated E-11A.

BACN is technological “gateway” system that allows aircraft with incompatible radio systems and datalinks to exchange tactical information and communicate.

By orbiting at high-altitude, BACN equipped air assets provide a communications link from ground commanders to their allies in the sky regardless of the type of the supporting aircraft and in a non-line-of-sight (LOS) environment. In the rugged, mountainous terrain of Afghanistan, troops are not always able to establish LOS communications with close support aircraft overhead and moving position or relocating to higher ground could be fatal. In such situation, a legacy USAF A-10 attack aircraft could loiter away from the battlefield while using the BACN link to communicate with a special-forces Joint Terminal Air Controller (JTAC) on the ground until all targeting information is ready before “un-masking” and beginning an attack run.

The BACN system is also deployed onboard EQ-4B Global Hawk UAVs.

Anyway, the E-11A could be tracked on FR24.com for about 9 hours, from 21.54 UTC on Aug. 10 to 06.45 UTC on Aug. 11, when the aircraft got out of the flightradar24 coverage while returning back to Kandahar airfield (?). At the same time a NATO air strike in the same zone killed seven Taliban and wounded four.

Next time NATO is preparing a similar operation, the presence of the orbiting E-11A could expose and jeopardize the imminent air strike.

H/T to Jerod Harris for the heads-up.

Image credit: screenshot form flightradar24.com


The story of the pilot who flew the North American X-15 experimental rocket aircraft at the edge of outer space

Designed to study the problems of hypersonic flight, the North American X-15, carrying only 90 seconds worth of fuel could reach Mach 5+ and altitudes between 100K and 300K feet.

The North American X-15 was a rocket-powered, missile-shaped manned aircraft operated by the U.S. Air Force and NASA as part of the X-plane series of experimental aircraft.

Brought to the launch altitude of 45,000 feet under the wing of a B-52 bomber and dropped at a speed of Mach 0.8, the X-15 was capable to reach the edge of space at an altitude between 100,000 and 300,000 feet at speed exceeding 4,500 MPH (+7,270 km/h) .

The U.S. Air Force pilots who flew the X-15 to altitudes above 50 miles all received Astronaut Wings, but  NASA decided not to give the same award to the civilian pilots who made the same achievement, a decision that caused controversy within the aerospace community as explained by John Anderson and Richard Passman in their book X-15 The World’s Fastest Rocket Plane and the Pilots who Ushered in the Space Age.

Among those pilots there was Joe Walker, who flew the maximum altitude flight in the X-15 on Aug. 22, 1963.

The flight path of that mission was carefully planned with climb angles and fuel cut off calculated to reach the goal. In fact as told by Anderson and Passman, the engine thrust could vary from 57,000 pounds to 60,000 pounds, and a difference of 1,500 pounds would result in a 7,500 feet altitude change. One second in fuel cut off time would result in a 4,000 feet altitude change, while if the climb angle was off by one degree, a 7,500 feet change in altitude would occur.

Moreover NASA planned maximum altitude for X-15 flights was at 360,000 feet safety reasons: even if the aircraft could go well above 400,000 feet there was concern about the reentry from that altitude.

Since aircraft experienced APU problems the flight was delayed for two weeks, but on Aug. 22 the launch went well and Walker could closely follow the flight plan. The propellants were depleted at 176,000 feet at a speed of 5,600 feet per second, but two minutes after the burnout the X-15 was still soaring upward on a ballistic trajectory to 354,200 feet, 67 miles high.

Then, after reaching the peak altitude, Walker began descending and headed to Edwards Air Force Base, where he landed after a flight of 11 minutes and 8 seconds.

Even if Walker flew higher than the 50 miles required by the Astronaut Wings at that time, he didn’t receive the award.

In the 1960s the U.S. Air Force set a limit of space at 50 miles (80 km) but according to FAI (the World Air Sports Federation, the world governing body for air sports, aeronautics and astronautics world records) the limit of the outer space is at 100 kilometers (62.1 mi). Nevertheless, Walker exceeded both limits and, even though he didn’t receive the Astronaut Badge,  he was the first American civilian to make any spaceflightand the second civilian overall, and the first human to make multiple spaceflights (the one on Aug. 22 and the preceding one, on Jul. 19, when he reached the altitude of 65.8 miles (105.9 km).

NB-52A & X-15

After his involvement on the X-15 program, Walker continued its flying activity as an experimental pilot. On Jun. 8, 1966, he was at the controls of an F-104 flying in formation with another North American product, the XB-70, for a General Electric photo shoot of a family of airplanes powered by GE engines. Flying too close to the XB-70, Walker’s F-104 was caught in the trailing vortex of the large airplane and flipped onto the top of the bomber.

Walker perished in the subsequent fireball depicted by some famous pictures.

As recalled by Anderson and Passman, on Aug. 23 2005, NASA reversed his policy and awarded with Astronaut Wings the three civilian pilots who flew the X-15 above 50 miles: William Dana (the only one still alive at the time of the ceremony), Jeff McKay and Joe Walker.

Finally Walker achieved official astronaut rating, 42 years after his record and 39 years after he died.

Image credit: NASA and U.S. Air Force