Tag Archives: Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

[Video] U.S. Navy X-47B drone and F/A-18 Hornet conduct historic combined manned, unmanned carrier ops

With a series of tests conducted aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt the Navy’s unmanned X-47B drone demonstrated its ability to operated safely and seamlessly with manned aircraft.

On Aug. 17, the U.S. Navy successfully tested its X-47B UCAS (Unmmaned Combat Air System) alongside an F/A-18F Hornet in a flight deck working environment.

The unmanned aircraft (destined to become USN’s first “killer drone”) completed a series of tests, which included a catapult launch and arrested landing, which demonstrated its ability to operate safely and seamlessly with manned aircraft.

After hitting some important milestones operating as a singleton, the next step was to occupy the carrier pattern with the manned aircraft in order to test whether the UCAS is able to land and vacate the landing area within the time lines that are required for blue water ops aboard a U.S. flattop.

According to the U.S. Navy:

“The first series of manned/unmanned operations began this morning [Aug. 17] when the ship launched an F/A-18 and an X-47B. After an eight-minute flight, the X-47B executed an arrested landing, folded its wings and taxied out of the landing area. The deck-based operator used newly developed deck handling control to manually move the aircraft out of the way of other aircraft, allowing the F/A-18 to touch down close behind the X-47B’s recovery.

This cooperative launch and recovery sequence will be repeated multiple times over the course of the planned test periods. The X-47B performed multiple arrested landings, catapults, flight deck taxiing and deck refueling operations.”

Future plans include nighttime taxiing and flying.

 

Image and Video credit: U.S. Navy

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

 

Israeli Hermes drone over Gaza with dorsal satellite antenna

A new image coming from Gaza shows an Israeli Hermes UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) carrying two (still unknown) pods and dorsal antenna.

Taken over Gaza City on Aug. 3 by AP’s Dusan Vranic, the photo is not only extremely beautiful because of large moon (magnified by the zoom lens) in the background: it is the first to date showing a modified Israeli Hermes 450 UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) carrying the two “new” underwing pods (possibly containing SIGINT sensors or guns) with a dorsal satellite antenna.

The Israeli source who pointed us to the image said the dorsal antenna is retractable, but we are not sure it can be extended; it could be a fixed satellite antenna used for ISTAR, SIGINT, communications relay.

Image credit: AP/Dusan Vranic

 

Israeli drone spotted over Gaza with new, unknown (firing?) pod

Even if it may seem to be a standard drone carrying two long range tanks, the Hermes photographed over Gaza in the last days carry an unknown type of pod. A firing pod according to our source

An Israeli source who wishes to remain anonymous sent us the photos you can find in this post.

They were taken on Jul. 24 and Jul. 29, over the southern Israeli Gaza border by AFP photographer Jack Guez and show an Hermes 450 drone.

Noteworthy, the Israeli UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) carries two previously unknown underwing pods. At first glance, they may resemble the two fuel tanks of the Hermes 450LE (Long Endurance) variant but a closer look shows they are not attached to a standard pylon but they are directly attached to the wing. Furthermore, the rear edge of this new pod, is aligned to the wing’s trailing edge.

According to our source, this is “a firing pod for a light missile,” possibly used to attack Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip but we are unable to verify it.

For sure the pod is something new, whose shape (loosely trapezoidal) reminds that of some gun pods carried by some warplanes. Hard to say whether it can really house a light missile or something else, even though we can’t completely rule it out.

Hermes 450 with new pod 2

Image credit: AFP/Jack Guez

 

Armed U.S. Predator drone appears over Iraq

An MQ-1 Predator drone was filmed near Mosul, Iraq.

Allegedly filmed in the skies over Anbar, south of Mosul, in Iraq, the video below shows what clearly seems to be an MQ-1 Predator.

As some analysts noticed the aircraft appears to be armed with Hellfire missiles, even if the first images are a bit too blurry to say it with certainty. Indeed, the Predator seems to carry at least one AGM-114 on the left hand underwing pylon (the other one is barely visible and could be empty) but it could only be the effect of distortion due to the distance and the drone could also be flying with empty pylons (quite rare, because “pure” reconnaissance missions are usually flown without any pylon and a drone with both empty pylons would mainly point to the event that both missiles have already been fired).

American unmanned aerial systems (UAS) are conducting about 30 – 40 daily reconnaissance missions over Iraq.