Monthly Archives: December 2009

The year 2009 in pictures

Last year, I introduced my 2008 debrief with the following words: “It’s only when you get to the end of the year that you get the full picture of what has happened in the previous 12 months. Images collected during worlwide travels, flights and base visits, used to illustrate the most different stories dealing with the World of Aviation, provide a means to get a snapshop on the most important topics discussed on this site […]”. I couldn’t find better words for this “New Year’s Eve” post dealing with the year 2009. Pictures taken by me and Giovanni Maduli during the last year will guide us along some of the most important things happened in the world of Aviation.
January and February 2009 were mostly dedicated to the analysis of some aviation accidents: the US Air 1549 successful ditching into the Hudson River, the Cessna 650 misteriously exploded after departure from Rome Fiumicino, the C-17 gear-up landing in Bagram and few minor emergencies. The US Air 1549 ditching in the NYC’s Hudson River provided the input to talk about the airmanship of Capt. Sullenberger, the lessons learned and the differences between the NYC ditching and the Tuninter 1153 a topic that was discussed also in a subsequent analysis of other ditching stories. On Jan. 14 the new Alitalia was born and we were able to publish the first pictures of the dawn of the new company with the list of flights departing from Rome Fiumicino airport. In March, I published new articles of the “A day in the life of….” photostory series: Cervia and Gioia del Colle. During the month, I visited once again the Reparto Sperimentale Volo the Test unit of the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (Italian Air Force, ItAF), based in Pratica di Mare, the largest italian military airport. Accompayned by Maj. Igor Bruni, one the RSV pilots (and the MB339CD display pilot in the past two years), I spent a few hours on the “PB” apron of the Sperimentale where I was able to observe the daily flying activity. The flight line had many aircraft parked or being prepared for sorties: MB.339A, MB.339CD, C-27J, C-130J, NH.500E, Tornado IDS, AMX-T ACOL, Tornado ECR, AB-212 . More or less the majority of the aircraft types in service with the ItAF were in the flight line of the squadron. In April, we visited again Frosinone airbase to write two reports that were published by Rivista Aeronautica, about the Dutch helicopters (AH-64D, CH-47 and Cougar) which periodically deploy to Frosinone to train in the mountainous areas located around the Italian airport, in tactical low level flights needed keep the currencies required to be employed in Afghanistan. Towards the end of April I wrote my (only) article about the Air India 101. Thanks to a visitor that manages an Indian Aviation blog, I’ve had the opportunity to read an interesting story about the Air India flight 101, that crashed in Mont Blanc in 1966. The article provided some interesting details and a theory, according to which, the B-707 was collided with (or was shot down by) a military aircraft belonging to the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF). I analysed the the story and after reading the report of the investigation board I explained why the collision with an Italian aircraft was, in my opinion, an unreasonable conspiracy theory. That article and the subsequent series of comments was followed with much interest by thousands readers. Among them, the French aviation enthusiast who has spent five years researching and collecting the remains of the plane from Mont Blanc. Other interesting stories dealt with the presumed hack into the F-35 project and about the Italian air-to-air refueling capabilities as a consequence of the KC-767 delivery delays. In May, I published an extremely interesting picture of a Beechcraft Super King Air 200 aircraft with a modified nose section and wearing ATK and Vitrociset markings. The aircraft was the test bed aircraft developed for the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) as part of the AGM-88E AARGM Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile System Development and Demonstration (SD&D). The modified nose assembly carries the AARGM guidance section to support airborne testing of the sophisticated sensor suite. On May 30 and 31 I attended the Rome International Air Show held in Ostia, above the sea, that saw the partecipation of the Frecce Tricolori, the RSV Tornado and F-2000, the 15° Stormo HH-3F, the the Patrouille de France, the Dutch F-16 Demo Team, the Canadair CL-415 of the Protezione Civile (Italian Civil Protection), the P-180 of the Piaggio Aero Industries, the Breitling Devils demo team (with 3 SF-260s), the ATR-42 of the Guardia di Finanza (Italian Customs Police) and the B767 of the Alitalia. In June I had the opportunity to fly on board an SF-260EA of the 70° Stormo based in Latina to write the article that was published on Rivista Aeronautica 06/09. I flew with Enrico Maiorino, an old friend of mine, former F-104 and F-16 pilot, now flying the Siai trainer as Instructor Pilot of the 207° Gruppo. Flying along with us on the other SF-260EA of the “King Formation” was the 207° Gruppo Cdr, Maj. La Montagna and Giovanni Maduli.

On Jun. 8, the 37° Stormo of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) presented at Trapani airbase two F-16 ADF (MM7240 and MM7249) painted in special colour schemes to celebrate the 1000 Flight Hours achieved by both commanders of the 10° and 18° Gruppo, Maj. Salvatore “Cheero” Ferrara and Maj. Maurizio “Masa” De Angelis. The two “special colours” performed an interesting air display that involved also other 7 aircraft of both Squadrons, comprising MM7239 that is a sort of semi-special having the tail painted with the colours of the 10° Gruppo on the right hand side and the ones of the 18° Gruppo on the left hand side: MM7253, 7257, 7241, 7260, 7250, 7267, 7239, 7240, 7249. The mini-airshow held in Trapani with the two “specials” provided the opportunity to take some pictures of the Gioia del Colle F-2000s temporary deployed to Trapani to perform firing activities in the Sardinian range (Trapani is ideal for such a kind of activity since it is located on the coast and the armed aircraft can reach the ranges overflying only the sea). The Ciampino based 31° Stormo hosted me and Giovanni Maduli twice between June and July for reports that were published on both RID, Rivista Aeronautica and Air Forces Monthly. Interestingly the on Jul. 13, a Falcon 900EX of the 93° Gruppo, serialled MM62171, rolled out at Rome Ciampino with a special colour scheme applied to celebrate the 100.000 flight hours of the locally-based 31° Stormo on the Falcon 50 and Falcon 900. In July, the G-8 held in L’Aquila brought to Rome many interesting visitors, the most interesting of which were the CH-47Ds escorting Mr Obama’s VH-60N. The aircraft made a stop in Rome Urbe airport before bringing the President of the US to L’Aquila Preturo airport.

Other interesting Chinooks were the Dutch ones of 298 Sqn that along with 3 AS535U2 Cougar of the 300 Sqn of the KLu (Koninklijke Luchtmacht, the Royal Netherlands Air Force) deployed to Frosinone during the first two weeks of June during the operation named “High Blaze” to conduct the “usual” low level training activity in the mountains to keep the currencies needed for deployments to Afghanistan. During the summer, I had the opportunity to visit to interesting museums, the Anzio Beachhead Museum, containing authentic uniforms, patches, badges, documents, pictures, articles of the Allied amphibious landing in the coastline area between Anzio and Nettuno, Italy, dubbed “Operation Shingle”, intended to outflank German forces and enable an attack on Rome. The Museum offers many exhibits coming from sea in front Anzio where remains of aircraft, war and merchant ships, landing craft are still lying at various depths. Another interesting place to visit is the Piana delle Orme historical park. Located near Borgo Faiti some 90 kilometers to the South of Rome, the park hosts a heterogeneous and interesting collection that includes aircraft, tanks, locomotives, carts, models, weapons, radios. The museum’s exhibits focuses on the 20th Century. A complete visit would take some 4 hours as each pavilion has textual boards and audio guides (available in English and German too). Interestingly both an F-104S/ASA-M (believed to be the MM6722 as the serial is missing) “9-35″ formerly belonging to the 9° Stormo at Grazzanise, and an EC-119G, visible from the car park are displayed in the area between the two rows of pavilions. The EC-119G is the example MM53-8146 “46-35″ an aircraft manufactured in 1953, employed by the Indian Air Force, then by the United Nations in Congo and later by the 46^ Aerobrigata of the Aeronautica Militare at Pisa. For this reason the aircraft still wears the 46^ AB markings. In 1975, the aircraft was modified and then taken on charge by the 71° Gruppo at Pratica di Mare, and used with radio callsign “Perseo 35″ as an Electronic Warfare asset. The aircraft made its last flight on Oct. 31, 1979 and it was the last Fairchild “Flying Boxcar” operating in Europe.It was initially destined to the Museo Storico Aeronautica Militare (ItAF Museum) at Vigna di Valle, but after resting many years at Pratica di Mare, it was acquired by the Piana delle Orme Museum in 1998. As picture I took in August 2009 show, the aircraft is in almost perfect conditions; furthermore, an hydraulic system allows the rotation of the propellers by inserting a 2 Euro coin in a sort of parking meter.

Between Oct. 18 and 19, I had the possibility to spend some 25 hours on board the USS Nimitz nuclear supercarrier. I went to Manama, Bahrain, and after a long flight in a C-2 of the VRC-30 “Providers” I trapped on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier that was sailing “somewhere” in the Indian Ocean. The purpose of my visit was to prepare a report that will be published in the next months on RID (Rivista Italiana Difesa). The visit provided the opportunity to take pictures of both day and night activity of F-18E and F “Super Hornet” (or “Rhino”), F-18C “Legacy” Hornets, EA-6B “Prowlers”, E-2C “Hawkeye” and UH-60s. Many of the pictures I took during the embark were published on the site (and many more will be published in the future), comprising the impressive sequence of a compressor stall experienced by the F-18C (BuNo 165205 Modex 405) belonging to the VFA-86 “Sidewinders” launching from CAT number 4. The aircraft was fully loaded with fuel and it is carrying weapons too, since it was taking off to support Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Fortunately, the aircraft was able to depart in spite of the loud bang and flames coming out from the port engine exhaust.
The main event we followed in November was the Italian Armed Forces day which resulted in a series of articles. We published some stunning pictures of the helicopters leaving the Circus Maximus with the background provided by the Ancient Rome.
December was dedicated to the in-depth study of the whole year, that produced this photostory and to prepare the downloadable calendar. Throughout the whole year, I followed with particular interest the latest develpments of the JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) F-35 Lightning II, the fifth generation aircraft that Italy plans to acquire in 109 examples (69 conventional take-off and landing F-35As and 40 short take-off and vertical landing F-35Bs) for both the Aeronautica Militare and the Marina Militare. I also created two brand new pages dedicated to the Naval Aviation and the Information Security, while improving the existing ones.
Obviously, this was just a quick look to the year 2009 through my articles and pictures published on this site. To read what’s behind each image (and to see much more pictures) the best way is to go to the “Archive of the previous month” menu on the right hand coloumn and, by selecting desired month, to access all the posts written in that month. Otherwise, you may also use the search box located on top of the right hand coloumn.

Qantas flight QF10, once again in troubles….

I have already discussed the “long line of incidents” that in the last two years has posed a risk to the famous Qantas safety record. More or less two years ago I wrote an article titled “Qantas electric failures” commenting two occurrences of two subsequent losses of electrical power experienced by two Qantas B747-400s. One of the aircraft was flying from London to Bangkok as QF2 and the other one from Singapore to Melbourne as QF10, and I noticed that I had travelled with both of them a few months earlier. QF10 had some problems once again on Dec. 18, 2009, when it was forced to return to Singapore after experiencing an engine fire shortly after departure.
The following Sydney Morning Herald article provides some more details about the last emergency:

Qantas flight turns back after ‘flames from engine’
THOMAS HUNTER
December 18, 2009

Qantas passengers on board a flight that turned back shortly after leaving Singapore have described seeing “tongues of fire” coming from one of the 747 jumbo jet’s engines.

Flight QF10 was on its way to Melbourne carrying 354 passengers when the incident occurred.

Dylan Brady, 38, was returning to Melbourne after visiting Singapore on business when the plane “convulsed and lost power”.

“[My business partner and I] both thought something had fallen off the bottom, or the landing gear had come undone,” he said.

“Then we saw this orange light and we both looked out the window to see fire coming out of the back of the jet. It was pretty scary.”

Mr Brady said the flames lasted about 10 seconds, while the whole incident was over in about 25 seconds. He said the passengers knew something had happened but stayed calm, and the captain quickly informed them he had shut the engine down.

“When he shut the engine off, obviously everything was OK, the plane slowed down a little bit and then he sort of pulled gently and slowly to the left to get out of the flight path because the plane behind us was only a minute and half behind and still going full speed,” he said.

On its return to Singapore, Mr Brady said the plane was directed to its own runway which was lined with fire engines and emergency crews.

“To Qantas’s credit, by the time the plane got back to the ground they had hotels for everybody. It was pretty well organised. There were some conniptions when the business class passengers got their luggage and economy didn’t … I didn’t notice anyone who was ridiculously disgruntled.”

Another passenger, Steve Tanoto, described the shock “tongues of fire on the rightmost engine … in the middle of the night”.

The airline this morning confirmed a “mechanical fault” forced the jet back to Singapore soon after it took off last night.

A passenger who contacted Traveller reported flames coming from an engine 25 minutes after the jet took off from Singapore’s Changi Airport at 8.53pm, local time (11.53pm Melbourne time).

The plane landed safely and Qantas engineers are believed to be examining the aircraft.

The spokeswoman said pilots announced to passengers that the jet had developed a problem and they were shutting down the No.4 engine.

There was no panic among passengers, the spokeswoman said, as the pilots carried out “an air turn back” and returned to Singapore.

“There was no smoke or fire in the cabin, according to official reports, and at no stage was the safety of any of the passengers at risk,” the spokeswoman said.

Asked if the cabin crew reported smoke and flames from the failed engine, she said “there was no report of that, none at all”.

Passengers were take by bus accommodation for an expected 23-hour delay while the airline arranged a replacement 747 to fly passengers to Melbourne.

The incident is the latest in a long line of incidents to affect the trouble-plagued airline.

In July last year an oxygen gas bottle exploded mid-flight, ripping a hole in the side of a Qantas jet above the South China Sea.

A final report is expected next year. The explosion happened on a Hong Kong-Melbourne flight, carrying 369 people. No one was seriously hurt.

In October 2008 a computer glitch caused a Qantas Airbus to plunge twice in quick succession on its way from Singapore to Perth, injuring more than 100 people.

Meanwhile, industrial action at Qantas by professional engineers had no impact on services, an airline spokesman said yesterday. Alison Rose from the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers said yesterday’s action was designed to not inconvenience the public over Christmas.

If the dispute was not resolved she said passengers travelling next month may be affected.

Even Predator UAVs face Information Security problems

A series of interesting articles, dealing with the interception of live video feeds broadcasted by the Predator UAVs (Unmanned Air Vehicles) operating in Iraq and Afghanistan by the local insurgents, was published today on worldwide newspapers.

Evidence of the hack was found in the insurgent’s laptops that contained video files intercepted by the aircraft’s unencrypted downlink to the ground stations. Obviously, being a live video feed from the aircraft’s on-board camera, the insurgents could only “eavesdrop” the communication between the Predator and the ground station and could not take control of the drones or interfere in some way with their flight.

Nevertheless, being able to intercept the images gave the insurgents the advantage of determining which building, roads, tents etc were under surveillance before either the aircraft or the ground troops could intervene. One might think the hack was done using sophisticated tools but according to the information released so far, the insurgents used a commercial software, SkyGrabber, from Russian company SkySoftware, that can be purchased for as little as $25.95 on the Internet. The stolen video files show once again how the most advanced military technologies can lose their effectiveness because of very well known vulnerabilities, exploited with cheap off-the-shelf code.

Lt. Gen. David Deptula, who oversees the Air Force’s unmanned aviation program, told the Wall Street Journal that some of the drones would employ a sophisticated new camera system called “Gorgon Stare,” which allows a single aerial vehicle to transmit back at least 10 separate video feeds simultaneously. But since the UAVs need to send their feeds over great distances they are subject to listening and exploitation: in other words, as we have already explained many times on this blog, Confidentiality (the attribute of Information representing the assurance that information is shared only among authorised persons) was compromised.

Since the U.S. government has known about the vulnerability since the U.S. campaign in Bosnia in the 1990s, it is clear that the Pentagon assumed the risk of data being intercepted by local insurgents or enemies, unimportant. An effective countermeasure that could prevent anybody from intercepting the video feeds is obviously encryption. Someone wondered why there are plenty of systems to encrypt radio transmissions while there’s almost nothing to encrypt video feeds. Simple: because encrypting a hi-definition video streaming is much more demanding (in terms of computational needs, hence hardware equipments) than encrypting audio.

Therefore, fixing the security hole would have caused additional costs and delays (because of the time needed for procurement, testing, implementation etc). Even the MQ-9 Reaper (whose version order by the Italian Air Force is known as Predator B), whose cost is around 10 million USD each, despite being faster, better armed and more capable than the Predator, will be subject to the same problem…an issue that will have to be fixed as soon as possible since the aircraft is already operating in Afghanistan, Iraq and it is also involved in anti-piracy combat patrols in the Indian Ocean.

Download the 2010 calendar (both Italian and English version)!

The weblog’s 2010 calendar is available for download (and print up to A3 size). Two versions available: one for Italian readers (with Italian festivities) the other one for foreign readers.

Click on the following links to download the printable pdf of the 2010 calendar: