Monthly Archives: July 2012

Grand Forks, North Dakota, to become a Predator hotbed for drone-fired lasers

The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has finally given the go ahead for the use of remotely-piloted Predator drones in the airspace above 10,000 acres in North Dakota.

According to an article published on, Starting in October Grand Forks will see a domestic training facility for military unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) with the trainee pilots flying the drones several times a week using lasers to paint ground targets.

In an interview with the Grand Forks Herald, Col. Rick Gibney, commander of the 119th Wing of the North Dakota Air National Guard said: “People may hear airplanes flying above, but there will be no visible lights and no explosions.”

Gibney added that the site at CampGrafton will allow pilots to train in real world conditions rather than heavily relying on simulators to learn the basics of flying drones. There will not be huge number of flights initially but would gradually build up.

The FAA says that traditional aircraft will continue to fly through the airspace, with what amounts to four flights daily; Gibney cannot see that as a problem, and backed up these views by pointing out that in drone-licensed part of Nevada and California “There’s a lot of other aircraft in those areas, and a lot of commercial aircraft around those areas.”

Not everyone has welcomed the news.

Opponents of the UAV training ground have asked for more oversight to how the UAV’s will behave, and more specifically, some have raised concerns about the dangers that could come from the use of the lasers that will be used by the Predator pilots.

The latest FAA regulations state: “Since the MQ-1 Predator (UAV) laser is non-eye safe and will be used during training sorties flown by the military, its use constitutes a hazardous activity that must be confined within restricted area airspace to protect non-participating aircraft.”

According to the latest estimates the number of domestic drones operating in the U.S. airspace will number 30,000 by the end of the decade: one of the reasons why many people are becoming increasingly concerned over safety and privacy of stateside drone ops.

Richard Clements for

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

Video: U.S. Navy initial flight (and heavy landing) of the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator.

On Jul. 29 (or Jul.30 – the news release and the footage have a different timestamp), the U.S. Navy made history after it conducted the Naval Air Station Patuxent River’s initial flight of the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator (UCAS-D).

The tailless, unmanned aircraft launched from “Pax River” and flew for a planned 35 minutes over the Chesapeake Bay chased by an F-18D Hornet.

Noteworthy, the ‘bot performed a quite heavy landing: this is sometimes the outcome of a flare performed by a pilot who’s not sitting in the cockpit but remotely flies the aircraft. Drone pilots don’t feel the motions of their aircraft. Therefore, they lack some of those non-visual cues that help manned aircraft pilots to react instintively to some changes of attitude.

However, the (seemingly) heavy landing was not a big deal for the X-47B, a UCAS that was developed as a carrier-based unmanned aircraft. As such, the drone is equipped with a reinforced landing gear to withstand (heavy) deck landing impacts.

Syrian Arab Air Force trainer jets turned into attack planes to strike rebel positions

On Jul. 24, the L-39 Albatros, mistakenly identified by several media outlets as “Migs”, made their first appearance in the Syrian skies.

Since then, many videos uploaded to Youtube have shown Syrian Arab Air Force L-39 combat trainers equipped with an under fuselage gun pod and external stores flying over Aleppo during strafing attacks against Free Syrian Army positions.

The following one, brought to my attention by Brown Moses, is the best I’ve see so far.

It clearly shows a Syrian Albatros with a gun pod and rocket launchers flying over Aleppo. Noteworthy, the aircraft flies at low altitude: a sign that the regime planes are not threatened by MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems)?

As highlighted in a previous post, there have been no reports of Strela or Igla being used against the Syrian choppers (or planes), most probably because regime forces have seized all the MANPADS from active units to prevent them to end in the rebels hands in case of attack or defection.

The air-to-ground capability on the Syrian L-39 was theoretical until the first footage showed the Albatros carrying the gun pod and stores on at least two of the four underwing hardpoints. Until then, the aircraft was limited to a training role and there were few or no images of armed L-39s in service with the SyAAF.

Maybe the regime has opted for this type of aircraft because it’s more suitable for light attack and close air support in a urban scenario, where slower speeds are required.

Video: Red Flag night launch and recovery time lapse (spanning about 5 hours or so in just 3 minutes).

Brought to my attention by Jeff Merkowitz, the following video combines about 5 hours of night launches and recoveries from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, north of Las Vegas, in just 3 minutes of mesmerizing footage.

By means of either the aircraft taxi, navigation lights or the flame of the afterburner, you can see the aircraft taxing, taking off for runway 21R and landing at the end of the mission on runway 21L, with Las Vegas in the background.

China's new carrier-borne Airborne Early Warning aircraft can't operate from an aircraft carrier

A couple of interesting images were published on some interesting Chinese defense forum of what appears to be a testbed for a carrier-borne Airborne Early Warning aircraft.

Is this a sign that China is currently evaluating the possibility to develop such a platform for its aircraft carrier(s)?

Image credit:

Designated JZY-01, the aircraft seems be a sort of hybrid: the front half is based on the Xian Y-7, the Chinese version of the famous Antonov An-26; the tail section is much similar to the Northrop Grumman C-2 and, above all, the E-2 Hawkeye that is the U.S. AEW platform serving on all the American supercarrier.

The JZY-01 sports a large radome and a 6-blade propeller (as opposed to the E-2C that features an 8-blade one).

Still, this interesting plane will hardly be able to operate from an aircraft carrier: the example shown in the above pictures lacks the typical launch bar, that is used attach the plane to the catapult, nor is equipped with the arrestor hook, needed to land on a carrier.

Furthermore, as Flightglobal’s Greg Waldron noticed, it can’t operate from the former Russian aircraft carrier Varyag that it is equipped with a ski-jump, suitable for jet powered fighters but not for large (AEW) aircraft.

Therefore, although resembling an E-2, the JZY-01 may simply be a land-based AEW aircraft or the first attempt at developing such a platform for a future Chinese flattop.