Monthly Archives: January 2014

The world’s most realistic exercise underway at Nellis Air Force Base, near Las Vegas

F-22 Raptors, F-15E Strike Eagles, F-16s Fighting Falcons as well as RAF Typhoons and Tornados are taking part in Red Flag 14-1

Red Flag, world’s largest and more realistic exercise, has come back after the remaining editions of 2013 were cancelled as a consequence of the budged cuts imposed by the infamous sequestration.

The exercise, organized and conducted by the 414th Combat Training Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base and on the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), a military training area of more than 12,000 square miles of airspace and 2.9 million acres of land where about 2,000 possible targets and anti-aircraft systems are dispersed to simulate a realistic battlefield, aims to train pilots from the U.S. and allied air forces to operate, survive and win together in a modern war.

The drills feature also the bad guys, an adversary air force with F-15s and F-16s from the Air Force’s 64th and 65th AGRS (Aggressors Squadrons) whose taks is to threaten strike packages and prevent them to attack their targets.

Aggressors tails

Around 150 aircraft are scheduled to attend this year’s first Red Flag that, as usual, will feature two daily “waves” lasting up to five hours. Once again, along with the most important U.S. assets, including the F-22 Raptor stealth fighters and F-15E Strike Eagles, Nellis Air Force Base is hosting some allied contingents.

F-22 and Tornado

Among them, the Royal Australian Air Force, withi its F-18s and E-7, as well as the Royal Air Force with the Tornado GR4s from 9 Sqn at Marham, one E-3D Sentry from 8 Sqn at RAF Waddington and Eurofighter Typhoons FGR4s  from 6 Squadron based at RAF Leuchars that will operate in the swing role.

Typhoon FGR4

Image credit: U.S. Air Force / RAF Crown Copyright


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Lightning strikes near MC-130E Combat Talon. Are lightnings a risk to airplanes?

When “lightning within five” is announced on an U.S. airbase, personnel are instructed to seek immediate shelter. Lightnings don’t down planes, at least not directly…

Taken in 2006 at Duke Field, the above image shows a lightning strike near an MC-130E Combat Talon aircraft.

Close encounters between planes and lightning occur every now and then around the globe.

In the 1980s, some F-16 Fighting Falcon jets were lost after being hit by a lightining strike. In one case, the lightning ignited the vapors in the empty centerline tank, which exploded causing extended damage to the aircraft’s hydraulic system.

Since lightning strikes are quite rare (1 event each year on average) these are seldom a real risk to military or civil aviation.

Furthermore, planes are shielded by a so-called Faraday Cage externally made by a conducting material, that blocks out external static electrical fields: charges redistribute on the conduting material and don’t affect the cage’s interior.

Wide bodies are huge flying Faraday Cages: if hit by a lightning they let the current pass through the fuselage until ground, preserving the systems’ integrity.

All commercial and mil planes have to meet several safety lightining-related requirements to get the airwothiness certifications required in the U.S. or Europe.

For instance, they must be able to withstand a lightning strike without suffering significant airframe damage, without any possibility of accidental fuel ignition in the tanks and preserving the avionics and systems failures induced by the electromagnetic field created by the electrical charges of the lightning.

On the Internet, you can find some videos showing civilian planes hit by lightning strikes and continue flying as nothing has happened.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force



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[Video] Ryanair’s Boeing 737 no flap emergency landing in Warsaw

On Jan. 29, Ryanair Boeing 737-800 EI-EKW, flying as FR9524/RYR244L from Stansted to Lublin, performed an unusual no-flap, high speed emergency approach to Chopin Airport in Warsaw (where it was diverted in order to exploit the longer runway).

Flaps failures and consequent no-flap approaches result in high-speed landings due to the higher stall speeds.

Jacek Siminski for TheAviationist


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[Photo] The effect of Florida’s freezing rain on U.S. Air Force AC-130U gunship

Florida is experiencing unusually cold temperature. High winds and freezing rain, brought by a winter storm coated aircraft in a layer of ice.

These images, taken on Jan. 29, 2014, say it all.

Since quite unusual freezing rain and cold temperature have layered Hurlburt Field, Florida, in a thin sheet of ice, icicles formed on a U.S. Air Force AC-130U Spooky gunship’s 25 mm Gatling gun.

AC-130 frozen windshield

If you believe that using the rotary guns (facing down and aft along the plane’s left side) in Northern Europe, or Siberia, might not be a good idea, take a look at how these systems work: a few bursts of rounds through those barrels would take care of the icicles (and of the bad guys on the ground).

AC-130 frozen cockpit

Flight operations at the base are temporarily suspended because of the bad weather.

MC-130 frozen

Image credit: U.S. Air Force


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Fukushima plant’s radiation levels monitored with an UAV

Incidents involving heavy radiation leakages are quite difficult to monitor as they pose serious threat and hazard to all personnel who have to come close to it. That’s why robots are perfectly suited for this job.

The Fukushima incident, resulting from a tsunami which followed an earthquake, is considered by nuclear energy experts the most serious since Chernobyl disaster, back in 1986.

In order to gather exact figures of the radiation levels around the nuclear power plant damaged on Mar. 11, 2011, Japan has recently used a twin-tailed UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) for the first time.

The little remotely piloted plane is stationed in Naime, about 4 miles from the Fukushima plant. The flights over the plant last about 30 minutes: during each mission, the drone provides real time data about the radiation level to the scientists.

[Read also: WC-135 in action following DPRK test: how the U.S. Air Force Sniffs for Nuclear Explosions]

The new UAV is a joint initiative of  Japanese Atomic Energy Agency and Japanese Space Exploration Agency. It is still in the testing phase, which is expected to end by December 2014; full use is planned in the beginning of 2015 at the latest.

Up until now, the Fukushima plant has been monitored by small multi-rotor UAVs and manned helicopters: the latter are usually far better equipped than lightweight UAVs but, whereas choppers have to maintain a minimum altitude of 1,000 feet above the ground, a drone may fly as low as needed and stay in the radiated area for longer periods without exposing crew members to the deadly effects of radiations.

Jacek Siminski for TheAviationist

Image credit: Japanese Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA)


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