Monthly Archives: February 2016

Job done! Russia’s most advanced spyplane is returning home after deployment in Syria

The Tu-214R is currently returning to Russia after a 14-day deployment to Syria.

The Russian Air Force Tu-214R ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft that was deployed to Syria on Feb. 15 is seemingly returning home.

The aircraft could be tracked online on Flightradar24 thanks to the signals of its ADS-B transponder as it flew from Hmeymim airbase, near Latakia, over the southern Syrian airspace, then into Iraq: the aircraft is likely following the eastern corridor that overflies Iran and the Caspian Sea, and it is possibly returning to Kazan, where KAPO (Kazan Aircraft Production Association), the Russian company that builds the plane.

So, the aircraft has eventually completed its first tour of duty in Syria using its wide array of radar systems and electro optical sensors to map the position of the enemy forces or intercept the signals emitted by the enemy systems (radars, aircraft, radios, combat vehicles, mobile phones etc).

Most probably, among the weapons systems of interest there were also F-22 Raptors performing “kinetic situational awareness” tasks over Syria: the Tu-214R alongside the Il-20 Coot and other ground-based radars might have collected intelligence data needed to “characterize” the F-22’s signature at specific wavelengths.

Actually, there is someone who suggests the aircraft was withdrawn due to complications concerning its logistical maintenance requirements that forward away from Russia…

Image credit:


Intense video brings you aboard USMC Huey helicopters during night and day CAS training

Join this Huey door gunner as he unloads on targets at Yodaville.

Taken on Apr. 3, 2015 the following clip shows a USMC Huey door gunner providing close air support at Yodaville, near MCAS Yuma, during Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) course 2-15.

WTI is a seven week event hosted by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (MAWTS-1).

MAWTS-1 provides standardized tactical training and certification of unit instructor to support Marine Aviation Training and Readiness and assists in developing and employing Aviation Weapons and Tactics.

Yodaville is the first urban close air support range in the U.S. military and it features an urban layout very similar to the terrain in many villages in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here the USMC helicopters take part in close-air support exercises, such as the Weapons and Tactics Instructor course, giving the chance to their gunners to experience realistic training sessions focused on providing cover to ground operations as well as to defend the helicopters from ground threats.


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This helocast insertion is one of the first ever conducted by a V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft

Helocast insertion, Osprey style.

Filmed on Feb. 10, 2016 the following video shows Royal Thai, Republic of Korea and U.S. Marines helocasting from an MV-22B Osprey during Exercise Cobra Gold 16 in Thailand.

This clip is interesting because features one of the first helocast insertions ever performed by an Osprey.

Helocasting is a technique used by Special Operations Forces to quickly insert into the water in military area of operations where a parachute jump is not practical. Noteworthy during a helocast insertion Osprey’s pilot has to maintain an altitude of 10 feet above the water and moving no faster than 10 knots of airspeed.

Cobra Gold 16 is a multiservice exercise hosted annually by the Kingdom of Thailand and is designed to advance regional security by exercising a robust multinational force from nations sharing common goals and security commitments in the Asia-Pacific region.


The U.S. Air Force has revealed the first image of its future Long Range Strike bomber: the B-21

Here is the Northrop Grumman B-21, quite similar to the Northrop Grumman B-2.

On Feb. 26, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James revealed the first artist rendering of the Long Range Strike Bomber, an aircraft built by Northrop Grumman and designated the B-21, at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida.

The aircraft, that was not given a name yet, is going to be the first stealth bomber of the 21st century: it will supplement the B-52, B-1 and B-2, with the latter (another Northrop Grumman design) sharing much resemblance with the future LRS-B.

In particular, the aircraft seems to be designed around a standard flying wing: neither a “cranked kite” nor a kite like those seemingly spotted over the Wichita and Amarillo back in 2014.

As you probably remember, on Mar. 10, 2014 Steve Douglass and Dean Muskett took the photographs of three mysterious planes flying at very high altitude over Amarillo, Texas.

The three unknown planes looked like boomerang-shaped plane.

About one month later (on Apr. 15), Jeff Templin shot a triangular plane over Wichita Kansas.

Among the theories around both episodes there was the one that the aircraft were LRS-B prototypes. But according to what was unveiled earlier today there no prototypes of the next generation stealth bomber and its shape is going to be much different from that of the aircraft flying at high altitude over the U.S. in 2014.

Hence, the mystery around those sightings remains.


Image credit: Sammamishman based on Muskett and Templin shots

“The platforms and systems that made us great over the last 50 years will not make us great over the next 50,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said during his testimony on Capitol Hill Feb. 10. “There are many other systems we need to either upgrade or recapitalize to ensure viability against current and emerging threats… the only way to do that is to divest old capability to build the new.”

There are no existing prototypes of the B-21, most of its capabilities are still unknown even though the aircraft is (obviously) believed to embed cutting edge technologies and sensors and to be cyber-resilient against the threats of the future interconnected world.

The artist rendering released on Feb. 26 is based on the initial design concept: this means the actual plane may be considerably different.

The Air Force plans to field the initial capability of the aircraft around 2025.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

The Italian Air Force T-346 Master debuts as Aggressor during NATO Tactical Leadership Programme

A new role for one of the most advanced combat jet trainers that is also a candidate of the U.S. Air Force T-X advanced trainer program

From Feb. 4 to 12, two T-346As (Italian Air Force designation for the AleniaAermacchi* M346 “Master”) belonging to the 61° Stormo (Wing) based at Lecce Galatina airport, Italy, deployed to Albacete airbase, Spain, to take part in the TLP (Tactical Leadership Programme) in the “Aggressors” role.

The Italian Masters had already successfully undertaken such task at Grosseto airbase in May 2015, when the T-346 jets conducted several aerial combat sorties against the local-based F-2000A Typhoons of the 4° Stormo.

T-346s park

But this was the very first time they joined the “Red Air” during a NATO exercise.

The aircraft were piloted by IPs (Instructor Pilots) of the 212° Gruppo (Squadron), the Italian Air Force unit flying the Master for the LIFT (Lead-In Fighter Trainer) training courses required to prepare the Italian, Dutch and soon Polish pilots to the 4th and 5th Gen. combat planes, including the F-35.

The T-346A is a LIFT with stunning performance, cutting edge human-machine interface and a lot of interesting features that could only be found on the most advanced fighter jets: a full digital cockpit, HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) commands, carefree handling, VCI (Vocal Control Inputs), a Helmet Mounted Display as well as the ability to simulate the flight characteristics of other aircraft and to replicate a wide array of sensors and weapons as if these were actually installed on the aircraft.

That’s why it is perfect to play the “Bandit” role: fast, highly maneuverable and very well equipped.

During the TLP the two Italian T-346As conducted two daily sorties flying alongside the Spanish Air Force Typhoon from Moron, also part of the “Red Air” and deployed to Albacete.

The Masters took part in quite complex missions which included as many as 12 Aggressors and many “Blue Air” combat planes, including Typhoon, Rafale, F/A-18 Hornet and Mirage 2000, involved in CAS (Close Air Support), CSAR (Combat SAR) and Personnel Recovery support, or No-Fly Zone enforcement missions.

Mirage 2000 TLP

The debut of the advanced jet trainer in the Red Air team during the TLP was important for both the other TLP attendees, who could train in a more real and challenging scenario, and the 212° Gruppo’s IP pilots, who had the opportunity to gain a valuable experience in the role; lessons learned that will be useful in future multinational exercises as well as during the standard LIFT courses at Lecce.

Rafale TLP

Noteworthy, based on the T-346 is also the T-100, an advanced variant of the Master offered by Raytheon Company, with principal partners Finmeccanica and Honeywell Aerospace, as the next-generation training plane for the U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Pilot Training competition worth 350 jet trainers to replace the Air Education and Training Command’s T-38 Talons.

*Now Finmeccanica’s Aircraft and Aerostructures Divisions.

T-346 landing

H/T Giovanni Colla and Remo Guidi for contributing to this post. All images credit: Remo Guidi