Monthly Archives: July 2016

Russia’s most advanced spyplane has deployed to Syria again

After the first tour of duty in February 2016  the Tu-214R has returned to Latakia. To spy on Daesh (and also on the U.S. F-22s?)

The Tu-214R is the most modern Russian ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft.

Equipped with sensors to perform ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) and SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) missions as well as with all-weather radar systems and electro-optical sensors that produce photo-like imagery of a large parts of the ground the special mission aircraft, the aircraft can fly multiple intelligence gathering missions: it can intercept and analyse signals emitted by targeted systems (radars, aircraft, radios, combat vehicles, mobile phones etc) while collecting imagery that can be used to identify and pinpoint the enemy forces, even if these are camouflaged or hidden.

Built by KAPO (Kazan Aircraft Production Association) and flown from the company’s airfield in Kazan, the Tu-214R registered RA-64514, serial number 42305014, the second of the two examples of this kind of aircraft built under contract with Russia’s Ministry of Defense (the other being serialled RA-64511), deployed to Latakia airbase in Syria, between Feb. 15 and 29, 2016.

Interestingly, RA-64514 has not finished with Syria yet: on Jul. 29, the aircraft flew from Moscow to Syria, where it landed at 3.23AM LT, as the ADS-B tracking show.


Tu-214R route. Screenshot from

The aircraft, that features the same types of external bulges of other very well-known intelligence gathering planes, as the U.S. RC-135 or the Israeli B-707 with the Phalcon system, along with minor differences with the first operative Tu-214R, RA-64511, serial number 42305011, will probably spy on Daesh while testing some of its onboard sensor packages: the aircraft is believed to be still under development and the Syrian battlefield has already been used as a real testbed for new weapons systems by the Russian Aerospace Forces since Moscow started the air war in Syria back in October 2015.

Actually, there is someone who believes the Tu-214R spyplane and other systems deployed by the Russians to Syria might be used to collect data that might be used to “characterize” the F-22’s signature at specific wavelengths.

According to an article published by Sputnik News, Maj. Jahara ‘Franky’ Matisek of the US Air Force, for instance, Pantsir-S1 (SA-22 Greyhound) and S-400 Triumf (SA-21 Growler) anti-aircraft systems were deployed to Syria specifically to spy on the F-22, whose role imply a certain interconnection with other assets.

According to Matisek, these anti-aircraft systems could be “sniffing” the emissions of the F-22s and other NATO aircraft could be used to “[improve] tracking algorithms, air defense capabilities, and [enhance] the understanding of coalition weapons that are engaging in close air support and precision air strikes.”

Anyway, Syria aside, the spyplane has been pretty active in Europe as well: on Jul. 5, the aircraft flew an interesting mission along the borders of Finland, Estonia and Latvia, similarly to what happened on Jun. 18, 2015, when the aircraft flew from Kazan to Crimea and back, closely following the border between Russia and Ukraine (a mission profile that caused some concern back then).

Tu-214R Finland

As already explained, this kind of aircraft usually loiters/circles in a friendly or uncontested airspace at high altitude and at safe distance (but within range of the onboard sensors) from the target(s) of interest or along the border of the enemy country.

Image credit: Rimma Sadykova/Wiki


Take a look at this cool drawing of the Northrop Low Altitude Penetrator concept

This is how the B-2 LAP “variant” could have looked.

In 1979, Northrop began studies for a low-observable strategic bomber that would eventually result in the B-2 “Spirit” stealth bomber as we know it.

However, in the early days, two basic mission profiles were studied for the new aircraft: high altitude penetration and low altitude penetration.

High altitude penetration allowed a much more efficient aircraft and resulted in the genesis of the B-2’s long-span flying wing; eventually, the high-altitude penetrator flying wing was selected and modified to fill the low-altitude penetrator role.

Based on the research and the subsequent Autocad line drawings by Scott Lowther over at, Kurt Beswick has illustrated the Northrop LAP (Low Altitude Penetrator) concept that you can find in this post (please note that although the B-2 was the successor of the high and low altitude penetrator concepts, the artist has dubbed it “B-2 LAP,” a designation we have kept in this article.)

Vaguely reminding a Boeing study for a low-altitude stealth bomber dating back to 1979 Beswick’s LAP is a reviewed version of what is believed to be the basic design on which Northrop’s low altitude penetrator studies focused back in the 1970s.

Needless to say, there’s no evidence, that such an aircraft would look like that if built, but the shape is cool and the artist’s impression is somehow realistic (with elements reminding the triangle-shaped objects spotted over the U.S. a couple of years ago).

The illustration represents a concept that never made it past the design-stage : this does not mean something eventually made it into other “black projects.”

Here’s how Beswick explains the LAP concept:

“I have taken some artistic liberties, including the updated markings and details. All the rest is speculative and based upon the performance requirements set forth by the USAF in the 1979-1980.”

Here’s the description provided by Scott Lowther to the original line drawing:

“Low-altitude penetration resulted in a less efficient aircraft with a much higher wing loading.

The low-altitude penetrator Northrop examined was something between a flying wing and a lifting body.

It would fly at high-speed and ultra-low altitude, much like an enormous cruise missile. As a result, it needed to be minimally visible to detection systems in aircraft positioned above it. Thus, the upper surface of the aircraft was largely featureless with the exception of the cockpit.

The underside featured both the flush inlet and engine exhaust in a flattened configuration, as well as two inward-canted vertical stabilizers. The high wing loading meant that the aircraft would need 200 knots airspeed for takeoff, consuming nearly 8,000 feet of runway. Total onboard fuel load would be 137,500 pounds requiring a few refuelings for each mission.”

Dealing with the color scheme, Beswick opted for the same livery of the Spirit:

“After discussing with my pilot buddies, they all agree that this aircraft would be no different in coloration than a B-2 or B-1, charcoal/dark gray-blue.”

Click below to download the hi-rez version of the rendering.


Image credit: Kurt Beswick


Three Kazakhstan Air Force aircraft visit RAF Mildenhall

Some rather exotic visitors.

Three interesting aircraft arrived at RAF Mildenhall airbase, UK, on the afternoon of Jul. 13.

Two C-295M and one An-72 cargo aircraft, flying from Kazakhstan via Poland brought to the UK a detachment from the Kazakhstan Army for participation in a joint exercise with the British Military held in the Stanta Battle Area, of Thetford Forest.

KAF C-235M

Photographer Tony Lovelock took the photographs in this post of the An-72 arriving on the 13th and of the two Casa C-295s departing on Jul. 14th for the return flight to Kazakhstan.

KAF C-235M 2

Image credit: Tony Lovelock


Take a seat in the cockpit of one of the last USAF F-4 Phantoms as it arrives at Oshkosh airshow

Helmet camera provides a unique point of view of the arrival at the 2016 EAA AirVenture airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, of one of the last U.S. Air Force F-4s.

Two of the just twenty remaining Phantoms in the U.S. Air Force, have taken part in EAA AirVenture airshow.

Flying from Holloman Air Force Base, NM, the two QF-4s performed two flyovers and one low approach before landing.

Thanks to AirshowStuff and a camera attached to the pilot’s helmet, you can experience the classy arrival of the Phantoms from inside the cockpit of the leading QF-4.

The last operational F-4 flight took place in April 1996; after the retirement from the active service, the Phantom continued to serve in the target drone role. Unfortunately even this kind of mission is coming to an end and the two Phantoms that took part in the Oshkosh airshow, serving as full-scale aerial targets with the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron, Det. 1, are going to be shot down during testing within the next 6 months…

QF-4s are being replaced by QF-16s.

Here’s footage filmed from the ground:

H/T Giulio Cristante for the heads-up.

Top image credit: AirshowStuff

These fantastic photos show the shockwaves generated by bullets fired by an F-5E Tiger

The photos in this post are really impressive!

Axalp Ebenfluh is a famous firing range located near Meiringen air base.

From 1942, once a year, the Swiss Air Force (Schweizer Luftwaffe) opens the range to the public during the firing activities carried out by the Swiss combat planes: formations of F-5E Tiger and F/A-18 Hornet jets engage the range for the practice shooting sessions in front of photographers from all around the world.

The two photos in this post (that some of you may have already seen) were taken by Polish photographer Andrzej Rogucki at the Axalp range in Switzerland during one of such sessions in 2012. They show Swiss Tigers firing the two M39A2 cannon, 20 mm caliber single-barreled revolver cannon originally developed for the U.S. Air Force in the late 1940s (!), one on either side of the F-5’s nose.

What is really cool about these shots is that Rogucki was able to catch the bullets fired by the F-5E and the conical shockwaves generated by the bullets travelling at supersonic speed (1/3200s shutter speed at 1000mm).

F-5 Swiss Air Force shockwave

Image credit: Andrzej Rogucki