Monthly Archives: April 2017

Watch C-17, A-10 and HC-130J Aircraft Operate From Delamar Dry Lake Bed (the original emergency landing site for the X-15)

U.S. Air Force landed and took off from the Delamar Dry Lake Bed, the emergency landing site for the X-15.

C-17 Globemaster III airlifters from 57th Weapons Squadron, A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from the 66th Weapons Squadron, HC-130J from the 34th Weapons Squadron as well as HH-60Gs belonging to the 66th Rescue Squadron took part in USAF Weapons School squadrons composite mission application and combat search and rescue operations at the Delamar dry lake bed on the NTTR (Nevada Test and Training Range).

Referred to as “Texas Lake” dry lake bed because of its resemblance to the state of Texas from the air, Delamar Lake landing strip was established in 1943 and, in the 1960s it was designated emergency landing sites for the North American X-15, a rocket-powered, missile-shaped manned aircraft operated by the U.S. Air Force and NASA capable to reach the edge of space at an altitude between 100,000 and 300,000 feet at speed exceeding 4,500 MPH (+7,270 km/h) .

In fact, the dry lake bed was located underneath the Delamar Dry Lake Drop Zone where the X-15s brought to the launch altitude of 45,000 feet under the wing of a B-52 bomber, were dropped at a speed of Mach 0.8.

The Delamar Lake Landing Strip consists of a 15,000 ft long runway; still, considered the lack of obstacles, aircraft can land in any direction.

Along with making “unprepared landing strip operations” training possible, dry lakes can be particularly useful also in case of emergency: the huge lakebed can minimize the damage to a plane forced to land there. Here is what happened when a B-1 Lancer performed a crash landing on the Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base in 1989. Here you can find a U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy airlifter making a successful emergency landing once again at Rogers Dry Lake in 2001.

 

Two U.S. F-35s Have Deployed To Bulgaria Today

The U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft continue their tour of eastern Europe.

On Apr. 28, two U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft, 14-5094 and 14-5091, belonging to the 34th Fighter Squadron, from Hill Air Force Base and temporarily deployed to RAF Lakenheath, UK, arrived at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria.

The aircraft were supported by a single KC-135R Stratotanker, c/s “Nacho 81”, from 459th Air Refueling Wing, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, that launched from RAF Mildenhall.

Interestingly, the 5th Gen. aircraft used the very same radio callsigns used by the F-35s involved in the JSF’s first ever visit to Estonia on Tuesday: “Conan 01” flight.

According to the U.S. DoD, today’s training deployment has been planned for some time and was conducted in close coordination with Bulgarian allies. “It allows the F-35A the opportunity to engage in familiarization training within the European theater while reassuring allies and partners of U.S. dedication to the enduring peace and stability of the region.”

“The aircraft and Airmen began arriving in Europe on April 15, and are scheduled to remain in Bulgaria for a brief period of time before returning to RAF Lakenheath to continue their training deployment.”

Already deployed to Graf Ignatievo Air Base, to take part in exercise Thracian Eagle 2017 were also 12 F-15C Eagle jets belonging to the 122nd Fighter Squadron of the 159th Fighter Wing, Louisiana Air National Guard that are in the involved in the drills along with the local-based Bulgarian Air Force MiG-29s as well as Su-25s from the Forward Deployment Air Base at Bezmer, L-39s from the Air Training Group at Dolna Mitropoliya Air Base, AS-532 AL, Mi-24 and Mi-17 helicopters from Krumovo Air Base, and air defence units.

Whilst “Nacho 81” could be tracked during its flight (to and back from) Bulgaria, this time the deployment to eastern Europe was not “accompanied” by any evident activity by U.S. or NATO intelligence gathering aircraft. In contrast, as already reported, on Apr. 25, flight tracking websites exposed the presence of a U.S. Air Force RC-135U Combat Sent, an RC-135W Rivet Joint and a RAF Airseeker over or around Estonia.

The KC-135R supporting the F-35 to Bulgaria. (image credit: Adsb Exchange)

 

Dramatic Rescue At Sea: U.S. Air Force Pararescue Makes Night Jump at Sea.

In a Rare Use of Capabilities Elite USAF Rescue Team Jumps to Aid Burned Sailors.

In one of the most dramatic operational scenarios possible, seven elite New York Air National Guard Pararescue operators have executed a daring nighttime, open ocean parachute jump to board a burning ship at sea and rescue its crew.

The drama unfolded 1,200 miles off the east coast of the United States in the central Atlantic Ocean. At approximately 0700 hours local on Monday morning an explosion and fire ripped through the bulk cargo-carrying vessel Tamar. The Captain issued a distress call immediately. The vessel was too far out to sea for Coast Guard assets to effect rescue so the mission was handed over to the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing with the Canadian and Portuguese coast guards each providing support to the rescue.

The bulk cargo-carrying vessel Tamar before the explosion. (File Photo via MarineTraffic.com)

The New York Air National Guard launched a four-engine turboprop HC-130 Hercules long-range search and rescue aircraft from the 102nd Rescue Squadron. The specially modified aircraft was carrying eight aircrew plus the Pararescue team and support personnel from the 106th Rescue Wing, based at Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach, New York.

After the long flight to the objective over the open Atlantic the Pararescue team deployed a rigid inflatable boat by parachute to the ocean surface. The rescue team then parachuted into the sea around sunset. Pararescuemen swam to their rigid inflatable boat and immediately sailed to the nearby Tamar for boarding.

An HC-130 Hercules long-range rescue aircraft from the 106th Rescue Wing taxis for take-off before the rescue jump. (Image credit: U.S. Air Force)

The first group of Pararescue operators landed in the ocean at 1950 Hr.s Eastern Time zone, just after sunset. By 2000 Hr.s ETZ all seven Pararescuemen had boarded the Tamar and were administering medical aid to the injured crewmen onboard, according to 106th Rescue Wing operations officials.

The Portuguese Air Force are planning to winch-hoist the survivors up to a rescue helicopter for transport to a hospital in Ponta Delagada, Azores once the Tamar is within range, according to 106th Rescue Wing operations. Unfortunately reports indicate two victims of the explosion have already died on board from their injuries. At least three more injured crewmembers are under the care of the Air Force Pararescue team.

The damaged Tamar is still nearly 30 hours sailing time away from Portuguese rescue helicopter range, according to sources at the 106th Rescue Wing.

“The 106th Rescue Wing is happy to support the Coast Guard in this rescue mission”, said Col. Nicholas Broccoli, the 106th Rescue Wing Vice Commander. “This is what we train for and our pararescuemen, pilots, crew members and the rest of our team are the best of the best.”

A U.S. Air Force Pararescue operator executes an open-ocean parachute delivery in training. (Image credit: U.S. Air Force)

Top image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

Has An RC-135U Combat Sent Signal Intelligence Aircraft “Covered” The Two F-35A Stealth Jets Visiting Estonia?

Yesterday two USAF F-35A stealth aircraft performed a quick visit to Estonia. But their mission to the Baltic region was probably not only supported by a KC-135: an RC-135U and two RC-135Ws flew to the area while the 5th Gen. jets were there.

On Apr. 25, two U.S. Air Force F-35As belonging to the 34th Fighter Squadron, from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, deployed to the UK since mid April, flew from RAF Lakenheath, UK, to Ämari, Estonia.

Based on the information gathered by aircraft spotters, airband listeners and ADS-B monitors, who tracked the mission to Estonia of the F-35s, the two 5th generation multirole combat aircraft , 14-5102 and 14-5094, using radio callsign “Conan 01” and accompanied by “Quid 89”, a 100ARW KC-135 from RAF Mildenhall, departed from RAF Lakenheath at 07.35z.

The trio landed in Estonia shortly before 11.00z and took part in a brief ceremony (at this link you can find some interesting photographs).

Noteworthy, the quick visit to Estonia was “accompanied” by a rather unusual activity of U.S. and British spyplanes in the Baltic region.

In fact, as the F-35s headed towards Amari in formation with their KC-135 tanker, as many as three RC-135s (including a RAF bird) operated in the airspaces over or close to Estonia.

The U.S. Air Force dispatched an RC-135W Rivet Joint 62-4139 “Haiti 79” and an RC-135U Combat Sent 64-14847 “Spool 06” to the Baltic states.

The Rivet Joint positioned off Kaliningrad Oblast, where some of the most active Russian bases in the Baltic region are located, whereas the Combat Sent started a racetrack over Estonia, not far from the border with mainland Russia.

 

Shortly thereafter, even a RAF RC-135W “Airseeker,” one of the three ex-USAF KC-135 tanker converted to the Rivet Joint variant starting back in 2011, from RAF Waddington joined the scene. The British intelligence gathering plane that, just like the American “RJs” is equipped with all sorts of antennae and sensors, to eavesdrop enemy signals, transmissions, detect frequencies used by radio and radars and pinpoint sites of interest, mobile stations, SAM batteries, etc., maintained a racetrack off Kaliningrad.

RC135W ZZ664 RRR7220 west of Kaliningrad (via @CivMilAir)

At 14.43Z, the two JSFs departed Ämari to return to the UK and shortly thereafter both the U.S. and RAF spyplanes headed back to their homebases.

Although we can’t but speculate here, it appears to be quite likely that the RC-135 missions to the Baltic were somehow related to the deployment of the F-35 so close to the Russian border. In fact, whilst Rivet Joint and Combat Sent aircraft regularly fly to the region and can be daily tracked online as they head towards the international airspace off Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, the presence of three such spyplanes not too far away from one another seems to suggest their missions were coordinated and probably related to something “big” happening there.

And the only “big thing” (Zapad 2017 preparation aside) we are currently aware of is the first presence of the JSF in Estonia. Moreover, not only was the type of racetrack flown by the Combat Sent unusual, but it was also located in a pretty interesting position: east of Ämari, as if the RC-135U, an aircraft designed to collect technical intelligence on adversary radar emitter systems, was there to detect emissions from Russian radars interested in the F-35.

However, there is another possibility: what if the American and British spyplanes were there to deter the Russian from using their radars?

Indeed, whilst three RC-135s flying at the same time in the same area is something unusual, it is quite weird that the three spyplanes had their ADS-B transponder turned on during their missions.

“If they wanted to hide, they would do” says the ADS-B / ModeS tracking enthusiast who runs the popular @CivMilAir and @ADSBTweetBot Twitter feeds. “The daily RC-135s flights over the Middle East very rarely show up and even the daily missions to the Baltics can usually be tracked during their transit to the area of operations, where often the transponder is turned off. That’s why I believe they remained trackable on purpose.”

Spyplanes, including the U-Boat (as the RC-135U Combat Sent is nicknamed in the pilot community), usually operate in “due regard” with transponder switched off, with no radio comms with the ATC control, using the concept of “see and avoid” where the pilot flying is responsible for avoiding all traffic conflicts. Even if RC-135s can be regularly tracked online, they tend to keep a low-profile when reaching the area of operations, turning off the ADS-B to avoid being detected at least by commercial ADS-B receivers like those feeding online flight tracking systems such as Flightradar24.com, PlaneFinder.net or Global ADS Exchange.

On Apr. 25, both RC-135s could tracked throughout their missions suggesting they did purposely broadcast their position for everyone to see, to let everyone know they were there.

Russian spyplanes have done pretty much the same in the past: the Tu-214R, Russia’s most advanced intelligence gathering aircraft deployed to Syria and flew along the border with Ukraine with its transponder turned on. In that case it was a sort of “show of force”; yesterday was likely a way to prevent some interesting details about the F-35 to be gathered by the Russians.

By the way, it’s not the first time U.S. stealth jets flying to the Baltics are directly or undirectly “accompanied” by Rivet Joints: on Apr. 27, 2016, two F-22s deployed to Siauliai Air Base, Lithuania. Supported (so to say) by an RC-135W.

H/T to @CivMilAir, @MIL_Radar, Fighter Control forum

Top image credit: Tim Felce (Airwolfhound) via Wiki Commons

 

Salva

Salva

Salva

U.S. F-35A stealth fighters to move to Estonia tomorrow. Meanwhile, the British Typhoons have arrived in Romania.

Some of the F-35A Lightning II aircraft currently at RAF Lakenheath will forward deploy to Estonia tomorrow. Meanwhile, the first RAF Typhoons have arrived in Romania.

According to information available to the Estonia ERR media outlet, an unspecified number of F-35s will arrive at Ämari air base, Estonia, on Tuesday, Apr. 25.

“The jets will remain in Estonia for several weeks and conduct training flights with other aircraft of the U.S. and allied air forces.”

Eight F-35s and 250 airmen belonging to the 34th Fighter Squadron, 388th Fighter Wing and the Air Force Reserve’s 466th Fighter Squadron, 419th Fighter Wing, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, have deployed to RAF Lakenheath recently (beginning with the first section of 6 aircraft on Apr. 15).

The 5th generation multirole combat aircraft have deployed to Europe for the first time in support of the European Reassurance Initiative. As done by the preceding US jets operating in the old continent as part of the so-called Theater Security Packages (TSPs), including the F-22 Raptors and the A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, they will visit various Baltic and eastern Europe airbases “to maximize training opportunities, affirm enduring commitments to NATO allies, and deter any actions that destabilize regional security.”

Meanwhile, on Apr. 24, RAF Typhoons have arrived at Mihail Kogalniceanu (MK) airbase near Constanta, in Romania for the first time in support of the NATO air policing mission. The aircraft will provide air policing over the Black Sea from May to September 2017.

According to the UK MoD, 135 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW) consists of 150 personnel drawn from across the RAF, whose mission is to keep the fast jets flying during their four month deployment.

The mission of patrolling the skies along NATO’s eastern border was intensified following the Russia-Ukraine crisis. The arrival of the British Typhoons is the last of a series of measures “to deter a Russian aggression over the Black Sea.

RAF Typhoons arrive at Mihail Kogalniceanu (MK) airbase near Constanta, in Romania for the first time in support of the NATO air policing mission. (Image credit: Crown Copyright)