Monthly Archives: October 2017

Japanese F-4EJ Kai Phantom II Heavily Damaged in Runway Accident, Crew Escapes Fire

Hyakuri Phantom Burns on Ground, Reports Suggest Aircraft Written Off.

A McDonnell-Douglas F-4EJ “Kai” Phantom II attached to either the 301st or 302nd Tactical Fighter Squadron of the 7th Air Wing of the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force has burned on the ground at Hyakuri Air Base in the Ibaraki Prefecture of Japan. Both crew members escaped from the burning aircraft by climbing out as the fire spread.

The aircraft was taxing at the time of the accident. Press reports suggest the aircraft will be written off as a total loss. The accident happened at 11:45 AM local time in Japan on Oct. 17, 2017.

According to Japanese media and official Japanese Air Self-Defense Force reports the aircraft was participating in a training exercise in the northeastern part of Kanto, on Japan’s main island of Honshu.

The aircraft has been reported as written-off. (Photo: World Military News)

Civilian flight operations at the attached Ibaraki Airport, which shares a runway with the Hyakuri Air Base where the accident occurred, were unaffected by the fire according to reports. Ibaraki and the attached Hyakuri Air Base are 53 miles north of the Japanese capital, Tokyo. The facility operates two parallel runways, both 2,700 meters in length.

The Japanese Air Self-Defense Force is one of the few remaining users of the legacy McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom II. The aircraft, built under license and serviced by Mitsubishi in Japanese service, performs a multi-role mission that includes tactical reconnaissance in the RF-4EJ version and attack roles in the F-4EJ configuration.

Video and still photos of the accident showed the two-person aircrew escaping from the aircraft by climbing out of the cockpit close to flames and heavy smoke.

The Japanese Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) once operated 138 F-4 Phantom II’s as one of the largest international users of the prolific multi-role combat aircraft. The first Japanese F-4’s joined the 301st Hikotai Squadron in August of 1972 and have been operational ever since. There are a reported 71 Mitsubishi/McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom II’s of two versions remaining in JASDF service as of April, 2017 according to Flightglobal Insight.

The Japanese F-4 Phantoms are revered among aircraft spotters worldwide as being among the last of the operational F-4 Phantoms still flying and also because of their colorful paint liveries in Japanese service that include a variety of camouflage schemes as well as solid grey aircraft like aircraft 87-8408 that was destroyed in this accident.

Top Image: A crewman escapes from burning JASDF F-4EJ Phantom II yesterday at Hyakuri Air Base. (Photo: World Military News)

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Spanish Hornet Crashes During Take Off From Torrejon Air Base Killing Pilot

The Spanish Air Force has just suffered another deadly accident: an EF-18 Hornet from Ala 12.It’s The 12th Major Incident Involving A Hornet In The Last 17 Months.

Just five days after losing a Eurofighter Typhoon at Albacete, the Ejército del Aire (Spanish Air Force) has suffered another accident this morning, when an EF-18 Hornet belonging to the Ala 12 crashed during take off from its homebase at Torrejon Air Base, near Madrid.

According to the Spanish MoD, the pilot was killed in the crash.

Images emerging on social media show a column of smoke pouring from the crash site:

No further detail about the accident and its route causes has been released at the time of writing.

However, it’s worth of note that not only does the one at Torrejon is the second deadly accident in 5 days involving a Spanish combat aircraft but it is also the 12th incident involving an F/A-18 of any variant since May 2016.

Dealing with the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleet, four aircraft were lost (fortunately resulting in 0 fatalities): two VFA-211 F/A-18F jets from NAS Oceana collided and crashed 25 miles E of the Oregon Inlet, Nags Head, NC on May 26, 2016; then, on Apr. 21, 2017, a VFA-137 F/A-18E crashed during a landing attempt on USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in the Celebes sea, between Indonesia and the Philippines; whereas an F/A-18E of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 146 assigned to the USS Nimitz (CVN 68) departed the runway forcing the pilot to eject during an emergency landing at Bahrain International Airport on Aug. 12, 2017.

Legacy Hornets are crashing at an even more alarming rate: two U.S. Marine Corps F-18 Hornets from MCAS Miramar crashed on Nov. 9, 2016, near San Diego. Another F/A-18C crashed near USMC Air Ground Combat Cente, Twentynine Palms, on Oct. 25, 2016. A U.S. Navy F/A-18C belonging to the Strike Fighter Wing Pacific, Detachment Fallon, crashed on Aug. 2, 2016, 10NM to the south of NAS Fallon. On Jul. 27, 2016 a USMC F/A-18 belonging to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing crashed during a night strafing run on a weapons range near Twentynine Palms (killing the pilot). On Jun. 2 a Blue Angels Hornet crashed after taking off from Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport (KMQY), Smyrna, Tennessee: the only pilot on board was killed in the incident. For what concerns the international accidents (both causing the death of the pilots), a Swiss Air Force Hornet was lost on Aug. 29, 2016, a Canadian CF-188 was lost on Nov. 28, 2016, and the Spanish Hornet on Oct. 17.

Interesting Photo Shows F-22 Raptor Landing At RAF Lakenheath With Open Missile Bay

This Is Something You Don’t See Too Often.

The photographs in this post were taken by our contributor Alessandro Fucito on Oct. 12, 2017. They show a U.S. Air Force Raptor jet, belonging to the 1st FW, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, deployed to the UK, since Oct. 8, landing at RAF Lakenheath with the side weapon bay open.

The stealth multirole jet AF 08-154 is one of the six involved in a FTD (Flying Training Deployment) in Europe. The aircraft have just completed a tour of duty at Al Dhafra airbase, UAE, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in Syria and Iraq.

Noteworthy, an AIM-9X Sidewinder can be seen inside the open weapon bay.

The F-22 with the open side bays landing at RAF Lakenheath. (Image: Alessandro Fucito).

The latest variant of the Sidewinder missile is a recent addition to the F-22 Raptor inventory: the IR-guided missile has been integrated on Mar. 1, 2016, when the 90th Fighter Squadron (FS) belonging to the 3rd Wing stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska officially became the first combat-operational Raptor unit to equip an F-22 with the AIM-9X Sidewinder.

Most of US combat planes use the AIM-9X along with a Helmet Mounted Display since 2003 (by the way, one was fired at a Syrian Su-22 recently, but failed for reasons that are still unclear): with a HMD (like the American Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System – JHMCS), information imagery (including aircraft’s airspeed, altitude, weapons status, aiming etc) are projected on the visor enabling the pilot to look out in any direction with all the required data always in his field of vision. The HMD enables the pilot to exploit the full HOBS (High Off-Boresight) capabilities of the AIM-9X and engage a target by simply looking at it.

However the AIM-9X will not be coupled to a HMD as the Raptor is not equipped with such kind of helmet that provides the essential flight and weapon aiming information through line of sight imagery as the project to implement it was axed following 2013 budget cuts.

In 2019, the Air Force plans to equip the F-22 with the AIM-9X Block II, the F-22 will probably fill the gap as the most advanced variant of the Sidewinder is expected to feature a Lock-on After Launch capability with a datalink, for Helmetless High Off-Boresight (HHOBS) at intermediate range: the air-to-air missile will be launched first and then directed to its target afterwards even though it is behind the launching aircraft.

This will not give the F-22 the same ability as an HMD-equipped aircraft, still better than nothing.

The different AIM-9X envelopes (credit: Hughes via The War Zone)

Back to the top photo, we don’t know the reason why the aircraft flew with an open weapon bay. Although the aircraft can take-off and land with the open side bays, it’s something that happens quite rarely and this leads to believe it might have been because of some sort of system fault that prevented it from being closed.

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Seventy Years Ago Today, Chuck Yeager Became The First Pilot To Break The Sound Barrier

70 years ago, the first manned supersonic flight.

On Oct. 14, 1947, U.S Air Force Captain Charles “Chuck” Yeager (now 94), flying the rocket-powered Bell X-1 aircraft #46-062 christened “Glamorous Glennis,” dropped from the bomb bay of a specially modified B-29 from Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base), “broke” the sound barrier achieving a peak speed of Mach 1.06 (361 m/s, 1,299 km/h) at 45,000 feet, before landing on a dry lake bed.

Chuck Yeager in front of the Bell X-1, the first aircraft to break the sound barrier in level flight.

It was flight number 50 and the achievement, meant to be secret but leaked to press later, took place in the skies over Rogers Dry Lake in the Mojave Desert.

Yeager enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Forces Sept. 12, 1941. Later he was accepted to flight training in the flying sergeants program and, upon completion, was promoted to flight. Yeager demonstrated his flying skill during World War II when he became an, “ace in a day” after downing five enemy aircraft in one mission.

Yeager is among the guest stars in The Right Stuff, a 1983 American epic historical drama film based on Tom Wolfe’s best-selling 1979 book (actually he also play a cameo in the movie). The Right Stuff is about the Navy, Marine and Air Force test pilots who were involved in aeronautical research at Muroc Army Air Field, as well as the Mercury Seven, the seven military pilots who were selected to be the astronauts for Project Mercury, the first manned spaceflight by the United States.

The Right Stuff’s first part is about the attempt of breaking of the sound barrier that, indeed, “opened up the doors of space to us,” as Yeager explained 65 years later.

Interestingly, as shown in the movie, two nights before the schedule date for the record flight, Yeager fell from a horse and broke two ribs. He was worried that the injury prevent him from flying the mission. He went to a civilian doctor who taped his ribs and only told his wife, as well as friend and fellow project pilot Jack Ridley, about the accident.

On the day of the flight, Yeager could not seal the X-1’s hatch by himself, such was the pain from the broken ribs and Ridley, flying in the B-29 “mothership” along with his friend, helped Yeager to seal the hatch by means of a lever: the end of a broom handle.

The rest is history.

To celebrate the first supersonic flight the U.S. Air Force has released an interesting infographic that shows the milestones of supersonic flight: from Mach 1 of the Bell X-1 to Mach 9.6 achieved on Nov. 16, 2004, by the third flight of the X-43A Hyper-X, a small experimental unmanned research aircraft, built in three examples, designed to flight-demonstrate the technology of airframe-integrated supersonic ramjet or “scramjet” propulsion at hypersonic speeds above Mach 5.

The Enigmatic SR-72 And the Palmdale Sightings: What Do They Tell Us About America’s Secret Hypersonic Program?

The Media is Full of Speculation, But What Do We Know and What Can We Predict?

One of 2017’s biggest defense and aviation stories is the anonymous sighting by a “handful of witnesses” of the landing of a mysterious, unidentified new aircraft at U.S. Air Force Plant 42 Production Flight Test Facility in Palmdale California. What was it?

Aviation Week reporter Guy Norris scooped the story but was guarded in his reporting of sources. On September 27, 2017 Norris wrote:

“According to information provided to Aviation Week, one such technology demonstrator, believed to be an unmanned subscale aircraft, was observed flying into the U.S. Air Force’s Plant 42 at Palmdale, where Skunk Works is headquartered. The vehicle, which was noted landing in the early hours at an unspecified date in late July, was seen with two T-38 escorts. Lockheed Martin declined to comment directly on the sighting.”

U.S. Air Force Plant 42 Production Test Flight Facility at Palmdale, California as seen from the air in an early photo. (Photo: USAF)

Nearly every article quoting Norris’ story suggests that, what the unnamed witnesses saw is related to a new global intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) gathering asset. Likely a new hypersonic remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) that could be a sub-scale developmental testbed for a planned manned version. While it is a significant leap to extrapolate this sighting to a full-scale manned platform, the silence from Lockheed Martin about the incident is deafening. Had the sighting been nothing, they would have said it was nothing.

It isn’t much of a leap to suggest that any proposed, new manned aircraft, colloquially referred to in most media as the “SR-72” would have global range, fly in excess of Mach 6, be low-observable and potentially have strike capability. This is one list of requirements for an SR-71 follow-on.

The U.S. Air Force Plant 42 Production Test Flight Facility at Palmdale, California with static display SR-71s and F-117s. (Photo: USAF)

When analyzing the role of a possible new strategic reconnaissance/strike asset, manned and unmanned, a few assumptions can reasonably be made. The mission of a high-speed reconnaissance (and possibly even strike) platform likely includes four unique capabilities for the strategic ISR and global strike mission:

1. It is very low observable. The relevance and quality of any intelligence collected is degraded substantially if the adversary knows it has been collected. A stealthy, ultra-high-speed intelligence gathering and strike asset could obtain signals, atmospheric and image intelligence across several spectrums potentially without detection. This improves the actionable relevance of the intelligence since the adversary does not know their operational security has been compromised.

2. It is timely. An ultra-high speed (some reports suggest Mach 6+) asset could be over the reconnaissance target area quickly and provide either real-time intelligence via secure datalink or be back on the ground quickly for retrieval and analysis of intelligence gathered over the target and stored onboard the asset.

3. It is difficult to intercept if detected. One of the primary defensive capabilities of the Mach 3+ SR-71 was its speed and altitude performance. It could outrun and out-climb most missiles and interceptor aircraft. But advances in detection, tactics, aircraft, aircraft weapons and surface to air missiles and even soon-to-be fielded focused energy beam weapons (as from the Chinese) provide a requirement for a faster, higher flying and lower observable platform.

4. It provides on-board decision-making capability in the manned configuration. While a manned asset exposes a flight crew to the risks associated with overflight it also keeps the human decision-making capability inside the mission loop. While this may not be critical in the ISR role, it may be in the strategic strike role. Once strategic strike platforms such as ICBMs and cruise missiles are committed to the attack they can be difficult to re-task or abort, especially in a dynamic tactical environment. A manned strategic strike asset with ultra-high-speed and global range retains a human in the decision loop. This is attractive both empirically and morally.

Having identified these four potential unique capabilities to a presumptive “SR-72” type asset it is appropriate to examine the possible regions and roles the asset would be employed in. Given the current and near-future strategic situation these four global missions may be part of the SR-72s tasking:

1. North Korea. The crisis has reached a near flashpoint with Pyongyang’s repeated missile and nuclear proliferation and continued adversarial rhetoric. Accurate and timely monitoring of North Korea’s actual testing activity and developmental capabilities is critical to managing the U.S. response in the crisis. This includes preventing the crisis from becoming an armed conflict. A strategic reconnaissance asset that is stealthy, fast and field-able would bolster the U.S. position in intelligence gathering, especially in this dynamic environment. A similar low observable, hypersonic strike asset would also be critical in maintaining our first strike capability should the rapidly evolving situation warrant it.

2. Iran. With potential changes in the U.S. doctrine and Iran’s nuclear policy maintaining real-time intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program is critical. The political environment surrounding Iran, and its attendant diplomatic ramifications, dictate that the best intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program and any weapons development be gathered covertly and updated in a timely manner. While orbital reconnaissance assets can provide excellent imaging across the entire spectrum from visible to infra-red to electronic emissions a reconnaissance satellite cannot collect atmospheric samples that are key to detecting nuclear testing. Also, re-tasking spy satellites not already in position with orbits over key targets makes a more dynamic, high-speed, low-observable atmospheric reconnaissance platform desirable.

3. Syria. The tenuous relationship with Russia in the Syrian conflict has been well-managed to date, but the potential for serious incidents still exists. Intelligence gathered covertly in real or near real-time about both Syrian and Russian activities in the region can help manage each participants’ agendas while lowering the risk of fratricide and other accidental conflict. It can also provide exclusive intelligence to the United States unavailable to other participating nations, providing a strategic intelligence advantage in the conflict.

4. The emerging global theater. The United States enjoys a geographic separation from the major Asian, African and Middle Eastern conflict areas. The geographic separation from conflict zones afforded by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans has been a significant reason for the U.S. ability to maintain security and prevent a large-scale conflict on U.S. soil. But this geographical distance from conflict zones also means preemptively managing conflict globally. It requires long reach and high-speed for timely intelligence gathering. A new high-speed, low-observable ISR/strike platform is required to maintain that agenda. This is a persistent requirement within the U.S. arsenal and will remain indefinitely.

Global conflicts thousands of miles from the U.S. dictate the continued need for stealthy, long range, high speed strategic reconnaissance (Photo: Center for Preventative Action)

Any new strategic reconnaissance and strike asset in development now could still be years from operational fielding, or it may already be in service. Recall that the F-117 Nighthawk was flying in 1981 but not officially revealed until 1988, a span of seven years during which the program remained hidden. While media has changed since the 1980s and it is more difficult to keep a program secret today, the possibility still exists that the program is much farther advanced than publicly revealed.

The F-117 sub-scale prototypes, some called “Have Blue”, were secretly flown from Palmdale without detection. (Photo: USAF)

As early as 1985 a line item appeared in the U.S. defense budget for $85 million USD attributed to a project called “Aurora”. By 1987 that allocation had bloated to over $2.3 billion for the same project. Some reports suggest the U.S. Air Force was working on an SR-71 replacement as early as 1988.

Subsequent reports in credible media like Jane’s Defense and Aviation Week & Space Technology have featured accounts of hearing and seeing unidentified aircraft in the region of the Nellis test ranges.

Another famous sighting happened over the North Sea in November 1991. Scottish petroleum engineer Chris Gibson, who was also serving in the British Royal Observer Corps according to reports, was working on the offshore oil rig Galveston Key. Gibson, an experienced and trained professional aircraft spotter, saw “The shape of a pure isosceles triangle” flying behind a KC-135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft in formation with two F-111s. The aircraft were sighted in the 6A air-to-air refueling zone according to reports. Gibson’s accounting was substantiated by another witness, lasted a significant amount of time, and has been repeatedly analyzed, but never explained.

The Chris Gibson/North Sea 1991 sighting suggested an early possible sighting of an SR-71 replacement. The sighting has never been explained. (Photo: Chris Gibson)

Trying to organize the sightings and information we have of any possible new hypersonic low-observable reconnaissance/strike aircraft with the mission requirements and global strategic need for aerial intelligence still leaves massive gaps between what we know and what is possible according to accounts, but within this massive gap of the unknown exists plenty of room for a real project that, when we eventually do hear about it, will undoubtedly be one of the most sensational defense and aviation stories of this century.

Top image: Distributed briefing slide showing conceptual image of SR-72 with SR-71. (Photo: USAF)