Monthly Archives: November 2017

Russia Unveils New Tu-160M2 Strategic Super Bomber Update

The Newest Version of the Massive Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack Was Rolled-Out This Week.

Russia has rolled out the latest upgrade of the world’s largest supersonic strategic bomber, the Tupolev Tu-160M2 “White Swan” NATO codename “Blackjack.

While the original version of the Tu-160 first flew in December of 1981, the program was halted with collapse of the Soviet Union. Ukraine acquired several of the aircraft that were subsequently traded back to Russia in a bombers-for-natural gas deal.

“While ostensibly an improved variant of the Soviet-era Tu-160, the Tu-160M2 is a new bomber in all but name” according statements published in Russian media from the Russian Aerospace Force.

By appearance and Russian claims, the Tu-160 appears to be an impressive aircraft, with the completely updated “M2” version purported to be even more capable. The Tu-160 in its previous variants held a number of records for speed in its weight class. It remains the largest, fastest strategic bomber in operation, second only to the developmental U.S. built XB-70 Valkyrie in size, weight and performance. It is also the world’s largest variable-geometry swept wing aircraft, significantly larger and heavier than the U.S. B-1B strategic, supersonic variable-swept wing bomber.

This latest version of the titanic “Blackjack”, as it is known in the west, is expected to make its first flight in late 2018 and enter into full-rate production by 2021 according to Russian media.

“The first Tu-160M2 is expected to make its first flight by the end of 2018, followed by full-scale production in 2021,” Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev, commander of the Russian Air Force, told media in the rollout ceremony at the S.P. Grobunov assembly facility in Kazan, in southwest Russia on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017.

The newly built Blackjack will initially be capable of performing the same missions as the existing Blackjack fleet and will subsequently be modified and upgraded to the M2 standard.

Analysts note that the full-scale production date has been rolled back from 2019 to the new 2021 date announced today.

The Tu-160M2 is intended to be the basis of Russia’s strategic strike capability, but funding for the project has faced challenges.

All reports suggest the only similarities between the new “M2” version of the Tu-160 are the name and the airframe. All avionics, sensors and communications equipment are reported to be new. The aircraft is also intended to be re-engined with four new, upgraded Kuznetsov NK-32 engines with afterburners.

Interestingly, the rollout of the new Tu-160M2 seems to have quieted discussion of the conceptual Tupolev PAK-DA flying wing stealth bomber, a project shown in drawings since 2008. Early reports suggested the PAK-DA would be entering service in 2025-2030. A statement today during the Tu-160M2 rollout downplayed low-observable technology, saying that the Mach 2+ speed of the Tu-160M2 and the use of stand-off weapons negated the need for stealth. Key new weapons on the Tu-160M2 are the KH-101 and KH-102 long range, low-observable cruise missiles. These large, capable, precision missile systems have ranges in excess of 1,000 miles.

The Tu-160M2 will operate alongside the aging Russian Tu-95 Bear turboprop long range maritime patrol and strategic bomber in the foreseeable future, mimicking the U.S. reliance on their B-52 Stratofortress legacy heavy bomber alongside the B-1B (conventional) supersonic strategic bomber.

Image credit: United Aircraft Corp Russia.

 

These Photos Show U.S. Army AH-64E Apache Supporting The Fight Against ISIS With New Counter IR Missile Systems

Here are some interesting shots of U.S. Army attack choppers equipped with LAIRCM.

U.S. Army AH-64E Apache attack choppers supporting the fight against Daesh in Syria and Iraq have received Northrop Grumman’s AN/AAQ-24 large aircraft infrared countermeasure (LAIRCM) system.

According to the service, the 4th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment was the first unit to operate the U.S. Army’s new LAIRCM aircraft survivability equipment in combat last summer. LAIRCM is a DIRCM (Directional Infrared Counter Measures) an acronym used to describe any infrared countermeasure system that tracks and directs energy towards heat seeking missiles.

Several U.S. Army helicopters provide support to Operation Inherent Resolve: rotary-wing assets operate from multiple Forward Arming and Refueling Points (FARPs) in the region, pairing with RQ-7Bv2 Shadow Unmanned Aerial System, which performs reconnaissance and surveillance for the coalition forces. The Shadow UAS identifies enemy personnel and hands the target off to either the AH-64E Apache helos or to the MQ-1C “Gray Eagle” drones, the two U.S. Army’s air strike platforms in theatre.

US Army AH-64Es from Task Force Saber in Sarrin, Syria on Jul. 28, 2017. LAIRCM GLTA highlighted in the photo. (Credit: U.S. Army)

In order to perform their tasks, the attack helicopters operate at low altitude, well within the envelope of MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems) possibly in the hands of Daesh fighters. Shoulder-fired missiles have long been a concern in Syria, especially in the past years when MANPADS were occasionally used (also by Free Syrian Army militants to bring down Assad regime helicopters).

MANPADS in ISIS hands have made the Syrian battlefield more dangerous to low flying helos and aircraft as proved by the fact that U.S. and coalition aircraft have been targeted by man-portable systems while flying their missions over Syria in the past. For this reason, the U.S. Army Apaches have been equipped with what appears to be the Department of the Navy Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasure (DON LAIRCM) system with the Advanced Threat Warning (ATW) upgrade.

The AN/AAQ-24V turret (Northrop Grumman)

The DON LAIRCM system, a variant of the U.S. Air Force LAIRCM system for fixed wing aircraft, is a defensive system designed to protect the asset against surface-to-air infrared missile threats. According to official documents, the system combines two-color infrared missile warning sensors with the Guardian Laser Transmitter Assembly (GLTA). The missile warning sensor detects an oncoming missile threat and sends the information to the processor, which then notifies the crew through the control interface unit and simultaneously directs the GLTA to slew to and begin jamming the threat.

The ATW capability upgrades the processor and missile warning sensors to provide improved missile detection, and adds hostile fire and laser warning capability with visual/audio alerts to the pilots.

LAIRCM System (Northrop Grumman)

The U.S. Navy plans to fully integrate the DON LAIRCM ATW system on the MV-22 and KC-130J with the mission system software whereas the Army plans to integrate AH-64, UH/HH-60, and CH-47 helicopters.

H/T Babak Taghvaee for providing the images of the AH-64Es included in this post.

We Have Flown in Textron’s Scorpion Jet. Here’s What We Have Learned.

The Scorpion is the iPhone X of Military Aviation.

To many, the Textron Aviation Defense LLC Scorpion is an enigma.

Though it has capability overlap, the Scorpion is not a traditional Fighter, Attack, Reconnaissance, Observation, or Trainer, nor is it designed to replace any existing platform. To understand it, one must look to the Scorpion as a ISR/Strike platform developed in the context of the smartphone business model.

The hardware platform – the Scorpion, could be likened to the 256 GB iPhone X (or equivalent Pixel 2/Samsung Note 8 if you prefer). The aircraft features a truly open mission architecture, with extraordinary internal/external payload capability. An Interface Control Document [ICD] is made available to payload suppliers who program their payloads to interface with the Scorpion mission system. The result is a very efficient hardware platform with a “sky’s the limit” applications/payloads store!

Textron focuses on providing the very low operating cost, flexible, and modular “flying platform” to readily host today and tomorrow’s most capable payloads. The approach is a complete break from the proprietary systems utilized by the prime contractors of current high-end fighters; controlled, slowed and priced by the prime.

Textron Scorpion with HMP-400 gun pods overflies NAS Patuxent River during recent weapons trials. The TEXTRON team achieved 100% mission completion rate during weapons system testing. 5 different configurations (LAU-131, HMP-400 Gun pods, GBU-12) were tested over 5 days, with the tests concluding 4 days early. (Photo: Erik Hildebrandt)

I recently flew in one of the three production Scorpions, “P2” fresh off the USAF OA-X Experiment.

Textron Aviation Defense Flight Test and Demonstration Pilot Matt “Tajma” Hall (current Air National Guard C-130 Aircraft Commander; experienced pilot in the F-15E and T-6) provided flight briefing, and Chief Test Pilot Dan “Shaka” Hinson (Ret. USN F/A-18 Pilot, former Commanding Officer of the U.S. Naval Strike Fighter Weapons School, and Graduate of U.S. Naval Test Pilot School) piloted the aircraft. One cannot help but note the tremendous quality and experience in the team that Textron has assembled to not only fly and prove the aircraft, but to provide the intellectual capital behind design and capability.

Testron Scorpion “P2” just off the USAF OA-X Experiment readies for flight from Manassas, VA. (All photos: Author unless otherwise stated).

Departing on an IFR flight plan in low overcast from the Manassas Regional Airport, Virginia, we quickly climbed to 5,000 ft and headed southwest where the skies were clearing. The rapid departure and climb made it clear we were under jet power. Within minutes we were in suitable VFR conditions over Charlottesville, Virginia and ATC provided a block of airspace for maneuvering. Over the next 60 minutes, Hinson demonstrated the flight characteristics, sensors and weapons systems.

Under his watchful eye, Hinson had me take control of the aircraft executing turns, pulling Gs, evaluating high speed handling, speed brake deployment, an aileron roll, multiple stalls and stall recoveries. The Scorpion is an incredibly stable and “pilot friendly” aircraft. Engines at idle, flaps up, stick back, and nose high – and the aircraft would not stall. When parameters were established to create a stall, recovery was straightforward. The aircraft is slippery and a slight drop in the nose leads to a “with this kind of nose attitude the aircraft really accelerates a lot…” from Hinson. The man is a real professional, a gentleman’s way of saying, “pull the nose up.” I did.

The author, Todd Miller taking a selfie in the Textron Aviation Defense Scorpion Jet over Virgina, USA. Capable, scalable ISR/Light Attack for the uncontested space.

The wing provides a tremendous glide ratio, ideal for the aircraft’s purpose – ISR in a permissive environment. On station at about 12,000 ft the total fuel burn was only 500 – 600 lbs per engine, per hour. This enables tremendous time on station with a variety of weapons at the ready to neutralize a target of opportunity. For comparison sake, the fuel burn per hour on station is about 10 – 12% of the F-15E Strike Eagle and less than 20% of an F-16 in the same role. While no replacement for these fighter aircraft, this mission utilization is precisely how scores of hours have been accumulated by the F-15E, F-16, A-10, and F/A-18s over the past 30 years. The Scorpion delivers exceptional economy while enabling operations from austere environments with significantly more capable ISR payloads.

A veritable set of airborne eyes and ears, the Scorpion supports payloads that facilitate both kinetic and non-kinetic effects across all operational domains. With tremendous internal space for payloads, the Scorpion offers an excess of electrical power to support anticipated and unforeseen demands. A nose bay is available for configuration with electro-optical/infrared (EO-IR) sensors such as the L3 Wescam MX series, or an active electronically scanned array radar (AESA). Three large internal payload bays can be configured for use with sensors/payloads to support Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), Hyperspectral Analysis, Electronic Warfare or other. Additional payloads such as a 4G LTE Hotspot could be very helpful in a humanitarian crisis. Like a smartphone, the Scorpion’s capabilities are limited only by the ingenuity of providers to fill the space and power available.

The Textron Scorpion demonstrates the ability to carry the L-3 Wescam MX-15 (nose bay) or the powerful MX-25 (payload bay 3). In both instances the EO IR sensor is fully retractable, and is stowed for flight operations until on station.

Permissive environments that utilize significant ISR assets such as the RC-135 Rivet Joint [SIGINT], E-8 JSTARS [Surveillance and Reconnaissance] and others may find more than adequate capability in a rightly configured Scorpion. Such downsizing of ISR packages would increase savings exponentially and free the most capable USAF assets for demanding mission sets.

Orbiting on station I found operating the sensor package while flying the aircraft via the Hands-on Throttle and Stick [HOTAS] intuitive and straightforward. Up front, Hinson utilized the Helmet Mounted Cueing System (HMCS) to demonstrate operational capabilities. Specific sensor packages overlay data from multiple payloads and create a single situational picture captured by time and geolocation. The data could be processed by a powerful computer package onboard, or streamed by secure network to other assets in space, the air or ground. As Textron Aviation Defense Senior Advisor Stephen Burke indicated, “We can pull out of the noise a target that is very difficult to see. A low contrast, short dwell target in a chaotic urban environment.” The kind of environment that the USAF has been operating in for years – with no end in sight.

View from the rear office of the Textron Scorpion while flying over Virginia, USA. The photo is distorted (canopy etc) due to the panorama function of the camera. The dots visible on canopy provide “calibration” for the Helmet Mounted Cueing System.

The massive increase in data generated by ISR platforms has created very real manpower challenges for Processing, Exploitation and Dissemination (PED). An onboard, algorithm-driven computer system would provide a tremendous leap in PED capability. That kind of computer driven analysis of data is a capability USAF thought leaders have indicated is imperative.

The open architecture the Scorpion features for payloads is entirely separated from the aircrafts flight controls. Each system/sensor simply runs as a unique application within the main mission systems computer. This “non-proprietary” approach opens scores of possibilities for the user and their related contract negotiations. While speaking at the OA-X experiment at Holloman AFB, Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson specified this approach (open architecture/non-proprietary) as a requirement to do business with the USAF moving forward. When Scorpion payload providers update their sensors with additional capabilities scores of hours of regression testing can be avoided – reference the ICD, plug, play and deploy. Rather than take years to upgrade sensors, it can be achieved in weeks.

The excellent flight characteristics I experienced are complemented by tremendous reliability and ease of operations. Whether in weapons testing, flight testing or international travel – the Scorpion has demonstrated exceptional readiness rates. Most recently flying from Wichita, Kansas to the Dubai Air Show, “P2” visited nine countries in six days with 100 percent mission readiness. 100 percent readiness sounds fictitious. However, it is not all that surprising given the aircraft utilizes proven and widely deployed commercial systems.

While visiting Saudi Arabia, Royal Saudi Air Force pilots quickly qualified in the Scorpion and scored multiple direct hits with inert GBU-12s. At the Dubai Air Show the Textron team continued flight operations with multiple demonstrations showcasing Scorpion’s capabilities to an array of international prospective customers.

Unlike the USAF during the O-AX experiment, or the Saudi Arabian Air Force pilots, my flight demonstration carried no ordnance. However, a target below was designated and Hinson demonstrated an attack profile with a precision guided munition. The Scorpion features a proven Stores Management System [SMS] that will continue to grow as more ordnance is qualified for the aircraft.

Textron Scorpion fires 2.75″ Hydra-70 rocket during recent weapons trials at NAS Patuxent River, MD. The Textron team achieved 100% mission completion rate during weapons system testing. 5 different configurations (LAU-131, HMP-440 Gun pods, GBU-12) were tested over 5 days (Photo: Erik Hildebrandt)

Returning to the airfield, I had the time to appreciate the exceptional view, and the potential value the aircraft could bring to the growing USAF pilot shortage. During the OA-X experiment, it was noted by USAF leadership that procurement of additional low-cost airframes would be required to surge pilot training/skills development to address the pilot shortage.

Textron strongly believes Scorpion is a compelling fit for USAF pilots — and for USN pilots who graduate out of flight school. Their first assignment in a Scorpion would expose them to a low-cost but very capable platform that brings forward the future of the DoD operations. Scorpion pilots will be immersed in the combat cloud, secure communications, fusion warfare, sensor operation and management. I can think of no better platform for pilots to learn relevant systems and build hours while preparing for the power of the DoD’s upgraded Gen 4 and Gen 5 aircraft and the high intensity fight.

Regardless the virtues of the platform, Textron’s approach to build an aircraft tailored to military operations where no stated requirement exists is rare and risky. However, it is not risk taken in a vacuum, but rather a bold example of entrepreneurship that was inspired by the thought leadership of the USAF and military aviators. Aside the absence of an official requirement, reviews of articles penned and speeches made by the thought leaders of the USAF reveal the basis for design of the Scorpion and the Textron model.

USAF thought leadership defines an Air Force that utilizes Fusion Warfare; the Combat Cloud; Open Architecture; Non-proprietary system contracts; the Information Battlespace; addresses the pilot shortage; operates much more cost effectively with a high/low platform mix that generates airframe and fuel savings (see Logistical Fratricide); and empowers Decision Superiority. Well, it looks like the Scorpion addresses each of these operational concepts/issues and brings additional capabilities to the deploying Air Force (the USAF or any number of its allies). As such, the platform may not only serve an immediate need, it can also define a model approach for future weapons systems development.

Air Force thought leaders have been speaking. It appears Textron was listening closely and, as a result, the Scorpion presents a compelling opportunity. The airframe and flying qualities speak for themselves. Simplicity with riveting capability. The design philosophy of modularity and open architecture find me reflecting on my first encounter with something called an iPhone. At the time, I was using another device for phone and email communications and some of my colleagues bucked our corporate IT department, so they could utilize an iPhone.

At first, I didn’t get it. Today, the device I was using is all but forgotten and the smartphone and application stores rule. Perhaps the Scorpion and the model it presents will find similar success in changing the way forward for military airpower.

The Aviationist expresses gratitude to the team at Textron Aviation Defense, specifically to the patient and gracious Chief Test Pilot Dan “Shaka” Hinson and Pilot Matt “Tajma” Hall. An exceptional team of professionals across the board.

That Time An X-15 Rocket Plane Entered Hypersonic Spin At Mach 5 And Broke Apart Killing USAF Test Pilot.

U.S. Air Force test pilot Maj. Michael J. Adams was killed during X-15 Flight 191 on Nov. 15, 1967.

The North American X-15 was a hypersonic rocket-powered aircraft 50 ft long with a wingspan of 22 ft. operated by the United States Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as part of the X-plane series of experimental aircraft in the 1960s.

It was a missile-shaped vehicle with an unusual wedge-shaped vertical tail, thin stubby wings, and unique side fairings that extended along the side of the fuselage. It was powered by the XLR-99 rocket engine, manufactured by Thiokol Chemical Corp., pilot-controlled and  capable of developing 57,000 lb of thrust.

The aircraft was brought to the launch altitude of 45,000 feet by a NASA B-52 “mothership” then air dropped to that the rocket plane would have enough fuel to reach its high speed and altitude test points. Depending on the mission, the rocket engine provided thrust for the first 80 to 120 sec of flight. The remainder of the normal 10 to 11 min. flight was powerless and ended with a 200-mph glide landing.

The X-15 was air dropped by a NASA B-52 “mothership”

The X-15 was capable of climbing to the edge of space at an altitude in excess of 300,000 feet at speed of more than 4,500 miles per hour (+7,270 km/h). Actually, the target altitude for X-15 flights was set at 360,000 feet because there were concerns about the reentry from 400,000 feet, that was the maximum altitude the rocket plane was theoretically able to reach.

Two types of flight profiles were used during test flights depending on the purposes of the mission: a high-altitude flight plan that called for the pilot to maintain a steep rate of climb, or a speed profile that called for the pilot to push over and maintain a level altitude.

For flight in the dense air of the usable atmosphere, the X-15 used conventional aerodynamic controls but to maneuver in the thin air outside of the appreciable Earth’s atmosphere, where flight control surfaces were useless, the X-15 used a reaction control system (RCS) made of hydrogen peroxide thrust rockets. Those located on the nose of the aircraft provided pitch and yaw control; those on the wings provided roll control. A similar system was used on the Space Shuttle Orbiter, decades later: indeed, experience and data gathered from the X-15 program contributed to the development of the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle manned spaceflight programs.

Cutaway drawing of the North American X-15.
1/20/62

Needless to say, handling the rocket-powered aircraft at the edge of space was particularly challenging.

 

X-15-3 (56-6672) made 65 flights during the program. It reached attaining a top speed of Mach 5.65 and a maximum altitude of 354,200 feet.

Official records say that only 10 of the 12 X-15 pilots flew Ship #3; eight of them earned their astronaut wings during the program (in fact, U.S. Air Force pilots who flew the X-15 to altitudes above 50 miles all received Astronaut Wings): Robert White, Joseph Walker, Robert Rushworth, John “Jack” McKay, Joseph Engle, William “Pete” Knight, William Dana, and Michael Adams all earned their astronaut wings in Ship #3.

Out of three X-15s built by North American for the program, Ship #3 is the only X-15 that has not survived, as it was lost on Nov. 15, 1967.

X-15-1, serial number 56-6670, is now located at the National Air and Space museum, Washington DC. North American X-15A-2, serial number 56-6671, is at the United States Air Force Museum, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

Here’s the story of that last mission:

On 15 November 1967, Ship #3 was launched over Delamar Lake, Nevada with Maj. Michael J. Adams at the controls. The vehicle soon reached a speed of Mach 5.2, and a peak altitude of 266,000 feet.

During the climb, an electrical disturbance degraded the aircraft’s controllability. Ship #3 began a slow drift in heading, which soon became a spin. Adams radioed that the X-15 “seems squirrelly” and then said “I’m in a spin.”

Through some combination of pilot technique and basic aerodynamic stability, Adams recovered from the spin and entered an inverted Mach 4.7 dive. As the X-15 plummeted into the increasingly thicker atmosphere, the Honeywell adaptive flight control system caused the vehicle to begin oscillating. As the pitching motion increased, aerodynamic forces finally broke the aircraft into several major pieces.

Adams was killed when the forward fuselage impacted the desert. This was the only fatal accident during the entire X-15 program.  The canopy from Ship #3, recovered during the original search in 1967, is displayed at the San Diego Aerospace Museum, San Diego, California.

Parts of the crashed X-15-3, serial number 56-6672, recovered in 1992 by Peter Merlin and Tony Moore (The X-Hunters) are on display at the Air Force Flight Test Center Museum at Edwards.

According to NASA, the X-15s made a total of 199 flights over a period of nearly 10 years (from June 1959 to Oct. 1968) and set world’s unofficial speed and altitude records of 4,520 miles per hour or Mach 6.7 (set by Ship #2) and 354,200 feet (set by Ship #3).

Image credit: NASA

Check Out These Photos Of A Mysterious F-117 Under Protective Cover On A Trailer On Route 95 South Of Creech AFB, Nevada, Yesterday

What appears to be an F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Jet was spotted yesterday on the road south of Creech AFB, Nevada.

The above composite image was obtained by merging two screenshots from a video filmed by Randy Williams and made available to The Aviationist by Brett Wyman who first posted them on a FB group focused on Nellis AFB.

The screenshots clearly show what seems to be a (real or mock?) F-117 Nighthawk stealth jet, hidden under protective cover, on a trailer spotted on Route 95 south of Creech Air Force Base.

Side by side, here are the two screenshots provided by Brett Wyman from the original Randy Williams footage.

Although where the aircraft was being transferred is unknown it’s probably safe to assume it was collected at Tonopah Test Range. Indeed, since 2014 we have documented the flights of some F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Jets over Nevada. Last year we published a video showing two F-117s flying in July 2016, filmed from the distant hills east of Tonopah Test Range.

Back in 2014, once a few videos and photographs had already appeared online, the U.S. Air Force affirmed that the Black Jet was kept in a “Type 1000” storage at TTR which meant that the type is to be maintained until called into active service.

Desert conditions of Nevada are perfect for maintaining the stealth jets in pristine conditions (due to the low level of humidity and hence, lower probability of corrosion).

Therefore the U.S. considered the F-117 somehow useful in a current scenario so much so, they continued to fly some of the preserved jets, every now and then, in plain sight, to keep the pilots current and the aircraft airworthy and ready.

However, the 2017 defense budget retired the fleet permanently. In fact, “in accordance with the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017, passed Dec. 23, the Air Force will remove four F-117s every year to fully divest them — a process known as demilitarizing aircraft,” wrote Oriana Pawlyk recently.

According to Pawlyk, one F-117 was scheduled to be divested this year and approximately four every year thereafter.

The one spotted yesterday may have been that one, heading for the boneyard, a museum or something else. Anyway, if you know something more, let us know in the comments section or by sending us an email.

Update Nov. 15, 07:00 UTC

The Aviationist’s writer Tom Demerly and his girlfriend Jan happened to be in Nevada for Aviation Nation. He saw the F-117 under tarp as well. Here’s his recollection of the “sighting”:

We were east bound going back toward Las Vegas from the Nevada/California border after shooting photos all day at the Jedi Transition.

Both of us were tired having gotten up at 3:00 AM that morning to drive to the Jedi Transition/Star Wars Canyon near Death Valley. It gets dark early there. There is only one road in that area, and we did have a little difficulty locating that road, US-95, on the way back to the junction in Beatty leaving Death Valley, California and going back into Nevada.

Once we got on the road headed west there was no traffic. The road is sparsely travelled even during the day. It is absolutely black out there at night. Zero lights, zero power lines. Nothing, just the road. Earlier we had seen herds of donkeys, huge desert hare, fox and jackals along the road.

We stopped briefly to photograph the donkeys in the dark, pulling off the road to illuminate them with our headlights. I saw the truck with the covered load coming towards us once we got on US-95. It appeared to have at least one, maybe two vehicles following it and extra forward-facing lights.

The lights were incredibly bright, facing outward from the load, making it difficult to see what was on the trailer as we passed each other going in opposite directions. It would have been impossible to grab a quick photo because of those lights.They were not moving excessively fast, but we were headed the opposite way, so we only saw it briefly. I recall, immediately after we passed it, trying to figure out what was under the tarp.

We decided it may be an aircraft being moved somewhere for static display or some type of radar test model- or something more banal like a piece of a big sign or construction equipment, but that idea seemed odd, especially after dark on those remote roads. It wasn’t easy driving. We could not see the angle of the forward portion of the load, which would have given it away, because of the bright lights. We only briefly saw the back two-thirds of the tarp.

The back portion of the load protruded off the back of the trailer. That was the tail of the aircraft under the tarp. In retrospect, seeing these photos, it actually becomes pretty clear. As soon as my girlfriend and I saw these photos we were amazed. It actually was an F-117.

Much earlier that day, before sunrise on the way to Death Valley, we stopped briefly at a gas station directly across from Creech AFB. There are no gas stations between Creech and Beatty, so you want to tank-up before you get on that section of road. I noticed a man with a beard in his late 20s, early 30s, park a nice-looking pick-up truck at the edge of the gas station parking lot, then get in a large shuttle van with darkly tinted windows, like an airport shuttle van. He was carrying a large lunchbox. I thought he was a civilian contractor being shuttled onto Creech AFB for some type of civilian support role.

But when the shuttle van (with “Y” license plate) left the gas station parking lot going west it continued for quite some time. There is nothing out there. The shuttle made one other stop and we passed it. We could see it behind us for a while, then it disappeared. I supposed, based on the age and appearance of the man who got on the shuttle, and the fact that he noticed I noticed him, that he was working on something potentially interesting.

Thanks a lot to Brett Wyman for allowing us to use the screenshots!