Monthly Archives: December 2017

The Real-World Air Combat Origins of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

Truth is Stranger Than Fiction, And the Inspirations for “The Last Jedi” Are Remarkable.

This article contains spoilers. If you have not seen “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” yet, you may find it better to stop reading this article here and come back later.

Hurtling toward the villain nation’s massive fortified Armageddon machine the hero-pilot has one chance, and one chance only, at hitting his target. Victory will mean one man will save his people, failure could mean a war that may lead to destruction of the planet. It is all or nothing, and this audacious attack could determine mankind’s survival.

It’s not a scene from writer/director Rian Johnson’s new film, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”. That narrative is a dramatization of the real-world Operation Opera, the daring June 7, 1981 Israeli air raid on a nuclear reactor and atomic weapons fuel manufacturing facility at the Osirak nuclear reactor outside, Iraq.

This is just one example of art imitating air combat history in the new Hollywood blockbuster that hit theaters this past weekend and of nearly every previous film in the Star Wars series. Almost every intergalactic battle scene in the Star Wars films borrows heavily from actual air combat history. And if you are a fan of air combat history, some of the scenes in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” may feel familiar.

Director Rian Johnson and the visual effects in “The Last Jedi” opened with a classic piece of air combat doctrine that has been seen many times in modern air combat. An attacking aircraft poses as performing one mission to deceive an enemy, act as a decoy and buy time before a secondary attack is launched. If this time-proven set of tactics sounds familiar, it is.

You may be recall the real-world tactics of “Wild Weasel” SAM suppression missions flown in Vietnam and Iraq. It may also bring memories of “Operation Bolo”, the audacious January 2, 1967 attack meant to destroy North Vietnam’s air force flown by USAF Colonel Robin Olds. Col. Olds’ F-4 Phantoms behaved like defenseless B-52 F-105 bombers over North Vietnam as decoys to lure enemy MiG-21s into attacking. When they did, Col. Olds’ fighters sprung their trap.

Real world fighter pilot flight equipment was an inspiration for wardrobe in “The Last Jedi”. (Photo: Lucasfilm)

Another tactic shown in “The Last Jedi” was forcing an enemy, in this case the fictional “First Order”, to commit all of their air defense assets to an initial feint attack, thus revealing their sensors and depleting their ammunition before a larger, secondary attack is launched on the main objective. In the opening scene of “The Last Jedi” one X-wing fighter distracts and delays the giant enemy First Order battle spacecraft until it can effectively fly inside and below its defenses, then opens an initial attack, suppressing defenses and paving the way for the main rebel attack force.

Visual effects throughout “The Last Jedi” include inspiration from real world air combat of every era and from other air combat movies. It’s widely known that Luke Skywalker’s strike mission against the Death Star in the original “Star Wars”, where he pilots his X-wing fighter down a narrow mechanical canyon for a precision strike on the gigantic Death Star, was inspired in part by the 1964 Walter Grauman and Cecil Ford film about WWII Royal Air Force Mosquito pilots, “633 Squadron”. The cockpit of the Millennium Falcon spacecraft was inspired to the WWII B-29 bomber.

Photos and film like these heavy bombers in WWII inspired the visual look of the opening battle in “The Last Jedi”. (Photo: Wikipedia)

It is also rumored that George Lucas may have had inspiration from either visiting or seeing images from low flying training areas like the Mach Loop in Wales and especially the now-famous R-2508 complex now referred to even by the military as either the “Jedi Transition” or “Star Wars canyon” in Death Valley, California just outside the Nellis Test and Training Range.

Despite Director Rian Johnson’s often accurate inspirations from air and space combat, he does take liberal license with physics and reality in the “The Last Jedi”. Gravity is selective in the film. Gravity bombs fall down in space where there is no gravity. Spacecrafts fly in a symmetrical up and down orientation nonexistent in space, and combatants pass from space with no atmosphere into pressurized spacecraft. Some of the characters in “The Last Jedi” need a refresher from their officer training as well, as specific orders from commanders are executed selectively- and often disobeyed entirely. In the real world that offense that would lead flight officers a stint in the brig- look at how much hot water Iceman and Goose got themselves into in “Top Gun” just for buzzing the tower. Further departure from reality is seen with the gun-like weapons (as well as the above mentioned gravity bombs) used in place of long range stand-off weapons. But at the risk of being that annoying guy in the theater pointing out technical inaccuracies, these are the elements of fiction that separate meaty fantasy from the admittedly more accurate, and “dryer” plot lines of, for instance, a Tom Clancy story unfolding in a more rigid version of the real world.

Rian Johnson must have watched plenty of video of F-22 Raptor and Sukhoi Su-35 displays since the opening space-combat sequence in “The Last Jedi” shows X-Wing combat pilot Poe Dameron execute a very Sukhoi-esque horizontal tail slide to evade a pair of attacking First Order fighters.

The cockpits in the X-Wing fighters are a mix of new technology including advanced weapons sights and side stick controls and old tech like toggle switches that somehow seem more visually dramatic to flip than using a touchscreen like the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Speaking of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and its advanced onboard situational awareness and networking system, the BB-8 droid that accompanies X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron on his missions is really a mix of the F-35s advanced avionics including the Multifunction Advanced Datalink (MADL), the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar and the Distributed Aperture System (DAS). These systems run aircraft diagnostics, keep the pilot informed about the aircraft health and tactical environment and help facilitate communications and systems operation through several command systems, in the case of the BB-8 droid on the X-Wing fighter, mostly using voice actuation.

Finally, if the large rebel bomber formation in the stunning opening battle scene in “The Last Jedi” feels visually familiar then you may liken it to footage and tales from the mass WWII bomber attacks over Germany and Japan by the allies, especially B-17 and B-24 strikes over Germany. The lumbering, mostly defenseless bomber stream attacks in tight formation under cover from X-Wing fighter escort, and suffers heavy losses. The bombers even feature a ball gun turret at the bottom of the spacecraft exactly like the one under a B-17 Flying Fortress.

Ball turret gunner Paige Tico becomes one of the first sacrificial heroes of “The Last Jedi” when she risks her life to release a huge stick of bombs in the last-ditch bomb run by the only surviving bomber in the opening attack on the First Order spacecraft. Paige Tico’s sister, Rose Tico, goes on to become a predominant hero of the film after she loses her sister in the heroic opening bombing raid.

Remotely operated gun turrets inspired by the ones on the B-29 Superfortress. (Photo: Lucasfilm)

You may also sense that the giant First Order Dreadnought Mandator-IV-class warship in “The Last Jedi” felt familiar. Design supervisor for “The Last Jedi”, Kevin Jenkins, revealed that inspiration for the Dreadnought warship came from several sources that included the WWII Japanese battleship Yamato. The Dreadnought was armed with two enormous orbital autocannons for large-scale bombardments and 24 point-defense remotely aimed anti-aircraft cannons on its dorsal surface. Dreadnought is also an enormous space gunnery platform at 7,669 meters long, that is more than 25,162.8 feet in length. Imagine a strategic attack space aircraft five miles long.

The Dreadnought heavy gun platform spaceship in “The Last Jedi” was inspired by the Japanese battleship Yamato. (Photo: Lucasfilm)

All great fiction, including science fiction, is rooted in inspiration from the factual world, and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” borrows significantly from the real world of air combat technology, tactics and history to weave a thrilling and visually sensational experience. In this way this film, and in fact, the entire Star Wars franchise, lives as a fitting and inspiring ode to air combat past, present and future and serves to inspire tomorrow’s real-world Jedi warriors.

Top image credit: Lucasfilm.

Polish Air Force MiG-29 Crashes in Minsk Mazowiecki. It’s The First Ever Crash Of A Polish Fulcrum

The pilot survived the first Polish MiG-29 crash since July 1989.

A Polish Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrum (“67” Blue, formerly known as “67” Red – the number was repainted after the overhaul) has crashed in the vicinity of the Minsk Mazowiecki airbase, while landing there on Dec. 18.

Police and Fire Department were dispatched to conduct the SAR operation. The pilot survived the accident, suffering minor injuries. Some sources suggested that the Fulcrum driver did not eject, contrary to the official statement from the Polish MoD, according to which the pilot successfully ejected from the aircraft.

Due to the fact that the crash took place in the middle of the forest, the SAR operation took some time, stated the commander of the 23rd Tactical Airbase, Col. Piotr Iwaszko. Iwaszko announced that at least 200 persons were involved in the SAR effort. After 90 minutes, the pilot was found. According to the report issued by Interia.pl the weather was too bad to use the SAR assets available at the Minsk airbase.

Contrary to some claims made by some journalists via Twitter, according to official sources, the MiG-29 involved in the accident was neither on QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) duty nor did it carry any missiles.

Polish National Commission for Aviation Accidents Investigation is bound to start the investigation of the event today.

Notably, this is the first ever crash of a Polish Air Force Fulcrum in history. The jets, have had a flawless track-record in the service, so far, flying with the Polish Air Force for nearly 3 decades. Along with the Soviet-era Su-22 Fitters, the MiG-29 Fulcrums will be replaced by the new multirole combat plane procured within the “Harpia” program, launched on Nov. 23, 2017.

Image Credit: Jacek Siminski

Here’s Boeing Submission To The U.S. Navy MQ-25 Stingray Unmanned Carrier Aviation Air System Competition

Boeing’s MQ-25 unmanned aircraft system has been unveiled.

After teasing its shape with a mysterious tweet that included a photograph of an aircraft under protective cover on Dec. 14, as planned, Boeing has unveiled a better (still, partial) view of its submission to the MQ-25 Stingray unmanned carrier aviation air system competition (UCAAS).

Through its MQ-25 competition (with final proposals due on Jan. 3, 2018), the U.S. Navy plans to procure unmanned refueling capabilities that would extend the combat range of deployed Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler, and Lockheed Martin F-35C fighters. The UCAAS will operate from both land bases and the flight deck of its Nimitz- and future Ford-class aircraft carriers, seamlessly integrating with a carrier’s catapult and launch and recovery systems. The induction of the new tanker drone will offload some aerial refueling duties from the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleet.

“Boeing has been delivering carrier aircraft to the Navy for almost 90 years,” said Don ‘BD’ Gaddis, a retired admiral who leads the refueling system program for Boeing’s Phantom Works technology organization, in a company public release. “Our expertise gives us confidence in our approach. We will be ready for flight testing when the engineering and manufacturing development contract is awarded.”

According to Boeing the UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) is completing engine runs before heading to the flight ramp for deck handling demonstrations early next year.

The Navy issued its final request for proposals in October. Proposals are due Jan. 3.

With Northrop Grumman withdrawing from the competition in October 2017, Boeing, General Atomics, and Lockheed Martin are the three aerospace company competing for the initial development contract. The U.S. Navy has a requirement for 72 tanker drones, even though the service will initially only buy four examples of the winning design in order to assess whether the winner will be able to meet all the requirements before handing out any larger production deals.

Top image: Boeing photo by Eric Shindelbower

Bell V-280 Valor Next-Generation Tilt-Rotor Aircraft Prototype Has Just Made Its First Flight

The Bell V-280 Valor prototype has successfully achieved first flight at the Bell Helicopter assembly facility in Amarillo, TX.

On Dec. 18, the first prototype of the V-280 Valor, registration N280BH, performed its first flight at Bell Helicopter Amarillo Assembly Center.

Interestingly, both the images and the footage released by Bell Helicopter have been doctored to hide some details of the Valor’s T64-GE-419 tilting gearbox design: unlike the V-22‘s engines that rotate along with the gearboxes, in the V-280, the gearbox is the only thing that rotates.

Anyway, the gearbox is clearly visible in the images we have published on Aug. 30.

The V-280 Valor is Bell’s submission for the U.S. Army’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR-TD) phase, the technology demonstration precursor to Future Vertical Lift (FVL), a replacement for the service’s Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk and Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopters.

The V-280 will have a crew of 4 (including two pilots) and be capable of transporting up to 14 troops. Its cruising speed will be 280 knots (hence the designation V-280) and its top speed will be 300 kts. It’s designed for a range of 2,100 nautical miles and an effective combat range of 500 to 800 nmi although the Army’s requirements for the demonstrator call for hot and high hover performance (at 6,000 feet and 95 F), and the ability to self-deploy 2,100 nautical miles at a speed of at least 230 knots.

A front view of the V-280 during its first flight. Note the blurred gearbox details. (All images: Bell Helicopters).

H/T our friend Isaac Alexander (@jetcitystar) for the heads-up.

U.S. Department Of Defense Video Shows Unknown Object Intercepted By U.S. Navy Super Hornet And We Have No Idea What It Was.

This video shows the weird object as seen from a U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet’s ATFLIR (Advanced Targeting Forward Looking Infrared) pod. What is it? Any idea?

On Dec. 16, the NYT published an interesting story about a U.S. Department of Defense program that investigated reports of UFOs (unidentified flying objects). Along with interviews with program participants and records they obtained investigating the mysterious Pentagon program, The New York Times has released a video that shows a close encounter between an F/A-18F Super Hornet out of USS Nimitz and one of these UFOs back in 2004.

Take a look and tell me if you have an idea what that object might be.

Back in 2007, a user (cometa2) of the popular Above Top Secret (ATS) forum posted an alleged official CVW-11 Event Summary of a close encounter occurred on Nov. 14, 2004. Back then, when the encounter had not been confirmed yet, many users questioned the authenticity of both the event log and the footage allegedly filmed during the UFO intercept. More than 10 years later, with an officially released video of the encounter, it’s worth having a look at that unverified event log again: although we can’t say for sure whether it is genuine or not, it is at least “realistic” and provides some interesting details and narrative consistent with the real carrier ops. Moreover, the summary says that the callsign of the aircraft involved in the encounter is Fast Eagle: this callsign is used by the VFA-41 Black Aces – incidentally the very same squadron of David Fravor, formed Co of VFA-41, the pilot who recalled the encounter to NYT.

Anyway, here’s an excerpt:

FAST EAGLES 110/100 UPON TAKE OFF WERE VECTORED BY PRINCETON AND BANGER (1410L) TO INTERCEPT UNID CONTACT AT 160@40NM (N3050.8 W11746.9) (NIMITZ N3129.3 W11752.8). PRINCETON INFORMED FAST EAGLES THAT THE CONTACT WAS MOVING AT 100 KTS @ 25KFT ASL.

FAST EAGLES (110/100) COULD NOT FIND UNID AIRBORNE CONTACT AT LOCATION GIVEN BY PRINCETON. WHILE SEARCHING FOR UNID AIR CONTACT, FAST EAGLES SPOTTED LARGE UNID OBJECT IN WATER AT 1430L. PILOTS SAW STEAM/ SMOKE/CHURNING AROUND OBJECT. PILOT DESCRIBES OBJECT INITIALLY AS RESEMBLING A DOWNED AIRLINER, ALSO STATED THAT IT WAS MUCH LARGER THAN A SUBMARINE.

WHILE DESCENDING FROM 24K FT TO GAIN A BETTER VIEW OF THE UNID CONTACT IN THE WATER, FAST EAGLE 110 SIGHTED AN AIRBORNE CONTACT WHICH APPEARED TO BE CAPSULE SHAPED (WINGLESS, MOBILE, WHITE, OBLONG PILL SHAPED, 25-30 FEET IN LENGTH, NO VISIBLE MARKINGS AND NO GLASS) 5NM WEST FROM POSITION OF UNID OBJECT IN WATER.

CAPSULE (ALT 4K FT AT COURSE 300) PASSED UNDER FAST EAGLE 110 (ALT 16KFT). FAST EAGLE 110 BEGAN TURN TO ACQUIRE CAPSULE. WHILE 110 WAS DESCENDING AND TURNING, CAPSULE BEGAN CLIMBING AND TURNED INSIDE OF FAST EAGLE’S TURN RADIUS. PILOT ESTIMATED THAT CAPSULE ACHIEVED 600-700 KTS. FAST EAGLE 110 COULD NOT KEEP UP WITH THE RATE OF TURN AND THE GAIN OF ALTITUDE BY THE CAPSULE. 110 LOST VISUAL ID OF CAPSULE IN HAZE.
LAST VISUAL CONTACT HAD CAPSULE AT 14KFT HEADING DUE EAST.

NEITHER FAST EAGLES 110 OR 100 COULD ACHIEVE RADAR LOCK OR ANY OTHER MEANS OF POSITIVE ID. FAST EAGLE 100 WAS FLYING HIGH COVER AND SAW THE ENGAGEMENT BY FAST EAGLE 110. FAST EAGLE 100 CONFIRMS 110 VISUAL ID; 100 LOST CONTACT IN HAZE AS WELL.

CPA OF ACFT 110 FROM CONTACT 4000-5000 FT.

So, what’s your opinion on the video (BTW here you can find an interesting description of the ATFLIR symbology)? What’s that “capsule shaped (wingless, mobile, white, oblong pill-shaped)” object?

H/T to @obretix for the help preparing this article.