Monthly Archives: December 2017

This Image Shows The Complexity Of The XB-70 Valkyrie mid-1960s Research Aircraft Cockpit Compared To That Of An Upgraded B-1 Bomber

The composite photo gives a pretty good idea of how the cockpit of supersonic heavy bombers has evolved in about 50 years.

With a planned cruise speed of Mach 3 and operating altitude of 70,000 feet, the B-70 Valyrie was to be the ultimate high-altitude, high-speed, deep-penetration manned strategic bomber designed in the 1950s. The 6-engine aircraft was expected to be immune to Soviet interceptor aircraft thanks to its stunning performance.

According to NASA:

“To achieve Mach 3 performance, the B-70 was designed to “ride” its own shock wave, much as a surfer rides an ocean wave. The resulting shape used a delta wing on a slab-sided fuselage that contained the six jet engines that powered the aircraft. The outer wing panels were hinged. During take off, landing, and subsonic flight, they remained in the horizontal position. This feature increased the amount of lift produced, improving the lift-to-drag ratio. Once the aircraft was supersonic, the wing panels would be hinged downward. Changing the position of the wing panels reduced the drag caused by the wingtips interacted with the inlet shock wave. The repositioned wingtips also reduced the area behind the airplane’s center of gravity, which reduced trim drag. The downturned outer panels also provided more vertical surface to improve directional stability at high Mach numbers. Attached to the delta was a long, thin forward fuselage. Behind the cockpit were two large canards, which acted as control surfaces.”

The aircraft was still under development awhen the future of the manned bomber became uncertain. Indeed, during the late 1950s and early 1960s, many believed that manned bombers had become obsolete, and the future wars would be fought by missiles. As a result, the Kennedy Administration ended plans to deploy the B-70 and the two XB-70 prototypes were under construction when the program was cancelled.

However, two experimental XB-70A prototypes were eventually built at North American Aviation and used by NASA test beds for an American supersonic transport (SST). NASA records show that XB-70A number 1 (62-001) made its first flight from Palmdale to Edwards Air Force Base, CA, on Sept. 21, 1964. Tests of the XB-70’s airworthiness occurred throughout 1964 and 1965 by North American and Air Force test pilots. The Flight Research Center prepared its instrument package.

“Although intended to cruise at Mach 3, the first XB-70 was found to have poor directional stability above Mach 2.5, and only made a single flight above Mach 3. Despite the problems, the early flights provided data on a number of issues facing SST designers. These included aircraft noise, operational problems, control system design, comparison of wind tunnel predictions with actual flight data, and high-altitude, clear-air turbulence.”

The second XB-70A (62-207) was built with an added 5 degrees of dihedral on the wings as suggested by the NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, wind-tunnel studies. This aircraft made its first flight on Jul. 17, 1965. “The changes resulted in much better handling, and the second XB-70 achieved Mach 3 for the first time on Jan. 3, 1966. The aircraft made a total of nine Mach 3 flights by June.

This photo shows the XB-70A parked on a ramp at Edwards Air Force Base in 1967. Originally designed as a Mach 3 bomber, the XB-70A never went into production and instead was used for flight research involving the Air Force and NASA’s Flight Research Center (FRC), which was a predecessor of today’s NASA Dryden Flight Research Center. The aircraft’s shadow indicates its unusual planform. This featured two canards behind the cockpit, followed by a large, triangular delta wing. The outboard portions of the wing were hinged so they could be folded down for improved high-speed stability. The XB-70 was the world’s largest experimental aircraft. It was capable of flight at speeds of three times the speed of sound (roughly 2,000 miles per hour) at altitudes of 70,000 feet. It was used to collect in-flight information for use in the design of future supersonic aircraft, military and civilian. Designed by North American Aviation (later North American Rockwell and still later, a division of Boeing) the XB-70 had a long fuselage with a canard or horizontal stabilizer mounted just behind the crew compartment. It had a sharply swept 65.6-percent delta wing. The outer portion of the wing could be folded down in flight to provide greater lateral-directional stability. The airplane had two windshields. A moveable outer windshield was raised for high-speed flight to reduce drag and lowered for greater visibility during takeoff and landing. The forward fuselage was constructed of riveted titanium frames and skin. The remainder of the airplane was constructed almost entirely of stainless steel. The skin was a brazed stainless-steel honeycomb material. Six General Electric YJ93-3 turbojet engines, each in the 30,000-pound-thrust class, powered the XB-70. Internal geometry of the inlets was controllable to maintain the most efficient airflow to the engines.

A joint agreement signed between NASA and the Air Force planned to use the second XB-70A prototype for high-speed research flights in support of the SST program. However, the plans went awry on June 8, 1966, when the second XB-70 collided with a civilian registered F-104N while flying in formation as part of a General Electric company publicity photo shoot outside the Edwards Air Force Base test range in the Mojave Desert, California, that involved an XB-70, a T-38 Talon, an F-4B Phantom II, an F-104N Starfighter and a YF-5A Freedom Fighter.

Toward the end of the photo shooting NASA registered F-104N Starfighter, piloted by famous test pilot Joe Walker, got too close to the right wing of the XB-70, collided, sheared off the twin vertical stabilizers of the big XB-70 and exploded as it cartwheeled behind the Valkyrie.

North American test pilot Al White ejected from the XB-70 in his escape capsule, but received serious injuries in the process. Co-pilot Maj. Carl Cross, who was making his first flight in the XB-70, was unable to eject and died in the crash.

Research activities continued with the first XB-70.

The first NASA XB-70 flight occurred on April 25, 1967, the last one was on Feb. 4, 1969 when the aircraft made a subsonic structural dynamics test and ferry flight from Edwards AFB to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH, where the aircraft was put on display at the Air Force Museum after 83 test flights and 160 hours and 16 minutes, flight time. Indeed, despite research activity helped measuring its “structural response to turbulence; determine the aircraft’s handling qualities during landings; and investigate boundary layer noise, inlet performance, and structural dynamics, including fuselage bending and canard flight loads”, time had run out for the research program. NASA had reached an agreement with the Air Force to fly research missions with a pair of YF-12As and a “YF-12C,” which was actually an SR-71, that represented a far more advanced technology than that of the XB-70. Indeed, in all, the two XB-70Bs logged 1 hour and 48 minutes of Mach 3 flight time during their career, whilst a YF-12 could log this much Mach 3 time in a single flight.

Although the XB-70 program was cancelled, data collected during the Valkyrie test flights were used in other programs, including the B-1 bomber and the Soviet Tupolev Tu-144 SST program (via espionage).

This is a close-up photo of an XB-70A taken from a chase plane. The XB-70 had a movable windshield and ramp. These were raised during supersonic flight to reduce drag. When the pilot was ready to land, he lowered the assembly to give both him and his copilot a clear view of the runway. The XB-70 was the world’s largest experimental aircraft. It was capable of flight at speeds of three times the speed of sound (roughly 2,000 miles per hour) at altitudes of 70,000 feet. It was used to collect in-flight information for use in the design of future supersonic aircraft, military and civilian.

We have recently found an interesting photo of the XB-70 #1 cockpit. The photo (courtesy of NASA) shows the complexity of the mid-1960s research aircraft especially if compared to a modern B-1 Lancer with the Integrated Battle Station upgrade.

ED97-44244-1 Photo of the XB-70 #1 cockpit, which shows the complexity of this mid-1960s research aircraft. 1965 NASA

Here’s the official description of the cockpit:

On the left and right sides of the picture are the pilot’s and co-pilot’s control yokes. Forward of these, on the cockpit floor, are the rudder pedals with the NAA North American Aviation trademark. Between them is the center console. Visible are the six throttles for the XB-70’s jet engines. Above this is the center instrument panel. The bottom panel has the wing tip fold, landing gear, and flap controls, as well as the hydraulic pressure gages. In the center are three rows of engine gages. The top row are tachometers, the second are exhaust temperature gages, and the bottom row are exhaust nozzle position indicators. Above these are the engine fire and engine brake switches.

The instrument panels for the pilot left and co-pilot right differ somewhat. Both crewmen have an airspeed/Mach indicator, and altitude/vertical velocity indicator, an artificial horizon, and a heading indicator/compass directly in front of them.

The pilot’s flight instruments, from top to bottom, are total heat gage and crew warning lights; stand-by flight instruments side-slip, artificial horizon, and altitude; the engine vibration indicators; cabin altitude, ammonia, and water quantity gages, the electronic compartment air temperature gage, and the liquid oxygen quantity gage. At the bottom are the switches for the flight displays and environmental controls.

On the co-pilot’s panel, the top three rows are for the engine inlet controls. Below this is the fuel tank sequence indicator, which shows the amount of fuel in each tank. The bottom row consists of the fuel pump switches, which were used to shift fuel to maintain the proper center of gravity. Just to the right are the indicators for the total fuel top and the individual tanks bottom. Visible on the right edge of the photo are the refueling valves, while above these are switches for the flight data recording instruments.

Here below you can find a photo of the B-1 cockpit with the Integrated Battle Station upgrade which, beginning in 2014, gave the “Bone” new screens and updated avionics in both the cockpit and battle stations.

The IBS upgrade increased the situational awareness of the pilots by means of a Fully Integrated Data Link (FIDL), a Vertical Situation Display Upgrade (VSDU), and a Central Integrated System  (CITS) upgrade.

Within the VSDU two unsupportable, monochrome pilot and co-pilot displays were replaced by four multifunctional color displays, that provide the pilots more situational awareness data, in a user-friendly format. The FIDL is a modern data link that allows the B-1 to interconnect and communicate in real-time, with other planes, ground stations, allied units. The CITS is an upgrade of the old LED display computers used by ground maintainers to identify and troubleshoot system failures.

If you click on the image you will find a cockpit with two control sticks, dominated by a mix of displays and moving maps (typical of glass cockpits) as well as analogue instruments: a hybrid cockpit, with common instruments such altimeter, ADI (Attitude Indicator) and Airspeed Indicator/Machmeter on the left hand side; flaps, slats and spoiler controls as well as TFR (Terrain Following Radar), fuel and engine instruments in the central part of the flight deck; and two large VSDUs that can be arranged at will to display the required information/digitized instrument, such as a moving map or a HSI (Horizontal Situation Indicator), on both sides.

Old-style monochrome displays that didn’t provide much processing nor display capabilities, were replaced by much larger color displays that can show significantly more information thus improving the situational awareness. With the IBS upgrade, data can be shown on any display of the aircraft with collaboration tools that enable the aircraft’s crew “to look at each other’s displays with a ghost cursor, so if one weapons system officer wants to see what someone else is looking at, he can see a ghost cursor over on his own display – this allows the crew to collaborate and ensures they’re all looking at the same thing,” said Dan Ruder, B-1 strategic development and advanced programs manager for Boeing, in a story published on Military Embedded Systems.

The cockpit of the B-1 with IBS upgrade. (Image credit: U.S. Air Force)

So, the instrument panel layout has remained more or less the same. The way information is displayed has significantly changed.

 

The Reason U.S. F-22 Stealth Jets and Russian Su-35S Flankers Are Shadow Boxing Over Syria May Have Nothing to Do with Syria

Are U.S. And Russia in Last-Minute Intelligence Grab Over Syria?

International news media has been crackling with reports of intercept incidents between U.S. and Russian combat aircraft along the Middle Euphrates River Valley (MERV) de-confliction line over Syria since late November. Two incidents, one on November 23 and another two days ago on December 13, made headlines in Russia and the U.S. with differing accounts of the incidents and the reasons they happened. We reported on the first one of these incidents here.

With the war on ISIS in Syria reportedly reaching its final phase according to many analysts, especially Russian, are these last few months of Russian/U.S. close proximity operations a rare opportunity for both parties to gather a significant amount of intelligence about each other’s’ capabilities? The answer is likely “yes”.

There are reportedly about 3,000 ISIS insurgents left in the Middle Euphrates River Valley (MERV) area according to intelligence reports, and it is possible those remaining insurgents may be purposely seeking refuge in this region because of the complex de-confliction requirements between U.S. and Russian air forces. These de-confliction requirements could compromise the response times of both sides to conduct effective air strikes against ISIS due to the risks of potentially unintentional conflict.

The encounters between Russian and U.S. aircraft over Syria are not new. “We saw anywhere from six to eight incidents daily in late November, where Russian or Syrian aircraft crossed into our airspace on the east side of the Euphrates River,” Lt. Col. Damien Pickart of the U.S. Air Forces Central Command told U.S. news outlet CNN on Saturday. “It’s become increasingly tough for our pilots to discern whether Russian pilots are deliberately testing or baiting us into reacting, or if these are just honest mistakes.”

Lt. Col. Pickart went on to tell news media, “The greatest concern is that we could shoot down a Russian aircraft because its actions are seen as a threat to our air or ground forces.”

As the complex, multi-party proxy war over Syria appears to be winding down these final weeks provide what may be a last, great opportunity for a rich “intelligence grab” for both the U.S. and Russia about their newest aircraft’ capabilities when flying in controlled opposition to one another. Picture a “Red Flag” exercise where the “red air” element is actually “red”, albeit with live weapons and higher stakes.

ntelligence gathered by using the U.S. F-22 against the latest Russian SU-35s will likely be invaluable in assessing future tactics and understanding Russian capabilities. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

USAF Lt. Col. Pickart’s remarks about the Russians “deliberately testing or baiting us” are indicative of a force managing interactions to collect sensor, intelligence and capability “order of battle”. This intelligence is especially relevant from the current Syrian conflict as it affords both the Russians and the U.S. with the opportunity to operate their latest combat aircraft in close proximity to gauge their real-world sensor capabilities and tactical vulnerabilities, as well as learn doctrine. It is likely the incidents occurring now over Syria, and the intelligence gleaned from them, will be poured over in detail for years to come.

For instance, we have often explained how Raptors act as “electronic warfare enabled sensor-rich multi-role aircraft” over Syria, providing escort to strike packages into and out of the target area while gathering details about the enemy systems and spreading intelligence to other “networked” assets supporting the mission to improve the overall situational awareness. In fact, the F-22 pilot leverage advanced onboard sensors, as the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, to collect valuable details about the enemy, performing ELINT-like missions and then sharing the “picture” with attack planes, command and control assets, as well as Airborne Early Warning aircraft.

Moreover, as we have reported, it is well known that the U.S. has operated relatively current Russian aircraft photographed in air combat simulation training in the remote desert over Nevada. But those aircraft are at least an entire generation behind the current Russian aircraft flying over Syria in the final phase of the vigorous anti-ISIS Russian air operations.

Russian built Sukhoi SU-27 aircraft were photographed last year over the Nevada test ranges near where Lt. Col. Eric Schultz’s accident may have occurred. (Credit: Phil Drake)

The danger of these close-quarter Russian/U.S. shadow boxing matches is that one of them could accidentally “turn hot”. Since both sides are carrying live weapons the reliance on maintaining adherence to current Rules of Engagement (ROE) on both parties is critical.

Another risk is air-to-air collision.

New York Times reporter Eric Schmidt wrote about an incident in November when, “In one instance, two Air Force A-10 attack planes flying east of the Euphrates River nearly collided head-on with a Russian Su-24 Fencer just 300 feet away — a knife’s edge when all the planes were streaking at more than 350 miles per hour. The A-10s swerved to avoid the Russian aircraft, which was supposed to fly only west of the Euphrates.”

The risks of this new-age cold war over Syria going hot are likely worth it in terms of the intelligence being collected on both sides though. It is reasonable to suggest that, with the recent media attention to the incidents, the pressure to keep this cold war from getting hot are greater than ever.

Hopefully those pressures on both the Russian and the U.S. air forces will keep this new version of the cold war from boiling over.

Deployment of Russia’s latest SU-35 to Syria will give the Russians a wealth of information about how the aircraft performs against the U.S F-22 Raptor in the ongoing shadow-boxing between the two aircraft over the Middle Euphrates River Valley. (Photo: Sputnik)

Close Air Support Debate: We Go Inside an AC-130 to See if the Gunship is Still Relevant

The AC-130 Spectre Gunship Still Plays a Critical Role in America’s Close Air Support Capability.

It is large, slow and vulnerable to air defense systems including increasingly effective man-portable SAMs. It can also deliver withering fire support with an impressive degree of accuracy and an ever-expanding variety of munitions if the battlespace is permissive enough. It’s the AC-130 Spectre gunship.

But is the large, slow gunship still relevant?

With the role of the A-10 in question, the emergence of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the recent Light Attack Experiment and even armed, remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs) the question becomes: where does the AC-130 Spectre gunship fit into the mix of assets in the Air Force order of battle?

The term “gunship” entered the air combat vocabulary mostly during the Vietnam war with Project Tailchaser, the experimental test of a minigun-equipped twin-engine Convair C-131B turboprop cargo plane carrying a single GAU-2/A minigun. The GAU-2A minigun is a belt-fed, multi-barrel Gatling gun that can sustain a very high rate of fire without overheating its multiple gun barrels.

Interestingly, the development of the gunship concept in the early 1960s could be considered roughly analogous to today’s modern Light Attack Experiment. Gunship development in the early days of the Vietnam conflict used entirely off-the-shelf equipment and aircraft. Gunships were developed to fill a need resulting from asymmetrical guerilla warfare fought by a largely insurgent adversary. Both of these attributes are present in the Light Attack Experiment.

The Project Tailchaser experiment led to the famous AC-47 gunships used in Vietnam. These are largely regarded as the first modern “gunships”.

Using the call sign “Puff” for Puff the Magic Dragon, the AC-47 was used in combat for the first time on Dec. 15, 1964. Because of its success, the AC-47 was soon joined over Vietnam by the AC-119G Shadow and AC-119K Stinger gunships. The AC-119K Stinger has the distinction of being the only combined turboprop and jet powered gunship with the addition of a pair of underwing-mounted General Electric J-85 jet engines. Following the success of these gunship platforms the AC-130A Project Gunship II was developed in 1967 at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio and deployed to Vietnam soon after.

The unusual AC-119K Stinger gunship used a combination of propellers and jet engines. (Photo: USAF via Wikipedia)

Prior to the Vietnam conflict there had been several experiments with aircraft modified to carry multiple guns for both air-to-ground and air-to-air targets. These included versions of the B-25 Mitchell with up to eight cannons mounted in a solid nose for ground attack and an experimental B-17 Flying Fortress converted to an air-to-air gunship called the YB-40. The YB-40 gunship actually flew 48 operational missions over Germany in WWII. It was armed with 18 Browning M2 .50 caliber machine guns for protection of bomber formations from fighter attack. The YB-40 could accompany the bomber formation during the entire mission when fuel restrictions meant single engine fighter planes such as the P-51 Mustang and P-47 Thunderbolt could not escort the bombers for the entire mission.

An indication that gunships have maintained their relevance even in the modern tactical airspace alongside RPAs, A-10 Thunderbolt II jets and the F-35 joint strike fighter is the use of the gunship in private militaries. Author Robert Pelton chronicled an apparently successful experiment by private military contracting pioneer Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, Inc. (renamed “Xe” in 2009 and now known as “Academi”). According to Young’s account, Prince used the CASA 212 twin-engine turboprop with two A12 .50 caliber machine guns capable of 4,200 rounds per minute sustained rate of fire. Young wrote, “Seventy bullets per second creates a steady stream of red tracer fire that with depleted uranium shells can easily turn armored vehicles into Swiss cheese.” Prince has gone on to propose additional private military gunship assets to prospective clients with no news about any takers on his proposals.

The vulnerability of the gunship was underscored in the early morning of Jan. 31, 1991 over Khafji, Iraq during Operation Desert Storm: an AC-130H Spectre gunship from the 16th Special Operations Squadron, callsign “Spirit 03”, was supporting U.S. Marines during the Battle of Khafji. The Marines had called for an air strike on an Iraqi “missile battery”. There were three AC-130H Spectre gunships on station that night in support of the U.S. Marine operation in Khafji. But as sunrise approached the AC-130H gunships would become increasingly vulnerable to visual acquisition from ground gunners and missile crews as twilight appeared. As sunlight became visible over the horizon the AC-130H successfully struck the targets designated by the U.S. Marines. But minutes later an Iraqi SA-7 “Grail” man-portable surface-to-air missile hit the last remaining AC-130H, “Spirit 03”. Although the aircraft survived the initial hit from the SA-7 and managed to fly out over water, the plane and its entire 14-man crew were lost. The incident underscored the vulnerability of the large, relatively low altitude, slow-moving gunship to modern man-portable anti-aircraft weapons.

Gunship operations continued in the most recent years of the Global War on Terror, but one of their latest operational uses underscored the need for enhanced ground intelligence and gunship integration. On Oct. 3, 2015, an AC-130U gunship launched a precision air strike on a target in Kunduz, Afghanistan at the Kunduz Trauma Center. The target was thought to be harboring Taliban militants. During the 30-minute airstrike the international aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières said that, “at least 42 people were killed and over 30 were injured”. The organization claimed that many of the casualties were non-combatants. While the incident was disastrous from a political and humanitarian perspective, it underscored the lethal effectiveness of the AC-130 gunship platform.

There are very few details about the gunship operations in Iraq. Among the things that we know is that two AC-130s along with some A-10 Warthogs were involved in a quite famous airstrike during which 116 ISIS-controlled fuel trucks were destroyed near Abu Kamal, Syria, on Nov. 15, 2015 as part of the coalition’s Operation Tidal Wave II.

Today the gunship legacy continues with the September 2017 delivery of the first six AC-130J Ghostrider gunships, the latest and most advanced version of the AC-130. The new AC-130J is a massive upgrade over previous versions: according to Air Force Times writer Stephen Losey, “The most heavily-armed gunship in history, bristling with 30mm and 105mm cannons, AGM-176A Griffin missiles, and the ability to carry Hellfire missiles and GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs.”

Stephen Losey also reports in an October 2016 article in the “Air Force Times” that the performance of the new AC-130J Ghostrider is greatly enhanced over previous AC-130 versions. “It’s lighter, faster and more efficient.” Losey quoted USAF Maj. Jarrod Beers, a weapons system officer on the new AC-130J. According to Losey, Maj. Beers told him, “[It] burns 25 to 30 percent less gas than legacy aircraft. It flies at a top speed of about 362 knots, or 416 miles per hour – well above the roughly 300 mph top speed of the AC-130U. The AC-130J can fly a maximum range of 3,000 miles and up to 28,000 feet in the air – about twice as far, and roughly 3,000 feet higher than the AC-130U.”

Tech. Sgt. Jarred Huseman, left, and Tech. Sgt. Oscar Garcia, special missions aviators with the 1st Special Operations Group, Detachment 2, operate a 105 mm cannon on an AC-130J Ghostrider gunship, “Angry Annie,” during a training mission over Eglin Range, Fla., Jan. 23, 2017. The 105 mm cannon recoils back 49 inches, with 14,000 pounds of force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jeff Parkinson)

There is even discussion of installing a laser weapon on the AC-130U. An April 2017 report in “National Defense” by reporter Yasmin Tadjdeh said that the Air Force is going to test “streamlined electrical lasers” as opposed to heavy chemical lasers for use onboard the AC-130U. The primary challenges remaining are insulation from airframe vibration and turbulence to maintain a suitably focused beam. But when you consider advances in commercial optical stabilization in everything from GoPro camera mounts to long telephoto lenses on still and video cameras, this problem will be rapidly solved for laser weapon use onboard the AC-130U. In testing, the laser weapon would replace the current location of the 30mm gun and add the installation of a special clear optical “window” the laser could shoot through to eliminate movement of the weapon from the boundary layer of air entering the fuselage.

Future AC-130s may be equipped with stabilized laser weapons. (Photo: USAF)

Although there is no current (unclassified) plan to install a laser weapon operationally on the AC-130U Ghostrider, that is subject to change pending the outcome of the weapon evaluation. But one thing that is absolutely guaranteed, especially according to AC-130 gunship crews we spoke to at the Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo 2017 at Nellis AFB, Nevada. The heavy gunship is not going away anytime soon, even with the integration of new strike assets like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, remotely piloted aircraft and evaluation programs like the Light Attack Experiment. The heavy gunship will remain relevant, increasingly lethal but significantly less vulnerable for many years to come.

A Navy Academy Professor Did A Presentation On The Actual Stealthiness Of The (Fictional) MiG-31 Firefox

A Naval Aeronautics professor analyzed the stealthiness the MiG-31, the fictional aircraft of Clint Eastwood’s techno-thriller action “Firefox” movie, in a presentation to General Dynamics and NASA.

A couple of weeks ago we have published a story on the MiG-31 Firefox, the Soviet stealth interceptor aircraft, capable of Mach 6 introduced by a 1977 novel of the same name by Craig Thomas, and made popular by an action movie, released in 1982, produced, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood.

As written in that story, the shape of the Firefox differs a lot between the first novel and film. The version in the novel resembles a MiG-25 “Foxbat”, much like the real Mikoyan MiG-31 “Foxhound” whereas the movie version is a more futuristic design, unlike any other planes of the 1970s or 1980s, an aircraft apparently influenced by the speculation about what the soon-to-be-revealed “stealth fighter” might have looked like.

Few hours after the article was published, one of our readers sent us an email to let us know that we had left something pretty good out of the Firefox article. Indeed, a Navy academy professor did a presentation on the actual stealthiness of the Firefox. The pics were posted on the \r\specialaccess subreddit a couple years back.

Here is the analysis:

Firefox Mig31 stealth analysis

Actually, the Firefox stealth jet has often been used for instructional purposes, especially when it deals with stealth technologies.

“This Mig-31 “Firefox” fictional jet fighter was used in the introductory slides of our presentation “Low Observable Principles, Stealth Aircraft and Anti-Stealth Technologies”, presented at the 2nd Int’l Conference on Applications of Mathematics and Informatics in Military Sciences (AMIMS), at the Hellenic Military Academy, Vari, Athens, Greece, in April 2013, in order to attract the attention of the audience (and it’s been working perfectly ever since): click here for the presentation” Konstantinos Zikidis, Maj. HAF, one of the authors, wrote in a comment thread to the original article on The Aviationist.

H/T to the “nerds” from the \r\specialaccess subreddit”

This Photo Shows A C-5A Galaxy After It Performed A Gear Up Landing At Travis AFB in 1983

A belly landing for a giant C-5 Galaxy.

The photo in this post was taken by one of our readers, Tyll Parker, at Travis Air Force Base, California, in July 1983.

Parker was a Lieutenant with the 1901st Comm Group at the time and the shot after he saw the C-5A 68-0216 just sitting there at the end of the runway, after a successful gear up landing.

“It was unusual to be there and I noticed one wing was low. So I drove along the perimeter road and took some pictures. I had heard a little about the landing from an ATC guy. (Air traffic control was under The 1901st) This was close to the 60 MAW ORI/MEI that year. Did nothing to help the CO…,” says Tyll in an email to The Aviationist.

The accident occurred as the Galaxy was performing touch-and-goes: during the final approach of the day, the crew did not lower the landing gear resulting in a belly landing and significant damage to the lower fuselage and main landing gear pods. Based on some articles published by newespaper at the time of the event, the crew had silenced the warning horns for the landing gear warning system by pulling the circuit breakers during the pattern work and forgot to reset the breakers on final approach.

According to the available details, the aircraft was flown to Marietta for repairs and, while there, was selected to become the first C-5A to be converted to the C-5C configuration.

As we have reported several times here, the C-5 Galaxy’s nose gear is part of a unique tricycle-type landing gear system consisting of a total of 28 wheels.

It is a fine piece of machinery made of four main units fitted in tandem pairs, each with a six-wheel bogie with two forward and four rear wheels: the MLG (Main Landing Gear) rotates 90 degrees horizontally to be accommodated inside the gear bays when retracted after take off; furthermore, it is steerable for a 20 degrees left or right for crosswind landings.

You can find several interesting videos online, not only showing the MLG at work but also a few gear up incidents.

The first is a video that dates back to August 1986, when a C-5A performed a nose gear up landing at Rhein Main Air Base, Germany:

The second incident occurred in May 2001 (we already posted a short story about it here), when a C-5 from Travis Air Force Base diverted to Rogers Dry Lake to perform a successful landing after the nose gear failed.

More recently, a U.S. Air Force C-5M Galaxy, registration 86-0020, performed a nose gear up landing at the Spanish airbase after experiencing an unknown failure that made it unable to extend its nose landing gear.

The C-5M that performed a nose gear up landing at Rota, Spain, in May 2017 (image via a reader who wishes to remain anonymous)

Top image credit: Tyll Parker