Monthly Archives: April 2018

Rock Band Honors Gary Powers With New Song on U-2 Incident Anniversary

“Powers Down” is a tribute to Francis Gary Powers, the late U-2 pilot recipient of the Intelligence Star, by rock band One Man Mambo.

During the late 50s, with the approval of Pakistani Government, U.S. President D. Eisenhower established a secret intelligence facility in Badaber (Peshawar Airbase), equipped with a runway that allowed U-2 spy planes to perform secret missions over the majority of the Soviet airspace.

On May 1, 1960, fifteen days before the scheduled opening of an East-West summit conference in Paris, pilot Francis Gary Powers left the US base in Badaber on board its “Dragon Lady” Item 360 for a mission over the Soviet Union. The task was to photograph ICBM (Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles) sites in and around Sverdlovsk and Plesetsk and then, landing at Bodo, Norway.

The flight was hardly a surprise, since Soviet defenses were pre-alerted by the U-2 unit “10-10” piloted by Bob Ericson: some weeks before, he had overflown some of the top secret military installations such as the Semipalatinsk Test Site, the SAM test site, the Tyuratam missile range and the Dolon airbase with its Tu-95 strategic bombers.

According to some Russian sources, just after the U-2 was detected, Lieutenant General of the Air Force Yevgeniy Savitskiy ordered all the air unit commanders on duty “to attack the violator by all alert flights located in the area of foreign plane’s course, and to ram if necessary (see for details: http://www.webslivki.com/u11.html – Russian language only).

Some fighters took off immediately but like the previous alerts, all the attempts to intercept the foreign plane failed. Eventually the U-2 was hit and shot down by the first of three S-75 Dvina surface to air missiles fired by a defense battery.

According to Russian sources, it is interesting to know how Pilot Gary Powers, after successfully bailing out from the plane, was soon captured by the Russians and was found with a modified silver coin which contained a lethal saxitoxin- tipped needle…to be used in case of torture!

After the event, the whole Soviet air defense system was obviously in red code but the lack of coordination brought to a curious incident often hidden by the ordinary tale of facts: the SAM command center was unaware that the foreign plane had been destroyed for more than half so that at least 13 further anti-aircraft missiles were fired, one of them shooting down a MiG-19 and killing his pilot, Sergei Safronov.

The episode became of an outstanding relevance among the international community and represented one of the higher peaks of the face off between the two nuclear superpowers.

On May 1, 2018, 58 years after the incident, One Man Mambo, a rock band founded in 2016, releases a tribute to Francis Gary Powers.

“Gary Powers’ U-2 mission over the mighty Soviet Union has fascinated me since I took U.S. History in high school” said band member Lazar Wall in an email to The Aviationist. “Particularly impressive were the ramming attempts by a Sukhoi fighter jet, and the unfortunate death of a Soviet pilot whose MiG got hit by friendly fire. The Iron Maiden song Aces High, about Spitfires and ME-109s in the Battle of Britain, was definitely an influence on Powers Down. Our band released its first aviation-related song at the end of last year. Flight 2933 is a tribute to the Chapecoense players and staffers from Brazil who perished in a 2016 air accident.”

The song, titled “Powers Down” will be on Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming services May 10.

Meanwhile, here’s the lyric video of the song, in case you are interested in a quite unusual (at least by our standards) way to honor one of the world’s most famous pilots:

Top image credit: CIA / RIA Novosti

The description of May 1, 1960 incident is taken from our previous article “Airspace Violations – Episode 5” that you are strongly suggested to read for more details.

Russia Rehearses Flyovers for Massive Moscow Victory Day Parade

First Parade Appearance for Sukhoi Su-57. Will MiG-31 Carry New Kinzhal Hypersonic Missile?

The Russian Aerospace Forces are well into rehearsals for what is arguably one of the most impressive conspicuous display of military might in the world: the annual Victory Day Parade in Red Square, Moscow to be held on Wednesday, May 9, 2018, at 1000 Hrs. local.

This year’s Victory Day parade commemorates the 73rd anniversary of the Russian victory over Germany in WWII, a war in which Russia lost an estimated 20+ million military and civilian lives, the greatest loss of life recorded by any nation in a war. Each year the parade begins with the emotional ringing of the historic clock on the Spasskaya Tower at the Kremlin in Moscow.

One of the most spectacular parts of the Victory Day Parade is the massive fly-over of Russian military aircraft. This year’s aerial parade review is scheduled to include 63 aircraft. The Russian flight demonstration teams The Russian Knights and Swifts will account for 15 of those aircraft. The Russian Knights will fly 6 new Sukhoi Su-30SM aircraft and the Swifts will pass over in their 9 Mikoyan MiG-29 aircraft. The two teams generally fly a large, single formation.

A gigantic Tupolev Tu-160 White Swan long range strategic bomber will also participate in the flyover and has been seen during rehearsals in formation with 4 Tupolev Tu-22M3s. Video from a rehearsal flyover appears to show one additional Tu-160 at the back of an Ilyushin Il-78.

This year will be the first year the relatively new Sukhoi Su-57 5th generation fighter will participate in the fly-over. Two Sukhoi Su-57s in a new pixelated air-superiority camouflage scheme will take part in the flyover.

Russia will display two new small RPVs in the 2018 Victory Parade. (Photo: Ragulin Vitaly/Livejournal)

It will also be interesting to see if any of the four MiG-31s (NATO codename “Foxhound”) will be carrying the new Kh-47M2 hypersonic long range cruise missile referred to as the “Kinzhal”. Russian social media has suggested that at least one of the MiG-31s in the aerial display will carry a Kinzhal in the flyover.

Given the involvement of the Russian Aerospace Forces in the Syrian conflict and recent successes in the campaign this year’s parade is expected to bring out a large crowd.

The weather forecast for Moscow on Wednesday, May 9, is favorable according to the U.S. weather website Accuweather.com, with a high temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 Celsius) and clouds developing in the afternoon. The current forecast calls for a 21% chance of rain. Bad weather has played a role in the flyover demonstration before in the Victory Day Parade so conditions on May 9 are key to event being staged in its full version with both ground and aerial displays.

If you want to see the Victory Day Parade on Red Square you’ll need good connections. The coveted seats along Red Square are very difficult to come by. This area is generally reserved specifically for higher government employees, members of state govern ment, including President Vladimir Putin, military heroes and press.Internet resources suggest that, based on previous parade routes, one of the best places to see the ground portion of the parade (and presumably some of the flyovers too) is the Belorusskiy viaduct (Белорусский путепровод) on the Leningradskiy prospect.

An Mi-28 Havoc attack helicopter takes off for a rehearsal flyover as spectators watch. (Photo: Marina Lystseva/Livejournal)

Thank you to Mr. Vladimir Zinenko of the excellent Facebook page ВКС России for his assistance with this article.

Top image: two new Su-57s will fly over Red Square for the first time on Victory Day. (Photo: Chen Xiangyu/RussianPlanes.net)

U.S. B-52 Bomber Performs Show Of Force Over Moroccan Range During Exercise African Lion 2018. And Here Are Some Interesting Details.

A Stratofortress bomber flew over Morocco as part of a round-trip Global Power mission from Barksdale AFB, Louisiana.

On Apr. 20, a USAF B-52 made several bombing runs over a range near Tan Tan, Morocco, as part of Ex. African Lion 2018, an annual multilateral exercise designed to improve interoperability and mutual understanding of African partner nation’s tactics, techniques and procedures.

The American strategic bomber launched from Barksdale AFB, home of the 2nd BW (Bomb Wing), using callsign Mytee 51. It crossed the Atlantic Ocean and before engaging the Moroccan range was joined by two 48th FW F-15Cs and two RMAF F16 Block 52+ from Ben Guerir Air Base, a former U.S. Air Force base located about 36 miles (58 km) north of Marrakech which served as a Transatlantic Abort Landing (TAL) site for the Space Shuttle, and MOB (Main Operating Base) for the exercise.

Airspare was MYTEE52 and was showing on ADSB and recovered somewhere south in Florida for some reason. (credit: @aircraftspots)

 

Along the way, the B-52 was supported by several U.S. Air Force KC-135 tankers, including Qid 259 and 260 from RAF Mildenhall, UK.

100th ARW KC-135Rs were launched from RAF Mildenhall to support the B-52 mission. Image credit: @aircraftspots

A KC-135 Stratotanker from the 191st Air Refueling Squadron refueled both the B-52 and its escorting aircraft, including the RMAF F-16s whilst the package was also escorted by at least one Mirage F1 (shown in the picture below).

A Royal Moroccan air force F-16 prepares to receive fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 191st Air Refueling Squadron, during Exercise African Lion April 20, 2018. Various units from the U.S. Armed Forces will conduct multilateral and stability operations training with units from the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces in the Kingdom of Morocco. This combined multilateral exercise is designed to improve interoperability and mutual understanding of each nation’s tactics, techniques and procedures while demonstrating the strong bond between the nation’s militaries. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Malcolm Mayfield)

H/T to our friend @aircraftspots for providing the details about the routing, callsigns etc you can find in this post.

This Outstanding Footage Celebrates Retirement of F-4EJ “Kai” Phantom II 47-8333 “Tora-San” After 44 Years

A very special Japan Air Self Defense Force F-4EJ Phantom.

On Apr. 11, 2018, Japan’s Air Force retired one its F-4EJ “Kai” Phantom II jets: the example serialled 47-8333/”333″ assigned to the 302nd Tactical Fighter Squadron of the 7th Air Wing of the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force based at Hyakuri Air Base in the Ibaraki Prefecture of Japan.

The aircraft served with the JASDF for 44 years. Originally an F-4EJ, it was upgraded to the “Kai” (“extra”) variant during the mid ’80s, as part of a modernization program that included, among the other things, the installation of a new AN/APG-66J pulse-Doppler radar, a new central computer, a Kaiser HUD (Head Up Display), an AN/APZ-79 IFF system, as well as the ability to carry an AN/ALQ-131 advanced multimode electronic countermeasures pod and to launch the AIM-7E/F Sparrow and the AIM-9L/P Sidewinder AAMs (air-to-air missiles).

According to one of our readers who pointed us to the video below, the aircraft 47-8333, usually called “Triple 3”, was often called “Trouble 3” as a consequence of some issues it suffered. On the very last day of activity before the retirement, the splitter vane of the “333” sported the text “Tora-san, Thank you”: indeed, this aircraft got the name Tora-san, the loveable character of the Japanese movie series “Otoko wa Tsurai yo (It’s tough being a man)”, the world’s longest running film series.

H/T Akihiro Kanai for sending this over to us. Top image: screenshot from 1-300 Youtube video.

How Social Media May Drive Our Perception of Military Aviation Safety

The Luke AFB F-16 Emergency Landing, the Tragic Thunderbird Crash, The CH-53 Accident: Why (Does It Seem Like) So Many Military Aircraft Are Crashing?

Why does it seem like so many military aircraft been crashing? It’s a relevant question given the attention to military aircraft accidents around the world this year. Is there an increase in accidents in military aviation? Or, are other factors influencing our perception of how many aircraft accidents there actually are?

Pilots and aviation safety experts will tell you there is no singular cause for all military aviation accidents. In an April 25, 2018 interview in the Washington Examiner, Capt. Sarah Burns, a Marine Corps spokeswoman at the Pentagon told reporter Jamie McIntyre, “Every mishap is unique, and we have not found a causal, statically accurate link between readiness and mishaps.”

While pilot shortages and aging aircraft dominate the conversation in the U.S., pilots often say there are as many reasons for accidents as there are accidents. If you demand a singular explanation for why aviation accidents happen it’s in this famous, often paraphrased quote attributed to Captain A. G. Lamplugh, British Aviation Insurance Group, London, from the early 1930’s:

“Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.”

Capt. Lamplugh’s prescient quote summarizes three separate contributors to aviation accidents: carelessness, often sanitized as “pilot error”; incapacity, in air traffic control, pilot training and other technical contributors; and finally neglect, as in infrastructure and maintenance.

In the rush-to-judgement popular news and social media space, pundits try to focus on a single convenient narrative to explain accidents. There is no convenient single reason for military aviation accidents.

One factor that has contributed to an increase in awareness of military aviation accidents is an evolution in media. Our perception of how many accidents there are has no doubt been influenced by a factor we can refer to as “media velocity”, the speed and volume at which information reaches us in the social media age.

Reasons for recent military crashes are conflicting as depicted in internet resources as evidence by this capture of search results on information about military aviation accidents. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

After a U.S. Air Force F-16 performed an emergency landing this week in Arizona and the pilot ejected, the full details of the incident were posted on social media, including intercepted radio transmissions of first responders, with two hours. Detailed information about the incident was available through social media and blogs hours before less detailed, official information was released. In the case of this week’s F-16 accident, the sources and information have so far proved to be accurate. That is not always the case, and the online banter about causes for aviation accidents seldom waits for the official investigation to reveal its findings.

Social media has created faster, more frequent reporting of military aviation accidents but is not always accurate. (Photo: via Facebook)

With international crashes, such as the March 6, 2018 crash of a Russian Antonov An-26 with 39 fatalities in Syria, there used to be reduced awareness of military aviation accidents prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain and the arrival of social media. Every country lost military aircraft, but not every country reported losses with the transparency of the United States.

When pundits point to a single factor in a perceived increase in aviation accidents in the U.S. the pilot shortage inevitably comes up. While it is a mistake to make an “A leads to B” connection between pilot shortages and aircraft accidents, there is no denying the U.S. military pilot shortage is real.
We spoke to a U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. whose call sign is “Burn Clapper” at Holloman AFB in August, 2017. He had been in command of the 54th Fighter Group since May, 2017. During a media briefing he told TheAviationist.com, “I’m supposed to have 24 instructor pilots in my squadron, and I have 13 now.”

When we asked Burn Clapper about the reasons for the fighter pilot shortage he said, “A few years back, there was a time when we had as many fighter pilots as we needed. We only produced guys coming in for as many guys who were leaving – at the rate that they were leaving then. We only made fighter pilots for who was leaving then, maybe about 400 a year – that’s a guess.”

Burn Clapper went on to explain, “Our pilots graduate now with a 10-year commitment. They have been back and forth to combat over the last five years. The economy is good now. Now they have options.”

The U.S. Air Force publishes a database of aircraft accidents. The Air Force Safety Center Aviation Statistics database (http://www.safety.af.mil) contains specific information detailing USAF accidents. As with any spreadsheet analysis, you can package the data in different ways to produce a different statistical outcome.

One interpretation of the Air Force Safety Center Aviation Statistics database is that 2015 had a higher number of reported accidents than 2016 and 2017.
Another standout metric is the number of accidents in the single engine F-16. The statistics for Current Fiscal Year-to-Date, Previous Fiscal Year-to-Date and Previous Fiscal Year show a total number of F-16 Class A accidents higher than any other aircraft type. There are several contributing factors to F-16 accidents that include the large number of the aircraft in service with the USAF (951 F-16s in USAF service across all versions according to Wikipedia), its role as a high performance tactical combat aircraft, the age of the aircraft and that the F-16 is a single engine aircraft with no engine redundancy. By contrast however, the single engine, exclusively single-seat F-35A Lighting II has not had a single accident in flight with the USAF since its initial inclusion with the Air Force on August 2, 2016. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as a program has had a remarkably incident-free development, testing and operational introduction since it began, budget concerns aside, there has not been a single crash of an F-35.

A contrasting view of military aviation accident statistics was presented by the Military Times in an April 8, 2018 analysis by journalist Tara Copp.

Copp wrote that, “Through a six-month investigation, the Military Times found that accidents involving all of the military’s manned fighter, bomber, helicopter and cargo warplanes rose nearly 40 percent from fiscal years 2013 to 2017. It’s doubled for some aircraft, like the Navy and Marine Corps’ F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets. At least 133 service members were killed in those fiscal year 2013-2017 mishaps, according to data obtained by Military Times.”

Military Times journalist Tara Copp arrives at an interesting conclusion in her article when it is overlaid with the USAF Safety Center Aviation Statistics database. Copp revealed that accidents with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps’ F/A-18 Hornets were much higher than with other aircraft in Navy and Marine service. This finding aligns with the statistical survey of USAF F-16s emerging as the highest frequency accident types. Similar factors exist with the Navy and Marine F/A-18s.

The last of the older Hornets are being phased out now in favor of the newer F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. The aircraft is mostly a single-seat combat plane often flown at low altitude and in the high-performance regime. Unlike the Air Force’s F-16 though, the F/A-18 is a twin-engine aircraft, making engine failures a less critical incident over the entire performance envelope compared to the single-engine F-16, where any engine failure is serious.

Journalists like Tara Copp have pointed to several factors in their reported increase in military aviation accident frequency. Copp wrote that, “The rise is tied, in part, to the massive congressional budget cuts of 2013. Since then, it’s been intensified by non-stop deployments of warplanes and their crews, an exodus of maintenance personnel and deep cuts to pilots’ flight-training hours.” She went on to quote retired USAF General Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle as telling her, “We are reaping the benefits — or the tragedies — that we got into back in sequestration.” Retired General Hawk was referring to the 2013 defense budget cuts resulting from the U.S. government sequester, a temporary freeze on much of U.S. government spending to avert a monetary crisis. Tara Copp went on quote Ret. Gen. Herbert Carlisle as saying “The sharp increase in mishap rates is actually a lagging indicator. By the time you’re having accidents, and the accident rates are increasing, then you’ve already gone down a path.” Then-General Carlisle led USAF Air Combat Command until 2017. The retired general told her, “If we stay on the current track … there is the potential to lose lives.”

High performance combat training in single engine jet aircraft is inherently more hazardous than flying crew-operated multi-engine aircraft in a transport and support role. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

No matter which narrative you chose to explain recent military aviation accidents one truth does prevail about flying high performance aircraft that are intended for combat; tragedies are an ominous and common companion to aerial warfare, and recent events have been a stern reminder of this truth.