Author Archives: David Cenciotti

Russia’s New Tu-214ON Open Skies Surveillance Aircraft Tracked Online During Flights Over Taganrog Region

The new Tu-214ON has carried out a series of test flights in southwest Russia, close to the border with Ukraine.

Tupolev is continuing the testing of the new Tu-214ON (Otkrytoye Niebo – Open Skies), a highly modified Tu-214 airliner equipped with advanced photo and electronic sensors to peform Open Skies Treaty surveillance missions.

The Treaty on Open Skies entered into force on Jan. 1, 2002, and currently has 34 States Parties. The Treaty establishes a regime of unarmed aerial observation flights over the entire territory of its participants with the aim to enhance mutual understanding and confidence by giving all participants, regardless of size, a direct role in gathering information about military forces and activities of concern to them. The Russian Air Force Russia is phasing out the An-30 and Tu-154M-ON used for Open Skies missions and replacing them with two Tu-214ON with registrations RF-64519 (ex RA-64519) and RF-64525 (ex RA-64525).

The aircraft, that performed its maiden flight in June 2011, has recently completed the first stage of certification for the Open Skies task, with missions carried out between May 21 and 29, 2018 over the Kubinka airfield: during those sorties, Russian specialists and inspectors aboard the new aircraft (that is operated by a crew that includes four flight crew and five systems operators) conducted an aerial survey of the optical test facility at the airbase located to the west of Moscow, to evaluate the digital surveillance systems along with the ground processing components. According to Russia’s Warplanes Vol. 1 by Piotr Butowski, the Tu-214ON is fitted with the M402N Ronsar side-looking radar with synthetic aperture with a range of 50 km over land and 200 km over water with a definition of 3m over land and 6-8m over water; dual-band Raduga IR scanner; a photo camera suite that includes a panoramic, a verticla and two oblique cameras; and a TV camera suite (one vertical and two oblique cameras).

Update: OSINT analyst, Jane’s (JIR) contributor and IT Security consultant Steffan Watkins contacted me to inform me and explained that the aircraft is not fitted with the SAR and that it only carries the digital electro-optical sensor OSDCAM4060, the same as the An-30B and Tu-154M LK-1. This is an extremely interesting development, considered that almost all the sources in the Public Domain say that the new aircraft is equipped with the SAR.

On Jun. 7, 15 and 16, the aircraft RF-64525, was tracked online during test flights conducted over Taganrog airfield, in southwest Russia. Since the airport is located  not far from the border with Ukraine there were some speculations the new surveillance aircraft might be involved in some intelligence gathering mission. However, considered it will complete its certification for the Treaty on Open Skies in September, it is much more likely the aircraft was “simply” performing a test flight on the airport that is home to the Taganrog Beriyev Aviation Scientific-Technical Complex and is filled with Beriev aircraft: a pretty realistic “target” (probably similar to many U.S. airbases) to calibrate/evaluate the onboard sensors. Indeed, the “racetracks” flown by the Tu-214ON are mostly aligned with the runway 05/23 at Taganrog.

Taganrog airport: note the number of aircraft parked on the aprons. (Image credit: GoogleMaps).

Here are some screenshots from Flightradar24.com taken by our friend and tracking authority @CivMilAir that show the routes followed by the Tu-214ON in the last few days.

Here’s the one for Jun. 7:

Jun. 7 mission over Taganrog.

Here’s the track on Jun. 15:

The track of the Tu-214ON on Jun. 15. (Screenshot from FR24.com via @CivMilAir)

The playback of flight RF-64525 is available here.

Top image credit: Oleg Belyakov/Wiki

Enjoy These Amazing Videos Of The F-16 Viper Demo Team Low Take Off At The Chippewa Valley Air Show Yesterday

Here are a couple of cool clips filmed from a privileged point of view.

On Jun. 17, Chippewa Valley Regional Airport in Eau Claire, WI hosted an airshow that included the display of the Air Combat Command’s F-16 Viper Demo Team.

Piloted by Maj. John “Rain” Waters, an operational F-16 pilot assigned to the 20th Operations Group, Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina and the United States Air Force F-16 Viper Demonstration Team commander, the F-16 performs an aerobatic display whose aim is to demonstrate demonstrate the unique capabilities by one of the Air Force’s premier multi-role fighters, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, better known as “Viper” in the pilot community.

The F-16 Viper Demo always starts with a take-off followed by a low, high-g turn. Yesterday, the maneuver was filmed from a privileged position (the slow motion effect contributes to the stunning results):

Below you can find another clip that shows the same maneuver:

Work On The First European-built F-35 For The Netherlands Starts At Cameri FACO in Italy

Assembly of the first European-built F-35 for the Royal Netherlands Air Force has kicked off in Italy.

On Jun. 15, Dutch Secretary of State for Defense Barbara Visser gave a symbolic start signal to the assembly of the first F-35 for the RNlAF at Cameri Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO), in northwestern Italy. She did so by placing her signature on the hull of the AN-9, the ninth of the Netherlands’ 37 F-35A CTOL (Conventional Take Off and Landing) stealth jets on order. The first eight F-35A are being assembled at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth facility in the U.S. with two F-35s already used for testing at Edwards AFB, California, and the rest heading to Luke Air Force Base for pilot training.

AN-9 will be the first F-35 to arrive in the Netherlands: the aircraft is expected to roll off the production line in February 2019. It will undertake test and acceptance flights in Italy before moving to Leeuwarden in October 2019.

On May 23, 2016, the first two Dutch F-35A aircraft, AN-1 (F-001) and AN-2 (F-002), arrived at Leeuwarden air base, in the Netherlands, at the end of the type’s first eastbound transatlantic crossing, for a short “tour” in anticipation of the type’s final arrival at the end of 2019. The two aircraft started their journey to Europe from Edwards Air Force Base, California, and crossed the Pond as “NAF 81” (then “Archer 1” and “Archer 2”) after a stopover in Patuxent River, Maryland, supported by two KDC-10s. During their brief European deployment, on Jun. 10, 2016, the two RNlAF F-35s made the type’s international airshow debut during the “Luchtmachtdagen 2016” airshow at Leeuwarden Air Base.

29 F-35A jets for the Royal Netherlands Air Force will be built at Cameri that has already assembled ten F-35A for the Italian Air Force and the first F-35B for the Italian Navy (out of 60 CTOL and 30 STOVL procured by the Italian MoD).

The Italian FACO, a 101-acre facility including 22 buildings and more than one million square feet of covered work space, housing 11 assembly stations, and five maintenance, repair, overhaul, and upgrade bays, is owned by the Italian Ministry of Defense and is operated by Leonardo in conjunction with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. According to Lockheed, 800 skilled personnel are engaged in full assembly of the Conventional Take-off/Landing F-35A and F-35B aircraft variants and is also producing 835 F-35A full wing sets to support all customers in the program. It has the only F-35B production capability outside the United States and was selected in December 2014 as the European F-35 airframe Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul and Upgrade center for the entire European region.

Top image: one of the first two RNLAF F-35s on the ground at Eglin AFB. Dutch staff moved from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida to Edwards Air Force Base in California in January 2015 for the operational test phase. Credit: The Netherlands MoD

 

30 Combat Aircraft from 7 Nations Take Part In APROC 2018 Personnel Recovery Exercise In The Netherlands

Air Centric Personal Recovery Operative Course 2018 was held at the Dutch base of Gilze-Rijen, in the southern part of the Netherlands.

The 12th iteration of the Air Centric Personnel Recovery Operatives Course (APROC 2018) took place from May 23 to Jun. 7 at Gilze-Rijen, in the Netherlands, home of the Defense Helicopter Command (DHC) of the Royal Dutch Armed Forces.

Along with 577 personnel from 12 countries, several combat planes and helicopters supported the exercise: Dutch F-16s and Italian F-2000 Typhoons in the Fixed Wing RESCORT role; French AS555, Dutch AH-64 and Polish Mi-24 helicopters in the Rotary Wing RESCORT role; Dutch CH-47, Spanish AS332, French Navy NH-90, Royal Navy Merlin HC4, Italian Air Force HH-101 and ItNavy EH-101, Swedish Hkp.16a in the Extraction Vehicle role.

Spanish AS.332B

The photographs in this post, showing some of the participant aircraft, were taken at Gilze-Rijen airbase by Marco Ferrageau and Corne Rodenburg.

An Italian Air Force HH-101 Caesar of the 15° Stormo during APROC 2018. (All images credit: Marco Ferrageau and Corne Rodenburg)

The exercise was also supported by the Italian Air Force G550 CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning and Control) aircraft belonging to the 14° Stormo (Wing) from Pratica di Mare airbase to Gilze-Rijen, that undertook the AMC (Airborne Mission Coordinator Role). The two Italian aircraft, MM62293/14-11 and MM62303/14-12 proved to be crucial as all the NATO E-3 AWACS jets that were supposed to support the drills from their homebase at Geilenkirchen cancelled their missions due to aircraft availability issues. Also Extraction Forces from Italy, Spain, UK, France and Sweden joined APROC 2018 as members of the primary training audience.

The ItAF G550 supporting the exercise on May 30. (Screenshot by Hugo Fonteyn).

“The course aims to educate and train Aircrews and Extraction Forces in the implementation of internationally agreed techniques and procedures for Personnel Recovery operations as a member of a combined and joint force contingent,” says the European Personnel Recovery Center in a release published after the course. “The result of this kind of training will be an interoperable force that will be able to provide a viable PR capability for future contingencies. The course aims were achieved by planning and conducting 26 missions in 9 flying days, resulting in more than 140 sorties and 300 flight hours of the participating 20 aircraft. This training opportunity enables the participants to train the Personnel Recovery mission profile in a realistic and international environment that uses the processes and structures found in international operations. The APROC is currently the only European opportunity that focuses entirely on this mission set and attracts great interest in many countries.”

French Navy NH-90-NFH

More than 30 aircraft (including support assets) took part in exercise APROC 2018. Next year’s iteration will be hosted by the Spanish Air Force at Zaragoza airbase.

Here’s the High Speed Test Track The U.S. Air Force Uses To Perform Simulated Ejections Of Anthropomorphic Test Devices

The 10-mile long Holloman High Speed Test Track (HHSTT) is a United States Air Force aerospace ground test facility used to perform a various variety of tests, including simulated ejections.

Located at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, and operated by the 846th Test Squadron, the HHSTT is one of the world’s longest tracks, used to perfom tests in a realistic scenario, where a special sled can be launched at speeds in excess of 9,000 feet per second, that is around Mach 8.6 calculating for altitude!

A recent article published by Airman, the official magazine of the United States Air Force, shed some light on the activities carried out at the HHSTT whose mission is “to provide a cost-effective, realistic, dynamic test environment for the entire acquisition community, including the DoD, and contractors. As a ground-based test facility, the HHSTT provides a cost-effective, controlled test environment for high-speed weapons, systems, and components.”

Ejection seat tests are no longer carried out with humans. The last pilot to ride a rocket-propelled sled was Col. John Paul Stapp, who earned the title “the fastest man on Earth” at Holloman on December 10, 1954, to a land speed record of 632 mph in five seconds: during the test, Stapp decelerated in 1.4 seconds, which equaled 46.2 Gs, the greatest g-load ever sustained by a man. His eyes were flooded with blood and although he ragained most of his normal vision on the next day, he lost his eyesight forever.

Nowadays, tests are carried out with full-scale hi-tech mannequins, dubbed ATDs (Anthropomorphic Test Devices) that simulate the dimensions, weight proportions and articulation of the human body, and embed sensors that record data about the dynamic behavior of the ATD in simulated ejections. The collected data is then analysed and complemented with high-speed imagery and footage (like the one below) so that scientists can assess the outcome of the test.

“With a human you’re going to have to conduct a post-testing examination and then look at variables from human to human, where if you can put all the instrumentation on board a mannequin you can get all that data,” said. Lt. Col. Jason Vap, commander of the 846th Test Squadron at Holloman AFB, to Airman’s Master Sgt. Brian Ferguson for the article titled “Staying on track“. “You can take that one step further and figure out what you need to do to your seat design, or perhaps a helmet design, or your flight gear to mitigate problems. Those are things that you are only going to get from a highly instrumented mannequin. Not from post-test examination of an individual or examining what kind of pains that they suffered from that.”

Take some time to watch the following video for more details on the activities at HHSTT. By the way, the goal speed is Mach 10, not surprising, considered the U.S. Air Force is working on hypersonic missiles and aircraft