Author Archives: David Cenciotti

U.S. Navy C-2A Aircraft Carrying 11 Crew And Passengers Crashed In The Ocean Southeast Of Okinawa

C-2 Greyhound COD confirmed involved in the crash.

According to the U.S. Navy 7th Fleet, a United States Navy C-2A aircraft belonging to VRC-30 “Providers” carrying 11 crew and passengers crashed into the ocean southeast of Okinawa at approximately 2:45 p.m. local time on Nov. 22.

“Personnel recovery is underway and their condition will be evaluated by USS Ronald Reagan medical staff. The aircraft was en-route to the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), which is currently operating in the Philippine Sea. USS Ronald Reagan is conducting search and rescue operations. The cause of the crash is not known at this time.”

160707-N-NF288-020 SOUTH CHINA SEA (July 7, 2016) Distinguished visitors from Cambodia land on the flight deck of the Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). Ronald Reagan, the Carrier Strike Group Five (CSG 5) flagship, is on patrol in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jamaal Liddell/Release

The official release did not initially specify the type nor the unit of the aircraft involved in the crash. However, it seemed immediately quite reasonable to believe it is a C-2 Greyhound involved in a COD (Carrier Onboard Delivery) mission. Indeed, the Grumman C-2A Greyhound is a twin-engine, high-wing cargo aircraft, designed perform the COD mission to carry equipment, passengers (including occasional distinguished visitors) supplies and mail to and from U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, “ensuring victory at sea through logistics.”

8 out 11 people on board have been found. SAR operation underway to find and rescue the missing ones.

According to the U.S. Navy:

Eight personnel were recovered by the “Golden Falcons” of U.S. Navy Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC 12). The eight personnel were transferred to USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) for medical evaluation and are in good condition at this time.

“Our entire focus is on finding all of our Sailors,” said Rear Adm. Marc H. Dalton, Commander, Task Force 70. “U.S. and Japanese ships and aircraft are searching the area of the crash, and we will be relentless in our efforts.”

USS Ronald Reagan is leading search and rescue efforts with the following ships and aircraft: U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63); MH-60R Seahawk helicopters of the “Saberhawks” from U.S. Navy Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM 77); P-8 aircraft from the “Fighting Tigers” of U.S. Navy Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Squadron (VP) 8; P-3 Orion aircraft of the “Red Hook” U.S. Navy Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Squadron (VP) 40; Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Helicopter Carrier Japan Ship (JS) Kaga (DDH 184); and JMSDF Hatakaze-class destroyer Japan Ship (JS) Shimakaze (DDG 172).

This is the 6th C-2 lost since the type entered active service (a prototype YC-2A was lost on Apr. 29, 1965, during a test flight resulting in 4 fatalities):

 

  • On Oct. 2, 1969, C-2A BuNo 152796 from VRC-50, carrying 6 crew members and 21 passengers crashed in the Gulf of Tonkin en route from Naval Air Station Cubi Point to USS Constellation in the Gulf of Tonkin. All the 27 POB were killed but since their bodies were never recovered, they are listed as MIA (Missing In Action).
  • On Dec. 15, 1970, C-2A BuNo 155120 from VRC-50 crashed shortly after launch from USS Ranger, killing all 9 POB (4 crew members and 5 passengers).
  • On Dec. 12 1971, C-2A BuNo 152793 crashed en route from Cubi Point to Tan Son Nhat International Airport, resulting in the death of all 4 crew members and 6 passengers.
  • On Jan. 29, C-2A BuNo 155122 crashed while attempting to land on the USS Independence in the Mediterranean Sea, killing both crewmen.
  • On 16 November 1973, C-2A BuNo 152787 crashed into the sea after takeoff from Souda Bay, Crete. 7 of 10 POB died in the incident.

 

We will update this story as new details are made available.

In 2000, the C-2 began Service Life-Extension Program (SLEP) installations, which included improvements such as structural enhancements, dual ARC-210 radios, the Terrain-Awareness Warning System, the Traffic Collision-Avoidance System and a rewire of the aircraft to remove older and potentially hazardous Kapton wiring. Eight-blade NP2000 propellers were installed in 2010-2011. The Communication, Navigation, Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) system features components that expanded the aircraft’s communications capability by increasing the number of usable radio frequencies, therefore reducing channel congestion. As part of the navigation upgrade, a system combining Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment and an inertial navigation system were integrated to provide accurate positioning and velocity, allowing flight crews to perform precise landing approaches.

Top image: file photo of a C-2 Greyhound

 

These Images Document The Heat Damage To The X-15A Hypersonic Aircraft After Its Record Breaking Mach 6.7 Flight

Aerodynamic heating at Mach 6.72 (4,534 mph) almost melted the airframe.

On Oct. 3 1967 the North American X-15A-2 serial number 56-6671 hypersonic rocket-powered research aircraft achieved a maximum Mach 6.72 piloted by Major Pete Knight.

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, the X-15 was a missile-shaped vehicle built in 3 examples and powered by the XLR-99 rocket engine capable of 57,000 lb of thrust.

The aircraft featured an unusual wedge-shaped vertical tail, thin stubby wings, and unique side fairings that extended along the side of the fuselage.

The X-15 was brought to the launch altitude of 45,000 feet by a NASA NB-52B “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.

An interesting account of Oct. 3, 1967 record flight was written by Flight Engineer Johnny G. Armstrong on his interesting website. Here’s an excerpt:

As the X-15 was falling from the B-52 he lit the engine and locked on to 12 degrees angle of attack. He was pushed back into his seat with 1.5 g’s longitudinal acceleration. The X-15 rounded the corner and started its climb.

During the rotation as normal acceleration built up to 2 g’s Pete had to hold in considerable right deflection of the side arm controller to keep the X-15 from rolling to the left due to the heavier LOX in the left external tank. When the aircraft reached the planned pitch angle of 35 degrees his scan pattern switched from the angle of attack gauge to the attitude direction indicator and a vernier index that was set to the precise climb angle.

The climb continued as the fuel was consumed from the external tanks, then at about 60 seconds he reached the tank jettison conditions of about Mach 2 and 70,000 feet. He pushed over to low angle of attack and ejected the tanks. He was now on his way and would not be making an emergency landing at Mud Lake.

“We shut down at 6500 (fps), and I took careful note to see what the final got to. It went to 6600 maximum on the indicator. As I told Johnny before, the longest time period is going to be from zero h dot getting down to 100 to 200 feet per second starting down hill after shutdown.”

Final post flight data recorded an official max Mach number of 6.72 equivalent to a speed of 4534 miles per hour.

From there down Pete was very busy with the planned data maneuvers and managing the energy of the gliding X-15. He approached Edwards higher on energy than planned and had to keep the speed brakes out to decelerate.

On final approach he pushed the dummy ramjet eject button and landed on Rogers lakebed runway 18. He indicated he did not feel anything when he activated the ramjet eject and the ground crew reported they did not see it. Pete said that he knew something was not right when the recovery crew did not come to the cockpit area to help him out of the cockpit, but went directly to the back of the airplane.

Finally when he did get out and saw the damage to the tail of the X-15 he understood. There were large holes in the skin of the sides of the fin with evidence of melting and skin rollback. Now we are talking Inconel-X steel that melts at 2200 degrees F. Later analysis would show that the shock wave from the leading edge of the ramjet’s spike nose had intersected the fin and caused the aerodynamic heating to increase seven times higher than normal. So now maybe we knew why the ramjet was not there.

X-15-2 after the record flight (#189) on Oct. 3, 1967. The aircraft achieved the record without any NASA marking. The aircraft was painted in white that covered an ablative material that protected the fuselage. The Martin Marietta’s MA-25S ablative would erode slowly shedding the heat of aerodynamic friction. Pink in color, the ablative the MA-25S ablative reacted when exposed to liquid oxygen burned by its XLR-99 rocket engine. For this reason it was sealed under white paint. More details here.

The following 48-sec footage shows the extent of the damages to the X-15-2 aircraft. Noteworthy, the ramjet detached from the aircraft at over 90,000 feet and crashed into the desert over 100 miles from Edwards Air Force Base.

Here are some details.

Wing leading edge burns.

Reaction Control System thrusters.

Two holes appeared on the fuselage along with burns.

The nose of the aircraft shows ablative damages as well as a result of frictional heating.

The X-15A-2 never flew again after the record flight. It is currently preserved and displayed at the United States Air Force Museum, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

The top image shows the damage to one of the two ventral UHF antennas of the X-15.

U.S. F-22 Stealth Jets Perform Raptor’s First Ever Air Strike In Afghanistan Employing Small Diameter Bombs

U.S. F-22 Raptor Stealth Aircraft Carried Out First Raid In Afghanistan.

“Over the past 24 hours, U.S. and Afghan forces conducted combined operations to strike seven Taliban drug labs and one command-and-control node in northern Helmand province. Three of those strikes were in Kajaki district, four in Musa Qalah district and one in Sangin district,” says an official NATO press release.

The night air strikes targeted plantations of poppy (processed into illegal opiate drugs such as heroin) in Helmand Province: opiates have become a global health, economic and security problem, and the Taliban are responsible for up to 85 percent of the world’s opium production. “It’s estimated that more than $200 million of this economy goes straight into the Taliban’s bank accounts.”

Noteworthy, for the very first time, U.S. Air Force F-22A Raptors took part in the air strikes in Afghanistan “principally because of their ability to mitigate civilian casualties and inadvertent damage by employing small diameter bombs during U.S. airstrikes.” The F-22s, operated alongside B-52 bombers, Hellfire missiles fired from drones, and U.S. Marine Corps-operated High-Mobility Rocket Systems that were “pivotal in the first night of strike successes.”

The U.S. Air Force Raptor stealth multi-role jet had its baptism of fire flying Swing Role missions in support of the air war on ISIS on Sept. 23, 2014. Tasked for air-to-ground missions, the F-22 can carry two 1,000-lb GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, along with AIM-120s AMRAAMs (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles) radar-guided missiles and AIM-9 Sidewinder IR-guided missiles.

Since software increment 3.1 embedded back in 2012, the F-22 can also drop 8 GBU-39 small diameter bombs, 250-lb multipurpose, insensitive, penetrating, blast-fragmentation warhead for stationary targets, equipped with deployable wings for extended standoff range. These bombs are particularly useful to improve accuracy and reduce collateral damage.

Along with the ability to carry PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions), in the last few years the aircraft were also given a radar upgrade that enhanced the F-22 capabilities in the realm of air interdiction and the so-called “kinetic situational awareness”: as we have often explained in previous articles, the role that the Raptor plays in Operation Inherent Resolve is to use advanced onboard sensors, such as the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, to gather valuable details about the enemy targets, then share the “picture” with attack planes as the F-15E Strike Eagles.

Interestingly, in an interview given at the end of 2013, General Hawk Carlisle said 5th generation aircraft would provide forward target identification for strike missiles launched from a surface warship or submerged submarine, in the future. The PACAF commander described the ability of the F-22s, described as “electronic warfare enabled sensor-rich aircraft,” to provide forward targeting through their sensors for submarine based T-LAMS (cruise missiles).

The F-22s were supported by KC-10 Extender from the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, also based at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, during their first action in Afghanistan in the night of Nov. 20.

 

 

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.

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