Author Archives: David Cenciotti

The Crazy Story Of The Very First A-10 Pilot To Land A Badly-Damaged Warthog With No Canopy And With The Gear Up

Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.

The A-10 is famous for being exceptionally tough and able to survive direct hits from armor-piercing and high-explosive projectiles. A recent episode proves the Warthog’s durability combined with pilot training, can be extremely useful, when it deals with managing an unusual emergency.

On Jul. 20, Capt. Brett DeVries, who was flying his A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft over the forests of Alpena County, in northeast Michigan, was able to land on the runway at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center with his aircraft whose canopy had blown off the aircraft 25 minutes before, whose main radio had stopped working, along with the first back-up, and with the landing gear that would not come down.

According to the U.S. Air Force, the 107th Fighter Squadron pilot from Selfridge Air National Guard Base made something that was never achieved before in the roughly 40-year history of the A-10: indeed, DeVries was the first pilot to land with no canopy and with the landing gear up.

“In that moment, your training kicks in. The training – that’s what saves you and your wingman,” DeVries said in an official release that provides all the details you can find in this story.

He was part of a four-ship on a routine training sortie from Selfridge to the Grayling Air Gunnery Range: a pretty standard mission for DeVries and his peers in the 107th, known as the “Red Devils,” that included a 30-minute transit to Grayling, to drop dummy bombs and make several strafing passes with the 30mm GAU-8 Avenger Gatling-style gun. A type of sortie DeVries has flown some 300 times!

After performing six bomb passes over the gunnery range to drop their ordinance, each A-10 took a turn firing the 30mm gun. However, on his second pass, DeVries’ gun malfunctioned. Simultaneously, the canopy of his aircraft blew off. With the canopy off and flying at about 325 knots, the wind caught in his helmet and slammed DeVries’ head back into the seat.

“It was like someone sucker punched me,” he said. “I was just dazed for a moment.”

At the time, he was flying at about 150 feet. DeVries instinctively pulled back on his stick to gain altitude and climbed to 2,000 feet, out of the normal path for range traffic, to put some space between his aircraft and the ground.

Flying behind DeVries was Major Shannon Vickers, another 107th pilot.

He saw a “donut of gas” from the Avenger gun around Devries’ aircraft, but didn’t realize the canopy had blown off because he was focused on the ground targets in the range. Still, he thought that something was wrong when the A-10 ahead of him had suddenly climbed.

Inside his cockpit, DeVries operated on instinct: he first lowered the seat in the cockpit to try to escape the winds that were buffeting his head back and forth and causing his maps and checklists to be blowing all around.

Another issue the pilot had to assess was the integrity of the ejection seat: had the blown canopy compromised it?

Vickers flew under him, performing a visual inspection of the damaged aircraft.

In addition to having been an A-10 pilot for the past 10 years, Vickers brought a little extra knowledge to the table. The Michigan native started his military career as an enlisted weapons specialist, working on A-10s at the 110th Attack Wing in Battle Creek.

Quickly, the two Red Devils determined that the best plan would be to fly over to Alpena, just a few minutes away by air, and attempt a landing there. While flying there, the Alpena control tower called down to Selfridge, some 250 miles to the south, in metropolitan Detroit. Soon, several A-10 maintenance specialists were on a speaker phone, chiming in with their ideas and recommendations, which Alpena then relayed to Vickers and DeVries, who was now down to using his third-best radio system.

Finally, with Vickers chasing him, the pilot of the damaged Warthog tried to lower his landing gear: the gear started to come down, but, as they feared, the nose gear was hung up from the gun damage.

Quickly, Vickers radioed to DeVries: “Gear up!”

Fortunately, the gear completely retracted to the up position.

With no other option remaining, with gear up and the canopy off DeVries lined the aircraft up for a landing.

“As he made final approach, I felt confident he was making the right decision,” Vickers said. “We had talked through every possibility and now he was going to land it.”

Shallow approach. Not too fast. Minimal flare.

On the A-10, the two main landing gear wheels are exposed, even when in the up position. It is part of the combat resiliency of the aircraft. And so, Capt. Brett DeVries landing his ‘Hog, right in the middle of the runway in a near textbook landing – caught on video by another pilot who was on the ground at Alpena.

“I flew him down, calling out his altitude,” Vickers said. “He came in flat, I mean it was a very smooth landing.”

After flying alongside DeVries during the landing, Vickers circled the field and saw his fellow Red Devil exit the aircraft on his own and run to the fire truck; then he was instructed to return to Selfridge.

“There is a reason why we train as a two-ship or greater,” said Col. Shawn Holtz, Commander of the 127th Operations Group and an A-10 pilot. “We rely on each other and need to have mutual support within the flight. Maj. Vickers was the definition of what a Wingman should be in this flight. He stuck with Capt. Devries and did everything in his power to see this through to a safe landing. Both of these pilots demonstrated not only superior flying skills, but represent the type of teamwork and professionalism that should be the goal of every Attack Pilot.”

In all, the flight lasted about 25 minutes from the time the canopy blew off until landing. An investigation is underway into the cause of the original malf The A-10 is still at Alpena where it is being repaired and will return to the flying inventory at Selfridge

“Again, I want to stress the training,” DeVries said. “Sometimes, perhaps we think, ‘Why do we have to do this training again and again?’ Well, in this case, the training took over and it is what made the difference.”

Slocum said the two men will be submitted for appropriate recognition for their superior Airmanship during the July 20 flight. DeVries also received an email congratulating him from Gen. David L. Goldfein, the Air Force Chief of Staff.

Capt. Brett DeVries (right) and his wingman Maj. Shannon Vickers, both A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots of the 107th Fighter Squadron from Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich. Vickers helped DeVries safely make an emergency landing July 20 at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center after the A-10 DeVries was flying experienced a malfunction. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Terry Atwell)

 

An F/A-18E From USS Nimitz Has Crashed In Bahrain. It’s The 11th Major Incident Involving A Hornet In The Last 14 Months.

Yet another “Rhino” has crashed. It’s the second Super Hornet this year, the fourth one since May 2016.

As you probably already know, an F/A-18E of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 146  assigned to the USS Nimitz (CVN 68) departed the runway and the pilot ejected during an emergency landing at Bahrain International Airport on Aug. 12, 2017.

According to the statement released by the U.S. Navy, the F/A-18E experienced an engine malfunction during a mission launched from USS Nimitz and attempted to divert to Sheik Isa Air Base, Bahrain. Unable to make it to Isa, the pilot was forced to make an emergency landing at Bahrain International Airport. Due to the malfunction, the aircraft could not be stopped on the runway and the pilot ejected from the aircraft as it departed the runway.

The pilot is uninjured and the mishap is under investigation.

This is all we know about this incident. However, it’s worth of note that the one in Bahrain is the 11th major incident involving an F/A-18 of any variant since May 2016 (the figure includes two international incidents: a Swiss Air Force Hornet lost on Aug. 29, 2016 and the Canadian CF-188 lost on Nov. 28, 2016).

Dealing with the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleet, four aircraft were lost (fortunately resulting in 0 fatalities) including the one lost last week: two VFA-211 F/A-18F jets from NAS Oceana collided and crashed 25 miles E of the Oregon Inlet, Nags Head, NC on May 26, 2016; earlier this year, on Apr. 21, 2017, a VFA-137 F/A-18E crashed during a landing attempt on USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in the Celebes sea, between Indonesia and the Philippines.

Legacy Hornets are crashing at an even more alarming rate: two U.S. Marine Corps F-18 Hornets from MCAS Miramar crashed on Nov. 9, 2016 near San Diego. Another F/A-18C crashed near USMC Air Ground Combat Cente, Twentynine Palms, on Oct. 25, 2016. A U.S. Navy F/A-18C belonging to the Strike Fighter Wing Pacific, Detachment Fallon, crashed on Aug. 2, 2016, 10NM to the south of NAS Fallon. On Jul. 27, 2016 a USMC F/A-18 belonging to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing crashed during a night strafing run on a weapons range near Twentynine Palms (killing the pilot). On Jun. 2 a Blue Angels Hornet crashed after taking off from Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport (KMQY), Smyrna, Tennessee: the only pilot on board was killed in the incident.

Aircraft may crash for a variety of reasons, not always technical ones. Still, the rate of Hornet crashes in the last years seems to be unusual and, as such, concerning.

According to a report published in September 2016 by Stars and Stripes, since 2012, the number of major Navy and Marine Hornet and Super Hornet accidents have increased by 44 percent as a consequence of sequestration and subsequent cuts in flight hours for training at home.

Moreover, F/A-18 Hornets of all variants have shown a steady yearly increases of what the Navy calls “physiological episodes” due to oxygen deprivation and cabin decompression since May 1, 2010, and the U.S. Navy has linked the deaths of four Hornet pilots that occurred over a span of 10 years to “physiological episodes” (PE). Such deadly incidents are not all the direct result an oxygen system failure but are linked by the fact that pilots experienced various symptoms that fall within the scope of a PE: dizziness, vertigo, oxygen shortage, blackouts, etc.

Older versions of the plane, the A through D models, have problems with cabin pressure whereas the newer Super Hornet and Growler issues “would appear to point to the onboard oxygen generating” system to which the Navy’ has already made changes.

Although investigators were able to offer several steps to mitigate the risk of physiological episodes, they were not able to identify the root cause of a problem yet.

Top image credit: Twitter via USNI

Here Is How A U.S. Pre-Emptive Strike On North Korea Could Unfold

Forget the B-1s: TLAMs (Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles) and B-2s would probably start an eventual pre-emptive strike on Pyongyang.

Although they have been involved in several “show of force” missions over the Korean peninsula, the B-1B Lancers (“Bones” in accordance with the nickname used by their aircrews), that have been supporting the U.S. Pacific Command’s (USPACOM) Continuous Bomber Presence mission since Aug. 6, 2016, would probably not be involved in the very first stages of an eventual U.S. attack on North Korea.

Indeed, should Washington decide to launch a (conventional) pre-emptive strike on Pyongyang, it would be a pretty standard air campaign, opened by cruise missiles, most (if not all) shot by warships or submarines, followed by strategic and tacair (tactical airplanes).

A North Korean war would probably include four phases:

1) Build-up & intelligence gathering phase (underway)

2) Rain of cruise missiles

3) Strategic bomber strikes

4) Tacair involvement to go after all DPKR batteries and artillery that could fire towards Seoul

Phase 1 involves moving required assets in place and collect the data needed for proper targeting. This phase has already started. Satellites and spyplanes have already been watching North Korea for months; if they really decide to strike, such intelligence activity will only be intensified, to support identification of targets to be hit in the first stages of the air war, especially since NK has already started moving TELs across the country.

Phase 2 would probably see the involvement of the destroyers in the 7th fleet area of operations, each theoretically capable to launch up to 90 Tomahawks Tactical Cruise Missiles (actually less, because these warships usually carry a mix of attack and air defense missiles). Submarines could also be used to launch the TLAMs.

Some U.S. strategic bombers would probably be launched in global strike round-trip missions from the US (as well as from Guam) to attack specific targets such as bunkers and underground sites (Phase 3): few B-2 Spirit stealth sorties (possibly using the 30,000-lb GBU-57A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator bombs) to be followed by some more B-1 and possibly B-52 ones.

Phase 4 would see the involvement of tactical aircraft (from land bases or aircraft carriers) involved in the hunt for road-mobile ballistic missiles and any other artillery target required to prevent a retaliatory attack (even a nuclear one) by Pyongyang: not an easy task, considered that many of these could be hidden underground or dispersed. Anyway, the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence system, or THAAD, along with Aegis warships, would have the role to destroy incoming missiles in case of missile launches towards South Korea.

High flying RQ-4 Global Hawk drones flying from Yokota AB, Japan, would perform the post-strike BDA (Battle Damage Assessment). Some sorties would also be flown by U-2s.

Among the (many) supporting assets, the U.S. Navy E-6 Mercury jets would probably play a major role in a U.S. air war on North Korea.

The 16 E-6B TACAMO (“TAke Charge And Move Out”) are among the most important assets in the U.S. inventory. They are capable to communicate on virtually every radio frequency band, on commercial satellites and on the Internet, using also a secure VOIP system.

E-6s are used to relay instructions to the fleet ballistic missile submarines in case of nuclear war but also act as back ups of the four E-4Bs NAOC (National Alternate Operations Center), working as ABNCP (Airborne Command Post) platforms: in other words, in case of war, terrorist attack, armageddon etc they can direct nuclear (and conventional) forces, by receiving, verifying and relaying EAM (Emergency Action Messages): that’s why they are dubbed “doomsday planes.”

Similar to the civilian Boeing 707, but with a 737 cockpit, E-6s have a range of 5,500 miles, and accommodate 23 crew members.

They can perform the so-called Looking Glass mission (mirroring the ground-based C3 center at Offutt AFB and relaying orders), they can talk to submarines trailing a 26,000 ft wire antenna, launch commands to ICBMs (InterContinental Ballistic Missiles) via Airborne Launch Control System, and perform C3 (Command Control Communication) operations to forces operating in theatre.

When stealth bombers are launched on a round-trip, Global Strike mission across the globe, an E-6 or two (with the second acting as back up) are used to provide command and control support to the B-2s.

Several E-6 are flying at any given time: in spite of their important role, E-6Bs are among the few military planes advertising their position on the Web using full ADS-B. However, whilst some of them are involved in training activities, others may be supporting actual operations, hence it would be extremely difficult to guess something big is about to happen in North Korea even if tracking on Planefinder.net or Flightradar24.com.

Top image credit: Christopher Ebdon

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U.S. A-10 Thunderbolt II Jets Practice Take Off And Landing On Highway in Estonia

Warthogs of the Maryland Air National Guard practiced landing on and taking off from Jägala-Käravete Highway in Northern Estonia.

On Aug. 10, ten A-10 attack aircraft belonging to the 175th Wing of the Maryland Air National Guard performed landing and take off from an extension of Jägala-Käravete Highway, a portion of the longer road known as Piibe Highway, in Northern Estonia.

The Warthogs arrived from Ämari Air Base, where they deployed on Aug. 4 in order to support Operation Atlantic Resolve until Aug. 18

This is not the first time the USAF A-10s practiced highway operations from a public road in Estonia: in August 2016, Warthogs belonging to the 303rd Fighter Squadron, 442nd Fighter Wing, from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, performed highway operations from the very same extension during their deployment to Estonia.

One of the A-10s lands on a public road in Estonia.

The ability to perform landings from highways is unique to the A-10 that can exploit its wide tyres and high-mounted engines (therefore less prone to FOD – Foreign Object Damage).

Part of the standard training during the Cold War, highway operations training from dispersed places, has resumed in eastern Europe as a consequence of the renewed tensions with Russia.

The MD ANG Warthogs sported some impressive kill markings.

The weaponry dropped by this MD ANG A-10 during its tour of duty in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

All images credit: Ardi Hallismaa/mil.ee

Has A Drone Interfered With Blue Angels Display At Seafair Airshow Over Lake Washington?

Several people have spotted a drone apparently too close to the U.S. Navy display team’s F/A-18 Hornets.

On Aug. 4, 2017, the Blue Angels took part in Seafair Airshow over Lake Washington.

Along with the usual stunning aerobatics, people who were watching the Blue Angels on the Mercer Island side of the I-90 bridge over Lake Washington noticed a drone seemingly flying dangerously close to the aircraft. Among them, there was John Redifer, a reader of The Aviationist, who also filmed the clip that you can see here below.

“I was watching the Blue Angels air show yesterday on Friday 8/4/17 on the Mercer Island side of the I-90 bridge over Lake Washington, when a drone appeared in the flight path before the Blue Angels flew by. The drone appeared to be within 50′ of the Blue Angels,” said Redifer in an email to The Aviationist.

“There were about 1,000 people on the bridge with me, including about 12 WSP officers who were there for crowd control. Some people commented on the drone, and WSP officers were pointing at it and appeared to comment on their radios about it.”

The drone remained in the area for about 5 – 10 minutes, maybe even more. For sure it was still there when Redifer left the bridge at the end of the Blue Angels show.

A drone like the one (barely visible) in the short clip below has been spotted in the neighborhood in the past; for this reason Redifer believes it might be a local.

“Also a friend of mine at another nearby location during the show heard about the drone on a public Blue Angels radio conversation of the pilots who mentioned seeing the drone. Not sure of the words used, but she said the pilots were aware of the drone.”

Therefore, based on the footage and the account provided by John Redifer, it looks like a drone was airborne in the vicinity of the Blue Angels display area over/near Mercer Island.

Although we can’t completely rule out the possibility that the drone was cleared to operate there, it seems quite unlikely (if not impossible, considered the risk of interfering with the manned aircraft) that someone got the permission to fly so close to the display area. Actually, the video does not help in determining the actual position of the remotely piloted aircraft, however, based on the witnesses accounts, it is safe to say it appears to be closer than one might expect in case of an airshow: in fact, drones or helicopters that film airshows operate from a significant distance, leveraging powerful onboard sensors to feed a live stream of the aircraft performing their aerobatic maneuvers while remaining well outside the display area.

If you were there and have seen the drone let us know in the comments section below or by sending us an email.

For instance, recent airshows in Italy were filmed from high altitude by an Italian Air Force Predator drone, under positive radio and radar contact with the relevant ATC agencies, maintaining a racetrack located kilometers away from the airshow area.

Incidentally, the video emerged in the same days the Pentagon has cleared U.S. military bases across the country to shoot down drones if those drones become a hazard to flight operations or a security risk and the U.S. Navy claimed an Iranian UAV had unsafe and unprofessional interaction with an F/A-18E about to land on USS Nimitz.

H/T to John Redifer for sending us the clip and details about the alleged near miss.

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