Author Archives: David Cenciotti

Ten Years Ago Today The U.S. Air Force Lost Its First B-2 Stealth Bomber During Take Off From Guam. And Here Are Two Videos.

B-2 “Spirit of Kansas” #89-0127 crashed on Feb. 23, 2008. It was the most expensive crash in USAF history.

Ten years ago, the U.S. Air Force lost one of its 21 B-2 Spirit stealth bombers.

The aircraft, #89-0127 “Spirit of Kansas”, belonging to the 393rd Bomb Squadron with the 509th Bomb Wing, from Whiteman Air Force Base, was taking off from Andersen Air Force Base, along with three other stealth bombers, at the end of 4-month deployment in support of U.S. CBP (Continuous Bomber Presence) in the Pacific. Both crew members successfully ejected from the aircraft at low altitude. The B-2 hit the ground, tumbled and burned for a total loss worth about US$1.4 billion, reportedly, the most expensive crash in the history of the U.S. Air Force.

Since take off of the aircraft was being filmed, a couple of interesting videos show the crash pretty well.

Here’s one recorded from a nearby taxiway:

Here’s a second video, seemingly filmed from Guam’s control tower:

The investigation found out that the root cause of the accident was moisture in the air-data sensors: heavy, lashing rains caused moisture to enter skin-flush air-data sensors that gave wrong inputs to the flight-control computers. The combination of slow lift-off speed and the extreme angle of attack resulted in an unrecoverable stall, yaw, and descent.

Here’s what the U.S. Air Force website reported after the report was released:

Moisture in the aircraft’s Port Transducer Units during air data calibration distorted the information in the bomber’s air data system, causing the flight control computers to calculate an inaccurate airspeed and a negative angle of attack upon takeoff. According to the report, this caused an, “uncommanded 30 degree nose-high pitch-up on takeoff, causing the aircraft to stall and its subsequent crash.”

Moisture in the PTUs, inaccurate airspeed, a negative AOA calculation and low altitude/low airspeed are substantially contributing factors in this mishap. Another substantially contributing factor was the ineffective communication of critical information regarding a suggested technique of turning on pitot heat in order to remove moisture from the PTUs prior to performing an air data calibration.

The pilot received minor injuries, and the co-pilot received a spinal compression fracture during ejection. He was treated at Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii, and released. The aircraft was assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.

At the time of the crash, the B-2 had logged 5,100 flight hours and wasn’t carrying armament.

Looks Like Russia Has Just Deployed Two Of Its Brand New Su-57 Stealth Jets To Syria

Quite surprisingly, Russia sent two of its Su-57 stealth jets to Syria. So, once again, Moscow will use the Syrian Air War as a test bed for its most advanced “hardware”. But the deployment is both an opportunity and a risk.

Late on Feb. 21, a photo showing two Russian Su-57 jets allegedly landing at Khemimim air base, near Latakia, in northwestern Syria, circulated on Twitter. The two stealth combat aircraft were reportedly part of a larger package of assets deployed to the Russian airbase in Syria, that included also four Su-35S and one A-50U AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft.

Interestingly, the aircraft appeared to be in “clean” configuration, that is to say they didn’t carry the large fuel tanks used for ferry flights last year.

Although the deployment of two Russian 5th generation aircraft (that has not been officially confirmed yet) came somehow unexpected, it must be noted that it’s not the first time that Moscow deployed some of its advanced “hardware” to Syria. For instance, on Sept. 13, 2017, the Russian Air Force deployed some of its MiG-29SMT multirole combat aircraft to Khemimim airbase for the first time. Previously, in February 2016, it was the turn of the still-in-development Tu-214R spyplane to exploit the air war in Syria to test its sensor packages.

As reported several times commenting the above mentioned deployments, Russia has used the Syrian Air War to showcase and test its latest weapons systems. However, most analysts agree that the deployment of the Su-57 is probably mostly meant to send a strong message about air superiority over Syria, where Russian and American planes have almost clashed quite a few times recently (with conflicting reports of the incidents).

Deploying two new stealth jet in theater is a pretty smart move for diplomatic and marketing purposes: as already explained questions continue to surround the Su-57 program as a consequence of delays, engine problems and subsequent difficult export (last year the Indian Air Force reportedly demanded an end to the joint Indo-Russian stealth fighter project). Albeit rather symbolic, the deployment of a combat aircraft (still under development) is obviously also a huge risk.

First, there’s a risk of being hit (on the ground or during a mission: the attack on Latakia airbase or the recent downing of a Su-25 are just reminders of what may happen over there) and second, there’s a risk of leaking intelligence data to the enemy.

This is what we explained in a recent article about the reasons why U.S. and Russia are shadow-boxing over Syria:

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.

In fact, even though it’s safe to assume that the stealth prototype will not use their radar and that the Russians will escort the Su-57s with Su-30/35 Flanker derivatives during their trips over Syria in order to prevent the U.S. spyplanes from being able to “characterize” the Su-57’s signature at specific wavelengths as reportedly done by the Russians with the U.S. F-22s, it’s safe to assume the U.S. and NATO will put in place a significant effort to gather any little detail about the performance and operational capabilities of the new Russian stealth jet.

By the way, before you ask, the risk of confrontation with their U.S. stealth counterparts has not been mentioned, since it seems quite unlikely at the moment..

Top image credit: Aleksandr Markin – T-50 (51), CC BY-SA 2.0

Here’s the New “Bronco II” Precision Strike Aircraft for Counterinsurgency/Irregular Warfare missions

Based on the weird South African AHRLAC aircraft (Advanced High-Performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft) the Bronco II was launched today in the US market.

On Feb. 21, the newly created Bronco Combat System (BCS) USA announced the launch of the Bronco II, a two-crew C4ISR and precision strike aircraft, based on the South Africa’s first indigenous turboprop aircraft designed AHRLAC (Advanced High-performance Reconnaissance and Surveillance Aircraft), developed by a joint venture between the Paramount Group and Aerosud.

The name of the new light aircraft was inspired by the OV-10 Bronco, the U.S. aircraft developed in the 1960s as a special aircraft for counter-insurgency (COIN) combat and used today by the U.S. Special Operations Command to hunt ISIS militants in Iraq.

According to the BCS press release, the Bronco II is “capable of carrying a wide range of weapons, sensors and systems in extended airborne mission operations. It is a unique platform that is built for purpose; uses a pusher propeller and has an open system architecture allowing for the rapid incorporation of current and emerging systems, setting a new standard for mission flexibility and adaptability.

AHRLAC was first unveiled in September 2011 at the Aerosud manufacturing facility on the eastern side of AFB Waterkloof. The “odd drone alternative” made its first flight in July 2014 and by September 2016, the prototype had accumulated 250 flying hours during tests, as well as actual deployments to the South African border and to neighbouring Botswana where the aircraft conducted operationally representative trials, including landing on a range of surfaces such as compact sand and gravel. According to an AIN article, the aircraft was also flown on an ad hoc trial during the civil unrest in South Africa.

In March 2016, Boeing announced that it had entered into a development partnership with Paramount with the aim of producing a militarized version of the Ahrlac.

This is what DefenseNews reported back then:

“Boeing will develop an integrated mission system for the aircraft enabling ISR and light strike missions for the AHRLAC safety & security, and military variants. This militarized version will be known as Mwari, a name taken from South African mythology regarded by some tribes as an omnipotent, all-seeing being. The cost of the aircraft was estimated to be under $10 million by [Paramount Group’s Executive Chairman Ivor] Ichikowitz in 2011, however he was not able to state a price of the aircraft with the integrated Boeing systems.

Today’s press release from BCS does not mention the previous deal with Boeing. Paramount Group media contacts have not yet replied to an email we have sent asking for clarification. We will update the stoty once we hear from them.

The Bronco II in a render with the Marines markings (BCS)

Here’s what the rest of the release says about the Bronco II aircraft (highlights mine):

“Paramount Group International Chairman Ivor Ichikowitz said, “This aircraft is a real game-changer for the warfighter. It is unique in that it has been designed specifically as a light attack and ISR platform from the onset. This is not simply an armed variant of a civilian crop-duster or a modified training aircraft. Every inch of this aircraft is designed for purpose – specifically for the kind of asymmetrical warfare that sophisticated military forces are now being asked to conduct. These missions demand rapidly deployable, hybrid ISR and close air support capabilities for which no other platform has been specifically designed.”

AHRLAC, the platform upon which the BRONCO II is based, is already in production using the latest advanced aerospace manufacturing technologies. The fact that the aircraft is 100% digitally designed makes the ability to industrialize the BRONCO II in its totality in the United States a reality. Work has started on establishing a manufacturing base that will enable the full production of the airframe and mission systems integration in the United States.

Ichikowitz went on to say “BRONCO II was designed with the US market in mind; it contains significant American content and we are now excited to be able to commit to bringing full production of the aircraft home to the USA.”

The BRONCO II’s internal Interchangeable Multi-Mission System Bay (IMSB) allows a single airframe to be easily and rapidly re-configured to perform multiple roles, incorporating high-performance targeting sensors, network communication systems, precision weapons, an electronic self-protection suite, and mission planning systems.

The aircraft is a purpose-built, sophisticated airborne Find/Fix/Finish/Exploit/Analyze (F3EA) system able to operate for extended periods in remote theaters with minimal infrastructure and a small logistics and maintenance footprint. The BRONCO II operates at a fraction of the procurement and lifecycle cost of an aircraft with similar mission applications and capabilities.

Fulcrum Concepts LLC will lead weapons and system integration for BRONCO II. Fulcrum Concepts Co-Owner and President of Engineering Solutions Scott Richman said, “BRONCO II is the ultimate solution to the F3EA capability, a truly multi-role aircraft with real-time C4ISR perfectly suited to the kind of light attack requirements we are seeing coming out of the U.S. military forces and a number of other programs in the U.S. market. We are excited by the opportunity to be one of the lead partners in bringing this innovative capability to the United States.”

Dr. Paul Potgieter, the CEO of the Aerospace Development Corporation which designed the aircraft, stated: “This aircraft is a completely clean-sheet, next-generation design, using the latest CATIA and digital design systems specifically for digital production. Even the factory in which this aircraft is currently being produced embraces the innovative principles of the Fourth Industrial Revolution by emphasizing the use of rapid digital prototyping, laser additive and 3D printing, and a jig-less manufacturing approach.”

Bronco Combat Systems has been established as a US based entity which will bring the aircraft to the US end user. The founding partners are Paramount Group USA, Fulcrum Concepts LLC, and ADC, who designed the AHRLAC platform. Bronco Combat Systems are actively engaging with other domestic U.S. partners to scale the entity in both capability and reach.

“This is a very exciting time for us, our partners and future US customers who will benefit from the rapid fielding of the Bronco II and its unique capabilities. Discussions are underway with highly respected and experienced US suppliers for total supply chain management, mission software, and mission training.” added Ichikowitz.”

So, it seems that the new aircraft aims at the COIN/IW (Counterinsurgency/Irregular Warfare) missions where manned, low-cost turboprop aircraft are considered as essential to lower operational costs. The aircraft offers F3EA capabilities that are wanted these days (as the use of the Vietnam-era Broncos proves) to fill the gap between high-end combat planes and drones.

Image credit: BCS

57th Rescue Squadron Performs Rare Jump Onto Aviano Airbase

With the support of C-130J aircraft from the 86th Airlift Wing, 57th Rescue Squadron made a rare jump onto Aviano airbase.

Although it is scheduled to complete the move, along with the 56th, from RAF Lakenheath, UK, to Aviano AB, Italy, by the end of June 2018, the 57th RS has started getting acquainted with its new duty station located in northeastern Italy.

On Feb. 15 and 16, 2018, with the support of the Super Hercules aircraft from Ramstein Air Base’s 86th Airlift Wing, the Squadron’s pararescuemen jumped onto the base, home of the 31st Fighter Wing, the first in more than two decades.

One of the two C-130s used by the 57th RS to parachute onto Aviano AB.

The second Super Hercules involved in the 57th RS jumps onto Aviano.

Aviano has the U.S. military’s largest heavy drop facility in Europe and is the launching pad for the Vicenza-based 173rd Airborne Brigade, whose members routinely jump from C-130s onto the “Juliet” landing zone located at Maniago, about 15 miles from the base.

An HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter assigned to the 56th Rescue Squadron flies over Aviano Air Base, Italy, during a routine training mission Jan. 26, 2018. Members from the 56th and 57th RQS are flying throughout the region during several different training sorties. Their presence within the area will increase as they begin to transition from Royal Air Force Base Lakenheath, England. About 350 personnel, five HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters and Guardian Angel weapons systems are expected to relocate to Aviano AB in an effort to establish an enduring personnel recovery location within Europe. (U.S. Air Force by Senior Airman Cory W. Bush)

The 56th and 57th RS will bring their five HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters to Aviano in a few months, but they are also expected to train with the 173rd and Italian allies in various aircraft: with easy access to the Alps, Adriatic Sea and various Italian training ranges, their new airbase is considered very well suited for the training activities of the squadrons pararescuemen.

One of the pararescuemen about to land after parachuting from a C-130J.

Image credit: Claudio Tramontin

Norway Has Completed A Successful Verification Of The F-35 Drag Chute System, Unique To The Norwegian Aircraft.

The chute, housed under a small fairing on the upper rear fuselage between the vertical tails, is unique to the Norwegian aircraft.

On Feb. 16, the Royal Norwegian Air Force completed a successful verification of the F-35A drag chute system at Ørland Air Force Base.

The system, housed under a small fairing on the upper rear fuselage between the vertical tails, can be used to rapidly decelerate Norwegian F-35s after landing on the country’s icy runways under windy conditions.

Although the chute is unique to the Norwegian aircraft, other nations flying the F-35A may adopt it, if needed.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force is completing another round of cold-weather testing of the F-35A at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska.

The RoNAF F-35 during the drag chute test (credit: RoNAF)

“Receiving the first three aircraft in November 2017 was a major milestone for Norway. The program delivers on all key criteria: Time, cost and performance. Through the verification of the production version of the drag chute on our production model of the F-35, the weapons system is expected to fully qualify for arctic conditions this spring,” says Major General Morten Klever, Program Director for the F-35 program in Norway’s Ministry of Defence.

The first three RoNAF F-35s have landed in Norway in November 2017. According to the Norwegian MoD, from 2018, Norway will receive six aircraft annually up until, and including, 2024.

Norway plans to procure up to 52 F-35A to replace its fleet of ageing F-16s, that will be replaced in 2021. The first two aircraft were delivered in 2015 followed by another two in 2016 and three more ones earlier in 2017, but these aircraft were based at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, where they are used for Norwegian and partner country pilot training.

Top image credit: Royal Norwegian Air Force