Author Archives: David Cenciotti

These Shots Show 388th FW’s F-35A Using the Internal Cannon For The First Time In Operational Training

The internal 25mm cannon fires up to 50 rounds per second.

On Aug. 13, pilots from the 388th Fighter Wing’s 4th Fighter Squadron fired the F-35A’s 25 mm internal cannon in a strafing run on two sets of ground targets on the Utah Test and Training range. It was the first use of the F-35A’s GAU-22/A in operational training.

The shots that the U.S. Air Force has released after the training event are particularly interesting, as they show the internal gun at work:  the GAU-22 gun is hidden behind closed doors to reduce the plane’s RCS (radar cross section) and keep it stealth, until the trigger is engaged.

The F-35’s GAU-22/A is based on the proven GAU-12/A 25mm cannon, used by the AV-8B Harrier, the LAV-AD amphibious vehicle and AC-130U Gunship, but has one less barrel than its predecessor. This means it’s lighter and can fit into the F-35A’s left shoulder above the air intake. The gun can fire at about 3,300 rounds per minute: considered the A model can hold 181 rounds only, this equals to a continuous 4 seconds burst or, more realistic, multiple short ones.

One of the two 388th Fighter Wing’s 4th Fighter Squadron F-35s involved in the strafing runs with the GAU-22.

The F-35 GAU-22/A gun has been among the most controversial topics in the past years:  not only did some criticise the fact that the Joint Strike Fighter’s gun can only hold 181 25mm rounds, fewer than the A-10 Thunderbolt’s GAU-8/A Avenger, that can hold some 1,174 30mm rounds, but also the accuracy has been disputed because of “a long and to-the-right aiming bias” reported in fiscal year 2017 report by the Office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E). It’s not clear whether the accuracy issues have been completely fixed or not.

Noteworthy, the training sortie was flown with the aircraft carrying two external pylons (with a single inert AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile).

While the F-35A will be equipped with an embedded GAU-22/A gun, the B (STOVL – Short Take Off Vertical Landing) and C (CV – Carrier Variant) variants carry it inside an external pod capable to hold 220 rounds.

“Out!”

According to the 388th FW’s website “Loading and firing the cannon was one of the few capabilities Airmen in the 388th and 419th FWs had yet to demonstrate. The F-35A’s internal cannon allows the aircraft to maintain stealth against air adversaries as well as fire more accurately on ground targets, giving pilots more tactical flexibility.”

Image credit: Air Force photo by Todd Cromar

 

Watch A C-5M Super Galaxy Land at Joint Base San Antonio With No Nosewheel

Video shows a C-5 performing a nose gear-up landing at JB San Antonio last March.

As you may remember, on Mar. 15, 2018, an Air Force Reserve Command C-5M performed nose gear up landing at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

A video of the emergency landing has eventually emerged. It show the Super Galaxy with 11 personnel on board (none of those were injured) landing, keeping the nose up before the gentle touchdown and then skidding three-quarters of the way down the 11,500-foot runway before coming to a stop.

As we reported back then, this was the first incident of this kind for the 433rd Airlift Wing, but the second nose gear up landing for a C-5M lin less than one year (the previous incident occurred at Rota Air Base in Spain in May 2017).

Although this incident was an isolated event, we can’t but remember the number of issues affecting the Galaxy‘s nose landing gear in the last couple of years. This is what we wrote in March:

As a consequence of a second malfunction of a C-5’s nose landing gear (occurred on Jul. 15), the U.S. Air Force initially grounded 18 Galaxy cargo planes based at Dover Air Force Base (out of 56 flown by the Air Mobility Command) pending further investigation, on Jul. 18. But, on the very next day, AMC’s Gen. Carlton Everhart ordered a fleetwide assessment of the command’s 56 C-5s.

During the assessment, maintainers found that the ball-screw drive assembly was causing issues with the extension and retraction of the nose landing gear.

The ball-screw assembly was replaced for all C-5s in the fleet (including the aircraft involved in the latest incident) and the Super Galaxy cargo aircraft slowly returned to service: the grounding was lifted for 5 C-5s at the beginning of August; at the beginning of September 2017, 38 out of 56 aircraft were ready to fly again.  On Sept. 18, the first C-5M to ever land at Princess Juliana Airport in St. Maarten, as part of the Hurricane Irma relief efforts, was the example 86-0020, the same involved in a nose gear up landing at Rota Air Base, on May 23, 2017.

Top image: screesnshot from John Q. Public FB video

Watch A Dutch F-35A In CAS “Beast Mode” Configuration Fly At Low Level In the Sierra Nevada

The Dutch F-35 based at Edwards Air Force Base has carried out tests with the Lightning II in “Bomb Truck”/”Beast Mode” configuration lately.

323 TES (Test & Evaluation Squadron), the Dutch unit based at Edwards Air Force Base and responsible for the F-35 Operational Test and Evaluation Phase (OT&E) as part of the Joint Operational Test Team, has carried out a series of tests with external weapons last month.

Some of the missions flown by the RNlAF (Royal Netherlands Air Force) F-35A Lightning II involved the use of GBUs and AIM-9X AAM (Air-to-Air Missile).

World-renowned photographer Frank Crebas went to California to catch some cool images of the Dutch F-35s at work with the heavy load-outs.

Here it is:

As you can see, the aircraft was flying with 4x GBU-12 500-lb Laser Guided Bombs and 2x AIM-9X Sidewinders on the external pylons.

“I shot the video and photos on Thursday Jul. 26 at the Needles Lookout in California”, Crebas told us in a message. “This location is a navigation point on the famous Sidewinder low flying route of which the JEDI transition a.k.a. the Starwars Canyon is also part of. It was the very first time that the Dutch OT&E unit flew with a full external load out after they previous few with just the AIM-9X and ‘just’ two GBUs. The jets where flown by Colonel Albert ‘Vidal’ de Smit, the commander of the Edwards detachement and Lt Col Ian ‘Gladys’ Knight who is the commander of 323 TES. 323 is participating with just two aircraft and only 52 personnel in the F-35 OT&E at Edwards AFB alongside the US and UK.”

The external weapons configuration tested by the Dutch F-35 is also known as CAS (Close Air Support) “Beast Mode” (or “Bomb Truck”) configuration. Others call any configuration involving external loads a “Third Day of War” configuration as opposed to a “First Day of War” one in which the F-35 would carry weapons internally to maintain low radar cross-section and observability from sensors. However, as a conflict evolves and enemy air defense assets including sensors, air defense missile and gun systems and enemy aircraft are degraded by airstrikes (conducted also by F-35s in “Stealth Mode”) the environment becomes more permissive: in such a scenario the F-35 no longer relies on low-observable capabilities for survivability so it can shift to carrying large external loads.

In “Beast Mode“, exploiting the internal weapon bays, the F-35 can carry 2x AIM-9X (pylons), 2x AIM-120 AMRAAM (internal bomb bay) and 4x GBU-31 2,000-lb (pylons) and 2x GBU-31  PGMs (internal bay).

Lt Col Ian “Gladys” Knight preflying his jet ahead of a “Beast Mode” test mission. (Image credit: F. Crebas).

In January 2019 the first new Dutch F-35’s will be delivered to Luke AFB for training. These aircraft will be build by Lockheed Martin in Ft Worth. In November the first F-35As will be delivered for the first operational squadron based in the Netherlands, 322 (RF) Squadron at Leeuwarden Air Base. These aircraft will be build at Cameri FACO, in Italy.

Let’s Talk About The Sightings Of F-117 Stealth Jets Flying Over Nevada Few Days Ago

10 years after their official retirement the “Black Jet” continues to fly. And no one seems to know what’s the purpose of their secretive missions. Here’s everything we know about their flights.

In the last few years we have documented the flights of some F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Jets over Nevada, missions that have continued to be carried out well after the aircraft was officially retired from active service in 2008.

Back in 2014, after a few videos and photographs had already appeared online, the U.S. Air Force admitted that the Black Jet was kept in a “Type 1000” storage at Tonopah Test Range (TTR) which meant that the type is to be maintained until called into active service: the U.S. considered the F-117 somehow useful in a current scenario, so much so they continued to fly some of the preserved jets every now and then, in plain sight, to keep the pilots (according to most sources, not U.S. Air Force aircrews but Lockheed Martin/contractor pilots) current and the aircraft airworthy and ready. Desert conditions of Nevada are perfect for maintaining the stealth jets in pristine conditions (due to the low level of humidity and hence, lower probability of corrosion), hence the reason to operate the enigmatic aircraft from TTR.

Mystery solved? More or less.

In July 2016, we published a video showing two F-117s flying together, filmed from the distant hills east of Tonopah Test Range: in examining the photos some readers noticed that when the two F-117’s were lined up on the runway, only one of them had what looked like a comms antenna extended on the dorsal spine. The other Nighthawk behind him did not have that. A new antenna? For doing what? A remotely controlled F-117? Hard to say because of the quality of the shot.

One of the interesting photographs taken by The Aviationist’s contributor “Sammamishman” at the end of July 2016. One of the aircraft seems to show a slightly different antenna/shape: just a visual effect caused by the distance?

Then, last year the U.S. Air Force announced the decision to retire the fleet permanently, once and for all. In fact, “in accordance with the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017, passed Dec. 23, the Air Force will remove four F-117s every year to fully divest them — a process known as demilitarizing aircraft,” wrote Oriana Pawlyk last year. According to Pawlyk, one F-117 was scheduled to be divested this year and approximately four every year thereafter.

On Nov. 13, 2017, an F-117 was spotted on a trailer  on US-95, south of Creech AFB, in southern Nevada: the sighting was consistent with the plan of divesting one F-117 by the end of 2017; the rest to be withdrawn from use at a rate of four every year, beginning in 2018. In other words, the one under tarp on a trailer was probably being transferred to the boneyard, to be scrapped or prepared for a museum. Then, in a fantast twist, on the following day, Nov. 14, 2017, at 09.20AM LT, another F-117 was spotted flying north of Rachel,  Nevada chased by a Groom Lake’s two-seater F-16 (most probably the one that later paid visit to Star Wars Canyon).

Fast forward to Jul. 26, 2018, when Youtube user “pdgls” films two F-117 flying again at Tonopah Test Range. Here’s the footage:

The video shows two F-117s taking off in sequence as Night (or Knight – 9th FS callsign) 17 and 19. The shape of the Black Jet can be clearly identified as it maneuvers over TTR.

To me, the audio is actually even more interesting than the footage. Here it is (the Nighthawk stuff begins around 04:30 hours into the recording – for what’s before, read here):

Unlike all the previous sightings, this time the visual and audio documents (along with some ADS-B stuff) provide some additional, really interesting details. After departure, the two F-117 tanked with Siera 98 (not Sierra, at least according to the Mode-S transponder), a KC-135 from Fairchild Air Force Base. The type of activity the two jets carry out with the Stratotanker is not only routine: along with the standard “plugs” they also perform an emergency disconnect from the tanker. Then, the formation splits: Night 17 flies a test mission while Night 19 returns to the Tonopah Test area to perform pattern activity. Noteworthy, the 17 changes its callsign: no longer Night (or, as mentioned, Knight) but Dagger 17. Interestingly, Dagger is a very well known callsign in the Stealth Jet community: it was used by the 410th Flight Test Squadron, the joint test force of Lockheed and Air Force personnel at Groom Lake, Nevada (Det. 3, AFTFC).

In his interesting post on the sighting at The War Zone, our friend Tyler Rogoway also notices:

“before [changing callsign] we hear BLUE BIRD and BLONDE GIRL mentioned, which are likely controllers of some type. Then the F-117 checks in with ‘RAMROD’ and begins the testing. RAMROD tells the F-117 to ‘spin’ which usually means begin an orbit, and then we hear commands to execute a series of coded test cards.

RAMROD sounds like a sensor system of some type. Most likely it is the DYCOMS radar cross-section measurement facility at Area 51, which can surveil and validate the radar signature of an aircraft while in flight and at different angles in relation to the sensors on the ground. It’s also possible that RAMROD could be an airborne platform that offers similar signature diagnostic capabilities using an array of sensors.”

Whilst Dagger/Night 17 works with some sort of ground/radar facility, Night 19 continues its local sortie, made of a long series of low approaches, ILS localizer approach with circling, touch and gos, etc: the kind of pattern activity you would expect from an aircraft not involved in any operational work.

Full Scale Development Aircraft Five (FSD-5), Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk 79-7084. being refueled by a KC-135 Stratotanker, July 1983. (USAF via Wiki)

ADS-B logs provide some details about the support mission flown by the KC-135, a Stratotanker, #58-0086, that had flown the previous day (Jul. 25) at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. The tanker flew from Fairchild AFB, Washington, flying a +6 hour mission. We don’t know whether Siera 98 also refueled other aircraft during that time: if not, it’s a considerable effort for just a routine mission of a pair of preserved aircraft.

The KC-135 supported Night 17 and 18. It did not broadcast its GPS position and was not geolocated via MLAT. The only detail gathered from its transponder is the serial 58-0086  (Credit: @CivMilAir)

Needless to say, the reason for the F-117 flights remains a mystery. Whilst the pretty basic pattern activity carried out by Night 19 is coherent with a periodic flight required to maintain currencies and airworthiness certificates, the seemingly more complex stuff conducted by Night 17 after it changed callsign to Dagger 17 seems to suggest there is some more interesting work for Black Jet. Indeed, as often explained here at The Aviationist, although it is a “legacy” radar-evading aircraft, the F-117 can still be used to support a wide variety of tests and developments: new radar or Infra Red Search and Track systems, new SAM (surface to air missiles) batteries, new RAM (Radar Absorbent Material) and coatings; or even 6th generation combat planes and next generation AEW (Airborne Early Warning) platforms. They might be supporting stealth UCAVs (unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles) research and, as explained above, someone has also speculated some have been converted into drones. Moreover, we can’t completely rule out the possibility Nighthawk are used as adversaries/aggressors against real or simulated systems, if not within the context of a Red Flag (the audio you can hear above, from the beginning to 04:30 hours, was recorded during Red Flag on Jul. 25, although the activity is probably completely unrelated to the F-117 sorties) as part of complex LVC (Live Virtual Constructive) scenarios, where actual assets are mixed up with virtual ones.

What do you think? Any idea?

Video Allegedly Shows First Known Drone Attack on Head of State In Venezuela

Drone attack on President Maduro caught on video.

According to press reports and official reports two drones armed with explosives detonated near Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Aug. 4, 2018, in an apparent assassination attempt that took place while he was delivering a speech to hundreds of soldiers, live on television.

The assailants flew two commercial drones each packed with 1 kilogram of C-4 plastic explosive toward Maduro: one of the drones was to explode above the president while the other was to detonate directly in front of him, said Interior Minister Nestor Reverol who also added the military managed to divert one of the drones off-course electronically whereas the other one crashed into apartment building two blocks away.

After a series of conflicting reports (the thruthfulness of the official claims is still debated) a video allegedly showing the detonation of the second of two commercial drones carrying explosive was published by Caracas News 24 media outlet:

Whilst some sources have contested the official line on the event saying the Venezuelan president might have staged the attack to purge disloyal officials and journalists, David Smilde of the Washington Office on Latin America said the amateurish attack doesn’t appear to be staged by Maduro’s government for political gain. This would confirm the one in Caracas on Aug. 4, was the first use of drone on a Head of State.

“The history of commercial drone incidents involving heads of state goes back to September 2013 when the German Chancelor Angela Merkel’s public appearance was disrupted by a drone, which was apparently a publicity stunt by a competing political party,” says Oleg Vornik, Chief Executive Officer at DroneShield, one of the companies that produce counterdrone systems, in an email. “Yesterday’s apparent drone assassination attempt on Venezuelan President Maduro is the first known drone attack on a head of state. An attempted drone assassination of a sitting sovereign leader demonstrates that, sadly, the era of drone terrorism has well and truly arrived”, Vornik comments.

Currently available counterdrone (C-UAS) systems provide early detection, analysis and identification, alerting and termination of the threatening drones by means of portable or highly mobile solutions (even though there are also C-UAS systems in fixed configuration). The drone is usually disabled by means of EW (Electronic Warfare), by disrupting multiple RF frequency bands simultaneously denying radio signals from the controller, making Live Video Feed and GPS signal unavailable to the remote operator.

Top image: composite using footage published by Caracas News 24