Author Archives: David Cenciotti

FLIR Footage Shows California Highway Patrol Chase Ending In Fatal Crash Into An F/A-18 at NAS Lemoore

Recently-released footage shows an unauthorized vehicle being pursued by California Highway Patrol inside Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, in 2016.

On the night of Mar. 30 – 31, 2016, a Jeep Grand Cherokee was able to intrude into NAS Lemoore where the vehicle, chased by California Highway Patrol vehicles crashed into the tail end of a parked F/A-18 Hornet jet.

The female passenger died at the scene, while the driver died at the Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno.

A CHP helicopter (“H40”, an Airbus AS350B3 – H125 – registration N975HP) chased the Jeep and filmed the whole scene using its FLIR camera. The footage is particularly interesting as it includes audio and flight data parameters, including the chopper altitude and speed, and also shows (at 05:52) a Hornet performing a touch and go.

You can hear from the radio comms that the helicopter aircrew are concerned of deconfliction with the Hornet in the traffic pattern. Then the Jeep enters the ramp where all the F/A-18s are parked, reaches the threshold of RWY32R before entering the taxiway that leads to the apron to the east of the runway. At 10:06 it hits the stabilizer of one of the Hornets parked there and comes to a stop in a field between the runway and the taxiway.

The H125 lands to take custody of the driver and coordinate ground units to the location.

The episode raised many questions, the most obvious of those is: how could a vehicle pass an armed U.S. Navy security checkpoint and then wander for several minutes inside an active airbase with flying activity in progress?

“What went wrong? Regardless of the security procedures, something went wrong,” said Cmdr. Monty Ashliman, the commanding officer of NAS Lemoore according to an article posted the day after the accident. “We have to figure out a way to prevent that from happening in the future. […] “There will be an intense effort to ensure that we not only take care of our assets and be good stewards of the tax payers dollars but that it’s absolutely safe before it goes flying again” he said.

Security protocols and procedures were updated after the review that followed the accident.



According to the report issued after the accident, hydraulic concrete barriers that raise up from the ground to stop such incursions were deployed only after the Jeep had already passed through. Moreover, the investigation highlighted that CHP officials were unable to notify NAS Lemoore personnel about the pursuit because they were calling an active number that had been provided to them for the base but it “was associated with an NASL building that had been demolished approximately 10 years prior.” Attempts to call on a back up number failed as well. The most concerning part of the report is that sailors at the “checkpoint didn’t know about the SUV until a CHP officer tracking the SUV drove up to the checkpoint booth and informed them.”

Contact between the NASL Regional Dispatch Center and CHP dispatchers was established only “six minutes after the Jeep Grand Cherokee hit the F-18 Hornet.” Furthermore, the report highlighted that the internal mobile radio system used by personnel at NAS Lemoore was not compatible with the equipment in use with the local law enforcement.

The conclusion of the U.S. Navy report recommended that NASL should maintain an updated phone contact list with “all federal, state and local law enforcement entities” and periodically test for two-way communications to verify accuracy, The Hanford Sentinel reported.

There might have been further security changes following the accident, but these have not been made public.

The extent of the damage to the Hornet is also unknown.

H/T David Ljung for sending this over

U.S. Air Force F-15C Jets Have Just Started Historic First Deployment To Ukraine

The F-15C from the California Air National Guard are taking part in Exercise “Clear Sky 2018”.

On Oct. 6, 2018, U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagles, belonging to the 194th Fighting Squadron of the 144th Fighter Wing, California ANG, from California Air National Guard Base Fresno, California, landed for the first time ever on Ukrainian soil.

The aircraft deployed to Starokostiantyniv, an airbase to the west of Kiev, home where the Su-24M Fencers of the 7th Tactical Aviation Brigade.

The U.S. F-15s are taking part in Clear Sky 2018, a multinational exercise that will see the participation of 950 military from 9 countries, with assets distributed across several bases, both in Ukraine and Poland.

One of the F-15Cs taxiing after landing in Ukraine.

The drills will focus on the air-to-ground scenarios with AI (air interdiction) and CAS (Close Air Support) missions, as wll as air mobility operations, aeromedical evacuation, cyber defense and personnel recovery.

According to a recent article published by Air Force Times, California ANG F-15s and Ukrainian fighters will operate out of Starokostiantyniv Air Base, California ANG C-130s and Ukrainian transport aircraft will operate out of Vinnytsia Air Base, and additional Ukrainian fighter aircraft will fly out of Ivano-Frankivsk. The tanker support will be provided by Illinois ANG KC-135s out of Powidz Air Base, Poland, and KC-135s from the active duty component flying from RAF Mildenhall, England. The unmanned MQ-9 Reaper drone that have recently started operations from Poland, will also take part in the exercise launching from Miroslawiec Air Base, Poland. JTACs from both the Pennsylvania ANG the U.K., Poland, Belgium and the Netherlands will also be supporting Clear Sky exercise, providing ground-based joint terminal attack control instructors for the close-air support portion of the exercise.



Ukraine is not NATO member, although relations with the alliance began in 1994. In 2014, following the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea, Ukraine has been involved in a low-intensity conflict with Russian proxy forces in the east of the country, growing, as a consequence, cooperation with NATO.

Although five KC-135 tankers deployed to Lviv Danylo Halytskyi International Airport, Ukraine, in June, while U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk drones regularly overfly Donbass, Clear Sky 2018 marks the first time tactical jets operate in the country: a sign of the American and NATO commitment to increase its presence in the region or, to use the words in a press release it’s part of the “U.S. strategy to defend European Allies, enhance security in Eastern Europe and increase the level of military understanding between Allies and partners.”

USAF Eagle touches down at “Staro” airbase in Ukraine. (All images: USAF)

 

Everything We Know About The Delivery of Russian S-300 Missile Systems to Syria

Let’s analyse if and how the Syrian scenario is going to change after the delivery of the S-300 air defense system to Assad.

Images and video of the first Russian S-300 battery being delivered at the Khmeimim Air Base in Syria have been shared by the Russian MoD starting on Wednesday Oct. 3. The announcement of the successful delivery of the long-range missile systems had arrived on Tuesday but the photographs and clip showing the missile tubes, radar and control vehicles provided a visual confirmation of the claims.

The S-300s were delivered in response to the Israeli air strike on Sept. 17 that led to the accidental downing of a Russian Air Force Il-20M Coot spyplane mistakenly shot down by a Syrian S-200 (SA-5) missile. Although the details and real causes of the downing are still controversial, Moscow made it clear it would boost the Syrian air defense, a dense system relative to the country’s size but whose backbone is a variety of old Soviet-era SAMs. Russia threatened to  impose electronic countermeasures over Syria’s coastline, suppressing satellite navigation as well as radar and communication systems of combat aircraft attacking targets on Syrian territory.

The S-300 is a mobile air defense system that couples a radars capable to track multiple targets with long-range missiles to hit aerial targets at a distance of 150 km and an altitude up to 27,000 meters. Although well-known to the western air forces, it remains a lethal SAM system.

Syria wanted the S-300 as far back as the 1980s after the first Lebanon war, but it was forced to make do with the S-200 (SA5) system, an older system still capable to bring down an advanced F-16I Sufa on Feb. 10, 2018, when several SA-5 and SA-17 missiles were fired at seven Israeli fighter jets returning from an airstrike on the T-4 military base near Palmyra in central Syria, from which the IDF said an Iranian operator remotely piloted an Iranian drone into Israeli territory an hour earlier. In that case, the IAF determined the loss of the Sufa was caused by a “professional error”: although the on-board warning system of the F-16I alerted the crew of the incoming threat, the pilot and navigator failed to deploy countermeasures.

As commented back then, the last time an Israeli Air Force jet had been shot down dated back to the first Lebanon War at the beginning of the ’80s and the air strikes did not cease after the Sufa loss. However, it must be remembered that Israel hasn’t had a real freedom of action over Syria since late 2015, when Russia decided to install an S-400 Triumf missile defense battery able to track the Syrian airspace as well as the vast majority of Israeli airspace. In fact, since then, Israel has coordinated its activities in Syria with Moscow.

According to Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu the delivery of S-300 systems has been concluded. “It included 49 pieces of equipment, including radars, control vehicles and four launchers,”  the MoD said to TASS News Agency. “We have finished personnel recruitment and have begun to train them,” said Shoigu, adding that it would take the Syrian army at least three months to learn how to use the system. It’s fair to assume that the Russians will operate the S-300s during the training period and remain for some tipe supervising operations.

The new systems were delivered by means of AN-124 Condor flights. An unusual frequency in heavy airlifter missions to the airbase near Latakia was monitored and tracked online in the days before the official announcement, suggesting an air bridge was in progress to deliver the components required to install the first S-300 batteries: as many as 6 flights between Sept. 28 and Oct. 1.

On paper, the addition of the new SAM batteries should not affect the Israeli ability to strike Syria. Thanks to stand-off weapons, the Israeli Air Force continues to be able to hit its targets as well as the SAM sites themselves in what is called a DEAD (destruction of enemy air defenses mission) if needed.

The Israeli Air Force has already gathered knowledge on the Russian defense system when it trained against the S-300PMU-1 surface-to-air missile system stationed in Crete during INIOXOS-2015, one the largest annual exercise of the Hellenic Air Force, during which 10 Israeli Air Force F-16I Sufa were able to test evasion tactics during simulated attacks against ground targets protected by S-300 batteries.

Moreover, if conventional aircraft can be theoretically tracked (or as some media outlets stated “locked on”) by Syrian air defenses shortly after take off from their airbases in Israel, the IAF can commit its radar-evading F-35I Adir to the Syrian air strikes. Indeed, the IAF F-35s have already carried out attacks in Syria, as the Israeli Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin unveiled earlier this year. “The Adir planes are already operational and flying in operational missions. We are the first in the world to use the F-35 in operational activity,” he said showing also a famous photograph of an F-35I flying off Beirut (with radar reflectors).

This is what the Author wrote back then about the F-35 Adir’s involvement in the air strikes on Syria and the inherent risks. It still applies at the current situation:

“[…] the heavy presence of Russian radars and ELINT platforms in Syria cause some concern: the Russians are currently able to identify takeoffs from Israeli bases in real-time and might use collected data to “characterize” the F-35’s signature at specific wavelengths as reportedly done with the U.S. F-22s.

In fact, tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft are built to defeat radar operating at specific frequencies; usually high-frequency bands as C, X, Ku and S band where the radar accuracy is higher (in fact, the higher the frequency, the better is the accuracy of the radar system).

However, once the frequency wavelength exceeds a certain threshold and causes a resonant effect, LO aircraft become increasingly detectable. For instance, ATC radars, that operate at lower-frequency bands are theoretically able to detect a tactical fighter-sized stealth plane whose shape features parts that can cause resonance. Radars that operate at bands below 300 MHz (lower UHF, VHF and HF radars), such as the so-called Over The Horizon (OTH) radars, are believed to be particularly dangerous for stealth planes: although they are not much accurate (because lower frequency implies very large antenna and lower angle accuracy and angle resolution) they can spot stealth planes and be used to guide fighters equipped with IRST towards the direction the LO planes might be.

For these reasons, in the same way the U.S. spyplanes do with all the Russian Su-35S, Su-30SM, S-400 in Syria, it’s safe to assume Russian advanced anti-aircraft systems are “targeting” the Israeli F-35s and its valuable emissions, forcing the IAF to adapt its procedures and leverage the presence of other aircraft to “hide” the “Adir” when and where it could theoretically be detected. “This has created a situation in which the IAF is adapting itself to the F-35 instead of adapting the jet to the air force. The goal, they say at the IAF, is to use the F-35 to upgrade the fourth generation jets that will fly around the F-35,” commented Al-Monitor’s Ben Caspit.

Meanwhile the Israeli F-35s will probably see some action, validating the tactical procedures to be used by the new aircraft, fine tuning the ELINT capabilities of the “Adir” to detect, geolocate and classify enemy‘s new/upgraded systems, as well as testing the weapons system (and the various Israeli “customizations”) during real operations as part of “packages” that will likely include other special mission aircraft and EW (Electronic Warfare) support.

But only if really needed: the Israeli Air Force “legacy” aircraft have often shown their ability to operate freely in the Syrian airspace, using stand-off weaponry, without needing most of the fancy 5th generation features; therefore, it’s safe to assume the Israelis will commit their new aircraft if required by unique operational needs, as already happened in the past (in 1981, the first Israeli F-16s took part in Operation Opera, one of the most famous operations in Israeli Air Force history, one year after the first “Netz” aircraft was delivered and before all the F-16As were taken on charge by the IAF).”

That said, it’s highly unlikely that Israel would attack the S-300 batteries until the Russian military operate or have those weapons under their direct control. The problem is not the system itself, but the fact that it is flying the Russian flag for some time now.

Someone has recently asked me if the presence of the S-300 is making accidental downings less likely in the crowded Syrian airspace.

The answer is: most probably yes, especially considering that Russian personnel will probably operate more modern systems (even after they are officially handed over they will probably help the Syrians) and care will be taken in properly identifying targets before firing SAMs at them (the use of “transit corridors”, reviewed radar and radio procedures will be probably implemented among the Russian-Syrian teams as well). At the same time, advanced notifications will be probably used wisely, in order to prevent other incidents that could escalate tensions even more.

That said it must be reminded that the situation over Syria will remain volatile.

Yes, there are far busier areas in the Middle East as well as the rest of the World, where the concentration of civilian aircraft is higher. Open Source analysis on flight tracking websites or apps (using ADS-B/Mode-S as I have often explained here) can just give a rough idea of the situation because it provides insights into the civil part of the story. If you observe the traffic flying over Syria using Flightradar24 at any time (you can use the playback feature to monitor flights on a large period of time with speed up to 120x) you will probably only spot some civilian traffic flying in the southwestern part of the country/east of Damascus: the airspace is mainly interested by airliners belonging to the Syrian Air, Iraqi Airways, Fly Baghdad and Cham Wings Airlines flying to/from the Syrian capital. Sometimes you’ll see an airliner crossing the airspace to the North of Damascus: these are usually civilian flights heading to Beirut. Another corridor, mainly used by aircraft heading north departing from Damascus roughly runs along the country’s eastern border. You can have an idea of the corridors used by civil traffic these days here.

Using OSINT tools we don’t get a sense of how many military flights operate over there. Besides the Russian airlifters trailing other aircraft or delivering “goods” to Latakia, and the spyplanes that operate in the eastern Med off Syria and Lebanon, little can be tracked on Flightradar24.com or other public domain flight tracking websites. But we know that there are other tactical as well as intelligence gathering (manned and unmanned) aircraft flying over Syria, both Russian, Syrian and belonging to the US-led coalition. And we also know that, every now and then, combat aircraft from different countries, not operating/cooperating under the same management/coordination and possibly using different procedures as well as ROE (Rules Of Engagement), operate in proximity one another (or close to civilian aircraft).

Deconfliction hotlines between US and Russia and between Russia and Israel have helped avoiding direct clashes (although there have been some tense close encounters in the near past before the Il-20 was downed) but the risk of human-induced accidents remains.

Top image credit: composite created using IAF/Reddit/Russian MOD/FR24.com images

F-35 and F-16 Formation Doing Arizona State Capitol Flyover As Seen From A Helicopter

Flyover filmed from from a Robinson R44 Helicopter equipped with a gyro stabilized camera system.

The footage below was filmed on Sept. 26, as a formation of four aircraft, two F-35s and two F-16s, belonging to the 56th Fighter Wing, from Luke Air Force base, Arizona, conducted the Arizona State Capitol flyover as part of the ceremony honoring the 100th Anniversary of the Final Flight of Lt. Frank Luke Jr.

What makes the flyover really interesting is once again the pretty unique viewpoint: Chopperguy helicopter flying above the formation, that used callsign “Knife 01”.

The pilots flying the 100th Anniversary flyover were “Dojo”, “Slam”, “Havoc” and “Judge”.

Lt. Frank Luke Jr. after whom Luke AFB near Phoenix is named was a pilot in WWI. He was born on May 19, 1897 and died on Sept. 29, 1918, about 100 years ago when he shot down after taking down 2 enemy aircraft and continued to fight once on the ground resisting capture. According to the 56th FW page, because of his actions he was the first aviator awarded the Medal of Honor. In all he shot down 18 aircraft in 18 days.

Besides some 77 F-16s, Luke is home to 68 F-35s: the base is the training hub for Lightning II’s pilot and maintainers from Australia, Norway, Italy, the Netherlands, Japan and Israel. F-35 pilot training began at Luke just over a year after the 56th Fighter Wing received its first F-35A in 2014 and, according to LM, eventually, the 56th Fighter Wing will be home to 144 F-35s in the future. The 62nd and 61st fighter squadrons train an international cadre of F-35 pilots from partner nations like Norway, Italy and Australia. The 63rd FS, activated in August 2016 with the first jet taken on charge in March 2017, trains F-35 Lightning II fighter pilots as a joint international effort between Turkey and the United States.

Interestingly, as part of the 100th anniversary of the death of Lt. Luke Jr. one F-35 and one F-16 were given a #Luke100 logo.

To mark the 100th Anniversary of Lt Luke’s death the Wing’s two flagship aircraft were given a Luke 100 logo. (Image credit: 56th FW).

The Chopperguy team, shooting from 8K to High Definition aerial video and photography with a gyro stabilized camera system, has already filmed some really interesting stuff from their R44 Newscopter. Take a look at the following clip showing aerial footage of F-35 Lightning II Strike Fighter jets taking off from Luke Air Force Base and flying over the Fiesta Bowl Parade near Phoenix, Arizona. It includes a radio interview of General Brook “Tank” Leonard as he and Major Aaron ‘Gambit’ Stevens took off in their F-35s.

Top image: screenshot from Chopperguy video

Observing The British F-35B Lightning At Work At RAF Marham

Spotting outside RAF Marham, home of the UK’s stealth aircraft, on an ordinary day.

On Tuesday Sept. 25 afternoon, The Aviationist’s contributor Alessandro Fucito went to RAF Marham, near the village of Marham in the English county of Norfolk, East Anglia, UK, to take some photographs of the first British F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) stealth jets based there.

Whilst test pilots at the F-35 Integrated Test Force at NAS Patuxent River, Md. are involved in the first of two First of Class Flight Trials (Fixed Wing) phases, performing a variety of flight maneuvers and deck operations on board HMS Queen Elizabeth to develop the F-35B operating envelope for Britain’s newest aircraft carriers, the 617 Sqn at RAF Marham has eventually ramped up flying activity to achieve initial operating capability (IOC) from land bases. Indeed, there is still a lot to do, considered that the UK-based F-35Bs have flown less than expected during the summer: as reported by Aviation Week’s Tony Osborne recently, none of the UK-based aircraft has flown for 34 consecutive days, from Jul. 26 to Aug. 29 (not including the arrival of five F-35Bs belonging to the second batch which arrived from the U.S. on Aug. 3)!

Side view for the F-35B ZM147 performing pattern work at RAF Marham on Sept. 25. (All images: Alessandro Fucito).

According to Osborne, little flying preceded the “mysterious month-long flying break”, considered that just 21 or 22 flights were flown up to July 26 (mainly local training sorties as well as the first vertical landings), including sorties flown in support of air show display flyovers. “The UK defense ministry insists the break in flying is a result of extensive maintenance checks and personnel on leave. But when the first batch of aircraft arrived in June, crews said they were expecting an intensive flying regime to achieve IOC,” commented Osborne.

Conventional approach to RWY19.

That said, our contributor Fucito has counted two F-35 sorties (and three Tornado ones) even though the Lightning jet was the same, ZM147, flying both missions. During each flight, the pilot has practiced three approaches, both in conventional and STOVL configuration, to the runway in use (RWY 01/19, the one that is used for short takeoffs and vertical landings, the other one, the 06/24 was closed for works). For those interested, the aircraft sported the type’s three Luneburg lenses (radar reflectors).

F-35B ZM147 configured for a Vertical Landing.

Although the activity was far from being “intense” at least the two F-35 sorties provided an opportunity for some interesting shots that you can find in this post.

The F-35B flew two sorties on Sept. 25: each included three approaches, both conventional and in Vertical Landing configuration.

As a side note, although they have not been grounded after a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B has crashed in the US, someone has noticed that there was no Lightning activity at RAF Marham this week.