Author Archives: David Cenciotti

U.S. Air Force A-10 Attack Aircraft Practice Landings And Take Offs From Rural Highway And Austere Runway In Estonia

U.S. A-10s Thunderbolt II aircraft deployed to Europe to take part in Sabre Strike 18 have conducted “rough field training” in Estonia.

Thanks to its engines mounted far from the surface of the runway, the A-10 attack aircraft is practically immune to FOD (Foreign Object Damage) caused by debris flying up from unprepared runways. For this reason, the Warthog (one of the most popular A-10 nicknames) often practice austere landing and take off operations, especially when they are deployed to eastern Europe, a theater that is scattered with highway strips as well as abandoned Warsaw Pact military airfields, which have not been in use since the Cold War, that are perfectly suited for such kind of training.

Since the beginning of the month, eight A-10C from the 107th Fighter Squadron, from Selfridge ANGB Michigan, have deployed to Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia, to take part in Exercise Saber Strike 18, “a longstanding U.S. Army Europe-led cooperative training, designed to enhance readiness and interoperability among allies and regional partners.”

On a rural highway in northern Estonia, a pilot flies an A-10 Thunderbolt II attached to the 107th Fighter Squadron, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., from Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia, to practice landings and take offs, during the Exercise Saber Strike 18 on June 7, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. David Kujawa)

In order to test and train unimproved surface operations while training with NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battlegroups, on Jun. 7, the A-10’s have practiced operations on Jägala-Käravete Highway in Jägala, a rural highway in northern Estonia. That is the very same unprepared landing strip where, on Aug. 10, 2017, one of the A-10C (assigned to the 104th Fighter Squadron, Maryland Air National Guard) hit and damaged a road sign while performing landing and take off training.

U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II, assigned to 107th Fighter Squadron, Selfridge, Mich., practice landing at Haapsalu, Estonia, during Saber Strike 18 June 7, 2018. The aircraft is loaded with dummy bomblets and a Litening targeting pod (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Bobbie Reynolds)

The training also involved practice landing on a un-operational, austere runway in Haapsalu, Estonia.

Two U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to 107th Fighter Squadron, Selfridge, Mich., practice landing on a un-operational, austere runway in Haapsalu, Estonia (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Bobbie Reynolds)

Interestingly, among the aircraft conducting the austere landing operations in Estonia there as also the special-colored A-10C 81-0994/MI, that commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the Red Devils of the 107th Fighter Squadron, with a livery inspired to the P-51 (F-6A) of the 107th TRS, that flew the Mustang over Normandy during WWII. Before deploying to Latvia, this aircraft, from RAF Mildenhall, flew over the beaches of Normandy, France, as part of the commemoration ceremonies for D-Day 74.

The special colored A-10C Thunderbolt II #81-0994 practice landing on a un-operational, austere runway in Haapsalu, Estonia, during Saber Strike 18 June 7, 2018. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Bobbie Reynolds)

 

Video Shows Ukrainian Air Force Su-24MR Fencer Buzzing The Flight Line At An Airbase in Ukraine

Here’s yet another ultra-low pass of a Ukrainian combat aircraft.

The following footage was reportedly filmed in 2014. It shows a Su-24MR Fencer-E performing a low pass over the flight line at an airbase in Ukraine, most probably Starokostiantyniv (or “Staro”) where the Fencers of the 7th Tactical Aviation Brigade are based.

The Su-24MR is a tactical reconnaissance aircraft that can conduct all-weather “recce” missions up to 400 km from the front line. The Soviet-era jet is equipped with sideways looking radar, allowing tracking ground targets, including enemy fortifications and equipment, using sensitive high-resolution cameras, radio detection systems and infrared sensors to detect camouflaged objects. The Ukrainian Su-24MR are being upgraded to be equipped with ICAO- and NATO-compatible communication and navigation equipment along with other more modern systems. Seven aircraft are believed to be currently operational at “Staro”.

Low passes and flybys are pretty common in Ukraine. Here’s a list of videos we have posted on this subject here at The Aviationist: a Ukrainian Mig-29 overflying pro-Russia separatist blocking rails; an Ilyushin Il-76 buzzing some Su-25s (and the Frogfoots returning the favor while buzzing the tower); here’s an Mi-17 helicopter flying among the cars on a highway and another fully armed Mig-29 Fulcrum in the livery of the Ukrainian Falcons aerobatic display team flying over an apron at an airbase in Ukraine; here’s a Su-25 flying low over the heads of a group of female soldiers posing for a photograph and then performing an aileron roll; and here you can see a Su-27 performing a low pass after take off. More recently, we posted a video of a Su-25 flying low and fast over the Sea of Azov, off Kirillovka, a resort town on the Sea of Azov, in southeastern Ukraine, some 65 km from the border with Russia in Crimea in the southwest, and about 140 km southwest of the breakaway Donetsk region. That footage was pulled from Youtube shortly after it was uploaded and went viral.

U.S. Navy Inducts MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Into Service Ahead Of First Operational Deployment to Guam

NBVC Point Mugu’s first two Triton drones commence operations (with interesting tail markings).

On May 31, Unmanned Patrol Squadron One Nine (VUP-19) DET Point Mugu hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony, marking on track delivery of an Early Operational Capability (EOC) to the Fleet and completion of their new hangar at Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) Point Mugu.

VUP-19, that will fly and maintain Triton to support overseas operations beginning in 2018, currently operates two MQ-4C Tritons: the first arrived at NBVC on Nov. 9, 2017 and the second arrived in April this year. The two UAVs are housed in a specially built hangar used by the maintenance detachment to accommodate the pair of 130.9-ft wingspan drones built by Northrop Grumman for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

Shorealone Films photographer Matt Hartman attended the ceremony at NBVC Point Mugu and took the photographs you can find in this post. Noteworthy, the two aircraft feature different tail markings: the first one #168460 sports a high-visibility emblem of VUP-19, whereas the second one #168461 sports a smaller, low-rez badge.

High-rez markings on the MQ-4C #168460

Low-rez markings on the MQ-4C #168461

The U.S. Navy’s MQ-4C “Triton” Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) is an ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) platform that will complement the P-8A Poseidon within the Navy’s Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Force family of systems: for instance, testing has already proved the MQ-4C’s ability to pass FMV (Full Motion Video) to a Poseidon MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft). An advanced version than the first generation Global Hawk Block 10, the drone  it is believed to be a sort of Block 20 and Block 30 Global Hawk hybrid, carrying Navy payload including an AN/ZPY-3 multi-function active-sensor (MFAS) radar system, that gives the Triton the ability to cover more than 2.7 million square miles in a single mission that can last as long as 24 hours at a time, at altitudes higher than 10 miles, with an operational range of 8,200 nautical miles.

The U.S. Navy plans to procure 68 aircraft and 2 prototypes.

VUP-19 emblem on the new hangar at NBVC Point Mugu.

The unmanned aircraft of VUP-19 are expected to deploy to Guam later this year, with an early set of capabilities, including basic ESM (Electronic Support Measures) to pick up ships radar signals, for maritime Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance mission. A more significant SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) capability will be deployed to the fleet in 2021, when the Triton is expected to reach an IOC (Initial Operational Capability). By then, the U.S. Navy plans to add two additional MQ-4Cs to the Guam deployment that would allow a 24/7/365 orbit. With the IOC of the Triton, the service will retire the EP-3E ARIES II as the Navy’s signals-intelligence platform.

Interestingly, some of the MQ-4C test flights could be tracked online. Here’s an example dating back to October last year:

The U.S. Navy plans to operate five 24-hour orbits around the world. The UAVs will be controlled from two MOBs (Main Operating Bases): Naval Station Mayport, Florida, and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington. The aircraft will be launched (and recovered) from 5 bases: Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy; an unspecified location in the Middle East (Al Dhafra, UAE, where the U.S. Air Force RQ-4 are forward deployed?); Naval Air Station Guam; Naval Station Mayport; and Point Mugu.

Make sure you visit this link to have a look at the whole set of photographs taken by our friend Matt Hartman during the ribbon cutting ceremony at Point Mugu.

UK’s First Four F-35B Jets Currently On Their Way To The UK and Their New Home Of RAF Marham

The first F-35B aircraft are expected to land later today to join the RAF 617 Squadron “Dambusters”.

Earlier today four Lightning jets of 617 Squadron took of from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, where the famous “Dambusters” unit was reactivated on Apr. 17, 2018, to undertake the transatlantic crossing and arrive at RAF Marham, the new home of the UK’s Lightning Force.

The F-35Bs are being supported by three RAF Voyagers tankers: ZZ330 (RRR9101, radio callsign “Ascot 9101”), ZZ335 (RRR9102, “Ascot 9102”) and ZZ331 (RRR9103 “Ascot 9103”). ZZ330 departed Charleston and picked up the four  F-35Bs from MCAS Beaufort. That took the Lightning as far as ZZ331 and ZZ335 out from Gander that are towing the F-35 across the Atlantic. Supporting the transatlantic trip is also an A400M ZM401 (RRR4085).

The four jets are due to land at RAF Marham this evening, one day later than expected: their mission was delayed 24 hours by the bad weather along the planned route.

The Royal Air Force has also shared a video on social media showing one of the Lightnings during aerial refueling:

According to Air Forces Monthly, nine of the 11 UK F-35Bs currently on strength at MCAS Beaufort (where the British squadron operates under Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501) are expected to arrive in the UK for the RAF’s centenary celebrations this summer, including a flypast over London. And, above all, later this year, the UK F-35Bs will deploy aboard the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time.

“Lightning II has been designed from the outset to carry out a wide range of mission types, able to use its very low observable characteristics to penetrate Integrated Air Defence Systems and strike a number of types of targets. In a permissive environment, Lightning II is able to carry weapons on external pylons, as well as in the internal weapon bays. This will allow a maximum weapon payload of 6 Paveway IV, 2 AIM-120C AMRAAM, 2 AIM-132 ASRAAM (Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile) and a missionised 25mm gun pod,” says official RAF documentation.

“In 2019 we will also start our integration work for the new Meteor [beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile, BVRAAM] and SPEAR Cap 3 [Selective Precision Effects At Range Capability 3] weapon in order to deliver a phase one capability for those assets in 2021,” Martin Peters, BAE Systems’ F-35 flight test manager and test lead for STOVL (short take-off and landing), told AFM.

Top image credit: Crown Copyright

Italian Typhoons and Greek F-16s Take Over NATO Air Policing mission over Montenegro

With the symbolic intercept of a Montenegrin Government aircraft, Italian and Greek fighters have kicked off a new NATO Air Policing mission.

On Jun. 5, the day of the anniversary of Montenegro’s membership in NATO, the Italian and Hellenic Air Force have started protecting the airspace of Montenegro. The new NATO Air Policing mission kicked off with the simulated intercept of a Montenegrin government Learjet 45 (the aircraft registered 4O-MNE) by two Greek F-16s and two Italian Typhoons.

The Montenegrin Minister of Defence Predrag Boškovič, NATO’s representative, Brigadier General Roberto di Marco, Deputy Commander of NATO’s Depoyable Air Command and Control Centre, and the Italian Air Force representative, Major General Silvano Frigerio, watched the fighters flying up to Learjet, signal to the pilots and escort them to a safe landing to the military part of the Podgorica Airport.

An ItAF F-2000A escorts the Montenegrin Learjet 45 during Jun. 5 simulated intercept. Image credit: GOV.ME/S. Matić

The jets conducted a procedure in accordance with NATO’s QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) standard procedure: the Combined Air Operations Centre at Torrejon, Spain, commands the “scramble” (alert take-off) when the unidentified track flies close to or inside NATO Allies’ territories. This often happens when civilian aircraft lose two-way radio contact with civil ATC (Air Traffic Control) agencies or when flights lack the Diplo Clearance (diplomatic clearance) required to enter a nation’s airspace. Italian or Greek fighters will be launched to intercept, identify, escort and/or assist the corresponding aircraft.

Two HAF F-16s close on the LJ45 left wing. Image credit: GOV.ME/S. Matić

The Italian Air Force Typhoons that took part in the simulated intercept were launched from Gioia del Colle airbase, in southeastern Italy, home of the 36° Stormo (Wing) and its two squadrons: the X and XII Gruppo. Italy is the only NATO nation to support five interim Air Policing missions for nations that do not have an autonomous air defense capability: Slovenia, Albania, Iceland, Baltic States and Montenegro.

With four Italian F-2000 Typhoons deployed to Amari, Estonia, as part of the Enhanced Air Policing North Baltic Eagle, from January to April 2018, the Italian Air Force secured the airspaces of six nations [Italy, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovenia and Albania (on a rotational basis with effort shared with the Hellenic Air Force)]: a record among NATO allies.

Two Aeronautica Militare Eurofighter Typhoon jets took off from Gioia del Colle in southern Italy to simulate an intercept of a Montenegrin government plane marking the kick off for the NATO Air Policing over Montenegro. Photo: Aeronautica Militare,