Author Archives: David Cenciotti

Well Before The SR-72 Was Conceived, The Iconic SR-71 Blackbird Proved “Speed Is The Real Stealth”

The SR-71 Blackbird was so fast it outran every missile shoot against it and every interceptor scrambled to intercept it.

The aviation “side” of the Web went abuzz following the rumor that an SR-72 prototype was spotted performing flight tests at the U.S. Air Force’s Plant 42 at Palmdale, California.

Back in 2013, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works, the legendary division that designed airplanes which represented a giant leap for their times such as the F-104, the U-2, the Blackbird family or the F-117A stealth fighter jet, reveled the existence of a project for a Hypersonic strike aircraft dubbed SR-72.

This graphic is the U.S. Air Force’s first graphic of the SR-72. All the previous concept images were relased by Lockheed Martin.

The SR-72 is an unmanned hypersonic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike platform designed for Mach 6.

Based on the concept images released by the U.S. Air Force (the first official one can be found above) is coherent with the most recent hypersonic designs and it is quite similar to at least one of the configurations studied since the early ’60s for an SR-71 Blackbird replacement.

Anyway, regardless to whether an SR-72 prototype has already started flight testing somewhere between California and Nevada, the hypersonic strike aircraft will be able to fly about twice as fast as its predecessor, the iconic Mach 3 SR-71 Blackbird, one of the fastest planes ever flown operationally.

The first concept artwork of the SR-72 released by Lockheed Martin in 2013.

The Blackbird was the first aircraft to feature stealth capabilities: a special paint that contained iron ferrites and absorbed radar energy instead of returning it to the sender was used for SR-71’s wings, tail and fuselage. The reduced RCS (Radar Cross Section) made any reaction to an SR-71 overflight almost useless: the aircraft was so fast that once the radar detected it, the SAM battery’s guidance system was not able to compute the right parameters for a successful kill. Moreover, the range and bearing of the SR-71 was also denied to the enemy by jamming the radars with the use of the sophisticated electronic countermeasures (ECM) that equipped by the Blackbird.

However, in spite of its radar-evading features, what made the SR-71 almost impossible to intercept, were its incredible flight characteristics: it was able to fly at more than 3.5 Mach at 88,000 feet. The aircraft could climb higher than that and according to some sources the Blackbird could reach 120,000 feet and above. At that altitude, Soviet SAMs would have been unable to maneuver to hit an SR-71: the air is so thin that any maneuvering capability of a missile is practically nonexistent, as explained by the former Blackbird pilot Col. Richard H. Graham in his book “SR-71 The Complete Illustrated History of THE BLACKBIRD The World’s Highest , Fastest Plane.

In 2012 a DARPA statement stated that America was gradually losing the “strategic advantage” that its stealth warplanes had long provided, as other countries’ stealth and counter-stealth capabilities continued to improve. For this reason, “speed is the new stealth” is a slogan that accompanied the unveiling of the SR-72 in 2013. However, the SR-71’s story is a proof that speed has always been the key to stealth.

Indeed, throughout its career, that came to an end on Oct. 9, 1999, no SR-71 was reportedly lost nor damaged due to hostile actions.

Not only did SAMs fail to catch the Blackbird but even the fastest Soviet fighter jets, including the MiG-31 Foxhound, lacked the necessary speed to reach the SR-71.

A Blackbird at night on the ramp at Beale Air Force Base, California.

Here below you can find an excerpt from “MiG Pilot,” a book for Soviet pilot Viktor Belenko, who defected to Japan in a MiG-25 on Dec. 6, 1976, that we have already posted in the past. Here’s what Belenko recounts :

American reconnaissance planes, SR-71s, were prowling off the coast, staying outside Soviet airspace by photographing terrain hundreds of miles inland with side – angle cameras. They taunted and toyed with the MiG-25s sent up to intercept them, scooting up to altitudes the Soviet planes could not reach, and circling leisurely above them or dashing off at speeds the Russians could not match.”

“[The Soviets] had a master plan to intercept an SR-71 by positioning a MiG-25 in front of it and one below it, and when the SR-71 passed they would fire missiles. But it never occurred. Soviet computers were very primitive, and there is no way that mission can be accomplished.”

“First of all, the SR-71 flies too high and too fast. The MiG-25 cannot reach it or catch it. Secondly…the missiles are useless above 27,000 meters [88,000 feet], and as you know, the SR-71 cruises much higher. But even if we could reach it, our missiles lack the velocity to overtake the SR-71 if they are fired in a tail chase. And if they are fired head-on, the guidance systems cannot adjust quickly enough to the high closing speed”.

As the above footage shows, NASA flew the Blackbird as well.

Four SR-71 airplanes operated from NASA Dryden during the 1990s. According to the Agency, two were used for research and two to support Air Force reactivation of the SR-71 for reconnaissance missions. Although the Air Force retired the Blackbirds in 1990, Congress reinstated funding for additional flights several years later. SR-71A (61-7980/NASA 844) arrived at Dryden on Feb. 15, 1990. It was placed into storage until 1992 and served as a research platform until its final flight on Oct. 9, 1999. SR-71A (61-7971/NASA 832) arrived at Dryden on March 19, 1990, but was returned to Air Force inventory as the first aircraft was reactivated in 1995. Along with SR-71A (61-7967), it was flown by NASA crews in support of the Air Force program. SR-71B (61-7956/NASA 831) arrived at Dryden on July 25, 1991, and served as a research platform as well as for crew training and proficiency until October 1997.

With Three Flights To Batajnica, A Volga-Dnepr An-124 Cargo Has Delivered Six “New” MiG-29 Fulcrum Jets To Serbia

These are the first new (used and for the moment disassembled) combat aircraft for Serbia since 1987.

Three pairs of partially disassembled MiG-29 Fulcrum jets destined to Serbia have been transported to the Batajnica airbase, near Belgrade, Serbia, aboard an Antonov An-124 airlifter to be taken on charge by the Serbian Air Force.

The six used jets have been gifted by Russia, and will have to be overhauled and modernized before they enter service in Serbia: reportedly, the aircraft will be upgraded to the SMT standard, a multirole variant that, along with the N010M ZhukM radar it features a big 950-litre spine CFT (Conformal Fuel Tank), an in-flight refueling system, a “glass cockpit” and a IKSh-1M HUD (Head-Up Display). Along with the R-27T medium-range IR-guided air-to-air missiles or the extended-range R-27ER/ET AAMs, or up to six RVV-AE AAMs, the MiG-29SMT can carry “dumb” or guided air-to-surface weapons including two Kh-29T/L, up to four Kh-25M, or two Kh-31A7P missiles, or up to four KAB-500 guided bombs.

However, Serbian aviation journalist Petar Vojinovic says the MiG-29s will only get minor upgrades:

This is not the first time the Russia supported the Serbian Air Force’s Fulcrum operations: back in 2014, the Serbian Mig-29s returned to active service after being grounded for months, thanks to the accumulators donated by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

Serbia could also receive 30 battle tanks and 30 armored vehicles donated from Russia, and it’s been negotiating the procurement of the Russian S-300 anti-aircraft systems: Moscow tries to strengthen its ties with Belgrade and somehow resist NATO’s expansion in the Balkans.

According to Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin the MiG-29s will be unveiled at Batajnica during the celebration to mark the anniversary of the liberation of Belgrade in WW2 on Oct. 20.

The An-124 that carried the “new” combat aircraft to Serbia belonged to the Volga-Dnepr, an airline based in Ulyanovsk, Russia, that provides air charter services with a fleet of ten Antonov An-124, five Boeing 747-8F and five IL-76TD-90VD.

Flying back and forth to Serbia, the An-124 RA-82045 delivered the three pairs in three days: the first one was delivered on Monday Oct. 2, the second on Tuesday Oct. 3 and the last one on Wednesday Oct. 4.

All the flights could be tracked online on Flightradar24.com.

The route flown by the An-124 to deliver the disassembled MiG-29s to Serbia as seen on Flightradar24 by means of the ADS-B transponder.

H/T Dragan Mejic for the heads-up

Salva

Russian Il-76 “Candid” Modified To Support Special Operations Conducts Flight Test Over The Black Sea

A special version of the Il-76MD-90A (Il-476) airlifter, developed for special forces support was tracked online during flight test recently.

A really interesting aircraft was spotted conducting flight testing over the Black Sea on Sept. 26, 2017: the Il-76MD-90A “78650”, the first “Candid” modified to carry out special operations.

According to the Russian media outlet “Izvestia” the example “78650” is a flying testbed for a heavily modified Il-76MD-90A variant equipped with “unique on-board radio-electronic systems that would allow the aircraft to stealthily deliver paratroopers and special forces behind the enemy lines, remaining invisible and invulnerable to the enemy.

How the aircraft can evade radars and remain invisible is unclear, anyway, the experimental Candid can be distinguished from the baseline IL-76MD-90A by the presence of an opto-electronic station mounted on the lower nose section of the aircraft and for the “President-C” system used designed to protect aircraft from MANPADS (Man-Portable Air Defense Systems) and IR (heat-seeking) missiles by laser and radiofrequency/electronic jamming of the missile guidance.

The aircraft is also equipped with advanced avionics, modernized communication suite and flight navigation system as well as a new collision warning system for low-level flying.

The example “78650,” used to test the new Special OPS variant of the Candid strategic cargo, is the same aircraft involved in the flight-test and certification program for the Il-76MD-90A airlifter (first flight on Sept. 22, 2012). According to “Izvestia,” the aircraft returned to the Aviastar manufacturing facility in Ulyanovsk, where new equipment was installed, in 2014.

The Il-76MD-90A “78650” (credit: https://sdelanounas.ru/)

With the modified Il-76, Moscow aims to field all-weather, day and night aircraft capable to airdrop special forces or cargo well inside the enemy territory or to land on unprepared airstrips behind the enemy lines. More or less what the U.S. special operations aircraft (such as the MC-130s or the C-17 Globemaster IIIs) have been doing for some decades.

Needless to say we don’t know what type of sensor the Il-76 “78650” was testing over the Black Sea on Sept. 26; nevertheless, it is at least interesting that the activity of this highly modified aircraft filled with equipment required to undertake clandestine missions can be tracked online (by means of the usual Mode-S/ADS-B transponder) using Flightradar24.com.

Top image created by editing a Flightradar24 screenshot with a chart published by Izvestia.

Here Are The Highlights Of Malta International Airshow 2017

Once again, the traditional airshow brought several interesting visitors to Malta.

On Sept. 23 and 24, Malta hosted the yearly airshow over Smart City that gathered many interesting aircraft, including some exotic attendeeds, rarely seen at airshows around Europe.

Among them, one of the three Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188 Hornets of the 433 Squadron deployed to Solenzara airbase, Corse, to take part in Serpentex 2017 exercise alongside the RAF Tornado GR4s of the IX(B) Sqn deployed to Decimomannu, Sardinia (two of those took part in the static display at Malta Luqa airport).

Other interesting visitors were the “Turkish Stars” and accompanying A400M, the RAF Hawk T2, the “Saudi Hawks”, the German Navy P-3 and the Alpha Jet Solo Display.

In this post you can find some of the most interesting aircraft that took part in the airshow, photographed by aviation photographer Estelle Calleja.

A Turkish Air Force A400 supported the deployment to Malta of the NF-5 of the Turkish Stars display team.

The AlphaJet Solo Display was one of the highlights of the show. The French Air Force brought back the Alpha Jet Solo Display, it shut down in 2012.

The AW.139 helicopter and the King Air B200 of the Armed Forces of Malta Air Wing.

The Leonardo AW.139 of the Guardia di Finanza (Custom Police) was the only Italian participant this year.

The Royal Canadian Air Force took part in the airshow with one CF-188 Hornet of the 433 Squadron deployed to Solenzara for the Serpentex 2017 exercise.

One of the two RAF British Aerospace Hawk T2 ZK022 of 4(R)Sqn based at Valley.

A P-3C Cup Orion of the Marineflieger about to land in Malta Luqa airport.

A U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon from VP-16 took part in the airshow. The aircraft is deployed to Sigonella airbase, Sicily, Italy, from where it conducts missions over the Black Sea and off Syria.

The Hawk Mk65 of the Saudi Hawks, the aerobatic team of the Royal Saudi Air Force.

A Tornado GR4 from IX Sqn. The unit was temporarily deployed to Decimomannu, Italy, to take part in Serpentex 2017.

One of the NF-5A Freedom Fighters of the Turkish Air Force aerobatic team “Turkish Stars”.

 

Image credit: Estelle Calleja

U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey Tilt-Rotor Aircraft Crashes In Syria. Two Injured.

It’s the third Osprey crash this year.

A U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey has crashed in Syria on Sept. 29, according to defense officials.

Two servicemen were injured in the crash; their conditions are not life-threatening.

The cause of the incident has not been unveiled, but it was not caused by enemy activity, an official said on the condition of anonymity to Stars & Stripes. The Osprey was heavily damaged in what has been described as a “hard landing” and could not be salvaged: for this reason it was destroyed “by the troops” (not clear how – maybe hit with a PGM dropped by a combat aircraft as done in the past?)

 

The unit the MV-22 and two injured servicemembers have not been disclosed: the U.S. DoD Pentagon acknowledges having some 500 troops inside Syria training and assisting Syrian Democratic Forces in their fight against ISIS militants.

Noteworthy, the one in Syria is the third major accident involving an Osprey this year.

On Jan. 29, one American Special Operations commando was killed and three others were injured in a firefight with Al Qaeda fighters in Yemen. A U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircraft called in to evacuate the wounded American soldiers crash landed, injuring 2 service members. The Osprey was intentionally destroyed in place by a U.S. Air Force F-16 raid once it was determined that it could not leave the crash landing site.

On Aug. 5, an MV-22 Osprey assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (Reinforced), 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit was involved in a mishap off of the east coast of Australia. The tilt-rotor aircraft involved in the mishap had launched from the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) and was conducting regularly scheduled operations when the crashed. Three Marines died in the accident.

Top image credit: U.S. Marine Corps