Author Archives: David Cenciotti

Three Dutch CH-47D Chinooks Operated From Sardinia During First Deployment To Decimomannu Airbase

Three Royal Netherlands Air Force helicopters have been involved in an unusual deployment to the Sardinian airbase.

In the last years we have documented the deployment of RNlAF helicopters to airbases across Italy. It all started with a MoU (Memorandum Of Understanding) signed in 2003 that foresaw the periodical deployment of Dutch helicopters (AH-64D, CH-47 and Cougar) to train in the mountainous areas located around the Italian airports, in tactical low level flights needed keep the currencies required to be employed in Afghanistan.

The first deployments brought the Dutch choppers to Frosinone, then to Rivolto, as part of two-week exercises involving several assets and 150/200 military, dubbed High Blaze.

The three CH-47 over Deci. (All images: Giampaolo Mallei).

More recently, from Jul. 23 to Aug. 3, three Royal Netherlands Air Force CH-47D Chinooks performed a first deployment to Decimomannu, Sardinia, Italy.

CH-47D D-106 about to land.

Landing at dusk.

The helicopters (serials D-103, D-106 and D-663), belonging to the 298 Sqn, from Gilze-Rijen airbase, were reportedly involved in various
training activities, including landing in desert areas and coping with the brownout effect: the latter occurs when the downwash from the helicopter kicks up a dust cloud resulting in reduced visibility. Therefore the brownout can be particularly dangerous as it forces the aircrew to approach the ground with limited outside visual references and risk of loss of situational awareness.

Along with the more advanced CH-47Fs, the RNlAF operates 11 CH-47D. Six will be upgraded to the F standard, increasing the fleet to 20 F-model Chinooks.

Image credit: Giampaolo Mallei

Iran Unveils New Domestic “Fourth-generation” Fighter Jet. But It’s Just An Upgraded F-5F Tiger…

Iran claims it’s a new aircraft, but it’s just a +40 years old two-seat F-5….

Iranian media says that a new Iranian fighter jet was exhibited during the National Defense Industry show. Images released by various outlets show President Hassan Rouhani sitting in the cockpit of the new “Kowsar” plane, a “fourth-generation fighter”, with “advanced avionics” and multi-purpose radar.

However, the images and footage released of the “100-percent indigenously made” aircraft clearly show a quite obsolete F-5F Tiger.

Whilst the aircraft identification is easy, Iranian aviation journalist Babak Taghvaee has obtained some details about the aircraft who he has posted on Twitter. In short, the aircraft is a rebuilt F-5F that was equipped with some new digital avionics. For sure nothing comparable to a modern aircraft (like an F/A-18, a Mirage 2000 or more, such as a Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale, etc.)

In fact, the aircraft is more a testbed for something more advanced than a real new jet.

So, the real new aircraft, dubbed “Kowsar” wasn’t ready for today’s presentation, therefore the Iranians brought the F-5F used to test its avionics. Neither the media nor the authorities disclosed this detail..

Iran is not new to such claims. You will probably remember the famous Qaher F-313 stealth fighter jet, an aircraft that was nothing more than a poorly designed mock-up that would never fly unless it was extensively modified and heavily improved: the cockpit was basic for any modern plane, the air intakes appeared to be too small, the engine section lacked any kind of nozzle meaning that the engine would probably melt the aircraft’s back-end. Above all, the aircraft was way too small to such an extent its cockpit could not fit a normal-sized human being.

Footage and photographs showing a new prototype (marked “08”) of the Qaher F-313 emerged last year as Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani participated  in an exhibition: the “upgraded version” of the “faux stealth fighter” could be observed performing some taxi tests. Nothing serious in spite what Iranian Aerospace companies have been able to achieve in the past. Here’s what this Author wrote commenting the F-313 “farce”:

Iranian engineers have been able of some impressive achievements in spite of the embargo imposed after the 1979 Revolution: for instance, the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) remains the world’s only operator of the F-14 Tomcat, that Tehran continues to maintain airworthy and enhanced with some domestic avionics upgrades and weapons.

Moreover, Iran is pretty advanced in terms of production and export of drones: Iranian UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) are quite popular in the Middle East, where some of them have been extensively used in combat over Syria.

Anyway, as with the F-313, the latest claims about the “new advanced 4th Gen. aircraft” are not based on a real aircraft with real capabilities but appears to be just a product for domestic propaganda.

Iran claims it has produced a new, advanced fighter plane. But the photographs show an F-5F. (All images credit: Tasnim News

 

Images Emerge Of U.S. KC-135 Conducting First Aerial Refueling Of Iraqi Air Force F-16IQ Block 52 Jets Over Iraq

The Iraqi F-16IQ Block 52 aircraft were refueled from a Stratotanker over Iraq for the first time.

On Aug. 15, 2018, Iraqi Air Force F-16C and D, were refueled mid-air by a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron over Iraq: according to the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs, this was the first aerial refuel training involving Iraqi F-16s and U.S. aerial refueling aircraft conducted over Iraqi airspace.

The images released by CENTCOM show the two aircraft during the AAR (Air-to-Air Refueling) operations. Interestingly, whilst the F-16D appears to be unarmed, the F-16IQ Block 52 appears to carry the standard loadout for the anti-Daesh air strikes shown by the aircraft taking off for their mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve from their homebase at Balad Air Base: four 500-lb GBU-12 LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) and four AIM-9L/M Sidewinder IR-guided AAMs (Air-to-Air Missiles), along with a Sniper ATP (Advanced Targeting Pod).

The fact that the weapons sport yellow stripes means the bombs and missiles carried by the single seaters are not inert but “live” suggesting it was involved in a combat mission rather than a training one.

Anyway, the first aerial refueling from a KC-135 over Iraq marks IAF’s growing capabilities with the new aircraft.

An Iraqi Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon performs an aerial maneuver after receiving in-flight fuel training from a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron over Iraq, Aug. 15, 2018. This was the first aerial refuel training involving Iraqi F-16s and U.S. aerial refueling aircraft conducted over Iraqi airspace. The Iraqi Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the Iraqi Armed Forces, responsible for policing international borders and conducting surveillance of its national assets.(U.S. Air Force video still image by Staff Sgt. Rion Ehrman)

The first of 36 Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 52 jets destined to the Iraqi Air Force, a two-seater D model serial number 1601, made its first flight from Fort Worth, Texas, on May 2, 2014. The aircraft, officially delivered to the IAF on Jun. 5, 2014, sported the brand new, exotic two-tone grey camo that has become standard on the Iraqi Vipers while being much different from the desert color scheme used by the Iraqi planes prior to the 2003 invasion which destroyed what remained of the Al Quwwa al Jawwiya al Iraqiya, and the light grey paint that was used on the Hellfire-equipped Cessna 208Bs or the Mil Mi-25 gunships.

The first four F-16IQ Block 52 jets were delivered to Tucson, Arizona:  the initial plan was to fly the aircraft to Iraq but the F-16IQ jets remained in the U.S. until air bases were readied for the new planes and, above all, secured by the Islamic State’s invasion. The first aircraft (two C and two D jets) landed at Balad air base in Iraq on July 13, 2015, where they joined the new 9th Fighter Squadron.

The subsequent deliveries grew the fleet until the IAF could count on 18-20 aircraft to be used in the air war on the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The baptmism of fire occurred on Sept. 6, 2015.

Two Iraqi F-16s were lost since the first delivery: the first one was on Jun. 24, 2015, the second one on Sept. 5, 2017. In both cases, the pilots died in the accident.

A Iraqi Air Force F-16D Fighting Falcon approaches a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron (EARS) for in-flight refuel training over Iraq on Aug. 15, 2018. This was the first aerial refuel training involving Iraqi F-16s and U.S. aerial refueling aircraft conducted over Iraqi airspace. The Coalition Aviation Advisory and Training Team in partnership with the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq, provides training, advising and assistance in addition to building partner capacity for Iraqi Army Aviation Command, Iraqi Air Defense Command and the Iraqi Air Force. (U.S. Air Force video still image by Staff Sgt. Rion Ehrman)

Top: U.S. Air Force video still image by Staff Sgt. Rion Ehrman

U.S. F-22 Raptors Forward Deploy To Albacete Air Base For The Very First Time To Train With The Spanish Typhoons and Hornets

Here are some interesting details about the Advanced Aerial Training exercise that took place at Albacete Air Base, Spain, last week.

On Aug. 16, 2018, two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors from the 95th Fighter Squadron, 325th Fighter Wing, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, conducted the Raptor’s first forward deployment to Albacete, Spain.

The 5th generation aircraft, launched from  Spangdahlem, Germany, where they are currently deployed as part of a contingent of 12 F-22s, were refuelled in front of the Spanish Mediterranean Coast (Area D21) by a 100th Air Refueling Wing KC-135, radio callsign QID 424, out of RAF Mildenhall and then headed towards Area D98 for the dogfight with the Spanish Eurofighters and F-18 Hornets.

Accompanied by a Typhoon, the F-22 approaches the break overhead Albacete (All photos: Jorge Portales).

According to the Spanish Aviation Journalist and Photographer Jorge Portalés Alberola there were 2 different WVR (Within Visual Range) dogfights: the first one was a 1 vs 2 between an F-22 and 2x Eurofighters from Ala 14 based at Albacete; the second one involved the other Raptor and one F-18 Hornet from Ala 12 (122 Squadron) – actually this second aerial engagement was slated to be a 1 vs 2 scenario but one of the Hornets aborted.

F-22 touches down at Albacete.

For the Spanish Air Force, this exercise represented an excellent opportunity for instruction and training that allows a joint assessment of the capabilities of the three aircraft in a demanding tactical environment. It also improves the integration and interoperability of 5th generation aircraft such as the American F22 with rest of allied fighters. And, in some way, it prepares Albacete, home of the Tactical Leadership Program, to the first attendance by a 5th Generation aircraft: the F-35A. Indeed, the Lightning II is a 5th generation fighter plane that will enter service has already entered the active service (or will, in the next years) with several European air forces: Italy, UK, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands (and Turkey?) so it is logical that it participates in the TLP training missions.

F-22 on the ramp at Los Llanos airport in Albacete.

This year, the F-35 will take part in the TLP for the first time as the course moves for an iteration to Amendola, Italy, home of the Italian Lightnings. Beginning from the end of 2019, it is already planned for the 5th generation aircraft to take part in “standard” TLP courses held at Albacete.

H/T to Jorge Portalés Alberola for providing many details and all the photographs used for this story!

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