Author Archives: David Cenciotti

Crossing the International Date Line

Last June I had the opportunity to fly from Queensland, Australia, to California, USA, experiencing the International Date Line crossing. The IDL is an imaginary line located mostly down the middle of the Pacific Ocean, on the 180° longitude meridian, opposite the Greenwich Prime Meridian. Actually it is not a straight line and deviates to pass around some islands of the Pacific and east of Russia. The IDL divides GMT+ 12 and GMT-12 hours time zones; consequently, crossing the IDL from West to East results in a day to be subtracted to the date, while crossing from East to West results in 24 hours being added to the current date. For example, as an effect of the IDL, I departed from Brisbane Eagle Farm airport on June 1st at 11:00 AM Local Time and after some 13 hours of flight above the Pacific I landed in Los Angeles International on June 1st 07:00 AM. I had (virtually) travelled back in time!

Crossing the IDL was “uneventful” for the B-747-400 of QF 175, but crossing 180° meridian while flying from Hickam AFB, Hawaii, to Kadena AB, Okinawa, Japan, during the first deployment to Asia, became a real nightmare for a flight of USAF F-22s. On February 11 2007, 12 Raptors were forced to head back to the Hawaii when a software bug caused a computer crash as they were crossing IDL. In the middle of the Ocean, all their systems, comprising navigation, fuel and part of the communications systems dumped. All the attempted reboot failed. One of the most sophisticated weapons system in the World, a fifth generation fighter, with Stealth capabilities and thrust vectoring nozzles, equipped with the AN/APG-77 Active Electronically Scanned Array radar, with Low Probability of Intercept and Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar processing (to generate a high resolution image of the target), provided its pilot less references than a first or second generation aircraft (like the first F-104). Fortunately, the Raptors were flying in good weather conditions and along with some tankers, that brought them back to Hawaii. Subsequent investigation discovered an error in a couple of lines of code (among millions), a bug that was troubleshooted and fixed in 48 hours. Most probably, the code of the navigation software that receives inputs from the GPS platform had not been developed taking into consideration the exception for passing directly from 179° 59′ 59,9999” W to 180° 00′ E and viceversa or having the same location (on the IDL) with the same longitude E and W.

The following screenshot from Google Earth shows the B747-400 QF175 at Brisbane airport on Apr. 16, 2007, just a few days I boarded the same flight from the same terminal and stand at BNE airport.

Eurofighter night take off

This is the sight of a night take off of a pair of Eurofighter Typhoon from Grosseto airbase. Picture was taken on August 06th 2007 at 9:10PM LT.

I was asked by some enthusiasts and photographer, the settings I used to make this shot.
Here’s the answer: since it was getting dark, I set ISO speed to 200 and the Tv mode (shutter speed priority) of my Canon EOS 10D to 10 seconds letting the camera automatically deciding lens aperture basing on the information from its light meter. If it was pitch black I would have used 400 or higher ISO and up to 30 seconds of shutter speed. I decided for the partial metering since edges of the scene were dark and I thought this method was better for the situation than the spot metering or evaluative. With the shutter open for such a long period I had to use a tripod and the self-timer, in order to prevent camera from shaking (with consequent blur). I wanted to get both aircraft with the afterburner but I had no idea how long they would be aligned on the runway before starting the take-off roll. With 10 seconds of countdown of the self-timer and 10 seconds of exposure I had to wait 20 seconds between one shot and the second one. So, as soon as the aircraft were aligned I made the first shot but the aircraft did not move. 20 seconds later I tried again. This time I was lucky enough to get both aircraft with the afterburner lit, with the leader, rolling on the left, and the wingman, lined up on the right, moments before moving.

Eurofighter Typhoon at Grosseto

The Italian Air Force has recently received the first of five Eurofighter Tranche 1 Block 5 fitted with the PIRATE (Passive Infra-Red Airborne Tracking Equipment) a passive sensor, combining IRST (Infra-Red Search and Track System) and FLIR (Forward Looking Infra-Red) capabilities. The PIRATE works like a radar but in a passive mode thus without emitting electromagnetic radiations; it detects the heat of the different targets offering a Stealth capability that enhances the overall survaivability of the aircraft. The PIRATE is a compact system whose electronics are installed inside the aircraft. The distinctive sign is the searching head of the sensor, that is located on the left of the nose, just in front of the cockpit. The Block 5 represents the final standard of the Tranche 1 (T1) offering also some of the features of the initial configuration on the second production batch, that will be delivered from 2008. All aircraft delivered to the ItAF so far, will be retrofitted to the Block 5 configuration; currently two aircraft are already being upgraded at Alenia Aeronautica’s Caselle plant, with the first aircraft expected to be delivered by the Q1 2008. In the meanwhile, Tranche 1 deliveries (29 aircraft) will be completed in 2007. Italy has contracted for 96 Eurofighter so far, 22 T1 and 74 T2. Tranche 3 buy, still under negotiations, includes further 46 Typhoons.
On October 1st 2007, the first Eurofighter will be taken on charge by the 12th Gruppo at Gioia del Colle, a squadron currently flying the MB-339CD. The last squadron to receive the Typhoon could be the 156th Gruppo, also based in Gioia del Colle, the first presumed to have a multi-role capability. However, this is not clear now: the ItAF Chief of Staff Gen. Vincenzo Camporini, recently said that Italian Typhoon will be restricted to the air-to-air role, since the air-to-ground one is going to be handled by the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) but it is at least strange that Italy will not exploit the aircraft capabilities after signing the Future Capabilities Programme (FCP) in March 2007. Consequently, according to the current plans, Italian Typhoons are not to be provisioned for the attack role even if there are many chances that weapons will be transferred to the Tranche 2 fleet when AMX and Tornado are phased out. Anyway, for the moment, not only the Block 5 version includes the installation of an ILS (Instrumental Landing System) but is the first version to integrate Enhanced Weapon Training Facilities, which allows the simulation of different external loads on both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. Furthermore, the Block 5 aircraft exploit 100%  of the Typhoon’s digital flight control system that gives the aircraft an improved manoeuvrability and an extended flight envelope (9 g at subsonic speed and 7 g at supersonic speed).
On August 6th 2007 I visited Grosseto to watch the intense flying activities of the 4th Stormo. I spotted the first Block 5 Eurofighter (Claudio Carretta wrote me after reading this post that MM7285 “4-16”, one of the single seat Eurofighter I spotted in Grosseto, is the first Block 5 taken on charge by the Italian Air Force) and witnessed how many day and night missions both the locally based 9th Gruppo and 20th OCU are flying these days, as the pictures below show.










Warner Village F-104 – another update

I have received from Iolanda Frisina some pictures of the “Warner Village Starfighter”. Even if pictures were made with a mobile phone and are not very clear, they show that the F-104 was already in the current location more than one year ago and that its conditions were pretty good (if compared to the current ones). It missed the canopy (that Iolanda saw in its position during her first inspection of the relic without camera in July 2006) but was not covered with graffiti yet.