Author Archives: Jacek Siminski

U.S. F-22 Raptors Deploy to Poland To Take Part in the Armed Forces Day Parade Over Warsaw

U.S. Air Force F-22 deployed to Poland.

Five jets USAF F-22s have arrived at Powidz Airbase, Poland, this week.

On Aug. 15, along with a C-130J that acted as a camera-ship, four stealth aircraft celebrated the 100th Anniversary of Polish Independence and Armed Forces Day by participating in a multi-aircraft flyover in Warsaw (most probably, the fifth F-22 was a spare aircraft). The jets made a forward hop to Powidz from Spangdahlem, where they have been deployed recently to participate in a number of exercises in the region.

The USAF F-22s are deployed to Europe for theater familiarization and to conduct interoperability training with NATO aircraft. (All images: Jacek Siminski).

According to unofficial information Raptors would also be engaged in some training sorties and possibly engagements, with the Polish F-16 jets.

The rumor suggesting that the American fighters would be involved in the Polish Air Force’s centenary in Radom next week has been denied by one of the officials involved in organization of the show we’ve been speaking to; however the Poles are still hoping that USAF Europe will make a contribution, in a form of 5th Gen. jets, at the event in Radom.

Close up view of one of the Raptors deployed to Poland.

We’re attending the Radom Air Show next week and we’re going to provide you with a relevant report. We also had our photo contributors at the Warsaw event, so we’re hoping to provide you with a report on the Polish Armed Forces Day too.

RIAT 2018: a Big Success or a Letdown?

The Royal International Air Tattoo 2018 at RAF Fairford, UK.

RIAT 2018: a benchmark of an airshow, with its diversity, the flying program, the static display. They all come together to form an unbeatable whole. It is the largest international air show in Europe, with high diversity of participants, both on the ground, as well as in the air. This year, the expectations were high, due to the RAF centenary. We attended the show and here’s what we have seen.

This year the show attracted a record breaking 185,000 people for the three day show as well as 302 aircraft from 43 air arms, representing 30 different nations.

For a person coming over from Eastern Europe, as in case of me, The Aviationist’s Polish contributor, the expectations were to see some of the finest western hardware in the air, including stealth aircraft or RAF demos that rarely visit Poland or Czech Republic, that are far more accessible in our part of Europe. The author was also hoping to see some USAF assets flying in the air, since the American military is somewhat reluctant in sending its jets and demos to the eastern part of Europe, Poland included. RIAT, considering its international profile, constitutes a diplomatic arena, similarly to other international aviation event. Often the flightline largely represents the diplomatic relations between the nations involved. For instance, RIAT’s static display featured Japanese assets that are really a rarity at the European air shows that are not focused on sales pitch.

When it comes to the flying display, it had some highlights.

First of the highlights was the F-35 Heritage Demo Team of the USAF. It was really something special to see the F-35 flying alongside a Mustang.

The USAF F-35 was among the highlights of RIAT 18.

On the occasion of the RAF centenary, it was decided that a Spitfire would join the formation. In general, some interesting formation flypasts took place in the sky during the weekend. This included a tribute to the Dambusters, with the formation paying tribute to the Squadron’s past, immediate past/present, and its future. The RAF decided to have a formation flypast in the sky, with the Lancaster bomber acting as the leader, and followed by the F-35 and the Tornado, both of which were/will be used by the unit in question.

F-35 Heritage Demo Team including a RAF Spitfire.

Another highlight of the show came in a form of a flypast on Saturday: RAF Fairford was visited by a B-2 bomber (Spirit of New York) that made a pass over the airfield being accompanied by two F-15 Eagles. The aircraft came to the UK direct from Whiteman Air Force Base, its homebase in Missouri.

When it came to the dynamic portion of the show, one could say that it was somewhat “standard” for an Air Tattoo. We’ve seen most of the RAF assets, including the Typhoon demo team, or the Red Arrows in the air. When it comes to the Commonwealth nations, Canada has sent its Hornet demo to the UK, in its new paint scheme. Other display teams included Frecce Tricolori, Royal Jordanian Falcons or the Couteau Delta Tactical Display.

The “Alona” (Big Wing), the last spectacular maneuver of the Frecce Tricolori display team.

Mirage 2000s of the Couteau Delta Tactical Display.

Staying with the word “tactical”, one should note that many of the displays honored this type of a routine, instead of showcasing the full, maybe sometimes unnecessary capabilities of the aircraft. This was visible most clearly in case of the C-27 Spartan demo of the Italian Air Force, as it no longer included the infamous loop or knife-edge pass – this was a major disappointment. One should say that it looked quite modest, when compared to the Airbus A400M display, featuring a maneuver involving a 120 degrees bank angle. The Atlas was being flown by an Airbus test pilot and wore the RAF100 livery. It was suggested that the plane flying was the last one to be received by the RAF.

The RAF A400 performed an impressive display.

Typhoon demo of Aeronautica Militare was brilliant as usual, on the other hand, with the pilot being able to fully display the jet’s capabilities.

Italian Air Force Typhoon close up.

Couteau Delta team, replacing the famous Ramex Delta formation, also flew a brilliant display with numerous tactical maneuvers and the jets flying in extremely tight formations.

Moreover, the French also sent their Rafale duo team, representing the Marine Nationale and simulating carrier ops routines, as well as their Rafale Solo display.

The amazing French Air Force Rafale.

Four F-16 demos also displayed at RIAT, all being different in character. The Polish Air Force Tiger Demo Team exhibited its new display routine, including numerous moments when vapor cones were forming on the aircraft. Interestingly, the Polish F-16 also made a short landing with the landing parachute being deployed – which was a unique element of the routine. Greek F-16 of the Zeus demo team also flew an interesting routine with numerous high-g maneuvers involved. The Belgian Air Component demo team, with its new pilot, callsign “Vador”, also did a good show. Notably, the Belgian jet, during the current airshow season, is going to have its horizontal stabilizer repainted, to match with the show where it performs – in case of RIAT we could have seen RAF100 livery on that control surface. And last, but not least, Solo Turk closed the list of the F-16 demos, with its display being quite spectacular, especially on Sunday, when the Turkish Falcon was scheduled to fly in the morning.

Solo Turk F-16 creating its own “cloud system”.

Even though the weather was very hot, there was still some humidity left in the air then, which made it possible for the jet to break through the air and show off some vapor. Swiss Air Force was another of participants, sending its PC-7 team flying a formation with its Hornet Solo. Speaking of Hornets, alongside the Swiss and Canadian demos, the Finns also showcased their flying program. The show announcer mentioned the fact that the latter two nations had their flight control software updated in the jet, which enhanced their AoA performance – yet again, it needs to be said that the three Hornet demos were very different, even though the airframe was the same. If the author was to point to the one he liked the most, then the Finnish pilot would win, for his low level flying, while the Canadian Hornet had the most interesting livery. Notably, the Canadian demo jet was flying in its special colors on Friday and Saturday, while on Sunday the RCAF used a spare jet, wearing a regular, gray color scheme. A major highlight also came in a form of a British F-35B performing a hover in front of the crowd. Helicopter demo teams included the RAF Chinook Display team, as well as the Finnish NH90. US CV-22B Osprey also made a dynamic display at RIAT.

UK’s F-35B during the display at RIAT.

The locals also showcased some of their vintage flying hardware, including the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, now involving a Spitfire, Mustang, DC-3 (C-47) and a Lancaster. The big planes, referred to as the “bombers” by the show announcer, flew some close formations and even did a break. This was an interesting and new sight to see, compared with the previously employed display routines. Historical displays also included The Great War Display Team, the show of which was very reminiscent of the one presented by the Pterodactyl Flight group we admired during the Poznan Air Show event this year.

One should also say that the expectations of the British citizens are inverted – meaning that they come to RIAT to see the eastern designs in their sky. Here, they have every right to be disappointed. Poland, which is almost a “permanent” presence at RIAT, highly valued for its MiG-29 Fulcrum or Su-22 Fitter demos, did not send any of those aircraft to the UK. The Fulcrum was not even scheduled to go to the UK. This is partially caused by the fact, as the unofficial info suggests, that both fleets have been grounded now, due to the K-36 ejection seat maintenance issues (both the Fitter, as well as the Fulcrum use these seats) and suspected faulty operation, following the recent fatal crash of the Fulcrum. Moreover, the MiG-21 LanceR demo team of the Romanian Air Force suffered from a crash just one week before RIAT, which also rendered the participation of that jet in the British event impossible.

It is interesting though, that Poland was not willing (did not ever confirm that) to send its MiG-29 to the British show, given the Minsk Mazowiecki Fulcrum squadron’s heritage and links to the RAF Squadron 303. Seeing a Fulcrum fly in a formation with the Hurricane (as it happened in Cosford), Spitfire or the Mustang would really have been something. The East was represented by the ‘beast’ – the Ukrainian Su-27 Flanker demo, which really was a highlight for the British audience, not so much for the Eastern Europeans, who, comparing the Ukrainian demo to the routines flown by the Russians, could have been mildly disappointed. Also, as flares are prohibited at the RIAT due to safety concerns (weapon storage areas), this element was cut – both from the Flanker display, as well as from any display routine – which further diminished the wow factor entailed by the Sukhoi’s jet.

The Ukrainain Air Force Su-27.

Here we come to a matter which seemed to kill the special character of the RAF100 RIAT – the historic connections with the Commonwealth nations or the allies were not really honored during the show. Someone was expecting something really special. Except for Canada and Australia, the connections with Singapore, Malaysia, India, South Africa and other nations who were colonially associated with the UK did not show in spite of many spotters and aviation enthusiasts “prayers”. This is a field that could be potentially explored to make the show even more interesting – for instance, the presence of Indian Su-30MKI aircraft would have made RIAT more exotic, even though the JASDF (Japan Air Self Defense Force) Kawasaki C-2 at its first Air Tattoo was a big thing.

This is largely a “what if” portion of the text, however, especially for those more used to the RIAT; given the occasion of the Centenary, one is tempted to ask questions, as to why the show was not much more spectacular considered the important anniversary the show celebrated.

Ukrainian Flanker.

So, for an Eastern European, the RIAT this year was – in essence – just another RIAT; the best airshow in the Continent with all of its spectacular character involved. Whilst hoping for something really special, the author of this report, was not disappointed with his visit at all.

Meanwhile, the British opinions may vary, as the show did not differ in its character from what we have been witnessing in the past, giving us all a bittersweet feeling in the end – the next chance to organize a spectacular show would not be here in 50 years, probably, since we would need to wait for another “round” anniversary.

The Red Arrows display team.

Addressing the question in the title, one should say that the answer depends on the point of view one takes – whether it is British or a European one, it might differ significantly.

All images: The Aviationist’s Jacek Siminski

Polish Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrum Crashes Killing Pilot

A Polish Fulcrum crashed last night. Pilot found dead.

On Jul. 6, a Polish MiG-29 (reportedly: airframe bort no. 4103) has crashed in the village of Sakówko (Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship). The cause of the crash is unknown. The pilot ejected but did not survive. According to the Polish MoD the pilot was declared dead at 2.30 AM. The disaster happened at 1.57 AM. The Fulcrum belonged to the 22nd Airbase in Malbork.

According to the foreign media quoted by a former Polish jet pilot, Michał Fiszer, in his interview for the TVN24 outlet, the pilot belonged to the demo team showcasing the Fulcrums on air shows. The MoD release suggests that the late pilot was quite an experienced aviator, with 800 hours logged in the air and 500 of those were logged on the Fulcrum. The wreckage has been found around 500 meters from the residential buildings, while the body of the pilot was 200 meters from the wreck.

The circumstances are being investigated now by the Polish Committee for Investigation of National Aviation Accidents (Polish: Komisja Badania Wypadków Lotniczych Lotnictwa Państwowego; KBWLLP), which is the aircraft accident investigation agency of Poland regarding state and military aircraft. It is distinct from the State Commission on Aircraft Accidents Investigation, which investigates civil aviation accidents. The MoD asked the journalists not to comment and speculate on the disaster, until an official report is issued.

Notably, this is the second crash of a Polish Fulcrum in little more than 6 months. Last one happened occurred to the other Fulcrum base in Minsk Mazowiecki. In that case, however, according to ‘off the record’ sources, the pilot, who did not eject and landed the jet in the woods – survived.

Top image: composite photo showing, on the left, the wreckage of a Polish Air Force MiG-29 jet that crashed in the fields in the country’s north during a night training flight, near the town of Paslek, in Poland (credit: AP Photo/TVN24) and a Fulcrum at Radom Air Show last year (credit: Siminski).

Watch this: Polish Su-22 Fitter Deploys Drag Chute Before Touching the Runway

This is something you don’t see too often: early deployment of the drag parachute.

Last Saturday something unusual took place at the Polish Air Force’s 21st Airbase in Świdwin, during the airbase’s open day. As a part of the display routine a Su-22 Fitter jet intentionally overshot the landing: the pilot deployed the drag chute prematurely, causing the aircraft to hit the runway very hard.

It was also an unusual sight to see the jet with the chute trailing behind it, still being up in the air. This also gave the photographers and spectators at the base to witness this unique sight.

Drag (or drogue) chutes are a quite common design trait of the Soviet-made jets. The system consists of a single or several parachutes placed in a special pod located in the rear section of the fuselage. The chute is ejected with the use of a smaller parachute, spring-driven or compressed air based system. After the aircraft comes to a halt, the chute is separated to prevent the aircraft from being dragged on the runway. Moreover, the chute often comes with a safety system, with a ring that breaks if the braking system is deployed at a speed which is too high. In the case above probably the speed was low enough to keep the said element intact and the chute stayed in its place.

Notably, the drag created by drogue chutes is lower than the one experienced in case of the conventional drop-parachutes in order to prevent damage to the aircraft.

The one in the video is one of the techniques used to land on a damaged runway: the chute is deployed about 7 feet above the runway and the aircraft only needs 350 meters to stop.

Almost Unnoticed, U.S. Air Force Begins MQ-9 Reaper Drone Operations out of Poland

USAF deploys its MQ-9 Reaper Drones to Poland.

USAF issued a short release, suggesting that the service has deployed MQ-9 Reaper UAV systems to Poland. The drones would be stationed at the Mirosławiec Air Base, which is the Poland’s airbase dedicated to host the unmanned platforms. The release issued by the Americans reads as follows:

The United States and Poland have a standing relationship to address issues of regional and global security. To advance those interests, U.S. Air Forces in Europe, the air component of U.S. European Command, is operating MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft at Miroslawiec Air Base as a visible expression of U.S. efforts to enhance regional stability. This mission, starting in May 2018, has been fully coordinated with the Polish government. It is designed to promote stability and security within the region and to strengthen relationships with NATO allies and other European partners.

The release, as we can see, is laconic and went by virtually unnoticed. It was issued on May 21 and does not specifiy how long the deployment is going to last. The Mirosławiec Airbase only operates smaller UAV platforms, hence Reapers would be a major addition to its capabilities.

The news issued by USAFE sparked some doubts and questions among the experts and defense media practitioners in Poland. Since the Polish MoD cancelled some of its drone procurement plans some time ago, shifting the priorities, the USAFE assets may act as a complementary measure filling in the capability gap – this is an opinion that has widely circulated in the Polish defense media public sphere. The experts suggest that no further procurement in the area of ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) would be pursued by the Polish MoD, making use of the US assets to complement the capabilities at hand even though, for what deals with JASSMs (Joint Air-to-Surface Strategic Missiles) that have been acquired by the Polish Air Force, there is concern about a capability gap when it comes to actually designating targets for this strategic weapon.

Dawid Kamizela who works an analyst for the Polish Dziennik Zbrojny outlet expressed his concern that the UAVs in Poland may not even boost the Polish ISR capabilities. In a conversation, he told us the following:

According to what we have seen when it comes to operational practice pertaining to the MQ-9, the detachment in Poland, most probably, solely deals with maintenance of the assets and take offs and landings. The core of the operational activities would be controlled from CONUS, and the intelligence gathered when the UAV is flying in the Polish airspace is also being sent to CONUS directly – it is not being collected in Poland, it does not even ‘touch’ any part of the Polish infrastructure. As worrying as it is, the above would mean that even if Poland receives any intelligence, it would not come in a form of raw data, but rather as an interpreted report. Taking the local awareness into account, along with the knowledge of local conditions and geopolitical factors, the US interpretation may differ from the conclusions that could potentially be formed by the Polish analysts in Warsaw. This sparks numerous doubts, when it comes to the actual boost of the Polish ISR capability.

The Polish military has no MALE UAVs at its disposal now, procurement is being planned as a part of the Zefir programme that has not, fortunately, been a subject to cuts. MQ-9 and Israeli Hermes 900 platforms are viable candidates here. The Israeli drones, as the Defence24 outlet notes, have already made their operational debut in the Polish airspace, during the NATO Summit hosted in Warsaw and the World Youth Day. Two Zefir packages, as Defence24 recalled, are to be acquired until 2022, with procurement of another two envisaged as an option after the aforesaid deadline.

An-124 cargo aircraft were used to transfer the MQ-9s in Poland.

According to the unofficial information we have obtained, the Reapers arrived in Poland on May 9 and they were transported via the NATO SALIS solution by two An-124 airlifters that landed at the Poznan airport.

Image Credit: USAF, An-124 Image Credit: Jacek Siminski