Author Archives: Tom Demerly

USAF Identifies Heroic B-1B Bomber Crew, Awards Distinguished Flying Crosses

Crew That Saved Burning Bomber Over Texas In May Finally Named, Awarded.

After weeks of speculation about the circumstances surrounding a May 1, 2018 emergency landing in Texas by a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer heavy bomber from the 7th Bomb Wing, Air Force officials have identified the crew who are being hailed as heroes in the miraculous recovery of the crew and aircraft. Four crew members have been awarded the Air Force’s Distinguished Flying Cross, a high-level award for heroism or extraordinary achievement in aerial flight.

The B-1B heavy bomber was on a training mission on May 1, 2018 when a serious engine fire near the right wing root caused the crew to try to eject from their burning bomber over the Texas desert. When the first crew ejection seat failed to leave the plane successfully, the aircraft commander ordered the crew to immediately stop the escape procedure and managed to fly the damaged and burning aircraft with a crew hatch missing and the cockpit open to the surrounding wind blast to the Midland Air and Space Port near Odessa, Texas where the crew made a successful emergency landing.

Last week at Dyess Air Force Base, the Air Force Global Strike Command commander formally recognized the heroism and extraordinary aerial achievement of that B-1B Lancer aircrew. The quick-thinking actions of the aircrew resulted in the first-ever successful emergency landing of a B-1B experiencing this series of serious malfunctions.

The B-1B bomber involved in the May 1, 2018 emergency landing with the missing hatch following an ejection seat failure. (Photo: Tim Fischer/Midland Reporter-Telegram)

USAF General Robin Rand, Commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command at Barksdale AFB awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross medal to B-1B crewmembers Major Christopher N. Duhon, Air Forces Strategic – Operations Division chief of future operations at Barksdale AFB, and an instructor pilot with duties at the 28th Bomb Squadron; Captain Matthew Sutton, 28th BS weapon systems officer instructor; 1st Lieutenant Joseph Welch, 28th BS student pilot; and 1st Lieutenant Thomas C. Ahearn, then 28th BS student weapon systems officer who has since completed training and is currently assigned to the 37th BS, Ellsworth AFB, S.D.

The awards satisfy speculation on social media about the Air Force’s handling of the incident following temporary stand-down of the B-1B fleet so safety checks could be performed. Sources on social media voiced frustration after they felt the USAF had not done enough to recognize the efforts of the B-1B crew to save both the personnel on board and the aircraft itself. By early Saturday morning on July 14, it would appear the announcement of the Air Force’s awards to the crew have been met with favor on social media forums familiar with the incident.

Concern about the aging B-1B fleet continues amid speculation about the future of the aircraft set against the backdrop of the Air Force’s upcoming new B-21 Raider bomber program.

The Air Force awarded the crew of the B-1B bomber involved in the May 1, 2018 emergency landing the Distinguished Flying Cross. (Photo: USAF Official)

CH-47 Evacuates Climber and Six Rescuers with Impressive Steep-Slope Pinnacle Landing

U.S. National Guard Helicopter in Dramatic Mountain-Top Rescue

For the third time in four weeks a U.S. military aircraft has participated in the rescue of a civilian in life-threatening circumstances. This time it was in the United States and the incident was a direct rescue of a 27-year old male victim from a dangerous, high altitude location on Oregon’s 11,249-foot Mt. Hood.

Two helicopters including an Oregon Air National Guard CH-47 Chinook heavy lift helicopter responded to an emergency 911 phone call from the mountain at approximately 14:30 LT on Friday, July 13, 2018. According to reports, one of the aircraft that initially responded was a single main rotor UH-60 Blackhawk. Because of the altitude of the rescue, well above 10,000 feet in thinner air where rotary wing aircraft can have difficulty maintaining lift, the larger twin-rotor CH-47F Chinook was used for the rescue.

The CH-47F belonging to the 168th Aviation Regiment, based in Pendelton, Oregon, performed a so-called “Pinnacle Landing” or “Pinnacle Maneuver” (often seen in theaters like Iraq or Afghanistan) making the rescue possible.

In addition to the thin air at high altitude, dangers in alpine helicopter rescues include unpredictable mountain winds with powerful up and down drafts on steep terrain and unstable glaciers with common avalanche, crevasse and icefall risks. In the alpine region of the Pacific north west, high, glaciated mountains including Mt. Rainier in Washington state at 14,410 and Mt. Hood in nearby Oregon account for a disproportionate number of alpine fatalities because of their close proximity to large urban populations and their easy access for recreational use.

Rescuers prepare to airlift the victim from Mt. Hood. (Photo: CBS/via Associated Press)

The dangers of helicopter rescues on Mt. Hood were underscored in a tragic May, 2002 attempted rescue of four injured climbers on Oregon’s Mount Hood, when an HH-60G Pave Hawk of the Air Force Reserve Command’s 304th Rescue Squadron crashed on live television, rolling down the mountain after losing lift in shifting mountain winds. During that 2002 incident, three people died and four others were critically injured after they fell into a crevasse on the mountain near Timberline Lodge. One member of the rescue team was also critically injured when the helicopter rolled over him as it tumbled down the mountainside after crashing.

This is already the second helicopter rescue from Mt. Hood in 2018. The first rescue took place on Tuesday, February 13, 2018. A climber fell approximately 1,000 feet into the Hogsback area on Mount Hood and did not survive. Rescuers guided down two others who were stranded and rescued a third by sled evacuation that Tuesday night. In that rescue, a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter was used.

Lifelong mountain guide Brent Okita of Rainier Mountaineering Inc. (RMI) told us, “These are the only high mountains with glaciers in the world that have a freeway exit. Because of that, you get a lot of inexperienced people in a situation can deteriorate quickly.”

In a potentially tragic twist to this latest story, the man rescued reportedly climbed Mt. Hood to commit suicide but later reconsidered and then phoned 911 emergency responders. “The Clackamas County Sheriff notified us that [the climber] had gone to the summit of Mount Hood because he was going to end his life up there, and then he changed his mind,” Scott Lucas of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management told media on Friday.

The man was initially thought to be lower on the mountain following the 911 emergency call, but Army National Guard search and rescue crews located him closer to the summit of the mountain.

Top image: an Oregon Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook rescues a climber and recovers rescue team from Mt. Hood, Oregon on Friday, July 13, 2018. (Photo: CBS/via Associated Press)

Colombian Kfir Delta-Wing Aircraft Return to the U.S. to take Part in Red Flag 18-3 at Nellis.

Beautiful Aircraft are going to be a Treat for U.S. Spotters and Photographers Along Las Vegas Blvd.

The crowd of aviation spotters and photographers that forms as a daily ritual during any Red Flag air combat simulation exercise along highway 604/North Las Vegas Boulevard just north of Nellis are being treated to some unusual and exotic aircraft during the Red Flag 18-3 exercise at Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada this month.

Six rare, attractive delta-wing Israeli Aircraft Industry (IAI) Kfir single seat, single engine, delta wing jet fighters from the Fuerza Aérea Colombiana (Colombian Air Force) will be in attendance at Red Flag 18-3 along with a contingent supporting their operations from Colombia. There are only 21 of the aircraft in service with Colombia according to the Flight International Global Air Forces 2018 database. This is only the second time the aircraft have visited Nellis AFB for a Red Flag exercise. The last time the Kfirs participated in Red Flag was 2012 (as we reported here). At that time, this writer spotted for the first time the delta-winged jets staging out of Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona.

Colombian Kfir landing at DMAFB (USAF).

Red Flag 18-3 is a highly realistic combat exercise over the vast Las Vegas training ranges mostly to the north of Nellis AFB in the Nevada desert. The huge area comprises bombing ranges, large low-flying training areas and the secret “Area 51” test ranges and flight facilities. It is adjacent to the famous Jedi Transition or “Star Wars Canyon” low flying training area just inside California. Photographers in the right place at the right time could catch glimpses and hopefully shots of the Colombian Kfirs if they decide to fly through the low flying training area.

Colombian Kfir refuels during RF 12-4. (Image credit: Tony Lovelock)

Colombian Air Force Combat Squadron 111 has spent more than a year in preparation and training for the Red Flag 18-3 combat exercise. The contingent will be supported by a Colombian KC-767 aerial tanker from 811 Squadron. Approximately 130 Colombian officers and an unspecified number of enlisted personnel will support the exercise deployment.

The group of aircraft left Colombia on July 2, 2018 to join Red Flag at Nellis following a 2,015-mile ferry flight from Malambo, Atlantico in northeastern Colombia. As with their visit back in 2012 when we first spotted the aircraft, they have stopped at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona, before continuing to Nellis.

We first saw the Colombian Kfirs on their way through Davis-Monthan AFB back in 2012 when we shot these photos through the fence. The red arrows were applied to confirm ID (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

According to several sources, The Fuerza Aérea Colombiana (Colombian Air Force) recently updated their unique Kfir combat aircraft to the latest C-60 avionics and capability standard provided by Israel Aerospace Industries. This recent update to the older Kfir aircraft, first acquired by Colombia back in 1989-1990, greatly expand the Kfir’s range of weapons and sensors. Sources suggest these upgrades may place the Colombian Kfirs on par with the F-16 Block 52 upgrades.

A Colombian Air Force Kfir fighter jet taxis after landing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., July 5, 2018. Six Colombian Kfirs from the Combat Squadron No. 111, arrived to train with the 162nd Wing’s F-16s in preparation for Red Flag 18-3. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Angela Ruiz)

Along with flying real antinarcotics and counterinsurgency missions, Colombian Kfirs were involved in the interception of two Russian Tu-160 “White Swan” (NATO reporting name “Blackjack”) heavy bombers flying out of Venezuela in early November, 2013. The giant Russian Tu-160s did not have diplomatic clearance to enter Colombian airspace and were intercepted and briefly escorted by the Fuerza Aérea Colombiana Kfirs before they left the area.

Top image: Tony Lovelock

U.S. Military Is On A Roll With Dramatic International Rescue Missions At Sea.

U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon Locates Missing Fishing Vessel in Search Off Sri Lanka. Dramatic Rescue Adds to List of Recent Humanitarian Successes by U.S. Aircraft.

A U.S. Navy Boeing P-8A Poseidon has located a missing civilian fishing boat and its six-man crew in the vast open ocean south of the island of Sri Lanka in the Luccadive Sea north of the Indian Ocean. The long-range multi-mission maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft was from Patrol Squadron 45 (VP-45) the “Pelicans” originally from Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida and flying out of Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia.

The U.S. Navy P-8A joined the search at the request of the Sri Lankan Navy after the fishing vessel went missing on Sunday, July 8, 2018.

Photos released by the U.S. Navy taken from the P-8A Poseidon show the fishing vessel after it was located with no engine wake and what may be a series of improvised sails rigged on its bow, suggesting the vessel may have lost steerage and power possibly resulting in it drifting south into the open ocean.

Photos taken from the U.S. Navy P-8A show improvised sails rigged on the bow of the fishing vessel and no wake at the stern, suggesting it may have lost power. (Photo: US Navy)

The region is known as dangerous for sailors and aircraft due to severe weather, the threat of piracy and other hazards to navigation in the remote maritime environment. Part of the unsuccessful search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that disappeared without a trace in March, 2014 was in this region.
A Sri Lankan Navy vessel is underway to the location of the lost fishing boat as directed by the U.S. Navy P-8A that located it hours after joining the three-day search.

Photo of one of the drifting crew members on the lost fishing boat taken from the U.S. Navy P-8A after the boat was located. (Photo: US Navy)

This successful search is the second victory for U.S. long range search and rescue efforts requested by a foreign nation following a similar incident on June 25, 2018 when a U.S. Air Force B-52H crew flying out of Andersen AFB, Guam and originally from Barksdale, Louisiana located a missing indigenous Polynesian canoe that was lost for six days near Guam in the Pacific. The crew of that B-52H were also able to direct rescue efforts to the location of the lost ocean canoe.

In an official U.S. Navy statement about the rescue operation, Navy Commander Mark E. Zematis, commanding officer of the 45th Patrol Squadron, said, “As we continue to explore the operational reach and agility of the P-8A Poseidon, the trust and relationships we build with our multi-national partners becomes more and more apparent in such a complex and broad Indo-Pacific region. The positive relationship between Sri Lanka and the United States is what allowed our aircrew and maintenance team to effectively launch and assist with the recovery of their countryman.”

Illustration of P-8A from Patrol Squadron 45 by Ugo Crisponi. (Image: AviationGraphics/Ugo Crisponi)

The Boeing P-8A Poseidon is a new long-range patrol, surveillance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft that is based on the highly successful civilian Boeing 737-800ERX long range, twin-engine jet airliner. It first flew in April, 2009. The P-8A is the U.S. Navy’s replacement for the aging Lockheed P-3 Orion turboprop aircraft that performed the same mission. It is also in service with the Australian Air Force and the Indian Navy where it is known as the P-8I Neptune. England, Norway and New Zealand have also ordered versions of the highly successful P-8 Poseidon.

A new Boeing P-8A Poseidon long-range maritime surveillance aircraft. (Photo: Lance Riegle)

An interesting feature of the P-8A is its planned integration with the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton ultra-long range remotely piloted unmanned aerial vehicle. This capability will enable the P-8 and MQ-4C to combine their surveillance areas significantly.

RAF Celebrates 100 Years with Spectacular Flyover in London

World’s Oldest Air Force Timed Massive Aerial Display to Perfection.

It was the first independent air force in the world; the Royal Air Force, the RAF. On Tuesday, July 10, 2018 it celebrated its 100th anniversary as the longest serving air force on the planet with a spectacular centenary aerial parade.

In celebration of its 100th Anniversary the RAF conducted a spectacular flyover Tuesday when aircraft including vintage Spitfires and brand new F-35s joined in an unprecedented historical review above The Mall and Buckingham Palace where the Royal Family turned out in full regalia to take in the observance and celebration. The U.K. have the most devoted aviation spotters and fans on earth and today’s aerial parade was an unmatched feast for veterans, photographers and aircraft enthusiasts.

Throughout its century-long history the Royal Air Force has stood for a stalwart and dignified gallantry unmatched by any other aerial service. The RAF has, since its beginning, always punched above its weight as a combat arm. From the battlefields of WWI to the tenacious and desperate homeland defense over the skies of London in the blitzkrieg of WWII and the Battle of Britain, the dam busters, the nighttime bombing raids on Germany to bush wars in Africa, the Middle East and Indochina, the RAF has always typified British toughness and heroism. The daring ultra-long range raid on the Falkland Islands by RAF Vulcan bombers in Operation Black Buck and the harrowing low-level attacks by Tornado GR1s on Iraqi runways in the Gulf War continued the illustrious record of the RAF into the jet age. Today the RAF continues the legacy with the combat proven Eurofighter Typhoon and its integration into the global F-35 Joint Strike Fighter force with the newest F-35B Lightning II aircraft.

Approximately 100 aircraft, one for each of the centenary years, participated in the flyover at 1:00 PM local time in London. It was reminiscent of Russia’s Victory Day Parade, the July 2017 Chinese Zhurihe Military Training Base flyover in Inner Mongolia and North Korea’s recent conspicuous displays of military might. But, whereas some recent military aerial parades attempted to send a message of strength, the mood over London was one of quiet dignity and historical reverence for an illustrious past and hopeful future.

Aircraft in the flyover staged in a complex aerial ballet from RAF bases that included Colchester, Norfolk, Suffolk and others. The exact schedule of the launches and routes for the flyover were not made public prior to the flight citing security. The flyover ended with a review of the nine RAF demonstration team, the Red Arrows’ BAE Hawk aircraft streaming colored smoke over the route.

The flyover could also be tracked online thanks to ADS-B/Mode-S/MLAT.

It took at least 11 months of planning according to the RAF to coordinate the flights. The project was managed by Wing Commander Kevin Gatland, Chief of Staff of the Tornado force based at RAF Marham in Norfolk. A total of 17 different RAF aircraft participated in the flyover including nearly every role of aircraft in the current inventory, from surveillance and attack aircraft to tactical transports. The most conspicuous absence was the Vulcan bomber, retired from flight demonstrations in October 2015. Standing in as a spectacular representative of Britain’s heavy bomber force was a Lancaster bomber as used in the night raids over Germany and the famous “dam buster” operation. It was also the first public flight demonstration of the RAF F-35Bs.

Coordination of the flight was complex considering the first wave of aircraft, tactical helicopters, flew over the parade route at only 100 knots, while the fast jets flew over the demonstration area at over 300 knots. As a result of the disparity in speed and performance the aircraft staged in waves at appropriate, synchronized distances from their parade rendezvous point hours before the flyover. The interval between the aircraft as they converged over the parade route was only 30 seconds.

Wing Commander Kevin Gatland told reporters, “So you have a very long train of aircraft which are compressing as they get overhead central London.” As a result of the flyover, London’s Heathrow Airport, one of the busiest in the world, had to cease operations for approximately 20 minutes.

Media from around the world covered the event both from camera aircraft adjacent to the flyover route and from the ground. Considering the historical significance of the event the flyover could be considered a resounding success even as overcast skies held above the formations.

Two Chinooks flying over London during the parade. (Image credit: Crown Copyright).

The 100-Year Anniversary of the RAF will continue this month as the Royal International Air Tattoo will take place at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire on July 13-15. It is the largest display of military aircraft in the world according to organizers with over 8 hours of flight demonstrations each day and hundreds of static displays and exhibitions.

Image credit: Crown Copyright