Author Archives: Tom Demerly

F-16 Attempting Emergency Landing At Lake Havasu, Arizona, Departs Prepared Surface. Pilot Ejects.

F-16 Crash Lands Near Lake Havasu, Arizona. Pilot Safely Ejected.

An F-16C assigned to the 56th Fighter Wing diverted and attempted to land at Lake Havasu City Municipal Airport, Lake Havasu City, Ariz. at approximately 10:35 a.m. today during a routine training flight.

“During landing the aircraft departed the prepared surface and the pilot ejected from the aircraft. The pilot is in good condition and is being transported to Havasu Regional Medical Center,” according to a public release by the U.S. Air Force.

An image showing the F-16 that crash landed on Apr. 24, 2018. (Image credit: Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page)

Luke AFB is a significant U.S. Air Force installation outside Phoenix, Arizona and is used as an F-35 and F-16 school.

A separate report passed on to us by the Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page said:

“Lake Havasu local here, just got sent a pic at our airport of the F-16 crash landing. Came in with engine failure, pilot ejected on landing and was walking/safe. About 50 minutes ago. Not sure at originating base, it’s a city/municipal airport we have here in between DM, Luke, and Nellis. Only other info is from somebody who was listening to the local scanner before it landed and it was two F-16’s landing one with engine failure, skidded off runway after ejection, through a fence, flameout, jet ended up inside Craggy Wash which is adjacent to our airport.”

This reported incident continues what has been a series of U.S. Air Force accidents that included the fatal crash of U.S. Air Force Thunderbird Pilot, Major Stephen Del Bagno, from Valencia, California. Major Del Bagno’s fatal accident happened on April 4, 2018.

Image credit: Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page

Lockheed Martin to Propose 5th Gen F-22/F-35 Hybrid to Japan.

New Proposed Stealth Hybrid Fighter to Expand Japanese Fighter Capability. Re-opening the F-22 Production Line might be an option too.

Late Friday, April 20, Reuters journalists Tim Kelly and Nobuhiro Kubo reported that Lockheed Martin will propose a new 5th generation low-observable (stealth) combat aircraft to Japan. According to Kelly and Kubo’s article, the two sources who provided the information to Reuters have direct knowledge of the upcoming proposal.

According to the sources with direct knowledge of the program quoted in the April 20 Reuters story, “Lockheed has discussed the idea with Japanese defense ministry officials and will make a formal proposal in response to a Japanese request for information (RFI) after it receives permission from the U.S. government to offer the sensitive military technology.”

Reuters quoted one of the two unnamed sources as telling them, “The proposed aircraft would combine the F-22 and F-35 and could be superior to both of them.”

The F-22 Raptor is only used by the United States Air Force and is not exported because some of its capabilities remain a national security asset. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was originally conceived as an export project to provide cost sharing and capability commonality between partner nations as a force multiplier.

The new Japanese aircraft to be proposed by Lockheed Martin will be an air superiority aircraft with a similar role to the F-22 Raptor.

The Japanese rolled out their first domestically built F-35A Joint Strike Fighter from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Komaki South F-35 Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility on June 5, 2017. Lockheed Martin built four of the first Japanese F-35s in the U.S. and delivered them to Japan. The remaining 38 of 42 total F-35As Japan has planned will be built at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Komaki South facility. Mitsubishi was the builder of the famous A6M Zero fighter used in WWII.

The Reuters report about the new Lockheed Martin proposal is set alongside the existing Japanese Mitsubishi X-2 Shinshin design originally designated the ATD-X for “Advanced Technology Demonstrator – X”. This aircraft bears a strong resemblance to the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, using the same basic overall configuration. The ATD-X/X-2 Shinshin is a two-seat experimental aircraft whereas the F-22 and F-35 are only single seat aircraft. Only one X-2 Shinshin has been produced by Japan as a technology testbed. It first flew on April 22, 2016.

The reports of the new upcoming proposal from Lockheed Martin could suggest that Japan is considering abandoning its own indigenous fifth generation air superiority development program in favor of a design from another country. One stipulation reported by the source who spoke to Reuters was that any new proposed aircraft from outside Japan must have Japanese engines, radar and other components. This suggests that an additional, new vendor like Lockheed Martin may be primarily an airframe supplier.

The Reuters report did quote the Japanese Ministry of Defense as saying, “We are considering domestic development, joint development and the possibility of improving existing aircraft performance, but we have not yet come to any decision.”

There are a number of motives for Japan to consider a ground-up aircraft development for its own Gen 5+ aircraft. Perhaps the most compelling reason to consider a new direction are the lessons learned from the massive development processes for both the U.S. F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter.

Both the F-22 and F-35 programs were expensive and groundbreaking in terms of leading the Gen 5 integration of combat aircraft into an air force. The attendant costs of those programs can be amortized and benefitted from in new development aircraft. The implication is they could be both better and cheaper.

Another reason for the shift in interest to a new Gen5+ direction for Japan’s next air superiority fighter is China. A March 15, 2018 article by Kyle Mizokami in Popular Mechanics quoted Chinese aircraft developer Yang Wei, deputy director of advanced of science and technology at Aviation Industry Corp of China and member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, as saying, “We are not complacent about what we have achieved. We will develop the J-20 into a large family and keep strengthening its information-processing and intelligent capacities. At the same time, we will think about our next-generation combat plane to meet the nation’s future requirements.”

China has also been active in expanding its export market for tactical aircraft, although advanced aircraft like the J-20s are likely to remain exclusively Chinese. Japan may look to co-develop a new aircraft that could possibly have limited export appeal in the region, provided the buy-in were lower than F-35.

Japan wants Lockheed Martin to propose a new stealth air superiority fighter. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

The costs of re-opening the F-22 production line, or even some version of it, have been generally regarded as prohibitive. However, Tyler Rogoway at The War Zone has long been advocating a sale of Raptors to Japan. In the 2016 story “Just Allow The F-22 To Be Exported To Japan Already“. Here’s a short excerpt from Tyler’s latest article on this subject (but I strongly recommend reading the whole story):

“Although Japan has put forward notional Raptor-like designs, what they could also be talking about here is merging the higher kinematic performance and low-observability of the F-22 with the F-35’s smarter attributes—including updated avionics, mission computers, and sensors—as well as new lower-maintenance skin coatings.

[…]

That cost [to put an updated F-22 back into production] may be too high for the USAF to stomach, but for Japan, it’s highly unlikely they will be able to field something superior to an updated F-22 for anywhere near less. It’s also likely that once the U.S.-specific politics of putting the Raptor back into production are removed from the equation, the cost of doing so would drop.

But if Japan is willing to buy an updated Raptor instead of developing a near identical but still unique design, clearly doing so would present a mutually beneficial opportunity. If the U.S. would become a minority stakeholder in an F-22 production line restart of sorts, with the intent on buying a number of airframes to bolster the USAF’s undersized and cherished F-22 fleet, then the opportunity could work out for both parties.

[…]

We will watch how this story develops closely, but if the Pentagon was smart, they would embrace an upgraded F-22 restart with Japan, and if Tokyo is willing to foot the majority of the bill for doing so, the USAF would be nuts not to take advantage of it. “

Indeed, this cost-sharing strategy between the U.S. and Japan would be a significant win-win, especially with the U.S. need for more F-22s. Let’s see what happens.

Top image: A wind tunnel model of Japan’s indigenous gen 5 stealth air superiority fighter. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

Incident in Saudi Arabia Sparks Tweets About Unconfirmed Possible Coup Attempt.

Video Emerging with Significant Gunfire Being Heard Near Palace; King Transferred to Airbase; Toy Drone shot down.

Twitter and news outlets came alive with spotty, unconfirmed news reports of an incident in Saudi Arabia that some sources were describing as a possible “coup attempt”. There has been no official verification of significant or organized action in the region and no reports have surfaced as of 00:30 Riyadh time on the BBC World News, but the volume of Twitter reports and private messages received by this reporter seem to indicate an incident of some significance.

Saudi Arabia has been so far successful in avoiding inclusion in the “Arab Spring” revolts that have toppled governments across the Middle East and began in Tunisia in 2010. Since then Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Egypt, Syria and Bahrain have been subject to either government coups or coup attempts. The attempts at overthrowing the Syrian government have resulted in one of the bloodiest conflicts in the history of the region now in its seventh year.

The Daily Mail is one of the media outlets reporting the “heavy gungire near royal palace”.

As the minutes have passed during the last hour the volume of traffic about Saudi Arabia on Twitter has increased, but the region’s top Twitter reporter, @SamiAlJaber, has reported nothing specific about a “coup attempt”.

“An official Riyadh district police spokesman said that at about 19:50 p.m. on Saturday, 5/8/1439 a security screening point in the Al-Khuzama district of Riyadh noticed a small, remote-controlled recreational aircraft (drone) flying without being authorized to do so, which required security personnel at the security point to deal with it in accordance with their orders and instructions in this regard,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported according to Newsweek.

The following traffic was monitored in the aftermath of the reported gunfire. It might be completely unrelated to the alleged attempted coup, still it’s worth of note, considered that according to flight tracking authority @CivMilAir the GL4 has always shadowed the Crown Prince’s UK, USA, France tours.

For instance, the same aircraft, registration HZ-MS4B was part of the fleet that supported the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman during his U.S. tour. Here’s a tweet dating back to a couple of weeks ago:

Concern about unrest in the country have been top of mind in the region for several years but the existing government has, to date, been mostly successful in moderating large, overt attempt at leadership change.

This story will be updated as information becomes available.

Top image credit: Google

Contrary To Initial Reports, F-22s Were Indeed Flying And Older, Standard JASSMs Were Used During Syria Strike

AFCENT Changing The Narrative About the Strikes and Weapons Used in Syria.

U.S. Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) made an unusual announcement today revealing to Air Force Magazine that: “US Air Force F-22 Raptors played an integral role in protecting ground forces during and after the multinational strikes against Syrian chemical weapons production facilities on the morning of April 14.”

AFCENT spokesman USAF Capt. Mark Graff released that, “Thanks to its unique fifth generation capabilities, the F-22 was the only airframe suited to operate inside the Syrian integrated air defense systems, offering an option to neutralize [Integrated Air Defense System] threats to our forces and installations in the region, and provide protective air support for US, coalition and partners on the ground in Syria.”

An article published today by reporters and subject matter experts John Tirpak and Brian Everstine of Air Force Magazine said that Air Forces Central Command was “correcting the record” about the April 14, 2018 anti-chemical weapons strikes on Syria.

During the combined air and sea strikes in Syria on the 14th, aircraft and weapons from a coalition of the United Kingdom, France and the United States struck a weapons research center in Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs, and a chemical weapon storage site and command center that had been associated with chemical weapons delivery and production.

According to multiple press reports, over 100 weapons were employed in the strikes that the U.S claims were successful. Syria and Russia claim a number of cruise missiles were shot down during the strikes and that little damage was done. The U.S. has published strike video of targets being destroyed in the raids. Russia and Syria have not produced tangible evidence of the claims that the raids were ineffective.

One the B-1s involved in the air strikes takes off from Al Udeid, Qatar. Image credit: US DoD via Oriana Pawlyk

Tirpak and Everstine’s report on AFCENT’s announcement reveals that, “Air-to-Surface Standoff Munitions used in the mission were the older, standard version, not the extended range variant.” This statement counters an earlier report in Air Force Magazine, also reported by Tirpak and Everstine, that:

“The [April 14] strike marked the first use of the AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range weapon in combat. Two USAF B-1B Lancers from the 34th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron launched a total of 19 JASSM-ERs. The two bombers, deployed from Al Udeid AB, Qatar, entered Syrian airspace from the south and were escorted by a USMC EA-6B Prowler.”

New information also reveals that USAF F-22 Raptors were part of the game, ready to repel interception from aircraft and from surface-to-air missiles.
Another interesting part of today’s announcement is that, “F-22s were indeed flying in the area, ready to strike Syrian or Russian air defense systems and other assets if they threatened either coalition aircraft or US ground forces in the region.” This comment is of particular interest since it acknowledges that the U.S. had some type of ground forces in the area during the strikes.

While no specific information is available about the use of U.S. ground forces in this specific instance, it is common doctrine for special operations teams to provide target designation, search and rescue and bomb damage assessment in connection with air operations.

Tirpak and Everstine also quoted Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart in a Military.com report published on Monday, April 16, 2018, that the F-22, “was available, but wasn’t required for the operation as planned.” Lt. Col. Pickart added, “That said, the F-22 is well-suited for the defensive counterair mission it continues to conduct over Syria, protecting coalition forces on the ground and in the air.” Today’s reveal confirms that the F-22 was indeed used in the raid over Syria on April 14.

AFCENT spokesman Capt. Mark Graff also told reporters that, “Fifth generation platforms like the F-22 and the F-35 will continue to serve as the primary platforms capable of operating in the lethal threat rings of Integrated Air Defense System (IADS) environments like those found in Syria,” in his remarks about the April 14 strikes. Capt. Graff’s remarks hint at the possible future first use of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in combat, although no F-35s from the U.S. are known to be in the region at this time. There have been rumors of the Israelis using F-35s, but these theories have been effectively debunked as inaccurate.

Graff went on to acknowledge that the 19 cruise missiles employed against the targets in Barzeh, Syria “were, in fact, not JASSM Extended Range (JASSM-ER) munitions” as reported by the Pentagon immediately following the attack. The cruise missiles employed in the strikes were actually, “JASSM-A, or the standard, non-extended range versions of the munition,” Graff said. Graff did confirm the April 14 strikes were the first use “of any variant of the JASSM.”

Some social media pundits, mostly Syrian and Russian, have disputed claims that chemical weapons were even present in the target areas, claiming there has been no independent verification of the presence of chemical weapons. U.S. news media reported that, “Even though US intelligence agencies did not have absolute certainty Syria’s regime had used the nerve agent sarin against civilians, the Trump administration still felt there was enough evidence to justify retaliatory strikes last Friday,” according to a report published April 18, 2018 by CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr.

Some critics claimed that, if chemical weapons had been present during the coalition airstrikes, the strikes would have released clouds of chemicals into the area potentially exposing the civilian population to the possibility of collateral casualties. These criticisms suggest a basic misunderstanding of the function and delivery of most chemical weapons that employ a two-part “binary” chemical warhead. The chemical weapon payload is delivered to the target as two separate, inert chemicals that only become weaponized upon mixing them together during delivery.

As reported in Air Force Magazine on Monday, Commander of U.S. Air Combat Command, Air Force General Mike Holmes, said that, “When attacking a chemical weapons complex, the release of toxins can be mitigated by hitting it with a large number of weapons, thus burning up the chemicals.” Air Force Magazine went on to report that, “Barzeh was hit by 76 US missiles—19 JASSMs and 57 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles—with about 1,000 pounds of explosives each.” Presumably that number of weapons would mitigate the collateral effects of any weaponized chemicals destroyed by the strike.

Bomb damage assessment photos show the Barzah Research and Development Center used for chemical weapons development before and after the coalition air strikes on April 14, 2018. (Photo: AP)

Finally, Air Force Magazine reported that the Barzeh chemical facility in Syria, “Stored mainly ‘precursor’ chemicals, that had not yet been weaponized, so it should ‘not be surprising’ that there were no dangerous toxins detected after the strike.”

The information released today provides a clearer picture of how the strikes unfolded.

Top image credit: Author

Former U.S. Navy F/A-18 Pilot Hailed as Hero in Southwest 737 Accident As Investigation Into the Cause Continues

Accident Investigation Focuses on CFM56-7B Engine. Navy P-8A Uses Same Engine.

Media around the world is acknowledging Southwest Airlines Captain Tammie Jo Shults for her role in landing a Boeing 737-700 airliner after the port (left) jet engine disintegrated and damaged the aircraft’s wing and fuselage during a routine flight from New York’s La Guardia airport to Dallas, Texas on Tuesday, April 17, 2018.

There were 143 passengers and five crew on board. The accident resulted in one fatality and seven injuries. The aircraft was at 32,000 feet when the accident occurred according to several reports. Capt. Shults declared an in-flight emergency and diverted to Philadelphia International Airport where she made a successful emergency landing with the damaged aircraft.

The Captain of the flight, Tammie Jo Shults, was among the first female pilots in the U.S. Navy to fly the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet multi-role attack aircraft. Stories from around the internet are quoting a 1993 Navy magazine article as saying Shults was an A-7 Corsair (possibly the EA-7L electronic warfare variant) and F/A-18 pilot. She is reported to have flown with VAQ-34, the “Flashbacks”, a Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron of the U.S. Navy that provided threat simulation for air combat training. Many reports are citing that, at the time Shults was a naval aviator, that female pilots were not included as pilots in combat units, effectively preventing her from flying fighter aircraft operationally.

Southwest Airlines Capt Tammie Jo Shults was a former U.S. Naval aviator. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Shults was quoted on several blogs including Heavy.com and FoxtrotAlpha.com as telling Navy magazine, “In AOCS (Aviation Officer Candidate School), if you’re a woman (or different in any way), you’re high profile; you’re under more scrutiny.” Shults told the magazine that chances for women to advance in the aviation community were limited. “It would be nice if they would take away the ceilings (women) have over our heads,” she told the magazine. She praised her former U.S. Navy squadron by saying, “In VAQ-34, gender doesn’t matter, there’s no advantage or disadvantage. Which proves my point – if there’s a good mix of gender, it ceases to be an issue.”

As of Wednesday morning, the day after the accident, media outlets as far away as the South China Morning Post were writing that Shults is, “Being praised for her ‘nerves of steel’ in helping to prevent a far worse tragedy.” The Associated Press ran a quote from her brother-in-law who told them, “She’s a formidable woman, as sharp as a tack.”

A report on NBC News said that Capt. Shults, 56, is a 1983 graduate of MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas. She earned a degree in biology and agribusiness at the school before going on to become a naval aviator. Her husband is also a pilot for Southwest Airlines.

NBC News reporters Elizabeth Chuck and Shamar Walters went on to report that, “The passengers described horror in the moments after the plane’s window was shattered. Passenger Eric Zilbert told NBC News that a woman was “partially sucked out” of the plane by explosive decompression of the cabin. Zilbert told NBC News that a group of passengers leapt over seats inside the Boeing 737 to pull the woman back in. A group of passengers then performed CPR on the woman following the window failure.

As with all aviation accidents, an investigation into the cause of accident is already underway in the U.S.

The damaged engine and missing window aft of the wing can be seen in this widely shared media photo of the Boeing 737 aircraft after the emergency landing. (Photos: via YahooNews)

Southwest Airlines’ Capt. Shults calm demeanor and professional airmanship recall the January 2009 incident referred to as the “Miracle on the Hudson” when U.S. Airways flight 1549, an Airbus A320-214 with 155 people on board, made an emergency water landing in the Hudson River in New York after losing both engines during take-off to a bird strike incident. The pilots in that celebrated incident, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, were lauded as heroes and went on to be portrayed in a Hollywood movie about the incident. Capt. Sully Sullenberger was also a former military pilot prior to his career at U.S. Airways, having flown the F-4D Phantom II and acting as Blue Force commander at Red Flag air combat simulation exercises at Nellis AFB, Nevada.

As with all aviation accidents, an investigation into the cause of accident is already underway in the U.S.

On Thursday, the BBC World News reported that, “Investigators say there was a fault with the engine’s fan blades – the cause of [an] incident two years ago.” The previous engine failure occurred on a Boeing 737 in 2016. The aircraft made an emergency landing in Florida.

The Boeing 737-700 in this accident used two CFM56-7B engines. Because of the incidents with the CFM56-7B powerplants on 737s the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB), the civilian authority for commercial aviation in the U.S., there will be an “Airworthiness Directive” bulletin issued within the next two weeks directing the detailed inspection of many of the CFM engines. CFM told the BBC World News that more than 8,000 Boeing 737s in service around the world use the CFM56-7B engine.

An inspector examines the engine of Southwest Flight 1380 after its emergency landing. One engine fan blade can clearly be seen missing. (Photo: NTSB)

The military version of the Boeing 737 airliner, the long-range maritime and anti-submarine warfare P-8A Poseidon as well as the other combat variant (such as the E7 AEW&C) also use the CFM-56-7B engines. The P-8A is in service with the U.S., Australia, Norway, India and the U.K. forces. As of this week there have been no public directives about engine inspections on the military version of the aircraft.

Top image: The Boeing 737 aircraft showed substantial damage after the engine failure. (Photos: via Twitter)