Author Archives: Tom Demerly

USMC F-35B Lightning Crashes Near MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina: Pilot Ejects.

Details of First-Ever F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Crash Are Developing.

A U.S. Marine F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter has crashed near Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station outside of Beaufort, South Carolina on the U.S. East Coast. Reports indicate the pilot ejected from the aircraft. His condition is not known at this time.

MCAS Beaufort is home to Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 (VMFAT-501), the “Warlords”. The unit is a training squadron equipped with 20 F-35B Lightning II aircraft and serves as the Fleet Replacement Squadron.

This first-ever crash of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter comes only one day after a U.S. Marine F-35B flew its first operational combat mission over Afghanistan.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Update 17.55 GMT

Update 18.48 GMT

Video filmed at the crash site:

U.S. F-35B Joint Strike Fighters Perform Their First-Ever Air Strike On Targets in Afghanistan

U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightings Of VMFA-211 Hit Targets in Afghanistan From USS Essex.

For the first time in history U.S. F-35 Joint Strike Fighters flew in combat on Sept. 27, 2018. Official U.S military sources characterized the mission as “successful”.

U.S. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, the “Wake Island Avengers”, of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, used their F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters to hit insurgent targets in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province early Thursday morning.

The long-range strikes were launched from the U.S. Navy Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2) on station in the Persian Gulf. The USS Essex recently transited the Gulf of Aden as it sailed through the North Arabian Sea and finally to combat stations in the Persian Gulf where today’s historic first-ever long range strikes were launched.

The Israeli Air Force was the first in the world to employ the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter in combat earlier this year when they used their F-35I Adir aircraft to hit undisclosed targets at least twice.

While the Joint Strike Fighter program has advanced since 2006 without a major in-flight mishap or loss of life and established numerous technical milestones it has been the focus of intense criticism due to costs and perceived delays.

Today’s U.S. Marine F-35B Lightning II strikes may either begin to temper criticism of the overall F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program or increase it even more. Indeed, while it represents the baptism of fire for the American 5th generation multirole aircraft in the STOVL variant, it also raises questions. Among them, the most obvious is: was a stealth aircraft, the most expensive defense program in history, required to hit Taliban targets in Afghanistan?

Thursday’s historic U.S. Marine F-35B Lightning II mission was “in support of ground clearance operations” according to a report in the Military Times by defense experts Tara Copp and Valerie Insinna released just hours ago.



The U.S. Marine Corps was the first military service in the world to integrate the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter into operational service during 2015. Of the three U.S. versions of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the U.S. Marine F-35B Lightning II is the most complex, using an innovative vectored thrust and lift-fan configuration to take off from a ship’s flight deck without a catapult in a short distance and land back on board vertically from a hover. U.S. Marine F-35Bs used in the strikes today were also equipped with the externally mounted GAU-22 25mm gun pod in addition to the weapons in the internal bays.

The photos released by the DoD, show the F-35B being prepared for the first air strike with what seems to be a GBU-32 1000-lb JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) under the weapon bay.

viationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/VMFA-211-F-35-Essex-loading.jpg”> U.S. 5th FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS – U.S. Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), stage ordnance before loading it into an F-35B Lightning II aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) in preparation for the F-35B’s first combat strike, Sept. 27, 2018. The Essex is the flagship for the Essex Amphibious Ready Group and, with the embarked 13th MEU, is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and the Pacific through the western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. A. J. Van Fredenberg/Released)

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[/caption]By contrast to the U.S. Marine  F-35B Lightning II, the U.S. Navy uses a version of the Joint Strike Fighter called the F-35C with wider wings and different landing gear to facilitate catapult launches and arrestor hook recoveries onboard U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. The U.S. Air Force flies the F-35A Lightning II, a conventional take-off and landing aircraft that flies from land based runways. While the U.S. Air Force has declared their F-35A Lightning IIs as operational the U.S. Navy is still in the final implementation phase of their wide-winged F-35C Lightning IIs.

U.S. Naval Forces Central Command Commander Vice Admiral Scott Stearney told reporters that, “The F-35B is a significant enhancement in theater amphibious and air warfighting capability, operational flexibility, and tactical supremacy,” The Vice Admiral went on to say, “As part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, this platform supports operations on the ground from international waters, all while enabling maritime superiority that enhances stability and security.”

In-Flight Emergency, New Kawasaki Motorcycle And More: All The “Top Gun: Maverick” News We Can Tell You, And Some We Can’t…

Among all the other things, Tom Cruise Has Emergency “Flap Caution” Landing During “Top Gun” Sequel Filming.

Hollywood action film star Tom Cruise had to cut short the filming of an aerial sequence for the upcoming “Top Gun: Maverick” after a “flap warning” indication appeared in the U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet he was flying in Monday afternoon, September 17, 2018. The aircraft diverted to an alternate airfield following the incident.

The 56-year old Golden Globe Award winning actor was photographed wearing U.S. Navy flight gear and a specially painted Gentex HGU-68/P lightweight flight helmet. The photos were said to have been taken at “an airbase in Nevada” and have circulated on Hollywood gossip and aviation fan blogs including TMZ.com. Our own David Cenciotti was the first to notice that Maverick used the modern flight helmet instead of the old HGU-33:

Other photos surfaced on the “Eggs, Bacon and Joey Morning Show” Facebook page that showed Tom Cruise dressed in a flight suit shaking hands with men and women also in military flight suits at Naval Air Station Lemoore in Kings County and Fresno County in Central California. F/A-18 aircraft appear in the background including the tips of the twin tails of one F/A-18 painted in colors that may be similar to the one we showed in a previous update that will be used in the filming of the upcoming “Top Gun: Maverick”.

A story on ABC30.com by columnist Jim Jakobs confirmed from the U.S. Navy that, “The Navy can’t tell us if Cruise is in Lemoore. But, the Navy can say that NAS Lemoore’s F/A-18 Super Hornets and F-35’s will play a big role in the movie.” The article mentioned our editor David Cenciotti as a source for new photos of the specially painted F/A-18F to be used by Tom Cruise in the movie. ABC30 writer Jim Jakobs went on to quote Cmdr. Ron Flanders, Public Affairs Officer, Naval Air Forces as saying, “A great deal of the flying in this film will be done by Lemoore based aviators.”

Enough rumors also flew fast and low earlier this week about the upcoming “Top Gun: Maverick” to make you spill your coffee in the tower. But just like any target rich environment, in a matter of minutes, the most interesting- and as it later turned out- accurate rumors, disappeared from social media like a MiG-28 on afterburner. We’d tell you more, but we’d have to… you know. Most of the rumors that were acknowledged as accurate mentioned locations for filming the low flying sequences of the film. TheAviationist.com was asked not to reveal these locations.

Photos of U.S. Navy aggressor aircraft never before photographed in specific western U.S. low flying areas began surfacing on social media. Similar or identical aircraft were used in the first “Top Gun” movie in 1986. The photos sparked rumors and speculation about set locations for the movie. After responses to our inquiry about the photos we were asked not to say anything more. Our post on social media inquiring about the location disappeared after the information was privately confirmed.

What we can report is that better photos have surfaced of the aircraft that is going to be used for Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in the movie, as played by Tom Cruise. We first ran unattributed photos rumored to be “Maverick’s” plane on September 13 after they appeared in at least two Hollywood entertainment gossip blogs. Within hours the rumors were at least unofficially confirmed and more photos surfaced- the one shown here.

Then, more interesting news appeared online:

No “Top Gun” sequel would be complete without the need for speed, and photos have surfaced of Tom Cruise being filmed as Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell riding a new Kawasaki Ninja H2R motorcycle on a runway for a possible title sequence that reprises the original 1986 sequence. This new Kawasaki Ninja H2R replaces the Kawasaki GPZ900R that he rode in the original 1986 film. “Maverick”’s new Ninja H2R displaces 998cc’s and has a top speed of (seriously) Mach .327 or between 206 and 249 MPH.

Fox News and other Hollywood gossip sites have ran spy photos of Tom Cruise as “Maverick” filming a possible title sequence on a new 200 MPH Kawasaki Ninja H2R. (Photo: Via Fox News/Facebook/Kawasaki)

Raven-haired Hollywood hottie Monica Barbarow has been cast in the role of a pilot trainee in “Top Gun: Maverick” and will fill a major part of the female cast of the film as the love-interest of another pilot in the film, “Bradley Bradshaw” as played by actor Miles Teller. Barbarow is a formally trained ballerina who left dance to pursue acting full time. She has appeared in the NBC television legal drama “Chicago Justice”.

Filming for “Top Gun: Maverick” has also been taking place onboard the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) during August. Film crews from Paramount and Bruckheimer Films were aboard the carrier until Sunday, August 26.

Tom Cruise as Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell was spotted shaking hands at NAS Lemoore in California. (Photo: Via Facebook/Eggs, Bacon and Joey Morning Show)

The release date for the film has been pushed back nearly a year until June 26, 2020 from the original release date of July 2019. Entertainment writer Anthony D’Alessandro reported in Deadline.com that the film is being delayed to, “Work our all the complex flight sequences so that the pic can be great.”

The delay has led to speculation about the plot for “Top Gun: Maverick” that is already said to include remotely piloted aircraft and the Navy’s new F-35C Lightning II. The Navy has confirmed the F-35C will be included in the movie.

Top image: Several websites leaked photos of a U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet with special markings that could be for Tom Cruise’s character “Maverick” in the upcoming Top Gun sequel (Photo: Via RevengeOfTheFans.com courtesy of Mario-Francisco Robles)

USAF T-6A Texan II Trainer Crashes Near Randolph AFB, Texas: Crew Ejects Safely.

Accident is Eighth USAF Loss This Year, Second Trainer Crash in a Week.

A U.S. Air Force T-6A Texan II single-engine, two-seat turboprop primary trainer aircraft crashed on Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 18 outside Randolph Air Force Base in Texas near the town of San Antonio Texas. The two crew members on board ejected from the aircraft and survived. The aircraft was from the 12th Flying Training Wing as confirmed by a USAF statement released on social media. There were no injuries on the ground from the accident and an investigation is under way.

According to a local news report filed by MySanAntonio.com reporters Sig Christensen and Jacob Beltran earlier today, “The plane crashed in a field near Nacogdoches Road just outside Loop 1604 in the northern suburban fringe, where such wide-open acreage is rapidly shrinking.”

Photos of the crew from the crashed T-6A Texan II appeared on Twitter minutes after the crash. (Photo: Luke Simons/kens5eyewitness via Twitter)

The crash brings the number of USAF aircraft destroyed in accidents this year to 8, and is the second loss of a training aircraft for the Air Force in 7 days.

On Monday, Sept. 11, 2018, a USAF T-38C advanced twin-engine, two-seat, jet trainer from the 80th Flying Training Wing at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas departed the runway prior to takeoff. Both crewmembers ejected. One of them, Major Christian Hartmann of the German Air Force, was treated for minor injuries according to the Sheppard Air Force Base Facebook page. Luftwaffe (German Air Force) Maj. Hartmann is part of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program at Sheppard AFB. Last week’s T-38 accident was the fourth involving a T-38 advanced jet trainer in 11 months.

In response to the number of aviation accidents during the 24 months prior to May, 2018, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General David L. Goldfein directed a single-day safety stand-down for an operational safety review earlier this year.

The single-day safety stand-down directed by General Goldfein earlier this year does not appear to have exerted an effect on the frequency of incidents and accidents for the U.S. Air Force in the four months since it was directed.

Earlier this year on April 8, Air Force Times reporter Stephen Losey wrote that, “The Air Force’s overall aviation mishap rate has hit a seven-year high, fueled by a growing number of non-fatal “Class C” mishaps, which experts say is an ominous warning sign. While the major mishaps that result in deaths and cost millions in damages, known as “Class A” mishaps, are ticking downward for the Air Force, the fleet is reporting a rise in the less-severe accidents that cause more modest damage and injuries.”

No single, specific reason for USAF accidents has been identified. Some observers suggest the number of military aviation accidents is related to a pilot shortage across all U.S. military branches. The pilot shortage may be compounded by an increasing training and operational tempo as the demand for military aviation assets increases.

The T-6A training aircraft involved in Tuesday’s crash has a proven record of airworthiness. The Beechcraft T-6A first flew in 2000 and replaced the previous Cessna T-37B twin-engine, two-seat light jet trainer for the Air Force. The T-6A was also adopted by the U.S. Navy as a replacement for its aging Beechcraft T-34C Turbo Mentor primary trainer.

Top: USAF file photo of a Beechcraft T-6A Texan II

Let’s Recap Everything We Know About The Russian Il-20M Shot Down By A Syrian S-200 Missile System Yesterday

The Il-20M was shot down off Syria shortly after an Israeli air strike had hit targets in the Latakia Province.

Written with The Aviationist’s editor David Cenciotti

In the hours following the downing of a Russian military Il-20M “Coot-A” surveillance and control aircraft off the Syrian coast with 15 personnel on board, the leaders of Israel and Russia have expressed regret over the incident.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to express regret for the incident and emphasized that Syria was to blame for the loss of the aircraft and crew.

Russian President Putin was reported as saying the incident was, “A chain of tragic accidental circumstances” in quotes published by the BBC World News and other news outlets.

As the circumstances become clearer about how the large, four-engine turboprop Russian Il-20M “Coot-A” surveillance aircraft was lost previous theories have been debunked. It now appears certain the incident was a result of Syrian anti-aircraft batteries attempting to engage four Israeli F-16s that were striking targets in the region at the time. The Syrian S-200 surface to air missiles accidentally hit the larger, slower Russian Il-20M surveillance plane instead of any of the attacking Israeli F-16s (and possible escorting aircraft).

Early theories about who may be responsible for the destruction of the Russian aircraft included anti-aircraft missiles from the French missile frigate Auvergne off the Syrian coast and even the possible involvement of Israeli F-35I Adir aircraft or the four Israeli F-16s directly involved in the strike over Syria at the time the Russian Il-20M was lost. All of these theories have been dismissed as false.

But even with official acknowledgement of the circumstances leading up to the incident, which appears to be “fratricide” or a tragic “friendly fire” incident between allies, questions still remain. Columnist Joe Trevithick of “The War Zone” wrote after the incident, “Israel has used a deconfliction hotline in the past to alert Russia of impending strikes in Syria. The Israeli Air Force says it did give the Kremlin advance notice in this case, as well, but did not say how much time elapsed between that notification and the first missiles hitting various targets in Latakia.”

Trevithick’s observation has merit. Suggestions that the four attacking Israeli F-16s were using the large, slow Il-20 as a “shield” during the attack as suggested by the Russian MoD also seems tactically implausible to some, although deconfliction over a crowded target area is a problem in aerial combat that dates back to WWI, as is the corresponding threat of fratricide from anti-aircraft fire.

Suggestions have surfaced on social media, including Facebook pages originating in Russia, that the Russian Il-20M “Coot-A” was, “Landing in the Syria defense zone, all of the radar systems were turned off. Israeli planes took advantage of this situation and under cover [of the Russian Il-20M] struck positions of the Syrians. The S-200 air defenses of the Syria struck our plane by mistake.” Others have pointed out that the IFF used by the Russian aircraft should have prevented the “blue on blue” accident.

However, there have been previous episodes of friendly fire, including a famous accident that saw a RAF Tornado shot down by a U.S. Patriot missile in Iraq on Mar 22, 2003. Back then the UK MoD pointed to a “system error” as the cause, linked to failure of the aircraft’s “identification friend or foe” (IFF) system against a backdrop of of “inexperienced US troops, heavily reliant on technology to make decisions”.

Indeed, the IFF is not always reliable and the safety of friendly aircraft is also ensured by coordination, use of “Transit Corridors”, etc.

And EW (Electronic Warfare) support, decoys etc. that have proved to be extremely effective in the past, can have played a role:

Indeed, on Sept. 6, 2007, ten F-15I and F-16 jets attacked a nuclear facility being built in Syria. The success of that mission, dubbed “Silent Tone” (previously unofficially named “Operation Orchard” by international media), was largely attributed to effectiveness of the Israeli Electronic Warfare platforms that supported the air strike and made the Syrian radars blind: some sources believe that Operation Orchard saw the baptism of fire of the Suter airborne network system against Syrian radar systems from some ELINT aircraft.

Anyway, other contributing factors to the “friendly fire” that brought down the Il-20M may have been defective equipment as well as lack of training/expertise, even though we must also remember that, in June 2012, a Syrian anti-aircraft artillery battery was able to down a Turkish Air Force RF-4E Phantom that had violated the Syrian airspace at low altitude over the Mediterranean Sea, thus proving that Damascus’s air defense were (at that time) somehow dreadful for enemy fighter jets.

Photos appeared on Twitter today showing the alleged target of the Israeli F-16 strikes. Originally appearing from the Twitter user @aldin_ww and then shared on the unofficial Russian Aerospace Facebook fan page ВКС РОССИИ, the photo from before the strike showed a large, apparently single story building that appeared to be a warehouse. The photo posted that was claimed to be after the strike showed a similar building destroyed. No claim of the authenticity of the photos has been made by Israeli sources.

Official Israeli sources on Twitter released a series of tweets explaining their version of events surrounding the incident. Included in the Twitter statements from @IDFSpokesperson was the tweet that, “Israel will share all the relevant information with the Russian government to review the incident and confirm the facts in this inquiry.” Further posts on social media claimed that Israel had offered to send the “commander of the Israeli Air Force” to Russia to provide information about the Israeli actions surrounding the incident.

From the tactical point of view, the most interesting IDF statement claimed that the F-16s were already in Israeli airspace when the Il-20 was engaged by the Syrian S-200: a version that contradicts the official Russian MoD stance that the Israeli aircraft used the spyplane as a cover.

So, what has really happened on Sept. 18?

Based on the details available to date, it quite likely that the Syrian S-200 battery, facing multiple target, some real ones and other fake ones possibly generated by decoys and EW activity shot at anything within range. Panic and stress on the Syrian side may have contributed.

As Popular Mechanics remembers, misidentification by air defenses operated by Russian-backed forces led to the downing of Malaysia Airlines MH17 flight about 50NM to the northwest of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine on Jul. 17, 2014. On Jul. 3, 1988, an Airbus A-300 (registration EP-IBU) operating as Iran Air Flight 655 from Tehran Bandar Abbas to Dubai was shot down by two ground-to-air missiles fired by the USS Vincennes, a Ticonderoga-class warship that was cruising in the Persian Gulf waters that misidentified the airliner as an Iranian F-14.

As the news cycle and social media conversation surrounding the incident continue it would appear that there will be no military response from Russia toward any nation. Russian social media has begun to show posts expressing remorse for the loss of the 15-member crew on board the Ilyushin Il-20M Coot. Names of the crew have not yet been seen on social media.

Top image credit: Dmitry Terekhov/Wiki