Author Archives: Tom Demerly

RAF Scampton, Home of The Dambusters and the Red Arrows, To Be Closed and Sold.

Famous RAF Base Has Illustrious History Dating Back to WWI as One of Oldest Air Bases.

The British Ministry of Defense (MoD) has announced the upcoming closure of the famous RAF Scampton air base outside the village of Scampton, Lincolnshire, UK. The base is among the oldest military air facilities in the world, having commenced operations in 1916 as Home Defense Flight Station Brattleby, or Brattleby Cliff to some. Reports in the local Lincolnite news outlet say the base will close by 2022.

RAF Scampton is currently home the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the famous Red Arrows. The world-renowned flight demonstration was first based at RAF Scampton in 1983, but was relocated to other airfields until they returned to Scampton in late 2000 where they reside today.

The closure of RAF Scampton joins the additional closure of RAF Linton-on-Ouse as a cost cutting measure estimated to save the British MoD as much as £3bn (nearly $4 billion U.S. dollars) by 2040 according to a report in the BBC World News. The report went on to say the two bases currently employ a combined total of approximately 900 people. There was no information on how those jobs may be affected by the two base closures.

The pastoral setting of RAF Scampton conjures iconic images of the RAF’s illustrious history. This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the Royal Air Force as one of the world’s oldest independent military air force. Celebrations and events commemorating the RAF’s history have been taking place all summer in the U.K. and will continue throughout the year.

RAF Scampton was home to the famous 617 Squadron in 1943. Known most famously as “The Dambusters” for their unique and daring raid, “Operation Chastise” on the large industrial dams of Ruhr Valley using early, rudimentary precision bombs designed by Barnes Wallis. The operation to strike the dams has been celebrated in books and film and even commemorated by flyovers of Lancaster bombers today.

The famous “Dambusters” raid by 617 Squadron originated from RAF Scampton in 1943. (Photo: Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund/MoD)

In 1956, RAF Scampton underwent major renovation as the Cold War reached its most threatening era. A runway was lengthened to 10,000 feet to accommodate the majestic Avro Vulcan delta-wing heavy bomber made famous during the “Black Buck” air raids on the Falkland Islands from Ascension Island in the Atlantic.

The iconic Avro Vulcan bomber was based at RAF Scampton during the Cold War. (Photo: MoD, Crown Copyright)

BBC Defense correspondent Jonathan Beale wrote that, “This will not be a popular decision, but defense sources say the base is looking tired and in need of investment. The RAF has assessed money would be better placed on improving its existing core sites.”

While fans of the RAF and British military history will lament the base closure, they also have plenty to celebrate as the country welcomes the arrival of its new F-35B Lightning (in British service, the F-35 is known as the “Lightning”, not the “Lightning II” according the MoD website). Also worthy of celebration is the ongoing testing of the new HMS Queen Elizabeth toward the goal of full F-35 strike capability by the F-35 from the ship in 2020.

Top image: RAF Scampton has most recently been known as the home the RAF Red Arrows aerobatic team. (Photo: UK MoD, Crown Copyright)

Israeli Patriot Missiles Down Unidentified Syrian Sukhoi in Border Incursion

Missile Interception Continues Escalation of Tensions Between Israel and Syria.

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) reports that Israeli Patriot missile batteries have engaged and downed an unspecified Syrian Air Force Sukhoi attack aircraft. The incident happened on Tuesday Jul. 24 afternoon local time in Israel at the northeastern border with Syria near the Israeli town of Safed.

Reports indicate the Patriot missile battery that downed the Syrian aircraft was inside Safed, Israel, but that the aircraft actually crashed within Syrian borders. The Syrian media has confirmed that one of their aircraft has crashed but maintains it was operating within Syrian airspace. Safed, Israel is only 43 miles from Daraa, Syria across a disputed border territory.

At this hour, it remains unclear if the aircraft downed was a Syrian Su-22 (NATO reporting name “Fitter”) or a Syrian Su-24 (NATO reporting name “Fencer”) according to the IDF. Syria has not specified the type of aircraft lost yet. Both of the aircraft use variable geometry swept wings or “swing wings” and are large ground attack aircraft difficult for laymen to differentiate visually from the ground, even though the nose of the aircraft are distinctly different.

Confused media reports are suggesting different aircraft as being involved in Tuesday’s incident. (Photo: Google)

Syria has lost Su-24s to Israeli air defense systems before. An Israeli MIM-104D Patriot missile battery engaged and downed a Syrian Su-24 on September 23, 2014 near Quneitra, Syria, after the aircraft strayed only 800 meters into Israeli airspace in the Golan Heights. That aircraft also crashed inside Syrian airspace after both crew members successfully ejected. Quneitra is considered Syrian territory by many, but was lost to the Israelis in the a succession of border conflicts and remains disputed although claimed by Syria.

Earlier this year on March 18, 2018, Russia’s Sputnik news agency reported that a Syrian Su-24 had been shot down by Syrian Jaysh Tahrir al-Sham rebels over the Eastern Qalamoon mountains in Syria.

A Syrian Air Force Su-24M2 may have been the aircraft involved in Tuesday’s shoot-down, but this is unconfirmed. (Photo: Syrian AF via Southfront)

Israeli Defense Forces have reported an increase in Syrian air activity in this border region throughout the morning according to official Israeli sources.
“We have passed a number of messages, in a number of languages, in order to ensure that no one violates Israeli air space,” IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters.

The Times of Israel quoted Israel’s former Military Intelligence Director Amos Yadlin as saying, “Israel has a very clear policy: No plane, and certainly not a Syrian plane, is allowed to enter our airspace without the appropriate authorization. Any plane identified as an enemy plane is shot down.”

Top image: Smoke trails from the launch of Israeli Patriot missiles seen on July 24, 2018 where Syrian aircraft was downed and Patriot missile battery (Photo: David Cohen/Flash90 and IDF)

Heroic Spitfire Legend Dead at 96: Geoffrey Wellum Has Passed Away.

Geoffrey Wellum: Author, Pilot, Example of Gallantry and Courage in The Battle of Britain.

WWII Royal Air Force Squadron Leader, Spitfire pilot and noted author Geoffrey Harris Augustus Wellum, has died. He was 96 years and 11 months old.

Geoffrey Wellum was a revered treasure of British history and a living example of the heroic ideal of the nation. He flew the Supermarine Spitfire during the pivotal Battle of Britain in 1940, when England was at risk of invasion by Germany across the English Channel and under a brutal succession of air attacks from the Luftwaffe.

Wellum’s illustrious career was one of many such stories of remarkable heroism and courage among young British men and women, many well under 20, who were charged with the aerial defense of England in the early years of WWII. As one of few recent remaining survivors of that illustrious era, Wellum has risen to considerable and well deserved adoration, epitomizing the remarkable patriotism and gallantry of all of WWII Great Britain. His flying career during the Battle of Britain received new found notoriety as the RAF recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.

=”https://theaviationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Vellum_20.jpg”> Geoffrey Wellum, DFC, enjoys a joke with Prince Charles. (Photo: via Facebook)[/capti

Wellum joined the Royal Air Force in 1939 at the age of barely 18. He quickly progressed through flight training, beginning with the rudimentary WWI vintage Tiger Moth biplane basic trainer, to the mono-wing Harvard and then to the state-of-the-art air superiority combat fighter of the era, the iconic Supermarine Spitfire.

Geoffrey Wellum was one of the illustrious pilots of 92 Squadron flying from RAF Croydon and later, during the Battle of Britain, RAF Biggin Hill. Number 92 Squadron was the first British air combat squadron to see action in the Battle of Britain beginning on September 15, 1940. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) on August 5, 1941, for gallantry flying against the enemy in combat.

Wellum’s experience in combat over England was horrific and harrowing. In the deadly, ambush style of aerial combat that the RAF employed against the Luftwaffe, Geoffrey Wellum was a deadly adversary for the marauding Germans. He scored one German He-111 bomber shot down and one Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighter. He damaged and shared kills or damage on at least three other enemy aircraft.

In 1942, following his harrowing baptism of fire in the Battle of Britain, Geoffrey Wellum went on to become Flight Commander of No. 65 Squadron at RAF Debden in North Essex. In late summer, 1942, Wellum led a contingent of Spitfires launched from the aircraft carrier HMS Furious to serve as reinforcements for an aerial contingent on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean. He went on to become a member of the No. 145 Squadron, charged with aerial defense of the island nation.

As a result of his terrifying experiences flying combat at a very young age and in the earliest stages of the war, Geoffrey Wellum contracted post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD while still serving in the RAF. The affliction was referred to as “battle fatigue” in WWII. Wellum remained steadfast in his commitment to King and country despite his wounds. He went on to become a test pilot on the highly successful Hawker Typhoon ground attack aircraft, analogous to the U.S. P-47 Thunderbolt strike aircraft of the same era.

In his later life, Geoffrey Wellum was reflective about his role in the war and his accomplishments over the arc of his lifetime. As an introspective examination and accounting of his life he privately wrote a journal that chronicled his role in WWII, the Battle of Britain and his life. Author James Holland read Wellum’s private diary of his experiences and urged him to publish the lyrical recollections as a book. In 2002, his diary was adapted as a book published as, “First Light: The Story of the Boy Who Became a Man in the War-Torn Skies Above Britain”. Three publishers, Viking Books, Willey & Sons and Penguin Books have published the popular accounting of his flying career and uniquely human experiences. “First Light” is a critically acclaimed success, widely revered by modern combat pilots serving today and aviation enthusiasts. It currently has a solid five-star rating on Amazon.com with 140 verified customer reviews.

Geoffrey Wellum is also featured in a new 2018 documentary “Spitfire” about the Supermarine Spitfire from Altitude Film that was directed by David Fairhead and produced by Ant Palmer. The documentary features the lilting recollections of Wellum as he recounts the grandeur of flying the Supermarine Spitfire.



Top image: RAF Spitfire pilot Geoffrey Wellum, DFC, during WWII, and later in life. (Photo: BBC)

“Because I was Inverted! (AGAIN!)” C-130 Super Hercules Pilot Gets Upside Down at Farnborough

New LM-100J Super Hercules Display Joins the Most Impressive Flight Demonstrations Ever.

Video of a remarkable aerobatic display by Lockheed Chief Pilot Wayne Roberts in a new LM-100J Super Hercules variant is lighting up the internet in the last couple of days. Roberts flew an incredible demonstration routine at the Farnborough Air Show in the new civilian variant of the legacy C-130 Hercules. It is almost certainly the most remarkable demonstration flying ever in a C-130 variant. At one point during the display the LM-100J was completely inverted.

As reporter Tyler Rogoway wrote in The War Zone for TheDrive.com, this is the last demonstration tour for Chief Pilot Wayne Roberts, and he is going out with a spectacular routine.

We’ve seen smaller tactical transports demonstrate some impressive aerobatics, including the Italian Air Force C-27J display at the 2017 Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT). But we’ve never seen video of a C-130 variant flying a routine that is this dynamic, including the momentarily completely inverted portion of the display.

The LM-100J is a new version of the highly successful Lockheed C-130 intended for the civilian cargo lift, firefighting and utility market. The original C-130 first flew a remarkable 64 years ago. It is also the longest continuously produced military aircraft in history. C-130 variants are used as gunships, bombers, tactical transports, weather reconnaissance, electronic warfare, search and rescue and other special missions with militaries around the world.

The new LM-100J Super Hercules uses the new, more powerful Rolls Royce AE 2100D3 engines. It first flew with these engines on 25 May. The LM-100J Super Hercules is a replacement for the older L-100 version of the Hercules built from 1964 until 1992. There were 115 of the original L-100s built.

//theaviationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/lm100j-top.jpg”> The new Lockheed LM-100J Super Hercules variant of the venerable C-130 Hercules. (Photo: C-130MRO.com)

[/caption]According to Lockheed, the flight test program for the LM-100J should be “done by year end” and the aircraft could receive FAA certification in 2019.

Lockheed pilot Wayne Roberts told the website C-130MRO.com that [the new LM-100J], “It flies as wonderfully as it always has. For 60 years, [the C-130] has operated into some of the shortest runways in the world. It still does that extremely well, but it now has new avionics and engines too.” The writers at C-130MRO.com went on to say that the LM-100J is, “Essentially a tweaked version of the C-130J tactical transport, the civil freighter benefits from the over 20 years and 1.5 million flight hours of the military model.”

viationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/IMG_3551-678×381.jpg”> Lockheed LM-100J Super Hercules Chief Pilot Wayne Roberts who flew the remarkable Farnborough demo. (Photo: C-130MRO.com)

[/caption]Some fascinating features on the new LM-100J not normally seen on civilian oriented transports will eventually include night-vision-goggle and air-drop capability, although these will not be certificated initially. This raises the possibility of the aircraft being used by government contractors and intelligence agencies. The C-130J is offered in both long- and short-fuselage variants, the freighter will only be sold in its longer, 34.37m (112ft 9in) version. In addition to being a cargo transport, Lockheed sees potential for the LM-100J to perform missions including aerial firefighting, search and rescue, and even VIP transport.

Transport aircraft often take a back seat to high performance jets and aerobatic teams at airshow demos. But there is no doubt that with the sensation across the internet over the remarkable flying of pilot Chief Pilot Wayne Roberts in the LM-100J that harkens back to pilots like Bob Hoover in the Rockwell Aero Commander, this last demonstration series by Roberts will be remembered for a long, long time.

Top image: screenshot from the above Youtube video by C-130 MRO

Will Russia Ever Develop an Equivalent to the U.S. Light Attack Experiment?

Could Russia Develop A Turboprop Light Combat Aircraft? Most probably, no. But discussion brings some weird concepts to light…

An obscure Russian language news story briefly appeared in social media earlier this week that raised an interesting question: why isn’t Russia more vigorous in developing their own light attack aircraft program, especially for export? The article featuring conceptual renderings of Russian light attack concepts was published on the Russian language website “Aviator.Guru” on July 16, 2018. It was shared on the Russian aviation Facebook page “BKC России”.

The Aviation.Guru article showed renderings of what early developmental concepts for Russian manufactured light attack aircraft could look like. Although fictional, the images are interesting set against the backdrop of Russia’s involvement with anti-insurgent warfare in Syria, increasing need for defense export products and the U.S. Light Attack Experiment.

Counterinsurgency aircraft concepts like the one shown in this rendering have appeared on the Internet recently (Credit: AviatorGuru)

While images of Russian conceived light attack aircraft have been circulated among design schools and even aircraft manufacturers for five decades, Russia has never funded or progressed a large-scale project beyond the conceptual design/illustration phase. This seems odd, given the country’s increased emphasis on military export to countries with smaller defense budgets involved in anti-insurgent campaigns. Perhaps the trend is about to change.

Russia has been more conspicuous about very large aircraft projects, most notably the PAK-FA development that yielded the Sukhoi Su-57, a program that, as confirmed by several sources, including a July 12, 2018 report by Business Insider’s Alex Lockie, has now been scaled back considerably from full production. Russia has even teased an ambitious “PAK-DA” stealth bomber concept, even less likely to reach full-scale development than the now reportedly-struggling Su-57 program given budgetary concerns. Both these fiscally driven scale-backs seem to point the direction of Russia’s growing export tactical aircraft industry in the direction of light attack.

Light attack has been a big trend for western defense manufacturers. After ambitious progress in the U.S and operational deployment of Afghan light attack aircraft, the U.S. recently halted their ongoing Light Attack Experiment conducted largely from Holloman AFB in New Mexico. The effort was intended to evaluate not just new aircraft for the light, counter-insurgency role but also to assess new ways for the Air Force to streamline some future acquisition programs. The project was put on hold pending an investigation into a fatal accident on June 22, 2018 that claimed the life of U.S. Navy pilot Lt. Christopher Carey Short. The U.S. Air Force has said they remain dedicated the to the light attack concept.

Light attack aircraft, especially turboprops, are conspicuously absent from both Russia’s own air force and their export offerings to nation states that buy tactical aircraft from Russia. Given Russia’s involvement in the Syrian anti-insurgency and the influence of the Russian military aviation industry throughout Africa and Asia, an inexpensive, easily maintained light attack turboprop counterinsurgency aircraft that could operate from austere forward airfields could theoretically be a good seller for Russia’s growing export military aviation industry.

Russia’s current light strike capability is distributed across rotary wing assets like the Kamov Ka-50/52, Mil Mi-28 and the venerable Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters and two jet types, the successful Sukhoi Su-25, more analogous to the large U.S. A-10 Thunderbolt II, and the more modern Yakovlev Yak-130, currently employed by Russia as an advanced trainer but also suited for the light attack role.

Russia’s Yak-130 advanced jet trainer has been demonstrated with heavy weapons load and could be employed in the light-attack role (Image credit: Irkut)

The July 16, 2018 “Aviator.Guru” article initially discusses a need for easily maintained light attack aircraft to be used after a larger, primarily jet, air force is degraded in a large scale nuclear conflict. The article goes on to suggest, [translation]:

“If you correlate the date of the appearance of the program and the requirements for it, it becomes clear that [it is not] a post-apocalypse attack plane, but an ordinary anti-guerrilla aircraft (also COIN – a coupon-insurgency aircraft). Representatives of this class of aviation showed themselves well in Vietnam and over Latin America. No less useful they would be for the USSR in Afghanistan.”

One of the most bizarre renderings featured a pusher contra-rotating propeller system. (Credit: Aviator.Guru)

It would appear that the renderings featured originally in the article were prepared as concepts in a design school and/or think-tank feasibility study. Portions of the study date back to the Soviet-era during the 1980s:

[Translation] “Various late versions of the LVSH [“Light Attack Experimental Program”] of the late 80’s and early 90’s: The flying prototype of the LVS never started to be built – neither in the late 80’s, nor even more so in the early 90’s. With the collapse of the Union, all the chances for the appearance of this machine in metal disappeared, but the flow of creativity could not be stopped. The models of storm troopers [aircraft concepts] surprised visitors of various exhibitions with courageous decisions – but they did not cause any interest. Too expensive, too complicated to manufacture and operate. There was no money for them in their home country.”

The translation suggests that budgetary concerns limited the former Soviet Union’s exploration of a light attack/reconnaissance/forward air control turboprop analogous to the U.S. OV-10 Bronco and A-1 Skyraider of the 1950s and 1960s.

One version of a Russian light attack aircraft did reach production though. The Khrunichev T-411 Aist or “Stork” first flew in November 1993. It is a light, high-wing utility/surveillance/light attack/counter insurgency aircraft developed by the Russian company Aeroprogress and eventually put into production by the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center. There was even a version sold to the civilian general aviation market in the U.S as the Aeroprogress T-411 Wolverine powered by a Continental TSIO-550-B turboprop engine. It was even offered in kit form as the Washington T-411 Wolverine. There is little information about the production numbers or outcome of the Khrunichev T-411 program, which suggests it was largely unsuccessful.

Given the legacy of some of Russia’s rugged design concepts that have made their way into aircraft like the WWII Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik anti-tank aircraft and the later Sukhoi Su-25, the country’s design bureaus seem uniquely qualified to produce a rugged, simple to operate, highly capable light attack aircraft. But to date, other than interesting conceptual renders and a possible increase in conversation, little appears to be happening in Russia to parallel the U.S. Light Attack Experiment. At least for the moment.

Top image credit: Eugeny Polivanov/Commons