Author Archives: Tom Demerly

China Launches First Domestically Built Aircraft Carrier

New Carrier Continues Expansion of Chinese Expeditionary Capability.

China launched its first domestically produced aircraft carrier earlier for sea trials this week at the northeastern port of Dalian, in the south of Liaoning Province, China. The new ship has not been named yet and carries the temporary designation “Type 001A”.

The new Type 001A is a slightly larger vessel than China’s previous aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, that was purchased from Ukraine in 1999 and originally built in 1985 in the then-Soviet Union as a Kuznetsov-class aircraft cruiser. Liaoning has had three names: first christened as the Riga under Soviet use, then renamed the Varyag and finally the Liaoning after the Chinese purchase in 1999. Analysts report the primary role of the Liaoning has been a training vessel for the development of Chinese carrier doctrine and operations.

The new Type 001A is 315 meters long and 75 meters wide as compared to the slightly smaller Liaoning that is 304 meters long and 70 meters wide. Both ships displace roughly 50,000 tons, significantly less than the Nimitz-class carriers with a loaded displacement of between 100,000–104,000 tons. The U.S. Nimitz-class carriers are also longer at 333 meters.

Like the older Soviet-era carriers and the existing Russian Kuznetsov carrier along with the United Kingdom’s new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, the new Chinese Type 001A uses a ski-jump style launch ramp. India is also building a new ski-jump aircraft carrier, the Vikrant class carrier, formerly known as the “Project 71 Air Defense Ship” (ADS) or Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) program.

Unlike the other carriers however, the UK’s Queen Elizabeth class uses two superstructures and may have a provision for the removal of the ski-jump launch structure in favor of an electromagnetic catapult in the future.

The Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) is an emerging technology in new aircraft carriers. The U.S. has already demonstrated and installed the EMALS launch capability on the new Gerald R. Ford class of aircraft carrier in service since 2017. China is considering the use of electromagnetic launch systems on their planned next generation aircraft carrier, the Type 002. China has reportedly already experimented with aircraft modified to be launched with an electromagnetic catapult in anticipation of the next-gen Type 002 development.

One reason China may be pursuing the EMALS launch system for future carriers could be an inherent limitation to their current launch system. According to intelligence outlet Southfront.org the Chinese are currently limited in launch weight with their existing Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) system. That means China’s J-15 tactical aircraft already tested on the carrier Liaoning are limited in take-off weight. The aircraft must sacrifice fuel and/or weapons load to get airborne from the short take-off ski jump ramp. China will develop a new combat aircraft to fly from the decks of their planned Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) aircraft carrier.

China launched their first domestically produced aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, on Sunday. (Photo: AP/China)

Earlier this week an unnamed source told the Navy Times that the first trial of China’s new Type 001A, “May just involve turning a circle in Bohai Bay, making sure every deck under the water does not suffer leaks. Safety is still the top priority of the maiden trial. If no leaks are found, the carrier may sail farther to make it a longer voyage, probably two or three days.”

While China’s progress in aircraft carrier technology has been moving forward rapidly the testing protocols for the new Type 001A suggest a cautious approach to the program. One certainty is that China’s massive investment its aircraft carrier program confirms their ambitions to project security for its national interests and the interests of its allies well beyond its coastline.

Top image: China’s current flight operations onboard their carriers are limited in take-off weight by their deck design. (Photo: via Southfront.org)

Bell V-280 Valor Conducts First Cruise Mode Test Flight as Program Advances

Second Milestone in 30 Days as New Light Tiltrotor Progresses to Max Speed Test.

Bell’s V-280 Valor light tiltrotor aircraft has flown in level flight with its tiltrotors in the horizontal/cruise mode for the first time this week. The aircraft reached 190 knots (218 MPH) during the flight.

The new Bell V-280 Valor is a medium, tactical tiltrotor aircraft designed for the U.S. Army Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR-TD) program. The JMR-TD program is a precursor for the Army’s overall Future Vertical Lift (FVL) co-development and evaluation of possible replacements for existing rotorwing aircraft in five different roles. The V-280 Valor is a proposed candidate for a new JMR-Medium utility and attack helicopter to potentially replace the UH-60 Blackhawk utility helicopter and the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter.

The Bell V-280 is reportedly capable of a maximum speed of 280 knots or 322 MPH, hence the name “V-280”. That is significantly faster than the U.S. Army’s existing UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters’ maximum speed of 192 knots or 222 MPH and nearly as fast as the MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft with a top speed at sea level of 305 knots or 351 MPH according to Bell Boeing. 

The V-280 Valor is intended to carry up to 14 troops in a tactical personnel transport configuration with a crew of four including two flight crew and two gunner/loadmasters. It may also be developed with the capability to be an attack helicopter with various weapons onboard as depicted early in the program in a concept video showing an animated assault on a high altitude insurgent camp during hot weather. High altitude/hot weather flight conditions, called “High and Hot”, are challenging for most existing rotor wing aircraft. The V-280 will be optimized for high and hot operations.

While similar in visual configuration to the existing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor in service with the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marines, the V-280’s engines remain in a fixed position on the wing while only the tiltrotors change geometry from vertical flight to horizontal flight. One advantage to this system is that both tiltrotors on the V-280 can operate off a single engine. On the V-22 Osprey both of the entire engine nacelles rotate during the transition from vertical to horizontal flight and the engine drive systems are fully segregated from each other, but joined by a complex gear box so the aircraft can operate on one engine.

The wing section of the V-280 is a unique single-piece composite construction. (Photo: Bell Helicopters)

Another unique feature of the V-280 Valor is the one-piece carbon fiber composite wing section. The one-piece composite wing uses Large Cell Carbon Core technology, reducing costs by over 30% compared to the construction of the V-22 Osprey wing. The one-piece wing is also integral to the ability of the twin tiltrotors to operate off power from only one engine if needed.

The Bell V-280 Valor competes with the Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant aircraft in the JMR-TD program. The SB-1 Defiant uses two contra-rotating rotors and a “pusher” style tail rotor in a more traditional helicopter configuration as compared to the Bell V-280 tiltrotor design.

As the V-280 program advances through flight testing the aircraft has now flown 27 hours with approximately 90 hours of time turning the rotors in ground and flight tests. The aircraft has demonstrated its ground taxi and hover capability as well as low-altitude maneuvers including 360-degree pedal turns and forward/aft/lateral repositions along with 60 knot roll-on landings.

The next phase of flight operations for the V-280 will include maximum speed flights scheduled for some time within the next 90 days according to Bell. “During the summer, we plan on reaching most of the required performance parameters that were part of the test program,” said Jeffrey Schloesser, Bell’s executive vice president of strategic pursuits, during an interview last month with Aviation Week.

An interesting part of the advancements in the test program is that now the Bell V-280 is accompanied during test flights by an Aero L-39 jet chase plane because of the V-280’s increasing speed in testing.

Russia Shows New Hypersonic Missile on Two MiG-31 Aircraft in Victory Day Rehearsals.

New Photos Reveal Two MiG-31K “Foxhound” Flying Over Moscow Ahead of Parade.

Exciting photos emerged Friday on social media of the unique Russian Aerospace Forces long range interceptor, the MiG-31K (NATO codename “Foxhound”) carrying the new long range, hypersonic Kh-47M2 “Kinzhal” missile.

In a story on the Russian news agency TASS website it was reported that, “Upgraded MiG-31K fighter jets armed with the Kinzhal hypersonic missile system will take part in the Victory Day parade in Moscow on May 9.” Defense Minister Army General Sergei Shoigu was reported as making the announcement on Thursday, May 3.

“Apart from advanced Su-57, Su-30SM and MiG-29SMT aircraft, upgraded MiG-31K fighters armed with the cutting-edge Kinzhal hypersonic missile systems will take part in the parade’s air component,” General Sergei Shoigu said.

Two MiG-31 Foxhounds were with Kinzhals were photographed over Moscow on Thursday. (Photo: ВКС России/Facebook)

The Kh-47M2 is a much-hyped long range missile claimed by Russia to be capable of speeds up to Mach 10 with a range of 1,200 miles (approximately 2,000 kilometers). The Russians further claim the weapon has maneuver capability even in part of the hypersonic performance envelope. While western analysts remain skeptical about the Kinzhal’s claimed capabilities, the missile has garnered significant attention in aviation media and intelligence communities.

The missile, is actually not a “hypersonic weapon” in the sense that it is an air-breathing cruise missile based on scramjet technology: it appears to be an adaptation of the Iskander missile and, as a ballistic missile, it flies at hypersonic speed with a reported cruise missile-like flat flight profile.

There was speculation about the MiG-31 in a modified variant called the MiG-31K being shown in flyovers with the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal during the sensational Victory Day Parade on Wednesday, May 9 beginning at 1000 Hrs. local Moscow time. Rehearsals for the parade confirm that two aircraft with Kinzhals may be seen in the flyover. Some reports earlier this year suggest that only six initial MiG-31s were modified to carry the Kinzhal.

The MiG-31 Foxhound is a bit of a plane-spotters’ prize itself since Russia is now the only user of the type and they are mostly deployed along the vast expanse of Russia’s eastern border. Their very high speed well in excess of Mach 2 and long range coupled with powerful intercept radar make them a highly capable (if not very stealthy) interceptor. The combination of the MiG-31K with the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal nuclear capable, hypersonic missile could give the aging MiG-31 Foxhound, formerly only an interceptor, a new attack capability.

Top image credit: Alex S vis RussianPlanes.net

U.S. Marines Request Contractors To Provide Russian-Built Mi-24 Hind Attack Helicopters

Russian Mi-24 Attack or Mi-17 Transport Helicopters Could Augment Training Authenticity.

A report in the Marine Corps Times from Friday, April 27 by journalist Kyle Rempfer revealed that the U.S. Marine Corps Air Ground Task Force Training Command has filed a solicitation for contractors to provide Russian-built Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter or an Mi-17 Hip transport helicopter to serve as accurate opposing forces threat simulation aircraft.

The aircraft would be equipped with electronic tracking pods for integration into simulated combat exercises at the MCAS Yuma Range and Training Area (RTA), a large training facility in the Arizona desert. The Yuma Range and Training Area accurately replicates current and potential threat environments throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

According to Rempfer’s report for the Marine Corps Times, the solicitation read in part,
“The [Mi-24] attack helicopter, due to its size, flight profile, firepower and defensive maneuvering capabilities, constitutes a unique threat creating a realistic, dissimilar and credible opposing force.”

In their potential role as a technically realistic opposing force flying against U.S. Marine ground forces in training the helicopters would accurately replicate the threat capabilities of many potential adversary forces. While the Mi-24 attack helicopter is primarily an air-to-ground attack helicopter the report also mentioned a potential role for any Russian helicopters acquired or contracted as providing a simulated opposing force capability against U.S. Marine Helicopters and tiltrotor aircraft to possibly include the UH-1Y Venom, AH-1Z Super Cobra and MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor.

The U.S. Marine Training Command’s request went on to read, “The scope of this effort is to provide familiarization of flight characteristics, capabilities and limitations of the foreign adversary rotary-wing and propeller driven aircraft,” according to the solicitation. “This will be accomplished by having accessibility to two foreign adversary contractor-provided aircraft that shall participate in certain exercise events as part of a realistic opposing force.”

The request for the opposing forces helicopters will include up to five annual training operations and a maximum of 40 total hours of flight time in VFR (daylight, fair weather Visual Flight Rules) conditions. Of further interest is a notation indicating interest in fixed wing aircraft. Russian fixed wing aircraft such as the Sukhoi Su-27 have already been observed and photographed flying over the Nellis Training Range in Nevada.

A privately owned Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter at Nellis AFB, Nevada. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

In the combined air/ground combat role most commonly performed by the U.S. Marine Corps one relevant adversary aircraft for threat simulation may include the Sukhoi Su-25 (NATO codename “Frogfoot”), although no specific information indicates an interest in the Su-25 from the U.S. Marines.

A remarkable 57 countries currently use the Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter, built at the Mil Helicopter Plant in Moscow, Russia. The aircraft is infamous in western nations for its rugged survivability and significant combat capability. The request for actual Mi-24 Hind helicopters seems to acknowledge the type’s unique and significant capabilities as a potential adversary.

There are currently at least two Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters privately owned in the U.S. by the Lancaster Air Museum in Lancaster, Texas. The aircraft fly frequently at events and airshows around the country.

Puerto Rico Air National Guard WC-130H Crashes near Chatham City, Georgia.

Reports Say 9 People on Board Dead.

A Lockheed WC-130H transport plane, 65-0968, from the 156th Airlift Wing from Puerto Rico has crashed near Chatham City, Georgia today. There were 5 crewmembers and 4 passengers on board. All of them reportedly died in the accident.

Local and social media in the area has shown video and photos of the aircraft burning heavily with debris, including most of the tail section on a roadway. Some flights to the nearby Savannah airport have been affected by the incident, although it is unclear if the aircraft was operating in connection the Savannah facility at the time of the crash.

One witness told CNN.com that, “The ground shook like a bomb going off.”

A WC-130H burns after crashing near a roadway in Georgia. (Photo: IAFF574 Savannah via Twitter)

The Lockheed WC-130H variant of the C-130 Hercules is tasked with weather reconnaissance including hurricane reconnaissance. It can remain in flight for as long as 15 hours and carries specialized meteorological monitoring equipment including the dropsonde wind speed and direction sensor.

This accident continues a series of recent incidents and accidents in U.S. military aviation.

Top image credit: Eduardo Rivera / Minaya Photography.