Author Archives: Tom Demerly

New Photos of Russia’s Sukhoi Su-57 Stealth Jet Show Some Progress of Russian Advanced Fighter Program

New Ninth Example of Russian 5th Generation Sukhoi Su57 (PAK FA) With Its Enormous Fuel Tanks Spotted at Zhukovsky.

Vladimir Zinenko, admin for the Facebook group page “ВВС России”, a page for fans of the Russian Air Forces, has shared new photos of the ninth example of Sukhoi’s 5th generation fighter, the recently designated Su-57. The aircraft has been referred to in development as the T-50 and is the outcome of Russia’s PAK-FA advanced fighter development program. The program is intended to field an advanced 5th gen air superiority aircraft to offer capabilities similar to the U.S. F-22 Raptor.

One noteworthy distinction between the U.S. Air Force’s F-22 Raptor and the T-50/Su-57 is advanced, precision air-to-ground capability engineered into the aircraft from its origin, whereas the F-22 Raptor acquired this capability following its “increment 2” upgrade program in 2005 and has since demonstrated its precision strike capability in Syria.

The new aircraft flew through Zhukovsky International Airport two days ago when a number of spotters photographed it. The photos quickly appeared on the Russian aircraft spotter and photographer forum RussianPlanes.net.

The T-50 prototypes have worn several paint schemes so far and this latest example is wearing the pixelated two-tone camouflage livery seen on at least one other T-50/Su-57.

For the long ferry flight made from where the aircraft apparently first flew on Aug. 6, 2017 at Komsomolsk-on-Amur it transited approximately 3,273 miles (6,066 kilometers) to Zhukovsky where the photos were taken two days ago. The aircraft carried a large pair of underwing tanks during the flight.

The long ferry flight from its likely production facility to the Moscow area for testing spanned most of Russia.

This new aircraft, wearing tail number “511”, has been characterized as a production test aircraft using the final version of the Su-57’s airframe. It is said to have tested production capabilities for follow-on examples likely to be built in a low-initial-rate setting.

Questions continue to surround the Su-57 program. Criticism has surfaced in western media of the aircraft’s actual stealth capability, but many of these criticisms in popular media mirror those seen in the western non-defense press about the U.S. F-35 program, a largely successful program that has nonetheless drawn intense scrutiny and criticism in media outside the defense industry.

The majority of concerns about the Su-57 are focused on its engine program. The aircraft have used the NPO Saturn/Izdeliye 117, or AL-41F1 engine with vectored thrust capability. An engine fire in June 2014 seriously damaged the fifth PAK-FA/T-50 prototype during testing. That aircraft has since been repaired following engine replacement that took over a year. There have been reports of a program to re-engine the aircraft by 2025 with an entirely new powerplant intended specifically for the Su-57.

Image credit: Andrey Neyman via RussianPlanes.net

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No, it wasn’t an F-35. So, What Did Crash Near Nellis? Here Are Some Theories.

Who Was F-35 Test Pilot Lt. Col. Eric Schultz and What He Was Flying When He Died?

The tragic loss and impressive career of U.S. Air Force pilot Lt. Col. Eric Schultz in a reported crash on Tuesday night has been overshadowed in Internet forums by speculation about what type of aircraft he was flying when the accident occurred. The type of aircraft remains classified according to Air Force sources.

Amid increasing speculation that the aircraft involved in the crash may have been an F-35, USAF Gen. David L. Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, was quoted on Saturday morning, September 9, as telling Military.com, “I can definitely say it was not an F-35.”

The comment by Gen. Goldfein to Military.com confirming that Col. Schultz was not flying an F-35 raises the question; what was Lt. Col. Eric Schultz flying when he was fatally injured in the crash this Tuesday?

The U.S. Air Force said the aircraft was operated by the Air Force Materiel Command and that it crashed around 6 PM, 100 miles Northwest of Nellis AFB in the Nevada Test and Training Range.

 

What was Lt. Col. Eric Schultz working on when he died from a crash earlier this week?

It is important to understand any examination of his activities are strictly conjecture as all official sources have declined to comment on the specifics of Lt. Col. Schultz’s assignment when he died.

With a practical background in tactical air combat from flying F-15E Strike Eagles and an academic and career background including powerplant engineering, Lt. Col Schultz could have been working on any number of classified projects.

There are several projects known to be operational or under development in the classified Nellis, Nevada and California area test ranges where Lt. Col. Schultz is reported to have had his now fatal accident.

The test and development programs include opposing forces threat simulation and testing using Russian built Sukhoi SU-27 (NATO codename “Flanker”) aircraft. These aircraft were photographed on November 8, 2016 by Phil Drake from the Tikaboo Valley near the Groom Lake, Nevada test range. Drake captured long range photos of an SU-27P Flanker-B engaging in dissimilar air combat maneuvers (ACM) with an F-16, possibly an F-16D, four of which are thought to operate from Groom Lake. It is possible that, with Lt. Col. Schultz’s involvement in the F-15E Strike Eagle community and his advanced academic background, he could have been involved in an advanced opposing forces capabilities benchmarking research project or in a familiarization program with opposing forces aircraft like the Sukhoi(s) photographed at Groom Lake.

Russian built Sukhoi SU-27 aircraft were photographed last year over the test ranges near where Lt. Col. Eric Schultz’s accident may have occurred. (Credit: Phil Drake)

Another classified project in the area is continued flight operations of the “retired” Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk presumably for radar cross section testing and analysis. The famous “stealth fighter” was photographed by our reader, “Sammamishman,” in late July, 2016. The photos showed two F-117 aircraft in the air and on the ground at the Groom Lake test facility 8 years after retirement.

Two F-117s at TTR in July 2016.

Another test program that may be underway in the area, and that Lt. Col. Schultz may have been contributing to at the time of his fatal accident, is the classified Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB). The B-21 program is likely a replacement or augmentation to the currently operational B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. Artists’ depictions of the B-21 Raider suggest it is similar in configuration to the B-2 Spirit, but may be smaller. It likely still retains a crew of more than one person however, although an accident involving any potential prototype may not necessarily be fatal for an entire crew, however many that number may be. Recall the crash of the XB-70 Valkyrie on June 8, 1966. That large strategic bomber prototype had a two-person crew on board when it crashed due to a midair collision. The crash only resulted in one fatality, with the other aircrew member safely ejecting. There is, however, no public information on the potential flight status of the B-21 Raider program.

B-21 raider concept (NG)

There is also the possibility aircraft was the same boomerang shaped trailing edge jet photographed on Mar. 10, 2014 by Steve Douglass and Dean Muskett at Amarillo International Airport or the triangular one seen over Wichita in the same period, or something else, never seen before.

However, whilst both the Su-27s (operated by the AFMC according to the Combat Aircraft’s editor Jamie Hunter), the F-117s and the two mysterious aircraft of 2014, were spotted flying in daylight, there is someone who believes a highly-classified prototype would hardly fly before sunset.

The reality of Lt. Col. Schultz’s tragic loss is that, while we know he was an accomplished aviator, test pilot and academic we likely will not know the actual circumstances of his accident or the aircraft he was operating until the Air Force chooses to make the information officially available. Until then, a survey of the known projects in the area where Lt. Col. Schultz’s accident unfortunately occurred is all we have.

The more relevant story however, is the noteworthy career of USAF Lt. Col. Eric “Doc” Schultz.

Lt. Col. Eric Schultz, call sign “Doc” because he owned a PhD in aeronautics from the California Institute of Technology in 2000, was an academic and award-winning pilot. At one point he was also an aspiring astronaut, having made application to astronaut training.

In one accounting of Lt. Col Schultz’s early academic career it is reported that after earning his undergraduate degree from Penn State in 1995, the Department of Defense paid for Schultz to earn a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics. His master’s work included research on the ram accelerator, a powerful gun-like device that shoots payloads into exo-atmospheric orbital flight in space. If perfected, the accelerator could be used in place of reusable spacecraft missions, like the X-47B, to transport equipment into orbit or to space stations.

Schultz graduated with his master’s degree in aeronautics in 1997 from the University of Washington.

According to a report published on October 4, 2006 in the Baltimore Sun by writer Susan Gvozdas, Col. Schultz “Received a National Defense Science and Engineering Fellowship to support his research on advanced propulsion systems and safety at nuclear waste storage facilities”.

Also according to news report archives, Lt. Col. Eric Schultz was rejected from the Air Force on five occasions for not meeting eyesight standards for pilots. After his early attempts at entering Air Force ROTC were rejected due to his eyesight, Schultz worked in a civilian capacity with the Navy as a flight engineer while continuing his graduate education.

Schultz’s prior work as a graduate assistant won the attention of jet engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney based in Connecticut. According to a report, Erik Christofferson, a deputy general manager at Pratt’s Washington office, persuaded the company to hire Schultz. “He had the right combination of technical background and communication skills,” Christofferson said. “He was engaging and sharp.” According to the report Schultz worked on the development of detonation engines at Pratt & Whitney’s Seattle Aerosciences Center,.

He was finally awarded a commission after earning his PhD in aeronautics and undergoing corrective vision surgery.

Lt. Col. Schultz went on to fly the F-15E Strike Eagle for the 391st Fighter Squadron, the “Bold Tigers” out of Mountain Home AFB in Elmore County, southwestern Idaho. He may have been deployed to the Middle East with the unit in January of 2007 according to an excerpt in an article about Schultz that said he was, “preparing for overseas combat missions in an F-15 fighter jet and training other pilots”. We were not able to find any mention in the media about a combat record for Lt. Col. Schultz or even confirmation that he did deploy to the Middle East, only that he was scheduled to deploy.

There are acknowledgements of Lt. Col. Schultz’s academic and military achievements through awards he received and brief quotes in official Air Force releases. His former commanding officer, then Lt. Col. Brian Kirkwood, said in an article on Mountain Home AFB’s official website that, “He’s a great role model.” Lt. Col. Kirkwood went on to tell the official Air Force media outlet that Lt. Col. Schultz’s “educational background is unprecedented for an [then] Air Force captain.” Lt. Col. Kirkwood made the statements when acknowledging Lt. Col. Schultz for being awarded the Outstanding Young American award.

Based on the information available in the public domain so far, Lt. Col. Eric Schultz had amassed a noteworthy academic background and career that spanned several aspects of military and experimental aviation and aerospace. It may be the combination of these experiences in tactical aircraft operations and experimental powerplants along with space operations that is particularly noteworthy.

David Cenciotti has contributed to this story.

Top image: composite made using Northrop Grumman, Dean Muskett, Phil Drake and Sammamishman

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Mysterious Crash Of A USAF Classified Jet Near Nellis AFB Fuels Speculations Of F-35 Involved

A Second Pilot Was Killed Last Week, The Air Force Isn’t Saying Which Type (Then Says “Definitely not an F-35”). He Was An F-35 Pilot.

Following the release of information about two A-10C Thunderbolt II attack aircraft crashing over the Nevada Test and Training Range near Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas last Wednesday (after an F-16 from 162FW had crashed killing an Iraqi student pilot) there are media reports of an additional, third aircraft that also crashed, but the aircraft type and mission have not been released. Reports indicate this third crash reported happened on Tuesday, September 5, the day before the two A-10s crashed.

Reports of this earlier, third crash from this week began surfacing in local Nevada media late on Friday, September 8, two days after the reports of the two A-10s crashing.

Reports do not indicate the type aircraft that pilot Lt. Col. Eric Schultz was flying, but a short story published on the Capital Gazette by writer Rick Hutzell said, “The aircraft was assigned to Air Force Materiel Command, which leads development of new combat technologies for the service.”

The stated mission of the Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) is, “To conduct research, development, testing and evaluation, and provide acquisition and life cycle management services and logistics support.” This mission set is congruent with new aircraft development.

USAF Major Christina Sukach, a spokeswoman for the 99th Air Base Wing, was reported as telling media that, “Lt. Col. Schultz died as a result of injuries sustained in the accident. The crash remains under investigation, and additional details were not immediately available.”

“These are separate incidents and both are currently under investigation to determine their causes,” Nellis Public Affairs told Oriana Pawlyk and Brendan McGarry, reporters for Military.com.

“Information about the type of aircraft involved is classified and not releasable,” Maj. Christina Sukach, chief of public affairs for the 99 Air Base Wing at Nellis, said in an email to Military.com.

Reports also suggest that Lt. Col. Schultz may have initially survived the mishap, and died from injuries sustained in the classified crash.

While there is no official information reporting what aircraft Lt. Col. Schultz was flying at the time of Tuesday’s crash, the only available photos of Lt. Col. Schultz show him in the cockpit of an F-35A (needless to say, meanwhile he may have moved to another program..)

USAF Lt. Col. Eric “Doc” Schultz, flying F-35A number AF-1, releases the first-ever 2,000 pound GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) in tests over the China Lake Test Range on October 16, 2012 (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

According to sources, Capt. Eric Schultz became the 28th pilot to fly the F-35 when he took off from Edwards AFB, California, in F-35A AF-1 for a 1.3-hour test mission on September 15, 2011.

Additionally, the AFMC, to which the crashed aircraft belonged, is a parent unit of the 412th Test Wing, based at Edwards Air Force Base, whose 416 FLTS (Flight Test Squadron) flies the F-35 Lightning II.

For these reasons, there are growing speculations that the aircraft involved in the crash is an F-35 working inside the Nellis Test and Training Range. Still, the aircraft could also be some Black Project jet that the U.S. Air Force wants to remain secret for some more time.

An official Air Force media release on the Mountain Home AFB website from September 28, 2006 said, “As a young boy, Capt. Eric Schultz, dreamed of being an astronaut. As a young man, he couldn’t become a military pilot because of his poor eyesight. For 10 years, during which the military denied him entrance three times, he did the next best thing: earning a doctorate in aerospace engineering. But his dream of flight took off again when Schultz underwent laser eye surgery and the Air Force accepted him as a pilot.”

We will update the story as soon as new details emerge.

Update on Sept. 9, 15.14 UTC:

Looks like the F-35 theory has been debunked:

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Two A-10 Thunderbolt II Jets Crash Near Nellis AFB, Nevada; Both Pilots Eject Safely.

The Two Aircraft of the 57th Wing Were On Routine Training Mission.

Early reports and a release from Nellis AFB say two Fairchild Republic A-10C Thunderbolt II attack aircraft, referred to as the “Warthog”, have crashed northwest of Las Vegas in the Nevada Test and Training Range.

Both pilots of the single-seat ground attack aircraft ejected safely and were transported to the Mike O’Callaghan Military Medical Center at Nellis for evaluation.

The accident occurred at approximately 8:00 PM local time in Nevada on Wed. Sept. 6. Sunset in the region was reported as 6:58 PM. Weather in the region was reported as cloudy with light winds. No cause of the crash has been released.

The two A-10s belonged to the 57th Wing (57 WG) of the United States Air Force Warfare Center at Nellis. The unit provides realistic tactical air combat training for all units visiting Nellis including those participating in routine training and the Red Flag combat simulation exercises.

The Massive U.S. Military Response to Hurricane Harvey in Texas; On Alert For Irma In Florida.

Aircraft, Rescue Personnel and Ships Respond to U.S. National Emergency.

The U.S. military has fielded a massive rescue and relief operation in the wake of Hurricane Harvey along the Texas coast. News media and military sources report “more than 1,000 active-duty troops” will provide rescue and relief operations to the region, with an additional 1,100 prepared to deploy, according to the Department of Defense.

The initial U.S. military response to Hurricane Harvey included the Coast Guard and Texas National Guard. As the scope of the storm grew additional active-duty units, including significant air assets, from across the U.S. were put on alert and then tasked with rescue and support operations in the storm-stricken region.

“Approximately 1,600 active-duty military personnel are deployed to the affected area,” US Northern Command, who controls active duty U.S. military personnel in North America, said in a statement to media on Thursday, August 31.

The U.S. military’s Northern Command located at Peterson AFB in Colorado Springs, Colorado has directed the deployment of 73 helicopters, mostly various versions of Blackhawks, 4 Lockheed C-130 cargo aircraft and 8 elite Air Force Para-Rescue units to support aid and rescue operations in the region. The units come from locations around the United States.

Media outlets including CNN have reported that the Air Force has flown rescue/relief missions using “Seven HC-130 Combat King IIs, four C-130 Hercules, 11 HH-60 Pavehawks, five C-17 Globemaster IIIs, one E-3 Sentry AWACS, one E-8 JSTARS and one KC-10 Extender.” Additional reports have indicated at least one U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft has joined the operation.

USAF Pararescue operators, special operations aviators and crewman return from a rescue mission on August 29, 2017 to Easterwood Airport in College Station, Texas. The mission rescued 11 people from the flooded area in a single sortie. The aircraft from the 347th Rescue Group of Moody AFB, Georgia were deployed in support of FEMA during Hurricane Harvey. (USAF Photo by SSG. Ryan Callaghan)

As of yesterday there have been a reported “4,700” aerial rescues conducted by military assets in the region. Because of the size of the military air relief effort, airports in the region are filled to capacity with aircraft assisting in the search and rescues.

The U.S. Navy dispatched the vessels USS Oak Hill (LSD-51), a Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ship and the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) to the Gulf region in support of humanitarian aid and rescue operations. The USS Kearsarge is equipped with a flight deck to support helicopter and tilt-rotor flight operations and has a waterline level stern well deck for deploying surface craft including large assault landing hovercraft.

The USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) has been deployed to the Texas gulf coast in support of humanitarian aid operations in the region. (USN Photo)

Depending on the source, approximately 66 people have reportedly lost their lives so far in Hurricane Harvey, a relatively low number in part due to effective early warning and evacuation but also partially because of a very large U.S. military response to the crisis. This casualty figure, while very significant, contrasts with the approximately 8,000 lives lost in the Galveston, Texas hurricane at the turn of the century in 1900. That hurricane happened before accurate weather prediction, advanced communication and rescue resources existed.

The gigantic tropical storm, that began on August 17 and continued until September 2, was the first storm of its type to hit the U.S. mainland since 2005 when Hurricane Wilma landed. Sustained winds in excess of 100 MPH and the worst flooding ever recorded in the history of the region caused widespread destruction. The city of Port Arthur, Texas is one of several cities that remain completely submerged following the storm, with even their evacuation centers becoming flooded necessitating the relocation of rescued people initially placed there by aid workers. In some areas floodwaters, the worst ever, did not reach their highest point until days after the storm.

Another tropical storm in the region, Hurricane Irma, is forecasted to make landfall in Florida this Saturday. Satellite surveillance on Wednesday measured the storm as over twice the width of Florida. Airborne weather reconnaissance and sea-based data collection have measured sustained wind speeds of 195 MPH in the approaching storm as the U.S. hurricane season continues.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, has flown weather reconnaissance missions into the rapidly approaching Hurricane Irma off the Florida coast using their newly upgraded and repainted Lockheed WP-3D Orion N42RF, named “Kermit”. The aircraft has operated from Tampa, Florida. The crew captured dramatic video of one of their weather reconnaissance missions. During the flight the aircraft dropped a series of parachute-deployed NCAR GPS Dropsonde airborne sensors. The small sensors fall gradually through the hurricane suspended by their parachute and collect wind velocity and directional data. Once a pattern of dropsonde sensors are released into the storm by the WP-3D aircraft they transmit data from their wild ride through the storm back to monitoring stations to provide intelligence about the storm’s direction, strength and speed.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration operates two hurricane surveillance Lockheed WP-3D Orions from Florida to gather weather intelligence from upcoming storms like Hurricane Irma scheduled to land in Florida this weekend. (NOAA Photo)

At this link you can find the daily schedule of the NOAA aircraft activity for today.

The NOAA aircraft mission plan for Sept. 7, 2017.

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