Author Archives: Tom Demerly

California Air National Guard F-15 Eagle Boarding Ladder Deployed in Flight During Flyover at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles

Incident Renews Conversation About USAF F-15 Eagle Age and Maintenance Condition.

A California Air National Guard McDonnell-Douglas/Boeing F-15C Eagle from the 194th Fighter Squadron of the 144th Fighter Wing at Fresno Air National Guard Base in Fresno, California raised eyebrows among sharp-eyed spectators during an opening flyover at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California over the July 4th holiday.

As the nice-looking four aircraft formation of F-15C Eagles flew over the stadium for the traditional national anthem opening of the Los Angeles Dodgers versus the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game a few people noticed the folding pilot boarding ladder open and extended outside the number two aircraft. The telescoping boarding ladder is stowed inside a secure compartment covered by an access panel in flight.

Photos of the open ladder appeared on the Facebook page “Air Force amn/nco/snco” (airmen, non-commissioned officers/senior non-commissioned officers). The page has become an unofficial source of insider information about air force incidents since the U.S. Air Force issued a “media reset” memo on March 1, 2018 directing more restrictive policies for air force public affairs.

While the folding crew ladder on the F-15 Eagle is reported to be rated sturdy enough to be extended during low-speed flight without creating a potential hazard, the inadvertent deployment of the telescoping ladder at high speeds could be serious if the ladder broke off the aircraft and fragments entered the left engine intake creating a “FOD” or Foreign Object Damage emergency. If the ladder opened during relatively low performance flying like a formation flyover, the implications during high performance maneuvering could be more serious.

The cause of the ladder opening during flight is unknown, but it could be from an accidental failure to adequately secured the crew ladder door or from a maintenance issue.

File photo of the folding boarding ladder on an F-15C Eagle that remained open during the flyover at Dodger Stadium on July 4th. (Photo: USAF/Senior Airman Omari Bernard.)

While there is no official word on the cause of the incident, journalist Tyler Rogoway at The War Zone learned that the F-15Cs in the flyover originated from Joint Forces Training Base – Los Alamitos in Los Alamitos, California. There may not have been dedicated F-15 boarding ladders at the facility, necessitating a need to use the internally stored, telescoping ladders on the F-15Cs.

Rogoway also reported he spoke to Colonel Victor Sikora, the “144th Operations Group commander”, about the incident. Col. Sikora reportedly told Rogoway as published in a July 5, 2018 report on The War Zone that, “The issue didn’t make itself known until the jets were on the move and the ladder only popped out once they were airborne. Apparently, the Eagle’s ladder has been rated up to a ‘high speed’ and has no adverse impact on the F-15’s handling characteristics within its tested envelope. Considering the flyover speed is 300 knots, it was in no way a safety factor and the mission was able to continue. All this was decided after a specific checklist was performed and the flight had a good handle on the situation.”

While the incident was not serious, it continues the conversation about the age and maintenance condition of some U.S. Air Force and Air Force Reserve aircraft.

The McDonnell-Douglas/Boeing F-15C Eagle has been in U.S. Air Force service since January 1976 and is also operated by the Israeli Air Force, the Saudi Air Force and the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force. The twin-engine, single seat variant involved in this incident has an outstanding combat record with over 100 aerial victories, mostly in Israeli service.

Top image: The crew boarding ladder protruding from an F-15C Eagle during a flyover at Dodger Stadium on July 4th. (Photo: via Facebook/Air Force amn/nco/snco)

B-52H Crew from Guam Locates Ocean Canoe Crew Gone Adrift in Pacific In A Bomber’s Rare Maritime SAR Mission

In a Dramatic Open Ocean Search an Air Force Crew Finds Paddlers Missing Six Days. The lost canoe was located by the crew from one of the B-52H after it was compared to a similar one that appeared in a Disney cartoon.

A U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress crew from the 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, and deployed to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam are being hailed as heroes. The B-52H located the lost crew of an open ocean Polynesian-style canoe after they were missing at sea for six days.

The traditional Pacific Island-style canoe carrying six paddlers had become lost after sailing from nearby Piagailoe Atoll on June 19. The journey from the atoll to Guam was only supposed to take one day — meaning the paddlers, who had minimal supplies had been missing at sea for nearly a week.

Following the location of the canoers from the USAF B-52H, the six-member crew of the ocean-going canoe rendezvoused with a merchant vessel in the area that was directed to their location to effect rescue. The merchant vessel provided the canoers with water, food and navigational assistance so they could safely return to land.

The eight-engine, long range B-52H bomber joined the search when the crew from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., was on a routine flight during a deployment to Guam. The heavy bomber crew responded to a call from the Coast Guard for assistance in the search on June 25.

“This was a unique situation for us,” Capt. Sean Simpson, one of the bomber’s crew, said in an Air Force statement. “It’s not every day the B-52 gets called for a search and rescue.”

Initially the crew of the B-52H was unfamiliar with the type of vessel they were searching for. Coast Guard personal compared the small, difficult to spot indigenous canoe with the boat from the Disney cartoon “Moana”. Capt. Simpson told media, “We asked for more details about the vessel and the dispatcher told us, ‘It’s just like the boat from [the Disney film] ‘Moana.’”

The B-52H crew were able to locate the canoe and its crew at sea only three hours after being called into the search and rescue operation.
“We spotted this vessel from about 19,000 feet,” 1st Lt. Jordan Allen told Air Force media in the statement. “It’s really a small miracle that we were able to see it, because there was quite a bit of clouds.”

Six passengers aboard a canoe were located in a joint search and rescue mission June 25, 2018, in the Pacific Ocean Southwest of Guam. Crew members flying a B-52H Stratofortress assigned to the 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron (EBS), stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base (AFB), La., and deployed to Andersen AFB, Guam, successfully located six passengers who had been missing for six days and relayed their location to the U.S. Coast Guard. (courtesy photo)

“Search and rescue isn’t something people typically think of when they talk about the B-52, but our training and adaptability really paid off,” Lt. Col. Jarred Prier, the bomb squadron’s director of operations, said in the statement. “Being a part of this successful search and rescue operation speaks to the diversity of our skill set and shows our importance here in the Pacific.”

The lost canoe was located by the crew from one of the B-52H after it was compared to a similar one that appeared in a Disney cartoon. (Photo: via Pinterest)

While the 63-year old Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, first flown in 1952 and accepted into the Air Force in 1955, is oddly well suited for the maritime search and rescue role even though it was introduced as a global reach strategic nuclear bomber. The aircraft has an extremely long combat radius of 4,480 miles, meaning it can search out in a straight line 4,480 miles and return the same distance without refueling. Given midair refueling availability, the B-52’s endurance is limited mostly by its crew’s physical endurance.

In January 1957 three USAF B-52s set an endurance record by becoming the first jet aircraft to circle the earth on a non-stop flight. The early version B-52Bs flew continuously for 45 hours and 19 minutes. In total the planes flew 24,345 miles without landing.

Top image: a file photo of a B-52H from the 2nd Operations Group, the parent unit of the 20th Bomb Squadron. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

USAF Light Attack Experiment Halted Following Fatal Crash

Overall Light Attack Acquisition Project Continues Despite Accident.

Military.com’s Oriana Pawlyk reports that the innovative U.S. Air Force Light Attack Experiment has been halted following last week’s fatal crash of an Embraer A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft within the Red Rio Bombing Range at the White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico outside Alamogordo.

The Light Attack Experiment is intended to test both a new evaluation process for some USAF acquisition programs and simultaneously provide functional analysis of small, tactical light attack aircraft that can be operated economically and efficiently for close air support and reconnaissance in an insurgent conflict. Most of the participant aircraft are single engine turboprops. The program is said to potentially compliment and economize other Air Force programs including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter by offering a less expensive, more agile program architecture that is suggested to even include innovations in how the Air Force trains new pilots.

U.S. Navy pilot Lt. Christopher Carey Short, from Canandaigua, New York died in the crash on Friday, June 22, 2018 while flying the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano. Another crew member on board the two-seat light turboprop attack and trainer aircraft is being reported as injured after ejecting from the aircraft.

The Embraer A-29 Super Tucano that crashed is a successful, combat-proven light tactical trainer, strike and intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance aircraft that is being evaluated in the Air Force Light Attack Experiment.

No cause for the accident has been reported and the cause of the accident is under investigation according to Air Force Public Affairs at Holloman AFB.

According to Pawlyk’s report, U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command commanding officer General Mike Holmes told reporters that, “The OA-X tests have been suspended amid the ongoing accident investigation, and will remain on hold until officials can decide if more testing is even needed.”

Gen. Holmes comments did not clarify specifically if the program will potentially move ahead to an acquisition phase without further testing, or, if the program may be suspended following this fatal accident.

Journalist Pawlyk reported in early December 2017 in a separate article for Military.com that Members of Congress were, at the time, eager to hear the findings of the Light Attack Experiment.

“During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on acquisition reform Thursday [in 2017], senators said they are hopeful the light attack aircraft, known as OA-X, procurement strategy may improve how future weapons systems are acquired,” Pawlyk reported.
General Holmes did go on to tell reporters, “I don’t think this will have a chilling effect on future experiments. Whenever you’re trying something new there are risks.”

The Light Attack Experiment is in Phase II of now, with evaluation flights being conducted mostly from Holloman AFB, New Mexico. The program was originally intended to run through July, 2018.

During a media event in 2017, journalists and observers were invited to Holloman AFB to see aircraft being evaluated in the Light Attack Experiment and gain insights into the Air Force’s potential concepts for acquisition. At the time, program leaders including General Holmes and Secretary of the Air Force Dr. Heather Wilson, emphasized that the program was not a “fly-off” competition, but an insight into potentially new processes for evaluating some new Air Force programs.

Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, Dr. Heather Wilson (left) and USAF General James M. “Mike” Holmes, Commander, Air Combat Command at the Light Attack Demo media day last year at Holloman AFB. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

Reporters, including this writer, were scheduled to return to Holloman AFB in July to report on the Light Attack Experiment again as the program neared its completion.

“Top Gun: Maverick”: Son of “Goose” Arrives, Kenny Loggins Possibly Redoing Theme Song

Hollywood Has Been Rife with Top Gun Rumors. Here Are the Most Recent Ones.

Three actors have been tipped by Hollywood insiders as top choices to play the son of LTJG Nick “Goose” Bradshaw in the upcoming “Top Gun: Maverick” slated for release in July, 2019. Entertainment industry news outlet CinemaBlend.com writer Nick Evans, reported last night that, “The son of Goose is set to have a key role in the film and casting is underway for the part. The frontrunners are Nicholas Hoult, Glen Powell and Miles Teller.”

Actors Nicholas Hoult, Miles Teller and Glen Powell are tipped as favorites for the role of the son of “Goose” in Top Gun: Maverick”. (Photo:JohnShearer/Getty; Manny Crabel/WireImage; Santiago Felip/Getty)

As every Top Gun fan knows, “Goose” died in a tragic training accident in the original film when “Maverick” (Tom Cruise) flies his F-14 Tomcat through the wake vortex of “Iceman’s” Tomcat, flaming out both engines and being forced to eject. “Mav” gets out OK, but LTJG Nick “Goose” Bradshaw collides with the aircraft canopy as it is blown off the F-14 Tomcat during the ejection. Tragically, he does not survive.

Reporter Nick Evans went on to talk about the potential significance of the new character in “Top Gun: Maverick”:

“When we first heard about Goose’s son being in the sequel last year, it seemed that he might be named Wrigley and will immediately butt heads with his instructor Pete Mitchell at Top Gun class. This will potentially be an antagonistic relationship between teacher and student in the beginning, which makes sense considering Goose was killed while flying with Maverick.”

In other “Top Gun: Maverick” rumors flying fast and low around Hollywood and on the set at Naval Air Station North Island on Coronado Island, San Diego, entertainment reporter Ryan Scott of MovieWeb.com reported on June 6, 2018 that, “[Kenny] Loggins would return to help out with the movie’s soundtrack. It sounds like that’s going to happen, as he’s going to put a new twist on “Danger Zone” with a younger artist.”

Hollywood reports leak that Kenny Loggins may have a role in the new soundtrack for “Top Gun: Maverick” (Photo: via YouTube)

Musician Kenny Loggins told reporter Ryan Scott that, “I met Tom Cruise on Fallon and I asked him that question. He said ‘Of course we have to use Danger Zone.’ So, I’d probably do it maybe as a duet with a young act. I’d like to work with, well there’s young and then there’s young…we have some feelers out there. Some pretty cool rock acts. The rockers that I’m interested in are male.”

There have been no confirmations so far about the soundtrack from Paramount Pictures, the studio producing “Top Gun: Maverick”, or from Kenny Loggins’ agent, Michael Jensen of Jensen Communications.

As we reported previously on TheAviationist.com, the plot for “Top Gun: Maverick” will likely introduce dramatic conflict between the world of traditional manned-fighter aircraft like the F-14 Tomcats (made famous in the original film) and their more modern replacements and the emerging role of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) or “drones” like the U.S. Navy’s new X-47B experimental remotely piloted aircraft and the Navy’s giant MQ-4C Triton UAVs. Tin the real world, MQ-4C Tritons are to be deployed to Guam for surveillance missions in the region this summer, so the plot for “Top Gun: Maverick” has particular relevance. The first photos teased on social media from Tom Cruise show a Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, suggesting the Navy’s new F-35C Lightning II, the carrier-launched variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, may not have made it through auditions for the movie’s airplane cast.

Image credit: Paramount Pictures

China’s New Video of Their Naval Aviation Blows “Top Gun” Away

New Video Screams “All Your Bases Are Belong to Us” With Awesome Music, Images.

China Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and the Chinese micro-blogging, social media outlet Sina Weibo are rocking the web with a new motivational video of Chinese naval air and sea power that is a pure adrenaline fix. You could say it’s the Chinese “Top Gun”, but even better. The soundtrack blows Kenny Loggins away and the choreography beats the beach volleyball scene. The only thing missing is a Chinese equivalent of Kelly McGillis, but there is still plenty here to take your breath away.

The video surfaced in mid-May on Chinese social media and made its way to Facebook via mostly the Chinese pages. Now it is trending across international social media aviation pages. It is sure to go big.

Shot on board the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning (CV-16), the video is brilliantly choreographed and composed. It is set to the soundtrack song “Black Blade” from the (ironically) U.S. based soundtrack artists “Two Steps from Hell” featuring musicians and composers Thomas J. Bergersen (originally of Trondheim, Norway) and Nick Thomas of Los Angeles. The two musicians have scored over 1,000 soundtracks and film trailers. They have also produced music for video and computer games. If you’ve seen the Hollywood films, “The Dark Knight”, “Tron: Legacy” or “No Country for Old Men” then you’ve already heard their masterful soundtrack music.

The video was filmed during major naval exercises earlier this year off Hainan island in the South China Sea. The region is the scene of minor disputes between Taiwan, mainland China and even Vietnam over some small outlying islands. The recent Chinese emphasis on sea power centers on their emerging aircraft carrier program and is likely a bid to maintain and expand control in this area and project Chinese military influence around the globe.

At the same time the Chinese were shooting this killer video, spy satellites in orbit overhead were doing a little photography of their own. James Pearson and Greg Torode of Reuters news agency published satellite spy photos likely taken at the exact same time the Chinese video was being shot. Satellite imagery published by Reuters on March 27, 2018 and likely taken the day before on Monday, March 26, 2018 were obtained from Planet Labs, Inc. According to their website, Planet Labs, Inc. is a private intelligence gathering company that, “Started as a small team of physicists and engineers, and now operates the world’s largest constellation of Earth-imaging satellites.”

Satellite imagery of the Chinese carrier task force appear to have been taken at the exact time the new video was being shot. (Photo: Planet Labs via Reuters).

The aircraft seen most prominently on deck of the Liaoning in this video are the Chinese J-15B “Flying Shark” multi-role fighters. The Chinese also operate a variant known as the J-11BH and J-11BSH. Based on the Sukhoi Su-27 family of tactical aircraft, the Chinese have been vigorous in testing and development of the J-15 and its minor variants since their carrier program began in earnest during 2002. While a highly capable aircraft, the J-15 Shark is currently limited in gross take-off weight from the Chinese carrier Liaoning because of their reliance on the ski-jump style Short Take-Off but Arrested Landing (STOBAR) technology. Future Chinese carriers like the recently launched Type 001A, rumored to be named Shandong, will likely be adapted to Catapult Assisted Take-Off but Arrested Landing (CATOBAR). This catapult system can launch heavier aircraft than the ski-jump system. China has even been testing electromagnetic aircraft catapults at a land-based facility for likely inclusion on future aircraft carriers.

Other aircraft showcased in the video are the Chinese H-6DU aerial tanker. The H-6DU is based on the former-Soviet Tu-16 Badger. Other versions of the H-6 carry air-launched cruise missiles for the anti-shipping role. The H-6DU, possibly from China’s 23rd Regiment, 8th Naval Aviation Division assigned to the Southern Theater Command, is refueling a pair of J-10AHs possibly of the 4th Naval Aviation Division.

Helicopters seen in the video include the Changhe Aircraft Industrial Corporation (CHAIC)
Z-8 land and ship based ASW/SAR helicopter that is based on the French SA-321Ja Super Frelon.

Despite the ongoing debate about the emerging Chinese aircraft carrier force you have to admit the production quality of this video is very good, and it suggests China is enthusiastic about the expansion of their naval air and sea power. It’s also just plain cool to watch!