Category Archives: Aviation Safety / Air Crashes

Tanker Cell departure: how multiple KC-135 tankers launch in sequence and rejoin after take off.

Take a seat inside the cockpit of KC-135 Stratotanker number 4 in a 5-ship “Tanker Cell.”

You don’t happen to see five KC-135 tankers launching in sequence too often: when needed, the aerial refuelers (sometimes coming from different airbases) normally rejoin in flight and from fly in cell formation until reaching the “racetrack” for the rendezvous with the receivers.

However, especially during the Cold War, several Stratotankers might be requested to depart in sequence at very short notice to support the nuclear bombers of the Strategic Air Command: in that case they KC-135s as well as the B-52s would perform a MITO (Minimum Interval Take Off), something they still train for quite regularly nowadays.

This video was filmed back in 1991 at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, and shows five Stratotankers departing in a so-called “Tanker Cell” with two R-Model tankers leading the cell, and all the rest A-Models trailing them.

According to Anthony Burleson, the user who posted the video to Youtube, “it was a rare procedure, however we had training requirements to maintain for cell takeoffs. There was a period when tanker spacing used to be 12 seconds, lol.”

“My early copilot training, during the last few years of SAC, used aircraft spacing of 12 seconds for the MITO. That was the standard spacing for the Minimum Interval Take Off for any combination of the KC-135 and the B-52.”

As you may imagine, things could become pretty tense in case of abort by one of the aircraft, especially the leader:

“[… ] an abort by any of the 5 ships would certainly create a gaggle to be dealt with at a moments notice. Being collectively briefed, if lead were to abort, #2 would assume the lead and so on. Safety is paramount within a training sortie; however, it was a great feeling when the cell would launch without a hitch,” Burleson explains in a comment.

Twelve KC-135 Stratotankers from the 909th Air Refueling Squadron taxi onto the runway during exercise Forceful Tiger on Kadena Air Base, Japan, April 1, 2015. During the aerial exercise, the Stratotankers delivered 800,000 pounds of fuel to approximately 50 aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Marcus Morris)

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All U.S. F/A-18 Hornet models affected by oxygen deprivation and cabin decompression issues

Legacy and Super Hornet showing a concerning steady increase in “physiological episodes” that U.S. Navy calls “No.1 safety issue.”

The F/A-18 Hornets of all variants seems to be affected by a serious issue: oxygen shortage, or hypoxia, is plaguing the fleet of Legacy (A/B/C/D), Super Hornet (E/F) and Growler (EA-18G).

As reported by Bloomberg News, the F/A-18 of all models have shown a steady yearly increases of what the Navy calls “physiological episodes” due to oxygen deprivation and cabin decompression since the since May 1, 2010.

Navy officials testifying before the House Armed Services subcommittee called the problem the “No.1 safety issue.”

And what is even more concerning is the fact that there seem to be little clue as to what is causing the issue.

The “lack of overall progress” is “of great concern,” said Representative Niki Tsongas, the top Democrat in the panel.

While investigating the issue (with a task force of 62 people), the U.S. Navy has also enhanced “reduced-oxygen training” so that pilots can quickly identify the symptoms of hypoxia. Two aircraft carriers have installed chambers for aircrews exposed to decompression.

According to Bloomberg News, 130 out of 383 episodes “have involved some form of contamination,” according to a Navy and U.S. Marine Corps official statement. 114 involved an environmental control system component failure, 91 involved “human factors” and 50 concerned a component failure with the on-board oxygen generating system.

Older versions of the plane, the A through D models, have problems with cabin pressure whereas the Super Hornet and Growler issues “would appear to point to the onboard oxygen generating” system to which the Navy’ has already made changes.

It’s not clear whether the issue affects also other international Hornet operators.

Not the first time

This is not the first time the U.S. forces face the oxygen deprivation issue.

A similar problem plagued the F-22 Raptor fleet to such an extent the radar-evading aircraft were grounded back in 2011 following a deadly incident involving an Alaska-based stealth jets.

In that period, the F-22 were experiencing 26.43 instances of hypoxia or “hypoxia-like” problems for every 100,000 flight hours, compared to 2.34 instances per 100,000 hours for the F-15E and 2.96 for the latest version of the F-16 (the Hornet was not part of the data set released back then.)

After lifting the flight ban, the Pentagon restricted Air Force Raptors to fly near a “proximate landing location” in order to give pilots the possibility to land quickly if their planes’ On Board Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS) failed.

In May 2012, two 1st Fighter Wing “whistleblowers” appeared on CBS 60 minutes to explain why they were “uncomfortable” flying the Raptor (before changing idea few days later).

The flying branch eventually determined a valve that regulated oxygen flow into the Raptor pilot’s pressure vest was too weak and F-22s were given a new backup oxygen system as part of multiple contracts awarded to Lockheed Martin (worth 30 Million USD) that automatically dispenses oxygen when OBOGS is not providing enough. 

Various problems

The news that all the kind of Hornets might be choking their pilots comes in the wake of a Super Hornet and Growler fleet-wide grounding and (concerning but for the moment totally unrelated) increase in crash rate, especially among the oldest models.

Nine incidents involved “Legacy Hornets” (including the Canadian CF-18 lost on Nov. 28, 2016) in the second half of last year, with the latest loss on Dec. 6, 2016, when a USMC F/A-18C crashed off Kochi causing the loss of its pilot.

In the wake of the Hornet crashes from June through October, the U.S. Marine Corps temporarily grounded its non-deployed Hornets. Unfortunately, few days after the ban was lifted, two more F/A-18Cs were lost.

The crash rate has affected the ability of the USMC to perform training activities while committing to support real operations: out of a requirement for 171 aircraft, the service had only 85 Hornets available for training according to a report emerged last year.

In order to address the shortage of operational fighters the Marine Corps has launched a plan to upgrade 30 retired legacy Hornets (currently stored at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona) to a standard dubbed F/A-18C+: once upgraded these “gap fillers” should be more than enough to conduct combat operations in low-lethality scenarios like those that see the USMC at work lately. Still, they might not have a fix for the hypoxia issue.

“Trump’s favorite jet”

As a side note, in their story on Bloomberg News, Roxana Tiron and Anthony Capaccio call the Hornet “Trump’s favorite fighter jet.”

This is due to the fact that Trump has been advocating the Super Hornet since December 2016, when the then president-elect posted a pretty famous tweet that favored the Boeing combat plane over the Lockheed Martin F-35C.

 

 

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Yemen SEAL Raid Likely Led to New Restrictions for Electronics on Flights

Leaks and Media Reports Suggest Laptop Ban Linked to Jan. 28 SEAL Raid on Yemen.

Unattributed quotes from “three intelligence sources” link evidence gathered during the U.S. Navy SEAL raid in Yemen on Jan. 28, 2017 with the new ban on electronic devices including laptops in the passenger cabins of some airline flights.

Journalists Jana Winter and Clive Irving have published reports attributing the anonymous media leaks in at least one media outlet, the Daily Beast. It is possible that other media outlets will report on the connection between the events.

Winter and Clive wrote, “Information from the raid shows Al Qaeda’s successful development of compact, battery bombs that fit inside laptops or other devices believed to be strong enough to bring down an aircraft, the sources said.”

Winter and Clive did not name any sources for their report. It is an occasional practice in the intelligence community to intentionally “leak” reports for publication, and then measure public response to the leaks to make decisions about additional, more official media releases.

CNN reported that a Somali passenger jet was damaged by a “sophisticated” laptop bomb that got past X-ray machines at the Mogadishu airport (Somali Police Authority via CNN)

One U.S. Navy special operations team member, Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, was killed during the January 28 raid on the Al Qaeda installation in the Yakla Region of Baida Province, Yemen. A U.S. Marine MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft from the USS Makin was destroyed by a U.S. airstrike after it was abandoned on the ground following damage from a hard landing in the operation.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security officially cited the Oct. 31, 2015 destruction of the Russian MetroJet (Kogalymavia) flight 9268 as a bomb over the Sinai Desert after departing Sharm El Sheikh International Airport, Egypt. Homeland Security officials also named the Djibouti-bound Daallo Airlines flight D3159 damaged on Feb. 2, 2016 as being linked to the reasons for the recent changes in airline security. These incidents likely contributed to the motive for the U.S. Navy SEAL raid in Yemen on Jan. 28, 2017 and this subsequent recent change in airline security.

In the Russian Metrojet attack a laptop bomb was suspected while a bomb carried by a man traveling in a wheelchair damaged the Daallo flight. The Daallo flight bomber detonated his bomb, possibly contained in a laptop, cell phone or his wheelchair, near the starboard wing root of the aircraft. The bomber presumably felt the most structural damage could be done near the wing root, intending to detach the wing in flight. The Daallo Airlines Airbus A321-111 survived the attack and returned to Aden Adde International Airport in Somalia, Mogadishu for an emergency landing.

An additional flight, EgyptAir flight 804 from Paris to Cairo, crashed on May 19, 2016 over the Mediterranean, killing all 66 passengers and crews. Numerous subsequent reports indicated that traces of explosives were found on the bodies of victims from the flight recovered at sea.

Major media outlets like CNN and the BBC have not yet reported on any alleged connection between the U.S raid in Yemen on January 28 and the changes in airline security. Over a month ago David Sanger, writing for The New York Times, reported, “It’s hard to call this [raid] much of a success yet, because we don’t know what the value was of the information they were trying to exploit, which came mostly from computers and cell phones. And from everything we have heard, they haven’t had a chance to assess that yet.” That report was published in the New York Times on February 2. These emerging reports and new airline restrictions may suggest the intelligence gathered in the raid may now have yielded some actionable outcomes.

Top image: Damage from a bomb detonated on board Daallo Airlines Flight 159 Over Somalia on February 2, 2016 (credit: GoobjoNews).

 

Business Jet Hurled Into Uncontrollable Dive By A380 Wake Near Oman

Wake turbulence flips Challenger jet upside down. Crew survives after emergency landing.

In a bizarre incident that occurred on Jan. 7, 2017 and has been made public last week, a Challenger 604 business jet flying at 35,000 ft over the Arabian Sea 630 nautical miles southeast of Muscat, Oman, was flipped upside down in midair and thrown violently out of control by a passing Airbus A380 super jumbo.

The midair wake-turbulence incident was so violent that both jet engines on the Challenger 604 business jet flamed-out and departed controlled flight, dropping 10,000 feet out of control and recovering at only 25,000 feet above the ocean. Several people onboard the Challenger 604 were injured in the incident, with one hospitalized according to a report on FlightServiceBureau.org.

Midair incidents due to wake turbulence, similar to this one, caused one of the most sensational and tragic accidents in military aviation on June 8, 1966 over Barstow, California near Edwards Air Force Base when the NASA F-104N Starfighter flown by test pilot Joe Walker collided with an Air Force XB-70 prototype. Wake vortices spinning off the XB-70’s wingtip caused Walker’s F-104N to roll, colliding with the right wingtip of the huge XB-70 and breaking apart. The incident contributed to the demise of the ambitious XB-70 program.

North American XB-70A Valkyrie just after collision. Note the F-104 is at the forward edge of the fireball and most of both XB-70A vertical stabilizers are gone. (U.S. Air Force photo)

FlightServiceBureau.org is a credible and authoritative journal of aviation operations used by operators worldwide as a source of critical information for flight operations. Their dispatch on the incident is summarized here:

“An Emirates Airbus A380-800, most likely registration A6-EUL performing flight EK-412 from Dubai (United Arab Emirates) to Sydney,NS (Australia), was enroute at FL350 about 630nm southeast of Muscat (Oman) and about 820nm northwest of Male (Maldives) at about 08:40Z when a business jet passed underneath in opposite direction. The A380 continued the flight to Sydney without any apparent incident and landed safely.

The business jet, a MHS Aviation (Munich) Canadair Challenger 604 registration D-AMSC performing flight MHV-604 from Male (Maldives) to Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) with 9 people on board, was enroute over the Arabian Sea when an Airbus A380-800 was observed by the crew passing 1000 feet above. After passing underneath the A380 at about 08:40Z the crew lost control of the aircraft as result of wake turbulence from the A380 and was able to regain control of the aircraft only after losing about 10,000 feet. The airframe experienced very high G-Loads during the upset, a number of occupants received injuries during the upset. After the crew managed to stabilize the aircraft the crew decided to divert to Muscat (Oman), entered Omani Airspace at 14:10L (10:10Z) declaring emergency and reporting injuries on board and continued for a landing in Muscat at 15:14L (11:14Z) without further incident. A number of occupants were taken to a hospital; one occupant was reported with serious injuries. The aircraft received damage beyond repair and was written off.”

Image credit: FAA

In addition to this incident being noteworthy because of its severity for a wake turbulence incident, it is also one of several being reported by controllers and flight crews around the world. Interestingly, at least six other similar incidents involving severe wake turbulence have recently been reported since 2009, all involving “wide bodies” such as the Airbus A380.

According to the Aviation Herald media outlet, as a result of these incidents air traffic controllers have been given updated and additional instructions for routing smaller aircraft in the vicinity of A380 flights in particular.

 

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Video shows British Typhoon combat plane performing a tailhook landing at RAF Coningsby following an emergency

Tailhook landings by land-based aircraft are used in emergency situations to arrest planes experiencing failures that could imply a braking or steering malfunction. Like the one shown in the video.

The following clip shows something quite unusual: a RAF Typhoon jet belonging to the 29 Sqn making an emergency landing and using the tailhook system to come to a very quick halt on Mar. 9, 2017.

According to Airshowvision, the popular channel that posted the interesting footage to Youtube, the procedure was required by a nosewheel problem: “A chap with a scanner informed me a few mins before this that a pilot 10 miles out had reported a “nosewheel issue” and requested an emergency landing with the arrester mechanism.”

The Author adds an interesting comment to the video description, speculating a bit as to which could have been the root cause of the issue: “Just a theory here but a Typhoon took off a few mins before that in a performance take-off which could have been this one, and it is possible that he over stressed the landing gear by not retracting the wheels quickly enough. Also could have just been a random fault?”

Land-based military airfields operating combat jets use arresting gear systems to slow the aircraft down in case of emergency: such systems feature arresting cables spanning the width of the runway. Cables are typically 1 to 1.25 inches (2.5 to 3.2 centimeters) in diameter and suspended 1.5 to 3 inches (3.8 to 7.6 centimeters) above the pavement surface by rubber donuts 6 inches (15.2 centimeters) in diameter. Overrun arresting gear consisting of hook cables and/or elastic nets known as barriers (or Safeland) are used as a backup system: they are raised by pilot’s request if needed to catch the planes before they reach the overrun area.

Temporary or deployment airbases may use expeditionary systems similar to the permanent ones; unlike the fixed systems these can be installed and removed in a matter of a few hours.

H/T Giulio Cristante for the heads-up

 

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