Category Archives: Aviation

Exclusive: Check Out These Incredible Photos Taken Last Week of the Massive Stratolaunch Space Plane

Photographer Chris McGreevy Captures Gold in Photos at Mojave Air & Space Port.

Aviation spotter and photographer Christopher McGreevy has been shooting photos of unique and interesting aircraft, “Since I was a kiddo” he told TheAviationist.com last week in an exclusive interview over Facebook messenger.

But what he captured on Friday, August 10, 2018 outside the Mojave Air & Space Port is truly remarkable.

Shooting with his Canon EOS 7D Mark II and a Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens from outside the fence at the Mojave Air & Space Port (also known as the Civilian Aerospace Test Center) located in Mojave, California, McGreevy shot these photos around 2:00 PM local time on Friday.

Detail of three of the six engines on Stratolaunch along with its control surfaces. (All photos: Christopher McGreevy)

McGreevy’s photos show the enormous Stratolaunch aircraft built by Stratolaunch Systems of Seattle, Washington. The Stratolaunch, when it flies some time later this year or in early 2019, will become the largest aircraft to ever fly as measured by wingspan. Its wings measure a titanic 385 feet (117 meters). The gigantic aircraft weighs a staggering 1,200,000 pounds at take-off with its payload. That is a total of 600 tons. The Stratolaunch is built to air launch spaceplanes like Orbital ATK’s Pegasus XL, the Dream Chaser and Black Ice experimental spacecraft prior to their orbital flights.

These shots are incredibly unique since Chris McGreevy told TheAviationist.com that there was, “Not a soul out there.” He was the only photographer in the area when the aircraft was outside on this day. The gigantic aircraft is most frequently housed in a massive hangar at the Mojave Air & Space Port.

Stratolaunch uses a unique round entry door as shown in this photo.

McGreevy is a frequent visitor to the facility. “Mojave is usually my own little playground unless a known Spaceship 2 launch is happening. Nobody really shoots out there because it’s a pretty slow airport. I go pretty often to see the Orbital L-1011 and 747 retirement flights to the boneyard.”

“I have a few spots there that I like to shoot from,” McGreevy told TheAviationist.com in a late-night interview on Friday. “I use my 4X4 truck to drive around the filed I the dirt, [it] offers some different views of the field.”

The Stratolaunch hangar is of equally massive proportions to the aircraft itself.

The McGreevy photos from Friday offer a unique perspective on the massive size and unique design of this flying leviathan. Because they were shot from a distance but with good composition and cropping, these photos offer an accurate sense of the enormous size of the Stratolaunch aircraft. McGreevy shows fascinating details such as close-ups of the aircraft’s six engines and the round crew entry hatch. A large towing tug and maintenance scaffolding under the aircraft also lend an accurate sense of scale and size to the photos. There also seems to be some engine mount maintenance going on since one of the photos shows some aircraft surface missing from the upper portion of the engine mounts at the wing.

Photographer Christopher McGreevy shot this spectacular wide shot of the Stratolaunch giving a graphic sense of its massive size.

One particularly interesting shot from the McGreevy collection is the photo of the L-39 Albatross single engine trainer jet with civilian registration N139WS taxiing in front of the Stratolaunch. This L-39 is registered to Ozark Management Inc, of Jefferson City, Missouri, a privately held aviation firm with only about 5-6 employees according to open source information and is operated by the National Test Pilot School L-39C. It’s not clear if the aircrew of the L-39 is related to the Stratolaunch company or not. The aircraft adds a great sense of scale to the backdrop of the Stratolaunch, since the photo shows just 1/4 of the monster plane.

This Aero L-39 jet trainer in the foreground lends some sense of size and scale to the Stratolaunch.

Following the high-speed taxi tests of the Stratolaunch earlier this year in late February things have seemingly been quiet about the Stratolaunch but it is likely these sensational photos from Christopher McGreevy may reignite the excitement and conversation about this truly historic and remarkable aviation project.

Thanks for Photographer and Aviation Enthusiast Christopher McGreevy for his generous use of his excellent photos for TheAviationist.com and to the Facebook group “Palmdale AF Plant 42 (PMD) and BJ’s Corner”.

Photographer Chris McGreevy who shot the remarkable Stratolaunch photos.

We Talk to Former Quick Reaction Alert Pilot About How The U.S. Air Force Responds to a Stolen Aircraft

Questions Remain in Stolen Airliner Crash: How Could It Happen? What is The Response?

Nearly 17 years after the 9/11 terror attacks the bizarre stolen aircraft, intercept and crash incident in Washington state on Friday raises serious concerns not only about airline safety but about national security.

How could a person – who is not a pilot- simply take a civilian airliner parked on the ground, get it into the air and create a serious national security risk? What does the Air Force do in an incident like this? And most urgently, after nearly two decades of taking our shoes off at TSA security checks, how could this have ever happened?

As information about the aircraft theft and crash in Washington continues to emerge there remain more questions than answers. In the wake of Friday’s incident TheAviationist.com spoke to two sources inside the airline service/security industry and the U.S. military about the incident and the security countermeasures to prevent incidents like this. We also asked about the U.S. military response to stolen/hijacked aircraft once they get in the air and their level of readiness to respond with lethal force to such an incident. Because both sources we spoke to continue to work in these fields and for the U.S. military they agreed to speak to us only on condition of anonymity.

In late 2016, this reporter visited a flight service provider at Detroit’s Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW). We were given a tour of flight line services provided to airline aircraft that included maintenance and aircraft interior cleaning, sanitation servicing (pumping out aircraft toilets after flights), ground traffic control and most significantly, security.

F-15C Rock 41 departing PDX (Image credit: Bill Shemley)

During our visit to Detroit’s Metro Airport we were notified in advance to park off the airport grounds in an outer lot and use an employee shuttle to enter the flight line service facility. We were required to provide both photo ID and clearance from an authorized person to board the bus used by employees to reach the flight line service provider’s building. Inside the facility, we were required to wear a “guest” ID tab and be escorted by a security badge holder at all times, including restroom visits. Each entry door we used to move from passenger spaces within the airport terminal to the service spaces required a card swipe and/or a security code. Each of these entries is logged in a central security system. Once past the security screen the area was full of employees performing everything from updating a massive spreadsheet that contained all aircraft movement in the airport to ground traffic control. Employees also moved massive volumes of prepared meals to airliners for passengers in flight. Trash was emptied from airliners and trucked off lift vehicles you see from the boarding gates. Chemical toilets on airliners were pumped out and cleaned.

As an ongoing part of security protocols and readiness testing the Transportation Security Administration was conducting unannounced tests of aircraft cleaners and their managers. The TSA would conceal false explosive devices on an airliner prior to cleaning and then covertly observe if the simulated bombs were detected by cleaning crews. In an alarming outcome, our source revealed that there had been numerous failures on the part of contracted aircraft maintenance and cleaning services to locate these simulated bombs. As a result, the contracted service provider at the airport was put on official notice of corrective action. Immediately following our inspection and orientation of the facility and the service provider, several upper level management terminations occurred as a direct result of the failures of these tests in 2016. One upper level employee, our contact, left the airline service industry for a position in financial security following the security test failures in 2016 at DTW.

Based on our examination of airport service provider security protocols, while there were substantial security measures in place including background checks and drug tests for employees, security badges and secure entryways that required a coded entry, all under video surveillance, there were still security breaches among the airport service providers on a fairly regular basis. The TSA maintained a database of the security tests and put the contracted service providers on notice when they failed security tests. This resulted in high employee turnover.

But what happens once the systems on the ground fail and an aircraft is able to get into an airspace without authorization?

We spoke to a former U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot and combat veteran who stood the domestic airspace alert mission in the United States. Because of continuing affiliation with the U.S. armed forces, he agreed to speak to us on condition of anonymity.

Rock 42 scrambling from PDX (Image: Bill Shemley).

We asked our source within the armed forces if fighter aircraft responding to alert intercept calls carry live weapons:

“Aircraft are loaded with live AIM-9M and AIM-120B/C weapons. [There is a] full load of 20-millimeter cannon as well. There are thresholds for launching aircraft based on the unidentified tracks crossing borders or certain types of distress calls including hijacking or stolen airplanes. Likely the aircraft were launched with very little knowledge, potentially only that an uncleared aircraft took off. NORAD orders alert launches. Authorization to release an aircraft like that is typically in order to save lives or stop an attack once other attempts to communicate with the aircraft have failed. If that aircraft is turned toward a population center it would likely have been engaged. That engagement call comes from NORAD, at the O-7 (Brigadier General) level.”

Our source went to say, “It was a fun mission to take off in an instant and blitz across the desert supersonic at god-knows-what. But the responsibilities of what we may have to do was very heavy.”

Pilots flying fighter aircraft in the U.S. on alert for unresponsive aircraft are typically armed according to our USAF source. (Photo: White House via ABC)

On February 16, 2017, just such an intercept occurred over European airspace. A Jet Airways Boeing 777-300 with registration VT-JEX operating as flight 9W-118 from Mumbai, India to London’s Heathrow airport was underway at 36,000 feet (FL360) about 20 miles north of Cologne, Germany when the aircraft lost radio communication with controllers. It was intercepted by two German Luftwaffe Eurofighter Typhoons aircraft due to loss of communication.

Following the 2017 incident, a Jet Airways spokesperson told media in a release: “Contact between Jet Airways flight 9W 118, from Mumbai to London Heathrow, of February 16, 2017, and the local ATC, was briefly lost while flying over German airspace. Communication was safely restored within a few minutes. As a precaution, the German Air Force deployed its aircraft to ensure the safety of the flight and its guests.” Airline officials went on to report that, “The flight with 330 guests and 15 crew subsequently landed at London without incident.”

Similar episodes occur quite frequently in the skies all around the world. In Italy, for instance, there were as many as 8 scrambles of the Italian Air Force QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) Eurofighter Typhoons, due to loss of communication by civilian/general aviation aicraft since the beginning of July alone!

In another recent incident related to military aircraft flying armed security patrol missions a Spanish Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft accidentally fired (at least according to the details emerged so far – it’s not clear whether it “just” released) an AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) while flying near Otepää in Estonia, less than 50 km west of the Russian border.

In the case of Friday’s theft of an empty 76-seat, twin-engine turboprop Bombardier Q400, belonging to Alaska Airlines’ sister carrier Horizon Air, the aircraft may not have flown near population centers long enough to present a risk that required armed intervention from responding F-15s. Additionally, the person who took the Alaska Airlines Q400 was in communication with controllers and appeared to not openly demonstrate a terrorist agenda. Had they done so, it is possible the outcome of the incident may have included the Q400 being engaged by the responding F-15s.

The threat posed by aircraft being stolen from airports is clearly significant as evidenced by Friday’s incident. Perhaps a greater risk comes from general aviation aircraft and not large commercial aircraft. These aircraft are easy to access and bit easier to operate. Even the commercial, twin-engine turboprop Bombardier Q400 stolen on Friday could be flown by a “pilot” who, based on reports, had only practiced operating the aircraft on a home computer flight simulator. Similar home computer simulators were known to have been used by the 9/11 attackers according to the 9/11 Commission Report issued in July, 2004.

As of 2009, the CIA reported that there were approximately 44,000 “… airports or airfields recognizable from the air” around the world, including 15,095 in the US. Of these flight facilities, there are 5,194 with paved runways. The U.S. has about a third of all airports, and the most of any single country. According to the Airplane Owner’s and Pilot’s Association (AOPA) there are approximately 20,000 airfields in the U.S. without a control tower and only about 500 airports with control towers. Airfields without a control tower are still subject to air traffic control, but from a facility usually located away from the airfield.

In 2010, the Discovery Channel began airing a television reality show called “Airplane Repo” produced by Undertow Films. The show features often reenacted and dramatized stories about aircraft and boats that are being repossessed from debtors by a cast of specialty pilots and private recovery persons who “steal” the airplanes back for banks, creditors and private individuals. Aircraft shown in the series are frequently commandeered without authorization or clearance and flown out of small general aviation airports. In one episode, a helicopter was repossessed by being flown off the rooftop of a high-rise building. Another featured an aircraft repossessed in Mexico and being flown without clearance back into the United States. The producers claim the show depicts actual events that are often re-staged by actors for the series. A key takeaway from the documentary series, that ran on the Discovery Channel for three full seasons until 2015, and from Friday’s incident in Washington state, is that aircraft in the United States are not as secure as they perhaps should be.

“Airplane Repo” was a television reality show aired on the Discovery Channel that claimed to dramatize how easy it may be to repossess aircraft without authorization and get them into the air. (Photo: Discovery Channel)

Top image: Rock 42 scrambles from Portland to intercept the stolen Q400 on Aug. 10, 2018 (Credit: Bill Shemley)

Watch This Crazy Cool Video Of The An-225 “Mriya”, The World’s Largest Airplane, Taken From A Very Unique Point Of View

Video, filmed from a rare point of view, of the An-225 taking off from Chimore Airport, Bolivia.

The Antonov An-225 Mriya (“Dream” in Ukrainian language) is the world’s largest airplane. Designed at the end of Cold War, its main purpose was to carry the Soviet “Buran” space shuttle and parts of the “Energia” rocket. Currently, the sole existing example (UR-82060) is used commercially, as an international cargo transporter.

Mriya is not the largest aircraft ever built: this title belongs to the Hughes H-4 Spruce Goose hydroplane, that made only a single flight.

The An-225 is performing a series of flights to deliver boilers for thermal power plant of Bolivia from Iquique, Chile, to Chimore, Bolivia. In each flight Mriya carries the cargo weighing up to 160 tons. This video shows a take off from Chimore.

Enjoy!

That Time An Alitalia B747 (Escorted By Italian Air Force Tornado and AMX) Wowed The Crowd At An Air Show Near Rome

In 1996, an Alitalia B747-200 Jumbo Jet accompanied by two ItAF combat aircraft performed a remarkable display during Ostia Air Show.

Ostia, on the Tyrrhenian coast, few kilometers to the west of Rome, has hosted 13 editions of the Ostia then Rome International Air Show: the first one in 1988 and the last in 2014.

Located between an international airport (Rome-Fiumicino) airport and a military airfield (Pratica di Mare airbase), the air show has often attracted interesting aircraft, including large airliners and fast jets. As happened in 1996. On Jun. 2, 1996, the Ostia Air Show included a really unique display: an Alitalia B747-200 performed some flybys escorted by an Italian Air Force Tornado IDS and an AMX belonging to the 311° Gruppo of the Reparto Sperimentale Volo (ItAF’s Test Wing) from “Pratica”.

The B747 trailed by an AMX and a Tornado. (All photos: Author)

Unfortunately all I could find about that airshow (that I attended) are the three photographs (hence the poor quality) that you can find in this post. You can still get an idea of the sight (by the way if some of our readers have better photographs or a video, please let us know).

The somehow crappy photos taken from the beach by this author show the Alitalia Jumbo (a type that had already taken part, alone, to the 1991 edition of the airshow) flying alongside the Italian combat jets (noteworthy, the Tornado IDS was still wearing the Desert livery applied to the fleet that took part in Operation Locusta – the Italian contribution to Desert Storm in 1991 – from Al Dhafra, in UAE).

By the way, between 1970 and 2004, Alitalia operated a fleet of 21 B747s: 2x -100 and 19x -200 examples.

The B747 turning over the sea while performing a gear-down passage.

As already said, the airshow often featured airliners along with combat aircraft. Watch what this ATI MD-82 did in 1992 (I was there as well):

All photos: Author

 

America’s Secret Airline To Area 51 Is Now Hiring Flight Attendants

JANET airlines, flying non-stop to Area 51, Tonopah Test Range and other “sensitive locations” is hiring.

Janet (that unofficially stands for “Just Another Non Existent Terminal”), is the name of a small fleet of passenger aircraft operated by AECOM, a private defense contractor, from Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport.

Actually, the name and callsign Janet com from the wife of the Area 51 base commander circa 1969-1971.

Every day, Boeing 737-600 jets, sporting the peculiar overall white with red cheatline livery, fly non-stop to several key military airbases used for R&D (Research And Development), including the famous Area 51, in the Nevada desert, the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale CA and Tonopah Test Range, Nevada.

The secretive airline, allowed to fly where most of the military and civilian aircraft are not allowed to, has recently posted a job for a Flight Attendand to be based at Las Vegas.

The job does not require any previous experience requirement and the  most interesting part of the job is the one we highlight in the following chunk of the original summary:

High School graduate or equivalent. Must pass Company operated jet aircraft Emergency Training and Initial Flight Attendant Training and maintain currency as a Flight Attendant. Must be able to effectively perform all assigned physical duties without difficulty and without assistance. Must be able to push and pull heavy hinged aircraft doors weighing up to 80 lbs. Must comply with Company specified dress code and uniform guidelines. Must possess effective oral communication skills, including good public speaking abilities. Possess basic math knowledge and basic computer skills. Must qualify for and maintain a top secret government security clearance and associated work location access. Possess a current State issued driver’s license.

So, if you are thrilled to work for America’s most secret airline on extremely rare routes and destinations, here’s your chance.

By the way, as often highlighted in the past, in spite of the “clandestine” nature of its operation JANET flights (that, use “Janet” as radio callsign) can be tracked online on Flightradar24.com. Here’s just an example:

Image credit: Wiki/Alan Wilson