Category Archives: Aviation

Take a look at these photographs of the rare NASA DC-8 Airborne Laboratory visiting Lajes during global-scale sampling mission

A rare beauty flew into Lajes airfield, Azores.

Taking part in the Atmospheric Tomography Mission (ATom-1) to study the impact of human-produced air pollution on greenhouse gases and on chemically reactive gases in the atmosphere, the NASA /Armstrong Flight Research Center / Earth Science DC8-72 msn 46082/458 flew into Lajes air base, Terceira island, Azores, on Aug. 17.

Lajes is a strategic airfield located in the Atlantic Ocean frequently used as a stopover airfield by military (as well as NASA) aircraft crossing the Pond.

ATom deploys an extensive gas and aerosol payload on the NASA DC-8 aircraft for systematic, global-scale sampling of the atmosphere, profiling continuously from 0.2 to 12 km altitude.

NASA DC-8

According to the NASA website, the DC-8’s sampling activities occur in each of 4 seasons over a 4-year period covering the whole globe: NASA 817 flew to Lajes from Ascension Island and before that the aircraft flew from New Zealand all the way across the Pacific and Indian oceans.

NASA DC-8 2

With the Universidade dos Açores (Azores University Meteo department) as a prominent research partner, the classic aircraft was involved in several scientific local flights to better understand atlantic meteorological conditions as well as air particle analysis, before leaving bound for Greenland on Aug. 20.

Below you can see the last part of the route followed by NASA 817 (screenshot from Flightradar24.)

NASA FR24

Here are some images sent us by our friends at the APS (Associação Portugal Spotters) showing the DC-8 arriving at Lajes in the afternoon on Aug. 17.

Image credit: APS – Associação Portugal Spotters

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Watch a DC-10 skirt the mountain tops to fight wildfires in Southern California

Some skills are needed to fly a “wide body” like that!

The DC-10 Air Tanker is a standard McDonnell Douglas DC-10 airliner that was converted to carry up to 12,000 US gallons (45,000 liters) of water or fire retardant in an exterior belly-mounted tank.

Three such kind of firefighting bombers are operated by the 10 Tanker Air Carrier, under callsign Tanker 910, 911 and 912.

The DC10 Air Tankers (unofficially dubbed “Supertankers”) are based at the Airtanker base San Bernardino International Airport, to the east of Los Angeles, that is also home to the U.S. Forest Service Tanker, but they are frequently deployed to airports across the Southern California, Nevada and Arizona to fight wildfires during the fire season.

The following video shows Tanker 911 fly at very low altitude over the mountain tops to drop retardant on the Sage Fire, in the Santa Clarita valley, California.

Pretty cool maneuvering, isn’t it?

Top image: screenshot from CBSLA

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This Airbus A340-500 is Italy’s new Air Force One

Here’s I-TALY, the new A340 of the Italian Air Force VIP fleet.

The above photograph was taken on Jun. 30, as the new Italian Air Force Airbus A340 was performing ILS approaches to runway 16L at Rome-Fiumicino airport.

The aircraft is a A340-500 airliner that was leased from Etihad Airways for State Flights, replacing the ageing A319CJ in service with the 31° Stormo (Wing) based at Ciampino whose task is bringing the Italian Prime Minister, the Head of State and other members of the Government in every place of the world with its specialized fleet of executive aircraft.

The aircraft does not carry the typical military registration (MM – Matricola Militare) but a rather appropriate civilian “I-TALY.”

The wide-body arrived in Italy from Abu Dhabi on Feb. 1, 2016, flying as EY8569.

Image credit: Giovanni Maduli

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Two years after MH370 there is a way for aviation enthusiasts to obtain location data from aircraft flying in remote areas

Amateur tracking software can monitor the signals sent by the aircraft to the Inmarsat network.

On Mar. 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, a Boeing B777-200 aircraft (registration 9M-MRO), operating from Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, disappeared from radars about 40 minutes after take off from Kuala Lumpur.

The flight, carrying a total number of 239 passengers and crew members, was regularly transmitting ADS-B data until contact was lost over the Gulf of Thailand, when the wide body was cruising at 35,000 feet at 474 knots in reportedly good weather.

Between 1:19 and 1:20AM local time, the aircraft turned right, changing heading from 25 to 40 degrees.

The transponder stopped transmitting at 1:21AM LT.

According to the Malaysian authorities, there were subsequent primary radar returns to the west of the Malaysian peninsula, over the Strait of Malacca and then north-west. This is assumed to be a real return from MH370 even if based on primary radar echo.

For reasons we still don’t know the aircraft radio systems did not work while the plane flew westwards back towards Malaysia.

Even if information was incoherent and sometimes contradictory, we know for certain that military radars in both Malaysia and Thailand saw the plane.

MH370 route with initial search (credit: Wiki)

MH370 route with initial search (credit: Wiki)

SATCOM (a radio system that uses a constellation of satellites used to transmit voice, data or both)  system pings linked to the INMARSAT network continued for 7+ (last ping at 08:11 local) hrs after LOS (loss of signal).

A Ping is a quite common term for IT Networking. It refers to a utility used to test the reachability of a host on an IP network and measure the round-trip time (RTT) of the packets even if it is more frequently associated to the data messages themselves, or “pings”.

Similarly to what happens on a Local Area Network, satellites send pings (once an hour) to their receiving peers that respond to it thus signaling their network presence. Hence, these pings are no more than simple probes used to check the reachability of SATCOM systems aboard the planes.

Based on the round-trip times of such pings, two arcs made of all the possible positions located at the same distance from the INMARSAT satellite were drawn.

But further analysis on Doppler Effect, as well as correlation among the “signatures” of other B777s, clearly indicated that aircraft had followed a southbound route, towards the South Pole.

Whilst search efforts have not been able to find the wreckage of the Boeing 777, the mysterious disappearance of the MH370 flight highlighted the need for tracking aircraft flying over high seas or remote locations, where radar coverage does not exist (such as southern Indian Ocean where aircraft, ships and submarines from 26 nations, have searched for any debris).

Two years on from the loss of MH370 and six months after Inmarsat completed their initial trials of a free tracking network for commercial traffic across Autralasia and the Pacific region COAA’s team who develop PlanePlotter, an aircraft position plotting program that decodes the digital messages transmitted from aircraft to display their content and plot their position on a radar-like chart, have successfully completed their own trials to see if we can obtain location data from the Inmarsat fleet and then plot it on their own tracking system.

Here’s how they describe their recent developments:

“This had been on our minds for some time, but we didn’t have the decoding knowledge to fully understand the signals from the satellite fleet,” says John, from PlanePlotter support.

“In stepped “Jonti” from New Zealand, who co-incidentally had been decoding the L band signals in the Aero band from Inmarsat. Those signals did not contain location data as the ACARS style messages at L band are from the earth stations, up to the satellite and “down” to the aircraft.

Thinking back to the days when we monitored the Inmarsat analogue phone circuits we realised that to get both sides of the “conversation” we needed to monitor both L band [ 1.5 ghz ] …and C [3.5 ghz] band. With Jonti’s help we set about some trials.

Inmarsat uses 8m dishes to monitor the tracking signals, we only had 1.8m and 2.4m dishes, but with Jonti’s guidance we managed to get good signals with just 1.8m antenna.

Jonti identified the short bursts of data which looked like they were from the a/c and after some stirling work he produced a version of his software JAERO, which decoded the bursts. Sure enough, in the data down from the aircraft was information akin to that which is contained in ADS-B signals. Using that and satellite dishes in Europe, America and Australasia we can now locate aircraft from the US
eastern seaboard into Asia and across the Pacific, via five different satellites.”

PlanePlotter are in the middle of further tests and have recently rolled out a new version of their software which, for their satellite ground stations, will provide full information, from location, heading etc. to outside air temperature: in fact, everything you would expect from ADS-B data.

“For our sharers it will show the usual ADS-B style information and plot sat comms equipped Oceanic traffic in real-time. Whilst we are not seeing reports from aircraft on a 15 minute basis yet, presumably as more airlines comply the reports will become more regular,” says John.

“Over the next few weeks more of our satellite ground stations will come online providing real-time coverage for tracking enthusiasts. The Inmarsat data, combined with ACARS, live PiReps and ADS-B will provide seamless global tracking.”

PlanePlotter global coverage

PlanePlotter global coverage


Top image credit: Laurent Errera (Wiki)

All the articles about MH370 can be read here (scroll down).

 

Up close and personal with NASA’s Global Hawk drones at Edwards Air Force Base

NASA operates the giant Northrop Grumman Global Hawk drone to collect weather data.

On Feb. 5, NASA showed off its newest and smartest unmanned Global Hawk aircraft to reporters at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center located on Edwards AFB, CA.

Shorealone Films photographer Matt Hartman went there to report about the NASA’s Global Hawk fleet.

NASA GH 1

These aircraft have been helping NOAA scientists, researchers and forecasters with gathering weather information from altitudes and conditions not suitable for humans.

NASA GH 2

The missions tasked by these aircraft can last almost 24hours without refueling.

The Sensing Hazards with Operational Unmanned Technology (SHOUT) project led by the NOAA Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Program, will deploy the NASA Global Hawks carrying a suite of meteorological sensors and deploying dropsondes during four research flights in February.

NASA GH 3

According to the NASA website, the agency acquired its three drones from the U.S. Air Force. These are among the very first UAS (unmanned Aerial Systems) built under the original Global Hawk Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrator development program sponsored by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).

The Global Hawk is a gigantic drone: 44 feet in length it has a wingspan of more than 116 feet, a height of 15 feet, and a gross takeoff weight of 26,750 pounds, including a 1,500-pound payload capability. It is powered by a single Rolls-Royce AE3007H turbofan engine and features a distinctive V-tail.

NASA GH 4

The engine cover, aft fuselage and wings are constructed primarily of graphite composite materials; the center fuselage is made of aluminum, whereas various fairings and radomes feature fiberglass composite construction.

NASA’s Global Hawks made the headlines last week, after a hacker under the name of @CthulhuSec and the hacking group AnonSec started posting massive data belonging to NASA on Pastebin: such leaked data included around 150 GB of drone logs as well as 631 aircraft and radar videos along with 2,143 email address of NASA employees.

NASA GH 7

Interestingly, not only did the hacking group exfiltrate data from NASA’s network, but they also claim to have achieved “semi-partial control” of one of the agency’s Global Hawk drones by replacing the original .gpx file (containing the aircraft’s pre-planned route) with one crafted to direct it along a different route; a claim that has been denied by NASA.

NASA GH 8

This is not the first time civil or military drones are hacked.

The Intercept has recently reported that GCHQ and NSA compromised video feeds from Israeli drones from a base in Cyprus.

Previously, Iran claimed to have captured a CIA’s RQ-170 Sentinel drone by hijacking it.

U.S. Air Force Predator drones were reportedly infected by a malware that captured all the operator’s keystrokes in 2011.

NASA GH 10

All images: Matt Hartman