Category Archives: Drones

Triangular Object Spotted “Dogfighting” With Two F-16s Inside Area 51

Photos shot from UFO Seekers allegedly show unknown, triangular object interacting with two U.S. Air Force F-16s. But it’s probably a bird.

On Feb. 15, 2017, UFO seekers Tim Doyle and Tracey Su were camping near Groom Lake to take pictures and film videos of activity in the skies inside Area 51. During their stay, they spotted a couple of F-16s dogfighting and snapped some shots at the jets. It wasn’t until they got back home, when they started reviewing the pictures, that they noticed a third unidentified aircraft that they described as a “triangular” object which appeared to be dogfighting the “Vipers” (as the F-16s are dubbed within the fighter pilots community).

The video below includes the pictures shot by Tracey (go to 19:45).

“We try to be a medium between the UFO Community and the Aviation Community. My dad worked at Plant 42 and other family had similar jobs. So people shouldn’t believe we would ever jump to advocating the existence of aliens or an alien craft at AREA 51. But that day we did catch a third craft, unfortunately we only used the photos in the video. All media from that trip was lost in a hard drive failure. In fact UFO Seekers lost over 5 months worth of media (6TB). It may have been a foreign aircraft as that is the primary purpose of the airspace at Groom Lake. Also I know the Air Force tests craft like the Polecat at the NTTR so it may have been an unmanned drone. But maybe, just maybe, it was something more,” said Tim in a message to The Aviationist.

The two F-16s flying close to the mysterious object (highlighted). This is a screen grab from UFO Seekers video filmed close to Area 51.

Here’s the mysterious object. Aircraft, drone or bird? (Screenshot from the UFO Seekers video).

The resolution of images in the video does not allow a proper identification of the object which might well be a drone (or a distant manned aircraft…such as an F-117 that was spotted flying over Nevada with accompanying F-16, in the recent past), still the story of the alleged interaction has had some exposure.

Assessing the size is difficult: even though the perspective might be a factor here, the object seems to be smaller than the F-16s, but probably much larger than a micro-drone as the bird-sized Perdix drones, 103 of those, launched from three F/A-18F Super Hornets, took part in one of the world’s largest micro-drone swarms over the skies of Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California on Oct. 25, 2016. That said, the aircraft could be a prototype of some new UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), maybe a UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle), a weaponized drone.

Considered the position of the two fighters, rather than a dogfight, it seems that the jets were chasing the mysterious object rather than engaging it. Maybe they had just intercepted it in a simulated VID mission, or they were simply shadowing or filming a test flight. However, unlike what happened last year with the shots of the Su-27P dofighting with an F-16 inside Area 51, these new photos embedded in a YT video can’t provide a clear picture of the interaction.

Update: According to our friend Tyler Rogoway at The War Zone, the object is clearly a bird. “I literally see this all the time in frames. Birds catching thermals,” he says. “Viewing a bird somewhat edge on while soaring, that is exactly what they look like,” he said in a tweet to The Aviationist. To be honest I don’t see a bird here, but I may be wrong.

Update 2: Mick West, creator of Metabunk and famous debunker, has done an interesting analysis coming to the conclusion it was a bird. Here it is:

More or less the same analysis done by @AircraftSpots

Case closed? It seems so.

What’s your opinion? Let us know.

H/T @ufo_seekers

EQ-4 Global Hawk Drone Deployed to UAE with a Battlefield Airborne Communications Node Payload Reaches 20K Flight Hours

One of the RQ-4B Global Hawk drone converted into EQ-4 has logged 20,000 flight hours operating as a “flying gateway” for other aircraft involved in the air war on ISIS.

On Feb. 13, one of the U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk drones reached 20,000 flight hours. The UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) is one of the three RQ-4Bs converted into EQ-4 and carry the BACN payload instead of the imagery intelligence (IMINT) sensors: it’s primarily a data and communications bridging node that supports multiple bridges simultaneously across multiple radio types. The crews who operate these particular flying gateways call them: “Wi-fi in the sky.”

“This milestone was the original lifespan of the aircraft,” said Senior Master Sgt. Matthew Pipes, Hawk Aircraft Maintenance Superintendent deployed to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, in a public release. “It’s exciting to see where this technology and this aircraft can take off too and how it can help those who are downrange.”

The aircraft (based on the photo the example “A2019”, an RQ-4 Block 20 converted into EQ-4), reached this milestone at its deployment base of Al Dhafra, UAE, from where the Global Hawks equipped with a Battlefield Communications Airfield Node payload are regularly launched for missions that can last 24 hours, or more. For instance, the very same aircraft surpassed the 10,000 flying hours in March 2015 during a 30.5-hour mission.

“From being a manned aircraft pilot, getting 12-hours in the air was a long day…you needed a day or so to recover before going up on your next mission,” said Major Manuel Ochoa, U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk pilot from the 99th Air Expeditionary Recon Squadron stationed at Al Dhafra Air Base. “When it comes to this plane, you can cycle pilots without having to land and that is a great benefit.”

Missions flown by the BACN platforms are extremely important. As explained several times here at The Aviationist, BACN is a technological “gateway” system that allows aircraft with incompatible radio systems and datalinks to transfer information and communicate.

The U.S. military uses various datalink systems to exchange tactical information, and many are not capable of working together.  For example, a U.S. Air Force F-15 can use its Link-16 system to exchange target information with a U.S. Navy F/A-18.  However, the F/A-18 could not exchange information with a USAF B-52 or B-1 bomber.  The advanced F-22 can connect with other Raptors via datalink but can only receive over the standard, legacy Link-16 datalink used by most allied aircraft.

This lack of compatibility between different platforms is a major obstacle in all those theaters where air assets from many services are called upon to provide support for ground troops of different nations.  Additionally, the complicated joint operations required to engage a modern integrated air defense system are greatly simplified by exchanging target information via datalinks.

Hence the need for a “flying gateway” as the EQ-4s, all assigned to 380th Air Expeditionary Wing based at Al Dhafra Air Base to support OIR (Operation Inherent Resolve).

An U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk logs over 20,000 flight hours Feb. 13, 2018 at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. The Global Hawk’s mission is to provide a broad spectrum of ISR collection capability to support joint combatant forces in worldwide peacetime, contingency and wartime operations. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott)

 

The BACN system is also used to link ground troops and Forward Air Controllers (FACs)/Joint Terminal Attack Controllers in a non-line-of-sight (LOS) environment.  For instance, in the rugged, mountainous terrain of Afghanistan, troops are not always able to establish LOS communications with close support aircraft overhead.  Moving position or relocating to higher ground could be fatal in a combat situation.

E-11A aircraft (Bombardier Global 6000 advanced ultra long-range business jets that have been modified by the U.S. Air Force to accomodate Battlefield Airborne Communications Node payload) with 430th Expeditionary Electronic Squadron deployed to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan have been involved in this kind of missions (some of those trackable on the Internet as highlighted several times) since they arrived in theater for the first time 9 years ago.

By orbiting at high-altitude for long times, BACN equipped air assets can provide a communications link from ground commanders to their allies in the sky.  For example, a legacy USAF A-10 attack aircraft could loiter away from a battle area while using the BACN link to communicate with a special-forces FAC on the ground.  The A-10 pilot could wait until all targeting information is ready before “un-masking” and beginning an attack run.

By the way, it’s interesting to note that the original story refers to BACN as “Battlefield Communication Airfield Node”.

Defining Asymmetrical Warfare: Extremists Use Retail Drones to Attack Russian Air Base in Syria

One Aircraft Heavily Damaged in Most Recent in String of Low-Cost Insurgent Drone Attacks.

It is the definition of asymmetrical warfare: a fast-moving, lightly armed insurgency fueled by a radical doctrine uses simple weapons to attack a larger, seemingly more capable occupying force.

Taking inspiration from the doctrines of T.E. Lawrence, Sun Tzu, Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh, extremists in Syria have increased pressure on Russian forces in the region with another simple, innovative attack that heavily damaged at least one Russian aircraft and likely more. Previous similar attacks in the region around January 4 were reported to have killed 2 Russian servicemen.

Recent photos surfacing on social media attributed to Russian military journalist Roman Saponkov show the tail of what appears to be a Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer attack aircraft damaged by an attack earlier this month.

Captured fixed-wing insurgent drone. (Photo: Russian Air Force)

A report that surfaced on January 6, 2018 from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that was shared in several media outlets including the BBC says that Russian forces shot down several “unmanned aircraft” near Hmeimim base near the north-western city of Latakia on Saturday in what appears to be the latest attack attempt by insurgents. In this week’s latest attack the Russians claim there was no damage to aircraft or personnel and their air defense systems were successful in intercepting the small, store-bought quadcopter drones usually used for cameras.

There has been a recent increase in attacks by improvised air-delivered weapons from remotely piloted aircraft on Russian installations in Syria. Additional insurgent attacks have been attributed to mortars. Some of the remotely piloted aircraft, in some instances commercial style quad-copter drones, have been modified to carry mortar rounds or grenades. Some grenade-bombs even used badminton shuttle cocks for improvised tail fin stabilizers. While this is not new, the frequency of the incidents and adaptability of the insurgents does seem to have increased.

According to some reports, recent attacks by insurgent drones damaged the tail of this Sukhoi Su-24 “Fencer”. Actually, initial reports stated that the cause of the damage was a mortar attack (Photo: Roman Saponkov)

This increase in insurgent attacks comes just after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the withdrawal of the bulk of Russian assets from Syria during a surprise visit to Hmeimim air base on December 11, 2017. Hmeimim air base is the primary launch facility for Russian tactical air operations in Syria’s Latakia province. The political move by Putin is reminiscent of the May 1, 2003 political gaff by then- U.S. President George W. Bush. President Bush made a media event out of landing on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) and speaking in front of a banner that read “Mission Accomplished”, acknowledging the progress of the U.S. in the Global War on Terror in Iraq. Although Bush never said the mission was accomplished in his remarks on the USS America, the event is historically regarded as premature to meaningful change in the ongoing Iraq conflict. Putin may face similar criticism if a meaningful victory in Syria does not happen soon.

The Russian success in intercepting improvised camera drones being adapted to carry weapons is at least partially attributable to what may be their most sophisticated air defense system, the Pantsir S-2 integrated missile and gun vehicle.

The Russian Pantsir S-2 gun and missile integrated anti-aircraft system. (Photo: via YouTube)

The Pantsir S-2, an advancement from the earlier Pantsir S-1, uses a combination of a high rate of fire anti-aircraft gun and surface to air missiles combined with advanced targeting radar to both detect aerial threats and target both the guns and the missiles on the Pantsir S-2.

Pantsir S-2 is armed with two 2A38M, 30mm automatic anti-aircraft guns derived from the GSh-30 twin-barrel 30mm aircraft-mounted cannon. The cannon system on the Pantsir S-2 has a very high rate of fire from 1,950 to 2,500 rounds per minute depending on the length of the burst. The 2A38M cannon can engage targets up to 2,000 meters, over 6,000 feet, altitude. More importantly in the context of the improvised insurgent threats, the 2A38M can engage targets down to zero altitude effectively, a problem older Soviet-era Russian anti-aircraft systems like the ZSU-34-4 faced since the guns could not depress below a certain elevation making it impossible to hit very low altitude targets in close proximity.

The Pantsir S-2 also carries the new highly capable 57E6-E guided surface to air missile. The missile uses a bi-caliber body in tandem, one stage in front of the next, with a separate booster stage then in-flight stage. The newest versions of the 57E6-E are reported to have range of up to 20-30 kilometers with and reported engagement ceiling of 10,000 meters (approx. 33,000 feet).

While the new Pantsir S-2 provides significant protection from what appears to be the entire threat envelope from enemy fixed wing aircraft to improvised quad-copter bombs the hallmark of the insurgent adversary is adaptability. While Russia appears to be emerging in the lead of the conflict in Syria as Putin announces their withdrawal, one has to wonder what shift in insurgent tactics will follow their drone attack campaign.

Here’s Boeing Submission To The U.S. Navy MQ-25 Stingray Unmanned Carrier Aviation Air System Competition

Boeing’s MQ-25 unmanned aircraft system has been unveiled.

After teasing its shape with a mysterious tweet that included a photograph of an aircraft under protective cover on Dec. 14, as planned, Boeing has unveiled a better (still, partial) view of its submission to the MQ-25 Stingray unmanned carrier aviation air system competition (UCAAS).

Through its MQ-25 competition (with final proposals due on Jan. 3, 2018), the U.S. Navy plans to procure unmanned refueling capabilities that would extend the combat range of deployed Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler, and Lockheed Martin F-35C fighters. The UCAAS will operate from both land bases and the flight deck of its Nimitz- and future Ford-class aircraft carriers, seamlessly integrating with a carrier’s catapult and launch and recovery systems. The induction of the new tanker drone will offload some aerial refueling duties from the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleet.

“Boeing has been delivering carrier aircraft to the Navy for almost 90 years,” said Don ‘BD’ Gaddis, a retired admiral who leads the refueling system program for Boeing’s Phantom Works technology organization, in a company public release. “Our expertise gives us confidence in our approach. We will be ready for flight testing when the engineering and manufacturing development contract is awarded.”

According to Boeing the UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) is completing engine runs before heading to the flight ramp for deck handling demonstrations early next year.

The Navy issued its final request for proposals in October. Proposals are due Jan. 3.

With Northrop Grumman withdrawing from the competition in October 2017, Boeing, General Atomics, and Lockheed Martin are the three aerospace company competing for the initial development contract. The U.S. Navy has a requirement for 72 tanker drones, even though the service will initially only buy four examples of the winning design in order to assess whether the winner will be able to meet all the requirements before handing out any larger production deals.

Top image: Boeing photo by Eric Shindelbower

B-52 At Edwards AFB Sports Nose Art That Commemorates Its Past As “Mothership” In Top Secret D-21 Drone Test Program

A B-52 from the 419th Flight Test Squadron was given a new nose art to commemorate the Buff’s involvement in a top-secret test program.

An interesting image has been released by Edwards Air Force Base 412th Test Wing Public Affairs. It shows B-52 #60-0036 with a new nose art completed by renowned aviation artist Mike Machat to celebrate the involvement of the bomber in the top-secret test program named “Tagboard” about 50 years ago.

All manned flights over the Soviet Union had been discontinued by President Dwight Eisenhower after Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 spy plane was shot down May 1, 1960. Since satellites were still years away from being able to gather the required intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency determined unmanned drones could fill the gap until satellites became viable.

Tagboard program involved testing the D-21, a ramjet-powered reconnaissance drone that could reach Mach 3 speed. In fact, the D-21 required a mothership that could air-launch the drone at a certain speed so that the ramjet could activate.

In the beginning, an M-21 (essentially a modified SR-71 Blackbird) was used to air launch the D-21 drone from its back. The idea was that, after conducting its intended spy mission, the drone would eject a hatch with photo equipment to be recovered either mid-air (by a JC-130B, as it was lowered by a parachute) or after the hatch landed.

M-21 carrying D-21 in flight (Credit: CIA)

However, as the official release recalls, “on the fourth flight test, the D-21 experienced an “asymmetric unstart” as it passed through the bow wake of the M-21 causing the mothership to pitch up and collide with the D-21 at Mach 3.25. Crewmembers Bill Park and Ray Torick ejected from the M-21, but Torick’s flight suit became ripped and filled with water when he plunged into the ocean where he drowned.”

A video of the incident, filmed by an accompanying Blackbird can be found here.

After the accident, the M-21 launch program was cancelled and Lockheed Martin decided to launch the drone from B-52Hs, one being #0036. The new code name for the D-21 project became Senior Bowl.

A D-21 reconnaissance drone is on display at Blackbird Air Park at U.S. Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California. The D-21 was a ramjet-powered reconnaissance drone that could reach Mach 3 speed. Ideally, the drone would air launch from a mothership and after conducting its reconnaissance mission it would eject a hatch with photo equipment to be recovered either mid-air or after the hatch landed. (Courtesy photo by Danny Bazzell/Flight Test Historical Foundation)

“After several failed launch attempts, the first successful D-21 launch from a B-52 occurred June 16, 1968. The drone flew 3,000 miles at 90,000 feet. After a few more flight tests, the CIA and the Air Force decided to conduct four operational launches that all ended in failure in some way. Two flights were successful, however the imagery could not be recovered from the D-21’s hatch. The other two operational flights ended with one being lost in a heavily defended area and the other D-21 simply disappeared after launch.”

The D-21 program was cancelled July 15, 1971, and both B-52s used for the program were returned to operational Air Force units.

The B-52 #60-0036 is currently assigned to the 419th FLTS at Edwards, where it arrived in 2001; it has been used as a test bed ever since.

A B-52 currently used for testing by the 419th Flight Test Squadron, sits on the flightline at Edwards Air Force Base Oct. 16. The bomber, tail# 60-0036, was used in a top secret test program that began with the code name Tagboard. The program involved testing the D-21, which was a ramjet-powered reconnaissance drone that could reach Mach 3 speed. The D-21 would be launched from underneath the wings of the bomber. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kenji Thuloweit)

Considered the type of tests conducted at Mach 3 with the M-21 or the B-52 and D-21 drone some 50 years ago, one may guess: what is being secretely tested today?