Category Archives: Helicopters

Clouds with Drizzling Rain Prevented “Marine One” From Flying Trump To U.S. cemetery near Paris

Trump cancels visit to US cemetery in France because of bad weather.

On Saturday Nov. 10, 2018, President Trump was scheduled to travel to Belleau Wood, 55 miles northeast of Paris, as part of the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI.

Belleau Wood is where the US troops had their breakthrough battle by stopping a German push for Paris shortly after entering the war in 1917.

“The battle of Belleau Wood proved America’s mettle to allies and foes alike, and by the time the war ended U.S. forces were at least an equal to any of the other major armies, which were exhausted and depleted. The Aisne-Marne American Cemetery at Belleau contains the graves of 2,289 servicemen and commemorates 1,060 others who fell at Bealleau Wood,” Metro reported.

Although it had been planned for months, the trip was canceled because, according to the White House, bad weather “grounded” his helicopter, “considered ill-equipped to make the short journey because of the clouds and drizzle”.

The cancellation drew much criticism: someone said the VH-3 and VH-60 flown by the U.S. Marine Corps HMX-1 (Marine Helicopter Squadron One) should be able to fly in rain and moderate bad weather; others say the president should have had a back-up plan that foresaw a different way to travel to Aisne-Marne regardless of the weather.

According to the Washington Post, the Secret Service determines when it’s safe to fly “Marine One“: when President of the U.S. travels aboard the VH-3D or any other chopper operated by HMX-1, the helicopter uses the radio callsign “Marine One” by which the aircraft is known). Paris was covered in clouds with drizzling rain through most of Saturday.

U.S. President Barack Obama, boards Marine One after arriving at the North Carolina Air National Guard base, Charlotte Douglas Intl. Airport, June 6, 2013, where he greeted members of the 145th Airlift Wing. The President traveled to Mooresville Middle School in Mooresville, N.C. to deliver remarks and see firsthand the school’s cutting edge technology and digital learning curriculum as part of his “Middle Class Jobs & Opportunity Tour.” (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Patricia Findley/Released)

President Trump was probably supposed to travel in one of the “White Tops” (VH-3Ds and VH-60Ns) that fly the President and accompanying VIPs at home and abroad as part of the Executive Flight Detachment. Usually, at least two or three “Green Tops” Ospreys accompany “Marine One”. The tilt-rotor aircraft fly also the Secret Service agents that follow “Marine One” and take care of its valuable passengers in case the helicopter goes down due to a failure.

The helicopters, based at Quantico, Virginia, south of Washington DC but often operating out of an alert facility at Naval Support Facility Anacostia, in DC, much closer to the White House than Quantico, are transferred to the place where POTUS will stay, ahead of his visit, in C-17 cargo aircraft.

Screenshot from an NBC video showing one of the VH-3D being loaded into a C-17.

Even though some of the HMX-1 helicopters, especially the legendary VH-3Ds are quite old, they have been regularly upgraded and they are equipped with cutting edge avionics, communication system and self-defenses. We don’t know at what time the White House and Secret Services staff canceled the trip so we can’t be sure of the real (and forecasted) weather conditions along the route. Surely, regardless to whether the aircraft is carrying the POTUS, a VIP or someone else, weather conditions including fog, rain, low ceiling and wind, along with the terrain characteristics, airspaces, etc. must be taken into proper consideration when planning a low altitude trip. And they may lead to cancellations.

Here below you can find an interesting thread that provides some insights into the way POTUS trips are planned. Indeed, there should always be a backup plan for the world’s most important Head of State.

H/T to our close friend @CivMilAir for the heads up!

Check Out This Awesome Sinister Looking MV-22 Osprey In Special Color Scheme At MCAS Miramar On Halloween

Take a look at the “Evil Eyes” MV-22 Osprey for VMM-163 at MCAS Miramar. Finished just in time for Halloween.

The photographs you can find in this post were taken on Oct. 31, 2018 at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California. They show an MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft belonging to the Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163 “Evil Eyes” in a new special color scheme prepared by Shayne Meder, aka Flygirlpainter, a retired Air Force master sergeant from Riverside, California, who’s painted with special liveries some 60 U.S. Navy Seahwaks, U.S. Air Force KC-135, C-17 and C-141 aircraft along with U.S. Marine Corps CH-46 and MV-22.

The VMM-163 special Osprey (00-8657) features artwork on the external sides of the vertical tails: the right one has a Grim Reaper with an “Evil Eyes” patch whereas the left one has a Grim Reaper with the “Ridge Runners” patch.

Right and left sides with the Ridge Runners and Evil Eyes patches. (All photographs courtesy of Flygirlpainter).

Indeed, formed as HMR(L)-163 in 1951 then HMM-163, the squadron got the nickname Ridge Runners” as a result of typhoon rescue and relief operations in the mountainous terrain surrounding Hagman, Japan. Still, it is also known as the “Evil Eyes”, a unit symbol that dates back to December 1965 whose story is explained as follows on the squadron’s official website:

“In December 1965, LtCol Charles A. House took the reigns of the squadron, newly relocated at MCAS Futema, Okinawa. With only one month separating HMM-163 from its return deployment to Viet Nam, LtCol House and his veteran pilots determined that a unit symbol was needed to build morale and espirit d’corps, especially for the newly assigned replacement personnel.

Capt Al Barbe, the Squadron Intelligence Officer and husband to a Thai bride, offered a suggestion. Because of Asian culture and beliefs, he proposed that eyes painted on the unit aircraft might have an unsettling affect upon the enemy, thus the concept of “The Eyes” on the front of HMM-163 aircraft was born.

On 1 January 1966, HMM-163 flew via C-130 to Phu Bai, Vietnam, relieved HMM-161, and took over their H-34 helicopters. Painting of what were then called “Genie Eyes” (after the “I Dream of Jeannie” TV show) began immediately.

By March 1966, HMM-163’s “Genie Eyes” were being called “Evil Eyes” by the ground units the squadron supported. The Squadron flew over 2,000 flight hours in ten days in support of the overrun Ashau Valley Special Forces Camp, in which 190 U.S. Army survivors were rescued from enemy capture. In Aug/Sept 1966, orders came from 1st MAW to eliminate white paint on Marine helicopters; so all white markings and lettering were either stricken or painted over in black. HMM-163 was aboard a carrier off the coast of Vietnam and used the excuse that they were not directly under Wing command at that time. The “Evil Eyes”, therefore, remained black and white.”

Along with the the tail art, the aircraft also sports two eyes on the nose section.

The “Evil Eyes” on the aircraft’s nose.

Noteworthy, the special painted MV-22B is one of those equipped with the Ku Ka antenna part of the Networking On-The-Move-Airborne Increment 2 (NOTM-A Inc 2) initiative launched in 2016 to provide an airborne en route mission planning and over-the-horizon/beyond-line-of-sight (OTH/BLOS) communication and collaboration capability.

Image credit: Flygirlpainter

S-64 Skycrane heavy-lift helicopter Sling Loads Last Italian Br-1150 Atlantic MPA Fuselage To The Italian Air Force Museum

An impressive airlift operation to move the fuselage of the Maritime Patrol Aircraft to its final destination.

On Oct. 18, the fuselage of the last BR-1150 Atlantic Anti-Submarine and Maritime Patrol Aircraft, MM40118/41-03, eventually reached the Italian Air Force Museum in Vigna di Valle, near Rome. The aircraft, retired on Nov. 22, 2017 with a final flight from Sigonella, home of the 41° Stormo (Wing) – the last unit to operate the BR-1150, to Pratica di Mare, was moved to the museum, located on the Bracciano Lake, to the northwest of Rome, using an Erickson S-64F Skycrane heavy-lift helicopter belonging to the Corpo Nazionale dei Vigili del Fuoco (Italy’s National Firefighters Corps) and operated for this mission by the European Air Crane Company (EuAC).

An empty BR-1150 weights about 56,700 lbs (25,700 kg) but the fuselage alone of a disassembled example can be carried by an S-64F that can sling load up to 25,000 lbs (11,400 kg).

The BR-1150 during the airlift to Vigna di Valle.

The BR-1150 was welcomed to its new homebase by Gen. Carlo Moscini, Inspector of the Aviation for the Navy, who at the end of the transfer symbolically handed over the keys of the Atlantic to the Director of the Museum, Lt. Col. Adelio Roviti during a brief ceremony attended by several technicians and executives of the Air Service of the Corpo Nazionale dei Vigili del Fuoco who followed all the preparatory phases of the mission and the transfer of the Atlantic to Vigna di Valle.

The unusual “formation” approaches Vigna di Valle.

The S-64 helicopter airlifted the Atlantic’s fuselage using a special harness normally employed in firefighting and emergency activities, and moved it from Pratica di Mare to the Italian Air Force Historical Museum along an authorized route that was previously agreed with all the involved civil air traffic authorities, the prefectures and local authorities.

The S-64F and the Atlantic after the transfer.

A view from the above shows both the S-64F and the BR-1150 fuselage.

Indeed, the heavy airlift brought the S-64F and two accompanying choppers (including an Italian Air Force HH.139A multirole helicopter from where some of the shots you can find in this post were taken) to Vigna di Valle across the quite busy Rome-Fiumicino airport’s ATZ (air traffic zone)

The first of 18 MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft) with ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) capabilities Atlantic aircraft, the BR-1150 MM40108 was taken on charge by the Aeronautica Militare at Toulouse, France, on Jun. 27, 1972. On the very same day, after a stopever in Nimes, France, the aircraft landed at Sigonella, for the very fist time at 16.25LT. The retirement came after 45 years and almost 260,000 flying hours (actually 258K) logged by a fleet made of 18 aircraft.

Mission accomplished.

Since Nov. 25, 2016, the 41° Stormo has started transitioning to the new P-72A, a military variant of the ATR 72-600.

Here’s what we have written about the new aircraft last year:

The P-72A can undertake a variety of roles ranging from maritime patrol for the search and identification of surface vessels, SAR (search and rescue) missions, the prevention of narcotics trafficking, piracy, smuggling, territorial water security and monitoring and intervention in the event of environmental catastrophes. The P-72A is equipped with a communication suite that enables the aircraft to transmit or receive information in real-time to/from command and control centres either on the ground, in the air or at-sea, to ensure coordinated and effective operations. The aircraft is also equipped with a self-protection system. The aircraft is said to be able to fly missions lasting six and a half hours at ranges up to 200 nautical miles from its starting location.

Although it is a multirole Maritime Patrol, Electronic Surveillance and C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence) aircraft that shares many sensors and equipments which were developed for the ATR 72ASW developed by Leonardo for the Turkish Navy, the P-72A lacks an ASW (Anti-Sub Warfare) capability: for this reason it is considered a “gap filler” until the budget to procure a Long Range MPA with ASW capabilities will become available.

All images credit: Centro Produzione Audiovisivi “Troupe Azzurra” – Aeronautica Militare – Italian Air Force

We Got Interesting Photos of The Secretive 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment’s Helicopters in Training

Images May Show Special Operations Unit Training with DEVGRU or Army Delta.

Frequent contributor to The Aviationist, Lance Riegle, of Dearborn Heights, Michigan, noticed unusual aviation activity during his recent trip to Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grabbed his Canon EOS 70D with a Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 lens and started shooting photos. What he got is interesting.

“To be honest, I started taking photos before I knew what I was taking photos of. There had been a lot of other activity from the airshow [Ed’s note: the NAS Oceana Airshow had just ended that weekend] and I had my camera ready to go next to the balcony where we were staying. I heard jets, then I heard a helicopter, ran out the door, and there they were.”

Lance Riegle spent four days photographing the secretive 160th SOAR flying off the Dam Neck training area. (All photos: Lance Riegle)

Virginia Beach is close to the Dam Neck Annex of Oceana Naval Air Station. In December, 2016, journalist Sarah Pruitt reported on the use of the classified area by the most famous special operations unit in the world, the Navy’s elite SEAL Team 6. The unit, also known as “Development Group” or “DEVGRU” trains in this facility.

Pruitt wrote that, “Today, the top-secret headquarters of SEAL Team Six are located at the Dam Neck Annex of the Oceana Naval Air Station, just south of Virginia Beach.” Lance Riegle was only six miles north of the top-secret facility.

The general public knows DEVGRU from Operation Neptune’s Spear, the raid to capture Osama bin Laden in 2011 using highly-modified “Stealth Black Hawk” helicopters flown by the U.S. Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (160th SOAR), the famous “Night Stalkers”.

While the military won’t officially verify it, what Lance Riegle got photos of just north of Dam Neck was almost certainly a (classified) training exercise being conducted by a Naval Special Warfare Team (SEAL team), possibly DEVGRU operators, using highly modified helicopters only flown by the 160th SOAR. The aircraft in the photos are MH-6M Little Bird and MH-60M Blackhawk helicopters.

The Night Stalkers’ unusual helicopters are readily identifiable during the day. They are painted flat black instead of the more common olive green color and have almost no visible markings. The aircraft Lance Riegle photographed had temporary markings on the fuselage using tape, a common practice in a large training evolutions using numerous aircraft.

The Nightstalkers are the only unit in the Army using the MH-6M Little Bird, the helicopter you may remember landing on the roof of the Olympic Hotel in the book and movie “Blackhawk Down” when the secretive SFO-D (Special Forces Operational detachment- Delta) assaulted the building.

A pair of MH-6M Little Bird helicopters of the “Nightstalkers” flies toward the Navy SEAL facility at Dam Neck. Even at night only a single red light was visible on the aircraft. (Photo: Lance Riegle)

The U.S. Army’s 160th SOAR specializes in night flying at low altitude for clandestine insertions into denied areas. Aircraft flown by the Nightstalkers have an exotic communications and sensor suite on board accounting for the massive number of antennae and vision systems protruding from the helicopters. The MH-60M Blackhawks have a dazzling array of special secure radios, sensors and satellite communications on board. They include the AN/ARC-201D single channel ground and airborne radio system (SINCGARS), four onboard Raytheon AN/ARC-231 Skyfire radios, two of them equipped with satellite communications capability, two AN/ARC-220 high frequency radios, an MTX Blue Force Tracker to prevent accidental friendly fire engagements. The nose of the MH-60M also features the Raytheon AN/APQ-187 SilentKnight radar for terrain-following at low altitude at night and the Raytheon AN/ZSQ-2 EOSS electro-optical (EO) and infrared (FLIR) cameras for night vision. Nightstalker pilots are also the most proficient aviators in the world at dangerous low-altitude, night vision goggle flying. All these system antennae and sensors are visible in Riegle’s photos.

MH-60M Blackhawks return to the Navy SEAL facility at Dam Neck after a training sortie at sea.

“The first time I saw them was at night. I was surprised they were flying as close to the ground and to buildings as they were at night with all their lights off. The only light they had on was one small, blinking tail light.”

Training activities for these elite teams are common in the area, but being in the right place at the right time to get photos can be tricky, especially for a large training exercise like this one. Riegle observed the aviation activity for four days at multiple times throughout the day. The aircraft would fly in and out of two points, sometimes loaded with operators, sometimes returning empty. The aircraft originated north of Riegle’s location and then flew south to Dam Neck initially before heading out to sea. This mission profile suggests the aircraft and their load of special operators could have been conducting Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) operation training. “At night, they stayed closer to shore, during the day they were further out,” Riegle noted.

Once Lance Riegle began noticing the high tempo of special operations activity in the area he kept his camera with him and managed to grab some photos of the rarely seen stealthy 41-foot CCA Mk1 high speed boats used by Special Boat Team 20 stationed at Dam Neck.

The unusual CCA Mk1 high speed boats of Special Boat Team 20 at Dam Neck.

In August 2017 journalist Joseph Trevithick reported at The War Zone that, “From what little we know about the 41-foot long craft, technically known as the CCA Mk. 1, it is low-observable design with a composite material hull and a pair of high performance engines that could operate with a low likelihood of detection even close to shore. It is reportedly small enough that U.S. Air Force C-17s can air drop it directly into a given body of water.”

A close look at a CCA Mk1 high speed boat.

Following a few days of managing to get some rare photos of these secretive aircraft, boats and special operations teams in training Riegle said, “It’s interesting that these guys do this every day around the world but nobody ever sees them including us Americans.” Thanks to Lance’s interesting photos, we get a rare glimpse at these exotic aircraft, boats and men in action.

All images: Lance Riegle.

Top image: A grainy close-up of an MH-60M Blackhawk of the U.S. Army’s 160th SOAR, the “Night Stalkers” flies just off the coast of Dam Neck. The numerous sensors, the night vision goggles on the helmets of operators and their unusual uniforms with knee pads can barely be seen in this enlargement. (Photo: Lance Riegle)

Let’s Have a Look At The Helicopter The U.S. Air Force Has Selected To Replace The UH-1N Huey

The MH-139, a variant of the AW139, has been selected by the U.S. Air Force to take over the role of protecting the ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) bases and transportation of U.S. government and security forces.

In what many have defined an upset victory, the United States Air Force announced the selection of the MH-139, to replace its fleet of UH-1N “Huey” helicopters. A 375M USD firm-fixed-price contract for the non-developmental item integration of four aircraft was awarded on Sept. 14. If all options are exercised the programme is valued at $2.4 billion for up to 84 helicopters, training devices and associated support equipment until 2031.

The new choppers, based on the Leonardo AW139 and offered by Boeing as prime contractor, are expected to reach the IOC (initial operational capability) in 2021 (this is what Leonardo claims in its press release even though it appears a bit optimistic considered that the Lockheed Martin and Sierra Nevada, both offering UH-60 Black Hawk variants, may contest the award) when they will replace the old Huey taking over the role of protecting the America’s ICBM missile silos as well as VIP transportation and utility tasks.

MH-139 demonstrator (Image: Boeing/Leonardo)

The MH-139 leverages the market-leading Leonardo AW139 baseline, a modern, non-developmental, multi-mission helicopter that is in service with 270 governments, militaries and companies across the world. According to Leonardo, over 900 AW139s are already in service with 260 assembled and delivered from Philadelphia, where the U.S. Air Force’s MH-139 will be assembled. ​

The U.S. Air Force MH-139 will be equipped with sensor turret under the nose with electro-optical and infrared cameras, provisions for machine gun mounts and possibly hoists: in other words the new AW139 variant will be not too different from the HH-139A, a military variant in service with the Italian Air Force we have often talked about here at The Aviationist.

The HH-139A is a multirole chopper equipped with an integrated NVG-compatible glass cockpit, 4-axis digital Digital AFCS (automatic flight control system) with SAR modes & FMS SAR patterns, weather/search radar, TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) II, FLIR (Forward Looking Infra-Red), Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS), Digital video recorder, Video downlink, Moving map on flat display, Auto-Deployable ELT (ADELT) and Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS).

The HH139 glass cockpit. (Image credit: Author)

The HH-139A also features a secure communications suite, integrated defensive aids suite, hoist, search light, wire cutters, cargo hook, loudspeaker system and emergency floatation gear and any other equipment required to perform “convetional” search and rescue, as well as Combat SAR missions.

The helicopter features provisions two wing-mounted pods for 70 mm unguided rockets as those presented by AgustaWestland at Farnborough International Airshow in 2012.

The HH-139A can be equipped with two wing-mounted pods for 70 mm unguided rockets (12+3 in total), as the one used by the HH-139 CSX81798/15-42, an experimental machine in the colors of the 15° Stormo (Wing) based at Cervia, presented at FIA 2012. (Image credit: Author).

The Italian Air Force helicopter can do also something else. Since they can carry a bambi bucket they can perform aerial firefighting activity. Beginning in 2018, the Italian HH-139A belonging to the 82° Centro CSAR (Combat SAR Center) from Trapani have carried out firefighting tasks in Sicily.

The HH-139A during the firefighting training activity carried out at Decimomannu airbase in 2015. (Image credit: Alessandro Caglieri).