Category Archives: Military Aviation

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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Here are some photographs of the Italian Tornado IDS attack planes during their winter air-to-ground training campaign in Sardinia

The 154° Gruppo has recently completed a two-week deployment to Decimomannu airbase, in Sardinia.

From Mar. 3 to 17, six Tornado IDS jets belonging to the 154° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 6° Stormo (Wing) from Ghedi airbase have deployed to Decimomannu, Italy, to carry out air-to-ground training activities in the Sardinian ranges.

The images in this post, taken by photographer Giampaolo Mallei, show the Tornado of the “Red Devils” (from the unit’s badge) carrying different loadouts: most often, the “Tonkas” flew with a Thomson CSF CLDP (Convertible laser Designation Pod) with both TV and IR capability, along with a single laser-guided GBU-16 or two CBLS pods with BDU-33/Mk-106 practice bombs.

Along with the air-to-ground role, the Italian Air Force Tornado IDS fleet are often involved in reconnaissance missions both at home, in support of civil protection and police forces (as done in the aftermath of the earthquakes that hit Central Italy last year), and abroad: from Nov. 23, 2014 to Jun. 15, 2016, four ItAF A-200A jets (this is the designation of the Tornado in accordance with Italy’s Mission Design Series) have taken part in the air war against ISIS carrying out “recce” missions with the RecceLite pod from Ahmed Al Jaber in Kuwait.

Image credit: Giampaolo Mallei

Polish Parliamentary National Defense Committee Discusses the Future of the F-16s and Prospects of Acquiring 5th Gen. Jets

Polish Parliamentary Committee on National Defense analyzed the current state of the Polish Air Force’s F-16 fighter fleet, its future, as well as plans related to the M-346 AJTs and JASSM / JASSM-ER missiles.

According to the report issued by Tomasz Dmitruk of the Polish “Dziennik Zbrojny” outlet, on Mar. 22, during the meeting of the Polish Parliamentary Committee on National Defense, Division General Pilot Jan Śliwka, who is also acting as the Deputy Commander of the Polish Armed Forces, presented the Polish Parliament the history and capabilities possessed by the F-16 multi-role jet aircraft, along with an overview of their technical status, maintenance requirements, armament and pilot’s training program. The General has also talked about the missions assigned to the backbone of the Polish Air Force.

The information presented during the event also provided a unique insight into the operations of the aircraft.

7-8 out of 48 jets are currently undergoing maintenance or overhauls – this constitutes 14-17% of the fleet, still leaving around 85% of the aircraft combat-ready. A single F-16 jet can spend 8,000 hours in the air, which means that total lifetime is equal to 384,000 hours (48 aircraft, 8000 hours each).  Based on the report issued by Dmitruk, all of the Jastrząb (Polish Air Force’s name ascribed to the F-16) jets have spent 53,000 hours in the air so far, which amounts up to 14% of the total lifetime.

This means that, should the operational activity of the jets be maintained at the current level, there is still an option to operate the aircraft for the next 30 years.

Last year we have seen the initial steps related to MLU (Mid-Life Update) of the Polish F-16 fighter fleet, as the Tape M6.5 upgrade has been implemented, following the decision to acquire the new AGM-158A JASSM and AGM-158B JASSM-ER cruise missiles, along with new variants of the AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-9X Sidewinder AAMs (Air-to-Air Missiles).

The Polish Air Force is also looking forward to the acquisition of more Mk 82 bombs and JDAM and Paveway conversion kits.

Nonetheless, during the Committee Meeting, Śliwka informed that the Ministry is also analyzing the potential prospects of acquisition of more armament for the fighter jets which could expand their capabilities in specific domains. Notably, throughout the last two years we have witnessed an intensification of operations undertaken by the Polish F-16s with Warsaw’s Vipers deploying to Kuwait to join the air war against ISIS and plans to take part in the NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission.

One of the priorities for the Polish Air Force is to acquire anti-radiation missiles. Orbital ATK’s AARGM missile has been quite intensively marketed in Poland throughout the past two years, so it may be safely stated that this weapon is a serious contender to becoming the primary SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) armament for the Polish jets. Furthermore, the MoD is also scrutinizing the prospects of acquiring new PGM (Precision Guided Munition) ordnance (including submunition pods to act against tanks and armored assets, as well as penetrating bombs which could be used to neutralize fortifications underground); lastly, the Air Force would also like to integrate the jet with an anti-ship missile.

Prospective procurement of new multi-role jets for the Polish Air Force was the second issue covered during the meeting.

This matter is somewhat urgent, since the Su-22 and MiG-29 aircraft are gradually becoming obsolete, with a prospect of being withdrawn starting from 2024-2025.

Their successor, as Dmitruk reports, shall be selected well ahead of the retirement of the two post-Soviet era jets.

According to General Śliwka, quoted by Dziennik Zbrojny, the requirements for the new multi-role combat aircraft have already been defined by the command, while the Armament Inspectorate (Polish MoD’s procurement body) is dealing with an analysis that is going to be included in a Strategic Defense Review, similar to its recent British counterpart.

The options currently weighted and considered, span from the acquisition of second-hand F-16A/B or C/D aircraft with subsequent upgrade, through procurement of brand new F-16s, to the eventual purchase of 5th Gen. F-35 aircraft.

The early conclusions indicate that procurement and upgrade of the Alpha/Bravo Falcons would lack a proper degree of cost-effectiveness.

After further analysis, and with the context taken into account at the MoD, General Staff and the Armament Inspectorate, Bartosz Kownacki, Polish Deputy Minister of Defence stated that the workload and expenditure entailed would be too high, in relation to potential benefits.

Kownacki noted that even though the price of second-hand aircraft would be at the level of 50% of the price of a new aircraft, the operational lifetime would also be 50% shorter. General Śliwka also mentioned the fact that the case of Romanian F-16 procurement was also looked at, and it turned out that the cost was higher, in comparison with potential acquisition of new aircraft. Hence the MoD might be inclined to go on, and join the F-35 users club, even though this is a longterm prospect plan

Meanwhile, the rumors (which circulated last year) that Poland would be considering selling its jets to Romania, have been once again denied.

During the meeting, the opposition also had a chance to ask questions to the Ministry.

First of the covered issues, raised by the former Deputy Minister of Defence Czesław Mroczek, dealt with the procurement of the M-346 jet-trainers and their compliance with the Polish specifications. Col. Waldemar Bogusławski, Deputy Head at the Armament Inspectorate, answered that the manufacturer confirmed its readiness to deliver the AJT [Advanced Jet Trainer] in a configuration compliant with the Polish expectations as late as in July this year.

Second question referred to the JASSM missiles.

General Jan Śliwka announced that one of the Polish Vipers is currently staying in the United States, and the tape M6.5 upgrade has been already introduced in its case. Following a test firing of the missile, the jet is to return back to Poland in April. The remaining aircraft are going to receive the software upgrades domestically, in Poland. Delivery of the first four JASSM missiles is to be finalized by the end of April (the photos published in the social media by the press officer of the Krzesiny 31st Airbase suggest that two missiles have already been delivered).

The 2014 procurement contract assumes that the missiles would be delivered in full between 2018 and 2019, with the AGM-158B JASSM-ER ordnance to follow, and subsequent deliveries scheduled in this case before 2020. The -ER missiles were contracted in December, last year.

Image Credit: Filip Modrzejewski / Foto Poork, W. Mazurkiewicz

Amazing helmet cam video brings you in the cockpit of a U.S. Air Force F-4 Phantom aircraft flying over Grand Canyon

Awesome footage from aboard one the last USAF F-4s, as it flies in formation with another Phantom over the amazing scenery of the Grand Canyon.

The U.S. Air Force retired its last F-4 Phantom at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, on Dec. 21, 2016.

The final appearance of the mighty “Rhino” at an airshow occurred during Nellis Air Force Base’s Aviation Nation air show, on Nov. 12 and 13.

The following crazy cool video was filmed as the two aircraft that took part at the airshow, piloted by Lt. Col. Ron “Elvis” King and by Lt. Col. (Ret) Jim “WAM” Harkins, departed Nellis AFB to return to their homebase.

The footage, filmed with a camera attached to the flight helmet of WAM, lets you experience the afterburner formation takeoff, the rendezvous with a T-33 for short air-to-air photo session and then the flight over the amazing scenery of the Grand Canyon, as if you were strapped into the cockpit of one of the last USAF F-4s.

At 04:56 into the video you can also get a clear view of the Grand Canyon West Airport, close to the famous Skywalk.

H/T to Giulio Cristante for the link to the stunning AirshowStuff video!