Category Archives: Military Aviation

U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Jets Involved In First Operational Deployment Near the Horn of Africa Flying With External Gun Pod

Photos show Marines F-35B aircraft carrying the external gun pod during exercise off the coast of Djibouti.

For the last two weeks, U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs assigned to the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 “Wake Island Avengers”, deployed with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, have undertaken the type’s first operational deployment in international waters off the coast of Djibouti.

Beginning on Sept. 8, the aircraft have taken part in a Theater Amphiobious Combat Rehearsal (TACR) operating from the flight deck of Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility near Horn of Africa along with the rest of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, that includes the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS Anchorage (LPD 23) and Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Rushmore (LSD 47).

The F-35B were involved in CAS (Close Air Support) missions, supporting Marines on the ground during drills in the military ranges in Djibouti that, according to USNI News, involved Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 166 (Reinforced)’s complement of CH-53E Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopters, MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, UH-1 Huey utility helicopters and AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters

“The addition of the F-35 to the ARG is a very significant enabler for me and for my team. It increases battlespace awareness with data fusion and the ability to share information with the ships and the ships’ combat control system. So it’s really an extension of our sensors, and it also brings to the table a greater increased lethality than what we had with previous generation aircraft,” Capt. Gerald Olin, Amphibious Squadron 1 commander and Essex ARG/MEU commodore, told USNI News.

The STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the stealthy F-35 Lightning II is a key player to the amphibious force: it brings advanced ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) capabilities where is needed as part of CSO (Crisis Support Operations) that involve the commitment of a quick reation force to respond to tensions in theather to a major conflict that requires the whole capability of the MAGTFs (Marine Air-Ground Task Forces).

Interestingly, photos of the aircraft performing air-to-air refueling from U.S. Air Force KC-135s have been released by the DoD. The shots clearly show the F-35B carrying the GAU-22 25mm gun pod that was test fired for the first time in flight in 2017.

A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II assigned to the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, flies alongside the wing of a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron after receiving in flight fuel during an aerial refueling mission near the Horn of Africa, Sept. 15, 2018. The F-35B combines next-generation fighter characteristics of radar-evading stealth, supersonic speed, fighter agility and advanced logistical support with the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in the U.S. inventory, providing the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) significantly improved capability to approach missions from a position of strength. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Keith James)

The new General Dynamics GAU-22 25mm gun pod uses a unique four-barrel configuration that was developed from the highly successful five-barrel, 25mm GAU-12/U gun also built by General Dynamics. Noteworthy, although it was designed with LO (Low Observability) characteristics, the external pod degrades the F-35’s radar cross section making the 5th generation aircraft more visibile to radars. Still, this should be acceptable (as it is for the non-stealthy AV-8B Harrier jets they will replace) for the scenarios where the U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs will be called to carry out CAS missions (read here about the so-called “third day of war” configuration).

The GAU-22A Gun Pod. It has a reported rate of fire of “up to 3,300 rounds per minute”. (Image credit: LM)

The 2018 deployment follows the relocation of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), an F-35B squadron with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, from MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma, Arizona, on Jan. 9, 2017. Since then, the F-35B have started operating in the region, taking part in local drills as well as some routine “shows of force” near the Korean Peninsula: for instance, on Aug. 30, four U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II joined two USAF B-1B Lancers from Guam onf a 10-hour mission that brought the “package” over waters near Kyushu, Japan, then across the Korean Peninsula. Interestingly, during that mission, the F-35Bs flew with the radar reflectors used to make LO (Low Observable) aircraft clearly visible on radars and also dropped their 1,000-lb GBU-32 JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) on Pilsung firing range. On a subsequent mission on Sept. 18, the aircraft took part in a “sequenced bilateral show of force” over the Korean peninsula carrying “live” AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles in the internal weapons bays.

In-Flight Emergency, New Kawasaki Motorcycle And More: All The “Top Gun: Maverick” News We Can Tell You, And Some We Can’t…

Among all the other things, Tom Cruise Has Emergency “Flap Caution” Landing During “Top Gun” Sequel Filming.

Hollywood action film star Tom Cruise had to cut short the filming of an aerial sequence for the upcoming “Top Gun: Maverick” after a “flap warning” indication appeared in the U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet he was flying in Monday afternoon, September 17, 2018. The aircraft diverted to an alternate airfield following the incident.

The 56-year old Golden Globe Award winning actor was photographed wearing U.S. Navy flight gear and a specially painted Gentex HGU-68/P lightweight flight helmet. The photos were said to have been taken at “an airbase in Nevada” and have circulated on Hollywood gossip and aviation fan blogs including TMZ.com. Our own David Cenciotti was the first to notice that Maverick used the modern flight helmet instead of the old HGU-33:

Other photos surfaced on the “Eggs, Bacon and Joey Morning Show” Facebook page that showed Tom Cruise dressed in a flight suit shaking hands with men and women also in military flight suits at Naval Air Station Lemoore in Kings County and Fresno County in Central California. F/A-18 aircraft appear in the background including the tips of the twin tails of one F/A-18 painted in colors that may be similar to the one we showed in a previous update that will be used in the filming of the upcoming “Top Gun: Maverick”.

A story on ABC30.com by columnist Jim Jakobs confirmed from the U.S. Navy that, “The Navy can’t tell us if Cruise is in Lemoore. But, the Navy can say that NAS Lemoore’s F/A-18 Super Hornets and F-35’s will play a big role in the movie.” The article mentioned our editor David Cenciotti as a source for new photos of the specially painted F/A-18F to be used by Tom Cruise in the movie. ABC30 writer Jim Jakobs went on to quote Cmdr. Ron Flanders, Public Affairs Officer, Naval Air Forces as saying, “A great deal of the flying in this film will be done by Lemoore based aviators.”

Enough rumors also flew fast and low earlier this week about the upcoming “Top Gun: Maverick” to make you spill your coffee in the tower. But just like any target rich environment, in a matter of minutes, the most interesting- and as it later turned out- accurate rumors, disappeared from social media like a MiG-28 on afterburner. We’d tell you more, but we’d have to… you know. Most of the rumors that were acknowledged as accurate mentioned locations for filming the low flying sequences of the film. TheAviationist.com was asked not to reveal these locations.

Photos of U.S. Navy aggressor aircraft never before photographed in specific western U.S. low flying areas began surfacing on social media. Similar or identical aircraft were used in the first “Top Gun” movie in 1986. The photos sparked rumors and speculation about set locations for the movie. After responses to our inquiry about the photos we were asked not to say anything more. Our post on social media inquiring about the location disappeared after the information was privately confirmed.

What we can report is that better photos have surfaced of the aircraft that is going to be used for Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in the movie, as played by Tom Cruise. We first ran unattributed photos rumored to be “Maverick’s” plane on September 13 after they appeared in at least two Hollywood entertainment gossip blogs. Within hours the rumors were at least unofficially confirmed and more photos surfaced- the one shown here.

Then, more interesting news appeared online:

No “Top Gun” sequel would be complete without the need for speed, and photos have surfaced of Tom Cruise being filmed as Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell riding a new Kawasaki Ninja H2R motorcycle on a runway for a possible title sequence that reprises the original 1986 sequence. This new Kawasaki Ninja H2R replaces the Kawasaki GPZ900R that he rode in the original 1986 film. “Maverick”’s new Ninja H2R displaces 998cc’s and has a top speed of (seriously) Mach .327 or between 206 and 249 MPH.

Fox News and other Hollywood gossip sites have ran spy photos of Tom Cruise as “Maverick” filming a possible title sequence on a new 200 MPH Kawasaki Ninja H2R. (Photo: Via Fox News/Facebook/Kawasaki)

Raven-haired Hollywood hottie Monica Barbarow has been cast in the role of a pilot trainee in “Top Gun: Maverick” and will fill a major part of the female cast of the film as the love-interest of another pilot in the film, “Bradley Bradshaw” as played by actor Miles Teller. Barbarow is a formally trained ballerina who left dance to pursue acting full time. She has appeared in the NBC television legal drama “Chicago Justice”.

Filming for “Top Gun: Maverick” has also been taking place onboard the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) during August. Film crews from Paramount and Bruckheimer Films were aboard the carrier until Sunday, August 26.

Tom Cruise as Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell was spotted shaking hands at NAS Lemoore in California. (Photo: Via Facebook/Eggs, Bacon and Joey Morning Show)

The release date for the film has been pushed back nearly a year until June 26, 2020 from the original release date of July 2019. Entertainment writer Anthony D’Alessandro reported in Deadline.com that the film is being delayed to, “Work our all the complex flight sequences so that the pic can be great.”

The delay has led to speculation about the plot for “Top Gun: Maverick” that is already said to include remotely piloted aircraft and the Navy’s new F-35C Lightning II. The Navy has confirmed the F-35C will be included in the movie.

Top image: Several websites leaked photos of a U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet with special markings that could be for Tom Cruise’s character “Maverick” in the upcoming Top Gun sequel (Photo: Via RevengeOfTheFans.com courtesy of Mario-Francisco Robles)

New “Bulge” On Top Of U.S. Marine Corps and AFSOC’s V-22 Osprey Tilt-Rotor Aircraft Is A Radome That Houses A SATCOM Antenna

The new “bulge” is a radome for the Ku Ka antenna used to interconnect the CV-22s and MV-22s to a complex system providing secure voice and chat, classified network access and much more.

If you browse through the huge amount of photographs regularly released by the DoD, you’ll notice that some of the Air Force Special Operation Command’s CV-22 and U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys have been modified. The tilt-rotor aircraft now sport a new “bulge” on the upper fuselage between the wings and the tail. After a quick investigation we have found that the “bulge” is actually a radome hosting a SATCOM antenna quite similar to the one used aboard airliners to give passengers the ability to stream Prime Video or Netflix live on their mobile devices while airborne.

The antenna is aimed to give the Ospreys the ability to interconnect to classified (and unclassified) networks with increased bandwidth and transparent transitions among multiple satellite beams in process: this significantly improves Situational Awareness, as the Osprey can get tactical details and access secure channels in a reliable way while enroute. The problem faced by the V-22s (both the U.S. Air Force CV-22s and the U.S. Marine Corps MV-22s) as well as other assets, is the changes occurring during a long air transit to the target area. The battlefield is a extremely dynamic scenario with forces in continuous movement. A Special Operations aircraft launching from a Forward Operating Base located at 1-hour flight time from the area of operations may find a completely changed tactical situation than the one briefed before departure by the time it gets there. Describing the need to be constantly updated, the commanding officer of a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force said in a news release: “As an infantryman, it’s very frustrating when you’ve fully planned a mission. Then after a long air transit to the objective area you get off the plane and find out everything is different … rules of engagement, enemy locations, even the objective itself.”

For instance, during the civil war in South Sudan, Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys flew a Marine response force from Spain to Djibouti in a non-stop flight of 3,200 nautical miles – the distance from Alaska to Florida. But U.S. Marine Corps crisis response units for U.S. Africa and U.S. Central Commands aboard MV-22 Osprey and KC-130J aircraft were typically disconnected from intelligence updates, tactical data sources and each other while flying to a crisis hot spot. This means that  but needed a capability to conduct mission planning, and command and control when flying to distant objective areas.

For this reason, it is extremely important that the aircraft is constantly fed with relevant updates while enroute .

Dealing with the MV-22s, the antenna is part of the Networking On-The-Move-Airborne Increment 2 (NOTM-A Inc 2) initiative launched in 2016. It includes a suite that can be fitted to the KC-130J and MV-22 to provide an airborne en route mission planning and over-the-horizon/beyond-line-of-sight (OTH/BLOS) communication and collaboration capability. Noteworthy, the NOTM-A is capable of installation/configuration within 60 minutes, and rapid disembarkation from its host airframe in preparation for future missions. The Quick-Release-Antenna-System for the satellite communications system varies depending on host aircraft but features network management equipment and C2 components that are airframe agnostic. The system provides internal secure wireless LAN access point for staff personnel to perform digital C2 functions in the SATCOM host aircraft: in other words the NOTM-A provides connectivity for the aircrew through secure WiFi network. Interestingly, access to the global information grid and Marine Corps enterprise network can be accomplished via commercial network access.

Ground communications specialist Marines train on configuring and operating the Networking On-the-Move-Airborne Increment II. This month, Marine Corps Systems Command fielded the first NOTM-A Inc. II System to the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit to enhance their ability to communicate in the air. (U.S. Marine Corps photo courtesy of Chris Wagner)

According to the U.S. Marine Corps, in May 2015, the first NOTM-Airborne Increment I (also known as the Hatch-Mounted Satellite Communication Antenna System) was fielded to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Forces. It gave embarked ground personnel real-time access to networks during airborne operations aboard KC-130 aircraft. As a consequence of the success with the Super Hercules, the Marine Corps decided to install NOTM-A Inc. II on the MV-22 and, in June 2018, the first of the systems was fielded to the 22nd MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit).

“It can take hours to fly to a location to complete a mission, and during that time, the situation on the ground can change significantly,” said Chris Wagner, NOTM lead engineer in MCSC’s Command Element Systems in an official news release. “The NOTM capability provides Marines with real time command, control and collaborative mission planning while airborne.”

An MV-22 Avionics technician installs the Quick-Release-Antenna-System which is part of the Networking On-the-Move-Airborne Increment II. This month, Marine Corps Systems Command fielded the first NOTM-A Inc. II System to the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit to enhance their ability to communicate in the air. (U.S. Marine Corps photo courtesy of Chris Wagner)

In order to accommodate the new system, the Naval Air Systems Command and MCSC had to modify the Osprey: “This involved modifications such as replacing the rear overhead hatch, installing a SATCOM radome, and installing system interface cables. Mission ready, the system is capable of providing communications access for up to five users, including networks, voice, email, video and text.

With the new equipment, the MV-22 aircrews can get accurate and up-to-date en route information: “If the situation on the ground changes, we can get updates to the Common Operating Picture, from reconnaissance assets to the commander enabling mission changes while en route.”

Testing with the MV-22 took place November through December 2017 at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. Marine Expeditionary Forces I and II will receive the NOTM-A Inc. II System when fielding continues in 2019.

When it deals with the modification to the U.S. Air Force CV-22, little details are available. Most of the information comes from Powerpoint deck (in .pdf format) that you can find online. The slides, dated 2016, are part of a presentation on Airborne Mobile Broadband Communications by ViaSat Inc. a global broadband services and technology company based in California that provides satellite communications service for government, defense and military applications.

U.S. Army Special Operations Soldiers exfiltrate from a training area, via a U.S. Air Force CV-22 Osprey, March 1, 2018, at Melrose Air Force Range, New Mexico. This CV-22 is not equipped with the new SATCOM system. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sam Weaver)

The presentation includes interesting details about the SATCOM antennae used to connect to ViaSat services by C-17 airlifters, AC-130U gunships, Air Force One and VIP aircraft (including C-40 and C-32), RC-135 Rivet Joint spyplanes (both the U.S. and UK ones) as well as MV-22 and CV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft. Dealing with the latter ones, the presentation states that at least 6 shipsets had already been delivered to AFSOC for the CV-22 Satcom System and Service whilst the initial 4 shipsets for the MV-22 Satcom Systems had been contracted. Based on this, it looks like the system used by the U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 and CV-22 is the same (as one might expect): it offers a kit with easy roll on/roll off capability, maintenance and upgrades.

Soldiers from the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command and 3rd Special Forces Group move toward U.S. Air Force CV-22 Ospreys Feb. 26, 2018, at Melrose Training Range. The CV-22 in the foreground has the SATCOM radome, the one in the background does not sport any “bulge” (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Clayton Cupit)

The Royal Saudi Air Force Has Prepared A Series Of Special Color Jets For The Kingdom’s 88th National Day Celebrations

The photographs of the special colored Tornado, Typhoon, F-15S, F-15C and MRTT have already emerged.

On Sept. 23, Saudi Arabia will celebrate the 88th Saudi National Day. As part of the celebrations, five special colored aircraft (an F-15C belonging to the 13th Sqn; an F-15S from the 92nd Sqn; a Tornado from the 7th Sqn; a Eurofighter Typhoon from the 10th Sqn; and a MRTT belongign to the 24th Sqn) will perform flyovers alongside the Saudi Hawks display team in three cities Jeddah, Riyadh and Dhahran.

Our friend  has shared with us some previews of the special painted aircraft.

Here they are:

The F-15S belonging to the 92nd Sqn.

The F-15C from the 13th Sqn.

The Tornado IDS form the 7th Sqn.

The Eurofighter Typhoon from the 10th Sqn.

The image of the specially painted A330 MRTT was shared on Twitter:

All the RSAF involved in the flyovers have taken part in the air strikes in Yemen, as part of Operation Decisive Storm, the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen, started on Mar. 26 2015.

Interestingly, the F-15SA, the most advanced production Eagle ever produced, derived from the F-15E Strike Eagle, was not given a special color scheme and won’t take part in the celebrations (at least not as part of the 88th National Day formation). The “SA” are equipped with the APG-63V3 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, a digital glass cockpit, JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mouted Cueing System), Digital Electronic Warfare System/Common Missile Warning System (DEWS/CMWS), IRST (Infra Red Search and Track) system, and able to carry a wide array of air-to-air and air-to-surface weaponry, including the AIM-120C7 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) and the AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, the AGM-84 SLAM-ERs, the AGM-88 HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile) and the GBU-39 SDBs (Small Diameter Bombs) on 11 external hardpoints.

The RSAF has received its first of 84 F-15SA at King Khalid Air Base (KKAB) in Saudi Arabia via RAF Lakenheath, on Dec. 13, 2016.

 

Is This “Maverick’s” New F/A-18F Super Hornet for Filming “Top Gun” Sequel?

Hollywood Gossip Site Leaks Photo of F/A-18F With Special Markings.

Even though all of us feel the need for speed to get the new Top Gun sequel, “Top Gun: Maverick” released it sounds like Paramount Pictures has requested another flyby even as photos of a newly painted U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet that may be linked to the film’s production have been leaked.

While Top Gun fans can’t bring back that lovin’ feelin’ fast enough for their taste, Paramount Pictures announced in late August that the release of the upcoming “Top Gun: Maverick” will be delayed until (gasp…) June 26, 2020.

Even though this news is worse than having a MiG-28 stuck on your six it may also suggest that the Navy is working on something truly special in cooperation with Paramount Pictures for the new film. Video has surfaced on social media of U.S. Navy F-35s practicing “buzzing the tower” off U.S. aircraft carriers with references to the Top Gun script in the posts.

The U.S. Navy’s official VFA-125, the “Rough Raiders” Facebook page, “Home of the F-35”, posted video clips two weeks ago showing aircraft forming vapor cones and performing almost exactly the same low altitude, high speed pass made famous in the F-14 Tomcat in the first Top Gun film. The video may (and also may not) hint that the F-35s appearance in the film could be significant. There was no confirmation if coffee was spilled during any of the fly-bys, but plenty of flight deck crew were out taking video with smartphones.

In a USA Today story written by Bryan Alexander published on August 29, 2018, Alexander reported that, “The studio dropped the bomb [heh…] Wednesday that the release date for Tom Cruise’s anticipated sequel “Top Gun: Maverick” would be delayed one year to June 26, 2020.”

While the announcement of the delay is disappointing, Alexander did go on to provide a tantalizing teaser for readers who know naval aviation, “The extra time will give filmmakers the opportunity to work out the logistics of presenting flight sequences with new technology and planes, according to a Paramount statement.”

Translated into fan speak, that may very well mean we’re getting the Navy’s big, wide-winged F-35C in more than a cameo appearance in “Top Gun: Maverick”.

Meanwhile, Hollywood reporter Michael Briers over at the fan site “WeGotThisCovered.com” leaked photos of what may be Tom Cruise’s new ride as “Maverick” in the Top Gun sequel. Based on the watermark, the photos appear to come from an article on website “RevengeOfTheFans.com”. We got the permission from Mario-Francisco Robles at “Revenge Of The Fans” to publish the photo here at The Aviationist.

An F/A-18F Super Hornet was photographed with special markings including Capt. Pete Mitchell “Maverick” stenciled on the right cockpit rails. The aircraft may have been at Naval Air Station Fallon, as suggested by aviation and defense journalist Tyler Rogoway of “The War Zone” this morning when he posted that, “The jet has Topgun’s iconic seal on its tail, which means it would belong Naval Air Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC) at NAS Fallon. So it looks like Maverick is an instructor at the school, which is not surprising.”

Capt. Pete Mitchell “Maverick” stenciled on the special colored Super Hornet. Credit: Revengeofthefans.com

While speculation about the specifics of the film and its plot continue and news of the delay is disappointing, the promise of getting a look at some of the Navy’s newest aircraft along with a special livery F/A-18F Super Hornet is very exciting. Now all we need to do is get the Navy to fly Maverick’s new Super Hornet through Star Wars Canyon for a photo-op, preferably, while inverted.

Top image: Several websites leaked photos of a U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet with special markings that could be for Tom Cruise’s character “Maverick” in the upcoming Top Gun sequel (Photo: Via RevengeOfTheFans.com)