A suit designed to protect the pilot from chemical and biological agents has been recently tested by the U.S. Air Force.
The 461st Flight Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base, California, has recently tested a flight suit capable to keep F-35 Joint Strike Fighter pilots alive in case of operations in a scenario contaminated by CB (Chemical Biological) agents.
The test came after a decade of planning and flight gear system design and build-up testing.
According to the U.S. Air Force, “the chemical/biological ensemble consists of a special CB suit, a Joint Service Aircrew Mask used for the F-35, a pilot-mounted CB air filter, CB socks and gloves double taped at the wrists. The ensemble also features a filtered air blower that protects the pilot from CB contamination while walking to the jet. It provides both breathing air and demist air, which goes to the pilot’s mask and goggles. All components of the CB ensemble are in addition to the pilot’s sleeved flight jacket and G suit.”
The ensemble also includes a communication system that allows the pilot can speak to life support personnel while wearing the ensemble with helmet and mask.
“It is a conversational communication unit, which is a box that integrates with the communication system so that when he speaks into his mask it lets people hear the pilot talk… it makes him sound like Darth Vader,” said Darren Cole, 461st FLTS Human Systems Integration lead.
The suit is designed to keep the CB agents out when the 5th generation multi-role aircraft fights in Weapons of Mass Destruction-infested environment.
An F-35B on loan from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona was used for the tests, that started on Jan. 6 with Marine Corps test pilots Maj. Aaron Frey and Maj. Douglas Rosenstock from the 461st FLTS who donned the CB ensemble for the first tests.
They opted for the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the JSF because it’s the most complex: “We purposely chose the Marine [short takeoff, vertical landing] version of the F-35 because the equipment is more complicated and basically has more nooks and crannies for the contaminant to hide in. This aircraft also has full-up mission systems. These tests will demonstrate that the U.S. and partner nations can fly, fight, and win in a CB threat environment and then quickly decontaminate the aircraft and return it to normal operation.”
Here’s how the tests were conducted:
“The first pilot stepped to a clean jet in the CB ensemble and we contaminated it using a simulated agent. The engine run pulls in the simulant so we need to make sure the air is filtered before it gets to the pilot. First, the air goes through the [On-Board Oxygen Generation System] and then the pilot-mounted CB filter to remove any remaining contaminants. There is another filtered air supply blower that provides cooling and demist air to the pilot’s hood and goggles. We also used three air sampling devices to be sure all the air provided to the pilot was clean.”
“After the ground test, a second pilot came out to simulate stepping to a “dirty jet.” He conducted an engine startup and then took off on a flight. Both pilots wore passive absorption devices on their bodies that the simulated contaminant would stick to if it made it through the CB ensemble. Data was taken from both pilots to see if anything was different from the separate startup scenarios.”
According to the flying branch, this was the only time this specific flight gear was flown in the JSF and is the first ever simulated contaminated aircraft flown for this kind of data collection.
“Among the data we’re collecting is how much thermal stress is added to the pilot with the CB ensemble on and the impact the additional gear may have on flying the aircraft,” Cole said
It would be interesting to know whether the flight suit for Chemical and Biological Warfare affects the pilot’s ability to see the aerial threats surrounding him, especially considering that the out-of-cockpit visibility in the F-35 is less than other Air Force fighter aircraft because of the large head rest that impede rear visibility and the ability of the pilot to check the aircraft’s 6 o’clock for incoming aerial or surface threats.
Anyway, NBC gear is usually cumbersome, difficult to dress and pretty uncomfortable. This Author has had the opportunity to take part in an NBC training with the Italian Air Force some years ago and what the drills highlighted is that operations with protective gear and gloves, with the body completely encapsulated and inherent communication difficulties, requires strict adherence with the procedures and much practice.
Otherwise, the risk is to be exposed to contamination.
It looks like the controversial F-35 is holding its own at Red Flag exercise underway at Nellis AFB.
As of Feb. 3 the F-35A had achieved a quite impressive score during Red Flag 17-1, the U.S. Air Force’s premier air combat exercise underway at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, that pits “Blue Air” (friendly forces) against “Red Air” (enemy) in an all-out air war featuring air-to-air, air-to-ground, search and rescue, and special forces elements.
According to the pilots from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings at Hill AFB, Utah, who deployed the F-35A Lightning II to the airbase off Las Vegas on Jan. 20 and began flying in the exercise Jan. 23, the type, at its debut in the world’s most realistic and challenging exercise, has achieved a 15:1 kill ratio against the Aggressors, F-16s that replicate the paint schemes, markings and insignia of their near peer adversaries and whose role is to threaten strike packages in the same way a modern enemy would do in a real war.
F-35A Lightning IIs piloted by the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings prepare to depart Hill AFB, Utah, Jan. 20 for Nellis AFB, Nev., to participate in a Red Flag exercise. Red Flag is the U.S. Air Force’s premier air-to-air combat training exercise. This is the first deployment to Red Flag since the Air Force declared the jet combat ready in August 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo/R. Nial Bradshaw)
Well, after eight days “at war”, in spite of being “just” IOC (Initial Operational Capable – the FOC is expected next year with Block 3F) the F-35A Lightning II is proving to be an “invaluable asset” during Red Flag 17-01, the Air Force’s premier air combat exercise held at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada: its ability to gather, fuse, and distribute more information than any other fighter in history provide the pilot with vital situational awareness that can be exploited to escape (and engage?) highly sophisticated and lethal enemy ground threats and interceptors.
Actually, the extent of the F-22 Raptors contribution to the above mentioned kill ratio is not clear: the F-35s are flying alongside Raptors and, as one might expect, the F-22s take care of the aggressors whilst the F-35s slip undetected through the surface-to-air defenses until it reaches the position to drop munitions at the target.
Considered that the F-22s are providing air cover to the Lightning IIs, is the 15:1 score a team result or the actual kill ratio of the F-35A?
“The first day we were here, we flew defensive counter-air and we didn’t lose a single friendly aircraft,” Lt. Col George Watkins, an F-35 pilot and 34th Fighter Squadron commander, said in a release. “That’s unheard of,” he added.
With the F-35A, pilots can gather and fuse data from a multitude of sources and use the jet’s advanced sensors to precisely pinpoint a threat. Then they can take it out with one 2,000 pounds bomb. It would be impossible for a fourth-generation aircraft to survive such a mission, according to Lt. Col. Dave DeAngelis, F-35 pilot and commander of the 419 Operations Group, Detachment 1.
As of last Thursday, Hill’s Airmen have generated 110 sorties (with 13 aircraft), including their first 10-jet F-35A sortie Jan. 30 and turned around and launched eight jets that afternoon. They have not lost a single sortie to a maintenance issue and have a 92 percent mission-capable rate, said 1st Lt. Devin Ferguson, assistant officer in charge of the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit. Legacy aircraft average 70 to 85 percent mission-capable, according to the U.S. Air Force.
An F-35A Lightning II fighter aircraft from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, takes off from Nellis AFB, Nev., Feb. 2, during Red Flag 17-01. This is the first F-35A deployment to Red Flag since the Air Force declared the jet combat ready in August 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo/R. Nial Bradshaw)
Large Number of Air Force F-35As to Red Flag 17-1, Navy Works Through F-35C Launch Problem, Marines Continue to Lead in F-35B Integration.
January of 2017 has been a busy month for the ongoing integration of new Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters into U.S. operational deployment with the U.S. Air Force and testing with the U.S. Navy.
Most recently the U.S. Air Force has deployed flight and maintenance crews of the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings from Hill AFB to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, on January 20, 2017 for Red Flag 17-1. The units are reportedly contributing an unprecedented total of thirteen F-35As to the exercise according to spotters on the ground outside Nellis.
The F-35As join twelve U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors from the 149th Fighter Squadron of the Virginia Air National Guard 192nd Fighter Wing flying to Nevada from Joint Base Langley–Eustis, Virginia. This marks a significant exercise to utilize the interoperability of the F-35A with the F-22 as a unified force.
P-51, F-35 and F-22 Heritage Flight
Col. David Lyons, 388th FW commander told official Air Force media, “Our Airmen are excited to bring the F-35 to a full-spectrum combat exercise. The Red Flag battle space is going to be a great place to leverage our stealth and interoperability. It’s a lethal platform and I’m confident we will prove to be an invaluable asset to the commander.”
The Red Flag deployment for Air Force F-35As is significant since it marks a major milestone in one of the aircraft’s primary roles, flying as an interoperable sensor and intelligence gathering platform in combination with other tactical aircraft. Maj. Jeffrey Falanga, director of operations for the 414th Combat Training Squadron that hosts Red Flag told media, “Red Flag is important because of what it provides,” Major Falanga went on to say, “(Red Flag) provides our training audience with a realistic environment enabling them to practice in all domains–air, ground, space, and cyber–and also to be able to practice interoperability with not only U.S., but joint and coalition forces. Which is important since we’ll operate with these forces in our next engagement.”
Last year the U.S. Marines deployed six F-35B Lightning II’s from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 to Red Flag 16-3 in July-August 2016. The Marine F-35Bs have since been deployed to the western Pacific. This suggests the Marines have had the highest degree of success in integrating F-35s into an operational setting even though they fly the most complex version of the F-35, the “B” version with the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) capability designed to operate from small assault carrier ships.
The year had a bumpy start, literally, for U.S. Navy F-35C tests and evaluation. In a Jan. 11, 2017 news story the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) for the U.S. Navy’s F-35C program was quoted as reporting that, “Excessive vertical oscillations during catapult launches make the F-35C operationally unsuitable for carrier operations, according to fleet pilots.”
The problem that prompted the report is predominantly the result of the nose landing gear suspension settings and/or design according to AviationWeek.com. The nose landing gear is not adequately damping the strong vertical movement that results when the nose gear is released from the catapult launch apparatus at the end of the flight deck. The vertical oscillations were severe enough that pilots could not read flight-critical data on their instrument displays according the report. The oscillations caused most pilots to lock their seat harness during launch, which made emergency controls difficult for some pilots to reach. The test pilots deemed this situation “unacceptable and unsafe,” according the report portions published by AviationWeek.com.
During carrier launches the nosewheel suspension is compressed both by the tension of the catapult towbar and to a smaller degree by thrust applied when the pilot advances the throttle to take-off power settings. The front of the aircraft “squats” or assumes a slightly nose-downward angle of attack compared to when it is not attached to the catapult towbar for launch.
Once the catapult is fired and the hold-back behind the nose landing gear is released the aircraft begins its trip down the flight deck propelled by jet thrust from the engines and either by hydraulic, or on newer aircraft carriers, electromagnetic force through the catapult. At the end of the flight deck on the bow of the ship where the flight deck ends the towbar releases the nose landing gear and the nose of the aircraft rapidly rises, increasing angle of attack to facilitate optimal lift at the speed the aircraft is traveling when it reaches the edge of the deck. The amount of launch force used by the catapult is different for each launch depending on the gross take-off weight of the aircraft being launched. It varies with type, fuel load and payload.
The problems were reported during the latest round of sea trials on board the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN-73). These latest reports conflict with earlier reports from sea trials onboard USS George Washington in August of 2015 when Cmdr. Ted “Dutch” Dyckman, a pilot with Strike Fighter Squadron 101, the “Grim Reapers”, told the Virginian-Pilot newspaper, “It’s just easy, It’s really easy to fly.”
The Navy’s Patuxent River-based Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 is the unit that reported the take-off anomalies. Flight operations for the later phase of tests by Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 (VX-23), included taking off and landing with externally mounted simulated weapons and asymmetrical loading. These additional loads may be a factor in the outcome of the testing and the subsequent report.
While this is a negative report about U.S. Navy F-35C operations, the final version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to enter U.S. service (The U.S. Marine F-35B and Air Force F-35A are already operational), it is a relatively minor potential defect in the program that will likely be corrected as a result of this finding.
Finally, in F-35 airshow news we learned in a phone conversation with Mark Thibeault, civilian contractor speaking about the U.S. Air Force Heritage Flight Team, that the team’s schedule will include “fourteen dates” in 2017. The final scheduling for the F-35 Heritage Flight Team will be completed within 2-3 weeks according the Thibeault.
Author with Major Will Andreotta
Major Will Andreotta returns as the F-35A Heritage Flight pilot for 2017.
Chinese Carrier Liaoning Crosses Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone: Provokes Taiwanese Response.
Media and intelligence sources report the Chinese Aircraft Carrier Liaoning has crossed the politically sensitive Taiwanese Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) along with several escort ships. The Liaoning sailed up the west side of the median line of the strait separating the Chinese mainland from Taiwan.
The Chinese government issued a release stating the Liaoning and her support vessels were conducting drills to test weapons and equipment in the disputed South China Sea and that these operations are in compliance with international law.
In response, Taiwan dispatched patrol and fighter aircraft to monitor the passage of the Liaoning group. The Taipei Times reported a similar incident on Tuesday, Dec. 27th, 2016. During that incident people in the city of Hualien photographed Taiwanese F-16 and RF-16 aircraft taking off in response to the sighting of the Liaoning in monitored waters. Reports also indicate that Taiwan’s E-2K Hawkeye and P-3 Orion aircraft were dispatched to the area to maintain patrol and surveillance. These same aircraft likely responded to this passage of the Liaoning.
Although the deployment to Iwakuni is not a direct U.S. response to escalating tensions in the region as it represents a planned phase of the normal operational integration of the F-35B force for the U.S. Marine, the deployment of the most advanced American aircraft to the region has also a symbolic value.
MCAS Iwakuni is approximately 2,000 kilometers (1,079 nautical miles) northeast of central Taiwan. Range of the F-35 is generically reported as 1,200 nautical miles (2,200 kilometers) with a stated combat radius of 625 nautical miles (1,158 km) unrefueled.
The F-35B STOVL variant is intended for shipboard operations however, and was recently tested on board the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) that is currently operating from the west coast of the United States for deployment in the Pacific theatre. USS America is one of three amphibious assault ships in this class that also includes the USS Tripoli (LHA 7) and USS Bougainville (LHA 6).
The Liaoning (Chinese CV-16) has a complex history.
It started life as a Russian (then Soviet) Navy Kuznetsov class carrier christened the Riga and launched in late 1988. It was the largest Russian naval ship ever built. The ship was re-named the Varyag in 1990 after nearly being commandeered by Ukraine. The Chinese initially had a plan to repurpose the ship as a floating casino, but China eventually elected to use the vessel as a training aircraft carrier and presumably a full-scale feasibility study for the operation and development of new Chinese aircraft carriers.
China is well underway in construction of their second aircraft carrier, the Type 001A now designated the Chinese CV-17. The new carrier is an indigenous Chinese design that does still use the ski-jump style aircraft launch technique as opposed to a steam or magnetic driven catapult as with U.S. carriers. That only one of these new Chinese-engineered carrier class vessels is under construction suggests that China may be developing another, more advanced carrier class. Additionally, intelligence indicates the Chinese are developing an indigenous magnetic catapult launch system.
Reports in Chinese media indicate that the Liaoning has an onboard compliment of 36 aircraft total. They include up to 24 Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark fighters that are reported to be restricted from carrying heavy strike weapons by take-off performance on board the ship according to Russian media. If accurate, this limits these aircraft to the air superiority role while flying from Liaoning. The J-15 Flying Shark is analogous to the Russian Su-33, sharing a plan form similar to the entire Su-27 series of Sukhoi aircraft.
The remainder of the ship’s compliment is limited to rotary wing aircraft including the Changhe Z-18F anti-submarine patrol helicopter and the “J” variant of the Z-18 helicopter configured for airborne early warning. The ship also reportedly carries two smaller Harbin Z-9C helicopters for rescue operations, an important role given the experience of the Russian carrier in anti-ISIL operations off Syria.
Given the aircraft onboard Liaoning currently the ship’s role is limited, in an operational sense, to air security patrol. The ship’s aircraft have no strike or even heavy anti-ship capability beyond its ASW helicopters.
Iwakuni becomes the first airbase outside the U.S. to host a permanent deployment of US military F-35 stealth jets.
On Jan. 9, 2017, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), an F-35B squadron with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, departed MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma, Arizona, for relocation to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, in what is the first deployment of the U.S. Joint Strike Fighter outside of CONUS (Continental US).
Formerly a 3rd MAW F/A-18 Hornet squadron, the VMFA-121 “Green Knights” was re-designated as the Corps’ first operational F-35 squadron on Nov. 20, 2012. About three years later, on Jul. 31, 2015, IOC (Initial Operational Capability) was declared and in December 2015, the Squadron flew its F-35Bs in support of Exercise Steel Knight, “a combined-arms live-fire exercise which integrates capabilities of air and ground combat elements to complete a wide range of military operations in an austere environment to prepare the 1st Marine Division for deployment as the ground combat element of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force.”
In October 2016, a contingent of 12 F-35Bs took part in Developmental Test III aboard USS Amerca followed by the Lightning Carrier “Proof of Concept” demonstration on the carrier on Nov. 19, 2016.
During the POC, the aircraft proved it can operate at-sea, employing a wide array of weapons loadouts with the newest software variant, so much so, some of the most experienced F-35B voiced their satisfaction for the way the aircraft is performing: “the platform is performing exceptionally,” they said.
The first two F-35B deployments aboard U.S. Navy amphibious carriers will take place in 2018.
NORTH PACIFIC OCEAN – An F-35B from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, refuels in flight while transiting the Pacific from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Jan. 9, 2017, with its final destination of Iwakuni, Japan. VMFA-121 is the first operational F-35B squadron assigned to the Fleet Marine Force, with its relocation to 1st Marine Aircraft Wing at Iwakuni. The F-35B was developed to replace the Marine Corps’ F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier and EA- 6B Prowler. The Short Take-off Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft is a true force multiplier. The unique combination of stealth, cutting-edge radar and sensor technology, and electronic warfare systems bring all of the access and lethality capabilities of a fifth-generation fighter, a modern bomber, and an adverse-weather, all-threat environment air support platform.