Category Archives: F-35

UK F-35B Performs World’s First Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing During HMS Queen Elizabeth Trials

The F-35 Patuxent River Integrated Test Force (ITF) achieved a new milestone performing a Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL) on aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.

On Oct. 13, an F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter performed the first  Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL) on the flight deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth, as part of the ongoing First of Class Flight Trials (Fixed Wing), or FOCFT (FW). BAE Systems test pilot Pete “wizzer” Wilson, achieved the F-35B’s first real SRVL touching down at about 40 knots and decelerating to a standstill in about 175 feet.

Britain’s newest aircraft carrier (able to accommodate up to 24 F-35Bs out of the planned 138 F-35 Lightning jets) and the F-35 Patuxent River Integrated Test Force (ITF) are conducting a variety of flight maneuvers and deck operations to develop the F-35B operating envelope for QEC carriers.

A composite image of the first SRVL.

Among the most important parts of the trials are the rolling vertical landings: as the acronym suggests, STOVL aircraft use the vertical landing to return to the ship. Using this kind of procedure, the approaching aircraft slowly reaches a hovering position to the port side of the ship before moving sideways over the deck and descending slowly. This technique has pretty strict weight requirements because of the thrust required to keep the aircraft airborne the time needed to put the wheels down. The rolling technique is intended to allow pilots to recover to the ship with more stores: the combination of thrust from its rotating nozzle, lift-fan and lift generated by the wing as an effect of the (slow) forward movement of the aircraft can save up to 7000lbs greater all up weight (UAW). Without the SRVL technique, the F-35B would be forced to jettison some or all of its external store when returning to the ship.

According to some sources the Soviet Yak-38 “Forger” jets could perform rolling landings on carrier decks but required the use of a safety barrier net; however, it’s not clear whether actual tests were conducted at sea.



In order to prepare to the first SRVL pilots and engineers tested the new technique using BAE Systems’ F-35/QEC Integration Simulator—a full motion, dome simulator—based in Warton, England. Some 3,000 takeoffs and landings were important to discover “where the edges of the test envelope are,” said Royal Air Force Sq. Ldr. Andy Edgell, FOCFT (FW) lead test pilot at the Pax River ITF.

“SRVL tests are truly experimental,” Edgell said. “It involves landing a fast jet onto an aircraft carrier with forward relative speed but without the braking assistance typically provided by an arresting gear and hook. It’s going to be a really rewarding moment for British aviation to watch that procedure actually take place.”

Back in 2007, Qinetiq’s VAAC Harrier testbed was used by the Aircraft Test and Evaluation Centre using a “dummy deck” at Qinetiq’s Boscombe Down site in Wiltshire, to assess the possibility to perform SRVL approaches as a way to use thrust-vectoring to a slow speed while still gaining the benefit of wing-borne lift.

The UK is the only nation currently planning to use the SRVL technique. However, the US Marine Corps and the Italian Navy (which should operate the F-35B to replace the AV-8B+ Harrier II from Italy’s Cavour aircraft carrier in the future) might take advantage of the rolling landing in the future, leveraging the testing conducted by the F-35 ITF aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.

Following the crash occurred on Sept. 28 and involving a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B, the U.S. Services and international partners temporarily suspended F-35 flight operations while conducting a fleet-wide inspection of a fuel tube within the engine on all F-35 aircraft. British F-35Bs involved in the flight trials from HMS Queen Elizabeth and Italian F-35 were not grounded though, as inspections did not find the faulty part.

Top image credit: Royal Navy / Crown Copyright

(Almost) All F-35 Joint Strike Fighters Grounded Worldwide Following September 28 Crash

Suspected Fuel Problem Results in Grounding of Joint Strike Fighter. Not all of them actually…

All Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters were ordered grounded on Thursday, October 12, 2018 for safety inspections of their fuel flow systems following the September 28, 2018 crash of a U.S. Marine F-35B Lightning II in Beaufort, South Carolina. It was the first crash of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter since the worldwide program, the largest defense contract in history, began flying in 2006.

“The U.S. Services and international partners have temporarily suspended F-35 flight operations while the enterprise conducts a fleet-wide inspection of a fuel tube within the engine on all F-35 aircraft,” the F-35 Joint Program Office announced in a statement Thursday morning.

The grounding of the F-35 fuels criticism of the program that has been under scrutiny from the start due to cost and program delays. The Joint Strike Fighter program has been characterized as the most expensive defense program in history. A Pentagon study claimed the entire program may exceed $1 trillion USD including maintenance for the entire fleet over its lifespan, not accounting for inflation.

Developed during the emergence of social media, the F-35 program has been a lightning rod for public criticism of defense spending. Recent analytics on TheAviationist.com’s Facebook page reveal that a September 28 story about the first F-35 crash attracted over ten times as many “Likes” than a previous story earlier that week about the first combat mission flown by the U.S. in an F-35. The analytics strongly suggest readers are more attracted to negative news about the F-35 than positive reports about the program.



The fleet-wide grounding of the aircraft is expected to be short-term according to a statement released today by the F-35 program office.

Actually, not all the F-35s have been eventually grounded.

“The Italian Air Force has already completed its inspections and, as it did not find the faulty part, is back to normal flight operations, according to two sources” Lara Seligman reported. Indeed, the Italian F-35A aircraft were reportedly flying today’s late afternoon, launching from Decimomannu, Sardinia, where they are currently deployed to undertake air-to-ground and CAS (Close Air Support) training.

Same for the British F-35B jets, involved in the flight trials from HMS Queen Elizabeth:

The Israeli have halted their operations with the F-35I Adir.

“If suspect fuel tubes are installed, the part will be removed and replaced. If known good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status. Inspections are expected to be completed within the next 24 to 48 hours.”

In its official statement on Thursday morning the program office went on to say the grounding of all F-35s worldwide, “is driven from initial data from the ongoing investigation of the F-35B that crashed in the vicinity of Beaufort, South Carolina on 28 September. The aircraft mishap board is continuing its work and the U.S. Marine Corps will provide additional information when it becomes available.”

Top Image: file photo of U.S. F-35A Lightning II. All versions of the aircraft have been temporarily grounded according to official statements (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com.)

U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Connects To HIMARS For Rocket Shot In a “Direct Sensor-to-Shooter” Scenario

Using Datalink, an F-35B shared target data with an M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). 5th Gen. aircraft increasingly used to shorten the “sensor-to-shooter” cycle.

According to Lt. Gen. Steven R. Rudder, deputy commandant for aviation, the U.S. Marine Corps have achieved a milestone when a target was destroyed by connecting an F-35B Lightning II aircraft with a HiMARS rocket shot for the first time.

“We were able to connect the F-35 to a HIMARS, to a rocket shot … and we were able to target a particular conex box,” Rudder told audience members Friday at an aviation readiness discussion at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, or CSIS, Marine Corps Times reported.

The integration occurred during Marines’ latest weapons and tactics course at Yuma, Arizona: the F-35 gathered the target location using its high-end onboard sensors and shared the coordinates of the target to the HIMARS system via datalink in a “sensor to shooter” scenario. The HIMARS unit then destroyed the target.

The HIMARS is a movable system that can be rapidly deployed by air, using a C-130 Hercules. It carries six rockets or one MGM-140 ATACMS missile on the U.S. Army’s new Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) five-ton truck, and can launch the entire Multiple Launch Rocket System Family of Munitions (MFOM). In a typical scenario, a command and control post, a ship or an aircraft (in the latest test, an F-35B – the type that has just had its baptism of fire in Afghanistan) transmits the target data via a secure datalink to the HIMARS on-board launch computer. The computer then aims the launcher and provides prompt signals to the crew to arm and fire a pre-selected number of rounds. The launcher can aim at a target in just 16 seconds.

The Corps has been testing new ways to use its HIMARS lately. For instance, last fall, the Corps successfully fired and destroyed a target 70 km out on land from the deck of the amphibious transport dock Anchorage. Considered the threat posed to maritime traffic by cruise missiles fired by coastal batteries in the hands of terrorist groups and militias, the amphibious group’s ability suppress coastal defenses from long-range using artillery is important to allow Marines to come ashore.

The aim is clearly to shorten what is known as the sensor-to-shooter cycle – the amount of time it takes from when an enemy target is detected by a sensor – either human or electronic – and when it is attacked. Shortening the time is paramount in highly dynamic battlefield.

Two U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II’s assigned to the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, fly a combat mission over Afghanistan, Sept. 27, 2018. During this mission the F-35B conducted an air strike in support of ground clearance operations, and the strike was deemed successful by the ground force commander. 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. Corey Hook)

In September 2016, a live test fire demonstration involved the integration of U.S. Marine Corps F-35B from the Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron (VMX 1), based in Edwards Air Force Base, with existing Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) architecture. The test was aimed at assessing the ability to shoot down incoming cruise missiles.

The F-35B acted as an elevated sensor (to detect an over-the-horizon threat as envisaged for the F-22) that sent data through its Multi-Function Advanced Data Link to a ground station connected to USS Desert Ship (LLS-1), a land-based launch facility designed to simulate a ship at sea. Using the latest Aegis Weapon System Baseline 9.C1 and a Standard Missile 6, the system successfully detected and engaged the target. Indeed, increasingly, 5th generation aircraft are seen as tools to provide forward target identification for both defensive and offensive systems (such as strike missiles launched from surface warships or submerged submarines). Back in 2013, PACAF commander Gen. Hawk Carlisle described the ability of advanced aircraft, at the time the F-22, to provide forward targeting through its sensors for submarine based TLAMs (Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles).



In the following years, the stealthy F-22s, considered “electronic warfare enabled sensor-rich multi-role aircraft”, saw their main role in the war on Daesh evolving into something called “kinetic situational awareness”: in Syria and Iraq, the Raptors escorted the strike packages into and out of the target area while gathering details about the enemy systems and spreading intelligence to other “networked” assets supporting the mission to improve the overall situational awareness. To make it simple, during Operation Inherent Resolve, the 5th generation aircraft’s pilot leverages advanced onboard sensors, as the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, to collect valuable details about the enemy Order of Battle, then shares the “picture” with attack planes, command and control assets, as well as Airborne Early Warning aircraft, while escorting other manned or unmanned aircraft towards the targets. Something the F-35 will also have to do in the near future.

Top image: “artwork” made using USMC images

Everything We Know About The Delivery of Russian S-300 Missile Systems to Syria

Let’s analyse if and how the Syrian scenario is going to change after the delivery of the S-300 air defense system to Assad.

Images and video of the first Russian S-300 battery being delivered at the Khmeimim Air Base in Syria have been shared by the Russian MoD starting on Wednesday Oct. 3. The announcement of the successful delivery of the long-range missile systems had arrived on Tuesday but the photographs and clip showing the missile tubes, radar and control vehicles provided a visual confirmation of the claims.

The S-300s were delivered in response to the Israeli air strike on Sept. 17 that led to the accidental downing of a Russian Air Force Il-20M Coot spyplane mistakenly shot down by a Syrian S-200 (SA-5) missile. Although the details and real causes of the downing are still controversial, Moscow made it clear it would boost the Syrian air defense, a dense system relative to the country’s size but whose backbone is a variety of old Soviet-era SAMs. Russia threatened to  impose electronic countermeasures over Syria’s coastline, suppressing satellite navigation as well as radar and communication systems of combat aircraft attacking targets on Syrian territory.

The S-300 is a mobile air defense system that couples a radars capable to track multiple targets with long-range missiles to hit aerial targets at a distance of 150 km and an altitude up to 27,000 meters. Although well-known to the western air forces, it remains a lethal SAM system.

Syria wanted the S-300 as far back as the 1980s after the first Lebanon war, but it was forced to make do with the S-200 (SA5) system, an older system still capable to bring down an advanced F-16I Sufa on Feb. 10, 2018, when several SA-5 and SA-17 missiles were fired at seven Israeli fighter jets returning from an airstrike on the T-4 military base near Palmyra in central Syria, from which the IDF said an Iranian operator remotely piloted an Iranian drone into Israeli territory an hour earlier. In that case, the IAF determined the loss of the Sufa was caused by a “professional error”: although the on-board warning system of the F-16I alerted the crew of the incoming threat, the pilot and navigator failed to deploy countermeasures.

As commented back then, the last time an Israeli Air Force jet had been shot down dated back to the first Lebanon War at the beginning of the ’80s and the air strikes did not cease after the Sufa loss. However, it must be remembered that Israel hasn’t had a real freedom of action over Syria since late 2015, when Russia decided to install an S-400 Triumf missile defense battery able to track the Syrian airspace as well as the vast majority of Israeli airspace. In fact, since then, Israel has coordinated its activities in Syria with Moscow.

According to Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu the delivery of S-300 systems has been concluded. “It included 49 pieces of equipment, including radars, control vehicles and four launchers,”  the MoD said to TASS News Agency. “We have finished personnel recruitment and have begun to train them,” said Shoigu, adding that it would take the Syrian army at least three months to learn how to use the system. It’s fair to assume that the Russians will operate the S-300s during the training period and remain for some tipe supervising operations.

The new systems were delivered by means of AN-124 Condor flights. An unusual frequency in heavy airlifter missions to the airbase near Latakia was monitored and tracked online in the days before the official announcement, suggesting an air bridge was in progress to deliver the components required to install the first S-300 batteries: as many as 6 flights between Sept. 28 and Oct. 1.

On paper, the addition of the new SAM batteries should not affect the Israeli ability to strike Syria. Thanks to stand-off weapons, the Israeli Air Force continues to be able to hit its targets as well as the SAM sites themselves in what is called a DEAD (destruction of enemy air defenses mission) if needed.

The Israeli Air Force has already gathered knowledge on the Russian defense system when it trained against the S-300PMU-1 surface-to-air missile system stationed in Crete during INIOXOS-2015, one the largest annual exercise of the Hellenic Air Force, during which 10 Israeli Air Force F-16I Sufa were able to test evasion tactics during simulated attacks against ground targets protected by S-300 batteries.

Moreover, if conventional aircraft can be theoretically tracked (or as some media outlets stated “locked on”) by Syrian air defenses shortly after take off from their airbases in Israel, the IAF can commit its radar-evading F-35I Adir to the Syrian air strikes. Indeed, the IAF F-35s have already carried out attacks in Syria, as the Israeli Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin unveiled earlier this year. “The Adir planes are already operational and flying in operational missions. We are the first in the world to use the F-35 in operational activity,” he said showing also a famous photograph of an F-35I flying off Beirut (with radar reflectors).

This is what the Author wrote back then about the F-35 Adir’s involvement in the air strikes on Syria and the inherent risks. It still applies at the current situation:

“[…] the heavy presence of Russian radars and ELINT platforms in Syria cause some concern: the Russians are currently able to identify takeoffs from Israeli bases in real-time and might use collected data to “characterize” the F-35’s signature at specific wavelengths as reportedly done with the U.S. F-22s.

In fact, tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft are built to defeat radar operating at specific frequencies; usually high-frequency bands as C, X, Ku and S band where the radar accuracy is higher (in fact, the higher the frequency, the better is the accuracy of the radar system).

However, once the frequency wavelength exceeds a certain threshold and causes a resonant effect, LO aircraft become increasingly detectable. For instance, ATC radars, that operate at lower-frequency bands are theoretically able to detect a tactical fighter-sized stealth plane whose shape features parts that can cause resonance. Radars that operate at bands below 300 MHz (lower UHF, VHF and HF radars), such as the so-called Over The Horizon (OTH) radars, are believed to be particularly dangerous for stealth planes: although they are not much accurate (because lower frequency implies very large antenna and lower angle accuracy and angle resolution) they can spot stealth planes and be used to guide fighters equipped with IRST towards the direction the LO planes might be.

For these reasons, in the same way the U.S. spyplanes do with all the Russian Su-35S, Su-30SM, S-400 in Syria, it’s safe to assume Russian advanced anti-aircraft systems are “targeting” the Israeli F-35s and its valuable emissions, forcing the IAF to adapt its procedures and leverage the presence of other aircraft to “hide” the “Adir” when and where it could theoretically be detected. “This has created a situation in which the IAF is adapting itself to the F-35 instead of adapting the jet to the air force. The goal, they say at the IAF, is to use the F-35 to upgrade the fourth generation jets that will fly around the F-35,” commented Al-Monitor’s Ben Caspit.

Meanwhile the Israeli F-35s will probably see some action, validating the tactical procedures to be used by the new aircraft, fine tuning the ELINT capabilities of the “Adir” to detect, geolocate and classify enemy‘s new/upgraded systems, as well as testing the weapons system (and the various Israeli “customizations”) during real operations as part of “packages” that will likely include other special mission aircraft and EW (Electronic Warfare) support.

But only if really needed: the Israeli Air Force “legacy” aircraft have often shown their ability to operate freely in the Syrian airspace, using stand-off weaponry, without needing most of the fancy 5th generation features; therefore, it’s safe to assume the Israelis will commit their new aircraft if required by unique operational needs, as already happened in the past (in 1981, the first Israeli F-16s took part in Operation Opera, one of the most famous operations in Israeli Air Force history, one year after the first “Netz” aircraft was delivered and before all the F-16As were taken on charge by the IAF).”

That said, it’s highly unlikely that Israel would attack the S-300 batteries until the Russian military operate or have those weapons under their direct control. The problem is not the system itself, but the fact that it is flying the Russian flag for some time now.

Someone has recently asked me if the presence of the S-300 is making accidental downings less likely in the crowded Syrian airspace.

The answer is: most probably yes, especially considering that Russian personnel will probably operate more modern systems (even after they are officially handed over they will probably help the Syrians) and care will be taken in properly identifying targets before firing SAMs at them (the use of “transit corridors”, reviewed radar and radio procedures will be probably implemented among the Russian-Syrian teams as well). At the same time, advanced notifications will be probably used wisely, in order to prevent other incidents that could escalate tensions even more.

That said it must be reminded that the situation over Syria will remain volatile.

Yes, there are far busier areas in the Middle East as well as the rest of the World, where the concentration of civilian aircraft is higher. Open Source analysis on flight tracking websites or apps (using ADS-B/Mode-S as I have often explained here) can just give a rough idea of the situation because it provides insights into the civil part of the story. If you observe the traffic flying over Syria using Flightradar24 at any time (you can use the playback feature to monitor flights on a large period of time with speed up to 120x) you will probably only spot some civilian traffic flying in the southwestern part of the country/east of Damascus: the airspace is mainly interested by airliners belonging to the Syrian Air, Iraqi Airways, Fly Baghdad and Cham Wings Airlines flying to/from the Syrian capital. Sometimes you’ll see an airliner crossing the airspace to the North of Damascus: these are usually civilian flights heading to Beirut. Another corridor, mainly used by aircraft heading north departing from Damascus roughly runs along the country’s eastern border. You can have an idea of the corridors used by civil traffic these days here.

Using OSINT tools we don’t get a sense of how many military flights operate over there. Besides the Russian airlifters trailing other aircraft or delivering “goods” to Latakia, and the spyplanes that operate in the eastern Med off Syria and Lebanon, little can be tracked on Flightradar24.com or other public domain flight tracking websites. But we know that there are other tactical as well as intelligence gathering (manned and unmanned) aircraft flying over Syria, both Russian, Syrian and belonging to the US-led coalition. And we also know that, every now and then, combat aircraft from different countries, not operating/cooperating under the same management/coordination and possibly using different procedures as well as ROE (Rules Of Engagement), operate in proximity one another (or close to civilian aircraft).

Deconfliction hotlines between US and Russia and between Russia and Israel have helped avoiding direct clashes (although there have been some tense close encounters in the near past before the Il-20 was downed) but the risk of human-induced accidents remains.

Top image credit: composite created using IAF/Reddit/Russian MOD/FR24.com images

F-35 and F-16 Formation Doing Arizona State Capitol Flyover As Seen From A Helicopter

Flyover filmed from from a Robinson R44 Helicopter equipped with a gyro stabilized camera system.

The footage below was filmed on Sept. 26, as a formation of four aircraft, two F-35s and two F-16s, belonging to the 56th Fighter Wing, from Luke Air Force base, Arizona, conducted the Arizona State Capitol flyover as part of the ceremony honoring the 100th Anniversary of the Final Flight of Lt. Frank Luke Jr.

What makes the flyover really interesting is once again the pretty unique viewpoint: Chopperguy helicopter flying above the formation, that used callsign “Knife 01”.

The pilots flying the 100th Anniversary flyover were “Dojo”, “Slam”, “Havoc” and “Judge”.

Lt. Frank Luke Jr. after whom Luke AFB near Phoenix is named was a pilot in WWI. He was born on May 19, 1897 and died on Sept. 29, 1918, about 100 years ago when he shot down after taking down 2 enemy aircraft and continued to fight once on the ground resisting capture. According to the 56th FW page, because of his actions he was the first aviator awarded the Medal of Honor. In all he shot down 18 aircraft in 18 days.

Besides some 77 F-16s, Luke is home to 68 F-35s: the base is the training hub for Lightning II’s pilot and maintainers from Australia, Norway, Italy, the Netherlands, Japan and Israel. F-35 pilot training began at Luke just over a year after the 56th Fighter Wing received its first F-35A in 2014 and, according to LM, eventually, the 56th Fighter Wing will be home to 144 F-35s in the future. The 62nd and 61st fighter squadrons train an international cadre of F-35 pilots from partner nations like Norway, Italy and Australia. The 63rd FS, activated in August 2016 with the first jet taken on charge in March 2017, trains F-35 Lightning II fighter pilots as a joint international effort between Turkey and the United States.

Interestingly, as part of the 100th anniversary of the death of Lt. Luke Jr. one F-35 and one F-16 were given a #Luke100 logo.

To mark the 100th Anniversary of Lt Luke’s death the Wing’s two flagship aircraft were given a Luke 100 logo. (Image credit: 56th FW).

The Chopperguy team, shooting from 8K to High Definition aerial video and photography with a gyro stabilized camera system, has already filmed some really interesting stuff from their R44 Newscopter. Take a look at the following clip showing aerial footage of F-35 Lightning II Strike Fighter jets taking off from Luke Air Force Base and flying over the Fiesta Bowl Parade near Phoenix, Arizona. It includes a radio interview of General Brook “Tank” Leonard as he and Major Aaron ‘Gambit’ Stevens took off in their F-35s.

Top image: screenshot from Chopperguy video