Category Archives: F-35

No, it wasn’t an F-35. So, What Did Crash Near Nellis? Here Are Some Theories.

Who Was F-35 Test Pilot Lt. Col. Eric Schultz and What He Was Flying When He Died?

The tragic loss and impressive career of U.S. Air Force pilot Lt. Col. Eric Schultz in a reported crash on Tuesday night has been overshadowed in Internet forums by speculation about what type of aircraft he was flying when the accident occurred. The type of aircraft remains classified according to Air Force sources.

Amid increasing speculation that the aircraft involved in the crash may have been an F-35, USAF Gen. David L. Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, was quoted on Saturday morning, September 9, as telling Military.com, “I can definitely say it was not an F-35.”

The comment by Gen. Goldfein to Military.com confirming that Col. Schultz was not flying an F-35 raises the question; what was Lt. Col. Eric Schultz flying when he was fatally injured in the crash this Tuesday?

The U.S. Air Force said the aircraft was operated by the Air Force Materiel Command and that it crashed around 6 PM, 100 miles Northwest of Nellis AFB in the Nevada Test and Training Range.

 

What was Lt. Col. Eric Schultz working on when he died from a crash earlier this week?

It is important to understand any examination of his activities are strictly conjecture as all official sources have declined to comment on the specifics of Lt. Col. Schultz’s assignment when he died.

With a practical background in tactical air combat from flying F-15E Strike Eagles and an academic and career background including powerplant engineering, Lt. Col Schultz could have been working on any number of classified projects.

There are several projects known to be operational or under development in the classified Nellis, Nevada and California area test ranges where Lt. Col. Schultz is reported to have had his now fatal accident.

The test and development programs include opposing forces threat simulation and testing using Russian built Sukhoi SU-27 (NATO codename “Flanker”) aircraft. These aircraft were photographed on November 8, 2016 by Phil Drake from the Tikaboo Valley near the Groom Lake, Nevada test range. Drake captured long range photos of an SU-27P Flanker-B engaging in dissimilar air combat maneuvers (ACM) with an F-16, possibly an F-16D, four of which are thought to operate from Groom Lake. It is possible that, with Lt. Col. Schultz’s involvement in the F-15E Strike Eagle community and his advanced academic background, he could have been involved in an advanced opposing forces capabilities benchmarking research project or in a familiarization program with opposing forces aircraft like the Sukhoi(s) photographed at Groom Lake.

Russian built Sukhoi SU-27 aircraft were photographed last year over the test ranges near where Lt. Col. Eric Schultz’s accident may have occurred. (Credit: Phil Drake)

Another classified project in the area is continued flight operations of the “retired” Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk presumably for radar cross section testing and analysis. The famous “stealth fighter” was photographed by our reader, “Sammamishman,” in late July, 2016. The photos showed two F-117 aircraft in the air and on the ground at the Groom Lake test facility 8 years after retirement.

Two F-117s at TTR in July 2016.

Another test program that may be underway in the area, and that Lt. Col. Schultz may have been contributing to at the time of his fatal accident, is the classified Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB). The B-21 program is likely a replacement or augmentation to the currently operational B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. Artists’ depictions of the B-21 Raider suggest it is similar in configuration to the B-2 Spirit, but may be smaller. It likely still retains a crew of more than one person however, although an accident involving any potential prototype may not necessarily be fatal for an entire crew, however many that number may be. Recall the crash of the XB-70 Valkyrie on June 8, 1966. That large strategic bomber prototype had a two-person crew on board when it crashed due to a midair collision. The crash only resulted in one fatality, with the other aircrew member safely ejecting. There is, however, no public information on the potential flight status of the B-21 Raider program.

B-21 raider concept (NG)

There is also the possibility aircraft was the same boomerang shaped trailing edge jet photographed on Mar. 10, 2014 by Steve Douglass and Dean Muskett at Amarillo International Airport or the triangular one seen over Wichita in the same period, or something else, never seen before.

However, whilst both the Su-27s (operated by the AFMC according to the Combat Aircraft’s editor Jamie Hunter), the F-117s and the two mysterious aircraft of 2014, were spotted flying in daylight, there is someone who believes a highly-classified prototype would hardly fly before sunset.

The reality of Lt. Col. Schultz’s tragic loss is that, while we know he was an accomplished aviator, test pilot and academic we likely will not know the actual circumstances of his accident or the aircraft he was operating until the Air Force chooses to make the information officially available. Until then, a survey of the known projects in the area where Lt. Col. Schultz’s accident unfortunately occurred is all we have.

The more relevant story however, is the noteworthy career of USAF Lt. Col. Eric “Doc” Schultz.

Lt. Col. Eric Schultz, call sign “Doc” because he owned a PhD in aeronautics from the California Institute of Technology in 2000, was an academic and award-winning pilot. At one point he was also an aspiring astronaut, having made application to astronaut training.

In one accounting of Lt. Col Schultz’s early academic career it is reported that after earning his undergraduate degree from Penn State in 1995, the Department of Defense paid for Schultz to earn a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics. His master’s work included research on the ram accelerator, a powerful gun-like device that shoots payloads into exo-atmospheric orbital flight in space. If perfected, the accelerator could be used in place of reusable spacecraft missions, like the X-47B, to transport equipment into orbit or to space stations.

Schultz graduated with his master’s degree in aeronautics in 1997 from the University of Washington.

According to a report published on October 4, 2006 in the Baltimore Sun by writer Susan Gvozdas, Col. Schultz “Received a National Defense Science and Engineering Fellowship to support his research on advanced propulsion systems and safety at nuclear waste storage facilities”.

Also according to news report archives, Lt. Col. Eric Schultz was rejected from the Air Force on five occasions for not meeting eyesight standards for pilots. After his early attempts at entering Air Force ROTC were rejected due to his eyesight, Schultz worked in a civilian capacity with the Navy as a flight engineer while continuing his graduate education.

Schultz’s prior work as a graduate assistant won the attention of jet engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney based in Connecticut. According to a report, Erik Christofferson, a deputy general manager at Pratt’s Washington office, persuaded the company to hire Schultz. “He had the right combination of technical background and communication skills,” Christofferson said. “He was engaging and sharp.” According to the report Schultz worked on the development of detonation engines at Pratt & Whitney’s Seattle Aerosciences Center,.

He was finally awarded a commission after earning his PhD in aeronautics and undergoing corrective vision surgery.

Lt. Col. Schultz went on to fly the F-15E Strike Eagle for the 391st Fighter Squadron, the “Bold Tigers” out of Mountain Home AFB in Elmore County, southwestern Idaho. He may have been deployed to the Middle East with the unit in January of 2007 according to an excerpt in an article about Schultz that said he was, “preparing for overseas combat missions in an F-15 fighter jet and training other pilots”. We were not able to find any mention in the media about a combat record for Lt. Col. Schultz or even confirmation that he did deploy to the Middle East, only that he was scheduled to deploy.

There are acknowledgements of Lt. Col. Schultz’s academic and military achievements through awards he received and brief quotes in official Air Force releases. His former commanding officer, then Lt. Col. Brian Kirkwood, said in an article on Mountain Home AFB’s official website that, “He’s a great role model.” Lt. Col. Kirkwood went on to tell the official Air Force media outlet that Lt. Col. Schultz’s “educational background is unprecedented for an [then] Air Force captain.” Lt. Col. Kirkwood made the statements when acknowledging Lt. Col. Schultz for being awarded the Outstanding Young American award.

Based on the information available in the public domain so far, Lt. Col. Eric Schultz had amassed a noteworthy academic background and career that spanned several aspects of military and experimental aviation and aerospace. It may be the combination of these experiences in tactical aircraft operations and experimental powerplants along with space operations that is particularly noteworthy.

David Cenciotti has contributed to this story.

Top image: composite made using Northrop Grumman, Dean Muskett, Phil Drake and Sammamishman

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Mysterious Crash Of A USAF Classified Jet Near Nellis AFB Fuels Speculations Of F-35 Involved

A Second Pilot Was Killed Last Week, The Air Force Isn’t Saying Which Type (Then Says “Definitely not an F-35”). He Was An F-35 Pilot.

Following the release of information about two A-10C Thunderbolt II attack aircraft crashing over the Nevada Test and Training Range near Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas last Wednesday (after an F-16 from 162FW had crashed killing an Iraqi student pilot) there are media reports of an additional, third aircraft that also crashed, but the aircraft type and mission have not been released. Reports indicate this third crash reported happened on Tuesday, September 5, the day before the two A-10s crashed.

Reports of this earlier, third crash from this week began surfacing in local Nevada media late on Friday, September 8, two days after the reports of the two A-10s crashing.

Reports do not indicate the type aircraft that pilot Lt. Col. Eric Schultz was flying, but a short story published on the Capital Gazette by writer Rick Hutzell said, “The aircraft was assigned to Air Force Materiel Command, which leads development of new combat technologies for the service.”

The stated mission of the Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) is, “To conduct research, development, testing and evaluation, and provide acquisition and life cycle management services and logistics support.” This mission set is congruent with new aircraft development.

USAF Major Christina Sukach, a spokeswoman for the 99th Air Base Wing, was reported as telling media that, “Lt. Col. Schultz died as a result of injuries sustained in the accident. The crash remains under investigation, and additional details were not immediately available.”

“These are separate incidents and both are currently under investigation to determine their causes,” Nellis Public Affairs told Oriana Pawlyk and Brendan McGarry, reporters for Military.com.

“Information about the type of aircraft involved is classified and not releasable,” Maj. Christina Sukach, chief of public affairs for the 99 Air Base Wing at Nellis, said in an email to Military.com.

Reports also suggest that Lt. Col. Schultz may have initially survived the mishap, and died from injuries sustained in the classified crash.

While there is no official information reporting what aircraft Lt. Col. Schultz was flying at the time of Tuesday’s crash, the only available photos of Lt. Col. Schultz show him in the cockpit of an F-35A (needless to say, meanwhile he may have moved to another program..)

USAF Lt. Col. Eric “Doc” Schultz, flying F-35A number AF-1, releases the first-ever 2,000 pound GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) in tests over the China Lake Test Range on October 16, 2012 (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

According to sources, Capt. Eric Schultz became the 28th pilot to fly the F-35 when he took off from Edwards AFB, California, in F-35A AF-1 for a 1.3-hour test mission on September 15, 2011.

Additionally, the AFMC, to which the crashed aircraft belonged, is a parent unit of the 412th Test Wing, based at Edwards Air Force Base, whose 416 FLTS (Flight Test Squadron) flies the F-35 Lightning II.

For these reasons, there are growing speculations that the aircraft involved in the crash is an F-35 working inside the Nellis Test and Training Range. Still, the aircraft could also be some Black Project jet that the U.S. Air Force wants to remain secret for some more time.

An official Air Force media release on the Mountain Home AFB website from September 28, 2006 said, “As a young boy, Capt. Eric Schultz, dreamed of being an astronaut. As a young man, he couldn’t become a military pilot because of his poor eyesight. For 10 years, during which the military denied him entrance three times, he did the next best thing: earning a doctorate in aerospace engineering. But his dream of flight took off again when Schultz underwent laser eye surgery and the Air Force accepted him as a pilot.”

We will update the story as soon as new details emerge.

Update on Sept. 9, 15.14 UTC:

Looks like the F-35 theory has been debunked:

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U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Stealth Fighters With Radar Reflectors Take Part In Latest Show Of Force Against North Korea

The U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II, joined United States Air Force B-1B Lancers for the first time in a show of force over the Korean Peninsula.

On Aug. 30, two B-1Bs from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam accompanied by two Koku Jieitai (Japan Air Self-Defense Force) F-15Js and four Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) F-15Ks took part in a joint mission over South Korea: a direct response to North Korea’s intermediate-range ballistic missile launch which flew directly over northern Japan on August 28 amid rising tension over North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile development programs.

Even though such missions have become more or less a routine, what make the latest “show of force” a bit more interesting is the participation of four U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II that joined the USAF Lancers for a 10-hour mission that brought the “package” over waters near Kyushu, Japan, then across the Korean Peninsula to release live weapons at the Pilsung Range training area before returning to their respective home stations.

Although the F-35B is the most modern combat plane in the region and can theoretically be used as part of a larger package to hit very well defended North Korean targets in case of war, the presence of a handful stealth multirole aircraft is mainly symbolic.

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), an F-35B squadron with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing that achieved IOC (Initial Operational Capability) with the JSF on Jul. 31, 2015, relocated to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, from MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma, Arizona, on Jan. 9, 2017.

In October 2016, a contingent of 12 F-35Bs took part in Developmental Test III aboard USS America 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 and some of the most experienced F-35B pilots said that “the platform is performing exceptionally.

Escorted by ROKAF F-15s, the JSF dropped their internally-carried GBU-32s on a range in South Korea (all images via PACAF).

In case of war, the stealthy aircraft would only be part of a wider military force including U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress and B-2 Spirit stealth bombers (that have already conducted extended deterrence missions over the Korean Peninsula in the past years) along with the B-1B Lancers already deployed to Guam to support the U.S. Pacific Command’s (USPACOM) Continuous Bomber Presence mission; as well as other USAF assets from land bases and U.S. Navy aircraft from aircraft carriers, such as the F-16 in Wild Weasel role and the EA-18G Growlers Electronic Attack, to name but few.

In fact, the F-35s would be involved in the Phase 4 of an eventual pre-emptive air strike on Pyongyang, the phase during which tactical assets would be called to hunt road-mobile ballistic missiles and any other artillery target that North Korea could use to launch a retaliatory attack (even a nuclear one) against Seoul.

During the Aug. 30 mission, the F-35Bs flew with the radar reflectors used to make LO (Low Observable) aircraft clearly visible on radars: a sign they didn’t want their actual radar signature to be exposed to any intelligence gathering sensor in the area. Furthermore , the Joint Strike Fighters also dropped their 1,000-lb GBU-32 JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) on Pilsung firing range.

F-35Bs dropping their 1,000-lb GBU-32 JDAMs

With a “first day of war” configuration the F-35B would likely carry weapons internally to maintain low radar cross-section and observability from sensors as done during the mission flown yesterday. However, as a conflict evolves and enemy air defense assets including sensors, air defense missile and gun systems and enemy aircraft, are degraded by airstrikes the environment becomes more permissive and the F-35 no longer relies on low-observable capability for survivability. This is when the Lightning II would shift to carrying large external loads to accelerate the prosecution of ground targets in an effort to overwhelm an adversary with highly effective precision strikes.

Moreover, during the opening stages of an air war, the F-35Bs would be able to act as real-time data coordinators able to correlate and disseminate information gathered from their on board sensors to other assets contributing to achieve the “Information Superiority” required to geo-locate the threats and target them effectively.

“The F-35 embodies our commitment to our allies and contributes to the overall security and stability of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region,” said Lt. Gen. David H. Berger, commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific in a PACAF release. “By forward-basing the F-35, the most advanced aircraft in the world, here in the Pacific, we are enabling the Marine Corps to respond quickly during a crisis in support of Japan, the Republic of Korea, and all our regional partners.”

Four F-35s took part in the latest show of force against North Korea.

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F-35B In “Third Day Of War” External Weapons Load Configuration Demonstrates Ski Jump Launch in U.S. for Royal Navy.

Check Out This Cool New Video of F-35B Doing Ski Jump Launch Trials for the QE2.

British Aerospace test pilot Peter “Wizzer” Wilson demonstrated the F-35B Lightning II’s capability to launch from a ski-jump style launch ramp during phase 2 testing with a heavy external weapons load last week in a series of capability flights at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.

The Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical) variant was configured in a “third day of war” load-out with heavy external Paveway precision guided bombs and AIM-132 ASRAAM air-to-air missiles in addition to any internal load and the aircraft’s GAU-22A 25mm internal cannon.

The external weapons configuration demonstration (as the one done by the F-35C firing a missile while inverted) is interesting since it includes the broad capability of the F-35B across the entire tactical conflict spectrum. With a “first day of war” configuration the F-35B would likely carry weapons internally to maintain low radar cross-section and observability from sensors. However, as a conflict evolves and enemy air defense assets including sensors, air defense missile and gun systems and enemy aircraft, are degraded by airstrikes from F-35s in the low-observable configuration the environment becomes more permissive. The F-35 no longer relies on low-observable capability for survivability. It can shift to carrying large external loads to accelerate the prosecution of ground targets in an effort to overwhelm an adversary with highly effective precision strikes.

Moreover, as already explained in previous posts on this subject, LO aircraft in un-stealthy configuration because of the external loads achieve stealthiness and can play a different role once their external weapons have been expended.

The F-35B in this series of launch tests is in the “third day of war” external load configuration.

The demonstration highlights the compatibility of the aircraft with the new Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers including the recently commissioned HMS Queen Elizabeth II (RO8) and the upcoming HMS Prince of Wales (RO9) to be commissioned in 2020. Both new carriers use the traditional ski-jump launch ramp as employed on legacy Royal Navy ships and also by the Chinese, Russian and upcoming Indian navy carriers. These aircraft carriers do not yet have, or need, launch catapults.

F-35B Test Pilot Pete “Wizzer” Wilson flew the ramp launch tests. (Photo: Wilts and Glos Standard)

The tests were conducted the week of August 14, 2017 in anticipation of upcoming trials on the HMS Queen Elizabeth II. BAE Systems ski jump project lead test pilot Peter Wilson, a former Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pilot now living in the U.S. during the flight test program, told writer George Allison for the media outlet U.K. Defence Journal that:

“Friday’s F-35B ski jump was a great success for the joint ski jump team. I’m exceptionally proud of this team. Their years of planning, collaboration and training have culminated in a fantastic achievement that advances the future capabilities of the aircraft and its integration into UK operations.”

 

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We Interviewed An F-35A Pilot As JSF Visited Selfridge ANGB To Celebrate 100-Year Anniversary and Fly with Special Colored A-10

F-35A Mini-Heritage Flight and First Lightning II at Selfridge ANGB for 100th Anniversary.

The USAF F-35A Lightning II made history again this past weekend when it visited Selfridge Air National Guard Base for the first time during the 100th Anniversary Airshow in Mt. Clemens, Michigan near Detroit in the United States.

As a potential future base for the F-35A, Selfridge and the F-35As from Hill AFB put together an impressive airshow with several pleasant surprises.

The highlight was the special D-Day paint scheme A-10 from Selfridge joining a visiting Hill AFB F-35A for a Heritage Flight formation demo on Sunday.

Humid conditions and clear skies made for spectacular vapor trails under hard turns at Selfridge. (All photos: Author/TheAviationist.com)

The Aviationist.com spoke with F-35A Lightning II pilot, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Dave DeAngelis who flew to Selfridge ANGB in one of two F-35As for the 100th anniversary show. Lt. Col. DeAngelis is a member of the 466th Fighter Squadron at Hill AFB, the nation’s first operational Air Force Reserve F-35A unit.

The 466th Fighter Squadron has been exceptionally busy since declaring Initial Operational Capability on the F-35A back in August 2016. The unit has already exceeded and met several milestones for the F-35A program. The Aviationist.com asked Lt. Col. DeAngelis how the Hill AFB, Utah F-35As have performed so well.

Lt. Col. Dave DeAngelis of the 466th Fighter Squadron from Hill AFB, Utah at Selfridge ANGB for the 100th Anniversary airshow.

“We’ve got great maintenance staff. I’d have to give those guys much of the credit. We made IOC (Initial Operating Capability) back in August 2016. The program has done much better than I anticipated. It has just been doing phenomenal, the month of August, this month, we are at 2% attrition rate. That is unheard of. Some unit attrition rates are at about 20%. If your name is on the flying schedule, you’re flying a jet. The jet is extremely maintainable.”

As testimony to Lt. Col. DeAngelis’ remarks about the F-35A’s maintainability we watched maintainers run checks and perform routine maintenance on both aircraft using fast, easy to use electronic diagnostic equipment plugged into the jet.ù

Maintenance crews ready a 466th Fighter Squadron F-35A for a flight at Selfridge on Sunday.

Lt. Col. DeAngelis, a former F-16 pilot, went on to tell us he was impressed with the F-35A’s operational combat capability during exercises that closely simulate the rigors of real-world combat.

“We just finished a Combat Archer and Combat Hammer and the results have been phenomenal. We were shooting live missiles, dropping live bombs out at the Utah test range last week. It has really taken off in the last year. These jets have just been performing great.”

The 466th Fighter Squadron and their F-35A’s made the news earlier this year when they deployed jets to the ETO (European Theater of Operations) in another operational milestone for the USAF’s contribution to the Joint Strike Fighter program.

“As part of our European response initiative we took eight aircraft to England, based out of Lakenheath for a couple of weeks and also did some trips through Europe. We brought some F-35s to Estonia, brought some F-35s to Bulgaria to reassure our European allies.”

Selfridge airshow spectators got a first-ever chance to see the F-35A maintainers at work during the demonstration weekend.

When we asked Lt. Col. DeAngelis about his transition training from F-16 to F-35A and his first flights he spoke with enthusiasm about the new jet.

“It flies pretty similar to an F-16. Maybe after 100 hours you’re pretty comfortable deploying it in combat. It’s a great aircraft overall.”

When pressed about why the Air Force F-35A’s have not flown aerobatic displays in the U.S. as seen this summer in Paris, France when an F-35A performed a demo with a company pilot, Lt. Col. DeAngelis told us, “Right now we are focused on combat capability. We’re an operational combat squadron. We’ll do Heritage Flights, but we’re focused on finding and destroying an enemy. The aerobatics, right now, Lockheed has that covered. But I think eventually as the program matures we’ll probably train up a demonstration pilot.”

One of each of the two F-35As flown into Selfridge were displayed under an aircraft shade for static viewing and on the hot ramp before and after demo flights providing great photo opportunities with both jets.

Selfridge ANGB Public Relations MSgt. David Kujawa provided us with access to flight crews for interviews. With strong public support for the F-35A being based at Selfridge and the economic benefits it will provide to the region if selected there was considerable excitement surrounding the first-ever arrival and flight of the F-35A at Selfridge.

The event brought another chapter to the long and impressive history of the 100-year old Selfridge ANGB.

Airshow crowds got a close look at a static F-35A in addition to seeing the flight profiles on both days at Selfridge.