Category Archives: Military Aviation

U.S. Air Force A-10 Attack Aircraft Practice Landings And Take Offs From Rural Highway And Austere Runway In Estonia

U.S. A-10s Thunderbolt II aircraft deployed to Europe to take part in Sabre Strike 18 have conducted “rough field training” in Estonia.

Thanks to its engines mounted far from the surface of the runway, the A-10 attack aircraft is practically immune to FOD (Foreign Object Damage) caused by debris flying up from unprepared runways. For this reason, the Warthog (one of the most popular A-10 nicknames) often practice austere landing and take off operations, especially when they are deployed to eastern Europe, a theater that is scattered with highway strips as well as abandoned Warsaw Pact military airfields, which have not been in use since the Cold War, that are perfectly suited for such kind of training.

Since the beginning of the month, eight A-10C from the 107th Fighter Squadron, from Selfridge ANGB Michigan, have deployed to Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia, to take part in Exercise Saber Strike 18, “a longstanding U.S. Army Europe-led cooperative training, designed to enhance readiness and interoperability among allies and regional partners.”

On a rural highway in northern Estonia, a pilot flies an A-10 Thunderbolt II attached to the 107th Fighter Squadron, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., from Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia, to practice landings and take offs, during the Exercise Saber Strike 18 on June 7, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. David Kujawa)

In order to test and train unimproved surface operations while training with NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battlegroups, on Jun. 7, the A-10’s have practiced operations on Jägala-Käravete Highway in Jägala, a rural highway in northern Estonia. That is the very same unprepared landing strip where, on Aug. 10, 2017, one of the A-10C (assigned to the 104th Fighter Squadron, Maryland Air National Guard) hit and damaged a road sign while performing landing and take off training.

U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II, assigned to 107th Fighter Squadron, Selfridge, Mich., practice landing at Haapsalu, Estonia, during Saber Strike 18 June 7, 2018. The aircraft is loaded with dummy bomblets and a Litening targeting pod (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Bobbie Reynolds)

The training also involved practice landing on a un-operational, austere runway in Haapsalu, Estonia.

Two U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to 107th Fighter Squadron, Selfridge, Mich., practice landing on a un-operational, austere runway in Haapsalu, Estonia (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Bobbie Reynolds)

Interestingly, among the aircraft conducting the austere landing operations in Estonia there as also the special-colored A-10C 81-0994/MI, that commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the Red Devils of the 107th Fighter Squadron, with a livery inspired to the P-51 (F-6A) of the 107th TRS, that flew the Mustang over Normandy during WWII. Before deploying to Latvia, this aircraft, from RAF Mildenhall, flew over the beaches of Normandy, France, as part of the commemoration ceremonies for D-Day 74.

The special colored A-10C Thunderbolt II #81-0994 practice landing on a un-operational, austere runway in Haapsalu, Estonia, during Saber Strike 18 June 7, 2018. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Bobbie Reynolds)

 

U.S. Navy Inducts MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Into Service Ahead Of First Operational Deployment to Guam

NBVC Point Mugu’s first two Triton drones commence operations (with interesting tail markings).

On May 31, Unmanned Patrol Squadron One Nine (VUP-19) DET Point Mugu hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony, marking on track delivery of an Early Operational Capability (EOC) to the Fleet and completion of their new hangar at Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) Point Mugu.

VUP-19, that will fly and maintain Triton to support overseas operations beginning in 2018, currently operates two MQ-4C Tritons: the first arrived at NBVC on Nov. 9, 2017 and the second arrived in April this year. The two UAVs are housed in a specially built hangar used by the maintenance detachment to accommodate the pair of 130.9-ft wingspan drones built by Northrop Grumman for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

Shorealone Films photographer Matt Hartman attended the ceremony at NBVC Point Mugu and took the photographs you can find in this post. Noteworthy, the two aircraft feature different tail markings: the first one #168460 sports a high-visibility emblem of VUP-19, whereas the second one #168461 sports a smaller, low-rez badge.

High-rez markings on the MQ-4C #168460

Low-rez markings on the MQ-4C #168461

The U.S. Navy’s MQ-4C “Triton” Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) is an ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) platform that will complement the P-8A Poseidon within the Navy’s Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Force family of systems: for instance, testing has already proved the MQ-4C’s ability to pass FMV (Full Motion Video) to a Poseidon MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft). An advanced version than the first generation Global Hawk Block 10, the drone  it is believed to be a sort of Block 20 and Block 30 Global Hawk hybrid, carrying Navy payload including an AN/ZPY-3 multi-function active-sensor (MFAS) radar system, that gives the Triton the ability to cover more than 2.7 million square miles in a single mission that can last as long as 24 hours at a time, at altitudes higher than 10 miles, with an operational range of 8,200 nautical miles.

The U.S. Navy plans to procure 68 aircraft and 2 prototypes.

VUP-19 emblem on the new hangar at NBVC Point Mugu.

The unmanned aircraft of VUP-19 are expected to deploy to Guam later this year, with an early set of capabilities, including basic ESM (Electronic Support Measures) to pick up ships radar signals, for maritime Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance mission. A more significant SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) capability will be deployed to the fleet in 2021, when the Triton is expected to reach an IOC (Initial Operational Capability). By then, the U.S. Navy plans to add two additional MQ-4Cs to the Guam deployment that would allow a 24/7/365 orbit. With the IOC of the Triton, the service will retire the EP-3E ARIES II as the Navy’s signals-intelligence platform.

Interestingly, some of the MQ-4C test flights could be tracked online. Here’s an example dating back to October last year:

The U.S. Navy plans to operate five 24-hour orbits around the world. The UAVs will be controlled from two MOBs (Main Operating Bases): Naval Station Mayport, Florida, and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington. The aircraft will be launched (and recovered) from 5 bases: Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy; an unspecified location in the Middle East (Al Dhafra, UAE, where the U.S. Air Force RQ-4 are forward deployed?); Naval Air Station Guam; Naval Station Mayport; and Point Mugu.

Make sure you visit this link to have a look at the whole set of photographs taken by our friend Matt Hartman during the ribbon cutting ceremony at Point Mugu.

The Return of “Iceman”: Val Kilmer to Appear in “Top Gun” Sequel

Studio Leaks Say Kilmer Will Join Tom Cruise in Anticipated Sequel Titled “Top Gun: Maverick”

Every Hollywood entertainment news outlet lit up on Wednesday night with the news that actor Val Kilmer would return in the highly-anticipated sequel film “Top Gun: Maverick”. Kilmer played U.S. Navy Lt. Tom “Iceman” Kazansky in the original 1986 “Top Gun” film and will return in the same role.

The return of Val Kilmer as Iceman in the new film follows a two-year battle with throat cancer for the actor. Kilmer is also known for his role as Simon Templar in the 1997 film “The Saint” and for his role as Chris Shiherlis in the cult classic 1995 bank robbery film “Heat”, directed by Michael Mann. Val Kilmer was also widely recognized for a standout performance as singer and front-man Jim Morrison in the 1991 film “The Doors”.

Kilmer leaked his presence in “Top Gun: Maverick” with a post on his FB page, that appeared shortly after Tom Cruise published the first image of the sequel on Twitter on May 30, 2018. But Kilmer’s post remained online for just a few hours before it was cancelled (for unknown reasons).

According to Hollywood insiders the new film may focus on the emergence of remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs) like the Navy’s X-47B and MQ-4C Triton and the end of the dogfighting era even though Tom Cruise responded “there gonna be jets” when asked about drones in a recent interview . And, as reported, the very first image about the new movie seems to suggest a major role for the USN F/A-18F Super Hornet.

Original “Top Gun” director Tony Scott told reporter Gregory Ellwood of HitFix in an October 2010 interview that, “This world fascinated me, because it’s so different from what it was originally. But I don’t want to do a remake. I don’t want to do a reinvention. I want to do a new movie.” Director Tony Scott committed suicide in August 2012. The new film will be directed by Joseph Kosinski. Kosinski is a relative newcomer as a director with three major films to his credit, “Tron: Legacy” from 2010, “Oblivion” from 2013 and “Only the Brave” from 2017.

In contrast to the late director Tony Scott’s 2010 remarks about the direction of any new sequel to the original film, lead actor Tom Cruise, Lt. (now Capt. based on the image published on Day 1 of production work) Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in the movies, told Hollywood media that, “Aviators are back, the need for speed. We’re going to have big, fast machines. It’s going to be a competition film, like the first one…but a progression for Maverick.”

Lead actor Tom Cruise is a pilot himself, having earned a private pilot rating in 1994 and a commercial license in 1998 according to FAA records. He recently flew a helicopter (and performed a HALO jump from a UAE AF C-17) in the upcoming sequel film “Mission Impossible: Fallout” slated for U.S. release on July 27, 2018 in U.S. theatres. Cruise also clung to outside of an Airbus A400M Atlas in the 2015 film, “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”. In the 2017 film “American Made” about real-life drug running CIA pilot Barry Seal, Tom Cruise actually was piloting an aircraft in all of the scenes that show him as pilot according to a 2017 article by Julia Bianco on looper.com. The film’s production was marred by a fatal crash during production that Cruise was not involved in.

The “Top Gun” sequel likely can’t come soon enough for U.S. military pilot recruiting. The frequently reported pilot shortage in all branches of the military continues to strain existing air crews. Author David Robb wrote in his 2004 book, Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies, that “After the film’s release, the US Navy stated that the number of young men who joined wanting to be Naval Aviators went up by 500 percent.”

Production for “Top Gun: Maverick” began on May 30, 2018 at NAS North Island near San Diego, California. The release date for the film, being distributed by Paramount Pictures, has been projected as July 19, 2019.

Top image: Actor Val Kilmer will return in “Top Gun: Maverick” along with Tom Cruise. (Photo: Paramount)

UK’s First Four F-35B Jets Currently On Their Way To The UK and Their New Home Of RAF Marham

The first F-35B aircraft are expected to land later today to join the RAF 617 Squadron “Dambusters”.

Earlier today four Lightning jets of 617 Squadron took of from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, where the famous “Dambusters” unit was reactivated on Apr. 17, 2018, to undertake the transatlantic crossing and arrive at RAF Marham, the new home of the UK’s Lightning Force.

The F-35Bs are being supported by three RAF Voyagers tankers: ZZ330 (RRR9101, radio callsign “Ascot 9101”), ZZ335 (RRR9102, “Ascot 9102”) and ZZ331 (RRR9103 “Ascot 9103”). ZZ330 departed Charleston and picked up the four  F-35Bs from MCAS Beaufort. That took the Lightning as far as ZZ331 and ZZ335 out from Gander that are towing the F-35 across the Atlantic. Supporting the transatlantic trip is also an A400M ZM401 (RRR4085).

The four jets are due to land at RAF Marham this evening, one day later than expected: their mission was delayed 24 hours by the bad weather along the planned route.

The Royal Air Force has also shared a video on social media showing one of the Lightnings during aerial refueling:

According to Air Forces Monthly, nine of the 11 UK F-35Bs currently on strength at MCAS Beaufort (where the British squadron operates under Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501) are expected to arrive in the UK for the RAF’s centenary celebrations this summer, including a flypast over London. And, above all, later this year, the UK F-35Bs will deploy aboard the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time.

“Lightning II has been designed from the outset to carry out a wide range of mission types, able to use its very low observable characteristics to penetrate Integrated Air Defence Systems and strike a number of types of targets. In a permissive environment, Lightning II is able to carry weapons on external pylons, as well as in the internal weapon bays. This will allow a maximum weapon payload of 6 Paveway IV, 2 AIM-120C AMRAAM, 2 AIM-132 ASRAAM (Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile) and a missionised 25mm gun pod,” says official RAF documentation.

“In 2019 we will also start our integration work for the new Meteor [beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile, BVRAAM] and SPEAR Cap 3 [Selective Precision Effects At Range Capability 3] weapon in order to deliver a phase one capability for those assets in 2021,” Martin Peters, BAE Systems’ F-35 flight test manager and test lead for STOVL (short take-off and landing), told AFM.

Top image credit: Crown Copyright

Italian Typhoons and Greek F-16s Take Over NATO Air Policing mission over Montenegro

With the symbolic intercept of a Montenegrin Government aircraft, Italian and Greek fighters have kicked off a new NATO Air Policing mission.

On Jun. 5, the day of the anniversary of Montenegro’s membership in NATO, the Italian and Hellenic Air Force have started protecting the airspace of Montenegro. The new NATO Air Policing mission kicked off with the simulated intercept of a Montenegrin government Learjet 45 (the aircraft registered 4O-MNE) by two Greek F-16s and two Italian Typhoons.

The Montenegrin Minister of Defence Predrag Boškovič, NATO’s representative, Brigadier General Roberto di Marco, Deputy Commander of NATO’s Depoyable Air Command and Control Centre, and the Italian Air Force representative, Major General Silvano Frigerio, watched the fighters flying up to Learjet, signal to the pilots and escort them to a safe landing to the military part of the Podgorica Airport.

An ItAF F-2000A escorts the Montenegrin Learjet 45 during Jun. 5 simulated intercept. Image credit: GOV.ME/S. Matić

The jets conducted a procedure in accordance with NATO’s QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) standard procedure: the Combined Air Operations Centre at Torrejon, Spain, commands the “scramble” (alert take-off) when the unidentified track flies close to or inside NATO Allies’ territories. This often happens when civilian aircraft lose two-way radio contact with civil ATC (Air Traffic Control) agencies or when flights lack the Diplo Clearance (diplomatic clearance) required to enter a nation’s airspace. Italian or Greek fighters will be launched to intercept, identify, escort and/or assist the corresponding aircraft.

Two HAF F-16s close on the LJ45 left wing. Image credit: GOV.ME/S. Matić

The Italian Air Force Typhoons that took part in the simulated intercept were launched from Gioia del Colle airbase, in southeastern Italy, home of the 36° Stormo (Wing) and its two squadrons: the X and XII Gruppo. Italy is the only NATO nation to support five interim Air Policing missions for nations that do not have an autonomous air defense capability: Slovenia, Albania, Iceland, Baltic States and Montenegro.

With four Italian F-2000 Typhoons deployed to Amari, Estonia, as part of the Enhanced Air Policing North Baltic Eagle, from January to April 2018, the Italian Air Force secured the airspaces of six nations [Italy, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovenia and Albania (on a rotational basis with effort shared with the Hellenic Air Force)]: a record among NATO allies.

Two Aeronautica Militare Eurofighter Typhoon jets took off from Gioia del Colle in southern Italy to simulate an intercept of a Montenegrin government plane marking the kick off for the NATO Air Policing over Montenegro. Photo: Aeronautica Militare,