Category Archives: Military Aviation

U.S. Approves Possible Sale of 34 Lockheed F-35s to Belgium; Japan Deploying First F-35 to Misawa; India Allegedly Enters Conversation.

Based on latest news, it may have been a good weekend for the F-35.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement late Friday confirming it has approved the possible sale of 34 Lockheed F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters to Belgium. The authorization permitting the sale of advanced defense technology is a key step toward completing the actual purchase, quoted to be worth up to “$6.53 billion USD”. The proposed contract with Lockheed Martin, builder of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, would include 38 new Pratt & Whitney advanced F-135 jet engines that power the F-35.

Based on reports Belgium would potentially buy the F-35A variant of the Lightning II, the same variant used by the U.S. Air Force. One of the selling points of buying into the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is cross-force interoperability. Belgium potentially operating the same variant as the USAF, Dutch and Italians may have been one factor that helped propel the potential deal for Belgium.

Still, the F-35A is still not the replacement for the Belgian Air Force F-16s: the 5th generation aircraft will face competition from the Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon in the response to a Request for Governmental Proposal (RfGP) issued by Bruxelles last year.

The decision from Belgium is expected by mid-2018.

Belgium received U.S. authorization for the purchase of the “A” version of the F-35 shown here at Nellis AFB as operated by the USAF. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

 

Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force also announced this week it will begin its first-ever deployment of a Japanese ASDF F-35A Lightning II at Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture, northeastern Japan later this month. The single aircraft to be stationed and operated from Misawa is the first of 42 Lockheed F-35A Lighting IIs to be delivered to Japan as their primary multi-role combat aircraft. The JASDF will deploy an additional 9 aircraft operationally to Misawa by the end of 2018 bringing the total Japanese operational F-35A force to 10 aircraft by year’s end.

A key weapon system on the JASDF F-35As will be the advanced, long-range Norwegian-built Kongsberg Defense and Aerospace Gruppen Joint Strike Missile (JSM). The JSM is a variant of the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile and is carried in the interior weapons bay of the F-35A, maintaining its low observable characteristics. The Kongsberg JSM can strike targets up to 500 kilometers away from its launch point, enabling Japan to strike many potential adversaries without leaving its own airspace, a key concern since Japan’s air force is labeled as a “self-defense force” and constrained from operations outside Japan’s legally defined defense air space in most instances.

Japan’s first F-35 will become operational this month according to Japanese media. (Photo: NHK Japan)

Finally, a story that appeared in India’s Economic Times said that, “American aerospace and defense major Lockheed Martin has proposed to manufacture custom-built F-35 fighter jets in India, which its officials say will give Indian industry a unique opportunity to become part of the world’s largest fighter aircraft ecosystem.”

The story, that appeared in Indian media on Jan. 20, 2018, did not specify what “custom built” F-35s meant, but may hint at a down-spec version of the F-35 airframe with different avionics and sensors than some other export manufactured versions of the F-35 to maintain security interests.  The same article discussed the use of the AN/APG-83 radar system, different from the AN/APG-81 on the U.S. and other partner nation F-35s.

There is no additional verification of any Indian F-35 manufacturing program in other media outlets. Oddly, another Indian media outlet, the Free Press Journal of India, published a similar story on the same day claiming the U.S. planned to build F-16s (not F-35s) in India. The Free Press Journal of India story read, “American aerospace and defense major Lockheed Martin has proposed to manufacture custom-built F-16 fighter jets (ed’s note: not F-35s as quoted in the India Economic Times article) in India, which its officials say will give Indian industry a unique opportunity to become part of the world’s largest fighter aircraft ecosystem.”

Confusing press coming out of India aside, Lockheed Martin and all of the F-35 subcontractors have to be pleased to start out the new year with a host of encouraging stories about the F-35 program.

Update Jan. 22, 19.30 GMT:

We were notified that the original version of a Press Trust of India article posted late last week, has since been corrected to remove the erroneous “F-35” reference in the first sentence of the article—see corrected article here: https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/lockheed-martin-proposes-custom-built-fighter-jets-to-be-made-in-india-1802538. The first sentence of PTI’s article now reads:

“American aerospace and defence firm Lockheed Martin has proposed to manufacture custom-built F-16 fighter jets in India, which its officials say will give the Indian industry a unique opportunity to become part of the world’s largest fighter aircraft ecosystem.”

 

Backseat Experience: How You Should Prepare To Fly In A Combat Jet As A Passenger

I’m often asked what flying in a military jet looks like and how I do prepare for such missions. Here are some tips that might be useful to get the most out of your fast jet ride.

May 25, 2017

“Raven 08, Deci Tower, cleared for take-off, wind calm”.

I’m in the backseat of a Tornado IDS belonging to the 154° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 6° Stormo (Wing) from Ghedi, currently deployed to Decimomannu airbase, Italy, for the yearly training activity in the Sardinian firing ranges. The words of the controller, that I can hear quite clearly before the noise will spread through the cockpit making all the subsequent communications barely readable, have a double meaning to me: first, they give the “go ahead” to the most exciting part of my flight in a Tornado (the very first one on this kind of aircraft); second, they mark the end of the long and delicate stage of the jet flight preparation; a preparation that determines either the success or failure of the sortie from the journalistic point of view.

A NAV during a quick briefing in the backseat of the Tornado IDS RET8.

A flight in a jet usually lasts between 45 and 110 minutes (longer if it includes aerial refueling, but it’s not the case): in my case, fully exploiting the (short) time available to “observe” a mission from the inside and collect all the photos and video material for both aviation magazines, this blog and its connected social networks, is paramount. A flight in a combat aircraft represents an almost unique opportunity and it is important to make the most out of it. If something in the backseat goes wrong, if a camera body fails or a lens proves to be unsuitable for the photo session, there will hardly be a second chance. In about 20 years I’ve had this opportunity quite a few times, hence here are a few suggestions based on my little (if compared to others) experience in a combat aircraft. If you are going to fly in fast jet for the first time, because you were invited or simply because you’ve paid for a ride, maybe the following few tips will help you maximize your experience.

In the backseat of the Tornado IDS of the 154th Gruppo returning to Decimomannu after flying over Capo Frasca range.

Even though the thrill of flying in a jet fighter is always the same, learning from the past mistakes as well as the experience gained over the years, have been pivotal to perfecting the preparation of the mission so as to minimize the risk that something unexpected can jeopardize the reportage’s success. For example, during one of my first jet flights, to have a back-up in case of problems with the main camera, I decided to put a compact camera in one of the pockets of the flight suit, the one located more or less over the right’s lower leg. Fortunately I did not need it. In fact, I hadn’t taken into account that the anti-G suit, dressed over the normal flight suit, would have made the “emergency” camera inaccessible during the flight! Since then, I only use the pockets of the anti-G pants for all those small accessories I might need in the cockpit.

“Double selfie” with two accompanying Typhoons heading to the “merge”.

With regard to the flight gear, in addition to my mask, I always try to use my own helmet, which is also easily recognizable by the bright yellow-green checkerboard on the cover (check the top photograph). However, this is not always possible: for instance, in the case of the Eurofighter, the aircrews have to use the specific flight equipment designed for the Typhoon flight line which differs from that used on any other Italian Air Force aircraft and includes, among the other things, a Gentex ACS (Aircrew Combat System) helmet and an EFA / ACS mask. For my flight in the Tornado, I had to use to an HGU-55G helmet, with the characteristic 154th squadron’s “red devil” symbol painted on the cover, that I was lent by the unit.

Shooting some photographs of the first Italian T-346 near Lecce Galatina airbase in 2015. I was the first journalist to fly in an ItAF T-346 Master.

Back to the preparation of the mission, once the flight gear’s check and fitting have been completed, I think the most important thing is the inspection of the rear cockpit of the aircraft: it is essential to know how to “move” in the backseat, where to attach the GoPro so that it is both stable and reachable (to modify some settings or move it), evaluate the size of any storage compartment to see if it can be used to accommodate a camera body or lens. In fact, digital cameras have greatly simplified life in a jet: when I was still using color slide films I needed to change the rolls several times during the flight. This forced me to continuously estimate the number of photographs I could take so that I didn’t run out of shots during a maneuver: in order to replace the finished roll with a new one, it was necessary to remove the gloves, be more or less stable (that is, in level flight) and have the time to safely remove and store the used roll before inserting a new one; an operation that would take just a few seconds in other conditions but, performed in a very narrow space, strapped into the ejection seat, wearing the heavy helmet, the mask, the Secumar, etc., was, especially at the beginning, quite challenging. With the advent of digital photography, this problem has been solved.

The view from the backseat of a Tornado IDS during a low level transition to the range.

Returning to the preparation of the flight, once understood how to move (or not move) in the rear cockpit, it is important to discuss with the crews that will take part in the mission and determine which phases of the missions will be suitable for some aerial shots. Although I have had the opportunity to arrange “pure” air-to-air photo sessions, I usually prefer to take part in missions that bring me in the aircraft’s operational environment: I am a journalist and I find it much more interesting for my readers (and for myself) to see and recount the mission from a privileged point of view, focusing on both the tactical aspects of the flight and the technical details of the employed weapon systems. This means that the time available for photography is normally reduced to about ten minutes: during the transition to the operating zone or during the RTB (Return To Base) phase.

A scan of a slide taken in 2003, from an MB339A of a three-ship F-104S/ASA-M near Grazzanise airbase, home of the world’s last operative Starfighters.

Obviously, a sortie with well-defined operational goals leaves little room for aerobatics or formations flying in favor of light: if you are part of a 3-ship that is acting as “Red Air” in a 4 vs 3 supersonic training mission, as in my flight in the Eurofighter, the aircraft will fly towards the operational area in fighting wing, with a significant spacing from one another, and the time for close formation will be reduced to a few minutes. However, as I have already explained, I prefer a few clicks from a realistic operational situation rather than taking part in a sortie that is particularly cool from a photographic point of view, but “poor” from the operational one. Generally, “how to arrange the aircraft” and “when to take photographs” are topics discussed with the aircrews during the briefing and reviewed, if necessary, during the flight, asking the pilot in the front seat to assume a specific attitude so as to obtain a particular shot.

Pulling some 5g in a supersonic turn from FL460 during an aerial engagement experienced from the backseat of the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Dealing with the photographic equipment, in addition to the GoPro and camera, I bring with me what I need inside a large removable pocket that comes with velcro to be attached to the anti-G at the thigh: here is where I put spare batteries or extra lenses, like fisheye and zoom for the iPhone, used to take short videos or photos that complement the work of the DSLR camera. As for the camera, I strongly recommend removing any type of strap to prevent it from coming into contact with the stick, throttle or, worse, with the ejection seat handle. From 1999 to today I have carried several camera bodies with me, but the lens I prefer in the backseat is almost always the Canon 28-135 USM, an extremely reliable, versatile and lightweight lens, more than adequate for my needs. If you do not have hundreds of flights under your belt, photographing air-to-air from the cockpit of a military aircraft is not an easy task: properly framing the other jets during some maneuvers requires some physical effort (the camera is subject to the same accelerations as aircraft meaning that in a 5 g turn the camera weighs five times its weight on the ground …) and gives very nauseous feelings too. Luckily, I have never needed it, but I always bring a bag for nausea in the anti-G pocket; I also drink a lot of water and limit carbohydrates, alcohol or spicy foods ahead of flying. Anyway, pro photographers, with hundred if not thousand flight hours in fast jets, such as Katsuhiko “Katsu” Tokunaga, Jamie Hunter or Frank Crebas (to name but few) may provide much more expert advice about air-to-air photography and related tips and tricks.

Scan from a slide: taken from the backseat of a TF-104 during the low level nav segment of a Starfighter sortie on Nov. 27, 2000.

The opportunity to fly in a high-performance aircraft every now and then has given me some exciting and long-lasting memories: the formation aerobatics with the TF-104, the BBQ (Ultra-low level flying) with AMX, the LIFT (Lead In Fighter Trainer) sortie with the T-346A or the supersonic BVR (Beyond Visual Range) interception flown as Aggressor with the Eurofighter. True adventures that I have tried to describe not only with my stories published on both The Aviationist website, the world’s most important media outlets and the books I’ve written or contributed to, but also by means of the shots you can find in this article.

Flying in formation with the Italian Air Force’s last F-104 in special color scheme on Sept. 19, 2003, the day the aircraft rolled-out in the new livery.

Here Is Italy’s First F-35B Lightning II Flying In Full Italian Navy Markings For The First Time Today

The aircraft will be officially delivered to the Marina Militare next week. Today it flew for the first time in full Italian Navy markings.

On Jan. 18, the first Italian F-35B, the first short-take and vertical landing Lightning II aircraft assembled outside the US, designated BL-1, carried out a test flight in STOVL mode at Cameri airfield, home of the Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility, in northwestern Italy, sporting full Italian Navy markings for the very first time.

Aviation photographer and friend Franco Gualdoni was there and took the photographs of the F-35B flying in the early afternoon sun.

The aircraft, serialled MM7451/4-01, will be taken on charge by the Marina Militare with a ceremony scheduled at the FACO on Jan. 25, 2018. After delivery, the aircraft will be transferred to the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, to obtain the Electromagnetic Environmental Effects certification, before moving (most probably) to MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina home of U.S. Marine Corps F-35B pilot training.

The aircraft, that had successfully completed its maiden flight on Oct. 24, 2017, sports a livery quite similar to the one of the Italian Navy’s AV-8B+ Harrier II of the Gruppo Aerei Imbarcati: it features the wolf’s head insignia on the tail, the wolf’s paw prints on the rudder, the Italian Navy roundel and the MARINA text.

Italy plans to procure 90 F-35s: 60 F-35As for the Air Force and 30 F-35Bs for both the ItAF and Italian Navy. The Navy’s STOVL aircraft will replace the ageing Harrier jump jets at Grottaglie airbase, in southeastern Italy, and aboard the Cavour aircraft carrier.

The F-35B MM7451 during its test flight in full Marina Militare markings (Credit: Franco Gualdoni)

 

The Belgian Air Force Has Released Footage Of The Russian Tu-160 Blackjack Intercepted Over The North Sea

Here’s one of the two Tu-160s as seen through the pilot’s JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System).

On Jan. 15, two Belgian Air Force F-16s intercepted two Russian Air Force Tu-160 bombers over the North Sea.

At around 11.51 LT, the two Belgian F-16s in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) reached the two Blackjack bombers off the Netherlands, in international airspace, carried out a VID (visual identification) and shadowed the Russian aircraft until these were handed over to the British Eurofighter Typhoons.

Here’s the route followed by the two Russian bombers:

On Jan. 17, the Belgian MoD released an interesting footage filmed through the pilots JHMCS that projects flight parameters (heading, speed, altitude, etc) and aiming data onto the helmet visor (in other words, in air-to-air role, pilots can cue onboard weapons against enemy aircraft merely by pointing their heads at the targets). For this reason, the short clip below provides some details about the altitude FL270 (27,000 feet) and speed (317 knots) of the Tu-160 during the intercept.

Enjoy.

Polish Air Force’s 100th Anniversary – Part 1: The Checkerboard

In 2018 the Polish Air Force is to celebrate its 100th Anniversary. Let’s celebrate the Service’s flamboyant and rich history through a series of articles.

It seems appropriate to start a series of articles covering the 100th Anniversary of the Polish Air Force with getting our readers acquainted with the circumstances related to the birth of the Polish Air Force’s equivalent of a “roundel”, that has been accompanying the Polish aviators throughout the last 100 years. Here we are referring to the white-red checkerboard which, as you probably know, is not round, contrary to the insignia worn by the aircraft of most air forces.

The story of applying national markings on aircraft dates back to WWI. The dynamic development of aviation per se, and of military aviation in particular, was the main factor that made it indispensable to introduce signs that would allow for quick and unambiguous aircraft recognition. The French were the first to introduce a roundel, back in 1913.

The history of Polish aviation actually began back in 1910, when the first aircraft was built on the territory that once belonged to Poland, which, for 120 years, belonged to the occupants: Germans, Russians and Austrians. The said aircraft was reportedly built in Cracow.

During WWI the storm of battles was going through the Central European land and it did not leave it unscathed. The Poles were often forced to join the armies of the invaders and occupants, which led to a situation in which in fact they were fighting for all of the parties to the conflict.  Also in a role of the troops working within a newly established service – the Air Force.

The events during which Poland regained its independence are closely tied to the ending of WWI, on Nov. 11, 1918.

According to the bible of historians who are passionate about the Polish Air Force, “Polski Samolot i Barwa” [“Polish Aircraft and Color”], authored by Tadeusz Królikiewicz, the story of the checkerboard dates back to November 1918. This was also related to the process through which the Polish military was taking over the equipment and airfields left behind by the invaders. Frequently the Polish pilots were defecting (from Austro-Hungarian, German and Russian Armies to join the newly born Polish military), taking their aircraft with them. These airframes were later to become the cornerstone for the Polish military aviation. This also created a new problem: the use of aircraft markings which would designate their affiliation with the newly born state. The aircraft were sporting roundels of the former enemies, the camouflage schemes differed, the planes also featured personal badges of the pilots flying them.

Before the Polish checkerboard was ultimately selected as the designation of choice, the aircraft often featured spontaneously painted white-red graphic elements, following the national color scheme. Nonetheless the form of the symbols ranged from heraldic badges divided across (Warsaw squadrons), through white-red stripes (Lvov squadrons) with red Z letter placed in a white square to finish with (Cracow squadrons).

Warsaw, Lvov and Cracow squadrons roundels.

However, the white-red checkerboard was to ultimately become the sign of choice for the Polish aviation. It is usually claimed that the history of the symbol began with Lt. Stefan Stec – a Polish pilot flying for the Austro-Hungarian Army. On Nov. 15. 1918, Lt. Pilot Stefan Stec flew to Warsaw in his Fokker EV (D VIII), delivering a report from Lvov that was under siege at the time. His aircraft wore the personal badge of the pilot – a square divided into four symmetrical fields in contrasting national colors – white and red.

Stefan Stec was quite an experienced aviator who, when the war for the Polish independence began, had already scored a couple of aerial victories flying for the Austro-Hungarians during WWI. At the end of WWI, on Nov. 15. 1918, he went to Lvov.  Operating from there under the Polish command, he conducted combat sorties delivering reports to the staff officers during the fights against the Ukrainians. On Apr. 29, 1919 ,Stec won the first air combat engagement in the independent Poland, downing an enemy plane.

In 1919, Stec was transferred to the Paris Ecole Superiore d’Aeronautique where he obtained an engineering degree. Following that Stec became one of the persons who drove the development of the Polish aviation industry. Stec died in an aircraft crash, on May 11, 1921.

Stec’s aircraft – Fokker EV (D VIII) – arguably the first ever airframe to wear the checkerboard. Again, you can note the lack of layout’s consistency. Image Source: Tomasz Kopański’s book. “7 Eskadra Myśliwska im. T. Kościuszki” [T. Kościuszko 7th Fighter Squadron]

Coming back to his appearance in Warsaw – after Stec arrived, Lt. Col. Hipolit Łossowski, the commanding officer of the Polish Air Force at the time, came to a conclusion that the checkerboard conformed with all of the criteria ascribable to a roundel equivalent that could be utilized in case of the Polish aircraft.

Order issued on Dec. 1. 1918, designating the checkerboard to become the official symbol for the Polish military aviation.

On Dec. 1, 1918, the Chief of the General Staff of the Polish military, Div. General Stanisław Szeptycki, issued the order no. 38 also published as a Regulation on Dec. 7. 1918, within the Journal of Regulations of the Ministry of Military Affairs. The order read as follows:

“Polish military aircraft shall be, in the future, featuring, within the areas that were valid for this purpose so far, a square sign with width of 60 cm, divided into four equal fields. Upper left and lower right fields shall be of crimson color, lower left and upper right fields shall be white.”

Scanned Journal – the document which ultimately defined the Checkerboard to be the Polish Air Force insignia.

One may also wonder about the shape of the roundels used by most of the countries which, as the name suggests, were usually round, while the checkerboard took on a square form. Within his work, Królikiewicz suggests that this had reasons which were pragmatic for the most part. The new symbol could be easily painted on the wings and fuselages of the aircraft. The square shape was better suited to be placed over a myriad of markings on German, French, British or even Italian aircraft that became a part of the Polish Air Force.

Initially, the roundel was painted in a way that it covered the whole width of fuselages, wings and vertical stabilizers. The checkerboard layout’s interpretation also varied. Even though the aforesaid regulation was quite unambiguous defining the matter. Back in 1921, Manual No. 15 of the Air Force (General Technical Conditions for the Aircraft) introduced changes to the “checkerboard’s” layout, as reverse-color frame had been added to the primary colors of the symbol.

Further changes were introduced by the President of the Republic of Poland on Mar. 13, 1930, formally approving the checkerboard as a means for recognition of the Polish military aircraft, on the basis of a decree “Regarding the issue of flag and aviation markings”. The very same decree also regulated the “frame” of the checkerboard, as it was to have a width following ratio of 1:5 in comparison with the length of the square sides. In essence, the sign in this form remained in existence for another 70 years, until 1993.

PZL P11C – Polish indigeneous fighter design of the 1930s, wearing the checkerboards. Image Credit: Wikimedia

Two things are worth of noting. In the 1930s the lower portion of the wings of the aircraft featured checkerboards painted solely with the use of red color. The white color was replaced by the color of the airframe: this was the beginning of what can be compared to today’s low-vis aircraft markings. Another rule which was also quite significant was that small checkerboards were painted on top of the wings, in order to deform and camouflage the aircraft shape.

During WWII, the checkerboard also remained present on every frontline around the world at war, maintaining the reputation of the Polish aviators flying in the foreign air forces. Both in the East and West fronts, the aircraft used by the Poles were marked with the allied markings, supposedly for safety reasons. However, during the French campaign of 1940 the aircraft were wearing checkerboards or fusion of the checkerboard and the French marking. Then, extra “checkerboard” was painted on the aircraft, usually in the nose area – in cases of the Eastern and Western fronts, as well as in case of the Battle of Britain – the best known episode of the Polish WWII aviation.

Spitfire wearing a checkerboard marking, clearly visible in the front portion of the fuselage. Image Credit: Marcin Parzyński

In the postwar period the communist authorities were not bold enough to replace the checkerboard with a red star – as happened in Romania, Bulgaria or Hungary. The checkerboard was painted on the vertical stabilizers, fuselage, and on the bottom part of the wings. The form of the marking remained unchanged until 1993, when the order of the fields was switched. The argument here was to recover the heraldic correctness of the checkerboard. Obviously, some exceptions did happen, throughout the several years of the symbol’s existence. There are some photographs depicting aircraft wearing the checkerboards without the white fields, or with the colors switched. This may be explained as an effect of errors emerging after overhauls were carried out abroad or simply as a ramification of human error.

Even though the regulations were in place, the checkerboard issue was still confusing – as we can see on this shot of a Su-22M4 Fitter, sporting the symbols in two layouts. Image Credit: Andrzej Rogucki

Here we can see a pack of jets hailing from the “Pyrlandia Air Force” [name of the fictious country involved in the Orli Szpon ‘97 exercise] during their ferry flight to attend the VIP Day held at the Powidz Air Base following the training conducted (note the white stripes that allow for force identification). This photo was taken on Sep. 18. 1997. Again, it is clearly visible that the checkerboards do not match. Image Credit: Andrzej Rogucki

Currently, the shape, color and way the checkerboard is placed on the airframes is defined by the provisions of Chapter 5, Article 22 section 1 of the Act of Feb. 19, 1993, on the Marks of the Armed Forced of the Republic of Poland, the “mark of the military aircraft is a white-red aviation checkerboard […] divided into four equal fields […].”

A Checkerboard layout on the helicopters is also different, when it comes to its positioning – it is usually placed in the rear part of the fuselage. The pic presents the Polish Mi-17 and Kaman SH-2G helicopters during the Kapar exercise – Image Credit: sierż. Patryk Cieliński | Combat Camera DO RSZ

Furthermore, the Act assumes that the checkerboard shall be placed on both sides of the vertical stabilizers (or on the external side, if the aircraft uses two surfaces as such) and on the bottom part of the wings. Back in 2012, extra regulations were introduced. According to the new legal framework, the symbol was also to be painted on the top of the wings. In case of the helicopters the checkerboard is usually placed in the back section and on the bottom of the fuselage. The edges need to be parallel to the longitudinal axis of the aircraft. It is permissible to place the checkerboards on moving surfaces too, this possibility was used in case of the Polish Fitter. In this case, there is one more condition – the checkerboard must be placed, in its entirety, on the moving surface. When the checkerboard is placed on white or gray surface, the symbol needs to be distinguished from the background by a gray surface, the width of which is defined as 1/6th of the dimension of the frame stripes of the checkerboard.

Team Iskry – Polish Air Force Aerobatic Team with their checkerboards on. Image Credit: sierż. Patryk Cieliński | Combat Camera DO RSZ

Noteworthy, the Polish law does not envisage any option of using low-vis markings on the Polish military aircraft. However, back in the past markings as such were used in case of the W-3 helicopter that was operated by the Polish GROM special forces unit.

A symbol which is similar, but not identical to the original checkerboard, is also used by the Border Guard aviation. It is a roundel, divided into four fields, identical to the ones in case of the military checkerboard. The whole round symbol is placed on green, square background. The Border Guard is a civil service, and thus it cannot utilize military markings. Back in the past similar symbols were proposed to be used in case of aircraft used by other uniformed services, with the background color being the differentiating feature. Police was to use blue, and fire service was to use red background. However, besides the border guard, the symbols in question were never used. Paradoxically, the Border Guard checkerboard features the historically original color layout.

Polish Border Guard’s Stemme motor-glider, wearing its own, checkerboard-based symbol – Image Credit: Marcin Parzyński

And finally, another interesting fact worth of mentioning is that during the Sochi Winter Olympics, Kamil Stoch, a Polish ski jumper, with an authorization issued by Czesław Mroczek, the Deputy Minister of Defense, used the checkerboard on his helmet, also winning the Olympic ski jumping competitions on Feb 9. and 15.

We hope that this article brought you closer to knowing the history of the Polish Air Force. Expect the next episode in February.

Written with Michał Wajnchold.

Top Image Credit: Michał Wajnchold

Polish F-16 Jets during the 10th Anniversary photo sortie back in 2016 – Image Credit: sierż. Patryk Cieliński | Combat Camera DO RSZ