Category Archives: Military Aviation

F-35A Nose Gear Collapses After Parking Following Emergency Landing At Eglin Air Force Base

A “ground mishap” has just occurred to an F-35A Lightning II at Eglin Air Force Base. Nose gear collapse

Just in from 33rd FW: “An F-35A Lightning II, assigned to the 58th Fighter Squadron, experienced a ground mishap at approximately 12:50 p.m. today on the flightline here. The F-35A experienced an in-flight emergency and returned to base. The aircraft landed safely and parked when the front nose gear collapsed. There was one person on board. Fire crews responded immediately and the pilot suffered no injuries as a result of the incident. An investigation into the circumstances surrounding the mishap is underway.”

A photograph, taken by a motorist from a road near the incident location, of the aircraft nose down next to the runway was published by local news outlet.

Image credit: Michael Snyder/Daily News

The extent of the damage (and the subsequent cost) is unknown (the aircraft’s Electro-Optical Targeting System  – EOTS – might be heavily damaged). Nor is it clear the type of emergency that forced the F-35A to return to Eglin AFB where it suffered the gear collapse.

Two F-35A Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters were due to depart Eglin AFB in Florida on Thursday morning, August 23, 2018, for the Thunder Over Michigan airshow at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Public Affairs officers at Eglin AFB have verified that the F-35A involved in today’s incident is not one of the two aircraft to be displayed at the airshow this weekend.

There have been two other significant incidents with the aircraft including an engine fire on an F-35A on Sept. 23, 2016 at Mountain Home AFB in Idaho and on Oct. 27, 2016 when an F-35B part of Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 caught fire in the internal weapons bay causing significant damage. The ground incident at Mountain Home AFB was attributed to strong winds blowing into the afterburner outlet of the aircraft.

We will provide further updates as soon as they are released.

Written with Tom Demerly

Top image: File photo of an F-35A Lightning II departs for Exercise Red Flag 17-3 July 6, 2017, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson/Released)

 

Images Emerge Of U.S. KC-135 Conducting First Aerial Refueling Of Iraqi Air Force F-16IQ Block 52 Jets Over Iraq

The Iraqi F-16IQ Block 52 aircraft were refueled from a Stratotanker over Iraq for the first time.

On Aug. 15, 2018, Iraqi Air Force F-16C and D, were refueled mid-air by a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron over Iraq: according to the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs, this was the first aerial refuel training involving Iraqi F-16s and U.S. aerial refueling aircraft conducted over Iraqi airspace.

The images released by CENTCOM show the two aircraft during the AAR (Air-to-Air Refueling) operations. Interestingly, whilst the F-16D appears to be unarmed, the F-16IQ Block 52 appears to carry the standard loadout for the anti-Daesh air strikes shown by the aircraft taking off for their mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve from their homebase at Balad Air Base: four 500-lb GBU-12 LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) and four AIM-9L/M Sidewinder IR-guided AAMs (Air-to-Air Missiles), along with a Sniper ATP (Advanced Targeting Pod).

The fact that the weapons sport yellow stripes means the bombs and missiles carried by the single seaters are not inert but “live” suggesting it was involved in a combat mission rather than a training one.

Anyway, the first aerial refueling from a KC-135 over Iraq marks IAF’s growing capabilities with the new aircraft.

An Iraqi Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon performs an aerial maneuver after receiving in-flight fuel training from a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron over Iraq, Aug. 15, 2018. This was the first aerial refuel training involving Iraqi F-16s and U.S. aerial refueling aircraft conducted over Iraqi airspace. The Iraqi Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the Iraqi Armed Forces, responsible for policing international borders and conducting surveillance of its national assets.(U.S. Air Force video still image by Staff Sgt. Rion Ehrman)

The first of 36 Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 52 jets destined to the Iraqi Air Force, a two-seater D model serial number 1601, made its first flight from Fort Worth, Texas, on May 2, 2014. The aircraft, officially delivered to the IAF on Jun. 5, 2014, sported the brand new, exotic two-tone grey camo that has become standard on the Iraqi Vipers while being much different from the desert color scheme used by the Iraqi planes prior to the 2003 invasion which destroyed what remained of the Al Quwwa al Jawwiya al Iraqiya, and the light grey paint that was used on the Hellfire-equipped Cessna 208Bs or the Mil Mi-25 gunships.

The first four F-16IQ Block 52 jets were delivered to Tucson, Arizona:  the initial plan was to fly the aircraft to Iraq but the F-16IQ jets remained in the U.S. until air bases were readied for the new planes and, above all, secured by the Islamic State’s invasion. The first aircraft (two C and two D jets) landed at Balad air base in Iraq on July 13, 2015, where they joined the new 9th Fighter Squadron.

The subsequent deliveries grew the fleet until the IAF could count on 18-20 aircraft to be used in the air war on the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The baptmism of fire occurred on Sept. 6, 2015.

Two Iraqi F-16s were lost since the first delivery: the first one was on Jun. 24, 2015, the second one on Sept. 5, 2017. In both cases, the pilots died in the accident.

A Iraqi Air Force F-16D Fighting Falcon approaches a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron (EARS) for in-flight refuel training over Iraq on Aug. 15, 2018. This was the first aerial refuel training involving Iraqi F-16s and U.S. aerial refueling aircraft conducted over Iraqi airspace. The Coalition Aviation Advisory and Training Team in partnership with the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq, provides training, advising and assistance in addition to building partner capacity for Iraqi Army Aviation Command, Iraqi Air Defense Command and the Iraqi Air Force. (U.S. Air Force video still image by Staff Sgt. Rion Ehrman)

Top: U.S. Air Force video still image by Staff Sgt. Rion Ehrman

U.S. F-22 Raptors Forward Deploy To Albacete Air Base For The Very First Time To Train With The Spanish Typhoons and Hornets

Here are some interesting details about the Advanced Aerial Training exercise that took place at Albacete Air Base, Spain, last week.

On Aug. 16, 2018, two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors from the 95th Fighter Squadron, 325th Fighter Wing, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, conducted the Raptor’s first forward deployment to Albacete, Spain.

The 5th generation aircraft, launched from  Spangdahlem, Germany, where they are currently deployed as part of a contingent of 12 F-22s, were refuelled in front of the Spanish Mediterranean Coast (Area D21) by a 100th Air Refueling Wing KC-135, radio callsign QID 424, out of RAF Mildenhall and then headed towards Area D98 for the dogfight with the Spanish Eurofighters and F-18 Hornets.

Accompanied by a Typhoon, the F-22 approaches the break overhead Albacete (All photos: Jorge Portales).

According to the Spanish Aviation Journalist and Photographer Jorge Portalés Alberola there were 2 different WVR (Within Visual Range) dogfights: the first one was a 1 vs 2 between an F-22 and 2x Eurofighters from Ala 14 based at Albacete; the second one involved the other Raptor and one F-18 Hornet from Ala 12 (122 Squadron) – actually this second aerial engagement was slated to be a 1 vs 2 scenario but one of the Hornets aborted.

F-22 touches down at Albacete.

For the Spanish Air Force, this exercise represented an excellent opportunity for instruction and training that allows a joint assessment of the capabilities of the three aircraft in a demanding tactical environment. It also improves the integration and interoperability of 5th generation aircraft such as the American F22 with rest of allied fighters. And, in some way, it prepares Albacete, home of the Tactical Leadership Program, to the first attendance by a 5th Generation aircraft: the F-35A. Indeed, the Lightning II is a 5th generation fighter plane that will enter service has already entered the active service (or will, in the next years) with several European air forces: Italy, UK, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands (and Turkey?) so it is logical that it participates in the TLP training missions.

F-22 on the ramp at Los Llanos airport in Albacete.

This year, the F-35 will take part in the TLP for the first time as the course moves for an iteration to Amendola, Italy, home of the Italian Lightnings. Beginning from the end of 2019, it is already planned for the 5th generation aircraft to take part in “standard” TLP courses held at Albacete.

H/T to Jorge Portalés Alberola for providing many details and all the photographs used for this story!

These Shots Show 388th FW’s F-35A Using the Internal Cannon For The First Time In Operational Training

The internal 25mm cannon fires up to 50 rounds per second.

On Aug. 13, pilots from the 388th Fighter Wing’s 4th Fighter Squadron fired the F-35A’s 25 mm internal cannon in a strafing run on two sets of ground targets on the Utah Test and Training range. It was the first use of the F-35A’s GAU-22/A in operational training.

The shots that the U.S. Air Force has released after the training event are particularly interesting, as they show the internal gun at work:  the GAU-22 gun is hidden behind closed doors to reduce the plane’s RCS (radar cross section) and keep it stealth, until the trigger is engaged.

The F-35’s GAU-22/A is based on the proven GAU-12/A 25mm cannon, used by the AV-8B Harrier, the LAV-AD amphibious vehicle and AC-130U Gunship, but has one less barrel than its predecessor. This means it’s lighter and can fit into the F-35A’s left shoulder above the air intake. The gun can fire at about 3,300 rounds per minute: considered the A model can hold 181 rounds only, this equals to a continuous 4 seconds burst or, more realistic, multiple short ones.

One of the two 388th Fighter Wing’s 4th Fighter Squadron F-35s involved in the strafing runs with the GAU-22.

The F-35 GAU-22/A gun has been among the most controversial topics in the past years:  not only did some criticise the fact that the Joint Strike Fighter’s gun can only hold 181 25mm rounds, fewer than the A-10 Thunderbolt’s GAU-8/A Avenger, that can hold some 1,174 30mm rounds, but also the accuracy has been disputed because of “a long and to-the-right aiming bias” reported in fiscal year 2017 report by the Office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E). It’s not clear whether the accuracy issues have been completely fixed or not.

Noteworthy, the training sortie was flown with the aircraft carrying two external pylons (with a single inert AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile).

While the F-35A will be equipped with an embedded GAU-22/A gun, the B (STOVL – Short Take Off Vertical Landing) and C (CV – Carrier Variant) variants carry it inside an external pod capable to hold 220 rounds.

“Out!”

According to the 388th FW’s website “Loading and firing the cannon was one of the few capabilities Airmen in the 388th and 419th FWs had yet to demonstrate. The F-35A’s internal cannon allows the aircraft to maintain stealth against air adversaries as well as fire more accurately on ground targets, giving pilots more tactical flexibility.”

Image credit: Air Force photo by Todd Cromar

 

U.S. Navy Blue Angels to Get Super Hornets By The End of 2021

New, Larger Aircraft Will Change Display Routine, Add Range for Ferry Flights.

After several seasons of speculation, official U.S. Navy documents have revealed the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Team, The Blue Angels, will receive the larger, upgraded Boeing F/A-18E single seat and F/A-18F two-seat Super Hornet to replace their aging F/A-18C/D Hornets, by the end of 2021.

The news is exciting for several reasons. By the time the first full show season in the new Super Hornets (existing ones retrofitted into a Blue Angel aerial demonstration team configuration) arrives for the Blues , the team will have been in the existing version of the Hornet for 35 years. That’s a long time for a demonstration aircraft. Most current generation Blue Angel fans have never seen the team fly any other aircraft, so the upgrade to the Super Hornet adds an element of freshness and excitement to the team’s sensational display.

The legacy F/A-18C Hornets are beginning to show their age. (All images Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com unless stated)

Prior to getting their current F/A-18 Hornets the Blue Angels flew the small, single-engine Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. While the Skyhawk had an impressive combat record with the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marines during the Vietnam conflict, the aircraft was quieter, smaller and more difficult to see during demonstrations. It was, however, a good choice for the team during the energy crisis of the late 1970s since the Skyhawk used less fuel.

But the A-4 Skyhawk lacked the visual and audible impact of its predecessor, the larger, smoky, twin-engine McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantom II flown by the team from 1969 until 1974. For a brief period both the Blue Angels and the USAF Thunderbirds flew the F-4 Phantom II, with the Thunderbirds operating the F-4E version. The Thunderbirds transitioned from their F-4E Phantom IIs in 1974 also in response to the energy crisis when they opted for the smaller T-38 Talon trainer. Today the Thunderbirds use the F-16 Fighting Falcon single engine aircraft in two different versions.

The new F/A-18E and F Super Hornets will replace current F/A-18Cs like this one.

The upcoming change to Super Hornets means the Blue Angels remain America’s only twin-engine jet demonstration team. And, with the new, larger Super Hornets and their over 4-foot wider wingspan than the previous Hornet, the visual impact of the new demonstration routine will surely be striking.

Size comparison of current F/A-18C Hornet and larger, upcoming F/A-18E Super Hornet. (Drawing: Courtesy Aviation/StackExchange public forum)

The Blues will take delivery of the Super Hornets in late 2021 in time to work-up for the following airshow season. The aircraft to be flown by the Blue Angels will be fleet aircraft modified for airshow demonstration with biodegradable colored smoke injectors, fuel flow modifications to facilitate extended inverted flight and the addition of 7-pounds of forward hydraulic force on the control stick when maintaining level flight to improve the handling of the aircraft in turbulent, close formation flying. The aircraft are expected to maintain the current blue and yellow paint scheme that contrasts well against afternoon skies when the Blues fly most of their flight demos.

Some aviation photographers suggest the Blue Angels are easier to photograph than their USAF counterparts, the Thunderbirds, because the larger Blue Angel F/A-18s with their darker paint schemes contrast better against late afternoon airshow lighting conditions allowing modern DSLR autofocus systems to acquire the aircraft more easily in flight.

The visual contrast between the USAF Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels is striking. Notice that even in notorious flat light conditions the dark blue Blue Angels paint livery contrasts well with the sky background making observation and photography easy. (Photos: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

The Blue Angels will receive nine F/A-18E single seat and two F/A-18F two-seat aircraft for the team. The Department of Defense procurement order for the total of eleven aircraft indicates a program conversion cost for the aircraft to demonstration condition of $17,002,107.00 USD. Approximately 3 million spectators see the U.S. Navy Blue Angels perform during a typical airshow season of about 70 flight demonstrations at 30-35 separate locations around the U.S. and the world. That means if the Blue Angels use the new F/A-18E and F Super Hornets for the next 30 years potentially 90,000,000 viewers, many of them repeat fans, will see the Blues perform.

Flight Demonstration teams like the Blue Angels are critical recruiting and public affairs tools for the U.S. military. Many military aviators trace at least part of their career choice to inspiration from early exposure to one of the military demo teams. With the current pilot shortage in the U.S. military the demonstration team’s mission is more important than perhaps any phase in recent history.

Top image credit: U.S. Navy