Category Archives: Weapons

Up Close And Personal With Textron’s Scorpion Light Attack Jet During Weapons Separation Testing

Textron’s Scorpion Aces Weapons Separation Testing.

Going five for five in the complex, methodical and engineering-driven military aircraft test regimes is rare. Weather, range logistics, recording equipment, aircraft readiness or one of any other number of details typically conspire to scrub a test flight.

This past July the Textron Aviation Defense Team of two Scorpion jets (production airframes P2 and P3), three Test Pilots, two Flight Test Engineers and 12 support staff (ground, weapons, maintenance, program) descended on NAS Patuxent River, Maryland for weapons separation testing. Five scheduled flight tests in five different configurations over five flight days with 100% completion on time and target enabled the team to achieve “Ace” status, of sorts.

The test plan was aggressive and put the credibility of the three Textron test pilots at risk – all graduates of the US Navy Test Pilot School at Pax River.

Textron Aviation’s Scorpion Jets form up in the skies over Wichita, Kansas. The four Scorpions (developmental aircraft in the foreground with production aircraft 1-3 ) are maintaining heavy utilization rates expanding the flight envelope, performing weapons testing, making demonstration flights to a variety of interested customers and participating in the USAF light attack experiment.

Textron Chief Test Pilot Dan Hinson (23 years in the F/A-18) was humbled to be back among the professionals where he had served and honed his skills. Hinson noted the tremendous respect for both NAVAIR and the Navy’s VX-23 developmental flight test organization, the Air Test and Evaluation Squadron affectionately known as the “Salty Dogs.” The entire test regime was carefully coordinated with NAVAIR, the Naval Test Wing Atlantic (NTWL) and VX-23 with protocols followed in the same fashion as is done for military aircraft tests.

Textron Scorpion fires 2.75″ Hydra-70 rockets during recent weapons trials at NAS Patuxent River, MD. The Textron team achieved 100% mission completion rate during weapons system testing. 5 different configurations (LAU-131, HMP-440 Gun pods, GBU-12) were tested over 5 days, with the tests concluding 4 days early.

Weapons separation may appear simple; however, it is complex testing that is rigorously documented. One Scorpion functioned as “chase“ aircraft while the “tester” was outfitted with high speed cameras on the nose, wing and tail. Every aspect of the release was closely monitored with scores of data points captured.
This was the first time the Scorpion had achieved rack separation. Weapons such as the HMP-400 .50 Cal guns and LAU-131A/A rocket launcher were monitored for hot gas ingestion into the intakes. Operational modes were tested and wiring configurations were evaluated.
Weapons tested included:

  • LAU-131A/A 2.75” unguided/guided rocket launcher
  • HMP-400 .50 Cal machine gun pods, (two flights with single and simultaneous firing)
  • GBU-12 Paveway II 500 lb. bombs
  • BDU-50 (500 lb. practice bomb)

As aggressive as the schedule for the weapons testing was, it was completed four days early. Hinson and team relished the tremendous professional support of NAVAIR, NTWL and VX-23 and departed with the Navy’s great respect for their test efficiency and rigor, fortified. The completed tests took place just in time to open the weapons delivery envelope in support of the USAF OA-X Light Attack Experiment taking place at Holloman AFB, New Mexico.

Textron Scorpion drops a 500 lb GBU-12 Paveway II during recent weapons trials at NAS Patuxent River, MD. The Textron team achieved 100% mission completion rate during weapons system testing. 5 different configurations (LAU-131, HMP-400 Gun pods, GBU-12) were tested over 5 days, with the tests concluding 4 days early.

The aircraft utilized for testing were of the production standard (P1-P3) differing from the original developmental aircraft (D1) in the following ways;

  • P1-P3 all feature an all trimmable tail – enabling improved flight performance.
  • The large internal payload bay has been reconfigured to house deeper payloads.
  • The landing gear has been updated to a trailing link gear configuration with larger brakes.
  • P1-P3 utilize a full Garmin G3000 Avionics suite.

Given all the attention the attack component of the Scorpion has received in the press, it is often overlooked that the aircraft is built around a payload bay. The modular payload bay is impressive with great volume, electrical and cooling capacity for a wide variety of payloads/sensors. One example is the L-3 Wescam MX-25 – now capable of full retraction into the payload bay. The MX-25 is L-3 Wescam’s largest electro-optical/infrared camera. For comparison purposes, the US Navy P-8 Poseidon utilizes the slightly smaller L-3 Wescam MX-20.

Textron Scorpion with HMP-400 gun pods overflies NAS Patuxent River during recent weapons trials. The TEXTRON team achieved 100% mission completion rate during weapons system testing. 5 different configurations (LAU-131, HMP-400 Gun pods, GBU-12) were tested over 5 days, with the tests concluding 4 days early.

Aside from great payload flexibility, the Scorpion is night vision capable and both the front and rear cockpits are prepared for use with the Thales Visionix Scorpion Helmet Mounted Cueing System.

Textron’s Scorpion summer of 2017 has been a resounding success. The 4 aircraft (D1, P1, P2, P3) were simultaneously tasked at multiple locations (Paris International Airshow, Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT – RAF Fairford), Pax River, MD [weapons testing] and the ongoing USAF OA-X Light attack experiment. All while a production airframe (at times two) continued with envelope expansion testing at Textron’s base in Wichita, Kansas.

Textron Scorpion fires 2.75″ Hydra-70 rocket during recent weapons trials at NAS Patuxent River, MD. The Textron team achieved 100% mission completion rate during weapons system testing. 5 different configurations (LAU-131, HMP-440 Gun pods, GBU-12) were tested over 5 days, with the tests concluding 4 days early.

In a class by itself, the Scorpion offers unique capability to carry the latest ISR sensors, loiter for extended periods of time and prosecute targets at will. Given the aircraft’s sound performance to date, the Scorpion appears well on the way to becoming the solution of choice for economical, intelligent and lethal airpower in the permissive environment or as a component of a large force projection.

Textron Scorpion fires 2.75″ Hydra-70 rocket during recent weapons trials at NAS Patuxent River, MD. The Textron team achieved 100% mission completion rate during weapons system testing. 5 different configurations (LAU-131, HMP-440 Gun pods, GBU-12) were tested over 5 days, with the tests

The Author expresses special thanks to Dan Hinson – Textron Aviation Defense Chief Test Pilot and former NAVAIR PMA-265 F/A-18 & EA-18G Integrated Product Team Lead, Commanding Officer of the U.S. Naval Strike Fighter Weapons School, and graduate of U.S. Naval Test Pilot School Class 103.

Photo Credits, as indicated US Navy by Erik Hildebrandt / Released and Jim Haseltine / Released

“Because I Was… Inverted!” Everything You Need To Know About The Photo Of An F-35C Firing An AIM-9X During Inverted Flight

Check Out These Cool Photos of the F-35C That Would Make Maverick and Goose and Jealous.

How many chances will the U.S. Navy’s F-35C have to launch a close-range, advanced air-to-air dogfighting missile like Raytheon’s AIM-9X in combat while flying upside down? The answer is *probably* none.

But in the unlikely event a U.S. Navy F-35C Lightning II does go into a dogfighting “furball” and it turns into a real-world remake of “Top Gun” without Tom Cruise, Lockheed Martin needed to be sure the F-35C could perform.

This missile launch test at the Patuxent River Naval Base in Maryland on the east coast of the U.S. demonstrated this rather unlikely capability was possible.

Flight test aircraft CF-2 performed the capability demonstration on June 8, 2017 and was photographed by Lockheed Martin photographer Dane Wiedmann using a Nikon D4 camera with a 24-70mm zoom lens while flying high right (or is it left when inverted?) formation in a chase aircraft.

Wiedmann shot the impressive photos at 1/1600 shutter speed to freeze the fast accelerating missile leaving the rails and f-stop 5.0 using ISO 400 setting. Wiedmann took the images early in the day, before 9:00 AM local time, accounting for the nice lighting.

Major Eric Northam of USMC flight test and evaluation unit VX-23 Launches an AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile while flying inverted. (Photo: Dane Widdeman for Lockheed Martin)

The missile launch demonstration was flown by U.S. Marine Corps test pilot Major Eric Northam of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Two Three, VX-23, based at Patuxent. Major Northam is a highly experienced tactical aircraft test pilot with extensive experience in the F/A-18 Hornet in addition to the F-35C.

It is noteworthy that the flight test was flown by Major Northam, a USMC test pilot, on an F-35C, the U.S. Navy variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. The U.S. Marines fly the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35B.

USMC Test Pilot Major Eric Northam of USMC flight test and evaluation unit VX-23 (Photo: Eric Northam via Facebook)

As a side note, an AIM-9X, the world’s most advanced infraredtracking, shortrange air-to-air and surface-to-air missile, fired by a U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet at a Syrian Sukhoi Su-22 that had dropped munitions near U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria, surprisingly missed its target. According to CNN, the VFA-87’s Super Hornet locked onto the Su-22 Fitter at a range of 1.5 miles and fired an AIM-9X: the Syrian pilot released flares to successfully lure the infrared guided missile away from his tail. The Syrian jet was eventually downed by the same Super Hornet with an AIM-120 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air To Air Missile).

With the frequent popular media criticism of the F-35 program and a lingering narrative of program limitations that, according to some analysts really don’t exist, these tests for flight and weapons performance at the outer edges of the mission envelope seem to send a promising signal that the F-35 is capable across its entire mission requirement set, including unusual outlying mission requirements like inverted missile launches.

The capabilities of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program continue to be demonstrated across all types and services. Between Aug. 4 and Aug. 11, 2017, the U.S. Air Force conducted the first ever delivery of GBU-31 2,000-pound precision guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or “JDAM’s” at the Utah Test and Training Range near Hill AFB.

Pilots and Airmen of the 419th and 388th Fighter Wings operated the USAF’s F-35A Lightning II during the evaluations, named “Combat Hammer”. This was the first Air Force conducted operational evaluation of air-to-ground munitions for the F-35A following Lockheed Martin verification of capability tests. Official U.S. Air Force media sources quoted the performance of the tests to have, “above average mission and sortie rates”.

USAF Colonel Tim Smith, Commander of the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron detachment located at Hill AFB told media, “Overall, everything went as planned and all participating units performed very well, including the 34th Fighter Squadron F-35As.”

A USAF F-35A drops a GBU-31 2,000-pound JDAM over the Utah Test and Training Range on August 10, 2017. (Photo: Scott Wolff via USAF)

 

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U.S. Tests Minuteman Missile Amid North Korean Tension and Proposed ICBM Upgrade

Latest Pacific ICBM Test Proves U.S. Readiness in Turbulent Region as Tensions Rise.

The U.S. Air Force has conducted an operational test of its LGM-30 Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The missile was unarmed, carrying a single test reentry vehicle according to the Global Strike Command.

Members of the 90th Missile Wing based at Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming conducted the test launch from California. The missile was launched yesterday morning, August 2, at 2:10 California time.

The single simulated reentry vehicle covered 4,200 miles on its way to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. It landed in a missile test range used by the U.S.

In an operational attack the LGM-30 would be armed with a Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicle or “MIRV”. The MIRV payload on a Minuteman III includes three separate 300-500 kiloton nuclear warheads with independent targets. The warheads separate upon reentry into earth’s atmosphere above their predetermined targets and strike over a wide area. The use of multiple reentry vehicles for large warheads makes intercepting them over a large target area nearly impossible. The missile’s NS-50 inertial navigation system is largely immune to countermeasures once launched and is accurate to within 200 meters according to the Minuteman III’s builder, Boeing.

The operational LGM-30 Minuteman III is armed with multiple reentry vehicle warheads to strike several targets simultaneously. (Graphic: Wiki)

The U.S. currently fields 450 nuclear-armed operational LGM-30 Minuteman III missiles.

Set against the backdrop of this week’s missile launch, Boeing strategic deterrence chief Frank McCall told reporters the Minuteman III is an aging legacy ICBM platform from the 1950’s. According to McCall, the Minuteman ICBM platform was only intended to “Last a decade”.

During the late 1980’s the U.S. fielded the LGM-118 Peacekeeper ICBM. The LGM-118, popularly known as the “MX missile” was intended to be a survivable solution to a Soviet nuclear first strike on the continental U.S. Controversy over weapons treaties and basing for the MX missile limited its deployment to only 50 missiles using existing Minuteman missile silos until the program was cancelled entirely in September 2005.

An operational Boeing LGM-30 Minuteman III ICBM in its underground launch silo. (Photo: Boeing)

The U.S. Air Force has proposed the need for an all-new ICBM design concept to replace the aging Minuteman platform called the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent or “GBSD” missile program. Boeing, Lockheed and Northrop are each competing for the new GBSD contract.

The proposed new GBSD concept is intended to be an “open-architecture, modular” design that is highly adaptive to mission requirements and can be readily updated to maintain technical superiority and strategic relevance.

As with all major defense programs, costs for the proposed GBSD program have been criticized. Several media outlets have published estimates of $85 billion spread over a 20-year program for a force of 400 missiles.

While North Korea has made rapid and significant progress in their long-range missile program and nuclear program to include weapons research the strategic balance still tips very heavily in favor of the United States. The U.S. remains the only country to employ nuclear weapons operationally when it launched manned nuclear strikes from strategic bombers on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Since the operational nuclear strikes at the end of WWII and throughout the Cold War the U.S. has relied on a “nuclear triad” of three different strategic nuclear launch platforms that include Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and a variety of air-delivered nuclear weapons that include air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs), Short Range Attack Missiles (SRAMs) and the now antiquated but still operational air-dropped nuclear bombs.

Time to strike targets in North Korea from missile bases in the U.S. Midwest and West coast may be less than 40 minutes from launch to impact, but submarine launched ballistic missiles deployed closer to the Korean peninsula would likely have weapons on target in much less time.

This most recent missile test was planned in advance of Korean tests according to the Pentagon, but it is reasonable to suggest it transmits a clear message that the U.S. nuclear deterrent is current and capable.

 

 

The U.S. Air Force Wants To Use The B-52 Strategic Bomber For Leaflet Drops During PSYOPS Missions

Testers from the 419th Flight Test Squadron are looking to see if B-52 Stratofortress bombers can undertake psychological operations dropping leaflets with messages.

Along with nuclear bombs and several other weapons, the U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers may one day be used to drop leaflets.

Indeed, the Air Force has recently completed two successful sorties, where testers from the 419th Flight Test Squadron, from Edwards Air Force Base, California, released eight PDU-5/B leaflet bombs over the Point Mugu Sea Test Range and eight more over the Precision Impact Range Area on Edwards.

“We are primarily looking to see safe separation from the external Heavy Stores Adapter Beam,” said Kevin Thorn, 419th FLTS B-52 air vehicle manager in a USAF public release. “We are ensuring that the bombs do not contact the aircraft, and/or each other, creating an unsafe condition. Additionally we are tracking the reliability of the bomb functioning.”

Leaflets with messages used to communicate with the locals or with the enemy troops (persuading them to surrender) have been part of the PSYOPS for decades. Such leaflets can be distributed in several different ways, including drops from a vast variety of aircraft, in order to reach a wide area.

For instance, in 2015, U.S. F-15E Strike Eagles dropped leaflets over Islamic State insurgents in Syria using PDU-5B leaflet canisters; in 2012, air drop of leaflets in support of Information Operations were conducted by the U.S. Army above Helmand province, Afghanistan, using U.S. Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft in areas of the Helmand province unreachable by conventional communication. During the Air War in Libya, in 2011, U.S. Air Force EC-130s broadcast radio messages to the Libyan military to persuade them to return to their families before it was too late, whereas Italian C-130J aircraft dropped leaflets over Tripoli to counter Gaddafi’s regime propaganda in Libya’s capital city.

Leaflets have been also air dropped by Syrian Arab Air Force Mil Mi-8 helicopters over Aleppo in August 2012 to urge rebels to surrender to the Syrian Army and even Israeli A-4 dropped leaflets over the northern Gaza Strip in November 2012, to call for civilians to stay away from terrorist target areas and emphasize that Hamas was responsible for the situation in the Strip.

Today, testers from the 419th Flight Test Squadron are looking to see if the world’s most iconic strategic bomber can accomplish this task.

The B-52 used a PDU-5/B, a new-use or variant of an older Cluster Bomb Uni designated MK 20 Rockeye II, SUU-76B/B, and/or CBU-99/100 depending on the type of filler used in the bomb.

The PDU-5/B (the same used by the F-15E mentioned above), can deliver about 60,000 leaflets; it was first deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom before any Air Force munitions began hitting targets in Baghdad, Iraq.

“Without the capability to carry PDU-5s on the B-52 aircraft, the impending shortfall on leaflet dispersal capability will jeopardize Air Force Central Command information operations,” said Earl Johnson, B-52 PDU-5/B project manager. The “Buff” can carry 16 PDU-5s under the wings, making it able to distribute 900,000 leaflets in a single sortie.

The testing the PDU-5/B on the B-52 is complete for now even though the program is forecasted to return at a future date to test PDU-5/B releases from the B-52’s internal weapons bay.

A B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 419th Flight Test Squadron with eight PDU-5/B leaflet bombs underneath the left wing. The PDU-5/B is a repurposed Cluster Bomb Unit used to release leaflets (paper cut into a specific size). Leaflets are generally dropped during U.S. military psychological operations overseas. When released from the aircraft, a fuse is set to a certain time to tell the bomb to detonate and release the leaflets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Christopher Okula)

 

Commercial Pilot Catches Remarkable Photos of Alleged Secret Chinese Anti-Missile Test

Alleged Chinese ABM Test Coincides with North Korean Ballistic Missile Test.

A commercial pilot flying a Cargolux 747 from Hong Kong to Baku has shot photos of what is believed to be a secret Chinese anti-ballistic missile test.

Flying over the Himalayas on July 22nd the flight crew saw a series of unusual lights and vapor trails climb into the night sky. Photographer, blogger and commercial pilot Christiaan van Heijst of the Netherlands shot the photos seen here. They were posted to his own blog, JPCVANHEIJST.COM

The alleged Chinese test is noteworthy because it is so close to the North Korean ballistic missile test over the Pacific confirmed by the United States today. China has not commented on the photos or verified any testing operations.

“What started unexpectedly with an unusual bright spot on the horizon quickly changed into a droplet-shaped bubble that rapidly grew in size and altitude.” First Officer Van Heijst wrote on his own personal blog published today.

Normally missile tests and space launches are well documented in international NOTAMs or “Notices To Airmen” via a number of media outlets used by commercial and military flight crews and air traffic control. It is important information since it not only avoids the extremely remote possibility that an aircraft may be hit by part of a vehicle used in a launch test

“It came as a total surprise for us and the only thing we found in the NOTAMs for our route was a ‘temporarily restricted airspace’ with a 100km radius somewhere south of Urumqi in north-west China with no mention of the nature of the closure, let alone a possible rocket/missile launch.”

One French language media outlet, EastPendulum.com, reported that the launch photographed by First Officer Van Heijst may have been a test of the Chinese Dong-Feng-21 or DF-21, an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM).

One Chinese website, “liuqiankktt.blog.163.com”, showed additional photos of the event from the ground. The images are consistent with the appearance of a launch vehicle test.

This photo of the test was shot by a Chinese blogger from the ground. (Photo: liuqiankktt.com)

Until China confirms the specifics of the launch or other intelligence outlets provide more detailed analysis it will difficult to understand exactly what happened over China and what its purpose was.

First Officer Christiaan Van Heijst went on to write on his blog:

“The entire event took no more than 12 minutes, from first spotting the bright light to the last dissipating glowing spots in the sky. My knowledge of hypersonic shock waves and the behavior of exhaust gasses in the upper atmosphere is extremely limited, but looking at the photos it seems to me that there have been two rocket stages burning after each other in succession. Taking into account that the Chinese suffered a catastrophic launch of a Long March 5 exactly 3 weeks earlier, it might be logical to assume this was a test-flight of another rocket in a relatively remote area of China with little to no witnesses. Except a Dutch pilot and a camera that they might not have counted on.”

We do know that Cargolux First Officer Christiaan Van Heijst’s photos of the event are truly remarkable and his reporting on the event is greatly appreciated.

Top image credit: Christiaan Van Heijst

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