Category Archives: Yearly summary

Su-27 Inside Area 51, WC-135 Nuke Sniffer Saga, Iran’s Stealth Jet Update, And Much More: The Aviationist’s Top Stories Of 2017

The five top stories of The Aviationist provide the readers the opportunity to virtually review what happened in 2017.

Ordered by pageviews, the following 5 posts got the most reads and comments among the articles published on The Aviationist this year.

Needless to say, we have covered many more topics during the past year: the mysterious crash of an unidentified aircraft type that cost the life of Col. Eric Schultz; the Syrian Su-22 shot down by a U.S. Navy Super Hornet over Syria; the F-35 Lightning II (first special tail; first female pilot; Israeli IOC; birdstrikes and subsequent theories; etc); the Russian Su-57 (formerly PAK FA); the B-21 Raider; the North Korean crisis; some serious accidents across Europe; and much, much more…

BTW, we have also published an ebook on the A-10 Thunderbolt titled “BRRRTTT…deployments, war chronicles and stories of the last A-10 Warthogs” that is now available in paperback version on Amazon.

Please use the search feature on the site or select the proper category/tag to read all what we have written throughout the last year.

1) These crazy photos show a Russian Su-27 Flanker dogfighting with a U.S. Air Force F-16 inside Area 51

The two jets almost overlap (the Su-27 is farther, the F-16 is closer to the camera), during a dogfight inside Area 51.

Jan. 06 2017

You don’t happen to see a Su-27 Flanker dogfighting with a F-16 unless you visit Area 51. Here are the amazing photographs taken near Groom Lake, on Nov. 8, 2016, U.S. election day.

The photographs in this post were taken from Tikaboo Valley, near Groom Lake, Nevada, by Phil Drake, who was lucky enough to observe a Su-27P Flanker-B dogfighting with an F-16, presumably one of the four Groom Lake based -D models in the skies of the famous Area 51.

Although the quality of the pictures is low (the aircraft were flying between 20K and 30K feet) they are extremely interesting since Flankers operating from Groom are not a secret (they have been documented in 2003 – 2004 and more recently between 2012 and 2014) but have rarely been photographed.

Here’s Phil’s report of the rare sighting:

“The date was November 8th, US election day, and the sighting was between 1500 and 1525.

I was visiting Nevada hoping to catch a glimpse of some of the latest defense programmes being tested.

On the Monday and Wednesday, Nellis Aggressor F-15s and F-16s were regularly overhead, dropping flares and sonic booms.  It was Tuesday afternoon when the skies went quiet for a couple of hours, and I hoped this may be a sign of something unusual being flown.

Eventually the sound of jet noise caught my attention, and I scanned the clear blue skies ’til I saw the tiny speck of an approaching military jet at high altitude, leaving an intermittent contrail.

It was instantly recognisable as a Russian built Sukhoi 27 Flanker, and carried no national insignia or identifying marks.

[Continue here]

2) U.S. Air Force deploys WC-135 nuclear sniffer aircraft to UK as spike of radioactive Iodine levels is detected in Europe

The WC-135 nuke sniffer (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Boitz)

Feb. 19 2017

The USAF WC-135C Constant Phoenix might be investigating a spike in radioactive levels in Norway. Someone speculates the release of this radionuclide could be the effect of a Russian nuclear test.

On Feb. 17, 2017, U.S. Air Force WC-135C Constant Phoenix Nuclear explosion “sniffer,” serial number 62-3582, using radio callsign “Cobra 55” deployed to RAF Mildenhall, UK.

As we have already reported the WC-135 is a derivative of the Boeing C-135 transport and support plane. Two of these aircraft are in service today out of the ten examples operated since 1963. The aircraft are flown by flight crews from the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron from Offutt Air Force Base while mission crews are staffed by Detachment 1 from the Air Force Technical Applications Center.

The WC-135, known as the “sniffer” or “weather bird” by its crews, can carry up to 33 personnel. However, crew compliments are kept to a minimum during mission flights in order to lessen levels of radioactive exposure.

Effluent gasses are gathered by two scoops on the sides of the fuselage, which in turn trap fallout particles on filters. The mission crews have the ability to analyze the fallout residue in real-time, helping to confirm the presence of nuclear fallout and possibly determine the characteristics of the warhead involved.

[Continue here]

3) New Photos And Video of Iran’s Homemade F-313 “Qaher” Stealth Jet Have Just Emerged. And Here’s A First Analysis

The F-313 during taxi tests (highlighted the main differences since the first appearance in 2013).

Apr. 15 2017

A new prototype of the weird Qaher 313 stealth jet has conducted taxi tests.

Footage and photographs showing a new prototype (marked “08”) of the famous Qaher F-313 stealth fighter jet have just emerged as Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani participated Saturday in an exhibition displaying the achievements that the Defense Ministry Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan gained during the past two years.

Indeed, an “upgraded version” of the “faux stealth fighter” can be observed performing taxi tests. The aircraft appears to be slightly different from the one unveiled on Feb. 2, 2013, that was nothing more than a poorly designed mock-up that would never fly unless it was extensively modified and heavily improved.

Four years ago, the cockpit was basic for any modern plane, the air intakes appeared to be too small, the engine section lacked any kind of nozzle meaning that the engine would probably melt the aircraft’s back-end. Above all, the aircraft was way too small to such an extent its cockpit could not fit a normal-sized human being.

The new prototype retains the original weird shape but has a more realistic cockpit, large enough to accommodate an Iranian test pilot on an ejection seat, with a “normal” canopy (the previous one was clearly made of plexiglass), and a dorsal antenna. It is equipped with dual exhaust nozzles: according to some sources these are U.S. engines, according to others these would be new turbofan engines or modified Iranian J-85s. And, interestingly, a sort of FLIR (Forward Looking Infra-Red) turret was attached to the nose of the aircraft, that also features a white radome.

Although the new prototype is not a complete joke as its predecessor, it is still pretty hard to say whether it will be able to take to the air and land safely without further modifications: the intakes continue to appear smaller than normal (as commented back in 2013, they remind those of current drones/unmanned combat aerial vehicles); the wing are small as well and feature the peculiar design with the external section canted downward whose efficiency is not clear.

[Continue here]

4) U.S. Department Of Defense Video Shows Unknown Object Intercepted By U.S. Navy Super Hornet And We Have No Idea What It Was.

ATFLIR footage of a mysterious object intercepted by USN F/A-18 Super Hornet in 2004.

Dec. 12 2017

This video shows the weird object as seen from a U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet’s ATFLIR (Advanced Targeting Forward Looking Infrared) pod. What is it? Any idea?

On Dec. 16, the NYT published an interesting story about a U.S. Department of Defense program that investigated reports of UFOs (unidentified flying objects). Along with interviews with program participants and records they obtained investigating the mysterious Pentagon program, The New York Times has released a video that shows a close encounter between an F/A-18F Super Hornet out of USS Nimitz and one of these UFOs back in 2004.

Back in 2007, a user (cometa2) of the popular Above Top Secret (ATS) forum posted an alleged official CVW-11 Event Summary of a close encounter occurred on Nov. 14, 2004. Back then, when the encounter had not been confirmed yet, many users questioned the authenticity of both the event log and the footage allegedly filmed during the UFO intercept. More than 10 years later, with an officially released video of the encounter, it’s worth having a look at that unverified event log again: although we can’t say for sure whether it is genuine or not, it is at least “realistic” and provides some interesting details and narrative consistent with the real carrier ops. Moreover, the summary says that the callsign of the aircraft involved in the encounter is Fast Eagle: this callsign is used by the VFA-41 Black Aces – incidentally the very same squadron of David Fravor, formed Co of VFA-41, the pilot who recalled the encounter to NYT.

[Continue here]

5) Rare Photo Shows F-4 Phantom Flying Inverted While Intercepting A Russian Tu-95 Bear Bomber

The famous shot of the inverted flying F-4 Phantom (the aircraft was actually ending a barrel roll).

Dec. 04 2017

“Because I was….inverted!”: Top Gun stunt performed near a Russian strategic bomber.

In the last few years, we have often reported about “unsafe and unprofessional” intercepts conducted across the world by Russian (and Chinese) fighter jets scrambled to identify and escort U.S. spyplanes flying in international airspace.

Barrel rolls, aggressive turns that disturbed the controllability of the “zombie” (intercepted aircraft in fighter pilot’s jargon), inverted flight: if you use the search function on this site you can read of several such incidents that made the news on media all around the world.

The last episode involved a Russian Su-30 that crossed within 50 feet of a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon’s path over the Black Sea during an intercept mission, causing the American maritime patrol aircraft to endure violent turbulence, on Nov. 25, 2017.

However, as a former RC-135 aircraft commander who flew the S, U, V, W, and X models, told us a couple of years ago:

“Prior to the end of the Cold War interceptors from a variety of nations managed to get into tight formation with RC-135s and EP-3s. Smaller airplanes like MiG-21s made it easy. The challenge with the larger airplanes like the Su-27 and MiG-31 is the sheer size of the interceptor as it moves in front of any portion of the intercepted plane.

At least the Su-27 pilot has excellent all-around visibility to see where the back-end of his own airplane is as he maneuvers adjacent to the RC-135.

The U-Boat crew took video of the intercept, which has not been released but shows the precise extent of how close the FLANKER really was. Recent movies taken by a PRC aircraft that was intercepted by a JASDF F-15CJ suggests that the Eagle was very close—until the camera zooms out and shows the Eagle was 70-100 feet away from the wingtip….

Finally, although the number of Russian reactions to Western recon flights has been increasing recently, for 15-20 years (certainly from 1992 through 2010) there were almost no reactions on a regular basis. As such, what passes for dangerous and provocative today was ho-hum to recon crews of my generation (although we weren’t shot at like the early fliers from 1950-1960).”

[Continue here]

 

Year 2016 in review through The Aviationist’s Top 5 articles

The five top stories of The Aviationist provide the readers the opportunity to virtually review the year that is coming to an end.

Ordered by pageviews, the following 5 posts got the most pageviews and comments among the articles published on the site, and can be used to review year 2016.

Needless to say, we covered many more topics during the past year, that saw us discussing F-35, Air War on ISIS, Russian campaign in Syria, Turkish Failed Coup, RC-135 spyplanes buzzed by Su-27s, Special Operations tracked online, A-10, North Korea, Eurofighter, and much more.

Please use the search feature or select the proper category/tag to read all what was written throughout the year.

1) “Here’s what I’ve learned so far dogfighting in the F-35”: a JSF pilot’s first-hand account

Mar. 1, 2016

A Norwegian pilot shared his experience flying mock aerial combat with the F-35.

As we reported last year, the debate between F-35 supporters and critics became more harsh in July 2015, when War Is Boring got their hands on a brief according to which the JSF was outclassed by a two-seat F-16D Block 40 (one of the aircraft the U.S. Air Force intends to replace with the Lightning II) in mock aerial combat.

Although we debunked some theories about the alleged capabilities of all the F-35 variants to match or considerably exceed the maneuvering performance of some of the most famous fourth-generation fighter, and explained that there is probably no way a JSF will ever match a Eurofighter Typhoon in aerial combat, we also highlighted that the simulated dogfight mentioned in the unclassified report obtained by WIB involved one of the very first test aircraft that lacked some cool and useful features.

Kampflybloggen (The Combat Aircraft Blog), the official blog of the Norwegian F-35 Program Office within the Norwegian Ministry of Defence, has just published an interesting article, that we repost here below under permission, written by Major Morten “Dolby” Hanche, one of the Royal Norwegian Air Force experienced pilots and the first to fly the F-35.

“Dolby”  has more than 2200 hours in the F-16, he is a U.S. Navy Test Pilot School graduate, and currently serves as an instructor and as the Assistant Weapons Officer with the 62nd Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.

He provides a first-hand account of what dogfighting in the F-35 looks like to a pilot who has a significant experience with the F-16. His conclusions are worth a read.

[Continue here]

2) Russian Su-33 crashed in the Mediterranean while attempting to land on Kuznetsov aircraft carrier

Dec. 5, 2016

Less than three weeks after losing a MiG-29, it looks like the Russian Navy has lost another aircraft during Admiral Kuznetsov operations: a Su-33 Flanker.

Military sources close to The Aviationist report that a Russian Navy Su-33 Flanker carrier-based multirole aircraft has crashed during flight operations from Admiral Kuznetsov on Saturday, Dec. 3.

According to the report, the combat plane crashed at its second attempt to land on the aircraft carrier in good weather conditions (visibility +10 kilometers, Sea State 4, wind at 12 knots): it seems that it missed the wires and failed to go around* falling short of the bow of the warship.

The pilot successfully ejected and was picked up by a Russian Navy search and rescue helicopter.

[Continue here]

3) F-15E Strike Eagles unable to shoot down the F-35s in 8 dogfights during simulated deployment

Jun. 27, 2016

“0 losses in 8 dogfights against F-15E Red Air”

The U.S. Air Force F-35A fleet continues to work to declare the Lightning II IOC (initial operational capability) scheduled in the August – December timeframe.

Among the activities carried out in the past weeks, a simulated deployment provided important feedbacks about the goal of demonstrating the F-35’s ability to “penetrate areas with developed air defenses, provide close air support to ground troops and be readily deployable to conflict theaters.”

Seven F-35s deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, to  Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, to carry out a series of operational tests which involved local-based 4th Generation F-15E Strike Eagles belonging to the 366th Fighter Wing.

In a Q&A posted on the USAF website, Col. David Chace, the F-35 systems management office chief and lead for F-35 operational requirements at ACC, provided some insights about the activities carried out during the second simulated deployment to Mountain Home (the first was in February this year):

[Continue here]

4) Exclusive: all the details about the air ops and aerial battle over Turkey during the military coup to depose Erdogan

Jul. 18, 2016

F-16s, KC-135Rs, A400Ms: known and unknown details about the night of the Turkey military coup.

Here below is the account of what happened on Jul. 15, when a military takeover was attempted in Turkey. It is based on the information gathered by Turkish defense journalist Arda Mevlutoglu, by analysis of the Mode-S logs and reports that have been published by several media outlets in the aftermath of the coup.

Shortly after 22.00 local time on July 15th, air traffic control (ATC) operator in Akinci 4th Main Jet Base (MJB), an airbase located to the northwest of Ankara, contacted his counterpart at Esenboga Airport ATC. Akinci airbase is the homebase of 141, 142 and 143 Filo (Squadrons) of the Turkish Air Force (TuAF) equipped with F-16Cs.

4MJB operator informed that two local-based F-16s were going to take off, fly at 21-22,000 feet and coordination with Esenboga ATC could not be possible.

Shortly after, two F-16s calsign “Aslan 1” (“Lion 1”) and “Aslan 2” (“Lion 2”) from 141 Squadron took off from 4MJB.

[Continue here]

5) Russia has just deployed its most advanced spyplane to Syria

Feb. 15, 2016

A Russian Air Force Tu-214R is about to land at Latakia, Syria.

The Tu-214R is a Russian ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft. In other words, a quite advanced spyplane.

As we have already explained here in the past, it is a special mission aircraft equipped with all-weather radar systems and electro optical sensors that produce photo-like imagery of a large parts of the ground: these images are then used to identify and map the position of the enemy forces, even if these are camouflaged or hidden.

The aircraft is known to carry sensor packages to perform ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) and SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) missions: the antennae of the Tu-214R can intercept the signals emitted by the enemy systems (radars, aircraft, radios, combat vehicles, mobile phones etc) so as it can build the EOB (Electronic Order of Battle) of the enemy forces: where the enemy forces are operating, what kind of equipment they are using and, by eavesdropping into their radio/phone communications, what they are doing and what will be their next move.

[Continue here]

Note: the Tu-214R has carried out two deployments in Syria throughout the year, the first one lasting just a couple of weeks and ending on Feb. 29, the second one from Jul. 31 to Dec. 9, 2016.

 

Triangular mystery jets, Pilot Selfies, flying F-117s, Russian activities: 2014 through our top stories

The five top stories of The Aviationist provide the readers the opportunity to virtually review the year that is coming to an end.

Ordered chronologically, the following 5 posts got the most pageviews and comments among the +2,900 articles published on the site, and can be used to review year 2014, as they are those that got more interactions.

Obviously, we covered many more topics during this year, that saw us discussing China, war on ISIS, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Ukraine, the downing of MH17 and much more.

Please use the search feature or select the proper category/tag to read all what was written throughout the year.

1) “Selfie” of an F-16 pilot while firing a live Air-to-Air Missile

Mar. 3, 2014

Self-portrait photographs (nowadays known as “selfies“) have always been a must among fighter jocks and you can find thousands taken by military pilots in the most unusal flight conditions.

However, selfies taken while launching missiles are much more rare just because firing activities involving the launch of an air-to-air missile don’t take place too often.

Kudos to the Royal Danish Air Force for taking this really cool image.

By the way, the pilot depicted in the image wears a JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System) a multi-role system that enhances pilot situational awareness and provides head-out control of aircraft targeting systems and sensors.

[Read here]

2) What if MH370 was (mistakenly or purposely) shot down?

Mar. 19, 2014

Since Mar. 7, when Boeing 777 9M-MRO flying from Kuala Lumpur has vanished enroute to Beijing, we have analysed all the possible scenarios that could explain the end of Malaysia Airlines MH370 flight.

With contradictory information released and denied on a daily basis, we can only update the list of theories and their likeliness.

None of the theories emerged so far seem to address all the mystery surrounding the plane and its 239 people on board: the theory that the aircraft suffered a smoke in the cockpit, does not explain why the pilots shut down the transponder while turning towards the nearest landing strip; the one about the suicide does not explain why the aircraft reportedly flew for 7 hours before eventually crashing somewhere. And so on.

These are just a few of the oddities you can find in any scenario drawn so far.

Regardless of the specific theories, there are some more things that are really hard to explain: for instance, it’s unclear how the MH370 managed to remain invisible to several air defense radars for so much time; the reason why Malaysian authorities did not declare until a couple of days ago that the last known position of the plane (known since the beginning) was over the Strait of Malacca, while some 100 aircraft and ships belonging to more than a dozen nations were involved in a massive search and rescue mission in the Gulf of Thailand.

Nor is it clear why Thai authorities waited 10 days before confirming that they had spotted a plane (most probably the Malaysia Airlines B777) flying westwards moments after MH370 had its transponder switched off.

In a previous post which listed all the “active scenarios”, we mentioned the (unlikely but not impossible) theory that MH370 could have been shot down.

Since then, we’ve received several emails and comments, and talked with a few other journalists who believe that, there are still some chances that the Malaysian Boeing 777 was shot down some time during its 7 hour flight.

[Read the rest here]

3) What’s this Mystery Plane spotted over Texas?

Mar. 28, 2014

The images you can see in this post were taken in the afternoon of Mar. 10, 2014. Steve Douglass and Dean Muskett, along with other fellow photographers were at Amarillo International Airport when they saw the contrails of three high flying aircraft.

Even though the aircraft were barely visible at distance, the photographers pointed their lenses at the unidentified planes, and took several shots.

As Douglass recalls in his blog, it was only when they reviewed the images that they noticed that the aircraft were not B-2s as they initially thought: “At one point the aircraft had banked and the trailing edge was quite clear. It wasn’t straight but had a slight curve, the aircraft was almost boomerang shaped.”

Indeed, an inquiry to Whiteman Air Force Base has ruled out the possibility that a flight of three B-2s was flying over Texas on Mar. 10.

Stealth expert Bill Sweetman and the rest of the AW&ST team have investigated the mystery aircraft sighting, coming to the conclusion that the photos show something real.

[Read the rest here]

4) These Photos Prove F-117 Stealth Jets Still Fly at Tonopah 6 years After Retirement

Oct. 3, 2014

The images in this post were shot on Sept. 30, at around 11.00AM, from Brainwash Butte. Although much distorted by the high temperature and distance, they clearly show an F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Jet operating at the Tonopah Test Range, in Nevada.

The aircraft reportedly flew on both Sept. 29 and 30.

Even though flights of the Black Jets have been documented a few times on video past its official retirement in 2008, these are the first images that prove the stealth plane, most probably two of them, since, according to the contributor who sent us the blurry images he shot from the hills east of TTR, the plane that flew on the 29th was in a different barn than the one flew on the 30th.

[Read the rest here]

5) German Typhoons have intercepted 7 Russian Air Force combat planes over the Baltic Sea today

Oct. 28, 2014

According to the Latvian military, on Oct. 28, the German Air Force Eurofighter jets on QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) at Amari, Estonia, to provide NATO Baltic Air Policing were scrambled to intercept seven Russian Air Force planes flying in international airspace over the Baltic Sea.

The German interceptors identified the Russian planes as a large package, made of attack planes and escort, which included 2x MiG-31 Foxhound, 2x Su-34 Fullback, 1x Su-27 Flanker and 2x Su-24 Fencer jets.

Regardless to whether the Russian aircraft were involved in one of the frequent training missions in the Baltics or were commuting to/from the Russian airfield in Kaliningrad oblast, the package on Oct 28 represents one of the largest “formations” intercepted by NATO fighter planes during the last couple of years.

[Read the rest here]

 

Year 2013 in review through The Aviationist’s Top 5 articles

The five top stories of The Aviationist provide the readers the opportunity to virtually review the year that is coming to an end.

Ordered chronologically, these posts got the most pageviews (out of about 8.5 million ones we recorded since January) among the +2,200 articles published on the site, and can be used to review year 2013.

Obviously, we covered many more topics during this year (including Syria, North Korea, SR-72 and its predecessor SR-71 Blackbird, Russian simulated attacks in the Baltics, etc.), so use the search feature or select the proper category/tag to read all what was written throughout the year.

1) Iran unveils new indigenous stealth fighter “Qaher 313″. And here’s a detailed analysis.

On Feb. 1, 2013, Iran unveiled its indigenous fighter jet named “Qaher 313”.

The prototype of the Q-313 (or F-313 according to the stencils applied to the aircraft), was presented to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and publicly displayed as part of the Ten-Day Dawn ceremonies held in Iran to celebrate the 1979’s victory of the Islamic Revolution.

In the previous days, the Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi had said, “The aircraft will be different from the other fighter jets Iran has already made.”

Indeed, based on the first photographs released by the FARS News Agency, the new stealthy jet has a really peculiar design. It features hard edges and those distinctive edges and angle of the U.S. F-22 and the twin tail shape much similar to that of the F-35 Lightning II.

The Q-313 has large, seemingly fixed canards, and little wings whose external section is canted downward.

The canopy material is at least odd (based on its transparency, it looks like plexiglass or something like that).

The cockpit seems to be basic (a bit too much for a modern plane – note the lack of wirings behind the front panel and the presence of few instruments, some of those similar to those equipping small private planes…).

The nose section is so small almost no radar could fit in it.

The air intakes are extremely small (they remind those of current drones/unmanned combat aerial vehicles) whereas the engine section lacks any kind of nozzle: engine afterburners could melt the entire jet.

[Read the rest here.]

2) Here’s why Iran’s new stealth fighter jet can’t fly

Although the oddities of the Qaher 313 or Q-313 or F-313 have been already listed in the article “Iran unveils new indigenous stealth fighter “Qaher 313″. And here’s a detailed analysis” many of the readers of The Aviationist have requested to recap them in a new post.

Hence, here below you can find all the reasons why we can affirm that Iran’s new stealth plane, at least in the form that was showcased on Feb. 2 during the Ten-Day Dawn ceremonies held in Tehran, is nothing more than a mock-up.

The size of the plane is weird. The cockpit seems to be too small, to such an extent a normal pilot doesn’t properly fit in the ejection seat. Have you ever seen a pilot with his knees above the side borders of the cockpit and his helmet well beyond the ejection seat’s head pad?

The general shape of the plane is interesting, probably the result of many inputs including the X-32, the X-36, the Boeing Bird of Prey. Still, wings with outern section canted downward seem to be a bit too little to sustain the weight of the aircraft, especially the “adveniristic plane” is intended to carry a powerful engine and internal payload

Overall, the plane seems to lack the characteristic rivets, bolts all aircraft, including stealthy ones, feature. Images released so far show it as a plastic-made aircraft

The engine exhaust misses any kind of nozzle. The use of afterburner (or, simply, the engine temperature) would possibly melt the entire structure of the jet

The aircraft sports fixed canards and air intakes a bit too small to feed a modern jet plane’s engine; air intakes resemble those used by modern UCAV designs. They are located above the wing meaning that at high AOA (Angle Of Attack) the intakes would get turbulent or no air at all for the engine.

The cockpit is too simple: the front panel lacks the typical wirings while it features few instruments of a type you expect to find on small private planes. Some readers have noticed the airspeed indicator is limited to 300 MPH.

The canopy lacks transparency and looks like it is made of plexiglass.

[Read the rest here]

 3) The U.S. Air Force as you know it no longer exists

According to internal documents obtained by Air Force Times, beginning on Apr. 9, 2013, the U.S. Air Force will begin grounding front line combat units as a consequence of sequestration and the need to deal with budget cuts.

Seventeen squadrons belonging to the various U.S. Air Force commands are going to be affected by the stand down order.

The grounding is aimed to save the 44,000 flying hours (worth 591 million USD) through September.

The funded 241,496 flying hours will be distributed to those squadrons that will remain combat ready or are expected to keep a reduced readiness level called “basic mission capable” until the end of the Fiscal Year 2013.

Whilst some squadron will be immediately grounded, others will be forced down as soon as they come back from their overseas deployment. Among them, the 94th Fighter Squadron from Langley, whose F-22 Raptor stealth fighters currently deployed to Kadena, Okinawa and Osan airbase amid Korean Peninsula crisis, or 354th Fighter Squadron, 12 A-10C of which are currently returning to Davis Monthan after being deployed to Afghanistan.

Other grounded units include the Thunderbirds demo team, 555th Fighter Squadron from Aviano airbase, Italy; 77th Fighter Squadron from Shaw AFB, South Carolina; 492nd and 494th Fighter Squadrons from RAF Lakenheath, UK; 18th Aggressor Squadron from Eielson AFB, Alaska; B-52 squadrons belonging to the 2nd Bomb Wing from Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, and 5th Bomb Wing from Minot AFB, North Dakota; as well as B-1 squadrons from both 2nd and 7th Bomb Wing from Dyess AFB, Texas.

[Read the rest here]

4) Wondering what happened to all fuel tanks jettisoned by U.S. fighter jets over Southeast Asia during Vietnam War?

External tanks are extremely important for military aircraft as they provide fuel to integrate internal tanks and extend fighters and bombers endurance.

Indeed, even if they can be refueled by aerial tankers, tactical jet planes heavily rely on the JP-8 fuel loaded on the external fuel tanks. However, the auxiliary fuel tanks represent an additional weight, additional drag, and they will reduce the aircraft maneuverability.

In real combat, external fuel tanks are jettisoned when empty or as soon as the aircraft needs to get rid of them to accelerate and maneuver against an enemy fighter plane or to evade a surface to air missile.

[Read the rest here]

5) U.S. F-22 stealth fighter pilot taunted Iranian F-4 Phantom combat planes over the Persian Gulf

Earlier this year, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little, said that an IRIAF (Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force) F-4 Phantom combat plane attempted to intercept a U.S. MQ-1 drone flying in international airspace off Iran.

As we reported back then, one of the two F-4 Phantom jets came to about 16 miles from the UAV but broke off pursuit after they were broadcast a warning message by two American planes escorting the Predator.

The episode happened in March 2013, few months after a two Sukhoi Su-25 attack planes operated by the Pasdaran (informal name of the IRGC – the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution) attempted to shoot down an American MQ-1 flying a routine surveillance flight in international airspace some 16 miles off Iran, the interception of the unmanned aircraft failed. After this attempted interception the Pentagon decided to escort the drones involved in ISR (intelligence surveillance reconnaissance) missions with fighter jets (either F-18 Hornets with the CVW 9 embarked on the USS John C. Stennis whose Carrier Strike Group is currently in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility or F-22 Raptors like those deployed to Al Dhafra in the UAE.

New details about the episode were recently disclosed by Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh who on Sept. 17 not only confirmed that the fighter jets providing HVAAE (High Value Air Asset Escort) were F-22 stealth fighters but also said that:

“He [the Raptor pilot] flew under their aircraft [the F-4s] to check out their weapons load without them knowing that he was there, and then pulled up on their left wing and then called them and said ‘you really ought to go home'”

[Read the rest here]

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Aviationist’s Top 5 stories of 2012

Here below you will find the Top 5 blog posts of year 2012.

Actually, these are not the five articles that got most pageviews: in fact, among the most read ones, I’ve picked those that might be used to characterize the year and ordered them chronologically so as to give readers the opportunity to virtually review the year that is coming to an end based on what was posted by The Aviationist.

Unfortunately a lot of topics that were covered in 2012 don’t appear in this selection including Syria uprising, Israel offensive in Gaza, Korean peninsula crisis, Turkish Air Force Phantom shot down in Syria, nEUROn, Iranian UAVs, X-47B and other U.S. drones. Use the search feature or select the proper category/tag to read all what was written throughout the year.

1) Exclusive: What nobody else will tell you about the U.S. F-22 stealth fighters deployed near Iran

Posted on Apr. 30

The news that multiple F-22 stealth fighters were deployed “near Iran” has already been reported by the most important media outlets all around the world.

However, nobody has been able to provide some important details that could be useful to better understand the scope of this overseas deployment: when did the Raptors deploy? How many aircraft were deployed? Where?

And, above all, are those plane capable to perform strike missions in addition to the standard air-to-air sorties?

Thanks to the information provided by several sources, The Aviationist is able to fill the gaps, provide a more accurate view of the deployment and debunk some myths that fueled the media hype.

The six F-22 Raptors currently at Al Dhafra, UAE, belong to the 49th Fighter Wing, based at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. They flew as “Mazda 91” to Moron, Spain, on Apr. 17 and departed again for their final destination on Apr. 20.

Since they spent some 4 days in Spain, during their stay, the stealthy planes were photographed by several local spotters that were able to provide the exact list of all the examples involved in the deployment:

#04-4078, #04-4081, #05-4093, #05-4094, #05-4098, #05-4099.

If they were not willing to let the world know of such deployment they would not make a stopover in Spain, during daylight.

They are all Block 3.0 (or Block 30) examples meaning that neither of them has received the latest upgrade (Block 3.1) that has brought the capability to find and engage ground targets using the Synthetic Aperture Radar mapping and eight GBU-39 SDBs (Small Diameter Bombs) to the troubled stealthy fighter.

Therefore they are hardly involved in any build-up process in the region, since their role in case of war on Iran would be limited to the air-to-air arena: mainly fighter sweep (missions with the aim to seek out and destroy enemy aircraft prior to the arrival of the strike package), HVAA (High Value Air Asset) escort and DCA (Defensive Counter Air).

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

Considered the limited effectiveness of the Iranian Air Force, it is much more likely that the F-22s involved in any kind of attack on Iran would be those of the 3rd Fighter Wing, based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, in Alaska, that was the first U.S. Air Force unit to receive the Block 3.1 planes and has already started training in the air-to-surface role.

Furthermore, the deployment is among those scheduled several month in advance and this is not the first time the F-22 deploys in the United Arab Emirates. In November 2009, some 1st Fighter Wing’s Raptors from Langley AFB, flew to Al Dhafra, to train with the French Air Force Rafales and the RAF Typhoons during exercise ATLC 2009. The episode is quite famous because in late December of the same year the French Ministry of Defense released the captures taken by the Rafale’s OSF (Optronique Secteur Frontal) showing an F-22 in aerial combat. In fact, although the U.S. Air Force pilots told that their plane was undefeated during the exercise, the French were killed once in six 1 vs 1 WVR (Within Visual Range) engagements versus the F-22 (the other 5 ended with a “draw”) and one Raptor was claimed as killed by a UAE Mirage 2000 during a mock engagement.

Here’s the famous capture released at the time and published for the first time by Air & Cosmos magazine.

Image credit: French MoD via Air & Cosmos

2) The mysterious U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle detachment in Djibouti. Are they conducting covert air strikes in Yemen?

Posted on May 11

Although their presence over there is not a secret (since it was announced about 10 years ago and you can see some by simply pointing Google Earth on Djibouti International Airport, as done in this interesting OSGEOINT analysis) what’s still unclear is what eight U.S. F-15Es are currently doing in the Horn of Africa.

They are reportedly serving in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, as an Expeditionary Squadron of the 380th Expeditionary Operations Group, based at Al Dhafra, in the United Arab Emirates, and responsible for the “war on terror” in the region, but what’s their actual mission remains a (sort-of) mystery.

Little information can be found on official sources: among the press releases of the Task Force you will only find a news about the change of command that took place on May 6. It confirms what we already know: previous detachment was provided by the U.S. Air Force in Europe’s 48th Fighter Wing through the 492nd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, from RAF Lakenheath in the UK, and the new one, the 336th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, is provided by the 4th FW from Seymour Jonhnson AFB, NC.

By the way, the Strike Eagles recently spotted at Moron airbase, Spain, were on their ferry flight to Camp Lemonnier and not to Afghanistan (as initially believed).

Image credit: Air Force

Even if the American military presence across the world is usually very well advertised, the U.S. keep a low profile on the operations launched by the Air Force’s Strike Eagles from Eastern Africa.

The reason for such prudence maybe that, along with the Reaper drones, even the F-15Es are conducting air strikes in Yemen (and Somalia).

Indeed, counter terrorism operations with attacks aimed at Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, including drone strikes but also naval bombardments, cruise missiles and air strikes, have increased a lot in the last years: the most recent air strikes brought the 2012 total to more than 15, about as many in the previous 10 years combined.

Some of the air strikes in Yemen were reportedly launched with the support of warplanes believed to be Yemeni Air Force ones. But there are also chances that U.S. conventional planes have been involved in air-to-surface operations officially or unofficially credited to the Yemeni government.

As happened on Mar. 11, 2012, when local residents reported that planes bombarded the town and a senior Yemeni official confirmed the U.S. inolvement by saying that “The U.S. did not inform us on the attacks. We only knew about this after the U.S. attacked” to the CNN; or on Mar. 18, when an air strike was claimed by the Yemeni government, even if the local Air Force was unable to launch an aerial bombardment as most of its personnel was on strike.

Air strikes with conventional planes are considered less respectful of the local nation’s sovereignity than drones’ attacks and this could be the reason for keeping the eventual F-15E involvement in the area a bit confidential.

Robots can silently fly for several hours and use their few missiles/bombs when needed. That’s why drones are the weapon of choice to fight Qaeda in Yemen.

However, when you need to quickly reach a distant target and hit it with a considerable payload, you might find a Strike Eagle a better platform to undertake the task.

H/T to Guido Olimpio for providing some of the links you can find in the article.

3) Farnborough 2012: “Yesterday we had Raptor salad for lunch” Typhoon pilot said after dogfighting with the F-22 at Red Flag Alaska

Posted on Jul. 13

Although a Royal Air Force Typhoon took part to the daily air display, the most interesting thing at Farnborough International Airshow 2012 was the opportunity to get some more details about the recent participation of the German Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons to the Red Flag.

In fact the last Red Flag-Alaska saw the first attendance by both the U.S. Air Force’s F-22 Raptors and German Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons.

As we have already reported, the Typhoons and the Raptor had the opportunity engage each other in dissimilar air combat training but only a part of the story about the outcome of the mock engagements has been reported so far: the one about the German commander saying that the F-22’s capabilities are “overwhelming,” a statement that, according to Eurofighter sources, was taken out of context.

Indeed, Typhoon pilots at Farnborough said that, when flying without their external fuel tanks, in the WVR (Within Visual Range) arena, the Eurofighter not only held its own, but proved to be better than the Raptor.

Indeed, it looks like the F-22 tends to lose too much energy when using thrust vectoring (TV): TV can be useful to enable a rapid direction change without losing sight of the adversary but, unless the Raptor can manage to immediately get in the proper position to score a kill, the energy it loses makes the then slow moving stealth combat plane quite vulnerable.

This would be coherent by analysis made in the past according to which the TV it’s not worth the energy cost unless the fighter is in the post stall regime, especially in the era of High Off Bore Sight and Helmet Mounted Display (features that the F-22 lacks).

Obviously, U.S. fighter pilots could argue that, flying a stealthy plane they will never need to engage an enemy in WVR dogfight, proving that, as already explained several times, kills and HUD captures scored during air combat training are not particularly interesting unless the actual Rules Of Engagement (ROE) and the training scenario are known.

However, not all the modern and future scenarios envisage BVR (Beyond Visual Range) engagements and the risk of coming to close range 1 vs 1 (or 2 vs 2, 3 vs 3 etc) is still high, especially considered that the F-22 currently uses AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles, whose maximum range is around 100 km (below the Meteor missile used by the Typhoon).

Moreover, at a distance of about 50 km the Typhoon IRST (Infra-Red Search and Track) system is capable to find even a stealthy plane “especially if it is large and hot, like the F-22” a Eurofighter pilot said.

Anyway, the Typhoons scored several Raptor kills during the Red Flag Alaska. On one day a German pilot, recounting a succesfull mission ironically commented: “yesterday, we have had a Raptor salad for lunch.”

Above images (credit: The Aviationist’s photographer Giovanni Maduli) show the Typhoon at Farnborough International Airshow 2012.

[Read also the follow up post: F-22 Raptor kill markings shown off by German Eurofighter Typhoons. “The F-22 is not invincible” saga continues.]

4) Marine Attack Squadron loses eight Harrier jets in worst U.S. air loss in one day since the Vietnam War

Posted on Sept. 16

On Friday Sept. 14, at around 10.15 p.m. local time, a force of Taliban gunmen attacked Camp Bastion, in Helmand Province, the main strategic base in southwestern Afghanistan.

About 15 insurgents (19 according to some reports), wearing U.S. Army uniforms, organized into three teams, breached the perimeter fence and launched an assault on the airfield, that includes the U.S. Camp Leatherneck and the UK’s Camp Bastion, where British royal Prince Harry, an AH-64 Apache pilot (initially believed to be the main target of the attack) is stationed.

The attackers fired machine guns, rocket propelled grenades and possibly mortars against aircraft parked next to the airport’s runway. Two U.S. Marines were killed in the subsequent fighting whereas eight of 10 AV-8B+ Harrier jets of the Yuma-based Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 211 were destroyed (6) or heavily damaged (2): the worst U.S. air loss in one day since the Vietnam War.

The VMA-211 “Avengers” is part of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing headquartered in San Diego at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. It deployed to Afghanistan in April and relocated from Kandahar Airfield to Camp Bastion on Jul. 1.

According to Wikipedia, the VMA-211 last suffered this level of losses on Dec. 8, 1941.

Considered that the U.S. Marine Corps are believed to be equipped with slightly more than 120 AV-8B+, the attack on Camp Bastion has wiped out 1/15th of the entire U.S. Jump Jet fleet and a large slice of the Yuma-based squadron. A serious problem for the USMC, that was compelled to buy second hand RAF Harrier GR9s to keep the AV-8B+ in service beyond 2030, when it will be replaced by the F-35B.

Furthermore, the VMA-211 was the only Marine Harrier unit in Afghanistan: until the destroyed airframes will be replaced (most probably, by another Squadron), the coalition ground forces can’t count on the CAS (Close Air Support) provided by the Harrier.

Tom Meyer has contributed to this post.

Image credit: U.S. Marine Corps

5) China unveils its brand new stealth fighter: the J-31 “Falcon Eagle”. But it’s a copy of the F-22 Raptor

Posted on Sept. 16

Pictures of a previously unknown brand new fighter jet have started to appear online over the weekend.

Built by the Shenyang company, the new aircraft, could be the answer of the aerospace firm to the Chengdu J-20, whose two prototypes have already become quite famous across the world since the first images of the large, short-take off and landing stealth plane, leaked on the Chinese defense forums about two years ago.

Image credit: Tixue.net

The new aircraft, coded 31001 (hence, believed to be designated J-31) it’s a sort of copy of the F-22 Raptor the most advanced (and troubled), (multi-role) fighter jet in the U.S. Air Force inventory: same nose section, same twin tails and trapezoidal wings along with the distinctive lines of the stealth design. Anyway, even if it has two engines, the new aircraft doesn’t seem to feature thrust vectoring capabilities. At least on this first prototype.

It has also some F-35-like features, as the air intakes and wings dimensions.

The J-31 is smaller than the J-20, from which it differs for the grey paint job and the presence of a colored emblem on the tails (in place of the typical red star) with the text 鹘鹰, Chinese for “Falcon Eagle”

Image credit: Tixue.net

Although it’s almost impossible to say whether the new aircraft will eventually reach production phase, for sure it proves that China has at least two stealth projects for future combat capable aircraft.

Considered all the cyber attacks targeting Lockheed Martin stealth projects in the last years, one could believe Chinese hackers were able to put their hands on some useful technical drawings of the Raptor. Still, it would be the avionics, radar-evading features, equipment and weapons, rather than the shape, to make the difference in a dogfight. Unless the Chinese will build some thousand examples such jets.

Enhanced by Zemanta