Tag Archives: 412th TW

Two Edwards-based F-16s Spotted In Star Wars Canyon With Mysterious New Pod

Are you able to ID the pod carried by these two “Vipers” flying at low altitude through the Jedi Transition recently?

Few days ago we have published the photographs of an Area 51-based F-16D (86-0052) flying through the famous Star Wars canyon on Nov. 14 carrying a Lockheed Martin’s AN/AAS-42, an IRST (Infra Red Search and Track) pod carried by various aircraft (including the Aggressors’ Vipers out of Nellis Air Force Base). Two things made the sighting particularly interesting: first of all, the two-seater “Viper” (as the F-16 is dubbed in the fighter pilots community) flew in the Jedi Transition hours after another F-16D (or possibly the very same one) had chased an F-117 near Rachel, Nevada. Second, the photographs of the F-16D 86-0052 clearly proved that both pilots of the aircraft wore a Red Hats patch (for more details I suggest you reading our story here).

However, some other interesting aircraft had flown over the Death Valley few days earlier.

The images in this post were taken by photographer Neil Dunridge taken on Nov. 8. They show two Edwards Air Force Base F-16 jets belonging to the 412th Test Wing, with a pretty interesting loadout: both aircraft carried one blue AN/ALQ-167, a very well-known electronic countermeasures threat simulation pod used by several aircraft (including aggressors) for training purposes, along with an unidentified grey with a black nose pod.

AF85-1560/ED with the AN/ALQ-167 pod under the left wing and the “mysterious” pod under the right one (All images credit: Neil Dunridge)

Noteworthy, as the photographs by Dunridge show, the configuration of the two aircraft is different: one (AF85-1560/ED) carried the AN/ALQ-167 pod under the left wing and the “mysterious” pod under the right one; the other one had the unidentified pod on the left and the AN/ALQ-167 on the right.

Two aircraft flew through the Jedi Transition on Nov. 8. This one had the unidentified pod under the left wing.

We haven’t been able to ID the new pod so far so, at least to us, it remains mysterious. It features a small air intake and a black dielectric blister fairing (that must be there to cover an antenna) reminds some data links pod (such as the AN/ASW-55 associated with the AGM-142 Popeye long-range missile).

Actually, the F-16 is already integrated with Lockheed Martin Legion Pod, that includes an IRST21 sensor as well as datalink to build up a “networked” battlespace where the aircraft can share a common “picture” without even turning the radar on (thus remaining “silent” from an electromagnetical point of view).

The pod shown in the photos from Neil Dunridge is quite different from the LM Legion Pod that includes IRST and data-link capabilities. (Image: Lockheed Martin).

The Legion Pod flew with the F-16 in Fort Worth, Texas, in June 2015. The aircraft carries the pod on the right hand side of the air intake (Photo by Randy Crites/LM)

Is Edwards testing some new DLP? Maybe. Or the pod can be something completely different (such a test bed for laser weapons, EW pod, etc.). If you can identify the pod, let us know. Meanwhile we can’t but notice how the Star Wars canyon continues to provide some great opportunities to see and shoot rarely seen aircraft with rarely seen payloads!

Update: it looks like the same pod, carried by an Edwards F-16, was spotted before Nov. 8. Here you can find a photo of the pod under the left wing on Oct. 29, 2017: https://www.flickr.com/photos/habujet/37946803206/in/photostream/

Update II: Our friend Tyler Rogoway from The War Zone has found what indeed seems to be the very same pod carried by a VAQ-34 EA-7L in a photo dating back to 1987!!

Here it is:

A view of two Vought EA-7L Corsair II aircraft of electronic warfare squadron VAQ-34 on the ramp during the U.S. 3rd Fleet North Pacific Exercise (NORPACEX) at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska (USA) on 8 Nov 1987. VAQ-34 operated as a adversary squadron, hence the Soviet star and the red numbers on the planes. (Camera Operator: Sgt. W. Thornton via Wiki)

Indeed, in the early 1980s, eight U.S. Navy TA-7C two-seater Corsair jets were turned into electronic aggressor aircraft, under the designation EA-7L. These “electronic Corsairs”, operated by VAQ-34 out of NAS (Naval Air Station) Point Mugu, California, could carry electronic jamming pods on their underwing pylons to simulate Soviet weapons and tactics. Now, it looks like some of the pods used 30 years ago are being used again to test some new (EW/threat emitter) sensor using an existing form factor.

A big thank you to Neil Dunridge for allowing us to use his photographs. Make sure to follow him on Twitter here: @Chiv63

Air-to-air photo sessions: when better communication would prevent panic

During my career as a journalist, I’ve had some chances to chase other aircraft and take interesting air-to-air pictures. It happened when I took the a/a pics of the F-104s, of the AMX, Tornado F.3, MB-339CD etc (if you browse through the posts and pages of this blog you can find many of those images and related stories). But, none of those sorties caused stir as the following two examples.
On May 16, 2002, a C-135E panicked the city of Sydney, Australia, overflying at low level the city center during an air-to-air photo session. The aircraft, using c/s “Agar 72”, performed a few orbits above the Opera House and Harbour Bridge escorted by a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Hawk and many, watching the scene from the ground, thought that a remake of the 9/11 terrorist attack on NYC was in progress. Actually, both aircraft were involved in a promotional flight aimed to gather imagery of the C-135E, one of the most interesting and less known to the Australian aircraft of the USAF inventory. The presumed hijacked C-135E Argus over Sydneycommercial wide body, serialled 60-0372, was one of the three flying for the Air Force Material Command (AFMC), headquartered in Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, employed by the 452nd FLTS (Flight Test Squadron) of the 412th TW (Test Wing) based at Edwards AFB, California, the weapon systems’ testing and development unit of the USAF. The aircraft was previously a C-135N, converted to stydy the atmosphere within the ABL Airborne Laser program. During the various testing campaigns, whose aim was to evaluate the actual range of the laser at various altitudes, temperature, seasons and optical turbulences, the C-135E flew in simulated and realistic scenarios and the one that scared Sydney was probably returning to Edwards from a Forward Operating Base (maybe Osan airbase, Korea). Something similar happened on Apr. 27, 2009, when the Presidential Airlift Group conducted a photo mission above New York City involving the VC-25 and an F-16 between the 10.00L and 10.30L. The flight was coordinated by the Defense Department and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and notifications were sent to the emergency centers, to the NY Police Deparment and to the New Jersey State Police (plus a few more operations centers in the area) but people didn’t expect to see a fighter escorting a wide-body (one of the two flying for the POTUS as the “Air Force One”) above Battery Park City and the Hudson River. The sight of the two aircraft frightened residents and workers in Manhattan who called 911 and other authorities asking for information. Some buildings even self evacuated.
Here’s a video of the photo session taking place over NYC (many more are available on Youtube):

As a consequence of the NYC photo shoot, President Obama ordered review of the NYC flyover, as explained in the following interesting Associated Press article (containing much details):

Obama orders review of New York City flyover

By Anne Gearan – The Associated Press
Posted : Tuesday Apr 28, 2009 22:09:41 EDT

WASHINGTON — The White House plans an inquiry into a low-flying photo shoot
by a presidential plane that panicked New Yorkers and cost taxpayers
$328,835. President Barack Obama said Tuesday it won’t happen again.
But the origins of the government public relations stunt that went awry
remained an engrossing mystery — and a potential political problem for
Obama. The White House military office approved the photo-op, which cost
$35,000 in fuel alone for the plane and two jet fighter escorts.
“I think this is one of those rare cases where we can all agree it was a
mistake,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said of Monday’s “unfortunate”
flight low over the Hudson River that for many on the ground evoked chilling
memories of Sept. 11, 2001’s attacks that brought down the World Trade
Center’s twin towers, just across the water from Monday’s flyover.
The sight of the huge passenger jet and an F-16 fighter plane whizzing past
the Statue of Liberty and the lower Manhattan financial district sent
panicked office workers streaming into the streets.
“It was a mistake, as was stated … and it will not happen again,” Obama
said.
White House officials did not say why new photos were needed of the plane
that is sometimes used as Air Force One — Obama was not aboard the flight —
or who the presumed audience of the planned photographs were.
Air Force officials began to provide basic information Tuesday about the
cost of the flights, but did not disclose how long the public has paid for
similar photo op flights.
And public officials from the White House to New York still had not
explained why they acceded to a plan that informed several dozen officials
about the impending flight but kept the public in the dark.
“I think we’ve all learned something from it, and now it’s time to make sure
our procedures are better and to get on with other things,” New York Mayor
Michael Bloomberg said. “It does seem like it was a waste of money, but
that’s up to the federal government.”
Air Force officials Tuesday said the fuel cost of the three-hour round trip
from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and back was $35,000 for the flight
of the Boeing VC-25 presidential jet and the two accompanying F-16 fighters
flown by D.C. Air National Guard pilots. The large jet, a Boeing 747,
carried only military personnel, the White House said.
The Air Force estimated the total costs for the flights to be $328,835,
including fuel used in air for the planes and on the ground for trucks and
support vehicles. The cost also includes the average price for parts that
need replaced, repaired or restocked after flights.
Air Force officials said the team would have spent that money regardless;
they said the photo op flight was run as a regular training mission, so that
the costs of the aircraft were considered training costs and were handled
under the operations and maintenance budget of the 89th Airlift Wing.
They said they reached that total based on an average of past costs when the
aircrafts were used.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that there would be an
inquiry into how the decision was made to make the flight. He made no move
to defend the midlevel White House civilian who had accepted blame for it on
Monday.
“The president will look at that review and take any appropriate steps after
that,” Gibbs said. The inquiry would be led by Deputy Chief of Staff Jim
Messina, Gibbs said.
White House officials said Obama was fuming mad and thinks Air Force One did
not need a new publicity photo anyway.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates “did not know in advance about this flying
photo op,” Morrell said. “Once he found out, suffice it to say he was
surprised and not very pleased.”
The presidential air fleet answers to the White House military office, whose
director, Louis Caldera, issued a mea culpa on Monday.
“While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local
authorities in New York and New Jersey, it is clear that the mission created
confusion and disruption,” Caldera’s statement said. “I apologize and take
responsibility for any distress that flight caused.”
For a half-hour, the Boeing 747 and one of the F-16s circled the Statue of
Liberty and the financial district near the World Trade Center site. Offices
emptied. Dispatchers were inundated with calls. Witnesses thought the planes
were flying dangerously low.
A White House official has said the New York City mayor’s office and other
New York and New Jersey police agencies were told about the Boeing 747’s
flight. The official said the FAA, at the military’s request, told local
agencies that the information was classified and asked them not to publicize
it.
Bloomberg initially lambasted the government for failing to notify him, then
criticized one of his own aides after learning that the aide had not relayed
notification that the flight was coming.
New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine said Tuesday he also received no warning ahead
of time that the backup Air Force One jet and military fighters would be
flying low around the Statute of Liberty.
Corzine said he had yet to find a New Jersey official who was told in
advance about the Monday morning fly-over.
The Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl
Levin, said the Obama administration should have been more careful about
alerting New Yorkers to the photo op.
There should have been better communication,” Levin said Tuesday. “They’ve
expressed their regrets for not having a better communications line to New
York, and I think New York people should have known about it.”