Tag Archives: 9th Reconnaissance Wing

Here Is The Route A U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk Drone Is Currently Flying During A Surveillance Mission Over The Black Sea And Ukraine

A gigantic U.S. Air Force RQ-4 is currently flying over Ukraine, broadcasting its position for everyone to see.

U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk UASs (Unmanned Aerial Systems) belonging to the 9th Operations Group/Detachment 4th of the U.S. Air Force deployed to Sigonella from Beale Air Force Base, California, have been flying ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) missions in support of EUCOM, AFRICOM and CENTCOM theater mission tasking since 2011.

Beginning in 2015, they have started flying over Ukraine as well and, as already reported, instead of keeping a low-profile, they can be regularly tracked not only by “standard” ground radars, but even by commercial ADS-B receivers like those feeding online flight tracking systems such as Flightradar24.com, PlaneFinder.net or Global ADS Exchange while its imagery intelligence (IMINT) sensors take a look at Russian bases in Crimea and gather information about the pro-Russia forces on the ground in the Dombass region of Ukraine.

As we write this story, 19:00 GMT on Jul. 20, a Global Hawk drone can be tracked as it performs an ISR mission over Ukraine at 53,000 feet.

The unmanned aircraft has been airborne for some 17 hours. It started tracking early in the morning after departing from Sigonella, then it has headed east, flown over Bulgaria to the Black Sea, “skirted” Crimea, performed some racetracks off Sochi and then headed back to make a tour of Ukraine.

Here are some screenshots taken by our friend and famous ADS-B / ModeS tracking enthusiast running the popular @CivMilAir @ADSBTweetBot Twitter feeds:

 

As reported several times here, it’s difficult to say whether the drone can be tracked online by accident or not. But considered that the risk of breaking OPSEC with an inaccurate use of ADS-B transponders is very well-known, it seems quite reasonable to believe that the unmanned aircraft purposely broadcasts its position for everyone to see, to let everyone know it is over there. Since “standard” air defense radars would be able to see them regardless to whether they have the transponder on or off, increasingly, RC-135s and other strategic ISR platforms, including the Global Hawks, operate over highly sensitive regions, such as Ukraine or the Korean Peninsula, with the ADS-B and Mode-S turned on, so that even commercial off the shelf receivers (or public tracking websites) can monitor them.

Russian spyplanes can be regularly tracked as well: the Tu-214R, Russia’s most advanced intelligence gathering aircraft deployed to Syria and flew along the border with Ukraine with its transponder turned on.

Top image: Flightradar24 screenshot via @CivMilAir who deserves the usual H/T.

 

Salva

Salva

Salva

Gigantic U.S. Global Hawk drone could be tracked online while flying 21-hour mission over Libya

We can’t say whether it happened by accident or on purpose, but a U.S. unmanned spy aircraft broadcast its position for everyone to see while flying a long mission over northern Libya.

It’s not a secret that U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk UASs (Unmanned Aerial Systems) belonging to the 9th Operations Group/Detachment 4th of the U.S. Air Force deployed to Sigonella, Italy, from Beale Air Force Base, California, have been flying ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) missions in support of EUCOM, AFRICOM and CENTCOM theater mission tasking since 2011.

The Global Hawks of the flying branch had their baptism of fire on Mar. 1, 2011, and were the first to fly over Libya to perform high altitude Battle Damage Assessment sorties on targets located in regions with  a residual SAM (Surface-to-Air Missiles) and MANPADS threat after Operation Odyssey Dawn was launched on Mar. 19, 2011.

From their deployment bases in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and from Al Dhafra, UAE, the HALE (High Altitude Long Endurance) drones are regularly tasked with intelligence gathering missions over North Africa, East Europe and Middle East: in March 2015, the U.S. Air Force acknowledged the involvement of the RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft in the air war on ISIS not only as an IMINT (Imagery Intelligence) platform but also as Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) platform, that replaces the imagery sensor package normally installed in the aircraft, to support ground ops by relaying communications between people and aircraft as well as enabling airstrikes on the Islamic State militants.

Like all the other spyplanes, during their (long) sorties, these strategic ISR drones typically tend to keep a low-profile: they operate in “due regard” with transponder off, with no radio comms with the ATC control, using the concept of “see and avoid” where the pilot flying is responsible for avoiding all traffic conflicts, much like a VFR flight plan without flight following. For this reason it should not be possible to detect RQ-4s on clandestine missions using “simple” commercial receivers like those feeding online flight tracking systems such as Flightradar24.com, PlaneFinder.net or Global ADS Exchange.

But Global Hawks could be tracked online over Ukraine beginning on October 2016 and, for the very fist time, while conducting a 21-hour mission over northwestern Libya on Feb. 4, 2017.

Indeed, yesterday an RQ-4 could be tracked on FR24.com taking off from Sigonella airbase around 1.30AM UTC, climb to 46,000 feet over the sea then head towards Libya where it circled for several hours.

Tracking while heading southbound (screenshot from FR
24.com)

Flying over northwestern Libya (screenshot from FR
24.com)

Skirting Tripoli southeast bound (screenshot from FR 24.com)

RTB to Sigonella (screenshot from FR
24.com)

Eventually the UAS returned to Sigonella in the late evening landing after 22.30 UTC, some 21 hours after take off.

By the way, on the very same day there was another U.S. RQ-4 drone tracking again over Ukraine….

The reason why the strategic drone was visible on the Internet for everyone to see (including the bad guys) remains a mystery. Just another case of inaccurate use of ADS-B transponder?

We have documented OPSEC failures exposed by online flight tracking, reporting about special operations planes clearly tracking over or near “danger zones” for nearly a decade.

We have informed the U.S. Air Force and other air forces that their planes could be tracked online, live, several times, but our Tweets (and those of our Tweeps who retweeted us) or emails have not had any effect as little has changed even though this author has received several emails from USAF pilots and aircrew members who wanted to say thank you for raising the issue.

Sometimes the reason for making an aircraft visible on FR24 can be deterrence: they purposely broadcast their position to let “the others” know a spyplane hunting terrorists is there. Was this the case? Hard to say.

H/T to the always alert @CivMilAir for the heads-up!

 

Salva

Salva

Salva

Salva

Salva

Salva

U.S. Air Force TU-2S crashes in California. Two pilots aboard eject.

A two seater variant of the U-2 Dragon Lady from Beale Air Force Base has just crashed in Sutter County, California.

A TU-2S assigned to the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, from Beale AFB, crashed about 9.05 AM LT near West Butte and Pass roads.

The aircraft, a two seater variant of the famous U-2 Dragon Lady spyplane was involved in a training mission. According to witnesses, both pilots ejected from the aircraft: one died while the other was injured.

The U.S. Air Force is believed to operate just 5 TU-2S jets (including the one lost today).

The Dragon Lady is one of the most difficult plane to land requiring some special landing assistance by chase cars driven by experienced pilots who talk their colleagues aboard the U-2s during (take off or) landing: in fact, since the pilot’s view on a Dragon Lady is obstructed by the airframe, chase cars drivers provide additional information about distance to touchdown and altitude in order to make landings less risky.

The two-seat variant is particularly useful for training since the second cockpit is located well above the front one allowing an unobstructed forward view.

tu-2s

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

Salva

Chase car footage shows why the U-2 Dragon Lady is one of the most technically difficult planes to land

Watch these U-2 Dragon Ladies land at RAF Fairford.

Taken on Jun. 9, 2015 this interesting footage shows why the Dragon Lady is one of the most difficult plane to land in the world.

As we have already seen in the U-2 clips taken at Beale Air Force Base, this iconic reconnaissance aircraft requires some special landing assistance by chase cars driven by experienced pilots who talk their colleagues aboard the U-2s during (take off or) landing: in fact, since the pilot’s view on a Dragon Lady is obstructed by the airframe, chase cars drivers provide additional information about distance to touchdown and altitude in order to make landings less risky.

Pontiac G8 GTs and 400 HP V-8 Chevrolet Camaro SS cars, modified with U/VHF radios, are among the cars used to chase U-2s both at Beale and abroad.

Beale AFB, home of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, north of Sacramento, hosts the last U.S. Air Force’s U-2 Dragon Lady spyplanes as well as RQ-4 Global Hawks  drones, which require the same kind of landing assistance by chase cars.

[Photo] Five U-2 Spyplanes lined up in front of 9th RW hangar at Beale Air Force Base

Actually, you can spot more than five U-2 Drangon Lady aircraft in this cool image

Beale Air Force Base, home of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, north of Sacramento, hosts the last U.S. Air Force’s U-2 Dragon Lady spyplanes.

The image in this post shows five of them (along with two more U-2s whose tails appear right and left of the lined aircraft) in front of one of the base hangars.

U-2s, which are often deployed across the world, require some special landing assistance by chase car driven by experienced pilot who talk their colleagues aboard the U-2s during (take off or) landing: since the pilot’s view on a Dragon Lady is obstructed by the airframe, chase cars drivers provide additional information about distance to touchdown and altitude in order to make landings less tricky.

Also based at Beale AFB are RQ-4 Global Hawks  drones, which require the same kind of landing assistance by chase cars.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force