Tag Archives: Close air support

The Crazy Story Of The Very First A-10 Pilot To Land A Badly-Damaged Warthog With No Canopy And With The Gear Up

Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.

The A-10 is famous for being exceptionally tough and able to survive direct hits from armor-piercing and high-explosive projectiles. A recent episode proves the Warthog’s durability combined with pilot training, can be extremely useful, when it deals with managing an unusual emergency.

On Jul. 20, Capt. Brett DeVries, who was flying his A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft over the forests of Alpena County, in northeast Michigan, was able to land on the runway at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center with his aircraft whose canopy had blown off the aircraft 25 minutes before, whose main radio had stopped working, along with the first back-up, and with the landing gear that would not come down.

According to the U.S. Air Force, the 107th Fighter Squadron pilot from Selfridge Air National Guard Base made something that was never achieved before in the roughly 40-year history of the A-10: indeed, DeVries was the first pilot to land with no canopy and with the landing gear up.

“In that moment, your training kicks in. The training – that’s what saves you and your wingman,” DeVries said in an official release that provides all the details you can find in this story.

He was part of a four-ship on a routine training sortie from Selfridge to the Grayling Air Gunnery Range: a pretty standard mission for DeVries and his peers in the 107th, known as the “Red Devils,” that included a 30-minute transit to Grayling, to drop dummy bombs and make several strafing passes with the 30mm GAU-8 Avenger Gatling-style gun. A type of sortie DeVries has flown some 300 times!

After performing six bomb passes over the gunnery range to drop their ordinance, each A-10 took a turn firing the 30mm gun. However, on his second pass, DeVries’ gun malfunctioned. Simultaneously, the canopy of his aircraft blew off. With the canopy off and flying at about 325 knots, the wind caught in his helmet and slammed DeVries’ head back into the seat.

“It was like someone sucker punched me,” he said. “I was just dazed for a moment.”

At the time, he was flying at about 150 feet. DeVries instinctively pulled back on his stick to gain altitude and climbed to 2,000 feet, out of the normal path for range traffic, to put some space between his aircraft and the ground.

Flying behind DeVries was Major Shannon Vickers, another 107th pilot.

He saw a “donut of gas” from the Avenger gun around Devries’ aircraft, but didn’t realize the canopy had blown off because he was focused on the ground targets in the range. Still, he thought that something was wrong when the A-10 ahead of him had suddenly climbed.

Inside his cockpit, DeVries operated on instinct: he first lowered the seat in the cockpit to try to escape the winds that were buffeting his head back and forth and causing his maps and checklists to be blowing all around.

Another issue the pilot had to assess was the integrity of the ejection seat: had the blown canopy compromised it?

Vickers flew under him, performing a visual inspection of the damaged aircraft.

In addition to having been an A-10 pilot for the past 10 years, Vickers brought a little extra knowledge to the table. The Michigan native started his military career as an enlisted weapons specialist, working on A-10s at the 110th Attack Wing in Battle Creek.

Quickly, the two Red Devils determined that the best plan would be to fly over to Alpena, just a few minutes away by air, and attempt a landing there. While flying there, the Alpena control tower called down to Selfridge, some 250 miles to the south, in metropolitan Detroit. Soon, several A-10 maintenance specialists were on a speaker phone, chiming in with their ideas and recommendations, which Alpena then relayed to Vickers and DeVries, who was now down to using his third-best radio system.

Finally, with Vickers chasing him, the pilot of the damaged Warthog tried to lower his landing gear: the gear started to come down, but, as they feared, the nose gear was hung up from the gun damage.

Quickly, Vickers radioed to DeVries: “Gear up!”

Fortunately, the gear completely retracted to the up position.

With no other option remaining, with gear up and the canopy off DeVries lined the aircraft up for a landing.

“As he made final approach, I felt confident he was making the right decision,” Vickers said. “We had talked through every possibility and now he was going to land it.”

Shallow approach. Not too fast. Minimal flare.

On the A-10, the two main landing gear wheels are exposed, even when in the up position. It is part of the combat resiliency of the aircraft. And so, Capt. Brett DeVries landing his ‘Hog, right in the middle of the runway in a near textbook landing – caught on video by another pilot who was on the ground at Alpena.

“I flew him down, calling out his altitude,” Vickers said. “He came in flat, I mean it was a very smooth landing.”

After flying alongside DeVries during the landing, Vickers circled the field and saw his fellow Red Devil exit the aircraft on his own and run to the fire truck; then he was instructed to return to Selfridge.

“There is a reason why we train as a two-ship or greater,” said Col. Shawn Holtz, Commander of the 127th Operations Group and an A-10 pilot. “We rely on each other and need to have mutual support within the flight. Maj. Vickers was the definition of what a Wingman should be in this flight. He stuck with Capt. Devries and did everything in his power to see this through to a safe landing. Both of these pilots demonstrated not only superior flying skills, but represent the type of teamwork and professionalism that should be the goal of every Attack Pilot.”

In all, the flight lasted about 25 minutes from the time the canopy blew off until landing. An investigation is underway into the cause of the original malf The A-10 is still at Alpena where it is being repaired and will return to the flying inventory at Selfridge

“Again, I want to stress the training,” DeVries said. “Sometimes, perhaps we think, ‘Why do we have to do this training again and again?’ Well, in this case, the training took over and it is what made the difference.”

Slocum said the two men will be submitted for appropriate recognition for their superior Airmanship during the July 20 flight. DeVries also received an email congratulating him from Gen. David L. Goldfein, the Air Force Chief of Staff.

Capt. Brett DeVries (right) and his wingman Maj. Shannon Vickers, both A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots of the 107th Fighter Squadron from Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich. Vickers helped DeVries safely make an emergency landing July 20 at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center after the A-10 DeVries was flying experienced a malfunction. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Terry Atwell)

 

Insane Low Level Flying As Seen From The Cockpit Of A Ukranian Su-25 Frogfoot Jet

Ukrainian Pilots Flying Below Treetop Altitude.

The footage below shows, from inside the cockpit, Ukrainian Air Force Su-25M1 jets during training sorties flown at ultra-low level across the country.

Based on the timestamps included in the video, the clips (filmed with GoPro cameras) were shot between May and October 2014.

We have already seen plenty of videos showing Ukrainian Su-25s performing their Close Air Support missions at very low-level (where they proved to be particularly vulnerable to MANPADS as those in the hands of pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine in July 2014) but this footage provides a pretty unique point of view during treetop navigations and live firing activity (with both bombs and rockets) at the range.

Low level flying is not “restricted” to the Frogfoot jets: here’s a Ukrainian Mig-29 overflying pro-Russia separatist blocking rails; here’s an Ilyushin Il-76 buzzing some Su-25s (and the Frogfoots returning the favor while buzzing the tower); here you can find an Mi-17 helicopter flying among the cars on a highway and another fully armed Mig-29 Fulcrum in the livery of the Ukrainian Falcons aerobatic display team flying over an apron at an airbase in Ukraine; here’s a Su-25 flying low over the heads of a group of female soldiers posing for a photograph and then performing an aileron roll; and here you can see a Su-27 performing a low pass after take off.

Top image: screenshot included in the above footage.

 

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Take A Seat In the Cockpit Of A U.S. B-52 Bomber As It Drops GBU-31 “Bunker Buster” Bombs On ISIS Targets In Mosul

Rare Insight Into The Operations Of The B-52s.

The venerable U.S. Air Force B-52 Buffs have been supporting the air war on ISIS since April 2016. They Stratofortress strategic bombers, based at Al Udeid, Qatar, launched their first air strike against a Daesh weapons storage facility in Iraq on Apr. 18, 2016.

As already highlighted in a previous article, the USAF B-52s have mainly flown Close Air Support and Air Interdiction mainly delivering two types of JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions): the 500-lb laser-guided GBU-54s and the 2,000-lb GPS-guided GBU-31V3 “bunker busters” loaded onto the Heavy Stores Adaptor Beam pylons.

The typical loadout includes 3x GBU-31s and 8x GBU-54s along with PGMs carried inside the bomb bay of the B-52H Stratofortress. With the 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade the Buffs can carry up to 16 external laser JDAMs (8 per pylon) as well as 8 internal J-series weapons mounted on a conventional rotary launcher: a mix of PGMs that gives the Buffs the ability to deliver attack both stationary and moving ground targets. In particular, the GBU-54s, that combines 500-lb Mk-82 warhead and the precision strike capability delivered by its dual Laser/GPS mode guidance system can be used against targets with reduced collateral damage.

For hardened targets or concrete shelters, the weapons of choice is the GBU-31s.The JDAM is a GPS aided inertially guided bomb. The Guidance and Control Unit (GCU) containing a HG1700 RLG, GEM-III GPS receiver and computer package is installed inside the bomb tailkit. The GCU is used on the bunker busting 2,000-lb class BLU-109/B forged steel penetrator warhead.

The GBU-31s are assembled at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, by airmen from the 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron’s Munitions Flight. Considered that the base

The following video provides a really interesting point of view: it shows a high-altitude attack on a target in western Mosul (according to @obretix), as seen from the cockpit of a B-52 of the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron on May 23, 2017. The detonation of the bombs as they hit the ground appears to be pretty huge.

H/T @obretix for the heads-up

 

Watch This: F-35B Fires GAU-22 External Gun Pod in Flight

New Caliber Gun Provides Close Air Support Capability for U.S. Marines.

The U.S. Marine Corps Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter has completed the test firing of its externally mounted General Dynamics GAU-22 25mm gun pod.

The final aerial test firing took place on May 8, 2017 and was conducted by The Salty Dogs of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23’s Integrated Test Force (ITF) at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River.

Of particular interest in the video just released (that includes footage from several different sorties) is the variety of additional external stores carried on the test F-35Bs. The aircraft are shown with a version of the AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile and, in a separate flight, with what appears to be a 500lb laser guided bomb possibly a version of the GBU-12 Paveway II.

The new General Dynamics GAU-22 25mm gun pod uses a unique four-barrel configuration that was developed from the highly successful five-barrel, 25mm GAU-12/U gun also built by General Dynamics. The new GAU-22 gun, carried internally on the USAF F-35A variant and in the external pod for the U.S. Marines’ F-35B is and U.S. Navy F-35C is more than 40 pounds lighter and requires 20 percent less overall space than the earlier GAU-12, 5-barrel 25mm gun. The new GAU-22 weapon has a reported rate of fire of “up to 3,300 rounds per minute”. The rate of fire of aerial guns is often reported as “up to…” since the gun can take several seconds to achieve its maximum rate of fire because of the weight of the rotating gun barrels.

The GAU-22A Gun Pod. (Image credit: LM)

The successful in-flight test firing of the 25mm gun pod (started at the end of February), specifically on the U.S. Marine Corps F-35B, somehow addresses questions over the F-35 program’s ability to perform the close air support mission. Several analysts have expressed concern over whether the F-35 is suited for the close air support mission and is a suitable substitute for the CAS-specific A-10 Warthog.

Generally speaking it’s wrong to compare the F-35 with any other asset that was designed to perform a specific mission: the A-10 was built around a unique 30mm cannon nearly as long as the aircraft’s entire fuselage that was intended for the anti-armor close air support (CAS) mission.

While this initial test-firing does not resolve questions surrounding all of the F-35B’s close air support capabilities it is another successful step forward in the program’s progress. At least it can use the gun if called into action during a CAS mission!

The F-35 GAU-22/A gun has been among the most controversial topics: some criticised the fact that the Joint Strike Fighter’s gun can only hold 181 20mm rounds, fewer than the A-10 Thunderbolt’s GAU-8/A Avenger, that can hold some 1,174 30mm rounds.

Moreover, although it was designed with LO (Low Observabity) characteristics, the external pod degrades the F-35’s radar cross section making the 5th generation aircraft more visibile to radars. Still, this should be acceptable for the scenarios where the U.S. Marine Corps F-35B will be called to carry out CAS missions.

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Are Low-Cost “COIN” Air Forces the Future of Tactical Air Power?

For Nations Without Big Defense Budgets, Small Tactical Air Forces are the Trend.

Small, inexpensive, easy to operate combat aircraft with precision strike capability and long loiter times to provide close air support.

Versatile, scalable rotary wing assets that do double duty as gunships and utility/rescue helicopters.

Aircraft that can be disbursed to unimproved airfields and operated from roadways or even fields while being concealed on the ground.

In the era of the multi-billion dollar Gen 5+ superfighter and hundred-million dollar stealth bombers, is the low-cost counterinsurgency or “COIN” air force the next big defense trend? Many aircraft and systems manufacturers, along with their nation-clients, are betting “yes”.

As countries like Iraq and Afghanistan emerge from the long Global War on Terror and develop their own indigenous air forces the trend for local area defense and simple tactical air solutions is growing quickly. At the same time, strategic air combat capabilities, such as long-range heavy bombing, low observable long-range precision strike and long-range intelligence gathering have fallen to nations with much larger economies like the United States, Russia, England, France and China.

The emerging industry in light, inexpensive, adaptable, scalable and integrated tactical air arsenals is booming, while massively expensive projects like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter are under constant criticism and scrutiny from budget concerns.
Noted strategist, author and think-tank contributor Thomas PM Barnett, formerly a member of the Center for Naval Analyses and author of “The Pentagon’s New Map” opined, “a Leviathan force, used in a Leviathan manner, will rarely work.” Barnett was writing about the Global War on Terror and the use of global force to oppose and defeat a local insurgency. It is often like trying to remove a small tumor with a chainsaw.

Another key aspect of the growing trend in light tactical air power is that it empowers nation states with their own air force. The value of this is as much socio-psychological as it is tactical. Nations can fight their own wars, their own way, without the imposing presence of an aircraft carrier battle group off their coast.

Perhaps one of the best examples of a light, inexpensive counterinsurgency air force is Afghanistan. The Afghan Air Force operates two strike platforms, the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-68C turboprop powered, low wing, two-seat attack airplane and the MD Helicopters MD-530F Cayuse Warrior light utility/attack helicopter powered by Rolls Royce’s 650 shp 250-C30 engine. The two aircraft are well suited for ease of training and close air support.

Afghan Air Force MD-530F Cayuse Warrior helicopter fires its two FN M3P .50 Cal machine guns during a media demonstration, April 9, 2015, at a training range outside of Kabul, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Perry Aston/Released)

Some reports suggest the aircraft may be a little “too” effective and easy to use. A February 8, 2017 story by Shawn Snow and Andrew DeGrandpre published in Military Times reports that, “the loss of innocent life caused by Afghan-initiated airstrikes doubled to 252 [in 2016], according to the U.N.” from the same period in the prior 2015 year. The report went on to say, “Afghanistan’s primary attack pilots are firing their weapons during four of every 10 combat missions, a rate more than three times greater than that of their U.S. Air Force counterparts.”

As a partial response to the frequency of airstrikes by Afghan assets and the exposure of civilians to collateral damage American officials working with the Afghan Air Force have begun to accelerate training for indigenous Afghan forward air controllers.

Regardless of the potential for reduced discretion when prosecuting ground targets (or, perhaps, because of it…) the demand for inexpensive counterinsurgency air support aircraft is booming. It has created heated contract competitions between manufacturers like Embraer and Beechcraft and introduced new brands into the marketplace like IOMAX and their highly capable, purpose-built Archangel counter-insurgency, close air support and precision strike aircraft.

The IOMAX Archangel is completely re-engineered from a basic agricultural (crop dusting) aircraft configuration. Instead of carrying pesticides or fertilizer it carries a full complement of precision guided air-to-ground weapons and highly effective countermeasures with a two-person crew. While the direct comparison is not at all fair, a country can purchase almost 20 of the IOMAX Archangel tactical aircraft with maintenance spares for the cost of one F-35A joint strike fighter. That is the size of the entire proposed acquisition of Embraer A-29 Super Tucanos for the Afghan Air Force. The IOMAX Archangel is already in service with the Royal Jordanian Air Force in the border patrol and interdiction role.

IOMAX Archangel (credit: IOMAX)

The conversation about low-cost, “bush-plane” style counter insurgency aircraft fitted with sophisticated data sharing, intelligence collecting and precision targeting capability is a fascinating one. For many countries that don’t need a strategic, long range, stealth air asset and can’t afford one, but do have to manage a persistent guerilla or insurgent threat, this new generation of “smart” light attack aircraft may just be the “Gen 5.25” combat aircraft of the next decade and beyond.