Tag Archives: Edwards Air Force Base

B-52 At Edwards AFB Sports Nose Art That Commemorates Its Past As “Mothership” In Top Secret D-21 Drone Test Program

A B-52 from the 419th Flight Test Squadron was given a new nose art to commemorate the Buff’s involvement in a top-secret test program.

An interesting image has been released by Edwards Air Force Base 412th Test Wing Public Affairs. It shows B-52 #60-0036 with a new nose art completed by renowned aviation artist Mike Machat to celebrate the involvement of the bomber in the top-secret test program named “Tagboard” about 50 years ago.

All manned flights over the Soviet Union had been discontinued by President Dwight Eisenhower after Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 spy plane was shot down May 1, 1960. Since satellites were still years away from being able to gather the required intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency determined unmanned drones could fill the gap until satellites became viable.

Tagboard program involved testing the D-21, a ramjet-powered reconnaissance drone that could reach Mach 3 speed. In fact, the D-21 required a mothership that could air-launch the drone at a certain speed so that the ramjet could activate.

In the beginning, an M-21 (essentially a modified SR-71 Blackbird) was used to air launch the D-21 drone from its back. The idea was that, after conducting its intended spy mission, the drone would eject a hatch with photo equipment to be recovered either mid-air (by a JC-130B, as it was lowered by a parachute) or after the hatch landed.

M-21 carrying D-21 in flight (Credit: CIA)

However, as the official release recalls, “on the fourth flight test, the D-21 experienced an “asymmetric unstart” as it passed through the bow wake of the M-21 causing the mothership to pitch up and collide with the D-21 at Mach 3.25. Crewmembers Bill Park and Ray Torick ejected from the M-21, but Torick’s flight suit became ripped and filled with water when he plunged into the ocean where he drowned.”

A video of the incident, filmed by an accompanying Blackbird can be found here.

After the accident, the M-21 launch program was cancelled and Lockheed Martin decided to launch the drone from B-52Hs, one being #0036. The new code name for the D-21 project became Senior Bowl.

A D-21 reconnaissance drone is on display at Blackbird Air Park at U.S. Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California. The D-21 was a ramjet-powered reconnaissance drone that could reach Mach 3 speed. Ideally, the drone would air launch from a mothership and after conducting its reconnaissance mission it would eject a hatch with photo equipment to be recovered either mid-air or after the hatch landed. (Courtesy photo by Danny Bazzell/Flight Test Historical Foundation)

“After several failed launch attempts, the first successful D-21 launch from a B-52 occurred June 16, 1968. The drone flew 3,000 miles at 90,000 feet. After a few more flight tests, the CIA and the Air Force decided to conduct four operational launches that all ended in failure in some way. Two flights were successful, however the imagery could not be recovered from the D-21’s hatch. The other two operational flights ended with one being lost in a heavily defended area and the other D-21 simply disappeared after launch.”

The D-21 program was cancelled July 15, 1971, and both B-52s used for the program were returned to operational Air Force units.

The B-52 #60-0036 is currently assigned to the 419th FLTS at Edwards, where it arrived in 2001; it has been used as a test bed ever since.

A B-52 currently used for testing by the 419th Flight Test Squadron, sits on the flightline at Edwards Air Force Base Oct. 16. The bomber, tail# 60-0036, was used in a top secret test program that began with the code name Tagboard. The program involved testing the D-21, which was a ramjet-powered reconnaissance drone that could reach Mach 3 speed. The D-21 would be launched from underneath the wings of the bomber. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kenji Thuloweit)

Considered the type of tests conducted at Mach 3 with the M-21 or the B-52 and D-21 drone some 50 years ago, one may guess: what is being secretely tested today?

Seventy Years Ago Today, Chuck Yeager Became The First Pilot To Break The Sound Barrier

70 years ago, the first manned supersonic flight.

On Oct. 14, 1947, U.S Air Force Captain Charles “Chuck” Yeager (now 94), flying the rocket-powered Bell X-1 aircraft #46-062 christened “Glamorous Glennis,” dropped from the bomb bay of a specially modified B-29 from Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base), “broke” the sound barrier achieving a peak speed of Mach 1.06 (361 m/s, 1,299 km/h) at 45,000 feet, before landing on a dry lake bed.

Chuck Yeager in front of the Bell X-1, the first aircraft to break the sound barrier in level flight.

It was flight number 50 and the achievement, meant to be secret but leaked to press later, took place in the skies over Rogers Dry Lake in the Mojave Desert.

Yeager enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Forces Sept. 12, 1941. Later he was accepted to flight training in the flying sergeants program and, upon completion, was promoted to flight. Yeager demonstrated his flying skill during World War II when he became an, “ace in a day” after downing five enemy aircraft in one mission.

Yeager is among the guest stars in The Right Stuff, a 1983 American epic historical drama film based on Tom Wolfe’s best-selling 1979 book (actually he also play a cameo in the movie). The Right Stuff is about the Navy, Marine and Air Force test pilots who were involved in aeronautical research at Muroc Army Air Field, as well as the Mercury Seven, the seven military pilots who were selected to be the astronauts for Project Mercury, the first manned spaceflight by the United States.

The Right Stuff’s first part is about the attempt of breaking of the sound barrier that, indeed, “opened up the doors of space to us,” as Yeager explained 65 years later.

Interestingly, as shown in the movie, two nights before the schedule date for the record flight, Yeager fell from a horse and broke two ribs. He was worried that the injury prevent him from flying the mission. He went to a civilian doctor who taped his ribs and only told his wife, as well as friend and fellow project pilot Jack Ridley, about the accident.

On the day of the flight, Yeager could not seal the X-1’s hatch by himself, such was the pain from the broken ribs and Ridley, flying in the B-29 “mothership” along with his friend, helped Yeager to seal the hatch by means of a lever: the end of a broom handle.

The rest is history.

To celebrate the first supersonic flight the U.S. Air Force has released an interesting infographic that shows the milestones of supersonic flight: from Mach 1 of the Bell X-1 to Mach 9.6 achieved on Nov. 16, 2004, by the third flight of the X-43A Hyper-X, a small experimental unmanned research aircraft, built in three examples, designed to flight-demonstrate the technology of airframe-integrated supersonic ramjet or “scramjet” propulsion at hypersonic speeds above Mach 5.

Thunderbird F-16D Ground Accident in Ohio, Global Hawk Drone Crashes in California.

RQ-4 Long Range RPV From Beale AFB Crashes in Mountains, Thunderbirds F-16D Crashes In Runway Rollover.

In two separate, unrelated incidents a U.S. Air Force F-16D Fighting Falcon of the Thunderbirds flight demonstration team flipped over after landing at Dayton International Airport in Ohio and a U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk long range surveillance drone has crashed on a ferry mission from Edwards Air Force Base back to its home base at Beale AFB in California.

The Thunderbird F-16D involved in the crash is a two-seat variant often used for orientation and public relations flights with two people on board, a Thunderbird pilot and guest of the team.

There is a report that the second person on the Thunderbird F-16D may have been an enlisted Thunderbird maintenance team member. Enlisted members of the Thunderbird team are sometimes flown for orientation and media purposes. Reports from the crash scene suggest one of the persons in the aircraft was waving to emergency personnel from inside the aircraft. Because the aircraft came to rest upside down the canopy could not immediately be opened. Rescue personnel were on scene immediately following the accident.

In an official release on the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds’ Facebook page, the team’s social media liaison wrote, “The United States Air Force Thunderbirds were conducting a single-ship familiarization flight on Friday June 23, 2017. Upon landing there was a mishap at the Dayton International Airport with an F-16D Fighting Falcon at approximately 12:20 p.m. Emergency services are on the scene. We will provide more information as it becomes available.”

Although no official cause of the accident has been released, weather may have been a factor. As of 1:00 p.m. local time weather websites for the area reported thunderstorms with heavy rain and lightning with wind gusts up to 23 M.P.H.

A Thunderbird F-16D two-seat aircraft flipped over while on the ground at Dayton International Airport today in preparation for an airshow there this weekend. (Photo: WHIO-TV via Facebook)

On Jun. 2, 2016, a U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds F-16 crashed shortly after the demo team had performed a flyover at the annual Air Force graduation ceremony in Colorado Springs. The pilot managed to eject before the aircraft crash landed in a field not far from Peterson AFB, Colorado. The cause of the F-16CM #6 crash was found in “a throttle trigger malfunction and inadvertent throttle rotation.”

In an unrelated incident a U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk long range surveillance drone had crashed on a ferry mission from Edwards Air Force Base back to its home base at Beale AFB in California on Jun. 21. Media reports said the remotely piloted vehicle was from the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale and was on a routine flight from Edwards Air Force Base. The aircraft went down near Mt. Whitney in the Sierra Nevada mountains at approximately 1:45 p.m. PST on Wednesday, June 21.

The Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk is a key strategic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance asset for the U.S. Air Force. It is a long range, long duration surveillance asset. The RQ-4 uses synthetic aperture radar to “see through” overcast and nighttime conditions to provide precise imagery of terrain features. A series of infra-red and long-range electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors provide imagery and spectrum analysis of targets from the RQ-4. Some analysts compare the mission and performance of the unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawk to the manned TR-2/U-2 long range, high altitude reconnaissance aircraft. There may be as few as four of the RQ-4s operating from Beale AFB.

A file photo of a U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk long range surveillance remotely piloted vehicle. (Photo: Northrop Grumman)

 

Russian Video Of Captured U.S. F-5 Tiger Jet Dogfighting Against MiG-21 in Tests Raises Question: Do They Still Operate American Jets?

Russia Operated Captured U.S. Aircraft for “OPFOR” Evaluation.

As we have reported previously, it is no secret the U.S. has made and still make use of captured or otherwise acquired Russian aircraft for test, evaluation and training purposes including the development of U.S. radars, countermeasures and early warning systems (earlier this year we published some really rare images of a Russian Su-27 Flanker dogfighting with a U.S. F-16 inside Area 51…)

Has Russia done the same with U.S. aircraft? Absolutely.

The RT video below contains some quite famous footage of a Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter formerly stationed at Bien Hoa Air Base in Vietnam being operated in Soviet markings against a MiG-21 (NATO codename “Fishbed”). The aircraft was seized along with “several US military aircraft”, taken to the USSR and used in a test and evaluation project to determine the capabilities of the F-5 series compared to Warsaw Pact aircraft.

Bien Hoa Air Base was overrun by Communist forces on Apr. 25, 1975 as the Vietnam War (referred to as the “American War” in Vietnam) neared its end.

A number of F-5A and F-5E aircraft attributed to the 522nd Fighter Squadron were left behind intact at the air base. Because the F-5E version of the aircraft had only flown for the first time three years earlier in 1973 and was being marketed to other Western user nations it was of significant interest to the Warsaw Pact.

Was the F-5 a threat to the Russian mainstay MiG-21? This video shows testing to answer that question in Russia.

At least one of the F-5s, in Soviet markings, was tested in opposing forces simulation with the MiG-21 as shown in this video.

Soviet pilots from Chkalov’s Russian Flight Test Center near the Volga River, a facility similar to the secret test ranges at Tonopah and Edwards AFB, were reportedly impressed by the performance of the F-5 against the MiG-21. Interestingly, Soviet engineers assumed the MiG-21 was more advanced but the F-5 won every time in the simulated air combat carried out in USSR. According to some reports the Russian pilots who flew the F-5 against the MiG-21 were named Vladimir Kandaurov, Alexander Bezhevets and Nikolay Stogov. The findings of these fly-offs and simulated combat were said to contribute to the development of the MiG-23 for the Russians, an aircraft that was imported to several Arab nations friendly with the USSR.

Noteworthy, the F-5 was so similar to the MiG-21, it was used as

Another curious development from behind the Iron Curtain was this photo of a what seems to be a McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom aircraft (or mock-up) under a tarp at the famous Zhukovskiy airfield near Moscow. The photo is allegedly from Aug. 11, 1971. It includes a French-built Mirage aircraft, also under cover, parked next to it. The massive Myasishchev M-4 Molot strategic bomber in front of the F-4 and the Mirage add some scale to the image.

An F-4 Phantom II and a French Mirage III sit under cover behind a Russian Myasishchev M-4 heavy bomber in Russia. (International Air Power Review Photo)

There have also been some interesting hoax aircraft flown in the Photoshop air force with Russian markings. The most famous is an F-14 Tomcat said to be taken from the Iranian Air Force following the fall of the Shah of Iran during the Iranian Revolution in 1978. While the photo looks convincing and the story is certainly plausible, most analysts agree it is faked.

A Photoshopped image of a Grumman F-14 with fake Russian Markings. Internet contributors contended the aircraft went to Russia from Iran for testing but the story proved to be untrue and the photo manipulated. (The Aviation Forum)

Perhaps the most interesting question is, does Russia own current frontline U.S. tactical aircraft as a part of its opposing forces unit? Are there Russian-marked F-16s or F-15s flying somewhere in Russia? The answer is, likely no.

The U.S. has been careful about the distribution of tactical aircraft to nations that may realign with Russia from the U.S. if their strategic alliances shift. And while relations with Russia and the U.S. have been much more open since the end of the Cold War there are still many reasons why the U.S. and Russia are vigorous about maintaining security about their respective combat aircraft.

Have you ever heard reports or rumors about American aircraft in the hands of the Russians? Let us know.

 

Take a look at these photographs of the rare NASA DC-8 Airborne Laboratory visiting Lajes during global-scale sampling mission

A rare beauty flew into Lajes airfield, Azores.

Taking part in the Atmospheric Tomography Mission (ATom-1) to study the impact of human-produced air pollution on greenhouse gases and on chemically reactive gases in the atmosphere, the NASA /Armstrong Flight Research Center / Earth Science DC8-72 msn 46082/458 flew into Lajes air base, Terceira island, Azores, on Aug. 17.

Lajes is a strategic airfield located in the Atlantic Ocean frequently used as a stopover airfield by military (as well as NASA) aircraft crossing the Pond.

ATom deploys an extensive gas and aerosol payload on the NASA DC-8 aircraft for systematic, global-scale sampling of the atmosphere, profiling continuously from 0.2 to 12 km altitude.

NASA DC-8

According to the NASA website, the DC-8’s sampling activities occur in each of 4 seasons over a 4-year period covering the whole globe: NASA 817 flew to Lajes from Ascension Island and before that the aircraft flew from New Zealand all the way across the Pacific and Indian oceans.

NASA DC-8 2

With the Universidade dos Açores (Azores University Meteo department) as a prominent research partner, the classic aircraft was involved in several scientific local flights to better understand atlantic meteorological conditions as well as air particle analysis, before leaving bound for Greenland on Aug. 20.

Below you can see the last part of the route followed by NASA 817 (screenshot from Flightradar24.)

NASA FR24

Here are some images sent us by our friends at the APS (Associação Portugal Spotters) showing the DC-8 arriving at Lajes in the afternoon on Aug. 17.

Image credit: APS – Associação Portugal Spotters

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