Tag Archives: F-15 Eagle

Before Topgun Days: a book reveals how F-14 Tomcat Radar Intercept Officers were trained

Behind the scenes of the making of an F-14 Tomcat RIO.

Although the Grumman F-14 Tomcat had evolved into a multi-mission strike fighter when it was eventually retired from U.S. Navy service in 2006, the last of the “Grumman Cats” was originally conceived to be one of the best air-to-air fighters ever built, a goal reached thanks to its speed, its high maneuverability and its sophisticated weapon system.

The lessons learned during the Vietnam War showed that the fighter that the F-4 Phantom replacement had to excel in WVR (within visual range) engagements and feature those BVR (beyond visual range) capabilities essential for a premiere Navy fighter. Thus Tomcat crews were trained to conduct intercepts almost from the start of training in Pensacola and continuing with their assignment to the RAG (replacement air group, a squadron dedicated to training aviators for a specific type of aircraft).

As explained by the twenty-year experienced Tomcat Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) Dave “Bio” Baranek in his new book Before Topgun Days: The Making of a Jet Fighter Instructor, depending on the learning objectives, the intercept would either end when “we got close to the target, or would include engaged maneuvering after the merge.”

According to “Bio” one of these sorties, flown with LT Jim McArthur (who would later become an admiral) as his instructor pilot, and their wingman in the second F-14 was Sandy Winnefeld (a student RAG pilot, Baranek’s college friend, and a future admiral himself) and his instructor RIO Willy Driscoll, the Vietnam MiG ace, was particularly memorable.

This hop was a “2 vs 2 intercept to engagement” with a TA-4 Skyhawk and an F-15 Eagle as opponents.

As Baranek recalls: “As with the Tomcat, the designers of the Eagle applied the hard lessons from aerial combat in Vietnam and took advantage of further advances in engines and aerodynamics. The Air Force jet was lighter, unencumbered by the heavy structure that the Tomcat needed for repeated carrier landings, nor by the Tomcat’s heavy radar and other systems that came with the Phoenix missile. With its incredible maneuverability, the Eagle was a challenge for the Tomcat.”

Noteworthy, given that the engagement took place in the skies over the range near Yuma, the rough terrain of the area challenged the AWG-9 in automatic modes and the Tomcat RIOs in manual modes. Flying at an altitude of 20,000 feet and at 350 knots, both groups – the F-14s and their adversaries – were closing at a speed of 700 knots. As Bio says “It was cool to have a college friend and a flying legend on my wing.”

TA-4

The intercept began and Bio started to direct the F-14s’ attack, when Driscoll came up on the radio and said: “My radar is acting up, Dave, you’re going to have to run this one.” His radar problems left their section without Driscoll’s experience during the engagement, but also reminded the aircrews that in the real world radar sometimes fails.

So, with encouragement and a little coaching from his pilot, Bio directed the two F-14s through the intercept, calling an AIM-7 Sparrow missile shot and describing the radar picture for the wingman.

“We got a tally-ho on both adversaries, streaked past them at the merge…and the fight was on! Though it was more maneuverable than the TA-4, the F-15 was also larger and easier to keep track of. Even so, duking it out with a nimble little guy and his big brother was challenging as our two F-14s maneuvered aggressively in a vigorous dogfight. I have to admit that the details are a blur: I don’t remember who took shots, who won or lost. After about two minutes the fight ended with “Knock it off” on the radio. […] One thing I do remember: Driscoll’s radar was fully functional on the second and third engagements of the flight. Did I get “sandbagged,” an old trick of instructors to see how I would handle it? Or did he just have a knack for fixing an AWG-9 during a dogfight? I’ll never know, but I do know I was in awe of his radar and communication skills. He (Driscoll) definitely lived up to his reputation.”

But for U.S. Navy aircrews being fully capable to man their aircraft during real combat operations is not enough: indeed, before being assigned to an active duty squadron they must be qualified to operate from an aircraft carrier and the biggest challenge they have to overcome during CQs (carrier qualifications) is called “night carrier qualification.”

Night CQ

In “Before Topgun Days” not only does the author bring the reader onboard a Tomcat during carrier night flight operations but also provides a unique description of these tense moments: “Surreal is not a strong enough word to describe the experience of calmly flying around a pitch-black sky for an hour, steadily monitoring red-lit instruments, breathing oxygen through a mask, talking on the radio and occasionally trading small talk or mission-related comments with your pilot. We really could have been sitting in a black room. Until the final two minutes of greatly increased activity and stress, followed by the physically jarring arrested landing that suddenly placed us on a small world dimly lit by orange lights. In this place we talked to each other and interacted with people outside for a frenzied few moments until we were again brain-scrambled by a cat shot into the serenity of darkness. This time it was only a few minutes of serenity before we again started the relentless rush of a night carrier approach.

No, surreal is not a strong enough word.”

“Before Topgun Days” tells how student RIOs were brought to this level of skill through a structured training approach that begins in Pensacola. Baranek gives detailed descriptions of his early training, which was exciting and challenging, and tells about the times he thought he might not complete the program. But he did. Several vignettes from Bio early days in a fleet F-14 squadron that show how well the training prepared him for the real world finish the book.

Baranek

Image credit: Dave “Bio” Baranek

Here are the first images of the U.S. Air Force F-15s providing air policing duties in Iceland

The Eagles have arrived in Iceland.

Beginning on Apr. 1, 12 F-15C Eagles belonging to the 131st Fighter Squadron, Barnes Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, and the 194th Fighter Squadron, Fresno Air National Guard Base, California, have deployed to Europe as part of the latest iteration of a Theater Security Package (TSP).

F-15 Iceland land 2

The 6-month tour in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve aims to augment the Air Force presence in a specific region, for deterrence purposes.

F-15 Iceland taxi

Whilst 8 of the F-15s went to Leeuwarden Air Base, Netherlands from where they will also take part in Exercise Frisian Flag, four Eagles deployed to Keflavik, Iceland, to undertake air policing duties in support of NATO: using radio callsign “Kubid 61-62-63-64”, the jets arrived late on Apr. 3, supported by a KC-10 tanker “Bobby 61.”

F-15 Iceland land

As done by the TSPs last year, during their six months in theater, the F-15s will also forward deploy to other NATO and partner nations to include Bulgaria, Estonia and Romania.

F-15 Iceland land KC-10

Image credit: Eggert Norðdahl

U.S. F-22s, F-15s intercepted two pairs of Russian Tu-95 bombers off Alaska and California on July 4th

Russian bombers flew off Alaska and California during Independence Day and were intercepted by U.S. Air Force jets.

Twice on Jul. 4, Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers on long-range patrol missions were intercepted by U.S. jets scrambled from airbases located on the West Coast.

According to Fox News, the first security alert occurred at 10:30 a.m. ET when the Russian nuclear-capable bombers flew off the coast of Alaska and two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor jets were scrambled from their base at Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson in Alaska to intercept the Tu-95s.

The second scramble was ordered at 11.00 when 144th Fighter Wing’s F-15s from Fresno, California, were scrambled to intercept what has been described as another pair of Tu-95 Bear bombers flying off California.

Intercept missions of Russian bombers flying not far from the Continental US (sometimes some hundred miles off) are far from being a routine. In fact, not always are U.S. (or Canadian) fighter jets launched to intercept these “zombies”: in 2014, only 6 out of 10 “incursions” saw U.S. or Canadian aircraft scramble against Moscow’s long-range attack aircraft.

For instance, during the first such incidents this year, on Apr. 22, when two Russian Tu-95 Bear H bombers flew into the U.S. Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), no U.S. aircraft was dispatched to identify and escort the strategic bombers most probably probing North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) response times.

Interestingly, the Tu-95s were launched over the Pacific Ocean on a long-range flight few days after the flight ban (following the mishap that saw a Bear skid off the runway and catch fire at Ukrainka airfield that caused the death of one crew member) was lifted.

Top image: file photo of a U.S. Air Force F-22 escorting a Tu-95 Bear (USAF)

 

These Are Some Of The Most Spectacular Israeli Air Force F-15 Jets Photographs Ever

Israeli Air Force F-15 “Baz” and “Ra’am” as you have never seen them before.

The Heyl Ha’avir (Israeli Air Force) operates a fleet of about 70 F-15 Eagle jets in the A/B/C/D and I variants.

Besides the F-15I “Ra’am” (Thunder in Hebrew), which is a version of the F-15E Strike Eagle developed especially for Israel, the other types of F-15s in service with the Israeli Air Force have been improved through a series of upgrades and custom modifications which have made the “Baz” (Falcon), some of the most advanced and famous Eagles in service all around the world.

F-15I take off smoke

The Israeli F-15s, performing in the air superiority as well as in the air-to-ground role have taken part in all the regional wars, special operations and air strikes Israel has fought since the first Eagles were delivered in 1976.

F-15 Baz take off
The first ever kill by an F-15 was scored by an Israeli Eagle in 1979 over Lebanon, followed, two years later by the first worldwide kill of a Mig-25 Foxbat. Since then, Israeli F-15s were credited with 60 air-to-air victories mainly against Syrian Mig-21, Mig-25 and Mig-23 jets.

F-15 exhaust close up

The photographs in this post show the Israeli combat-proven F-15s at work.

They were taken by renowned aviation photographer Nir Ben-Yosef who has been documenting the IAF’s people, aircraft and operations for well over a decade.

F-15 take off afterburner

F-15I night takeoff

Image credit Nir Ben-Yosef (xnir.com)

 

The story of a legendary F-14 pilot and the gun kill on an F-15 that could sell Tomcats to Japan

Known and unknown stories of a legendary F-8 Crusader and F-14 Tomcat pilot

If you Google “F-14 gun kill” or “F-14 Hoser”, you can find a 8” x 10” frame of a 16 mm gun film shot which shows an  F-15 Eagle locked through an  F-14 Tomcat Head Up Display, at 250 feet, with piper on the Eagle’s pilot, gun selected, master arm on (beware the image below does not show the gun kill mentioned in the story….).

Even if the photo itself is already very interesting, the story behind it, is by far more fascinating. In fact, the naval aviator at the controls of the Tomcat can be considered a sort-of legend.

As explained by Alvin Townley in his book Fly Navy, most probably other pilots have scored more kills, held higher ranks or more prestigious commands, but few living aviators embody the untamed nature of aviation like the one-of-a-kind legend known to decades of F-8 Crusader and F-14 Tomcat pilots: Joe “Hoser” Satrapa.

A skilled rifleman, Joe joined the Navy with the aim to fly a jet fighter.  His passion for guns guided him after the flight school graduation, in 1966, when he was called to opt for the F-4 Phantom or the F-8 Crusader. The Phantom had no guns and Satrapa thought: “No guns? What kind of aircraft is this with no guns?” and he immediately chose the “Last Of The Gunfighters” as the Crusader was dubbed by aircrews.

But the “Satrapa legend” began the day he was given the callsign “Hoser” (even if he is also known as “Da-Hose” or “D-hose”), during a mission at the gunnery range in which he was flying the tail position in a flight of four Crusaders. He cut off the preceding aircraft as they approached the target and started shooting from two thousand feet up, one and a half miles out, hosing off all his bullets in one pass.

His flight leader J.P. O’ Neill told him to return to the airfield at El Centro and the same night O’ Neill had the final say on the incident when he nailed Satrapa: “Lieutenant junior grade Satrapa, for hosing off all his bullets in one pass, will hence forth be known as Hoser. That’ ll be five bucks.”

Hoser was also widely known during the Vietnam War as a fearless F-8 pilot who regularly carried a good forty pounds of lethal ordnance, in case he was suddenly forced to eject from his aircraft and face an entire platoon of North Vietnamese Army regulars.

As explained by George Hall in his book Top Gun – The Navy’ s Fighter Weapons School, Hoser’s interest for guns continued when he transitioned to the F-14 Tomcat.

During the AIMVAL/ACEVAL (the Air Combat Evaluation/Air Intercept Missile Evaluation) fighter trials that put the F-14s and the F-15s against the F-5Es to test new weapons and tactics which took place from 1974 to 1978 at Nellis Air Force Base, Hoser (assigned to the VX-4 evaluators) was put in a 1 vs 1 against an F-5.

As the two combatants sat side-by-side on the Nellis runway, awaiting tower clearance for takeoff, Hoser looked over at his opponent, reached his hand up over the control panel, and mimicked the cocking of machine guns in a World War I Spad. A thumbs up came from the other cockpit, meaning that guns it would be, the proverbial knife fight in a phone booth, forget the missiles.

Both jets took off.

As soon as they reached the assigned area, the fighters set up twenty miles apart for a head-on intercept under ground control. Seven miles from the merge, with closure well over 1,000 knots, Hoser called “Fox One”, a Sparrow missile away, scoring a direct hit.

As they flashed past each other, the furious F-5 driver radioed, “What the hell was that all about?” “Sorry.” said Hoser, “lost my head. Let’s set up again. Guns only, I promise.”

Again the two fighters streaked towards the pass, again at seven miles Hoser called “Fox One.” The F-5 driver was apoplectic.

Hoser was first back to the club bar, nursing an end of the day cold one as the flushed Aggressor stomped in. “Hoser, what the hell happened to credibility?” the F-5 pilot asked. Hoser replied “Credibility is DOWN, kill ratio is UP!”

This story became very popular around Topgun, alongside the lesson learned: from 1 vs 1 to forty-plane furball, expect anything. But never expect your enemy to be a sweet guy.

Still, Hoser’s best experience during the AIMVAL/ACEVAL most probably came after the end of the trials. Even if Tomcat and Eagle drivers could not engage each other, Hoser and his RIO Bill “Hill Billy” Hill with  Dan “Turk” Pentecost and Frank “Fearless” Schumacher onboard the second F-14, went 2 vs 2 against a couple of F-15 instructors from 415th Training Squadron (415th Flight Test Flight).

Both Eagles were gunned down and a gun camera film which showed the F-15 locked in the F-14 HUD almost caused Japan to revert its decision to buy the Eagle.

F-14A_Tomcat_in_head-up_display_c1988

Image credit: U.S. Navy