Tag Archives: F-16

We Went Air-to-Air With The Danish Vipers Supporting NATO Baltic Air Policing And Took These Stunning Photos

Baltic Air Policing is a regular mission held in the Baltic area, with the air policing assets stationed in Siauliai, Lithuania, and Amari, Estonia.

On Jan. 5. 2018 the duty in the Baltic region has been taken over by the Danes, who have deployed four F-16 Fighting Falcons to Lithuania, relieving the U.S. Air Force’s 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron F-15Cs off duty. The mission is a part of the NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defense (NIAMD).

The operation has been held regularly since the year 2004, as Lithuania and Baltic States’ air defense system lacks fighter force that would be able to provide air policing duties in this critical area. Due to the fact that the region is also critical in the light of the vicinity of Russia, it “offers” a lot of opportunities to meet the potential intruders in the air – here we are referring to the Russian Air Force whose aircraft, in international airspace, “test” the readiness of the QRA assets deployed by NATO in the region.

It shall be noted that even though initially the Baltic Air Policing operation had been hosted only by the Lithuanians, at the Siauliai airbase (which underwent significant expansion and modernization, for the sake of hosting the NATO assets), after the Russians gradually become more active and somehow aggressive, the operation has been enhanced.

During the peak period of the 2014 crisis in the Crimean Peninsula region, the deployments of air assets in the area were significantly enhanced, with USAF F-15Cs stationed at Šiauliai, supported by KC-135 tankers and the second Air Policing detachment stationed at the Amari Airbase in Estonia, where the Danes made their BAP debut. Furthermore, later that year, in May, the French deployed their Rafales to the Polish Air Force’s Malbork Airbase. Overall, the RDAF F-16s has operated in the Baltic area airspace in 2004, 2009, 2011 and 2013 (operating from Siauliai), as well as in 2014 (as mentioned above – operating from the Estonian Amari Airbase).

The operation is coordinated from the German CAOC (Combined Air Operation Centre) in Ueden. This is where the orders for the assets stationed in the Baltic region come from.

Notably, an intra-detachment rotation scheme has been adopted by the Danes for their air-policing involvement this year, which makes it possible to have more crews deployed abroad. Furthermore, the intensity of the operation is going up. Last year around 130 Russian aircraft were intercepted in the area, whereas respectively 110 scrambles took place in 2016.  Previously, 160 operations were conducted in 2015 and 140 intercepts in 2014.

The Danes scrambled their jets for the first time this year back on Jan 25. In the morning that day the NATO radars in the area picked up a radar track which did not comply with the standard legal regulations imposed by ICAO and without any transponder signal. The suspicious aircraft was flying from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad, and it turned out it was a Russian fighter. To ensure safety in the airspace, the NATO jets are then tasked with escorting the unidentified plane until it reaches the destination or complies with the rules. This is required by the ATC services to perform their work safely and, for instance, to avoid the mid-air collisions that could be caused by the fact that aircraft with their transponders turned off do not appear on the civilian radar screens.

The activities in March required the jets to go up into the air several times a week. The general trend suggests that NATO is going to enhance the air policing operation in the region again soon. It has already been announced that the Spanish and Portuguese would deploy their assets to Siaullai as of beginning of the next month, which sees involvement on the part of two nations at a single base, complementing the units stationed in Amari.

Danish Vipers

During the air-to-air sortie we had a pleasure to participate in (many thanks go to the Siauliai PAOs for their immediate helpfulness and hospitality), we had a chance to experience a close encounter with the Danish Vipers. The Danes operate their modernized F-16 aircraft in the area.

The Danish military aviation component faced a problem back in the 1970s, as a need emerged to replace the aging fleet of the F-104 Starfighters. The issue was being challenging for other countries in the region back then, including Belgium, Norway and the Netherlands. Jointly, as the European Participating Air Forces, the aforesaid group became the first customers to get involved in a development program together with the US, concerning the Viper. The uniqueness of the said procurement stems from the fact that the EPAF airframes were not made in the US, but in Europe. The production facilities involved in the process included SABCA and Fokker factories in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Initially, according to F-16.net, the RDAF placed an order for 46 F-16As and 12 F-16Bs, with the deliveries beginning in 1980s. The jets later underwent Block 10 upgrade, at the works in Aalborg, as a part of the Pacer Loft I program. To replace the formerly used Saab Drakens, the Danes ordered another 12 Block 15 jets in 1984, including 4 two-seaters. These were not built in Denmark. Instead, the Dutch Fokker company took over the effort. This order was to replace the older aircraft that were subjected to wear. Another seven “attrition replacements” were delivered to Denmark in 1994 and 1997.

The Danish jets were modified, in order to meet the RDAF’s requirements. All of the Vipers are fitted with a search light on the port forward portion of the fuselage beneath the canopy, which is useful for night-time scrambles. A very similar modification is also applied in case of the Canadian Hornets. However, the change was implemented in case of the Danish Vipers at the ‘design’ stage, before they were manufactured. RDAF Vipers have been fitted with the light during the initial production. This modification is identical to the one implemented in case of the Norwegian aircraft, where the searchlight, with a 450W light bulb, has also been installed. Needless to say, even though this element is not a technologically advanced one, it proves very useful in air policing scenarios, during which a visual identification of the potential intruder is required during any night-time scrambles.

The second modification of the Danish Vipers which clearly distinguishes this airframe comes in a form of PIDS+ (Pylon Integrated Dispenser Station) and ECIPS+ (Electronic Countermeasures Integrated Pylon System) systems that have been widely used within the EPAF aircraft. The pods in question have been fitted onto wing stations 3 and 7 (ECIPS+ on the left and PIDS+ on the right wing). The aforesaid countermeasure systems have been manufactured by the Per Udsen Co. Aircraft Industry (Terma A/S since 1997) in Denmark. The dispenser section in PIDS houses either RR-170 or CCB chaff dispensers. The latter is of the same size, but houses double of the chaff quantity, when compared to the RR-170 – 60 charges instead of 30, as in case of the RR-170. Meanwhile, ECIPS+ may house electronic countermeasures, such as the AN/ALQ-162(V)6 system.

Furthermore PIDS and ECIPS pods also feature Cassidian Electronics AN/AAR-60 (V) 2 MILDS F sensors (MILDS F = Missile Launch Detection System, Fighter), which is a missile approach warning system based on a passive imaging sensor that detects the UV radiation signature of the approaching missiles, allowing the pilot to utilize countermeasures in an efficient manner. 6 MILDS F sensors (3 on each wing) and one processor have been integrated into the Terma A/S PIDS+ and ECIPS+ pylons. The sensor windows for MILDS F are clearly visible in the front and back portion of the pylons and constitute a distinguishable element of the Danish aircraft. MILDS system has been integrated on the RDAF F-16s back in 2007 (the contract was awarded to Terma in 2004).

Avionics-wise the main modifications include implementation of the Link 16 datalink and JHMCS helmet-mounted cueing system which could be spotted during our sortie with the jets – helmets featuring the JHMCS display were worn by the pilots in the cockpit. Interestingly, the Danes also found the default instrument panel clock to be not ideal, and fitted a cheap quartz watch next to the HUD, as the F-16.net website claims.

All RDAF F-16s have undertake Mid-Life Update, with all of the work carried out at the Aalborg based workshop facility.

The photo sortie involved E006 and E596. The latter jet comes from the initial order made by the RDAF to acquire their F-16s (deliveries between 1980 and 1983), while the former aircraft that acted as the flight lead during the photo operation was delivered within the framework of a follow on order, happening between 1987 and 1991.

The jets we have photographed were carrying AIM-9L Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAMs under their wings, which is a typical configuration adopted for the air policing duty. Note the yellow stripes on the missiles, meaning that we were accompanied by Vipers carrying live armament. Notably though the F-16s involved in our sortie over Siauliai did not carry the targeting pods – which are also an important and useful tool that is usually applied during air policing operations. During the photoshoot we were flying a Lithuanian Air Force C-27 Spartan. The external fuel tanks the jets were carrying extended the playtime we had to take the shots.

Epilogue

The Danish deployment is going to last until the beginning of May. The detachment is going to be replaced by the Spanish and the Portuguese, which would mean that yet again the rotation would have a doubled size at the Siauliai AB.

On Apr. 3, according to Forsal.pl. Dalia Grybauskiate, the Lithuanian President, claimed that Baltic Air Policing is not enough to protect the airspace in the region, and more defensive measures shall be put into place. She also referred to the Patriot air defence systems that are soon to be acquired by Poland as a significant enhancement of the regional security. “I hope that the United States, as well as other nations, understand the fact that protection of the Baltic States’ airspaces needs to be taken more seriously,” Grybauskiate said.

Written with Dawid Kamizela

Images: Dawid Kamizela and Jacek Siminski

The authors would like to thank the Siauliai AB staff for their hospitality and professional attitude we could have witnessed during the photoshoot.

Air Force Identifies Thunderbird F-16 Pilot Killed in Crash at Nevada Test and Training Range.

USAF Major Stephen Del Bagno, Thunderbird #4, Was Experienced Pilot, First Year Thunderbird.

Update: a previous version of the story only mentioned the flyover at the Daytona 500 whereas the Thunderbirds have performed a display at Melbourne air show 2018, Florida.

The U.S. Air Force has identified the member of the Thunderbirds flight demonstration team who died in a training accident near Nellis AFB, Nevada yesterday morning while training for the upcoming airshow demonstration season.

USAF Major Stephen Del Bagno, listed as being from Valencia, California by ABC7 News in California, was previously the F-35A Lightning II Chief of Standardization and Evaluation at the 58th Fighter Squadron, Eglin AFB, Florida. He became a Thunderbird demonstration pilot in 2017 for the 2018 airshow season.

Major Del Bagno is reported to have only had the opportunity to participate in one Thunderbird public flyover at the Daytona 500 NASCAR race in Florida on February 18, 2018 and to the display at Melbourne Air and Space Show, Florida, on March 24-25 prior to his fatal accident. As an experienced tactical aircraft pilot with more than 3,500 total flight hours including 1,400 hours in U.S. Air Force aircraft, Major Del Bagno began flying and rehearsing with the Thunderbirds last year and was experiencd as the Number 4 “Slot” pilot in the Thunderbird diamond formation. He had flown over 30 types of aircraft, civilian and military, during his career.

The official USAF Thunderbird page for Major Del Bagno summarized his impressive career as an exceptional aviator:

“Maj. Stephen Del Bagno is the Slot Pilot for the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, flying the No. 4 jet. He is a 2005 graduate of Utah Valley State university, and commissioned from Officer Training School, Maxwell AFB, Ala. In 2007. Before joining the Air Force, Del Bagno was a civilian flight instructor, corporate pilot, skywriter, and a banner tow pilot. He enjoys snowboarding, water sports and spending time with family and friends. Prior to joining the Thunderbirds, Del Bagno served as an F-35A Evaluator Pilot and Chief of Standardization and Evaluation, 58th Fighter Squadron, Eglin AFB, Fla. He has logged more than 3,500 flight hours in over 30 different aircraft, with 1,400 hours as an Air Force pilot. Del Bagno is in his first season with the team and hails from Valencia, Calif.”

Major Del Bagno had replaced former Thunderbird #4 slot pilot Major Nick Krajicek, who moved within the Air Force to another assignment. Maj. Del Bagno, callsign, “Cajun”, was the first F-35A Lightning II pilot to fly on the Thunderbirds team in the F-16.

In a February 2017 release, Maj. Del Bagno talked about the capabilities of the F-35A Lightning II he was flying at the time, “This jet is going to take us to 2050 and beyond. As threats evolve, we need to continually stay ahead of them. It’s a multi role platform and this proves how versatile the aircraft can be. We can shoot missiles, we can drop bombs, so we can take the fight to the enemy.”

No further information has been released about the accident. As is common with any military aviation accident a formal investigation is being conducted by the U.S. Air Force.

Thunderbird diamond (credit: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

Did You Know That Thunderbird 9 Uses Mirror To Mark Show Center For Thunderbird 1 During Airshows?

The U.S. Air Force demo team rely on a signal mirror that provides a fixed reference point to the formation during the display.

The video below is particularly interesting. It was filmed in 2016 and shows the then current and future USAF Thunderbird 9 pilots using their signal mirrors to signal Thunderbird 1 and mark the show center to the team.

The footage was filmed at Huntington Beach, CA, on Oct. 20, 2016, during the practice session for the weekend airshow.

Thunderbird 9 is the flight surgeon for the USAF Thunderbird air demonstration team. On the right hand side is Maj. (Dr.) Christopher Scheibler, Thunderbird 9 for 2015-2016; on the left is Capt. (Dr.) William Goncharow, who would be Thunderbird 9 for 2017-2018.

Obviously, TB1 can’t see the very small mirror itself, whose size is that of a business card. What TB1 sees is the concentrated ray of sunlight reflected by the mirror – 4,000,000+ candlepower of it – more than 20 times brighter than an air traffic control signal light gun.

This signal mirror is a USAF issue 2″x3″ glass MIL-M-18371E Mark 3 Type 1 emergency signaling mirror with a retroreflective mesh aimer. The MIL-M-18371E is standard USAF pilot survival gear, also used for ground-to-air communication. On a clear day, with the sun overhead, this mirror can reflect a beam that is naked-eye visible at 20+ miles – see the video here.

Maj. (Dr.) Chris Scheibler, Thunderbird 9, holds the signal mirror he used to mark show center for Thunderbird 1 during the USAF Thunderbirds’ aerial performance at the “Thunder over the Empire” airshow at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, CA on April 17, 2016. (Image credit: Signal Mirror)

Even though to the eyes of a spectator a demo team’s display overhead an airport does not change much from the one which takes place over another airfield or the coastline of a beach resort or a lake, the way the team flies may differ significantly depending on the “environment” in which the aerobatic display is executed. The different topographic features of the place where the air show takes place, and the surrounding landscape may, in fact, require the adoption of specific solutions in order to maintain standard distances and for the correct evaluation of terrain separation under peculiar light conditions.

Familiarisation with the landscape and evaluating the display arena are the purposes of the preparation flight which precedes every airshow display. In the case of displays flown over land, the terrain usually offers a multitude of fixed references which assist in the perception of speed, travelled airspace and altitude, such as crop lines, fields, roads, railways, and water courses. Over the water, however, it is necessary to utilise buoys or small boats which, besides delineating the display area in respect to a crowd line which is frequently extremely extended, allows the accurate determination of the display line. This line constitutes the reference for the pilots for the safe execution of all the manoeuvres. Whereever the display takes place, the show center is one of the most important reference points for the team.

By the way, the Blue Angels demo team use the same mirror.

Top image: right screenshot from rafowell video

Amazing Video Shows Ultra-Low Level Flying From The Cockpit Of A U.S. F-16. And Here’s Why This Kind Of Training Is Still Important Today.

An amazing video shows what it’s like to fly at ultra-low altitude over Japan. Is this kind of training is still relevant?

The footage you can find below was just released by the 35th Fighter Wing. It shows a low-level sortie flown by an F-16 out of Misawa Air Base, located some 400 miles north of Tokyo, in the northern part of the island of Honshū of Japan.

The clip is quite amazing. Take a look.

Low level flying remains a key part of military pilots training. Although most/many current war scenarios involve higher altitudes, fighter jocks still practice at low altitudes to infiltrate heavily defended targets and to evade from areas protected by sophisticated air defense networks. While electronic countermeasures and stand-off weapons help, the ability to get bombs on target and live to fight again may also depend on the skills practiced by pilots in the low-level areas across the world, such as the famous “Mach Loop” in the UK or the “Star Wars Canyon/Jedi Transition” in the U.S.

During normal training activities, flying lower than 2,000 feet can be useful when weather conditions are such to require a low-level leg to keep visual contact with the ground and VMC (Visual Meteorological Conditions). However, it’s when they are committed to the real stuff, including special operations, reconnaissance, Search And Rescue, troops or humanitarian airdrops in troubled spots around the world, that pilots may need to fly at ultra-low altitudes to prevent detection or to survive an engagement by enemy fighter planes or missiles.

 

 

For instance, low level training was particularly useful to RAF C-130 Hercules aircrews who were tasked to rescue British oil workers who were trapped in Libya in 2011 during the initial stages of the uprising: two cargo aircraft took off from Malta and flew over the Mediterranean, called Tripoli air traffic control, explained who they were and what they were up to. However, they got no reply from the controllers, therefore continued in what could be considered “hostile air space”, descending at ultra-low level at night, to avoid eventual Libyan Air Force interceptors. Once all the oil workers were picked up (in more than one location) from the desert, the Hercules returned to Malta keeping a low-altitude profile until they reached a safe airspace, “feet wet” over the Mediterranean Sea.

This what an Italian Air Force Tornado IDS Nav (equivalent to a Weapons System Officer) explained to us in a recent interview:

In theatre [Afghanistan or Iraq], we normally operate at higher altitudes. However, even in the most complex scenarios, flying low remains an option when you need to evade threats. Even more so when you fly the Tornado, an aircraft that has been designed to fly at treetop altitude: terrain masking is an option you can rely on. This is the reason why most of our training takes place at low altitudes. In the past, our low flying training took place in Italy, then, for a certain period, we have deployed to Goose Bay, in Canada; more recently we have exploited the deployments to Israel to fly as low as 250 feet during multinational exercises.

 

Vipers, Fulcrums and Fitters: Tactical Exercise at Poznan-Krzesiny Airbase

We attended a tactical exercise of the Polish Air Force involving all fast jet types that remain in the service. F-16s and MiG-29s were tasked with providing fighter escort for the Su-22 attack aircraft.

On Mar. 13 we visited Poznan-Krzesiny airbase where Polish Air Force fast jets were taking part in a tactical exercise. As Polska Zbrojna reports, the operation involved both 1st and 2nd Tactical Aviation Wings of the Polish Air Force.

Noteworthy, what’s unique about the operation in question, is the fact that the said exercise involved the Su-22s and MiG-29s operating from the Poznan-Krzesiny airbase. Usually such operations see the pilots operating from their homebase which made it possible to integrate the planning and briefing processes, which could be considered a simulated deployment of all assets to some undefined operational theatre.

One of F-16 Fighting Falcon Block 52+ of the Polish Air Force taking off.

Not only did the operation cover fighter-escort capabilities, as the pilots also conducted CAS operations and scenarios, attacking the simulated targets around the Polish military ranges. The ground attack portion involved the Fitters, with Fulcrums and Vipers acting as the escort. Some of the jets simulated the adversary, in an aggressor role. Notably, the Fitters, to prolong their playtime probably, were carrying 4 external fuel tanks each.

Su-22 close up. The Fitters flew in the attack role.

Polish Viper thundering on take off from Poznan.

In order to extend their endurance, the Su-22s flew with four external fuel tanks.

Meanwhile, Vipers were taking off in waves, 4 aircraft per each wave.

Polska Zbrojna outlet notes that the operation is a part of preparation before the NATO Tiger Meet exercise planned to happen in May. The Aviationist is planning to attend this annual meeting of the NATO Tiger squadrons, and provide you with a report from the operation.

Polish MiG-29 Fulcrum.

Black Su-22 Fitter (305)

F-16D on the go. The Vipers escorted the Soviet-era Su-22 and MiG-29 attack planes.

All Images: Jacek Siminski

Many thanks go to Bartosz Torbicki and Sebastian Walczak, for taking care of logistics and formalities related to the visit at the base.