Tag Archives: F-35

(Almost) All F-35 Joint Strike Fighters Grounded Worldwide Following September 28 Crash

Suspected Fuel Problem Results in Grounding of Joint Strike Fighter. Not all of them actually…

All Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters were ordered grounded on Thursday, October 12, 2018 for safety inspections of their fuel flow systems following the September 28, 2018 crash of a U.S. Marine F-35B Lightning II in Beaufort, South Carolina. It was the first crash of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter since the worldwide program, the largest defense contract in history, began flying in 2006.

“The U.S. Services and international partners have temporarily suspended F-35 flight operations while the enterprise conducts a fleet-wide inspection of a fuel tube within the engine on all F-35 aircraft,” the F-35 Joint Program Office announced in a statement Thursday morning.

The grounding of the F-35 fuels criticism of the program that has been under scrutiny from the start due to cost and program delays. The Joint Strike Fighter program has been characterized as the most expensive defense program in history. A Pentagon study claimed the entire program may exceed $1 trillion USD including maintenance for the entire fleet over its lifespan, not accounting for inflation.

Developed during the emergence of social media, the F-35 program has been a lightning rod for public criticism of defense spending. Recent analytics on TheAviationist.com’s Facebook page reveal that a September 28 story about the first F-35 crash attracted over ten times as many “Likes” than a previous story earlier that week about the first combat mission flown by the U.S. in an F-35. The analytics strongly suggest readers are more attracted to negative news about the F-35 than positive reports about the program.



The fleet-wide grounding of the aircraft is expected to be short-term according to a statement released today by the F-35 program office.

Actually, not all the F-35s have been eventually grounded.

“The Italian Air Force has already completed its inspections and, as it did not find the faulty part, is back to normal flight operations, according to two sources” Lara Seligman reported. Indeed, the Italian F-35A aircraft were reportedly flying today’s late afternoon, launching from Decimomannu, Sardinia, where they are currently deployed to undertake air-to-ground and CAS (Close Air Support) training.

Same for the British F-35B jets, involved in the flight trials from HMS Queen Elizabeth:

The Israeli have halted their operations with the F-35I Adir.

“If suspect fuel tubes are installed, the part will be removed and replaced. If known good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status. Inspections are expected to be completed within the next 24 to 48 hours.”

In its official statement on Thursday morning the program office went on to say the grounding of all F-35s worldwide, “is driven from initial data from the ongoing investigation of the F-35B that crashed in the vicinity of Beaufort, South Carolina on 28 September. The aircraft mishap board is continuing its work and the U.S. Marine Corps will provide additional information when it becomes available.”

Top Image: file photo of U.S. F-35A Lightning II. All versions of the aircraft have been temporarily grounded according to official statements (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com.)

Everything We Know About The Delivery of Russian S-300 Missile Systems to Syria

Let’s analyse if and how the Syrian scenario is going to change after the delivery of the S-300 air defense system to Assad.

Images and video of the first Russian S-300 battery being delivered at the Khmeimim Air Base in Syria have been shared by the Russian MoD starting on Wednesday Oct. 3. The announcement of the successful delivery of the long-range missile systems had arrived on Tuesday but the photographs and clip showing the missile tubes, radar and control vehicles provided a visual confirmation of the claims.

The S-300s were delivered in response to the Israeli air strike on Sept. 17 that led to the accidental downing of a Russian Air Force Il-20M Coot spyplane mistakenly shot down by a Syrian S-200 (SA-5) missile. Although the details and real causes of the downing are still controversial, Moscow made it clear it would boost the Syrian air defense, a dense system relative to the country’s size but whose backbone is a variety of old Soviet-era SAMs. Russia threatened to  impose electronic countermeasures over Syria’s coastline, suppressing satellite navigation as well as radar and communication systems of combat aircraft attacking targets on Syrian territory.

The S-300 is a mobile air defense system that couples a radars capable to track multiple targets with long-range missiles to hit aerial targets at a distance of 150 km and an altitude up to 27,000 meters. Although well-known to the western air forces, it remains a lethal SAM system.

Syria wanted the S-300 as far back as the 1980s after the first Lebanon war, but it was forced to make do with the S-200 (SA5) system, an older system still capable to bring down an advanced F-16I Sufa on Feb. 10, 2018, when several SA-5 and SA-17 missiles were fired at seven Israeli fighter jets returning from an airstrike on the T-4 military base near Palmyra in central Syria, from which the IDF said an Iranian operator remotely piloted an Iranian drone into Israeli territory an hour earlier. In that case, the IAF determined the loss of the Sufa was caused by a “professional error”: although the on-board warning system of the F-16I alerted the crew of the incoming threat, the pilot and navigator failed to deploy countermeasures.

As commented back then, the last time an Israeli Air Force jet had been shot down dated back to the first Lebanon War at the beginning of the ’80s and the air strikes did not cease after the Sufa loss. However, it must be remembered that Israel hasn’t had a real freedom of action over Syria since late 2015, when Russia decided to install an S-400 Triumf missile defense battery able to track the Syrian airspace as well as the vast majority of Israeli airspace. In fact, since then, Israel has coordinated its activities in Syria with Moscow.

According to Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu the delivery of S-300 systems has been concluded. “It included 49 pieces of equipment, including radars, control vehicles and four launchers,”  the MoD said to TASS News Agency. “We have finished personnel recruitment and have begun to train them,” said Shoigu, adding that it would take the Syrian army at least three months to learn how to use the system. It’s fair to assume that the Russians will operate the S-300s during the training period and remain for some tipe supervising operations.

The new systems were delivered by means of AN-124 Condor flights. An unusual frequency in heavy airlifter missions to the airbase near Latakia was monitored and tracked online in the days before the official announcement, suggesting an air bridge was in progress to deliver the components required to install the first S-300 batteries: as many as 6 flights between Sept. 28 and Oct. 1.

On paper, the addition of the new SAM batteries should not affect the Israeli ability to strike Syria. Thanks to stand-off weapons, the Israeli Air Force continues to be able to hit its targets as well as the SAM sites themselves in what is called a DEAD (destruction of enemy air defenses mission) if needed.

The Israeli Air Force has already gathered knowledge on the Russian defense system when it trained against the S-300PMU-1 surface-to-air missile system stationed in Crete during INIOXOS-2015, one the largest annual exercise of the Hellenic Air Force, during which 10 Israeli Air Force F-16I Sufa were able to test evasion tactics during simulated attacks against ground targets protected by S-300 batteries.

Moreover, if conventional aircraft can be theoretically tracked (or as some media outlets stated “locked on”) by Syrian air defenses shortly after take off from their airbases in Israel, the IAF can commit its radar-evading F-35I Adir to the Syrian air strikes. Indeed, the IAF F-35s have already carried out attacks in Syria, as the Israeli Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin unveiled earlier this year. “The Adir planes are already operational and flying in operational missions. We are the first in the world to use the F-35 in operational activity,” he said showing also a famous photograph of an F-35I flying off Beirut (with radar reflectors).

This is what the Author wrote back then about the F-35 Adir’s involvement in the air strikes on Syria and the inherent risks. It still applies at the current situation:

“[…] the heavy presence of Russian radars and ELINT platforms in Syria cause some concern: the Russians are currently able to identify takeoffs from Israeli bases in real-time and might use collected data to “characterize” the F-35’s signature at specific wavelengths as reportedly done with the U.S. F-22s.

In fact, tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft are built to defeat radar operating at specific frequencies; usually high-frequency bands as C, X, Ku and S band where the radar accuracy is higher (in fact, the higher the frequency, the better is the accuracy of the radar system).

However, once the frequency wavelength exceeds a certain threshold and causes a resonant effect, LO aircraft become increasingly detectable. For instance, ATC radars, that operate at lower-frequency bands are theoretically able to detect a tactical fighter-sized stealth plane whose shape features parts that can cause resonance. Radars that operate at bands below 300 MHz (lower UHF, VHF and HF radars), such as the so-called Over The Horizon (OTH) radars, are believed to be particularly dangerous for stealth planes: although they are not much accurate (because lower frequency implies very large antenna and lower angle accuracy and angle resolution) they can spot stealth planes and be used to guide fighters equipped with IRST towards the direction the LO planes might be.

For these reasons, in the same way the U.S. spyplanes do with all the Russian Su-35S, Su-30SM, S-400 in Syria, it’s safe to assume Russian advanced anti-aircraft systems are “targeting” the Israeli F-35s and its valuable emissions, forcing the IAF to adapt its procedures and leverage the presence of other aircraft to “hide” the “Adir” when and where it could theoretically be detected. “This has created a situation in which the IAF is adapting itself to the F-35 instead of adapting the jet to the air force. The goal, they say at the IAF, is to use the F-35 to upgrade the fourth generation jets that will fly around the F-35,” commented Al-Monitor’s Ben Caspit.

Meanwhile the Israeli F-35s will probably see some action, validating the tactical procedures to be used by the new aircraft, fine tuning the ELINT capabilities of the “Adir” to detect, geolocate and classify enemy‘s new/upgraded systems, as well as testing the weapons system (and the various Israeli “customizations”) during real operations as part of “packages” that will likely include other special mission aircraft and EW (Electronic Warfare) support.

But only if really needed: the Israeli Air Force “legacy” aircraft have often shown their ability to operate freely in the Syrian airspace, using stand-off weaponry, without needing most of the fancy 5th generation features; therefore, it’s safe to assume the Israelis will commit their new aircraft if required by unique operational needs, as already happened in the past (in 1981, the first Israeli F-16s took part in Operation Opera, one of the most famous operations in Israeli Air Force history, one year after the first “Netz” aircraft was delivered and before all the F-16As were taken on charge by the IAF).”

That said, it’s highly unlikely that Israel would attack the S-300 batteries until the Russian military operate or have those weapons under their direct control. The problem is not the system itself, but the fact that it is flying the Russian flag for some time now.

Someone has recently asked me if the presence of the S-300 is making accidental downings less likely in the crowded Syrian airspace.

The answer is: most probably yes, especially considering that Russian personnel will probably operate more modern systems (even after they are officially handed over they will probably help the Syrians) and care will be taken in properly identifying targets before firing SAMs at them (the use of “transit corridors”, reviewed radar and radio procedures will be probably implemented among the Russian-Syrian teams as well). At the same time, advanced notifications will be probably used wisely, in order to prevent other incidents that could escalate tensions even more.

That said it must be reminded that the situation over Syria will remain volatile.

Yes, there are far busier areas in the Middle East as well as the rest of the World, where the concentration of civilian aircraft is higher. Open Source analysis on flight tracking websites or apps (using ADS-B/Mode-S as I have often explained here) can just give a rough idea of the situation because it provides insights into the civil part of the story. If you observe the traffic flying over Syria using Flightradar24 at any time (you can use the playback feature to monitor flights on a large period of time with speed up to 120x) you will probably only spot some civilian traffic flying in the southwestern part of the country/east of Damascus: the airspace is mainly interested by airliners belonging to the Syrian Air, Iraqi Airways, Fly Baghdad and Cham Wings Airlines flying to/from the Syrian capital. Sometimes you’ll see an airliner crossing the airspace to the North of Damascus: these are usually civilian flights heading to Beirut. Another corridor, mainly used by aircraft heading north departing from Damascus roughly runs along the country’s eastern border. You can have an idea of the corridors used by civil traffic these days here.

Using OSINT tools we don’t get a sense of how many military flights operate over there. Besides the Russian airlifters trailing other aircraft or delivering “goods” to Latakia, and the spyplanes that operate in the eastern Med off Syria and Lebanon, little can be tracked on Flightradar24.com or other public domain flight tracking websites. But we know that there are other tactical as well as intelligence gathering (manned and unmanned) aircraft flying over Syria, both Russian, Syrian and belonging to the US-led coalition. And we also know that, every now and then, combat aircraft from different countries, not operating/cooperating under the same management/coordination and possibly using different procedures as well as ROE (Rules Of Engagement), operate in proximity one another (or close to civilian aircraft).

Deconfliction hotlines between US and Russia and between Russia and Israel have helped avoiding direct clashes (although there have been some tense close encounters in the near past before the Il-20 was downed) but the risk of human-induced accidents remains.

Top image credit: composite created using IAF/Reddit/Russian MOD/FR24.com images

F-35 and F-16 Formation Doing Arizona State Capitol Flyover As Seen From A Helicopter

Flyover filmed from from a Robinson R44 Helicopter equipped with a gyro stabilized camera system.

The footage below was filmed on Sept. 26, as a formation of four aircraft, two F-35s and two F-16s, belonging to the 56th Fighter Wing, from Luke Air Force base, Arizona, conducted the Arizona State Capitol flyover as part of the ceremony honoring the 100th Anniversary of the Final Flight of Lt. Frank Luke Jr.

What makes the flyover really interesting is once again the pretty unique viewpoint: Chopperguy helicopter flying above the formation, that used callsign “Knife 01”.

The pilots flying the 100th Anniversary flyover were “Dojo”, “Slam”, “Havoc” and “Judge”.

Lt. Frank Luke Jr. after whom Luke AFB near Phoenix is named was a pilot in WWI. He was born on May 19, 1897 and died on Sept. 29, 1918, about 100 years ago when he shot down after taking down 2 enemy aircraft and continued to fight once on the ground resisting capture. According to the 56th FW page, because of his actions he was the first aviator awarded the Medal of Honor. In all he shot down 18 aircraft in 18 days.

Besides some 77 F-16s, Luke is home to 68 F-35s: the base is the training hub for Lightning II’s pilot and maintainers from Australia, Norway, Italy, the Netherlands, Japan and Israel. F-35 pilot training began at Luke just over a year after the 56th Fighter Wing received its first F-35A in 2014 and, according to LM, eventually, the 56th Fighter Wing will be home to 144 F-35s in the future. The 62nd and 61st fighter squadrons train an international cadre of F-35 pilots from partner nations like Norway, Italy and Australia. The 63rd FS, activated in August 2016 with the first jet taken on charge in March 2017, trains F-35 Lightning II fighter pilots as a joint international effort between Turkey and the United States.

Interestingly, as part of the 100th anniversary of the death of Lt. Luke Jr. one F-35 and one F-16 were given a #Luke100 logo.

To mark the 100th Anniversary of Lt Luke’s death the Wing’s two flagship aircraft were given a Luke 100 logo. (Image credit: 56th FW).

The Chopperguy team, shooting from 8K to High Definition aerial video and photography with a gyro stabilized camera system, has already filmed some really interesting stuff from their R44 Newscopter. Take a look at the following clip showing aerial footage of F-35 Lightning II Strike Fighter jets taking off from Luke Air Force Base and flying over the Fiesta Bowl Parade near Phoenix, Arizona. It includes a radio interview of General Brook “Tank” Leonard as he and Major Aaron ‘Gambit’ Stevens took off in their F-35s.

Top image: screenshot from Chopperguy video

Here Are Some Photographs of the F-35B Lightning Jets Landing on (and Launching From) Britain’s Newest Carrier for the First Time

Royal Navy Commander Nathan Gray and RAF Squadron Leader Andy Edgell were the first pilots to land their F-35 Lightning stealth jets on the flight deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth.

In the last 24 hours we have commented two quite different F-35B Lightning II-related news: the first air strike in Afghanistan and the first crash in South Carolina. Both events involved U.S. Marine Corps STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant aircraft. However, these were not the only newsworthy events: on Tuesday Sept. 25, 2018, Royal Navy Cmdr. Nathan Gray and Royal Air Force Sq. Ldr. Andy Edgell, both test pilots at the F-35 Integrated Test Force at NAS Patuxent River, Md., were the first pilots to land the stealth F-35B on board HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The first landings and subsequent take-offs from HMS Queen Elizabeth “are the culmination of a British endeavor lasting more than a decade to bring an aircraft carrier back to the UK’s arsenal,” says an official U.S. DoD release.

Two F-35B Lightning II fighter jets successfully landed onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time this week, laying the foundations for the next 50 years of fixed wing aviation in support of the UK’s Carrier Strike Capability.
Royal Navy Cmdr. Nathan Gray made history by being the first to land on, followed by Royal Air Force Sq. Ldr. Andy Edgell, both test pilots at the Integrated Test Force (ITF) based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.
Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin

The landings on Britain’s newest aircraft carrier (able to accommodate up to 24 F-35Bs out of the planned 138 F-35 Lightning jets) kicked off the first of two First of Class Flight Trials (Fixed Wing) phases, held back-to-back this fall, where the ITF team plans to perform a variety of flight maneuvers and deck operations to develop the F-35B operating envelope for QEC carriers. According to the ITF, the tests “will evaluate jet performance on over 200 test points during different weather and sea conditions as well as the aircraft’s integration with the ship. A third FOCFT (FW) phase followed by operational testing is scheduled for 2019.”

Two F-35B Lightning II fighter jets successfully landed onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time this week, laying the foundations for the next 50 years of fixed wing aviation in support of the UK’s Carrier Strike Capability. Shortly afterwards, once a deck inspection has been conducted and the all-clear given, Royal Navy Cmdr. Nathan Gray, F-35 Integrated Test Force at NAS Patuxent River, Md., became the first pilot to take off using the ship’s ski-ramp.
Courtesy photo by Royal Navy

The first landings were performed as HMS Queen Elizabeth operated off the U.S. East Coast. The aircraft carrier left Portsmouth in August, crossing the Atlantic to conduct the flying trials and joint training with the US Navy. The flight trials are scheduled to take around 11 weeks and +500 take-off and landings. The target is to be ready for a deployment from 2021.

F-35B prepares to land. (LM)

In an official Royal Navy release, the Commanding Officer of HMS Queen Elizabeth, Captain Jerry Kyd, said: “I am quite emotional to be here in HMS Queen Elizabeth seeing the return of fixed-wing aviation, having been the captain of the aircraft carrier which launched the last Harrier at sea nearly eight years ago.

“The regeneration of big deck carriers able to operate globally, as we are proving here on this deployment, is a major step forward for the United Kingdom’s defence and our ability to match the increasing pace of our adversaries. The first touch-downs of these impressive stealth jets shows how the United Kingdom will continue to be world leaders at sea for generations to come.”

Two F-35B Lightning II fighter jets successfully landed onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time this week, laying the foundations for the next 50 years of fixed wing aviation in support of the UK’s Carrier Strike Capability.
Royal Navy Cmdr. Nathan Gray made history by being the first to land on, followed by Royal Air Force Sq. Ldr. Andy Edgell, both test pilots at the Integrated Test Force (ITF) based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.
Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin

Commodore Andrew Betton, the commander of the UK’s Carrier Strike Group, said: “The Queen Elizabeth-class carriers have been specifically designed and built to operate the F-35, offering an immensely flexible and potent combination to deliver military effect around the world.

F-35B on the ski jump. (LM)

“Conducting these trials is a critical and exciting step on this journey and I applaud the many thousands of civilian and military personnel who have played a part in bringing the strategic ambition to reality.”

Royal Navy Cmdr. Nathan Gray in his F35B following the first deck landing aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth. Gray and Royal Air Force Sq. Ldr. Andy Edgell, both test pilots at the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md, landed the first two jets on the new British aircraft carrier this week.
Courtesy photo by Royal Navy

 

 

“Don’t Touch!”: Spectators Gently “Pet” Italian F-35A Lightning II at Belgian Air Show

Spectators Are Not Allowed to Touch F-35 Jets, But Some in Belgium Got a Lucky Chance.

If you are among the millions of people to see a Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter at an airshow since its first public appearance at Joint Base Andrews in the U.S. in 2011, you know there is always tight security surrounding the airplane. A rope cordon is normally patrolled by armed security guards to keep people at a distance from the exotic fifth-generation fighter.

But spectators at the 2018 Belgian Air Force Days airshow at Kleine-Brogel Air Base in northeastern Belgium got a treat when a new Italian F-35A belonging to the 13th Gruppo (Squadron) of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force), MM7359/32-09, was being towed so close to the crowd line that the right wing actually protruded over the orange spectator fencing. This gave some quick-thinking spectators the opportunity to briefly and gently touch the aircraft to see what it felt like and be able to say they were among the first civilians at an airshow to touch the mysterious, stealthy plane.

Aviation photographer Stewart Jack was in the right place at the right time and caught a quick video of spectators reaching up and gently touching the plane. From the behavior of the people seen in Stewart’s video, it seems like they have an understanding of how special the moment was.

“The aircraft was being towed in to the static display for the Airshow on Saturday morning. We were all queuing up to gain access to the Friends of the Air Force section when it got just a bit too close for everyone waiting. The child on his dad’s shoulders was over the moon that he managed to get a glimpse of it so close up, let along touch it,” Stewart Jack told the Aviationist.com in an interview on Facebook about his video.

The Italian F-35 arriving at Kleine Brogel on Sept. 7. It was the first time the Lightning II aircraft visited Belgium. Image credit: Alessandro Fucito.

Each person along the taxiway touches the F-35A gently and only for a moment, as if to just be able to say they did, or feel some connection with the sensational aircraft. For aircraft enthusiasts and plane spotters around the world it is the equivalent of shaking hands with your favorite pop music or movie star along the runway at a big event.

Normal security for the F-35 has included fencing and guards along with covered intakes to prevent photos directly into the intakes. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.)

We’ve asked several military security personnel and public affairs representatives at airshows why security around the F-35 is so tight.

“As part of its new technology the plane has sensors and equipment on the outside that shouldn’t be handled unless you are trained [how to do it] and have a reason,” One F-35A maintenance airman told us at Nellis AFB last year when asked why there is such tight security around the plane.

Moreover, the LO (Low Observability) coating is one of the aircraft’s most delicate components and for this reason any “contact” with the haze paint of the stealth aircraft by unauthorized people should be avoided, in order to prevent scratches and damages.

The Italian Air Force F-35A in static display at Belgian Air Force Days. (Image credit: Alessandro Fucito).

“Please do not shoot photos directly into the intake or under the aircraft,” one armed Air Force Security Policeman told us recently at an F-35A static display at Selfridge ANGB in Michigan.

“We just don’t need people close to the airplane. It’s a security risk and people get better pictures outside the rope anyway,” a media representative for the U.S. Air Force told us recently at the Thunder Over Michigan airshow where two USAF F-35A Lightning IIs were on static display. Even when media is allowed inside the rope cordon for an interview they are briefed to not approach too close to the plane or attempt to touch it as we learned while taping an F-35A pilot interview two weeks ago in Michigan.

Normally the F-35 is moved well away from crowds, especially when taxiing as with this aircraft last year at Nellis AFB. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.)

Security for the newest and most advanced combat aircraft in the world is clearly the primary reason why spectators are not allowed to touch and walk very close to F-35s at airshows. And like anything that is forbidden or somehow rare and exotic, this has only made people more interested in getting close to the jet. But in reality, the barriers around the aircraft and the prohibition on touching it are as much about common sense with an advanced and expensive piece of equipment as it is about security. But for the people Stewart Jack managed to catch on video touching the beautiful aircraft with a sense of awe, it was certainly a unique moment.

Spectators at Kleine-Brogel Air Base get a rare and not entirely authorized chance to see what an F-35A actually feels like. (Photo: Stewart Jack)