Tag Archives: German Air Force

That Time the Luftwaffe Experimented with a Rocket-Launched F-104G Starfighter

“Zero Length Launch” Was Tested in Germany on an F-104G. Here’s the Video.

Almost every aviation enthusiast has probably seen the famous June 1957 test videos of a North American F-100 Super Saber being launched from a portable trailer using a large rocket booster.

The origin of “Zero Length Launch”, often called “ZeLL”, was the perceived necessity that aircraft would need to be boosted into flight after available airfields and runways in Europe were destroyed in a nuclear attack. Using motor vehicle highways as improvised runways, often practiced by NATO and former Warsaw Pact air forces, may not have worked as well since the aircraft would be more vulnerable to air attack. With the Zero Length Launch concept, aircraft could actually be boosted into flight using a disposable rocket booster from inside a hardened aircraft shelter, presuming no one else like hapless ground crew were inside the shelter at the time of launch.

“ZeLL” was an interesting, if ultimately impractical, concept. It could be argued that the “ZeLL” concept somehow validated the need for V/STOL (Vertical/Short Take Off and Landing) aircraft such as the Harrier and, decades later, even the F-35B Lightning II.

What many aviation history buffs don’t know is that the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, experimented with a Zero Launch System on their F-104 Starfighters. The concept made more sense with the F-104 Starfighter, an aircraft conceived almost purely as an interceptor.

Rocketing the F-104 into flight as a sort of “manned missile”, the interceptor would rapidly climb to altitude and engage an approaching bomber formation. The Starfighter was a suitable candidate for ZeLL launch operations since it began setting altitude records as early as May, 1958, when USAF test pilot Major Howard C. “Scrappy” Johnson zoom-climbed to an astonishing altitude Record of 27,811m (91,243 feet, or 17.2 miles high) from a conventional take-off.

Interestingly, Germany had tested a rocket-powered, vertical launch interceptor during WWII called the “Bachem Ba-349 Natter”. The aircraft would be fired from a launch tower, fly to the allied bomber formations using rocket boosters and engage them with unguided high velocity aircraft rockets (HVARs) mounted in the nose. If all went according to design, the aircraft and pilot would then recover to earth using separate parachutes. The concept did not do well for the Germans in WWII, with the only manned test flight ending in disaster and the death of Luftwaffe test pilot Lothar Sieber.

Apparently undaunted by their WWII experiences with the Ba-349, the modern Luftwaffe working in collaboration with the U.S. Air Force, used a single F-104G Starfighter to test the ZeLL concept in 1963. Oddly enough, the German F-104G version of the Starfighter was a multi-role aircraft evolved from the original pure interceptor design mandate of the F-104.

Unlike its early, distant predecessor the Ba-349, the Luftwaffe F-104G Starfighter ZeLL launch tests went well. Lockheed company test pilot Eldon “Ed” W. Brown Jr. remarked after the first of eight ZeLL take-offs at Edwards AFB in California during 1963 that, “All I did was push the rocket booster button and sit back. The plane was on its own for the first few seconds and then I took over. I was surprised at the smoothness, even smoother than a steam catapult launch from an aircraft carrier.”

Lockheed company test pilot Eldon “Ed” W. Brown Jr. flew the initial Luftwaffe F-104G ZeLL tests at Edwards AFB. (Photo: Lockheed)

The first Luftwaffe F-104G used in the ZeLL test program wore a distinctive and sensational looking test paint scheme, one of many beautiful and unusual liveries the F-104 Starfighter wore in its career. The first launch aircraft was coded “DA-102” and was natural aluminum metal on the bottom of the aircraft with a brilliant high visibility orange horizontal and vertical stripe and a bright white upper surface except for the nose, which had a flat-black anti-glare panel. It also wore the modern Luftwaffe insignia crosses, making it appear all the more remarkable.

The ZeLL F-104G was moved to Germany for a total of seven ZeLL test launches at Lechfeld AB between May 4, until Jul. 12, 1966, when the program was abandoned. The German ZeLL flights were flown after the test aircraft was repainted in a more operational German camouflage scheme. The aircraft would end its career as a static display.

The Soviets tinkered with their own version of ZeLL on a MiG-19 beginning as early as 1955, but the idea died in the test phase for most of the same reasons the NATO interest in ZeLL waned.

If nothing else, ZeLL was a sensational and adventurous idea. The results were remarkable to see, confirmed by the tens of thousands of video views of the ZeLL tests using the U.S. F-100 Super Sabre today on YouTube. But the German F-104G ZeLL tests have, somewhat oddly, received far less attention. Until today.

The Luftwaffe F-104G ZeLL test aircraft was eventually turned into a static display with its unique German camouflage livery. (Photo: German Air Force)

72 Year Ago This Week: The First Ever Jet Airstrikes. A titanic failure for the Germans.

The First Ever Jet Airstrike Was a Disaster. Here’s The Bizarre Story.

When gunners spot them, they are stunned: their speed. No propellers.

From out of the northeast, rocketing down from medium altitude in a shallow dive intended to improve bombing accuracy the Germans are back again. It is one more day of airstrikes on the prize. This is the third set of airstrikes today.

But this one is different. The planes are flying much faster. And have no propellers.

The first jet airstrike in history has begun. German Arado Ar 234 medium bombers and Messerschmitt Me 262 fighter/attack jet aircraft are launching a last-ditch airstrike on this key target in a desperate attempt to halt the allied advance.

But it isn’t going well.

The Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, Germany is the most heavily defended target from air attack ever. Since the allies seized the bridge in a lightning attack a few days ago around March 7th they have emplaced more anti-aircraft guns surrounding this key bridge than any other single target on earth. In the upcoming 10 days of the German Luftwaffe campaign against the Ludendorff Bridge approximately 367 combat aircraft will attack the target. The Germans throw everything at Ludendorff, fighters, bombers, frogmen, artillery and now the secret German super-weapons, the jet bombers and fighters. The Allies claim to shoot-down 30% of the German planes. None score an effective hit on the bridge.

Bridges are a notoriously difficult target to hit with fast jets. The Germans are learning this difficult lesson for the first time in history today. The U.S. Air Force relearns it years later between 1967 and 1972 during protracted (and largely ineffective) airstrikes on the Long Biên (“Paul Doumer”) Bridge. They finally develop a new secret weapon, a “guided bomb” directed to its target by a laser beam. The Americans destroyed the North Vietnamese bridge on the first try with laser-guided bombs in 1972.

A damaged bridge

The Germans have crude guided bombs now including the “Fritz” radio-guided dive-bomb, but neither the new Arado jet bombers nor the smaller Messerschmitt jets can carry the large Fritz guided “smart” bomb.

As the hours to seize the bridge from the Allies turn into days the Germans become increasingly desperate. Luftwaffe Chancellor Hermann Göring proposes a suicide attack with bomb-laden Me 262 jets. No volunteers come forward or a technical shortcoming of the aircraft’s aiming device- or both- prevents the desperate tactic.

Göring forms a secret, special unit named the “Gefechtsverband Kowalewski”. It is an elite cadre of handpicked, jet-qualified strike pilots from Kampfgeschwader 76, the 76th Bomber Wing formerly located in Norway. The first jet attack pilots in history.

On March 13 the Germans hurl 19 of the special Ar 234 medium bombers and 30 Messerschmitt Me 262 A-2a jet fighter-bombers from II Kampfgeschwader 51 against the target. They are led by special Luftwaffe jet pilot Hansgeorg Bätcher. Bätcher led a previous (unsuccessful) March 7th mission against the Ludendorff problem and lived to tell. He knew the target well. It takes a brave man to volunteer to return, but the German situation is increasingly desperate.

Arado AR234

It will be the first all-jet airstrike on a ground target in aviation history. Even with a full complement of heavy 1,000kg bombs weighing more than a ton the bombers can press home the attack run at over 660 km/h (410 mph), a nearly unheard of speed at the time. They are so fast the American anti-aircraft units will have trouble hitting them. Speed is their primary defense. For six days the III Gruppe/KG 76 pilots attempt to hit the bridge in nine separate strikes.

First jet airstrikes illustration (author unknown)

Seated in the bubble nose of their incredibly fast Arado jet bombers the pilots have an excellent view. The sky is entirely aglow with bursting anti-aircraft shells, the thickest they have ever seen. Diving into the fiery cauldron seems like certain death. Shrapnel from the thick flak peppers the Arados and Messerschmitts. Every one that survives is damaged by flak. And whether it is the concentration of the flak or the speed of the new jet bombers or the inaccuracy of the unguided “dumb” bombs, every single bomb misses the bridge.

The jet strike is a titanic failure for the Germans.

The German losses are devastating. Seven jet aircraft, including two shot down by Allied fighters, are destroyed in that raid alone. The Americans estimate that from Mar. 7th to the 17th they have shot down 109 German planes, and likely destroyed 36 more. Total losses for the Germans now total nearly one-third of their dedicated strike force.

The Germans have developed and fielded a revolutionary new weapon, the jet attack aircraft, but they have not developed the tactics and weapons necessary to capitalize on the new aircraft’s speed and power. The early German jets are also dangerous to fly and require an absurd amount of maintenance. Jet fuel is increasingly scarce as the war continues to go poorly for the Germans.

In a last desperate measure the Germans launch a huge ballistic missile strike on the Ludendorff Bridge using their super-weapon, the V-2 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), the first of its type. But its crude gyro-controlled guidance system is so poor some missiles land on civilian villages miles away. Only one missile lands close to the bridge, missing the main span and doing no damage to stanchions on land. The missile strikes are also a failure.

While the German’s last-ditch campaign with their new super weapons fails, it heralds the arrival of the jet age and predicts the new direction of air war. They simply didn’t have all the details worked out, and the last months of a desperate war are a poor place to perfect a revolutionary new technology. Thankfully.

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Here are some interesting images of a “patched up” German C-160 Transall with the “EloKa” self-defense system

This C-160D using the EloKA self-defense system paid visit to Decimomannu airbase, Italy, recently.

The photographs in this post were taken by our contributor Alessandro Caglieri at Decimomannu airbase, Italy.

They show a German Air Force C-160D Transall about to land on runway 17 at “Deci” during one of the flights conducted to the Italian airbase in Sardinia before the German Detachment was eventually closed after 56 years.

The aircraft appears to be one of the 24 C-160s modified with the EloKa self-defense system to enhance the airlifter’s self-protection capabilities during the mission flown in support of the German ISAF Troops operating in Afghanistan.

Indeed, whereas all the 86 Transalls were given an anti-aircraft-fire protection system using kevlar and armoured plates from 1992 to 1999, two dozen aircraft were upgraded with the EloKa self-defense system that included RWR (Radar Warning Receiver), Chaff and Flare Dispensers (including those in a rather unusual position, above the fuselage), Missile Approach Warning System, Electronic Warfare Management System along with various sensors and a large array of ECM (Electronic Counter Measures) equipment.

Noteworthy, the one depicted in the photographs at Deci seems to be “patched up” in the area above the cockpit: considered it made its maiden flight in March 1963 it’s pretty normal such an ageing workhorse requires some patches until it’s replaced by the A-400M.

However, according to Danny Schneider, one of our readers, they painted it with this bright color to prevent overheating inside the cockpit and especially under the overhead panel when flying in hot areas.

Image credit: Alessandro Caglieri

 

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Watch a German Eurofighter Typhoon use the tailhook during emergency landing at SIAF 2016

A Eurofighter Typhoon performed a tailhook landing during SIAF 2016.

Tailhook landings by land-based aircraft are used in emergency situations to arrest planes experiencing failures that could imply a braking or steering malfunction.

Reportedly, this is what happened during SIAF (Slovak International Air Fest) at Sliac, Slovakia, on Aug. 29, the departures day, when a German Eurofighter Typhoon was forced to perform an emergency landing using the runway’s arresting system due to a hydraulic issue shortly after take-off.

Land-based military airfields operating combat jets use arresting gear systems to slow the aircraft down. There are three basic types of land-based systems: permanent, expeditionary, and overrun gear.

Some drones use a similar system to be recovered by ground crews.

Permanent systems feature arresting cables spanning the width of the runway. Cables are typically 1 to 1.25 inches (2.5 to 3.2 centimeters) in diameter and suspended 1.5 to 3 inches (3.8 to 7.6 centimeters) above the pavement surface by rubber donuts 6 inches (15.2 centimeters) in diameter.

Expeditionary systems are similar to permanent ones and are used for landing aircraft on short or temporary runways. These can be installed and uninstalled in a few hours.

Overrun gear consisting of hook cables and/or elastic nets known as barriers (or Safeland) and are used as a backup system. These are usually installed at the end of the runway and raised if needed to catch the planes before they reach the overrun area.

By the way, emergency landing aside (that you can see in the clip starting at 02:47), the following footage is pretty cool!

H/T Marek Maly for the heads-up

 

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German Air Force Typhoons have just completed the very last training campaign at Decimomannu airbase

After 56 years, the German Air Force is leaving Decimomannu. Typhoons from Norvenich deployed there for what is probably the very last use of the Italian training facilities by Luftwaffe since 1960.

A dozen German Eurofighter Typhoons, including a couple of two-seaters, deployed to Decimomannu airbase, Italy, at the end of August for what is probably the last use of the German facilities in Sardinia, since the first detachment 56 years ago.

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The aircraft, belonging to the TaktLwG 31 “Boelcke” were accompanied by 300 military and civilian employees, and around 60 tons of material in 16 containers flown from Germany by C-160 and A400M airlifters.

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During their deployment to “Deci” (as the Sardinian airbase is dubbed) the air combat training of the German Typhoons, that launched as many as 20 daily sorties in the ACMI (Air Combat Maneuvering Installation) ranges, was supported by a Learjet, a target plane that acts as an electronic jammer operated by the “Gesellschaft für Flugzieldarstellung” (GFD), a civilian company cooperating with the German Air Force for air targeting exercises; and two A-4N Skyhawk of the Discovery Air Defense, a Canadian company that provides, among the others, target towing and “aggressors” services to the Luftwaffe.

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The A-4Ns are usually based at Wittmund, homebase of the Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 71 “Richthofen” whose famous red “R” emblem appears on the tail of one of the Skyhawks.

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Noteworthy, among the EF2000 Typhoons that TLG 31 deployed to Deci there was also a single seater in special color scheme: the 31+31 “Spirit of Oswald Boelke” that celebrates the 125th anniversary of Oswald Boelke, a German flying ace of the WWI.

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The German Air Force is expected to leave Decimomannu by Dec. 31, 2016. Rumors of some 2-week deployments of other Luftwaffe units have not been confirmed yet.

The Taktische Luftwaffengeschwader 31 Eurofighters will leave Deci on Sept. 15, to be followed by the rest of the personnel on Sept. 16.

The images in this post were taken by Alessandro Caglieri and Gian Luca Onnis.

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