Tag Archives: IRST

Two Edwards-based F-16s Spotted In Star Wars Canyon With Mysterious New Pod

Are you able to ID the pod carried by these two “Vipers” flying at low altitude through the Jedi Transition recently?

Few days ago we have published the photographs of an Area 51-based F-16D (86-0052) flying through the famous Star Wars canyon on Nov. 14 carrying a Lockheed Martin’s AN/AAS-42, an IRST (Infra Red Search and Track) pod carried by various aircraft (including the Aggressors’ Vipers out of Nellis Air Force Base). Two things made the sighting particularly interesting: first of all, the two-seater “Viper” (as the F-16 is dubbed in the fighter pilots community) flew in the Jedi Transition hours after another F-16D (or possibly the very same one) had chased an F-117 near Rachel, Nevada. Second, the photographs of the F-16D 86-0052 clearly proved that both pilots of the aircraft wore a Red Hats patch (for more details I suggest you reading our story here).

However, some other interesting aircraft had flown over the Death Valley few days earlier.

The images in this post were taken by photographer Neil Dunridge taken on Nov. 8. They show two Edwards Air Force Base F-16 jets belonging to the 412th Test Wing, with a pretty interesting loadout: both aircraft carried one blue AN/ALQ-167, a very well-known electronic countermeasures threat simulation pod used by several aircraft (including aggressors) for training purposes, along with an unidentified grey with a black nose pod.

AF85-1560/ED with the AN/ALQ-167 pod under the left wing and the “mysterious” pod under the right one (All images credit: Neil Dunridge)

Noteworthy, as the photographs by Dunridge show, the configuration of the two aircraft is different: one (AF85-1560/ED) carried the AN/ALQ-167 pod under the left wing and the “mysterious” pod under the right one; the other one had the unidentified pod on the left and the AN/ALQ-167 on the right.

Two aircraft flew through the Jedi Transition on Nov. 8. This one had the unidentified pod under the left wing.

We haven’t been able to ID the new pod so far so, at least to us, it remains mysterious. It features a small air intake and a black dielectric blister fairing (that must be there to cover an antenna) reminds some data links pod (such as the AN/ASW-55 associated with the AGM-142 Popeye long-range missile).

Actually, the F-16 is already integrated with Lockheed Martin Legion Pod, that includes an IRST21 sensor as well as datalink to build up a “networked” battlespace where the aircraft can share a common “picture” without even turning the radar on (thus remaining “silent” from an electromagnetical point of view).

The pod shown in the photos from Neil Dunridge is quite different from the LM Legion Pod that includes IRST and data-link capabilities. (Image: Lockheed Martin).

The Legion Pod flew with the F-16 in Fort Worth, Texas, in June 2015. The aircraft carries the pod on the right hand side of the air intake (Photo by Randy Crites/LM)

Is Edwards testing some new DLP? Maybe. Or the pod can be something completely different (such a test bed for laser weapons, EW pod, etc.). If you can identify the pod, let us know. Meanwhile we can’t but notice how the Star Wars canyon continues to provide some great opportunities to see and shoot rarely seen aircraft with rarely seen payloads!

Update: it looks like the same pod, carried by an Edwards F-16, was spotted before Nov. 8. Here you can find a photo of the pod under the left wing on Oct. 29, 2017: https://www.flickr.com/photos/habujet/37946803206/in/photostream/

Update II: Our friend Tyler Rogoway from The War Zone has found what indeed seems to be the very same pod carried by a VAQ-34 EA-7L in a photo dating back to 1987!!

Here it is:

A view of two Vought EA-7L Corsair II aircraft of electronic warfare squadron VAQ-34 on the ramp during the U.S. 3rd Fleet North Pacific Exercise (NORPACEX) at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska (USA) on 8 Nov 1987. VAQ-34 operated as a adversary squadron, hence the Soviet star and the red numbers on the planes. (Camera Operator: Sgt. W. Thornton via Wiki)

Indeed, in the early 1980s, eight U.S. Navy TA-7C two-seater Corsair jets were turned into electronic aggressor aircraft, under the designation EA-7L. These “electronic Corsairs”, operated by VAQ-34 out of NAS (Naval Air Station) Point Mugu, California, could carry electronic jamming pods on their underwing pylons to simulate Soviet weapons and tactics. Now, it looks like some of the pods used 30 years ago are being used again to test some new (EW/threat emitter) sensor using an existing form factor.

A big thank you to Neil Dunridge for allowing us to use his photographs. Make sure to follow him on Twitter here: @Chiv63

Area 51-based F-16D Performs Rare Pass Through The Star Wars Canyons Hours After F-117 Is Spotted Chased By Two Seater F-16

This was probably the very same F-16 flying alongside an F-117 on Nov. 14, 2017.

On Nov. 14 (the day after an F-117 was photographed on a trailer south of Creech AFB) at 09.20AM LT, another F-117 was spotted flying north of Rachel,  Nevada.

The Stealth Jet was not flying alone (or close to another F-117, as happened, for instance, in 2016) but it was chased by a two-seater F-16. Noteworthy, few hours later on the very same day (Nov. 14), at about 1:15PM – 1:45PM, photographer David Atkinson took some shots of an F-16D performing two passes through the famous Star Wars Canyon.

At a close look the photographs of the two-seater F-16D Block 30, serial number 86-0052, show two interesting details. First of all the aircraft was carrying Lockheed Martin’s AN/AAS-42, an IRST (Infra Red Search and Track) pod carried by various aircraft (including the Aggressors’ Vipers out of Nellis Air Force Base).

The AN/AAS-42 on an Aggressors F-16 about to land in Nellis in 2013.

Second, and probably even more interesting, the both pilots of the F-16D seem to wear a Red Hats patch! The Red Hats was the nickname of a group of pilots and engineers of the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron (4477 TES), a USAF squadron whose nickname was “Red Eagles” equipped with MiG-17s, MiG-21s and MiG-23s and created to expose the tactical air forces to the flight characteristics of fighter aircraft used by Soviet Union during the Cold War under project Constant Peg. Today the Red Hats have become an unnumbered unit within the Detachment 3, AFTC test wing. The unit, operating from Groom Lake, operates a variety of Russian-developed aircraft, including the MiG-29 and the Su-27P, one of which was observed dogfighting with an F-16 inside Area 51 back in 2016.

The F-16D serial number 86-0052 during the second pass. Note the AN/AAS-42 pod. (David Atkinson)

Take a look at the patch worn by the aircrew in the following image (H/T Rick Ingham). The backseater has a Red Hats patch, whereas the one in the front seat probably sports a 53rd TEG Det 3 patch, the patch of the unit believed to have taken over much of the 4477th “Red Eagles” activities. 

Red Hats and Red Eagles patches in this close up view (H/T Rick Ingham)

So, few hours after an F-117 was spotted flying near Rachel with a two seater F-16, this aircraft most probably based at Groom Lake in Area 51 flew through the Jedi Transition. Just a coincidence? Maybe.

However, considered the fact that this particular F-16 also carried an IRST pod seems to suggest the venerable F-117s are still being used for some kind of anti-stealth technology. This system, also carried by F-15E Strike Eagles, and equipping some other non-US combat planes as the Eurofighter Typhoon, lets the platform passively look for the emissions of the enemy fighter. F-22s and other stealth planes have a little radar cross section – RCS – but they do have an IR signature. This means that they can be vulnerable to small, fast non-stealthy planes that leverage low observable coatings, no radio comms, no radar (hence with a limited RCS and with almost zero electromagnetic emissions) and use their IRST sensors, hi-speed computers and interferometry, to geo-locate enemy radar evading aircraft.

In other words, there are certain scenarios in which IRST and other tactics could eliminate the advantage provided by radar invisibility.

As a side note, on Sept. 5, 2017, Lt. Col. Eric Schultz was killed in an a mysterious crash 100 miles Northwest of Nellis AFB in the Nevada Test and Training Range, midway between Tonopah Test Range and Groom Lake.

Speculation about the crash was fueled by Air Force media releases that did not indicate the type of aircraft that was being flown by Lt. Col. Schultz on Tuesday, September 5, 2017 when the accident occurred. There was also a delay in the story reaching news media that raised further questions since the accident was reported after another, unrelated accident involving two A-10s, was reported sooner. But AviationWeek.com correspondent Guy Norris wrote late Monday, September 11, that, “Sources indicate Schultz was the Red Hats squadron commander at the time of his death. The Red Hats became an unnumbered unit within the Detachment 3, AFTC test wing after the 413th flight test squadron (formerly 6513th test squadron) was deactivated in 2004.”

Image credit: David Atkinson

This is what the F-22 Raptor stealth jet looks like through the thermal camera of a crime-fighting helicopter

Needless to say, stealth does not mean “invisible”…

The above image was posted by the National Police Air Service helicopter serving the South West of England.

It’s a screenshot from the thermal camera used by the EC-135 of the NPAS, based at Filton Aerodrome, west of Swindon, and shows one of the U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor jets that deployed to RAF Fairford to take part in the Royal International Air Tattoo airshow, on the ground, at RAF Fairford, UK.

The photo is somehow funny, as it depicts the stealth 5th generation jet more or less as it would look like in a combat flight simulator, and interesting, because the IR camera caught the parked Raptor’s heat signature more or less in the same way an infra-red search and track (IRST) systems would perform passive detection of a radar evading plane.

In fact, F-22s and other stealth planes have literally no (or extremely little) radar cross-section  (RCS) but they do have an IR signature. This means that they can be vulnerable to small, fast non-stealthy planes that feature low observable coatings and using their IRST sensors, hi-speed computers and interferometry, to geo-locate enemy LO (low observability) aircraft.

Indeed, there are certain scenarios in which IRST and other tactics could greatly reduce the advantage provided by radar invisibility and this is one of the reasons why USAF has fielded IRST pods to Aggressors F-16s in the latest Red Flags as proved by shots of the Nellis’s Vipers carrying the Lockheed Martin’s AN/AAS-42.

This type of system, also carried by F-15E Strike Eagles, and equipping some other modern combat planes, including the Euro-canard Eurofighter Typhoon or Dassault Rafale, lets the aggressor passively look for the IR signature of the enemy stealth fighter.

According to some pilots who have fought against the F-22, the IRST can be extremely useful to detect “large and hot stealth targets” like the F-22 (or the even hotter F-35) during mock aerial engagements at distances up to 50 km. Anyway, that’s another story.

For the moment enjoy a cool and unsual shot of the Raptor, that has been one of the highlights of this year’s RIAT.

Image credit: NPAS Filton

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Weapons system video of first F-22 Raptor air strike on ISIS in Syria.

This video shows an attack on a ISIS compound that, according to the Pentagon, was struck by F-22 Raptors at their baptism of fire.

Earlier today, the Pentagon released the imagery of a compound near Ar Raqqah attacked by U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors before and after the raid conducted by the stealth jets.

Pre-Post F-22 strike

Now take a look at the following video, recorded by an unspecified aircraft on board camera system of this ISIS compound northwest of Ar Raqqah. It’s the very same shape, damage and all, hence it must be the very same plane.

What remains unknown is what F-22 system recorded the footage (provided it was the Raptor and not a drone).

Was the Raptor equipped with an IRST (Infra-Red Search and Tracking) system? Or maybe the one above is not a video recorded by a lens but it is a radar image generated by the F-22’s APG-77v1 radar which provides high-resolution synthetic aperture radar mapping, ground moving target indication and track (GMTI/GMTT), automatic cueing and recognition, combat identification, etc. It would be at super-high-definition, so defined it seems a video recorded with a FLIR…but who knows, maybe the F-22 uses such an advanced radar….

Still, SAR can see through smoke, fog etc. so, it’s quite unlike it is an image taken by the plane itself. It was most probably taken by a nearby drone (raising the question: if a drone was operating nearby, why wasn’t a Reaper dispatched to hit the compound?).

Pilots explain how the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger intercepted Soviet bombers in the 1950s

The Convair F-102 was a delta-winged interceptor, that became the standard Air Defense Command (ADC) fighter starting in mid 1956.

Nicknamed Delta Dagger, the Convair F-102, which was referred to as “The Deuce” by its aircrew, entered service in 1954.

The F-102A spent most of its career operating out of Alaska, Greenland, Iceland and in other NATO and SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organization) countries to defend their airspace from possible raids conducted by the heavily armed Tu-16 Badger, Tu-95 Bear or Myasishchev M-4 Bison aircraft, three types of Soviet bombers introduced between 1954 and 1956 .

Several accounts of the pilots involved in this kind of QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) service, are reported in Ted Spitzmiller’s book Century Series The USAF Quest for air supremacy 1950-1960. As the one in which George Andre, a former F-102 pilot, explains a typical alert base:

“Most featured an alert hangar at the end of the longest runway with high-speed taxiways leading on to the runway for immediate scramble. […] Generally a pilot stood alert for 8, 12 or sometimes 24 hour period. We slept with our boots on, and always could make a less than 5 minute airborne time from the sound of the scramble horn.”

Even if the interceptors were guided to the target by SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment, the system that coordinated the NORAD response to a Soviet air attack by providing command guidance for ground controlled interception by air defense aircraft) or by GCI (Ground Control Intercept) Radars, obviously the pilots remained responsible for flying the aircraft and for the weapon launch, as said by Roger Pile, another former Deuce driver:

“On-board radar searched for the target, but it was up to the pilot to locate it, select the appropriate armament, lock on to it and fly the plane to the release point […] The pilot was also responsible to retain the attack in spite of radar jamming, dispensing chaff and to switch to alternative modes should it be necessary.”

One of these “alternatives modes” was the installation on The Deuce of a passive infrared search and track (IRST) equipment, that could be selected by the pilot to avoid the enemy bombers counter-measures. Moreover the IRST could also be used to fire the Falcon missiles against the target as explained again by Pile:

“It was a softball sized sensor-head located immediately in front of the center of the windshield. […] The pilot could select IR dominant with the radar in standby, search or slaved to the IR tracker after lock-on to the target. If the radar was in standby, the target might never know you were locked on to him as the IRST was a passive receptor only and did not emit any signals. If in “search mode”, he might think you were still searching for him. If the radar was slaved to the IR head, you might get “burn-through” (pick him up on the radar) to give you an accurate distance from him and lock on to him with the radar. This would also allow the radar-guided (AIM-4A) missiles to also lock on to him and be guided to the target as well as the heat seekers (AIM-4Ds).”

But even if the Delta Dagger was basically a bomber interceptor, pilots discovered that, thanks to F-102’s lower wing loading, The Deuce had an advantage (in certain parts of its flight envelope) in dogfight against its opponents.

“I flew the F-102 transitioning into the F-106. I was very impressed with its turning ability. Many pilots claim their aircraft turns better than other. Of course, aerial combat will prove this, but short of that, I found another way to measure the turning capability of different aircraft and used that for comparison. That is to take the aircraft to 10,000’ at initial approach airspeed and perform a split-S as tight as possible. The F-102 would do it under 2,500’. The T-33 about 3,300’. The F-106 at 3,100’ and the F-4 at about 7,000’. I repeat the F-4 at 7,000,”  pilot Bill Jowett recalled.

Convair F-102A

Image credit: U.S. Air Force