Tag Archives: McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet

Four of the most experienced USMC F-35B pilots speak about their aircraft. And they say it’s exceptional.

The voice of the pilots is clear – the platform is working exceptionally. The F-35 is a platform with the ultimate level of sophistication, made simple. And therein lay the beauty of the F-35, and just why it will be so deadly, it’s simple.

The combined F-35 fleet now has over 75,000 flight hours, yet many continue to question the performance and value of the aircraft.  Much of this can be expected given early program challenges, and the reality that many of the F-35s capabilities are classified.  Add that many do not grasp the war the F-35 was designed to deter – or fight.  21st century warfare and capability has about as much in common with wars of the past as your 1970’s land line has to your smartphone.  It is in this “smartphone” battlespace that the F-35 is designed to fight and to do so with a distinctly unfair advantage.

To understand the significance and value of the F-35, cut through the complexity and noise.  Simplify.  Put aside the politicians “it does not work!” the ideologues, the self-proclaimed experts and listen to the voice of the pilots.  The pilots will take the aircraft into combat, their own lives in the balance as they penetrate contested space and are wildly outnumbered by adversary aircraft.

The USS America (LHA-6) with 12 F-35Bs on board (2 in Hangar) during "Proof of Concept" demonstration November 19, 2016.  Aircraft from VMFA-211, VX-23 and VMX-1 particpated with MV-22Bs and an AH-1Z & UH-1Y in a "strike exercise" off the coast of CA.

The USS America (LHA-6) with 12 F-35Bs on board (2 in Hangar) during “Proof of Concept” demonstration November 19, 2016. Aircraft from VMFA-211, VX-23 and VMX-1 particpated with MV-22Bs and an AH-1Z & UH-1Y in a “strike exercise” off the coast of CA.

The Aviationist and a handful of journalists recently had the opportunity to visit with four such pilots during a “Proof of Concept” demonstration on the USS America, Nov. 19, 2016.  The four pilots are some of the most experienced F-35B pilots in the United States Marine Corps (USMC) and their previous experience provides valuable context to their statements.

  • George “Sack” Rowell, Commanding Officer (CO) of VMX-1 (Marine Operational Test & Evaluation Squadron). Prior to the F-35, Rowell spent appx. 3000 hours over 18 years of flying the F/A-18 Hornet.  Previously the CO of VMFA(AW)-533
  • Col. Chad “Mo” Vaughn, CO of VMFA-211. Prior to the F-35, Vaughn spent a couple 1000 hrs over 13 years in the F/A-18A-D Hornet, as well as time in the F-16A-B Fighting Falcon/Viper and F/A-18 Super Hornet at NAS Fallon.
  • Col. Rich “BC” Rusnok, slated to become the CO of VMFA-121 in March 2017. Prior to the F-35, Price spent appx. 7 years flying the AV-8B Harrier II with additional time in the F/A-18 Hornet.
  • Col. John “Guts” Price, slated CO for VFMA-122 (2018). Prior to the F-35, Price spent appx. 1200 hrs and 10 years flying the AV-8B Harrier II, and has about 400 hrs in the F-35 over the past 3 years.

The pilots provide unique insights, a different perspective on the F-35 and its unique capabilities.  The comments have been edited for readability with best efforts made to maintain context and integrity of intent.

F-35B launchs off the USS America (LHA-6) during "Proof of Concept" demonstration November 19, 2016.

F-35B launchs off the USS America (LHA-6) during “Proof of Concept” demonstration November 19, 2016.

On a personal level as pilots, coming from other platforms and stepping into the F-35, do you have an “aha” moment that you can share?

Guts;  My first “aha” moment was a seemingly simple thing.  I was executing a familiarization flight near MCAS Yuma.  I was coming back to the airfield and I basically just turned the jet and pointed its nose at Yuma.  Immediately the jet is providing me the information of all the traffic that is out there in the airspace.  When I talk to approach for the first time they are telling me about the traffic that is out there that I already know about and I see it.  I can tell who everybody is that he is talking about and the jet also saw traffic that ATC hadn’t seen yet and I asked about it.  And I thought, “Holy Cow!” here I am coming back to the field from a simple familiarity mission and my jet is telling me everything about the operational environment I am about to go into.  In this case, something very simple, the traffic pattern coming back there, but I didn’t have to do anything to have that level of SA [Situational Awareness].  I can start making decisions about what altitude I wanted to go to, if I wanted to turn left or right, speed up or slow down.  There’s somebody coming up next to me, I want to get in front of them – or whatever.  It is a very simple example, but I thought WOW this is amazing that I see everything and can do that.

The other was the first time I vertically recovered the airplane.  The flight control law that the airplane has is unbelievable and I always tell the anecdote.  Flying AV-8B Harrier IIs, I only had one specific aircraft I felt like I could kind of go easy on the controls and it would sit there and hover.  I love the Harrier, love flying that aircraft, but there was work involved to bring it back for a vertical landing.  The very first time I hovered an F-35B I thought, I am the problem here, and I am just going to let the jet do what it wants to do.  The F-35 was hovering better than I could ever hover a Harrier without doing a thing.  That’s back to that workload comment I said earlier.  I am performing a vertical landing, and I have the time to look around and see what is taking place on the pad and around me. It is a testament to the jet.

BC;  I was conducting a strike mission and Red Air was coming at me.  In a 4th Gen fighter you must do a whole lot of interpretation.  You see things in azimuth, and you see things in elevation.  In the F-35 you just see the God’s eye view of the whole world.  It’s very much like you are watching the briefing in real time. 

I am coming in to perform the simulated weapons release, and Red Air is coming the other direction.  I have enough situational awareness to assess whether Red Air is going to be a factor to me by the time I release the weapon.  I can make the decision, I’m going to go to the target, I’m going to release this weapon.  Simultaneously I pre-target the threat, and as soon as I release the A2G weapon, I can flip a switch with my thumb and shoot the Red Air.  This is difficult to do in a 4th Gen fighter, because there is so much manipulation of systems in the cockpit.  All while paying attention to the basic mechanics of flying the airplane and interpreting threat warnings that are often very vague, or only directional.  In the F-35 I know where the threats are, what they are and I can thread the needle.  I can tell that the adversary is out in front of me and I can make a very, very smart decision about whether to continue or get out of there.  All that, and I can very easily switch between mission sets.

Mo;  I was leading a four ship of F-35s on a strike against 4th Gen adversaries, F-16s and F/A-18s.  We fought our way in, we mapped the target, found the target, dropped JDAMs on the target and turned around and fought our way out.  All the targets got hit, nobody got detected, and all the adversaries died.  I thought, yes, this works, very, very, very well.  Never detected, nobody had any idea we were out there.

A second moment was just this past Thursday.  I spent a fair amount of my life as a tail hook guy – [landing F/A-18s on US Navy Supercarriers] on long carrier deployments.  The last 18 seconds of a Carrier landing are intense. The last 18 seconds of making a vertical landing on this much smaller USMC Assault Carrier – is a lot more relaxed.  The F-35C is doing some great stuff.  Making a vertical landing [my first this week] on the moving ship, that is much smaller than anything I’ve landed on at sea – with less stress, was awesome.

Sack;  It was my first flight at Edwards AFB Jan ’16.  I got in the airplane and started it up.  I was still on the deck and there were apparently other F-35s airborne – I believe USAF, I was not aware.  I was a single ship, just supposed to go out and get familiar flying the aircraft.  As the displays came alive there were track files and the SA as to what everyone else was doing in the airspace, and I was still on the ground.  I mean, I hadn’t even gotten my take-off clearance yet.  I didn’t even know where it was coming from.  It was coming from another F-35.  The jet had started all the systems for me and the SA was there.  That was a very eye opening moment for me.

The second one, took place when I came back from that flight.  In a Hornet you would pull into the line and had a very methodical way in which you have to shut off the airplane and the systems otherwise you could damage something.  So you have to follow a sequence, it is very methodical about which electronic system you shut off.  In the F-35 you come back, you do a couple things then you just shut the engine off, and it does everything else for you.  Sounds simple, even silly – but it is a quantum shift.

F-35Bs stacked aboard the USS America (LHA-6) during "Proof of Concept" demonstration November 19, 2016. A total of 12 F-35Bs aboard.

F-35Bs stacked aboard the USS America (LHA-6) during “Proof of Concept” demonstration November 19, 2016. A total of 12 F-35Bs aboard.

The voice of the pilots is clear – the platform is working exceptionally. The F-35 is a platform with the ultimate level of sophistication, made simple.   And therein lay the beauty of the F-35, and just why it will be so deadly, it’s simple.

This article is but a small excerpt of the complete pilots discussion of our contributors full article found at The Second Line of Defense here.

The Aviationist thanks USMC pilots; Col. George “Sack” Rowell, Lt. Col. Chad “Mo” Vaughn, Lt. Col. Rich “BC” Rusnok, and Lt. Col.  John “Guts” Price; Captain Joseph R. Olson, Commanding Officer of the USS America and entire crew; Sylvia Pierson, Brandi Schiff, JSF/JPO PA; Capt. Sarah Burns and 1st Lt. Maida Zheng, USMC PAOs;  MV-22B pilots/crew and personnel of VMX-1.

Touchdown imminent during "Proof of Concept" demonstration on the USS America (LHA-6) November 19, 2016.

Touchdown imminent during “Proof of Concept” demonstration on the USS America (LHA-6) November 19, 2016.

 

Yet another U.S. F/A-18 has just crashed in Japan. It’s the 9th Legacy Hornet lost in 6 months and the crash rate is alarming.

An F/A-18 Hornet stationed in Japan has crashed in the Yamaguchi prefecture. The pilot has ejected but his fate is unknown.

Reports are emerging that a U.S. F/A-18 Hornet has crashed earlier today in Japan. Rescue efforts to recover the pilot would be underway.

Although no further details are available at this time, the fact that the aircraft was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, seems to suggest the jet involved in the crash was a U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18C/D model.

If confirmed this would be the 9th major incident involving a “Legacy Hornet” (including the Canadian CF-18 lost on Nov. 28, 2016) in the last 6 months.

Although each crash has its own root causes and may depend on several contributing factor (including the human error), we can’t but observe, once again, that the rate of crashes involving legacy Hornets is alarming.

Two U.S. Marine Corps F-18 Hornets from MCAS Miramar crashed on Nov. 9 near San Diego. Another one on Oct. 25. A Swiss Air Force Hornet was lost on Aug. 29, whereas a Navy F/A-18C crashed on Aug. 2. On Jul. 27 USMC F/A-18 crashed so as the Blue Angels Hornet that crashed on Jun. 2.

This is how we commented the Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 crash:

“In the wake of the Hornet crashes from June through October, the U.S. Marine Corps temporarily grounded its non-deployed Hornets. Unfortunately, few days after the ban was lifted, two more F/A-18Cs were lost on Nov. 9.

Hornet crashes over the last year have depleted the number of available airplanes for training and operations. According to USNI News the service had 85 Hornets available for training, compared to a requirement for 171.

In order to face the critical shortage of operational fighters caused by both crashes and high operational tempos, the U.S: Marine Corps has launched a plan that will see Boeing upgrade 30 retired legacy Hornets (currently stored at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona) to a standard dubbed F/A-18C+.

With this upgrade, that will also embed new avionics, the service will be able to keep up with its operational tasks until the F-35 is able to take over.

Once upgraded to the C+ standard, these “gap fillers” should be more than enough to conduct combat operations in low-lethality scenarios like those that see the USMC at work these days.

Furthermore, once these “refreshed” Hornets are delivered to the squadrons, older airframes can be retired, improving flight safety.”

Once again: aircraft may crash for a variety of reasons, not always technical. Still, the rate of Legacy Hornet crashes in the last months seems to be unusual and, as such, concerning.

 

New video shows Blue Angel #6 crashing in Smyrna, Tennessee

A new video that appears to show the Blue Angels crash in Tennessee has been posted online.

A new video uploaded to Youtube yesterday seems to show the deadly crash that killed Capt. Jeff Kuss, Blue Angel #6 during a practice flight at the Smyrna Airport, Tennessee, on Jun. 2.

The clip shows the Lead and Opposing solo depart: whilst the #5 performs the dirty roll, the #6 performs a low transition and at 285 KCAS he pulls to 70 degrees nose up. According to the Blue Angels Maneuvers Manual at a minimum of 3,500 feet, he would roll the aircraft 180 degrees and complete a Split S reversal.

The footage shows the doomed Hornet almost leveling off at the end of the maneuver beyond the trees before a smoke and fireball is caused by the impact with the ground.

Did the pilot reach the required 3,500 feet? Did something else fail? Did the pilot suffer a G-LOC (G-force induced Loss of consciousness)?

The video does not help answering those questions, still it provides some new details about the deadly crash.

H/T to our pal Tyler Rogoway at The War Zone for posting the video.

 

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In a bizarre coincidence Blue Angels F/A-18 and a Thunderbirds F-16 crash on the very same day

Two crashes from the two premiere demo team in the U.S. on the very same day.

In what is a really incredible coincidence, a U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds F-16 and a U.S. Navy Blue Angels F/A-18 have crashed on Jun. 2, 2016.

The first incident occurred to the Thunderbirds F-16 shortly after the demo team performed a flyover at the annual Air Force graduation ceremony in Colorado Springs, attended by President Barack Obama.

The pilot managed to eject before the aircraft crash landed (based on the photos that have emerged online) in a field not far from Peterson AFB, Colorado. According to the reports the jets involved in the incident is #6 that is assigned to Maj. Alex Turner a pilot with 1,200 flight hours and more than 270 combat hours over Libya and Iraq, at its first display season with the team.

As the news of the Thunderbirds was starting to make the rounds, a U.S. Navy Blue Angels Hornet
crashed after takeoff during a practice flight around 3 p.m. local in Tennessee.

The first photographs that have emerged online show a fireball and thick black plume of smoke just beyond the runway at Smyrna Airport. Unfortunately, the pilot did not make it and was killed in the incident.

 

All other Blue Angels aircraft landed safely.

Needless to say, military jets are involved in air crashes all around the world every now and then. The odds of two incidents occurring on the very same day (1 hour apart) at the two U.S. military demo teams  solos (looks like both were #6) was unbelievably low. Until it happened today.

Jun. 2, 2016 will be remembered as one of the most unusual (and sad) days in the history of U.S. military aviation.

Top image (right) credit: @HalieShults 

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How two F/A-18s brought their pilots home after colliding mid-air during air combat training

The risky business of being an adversary pilot.

Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) is one of the most important parts in the training of modern fighter pilots. At the same time, an air combat maneuvering (ACM) session, where friendly and (simulated) enemy fighters fly against each other, can be one of the most dangerous training environment.

Although quite rarely, mid-air collisions do occur, sometimes with fatal results.

The evidence DACT can be quite dangerous is in the following photos, taken after a mid air occurred on Apr. 22, 1996 between two F/A-18As (BuNo. 162454 and BuNo. 162475) from VFC-12 Fighting Omars.

The two Hornets, along with another F/A-18, were playing the MiG-29 role during a Strike Fighter Advanced Readiness Program (SFARP) sortie. Flown by the Flight Lead LCDR Greg “Stubby” Stubbs and his two wingmen, LCDR Greg “G.I” Anderson and LCDR Cal Worthington, the three F/A-18s engaged two VF-41 F-14s that were escorting an EA-6B Prowler.

Almost immediately the two Tomcats scored two kills with simulated missile shots at eight miles out against LCDR Stubbs and against LCDR Anderson.

The three Hornets remained in formation together until the merge point (where friendly fighters meet enemy fighters) and following the rules of engagement the two “MiGs” killed by simulated shots, executed aileron rolls to give the students a visual indication of which Bandits were killed and which one they should attack.

It was in the middle of the second aileron roll that Stubbs and Anderson collided, as explained by LCDR Stubbs himself to Rick Llinares and Chuck Lloyd for their book Adversary: America’s Aggressor Fighter Squadrons.

The nose of the Hornet flown by Anderson ripped through Stubbs F/A-18’s left wing and clipped off half of the vertical tail, while Anderson Hornet’s nose cone along with his canopy and his drop tank were lost. One of his engines was damaged as well.

The “Knock it off” (the signal given by the pilots to stop a training air engagement) of the furball was called and someone said on the radio that a mid-air had occurred. LCDR Worthington called Stubbs asking him if he could control his F/A-18. Stubbs applied right stick, right rudder and started pulling the power back a little bit and the nose came up. He answered to Worthington “yeah, I have it.” In the meantime also Anderson called to say he was fine, even if the sound of the wind filled his radio communications.

F/A-18A 1

Both the damaged Hornets headed towards the coastline, with Stubbs assisted by Worthington, while the F-14s were trying to communicate with Anderson. Since the Tomcats weren’t able to contact LCDR Anderson because of a radio problem, Stubbs said to Worthington that he had to join up with Anderson since he was facing more serious problems: in fact Anderson had lost his probes during the collision and his airspeed and altitude indicators didn’t work.

Even though the Coast Guard station in Elizabeth City was the nearest airfield, it lacked an arresting cable system and so Stubbs and Anderson decided to go to Oceana. Not only did the aircraft configuration make a standard approach almost impossible, but Stubbs also discovered that his Hornet entered in dangerous left rolls if the speed descended below 200 knots. So the long runway and the arresting cable system available at NAS Oceana were the best option for them.

Hornet

After consulting with a McDonnel Douglas representative Stubbs decided to land without lowering his remaining flap. Two more Hornets, flown by LCDR Bertran and Bowman, joined up with him while he was preparing to lower his landing gear.

The damaged Hornet touched the runway at 200 knots, a speed that exceeded both the arresting gear engagement speed limit (175 knots) and the speed limit beyond which the hook might be ripped off (182 knots).

Few moments later also Anderson came to landing: his F/A-18 had lost the whole canopy aft of the windscreen (hence the sound of the wind that filled his radio communications) and wires were flapping out of the nose, beating against the side of the jet, but he was able to safely land.

midair 2

After two months, both pilots returned to flight status. Among the lessons learned in the mishap there was the need to put more emphasis on how pilots have to come out from the merge during the pre-flight briefing.

Conversely this accident was a significant testament to the sturdiness of the F/A-18: in fact although both the fighters were written off, the two Hornets were able to bring back home their pilots safely even after sustaining huge damages shown in the photos above.

Image credit: U.S. Navy via aircraftresourcecenter.com