Tag Archives: Military Aviation

The thrills and chills of helicopter mountain flying. In Afghanistan and everywhere.

Under suspiction as the root cause of many air-deprivation events suffered by U.S. Air Force pilots flying the much troubled F-22 Raptor, hypoxia is also one of issues helicopter pilots have to face in mountain flying.

Working at high altitudes, often at maximum power, with the risk of being targeted with a deadly RPG, chopper crews are often pushed beyond their comfort zones, in attitudes and engine settings that require quick reactions and much experience.

For instance, it is for this reason that airmen destinated to operate in Afghanistan have to undertake training before being deployed.

Indeed if you thought that Afghanistan is only made of desert and sand, make a quick Google search and you’ll discover why pilots have to know how to deal with high-altitude and snow.

Among the Italian Armed Corps, the Corpo Forestale dello Stato (CFS, Italian for Forestry Service) acts as a police and ranger force, responsible for protecting Italy’s natural and environmental resources and eco-systems. Its duties include the prevention of environmental violations and wildfires, safeguarding animal species, ensuring antipoaching and habitat protection, and providing SAR in mountainous areas.

Although, the Service will never be deployed in combat, its pilots’ mountain flying experience is huge and analogous to those of the Air Force, Navy and Army crews who have been with their choppers in Afghanistan for years.

“Mountain flying involves difficulties and risks in every season” says Federico Dintignana, a chopper pilot of the Corpo Forestale who offen trains on snow covered mountains in northeast Italy.

“In mountain flying, it’s not always easy to perceive the helo’s attitude. For this reason, pilots tend to pull the cyclics back  nearing a mountain wall, dangerously reducing the speed, and pushing it forward leaving it to enter a valley, thus increasing the airspeed to such an extent it can exceed for a few seconds the airspeed that should never be exceeded to prevent airframe damages.”

During the winter season, the presence of snow requires the pilot an extra set of evaluations, especially during takeoff, landing and while maneuvering in ground effect. The “albedo” effect (similar to the “mirror” effect during flights over the sea surface), the almost total reflection of solar radiation, forces  the pilot to carefully consider not only the distance from the ground but also the ground orography.

“Especially at high altitude, when the shortage of buildings and vegetation do not allow specific reference points, it is very difficult to notice the presence of slopes and assess the wind direction. For these reasons, during the final approach the pilot often asks the cooperation of the co-pilot (if present) and any crew members regarding the observation of the terrain and obstacles which may had not being noted during high and medium reconnaissance (electricity wires and cables); if it is necessary to lay skids or wheels on the ground the pilot must use the rotor flux to dust off the landing area if covered with powdery snow, but if the snow on the ground is frozen and well compacted, it will be easier to maneuver” Dintignana explains.

If the terrain does not allow to touch it with skids or wheels, or the situation makes it necessary to perform a hovering, the visibility will have to be excellent, otherwise the pilot will have to choose a different area of ​​operation. If the pilot is disoriented by the swirl of snow during the landing phase in spite of all the previous checks, he will have to choose what to do extremely quickly.

“If very close to the ground and quite sure about the area below him, the pilot can lower the collective, otherwise he will rapidly have to set a “go around” power, ignoring everything around him and fix his attention entirely on the ADI (the Torque instrument is normally monitored by the co-pilot) in order to maintain a safe attitude and gain altitude. Climb has to be as soon and vertical as possible, until external visibility is acquired again.”

Gallery credit: Federico Dintignana

Typhoon’s super sci-fi helmet: a (supposedly) unnecessary extra feature on the F-22

When I first saw this picture (taken by contributor Nicola Ruffino), I immediately thought that the Eurofighter Typhoon’s Helmet Mounted Symbology System (HMSS), is not only quite advanced, if compared to the the American JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System), but it is also so ugly and bumpy that let the backseater look like a sort of Hellboy (a comic book superhero).

 

Even if they implement the same basic features, compared to the American JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System) (that was developed earlier and became operational beginning in the late ’90s), the Typhoon’s HMSS features lower latency, higher definition, improved symbology and night vision.

Both the JHMCS and the HMSS provide the essential flight and weapon aiming information through line of sight imagery. Information imagery (including aircraft’s airspeed, altitude, weapons status, aiming etc) are projected on the visor (the HEA – Helmet Equipment Assembly – for the Typhoon) , enabling the pilot to look out in any direction with all the required data always in his field of vision.

Noteworthy, although it is integrated in U.S. F-15C/D, F-16  Block 40 and 50 and F-18C/D/E/F, the F-22 Raptor doesn’t need a JHMCS. There are various reasons why the most advanced (and much troubled) air superiority fighter lacks it and the HOBS (High Off-Boresight) weapons: confidence that capability was not needed since no opponents would get close enough to be engaged with an AIM-9X in a cone more than 80 degrees to either side of the nose of the aircraft; limited head space below the canopy; the use of missiles carried inside ventral bays whose sensor can’t provide aiming to the system until they are ejected. And also various integration problems that brought the Air Force to cancel funding.

Did the F-22 need HOBS? Sure, as it would have improved its lethality even further. Indeed, although simulated 1 F-22 vs 3 JHMCS F-16Cs engagements proved that the Raptor can master even challenging scenarios such an extra feature would have been a useful addition when facing large formations of Gen. 5 fighters like the Chinese J-20.

In fact as I’ve already written on this blog, “quantity” rather than “quality” should worry U.S. fighter planes in the future:

“the real problem for the US with the J-20 is not with the aircraft’s performances, equipment and capabilities (even if the US legacy fighters were designed 20 years earlier than current Chinese or Russian fighters of the same “class”); the problem is that China will probably build thousands of them.”

Left image: U.S. Air Force

By the way, the multi-role F-35 will get a HMDS (Helmet Mounted Display System): all of the plane’s sensors along with a set of cameras mounted on the jet’s outer surfaces feed the system providing the pilot with a X-ray vision-like imagery: he can see in all directions, and through any surface, with all the information needed to fly the plane and to cue weapons projected onto the visor.

Although the JHMCS is quite common all around the world, the Typhoon’s HMSS is obviously more rare. A good opportunity to see this helmet in action in the U.S. could come in the next years, following the German Air Force plan to base 24 Eurofighter Typhoons at Holloman Air Force Base, at the German Air Force Flying Training Center established in 1958. The Typhoons will be used to train German pilots on the type, as done with the Tornados, that the GAF expects to keep in New Mexico until 2019.

Image: Eurofighter

"I'd rather go to war in a Typhoon than in a F-18 (Super) Hornet" an Aussie exchange pilot says

“I’d rather go to war in a Typhoon than in a F-18 Hornet”. This alleged Australian exchange pilot’s statement is one of the most interesting outcomes (and marketing slogans) of BERSAMA LIMA 11 an exercise marking the 40th Anniversary of the Five Powers Defence Agreement (FPDA) the only multilateral defence agreement in South East Asia with an operational element commitment undertaken by five nations (UK, Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Australia) to consult in the event of an attack on Singapore or Malaysia.

Image source: RAF/Crown Copyright

This year’s edition of the exercise was attended by 18 ships, two submarines, 4000 troops and 68 aircraft: among them four RAF Typhoons (three single seat and one twin seat jets, both belonging to the Tranche 2) from RAF Leuchars that undertook a 4-day 7,000 mile trip to RMAF Butterworth (including stops in Jordan, Oman and Sri Lanka).

According to an email I’ve received today from a Eurofighter pilot, the overall performance of the plane was almost faultless and much better than anybody had anticipated in spite of the limited support and spare parts available:

“There were no significant problems with the aircraft apart from a small radar issue on one aircraft during the exercise. No issues were attributed to the extreme humidity and local environment, a significant improvement on performance during the Singapore campaign.”

During Bersana Lima 11, the British Typhoons, that had their baptism of fire in the air-to-surface role during the Air War in Libya,  faced Malaysian Mig 29s, Australian F-18s (C and F) and Singaporean F16s using for the first time during an operational deployment, their electric hat (HMSS/HEA – Helmet Mounted Simbology System/Helmet Equipment Assembly the Typhoon JHMCS equivalent) and “easily came out on top in all engagements.”

To such an extent that the Aussie pilot made the notable comment (don’t forget the Royal Australian Air Force is an operator of both Legacy and Super Hornets….).

Image by Nicola Ruffino

Shortlisted in the Indian MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) tender for 126 fighter planes for the Indian Air Force with the Dassault Rafale (the recent loser of the Switzerland selection for a fighter plane to replace the ageing F-5Es), with Ex. Bersana Lima 11 the Typhoon has undertaken another operative (and marketing) campaign to prove the aircraft expeditionary capabilities and its superior technology.

Have you ever seen a Tornado-like spinning vortex on a Typhoon? Just phase transition thermodynamics

I’m pretty sure many of this weblog’s readers have already seen this phenomenon generated at the air intake of an F-16. There is also a quite famous image of a C-17 engine, generating this tornado-like spinning vortex. However, the following picture is the first I’ve seen so far showing the vortex generated by an Italian Eurofighter Typhoon (F-2000A according to the Mission Design Series).

The picture was taken in May 2011, by Nicola Ruffino and shows a Typhoon of the 36° Stormo, based at Gioia del Colle, generating a vortex on the apron before taxiing for night sortie.

The principle is quite simple: the air is sucked into the intake generating a depression. As the pressure lowers, the air cools and the water vapor contained in it condesates and becomes visible. The process is the same I’ve explained when I discussed sonic booms and condensation clouds) and it is frequent in high humidity or wet weather conditions.

Noteworthy, if temperature is particularly low the water vapor contained in the air changes directly to ice (without first becoming a liquid). Known as “deposition”, this phase transition can cause some problem to the aircraft, in the form of engine Ice FOD (Foreign Object Damage) and intake ice build-up.

Computer viruses, mysterious bomb blasts, assassinations and PSYOPS: Israel's stealth war on Iran already begun?

When writing about Iran’s nuclear weapons program, many analysts and journalists seem to forget that, although not of the type one might expect, the attack against Tehran nuke sites has already kicked off. Many still believe that a conventional military action against Iran is a future possibility forgetting that a long lasting hi-tech war in the region is (most probably) already in progress.

Last October, about 20 military personnel were killed in a blast at a Revolutionary Guards annunition depot. On Nov. 12, an explosion at Bid Ganeh, a military base located in the outskirs of Tehran killed General Hassan Tehrani Moqaddam, head of Iran’s missile defense program along with 30 other people. Few days ago, another blast in Isfahan, Iran’s third-largest city, could have hit a uranium conversion site.

Israel is also widely held as responsible for using the Stuxnet virus to target Iran’s nuclear plants.

There also have been many other mysterious episodes: home and abroad assassinations and plane accidents as the one involving the Tupolev 134 that crashed near Petrozavodsk on June 21 while carrying five Russian scientists who assisted in the design of Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant.

Even if some of these incidents have been denied by the ayatollahs’ regime, their frequency and effectiveness is causing frustration among Iranians, appearantly unable to react to an invisible, unknown and sophisticated multi-directional and multi-dimensional attack. Hence, the new kind of war is also having the same psychological effects of a complex PSYOPS mission.

Israel has never confirmed its direct involvement in it but it is quite likely that the hi-tech stealth war is the only way to sabotage Ahmadinejad’s program preventing Iran’s “fierce, protracted and multi-pronged” retaliation.

Still, what tech was used to attack the nuclear plants remains an unanswered question. An intriguing theory (no more than that, please!) that was inspired by a talk with Giuliano Ranieri is that some killer Micro Air Vehicles, or MAVs, known to be under development by Israel for counter-terrorism activities could have been developed and used against the Iranian sites, even if such drones are not be capable to perform long range missions and could not be used for this kind of covert ops unless they are launched from the vicinity of the target or from a sort of “mothership” (another larger drone). By the way, did you know that Israeli UAVs can be remotely controlled by flying F-15s or AH-64 Apaches?

It is also possible that the recent attacks involved one or more Dolphin Class submarines in the Red Sea (or Persian Gulf) capable of launching Popeye Turbo cruise missiles at 1,500 km from underwater.

Anyway the use of Israeli combat planes, “normal” drones and so on,  is probably a “last resort” option, not only because it would cause an almost certain retaliatory attack using medium-range ballistic missiles, possibly armed with chemical, biological or radiological warheads, but also because it would be an extremely complex operation to plan and execute, even for a combat proven air force, with past experience on long range raids.

Too many combat aircraft, too many air-to-air refueling planes and support planes to go unnoticed.

And what about the route? Even if the US withdrawal from Iraq would give clearance to a raid on that direction, it’s hard to believe that a strike package would pass undetected by an air defense on a heightned readiness status during ingress and egress from their targets. Unless the Israeli have improved their already effective EW capabilities, the same that during Operation Orchard, on Sept. 6, 2007, let the 10 F-15Is attack a nuclear facility being built in Syria completely undetected.

An attack that Israel has never publicly confirmed.