Tag Archives: Mode S

Here Is The Route A U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk Drone Is Currently Flying During A Surveillance Mission Over The Black Sea And Ukraine

A gigantic U.S. Air Force RQ-4 is currently flying over Ukraine, broadcasting its position for everyone to see.

U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk UASs (Unmanned Aerial Systems) belonging to the 9th Operations Group/Detachment 4th of the U.S. Air Force deployed to Sigonella from Beale Air Force Base, California, have been flying ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) missions in support of EUCOM, AFRICOM and CENTCOM theater mission tasking since 2011.

Beginning in 2015, they have started flying over Ukraine as well and, as already reported, instead of keeping a low-profile, they can be regularly tracked not only by “standard” ground radars, but even by commercial ADS-B receivers like those feeding online flight tracking systems such as Flightradar24.com, PlaneFinder.net or Global ADS Exchange while its imagery intelligence (IMINT) sensors take a look at Russian bases in Crimea and gather information about the pro-Russia forces on the ground in the Dombass region of Ukraine.

As we write this story, 19:00 GMT on Jul. 20, a Global Hawk drone can be tracked as it performs an ISR mission over Ukraine at 53,000 feet.

The unmanned aircraft has been airborne for some 17 hours. It started tracking early in the morning after departing from Sigonella, then it has headed east, flown over Bulgaria to the Black Sea, “skirted” Crimea, performed some racetracks off Sochi and then headed back to make a tour of Ukraine.

Here are some screenshots taken by our friend and famous ADS-B / ModeS tracking enthusiast running the popular @CivMilAir @ADSBTweetBot Twitter feeds:

 

As reported several times here, it’s difficult to say whether the drone can be tracked online by accident or not. But considered that the risk of breaking OPSEC with an inaccurate use of ADS-B transponders is very well-known, it seems quite reasonable to believe that the unmanned aircraft purposely broadcasts its position for everyone to see, to let everyone know it is over there. Since “standard” air defense radars would be able to see them regardless to whether they have the transponder on or off, increasingly, RC-135s and other strategic ISR platforms, including the Global Hawks, operate over highly sensitive regions, such as Ukraine or the Korean Peninsula, with the ADS-B and Mode-S turned on, so that even commercial off the shelf receivers (or public tracking websites) can monitor them.

Russian spyplanes can be regularly tracked as well: the Tu-214R, Russia’s most advanced intelligence gathering aircraft deployed to Syria and flew along the border with Ukraine with its transponder turned on.

Top image: Flightradar24 screenshot via @CivMilAir who deserves the usual H/T.

 

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Flightradar24 exposes the presence of U.S. and allied ISR planes operating over Daesh stronghold in Iraq

Several spyplanes and drones keep an eye on Mosul, ISIS headquarters in northern Iraq.

As our readers know, we’ve been reporting about U.S. and allied planes that can be tracked online during war missions since at least 2011 when, during the opening stages of the Libya Air War, some of the combat planes involved in the air campaign forgot/failed to switch off their mode-S or ADS-B transponder, and were clearly trackable on FR.24 or PF.net.

Five years later, little has changed and transponders remain turned on during real operations making the aircraft clearly visible to anyone with a browser and an Internet connection, thus breaking OPSEC and exposing aerial refueling tracks or clandestine operations, like those being flown on a daily basis in North Africa, Afghanistan, or Iraq.

For instance, last night as many as three Beech 300 Super King Air aircraft could be tracked while they circled over Mosul while hunting for Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) missions.

N166BA

These days, along with the tankers, several quasi-civilian U.S. Army-operated aircraft, including the Pilatus PC-12/45 N56EZ, the Super King Air 300 N80BZ and N166BA and several MC-12W Liberty (the military variant of the B350 King Air).

Like the one, registered N6351V that crash landed near Erbil, Iraq on Mar. 5. In that case, the mishap exposed the fact that the Liberty (just like many other special mission aircraft operating in the same area) sported a non-standard white color scheme  to disguise itself as a light transport plane.

N6351V

But in spite of its general aviation appearance the aircraft was actually an MC-12W EMARSS (Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System) variant used to perform ELINT (Electronic Intelligence), COMINT (Communication Intelligence), direction finding as well as Full Motion Video broadcasting to the tactical commanders on the ground, for day and night target detection, location, classification and tracking, as well as counter-IED operations.

All these modified aircraft are equipped with EO/IR (electro-optic/infra-red) sensors, aerial precision geolocation system, line-of-sight tactical and beyond line-of-sight communications suites, Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A) workstations, and a self-protection suite: much more than a normal general aviation plane….

Beech 300 Super King Air

Another frequent visitors of the skies over Iraq is also a Bombardier Global 6000. According to some ADS-B experts it may be a RAF Sentinel R1, a quite advanced ISR platform that has been extensively used in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq, or an E-11A, an advanced ultra long-range business jet that has been modified by the U.S. Air Force to accommodate Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) payload.

Whatever it is, needless to say, it can be tracked online on Flightradar24.com.

H/T to @CivilMilAir, Guglielmo Guglielmi, Guido Olimpio, Avi Scharf and Greg Anderson for contributing to this post. Top image credit: FR24.com via Greg Anderson. Image credit: Rudaw.

 

[Animation] The Queen's Diamond Jubilee flypast over London as seen from a radar-like computer display

Click on the image to start animation

The following animation showing the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee flypast over Buckingham palace was recorded on PlanePlotter by John Locker.

In this animation we can see the C-47 Dakota flight  [ZA947] and Lancaster flight [PA474] join up then fly down the Mall before breaking off to the north.

Other aircraft can be clearly seen in the animation: [CWL68] were the B200s with serial ZK453 and ZK454 (with SCE84 being probably a spare Beech); [P7350] was the Spitfire; [NOH23] was a chopper out of RAF Northolt, possibly on security duty.

Noteworthy, a Spitfire and a Hurricane pop up in the early frames but once joined up, only the lead aircraft in each section continued with Mode S.

Image courtesy John Locker

PlanePlotter (PP) is a software that receives and decodes live digital position reports from aircraft and plots them on a chart.

Using PlanePlotter, you can see a radar-like display of all those aircraft around you that are transmitting the appropriate digital messages including ACARS, ADS-B and HFDL. Needless to say, you need the appropriate hardware (receiver, antenna, etc.) to get the digital signals.

Unlike other very well known Internet services, as Flightradar24.com or Planefinder.net, PP has some more features, including

  • Multilateration to locate and track those aircraft which do not send  position reports
  • Beamfinder, Beamfinder Plus and Beamfinder Plus S: PlanePlotter can use the pings from known radar stations to calibrate the rotating beam and to use that information to locate aircraft not transmitting position

A330 MRTT (Multi-Role Tanker Transport) adds two new combat types: UAE Mirage 2000 and F-16 Block 60. And does it live on Flightradar24.com

Airbus Military has been very busy recently adding another two combat types able to be refueled from its A330 MRTT tanker aircraft, which has been ordered in three examples by the UAE Air Force.

The company, which is part of the EADS conglomerate, has performed several test flights out of Al Dhafra airbase near Abu Dhabi with the UAE AF F-16 Block 60 and the Mirage 2000 fighters. The tests, which included aerial refueling during climbs, descents, turns as well as straight and level flight were performed at a range of altitudes and speeds.

Even if the F-16 has already been qualified to be refueled from the A330 tanker this was the first time a Block 60 with the large conformal fuel tanks and a slightly different wake footprint than the older version of the F-16, has taken on fuel. Tests have involved aircraft in various loadouts.

The same tests were also performed on the Mirage 2000, including the two seat version with different loadouts as well as different fuel loads.

During the refueling tests of the Mirage the two underwing refuelling pods were used both to refuel a single jet and two jets at the same time. The F-16, that in the past were tested with a removable IFR (In-Flight Refueling) probe to take fuel from a hose-and-drogue tanker, used the Air Refuelling Boom System (ARBS).

For those interested in tracking some air-to-air refueling flights, please consider that they often appear on both Planefinder and Flightradar24 since the A330 MRTT broadcasts full ADS-B data from its Mode-S transponder.

For instance, using the radio callsign “CASA 013” the A330 EC-339 could tracked on Mar. 20, 2012 performing a refueling mission between FL240 and FL280. Click here to see the route followed by the MRTT during that sortie.

The track flown on Mar. 19, 21, 22 and 25 can be found as well using the playback feature of FR24.com.

Antonio Caramazana, Vice President Programme Director Airbus Military Derivatives, said: “It is very satisfying to qualify another two aircraft type as receivers for the A330 MRTT and we look forward to entry into service with the UAE Air Force later this year.”

The air crew training for the A330 with UAE pilots is currently taking place in Spain with the first two MRTT’s due to be delivered before the end of the year. The training of the aircrew takes place at Airbus’ training facility near Madrid and included not just the pilots but the refuelling operators too all using state of the art simulators.

Written with The Aviationist’s Editor David Cenciotti

Image by Richard Clements

Forget any security concern and welcome Air Force One on Flightradar24!

In my article titled Would modern transponders have made the hijacked planes visible to radars on 9-11? about Mode-S and ADS-B usage I wrote:

According to an esteem by Flightradar24.com, around 60% of the civil airliners and only a small amount of business jets and military aircraft have an ADS-B transponder. This means that, although you will never spot a Stealth Helicopter nor Air Force One broadcasting its position, speed, altitude and route on the Web, you can still catch some extremely interesting  planes. As the evasive US Air Force C-32Bs (a military version of the Boeing 757), operated by the Department of Homeland Security and US Foreign Emergency Support Team (FEST), used to deploy US teams and special forces in response to terrorist attacks.

I was wrong.

Although even the Flightradar24 FAQs confirmed that the Air Force One, the world’s most famous and important aircraft, should NOT be visible on their website, for a few seconds around 19.40UTC, the U.S. Air Force’s VC-25 (mil version of the B747), with registration 82-8000, transponder code 3614, advertised its position in the public domain while over Baltimore, descending through FL120 at 310 kts, heading towards Washington D.C. (for landing at Andrews AFB).

I don’t really know the reason for this quick appearance of the AF1 on FR24. A human error? A quick test? Hard to say. I’d expect the IFF Mode 5 with encrypted Mode-S and ADS-B to be paramount on the aircraft carrying the POTUS.

However, in the past I’ve witnessed some “doomsday planes” and other DoD flights shamelessly broadcasting on the Internet their position, altitude, track etc.

Let’s see what happens in the future. Maybe tracking Obama’s movements across the world will be possible. By means of a web browser….

Update Dec. 1, 2011: further investigation shows that the AF1 used genuine full ADS-B signal possibly triggered at the request of controllers for positioning purposes during descent to Andrews AFB.