Tag Archives: Nellis Air Force Base

Photo: NASA WB-57F arriving at Lajes Field, Azores, on the way to another deployment

As explained in a previous post, one of the two NASA’s WB-57Fs, after performing test activities at Nellis AFB, arrived at Lajes Field, Azores, on Mar. 5, 2012. Local spotter and photographer Leandro Rocha was there and took the following interesting pictures of the N926NA, that crossed the Atlantic ocean without the belly pallet systems used to carry mission payload.

According to a local aircraft spotter and photographer, both NASA’s WB-57s have been frequent visitors at Lajes in the past 5 years, transiting back and forth to the Afghanistan area of operations.

He notes that these aircraft have been progressively modified with external sensors, antennas, etc. For instance, this is the first time that N926NA is seen at Lajes with the “dome” atop the spinal cord which probably houses a INMARSAT or similar antenna.

Although the final destination of the WB-57F is unknown, considered the lack of NASA markings and the pre-deployment activities, was probably once again in bound to Afghanistan to carry BACN (Battlefield Airborne Communications Node) payloads needed to relay comms between command and control centers and ground troops located within valleys and ridges in the Afghan mountains.

Image credit: Leandro Rocha

More about the NASA's WB-57F activity at Nellis AFB. Testing new BACN equipment prior to the next deployment to Afghanistan?

Following on the article published yesterday about the NASA’s (mysterious) WB-57F testing new sensors at Nellis AFB here below you can find a new picture, taken at Nellis on Feb. 1, 2012. According to Flightaware history page for NASA926 flight, on that date the WB-57 flew from Nellis to Ellington Field: a “straight” flight that brought the plane back to his homebase in Texas.

Indeed, the aircraft seems to sport a different pallet system than that carried on the pictures taken on Jan. 25: since the testing activity had finished the “new” payload was removed for the return flight to Ellington Field.

NASA 926 over Nellis on Feb. 1, 2012 (Photo by T. Lovelock)

On Jan. 25, the aircraft flew a local sortie in the Nellis restricted areas located to the northwest of Creech AFB, at FL490, that included several racetracks over a terrain that is probably much similar to that of certain areas of Afghanistan. Many sorties from Nellis featured more or less the same route.

Here’s the pallet carried during that mission:

Since the WB-57s have carried BACN – Battlefield Airborne Communications Node payloads in Afghanistan, it is possible (speculation) that the Canberra was testing new sensors and antennas used by the BACN to relay comms between command and control centers and ground troops located within valleys and ridges in the Afghanistan mountains.

Screen dump from Flightaware history of NASA 926 flight on Jan. 25

NASA's (mysterious) WB-57F testing new sensors at Nellis AFB?

NASA still operates the last two flying WB-57Fs, NASA 926 and 928 one configured for air sampling and the other for photography, radar and thermal recce. Both have been flying research missions since the early ’60s.

Although they are based at Ellington Field, Texas, they are often deployed to different bases, both at home and abroad; for this reason, scientific projects (focusing on hurricanes, radiation impact on clouds, atmospheric data gathering, tropical storm generation analysis, and so on) aside, NASA’s Canberras are believed to be involved in some “special operations”.

For instance, in 2007 there were speculations and theories about the type of mission flown by the WB-57 in war zones fueled by pictures of the aircraft operating from Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan without the standard NASA logo and markings.

Officially, the aircraft performed geophysical and remote sensing surveys as part of the U.S. aid to the Afghan reconstruction effort. The WB-57 collected  AVIRIS (Airborne Visible Infra Red Imaging Spectrometer) data that could be analyzed to provide information on mineral assemblages that could aid in resource and hazards assessments.

Surely, with up to 60,000-lb payload carried and a pallet system under the main fuselage area, this aircraft can fulfil a wide variety of special data gathering missions.

The N926NA depicted in the following pictures was operating from Nellis AFB, during the recent Red Flag, where The Aviationist’s contributor Tony Lovelock, photographed it. The aircraft has operated in the Nellis Test Ranges from Nov. 15, 2011 to Feb. 1, 2012, when it returned to Ellington Field.

Although the reason of the deployment to Nellis is unknown, it is probably linked to the need to test some sensors within the local ranges, using base’s facilities; sensor or collection equipment carried by the pallet system that consists of interchangeable (pressurized and unpressurized) pallet modules and capable to carry a total of 4,000 lbs. Lighter payloads can be carried in the nose cone, wing hatches, wing pods, tail cone and aft fuselage.

Even if the “mission page” on the NASA WB-57 webpage does not mention the missions flown from Nellis (nor the Afghanistan deployment) suggesting the one in Nevada was not a scientific campaign, the aircraft can be tracked on Flightaware: if you check the history of NASA 926, you can see all the flights the aircraft launched from Nellis and you’ll discover that the Canberra has recently crossed the Pond flying to Lajes on Mar. 5, 2012.

Here’s an example of what can be seen on Flightaware (route the N926NA flew from Nellis on Dec. 16):

Where it is going (carrying payload just tested at Nellis) and what kind of mission it will launch once it arrives at destination is a mystery. For the moment.

NASA 926 at Nellis on Jan. 25, 2012 (Photo by T. Lovelock)

N926NA (with NASA logo on tail) at RAF Mildenhall in 2008 (Photo by T. Lovelock)

More fancy Nellis's Aggressors color schemes: "Blizzard" and "Arctic" F-16C

We have already published some pictures, taken by The Aviationist’s contributor Tony Lovelock at Nellis AFB, Nevada, of the F-15C of the 65th AGRS (Aggressor Squadron) with a new “splinter” camouflage probably inspired to the one of the Su-35S and PAK-FA.

Here are more pictures depicting 64th AGRS F-16s taking part to the Red Flag 12-2 as “Red Air”, with new color schemes applied in October 2011.

#86-0273 in “Arctic” color scheme.

#86-0269 in “Blizzard” camouflage.

Image credit: Tony Lovelock

New Nellis Aggressors F-15’s "splinter" color scheme inspired by Sukhoi Su-35S (and PAK-FA) camouflage

After publishing the first images of the F-15C 78-0509/WA-09 of the 65th AGRS (Aggressor Squadron) in a “splinter” camouflage at Red Flag 12-2, many have asked what country’s color scheme the new Nellis Eagle replicates.

Although, it’s not a perfect copy, the scheme seems to be inspired to that of the Sukhoi Su-35S, Russia’s future  supermaneuverable multirole combat plane.

Even the PAK-FA color scheme has something in common with the Nellis Aggressor’s splinter paint.

“The jets you’re flying against are smaller and faster, just like the enemy MiGs.”

Image credits: Tony Lovelock; Sukhoi