Tag Archives: Royal Air Force

Let’s Have A Look At The “Tempest” UK’s 6th Generation Combat Aircraft Mock-Up Unveiled At The Farnborough Air Show

A concept model of the Tempest was unveiled yesterday. And here’s a first analysis.

On Jul. 16, UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson announced the development of a new combat aircraft that has been designed Tempest.

Announcing the publication of the new Combat Air Strategy at the Farnborough International Airshow 2018 (FIA 18), Williamson said he had taken action to strengthen the UK’s role as a global leader in the sector.

He outlined the Strategy in front of a mock-up of the Tempest, a next (6th) generation combat aircraft developed by Team Tempest, a consortium including BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Leonardo and MBDA, in collaboration with the Ministry of Defence.

“We have been a world leader in the combat air sector for a century, with an enviable array of skills and technology, and this Strategy makes clear that we are determined to make sure it stays that way. It shows our allies that we are open to working together to protect the skies in an increasingly threatening future – and this concept model is just a glimpse into what the future could look like,” Williamson said.

According to the first details unveiled so far the Tempest will feature all the most interesting (and cool) technologies currently being developed (and in some case already fielded): Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, Drone “Swarming”, Direct Energy Weapons, etc.

Some of the features of the Tempest. (Image credit: BAe Systems).

The UK plans to invest 2 billion GBP in Combat Air Strategy and the Tempest. “Early decisions around how to acquire the capability will be confirmed by the end of 2020, before final investment decisions are made by 2025. The aim is then for a next generation platform to have operational capability by 2035,” says the British MoD in the official press release following the announcement. Considered the time required to develop 4th and 5th generation aircraft (and in particular the controversial F-35) an (initial) operational capability in “just” 17 years from now seems a quite optimistic (or “aggressive”) deadline. For sure the Tempest is intended to eventually replace the Eurofighter Typhoon by the late 2030s or early 2040s. Moreover, the current plan does not include the possible delays induced by negotiations and onboarding of other European partners: it’s not clear what France and Germany will do with their own 6th generation aircraft announced last April at ILA18, but Italy (already supporting the new UK’s aircraft by means of Leonardo, that will be responsible for avionics and EW suite), among the others, is a natural candidate to join the project and invest money and skills in the Tempest rather than the “système de combat aérien du futur,” or SCAF, that appears to be a more “closed” joint venture at the moment.

The artwork included in the Combat Air Strategy document. (Image credit: Crown Copyright).

Dealing with the shape of the Tempest concept model, it bears some resemblance with current stealth fighters, especially the American F-22 (the front section) and F-35: the aircraft features a cranked kite design similar to the one used by most of the UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle) demonstrators such as the X-47B or the nEUROn, but the presence of the canted vertical stabilizers indicate “a preference for fighter-like agility since they aid horizontal stability during manoeuvres, especially in extreme flight regimes. However, they also limit the extent to which an aircraft’s radar signature can be reduced, especially against low-frequency ‘anti-stealth’ type radars,” commented Aerospace and defence analyst Justin Bronk from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). In other words, the Team Tempest seems to prefer agility against low-observability, as if stealthiness will become less important than ability to maneuver against future missiles and enemy aircraft in the future scenarios.

Generally speaking, the Tempest’s shape clearly reminds the BAe Replica, a British stealth aircraft model developed by BAe in the 1990s and used for radar testing for the FOAS (Future Offensive Air System) a study aimed at finding a replacement for the RAF Tornado GR4. After the program was scrapped in 2005, it was replaced by the Deep and Persistent Offensive Capability (DPOC) program that was itself cancelled in 2010, following the UK military’s spending review. The Taranis UCAV (Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle) a semi-autonomous pilotless system able to carry a wide variety of weapons, including PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions) and air-to-air missiles, emerged as the eventual successor of the FOAS.

A full-scale model of the BAe Replica became somehow famous when it was spotted being moved to be installed, inverted, on a pole (the typical configuration used for testing the radar signature of a plane) was filmed at BAE Systems facilities at Warton, in Lancashire, UK, in 2014.

BAe Replica on a pole at Warton, UK, in 2014.

Although the wings appear to be different, the BAe Replica model features twin engines, diverterless supersonic intakes and canted fins that can be found in the Tempest. Compared to the BAe Replica the Tempest appears to have a larger fuselage (along with the larger wing) that would allow for increased fuel and payload.

Noteworthy on the Tempest is also the presence of a cockpit to accommodate a pilot: the 6th generation aircraft will be “optionally manned”. Although next generation aircraft will be able to fly as drones, there is still a future for combat pilots as well.

Top image: composite using Reuters/Crown Copyright images

RAF Celebrates 100 Years with Spectacular Flyover in London

World’s Oldest Air Force Timed Massive Aerial Display to Perfection.

It was the first independent air force in the world; the Royal Air Force, the RAF. On Tuesday, July 10, 2018 it celebrated its 100th anniversary as the longest serving air force on the planet with a spectacular centenary aerial parade.

In celebration of its 100th Anniversary the RAF conducted a spectacular flyover Tuesday when aircraft including vintage Spitfires and brand new F-35s joined in an unprecedented historical review above The Mall and Buckingham Palace where the Royal Family turned out in full regalia to take in the observance and celebration. The U.K. have the most devoted aviation spotters and fans on earth and today’s aerial parade was an unmatched feast for veterans, photographers and aircraft enthusiasts.

Throughout its century-long history the Royal Air Force has stood for a stalwart and dignified gallantry unmatched by any other aerial service. The RAF has, since its beginning, always punched above its weight as a combat arm. From the battlefields of WWI to the tenacious and desperate homeland defense over the skies of London in the blitzkrieg of WWII and the Battle of Britain, the dam busters, the nighttime bombing raids on Germany to bush wars in Africa, the Middle East and Indochina, the RAF has always typified British toughness and heroism. The daring ultra-long range raid on the Falkland Islands by RAF Vulcan bombers in Operation Black Buck and the harrowing low-level attacks by Tornado GR1s on Iraqi runways in the Gulf War continued the illustrious record of the RAF into the jet age. Today the RAF continues the legacy with the combat proven Eurofighter Typhoon and its integration into the global F-35 Joint Strike Fighter force with the newest F-35B Lightning II aircraft.

Approximately 100 aircraft, one for each of the centenary years, participated in the flyover at 1:00 PM local time in London. It was reminiscent of Russia’s Victory Day Parade, the July 2017 Chinese Zhurihe Military Training Base flyover in Inner Mongolia and North Korea’s recent conspicuous displays of military might. But, whereas some recent military aerial parades attempted to send a message of strength, the mood over London was one of quiet dignity and historical reverence for an illustrious past and hopeful future.

Aircraft in the flyover staged in a complex aerial ballet from RAF bases that included Colchester, Norfolk, Suffolk and others. The exact schedule of the launches and routes for the flyover were not made public prior to the flight citing security. The flyover ended with a review of the nine RAF demonstration team, the Red Arrows’ BAE Hawk aircraft streaming colored smoke over the route.

The flyover could also be tracked online thanks to ADS-B/Mode-S/MLAT.

It took at least 11 months of planning according to the RAF to coordinate the flights. The project was managed by Wing Commander Kevin Gatland, Chief of Staff of the Tornado force based at RAF Marham in Norfolk. A total of 17 different RAF aircraft participated in the flyover including nearly every role of aircraft in the current inventory, from surveillance and attack aircraft to tactical transports. The most conspicuous absence was the Vulcan bomber, retired from flight demonstrations in October 2015. Standing in as a spectacular representative of Britain’s heavy bomber force was a Lancaster bomber as used in the night raids over Germany and the famous “dam buster” operation. It was also the first public flight demonstration of the RAF F-35Bs.

Coordination of the flight was complex considering the first wave of aircraft, tactical helicopters, flew over the parade route at only 100 knots, while the fast jets flew over the demonstration area at over 300 knots. As a result of the disparity in speed and performance the aircraft staged in waves at appropriate, synchronized distances from their parade rendezvous point hours before the flyover. The interval between the aircraft as they converged over the parade route was only 30 seconds.

Wing Commander Kevin Gatland told reporters, “So you have a very long train of aircraft which are compressing as they get overhead central London.” As a result of the flyover, London’s Heathrow Airport, one of the busiest in the world, had to cease operations for approximately 20 minutes.

Media from around the world covered the event both from camera aircraft adjacent to the flyover route and from the ground. Considering the historical significance of the event the flyover could be considered a resounding success even as overcast skies held above the formations.

Two Chinooks flying over London during the parade. (Image credit: Crown Copyright).

The 100-Year Anniversary of the RAF will continue this month as the Royal International Air Tattoo will take place at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire on July 13-15. It is the largest display of military aircraft in the world according to organizers with over 8 hours of flight demonstrations each day and hundreds of static displays and exhibitions.

Image credit: Crown Copyright

UK’s First Four F-35B Jets Currently On Their Way To The UK and Their New Home Of RAF Marham

The first F-35B aircraft are expected to land later today to join the RAF 617 Squadron “Dambusters”.

Earlier today four Lightning jets of 617 Squadron took of from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, where the famous “Dambusters” unit was reactivated on Apr. 17, 2018, to undertake the transatlantic crossing and arrive at RAF Marham, the new home of the UK’s Lightning Force.

The F-35Bs are being supported by three RAF Voyagers tankers: ZZ330 (RRR9101, radio callsign “Ascot 9101”), ZZ335 (RRR9102, “Ascot 9102”) and ZZ331 (RRR9103 “Ascot 9103”). ZZ330 departed Charleston and picked up the four  F-35Bs from MCAS Beaufort. That took the Lightning as far as ZZ331 and ZZ335 out from Gander that are towing the F-35 across the Atlantic. Supporting the transatlantic trip is also an A400M ZM401 (RRR4085).

The four jets are due to land at RAF Marham this evening, one day later than expected: their mission was delayed 24 hours by the bad weather along the planned route.

The Royal Air Force has also shared a video on social media showing one of the Lightnings during aerial refueling:

According to Air Forces Monthly, nine of the 11 UK F-35Bs currently on strength at MCAS Beaufort (where the British squadron operates under Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501) are expected to arrive in the UK for the RAF’s centenary celebrations this summer, including a flypast over London. And, above all, later this year, the UK F-35Bs will deploy aboard the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time.

“Lightning II has been designed from the outset to carry out a wide range of mission types, able to use its very low observable characteristics to penetrate Integrated Air Defence Systems and strike a number of types of targets. In a permissive environment, Lightning II is able to carry weapons on external pylons, as well as in the internal weapon bays. This will allow a maximum weapon payload of 6 Paveway IV, 2 AIM-120C AMRAAM, 2 AIM-132 ASRAAM (Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile) and a missionised 25mm gun pod,” says official RAF documentation.

“In 2019 we will also start our integration work for the new Meteor [beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile, BVRAAM] and SPEAR Cap 3 [Selective Precision Effects At Range Capability 3] weapon in order to deliver a phase one capability for those assets in 2021,” Martin Peters, BAE Systems’ F-35 flight test manager and test lead for STOVL (short take-off and landing), told AFM.

Top image credit: Crown Copyright

This Updated Chart Shows (Most Of) The Assets Involved in Apr. 14 Air Strike On Syria

This revised chart provides a good overview of the assets that took part in the Trilateral strikes on Syria last month.

As our readers already know, in the night between Apr. 13 and 14 the U.S., UK and France launched air strikes against Syria. By means of an OSINT analysis, we were able to determine the presence of most of the aircraft which took part in the operation, most of those could be tracked online via information in the public domain, hours before their involvement was officially confirmed.

Based on the “picture” we have contributed to build up, the popular one-man site CIGeography has prepared an interesting chart to visualize the type and number of the assets that have taken part or supported the strike. Although this is a revised version of an original chart posted on Apr. 29, it still contains some inaccuracies: for instance, just 6 out of 8 French C-135FR tankers are shows; at least 11 US tankers supported the American aircraft at various times; two RQ-4s are shown in the chart although we have tracked just one example [#10-2043 – a serial that is still subject to debate] and no other Global Hawk is known to have been committed, etc. Moreover, little is known about the aircraft that operated from the UAE and Qatar bases (including the EA-6B Prowlers, known to have supported the B-1s) and whose presence and number could not be determined by means of online flight tracking; still, it represents the only available chart that summarizes the types, the airbases and the weapons used to attack Syria last month.

Make sure you follow @CIGeography on Twitter and Facebook. You can also buy one of the posters based on this and other charts CIGeography has produced here.

You Can Buy A RAF Tornado’s RB199 Turbofan Engine on eBay

If you have some free space at home, you might be interested in this item.

A Turbo Union RB199 engine, previously used in the Tornado jet (not clear which variant), is on sale on eBay here.

Listed as a Rolls Royce RB199 (actually, Turbo Union, a joint venture between three European aero-engine manufacturers: FiatAvio (now Avio), MTU Aero Engines and RR, produces the engine), the article is said to come straight from the MoD that deemed the jet engine in question as not airworthy and unservicable, even though complete.

Two RB199 engines power the Tornado multirole combat aircraft. 2,500 engines have been delivered since 1979 to the armed forces of Great Britain, Germany, Italy and Saudi Arabia accumulating close to 6.0 million engine flying hours. The RB199 was designed

“In order to meet the many different mission requirements of the Tornado, in particular extreme low-level missions, a three-shaft design with afterburner and thrust reverser was selected. The Digital Engine Control Unit (DECU) reduces the pilot’s workload during operation and supports on-condition maintenance,” a public datasheet says. “The fact that the RB199 is still a very modern combat engine with future growth potential is a confirmation of its advanced design. Modular construction allows damaged modules to be replaced within the minimum turnaround time, thus ensuring greater availability of the aircraft. Its unprecedented reliability has not only been demonstrated in hostile environmental conditions but also in combat. The most recent production standard, Mk105, powers the German ECR (Electronic Combat Reconnaissance) Tornado.”

A detail of the RB199 sold on ebay. (Image credit: eBay/GI JOE ARMY STORES)

The engine was also used in the EAP Demonstrator assembled at, and flown from, Warton in Lancashire, England, and the early prototype Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft, both types without thrust reversers.

At 6,500 GBP (about 9,000 USD), the 3.5 meter x 1 meter x 1.1 meter item seems to be a bargain; however, if you decided to acquire it, shipping would be a subject to extra cost.

The seller, GI Joe Army Stores, specializes in dealing with ex-MoD material – as a quick peek through his listings seems to suggest.

Following the imminent withdrawal of the Tornado jets, we may see more and more items like that listed on eBay. Some RB199s are on public display: one at the Royal Air Force Museum Cosford and Brooklands Museum Weybridge, and another one at the Morayvia Centre in Kinloss.

Image Credit: eBay/GI JOE ARMY STORES