Tag Archives: Russia

“We Did Barrel Rolls Around Tu-95s At The Request Of The Soviets”: F-4 WSO Explains The Story Of The Phantom Upside Down Near Bear

Here are some memories from the Weapon Systems Officer who shot the famous photograph of the F-4 flying inverted near a Soviet Tu-95 Bear bomber.

Last week we have published a blurry shot of a U.S. Air Force F-4 Phantom flying inverted during an intercept mission on a Russian Tu-95 Bear. The photograph went viral and reached Robert M. Sihler, the author of the shot, who was so kind to provide some interesting details about the image that brought to mind one of the most famous scenes in Top Gun movie.

“Although I don’t remember the exact date, the mission occurred in either late 1973 or early 1974.  The F-4C belonged to the 57th FIS at Keflavik NAS.  The mission was a standard intercept of a “Bear” by two F-4s after the alert crews were activated,” Bob wrote in an email to The Aviationist.

In June 1973 the F-4s replaced the F-102s at Keflavik. (All images: R. Sihler)

“I was a Navigator, or in the F-4, a Weapons System Officer. I entered the USAF in Oct 1969. On active duty, I spent a couple of years at Norton AFB, CA in C-141s. From there, I trained in the F-4 and spent one year at Keflavik, Iceland. Following that, I went back to C-141s at Charleston AFB, SC from 1974 to 1977. I left active duty and spent the next 14 years in C-130s at Andrews AFB, MD and Martinsburg ANGB, WV. I retired as a Lt Col in Dec 1991. The assignments to Iceland were generally either one or two years. I elected to do one year without my family accompanying me there. Others chose to bring their families for two years.”

Dealing with the close encounters with the Tu-95s:

“At that time, we probably averaged two intercepts of “Bears” per week. They were the only aircraft we saw while I was there. Generally, the intercepts occurred on Fridays and Sundays, at the “Bears” flew from Murmansk to Cuba on training and, we guessed, “fun” missions. Generally, we did these barrel rolls at the request of the Soviet crewmembers.  They gave us hand signals to let us know they wanted us to do it.  They photographed us as well.  The Cold War was winding down and the attitudes on both sides had improved,” Sihler explains.

When asked whether the barrel roll was difficult or unsafe maneuver, Bob has no doubts: “Not really!  The Soviets, at the time, gave us hand signals asking us to “perform” for them. The rolls were not dangerous at all.”

The famous shot of the inverted flying F-4 Phantom (the aircraft was actually ending a barrel roll).

An F-4C from 57th FIS escorts a Tu-95 intercepted near Iceland in the early 1970s.

The same 57th FIS F-4C that performed the barrel roll around the Tu-95 depicted during the same intercept mission.

A Tu-95 as seen from a Phantom’s cockpit.

A big thank you to Robert Sihler for answering our questions and providing the photographs you can find in this article.

Russia Has Deployed Its MiG-29SMT Multirole Combat Aircraft To Syria For The Very First Time

Once again the Syrian Air War is the testbed for the most recent Russian Air Force weapons system. This time is the turn of the MiG-29SMT.

The Russian Air Force has deployed some MiG-29SMT multirole combat aircraft to Hmeymim airbase, near Latakia, in western Syria, the Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed on Sept. 13, 2017.

It’s the first time the modernized version of the baseline Fulcrum jet is deployed to take part in the Syrian Air War.

The MiG-29SMT is an upgraded variant of the MiG-29 featuring a big 950-litre spine CFT (Conformal Fuel Tank) and an in-flight refueling system on the left hand side of the cockpit: it is equipped with a “glass cockpit” with two MFI-10-6M displays and IKSh-1M HUD (Head-Up Display). With a maximum range of 1,800 km (3,000 with three drop tanks), it can carry guided air-to-surface weapons.

According to “Russia’s Warplanes, Volume 1” by Piotr Butowski published by Harpia Publishing, one of the most authoritative sources on Russian  military aircraft and helicopters today, besides the baseline Fulcrum loadout, the MiG-29SMT can carry two R-27T medium-range IR-guided air-to-air missiles or two extended-range R-27ER/ET AAMs, or up to six RVV-AE AAMs. Air-to-ground weapons include two Kh-29T/L, up to four Kh-25M, or two Kh-31A7P missiles, or up to four KAB-500 guided bombs. The first images emerging from Syria show at least one aircraft with two unguided FAB-500s.

The Russian Air Force plans to operate a fleet of 44 MIG-29SMT fighters: 28 were returned from Algeria (that ordered the aircraft in February 2006 and broke the contract after 16 were delivered because they claimed that the airframes were not brand new – these, according to Butowski were acquired by the Russian MoD and delivered to a fighter regiment in Kursk-Khalino beginning in February 2009)  and another batch (whose complete delivery status is not known) of 16 aircraft ordered in 2014 and due to delivery by the end of 2016.

The video below shows the MiG-29SMTs in Syria for the very first time.

Anyway, the deployment of the upgraded Fulcrum is worth of note: it represents the latest of a long series of Russian advanced “hardware” put to test in the Syrian theater.

Top image credit: Russian MoD

Indonesia To Trade Coffee And Palm Oil For Su-35 Super Flanker Combat Aircraft

Indonesia to buy 11 Su-35 Flanker jets from Russia.

According to the information released by The Jakarta Post on Aug. 4., Indonesia is going to barter its resources, including coffee, to acquire the Russian Su-35 supermaneuverable fighter aircraft.

The whole deal is to be directed by an Indonesian state-owned company – PT Perusahaan Perdagangan, collaborating with Rostec. The Parties in question, as The Jakarta Post reports, have signed a memorandum of understanding, assuming that Indonesian agricultural commodities would be traded for the Russian fighter aircraft, specifically 11 examples of the Su-35 jets.

Jakarta, in exchange, is to provide Russia with, among other goods, coffee, palm oil, or tea, as the Indonesian Trade Minister, Enggartiasto “Enggar” Lukita, stated, during his official visit to Russia which ended on Aug. 5.

The aforesaid deal is a clear sign that Russia is trying to find a variety of workarounds in order to mitigate the effects sanctions have on its economy. Indeed, during our recent trip to Moscow for MAKS 2017, high prices could have been noticed in case of commodities, the trade exchange of which has been limited by the EU or the US, e.g. apples.

The Indonesian officials interpret the above situation as a major opportunity also to expand and deepen the collaboration with Russia beyond the trading area in fields like tourism, student exchange, energy or technology – according to the statement made for The Jakarta Post by the Indonesian Trade Minister.

The Sukhoi Su-35 is a Russian jet fighter considered to belong to the 4++ generation, with its supermaneuverability capabilities demonstrated during this year’s edition of the Moscow MAKS Aviasalon.

Image Credit: Jacek Siminski

From Russia With Love: Our MAKS 2017 Report From Zhukovsky

Last week we have attended the MAKS 2017 Aviasalon in Moscow, held at the Zhukovsky/Ramenskoe airfield. MAKS is probably the only event where you can see all the latest Russian hardware (including the PAK FA) being demoed in dynamic displays.

MAKS is not a typical air-show, it should rather be seen as a trade exhibition with the aerospace industry gathering in order to sign new agreements and sell their products. Nonetheless, flying demos seem to be a good way to work on this, as you may also see what the given aircraft does in the air.

However, the static display at the Moscow Salon is equally impressive. This year it featured virtually any piece of contemporary Russian hardware one could imagine, as well as some legacy aircraft, including some exotic airframes, such as the MiG 1.44.

There were no PAK FA jets presented within the static display, which is a pity, however the remaining aircraft also brought one to awe. Ranging from Mil’s helicopters, Il-76MD90-A airlifter, through almost all varieties of the MiG-29 family jets, Sukhois (Su-35, Su-34, Su-30SM included), Tupolev’s bombers (Tu-22M, Tu-160, Tu-95MS), Kamov’s helicopters, with Tu-144 supersonic jetliner or Atlant, the Myashischev’s oversize cargo carrier, to finish with.

The Zhukovsky airfield is, undoubtedly, during the MAKS Salon, a place to be for any “aviation Russophile.”

The air show schedule was, according to frequent visitors at MAKS, not so impressive. Still, for someone like this Author – a first timer – it was jaw-dropping enough.

The show began with a display of the Russian helicopters, flying first in formation, just to perform individual displays later on – watching a giant Mil Mi-26T2 in the air performing graceful dance in the air is a thing one could not witness anywhere else. Attack helicopters also performed unique maneuvers. Unfortunately, Kamov’s designs only did a flypast, with no dynamic displays involved.

The helicopters portion of the show was followed by a dynamic display of the Il-2 Sturmovik aircraft, the world’s second surviving and flying example (reportedly, one more aircraft of this type is also flying in the United States). Notably, the pilot did not make it easy for the warbird, pushing it quite hard throughout the demonstration.

SR-10 trainer with its wings swept forward also took the air.

The show also featured several displays by United Federation of Ultralight Aviation of Russia and civilian aerobatic teams like “The First Flight”.

Nonetheless, the MAKS show is attended mainly for the “heavy metal” portion of it. And the prelude to that part came in a form of a MiG-29M2 display, which, nonetheless was only a starter.

MiG-29 Fulcrum head-on.

Then, two Yak-130 (trainer and a combat variant) jets also performed an interesting duo-display, with plenty of flares involved.

A fully armed Yak-130 releases plenty of flares during its demo.

The Yak-130 Red “02” of the Gromov Flight Research Institute.

After that, the Sukhoi company’s pack of aircraft, including two T-50 PAK FAs, a Su-35 and a Su-34 took off into the air, showing off the maneuverability capabilities of the latest Russian jets. The display schedule varied across the days, and on the weekend we could have also witnessed a flight of four Su-35s performing a display.

The stealthy PAK FA was one of the hightlights of the show. The aircraft flew a sort of simulated aerial engagement with another PAK FA and also flew alongside the Su-35.

The T-50 PAK FA and the supermaneuverable Su-35S.

These two Su-35s were part of a larger formation of four Flankers performing their display during the weekend.

The Su-34 17 Red during take off.

The Su-34 turning and burning during the flying display.

The Fullback showcasing its wide array of weapons during its MAKS 2017 display.

To add a spice to the whole dish, two more aerobatic teams were using the Su-27 derivatives: a team of the Russian Navy, flying two Su-30SMs and performing a tactical display with air combat maneuvering involved, and the “Russkiye Vityazi” (the Russian Knights) team, flying six Su-30SMs in a ballet-like, breathtaking group display. Hearing 12 mighty Saturn engines is an experience which has to be lived-through and cannot be described vividly enough.

The Russian Knights were delivered the Su-30SMs in Fall 2016 and performed their first public display with the new supermaneuverable multirole aircraft at Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition earlier this year.

The Su-30SM a 4+ Generation twin-engine, two seat supermaneuverable multi-role aircraft equipped with improved avionics, the Bars-R radar and a wide-angle HUD (Head Up Display).

Also the Russia’s naval aviation operates a batch of advanced Su-30SM (Flanker-C) multirole fighter jets.

Last, but not least, the displays were complemented by a show by the Strizhi aerobatic team flying the MiG-29s.

Notably, the Russians show also featured loads of flares, with quantities very much exceeding what one can witness anywhere in Europe – this concerns the Strizhi and the Russkiye Vityazi displays.

A Russian Knights Su-30 releases flares during the team’s display.

Launching hundreds of flares simultaneously is beyond spectacular. Moreover, the weather conditions at MAKS, involving high level of humidity in the air, mean that some awesome “irisation” phenomena could be captured. This happens when the clouds of condensed vapor form on the airframe as the jet is seen against the sun: one can witness a rainbow being trailed behind the jet. The weather at MAKS was varied, from storms to 30 degrees centigrade heat, hence there were many chances to witness the aforesaid sights.

“Irisation” phenomenon clearly visible in this shot of the Russian Knights.

When it comes to foreign participation in the show, this year, due to the political tensions with Russia, it was somewhat limited, and only two foreign guests performed their displays in the air – the Al Fursan aerobatic team which is very much reminiscent of the program demonstrated by the Italian Frecce Tricolori group (it also involves the very same type of aircraft) and the Baltic Bees Jet Team, hailing from Latvia.

The UAE display team Al Fursan flying the MB.339 aircraft.

Overall, even though the MAKS show was said to be more modest than its former editions, undoubtedly it is an event worth attending. The sole fact that one can witness the Russian most advanced aircraft flown by the best pilots who know the aircraft’s capabilities by heart, is enough to go to Moscow.

Moreover, when attending MAKS, it would be a sin not to visit the Monino Museum of the Russian Air Force, which is just 2 hours train ride from the Kazansky train station in Moscow. The collection of aircraft gathered there, including the Sukhoi T-4 or some unique prototypes is, without any doubt, also worth seeing and appreciating.

The only Sukhoi T-4 on display at Monino Central Air Force Museum.

Many thanks go to Foto Poork who assisted us in obtaining the media accreditation and supported the visa procedure in Poland, and to Andrzej Rogucki who provided us with assistance in getting around Russia without getting hurt.

All Images: Jacek Siminski

The Polish Air Force Takes Delivery Of Its First Gulfstream G550 VIP Aircraft

The Polish Air Force has received its new G550, the first post-Soviet VIP aircraft.

The first of the new Polish Air Force’s G550 VIP jets (with the second one expected to be received in mid July, and with the first operational flights to take place in the autumn) has landed at the Warsaw Chopin International Airport on Jun. 21.

The delivery of the aircraft is a tangible effect of the effort made by the Polish government to replace the aging VIP transport fleet, until now consisting of Tu-154M and Yak-40 post-soviet jets.

The introduction of the G550 paves the way for this airframe being also considered in other applications in the Polish Air Force, such as MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft) or ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) platforms. The Polish MoD is currently pursuing Płomykówka (ISR) and Rybitwa (MPA/ASW aircraft) programmes, and G550 may seem to be a viable candidate in both cases.

The first Polish Air Force G550 is greeted after landing at the Warsaw Chopin International Airport on Jun. 21.

Alongside the procurement of G550s, the Polish MoD also eyes the procurement of three Boeing 737 aircraft, which would act as the medium-sized platform.

Notably, the 737 has been selected without any tendering procedure, which has created major legal controversies in Poland and in the EU.

The MoD’s justification is that time had a critical relevance since the PLN 540 million, reserved in the FY2016 budget for that purpose, were only available until the end of March this year. This was the main argument supporting the single source procurement procedure: as the Polish MoD officials claimed, if the 737 aircraft were not contracted early this year, the potential acquisition would be delayed for several years. The opposition was not happy, as the MoD spent PLN 2 billion, without any tender, in 19 days, favoring a single manufacturer.

Coming back to the post-soviet VIP aircraft, the initiative to have the aforesaid aircraft replaced is someone an effect of the Smolensk incident in which a Polish Tupolev Tu-154M has crashed, killing the Polish President and numerous government officials. Following the tragedy, the 36th Special Airlift Regiment was disbanded and transformed into the 1st Airlift Base unit. Moreover, most official flights were served by two leased Embraer E-175 operated by the LOT Polish Airlines.

According to the official statements made by the Minister of National Defence Antoni Macierewicz during the reception ceremony, G550’s purpose would be to “provide safety for the people elected by the nation.”

The received aircraft has been named after the Polish Prince, Józef Poniatowski. During his speech Macierewicz additionally referred to the aircraft as if it was a sign of an ideological transition, from post-soviet, into western, modern chapter of the Polish history.

The head of the MoD is also known for making statements that may seem to be ridiculous. This time, it was no different, as Macierewicz publicly admitted that the Tu-154M aircraft that crashed in Smolensk could have been rigged and monitored by the Russians remotely, which seems to be a far-fetched claim.

Even though the official investigation of the Smolensk crash has ended a long time ago, pointing to erroneous training and recklessness as the reasons for the tragedy, the current Polish government claims that the crash was purposely caused by Putin, and it was a sort of attack/special forces operation to kill the Polish President.

The first G550 taxies at Warsaw Chopin International Airport.

Image credit: Wojciech Mazurkiewicz