Tag Archives: Stealth aircraft

Check Out This New Video of Russia’s Sukhoi Su-57 Doing A Low-Level Photo Shoot

Russia’s Newest Fifth Generation Fighter Dances Behind An-12 In Unique Photo-Op.

Great video of Russia’s latest Sukhoi Su-57 fighters emerged early this week from what appears to be a media flight somewhere over Russia.

Most of the video is shot from the back of an Antonov An-12 turboprop. As is common practice in aerial photo flights in an open ramp aircraft, photographers and videographers are working behind a safety net and wear harnesses and lanyards attached inside the An-12 to prevent falling out the open back cargo ramp. From the videos published so far, it looks like there is a mix of still and video photographers, likely from various Russian media, on board the An-12 for the photo flight.

The Su-57s in the photo shoot wear the newer pixelated camouflage schemes. The first aircraft has a slightly different pixelated white/blue camouflage tone. One aircraft is darker than other. The new paint scheme on some of the Su-57s is presumably to reduce the ability to visually acquire the aircraft from the ground or from other aircraft within visual range. This first aircraft wears “bort” or aircraft number 054. Photos of this Su-57 have appeared regularly on Russian plane spotters’ websites like RussianPlanes.net. Interestingly, a previous Su-57 also wore bort 054 but in a splinter style camouflage. It is possible this aircraft may have been repainted during extensive maintenance.

There are some great shots of the Su-57’s control surfaces at work, including the interesting control surface arrangement on the wing that melds elegantly into the fuselage of the aircraft.

For a few seconds, we get a great look at bort 054’s pilot. He’s wearing what appears to be a conventional flight helmet with a mount that may be for night vision goggles. It’s also a good view of the relatively conventional layout of the Su-57 cockpit with its heads-up display and other instrumentation. It’s worth noting that, as you know, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has integrated the heads-up display symbology display into the pilot’s helmet, whereas on the Su-57 it would appear, from this video at least, there seems to be no symbology displayed within the pilot’s visor.

The second Su-57 in the video is also wearing the pixelated livery but it is difficult to see the bort number on the side of the aircraft.

The reporter inside the An-12 delivers some animated color commentary in Russian during part of the video. We’re not sure what the purpose of the Su-57 model he is holding is, and it is interesting to note that it appears most of the journalists’ equipment, including the Su-57 model, are not tethered to the journalists. In U.S. open ramp media flights a significant amount of care is taken to make sure every piece of equipment is tethered so no one drops a camera, sunglasses or anything else out the back of the aircraft that could hit the trailing planes or be ingested into the engines.

Cockpit view of Su-57 bort 054 with early splinter camouflage scheme from 2017. (Photo: Vladislav Perminov via RussianPlanes.net)

Facebook friend, photographer and aviation expert Mr. A.S. of Russia was kind enough to translate the reporter’s commentary for us:

“What you can see now is a very low pass, i.e. now our plane, [an] An-12, flies at 400 meters. Two T-50 [Su-57s] are 50 meters lower, i.e. at around 300 meters above the ground. And now you will see how they will literally dive under us! Watching, they are closer and closer… But it’s even not enough, you know, it’s like weightlifter each time takes more loads so it’s what now pilots of T-50 doing. We are now descending lower, we are now flying at 300 meters and now they will try again to pass under us!”

It is a pretty spectacular display, and must have been equally impressive for anyone on the ground lucky enough to see the aircraft fly over. At one point late in the video, possible as they return to the airfield they flew from, a lone Su-27 two-seat aircraft briefly appears in frame, possibly as another camera aircraft on the media flight.

While the Su-57 has been flying for well over seven years now the program has been a focus of frequent speculation. The most recent news suggests Russia is pressing ahead with the program after a test deployment of two aircraft to Syria, engine changes and other developments. Most of the video we’ve seen has been shot from the ground with the exception of some video shot from other aircraft. This new video is one of the better in-flight photo ops of the interesting new Sukhoi Su-57 making it work a look and share.

We’re not quite sure what purpose the model Su-57 serves, but we’re glad the reporter didn’t drop it. (Photo: Screen Grab via YouTube)

Top image: Screen Grab via YouTube.

Let’s Talk About The Sightings Of F-117 Stealth Jets Flying Over Nevada Few Days Ago

10 years after their official retirement the “Black Jet” continues to fly. And no one seems to know what’s the purpose of their secretive missions. Here’s everything we know about their flights.

In the last few years we have documented the flights of some F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Jets over Nevada, missions that have continued to be carried out well after the aircraft was officially retired from active service in 2008.

Back in 2014, after a few videos and photographs had already appeared online, the U.S. Air Force admitted that the Black Jet was kept in a “Type 1000” storage at Tonopah Test Range (TTR) which meant that the type is to be maintained until called into active service: the U.S. considered the F-117 somehow useful in a current scenario, so much so they continued to fly some of the preserved jets every now and then, in plain sight, to keep the pilots (according to most sources, not U.S. Air Force aircrews but Lockheed Martin/contractor pilots) current and the aircraft airworthy and ready. Desert conditions of Nevada are perfect for maintaining the stealth jets in pristine conditions (due to the low level of humidity and hence, lower probability of corrosion), hence the reason to operate the enigmatic aircraft from TTR.

Mystery solved? More or less.

In July 2016, we published a video showing two F-117s flying together, filmed from the distant hills east of Tonopah Test Range: in examining the photos some readers noticed that when the two F-117’s were lined up on the runway, only one of them had what looked like a comms antenna extended on the dorsal spine. The other Nighthawk behind him did not have that. A new antenna? For doing what? A remotely controlled F-117? Hard to say because of the quality of the shot.

One of the interesting photographs taken by The Aviationist’s contributor “Sammamishman” at the end of July 2016. One of the aircraft seems to show a slightly different antenna/shape: just a visual effect caused by the distance?

Then, last year the U.S. Air Force announced the decision to retire the fleet permanently, once and for all. In fact, “in accordance with the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017, passed Dec. 23, the Air Force will remove four F-117s every year to fully divest them — a process known as demilitarizing aircraft,” wrote Oriana Pawlyk last year. According to Pawlyk, one F-117 was scheduled to be divested this year and approximately four every year thereafter.

On Nov. 13, 2017, an F-117 was spotted on a trailer  on US-95, south of Creech AFB, in southern Nevada: the sighting was consistent with the plan of divesting one F-117 by the end of 2017; the rest to be withdrawn from use at a rate of four every year, beginning in 2018. In other words, the one under tarp on a trailer was probably being transferred to the boneyard, to be scrapped or prepared for a museum. Then, in a fantast twist, on the following day, Nov. 14, 2017, at 09.20AM LT, another F-117 was spotted flying north of Rachel,  Nevada chased by a Groom Lake’s two-seater F-16 (most probably the one that later paid visit to Star Wars Canyon).

Fast forward to Jul. 26, 2018, when Youtube user “pdgls” films two F-117 flying again at Tonopah Test Range. Here’s the footage:

The video shows two F-117s taking off in sequence as Night (or Knight – 9th FS callsign) 17 and 19. The shape of the Black Jet can be clearly identified as it maneuvers over TTR.

To me, the audio is actually even more interesting than the footage. Here it is (the Nighthawk stuff begins around 04:30 hours into the recording – for what’s before, read here):

Unlike all the previous sightings, this time the visual and audio documents (along with some ADS-B stuff) provide some additional, really interesting details. After departure, the two F-117 tanked with Siera 98 (not Sierra, at least according to the Mode-S transponder), a KC-135 from Fairchild Air Force Base. The type of activity the two jets carry out with the Stratotanker is not only routine: along with the standard “plugs” they also perform an emergency disconnect from the tanker. Then, the formation splits: Night 17 flies a test mission while Night 19 returns to the Tonopah Test area to perform pattern activity. Noteworthy, the 17 changes its callsign: no longer Night (or, as mentioned, Knight) but Dagger 17. Interestingly, Dagger is a very well known callsign in the Stealth Jet community: it was used by the 410th Flight Test Squadron, the joint test force of Lockheed and Air Force personnel at Groom Lake, Nevada (Det. 3, AFTFC).

In his interesting post on the sighting at The War Zone, our friend Tyler Rogoway also notices:

“before [changing callsign] we hear BLUE BIRD and BLONDE GIRL mentioned, which are likely controllers of some type. Then the F-117 checks in with ‘RAMROD’ and begins the testing. RAMROD tells the F-117 to ‘spin’ which usually means begin an orbit, and then we hear commands to execute a series of coded test cards.

RAMROD sounds like a sensor system of some type. Most likely it is the DYCOMS radar cross-section measurement facility at Area 51, which can surveil and validate the radar signature of an aircraft while in flight and at different angles in relation to the sensors on the ground. It’s also possible that RAMROD could be an airborne platform that offers similar signature diagnostic capabilities using an array of sensors.”

Whilst Dagger/Night 17 works with some sort of ground/radar facility, Night 19 continues its local sortie, made of a long series of low approaches, ILS localizer approach with circling, touch and gos, etc: the kind of pattern activity you would expect from an aircraft not involved in any operational work.

Full Scale Development Aircraft Five (FSD-5), Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk 79-7084. being refueled by a KC-135 Stratotanker, July 1983. (USAF via Wiki)

ADS-B logs provide some details about the support mission flown by the KC-135, a Stratotanker, #58-0086, that had flown the previous day (Jul. 25) at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. The tanker flew from Fairchild AFB, Washington, flying a +6 hour mission. We don’t know whether Siera 98 also refueled other aircraft during that time: if not, it’s a considerable effort for just a routine mission of a pair of preserved aircraft.

The KC-135 supported Night 17 and 18. It did not broadcast its GPS position and was not geolocated via MLAT. The only detail gathered from its transponder is the serial 58-0086  (Credit: @CivMilAir)

Needless to say, the reason for the F-117 flights remains a mystery. Whilst the pretty basic pattern activity carried out by Night 19 is coherent with a periodic flight required to maintain currencies and airworthiness certificates, the seemingly more complex stuff conducted by Night 17 after it changed callsign to Dagger 17 seems to suggest there is some more interesting work for Black Jet. Indeed, as often explained here at The Aviationist, although it is a “legacy” radar-evading aircraft, the F-117 can still be used to support a wide variety of tests and developments: new radar or Infra Red Search and Track systems, new SAM (surface to air missiles) batteries, new RAM (Radar Absorbent Material) and coatings; or even 6th generation combat planes and next generation AEW (Airborne Early Warning) platforms. They might be supporting stealth UCAVs (unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles) research and, as explained above, someone has also speculated some have been converted into drones. Moreover, we can’t completely rule out the possibility Nighthawk are used as adversaries/aggressors against real or simulated systems, if not within the context of a Red Flag (the audio you can hear above, from the beginning to 04:30 hours, was recorded during Red Flag on Jul. 25, although the activity is probably completely unrelated to the F-117 sorties) as part of complex LVC (Live Virtual Constructive) scenarios, where actual assets are mixed up with virtual ones.

What do you think? Any idea?

The Italian F-35A Stealth Jets Declared Operational In The Air-To-Air Role

The Italian Air Force F-35A Lightning II have successfully achieved the IOC (Initial Operational Capability) in the air-to-air role.

The first Italian F-35A Lightning II aircraft assigned to the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing), based at Amendola air base, in southeastern Italy, have achieved the IOC (Initial Operational Capability), the Italian Air Force has announced.

Since Mar. 1, 2018, the first five stealth aircraft assigned to the Aeronautica Militare have been supporting the SSSA (Servizio Sorveglianza Spazio Aereo – Air Space Surveillance Service) with a Standard Conventional Load (SCL) that includes the AIM-120C5 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) missile. This means that, if needed, the 5th generation aircraft can undertake regular QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) shifts or be diverted from a different mission to intercept and identify unknown aircraft.

An armed F-35 sits inside the shelter at Amendola Air Base. AIM-120s are housed inside the weapon bays (hence not visible). Image credit: ItAF.

Whilts the F-35 is a multirole aircraft (hence an air-to-air capability should not be too surprising) all the Italian Air Force combat planes (including Tornado and AMX fighter bombers as well as the T-346 advanced jet trainers) are required to be fully capable in the air-to-air role to support Italy’s Air Defense.

Scramble in progress!

The IOC in the air-to-air role comes after a long period of training that has seen the F-35s perform T-Scrambles (Training Scrambles) as well as joint drills with Typhoons, G550 CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) and T-346 jets. Last year, the Italian Lightnings took part in their first national large scale drills during Vega 2017 multinational joint exercise.

ItAF F-35 about to taxi from the shelter.

In December 2016, the Italian Air Force became the very first service to take delivery of the 5th generation stealth jet outside of the U.S. The IOC in the air-to-ground role of the Italian JSF has not been declared yet.


Russia’s Su-57 Stealth Fighter Completes Engine Upgrade and Continues Development Amid Business Concerns

Program Technically on Track, But Will Logistics and Finances Ground New Russian Superfighter?

Russia’s contribution to the 5th Generation of air combat super-fighters moved ahead tangibly in early December with the successful flight of the first Sukhoi Su-57 using its new, upgraded Izdeliye-30 turbofan engine.

The first successful test flight with an Su-57 using the new Izdeliye-30 took place on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. The 17-minute test flight by Sukhoi chief test pilot Sergei Bogdan was launched from the M.M. Gromov flight test center, in Zhukovsky, Russia about 25 miles outside of Moscow.

The new engine replaces the former NPO Saturn Izdeliye 117, also referred to as the AL-41F1. These original Izdeliye 117s were reported to be underpowered for the Su-57s 55,116 pound reported take-off weight. The Izdeliye 117 was never meant as a permanent powerplant for the Su-57 and its use drew criticism, some of it unwarranted, from western analysts.

The developmental engines on the PAK-FA were a consistent source of criticism, especially following a sensational compressor stall incident at the MAKS 2011 airshow. (Photo: Rulexip via Wikipedia)

The new Izdeliye 30 engines increase the Su-57 thrust to 11,000 kg without afterburner and 19,000 kg in afterburner according to reports. The engines also have fewer components and resulting lower maintenance costs and reduced maintenance schedule. The engine is claimed to have better fuel economy. As with most modern Russian fighters, the Izdeliye 30 is a thrust-vectored engine and has supercruise capability, enabling the Su-57 to fly at supersonic speeds without afterburner achieving longer range and better fuel economy at high speeds. Claims for higher efficiency published by subject matter expert Piotr Bukowski suggest the new engines are “17 to 18 percent more efficient than the [older] 117 engines.” As Bukowski pointed out in his recently updated reference book on Russian aircraft, “Russia’s Warplanes, Volume 1”, there was no definition offered for the what the specifics of “more efficient” meant in terms of performance.

One area many analysts have missed in terms of advantages for the Su-57 is cost. The price tag of an Su-57 is quoted as approximately $54M USD. If accurate, those costs are roughly one-third to one half the cost of the two operational U.S. fifth generation fighters, the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II. Perhaps even more significantly, the Su-57 is also half the cost of China’s unusual looking J-20 Mighty Dragon 5th gen. fighter. China is also testing the J-31 Gyrfalcon, a 5th generation aircraft more intended for export than the Chinese point-defense J-20. Oddly, there do not appear to be any accurate published estimates of cost for the J-31, likely due in part to the degree of Chinese state subsidy of the program for any prospective buyers, a number influenced heavily by diplomatic and commercial relationships with China.

The first flight of the re-engined Su-57 in low overcast from December 5. (Photo: UAC Russia)

There has been a consistent populist trend of “bashing” or somehow diminishing the capability and progress of the Su-57/PAK FA program in western media. Most western criticism of the Su-57 program has been centered on the logistics of the program and its lack of commercial export success. While those factors are real, they miss the key insight that the Su-57 could emerge as a highly capable Gen 5 fighter platform at a third the cost of its contemporaries. This lower-cost business model for Su-57 could facilitate the historical Russian penchant for subverting quality to quantity on the battlefield. Not to suggest that the Su-57 is somehow inferior to other 5th gen aircraft, it may not be, but if the financial capability to field twice as many Su-57s as F-35s exists, this numerical superiority represents an interesting strategic argument for the new Russian combat aircraft.

Top image credit: Sukhoi

That Time 25 F-117s Flew Over Holloman AFB In The Largest Stealth Aircraft Formation Ever

On Oct. 27, 2006 a 25-plane formation celebrated the Nighthawk’s 25th anniversary and 250,000 flying hour.

The Lockheed F-117A, the world’s first operational stealth aircraft and one of the most secret planes ever developed, only flew at night until its existence was publicly acknowledged in 1988.

59 production aircraft (one of those was lost to the Serbian Air Defense during “Operation Allied Force“ whereas another one crashed in 1997 during an airshow in Maryland) served with the U.S. Air Force until the type was officially retired in 2008.

Little less than half of them flew together over Heritage Park at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, home of the 49th Fighter Wing, during the Silver Stealth event for the F-117’s 25th anniversary on Oct. 27, 2006.

Five formations of F-117s flying over Holloman AFB on Oct. 27, 2006 (U.S. Air Force)

The images in this post were taken during the event about 11 years ago: the largest F-117 formation ever, the largest 49th Fighter Wing formation and the largest stealth jets formation ever.

As already said, the aircraft was officially retired in 2008. However, back in 2014, after a few videos and photographs of the aircraft flying few years after the official phase-out (the most recent clip that we have posted here at The Aviationist shows the aircraft flying in July 2016) had already appeared online, the U.S. Air Force affirmed that the Black Jet was kept in a “Type 1000” storage at Tonopah Test Range, Nevada, meaning that the type was to be maintained until called into active service.

To do what? Hard to say.

Twenty-five F-117 Nighthawks line up waiting for takeoff from Holloman Air Force Base, NM. The planes were part of a formation celebrating Nighthawk’s 25th anniversary/250,000 flying hour here. The 25 plane were separated into 5 groups and flew over the base to end the celebration ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brian Ferguson)

Designed in the 1970s, subsonic, optimized for the evasion of the C, X and Ku-bands, and completely unable to dynamically map out threat emitters in real-time as the F-22 or the F-35 can do, the F-117 is *probably* still relevant in some low or medium-lethality scenarios but unable to keep pace with most modern threats. In this post you can find the latest available video as well as a few theories ranging from tests of new radar systems which would be capable of detecting stealthy aircraft, to modified UCAV versions, through tests of new weapons, up to a brave hypothesis of getting the Nighthawks modernized and operational again.

Meanwhile, enjoy a sight never to be repeated again: the 25 stealth jets flying together in 2006.

F-117 Nighthawks fly over New Mexico as part of the 25th Anniversary celebration at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., Oct. 27. The formation was part of the Nighthawk’s 25th anniversary and 250,000 flying-hour celebration. The formation consisted of 25 planes staggered into five separate groups.

25 Nighthawks fill the sky over Holloman on Oct. 27, 2006 (Image credit: Denny Lombard via Lockheed Martin).