Tag Archives: Stealth aircraft

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).

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Arrival of the first F-35A “Adir” in Israel delayed by heavy fog at departure airfield

Heavy fog forced the F-35 to the ground, delaying the arrival of the first “Adir” jets in Israel. Not a good start, on the very same day Trump slammed the program’s cost for being “out of control.”

The arrival of the first two F-35I “Adir” stealth jets in Israel was delayed because of heavy fog at Cameri airbase, the final stopover of the Lightning II aircraft on their way to Nevatim airbase, on Dec. 12.

The aircraft were initially scheduled to arrive in Israel at around 2.00PM LT but the aircraft could not depart from the Italian airbase experiencing bad weather conditions with a horizontal visibility between 250 and 700 m, with clouds at 200 feet, well below the IFR minimums for the ferry flight.

Although some immediately blamed the F-35 for the delay, it must be said that the same wx (weather) would have grounded any other modern warplane on delivery or not involved in an actual combat mission.

An unlucky start for the “Adir” that caused the ceremony, to be attended by U.S. Defense Secretary Ashotn Carter, to be delayed by about 5.5 hours.

As if the delay was not enough, on the very same day, U.S. president-elect Donald Trump said on Twitter that the F-35 cost is out of control, and that he would save billions on that once he takes office on Jan. 20, 2017.

As a consequence of the tweet, Lockheed Martin’s stock fell by as much as 3% and was down 2.55% as of 8:45 a.m. ET according to Business Insider.

The “attack” on the F-35 comes just one week after Trump tweeted on the costs for the replacement Air Force One.

H/T Avi Scharf for providing updates on the Adir delivery

 

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F-22 Raptor grounded by swarm of almost 20,000 bees

A swarm of honey bees found hanging from the exhaust nozzle of an F-22 Raptor stealth jet’s engine.

On Jun. 11, 192nd Fighter Wing Aircraft Maintainers found something weird during post-flight operations checks at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia: a swarm of honey bees hanging from the exhaust nozzle of an F-22 Raptor engine.

192nd Fighter Wing Aircraft Maintainers found a swarm of honey bees hanging from the exhaust nozzle of an F-22 Raptor engine on June 11, 2016 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. A local honey bee keeper was called to remove and relocate the bees to a safe place for them to build their hive. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

192nd Fighter Wing Aircraft Maintainers found a swarm of honey bees hanging from the exhaust nozzle of an F-22 Raptor engine on June 11, 2016 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. A local honey bee keeper was called to remove and relocate the bees to a safe place for them to build their hive. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

“A cloud of thousands of bees” according to the 192nd Maintenance Squadron crew chief who was there.

Maintainers notified Capt. Katie Chiarantona, 192nd Aircraft Maintenance Officer about the honey bee swarm explains a USAF news release.

Since this had never happened on the flight line before, Chiarantona initially called the on-base entomologist to assess the situation. The entomologist immediately knew that he did not have the means to relocate the bees, so he referred Chiarantona to a local honey bee keeper in Hampton, Virginia.

Andy Westrich, U.S. Navy retired and local bee keeper, arrived on base with the needed materials and supplies. According to Chiarantona, Westrich said the swarm was one of the largest he had ever seen. He was escorted to the aircraft and used vacuum hoses to safely corral the honey bees off of the aircraft into large buckets. He then took the bee’s home and found that, as a hive, they weighed eight pounds which calculates to almost 20,000 bees!

“The honey bees most likely came from a much larger bee hive somewhere else on base,” said Chief Master Sergeant Gregg Allen, 192nd Maintenance Group Quality Assurance chief, who also happens to be a bee keeper. “Bee hives are constantly growing and they eventually become overcrowded. Around springtime, the bees will make a new queen, scout for a new location and take half of the hive with them to that location.”

Westrich suspected that the swarm of bees were on their way to a new location to build a hive for their queen. Queen bees typically fly with eggs to lay at the new hive and do not eat for up to 10 days before leaving to start a new colony. As a result, the queen is often malnourished for the journey. Westrich believes she landed on the F-22 to rest. Honey bees do not leave the queen, so they swarmed around the F-22 and eventually landed there.

According to Chiarantona “[Westrich] said that one out of two things could have happened, the queen would have rested and gained energy and the swarm would’ve left in the morning, or they would have decided that the jet engine would be a great place to build a hive.”

Westrich was able to safely relocate the colony to a local beer producer where they will maintain the honey bee colony and use the honey for their production facility.
“Every bee is important to our food source; lots of things would die without bees,” said Baskin. “Most of our crops depend on bees, and our bees need to pollinate. This is why I knew we needed to save them instead of [exterminate] them.”

192nd Fighter Wing Aircraft Maintainers found a swarm of honey bees hanging from the exhaust nozzle of an F-22 Raptor engine on June 11, 2016 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. Andy Westrich, U.S. Navy retired and local honey bee keeper, was called to remove and relocate the bees to a safe place for them to build their hive. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

192nd Fighter Wing Aircraft Maintainers found a swarm of honey bees hanging from the exhaust nozzle of an F-22 Raptor engine on June 11, 2016 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. Andy Westrich, U.S. Navy retired and local honey bee keeper, was called to remove and relocate the bees to a safe place for them to build their hive. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

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Japan’s X-2 “Shinshin” indigenous stealth jet makes first flight

The first Japanese stealth jet made its maiden flight.

The first prototype of  the indigenous stealth war plane that Japan Air Self-Defense Force will operate in the air defense role, replacing the ageing Mitsubishi F-2, made its first flight on Apr. 22 from Nagoya Aerospace Systems Works airport, part of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries facilities.

Previously designated Advanced Technology Demonstrator-X (ATD-X), the X-2, serialled 51-0001, is developed by the Japanese Ministry of Defense Technical Research and Development Institute (TRDI), the agency that has been working on the “Shinshin” (“spirit of the heart,” an early codename within the Japan Self Defense Force) for research purposes for more than a decade.

For the moment, it is painted in the red and white colors of Japan (to be probably replaced by a far more advanced grey RAM – radar absorbing material – coating), features canted vertical tails (with a steeper angle than the F-15 Silent Eagle), a bubble canopy that is meant to provide the pilot with a good frontal visibility, and twin-engine design with the thrust vectoring paddles on the exhausts (reminding what seen on the NASA X-31 and F-18 HARV) to increase the aircraft maneuverability (do you remember the F-22 Raptor?).

Image credit: Japan MoD