Tag Archives: Test pilot

Mysterious Crash Of A USAF Classified Jet Near Nellis AFB Fuels Speculations Of F-35 Involved

A Second Pilot Was Killed Last Week, The Air Force Isn’t Saying Which Type (Then Says “Definitely not an F-35”). He Was An F-35 Pilot.

Following the release of information about two A-10C Thunderbolt II attack aircraft crashing over the Nevada Test and Training Range near Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas last Wednesday (after an F-16 from 162FW had crashed killing an Iraqi student pilot) there are media reports of an additional, third aircraft that also crashed, but the aircraft type and mission have not been released. Reports indicate this third crash reported happened on Tuesday, September 5, the day before the two A-10s crashed.

Reports of this earlier, third crash from this week began surfacing in local Nevada media late on Friday, September 8, two days after the reports of the two A-10s crashing.

Reports do not indicate the type aircraft that pilot Lt. Col. Eric Schultz was flying, but a short story published on the Capital Gazette by writer Rick Hutzell said, “The aircraft was assigned to Air Force Materiel Command, which leads development of new combat technologies for the service.”

The stated mission of the Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) is, “To conduct research, development, testing and evaluation, and provide acquisition and life cycle management services and logistics support.” This mission set is congruent with new aircraft development.

USAF Major Christina Sukach, a spokeswoman for the 99th Air Base Wing, was reported as telling media that, “Lt. Col. Schultz died as a result of injuries sustained in the accident. The crash remains under investigation, and additional details were not immediately available.”

“These are separate incidents and both are currently under investigation to determine their causes,” Nellis Public Affairs told Oriana Pawlyk and Brendan McGarry, reporters for Military.com.

“Information about the type of aircraft involved is classified and not releasable,” Maj. Christina Sukach, chief of public affairs for the 99 Air Base Wing at Nellis, said in an email to Military.com.

Reports also suggest that Lt. Col. Schultz may have initially survived the mishap, and died from injuries sustained in the classified crash.

While there is no official information reporting what aircraft Lt. Col. Schultz was flying at the time of Tuesday’s crash, the only available photos of Lt. Col. Schultz show him in the cockpit of an F-35A (needless to say, meanwhile he may have moved to another program..)

USAF Lt. Col. Eric “Doc” Schultz, flying F-35A number AF-1, releases the first-ever 2,000 pound GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) in tests over the China Lake Test Range on October 16, 2012 (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

According to sources, Capt. Eric Schultz became the 28th pilot to fly the F-35 when he took off from Edwards AFB, California, in F-35A AF-1 for a 1.3-hour test mission on September 15, 2011.

Additionally, the AFMC, to which the crashed aircraft belonged, is a parent unit of the 412th Test Wing, based at Edwards Air Force Base, whose 416 FLTS (Flight Test Squadron) flies the F-35 Lightning II.

For these reasons, there are growing speculations that the aircraft involved in the crash is an F-35 working inside the Nellis Test and Training Range. Still, the aircraft could also be some Black Project jet that the U.S. Air Force wants to remain secret for some more time.

An official Air Force media release on the Mountain Home AFB website from September 28, 2006 said, “As a young boy, Capt. Eric Schultz, dreamed of being an astronaut. As a young man, he couldn’t become a military pilot because of his poor eyesight. For 10 years, during which the military denied him entrance three times, he did the next best thing: earning a doctorate in aerospace engineering. But his dream of flight took off again when Schultz underwent laser eye surgery and the Air Force accepted him as a pilot.”

We will update the story as soon as new details emerge.

Update on Sept. 9, 15.14 UTC:

Looks like the F-35 theory has been debunked:

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Typhoon display: High Alpha Roll and High-G turns from inside the cockpit

I created the following image (using Photoshop) stitching 5 pictures of the F-2000A Typhoon of the Italian Air Force  I took at Jesolo Air Show rehearsal on Jun. 10, 2011 (the 2nd one being the famous “Typhoon & the moon” one).

Typhoon’s rate of turn enables the F-2000 to perform all its display within 1 km radius of the center of the display area.

At Air Extreme 2011, test pilot Maj. Raffaele Beltrame of the 311° Gruppo of the RSV (Reparto Sperimentale Volo – Italian Test Wing), based at Pratica di Mare airbase, flew same display flown at Aero India 2011, at Bengaluru that you can see from inside the cockpit in the following interesting video:

Tornado ECR’s aggressive take off with ultra-low level turn

Des Barker recently sent me the above picture.

It depicts a Tornado, in a clean configuration, perfoming an aggressive left turn at ultra low level, most probably immediately after take-off.

If you look closely to the picture (whose author is unknown), you’ll notice the aircraft wears the typical sharkmouth of the 155° Gruppo of the 50° Stormo of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF), based in Piacenza.

Look at the following image I took on Mar. 11 at Pratica di Mare, where a Tornado ECR is currently involved in a testing campaign with the ItAF Flight Test Center, the RSV (Reparto Sperimentale Volo).

Tornado ECR mouth

Therefore, the aircraft is Tornado ECR, completely clean and without the refueling probe.

That maneuver resembles the typical John Derry turn to the left performed at the beginning of each Tornado display by the 311° Gruppo Volo of the RSV.

I analysed the EXIF of the image and I found that it was taken on Dec 18, 2008, at 14.09 LT, with a Canon EOS 350D, 234mm focal length, ISO400.

On that day, Piacenza airbase was still closed (it reopened on Dec. 19) and the 155° was still operating from Cameri airbase (the deployment started at the beginning of Sept. 2008, even if the aircraft flew the first operative mission on Sept. 16, and ended on Feb 3, 2009, with a ceremony for the farewell to the Tonkas).

Here’s a video of the same takeoff.

Maybe the maneuver was performed at Cameri, perhaps by a test pilot of the RSV involved in some kind of testing activity, or simply by a pilot of the 50° Stormo during a test/acceptance sortie.

For sure, it is not a normal take off or flyby.

If you have more info or ideas, just let me know.

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311° Gruppo / Reparto Sperimentale Volo – Pratica di Mare – 11.03.09

On Mar. 11, 2009, I visited the flight line of the 311° Gruppo of the Reparto Sperimentale Volo, the Test unit of the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (Italian Air Force, ItAF), inside Pratica di Mare, the largest italian military airport. Accompayned by Maj. Igor Bruni, one the RSV pilots (and the MB339CD display pilot in the past two years), I spent a few hours on the “PB” apron of the Sperimentale where I was able to observe the daily flying activity. The flight line had many aircraft parked or being prepared for sorties: MB.339A, MB.339CD, C-27J, C-130J, NH.500E, Tornado IDS, AMX-T ACOL, Tornado ECR, AB-212 . More or less the majority of the aircraft types in service with the ItAF were in the flight line of the squadron. Recovered inside a hangar was also an interesting aircraft I was not allowed to photograph but that is far from being a secret addition to the RSV fleet: read here. A few missions were flown during my stay. In the early morning, the MB.339A CSX 54453/RS-30 departed to perform a flight inside the R-62 area. In the front seat a former 23° Gruppo pilot recently assigned to the 311° Gruppo was performing a sort of “orientation flight” with Maj. Giacomo “Jack” Iannelli on the back seat. Later, the MB.339CD MM55091/RS-32 also departed for a local sortie, followed by the C-27J CSX 62219/46-87. Before noon, both MB.339 (1 CD + 1 A) took off to perform a training mission together. Interestingly, the two aircraft departed and joined up using an airborne pick up With Igorprocedure. As I already explained in a previous post, when aircraft of dissimilar type depart from the same base and need to rejoin as soon as possible, they can perform a particular procedure named “airborne pickup”. Typical scenarios are the rejoin after takeoff of a tanker with the receivers flying as a single flight or of a prototype with a chase aircraft during a test flight. Airborne pickup starts with aircraft departing from the same airbase. Let’s explain it in a typical scenario: a mission composed by two aircraft, a leader (for ex. an AMX) and a chase (an MB.339). The two aircraft taxi together but the chase lines up and takes off first (after receiving clearance to perform the procedure). Immediately after departure, the MB.339, makes a 180 turn back towards the tarmac and enters the downwind leg for the runway in use. “30 seconds!” is the radio call of the chase pilot to time his approach to the runway to the leader’s take-off. While the MB.339 is in the second base turn to head back to the runway, the AMX eases its brakes to start the take-off roll. If everything goes on as planned, the MB.339 should be flying in formation with the leader as soon as the AMX has completed the departure and before it starts the next turn inbound the first waypoint. I was on the backseat of the MB.339 when Capt. Maurizio performed this kind of procedure to rejoin with the AMX of the 311th Gruppo flown by Capt. Locatelli at the beginning of an air-to-air photo session with the RSV (Reparto Sperimentale Volo). The procedure was perfectly executed and we were on the right wing of the AMX in time, just before it started a left turn inbound the sea but, obviously, things can be more difficult if aircraft involved have much different take-off performances. Just think about rejoining an MB.339 with an F-104 taking off with full afterburner in clean configuration. Perfect calculations and quick corrections (if needed), are paramount to succeed in this procedure, performed visually even if flying under IFR rules. During the morning spent in Pratica I had also the opportunity to watch the training activity performed by a single HH-3F of the 85° Gruppo SAR that made a series of visual patterns and landings into the helipad located behind the RSV area.