Tag Archives: Thunderbirds

Watch the video of the F-35 flying in formation (at high AOA) with the Thunderbirds

Short but interesting clip.

A couple of days ago we have commented an image that had appeared on Facebook showing a U.S. Air Force F-35A forming up with the Thunderbirds for a photo session in the skies over Ft. Lauderdale.

Even though it did not say anything special about the controversial stealth plane, some people bashed the F-35 over the cool image just because it showed the 5th generation fighter jet flying with a high AOA (Angle of Attack) close to the Thunderbirds.
The following video provides a different point of view over the same scene: taken from inside the cockpit of the F-16 #1 of the U.S. Air Force demo team, it show the F-35 keeping a “high alpha” on the Viper’s right wing, leveraging its well-known (or alleged, depending on the “party”) high AOA capabilities.Needless to say, this post is not pro or against the F-35, it’s just about an interesting footage showing two jets belonging to different generations flying together.

H/T Miguelm Mendoza for the heads-up

What this photo of an F-35 in formation with an F-16 of the Thunderbirds says about the controversial JSF

Many have used this  photo to criticize the F-35.

The cool shot in this post was shared by the Thunderbirds on their Facebook page.

It shows a USAF F-35A forming up on right wing of the F-16 #1 leader of the U.S. Air Force demo team. By looking at the configuration of the two aircraft and the AOA (Angle Of Attack) – the angle between the relative wind and a reference line on the airplane or wing – it’s pretty clear that the aircraft are flying at low speed, in an attempt to match the airspeed of a slow camera ship.

Noticing that the F-35 is flying with a higher AOA than the F-16, many people have used the photograph to criticize the Lockheed Martin’s fifth generation stealth jet as if the fact that the JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) was flying “nose high” is the umpteenth sign that the aircraft is a fiasco: criticizing the F-35 has become somehow “fashionable.”

Actually, it’s not the case. The photo just highlights that, given its wing type and aerodynamic characteristics, a clean F-16, with flaps down, is able to fly, under full control and levelled, in formation with the camera ship with a slightly lower AOA than an F-35.

That’s it.

Is this an F-35’s fault? Most probably not. The higher AOA does not mean the aircraft is “worst” than the Viper: the design of the JSF is such it can fly really high AOA (back in Oct. 2012, the aircraft was flown to the production limit of 50 degrees) whilst the F-16 is limited to below 29 degrees.

[Some basic stuff: lift depends on wing surface, air density, airspeed and AOA. To make it simple, if an aircraft wants to fly slower without descending, it must increase the AOA. Obviously, the AOA has a limit, a critical angle of attack beyond which the wing begins to stall]

Indeed, one of the strengths of the F-35 is the authority at significantly higher AOA than the F-16: a couple of months ago we published an interesting article with a first-hand account of what dogfighting in the F-35 looks like to a Norwegian pilot who has a significant experience with the F-16.

Among the things Major Morten “Dolby” Hanche underlined was the greater authority at high AOA and low airspeeds that gives the F-35 pilot the ability to point the nose of the airplane where he desires, enabling him to deliver weapons earlier than with the F-16, and giving him the ability to reduce the airspeed quicker than in the F-16.

Here’s how “Dolby” described the high AOA/low airspeed regime:

“Yet another quality of the F-35 becomes evident in this flight regime; using the rudder pedals I can command the nose of the airplane from side to side. The F-35 reacts quicker to my pedal inputs than the F-16 would at its maximum AOA (the F-16 would actually be out of control at this AOA). This gives me an alternate way of pointing the airplane where I need it to, in order to threaten an opponent. This «pedal turn» yields an impressive turn rate, even at low airspeeds. In a defensive situation, the «pedal turn» provides me the ability to rapidly neutralize a situation, or perhaps even reverse the roles entirely.”

Therefore, the troubled F-35 may have several flaws but the above photograph does not add any new or old one to the list.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

Photos of F-35, F-16, A-10, F-15E jets launching from Nellis Air Force Base

Nellis AFB near Las Vegas, is one of the airbases where you can see F-35 Joint Strike Fighters fly.

Nellis AFB, Nevada, is one of the most interesting and busiest airbases in the US. Even outside the Green/Red Flag periods.

Among the several units hosted by the airbase near Las Vegas, there is the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, whose aim is to develop and test new tactics to employ weapons systems in combat.

F-16 422 TES

The unit operates a fleet of A/OA-10, F-15C, F-15E, F-16CM, F-22 and F-35 aircraft.

A-10 take off 03L

Dealing with the Joint Strike Fighter, the 422nd TES is involved in development evaluation and supports the initial operational test to determine how to integrate the F-35 with other assets in the U.S. Air Force inventory.

F-35 take off

F-35 turn and burn

F-35 noise abatement

The images in this post were taken at Nellis AFB in the morning on Jan. 12. They show some of the flying activity on an ordinary day at Nellis, including F-35s, F-16 Vipers and F-15E Strike Eagles assigned to the 422nd TES (with tail code “OT”) taking off for missions inside the NTTR (Nevada Test & Training Range), as well as the Thunderbirds demo team performing their daily training sortie.

F-35 number 2 belly view

The 422nd TES works closely with the USAF Weapons School, also headquartered at Nellis.

The School’s mission is to teach graduate-level instructor courses, which provide advanced training in weapons and tactics employment to officers of the combat air forces.

The unit has received the first F-35, sporting the typical “WA” tail code, on Jan. 15.

A-10 takeoff

F-15E 422 TES

Thunderbirds practice


US Air Combat Command cancels all single-ship demo teams except one: "the F-22 is good for air shows. All other combat planes are good for war"

As a consequence of the global financial crisis, the US Air Command Command has decided to scale back from the six demonstration teams (A-10 East & West, F-16 East & West, F-15E and F-22) to one single-ship demo team.

For 2012, the Air Force’s primary force provider will sponsor only the F-22 demo team that is expected to perform (alongside the Thunderbirds, that are set to complete a full season next year) at up to 20 air shows.

By reducing the number of single-ship demonstration teams will allow the ACC to reallocate some 900 sorties to the air wings, that will be able to use them for combat readiness training providing an increase in more than 25 combat-ready fighter pilots.

According to the official statement:

“The opportunity to showcase our aircrew at air shows around the country is important – and we’re confident our Thunderbirds, F-22 demonstration team and Heritage Flight Foundation will continue highlighting the extraordinary work of all our Airmen.”

First of all, after the multiple groundings that the fleet has suffered during last year (last brief suspension came in October, one month after the USAF lifted an F-22 flight ban imposed on May 3 as a precaution after 12 incidents in which pilots experienced “hypoxia-like symptoms” associated with lack of oxygen), let’s hope the F-22 will be able to attend all the expected 2012 airshows.

Second, the US ACC decision can also be read as: “the F-22 is good for air shows. All the other combat planes are good for war.”

Image source: Lockheed Martin

Thunderbirds opposing solos perfect symmetry (it's also a matter of observer's point of view)

The following picture, taken by contributor Giovanni Maduli, were not Photoshopped. They show the Thunderbirds opposing solos F-16s performing their famous mirror passes (belly-to-belly calypso pass and inverted one) at Jesolo Air Extreme 2011. From his very unique point of view, slightly different from mine (read my previous reports Thunderbirds condensation clouds, rehearsals and airshow to compare pictures), he got a picture (the first one) seemingly showing the two solos touching each other with the top of their tails.

Here’s the same pass, taken by me from a slightly higher spot, showing how the opposing solo have to arrange their respective positions to appear aligned to the spectators’ eyes observing the flyby from the ground.

People that are not used to see a USAF demo team display always wonder why Thunderbird 5 has its number painted on upside down: as these pictures show, in mirror flybys, the inverted F-16s is always number 5. Since that solo flies inverted most of the routine, its “5” almost always appears in the correct position to observers on the ground.