Tag Archives: Top Gun

We Visited NAS Fallon, The “Supercarrier In The Desert” and Home to the Naval Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN).

Fallon has been called by some (the late George Hall mainly, in its Superbase books series) the “supercarrier in the desert”, and with reason: it hosts in numbers all the aircraft types the Navy usually operates from its aircraft carriers. In fact, it is the center of excellence for naval aviation training and tactics development.

The mission of this airbase, located in western Nevada near Reno, is focused on advanced training and its main command Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC, pronounced NAW-DIK) is two-fold: host the carrier air wings (CVWs, also called CAGs – carrier air groups) during their work-ups before deployment, and teach advanced combat warfare to selected pilots. This last mission is the heritage of several well-known courses including “Topgun” and “Strike U”. Nowadays, these two courses are unified into a 13 weeks long Topgun course.

NAWDC hosts Topgun course and its instructors and kept the famous NFWS patch (Alll images: Author)

Topgun made example for other flying communities who too created graduate level schools : Top Dome for E-2 controllers, Seawolf for Seahawk helicopter pilots and HAVOC for EA-18G Growler EW crews.

A HAVOC Growler sits on the NAWDC ramp, waiting for its crew

An E-2C Hawkeye lands at the end of a TOPDOME training mission

SEAWOLF program SH-60 helicopters head out to the Fallon range

At Fallon, the tarmac is divided into two areas: the south ramp is dedicated to NAWDC aircraft as well as VFC-13 F-5Ns, and the north ramp hosts Carrier Air wings for their work ups, and aircraft from the fleet when their crews come here for Top Gun or HAVOC. NAWDC operates legacy F/A-18 Hornets (“charlie” models) as well as Super Hornets (“echoes” and “foxtrots”), EA-18G Growlers, E-2C hawkeyes and F-16A and Bs.

Dull grey and colorful birds share the south ramp allocated to NAWDC

A Topgun F-16A taxies under the coming overcast

During our visit, “CAG-5” should have been in the middle of a work-up before a cruise. But as it is a permanently deployed Carrier Air Wing in Japan, only two of its squadrons came to Fallon for the readiness program before the at-sea period : VFA-27 “Royal Maces” (NF-2xx) and VFA-102 “Diamondbacks” (NF-1xx). This program is called SFARP (for Strike Fighter Advanced Readiness Program) and is intended to maximize the tactical proficiency of strike fighter aircrews across the full spectrum of F/A-18 mission sets by using academic lectures, simulator events, and tactical training sorties. After a local training and initial syllabus at their homebase NAF Atsugi in Japan, given by Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor (Topgun graduates), the squadrons shifted to NAS Fallon, flying their aircraft across the Pacific to take advantage of the unique training opportunities offered by the Fallon Range Training Complex (FRTC).

When such squadrons or full airwings come to Fallon, they come en masse with their full complement of sailors for maintenance. This is also a way of training them for surge operations in a deployed configuration. On the opposite, NAWDC aircraft on the south ramp are all taken care of by a team of private contractors.

A VF-102 Diamondbacks F/A-18F takes-off, in full afterburner…

…while another comes back to the parking area

Both squadrons, VFA-27 and VFA-102, moved permanently from NAF Atsugi to MCAS Iwakuni a few days after our visit to Fallon.

A VFA-27 Royal Maces F/A-18E Super Hornet is departing for the training range.

Next to the CAG-5 birds, Fallon hosted an array of visitors from various squadrons of both Atlantic and Pacific fleets. Hornets and Super Hornets ware there for the Topgun course which lasts now 13 weeks, compared to 5 weeks in the 80’s, and 9 weeks in the 2000’s after it was mixed with “Strike U” at Fallon.
This course is made of several blocks, first “ground school”, then air-to-air, BFM and ACM, and air-to-ground, and in the end, advanced strike package tactics.

Topgun instructors are ready to give an airborne lesson to Navy regular squadrons crews.

Aircrews participating to Topgun course during our visit, and seen on the came from the following squadrons :

VFA-154 Black Knights CVW-11 USS Nimitz (NH-1xx )
VMFA-323 Death Rattlers CVW-11 Nimitz (WS-4xx or NH-4xx )
VFA-143 Pukin Dogs CVW-7 USS Lincoln (AG-1xx )
VFA-83 Rampagers CVW-7 USS Lincoln (AG-3xx )
VFA-25 Fist of the Fleet CVW-7 USS Lincoln (AG-4xx )
VFA-81 Sunliners CVW-17 USS Roosevelt (NA-2xx )
VFA-87 Golden Warriors CVW-8 USS Bush (AJ-3xx)

A VMFA-323 legacy Hornet comes back with new things learned

A VFA-154 Super Hornet deploys its speedbrakes after touchdown.

The adversary component was provided by the local VFC-13 Fighting Saints and their F-5N Tigers II (ex-Swiss Tigers), and by the dedicated reserve adversary squadron from NAS New Orleans, the VFA-204 River Rattlers, with their F/A-18Cs (modex AF-4xx).
The Saints fly colorful Tigers and their “Rotten Banana” and “Mig28” schemes are particularly attractive for the aviation photographer. When it comes to air-to-air combat, their pilots know how to take full advantage of their nimble and small metal bird; the Tiger is particularly difficult to see head-on and young fleet pilots learn this the hard way.

VFC-13 pilots take their Red adversary mission to heart with decorated flightgear.

The Rotten Banana scheme is not always efficient in the Nevada. But it always attracts big lenses.

Reminding the Top Gun movie, VFC-13 adopted the “Mig-28” black scheme which is now a myth.

A more classical adversary scheme is adorned on this F-5N under a VFC-13 shelter

A Tiger II is showing its feline heritage.

After an hour spent on the NAWDC ramp, we were able to get some time near the runway and the EOR (End of Runway) area. These moments were quite unique in the lifetime of a military jets enthusiast and aviation photographer as you cannot get closer from the action beside being in the cockpit. The author of this article can attest that earplugs were more than needed, as he forgot to put them on while 3 Super Hornets took off in sequence, rattling the air and every piece of the body, drilling the inside ear for a long 40 seconds. Never a louder noise has been heard.

Diamondbacks Super Hornets take off at closely spaced intervals…

…few seconds later, a brown Saints aircraft recovers on the parallel runway

Growlers are quite common now on the Fallon ramp and in the traffic pattern

Heatblur is ever-present with so many full afterburner take-offs

Brown 51 is airborne

For more than one hour, it was an uninterrupted ballet of take offs and landings on both parallel runways. The weather was deteriorating and a flight of 4 F/A-18Fs was forced to abort their mission at the EOR and taxi back to the ramp.

The weather conditions are not always CAVU (Ceiling and Visibilty Unlimited) in Nevada.

This visit was a great opportunity to witness the efforts the US Navy puts into training its aircrews and keeping them at their best level throughout their operational career.

TOPGUN F-16B on the ramp.

The author wishes to thank the Navy Public Affairs Office at NAS Fallon, and Mr Zip Upham in particular.

Maverick and Goose would not have had to bail out from their jet if they had flown a F110-powered F-14 Tomcat

Almost every aviation geek has seen the famous film Top Gun. But few of them know that if Maverick and Goose flew an F-14B they would not have had to eject during the flat spin they experienced in the movie.

Developed in the late 1960s as a multi-mission fighter, the F-14’s missions were to protect U.S. Navy Carrier Battle Groups (CBG – now CSG where “S” stands for Strike) from potential raids conducted by the Soviet bombers armed with long-range cruise missiles and to provide fighter cover for Navy attack aircraft.

The Tomcat was fitted with the potent AWG-9 radar which, supporting six AIM-54 missiles, gave the F-14 unprecedented and unparalleled mission capabilities.

Still, even though it was one of the most capable fighters in the aviation history, one problem that plagued the F-14A was the reliability of its TF30 engine. In fact, the fan blades of the Pratt & Whitney engine could break free, causing aircraft stalls and spins as a result of airflow induced engine stalls.

These problems were solved when the F-14B (former F-14A Plus), powered by a new engine, the General Electric F110-GE-400, began to enter in service in 1987.

As explained by Grumman’s Chief Test Pilot Kurt Schroeder to aviation artist and author Lou Drendel, in an interview released towards the end of the 1980s for his Squadron Signal Publications book Modern Military Aircraft: Tomcat:

“The TF30 engine’s highest stall margin, which means the difference between its operating line and where the engine will stall, occurs when it is stabilized at military power. If you would like to go to idle power when you are maneuvering, you stand a very good chance of stalling the engine. The F110 has tremendous stall margin everywhere and, at idle power, it’s higher than anywhere else. When you are maneuvering with the F110 engines, you can do whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it.”

Moreover, with the new engine, the afterburner thrust went from 20,000 pounds per side up to 28,000 pounds per side, while dry power increased from 11,000 pounds per side to 16,000 pounds per side.

Thanks to the improved performances, Schroeder told Drendel that Maverick and Goose would not have had to bail out from their jet if they had flown a F110-powered Tomcat.

Indeed, Grumman’s Chief Test Pilot explained that the flat spin shown in the movie was “a very concern early in the F-14 program. When the aircraft is in a fully-developed flat spin, it’s going at a very high yaw rate and it is spinning down in a very small radius. In the ejection sequence, the canopy leaves first, then the back seat, then the front seat. […] The concern in a spin is that the canopy will be ejected straight up, followed shortly by the seats and the possibility exists for a collision. We have had several ejections in spins and I believe there was one case where the RIO brushed the canopy. So the scene (of the movie) was entirely possible.”

Some concern existed about the possibility of generating a stall or a spin even with the 110 engine in case its greatly increased thrust was applied asymmetrically, but Schroeder affirmed that “We deal with that easily in 110 powered aircraft. If the aircraft departs for any reason, we just pull the throttles back to idle, which just takes all the thrust effects out of the equation and you recover the aircraft. Since the 110 loves to run at idle, there is no problem. Unfortunately the TF30 does not love to run at idle and you can’t apply this solution.”

According to Schroeder the enhanced maneuverability of the 110 powered Tomcat was able to make the F-14B and F-14D superior to its adversaries in the Air Combat Maneuvering (ACM) arena.

Then, as the experienced F-14 driver said to Drendel, alongside with the new engine, the digital flight control system improved the handling qualities of the aircraft making of the Tomcat airframe the perfect platform for air to ground missions:

“The F-14 was designed to carry bombs. The Navy, however, chose not to develop that capability. There is now more and more emphasis on carrier deck loading and development of multi-mission aircraft, with the F/A-18 as the primary example of that. The F-14 is very capable of performing the air-to-ground mission, mainly because of our range and the fact that we carry the weapons conformally on the fuselage between the engine nacelles, which results in much less of a drag penalty than carrying bombs on the wings. The technology to enhance the radar for this mission has already been developed in the form of the F-15E.”

The F-14 was retired on Sep. 22, 2006, but the last years spent as U.S. Navy’s premiere fighter bomber confirmed Schroeder claims and were a proof of the reliability reached by the Tomcat thanks to the improvements it had received, the most important of which was the F110 engine.

 

 

Top Gun over the desert: All the fancy aircraft of Naval Fighter Weapons School at NAS Fallon

Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada is the United States Navy’s most important air-to-air and air-to-ground training facility, home of the Top Gun course. Here’s an overview of the colorful aircraft based there.

The Aggressors and their way to play the adversary role is considered one of the best way to train U.S. fighter pilots, improve their proficiency and prepare them to deal with tomorrow’s air threats.

Their role is usually quite simple: they have to threaten the strike force in the same way a modern enemy would do in a real war, forcing fighter pilots to react to the attack. Such training could one day improve their chance of surviving a close encounter with an enemy Mig.

Aircraft assigned to the Adversary role replicate tactics, mission profiles as well as markings and insignas of their near peer adversaries. In order to make training as real as possible adversaries often sport “splinter” color schemes, that are inspired by Russian 4th and 5th generation aircraft, along with traditional camouflaged livery, like that used by the Russian Naval Aviation.

55. F-16A. NSAWC. NAS Fallon, with Mount Augusta in the back ground

Most of the aircraft assigned to the NSAWC (Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center) – the U.S. Navy unit that since 1996 is responsible for TOPGUN courses, Strike University (Strike U), the Naval Strike Warfare Center, and TOPDOME (the Carrier Airborne Early Warning Weapons School) wears desert or Su-27-like color schemes to simulate the Russian or other enemy country’s “bandits” during missions flown to train other U.S. Navy squadrons.

AF-40. F-5N. VFC-13. NAS Fallon. 03.02.2014

Adversary aircraft with fancy color schemes include F-5 Tiger, F/A-18 Hornet and F-16 Viper jets, as the following interesting images, shot by The Aviationist’s photographer Tony Lovelock at NAS Fallon.

Noteworthy, there are also some F-5s with an overall color scheme inspired by Top Gun movie‘s fictional Mig-28.

Image credit: Tony Lovelock

 

[Video] F/A-18C Hornet painted in Russian Flanker paint scheme takes part in Top Gun training

U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18C in Adversary role at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina.

Eye-catching paint schemes which make fighter planes similar to their Russian counterparts have become a distinguishing feature of U.S. Aggressors and Adversary jets.

Along with “splinter” patterns, that are inspired by Russian 4th and 5th generation aircraft, more traditional camouflage, like that used by the Russian Naval Aviation, is applied to U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornets (that inadvertently invented the splinter paint design).

The following video shows Marine Corps VMFAT-101 F/A-18 and NSAWC (Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center) F-16s (including some Adversaries in Flanker color scheme) taking part in Top Gun jet fighter training at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, SC.

F-14 Tomcats flybys, treetop passages and gun strafing video

Better, much better than any Top Gun footage!

There are not so many videos showing the U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcat on the range, perfoming some insane, treetop flybys before being cleared for a gun strafing pass.

The much interesting and rare footage was shot in 1993 at Fort Chaffee, in Arkansas.

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