Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force

Watch an epic, deafening U.S. Air Force B-1B bomber’s (almost) head-on take off

A deafening late take off of a B-1B Lancer from RAF Fairford. Video is a bit shaky but cool.

The following clip was filmed a few weeks ago outside the perimeter fence at RAF Fairford, UK, where two B-1B “Bone” bombers belonging to the 7th Bomb Wing, Dyess Air Base, Texas, were deployed.

The two Lancers along with a B-52 took part in Exercise Ample Strike 2016, a yearly Czech Republic-led exercise with 300 participants from 18 countries.

The video is not very good in quality, a bit shaky, but it gives a rough idea of what a (almost) head-on take-off of a B-1 looks like.

“The heat and exhaust flow blew me off my feet. Apparently developed a hydraulic fault on take-off so required more runway than usual for a safe lift off, hence why it is SO LOW,” says the author of the clip, Jonathan Grainge, in a comment to the video on Youtube.

 

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South Dakota ANG F-16C jets (including one in new F-35-like dark grey color scheme) arrive at RAF Mildenhall

Four SD ANG F-16Cs returning from Poland have arrived in the UK. One of them sports the brand new overall grey color scheme aimed at reducing the aircraft’s RCS (Radar Cross Section).

Four F-16Cs from the South Dakota ANG 175th Fighter Squadron of 114th Fighter Wing have taken part in a deployment to Lask airbase, Poland, where they arrived on Sept. 3.

The purpose of their visit was to participate in the bilateral training exercise “Aviation Detachment 16-4”. They were also accompanied by 100 associated members of unit.

On Sept. 24, the four Vipers arrived at RAF Mildenhall, UK, apparently due to problems with a KC-10 tanker. Interestingly, one of them 88-0428 sported fancy Tail Markings as the Commanders aircraft while another one (88-0422), was painted in a new F-35-like dark grey color scheme (the other two aircraft were 88-0932 and 88-0463.)

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Actually, the paint job similar to the one of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has been applied to U.S. F-16s since at least 2012 when it started to appear on the F-16CM (formerly CJ) Block 50 Fighting Falcon aircraft.

Called “Have Glass 5th generation” or “Have Glass V” the paint scheme is the evolution of the standard Have Glass applied to 1,700 “Vipers”: all the F-16s are covered with RAM (Radar Absorbent Material) paint, made of microscopic metal grains that can degrade the radar signature of the aircraft.

Image credit: Tony Lovelock

Watch two F-117 stealth jets fly over Nevada together….8 years after “retirement”

It’s not a secret that some F-117s are still in airworthy conditions at the Tonopah Test Range, in Nevada. Still, it’s pretty unusual and cool to see two Black Jets flying together 8 years after their retirement. And look at photographs…

In the last couple of years we have documented the flights of some F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Jets over Nevada, spotted from the distant hills east of Tonopah Test Range.

In this post you can find some interesting photographs and a video filmed by The Aviationist’s contributor “Sammamishman” at the end of July 2016.

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Back in 2014, once a few videos and photographs had already appeared online, the U.S. Air Force affirmed, that the Black Jet is kept in a “Type 1000” storage at TTR which means that the type is to be maintained until called into active service.

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Desert conditions of Nevada are beneficial for maintaining the stealth jets in pristine conditions (due to the low level of humidity and hence, lower probability of corrosion).

The aircraft are re-preserved in 4 year periods and due to the type of storage, they are to be capable of being brought back into operation within the period of 30-120 days.

Cool.

This means that the U.S. considers the F-117 somehow useful in a current or future scenario so much so, they continue to fly some of the preserved jets, every now and then, in plain sight, to keep the pilots current and the aircraft airworthy and ready. But ready for what?

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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.

The service is struggling to retire some active, possibly hard-to-replace aircraft (as the A-10 Thunderbolt) because they are not suitable to modern scenarios and to save money for more advanced weapons systems (such as the F-35).

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Thus, why is the Air Force spending money to keep the iconic, archaic aircraft in flyable conditions?

As we already reported in the past, there is someone who speculates the aircraft is also used for something else, possibly serving as a testbed for some new technologies: radar or Infra Red Search and Track systems, SAM (surface to air missiles) batteries, 6th generation fighter planes, next generation AEW (Airborne Early Warning) platforms or UAVs (unmanned Aerial Vehicles).

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There is someone who’s also suggested the aircraft may be actually “unmanned” and used as fast, combat capable, stealth UCAVs.

Here’s something “Sammamishman” wrote about the flying activities he observed and photographed.

“In examining the photos I sent to you, I 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.”

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“When observing the TTR airbase just at sun rise, a number of vehicles gathered around the hangars that the two F-117’s were photographed inside. They were then prepped and took off together as seen in the pics. They flew at low altitude making a couple runs at lower altitude through the test range airspace to the South of the base, then returned to the airbase [as seen in the other video below]. Total time in the air was about 45 minutes to an hour. I don’t believe that the flight of these two Nighthawks were standard post retirement flight due to the fact that the group of vehicles that gathered at the hangars returned early in the morning and went to one of the same hangars the Nighthawks that had flow from the previous day. It was also on that second day that they also opened another hanger adjacent and appeared to be prepping an unknown craft (as I couldn’t see into the hangar but presumably another F-117) for flight. In pictures of the Nighthawks it appears that one of the craft may have been modified but it is hard to tell,” said “Sammamishman” in an email.

Indeed, one of the two F-117 seems to have a slightly different shape but we can’t be 100 percent sure, as the photographs were taken from far away and heavily distorted by the high temperature and distance.

You judge.

Here below, the video.

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DOT&E leaked memo suggests F-35 May Never Be Ready for Combat. F-35 pilot doesn’t agree.

Here’s the latest chapter of the saga: F-35  pilot counters Director Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E) leaked memo.

Three weeks ago, a memo dated Aug. 9 (one week after the Air Force declared the IOC – Initial Operational Capability – of the F-35A) by Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s director of operational testing, obtained by Bloomberg News, highlighted several deficiencies.

“The program is actually not on a path toward success but instead on a path toward failing to deliver the full Block 3F capabilities for which the Department is paying almost $400 billion by the scheduled end of System Development and Demonstration (SDD) in 2018.”

According to chief of the Pentagon’s top testing office, at least 15 capabilities in the F-35’s current software version, known as Block 3i, are either still in need of a fix or aren’t ready for testing.

“Unresolved Block 3i deficiencies in fusion, electronic warfare, and weapons employment continue to result in ambiguous threat displays, limited ability to effectively respond to threats, and, in some cases, a requirement for off-board sources to provide accurate coordinates for precision attack. Although the program recently addressed some of the Block 3i deficiencies, many significant deficiencies remain and more are being identified by operational test and fielded units, many of which must be corrected if the program is going to provide the expected “full warfighting capability” described in the Operational
Requirements Document (ORD).”

The memo provides details about all the hundred deficiencies in Block 3i.

“Because Block 3i is an interim capability based on Block 2B, it has numerous inherent limitations that will reduce operational effectiveness and require workarounds if the F-35A in the Block 3i configuration is used in combat.”

There are limitations in the capability to perform Close Air Support missions (in a permissive or low-threat environment); limited weapon load; no gun capability; limited night vision capability; greater reliance on tankers due to limited on-station time; unacceptable sensor fusion; etc. You can read them all here.

A subsequent POGO article provided an in-depth analysis of the above mentioned memo with the following conclusion: “This DOT&E memo clearly exposes the Air Force’s F-35 IOC announcement as nothing more than a publicity stunt.”

On Sept. 16, a new story written by Major Morten “Dolby” Hanche, the famous Royal Norwegian Air Force F-35 pilot who provided first-hand accounts of what dogfighting in the controversial F-35 looks like to a pilot with a significant experience with the F-16, has been published by Kampflybloggen (The Combat Aircraft Blog), the official blog of the Norwegian F-35 Program Office within the Norwegian Ministry of Defence.

In the new post (reposted below under permission) Maj. Hanche, a U.S. Navy Test Pilot School graduate with more than 2,200 hours in the F-16, currently flying as Assistant Weapons Officer with the U.S. Air Force’s 62nd Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, provides his take on the DOT&E memo.

Once again: “Dolby” is an F-35 instructor pilot from the Royal Norwegian Air Force, one of the Joint Strike Fighter customers. Needless to say, he may have a bias for his plane. Still, he’s a respected test pilot, making public claims and providing tons of interesting details about the aircraft that will help you making your own opinion on such a hotly debated topic.

Lack of perfection does not mean disaster – how I read test reports as a pilot

by Morten Hanche

Yet again, information from the «Director Operational Test & Evaluation» (DOT&E) has stirred critics into a frenzy over the F-35. The fact that the information was leaked seems to have agitated people even more. (We have our hands on classified documents!  Now we know it all!)  Yet again, the leaked memo described aspects of the F-35 which need improvement.  Yet again, the report resulted in press articles which painted a pretty sinister picture of the F-35.  The article featured in POGO («F-35 May Never Be Ready for Combat») serves as one such example.

I finished up writing this article before getting ready to fly another sortie in the F-35. Based on my own experiences flying the F-35A, I feel that the media´s interpretation of the previous DOT&E report is influenced heavily by unrealistic expectations – something which seems to be a trend.  I don´t see the point in countering every claim that´s being brought up.  First off, it´d make for a very long article.  Secondly, I would not be dealing with the bigger problem, which in my mind is a lack of understanding.

I fully expect the F-35’s most hardened critics to discount this article, regardless of what I write. However, some may choose to believe my story, based on the fact that I know the airplane and its capabilities as a pilot.  I don’t make my claims based on bits and pieces of information, derived from potentially unreliable sources.  They are based on experience actually flying and training with the jet for nearly a year

My goal is to shed some light on airplane development and testing; why we test, what we discover in testing and what a test report may result in. I write this based on my own experience, both through education at the US Naval Test Pilot School, but more importantly through working with the F-16 and the F-35, both operationally and in test settings.

What smartphones tell us about technology development

I´ll start with smartphones, as another example of technology development. Admittedly, phones are somewhat different from a fighter airplane, but there are similarities.  A smartphone is a complex system of systems – just like a fighter jet.  The phones keep evolving with both new hard- and software.  It is not unheard of therefore that the manufacturers issue updates.  Updates which provide new capabilities, but which also aim to correct previous errors.

According to Wikipedia, Apple released its iOS 9.0 operating system to their iPhones and iPads on 16 September 2015. The 9.0.1 update was issued already on 23 September, followed closely by the 9.0.2 update on 30 September.  Then 9.1 on 21 October and 9.2 on 8 December 2015.

Such a frequent update rate might indicate that not everything worked perfectly from the start. Still, wouldn´t it be a bit harsh to claim that the phones didn´t work with the first four software versions?  Might the truth be a little more nuanced?  Can a smartphone be a good product, even if it doesn´t work 100% from day one?  Does a smartphone ever work 100%?  I have experienced various strange occurences with my phones over the years. Still, for me, having a phone with all its peculiarities has been more useful than the alternative – not having a phone.

This isn’t an article about phones. The point I´m trying to make is that technology development and testing is a series of compromises; compromises in reliability, in performance and in quality.  Only rarely is the world black or white.  A machine may work well, even if it doesn´t fulfill all specifications.  I´ll go on with a brief intro to how we typically test.

…technology development and testing is a series of compromises; compromise in reliability, in performance and in quality.  Only rarely is the world black or white.  A machine may work well, even if it doesn´t fulfill all specifications.

How we test a fighter jet

Testing of combat aircraft typically sees a disctinction between Developmental Test (DT) and Operational Test (OT). In short we can say that DT seeks to answer whether the machine works according to the design specifications, whether the machine is safe to operate and what its safe operating limits end up being.  OT on the other hand seeks to find out whether the machine can solve a particular task, like: «Is the X-YZ able to provide effective Close Air Support, in the presence of threat A, B and C?»

The test program for a machine like the F-35 is an enormous undertaking. The contours of the F-35´s test program are described top-level in the Test and Evaluation Master Plan (TEMP), totaling 1400 pages.  Each sub-test in the TEMP results in a detailed test plan for that event.  Especially in DT, a test flight is literally planned down to the minute, in order to accomplish as many test points as quickly and safely as possible.  Flight testing is an expensive undertaking.

A test program should discover most important errors and flaws. However, time and resources available make it unrealistic to uncover every single issue.  Risk is mitigated by testing the most critical components, like the engine in a single-engined fighter, to stricter tolerances.  The amount of testing is a statistically driven decision.  We know that there are things we don´t know, even at the completion of testing.  We also know that there are likely few gross or dangerous errors which haven´t been found.

Each error we find during testing is documented and characterized. The language and format used is to the point.  The test engineer and test pilot type up their findings and typically describe the situation «in a vacuum» – without regard for how costly or difficult it might be to address the issue.  Each issue is then related to the mission – how will this quality or problem affect the given task?

Such a test report might read something like: «The SuperToaster 3000 was evaluated for uniform heat distribution and time to crispy toast, at the National Toast Center of Excellence, with room temperatures varying between 65 and 75 deg F. The toasting temperature was selected by turning a dial on the front of the toaster.  Even with full crispyness selected, the toaster´s maximum temperature was low, and toasting of even the thinnest slices of white bread took more than 10 minutes.  During early morning breakfasts, the time consuming toasting process will result in cranky parents, the kids being dropped off late for school and correspondingly negative effects on their grades and later career opportunities.»

This mission relation was probably a little over-the-top – a little like how some media articles relate its tidbits of information to an imagined F-35 mission.  In isolation, a system may not work as advertised, but could there be a workaround?  (In the toaster-case, maybe cereal for breakfast?)

Anyway, after the issue is documented, the errors are then catalogued, debated over and prioritized. Test engineers, test pilots, design engineers and customer representatives are often involved in the dialogue that follows when something undesirable is discovered.  Together, these will have to agree on a path forward.  Completely understanding the issue is crucial.  Alternatives could be a re-design, accepting the flaw, mitigating the flaw procedurally or compensating by documenting the issue better. The team will have to compromise when prioritizing.  Even when developing a new fighter jet, there are limits to what can be fixed, based on cost, time available, test resources available and also the complexity of the problem.  Altogether, development and testing is an iterative process, where adjustments may have to take place during DT, OT or after the system is put into operational service.

Where are we with the F-35?

What is then the current state of the F-35? Is it really as bad as the commentaries to the DOT&E report and DOT&E memo might indicate?

Personally, I am impressed by the the F-35. I was relieved to experience just how well the F-35 performs with regard to speed, ceiling, range and maneuverability.  It would have been very problematic if the airplane´s performance didn´t hold up in these areas – there´s just no software update which is going to compensate a draggy airframe or a weak engine.  (Read more about such a case in the Government Accountability Office, then the General Accounting Office´s report on the Super Hornet).

When asked about my first flight in the F-35, I compared it to flying a Hornet (F/A-18), but with a turbo charged engine. I now can quote a USMC F/A-18 Weapons School Graduate after his first flight in the F-35: «It was like flying a Hornet with four engines!» (His point being that the F-35 can afford to operate at high Angle-of-Attack and low airspeed, but that it will regain the airspeed quickly when needed).  Another unintended, but illustrating example on performance came a few weeks back, when a student pilot failed to recognize that he had climbed through our temporary altitude restriction at 40,000´. The F-35 will happily climb past that altitude.

Another critical aspect of the F-35 is its minimal radar signature. Just as with the aerodynamic performance, the «stealthiness» of the F-35 is an inherent quality of the airframe itself. There would be no quick-fix to a disappointing signature. So far, my impression is that the F-35 is very difficult to find. We see this every day when training with the F-35; we detect the F-16s flying in the local airspace at vast ranges, compared to when we detect another F-35.

Sensor stability, and specifically radar stability, has been an issue. I´m not trying to downplay that the radar´s stability needs to improve, but I am not worried. What would have worried me was if the radar had poor detection range, or if the stability issues were caused by «external» factors like limited electrical power supply or limited cooling available. Fortunately, our biggest issues are related to software, and not performance.  I think it´s realistic to expect software issues like this to be resolved (just like iOS 9 eventually ended up working well).

Remember that we´re not trying to re-create another «Fourth Gen» fighter in the F-35. If we had set our aim lower, we´d likely have had an easier job of developing the airplane – it would have been easier to build the F-16 again today.  But is that what we need?  The F-35´s specifications are ambitious, and reflect a machine which will outperform the previous generation of fighters.  Having or not having that kind of military advantage eventually becomes a political question.  For now, our leaders think we need that military edge.

In this context, I would like to bring up another point. The F-35 is in its infancy as a weapons system.  Yet, it is being compared to mature systems like the F-16. The F-16 has been developed and improved for more than 40 years.  Correspondingly, certain aspects of the F-16 are more mature than the F-35 at this time.  Having said that, I will caution readers against believing that other and «mature» fighters are without their issues.  There has been an unprecedented openness about the F-35´s development.  The DOT&E report is one example on how media has gained insight into the F-35 Program.  I still ask; do those who write critical articles about the program really have a realistic baseline, from which they can reasonably assess the F-35?  Next, I´ll give some examples which have influenced at least my own baseline.

The sometimes messy world of fighter development

Credit: RoNAF

Many will agree that the F-16 has been a successful fighter design. The fact that it has been continuously produced since the 1970s should speak for itself.  The fighter has come a long way from where it originally started; as a day-only «dogfighter», equipped with heat-seeking missiles.  (How would that mission set compare to a post System Development & Demonstration Block 3F F-35 and its mission sets?)  Modifications to the «fully developed» F-16 started right away  One early and visible modification was the replacement of the horizontal stabilizers with larger «stabs», in order to reduce the F-16´s susceptibility to go out of control during aggressive maneuvering at high Angles-of-Attack (AOA).  Going out of control is a bad thing, and could lead to loss of both the jet and its pilot.  Since then, the F-16 has kept evolving through many different programs, aimed at improving both structural life and combat capabilities.Other fighters also bear visible marks of error correction. The Hornet-family provides some good examples of aerodynamic «band aids».  An example from the F/A-18 «Baby Hornet» is the vertical «fences» mounted on each side of the machine, just aft of the cockpit.  These were eventually added to mitigate stress on the vertical tails, which caused their supporting structure to fail.

Credit: U.S. Navy

Another example from the Baby Hornet is how the stabs and rudders are driven to full deflection before takeoff. This modification was necessary to enable the Hornet to lift its nose during takeoff roll. The «band aid» added drag during the takeoff roll. Thus, the takeoff roll increased in distance, but no more than what was considered acceptable.  The «band aid» was an easy workaround to what could have been a very costly re-design of the airplane – compromises…

The more modern Super Hornet has a porous fairing where the wing-fold mechanism is located.  This was fitted in an attempt to alleviate a problem termed «wing drop».  The wing drop in the Super Hornet was described as an abrupt and uncommanded roll, which hampered air combat maneuvering.  The «band aid» partially fixed the wing drop issue, but at the same time introduced other problems related to reduced range and increased buffet levels.  These were still deemed acceptable trade-offs – compromises…

Even today, our modern-day F-16s live with many issues; errors which were discovered in DT, OT or operational use, but which haven´t been corrected. Either because of prohibitive cost, complexity or because no one understands the failure mechanism – what is causing the problem.  I´m not just talking about cosmetic or minor issues.  One example is that The Norwegian Armed Forces for a period of about 10 years could not operate its F-16s in single ship formations, in bad weather or at night.  The restriction was put in place because the Main Mission Computer (MMC) broke down relatively often.  The resulting operational limitations hampered both training and operations.  It took more than 10 years to diagnose and correct the issue, mainly because the failure mechanism was illusive.

The most outspoken critics of the F-35 couldn´t have known about our issues with the MMC in the F-16 at the time. If they did, and read that deficiency report, would they have concluded that our F-16s were non-operational, and incapable of fulfilling its mission?  I´m tempted to  think so, based on how isolated pieces of information about the F-35 often are misinterpreted and taken out of context.  Would they have been right in their conclusion?  I don´t think anyone could have made that conclusion, based on just the fact that «the MMC sometimes crashes».  The reality I know, working with fighters all my life, is not black or white.  There are nuances.  We work around and overcome problems.

Our F-16s still have issues today which will never be corrected. This is not dramatic or unexpected.  The normal state of affairs for a fighter is that we operate in spite of issues with structure, sensors, software and logistics.  We´re normally able to work around the major problems while we devise long-term solutions.  Some issues are temporary.  Some end up being permanent.  Compromises…  (I personally wouldn´t believe the salesperson claiming to offer a fighter jet which had zero issues).

I said I wouldn´t quibble over individual factual errors which the F-35´s critics present as truth. To me, a compelling argument for how well the F-35 works is evident by what we´re able to do in training. Three weeks back I was part of a four-ship of F-35s.  Our mission was to overcome an advanced airborne threat, while locating and destroying an equally advanced surface based air defense system.  After neutralizing these threats, we were able to destroy four additional targets.  All this prior to receiving the Block 3F capabilities.  Suffice to say that this mission would have been close to suicide with a four-ship of F-16s alone!

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U.S. Air Force TU-2S crashes in California. Two pilots aboard eject.

A two seater variant of the U-2 Dragon Lady from Beale Air Force Base has just crashed in Sutter County, California.

A TU-2S assigned to the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, from Beale AFB, crashed about 9.05 AM LT near West Butte and Pass roads.

The aircraft, a two seater variant of the famous U-2 Dragon Lady spyplane was involved in a training mission. According to witnesses, both pilots ejected from the aircraft: one died while the other was injured.

The U.S. Air Force is believed to operate just 5 TU-2S jets (including the one lost today).

The Dragon Lady is one of the most difficult plane to land requiring some special landing assistance by chase cars driven by experienced pilots who talk their colleagues aboard the U-2s during (take off or) landing: in fact, since the pilot’s view on a Dragon Lady is obstructed by the airframe, chase cars drivers provide additional information about distance to touchdown and altitude in order to make landings less risky.

The two-seat variant is particularly useful for training since the second cockpit is located well above the front one allowing an unobstructed forward view.

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Image credit: U.S. Air Force

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