Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force

USAF T-38 Crashes in Texas: One Fatality Reported.

One Crewmember Survives Trainer Crash.

A U.S. Air Force Northrop T-38 Talon two-seat, supersonic advanced trainer crashed on Monday, November 20, 2017 outside Lake Amistad, Texas.

Reports from Laughlin Air Force Base indicate one fatality, the pilot. The other crewmember is reported to have ejected and parachuted to the ground according to witnesses as published by the local Del Rio News Herald. The surviving pilot was transported to the local Val Verde Regional Medical Center in Del Rio. There are no updates on the surviving crewmember’s condition yet.

The name of the crash victims has not been released.

Reports indicate the aircraft crashed in the afternoon around 4:00 PM, approximately 15 miles from Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas. The crash site was identified as close to the local US-90 freeway by media reports.

Laughlin Air Force Base is the largest U.S. Air Force pilot training facility and home to the 47th Flying Training Wing, the largest school for USAF pilots.

As is common in aircraft accidents, no details of the crash have been released by the Air Force pending the outcome of an official investigation.
“Our biggest priority at this time is caring for the family and friends of our Airmen,” Col. Michelle Pryor, 47th Flying Training Wing vice commander, said in an official Air Force statement.

According to official USAF information, the U.S. Air Force Air Education and Training Command uses the T-38C for advanced training of student pilots who will later transition to combat aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-15 Eagle and F-15E Strike Eagle, along with the B-1B Lancer supersonic strategic bomber and other frontline combat aircraft.

There were two fatal crashes with four fatalities involving the Northrop T-38 Talon two-seat advanced supersonic trainer in 2008 at different USAF bases prompting the temporary grounding of the aircraft type. A year later, another T-38 crashed outside Edwards AFB. Despite the series of accidents in 2008-09 the Air Force characterizes the T-38 as “extremely safe”. A tragic accident with the U.S. Air Force Flight Demonstration Team, The Thunderbirds, on January 18, 1982 resulted in the loss of four T-38s and four pilots. The Thunderbirds subsequently switched to flying F-16 Fighting Falcons following the accident.

In addition to being used as an advanced jet trainer by the Air Force the T-38 is also flown by some bomber and reconnaissance units in the to maintain pilot hours and proficiency since it is more economical to fly than larger, more sophisticated aircraft. The T-38 has also been flown by NASA and a number of civilian flight test companies.

The T-38 will be replaced by aircraft winning the T-X program worth 350 jet trainers for the Air Education and Training Command.

Top image: file photo of a T-38 (Photo by TSgt Matthew Hannen U.S. Air Force)

 

We Have Visited Powidz Air Base, Poland, During Aviation Rotation 18-1 In Support Of Operation Atlantic Resolve

Starting from Oct. 13. Polish Powidz AB (33rd Airlift Base) has hosted US airlift aviation crews flying the C-130 Hercules aircraft.

Within the framework of Rotation 18-1, the second one held this year, almost 130 US airmen have taken part in the joint training with four USAF and two Polish Air Force C-130 airlifters. On Nov. 8, we visited Powdiz during the rotation’s media day to get some insights into the American Deployment.

During the Detachment, two missions a day were flown – one at night and one during the day, lasting on average 3 hours. The sorties were preceded by many hours of preparations and two-hour briefing, as explained by the 33rd Airlift Base’s spokeswoman, Cpt. Martyna Fedro Samojedny.

The flying took place in any weather conditions that would make it possible to complete the mission, all over the territory of Poland.

C130J from the 934th Airlift Wing at Powdiz, Poland.

The training involved 2 C-130H airframes of the 96th Airlift Squadron 934th Airlift wing, hailing from Minneapolis, two C-130J airframes of the 37th Airlift Squadron of the 86th Airlift Wing hailing from Ramstein and two C-130E aircraft stationed locally, at the 33rd Airlift Base of the Polish Air Force. Furthermore, the training also involved more Polish units, including the 1st Airlift Wing, 2nd Tactical Aviation Wing and the 6th Airborne Brigade.

One of the Polish Air Force C-130s taking part in the joint drills with the U.S. “Herkys”.

The missions included formation flying, cargo and paratrooper drops, grass strip operations, fighter engagements, NVGs and low-level training.

Tactical airdrop over Powdiz.

Tactical airdrop over Powdiz.

Polish Air Force C-130E about to land at Powdiz.

The whole deployment allowed the Poles to gather new, invaluable experiences, as the Polish staff also had an opportunity to polish its language skills. Moreover, the operation allowed the involved parties to unify and standardize the operational procedures, through joint planning of the missions.

The U.S. and Polish teams together for a group photo during the Media Day.

Images: Jacek Siminski and Witosław Stachowiak

Is Star Wars Canyon, America’s Plane Spotting Jewel, At Risk Of Overuse?

We Visited “Jedi Transition” to Learn If the Best Low-Flying Area in the U.S. Is in Danger.

It is the African big game safari, the Mt. Everest and the Louvre of plane spotting: the “Jedi Transition.” Located in the western United States on the edge of Death Valley and the southern outskirts of the Nellis Range, home of Area 51. It is America’s best place to see combat aircraft training for their dangerous low-level infiltration role.

But is the Jedi Transition at risk of overuse and even possible closure?

The Aviationist.com visited the Jedi Transition this week to find out.

“Approaching Star Wars Canyon. West to East. Cleared hot…” crackles over our scanner from a fighter pilot dropping into the canyon as jet noise echoes up the rock walls like a speaker system announcing the arrival of our first aircraft. My skin goosebumps. The hair on my neck straightens. This is it… our first pass.

“Cleared hot…”

Today there are at least seven countries represented by at least thirty aircraft spotters from around the world in Jedi Transition. We are from England, Japan, Netherlands, Wales, Italy, the U.S. and Switzerland.

The name “Star Wars Canyon”, used interchangeably with Jedi Transition, came from the scene in the movie “Star Wars” where a flight of X-wing fighters led by Luke Skywalker negotiate an artificial canyon on the Death Star to deliver a lethal precision strike.

But Jedi Transition is not an air show. This is realistic training for combat flying. Although many current scenarios involve higher altitudes, fighter pilots still practice here to infiltrate heavily defended targets and to evade from areas protected by sophisticated air defense networks as those employed in Iran, Syria or North Korea. While electronic countermeasures help, the ability to get bombs on target and live to fight again may also depend on the white scarf, stick and rudder flying skills practiced by pilots in the Jedi Transition. This is where pilots learn to “use the force” and escape safely if needed.

Jedi Transition is also one of the few places on earth where you point your camera down to shoot combat aircraft photos (the other famous one being the Mach Loop). The aircraft actually fly beneath you through the canyon. And to say it is breathtaking is an understatement.

I have been on all seven continents, served in the military, seen flight demonstrations, training operations, exercises and simulations of every kind. I have never, ever seen anything as spectacular as aircraft transiting the Jedi Transition. It is so incredibly spectacular it is often difficult to concentrate on photography. After each pass, photographers up and down the canyon vary between excited hoots to hushed amazement as they paw the playback buttons on their Nikons and Canons then gawk in amazement at what they got.

But as spectacular as Jedi Transition is, it is also fragile. Media coverage like this article and hundreds of others along with videos on YouTube bring increasing numbers of people to the canyon in hopes of seeing fighters on combat training missions. Flying schedules in the canyon are closely guarded secrets, and there are no guarantees. Photographers and plane spotters talk of “rolling a donut” on days when the wind and huge black ravens are the only things to move through the canyon.

And then there is the threat of overuse. In one Facebook group devoted to the low-level flying areas around the world, members warn about responsible use of the area. Regulars at the Jedi Transition note that only a few months ago there were no visible trails connecting the best shooting spots along the canyon rim, but now there are visible foot paths worn into the desert cliff edge by hundreds of photographers who make the long, hot, dangerous drive every week in the hopes of catching something special.

Irresponsible visitors to the area leave trash, human waste, used toilet paper and garbage in the rocks along the canyon rim. And those people, still the minority among the primarily responsible and respectful photographers who visit the canyon, threaten the area for everyone.

But on a good day the Jedi Transition is maybe the best aircraft spotting and photography location on earth, and that is what keeps the crowds coming.

A classic Jedi Transition capture of a Navy EA-18G Growler banking hard the canyon exit. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

My co-reporter Jan Mack and I made the drive to the Jedi Transition in eastern California from Nellis AFB where after covering the Aviation Nation Air and Space Expo at Nellis AFB. It was a tough, dark, 187-mile trip on empty roads with few gas stations and long waits for emergency services if anything went wrong. This is one of the most remote areas in the United States. Jedi Transition is just along the southern border of the Nellis Range, a secretive, restricted military operational area where live weapons testing is done and opposing forces aircraft are secretly flown. This is the home of the nation’s biggest secrets.

Leaving Las Vegas at 3:00 AM, we took the advice of ace aviation journalists and photographers Mr. Julian Shen, Carl Wrightson and many others. We met Mr. Shen on top of the Budweiser photo platform at Aviation Nation, where he and his associates gave us important intel on how to get to the Jedi Transition, how to find it in the remote desert (there are no signs) and how to get the best photos. When we asked them about the chances of getting some good fly-throughs of the area the answer was universal, “Nothing is guaranteed”. We could spend a total of ten hours driving through dangerous, remote areas, sit in the desert for hours more and see nothing at all.

Or we could see something incredible. And that is the draw. As it turned out, we were luckier than we ever imagined possible.

To make the drive from Las Vegas to Jedi Transition you need a paper map of the area since most GPS systems on cell phones, including ours, do not work in Death Valley. There is no cell phone service whatsoever in the area. We prepared a paper map with checkpoints drawn onto it in advance. Remember, you will be reading the map in the dark- and it is very, very dark in Death Valley. We used red-light headlights to preserve our night vision both on the long drive in from Las Vegas and to orient ourselves once we arrived as the sun came up.

Jedi Transition is in a National Park, so be alert for animal crossings. We spotted these friendly donkeys just before sunrise.

Buy fuel on the drive from Las Vegas at every opportunity. Consider a half tank as “bingo fuel” during the trip since a road closure, accident or emergency could force a detour of over a hundred miles. There is gas at the base of the climb into the canyon area at Panamint Springs. Keep an eye on your temperature gauge during the summer as this is one of the hottest places in the world and you will be driving up steep gradients. Be sure your brakes are functional too, descents are fast and twisting with steep drop-offs. Keep an eye open for herds of wild donkeys crossing the road as you leave the remote block-long town of Beatty at the southeastern edge of the Nevada National Security Site Nuclear Waste Repository.

Carry a paper map in the Jedi Transition since GPS on cell phones is not available most times.

Bring at least two liters of water per person to the canyon for the day. The closest store is at the base of the canyon, the Panamint Springs Resort, along Highway 190, the only road there is. The diner is excellent, the pizza is great. Ask for Morgan, the waitress, but hurry. She is leaving soon for a trip to Antarctica. There is a convenience store in the gas station next door for replenishing drinks and snacks.

Use sunscreen and a hat. Since the terrain is rocky and there are snakes and scorpions, especially during the summer, long pants and long sleeves are recommended. Remember that there are wild temperatures swings in the desert, from the 20’s at night to among the hottest places on earth, regularly over 105-degrees Fahrenheit, during the day.

Many photographers wait for the next fast jet pass.

We brought two camera bodies each, a 150-600mm zoom lens and several wide-angle lenses for landscapes. The aircraft in the canyon are close, so you are often shooting between 150mm and 250mm in focal length with the aircraft filling your screen. Planes move through canyon quickly, and you generally get one pass per aircraft, so practice your panning, double check your settings and be ready.

Arriving at Jedi Transition you quickly begin to understand the concerns surrounding preservation of the area. The parking areas are small and fill early. There is a larger parking area at the west end of the area called Father Crowley Vista. This is near the entrance for tactical aircraft to the training area as they fly west to east. There are additional turn-offs along the road shoulder for parking a few vehicles before you reach Father Crowley Vista to the east, but these fill early. Nearly the entire parking area was filled shortly after sunrise. We parked in one of these easterly areas at the road shoulder as the sun came up.

To get to the photo locations you will have to carefully cross the road. There are no marked pedestrian crossings. The road is winding here and sight distance is limited. Traffic coming through the area, especially after sunrise, will not expect to see people crossing the road, so use caution.

There are now distinct trails worn into the rocky terrain adjacent to each parking pull-off. Use the trails to minimize impact on the area and avoid getting lost, which would be difficult since it’s a short walk. You walk nearly due north about two-tenths of a mile to the canyon rim. From there the canyon drops off steeply into the ravine below. The most commonly used photo locations are along this ridge.

Perhaps the only problem with the most frequently used locations on the south rim is that everyone’s photos look the same. That said, having your own shots from the Jedi Transition is a trophy on any day, even if they do look similar to what the other photographers got spread out along the canyon rim from the same day.

A guide to the lower section of the canyon. A through F are the most used photography spots.

Use caution at the edge of the canyon rim. Rain and wind loosen even large boulders. The one you choose to lean against, stand or sit on could dislodge and roll into the canyon below. That we know of, there has never been a photographer rescued from the canyon. It is critical we all work to maintain that safety record. If there is an increase in injuries to photographers in the area from falls, rock slides, snake bites or exposure, the U.S. Park Service will likely restrict access to the canyon rim for photographers, or at least regulate and patrol it more strictly.

Aircraft often make a high pass over the canyon to orient themselves and conduct a visual confirmation of conditions and traffic before transitioning to low altitude for entry into the training area.

Observers and photographers with a scanner can set their frequencies to 315.9 for the R-2508 Low Level Training Area, the Jedi Transition, according to the official Air Force briefing from 31 March, 2016 published on the edwards.af.mil website in .pdf format. You will hear radio traffic as the pilots check into the area. Pilots often refer to “entering point Juliet” as the initiation of their run through the canyon.

The official U.S. Air Force guide to the Jedi Transition.

We also had one aircraft, a Navy F/A-18, make repeated passes over the canyon, but not drop into the canyon. He performed an impressive “show of force” pass over us and a roll pulling up, off the canyon rim, before departing.

On the day we visited, aircraft began flying over the canyon at 10:35AM local. We saw an F/A-18 and two A-10s transit the area from east to west at approximately 7,000 feet. At 10:56 AM we picked up radio traffic announcing their drop into the canyon. Pilot transmissions were brief and business-like. The aircraft were visible making the turn to the west of our locations and were easy to hear in advance coming up the canyon. The jet noise changes distinctly once the planes drop down into the canyon, echoing off the canyon walls.

The A-10s from Davis-Monthan AFB passed through the canyon stunningly low. It was easy to see the pilots looking at us as we stood on the rim, in some cases waving as we shot photos of them. Their pass was spectacular.

A navy F/A-18 followed them. Then, throughout the day, we had a succession of EA-18G Growlers, F/A-18s and the A-10s from the first fly through as our first opportunity. The A-10s only made one transit.

An F/A-18F exiting the canyon.

Jedi Transition is not an air show. It is something far better. Rarer, more exclusive, more fleeting and exotic. This is big game hunting for aviation photographers. There is risk, and there are no guarantees. It is also a potentially endangered resource that needs to be preserved and respected by the photographers who visit it. But on a good day, Jedi is incredible.

The authors Tom Demerly and Jan Mack at Panamint Spring Resort at the bottom of Jedi Transition.

The canyon settles thick with sprawling silence in the long wait between aircraft. Photographers whisper about rumors of aircraft departures at Nellis, China Lake, Creech, Miramar and others. Frequencies on scanners are checked, and nervous photographers stand up from their folding camp chairs to stretch, set their cameras and practice panning along the canyon wall one more time. Hours pass.

Then that one radio call:

“Point Juliet, Jedi Transition. One pass. West to east…”

We Have Flown in Textron’s Scorpion Jet. Here’s What We Have Learned.

The Scorpion is the iPhone X of Military Aviation.

To many, the Textron Aviation Defense LLC Scorpion is an enigma.

Though it has capability overlap, the Scorpion is not a traditional Fighter, Attack, Reconnaissance, Observation, or Trainer, nor is it designed to replace any existing platform. To understand it, one must look to the Scorpion as a ISR/Strike platform developed in the context of the smartphone business model.

The hardware platform – the Scorpion, could be likened to the 256 GB iPhone X (or equivalent Pixel 2/Samsung Note 8 if you prefer). The aircraft features a truly open mission architecture, with extraordinary internal/external payload capability. An Interface Control Document [ICD] is made available to payload suppliers who program their payloads to interface with the Scorpion mission system. The result is a very efficient hardware platform with a “sky’s the limit” applications/payloads store!

Textron focuses on providing the very low operating cost, flexible, and modular “flying platform” to readily host today and tomorrow’s most capable payloads. The approach is a complete break from the proprietary systems utilized by the prime contractors of current high-end fighters; controlled, slowed and priced by the prime.

Textron Scorpion with HMP-400 gun pods overflies NAS Patuxent River during recent weapons trials. The TEXTRON team achieved 100% mission completion rate during weapons system testing. 5 different configurations (LAU-131, HMP-400 Gun pods, GBU-12) were tested over 5 days, with the tests concluding 4 days early. (Photo: Erik Hildebrandt)

I recently flew in one of the three production Scorpions, “P2” fresh off the USAF OA-X Experiment.

Textron Aviation Defense Flight Test and Demonstration Pilot Matt “Tajma” Hall (current Air National Guard C-130 Aircraft Commander; experienced pilot in the F-15E and T-6) provided flight briefing, and Chief Test Pilot Dan “Shaka” Hinson (Ret. USN F/A-18 Pilot, former Commanding Officer of the U.S. Naval Strike Fighter Weapons School, and Graduate of U.S. Naval Test Pilot School) piloted the aircraft. One cannot help but note the tremendous quality and experience in the team that Textron has assembled to not only fly and prove the aircraft, but to provide the intellectual capital behind design and capability.

Testron Scorpion “P2” just off the USAF OA-X Experiment readies for flight from Manassas, VA. (All photos: Author unless otherwise stated).

Departing on an IFR flight plan in low overcast from the Manassas Regional Airport, Virginia, we quickly climbed to 5,000 ft and headed southwest where the skies were clearing. The rapid departure and climb made it clear we were under jet power. Within minutes we were in suitable VFR conditions over Charlottesville, Virginia and ATC provided a block of airspace for maneuvering. Over the next 60 minutes, Hinson demonstrated the flight characteristics, sensors and weapons systems.

Under his watchful eye, Hinson had me take control of the aircraft executing turns, pulling Gs, evaluating high speed handling, speed brake deployment, an aileron roll, multiple stalls and stall recoveries. The Scorpion is an incredibly stable and “pilot friendly” aircraft. Engines at idle, flaps up, stick back, and nose high – and the aircraft would not stall. When parameters were established to create a stall, recovery was straightforward. The aircraft is slippery and a slight drop in the nose leads to a “with this kind of nose attitude the aircraft really accelerates a lot…” from Hinson. The man is a real professional, a gentleman’s way of saying, “pull the nose up.” I did.

The author, Todd Miller taking a selfie in the Textron Aviation Defense Scorpion Jet over Virgina, USA. Capable, scalable ISR/Light Attack for the uncontested space.

The wing provides a tremendous glide ratio, ideal for the aircraft’s purpose – ISR in a permissive environment. On station at about 12,000 ft the total fuel burn was only 500 – 600 lbs per engine, per hour. This enables tremendous time on station with a variety of weapons at the ready to neutralize a target of opportunity. For comparison sake, the fuel burn per hour on station is about 10 – 12% of the F-15E Strike Eagle and less than 20% of an F-16 in the same role. While no replacement for these fighter aircraft, this mission utilization is precisely how scores of hours have been accumulated by the F-15E, F-16, A-10, and F/A-18s over the past 30 years. The Scorpion delivers exceptional economy while enabling operations from austere environments with significantly more capable ISR payloads.

A veritable set of airborne eyes and ears, the Scorpion supports payloads that facilitate both kinetic and non-kinetic effects across all operational domains. With tremendous internal space for payloads, the Scorpion offers an excess of electrical power to support anticipated and unforeseen demands. A nose bay is available for configuration with electro-optical/infrared (EO-IR) sensors such as the L3 Wescam MX series, or an active electronically scanned array radar (AESA). Three large internal payload bays can be configured for use with sensors/payloads to support Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), Hyperspectral Analysis, Electronic Warfare or other. Additional payloads such as a 4G LTE Hotspot could be very helpful in a humanitarian crisis. Like a smartphone, the Scorpion’s capabilities are limited only by the ingenuity of providers to fill the space and power available.

The Textron Scorpion demonstrates the ability to carry the L-3 Wescam MX-15 (nose bay) or the powerful MX-25 (payload bay 3). In both instances the EO IR sensor is fully retractable, and is stowed for flight operations until on station.

Permissive environments that utilize significant ISR assets such as the RC-135 Rivet Joint [SIGINT], E-8 JSTARS [Surveillance and Reconnaissance] and others may find more than adequate capability in a rightly configured Scorpion. Such downsizing of ISR packages would increase savings exponentially and free the most capable USAF assets for demanding mission sets.

Orbiting on station I found operating the sensor package while flying the aircraft via the Hands-on Throttle and Stick [HOTAS] intuitive and straightforward. Up front, Hinson utilized the Helmet Mounted Cueing System (HMCS) to demonstrate operational capabilities. Specific sensor packages overlay data from multiple payloads and create a single situational picture captured by time and geolocation. The data could be processed by a powerful computer package onboard, or streamed by secure network to other assets in space, the air or ground. As Textron Aviation Defense Senior Advisor Stephen Burke indicated, “We can pull out of the noise a target that is very difficult to see. A low contrast, short dwell target in a chaotic urban environment.” The kind of environment that the USAF has been operating in for years – with no end in sight.

View from the rear office of the Textron Scorpion while flying over Virginia, USA. The photo is distorted (canopy etc) due to the panorama function of the camera. The dots visible on canopy provide “calibration” for the Helmet Mounted Cueing System.

The massive increase in data generated by ISR platforms has created very real manpower challenges for Processing, Exploitation and Dissemination (PED). An onboard, algorithm-driven computer system would provide a tremendous leap in PED capability. That kind of computer driven analysis of data is a capability USAF thought leaders have indicated is imperative.

The open architecture the Scorpion features for payloads is entirely separated from the aircrafts flight controls. Each system/sensor simply runs as a unique application within the main mission systems computer. This “non-proprietary” approach opens scores of possibilities for the user and their related contract negotiations. While speaking at the OA-X experiment at Holloman AFB, Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson specified this approach (open architecture/non-proprietary) as a requirement to do business with the USAF moving forward. When Scorpion payload providers update their sensors with additional capabilities scores of hours of regression testing can be avoided – reference the ICD, plug, play and deploy. Rather than take years to upgrade sensors, it can be achieved in weeks.

The excellent flight characteristics I experienced are complemented by tremendous reliability and ease of operations. Whether in weapons testing, flight testing or international travel – the Scorpion has demonstrated exceptional readiness rates. Most recently flying from Wichita, Kansas to the Dubai Air Show, “P2” visited nine countries in six days with 100 percent mission readiness. 100 percent readiness sounds fictitious. However, it is not all that surprising given the aircraft utilizes proven and widely deployed commercial systems.

While visiting Saudi Arabia, Royal Saudi Air Force pilots quickly qualified in the Scorpion and scored multiple direct hits with inert GBU-12s. At the Dubai Air Show the Textron team continued flight operations with multiple demonstrations showcasing Scorpion’s capabilities to an array of international prospective customers.

Unlike the USAF during the O-AX experiment, or the Saudi Arabian Air Force pilots, my flight demonstration carried no ordnance. However, a target below was designated and Hinson demonstrated an attack profile with a precision guided munition. The Scorpion features a proven Stores Management System [SMS] that will continue to grow as more ordnance is qualified for the aircraft.

Textron Scorpion fires 2.75″ Hydra-70 rocket during recent weapons trials at NAS Patuxent River, MD. The Textron team achieved 100% mission completion rate during weapons system testing. 5 different configurations (LAU-131, HMP-440 Gun pods, GBU-12) were tested over 5 days (Photo: Erik Hildebrandt)

Returning to the airfield, I had the time to appreciate the exceptional view, and the potential value the aircraft could bring to the growing USAF pilot shortage. During the OA-X experiment, it was noted by USAF leadership that procurement of additional low-cost airframes would be required to surge pilot training/skills development to address the pilot shortage.

Textron strongly believes Scorpion is a compelling fit for USAF pilots — and for USN pilots who graduate out of flight school. Their first assignment in a Scorpion would expose them to a low-cost but very capable platform that brings forward the future of the DoD operations. Scorpion pilots will be immersed in the combat cloud, secure communications, fusion warfare, sensor operation and management. I can think of no better platform for pilots to learn relevant systems and build hours while preparing for the power of the DoD’s upgraded Gen 4 and Gen 5 aircraft and the high intensity fight.

Regardless the virtues of the platform, Textron’s approach to build an aircraft tailored to military operations where no stated requirement exists is rare and risky. However, it is not risk taken in a vacuum, but rather a bold example of entrepreneurship that was inspired by the thought leadership of the USAF and military aviators. Aside the absence of an official requirement, reviews of articles penned and speeches made by the thought leaders of the USAF reveal the basis for design of the Scorpion and the Textron model.

USAF thought leadership defines an Air Force that utilizes Fusion Warfare; the Combat Cloud; Open Architecture; Non-proprietary system contracts; the Information Battlespace; addresses the pilot shortage; operates much more cost effectively with a high/low platform mix that generates airframe and fuel savings (see Logistical Fratricide); and empowers Decision Superiority. Well, it looks like the Scorpion addresses each of these operational concepts/issues and brings additional capabilities to the deploying Air Force (the USAF or any number of its allies). As such, the platform may not only serve an immediate need, it can also define a model approach for future weapons systems development.

Air Force thought leaders have been speaking. It appears Textron was listening closely and, as a result, the Scorpion presents a compelling opportunity. The airframe and flying qualities speak for themselves. Simplicity with riveting capability. The design philosophy of modularity and open architecture find me reflecting on my first encounter with something called an iPhone. At the time, I was using another device for phone and email communications and some of my colleagues bucked our corporate IT department, so they could utilize an iPhone.

At first, I didn’t get it. Today, the device I was using is all but forgotten and the smartphone and application stores rule. Perhaps the Scorpion and the model it presents will find similar success in changing the way forward for military airpower.

The Aviationist expresses gratitude to the team at Textron Aviation Defense, specifically to the patient and gracious Chief Test Pilot Dan “Shaka” Hinson and Pilot Matt “Tajma” Hall. An exceptional team of professionals across the board.

The 305th Air Mobility Wing: USAF Enabler of Global Reach

We have taken part in an aerial refueling mission aboard a KC-10 Extender with the 305th AMW. Here is how it went.

It’s early and the darkness feels more like night than day. Flight crew gathers at the 305th Air Mobility Wings (AMW) base operations, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JBMDL), NJ. Paperwork in order and mission plan briefed, we leave base ops for the aircraft. The sun cracks the horizon as we arrive at the KC-10 Extender for pre-flight. The aircraft crew chief and maintenance team are well into preparing the mission aircraft. It is clear they were at work long before our arrival. Despite the hour, the ramp is alive and aircraft are already in the circuit. JBMDL never really sleeps. Time passes quickly, and with pre-flight complete the two KC-10s on this mission taxi together to launch.

With multiple missions in store the early morning will stretch into afternoon, afternoon into night and come full circle to dawn. The interior of the 305th AMW KC-10 becomes my world. Cockpit, seating area, cargo hold and refueling station. “Can Do” is more than a motto for the 305th AMW.

Two days and three missions later “Can Do” becomes “Job Done.” Flights of 6 to near 10 hours will cover distant States, Florida, Louisiana and Missouri. The Air-to-Air Refueling (AAR) missions will support a diversity of platforms; fighters, attack, transports, bombers and include both U.S. Air Force (USAF) and U.S. Navy (USN) assets.

The 305th AMW deploys airlift and refueling capability from America’s Eastern gateway in support of USAF and Department of Defense global objectives. Utilizing the KC-10 Extender they are the enabler of the Global Reach of the USAF.

The KC-10 Extender offers long range, boom, hose/drogue capability and extensive fuel capacity (356,000 lbs – almost twice that of the KC-135 Stratotanker). Given these capabilities, the KC-10 is typically utilized when moving aviation assets across continent or from one continent to the other. In many cases, the KC-10 “tows” a group of aircraft while packing the required flight personnel and ground equipment across the ocean/continent on deployments.

Tankers don’t have the sizzle of fighters or bombers. They are one of the more mundane aircraft types in the inventory. However, when it comes to global reach or deploying an effective Strike or Offensive Counter Air/Defensive Counter Air (OCA/DCA) force – tankers are critical. Indispensable.

Carefully planned and choreographed missions require frequent AAR as part of the routine. Yet there are those situations where Close Air Support (CAS) or OCA/DCA missions conspire to create “danger low fuel conditions.” In moments like those there is no sweeter sight to a pilot than pulling up under the tanker and looking through the viewing window into the face of the air refueler. No words can describe that feeling – on either side of the boom.

The entire AAR paradigm is an interesting one. Mobile fuel, deployed on location to best facilitate the mission of the receiver. This makes the Tanker community the ultimate service organization. Bottom line – Tankers will go to any end to ensure their “customer” can complete their mission. Counterpart to the 305th AMW where 32 of 59 USAF KC-10s are based, is the 60th AMW of Travis AFB on the West Coast. No less vital in their role are the near 400 KC-135s in the USAF inventory.

Life aboard and around a KC-10 at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, NJ.

Beyond AAR, the 305th’s mission includes delivery of cargo and personnel to combatant commanders abroad, VIP transport, cargo transport, dignified transfer. However, make no mistake – AAR is the primary role and the 305th AMW strives for excellence in enabling the rapid, global mobility of the USAF.

Excellence is people driven, and starts with teamwork. Flight crews typically gather for briefing 90 minutes prior to the flight, and move quickly to the KC-10 Extender for pre-flight. The aircraft Crew Chief and maintenance team is already on site ensuring all systems are go – and stay that way until the door is closed and the stairs are pulled. They are the last to leave the aircraft before launch and the first to greet the aircraft on arrival. The 305th Maintenance Group works 24/7 to ensure aircraft are mission ready.

While unique to me, the “mission saturation” I experience is the norm for the 305th AMW and reveals their pulse. The missions include crew from a variety of units including the 2nd Aerial Refueling Squadron (ARS), 32nd ARS and 305 Operations Support Squadron (OSS).

After take-off we unite with the lead KC-10 and fly in a loose trailing formation. Flying in any kind of formation adds complexity and interest. First stop, on location off the coast of Virginia to refuel F-22 Raptors from the 1st FW (Joint-Base Langley-Eustis) and F/A-18 Super Hornets (NAS Oceana). The aircraft have been mixing it up in a Red Air/Blue Air exercise. With fuel delivered we head south within reach of Miami.

F-22 from the 1 FW JBLE sliding up for fuel from a 305th AMW KC-10 (JBMDL) during a Red Air / Blue Air exercise off the coast of VA.

F-22 from the 1 FW / 27th FS JBLE sliding up for fuel from a 305th AMW KC-10 (JBMDL) during a Red Air / Blue Air exercise off the coast of VA.

C-17 Globemaster IIIs from the 437th AW of Charleston, SC join up for some boom time.

C-17 from the 437th AW Joint Base Charleston drops away from 305th AMW (JBMDL) KC-10 Extender.

On the return north the two KC-10s work “Extender to Extender” skills. The constant skills training and requirements ensure crews remain proficient in all aspects of their role.

Clean and graceful in the skies, KC-10 Extender from the 305th AMW drops away after taking fuel from another Extender. The 305th AMW of JBMDL regularly trains on both sides of the boom.

Pulling up to the pump… From one KC-10 Extender to another, the 305th AMW of JBMDL regularly training on both sides of the boom.

Day two we depart JBMDL in another KC-10 two ship. One KC-10 meets with A-10 Thunderbolt IIs of the 122nd FW “Blacksnakes” of the Indiana ANG. Our aircraft goes south to meet with a “BUFF” or more formally, B-52H Stratofortress from the 96th BS out of Barksdale AFB.

B-52H “Old Soldier II” of the 96th BS (2nd BW Barksdale AFB) during refueling operation from 305th AMW KC-10 Extender – JBMDL.

Then we are back to JBMDL for a brief break on the ground, and into another KC-10 for a night mission refueling 3 B-2 Spirits somewhere over Missouri. Two of the three bombers in the USAF Global Strike Command in one day. Two of the three frontline stealth aircraft in the USAF inventory in two days. This is life in the 305th.

A-10Cs “Blacksnakes” the 122 FW, Indiana Air National Guard taking fuel from a 305th AMW KC-10 Extender over the midwest.

In the now familiar confines of the KC-10 it starts to sink in. The 305th AMW, the USAF is TEAM. Roles may be “flashy” – or not. Doesn’t matter. Everybody has a purpose and contributes to achieve the greater mission. It may be training, it could be combat. Doesn’t matter, it is all very real. People and Mission.

Units like the 305th AMW go about this day in and day out. It never stops. Whether fueling aircraft or delivering cargo the satisfaction comes from enabling the mission. Missions span the sphere of humanitarian, training, combat operations, operational support, VIP transit and beyond.
The boom operators like SMSGT C. Wise, MSgt J. Stockwell, or TSgt A. Sochia reveal the impact on their lives. Mesmerizing AAR operations, day or night, watching fighters or aircraft as surreal as B-2s slide up for fuel – that’s not it. One of the operators recalls an AAR mission over the Middle East. They remained on station to fuel an aircraft that was involved in CAS, supporting troops involved in a firefight. Sometime later the boom operator learned that a neighbor from their hometown had been on the ground in that firefight. That’s it. Teamwork that transcends the service branch. Making a tangible impact when the chips are down. Another operator reflected on the times their KC-10 was utilized for a dignified transfer – bringing fallen service members home. No words can describe the impact, or meaningfulness of such missions.

Yes, the platforms, the experiences, the sights are incredible. However, clichés aside, it IS about the people. Enabling, respecting, serving. This is the heart of the Air Force, Air Mobility Command, and the 305th AMW. Their pulse is strong.

The Aviationist expresses gratitude to the 305th AMW, the 2nd ARS, 32nd ARS, 305th OSS, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Public Affairs Team Shaun Eagan, SrA Lauren Russell, A1C Zachary Martyn, the exceptional team of in-flight refuelers and flight crews. All professionals through and through in the finest sense.

Salva