Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force

Check Out These Amazing Photos Taken By A U-2 Pilot At The Edge Of Space

This is the panorama you get from the cockpit of a legendary U-2 Dragon Lady aircraft.

Ross Franquemont is a U-2 pilot and instructor at the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, based at Beale Air Force Base, California. Fortunately for the rest of the world, he is also a great photographer. In fact, the incredible images you can find in this post were taken by Ross during missions flown at high altitude (something around 70,000 feet) in the Dragon Lady aircraft.

If you want to learn more about the iconic spyplane click here to read our recent article or use the search button on the right hand side of the site (type U-2 and find all the stories we have published on the U-2). Meanwhile, enjoy this unbelievable collection of photographs taken at the edge of space that Ross has allowed us to share with our readers.

Taking off from Beale AFB (All images credit: Ross Franquemont)

California as seen from the cockpit of a U-2.

Front view, heading to the San Francisco Bay.

With a flag inside the cockpit.

To survive in the thin atmosphere where the Dragon Lady operates, pilots wear pressurized space suits.

Day to night the dividing line called the terminator can be seen in the upper right.

Ross shot also a composite image of the Aug. 21, 2017 eclipse.

Taken from the back cockpit of a TU-2S. You can see the student pilot in the front cockpit using a red light.

San Francisco and the Golden Gate bridge.

Panorama selfie!

Sacramento area at night.

Lake Tahoe at the border between California and Nevada.

San Jose and San Francisco and the Bay.

Ross brings his sons toys on some sorties. Not only do they serve as mascots, they are also used to protect his camera.

Image credit: Ross Franquemont

Ten Years Ago Today The U.S. Air Force Lost Its First B-2 Stealth Bomber During Take Off From Guam. And Here Are Two Videos.

B-2 “Spirit of Kansas” #89-0127 crashed on Feb. 23, 2008. It was the most expensive crash in USAF history.

Ten years ago, the U.S. Air Force lost one of its 21 B-2 Spirit stealth bombers.

The aircraft, #89-0127 “Spirit of Kansas”, belonging to the 393rd Bomb Squadron with the 509th Bomb Wing, from Whiteman Air Force Base, was taking off from Andersen Air Force Base, along with three other stealth bombers, at the end of 4-month deployment in support of U.S. CBP (Continuous Bomber Presence) in the Pacific. Both crew members successfully ejected from the aircraft at low altitude. The B-2 hit the ground, tumbled and burned for a total loss worth about US$1.4 billion, reportedly, the most expensive crash in the history of the U.S. Air Force.

Since take off of the aircraft was being filmed, a couple of interesting videos show the crash pretty well.

Here’s one recorded from a nearby taxiway:

Here’s a second video, seemingly filmed from Guam’s control tower:

The investigation found out that the root cause of the accident was moisture in the air-data sensors: heavy, lashing rains caused moisture to enter skin-flush air-data sensors that gave wrong inputs to the flight-control computers. The combination of slow lift-off speed and the extreme angle of attack resulted in an unrecoverable stall, yaw, and descent.

Here’s what the U.S. Air Force website reported after the report was released:

Moisture in the aircraft’s Port Transducer Units during air data calibration distorted the information in the bomber’s air data system, causing the flight control computers to calculate an inaccurate airspeed and a negative angle of attack upon takeoff. According to the report, this caused an, “uncommanded 30 degree nose-high pitch-up on takeoff, causing the aircraft to stall and its subsequent crash.”

Moisture in the PTUs, inaccurate airspeed, a negative AOA calculation and low altitude/low airspeed are substantially contributing factors in this mishap. Another substantially contributing factor was the ineffective communication of critical information regarding a suggested technique of turning on pitot heat in order to remove moisture from the PTUs prior to performing an air data calibration.

The pilot received minor injuries, and the co-pilot received a spinal compression fracture during ejection. He was treated at Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii, and released. The aircraft was assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.

At the time of the crash, the B-2 had logged 5,100 flight hours and wasn’t carrying armament.

EQ-4 Global Hawk Drone Deployed to UAE with a Battlefield Airborne Communications Node Payload Reaches 20K Flight Hours

One of the RQ-4B Global Hawk drone converted into EQ-4 has logged 20,000 flight hours operating as a “flying gateway” for other aircraft involved in the air war on ISIS.

On Feb. 13, one of the U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk drones reached 20,000 flight hours. The UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) is one of the three RQ-4Bs converted into EQ-4 and carry the BACN payload instead of the imagery intelligence (IMINT) sensors: it’s primarily a data and communications bridging node that supports multiple bridges simultaneously across multiple radio types. The crews who operate these particular flying gateways call them: “Wi-fi in the sky.”

“This milestone was the original lifespan of the aircraft,” said Senior Master Sgt. Matthew Pipes, Hawk Aircraft Maintenance Superintendent deployed to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, in a public release. “It’s exciting to see where this technology and this aircraft can take off too and how it can help those who are downrange.”

The aircraft (based on the photo the example “A2019”, an RQ-4 Block 20 converted into EQ-4), reached this milestone at its deployment base of Al Dhafra, UAE, from where the Global Hawks equipped with a Battlefield Communications Airfield Node payload are regularly launched for missions that can last 24 hours, or more. For instance, the very same aircraft surpassed the 10,000 flying hours in March 2015 during a 30.5-hour mission.

“From being a manned aircraft pilot, getting 12-hours in the air was a long day…you needed a day or so to recover before going up on your next mission,” said Major Manuel Ochoa, U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk pilot from the 99th Air Expeditionary Recon Squadron stationed at Al Dhafra Air Base. “When it comes to this plane, you can cycle pilots without having to land and that is a great benefit.”

Missions flown by the BACN platforms are extremely important. As explained several times here at The Aviationist, BACN is a technological “gateway” system that allows aircraft with incompatible radio systems and datalinks to transfer information and communicate.

The U.S. military uses various datalink systems to exchange tactical information, and many are not capable of working together.  For example, a U.S. Air Force F-15 can use its Link-16 system to exchange target information with a U.S. Navy F/A-18.  However, the F/A-18 could not exchange information with a USAF B-52 or B-1 bomber.  The advanced F-22 can connect with other Raptors via datalink but can only receive over the standard, legacy Link-16 datalink used by most allied aircraft.

This lack of compatibility between different platforms is a major obstacle in all those theaters where air assets from many services are called upon to provide support for ground troops of different nations.  Additionally, the complicated joint operations required to engage a modern integrated air defense system are greatly simplified by exchanging target information via datalinks.

Hence the need for a “flying gateway” as the EQ-4s, all assigned to 380th Air Expeditionary Wing based at Al Dhafra Air Base to support OIR (Operation Inherent Resolve).

An U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk logs over 20,000 flight hours Feb. 13, 2018 at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. The Global Hawk’s mission is to provide a broad spectrum of ISR collection capability to support joint combatant forces in worldwide peacetime, contingency and wartime operations. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott)

 

The BACN system is also used to link ground troops and Forward Air Controllers (FACs)/Joint Terminal Attack Controllers in a non-line-of-sight (LOS) environment.  For instance, in the rugged, mountainous terrain of Afghanistan, troops are not always able to establish LOS communications with close support aircraft overhead.  Moving position or relocating to higher ground could be fatal in a combat situation.

E-11A aircraft (Bombardier Global 6000 advanced ultra long-range business jets that have been modified by the U.S. Air Force to accomodate Battlefield Airborne Communications Node payload) with 430th Expeditionary Electronic Squadron deployed to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan have been involved in this kind of missions (some of those trackable on the Internet as highlighted several times) since they arrived in theater for the first time 9 years ago.

By orbiting at high-altitude for long times, BACN equipped air assets can provide a communications link from ground commanders to their allies in the sky.  For example, a legacy USAF A-10 attack aircraft could loiter away from a battle area while using the BACN link to communicate with a special-forces FAC on the ground.  The A-10 pilot could wait until all targeting information is ready before “un-masking” and beginning an attack run.

By the way, it’s interesting to note that the original story refers to BACN as “Battlefield Communication Airfield Node”.

This Video Shows U.S. MQ-9 Reaper Drone Destroying a Russian-made T-72 Tank in Syria

The U.S. Air Force Central Command has released the video of a T-72 tank destroyed by a drone in Syria.

The following video shows a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone destroying a Russian-made T-72 main battle tank in Syria in what U.S. officials have defined a “defensive strike against pro-Syrian government forces”. The second one in less than a week.

According to Reuters the air strike took place near Al Tabiyeh, Syria, on Sunday. The U.S. military said the tank was destroyed after it moved within firing range of the U.S.-backed forces. Although the Pentagon said no U.S. or SDF forces were killed by the tank no detail about the type of weapon used in the strike – either a JDAM or Hellfire – has been provided.

The strike came few days after a major clash with pro-Assad forces and coalition forces overnight between Feb. 7 and 8 in Deir el-Zour Province: the U.S. launched significant air power to protect coalition advisors and Syrian Democratic Forces in a series of raids that may have left 100 or more of the pro-Syrian government personnel dead. Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, head of Air Forces Central Command said the U.S. forces on the ground called in coalition strikes for more than three hours, involving F-22 stealth aircraft, F-15Es as well as MQ-9 Reaper drones, B-52 bombers, AC-130 gunships and AH-64 Apache helicopters.

Lightning Strike Tore A Person-Sized Gash In B-52 Bomber Tail

A lightning struck a B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 307th Bomb Wing upon final approach to Barksdale Air Force Base: the tail of the aircraft was damaged beyond repair.

On Dec. 19, 2017, B-52 Stratorfortress (60-0051), with the 93rd Bomb Squadron/307th BW AFRC was about to land at Barksdale AFB, La, when the crew heard something that sounded like a thud coming from the outside of the bomber. The aircraft landed safely, but once on the ground the crew discovered that the sound they heard was actually a lightning strike that tore a person-sized gash completely through the tail of the aircraft.

“Close encounters” between civil and military aircraft and lightnings occur every now and then around the globe.

In the 1980s, some F-16 Fighting Falcon jets were lost after being struck by lightinings. In one case, the lightning ignited the vapors in the empty centerline tank, which exploded causing extended damage to the aircraft’s hydraulic system.

Since lightning strikes are quite rare (1 event each year on average) these are seldom a real risk to military or civil aviation.

Furthermore, planes are shielded by a so-called Faraday Cage made by a conducting material, that blocks out external static electrical fields: charges redistribute on the conducting material and don’t affect the cage’s interior.

All commercial and mil planes have to meet several safety lightining-related requirements to get the airworthiness certifications required in the U.S. and Europe. For instance, they must be able to withstand a lightning strike without suffering significant airframe damage, without any possibility of accidental fuel ignition in the tanks and preserving the avionics and systems failures induced by the electromagnetic field created by the electrical charges of the lightning.

The old tail from aircraft 60-0051, a B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 307th Bomb Wing, bears a gaping hole from lightning damage incurred at the end of a routine training mission. The tail could not be repaired and had to be replaced. Changing an entire tail on the B-52 is an uncommon and difficult task, but maintainers from the 307th Maintenance Squadron were able to accomplish the feat in about 10 hours of work time. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle/released)

After assessing the damage, it was determined that the tail was damaged beyond repair and would have to be replaced: a large-scale, and uncommon, repair.

The B-52 is equipped with a lightning arrester designed to mitigate damage from lightning strikes, but this one was too strong even for the jet’s safeguards. “We see a handful of strikes every year, but out of all the maintainers we have, no one had seen lightning damage that bad,” said Lt. Col. George P. Cole, III, 307th Maintenance Squadron commander in a public release.

“I’ve been with the unit for fifteen years and this is the first time we have had to change a tail,” said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Nelson, 307th MXS flight maintenance superintendent. “We only had one other maintainer on our team that has ever changed one.”

According to the U.S. Air Force, Master Sgt. Eric Allison, 307th MXS B-52 aircraft mechanic, was the only maintainer on the eight person team with experience replacing a tail prior to the lighting strike. “It’s challenging because you have to position the tail just right and it is a two-thousand pound piece of metal,” he said. “It is like lining up the hinges when replacing a door,” said Tech. Sgt. David Emberton, 307th MXS B-52 aircraft mechanic. “You have to line it up correctly and the whole time it is twisting and flexing.”

Another possible obstacle was finding a replacement but instead of ordering it from the 309th AMARG (Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group), the maintainers from the 307th Maintenance Squadron found that one tail was available from a retired jet.

“Having that tail on hand saved us a great deal of time because ordering it from AMARG would have taken months,” Nelson said.

So, the 307th MXS completed the works and made the B-52 available for flight operations in just a couple of weeks. Sporting a different tail reclaimed from another decommissioned B-52, still able to take to air again.

By the way, the Stratofortress has already proved it can fly with damages to the tail: actually, even with a detached vertical stabilizer, as happened 54 years ago, when a B-52H involved in a test flight lost its tail at about 14,000 feet over New Mexico. Six hours later, the civilian test pilot Chuck Fisher and his three-man crew managed to perform the first and only Stratofortress‘s tailless landing.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force