Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force

Airshow Insider: Behind The Scenes with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

A Lot Goes Into Making a USAF Thunderbirds Flight Demo Happen; Here is Some of the Advanced Preparation.

Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Mt. Clemens, Michigan in the U.S. celebrated their 100th Anniversary with the Team Selfridge Open House and Air Show on Aug. 19 and 20. As a major U.S. airshow the event featured displays celebrating both U.S. Air Force history that showcased current and future operations at Selfridge and throughout the Air Force. As with many important airshows at Air Force facilities throughout the season the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds were the headlining performers at the show.

We got an insider’s look at the U.S. Air Force Flight Demonstration Team, The Thunderbirds, arrival and preparation for the big weekend prior to the show. Selfridge Air National Guard Base Public Affairs team, including USAF MSgt. David Kujawa, worked hard to get TheAviationist.com access to the Thunderbirds and a unique, behind-the-scenes look at their support team days before the airshow.

Thunderbird ground crew closes up on the jets prior to more rain on the Thursday before show weekend at Selfridge.

The Thunderbird’s arrival at Selfridge ANGB on Thursday, Aug. 17, two days before the show was unique since the team faced the combined challenges of flying all the way from their home base at Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada and arriving at Selfridge ANGB in bad weather.

Thunderstorms and high winds buffeted the base and airshow venue early on arrival day. A KC-135T Stratotanker from the 171st Air Refueling Squadron at Selfridge ANGB launched early on Thursday from Michigan to support the Thunderbirds flight from Nevada to Michigan. After their rendezvous over the western U.S. the Michigan based tanker crew conducted three midair refuelings for each of the five Thunderbird F-16’s on their way to Selfridge. The sixth aircraft was already on station at Selfridge.

Thursday was a combined media day for the Thunderbirds and Selfridge along with crew orientation to the venue; rehearsal and planning for the numerous appearances and activities the Thunderbirds participate in while at a demonstration venue.

Traveling with a massive amount of parts and equipment to insure the show launches all aircraft in a high state of readiness, Thunderbird team members discuss the maintenance schedule.

One mission of the Thunderbirds during their visit to Selfridge was a Hometown Hero flight with Dr. Brian Smith of Detroit, Michigan. Dr. Smith was chosen for a Thunderbird Hometown Hero flight for his unselfish service to community and his lifelong commitment to education. He has received Congressional recognition for his efforts to steer young people to a career in aviation. Dr. Smith is the First African American to get a Ph.D in biomedical engineering from Wayne State University in Detroit. He also studied the effects of IEDs on soldiers in conflict zones and the effects of aircraft ejection on pilots. Smith’s family has a long history of selfless service to the U.S. military. His father served in World War II including spending time in a prisoner of war camp.

“I was up all night, couldn’t sleep, I am so excited.” Dr. Smith told us. “I tried to take a nap earlier today. No luck. I just want to get up there. I’m hoping they let me control the aircraft briefly. I’m a licensed pilot. Maybe I can experience the high roll rate of the aircraft myself.”

Dr. Brian Smith of Detroit, Michigan was fortunate enough to be selected as a Thunderbird “Hometown Hero” and flew with the team on Saturday after Thursday’s flight was weathered out.

Dr. Smith’s flight was scrubbed on Thursday due to bad weather but he did fly on Saturday morning with the Thunderbirds.

During the ground rehearsal for the weekend’s demonstrations the Thunderbirds would be parked across the field from the show line and spectators at Selfridge. TSgt. William Russell, a Thunderbird Crew Chief from Burlington, Vermont, told TheAviationist.com, “We’re going through the grey launch process rehearsal. It’s what we use to prepare aircraft for arriving at or leaving a show state.

TSgt William Russell, a Crew Chief on swing shift for the Thunderbirds, from Burlington, Vermont helps prepare the team by going through the grey launch process. (Photo: TheAviationist.com)

A significant amount of time on Thursday was spent with Thunderbird crews drilling on the ground demonstration portion of their show. The choreography and precision you see with the ground crew is difficult to achieve and requires frequent practice to maintain, so Thunderbird personnel are constantly training the procedures that are more regimented versions of the same launch protocols used for a combat F-16 unit in the Air Force.

Thunderbirds rehearse the precision drill and ceremony launch procedure of their show constantly.

A Thunderbird team member stows pilot gear for the team as the rain approaches.

The day was quiet as weather moved in and the Thunderbirds closed up their aircraft after performing regular maintenance and their training on the tarmac. Pilots in ready rooms held meetings for the flight demo and made plans for interfacing with the public throughout the demanding show weekend. It was an interesting look inside the process of the team getting ready for a typical Thunderbird airshow weekend.

H/T to Lance Riegle for the help with the video

 

U.S., Chinese And Russian Bombers Each Flew Air Patrols Over East China, Sea Of Japan Close To The Korean Peninsula In Last 24 Hours

Even the Russian Tu-95 Bears made a rare tour close to South Korea’s airspace yesterday.

Two Russian Tu-95MS strategic bombers briefly violated South Korea’s air defense identification zone (KADIZ) on Wednesday, prompting the country’s fighter jets to scramble to shadow the “intruders” for a few miles. The episode it’s worth of note since unlike the U.S. bombers, the Russian rarely fly close to the Korean peninsula.

Generally speaking an ADIZ is “the airspace over land or water in which the identification, location and control of civilian aircraft is performed in the interest of national security.”

ADIZs may extend beyond a country’s territory to give the country more time to respond to possible hostile aircraft: in fact any aircraft flying inside these zones without authorization may be identified as a threat and treated as an enemy aircraft, leading to an interception and VID (Visual Identification) by fighter aircraft.

“As the Russian aircraft entered the KADIZ in formation yesterday morning, a squadron of our Air Force jets made an emergency sorties,” said an officer to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.

The Russian planes, however, did not intrude into South Korea’s aerospace, he added.

According to the Russian MoD, during the trip the Russian Bears were accompanied by Russian Sukhoi Su-35S fighter jets and A-50 early warning and control aircraft. The flight was also intercepted by the Japan Air Self Defense Force.

Russia does not acknowledge the air defense identification zones of neighboring countries. Sometimes, its warplanes enter the zones which are a sort of defense-purpose concept neither stipulated in any state-to-state treaty nor regulated by any international body. As happened on the night of May 3, 2017, when a “mini-package” made of two Tu-95MS Bear bombers, escorted by two Su-35S Flanker-E jets, and supported by an A-50 Mainstay, flew inside the Alaskan ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) and were intercepted by two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors some 50 NM to the south of Chariot, Alaska.

However, the Russian Bears were not the only bombers to fly in the region during the last 24 hours. Indeed, on Aug. 24, the JASDF had to intercept six Chinese Xian H-6K long-range strategic bombers (south of the KADIZ). Here below you can see the track they followed skirting Japan.

A more constant presence in the area are the U.S. B-1B Lancer bombers providing support to the CBP (Continuous Bomber Presence) from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. According to the reports, two “Bones” flew from Guam to South Korea on Aug. 24.

Indeed, U.S. B-52 and B-2 bombers routinely fly nuclear deterrence missions in the Asia-Pacific theater from both CONUS bases and Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. Sometimes, they also intrude the Chinese ADIZ: in November 2013, a flight of two U.S. B-52 bombers departed from Guam airbase entered the new Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over East China Sea close to the disputed islands without complying with any of the rules set by Beijing for the ADIZ. In that case, the mission intentionally skirted the disputed Diaoyu Islands (known as Senkaku islands in Japan).

A big thank you to @phxasc for the heads-up!

Top image credit: Sputnik News

 

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We Interviewed An F-35A Pilot As JSF Visited Selfridge ANGB To Celebrate 100-Year Anniversary and Fly with Special Colored A-10

F-35A Mini-Heritage Flight and First Lightning II at Selfridge ANGB for 100th Anniversary.

The USAF F-35A Lightning II made history again this past weekend when it visited Selfridge Air National Guard Base for the first time during the 100th Anniversary Airshow in Mt. Clemens, Michigan near Detroit in the United States.

As a potential future base for the F-35A, Selfridge and the F-35As from Hill AFB put together an impressive airshow with several pleasant surprises.

The highlight was the special D-Day paint scheme A-10 from Selfridge joining a visiting Hill AFB F-35A for a Heritage Flight formation demo on Sunday.

Humid conditions and clear skies made for spectacular vapor trails under hard turns at Selfridge. (All photos: Author/TheAviationist.com)

The Aviationist.com spoke with F-35A Lightning II pilot, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Dave DeAngelis who flew to Selfridge ANGB in one of two F-35As for the 100th anniversary show. Lt. Col. DeAngelis is a member of the 466th Fighter Squadron at Hill AFB, the nation’s first operational Air Force Reserve F-35A unit.

The 466th Fighter Squadron has been exceptionally busy since declaring Initial Operational Capability on the F-35A back in August 2016. The unit has already exceeded and met several milestones for the F-35A program. The Aviationist.com asked Lt. Col. DeAngelis how the Hill AFB, Utah F-35As have performed so well.

Lt. Col. Dave DeAngelis of the 466th Fighter Squadron from Hill AFB, Utah at Selfridge ANGB for the 100th Anniversary airshow.

“We’ve got great maintenance staff. I’d have to give those guys much of the credit. We made IOC (Initial Operating Capability) back in August 2016. The program has done much better than I anticipated. It has just been doing phenomenal, the month of August, this month, we are at 2% attrition rate. That is unheard of. Some unit attrition rates are at about 20%. If your name is on the flying schedule, you’re flying a jet. The jet is extremely maintainable.”

As testimony to Lt. Col. DeAngelis’ remarks about the F-35A’s maintainability we watched maintainers run checks and perform routine maintenance on both aircraft using fast, easy to use electronic diagnostic equipment plugged into the jet.ù

Maintenance crews ready a 466th Fighter Squadron F-35A for a flight at Selfridge on Sunday.

Lt. Col. DeAngelis, a former F-16 pilot, went on to tell us he was impressed with the F-35A’s operational combat capability during exercises that closely simulate the rigors of real-world combat.

“We just finished a Combat Archer and Combat Hammer and the results have been phenomenal. We were shooting live missiles, dropping live bombs out at the Utah test range last week. It has really taken off in the last year. These jets have just been performing great.”

The 466th Fighter Squadron and their F-35A’s made the news earlier this year when they deployed jets to the ETO (European Theater of Operations) in another operational milestone for the USAF’s contribution to the Joint Strike Fighter program.

“As part of our European response initiative we took eight aircraft to England, based out of Lakenheath for a couple of weeks and also did some trips through Europe. We brought some F-35s to Estonia, brought some F-35s to Bulgaria to reassure our European allies.”

Selfridge airshow spectators got a first-ever chance to see the F-35A maintainers at work during the demonstration weekend.

When we asked Lt. Col. DeAngelis about his transition training from F-16 to F-35A and his first flights he spoke with enthusiasm about the new jet.

“It flies pretty similar to an F-16. Maybe after 100 hours you’re pretty comfortable deploying it in combat. It’s a great aircraft overall.”

When pressed about why the Air Force F-35A’s have not flown aerobatic displays in the U.S. as seen this summer in Paris, France when an F-35A performed a demo with a company pilot, Lt. Col. DeAngelis told us, “Right now we are focused on combat capability. We’re an operational combat squadron. We’ll do Heritage Flights, but we’re focused on finding and destroying an enemy. The aerobatics, right now, Lockheed has that covered. But I think eventually as the program matures we’ll probably train up a demonstration pilot.”

One of each of the two F-35As flown into Selfridge were displayed under an aircraft shade for static viewing and on the hot ramp before and after demo flights providing great photo opportunities with both jets.

Selfridge ANGB Public Relations MSgt. David Kujawa provided us with access to flight crews for interviews. With strong public support for the F-35A being based at Selfridge and the economic benefits it will provide to the region if selected there was considerable excitement surrounding the first-ever arrival and flight of the F-35A at Selfridge.

The event brought another chapter to the long and impressive history of the 100-year old Selfridge ANGB.

Airshow crowds got a close look at a static F-35A in addition to seeing the flight profiles on both days at Selfridge.

 

“Because I Was… Inverted!” Everything You Need To Know About The Photo Of An F-35C Firing An AIM-9X During Inverted Flight

Check Out These Cool Photos of the F-35C That Would Make Maverick and Goose and Jealous.

How many chances will the U.S. Navy’s F-35C have to launch a close-range, advanced air-to-air dogfighting missile like Raytheon’s AIM-9X in combat while flying upside down? The answer is *probably* none.

But in the unlikely event a U.S. Navy F-35C Lightning II does go into a dogfighting “furball” and it turns into a real-world remake of “Top Gun” without Tom Cruise, Lockheed Martin needed to be sure the F-35C could perform.

This missile launch test at the Patuxent River Naval Base in Maryland on the east coast of the U.S. demonstrated this rather unlikely capability was possible.

Flight test aircraft CF-2 performed the capability demonstration on June 8, 2017 and was photographed by Lockheed Martin photographer Dane Wiedmann using a Nikon D4 camera with a 24-70mm zoom lens while flying high right (or is it left when inverted?) formation in a chase aircraft.

Wiedmann shot the impressive photos at 1/1600 shutter speed to freeze the fast accelerating missile leaving the rails and f-stop 5.0 using ISO 400 setting. Wiedmann took the images early in the day, before 9:00 AM local time, accounting for the nice lighting.

Major Eric Northam of USMC flight test and evaluation unit VX-23 Launches an AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile while flying inverted. (Photo: Dane Widdeman for Lockheed Martin)

The missile launch demonstration was flown by U.S. Marine Corps test pilot Major Eric Northam of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Two Three, VX-23, based at Patuxent. Major Northam is a highly experienced tactical aircraft test pilot with extensive experience in the F/A-18 Hornet in addition to the F-35C.

It is noteworthy that the flight test was flown by Major Northam, a USMC test pilot, on an F-35C, the U.S. Navy variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. The U.S. Marines fly the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35B.

USMC Test Pilot Major Eric Northam of USMC flight test and evaluation unit VX-23 (Photo: Eric Northam via Facebook)

As a side note, an AIM-9X, the world’s most advanced infraredtracking, shortrange air-to-air and surface-to-air missile, fired by a U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet at a Syrian Sukhoi Su-22 that had dropped munitions near U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria, surprisingly missed its target. According to CNN, the VFA-87’s Super Hornet locked onto the Su-22 Fitter at a range of 1.5 miles and fired an AIM-9X: the Syrian pilot released flares to successfully lure the infrared guided missile away from his tail. The Syrian jet was eventually downed by the same Super Hornet with an AIM-120 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air To Air Missile).

With the frequent popular media criticism of the F-35 program and a lingering narrative of program limitations that, according to some analysts really don’t exist, these tests for flight and weapons performance at the outer edges of the mission envelope seem to send a promising signal that the F-35 is capable across its entire mission requirement set, including unusual outlying mission requirements like inverted missile launches.

The capabilities of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program continue to be demonstrated across all types and services. Between Aug. 4 and Aug. 11, 2017, the U.S. Air Force conducted the first ever delivery of GBU-31 2,000-pound precision guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or “JDAM’s” at the Utah Test and Training Range near Hill AFB.

Pilots and Airmen of the 419th and 388th Fighter Wings operated the USAF’s F-35A Lightning II during the evaluations, named “Combat Hammer”. This was the first Air Force conducted operational evaluation of air-to-ground munitions for the F-35A following Lockheed Martin verification of capability tests. Official U.S. Air Force media sources quoted the performance of the tests to have, “above average mission and sortie rates”.

USAF Colonel Tim Smith, Commander of the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron detachment located at Hill AFB told media, “Overall, everything went as planned and all participating units performed very well, including the 34th Fighter Squadron F-35As.”

A USAF F-35A drops a GBU-31 2,000-pound JDAM over the Utah Test and Training Range on August 10, 2017. (Photo: Scott Wolff via USAF)

 

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The Crazy Story Of The Very First A-10 Pilot To Land A Badly-Damaged Warthog With No Canopy And With The Gear Up

Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.

The A-10 is famous for being exceptionally tough and able to survive direct hits from armor-piercing and high-explosive projectiles. A recent episode proves the Warthog’s durability combined with pilot training, can be extremely useful, when it deals with managing an unusual emergency.

On Jul. 20, Capt. Brett DeVries, who was flying his A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft over the forests of Alpena County, in northeast Michigan, was able to land on the runway at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center with his aircraft whose canopy had blown off the aircraft 25 minutes before, whose main radio had stopped working, along with the first back-up, and with the landing gear that would not come down.

According to the U.S. Air Force, the 107th Fighter Squadron pilot from Selfridge Air National Guard Base made something that was never achieved before in the roughly 40-year history of the A-10: indeed, DeVries was the first pilot to land with no canopy and with the landing gear up.

“In that moment, your training kicks in. The training – that’s what saves you and your wingman,” DeVries said in an official release that provides all the details you can find in this story.

He was part of a four-ship on a routine training sortie from Selfridge to the Grayling Air Gunnery Range: a pretty standard mission for DeVries and his peers in the 107th, known as the “Red Devils,” that included a 30-minute transit to Grayling, to drop dummy bombs and make several strafing passes with the 30mm GAU-8 Avenger Gatling-style gun. A type of sortie DeVries has flown some 300 times!

After performing six bomb passes over the gunnery range to drop their ordinance, each A-10 took a turn firing the 30mm gun. However, on his second pass, DeVries’ gun malfunctioned. Simultaneously, the canopy of his aircraft blew off. With the canopy off and flying at about 325 knots, the wind caught in his helmet and slammed DeVries’ head back into the seat.

“It was like someone sucker punched me,” he said. “I was just dazed for a moment.”

At the time, he was flying at about 150 feet. DeVries instinctively pulled back on his stick to gain altitude and climbed to 2,000 feet, out of the normal path for range traffic, to put some space between his aircraft and the ground.

Flying behind DeVries was Major Shannon Vickers, another 107th pilot.

He saw a “donut of gas” from the Avenger gun around Devries’ aircraft, but didn’t realize the canopy had blown off because he was focused on the ground targets in the range. Still, he thought that something was wrong when the A-10 ahead of him had suddenly climbed.

Inside his cockpit, DeVries operated on instinct: he first lowered the seat in the cockpit to try to escape the winds that were buffeting his head back and forth and causing his maps and checklists to be blowing all around.

Another issue the pilot had to assess was the integrity of the ejection seat: had the blown canopy compromised it?

Vickers flew under him, performing a visual inspection of the damaged aircraft.

In addition to having been an A-10 pilot for the past 10 years, Vickers brought a little extra knowledge to the table. The Michigan native started his military career as an enlisted weapons specialist, working on A-10s at the 110th Attack Wing in Battle Creek.

Quickly, the two Red Devils determined that the best plan would be to fly over to Alpena, just a few minutes away by air, and attempt a landing there. While flying there, the Alpena control tower called down to Selfridge, some 250 miles to the south, in metropolitan Detroit. Soon, several A-10 maintenance specialists were on a speaker phone, chiming in with their ideas and recommendations, which Alpena then relayed to Vickers and DeVries, who was now down to using his third-best radio system.

Finally, with Vickers chasing him, the pilot of the damaged Warthog tried to lower his landing gear: the gear started to come down, but, as they feared, the nose gear was hung up from the gun damage.

Quickly, Vickers radioed to DeVries: “Gear up!”

Fortunately, the gear completely retracted to the up position.

With no other option remaining, with gear up and the canopy off DeVries lined the aircraft up for a landing.

“As he made final approach, I felt confident he was making the right decision,” Vickers said. “We had talked through every possibility and now he was going to land it.”

Shallow approach. Not too fast. Minimal flare.

On the A-10, the two main landing gear wheels are exposed, even when in the up position. It is part of the combat resiliency of the aircraft. And so, Capt. Brett DeVries landing his ‘Hog, right in the middle of the runway in a near textbook landing – caught on video by another pilot who was on the ground at Alpena.

“I flew him down, calling out his altitude,” Vickers said. “He came in flat, I mean it was a very smooth landing.”

After flying alongside DeVries during the landing, Vickers circled the field and saw his fellow Red Devil exit the aircraft on his own and run to the fire truck; then he was instructed to return to Selfridge.

“There is a reason why we train as a two-ship or greater,” said Col. Shawn Holtz, Commander of the 127th Operations Group and an A-10 pilot. “We rely on each other and need to have mutual support within the flight. Maj. Vickers was the definition of what a Wingman should be in this flight. He stuck with Capt. Devries and did everything in his power to see this through to a safe landing. Both of these pilots demonstrated not only superior flying skills, but represent the type of teamwork and professionalism that should be the goal of every Attack Pilot.”

In all, the flight lasted about 25 minutes from the time the canopy blew off until landing. An investigation is underway into the cause of the original malf The A-10 is still at Alpena where it is being repaired and will return to the flying inventory at Selfridge

“Again, I want to stress the training,” DeVries said. “Sometimes, perhaps we think, ‘Why do we have to do this training again and again?’ Well, in this case, the training took over and it is what made the difference.”

Slocum said the two men will be submitted for appropriate recognition for their superior Airmanship during the July 20 flight. DeVries also received an email congratulating him from Gen. David L. Goldfein, the Air Force Chief of Staff.

Capt. Brett DeVries (right) and his wingman Maj. Shannon Vickers, both A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots of the 107th Fighter Squadron from Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich. Vickers helped DeVries safely make an emergency landing July 20 at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center after the A-10 DeVries was flying experienced a malfunction. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Terry Atwell)