Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force

Wanna Know If A New North Korean Missile Test Is About To Take Place? Look For This U.S. Aircraft Online…

You can monitor online the U.S. RC-135S Cobra Ball aircraft used to track ballistic missiles reentry vehicles and warheads during the final phase of flight.

Early in the morning on Jul. 4, North Korea successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time.

The ICBM, referred to as Hwasong-14, reached a height of 2,802 kilometers, according to the state-run Korea Central Television (KCTV). The missile was launched from Panghyon, in North Pyongan province, and flew into waters east of the Korean Peninsula after traveling for about 930 kilometers.

The latest missile launch, as well as the previous ones, was almost certainly monitored by the U.S. Forces deployed to the region, using a variety of aerial, ground-based, sea-going assets.

The U.S. Air Force relies on its small contingent of RC-135S Cobra Ball missile tracking aircraft. Based at Offutt Air Force Base, outside Omaha, Nebraska, and  flown by the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron, these intelligence gathering aircraft are often deployed where needed to track ballistic missiles reentry vehicles and warheads during the final phase of flight. The aircraft is equipped with a powerful radar array on the starboard side of the fuselage, just aft of the cockpit. Several optical quality windows are mounted on the starboard side as well, allowing infrared and visible spectrum cameras to record the warheads during their final moments of flight. A distinctive feature of the Cobra Ball is the black low-glare paint used on the starboard wing, to improve image quality and prevent glare during photography.

A Cobra Ball taking off from Kadena on May 31, 2016 (screengrab from YT video by okuchan2006)

Unsurprisingly, two Cobra Ball aircraft  (61-2662 and 61-2663) are currently deployed to Yokota Air Base, Japan, from where it is launched when there are signs of an imminent North Korean test. What is far more surprising is the fact that, in spite of their important role, RC-135S aircraft are among the military planes that can be tracked online by exploiting the signals broadcast by their Mode S/ADS-B transponders.

By observing the activities of the RC-135S in Japan you may have a pretty clear idea of what is happening or about to happen in North Korea. For instance, last night, the fact that the Cobra Ball was airborne from Yokota might suggest that the U.S. intelligence had detected activities at the launch site and was preparing to monitor the test. This is the reason why I tweeted the following (later confirmed by the news of the ICBM test):

And that was not the first time. Just a coincidence? Most probably not, considered that the Cobra Ball does not fly that much and almost all sorties tracked online in Japan coincided with North Korea’s tests.

Here are some examples:

On Apr. 15, North Korea test-fired an unidentified land-based missile from the naval base in Sinpo. An RC-135S was flying over Japan:

On May 13, North Korea test-fired an intermediate range ballistic missile, from a test site on the country’s West Coast. That launch reached a then-record altitude of around 2,100 kilometers (1,300 miles) and a Cobra Ball was airborne to watch and collect data:

On Jun. 20, a Cobra Ball and WC-135 Constant Phoenix “nuclear sniffer” flew over Japan. It was later unveiled that the spy satellites had detected new activity at the North Korean nuclear test site.

So, if you want to know when Kim Jong Un is preparing for a new test, you may try to look for a Cobra Ball or Constant Phoenix airborne over Japan on ADSBexchange or simply follow some of the Twitter accounts who constantly track such aircraft, such as our friend @CivMilAir who provided us with most of the updates on the RC-135 and WC-135 flights in the area.

 

KC-135R In Special Tiger Color Scheme Commemorates The 100th Anniversary Of 141st Air Refueling Squadron

KC-135R with tiger motif.

The photographs in this post were taken on Jun. 22 at McGuire Air Force Base, NJ, by Richard Porcelli.

They show a special 141st Air Refueling Squadron (108th Wing, NJ ANG) KC-135R that commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the organization of the then 141st Aero Squadron. The tiger motif was applied to the tanker in honor of the squadron commander, Capt. Hobart “Hobey” Baker.

141st ARS Special Color

The paint job applied to the KC-135R 62-3508 is quite similar to the one sported by another Stratotanker of the 141st ARS: the KC-135E 59-1456 that took part in Tiger Meet RIAT Fairford in 1997.

Formed in October 1917, the 141st AS was sent to Europe in December 1917 and finally entered combat from Tour Airfield, France, in April 1918.

The squadron commander, Capt Hobey Baker, was a star Princeton University athlete, especially in ice hockey and also football. Some of the records he set at Princeton still stand. He then joined the Army reserves and volunteered to go to Europe in early 1917.

After advanced training in France, he joined the 103rd Aero Squadron (formed from the Lafayette Escadrille) where he was credited with 0.25 victories (a Fokker DVII shot down on May 18, 1918). He then transferred to the 141st Aero Squadron, becoming commander, and got credit for a further 1.2 victories, also Fokker DVIIs (1.0 on Oct 20th and 0.2 on Nov 5). Baker was killed on December 21, 1918 (the day he was to return to the US) while taking a final flight on a recently repaired SPAD XIII.

100th anniversary nose art

The 141st AS was deactivated in 1920, then reactivated as the 341st Fighter Squadron/348th Fighter Group, the leading P-47 outfit in the Pacific War. They fought in New Guinea, the Philippines, and ended up in the Japanese occupation force. They were disbanded in 1945 while in Japan. After WWII, the 141st Fighter Squadron was reformed as part of the 108th Fighter Group, New Jersey ANG. It flew fighters (F-47D, F-51D/H; F-86E, F-84F, F-86H, F-4D/E) until conversion to the tanker role in 1991.

The unit emblem is still today the Bengal tiger (a Princeton Tiger in honor of Capt. Baker) with orange and black markings playing with a German helmet and Iron Cross.

The engine cover of the aircraft 62-3508

H/T Richard Porcelli

 

F-16 Special Paint Scheme Commemorates D-Day Invasion and P-47 Thunderbolts.

Look at this Beautiful 70th Anniversary USAF F-16 from the Texas Air National Guard.

Special paint schemes on combat aircraft are common enough now that it is impossible to report on them all, but this beautiful F-16C (Block 30) from the 149th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard stands out for a few reasons.

This single seat F-16C, flown by USAF Colonel Timothy J. Madden, Commanding Officer of the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, wears a new paint scheme for the upcoming 70th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force later this year on Sept. 18. The aircraft was first photographed at the U.S. Air National Guard Aircraft Paint Facility in Sioux City, Iowa on May 26, 2017.

Nose of the new special color.

The tail of the 149th FW “special”

The aircraft is painted to mimic the livery of a Republic P-47D Thunderbolt from 1944. Interestingly, this is well before the U.S. Air Force was started and U.S. combat aircraft flew under the Army Air Corps, then a part of the U.S. Army.

The 149th Fighter Wing holds a number of significant firsts in Air Force history including the first unit to perform midair refueling during a combat mission and the first Air National Guard unit to shoot down a MiG in combat. Both of these firsts happened during the Korean conflict.

The original P-47D’s that provided inspiration for the new heritage markings on the 149th FW F-16C. (Photo: US Army)

As with the P-47D Thunderbolt from 1944 it is patterned after, not only does this F-16C wear the bright yellow markings but also the striking black and white “invasion stripes” painted on all allied aircraft in the days just prior to the D-Day invasion of Europe on June 6, 1944. The black and white invasion stripes were a way for gunners both in the air and on the ground to avoid friendly fire incidents. In 2015 the Royal Air Force painted invasion stripes on a Typhoon based at RAF Coningsby to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

The special livery on this F-16C is likely to become popular with aviation photographers since it is highly visible in most lighting conditions, even overcast, and the distinctive mix of invasion stripes and yellow squadron regalia can be seen from any angle. No matter which flight attitude the aircraft is in, it remains highly recognizable.

This is not the first time a USAF F-16 has worn invasion stripes to commemorate a P-47 unit from WWII. Back in 2014, F-16 aircraft number 84-1264 was given an orange tail and invasion stripe heritage paint scheme to honor the 358th Fighter Group of WWII. The F-16’s modern unit, the 122nd Fighter Wing, traces its back to this unit in WWII. The original 358th FG flew P-47s and operated in Europe before and after D-Day.

GRISSOM AIR RESERVE BASE, Ind., — A specially painted F-16 from the 122nd Fighter Wing from the Indiana Air National Guard based out of Fort Wayne, Ind., pulls away from the boom following an aerial refueling with a Grissom KC-135R Stratotanker. The F-16 is designated as a ‘Heritage Bird’ and is painted to pay homage to the 122nd FW’s history. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Doug Hays)

While no official word has been seen about airshow appearances by this aircraft, it will hopefully be seen at airshows throughout the summer in Texas and around the region in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force.

U.S. Intelligence Gathering Aircraft Amass Off Syria As Assad Visits Russian Detachment Near Latakia

U.S. RC-135 Rivet Joint and other spyplanes operating in international airspace off Syria. While a WC-135 “nuke sniffer” flew towards the Black Sea.

The White House’s warning about an imminent chemical attack and the visit Assad paid to Hmeymim airbase, near Latakia, today are among the most likely reasons for a rather unusual presence of U.S. spyplanes off Syria in the last couple of days.

Once again, the hint of a busy intelligence gathering operation underway along the coasts of western Syria comes from the signals collected by aircraft spotters, airband listeners and ADS-B monitors, who have reported the movements of U.S. Air Force RC-135s along with a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft.

Among those who have tracked the flights, the famous ADS-B / ModeS tracking enthusiast running the popular @CivMilAir and @ADSBTweetBot Twitter feeds, who has traced the missions of one RC-135U Combat Sent (that had already operated in the same area yesterday), one RC-135V Rivet Joint and one P-8 Poseidon on Jun. 27, more or less as Assad posed for some photos inside the cockpit of a Russian Sukhoi deployed to Syria.

The Rivet Joint is the USAF’s standard (SIGINT) gathering platform, meaning that it can eavesdrop and pinpoint “enemy” radio signals, and disseminate the details about these targets via tactical data-link to other aircraft, while the Combat Sent is designed to collect technical intelligence on adversary radar emitter systems. The P-8 is the U.S. Navy’s multi-role surveillance platform with the ability to snoop enemy communications and signals. In other words, three of the most important ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) assets in the U.S. inventory were flying in the airspace off Lebanon and Syria earlier today: were they flying there at the same time by accident? Or, as it seems more likely, they were looking for something specific?

Another interesting movement that might be related to the situation in Syria was the WC-135 Constant Phoenix “nuke sniffer” that, using the radio callsign “Lando 90” flew from RAF Mildenhall, where it deployed on Jun. 22, towards the Black Sea on Jun. 26. Although the atmospheric collections aircraft used to detect the radioactive particles that result from a nuclear detonation, could be on a “pre-planned deployment” (as the official press release usually state regardless of the actual reason behind the presence of the WC-135 around the world…) it has long been speculated that it can carry sensors even capable to detect chemical substances down wind from the attack area days, or week after they were dispersed.

Once again, it might be a coincidence. Or not.

H/T @avischarf. Image credit: @CivMilAir

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Here’s The Video Of The First Aerobatic Flight Demo Of The F-35: Does It Showcase Exceptional Maneuverability Or Quite The Opposite?

Lockheed Martin Test Pilot Billie Flynn just performed his first F-35A Flight Demo At Paris Air Show. Did he “crush years of misinformation about what this aircraft is capable of doing” as promised?

Set against a brilliant French sky with puffy cumulus clouds Lockheed Martin’s star test pilot Billie Flynn thrilled the crowd at Le Bourget Airport outside Paris, France today as he wheeled and tumbled his F-35A Lightning II through an aerobatic demonstration some critics claimed was nearly impossible.

The performance included low speed, high angle of attack maneuvers, tight turning, numerous rolls and maximum performance climbs that would silence the critics who said the F-35 could not dogfight and “crush years of misinformation about what this aircraft is capable of doing“.

While the F-35’s advanced sensor and integration avionics are designed to win the fight long before the “merge” of aerial combat into visual dogfighting range, this demonstration aimed to show the controversial Joint Strike Fighter can hold its own in a knife-fight with the Sukhois, MiGs, Chengdus, Shenyangs and other likely adversaries.

At the 2:00 mark in the video test pilot Flynn positions the F-35A at show left and performs a high-alpha, ultra low speed pass, standing the Lightning II on her tail and dancing across the Paris sky as the aircraft’s twinkle-toed elevators maintain stable flight on a boiling cushion of thrust from her growling Pratt & Whitney F135 engine. It is a spectacular sight. Enough to silence the skeptics? Hard to say. Most probably not enough, considered what people are used to see when a 4th Gen. aircraft or the F-22 are able to do during an airshow routine.

Returning to lower altirude in the demonstration box, Flynn performs a maximum performance, high-G turn with afterburner similar to what we’ve seen with many other demos. This version of the flight demonstration does not feature the open weapon bay doors as with the F-22 demo we’ve seen many times. One of the F-35A demo routines does include a pass with the weapons bay doors opened.

Honestly speaking the new PAS 2017 routine seems to be more dynamic than expected. But in terms of instantaneous and sustained turn rates the F-35 does not seem to match the performance of the famous super-maneuverable Sukhois, Eurofighter Typhoon, Gripen or Rafale (to name but few).

Still, the unique features of the JSF are its stealth design, sensor fusion capabilities and unmatched SA (Situational Awareness): that is to say all the ingredients for success in modern air-to-ground operations. Comparing the F-35 to an F-22, Typhoon or even F/A-18 in terms of energy-maneuverability is probably wrong and misleading.

So, let us know what are you thoughts after watching this demo:

a) do you think it’s more than enough considered that the aircraft will probably never be engaged in a Within Visual Range dogfight?

b) it’s rather disappointing because super-maneuverability remains a key to succeed in modern scenarios?

You judge.

Top image: file photo of the F-35 Heritage Flight Team’s F-35A validation flights on July 5, 2016.

 

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