Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force

USAF T-6A Texan II Trainer Crashes Near Randolph AFB, Texas: Crew Ejects Safely.

Accident is Eighth USAF Loss This Year, Second Trainer Crash in a Week.

A U.S. Air Force T-6A Texan II single-engine, two-seat turboprop primary trainer aircraft crashed on Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 18 outside Randolph Air Force Base in Texas near the town of San Antonio Texas. The two crew members on board ejected from the aircraft and survived. The aircraft was from the 12th Flying Training Wing as confirmed by a USAF statement released on social media. There were no injuries on the ground from the accident and an investigation is under way.

According to a local news report filed by MySanAntonio.com reporters Sig Christensen and Jacob Beltran earlier today, “The plane crashed in a field near Nacogdoches Road just outside Loop 1604 in the northern suburban fringe, where such wide-open acreage is rapidly shrinking.”

Photos of the crew from the crashed T-6A Texan II appeared on Twitter minutes after the crash. (Photo: Luke Simons/kens5eyewitness via Twitter)

The crash brings the number of USAF aircraft destroyed in accidents this year to 8, and is the second loss of a training aircraft for the Air Force in 7 days.

On Monday, Sept. 11, 2018, a USAF T-38C advanced twin-engine, two-seat, jet trainer from the 80th Flying Training Wing at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas departed the runway prior to takeoff. Both crewmembers ejected. One of them, Major Christian Hartmann of the German Air Force, was treated for minor injuries according to the Sheppard Air Force Base Facebook page. Luftwaffe (German Air Force) Maj. Hartmann is part of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program at Sheppard AFB. Last week’s T-38 accident was the fourth involving a T-38 advanced jet trainer in 11 months.

In response to the number of aviation accidents during the 24 months prior to May, 2018, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General David L. Goldfein directed a single-day safety stand-down for an operational safety review earlier this year.

The single-day safety stand-down directed by General Goldfein earlier this year does not appear to have exerted an effect on the frequency of incidents and accidents for the U.S. Air Force in the four months since it was directed.

Earlier this year on April 8, Air Force Times reporter Stephen Losey wrote that, “The Air Force’s overall aviation mishap rate has hit a seven-year high, fueled by a growing number of non-fatal “Class C” mishaps, which experts say is an ominous warning sign. While the major mishaps that result in deaths and cost millions in damages, known as “Class A” mishaps, are ticking downward for the Air Force, the fleet is reporting a rise in the less-severe accidents that cause more modest damage and injuries.”

No single, specific reason for USAF accidents has been identified. Some observers suggest the number of military aviation accidents is related to a pilot shortage across all U.S. military branches. The pilot shortage may be compounded by an increasing training and operational tempo as the demand for military aviation assets increases.

The T-6A training aircraft involved in Tuesday’s crash has a proven record of airworthiness. The Beechcraft T-6A first flew in 2000 and replaced the previous Cessna T-37B twin-engine, two-seat light jet trainer for the Air Force. The T-6A was also adopted by the U.S. Navy as a replacement for its aging Beechcraft T-34C Turbo Mentor primary trainer.

Top: USAF file photo of a Beechcraft T-6A Texan II

NORAD Released A Photo Of A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor Shadowing A Russian Tu-95MS Bear Bomber During Intercept Off Alaska

This time the Bear bombers were escorted by Su-35 jets.

On Sept. 11, at approximately 10 PM EDT, two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor fighter jets “positively identified and intercepted two Russian Tu-95MS A“Bear-H” bombers west of Alaska.

Nothing special then, considered that a similar intercept had occurred on Sept. 1. However, this time the Russian bombers, flying in international airspace but inside the Alaskan ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) – a special zone, that can extend well beyond a country’s territory where aircraft 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 – were accompanied by two Russian Su-35 “Flanker” fighter jets.

F-22s are among the aircraft in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) scrambled by NORAD in support of Operation Noble Eagle, launched in the aftermath of 9/11 to prevent a recurrence of Sept. 11, 2001-style air attacks in U.S. and Canada.

This is not the first time some Flanker jets operate alongside the Russian bombers on their long range sorties. Indeed, this is what this Author wrote commenting the previous intercept earlier this month:

Such close encounters are quite frequent and may also involve fighters, as happened in 2017, when the Bears were escorted by two Su-35S Flanker-E jets, and an A-50 AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft. Anyway, this is the second time that Russian Bears pay a visit to the Alaskan ADIZ: on May 12, 2018, two F-22s were launched to perform a VID and escort two Tu-95 on a similar mission in the Northern Pacific.

In fact, in May 2017, a “mini-package” of two Russian nuclear-capable 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 was intercepted by two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors some 50 NM to the south of Chariot, Alaska.

Here’s what we wrote back then:

The Su-35 is a 4++ generation aircraft characterized by supermaneuverability. Although it’s not stealth, it is equipped with a Irbis-E PESA (Passive Electronically-Scanned Array) and a long-range IRST – Infrared Search and Tracking – system capable, (according to Russian sources…) to detect stealth planes like the F-35 at a distance of over 90 kilometers.

[…]

In my opinion the “mini package” was launched as a consequence of the increased flight activity in Alaska related to the Northern Edge exercise, confirming that the Russians closely observe what happens in the Alaskan area.

This time, they wanted to showcase their ability to plan a complex long-range sortie as well as the Flanker’s readiness to escort its own HVA (high value asset), the Bear, during operations at strategic distance.

The composition of this package is also worth a comment.

The presence of the Mainstay should not be underestimated. It was flying well behind the Flanker and Bear aircraft with a specific purpose. As an AEW (Airborne Early Warning) platform the A-50 is believed to embed some ESM (Electronic Support Measures): in other words, it is able to detect far away targets as well as able to sniff radar, radio and data link emissions. Furthermore, Raptors in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) *usually* fly with external fuel tanks and Luneburg lenses: this means that they are (consciously) visible to radars. In such conditions, although it can’t “characterize” the clean F-22’s signature, the Mainstay can at least gather some data about the interceptors’ radar emissions (if any) and observe and study their tactics.

Therefore, as frequently happens on both sides since the Cold War, on May 3, the Russians most probably carried out another simulated long-range strike mission but with a precise ELINT (ELectronics INTelligence) objective: the Flankers and Bears were acting as a “decoy” package to test the American scramble tactics and reaction times, whereas the Mainstay, in a back position, tried to collect as much signals and data as possible about the US fighters launched to intercept them.

General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, the NORAD Commander, commented the latest event in a public release as follows: “The homeland is no longer a sanctuary and the ability to deter and defeat threats to our citizens, vital infrastructure, and national institutions starts with successfully detecting, tracking, and positively identifying aircraft of interest approaching U.S. and Canadian airspace. NORAD employs a layered defense network of radars, satellites, as well as fighters to identify aircraft and determine the appropriate response.”

Top image credit: U.S. Air Force

Let’s Have A Look At The Loadout Of The Two U.S. Air Force F-16s That Reportedly Operated Off Libya Last Saturday

Looks like two F-16s from Aviano were involved in a somehow “mysterious” mission over the Mediterranean Sea during last weekend.

As the overnight trilateral strike on Syria on Apr. 13 and 14 has proved, an OSINT (Open Sources Intelligence) analysis based on flight tracking websites ADS-B, Mode-S and MLAT and other information shared via social media, may provide a clear “picture” of the air asset involved in a raid as the operation unfolds and well before the involvement of this or that asset is officially confirmed.

Every day, aviation enthusiasts,  journalists and, generally speaking, anyone who has an Internet connection a computer, laptop or smartphone, can track flights in real-time via information in the public domain.

As happened on Saturday Sept. 8, 2018 when most of the flight tracking experts noticed something weird off the coasts of Northern Africa: an “eye catching” gathering of aircraft.

If the constant presence of an RQ-4 Global Hawk, an EP-3E ARIES II or another spyplane in the southern or eastern Med Sea is something normal considered the ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) missions flown in the region since 2011, the presence of a pair of F-16s from Aviano Air Base (supported by one or two KC-135 tankers) off Libya (at least based on the position of the accompanying aerial refueler) is something really unusual. Moreover, the 31st FW’s jets rarely fly on weekends if they are not deploying somewhere or returning from a deployment. And, above all, they don’t carry Live armament, unless they are involved in real combat operations.

KC-135 QID564 on final for landing at Aviano.

On Sept. 8, two F-16s belonging to the 555th Fighter Squadron/31st FW launched from Aviano, reportedly operated off Libya, where they were supported by KC-135R tankers with the 100th ARW from RAF Mildenhall, and then returned home.

As the photographs in this post (taken outside Aviano on that day by photographer Claudio Tramontin) show, the Vipers carried 3x AIM-120C AMRAAM and 1x AIM-9X air-to-air missiles (AAMs), 2x GBU-54 500-lb laser-guided JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions along with external fuel tanks, a AN/ALQ-131 ECM pod as well as the Sniper ATP (Advanced Targeting Pod): a configuration that gave the F-16s the ability to perform DCA (Defensive Counter Air) with AAMs as well as engage (moving) ground targets with precision and minimal collateral damage. Pilots worn the JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Sight).

The two F-16s returning to Aviano AB with their load of aam and JDAMs.

While the purpose of their mission is unknown (we can speculate they were “on call” or supporting other assets or after a target that eventually did not show up or could not be attacked, etc) what is sure is that they did not use any of their ordnance: the aircraft returned to Aviano with all the weapons they had on departure.

One of the two F-16s involved in the rather unusual mission on Sat. 8, 2018. All images credit: Claudio Tramontin.

The situation in Libya has dramatically deteriorated in recent weeks, due to heavy clashes in Tripoli. A rocket attack on Mitiga International Airport (reopened on Friday Sept. 7, following clashes between rival militias caused, flights to the Libya capital to be diverted on Tuesday.

USAF T-38C Talon Crew Eject in Texas After Their Jet Departs The Runway. Both Pilots Safe.

Fourth T-38 Trainer Accident in Eleven Months for USAF Talon Crews.

A U.S. Air Force T-38C Talon two-seat, twin engine advanced jet trainer from the 80th Flying Training Wing at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas departed the runway prior to takeoff this morning at approximately 10:13 a.m.

Both crew members ejected from the aircraft after the runway overrun. One crew member, Major Christian Hartmann of the German Air Force, was treated for minor injuries according to the Sheppard Air Force Base Facebook page. Luftwaffe (German Air Force) Maj. Hartmann is part of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program at Sheppard AFB. The exchange training program instructs combat pilots for 14 partner nations including Germany, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The second crewmember, U.S. Air Force pilot 1st Lt. Charles Walet, was also transported to United Regional Medical for medical evaluation following the accident. Lt. Walet was reported to be in stable condition. The statement released on the official Sheppard Air Force Base Facebook page went on to say that Lt. Walet is assigned to Vance AFB in Oklahoma and was on temporary duty at Sheppard AFB.

In a statement released soon after the accident USAF Colonel Lendy Renegar, Vice Commander of the 80th Flying Training Wing, said on Facebook that, “We are grateful both aircrew members are safe, and for the outstanding response from our fire, security and medical personnel. We also greatly appreciate the any expressions of support from leaders and members in our local community.”
Issuing a similar statement from Vance AFB in Enid, Oklahoma, USAF Colonel Corey Simmons said on Facebook, “We’re relieved both pilots successfully ejected from the aircraft and stand ready to assist Sheppard in any way we can.” Col. Simmons is commander of the 71st Flying Training Wing at Vance AFB.

The two T-38 crewmembers escaped in ejection seats that were recently upgraded as part of a $185 million improvement program. The new MK US16T ejection seats were installed in the T-38 in 2013. The “zero/zero” ejection seats manufactured by Martin Baker are also used in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Eurofighter Typhoon and the T-6A Texan II trainer.

The statement posted on the Sheppard AFB Facebook page went on to say, “Emergency crews responded to the scene immediately to provide medical support to the aircrew and also extinguished a small fire in and around the aircraft. An explosive ordnance disposal team from Fort Sill also responded as a precaution, to ensure all the explosive material associated with the ejection seats was safely expended. The scene was declared safe for recovery operations at about 12:45 p.m.”

There has been no speculation or statements about the cause of the accident by the U.S. Air Force. As with all Air Force aviation accidents, the official cause will be determined by an investigation.

It is noteworthy that this is the fourth accident involving T-38 trainers in 11 months for the U.S. Air Force. There have now been nine U.S. Air Force crashes in the continuing tally of accidents since the beginning of 2018. These include the loss of an F-15C Eagle that crashed near Japan on June 11, 2018 and the fatal June 22, 2018 crash of an Embraer A-29 Super Tucano participating the Light Attack Experiment near Holloman AFB. This latest Air Force accident increases the total number of U.S. military aviation accidents in 2018 to at least 14.

The frequency of aviation accidents in the U.S. Air Force prompted U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, General David L. Goldfein, to direct a one-day safety stand-down for an operational review earlier this year. Following the review, no single reason has been officially cited by the U.S. Air Force as a contributing factor to the number of accidents that have occurred in recent years and especially during 2017 and 2018.

Top image: stock photo of a T-38 Talon trainer like the one involved in today’s accident at Sheppard AFB. (Photo: USAF Official/Danny Webb)

Are We Safer Now? U.S. Homeland Security 17 Years After the 9/11 Terror Attacks.

The Air Policing Mission and Homeland Security Since 9/11 Face Adaptive Threat.

“Kill one, terrorize a thousand.” Sun Tzu’s quote from “The Art of War” defines the basis for asymmetrical warfare, a conflict where one side uses traditional military doctrine while the other side exploits the vulnerabilities of its adversary in any way available, including attacks on civilians. In asymmetrical warfare, the rules are, there are no rules.

The 9/11 terror attacks on the United States typify asymmetrical warfare. In contrast to the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, where a large, organized military force launched a seaborne air strike on a U.S. military target taking approximately 2,600 American lives, the 9/11 terror attacks were executed by a small, subversive group of non-uniformed insurgents who leveraged U.S. airline infrastructure against the country with horrific effectiveness to exact a death toll even greater than Pearl Harbor in 1941.

While the U.S. spent billions on stealth bombers the terrorists bought box cutters.

In the seventeen years since the 9/11 terror attacks the U.S. has been highly effective in preventing another aerial terror attack on its homeland using increased security measures at airports and inside aircraft and a greatly enhanced air policing capability.

Vulnerabilities to aircraft terrorism do remain as showcased by the August 11, 2018 theft of an Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air Bombardier Dash 8 twin-engine turboprop commuter airliner by an airline employee who was able to subvert some passenger level security to gain access to an aircraft. That same incident demonstrated the improvements in U.S. homeland security response when a pair of F-15C Eagles from the 142nd Fighter Wing of the Oregon Air National Guard responded quickly.

In addition to the fast response times and improved protocols for launching armed aircraft to intercept an unresponsive or non-compliant aircraft, the key infrastructure and procedures for communication between airline pilots, air traffic controllers and the Homeland Security response has been streamlined and practiced so that it is procedural and expedient now.

On 9/11/2001, while there were security protocols in place for response to a hijacking the 9/11 Commission Report found that the FAA did not adequately follow them in alerting the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD). The delay in alerting NORAD to the hijacking threat, and gaining a clear understanding of the multiple threats, cost valuable response time that could have altered the outcome of the attacks.

Flight paths of the hijacked aircraft (Wikipedia).

Once military aircraft did respond, they may have exerted an effect on the attack in Washington D.C. where information suggests the hijackers’ original target was the U.S. capital building or the White House.

Most remarkably, the response of U.S. civilians on board United Airlines flight 93 from Newark International Airport to San Francisco prevented the aircraft from reaching its target at the cost of all lives on board. This response would galvanize the nation in defiance of the terrorist threat, establish the passengers as heroes and calibrate the tenor of the entire U.S. response to the attacks.

A fire truck destroyed during the 9/11 terror attack on exhibit in the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

While the U.S. has been effective in adapting to the airline terrorist threat and interdicted several attempted terrorist attacks on airliners since 9/11 including the “underwear bomber” and the “shoe bomber” the threat remains. And the threat is adaptive. Vehicle borne attacks have become common in Europe and splinter groups inspired by insurgencies related to Al Qaeda and ISIS have used vehicles as weapons in the U.S. Another emerging terrorist threat in the U.S. is mass shootings, a threat that has ignited divisive response in U.S. culture.

The primary passive security asset to the United States has always been its geographical distance from threat nations. The U.S. shares borders with Canada, a strong ally, and with Mexico, where immigration policies and narco-terrorism threats have significantly degraded the relationship between the two countries. But vast oceans insulate the U.S. border with threat nations in Asia and the Middle East, making access to the country more difficult than in Mediterranean, Asian, African and European nations. As the U.S. learned the hard way seventeen years ago today on 9/11/2001, it is never safe to assume that geographical insulation from terrorist motives is enough to keep its population safe. As a result, the homeland security mission is ongoing.

Top image: an airliner hits the World Trade Center during the 9/11 terror attack. (Photo: via AP/US News and World Report)