Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force

These crazy photos show a Russian Su-27 Flanker dogfighting with a U.S. Air Force F-16 inside Area 51

You don’t happen to see a Su-27 Flanker dogfighting with a F-16 unless you visit Area 51. Here are the amazing photographs taken near Groom Lake, on Nov. 8, 2016, U.S. election day.

The photographs in this post were taken from Tikaboo Valley, near Groom Lake, Nevada, by Phil Drake, who was lucky enough to observe a Su-27P Flanker-B dogfighting with an F-16, presumably one of the four Groom Lake based -D models in the skies of the famous Area 51.

Although the quality of the pictures is low (the aircraft were flying between 20K and 30K feet) they are extremely interesting since Flankers operating from Groom are not a secret (they have been documented in 2003 – 2004 and more recently between 2012 and 2014) but have rarely been photographed.

The F-16 (bottom – highlighted) and the Su-27 are flying against each other. Both are on a left hand turn.

The two aircraft get closer in the merge.

The two jets almost overlap: the Su-27 is farther, the F-16 is closer to the camera.

The two jets continue to turn as they try to reach the “enemy” 6 o’clock

Here’s Phil’s report of the rare sighting:

“The date was November 8th, US election day, and the sighting was between 1500 and 1525.

I was visiting Nevada hoping to catch a glimpse of some of the latest defense programmes being tested.

On the Monday and Wednesday, Nellis Aggressor F-15s and F-16s were regularly overhead, dropping flares and sonic booms.  It was Tuesday afternoon when the skies went quiet for a couple of hours, and I hoped this may be a sign of something unusual being flown.

Eventually the sound of jet noise caught my attention, and I scanned the clear blue skies ’til I saw the tiny speck of an approaching military jet at high altitude, leaving an intermittent contrail.

It was instantly recognisable as a Russian built Sukhoi 27 Flanker, and carried no national insignia or identifying marks.

I took my camera out and photographed the ensuing dogfight between the Flanker and a F-16.  The sortie seemed to consist of a head on intercept, conducted at descending altitudes from 30 down to 20 thousand feet, and after each intercept a turning dogfight ensued after they had flashed past each other.

The highly manoeuvrable Flanker was a single seat version, a Su-27P, and it pulled out all of its best moves to get behind the F-16.

I watched in awe as the pair fought it out for 25 minutes before they both climbed to altitude and flew back into Groom Lake restricted airspace.

My scanner remained silent throughout the whole encounter.”

What they were testing is difficult to say. We can’t even be sure the Flanker was one of those reportedly flown from Groom or a privately owned one rented to perform some sort of testing. So all we can say is pure speculation.

Su-27 turning left

Bottom view of the Su-27

It was a daylight operation therefore, unless they were trying to assess the visual appearance of a Su-27 in standard Russian Air Force scheme under a specific angle at a certain altitude and so on, it was, most probably, something not related to a “black project” that would be carried out at night, when spotters (that have become a common presence around Area 51 and Tonopah Test Range) would find it hard to ID the types involved and understand what’s happening.

Su-27 turning towards the camera.

Can you ID what pod is this Su-27 carrying?

The daylight dogfight could be related to testing of a specific pod and sensor against a type of aircraft usually replicated by the Aggressors when involved in Red Flag exercises: the F-16s of the Aggressors Squadrons replicate the paint schemes, markings and insignas of their near peer adversaries. In 2014, Lt. Col. Kevin Gordon, 64th AGRS commander, explained the Su-27 Flanker was the type of aircraft they replicated when attacking a Blue Forces F-15 in what was the first time the Flanker was mentioned as an enemy aircraft.

Anyway, the U.S. armed forces have been operating MiG and Sukhoi jets for decades.

In the late 1960s, CIA, U.S. Air Force, Navy and several other agencies were involved in highly classified programs whose purpose was to evaluate MiG fighter jets and study the best ways to face them in air-to-air combat.

Among these programs, “Have Doughnut” was aimed at exploiting a MiG-21 Fishbed-E that the U.S. acquired in 1967 from Israel that had obtained it in Aug. 1966, when an Iraqi Air Force pilot flew it in Israel during a training sortie that was actually a pre-arranged defection.

Have Doughnut saw the MiG-21, using cover designation YF-110, fly over Groom Lake against F-4, F-105, F-111, F-100, F-104, B-66, RF-101, RF-4 and F-5 during offensive and defensive missions that gave the evaluation team the opportunity to assess the effectiveness of the U.S. air combat tactics.

Half a century after “Have Doughnut” some Russian planes, in this case a camo Su-27, are still used for some sort of testing and training in the U.S.

Su-27 side view.

By the way be sure to visit Phil Drake’s blog at http://area51trips.blogspot.co.uk.

It has some of the Sukhoi pictures, and also some of a Groom Lake MiG-29 taken in 2009!

Su-27 and the Moon

 

Image credit: Phil Drake

 

Salva

U.S. Air Force B-52 strategic bomber loses one engine over North Dakota

A USAF Stratofortress bomber lost one of its 8 engines 25 miles to the northeast of Minot AFB, North Dakota. Type to re-engine the Buff?

On Jan. 4, 2017, in a quite unusual incident, a B-52H belonging to the 5th Bomb Wing lost one Pratt & Whitney TF33 turbofan engine shortly after take off from Minot AFB, North Dakota.

According to DefenseNews, that broke the news, the aircraft, one of the 76 “Buffs” still in service with the U.S. Air Force, was flying a training mission with 5 crew members; the engine fell in an unpopulated area without causing damage on the ground and a UH-1N Huey helicopter was dispatched to the site for a survey.

Few details are available at the moment as the U.S. Air Force investigates the root cause of the issue.

For instance, it’s still not clear whether a single engine or an entire nacelle pod (housing two TF-33 engines) attached to one of the four underwing pylons detached from the plane. Anyway, the aircraft managed to return safely to Minot: the loss of one (or even two on the same pod) is not a big deal for an aircraft powered by 8 engines.

Nevertheless, the incident is likely to fuel debate about the B-52’s engine program. With a +60 year-long career, the B-52 is a still quite advanced and heavily weaponized “dinosaur” expected to remain in service until something around 2040, when it will be fully replaced by the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider.

Various options are known to have been considered so far, including an upgrade for the current TF-33 engines or their replacement with a different type: the Pratt PW2000 or other potential substitutes pitched by General Electric and Rolls-Royce that are likely to respond an eventual flying branch’s RFP.

Anyway it’s not the first time some part detaches from a U.S. Air Force aircraft mid-air: on Nov. 1, 2016, a U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender aerial refueler belonging to the 60th Air Mobility Wing was forced to perform an emergency landing at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, after losing its flying boom that fell in a hay-field.

 

Watch the B-2 Spirit Bomber’s Rose Bowl Flyover from two spectacular view points

A B-2 Stealth Bomber performing a flyover as seen from two unusual points of view. Way cool!

On Jan. 2, 2017, B-2 Spirit “Spirit of Kitty Hawk” with 509th Bomb Wing from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, opened the 103rd Rose Bowl Game game, between the Big Ten Conference Champion Penn State Nittany Lions and the Pac-12 Conference Champions the University of Washington Huskies, at the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, California with the traditional flyover.

The top air-to-air image showing the Stealth Bomber during the flyover (from above) was taken by Mark Holtzman, a photographer and pilot, founder of West Coast Aerial Photography, a company specialising in aerial photography based in Los Angeles.

Mark has been able to take some fantastic shots of the Rose Bowl flyovers from a plane: here are 2011 Rose Bowl flyover performed by U.S. Navy F/A-18s out of Lemoore; here’s 2009 Rose Bowl flyover by another B-2 and here you can see the 2016 flyover.

This year was much more difficult because of the clouds.

“If the B-2 had been 5 minutes earlier we would’ve been able to get it over the stadium, but the clouds came in right before,” Holtzman explained The Aviationist in an email.

Even though this year’s shot is not as crazy as those taken in the previous flyovers, it is still a cool photograph as you don’t happen to see a B-2 from above while flying over a city in L.A. county too often.

Here below you can watch the awesome footage filmed by Shorealone Films photographer Matt Hartman as the stealth bomber, serial 93-1086, radio callsign “Reaper 11” approached the Rose Bowl stadium through a pretty cloudy sky.

What makes the clip stunning, is that the flyover occurs at just about eye level (2,300 – 2,500 feet.)

By the way, it’s the same spot just off a small hiking trail in the hills above Pasadena, some 1.13 miles from the Rose Bowl, from where Matt took some incredible shots of the B-2 doing the 2015 Rose Bowl Game’s flyover we posted two years ago.

 

Salva

Salva

In 1986 U.S. President Ronald Reagan offered Britain the F-117 stealth jet

Recently declassified documents show that U.S. President Ronald Reagan offered UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher access to the American stealth technology.

Recently declassified documents from the British National Archives have exposed something interesting: back in 1986, the then President of the United States Ronald Reagan offered British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher a chance for transatlantic cooperation on Stealth technology.

As reported by the Guardian, under the name “Project Moonflower,” the former POTUS offered Downing Street a briefing on the Black Project and the opportunity for the U.S. and the UK to work together on it.

“Dear Margaret,” a 1986 US telegram obtained by the Guardian recorded, “I am delighted to hear that you will be able to see Cap [Casapar Weinberger, the US defence secretary] to discuss the special program I wrote you about … I look forward to receiving your reaction. Sincerely, Ron.”

But the UK turned down the chance to work with the U.S. stealth technology and acquire F-117 stealth jets, that had made their first flight in 1981 and would continue to secretly operate until they were revealed to the public in 1988, a couple of years before becoming famous during Desert Storm in Iraq.

Indeed, an MoD letter in December 1986 to Charles Powell, the prime minister’s foreign affairs adviser, informed him that “Mr Weinberger has offered us a chance to purchase the current US aircraft but we have replied that we would not wish to actually buy hardware while the programme remains strictly black [secret].

After the first offer was rejected a modified version of the baseline F-117 was reportedly offered to the UK’s Royal Air Force in 1995.

Believed to be dubbed F-117C, the British variant, was planned to be equipped with “B-2 type intakes, a F-22 type clear-view canopy, British avionics, F414 or EJ200 engines, plus a number of BAE structural components or sub-assemblies.

The aircraft, also referred to as the F-117A+ or F-117B (B for “British”) was being offered as a replacement for the Tornado GR4 and it is believed that this was the reason why some RAF pilots eventually flew the Nighthawk stealth jet before it was (somehow) retired in 2008.

Even though the stealth technology that made the F-117 invisible to radars was cutting edge back in the mid-80s, the Tornado GR4 has been a pretty successful weapon system that the Royal Air Force has extensively used in combat in all the conflicts and crisis support operations it has taken part in the last 20 years.

Meanwhile the first UK’s stealth has eventually arrived in the form of a much controversial Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.

 

Salva

Salva

Salva

This is the best video of the U.S. Air Force’s last active duty F-4 Phantom II jets final flight

The U.S. Air Force F-4 Phantom II took its final flight, after more than 50 years of service, at Holloman Air Force Base on Dec. 21. And here’s the best 4K video of the Phantom “Pharewell” we’ve found so far.

The following video was filmed at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, on Dec. 21, during the final flight with the U.S. Air Force of the legendary F-4 Phantom.

As explained by Skyes9, the user who posted it on Youtube, the long footage shows the start-up, taxi out, and fly by of the F-4s, followed by water cannon salute and then shut down of the USAF McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II.

Interestingly, it also shows (actually, it lets you hear) the double “sonic boom” caused by two Phantoms flying overhead.

Lt. Col. Ronald King, the only active duty U.S. Air Force F-4 pilot flew AF 349, the last QF-4 Phantom II in the USAF story.

“This has been a humbling experience,” said King, the Det. 1, 82nd Aerial Target Squadron commander in an Air Force release. “There is no way to truly understand what this aircraft has done without talking to the people who lived it.”

In 53 years of service, the Phantom set 15 world records, including aircraft speed – 1,606 miles per hour – and absolute altitude – 98,557 feet. Moreover, it has been the only aircraft to be flown by both the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels.

Nicknamed Double Ugly, Old Smokey and the Rhino, the aircraft was retired from the active service in 1997. However, it continued to serve with the flying branch: re-designated the QF-4 and assigned to the 82nd ATS, 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group, 53rd Wing, at Holloman, the QF-4 has flown as manned and unmanned aerial target until Dec. 21, 2016.

During its service as an aerial target, the QF-4 has helped test an array of weapons that have contributed improving 4th and 5th generation fighters and weapons systems.

It flew its last unmanned mission in August 2016 and will be replaced by the QF-16 in 2017.

Air Combat Command declared initial operational capability for its replacement, the QF-16 full-scale aerial target, that has been flying with the 82nd ATRS, based at Tyndall AFB, Florida, since September 2014, on Sept. 23: therefore the QF-4 flown by the 82nd ATRS Det. 1 at Holloman AFB were retired on Dec. 21.

Whilst unmanned operations ended in September, the last unmanned mission in a threat representative configuration was flown on Aug. 17, 2016, “against” an F-35 Lightning II.

During that sortie, the Vietnam-era remotely piloted aircraft was shot at by the F-35 Lightning II with two AIM-120 AMRAAMs (advanced medium range air-to-air missiles). However, the aircraft was not destroyed in the test (read more about the final sortie “against” two AIM-120Cs fired by a Joint Strike Fighter here.)

On  Oct. 25 two USAF QF-4Es made flew through the famous “Star Wars Canyon” (Jedi Transition) in Death Valley, CA, during a transit from NAS Point Mugu, CA to Hill AFB, UT.

The final F-4 Phantom appearance at an airshow occurred during Nellis Air Force Base’s Aviation Nation air show, on Nov. 12 and 13.

Although they don’t fly with the USAF anymore, other air arms around the world still operate the F-4 Phantom, including the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force,; the Turkish Air Force, whose F-4s have had a role in the coup attempt last July; South Korea’s ROKAF (Republic of Korea Air Force), that has also employed the Phantoms to stage Elephant Walks “against” the North; and the Hellenic Air Force.

 

Salva