Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force

U.S. F-22 Raptors Forward Deploy To Albacete Air Base For The Very First Time To Train With The Spanish Typhoons and Hornets

Here are some interesting details about the Advanced Aerial Training exercise that took place at Albacete Air Base, Spain, last week.

On Aug. 16, 2018, two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors from the 95th Fighter Squadron, 325th Fighter Wing, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, conducted the Raptor’s first forward deployment to Albacete, Spain.

The 5th generation aircraft, launched from  Spangdahlem, Germany, where they are currently deployed as part of a contingent of 12 F-22s, were refuelled in front of the Spanish Mediterranean Coast (Area D21) by a 100th Air Refueling Wing KC-135, radio callsign QID 424, out of RAF Mildenhall and then headed towards Area D98 for the dogfight with the Spanish Eurofighters and F-18 Hornets.

Accompanied by a Typhoon, the F-22 approaches the break overhead Albacete (All photos: Jorge Portales).

According to the Spanish Aviation Journalist and Photographer Jorge Portalés Alberola there were 2 different WVR (Within Visual Range) dogfights: the first one was a 1 vs 2 between an F-22 and 2x Eurofighters from Ala 14 based at Albacete; the second one involved the other Raptor and one F-18 Hornet from Ala 12 (122 Squadron) – actually this second aerial engagement was slated to be a 1 vs 2 scenario but one of the Hornets aborted.

F-22 touches down at Albacete.

For the Spanish Air Force, this exercise represented an excellent opportunity for instruction and training that allows a joint assessment of the capabilities of the three aircraft in a demanding tactical environment. It also improves the integration and interoperability of 5th generation aircraft such as the American F22 with rest of allied fighters. And, in some way, it prepares Albacete, home of the Tactical Leadership Program, to the first attendance by a 5th Generation aircraft: the F-35A. Indeed, the Lightning II is a 5th generation fighter plane that will enter service has already entered the active service (or will, in the next years) with several European air forces: Italy, UK, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands (and Turkey?) so it is logical that it participates in the TLP training missions.

F-22 on the ramp at Los Llanos airport in Albacete.

This year, the F-35 will take part in the TLP for the first time as the course moves for an iteration to Amendola, Italy, home of the Italian Lightnings. Beginning from the end of 2019, it is already planned for the 5th generation aircraft to take part in “standard” TLP courses held at Albacete.

H/T to Jorge Portalés Alberola for providing many details and all the photographs used for this story!

T-38C Talon II Crashes at Vance AFB, in Oklahoma; Pilot Safely Ejected.

Accident is Third T-38 Crash in Ten Months for Talon II, Continues Series of U.S. Accidents.

A U.S. Air Force Northrop T-38C Talon II crashed on Friday, August 17, 2018 near Vance AFB 90 miles northwest of Oklahoma City in Enid, Oklahoma. One Instructor Pilot (the only crewmember) ejected from the aircraft and is reported in stable condition without serious injuries according to local media reports. The accident occurred at approximately 3:30 PM local time.

The aircraft belonged to either the 5th Flying Training Squadron, the “Spitten Kittens” or the 25th Flying Training Squadron, the “Shooters” of the 71st Flying Training Wing of the Air Education and Training Command.

The Northrop T-38C Talon II is a two-seat, twin engine, advanced supersonic jet trainer used for Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training (SUPT) for U.S. Air Force pilots making the transition to high performance tactical combat aircraft after basic pilot training.

The T-38 family of advanced trainers is the first-ever supersonic jet trainer. It first flew in April, 1959. Another, single seat version of the aircraft called the Northrop F-5 are used as lightweight, multirole combat aircraft by air forces around the world. An advanced version of the F-5 called the F-20 Tigershark was proposed but never adopted.

The T-38 Talon training jet crashed about 50 miles west of the base, according to a statement released by USAF Tech. Sgt. Erik Cardenas of the 71st Flying Training Wing. No cause for the accident has been given. As with all Air Force flying accidents the cause of the accident will be subject to an official investigation. The weather around the approximate time of the crash in the Enid, Oklahoma area is reported to have been near 80° Fahrenheit, partly cloudy with winds of 13 MPH.

Yesterday’s crash of another T-38 Talon advanced trainer brings the total of crashes in T-38s to three in less than one year. Another T-38C Talon II crashed near Columbus AFB, Mississippi approximately 9 miles north of the city of Columbus on May 23, 2018. Prior to that crash a U.S. Air Force T-38 crashed on Monday, November 20, 2017 outside Lake Amistad, Texas, killing the pilot.

The series of three T-38 accidents continues a trend of U.S. military aviation accidents. There have been eight U.S. Air Force crashes since the beginning of the year including a USAF F-15C Eagle that crashed near Japan on June 11, 2018 and the June 22, 2018 crash of an Embraer A-29 Super Tucano participating the Light Attack Experiment near Holloman AFB. This latest Air Force accident brings the total number of U.S. military aviation crashes in 2018 to 13.

Earlier this year, US Air Force Chief of Staff, General David L. Goldfein ordered all USAF flying and maintenance wings to carry out a one day safety stand-down for an operational review following the increase in flying accidents. While no single contributing factor for the frequency of U.S. military and USAF accidents has been cited, the trend in accidents appears to remain consistent based on Friday’s accident.

Top: A file photo of a USAF T-38 Talon similar to the aircraft that crashed at Vance AFB. (Photo: USAF)

These Shots Show 388th FW’s F-35A Using the Internal Cannon For The First Time In Operational Training

The internal 25mm cannon fires up to 50 rounds per second.

On Aug. 13, pilots from the 388th Fighter Wing’s 4th Fighter Squadron fired the F-35A’s 25 mm internal cannon in a strafing run on two sets of ground targets on the Utah Test and Training range. It was the first use of the F-35A’s GAU-22/A in operational training.

The shots that the U.S. Air Force has released after the training event are particularly interesting, as they show the internal gun at work:  the GAU-22 gun is hidden behind closed doors to reduce the plane’s RCS (radar cross section) and keep it stealth, until the trigger is engaged.

The F-35’s GAU-22/A is based on the proven GAU-12/A 25mm cannon, used by the AV-8B Harrier, the LAV-AD amphibious vehicle and AC-130U Gunship, but has one less barrel than its predecessor. This means it’s lighter and can fit into the F-35A’s left shoulder above the air intake. The gun can fire at about 3,300 rounds per minute: considered the A model can hold 181 rounds only, this equals to a continuous 4 seconds burst or, more realistic, multiple short ones.

One of the two 388th Fighter Wing’s 4th Fighter Squadron F-35s involved in the strafing runs with the GAU-22.

The F-35 GAU-22/A gun has been among the most controversial topics in the past years:  not only did some criticise the fact that the Joint Strike Fighter’s gun can only hold 181 25mm rounds, fewer than the A-10 Thunderbolt’s GAU-8/A Avenger, that can hold some 1,174 30mm rounds, but also the accuracy has been disputed because of “a long and to-the-right aiming bias” reported in fiscal year 2017 report by the Office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E). It’s not clear whether the accuracy issues have been completely fixed or not.

Noteworthy, the training sortie was flown with the aircraft carrying two external pylons (with a single inert AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile).

While the F-35A will be equipped with an embedded GAU-22/A gun, the B (STOVL – Short Take Off Vertical Landing) and C (CV – Carrier Variant) variants carry it inside an external pod capable to hold 220 rounds.

“Out!”

According to the 388th FW’s website “Loading and firing the cannon was one of the few capabilities Airmen in the 388th and 419th FWs had yet to demonstrate. The F-35A’s internal cannon allows the aircraft to maintain stealth against air adversaries as well as fire more accurately on ground targets, giving pilots more tactical flexibility.”

Image credit: Air Force photo by Todd Cromar

 

U.S. F-22 Raptors Deploy to Poland To Take Part in the Armed Forces Day Parade Over Warsaw

U.S. Air Force F-22 deployed to Poland.

Five jets USAF F-22s have arrived at Powidz Airbase, Poland, this week.

On Aug. 15, along with a C-130J that acted as a camera-ship, four stealth aircraft celebrated the 100th Anniversary of Polish Independence and Armed Forces Day by participating in a multi-aircraft flyover in Warsaw (most probably, the fifth F-22 was a spare aircraft). The jets made a forward hop to Powidz from Spangdahlem, where they have been deployed recently to participate in a number of exercises in the region.

The USAF F-22s are deployed to Europe for theater familiarization and to conduct interoperability training with NATO aircraft. (All images: Jacek Siminski).

According to unofficial information Raptors would also be engaged in some training sorties and possibly engagements, with the Polish F-16 jets.

The rumor suggesting that the American fighters would be involved in the Polish Air Force’s centenary in Radom next week has been denied by one of the officials involved in organization of the show we’ve been speaking to; however the Poles are still hoping that USAF Europe will make a contribution, in a form of 5th Gen. jets, at the event in Radom.

Close up view of one of the Raptors deployed to Poland.

We’re attending the Radom Air Show next week and we’re going to provide you with a relevant report. We also had our photo contributors at the Warsaw event, so we’re hoping to provide you with a report on the Polish Armed Forces Day too.

We Talk to Former Quick Reaction Alert Pilot About How The U.S. Air Force Responds to a Stolen Aircraft

Questions Remain in Stolen Airliner Crash: How Could It Happen? What is The Response?

Nearly 17 years after the 9/11 terror attacks the bizarre stolen aircraft, intercept and crash incident in Washington state on Friday raises serious concerns not only about airline safety but about national security.

How could a person – who is not a pilot- simply take a civilian airliner parked on the ground, get it into the air and create a serious national security risk? What does the Air Force do in an incident like this? And most urgently, after nearly two decades of taking our shoes off at TSA security checks, how could this have ever happened?

As information about the aircraft theft and crash in Washington continues to emerge there remain more questions than answers. In the wake of Friday’s incident TheAviationist.com spoke to two sources inside the airline service/security industry and the U.S. military about the incident and the security countermeasures to prevent incidents like this. We also asked about the U.S. military response to stolen/hijacked aircraft once they get in the air and their level of readiness to respond with lethal force to such an incident. Because both sources we spoke to continue to work in these fields and for the U.S. military they agreed to speak to us only on condition of anonymity.

In late 2016, this reporter visited a flight service provider at Detroit’s Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW). We were given a tour of flight line services provided to airline aircraft that included maintenance and aircraft interior cleaning, sanitation servicing (pumping out aircraft toilets after flights), ground traffic control and most significantly, security.

F-15C Rock 41 departing PDX (Image credit: Bill Shemley)

During our visit to Detroit’s Metro Airport we were notified in advance to park off the airport grounds in an outer lot and use an employee shuttle to enter the flight line service facility. We were required to provide both photo ID and clearance from an authorized person to board the bus used by employees to reach the flight line service provider’s building. Inside the facility, we were required to wear a “guest” ID tab and be escorted by a security badge holder at all times, including restroom visits. Each entry door we used to move from passenger spaces within the airport terminal to the service spaces required a card swipe and/or a security code. Each of these entries is logged in a central security system. Once past the security screen the area was full of employees performing everything from updating a massive spreadsheet that contained all aircraft movement in the airport to ground traffic control. Employees also moved massive volumes of prepared meals to airliners for passengers in flight. Trash was emptied from airliners and trucked off lift vehicles you see from the boarding gates. Chemical toilets on airliners were pumped out and cleaned.

As an ongoing part of security protocols and readiness testing the Transportation Security Administration was conducting unannounced tests of aircraft cleaners and their managers. The TSA would conceal false explosive devices on an airliner prior to cleaning and then covertly observe if the simulated bombs were detected by cleaning crews. In an alarming outcome, our source revealed that there had been numerous failures on the part of contracted aircraft maintenance and cleaning services to locate these simulated bombs. As a result, the contracted service provider at the airport was put on official notice of corrective action. Immediately following our inspection and orientation of the facility and the service provider, several upper level management terminations occurred as a direct result of the failures of these tests in 2016. One upper level employee, our contact, left the airline service industry for a position in financial security following the security test failures in 2016 at DTW.

Based on our examination of airport service provider security protocols, while there were substantial security measures in place including background checks and drug tests for employees, security badges and secure entryways that required a coded entry, all under video surveillance, there were still security breaches among the airport service providers on a fairly regular basis. The TSA maintained a database of the security tests and put the contracted service providers on notice when they failed security tests. This resulted in high employee turnover.

But what happens once the systems on the ground fail and an aircraft is able to get into an airspace without authorization?

We spoke to a former U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot and combat veteran who stood the domestic airspace alert mission in the United States. Because of continuing affiliation with the U.S. armed forces, he agreed to speak to us on condition of anonymity.

Rock 42 scrambling from PDX (Image: Bill Shemley).

We asked our source within the armed forces if fighter aircraft responding to alert intercept calls carry live weapons:

“Aircraft are loaded with live AIM-9M and AIM-120B/C weapons. [There is a] full load of 20-millimeter cannon as well. There are thresholds for launching aircraft based on the unidentified tracks crossing borders or certain types of distress calls including hijacking or stolen airplanes. Likely the aircraft were launched with very little knowledge, potentially only that an uncleared aircraft took off. NORAD orders alert launches. Authorization to release an aircraft like that is typically in order to save lives or stop an attack once other attempts to communicate with the aircraft have failed. If that aircraft is turned toward a population center it would likely have been engaged. That engagement call comes from NORAD, at the O-7 (Brigadier General) level.”

Our source went to say, “It was a fun mission to take off in an instant and blitz across the desert supersonic at god-knows-what. But the responsibilities of what we may have to do was very heavy.”

Pilots flying fighter aircraft in the U.S. on alert for unresponsive aircraft are typically armed according to our USAF source. (Photo: White House via ABC)

On February 16, 2017, just such an intercept occurred over European airspace. A Jet Airways Boeing 777-300 with registration VT-JEX operating as flight 9W-118 from Mumbai, India to London’s Heathrow airport was underway at 36,000 feet (FL360) about 20 miles north of Cologne, Germany when the aircraft lost radio communication with controllers. It was intercepted by two German Luftwaffe Eurofighter Typhoons aircraft due to loss of communication.

Following the 2017 incident, a Jet Airways spokesperson told media in a release: “Contact between Jet Airways flight 9W 118, from Mumbai to London Heathrow, of February 16, 2017, and the local ATC, was briefly lost while flying over German airspace. Communication was safely restored within a few minutes. As a precaution, the German Air Force deployed its aircraft to ensure the safety of the flight and its guests.” Airline officials went on to report that, “The flight with 330 guests and 15 crew subsequently landed at London without incident.”

Similar episodes occur quite frequently in the skies all around the world. In Italy, for instance, there were as many as 8 scrambles of the Italian Air Force QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) Eurofighter Typhoons, due to loss of communication by civilian/general aviation aicraft since the beginning of July alone!

In another recent incident related to military aircraft flying armed security patrol missions a Spanish Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft accidentally fired (at least according to the details emerged so far – it’s not clear whether it “just” released) an AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) while flying near Otepää in Estonia, less than 50 km west of the Russian border.

In the case of Friday’s theft of an empty 76-seat, twin-engine turboprop Bombardier Q400, belonging to Alaska Airlines’ sister carrier Horizon Air, the aircraft may not have flown near population centers long enough to present a risk that required armed intervention from responding F-15s. Additionally, the person who took the Alaska Airlines Q400 was in communication with controllers and appeared to not openly demonstrate a terrorist agenda. Had they done so, it is possible the outcome of the incident may have included the Q400 being engaged by the responding F-15s.

The threat posed by aircraft being stolen from airports is clearly significant as evidenced by Friday’s incident. Perhaps a greater risk comes from general aviation aircraft and not large commercial aircraft. These aircraft are easy to access and bit easier to operate. Even the commercial, twin-engine turboprop Bombardier Q400 stolen on Friday could be flown by a “pilot” who, based on reports, had only practiced operating the aircraft on a home computer flight simulator. Similar home computer simulators were known to have been used by the 9/11 attackers according to the 9/11 Commission Report issued in July, 2004.

As of 2009, the CIA reported that there were approximately 44,000 “… airports or airfields recognizable from the air” around the world, including 15,095 in the US. Of these flight facilities, there are 5,194 with paved runways. The U.S. has about a third of all airports, and the most of any single country. According to the Airplane Owner’s and Pilot’s Association (AOPA) there are approximately 20,000 airfields in the U.S. without a control tower and only about 500 airports with control towers. Airfields without a control tower are still subject to air traffic control, but from a facility usually located away from the airfield.

In 2010, the Discovery Channel began airing a television reality show called “Airplane Repo” produced by Undertow Films. The show features often reenacted and dramatized stories about aircraft and boats that are being repossessed from debtors by a cast of specialty pilots and private recovery persons who “steal” the airplanes back for banks, creditors and private individuals. Aircraft shown in the series are frequently commandeered without authorization or clearance and flown out of small general aviation airports. In one episode, a helicopter was repossessed by being flown off the rooftop of a high-rise building. Another featured an aircraft repossessed in Mexico and being flown without clearance back into the United States. The producers claim the show depicts actual events that are often re-staged by actors for the series. A key takeaway from the documentary series, that ran on the Discovery Channel for three full seasons until 2015, and from Friday’s incident in Washington state, is that aircraft in the United States are not as secure as they perhaps should be.

“Airplane Repo” was a television reality show aired on the Discovery Channel that claimed to dramatize how easy it may be to repossess aircraft without authorization and get them into the air. (Photo: Discovery Channel)

Top image: Rock 42 scrambles from Portland to intercept the stolen Q400 on Aug. 10, 2018 (Credit: Bill Shemley)