Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force

Here’s the High Speed Test Track The U.S. Air Force Uses To Perform Simulated Ejections Of Anthropomorphic Test Devices

The 10-mile long Holloman High Speed Test Track (HHSTT) is a United States Air Force aerospace ground test facility used to perform a various variety of tests, including simulated ejections.

Located at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, and operated by the 846th Test Squadron, the HHSTT is one of the world’s longest tracks, used to perfom tests in a realistic scenario, where a special sled can be launched at speeds in excess of 9,000 feet per second, that is around Mach 8.6 calculating for altitude!

A recent article published by Airman, the official magazine of the United States Air Force, shed some light on the activities carried out at the HHSTT whose mission is “to provide a cost-effective, realistic, dynamic test environment for the entire acquisition community, including the DoD, and contractors. As a ground-based test facility, the HHSTT provides a cost-effective, controlled test environment for high-speed weapons, systems, and components.”

Ejection seat tests are no longer carried out with humans. The last pilot to ride a rocket-propelled sled was Col. John Paul Stapp, who earned the title “the fastest man on Earth” at Holloman on December 10, 1954, to a land speed record of 632 mph in five seconds: during the test, Stapp decelerated in 1.4 seconds, which equaled 46.2 Gs, the greatest g-load ever sustained by a man. His eyes were flooded with blood and although he ragained most of his normal vision on the next day, he lost his eyesight forever.

Nowadays, tests are carried out with full-scale hi-tech mannequins, dubbed ATDs (Anthropomorphic Test Devices) that simulate the dimensions, weight proportions and articulation of the human body, and embed sensors that record data about the dynamic behavior of the ATD in simulated ejections. The collected data is then analysed and complemented with high-speed imagery and footage (like the one below) so that scientists can assess the outcome of the test.

“With a human you’re going to have to conduct a post-testing examination and then look at variables from human to human, where if you can put all the instrumentation on board a mannequin you can get all that data,” said. Lt. Col. Jason Vap, commander of the 846th Test Squadron at Holloman AFB, to Airman’s Master Sgt. Brian Ferguson for the article titled “Staying on track“. “You can take that one step further and figure out what you need to do to your seat design, or perhaps a helmet design, or your flight gear to mitigate problems. Those are things that you are only going to get from a highly instrumented mannequin. Not from post-test examination of an individual or examining what kind of pains that they suffered from that.”

Take some time to watch the following video for more details on the activities at HHSTT. By the way, the goal speed is Mach 10, not surprising, considered the U.S. Air Force is working on hypersonic missiles and aircraft

U.S. Air Force A-10 Attack Aircraft Practice Landings And Take Offs From Rural Highway And Austere Runway In Estonia

U.S. A-10s Thunderbolt II aircraft deployed to Europe to take part in Sabre Strike 18 have conducted “rough field training” in Estonia.

Thanks to its engines mounted far from the surface of the runway, the A-10 attack aircraft is practically immune to FOD (Foreign Object Damage) caused by debris flying up from unprepared runways. For this reason, the Warthog (one of the most popular A-10 nicknames) often practice austere landing and take off operations, especially when they are deployed to eastern Europe, a theater that is scattered with highway strips as well as abandoned Warsaw Pact military airfields, which have not been in use since the Cold War, that are perfectly suited for such kind of training.

Since the beginning of the month, eight A-10C from the 107th Fighter Squadron, from Selfridge ANGB Michigan, have deployed to Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia, to take part in Exercise Saber Strike 18, “a longstanding U.S. Army Europe-led cooperative training, designed to enhance readiness and interoperability among allies and regional partners.”

On a rural highway in northern Estonia, a pilot flies an A-10 Thunderbolt II attached to the 107th Fighter Squadron, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., from Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia, to practice landings and take offs, during the Exercise Saber Strike 18 on June 7, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. David Kujawa)

In order to test and train unimproved surface operations while training with NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battlegroups, on Jun. 7, the A-10’s have practiced operations on Jägala-Käravete Highway in Jägala, a rural highway in northern Estonia. That is the very same unprepared landing strip where, on Aug. 10, 2017, one of the A-10C (assigned to the 104th Fighter Squadron, Maryland Air National Guard) hit and damaged a road sign while performing landing and take off training.

U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II, assigned to 107th Fighter Squadron, Selfridge, Mich., practice landing at Haapsalu, Estonia, during Saber Strike 18 June 7, 2018. The aircraft is loaded with dummy bomblets and a Litening targeting pod (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Bobbie Reynolds)

The training also involved practice landing on a un-operational, austere runway in Haapsalu, Estonia.

Two U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to 107th Fighter Squadron, Selfridge, Mich., practice landing on a un-operational, austere runway in Haapsalu, Estonia (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Bobbie Reynolds)

Interestingly, among the aircraft conducting the austere landing operations in Estonia there as also the special-colored A-10C 81-0994/MI, that commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the Red Devils of the 107th Fighter Squadron, with a livery inspired to the P-51 (F-6A) of the 107th TRS, that flew the Mustang over Normandy during WWII. Before deploying to Latvia, this aircraft, from RAF Mildenhall, flew over the beaches of Normandy, France, as part of the commemoration ceremonies for D-Day 74.

The special colored A-10C Thunderbolt II #81-0994 practice landing on a un-operational, austere runway in Haapsalu, Estonia, during Saber Strike 18 June 7, 2018. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Bobbie Reynolds)

 

USAF F-15C Eagle Down Off Kadena, Japan: Pilot Rescued.

Condition of Pilot Unknown Following Rescue. It’s the sixth USAF crash since the beginning of 2018.

A USAF F-15C Eagle belonging to the 18th Wing at Kadena AB, Okinawa has crashed into the ocean off Okinawa, Japan, at approximately 0640 Hrs. Monday morning, June 11, 2018 Okinawa local time. According to the Japan Times the aircraft went down about 80 km south of Naha, capital of the Okinawa prefecture.

Reports indicate the pilot ejected from the aircraft prior to impact. The pilot was rescued at sea following his ejection by a Japanese Self-Defense Force helicopter. The condition of the single aircrew onboard the F-15C Eagle has not been released.

The 18th Wing at Kadena AFB is home to two F-15C/D Eagle fighter squadrons, the 44th Fighter Squadron, the “Vampire Bats” and the 67th Fighter Squadron, the “Fighting Cocks”. It is unclear which squadron the F-15C involved in Monday’s crash came from.

In an earlier incident five years ago on May 28, 2013, another USAF F-15C Eagle crashed off Kadena. In that crash, an investigation revealed that;

“The cause of the accident was the aircraft failing to respond to the pilot’s flight control inputs due to a failure in the aircraft’s hydro-mechanical flight control system. Additionally, the Pitch Roll Channel Assembly provided inputs to the flight control surfaces not commanded by the aircraft pilot. The investigation also found by a preponderance of evidence that the pilot had limited time for malfunction analysis and a lack of simulator emergency procedure training for the malfunction in the hydro-mechanical flight control system also substantially contributed to the accident.”

In the 2013 accident the pilot also ejected from the aircraft and survived. Obviously there is currently no evidence that the two crashes are related. The cause of the accident Monday morning in Okinawa is unknown pending an official USAF investigation.

In November of 2007, all USAF F-15 aircraft were grounded after a Missouri Air National Guard F-15C came apart in flight and crashed on November 2, 2007. The 2007 accident was found to be a result of a defect in the aircraft’s upper right longeron. The upper right longeron is a structural component in the fuselage that provides strength to the area where the cockpit and the fuselage meet. Following the November, 2007 crash, a January 10, 2008 report indicated that nine additional F-15s were found to have similar structural problems. The failure of the upper right fuselage longeron originated from a defect in manufacturing according to the official report.

At the time of the 2007 incident, a story filed by USAF Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski quoted USAF (then) Col. William Wignall, head of the accident investigation as saying that, “We’ve had great involvement from Boeing during the investigation. In fact, they’re the ones who determined the longeron was the problem. This was then confirmed by the Air Force Research Laboratory.”

But USAF General John D.W. Corley, then-commander of Air Combat Command, went on to report in 2007 that, “The difficulty is that issues have been found with F-15s built between 1978 and 1985, across A through D models at several bases, so no one source of the problem can be isolated. This isn’t just about one pilot in one aircraft with one bad part. I have a fleet that is 100 percent fatigued, and 40 percent of that has bad parts. The long-term future of the F-15 is in question.”

In April of 2018, Boeing was awarded a modification to an existing contract for F-15 modernization that includes an upgrade to the Raytheon AN/APG-82(V) radar. According to a Defense Industry Daily report the contract called for, “Work on 29 Group A and Group B kits, spares, fuel tanks and other equipment and services.” The upgrade contract was valued at $187M USD. It is unclear if any part of the new contract applies to structural elements of the F-15 Eagle.

The McDonnell-Douglas/Boeing F-15C Eagle is a twin-engine, single seat air superiority fighter first flown in 1972. The aircraft is in service with several air forces including the U.S., Japan, Saudi Arabia and Israel. The F-15C Eagle and the two-seat variants including the F-15E Strike Eagle, have been extremely successful combat aircraft with an impressive record in operational use.

The F-15C crash on Jun. 11 is the sixth U.S. Air Force (eleventh U.S. military aviation) since the beginning of the year. The most recent ones involved a WC-130H from the 156th Airlift Wing from Puerto Rico ANG that crashed near Chatham City, Georgia on May 2, 2018, causing 9 deaths and a T-38 that crashed 9 miles north of the city of Columbus on May 23, 2018. In the latter event, the pilots managed to eject.

Top image: File Photo of an F-15C Eagle as it releases flares. (Credit: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

 

Report: USAF Grounds B-1B Lancer Bomber Fleet Pending Safety Investigation

Global Strike Command Issues Safety Stand-Down Following Texas In-Flight Emergency And Ejection Seat Issue.

The U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command has issued a “safety stand-down” of its B-1B Lancer bomber fleet late Thursday.

The safety stand-down, official language for the grounding of an aircraft type, was ordered after a B-1B Lancer made an emergency landing following an “engine failure” at Midland International Air and Space Port between Midland and Odessa, Texas, on May 1, 2018.

According to the Global Strike Command release, dated June 7, 2018, the reason for the safety stand-down is, “An issue with ejection seat components was discovered that necessitated the stand-down.” The statement goes on to read, “As these issues are resolved, these aircraft will return to flight.”

A copy of the Air Force release from June 7, 2018 grounding B-1Bs.

This type-specific safety stand-down of the B-1B heavy bomber follows a one-day operational safety review ordered by USAF Chief of Staff General David L. Goldfein directed to all Air Force wings with flying and maintenance functions to be completed by May 21, 2018.

The May 1, 2018 incident over Texas involved B-1B Lancer 86-0109/DY, “Spectre”, built in 1986 according to sources. The aircraft was part of a two-ship B-1B flight that originated from Dyess AFB. Sources claim that the crew experienced, “An over wing fairing (OWF) fire indication on the fire warning panel climbing out of low level, followed by a #3 engine fire indication.”

According to the unofficial source who spoke to TheAviationist.com on condition of anonymity, “The aircraft commander called for manual ejection.” The source told TheAviationist.com that the B-1B’s offensive systems operator was the first to attempt ejection from the aircraft. Photos of the aircraft on the ground support this information since the escape hatch over the offensive systems operator station is missing from the aircraft. The source goes on to report, “The [ejection] seat did not go up the rails.”, meaning the escape system did not function normally.

While no official report has been issued surrounding the cause and specific events of the May 1, 2018 incident, sources close to the investigation have hailed the B-1B flight pilot in command and crew as “heroic” for saving the aircraft and the lives of all on board.

“Two US Air Force officials told CNN that although B-1s are currently deployed to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan would not be impacted.”

Two B-1s from Dyess AFB are also deployed to RAF Fairford to take part in BALTOPS 2018 exercise. It’s still not clear whether the grounding involves these two Lancers as well.

Two B-1Bs from @DyessAFBase, Texas, dropped 12 inert Mark 62 Quickstrike mines in support of in #BALTOPS2018. Including bombers in the #BALTOPS allows crews to integrate and train with other @US_EUCOM components, while exercising the U.S.’s key bomber capabilities.

The B-1B Lancer, nicknamed the “Bone”, is a four-engine, supersonic, variable-geometry swept wing heavy bomber capable of Mach 1.2. The aircraft first flew in December 1974 but the program was plagued by politics and budget concerns until it was eventually cancelled in 1977 during the Carter administration. The program was later restored under the Reagan administration in 1981.

Top image: composite image made of photos appeared on various social media from the May 1, 2018 B-1B emergency landing in Texas.

The Time I Found a Formerly Top Secret D-21 Supersonic Drone in the Arizona Desert

In the Back Lot of the Pima Air & Space Museum You Can Discover History.

1547 Hrs. December 20, 2009. In the Back Storage Yard of the Pima Air & Space Museum Outside Tucson, Arizona.

Most of what is lying around in the dusty expanse of the aircraft graveyards around Tucson, Arizona is readily identifiable and not entirely remarkable.

Ejection seats from old F-4 Phantoms. An old CH-53 helicopter hulk. An interesting find over there is a fuselage section of a Soviet-era MiG-23 Flogger. No idea how it got here. Other than that, it’s just long rows of old, broken, silent airplanes inside high fences surrounded by cactus, dust, sand and more sand. An errant aileron on a dead wing clunks quietly against the hot afternoon breeze as if willing itself back into the air. But like everything here, its days of flying are over.

But there… What is that strange, manta-ray shaped, dusty black thing lying at an angle just on the other side of that fence? It may be an old airfield wind vane or radar test model. But it also may be…

Once I found an opening in the fence I could walk right up to the D-21. It had been recovered by the museum from the AMARG Boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB and was awaiting restoration. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

I had only read about it and seen grainy photos of it. I know it’s impossible. The project was so secret not much information exists about the details even today. But I stand there gawking through the chain link fence as the ruins of the other planes bear silent witness. It’ like the corpses of the other airplanes are urging me to look closer. To not leave. Their silent dignity begs me to tell this story.

After nearly a minute of studying it through the fence I realize; I am right. It is right before my eyes. Ten feet away. Despite the 100-degree heat I get goosebumps. And I start running.

I quickly locate a spot where the entire fence line opens up. I skirt the fence and in a couple minutes running around the sandy airplane corpses I’m inside. There, sitting right in front of me on its decrepit transport cart and dusted with windblown sand, abandoned in the Sonoran Desert, is one of Kelly Johnson and Ben Rich’s most ambitious classified projects from the fabled Lockheed Skunk Works.

A previously classified photo of the Lockheed D-21 drone at the Skunkworks manufacturing facility. (Photo: Lockheed)

I just found the CIA’s ultra-secret Mach 3.3+ D-21 long-range reconnaissance drone. The D-21 was so weird, so ambitious, so unlikely it remains one of the most improbable concepts in the history of the often-bizarre world of ultra-secret “black” aviation projects. And now it lies discarded in the desert. The story behind it is so bizarre it is difficult to believe, but it is true.

July 30, 1966: Flight Level 920 (92,000 ft.), Mach 3.25, Above Point Mugu Naval Air Missile Test Center, Off Oxnard, California.

Only an SR-71 Blackbird is fast enough and can fly high enough to photograph this, the most classified of national security tests. Traveling faster than a rifle bullet at 91,000 feet, near inner-space altitude, one of the most ambitious and bizarre contraptions in the history of mankind is about to be tested.

“Tagboard” is its codename. Because of the catastrophic May, 1960 shoot-down of Francis Gary Powers’ Lockheed U-2 high altitude spy plane over the Soviet Union the CIA and is in desperate need of another way to spy on the rising threat of communist nuclear tests. Even worse, the other “Red Menace”, the Chinese, are testing massive hydrogen bombs in a remote location of the Gobi Desert near the Mongolian/Chinese border. It would be easier to observe the tests if the Chinese did them on the moon.

The goal is simple, but the problem is titanic. Get photos of the top-secret Red Chinese hydrogen bomb tests near the Mongolian border deep inside Asia, then get them back, without being detected.

Lockheed Skunkworks boss Kelly Johnson and an elite, ultra-classified small team of aerospace engineers have built an aircraft so far ahead of its time that even a vivid imagination has difficulty envisioning it.

Flat, triangular, black, featureless except for its odd plan form as viewed from above, like a demon’s cloak, it has a sharply pointed nose recessed into a forward-facing orifice. That’s it. No canopy, no cockpit, no weapons. Nothing attached to the outside. Even more so than a rifle bullet its shape is smooth and simple. This is the ultra-secret D-21 drone.

An Air Force photo of the D-21 mounted on the M-21 launch aircraft. The M-21 launch aircraft was a special variant of the SR-71 Blackbird. Only two were produced. (Photo: USAF)

The D-21 is truly a “drone”, not a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA). Its flight plan is programmed into a guidance system. It is launched from a mothership launch aircraft at speed and altitude. It flies a predetermined spy mission from 17 miles above the ground and flashes over at three times the speed of sound. It photographs massive swaths of land with incredible detail and resolution. And because of its remarkably stealthy shape, no one will ever know it was there.

Today the D-21 rides on the back of a Lockheed M-21, a specialized variant of the SR-71 Blackbird, the famous Mach 3+ high altitude spy plane. The M-21 version of the SR-71 carries the D-21 drone on its back up to launch speed and altitude. The it ignites the D-21’s unique RJ43-MA20S-4 ramjet engine and releases it on its pre-programmed flight.

Chasing the M-21 and D-21 combination today is a Lockheed SR-71, the only thing that can keep up with this combination of aircraft. It is the SR-71’s job to photograph and film the test launch of the D-21 drone from the M-21 launch aircraft.

There have been three successful launch separations of the D-21 from the M-21 launch aircraft so far. In each of these flights, even though the launch was successful, the D-21 drone fell victim to some minor mechanical failure that destroyed the drone, because, at over Mach 3 and 90,000 feet, there really are no “minor” failures.

Today Bill Park and Ray Torick are the flight crew on board the M-21 launch aircraft. They sit inside the M-21 launch aircraft dressed in pressurized high altitude flight suits that resemble space suits.

Once at predetermined launch speed and altitude the M-21/D-21 combination flies next to the SR-71 camera plane. Keith Beswick is filming the launch test from the SR-71 camera plane. Ray Torick, the drone launch controller sitting in the back seat of the tandem M-21, launches the D-21 from its position on top of the M-21’s fuselage between the massive engines.

Something goes wrong.

The D-21 drone separates and rolls slightly to its left side. It strikes the left vertical stabilizer of the M-21 mother ship. Then it caroms back into the M-21’s upper fuselage, exerting massive triple supersonic forces downward on the M-21 aircraft. The M-21 begins to pitch up and physics takes over as Bill Park and Ray Torick make the split-second transition from test pilots to helpless passengers to crash victims.

The triple supersonic forces rip both aircraft apart in the thin, freezing air. Shards of titanium and shrapnel from engine parts trail smoke and frozen vapor as they disintegrate in the upper atmosphere. There is no such thing as a minor accident at Mach 3+ and 92,000 feet.

Miraculously, both Bill Park and Ray Torick eject from the shattered M-21 mother ship. Even more remarkably, they actually survive the ejection. The pair splash down in the Pacific 150 miles off the California coast. Bill Park successfully deploys the small life raft attached to his ejection seat. Ray Torick lands in the ocean but opens the visor on his spacesuit-like helmet attached to his pressurized flight suit. The suit floods through the face opening in his helmet. Torick drowns before he can be rescued. Keith Beswick, the pilot filming the accident from the SR-71 chase plane, has to go to the mortuary to cut Ray Torick’s body out of the pressurized high-altitude flight suit before he can be buried.

The ultra-secret test program to launch a D-21 drone from the top of an M-21 launch aircraft at over Mach 3 and 90,000 feet, is cancelled.

The D-21 program does move forward on its own. Now the drone is dropped from a lumbering B-52 mothership. The D-21 is then boosted to high altitude and Mach 3+ with a rocket booster. Once at speed and altitude the booster unit drops off and the D-21 drone begins its spy mission.

After more than a year of test launches from the B-52 mothership the D-21 drone was ready for its first operational missions over Red China. President Nixon approved the first reconnaissance flight for November 9, 1969. The mission was launched from Beale AFB in California.

Despite a successful launch the D-21 drone was lost. In the middle of 1972, after four attempts at overflying Red China with the D-21 drone and four mission failures, the program was cancelled. It was imaginative. It was innovative. It was ingenious. But it was impossible.

So ended one of the most ambitious and outrageous espionage projects in history.

1604 Hrs. December 20, 2009. In the Back Storage Yard of the Pima Air & Space Museum Outside Tucson, Arizona.

I pet airplanes when I can. I’m not exactly sure why, maybe to be able to say I did. Maybe to try to gain some tactile sense of their history. Maybe to absorb something from them, if such a thing is possible. Maybe so that, when I am old and dying, I can reflect back on what it felt like to stand next to them and touch them. I don’t know why I touch them and stroke them, but I do.

The D-21 is dusty and warm in the late afternoon Arizona sun. Its titanium skin is hard, not slightly forgiving like an aluminum airplane. It gives away nothing. Silent. Brooding. After I touch it my hand came away with some of the dust from it. I don’t wipe it off.

Sometime later in the coming years, the D-21B drone, number 90-0533, is brought inside the vast restoration facility at the Pima Air & Space Museum and beautifully restored. Now it lies in state, on display inside the museum.

But when I first found it sitting abandoned in the storage yard, dusty and baking in the Sonoran Desert sun, it felt like its warm titanium skin still had some secret life left in it.

The fully restored Lockheed D-21 drone at the Pima Air & Space Museum outside Tucson, Arizona. (Photo: Pima Air & Space Museum)