Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force

U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Commanding Officer Relieved of Duty Due to “Loss of Confidence”

Lt. Col. Jason Heard, Thunderbird #1, Relieved Due to “Loss of Confidence”

Lt. Col. Jason Heard of the U.S. Air Force Flight Demonstration Squadron, The Thunderbirds, has been relieved of command, the USAF Air Combat Command said today in a news release. The official reason cited for his removal from the position was a “loss of confidence’.

According to most definitions, military “loss of confidence” is when a party is, “inadequate in some respect, are failing to carry out obligations, or are making decisions that other members feel are detrimental.”

Lt. Col. Heard was relieved by USAF Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, 57th Wing commander at Nellis AFB. In a statement released by the U.S. Air Force, Brig. Gen Leavitt was quoted as saying, “This was an incredibly difficult decision to make, but one that is ultimately in the best interests of the Thunderbird team.” Brig. Gen. Leavitt went on to say in the release. “I am personally grateful for Jason’s dedication to the 2017 season.”

The official statement said, “Lt. Col. Heard led the team through a highly successful show season,” but that Brig. Gen. Leavitt, “lost confidence in his leadership and risk management style.”

The Thunderbirds experienced one accident under the command of Lt. Col. Heard. On June 23, 2017, during an orientation flight for an enlisted maintenance team member, Thunderbird #8, piloted by Capt. Erik “Speedy” Gonsalves, slid off a runway the day before the Vectren Dayton Airshow in Dayton, Ohio. It was raining at the time. The Thunderbird F-16 rolled during the accident and came to rest upside down. An official accident report later read, “Upon landing, the pilot was unable to stop the aircraft on the prepared surface. As a result, the aircraft departed the runway and overturned in the grass,” The F-16 involved in the accident was written-off.

In part of an e-mail sent to Aviation Week’s Lara Seligman, a spokesperson for the Thunderbirds, said the leadership change was, “unrelated to the Dayton incident.”

“This decision was based on Brig. Gen. Leavitt having lost confidence in Lt. Col. Heard’s leadership in risk management style. While he led a highly successful 2017 show season featuring 72 demonstrations over 39 show sites, concerns arose that his approach to leading the team was resulting in increased risk within the demonstration which eroded the team dynamic, ” Thunderbird spokesperson wrote in the email.

The Thunderbirds’ operations officer, Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh, has  assumed interim command of the team until a new commander is selected, according to Air Combat Command.

Top image: The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds taxi to their parking area During Aviation Nation 2017 Air Show at Nellis AFB while one pilot shoots a photo from his cockpit. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

Are We Seeing B-21 Raider Development and Testing Activity at Area 51?

With New Projects in Development, and New Construction, The Area is Ramping Up.

We’re not sure what is happening inside (and close to) the restricted Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), but after visiting the area earlier this month, we are reasonably certain something significant is taking place right now. The massive area, reported to be 4,531 square miles, is one of the most secure national security sites and is closed to the public.

Earlier this month we drove the remote roads along the perimeter of the NTTR between Las Vegas, Nevada and Beatty, Nevada on the way to and from the Jedi Transition low-level flying area in Death Valley National Park. While this is one of the emptiest, most barren stretches of paved highway in the U.S. in just a few hours we made a number of interesting observations.

Sometime after 3:00 AM across from Creech AFB we saw a military-aged male with a beard in civilian clothes and a medium-sized piece of luggage or large lunch box board an airport-style shuttle bus and drive away on Highway 95 west of Creech. The vehicle drove a significant distance west and north on the highway before we lost sight of it. There is almost nothing out there. On the trip back that night we saw an F-117 fuselage covered by a tarp being transported on a flatbed truck in the dark west-bound on Highway 95. Earlier in the day someone had gotten photos of it by the side of the road.

In less than 24 hours, on one stretch of road at the outskirts of a massive 4,000+ mile testing range, we saw that much activity.

Moreover, the following day, on Nov. 14, an authority on the area referred to only as “G” of lazygranch.com, shot photos of an F-117 flying with a two-seat F-16. The very same day, in the afternoon a similar (or maybe the same with a diffirent configuration) two-seat F-16, carrying the Lockheed Martin’s AN/AAS-42, an IRST (Infra Red Search and Track) pod (theoretically capable to detect stealth aircraft by their IR signature), with sparse markings was photographed flying through the Jedi Transition. The photo was good enough that we could identify a patch worn on the right shoulder of each of the aircraft’s flight suits. The patches suggest the crew are associated with the famous “Red Hats” opposing forces test unit and the 53rd TEG Det 3, the unit thought to have replaced the 4477th “Red Eagles”, another opposing force simulation and testing unit.

Separate and additionally from those sightings near or around Tonopah Test Range, journalist Tyler Rogoway at The War Zone, has been a keen observer of the Nevada Test and Training Range. Rogoway reported on the appearance of several new construction projects at Area 51, notably, a new “U” shaped taxiway, vehicle roadway and most interestingly, a large aircraft hangar.

The new, large finished hangar within the square taxiway. (Photo: Ufo Seekers)

If you compare satellite imagery of Area 51 beginning in 1984 you see a progression of small changes followed by the significant addition of a long, second, parallel runway. Work on the second runway began in 1990 and seemed complete in about 1992. From 1999-2000 several new buildings appeared in satellite photos. In 2001-2002 an intermediate vehicle road connecting taxiways and runways was built. And most recently, in 2013, a major new construction project began at the southwest corner of the area. Soon after, in July 2014, the U.S. Air Force issued a request for proposal for a new, long range, low-observable strike aircraft. The project became the LRS-B. From 2014 to 2016 a large, new hangar was built at the southwestern corner of the facility. The structure appears to be nearly large enough to house an aircraft the size of the current B-1B Lancer bomber.

The latest satellite photos show what appears to be new engine test facilities, and most significantly, the southern taxiways and hangar in new-looking condition. Comparing the satellite photos of the facility going back to 1984, the two most significant, visible expansions are the second runway in 1990 and the new southwest square taxiway and hangar building beginning in 2014.

An analysis of satellite images over time reveal the major construction projects at Area 51/Groom Lake since 1984 including the most recent hangar and taxiways. (Photo: GoogleEarth)

The following video takes you on a “sightseeing tour” of Groom Lake from Tikaboo Peak:

Noted aerospace imaging expert Al Clark told TheAviationist.com, “In the general Groom Lake image our best reference is one of the F-16s parked on the west side of the base. The F-16 length is approximately 50-feet. Building number one, which is almost directly west of the F-16s is approximately 120’x120’. It looks to be an engine test/run-up hangar. The building that is more interesting is approximately 250-feet wide by a length of 275-feet. This is interesting because the B-2 wingspan is only 172-feet, so this is [possibly] designed to house large aircraft, in my opinion possibly the B-21 Raider. To the southwest of that structure it looks like what could be a weapons storage facility. The smaller bunker is approximately 75-feet long by 30-feet wide, and the larger bunker is approximately 75-feet wide and 100-feet long. Those are fairly large weapons bunkers. The general placement of the munitions depot tells me that there is something pretty volatile in it because they are keeping it away from the main base at Groom Lake.”

Is what we are seeing evidence of the LRS-B program development and the B-21 Raider? While there are likely several other major developmental programs underway including a new manned or unmanned reconnaissance and strike platform (the RQ-180 spy drone is one of them), LRS-B and B-21 are the most mature and most talked about in official channels and, as a result, most conclusions point to something related to their development out at Area 51 in the new hangar.

Prior to her departure from the office, former Air Force Secretary Deborah James told media, “Our 5th generation global precision attack platform will give our country a networked sensor shooter capability enabling us to hold targets at risk anywhere in the world in a way that our adversaries have never seen.” Her comments about the LRS-B program and B-21 acknowledge both the capability and necessity of the program, and may suggest the urgency of it as the Air Force maintains its small fleet of B-2 Spirit low-observable long range strike aircraft against a growing demand for its unique capability.

That might mean we are seeing the B-21 Raider development program take shape right under our noses at Area 51. Or this is what they want us to believe.

The Day After An F-117 Was Spotted On A Trailer In Southern Nevada Another One Was Photographed Flying With An F-16 Near Rachel

Some F-117s have already taken the road to the scrapyard, others continue flying. Enjoy your Black Friday with a Black Jet story.

As already reported, an F-117 Nighthawk was spotted on a trailer on US-95, south of Creech AFB, in southern Nevada, on Nov. 13, 2017.

Although we don’t know exactly where the aircraft was being transferred, it is safe to assume the aircraft might be heading to the boneyard, to be scrapped or prepared for a museum.

Indeed, in accordance with the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017, the USAF will retire the fleet permanently, once and for all.

Actually, the U.S. Air Force will not remove all the F-117s this year: one aircraft will be divested by the end of 2017 (possibly the one on the trailer); the rest will be withdrawn from use at a rate of four every year, beginning in 2018.

So, whilst the final “demilitarization” of the Stealth Jet (officially retired in 2008 but maintained and kept in a “Type 1000” storage to be occasionally flown at Tonopah Test Range until today) is a sad news for aviation enthusiasts all around the world, the fact that not all the F-117s have been permanently retired means that there will probably be a few more chances of watching the Black Jet fly somewhere over Nevada (or somewhere else).

As happened on Nov. 14 (the day after the F-117 was photographed on a trailer south of Creech AFB) at 09.20AM LT, when another F-117 was spotted flying north of Rachel,  Nevada. Noteworthy, the Stealth Jet was not flying alone (or close to another F-117, as happened, for instance, in 2016) but it was chased by a two-seater F-16.

Our friend G. from the outstanding lazygranch.com website shot some interesting photographs of the unusual formation. “The image is backlit, but the plane shapes are distinctive enough to identify the type of aircraft” he wrote in his post. Indeed, the photos lack a bit of quality (it would have been interesting to ID the F-16 by the presence of some particular markings or code), but according to G. there’s a reason for this:

I had used the camera to do long exposure photography as in this web page: http://www.lazygranch.com/letap.html

This time I had used the 400mm lens instead of the 200mm lens I used in the letap.html page. I managed to kill 4 camera batteries doing this. The problem was the freezing weather was effecting the battery life.

The 400mm lens was essentially set up to focus at infinity. In these multi-frame long exposure series of photographs, the lens is left in manual focus since there is nothing in the frame to auto focus on. The camera is initially focused by hand to get the sharpest image of the lights on Papoose Mountain, which are the lights on the mountain in the distance. Papoose Mountain is what you see as a background in the base photographs done from Tikaboo Peak.

I had one poor quality camera battery left. I normally don’t use it because it only charges to about 55%. I had left the 400mm lens in manual focus. When I heard the aircraft, I put in the poor quality battery. The planes were far enough away that the EOS system considered them to be sharp enough to allow the images to be taken. When the planes flew north so that the sun was in a better position and the planes were closer, the camera wouldn’t fire. I missed some great shots. That was when I figured out the lens was left on manual focus.

Eventually, G. added an interesting comment to his post: “Groom Lake uses two seater F-16s”.

Therefore, although the Air Force has started retiring the type (again), it’s nice to see that someone is still enjoying a daylight ride in one of the once most secret and futuristic aircraft ever built. The accompanying F-16 makes the sighting  even more interesting…

Visit this link and let me know what you think.

Above: composite photo made using a crop from a Foster Van Schaick taken in 2014 and one of the screenshots from a video filmed by Randy Williams and made available to The Aviationist by Brett Wyman.

USAF T-38 Crashes in Texas: One Fatality Reported.

One Crewmember Survives Trainer Crash.

A U.S. Air Force Northrop T-38 Talon two-seat, supersonic advanced trainer crashed on Monday, November 20, 2017 outside Lake Amistad, Texas.

Reports from Laughlin Air Force Base indicate one fatality, the pilot. The other crewmember is reported to have ejected and parachuted to the ground according to witnesses as published by the local Del Rio News Herald. The surviving pilot was transported to the local Val Verde Regional Medical Center in Del Rio. There are no updates on the surviving crewmember’s condition yet.

The name of the crash victims has not been released.

Reports indicate the aircraft crashed in the afternoon around 4:00 PM, approximately 15 miles from Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas. The crash site was identified as close to the local US-90 freeway by media reports.

Laughlin Air Force Base is the largest U.S. Air Force pilot training facility and home to the 47th Flying Training Wing, the largest school for USAF pilots.

As is common in aircraft accidents, no details of the crash have been released by the Air Force pending the outcome of an official investigation.
“Our biggest priority at this time is caring for the family and friends of our Airmen,” Col. Michelle Pryor, 47th Flying Training Wing vice commander, said in an official Air Force statement.

According to official USAF information, the U.S. Air Force Air Education and Training Command uses the T-38C for advanced training of student pilots who will later transition to combat aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-15 Eagle and F-15E Strike Eagle, along with the B-1B Lancer supersonic strategic bomber and other frontline combat aircraft.

There were two fatal crashes with four fatalities involving the Northrop T-38 Talon two-seat advanced supersonic trainer in 2008 at different USAF bases prompting the temporary grounding of the aircraft type. A year later, another T-38 crashed outside Edwards AFB. Despite the series of accidents in 2008-09 the Air Force characterizes the T-38 as “extremely safe”. A tragic accident with the U.S. Air Force Flight Demonstration Team, The Thunderbirds, on January 18, 1982 resulted in the loss of four T-38s and four pilots. The Thunderbirds subsequently switched to flying F-16 Fighting Falcons following the accident.

In addition to being used as an advanced jet trainer by the Air Force the T-38 is also flown by some bomber and reconnaissance units in the to maintain pilot hours and proficiency since it is more economical to fly than larger, more sophisticated aircraft. The T-38 has also been flown by NASA and a number of civilian flight test companies.

The T-38 will be replaced by aircraft winning the T-X program worth 350 jet trainers for the Air Education and Training Command.

Top image: file photo of a T-38 (Photo by TSgt Matthew Hannen U.S. Air Force)

 

We Have Visited Powidz Air Base, Poland, During Aviation Rotation 18-1 In Support Of Operation Atlantic Resolve

Starting from Oct. 13. Polish Powidz AB (33rd Airlift Base) has hosted US airlift aviation crews flying the C-130 Hercules aircraft.

Within the framework of Rotation 18-1, the second one held this year, almost 130 US airmen have taken part in the joint training with four USAF and two Polish Air Force C-130 airlifters. On Nov. 8, we visited Powdiz during the rotation’s media day to get some insights into the American Deployment.

During the Detachment, two missions a day were flown – one at night and one during the day, lasting on average 3 hours. The sorties were preceded by many hours of preparations and two-hour briefing, as explained by the 33rd Airlift Base’s spokeswoman, Cpt. Martyna Fedro Samojedny.

The flying took place in any weather conditions that would make it possible to complete the mission, all over the territory of Poland.

C130J from the 934th Airlift Wing at Powdiz, Poland.

The training involved 2 C-130H airframes of the 96th Airlift Squadron 934th Airlift wing, hailing from Minneapolis, two C-130J airframes of the 37th Airlift Squadron of the 86th Airlift Wing hailing from Ramstein and two C-130E aircraft stationed locally, at the 33rd Airlift Base of the Polish Air Force. Furthermore, the training also involved more Polish units, including the 1st Airlift Wing, 2nd Tactical Aviation Wing and the 6th Airborne Brigade.

One of the Polish Air Force C-130s taking part in the joint drills with the U.S. “Herkys”.

The missions included formation flying, cargo and paratrooper drops, grass strip operations, fighter engagements, NVGs and low-level training.

Tactical airdrop over Powdiz.

Tactical airdrop over Powdiz.

Polish Air Force C-130E about to land at Powdiz.

The whole deployment allowed the Poles to gather new, invaluable experiences, as the Polish staff also had an opportunity to polish its language skills. Moreover, the operation allowed the involved parties to unify and standardize the operational procedures, through joint planning of the missions.

The U.S. and Polish teams together for a group photo during the Media Day.

Images: Jacek Siminski and Witosław Stachowiak