Tag Archives: U.S. Navy

We Visited NAS Fallon, The “Supercarrier In The Desert” and Home to the Naval Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN).

Fallon has been called by some (the late George Hall mainly, in its Superbase books series) the “supercarrier in the desert”, and with reason: it hosts in numbers all the aircraft types the Navy usually operates from its aircraft carriers. In fact, it is the center of excellence for naval aviation training and tactics development.

The mission of this airbase, located in western Nevada near Reno, is focused on advanced training and its main command Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC, pronounced NAW-DIK) is two-fold: host the carrier air wings (CVWs, also called CAGs – carrier air groups) during their work-ups before deployment, and teach advanced combat warfare to selected pilots. This last mission is the heritage of several well-known courses including “Topgun” and “Strike U”. Nowadays, these two courses are unified into a 13 weeks long Topgun course.

NAWDC hosts Topgun course and its instructors and kept the famous NFWS patch (Alll images: Author)

Topgun made example for other flying communities who too created graduate level schools : Top Dome for E-2 controllers, Seawolf for Seahawk helicopter pilots and HAVOC for EA-18G Growler EW crews.

A HAVOC Growler sits on the NAWDC ramp, waiting for its crew

An E-2C Hawkeye lands at the end of a TOPDOME training mission

SEAWOLF program SH-60 helicopters head out to the Fallon range

At Fallon, the tarmac is divided into two areas: the south ramp is dedicated to NAWDC aircraft as well as VFC-13 F-5Ns, and the north ramp hosts Carrier Air wings for their work ups, and aircraft from the fleet when their crews come here for Top Gun or HAVOC. NAWDC operates legacy F/A-18 Hornets (“charlie” models) as well as Super Hornets (“echoes” and “foxtrots”), EA-18G Growlers, E-2C hawkeyes and F-16A and Bs.

Dull grey and colorful birds share the south ramp allocated to NAWDC

A Topgun F-16A taxies under the coming overcast

During our visit, “CAG-5” should have been in the middle of a work-up before a cruise. But as it is a permanently deployed Carrier Air Wing in Japan, only two of its squadrons came to Fallon for the readiness program before the at-sea period : VFA-27 “Royal Maces” (NF-2xx) and VFA-102 “Diamondbacks” (NF-1xx). This program is called SFARP (for Strike Fighter Advanced Readiness Program) and is intended to maximize the tactical proficiency of strike fighter aircrews across the full spectrum of F/A-18 mission sets by using academic lectures, simulator events, and tactical training sorties. After a local training and initial syllabus at their homebase NAF Atsugi in Japan, given by Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor (Topgun graduates), the squadrons shifted to NAS Fallon, flying their aircraft across the Pacific to take advantage of the unique training opportunities offered by the Fallon Range Training Complex (FRTC).

When such squadrons or full airwings come to Fallon, they come en masse with their full complement of sailors for maintenance. This is also a way of training them for surge operations in a deployed configuration. On the opposite, NAWDC aircraft on the south ramp are all taken care of by a team of private contractors.

A VF-102 Diamondbacks F/A-18F takes-off, in full afterburner…

…while another comes back to the parking area

Both squadrons, VFA-27 and VFA-102, moved permanently from NAF Atsugi to MCAS Iwakuni a few days after our visit to Fallon.

A VFA-27 Royal Maces F/A-18E Super Hornet is departing for the training range.

Next to the CAG-5 birds, Fallon hosted an array of visitors from various squadrons of both Atlantic and Pacific fleets. Hornets and Super Hornets ware there for the Topgun course which lasts now 13 weeks, compared to 5 weeks in the 80’s, and 9 weeks in the 2000’s after it was mixed with “Strike U” at Fallon.
This course is made of several blocks, first “ground school”, then air-to-air, BFM and ACM, and air-to-ground, and in the end, advanced strike package tactics.

Topgun instructors are ready to give an airborne lesson to Navy regular squadrons crews.

Aircrews participating to Topgun course during our visit, and seen on the came from the following squadrons :

VFA-154 Black Knights CVW-11 USS Nimitz (NH-1xx )
VMFA-323 Death Rattlers CVW-11 Nimitz (WS-4xx or NH-4xx )
VFA-143 Pukin Dogs CVW-7 USS Lincoln (AG-1xx )
VFA-83 Rampagers CVW-7 USS Lincoln (AG-3xx )
VFA-25 Fist of the Fleet CVW-7 USS Lincoln (AG-4xx )
VFA-81 Sunliners CVW-17 USS Roosevelt (NA-2xx )
VFA-87 Golden Warriors CVW-8 USS Bush (AJ-3xx)

A VMFA-323 legacy Hornet comes back with new things learned

A VFA-154 Super Hornet deploys its speedbrakes after touchdown.

The adversary component was provided by the local VFC-13 Fighting Saints and their F-5N Tigers II (ex-Swiss Tigers), and by the dedicated reserve adversary squadron from NAS New Orleans, the VFA-204 River Rattlers, with their F/A-18Cs (modex AF-4xx).
The Saints fly colorful Tigers and their “Rotten Banana” and “Mig28” schemes are particularly attractive for the aviation photographer. When it comes to air-to-air combat, their pilots know how to take full advantage of their nimble and small metal bird; the Tiger is particularly difficult to see head-on and young fleet pilots learn this the hard way.

VFC-13 pilots take their Red adversary mission to heart with decorated flightgear.

The Rotten Banana scheme is not always efficient in the Nevada. But it always attracts big lenses.

Reminding the Top Gun movie, VFC-13 adopted the “Mig-28” black scheme which is now a myth.

A more classical adversary scheme is adorned on this F-5N under a VFC-13 shelter

A Tiger II is showing its feline heritage.

After an hour spent on the NAWDC ramp, we were able to get some time near the runway and the EOR (End of Runway) area. These moments were quite unique in the lifetime of a military jets enthusiast and aviation photographer as you cannot get closer from the action beside being in the cockpit. The author of this article can attest that earplugs were more than needed, as he forgot to put them on while 3 Super Hornets took off in sequence, rattling the air and every piece of the body, drilling the inside ear for a long 40 seconds. Never a louder noise has been heard.

Diamondbacks Super Hornets take off at closely spaced intervals…

…few seconds later, a brown Saints aircraft recovers on the parallel runway

Growlers are quite common now on the Fallon ramp and in the traffic pattern

Heatblur is ever-present with so many full afterburner take-offs

Brown 51 is airborne

For more than one hour, it was an uninterrupted ballet of take offs and landings on both parallel runways. The weather was deteriorating and a flight of 4 F/A-18Fs was forced to abort their mission at the EOR and taxi back to the ramp.

The weather conditions are not always CAVU (Ceiling and Visibilty Unlimited) in Nevada.

This visit was a great opportunity to witness the efforts the US Navy puts into training its aircrews and keeping them at their best level throughout their operational career.

TOPGUN F-16B on the ramp.

The author wishes to thank the Navy Public Affairs Office at NAS Fallon, and Mr Zip Upham in particular.

Former U.S. Navy F/A-18 Pilot Hailed as Hero in Southwest 737 Accident As Investigation Into the Cause Continues

Accident Investigation Focuses on CFM56-7B Engine. Navy P-8A Uses Same Engine.

Media around the world is acknowledging Southwest Airlines Captain Tammie Jo Shults for her role in landing a Boeing 737-700 airliner after the port (left) jet engine disintegrated and damaged the aircraft’s wing and fuselage during a routine flight from New York’s La Guardia airport to Dallas, Texas on Tuesday, April 17, 2018.

There were 143 passengers and five crew on board. The accident resulted in one fatality and seven injuries. The aircraft was at 32,000 feet when the accident occurred according to several reports. Capt. Shults declared an in-flight emergency and diverted to Philadelphia International Airport where she made a successful emergency landing with the damaged aircraft.

The Captain of the flight, Tammie Jo Shults, was among the first female pilots in the U.S. Navy to fly the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet multi-role attack aircraft. Stories from around the internet are quoting a 1993 Navy magazine article as saying Shults was an A-7 Corsair (possibly the EA-7L electronic warfare variant) and F/A-18 pilot. She is reported to have flown with VAQ-34, the “Flashbacks”, a Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron of the U.S. Navy that provided threat simulation for air combat training. Many reports are citing that, at the time Shults was a naval aviator, that female pilots were not included as pilots in combat units, effectively preventing her from flying fighter aircraft operationally.

Southwest Airlines Capt Tammie Jo Shults was a former U.S. Naval aviator. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Shults was quoted on several blogs including Heavy.com and FoxtrotAlpha.com as telling Navy magazine, “In AOCS (Aviation Officer Candidate School), if you’re a woman (or different in any way), you’re high profile; you’re under more scrutiny.” Shults told the magazine that chances for women to advance in the aviation community were limited. “It would be nice if they would take away the ceilings (women) have over our heads,” she told the magazine. She praised her former U.S. Navy squadron by saying, “In VAQ-34, gender doesn’t matter, there’s no advantage or disadvantage. Which proves my point – if there’s a good mix of gender, it ceases to be an issue.”

As of Wednesday morning, the day after the accident, media outlets as far away as the South China Morning Post were writing that Shults is, “Being praised for her ‘nerves of steel’ in helping to prevent a far worse tragedy.” The Associated Press ran a quote from her brother-in-law who told them, “She’s a formidable woman, as sharp as a tack.”

A report on NBC News said that Capt. Shults, 56, is a 1983 graduate of MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas. She earned a degree in biology and agribusiness at the school before going on to become a naval aviator. Her husband is also a pilot for Southwest Airlines.

NBC News reporters Elizabeth Chuck and Shamar Walters went on to report that, “The passengers described horror in the moments after the plane’s window was shattered. Passenger Eric Zilbert told NBC News that a woman was “partially sucked out” of the plane by explosive decompression of the cabin. Zilbert told NBC News that a group of passengers leapt over seats inside the Boeing 737 to pull the woman back in. A group of passengers then performed CPR on the woman following the window failure.

As with all aviation accidents, an investigation into the cause of accident is already underway in the U.S.

The damaged engine and missing window aft of the wing can be seen in this widely shared media photo of the Boeing 737 aircraft after the emergency landing. (Photos: via YahooNews)

Southwest Airlines’ Capt. Shults calm demeanor and professional airmanship recall the January 2009 incident referred to as the “Miracle on the Hudson” when U.S. Airways flight 1549, an Airbus A320-214 with 155 people on board, made an emergency water landing in the Hudson River in New York after losing both engines during take-off to a bird strike incident. The pilots in that celebrated incident, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, were lauded as heroes and went on to be portrayed in a Hollywood movie about the incident. Capt. Sully Sullenberger was also a former military pilot prior to his career at U.S. Airways, having flown the F-4D Phantom II and acting as Blue Force commander at Red Flag air combat simulation exercises at Nellis AFB, Nevada.

As with all aviation accidents, an investigation into the cause of accident is already underway in the U.S.

On Thursday, the BBC World News reported that, “Investigators say there was a fault with the engine’s fan blades – the cause of [an] incident two years ago.” The previous engine failure occurred on a Boeing 737 in 2016. The aircraft made an emergency landing in Florida.

The Boeing 737-700 in this accident used two CFM56-7B engines. Because of the incidents with the CFM56-7B powerplants on 737s the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB), the civilian authority for commercial aviation in the U.S., there will be an “Airworthiness Directive” bulletin issued within the next two weeks directing the detailed inspection of many of the CFM engines. CFM told the BBC World News that more than 8,000 Boeing 737s in service around the world use the CFM56-7B engine.

An inspector examines the engine of Southwest Flight 1380 after its emergency landing. One engine fan blade can clearly be seen missing. (Photo: NTSB)

The military version of the Boeing 737 airliner, the long-range maritime and anti-submarine warfare P-8A Poseidon as well as the other combat variant (such as the E7 AEW&C) also use the CFM-56-7B engines. The P-8A is in service with the U.S., Australia, Norway, India and the U.K. forces. As of this week there have been no public directives about engine inspections on the military version of the aircraft.

Top image: The Boeing 737 aircraft showed substantial damage after the engine failure. (Photos: via Twitter)

Eyes On Crimea: U.S. Intelligence Gathering Aircraft Increasingly Flying Over the Black Sea

Online flight tracking suggests increase in missions flown by U.S. manned and unmanned aircraft near Crimea.

It’s no secret that U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) belonging to the 9th Operations Group/Detachment 4th of the U.S. Air Force deployed to Sigonella from Beale Air Force Base, California, frequently operate over the Black Sea.

The first reports of the American gigantic drone’s activities near Crimea and Ukraine date back to April 2015, when Gen. Andrei Kartapolov, Chief of the Main Department for Operations at the Russian General Staff, said that American high-altitude long-range drones were regularly spotted over the Black Sea. Still, it wasn’t until Oct. 15 that one RQ-4 popped up on flight tracking websites, as it performed its 17-hour mission over Bulgaria to the Black Sea, close to Crimea, off Sochi, over Ukraine and then back to Sigonella. It was the first “public” appearance of the Global Hawk in that area and a confirmation of a renewed (or at least “open”) interest in the Russian activities in the Crimean area.

What in the beginning seemed to be sporadic visits, have gradually become regular missions, so much so, it’s no surprise hearing of a Global Hawk quietly tracking off Sevastopol or east of Odessa as it performs an ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) mission quietly flying at 53K feet or above, in international airspace. Indeed, as often reported here at The Aviationist, RQ-4 drones can be regularly tracked online or using commercial ADS-B receivers like those feeding the famous Flightradar24.com, PlaneFinder.net or Global ADSB Exchange websites, as well as closed websites like 360radar, PlanePlotter, Adsbhub.org etc, as they (most probably) point imagery intelligence (IMINT) sensors at the Russian bases in Crimea.

Noteworthy, such activities (both in the Black Sea and the Baltic region) have significantly increased lately, showing another interesting trend: they seem to involve more assets at the same time. Even though it’s not clear whether the ISR platforms fly cooperatively (although it seems quite reasonable considered how spyplanes operate in other theaters), U.S. Navy’s P-8A Poseidon and EP-3E aircraft can often be “spotted” while they operate close to Crimea during the same time slots. For instance, based on logs collected by our friend and famous ADS-B / ModeS tracking enthusiast @CivMilAir, this has happened on Jan. 9, Jan. 25 and more, recently, on Apr. 3, whereas on Feb. 5, Feb. 16 and Mar. 11 the Global Hawk has operated alone. By comparison, during the same period in 2017 (first quarter, from January to March) no Global Hawk mission was tracked or reported. Needless to say, these “statistics” are purely based on MLAT (Multi Lateration) logs: there might have been traffic neither “advertising” their position via ADS-B nor triangulated by ground stations exploiting the Mode-S transponder signals, operating in “due regard” (with transponder switched off, with no radio comms with the ATC control, using the concept of “see and avoid”). However, analysis of Global Hawk and other ISR aircraft activity using Open Source data seems to suggests a clear increase in “Crimean missions”.

Here are some examples (but if you spend some time on @CivMilAir’s timeline on Twitter you’ll find more occurrences on the above mentioned dates). A few days ago, Apr. 3, 2018:

Jan. 9, 2018:

Dealing with the reason why these aircraft can be tracked online, we have discussed this a lot of times.

As reported several times here, it’s difficult to say whether the drone can be tracked online by accident or not. But considered that the risk of breaking OPSEC with an inaccurate use of ADS-B transponders is very well-known, it seems quite reasonable to believe that the unmanned aircraft purposely broadcasts its position for everyone to see, to let everyone know it is over there. Since “standard” air defense radars would be able to see them regardless to whether they have the transponder on or off, increasingly, RC-135s and other strategic ISR platforms, including the Global Hawks, operate over highly sensitive regions, such as Ukraine or the Korean Peninsula, with the ADS-B and Mode-S turned on, so that even commercial off the shelf receivers (or public tracking websites) can monitor them.

Russian spyplanes can be regularly tracked as well: the Tu-214R, Russia’s most advanced intelligence gathering aircraft deployed to Syria and flew along the border with Ukraine with its transponder turned on.

Interestingly, according to NATO sources who wish to remain anonymous, Global Hawk missions around Crimea regularly cause the Russian Air Force to scramble Su-30 (previously Su-27SM) Flankers from Krimsk or Belbek that always attempt to get somehow close to, but well below, the high-flying drones.

A Flanker gets close to an EP-3E ARIES II flying off Crimea on Jan. 29, 2018.

H/T @CivMilAir for researching the topic and providing the logs.

On This Day In 1970 An F-4J Shot Down A North Vietnamese MiG-21. It Was The First Kill Scored By A Top Gun Graduate

The first time a Topgun graduate shot down a MiG.

On Mar. 28, 1970, an F-4J Phantom II (BuNo 155875) belonging to VF-142 off the USS Constellation (CVA 64) aircraft carrier shot down a North Vietnamese MiG-21 from Kien Ann airfield during an aerial engagement.

The U.S. Navy fighter, radio callsign “Dakota 201”, was piloted by LT Jerome Eugene Beaulier and LT Stephen John Barkley. Beaulier had attended the Navy Fighter Weapons School’s first Topgun course, run by VF-121 instructors (VF-121 was the West Coast RAG – Replacement Air Group). The NVN Fishbed, piloted by Nguyen Van Truang, aged 28, was shot down using an AIM-9D Sidewinder. The pilot was killed.

This was the first Navy kill since 1968 and the first from a pilot graduated at the famed “Topgun” school. According to the National Naval Aviation Museum, the next time Phantom crews engaged MiGs over Vietnam in 1972, it marked the beginning of an intense period of combat in which Navy and Marine Corps F-4 crews shot down 26 enemy airplanes in less than 12 months.

According to “U.S. Navy F-4 Phantom II MiG Killers 1965-70” by Brad Elward and Peter Davies, the F-4J BuNo 155875/NJ-201 served with VF-142 until it was destroyed, following an in-flight fire on Apr. 26, 1973: according to records, it had logged 1540 Flight Hours, most of those in combat, and had nearly completed its third WestPac cruise (first one aboard USS Constellation in 1970; second and third one with USS Enterprise in 1971-1972 and 1973 until it was lost).

H/T National Naval Aviation Museum

 

Photos Of Pilot Ejecting From an F-8D Over the South China Sea in 1965 Became Some Of The Most Famous Crusader Shots Of The Vietnam War

The ejection from an F-8D Crusader as seen from an RF-8 photo bird.

The photos showing a pilot ejecting from a VF-154 F-8D on Oct. 14, 1965 are particularly famous, as it was the first time such a sequence had been captured on film.

On that day, Lt. Jack Terhune, flying F-8D BuNo 147899 (NL 406), was hit during a raid over North Vietnam. Although he managed to return “feet wet” (meaning that the stricken plane reached the Gulf of Tonkin) he could not recover aboard USS Coral Sea. Accompanied by as many as four Crusaders, including an RF-8 flown by Lt. JG Roy A. Zink of VFP-63, the aircraft flew as close as possible to the “boat” until it lost all of its hydraulic fluid. As a result, all of the flight controls, landing gear, hook, flaps etc became unusable, forcing Lt. Terhune to eject.

The sequence was filmed by Zink from the RF-8, using his starboard camera.

Terhune was rescued by a SAR helicopter dispatched from USS Coral Sea.

H/T @clemente3000 for posting the top image on Twitter, bringing this story to my attention. Image credit: U.S. Navy/Wiki. More details on the photo sequence can be found on USS Coral Sea Tribute website.