Tag Archives: U.S. Navy

U.S. Navy Inducts MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Into Service Ahead Of First Operational Deployment to Guam

NBVC Point Mugu’s first two Triton drones commence operations (with interesting tail markings).

On May 31, Unmanned Patrol Squadron One Nine (VUP-19) DET Point Mugu hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony, marking on track delivery of an Early Operational Capability (EOC) to the Fleet and completion of their new hangar at Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) Point Mugu.

VUP-19, that will fly and maintain Triton to support overseas operations beginning in 2018, currently operates two MQ-4C Tritons: the first arrived at NBVC on Nov. 9, 2017 and the second arrived in April this year. The two UAVs are housed in a specially built hangar used by the maintenance detachment to accommodate the pair of 130.9-ft wingspan drones built by Northrop Grumman for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

Shorealone Films photographer Matt Hartman attended the ceremony at NBVC Point Mugu and took the photographs you can find in this post. Noteworthy, the two aircraft feature different tail markings: the first one #168460 sports a high-visibility emblem of VUP-19, whereas the second one #168461 sports a smaller, low-rez badge.

High-rez markings on the MQ-4C #168460

Low-rez markings on the MQ-4C #168461

The U.S. Navy’s MQ-4C “Triton” Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) is an ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) platform that will complement the P-8A Poseidon within the Navy’s Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Force family of systems: for instance, testing has already proved the MQ-4C’s ability to pass FMV (Full Motion Video) to a Poseidon MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft). An advanced version than the first generation Global Hawk Block 10, the drone  it is believed to be a sort of Block 20 and Block 30 Global Hawk hybrid, carrying Navy payload including an AN/ZPY-3 multi-function active-sensor (MFAS) radar system, that gives the Triton the ability to cover more than 2.7 million square miles in a single mission that can last as long as 24 hours at a time, at altitudes higher than 10 miles, with an operational range of 8,200 nautical miles.

The U.S. Navy plans to procure 68 aircraft and 2 prototypes.

VUP-19 emblem on the new hangar at NBVC Point Mugu.

The unmanned aircraft of VUP-19 are expected to deploy to Guam later this year, with an early set of capabilities, including basic ESM (Electronic Support Measures) to pick up ships radar signals, for maritime Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance mission. A more significant SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) capability will be deployed to the fleet in 2021, when the Triton is expected to reach an IOC (Initial Operational Capability). By then, the U.S. Navy plans to add two additional MQ-4Cs to the Guam deployment that would allow a 24/7/365 orbit. With the IOC of the Triton, the service will retire the EP-3E ARIES II as the Navy’s signals-intelligence platform.

Interestingly, some of the MQ-4C test flights could be tracked online. Here’s an example dating back to October last year:

The U.S. Navy plans to operate five 24-hour orbits around the world. The UAVs will be controlled from two MOBs (Main Operating Bases): Naval Station Mayport, Florida, and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington. The aircraft will be launched (and recovered) from 5 bases: Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy; an unspecified location in the Middle East (Al Dhafra, UAE, where the U.S. Air Force RQ-4 are forward deployed?); Naval Air Station Guam; Naval Station Mayport; and Point Mugu.

Make sure you visit this link to have a look at the whole set of photographs taken by our friend Matt Hartman during the ribbon cutting ceremony at Point Mugu.

The Return of “Iceman”: Val Kilmer to Appear in “Top Gun” Sequel

Studio Leaks Say Kilmer Will Join Tom Cruise in Anticipated Sequel Titled “Top Gun: Maverick”

Every Hollywood entertainment news outlet lit up on Wednesday night with the news that actor Val Kilmer would return in the highly-anticipated sequel film “Top Gun: Maverick”. Kilmer played U.S. Navy Lt. Tom “Iceman” Kazansky in the original 1986 “Top Gun” film and will return in the same role.

The return of Val Kilmer as Iceman in the new film follows a two-year battle with throat cancer for the actor. Kilmer is also known for his role as Simon Templar in the 1997 film “The Saint” and for his role as Chris Shiherlis in the cult classic 1995 bank robbery film “Heat”, directed by Michael Mann. Val Kilmer was also widely recognized for a standout performance as singer and front-man Jim Morrison in the 1991 film “The Doors”.

Kilmer leaked his presence in “Top Gun: Maverick” with a post on his FB page, that appeared shortly after Tom Cruise published the first image of the sequel on Twitter on May 30, 2018. But Kilmer’s post remained online for just a few hours before it was cancelled (for unknown reasons).

According to Hollywood insiders the new film may focus on the emergence of remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs) like the Navy’s X-47B and MQ-4C Triton and the end of the dogfighting era even though Tom Cruise responded “there gonna be jets” when asked about drones in a recent interview . And, as reported, the very first image about the new movie seems to suggest a major role for the USN F/A-18F Super Hornet.

Original “Top Gun” director Tony Scott told reporter Gregory Ellwood of HitFix in an October 2010 interview that, “This world fascinated me, because it’s so different from what it was originally. But I don’t want to do a remake. I don’t want to do a reinvention. I want to do a new movie.” Director Tony Scott committed suicide in August 2012. The new film will be directed by Joseph Kosinski. Kosinski is a relative newcomer as a director with three major films to his credit, “Tron: Legacy” from 2010, “Oblivion” from 2013 and “Only the Brave” from 2017.

In contrast to the late director Tony Scott’s 2010 remarks about the direction of any new sequel to the original film, lead actor Tom Cruise, Lt. (now Capt. based on the image published on Day 1 of production work) Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in the movies, told Hollywood media that, “Aviators are back, the need for speed. We’re going to have big, fast machines. It’s going to be a competition film, like the first one…but a progression for Maverick.”

Lead actor Tom Cruise is a pilot himself, having earned a private pilot rating in 1994 and a commercial license in 1998 according to FAA records. He recently flew a helicopter (and performed a HALO jump from a UAE AF C-17) in the upcoming sequel film “Mission Impossible: Fallout” slated for U.S. release on July 27, 2018 in U.S. theatres. Cruise also clung to outside of an Airbus A400M Atlas in the 2015 film, “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”. In the 2017 film “American Made” about real-life drug running CIA pilot Barry Seal, Tom Cruise actually was piloting an aircraft in all of the scenes that show him as pilot according to a 2017 article by Julia Bianco on looper.com. The film’s production was marred by a fatal crash during production that Cruise was not involved in.

The “Top Gun” sequel likely can’t come soon enough for U.S. military pilot recruiting. The frequently reported pilot shortage in all branches of the military continues to strain existing air crews. Author David Robb wrote in his 2004 book, Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies, that “After the film’s release, the US Navy stated that the number of young men who joined wanting to be Naval Aviators went up by 500 percent.”

Production for “Top Gun: Maverick” began on May 30, 2018 at NAS North Island near San Diego, California. The release date for the film, being distributed by Paramount Pictures, has been projected as July 19, 2019.

Top image: Actor Val Kilmer will return in “Top Gun: Maverick” along with Tom Cruise. (Photo: Paramount)

Tom Cruise Teases “Top Gun 2” Movie With An F/A-18F Super Hornet Photo

Looks like Top Gun sequel may feature the Super Hornet instead of the F-35.

Tom Cruise has just teased the long-awaited Top Gun movie sequel (expected in July 2019) with an interesting photo posted on Twitter with the text “Feel the need” and #Day1. The image, that marks the beginning of filming and production work, shows U.S. Navy pilot Capt. Pete Mitchell, wearing the flight suit with a TOPGUN patch on his shoulder and what appears to be an F/A-18F Super Hornet in the background. This seems to suggest “Maverick” retains a pilot role (and possibly he’s still assigned to the U.S. Navy Naval Fighter Weapons School even though the patch may only mean he graduated there) and that he flies the Super Hornet and not an F-35C, the U.S. Navy’s most modern aircraft, as most had predicted.

Since the first movie was released back in the 1980s, TOPGUN has moved from Miramar to NAS Fallon, Nevada even though, according to our friends at Combat Aircraft  the trees in the shot suggest that the photo wasn’t taken at the base home of the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center, near Reno.

One thing worth noticing is the fact that “Mav” has his famous HGU-33 helmet in his hand even though that kind of old-fashioned helmet has long been replaced within the U.S. Navy and other air arms around the world by the more modern Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System or HGU-68/P helmets.

 

We will keep you updated as more details on Top Gun 2 emerge.

That Time An F-14 Was Blown Off The Flight Deck By Another Tomcat

This is why aircraft carriers have JBD (Jet Blast Deflectors).

The videos below show an incident that occurred aboard USS Independence (CV-62) in 1995.

On Apr. 18, 1995 a VF-21 F-14 Tomcat was blown off the flight deck of “Indy” by another Tomcat that was about to depart. Interestingly, the aircraft carrier did have the JBD (Jet Blast Deflector – normally raised behind the catapult as the exhaust from a departing jet does not hit and endanger flight deck crew or other aircraft) behind Cat. 4 but it couldn’t be used when launching an afterburning jet: Cat. 4 aboard Forrestal class aircraft carriers was not water cooled hence it couldn’t be used for launching an F-14 (it could be used for A-6s, A-7, E-2s or C-2s).

The Tomcat pilot and RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) successfully ejected from the F-14 whose nose wheel slipped into the port-se catwalk: they were recovered from the water within 2 minutes by two HS-14 SH-60F Seahawk helicopters. The Tomcat, leaning 60 feet over the ocean, was recovered too, after the fuel was removed from the aircraft.

From another angle:

This incident somehow reminds another one that occurred on Sept. 14, 1976, during a cruise off the Orkney Islands. On that day the Tomcat BuNo 159588 went out of control while taxiing and rolled off the deck of the USS John F. Kennedy and fell into the sea. The crew safely ejected before the Tomcat went over the edge. Unlike the USS Independence incident, in this case the plane ended up intact on the ocean floor. Since they were concerned that the Soviets might recover the Tomcat and learn valuable secrets (especially about the Phoenix missile), the U.S. Navy launched a recovery operation: the lost F-14 was recovered two months later.

 

How Social Media May Drive Our Perception of Military Aviation Safety

The Luke AFB F-16 Emergency Landing, the Tragic Thunderbird Crash, The CH-53 Accident: Why (Does It Seem Like) So Many Military Aircraft Are Crashing?

Why does it seem like so many military aircraft been crashing? It’s a relevant question given the attention to military aircraft accidents around the world this year. Is there an increase in accidents in military aviation? Or, are other factors influencing our perception of how many aircraft accidents there actually are?

Pilots and aviation safety experts will tell you there is no singular cause for all military aviation accidents. In an April 25, 2018 interview in the Washington Examiner, Capt. Sarah Burns, a Marine Corps spokeswoman at the Pentagon told reporter Jamie McIntyre, “Every mishap is unique, and we have not found a causal, statically accurate link between readiness and mishaps.”

While pilot shortages and aging aircraft dominate the conversation in the U.S., pilots often say there are as many reasons for accidents as there are accidents. If you demand a singular explanation for why aviation accidents happen it’s in this famous, often paraphrased quote attributed to Captain A. G. Lamplugh, British Aviation Insurance Group, London, from the early 1930’s:

“Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.”

Capt. Lamplugh’s prescient quote summarizes three separate contributors to aviation accidents: carelessness, often sanitized as “pilot error”; incapacity, in air traffic control, pilot training and other technical contributors; and finally neglect, as in infrastructure and maintenance.

In the rush-to-judgement popular news and social media space, pundits try to focus on a single convenient narrative to explain accidents. There is no convenient single reason for military aviation accidents.

One factor that has contributed to an increase in awareness of military aviation accidents is an evolution in media. Our perception of how many accidents there are has no doubt been influenced by a factor we can refer to as “media velocity”, the speed and volume at which information reaches us in the social media age.

Reasons for recent military crashes are conflicting as depicted in internet resources as evidence by this capture of search results on information about military aviation accidents. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

After a U.S. Air Force F-16 performed an emergency landing this week in Arizona and the pilot ejected, the full details of the incident were posted on social media, including intercepted radio transmissions of first responders, with two hours. Detailed information about the incident was available through social media and blogs hours before less detailed, official information was released. In the case of this week’s F-16 accident, the sources and information have so far proved to be accurate. That is not always the case, and the online banter about causes for aviation accidents seldom waits for the official investigation to reveal its findings.

Social media has created faster, more frequent reporting of military aviation accidents but is not always accurate. (Photo: via Facebook)

With international crashes, such as the March 6, 2018 crash of a Russian Antonov An-26 with 39 fatalities in Syria, there used to be reduced awareness of military aviation accidents prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain and the arrival of social media. Every country lost military aircraft, but not every country reported losses with the transparency of the United States.

When pundits point to a single factor in a perceived increase in aviation accidents in the U.S. the pilot shortage inevitably comes up. While it is a mistake to make an “A leads to B” connection between pilot shortages and aircraft accidents, there is no denying the U.S. military pilot shortage is real.
We spoke to a U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. whose call sign is “Burn Clapper” at Holloman AFB in August, 2017. He had been in command of the 54th Fighter Group since May, 2017. During a media briefing he told TheAviationist.com, “I’m supposed to have 24 instructor pilots in my squadron, and I have 13 now.”

When we asked Burn Clapper about the reasons for the fighter pilot shortage he said, “A few years back, there was a time when we had as many fighter pilots as we needed. We only produced guys coming in for as many guys who were leaving – at the rate that they were leaving then. We only made fighter pilots for who was leaving then, maybe about 400 a year – that’s a guess.”

Burn Clapper went on to explain, “Our pilots graduate now with a 10-year commitment. They have been back and forth to combat over the last five years. The economy is good now. Now they have options.”

The U.S. Air Force publishes a database of aircraft accidents. The Air Force Safety Center Aviation Statistics database (http://www.safety.af.mil) contains specific information detailing USAF accidents. As with any spreadsheet analysis, you can package the data in different ways to produce a different statistical outcome.

One interpretation of the Air Force Safety Center Aviation Statistics database is that 2015 had a higher number of reported accidents than 2016 and 2017.
Another standout metric is the number of accidents in the single engine F-16. The statistics for Current Fiscal Year-to-Date, Previous Fiscal Year-to-Date and Previous Fiscal Year show a total number of F-16 Class A accidents higher than any other aircraft type. There are several contributing factors to F-16 accidents that include the large number of the aircraft in service with the USAF (951 F-16s in USAF service across all versions according to Wikipedia), its role as a high performance tactical combat aircraft, the age of the aircraft and that the F-16 is a single engine aircraft with no engine redundancy. By contrast however, the single engine, exclusively single-seat F-35A Lighting II has not had a single accident in flight with the USAF since its initial inclusion with the Air Force on August 2, 2016. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as a program has had a remarkably incident-free development, testing and operational introduction since it began, budget concerns aside, there has not been a single crash of an F-35.

A contrasting view of military aviation accident statistics was presented by the Military Times in an April 8, 2018 analysis by journalist Tara Copp.

Copp wrote that, “Through a six-month investigation, the Military Times found that accidents involving all of the military’s manned fighter, bomber, helicopter and cargo warplanes rose nearly 40 percent from fiscal years 2013 to 2017. It’s doubled for some aircraft, like the Navy and Marine Corps’ F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets. At least 133 service members were killed in those fiscal year 2013-2017 mishaps, according to data obtained by Military Times.”

Military Times journalist Tara Copp arrives at an interesting conclusion in her article when it is overlaid with the USAF Safety Center Aviation Statistics database. Copp revealed that accidents with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps’ F/A-18 Hornets were much higher than with other aircraft in Navy and Marine service. This finding aligns with the statistical survey of USAF F-16s emerging as the highest frequency accident types. Similar factors exist with the Navy and Marine F/A-18s.

The last of the older Hornets are being phased out now in favor of the newer F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. The aircraft is mostly a single-seat combat plane often flown at low altitude and in the high-performance regime. Unlike the Air Force’s F-16 though, the F/A-18 is a twin-engine aircraft, making engine failures a less critical incident over the entire performance envelope compared to the single-engine F-16, where any engine failure is serious.

Journalists like Tara Copp have pointed to several factors in their reported increase in military aviation accident frequency. Copp wrote that, “The rise is tied, in part, to the massive congressional budget cuts of 2013. Since then, it’s been intensified by non-stop deployments of warplanes and their crews, an exodus of maintenance personnel and deep cuts to pilots’ flight-training hours.” She went on to quote retired USAF General Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle as telling her, “We are reaping the benefits — or the tragedies — that we got into back in sequestration.” Retired General Hawk was referring to the 2013 defense budget cuts resulting from the U.S. government sequester, a temporary freeze on much of U.S. government spending to avert a monetary crisis. Tara Copp went on quote Ret. Gen. Herbert Carlisle as saying “The sharp increase in mishap rates is actually a lagging indicator. By the time you’re having accidents, and the accident rates are increasing, then you’ve already gone down a path.” Then-General Carlisle led USAF Air Combat Command until 2017. The retired general told her, “If we stay on the current track … there is the potential to lose lives.”

High performance combat training in single engine jet aircraft is inherently more hazardous than flying crew-operated multi-engine aircraft in a transport and support role. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

No matter which narrative you chose to explain recent military aviation accidents one truth does prevail about flying high performance aircraft that are intended for combat; tragedies are an ominous and common companion to aerial warfare, and recent events have been a stern reminder of this truth.