Tag Archives: U.S. Navy

Is This “Maverick’s” New F/A-18F Super Hornet for Filming “Top Gun” Sequel?

Hollywood Gossip Site Leaks Photo of F/A-18F With Special Markings.

Even though all of us feel the need for speed to get the new Top Gun sequel, “Top Gun: Maverick” released it sounds like Paramount Pictures has requested another flyby even as photos of a newly painted U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet that may be linked to the film’s production have been leaked.

While Top Gun fans can’t bring back that lovin’ feelin’ fast enough for their taste, Paramount Pictures announced in late August that the release of the upcoming “Top Gun: Maverick” will be delayed until (gasp…) June 26, 2020.

Even though this news is worse than having a MiG-28 stuck on your six it may also suggest that the Navy is working on something truly special in cooperation with Paramount Pictures for the new film. Video has surfaced on social media of U.S. Navy F-35s practicing “buzzing the tower” off U.S. aircraft carriers with references to the Top Gun script in the posts.

The U.S. Navy’s official VFA-125, the “Rough Raiders” Facebook page, “Home of the F-35”, posted video clips two weeks ago showing aircraft forming vapor cones and performing almost exactly the same low altitude, high speed pass made famous in the F-14 Tomcat in the first Top Gun film. The video may (and also may not) hint that the F-35s appearance in the film could be significant. There was no confirmation if coffee was spilled during any of the fly-bys, but plenty of flight deck crew were out taking video with smartphones.

In a USA Today story written by Bryan Alexander published on August 29, 2018, Alexander reported that, “The studio dropped the bomb [heh…] Wednesday that the release date for Tom Cruise’s anticipated sequel “Top Gun: Maverick” would be delayed one year to June 26, 2020.”

While the announcement of the delay is disappointing, Alexander did go on to provide a tantalizing teaser for readers who know naval aviation, “The extra time will give filmmakers the opportunity to work out the logistics of presenting flight sequences with new technology and planes, according to a Paramount statement.”

Translated into fan speak, that may very well mean we’re getting the Navy’s big, wide-winged F-35C in more than a cameo appearance in “Top Gun: Maverick”.

Meanwhile, Hollywood reporter Michael Briers over at the fan site “WeGotThisCovered.com” leaked photos of what may be Tom Cruise’s new ride as “Maverick” in the Top Gun sequel. Based on the watermark, the photos appear to come from an article on website “RevengeOfTheFans.com”. We got the permission from Mario-Francisco Robles at “Revenge Of The Fans” to publish the photo here at The Aviationist.

An F/A-18F Super Hornet was photographed with special markings including Capt. Pete Mitchell “Maverick” stenciled on the right cockpit rails. The aircraft may have been at Naval Air Station Fallon, as suggested by aviation and defense journalist Tyler Rogoway of “The War Zone” this morning when he posted that, “The jet has Topgun’s iconic seal on its tail, which means it would belong Naval Air Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC) at NAS Fallon. So it looks like Maverick is an instructor at the school, which is not surprising.”

Capt. Pete Mitchell “Maverick” stenciled on the special colored Super Hornet. Credit: Revengeofthefans.com

While speculation about the specifics of the film and its plot continue and news of the delay is disappointing, the promise of getting a look at some of the Navy’s newest aircraft along with a special livery F/A-18F Super Hornet is very exciting. Now all we need to do is get the Navy to fly Maverick’s new Super Hornet through Star Wars Canyon for a photo-op, preferably, while inverted.

Top image: Several websites leaked photos of a U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet with special markings that could be for Tom Cruise’s character “Maverick” in the upcoming Top Gun sequel (Photo: Via RevengeOfTheFans.com)

U.S. Navy Reports F-35C Lightning II and F/A-18F Damaged During Inflight Refueling Accident

Both Aircraft Landed Safely, but “Class A” Damage Sustained by F-35C in Accident.

A U.S. Navy F-35C Lightning II was damaged during a midair refueling exercise with an F/A-18F Super Hornet over the Atlantic Ocean on Tuesday according to a statement released by the Naval Air Forces Atlantic spokesman Commander Dave Hecht to United States Naval Institute News (USNI).

The F-35C, the naval variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, was flying from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72). The F-35C involved in the accident returned to the aircraft carrier and landed safely aboard ship following the accident. The F/A-18F Super Hornet landed at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia following the accident.

The report in USNI indicated the F-35C Lightning II was from Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125, the “Rough Raiders” on board the USS Lincoln. The F/A-18F Super Hornet involved in the accident was from Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 103, the “Jolly Rogers”.

The F-35C sustained engine damage during the accident when debris from the aerial refueling drogue being trailed by the F/A-18F Super Hornet serving as the tanker aircraft became ingested into the F-35C’s engine. There were no injuries and an official investigation is pending according to U.S. Navy sources.

The damage to the F-35C was categorized as a “Class A Mishap”, the most extensive level of damage for a military aircraft. Class A mishaps occur when an aircraft is completely destroyed, involves a serious injury or fatality or the aircraft itself sustains more than $2 million in damage. If the F-35C’s engine, a Pratt & Whitney F135 jet engine, the most powerful and advanced in its class, were destroyed in the accident it could cost as much as $14 million to replace it not including any additional damage to the aircraft’s airframe or avionics.

Damage to the F/A-18F Super Hornet was reported to be less severe and categorized as a “Class C” mishap with no injuries and damage reported to be between $50,000 and $500,000 USD according to Commander Dave Hecht.

The two aircraft involved in the accident were operating over the Atlantic and from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln as part of an integrated air wing test. The series of tests at sea are a realistic simulation, test and training exercise of how the new Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter naval variant will interface with other combat and support aircraft from the USS Abraham Lincoln.

U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Dale Horan told reporters on board the USS Abraham Lincoln last week that the operations underway were validating how the F-35C, “Integrates with the ship, how it interoperates with communications, data links, other aircraft, and then how we conduct the mission and tie into the other aircraft that are conducting that mission and how effective they are when they do it.” Rear Admiral Horan is the director of Joint Strike Fighter Fleet Integration for the Navy.

Two U.S. Navy units are operating the new F-35C Lightning II from the USS Abraham Lincoln during the exercise, VFA-125, the “Rough Raiders” from Naval Air Station Lemoore, California and VFA-147, the “Argonauts” also from NSA Lemoore.

Prior to today’s accident the U.S. Navy forecasted that the F-35C would achieve initial operational capability (IOC) sometime in February of 2019. In order to achieve that level of operational readiness the Navy will have to demonstrate the ability to successfully operate ten F-35Cs at sea, including all support and logistical operations to maintain F-35C operations.

Of the three U.S. forces operating the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; the USAF with the F-35A, the U.S. Marines with the F-35B STOVL variant and the U.S. Navy with the wider-wingspan F-35C model, the U.S. Navy has been the last to enter the IOC phase of operations. Some analysts suggest this is partially because of the demands placed on the Navy’s F-35C by catapult launches and arrested landings on Navy aircraft carriers.

Top Image: The accident was the first Class A mishap for a U.S. Navy F-35C Lighting II. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

F-35 Achieves Milestones Amid Setbacks And Criticism

Joint Strike Fighter is Still a Lightning Rod of Criticism, But Progress Continues.

Photos and Video by Lance Riegle unless otherwise stated. Story by Tom Demerly and David Cenciotti.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program reached several developmental milestones in August 2018 despite ongoing criticism of the program’s costs and reported technical concerns. As the effort to integrate the weapons system into participating air forces accelerates, the obstacles and challenges faced by the F-35 begin to appear more economic and political, and less practical and technical.

The airplane is beginning to work mostly as advertised, with the U.S. Air Force leading the integration into the force structure within the United States. The Navy and Marines continue to resolve technical challenges as their F-35 integration progresses, even though a recent POGO investigation has exposed that “program officials are recategorizing – rather than fixing – some of the aircraft’s design flaws, likely in an attempt to keep the from blowing through another deadline and budget cap.”

The U.S. Air Force is currently investigating the cause of last week’s nose gear collapse at Eglin Air Foce Base, while the Navy has begun to moderate the causes of the nose wheel oscillating vertically during catapult launches at some aircraft weights. The Navy is also working to resolve a helmet visibility problem that compromises the pilot’s view of aircraft carrier’s landing light systems at night. Until the solution is achieved for the F-35C, night landings at sea are restricted to experienced pilots. The Marines have asked for special lightning rods to prevent their recently deployed aircraft from being struck by lightning on the ground, a problem that could damage aircraft electronics. Some foreign F-35 operators will have the ability to block the F-35’s systems from sending data back to the U.S. through the Sovereign Data Management (SDM) system. This will create a sort-of operational security firewall for the much criticised Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS).

Perhaps the most adversarial environment for the F-35 is not denied airspace over Syria or Iran. The real high-threat environment for F-35 seems to be the no-rules, asymmetrical battlespace of social media.

In the late 1950s and ‘60s when the North American F-100 Super Sabre and Republic F-105 Thunderchief multi-role combat aircraft were in development major accidents were frequent. During the early testing and integration of the first production supersonic fighter, the F-100 Super Sabre, one aircraft was lost or damaged nearly every three days. The F-100’s own chief test pilot, North American’s George Welch, died in a 1954 crash.

Nearly half of the Republic F-105s were lost by the end of the Vietnam conflict, most to enemy action, but some in accidents before the aircraft ever deployed. Some of the F-105 accidents were high profile even before social media. One F-105 broke in two during use by the Air Force Thunderbirds. Another F-105 crashed in a Las Vegas neighborhood on May 13, 1964, killing three children and a woman on the ground along with the pilot. Eight houses burned in the crash. The F-105 was grounded pending safety investigations that revealed several dangerous problems that were subsequently repaired.

Acknowledging that the F-100 and F-105, along with the F-104 Starfighter, were among the first to fly at supersonic speeds, their technological progression from the previous generation aircraft, the P-80 Shooting Star and F-86 Sabre, could be regarded as similar to the differences between modern F-15s and F-16s and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

While there are ongoing problems with the F-35, these could be characterized as lesser than the potential context of the entire program and the arc of advancement in its key technologies. A primary challenge facing the overall F-35 program is not the technology of the aircraft itself, but the inability of the public to grasp what the F-35 actually will do. It is like trying to convince the owner of a $40 rotary telephone that a $700 iPhone is worth the upgrade, especially when they learn the battery can die and render the phone inoperable.

Integrating the F-35 into a modern and evolving battlespace has been as much a public affairs and perception challenge in the social media age as the technical challenges the program faces.

The debate between F-35 supporters and critics escalated in July 2015, when War Is Boring obtained a brief that claimed the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was outclassed by a two-seat F-16D Block 40 (one of the aircraft the U.S. Air Force intends to replace with the Lightning II) in mock aerial combat.

TheAviationist.com researched and debunked some theories about the alleged capabilities of each F-35 variant to match or considerably exceed the maneuvering performance of some of the most famous fourth-generation fighters. Our analysis also also made a strong case that there is probably no way a JSF will ever match a Eurofighter Typhoon in aerial combat. Our editors also highlighted that the simulated dogfight mentioned in the unclassified report obtained by War Is Boring involved one of the very first F-35 test aircraft that lacked more recent upgrades in currently fielded F-35s.

In March 2016, we published an article written by Major Morten “Dolby” Hanche, an experienced Royal Norwegian Air Force tactical pilot with more than 2,200 hours in the F-16. Major Dolby is also a U.S. Navy Test Pilot School graduate and the first Norwegian pilot to fly the F-35. In that post “Dolby” provided a first-hand account of what dogfighting in the controversial F-35 looked like to a pilot who had a significant experience in the F-16 along with formal experience as a flight test and analysis pilot.

A 33rd Fighter Wing F-35A Lightning II is towed to its airshow display location. (Photo: Lance Riegle)

At the first Red Flag combat simulation exercise the F-35 participated in during early 2017 reports claimed the aircraft achieved a “15 to 1” kill ratio. But one noted journalist, Tyler Rogoway of “The Warzone”, wrote:

“The 15:1 kill ratio in particular is nebulous, because it seems this may be skewed in terms of what data it actually includes. Kill ratios attributed to a platform naturally make us think of direct engagements with enemy aircraft, but Red Flag is a highly integrated air battle, one that always uses the latest data-link fusing gateways and other force-multipliers. It remains unclear whether the stated kill ratio is strictly attributable to the F-35, or if it includes the actions of other coalition aircraft, particularly F-22s, while the F-35 is merely present.”

Rogoway’s insight into the “15 to 1 kill ratio” highlights the traditional air combat paradigm that, if a missile didn’t fly off an aircraft’s wing, that aircraft didn’t score the kill. But the F-35 doesn’t work that way. A key F-35 technology is sensor fusion. Sensor fusion is pulling in targeting data from sensors on other platforms such as surveillance aircraft or shipborne surface radars. The F-35 can then “hand-off” targets to other weapons platforms, effectively scoring a kill that would not have otherwise happened, but without firing a shot itself.

This is what TheAviationist.com’s Chief Editor David Cenciotti wrote back then:

Well, after eight days “at war”, in spite of being “just” IOC (Initial Operational Capable – the FOC is expected next year with Block 3F) the F-35A Lightning II is proving to be an “invaluable asset” during Red Flag 17-01, the Air Force’s premier air combat exercise held at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada: its ability to gather, fuse, and distribute more information than any other fighter in history provide the pilot with vital situational awareness that can be exploited to escape (and engage?) highly sophisticated and lethal enemy ground threats and interceptors.

Actually, the extent of the F-22 Raptors contribution to the above mentioned kill ratio is not clear: the F-35s are flying alongside Raptors and, as one might expect, the F-22s take care of the aggressors whilst the F-35s slip undetected through the surface-to-air defenses until it reaches the position to drop munitions at the target.

Considered that the F-22s are providing air cover to the Lightning IIs, is the 15:1 score a team result or the actual kill ratio of the F-35A?

There’s been much debate about the kill ratio of the F-35 made public after air-to-air engagements against other aircraft (namely the F-15E during a similated deployment last year).

In other (F-35) news…

Diplomatic wrangling surrounding the program has created the most sensational turbulence, and one significant stall in the case of the delayed Turkish program deliveries. The first Turkish pilot to fly an F-35A Lightning II, Major Halit Oktay, flew the aircraft at Luke AFB near Phoenix, Arizona on August 28, 2018. The Turkish news outlet “Daily Sabah” reported the flight on Wednesday.

A report also surfaced this week that the U.S. was trying to convince Turkey to “Give Up S-400s and Get F-35s” according to a headline on the HurriyetDailyNews.com Turkish news outlet. The U.S. has voiced security concerns about Turkey employing both Russian designed S-400 surface-to-air missile systems and the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter. The concerns have resulted in a delay in providing F-35As to Turkey even as the U.S. continues to train Turkish F-35 pilots at Luke AFB. The S-400 missile system is claimed to have “anti-stealth” capabilities that could pose a threat to the F-35. U.S. lawmakers are concerned that one country using both weapons systems may compromise the security of some aspects of the F-35 program.

The U.S. Navy also achieved an F-35 milestone this week when the first F-35C integrated flight operations were conducted from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72). It was the first time U.S. Navy F-35C Lightning IIs operated as an integrated part of a carrier-launched strike package. F-35Cs from Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125, the “Rough Raiders”, from Naval Air Station Lemoore conducted their Operational Test-1 (OT-1) with Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7 and Carrier Strike Group 12 aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. The unique, wide-winged Navy F-35Cs flew in coordination with F/A-18s and other aircraft while integrating with a navy air wing conducting cyclic missions.

180820-N-FK070-2050
ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 20, 2018) An F-35C Lightning II from the Rough Raiders of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125 prepares to launch from the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian M. Wilbur/Released)

The Italian Air Force, quite “shy” about its most advanced aircraft, is sending one of their F-35As to take part in the first European airshow at Belgian Kleine-Brogel Air Base on Sept. 8-9.

Other upcoming milestones in the F-35 program will include the first flights of the British F-35s from their new aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, scheduled for early next year off the U.S. coast. The tests will initially use U.S. aircraft but likely be flown by British pilots. Meanwhile, the British have carried out the first trials out of Edwards Air Force Base, California, carrying UK-built ASRAAM missiles.

On the other side, it’s a bit of a mystery why the F-35 that have arrived to the UK haven’t flown in over a month as reported by Aviation Week. According to the MoD this was caused by maintenance checks as well as personnel leave and will have no impact on achieving the IOC (Initial Operational Capability) in December…

While the F-35 program has received valid criticism over its cost the program is showing signs of providing economic returns. Lockheed Martin stock has climbed from $122.42 per share five years ago to its Wednesday close of $321.29. The stock has lead the defense financial sector with a five year increase of 89.63% while returning a dividend yield of 2.5%. Lockheed Martin also honored a commitment to hire 1,800 new employees for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program.

The recent milestones in the overall F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program are important to consider set the against the backdrop of publicized problems within the program. While many of the concerns facing the F-35 development are valid and significant, according to all the analysts and pilots we have talked to, they could be characterized as “the new normal” for a program as vast as the Joint Strike Fighter. For this reason, as long as the current trend of developmental advances in the program begin to outpace the ongoing concerns over costs and technical evolution, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program will likely emerge as a net gain in a technical space where there is no second place.

Check Out This Nostalgic 1981 U.S. Navy Commercial Featuring the F-14 Tomcat

It’s short but worth watching.

The video below is a U.S. Navy commercial dating back to the 1981. In the early eighties the F-14 Tomcat was the Navy’s premier fighter: inducted into active service beginning in 1974, the legendary aircraft had already replaced the F-4 Phantom II in most Carrier Air Wings aboard US aircraft carriers. Actually, in 1981, the F-14 had its first air-to-air kills during what became known as the First Gulf of Sidra incident. In that aerial engagement, on Aug. 19, 1981, two F-14s from the VF-41 Black Aces downed two Libyan Su-22 Fitters.

Anyway, few years before it starred in Top Gun movie, the F-14 served as “U.S. Navy’s best recruiting tool” in a short clip that will bring you back to the “1980s”!

By the way, the aircraft you can see in the commercial is the F-14A Tomcat modex “212” belonging to VF-2 “Bounty Hunters”, a squadron assigned to CVW-2 deployed to sea (WestPac and Indian Ocean) aboard USS Ranger (CV-61) between Sep.10, 1980 and May 5, 1981. The aircraft sports the striking high-visibility camouflage/color scheme and markings that were used on Navy’s combat aircraft in that period before they were replaced by the overall grey low-viz patterns.

The airbase appears to be NAS Miramar (now MCAS Miramar).

Noteworthy, the commercial focused on the pilot alone, forgetting the other Tomcat’s crewmember: the RIO (Radar Intercept Officer).

U.S. Navy Blue Angels to Get Super Hornets By The End of 2021

New, Larger Aircraft Will Change Display Routine, Add Range for Ferry Flights.

After several seasons of speculation, official U.S. Navy documents have revealed the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Team, The Blue Angels, will receive the larger, upgraded Boeing F/A-18E single seat and F/A-18F two-seat Super Hornet to replace their aging F/A-18C/D Hornets, by the end of 2021.

The news is exciting for several reasons. By the time the first full show season in the new Super Hornets (existing ones retrofitted into a Blue Angel aerial demonstration team configuration) arrives for the Blues , the team will have been in the existing version of the Hornet for 35 years. That’s a long time for a demonstration aircraft. Most current generation Blue Angel fans have never seen the team fly any other aircraft, so the upgrade to the Super Hornet adds an element of freshness and excitement to the team’s sensational display.

The legacy F/A-18C Hornets are beginning to show their age. (All images Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com unless stated)

Prior to getting their current F/A-18 Hornets the Blue Angels flew the small, single-engine Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. While the Skyhawk had an impressive combat record with the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marines during the Vietnam conflict, the aircraft was quieter, smaller and more difficult to see during demonstrations. It was, however, a good choice for the team during the energy crisis of the late 1970s since the Skyhawk used less fuel.

But the A-4 Skyhawk lacked the visual and audible impact of its predecessor, the larger, smoky, twin-engine McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantom II flown by the team from 1969 until 1974. For a brief period both the Blue Angels and the USAF Thunderbirds flew the F-4 Phantom II, with the Thunderbirds operating the F-4E version. The Thunderbirds transitioned from their F-4E Phantom IIs in 1974 also in response to the energy crisis when they opted for the smaller T-38 Talon trainer. Today the Thunderbirds use the F-16 Fighting Falcon single engine aircraft in two different versions.

The new F/A-18E and F Super Hornets will replace current F/A-18Cs like this one.

The upcoming change to Super Hornets means the Blue Angels remain America’s only twin-engine jet demonstration team. And, with the new, larger Super Hornets and their over 4-foot wider wingspan than the previous Hornet, the visual impact of the new demonstration routine will surely be striking.

Size comparison of current F/A-18C Hornet and larger, upcoming F/A-18E Super Hornet. (Drawing: Courtesy Aviation/StackExchange public forum)

The Blues will take delivery of the Super Hornets in late 2021 in time to work-up for the following airshow season. The aircraft to be flown by the Blue Angels will be fleet aircraft modified for airshow demonstration with biodegradable colored smoke injectors, fuel flow modifications to facilitate extended inverted flight and the addition of 7-pounds of forward hydraulic force on the control stick when maintaining level flight to improve the handling of the aircraft in turbulent, close formation flying. The aircraft are expected to maintain the current blue and yellow paint scheme that contrasts well against afternoon skies when the Blues fly most of their flight demos.

Some aviation photographers suggest the Blue Angels are easier to photograph than their USAF counterparts, the Thunderbirds, because the larger Blue Angel F/A-18s with their darker paint schemes contrast better against late afternoon airshow lighting conditions allowing modern DSLR autofocus systems to acquire the aircraft more easily in flight.

The visual contrast between the USAF Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels is striking. Notice that even in notorious flat light conditions the dark blue Blue Angels paint livery contrasts well with the sky background making observation and photography easy. (Photos: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

The Blue Angels will receive nine F/A-18E single seat and two F/A-18F two-seat aircraft for the team. The Department of Defense procurement order for the total of eleven aircraft indicates a program conversion cost for the aircraft to demonstration condition of $17,002,107.00 USD. Approximately 3 million spectators see the U.S. Navy Blue Angels perform during a typical airshow season of about 70 flight demonstrations at 30-35 separate locations around the U.S. and the world. That means if the Blue Angels use the new F/A-18E and F Super Hornets for the next 30 years potentially 90,000,000 viewers, many of them repeat fans, will see the Blues perform.

Flight Demonstration teams like the Blue Angels are critical recruiting and public affairs tools for the U.S. military. Many military aviators trace at least part of their career choice to inspiration from early exposure to one of the military demo teams. With the current pilot shortage in the U.S. military the demonstration team’s mission is more important than perhaps any phase in recent history.

Top image credit: U.S. Navy