Tag Archives: U.S. Navy

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.

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)