Tag Archives: U.S. Navy

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.

U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet Crashes in Key West, Florida: 2 Reported Dead.

Aircraft Was from Strike Fighter Attack Squadron (VFA) 213 On Routine Training Sortie. It’s the 14th major incident involving a Hornet of any variant since May 2016.

A U.S. Navy Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet two-seat combat aircraft crashed at approximately 4:30 PM EDT, Wednesday, March 14, 2018 near Key West, Fla. Both crew members are being reported as dead after being transported to Lower Keys Medical Center in Florida. Reports indicate the crew did eject from the aircraft prior to the crash. The aircraft was from Strike Fighter Attack Squadron (VFA) 213 “Black Lions” based at Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia. The aircraft went down one mile east of the runway on landing approach to Boca Chica Field, Naval Air Station Key West when the accident occurred.

Photos from the crash location show the aircraft with gear and hook down, upside down on the surface of water; other amateur shots show an SH-60 Seahawk helicopter hovering over the same area after the F/A-18F appears to have submerged.

According to an official statement released by the commander, Naval Air Forces Atlantic, “Search and rescue crews were notified shortly after the crash where they recovered both the pilot and weapons systems officer from the water approximately one mile east of the runway. Both were taken by ambulance to Lower Keys Medical Center,” A later announcement read, “Both aviators have been declared deceased. Per Department of Defense policy, the names of the aviators are being withheld until 24 hours after next-of-kin notification.”

The Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet is a twin-engine, two-place multi-role combat aircraft widely used by the U.S. Navy primarily in the ground attack role. The aircraft is also being operated by the Royal Australian Air Force. It is a more advanced version of the original F/A-18 Hornet multi-role aircraft introduced by McDonnell Douglas.

Here’s what The Aviationist’s David Cenciotti wrote last summer when reporting about an F/A-18E of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 146  assigned to the USS Nimitz (CVN 68) that departed the runway during an emergency landing at Bahrain International Airport on Aug. 12, 2017 (the pilot successfully ejected):

Dealing with the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleet, four aircraft were lost (fortunately resulting in 0 fatalities) including the one lost last week: two VFA-211 F/A-18F jets from NAS Oceana collided and crashed 25 miles E of the Oregon Inlet, Nags Head, NC on May 26, 2016; earlier this year, on Apr. 21, 2017, a VFA-137 F/A-18E crashed during a landing attempt on USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in the Celebes sea, between Indonesia and the Philippines.

Legacy Hornets are crashing at an even more alarming rate: two U.S. Marine Corps F-18 Hornets from MCAS Miramar crashed on Nov. 9, 2016 near San Diego. Another F/A-18C crashed near USMC Air Ground Combat Cente, Twentynine Palms, on Oct. 25, 2016. A U.S. Navy F/A-18C belonging to the Strike Fighter Wing Pacific, Detachment Fallon, crashed on Aug. 2, 2016, 10NM to the south of NAS Fallon. On Jul. 27, 2016 a USMC F/A-18 belonging to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing crashed during a night strafing run on a weapons range near Twentynine Palms (killing the pilot). On Jun. 2 a Blue Angels Hornet crashed after taking off from Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport (KMQY), Smyrna, Tennessee: the only pilot on board was killed in the incident.

Aircraft may crash for a variety of reasons, not always technical ones. Still, the rate of Hornet crashes in the last years seems to be unusual and, as such, concerning.

According to a report published in September 2016 by Stars and Stripes, since 2012, the number of major Navy and Marine Hornet and Super Hornet accidents have increased by 44 percent as a consequence of sequestration and subsequent cuts in flight hours for training at home.

Moreover, F/A-18 Hornets of all variants have shown a steady yearly increases of what the Navy calls “physiological episodes” due to oxygen deprivation and cabin decompression since May 1, 2010, and the U.S. Navy has linked the deaths of four Hornet pilots that occurred over a span of 10 years to “physiological episodes” (PE). Such deadly incidents are not all the direct result an oxygen system failure but are linked by the fact that pilots experienced various symptoms that fall within the scope of a PE: dizziness, vertigo, oxygen shortage, blackouts, etc.

The Super Hornet incident in Bahrain was the second involving a Super Hornet in 2017, the fourth one since May 2016. But it was not the last one. In October 2017, a Spanish EF-18 Hornet, belonging to the Ala 12, crashed during take off from its homebase at Torrejon Air Base, near Madrid, killing the pilot. Then, in January this year, a Royal Australian Air Force EA-18G Growler, the electronic warfare variant of the Super Hornet, caught fire during take-off at Nellis AFB, Nevada while participating in the Red Flag 18-1 combat training exercise. Both crew members were uninjured in the incident.

Su-27 Inside Area 51, WC-135 Nuke Sniffer Saga, Iran’s Stealth Jet Update, And Much More: The Aviationist’s Top Stories Of 2017

The five top stories of The Aviationist provide the readers the opportunity to virtually review what happened in 2017.

Ordered by pageviews, the following 5 posts got the most reads and comments among the articles published on The Aviationist this year.

Needless to say, we have covered many more topics during the past year: the mysterious crash of an unidentified aircraft type that cost the life of Col. Eric Schultz; the Syrian Su-22 shot down by a U.S. Navy Super Hornet over Syria; the F-35 Lightning II (first special tail; first female pilot; Israeli IOC; birdstrikes and subsequent theories; etc); the Russian Su-57 (formerly PAK FA); the B-21 Raider; the North Korean crisis; some serious accidents across Europe; and much, much more…

BTW, we have also published an ebook on the A-10 Thunderbolt titled “BRRRTTT…deployments, war chronicles and stories of the last A-10 Warthogs” that is now available in paperback version on Amazon.

Please use the search feature on the site or select the proper category/tag to read all what we have written throughout the last year.

1) These crazy photos show a Russian Su-27 Flanker dogfighting with a U.S. Air Force F-16 inside Area 51

The two jets almost overlap (the Su-27 is farther, the F-16 is closer to the camera), during a dogfight inside Area 51.

Jan. 06 2017

You don’t happen to see a Su-27 Flanker dogfighting with a F-16 unless you visit Area 51. Here are the amazing photographs taken near Groom Lake, on Nov. 8, 2016, U.S. election day.

The photographs in this post were taken from Tikaboo Valley, near Groom Lake, Nevada, by Phil Drake, who was lucky enough to observe a Su-27P Flanker-B dogfighting with an F-16, presumably one of the four Groom Lake based -D models in the skies of the famous Area 51.

Although the quality of the pictures is low (the aircraft were flying between 20K and 30K feet) they are extremely interesting since Flankers operating from Groom are not a secret (they have been documented in 2003 – 2004 and more recently between 2012 and 2014) but have rarely been photographed.

Here’s Phil’s report of the rare sighting:

“The date was November 8th, US election day, and the sighting was between 1500 and 1525.

I was visiting Nevada hoping to catch a glimpse of some of the latest defense programmes being tested.

On the Monday and Wednesday, Nellis Aggressor F-15s and F-16s were regularly overhead, dropping flares and sonic booms.  It was Tuesday afternoon when the skies went quiet for a couple of hours, and I hoped this may be a sign of something unusual being flown.

Eventually the sound of jet noise caught my attention, and I scanned the clear blue skies ’til I saw the tiny speck of an approaching military jet at high altitude, leaving an intermittent contrail.

It was instantly recognisable as a Russian built Sukhoi 27 Flanker, and carried no national insignia or identifying marks.

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2) U.S. Air Force deploys WC-135 nuclear sniffer aircraft to UK as spike of radioactive Iodine levels is detected in Europe

The WC-135 nuke sniffer (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Boitz)

Feb. 19 2017

The USAF WC-135C Constant Phoenix might be investigating a spike in radioactive levels in Norway. Someone speculates the release of this radionuclide could be the effect of a Russian nuclear test.

On Feb. 17, 2017, U.S. Air Force WC-135C Constant Phoenix Nuclear explosion “sniffer,” serial number 62-3582, using radio callsign “Cobra 55” deployed to RAF Mildenhall, UK.

As we have already reported the WC-135 is a derivative of the Boeing C-135 transport and support plane. Two of these aircraft are in service today out of the ten examples operated since 1963. The aircraft are flown by flight crews from the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron from Offutt Air Force Base while mission crews are staffed by Detachment 1 from the Air Force Technical Applications Center.

The WC-135, known as the “sniffer” or “weather bird” by its crews, can carry up to 33 personnel. However, crew compliments are kept to a minimum during mission flights in order to lessen levels of radioactive exposure.

Effluent gasses are gathered by two scoops on the sides of the fuselage, which in turn trap fallout particles on filters. The mission crews have the ability to analyze the fallout residue in real-time, helping to confirm the presence of nuclear fallout and possibly determine the characteristics of the warhead involved.

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3) New Photos And Video of Iran’s Homemade F-313 “Qaher” Stealth Jet Have Just Emerged. And Here’s A First Analysis

The F-313 during taxi tests (highlighted the main differences since the first appearance in 2013).

Apr. 15 2017

A new prototype of the weird Qaher 313 stealth jet has conducted taxi tests.

Footage and photographs showing a new prototype (marked “08”) of the famous Qaher F-313 stealth fighter jet have just emerged as Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani participated Saturday in an exhibition displaying the achievements that the Defense Ministry Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan gained during the past two years.

Indeed, an “upgraded version” of the “faux stealth fighter” can be observed performing taxi tests. The aircraft appears to be slightly different from the one unveiled on Feb. 2, 2013, that was nothing more than a poorly designed mock-up that would never fly unless it was extensively modified and heavily improved.

Four years ago, the cockpit was basic for any modern plane, the air intakes appeared to be too small, the engine section lacked any kind of nozzle meaning that the engine would probably melt the aircraft’s back-end. Above all, the aircraft was way too small to such an extent its cockpit could not fit a normal-sized human being.

The new prototype retains the original weird shape but has a more realistic cockpit, large enough to accommodate an Iranian test pilot on an ejection seat, with a “normal” canopy (the previous one was clearly made of plexiglass), and a dorsal antenna. It is equipped with dual exhaust nozzles: according to some sources these are U.S. engines, according to others these would be new turbofan engines or modified Iranian J-85s. And, interestingly, a sort of FLIR (Forward Looking Infra-Red) turret was attached to the nose of the aircraft, that also features a white radome.

Although the new prototype is not a complete joke as its predecessor, it is still pretty hard to say whether it will be able to take to the air and land safely without further modifications: the intakes continue to appear smaller than normal (as commented back in 2013, they remind those of current drones/unmanned combat aerial vehicles); the wing are small as well and feature the peculiar design with the external section canted downward whose efficiency is not clear.

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4) U.S. Department Of Defense Video Shows Unknown Object Intercepted By U.S. Navy Super Hornet And We Have No Idea What It Was.

ATFLIR footage of a mysterious object intercepted by USN F/A-18 Super Hornet in 2004.

Dec. 12 2017

This video shows the weird object as seen from a U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet’s ATFLIR (Advanced Targeting Forward Looking Infrared) pod. What is it? Any idea?

On Dec. 16, the NYT published an interesting story about a U.S. Department of Defense program that investigated reports of UFOs (unidentified flying objects). Along with interviews with program participants and records they obtained investigating the mysterious Pentagon program, The New York Times has released a video that shows a close encounter between an F/A-18F Super Hornet out of USS Nimitz and one of these UFOs back in 2004.

Back in 2007, a user (cometa2) of the popular Above Top Secret (ATS) forum posted an alleged official CVW-11 Event Summary of a close encounter occurred on Nov. 14, 2004. Back then, when the encounter had not been confirmed yet, many users questioned the authenticity of both the event log and the footage allegedly filmed during the UFO intercept. More than 10 years later, with an officially released video of the encounter, it’s worth having a look at that unverified event log again: although we can’t say for sure whether it is genuine or not, it is at least “realistic” and provides some interesting details and narrative consistent with the real carrier ops. Moreover, the summary says that the callsign of the aircraft involved in the encounter is Fast Eagle: this callsign is used by the VFA-41 Black Aces – incidentally the very same squadron of David Fravor, formed Co of VFA-41, the pilot who recalled the encounter to NYT.

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5) Rare Photo Shows F-4 Phantom Flying Inverted While Intercepting A Russian Tu-95 Bear Bomber

The famous shot of the inverted flying F-4 Phantom (the aircraft was actually ending a barrel roll).

Dec. 04 2017

“Because I was….inverted!”: Top Gun stunt performed near a Russian strategic bomber.

In the last few years, we have often reported about “unsafe and unprofessional” intercepts conducted across the world by Russian (and Chinese) fighter jets scrambled to identify and escort U.S. spyplanes flying in international airspace.

Barrel rolls, aggressive turns that disturbed the controllability of the “zombie” (intercepted aircraft in fighter pilot’s jargon), inverted flight: if you use the search function on this site you can read of several such incidents that made the news on media all around the world.

The last episode involved a Russian Su-30 that crossed within 50 feet of a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon’s path over the Black Sea during an intercept mission, causing the American maritime patrol aircraft to endure violent turbulence, on Nov. 25, 2017.

However, as a former RC-135 aircraft commander who flew the S, U, V, W, and X models, told us a couple of years ago:

“Prior to the end of the Cold War interceptors from a variety of nations managed to get into tight formation with RC-135s and EP-3s. Smaller airplanes like MiG-21s made it easy. The challenge with the larger airplanes like the Su-27 and MiG-31 is the sheer size of the interceptor as it moves in front of any portion of the intercepted plane.

At least the Su-27 pilot has excellent all-around visibility to see where the back-end of his own airplane is as he maneuvers adjacent to the RC-135.

The U-Boat crew took video of the intercept, which has not been released but shows the precise extent of how close the FLANKER really was. Recent movies taken by a PRC aircraft that was intercepted by a JASDF F-15CJ suggests that the Eagle was very close—until the camera zooms out and shows the Eagle was 70-100 feet away from the wingtip….

Finally, although the number of Russian reactions to Western recon flights has been increasing recently, for 15-20 years (certainly from 1992 through 2010) there were almost no reactions on a regular basis. As such, what passes for dangerous and provocative today was ho-hum to recon crews of my generation (although we weren’t shot at like the early fliers from 1950-1960).”

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