Tag Archives: United States Air Force

Check Out This Really Unusual “Formation”: USAF B-1Bs, B-52H, KC-135R Escorted by Russian SU-27 Over Baltic.

Here are some extraordinary pictures of a really unsual “close encounter” over the Baltic Sea.

In yet another sensational encounter between U.S. and Russian aircraft, two B-1B Lancers from the 28th Bomb Wing, a B-52H Stratofortress from the 2nd Bomb Wing (both deployed to RAF Fairford, UK) and a KC-135R Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft from the 459th Air Refueling Squadron were intercepted and observed by a Russian SU-27 Flanker on Friday, June 9 over the Baltic Sea.

The U.S. bomber and tanker formation was participating in BALTOPS, an aerial deployment exercise that rehearses and improves cooperation and interoperability between U.S. and international units and as a demonstration of U.S. capabilities in the region to reinforce the U.S. commitment to security.

U.S. Air Force photographer Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder shot these photos (from the boom position of a KC-135 tanker) during the Friday intercept. The U.S. Air Force said officially that, “Flight intercepts are regular occurrences, and the vast majority are conducted in a safe and professional manner.”

However the list of intercepts deemed “unsafe” or “unprofessional” from the U.S. DoD is pretty long… (read here or here for a couple of examples.)

A Russian Su-27 Flanker intercepts a formation of U.S. Air Force aircraft, two B-1B Lancers, 28th Bomb Wing, KC-135R Stratotanker, 459th Air Refueling Squadron and B-52H Stratofortress, 2nd Bomb Wing, while participating in BALTOPS over the Baltic Sea, June 9, 2017. The exercise is designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, to strengthen combined response capabilities, as well as demonstrate resolve among Allied and Partner Nations’ forces to ensure stability in, and if necessary defend, the Baltic Sea region. Flight intercepts are regular occurrences, and the vast majority are conducted in a safe and professional manner.(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)

There has been an increase in intercepts between NATO, U.S. and Russian aircraft during the last 24 months in what seems like a slightly less-tense return to the Cold War era when intercepts had a distinctly more ominous message. The U.K. based news writer Lizzie Dearden wrote, “Around 780 deployments were made from European military bases last year in response to Russian aircraft, compared to just 410 in 2015.” This does not a string of intercepts in other regions that include a sensational set of four intercepts in a row by USAF F-22 Raptors of Russian maritime patrol aircraft off the Alaskan coast recently.

A Russian Su-27 Flanker intercepts a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer, 28th Bomb Wing, while participating in BALTOPS over the Baltic Sea, June 9, 2017. The exercise is designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, to strengthen combined response capabilities, as well as demonstrate resolve among Allied and Partner Nations’ forces to ensure stability in, and if necessary defend, the Baltic Sea region. Flight intercepts are regular occurrences, and the vast majority are conducted in a safe and professional manner. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)

While popular news media often adds a sensational spin to the intercepts suggesting some version of political brinkmanship a more relevant interpretation is that the air forces involved are conducting the intercepts for training and air traffic safety reasons. Some NATO aircraft including RAF Typhoons have escorted Russian aircraft that flew in moderate proximity to commonly used civilian air routes without common air traffic control transponders. When NATO aircraft rendezvous with the Russian aircraft they use their transponders to mark the location of the Russian aircraft as they transit the airspace.

Regardless of the motives the encounters often make for sensational photos and video.

A Russian Su-27 Flanker peels away from a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer, 28th Bomb Wing, while participating in BALTOPS over the Baltic Sea, June 9, 2017. The exercise is designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, to strengthen combined response capabilities, as well as demonstrate resolve among Allied and Partner Nations’ forces to ensure stability in, and if necessary defend, the Baltic Sea region. Flight intercepts are regular occurrences, and the vast majority are conducted in a safe and professional manner. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)

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U.S. F-15E Downs Iranian-Built Syrian Drone After Airstrike on U.S. Led Forces

Syrian Drone Destroyed by Strike Eagle After It Engaged Anti-Assad Coalition Ground Forces. Second air-to-air kill for the Strike Eagle since Gulf War.

U.S. Special Operations advisors leading anti-Assad Syrian forces came under fire from an Iranian built Shahed 129 drone operated by Syrian pro-government forces on Thursday according to the U.S. Army.

A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle shot the drone down.

The incident occurred outside Al-Tanf, southern Syria close to the Jordanian border. An installation in Al –Tanf serves as a forward operating base for British and U.S. special operations teams assisting the anti-ISIL Syrian guerilla group Maghawir al-Thawra or “Commandos of the Revolution”. Maghawir al-Thawra is regarded as an indigenous special operations group who have received training and support from coalition forces to fight the Assad regime.

The U.S. reacted to the drone attack by tasking an F-15E Strike Eagle to locate and destroy the Syrian drone. It was officially the first time U.S. forces had come under air attack by a hostile nation in nearly 20 years and the second air-to-air kill for the Strike Eagle since the downing of an Iraqi Gunship helicopter in 1991.

According to U.S. Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman of the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), the Assad government Syrian drone strike on U.S. advisors and Syrian revolutionary commandos “did not have an effect on coalition forces,”

“The pro-regime UAV, similar in size to the U.S. MQ-1 predator, was shot down by U.S. aircraft after it dropped one of several weapons it was carrying near a position occupied by coalition personnel who are training and advising partner ground forces in the fight against ISIL,” CJTF-OIR’s public affairs office released in a statement. “The shoot down follows an earlier engagement in the day in which Coalition forces destroyed two pro-regime armed technical vehicles that advanced inside the well established de-confliction zone threatening Coalition and partner forces.”

Pentagon Correspondent Tara Copp was among the first to release the U.S. aircraft involved in the drone shoot-down incident (Twitter)

A 34-mile region around Al-Tanf has been declared a “de-confliction zone” by coalition forces for the past several weeks. This buffer was established to safeguard U.S. and British supported anti-Assad forces. Several incidents have taken place recently inside this de-confliction zone that have prompted a U.S. response. On Tuesday, a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet dropped four bombs killing an estimated 10 pro-Assad combatants and destroyed several of their vehicles.

It is also likely the pro-Assad forces controlling the Iranian made Shahed 129 drone were in close proximity to the drone itself at the time it attacked U.S. advised anti-Assad forces. The Shahed 129 can be controlled by satellite guidance from a remote ground station, but this example was almost certainly controlled by a local ground controller with line-of-sight to the Syrian Shahed 129 when it was destroyed by the U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle.

The incident is significant since U.S. ground forces in the region and, in the entire history of the Global War of Terror, have been largely immune from air attacks. The Iranian-made Shahed 129 drone was also employed by Hezbollah in a 2012 operation over Israel. The Israelis downed the Iranian-made, Hezbollah-controlled drone but the incident marked a dangerous escalation in terrorist capabilities.

The Iranian-built Shahed 129 armed drone (Iranian News Media)

 

F-35A Apparently Cleared for More Aerobatics During Airshows: New Video Shows A Full Aileron Roll Eventually Added To The Display

Can You Spot What’s New In This F-35A Heritage Flight Demo?

If you are a keen observer of airshow flight demonstration routines then you already know the USAF F-35A has not flown inverted as a part of its demonstration routine during the previous Heritage Flight displays.

Last year at the Aviation Nation airshow at Nellis AFB in Nevada this Author saw F-35A demonstration pilot USAF Major Will Andreotta, call sign “D-Rail”, momentarily approach inverted flight during a pull-out from a high performance pass following the formation flight portion of the Heritage Flight demo. But the F-35A did purposely not fly completely inverted due to administrative restrictions on the aircraft’s demonstration routines.

In the last Heritage Flight of the 2016 airshow season at Nellis AFB this was as close to inverted as the F-35A would fly, close, but not a completely inverted roll. (Image credit: Author)

It would appear some, or perhaps nearly all, of the demonstration flight restrictions have been removed based on this new video of a USAF F-35A Lightning II flying with an F-86 Sabre and a P-38 Lightning during the Heritage Flight demo at the Planes of Fame Airshow in Chino, California on May 6th and 7th 2017.

As you can see in the video, the F-35A does its relatively normal climb out, but then appears to maneuver somewhat more aggressively than was seen in the 2016 demonstration season where “G” load and aerobatic restrictions were imposed.

Most significantly, at the 1:29 point into the video the Heritage Flight formation calls for “break!” and performs its normal horizontal separation. At the final Heritage Flight of the season in 2016 at Nellis AFB the other aircraft in the formation passed one-by-one in review in front of the crowd line and executed a single, slow aileron roll. The F-35A was the only aircraft that did not perform the fully inverted roll, again, likely due to demonstration restrictions at the time.

In this new video, however, at the 1:36 point in the video the F-35 pulls slightly nose-up, then executes a rather smart looking right aileron roll, the first we’ve seen in any Heritage Flight or, for that matter, the first ever USAF F-35A complete aileron roll seen at an airshow.

At 1:36 into this video by Spencer Hughes the F-35 completes a full aileron roll. (screenshot from Spencer Hughes’s YouTube video)

Considered what other combat aircraft can do, an aileron roll is the least the F-35 can do to show a bit of maneuverability.

News outlet Aerospace Daily and Defense Report wrote in a May 17, 2017 story that the F-35A will fly its first aerial demonstration at the Paris Air Show this year, with Lockheed Martin pilots, not U.S. Air Force pilots, performing aerobatics in the skies above Le Bourget Airport.

Aerospace Daily went on to report that the Paris Air Show demonstration by the F-35A “Will showcase the maneuverability of Lockheed’s fifth-generation fighter, and perhaps lay to rest claims that the F-35 cannot match some fourth-generation aircraft in power and performance. The Joint Strike Fighter’s maneuverability was famously called into question in July 2015, when a blogger got his hands on a report in which the aircraft was outclassed by the F-16 in mock aerial combat.”

This new apparent relaxation of flight performance restrictions for the USAF F-35A means the 2017 flight demonstration season will likely be a bit more exciting than ever…

 

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A throttle trigger malfunction and inadvertent throttle rotation resulted in the F-16 Thunderbird accident

“A throttle trigger malfunction and inadvertent throttle rotation resulted in an F-16CM being destroyed upon impacting the ground south of Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado”

On Jun. 2, 2016, a U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds F-16 crashed shortly after the demo team had performed a flyover at the annual Air Force graduation ceremony in Colorado Springs, attended by President Barack Obama.

The pilot managed to eject before the aircraft crash landed in a field not far from Peterson AFB, Colorado.

On Dec. 14, the U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command released the Accident Investigation Board report about the incident according to which the F-16CM #6 crashed as a result of “a throttle trigger malfunction and inadvertent throttle rotation.”

Here’s a relevant excerpt from the report:

“After beginning landing procedures, the pilot inadvertently rotated the throttle, placing it into an engine cut-off position. Normally, this full rotation cannot occur unless a throttle trigger is affirmatively actuated or pressed. However, the throttle trigger was “stuck” in the “pressed” position. The accident investigation board observed debris accumulation in the throttle trigger, combined with wear on the trigger assembly.”

So, the pilot placed the throttle to the cut-off position instead of Idle because the trigger that would normally prevent it to reach that position was stuck in the pressed position.

The following video (H/T to our friends at Fromtheskies blog) clearly shows how the f-16’s throttle works.

Here below another video that shows how the throttle moves from Idle to the cut-off position using the trigger:

“Once the engine cut-off occurred, the aircraft immediately lost thrust. The pilot attempted engine restart procedures, but restart was impossible at the low altitude of the aircraft. The pilot safely delayed his ejection until he navigated the aircraft to a grass field.”

“The aircraft, valued at approximately $29 million, was destroyed. There was no known damage to civilian property. At the time of the accident, the pilot was a current and qualified air demonstration pilot, with more than 1,200 hours flying the F-16 and a total flight time of 1,447 hours. He resumed demonstrations with the team.”

 

U.S. F/A-18s, AV-8Bs and EA-6Bs certified for refueling from Italian Air Force Boeing KC-767A

The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps fighter components have obtained the certification to refuel from the Italian Air Force Boeing KC-767A tankers.

One of the four Italian Air Force KC-767A aircraft has completed the testing required to certify the U.S. Navy fighter component to perform AAR (Air-to-Air Refueling) operations with the new tanker.

The certification activities took place at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Maryland, home of VX-23, VX-31 and Marine Aircraft Group 14, where the Italian tanker, belonging to the 14° Stormo (Wing) Strategic Transport and Air Refueling from Pratica di Mare, deployed on Aug. 19.

According to the ItAF, the whole operation was completed in 10 weeks, six of those were focused on flight testing with U.S. Navy / U.S. Marine Corps Hornets, Super Hornets, Harriers and Prowlers.

Roughly one year ago, the RSV (Reparto Sperimentale Volo – Italian Flying Test Unit) deployed to the U.S. with the KC-767A to carry out the first certification of a USAF tanker with stereoscopic vision system (Remote Vision System – RVS). Furthermore, in the same period, a KC-767A belonging to 8° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 14° Stormo became the first international tanker to successfully complete aerial refueling of a U.S. Air Force F-35A during a boom receiver certification refueling flight conducted over California’s High Desert region on Jul. 29, 2015.

The KC-767A is a specific variant obtained from the commercial aircraft Boeing 767-200ER “Extended Range.” Equipped with both the sixth generation flying boom (based on the one of the American KC-10), and three hose and drogue stations, the tanker is be able to refuel both aircraft equipped with onboard receptacle and those with a refueling probe.

AUGUST 25 2016 NAS Patuxent River MD. VX-23 SD402 ITALIAN KC767 AR Testing. Pilot MAJ Mathew Decoursey. USMC Project ID160825-N-UZ648. FOR PUBLIC RELEASE Official USN Photographs by Erik Hildebrandt

Interestingly, whilst in a KC-135 the “boomer” (as the operator is nicknamed) is prone and moves the flying boom in the receptacle watching the receiver through a rear observation window, in the KC-767 the operators move the boom using a joystick and watching the video from a series of cameras mounted on the tanker’s rear fuselage. The advanced camera system feeds a Remote Vision System that provides high-definition stereoscopic imagery to the vision goggles attached to a sort-of flight helmet worn by the boomer during the air-to-air refueling.

In May 2011, few weeks after being delivered, the KC-767 had its “baptism of fire” in Libya, boosting NATO’s AAR capability by supporting Italian Eurofighter, Tornado IDS and ECR, and AMX involved in Operation Unified Protector.

Since then, the fleet has been certified for refueling with several allies: it supported British Eurofighters to LIMA 13 airshow, conducted collective aerial refueling certification and testing with Gripen and Rafale fighter jets and escorted the Spanish EF-18 and Eurofighter Typhoons to Konya, in Turkey, for Anatolian Eagle 2014-2.

The KC-767A are currently supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, flying under the command of Task Force Air Kuwait, as part of the Italian “Prima Parthica” operation.

The Italian Air Force KC767A aircraft are a valuable NATO asset that often support allied aircraft as part of the European Air Transport Command (EATC).

Similar to the KC-767A is also the KC-46 Pegasus, a military variant of the Boeing 767 destined to replace the U.S. Air Force fleet of KC-135E Stratotanker refuelers in the coming years.

AUGUST 26 2016 NAS Patuxent River MD. VX-23 SD402 ITALIAN KC767 AR Testing. Pilot MAJ Mathew Decoursey. USMC Project ID160825-N-UZ648. FOR PUBLIC RELEASE Official USN Photographs by Erik Hildebrandt

Image credit: USN Photographs by Erik Hildebrandt

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