Tag Archives: Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk drone flew over Ukraine with transponder turned on for everyone to see

U.S. Air Force’s gigantic Global Hawk drones have been flying over Ukraine for about two years. However, they recently let everyone  know they were there.

Reports of U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk UASs (Unmanned Aerial Systems) flying over Ukraine are nothing new. Back in April 2015, quoting Gen. Andrei Kartapolov, Chief of the Main Department for Operations at the Russian General Staff, ITAR TASS reported that American high-altitude long-range drone were regularly spotted over the Black Sea and, beginning in March 2015, they were also monitored flying over Ukraine.

According to the Russian high-rank officer, the use of such unmanned aircraft increased the depth of data gathering on the territory of Russia by 250 kilometers to 300 kilometers.

U.S. RQ-4Bs belonging to the 9th Operations Group/Detachment 4th of the U.S. Air Force deployed to Sigonella from Beale Air Force Base, California, have been flying ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) missions in support of EUCOM, AFRICOM and CENTCOM theater mission tasking since 2011.

The Global Hawks of the flying branch had their baptism of fire on Mar. 1, 2011, and were the first to fly over Libya to perform high altitude Battle Damage Assessment sorties on targets located in regions with  a residual SAM (Surface-to-Air Missiles) and MANPADS threat after Operation Odyssey Dawn was launched on Mar. 19, 2011.

Strategically based in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, U.S. RQ-4s are regularly tasked with surveillance missions over North Africa, East Europe and Middle East. However, they usually keep a low-profile avoiding to be detected at least by commercial ADS-B receivers like those feeding online flight tracking systems such as Flightradar24.com, PlaneFinder.net or Global ADS Exchange.


Screenshot from Global ADSB Exchange

At least this is what has happened until Oct. 15 when a U.S. Air Force Global Hawk could be tracked online because of its Mode-S transponder while flying over southern Ukraine.

The Global Hawk (04-2021) popped up on the radars at 50,000 feet, east of Odessa, flying towards Mariupol. Then, the remotely piloted aircraft turned northwest bound before heading towards Sigonella where it arrived after overflying Moldova and Bulgaria. At a certain point the UAS was cruising at 54,000 feet.

The flight path the aircraft followed probably enabled its imagery intelligence (IMINT) sensors to take a look at Russian bases in Crimea as well as gather information about the pro-Russia forces on the ground in the Dombass region of Ukraine.


Screenshot from Global ADSB Exchange

Spyplanes (and drones) usually operate in “due regard” with transponder switched off, with no radio comms with the ATC control, using the concept of “see and avoid” where the pilot flying is responsible for avoiding all traffic conflicts, much like a VFR flight plan without flight following. Even if RC-135s can be regularly tracked online, it’s at least weird that a strategic ISR platform that has remained “invisible” thus far, has operated with the transponder turned on over a highly sensitive region.

We can’t completely rule out this happened by accident but considered that the risk of breaking OPSEC with an inaccurate use of ADS-B transponders is very well known it seems quite reasonable, in a period of raising tensions with Russia, to believe that the unmanned aircraft purposely broadcast its position for everyone to see, to let everyone know it was there.

Russian spyplanes have done the some in the past: for instance 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.

Top image: an RQ-4 deployed to Southwest Asia (U.S. Air Force)


Iran unveils new UCAV modeled on captured U.S. RQ-170 stealth drone

Iran has unveiled a new UCAV based on the captured American RQ-170 stealth drone.

On Oct. 1, Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) unveiled a new combat unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) called Saeqeh (Thunderbolt) during an expo showcasing the latest UAV projects of IRGC’s Aerospace Division.

Belonging to the Simorgh class, the new drone is a long-range unmanned aerial vehicle capable of carrying four precision-guided bombs, modeled on the American RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone captured in 2011.

Commenting on the latest achievements by the IRGC forces, Commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Division Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh said that “today Iran has better aviation systems and equipment than the US and expressed hope that one day Iran will have the same might in the UAV industry as in the missile sector.”

So, it looks like the Iranians have not only copied the RQ-170, but they have also developed something new based on the captured “Beast of Kandahar” whose crash landing in Iran remains a mystery. A sensibly smaller drone that retains the same wing shape as the Sentinel but lacks the frontal air intake of the Lockheed Martin’s stealth drone.

Moreover it’s not clear where does the landing gear (if any) comes out from.


As widely reported on The Aviationist since 2011, there are various theories about it.

Tehran claims it was hacked, but the stealth drone, undetected by any radar, might have crash landed for a failure somewhere in eastern Iran where it was found (and where the U.S. could not blow it up.)

The Iranians say the RQ-170 was hijacked using Jamming and GPS spoofing attack tailored on known vulnerabilities of the UAV highlighted in Air Force official documents.

The Iranians say the RQ-170 was hijacked using Jamming and GPS spoofing attack tailored on known vulnerabilities of the UAV highlighted in Air Force official documents.

This Author still believes that the most likely theory is that the stealth drone, undetected by radar, crash landed in an uninhabited area in the Iranian desert for an unknown failure.

At the beginning, the U.S. decided not to disclose the news because the robot might have crashed in the mountains, where no one would ever find it, or have suffered extensive damage that would make it useless in the hands of the Iranian analysts. And, by giving the news, they would have admitted they had undertaken spy missions inside the Iranian airspace, thus confirming they had joined Israel in the covert war on the Iranian nuclear program.

However, a shepherd found it almost intact and the news spreads, forcing the U.S. to admit the loss. Iran was given a great, unexpected opportunity to show it to the world and to make some propaganda “advertising” some of their (existing) capabilities in the Electronic and Cyber Warfare fields.

Needless to say, this is just one of the many scenarios drawn since the drone’s first pictures appeared on Iran’s State TV depicting the “Beast of Kandahar” in a school’s gymnasium: a scenario that does not involve any jamming, GPS spoofing, satellite-link encryption breaking and control link spoofing. In fact, whilst Iranians have surely shown skills and know-how in these fields, some theories about taking over of a UAV by means of jamming and hacking *seem* to be a bit far-fetched in spite of known vulnerabilities affecting U.S. drones.

Iran has hunted/recovered two more UAV types since 2011: two RQ-11s and at least one ScanEagle that had penetrated the Iranian airspace from the Persian Gulf.

Anyway, in February 2013 Iran released footage that proved it has, if not literally decoded, at least accessed some of the data stored inside the U.S. stealthy RQ-170 drone captured in December 2011.

A video filmed by the Sentinel clearly showed footage recorded by the drone’s underbelly camera: the area surrounding Kandahar airfield (KAF) during landing; a small building (possibly being spied); a C-130 and at least one Reaper drone among shelters at KAF.

Hence, the drone’s internal memories still contained some useful information and were not fully automatically erased as a consequence of the loss of control procedure. To such an extent some data, including video recordings from the drone’s FLIR turret, was recovered.

On May 11, 2014 Iran unveiled a copy of the Sentinel UAV drone allegedly manufactured by reverse-engineering of the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 captured in December 2011. The Iranian version of the Sentinel drone was displayed next to the original one.

On Nov. 10, 2014, Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, announced that a domestic version of the RQ-170 drone, modified to carry out both bombing and reconnaissance missions, had made its maiden flight.

A video showing the copy of the Sentinel flying somewhere over Iran, filmed both from the ground and from an accompanying helicopter was released.

The photographs emerged on Oct. 1, 2016, show that the Iranians have modeled a new UCAV on the famous stealthy RQ-170 captured in 2011. What’s next?


Image credit: Sepahnews, @Azematt







These awesome photos from KADEX 2016 show Kazakhstan Air Force combat aircraft as you’ve never seen them before

Su-30SMs, Su-27M-2s, Yak-130, Pterodactyl-1 and much more exotic stuff you don’t happen to see too often.

Held between Jun. 2 and 5, 2016, the Kazakhstan Defence Expo (KADEX 2016) provided an interesting opportunity to have a close look at some rather rare Kazakhstan Air Force “hardware.”

The IV International Exhibition of Weapons Systems and Military Equipment brought to Astana some really interesting combat aircraft.

Kazakhstan Air Force were represented at KADEX 2016 by their Sukhoi Display Team the “Zhetysu” (Severn Rivers) from the 604 Air Base, Aktobe. They brought with them five Su-27M-2, numbered 07, 11, 14, 16, 17 yellow along with a single Su-27UBM-2 numbered 52 yellow.




Su-27M-2 # 07 did not fly at all during the show, and was probably the spare machine.

The Su-27UBM-2 was always the lead aircraft for the formation demonstration, and was always flown by Col. Timur Omarov, the Team Leader.

Solo demonstrations were flown by the two Su-30SM #02 and #03 red on a daily basis.






EC-145 helicopters took part in the flying display as well along with some Russian aircraft and helicopters: the Yak-130, the Mi-8MSB and the Mi-17V-5.

Other interesting participants in static display were the Chengdu Pterodactyl-1 UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), the Kazakhstan Government Tu-134A and An-74, the MCHS Kazaviaspas (Ministry of Emergency Situations of the Republic of Kazakhstan) EC-145, Ka-32, Mi-26T and Mi-171E.





Kadex_33 Kadex_34 Kadex_35 Kadex_36 Kadex_37 Kadex_38 Kadex_39  Kadex_42 Kadex_43 Kadex_44 Kadex_45 Kadex_46 Kadex_47 Kadex_49 Kadex_50

The Aviationist’s Tony Lovelock had the opportunity to visit Kadex 2016 and take the photographs you can find in this post.

Sincere thanks for the hospitality and attention of the Officers and Staff from the Ministry of Defence of ther Republic of Kazakstan.

Image credit: The Aviationist/Tony Lovelock

Take a seat in the cockpit of one of the last USAF F-4 Phantoms as it arrives at Oshkosh airshow

Helmet camera provides a unique point of view of the arrival at the 2016 EAA AirVenture airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, of one of the last U.S. Air Force F-4s.

Two of the just twenty remaining Phantoms in the U.S. Air Force, have taken part in EAA AirVenture airshow.

Flying from Holloman Air Force Base, NM, the two QF-4s performed two flyovers and one low approach before landing.

Thanks to AirshowStuff and a camera attached to the pilot’s helmet, you can experience the classy arrival of the Phantoms from inside the cockpit of the leading QF-4.

The last operational F-4 flight took place in April 1996; after the retirement from the active service, the Phantom continued to serve in the target drone role. Unfortunately even this kind of mission is coming to an end and the two Phantoms that took part in the Oshkosh airshow, serving as full-scale aerial targets with the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron, Det. 1, are going to be shot down during testing within the next 6 months…

QF-4s are being replaced by QF-16s.

Here’s footage filmed from the ground:

H/T Giulio Cristante for the heads-up.

Top image credit: AirshowStuff

Is a Turkish UAV currently operating inside the Iraqi airspace?

What might be an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle is circling over the border between Turkey and Iraq.

Increasingly, military aircraft as well as UAVs can be tracked online thanks to the emissions of their Mode-S ADS-B-capable transponders.

In fact, these aircraft do not broadcast their ADS-B data but their position can be determined by means of Multilateration (MLAT).

MLAT (used by Flightradar24.com) uses Time Difference of Arrival (TDOA): by measuring the difference in time to receive the signal from aircraft from four different receivers, the aircraft can be geolocated and followed even if it does not transmit ADS-B data.

This means that the majority of the aircraft you’ll be able to track online are civil airliners and business jets that broadcast their callsign, altitude, position and speed via ADS-B in a cooperative way to let ground stations and nearby aircraft aware of their presence, whereas military aircraft (like the U.S. Special Operations aircraft daily flying over North Africa) equipped with Mode-S ADS-B-capable transponders can be tracked even though they are not broadcasting their position, because they can geolocated with MLAT.

What is happening right now over northern Iraq is at least weird.

A small aircraft or most probably a UAV, whose track appear to have originated from Turkey, is circling over northern Iraq, north of Mosul, being tracked by a feeder (a user with commercial off-the-shelf receiver available on the market) located in Erbil.

What’s unusual is that the aircraft, provided it is a UAV, is transmitting its data in the clear for everyone to see. Usually, aircraft (either manned or unmanned) performing clandestine missions can be tracked thanks to MLAT and not because their ADS-B transponder is turned on….

Any idea? Is it a drone or a small plane?

TuAF UAV over border 2

Image credit: Flightradar24.com