Tag Archives: US Air Force

Low-Collateral Damage BONE: new weapon in the B-1's arsenal

This week, the 337th Test and Evaluation Squadron based at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, has completed a compatibility test of the BLU-129 on the B-1 bomber over the Utah Test and Training Range.

The BLU-129 is a variant of the 250lb small diameter bomb in which the usual iron body has been replaced by a carbon-fibre body along with some changes to the explosive compound. The result is a munition that is very effective in an urban environment:  the carbon body disintegrates rather than fragments reducing the risk of collateral damages. This increases the explosive force in a confined area but largely removes the shrapnel issues further out from the target.

The munition tested on the B-1 is a larger 500lb version, and depending what nose/tail kits are attached, the munition can be a GPS-guided JDAM or a laser guided Paveway smart bomb.

Talking on the Air Combat Command website, Major Thomas Bryant 337th TES (Test and Evaluation Squadron) said “The weapon itself has already been validated, the goal of this test was to verify if a B-1’s software would be compatible with the weapon. We wanted to compare the blast effects between our 500-pound GBU-38 with a metal body as opposed to the BLU-129 with the carbon-fibre body.”

High speed cameras were used to see the differences in the targets destruction and the blast effects between the two munitions.

“Successfully accomplishing this test proves the B-1 is fully capable to employ this weapon” added Bryant. “In today’s fight, precision and accuracy are everything. Being able to take out a target while minimizing collateral damage gives combatant commanders a wide range of flexibility.”

It’s also worth pointing out that the weapon can be fitted to all of the guidance kits making the B-1 the ideal platform for the new weapon.

The adaptation of the BLU-129 and the Sniper pod along with the fact the weapon load out can be mixed will give much greater flexibility during combat missions.

Bryant’s final comment and a glowing reference to the aircraft was “If an aircrew needs to engage an enemy in an urban environment as well as destroy an entire enemy compound within a single sortie, only a select number of Air Force aircraft have that ability, with the B-1 bomber at the top of that list.”

Such senario’s are common place during sorties over Afghanistan where a B-1 can remain on call over enemy airspace for many hours. Therefore, it’s safe to say this weapon will be installed into the B-1’s weapons bay sooner rather than later.

Richard Clements for TheAviationist.com

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

RQ-4 Global Hawk in shock cancellation news: old planes better than new?

Is new better than old?

It would seem not. Industry insiders have leaked that the Pentagon is to cancel the RQ-4 Global Hawk program not just stopping buying new aircraft but to retire the Air Force active fleet, in favor of keeping the U-2 flying into 2020.

Air force times writer Dave Majumdar wrote: “The Air Force had been planning to buy 42 Block 30 aircraft. According to 2011 budget documents, the cost of each aircraft was around $215 million. It was not immediately clear how many Global Hawks the Air Force has.”

The aircraft is being killed off due to its high cost to buy and to maintain; also the program hasn’t lived up to its early promise. A knowledgeable industry insider confirmed the project cancellation and said “Yes, this is accurate — been a lot of discussion on the possibility of this a long while,” said the source, who was not authorized to speak to the media. “There is a high probability it will come to pass now unless Congress takes a major exception.”

The industry source also said “I don’t think that’s likely in the economic environment of this year’s DoD budget, and there are no real ‘hawks’ in Congress from California,” he said. The aircraft is both built and based in the Golden State.

Majumdar said that Northrop Grumman declined to comment whilst Air Force officials would neither deny nor confirm the reports.

Oddly the US Navy is going to keep its version of the aircraft therefore keeping the option open that it could, if needed, be used by the air force.

Surely, Global Hawk has not enjoyed the best of safety records with three prototypes lost and a failure rate much higher than many manned planes facing lethal threats in combat.

However, the U.S. RQ-4Bs belonging to the 9th Operations Group/Detachment 4th of the U.S. Air Force, based at NAS Sigonella, in Sicily, the base of the NATO AGS (Air Ground Surveillance) Global Hawk program were the first drones to operate in the Libyan airspace where they performed high altitude Battle Damage Assessment sorties.

Anyway, all of this is good news for the U-2, a 50 year old program that has ironed out all its techncal issues many years ago.

Affectionately known as “Dragon Lady”, the U-2 entered service in 1957. Since then, it has undergone many upgrades and has become a relatively cheap viable platform during these harsh economic times. In what would normally be the types twilight years, a breath of fresh air has been breathed over the majestic old ‘Lady’ which will see the type in service for more years to come.

Actually, it has been a bad week for other new or recent aircraft types too.

Another rather embarrasing news (this time for Airbus) is that further cracks have been found in the wings of its much lauded A380 “Superjumbo”, after the famous uncontained engine failure of Nov. 4, 2010. Airbus did tweet “For those following reports on A380 wing rib findings we confirm inspection & repair process underway and aircraft are safe to fly”: a damage limitation message by the company’s PR rather than a reassuring statement.

The apparent win of obsolete technology on newer, supposed to replace it, does pose the usual question: are modern aircraft too complex?

One thing is sure: you can’t compare new planes with older types. Even if there can be programs free from major problems during their whole lifetime and much troubled ones, facing myriad issues since their birth, generally speaking, those that have survived for 3, 4 or 5 decades and are still flying today, were probably properly designed, maintained, fixed and upgraded during their career. So they are today much more reliable than those integrating cutting edge experimental technologies.

Written with The Aviationist’s Editor David Cenciotti

Above image: U.S. Air Force

US Air Combat Command cancels all single-ship demo teams except one: "the F-22 is good for air shows. All other combat planes are good for war"

As a consequence of the global financial crisis, the US Air Command Command has decided to scale back from the six demonstration teams (A-10 East & West, F-16 East & West, F-15E and F-22) to one single-ship demo team.

For 2012, the Air Force’s primary force provider will sponsor only the F-22 demo team that is expected to perform (alongside the Thunderbirds, that are set to complete a full season next year) at up to 20 air shows.

By reducing the number of single-ship demonstration teams will allow the ACC to reallocate some 900 sorties to the air wings, that will be able to use them for combat readiness training providing an increase in more than 25 combat-ready fighter pilots.

According to the official statement:

“The opportunity to showcase our aircrew at air shows around the country is important – and we’re confident our Thunderbirds, F-22 demonstration team and Heritage Flight Foundation will continue highlighting the extraordinary work of all our Airmen.”

First of all, after the multiple groundings that the fleet has suffered during last year (last brief suspension came in October, one month after the USAF lifted an F-22 flight ban imposed on May 3 as a precaution after 12 incidents in which pilots experienced “hypoxia-like symptoms” associated with lack of oxygen), let’s hope the F-22 will be able to attend all the expected 2012 airshows.

Second, the US ACC decision can also be read as: “the F-22 is good for air shows. All the other combat planes are good for war.”

Image source: Lockheed Martin

C-17 Gear up landing in Bagram: the aircraft accident investigation board report

On Jan. 30, 2009, a C-17A tail number 60002 landed at Bagram air base in Afghanistan with the landing gear retracted. A few days after the mishap I published some interesting pictures showing the damaged aircraft on the runway at Bagram and that post is not only one of the most read of this website, but it is also one of the most commented by visitors (especially from the US). Even if the aircraft accident investigation board issued its final report in May 2009 (as I wrote in a previous post) there is still people providing different versions and explainations of the accident without any knowledge of the evidences collected by the investigation board. For this reason I think that it could be interesting for someone to read at least the executive summary of the above mentioned report (that is available in full version here) by clicking on the thumbnail below.

C-17 gear up landing: investigation results

After publishing the pictures of the famous C-17 gear up landing in Bagram there was much discussion among the visitors of this site about the root cause of the accident, the responsibilities etc. (you can see the pictures and read the comments that follow the article here: C-17 gear up landing in Bagram: images) the Air Mobility Command has finally released the result of its investigation according to which the accident was primarily caused by the failure of the pilots to extract the landing gear.

Bagram C-17 Accident Investigation Board complete

Headquarters AMC Public Affairs

5/7/2009 – SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. — Air Mobility Command today released
the results of its investigation into the Jan. 30, 2009, mishap involving a
C-17 Globemaster III that landed with retracted gear at Bagram Air Base,
Afghanistan.

The Accident Investigation Board, convened by AMC, concluded the primary
cause of the mishap was the failure of the pilots to lower the landing gear
and confirm proper aircraft landing configuration in accordance with the
Before Landing checklist.

The AIB president also found that aircrew distractions, task saturation,
reduced cockpit visual cues, failure of the flight crew to cross- monitor
each other’s performance, the tower’s failure to transmit a required
reminder, and the crew’s inadvertent disabling of Ground Proximity Warning
System alerts contributed to the mishap.

The mishap occurred as the C-17 was landing at Bagram AB during a combat
airlift mission in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom and
Joint Task Force Horn of Africa operations.

The aircraft landed on the runway centerline with the landing gear retracted
and slid approximately 4,500 feet before coming to rest on the runway.
Crash, fire and rescue response was immediate, and there were no fatalities,
injuries or damage to other property. However, damage to the aircraft’s main
landing gear and fuselage underbelly was significant.