Tag Archives: USN

Libyan Tu-22 Blinders: are they still operative? Satellite pictures raise question

In the previous post (Why Libyan Air Force aircraft pose a risk to Italy) I explained the reasons why Libyan fighters must be closely watched by the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF). I also suggested reading another article, titled Memories of a fighter pilot, the story of the period in which the main fears of the Italian Air Defence came from the Libyan Migs and the Tupolev wearing the red star, which flew through the Otranto Channel (Southern Adriatic Sea in front of Albania) causing the frequent Alert Scrambles of F-104s in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) service, specially those belonging to the 12° Gruppo of the 36° Stormo, based in Gioia del Colle. During those years, the ItAF pilots collected many photographic evidences of the “close encounters” (like those I published in the Zombie page) some of which involved interesting Libyan planes. For example, the following ones were taken by the 12° Gruppo on Sept. 20, 1983 (and later released by the 5° Reparto of the Italian Air Force Staff) and show some Tu-22B Blinders flying next to the Italian airspace off Otranto. The Libyan Blinders (whose exact number is not clear with data reporting from 7 to 18 planes) were supersonic bombers based at Okba Ben Nafi Air Base (currently Mitiga, prior to June 1970, known as Wheelus Air Base and used by the USAF) that were used in combat against Tanzania in 1979 and Chad in the ’80s, during the Chadian-Libyan conflict. Libyan Tu-22 pictures are extremely rare. One of the most famous, taken by a USN fighter over the Med shows a desert scheme, similar to that of the Iraqi Blinders, with the former Royal Libyan Air Force insigna (later replaced by the green roundel), that is sensibly different from those in this post which show another kind of camouflage.

Dealing with roundel, rebels have begun applying new insigna to their aircraft as the following screenshots from a BBC reportage show.

All Libyan AF Tu-22 should be retired from use now (mainly for lack of spare parts). There are no reports of active Blinders from many decades. However a quick look at Google Earth unveiled a certain number of Tu-22s (7) that, from satellite, seems to be parked and apparently serviceable at a large base near Hun, in Central Libya. The timestamp on the satellite image is July 20, 2010 and the airbase 7 months ago seemed to be full of aircraft presumed to be retired from some time, like Mig-25s and G.222s.  For instance, another Tu-22 can be identified by means of Google Earth at Benina, but it is clearly an almost abandoned example wrecked next to the airport’s fence. The question is: are any of those aircraft still operative or are they retired examples aimed at deceiving satellites hiding the actual status of the LAF?  Hmmm… I think the right answer is the second one…..

Below, the images of the airbase near Hun, Central Libya.

Some Mig-25s at the same airfield.

Below, a satellite view of the wrecked Tu-22 at Mitiga.

Gulf Air 521 landing at Manama, Bahrain

Follow Gulf Air 521, an Airbus 320 A9C-AE from Doha to Manama, as it performs the ILS for runway 30R at Bahrain International Airport in a video made by Mauro Redaelli, an Italian Gulf Air pilot.

In addition to act as a hub for Gulf Air and Bahrain Air airlines and serve 60 destinations worldwide with 460 weekly flights of 39 international airlines, the airport is also the homebase of the Combined Task Force 53 ( CTF- 53) of the U.S. Navy, a department that is responsible to ensure the logistical support of allied land and sea pilots in the region by managing the fleet of aircraft and ships destined for this task. I took off from BIA on board a VRC-30 C-2 “Greyhound” to reach the USS Nimitz, operating off the coasts of Pakistan. The CTF-53 “Logistics” is just one of the 13 Task Forces (TFs) that make up the operational structure of the 5th Fleet, the command based in Manama, which is responsible for ensuring  deterrence capability  in an area of vital importance to U.S. interests, large about 13 million square kilometers and embracing 27 countries across the Red Sea, Arabian Sea and part Indian Ocean. Italian readers will find my special report about 5th Fleet, USS Nimitz (covering also Operation Enduring Freedom support) and Anti-piracy operations in the Somali basin and Gulf of Aden annexed to the March issue of RID.

Wings over Atlanta: the Dobbins Air Reserve Base airshow

In the last few weeks readers of this blog have had the opportunity to read articles and watch pictures taken at airshows all around the world: in September, with a series of posts, I described the 50th Anniversary of the Frecce Tricolori airshow in Rivolto; then, I reported about the RAAF Williamtown airshow thanks to the pictures and report provided by Ed Armstrong and a few days ago, I wrote a post about the famous Axalp airshow, attended this year by Simone Bovi. The “world airshow tour” completes with another interesting report, this time by Moreno Aguiari, a former Italian commercial and Cropduster pilot living in the USA, who attended the Wings over Atlanta airshow, at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, that among the others, featured the interesting displays of the US Navy Blue Angels and Canadian Snowbirds, a rare sight outside America. Moreno sent me the following pictures and wrote an interesting detailed report of the Dobbins airshow for the readers of this site:

In the Oct. 16-17 weekend, like previous years, the skies over Dobbins ARB in Atlanta were filled with aerobatics during the 2010 “Wings over Atlanta” airshow. Aerial feats were performed by noted military teams like the Navy’s own Blue Angels and the Air Force Academy’s Wings of Blue elite parachute team. International guests, like the Canadian Snowbirds were also in attendance, offering thrilling examples of advanced aerial skills and tricky formations. Along with the performers, the audience enjoyed static displays, food, and opportunities to talk to pilots, civilian and military personnel about their professions. After the 2008 air show became a traffic issue for many visitors, this year’s organizers reached out to area transit providers and lot owners for help. In response, 127 busses were contracted and used to transport nearly 200,000 spectators, free of charge, who arrived for the show both on Saturday and on Sunday. Parking space was provided by Lockheed Martin, located on the Dobbins base. Organizers were pleased with the results as crowds gasped and applauded at the many thrilling aerial exercises provided by the experienced pilots and their support teams. Other performances by Red Eagle, Dan Buchanan, Gary Rower, Bill Braak and his Smoke-N-Thunder Jet Car, F/A -18 Hornet Demo, Kent Pietsch Jelly Belly, Dobbins C-130 Airdrop, “Otto” The Helicopter (a favorite, especially among children), Georgia State Patrol Helo Demo, Viper East F-16 Demo, Sean D. Tucker/Oracle and others provided even more excitement for the day.
The organization of the air show was handled by the 94th Airlift Wing, that is organized into a headquarters element, three groups, and a medical element containing 11 Squadrons and 4 Flights (1,800 personnel) and whose mission is threefold. The primary mission is to train C-130H aircrews for the United States Air Force — active duty, guard and reserve components. The second mission is to maintain combat ready units to deploy on short notice to support contingencies anywhere in the world. The third mission is to support all agencies and tenants at Dobbins Air Reserve Base.

The highlight of the show was, without a doubt, the performance of the US Navy Blue Angels F/A-18s and their support plane, the C-130, affectionately known as “Fat Albert”. The aerial demonstration begun by exhibiting the jet’s maximum performance capabilities during a ten-minute performance. Shortly thereafter, it was the time for the graceful aerobatic maneuvers of the four-jet Diamond Formation, in concert with the fast-paced, high-performance maneuvers of its two solo pilots. Finally, the team illustrated the pinnacle of precision flying, performing maneuvers locked as a unit in the renowned, six-jet Delta Formation.

The Blue Angels, although less aerobatic from a pure jet handling point of view than the USAF counterparts, the Thunderbirds, showed off some incredible precision flying, considering the size of Hornet.
The Blue Angels were scheduled to fly 68 performances at 35 airshow sites in the United States during the 2010 season as the team celebrates its 23rd year of flying the F-18. The Dobbins Airshow was the 66th of the season, and the Angels still have one more show in Homestead, FL before of the Homecoming show in Pensacola, Florida on November 11th and 13th.
This year’s show also hosted the Canadian Snowbirds. Officially known as the Canadian Forces 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, they fly the CT-114 Tutors that were designed and built by Canadair. The Canadians are well known for their precise flight program that includes different formations composed by 9 or 7 planes, as well as solo flights.
Another amazing show was performed by flying legend Sean D. Tucker, flying his custom built Oracle Challenger III biplane which produces more than 400 horsepower, weighs only 1,200 pounds, and is considered the most high-performance aerobatic aircraft in the world. The Challenger III is equipped with a unique set of wings that use 8 ailerons instead of 4. The tail on the airplane is modeled after the tail used on high-performance radio control airplanes. What Sean does with his plane seems beyond the all laws of aerodynamics.

The power of the Oracle’s engine allows Sean to “hang” vertically in the skies without losing altitude. Sean D. Tucker’s “Sky Dance” daytime performance begins with an unbelievable sequence of events. One second he’s tumbling the 330 HP Randolph Sunglass Challenger end-over-end, and then all the sudden flying it tail-first, straight towards the earth for 500 feet at negative airspeeds of up to 90 MPH while rolling his aircraft counter-clockwise! Before the first spiral of smoke begins to fade, Tucker plunges into a powerful and complex aerobatics sequence that demonstrates the talent that won him the coveted U.S. National Advanced Aerobatics Trophy in 1988. Tucker’s spectacular sequence includes original, adrenaline-pumping maneuvers like “The Centrifuge,” “The Son of Edwin,” “The Spiraling Tower,” “The Tucker Upper,” “The Harrier Pass” and the heart-stopping finale “The Triple ribbon Cut.”

The static display, whose centerpiece was the F-22 Raptor with its incredible engines strictly covered, was very impressive this year with some of the greatest warbirds, such as P-51 Mustangs, the P-40, the mammoth Grumman TBF Avenger and many more. As usual the planes were open cockpit and from the giant planes like the C-5, C-17, and KC-135 it was possible to enter in the cargo bay and climb up into the cockpit.
Delta Airlines flew one of its B-757’s to Dobbins, promoting the fight against cancer.

Without a doubt this year’s Wings over Atlanta was another successful airshow for the 94th AW.

F-35B and F-35C

A few days ago I wrote a post about the F-35 Lightning II is a fifth-generation, single-seat, single-engine, stealth multirole fighter, that will also equip the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) and the Marina Militare, that will use the F-35B from the new Cavour STOVL aircraft carrier. In spite of a carrier variant designated F-35C, the RAF and Royal Navy will use the B variant from aircraft carriers and the U.S. Marines Corps are investigating the use of the Ship-borne Rolling and Vertical Landing (SRVL) method to operate F-35Bs from the aircraft carrier without disrupting carrier operations as the landing method uses the same pattern of approach as wire arrested landings. The F-35C carrier (whose only user will be the US Navy to replace the “legacy Hornets” and complement the Super Hornets) variant will be much similar to the A and B versions, but will have larger, folding wings and larger control surfaces for improved low-speed control. The aircraft will also be equipped with a stronger landing gear and hook for the stresses of carrier trap landings.

The following front, side and top views of the three variants will give an idea of the main differences among the F-35A, B and C.

First "naval" JSF lands at NAS Patuxent River

During my visit to the USS Nimitz in the Indian Ocean last month, I had the opportunity to see the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets in action. The Super Hornet is a 4.5+ generation naval multirole aircraft that was delivered to the US Navy in 1999 to replace the F-14, the S-3 and, in the long term, the F/A-18C and D Hornet.
Even if the “Rhino” (as the aircraft has been dubbed to distinguish it from the “legacy Hornet”) is the most advanced aircraft in the USN inventory, its replacement is already flying and undertaking flight testing: on Nov. 15, the first Lockheed F-35B Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) landed at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Md. The test aircraft, known as BF-1, after departing from Lockheed facility in Fort Worth, landed at Pax River after a stop in Dobbins Air Force Base, Ga.
BF-1 is the first of five test F-35B STOVL (Short Take-Off Vertical Landing) variants to be assigned to the air station. BF-2 is expected to arrive by the end of this year and BF-3 will follow shortly behind that, Lockheed spokesman John Kent said. The air station also will be home to three Navy carrier test variants. Before the aircraft can complete its first vertical landing, it must go through a transition phase. When regular airplanes fly, lift is created from the wing. But for hovering jets such as the F-35B, it is created from the jet itself. The transition phase is expected to include a series of flights, during which the aircraft will practice slowing down and transitioning lift from the wing to the jet — a critical step before an actual STOVL flight. Additional testing will include flying with different weight loads and ordnance payloads, according to a Marine release. “I’m anxious to have our engineers, our test pilots and our operators get their hands on this jet, and then see what we can do to turn test points and sorties at a rapid rate during the coming months,” said Lt. Gen. George J. Trautman, the deputy commandant for aviation, in a release. Eventually the Joint Strike Fighter will replace the F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier, and the EA-6B Prowler. Marine Fighter/Attack Training Squadron-501, the first squadron that will train Marine JSF pilots and maintainers, is expected to stand up at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., in April 2010 as part of the Joint Integrated Training Center. The first operational squadron will stand up in 2012. Even the Marina Militare (Italian Navy) is expeceted to receive 22 naval JSF that will replace the AV-8B+ Harrier and will operate from the new Italian aircraft carrier Cavour (that can accomodate 8 – 10 F-35B).

An F/A-18F of the VFA-41 and an E of the VFA-14 overflying USS Nimitz (courtesy USS Nimitz)

The BF-1 arrives at Patuxent River (Lockheed)

The BF-1 arrives at Patuxent River (Lockheed)