Tag Archives: planes

X-47B Autonomous Aerial Refueling

Just the other day Salty Dog 502, one of two X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrators actually performed in flight refueling autonomously by plugging into and taking on fuel from an Omega Aerial Refueling Services KC-707 tanker.

The X-47B is strictly a demonstrator program, designed to show that autonomous vehicles could be launched from a carrier, land aboard a carrier, operate on the flight deck, and be refueled in flight. Those were some pretty lofty goals, and we admit that we were surprised at just how successful the program was, with little or no drama involved in the various phases of the program.

It is a long, long stretch from a demonstrator type program to fielding an actual combat capable autonomous platform, and indeed there’s strong debate over just what roles any future unmanned combat aircraft should perform. Some argue that a lower risk approach of an ISR focused platform would reach the fleet sooner, at lower cost, and develop the tribal knowledge to form a firm foundation for future development, all while fulfilling an important mission not currently met by the carrier air wing. Others, such as Senator McCain insist that the expense of developing an unmanned combat air vehicle demand that it be an actual strike platform, especially in light of the challenges anti-access weapon systems such as the S-300 pose to the current airwing.

The objectives of the X-47B program have been met, and both Salty Dog 501 and 502 will shortly be retired, and almost certainly be turned into museum pieces.

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The Last of the Gunfighters was a pretty decent bomber.

The Vought F-8 Crusader is famous as the last US Navy fighter designed with guns as its primary armament. It was also famous for eschewing the prevailing notion of the day that future air combat would be missile oriented, and dogfighting would be a thing of the past.* 

The earlier models of the F-8 carried the guns and the Sidewinder. But starting with the F-8E, two wing pylons were added, each with the capability of carrying either a 2000lb Mk84 bomb, or a Multiple Ejector Rack with a variety of ordnance.

It’s easy to see how the adaptability of the F-8 convinced Vought they could design and build an attack plane derived from the F-8 as a replacement for the A-4 Skyhawk, what eventually became the A-7 Corsair II.

 

*The truth is, it’s a little more nuanced than that. ‘sader drivers spent their fair share of time practicing radar intercepts just like their Phantom cousins, and even had their own radar guided missile, the AIM-9C Sidewinder, which was less successful than even the Phantom’s AIM-7D.

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Jet Bombers Go To Sea

One of the Lexicans tipped me to this, from the National Museum of Naval Aviation.

Douglas’ A3D (later A-3) Skywarrior was the largest plane ever operationally deployed aboard carriers. Earlier attempts by the Navy to field a nuclear capable bomber at sea were… marginal at best. Some P2V (later P-2) Neptunes were intended to be launched as nuclear bombers, but no attempt was made at providing a capability of recovering them aboard. The later North American AJ (later A-2) Savage was a hybrid propulsion bomber, with twin reciprocating engines, and a small jet engine embedded in the tail. It was not a terribly successful aircraft.

About the time the A3D started entering into squadron service in significant numbers, advances in nuclear weapons reduced their size to the p0int where smaller tactical aircraft, such as the AD (later A-1) Skyraider and the A4D (later A-4)* could carry nuclear weapons. The widespread adoption of in flight refueling also meant smaller strike aircraft could reach well into the heart of the Soviet Union after launching from the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

The A3D, with its great size and payload capacity soon found itself adapted to roles beyond the nuclear strike mission. Variants would serve as tankers, electronic warfare platforms, reconnaissance jets and even as transport. A-3s did fly a handful of conventional strike missions during the Vietnam war, but rarely ventured into the contested skies above North Vietnam.

A-3B_VAH-4_dropping_Mk_83_bomb_Vietnam_1965

The last Navy A-3s finally retired in the early 1990s.

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F4D-1 Skyray Operating Procedures

There’ll be an open book NATOPS quiz, and a closed book EP quiz at the next AOM.

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Almost there… Doc rolls out.

You know FiFi, the only flightworthy B-29 Superfortress in the world. Well, with a little bit of luck, Doc will be airborne this year. And today was Doc’s rollout after a stunning 300,000 man-hours of restorations. Doc still has a ways to go before she’s flightworthy, but the progress has been terrific.

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FiFi!

Currently the only flying B-29, FiFi has been in my neighborhood all week. Sadly, the press of our domestic duties has kept us from visiting the Palm Springs Air Museum to have a closer look. On the other hand, we’ve had a chance to see her in her element a few times in the last few days.

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Jag-YOU-ar

We’ve long admired a great many British aircraft, and disdained oh so many French aircraft. Which puts us in a bind, because we want to really like the Jaguar, but it’s half British, and half French.  By the 1960s, the costs of developing a tactical aircraft were so high that smaller nations struggling to maintain a realistic aviation industry decided to partner up with other nations in bilateral and joint projects. There’s a long, long, long list of projects that failed, for technical reasons, budgetary reasons, inability to decide on work share, and diverging tactical requirements. But a few programs have actually worked out pretty well. The Panavia Tornado comes to mind, as well as its successor the Typho0n. Among the earliest successful joint programs was a partnership between BAC and Breguet to form SEPECAT, a joint company that designed and built the Jaguar, a supersonic light strike/ground attack aircraft that served Britain and France from the early 1970s through well into the 21st Century.

The Jag is a single seat* twin engine supersonic low/medium altitude jet that was used primarily in three roles:

  1. Nuclear strike
  2. Close Air Support
  3. Tactical Reconnaissance

In spite of its sleek lines, what the Jag wasn’t was a fighter. While it could carry Sidewinder (or similar) short range air to air missiles, that was more a matter of self defense. It didn’t even have radar. Instead, it had a respectable (for its day) navigation/attack system to guide it to its target.

And to be honest, it really wasn’t supersonic, either. That is, with no external stores, and given time and altitude, sure, it could break the sound barrier. But down low, and carrying its normal war load, no way. But it was pretty fast down low, which was the whole point.

There are four wing stations for external store under the wings. There are also two wing stations over the  wing, rather unusually, where the Sidewinders were carried. There is also a centerline station. Typically, the Jag would carry two drop tanks under the wings, a chaff dispenser on one wing and a jammer pod on the other, and a couple of 1000lb bombs on the centerline.

In addition to service with the RAF and the French AF, the Jag has had respectable overseas sales, especially in India, but also in Oman, Ecuador, and Nigeria.

Grab a cup of coffee. This is a fairly interesting look at life in an RAF Jag squadron. At around the 15 minute mark, there’s some spectacular low level flying in what I suspect is Star Wars Canyon in Oman.

The French Navy also looked at a carrier capable version, but the word is that it was somewhat awful around the boat.

*There are also two-seat operational trainer variants that retain combat capability.

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