Tag Archives: planes

The Thud

Here’s a great documentary on the mighty Republic F-105 Thunderchief. I especially enjoyed the little seen footage of the prototypes and the testing regime.

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The Skyhawk soldiers on.

Spill tipped me to this.  The US Air Force has contracted with Draken to provide adversary support to F-35 operational testing at Edwards AFB.

8/27/2015 – EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — A-4 Skyhawks have taken to the skies over Edwards in support of operational test of the F-35A for the Royal Netherlands Air Force. They are part of a tactics development and evaluation exercise initiated by the 323nd Test and Evaluation Squadron and supported by the Joint Strike Fighter Operational Test Team from Aug. 17-28.
“Each service and each country has their own specific test events that they want to test for themselves, for their own service and their own country requirements,” said Rich Radvanyi, JOTT Planning Cell chief.
The JOTT has five operational test squadrons composed of the 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron, the Marines’ VMX-22 squadron, the United Kingdom squadron 17(R), the Dutch 323nd Test and Evaluation Squadron and Navy squadron VX-9.

Draken

Much as Lex worked with ATAC providing Kfir’s and Hunters to the Navy as contract adversary support, Draken offers jets as needed to the Air Force (and other customers).

The Draken Skyhawks have an interesting history. Built as A-4Ks for the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a slight variant of the A-4F, they were later upgraded with the APG-66 radar (same as the F-16A) and avionics allowing the use of precision guided weapons. But in 2001, New Zealand decided they no longer needed jet combat aircraft, and retired their Skyhawk fleet. Having a good radar aboard allows the Draken Skyhawks to provide a sophisticated threat profile in exercises, beyond that of most other contract aircraft.

Sixty-one years after Ed Heinemann’s Hot Rod first took to the skies, the Skyhawk still soldiers on in active service with Brazil, Argentina, Singapore and until this year, Israel. That’s one hell of a record for a combat aircraft.

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One Direction, NASA, Patricia Lynn, and modern all weather attack.

You should probably mute this, but play “name that plane” and spot the non-T-38 plane in the video.

That’s the WB-57F  Canberra, used by NASA for high altitude atmospheric research. It was originally used by the USAF to collect atmospheric samples during nuclear testing. Collecting samples of radioactive particles after a nuclear blast, physicists can tell a great deal about how effective a device was. We collected samples both of our own devices, and those of the Soviet Union, and indeed everyone else’s.

The WB-57 was derived from the RB-57, which was something of a poor man’s alternative to the U-2. A basic B-57 bomber was converted with vastly larger wings and upgraded powerplants to give it a much higher operational ceiling. Unfortunately, as the U-2 discovered in May of 1960, the SA-2 Guideline had an even higher ceiling.

The basic B-57 itself was built by Martin, being derived from the British English Electric Canberra bomber.

The first major variant operational with the USAF, the B-57B, served in Vietnam as a day/night interdiction/strike aircraft, and even flew some strikes against North Vietnam in the early years of the war. Increasing air defenses there meant it was soon withdrawn from use up north, but it soldiered on for a few more years providing air support in South Vietnam, eventually being replaced by newer tactical aircraft.

To find targets for those tactical aircraft meant aerial reconnaissance, and a lot of it, particularly against the NVA’s logistical trail, the Ho Chi Mihn Trail.  A lot of RF-101 Voodoo and RF-4 Phantom sorties were flown, but results, particularly at night, were less than great. And so Project Patricia Lynn was started.  A handful of RB-57Es were deployed to use infra-red cameras locate targets. It was very effective, with some estimates that 80% of the usable aerial reconnaissance came from Patricia Lynn.

Martin B-57E-MA 55-4237 Da Nang AB South Vietnam 3/4 front view at Da Nang AB, South Vietnam, in January 1964. Aircraft was originally B-57E (S/N 55-4264). This aircraft was lost on Oct. 25, 1968. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The adaptability and flexibility of the B-57 also lead to a couple of experiments with using sensors such as Low Light Level Television and infrared line scanners to allow the crew to see targets at night in real time, rather than having to wait for IR film to be developed.

That impressive real time capability lead to the ugly, but impressive B-57G. With LLTV, IR and a laser rangefinder/designator built in, the B-57G was the first truly effective precision night attack jet. It was the first jet to have a built in capability to self designate targets for laser guided bombs at night. The cutting edge technology meant they were maintenance nightmares, and had poor availability rates, but when they worked, they showed just how effective night attack sensors and precision guided weapons could be.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c2/190th_Tactical_Reconnaissance_Group_B-57G_Canberras_1973.jpg

Switching back to the big wing WB-57 for a bit, let’s talk about networked warfare for a bit. More and more, we rely on datalink networks to provide a picture of the battlefield. But that raises to problems. Not all datalinks are compatible, and most are line of sight only. That lead to the development of BACN, the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node. BACN is both a relay and a translator, allowing various networks to work together. And since line of sight increases with altitude, it was first deployed aboard the WB-57, and operationally used in Afghanistan in 2012.

The WB-57s have returned to NASA, and a third has recently been added to the fleet. Not bad for a design the British first flew in 1949.

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MC-27J Gunship

The Alenia Aermacchi built C-27J is a modernized version of the Aeritalia G.222 light transport of the 1970s. The US acquisition program for the C-27J was an utter catastrophe, but the fact remains that it is a capable aircraft, and is generating quite a bit of interest in international sales.  One thing readers here might have noticed is that transport aircraft are inherently adaptable to other roles, either on a permanent basis, or through the use of palletized mission loads. In alliance with ATK Orbital, Alenia is developing as a private venture the MC-27J, which, while still capable as a tactical airlifter, can also be used to carry Hellfire missiles, and a ATK 30mm chain gun mounted on a roll-on/roll-off pallet.

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Marines declare F-35B Initial Operational Capability

Earlier today, as expected, GEN Dunford declared that VMFA-121 had achieved Initial Operational Capability, essentially the entry of the jet into real service.

In a milestone for the F-35 joint strike fighter, the US Marine Corps today declared the F-35B jump-jet model to have achieved initial operational capability (IOC).

The news means that the Marines consider the F-35B model – one of three designs of the multi-role fighter — to be an active plane that can perform in operations the same way any other active aircraft in its arsenal can.

The plane was declared operational by Gen. Joe Dunford, the outgoing Marine Corps commandant — and incoming Chairman of the Joint Chiefs — in a July 31 announcement.

“I am pleased to announce that VMFA-121 has achieved initial operational capability in the F-35B, as defined by requirements outlined in the June 2014 Joint Report to Congressional Defense Committees,” Dunford said in a statement. “VMFA-121 has ten aircraft in the Block 2B configuration with the requisite performance envelope and weapons clearances, to include the training, sustainment capabilities, and infrastructure to deploy to an austere site or a ship. It is capable of conducting close air support, offensive and defensive counter air, air interdiction, assault support escort and armed reconnaissance as part of a Marine Air Ground Task Force, or in support of the Joint Force.”

Of course, IOC is a starting point, not an end. Every new platform has a steep learning curve associated with it. All the testing prior to this is conducted by the contractor, and the various test establishments of the services. The Fleet Replacement Squadron, commonly called the RAG, has focused on training aircrew and maintainers to operate the jet, while also beginning to serve as the tactical schoolhouse. But until the squadrons in the fleet actually get out there and start using the jet, it is difficult to really determine how best to operate and maintain it.

There will be bad news in the future, and stories of challenges and failures. Guess what? That happens with every single aircraft, vehicle, ship, radio, rifle, you name it.

We still maintain that the Marines insistence on STOVL capability has compromised the end product, and certainly driven the cost of the program much higher than it should have been.

But we also think the F-35 program as a whole will eventually field a capable attack platform with credible survivability in defended airspace.

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Storm in Benelux causes near disaster at Schiphol

A couple of days ago, there was severe weather across much of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg (Benelux).  This played merry hell with the very dense air traffic in northern Europe, with many flights diverted from their destinations.  One other knock on effect is that bad weather reduces the operations capacity of an airport. An airport  can accommodate half a dozen jet landings in 10 minutes in fair weather might be reduced to only two or three in bad weather. Worse still, bad weather will force missed approaches, further reducing the capacity.

This severe weather lead to some very close calls at Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport.

Wind shear is the phenomenon where a column of air is flowing down from a storm toward the ground. When that column of air hits the ground, it flows outward.

http://www.allweatherinc.com/wp-content/uploads/Microburst.png

What happens is that an aircraft on approach, flying into this outward flow essentially suddenly has a major headwind component, and its indicated airspeed makes a sudden leap, say from 140 knots to 160 knots. Pilots on approach, being very sensitive to maintaining speed for landing, almost instinctively reduce power to reduce speed.* The problem is, as the jet passes through the column, while decelerating, they then encounter a very strong downward force, and worse on the far side, they suddenly find themselves traveling in the same direction of the outflow.  That effectively removes the headwind component, and indeed, the tailwind component results in a sudden drastic drop in indicated airspeed, say from 160 knots to suddenly 120 knots. The problem is, a 737 won’t fly at 120 knots. 

Coupled with the downward vector imparted earlier, and the reduction of power, it is very easy for an airliner to be slammed into the ground well short of the runway, with disastrous consequences. 

I’ll leave it to Spill to describe the proper procedure for pilots that do find themselves in windshear.

The atrocious weather at Schiphol meant that Trasnavia wasn’t the only airliner having trouble that day.

H/T to Airplane Pictures.
https://twitter.com/iLove_Aviation/status/626207186587287553

*Or worse, the autothrottles most airliners fly approaches with do it for the pilot and the pilot doesn’t immediately grasp that they are flying into windshear.

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Air Force Special Operations Helicopters in Vietnam

Most of us, when we think of Air Force Special Operations helicopters immediately picture the mighty MH-53J/M, the giant Pave Low III/IV used through the 80s and 90s to insert special operation forces at long range and in limited visibility into denied territory. The Pave Low is retired now, replaced in Air Force service by the CV-22B.

Here’s the thing- the Air Force didn’t get the MH-53 until well after the Desert One disaster during the Iran hostage crisis. It had operated H-53s for many years prior to that, all the way back to the Vietnam war, but used it in the Combat Search and Rescue role, picking up downed pilots in enemy territory. But the Desert One fiasco convinced both the Army and the Air Force they needed dedicated aircraft and crews to support special operations forces.

Of course, the H-53 wouldn’t be the first Air Force helicopter focused on support to special operations. During the Vietnam War, it quickly became apparent that the North Vietnamese were supplying their forces and the Vietcong in the south via what became known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a complex of roads and trails moving from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia into South Vietnam. This web of trails was dispersed so that finding individual units and convoys on it was extremely challenging. A great deal of effort went into developing technologies that could find traffic on the trail. But for most of the war, the most effective means of finding traffic was to insert small reconnaissance teams of 3-6 men in the area. These small teams, Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols, or LLRPs (pronounced “Lurps”) would be inserted into an operational area via helicopter, walk to an objective area, and quietly observe. Intelligence gathered would be used to generated targeting for airstrikes, as early warning for ground commanders, and generally help generate an order of battle of enemy forces. Similar patrols inside South Vietnam would detect, locate and target NVA forces operating against the US and our South Vietnamese allies.

Tasked with supporting this mission, the Air Force actually bought their own variant of the ubiquitous UH-1 Huey, the UH-1F. Given that they were primarily inserting very small teams, the Air Force chose the original short cabin configuration. And observing the trouble the Army had with gunship versions of the short cabin UH-1B due to lack of power, the Air Force Hueys were powered by the General Electric 1500hp T-58 turbine engine, unlike virtually every other Huey that used variants of the Lycoming T-53 turbine.*

The Air Force also developed a bolt on kit to convert a “slick” Huey into a gunship variant, with two 7-round 2.75” rocket launchers, and two M134 miniguns mounted in the cabin. Where the army external forward firing mounts for M60s and later M134s, the cabin mounted miniguns of the Air Force could be used either in a forward firing mode, or as flexible guns aimed by the crew chief and gunner.

On November 26, 1968, then 1st LT James P. Fleming, USAF of the 20th Special Operations Squadron was flying a UH-1F when a call for an emergency extraction of a six man MACV-SOG recon team came over the air.

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Capt. Fleming (then 1st Lt.) distinguished himself as the Aircraft Commander of a UH-1F transport Helicopter. Capt. Fleming went to the aid of a 6-man special forces long range reconnaissance patrol that was in danger of being overrun by a large, heavily armed hostile force. Despite the knowledge that 1 helicopter had been downed by intense hostile fire, Capt. Fleming descended, and balanced his helicopter on a river bank with the tail boom hanging over open water. The patrol could not penetrate to the landing site and he was forced to withdraw. Dangerously low on fuel, Capt. Fleming repeated his original landing maneuver. Disregarding his own safety, he remained in this exposed position. Hostile fire crashed through his windscreen as the patrol boarded his helicopter. Capt. Fleming made a successful takeoff through a barrage of hostile fire and recovered safely at a forward base. Capt. Fleming’s profound concern for his fellowmen, and at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.

James_P_Fleming

Airforce_moh

As the Air Force learned lessons in Vietnam about the tactics, techniques and procedures best suited for this mission, they produced a film to share with new pilots and crews to keep this institutional knowledge alive.

Also, there’s some pretty good shooty/splodey in there.

 

*The T-53 also was adapted to become the 1500 hp turbine that powers todays M1 tank series.

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