5th Generation Aerial Target Drone to Make its Maiden Flight Later This Month

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - 5th Generation Aerial Target Drone to Make its Maiden Flight Later This Month
5GAT prototype during the ground tests. (All images: DOT&E via

According to the U.S. Department of Defense the 5th generation aerial target drone is to make its maiden flight later this month. The first flight is scheduled to take place at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. Although the test program suffered from delays due to COVID-19, the ground tests were successfully completed at the Michael Army Airfield on Sep. 18, 2020.

The test program also included verification of milestones required for safe execution of landings and take-offs: as part of the preparation for the maiden flight, the first prototype conducted 24 taxi tests, 15 low-speed and 9 high speed), in six days.

As the threats environment evolves, USAF needs a target drone that can represent the fifth generation threats; low-observable and low-cost at the same time. The 5GAT Drone, as it is referred to “is designed to enable air-to-air and surface-to-air platform and weapons test and evaluation, pilot and ground-force training, and the development of tactics, techniques and procedures against a fifth-generation threat,the release reads.

Further tests will be aimed at verifying the combat-credibility of the system in scenarios involving an actual threat. Robert Behler, the director, operational test and evaluation said, as quoted in the DoD’s release, that “Right now, we lack a test platform that truly represents fifth-generation air capabilities.”

The 5GAT project is pursued by Sierra Technical Services (prime contractor), Fast Optimal Engineering (responsible for subsystems) and 5D Systems (delivering the Software). What’s interesting, 5GAT is to recycle the components cannibalized from decommissioned military aircraft.

Notably, the 5GAT platform also features diamond-shaped wings and intakes. The intakes’ snaking design hides the fans of the engines which limits the RCS (Radar Cross Section) significantly.

5GAT ground tests 2 - 5th Generation Aerial Target Drone to Make its Maiden Flight Later This Month
High-speed ground test.

According to The War Zone, the 5GAT would have a unit-price of about 10 million dollars and use a pair of T-38 engines (J85) ; Aviation Week, reported that the platform also uses some components of the F-5 and F/A-18 jets. All of those factors make the cost of the platform that looks relatively modern, quite reasonable. For the sake of comparison, a single F-35 airframe costs around 100 Million USD. Even though the F-35 should be employed in the aggressor role during the Red Flag exercise soo, a live-firing scenario is the main domain where the 5GAT would be very useful for the sake of conducting realistic training. USAF is no longer the sole user of 5th generation (or similar) jets, with China and Russia creating their own designs too.

FlightGlobal quoted the Sierra Technical Services saying that 5GAT could become an attritable loyal wingman – so cheap that the loss of such a platform would be negligible. Thus, the UAVs such as the 5GAT could carry out the tasks that may create dangers for the more expensive platforms, such as the F-35 or the XQ-58A.

5GAT is to begin its flight test program in late October. The scope of the program is to cover the subsystems, auto-land and auto-takeoff functions.  The further tests would have an objective of expanding the envelope of the platform.

Performance-wise, the manufacturer expects the 5GAT to be capable of reaching high subsonic speeds. The intake inlet design has been created to match that requirement. However, no analysis of the design in the supersonic envelope has been done. What’s interesting, the manufacturer claims that the g-load limits for the aircraft range from -2 to +7.5. Nonetheless, the 5GAT lacks the ability to sustain these values. This is due to the limited thrust of the J85 engines used on the airframe.

5GAT ground - 5th Generation Aerial Target Drone to Make its Maiden Flight Later This Month
A side view of the 5GAT prototype on the ground during the taxi tests.

Video: New Theory Emerges In Jetpack Sightings, And We’re Not Even Joking

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For the first time since late August, another pilot of another airliner flying into Los Angeles International Airport has spotted what he told the controller was a guy in a jetpack. This time the pilot said the jetpack guy was at 6,000 feet. There’s no telling if it was the same guy in the same jetpack, if it was a guy or a jetpack at all.

But was it really a guy flying a jetpack?

To start with, let’s assume that eyewitness reports are not to be taken as gospel. More and more the justice system is coming to terms with the fallibility of eyewitness accounts. In that setting, bad eyewitness testimony, even when given in good faith, can lead to false arrests and false convictions, or worse. This isn’t that bad, and there’s no reason to suspect that the pilots reporting the jetpack flyer were acting in anything but good faith.

Pilots know that it’s really hard to spot other traffic, that is, another airplane sharing the sky with us, when that other plane is much more than a couple of miles away from us. And even a small plane is many, many times larger than a person. So it stands to reason that, in order to spot a person flying nearby under jetpack power, that airspace intruder needs to be pretty darned close. Now, imagine that you’re looking at a person standing still three football fields away, that is, around 1,000 feet from you, give or take. Is it person or a mannequin? Is it a man or a woman? Is it something else entirely? You can make a best guess on all of the above questions, but how sure are you? If you say “100%,” than you have an overinflated sense of how good people are at interpreting what they see.

In the case of the jetpack, the best we can say is that the pilots really thought they saw a guy in a jetpack. Could it have been a woman in a jetpack? A guy in a wingsuit? A drone disguised to look like a guy in a jetpack?

The latter theory is, in fact, getting some traction here, and we wouldn’t be surprised if the FBI were looking for—and they are reported beating the bushes on this one—a drone flyer instead of a jetpack flyer.

The jetpack theory is problematic in a few ways, especially since this last sighting was at 6,000 feet. First, there are only so many jetpacks out there, and the company that makes them, JetPack Aviation, knows where each and every one of them is, and when they were asked about it after the late August sightings, they said it wasn’t one of theirs. And if you think that somebody rigged up their own home-brewed jetpack, which is possibly but hugely complicated and risky, we’d say it’s highly unlikely.

Then there’s the question of the endurance of a jetpack, which is around 10 minutes. These things climb like rockets, but still, just like an airplane they need lots of fuel to get to altitude, which cuts endurance even more. And then, if they do run out of fuel, well, suffice it to say their glide ratio is about the same as that of a grand piano, perhaps not quite as good. So, could it have been a jetpack? It could have been. Was it likely? We’d say, not very.

So what was it? Our best guess is that it was a drone made to look like a guy flying a jetpack, essentially a model airplane mannequin. Can this be done.? Oh yes. A person-shaped aircraft is like a lifting body, a shape that NASA experimented with a lot in the ’50s and ’60. Do they fly well? Really well. In this video, of people flying these kinds of models, the impressive part is how realistic they look! And we are in no way implying that these modelers are in any way involved. They’re just a good example of how such a thing could be done convincingly. 

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Click the screenshot to watch the video of radio-controlled Superman.

It being a flying model would also explain why the jetpack guy has been hard to hunt down so far. Instead of a really loud jet-powered flying suit, a drone would be relatively quiet, easy to tote around, quick to set up and break down. Are we 100% sure on this one? Not even. But it’s the explanation that makes the most sense by far.


Categories: How to Become a Pilot

Friday Photo: morning over the Cascades

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Oregon Benjaminson - Friday Photo: morning over the Cascades

Click on image for full size.

The view: A morning flight over the Cascade Range in Oregon, east of Eugene

The pilot: Eric Benjaminson

The photographer: Eric Benjaminson

The aircraft: 1958 Cessna 182A, N5900B

The mission: A flight from Creswell, OR (77S), to Sunriver, OR (S21)

The memory: I took an early morning summer flight across the Cascades in Oregon on a perfect morning. Unlimited visibility, no wind, an almost eerie lack of any sign of civilization. As I neared the middle of the mountain range, I saw this stunning lineup of (from the left) Mt. Jefferson, Three-Fingered Jack, Mt. Washington, and two of the Three Sisters. A timeless moment that signals the best of the flying experience.

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Nine Dead in Collision of Two Afghan Mi-17 Helicopters in Southern Helmand Province.

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Nine Dead in Collision of Two Afghan Mi-17 Helicopters in Southern Helmand Province.
File photo of Afghan Mi-17 helicopter.
(Photo: US Navy Photo by MC Bill Musta)

Nine victims are reported dead and an unreported number are injured following the collision of two Afghan Air Force Helicopters early on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, in southern Helmand province in Afghanistan.

Reports in media outlets including the Voice of America indicate that the aircraft were Soviet-era Mi-17 twin-turbine helicopters. There are 96 Mi-17s in use by the Afghan Army aviation units, including 56 in support of Afghanistan’s Special Mission Wing (SMW) or “Triple Seven” unit.

The Afghan Triple Seven special operations aviation unit is, “Charged with supporting the counter-narcotics mission in Afghanistan since its inception but have expanded to include carrying Afghan commandos and operators from the elite General Command of Police Special Units (GCPSU) into and out of combat for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations” according to a 2018 report by journalist Marty Skovland Jr.

AfghanCrash 10 - Nine Dead in Collision of Two Afghan Mi-17 Helicopters in Southern Helmand Province.
File photo of Afghan forces evacuating a wounded soldier to an Mi-17 helicopter. (Photo: via LA Times)

Official sources in Helmand province reported that the two Mi-17 helicopters were conducting a MEDEVAC mission when they apparently collided in Nawa district Tuesday night. The area center was reported to be under an attack by Taliban insurgents at the time.

The crash, reported to be an accident and not the result of enemy action, comes as conflict in the area has escalated since Sunday when a significant Taliban offensive began near the provincial capital of Lashkargah and has since expanded into surrounding districts.

The Russian-built Mil Mi-17 helicopter, NATO reporting name “Hip”, is a medium capacity, utility helicopter made in numerous versions including armed gunships and tactical transports. The aircraft has a significant operational history with over 75 countries including emerging nations, many African countries and even the United States. It has proven to be a rugged, dependable and simple to operate aircraft well suited to austere environments and operations in forward areas.

Flying in the Age of Coronavirus

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MOSTLY, this has been an exercise in stress. I suppose that’s an ambiguous term, so constituently we’re talking about fear, dread, and uncertainty. Not a fear of the virus. Coming down with COVID-19 isn’t what scares me. What scares me is what the airline business might look like by the time things settle out — whenever that might be.

Particularly astonishing was the speed at which things went to hell. In February, three friends and I were relaxing around a swimming pool in the Philippines talking about the size of our profit sharing checks and contemplating which aircraft we might bid in the months ahead. Within days — days! — the entire industry would be avalanched by panic and brought to a virtual halt.

The first three months were the worst. March, April, and May. Scant few flights were operating, and nobody had the slightest idea what lay ahead. These were some of the most stressful days of my life. Since then, things have settled into a certain routine. It’s not a happy routine by any stretch, and little about it feels normal. It’s just a routine.

If nothing else, I’ve kept busy. You might be surprised to hear that I’ve been spending more time aloft than ever. I’ve flown more in the past four months than in any four-month period of my entire career. Since June I’ve been to Europe twice, Africa five times, and back and forth across the country more times than I can count.

Normally I’m not the most ambitious pilot. The ancillary hassles of the job encourage me to keep my schedule light: the delays, the hellishness of airports, and the enormous stress of commuting between the city I fly from (New York) and the city where I live (Boston). Because of all this, I might be on the road for only eleven or twelve days in a month. That’s good for 60 or 70 pay-hours; the average pilot aims closer to 80. But these aren’t normal times. Suddenly airports are quiet, delays are nonexistent, commuting is a breeze. It’d be perverse to say that flying is “better” than ever, but certainly it’s easier. Easier for all the wrong reasons, but it’s a way to keep my head up and maintain a sense of normalcy. So I’ve been doing it as much as I can.

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Besides, there’s little else to do. What is life now but a morass of masks and placards and hysterical protocols. I’ve come to dread the most innocuous of tasks and errands, like a trip to Trader Joe’s or a walk to the Post Office. And the extent to which the American public seems to have acquiesced to all of this leaves me fearful of the future. Hence, I’m happier on the job, where I feel engaged and useful, than I am at home, where I’m apt to stew and wallow.

Though here too, the damage is visible at every turn: the empty planes, the desolate concourses and shuttered shops. A stroll through an airport in the COVID era is, on the one hand, a relaxing one, free of the usual ruckuses and long lines. On the other hand it’s a way of beholding just how massively this crisis has impacted commercial aviation. There’s a fine line between peaceful and haunting. It’s nice to be free of the noise and crowds. But for an airline employee, it’s also a little terrifying.

Then we have the small things, annoyances are at once petty and aggravating. Like the endless stream of COVID-related public address announcements. Or the fact that every hotel room amenity now comes wrapped in plastic (because this somehow “saves lives,” and because if the world needs one thing it’s more plastic waste). Or needing to strategize over how to score food during layovers in locked-down cities.

There’s little to feel optimistic about, though at least I’m busy.

Not all pilots have this opportunity. Huge swaths of the pilot ranks have been sitting idle. Seniority is everything at an airline, and I’m high enough on the roster to avoid this fate, but many of my colleagues haven’t set foot in a cockpit in weeks or even months. Airlines are utilizing different fleets at different rates; at a given carrier, 767 crews might be busier than A320 crews, for example, or vice-versa. Some airlines have been operating long-haul cargo charters, which is keeping their biggest planes — and their pilots — surprisingly busy. Other fleets, meanwhile, have been shut down almost entirely, meaning those pilots are doing nothing.

The job itself is little different, but now has the added challenge of keeping focused in a time of angst and worry. Before every takeoff is a crew briefing, where we talk through any threats or difficulties that might lie ahead. Most of these spiels now include a line or two about concentration. “We’re all a little distracted, so let’s remember to follow procedures and stay disciplined…”

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My take on this whole mess is no doubt tempered by earlier career hardships. I’ve been through two airline bankruptcies, one of which resulted in the company liquidating, and in the wake of the terror attacks of 2001 I spent five years on furlough. That’s airline talk for being laid off. I was in my mid-thirties at the time, in the middle of what customarily would be a pilot’s “prime-earning years.” Instead of saving money and making a good living, I scraped by as a freelance writer. This was, in a sense, an adventurous and successful half-decade; had I not lost my flying job, it’s unlikely the “Ask the Pilot” enterprise, or my book along with it, would ever have come to be. But despite the accolades, the book tour to Rome, the TV crews that often came to visit and the satisfaction of having used my improvisational talents to spin a little gold from a rotten situation, this was a long and financially bleak hiatus.

And when a pilot is out of work, for whatever reason, he or she cannot simply slide over to another airline and pick up where they left off. The way airline seniority systems work, there is no sideways transfer of benefits or salary. If you move to a different company, you begin again at the bottom, at probationary pay and benefits, regardless of how much experience you have. You lose everything. So any threats to our jobs or companies make us very nervous.

Five years on the street left me in a career no-man’s land, and upended my whole sense of self as a professional. Was I even a pilot any more? When I finally was called back, early in 2007, all I knew for sure is that I never wanted to live through that again.

And I didn’t expect to. Oh, sure, for any airline worker who endures a crisis — a furlough, a merger, a bankruptcy — nothing is ever again certain or taken for granted. No matter how rosy things are the moment, there’s always a hum of dread, a shoe waiting to drop, in the back of your mind. But this? This? Nobody foresaw a cataclysm of such speed or magnitude.

I have my ways of dealing with it. Others have theirs. On and on it goes.


Photos by the author.

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This Incredible Plane: The Gossamer Albatross

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Gossamer Albatross II in flight - This Incredible Plane: The Gossamer Albatross

If the idea of an airplane you could hop into, or onto, and pedal to the sky appeals to you, I get it. But don’t hold your breath for one to show up at your local sporting goods store any time soon. The physics of creating a human-powered plane are impossible.

Well, almost impossible. The Gossamer Albatross was built in the late 1970s for a pair of world-record competitions and took home the gold in both. In the process, it established world records that stand today. 

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Categories: How to Become a Pilot

Now do it backwards

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Those familiar with the song and dance teams of the 1940s and 50s are familiar with the comment. Fred Astaire was a master dancer and his partner, Ginger Rogers, did the same routines backwards and in high heels. Well, no high heels here (mostly—keep reading), but an aviation story where doing it backwards was part of the event.

In the 1960s and 70s, many of the world’s air forces flew variants of the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. The Starfighter was one of the infamous Century Series supersonic jets. Sleek and bullet-fast it, was known for climb rate and Mach two speed. In early variants, it was also known as a handful to fly by inexperienced pilots, including those with lots of time in early generation jet fighters like the F-86 and Hawker Hunter. It didn’t stay in the USAF inventory long because other Century Series airplanes were more adaptable to the cross section of tactical missions, but it did find success as an export fighter flown by many NATO air forces and in Pakistan, Japan, and Taiwan.

One of the primary users of the Starfighter was the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). They flew the CF-104, one of the advanced versions of the Starfighter built under license, and used it fulfilling Canada’s commitment to have fighters based in Europe. The RCAF’s mission in Germany was air to ground, principally for nuclear strike against Warsaw Pact targets and reconnaissance. There was some conventional attack capability, but the limited payload of the CF kept this role in the background.

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The CF-104 was a hot airplane.

For the strike role, the CF-104 (and other Starfighters of the G series flown by Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands) was a very good bird. Upgraded with a very capable ground mapping radar, one of the first inertial navigation systems on fighters, and carrying a single nuclear store centerline and external wing tanks, it was lethal. Its streamlined shape gave it excellent low altitude speed and brother, did the Canadians enjoy low altitude, high speed. Especially up and down the curves of the Rhine river and over—directly over—German castles (“it’s great to be the conqueror, you betcha”).

Canadians did well in many of the tactical competitions in Central Europe involving precise navigation and exacting time over target (TOT). This is the story of an American exchange pilot serving with the RCAF on assignment at Canadian Air Force Base Lahr in southwestern Germany in the 70s. His name was Mike, and he was an experienced Phantom pilot with a Vietnam tour and over a thousand hours in Double Ugly. He did it backwards.

Before heading to Lahr, Mike went through a check-out in the Starfighter in Canada. He was qualified to fly it and had weapons qualification on ranges before shipping out. But he’d need to get a Tactical Qualification check in country before being fully mission-ready and able to pull “the Q,” e.g., sit 15-minute alert on an aircraft loaded with a nuclear weapon. He’d do lots of study on the local area, rules, and the protocols for being responsible to carry, arm, and release a nuclear weapon much more powerful than either of the two dropped to end WWII.

He’d take several supervised flights in Germany—most of these would be “canned” or preplanned low levels across the rolling terrain of central Europe—much different than his experiences in Canada, or for that matter in the US. Hugging the terrain, he would fly low (much of the time at 300 ft. AGL) and fast (450 TAS for cruise, then about 540 TAS for the dash to the target, weapons release, and escape maneuver) before heading home. He’d have another 104 flying loosely on his wing to validate his maneuvers, give him hints on how to fly over a ridge line without popping into radar coverage or highlighting his camouflaged jet against blue sky or a white cloud background.

Now, if you were an American pilot in a similar mission you’d plan your flights to avoid noise sensitive areas, large cities, tourist sites, airfields, and chunks of three-dimensional sky where German restrictions prohibited transit. Canadians, and the RAF for that matter, took a different approach. Know where the towers and cables are, understand the hazards of flying over densely populated areas and artillery firing ranges—but the winners weren’t so worried about noise or balking dairy cattle complaints from the German population. Routes flown by the Commonwealth were much more free range. And senior military and diplomats of the Crown seldom acted on anything that didn’t cause damage—broken windows not counting.

Planning for low level flying is a demanding, rigorous task. Lots of chart reading, checking NOTAMS and military exercise locations and schedules in the ops room. Target study to develop a plan of attack involved radar predictions from files and artist interpretations of what radar image you’d have on your scope at a turn point, and after, to validate you inertial information. Time and distance were still the bedrock. When would you be at the bend in the river on the scope, where would the smoke stack be relative to the y in the rail road.

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Perfect for high speed, low altitude flights.

Then you made the map. If it was something you’d fly again, you’d develop a book of flip charts for each leg of the low level, annotated with the flight path, heading, and time ticks and perhaps a radar prediction for a certain point on that leg. You’d also make note of distinctive forest patterns. In Europe they preserve the Wald—a good notch in a tree line is a significant check point—it was there years ago (even with WWII) and will odds-on be there for years to come. Make your mission book once—update for new information on obstructions to flight, hot fire areas—good to go.

Mike’s eval flight would be different. It would be to a target picked by the eval pilot and given to him about three hours before the flight. He’d study it, plan out the route, lay in the details, and most likely staple or join it with rings and away he’d go. Mike had a better idea this time. He made each page in detail, annotated and carefully placed it in his right leg G-suit pocket. Pull a page out, fly it, stuff it in his left pocket to avoid clutter in the cockpit, pull out the next page, and so on. Off target, with the escape maneuver completed, he would climb out VFR and head back to Lahr.

Not so fast. The flight went well—accurate nav, great time control, and the release timer expired just when the nuke would have been bombs away if it were a live drop. The chase pilot loose on his wing, he was ready for RTB, debrief, and a good draft beer—German of course. Into his turn, his evaluator announced, “nice job Yank, now let’s take it home in reverse.”

Yikes—all those chart pages were in his left pocket all right—but in random order, wadded and upside down. He was gonna do it “backwards.” Well, he settled down, did a mental calculation of the reverse initial point to target leg, settled on a heading, then carefully sorted the pages into good order. After a couple of legs, the evaluator pulled line abreast, gave Mike a thumbs up and pointed direct to Lahr. Back to the field for a low altitude entry into the pattern and a snappy pitch up to the downwind, base, turn to final (in a light F-104 still about 180 miles per hour), touchdown, drag chute out, and taxi in as a mission ready “Yank in the RCAF.”

A note about those high heels: in the early days of the Starfighter, it had a downward ejection seat and the pilots actually wore polished spurs to attach their legs to the seat and avoid flailing on the way out. So, in a sense they did wear high heels—but not in the CF-104.

Closing comment: in no way do I want to infer Canadian pilots were undisciplined. They were rock solid when I was stationed in Germany, and I am sure they are still damn good. Solid aviators in every sense of the word. I know a few and spent some time with some at a NATO Tiger meet in France. They are fine pilots, and also good guys to travel with on a night mission to Paris.

Accident Brief: Piper PA-18 Super Cub Crash In Alaska

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NTSB acciddent briefs - Accident Brief: Piper PA-18 Super Cub Crash In Alaska

Piper PA-18 Super Cub

Big Lake, Alaska/Injuries: 1

The pilot reported that, while performing touch-and-go landings, he applied carburetor heat during the second landing. During takeoff after the second landing, he turned the carburetor heat off and applied full power. Once airborne, the airplane began to lose power, and he manipulated the throttle and carburetor heat levers, but engine power was not restored. He chose to make a precautionary landing straight-ahead on the runway with partial engine power. During the landing, the airplane departed the end of the runway, impacted snow, and nosed over. The airplane sustained substantial damage to the right-wing lift strut and empennage. A postaccident engine examination and test run revealed no preaccident malfunctions or failures with the airplane that would have precluded normal operation. The exact probability of carburetor icing could not be calculated for the accident airport because the closest weather observation station was 8 miles away. However, the pilot stated that, while landing, there were about 3 inches of fresh snow on the runway and that he believed that propeller wash likely introduced snow into the intake, which created carburetor ice. He added that he should have left the carburetor heat on longer after the second landing.

Probable cause(s): The pilot’s failure to use carburetor heat in conditions conducive to carburetor icing, which resulted in a partial loss of engine power, a precautionary landing, and impact with snow.

Note: The report republished here is from the NTSB and is printed verbatim and in its complete form.

Categories: How to Become a Pilot

Amazing Footage Shows The Inputs On Throttle And Stick Required To Manual Land A Super Hornet On A Carrier

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Amazing Footage Shows The Inputs On Throttle And Stick Required To Manual Land A Super Hornet On A Carrier
Hands on throttle and stick, literally. (Screenshot from video below).

There are many clips showing carrier landings from inside the cockpit but you won’t find many videos like the one in this post. Filmed in the cockpit of a Hornet “in the groove” (the final part of the approach flown with level wings) the footage below focuses on the hands of the pilot as he controls throttle and stick until the successful arrested landing aboard the carrier.

The video is not recent: although it was uploaded to Youtube in 2018, the trap landing occurred almost 10 years ago, in 2011 (based on the other videos posted by the same pilot) during one of the last cruises of USS Enterprise, that was retired from active service in 2012.

“This video was taken during a foul-weather recovery aboard the USS Enterprise,” says Austin Hulbert, a pilot with the VFA-211 in the comment to the video. “There was a pretty big thunderstorm that was dumping down so much rain we could not see the ball (“meatball”=the visual landing aid we use to land aboard the ship) so the LSOs (Landing Signals Officers) had to talk all the aircraft down. The control inputs are bigger than normal due to the gusts and turbulent winds.”

Indeed, you can see the amount of inputs on the throttle and stick that are required to keep the desired airspeed, rate of descent and attitude in bad weather. The left MFD (Multi-Function Display) shows the attitude indicator and gives a clear idea of the rotation of the jet around the roll and pitch axis of the VFA-211’s “Rhino” (as the F/A-18F is dubbed in U.S. Naval Aviation lingo) as it approaches the flight deck. Impressive.

“The item that flew forward was a divert card to plan for a fuel divert in case we weren’t able to get the jet aboard. Fortunately, the foot well is well-barriered and the card was easy to retrieve once I got out of the jet.”

Arrested landings.

We have often explained how trap landings aboard U.S. aircraft carriers. There’s a full post posted on this topic here for you to deep dive if interested. Following is an excerpt that provides some details that allow you to better understand the role of the LSO, mentioned by Austin Hulbert in the comment to the footage above.

From the last three quarters of a mile all the way to touchdown the pilot approaching a U.S. aircraft carrier can rely on LSO (Landing Signal Officers – radio callsign “Paddles”) talkdown. LSOs are skilled and experienced pilots whose job is to watch the deck-landing of all the airplanes and provide the pilots with radio guidelines to adjust the final phase of the approach, and complement IFLOLS (Improved Fresnel Lens Optical Landing System) and ICLS (Instrumental Carrier Landing System) visual information.

Landing on a carrier is anything but easy as correctly setting up the aircraft for landing is not enough: as a matter of fact, difficulties in deck-landing lie in the fact that the angled flight deck moves as the carrier sails in rectilinear motion.

Therefore the pilot must follow a steady moving deck. Instructions radioed to the pilots (extremely important also to prevent the pilot from concentrating on the deck, thus not paying as much attention to the optical landing system) are concise: “Little low”, “Little right”, “Power”, etc.

Even though it’s only two of the LSO team to be in contact over the radio with the plane (a duty one and a supervisor), on the special aft platform a team of five or six LSO-qualified pilots work on: at least one member for each embarked squadron, supporting the two CAG LSOs the whole crew depends on.

LSOs have a double task: along with helping the pilots out through the last fifteen-eighteen seconds of their flight (the most critical part of it), LSOs grade every plane’s deck-landing (whether successful or not) according to a model which guarantees every naval aviator proficiency and training in the difficult art of getting the aircraft back onto the deck.

Under LSOs’ disposal is a specially-provided radio-equipped emplacement fitted out with light controls, control workstation, Integrated Launch and Recovery Television Surveillance System (ILARTS) -that is a sort of camera aligned with the deck which catches and tapes any approaching plane and has eventually replaced the outdated Pilot Landing Aid Television (“PLAT”, on all carrier’s closed-circuit televisions)- and the Head Up Dislpay, which supplies the aircraft and vertical speed as well as the wind direction and intensity. Paddles job has very little to do with technology though and it mostly calls for a well-trained eye for the concise guidelines pilots are provided with over the radio are based almost only upon visual perceptions of the pilots who watch the in-coming traffic from the LSOs platform and suggest the various corrections according to aircraft’s landing and nav lights.

BTW, today the Navy turns 245. Happy Birthday Navy!

Go or No Go: above the bumps, below the ice?

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Fall in Maine is simply wonderful, as you’ve seen for yourself this week. The air was crisp and the colors on the trees were beautiful, but now it’s time to fly home. Your Cessna 310 is fueled up and ready to make the 3.5 hour flight from Bar Harbor (BHB) to your home near Gaithersburg, Maryland (GAI). Will the weather cooperate?

You’re instrument rated and current, so you’ll be flying this trip IFR unless there’s a good reason not to. Your airplane is well equipped, with datalink weather, dual WAAS GPSs, and a good autopilot. You do not have deice equipment. Read the weather briefing below, then add a comment to tell us whether it’s a go for you, or a no go. Proposed departure time is 1930Z.


The Maps page in ForeFlight shows a fairly colorful picture, with rain and some convective activity in the Northeast, plus plenty of PIREPs.

GNG route - Go or No Go: above the bumps, below the ice?

The surface analysis shows a cold front moving in from the west, which is driving a lot of the activity from a weather standpoint.

Surface analysis - Go or No Go: above the bumps, below the ice?

The forecast charts show the front moving through New England overnight, with accompanying rain. The 12-hour chart is really showing current conditions:

12 hour forecast - Go or No Go: above the bumps, below the ice?

The 24-hour chart shows the front’s position tonight.

6 hour prog chart - Go or No Go: above the bumps, below the ice?

Radar and satellite

You know you’re dealing with an advancing cold front, so step one is to get a feel for the clouds and precipitation. The regional radar shows an area of light to moderate rain in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine, plus some heavier returns over New York.

Static radar - Go or No Go: above the bumps, below the ice?

The infrared satellite shows plenty of clouds over the first two thirds of your route today, with the thickest part in Maine.

IR satellite - Go or No Go: above the bumps, below the ice?

The visible satellite offers some additional detail.

Visible satellite - Go or No Go: above the bumps, below the ice?

Hazards: ice, turbulence, convection

It looks like convection, icing, and turbulence are all potential issues today. That means a look at AIRMETs and SIGMETs is in order. There are no SIGMETs, but there is a convective SIGMET around that line in New York.

Convective SIGMETs - Go or No Go: above the bumps, below the ice?

The AIRMET for turbulence is a busy map, which is to be expected given the windy conditions ahead of that cold front.

Turbulence AIRMET - Go or No Go: above the bumps, below the ice?

The winds aloft chart for 6000 feet explains the busy map—winds are out of the west at 50 knots over New York.

Winds 6K - Go or No Go: above the bumps, below the ice?

The Pilot Report (PIREP) map shows plenty of orange icons. It looks like a bumpy day in the clouds and also down low with the gusty winds.

Turbulence PIREP - Go or No Go: above the bumps, below the ice?

Looking a little closer at some PIREPS shows somewhat conflicting details. A Cirrus just north of your route at 8000 reported above freezing temperatures and no turbulence; a Cessna 402 just south of your route reported light to moderate turbulence and light snow, but in clear air at 8000.

Key PIREPs - Go or No Go: above the bumps, below the ice?

Icing is another concern, given the time of year and the location. It looks like icing is only an issue at higher altitudes today.

Icing AIRMETE - Go or No Go: above the bumps, below the ice?

Checking the freezing level confirms this. You should be above freezing as long as you stay below about 8-9000 feet.

Freezing level - Go or No Go: above the bumps, below the ice?

Icing PIREPs mostly support this picture—there are plenty of them, but all above 10,000 feet.

Icing PIREPs - Go or No Go: above the bumps, below the ice?

Surface weather

While you’re IFR today, it’s worth checking out the overall cloud picture. The 3-hour forecast chart shows widespread clouds until you get to Maryland, but some of the ceilings are fairly high.

Clouds - Go or No Go: above the bumps, below the ice?

Your departure airport is reporting marginal VFR conditions and reasonably strong wind from the south. The forecast calls for rain and thunderstorms to move in after your departure time.

BHB weather - Go or No Go: above the bumps, below the ice?

En route, most airports are reporting solid VFR conditions with a ceiling around 7000 feet AGL.

En route METARs - Go or No Go: above the bumps, below the ice?

Your destination is reporting good VFR and is forecast to stay that way, but the wind is definitely blowing.

GAI weather - Go or No Go: above the bumps, below the ice?

Decision time

It’s time to make the go/no-go call. All the METARs show VFR or at worst marginal VFR conditions, and there appears to be no threat of icing as long as you stay below 10,000 feet. In fact, you may be in VMC for most of the flight if you cruise at 6000 feet. However, thunderstorms are firing up in a solid line over New York, and the strong winds both aloft and at the surface promise a bumpy ride.

Add a comment below and tell us what you would do.

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