Stepping down in automation—the real lesson for children of the magenta line

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Warren “Van” Vanderburgh was an extraordinary pilot. Twenty seven years in the Air Force, 14 times Top Gun, and 32 years at American Airlines—the sort of guy you might want to pick up a few pointers from. In 1996, Van was tasked by American Airlines to address the number of accidents, incidents, and violations that looked to be caused by “Automation Dependency.” A term probably not ever used before. In April of 1997, Van held a class at American Airlines Training Academy in Dallas, Texas, titled “Children of the Magenta Line.” The class was videotaped and is available on YouTube. Twenty three years after it was recorded, Children of the Magenta Line is still a very valuable training session and worth reviewing regularly.

hqdefault 300x225 - Stepping down in automation—the real lesson for children of the magenta line
Van Vanderburgh was an accomplished pilot and a brilliant instructor.

What is Automation Dependency and where did this issue come from? Very likely the Boeing 757 played a major role. First put into commercial operation by Eastern Airlines in 1983, Boeing delivered 1,050 757 models between 1981 and 2004. The pilots at Eastern referred to it as the Electric Jet. It was the first commercial aircraft to have a Flight Management System and Electronic Instruments. Pilots transitioning from the DC-8, DC-9, and 727 had their hands full just getting through the training program. Many washed out and others just elected to go back to the steam gauges. A rather senior 727 captain friend of mine described his first week of training as, “I felt like a dog watching TV.”

If you managed to finally check out on the 757, the next task was to figure out how to safely fly it around the system without major incident. With two brand new pilots in the cockpit of the Electric Jet and a futuristic-looking Flight Management System (FMS), it was a job just loading the thing properly and getting underway. Once airborne, the transition from actually flying the plane to knowing which buttons to push would ultimately lead to another new term: “what’s it doing now?”

This was likely repeated several times during the flight. There always seemed to be confusion as to who was to push the buttons which frequently lead to both pilots being heads down. One pilot was trying to correct an error the other pilot made, or make an entry that the other guy couldn’t figure out how to do. It was not long before the hazards of automation started to become clear.

New procedures were developed at each airline as to how to manage the various cockpit tasks. A common procedure was for the pilot flying to make the entries and the pilot not flying to verbally verify the entries; this helped substantially but the safety record still needed some work.

Enter Van Vanderburgh and the American Airlines Training Department. Van and his group analyzed accidents, incidents, and violations and determined that 68% of them were caused by automation mismanagement. They determined that pilots flying the new automated jets were becoming “Automation Dependent Pilots.” One of Van’s slides defines such a pilot as one who does not select the proper level of automation for the task and loses situational awareness which is frequently proceeded by task saturation.

In Van’s presentation he describes three levels of automation:

  • The pilot manually flying the aircraft.
  • The pilot using the flight director, autopilot, and autopilot modes to fly the aircraft for a short period of time. For example: Heading select, Flight Level Change, Vertical Speed, Indicated Airspeed, etc.
  • The pilot using the FMS to command the autopilot to fly the aircraft for hours at a time.

So, what is the appropriate level of automation?

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When in doubt, step it down a level or two in automation.

This is the meat of the subject where we as pilots today, 23 years after Van’s presentation, still struggle. The basic concept is that when things go wrong or get complicated, step down a level in automation.

Consider the following…

You are on a Vnav descent and navigating in GPS, Nav mode selected. You get a reroute; type-type-enter-select new airway, enter-then direct-enter-enter. What vertical mode would you likely be in? Probably Pitch. Not good, what to do? Step down a level in automation first by selecting Vertical Speed and maybe heading if appropriate, then enter the re-route.

What about a traffic alert that requires evasive action? Would Vertical Speed be the best choice? Heading select maybe? How about stepping down three levels to hand-flying the aircraft as necessary.

A last-minute runway change with the airport insight? How much button pushing is required? Step down three levels and just fly the plane.

And think about this: there are two pilots in that 757, but how many are in our single engine or light twin, Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA)? We are taking on the job of two type-rated pilots, technically both captains, when flying single-pilot IFR. Is the G1000/Perspective system any less complicated than the Honeywell system in a Boeing? I flew the 757 for 18 years and I can tell you that although the aircraft systems are quite different and much more complex than our typical general aviation aircraft, the FMS entries are not that much different. Also, consider that you have no one backing you up for the entries that you make. In our planes, “garbage in” does not necessarily result in “garbage out.” More like “splatter.”

Techniques to mitigate automation dependency and the single pilot issue:

  • Slow down. As pilots become more proficient with the FMS keyboard they tend to go faster with the entries. For example, Direct-enter-enter should be direct-enter-VERIFY-enter.
  • Be your own copilot. This is a very effective technique that is hard to get experienced pilots to follow. In airline operations, the pilot not flying is required to point his finger at the autopilot/flight director status display (scoreboard) to make sure that what is displayed is what was selected, then verbally state what he sees. Do this yourself, point at the scoreboard, and state out loud what you see. You will be surprised at how many times you will catch an error. (Like being in heading for five minutes when you should have been in Nav or the vertical mode somehow ended up in Pitch).
  • In VFR weather, turn your autopilot off and hand fly the aircraft using the Flight Director and FMS inputs. This will force you to hand fly what you have entered, improving your scan, and sharpen your flying skills.

Van Vandenburgh passed on a few years ago, but his very informative instructional videos, broadcasted from the American Airlines Training Academy, live on and are still available on YouTube. They include:

Swiss F/A-18D Hornet Sports Markings For MQM-178 Target Drone Kill With AIM-120C-7 During Tests in Sweden

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Swiss F/A-18D Hornet Sports Markings For MQM-178 Target Drone Kill With AIM-120C-7 During Tests in Sweden
The F/A-18D J-5233 taxies at Meiringen on Sept. 14, 2020. (Image credit: The Aviationist/Alessandro Fucito)

In September 2018, the Swiss Air Force sent two of its Hornets, from Emmen, Switzerland, to Vidsel Air Base, Sweden, for a testing campaign with the AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile). From Sept. 20 to Oct. 12, 2018, the Swiss aircraft (a single seater F/A-18C and a two-seater F/A-18D) were involved in a series of missile tests over the Vidsel Test Range, located in the north part of the country.

With its 7,200 km² of restricted airspace and 3,300 km² restricted ground space, Vidsel is the largest over ground test facility in Europe, often used by defense organizations and industries for testing various weapon systems.

Vidsel Range - Swiss F/A-18D Hornet Sports Markings For MQM-178 Target Drone Kill With AIM-120C-7 During Tests in Sweden
A map of Vidsel Range. (Image credit: FMV Vidsel Range)

The AIM-120C-7

The AIM-120C-7 (sometimes referred to as AIM-120C7) has been under development since 1998. It is an upgraded variant of the AIM-120C AMRAAM and features extended range and enhancements in homing capability.

AIM 120C on F 16 - Swiss F/A-18D Hornet Sports Markings For MQM-178 Target Drone Kill With AIM-120C-7 During Tests in Sweden
An AIM-120C on an F-16 at Aviano AB. (Image credit: USAF).

Back in 2010, at an estimated cost of 318M USD, the Government of Switzerland requested the purchase of 150 AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM, 6 AIM-120C-7 Telemetry Missiles, 24 AIM-120C-7 Captive Air Training Missiles, 1 spare Missile Guidance Section, missile containers, weapon system support equipment, spare and repair parts, publications and technical documents, repair and return, depot maintenance, training and training equipment, U.S. Government and contractor technical support services, and other related elements of logistics and program support. A first batch of equipment was delivered to Payerne Air Base, using a U.S. Air Force C-17A #07-7175 flying as RCH386, on Sept. 21, 2016.

As part of the firing activities carried out with the latest generation’s AMRAAM in 2018, the F/A-18C Hornet fired the AIM-120C-7 at Kratos MQM-178 FireJet target drones.

The MQM-178

The Kratos MQM-178 Firejet is one of the aerial target drones available at the Vidsel range (the other being the BQM-167i). According to the company’s website, “it fills a variety of end-to-end weapons-release training roles, including surface-to-air and air-to-air. Capable of flying a wide variety of speed and maneuverability profiles, Firejet delivers a high degree of versatility by providing the opportunity to test multiple weapon systems with one flexible and affordable aerial target system.”

The MQM-178 features a max speed of M0.76 and a high-maneuvrability: 10 g instantaneous and 6 g sustained.

With a length of 3.3 m and a dry weight of 59 kg, the MQM-178 is the smallest of Kratos’ aerial targets. It is capable of carrying a combination of internal and external payloads, including tow targets, proximity scoring, passive & active (RF) augmentation, and infrared (IR) augmentation. Depending on the scope of the test, it can carry Luneburg lens (LL), miss distance indicator (MDI), Infrared (IR), passive and active radio frequency (RF) and dispenser for chaffs and flares. It is pneumatically launched, meaning that it doesn’t need Rocket-Assisted Take-Off (RATO) equipment and facilities.

F/A-18D Markings

Interestingly, some time after the test, the two seater, J-5033, was given some special markings for deployment: the badge of the 2018 campaign along with the silhouettes of an AMRAAM and a FireJet target drone appear between the canopy and the LERX (Leading Edge Root Extension) in the nose section of the jet. The Aviationist’s contributor Alessandro Fucito took the photos of the aircraft last week at Meiringen Air Base.

Considered that two F-18s were involved in the firing campaign, it seems quite likely that the same markings were also applied to the C model, however, we haven’t been able to find it yet. If you have some details or photos about it, please let us know. In the meanwhile, it’s worth highlighting that it is not clear whether the D model fired the missile(s) or just supported the tests flying as “chase”, as planned.

Noteworthy, a Swiss Air Force F/A-18C had already fired an AIM-120C-7 missile as part of “Thor’s Hammer” exercise at Vidsel in December 2014.

J 5233 Meiringen - Swiss F/A-18D Hornet Sports Markings For MQM-178 Target Drone Kill With AIM-120C-7 During Tests in Sweden
The two-seater J-5233 takes off from Meiringen AB.

State Department Wishes Air Force Happy Anniversary… With Image Of The WRONG Planes!

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tweet of blue angels - State Department Wishes Air Force Happy Anniversary… With Image Of The WRONG Planes!

The State department tweeted congrats to the Air Force on its 73rd Anniversary—it seems so young for its age! But in doing so it used a photo of a demonstration team from another branch, the Navy! The post has since been deleted.

The photo, spotted by the website, shows the USN Blue Angels doing their thing in impressive fashion. The Air Force’s jet demonstration team is, of course the Blue Angels (joking, it’s the Thunderbirds!).

Based on the two services long standing rivalry, we’re guessing that Air Force pilots will be hearing about this one for a long time to come!

Earlier in the week a campaign ad for President Trump used an image from stock photo supplier Shutterstock showing Russian MiG 29 jets and soldiers in silhouetted carrying AK-47 rifles.

Categories: How to Become a Pilot

Plane & Pilot Photo Of The Week For September 18, 2020: Martian Citation?

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mars - Plane & Pilot Photo Of The Week For September 18, 2020: Martian Citation?

This week’s Plane & Pilot Photo Of The Week is a commentary on the unprecedented damage wrought by wildfires in the American West. The pic shows a tongue-in-cheek geo-tag scrawled on the skin of a Cessna Citation Excel by some unknown Graffiti artist. The photographer, who asked not to be named, shared it with Plane & Pilot…thanks!

And it’s not far from the truth, either. With wildfires obscuring visibility and leaving a fine dusting of reddish soot everywhere, it really does seem more like Mars than Earth sometimes.

Here’s to getting back to blue skies in every conceivable way before too long.

Categories: How to Become a Pilot

House Transportation Committee Slams Boeing And FAA In 737 Max Debacle

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boeing 737 max 8 - House Transportation Committee Slams Boeing And FAA In 737 Max Debacle

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure released its long-awaited report on its investigation into the troubled Boeing 737 Max program, and the committee spread plenty of ink in its condemnation of the roles that Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration played in the affair. This, after two crashes, one in Indonesia in 2018 and one in Ethiopian in 2019 in which 346 people were killed. Both crashes have been tied to the computerized MCAS stability enhancement system that was introduced on the 737 line with the launch of the 737 Max.

In the 238-page report, the committee blamed Boeing for fast-tracking the program as it competed with Airbus for sales in the lucrative single-aisle short-haul airliner market, for its “culture of concealment,” for the faulty design of MCAS and more. It also called into question the way that Boeing employees are also responsible for FAA certification responsibilities, a practice that is nearly universal in manufacturing.

It faulted the FAA for succumbing to pressure from Boeing not only on the factory floor but on subsequent determinations in Boeing’s favor after FAA inspectors had made conflicting recommendations.

Here’s the verbatim text of the bullet points of the report as announced by the House Committee.

  • Production pressures that jeopardized the safety of the flying public. There was tremendous financial pressure on Boeing and the 737 MAX program to compete with Airbus’ new A320neo aircraft. Among other things, this pressure resulted in extensive efforts to cut costs, maintain the 737 MAX program schedule, and avoid slowing the 737 MAX production line.
  • Faulty Design and Performance Assumptions. Boeing made fundamentally faulty assumptions about critical technologies on the 737 MAX, most notably with MCAS, the software designed to automatically push the airplane’s nose down in certain conditions. Boeing also expected that pilots, who were largely unaware that MCAS existed, would be able to mitigate any potential malfunction.
  • Culture of Concealment. Boeing withheld crucial information from the FAA, its customers, and 737 MAX pilots, including internal test data that revealed it took a Boeing test pilot more than 10 seconds to diagnose and respond to uncommanded MCAS activation in a flight simulator, a condition the pilot described as “catastrophic.” Federal guidelines assume pilots will respond to this condition within four seconds.
  • Conflicted Representation. The FAA’s current oversight structure with respect to Boeing creates inherent conflicts of interest that have jeopardized the safety of the flying public. The report documents multiple instances in which Boeing employees who have been authorized to perform work on behalf of the FAA failed to alert the FAA to potential safety and/or certification issues.
  • Boeing’s Influence Over the FAA’s Oversight Structure. Multiple career FAA officials have documented examples where FAA management overruled a determination of the FAA’s own technical experts at the behest of Boeing. These examples are consistent with results of a recent draft FAA employee “safety culture” survey that showed many FAA employees believed its senior leaders are more concerned with helping industry achieve its goals and are not held accountable for safety-related decisions.

In the meantime, Boeing has been working with the FAA to get the Max re-certified. Those approvals are expected soon.

Categories: How to Become a Pilot

31st FW F-16s Deployed To RAF Lakenheath Have Started Zipping Low Level Through The Lake District

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - 31st FW F-16s Deployed To RAF Lakenheath Have Started Zipping Low Level Through The Lake District
One of the two F-16s of “Venom” flight, flying through a valley of the Lake District. (All images credit: Simon Pearson-Cougill)

On Aug. 28, 2020, 16x F-16CM/DM Fighting Falcon jets of the 31st Fighter Wing, based at Aviano Air Base, in northeastern Italy, deployed to RAF Lakenheath, UK.

Among all the other things, the Aviano F-16s, belonging to the 510th Fighter Squadron “Buzzards” and 555th FS “Triple Nickel”, have already taken part in close air support training with the 321st Special Tactics Squadron, the 19th Regiment Royal Artillery and the 2nd Air Support Operations Squadron; have participated in Point Black 20-4, a Large Force Exercise with more than 50 aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Marine Corps, the Royal Air Force, and the Royal Netherlands Air Force; and are expected to operate from the base in Suffolk, home to the F-15s of the 48th FW, for about one month.

Beginning on Sept. 15, 2020, the Vipers have also started flying low altitude in the Lake District Low Flying Area: a 2-ship flight, callsign “Venom”, was spotted in LFA17. Then, on the following day, two 2-ships and one F-16D, operated in the area using radio callsigns “Cobra 11”, “Sabre 11” and “Banshee 11”.

F 16 AV LFA17 - 31st FW F-16s Deployed To RAF Lakenheath Have Started Zipping Low Level Through The Lake District
One of the Aviano Vipers maneuvering at low level in the Lake District.

With 4,347 sq. miles of airspace available, which include Cumbria, East North Yorkshire, and North Lancashire, LFA 17 is one of the LFAs where British and allied combat aircraft can train flying as low as 250 feet (even lower over open water).

The images in this post, taken by photographer Simon Pearson-Cougill, show the F-16s of the 555th and 510th FS zipping low through the valleys earlier this week.

F 16 AV LFA17 4 - 31st FW F-16s Deployed To RAF Lakenheath Have Started Zipping Low Level Through The Lake District
One of the F-16s from the 31st FW flying low in LFA 17.
F 16 AV LFA17 1 - 31st FW F-16s Deployed To RAF Lakenheath Have Started Zipping Low Level Through The Lake District
A 555th FS F-16 flying low and fast.

As a side note, the 510th and 555th FS should, in the future, be joined at Aviano AB, by the 480th FS “Warhawks” from Spangdahlem, Germany: on July 29, 2020 during a joint briefing with the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten, and Gen. Tod D. Wolters, commander of the U.S. European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced the relocation of the Warhawks’ 28x F-16CM-50s to Aviano as part of the plan to reduce military personnel currently stationed in Germany.

F 16 AV LFA17 5 - 31st FW F-16s Deployed To RAF Lakenheath Have Started Zipping Low Level Through The Lake District
“Venom” at low altitude in LFA 17.

Air Force 73rd Birthday Graphic Features Rendering Of A Mysterious Next Generation Aircraft

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Air Force 73rd Birthday Graphic Features Rendering Of A Mysterious Next Generation Aircraft
A detail of the graphic for the USAF 73rd birthday. (Courtesy Graphic via DVIDS)

The Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs has recently published on the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service an interesting graphic for the Air Force’s 73rd birthday. What catches immediately the eye is that the graphic features prominently, in the center and in the background, an unknown new aircraft that has not been confirmed as real or fictional.

The graphic, originally uploaded to the DVIDS website on Sept. 8, 2020, has started making the rounds today, after (a crop of) it was published by the U.S. Air Force Materiel Command, to celebrate the Anniversary:

The timing is really interesting, as this graphic, comes just few days after the announcement by Dr. Will Roper, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, that the Air Force has secretly designed, built and flown at least one full-scale prototype of a new generation fighter aircraft.

73rd Anniversary hi rez - Air Force 73rd Birthday Graphic Features Rendering Of A Mysterious Next Generation Aircraft
The 73rd Anniversary Graphic. (Courtesy Graphic by Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs)

Having considered this, the aircraft in the image could be completely fictional or it could be a hint at the design that was chosen for the first prototype build for the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program.

Even if a graphic motive has been superimposed over the aircraft, making it difficult to discern some of the details, the design looks based on a unique triangular shape from the nose to the tail, with an angle of about 50° at the nose. If correct, this feature already differentiates this design from the concept proposed by Boeing and Lockheed Martin for the NGAD program. However, the “masking graphic” could hide a more classic design with two different angles, one for the front and one for the wings, that could be exposed by a darker coloration of the aircraft and another grey “No Step” area inside the aircraft perimeter.

The next generation aircraft has a cockpit, sign of the aircraft being manned or optionally manned. Two engines are positioned beside the dorsal spine, with exhaust nozzles similar to the ones found on the YF-23, with the lower surface longer than the upper one to mask the engine’s infrared signature from below. We can’t see any kind of tail planes, hence the aircraft is based on the flying wing concept. The absence of vertical tail planes could be dictated by a further reduction of the Radar Cross Section, especially from the sides. An air-to-air refueling receptacle is also present on the dorsal spine.

BTW, the shape vaguely reminds the one of the mysterious aircraft spotted in the U.S. in 2014:

Texas vs Kansas vs 2020 rendering - Air Force 73rd Birthday Graphic Features Rendering Of A Mysterious Next Generation Aircraft
The two mysterious aircraft spotted over Texas and Kansas in 2014 compared to the aircraft in the 2020 rendering (Image credit: The Aviationist using also Sammamishman composite based on Muskett and Templin shots)

Let’s keep in mind that all of this could just be speculation, at least until the first photos of the NGAD demonstrator will be available to the public because, as we said earlier, the aircraft in the graphic could be entirely fictional.

Here are the only verified info actually available about the demonstrator as written in the article published by The Aviationist on Sept. 15, 2020:

The existence of the demonstrator was first confirmed by Dr. Roper to reporter Valerie Insinna of Defense News during the Air Force Association’s virtual Air, Space and Cyber Conference 2020: “We’ve already built and flown a full-scale flight demonstrator in the real world, and we broke records in doing it. We are ready to go and build the next-generation aircraft in a way that has never happened before.”

While the details about the aircraft are still classified, including its appearance, the first new fighter jet designed and flown in 20 years, since the Joint Strike Fighter competition between the X-32 and X-35, was designed using advanced Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) techniques and Digital Twin concepts to build and test a virtual version of the aircraft, before moving to physically build and fly the prototype.


According to Defense News, Dr. Roper declined to comment on the number of prototypes, the manufacturer and the timing of development and first flight, the aircraft’s mission, unmanned or optionally manned capabilities, low observability and  supersonic or hypersonic speeds.

Moreover, we have already seen some nice graphics showcasing futuristic aircraft in posters celebrating the Air Force’s birthday. In 2017, one of such posters, created as part of a series of posters celebrating the lead up to the Air Forces 70th birthday, featured the proposed successor to the SR-71 Blackbird, the unmanned, hypersonic SR-72, that “would travel at twice the speed of the SR-71, penetrating defended airspace and striking a target before being detected.”

SR 72 - Air Force 73rd Birthday Graphic Features Rendering Of A Mysterious Next Generation Aircraft
The SR-72 poster published in September 2017 ahead of the Air Force’s 70th birthday (U.S. Air Force Graphic by Maureen Stewart)

Easter Egg?

Update 21.30 GMT, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020.

After publishing the first version of this story, we have started receiving suggestions and comments from our readers. One in particular is worth a mention. Anastasis Tsilas noticed the story published by the U.S. Air Force on Instagram. The story has another hint whose shape *might* be hidden also in the 73rd birthday graphic.

The shape in the Instagram story immediately reminded us about the original graphic and a possible shape that appears to be hidden below the main one. Here it is.

73rd AF Instagram easter egg 706x395 - Air Force 73rd Birthday Graphic Features Rendering Of A Mysterious Next Generation Aircraft
A next generation aircraft shape similar to the one in the USAF Instagram story can be found in the 73rd Anniversary graphic. (Image credit: The Aviationist).

What is more, this shape now appears to be strikingly similar to the one of the 6th gen. concept Northrop Grumman released in 2016:

NG 6th Gen fighter - Air Force 73rd Birthday Graphic Features Rendering Of A Mysterious Next Generation Aircraft
Northrop Grumman 6th Gen. fighter as shown in a commercial released in 2016.

Also the AFRL 2030 video had something similar:

However, at the same time, as suggested by our reader Zackary Goldberg, most of the “hidden” aircraft in the original graphic seems to be a manipulated version of a render published in 2017 (in particular, the render at the bottom of the page) by artist Rodrigo Avella.

He also created an image to show how the concepts compare:

6gen - Air Force 73rd Birthday Graphic Features Rendering Of A Mysterious Next Generation Aircraft
There a certain resemblance between the somehow hidden aircraft in the 73rd birthday graphic and the concept by artist Rodrigo Avella.(Image credit: Zackary Goldberg)
Interestingly, Avella’s models have been used by the Air Force before. His “FX Drone” model was used to represent Loyal Wingman in the “Air Force 2030 – Call to Action” video published in 2018, embedded above.
Therefore, in the end, the 73rd graphics could have simply used a stylized, fictional aircraft that has nothing to do with the real thing; could be teasing an existing type; or could just be part of a deception operation. Who knows? Still, interesting.

Friday Photo: Puget Sound fun

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Puget Sound - Friday Photo: Puget Sound fun

Click on image for full size.

The view: Hood Canal, near Bremerton Airport (PWT)

The pilot: Kevin Knight

The airplane: 1967 Mooney M20F

The mission: Local flight

The memory: I shot this with my iPhone at 3500 ft—Puget Sound fun!

United States Has Flown A Brand-New Fighter Jet

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f22 raptor fighter jet - United States Has Flown A Brand-New Fighter Jet

Several defense industry outlets are reporting that the United States Air Force has flown a next-gen fighter, which has already broken several records on its first flights. The remarkable thing? No one knew anything about it until Tuesday. Here’s what we know now.

And be forewarned: It’s not much. We know, according to multiple sources, that it was developed in secret (duh) and that the program is being conducted unlike any before it, using extensive computer modeling, cutting-edge tool creation and small batch production methods. It’s being referred to as a sixth-gen fighter, which means it’s more advanced than the F-35 Lightning or the F-22 Raptor. The Air Force is saying nothing about it, not even who’s building it, but we’re guessing it has to be one of three companies, Lockheed-Martin, Boeing or Lockheed and Boeing. Is it stealth? It has to be, right? Is it VTOL? We’re guessing, yes? What kinds of weapons? A Romulan death ray? Who knows. We don’t even have an idea when to expect more news about it, though we hope it’s soon.

But there is one more interesting piece of info: the Air Force is referring to the program as the NGAD program, for Next Generation Air Dominance. The former term, “air superiority,” apparently wasn’t superior enough. And again, how do you get cooler or more capable than 5th Gen fighters? Beats us, but we’re dying to find out!

Categories: How to Become a Pilot

Venerable Boeing 707 “Sashambre” Operated By MIT Lincoln Laboratory Has Flown Its Final Data Collection Mission

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Venerable Boeing 707 “Sashambre” Operated By MIT Lincoln Laboratory Has Flown Its Final Data Collection Mission
N404PA landing at KBQK on Jan. 8, 2020. (Image credit: @epicaviation47)

On Sept. 15, 2020, the Boeing 707-321B carrying civil registration N404PA, recently renamed “Sashambre” (previously, “Hannah” and “Paul Revere”), flew its final data collection mission. The following day, on Sept. 16, the aircraft flew its last training flight. It will be prepared and then it will fly to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to be retired at the “scrapyard”.

As we have reported just a few days ago:

N404PA is an experimental aircraft owned by the Air Force Systems Command and operated by a joint venture between the Air Force’s 350th Electronic Systems Wing and M.I.T.’s Lincoln Labs. It flew with Pan Am for many years since 1965 before being purchased by the Air Force. Based at Hanscom Air Force Base, Bedford, Massachusetts, “Sashambre” is one of the seven aircraft aircraft that research teams at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Labs Flight Test Facility’s staff can employ to test their prototype airborne systems: in fact, MIT researchers routinely schedule flight time with aircraft that range from the light C-152 to the heavy B707 “to evaluate new antennas, imagers for air surveillance, aircraft collision-avoidance tools, and long-range RF and laser communication systems,” as well as for for data collection missions.

Under the radio callsign “Research 4 Papa Alpha”, the B707 is used for testing airborne battle management, command, control and communication technology and concepts. The airframe has constantly been modified to accommodate new on-board sensors and equipment so much so the shape of the of the 55-year old Boeing 707, with a bunch of “bulks” and “humps” is pretty unique, and interesting.

The Lincoln Labs announced the final mission on their social media channels:

To read more about this legendary aircraft, read the post we published here.

H/T Misael Oscar for the heads up.

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