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Take A Look At This Documentary About The Skunk Work’s History And The Birth Of The SR-71 Blackbird

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Take A Look At This Documentary About The Skunk Work’s History And The Birth Of The SR-71 Blackbird
Head on image of an SR-71 Blackbird during taxi. (Image: screenshot from the video embedded in the article)

The short film documents the move of the SR-71 in the galleries of the Science Museum of Virginia and the innovation story of the records-setting aircraft.

Back in 2015, it was decided to move the SR-71 Blackbird exhibited at the Virginia Aviation Museum, which was about to close a year later, to the new gallery of the Science Museum of Virginia to “inspire the future of invention”. The story of the Blackbird is, in fact, still taught today as a roadmap to true innovation.

Producer Todd Hervey, after learning about the museum’s plans, decided to document the move and tell the story of the innovation brought by the SR-71 and the Skunk Works. The self-funded locally produced film “Blackbird: Legacy of Innovation” was premiered two years later, in 2017, at the museum. Unexpectedly for Hervey, the documentary immediately gained traction and was broadcasted by many stations all over the United States, leading it to also win some important awards.

Blackbird documentary 1 - Take A Look At This Documentary About The Skunk Work’s History And The Birth Of The SR-71 Blackbird
The SR-71 Blackbird before it was moved from the Virginia Aviation Museum to the Science Museum of Virginia. (Screenshot from the documentary)

“I’m really lucky. It created other possibilities, and it became much bigger than I hoped. To have something get that big, a lot of it is also because of the existing Blackbird community. It’s Elon Musk’s favorite plane,” Hervey said.

The film begins talking about the decision to move the Blackbird and how innovation is deeply embedded in today’s world. Sean Roche, Associate Deputy Director at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for Digital Innovation, further related the deep connection between innovation and the Blackbird: “For something that was not incremental, it fundamentally changed not only how we thought about collecting reconnaissance, but it actually changed what we knew at the time about aerospace design and aerospace dynamics. A lot of younger folks were shocked to hear this thing was designed and built in the 60’s. That is the thing that still amazes people today and inspires them. It inspires them, it teaches them, and all the people who worked on it are gone, but they really left us with an incredible legacy”.

Blackbird documentary 2 - Take A Look At This Documentary About The Skunk Work’s History And The Birth Of The SR-71 Blackbird
An artwork of the X-59 QueSST being developed at Skunk Works for NASA’s Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator program. You can see the Skunk mascot painted on the hangar. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

The documentary goes on talking about Clarence “Kelly” Johnson and how he graduated in the brand-new field of aeronautical engineering, just 30 years after the Wright brothers’ first flight, and then went on to join Lockheed in 1935. His genius was clear to everyone since he started working on the P-38 Lightning and the L-049 Constellation, both representing technological breakthroughs for their era.

Here below you can watch the entire one-hour documentary. If you can’t see the embedded video, here’s another link to the film.

Shortly after Johnson implemented a first variant of its Skunk Works idea, an experimental shop where a small team of engineers, mechanics and business people was co-located to solve a problem very quickly with minimal resources and with an aggressive schedule. This is exactly what happened when works started on the P-80 Shooting Star, while Lockheed was in full wartime production, and Johnson built with his team a facility using engine crates and a circus tent, promising an aircraft ready in 180 days and delivering it instead in just 143 days. Johnson based his work on 14 simple rules, that you can find in detail on Lockheed Martin’s website.

Soon the experimental shop set up by Johnson picked up its nickname that is still used today by Lockheed Martin Advanced Development Programs. Steve Justice, formerly working at Skunk Works, recounted in the film the story behind the famous nickname:

“Summers in Burbank can be quite warm, so it could be pretty hot in there. It was pretty rough working conditions and right across the railroad tracks from this operation, which was called the experimental shop at the time, was a plastics factory. Plastics create a lot of smells when you process them and the winds would blow the smell across into this tent area.

Irv Culver, one of Kelly’s designers, was a big fan of the Al Capp cartoon Li’l Abner, and in Li’l Abner there was this building up on a hill, called the Skonk Works, where this elixir called Kickapoo Joy Juice was cooked up. It used a myriad of things, but it was strange, smells came out of the place and it was very secretive, and it reminded Irv of the environment they were in. One day he picked up the phone and answered “Skonk Works”, and Kelly fired him.

Kelly told him he had to be back at work the next day because they were under schedule, they had an airplane to get designed, but the name stuck. Al Capp actually contacted Lockheed and said that it was a copyrighted name. It was changed to Skunk Works and a Skunk mascot was developed for it.”

Blackbird documentary 3 - Take A Look At This Documentary About The Skunk Work’s History And The Birth Of The SR-71 Blackbird
The CIA’s A-12 OXCART (right) and the US Air Force’s SR-71 Blackbird (left). (Photo: Central Intelligence Agency)

In 1954 Kelly’s team was awarded a secret contract to build a high-flying reconnaissance aircraft for a brand-new customer, the CIA. This was the beginning of the U-2 program and the Skunk Works became a sustaining organization, working on a secret airplane that had to stay secret. Because of this, it couldn’t be tested at the normal places used by Lockheed and that led Johnson to survey various location and choose a dry lake, better known as Groom Lake, with the CIA and Air Force approving and deciding to build there what is now known as Area 51.

When Francis Gary Powers was shot down in its U-2 over the Soviet Union, the need for a replacement begun to arise, requiring a maximum altitude of 80’000 ft, low Radar Cross Section (RCS) and capable to cruise at Mach 3. Kelly Johnson welcomed the challenge to innovate again and create an entirely new kind of aircraft that was virtually untouchable. That started a development project called “Gusto”, with the Skunk Works working on many stealth and conventional designs, but the stealth design wasn’t capable of the high speed and altitude required. Johnson ended up proposing the 11th design, a conventional aircraft that was capable of meeting the requirements but was rejected by the CIA because it was not stealth. Starting to work on another variant, Johnson designed the A-12 Oxcart, the first step towards the SR-71 Blackbird. The rest is history.

Check Out These Photos Of The Blue Angels Flying The Diamond Formation With The Super Hornets For The First Time

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Check Out These Photos Of The Blue Angels Flying The Diamond Formation With The Super Hornets For The First Time
Blue Angel Super Hornet head on. (All images: U.S. Navy)

The Blue Angels have started preparing the 2021 flight demonstration season with the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

As we already reported, the Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Team, flew their final formation flight with the “Legacy” F/A-18C/D Hornet on  Nov. 4, 2020. After flying the F/A-18C single-seat and F/A-18D two-seat Hornet from 2010 (previously, from 1986 to 2010 the Blues flew the F/A-18-A/B jets) the team is in fact transitioning to the new Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet for the 2021 flight demonstration season.

The team’s first scheduled demonstration in the new, larger Super Hornets is on April 10-11, 2021 in Jacksonville, Florida at the Naval Air Station JAX Air Show, and training for the first airshow with the new jet is underway at NAS Pensacola, home of the Blues.

For the first time this week, four Super Hornet pilots flying in the #1 to #4 positions have flown practice maneuvers performed by the team’s signature “Diamond” formation. The solos, #5 and #6, have also trained with the new aircraft, conducting opposing maneuvers.

Blue Angels SH 1 - Check Out These Photos Of The Blue Angels Flying The Diamond Formation With The Super Hornets For The First Time
Blue #4 generates halo effect on clouds during practice flight. 

The team published on social media some stunning images of the team’s Super Hornets during these training sorties.

Blue Angels SH 3 - Check Out These Photos Of The Blue Angels Flying The Diamond Formation With The Super Hornets For The First Time
Breaking hard.

Here’s what we wrote about the new F/A-18E/F in a previous article we published here at The Aviationist:

The new Boeing F/A-18E single-seat and two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornets are larger, more capable aircraft than the “legacy” Hornet. As we previously reported on TheAviationist.com, the Blue Angels say, “The Super Hornet is 25% larger, can fly 40% further, remain on station 80% longer and carry more weapons than its predecessors. The Super Hornet F/A-18 E/F models have deployed with battle groups since 2001.”

The bigger F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets have a wingspan that is 4′ 3.6″ wider than the previous Hornet. That is over four-feet more wingspan. This greater wingspan will be visually apparent in Blue Angel demos.

The Super Hornet is also 4′ 3″ longer than the legacy Hornet and sits nearly one-foot higher at the top of its twin tails. These larger dimensions may make the new Blue Angel Super Hornets even easier to see and photograph at flight demos.

When we spoke to former Blue Angel’s commander, then-Capt. Eric Doyle, Blue Angel #1, about the transition to the new Super Hornet. Capt. Doyle told TheAviationist.com that, “Our goal is to make it seamless. You’ll see blue jets appear in another year that are Super Hornets, that are going to look a lot like this one. They’re F-18s, so they’re built by Boeing, and the demo will look very similar.”

One difference that may also be apparent to airshow fans with the new, larger, Super Hornets is more thrust. Pilots who have flown both the Hornet and Super Hornet tell TheAviationist.com that sustaining turn-rates and generating acceleration at low altitudes is going to be much easier in the larger, more powerful Super Hornet. This could make the Blue’s demos even more thrilling and dynamic than their previous routines.

Blue Angels SH - Check Out These Photos Of The Blue Angels Flying The Diamond Formation With The Super Hornets For The First Time
The bigger F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets have a wingspan that is 4′ 3.6″ wider than the previous Hornet. That is over four-feet more wingspan. This greater wingspan will be visually apparent in Blue Angel demos.

While the team prepares for the airshow season with the Super Hornet, the retired F/A-18C/D aircraft have already started joining museum collections: on Nov. 18, 2020, an F/A-18C piloted by Cmdr. Frank Weisser, landed at Washington Dulles Airport and taxied to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA, where it is going to be put on display after preparation work. It’s the first “Blue Angels” aircraft and the first F-18 the museum has acquired.

The U.S. Navy Completes Tests Of The New Tactical Combat Training System (TCTS) Increment II Pod

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - The U.S. Navy Completes Tests Of The New Tactical Combat Training System (TCTS) Increment II Pod
The Tactical Combat Training System Increment II (TCTS II) pod successfully completed its initial hardware qualification testing at Patuxent River November 6. (Photo: NAVAIR)

The New Tactical Combat Training System (TCTS) Increment II ACMI pod will replace the current TCTS/P5CTS pod used for training by Navy, Marines and Air Force.

NAVAIR (Naval Air Systems Command) recently announced that the Naval Aviation Training System and Ranges program office completed on November 6, 2020 the initial tests on a next-generation Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation (ACMI) training system, called Tactical Combat Training System Increment II (TCTS II). The tests were conducted on an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 at Naval Air Station Patuxent River.

Traditionally, air combat training included a mix of live and simulated range training missions to prepare aircrews for real world combat. As technology, adversaries and threats evolved, training requirement for modern combat scenarios changed in turn, so the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps inquired the industries to find innovative methods that could revolutionize the way air combat training is conducted while also improving integrated training readiness at the same time.

The result is the TCTS II system developed by Collins Aerospace and Leonardo DRS, an evolution of the TCTS initially developed by Cubic. The initial TCTS pod featured real-time weapons simulations and live monitoring functions for air-to-air, air-to-ground and surface-to-air missions, with Real-Time Kill Notification (RTKN), No Drop Weapons Scoring (NDWS) and Electronic Warfare simulation capabilities. The new TCTS II pod integrates all the features of the previous pod in an open architecture system that represents the first certified encrypted, Multiple Independent Levels of Security (MILS) training equipment in both airborne and ground equipment.

Like the TCTS, the new pod maintains the same form factor of the Sidewinder air-to-air missile, using the AIM-9’s and AIM-120’s connectors to interface with the aircraft. While not confirmed, the pod should be using an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), GPS and Solid-State Recorder (SSR) similar to its predecessor, while the datalink should be a new one, as demonstrated by the new antennas on the pod. The F-35 Lightning II will have its own internally mounted variant of the system.

US Navy TCTS II test 2 - The U.S. Navy Completes Tests Of The New Tactical Combat Training System (TCTS) Increment II Pod
File photo of the P5 pod to be replaced. An air-combat maneuver instrument pod sits on a Japan Air-Self Defense Force F-15J Eagle Aug. 18, 2013, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. ACMI pods are used during post-flight briefings to help pilots interpret their movements used during flights in order to improve combat and survival capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Zachary Perras/Released)

Another feature of the TCTS II pod is the Synthetic Inject to Live (SITL) capability, featuring full-fidelity threat and weapon simulations, that enables live, blended with synthetic real-time air combat training with both real and simulated weapons and electronic warfare tactics, in order to more realistically emulate contested/congested environments during scalable training exercises, with the added possibility to connect TCTS II-equipped ranges across the entire country to create a “super range” or a common training battlespace to prepare warfighters for the future of Joint All Domain C2 (JADC2). This concept is similar to the Live, Virtual and Constructive (LVC) training currently implemented in new generation trainers like the Leonardo M-346.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Air Force joined the TCTS II program to leverage investments made by the Navy and delivery training capabilities sooner and at a lower cost, starting the development of its pod under the name P6 Combat Training System, similarly to the previous TCTS pod that was called P5 Combat Training System by the Air Force (AN/ASQ-T50 in the official designation).

The two services will work together to use this system with full interoperability to train in real-world environments with real-world threats. While a timeline for the Navy has not been disclosed, the system is expected to be fielded by the Air Force in 2022/2023.

This New Raptor Demo Team Video Shows The F-22 in All Its Awesomeness

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - This New Raptor Demo Team Video Shows The F-22 in All Its Awesomeness
A screenshot from the latest F-22 Raptor Demo Team video.

The F-22 Raptor Demo Team has just released a video. And it’s simply stunning.

The F-22 Raptor Demo Team is the world’s first 5th generation dedicated combat aircraft demonstration unit and remains the only solo jet, twin-engine, vectored-thrust demonstration unit in the world. The team is based at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, and is commanded Maj. Joshua “Cabo” Gunderson, who has taken over the role of Demo Team leader from Maj. Paul “Loco” Lopez. Cabo comes from a previous assignment at the 90th Fighter Squadron “Pair ‘O Dice” based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. And it’s right there, at JBER, that the latest Demo Team’s video was filmed.

Dubbed “INSANE F-22 Raptor Hype Video”, the new footage just released by the Team on their Youtube channel shows the F-22 as you’ve never seen it before: not only from inside the cockpit with a 360-degree camera, but also from a helicopter, for the first time ever. The slow motion footage, showing the 5th generation jet maneuvering over Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson as part of JBER Salutes in March 2020 is really awesome.

Although most of the airshows this year were cancelled because of the COVID-19 outbreak, the pandemic has not completely prevented the F-22 Raptor Demo team to perform some displays at the few airshows which have been held in a “drive in” format with cars, filled with people in attendance, like the New York International “Drive In” Air Show at the end of August, or the 2020 Wings Over Houston Air Show and Bell Fort Worth Alliance Air Show last month.

While we wait to return to the old-style airshows in presence (hopefully starting from the 2021 airshow season thanks to the vaccine that is making the news these day), let’s enjoy this stunning new footage. And if you like watching the whole F-22 display in full 360 virtual reality, here it is:

First Operational HH-60W Jolly Green II CSAR Helicopters Delivered To The U.S. Air Force

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - First Operational HH-60W Jolly Green II CSAR Helicopters Delivered To The U.S. Air Force
An HH-60W Jolly Green II assigned to the 41st Rescue Squadron flies to Moody Air Force Base Nov. 5, 2020, near Jupiter, Florida. The 23d Wing and 347th Rescue Group leadership received the Air Force’s first two HH-60Ws. The delivery of the new model is significant to the personnel recovery mission as it begins the transition from the predecessor, the HH-60G Pave Hawk, which has been flown for more than 26 years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Hayden Legg)

The two HH-60W Jolly Green II helicopters have arrived at Moody AFB and will be used to begin the transition from the HH-60G Pave Hawk.

The U.S. Air Force received the first two operational HH-60W Jolly Green II helicopters (serials 17-14488 and 17-14489) specialized for Combat Search And Rescue (CSAR) and Personnel Recovery (PR) missions. The 23rd Wing and 347th Rescue Group leadership were present to witness the arrival of the new helicopters at Moody Air Force Base (Georgia).

The helicopters departed from Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky Training Academy for their new home at the commands of aircrews from Moody’s 41st Rescue Squadron, the first unit to transition from the HH-60G Pave Hawk to the HH-60W, and from the 413th Flight Test Squadron and 88th Test and Evaluation Squadron based at Duke Field (Florida).

The Jolly Green II underwent extensive testing at Duke Field, including extreme temperatures, radar, defensive systems, live fire and aerial refueling. The Air Force was initially expected to receive 113 helicopters, later reduced to 108, as part of the Combat Rescue Helicopter program. Based on the UH-60M, the HH-60W includes a number of improvements over the HH-60G, with a focus on range and survivability.

As stated by the Air Force, the primary mission of the new helicopters will be conducting day or night operations into hostile environments to recover isolated personnel during war, while also being available stateside for civil search and rescue, medical evacuation, disaster response, humanitarian assistance, security cooperation/aviation advisory, NASA space-flight support, and rescue command and control.

The name Jolly Green II was chosen as a reference to the legendary tradition of the Vietnam-era HH-3E Jolly Green and HH-53 Super Jolly Green crews who pioneered the combat search and rescue mission. The two helicopters were replaced by the HH-60G Pave Hawk and the CV-22 Osprey, respectively.

While the Pave Hawk has been in service since 1982, the helicopter was assigned to Moody AFB only in 1994. After 26 years, the base is beginning the transition to the new HH-60W, which will continue to fly together with its predecessor until the transition is complete. The next unit scheduled to receive the new helicopter is the 512th Rescue Squadron at Kirtland AFB (New Mexico).

Jolly Green II Delivery 2 - First Operational HH-60W Jolly Green II CSAR Helicopters Delivered To The U.S. Air Force
An HH-60W Jolly Green II taxis Nov. 5, 2020, at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. The 23d Wing and 347th Rescue Group leadership received the Air Force’s first two HH-60Ws. The delivery of the new model is significant to the personnel recovery mission as it begins the transition from the predecessor, the HH-60G Pave Hawk model, which has been flown for more than 26 years. The Air Force will continue to utilize the Pave Hawk until the transition is complete. (U.S. Air Force photo by Andrea Jenkins)

Watch This Incredible Video Of The B-52’s Steerable Dual-Bicycle Gear At Work During A Crosswind Take Off

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Watch This Incredible Video Of The B-52’s Steerable Dual-Bicycle Gear At Work During A Crosswind Take Off
B-52 rolling down the runway during crosswind take off at RAF Fairford in April 2019. (Image: screenshot from Saint1Mil YT video)

The B-52 has the ability to stay sideways during its take-off run in crosswind conditions.

The video in this post was taken by our friend @Saint1Mil in April last year, at RAF Fairford, UK. It shows one of the 6x B-52H Stratofortress bombers, belonging to the 2nd Bomb Wing, from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, deployed to the UK as part of a Bomber Task Force rotation in Europe, the largest Stratofortress deployment since Iraqi Freedom in 2003, taking off as “PROSE” flight.

What makes the footage particularly interesting is that the take off occurred in crosswind conditions and the clip clearly shows the B-52’s peculiar steerable dual-bicycle landing gear which allows the crew to “crab” the airframe by 20 degrees, i.e. to keep the gear along the runway while the fuselage is pointing up to 20 degrees off the runway centerline.

In fact, the U.S. Air Force iconic B-52 bomber was designed in such a way the landing gear can be set up to 20 degrees left to right of centerline for both takeoff and landing.

As explained by NASA (that has been a BUFF operator) on its website, “the landing gear of the B-52 is of the same bicycle arrangement as employed on the B-47 but has four two-wheel bogies instead of the two bogies used on the earlier aircraft. As compared with their location on the B-47, the outrigger wheels are positioned much nearer the wingtip on the B-52. An interesting feature of the B-52 landing gear greatly eases the problems posed by crosswind landings. Both the front and rear bogies can be set at angles of as much as 20° to either side of the straight-ahead position. In a crosswind landing, consequently, the aircraft can be headed directly into the wind while rolling down a runway not aligned with the wind.”

The reason for this peculiar feature is primarily due to the structure of the airframe that features a very long and relatively slender fuselage with a big tail and massive high wings that bear the weight of the aircraft. As a consequence of such design, the aircraft is slow to react to pilot inputs on the flight control surfaces, especially at low altitude and speed. Moreover, the wings are so large that the typical approach in crosswind [that is normally flown applying a Wind Correction Angle (WCA), hence “crabbing” the plane to align nose and tail with the wind direction to counter the drifting effect of side winds and “de-crab” once the main landing gear touches the ground (or shortly before)], is simply not possible.

boeing b 52 stratofortress e1591739281104 - Watch This Incredible Video Of The B-52’s Steerable Dual-Bicycle Gear At Work During A Crosswind Take Off
This B-52 model is available from AirModels. Click here to buy yours.

Italian Air Force F-35s Carry Out SEAD and DEAD Training During Exercise Lightning 2020

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Italian Air Force F-35s Carry Out SEAD and DEAD Training During Exercise Lightning 2020
One of the F-35s deployed to Rivolto takes off for a mission. (All images: Claudio Tramontin)

During the Exercise, four Italian F-35 Lightning II have carried out missions in the Polygone range and trained with the Italian SIRIUS Surface Based Air Defence (SBAD).

From Oct. 19, four F-35A aircraft, belonging to the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing), based at Amendola Air Base deployed to Rivolto Air Base, in northeastern Italy, to take part in Exercise Lightning 2020.

As done in June 2018 during the so-called “Operation Lightning”, for two weeks, the 5th generation aircraft have flown several missions from Rivolto (also home of the Italian Air Force Frecce Tricolori display team) to the “Polygone”, located in Germany, near the border with France, to undertake specific training against simulated threats inside the Electronic Warfare range. But the deployment to the base in northeastern Italy provided also an opportunity for the Italian 5th generation pilot to train with the Italian SBAD systems, based in Rivolto and operated by the 2nd Stormo. The latter, is the reference unit for the missile air defense system within the Italian Air Force also responsible of the training and operational readiness of all the personnel in the missile sector of the Italian Air Force.

According to the Italian Air Force, the F-35s carried out multiple simulated SEAD (Suppression Enemy Air Defenses) and DEAD (Destruction Enemy Air Defenses) sorties against the new SIRIUS, that replaced the previous SPADA missile systems, in what the service calls a realistic EW (Electronic Warfare) scenario. Although no additional detail about the mission profiles flown by the Italian stealth jets has been released, the training activity provides an opportunity to recap what’s the current status of the F-35’s capability when it deals with SEAD and DEAD role, that the aircraft will take over in the next decade or so from the Tornado ECR in Italy, and from the F-16 in the U.S.

F-35’s SEAD/DEAD role

It’s not only a matter of syntax, there are substantial differences between a SEAD and a DEAD mission, with the latter aiming at destroying the whole system. For instance, the AGM-88, the type of missile used by the Tornado and Fighting Falcon aircraft, can prevent the employment of a defense system by destroying its radar. The damage on the antenna temporarily denies the use but does not destroy the whole system: if a replacement antenna is available, the whole site becomes operational again in some (usually, short) time. In previous conflicts, the mere presence of assets capable of firing HARM missiles dissuaded the SAM (Surface to Air Missile) sites to turn on their radars. On the other side, a DEAD mission sees the asset use stand-off weapons to destroy the enemy system more or less once and for all.

F 35 Rivolto 3 - Italian Air Force F-35s Carry Out SEAD and DEAD Training During Exercise Lightning 2020
One of the F-35s of the 13° Gruppo about to land at Rivolto AB.

The F-35 is said to have the ability to locate and track enemy forces, jam radio frequencies and disrupt attacks from stand-off distance. However, it still lacks the integration of a missile for SEAD missions.

While the Block 3F already provided the ability to use, among the other stand-off weapons, also the GBU-39 SDBs (Small Diameter Bombs), at the moment, the AARGM-ER, the missile that will replace the AGM-88 and that the F-35A will be able to carry inside the weapons bay, is at least two or three years away. So, the aircraft’s SEAD capability is mostly reliant on the F-35’s AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar with sophisticated electronic attack capabilities, including false targets, network attack, advanced jamming and algorithm-packed data streams.

“This system allows the F-35 to reach well-defended targets and suppress enemy radars that threaten the F-35. In addition, the ASQ-239 system provides fully integrated radar warning, targeting support, and self-protection, to detect and defeat surface and airborne threats. While F-35 is capable of stand-off jamming for other aircraft — providing 10 times the effective radiated power of any legacy fighter — F-35s can also operate in closer proximity to the threat (‘stand-in’) to provide jamming power many multiples that of any legacy fighter,” says Lockheed.

Such capability is still somewhat limited, though.

In June this year, the Pentagon awarded Lockheed Martin a $26.7 million contract to improve its SEAD/DEAD capability. The enhancement should be delivered as a retrofit design, applied to both U.S. and foreign F-35s in Lots 14 and 15, and completed by August 2022.

F 35 Rivolto 2 - Italian Air Force F-35s Carry Out SEAD and DEAD Training During Exercise Lightning 2020
F-35A of the 13th Squadrons takes off from Rivolto during Exercise Lightning 2020.

Electronic Warfare ranges

The activity carried out during Exercise Lightning 2020 came immediately after the 13° Gruppo had successfully completed another deployment to Decimomannu Air Base, Sardinia, that marked also the first deployment to the Air Weapons Training Installation (AWTI) for the first Italian Air Force F-35B.

As we reported during the training campaign at the AWTI, local spotters and photographers noticed the aircraft flying at night inside the PISQ (Poligono Interforze Salto di Quirra – Salto di Quirra Joint Range), the EW (range located in central eastern Sardinia, just a few minutes flight time distance from Decimomannu. This is what the former commander of the 155th Gruppo ETS, operating the Tornado ECR in SEAD/DEAD role told us about the differences between the PISQ and Polygone ranges in an interview back in 2017:

“We perform training activities aimed at delivering weapons; air-to-air missions inside the ACMI (Air Combat Maneuvering Installation) range to practice evading aerial threats, and night activity with the NVGs inside the PISQ range. In the latter case, we exploit the light conditions we find inside the EW range, that are far better than those that we can find flying over the Pianura Padana [Plain of the Po] were the light pollution creates visual conditions that are not optimal for the use of night vision goggles. The PISQ is really “dark” and this helps up preparing night SEAD scenarios perfectly tailored to our needs. The basic training for all the aircrews that are assigned to the squadron (and until they achieve the Combat Readiness status) as well as pilots and NAVs who need to keep their currencies, takes place at the Polygone. This range offers a lot in terms of available threats, including real and simulated air defense systems, and provides an immediate feedback on the effectiveness of the used tactics. Although complete, the type of scenarios the Polygone offers is quite basic, in terms of complexity, so we carry out the most advanced part of our training during multinational exercises (such as those in Israel or the Red Flag in the US), especially those drills that have a particular focus on EW. That said, we deploy to Deci for that niche training (night SEAD with NVGs) that would be difficult to arrange and perform abroad. Besides flying in the EW ranges we carry out joint training missions with the Italian Army and Navy as well as the Air Force’s own Spada anti-aircraft systems.” 

F 35 Rivolto 4 - Italian Air Force F-35s Carry Out SEAD and DEAD Training During Exercise Lightning 2020
F-35A 32-10 recovering into Rivolto. Note the old coating that presented very evident panel lines which were painted a lighter gray than the rest of the aircraft, resulting in the characteristic saw tooth panel lines above and on the sides of the fuselage.

Greek Media Outlets Claim Six F-35s Originally Destined to Turkey May End Up in Greece

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Greek Media Outlets Claim Six F-35s Originally Destined to Turkey May End Up in Greece
The first F-35 with Turkish markings (via aa.tr)

Greek media outlets report that the U.S. will divert to Greece six F-35s originally built by Lockheed Martin for Turkey.

Although the details are still pretty fuzzy, Greek social media went abuzz following the reports that Greece would receive, in 2022, six F-35s originally destined to Turkey that was kicked out of the program last year.

Greek Estia newspaper reported that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a virtual “green light” to the supply of 20 F-35s during his recent visit to Greece, and the deal “was discussed and agreed” according to Greek City Times. Noteworthy, as part of the deal, six jets will be purchased in 2022 and “will be delivered together with the first six Rafale fighter jets from France.”

Earlier this year, DefenseNews reported that the U.S. Air Force would officially buy eight F-35A conventional takeoff and landing jets originally built by Lockheed Martin for Turkey as part of a $862 million contract modification. “In the FY20 version of the National Defense Authorization Act, Congress gave the Pentagon permission to spend up to $30 million to fly the first six Turkish F-35s to a location where they could be stored and preserved until the department came up with a plan for their use,” Valerie Insinna reported. “Those jets, which were produced in Lots 10 and 11, are currently being held “in long-term storage in the United States pending final decision on their disposition,” the defense official said.”

Therefore, it’s not clear whether the Greek reports are accurate and the Hellenic Air Force is really getting those first jets or six among the 24 Turkish F-35s that were in various stages of production at the beginning of the year.

Whatever, as we reported in the past, Turkey had planned to purchase 100 of the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II conventional takeoff and landing variants of the Joint Strike Fighter, the same version used by the U.S. Air Force. Ten Turkish companies were involved in the development and/or production of the 5th generation aircraft, with a total Turkish investment of more than $1 billion.

On May 10, 2018, the first F-35A (serial 18-0001) destined to the Turkish Air Force performed its first flight at Lockheed Martin Ft. Worth facility, Texas, piloted by US Navy test pilot Cmdr. Tony Wilson. The first flight of a Turkish pilot occurred few months later, in August 2018.

In the meanwhile several of U.S. congressmen had urged the U.S. administration to suspend the procurement of these fighters to Turkey because of the latter’s decision to buy Russian S-400 advanced air defense systems: there was widespread concern that the Turkish procurement could give Moscow access to critical details about the way their premiere surface-to-air missile system performs against the new 5th generation aircraft.

The U.S. eventually removed Turkey from the F-35 joint strike fighter program in July 2019, following Ankara’s acceptance of the S-400 Russian-made air defense system.

Back to Greece, we mentioned the Greek interest in a squadron of 24 F-35A 5th generation aircraft, “possibly from 2024 or at the end of the deliveries of the Rafale and the upgrade of the F-16”, when we reported about the acquisition of 18 Dassault Rafale fighter jets for the Hellenic Air Force in September. Now, it looks like the F-35 procurement has had an acceleration.

That being said, if confirmed, the procurement will be a Government to Government process and should take some time to complete. For this reason, the delivery of the jets next year claimed in the most recent media reports seems a bit optimistic. However, we’ll see.

Watch Two F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Jets Launch From MCAS Miramar Yesterday Afternoon

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One of the two F-117s launches from MCAS Miramar on Oct. 22, 2020. (Image credit: screenshot from @Skyes9_ video)

An interesting video shows the two F-117s which have recently deployed to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar departing for a mission in Southern California.

On Tuesday Oct. 20, 2020, two F-117s, using radio callsign “KNIGHT”, made a surprise visit to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, landing at the base in South California at around 17.30LT.

We don’t know the reason why the F-117s moved from their usual homebase at Tonopah Test Range, Nevada, to Miramar, even though they are probably going to be involved in some exercise in SOCAL playing the aggressor role, to develop anti-stealth technologies and tactics. Indeed, as explained in various articles, while some of the F-117s retired in 2008 and kept in a “Type 1000” storage at Tonopah Test Range have been disassembled before being transferred to museums around the U.S., sightings of F-117s flying over Nevada and California have continued. We have reported them in 2018, in 2019 and also 2020. After all, the F-117s are not completely retired, quite the contrary; they are increasinly becoming less “shy” appearing over the skies of LA area in plain daylight, taking part in Red Flag missions or operating for some reason from the base outside San Diego.

This is my final comment in the last article on the deployment of the F-117s a few days ago: “expect more reports and, hopefully, more photographs and videos in the next days as the “Wobblin’ Goblin” starts operating from MCAS Miramar.”

Indeed, a really cool video has just emerged. It shows the two iconic black jets departing from Miramar in the afternoon for what the author of the clip @Skyes9_ calls some “offshore activities”.

Interestingly, the aircraft did not return to Miramar after the mission, but headed back towards the desert.

Anyway, it’s also worth noticing that at least one of the two aircraft, along with a red-and-black checkered tail-band and an unknown emblem on the intake, sports a previously unseen “TR” tail marking.

While it seems an obvious reference to its most recent home at TTR, the white tail marking is larger and much more visible than the tail markings worn by the F-117s until they were officially retired in 2008. The mystery continues….

lockheed f 117 nighthawk e1591202015580 - Watch Two F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Jets Launch From MCAS Miramar Yesterday Afternoon
This F-117 model is available from AirModels. Click here to buy yours.

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!

CompletePilot
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