Tag: RAF Fairford

U.S. E-4B ‘Doomsday’ Plane Makes Airshow Debut Outside The U.S. at RIAT

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E-4B RIAT
The E-4B is one of the highlights of this year’s RIAT at RAF Fairford. (Image credit: RIAT)

Royal International Air Tattoo in the UK, marks the first airshow appearance of a U.S. Air Force E-4B Nightwatch, outside the U.S.

The RIAT (Royal International Air Tattoo), underway at RAF Faiford, UK, is, at least in Europe, the real highlight of the airshow season, attracting, as usual, several interesting aircraft types from all over the world. Making its first appearance at RIAT 22, the first ever at an airshow outside the U.S., is this year a very rare assets, the U.S. Air Force E-4B Nightwatch.

The E-4B is a modified B747-200 that serves as National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC) providing a flying command, control and communications center to direct nuclear (and conventional) forces, by receiving, verifying and relaying EAM (Emergency Action Messages). Four E-4B are in service with the U.S. Air Force and operated by the Air Force Global Strike Command out of Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. One aircraft is usually airborne every 12 hours, with another one ready for departure with a 5-minute notice.
The one on static display at RIAT 22, registration 73-1676, arrived in the afternoon on Jul. 15, 2022 as GORDO 01. The aircraft could be tracked online on flight tracking websites as it did a holding pattern and then a low pass before coming back to landing.

The E-4B, designed to carry the U.S. SecDef as well as other U.S. top officials and always supporting Air Force One’s trips abroad, is specifically designed to keep American decision makers alive in case of nuclear wars, crisis, zombie invasions or alien attacks. Therefore, it has to be able to fly through any EMP (electromagnetic pulse) with unharmed systems. That’s why this highly-modified Boeing 747 does not feature modern glass cockpit but old fashioned, analogue-style avionics are more resilient to EMPs.

The E-4B is protected against the effects of electromagnetic pulse and has an electrical system designed to support advanced electronics and a wide variety of communications equipment. An advanced satellite communications system provides worldwide communication for senior leaders through the airborne operations center. Other improvements include nuclear and thermal effects shielding, acoustic control, an improved technical control facility and an upgraded air-conditioning system for cooling electrical components.

According to the U.S. Air Force fact sheet, the Nightwatch aircraft’s main deck is divided into six functional areas: a command work area, conference room, briefing room, an operations team work area, communications area and rest area. An E-4B may include seating for up to 112 people, including a joint-service operations team, Air Force flight crew, maintenance and security component, communications team and selected augmentees.

The following clip shows the arrival of the “Doomsday” plane in 4K.



About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.

What This Video Of Five Different U-2 Take-Offs Tells About The Iconic ‘Dragon Lady’ Spyplane

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U-2 take off video
Screenshot from the video shows a U-2 departing from RAF Fairford.

Let’s have a look at this interesting video of five U-2 Dragon Lady take offs in different configurations and weather conditions.

Based at Beale Air Force Base, California, home of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, but regularly deployed to Forward Operating Locations across the world, the U-2 Dragon Lady is an almost legendary asset. First flown in 1955, only 104 U-2s were built. The U.S. continues to operate the in their intended ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) role, although the Dragon Lady also serves as a developmental platform for several new projects.

As we explained it in an article we posted a few years back, when we had a chance to have a close look at the iconic spyplane, everything about operating the U-2 is remarkable. Its pilots, among the most skilled in any air force, wear an ultra-high altitude pressure suit that is effectively a spacesuit, including the large bubble-like helmet. Pilots must pre-breath pure oxygen for an extended time prior to their high-altitude surveillance missions, the time varying depending on the duration of their mission. Long missions can last a staggering 10+ hours. The pilots also wear radiological dosimeters to record the amount of solar radiation they are exposed since they fly at the outer limits of the atmosphere and are exposed to higher levels of harmful radiation from the sun.

During periods of elevated sunspot activity, the pilots do not fly high altitude missions. Pilots eat pureed paste-like food through a tube during long missions. If a pilot has to urinate during a mission, they do so into a flexible bladder sewn into the suit. If they have to defecate, something avoided through careful management of diet in the days prior to a long-range, high-altitude flight, the suit is no longer useable. Once the helmet is donned and the pilot is ready to fly, they can’t even scratch an itch on their face.

The U-2 is, among all the other things, a quite difficult aircraft to fly. Almost all the aviation enthusiasts know that the iconic intelligence gathering aircraft requires some special landing assistance by chase car driven by experienced pilot who assist their colleagues aboard the U-2s.

Chase automobiles are used to supervise take offs, landings (and touch and gos) wherever U-2 Dragon Lady pilots bring their planes. Such cars are driven by highly trained pilots who are in contact with and act as ground-based wingmen for the pilot aboard the spyplanes: they call out the residual altitude to touchdown and wing attitude, and provide general assistance by radio talkdown. In fact, the U-2 is very difficult to land: its shape is such that the pilot’s view is obstructed by the airframe and there’s also a significant risk of hitting any ground obstacle with a wingtip. Furthermore, the bicycle configuration of the landing gear, with a forward set of main wheels located just behind the cockpit, and a rear set located behind the engine, along with the need to drop a wingtip to the ground (on titanium skidplates) to come to a halt, make landings extremely difficult.

Then, once the plane stops, it requires the “pogos”, removable support wheels, that are installed to keep the wing balanced when the aircraft taxies to the parking. Fit into sockets underneath each wing at about mid-span the pogos are, obviously, installed also for take-offs: they allow the U-2 to taxi to the runway and fall off during the take off roll.

The video below shot by our friend @Saint1Mil shows it pretty well. You can see the pogos, the red metal sticks with small wheels, that fall off as the aircraft performs its take off roll. But there’s much more than that. The footage is particularly interesting as it allows you to compare the length of the take off roll as well as the subsequent steep climb of the Dragon Lady out of RAF Fairford, UK, in different configurations. For instance, the non-mission airframe, takes around 8 seconds to get airborne from the beginning of the take off roll. The mission frame, with more fuel and additional sensor package requires almost twice that time (15 seconds) that is still less than many aircraft of comparable size.



Interestingly, the mission-equipped airframes carry the ASARS-2 (Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar System) under the extended radome on the nose that allows the aircraft to catch high-fidelity radar imagery of the battleground out to about 100 miles on either side of the aircraft’s position; the huge Senior Span or Senior Spur dorsal pod, that houses an uplink antenna for satellite communication that allows the U-2S to beam its intelligence (data or imagery) back to any location BLOS (Beyond Line Of Sight) in near to real-time; and the wing-mounted “Senior Glass” superpods housing intelligence gathering sensors.

BTW, if you are interested in the U-2 Dragon Lady, you can listen to this +2-hour live interview with did with Ross Franquemont, a former Dragon Lady pilot, in September 2020:

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About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.

Last Two 9th EBS B-1B Lancers Have Returned To Dyess AFB After Bomber Task Force Europe Deployment

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B-1 return to Dyess
One of the four B-1s of the latest Bomber Task Force Europe deployment takes off from RAF Fairford on Nov. 15, 2021.

The departure of the last two B-1s marked the end of the most recent Bomber Task Force Europe deployment.

The 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron’s B-1B Lancers and nearly 200 support personnel completed their Bomber Task Force Europe deployment at RAF Fairford, UK, on Nov. 15, 2021 , returning to Dyess Air Force Base, Texas.

The first two of four bombers had arrived on Oct. 6, 2021, to carry out a wide variety of missions and integrate with forces throughout the U.S. European Command, U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Central Command, and U.S. Northern Command theaters of operations: through their month and half-long rotation, the B-1s have conducted missions all across the Continent, from the Baltic to the Black Sea areas, often flying alongside allied combat aircraft and “posing” for some nice aerial photo shootings.

“Maintaining peace and security across the globe requires a fighting force capable of maneuvering through various domains of warfare,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa in a public statement. “We are building the Agile Combat Employment framework alongside our allies and partners to launch a cohesive team, postured and ready, to respond to adversary aggression.”

The departure from the UK started on Sunday Nov. 14, when the “BONEs” (as the B-1 Lancers are dubbed in the pilot community), 86-0136 and 86-0110,  took off under the callsigns ARTY01 and ARTY02 respectively.

The last two B-1s left RAF Fairford on Monday Nov. 15, 2021, at 08:40 local time under the callsigns ARTY13 (86-0140) and ARTY14 (86-0103). After departure the B-1s tanked to the north of Ireland with KC-135s LAGR721/722/723 from RAF Mildenhall before continuing their journey back to their homebase in the US.

Our friend Ben Ramsay at UK Aviation Movies was once again there and filmed them on departure.

Our friend @Saint1 posted a video, filmed from a different location than the one above, that shows the four take-offs of the B-1s over a period of two days:

In the days that preceded the final departure, the B-1s were regularly filmed taking off or landing: each launch or recovery was a shown on its own.

For instance, take a look at the footage from Nov 1, showing the BONEs returning, under the callsigns of RAGNR 01 (86-0136) and RAGNR 02 (86-0140) from a 10-hour mission:

The following clip is more recent. It was filmed on Nov. 10, as the B-1s were launching. Apart from being, as usual, a spectacular departure you also get a glimpse at the vortex generate by the far right engine’s air intake. Pretty interesting!

BTW, during that mission, the B-1B Lancers of the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron integrated with the B-52 Stratofortress aircraft from Minot Air Force Base’s 5th Bomb Wing during a targeting mission throughout the North Sea region that also saw the involvement of Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 aircraft, RAF Lakenheath’s F-15D Eagles and F-15E Strike Eagles, and RAF Mildenhall’s KC-135 Stratotankers.

With the departure of the last B-1, the base in Gloucestershire is much quieter now. But it will remain as such, with “just” the occasional U-2 Dragon Lady mission, until the next bomber deployment arrives.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Watch The Thunderous Night Launch Of Two B-1 Bombers From RAF Fairford

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B-1 Fairford
A screenshot of the video showing the B-1 taking off from RAF Fairford on Oct. 23, 2021.

Stunning video shows two BONEs taking off after sunset.

The B-1 bombers of the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, currently deployed to RAF Fairford, UK, as part of Bomber Task Force Europe, are quite busy (even during the weekend) these days. The video in this post shows DARK 61 (86-0140) and DARK 62 (86-0136) departing after 18:30 LT on Oct. 23, 2021.

As usual, the sight of a heavy Lancer taking off at night in full afterburner is simply stunning (you can find in our archive several articles featuring cool images and footage of the U.S. Air Force supersonic B-1 bombers and their glowing exhaust plumes, filmed in the darkness but also in plain daylight).

Interestingly, the thunderous take off was not the first event of the day for the two BONEs (as the B-1s are dubbed in the pilot community): the two jets had departed Fairford at first light (07.22AM) on Saturday morning under the callsigns SKYPE 01 (86-0140) and SKYPE 02 (86-0136). They rendezvoused with two KC-135s belonging to the 100th Air Refueling Wing from RAF Mildenhall, LARGER 637 and 638, over the North Sea and then they departed UK airspace via Sweden to work with Polish Air Force F-16s on a NATO joint mission.

From there the aircraft most probably headed towards the Baltic area.

They returned to RAF Fairford at 16.15LT and both went into a hot pit refuel, before they departed again at 18:30 for a local sortie to the north of the UK. They returned back to the British base almost exactly three hours later, at 21:30 LT: while it was a bit too dark to get a decent footage of their arrival, our friend Ben Ramsay at UK Aviation Movies filmed them on departure.

“It was tricky filming these B-1B Lancers in the dark, but these jets were absolutely stunning to see after sunset,” he says. “Certainly odd to see them flying on a Saturday, along with a U-2 (BLACK 01) that departed at 7:28am and recovered at 5:25pm. I shot a video of that recovery is here by the way. The B-1 has to be the current highlight of military aviation for me. What a treat to be rattled by these jets!”

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Watch This Amazing Video Of Two B-1B Bombers Arriving At RAF Fairford This Morning

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B-1B landing RAF Fairford
A screenshot from the video showing one of the two B-1Bs landing at RAF Fairford on Oct. 6, 2021.

The BONEs are back to the UK for a Bomber Task Force deployment.

On Oct. 6, 2021, two B-1B Lancers from the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, Dyess Air Forces Base, Texas, arrived at RAF Fairford, UK, for a long-planned Bomber Task Force mission “a regularly scheduled U.S. European Command and U.S. Strategic Command joint mission series.”

Flying as “REMUS01” flight, the BONEs (from B-Ones), #86-0110 and #86-0140, arrived in formation and performed a left overhead break for landing.

The video below was filmed by our friend @Saint1 is particularly interesting. It shows, among all the other things, the break, the windy landing and smoking brakes of the USAF bomber. Amazing.

This is the second time in 6 months that the B-1s from the 7th BW (Bomb Wing) deployed to Europe: between February and March 2021, four U.S. Air Force B-1Bs from Dyess, operated from Orland Air Station, marking the very first Lancer deployment to Norway ever. During the same deployment, a B-1B landed for the first time at Bodø Main Air Station in northern Norway, marking the bomber’s first landing at an airbase above the Artic Circle. At the moment, it’s not clear what the BONEs will do and where they will fly during their stay in the UK, but it’s quite certain they will carry out missions across the Old Continent, integrating with a range of coalition.

“BTF missions amplify our coalition reach and project our collective airpower across theaters,” said Gen Jeff Harrigian, USAFE-AFAFRICA commander in a USEUCOM press release. “By training and integrating with our allies and partners, we are expanding our ability to adapt to challenges and counter adversaries in the global security environment.”

BTF Europe missions date back to 2018. They have consisted of rotations of B-1B Lancers, B-52 Stratofortresses, and, most recently, B-2 Spirit stealth bombers. As already reported, three B-2 bombers have recently returned to Whiteman AFB after being deployed to Keflavik Air Base in Iceland for a BTF mission where the aircraft conducted theater and flight training across Europe and Africa. The BTF mission was the first deployment to Iceland for the Spirit, after the first-ever landing in the country in 2019 for a hot pit refueling that expanded the capabilities of the stealth bomber well into the strategic Arctic region.

Dealing with the B-1 bomber fleet, it’s worth remembering that 17 bombers have retired from a fleet of 62 to make room to the B-21 Raider, leaving 45 in the active inventory.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

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

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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.

This B-52 model is available from AirModels. Click here to buy yours.

Awesome Video (With Radio Talkdown) Shows U-2 Dragon Lady Recovering Into RAF Fairford

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The U-2 on final approach to RAF Fairford. (Image credit: screenshot from UK Aviation Movies YT video).

The video below shows a U.S. Air Force U-2 Dragon Lady, radio callsign “FORTH 01” recovering at RAF Fanding, that has hosted hosted a semi-permanent deployment of U-2s spyplanes for quite some time now, at the end of a surveillance mission.

The footage, filmed last week by our friend Ben Ramsay of UK Aviation Movies, is worth of remark because it includes radio talkdown and provides a look at  the iconic ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft and its sensors.

The U-2S #68-10337/BB belongs to the 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, from Beale AFB, California, and carries the ASARS-2 (Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar System) under the extended radome on the nose that allows the aircraft to catch high-fidelity radar imagery of the battleground out to about 100 miles on either side of the aircraft’s position; a huge the huge Senior Span or Senior Spur dorsal pod, that houses an uplink antenna for satellite communication that allows the U-2S to beam its intelligence (data or imagery) back to any location BLOS (Beyond Line Of Sight) in near to real-time; and the wing-mounted “Senior Glass” superpods housing intelligence gathering sensors.

From 01:10 mark, you also get a pretty cool view at the landing procedure and the role played by the “chase car”: chase automobiles (in this case, a Dodge Charger) are used to supervise take offs, landings (and touch and gos) wherever U-2 Dragon Lady pilots bring their planes. Such sportcars are driven by highly trained pilots who are in contact with and act as ground-based wingmen for the pilot aboard the Dragon Lady: they call out the residual altitude to touchdown and wing attitude, and provide general assistance by radio talkdown. In fact, the U-2 is very difficult to land: its shape is such that the pilot’s view is obstructed by the airframe and there’s also a significant risk of hitting any ground obstacle with a wingtip. Moreover, the bicycle configuration of the landing gear, with a forward set of main wheels located just behind the cockpit, and a rear set located behind the engine, along with the need to drop a wingtip to the ground (on titanium skidplates) to come to a halt, make landings extremely difficult. That’s why Dragon Lady pilots (as well as RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned planes) rely on chase cars to perform safe landing operations across the globe.

Interestingly, the aircraft can also be tracked online every now and then, as they launch or return to their deployment base: