Tag: U.S. Air Force

RAF Lakenheath Has Become The First Base in Europe To Receive U.S. Air Force F-35s

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - RAF Lakenheath Has Become The First Base in Europe To Receive U.S. Air Force F-35s
One of first four jets landing at RAF Lakenheath on Dec. 15, 2021. (All images: Stewart Jack)

The first aircraft of the newly formed 495th Fighter Squadron have arrived in the UK.

Four F-35A aircraft departed from Fort Worth, Texas, arrived at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, on Dec. 15, 2021, marking the arrival of the first Europe-based USAF’s Lightning II 5th generation.

Flying as RETRO 31-34 and supported by BLUE81, a KC-135R #59-1495, and BLUE82, a KC-10A Extender #84-0189, the four aircraft (#19-5473, #19-5474, #19-5475 and #19-5476) approached RAF Lakenheath as a 4 ship at 13.50L before braking off and then all of them carrying out a missed approached before landing on RWY24.

- RAF Lakenheath Has Become The First Base in Europe To Receive U.S. Air Force F-35sTouchdown!

As you can notice in the shots taken by The Aviationist‘s contributor Stewart Jack, the aircraft sport the 495th Fighter Squadron emblem on the air intake as well as the LN code, the shield of United States Air Forces in Europe as well as the motto “Mala Ipsa Nova” (Latin for “Bad News Itself”) on the twin tails. The 495th FS “Valkyries” is the first Europe-based U.S. F-35 squadron: it was re-activated on Oct. 1, 2021, at a specific, symbolic time, 8:49 and 50 second, that is to say exactly 30 years since the former 495th Tactical Fighter Squadron was redesignated as Fighter Squadron, shortly before being inactivated in 1991.

- RAF Lakenheath Has Become The First Base in Europe To Receive U.S. Air Force F-35sClose up showing the emblem on the air intake.
- RAF Lakenheath Has Become The First Base in Europe To Receive U.S. Air Force F-35sThe tail section.

The 495th Fighter Squadron is scheduled to be fully mission capable in 2022 with a total of 27 aircraft and 60 personnel.

- RAF Lakenheath Has Become The First Base in Europe To Receive U.S. Air Force F-35sRETRO 31-34 approaching the overhead break.

“Our coalition forces train and fight in the most dynamic theater, requiring the most advanced platforms,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa commander in a public release. “The Valkyries are leading our F-35 integration across Europe. We’ve come a long way, and now we’re extending our reach as a coalition force and what we will accomplish together.”

- RAF Lakenheath Has Become The First Base in Europe To Receive U.S. Air Force F-35sOn short final for landing.

“‘Valkyries’ epitomizes the force’s move toward more inclusivity and equally represents the fifth-generation stealth fighter’s air superiority,” said Lt. Col. Ian McLaughlin, 495th Fighter Squadron commander. “Like the Valkyries themselves, we’ll be vital to determining the fate of our adversaries in the battlespace.”

- RAF Lakenheath Has Become The First Base in Europe To Receive U.S. Air Force F-35sBefore they touched down at RAF Lakenheath, all the F-35s performed a go around.

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - RAF Lakenheath Has Become The First Base in Europe To Receive U.S. Air Force F-35s
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.

Secretive SR-72 Spy Plane And RQ-180 Spy Drone Teased In Recent U.S. Air Force Video

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Secretive SR-72 Spy Plane And RQ-180 Spy Drone Teased In Recent U.S. Air Force Video
What appears to be the SR-72 is visible in this digitally altered screenshot from the USAF video.

Several interesting projects are featured in a short promotional video, including the secretive SR-72 and the RQ-180.

A video, published on Youtube on Nov. 8, 2021, by the U.S. Air Force Profession of Arms Center of Excellence (PACE) under the title “Heritage Today – ISR and Innovation” provides a new look at some of the most interesting and secretive U.S. ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) projects.

The less than 3 minutes clip is an overview of the evolution of the ISR mission since the beginning. At the 2:25 mark, after showing a flying RQ-4 Global Hawk, the video focuses on a stealthy flying-wing drone whose planform appears to be similar to the artworks published on the front cover of Aviation Week & Space Technology when the project was unveiled in 2013. The planform image is introduced by the following commentary: “The days of balloons and biplanes have been replaced by white bats,” and considered that the RQ-180 is nicknamed the “Great White Bat” (or sometimes “Shikaka”, a fictional sacred white bat from the 1995 movie Ace Ventura 2), the appearance of the cranked kite design clearly alludes to the new clandestine spy drone.

Still, it’s worth noticing that the shape of the drone featured in the latest USAF video does not fit the one of the unmanned aircraft, believed to be indeed a real RQ-180, spotted over California, last year, and the Philippines earlier this year. In other words, we are probably not shown the actual RQ-180 but something loosely similar to it, in preparation of a somehow official unveiling.

- Secretive SR-72 Spy Plane And RQ-180 Spy Drone Teased In Recent U.S. Air Force VideoThe cranked-kite planform that alludes to the RQ-180 White Bat in a screenshot from the USAF video

However, the one of the “”White Bat” is not the only interesting “cameo” or easter egg you can find in the video.

The really interesting one, comes later, at the 2:34 mark, when the video cuts to the dark image of a sleek and stealthy aircraft in a hangar that seems to match the shape of the SR-71 successor, also unofficially dubbed the “Son of Blackbird“, the Lockheed SR-72.

The SR-72 is an unmanned hypersonic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and strike platform designed for Mach 6. Very little is known about this aircraft besides some alleged sightings, rumoured every now and then, and the presumed date for a first flight possibly in 2025.

Again, the one in the USAF clip is probably just a computer-generated image, with many different details and possibly a significantly different shape than the real thing; still it’s worth of remark since it is one of the very few (somewhat official) allusions to the new aircraft that the service has done since the program was revealed. For the records, the SR-72 was featured in a poster issued by the Air Force in 2017 for the 70th anniversary of the service, that you can find here: the shape appears to be pretty much the same as the mysterious aircraft in the latest video.

Interestingly, the video also shows the outline of the secretive X-37B spaceplane in a display of what seems to be a command center.

- Secretive SR-72 Spy Plane And RQ-180 Spy Drone Teased In Recent U.S. Air Force VideoThe silhouette of the X-37B can be seen in a screen of a sort of command and control center for the spaceplane.

We have wrote a lot about the X-37B in the past here at The Aviationist. Here below you can find an excerpt with some of the key facts and some theories about the missions it carries out:

The Air Force’s X-37B began as a test project with NASA in 1999 but was acquired by the U.S. Department of Defense in 2004. Most sources list two operational X-37B spacecraft and a single X-37A. The fact that only three exist, their missions and roles are classified and they operate in space makes them incredibly difficult to get photos of, especially when performing an active mission as in Vandebergh’s photos.

Little is known about the current role of the two X-37Bs and the single X-37A. Most likely the X-37Bs are in some form of “operational test” use with the USAF while the X-37A reportedly remains a combined Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and NASA spacecraft with an equally secretive role.

While most information in the public domain lists both the X-37B and X-37A as “test” vehicles, the X-37B has performed unusually long duration space flights for testing.

Three theories [about the type of missions the X-37B has carried out thus far] have prevailed:

The first theory is that the X-37B is a space-based weapons platform. The spacecraft is pre-deployed into orbit armed with some type of weaponized re-entry vehicle that could be released over or near a specific target. It may also be a weapons delivery vehicle deployed in defense of space-based commercial assets such as the GPS satellite constellation. This theory is debunked by most analysts.

Secondly, and most plausibly, the spacecraft may be a platform for gathering intelligence. This could include signals intelligence such as activities of communications and surveillance satellites, both civilian and military. With approximately 2,271 satellites in orbit around the earth at various altitudes performing a wide variety of functions this theory tends to be the most realistic. It may also be ground mapping radar and other surveillance mediums. Since the large internal payload bay of the X-37B, about the size of the interior of a small general aviation aircraft such as a Cessna Caravan, is interchangeable the spacecraft could be “mission adaptive”, meaning it could be reconfigured for various types of surveillance. That this last mission was so long in duration suggests the X-37B may have had a means of transmitting intelligence from space back down to earth, somehow beyond the capabilities of existing space based surveillance platforms like satellites.

Lastly, and most unlikely, the X-37B remains a research project. It could potentially be a test bed for deploying satellites and servicing them robotically in space, releasing new orbital packages into space or any number of other roles not yet performed operationally. Given the duration and investment into the program along with the operational security surrounding it this theory seems least likely. A major part of X-37B operations are administered by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a shadowy U.S. government agency located in Arlington, Virginia.

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - Secretive SR-72 Spy Plane And RQ-180 Spy Drone Teased In Recent U.S. Air Force Video
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.

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

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Last Two 9th EBS B-1B Lancers Have Returned To Dyess AFB After Bomber Task Force Europe Deployment
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.

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - Last Two 9th EBS B-1B Lancers Have Returned To Dyess AFB After Bomber Task Force Europe Deployment
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.

The Only Time the Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser Testbed 747 Ever Came to an Airshow

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - The Only Time the Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser Testbed 747 Ever Came to an Airshow
YAL-1 on display at Davis Monthan AFB. (All images: Tom Demerly / The Aviationist)

Davis-Monthan Airshow in 2012, was the only time the public ever got a close look at the most expensive aircraft in history: the Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser 747.

This weekend, Saturday, November 6 and Sunday November 7, 2021, the Thunder and Lightning over Tucson Airshow at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona will thrill aviation enthusiasts from around the world with a unique mix of aerial and static displays that can only be presented at one of the most unique military aviation installations on earth. But 9 years ago, in 2012, at this same Davis-Monthan Airshow, there was a very special exhibit that only appeared once, and then disappeared forever.

Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona, is adjacent to the famous 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), the famous aircraft “Boneyard” where retired aircraft are stored for use as parts donors or before their demolition for scrap. In addition to being a massive repository for spare aircraft and parts, the Boneyard is also a living museum, where some of the most fascinating stories in all of aviation sit in quiet repose as their history echoes on into the future long after their demolition.

The Davis-Monthan Airshow is always a special show because of its proximity to unique aviation artifacts and resources like the Boneyard and the Pima Air and Space Museum. But the April, 2012 edition of the show was truly exceptional because of one remarkable, and ephemeral, visitor- a literal “white whale” in aircraft spotting.

The Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser Testbed (formerly Airborne Laser) weapons system, aircraft number 00-0001, the only aircraft of its type ever built, was on static display at the Davis-Monthan AFB air show this one time in 2012 before its demolition. It was the only time the public ever got a close look at the most expensive aircraft in history.

- The Only Time the Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser Testbed 747 Ever Came to an AirshowThe Author managed to get into Davis-Monthan AFB before anyone else that day in 2012, but the word was out about the YAL-1 being on display and people were already beginning to gather around this remarkable static display.

The YAL-1 was a massive airborne laser weapons system aircraft built on a Boeing 747-400F platform. The fiction-like flying laser cannon was intended to shoot down tactical ballistic missiles (TBMs) and potentially even intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as part of a theatre and strategic missile defense program that gained momentum during the prior decade in the Reagan administration as a part of the “Star Wars Defense Initiative”.
The program was plagued with complex testing, mixed results and stratospheric cost overruns.

The YAL-1 did, however, eventually experience testing success when, in January 2010, its laser weapon engaged a ballistic missile surrogate simulating a ballistic missile. The test target was called the Missile Alternative Range Target Instrument or “MARTI”. It was “engaged but not destroyed” by the airborne laser fired from the YAL-1 in flight. The program, the most expensive military aircraft in history to date, was beginning to show promise.

- The Only Time the Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser Testbed 747 Ever Came to an AirshowThe side of the nose of the YAL-1 featured some unique “kill” marks for its engagements with various targets, including actual ballistic missiles, during testing prior to the program cancellation.

On Feb. 11, 2010, the program experienced more success when the YAL-1 engaged two test missile targets with its massive laser-cannon off the California coast in the Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center-Weapons Division Sea Range. During these two tests, the YAL-1 shot down a liquid-fueled ballistic missile and then, only an hour later, “engaged” a solid fuel missile target but did not destroy it because of a “beam misalignment” problem.

An announcement was also made later that, eight days prior to these two tests on February 11, the system had actually engaged and destroyed a solid fuel missile in flight. The results from this round of testing achieved all of the program goals during this phase. The February, 2010 tests of the YAL-10 Airborne Laser Weapons System marked the first time in history that a directed-energy laser weapon was used to destroy a ballistic missile in flight.

- The Only Time the Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser Testbed 747 Ever Came to an AirshowThe laser weapon turret on the nose of the YAL-1 had been covered in the anti-corrosive wrap used at the AMARG to preserve components of an aircraft before it is dismantled. Even though the weapon wasn’t directly visible, this view gave some sense of scale to the massive laser cannon.

But in December 2011, after $5 billion USD in development and testing, the program was cancelled after being deemed, “not operationally viable” by Air Force Chief of Staff Norton A. Schwartz and from continued budgetary pressure in Washington.

On February 12, 2012, the YAL-1 Airborne Laser Testbed made its final flight to Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona for internment at the AMARG Boneyard and eventual demolition after usable parts and systems were salvaged.

- The Only Time the Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser Testbed 747 Ever Came to an AirshowThe underside of the tail on the YAL-1 had what may have been a massive decoy or flare ejector system seen here.

At the time the YAL-1 arrived at Davis-Monthan in February, 2012, I was working at a company on the perimeter of the base and just north of the Pima Air and Space Museum. A friend of mine named Eric and I borrowed a step ladder from work and went over to the fence line at Davis-Monthan to try to get photos of the YAL-1’s arrival, but we didn’t time it correctly and, to our disappointment, missed the aircraft’s arrival before it disappeared into the vast AMARG Boneyard.

Throughout March we stepped up our surveillance of the AMARG fields to see if we could catch a glimpse of the massive but, so far, elusive YAL-1. Then, the week before the Davis-Monthan Airshow, my friend Craig arrived at work with reports that the YAL-1 was, “on the move” and being towed from the Boneyard back to the main flight line at Davis-Monthan, likely for one final and remarkable static display at that coming weekend’s airshow. We were ecstatic. After pressing base insiders for details, it was confirmed that the YAL-1 would be a featured static display at the Davis-Monthan Airshow.

I was the very first person in line for admittance into the airshow at Davis-Monthan that morning, screened through after a young and capable Air Force Security Policeman scrutinized my camera bag. I made a beeline to the YAL-1 to try to grab some photos before the air show crowds surrounded the aircraft. News had spread all over Tucson that something special was going to be at the air show that weekend.

- The Only Time the Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser Testbed 747 Ever Came to an AirshowThe author under the YAL-1 during the only weekend it was ever displayed.

For a few moments, I had the YAL-1 mostly to myself. A few other equally enthusiastic early-bird aviation photographers showed up, and we took turns getting shots of the aircraft. There was no one on hand to describe the significance of the aircraft. As the airshow crowds started to file in and crowd around the aircraft, one of the other photographers graciously offered to shoot a photo of me under the main landing gear of the YAL-1, and I have that photo as a treasured souvenir of this remarkable day at the Davis-Monthan Airshow. It was a truly unique and remarkable weekend at the Davis-Monthan Airshow, and one to never be repeated.

- The Only Time the Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser Testbed 747 Ever Came to an AirshowAs the Tucson sun set over Davis-Monthan AFB that day in 2012, it was the last time the public would see the YAL-1 intact before demolition.

837c2d9d6db24da308bea1fe1cf06f9a?s=125&d=mm&r=g - The Only Time the Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser Testbed 747 Ever Came to an Airshow
Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on TheAviationist.com, TACAIRNET.com, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.

Watch This Insane Slow Motion Video Of The F-22 Raptor Filmed At 1000 FPS

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Watch This Insane Slow Motion Video Of The F-22 Raptor Filmed At 1000 FPS
A screenshot from the video “Phantom of the Raptor”.

‘Phantom of the Raptor’ is a jaw-dropping slo-mo video of the F-22 demo flight.

If you love the F-22 Raptor, then take a seat. You are about to watch what is probably the best Raptor video ever produced. It was filmed in 2020 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska, during a demo flight of the U.S. Air Force F-22 “Raptor” piloted by Maj. Joshua “Cabo” Gunderson.

“Cabo” who took over the role of Demo Team leader from Maj. Paul “Loco” Lopez, took part in the JBER Salutes in March 2020 and the display of the F-22 Raptor Demo Team, the world’s first 5th generation dedicated combat aircraft demonstration unit and the only solo jet, twin-engine, vectored-thrust demonstration unit in the world, was filmed with a Phantom Flex4K at 1000FPS out of the open door of a UH-60 “Black Hawk” helicopter hovering at about 3,000 feet.

1000 FPS is considered super-slow motion: in general, slow motion video works by shooting at very high frames per second (FPS) rate and then playing it back at a much slower rate. This creates dramatic footage where the action is slowed way down.

The end result in this case is a stunning slo-mo footage that shows the F-22 maneuvering over the Alaskan base.

Actually, some parts of the clips, mixed with footage shot from inside the cockpit with a 360-degree camera, had already been included in another work, dubbed “INSANE F-22 Raptor Hype Video”, a footage released by the F-22 Raptor Demo Team on their Youtube channel in November 2020. 

In my opinion, while the previous video was great, “Phantom of the Raptor”, with the slow-motion cinematography by creator Dustin Farrell is simply a work of art.

Take a look and judge by yourself:

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - Watch This Insane Slow Motion Video Of The F-22 Raptor Filmed At 1000 FPS
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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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Watch The Thunderous Night Launch Of Two B-1 Bombers From RAF 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!”

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - Watch The Thunderous Night Launch Of Two B-1 Bombers From RAF Fairford
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.

NATO’s Annual Nuclear Strike Exercise Underway In Southern Europe

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - NATO’s Annual Nuclear Strike Exercise Underway In Southern Europe
One of the F-15E Strike Eagles deployed to Aviano AB for Steadfast Noon 2021. (All images: Claudio Tramontin)

“Steadfast Noon” gathers aircraft and personnel from 14 NATO countries. The bases used for the drills are Aviano AB and Ghedi, in Italy.

NATO’s yearly “deterrence” exercise, codenamed “Steadfast Noon”, kicked off on Oct. 18, 2021. Dozens of aircraft from across the alliance are currently deployed to Italy and will carry out joint training during the 1-week drills.

As already happened in the past, this year’s Steadfast Noon takes place alongside another exercise, dubbed “Cross Servicing” or “X-Servicing”, whose goal is to test the ability of each partner to service other nation’s aircraft at NATO airfield operating on their territory. Actually, it looks like that X-Servicing or any other exercises preceding or coinciding with the Steadfast Noons are somehow used to disguise the main one considered the political sensitivity of the nuclear mission in many NATO countries.

Anyway, the routine Steadfast Noon strike exercise is hosted by a different NATO country (or two) each year usually at two air bases where U.S. tactical B61 nuclear bombs are stored. This year, the two Italian air bases involved in the exercise are Ghedi AB and Aviano AB, in the northeastern part of the country. According to the Federation of American Scientists, 35 B-61s are stored at the two bases in Italy.

The flying activity (that needless to say does not involve any “live” armament), is carried out (in specific days made public by AIP Supplement) inside restricted airspace in central and northeastern Italy and the Adriatic Sea.

Since they are sort of back-to-back exercises, both X-Servicing and Steadfast Noon involve the same aircraft on the same bases: the missions are flown by DCA (Dual Capable Aircraft) –  aircraft from Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and the U.S. that are able to perform either conventional or theater nuclear missions carrying the B61 bomb – along with non-nuclear aircraft that support the mission under the SNOWCAT (Support of Nuclear Operations With Conventional Air Tactics) program, which is used to enable military assets from non-nuclear countries to support the nuclear strike mission without being formally part of it.

- NATO’s Annual Nuclear Strike Exercise Underway In Southern Europe48th FW F-15E Strike Eagle.

The DCA aircraft committed by the nuclear capable European air forces are always the same, since they are the only ones configured to carry the B61: German and Italian Air Force Tornado IDS; Belgian, Dutch and Turkish F-16s. The American participation involves the tactical assets based in Europe: F-16s and F-15Es.

- NATO’s Annual Nuclear Strike Exercise Underway In Southern EuropeBelgian F-16

For what concerns the non-nuclear and support assets, the 2021 iteration of Steadfast Noon/X-Servicing drills see the participation of five Czech Air Force JAS 39 Gripens and three Polish Air Force F-16s, along with NATO E-3A AWACS and Italian Air Force G550 CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning).

- NATO’s Annual Nuclear Strike Exercise Underway In Southern EuropeCzech Air Force JAS 39 Gripen.

In particular, the Belgian, Turkish and Polish F-16s, along with the Czech Gripens and U.S. F-15E are deployed to Aviano AB, while Ghedi AB, home of the Italian Tornado fleet, hosts the Dutch F-16s and German Tornados.

- NATO’s Annual Nuclear Strike Exercise Underway In Southern EuropeTurkish Air Force F-16.St
- NATO’s Annual Nuclear Strike Exercise Underway In Southern EuropePolish Air Force F-16 landing at Aviano on Oct. 18, 2021.

Even though, NATO is usually quite tight-lipped when it deals with this kind of exercise, you can get an idea of the flying activity thanks to some OSINT: flight tracking websites show some of the assets taking part in the drills as they operate inside the restricted airspaces announced by relevant NOTAMs (Notice To Airmen). Then, you can also get some interesting photographs to cross correlate the rest of the information, thanks to the aircraft spotters taking shots outside the main operating bases.

- NATO’s Annual Nuclear Strike Exercise Underway In Southern EuropeThe airspace over Italy during Steadfast Noon with an E-3 AWACS and a G550 CAEW providing AEW to the rest of the aircraft. (Image credit: ADSBExchange.org)

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - NATO’s Annual Nuclear Strike Exercise Underway In Southern Europe
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.

Check Out This Insane Footage Of An SR-71 Blackbird Flying In Formation With A Hornet Filmed From An F-16’s FLIR

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Check Out This Insane Footage Of An SR-71 Blackbird Flying In Formation With A Hornet Filmed From An F-16’s FLIR
FLIR image of an SR-71 flying in formation with an F/A-18

Amazing clip filmed through a FLIR (Forward Looking Infra Red) of an F-16 shows a Blackbird and an F/A-18 Hornet flying together.

Have you ever seen a FLIR video of an SR-71? Well, there’s a really interesting clip showing a Blackbird in formation with an F/A-18 included in a 48-min video that was posted 4 years ago on YouTube but is doing the rounds on social media these days.

The full video whows the “highlights” of Maj. Russell “Crancky” Prechtl who graduated from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School in 1993 and went to work at the F-16 Combined Test Force at Edwards AFB, California, until 1996. For three years, he got to fly all blocks of the F-16 (USAF and Foreign Military Sales), all 5 engines, and new software and hardware for the F-16, was a Viper demo pilot for two seasons and also achieved the 3,000 Flying Hours mark on the Fighting Falcon.

According to the description he added to YouTube, the full video “covers the 1% of the nailbiters, High Angle of Attack Flight testing, to include the spin chute deployment, engine failure with the Japanese pilot in the front seat, high speed (1.93 Mach) run, engine restart testing, and some avionics testing. It ends up with the Live HARM missile launch.”

Indeed, the video is pretty cool and shows the variety of tests Prechtl was involved into.

But the really insane part comes at the 24:00 mark when you can see “Crancky” working on the FLIR (most probably of a LANTIRN pod) to track an SR-71 Blackbird flying in formation with an F/A-18 Hornet. Considered the airspace (near Edwards AFB, where F-16s of the CTF normally operated), it is also possible that the dissimilar formation was made of NASA aircraft: at that time the agency flew both the SR-71 and the F/A-18 out of Dryden Flight Research Center, at Edwards AFB.

The last SR-71 flight was made on Oct. 9, 1999, at the Edwards AFB air show. The aircraft used was NASA 844 that flew to 80,100 feet and Mach 3.21 in the very last flight of any Blackbird. Actually, the aircraft was also scheduled to make a flight the following day, but a fuel leak grounded the aircraft and prevented it from flying again. The NASA SR-71s were then put in flyable storage, where they remained until 2002. Then, they were sent to museums.

Back in the 1990s, an F/A-18B was often used by NASA as a chase plane during many mission out of Edwards. Interestingly, in 1996 was still flying the F/A-18 High Alpha Research Vehicle (HARV) that flew its final mission at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center on May 29, 1996, piloted by NASA pilot Ed Schneider. The highly modified F/A-18 airplane flew 383 flights over a nine-year period and demonstrated concepts that greatly increase fighter maneuverability.

Anyway, enjoy the clip!

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - Check Out This Insane Footage Of An SR-71 Blackbird Flying In Formation With A Hornet Filmed From An F-16’s FLIR
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.

Fairchild AFB Launched The Largest KC-135 MITO (Minimum Interval Take Off) Mission In Base’s History Last Week

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Fairchild AFB Launched The Largest KC-135 MITO (Minimum Interval Take Off) Mission In Base’s History Last Week
The 20 KC-135 Stratotankers lined up on the runway during the “Elephant Walk” that preceded the Minimum Interval Take Off exercise at Fairchild Air Force Base. (Photo: U.S. Air Force via Fairchild AFB’s Twitter page)

The KC-135 MITO was part of a proficiency and readiness exercise to validate Fairchild’s maintenance generation and the ability to launch multiple aircraft in rapid succession.

On Sept. 29, 2021, the 92nd Air Refueling Wing successfully launched a 20-ship Minimum Interval Take-Off (MITO) mission from Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington.

According to the unit, this exercise was the largest KC-135 MITO training in the base’s history and was part of a proficiency and readiness exercise which sought to validate Fairchild’s maintenance generation and operational capabilities to launch multiple aircraft in rapid succession.

“We pulled off something historic yesterday,” said Colonel Craig Giles, 92nd Maintenance Group Commander. “Even more impressively, our maintainers generated 20 aircraft with no spares and then launched them all without a single line canceled. It would not have been possible without the hard work of the entire Fairchild team.”

The exercise kicked off with an impressive “Elephant Walk”, as the 20 tankers lined up and taxied on the runway before the mass departure. The first aircraft took off at 10:06 a.m. (local time), as stated by 2nd Lt. Ariana Wilkinson, a spokesperson for the 92nd Air Refueling Wing. Then, the tankers launched in rapid succession in 15-seconds intervals, completing the departure of all 20 KC-135 exactly five minutes later at 10:11.

“From the top down, everyone was on point and ready to complete this mission. In Maintenance, we get the mission done — period. Our crew works around the clock to ensure the airworthiness of these 65-year-old plus aircraft.” said Master Sgt. Cody Haynes, 92nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron flightline expediter. “Between the crew chiefs crushing it on the ground, the specialists responding to red balls [time-sensitive maintenance] during the aircraft launch, and the production team coordinating the maintenance actions, we made this a no-fail mission.”

- Fairchild AFB Launched The Largest KC-135 MITO (Minimum Interval Take Off) Mission In Base’s History Last WeekMultiple KC-135 Stratotankers fly in formation as part of a 20-aircraft minimal interval takeoff exercise at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, Sept. 29, 2021. This exercise was the largest KC-135 MITO training in Fairchild’s history. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Lawrence Sena)

Interestingly, at least 18 of the 20 KC-135s were trackable online thanks to ADS-B, which sparked curiosity among aircraft trackers and enthusiasts. The aircraft flew in a large formation, stacked every 500 ft from FL180 to FL275 for separation, before splitting in multiple groups. Multiple theories came up online for the reasons of this large formation, including bomber support and Joint Forcible Entry (JFEX) exercises, until the 92nd ARW released a statement and disclose the nature of this exercise.

The importance of exercises like this “Elephant Walk” and MITO departure has been explained multiple times in the past when we reported about them here at The Aviationist:

Generating multiple aircraft sorties can be a significant challenge for any flying unit. In fact, not all aircraft are available for the flying activity each day: some are involved in scheduled maintenance activities, others are grounded by minor or major issues while others on standby as spares. Then, there might not be enough aircrews to launch the aircraft, because of the working shifts, currencies, training activities, deployments, time-offs, etc.

Fairchild Air Force Base is the largest tanker base under the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, home to a fleet of 63 KC-135s shared by the four squadrons of the 92nd and 141st Air Refueling Wings (the latter belonging to the Washington Air National Guard). The base is now one of the candidates, together with MacDill AFB, Florida, to replace its 65-years old KC-135 Stratotankers with the new KC-46 Pegasus tankers.

1c874047463801220adcba061ba371a3?s=125&d=mm&r=g - Fairchild AFB Launched The Largest KC-135 MITO (Minimum Interval Take Off) Mission In Base’s History Last Week
Stefano D’Urso is a contributor for TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. He’s a full-time engineering student and aspiring pilot. In his spare time he’s also an amateur aviation photographer and flight simulation enthusiast.

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

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Watch This Amazing Video Of Two B-1B Bombers Arriving At RAF Fairford This Morning
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.

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - Watch This Amazing Video Of Two B-1B Bombers Arriving At RAF Fairford This Morning
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.
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