Tag: U.S. Navy


U.S. Navy’s Adversary F/A-18E Super Hornet Has Been Given A Su-57 Felon Color Scheme

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VFC-12 F/A-18E Su-57
The F/A-18E of VFC-12 in Su-57 color scheme. (All images: VFC-12)

One F/A-18E Super Hornet of VFC-12 now sports a paint scheme inspired by the Russian Su-57 Felon.

A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet “Red 12”, belonging to Fighter Squadron Composite Twelve (VFC-12), the “Fighting Omars”, based at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Virginia, has been given a paint scheme with a paint scheme that features the profile of a Russian Air Force Su-57 Felon.

The aircraft has made its first public appearance on Jun. 18, 2021, in a FB post about the retirement ceremony of VFC-12’s Commanding Officer CDR Runzel. Interestingly, the F/A-18E sports the name of VFC-12’s new Commanding Officer, CDR Scott “CAWK” Golich on the canopy rail.

VFC-12 F/A-18E Su-57
VFC-12’s new commander officer name appears on the canopy rail of “Red 12”.

VFC-12 is the U.S. Navy adversary squadron. The unit has started the “migration” from  “Legacy” Hornets to Block I F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Along with “Red 12” at least another Super Hornet, an F model, “Red 22” appears to have been delivered to the squadron.

The “Flying Omars” of Fighter Squadron Composite VFC-12, have always operated Hornets in camouflage schemes which mimic the patterns used by some Russian Air Force fighters, like Su-27 Flankers, Su-30SMs, Su-34 Fullbacks and Su-57 Felons. In 2019, we reported about an F/A-18D Hornet two-seat aggressor aircraft painted in a unique pixelated aggressor color scheme similar to the one shown by the Sukhoi Su-57 fighter.

Paint schemes similar to their Russian counterparts are a distinguishing feature of U.S. Aggressors and Adversary jets whose liveries replicate the paint schemes, markings and insignas of their near peer adversaries, so that pilots in training who come within visual range of these adversary jets get the same sight they would see if they were engaging an actual threat.

The new F/A-18E “Red 12” of VFC-12 shows a color scheme sported by the Su-57 prototype nicknamed “White Shark”: it appears to be painted in such a way the silhouette of a Su-57 is seen from distance, a scheme referred to as “Mako”. This reminds what the Russians did on the Su-57 with bort number 053 that, wearing a a special pixelated camouflage on the underside of the aircraft that mimics the plan view shape of the Hunter remotely piloted aircraft, was seen at MAKS 2019.

Some other interesting color schemes should be applied to the Adversary Super Hornets in the coming months, some of those can be found in this article published at The War Zone last year.

Another image of the new adversary F/A-18E Super Hornet.

H/T Steve Fortson for the heads-up!

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.

First Leonardo TH-73A Training Helicopter Delivered To The U.S. Navy

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TH-73A delivery
A TH-73A in the U.S. Navy livery flying over Leonardo’s facility in Philadelphia. (Photo: Leonardo)

The new helicopter will replace the TH-57 Sea Ranger, allowing the introduction of a modernized training curriculum for the highest quality of training.

The U.S. Navy took delivery of the first new TH-73A training helicopter during a ceremony at Leonardo’s facilities in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 10, 2021. The helicopter is the first of the 32 acquired through the initial 177 million USD firm-fixed-price contract awarded last year, out of a total requirement of 130 aircraft that will be delivered through 2024 to replace the ageing TH-57 Sea Ranger a military derivative of the famous Bell 206 Jet Ranger, after 35 years of service. Towards the end of 2020, the U.S. Department of Defense exercised options for an additional 36 aircraft in a $171 million fixed-price-contract.

“The TH-73A will be instrumental in providing higher fidelity training to our future rotary-wing and tilt-rotor aviators for the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard,” said Vice Adm. Kenneth Whitesell, Commander, Naval Air Forces. “The cutting-edge technology and advanced avionics within the Advanced Helicopter Training System (AHTS) will enable a more seamless transition from the training aircraft to fleet aircraft, this in turn allows more focus on high end warfighting development and training.”

The new Advanced Helicopter Training System (AHTS) of the U.S. Navy includes not only TH-73A helicopters, but also new simulators and aircrew training services, a modernized curriculum and a new contractor logistics support contract for the maintenance and flight line support requirements of the new helicopter. The TH-73A, based on the Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) certified variant of the popular commercial AW119Kx,  has been fully certified  by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prior to delivery, thus bringing a ready-made solution that will transition the TH-57 platforms out of service by 2025, with the first helicopters expected to be retired during fiscal year 2022.

“This delivery signifies a new era for Naval Aviation training,” said Rear Adm. Robert Westendorff, Chief of Naval Aviation Training. “By using current cockpit technologies and a new training curriculum, the TH-73A will improve pilot training and skills, and ensure rotary wing aviators are produced more efficiently at a higher quality and are ready to meet the fleet’s challenges.”

The first TH-73A will be used to train the cadre of instructor pilots and validate the modernized curriculum efforts, which is a requirement prior to begin the training of Student Naval Aviators with the new curriculum in the new system. The AHTS has capacity to train several hundred aviation students per year at Naval Air Station Whiting Field-South (Florida), where all student helicopter pilots for the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard train along with several NATO-allied nations, accounting for the training needs of all of the Fleet Replacement Squadrons and setting up for success the students in any platform they select after the TH-73A.

The delivery ceremony of the first TH-73A, which can be seen in the background. (Photo: Leonardo)

“The U.S. Navy expects the highest quality of training for its future aviators,” said Gian Piero Cutillo, Leonardo Helicopters Managing Director in the press release. “We are honored to start delivery of the product chosen for this critical task. Today is just the beginning of a journey we have undertaken to support the Navy as it shapes the capabilities of future generations of aviation students.”

To support the new TH-73A fleet, Leonardo has announced the construction of a new comprehensive 100,000 sq. ft. helicopter support center at Whiting Aviation Park, located directly across the runway from NAS Whiting Field for seamless and immediate maintenance and repair support, with groundbreaking expected in December 2021. This way the company will be able to efficiently support the U.S. Navy throughout the entire service life of the TH-73A until 2050 or longer.

“The combined government and contractor team set new standards to meet much needed requirements in the fleet,” said Capt. Holly Shoger, Undergraduate Flight Training Systems Program (PMA-273) program manager. “We are proud to develop and provide these new capabilities that will improve pilot training for many years to come.”

Following the delivery, the first TH-73A will undergo the final DoD inspections before its arrival at NAS Whiting Field. According to the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) press release, all the first 32 TH-73As are scheduled for delivery to the U.S. Navy this calendar year. The new helicopters will be housed in a temporary hangar until a new dedicated helicopter maintenance hangar is built, with construction to begin in 2023.

The TH-73A, initially proposed as TH-119 to the US Navy, is based on the commercial AW119 “Koala” and is powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6B-37A engine, with a takeoff power rating of 1,002 hp and a maximum take-off weight of 6,283 lb (2,850 kg). In terms of flight performance, the TH-73 will be similar to the commercial AW119, with a cruise speed of 130 kt, 1,800 ft/min sea level rate of climb, hover in-ground-effect of 11,000 ft, service ceiling of 15,000 ft and a range of 515 NM. With these characteristics, the TH-73A will be able to be employed for both initial training flights and advanced training, as it can perform every maneuver in the U.S. Navy’s training syllabus for a seamless transition from basic maneuvers to advanced operational training.

The cockpit features an avionic suite made by Genesys Aerosystems, with four 6- by 8-inch displays, instrument-certified dual GPS/WAAS navigation system, synthetic vision system, Helicopter Terrain Avoidance Warning System (HTAWS), moving map and integrated communication and navigation systems. As already mentioned, the helicopter was also certified for IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) flight by the FAA. An increased level of security is provided by dual safety and hydraulic system.

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.

The MQ-25 Performs The First Aerial Refueling Between An Unmanned Tanker And Manned Receiver Aircraft

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MQ-25 refueling
The MQ-25 T1 test asset refuels a Navy F/A-18 during a flight June 4 at MidAmerica Airport in Illinois. This flight demonstrated that the MQ-25 Stingray can fulfill its tanker mission using the Navy’s standard probe-and-drogue aerial refueling method. (Photo courtesy of Boeing)

The new MQ-25 unmanned tanker achieved the important milestone by refueling a U.S. Navy F/A-18F over Illinois.

The MQ-25 Stingray performed the first ever air-to-air refueling operation between an unmanned tanker and a manned receiver aircraft, in this case a U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet. The successful test happened on June 4, 2021, with the Boeing-owned MQ-25 T1 test asset flying from MidAmerica Airport in Mascoutah (Illinois) and employing the Cobham Aerial Refueling Store (ARS), the same used by F/A-18s, to perform the refueling operation.

“This flight lays the foundation for integration into the carrier environment, allowing for greater capability toward manned-unmanned teaming concepts,” said Rear Adm. Brian Corey who oversees the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons. “MQ-25 will greatly increase the range and endurance of the future carrier air wing – equipping our aircraft carriers with additional assets well into the future.”

During the flight, as disclosed by NAVAIR, the Super Hornet approached the MQ-25 while conducting a preliminary formation evaluation, wake survey and drogue tracking, before receiving the green light to go ahead and plug its probe in the ARS’s drogue deployed by the unmanned aircraft. According to the press release, the MQ-25 performed a “wet refueling”, effectively transferring fuel to the F/A-18 (as opposed to a “dry refueling” where there isn’t fuel transfer after contact, often used during test and training flights).

Some more details were provided by Boeing, specifying that the F/A-18 flew in close formation behind MQ-25 to ensure performance and stability prior to refueling, with as little as 20 feet of separation between the two aircraft, while flying at operationally relevant speeds and altitudes. After the safety evaluation, the MQ-25 drogue was extended and the F/A-18 pilot was cleared for the refuel. The MQ-25 T1 performed so far 25 flights, which were integrated by extensive digital simulations of aerial refueling.

“This is our mission, an unmanned aircraft that frees our strike fighters from the tanker role, and provides the Carrier Air Wing with greater range, flexibility and capability,” said Capt. Chad Reed, program manager for the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program office (PMA-268). “Seeing the MQ-25 fulfilling its primary tasking today, fueling an F/A-18, is a significant and exciting moment for the Navy and shows concrete progress toward realizing MQ-25’s capabilities for the fleet.”

MQ-25 first refueling
The MQ-25 T1 test asset refuels the Navy F/A-18 during a flight June 4 at MidAmerica Airport in Illinois. This test marked the first ever aerial refueling operation between a manned aircraft and unmanned tanker. (Photo courtesy of Boeing)

This test flight provided important data on airwake interactions, as well as guidance and control, that will be analyzed to determine if any further adjustments are needed to improve the Stingray’s software before moving on with the program’s test schedule. The testing with the MQ-25 T1 will continue over the next several months to include flight envelope expansion, engine testing, and deck handling demonstrations aboard an aircraft carrier later this year. For the latter, the MQ-25 will be moved to Norfolk (Virginia).

The MQ-25 T1 flew for the first time with the Cobham ARS under its left wing in December 2020, about one year after the drone’s own first flight, testing how the aircraft’s aerodynamics changed with the addition of the ARS. The following flights contributed to test the aerodynamics of the aircraft and the ARS at various points of the flight envelope, before progressing to the extension and retraction of the hose and drogue used for refueling that paved the way for the first air-to-air refueling.

As we already reported, the MQ-25 T1 is the predecessor to the four engineering development model (EDM) MQ-25 aircraft being produced, the first of which is expected to be delivered later this year. The U.S. Navy is planning to procure more than 70 aircraft, which will replace the F/A-18E Super Hornets in the aerial refueling role they currently have as part of the Carrier Air Wing, becoming also the first operational carrier-based UAV. This way, the Carrier Air Wing will have more Super Hornets available for operational mission, without the need to reserve some of them for the air-to-air refueling mission.

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.

Northern Edge 21 Wraps Up Achieving Important Testing Goals Of New Capabilities For The Joint Forces

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Northern Edge 21
A view from the cockpit of the U-2 Dragon Lady as it flies over the USS Roosevelt during Northern Edge 21. (Photo: U.S. Air Force/Beale AFB)

The high-end realistic scenario of Northern Edge 21 allowed testers to assess the behaviour of new systems and upgrades before their fielding to frontline units.

Northern Edge 21, the premier bi-annual joint exercise of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, took place this year through May 3 to May 14 in locations in and around Alaska. The exercise, which involved Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy, recreated high-end realistic warfighter training to practice tactics, techniques and procedures and to improve command, control and communication relationships, improving the joint interoperability and enhancing the combat readiness in a large force employment training scenario with a focus on multi-domain operations.

With all these characteristics, Northern Edge provides an ideal joint test environment for new systems and capabilities to be evaluated in realistic combat scenarios as part of their initial, culminating and milestone tests. The Nellis AFB-based 53rd Wing deployed more than 25 aircraft from its tenant units, alongside the Eglin AFB-based 96th Test Wing and the 926th Wing, to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, including the F-15C, F-15E, F-15EX, F-35, MQ-9, B-52 and U-2. The Wing achieved major test objectives for multiple weapons systems during the exercise, with a lot of useful data to analyze for further development.

“Northern Edge is an essential event for operational tests,” said Col. Ryan Messer, 53rd Wing commander. “It is one of only a handful of exercises that combine great power competition-level threat complexities with the joint interoperability necessary to realistically inform our test data. The individuals in the 53rd Wing continue to inspire me with how they challenge themselves and their programs in complex environments, ensuring we deliver the most lethal, ready and capable force for our nation.”

The common key objective for the assets deployed to Alaska was the integration of fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft, and in particular the integration of the newly arrived F-15EX Eagle with the F-35 Lightning II. Here below are some further details published by the 53rd Wing about the operational tests during Northern Edge 21, grouped by platform.

F-35A Lightning II

The 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron recently fielded a new Operational Flight Program, called Suite 30P06, to the Combat Air Forces’ F-35s Lightning II. Northern Edge allowed operational testers to evaluate how the new OFP software functioned in a realistic threat environment to inform the tactics associated with the software. “At Northern Edge, we are validating our assumptions that we made in the OFP test process on a grand, realistic scale and incorporating WEPTAC Tactics Improvement Proposals,” said Maj. Scott Portue, 422 TES F-35 pilot.

Northern Edge 21
An F-35 Lightning II from the 53rd Wing, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., taxis on a runway at exercise Northern Edge 21. Approximately 15,000 U.S. service members participated in the joint training exercise hosted by U.S. Pacific Air Forces May 3-14, 2021, on and above the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, the Gulf of Alaska, and temporary maritime activities area. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Savanah Bray)

These Tactics Improvement Proposals, known as “TIPs,” are established at the annual weapons and tactics conference, which brings together warfighters to discuss current and future issues and to find solutions for joint operations (in fact, while this is primarily an Air Force event, Army, Marines and Navy often take part to the discussion). TIPs tested this year at Northern Edge by the 422 TES included F-35 emissions control, which consist in minimizing the F-35’s emissions to get as close as possible to the adversary, and fourth-to-fifth (and fifth-to-fourth) electronic attack tactics, techniques and procedures.

“As a fifth-gen. asset, we have stealth, so we can physically get closer, but we may not have all the weapons that a fourth-gen. aircraft, like a (F-15) Strike Eagle, does. We’re trying to figure out how we (fourth- and fifth-generation platforms) can benefit each other so that we can get closer to the adversary,” Maj. Portue said. The F-35’s integration with 4th gen. aircraft has been the focus of many exercises, and this example represent the importance of the integration.

Talking about these benefits, Maj. Portue further explained that, for example, the AN/ALQ-250 Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS), which is being installed on the F-15, can allow an F-35 to control its emissions, while getting closer to the enemy, by not using its own radar or employing its own EA (Electronic Attack) capabilities. Additionally, the F-35 performed missions in the Gulf of Alaska focused on exploring maritime tactics and joint interoperability with the other branches of the military.

“When we talk about fourth- and fifth-gen. integration, we absolutely mean joint integration. Northern Edge is the biggest melting pot that we have as a joint force, in which we can test the most cutting-edge technologies, OFPs (operational flight program) and tactics and see how they match up against a near-peer threat,” Maj. Portue said.

F-15C Eagle, F-15E Strike Eagle, F-15EX Eagle II

One of the main goals for the F-15 testers during Northern Edge 21 was the testing of EPAWSS by exploiting the complex electronic attack environment created for the exercise. According to the Air Force press release, EPAWSS was put to the test in the F-15E Strike Eagle, which is set to receive the new system as an upgrade, and the F-15EX Eagle II, which will be equipped with EPAWSS from the factory.

Northern Edge 21
An F-15EX Eagle II from the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron, 53rd Wing, takes flight for the first time out of Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., April 26, 2021, prior to departure for Northern Edge 2021. The F-15EX brings next-generation combat technology to a highly successful fighter airframe that is capable of projecting power across multiple domains for the Joint Force. (U.S Air Force photo by 1st Lt Savanah Bray)

However, we can notice from the photos released that EPAWSS appears to be installed also on two F-15Cs deployed to Alaska for the exercise. Initially, the Eagle was set to receive the new system along with the Strike Eagle, however it was later decided to abandon the project because of the not-so-distant retirement of the aircraft.

One of the milestones reached during Northern Edge is the first-ever four-ship mission of F-15Es equipped with EPAWSS, which flew on May 14 and saw the Strike Eagles employing EPAWSS as it would be used operationally in a tactical formation. Lt. Col. Reade Loper, Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force F-15E test director, remarked the significance of this milestone as the large force, dense-threat environment of the exercise provided opportunities for growth that might be difficult to recreate during home-station flying.

One of these opportunities came from the continuous evolution of modern EW combat scenarios, with threats changing their emissions to avoid jamming and countermeasures. This kind of scenarios require a continuous work on the database that lies within systems like EPAWSS to adapt them to new threats, and the speed of this process is vital. A demonstration of this was performed by the system’s producer, BAE Systems, which was able to rapidly reprogram and improve the mission data files for EPAWSS during the exercise over just one to two days.

Another system that was tested on the F-15, and specifically the F-15C, is the Legion Pod IRST (Infrared Search and Track) system. Northern Edge 21 was the last step to complete the operational flight testing of the Legion Pod, a “graduation” test event as described by the Air Force, before the fielding of the new system with the frontline squadrons.

The Legion Pod integrates the IRST21 sensor, the same that was selected for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet to be integrated on the centerline external fuel tank. Unlike the radar, the IRST is a passive sensor which does not have electronic emissions and can work also in presence of jamming systems. Last year, an F-15C used the pod during a test mission to target and launch an AIM-9X IR-guided air-to-air missile without the use of the radar.

Maj. Aaron Osborne, 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron F-15C pilot, explained that the IRST allows pilots to have an “out-of-band” sensor to find what an electronically scanned radar (AESA) cannot, particularly in the event of an electronic attack.  “IRST pod is an added capability to the warfighter and is proving capable in the dense electronic attack threat environment of Northern Edge,” Maj. Osborne said. “While at Northern Edge, I’m using the pod not as a test pilot, but exactly as I would in the CAF or in operations. We’re checking the final boxes of the test plan here before the pod fields and using it with the latest operational flight program.”

Northern Edge 21 was also the perfect opportunity to test the latest operational flight program for the F-15C and F-15E, called Suite 9.1RR (Re-Release), which is similar to the OFP  used by the F-15EX, Suite 9.1X. The new software, which will be soon fielded to the CAF, brings new capabilities that otherwise would have had to wait until Suite 9.2 in late spring of 2023. Among the improvements, one of the most notable is the new Data Transfer Module 2 (DTM II). The DTM is the system used to transfer all the data needed for a flight mission (route, IFF codes, radio frequencies, weapon settings and so on) from mission planning computers to the aircraft.

Northern Edge 21
Maj. Aaron Osborne, F-15C Eagle pilot with the 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., prepares to fly an operational test sortie at exercise Northern Edge 21 while carrying an Infrared Search and Track pod, known as the Legion Pod. NE21 is a U.S. Indo-Pacific Command exercise designed to provide high-end, realistic warfighter training, develop and improve joint interoperability, and enhance the combat readiness of participating forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Savanah Bray)

Until now, the F-15 kept using the same system that was fist developed in the 1980s, but the latest aircraft processor, the Advanced Display Core Processor 2, and new OFPs needed more memory than it was available on the DTM. “With 9.1RR, we’ve been able to upgrade the entire data transfer system to keep up with our new software. DTM II increases in memory capacity from 2MB to 256GB,” Lt. Col. Loper said. “With the increase in memory and processing power, we can now add all sorts of new tactical capabilities to the aircraft.”

Northern Edge 21 saw also the participation of the two recently delivered F-15EXs.

During the exercise, the Air Force assessed during 33 flight sorties how the F-15EX performs in the roles usually assigned to the F-15C and how to bring new capabilities to the mission. Air Force Magazine talked to Lt. Col. John O’Rear of the 84th Test and Evaluation Squadron, who provided some more details.

The Eagle II was paired with the older F-15C and F-15E, as well as the fifth-generation F-22 and F-35, both shooting down adversaries and getting shot down itself. “If you go into any large force exercise and you come back with everybody—with no blue losses—I would probably say that your threat is not as robust as it needs to be, in order to get the learning,” Lt. Col. O’Rear said. “In this kind of environment, most of your blue ‘deaths’ are probably going to be outside of visual range, just because of the threat we’re replicating.” The scenario was purposedly designed to be unforgiving so the blue forces would sustain losses that are used to discover weaknesses and find out how to mitigate or eliminate them.

Northern Edge 21
F-15 Eagles and Strike Eagles from the 53rd Wing and 96th Test Wing sit on the ramp at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska during exercise Northern Edge 21. Approximately 15,000 U.S. service members participated in the joint training exercise hosted by U.S. Pacific Air Forces, May 3-14, 2021. The exercise was conducted on and above the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, the Gulf of Alaska, and temporary maritime activities area. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Savanah Bray)

MQ-9 Reaper

Another asset that was heavily involved in testing activities at Northern Edge is the MQ-9 Reaper, with the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron operating out of Eielson Air Force Base while working with new pods, including the hardened targeting pod and Reaper Defense Electronic Support System, and auto-take-off and landing. The Reaper is in fact receiving new capabilities that will bring it to the new MQ-9 M2DO (Multi-Domain Operation) configuration, ensuring that it will be able to support operations over the next 10 to 15 years.

“The hardened targeting pod has an electro-optical counter-counter measure and testing that is one of our objectives at Northern Edge,” said Lt. Col. Mike Chmielewski, 556th TES commander. “We’re also demonstrating the capability of the RDESS pod, of which there is currently only one in the world.”

The RDESS pod is a broad spectrum, passive Electronic Support Measure (ESM) payload designed to collect and geo-locate signals of interest from standoff ranges, providing the MQ-9 the ability to find and detect threats from a safe distance in contested environment the one replicated during Northern Edge. Another upgrade tested is the anti-jam, anti-spoofing (AJAS) system TIP, which utilized new aircraft antenna capability to see its impacts on GPS effectiveness in a denied environment and mitigate potential jamming to the platform.

Northern Edge 21
An MQ-9 Reaper with three Ghost Reaper pods awaits takeoff at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, N.Y., April, 14, 2021. The pods will establish new and enhanced capabilities for the MQ-9 during operational assessments at exercise Northern Edge 21, May 3–14, 2021 in Fairbanks, Alaska. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Megan Fowler)

The 556th TES was not the only unit doing testing with the MQ-9 during the exercise.

The 174th Attack Wing, based at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse (N.Y.) tested three new pods while deployed at Eielson AFB, part of an Air National Guard program known as the Ghost Reaper which aims to integrate the MQ-9 in the Joint All-Domain Command and Control system in a contested battlefield.

The pods are the Northrop Grumman’s Freedom Pod, which houses a communications gateway system that connects fourth and fifth generation fighters via Intra-Flight Data Link (IFDL), Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL), Link 16, and Tactical Targeting Network Technology, the Ultra Electronics’ Rosetta Echo Advanced Payloads (REAP) pod, which improves targeting with improved connections to ground systems, and the General Atomics’ own Centerline Avionics Bay, which employs artificial intelligence and hardware expanding capabilities not originally built into the MQ-9 airframe.

B-52H Stratofortress

A B-52 from the 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron flew a more than 13-hour sortie from Barksdale Air Force Base (Louisiana) to Alaska and back, conducting a successful simulated hypersonic kill chain employment from sensor to shooter and back on May 5. Obviously, the B-52 did not launch any hypersonic ordnance during Northern Edge 21, as the long-waited AGM-183A ARRW (Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon) first flight test has yet to happen (a first attempt in April failed preventing the release of the weapon).

During the test mission, the Stratofortress was able to receive target data from sensors via the All-Domain Operations Capability Experiment (a joint team that allows the synchronization of joint functions in forward, contested environment when traditional C2 structure effectiveness is degraded or denied), located more than 1,000 nautical miles away miles away at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, and then successfully take a simulated ARRW shot at the target from 600 nautical miles away.

“We were really exercising the data links that we needed in order to complete that kill chain loop, and then get the feedback to the players in the airspace that the simulated hypersonic missile was fired and effective,” said Lt. Col. Joe Little, 53rd Test Management Group deputy commander.

U-2 Dragon Lady

The 9th Reconnaissance Wing deployed a U-2 Dragon Lady from Beale AFB which acted as a critical hub of ISR during the exercise. Details about the U-2 participation are scarce, but a press release of the 53rd Wing before the beginning of Northern Edge 21 mentioned that the 53rd Test Management Group, Det 5, at Beale AFB was to deploy the U-2 for communication gateway testing.

This testing might be related to Project Hydra, which recently allowed the F-22 and F-35 to establish bi-directional communications each using its own datalink, the IFDL and MADL respectively, via a “translator” payload installed on the U-2S. As we explained in past article, the F-22 and F-35 can’t talk freely between each other as the “language” used by their datalinks is different and needs to be translated in order for the receiving aircraft to interpret the data.

During the drills, a U-2 also flew at low altitude over an aircraft carrier (USS Roosevelt): something that we have rarely seen in the recent past.

Northern Edge 21
A view from the cockpit of the U-2 Dragon Lady as it flies over the USS Roosevelt during Northern Edge 21. (Photo: U.S. Air Force/Beale AFB)

Other participants

In spirit with the joint employment of the forces, Northern Edge 21 saw also the participation of the Navy, Marines and Army. The Navy deployed the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) aircraft carrier, which conducted more than 300 aircraft launches and traps, and its embarked squadrons completed more than 830 flight hours during the exercise.

A P-8 Poseidon of the Patrol Squadron One (VP-1) “Screaming Eagles”, stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (Washington), was also deployed to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to provide the joint force participating in Northern Edge 2021 with a multi-mission maritime patrol, available for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW), Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and collateral Search And Rescue (SAR) missions, both over water and land.

The Marines deployed the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), which executed various air and amphibious operations from the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD-8) and amphibious transport docks USS San Diego (LPD-22) and USS Somerset (LPD-25) while maneuvering over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex. The Marine Wing Support Detachment of the Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 164 (Reinforced) also established a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) at Cold Bay to provide around 85,000 lbs of fuel to multiple aircrafts from all branches of the military.

The Army conducted an airborne operation on May 11, with approximately 300 paratroopers from the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (assigned to the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division) dropped by multiple C-17 Globemaster III and C-130 Hercules aircraft while A-10C Thunderbolt IIs provided close air support. The paratroopers seized Allen Army Airfield at Fort Greely (Alaska), allowing an M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) battery from the 17th Field Artillery Brigade out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, forward deployed to Cold Bay, to be airlifted there and conduct a live fire exercise at the nearby Donnelly Training Area, demonstrating the ability of the joint force to quickly build and implement combat power.

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.

These Posters Feature 100 Of The Most Iconic F-14 Tomcat Liveries Of All Time

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F-14 Tomcat Paint Schemes
A view of the Tomcat Alley Poster. (Artworks by Ugo Crisponi / Aviationgraphic.com, Poster by Kiakaha Media)

50 years after it flew for the first time (and 15 years after it was retired by the U.S. Navy), the F-14 Tomcat remains one of the most loved fighters ever. Here are its 100 most iconic liveries.

The world of aircraft enthusiasts has recently celebrated the 50th anniversary since the first flight of the legendary F-14 Tomcat. The first Full Scale Development (FSD) Grumman F-14A Tomcat took off for its maiden flight from Grumman’s flight test centre at Calverton, on Long Island, on Dec. 21, 1970.

Throughout its career with the U.S. Navy, that officially retired the type on on Sept. 22, 2006, during a ceremony held at NAS (Naval Air Station) Oceana, (although the last flight of a Tomcat in Navy service took place a few days later, on Oct. 4, 2006), the “Turkey” (as the aircraft would later be nicknamed) sported a myriad of paint schemes: from the flamboyant ones of the early age, to the overall grey/low-visibility ones of the last years. Among them many special liveries, including those applied to the Tomcats used in the adversary role at the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center and the striking ones of the CAG birds.

While the Navy has retired the type 15 years ago, the Iranian Air Force, the only other Tomcat operator, continues to fly the type. Tehran initially ordered 80 F-14s, with 79 being delivered beginning in February 1976. According to different sources, Iran still operates around 40 airframes, some of those upgraded to F-14AM (“Modernized”) standard that includes domestic avionics (radar and RWR) and weapons: R-73E, AIM-54A, AIM-7E and AIM-9J. IRIAF has two types of F-14As: PMC (Partially Mission-Capable) ones, usually suitable for Training and can become FMC in case of war; and Fully Mission-Capable Tomcats with fully operable fire control system, armament system and INS. These FMC F-14As are usually used for 24/7 Quick Reaction Alert and other combat missions (Usually 70% of the airworthy Tomcats are FMC). Around 24 aircraft are estimated to be fully ready for combat, with partial readiness maintained for 16 more airframes. These aircraft are based at TFB.8 (Tactical Fighter Base 8) Baba’i near Eshahan, in central Iran.

Livery-wise, the Persian Tomcats are quite interesting: some are painted in a light blue and grey color scheme, while others were given a three-tone Asian Minor II camouflage pattern, loosely resembling the “splintered” one adopted by Russian 4th and 5th generation fighter planes and U.S. Aggressors.

To celebrate the F-14 and the variety of paint schemes it carried with all the units it operated under throughout its history, Ned Dawson’s Kiakaha Media in cooperation with The F-14 Tomcat Association designed two pretty interesting posters each featuring 50 Tomcat profiles by our friend Ugo Crisponi of Aviationgraphic.com. Needless to say, the posters don’t include ALL the color schemes worn by the Tomcats in 50 years (it would be impossible), but 100 of the most iconic ones with at least one from each of the frontline and experimental units which operated (or still operate, in Iran) the aircraft.

Here’s the first one (already sold out):

F-14 Tomcat Paint Schemes
Tomcat Alley Version One. (Artworks by Ugo Crisponi / Aviationgraphic.com, Poster by Kiakaha Media)

Here’s the second version, that can be ordered here only until Apr. 10, 2021):

Tomcat Alley Version Two. (Artworks by Ugo Crisponi / Aviationgraphic.com, Poster by Kiakaha Media)

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.

EA-6B Prowler Front Cockpit Video Filmed While Flying Low Level Along VR-1355 Military Training Route

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EA-6B low level VR1355
A screenshot of the video embedded in the article showing the EA-6B maneuvering at low level along VR-1355. (Image credit: usnhobbz YT user)

This is what it looked like to fly low level in the front cockpit of an EA-6B Prowler on the first half of the VR-1355 low-level military training route in Western Washington in the Pacific Northwest.

The last U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler squadron, Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2 (VMAQ-2), was formally deactivated in March 2019, when the last two jets, 162230/CY-02 and 162228/CY-04, took part in Sundown Ceremony that also included flying in formation over Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina.

All the U.S. Navy and Marines Prowler squadrons had already been deactivated since then (the last ones being all USMC untis: VMAQ-1, in May 2016, VMAQ-4 in June 2017 and VMAQ-3 in May 2018).

The EA-6B was an iconic aircraft born out of military requirements during the Vietnam War. It entered service in 1971 and 170 aircraft were built before the production was terminated in 1991. For more than four decades, the Prowler was “at the forefront of military electronic warfare allowing high-profile air combat missions.”

The EA-6B’s last deployment, in 2018, was carried out by VMAQ-2 to support of Operation Resolute Support and Freedom’s Sentinel, in Afghanistan, as well as Operation Inherent Resolve, in Iraq and Syria. But, overall, the Prowler deployed more than 70 times to support every major combat operation, including those in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Serbia.

While not deployed, the type carried out stateside training sorties, practicing ground-attack support missions, disruption of enemy electromagnetic activity and tactical electronic intelligence. While most of the latest mission profiles saw the aircraft operate at medium and high altitude, the Prowler’s aircrews regularly flew low level training missions too.

The footage in this post was taken in 2010 by a user who, based on the other videos posted on his Youtube channel, flew with the U.S. Navy’s VAQ-139 “Cougars”. The clip is particularly interesting as it shows, from the front cockpit, an EA-6B flying low level along VR-1355, one of the low level routes running through national parks in the Cascade Mountains.

As we explained in a post about a photo of an EA-18G taken there, the Visual Route 1355 is colloquially called the “million dollar ride” for both the scenic views and the fun and “aggressive” flying that can be done through the valleys. Thanks to the video below, now you can also get an idea of what it looked like to fly the route at low level in the Prowler.

While the footage is outstanding, I’m pretty sure it will also remind someone the famous incident that occurred to an EA-6B in Italy in 1998.

On Feb. 3, 1998, EA-6B Prowler #163045/CY-02, from VMAQ-2, deployed at Aviano AB, in northeastern Italy, for the Balkans crisis, using radio callsign “EASY 01” and flying a low level route cut a cable supporting a cable car of an aerial lift, near Cavalese, a ski resort in the Dolomites. Twenty people died when the cabin plunged over 260 feet and crashed on the ground in what is also known as the “Cavalese cable car disaster” or “Strage del Cermis“.

At 15:13 LT, when the aircraft struck the cables supporting the cable car the aircraft was flying at a speed of 540 miles per hour (870 km/h) and at an altitude of between 260 and 330 feet (80 and 100 m) in a narrow valley between the mountains.

While the aircraft had wing and tail damage, it was able to return to Aviano.

EA-6B Easy 01
A famous photo of the damage on the wing of the EA-6B involved in the Cavalese cable car incident.

The subsequent investigation found that the EA-6B was flying too low and against regulations. Initially, all four men on the plane were charged, but only the pilot, Captain Richard J. Ashby, and his navigator, Captain Joseph Schweitzer, actually faced trial (that took place at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina), charged with twenty counts of involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide. At the end of the first trial, the pilot was acquitted on all charges relating to the disaster (charges which were dropped for the navigator too) in a verdict that caused shock and resentment in Italy generating an upsurge of anti-American feeling.

During the trial it emerged that the U.S. Marine Corps aircrews used obsolete U.S. military maps that, unlike local ones, did not show the cables, and were not aware of altitude regulations concerning low level flying.

The two Marines were court-martialed a second time when it became evident they had destroyed a videotape filmed on the day of the incident. Eventually, Capt. Ashby and Schweitzer were found guilty in May 1999; both were dismissed from the service and Ashby received a six-month prison term. Families were eventually compensated 1.9M USD per victim.

The map used by the aircrew of EASY 01 on Feb. 3, 1998.

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.

Sea Trials Successfully Completed: Italian Navy Aircraft Carrier Achieves F-35B Airworthiness Certification

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An F-35B launches in “Beast Mode” from ITS Cavour. (All images: Italian Navy)

The Italian aircraft carrier ITS Cavour has completed the “Sea Trials” with the two specially instrumented U.S. F-35B Lighting II aircraft of VX-23.

Italy’s aircraft carrier ITS Cavour, the flagship of the Marina Militare (Italian Navy), has successfully completed the “sea trials” for the operational use of the F-35B, the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the 5th generation combat aircraft the service will use to replace the AV-8B+ Harrier II.

The “Ready for Operation” compatibility testing began with the departure from Norfolk on Feb. 28, 2021, and the deployment aboard the carrier of the two specially-instrumented U.S. F-35Bs belonging to VX-23 (Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23) from Naval Air Station Patuxent River (NAS Pax River), Maryland, on Mar. 1, 2021.

The “sea trials” lasted four weeks and ended on Mar. 26, 2021, with the return of the carrier to Norfolk.

The testing campaign was crucial to the Italian Navy as it represents one of the milestones towards the acquisition of the strategic capability of the new aircraft. It will be followed by the “Initial Operational Capability” the naval service plans to achieve in 2024, and ultimately the “Final Operational Capability” that will coincide with the delivery of the last F-35B to the Italian Navy under the JSF program. The Italian Government should procure 90 F-35s, 60 of those are F-35As and the remaining 30 ones are F-35Bs. Out of those 30 F-35Bs, 15 will go to the Navy and 15 to the Air Force. The Navy’s F-35Bs should also operate from the new LHD Trieste.

A VX-23 F-35B prepares to land aboard Italian Navy Cavour aircraft carrier. 

“We have completed all planned tests and are currently able to issue an Interim Flight Clearance (IFC), which will allow Cavour and its crew, together with US Marine Corps F35Bs to continue training. When we return to ‘Pax River’ we will carefully analyse the data collected and then we will be able to issue the final certification” – said Ron Hess, who works as the Basing and Ship Suitability (BASS) Team Leader for the F-35 Patuxent River Integrated Test Force (ITF), in an official Italian Navy release.

As part of the sea trials, the two F-35Bs of VX-23 carried out more than 50 flight missions, in all weather and sea state conditions, a night session, around 120 vertical landings, and as many short take-offs with the aid of the ski jump, and finally a vertical take-off test. Based on the images released during the campaign, some tests were also conducted with external loads, a configuration often referred to as “Beast Mode”.

Italian Navy Cavour Sea Trials
A U.S. F-35B during the sea trials aboard ITS Cavour. 

“It is extraordinary how the crew of ITS Cavour and the Integrated Team have reached, so quickly, a very high level of synergy and integration with great professionalism and a strong common will to achieve the ambitious goal,” said the commander of Cavour, Captain Giancarlo Ciappina.

Overall, about 800 people took part in the certification: the 580 crew members who departed Taranto at the end of January were joined in Norfolk by the ITF team, as well as the nucleus of Italian Navy personnel who operate the aircraft and are currently carrying out training at the US Marine base in Beaufort.

“I am very grateful to all members of the ITF team and every single sailor on my crew for the great job they did to achieve this excellent result” continued Captain Ciappina, “In this sense, I am very proud of the success of the “Ready for Operations” Campaign of ITS Cavour. Thanks to this, the Italian Navy, and with it our entire National Defence, will soon be projected into a new perspective of cooperation with our allies, thanks to fifth-generation aircraft deployable from aircraft carriers, and the importance they represent in any international scenario, specifically for maritime or inter-force operations”.

During the sea trials, ITS Cavour also had the opportunity to integrate with the U.S. Ford-class aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) on Mar. 20, 2021. USS Ford was conducting integrated carrier strike group operations during independent steaming event 17 as part of her post-delivery test and trials phase of operations. The joint ops marked the first time a Ford-class and Italian carrier have operated together underway.

The aircraft carrier ITS Cavour is currently in the port of Norfolk where it will disembark the ITF personnel while completing the necessary preparation to undertake the last phases of the Ready for Operations campaign before returning to Italy.

The U.S. deployment and the sea trials came during an important time for the Italian Navy. As a matter of fact, 2021 marks the 160th anniversary of the Marina Militare, the 10th anniversary of the ITS Cavour becoming the fleet’s flagship and the 30th anniversary of the Gruppo Aerei Imbarcati “Wolves” and their operations with the AV-8B+ Harrier.

An interesting image of an Italian Navy NH-90 helicopter flying close to ITS Cavour. 

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.

U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon Flying Mission In Persian Gulf Region Armed With AGM-84D Harpoon Anti-Ship Missiles

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Sailors assigned to the “Fighting Tigers” of Patrol Squadron 8, deployed with Commander, Task Force (CTF) 57, load an AGM-84 harpoon missile onto a P-8A Poseidon aircraft in the 5th Fleet area of operations, Jan. 15. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Juan S. Sua/Released)

The P-8A Poseidon aircraft of VP-8 carry AGM-84D Harpoon missiles in latest images released by the U.S. Navy.

The U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon aircraft have started flying missions in the U.S. 5th Fleet AOR (Area of Operations) carrying AGM-84D Harpoon missiles. Images just released by the naval service through the DVIDS network show sailors assigned to the “Fighting Tigers” of Patrol Squadron 8, deployed with Commander, Task Force (CTF) 57, performing preflight checks on AGM-84 harpoon missiles carried by a P-8A of VP-8 ahead of a mission in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations (that encompasses the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and parts of the Indian Ocean) on Jan. 15-16, 2021.

While the location where the images were taken has not been disclosed, it seems quite likely that the P-8A was being serviced at its usual deployment base in Manama, Bahrain, where P-3 Orion and Poseidon aircraft supporting CTF-57 are usually based.

CTF-57 is the maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft Task Force for the U.S. 5th Fleet, Naval Forces Central Command, and Combined Maritime Forces. CTF-57 aircraft conduct missions in support of maritime operations to ensure stability, security, and the free flow of commerce in the Central Command area of responsibility, which connects the Mediterranean and Pacific through the Western Indian Ocean.

Aviation Machinists Mate 2nd Class Austin Scott, assigned to the “Fighting Tigers” of Patrol Squadron 8, deployed with Commander, Task Force (CTF) 57, directs a P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft on a flight line in the 5th Fleet area of operations, Jan. 16. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Juan S. Sua/Released)

The AGM-84D Harpoon is an anti-ship missile that complements the Mk 54 air-launched lightweight torpedo, used for ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) mission. It’s obviously not the first time the Poseidon is spotted carrying this kind of weapon, although it’s the first time we see this armament on a P-8 deployed to the Persian Gulf area.

We don’t know where the Poseidon with its live Harpoon payload flew after the shots were taken. The P-8s are a common presence in the Persian Gulf area, where they have often been tracked by means of their Mode-S transponders. However, they also extend their patrols to the Gulf of Oman and to the Horn of Africa, where they support anti-piracy operations.

Still, considered when the image was taken (mid January, a period of intense Iranian naval activity in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz), it seems more likely that that kind of weaponry was loaded to deter any kind of attack against U.S. Navy warships and commercial traffic in the area. In fact, the U.S. has maintained a significant naval presence in region consistently since May 2019, as a hedge against Iran. Since then, a carrier strike group has been positioned in the Gulf round-the-clock, with few gaps in presence. At the beginning of February, USS Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and embarked Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 164 (Reinforced), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (with its F-35Bs) transited the Strait of Hormuz to operate in the Persian Gulf replacing USS Nimitz, after supporting Operation Octave Quartz off the coast of Somalia.

Aviation Ordnanceman 2nd Class Bryan Carr, assigned to the “Fighting Tigers” of Patrol Squadron 8, deployed with Commander, Task Force (CTF) 57, preforms a preflight check on an AGM-84 harpoon missile in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations, Jan. 16. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Juan S. Sua/Released)

P-8As are maritime patrol aircraft but even when they are not loaded with anti-ship missiles or toperdos, they carry a wide array of sensors that give the aircraft the ability to operate in the ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) battlespace. Here’s what we have already explained in a previous article here at The Aviationist:

[…] the P-8s are multi-mission platforms that can gather valuable intelligence using a wide array of sensors. Among these, an Advanced Airborne Sensor (a dual-sided AESA radar that can offer 360-degree scanning on targets on land or coastal areas, and which has potential applications as a jamming or even cyberwarfare platform according to Northrop Grumman); an APY-10 multi-mode synthetic aperture radar; an MX-20 electro-optical/infrared turret for shorter-range search; and an ALQ-240 Electronic Support Measure (ESM) suite, able to geo-locate and track enemy radar emitters. Moreover, all sensors contribute to a single fused tactical situation display, which is then shared over both military standard and internet protocol data links, allowing for seamless delivery of information amongst U.S. and coalition forces.

In that respect, the P-8A Poseidon represents a huge leap forward if compared to the P-3 Orion. For instance, the externally mounted AP/ANY-10 MTI imaging radar system (upgrade from the P-3’s Littoral Surveillance Radar System – LSRS), adds both an overland and maritime MTI capability approaching the fidelity provided by the US Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS). The significant difference with the more modern P-3s is, in particular, in the P-8’s ability to rapidly exchange and share information internally among the crew and externally among joint partners.

H/T Ryan Chan for the heads-up!

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.

This Is The Most Detailed Walkaround Tour Of A Blue Angels F/A-18C Hornet We’ve Ever Seen

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A screenshot from the walkaround video of the F/A-18C Hornet. (Image via Erik Johnston)

Walkaround videos are great. This one, featuring a Legacy F/A-18C Hornet of the Blue Angels, is simply amazing.

Lcdr Jerry “JD” Deren is a former U.S. Navy pilot. He spent 13 years in the service, nine of those flying the Hornet, both the A/C and D “Legacy” variants as well as the current “E” and “F” Super Hornet variants totalling 2,000 flight hours and about 325 arrested landings. In the last three years of this active duty career, “JD” joined the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron flying #3 and #4 positions with the Blue Angels.

Therefore, there are few more qualified pilots than Lcdr Deren to provide a detailed walkaround tour of the F/A-18 Legacy Hornet, an airframe on loan from the National Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola, Florida, and displayed at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas Love Field, Texas.

The walkaround tour, filmed and produced by our friend Erik Jonhston provides a lot of interesting details, including some scarcely known ones. Among them, did you know that attached to the nose gear of the F/A-18 there are the angle of attack indicators? These lights are used by LSOs (Landing Signal Officers) who, from their station, have the ability to see these lights and have an indication whether or not the pilot is flying an on speed approach. USN pilots fly on speed angle of attack as opposed to indicated air speed. The reason is that in the F/A-18, 8.1 degrees is the optimum angle of attack. That AOA translates into the air speed that allows the pilot to better control the aircraft: “You’re not so slow that you’re close to stalling but you’re not so flat and fast that the hook has a good chance of skipping the arresting gear.”

Therefore, at 8.1 degree AOA, the center light, the amber one, is going to be lit up and the pilot has the same indication from the meatball on the left hand side of his peripheral vision.

Another little known detail mentioned in the video is that the max tire speed in the Hornet is 190 knots: while this is not a speed that a Hornet will reach with wheels down in carrier operations, it’s a limit that can be reached during high hot summer ops at NAS Fallon, Nevada, when the aircraft, with a significant payload, could reach 185 knots before nosewheel liftoff! BTW, 210 knots is the limit on the main mounts.

Ok, after an overview of the external probes, ladder, engine nozzles, wings, etc. you reach the 43 minute mark, where you start being introduced to the cockpit of the Bug!

“JD” provides a really interesting description of the primarily glass cockpit with multi-function displays of the F/A-18C that allow the pilot really to select and manage all modes everything from fuel transfer to systems troubleshooting to radar displays, ECM, all the stores and navigation pages. Interestingly, we learn that F-18 pilots are accused of being HUD cripples because there’s so much information available in the heads-up display, not only in instrument flight to approaches to the carrier but in air-to-air air-to-ground missions and what it allows the pilot to do is spend a lot more time with his head up and out of the cockpit: “we say you know get your head up out of the drill bucket and uh and get your eyeballs out because that’s where the threat is.”

The former Blue Angels fighter jock then explains the HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) switches on both the control stick and throttles, the various handles and also something that is missing from the airframe: a kind of an old school track and field stop watch mounted on the front panel that’s used by the solo pilots #5 and #6 along with visual checkpoints at 3, 2, 1 and 1/2 mile and specific Ground Speeds to try to get a perfect hit or cross right at the center of the display area.

Another interesting bit comes from a fun story “JD” recalls when showing the “grimes light” used for emergencies: in case the pilot experienced a dual generator failure some sort of total electrical failure the light is always able to be powered up so at least the pilot can turn it on, shine it on the standby gyro and at least he/she can have an attitude indicator and hopefully can get it back on deck. Typically US pilots will leave this stored and secured where it is, while in Australia they have a procedure for flying at night and that is to clip the grimes light in a position that if the pilot were to lose total electricity and turn it on it’s going to shine directly on the standby instrument so they’re not fumbling around and trying to get the light up there. Actually, that’s one thing that’s different about the RAAF Hornets and it’s their canopy switch which is guarded and sits right underneath the starboard rail, whereas the U.S. one is somewhat easy to access, because it’s not a guarded switch: if you for some reason reach it, you simply jettison the canopy.

One night, an Aussie exchange pilot was flying a bombing training run with some new F-18 pilots out in NAS Fallon. “As was his habit pattern, he rigged up the grimes light right where it’s supposed to be according to the Aussie standard operating procedures and we rolled in on the first dive and he dropped his bombs and per procedure did a real aggressive 4-5g pull out max power climbing away trying to get away from the frag pattern. But in doing so the grimes light was perfectly positioned in the wrong location: it rotated forward and the trailing edge edge clipped the canopy switch and as soon as that thing the seal broke and hit the wind stream it was gone. So he was in convertible mode very loud very dark couldn’t say anything hear anything. He was effectively NORDO [NO RADIO]. He did a great job of getting it back aboard but, uh needless to say, he had to alter his night flying uh procedures for the grimes light!”

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.

Chinese H-6 Bombers Heard On Radio Confirming Orders For Simulated Attack On U.S. Aircraft Carrier Near Taiwan

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An H-6 taking off during Aviadart 2019 in Russia (All images: Giovanni Colla)

Unsurprisingly, the package of 13 Chinese combat aircraft, (including eight H-6 bombers) entering Taiwan’s ADIZ last Saturday were carrying out a mock attack on USS Theodore Roosevelt.

As already reported in detail, a total of 28 aircraft, including as many as eight PLAAF (People’s Liberation Army Air Force) H-6 bombers, “intruded” into Taiwan’s ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) between Jan. 23 and 24, 2021.

In particular, we noticed that the mission on Saturday Jan. 23, was conducted as the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (TRCSG), led by USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier entered the South China Sea (SCS) “to conduct routine operations”.

At this respect, here’s the comment this Author made in a previous story on the spike in PLA activity near Taiwan as the U.S. flattop entered the same area of operations: “The simultaneous presence of the Chinese Xian H-6K in the region as the TRSG entered the SCS is particularly interesting, if we consider the role of the PLAAF bomber. The H-6K is a highly modified variant from the original H-6 bomber (itself a Tu-16 derivative), designed for long-range/stand-off maritime or land strike capability with long-range anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles. In short, it is capable of attacking U.S. carrier battle groups or other priority targets with up to six YJ-12 ASCM (Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles) and 6/7 KD-20 ALCMs.”

Dealing with the YJ-12, it has a range of 400 km, can reach speeds of up to Mach 3, and is capable of performing airborne evasive maneuvers approaching the target: these features make this ASCM (Anti-Ship Cruise Missile) difficult for Aegis Combat Systems and SM-2 surface-to-air missiles that protect U.S. carrier strike groups.

A confirmation that the mission flown on Jan. 23 was simulating an air strike on the U.S. aircraft carrier comes from the Financial Times, that on Jan. 29, 2020 reported: “People familiar with intelligence collected by the US and its allies said the bombers and some of the fighter aircraft involved were conducting an exercise that used a group of US Navy vessels led by the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the same area as a simulated target. Pilots of H-6 bombers could be heard in cockpit conversations confirming orders for the simulated targeting and release of anti-ship missiles against the carrier, the people said.”

While not reported to be part of the mission last week, it’s worth mentioning that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force‘s has also developed a further variant of the H-6K, designated H-6N which was specifically designed as a ballistic missile launcher. Its primary weapon should be the CH-AS-X-13, also known as DF-21D, the air launched version of the DF-21 “Carrier Killer” Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (AShBM), reportedly with a range of 1450 km (780 NM), Mach 6 speed (some sources state even Mach-10) and a 600 kg (about 1300 lbs) payload.

Here’s what we wrote about the DF-21 in a previous article:

“The first reports about the existence of the DF-21D in 2010 sparked some concerns as Pentagon officials stated that, if the claims about the missile’s capabilities are true, the United States may not have a defense against it, as the maneuverable re-entry vehicle (MaRV) and the high speed could complicate the interception by air defense weapons. This led the U.S. Navy to potentiate the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System aboard ships in the Pacific Ocean while new advanced systems are developed. China reportedly test-fired two AShBM in the South China Sea in late August, one of them being a DF-21D.”

PLAAF H-6K taking part in Aviadart 2019.

Along with the H-6K/N, the Su-30 (and according to some sources also the J-16) multirole aircraft are able to carry out maritime strike missions using the Kh-31P and the YJ-91A anti-ship missiles.

The YJ-91, in particular, is an indigenous development of the Russian Kh-31P anti-radar missile. The YJ-91A (one of the two variants of the missile, the other one being an anti-radiation missile for SEAD missions), with sea-skimming capability: it cruises at no more than 20 metre above sea level and drops to lower altitude (7 metre) at the terminal stage. This attack altitude can be further reduced to just 1.2 metre above sea level, when the sea state allows. Its estimated range is about 50 km (31 miles). According to the book “Modern Chinese Warplanes” by Andreas Rupprecht, as an alternative to the YJ-91, Naval Aviation uses also the Russian original Kh-31P, which was acquired as part of the Su-30MKK’s weapons package.

By the way, the missions like the one flown by the Chinese H-6s are done by Russia, U.S. and NATO forces, regularly. “Train as you fight, fight as you train”.

H/T Ryan Chan for the heads up!

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