United States Military Aviation

RISING SUN

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Jet 87-173: Innovation keeps Air Force legend in the fight
MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho (AFNS) -- This is the story of F-15E Strike Eagle tail number 87-173, where it comes from and how innovation keeps it ready to bring the fight to the enemy.

Many jets become legends for their heroic feats in battle, but they are unable to tell their stories as they experienced them. Legends never tell their own stories.

“If only fighter jets could talk, the stories they could tell,” said Brig. Gen. Mark Slocum, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander and fighter pilot.

The U.S. Air Force has held the title of world air superiority for many years, but its lethality was taken to the next level about 30 years ago.

In 1987, a year known for its eccentric artwork, the debut of the show “Full House” and President Ronald Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech in West Berlin, a legend was born. Or perhaps, more accurately, it was built.

The Strike Eagle is designed for air-to-air and air-to-ground combat. Spanning 64 feet long, 43 feet wide and weighing in at 81,000 pounds when fully loaded, its physical prowess only hints at the capabilities of this jet. It’s mounted with an array of missiles, bombs, a 20 mm multi-barrel gun and all the futuristic technology most people probably wouldn’t even begin to imagine. Top it off with a flashy paint job and standing there would be the legend assigned to the 389th Fighter Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.

Although jet 173 has flown many missions over its years in service, its most historic moment happened the night of Nov. 12, 2001, during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Jet 173 was the lead jet in the longest combat sortie flown by U.S. fighter aircraft to this day, which was later deemed “The Kabul-Ki Dance.”

Slocum was the pilot of jet 173, who was a captain at the time and a member of the 391st Fighter Squadron.

The mission was simple: destroy the residences of al-Qaeda targets with 500-pound bombs. And that, they did.

But as chance would have it, it quickly turned into an opportunistic back-and-forth flight pattern. Simply put, every time Slocum completed a mission and began to head back to base, he was given orders to turn around and take out another target.

This went on for over 15 hours. There were 10 in-air refuelings and they evaded anti-aircraft gunfire and ground-to-air missiles throughout the mission.

In the end, the Kabul-Ki Dance resulted in the elimination of several high-priority targets, al-Qaeda residences and the disruption of terrorist movements by bombing a mountainside to create an avalanche that blocked enemy roads.

That mission wrote jet 173 and Slocum’s name in the history books. But the legend hasn’t died. It’s still ready to take the fight to the enemy, but not without support and innovation of Airmen from the 389th FS, where jet 173 is assigned today.

“I think it's amazing that the first F-15E models are still in service today almost 34 years later after the first model was delivered to the Air Force,” said Senior Master Sgt. Travis Patterson, 389th FS Aircraft Maintenance Unit superintendent.

Patterson has been maintaining strike eagles for 24 years and is now in charge of the maintenance of jet 173. That being said, the jet has seen more than a few upgrades.

“Jet 173 has been through three very large modifications but most noteworthy is the APG-82 AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) Radar Modification Program upgrade,” Patterson said. “The F-15E was designed around the radar and this one can simultaneously detect, identify and track multiple air and surface targets farther than ever before.”

This superior capability greatly increases aircraft and aircrew effectiveness and ultimately increases the chance of survival. In fact, no strike eagle has ever been shot down with this technology.

Slocum recently had a chance to fly jet 173 in November of 2019 and recognized the difference in innovation.

“The upgrades in software and technology in the last 18 years is really amazing,” Slocum said. “The weapons we can drop now and the targeting systems available are things we didn’t imagine back when we were flying through the night of Afghanistan in 2001.”

However, Patterson explained that integrating new technologies into an aging airframe does take a significant amount of problem-solving.

“We work so hard maintaining these F-15Es but sometimes it’s like owning a 1966 Volkswagen Bug and trying to install 2020 Tesla technology into it and make it work flawlessly. There can be lots of technical issues that we find out weren’t evident in the initial design. I take great pride when my maintainers solve these complex problems.”

Jet 173 is a legend, but it remains that way because of the Airmen behind it.

“It goes to show the evolution of the maintainer,” Patterson said. “As technology advances, our Airmen experience new issues and must become better problem solvers because there is no instruction manual. Well not yet, because we’re creating it!”

Jet 173 has always been a superior aircraft, but with each new innovation, it becomes more versatile and lethal. It continues to be assigned to missions and in 2017, it made a notable impact in support of Operation Inherent Resolve where it was a part of 389th FS’s release of 5,018 precision-guided munitions while deployed in Southwest Asia.

So as jet 173 lives on through the decades, it is sure to see history unfold. It will collect more stories that it cannot tell and it might get a new gadget or two. But Slocum, Patterson and thousands of upcoming Airmen will spearhead the innovation that will ensure jet 173 will always complete the mission.
Jet 87-173: Innovation keeps Air Force legend in the fight > U.S. Air Force > Article Display
 

RISING SUN

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This Strategic Air Command Airpower Demonstration From 1987 Is Just Bonkers
The twilight of the Cold War was one of the most interesting times in American airpower history. There was so much older gear built-up, while a whole new generation of air combat systems was just hitting the flight lines or would be doing so soon. America's strategic arsenal was staggering in size and capability. Strategic Air Command presided over throngs of aircraft that were focused primarily on putting nuclear warheads on targets in the Soviet Union.

It was also an era of far looser regulations when it came to flying demonstrations, hence the video below, shot at Offutt AFB in 1987, depicting a Strategic Air Command airpower demo replete with a B-52, a KC-135A and a KC-135R, a KC-10, and even an FB-111.

The heavy jets put on one ridiculously awesome flying display, which included tight turns, high-speed passes at low-level, maneuvering formation work, and even a crazy overhead break. The KC-135A's J57 and B-52's TF33 engines trace the planes' paths across the sky with ink-like smoke trails.

The KC-135A's part of the dual demonstration alongside the B-52 is the wildest of them all. One low-level pass, in particular, is especially intense. The KC-135R's demo is a bit more subdued, but the KC-10 that follows it is downright amazing. The huge tri-jet tanker wheels around the sky with remarkable agility, executing steep bank turns and climbs. By the time the FB-111 comes along in the second video, it almost looks tame.

There are some great little quotes in there as well, like "that is *censored*ing impressive!" when the B-52 does its first pass and guns its eight engines. But the best has to be "take this Muammar!" just before the FB-111's high-speed pass.
It doesn't get more 1980s than that!

In the 33 years since this video was filmed, safety restrictions placed on air show demonstrations and flybys have grown ever more heavy-handed. After the crash of a B-52 practicing for an air show at Fairchild AFB in Washington State in 1994, restrictions got far more invasive for the big jet demonstrations. Today, even what seems like a
benign planned flyover can ruin a pilot's career.

As such, this video is truly a time capsule of sorts that depicts conditions that will never occur again.
This Strategic Air Command Airpower Demonstration From 1987 Is Just Bonkers
 

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US Air Force buys two A-29 light attack aircraft for continued experiment
Sierra Nevada Corporation has won a $23.2 million contract to supply two Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 light attack aircraft to the US Air Force (USAF).

The award includes ground support equipment, pilot training, logistic support, aircraft sparing and sustainment, says Sierra Nevada on 3 March.



Source: Sierra Nevada
A-29 taking off from a dirt runway

“The US Air Force will now have the opportunity to deploy the A-29 in support of US and allied operations,” says Mark Williams, vice-president of aviation strategic plans and programmes for Sierra Nevada’s aviation and security business area.

The A-29 is a turboprop light attack aircraft originally designed and built by Embraer. The Brazilian company also builds the aircraft in the USA via its partnership with Sierra Nevada. The arrangement with US-based Sierra Nevada allows the A-29 to be sold to US military services and international customers through the US Foreign Military Sales process.

The latest two-aircraft sale is not connected with the Air Force Special Operations Command’s recently announced Armed Overwatch programme, which is a separate initiative, says Sierra Nevada. Rather, the award is to continue the USAF’s light attack experiment. The service also plans to buy two or three examples of the Textron Aviation AT-6 light attack aircraft as part of that effort.

The light attack experiment has evolved over several years. Originally, the USAF intended to find a cheap-to-fly ground-attack aircraft. However, recently the initiative morphed into an effort to develop an airborne platform to carry communications equipment that would help allies coordinate air-to-ground attacks with the USA.

That communications kit is called Airborne Extensible Relay Over-Horizon Network, or AERONet. The USAF envisions a system capable of providing video, voice, chat and command and control to partner nations for under $500,000 per unit.

Sierra Nevada says it will begin manufacturing aircraft immediately from its facilities in Jacksonville, Florida, and Centennial, Colorado. The company plans to deliver aircraft in 2021, with training and support activities continuing through 2024.
US Air Force buys two A-29 light attack aircraft for continued experiment
 
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Unusual Appearance But Utmost Importance: The Boeing EC-135E ARIA
A look at the Boeing EC-135E Apollo/Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft.

In the 1960s, NASA’s program to the Moon was in full swing. A major part of that mission, was being able to track the spacecraft and their crew as they traveled through space, through a network of tracking stations throughout the globe. This was something that not just NASA needed, but also the U.S. Air Force for their missile tests. Initially this would be achieved through land based tracking stations, with the later addition of shipboard systems, however it was quickly discovered that large gaps in tracking coverage existed, as the sea based stations, while critically important, were not fast enough to keep up. A further solution was needed to support the missions.

In order to supplement the land and sea based tracking stations, a plan was devised to cover the telemetry gaps using a high speed aircraft. This aircraft would have added instrumentation for tracking of NASA manned missions, to include covering Trans Lunar Injection, that could also be used by the Air Force for orbital and re-entry tests of ballistic missiles. As a result, a jointly funded project between NASA and the USAF converted eight C-135 aircraft into EC-135N models, at a cost of $4.5 Million per aircraft. The new aircraft, named Apollo Range Instrumentation Aircraft, were designed by NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt Maryland, and were modified by
Douglas Aircraft in Tulsa Oklahoma.

EC-135 installed antennas. (Image credit: USAF)

New instrumentation housed within the aircraft included a 7 foot diameter P and S-band receiving dish in the nose, probe antennas on the wings, and a trailing wire HF antenna. Other exterior modifications included the addition of several new antennas, for post mission data transmission, and satellite communications. In addition to the exterior modifications, extensive interior modifications to contain the support electronics and crew positions were done as well. These modifications gave the aircraft a highly distinct appearance, with the 7 foot dish being located in a new bulbous nose. This unusual look, led to the aircraft affectionately being dubbed “Snoopy” by her crews.



A view inside the nose of the EC-135 radome. (Image credit: USAF)

ARIAs were primarily based out of Patrick Air Force Base, just south of Cape Canaveral in Florida, and were operated for NASA by the U.S. Air Force Eastern Test Range. While not always at Patrick, ARIAs could also be found in Australia, in cities such as Perth, Townsville, and Darwin. During the Apollo missions, ARIAs would fly where they were needed, and would receive and record the telemetry data of the spacecraft on magnetic tape recorders. In addition to this, they were also used as a receiving and transmitting base for verbal capsule communications between Houston and the spacecraft. The recorded telemetry data could either be held for post mission analysis, or could even be re-transmitted over different bands in real time.



Satellite comms diagram. (Image credit: USAF)

ARIA was not just an aircraft system. On base at Patrick AFB, was ARIA Control, also known as the Aircraft Operations Control Center. AOCC served as a co-ordination base for the program. In the rare event that all 8 ARIA aircraft were flying, the program contained 30% of NASA’s Near Earth tracking capabilities. For that very reason, AOCC was the 3rd mission control for NASA, behind Houston, and Goddard Spaceflight center. ARIA’s ability to rapidly deploy to anywhere on the globe was a critical necessity to the Apollo and Skylab programs, and without it, the missions arguably may have not succeeded.



EC-135 diagram. (Image credit: USAF)

Following the conclusion of the Apollo and Skylab programs in 1975, the ARIA jets was re-designated as Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft and all operations were moved to the 4950th Test Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base at Dayton, Ohio. ARIA’s mission would continue at Wright, being used as a rapidly deployed test aircraft used to obtain telemetry during DOD Missile tests. Notably, the fleets time at Wright included a re-engine of the ARIAs, resulting in a re-designation to EC-135E. Further continuing the legacy of the ARIA, in 1982 the USAF purchased eight Boeing 707-320C’s from American Airlines and converted them to ARIA aircraft, designating these 8 as EC-18Bs. The EC-18Bs were larger than the EC-135Ns, and were capable of carrying additional cargo, and taking off from shorter runways.
Flight line at Patrick AFB in 1969 (Bob Burns Collection)

In 1994, the ARIA fleet was again relocated, this time to Edwards Air Force Base in California, as part of the 452nd Flight Test Squadron, in the 412th Test Wing. During this time reduction in forces were occurring, and advances in satellite technologies made the ARIA aircraft obsolete. On Aug. 24, 2001, the final active EC-18B made her final flight from Edwards AFB to Wright-Patterson AFB, ending a legacy of spaceflight milestones and missile testing.
Nose art.

Throughout the program, ARIA supported many mission tests for both NASA and the DOD. Of those, program support includes names such as Apollo, Skylab, Pioneer, and Mariner for NASA, with names like Polaris, Poseidon, Trident, Minuteman I, II, & III, Pershing, and the Titan III-C for the DOD. The system showed its worth through a wide variety of different technical systems that each required their own unique planning and support, demonstrating the versatility and importance of the ARIA system.

An EC-18 in flight. (Image credit: USAF)

Today, only one single ARIA remains, having avoided scrapping at the boneyard. This survivor, number 60-0374, resides in the outdoor air park at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton Ohio, its former home. 0374 is one of the 8 original Apollo aircraft, and was constructed as a C-135A in 1960. In 1966 she underwent conversion to EC-135N, and was delivered to Patrick AFB in September of 1967. January 1st, 1968 saw 0374 begin her operational life as an ARIA, and she would be used throughout the Apollo and Skylab program. In December of 1975 she was transferred to Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton OH, and would be converted to an EC-135E in June of 1982. 1994 saw her transfer to Edwards AFB in California, and in 2000, she made her final flight to the National Museum of the USAF in Dayton, where she is permanently retired for display. Eventually, she will be restored and placed inside a hangar, after another museum expansion.
Unusual Appearance But Utmost Importance: The Boeing EC-135E ARIA
 

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Watch This Video (With Radio Comms) Of Two B-2 Spirit Arriving Into RAF Fairford Earlier Today
As already reported, three B-2A Spirit bombers arrived at RAF Fairford for Bombert Task Force Europe deployment. The first aircraft, 82-1068 “Spirit of New York” arrived in the morning as “MISTY11”, followed, in the afternoon, by 88-0332 “Spirit of Washington” “MISTY 12” and 82-1070 “Spirit of Ohio” “MISTY 13”.

As usual, our friend Ben Ramsay of UK Aviation Movies was there and filmed the cool footage below that shows the two “black triangles” coming to landing on runway 27. Interestingly, the weather was good but also quite windy (250 degrees at 22 knots, gustings at 31 knots) and you can appreciate the continues movement of the elevons that on the B-2 are installed along the trailing edge of the plane. Since the aircraft has no vertical fin, the split rudders and the elevons are used to control the aircraft rotation along the vertical/yaw axis, whereas pitch and roll are controlled by means of (mid and inboard) elevons. The video also shows the Spirit’s peculiar exhaust and the wedge-shaped flap in the middle of the trailing edge, the GLAS (Gust Load Alleviation System), that counters the rolling impact or resonance to smooth out the ride of the B-2 in turbulent conditions and extend the aircraft’s fatigue life. The latter also smooths the ride of the B-2 in low altitude flight, even though the B-2 is predominantly designed for the high-altitude flight regime.
Just In: Watch This Video (With Radio Comms) Of Two B-2 Spirit Arriving Into RAF Fairford Earlier Today
 

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He’s Back! The Elusive F-117 Stealth Jets Makes Another Appearance over Star Wars Canyon.
Ace aviation photographer Mr. Toshihiko Shimizu, known as “pam_st112” on Instagram, captured several photos of an elusive F-117 Nighthawk aka “Wobblin’ Goblin” that has been seen flying on rare occasions in the Death Valley area. Mr. Shimizu shared three photos of the aircraft that he said were taken at “around 9:30” in the morning on Wednesday, Mar.F 18, 2020.

Mr. Shimizu told TheAviationist.com in an interview that, “I was at the east end of Star Wars Canyon. At 9:36 am, I found a black shadow in the sky of the west side of the canyon. After I looked in my camera, I found it’s F-117. It came from the south, then turned right and headed to north. 5 minutes later, it came back from south again, and flew the same course. [At] 10:27, it came back again from south. It seemed to fly the same course. After that, it didn’t come back again.” Mr. Shimizu shot the photos using a Nikon D7200 with a Nikkor 200-500mm lens. He shared three frames on Instagram of the remarkable sighting.

Mr. Shimizu’s photos of this F-117 show a visible national insignia under the right wing but few other marking are visible. (Photo: with permission from Toshihiko Shimizu/pam_st112 on Instagram)

We have often reported that, despite having officially retired it in 2008, the U.S. Air Force is still flying the F-117 Nighthawk stealth aircraft at Tonopah Test Range (TTR). Click here to read the article published last year with the full account of all the sightings since then.

The plan view photo by
Toshihiko Shimizu of the F-117 shows its interesting pitotstatic sensors on the nose clearly. (Photo: with permission from Toshihiko Shimizu/pam_st112 on Instagram).

Yesterday’s sighting of the F-117 comes a week after reports began to surface on social media that F/A-18s had made passes through Star Wars Canyon. The claimed sightings of aircraft back in the canyon, if accurate, may signal a potential renewal of training in the canyon itself, although TheAviationist.com has received no direct, military verification of this information.

One credible civilian source, The Panamint Springs Resort, told TheAviationist.com in a March 12, 2020 interview via text message that, “I have confirmation that Father Crowley is open again and jets are resuming flights through the canyon”.

Aviation enthusiasts and photographers familiar with the Father Crowley Point/Star Wars Canyon area were skeptical of the claims that aircraft had actually flown down inside the canyon last week, suggesting that the normal flights of aircraft in the region had caused the report to surface. The photographers claim the aircraft were flying at low level in the area, but not actually inside the canyon where they were frequently photographed prior to a deadly July 13, 2019 accident. That accident claimed the life of U.S. Navy Lt. Charles Z. Walker, 33, assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 151, the “Vigilantes” based at Naval Air Station (NAS) Lemoore, California. Lt. Walker’s Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet struck the side of the canyon wall on July 13, 2019, killing Walker and injuring seven park visitors who were standing at the top of the canyon according to spokesman Patrick Taylor of the National Park Service.

Some photographers in the area have grown increasingly protective of information about aircraft in Star Wars Canyon or Rainbow Canyon, citing growth in the number of photographers and tourists to the area as a concern. Social media groups dedicated to photography of aircraft in the canyon were made private and anyone suspected of reporting on flight activity were removed from the groups, including this reporter. The area is a National Park open to the public with established viewing areas and parking. However, people are still visiting the area. As done by Mr. Toshihiko Shimizu, who had the chance to get up close and personal with the iconic stealth jet.
He’s Back! The Elusive F-117 Stealth Jets Makes Another Appearance over Star Wars Canyon.
 
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P-8A at Andøya Air Station.





















The pictures are not sequential, but are from the same picture set and event - Cold Response 2020.

How many of you have seen the inside of a P-8A or P-8I? It's pretty rare to get a glimpse.