All posts by AIRheads/EH

RAF moves closer to Tornado farewell

The Royal Air Force moved closer to a final Tornado farewell as the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) for the type flew its last mission from Lossiemouth airbase in Scotland on Friday. Five Tornados flew a formation flypast over the airbase and other places. The end for the Tornado in the UK is set for 2019.

The OCU was better known as XV (Reserve) squadron and for several decades was responsible for Tornado GR4 crew training in the ground-attack role. Earlier, the squadron was an operational unit, flying Cold War-type combat missions from Germany

Now, only three operational Tornado squadrons remain, all based at RAF Marham. For close, to four decades, the Tornado formed the backbone of the RAF with Tornado F3 variants taking care of air defense while Tornado GR4 jets fulfilled a ground attack role. See our Tornado Time feature here.

The RAF for the next few decades relies on the Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed Martin F-35.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

 

Order for 268 AH-64E Apache Guardians

Boeing and the US government have signed a five-year, 3.4 billion USD contract through which the Army, plus a customer outside the US, will acquire the latest Apache attack helicopter at a significant savings to taxpayers.

This is the first multi-year agreement for the Apache E variant, also dubbed Apache Guardian. The army will receive 244 remanufactured Apaches while 24 new ones will go to the international customer.

“This agreement is great news for our army, our soldiers, the American taxpayers, our industry partners and numerous international partners,” said U.S. Army Col. Joseph Hoecherl, the Apache project manager. “It is a direct result of the professional dedication and diligent efforts by government and industry teammates to provide the much needed capabilities of the world’s best attack helicopter – the AH-64E Apache – at a fair and affordable price that results in year over year savings to the taxpayer. In the hands of our trained U.S. soldiers, the Apache’s technologies and resulting capabilities are essential to Army operations around the globe.”

Boeing builds the Apache in Mesa, Arizona. Deliveries of the E model began in October 2011. Seven customers outside the US have ordered this variant. Including this latest version, the US and 15 other countries have relied on the Apache during the past three decades.

“The Apache has made a tremendous impact in the defense of the nations that have flown it for the last 37 years,” said Kim Smith, Boeing Attack Helicopters vice president and program manager. “Our team understands the responsibility we have to deliver the best aircraft on time at an affordable price every day, and we are committed to maintaining that well established tradition of excellence.”

Is this the ideal OA-X candidate?

The pending US Air Force competition for a light-weight ground-attack aircraft has been widely publicized. The US is expected to formally announce the OA-X competition this summer. The winner of this competition could very well be the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano. Or could it?

Yes, the famed and feared Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt will continue to cause hazards to forces opposing the US for a few more years. However, unsure about exactly how many more years and if the Lockheed Martin F-35 will be able to fill the Thunderbolt’s shoes when it finally leaves, the US Air Force is looking at its ground attack capabilities. And the conclusion is that a small and flexible aircraft is needed.

That aircraft may very well be the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano. This Brazilian turboprop was designed in Brazil but is currenty also license-built in the US by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC). As part of a contract awarded in February 2013, these aircraft are adding a ground attack capability to the Afghan Air Force. Pilots from Afghanistan learn to fly the A-29 with the US Air Force’s 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.

Given this experience, the A-29 is likely candidate to enter in the OA-X competition. But ideal enough to actually  win? The US-designed and produced Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine may fit the bill just as well. And how about an armed Textron AirLand Scorpion Jet?

The first flight of the production version of the Beechcraft AT-6 in August 2013 (Image © Beechcraft)
The first flight of the production version of the Beechcraft AT-6 in August 2013 (Image © Beechcraft)
Lookin’ tough: the Textron Airland Scorpion. (Image © Textron Airland)

Plus, let’s not forget there’s another competition running right now, and it’s called T-X. The candidates in that competition may also offer the flexibility the US is looking for. An armed version over Lockheed Martin’s and Korea Aerospace Industries’ T-50 trainer already exists, and its  called FA-50. Meanwhile, Leonardo in Italy is already busy developing the M-346FT Fighter Trainer, an armed version of the M-346 Master.

Obviously, the winner of OA-X competition won’t be announced for some years. But it’s just as obvious that upon closer inspection, there are a lot more likely candidates than just the A-29.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

The KAI FA-50 in flight (Image © KAI)
The KAI FA-50 in flight (Image © KAI)
The armed M-346FT development (Image © Leonardo Finmeccanica)
The armed M-346FT development (Image © Leonardo Finmeccanica)

 

 

Fourth and final A400M delivered to Malaysia

Airbus delivered the fourth and final Airbus A400M military transport aircraft to the Royal Malaysian Air Force on Thursday 9 March. The delivery comes exactly two years after delivery of the first A400M to Malaysia.

A Malaysian delegation formally accepted the fourth A400M at the Airbus production facility in Seville, Spain. The aircraft will soon head to Malaysia for participation in the LIMA airshow in Langkawi  in Malaysia, which kicks off on 21 March.

Meanwhile, A Royal Air Force A400M this week visited Indonesia during a round the world trip. Indonesia is said to be a potential customer for the A400M.

Belgian F-16s to fly until 2028

Belgium’s F-16 jets are to keep flying until 2028, when the last will be replaced by a yet to be determined new fighter jet. According to reports in Belgium, the first new fighter jet should enter service in 2023. For five years, the new jet will operate alongside the F-16, after which the curtain will fall for the latter.

The Belgian government in Brussels has put aside 3.5 billion EUR to replace 54 F-16 with a total of 34 new jets. Candidates are the Lockheed Martin F-35, Dassault Rafale, Saab Gripen, Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and Eurofighter Typhoon.  The F-35 is widely regarded as the most likely choice for the Belgians. A final decision is expected in 2018.

Of the original European Participating Air Forces (EPAF) in the seventies, Belgium will use the F-16 the longest. The other participating countries – the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark – all already selected the F-35 as their F-16 replacement. Norway is expected to loose its F-16 by 2021, with the Netherlands following in 2023. Denmark should not be far behind.

Belgium back then was actually also the very first European nation to receive the F-16. The first jet was delivered on 29 January 1979 after being assembled by SABCA