Category Archives: Aviation Features

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Celebrating the Viggen

It’s not regularly that we celebrate aviation milestones at Airheadsfly.com. In fact we only did it once before and back then, it was the 40th birthday of the F-16 that was cause for celebrations. But when a legendary fighter jet such as the Saab Viggen turns 50 years of age, we gladly make an exception again. Time to dig up a few images – old & new! – of this  prime and impressive example of Swedish aviation ingenuity.

The Viggen first flew on 8 February 1967 by the hands of Saab chief test pilot Erik Dahlström. The flight lasted 43  minutes, during which the jet performed as expected. In 1968, Stockholm ordered 175 jets, the first of which were delivered in 1971. The typical Viggen shape, dominated by the huge wings and the canards in front of it, became a familiar sight in Swedish skies – but not elsewhere.

The Viggen was successful in Sweden, which eventually made use of no less than 329 aircraft. But competing against – yes! – the F-16 on the international fighter jet market proved to be a bridge too far for the Swedish design, which was very practical but lacked the manoeuvrability and impressive  thrust to weight ratio of the F-16.

The last of the Swedish Viggens were retired in 2007. Despite never being used by air forces outside Sweden, quite a number of Viggens are currently preserved in European aviation museums. One aircraft keeps gracing the skies as part of the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

A prototype Viggen is preserved in the Flygvapenmuseum (Air Force Museum) in Malmslätt.(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Sweden is famous for its candy. Here's some eye candy in the shape of a Saab Sk37E Viggen. Nothing sweet about that, however. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Two-seater Viggens were mostly used for electronic warfare towards the end of the Viggen’s career. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A classic interceptor Viggen, seen at Ronneby airbase in southern Sweden. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
This Viggen was painted red to celebrate its retirement. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
The Viggen’s shape could appear weird… (Image © Elmer van Hest)
…or beautiful! (Image © Elmer van Hest)
The Swedish Air Force Historic Flight Viggen. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

MB-339: tool of the training trade

Airheadsfly.com recently paid a very fruitful visit to Italy, judging by this report on F-35 Lightning II production in Cameri and this impression of flying an Italian Air Force M-346 at Lecce Galatina airbase in the Puglia area of southern Italy. The latter is a flying school like no other, run by the Italian Air Force’s 61st wing. Here, novice pilots learn how to become fighter pilots the hard way. The most numerous tool of that particular trade is the MB-339, a trainer jet that in the future makes way for the M-345 High Efficiency Trainer (HET) and the M-346. A photo report from Lecce, home to many nationalities.

Grabbing the early morning sun, this MB-339CD is almost ready for starting up for another training mission. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Grabbing the early morning sun, this MB-339CD is almost ready for starting up for another training mission. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Before moving to the aircraft, pilots first get the flight and weather information. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Before moving to the aircraft, pilots first get the flight and weather information. Pilots from Italy, Kuwait, Austria, the Netherlands, Poland, Greece and Singapore are a regular sight at Lecce. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
This picture clearly shows the aircraft at Galatina airbase are being kept in very good condition by the dedicated technicians. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
This picture clearly shows the aircraft at Lecce Galatina airbase are being kept in very good condition by the dedicated technicians. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
These MB-339s just left the hangarettes for the runway. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Heading for the runway. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Busy times on the runway, as 3 MB-339CD aircraft prepare to line up for take off. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Busy times on the runway, as three MB-339CD aircraft prepare to line up for take off. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
And lift off for another early morning mission. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
And lift off for another early morning mission. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A regular sight at Galatina airbase, where aircraft take off and land almost continuously. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A regular sight at Lecce Galatina airbase, where aircraft take off and land almost continuously. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
This MB-339A is ready for another go-around. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
This MB-339A is ready for another go-around. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
This image clearly shows that the fuselage of the MB-339 is close to the ground, compared to the T-346. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
This image clearly shows that the fuselage of the MB-339 is close to the ground, compared to the T-346. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Waiting at the flightline for things to come. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Waiting at the flightline for things to come. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Highly skilled maintenance crew work hard to keep the MB-339 aircraft in good shape. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Highly skilled maintenance crew work hard to keep the MB-339 aircraft in good shape. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
There's not much aircraft left when you separate the backside of the fuselage, as well as removing the tires. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
There’s not much aircraft left when you separate the backside of the fuselage. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
After each mission the aircraft are being serviced. Recently, a part of the MB-339 flightlines got hangarettes, which eases work at Galatina a little, as it can be quite hot over there. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
After each mission the aircraft are being serviced. Recently, a part of the MB-339 flightlines got hangarettes, which eases work at Lecce Galatina a little, as it can be quite hot over there. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Flight gear of students at Galatina. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Flight gear of students at Galatina. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The pilot always inspects the aircraft himself, before getting into the cockpit. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The pilot always inspects the aircraft himself, before getting into the cockpit. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
It seems these guys are having fun flying the new T-346A. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
It seems these guys are having fun flying the M-346, which is called T-346A in Italian Air Force service.. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
This T-346A is about to come out of its hangarette to play (Image © Dennis Spronk)
This Master is about to taxi out. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Rolling out of the hangarette, this Master carries AHF editor Elmer van Hest in the backseat for an interesting flight. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Rolling out of its shelter, this T-346A carries AHF editor Elmer van Hest in the backseat for a familiarization and photography flight. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
In the background a MB-339 is about to follow this T-346A towards the runway at Galatina airbase. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
In the background a MB-339 is about to follow this T-346A towards the runway at Lecce Galatina airbase. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
In a few moments, this T-346A will line up and disappear into the blue sky (Image © Dennis Spronk)
In a few moments, this T-346A will line up and disappear into the blue sky (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Two Masters are about to roll down the runway. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Two Masters are about to roll down the runway. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
After a rainy night, this Master almost lifts off from the wet runway. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
After a rainy night, this Master almost lifts off from the wet runway. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Facing the sun clearly shows the smooth lines of the T-346A. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Facing the sun clearly shows the smooth lines of the T-346A. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The three squadrons resident a Galatina Airbase, each representing a different phase in pilot training. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The three squadrons resident a Lecce Galatina Airbase, each representing a different phase in pilot training. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: The refuelling probe is one of the most externally visible differences between the MB-339A and the newer MB-339CD model. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

F-35 price set to fall – but it already was

The price of a single Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is set to fall, Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson said last week. She announced the cost reduction as part of pending deal with deal with US president-elect Donald Trump. The deal should also see the creation of thousands of extra US jobs. It puts a a lot of extra pressure on the F-35 program.

According to Hewson, the price of the next 90 aircraft will reduce significantly under the deal. The question remains by how much the F-35’s unit price will fall and how this relates to a price reduction announced earlier. Currently, the price is 98 million USD for a single ‘vanilla’ F-35A, but that price was already set to drop to 85 million USD by 2020,  as result of ‘numerous affordability measures to drive costs out of the program.’ Both the F-35B and F-35C versions remain more expensive than the F-35A.

A Royal Netherlands Air Force F-35A. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Negotiations

The reduction mentioned by Hewson most likely concerns aircraft in Low Rate Initial Producion (LRIP) lot 10, which is currently being negotiated and includes 94 jets for the US plus other nations . A deal on LRIP-9 was only signed last November, involving 57 aircraft worth 6.1 billion USD. The cost of LRIP-9 was the subject of many months of hassle and talks between Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon.

It most likely these drawn out negotiations that sparked Trump’s criticism. Meetings with several top Pentagon and F-35 program officials did little to impress Trump. On the contrary, it probably only incented him in his determination to drive down costs. As we wrote earlier, he may actually do the US a favour by doing so.

A US Navy F-35C during carrier tests. (Image © US Navy)

Air Force One

It’s the second time Trump appears to have pressured a large aircraft manufacturer in lowering costs, the first of course being Boeing. After Trump’s threat to cancel the contract for a new Air Force One, Boeing was quick to say that it will keep costs below 4 billion USD.

But Trump’s victories so far only exists on paper. Wether Lockheed Martin and Boeing indeed succeed in keeping down costs, remains to be seen. It will be interesting to see also how they do it. And it will also be interesting to see Trump’s response if they fail – not to mention the response of F-35 customers. They already knew the unit price was set to fall, but now they’re counting on even lower prices.

It puts a of pressure on a weapons program that is anything but pressure-free.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

A Japanese F-35A, seen in the Lockheed Martin plant in Fort Worth. (Image © Lockheed Martin)

Our top 10 aviation moments of 2016

So that’s 2016 almost over and done with. This past year saw  military aviation headlines wizz by in a  record and sometimes worrying tempo. Donald Trump’s pending presidency along with Putin’s neverending desire to show Russia’s potential will decide the pace for 2017. But for now, let’s look back at a year that wothout a doubt had it’s moments here at Airheadsfly.com. And for all readers: thanks for doing so and a happy new year to you all!

10.

The Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford saw the F-35 for the first time. But this supposed star of the show was outstaged by the fabulous F-22 Raptor. Seeing is believing.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)

9.

Early in the year, we flew the Airbus Helicopters UH-72A Lakota helicopter, courtesy of the US Army in Germany.  They come in green but also in this wild combination of colours, which stands out against the German countryside…. like a bruised banana. Because that’s what these machines are nicknamed.

(Image © Dennis Spronk).

8.

A Lightning in blue skies. Early June, we boarded a Royal netherlands Air Force KDC-10 tanker aircraft for a sortie alongside the F-35A Lightning II over the North Sea. It’s in the air where the beast becomes a beauty.

(Image © Dennis Spronk)

7.

A beast, that is also what this Eurofighter Typhoon was at Fairford in July.  Fully tooled up and piloted by BAE Systems test pilot Nat Makepeace, this jet gave all other Typhoon diplays at the same airshow – and there were plenty- a run for their money.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)

6.

A top shot from Paweł Bondaryk, our guy in Poland. He was on scene when the Polish Air Force took delivery of its first Leonardo Aircraft M-346 Bielik trainer jets, capturing one of the aircraft peacefully after the delivery flight.

(Image © Paweł Bondaryk)

5.

Airheadsfly.com was also on scene on when both Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) touched Dutch soil for the first time on 23 May 2016. The weather did not cooperate in any way, but as both jets came to rest and festivities ended, all was well. “An awesome experience”, recounted one of the pilots.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)

4.

Between 21 February and 4 March, Portugal was the stage of annual exervise Real Thaw. Our contributor Jorge Ruivo was there to provide you with some much needed burner action. These burners belong to a US Air Force F-15C Eagle.

(Image © Jorge Ruivo)
(Image © Jorge Ruivo)

3.

So yeah, of course our flight in the Leonardo Aircraft M-346 Master has to be in this. With hundreds of pictures taken, it’s a pity that we can show only a small selection. Here’s one of formation leader Cobra 1 over a fine turqoise Italian coastline.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)

2.

Turkey made a lot of news headlines this year. And ok, technically it may have been 2015 when Dirk Jan de Ridder took this shot of two Turkish Air Force T-38 Talons. But we sure were glad to bring it to you in 2016 as part of a feature story on pilot training in Turkey. And given the fact that a lot of Turkish fast jet pilots were fired from duty after the failed coup, there’s a lot of training of new pilots to do.

(Image © Dirk Jan de Ridder)

1.

Looking back at 2016, it has to be said:  it was the year of the F-35 Lightning II. We learned a lot about the program during successful visits to Edwards Air Force Base in the US and Leeuwarden in the Netherlands. Furthermore, at Airheadsfly.com we were among the very first media ever to be allowed access to F-35 production in Cameri, Italy.

The F-35 program celebrated major steps in 2016, such as the Initial Operation Capability within the US Air Force, but also the delivery of more aircraft than even before, including new jets for Israel and Japan.

There were setback also: insulation problems kept many jets grounded for weeks, while Canada opted not to buy the F-35 for now. Last but not least, president-to-be Donald Trump started taking swings at the program’s costs. And yes, development of this jet is expensive and still has some way to go – but it will get there and it will be impressive. And perhaps prove necessary.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)

Trump’s focus on F-35 costs may serve US well

Donald Trump’s latest tweet on the F-35 will cause Lockheed Martin executives to have a not-so-merry Christmas, while the opposite will be true in the Boeing board room. After meeting top executives from both companies and being briefed on the F-35 this week, Trump on Thursday said he has asked Boeing to ‘price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet’.

Lockheed Martin’s stock immediately went down again, mirroring the effect of Trump’s earlier tweet about the F-35. However, the president-elect criticism  probably is not pointed at the F-35 itself, but at the program’s costs. Trump has made it very clear now that he will not accept such overruns after he moves into the White House in January. At the same time, Donald Trump seems to be preparing for an arms race, even stating this week that the US should expand its nuclear capabilities.

Being the businessman that he is, Trump obviously wants to keep the costs of such an arms race down. He probably realizes that his country is at a disadvantage compared to Russia and China, who are able to produce weaponry against far lower costs. China for example is developing new stealthy jets at an impressive and alarming rate. In Russia, a single new Sukhoi T-50 is many millions and millions of dollars cheaper than a single new F-35. This is indeed worrying for Trump. The signs of an arms race are already there and not to be ignored.

When it comes to the Boeing F-18 Super Hornet as an alternative for the Lockheed Martin F-35 – that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It will definitely not be as stealthy and not as capable in the domain of  gathering and spreading data. Also, the F-35 is getting closer to being fully combat ready every day.

But Trump most likely is not interested in ditching the F-35 in favour of a cheaper Super Hornet. He is interested in costs, and that may serve the US well in the end.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): A US Air Force F-35A, seen at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. (Image © Elmer van Hest)