Category Archives: Aviation Features

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Real Thaw 17 in Portugal: mission accomplished

Beja airbase in Portugal was a hive of military aviation activity in for two weeks in March. Responsible for all of this, was exercise Real Thaw 2017,  an air force exercise, planned and conducted by the Portuguese Air Command. The main objective of Real Thaw 17 was to evaluate and certify the operational capability of air power in a multinational joint training environment.

This ninth edition of Real Thaw saw participation of aircraft from almost every Portuguese Air Force squadron, ranging from F-16AMs from Monte Real airbase, P-3C Orion, Alpha Jets en Alouette helicopters from  from Beja itself, plus C-130 Hercules and C-295M Persuader from Montijo airbase.

Image © Jorge Ruivo
Image © Jorge Ruivo
Image © Jorge Ruivo
Image © Jorge Ruivo

US forces

The US Air Force Europe took part with two C-130J Super Hercules tactical transport aircraft and approximately 70 personnel from the 86th Airlift Wing, Ramstein Air Base, in Germany. During the exercise, the 37th Airlift Squadron will focus on tactical airlift training including formation and low-level flying, assault landings, and personnel and equipment airdrops with paratroopers from US Army Europe and partner nations.

Also participating were two MV-22s Ospreys from VMM-764, one KC-130 and 60 U.S. Marines from the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Africa (SPMAGTF-CR-AF) staged in Moron Air Base, Spain.

Image © Jorge Ruivo
Image © Jorge Ruivo

Other players

Other ‘players’ were the Netherlands and Belgium with a C-130H-30 Hercules each, plus Spain with EF-18 Hornets and a single C212 Aviocar from Ala 37, a small aircraft that thanks to its hardness and ability to operate from unprepared runways, carried out infiltration and extraction missions of special forces during Real Thaw 17. Finally, NATO dispatched a Geilenkirchen-based E-3A Sentry for air surveillance.

According to all participants, Real Thaw 17 ended with the sense of mission accomplished on March 17. The development of techniques, tactics and procedures, as well as the sharing of knowledge and experience, have added value in achieving a more proficient and cohesive operational structure in the carry out of the missions.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com contributor Jorge Ruivo

Image © Jorge Ruivo
Image © Jorge Ruivo
Image © Jorge Ruivo
Image © Jorge Ruivo

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)

 

 

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)