Category Archives: Aviation Features

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The M-346 turns aggressive

The Italian Air Force is currently testing the capabilities of the new Alenia Aermacchi M-346 (called T-346 in Italian service) in the aggressor role. The aircraft performs Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) missions with Eurofighter Typhoons at Grosseto Air Base. Meanwhile, Alenia Aermacchi’s training solutions start to attract more and more foreign interest.

The tests are aimed at proving that the M-346 is a worthy opponent and substitute for the Eurofighter Typhoon, but also at proving that both aircraft can work together seamlessly. According to Alenia Aermacchi, which also builds Typhoons for the Italian Air Force, the two aircraft are perfectly interoperable: thanks to its data-link system, the M-346 is able to operate in Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missions, while the Typhoon uses its own FPR-14 Autonomous Air-Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation (AACMI) pod to simulate air-to-air “radar-to-radar” missions.

Starting next August the students of the Italian Air Force who are to fly on combat aircraft will accomplish their final training phase IV on the new M-346 – the last step before they switch to the Eurofighter. The M-346 is a huge step up from the MB-339 used so far. Once the fly the Typhoon, pilots are able to fly DACT missions against the highly manoeuvrable M-346.

Alenia Aermacchi has always stated the M-346 is ideal in providing valuable training to frontline fighter pilots, while saving very costly flying hours for types such as the Typhoon and F-35. The Royal Netherlands Air Force has taking an interest in the M-346 for exactly that. A Dutch delegation visited the M-346 production facility in Venegono very recently.

In Venegono, the production process for the first of eight M-346s for Poland has started. Italy, Singapore and Israel already use the type. Noteworthy is the visit of two M-346s to a recent airshow at the French training air base in Tours.

At the Paris Air Show, France was reportedly also interested in the M-345 High Efficiency Trainer (HET). A large French delegation was seen getting all the ins and outs about this basic jet trainer. France is looking for a replacement for its current Alpha Jet trainers.

© 2015 editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): The sun is rising for Alenia Aermacchi and its M-346 lead-in fighter trainer. (Image © Alenia Aermacchi)

War games as usual over the Baltic Sea

While NATO, Sweden and Finland are jointly engaged in large scale military exercises on the Baltic Sea coasts and in the countries neighbouring Russia, it is business as usual in the air above the Northern European waters with Russia sending up bombers and escorts, and the opposing side scrambling fighter jets.

Last week was somewhat special. The stars and stripes were promoted big time by two US Air Force B-52H bombers dropping training sea mines off the coast of Skåne in Southern Sweden. They were escorted by at least four Swedish Air Force Gripen fighter jets. The training mission, with the Buffs flying in from the United Kingdom, was part of the large scale Baltops 2015 exercise (5 – 20 June), that also saw Swedish and US Marines landing on the Scandinavian coast using the USS San Antonio as main floating base. Baltops 2015 also marked the first time the B-52s were on a real operational training mission inside Swedish air space.

The last couple of days saw the more usual suspects. Russian aircraft gave acte de presence in international airspace bordering Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany and Denmark.

Royal Air Force Typhoons came home with nice pictures of a pair of Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-31 Foxhound long-distance interceptors. Saab JAS 39 Gripen planes of the Swedish Air Force shadowed a pair of Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers escorted by two MiG-31s twice in 24 hours, as the Russian Air Force package was making a routine flight from the St. Petersburg area over the Baltic Sea towards Kaliningrad.

Baltic Air Policing
NATO planes at Ämari in Estonia and/or Šiauliai in Lithuania and/or Malbork in Poland also scramble to intercept a Ilyushin IL-20 at least on one occasion. The recon/spy plane is a regular for the NATO jets. The more specials of this week were a Iluyshin / Beriev A-50 AWACS and an Antonov AN-26. Currently the Baltic Air Policing mission on the three bases mentioned, is run by the Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) and the Belgian Air Component – both each with 4 F-16AM Fighting Falcons – plus the Royal Air Force and the Italian Air Force – both each with 4 Eurofighter EF2000 / Typhoon jets.

Saber Strike
Meanwhile NATO forces “attacked” a military airfield, Swidwin Airbase in Poland, as part of the multinational exercise Saber Strike 2015 (8 – 19 June) that includes the countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as well. The Saber Strike airfield assault that included a paradrop was meant to prep ground and air forces for a possible combined operation of the future.

In an attempt to keep things at bay in that future the US policy makers are now even considering sending half or a whole squadron of F-22A Raptor air-supiority stealth fighters to the other side of the Atlantic, but neither a time schedule or a possible base of operations has been revealed.

Looks like the start of a warm Summer in usually cold Northern Europe.

© 2015 editor Marcel Burger
Featured image (top): A MiG-31 in earlier action (Image © Olga Balashova / Russian Air Force)

Russia to militarize the brand-new MS-21 airliner

Russia is to militarize the brand-new MS-21 (MC-21 in Russian) airliner under development with Irkut as lead, sources in Moscow and at the Paris Air Show (PAS15) have confirmed. Like with the Boeing 737 turned into the P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol and airborne surveillance platform, the Russian military is reportedly keen to do the same thing with the new flagship civilian airliner.

The Russian Ministry of Defence is or will soon order 30 to 45 MS-21. They are to start replacing its aging Tupolev Tu-134 and Tu-154 aircraft serving as VIP/transport aircraft. The Tupolevs also provide specializations. The UBL version, for example, flies as a bomber trainer operating from Tambov Airbase with as many as 30 believed to be operational. The Russian Air Force reportedly still has 9 Tu-134s and 17 Tu-154s operational for passenger duties.

With the first MS-21 being assembled since April 2015, Irkut is already focusing on getting more orders by adding military configurations to the Magistralny Samolyot 21 (MS-21 or “Carbon Fibre” plane).

As a civilian airliner the MS-21 might snoop up future orders from f.ex. Aeroflot that would otherwise go to Boeing or Airbus.

© 2015 editor Marcel Burger
Featured image: Computer rendering of the Irkut MC-21 / MS-21 (Image © United Aircraft Corporation)

Sukhoi flies first prototype of AN-2 replacement

The skies above Yeltsovka Airport (HA3) of the Novosibirsk Aviation Plant of Sukhoi saw the maiden flight of a new aircraft on 10 June 2015. Piloted by Siberian Research Institute of Aviation (SibNIA) director and test pilot Vladimir Barsu, a small single-engine bi-plane went into the blue yonder. The aircraft only called Light Multipurpose Aircraft for now was given is to replace the Ukrainian-made Antonov AN-2s in Russia, according to statement released by Sukhoi.

The new plane is partly constructed by carbon fiber parts and polymeric composite materials (PCM) and will be produced at the Novosibirsk aircraft plant. No planned number of aircraft have been announced though, but once the aircraft has been tested that could go into anything from 100 to several thousand of aircraft.

The carbon fiber elements are included in the wings and ribs of the biplane. More PCMs are to be put into the fuselage, while design and construction of the aircraft continues.

© 2015 editor Marcel Burger, based on source information provided by Sukhoi
Featured image: The first step to a Russian replacement for the Antonov AN-2 airborne for the first time on 10 June 2015 (Image © Sukhoi)

More trouble for Airbus A400M

More evidence of the apparent disrespect for quality checks at the Airbus A400M manufacturing plant in Seville (Sevilla) in Spain – at least on the aircraft produced so far – has come to light this week. The issues are that serious that the German Air Force is going to keep its ancient C-160D Transall airlifters airborne into the next decade.

According to Luftwaffe inspection reports leaked to German media like Der Spiegel magazine, very important bolts that hold the big and very essential rudder of the aircraft show defects that are a direct result of problems during the assembly that should normally have been seen during routine quality checks. So far the defects are only confirmed on the single Luftwaffe A400M, as the French, British and Malaysian air forces have so far not given information on the matter.

Plastic bag
The rear end of the A400M already has given the Germans unpleasant surprises. During flight tests in April this year the Luftwaffe A400M crew heard repeatedly strange noises in the tail section of the plane. When investigating the matter further they found a plastic bag with screws left behind by a mechanic on the inside of part of the tail section.

Hohn Airbase
Not trusting the Airbus product Berlin has now made an alternative plan to keep the Air Force providing enough airlift in the near future:  as reported earlier here on, the aging C-160 Transalls will have to soldier on until at least 2021, costing the tax payers 300 million euro extra and keeping Hohn Airbase in the north of the country open as C-160D location.

© 2015 editor Marcel Burger
Featured image (top): The first German Air Force A400M (54+01 or MSN18) during taxi trials on 13 October 2014 at the Airbus plant in Seville, Spain (Image © Airbus Defence & Space)