Category Archives: Editors’ Choice

The Starfighter flies again – in Europe

It was 9 years since Europe saw its last flying Starfighter. Or was it? Norwegians on Wednesday 28 September once more had the opportunity to see and hear a flying Starfighter, as a two seater CF-104 took off from Bodø airbase after a lengthy restoration proces. Europe has a flying Starfighter again!

The US has Lockheed F-104s participating in the airshow circuit, but Europe was cut off from flying Starfighters after the last Italian F-104s retired in 2007. That has now changed because of a Norwegian project to bring back to life an F-104 that was stuck on the ground for the previous 33 years.

The F-104 took off from Bodø for its first flight in all those years, immediately producing that famous howling sound with its General Electric J79 engine. Hear it in the clip below.

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India finally signs up for 36 Rafales

France and India on Friday 23 September signed a contract finalizing the acquisition by India of 36 Rafales, compromising 28 single seat and 8 two seater aircraft. The contract ends a proces that has caused headaches in both countries for years, but especially since Indian Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, in April 2015 said his country would purchase the Rafale.

Actually, India chose the Rafale three years before, when in 2012 the French jet came out winning a competition with other fighter jets that already started in 2007.  According to Dassault, the new contract ‘demonstrates the strategic relationship and the exemplary partnership between the two countries, and marks the natural culmination of a relationship of trust born in 1953 when India became the first export customer of Dassault Aviation’.

But trust seemed hard to find over the last few years, when fact and fiction about the pending deal became very hard to distinguish from each other. At times, negotiations seemed to be fought out in the media, rather than over the negotiation table. Price, technology transfer and difficulties over license production in India were at the hard of tough talks.

In the midst of this, India saw delivery of newly updated Dassault Mirage 2000s. In the Indian Air Force, the new Rafales will mainly update next to Sukhoi Su-30 Flankers.

The Rafale entered service with the French Navy in 2004 and the French Air Force in 2006. It was proven in combat in Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, Iraq and Syria. In 2015 and seemingly putting pressure on India, Dassault managed to sell Rafale to Egypt and Qatar for 24 Rafale each. In mid 2016, 152 Rafale were delivered.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

Norway spills the beans: dozens of F-35s affected by bad wiring

Faulty wiring has caused 15 Lockheed Martin F-35A’s to be grounded in the US, while 42 aircraft currently in production in Fort Worth are affected by the same problem. The news was  made public solely by the Royal Norwegian Air Force, which saw two of its four F-35s stationed at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, affected by the problem.

The state-of-the-art and highly expensive F-35 uses its fuel tanks as part of its on-board cooling system. Several cooling lines have been installed inside the tanks to allow cooling liquid for the aircraft’s avionics and other systems to pass through. The lines are covered in insulating materials that in some cases have been found to decompose, leaving residue in the fuel.

The issue first came to light during inspection of a US aircraft at Luke, following which 14 more F-35s were found to be affected by the same problem. Among those are two jets that Norway received from Lockheed Martin earlier in 2016, leading to a decision by Norwegian authorities to temporarily suspend flight operations with these aircraft pending corrective measures.

According to the Norwegians the problem is not a design flaw, but instead is caused by a supplier using improper materials and improper sealing techniques for these specific parts. “I expect Lockheed Martin to identify the appropriate measures to correct this issue, and that they implement these as quickly as possible, says Major General Morten Klever, the director of the Norwegian F-35 Program Office.”

Lockheed Martin appears to have no choice, since an additional 42 jets currently on the production line have received parts from the same provider, including three Norwegian aircraft scheduled for delivery early next year.

Norway plans to procure up to 52 F-35A, and has so far received four aircraft. Beginning in 2017, Norway plans to receive six aircraft annually, and the F-35 will begin taking over missions from the current F-16-fleet in 2019. As of September 2016 more than 200 F-35s have been delivered, including test aircraft, which have completed more than 68 000 flight hours, including roughly four hundred hours with Norwegian F-35s.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

Why Boeing plays its cards right with the T-X

Boeing this week gave itself a handful of exactly the right cards when it comes to the winning the T-X competition that is aimed at replacing hundreds of ageing US Air Force T-38 training jets over the next decade. Their solution is the twin-tailed, single-engined and apparently cleverly designed Boeing T-X, developed in partnership with Swedish Saab. The new jet may very well come out victorious.

It’s not often these days that a major aircraft manufacturer unveils a jet that was 100 percent designed from scratch. All eyes were therefore set on Boeing as the company revealed its T-X on Tuesday 13 September. Prior to that, only an artist’s impression and a few sneak peeks of the aircraftwere revealed. Boeing is producing two aircraft at first, which are registered as BT-X in the Federal Aviation Authority register.

Stealing looks
The result positively surprised many; a futuristic looking jet that however also steals some looks from the legendary F-104 Starfighter, especially when it comes to the front section. The rear more resembles modern fighter such as the F-15, F-22 and F-35. As a whole, it even looks remarkably similar to the new-ish AirLand Scorpion.

Stealing parts
And yet, the BT-X was actually not 100 percent designed from scratch and steals more than just looks for other jets. It steal the F-16’s front and main landing gear and internally uses many parts of the Saab Gripen. In the past, this design method was also succesfully used on aircraft such as the F-117. Commonality helps keeping development and production costs low and gives the jet an immediate edge over its competitors, being the Lockheed Martin/Korea Aerospace Industries T-50, Leonardo/Raytheon T-100 (based on the M-346) and the Northrop Grumman T-X design. According to Boeing, their BT-X can be produced and put together relatively simple, whatever that precisely means.

Yes, Lockheed Martin T-50 is an exisiting design and also should benefit from lower development costs, and the same goes for the T-100. But both are non-US designs, and the lengthy and unimpressive process that finally led to the US designed KC-46 over the existing European Airbus A330 MRTT as the US Air Force’s next tanker aircraft, proves Washington’s preference for US designs.

Boeing T-38 contract
The Boeing T-X is just that: a design mainly from a US contractor, with just the right amount of development to be done. Considering criticised projects such as the And remember, Boeing earlier in 2016 won a ten-year contract worth $855 million for updating T-38 trainer jets, the very aircraft the T-X will replace. It’s the perfect way to gain expertise and insight into the exact requirements of modern day fighter pilot training.

Engine
Also, Boeing uses the afterburning General Electric F404 engine in its design, as do the T-50 and Northrop Grumman T-X competitor – not to mention the Saab Gripen. The yet-to-fly Leonardo/Raytheon T-100 will use two Honeywell/ITEC F124 turbofans and is he only contender to use two engines and not use afterburner. That’s a problem for the joint US-Italian designed T-100 right there in terms of costs, maintenance and performance. Northrop Grumman meanwhile has it hands full with developing the new Longe Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B), also known as the future B-21.

The US Air Force’s new trainer should be fully operational in 2024 at the latest. A decision on which design wins the competition, is to be taken over the next few years. Boeing drew its cards right. No need even for a pokerface, it seems.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

True British RAF Transporter turned 35

The only true British military transport aircraft type in Royal Air Force service has turned 35 years old. On 3 September 1981 the BAe 146 took first to the skies, as a regional airliner, at Hatfield in Hertfordshire. Many years later the four RAF machines are part of the surviving active fleet of 220 BAe 146s worldwide.

Serving with No. 32 (The Royal) Squadron at RAF Nordholt two BAe 146 CCMk2s are there to transport members of the Royal Family and other senior government or military hotshots. A pair of grey painted BAe 146 CMk3s – based on the civilian QC variant – provide tactical air transport in both the passenger and palletised freight role.

Succesful jetliner

RAF’s quartet are part of a successful British regional jetliner production when looking at the numbers. A total of 394 BAe 146s – and its successor the Avro RJ – were built until production ceased after 22 years of operations in November 2003 in Woodford, Ceshire. Together the type has made more than 12 million hours of flight.

Civilian role

In a civilian role the BAe 146s often provide freight services, for example with Virgin Australia. In parts of Europe the type is commonly deployed as city hopper, for example between Stockholm-Bromma and Brussels IAP.

Firefighting

In the aerial firefighting role three operators in North America will use the machine as a 3000 gallon fire extinguisher and are replacing older piston and turboprop aircraft.

Coming decades

With many of the aircraft having made 20,000 to 35,000 take-offs and landings, most of the BAe 146s are still very much able to double or almost triple that number the coming decades.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com senior contributor Marcel Burger
Featuring image: Historic image of a RAF Royal Flight BAe 146 CC2 landing at Zürich-Kloten on 23 January 2008 (Image © Juergen Lehle (albspotter.eu))