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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
NATO maritime patrol aircraft of France and Canada have come to the rescue of the Royal Air Force and are hunting a Russian sub off the coast of Scotland, according to some British sources on Monday 23 November 2015.
The Russian submarine was apparently detected a number of days ago just north of the United Kingdom. With the RAF having no anti-submarine capacity of its own, the UK Ministry of Defence called Paris and Ottawa. Two French Navy Dassault Atlantique 2 and a Royal Canadian Air Force Lockheed CP-140 Polaris are now forming the make-shift airborne maritime patrol fleet, operating out of RAF Lossiemouth.
London officially acknowledges the presence of “foreign aircraft” at Lossiemouth, but does not comment in length on their operations. Royal Navy sources however have confirmed the involvement of at least one frigate and a hunter-killer submarine in offshore operations in the area without releasing details.
Boeing P-8 Poseidon
If the NATO aircraft are indeed actively involved in “the hunt for Red November”, it marks the third time in 12 months this happens. Relieve is on the way, the Ministry of Defence just announced the purchase of nine Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft today. But since it will take a few years for the production to be done, NATO will likely have to step in again to serve Her Majesty’s once tough air weapon.
A Eurofighter Typhoon last week successfully completed a release of the conventionally armed, stealthy, long-range stand-off precision MBDA Storm Shadow missile, Eurofighter announced on Monday 9 November, coinciding with the first trade day at the Dubai Air Show 2015. The test comes almost two years after the Storm Shadow was first fitted to a Typhoon jet.
The trials were conducted in November 2015 at Aberporth MoD firing range in the UK, supported Alenia Aermacchi, BAE Systems, missile designer and producer MBDA, plus specialist trials support from QinetiQ. The Typhoon that released the missile was an Instrumented Production Aircraft (IPA). Te test continues a series of trials led by Alenia Aermacchi, to demonstrate integration of the Storm Shadow missile with Typhoon’s weapon system.
The integration of the missile with the aircraft’s weapon system was successfully demonstrated, says Eurofighter. The trials also verified the interface of the missile with the weapon system for pre-launch checks, demonstrated post-launch safe separation and the subsequent start of missile flight.
Storm Shadow is a long range missile designed to take out high value, hardened or buried targets. and is already in service with the Italian Air Force and Royal Air Force. The weapon has been used by Tornado fighter bomber aircraft before.
To be able to drop a laser guided bomb from 20,000 feet you must be reasonably certain that the enemy can not kill you before you drop your bombs. If you do not have control of the air, you are left with cold war tactics of flying in low and fast to take control of the air. These missions are difficult and dangerous and it is the focus for junior pilots as they are trained to become fighters. It involves looking out for turning points, red air and….. the colour of a cottage door.
My final low level flight on the Hawk course before the new T2 brought glass cockpits and advanced avionics, was such as flight and it the most difficult flight I had to pass in my RAF career. The day started as usual with a weather-brief before my instructor gave me a 1:25,000 map and on it was an old mill in a Welsh valley. He also gave me a set of black and white photographs and a description of the building complex stating how the target was built and how it worked. It was simulating a power station and my task was to stop it working for at least 24hrs.
It was decided to attack the generator hall simulating the use of 500lb bombs. I set to work on the target attack, figuring out how we would find the target and what direction we would need to drop the bombs from to make sure we achieved the task.
I found the another maps from the surrounding area and lay them out on the table to see if there was a really big feature within about 2 minutes’ flying time the I could use as an Initial Point or “IP”. Once I found this big feature, I worked out how long it would take us to fly the attack, the worked out what time I needed to get to the IP at. All that planning gave me a planned take off time, a time to walk to the jets and a time to brief. Which was about 5 minutes ago!
Navigation is taught using detailed planning techniques. Map reading at 120kts is a different skill from that used when hillwalking. The start of a route is planned to begin at a big feature on the ground which is easy to find, such as a lighthouse on a coast. Turn points are chosen for their ease of identification whilst flying towards them. A forest might stand out easily on a map, but from low level, a mast (sometimes overlooked on a map) is by far the better turn point if it is big enough and unique. Features need to be BIG, like a mountain or lake.
As I taxied out, I watched a another Hawk take off. It was red air, an instructor launching to be the air threat for our mission! We lined up on the runway as a pair, I gave the “wind it up” hand signal and we set full power against the brakes. We each checked our engines were operating normally then set a slightly reduced power. This reduced power would give my wingman the ability to use more power if he needed it to stay in position during the formation take off. I looked at the wingman, he was giving me a thumbs up, so I tapped my helmet three times and with a nod of the head, we both released our brakes.
As we began rolling down the runway I looked at my watch, we were late. With the landing gear up I pushed the flat of my hand against the canopy, signalling my wingman to deploy into a tactical formation. I directed the formation towards the start of the low level route only about 30nm away in north Wales. I was already looking at my map working out where I would cut short the route to make up the 3minutes and 23 seconds we were late.
I had a plan, and away we went, dropping into the countryside down to 250’ at 420kts. Where we could we used the natural roads (valleys) to get between turn points. This helps stay out of sight of eyes and radars, stays below the weather and helps with navigation.
By the third turnpoint we were on time, we had extra fuel and the weather had improved. The clouds were breaking up nicely and great big holes of blue could be seen in the white cloud sheet. I looked across at my wingman to check his formation and saw a very brief glint of something against the cloud. Red air! I commanded the formation to break towards the hostile fighter and directed my wingman’s eyes onto the threat until he told me he could see it too. We fought a brief turning fight at low level before the hostile hawk ran off. He had done his job and ruined my timing! And where was I? You can’t stop, so a rough direction towards the target area was a sensible move until I found a big enough feature to work out where I was.
Now I had to work out our timing again, decide if I could turn short anywhere, or if I had to speed up. I was lucky and the route was still long enough to have places left that I could cut short. The attack went as planned. As we got back together as a formation, my instructor pretended to be AWACS and told me to look in my map holder in the cockpit. He had drawn a second target map up and asked if we could attack it. I had to find out where it was, decide how to get there and back and brief the wingman.
The encounter with the other Hawk had used up most of our combat gas though and I didn’t think we had enough fuel to make it so I refused the mission and we flew home as planned via a second pre-planned target which was a recce task of finding out the colour of the front door on a remote welsh cottage.
After the mission I had to debrief the sortie and state what went well and what could have been done better. It turns out we could have just about made the late notice target but only just with no extra combat gas, so my decision was deemed acceptable.
What did I learn from that? I’d rather be red air! And of course: low level tactic continues to be important.
Test Pilot Pete ‘Wizzer’ Wilson from BAE Systems became the first ever pilot to launch the Lockheed Martin F-35B Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant from a ski-jump on Friday 19 June. The launch took place from a land based ski jump at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland and marks the start of an initial testing phase expected to last two weeks.
The trials demonstrate the aircraft’s ability to take off safely and effectively from a ski-jump ramp similar to that which will be used on the UK’s new aircraft carrier. The United States Marine Corps’ F-35B will operate from carriers without the jump.
According to Wilson, the jet performed as expected. Engineers in the UK will use the data from the flight trialsto further improve the models used in simulation. BAE Systems claims is it developing a simulator that allows pilots and engineers to train to fly the F-35 from the deck of the Queen Elizabeth carrier before either are available.