Again a goodbye to the legendary McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II jet that has rocked many of the world’s air spaces since the 1970s. This time the farewell is at Tyndall AFB in Florida USA, where the final QF-4 aerial target took off on 27 May 2015 – after the type has served for 20 years at the base.
The rather sad faith of these particular Phantom version was sealed about 30 minutes ago, when the two QF-4s that took off remotely-controlled by people at the ground station were destroyed in mid-air by fighter jocks flying other aircraft.
Tyndall’s QF-4 program initially started in 1997 and the destruction of the last two QF-4s marks its replacement with the QF-16 Falcon. Like the QF-4, the QF-16 is a full-scale aerial target that can be flown manned or unmanned. Unlike the QF-4, the QF-16 has all the capabilities of a newer generation aircraft.
“We get much more maneuverability out of it, and essentially we have a fully capable F-16 Falcon,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Garrison, 82nd ATRS director of operations. “It can pull 9 G’s, go supersonic and climb up to 55,000 ft. just like the front line fighters. We now have that as a target.”
The third and fourth Sikorsky/Lockheed Martin MH-60R “Romeo” Seahawk helicopters for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) went airborne for the first time on 25 February 2014 at the Lockheed Martin facility in Owego, New York. Marked clearly as No. 3 and No. 4 the pair will join the RAN’s first two helicopters already training at Jacksonville Naval Air Station in Florida.
Royal Australian Navy MH-60R No. 1 and No. 2 started flying from Jacksonville exactly a month earlier, after being accepted in December 2013 by representatives of the Government of Australia. “It’s the first time we pack a punch on our naval assets using the Hellfire missile that we’ve never had before,” says RAN Commander David Frost of NUSQN 725 which is the Australian temporary MH-60R squadron at Jacksonville. “It’s an aircraft that’s jam-packed with sensors the likes of which we’ve never seen and the US Navy are still coming to grips with. It’s an incredible aircraft.”
The entire fleet of 24 aircraft will be delivered to the RAN by 2017. When the first Romeos will arrive at the continent Down Under is yet unclear.
The first Lockheed Martin QF-16 aerial target made its first unmanned flight, thanks to a joint effort of Boeing and the US Air Force.
Two USAF test pilots in a ground control station remotely flew the QF-16, which is a retired F-16 jet modified to be an aerial target. The QF-16 mission profile included automatic take-off, a series of simulated maneuvers, supersonic flight, and an auto land, all without a pilot in the cockpit. It looks weird – just see the video below.
,,It was a little different to see a F-16 take off without anyone in it, but it was a great flight all the way around,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Inman, the commander of the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron.
The milestone flight initiates more operational evaluations, including a live fire test at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. The Navy, Army and Air Force will ultimately use QF-16s for weapons testing and other training.
Boeing has modified six F-16s into the QF-16 configuration. Low-rate initial production is scheduled to begin in the fourth quarter, with first production deliveries in 2015. For decades the US aerial targets were dominated by the McDonnell Douglas QF-4 Phantom II, an aircraft from the Vietnam War era.
A US Navy Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II fighter aircraft refueled from a US Air Force KC-135 for the first time on August 20, 2013. The Air Force (A) and Marines VSTOL (B) versions already made such a flight earlier. The F-35 CF-1 was piloted by Lt. Col. Patrick Moran. Earlier this month, the Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101, the Navy’s first F-35C Lightning II carrier variant aircraft squadron, completed its first flight at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
The F-35 is also known as the Joint Strike Fighter and is supposed to be the premier next-generation air combat asset of many NATO and US-allied countries for decades to come.
Sikorsky received a $435 million to build four production-representative CH-53K heavy-lift helicopters for the US Marine Corps. Designated as System Demonstration Test Articles (SDTA), the four aircraft will enable the Marines to conduct operational evaluation of the new helicopter system in support of Initial Operational Capability in 2019.
The contract schedule requires that Sikorsky deliver the first SDTA aircraft in 39 months, and the fourth by the end of March 2017, when the Marines will begin operational evaluation. Sikorsky will perform final assembly of the SDTA aircraft at the company’s Florida Assembly and Flight Operations facility in West Palm Beach.
To date, Sikorsky has delivered two of the seven SDD CH-53K aircraft – the Ground Test Vehicle and the Static Test Article – into the test program, and is finalizing assembly of the four flight test aircraft and the Fatigue Test Article. First flight of a CH-53K prototype aircraft is expected in late 2014.
Once the SDTA aircraft enter operational evaluation in 2017, the Marine Corps will verify the CH-53K helicopter’s capability to carry 27,000 pounds over 110 nautical miles under “high hot” ambient conditions, nearly tripling the external load carrying capacity of the current CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter.
Technology enablers for increased lift include three 7,500-shaft-horsepower GE38-1B engines; a split torque transmission design that more efficiently distributes engine power to the main rotors; fourth-generation composite rotor blades for enhanced lift; and a composite airframe structure for reduced weight.
Per the current program of record, the Navy intends to order an additional 196 CH-53K aircraft as part of a separate production contract to stand up eight operational squadrons and one training squadron to support the Marine Corps’ operational requirements. Eventual production quantities would be determined year-by-year over the life of the program based on funding allocations set by Congress and the U.S. Department of Defense acquisition priorities.