In social circles, I find that my profession is an unusual one about which I get asked some pretty standard questions: “how fast have you been? How high have you been? Do you ever get scared?” Luckily, pilots love to talk about themselves and flying in general. The chats I like are those which ask questions I haven’t even thought about. Some of these were “what’s the coolest thing you’ve seen?” and “what are your most memorable flights?”
So, the coolest thing I’ve seen? I can’t choose one thing, but I can probably make a shortlist.
1. Watching the Northern Lights on NVGs while I was flying from Scotland.
2. Watching my wingman trail a shockwave behind him with the sun setting behind him at low level over the North Sea
3. Watching mount Etna erupt with massive thunderstorms all around me while I flew on NVGs on my way to Libya
4. Landing on a compacted snow runway at Bodo in Norway
5. Looking in my mirrors as I left contrails behind me flying a barrel roll at 38,000’ in a Typhoon for the first time
6. Looking at the curvature of the earth from 50,000 over the Falkland Islands flying at Mach 2
7. The view on top of the clouds on a rainy day
My most memorable flights?
1. First solo in every aeroplane I’ve flown
2. First flight in every aeroplane I’ve flown
3. My “wings trip” when I passed my advanced flight course on the hawk
4. Passenger flights when I took ground crew flying as passengers
5. The first time I went air to air refuelling
6. My first war time flight
7. The first time I dropped a bomb in anger
8. My third trip on the Typhoon OCU where students are introduced the high performance capability of the jet
As for the standard questions?
Twice the speed of sound, 55,000’ and yes. We can chat in more detail about some of these flights another time, unless you can think of a different question you would ask?
The Italian government’s worries about the deteriorating political and military situation in Libya, a sort of neighbour just across the Mediterranean, has become that strong, that the Rome’s Ministry of Defence has ordered a quartet of AMX light combat jets and a Predator on forward operational deployment to Sicily.
The Italian Air Force aircraft landed at Trapani Airbase, which will be their home for the time being, local media report. For now the AMXs are tasked with reconnaissance only, although arming them with ground-attack weapons could be easily carried out. The Aeronautica Militare jets flew in from their homebase Istrana, and are part of the 51 Wing (51 Stormo).
In 2011 the Italian Air Force was actively involved in NATO-led bombing operations against the military of the regime led by the then Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, who was subsequently killed by a Libyan rebel on the ground at close range after two months of NATO airstrikes in a rare cooperation with local rebel forces / Mujaheddin.
Since then Libya has not been stable at all, with the so-called Islamic State forces that control large parts of Syria and Iraq trying to get a third stronghold in the North African country as well. Several nations – including the US and France – are already monitoring the situation. US forces have executed pin-point airstrikes, including in November 2015 by a pair of McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F-15s, while Egyptian Air Force F-16s have carried out attacks against ISIS in Libya in February last year.
The length of the AMX deployment to Trapani is not known, but that the dispatch to Sicily is an illustration of raised concerns about how things are going in Libya is certain.
Egyptian F-16s were called into action against Islamic State forces in Libya, striking weapons depots and training locations near the city of Darna. The ministry of Defense released a video of F-16s taking off from an unknown airbase. More strikes took place on Monday.
The strikes are a direct response to the apparent murder of 21 Egyptians by ISIS / ISIL / Daech. Egypt has a substantial F-16 fleet, consisting of 228 aircraft Block 42 standard or higher. Older A and B models have been upgraded. Newer C and D versions are the most numerous. The aircraft in the video below is a D model, although the aircraft does not seem to be armed with bombs. Another version of the same clip however shows armed F-16s.
Egypt has the 4th largest Lockheed Martin (General Dynamics) F-16 fleet of the world, after the United States (about 1,200), Israel (287-319 operational) and Turkey (236). ISIS is strong in Syria and Iraq, but its affiliated armed groups in Libya are less known.
The Short Little Ugly Fat Fellow (SLUFF) has finally had it, bought the farm, bitten the dust, slipped to the other side, snuffed it – but not silently and not without a surprise. In Greece these days, the Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV) A-7 Corsair II is heading into retirement, its career to be celebrated on Friday 17 October 2014 with an airshow at Araxos airbase, the final home of A-7 Corsairs anywhere in the world. A classic carrier aircraft, albeit one that saw service with just four countries since its first flight on 27 September 1965.
Vietnam never was one of those countries, but it was over this country that early in its career the Corsair had its baptism of fire in the hands of US Navy pilots. Less than two years after the first flight, the subsonic A-7A Corsair entered the skies over Vietnam, serving as a bomb truck and operating from US aircraft carriers. The aircraft was still in its early stages. Later US Navy Corsair versions saw improvements in flight characteristics and engine thrust, but when the Vietnam war ended close to a hundred US Navy Corsairs had been lost in action.
The US Air Force came up with the land based A-7D, a version that had yet more engine thrust (14,500 pounds over 11,345 pounds for the A-7A) and was one of the first aircraft ever to feature a head-up display (HUD). The type also served in Vietnam, flying Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) missions under the famous ‘Sandy’ call sign. In later days, the US Air Force A-7Ds transferred to the Air National Guard. The A-7D was only used in anger again during operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989.
Not so for the US Navy A-7E. Lesser known is the deployment of the A-7 during US actions in the Middle East during the early 80s, for example over Lebanon in 1983. A Syrian ground-to-air missile downed one Corsair during that operation. In March 1986, US Navy Corsair took part in strikes against Libya, using anti-radar missiles mostly. US pilots took the Corsair to war for the last time during the 1991 Gulf War, again firing missiles at Iraqi radar sites, but also delivering guided munitions.
After returning from the Gulf, the final US Navy Corsairs were replaced with F/A-18 Hornets. The Air National Guard said its goodbye to the A-7D in 1993, replacing the majority with F-16 Fighting Falcons.
Most of the US A-7s ended up in storage, but not all. Portugal already got its hand on a batch of second hand US Navy A-7s in 1980, receiving 44 in the end and retiring the last aircraft on 10 June 1999. The type flew a total of 64,000 flight hours in Força Aérea Portuguesa service.
Thai Corsairs were a rare breed: 18 – among which four two seaters – were taken from US surplus in the 90s and based at U-Tapao, to be used by 104 squadron of the Royal Thai Navy Air Arm. The Corsair’s career in Thailand only lasted just over a decade.
In Greece, it lasted close to four decades. Other than Portugal and Thailand, Greece ordered factory fresh A-7Hs back in 1975, the specifications based on those of the A-7D. The Hellenics liked the Corsair so much, they ordered a batch of former US Navy A-7Es and TA-7C two seaters in the 90s. It are these aircraft that are the world’s last flying Vought A-7 Corsairs, although that distinction will be over and done with by the end of October 2014.
The squadron flying the final aircraft is 336 Mira at Araxos airbase, and over the last few months the pilots took real pride in their mounts. The squadron is well known for painting up aircraft for special occasions, such as the NATO Tiger Meet. The unit also made an effort of proper training up until the very last moments; only last August, an A-7E was lost during a training flight, with the pilot safely using his ejection seat. Going out with a bang, not silently – like we said.
The United States Navy is seeking possibilities to acquire 22 additional Boeing (McDonnell Douglas) EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft and thus keeping the Super Hornet production line open for additional years.
By adding additional electronic warfare aircraft to the existing squadron the Navy tucks itself in for possible attrition losses or future demands. With the current Super Hornet / Growler production line under threat of closing down, it might be a way to either keep the line open and/or to build up margins – in other words: to prevent a lack of assets in the future.
The first operational EA-18G Growler, a derivative of the F/A-18E/F SuperHornet, was delivered to the the US Navy’s Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 129 at NAS Whidbey Island in Washington state on 4 June 2008. At that time five EA-18Gs were already flying as test aircraft within the Navy. The Growlers are the successor of the EA-6B Prowler, which has been in service since 1971. The EA-18G combat debut was in 2011, enforcing a UN mandated no-fly zone over Libya dubbed Operation Odyssey Dawn.