Captain-Commanders Andrei Constantin and Cătălin Micloş became the first Romanian Air Force pilots to fly solo on the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon on 26 November 2014.
The seasoned fighter jocks made their flights from 5 Air Base in Monte Real. At this Portuguese Air Force (FAP) base Romanian crews are preparing for the official hand-over of a dozen Vipers from the FAP, including three jets flown in from US stock since the Força Aérea Portuguesa only had 9 aircraft available.
The two Romanian officers are from 71st Air Base in Turzii and have both more than 15 years of flight experience, each accumulating over 1,100 flight hours, of which about 900 on the MiG-21 Lancer. Both flew Baltic Air Policing missions in 2007.
The detachment of the Romanian Air Force at Monte Real is 23 people strong and also includes engineers and technical specialists in planning. The program is scheduled to take place in several series, over a period of about two years, and includes the preparation of 80 soldiers, including nine pilots to fly the F-16s. The remainder of the training will be done in Romania, with three of the 12 F-16s – designed in the 1970s by General Dynamics – acting as reserves.
It’s a return the former times as NATO forces detected and intercepted various groups of Russian military aircraft over the Baltic Sea, North Sea, Atlantic Ocean and Black Sea on Tuesday 28 and Wednesday 29 October 2014. The Russian operations represent an unusual level of air activity over European airspace and are described by NATO as ‘significant military manoeuvers’.
In the very early hours of Wednesday 29 October, NATO radars detected and tracked eight Russian aircraft flying in formation over the North Sea in international airspace. Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16 aircraft, presumably from Bodø airbase, scrambled, intercepted and identified the Russian aircraft, which included four Tu-95 Bear H strategic bombers and four Il-78 air-to-air tankers. Two Tu-95 Bear H bombers eventually continued south-west, heading down the Norwegian coast. The Russian aircraft continued over the North Sea, by which time Typhoon fighters from the United Kingdom scrambled in response.
The Bears continued down over the Atlantic Ocean and ended up west of Portugal, where the two Russian aircraft were intercepted and identified by Força Aérea Portuguesa F-16s from Monte Real airbase. The Russian aircraft then finally turned back heading north-east, flying to the west of the United Kingdom and back towards Russia.
Also on Wednesday 29 October, NATO radars spotted four Russian 2 Tu-95 Bear-H bombers and 2 Su-27 Flanker fighter jets flying over the Black Sea in international air space. Turkish Air Force fighter aircraft intercepted the Russian aircraft and NATO continued to track them in international airspace.
It doesn’t end there. Russian aircraft – two MiG-31 Foxhounds, two Su-34 Fullbacks, one Su-27 Flanker and two Su-24 Fencers – were seen flying over the Baltic Sea in international airspace, including Portuguese F-16 Fighters assigned to the Baltic Air Policing mission were scrambled in response and the Russian aircraft returned to Russian airspace.
One day earlier, on Tuesday 28 October, another flight of seven Russian combat aircraft was detected while flying in international airspace over the Baltic Sea. These also included Foxhounds, Fullbacks , Flankers and Fencers. German Typhoon fighter jets from NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission intercepted these flights, while Denmark and non-NATO members Sweden and Finland also sent up fighter aicraft.
According to NATO, the Russians did not file flight plans or maintain radio contact with civilian air traffic control authorities. They were also not using on-board transponders. This could pose a risk to civil aviation as civilian air traffic control cannot detect these aircraft or ensure there is no interference with civilian air traffic.
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.
For the first time in history Swedish fighter jets touched down on Estonian ground on 2 October 2014. Together with Finnish jets the two large Scandinavian countries started a series of air combat training with the NATO air forces of Estland, Portugal, the Netherlands, Canada and Germany. Base of operations for it all: Ämari Airbase in Estonia, which until February this year was not taken much seriously. That has all changed after Russia sent military forces into the Crimean Peninsula and Eastern Ukraine.
During the exercise the participating countries will train on intercepting other aircraft. A trick that not only NATO, Sweden and Finland, but also Russia is doing a lot these days. A Flygvapnet S 102B Korpen (Swedish Air Force Electronic Signals gathering version of the Gulfstream IVS) was almost body checked recently in international airspace over the Baltic Sea by a heavily armed Russian Su-27 Flanker fighter launched from Kaliningrad. This Russian enclave is squeezed between Lithuania and Poland. The news and photos taken by the Swedish signal intelligence organisation personnel on board the S 102B was first published by Swedish quality newspaper Svenska Dagbladet on Thursday 1 October 2014.
Officially the training from Ämari is more peaceful and aimed at intercepting an aircraft with which radio contact has been lost. Part of the scenario is that the four Swedish JAS 39C Gripen fighters and at least a pair of Finnish F-18s make the first interception and then transfer the responsibility to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing (BAP). During the exercise the BAP is provided by a pair of Portuguese Air Force F-16s, a pair of Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188s and up to four German Air Force EF2000s. A single Estonian L-410 transport aircraft is the “catch” during the exercise, which has given its crew excellent photo opportunities of the intercepting fighter aircraft.
The Luftwaffe Eurofighters are temporarily based in Estonia for the BAP mission, while the RCAF Hornets and Força Aérea Portuguesa Fighting Falcons flew over from their BAP base in Lithuania for the duration of the exercise. All fighters, including the Swedish Gripens return to their forward operation bases or homebases after the day’s exercise to join the action again the next day. For the Swedes that means RTB Ronneby, near the main naval base of Karlskrona in the southeast of the country.
LATEST UPDATE 5 OCTOBER 2014 (GERMAN AIR FORCE INTERCEPT) | Several air forces scrambled on Sunday 21 September to intercept a small but powerful Russian Air Force package cruising over the Baltic Sea, one of Sweden’s leading military experts, journalist Mikael Holmström, made public via his newspaper Svenska Dagbladet on 25 September 2014.
Two fast and heavy strategic Tu-22M bombers (NATO-name Backfire) escorted by a pair of Sukhoi Su-27 air-supiority fighters (NATO-name Flanker) had airbases all around the Baltic Sea on full alert.
Several sources confirmed that Finland directed at least a pair of McDonnell Douglas F-18C or D Hornets, normally based at Kuopio/Rissala, to the cruising Russian Air Force package. Sweden scrambled a pair of its SAAB JAS 39C Gripen jets from Ronneby Airbase near Karlskrona. Danish General Dynamics (Lockheed Martin) F-16s – with their home at Skrydstrup on the mainland – headed for the Russian bombers and escorts as well.
From Šiauliai in Lithuania NATO command launched at least two of the Portuguese F-16AMs based there as rotating Baltic Air Policing assets. It is unconfirmed if the Luftwaffe EF2000s at Laage in Germany reacted with their Eurofighter EF2000s, or that the Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16s or Polish Air Force MiG-29s from Malbork were scrambled. It is known that the Germans have huge issues with the availability of their EF2000s.
German Air Force
But on the same day the German Air Force at Ämari in Estonia did scramble a pair of its EF2000s to intercept two Russian Su-27s coming from the St. Petersburg area, which might have been the bomber escorts or a second flight of Russian Flankers. The German jets just made a quick circular flight clockwise around the Estonian capital of Tallinn intercepting the Russians while they were travelling westbound over the waters between Finland and the Baltics, according to Luftwaffe reports.