Tag Archives: United Kingdom

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))

Lightning strikes thrice but fails to ‘wow!’ at Fairford

Lightning struck no less than three times at Fairford airbase in the UK on Friday 8 July, during the world’s biggest airshow that is also known as the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT). Three F-35 Lightning II  were seen flying, but all but the British jet failed to impress. It takes more than a couple of fly passes to really ‘wow!’ an audience, which must have been what the UK Ministry of Defence and Lockheed Martin were actually hoping for at Fairford.

Yes, the vertical landing of the UK F-35B was a sight to behold, but it was awkward to witness a United States Marines Corps (USMC) F-35B earlier on Friday for what was the type’s very first actual public display in the UK – only to see it fly by unassumingly a couple of times beneath a USMC KC-130J tanker aircraft and land only minutes after it took off. Even the associated commentary was dull and uninspiring.

The US Air Force F-35A from Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, did slightly better with an afterburner take off followed by formation fly passes with the true star of the show, which was the US Air Force F-22 Raptor display from Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. That’s how you wow an audience.

USMC_F35B
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
F22
(Image © Elmer van Hest)

Typhoon

The other star of the show, the Eurofighter Typhoon, did likewise and actually hit more than three times. Four solo Typhoons displays feature in the airshow program, along with a dozen or so jets in the static display. Very impressive was a full blown display by a combat configured aircraft – bombs and missiles attached – by a BAE Systems test pilot.

Typhoon2
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Typhoon
(Image © Elmer van Hest)

Farnborough

The demonstration by the UK F-35B made up for some of the lacklustre Lightning II appearances earlier in the day, but again the deliverance and commentary was about as exciting as watching paint dry. The British Lightning II will also be present at next week’s Farnborough International Airshow. At Fairford, Lockheed Martin invited the media to learn all their is learn about the F-35. The Norwegians gave a full update on the status of their program.

Perhaps the Dutch indeed spoiled RIAT’s and Lockheed Martin’s party when they flew two F-35As to the Netherlands in May and spectacularly displayed them in a air power demonstration, complete with pyro technics – or perhaps we are spoiled. But the same can’t be said for the British taxpayers at Fairford, who pay a lot of money for RIAT airshow tickets, not to mention their new fighter jet that is the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II. Both deserved better.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

RAF_F35B
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
F35_F22
(Image © Elmer van Hest)

 

 

 

 

10,000 hours for modernized UK Pumas

The Royal Air Force’s fleet of modernized Puma helicopters reached the 10,000 flight hour mark recently. Under the direction of the Puma Life Extension Programme, a landmark in fleet renewal programs, the helicopters were upgraded to new-generation standards and are now operating in the UK and on overseas deployments.

In 2008, Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) was faced with a perfect storm: a financial crisis rocked the world just when budget constraints and the high operational tempo in Iraq and Afghanistan were placing a heavy toll on the U.K.’s military rotary wing fleet. At the same time, the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) aging AS330 Puma helicopters were set to go out of service. With few alternatives to replace them, retiring the Puma fleet put the nation’s rotary wing capability into a vulnerable position.

Puma upgrade

Airbus Helicopters approached the British with a proposal for a Puma upgrade that would cost significantly less than investing in a new fleet and which could be delivered in less time: the Puma Life Extension Programme (LEP). This proposal involved carrying out a major retrofit of the RAF’s Puma AS330 BA helicopters that would equip the aircraft with modern 21st Century capabilities. “The British MoD was one of the first defence organisations to consider the significant upgrade of older aircraft rather than buying new,” says Ian Morris, Head of Defence for Airbus Helicopters U.K. “In terms of providing a cost effective solution, their decision, which had many detractors, could be described as visionary.”

Airbus Helicopters Romania

Out of a total of 24 helicopters, an initial four were sent to Airbus Helicopters’ headquarters in Marignane, France to aid in the design, early upgrade and flight-testing of a prototype. The remaining 20 Pumas were sent to Airbus Helicopters Romania and upgraded according to the French design specifications. “A crucial aspect of this program was that Romania had both built and maintained more AS330s than anyone else in the world,” says Simon Heath, program manager for the Puma LEP. “

The helicopters then returned to Airbus Helicopters U.K. for final completion and installation of U.K. specific avionics. The first deliveries were made to the RAF in 2012; all 24 are now in the Air Force’s hands.

Fight the aircraft

The advantages over the older model are myriad. “When we stripped all the wiring out and put in modern avionics, we saved about 250 kilograms. We replaced that with additional fuel carrying capacity,” says Heath. A fifth fuel tank was coupled with a 25 percent reduction in fuel consumption, thanks to two new Makila 1A1 engines, leading to a considerably increased operating range and nearly double the payload. The more powerful engines mean the Puma has an increased maximum all-up mass, offering more disposable mass, which can be delivered in the most demanding of environmental conditions for use in either fuel or troops. Safety is also significantly enhanced with advanced avionics, and the latest 4 axis digital autopilot, which allows for ‘carefree handling’ to free up the pilot’s capacity to ‘fight the aircraft’ more effectively. The on-board systems are effective in allowing operations to continue safely in limited visibility conditions such as ‘brown outs’ during desert landings.

Operation Toral

In a relatively short time frame, the Puma 2s began operations, thanks in large part to the partnership between the MoD, the RAF and Airbus Helicopters. Working in close cooperation to cover all operational requirements, the manufacturer was instrumental in helping the Ministry achieve Initial Operating Capability (IOC) for the Puma 2 fleet in February 2015. Together with Airbus Helicopters Romania and Vector Aerospace, a team working at RAF Benson completed modifications and maintenance. Three weeks later, ahead of schedule and to cost, the Puma 2s were deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Toral, NATO’s training and support mission.

It quickly became the backbone of the UK’s Afghan operations; to date, shortly after achieving Full Operating Capability in January 2016, the RAF now has flown over 10,000 flight hours in the upgraded Pumas. “The abiding comment you get about the Puma 2 from the crews is that it’s ‘awesome’,” says Heath.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: A RAF Puma HC1 at Royal International Air Tattoo 2009 (Image (PD) Adrian Pingstone)

Royal Air Force P-8A Poseidons one step closer

As a follow-up on the statement in the UK startegic defense review, announced by UK prime minister David Cameron in November last year, the UK government has now requested notification for the possible procurement of up to nine (9) P-8A Patrol Aircraft, associated major defense equipment, associated training, and support. The estimated cost is $3.2 billion.

This was announced by the US State Department on 25 March 2016. The State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to the United Kingdom for P-8A Aircraft and associated equipment, training, and support. The estimated cost is $3.2 billion. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale on 24 March 2016.

The proposed sale will allow the UK to reestablish its Maritime Surveillance Aircraft (MSA) capability that it divested when it cancelled the Nimrod MRA4 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) program. The United Kingdom has retained core skills in maritime patrol and reconnaissance following the retirement of the Nimrod aircraft through Personnel Exchange Programs (PEPs). The MSA has remained the United Kingdom’s highest priority unfunded requirement. The P-8A aircraft would fulfill this requirement. The UK will have no difficulty absorbing these aircraft into its armed forces.

Implementation of the proposed sale will require approximately sixty-four (64) personnel hired by Boeing to support the program in the United Kingdom.

The US Navy is the main user of the P-8A Poseidon, but also the Indian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force (both 8 examples, maybe even 12) also bought this machine.

© 2016 DSCA, with additional information by Airheadsfly.com editor Dennis Spronk
Featured image: The 6th Boeing P-8I for the Indian Navy (Image © Boeing)

USMC F-35s to UK this summer

The United States Marine Corps on Monday 25 January stated it is sending two Lockheed Martin F-35Bs Lightning II to the UK this summer. The fighter jets will appear at two airshows in July, being the Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford and the Farnborough International Airshow. The F-35’s appearance will make up for a ditched attempt two years ago.

The two airshows are both held in July and should also see participation of US Air Force F-35A variants. A total of five aircraft are expected to cross the Atlantic. The USMC reached Initial Operation Capability (IOC) in July 2015, whereas the US Air Force is still working towards IOC.

The attempt to send jets to the same airshows in 2014 failed because of a problem in the engine that grounded all jets. The grounding was the result of a fire in an F-35 at Eglin Air Force Base in June 2014. An appearance would have meant the international airshow debut for the F-35.

Dutch debut

Despite today’s announcement, it could very well be the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) that debuts the F-35A on its first international airshow. In May, the RNLAF plans to fly one of its two F-35As to the Netherlands for noise tesing and an airshow at Leeuwarden airbase, although nothing is certain yet. More on the Dutch visit is in this feature story at Airheadsfly.com.

What is certain, is the presence of two F-35As in Europe already. They are two aircraft produced at FNM Aeronautics’ Final Assembly and Check-Out (FACO) facility in Cameri, Italy. The first of those made its first flight on 7 September 2015. The Italians will fly at least one F-35 transatlantic to the US next month and have no known plans for participation in European airshows yet.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: The F-35B is a Short Takeoff/Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant of the F-35. (Image © Tom Reynolds / Lockheed Martin)