On July 13, TASS did a short report on what is expected to be the new Russian aircraft. TASS directly stated that the new jet would compete with the F-35, quoting Executive Director of Aviaport Aviation News Agency Oleg Panteleyev.
Panteleyev said that this is also the main reason why the teaser of the new design, released by Rostec, has been published in English. Rosoboronexport, as Panteleyev said, has invited over 120 delegations from 65 countries of the world to the aerospace show.
This suggests that this year’s edition of MAKS may be export-focused, with a significant emphasis placed on the promotion of the new aircraft.
It remains unclear whether the airframe is a prototype or just a mock-up.
The characteristics of the jet are also somewhat cryptic. TASS claims the jet would feature low RCS, high thrust-to-weight ratio, advanced weapons and significant payload – these are somewhat generic descriptors, usually assigned to most of the 5th-generation, or wannabe-5th-generation multirole combat aircraft.
The premiere is scheduled to take place on the first day of the MAKS show in Zhukovskiy – July 20, 2021. The Aviationist will have two correspondents on site and will probably be able to provide additional details on the new stealthy aircraft.
The shape seems to be (loosely) similar to the one of the YF-23.
According to some analysts, the new aircraft has been developed by the Sukhoi bureau. Based on the hashtags used on social media and images released so far the new type could be named “Checkmate.”
We may be dealing with an export product, modeled after the Su-57 Felon, but made cheaper to operate than the first of the Russian stealthy fighter aircraft.
Yesterday Rostec released an ad teasing the jet, also pointing to the export profile of the design, suggesting UAE, India, Vietnam and Argentina might be potential customers.
We have also noted that one of the pilots, in the last shot of the video, is wearing an American flight suit.
Still, for now, we know little about the jet, hence everybody needs to wait for it to be officially unveiled during MAKS 2021.
It is symptomatic, however, that Russia follows the footsteps of the US, creating a tandem of fifth-generation platforms. This may be viewed as an analogy of the US F-22/F-35 duo, with the Raptor being a counterpart of the Su-57, and Lighting being a counterpart of the new, lighter, single-engine design.
Panteleyev seemingly confirmed this, saying that the new, lighter design would be an answer to tactical problems.
The new artist rendering graphic follows the second one that was released in January 2020. The Air Force has put some emphasis on the fact that this is an artist’s interpretation, meaning that it could also include some inaccuracies (possibly even intentional as to not disclose important details).
While the last time the renderings featured the locations where the operational bombers will be based, this time Edwards Air Force Base, California, can be seen in the background.
As mentioned in the Air Force’s press release, the 420th Flight Test Squadron based at Edwards AFB will plan, test, analyze and report on all flight and ground testing of the B-21 Raider, so it made sense to include in the rendering the “first home” of the bomber after its first flight from the Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, where its being built.
The overall shape of the Raider seems to be unchanged since the 2020 rendering, with just few details noticeable and worth a mention.
The first, most eye-catching detail is the new set of cockpit windows. The old rendering showed a two-pieces windscreen which resembled in shape the one of the B-2A Spirit.
This time, the Raider has a new four-pieces windscreen, like the Spirit, but with a very different shape for the two lateral windows. The side windows appear to be arched and narrower than the ones in the front (about half the height).
The second detail is the peculiar “hawk’s-beak” profile, inherited from the B-2 Spirit and which seemed missing or barely noticeable in the second rendering.
This time the “beak” seems much more pronounced than the one of the Spirit. Another detail can be found on the wings which seem to be thicker than in the old renderings, but this might just be due to the prospective in the image.
There is not a trace of the air intakes in this new rendering. This is one of the parts of the new bomber that, as described by the Air Force earlier this year, required a major redesign before the critical design review in November 2018. The problem was reportedly about the size needed by the air inlet to obtain the right volume flow rate of air for the engines to work efficiently, but it did not impact the cost and schedule of the program.
The B-21 Raider is described in the fact sheet as a component of a larger family of systems for conventional Long Range Strike, including Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, Electronic Attack, communication and other capabilities. It will be able to employ a broad mix of stand-off and direct-attack munitions, as well as retaining a nuclear capability, and designed to accommodate manned or unmanned operations.
Another important feature, present also in other Air Force projects like NGAD, is the open systems architecture, which will reduce the integration risk and enable competition for future modernization efforts, allowing the aircraft to evolve as the threat environment changes.
“Nuclear modernization is a top priority for the Department of Defense and the Air Force, and B-21 is key to that plan,” said Randall Walden, Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office director. “The built-in feature of open systems architecture on the B-21 makes the bomber effective as the threat environment evolves. This aircraft design approach sets the nation on the right path to ensuring America’s enduring airpower capability.”
Earlier this year, it was announced that a second B-21 was under construction while the first one continued to take shape ahead of its expected roll-out in early 2022. According to Randall Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, the first aircraft will undergo extensive ground tests between the rollout and the first flight, while the second aircraft will be used mainly for structural testing.
The lessons learned during the building process of the first Raider are being applied to the second one, with the work progressing much more efficiently now that the workers are not restricted anymore to work based just off the blueprint’s assumptions.
Last month Darlene Costello, the Air Force’s assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology & Logistics, during a House Armed Services Committee hearing mistakenly said that the first two B-21s were completed, but this statement was later corrected by the Air Force saying that the two aircraft are still in production.
The Air Force didn’t, however, announce any new dates or delays, so the program should still be on track for the rollout in early 2022.
The new bomber is expected to be ready for service around 2026 or 2027, with Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, being the preferred location for the first B-21 main operating base, and Dyess AFB, Texas, being the alternative.
The Air Force stated that the bases were selected in order to minimize the impact to operations and communities, maximizing at the same time the reuse of existing infrastructure and reducing the overall costs to base the B-21.
The final basing decision will be made this year after the completion of the Environmental Impact Statement this summer, giving the green light to begin the actual B-21 beddown construction.
In the meantime, Ellsworth AFB is hosting the first B-21 Raider Environmental Protection Shelter prototype that will be used to collect a few years of data which will be incorporated into the final Environmental Protection Shelter design.
Ellsworth AFB was selected as the test site for the shelter as it provides the most extreme and diverse weather conditions to test the temporary structures.
“Environmental Protection Shelters help extend the life of the aircraft and reduce required maintenance by limiting UV exposure, limiting snow accumulation and melt, and limiting icing/de-icing operations experienced by the aircraft over time,” said Col. Derek Oakley, Air Force Global Strike Command’s B-21 Integration and System Management Office director. “These shelters also help us generate sorties more quickly by eliminating the need to always have to move aircraft in and out of hangars.”
A C-5M Super Galaxy, belonging to the 436th Airlift Wing, from Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, was involved in a defensive countermeasures testing campaign that saw the US Air Force’s largest aircraft release flares, at night, over an area of the Eglin range, Florida.
Each night, the C-5M released more than 15 flares, repeating the same operation several times, entering the area from different entry points and angles, to increase aircraft and crew combat survivability by evaluating and fielding improved defensive systems capabilities.
Flares are high-temperature heat sources used to mislead surface-to-air or air-to-air missiles’ heat-seeking targeting systems, creating the pyrotechnic visual effect similar to a fireworks display.
The giant C-5M Super Galaxy released flares at 300 knots and 1,500 feet: A unique opportunity for both the 9th Airlift Squadron’s operational aircrew involved in the testing and the US Air Force photographer Samuel King Jr., who took the amazing shots you can find in this story.
“There are rare situations when the aircraft does pop flares,” said Capt. Bryan Chanson, 9th AS pilot in a news release.
“The crew is usually focused primarily on flying out or away from the potential threat and hoping flares do their intended jobs. The testing allowed us to gain the situational awareness to concentrate on flare dispense in a safe environment.”
“Countermeasure testing like this is a Team Eglin event,” said Capt. Daniel Clarke, 46th TS Defensive Systems Flight commander. “Our test engineers work hand in hand with the 96th Range Group to ensure resources are ready to test and collect data and the 96th Maintenance Group ensures every flare tested is loaded on to each aircraft.”
Interestingly, the C-5M Super Galaxy testing with flares was just the start of a two-month test program, according to the Air Mobility Command.
Through the end of June, the 96th Cyberspace Test Group will execute flare testing on four more aircraft from Air Force Special Operations Command, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve Command Test Center and AMC.
The US Air Force disclosed a few days ago that, in early April, the B-1B Lancer 86-109/DY, nicknamed “Spectre,” has been retired at Tinker Air Force Base to become an advanced maintenance trainer.
The aircraft was towed to an Aircraft Battle Damage Repair training pad at the 76th Maintenance Group’s Expeditionary Depot Maintenance Flight on the south side of the base, where it joined a B-52 Stratofortress and a C-135 Stratolifter.
The same “Bone” (as the B-1 is nicknamed in the pilot community) was involved in a May 2018 in-flight emergency while it was returning to Dyess Air Force Base (Texas) after a routine training sortie.
Multiple fire warnings lighted in the cockpit as the engine number three caught fire and reportedly spread to another engine. All but one fire were extinguished and, following the emergency checklist’s procedures, the crew initiated the ejection sequence.
However, when the Offensive Systems Operator’s ejection seat failed to leave the plane successfully, the aircraft commander ordered the crew to immediately stop the escape procedure and diverted to Midland International Air and Space Port near Odessa, Texas, still on fire with a missing hatch, no cockpit pressurization and an armed ejection seat that could fire at any moment, performing a successful emergency landing without injury or further damage to the aircraft. The four crew members have been later awarded the Air Force’s Distinguished Flying Cross.
At the end of October 2018, the damaged B-1B was flown to Tinker AFB by an Air Force Reserve crew from the 10th Flight Test Squadron. The crew had to fly the “Bone” on just three engines without raising the landing gear and without sweeping the wings for the entirety of the flight.
At that time, the press release said that “Spectre” was to “undergo depot maintenance and upgrades at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, be quality tested by the 10th FLTS, and be returned to the Dyess AFB B-1B Lancer fleet upon completion.”
It seems however that there was a change of plans, as the aircraft was included in the 17 B-1Bs with the least amount of usable life that have been marked for early retirement to allow the Air Force to prioritize the health of the fleet.
These bombers had experienced significant structural fatigue, with cracks appearing in highly stressed structural components joining the wings to the fuselage, which would have required each $10 to $30 million for the repairs.
“The artisans of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex repaired the damaged nacelle, replaced the ejection system, and performed both the Integrated Battle Station modification and a full Programmed Depot Maintenance overhaul,” said Col. Greg Lowe, 76th Aircraft Maintenance Group commander. “Despite all of the work, the aircraft was selected for retirement, but it will be a welcome addition to the ABDR [Aircraft Battle Damage Repair] program.”
So, after 12,136 flying hours and almost three years after that in-flight emergency, “Spectre” left the flight line for the last time following its divestiture which saw the removal of its engines, certain avionics and other equipment not essential for its new mission.
According to the press release, for the aircraft to safely leave the flight line and travel to its new home, two temporary gravel ramps were constructed. A number of road signs, poles and a power line had to be temporarily removed to give the aircraft an unobstructed path.
The bomber’s wings were kept in their swept position to keep the aircraft’s footprint as narrow as possible, with two counterweights, each weighing 2,640 pounds, suspended from the forward section of the aircraft to preserve the balance as it was towed.
Following the 20 minute-long, half-mile trip, the wings “were manually brought forward one at a time using only a cordless drill, which took about 5 minutes per wing,” instead of the usual 10 seconds when done in flight.
Even if now retired, “Spectre” will still perform, within the Expeditionary Depot Maintenance Flight, an important mission that will be advantage of the entire B-1B fleet.
“This aircraft will be important to train for advanced repair techniques and as an engineering test aid for form, fit, and function of future modifications and structural repairs,” said Col. Lowe.
As mentioned in the press release, the Expeditionary Depot Maintenance flight is responsible for maintaining the Air Force’s sole source for ABDR rapid repair capabilities for the entire tanker and bomber fleets, which are tested and trained on its B-52 and C-135 maintenance trainers and, from now on, also on the B-1.
Dubbed Warthog, Hog or just Hawg, the A-10 Thunderbolt II is, basically, an airplane built around the GAU-8 Avenger 30-mm hydraulically driven seven-barrel Gatling-type cannon.
The Avenger cannon is the Hog primary weapon and is able to fire 3,900 bullets per minute.
“It’s a highly-accurate point-and-shoot weapon that grants our pilots superior firepower and flexibility in a close-combat ground fight,” a Warthog pilot once told us. The GAU-8 is rated at “5 mil, 80%,” meaning that 80% of rounds will hit within a 5-mil circle, with mils being milliradiants (at 1,000 feet five mils would be 5 m hence 80% of rounds would hit within a 5-m circle and that’s at 70 rounds a second).
Everything in the A-10 is designed to “make room” to the gun, including the nose landing gear, offset to the right of the aircraft so that the firing barrel lines up along the center of the airframe.
More in detail, as the gun’s recoil forces could push the entire plane off target during strafes, the gun itself is mounted laterally off-center, slightly to the port side of the fuselage centerline, with the actively “firing” barrel in the nine o’clock position (when viewed from the front of the aircraft), so that the firing barrel lies directly on the aircraft’s centerline.
The firing barrel also lies just below the aircraft’s center of gravity, being bore-sighted along a line 2 degrees below the aircraft’s line of flight. This arrangement accurately centers the recoil forces, preventing changes in aircraft pitch or yaw when fired.
Each of its seven barrels has an internal riffling groove which passes through the whole length of the barrel so that a spin on each round can be induced.
The 1,150 30-mm rounds of bullets stored in the drum weigh about 4,000 pounds: this means that the weight of the rounds and their shells has to be taken in consideration to position of the center of gravity of the aircraft. Without the rounds, you would actually have to put ballast in the nose on an empty gun to balance the airplane!
Other design features of the Warthog support the operation of the Avenger.
For instance, as explained by Maj. Cody “ShIV” Wilton, the commander of the A-10 Demo Team, in a pretty epic walkaround video we have published last year, the slat on each wing – that are not slats in the traditional airplane sense as they do not generate lift nor help the pilot land any slower it, but they smooth the airflow off the wing in the engine and prevent stalls when the aircraft flies at high AOA (Angle Of Attack) – also helps diverting the gun gas underneath the wing so it doesn’t suffocate the engine (as the gun gas does not have oxygen) when the aircraft uses the gun.
There’s also a wind fence that, when the gun is shooting, diverts the gas down the fuselage.
The stunning video below, produced by the 3D Mil-Tech YouTube channel, shows with unprecedented details, how the GAU-8 Avenger works: It gives an idea of the seven-barrel carriage assembly including the double-ended feed system which allows the spent casings to be returned to the ammunition drum.
Just two months after it was tested at Eglin Air Force Base, the F-15Es of the US Air Force used for the first time the new “bomb truck” configuration during an operational mission in the US Central Command theater.
More precisely, six Strike Eagles of the 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron relocated to Al Dhafra Air Base (United Arab Emirates) on April 25 as part of an Agile Combat Employment (ACE) operation, bringing with them a heavy load of munitions to sustain combat missions from the new base.
The six F-15Es in “bomb truck” configuration are part of a larger deployment of 18 Strike Eagles of the 494th Fighter Squadron “Panthers,” which deployed from their homebase at RAF Lakenheath to an “undisclosed location” earlier this month.
This location is likely Muwaffaq Salti/Al-Azraq Air Base in Jordan, where Lakenheath’s other F-15E squadron, the 492nd Fighter Squadron “Bolars,” was deployed in 2020.
The Bolars were relieved by the 391st Fighter Squadron “Bold Tigers” from Mountain Home AFB (Idaho), which are now being in turn relieved by the Panthers.
“These F-15Es are carrying what is called a ‘tac-ferry’ load out. What that means is we can maneuver using Agile Combat Employment, and be postured to go forward from a main operating base,” said Lt. Col. Curtis Culver, 494th EFS Director of Operations. “This is the next step for the Air Force in Agile Combat Employment. So instead of having multi-capable airmen that are exercising maneuver and logistics, now we’re doing that with sustained munitions to project power.”
Each of the six F-15Es in “bomb truck” configuration was carrying 12 500-kg-class JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munition), both the base GBU-38 and laser-guided variant GBU-54, and four GBU-39 SDBs (Small Diameter Bomb).
In this configuration, the Strike Eagle is actually carrying twice its standard bomb load, as testing at Eglin AFB allowed to clear for use all six attachment points on each “Fast Pack,” instead of just three.
Back then, the USAF noted that not all the JDAMs carried can be employed in a single mission, so it is possible that the six bombs mounted on the upper hardpoints of the “Fast Packs” may not be cleared for release in combat, but only for ferry flights.
“We were asked to come out and support combat missions with a very short turnaround, and with the bombs not being built previously here for us. By carrying more bombs than we’d actually carry to drop, we’re setting up the initial days of combat,” said Capt. Jessica Niswonger, 494th EFS Weapon System Officer (WSO) and mission planner. After witnessing the arrival of the six F-15Es in “Bomb Truck” configuration, Capt. Niswonger added: “It was a great moment. I’m just glad to have the team here and now we’re going to get ready for combat ops.”
The forward-deployed 494th EFS with its F-15E “bomb truck” aircraft will begin flying air tasking orders immediately to support US Central Command priorities, according to the USAF press release.
It is not clear if the relocation of the six F-15Es to Al Dhafra Air Base is related to the flux of support fires that will protect US troops during the Afghanistan drawdown. Among those we can find four B-52H Stratofortress bombers of the 5th Bomb Wing from Minot Air Force Base (North Dakota) that were deployed last week to Al Udeid Air Base (Qatar).
Training for ACE operations has become routine for US Air Forces Europe units with the goal of being strategically predictable but operationally unpredictable, as it was originally mentioned in the 2018 National Defense Strategy, and capable of operating everywhere with minimal support.
This concept can also be found in the new Air Force mission statement released earlier this month: “To fly, fight, and win … airpower anytime, anywhere”. The ability to fight and win with airpower is considered, in fact, the key factor to facing emerging competitors and near-peer adversaries.
According to the US Air Force, the ACE concept envisions the ability to generate airpower from austere airfields with varying levels of capacity and support in a contested environment, dispersing forces across different or remote airports and support their operations with fewer specialists.
The purpose is “to become more agile in our execution, more strategic in our deterrence, and more resilient in our capability. Agility, Deterrence, and Resiliency are essential to defense and operational capability in a contested environment,” the US Air Force in Europe website says when explaining the ACE Concept of Operations.
The latest ACE training operation is currently in progress in Poland, where 20 F-15s, both E and C variants, and four F-16s deployed from their homebases RAF Lakenheath and Spangdahlem Air Base (Germany), respectively, as part of Aviation Detachment Rotation (AvRot) 21-2.
The Long-range Aviation Command of the Russian Air and Space Force conducted a command-staff exercise as part of the routine winter training, according to the Russian Ministry of Defence.
Notably, the exercise included the launch of cruise missiles from its Tu-95MS “Bear H” and Tu-160 “Blackjack” bombers. This exercise is one of the many disclosed during the recent surge of Russian military activity across the entire country and especially in the Black Sea region.
About 10 aircraft, including the Tu-95MSs, Tu-160s and their supporting Il-78 “Midas” tankers, flew from the Saratov region to a range in the Komi Republic, in northwestern Russia, west of Urals, where they struck ground targets with the cruise missiles, returning to their base after more than seven hours.
The mission included “[air-to-air] refueling at an altitude of more than 6,000 meters [about 19,700 ft] and a speed of about 600 kilometers per hour [about 320 kts], as well as air patrolling in a given zone.”
Although not mentioned in the statement from the MoD, the bombers involved should belong to the Bomber Regiments based at Engels airbase, which is in fact in the Saratov region, while the unspecified range should be the Pemboy range, which is in fact in the Komi Republic about 60 kilometers from Vorkuta.
As for the cruise missiles, the MoD published a video from this exercise showing inert Kh-555 missiles being loaded in the bomb bays of both the Tu-95 and the Tu-160.
The Kh-555 is a conventionally armed variant of the Kh-55 (NATO reporting name AS-15 “Kent”) nuclear-tipped subsonic cruise missile, with an improved guidance system and a range of at least 2,500 km (1,350 nm), with some sources reporting it up to 3,000/3,500 km.
The missile became operational in the early 2000s and can be carried by the Tu-95 (six or 16 missiles, depending on the bomber’s version) and the Tu-160 (12 missiles).
According to some sources, the Su-34 “Fullback” is also capable of carrying one Kh-555, while it is not known if the Tu-22M3 “Backfire” has been fully integrated with the missile, even if it was being tested. The Kh-555 was used during Russian strikes against ISIS ground targets in Syria in 2015.
‘Surge’ in military drills
This is just one of the bombers exercises in what some analysts called a “surge” of Russian military activity.
Another notable one happened a day after the cruise missile exercise, with two Tu-160 Blackjacks performing an eight-hour mission over the Baltic Sea escorted by Su-35Ss of the Aerospace Forces and Su-27s of the Baltic Fleet’s Naval Aviation, supported by an A-50 “Mainstay” Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft.
In response, NATO’s Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) at Uedem (Germany) launched allied fighter aircraft from bases in Estonia, Lithuania and Poland to intercept and identify the approaching Russian aircraft as some of them were not identifiable by transponder signal and no flight plan had been filed, posing a flight safety hazard for civilian air traffic.
More precisely, NATO specified that the Russian aircraft were intercepted by German and Italian Eurofighter Typhoons from the Baltic Air Policing mission in Estonia and Lithuania, respectively, and Polish Air Force F-16Cs fighters from Poznan Air Base.
In addition, the Royal Danish Air Force national air operations centre scrambled their F-16s from Skrydstrup Air Base. The bombers stayed in international airspace above the Baltic Sea and returned to mainland Russia after roughly three hours.
Spectators captured dramatic video of the Valiant Air Command’s new Grumman TBM Avenger ditching (making an emergency water landing) on Saturday April 17, 2021, at the Cocoa Beach Air Show in Florida.
There were no injuries reported in the impressive display of airmanship by the TBM Avenger pilot.
The Grumman TBM/TBF Avenger is a single-engine, propeller driven, carrier-borne strike and torpedo bomber with a three-man crew. The aircraft was made famous in the Pacific during WWII in battles that include Midway and the sinking of the giant Japanese battleships Yamato and Mushashi.
The aircraft could carry either 2,000 pounds of bombs or a single Mk. 13 torpedo in the anti-shipping strike role. The Avenger was flown by former US President George H.W. Bush, who also survived an accident in his TBM Avenger during WWII when he bailed out of his aircraft before being rescued by a US Navy submarine.
The Grumman TBM Avenger involved in yesterday’s ditching was flying with several other types of historic planes during the airshow including a twin-engine C-47 Dakota transport in a loose trail formation just prior to the ditching. A small amount of smoke briefly appeared from the aircraft in some videos just prior to the emergency water landing.
The pilot did an impressive job of ditching the aircraft in the shallow water directly in front of a beach area where spectators were watching the flight demonstrations. The aircraft can be seen flying slowly at wave-top level before finally stalling with wings level, then gently entering the water with what appears to be little damage.
The aircraft involved in the accident, number 91188, was originally built by the Eastern Aircraft Division of General Motors Corporation in 1945 and operated for the US Navy as Bureau Number 91188.
Today the aircraft flies under civil registration number N108Q and is owned by the Valiant Air Command.
The Grumman TBM Avenger involved in the incident was restored to flying status just over a year ago on January 11, 2020, following an extensive 18-year restoration to airworthiness. Prior to her restoration, she had last flown from 1956 until 1964 while operating as a water bomber in the forest fire suppression role for the US Forestry Service in Davis, California.
In 1964, the aircraft was transferred to the Georgia Forestry Commission in Macon, Georgia where she continued the firefighting mission until 1969 when she was transferred between a series of private owners until purchased by the Valiant Air Command in 2002.
The Valiant Air Command was flying four aircraft at the Cocoa Beach Airshow including their flagship C-47 Dakota “Tico Bell,” a North American SNJ-4 trainer, an N2S Steerman biplane trainer and the TBM Avenger involved in the incident.
Ironically, the TBM Avenger that went down in the accident yesterday is painted in the same markings as one of the five TBM Avengers that disappeared in a famous incident in the “Bermuda Triangle” on December 5, 1945 that claimed the lives of 14 crewmen and an additional 13 that disappeared in a PBM-5 Mariner involved in a search operation for the five aircraft. The incident has remained as a significant piece of lore in the Bermuda Triangle superstition.
The Armament Inspectorate of the Polish Ministry of Defense published a release stating that an intergovernmental agreement has been signed on April 12, 2021, concerning the delivery of five C-130H airlifters to Poland.
The deal is a part of the Excess Defense Articles grant program. The aircraft would be partially retrofitted with new equipment, made flightworthy, and then they would fly to Poland.
The agreement has a relatively low value – USD $14.3 million. The US side, the Polish MoD reports, assumes that five C-130H airframes that the Polish Air Force would receive. They are worth $60 million, as per the US quote. The deliveries would be finalized by mid-2024, with the first aircraft arriving this year.
According to the Polish MoD, the aircraft procured rolled off the production line in 1985 and then were decommissioned in 2017. After that, they were stored at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group facility (AMARG) in Tucson, Arizona. The above makes them 15 years younger than the C-130s currently operated by the Polish Air Force.
The technical status of the aircraft was assessed during the so-called Joint Visual Inspection procedure. It took place at AMARG in Tucson, stated the Inspectorate. The cost of the transfer to Poland was also a subject of this process.
Then, after the transfer, the aircraft would undergo the periodic, scheduled maintenance (Programmed Depot Maintenance – PDM) at the WZL Nr 2 S.A. facility in Bydgoszcz, Poland. Bydgoszcz is also going to be the place where extra equipment, as required by the Polish Air Force, would be fitted onto the aircraft. Then the airframes are expected to become a part of the inventory of the 33rd Airlift Base in Powidz.
It has been pointed out by the experts that both the engines, as well as the propellers, along with the avionics, may need to be upgraded. What upgrades would be done within that scope remains unclear. However, to make the acquisition reasonable, the AMARG restoration work should also include an upgrade similar to the ones carried out in case of the ANG aircraft: a set of new T-56 Rolls Royce 3.5 engines and NP2000 eight-bladed propellers with electronic controls.
The PGZ Group’s WZL facility in Bydgoszcz provides the Polish Air Force with a relevant maintenance capability regarding the Hercules.
The Polish MoD was putting the airlift capability enhancements in the modernization plans – the procurement was designated as the Drop program. It involved Leonardo S.p.A., Airbus Defence & Space, Embraer, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing, but it was ultimately suspended in July last year. It seems that Poland went with second-hand airframes to serve as an intermediary gap-filler solution.
Krzysztof Płatek, spokesman for the Armament Inspectorate told us that the Drop program is to follow a schedule that is confidential. Procurement of the AMARG C-130s would diminish the pressure caused by deadlines and time.
The last US Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler squadron, Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2 (VMAQ-2), was formally deactivated in March 2019, when the last two jets, 162230/CY-02 and 162228/CY-04, took part in a sundown ceremony that also included flying in formation over Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina.
All the US Navy and Marines Prowler squadrons had already been deactivated since then (the last ones being all USMC units: VMAQ-1, in May 2016, VMAQ-4 in June 2017 and VMAQ-3 in May 2018).
The EA-6B was an iconic aircraft born out of military requirements during the Vietnam War. It entered service in 1971 and 170 aircraft were built before the production was terminated in 1991. For more than four decades, the Prowler was “at the forefront of military electronic warfare allowing high-profile air combat missions.”
The EA-6B’s last deployment, in 2018, was carried out by VMAQ-2 to support of Operation Resolute Support and Freedom’s Sentinel, in Afghanistan, as well as Operation Inherent Resolve, in Iraq and Syria.
But, overall, the Prowler deployed more than 70 times to support every major combat operation, including those in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Serbia.
While not deployed, the type carried out stateside training sorties, practicing ground-attack support missions, disruption of enemy electromagnetic activity and tactical electronic intelligence.
While most of the latest mission profiles saw the aircraft operate at medium and high altitude, the Prowler’s aircrews regularly flew low-level training missions too.
The footage in this post was taken in 2010 by a user who, based on the other videos posted on his Youtube channel, flew with the US Navy’s VAQ-139 “Cougars.”
The clip is particularly interesting as it shows, from the front cockpit, an EA-6B flying low level along VR-1355, one of the low-level routes running through national parks in the Cascade Mountains.
Thanks to the video below, now you can also get an idea of what it looked like to fly the route at low level in the Prowler.
While the footage is outstanding, I’m pretty sure it will also remind someone the famous incident that occurred to an EA-6B in Italy in 1998.
On February 3, 1998, EA-6B Prowler #163045/CY-02, from VMAQ-2, deployed at Aviano Air Base, in northeastern Italy, for the Balkans crisis, using radio callsign “EASY 01” and flying a low-level route cut a cable supporting a cable car of an aerial lift, near Cavalese, a ski resort in the Dolomites. Twenty people died when the cabin plunged over 260 feet and crashed on the ground in what is also known as the “Cavalese cable car disaster” or “Strage del Cermis.”
At 15:13 LT, when the aircraft struck the cables supporting the cable car the aircraft was flying at a speed of 540 mph (870 km/h) and at an altitude of between 260 and 330 feet (80 and 100 m) in a narrow valley between the mountains.
While the aircraft had wing and tail damage, it was able to return to Aviano.
The subsequent investigation found that the EA-6B was flying too low and against regulations. Initially, all four men on the plane were charged, but only the pilot, Capt. Richard J. Ashby, and his navigator, Capt. Joseph Schweitzer, actually faced trial (that took place at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina), charged with 20 counts of involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide.
At the end of the first trial, the pilot was acquitted on all charges relating to the disaster (charges which were dropped for the navigator too) in a verdict that caused shock and resentment in Italy generating an upsurge of anti-American feeling.
During the trial it emerged that the US Marine Corps aircrews used obsolete US military maps that, unlike local ones, did not show the cables, and were not aware of altitude regulations concerning low-level flying.
The two Marines were court-martialed a second time when it became evident they had destroyed a videotape filmed on the day of the incident. Eventually, Capts. Ashby and Schweitzer were found guilty in May 1999; both were dismissed from the service and Ashby received a six-month prison term. Families were eventually compensated 1.9M USD per victim.