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AIR International - May 2018

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Flying from Seattle
As Finn
ian a
bo ir’s
www.airint ernational. com
An RJ’s second life
AT-802 Fire Boss:
floats and wheels
10,000th 737
Avenger ER UAV:
airborne for a day
Stepping out:
787-10 enters
SIA service
Military • Commercial • Business • Unmanned • Engines • Systems & Technology Widerøe’s E2
Touring the Gulf,
Asia and Oceania
Air superiority
F/A-18 Super Hornet Piper Titans
Mending the US Navy’s fleet
Making maps
NATO’s newest member
MAY 2018 Vol.94 No5 UK £4.95
High speed, high stakes
AbuDhabi.indd 1
15/01/2018 09:24
Dan Wiedmann/Lockheed Martin
From the Editor
ooking out at the world through an aviation window this
past production month, two topics stand out: the chilling
scenario in Syria with the potential of further conflict, this
time with Russia; and the 100th birthday of the Royal Air
Force. Regrettably, the RAF is the common link. Its troops
are deployed in the region operating various types of combat aircraft,
poised to conduct combat operations if given the go by the UK
government. It’s difficult to truly enjoy any further events marking the
RAF’s centenary when so many of its own are on the front line. Let’s
hope all allied troops get home safe, and soon.
Despite the gravity of the Syrian situation, the aviation world rolls on.
Saab made the maiden flight of its GlobalEye airborne early warning ship;
Lockheed Martin handed over the first F-35A Lightning II to the Republic
of Korea, the ninth nation to take ownership of the jet, and the first Turkish
jet will follow shortly; and Boeing achieved maiden flight of its baby 737
MAX 7. All pretty much standard stuff. Then, on March 21, the United States
Congress passed the FY2018 omnibus appropriations bill, which added
143 aircraft to those initially requested by America’s armed services. That’s
more aeroplanes than many a nation around the world even own. The
reality is, it’s another campaign pledge honoured by President Trump,
in this case to rebuild America’s military. That single act represents a
seriously large increase in Department of Defense aircraft procurement
of a magnitude not undertaken for a long time. In the 1980s, American
defence spending was massively buoyed by Reaganomics promoted by
US President Ronald Reagan. Maybe American defence spending has just
received the first pay down of Trumponics.
But if that is not enough Americana for you, on April 11 the F-35
Joint Program Office based in Crystal City, Virginia, announced the final
test flight of the 17-year F-35 System Development and Demonstration
phase was complete. Over the 17-year period 18 dedicated test aircraft
– six F-35As, seven F-35Bs and five F-35Cs – amassed 9,200+ test
flights and 65,000+ test points, flown and maintained by dozens of test
pilots and engineers assigned to two F-35 Integrated Test Forces based
at Edwards Air Force Base, California and Naval Air Station Patuxent
River, Maryland. Opus bonum instructus.
Mark Ayton, Editor
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Editor Mark Ayton
Assistant Editor Mark Broadbent
Editor’s Secretary Melissa Smith
Advertisement Manager Ian Maxwell
Design Dan Jarman
Group CEO & Publisher
Adrian Cox
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COVER: Main image: Matthew Douhaire/AirTeamImages Top left: Boeing Top right: Jim Dunn Left: MCS Alexander Corona/US Navy Middle: Ordnance Survey Right: Sven van Roij | 3
38 AIRBUS A350-1000
Nigel Pittaway reports on how Airbus is focusing on the growing
Asia-Pacific market after recently completing a region-wide
demonstration tour with the A350-1000.
Sven van Roij visited the Balkan country of Montenegro, the
newest member of NATO, and tells us about the small nation’s
air arm.
Jan Kraak visited the annual air-to-ground live firing exercise for
Armée de l’Air Rafale crews at BA120 Cazaux.
Lon Nordeen reviews the current stock
of western air superiority fighters, air-toair missiles carried and similar systems in
development by China and Russia.
Andreas Spaeth writes about how the Scandinavian carrier
is gaining from huge demand in China and Japan and is
promoting Helsinki as a timesaving gateway to Europe.
7060o STORMO
Riccardo Niccoli visited the Alfredo Barbieri military airport
at Guidonia near Rome to learn about Italy’s military
gliding school.
Stefan DeGraef and Edwin Borremans visit the
Austrian Flugpolizei helicopter unit operating a
mixed fleet of types.
Andy Wolfe/Lockheed Martin
4 |
Lon Nordeen reports on a ground-breaking service life modification
programme to sustain the US Navy’s Super Hornet fleet.
Supersonic X-plane, NORAD 60 CF-18,
Dutch defence plans.
Chen Chuanren reports on the delivery of
the first Singapore Airlines Boeing 787-10.
Riccardo Niccoli visited Aviano Air Base, home to the F-16-equipped
31st Fighter Wing, and learns about its training and importance to NATO.
Republic of Korea Air Force F-35A, F-16s
for Croatia, Chinese carrier.
Mark Broadbent profiles the activities of the Ordnance Survey Flying
Unit, a specialist organisation that maps Britain from the air.
Pastures new: Grobs and King Airs go civil
in the latest UK Military Flying Training
System changes.
Restructure for the Royal Navy’s Merlin
HM2 force, last Griffins and Squirrels leave
RAF Shawbury.
A subscription to
AIR International
offers great savings
on cover price.
See pages 26 and
27 for details.
Boeing 777-9 production, Embraer
delivers E190-E2, Hi Fly announces it will
operate the A380 and Qantas begins
direct flights to Australia with 787-9s.
Overcoming issues with the A320neo’s
geared turbofans.
Sikorsky promotes the Firehawk
in South America, and the 50th
anniversary of the Fenestron.
Falcon 2000 FANS upgrade.
96 BABY 737 MAX
The smallest 737 MAX variant flies.
Avenger ER’s long-duration flight, new
weapons under consideration for the
MQ-9 Reaper, Nigerian CH-3 operations.
Jim Dunn reports from this year’s Aerial
Firefighting conference held at McClellan
Field, California.
GlobalEye’s first flight, UK Protector
contract, Philippines boosts surveillance
capabilities with King Air and ScanEagle.
BAe Airtankers are in demand.
Pegasus stumbles: more KC-46A
delays and deficiencies.
An F-35 wrap-up, an MQ-25
clean-sheet design and V-22
pre-negotiated prices.
The Sino-Russian CR929 airliner.
Indian Air Force issues request for
proposals for new fighter. | 5
Skunk Works to build supersonic X-plane
Lockheed Martin Skunk Works’ X-plane will cruise at 55,000ft and Mach 1.4. Lockheed Martin
NASA has awarded Lockheed
Martin Skunk Works a $247.5 million
cost-plus-incentive-fee contract
to design, build and flight test the
Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator,
a full-scale experimental aircraft
designed to help make supersonic
passenger air travel a reality again.
Work under the contract began on
April 2, 2018, and will run through
to December 31, 2021. Lockheed
Martin’s Skunk Works facility in
Palmdale, California, will build the
aircraft, which will be designed
to cruise at 55,000ft at a speed of
Mach 1.4 and create a sound of
75 Perceived Level decibel (PLdB),
which the manufacturer said would
Moving target weapon
Raytheon’s GBU-49 Enhanced
Paveway II precision-guided
munition (PGM) will be integrated
on the F-35 Lightning II to
supplement its interim moving
target strike capability. Some 400
GBU-49s have reportedly been
ordered to provide this capability.
The GBU-49 PGM is compatible
with the Block 3F configured
F-35s configured to Block 3i and
Block 3F standards currently use
the 500lb (227kg) GBU-38 Joint
Direct Attack Munition for moving
target strike capability. David C Isby
reduce the noise of a sonic boom
to a gentle thump.
Lockheed Martin Skunk Works
will build the X-plane from the
preliminary design developed under
NASA’s QueSST (Quiet Supersonic
Technology) research effort. NASA’s
plans call for the aircraft to fly in
2021. The agency will accept the
aircraft from Lockheed Martin late
in that year before it undertakes
additional flight tests to examine
performance and safety.
NASA then plans to fly the
X-plane over “select US cities” in
mid-2022 to collect data about
community responses to the flights.
Mark Broadbent
Thrust vectoring J-10
For the first time, a clear photo has
been released showing Chengdu’s
J-10B fighter fitted with a stealthy
thrust vectoring nozzle.
In late 2017 – briefly, after the
first J-20A was flown powered by
two indigenous WS-10B Taihang
engines fitted with a stealthy nozzle
– rumours were circling on the
Chinese internet sites that a J-10B
might be fitted with a similar engine,
but as a thrust vector control testbed.
Its maiden flight was reported on
December 25, 2017. The Chinese
press recently published a photo,
confirming these reports. Results of
the testing are expected to be used
to develop a nozzle for the final
WS-15 configuration for the J-20A.
Andreas Rupprecht
Dutch plans unveiled
The Dutch government published its
latest defence white paper on March
26. For the first time in decades, the
defence budget will be increased
significantly, up to an extra €1.5
billion a year. The white paper shed
some light on the plans for the
Koninklijke Luchtmacht (KLu, Royal
Netherlands Air Force) in the next
15 years. Although not many details
were provided in the document,
which will be revised in 2020, it
did contain several plans that have
not been published before. These
include replacement of the single
Gulfstream IV VIP jet of Eindhoven-
6 |
based 334 Squadron in 2022 and
conformation that the two C-130H
and two C-130H-30 Hercules of
co-located 336 Squadron will be
replaced from 2031 on. The recently
upgraded fleet of 13 Pilatus PC-7
Turbo Trainers operated by 131 EMVO
Squadron at Woensdrecht Air Base
is scheduled for replacement in
2025–2026. Delivery of four RQ-9B
Reaper medium-altitude long-range
unmanned aerial vehicles to 306
Squadron at Leeuwarden Air Base is
now foreseen for 2021–2022, with
a final decision on their acquisition
expected in the course of this year.
The Dutch Ministry of Defence’s
intention to have the Defence
Helicopter Command’s fleet of 28
AH-64D Apaches remanufactured
standard (detailed in Sustainment,
AIR International April, p26–27) has
now been officially confirmed and is
scheduled for 2022–2024. Projects
mentioned in the white paper but
announced earlier include the delivery
in 2020 of 14 new CH-47F Chinooks to
replace the current 11 CH-47Ds of 298
Squadron at Gilze-Rijen Air Base and
upgrade in 2021–2022 of the current
six CH-47F(NL)s to the same standard
as the new Chinooks. The two KDC-10
tanker/transport aircraft of Eindhovenbased 334 Squadron will be replaced
by A3330 MRTTs from 2020 on, as part
of a multinational tanker transport fleet.
In the next 15 years, the Koninklijke
Luchtmacht will profit most from
new investments in the armed forces,
including acquisition of new frigates,
submarines and support ships. The
white paper does not mention a
possible acquisition of additional
F-35A Lightning IIs for the KLu – so
far, 37 F-35As have been ordered
to replace the current 68 F-16s.
Kees van der Mark
Canada’s NORAD 60 CF-18
Looking resplendent in its bright blue, white, red, and grey paint scheme, Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18A Hornet 188776
was unveiled to the public at 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta on April 3. The scheme has been applied to the aircraft to mark the
60th anniversary of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Originally established on May 12, 1958,
NORAD is a bi-national organization between Canada and the United States tasked with aerospace warning and aerospace
control for North America. The aircraft’s paint scheme was applied by a team at 1 Air Maintenance Squadron under the
direction of designers Captain Jeff Chester and Jim Beliveau. CF-18A 188776 is this year’s Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18
Demonstration Team’s jet which will be flown at displays in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States by Captain
Stefan Porteous. Photo Royal Canadian Air Force
Ukraine has given a go-ahead
for a largescale purchase of
Airbus Helicopters to be used
for security and civil protection
duties undertaken through a
memorandum of intent on
on March 23, 2018, between
Ukraine’s Interior Minister, Arsen
Avakov, and the French Minister of
Europe and Foreign Affairs, JeanYves Le Drian.
procurement of a total of 55
helicopters – H125, H145 and
H225 models – for the Ukrainian
Ministry of Interior.
Under the initial plan all 55
helicopters will be procured
within three years, and operated
by the State Service for
Emergency Situations, National
Guards, National Police and the
State Border Service. Most will be
equipped for law enforcement,
anti-terrorist ops, state border and
road traffic patrol, SAR and special
missions. The first four helicopters
are slated for delivery to the State
Service for Emergency Situations
in 2018. Alexander Mladenov
Rocket test for Unity
Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity completed
its first supersonic rocket-powered
flight on April 5. The Mojave-based
company, which plans to begin
commercial spaceflight operations
later this year, said the flight started
the final phase of flight testing and
provided “envelope expansion for
A contract for Pratt & Whitney to
upgrade F135 engines fitted to
eight F-35A Lightning II aircraft built
as part of low-rate initial production
Lot 1 and Lot 2 was announced on
March 23. While the details of the
upgrade were not announced, the
F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) is
currently looking at requirements
for upgrading early production
F-35s to a common baseline.
The JPO effort will nominate
which early Lot aircraft should be
upgraded. Early Lot aircraft are
mostly used for testing at Edwards
and Nellis Air Force Bases, and
those assigned to Eglin Air Force
Base, Florida for training duty with
the 33rd Fighter Wing. David C Isby
the programme in terms of rocket
burn duration, speed and altitude
VSS Unity was lifted by its
WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, VSS
Eve, from Mojave at 08:02hrs local.
The vehicles climbed to a launch
altitude of around 46,500ft over the
Sierra Nevada Mountains. Eve released
Unity before the hybrid (nitrous oxide/
hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene
compound) rocket motor was
engaged. Pilots Mark Stucky and Dave
Mackay put the craft into an 80o climb
and accelerated to Mach 1.87 during a
30-second rocket burn.
On rocket shutdown, Unity continued
an upwards coast to 84,271ft. Stucky
and Mackay then raised the vehicle’s
tail booms to a 60o angle or feathered
configuration. At around 50,000ft the
booms were lowered again, before
Unity turned towards Mojave for the
glide back and landing. Mark Broadbent
paint scheme?
No.29 Squadron based at RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire is the Typhoon operational conversion unit and home of the RAF Typhoon
display team. Each year the team applies a colourful paint scheme to its display jet for the summer season. On April 1, the Royal
Air Force reached 100 years of age; the oldest independent air arm in the world. In anticipation of this year’s 100th birthday,
expectations were high for another outstanding paint scheme applied to the Typhoon display jet. No official unveiling. No fanfare.
No official word. A few days before the April 1 birthday, Typhoon FGR4 ZK318 appeared at RAF Coningsby sporting decals of the
official RAF 100 logo applied on each side of its tail fin. As commemorative colour schemes go, this one is straightforward and
nothing real special. That’s a great shame considering the RAF’s history, its combat legacy and most important of all its veterans.
What are the RAF leaders thinking? Photo by David MacKey | 7
AFTER FIVE years of waiting,
Singapore Airlines (SIA) received
its first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner,
9V-SCA (c/n 60253) on March 28.
Singapore’s flag carrier became
the first airline to fly the largest
version in the 787 family, and the
arrival of the aircraft gave a boost to
the airline’s recent modernisation
and fleet renewal.
SIA’s Dreamliner journey
With the delivery, SIA became the
first airline group to operate all
787 variants. It initially ordered 20
787-9s in 2007, but announced in
2012 these would be transferred
to the group’s low-cost long-haul
airline subsidiary, Scoot, for its fleet
expansion. Scoot later converted
10 787-9s to the 787-8 and the first
787-9 was delivered in February
2015. The 787-8 entered service in
May 2017, with crew rest bunks for
long-haul operations to Europe.
Today, Scoot flies ten 787-9s and six
787-8s, with four more on order.
The parent airline SIA ordered 30
787-10s in 2013 and signed a letter
of intent for 19 more 787-10s and
20 777-9s in February 2017. The
latter deal was finalised on October
23, 2017, witnessed by Singapore
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
and US President Donald Trump
in a state visit to Washington DC.
The deal made SIA the biggest
customer for the 787-10, with 49
on order. The order gives SIA the
flexibility to convert other 787-10
models to 787-9s.
Singapore Airline commenced its first commercial flights on the 787-10 to Bangkok, Thailand, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for
crew training.
Boeing officially handed over the
first 787-10 to SIA on March 25 at the
company’s North Charleston, South
Carolina, production facility. There,
SIA’s second (9V-SCB, c/n 60254) and
third (9V-SCC, c/n 60255) 787-10s
were already built and undergoing
certification; 9V-SCB flew to
Singapore’s Changi Airport on April
4. SIA will take on six more 787-10s
in this fiscal year. It is also interesting
to note that two of the 787-10 test
aircraft, N565ZC (c/n 60257) and
N528ZC (c/n 60256), will be refitted
to SIA’s standards and delivered in
August and October this year.
The airline group’s SIA
Engineering Company is also part of
a major joint venture with Boeing,
which provides maintenance, repair
and overhaul services for Boeing
737s, 747s, 777s and 787s. With
over three years of technical and
operational experience on the 787,
the SIA Group is set to possess
some operational and logistical
advantages for the Dreamliner fleet
over some operators.
Unlike the 787-8 and 787-9, the
787-10 has a shorter range of 6,430
nautical miles (11,910km) and will
be utilised for SIA’s Asia-Pacific
operations, for flights up to eight
hours. However, at maximum
range, the aircraft is still able to
reach New Zealand and the entirety
of Asia from its hub in Singapore.
The Dreamliner and some regional
A350-900s will eventually replace
the Airbus A330-300 and Boeing
777-200 that ply these routes.
The airline announced in
February 2018 that Osaka will
be the 787-10’s first destination,
followed by Perth, both starting
from May. In the interim, SIA will
First to fly
Chen Chuanren looks at Singapore Airline’s latest milestone aircraft, the Boeing 787-10
Boeing 787-10 9V-SCA (c/n 60253) was greeted with a water cannon salute upon its arrival at Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 2 on March 28.
All photos Singapore Airlines
8 |
begin crew training on the 78710 to nearby Bangkok and Kuala
Lumpur for most of April.
Goh Choon Pong, SIA’s Chief
Executive Officer told the media
SIA would be deploying the
Dreamliner to Japan’s Nagoya and
Fukuoka as next destinations.
Tan Kai Ping, SIA’s Senior
Vice-President for Marketing and
Planning told AIR International that
SIA wanted to deploy the 787-10
to destinations that appreciate
premium products, yet also markets
that are big enough to fill the larger
aircraft. With Tokyo already out of
slots, Osaka was an obvious choice.
The cabin
SIA has invested $350 million on
the new regional cabin on the
first 20 787-10s, which have 337
seats in two classes, 36 in business
and 301 in economy. It is an 18%
increase in capacity compared to
the A330-300’s 285 seats.
At the delivery ceremony
at Singapore Changi Airport,
SIA unveiled the new regional
business class product, to
replace the decade-old seats
used in most Airbus A330300s and Boeing 777-200s for
regional operations. Arranged
in 1-2-1 forward facing layout,
it ensures aisle access for
all passengers not seen in
current regional products. The
airline also touts that the new
regional business class seats are
comparable to most long-haul
business products.
SIA opted for a two-class cabin in the 787-10, with 301 seats in economy, ensuring
high optimisation of space.
Singapore Airlines claims the forward-facing, flat-lying beds in business class are
unparalleled amongst regional business class products.
The seats are designed by
Airbus’ Stelia Aerospace and can be
converted into a 76-inch (1.93m)
fully lie-flat bed, unprecedented
in the region’s medium-haul
products. The feature will be
especially welcomed in a number
of overnight flights to Japan and
Australia. Other features include an
18-inch (457mm) high definition
touchscreen display with an
enhanced KrisWorld in-flight
Economy class is arranged in
3-4-3, with Recaro seats similar
to the economy seats in the new
A380 product introduced last
November. Like most modern
economy seats, they possess
USB charging ports, an 11.6-inch
(294mm) touchscreen monitor
and a six-way adjustable headrest.
The whole aircraft is connected
via Panasonic’s Ku-band Global
Communication Services, as well
as having GSM connectivity from
Goh said: “The new products
were the result of a series of
consultations with customers
and from working closely
with our seat designers and
manufacturers. We are confident
that the new regional cabin
products, with full-flat beds in
business class and the many
new features in economy class,
will offer our customers a more
comfortable in-flight experience
even on the shortest flights.” | 9
RAF TriStars
find new
Contractor owned,
contractor operated
An unusual visitor to RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk on April 6, 2018, was this highly modified DHC-8-202 fitted with a variety of
wide-area surveillance systems, imaging radars, signals intelligence equipment and electro-optical, infrared and hyperspectral
cameras. Registered as N8200R (c/n 425) with Dynamic AvLease, Delaware, the company has been the nominal owner
of several other extensively modified Dash 8s that have gone on to be assigned US Army serial numbers. However, those
machines have been larger DHC-8-300 series aircraft. Aircraft N8200R departed south from Mildenhall the next day.
Photo by Ade Carver
based in Williamsburg, Virginia,
announced on March 12, 2018,
it had finalised the acquisition of
six Lockheed L-1011 TriStar tanker
and transport aircraft formerly
operated by Royal Air Force's
No.216 Squadron based at RAF
Brize Norton, Oxfordshire. Four of
the aircraft (TriStar KC1s ZD948,
ZD950, ZD953 and K1 ZD951) are
specifically configured for air-toair refuelling operations and two
(TriStar C2s ZE704 and ZE705) for
passenger and cargo operations
only. Following the disbandment
of No.216 Squadron on March
20, 2014, and the final operational
TriStar sortie on March 24,
2014, the aircraft have been in
open storage at Bruntingthorpe
Aerodrome in Leicestershire.
Ian Harding
India buys last C-17A
Globemaster III
British Fat Albert
negotiations, India signed off on the
purchase of the last available ‘white
tail’ Boeing C-17A Globemaster III
on March 30. Boeing was awarded a
$262 million not-to-exceed, foreign
military sales contract by the US
Air Force Life Cycle Management
Center to provide delivery of the
aircraft to the Indian Air Force.
The aircraft rolled off Boeing’s Long
Beach production line in 2014 as
part of a batch of ten built by Boeing
on spec without orders for them.
The other nine aircraft were sold to
Australia, which took two, Canada
The United States’ Naval Air
Systems Command (NAVAIR)
plans to buy a surplus Hercules
C5 transport aircraft from the UK.
The machine is urgently required
to replace the US Navy’s C-130T,
BuNo 164763, that has long been
in use as the support aircraft for
the US Navy Flight Demonstration
Team, the Blue Angels. The team’s
Hercules are traditionally known
as Fat Albert.
a notice on March 28: “Naval
Air Systems Command intends
one, the United Arab Emirates two and
Qatar four. India’s new jet, N272ZD
(c/n 50273/F-272) was allotted the
US Air Force serial number 14-0003
and has been in storage since it was
built. After modifications have been
performed at Boeing’s San Antonio
facility, it must be ready for delivery to
India by August 22, 2019.
The Indian Air Force operates its
fleet of ten C-17As, serials CB-8001
to CB-8010, with 81 Squadron
‘Skyloards’ from Hindon Air Force
Station, Ghaziabad. The new jet is
expected to be assigned the serial
number CB-8011.
Nation number nine
The first F-35A Lightning II for the Han Guk Gong Gun (Republic of Korea Air Force) made its maiden flight from Lockheed
Martin’s Fort Worth facility on March 19, 2018. It was officially handed over to South Korea during a ceremony at Fort Worth
on March 28, 2018; the ninth nation to take delivery of an F-35 jet. Serial number 18-001 (c/n AW-01) is the first of 40 F-35As
for the Asian air arm. Initial deliveries are included in low-rate initial production Lot 10 and are on plan for delivery this year.
Photo by Matt Ellis
10 |
to negotiate and award a sole
source contract with the United
Kingdom Ministry of Defence for
the procurement of one C-130J
under the authority of FAR 6.3021 . . . the Government requires
a suitable replacement aircraft,
which must be delivered in an
expeditious manner, to avoid a
gap in logistical support of the
Blue Angels Flight Demonstration
Squadron. The aircraft being
procured from the UK MoD has
the requisite amount of life and
technical capability to support the
Blue Angels mission.”
Hornets for
On March 30, 2018 Boeing
was awarded a $1.165 billion
contract by US Naval Air
Systems Command for longlead non-recurring engineering
baseline configuration for the
production and delivery of 22
F/A-18E and six F/A-18F Super
Hornets to replace the Kuwaiti
Air Force’s legacy F/A-18C and
F/A-18D Hornets. The contract
also covers the acquisition of
radar warning receivers and
aircraft armament. The aircraft
must be ready for delivery by
September 2022.
Chinese carrier deploys
Croatia to
buy Baraks
On March 27, 2018, the Croatian
National Defence Council announced
its acceptance of an Israeli offer to
provide surplus Israeli Air Force F-16s.
Greece, Israel, Sweden, South Korea
and the United States were asked
to answer a Croatian request for
proposals to replace the Hrvatsko
ratno zrakoplovstvo i protuzračna
obrana (HRZ i PZO/Croatian Air
Force) fleet of MiG-21s. The United
States, Israel and Greece offered
F-16s and Sweden a squadron of JAS
39 Gripens.
The council’s recommendation to
accept Israel’s offer of 12 F-16D Baraks
at a cost of $500 million must now be
formally approved by the government.
Tactical air
A People’s Liberation Army Navy J-15 of the Liaoning’s carrier air wing lands aboard the ship. Chinese internet
For the first time, the Chinese
People’s Liberation Army Navy
Surface Force Type-001 aircraft
carrier Liaoning has deployed to
the disputed South China Sea
region. It sailed at the heart of a
massive carrier group made up of
at least 50 other ships. The usual
complement of combat aircraft
comprises 24 J-15s (a Chinese
version of the Su-33), six Z-18F
anti-submarine helicopters and
four Z-18Js, AEW variants of the
licence-built version of the French
SA321 Super Frelon, fitted with a
multimode active electronically
scanned array radar. A small
detachment of Z-9s (licence-built
AS365 Dauphins) is also carried.
Beijing has not revealed the
purpose of the deployment, but
the move is likely to be seen as a
challenge to US hegemony in the
The Russian Air and Space Force
(RuASF) has taken delivery of its first
upgraded Il-76MDM airlifter with an
additional 15 years of airframe life.
Ilyushin signed the contract
back in August 2013 covering a
comprehensive avionics upgrade,
a service life extension programme
and replacement of systems now
out of production for a mix of 30
Il-76MD transport aircraft and Il78M tankers.
New Global Air Traffic Managementcompliant
communication and navigation
suites, digital cockpit instrumentation,
a self-protection system, and a nosemounted
sensor system used for low-level
night time navigation and delivery of
paratroopers and military equipment,
are all adopted from the new Il-76M90A. The MDM-model also features
a reinforced centre wing section, a
strengthened undercarriage, but the
original D-30KP engines upgraded
for greater service life.
Thirty Il-76MDMs are planned, which
will supplement – at a third of the
per-aircraft cost – new-production Il76MD-90As powered by the PS-90A
engine. The first aircraft made its postupgrade maiden flight in February
2016, and now delivered will be used
for test and evaluation by the RuASF.
Alexander Mladenov and David C Isby
More Qatari Rafale fighters
A recently reactivated US Air Force
squadron was revealed at Nellis Air
Force Base, Nevada, on March 2,
2018. The 24th Tactical Air Support
Squadron (TASS), subordinated to
the 57th Wing, last flew OA-37B
Dragonflies from Howard Air Base,
Panama, until it was deactivated
on March 31, 1991. The 24th
TASS’s primary role will be close
air support training using former
388th Fighter Wing F-16Cs.
Sent to the
For the first time, a Royal Air Force
A400M Atlas C1 (serial number ZM415),
has been assigned to the Falkland
Islands to replace Hercules C5 ZH888
that has provided 905 Expeditionary
Air Wing’s 1312 Flight based at Mount
Pleasant with an SAR, maritime
reconnaissance and tactical transport
capability. The short-fuselage Hercules
C5s are shortly to be withdrawn from
RAF service. The new aircraft arrived in
the Falklands in late March.
Poland buys
more M-346s
Qatar announced its decision to exercise its option for 12 Dassault Rafales for the Qatar Emiri Air Force on March 27, 2018, to
bring its total buy to 36. The option for the dozen swing-role fighters, announced on December 7, 2017, followed a contract for
24 aircraft signed in May 4, 2015. Dassault Aviation
Leonardo and the Armament
Inspectorate of the Polish Ministry
of National Defence have signed a
contract to supply four additional
M-346 Advanced Jet Trainers (AJT).
Poland invited Leonardo to discuss
the purchase of eight more AJTs, for
delivery by 2020 and four more in the
2020–2021 timeframe in January
2016. The March 2018 contract
is worth more than €115 million,
includes a support package and the
option of buying four more aircraft. | 11
By Jerry Gunner
IN THE next few months, two
new types of aircraft, the Embraer
Phenom 100 and the Beechcraft
Texan T1, will join the Grob 120TP
Prefect in taking up the task of
training future pilots for the Royal
Navy and Royal Air Force under the
UK’s new Military Flying Training
System (UKMFTS). The Phenom,
recently certified as ready to go
on the UK military aircraft register,
will replace 45 Squadron’s King
Airs; the Texans, flying from RAF
Valley, Anglesey, will supersede
Tucanos based at RAF Lintonon-Ouse, North Yorkshire. All
five Phenoms had arrived at RAF
Cranwell, Lincolnshire, by the
end of January, but certification
glitches have delayed their
introduction into service; they
are now not expected to be
operational until early 2019. The
first two Texans arrived at Valley on
February 16 and at least 21 of the
23 new Prefects have arrived in the
UK. The arrival of the new aircraft
has seen changes in the existing
fleet of trainers used under the
previous Ascent-run scheme.
Grobs sold to Finland
Four Grob G115EA training aircraft,
formerly operated in Royal Air Force
markings by Babcock International
under contract to the UK MoD,
arrived at Jyväskylä-Tikkakoski
Airport, Finland, on March 16,
2018. The aircraft, along with 24
others Grob G115s, will replace
the surviving 28 L-70 Vinkas (of 30
obtained in the early 1980s) with
the Ilmavoimat (Finnish Air Force)
Academy’s Hävittäjälentolaivue
41/3 (Flight Training Air Wing 41/3).
Finland’s Defence Forces and
Border Guards will use the Grobs
for basic flying training including
night, instrument meteorological
conditions and aerobatics.
An Ilmavoimat spokesman told
AIR International: “Flight training
begins with a primary flight syllabus.
At this phase, students are conscripts
selected for service with a reserve
pilot officer course in the Air Force
Academy. At the next phase, students
have started their studies with a
pilot track in the National Defence
University. On completion of the
Grob programme, cadets convert to
the Hawk for fast jet training.”
Finland’s Defence Minister
Jussi Niinisto authorised the
Finnish Defence Forces’ Logistics
Command on October 7, 2016 to
acquire 28 second-hand Grob G115
elementary and basic flying training
aircraft from Babcock Aerospace
Limited. The deal included all
necessary training on the type for
Finnish instructors.
Delivery had been agreed to finish
in 2017 with flying training starting on
an unspecified date in 2018. Before
that can happen and with an eye on
Finland’s HX Fighter Programme, the
Grobs will be modernised in Finland
by Patria Aviation Oy with an avionics
and communications systems
upgrade and the installation of stateof-the-art digital glass cockpits.
The value of the 28 aircraft, minus
the update package, was stated
as €6.06 million; the aircraft are
expected to remain in service for
another 30 years.
Of the 28 former British trainers,
11 were configured as G115EAs, with
the additional A in the designation
standing for Advanced. The G115EA
is fitted with a Garmin GNS 430W
GPS system, digital horizontal
situation indicator and digital engine
monitoring instruments. An extra
VHF aerial is fitted to the fuselage for
the new GPS system.
British Grobs
Babcock’s forerunner, VT Aerospace
Ltd operated five Grob G115D2
Heron aircraft registered G-BVHA,
G-BVHE in the early 1990s on behalf
of the Royal Navy.
As part of a private finance
initiative, VT Aerospace purchased
99 Grob G115Es for the UK MoD in
1998 for University Air Squadrons,
Air Experience Flights and RAF Flying
Training Squadrons (FTS) and 727
Naval Air Squadron. The Central
Flying School received its first Tutors
on September 13, 1999, and the
Cambridge University Air Squadron
(UAS), the first UAS to get the new
aircraft, the following day.
So successful was the Tutor that
a follow-on order for a further 23
upgraded G115EAs was placed in
The tragic loss of three G115Es,
two from Wales UAS and one from
Oxford UAS in 2009 with the loss
of three teenage cadets and their
instructors resulted in an urgent
operational requirement to fit
traffic advisory service equipment,
manufactured by Avidyne, to
the remaining 119 aircraft. The
£2.8 million safety upgrade was
UK training fleets
change as MFTS nears
The first Grob G115 of 28 for Finland, G115EA GO-1, the former G-CGKA soon after its arrival at its new home,
Tikkakoski Airport. It wears the scheme it wore with the Royal Air Force’s 3 FTS at RAF Cranwell minus the last two of its
registration, the squadron badge and Babcock logo that had all been painted on the fin. Ville Tuokko/Finnish Air Force
12 |
completed in December 2011,
nine months before the deadline
for the project’s completion.
The accidents left Babcock with a
mixture of 96 G115Es and 23 G115EAs
to fulfil the UK MoD’s Light Aircraft
Flying Task. As well as the aircraft,
which it owns, it provides the MoD
with flying instructors, logistical
support, fleet management and
aircraft maintenance. The Tutors
operated with Royal Navy, Royal Air
Force and UAS markings, albeit with
civilian registration numbers.
Under the new MFTS contract,
which came into effect on April 1,
2018, the 100th anniversary of the
formation of the Royal Air Force,
23 Grob G120TP Prefects are
being acquired to conduct many
of the roles previously performed
by the Grob G115s, but principally
elementary flying training. The
introduction of the new machines
resulted in a surplus of G115s, 28 of
which have been sold to Finland.
Pastures new
The first Grob for Finland, G115EA
G-CGKA (c/n 82301/E), arrived at
its future base, Jyväskylä-Tikkakoski
on November 22, 2016, and almost
immediately was painted with the
Finnish serial number GO-1. It will be
treated as the pattern aircraft for the
avionics upgrade programme.
It was six months until five
more were ready for delivery with
four aircraft, G115Es G-BYUG (c/n
82092/E), G-BYVS (c/n 82128/E),
G-BYWJ (c/n 82145/E) and G-BYXN
(c/n 82174/E) leaving Cranwell
on May 24, 2017. The fifth in the
batch, another G115E, G-BYUP (c/n
82101/E) left Cranwell the next day.
On September 25, 2017, five
more G115Es set out on their twoday delivery flights: G-BYUA (c/n
82086/E), G-BYVJ (c/n 82120/E),
G-BYVX (c/n 82133/E), G-BYWE (c/n
82140/E) and G-BYWT (c/n 82154/E).
Five aircraft, comprising three
G115Es G-BYWC (c/n 82138/E),
G-BYWN (c/n 82149/E) and G-BYVV
(c/n 82131/E) and two G115EAs,
G-CGKF (c/n 82306/E) and G-CGKI
(c/n 82309/E), left Cranwell on
October 20, 2017.
On October 25, two more G115Es
set out from Cranwell for Finland:
G-BYWP (c/n 82151/E) and G-BYXB
(c/n 82162/E).
A group of six left for mainland
Europe on November 20, 2017. The
batch comprised only two G115Es,
G-BYVT (c/n 82129/E) and G-BYXY
(c/n 82181/E). The remaining four
were G115EAs: G-CGKB (c/n 82302/E),
G-CGKC (c/n 82303/E), G-CGKJ (c/n
82310/E) and G-CGKV (c/n 82321/E).
The final four of the 28 for
Finland, all G115EAs, left on their
delivery flights on March 14, 2018.
The journey had been delayed until
the worst of the European winter
weather was over. The Grobs
refuelled at Southend Airport, Essex,
before crossing the English Channel:
G-CGKM (c/n 82313/E), G-CGKO
(c/n 82315/E), G-CGKT (c/n 82319/E)
and G-CGKX (c/n 82323/E).
King Air trainers going civil
The transfer of the UKMFTS from
the hands of Ascent to Affinity Flying
Training Services has led to Serco
returning the fleet of Beech King
Airs it provided for the Royal Air
Force to the UK civil aircraft register.
This is being done in anticipation
of the introduction into service of
the Embraer Phenom T1, which
will replace the ageing turboprops.
Serco provided ten King Airs, seven
Beech 200 King Airs and three Beech
B200GT King Airs to the UK MoD.
They were used by the Royal Air
Force’s 45 Squadron at RAF Cranwell,
Lincolnshire for multi-engine pilot
training, as well as familiarisation
and air experience for trainee rear
crew or Weapon Systems Operators.
Pilot graduates went on to the
RAF transport and tanker fleets, as
well as the ISTAR community. The
RAF referred to the Beech 200s as
‘Classics’. They have analogue cockpits
like those found in the RAF’s basic
trainer, the Tutor T1. The three Beech
200GTs, imaginatively referred to as
‘GTs’, are fitted with glass cockpits
more relevant to the Atlas, C-17,
Hercules, Sentinel or Voyager that
students are most likely to move on to.
In late March, once their operational
days with the RAF at Cranwell were
over, owner-operator Serco flew
the King Airs to a facility at Guernsey
airport. The aircraft involved are: Beech
200 Super King Airs ZK451 (c/n BB1830), added to the UK civil register on
March 21, 2018 as G-RAFK and ZK452
(c/n BB-1832) to G-RAFL the same
day. Three others, ZK450, ZK453 and
ZK454, were sold in 2014 and at the
time of writing the re-registration dates
for ZK455 and ZK456 are not known.
Beech B200GT King Airs ZK458 (c/n
BY-32) became G-RAFD on March 23,
2018 and ZK460 (c/n BY-90) G-RAFU
on March 11, 2018. ZK459 (c/n BY-36)
has not yet been re-registered. | 13
Diplomat's flight
Britain’s government blamed Russia for the terrorist attack in the UK on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on March 4, 2018. As a consequence, the UK
ordered 23 Russian diplomats and their families to leave the UK within a week. Captured arriving at London Stansted at approximately 12:00hrs on March 20, 2018, following
its direct flight from Moscow, was IL-96-300PU RA-96023 of Rossiya’s Special Flight Detachment, which arrived to collect the Russian personnel. The aircraft departed at
approximately 16:00hrs the same day. Ian Harding
President Trump’s repair bill
appropriations bill, passed by
Congress on March 21, 2018,
and subsequently signed into
law, added a total of 143 aircraft
beyond those initially requested
by America’s armed services in
early 2017. It increased total aircraft
procurement funding by $9.5
billion above the original request,
to $44 billion.
Significant increases above the
numbers originally requested were
provided for F-35 Lightning IIs
(46 to 56 F-35As, 20 to 24 F-35Bs
and four to ten F-35Cs), 14 to 24
F/A-18 Super Hornets, 15 to 18
KC-46A Pegasus tankers, six to
14 V-22 Osprey tiltrotors, seven
to ten P-8A Poseidon maritime
surveillance aircraft, zero to two
Gulfstream C-37Bs, and nine to 25
C-130J Hercules versions: six Air
National Guard C-130J transports,
four Marine KC-130J tankers,
five Air Force Special Operations
Shadow IIs and one Air Combat
Command HC-130J Combat King
II personnel recovery and tanker
Helicopters added by the bill include,
seven AH-1Z attack helicopters and
two CH-53K King Stallions heavy
lift helicopters for the US Marine
Corps. The US Army is set to receive
an additional 17 AH-64E Apache
attack helicopters and 11 UH-72
Lakota training helicopters. The
Army National Guard will receive
an additional eight UH-60M Black
Hawk utility helicopters.
UAVs added included increasing
the Army’s MQ-1 Gray Eagle
procurement from 11 to 20 air
vehicles and increasing from zero
to six MQ-8C Fire Scout UAVs for
the US Navy.
Funding increases included an
additional $103 million for rewinging A-10 Thunderbolt II attack
aircraft. Munitions procurement
funded at $16.2 billion, $1.9 billion
above the original budget request,
California’s first King
Lockheed Martin delivered the first HC-130J Combat King II personnel recovery and tanker aircraft to the California Air
National Guard on April 5. Serial number 16-5842 flew from the factory at Marietta, Georgia, to Moffett Air National Guard
Base, California, using the call sign ‘King 01’. Aircraft 5842 and three others will replace five MC-130P Combat Shadows with
the California Air National Guard’s 130th Rescue Squadron, a component of the 129th Rescue Wing. Lockheed Martin
Long-range maritime patrol
In March, two Russian Naval Aviation
surveillance and anti-submarine
warfare aircraft carried out Russia’s
first flight to North American airspace
via the North Pole since the end of the
Cold War. The aircraft were refuelled
in flight and accompanied by fighters
14 |
for part of the mission. Tu-142s also
carried out anti-submarine warfare
exercises in the eastern Mediterranean
during March, operating from bases in
southern Russia.
Also in March, two MiG-31 Foxhound
interceptors assigned to the Russian
Pacific Fleet were scrambled from
to build up stockpiles drawn down
by the sustained operations over
Iraq and Syria.
Congress explicitly kept in the bill
the requested FY2018 funding
for the E-8C Joint Standoff
Target Attack Radar (JSTARS)
The selection of a potential
aircraft is likely to take place this
year. Congress did not take this
opportunity to block JSTARS’
retirement, starting in FY2019, but
will have the ultimate decision
over the Air Force’s current plan
to replace the E-8C with a multidomain sensor network. David C Isby
a base in Kamchatka to carry out a
ground-controlled intercept of an
Il-38N May over the Arctic. This was
the first such mission, which involved
a round-trip nonstop mission of
over 4,000km (2,485 miles). The
interceptors were both refuelled twice
by Il-78 Midas tankers. David C Isby
The Angolan government has
authorised the purchase of three
C295 transport aircraft, which
will be used to monitor the
country’s exclusive economic
zone. President João Lourenço
authorised commodities trading
company Simportex to finalise
the €159.9 million contract for
the aircraft with Airbus Defence
and Space on March 2, 2018.
Apart from transport duties,
the C295s will be used by the
Angolan Navy for maritime
surveillance. Although Airbus has
not confirmed the systems fit, the
price tag indicates special mission
equipment will be added, such
as the fully integrated tactical
system, dubbed FITS, developed
for maritime surveillance which
integrates sensor controls and
displays. Guy Martin
Air Force
Luxembourg is to buy its own
military aircraft for the first
time. Minister of Defence,
Étienne Schneider signed a
€145 million contract with
Airbus Helicopters on March
21, 2018, for five helicopters.
The type involved was not
mentioned, but in January 2018
it was reported the government
had approved purchase of two
H145Ms, which at the time
were assumed to be for the
police. In his March statement,
Schneider said two helicopters
will be delivered to the Grand
Ducal Police, while three will
serve with the Luxembourg
Earlier in the month, Minister
of Defence, Étienne Schneider
confirmed that Luxembourg
should receive a single Airbus
A400 transport aircraft in 2020
in partnership with Belgium
at a cost of €197 million.
The statement was made in
response to a paliamentry
question on March 9. Jerry Gunner
Merlin force restructured
Tiger striped Merlin HM2 ZH860 captured performing a confined area landing in Cornwall; 814 NAS is a member of the NATO
Tiger association. Ian Harding
The Royal Navy’s Merlin HM2 force
based at Royal Naval Air Station
Culdrose has been restructured
from March 28, 2018, to ensure
delivery of its key role in the UK’s
Carrier Strike Group. Restructuring
involved the decommissioning of
829 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) and
transfer of its aircraft and personnel
to 814 NAS. Consequently, the
Merlin HM2 force now comprises
814 and 820 NAS, the frontline
units, and training unit 824 NAS.
Commander Mike Currie, Head
of the Merlin Helicopter Force at
RNAS Culdrose, said: “With several
key roles to deliver, including antisubmarine and anti-surface warfare,
our Merlin HM2 is integral to the
Maritime Task Group and an essential
part of Carrier Strike. The addition of
airborne surveillance and control,
through the Crowsnest system in the
future, will increase the capability of
this very capable airframe.”
At the end of its most recent
operational period, 829’s fourth
incarnation, the unit traces its
history back more than 70 years.
Recommissioned in October 2004,
the squadron spent the past 14
years flying the Merlin HM1 and
HM2 on operations. Ian Harding
All change
The last of ten Griffin HT1 and 22
Squirrel HT1 helicopters left RAF
Shawbury, Shropshire for onward
disposal by their owners Cobham
on March 28, 2018. The departure
marked the first time in over two
decades that either of the types
assigned to the Defence Helicopter
Flying School (DHFS) fleet was
absent from the airfield.
The UK MoD awarded a 15-year
contract to FBS Ltd, a joint venture
between Flight Refuelling Aviation,
Bristow Helicopters and Serco to
provide helicopters and services
for the DHFS School at Shawbury
in October 1996. This arrangement
was followed in 2012 by the award
to Cobham of a £193 million fouryear contract to provide helicopter
flying training at RAF Shawbury, RAF
Valley and AAC Middle Wallop, as well
as support services at Shawbury and
Middle Wallop. With the introduction
of the new Rotary Wing Training
Programme as part of the UK Military
Flying Training System (MFTS) on
April 1, 2018, the helicopters used by
DHFS were no longer required and
were marked for disposal.
Of 25 Squirrel HT1s delivered to
Shawbury from 1997, three have
been lost in accidents and one of the
11 Griffins was lost when it burned
out on a Welsh mountain on August
Squirrel HT2 ZJ248 of the Army Air Corps’ 7 (Training) Regiment departs Middle Wallop, Hampshire. Ian Harding
9, 2016. Eight of the ten surviving
Griffins were flown to Bournemouth
Airport, Dorset, for storage and sale
by Cobham in March 2018, while
the other two went to Newquay
Airport, Cornwall, for use by the
Cobham Helicopter Academy, as
have at least six Squirrels. Similarly,
most of the former Shawburybased Squirrels left for storage
at Bournemouth in March 2018,
though a couple reverted to their
former civil registrations as early
as November 2017. The first to
leave, ZJ260 (c/n 2985), had been
delivered to Shawbury on June
26, 1997. It reverted to its former
registration G-BXGB on November
14, 2017, and then on January 19,
2018, it was registered to a leasing
company incorporated in Delaware
in the United States as N119CA.
At Middle Wallop, a mix of ten
Squirrel HT1s the HT2s previously
flown by the Army Air Corps’ 668
and 670 Squadrons were also
ferried to Bournemouth Airport in
The Squirrels and Griffins are
being replaced by 29 Airbus
Helicopters H135s and three H145s,
designated Juno HT1s and Jupiter
HT1s respectively. Under a new
contract awarded to a joint venture
between Babcock and Lockheed
Martin Ascent, Navy, Army and
Air Force aircrew will continue to
conduct their basic and advanced
rotary training at Shawbury and
Middle Wallop. Crews selected for
training in mountain and maritime
helicopter operations will go to RAF
Valley on Anglesey, where the three
Jupiters have been based since
mid-2017. Jerry Gunner | 15
777-9 production
Boeing has released photos showing
the forward fuselage section of the
first 777-9 at Everett. The wings for
this static test airframe and the first
flight test aircraft, the second 777-9
to be assembled, are in production.
Assembly of the fuselage for the
first flight test aircraft is due to
begin later this year, a Boeing
spokesperson told AIR International.
Boeing’s target is to fly the 777-9
early in 2019.
Meanwhile, newly updated provisional
airport planning documents for the
777-9 and 777-8 provide further
details about the functionality of the
folding wingtip mechanism (FWT)
designed for the 777X.
During taxi for departure, the
777X will taxi with the FWT folded.
Once passing a predetermined
location to ensure clearance from
ground objects, the flight crew will
manually initiate the command for
the FWT to extend and lock to the
take-off position prior to the holdshort line. The document reads:
“Due to the unique geometry of
each airport, it will not be practical
to automate the extension of the
FWT and the extension action will
be left to the flight deck crew for
manual operation when required.”
On landing, the FWT control logic
will automatically fold the wingtip
The forward fuselage section of the first Boeing 777-9 airframe, which will be used for static testing, under assembly at Everett.
after the aircraft has touched
down and ground speed is below
50kts (92km/h), which will take 20
seconds in normal conditions.
In the event of non-normal
conditions, the crew will be alerted
by a message from the engine
indicating and crew alerting system
and a non-normal FWT operation
plan will be invoked. For example, in
the event of a high-speed rejected
take-off, the FWT will automatically
fold if the aircraft achieves a rejected
take-off (RTO) ground speed of
85kts (157km/h) or above, with the
wingtip folding once the aircraft has
decelerated below 50kts ground
speed. The 85kts threshold is the
same threshold for activating RTO
autobrakes and speed brakes.
two jets, 9V-SKA (msn 3) and 9V-SKB
(msn 5), were repainted allover white
and are currently parked with Tarmac
Aerosave at Tarbes in southwest
France. A graphic issued by Hi Fly
of an A380 in its colours showed
an aircraft wearing the registration
9H-MIP; some Hi Fly aircraft are on
the Maltese civil aircraft register.
The A380 joins Hi Fly’s fleet of 16
Airbus large widebody aircraft (11
A340-300s, three A330-200s and
one A321-200), which are available
for aircraft, crew, maintenance and
insurance leases worldwide. With Hi
Fly, the A380 will seat 471 passengers
across three classes (399 passengers
in economy class on the main deck,
with the upper deck having business
and first class seats carrying 60
and 12 passengers respectively). In
a high-density layout the aircraft
can carry up to 868 passengers.
Mark Broadbent
A380 for Hi Fly
Hi Fly is to become the first operator
of second-hand Airbus A380s. Initial
reports of Hi Fly’s interest in used
A380s first emerged last summer
and now the Portuguese wet-leasing
specialist has confirmed its first
A380-841 will join its fleet in “mid2018”, although no more specific
date was given. A Hi Fly statement
noted: “The arrival is a major event
for the company, making it the first
Portuguese and the fourth European
airline operating the model.”
The airline’s president Paulo Mirpuri
said: “It is a very proud moment for
Hi Fly. The A380 is the largest and
most advanced airliner flying today
and certainly the aircraft of choice
for the most discerning air travellers.
This acquisition has been part of our
company’s plans for a while. We are
extremely happy to welcome the
first A380 to our fleet.”
The first Hi Fly A380 is reportedly
one of the two A380s returned to the
lessor Dr Peters Group in November
2017 after spending a decade on
lease to Singapore Airlines. Those
Mark Broadbent
Portuguese wet-leasing specialist Hi Fly is set to take on its first A380 in mid-2018. Hi Fly
16 |
Down under on the Dreamliner
Boeing 787-9 VH-ZND (c/n 63390), Qantas’ fourth Dreamliner, departs London Heathrow for Perth on the first regular direct service between Europe and Australia.
The aircraft’s livery is based on the work ‘Yam Dreaming’ by late Northern Territory artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye, whose name the aircraft bears. Ian Harding
The first regular direct flight
between Europe and Australia is in
operation after Qantas started flying
a new Perth–London Heathrow
roundtrip with the Boeing 787-9. At
around 17 hours long, the non-stop
service covers 7,828 nautical miles
(14,498km), making it the longest yet
served with a 787 and the secondlongest airline flight currently in
operation after Qatar Airways’ Doha
to Auckland, New Zealand, route.
Flight QF9 departs Perth at 18:50hrs
local and arrives into Heathrow at
05:10hrs local the next day, with the
return flight QF10 leaving Heathrow
at 13:30hrs local and landing in
Perth at 13:15hrs local the following
day. The five times a week flight is
operated by four pilots and 12 cabin
Markus Svensson, Qantas Regional
Manager UK, Europe, Middle East
and Africa.told AIR International the
new route is “performing very well
and we are expecting very full flights
in both directions”. Svensson said
Qantas’ focus is to bed down the new
service, but added: “Having a western
hub in Perth provides us with plenty
of new network opportunities, such
as the possibility of flights to other
European countries such as France
and Germany.”
Qantas has challenged Airbus and
Boeing to give the A350 and 777
the range to make direct flights
such as London–Sydney possible.
Svensson said: “Both Boeing and
Airbus have responded really well,
with dedicated teams in Seattle
and Toulouse working with our inhouse teams. If the manufacturers
can produce an aircraft with the
capability to make the distance with
a full payload, we’d look to do a
request for proposals next year with
deliveries from 2022.” Mark Broadbent
E190-E2 delivered
Embraer handed over the initial customer E190-E2 to launch operator Widerøe on April 4. Embraer
Embraer delivered the first customer
E190-E2 to launch operator Wideroe
at its São José dos Campos facility
on April 4. The aircraft, currently
PR-EFL (c/n 19020009) and to be
re-registered LN-WEA, was due to
start operations with the Norwegian
regional airline on April 24 on the
Bergen–Tromsø route. The aircraft
was scheduled to route Sao Paulo–
Bergen on its delivery flight.
The E190-E2 is the first of three newgeneration 80 to 146-seat E-Jets to
be introduced in the next few years,
with the larger E195-E2 due for
certification and delivery next year
and the smaller E175-E2 in 2021. The
E190-E2 received type certification
on February 28 from Brazil’s Agência
Nacional de Aviação Civil, the US
Federal Aviation Administration and
the European Aviation Safety Agency.
The E190-E2 features Pratt & Whitney
PW1715G ultra-high bypass ratio
engines and a completely new wing
and landing gear compared to the
first-generation E190 According to
Embraer, the E190-E2 offers a 17.3%
fuel burn improvement over the first-
generation aircraft.
Widerøe’s E190-E2 is configured with
114 seats in a single-class layout. The
carrier has contracted for up to 15
E-Jets E2s consisting of three firm
E190-E2s and purchase rights for an
additional 12 E2 family aircraft. These
are Widerøe’s first jets. Embraer
has now delivered more than 1,400
E-Jets in total. Mark Broadbent | 17
THE NORTH American edition
of the Aerial Firefighting (AFF)
international conference held
on March 12–14 at McClellan
Field in Sacramento, California, is
continuing to expand as the growth
of technology in the field of aerial
fire-fighting is reaching new levels.
It is now no longer a matter of just
being able to get aircraft on a fire
quickly, but also getting the right
aircraft for the situation, along with
the supporting equipment and
personnel who can provide around
the clock coverage for those
fighting on the ground.
Presented by UK-based
organisation Tangent Link, AFF 2018
hosted a full complement of over 40
exhibitors. These exhibits covered
the entire spectrum of aerial firefighting from aircraft manufacturers,
such as Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky
and Air Tractor, to component and
equipment/materials producers,
such as Satcom, Simplex, Fire Boss,
Phos-Chek from ICL Performance
Products, and the Bambi Bucket of
SEI Industries.
Air tankers
Today air tankers are categorised
based on their size and load-carrying
capacity, and it was the operators
of these fire-fighting aircraft and
helicopters that made up the largest
contingent of exhibitors at AFF 2018.
From those who field the 747 and
DC-10s in the Very Large Air Tanker
(VLAT) category such as Global
Super Tanker and 10 Tanker Air
Carrier, to helicopter operators such
as Helimax Aviation and Columbia
Helicopters, AFF 2018 presented
those charged with managing and
fighting wildfires an opportunity to
gain information on these resources
all in one place.
This was particularly helpful in
the expanding category of Large Air
Tanker (LAT) where most of the next
generation of air tankers are entering
service. With the retirement late last
year of the P-2V piston-engine air
tanker, the LAT category is almost
exclusively turbine and jet-powered
former airliners. Among these LAT
operators represented at AFF 2018
were Aeroflite, Air Spray, Erickson,
International Air Response and
Neptune, and Coulson, which would
introduce the latest LAT, the 737300 Fireliner.
The Coulson 737 Fireliner is
unlike any of the other former
airliners that have been converted
to the air tanker role in that it will
be a true dual-purpose aircraft.
With the power of its two CFM563 engines being able to carry
over four hours of fuel with a
full 4,000-gallon retardant load,
Jim Dunn reports from this year’s Aerial Firefighting
conference held at McClellan Field, California
Wearing a distinctive vinyl wrap forest paint scheme, Air Spray USA Tanker 170, BAe 146-200 N907AS (c/n E2156),
makes a demonstration drop during AFF 2018 at McClellan Field. Delivered to Discovery Airways in January 1990
as N884DV, and last operated by Aerolineas Star Peru as OB-1948-P, Tanker 170 is awaiting approval from the
Interagency Airtanker Board before beginning a Call When Needed contract this summer. It is the first of five BAe 146
aircraft to be converted by Air Spray USA at their Chico, California base. All photos Jim Dunn
18 |
trials using one of its C-130s. This
amphibious Flyox from Singular
the most effective means. This
After experiencing difficulties in securing additional C-130s to increase its fleet of large air tankers, Coulson
will be equipped with a GPSAircraft of Spain, which can deliver
leads to the major debate within
Aviation saw an opportunity when Southwest Airlines was forced to retire its Boeing 737-3H4 aircraft.
system (c/n
that 27928),
a 500+
on aoffire
and its 4,000-gallon
aerial fire-fighting
as to whether
138, the former
is now
in theload
a precise
of retardant
to aTanker
a source
a direct
tank for
to become
737 in Coulson’s
is conducting its
final drop
in a fire or the
to preparation
be laid down
safe altitude.
to scoop
up another load. These
indirect method of laying down
to from
begin aoperations
this upcoming
fire season.
drones are also night capable thus
a line around the fire is the best
????? ?????
further reducing the risk of fighting
approach. All of these factors are
The role of the drone in aerial firea fire after dark.
driving the worldwide effort to
fighting is yet to be fully developed.
Fire-fighters in general, and
improve and develop new delivery
Currently, drones such as the Insitu
aerial fire-fighters in particular,
and dispersal systems, as well as
Scaneagle are being used to detect,
must deal with the many variables
the agents and retardants used to
monitor and map fires in progress,
that each fire presents. From the
fight the fires.
as well as to provide post-fire
type of fuels being consumed to
An example of an evolving
surveys for the recovery operations.
the terrain and environment, even
product in the direct attack role
For the actual dropping of water or
the time of day are all factors in
being used on a real fire for the
retardant there is the twin-engine
first time is the California based
how a fire will be fought using
as well as up to 63 passengers,
Coulson has decided to retain
much of the passenger interior,
complete with galley, to enable the
transport of up to three fire teams.
This would achieve a significant
increase in the utilisation of the
aircraft throughout a fire season.
Coulson has purchased six former
Southwest Airlines 737-3H4 aircraft
for this mission, with the first, Tanker
137, completing its conversion in
February 2018. Coulson displayed
the second of their 737s, Tanker 138,
at AFF 2018 in its new paint scheme
but not yet modified.
After 2018, the demand for the
usage of civilian VLAT and LAT
aircraft is anticipated to increase,
due to the recent announcement
The AT-802F Fire Boss is one of the leading aircraft in the single engine air tanker
(SEAT) category, with over 85 in operation worldwide. Built by an alliance between
Air Tractor of Olney, Texas and Fire Boss of South St Paul, Minnesota, the versatile
Fire Boss can scoop up and deliver nearly 800 gallons at a time. It can also be
operated as a land-based tanker capable of carrying 78 gallons of foam retardant.
Built in 2016, N776AS (c/n 802A-0648), Tanker 241, is one of six Fire Boss AT-802F
aircraft in the Air Spray USA fleet.
that the United States Forest
Service will abandon its
programme begun in 2013 to field
its own fleet of C-130 air tankers.
Seven C-130H aircraft were
obtained from the US Coast Guard
with the intention to convert them
to fire-fighting aircraft fitted with
an internal retardant system. Based
at McClellan Field during portions
of the last couple of fire seasons,
Caylym Technologies International
Guardian Container Aerial Fire
Fighting System. In August 2017,
the Romanian Air Force used a
C-27J Spartan to make multiple
drops in very rugged terrain of the
pre-loaded 264-gallon cardboard
containers that had been in ready
storage just for this need. Very
pleased with the entire process, the
Romanian Air Force called the 100%
biodegradable containers “flawless”,
and believed that it was also capable
of use at night, if needed.
One new system undergoing
testing using the indirect
two of the aircraft had been fitted
with the temporary Modular
Airborne Fire Fighting System, with
a third C-130H assigned there for
crew training. Due to delays by the
US Air Force to issue contracts for
the conversion work, none of the
aircraft was ever fully converted,
and their fate as far as becoming
available for future civilian use as
fire-fighting aircraft is unknown.
Powered by the 1,600shp Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67F turbine engine, the AT802F can cruise at 150 knots, while slowing to 105 knots for an accurate drop. A
computerized pilot interface system allows coverage levels to be controlled during
the drop from 0.5 to 4 gallons per 100ft2, or achieve the maximum 6.0 coverage
when dropped all at once. With a 2.5-hour fuel endurance, the Fire Boss can deliver
over 10,000 gallons per hour, with a turnaround time of four minutes, when the fire
is within five miles of a water source. | 19
Acquired in 1993, former US Marine Corps OV-10A BuNo 155401, N409DF/330 (c/n 305-12), is under the management of Cal Fire for the US Department of Agriculture
Forest Service. Maintained and operated under contract by DynCorp International, Broncos are used for aerial command and control on fires throughout California. During
AFF 2018, nearly half of the 14 Broncos in Cal Fire service were conducting training flights in preparation for the upcoming fire season.
The programme by the US Forestry Service to operate its own fleet of C-130 air tankers, using aircraft obtained from the US Coast Guard is being cancelled. Three of the
seven C-130H aircraft that were to makeup the US Forestry Service fleet were seen in operation from their base at McClellan Field, with two equipped with temporary
Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System units and one being used for crew training. None of the C-130s had the permanent internal systems fitted as called for in the US
Forestry Service plan. The fate of these aircraft is currently unknown however the US Coast Guard has replaced some of is C-130H-series aircraft with HC-27Js.
In another development in the
LAT category, Airstrike Fire-fighters
LLC of Anchorage, Alaska, has
obtained two former Aero Union
P-3 Orions to add to its fleet of
fire-fighting aircraft. It has also
established a new maintenance
facility at McClellan Field to rework
Tankers 17 and 23 to comply with
Federal Aviation Administration
standards for their return to the fire-
fighting mission. This will leave four
of the former Aero Union P-3s still
available for purchase.
Besides the increased
performance capabilities that the
next-generation air tanker brings to
the fight, an overall advancement
in technology throughout the field
is bringing a new era to aerial firefighting. Two of the components
that will play a major role in this new
era are the ability to fight fires at
night and the use of drones.
Technology in the fight
An important milestone in night
fire suppression occurred in March
when Coulson demonstrated to the
Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA)
of Australia the ability of one of its
S-61 helicopters to load water from
a pond and then drop the load on
a nearby fire in complete darkness.
Using night-vision goggles, with
the S-61 equipped with a laser
designator, the pilot was guided
through the drop process by a
spotter helicopter equipped with
an infrared imaging system. CASA is
expected to grant full authority to
begin night fire-fighting operations
shortly, with Coulson planning to
return in 2019 to conduct qualifying
First operated by the US Navy after being ordered by Capital Airlines as N181H, Lockheed Electra L188C (c/n 1130) later spent time with Pacific Southwest Airlines and the
National Center for Atmospheric Research before starting its air tanker career. Now owned by Air Spray of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, C-FLXT Tanker 481 is one of nine in
active service with Air Spray. It features a 3,000-gallon Retardant Aerial Delivery System tank that Air Spray owns the supplemental type certificate for.
20 |
The number of former military Blackhawk helicopters on the civil registry in the United States is increasing rapidly. Based in Red Bluff, California, PJ Helicopters was granted
a Restricted Category Type Certification for its UH-60A Utility Hawk in July 2015. The Utility Hawk can operate with an internal load capacity of up to 11,300lb, or with an
8,000lb capacity on the cargo hook such as using a Bambi bucket for fire-fighting. PJ Helicopters has seven Blackhawks in their fleet including UH-60A N804PJ, former US
Army serial number 78-22998.
approach is from Hungary called
the 14F Project. This is an aerial
extinguishing unit that disperses
its own foam-based material
called WOODFEX. The pressurised
tank and extinguishing unit can
be installed or uninstalled in less
than half an hour in many types of
helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.
Helicopter systems
For helicopters, only the
Queensland, Australia-based
Helitak offers a complete custombuilt underbelly expanding/
collapsible tank designed to fit
the specifications and limits of
multiple types of helicopters. The
system features its own hose/pump
unit, microprocessor controller
for programmable drops with live
tracking and recording of the flight,
and even lights and siren to alert
persons on the ground of the drops.
From IMS New Zealand is a bucket
system called Cloudburst that can be
included with its only ground-based
refill pool, with sizes capable of
holding over 6,500 gallons of liquid.
Fire attack liquids
In the category of liquids, new
solutions for both direct and indirect
attack continue to be developed. A
new product for the direct attack
mission is BlazeTamer 380 from
BioCentral Laboratories of South
Australia. Neither a gel nor a foam,
it is an elastomer mixed with water
to create strong bonds between
molecules to reduce drift and
evaporation during the drop, as
well as better canopy penetration.
A maximum amount of 0.65% is
needed per gallon of water for
aircraft fighting heavy fuel fires, while
most situations will call for only 0.2%
to 0.32% per gallon.
Displays and speakers
To go along with the indoor displays
of the 41 exhibitors, there was a wide
range of aircraft, helicopters and
equipment on one of McClellan’s
ramp that included the 747-400
Supertanker. All of the aircraft were
open for visits; a brief demonstration
of the BAe146 and Fire Boss making
water drops also took place. This is
perhaps the one drawback of the
North American edition of AFF, in
that it does not have the number of
flying demonstrations that the other
conferences feature.
An important aspect of any
conference is its speakers. At AFF
2018, there were 31 speakers from as
far as Argentina, Australia and Israel.
Topics covered a wide spectrum,
from human performance and
pilot fatigue to climate change and
wildfires’ impact on resources.
The United States Forest Service has announced for the 2018
fire season, the number of large air tankers on Exclusive Use
contract will be reduced from 20 to 13. Some of this reduction
is accounted for by the retirement of the P-2V Neptunes of
Neptune Aviation. The line-up for 2018 includes two DC-10s,
four RJ85s, four BAe146s, one C-130, and two MD-87s including
Erickson Aero Tanker 105 seen departing McClellan Field in
Sacramento, California. Plans for 2019 is to increase the number
of aircraft on Exclusive Use contract to 18. | 21
‘Aerosmurf’ A320
Brussels Airlines has repainted A320-214 OO-SND (msn 1838) into this distinctive livery featuring the Smurfs. The aircraft, known as the ‘Aerosmurf’, is pictured taxiing at
Manchester. The same jet previously wore the ‘Red Devils’ special livery. Ashley French
Qatar 747-8
Qatar Amiri Flight Boeing 747-8KB A7-HHE (c/n 37544) at a wet Brussels in March, bringing in a delegation of dignitaries from the Middle East country on a state visit
to Belgium. Wout Goosens
Air Belgium A340
Air Belgium conducted its first flight on March 29, an ad hoc charter from Brussels Charleroi to Surinam. The airline was due to begin scheduled operations from Charleroi on
April 30 with a four-times-a-week return flight to Hong Kong. Additional routes to destinations in China are due to start during the summer. The carrier is operating two exFinnair A340-343s, OO-ABA (msn 835), pictured, and OO-ABB (msn 844). Wout Goosens
22 |
Second MS-21 preparing for test flight
The second of four Irkut MS-21-300 airliners
that will be used for flight testing was rolled
out of the factory at Irkutsk, Russia, on March
25. The initial MS-21-300, which is currently
being flight-tested at the Gromov Institute
at Zhukovskiy near Moscow, first flew ten
months before. The third MS-21-300 is being
assembled and the fourth is under construction
at the component level. Some $3.8 billion in
additional investment in the MS-21 programme
has been provided from Russian banks, it
was announced on March 29. The additional
investment will enable the production of 50
MS-21s for Aeroflot by 2026. David C Isby
Sustainment problems
Javier Rodriguez
Russian federal civil aviation agency Rosaviatsiya
in a ruling posted on its website on March
24 identified problems with maintaining the
airworthiness of foreign-built airliners in Russia in
the absence of clear regulations. These include
falsification of maintenance documentation and
problems with replacing and repairing parts.
Rosaviatsiya cited the absence of corrective
action by industry. David C Isby
Laudamotion is a new European low-cost carrier planning
to start scheduled operations in April 2018. Established by
ex-F1 driver Niki Lauda, the airline has been formed using
assets of the former Niki operation acquired from the Air
Berlin group’s administrators. Laudamotion is planning to
expand to 30 aircraft within three years. Ryanair is a 24.9%
shareholder, a holding that could rise to as much as 75%,
subject to Euro regulatory approval. Mark Broadbent
Indian carrier Jet Airways has placed a big follow-on order
for the Boeing 737 MAX, ordering another 75 examples to go
alongside 75 others it ordered in 2015. There are no details
yet about the variants ordered in the new deal or delivery
dates. Mark Broadbent
Two BAE Systems ATP freighters have been purchased from the
Swedish cargo carrier West Atlantic by the Kenyan company
EnComm. West Atlantic has 27 ATPs, of which around half have
been grounded to cut costs and is looking to dispose the fleet.
EnComm has also brokered a deal for the supply of two ATP
passenger variants owned by one of West Atlantic’s partners.
Spares, engineering and training support is also being provided
to EnComm, a civil engineering company that is adding aircraft
operations by acquiring the ATPs. Guy Martin
Vietnam’s FLC Group has signed a memorandum of understanding
(MOU) with Airbus for 24 A321s for a new start-up carrier called
Bamboo Airways. The carrier is due to start operations in 2019 with
leased aircraft before the A321s in the Airbus MOU are delivered.
Bamboo is set to operate on both domestic services in Vietnam
and on regional Asian flights. Mark Broadbent
Delta Air Lines and Korean Air have received regulatory
approval for a transpacific joint venture. The combined
network covers 370 destinations (290 in North, Central and
South America and 80 in Asia). The tie-up is a further major
strategic move for Delta, the world’s largest airline, after last
year announcing a four-way JV with Air France, KLM and
Virgin Atlantic across the North Atlantic. Mark Broadbent
EasyJet is the latest major airline to order the Airbus Skywise
digital data platform. All 300 A320 Family aircraft operated
by the UK low-cost carrier will be retrofitted with Rockwell
Collins FOMAX-based predictive maintenance services.
Skywise provides users with a single access point to their
data by bringing together performance and maintenance
information into a secure cloud-based platform.
Mark Broadbent
Moroccan flag carrier Royal Air Maroc wants to
acquire new regional jets and is leaning towards
Embraer aircraft after considering options
from Sukhoi, Embraer and Bombardier. During
talks with the Brazilian President in late March,
Moroccan Prime Minister Saadeddine Othmani
suggested the possible purchase of Embraer
regional jets, which would join four E190s
leased from Nordic Aviation Capital. During
the visit, the Moroccan side also suggested
adding a new route to Brazil. Royal Air Maroc
is looking into expanding its fleet over the next
two years, and recently ordered four Boeing
787-9s and four 737 MAX aircraft, which will be
delivered by mid-2019. It has also expanded its
route network, as it aims to double passenger
capacity. Guy Martin
Super connector’s selection
FLC Group (for Bamboo
24, MOU
March 26
Turkish Airlines
25 plus 5 options,
March 9
Royal Air Maroc looking for RJs
Air Lease
737 MAX 8
All Nippon
March 23
Jet Airways
737 MAX
April 4
TUI Travel
February 28
25 plus 5 options
(firms September 21,
2017 agreement)
March 12
Turkish Airlines has split its future twin-aisle
widebody fleet between Airbus and Boeing by
ordering 25 Airbus A350-900s and 30 Boeing 7879s, with options on five A350-900s and five 7879s. The airline said it would receive six deliveries
in 2019, 14 in 2020, ten in 2021, 12 in 2022, 11
in 2023 and seven in 2024. Securing Turkish’s
signature was a major target for both Airbus and
Boeing; the airline is defined by the International
Air Transport Association as a “super connector” to
reflect its status as a growing airline feeding traffic
between east and west. Mark Broadbent
Peach in Japan
All Nippon Airways (ANA) Group is to merge
its low-cost carrier subsidiaries, Peach and
Vanilla Air, under the Peach brand. ANA said
the integration will start in the second half of
this financial year and “will serve as a strong
foundation for further fleet growth and
network expansion”. Peach started operations
in March 2012 from Osaka Kansai and Vanilla
in December 2013 from Tokyo-Narita. The
enlarged Peach will operate from both bases,
with the plan for the carrier to grow to more
than 50 aircraft, up from 35 today. Mark Broadbent
Data covers orders announced February 28-April 4. Key: LOI – Letter of Intent; MOU – Memorandum of Understanding. Compiled by Mark Broadbent | 23
Avenger’s day-long endurance
Systems Inc (GA-ASI) recently set a
new endurance record for its updated
Avenger Extended Range (ER) system.
The company announced the system
flew 23.4 continuous hours in what it
called “a representative intelligence,
surveillance and reconnaissance
configuration while carrying out a
simulated reconnaissance mission”.
The flight took place on January 2425, but was only announced early in
April. GA-ASI said it exceeded the flight
test goal of 20 hours and was a tenhour improvement in the endurance
of the baseline Predator C Avenger.
The Avenger is designed to carry
payloads such as the all-weather GAASI Lynx multimode radar and MS177 electro-optical/infrared sensor.
Like the legacy Avenger, the Avenger
ER has a 3,000lb (1,360kg) payload
bay, but it has a higher maximum
take-off weight of 19,500lb (8,845kg)
thanks to a co-cured composite
centre wing, heavyweight landing
gear and a new hybrid linear antilock brake system. Mark Broadbent
An Avenger ER set a new endurance record for the type earlier in 2018 by flying a 23.4-hour long mission.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems
Reaper upgrades under
Nigerian CH-3 operations
The Nigerian Air Force has publicly
acknowledged it is operating Chinese
CH-3 UAVs after graduating the first
locally trained pilots on the type. It
received five CH-3s in 2014; their
use was revealed when one system,
armed with AR-1 missiles, crashed
in January 2015. Over the last three
years the CH-3 has been used to
strike Boko Haram militants day
and night and the type is currently
deployed in the northeast under
Operation Lafiya Dole. The Nigerian
Air Force began training its own UAV
pilots in 2016, with conversion on
to the CH-3 in May 2017. Five pilots
received their wings on March 2, with
more set to undergo training. Nigeria
will induct additional UAVs over the
coming years and, after developing
the Amebo and Gulma prototypes
and acquiring nine Aerostars from
Israel’s Aeronautics Defence Systems,
it is working on the Tsaigumi system
developed in partnership with
Portugal’s UAVision. Guy Martin
S-100 heavy fuel demo
An MQ-9 Reaper at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. The US Air Force
has awarded General Atomics a contract to incorporate air-to-air missiles in its
Reaper flight simulator training unit to evaluate future options for arming the
MQ-9. J Eddins Jr/US Air Force
The US Air Force is considering a
range of upgrades for its General
Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc
(GA-ASI) MQ-9 Reaper including
air-to-air missiles (AAMs) and a
deployable launch capability to
enable it to operate from forward
bases. In March, the Air Force
awarded a sole-source contract to
GA-ASI to incorporate AAMs in its
Reaper flight simulator to evaluate
armament options.
24 |
Funding has been included in the
FY2019 budget request to upgrade
the moving target indicator
(MTI) capability of the Lynx radar
carried by Block 5 configuration
Reapers ordered in FY2017 and
scheduled for delivery in FY2020.
In FY2019, development will start
on a further MTI upgrade for the
Reaper, planned to be fitted to 80
air vehicles, to enable tracking of
dismounted people. David C Isby
Schiebel has demonstrated the
heavy fuel variant of its Camcopter
S-100 as part of the type’s customer
acceptance programme with the
Royal Australian Navy. During
validation and verification flights in an
acceptance programme at Jervis Bay
in New South Wales, the JP-5 (NATO
F44) heavy fuel powered system was
equipped with a Wescam MX-10S
multispectral targeting system, flown
above 10,000ft and at ranges of up
to 60 nautical miles (111km). Royal
Australian Navy Contract Manager
Kevin Beare said the S-100 “performed
very well” during the tests.
The Royal Australian Navy is using the
platform to achieve the objectives
of the Navy Minor Project 1942 to
procure a vertical take-off and landing
maritime tactical unmanned aircraft
system interim capability to provide
shipborne intelligence, surveillance
and reconnaissance. Mark Broadbent
Next-gen US Army UAVs
The Next-Generation Tactical UAS
Technology Demonstrator phase
I plan, which started in 2017, is
preparing to transition to phase II, with
a conceptual design and potential
requirements. The programme will
feed into the Future Tactical UAS, for
which $12 million for research and
development was included in the
FY2019 budget request. It is planned
to be operational within the 2030
timeframe. David C Isby
First flight of Saab GlobalEye
AEW&C aircraft
Illuminated by glorious sunshine over the Baltic Sea, the first Saab GlobalEye aircraft for the United Arab Emirates Air Force made its maiden flight from Linköping
on March 14, 2018, cunningly disguised in Saab corporate markings. Saab Aerospace
Just three weeks after being rolled
out of the factory on February 23,
Saab’s GlobalEye Airborne Early
Warning and Control aircraft made
its maiden flight on March 14, 2018.
The 1 hour and 46 minute flight
was conducted from Saab’s
facility at Linköping in southern
Sweden, under the command
of company experimental test
pilot Magnus Frederiksson and
followed a series of low speed
and high-speed taxi tests.
Magnus Frederiksson said: “Today’s
flight went as planned, with the
performance level matching our high
expectations. The aircraft’s smooth
handling was just as predicted and a
real pleasure for me to fly.”
During the successful first flight,
which departed Linköping at 12:52
local time, the flight test crew
collected aerodynamic flight test
data, which will be used to verify the
GlobalEye’s performance predictions
and associated modelling.
The aircraft is the first of three for the
United Arab Emirates Air Force, the
launch customer for the GlobalEye
Saab says that the capability is known
as the Swing Role Surveillance
System by the UAEAF.
The GlobalEye is based on the
Bombardier Global 6000 airframe,
with a Saab Erieye ER (Extended
Range) S-Band active electronically
scanned array radar and bellymounted Leonardo Seaspray 7500E
X-band surveillance radar.
Anders Carp, senior vice president
and head of Saab’s Surveillance
Business Area said: “The first flight
is the second major milestone for
the GlobalEye programme within a
very short space of time. Yet again
we have demonstrated that we are
delivering on our commitments
and that we are on track with our
production of the world’s most
advanced swing role surveillance
system.” Nigel Pittaway
MQ-9B Protector contract signed
announced on April 6, 2018 that it
has been awarded a contract under
the US Government’s Foreign Military
Sales (FMS) programme for the UK’s
MQ-9B Protector Remotely Piloted
Aircraft (RPA).
The $81 million contract with the
US Air Force Life Cycle Management
Centre covers integration and
component level testing for the UK
specific enhancements made to the
Linden Blue, CEO of GA-ASI
said: “The MQ-9B represents the
next generation of RPA system
capabilities. It has demonstrated new
airborne endurance records [greater
than 48 hours] and automatic take
offs and landings under satellite
communications only control.”
He added: “The MQ-9B will also
have our currently operational
MQ-9 detect and avoid system [with
collision avoidance radar], which will
support MQ-9B operations in civil
The MQ-9B is also known as the
Certifiable Predator B, and is intended
to comply with both military and civil
airworthiness regulations. GA-ASI
flew the MQ-9B configuration almost
two years ago and other milestones
have included the first Federal
Aviation Administration approved
airspace in 2017, when one aircraft
flew from Yuma, Arizona, through
Los Angeles airspace without the
assistance of a chase aircraft.
Air Marshal Julian Young, Chief of
Materiel (Air) for the UK’s Defence
Equipment and Support organisation
said: “The UK MoD and RAF are
pleased with the progress of the
MQ-9B Protector programme and
work continues at pace on the
certification aspects of this platform,
ahead of achieving a full military type
certificate as the platform enters
Protector procurement schedule
government managing the transition
between getting the most out of our
current Reaper aircraft and moving
to the cutting-edge Protector.”
Nigel Pittaway
Philippines boosts surveillance capability
has acquired six Boeing (Insitu)
systems to boost its surveillance
Department of National Defense
(DND) announced in March 2018.
The aircraft have been acquired
under a $13.8 million US Foreign
Military Financing (FMF) contract
and will be operated by the
Philippine Air Force’s 300th Air
Intelligence and Security Wing.
The ScanEagles were handed over
during a ceremony at Villamor
Air Base, Pasay City on March 14,
In related news, the Philippine Navy
announced on March 26, 2018
it has received three additional
Beechcraft TC-90 King Air aircraft
from the Japan Maritime Self
Defense Force. The Navy received
two aircraft in 2017 and the
five-strong fleet will be used on
maritime surveillance operations.
During a welcoming ceremony for
the additional aircraft, Philippines
Lorenzana said: “They can now
operate day and night. It will fill a
gap in our maritime surveillance, so
the effect is huge and it will ensure
that we can patrol our maritime
domain and ensure security of
passage of all ships.” Nigel Pittaway | 25
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Pegasus stumbles:
more KC-46A delays
and deficiencies
28 |
By David C Isby
tanker’s delivery to the US Air
Force will probably be delayed
until late (meaning October–
December) 2018. On March 6, the
Air Force cited “known risks and
predicted impacts associated with
airworthiness certifications and
slower-than-expected flight test
execution”. Boeing’s contractually
required delivery of a set of
required assets available (RAA)
consisting of 18 KC-46As plus nine
sets of underwing refuelling pods
and two spare engines had been
rescheduled (minus the pods) for
October 2017. It now appears likely
to be delayed until spring (April
to June) 2019, which would make
the RAA 22 months later than its
original due date. These delays are
also likely to affect the KC-46A’s
transition to full rate production, a
decision that had been scheduled
for May 2020.
The Air Force is unhappy with
Boeing. On March 21, Secretary
of the Air Force Heather Wilson
told the House Armed Services
Committee (HASC): “Boeing has
been overly optimistic on all of
their schedule . . . They are much
more focused on their commercial
activity than they are in getting this
right for the Air Force and getting
these airplanes to the Air Force.”
The next week, Undersecretary
of the Air Force Matthew Donovan
went to Seattle to convey this
unhappiness directly to Boeing
management. While there, he said:
“While Boeing has built a superb
capability in the KC-46A, we need
them to double down on providing
the necessary resources and
engineering talent to push the last
ten yards and get this programme
over the goal line.”
In response, Boeing has publicly
characterised the Air Force’s
anticipation of further delays as a
“worst case scenario”, although
it has not yet, as of March 30,
The KC-46A Pegasus continues to be affected by deficiencies
and delay to its much-needed service entry. Boeing | 29
provided the Air Force with an alternative delivery
date. This was anticipated to be provided at a
high-level meeting between Boeing and the
Air Force in Washington in April. On March
30, Secretary Wilson said there would be
“negotiation with a partner that has an obligation
to deliver some airplanes. I think they will focus
on the schedule. We do not have a [revised
delivery] date.”
Boeing has reorganised management of the
KC-46A programme. It announced on March
30 that it was creating a new Seattle-based
division, Commercial Derivative Aircraft that
will be responsible for the KC-46A, along with
the P-8A Poseidon and the Presidential Aircraft
Recapitalization programme.
KC-46 Category I deficiencies: fixing
and adding
Two of the three Category I deficiencies – the
most serious type, requiring an immediate fix
before the aircraft can be delivered – that were
previously identified as preventing KC-46A
delivery have been downgraded to Category
II. These can be resolved after the aircraft is in
service. Preventing the KC-46A’s high frequency
radio from operating during refuelling will
be addressed by a long-term, post-delivery
software fix. The problem of uncommanded
boom extension when disconnecting from a
receiver aircraft is now considered a Category
II deficiency, too, and will also be addressed by
upgraded software.
One Category I issue identified in 2017
remained uncorrected: the tendency of the
KC-46A’s refuelling boom to scrape the skin of
receiving aircraft when disconnecting. No stealth
aircraft has yet to be tested refuelling from a
KC-46A. A surface scrape on a high-technology
low-observable skin could both reduce its
operational effectiveness and require expensive
repairs. Flight-testing in 2017–2018 identified
two additional KC-46A Category I deficiencies.
Boeing was notified of these in March, bringing
the total back up to three.
The Rockwell Collins remote vision system
(RVS) provides the boom operator sitting on the
flight deck (unlike older tankers) with a threedimensional, real-time picture to guide refuelling.
Problems with the RVS were identified in 2017.
Its performance was examined as a potential
contribution to the boom scrape Category I
deficiency. The RVS design, frozen in 2012, has
been deemed not to represent state-of-theart technology. On completion of a review of
RVS testing data, ending in March, the Air Force
determined it did not meet requirements and its
shortfalls amounted to a Category I deficiency.
Boeing is implementing an interim fix. New
software is scheduled to begin flight-testing. If
it works, this problem could be downgraded to
Category II.
The second new Category I deficiency has
resulted from uncommanded disconnects
from the KC-46A’s Cobham FR-600-84MDR
Centerline Drogue System. Flight-testing is being
undertaken to identify the scope of the problem
and potential solutions.
William Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force
for Acquisition, told the HASC on March 14 that
he was less concerned with the problems than
with the time it was taking to cure them: “What
concerns me is the speed with which issues need
to be retired. Requirements have not changed:
738 requirements have to be met. Some of the
choices are not meeting the requirements.”
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
granted Boeing the amended type certificate
for the KC-46A – required before delivery to the
Air Force – in late December 2017. However,
deliveries cannot start until the FAA issues
its Supplemental Type Certificate, covering
design changes between the KC-46A and the
original 767-2C freighters. Roper said: “Delays
in certification are a concern to me. We are
incurring costs because of their failure to deliver.”
Delays will not directly increase the cost of the
programme to the Air Force, as the $4.9 billion
fixed-price contract makes Boeing responsible
for any cost overruns. Boeing is now likely to be
liable for additional penalties, all in addition to an
estimated $2.9 billion in before-tax costs already
incurred. Roper said: “[The Air Force is] spending
a lot of time on the KC-46. Even though it is
a fixed-price contract and the delays are not
something we are paying for, it is still taking time
away from warfighters.”
Despite the delays in KC-46A delivery, Boeing
is continuing to build. There were 34 KC-46A
airframes in the pipeline as of March. The Air
Force is keeping to its original timetable for
building infrastructure – including new hangars
– for the KC-46A. The KC-46A schoolhouse at
Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma, has started using
simulators for training.
In January 2018, the Air Force announced that
24 active-duty KC-46As each would operate
from McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey
and Travis Air Force Base, California, replacing
McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extenders. The Air
Loadmasters and airmen unload a C-5M Super Galaxy at Patrick Air Force
Base, Florida. The last of 52 C-5M aircraft was delivered to the US Air
Force in April 2018. Airman 1st Class Hanna Smith/US Air Force
30 |
C-130H 92-1536 (c/n 5325) of Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing was the first legacy
H-model to be modified with upgraded Rolls-Royce
T-56-3.5 engines, NP2000 eight-blade propellers
and electronic propeller controls. SMSgt Charles
Delano/Wyoming Air National Guard
“You must modernise the force concurrently;
you must not modernise the active-duty force
then modify the reserve component.”
General Joseph Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau
Force is anxious to retire the KC-10, starting
in FY2019 and largely implemented over the
following five years. Further delays to the KC-46A
may keep the KC-10 in service longer. Roper
said he “expects to slow down KC-10 retirement
However, the most recent stumbles are
unlikely to affect the overall course of the KC46A programme. When the Congress finally
passed the omnibus FY2018 appropriation,
signed into law in March, it added $510 million to
increase the number included in low-rate initial
production (LRIP) Lot 4 to 18 KC-46As from the
15 originally requested.
Wilson was pleased at the extra three aircraft.
Speaking in Washington on March 30, she said:
“I talked to Boeing this morning to see if we can
get them.” LRIP Lot 5, with a further 15 KC-46As,
was included in the FY2019 budget request; a
contract is planned to be issued in January 2019.
Overall, KC-46As numbers are unlikely to
be affected by the delay. The 179 KC-46As
in the programme of record are still on track
to be delivered by 2028, when the Air Force
will operate them along with 300 Boeing KC135Rs as its tanker force. Speaking to the HASC
on March 14, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff
for Strategic Plans and Programs Lieutenant
General Jerry Harris said: “We are comfortable
with the risk level of having 479 tankers, KC-46s
and KC-135s.”
C-130H upgrade
The FY2019 budget request for an upgrade
programme of US Air Force Reserve Command
and Air National Guard C-130H Hercules does
not include further re-engining and provision of
new eight-blade propellers beyond those that
New York Air National Guard ski-equipped LC130Hs (with their Antarctic support mission) and
the Wyoming Air National Guard C-130Hs have
started to receive.
The budget request included $109 million in
research, development testing and evaluation
for a four-pronged upgrade package. The most
urgent part of the programme is to replace C-130H
centre wing boxes approaching the end of their
service lives. It will be followed by C-130 Avionics
Modernization Plan (AMP) increment one, which
will provide the global air traffic management
compliance required by 2020, with Automatic
Dependent Surveillance Broadcast-Out and Mode
S transponders. While this increment started
flight-testing in 2017, many aircraft will be late in
receiving the upgrade.
Lieutenant General Mark Nowland, Deputy Chief
of Staff for Operations, Headquarters US Air Force,
before the HASC on March 14 said: “Working out
an accommodation between ourselves and the
FAA, large aircraft will comply to the maximum
amount possible,” with the international standards.
AMP increment two will install glass-digital cockpit
instrumentation and is planned for the 2028
Lieutenant General Nowland said the fourth
prong is to “potentially upgrade engines and
propulsion, options out there and not yet funded”.
Speaking at an Association of the US Army
forum in Washington DC on March 12, General
Joseph Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard
Bureau, said he thought funding the upgrades
would be a good idea: “In the longer term, it is
a less expensive option to upgrade engines and
propulsion systems rather than buy new C-130Js
. . . you must modernise the force concurrently;
you cannot modernise the active-duty force then
modify the reserve component.”
Congress, which has been a strong supporter of
the Air National Guard, added $144 million to the
FY2018 omnibus appropriation to enable C-130H
re-engining and avionics upgrading.
Super Galaxy
April 2018 saw delivery of the last of 52 Lockheed
C-5M Super Galaxy transports, aircraft that have
gone through the Reliability Enhancement and
Re-engining Program, a programme designed
to enable the aircraft to remain operational until
2040. However, the April delivery does not mark
the end of C-5M upgrading. The FY2019 budget
request includes $80.6 million in procurement
funds, predominately for upgrading the core
mission computer and weather radar system
The budget request includes funding to bring
into operation a second two (of a current total of
eight) of the 52 C-5Ms currently in the backup air
inventory – essentially being parked on the flight
line of their base – to primary air inventory, flying
missions on a regular basis. This is a follow-up to
last year’s request for two backup C-5Ms to start
regular operations. General Harris said: “We pulled
two out this year. If we pull two out next year, it
effectively puts an additional squadron out there.”
On March 15, a C-5M suffered a nose landing
gear malfunction causing it to land on its nose
at Lackland Air Force Base Texas. The C-5M had
already experienced landing gear problems earlier
this year, which led to fleet-wide inspections and
modifications, as well as restrictions on using the
landing gear’s kneeling capability. | 31
A wrap-up,
a cleansheet design
and prenegotiated
By Rick Burgess
THE LAST test flight of the
F-35’s System Development and
Demonstration (SDD) phase took
place on April 11, 2018. The test
mission, flown by BAE Systems’ test
pilot Peter Wilson in F-35C CF-02
from Naval Air Station Patuxent
River, Maryland, involved external
carriage of two 2,000lb GBU-31
Joint Direct Attack Munitions (on
stations 3 and 9) and two AIM-9X
Sidewinder air-to-air missiles (on
stations 1 and 11).
Speaking at the Sea-Air-Space
Exposition at National Harbor,
Maryland, the F-35 Program
Executive Officer Vice-Admiral Mat
Winter said the SDD phase had
accrued 9,000 flight hours and
67,000 test points. To date, 82% of
the specification verification has
been completed, with 100% due to
be completed by the end of the year.
The next major phase for the
F-35 programme is the formal start
of operational test and evaluation
scheduled for this autumn, while the
formal end of the SDD phase will be
marked in the fourth quarter of 2019,
when the F-35 is scheduled to enter
full-rate production.
Winter noted that all F-35 aircraft
rolling off the production lines at
Fort Worth Texas, Cameri, Italy and
Nagoya, Japan, are configured with
Block 3F software that features all
the capabilities developed during the
32 |
SDD phase; the first block of postBlock 3F software is expected to be
delivered in June.
The US Marine Corps’ F-35B
Lightning II began its first operational
shipboard deployment on March
5, 2018, when a six-aircraft
detachment from Marine Fighter
Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121)
‘Green Knights’ based at Marine
Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan,
embarked on the USS Wasp (LHD1). Assigned to the 31st Marine
Expeditionary Unit, USS Wasp is on
a routine patrol of the Indo-Pacific
This summer, USS Essex (LHD-2)
will deploy with a detachment from
Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211
(VMFA-211) based at Marine Corps
Air Station Yuma, Arizona, the first
deployment with aircraft configured
with Block 3F software.
By the end of 2024, the F-35 is
scheduled to be operational on eight
amphibious assault ships and four
aircraft carriers.
Discussing unit costs, Winter said
Lot 10 F-35s being delivered this
year are $94.3 million F-35A, $122.4
million F-35B and $121.2 million
F-35C, and pledged that all three
variants will cost under $100 million
for Lot 14 and Lot 15.
Rear Admiral Scott Conn
Director, Air Warfare, in the Office
of the Chief of Naval Operations,
Testifying before the Senate Armed
Services Committee Seapower
Subcommittee on March 6 said
the first operational fleet F-35C
squadron, Strike Fighter Squadron
147 (VFA 147) ‘Argonauts’, should
reach initial operational capability
(IOC) in late 2018. He said: “For us to
declare initial operational capability,
the aircraft has to be configured with
Block 3F, has to be going through
its [IOT&E] in which the weapons
and sensors have to perform in a
threat-representative environment
to the standards identified in the
operational requirements document.
“For the IOC declaration, we are
event and capability based, not
calendar driven. We’re holding firm
on that. Although IOT&E has slid to
the right, we expect IOT&E to begin
in September, and to be complete
in early 2019. When the aircraft
has met all the requirements as set
forth in the original requirements
document . . . then we will declare
IOC, which will be well before the
first deployment of VFA-147 in
In August, USS Abraham Lincoln
(CVN 72) will host a complement
of F-35Cs from the Air Test and
Evaluation Squadron 9 (VX-9)
‘Vampires’ detachment based at
Edwards Air Force Base, California,
for an initial operational test and
evaluation at-sea period with Carrier
Air Wing 7 (CVW-7).
VFA-147 commenced F-35C
training with VFA-125, the Fleet
Replacement Squadron at Naval
Air Station Lemoore, California.
In October, the squadron will
conduct carrier qualifications once
it’s declared safe for flight; the
Argonauts are scheduled to deploy
on board USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70)
in FY2021.
Conn said 28 F-35Cs have been
delivered to date, 21 to the US Navy
and seven to the US Marine Corps.
The two services will procure 353
and 67 F-35Cs apiece.
Clean-sheet design
Lockheed Martin’s entry into the US
Navy’s competition for the MQ-25
Stingray Unmanned Carrier-Based
Aerial Refueling aircraft is a tailless
flying wing that the company says
is a new design, but also uses some
proven systems in service on other
Speaking to the media on April 9,
2018, at the Navy League’s Sea-AirSpace Exposition at National Harbor,
Maryland, Rob Weiss, Vice-President
and General Manager of Lockheed
Martin Skunk Works, said: “This a
clean-sheet design, a purpose-built
Lockheed Martin’s single-engine
flying wing proposal features
two under-wing hard points for
mounting an aerial refuelling hoseand-reel pod, and an external fuel
tank. Sensors are mounted in the
nose, one apparently a camera for a
carrier crew member to use to taxi
the aircraft on the flight deck. There
appears to be a satellite antenna
fairing behind the nose. A video
of the concept shown during the
F-35C CF-02 during the final flight of the SDD phase on April 11, 2018. F-35 flight testing
highlights during the 17-year System Development and Demonstration phase include full flight
envelope performance and flying qualities, high angle-of-attack testing, short take off and
vertical landing development testing, ship trials, 183 weapon separation tests, 46 weapons
delivery accuracy tests, and 33 mission effectiveness tests. Lockheed Martin
briefing shows two spoilers atop the
wing, one on each side.
The video also showed the aircraft
dropping two weapons. Weiss
said there is no Navy requirement
for the aircraft to carry ordnance.
But the company is prepared to
integrate weapons should such a
requirement develop, though the
aircraft will have a basic intelligence,
surveillance and reconnaissance
Weiss said the Skunk Works did
a lot of trade studies, including
leveraging work completed for
the US Navy’s Unmanned CarrierLaunched Air Strike Surveillance
(UCLASS) system and that the
decision to modify its plan for
UCLASS was neither optimum nor
Instead, the Skunk Works team
decided to reuse many of the
systems from UCLASS, including
some avionics, but most notably
the landing gear and the GE F404
engine, the latter to simplify engine
logistics with the huge F404 engine
fleet used by the Super Hornet.
The landing gear — built by United
Technologies Aerospace Systems
— is the same system used on the
F-35C Lightning II.
Weiss said the flying wing design
avoids the weight of a tail and
fuselage and enables the wing to
carry more fuel. He said there is no
requirement for the aircraft to be
low-observable, but pointed out
that the flying wing is a planform
that “would lend itself to a lowobservable design” should Navy go
in that direction.
Weiss said the Skunk Works
design would be able to operate
at “altitudes and speeds that
commensurate with the strike
Accelerated timeline
US Navy MH-60 helicopters are
planned to receive enhanced
capabilities provided by the
Lockheed Martin ALQ-248 Active
Offboard Electronic Warfare (AOEW)
pod, a self-contained system with its
own power source and datalink.
After a preliminary design
review in August 2017, following
an accelerated timeline, the AOEW
is currently scheduled to go
through a critical design review in
June–July and commence ground
testing. Flight-testing using the six
developmental pods already ordered
will start in 2019, with low-rate
initial production planned to start in
The AOEW is intended to provide
US Navy battle groups with a range
of capabilities to counter anti-ship
threats, incorporating an electronic
intelligence, jamming and electronic
attack (disrupting threat system
electronics). Its datalink enables
remote tasking to be fully integrated
with other shipboard and airborne
systems supporting a battle group.
Speaking at a briefing in
Washington DC on April 10, Director
of electronic warfare systems
for Lockheed Martin Joseph
Ottaviano said: “There are advanced
capabilities in the pod. It could take
data from the F-35, and the E-2D.
You can share — with all these assets
— without announcing your arrival
[by using passive sensors]. Link 16 is
the basis, but other capabilities are
possible.” David C Isby
Osprey opportunities
The US Navy expects to issue the
third multi-year procurement (MYP)
contract for the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor
assault transport aircraft in June,
one that will present opportunities
for further orders, including foreign
sales, at economical prices.
Speaking at the Navy League’s
Sea-Air-Space Exposition in National
Harbor, Maryland, on April 10, US
Marine Corps Colonel Matthew
Kelly, Naval Air Systems Command’
V-22 programme manager, said
MYP 2 will complete deliveries in
approximately 18 months and MYP 3
would cover FY2018 to 2022.
Kelly said the MYP would give
existing and new customers the
opportunity to purchase Ospreys at
pre-negotiated prices.
To date, Japan is the only non-US
country to order the Osprey, with
the first deliveries scheduled for
FY2019. Kelly said other nations have
expressed interest and discussions
with Israel have taken place, but
stressed an order is not imminent.
The Osprey has conducted
flight operations from four foreign
aviation-capable ships: South
Korea’s ROKS Dokdo, the French
BPC Dixmude, the Netherlands
HMNLS Karel Doorman and the
Spanish LHD Juan Carlos. Later
this year, Ospreys are expected to
conduct flight operations on the
Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier,
HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The US Marine Corps is executing
Common Configuration – Readiness
and Modernization (CC-RAM), a
programme that will update the
MV-22B fleet to a standard 2018
configuration, one that includes
all of the engineering change
proposals from the last 15 years.
There are currently more than 70
different configurations of MV-22B
in the Marine Corps inventory;
CC-RAM will ease the burden on
maintenance and aircrews alike.
Delivery of the first US Navy
CMV-22Bs is planned to begin in
2020. Although the aircraft will be
dedicated to the carrier onboard
delivery role, they could also be
used for other missions, including
vertical replenishment, vertical
onboard delivery, medevac, special
operations support, SAR and
humanitarian disaster relief.
Kelly said the Osprey has
performed well in Iraq and Syria
and has been a game-changer for
combatant commanders: “Every
combatant commander wants
V-22s, because they can respond to
such a wide range of contingencies”. | 33
Development of the CR929 will take place over the next decade,
with the first deliveries planned for 2027. The CRJ929-600 will
be the standard version with 280 seats and 6,480 nautical miles
(12,000km) range. United Aircraft Corporation
IN LATE March 2018, China-Russia
Commercial Aircraft International
Corporation Limited (CRAIC), the
joint venture of Russia’s United
Aircraft Corporation (UAC) and the
Commercial Aircraft Corporation
of China (COMAC), officially
announced the commencement
of the CR929’s Joint Concept
Definition Phase.
Long before the C919’s maiden
flight in May 2017, COMAC was
studying concepts for larger and
longer-range widebody aircraft,
unofficially labelled ‘long-range
widebody commercial aircraft’
at first. From June 2011, these
concepts were known as the C929
(290 seats) and C939 (390 seats).
One year later in June 2012,
China and Russia set up a joint
venture between UAC and COMAC
to develop jointly a successor to
the Russian Il-96 and competitor to
the Airbus A330 and Boeing 767. A
first memorandum on cooperation
Andreas Rupprecht reports on the
joint Sino-Russian aim to develop a
long-range widebody airliner
was reached in May 2014,
complemented by a feasibility
study in the autumn.
Overall, it was estimated
the market of long-mediumrange twin-engine widebody
airliners for the next decades
would justify the development
of another design besides the
established types. The studies set
the aircraft’s range at between
4,000–6,500 nautical miles
(7,400–12,000km) and for about
250–280 passengers in the initial
variant, while both shortened
and stretched variants were also
In February 2015, a preliminary
design phase began, and it was
estimated that, if launched in
2016, development could be
concluded at a budget of $13
billion, with an in-service date of
2024–2025. An agreement to set
up a 50:50 joint venture company
was signed in June 2016.
However, both partners were
still negotiating by the Zhuhai
Airshow in November 2016 and
the timeline was revised to a
development phase of ten years,
aiming for first deliveries in 2027
if the programme were launched
in 2017. At least a mock-up was
exhibited at Zhuhai.
CRAIC joint venture
The joint venture to establish
CRAIC was finally signed on May
22, 2017, in Shanghai. During the
ceremony, it was announced
CRAIC is aiming to capture 10%
of the expected market of about
9,000 widebodies over the next
two decades, and that the aircraft
would produce operational
costs 10–15% cheaper than its
China and Russia label this
cooperation a partnership to
replicate Airbus’ history. Shanghaibased CRAIC will oversee the
programme and the final assembly
line will be located there, although
the main design centre is in
Russia. CRAIC General Manager
is Guo Bozhi and the CR929 Chief
Program Designer on the Russian
side is Maxim Litvinov.
According to the scheduled
workshare, total investment is now
estimated at $20 billion. COMAC
in China will design and build the
fuselage sections, the horizontal
and vertical stabilisers, wing fairings,
nose cone and front landing gear,
while UAC in Russia is responsible
for the composite wing and fins,
wing flap systems, engine pylons
and main landing gear.
China-Russia Commercial Aircraft International Corporation Limited, a joint venture between Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation and
the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, will develop the CR929 widebody airliner. All images Chinese internet unless stated
34 |
Concept approval was given
in late December 2017, when the
board of directors had approved
the critical design review. The next
phase, which began early in 2018
and will continue until mid-2019,
will involve defining the design and
selecting system and equipment
suppliers. Detailed design
documentation will be concluded
in 2021, aiming for a maiden
flight in 2023/2024 and service
introduction in 2027.
Suppliers, including Western
ones such as Honeywell and
United Technologies, should be
selected by late 2018 to mid-2019;
completion of the request for
proposals (RFP) is expected to be
concluded at the end of 2019.
Engine issue
Three variants of the CR929 will be
offered. The standard version is the
CR929-600, which will have 280
seats and a range of 6,480 nautical
miles (12,000km). The second
option is the shorter CR929-500,
which will carry 250 passengers in
three-class layout for a range of
7,560 nautical miles (14,001km).
Finally, the stretched CR929-700
will carry 320 passengers over
5,400 nautical miles (10,000km).
The CR929’s airframe is planned
to consist of 50% composite and
15% titanium and UAC plans to
deliver the first 110m-wide (360ft)
composite wing in 2019/2020. A
major milestone in this regard was
a successful manufacturing test
of a full-scale 15 x 6m (49 x 19ft)
composite fuselage panel in early
The biggest question is the
selection of the engine. An RFP for
the propulsion system, including
the engine and nacelle, was issued
on December 21, 2017, which has
to be answered by May 30, 2018.
However, currently no Russian or
Chinese engine in the required
class is available, so to be offered
as a competitive widebody the
CR929 will initially have to be
powered by a Western powerplant.
An aircraft of this size will
require at least a 76,435–87,675lbthrust (340–390kN) turbofan. It
is planned to power the CR929
with an indigenous engine jointly
developed by Russia’s United
Engine Corporation UEC and
China’s AECC. On January 19,
2018, the joint engine programme
was launched when the Russian
government awarded UECAviadvigatel a $1.13 billion contract
to develop a PD-35-1 demonstrator
by 2023. This engine, based on a
scaled-up PD-14 core, will have a
3.1m-diameter (120in) fan diameter
featuring wide-chord composite fan
blades, a nine-stage high-pressure
compressor and a two-stage
turbine. Target thrust for the PD-351 is about 76,997lb (342.5kN).
It remains to be seen, however, how
the projected development timeline
of this engine – start of testing in
2022/2023 and certification in 2027 –
can be achieved. Given both partners’
current efforts to develop smaller
modern engines like the Russian PD14 and the Chinese CJ-1000A, it is
likely that for the foreseeable future
the CR929 will follow its two smaller
brothers, the C919 and MC21 by using
a Western powerplant for the initial
service phase.
Estimated characteristics of the CR929-600
Fuselage width
Fuselage height
Cabin width
Max take-off weight
Max payload
58–61m (190–200ft)
57.5–63.4m (189–208ft)
17.9m (58ft 7in)
5.92m (19ft 4in)
6.07m (19ft 9in)
5.61m (18ft 4in)
208,800–234,000kg (460,325–515,881lb)
48,830–50,400kg (107,651–111,112lb)
103,700kg (229,000lb)
Engines, two
Cruise speed
Type to be decided
6,480 nautical miles (12,000km)
Mach 0.85
258–280 (three class) or 321–416 (single class) | 35
By Nigel Pittaway
THE INDIAN Air Force (IAF) has
finally re-issued a request for
information (RFI) for new fighter
aircraft in the past few weeks. In
other news, the country’s glacial
indigenous Tejas Light Combat
Aircraft (LCA) programme has
recorded some incremental
milestones, and a plan to convert
two Boeing 777s into VVIP
configuration for government
transport duties is a step closer.
Fighter RFI
The Indian Government rereleased
an RFI to industry on April 6, 2018,
with a requirement for up to 110
aircraft and a reported price tag of
$15 billion. The RFI has requested
detailed responses from western
fighter manufacturers by the end
of July.
According to Indian media
reports, which cite IAF sources,
the most recent requirement
is far more detailed than those
previously issued to industry and
stretches to 72 pages.
As with the previous request,
the IAF says that one of the major
caveats of the competition is that
a reported 85% of the aircraft will
need to be made in India by a
strategic industry partner, in line
with the country’s ‘Make in India’
In a major departure from the
previous competition, dubbed
the Multi-Role Medium Combat
Aircraft, the latest programme
does not have to be a single
engine fighter, which widens the
choices available considerably.
The Lockheed Martin F-16
Fighting Falcon and Saab JAS 39
Gripen E are the only single-engine
fighters currently in production
(Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning
aside), but the increased scope
of the new request once again
opens the door for the Boeing
F/A-18 Super Hornet, Dassault
Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon.
There have also been recent press
reports from India that suggest
the fifth-generation F-35 may be
offered to the IAF, but these remain
The IAF has a requirement to
replace its MiG-21 and MiG-23
fleets and initially released an RFI
back in 2004. Under a further RFI
released in October 2017, which
favoured a single engine fighter,
Lockheed Martin announced it
had partnered with India’s Tata and
proposed transferring its entire
F-16 production line to India. Saab
announced a partnership with the
Adani Group and also said it would
build the Gripen in the country.
On April 10, 2018, just four
days after the release of the RFI,
Saab said it was ready to deliver a
“complete aeronautics ecosystem”,
together with its Indian partners
and global suppliers.
Tejas progress
In the meantime, India’s Tejas
LCA programme recorded some
recent milestones, including the
initial flights of the eighth and
ninth series production airframes
and a commitment from the IAF
for at least 123 of the 324 aircraft
required. The service has also
committed to the development of
the Tejas Mk2, which will form the
balance on the total requirement in
the future.
The eighth aircraft, LA-5008 (c/n
SP-8), made its maiden flight from
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s
(HAL) facility at Bengalaru on March
13, 2018. The 33-minute first flight
was reportedly flown by Group
Captain (Ret) K K Venugopal. The
aircraft is expected to be delivered
to the IAF’s 45 Squadron ‘Flying
Daggers’, the first of the IAF’s
Tejas units and initially based at
Yelahanka Air Force Station.
The first flight of the ninth
aircraft, LA-5009 (c/n SP-9),
followed on March, 24, 2018. The
24-minute flight was conducted
with Air Commodore (Ret) K A
Muthanna at the controls and
it will also be delivered to 45
Squadron at Yelahanka.
Also in March, local Indian press
reports suggest that if HAL and
India’s Defence Research and
Development Organisation can
successfully develop the Tejas Mk2
– which will have a more powerful
engine, updated avionics and an
electronically scanned fire control
radar – it will commit to taking the
full total of 324 fighters.
India embarked on the Tejas
programme in the 1980s and
now reportedly has an urgent
requirement for enough aircraft to
equip 18 squadrons. Tejas fighters
are required to both replace
retired aircraft and as attrition
replacements, the latter in light
of the high number of IAF fighter
losses since the programme began.
Triple sevens
On March 20, 2018, the Indian
press reported the Indian
government has released funds for
conversion of two new Air India
Boeing 777-337ER aircraft, VTALT (c/n 36318) and VT-ALU (c/n
36319), to VVIP configuration.
Reconfiguration will reportedly
cost $132 million and be carried
out by Boeing in the United
States. A new cabin will include
VIP accommodation, conference
facilities and a medical evacuation
capability. Both aircraft are due
to enter service in 2020. Reports
suggest a decision on which
service will operate and maintain
the aircraft is yet to be made, but
the IAF currently operates India’s
fleet of Boeing 737 Business Jets.
Indian fighters, Tejas
milestones and Boeing
A Lockheed Martin promotional image of the
proposed F-16 for India dubbed the Block 70.
Lockheed Martin
36 |
2018 Air Tattoo A4.indd 1
23/03/2018 16:00:48
Airbus pitches
Night time shot of
A350-1000 F-WLXV
(msn 065) at Manila
International Airport
during the 2018 demo
tour. S Ramadier/Airbus
38 |
es A350-1000
at Asia-Pacific
With the delivery of the first A350-1000 to launch
customer Qatar Airways in February, Airbus is
focusing on the growing Asia-Pacific market and has
recently completed a region-wide demonstration
tour with the aircraft, as Nigel Pittaway reports
irbus handed over the first A3501000 to Qatar Airways during a
ceremony at the manufacturer’s
headquarters in Toulouse on
February 20, 2018, albeit some
time behind the original schedule due to
delays with the innovative ‘Qsuite’ business
class seats selected by the airline. | 39
The aircraft is the first of 37 of the largest
member of the A350 family on order for Qatar
Airways and it joins a further 21 A350-900s
(out of 39 on order) already in service with the
airline at the end of February.
Of the 169 A350-1000s currently on order
for 11 airlines, three carriers in the Asia-Pacific
region have already committed to a total of
43 aircraft, representing just over one quarter
of the total. Looking to the future, Airbus
sees a demand in the region over the next
two decades for 4,000 twin-aisle aircraft,
representing 46% of the global total.
Accordingly, in the weeks leading up to the
first delivery to Qatar Airways, the A350-1000
embarked on a whistle-stop demonstration
tour of the Asia-Pacific region. The tour took
in 12 destinations and included an appearance
in the static display at the 2018 Singapore Air
Show in early February.
A350-1000 described
The most obvious difference between the
A350-1000 and its smaller sibling is a fuselage
that is 7m (23ft) longer. The aircraft has 11
TOP LEFT: The A350-1000
F-WLXV (msn 065) at
Hanoi International
Airport, Vietnam during
the 2018 demo tour.
S Ramadier/Airbus
BELOW: Water testing
of the A350-1000 at
Toulouse. S Ramadier/Airbus
40 |
additional fuselage frames: five inserted forward
of the wing between Door 1 and Door 2, and six
aft of the wing, between Door 3 and Door 4.
In a typical three-class cabin configuration,
the A350-1000 can accommodate 366
passengers. In the present configuration
adopted by Qatar Airways, this is 44 more
seats that its A350-900.
Airbus claims that, together with the
deletion of the overhead stowage bins in the
centre of the premium cabins, the additional
five frames provide 40% more space.
Fuselage diameter remains the same as
the A350-900 at 5.96m (19ft 6in), permitting
economy class seats, in a nine-abreast
configuration, which are 457mm (18in) wide.
At 64.75m (212ft 4in) the wingspan of the
A350-1000 is identical to that of the A350900, but has an increased trailing edge to
optimise approach speed.
Like the smaller aircraft, the A350-1000
uses what Airbus calls biomimicry, which
mimics the wings of birds, adapting the wing
profile for different stages of flight. The flight
control system uses the adaptive features
ABOVE: Parked for the camera. A Qatar
Airways’ A350-900 with its first A3501000. A Doumenjou/Airbus
of the wing design to optimise wing loading
continually and reduce fuel burn.
Longitudinal load control is achieved by
the inboard and outboard flaps deflecting
together (variable camber) and lateral load
control is performed by the inboard and
outboard flaps deflecting differentially
(differential flaps setting).
Airbus’ head of A350 Product Marketing,
Marisa Lucas-Ugena, explained: “The wing is
adapting. It’s moving continuously to adapt to
each phase of flight, to optimise the structure
of the wing and to provide great aerodynamic
efficiency for the lowest fuel burn.”
The A350-1000’s engines are a higherpowered variant of the Rolls-Royce Trent
XWB-84, rated at 97,000lb thrust (431kN)
and designated Trent XWB-97. The fan
diameter and nacelle are the same as the
84,000lb (374kN) Trent XWB-84, but the
core of the engine utilises new materials and
technology to accommodate the significant
increase in thrust.
A further visible difference between the
two A350 variants is the adaption of six-wheel
main landing gear bogies to cater for the
increased maximum take-off weight of the
A350-1000, which at 308 tonnes (679,000lb)
is 28 tonnes (61,730lb) higher than the
standard version of the A350-900.
The flight deck is similar to that of the
A350-900, albeit with the introduction of
touchscreen displays, and the two variants,
together with the A330, all enjoy a common
type rating for pilots.
Some 70% of the aircraft by weight uses
advanced materials in its construction, of
which almost 54% is carbon fibre reinforced
polymers. Marisa Lucas-Ugena said: “The
advantage of composite materials and metals
such as titanium is that, in addition to their
lower weight, we reduce aircraft maintenance
costs, because they do not corrode. We will
see tremendous savings in maintenance
costs, which of course contributes to the total
operating cost of an aircraft.”
A350-1000 Characteristics
Max take-off weight
Max zero fuel weight
64.75m (212ft 4in)
73.78m (239ft 5in)
17.08m (56ft)
308 tonnes (679,000lb)
156,000 litres (41,211 US gallons)
14,723km (7,950 nautical miles)
Flight test campaign
Three A350-1000s, F-WMIL (msn 059),
F-WLXV (msn 065) and F-WWXL (msn 071),
have been used in the flight test campaign,
which began with the first flight of msn
059 on November 24, 2016, and achieved
European Aviation Safety Agency and Federal
Aviation Administration type certification on
schedule on November 21, 2017.
During this period, the three aircraft
accumulated 1,600 flight test hours, 1,000
hours fewer than the A350-900 test
campaign, reflecting the commonality of
the two variants and the maturity of the
smaller aircraft.
Marisa Lucas-Ugena said: “The testing
was mainly focused on the three elements
we changed: the main landing gear, the
higher thrust Trent XWB-97 engine and the
training edge extension to the wings: the new
aerodynamics. It was completed in less than
12 months and we’re happy with the results
and that we achieved joint EASA and FAA
certification after that time.”
Of the three A350-1000 test aircraft,
msn 059 was fitted with a lot of flight test
instrumentation (FTI) and was primarily
engaged on flight envelope, systems and | 41
Qatar Airways’ first A350-1000 msn 088 rolls into
station 50-01. P Masclet/Airbus
P Masclet/Airbus
powerplant testing. Aircraft msn 071 also
had a significant FTI fit and was primarily
used for performance, systems and
powerplant testing; and aircraft msn 065
had only a light FTI fit, but was the cabin
development and certification, ETOPS and
route proving test aircraft.
Prior to the first flight of msn 059 in 2016,
the Trent XWB-97 engine had been tested
on Airbus A380 F-WWOW (msn 001), in
two campaigns of 148 and 157 flight hours
respectively, between November 2015 and
the end of 2016.
Marisa Lucas-Ugena said that the flight
test results revealed that the A350-1000
performs either as expected or better. She
42 |
said: “Low-speed performance is better than
our expectations and when we look at critical
airports around the world, where widebody
aircraft are operating today, we see that
we can deliver an average of five additional
tonnes on the maximum take-off weight. So,
whether it is hot weather or a high altitude or
there are obstacles, we have achieved very
good results. That is excellent news for critical
routes and for the engine, which has an extra
de-rating capability and therefore better
maintenance costs.”
Other elements of the flight test
campaign confirmed the empty weight of
the A350-1000 is on target at 129,000kg
(284,400lb) and that the aircraft meets its
range specification of 8,000 nautical miles
(14,800km) at entry into service.
The aircraft has also proved to be slightly
quieter than predicted, achieving a 16.6EPNdB
(effective perceived noise in decibels) margin
over ICAO Chapter 4 standards. This has
resulted in the aircraft meeting the stringent
QC0.5/1 regulations for night-time operations
at London Heathrow Airport.
Marisa Lucas-Ugena said: “That’s very
important for London and all the airlines
that fly there. The A350-1000 has achieved
certification from EASA and the FAA, it has
done it on time and it has met or exceeded
our targets.”
Asia-Pacific demonstration tour
The aircraft selected to perform the recent
Asia-Pacific demonstration tour was,
unsurprisingly, the only one of the three to
be fitted with a fully functional cabin interior,
F-WLXV (msn 065).
The cabin of msn 065 is configured with
40 Sogerma Solstys business class seats, 36
Zodiac US economy plus seats (in a nineabreast configuration) and a nine-abreast
economy cabin with 219 (105 Zodiac US
and 114 Recaro CL3620) seats, for a total of
285 passengers.
F Lancelot/Airbus
A flight test station in the aft cabin of msn
065 is used by Airbus flight test engineers to
monitor many parameters, including electrical
and hydraulic power distribution, flight control
position and engine performance. During the
demonstration tour, the flight test engineers
monitored the aircraft during flight, but during
the earlier flight test campaign they analysed
the data in real time when required, but
recorded the majority of the data for deeper
analysis at the Airbus Flight Test Centre in
Toulouse after each flight.
The three-week tour departed from Toulouse
and visited 12 destinations in a journey that
covered over 55,000km (30,000 nautical miles).
From Toulouse, the aircraft visited Doha
(Qatar), where it was presented to launch
customer Qatar Airways just weeks before it took
delivery of its first A350-1000 on February 20.
Maiden flight of Qatar Airways’
A350-1000 A7-ANA (msn 088).
P Masclet/Airbus
From Doha, msn 065 visited Muscat,
Hong Kong, Seoul, Taipei, Hanoi and
Bangkok, before arriving in Singapore on
the eve of the 2018 Singapore air show.
Following its presence in the static display
over the first three trade days of the show,
the aircraft carried on to Sydney, Auckland,
Tokyo and Manila, before a non-stop return
flight to Toulouse.
Aside from Qatar Airways, the opportunity
was taken to present the aircraft to Asiana
Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Japan Air Lines,
which are existing A350-1000 customers, and
other potential customers in the region.
Market outlook
Qantas began flying the much-publicised
non-stop Perth–London service using its
newly delivered Boeing 787-9 aircraft on
March 24-25, but the aircraft does not
meet the airline’s requirements for the
9,173 nauntical mile (16,989km) Sydney–
London service.
The airline is looking closely at the A350900 Ultra Long Range variant of the family,
which is due to enter service later this year
on the Singapore–New York route and is also
talking with rival Boeing about alternatives.
Qantas says it is looking for a family of aircraft
to meet its future requirements.
An Airbus spokesman said: “It’s no secret
that we’re in discussion with airlines already
and we’re in discussions with Qantas to try to
meet their range requirements, their comfort
requirements, their performance requirements,
and we know that they have delivery
requirements, as well. Qantas is putting their
needs on the table and it will be up to us to see
how we can meet them. We’ve been working
regularly with them for some months already.”
From an A350-1000 perspective, Airbus says
the Asia-Pacific market continues to grow in
importance, with a predicted annual growth
in terms of revenue passenger-km of 5.6%,
leading to an overall demand of 14,450 new
passenger and freighter aircraft over the next
20 years. Of this total, it predicts that 4,000
twin-aisle aircraft will be needed, representing
almost half of the global demand at 46%.
Marisa Lucas-Urena explained: “AsiaPacific is the region that is growing this global
demand today and when we look at the
future, for the next 20 years, that lead will still
be clear. The traffic volume will multiply over
what we have today by a factor of three. It’s
a very important region for aviation and for
Airbus in particular.
“When we look at the future and where
the traffic will be, more than 70% of it will
be connecting emerging economies. That
means connecting big parts of Asia with the
rest of the world and it will mean connecting
the southern hemisphere with many more
destinations than we do now, transpacific to
North America and even Latin America.” AI
On board msn 088, showing Qatar Airways’ front
interior cabin. P Masclet/Airbus
Marisa Lucas-Ugena explained during the
stopover in Sydney on February 12, 2018:
“We’ve brought the aircraft to Sydney as
part of a long tour. We’ve been to Doha in
the Middle East to see our launch customer
and we’ve been all over Asia and the Pacific,
because Asia-Pacific is growing fast and it
makes a lot of sense for us to bring the A3501000 to this region.”
AIR International joined the aircraft at Qantas’
Jet Base at Mascot in Sydney for a short onehour demonstration flight with representatives
from Qantas, the Australian government,
aviation authorities and members of the
television and print media.
Among the Qantas representatives was
Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce, who is
considering the A350 as part of the airline’s
re-equipment plans. In particular, the Australian
airline is looking for an aircraft that can meet its
requirements for a Sydney–London non-stop
service in the 2022 timeframe, under its Project
Sunrise plan.
On board MSN088, showing Qatar Airways’ Qsuite. P Masclet/Airbus | 43
he annual air-to-ground live
firing exercise for Rafale crews
from Régiment de Chasse 2/30
‘Normandie-Niemen’ and Escadron
de Chasse 3/30 ‘Lorraine’,
squadrons assigned to the 30e Escadre de
Chasse (30th Wing) at BA118 Mont de Marsan,
took place between March 5 and 16.
Three Rafale fighters were deployed to
BA120 Cazaux to drop live ordnance on the
ranges at Biscarrosse, a Direction Générale de
l’Armement site off the coast south of Cazaux,
at Captieux near Mont de Marsan and at Île du
Levant in the Mediterranean. A further three
Rafale fighters were allocated for practising
live firing the Rafale’s NEXTER 30M791 30mm
internal cannon. The aircraft remained at
Mont de Marsan for two reasons: if an aircraft
encountered a technical problem, the cannon
could be transferred to another aircraft in
90 minutes; and the armourers only need
15 minutes to load or unload the cannon,
meaning the aircraft could also be used for
training flights in between the planned sorties
to the range.
BA120 Cazaux
Cazaux hosts the l’École de Transition
Opérationnelle ETO 0/8, a lead-in training
school for future Armée de l’Air (French Air
Force) pilots, and Escadron d’Hélicoptères
1/67, but the base also conducts an essential
weapons training role. Every French fighter
pilot and navigator learns how to employ
weapons at Cazaux; Alpha Jets assigned
to the ETO can be equipped with a 30mm
cannon pod and F4 practice bombs.
Currently, trainee pilots only fire the cannon
during air-to-ground training because air-toair firing, which took place over the ocean, is
suspended until further notice.
Cazaux also hosts the Centre d’Expertise
de l’Armement Embarqué, which is the centre
of armament specialists for all armaments in
Armée de l’Air service who are responsible
for analysing the use of weapons during
ongoing military operations in order to
provide essential feedback on revisions to
employment techniques and procedures to
the squadrons.
Cazaux is also home to a specialised unit,
referred to as the Ecole de Tir, which has
been training aircrew to shoot at moving
targets since 1915. Essential Armée de l’Air
training units are located in southwest France,
because they were the furthest from enemy
lines during World War One.
French mud
Jan Kraak visited
the annual live
firing exercise at
BA120 Cazaux
44 |
Today, BA120 hosts annual live firing
deployments from every Armée de l’Air
fighter squadron. Base commander
Colonel Wencker explained that Cazaux
is ideally located near two ranges and
has the appropriate infrastructure to host
deployments. He said: “The flight time
to Captieux and Biscarrosse is only four
minutes. During a four-month period,
we host all of the Air Force’s frontline
squadrons for a two-week deployment.
Most of the armament is dropped at
Captieux, but we also use the Biscarrosse
range for more complex weapon release
scenarios or heavier ordnances. These
types of armament cannot be dropped
over land for security reasons.”
This year’s Cazaux deployment involved
three Rafale fighters and approximately 50
personnel. Besides the exercise director
and flight planner, the deployment also
involved maintenance personnel and
armourers from the Escadron de
Soutien Technique Aéronautique
15/30 ‘Chalosse’, the maintenance
squadron based at Mont de Marsan.
It has approximately 50 armourers
assigned who are in charge
of changing, testing and
arming the Rafale’s cannon,
maintaining ejection seats
and all other systems with
ABOVE: Several missions
were cancelled due to
bad weather because
of target obscurity over
the firing range.
BELOW: Rafale C 102/30-EF
had tail artwork applied
back in November 2017
for an event at BA705
Tours to commemorate
the Armée de l’Air’s aces.
Armée de l’Air armourers are heavily
tasked for exercises and overseas
operations, and can be deployed twice
a year for a two-month period. To be
declared operational, armourers have to
undergo an academic course and then,
on at least four occasions and under strict
supervision, they must observe qualified
personnel handling, loading and unloading
armaments before they are allowed to load
and unload armament. | 45
Transporting live weapons is a delicate operation, which is typically carried out by three to four personnel.
Forty pilots from RC 2/30 and EC 3/30
travelled to Cazaux whenever they were
scheduled to fly. The exercise goal was for
every pilot to drop several practice bombs
and one live bomb, and to fire approximately
200 to 250 rounds with the cannon. During
different sorties crew dropped a variety
of ordnance such as laser-guided training
rounds with the same ballistic characteristics
as a 500lb GBU-12 Paveway II, 2,000lb GBU24 Paveway III and different variants of the
Armement Air Sol Modulaire (AASM), also
referred to as smart bomb units, such as the
AASM-GPS (SBU-38), AASM-Laser (SBU-54) or
AASM-Infrared (SBU-64).
Normandie-Niemen is the reference
squadron for conventional Rafale air-toground operations, so is often in charge of the
air-to-ground aspects of exercises. Similarly,
EC 3/30 is the reference squadron for air-toair operations.
Colonel Fonck, commander of RC 2/30,
explained why air-to-ground deployments
are important for Rafale units: “We are
omni-role units and have to train for multiple
tasks. It is important to be able to focus on
each of these tasks, so we typically reserve a
number of days or weeks to train for specific
competencies. It’s a period during which
our younger pilots, as well as our more
experienced pilots, will focus on refreshing
their knowledge of procedures and train for
new ways of delivering armament. The Rafale
is a platform that is continuously evolving,
so we might train things today that were not
possible a year ago.”
For younger pilots, the live firing exercise
is the first time they will drop live bombs, as
Colonel Fonck explained: “There are some
emotions involved when you drop your first
live bomb, and it is better to experience and
master these emotions at home before being
deployed for an overseas operation. It is a
stressful moment when you turn the master
arm switch that arms the bombs and allows
the pilot to drop the weapons. Most of this
stress is built up by the pilots themselves,
because there is a score of vital things
that the pilot has to do before dropping a
bomb. Our young pilots will experience that
particular stress for the first time during this
deployment. That is why these exercises are
Loading a 500lb GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb onto the Rafale. The yellow line indicates the weapon
is live where as the weapon on the left is marked with a blue line indicating it’s an inert practice weapon.
Noting the weapon on the left, this photo clearly shows the GBU-12 kit fitted on a standard Mk82 bomb.
crucial for them, and that experience will help
them throughout their career.”
Describing the event from an experienced
pilot’s perspective, Colonel Fonck said: “From
my own experience, I can tell you that, even
after 1,500 hours on the Rafale, the moment
when you are about to drop a bomb is very
particular, even in a controlled environment.
For pilots who are going to be deployed in
the coming months, dropping bombs at the
firing range will allow them to better react
to the needs of the different players during
Armée de l’Air requirements
Armourers from ESTA 15/30 load a GBU-12 onto a Rafale.
46 |
The primary reason for organising live firing
exercises is to guarantee aircrew undertake
operational preparations. However, with
French forces deployed to several theatres
of operation, the live firing exercises of today
are on a smaller scale and aimed more at
aircrew continuous training, rather than large
qualification exercises of the past.
Armourer and pilot check the smoke cartridge of a LGTR. The cartridge detonates on impact to visually
indicate the impact point.
Colonel Fonck explained some of the
Armée de l’Air’s particular requirements: “The
service has been very active on overseas
operations. We train all year round, because
we fly wartime missions on a daily basis. We
do not work like many other armed forces
who focus on preparation, operation and
regeneration. We train and simulate wartime
situations every day, so that we react properly
whenever we are deployed.”
The live firing exercise is also an opportunity
to test new weapons or procedures. Although
Escadron de Chasse et d’Expérimentation
1/30 did not participate in the latest
deployment, the unit is part of the Armée de
l’Air’s operational test unit and did conduct
some tests.
Colonel Fonck explained: “They tested
improvements to the rigging system for
the GBU-12 laser-guided bomb. Following
testing, they discuss their findings with the
DGA [Direction Générale de l’Armement/
Directorate General of Armaments], before
commencing a flight test programme in the
near future.”
This particular live firing exercise was also the
first time that pilots from operational frontline
squadrons dropped the updated Armement
Air Sol Modulaire. Personnel from Mont de
Marsan worked with the Centre d’Expertise
de l’Armement Embarqué for this event.
Colonel Fonck said: “With the new software,
we can actually release our ordnance from a
racetrack pattern over the target, instead of
having to distance ourselves from the target in
order to perform a bombing run. This allows
us to stay over the target area and to keep a
constant visual.”
This evolution in armament will better
align aircrew and forward air controllers
on the ground, as they can complement
each other in terms of situational awareness
during close air support missions. As the
conventional air-to-ground reference
squadron, Normandie-Niemen is responsible
for writing the operational manuals used by
all other Armée de l’Air Rafale squadrons.
Explaining the importance of dropping
the new weapon, Colonel Fonck said: “It
enhances our knowledge of this new type of
armament that we need to write tactical and
technical manuals.”
With these updates in the software, the Rafale
can now drop both GBU-12s and the entire
range of Armement Air Sol Modulaire weapons
from a racetrack pattern. If the pilots can use
the laser-guided GBU-12 they will, but when
the weather conditions are not optimal the
AASM-Laser (SBU-54), which can be guided by
laser as well as GPS, is the better option.
Due to bad weather during the deployment,
a number of sorties had to be cancelled.
Although the Rafale is an all-weather fighter,
there are limitations in terms of crosswind
and visibility for pilots when illuminating their
own targets, firing the cannon or dropping
unguided ordnance. However, Colonel Fonck
did send his pilots out despite bad weather
conditions, whenever there was a chance of
gaining a visual of the target area: “During
wartime sorties you fly in bad weather. These
conditions force the pilots to find alternative
ways to deliver their armament within the
strict criteria within which we operate. So, if
there is a chance of learning something from
flying in bad weather at home we will use that
Squadrons assigned to the 4e Escadre
de Chasse (4th Wing) at BA113 Saint-Dizier
replaced those from Mont de Marsan, to
optimise use of Rafale-specific ground
equipment on back-to-back deployments. AI
“We train and simulate wartime situations
every day, so that we react properly
whenever we are deployed.”
Colonel Fonck, Commander of the RC 2/30
A Rafale from EC 3/30 takes off from BA120
Cazaux with LGTRs loaded on each under wing
pylon. Quentin Langlais/Armée de l’Air | 47
F-35B BF-03 fires the last flight
sciences weapon separation test of
an MBDA ASRAAM missile during a
flight from Naval Air Station Patuxent
River, Maryland on May 17, 2017.
Andy Wolfe/Lockheed Martin
Air superio
ir superiority brings up images of
fighter aircraft swirling around the
sky in classic dogfights but during
the past twenty years there have
been relatively few engagements
where fighters have shot down other aircraft.
The US Department of Defense defines air
superiority as “That degree of dominance in
the air battle of one force over another which
permits the conduct of operations by the
former and its related land, air and sea forces
at a given time and place without prohibitive
interference by the opposing force.”
Many of the air-to-air engagements of the
recent past have taken place during regional
confrontations, air-policing and anti-terror
operations. However, the situation could
change in the future if tension between nation
states increases, and as large numbers of
advanced fighters and longer-range air-to-air
48 |
missiles enter service with air arms around the
world, especially China and Russia.
US and coalition strike aircraft have been
flying over Iraq and Afghanistan for more
than a decade and Syria since 2014. There
have been some close calls in the skies over
Syria, Iraq and the near east region as jets,
helicopters, transports and UAVs from many
nations operate in close proximity. Fighter
pilots from the US, Israel, Syria, Jordan and
several other air arms have shot down UAVs.
Turkish Air Force F-16 pilots actively defended
their nation’s airspace, shooting down a
Russian Su-24M Fencer on November 24,
2015, a Syrian MiG-23 Flogger on March
24, 2014 and a Mi-17 Hip helicopter on
September 17, 2013.
The most recent air battle took place on
June 18, 2017 when a US Navy pilot, flying
an F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to Strike
Fighter Squadron 87 (VFA-87) from the USS
George H W Bush (CVN-77), shot down a
Syrian Su-22 which was attacking friendly
forces operating near Tabqah, Syria. A
Pentagon spokesman said two Super Hornet
pilots: “saw the Su-22 approaching … it was
carrying ordnance. They did everything they
could to try and warn it away. They did a
head-butt manoeuvre, they launched flares,
but ultimately the Su-22 went into a dive and
it was observed dropping munitions and was
subsequently shot down.” Reportedly the
pilot fired a short-range AIM-9X Sidewinder
infrared-guided air-to-air missile that missed.
Then the pilot followed up with a radarguided AIM-120 AMRAAM that downed the
Su-22 - the pilot was seen to eject. Two days
later a US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle shot
down an Iranian-made Shahed 129 UAV over
The air situation became more complex
after October 2015 when Russia deployed
aircraft and advanced air defences to Syria
and began flying combat operations with
helicopters and jets. The Russians called the
June 18 shoot down a: “massive violation of
international law” and vowed that any aircraft
belonging to the US-led coalition flying west
of the Euphrates over Syria, “will be tracked by
Russian ground and air anti-aircraft defence
systems as air targets in the areas where
Russian aviation is on air combat missions in
the Syrian sky”.
Air dominance
Modern warfare usually involves major air
campaigns comprising multiple air operations
taking place at the same time with the goal
of achieving air dominance. For example,
during Operations Odyssey Dawn and
Lon Nordeen reviews the current
stock of western air superiority
fighters, air-to-air missiles carried and
similar systems in service and under
development by China and Russia
Unified Protector over Libya, air superiority,
reconnaissance, air defence suppression,
strike, airbase attack, air-to-air refuelling,
maritime surveillance and strike missions ran
in parallel.
There are many factors that influence an
air superiority campaign; first, and arguably
foremost, the quality of the fighter aircraft and
its weapons (air-to-air missiles and guns) plus
support to keep fighters in the air. They are
just the tip of the spear and without its welltrained personnel to monitor airspace and
vector fighters into action, radar, datalinks and
combat detection and information systems,
the spear point is useless. Refuelling tankers,
the location of the battle zone in relation to
blue-force airfields or aircraft carriers and
other elements also need to be factored in.
Air combat results during the major
operations of the 1990s were very much in
favour of western forces. For instance, in the
Gulf War of 1990-1991 the score was US-led
coalition 33 v Iraq 1, Iraqi no fly zone actions
1992-1994 US-led coalition 4 v Iraq 1 UAV,
and Kosovo in 1999 NATO-led coalition 5 v
Yugoslav Air Force 0. Credit for the lopsided
results was attributed to better fighters and
air-to-air missiles, better trained pilots and
also superior situational awareness provided
to coalition pilots by AWACS, datalinks and
similar information systems.
However, the trends are shifting. At a
hearing of the US House Armed Services
Committee, Tactical Air and Land Forces
Subcommittee, held in Washington DC
on July 13, 2016, US Air Force Air Combat
Command commander, General Hawk
Carlisle remarked: “America cannot effectively
wield its military as an instrument of national
power without the means to control the | 49
F-35C CF-02 live fires an AIM-9X
Sidewinder while in inverted flight
during a flight from Naval Air Station
Patuxent River, Maryland on June 8,
2017. Dane Wiedmann/Lockheed Martin
skies,” Carlisle added: “Today’s air superiority
mission rests upon a mix of fourth- and fifthgeneration fighters, supported by a highly
refined command and control network, and
flown by the world’s best trained airmen …
our competitors have made progress in
the quest to match and counter American
aerial capabilities … we are witnessing the
emergence of advanced aircraft such as the
T-50 [Su-57] from Russia and the J-20 and
J-31 from China”.
Senator John McCain - Chairman of the US
Senate Armed Services Committee included
the following in his committee’s report for
hearings on February 26, 2017: “For the last 25
years, our adversaries have gone to school on
the American way of war. And with focused
The first guided launch of the AIM-9X
Sidewinder from an F-22 Raptor was made
on February 26, 2015, by Major Christopher
Guarente, from the 411th Flight Test
Squadron based at Edwards Air Force Base,
California. David Henry/Lockheed Martin
50 |
determination, they have invested in, developed,
and/or fielded the capabilities to counter
it - [including] - large numbers of modern
fighter aircraft, including some fifth-generation
platforms, armed with capable air-to-air missiles
that in some cases outrange our own…”
Fighters of the jet age have evolved
though at least five generations. Each new
generation of fighters incorporated improved
performance, sensors and from what’s deemed
the third generation, a mix of air-to-air missiles
(AAMs) and guns. With each generation, the
fighter and its associated sensors and AAMs
have become more sophisticated, more
capable - and more expensive. This has meant
that governments have only been able to
afford to buy and field fewer aeroplanes.
Fifth-generation fighters
These high powered manoeuvrable aircraft
– usually stealthy – with advanced avionics,
networked data fusion and multi-role
capability are designed to be difficult to detect
and track with the intention of improving
survivability rates in contested airspace. Fifthgeneration aircraft will be used to ‘kick in the
door’ on the first day of battle to make way for
less stealthy machines, dealing with enemy
fighters and integrated air defence systems
(IADS). Fancy perhaps, but surface-to-air
missiles (SAMs) and guns have killed far more
aircraft than air combat over the past 50 years.
In 2005 the US Air Force’s F-22 Raptor was
the first fifth-generation fighter to enter service,
but only 195 were built. It has now been
F-22 Raptor 03-4058/FF assigned
to the 1st Fighter Wing based at
Langley Air Force Base, Virginia
live fires an AIM-120 AMRAAM
missile. US Air Force
joined by the F-35 Lightning II, with about 290
delivered at the time of writing from a planned
3000+ for the United States, the UK, Australia,
Denmark, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands,
Norway, the Republic of South Korea and
Turkey. Russia’s Sukhoi Su-57 [formerly referred
to by its T-50 PAK FA test designation] is an
interesting twin engine fifth-generation fighter
now in the advanced stages of development
and testing. The first T-50 made its maiden
flight in 2010 and the first deliveries to the
Russian Air Force are expected in 2018. The
type is seen as the eventual replacement
for the MiG-29 Fulcrum and Su-27/Su-30
Flanker-series of fourth-generation fighters.
However, the Su-57 is already proving to be
very expensive and it is unclear how many
Russia will be able to afford. In China, the large,
twin-engine Chendgu J-20 stealth fighter first
flew in 2011 and entered service in late 2017.
China is also developing the Shenyang J-31,
a smaller twin-engine fifth-generation fighter
that first flew in 2012.
Other fifth-generation fighter aircraft are
still in their early stages of development.
Japan’s Mitsubishi X-2 Shinshin stealth
technology demonstrator first flew on April
22, 2016. A production standard version
could eventually replace Japan’s F-15 Eagles
and serve alongside its F-35A Lightning IIs,
the first of which arrived at Misawa Air Base
in late January 2018. India has been trying
to develop an indigenous fifth-generation
fighter, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) has
been working with Sukhoi and other Russian
firms for years; nothing has materialised
yet. HAL is also working on a new fighter
dubbed the Advanced Medium Combat
Aircraft, a medium-sized fifth-generation
aircraft intended to replace older jets in
Indian Air Force service. AMCA has been in
development since 2008 and optimists hope
the first one may fly in 2018. South Korea’s
KF-X development programme started in 2016
with the goal of developing a fifth-generation
fighter design for the air forces of the Republic
of Korea and Indonesia. In 2011 Turkish
Aerospace Industries committed to design a
twin-engine fifth-generation fighter. Known
as the TAI TFX, this programme is reportedly
funded and in development.
The test pilot of F-35B Lightning II BuNo 168313/17, assigned to the 461st Flight Test
Squadron based at Edwards Air Force Base, fires an AIM-120 AMRAAM missile above the
Point Mugu Sea Test Range, California as part of a weapons delivery accuracy test. During
a 31-day calendar period, the Edwards-based F-35 Integrated Test Force accomplished 30
weapon releases (missile live fires and weapon separations) using aircraft configured with
Block 3F software. Darin Russell/Lockheed Martin | 51
Two PL-15 air-to-air missiles loaded on a Chinese Shenyang J-16 strike fighter. The PL-15 reportedly features an active/passive dual mode AESA seeker, two-way
datalink, dual pulse rocket motor, stabilizing fins and tail control fins with a range of up to 200km (108 nautical miles). A graphic found on a Chinese internet site
provides approximate dimensions for the PL-15 missile with an overall length of 5.78m (18ft 11in), a fuselage length of 3.95m (12ft 11in) and a diameter of 305mm (12
inches). Chinese internet
Fighters are so expensive that they are
expected to last decades and go through
several upgrade cycles. For example, the
US Air Force FY2017 request to upgrade the
F-22 fleet included software load Increment
3.2B to be installed this year. This will add the
AIM-120D AMRAAM and AIM-9X air-to-air
missiles, implement open mission systems
to allow integration and fielding of fifthto-fifth and fifth-to-fourth communication
systems interoperability, helmet-mounted
weapons cueing and GPS M-Code upgrades
for the Raptor. Interestingly, a report by the
US government’s Inspector General released
on March 21 gave more details of the F-22’s
Increment 3.2B software, which it said had
fallen 28 months behind schedule by 2014.
According to the report, the F-22 System
Program Office based at Wright-Patterson Air
Force Base, Ohio adopted an agile software
development process called Scaled Agile
Framework. The process was adopted to
speed up implementation of operational flight
program (OFP) software for the F-22. The
concept enables OFP software updates, much
smaller than those previously released for
flight testing under multi-year blocks, to be
released every 12 weeks. The F-35 Lightning
II Joint Program Office is reportedly adopting
a similar framework for further developing
the strike fighter’s software, an interesting
development so late in the development cycle
of the F-35, but one that will no doubt be
adopted by the US Department of Defense
PL-15 test articles loaded in the weapons bay of a
J-20 fighter during weapon integration tests flown
at Chengdu Aircraft Research and Design Institute’s
airfield. Chinese internet
and industry which are already working on
so-called sixth-generation fighters, manned
and unmanned.
The US Air Force and US Navy are
developing the Next Generation Air
Dominance (NGAD) family of advanced
fighters to continue air superiority in the late
2020s and early 2030s. The US Joint Chiefs of
Staff has approved the capabilities documents
and Congress funded billions of dollars for air
superiority studies for land and carrier-based
platforms and systems. US Air Force Director
of Advanced Requirements, Major General
Paul Johnson stated: “There is every likelihood
it’s going to be some sort of family of systems,
and hopefully it will be a mix of old and new”.
Air-to-air missiles
A MICA air-to-air missile loaded on an underwing pylon of a Rafale M fighter. The MICA features an active RF
monopulse doppler seeker and a passive imaging IR seeker, a datalink, solid rocket propellant, thrust-vector
control with control wings fitted on the missile’s tail and strakes fitted at the mid-fuselage position. MICA has
an overall length of 3.1m (10ft 2in), a diameter of 160mm (6 inches), and a weight of 112kg (246lb). MBDA
52 |
Like fighters, air-to-air missiles have
developed through five generations of overall
capability and performance (see panel).
Air-to-air missiles generally can be divided
into three major groups; short-range, usually
infrared-guided, designed for close-in
combat, medium-range, often radar-guided,
for use at night and in poor weather and long-
An MBDA Meteor missile carried on the left outer wing pylon
of a JAS 39 Gripen. The Meteor features an active RF seeker, a
datalink for inertial mid-course guidance, enhanced proportional
navigation for autonomous terminal guidance, solid fuel variable
flow ducted ramjet, and control wings fitted on the missile’s tail.
Meteor has an overall length of 3.7m (12ft 1in), a diameter of
178mm (7 inches), and a weight of 190kg (418lb). MBDA
“Look at our adversaries and what they’re developing, the PL15 and the range of that weapon … how do we counter that and
what are we going to do to continue to meet that threat?”
General Hawk Carlisle, former commander of Air Combat Command
Latest generation fighters
Soviet Union
Soviet Union
Eurofighter Typhoon
Dassault Mirage 2000
Dassault Rafale
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 Fulcrum
Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker
Saab JAS 39 Gripen
McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle
General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon
McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet
Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet
Chendgu J-20
Shenyang J-31
Sukhoi Su-57
Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor
Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II
range for beyond visual range engagement.
Today these categories are ever more
blurred; the Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM
and MBDA MICA can both be fired against
close-in targets while the MBDA ASRAAM and
Raytheon AIM-9X are effective out to medium
range; the AIM-9 was originally designed as a
short-range missile.
A majority of the air combat victories of
the past 50 years involved short-range airto-air missiles such as the American AIM-9B
and AIM-9M Sidewinder, Russian Vympel
K-13A (AA-2 Atoll), Israeli Rafael Python
family and French Matra Magic-series. One
of the greatest surprises for the West at the
end of the Cold War, was the capabilities of
Russian MiG-29 Fulcrum and Su-27 Flanker
aircraft armed with the Vympel R-73 (AA-11
Archer) missile, and pilots equipped with
helmet-mounted-sights which gave Russian
forces a major advantage in any potential
close-in air combat.
To counter the Russian advantage US, NATO
and Israeli authorities lost no time in starting
to develop helmet-mounted cueing systems
and agile short-range air-to-air missiles such
as the Israeli Rafael Python IV, US Raytheon
AIM-9X Sidewinder, MBDA’s ASRAAM and the
German Diehl BGT Defence’s IRIS-T.
Other air combat victories of the jet age
have been achieved using an aircraft’s cannon
or medium/long-range air-to-air missiles; the
US Raytheon AIM-7 Sparrow family, Hughes
(later Raytheon) AIM-54 Phoenix, Raytheon
AIM-120 AMRAAM, French Matra Super 530
and Russia’s Vympel R-23/R-24 (AA-7 Apex),
and R-40 (AA-6 Acrid). The introduction of
fourth-generation fighters equipped with
improved radars and more advanced air-to-air
missiles in the 1980s enabled longer-range air
combat engagements.
Many factors come into play for effective
employment of an air-to-air missile. First, the
target must be detected by radar, electrooptical, infrared or fused data. Second,
the target must be identified by radar,
identification friend or foe and/or noncooperative target recognition systems, off
board sensors fed via datalink (such as Link
16) or other means. A fighter pilot must go
through a series of tasks to achieve success:
searching, sorting, identification of targets,
shooting missiles (and/or evading them),
re-engagement, dealing with the close-in
combat phase and finally disengagement.
Data fusion is one of the major
advantages that some fourth- and alll
fifth-generation fighters have over legacy
jets, the new avionics simplify the battle
management process.
A People’s Liberation Army Air Force J-10C loaded with two types of air-to-air missiles; short-range PL-10s on
the outer wing pylons and long-range PL-15s on the inner pylons. The PL-10 reportedly features an infrared
seeker with +/-90 degree off boresight capability, slaving to a helmet-mounted sight/display system, thrustvector control with control wings fitted on the missile’s tail, strakes fitted at the mid-fuselage position, and a
solid rocket motor. Chinese internet | 53
Air-to-air missiles featuring off-boresight
and infrared countermeasures
Diehl BGT Defence IRIS-T
Rafael Python IV
Mitsubishi AAM-5
Vympel R-73 (AA-11 Archer)
Vympel R-77 (AA-12 Adder)
South Africa
Denel A-Darter
Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder
Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM
Latest generation air-to-air missiles featuring
new seeker technology and propulsion systems
MBDA Meteor
Vympel R-37M (AA-13 Axehead)
Vympel R-74M
Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder Block II
Raytheon AIM-120D AMRAAM
Stealth or low-observability is touted as
a key advantage. Starting with the F-117
in the 1980s, fourth- and fifth-generation
fighters (and future platforms) are designed
to be harder to detect and track with air- or
ground-based radar systems.
The study titled Trends in Air-to-Air
Combat: Implications for Future Air
Superiority by Dr John Stillion released in 2015
by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary
Assessment concluded: “Trends suggest
that over the past five decades, advances in
radar and other sensor technologies, missile
capabilities, and communication technologies
allowed pilots to search effectively much
larger volumes of sky and engage targets
at ever-increasing range. Most modern air
combat engagements were initiated before
the aircraft were within visual range with a
commensurate decrease in the frequency of
maneuvering combat”.
Even with all the systems integrated on
modern fighters, the odds are that a pilot will
be surprised and forced to react and/or fight
in a visual air combat scenario. Training and
experience are essential, but pilots must also
have the right systems to fight in this arena
- agile air-to-air missiles, helmet-mounted
cueing systems, missile approach warning
systems, decoys and electronic counter
After an air-to-air missile is launched
the target aircraft might become aware
of the situation and turn away or activate
countermeasures. During the first Gulf War,
several Iraqi fighter pilots successfully used
manoeuvre and flare decoys to evade missile
attacks by US Air Force F-15s. More recently,
the Syrian Su-22 pilot shot down turned and
deployed flares which might have decoyed
the AIM-9X before the kill-shot from the AIM120 AMRAAM.
Despite improvements to the systems
designed to provide situation awareness, there
is still serious risk of fratricide when air-to-air
or surface-to-air missiles are fired. In a terrible
incident over northern Iraq on April 14, 1994, US
Air Force F-15C Eagle pilots flying in support of
Operation Provide Comfort, operating under
the control of an E-3 Sentry AWACS, shot down
two US Army Black Hawk helicopters, killing 26
US and allied personnel. The F-15 pilots, AWACS
crew and command staff were all sure the
targets were Iraqi Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters
violating the no-fly zone.
Even with datalinks and improved guidance
sensors, how can you be sure, after flying out
100 miles, the target detected and tracked by
a long-range air-to-air missile is an enemy
fighter and not an airliner?
Information superiority: critical
for future success
More than 75% of pilots shot down in air
combat since World War One were caught by
surprise. Achieving a victory with an air-to-air
missile after an unobserved entry into the fight
A Russian Air Force Su-27 Flanker loaded with three types of air-to-air missiles; two R-73s (outer pylons),
two infrared-guided R-27Ts (inner pylons), and two semi-active radar-guided R-27Rs in tandem between the
engines. Royal Air Force
Tooled-up: a Rafale
M fighter loaded with
three types of air-to-air
missiles, MICA-EM (wing
tip rails), MICA-IR (outer
pylons) and Meteor
(inner pylons). MBDA
“Gaining and
maintaining air
superiority to
enable joint force
operations in 2030 and
beyond requires a
new approach.”
Conclusion of the US Air Force Air
Superiority 2030 report
54 |
A Russian Air Force Su-35S Flanker-E loaded with
two types of air-to-air missile; R-73s (outer pylons)
and R-77 (inner pylons). The short-range R-73M
version features an infrared seeker with +/-60
degree off boresight capability, slaving to a helmetmounted sight/display system, with thrust-vector
control, movable forward canards, control wings
fitted on the missile’s tail, and a solid rocket motor.
Piotr Butowski
works most of the time, unless the opposing
pilot is warned and can rapidly turn around
a bad situation. Truly in air combat, better
information (situation awareness) means
improved options for success and survival.
The network used to support the fighter
includes a multitude of systems which collect,
collate and analyse information and rapidly
disseminate the data to battle commanders
and pilots. Once information superiority is
achieved combat can commence - if the rules
of engagement are met.
Speaking at a Pentagon briefing on August
11, 2016, US Air Force Chief of Staff, General
David Goldfein said: “When I hear about
[the comparison between] an F-35 versus
a J-20, it’s almost an irrelevant comparison
... the F-35 starts comparing information, it
starts preparing symbology [to place] on the
pilot’s helmet-mounted display before the
pilot even climbs the ladder. That symbology
is replicated not only on the displays but
across the network of everywhere it’s joined.
Unlike any other fielded fighter jet, the F-35
can share what it sees in the battle space
with counterparts, which creates a family of
systems... fifth-generation technology, it’s no
longer about a platform, it’s about a family of
systems and it’s about a network, and that’s
what gives us an asymmetric advantage”.
However, during testimony to the US House
Armed Services Committee, Tactical Air and
Land Forces subcommittee on June 18, 2016,
US Air Force Major General J D Harris stated
the United States’ near peer adversaries were
closing the gap with US forces in technology,
weapons and airpower capabilities, including
datalink technology.
A hint of future air-to-air missile
development work has been cited as the
main reason for continued US and allied
investment. During a speech at the Center
for Strategic and International Studies in
Washington DC, on September 15, 2015, the
then commander of Air Combat Command,
General Hawk Carlisle remarked: “Look at our
adversaries and what they’re developing, the
PL-15 and the range of that weapon … how do
we counter that and what are we going to do
to continue to meet that threat?”
One option that the US is investing in, is
smaller advanced air-to-air missiles to allow
fighters more shot opportunities. This is
one of the concepts for the Small Advanced
Capabilities Missile (SACM) now being
developed by Raytheon.
Concerned about adversary advancements,
the US Air Force invested in a major study
called Air Superiority 2030, which was
released in 2016. The report concluded
that: “Gaining and maintaining air superiority
to enable joint force operations in 2030
and beyond requires a new approach.
This approach requires strategic agility
through experimentation, prototyping, and
agile acquisition strategies. If successful,
this strategic agility will provide future
commanders with options through fielding
of an integrated and networked family of
capabilities in the Air Superiority 2030 force
structure. Stand-off and stand-in forces will
work together to provide effects at the desired
time and place, enabling the Air Force to fulfill
its fundamental responsibility to provide air
superiority in 2030 and beyond in support of
joint force objectives”.
The trend toward beyond visual range air
combat will likely increase due to the enhanced
command and control, data fusion and
networking. Advanced fighters with unmanned
aerial vehicles flying as virtual wingmen,
reduced signatures, high performance, tactics
and electronic warfare will shape the nature
and outcome of future air-to-air combat.
Computers are now so powerful that they can
war-game potential air combat engagements
and predict probable outcomes. This allows for
tailoring of aircraft, sensors, weapons and new
innovative tactics and countermeasures.
Further in the future, laser, particle beam or
similar energy weapons could replace guns
and missiles. Deployment of an operational
system is years away, but these systems would
dramatically change the nature of air combat
giving the first nation to field such a weapon a
huge advantage. AI
Looking to the future
Tomorrow’s air-to-air missiles will increase
the range of possible engagements, increase
the volume of no escape zones and add many
new capabilities. China’s PL-15 appears to have
improved propulsion to achieve longer range.
The European Meteor has ramjet propulsion,
providing greater range and sustained energy.
Russia has fielded the long-range Vympel
R-37M (AA-13 Arrow) air-to-air missile which
features a rocket booster that gets jettisoned but
increases the missile’s range to a reported range
up to 400km (220nm) from a cruise profile.
Su-57 prototype T50-3 loaded
with R-73 and R-77 air-to-air
missiles on underwing pylons.
The long-range R-77M version
features a multifunction doppler
monopulse active radar seeker,
strakes fitted at the mid-fuselage
position, conventional fins at the
tail, and a dual pulse rocket motor.
Piotr Butowski | 55
Austria’s Polic
Stefan DeGraef and Edwin
Borremans visit the Austrian
Flugpolizei helicopter unit and
its mixed fleet of types
The Austrian Flugpolizei operates seven
FLIR-equipped EC135P2+ helicopters,
which are based at Vienna-Schwechat,
Salzburg and Klagenfurt. All photos Stefan
DeGraef and Edwin Borremans
56 |
lice Flyers
t is 10:00. A red, white and blue coloured
Airbus Helicopters EC135P2+ – callsign
Police Alpha – takes off from one of
the vast aprons of Vienna-Schwechat
International Airport in Austria.
This camera-equipped helicopter,
belonging to the Austrian Flugpolizei (Police
Aviation Unit), will scan the outer boundary of
the airfield well in advance of the arrival of the
passenger flight from Tel Aviv in Israel.
All activity of possible ‘bad guys’ will be
checked and, if needed, information relayed
to Polizei ground forces until the flight
disembarks its passengers at the airbridge.
In anticipation of the return flight to
Israel, the EC135 is sent to the suburb of
Klosterneuburg to assist the Austrian Armed
Forces bomb disposal squads in clearing
an American World War Two bomb. The
helicopter enforces a ground safety zone
from overhead.
The bomb was successfully defused
within an hour, before the EC135 is used
to check nearby roads and parking areas
for possible human traffickers, dubbed
schleppers, ‘helping’ refugees westbound
through the Balkans. These tasks completed,
the helicopter heads back to Schwechat
to monitor the departure of the outbound
commercial flight to Tel Aviv.
This ‘all in one’ mission clearly illustrates
the core business of the Flugpolizei, the
part they play in the Republic of Austria’s
Bundesministerium für Inneres (Ministry
of Interior) police forces and the roles of
surveillance and support to the country’s
Blaulicht Organisationen (public security
forces) during policing and anti-terror
Modern helicopter force
Created in the mid-1950s in response to
an urgent need for air support of civil and
police rescue forces in the aftermath of
vast avalanches in Austria’s Tirol-region, the
Austrian Flugpolizei was initially equipped
with one Piper PA-18 Super Cub. It gradually
became a modern and highly capable police
aviation force, flying a sizeable fleet of
helicopters. Today the Flugpolizei operates
from seven Flugzeinsatzstellen (forward
operating bases, also known as FESTs), located
around the country to assist police ground
forces where needed. | 57
One of four Flugpolizei AS350B1s. The
type’s high-altitude capabilities means
these helicopters are assigned to units
operating in mountainous regions.
The geographical diversity of Austria,
ranging from easily accessible flatlands in
the north (Niederösterreich) to high Alpine
territory in the Tirol region in the west, the
Grossglockner, with peaks up to 12,467ft
(3,800m), has led to the creation of a multirole
helicopter force. For decades, Austria’s central
European location made the country a highlytravelled crossroads for the import and export
of goods and people to, and from, western
and southeast Europe. Countless trucks
flood the country’s well-maintained and
easy-to-navigate road network. From 2015,
large numbers of refugees, ’assisted’ by illegal
human traffickers, transited through Austria
on their way to Germany.
All these operational national challenges,
and the recently increased terrorist threat
all over Europe, are thrown at the Austrian
police, public safety and security forces,
and impact on the operational workload
and challenges of the small but able
Flugpolizei force.
58 |
The main tasks of the Flugpolizei are divided
into support of Austria’s law enforcement
services, search and rescue (SAR), support of
local and regional authorities and organisations,
and training of helicopter crews and personnel.
The majority (around 70%) of missions are
flown to support police missions: airport and
border surveillance, traffic control, search for
and pick-up of missing persons, firefighting
and missions in support of ongoing criminal
The fleet
The Flugpolizei has 16 helicopters in its
inventory, with the aircraft operationally
assigned to the various FESTs. The fleet
consists of four AS350B1s, two AS355F2s, two
AS355N Ecureuils, one Bell 206B JetRanger III
and seven EC135P2+ helicopters. In autumn
2016, the first factory-fresh AS350B3 Ecureuil
entered operational service, replacing one of
the AS355F2s whose flying time had expired
and was deemed financially unsound to be
overhauled by Airbus Helicopters.
The allocation of the various helicopters
to the individual FEST is dependent on the
individual hot and high capabilities of the
various helicopter types. With high-altitude
capabilities, the AS350B variants are all
assigned to units operating in mountainous
regions, where they join an EC135P2+. The
less-capable AS355s are all based at the lowaltitude FESTs of Wien-Meidling and Graz.
Being twin-engined, the AS355s can safely
operate over large city areas (Vienna and Graz).
Once the main workhorse of the Flugpolizei
before its replacement from 1985 onwards by
the various Ecureuil variants, the sole remaining
Bell 206B JetRanger III is nowadays almost
exclusively used for training of new pilots and
occasional transport of personnel.
Four of the EC135P2+ helicopters
equipped with Pratt & Whitney engines
are equipped with a multispectral camera
and Nightsun searchlight for surveillance
missions. The three remaining ‘slick’
The quartet of EC135P2+ helicopters used for surveillance are equipped with Nightsun illumination and
multispectral cameras, with the crew wearing night-vision goggles.
Daily operations
The various FESTs located throughout Austria
differ in size and operational resources.
Some of the smaller aviation units in Linz,
Hohenems and Klagenfurt operate one
EC135P2+ or AS350B out of their small but
well-equipped hangars and ops offices.
The helicopter is held on standby from
07:00 until 21:00 (winter) and 07:00-23:00
(summer) crewed by a pilot in command
and a rescue operator. All rescue operators
are mountain rescue-qualified policemen,
assigned two days a month on rotational
basis to the FEST. On average, three pilots,
working in one week rotations, and 13
rescue operators staff each of the smaller
aviation units.
During police missions, the EC135 pilot
uses two VHF and three tactical radios to
communicate with police or firefighting
forces on the ground and air traffic control
(ATC). They use a callsign that combines
EC135P2+ helicopters, all delivered to the
unit in 2008 and 2009, are used as multirole
helicopters at several FESTs. Eight EC135P2+
helicopters were delivered but unfortunately
one (OE-BXF c/n 674) crashed into the
Achensee, near Achenkirch during a border
surveillance flight on March 30, 2011 while
assigned to FEST Innsbruck in the Tirol.
The Austrian Government has agreed to a
joint Flugpolizei and Bundesministerium für
Inneres masterplan to renew, rationalise and
optimise its helicopter fleet before 2022. The
plan will see the creation of a mixed EC135
and AS350 helicopter force: eight EC135P3s,
four EC135P3s optimised for transportation
of the police’s Einsatzkommando (EKO)
Cobra anti-terror team, and six AS350B3
Ecureuil helicopters. The 2016-purchased
of AS350B3, OE-BXL, was co-financed
by Austria’s Bundesland Tirol, as a revised
financing of the yearly operational costs of
a Flugpolizei helicopter while flying and paid
for by the Tiroler Bundesland.
‘Police’ with the last digit of registration, to
communicate with ATC and Libelle FEST
in Linz for internal police communications.
To assist the quick intervention of police or
civil helicopter emergency medical services
(HEMS) aircraft, all roads in Austria are marked
by Dayglo-coloured distance indicators easily
visible from the air.
The camera-equipped EC135P2+
helicopters are based at Vienna-Schwechat,
Salzburg and Klagenfurt. A 24/7 standby
is executed on weekly rotations by the
Salzburg and Klagenfurt FEST, operating with
one pilot and a camera operator. For night
operations, a second pilot completes the
standby crew, handling the various police
and ATC radios. Due to the mountainous
terrain in western and southern Austria, and
the presence of a wide array of cables that
are difficult to spot in the dark (even with
night vision goggles), no landings are made
during night interventions.
After receiving their wings, Flugpolizei pilots visit the various FESTs during a pilot apprentice phase before
assignment as an operational pilot. | 59
An EC135P2+ undergoing work at the unit’s Wartungsbetrieb (maintenance unit) at Meidling.
All year round, farmers on mountain slopes
using temporary cables to retrieve wood
and/or crops, need to file a hindernisreport
(obstacle report) with details on the exact
location of the cable, its length, height and
date when it will be brought down.
The Vienna-Schwechat airport
contingent, crewed by pilots and camera
operators from the Wien-Meidling FEST,
remains on 24/7 standby to cover airportrelated and local operations. At all times,
one of the Flugpolizei-helicopters, usually
an EC135P2+, is unavailable due to work at
the unit’s Wartungsbetrieb (maintenance
unit) at Meidling.
At the Klagenfurt and Salzburg FESTs, the
camera-equipped EC135P2+s are joined by an
AS350B1 Ecureuil, which are mainly equipped
for SAR and mountain rescue missions. A full
set of medical first-aid equipment is on board
the Polizei helicopters at all times. AS350B1s
all have a skid-mounted metal-cage to store
additional safety and rescue equipment.
When looking for missing persons hiking on
the various mountains, the Flugpolizei is only
allowed to retrieve uninjured or diseased
people, to avoid overlap of the dedicated
Österreichischer Automobil-, Motorrad- und
Touring Club HEMS service or ÖAMTC, which
flies yellow H135T3 helicopters.
Anti-terror ops
Anti-terrorism operations are flown in cooperation with the Austrian Police’s EKO
Cobra SWAT team. Headquartered in WienerNeustadt, south of Vienna, the EKO Cobra has
smaller contingents based at Linz, Salzburg,
Graz, Klagenfurt and Innsbruck.
Their proximity to some of the Flugpolizei
FESTs allows quick intervention of Cobra
teams in time-critical live operations if
needed. Four commandos can be airlifted
by an AS350, sitting on the landing skids
of the helicopter. On infiltration, these
commandos use individual abseiling ropes,
attached to the underslung cargo hook. The
larger EC135P2+ carries up to eight SWAT
commandos who use four ropes to fast-rope
downwards. During these time-critical and
high-risk operations, a camera-equipped
EC135P2+ will join the troop-carrying
helicopters to provide up-to-date tactical
Flugpolizei’s surveillance and policing
capabilities underwent a high-profile
test in June 2015 during the two-day G7
Summit in Bilderberg, Germany. Due to
the proximity of this Bavarian town to the
Austrian border and Innsbruck being the
closest international airport for protestors
to arrive in the area, the normal helicopter
contingent of the Innsbruck FEST was
increased to four. These were one
camera-equipped EC135P2+, one ‘slick’
EC135P2+ for Cobra-airlift, one AS350B1
Ecureuil and the JetRanger III, the latter
used for transport of police personnel.
Additional helicopters, two EC135s and
one AS350B1 were kept in reserve to
counter possible escalation of protests in
the Innsbruck area. Fortunately, all protests
remained peaceful.
Pilot training
The Flugpolizei is only allowed to rescue people in specific types of difficulty to avoid overlap with the
dedicated HEMS mission allocated to Austria’s ÖAMTC service operating a fleet of yellow H135T3s.
60 |
Prior to becoming a Flugpolizei pilot or
camera operator, all candidates need
to enlist in the Sicherheitsakademie
(Police School) at Sankt-Pölten in
Niederösterreich. After graduation
and successfully passing medical and
psychometric tests, the candidate will
start his or her pilot training at the
Schulungszentrum at Bad-Vöslau, south
of Vienna. The unit’s six qualified pilot
instructors teach on the sole remaining
Four EC135s are used for
surveillance missions, the three
other ‘slick’ examples are used
as multirole helicopters.
The sole remaining Bell 206B JetRanger III is used for training new pilots and the occasional transport of
Bell 206B JetRanger III OE-XBT, which still
offers outstanding training capabilities to
the young students.
During pilot training, frequent ‘outside’
landings and high mountain flying missions
are flown to get the student pilots acquainted
with the typical characteristics of the Austrian
countryside. Having received their Flugpolizei
wings, the new pilot starts EC135P2conversion at Wien-Meidling as a co-pilot
and will visit the various FESTs during a pilot
apprentice phase. Soon afterwards they will
be assigned as an operational pilot to one of
the FESTs.
The first assignment will include a
minimum of four years on site. In later
years and depending on the types operated
by their FEST, the pilot will also be able
to become operational on one of the
other helicopter types, most likely the
AS350. Simulator training on the EC135 is
frequently organised at Airbus Helicopters’
Donauwörth training centre, close to
Munich. AI | 61
The entire coastal area of the
Adriatic Sea is now covered
by NATO. Cliffs near the
port of Bar make a scenic
backdrop to two Gazelles.
NATO’s newest member:
Sven van Roij visited the Balkan nation of Montenegro and tells us about the small nation’s air arm
62 |
n June 2006, after a small majority of
the country’s population voted in favour
of separation from Serbia during a
referendum, the Republic of Montenegro
proclaimed independence. In the years
that followed, the country’s political leanings
turned from the east to the west. Nineteen
years ago, the Balkan country was bombed by
NATO during Operation Allied Force. In June
2017, Montenegro became the 29th nation to
join the alliance.
Through the years
Golubovci Airbase is located in the
Zeta valley, ten miles (16km) south of
Montenegro’s capital Podgorica. It is the only
air base in the small Balkan country, which
was formerly part of the Federal Republic
of Yugoslavia. The mixed civilian-military
airport houses the entire Vazduhoplovstvo
Vojske Crne Gore (VVCG, the air force of
the army of Montenegro), which consists
of a Command Staff and an Air Surveillance
Platoon, the Aviation Support Company,
an Air Defence Platoon and a Helicopter
Squadron. The military area of the airport
covers about 75 acres (30.35ha) and 225 Air
Force members are employed there.
Deputy Air Force Commander –
now Acting Air Force Commander
– Lieutenant Colonel Nenad Pavlovic,
speaking exclusively to AIR International,
said: “Since the Montenegrin military
organisation is very small, most personnel
have a wide range of tasks. Despite
our small size, our Air Force has a rich
history and tradition. The first flight in
Montenegro took place in 1913, less than
a decade after the first flight of the Wright
brothers. During the 1970s and through
the 1980s, both Yugoslav Military Air
Force Academy students and foreign air
force pilots were trained at our bases with
the best results. In the 1990s, Golubovci
Airbase housed the largest air force unit in
the Balkans: 172. Aviation Brigade, which
consisted of seven squadrons and one
aerobatic team.” | 63
Two Gazelles overhead Ostrvo Gospa
od Milosrđa island in the Bay of Tivat,
near the coastal town of Kotor.
The Vazduhoplovstvo Vojske
Crne Gore
At its peak, 15,000 flying hours per year were
flown by Montenegro’s Air Force. Today it
is down to 2,500 and the entire Air Force
now has only 29 pilots. The Military Air
Force Academy no longer offers basic flight
training, because it’s not financially viable
to train so few. Therefore, Montenegro’s
military pilots complete their flight training in
Greece or Macedonia, but type conversion
and certification is carried out in Montenegro.
Pavlovic said: “The conversion to Gazelle
consists of 95 flying hours in 285 sorties
during a 33-week course.”
The VVCG fleet has shrunk dramatically
since its glory days. It no longer operates
fixed-wing aircraft and only has one
helicopter squadron operating different
versions of the Gazelle. Most of these
helicopters were built under licence
by the Yugoslav aircraft manufacturer
SOKO Mostar. After the disintegration of
Yugoslavia, the country’s helicopter fleet
was divided among the new states. The
types still operate with the Oružane Snage
Bosne i Hercegovine (the Armed Forces
of Bosnia and Herzegovina), the Ratno
Vazduhoplovstvo i Protivvazduhoplovna
Odbrana (the Serbian Air Force and Air
Defence) and Montenegro itself.
Montenegro’s Gazelle fleet comprises 13
helicopters, including the HN-45M Gama
(attack version of the SA342L), the HI-42
Hera (scout version of SA341) and the HO-42
(general-purpose version of the SA341H).
Two of the SA341s were manufactured by
Aérospatiale in France.
64 |
Lt Col Pavlovic said: “Of the 13 helicopters
in use, seven have already been overhauled
and are in operational service. By the end
of 2018, we expect four more helicopters
to return from overhaul at Avioservis IKAR
in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This overhaul
includes a check of the aircraft’s structure, the
upgrade and repair of all major components,
including the engine, main gears and
fenestron, and the installation of new, NATOcompatible radio-navigation equipment.
Unfortunately, we lost one of our helicopters
in June 2016. The armed SA342 [HN-45M],
registration number 12941, was flown by
Colonel Namik Arifovic and his co-pilot Lt Col
Miroljub Antanasijevic. Both men survived the
crash, although Arifovic was seriously injured
and had to take early retirement.”
Accession to NATO
Despite fragile public support for membership,
the Montenegrin government has generally
been in favour of membership of and
contributing to NATO.
Five months after gaining statehood
during the Riga Summit in November 2006,
Montenegro was invited by NATO to join
the Partnership for Peace programme (PfP).
This allows a partner to build up an individual
relationship with NATO, choosing its own
priorities for integration into the organisation.
Montenegro accepted the invitation and joined
the PfP a month later.
Montenegro agreed to deepen its relationship
with NATO in July 2008 by agreeing to accept
suggested Individual Partnership Action Plans;
and then in December 2009, NATO invited
Montenegro to join the Membership Action
Plan (MAP). This supports countries wishing
to join the alliance and provides tailored
assistance, advice and practical support.
Less than a year later, as part of the MAP,
Montenegro submitted its first Annual National
Programme (ANP). In the ANPs that followed,
the country announced its intention to dispose
of surplus Air Force materiel, including four
SOKO G-4 Super Galeb advanced jet trainers
and light ground-attack aircraft and three
UTVA-75 military basic trainers.
Even though the last Super Galeb flight took
place on June 24, 2010, and the last operational
UTVA-75 flight was on September 2, 2008,
the Montenegrin government did not decide
to sell the fixed-wing aircraft until March
2016. Air Force commander Colonel Zivko
Pejovic said: “The cost of training, operation
and maintenance of the aircraft was no longer
Lieutenant Colonel Pavlovic told AIR
International: “The expected financial return
for the sale will be around €13 million to €15
million. The aircraft have not been sold yet and
are currently in open storage. However, serious
interest was shown by the armed forces of
Serbia, a company from Serbia and one private
company from Croatia.”
Because of Montenegro’s lack of fighter
aircraft, quick reaction alert is provided by
NATO allies Greece and Italy under an air
policing agreement reached on October 30,
Montenegro’s third ANP, published in
October 2012, identified a need for at least
two multipurpose helicopters with additional
equipment for transport, medevac, SAR and
The Gazelle is a light, agile
helicopter that is very suitable
for reconnaissance, but is
unsuitable for fire-fighting,
medical evacuation, SAR and troop
transport duties.
Deputy Air Force Commander, Lieutenant Colonel
Nenad Pavlovic spoke to AIR International about the
Montenigrin Air Force and his country’s accession to
NATO. Montenegrin Ministry of Defence
The future
The need for such a new helicopter type was
recognised in the 2013 Strategic Defence
Review of Montenegro, which described the Air
Force’s lack of a medium-lift utility helicopter.
The first Gazelle was taken into service in 1976
and the last was commissioned 26 years ago.
The type is not suitable for every task required
of a NATO member. The urgent need for a
bigger, better, more capable helicopter became
painfully evident in July 2017 during forest fires
in Luštica Peninsula near the Croatian border.
On July 17, exactly six weeks after joining NATO,
Montenegro requested assistance from the
Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination
Centre to fight those fires. As a result, NATO’s
youngest member received help from the
Ukraine, Israel, Bulgaria and Switzerland, all of
which sent fire-fighting aircraft and helicopters
to Montenegro to assist in quenching the blaze.
In addition to its unsuitability as a firefighting platform, the Gazelle is also unsuitable
for medevac and SAR duties and for use as
a troop transport. In November 2017, an
announcement was made that two Bell 412EPIs
and one Bell 412EP were to be bought at a
cost of €29.9 million. On January 30, a formal
order was signed by Montenegrin Minister
of Defence, Predrag Boskovic and Martin
Zablocki, Chief Executive Officer and President
of Canadian Commercial Corporation, the
Canadian government-to-government
contracting organization. The new, powerful,
medium-lift helicopters will be fitted with
the Bell BasiX Pro Integrated Avionic System
with four 10.4-inch (264mm) high-resolution
LCD multifunction display units. The aircraft is
optimised for IFR Category A and JAR OPS3
compliant operations and has a useful load of
5,100lb (2,313kg). It can be fitted out to carry 14
Pavlovic said: “The renewal of the aircraft
fleet will involve logistical and infrastructure
challenges, especially for a country with
limited funds. Still, Montenegro tries to fulfil its
duties. Lieutenant Colonel Radeta, instructor
pilot on the Gazelle, describes the plans for
modernising Golubovci Airbase: “During the
bombing of the airbase in the late 1990s, its
infrastructure was severely damaged. Of the
seven hangars we had, only one was saved.
This hangar is currently being renovated
with a new floor and large electric doors. In
addition, we expect to begin construction of a
new hangar soon, which will house the newly
purchased helicopters.”
Lieutenant Colonel Pavlovic: “For this
year and next year, €7 million to €8 million is
budgeted for new equipment, infrastructure
and the training of pilots and technicians,
excluding the monthly payment for staff.”
With the accession of Montenegro, the
entire coastal area of the Adriatic Sea is now
covered by NATO, a major strategic advantage
for the organisation, and the nation has
participated in EU sanctions against Russia after
its annexation of Crimea. Montenegro also
refused a request by the Russian Federation
to install a military base near Port of Bar, to
provide logistical support to Russia’s Black Sea
Fleet, which covers the Mediterranean. The
nation’s strong political stance was recognised
by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg,
who praised Montenegro’s contribution to
international peace and security after it joined
the organisation.
Lt Col Pavlovic said “Security in the region
and beyond is our priority over the next ten
years. Therefore, we will focus on increasing our
capabilities in tactical troop transport and SAR.
We will develop operational capacities to be
able to adequately provide support to civilians in
emergency situations with our new helicopters,
in all weather conditions, day and night. We will
establish a modern Air Operations Centre. This
centre will have the capacity to continuously
monitor all types of situations in our airspace
through collecting data from its own resources
and from Montenegrin civil aviation entities,
NATO allies and neighbouring countries. This
will involve the purchase of a modern 3D air
defence radar in the next two years. The radar
system will enable the integration of radar
images both at national and regional level, as
well as data exchange with NATO.
“Our air fleet will remain small due to
high operating costs and our small defence
budget. We are not planning on providing the
Air Force with fixed-wing transport aircraft
or attack aircraft. However, replacing the
Gazelle fleet with another helicopter type is a
possibility. Modernisation of the armed HN45M will be very expensive and the aircraft
will still offer limited capacity. The future will
show what type of aircraft will strengthen our
Air Force.” AI
A Montenegrin HN-45M Gama follows a HO-42 over the rugged Balkan landscape. | 65
rom CEO Pekka Vauramo’s office
at the Finnair headquarters, the
view goes out over to the airport of
Finland’s capital. Helsinki’s Vantaa
airport has been in expansion mode
for some years, with construction cranes
reaching high into the skies. The formerly
compact and easy-to-navigate airport of
a midsize Scandinavian capital is more
and more becoming an important hub for
intercontinental traffic between Asia and
Europe, thanks mostly to Finnair.
In an interview with AIR International, while
looking out on to the big expansion at the
carrier’s base, Pekka Vauramo said: “We are
currently growing as fast as never before in
our history.” This is quite something, given
that Finnair is the sixth-oldest airline in the
world. Its predecessor was founded in 1923.
In the winter schedule of 2017-2018, the
capacity increase was 13% system wide, 19%
on long haul. According to Vauramo: “Our
rapid growth is in line with the airport.”
Distances in the ever-more complex
terminal are getting longer and longer.
Vauramo said: “The airport is crowded for
the time being because it is short of gates, as
some are closed due to the expansion going
on; but in 2019 or 2020, the new Pier West
will open with 15 new gates and subsequently
the main terminal extension will begin – but
we need to agree on the next growth targets
with the airport soon.”
Asia flights
Finnair, still 56% state owned, is a niche
success story in northern Europe, and it
thrives due to its booming Asia business. In
2017, Finnair very narrowly missed the 12
million passengers mark and still achieved
record numbers. This is all the more
remarkable as Finland is home to just 5.5
million people. By 2030, the airline aims to
carry 20 million passengers, almost four
times the country’s population. Even this will
be less than Shanghai’s population alone,
which stood at 25 million at the last count.
However, the Chinese metropolis and six
other megacities in the People’s Republic are
linked daily to Helsinki. The same is true for
four metro areas in Japan.
China and Japan are the two markets into
which Finnair puts most of its capacity. Up
to 20 destinations, some of them seasonal,
are served in Asia, which accounts for 48% of
Finnair’s available seat kilometres.
Because of Helsinki’s location in northern
Europe, Finnair tries to beat the Persian Gulf
carriers by promoting its hub as the most
timesaving gateway into Europe from Asia.
Elapsed flight times are indeed shorter via
Helsinki than via Dubai or other, European
hubs. Geography enables Finnair to serve all
long-haul destinations (with the exceptions of
Delhi and Singapore) within 24 hours return,
meaning they can be operated with just one
aircraft each.
Finnair enjoys huge demand from Asia,
which it tries to satisfy as fully as possible.
Sometimes it stumbles, though, such as when
it had to cut down flights to Chongqing due
to a lack of trained pilots, or deploy A330s
wet-leased from Oneworld partner Iberia,
triggering customer complaints. Nevertheless,
the big goal has been achieved: doubling
the 2010 number of available seat kilometres
(ASKs) to Asia, which will be reached in 2018,
two years earlier than planned.
Finnair would prefer two flights daily
to Shanghai rather than one, but that
is impossible for the time being, due to
restrictions in the bilaterals between Finland
and China, as well as the slot situation at
Pudong Airport. Instead, Finnair will this
summer start services to Nanjing, which,
Vauramo pointed out, “at least lies in the
Shanghai region”.
He welcomed the fact that since January a
Chinese airline has been landing in Helsinki.
Lucky Air, part of the HNA Group, flies twice
weekly from Kunming via Chengdu to Finland
with an A330: “We would like to see more
Chinese carriers here also, in order to get
more opportunities ourselves for widening
our traffic rights.”
In Japan, Finnair would like to serve
Tokyo’s Haneda airport from summer 2018,
depending on slot availability, besides Narita
where it is already present. Japan Airlines
flies the Narita to Helsinki route, as well,
Asian boom let
The Scandinavian carrier is gaining from huge demand in China and Japan and is
promoting Helsinki as a timesaving gateway to Europe, writes Andreas Spaeth
A decision will be made within the next two years on a
future narrowbody between the A320neo or Boeing 737
MAX families to replace the current A320 Family aircraft.
All photos Finnair unless stated
66 |
The airline’s eight
A330-300s are
set to remain in
service until the
early 2020s.
ets Finnair soar | 67
Andreas Spaeth
but Finnair takes pride in always being the
biggest operator on each of the long-haul
sectors it serves.
A350s and A330s
The slot situation at Asian airports even has
an impact on Finnair’s fleet planning. While
it rules out operating any A380s, mostly due
to a lack of cargo capacity, the airline still
favours a pure Airbus fleet. Finnair was the
first European A350 operator in October
2015; by September 2017, 11 A350-900s had
been delivered from Toulouse. Eight more are
due to join the fleet by 2023. Vauramo said:
“We could convert some of the upcoming
deliveries into A350-1000s, depending on slot
availability in Asia, but we’d rather stick to a
pure A350-900 fleet.”
Finnair has recently increased its long-haul
capacity more than planned. In February 2017,
the last of the airline’s former seven A340s left
the fleet. At the same time, it was planned to
get rid of two of eight A330s, once the first
A350s were in operation. Instead, all A330s
Seven A350-900s have now
been delivered to Finnair,
with another eight set to
join the fleet by 2023.
68 |
stayed on and will remain until early in the
next decade. From 19 A330/A350 aircraft
today, the widebody fleet will grow to 22 in
2020 and 26 by 2023.
Vauramo, who hails from the air cargo
industry, said: “We are very pleased by the
A350 and its performance. The fuel burn is
much better. We are flying much more than
before, but just burn about 3–4% more. Also
the big cargo capacity plays an important role
on long haul routes.”
The A350’s big payload capability is also
the reason Finnair deploys the aircraft on a
morning flight from London Heathrow to
Helsinki. It feeds cargo on to the Asian flights
leaving Helsinki in the afternoon.
Vauramo said: “Meanwhile, we try to deploy
the A330s on shorter long-haul routes.’ This
doesn’t always work out, as with the first
flights to new seasonal destination Havana,
Cuba, in December. As the A350 was new to
Cuba, the aviation authorities permitted its use
only a month after the new route was started,
so the A330 had to fill in: but then, not all
about the A350 has been positive. Vauramo
complained: “We were very disappointed by
some cabin issues. Zodiac had to rebuild part
of the cabin furnishings.”
Overall, however, the A350 is still a big
success for Finnair: Vauramo proudly said:
“Usually customer satisfaction for airlines is in
the 25–30% range, but we achieved 52% since
the introduction of the A350.”
Finnair has introduced a second cabin
version with a smaller business class offering,
which gives a total of 336 seats on the A350
compared to 297 in the other configuration.
It is also weighing the introduction of an
enhanced business class product. Vauramo
said: “We have to look at compartments with
sliding doors, such as Delta has introduced on
its A350s.”
Finnair is clearly sticking to its premium
strategy, which increasing competition
from low-cost long-haul carriers such as
Norwegian can’t hinder. Vauramo observed:
“We have little head-on competition
with them [and] are not very exposed to
Norwegian. It does affect us, but doesn’t have
a big impact.”
Like Norwegian, Finnair runs a very seasonal
long-haul business. A third of all destinations
are only served at certain periods; San
Francisco and Chicago, for example, are only
Business class on the Finnair A350; the airline was one
of those affected by the problems over the supply of
cabin furnishings from Zodiac. Andreas Spaeth
served in summer. Vauramo said: “There are
many Scandinavian immigrants living there.”
The same aircraft fly winter-weary northerners
to warmer climates in Havana, Puerto Plata
or Puerto Vallarta. Route seasonality is high
in Asian markets, too; Guangzhou, Xian or
Fukuoka are all summer only, while in winter
it’s Goa, Krabi or Phuket.
On long-haul routes, the Oneworld alliance
is of utmost importance for Finnair as a smaller
carrier. Vauramo said: “Our joint ventures
[JV] to Japan with Iberia, JAL and British
Airways, as well as the transatlantic JV with
Iberia, American and BA are hugely significant,
bringing us about 20% of our business.”
With the dominant business to Asia,
transatlantic routes only account for 7% of
Finnair’s capacity. Much more important is
Europe, which accounts for 40% of ASKs,
especially as feeders to and from the Asia
flights. Similar to the 15% growth in capacity
on Asia flights, seat offerings in Europe grew
by 10%. Year round, Finnair serves about
30 destinations in Europe, which is more
than doubled by seasonal routes, mostly in
summer. New in 2018 are flights to Stuttgart,
Lisbon, Bergen and Tromsø, while Edinburgh
and Alanya are now served all year round.
Finnair has also increased capacity to Berlin to
make up for the lost codeshare flights it used
to operate with former Oneworld partner Air
Berlin, now grounded.
An important focus for Finnair’s European
expansion is new direct flights from
Frankfurt, London Gatwick, Paris CDG and
Zurich to Lapland in winter, with an overall
capacity increase of 20% to northern Finnish
destinations such as Ivalo, Rovaniemi
and Kittilä. At the same time, Finnair is
contemplating how to contain losses on
domestic and short-haul routes. For these
markets it uses aircraft operated by Nordic
Regional Airlines (Norra), flying in full Finnair
livery and branding.
Initially, this operation was founded
with Flybe as Flybe Nordic, but after
Finnair facts and figures
IATA code
ICAO code
Operations started
Passengers carried
Fleet (January 2018)
Aircraft orders
Route network
Financial performance
Finnair plc, listed on the Helsinki stock exchange (55.8% owned by Finnish state, and the
rest by a diverse group of shareholders)
November 1, 1923 (as Aero Oy)
Approximately 5,000
2017 – 11.9 million, 2016 – 10.8 million, 2015 – 10.3 million, 2014 – 9.6 million
12 ATR 72-500s, 12 Embraer 190ARs, 8 Airbus A319s, 10 A320s, 18 A321ceos, 8 A330300s, 11 A350-900s
1 A321ceo, 8 A350-900s
16 cities in Finland, 86 destinations in Europe, of which 40 are served year round,
among them London Heathrow, Manchester and Edinburgh in the UK, and 27 long-haul
destinations, of which 13 are seasonal. In total, 20 cities in Asia and seven in North
2016 – €55.2 million profit, 2015 – €23 million profit, 2014 – €36.5 million loss
losses mounted due to weaknesses in the
domestic Finnish market, Flybe quit and
Finnair took over. It currently owns 100%
of Norra. Vauramo said: “This is temporary.
We need a partner within 12 months that’s
committed to this region and understands
the market, as it is so different compared to
what we do.”
Norra operates 12 ATR 72s, flying up to
ten legs every day, each between 30 and 60
minutes long, as well as 12 Embraer E190s
mostly on shorter European routes. Of course,
the idea is to operate on these regional routes
with a lower cost structure.
Narrowbody decision
In 2018, one A321ceo with Sharklets will
still be delivered following seven others that
arrived last year. Vauramo said: “With them
we do missions of up to almost six hours like
to Dubai or Madeira or our longest European
route to Lisbon with a flight time of almost
five hours.”
Finnair’s results often sharply went up and
down in previous years, and although profit
margins are still thin, Pekka Vauramo has
stabilised the airline and sees it fit for renewal
and expansion: “We are very well prepared
for future investments, and we will target to
grow faster than our European peers in traffic
between Asia and Europe.” AI
The next important fleet decision for Finnair
will be the replacement of almost the whole
narrowbody fleet. According to Vauramo: “We
are looking at 30-plus aircraft. The decision
will be made between the A320neo or Boeing
737 MAX families in the next one to two years.
I am glad we don’t have any A320neos on
order as of yet, as the engine issues have to be
solved first.” | 69
n 2015, the Aeronautica Militare
(Italian Air Force) activated a new unit
to consolidate under one command
several units performing various roles
at the military airport at Guidonia near
Rome. Guidonia Air Base is home not only
to the Gruppo di Volo a Vela (GVV – Glider
Flying Squadron), but also the Scuola
di Aerocooperazione (Air Cooperation
School), a joint body managed by the
Aeronautica Militare, which trains those in
the Italian military involved in intelligence
gathering and dissemination, the Centro di
Selezione Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air
Force Screening Centre) responsible for
aircrew selection, and the Centro Logistico
Polivalente (Air Force Logistics Centre), a
logistic unit.
Phoenix rises from the ashes
On February 15, 2015, 60° Stormo (60th
Wing) was activated at Guidonia, replacing
the previous commanding authority at the
base. The new unit carries on the traditions
of the 60° Brigata Aerea at Amendola, which
itself was the descendent of the Scuola di
Volo Basico Avanzato Aviogetti (School for
Basic to Advanced Jet Flying). In testament to
this history, the new 60° Stormo – currently
70 |
commanded by Col Salvatore Trincone
reporting to the Comando delle Scuole
(Schools Command) – features the Phoenix in
its badge, a symbol of the unit since 1962.
Key role
AIR International visited the wing and had
the opportunity to talk with Capt Marco B
(Aeronautica Militare policy dictates pilots’
names are withheld for security reasons).
Marco, a pilot at the GVV, and the Public
Affairs Officer for the wing said: “The flying
unit of this wing is the Gruppo di Volo a Vela,
formed by two flights numbered 422° and
423° Squadriglia that fly the unit’s gliders and
fixed-wing aircraft respectively. It received
the heritage of the Italian gliding branch,
which dates back to the Scuola di Pavullo
nel Frignano, established in 1927 at Pavullo
nel Frignano in the Modenese Apennines.
The current unit started life as the Sezione
Volo a Vela del Reparto Sperimentale [Gliding
Section of the Test Wing] in 1952. It moved
to Guidonia in 1959, as Sezione Militare di
Volo a Vela [Military Gliding Section] and was
redesignated Centro di Volo a Vela [CVV] in
1976. On March 28, 2013, it was renamed
Gruppo di Volo a Vela.”
Importance of gliding
The Aeronautica Militare considers gliding
to be an important activity for future pilots.
All Air Force academy cadets undertake
training courses on gliders at Guidonia and
familiarisation courses are held for the pupils
of the Aeronautica Militare’s military high
school Douhet, and for the best students of
the Umberto Maddalena Air Force Institute.
Capt Marco continued: “One of the main
tasks the Air Staff requires the GVV to perform
is promoting the Corsi di Cultura Aeronautica
[Aviation Awareness Courses] to students of
high-school age, between 16 and 20. These
courses are held two or three times a year at
Italian towns close to air bases and airports
where the GVV can deploy its U-208A aircraft.
Each course lasts some 15 days and is quite
demanding, both for the GVV personnel
and for the 330 or so students who usually
take part. The courses, which are run out of
school term time, teach subjects related to
airframes and aerodynamics, the theory of
flight, engines, instruments, piloting and flight
safety. At the end of the academic part, there
are written tests that produce a ranking: those
coming in the top third qualify to fly sitting in
the front seat of the SIAI-Marchetti U-208A,
while those lower down get to sit in the back!”
The top three students on each course
win a prize of a 15-day gliding course. Held
each August at Guidonia, they are run in the
same way as those for the Douhet military
school and include academic and simulator
sessions, as well as five flights in a Twin Astir
glider. Corsi di Cultura Aeronautica were
suspended in 2014 because of problems with
the Aeronautica Militare’s T-260B (Alenia
Aermacchi SF 260EA) fleet, which forced
Schools Command to divert U-208As to
Latina to carry out the academy’s screening
phase. Courses resumed in 2015 and were
held at Guidonia in
April that year and
Viterbo in May.
Capt Marco
described the courses
for Air Academy
cadets that since
2012 have been part
of the syllabus for
future pilots, as much
more demanding: “At
the end of the first
year in the academy,
cadets are divided into
groups of 12 students
and from June to
September complete a course that includes
20 missions in the Twin Astir two-seater
glider, four of them solo, that result in the
award of the Abilitazione Militare di Aliante
[Military Glider Qualification]. At the end
of their second year, cadets come back
to Guidonia for another 20 continuation
training missions, eight of them solo,
that are the prelude to powered flight
training, which is carried out on the Alenia
Aermacchi T-260Bs of 70° Stormo at Latina
Air Base.
“The Air Academy courses alone
require the GVV to provide about 1,600
glider flights per year (and of course
1,600 towing flights from the U-208As),
while with the Douhet High School
requires another 250 or so. Glider flying
is absolutely essential for trainee pilots’
development, because they learn to fly
with precision and sensibility, sharpening
piloting qualities that will be fundamental
in their future careers. It also helps to
maintain the cadets’ motivation, giving
them the opportunity to fly during their
years at the academy, and to experience
– even if only for a few weeks – the
atmosphere of airports and flying units.”
Riccardo Niccoli visited the military
airport at Guidonia near Rome to learn
about Italy’s military gliding school
60° Stormo
MAIN PICTURE: A 60° Stormo glider starts its take-off run towed by a U-208A.
Since February 1, 2016, the wing has used a winch launch system, as well as glider
tugs, to launch its gliders. Aeronautica Militare – Troupe Azzurra.
TOP RIGHT: The tandem two-seater cockpit of a Grob G103A Twin Astir, the
training glider operated by the GVV since 1984. All images by R Niccoli unless noted | 71
Other duties
Among the GVV’s pilots other commitments
is helping deskbound, high-ranking officers to
keep up their flying hours. One or more T-339s
(MB339s), on loan from 61° Stormo, is or are
deployed to the base for the purpose. The
T-339s are also used by some GVV instructors
who are qualified as forward air controller
(FAC) instructors, to support the Scuola di
Aerocooperazione by flying air-to-ground
missions for the FAC or Joint Terminal Air
Controllers during their training courses. Last
but not least, some instructors temporarily
deploy to Lecce or Frosinone to support
courses run by 61° or 72° Stormo when they
are overstretched. This is possible because
GVV pilots are all qualified instructors not only
on the gliders and U-208As, but also on the
FT-339s or the TH-500 helicopters they flew
before joining the GVV. The unit’s pilots easily
log more than 180 flying hours per year.
Spoilt for choice
Apart from the Reparto Sperimentale Volo
(Flight Test Centre) at Pratica di Mare, 60°
Stormo is responsible for operating the greatest
variety of types in the Aeronautica Militare’s
inventory. Most numerous are SIAI-Marchetti
U-208As; all of those remaining in service
serve with the wing. The origins of this light,
single-engine, piston aircraft in the Aeronautica
Militare date back to February 1966, when the
Air Force considered the SIAI-Marchetti S.205,
a light aircraft designed with general aviation
and flying clubs in mind, as a replacement
for the Piaggio P.148s used for glider towing.
The following year, the Aeronautica Militare
purchased four S.205Ms, equipped with the
Lycoming 220shp (164kW) engine. However,
these aircraft were underpowered for the role,
and from June 1968 they were followed by 25
more powerful S.208Ms, fitted with Lycoming’s
260shp (193kW) powerplant. The four S.205Ms
were re-engined and upgraded to S.208M
standard, and the Aeronautica Militare signed
for a second batch of 16 S.208Ms, bringing its
total inventory to 45 machines. The M (Military)
version of the S.208 differs from the civil
version in its instrumentation, by having two
access doors instead of one, in the lack of tip
tanks and, of course, its ability to tow gliders.
As well as the Centro di Volo a Vela, the 208s
were assigned to units around the country for
72 |
liaison and continuation training; most wing’s
Squadriglie Collegamenti (Liaison Flights) had
one or more. With the deactivation of nearly all
liaison flights, the S.208M (recently designated
U-208A) fleet was consolidated at the CVV. At
least two were lost in flying accidents (in 1975
and 1997) and others have been retired. An
upgrade programme started in 2008 and all
20 aircraft that underwent it are now assigned
to 60° Stormo. The selected airframes were
reworked at the OMA factory, at Foligno, during
normal IRAN (Inspect and Repair as Necessary)
third-level inspections, which are carried out
every 1,000 hours or every five years. The
Lycoming O-540-E4A5 engines were returned
to zero-hours condition and new UHF radios,
digital HSIs and new VORs, TACANs and
IFFs were fitted. At present, one U-208A is
detached to another unit, being assigned on
loan to the Squadriglia Collegamenti at MilanLinate. The type celebrated its 50th anniversary
in Aeronautica Militare service in 2017.
The backbone of the unit is the Grob
G103A Twin Astir glider, nine of which were
acquired in 1984, with eight remaining in
service today. This two-seat training glider
is perfect for the GVV. The remaining glider
fleet comprises aircraft formerly used by
instructor pilots for national and international
competitions. There are two single-seat
LAK-17As (UG-17As) suitable for ‘15’ and ‘18’
(metre) class competitions. One Schempp
Hirth Nimbus 4D, and one Nimbus 4DM
(G-4Ds) complete the fleet. Both aircraft
are two-seaters suitable for competition in
the free class, although the 4DM is nonaerobatic. It is, however, equipped with flaps,
retractable landing gear and a retractable
63shp (47kW) engine that allows it to take off
autonomously. Captain Marco disclosed that
competition activity has been discontinued,
and a decision about the future of these four
A Grob G103A (G-103A
under the Italian military’s
designation system) Twin
Astir taken on a taxiway
at Guidonia’s ‘Alfredo
Barbieri’ military airport.
Note the wing badge on
the tail and the code 6006 on the nose.
RIGHT: A Grob Twin Astir
some years ago wearing
the old CVV code.
Aeronautica Militare –
Troupe Azzurra.
PAGE): Students of a
high school in Novara at
Cameri Air Base during
a Corso di Cultura
Aeronautica, one of the
wing’s main activities.
A GVV U-208A in flight.
The main external
differences from the
civil model S.208 are the
lack of tip tanks and the
presence of cockpit doors
on both sides.
shop window,
attracting hundreds of
young people every year to a
life in aviation.
The units provide the first contacts
for young cadets with their future working
environment. It’s where they learn to master
a glider and where they absorb technical,
emotional and intellectual skills essential to
becoming good pilots and commanders.
GVV instructors are chosen as much for their
professionalism as for their enthusiasm and
ability to introduce the young to the world
of flight.
The Comando Scuole dell’Aeronautica
Italiana (Italian Air Force Schools
Command) plans to renew the glider fleet
with a modern two-seater type. Since
March 31, 2016, 60° Stormo has been
operating a former Austrian Air Force Pilatus
PC-6/B2-H2 turboprop utility aircraft,
HB-FJZ, for parachute training with 17°
Stormo’s Special Forces teams. The aircraft
is dry-leased from RUAG. AI
gliders is awaited. It is likely they will be sold
on the civil market. From time to time, the
GVV and 60° Stormo borrow T-339A/FT339C (MB339A, MB339C, MB339D) aircraft
and TH-500B (NH500E) helicopters from
their parent wings.
Support services
In order to support its aircraft, the wing has a
Servizio Efficienza Aeromobili (Aircraft Servicing
Flight) that mainly deals with the U-208A,
performing first and second level inspections,
(100 flight hours). The gliders are maintained
under a different regime and are not subject
to specific time or hours limits. Other than for
daily line inspections and servicing, loan aircraft
are maintained by their parent units.
Shop window
The GVV, 60° Stormo and Corsi di Cultura
Aeronautica act as the Aeronautica Militare’s | 73
perating in unforgiving
environments with too much
salt, steam and energy, and
to a relentless battle rhythm
involving unit level training,
carrier work-ups and six-plus month
deployments, the US Navy’s Super Hornet
fleet is in a mess. Fortunately, the Congress
and President Trump’s administration listened
to the advice provided by various US Navy
Admirals, and help is now on its way.
Vice Admiral Troy Shoemaker, then
Commander Naval Air Forces, told the US
House of Representatives Armed Services
Committee on November 9, 2017: “The
hardest hit community within naval aviation
is the strike fighter community . . . at the
beginning of October [2017], in our Super
Hornet community alone, only half of our
total inventory of 542 aircraft were flyable or
mission capable, and only 170 or 31% of the
total inventory were fully mission capable
and ready to fight . . . This year, we deployed
four carrier strike groups to support combat
operations and provide strategic deterrence
around the world. Consistent with the Navy’s
policy of supporting deployed and next to
deploy forces, we were forced to cannibalise
aircraft, parts and people to ensure those
leaving on deployment had what they needed
to be safe and effective while operating
forward. To continue to provide credible
maritime forces around the world, we’ve
made sacrifices at home . . . To take action
on immediate readiness issues, such as low
manning, long-term down aircraft, parts
shortages and lack of facilities, we established
a Rhino Readiness Recovery team to identify
and address long-term impacts.”
The US Navy has nine carrier air wings to
deploy on the ten aircraft carriers now in
service. Each air wing includes four strike
fighter squadrons (most fly Super Hornets,
some deploy with one US Navy or US Marine
Corps Hornet unit), a squadron of helicopters
plus critical support aircraft such as the E-2C
or E-2D Hawkeye airborne early warning and
EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft. US
Navy Hornets are being phased out and new
F-35Cs are coming, but the first squadron,
Strike Fighter Squadron 147 (VFA-147)
A ground-break
74 |
‘Argonauts’, will not deploy until 2021, and the
type’s ramp-up will be slow. The Navy’s Super
Hornet fleet needs to last since a significant
percentage of the strike fighter force will
be made up of these aircraft beyond 2035.
In the 2030 timeframe, the US Navy’s plan
is to equip carrier air wings with four strike
fighter squadrons, two equipped with F-35C
Lightning IIs and two with Super Hornet.
Naval Air Systems Command’s F/A-18 and
EA-18G Program Office PMA-265’s Program
Manager Captain David Kindley said: “The
taxpayer bought a 6,000-hour airframe in
the legacy Hornet and Super Hornet. With
the earlier plan of procurement for the F-35,
these numbers appeared fine. However, our
operational tempo remained high and the
IOC [initial operation capability] for the F-35C
slid to the right. We were left with a challenge
of keeping our flight decks filled while we
work to develop and field new aircraft. This is
when we started to talk about [Super Hornet]
life extension.”
In order to sustain the US Navy strike fighter
force, the service is planning to buy 340
F-35C Lightning IIs, procure 24 new Block II
Super Hornets in FY2018, procure a further
110 new Block III aircraft in the Future Years
Defense Program for FY2019 to FY2023, and
to extend the life of and upgrade existing
Super Hornets. On March 1, 2018, the US
Navy awarded Boeing a $73.2 million contract
to initiate the service life modification (SLM)
programme for the Super Hornet.
In late 2017, there were 30 Super Hornetequipped strike fighter squadrons (19
operating the single-seat F/A-18E and 11 with
the two-seat F/A-18F), two fleet replacement
squadrons (training units) and three air test
and evaluation squadrons in the US Navy fleet.
Block I, Block II
The first 178 Super Hornets built are all
configured to Block I standard equipped with
systems similar to late model F/A-18 Hornets,
including the Raytheon APG-73 radar. These
aircraft will serve with front line squadrons for
many more years, including for training, test
and, for some, eventually with the Blue Angels
flight demonstration squadron. Under the
current plan, most Block 1 aircraft will not be
aking initiative
A service life modification programme is underway to sustain
the US Navy’s Super Hornet fleet, as Lon Nordeen reports
F/A-18F BuNo 165911/NA400 launches from one of the two bow catapults on USS Theodore Roosevelt.
Dubbed a cat, a catapult launch is one high-energy, high-force flight operation endured by carrier
borne aircraft. The aircraft shown is operated by Strike Fighter Squadron 94 (VFA-94) ‘Mighty Shrikes’
based at Naval Air Stations Lemoore, California. MCS Alexander Corona/US Navy | 75
F/A-18F Super Hornet BuNo 165672/205 (c/n F11), the first F-model SLM learning aircraft, inside Boeing’s
facility at St Louis after being de-spliced in late March. This aircraft has amassed 5,305 flight hours. Boeing
The first F/A-18E Super Hornet BuNo 166435/201 (c/n E80), the first E-model SLM learning aircraft, in
Boeing’s St Louis modification facility. This aircraft has amassed 5,599 flight hours. Boeing
having their service life extended.
Over 300 Super Hornets built after 2005
were delivered in Block II configuration
equipped with
• the Raytheon APG-79 active electronically
scanned radar
• an improved defensive countermeasures
system featuring the Raytheon ALR-67(V)3
radar warning receiver and the BAE Systems
ALQ-214(V)3 Integrated Defensive Electronic
Countermeasures system comprising an
ITT signals receiver, a BAE Systems onboard
jamming techniques generator and the ALE55 fibre-optic towed decoy
• upgraded mission computers
• high-order language operational flight
program software
• an aft cockpit dubbed the advanced crew
station featuring an 8 x 10-inch (200 x
254mm) tactical display
• new avionics
• enhanced power and cooling systems
• a fibre-optic data bus
• solid-state data recorder
• a distributed targeting system featuring
an image processing module capable of
comparing a synthetic aperture radar map,
with maps held in a database for precise
targeting of GPS-guided weapons
• the joint helmet-mounted cueing system
• AIM-9X Sidewinder and the AIM-120C-7
76 |
AMRAAM air-to-air missiles
Under the Super Hornet road map, Block
I and Block II aircraft are upgraded on an
approximate two-year cycle by updating
the operational flight program software, and
adding new systems and weapons.
Current plans call for all surviving Block
II aircraft to go through a service life
modification programme comprising a
service life extension programme or SLEP,
reconditioning of subsystems, and upgrade to
the Block III configuration.
Block III
Boeing’s Vice President for Hornet and
Super Hornet Programs Dan Gillian said:
“The US Navy looked at its carrier air wings
and capability gaps. The Super Hornet
Block III is the result of that analysis. Future
fighters [particularly the F-35C Lightning II]
are networked and survivable. The Block III
[configuration] is how we make a Super Hornet
networked and survivable to operate in a
complementary way with the F-35, the EA-18G
Growler and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye as a
front-line fighter well into the 2040s.”
Block III includes upgrades in the existing
Super Hornet roadmap and adds five
additional systems: conformal fuel tanks,
an advanced cockpit, the latest network
architecture, radar signature improvements
and an extended service life.
In February 2018, the US Navy awarded
Boeing a $219.6 million contract to develop
and integrate conformal fuel tanks on to the
Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler, adding
3,200lb (1,450kg) fuel capacity in low-drag
tanks, extending the aircraft’s range by
100–120 miles (160–190km) and increasing
its mission flexibility.
The Block III will feature an advanced
cockpit equipped with Elbit large flat-panel
displays featuring a next-generation user
To improve the Block III’s network
connectivity capability, the aircraft will feature
two systems from the EA-18G Growler,
described by Dan Gillian as “the Distributed
Target Processor Network [DTPN] and the
Tactical Targeting Network Technology
[TTNT]. DTPN is the computer providing
significant increase in processing power
and adds multilevel security and open
architecture. That is how new applications
can be integrated to the platform faster than
ever before to adapt to future threats. The
TTNT is the pipe [a high-capacity network]
for Super Hornet designed to plug into the
EA-18G Growler and E-2D. It adds an ability
to move a bandwidth of data back and forth
between platforms, which is a key part of
the future fight.” The TTNT is produced by
Rockwell Collins.
TTNT is a high-throughput waveform that
creates a secure network upon which voice,
video and data can be transferred thanks to
its unique statistical priority-based multiple
access protocol. Data flow is maximised by
holding off transmission of lower priority data
until required, such that critical information is
transmitted quickly.
Discussing the Block III’s stealth credentials,
Gilbert said: “We will add a bit of stealth
technology to the aircraft through coatings
and treatments. Another really important
upgrade is the integration of the [Lockheed
Martin ASG-34] infrared search and track
sensor that adds long-range counter air,
counter stealth and targeting: a unique
capability the Super Hornet brings to the
carrier air wing.”
Lastly, Gillian said the Block III’s service
life will include structural changes, simple
fastener changes in some instances, complex
modifications, installation of fittings and
replacement of components to give a 9,000hour airframe off the production line.
Service life modification
In 2008, a joint Naval Air Systems CommandBoeing team began the service life assessment
programme (SLAP) to evaluate high-time
Super Hornets to determine the effects of
wear and corrosion and to determine possible
SLEP plans.
Captain Kindley said: “There are two
elements of the Super Hornet life extension
from the original 6,000 to 9,000 flight hours.
First, we undertook the service life assessment
programme, where we took a detailed look
at the structure of the airplane to answer the
question: what pieces and parts need to be
modified and/or replaced in order to get to a
longer life?
“We actually assessed the Super Hornet
[to the point] where we could get it to fly to
12,000 flight hours. The direction we have
from the Chief of Naval Operations is to
go to the 9,000 flight hour level and tell us
if you can go further within the bounds of
“Service Life Modification [SLM] for the
Super Hornet is way more than just a SLEP.
It starts with the airframe changes and then
we add in capability updates. When you get a
legacy Hornet from the depot today, after six
to 24 months of overhaul work, the receiving
squadron has three months more work to do
to add upgrades so the Hornet can go to war.
This is unacceptable. Chief of Naval Operations
told us at the PMA [NAVAIR’s Program Manager
Air], when you deliver a Super Hornet from SLM
it will be a war fighter. When Boeing delivers a
new Super Hornet Block III or an updated one
from the SLM line, within a day or two it should
be able to go to war.”
Issues with service life
Captain Kindley said: “Currently, we are using
up between 300 and 400 hours per Super
Hornet aircraft per year. That number varies
from unit to unit; a super aircraft might fly
more and a hangar queen less. We project
that three or four Super Hornets will reach
6,000-flight hours in 2018, seven to ten in
2019 and perhaps 18 or so in 2020. So, these
numbers are our projected plan for induction
into the SLM. After considerable evaluation
we decided to have Boeing perform the Super
Hornet SLM due to two main factors. First,
organic [naval] depots are very busy now. We
looked at the depot workload and capacity,
and decided that to add in the Super Hornet
SLM would be asking them to do more than
they could. Second, we built into the contract
options with Boeing, that once we get the SLM
into production, we have the taxpayer owning
all the data. So, in the 2023 timeframe, the
government retains the option to offload some
or all of the SLM work to the depots. I like the
Boeing response to this; their intent is to make
this the worst business case decision we have
ever made. Their goal is to have the dollars
to have Boeing perform the SLM better than
having the depot do the work. I am excited that
we retain this option and I say prove it!
“The industry SLM decision was made
based on depot capacity and a new rule set of
engineering processes and decision-making
to accomplish our goals. For example, with
the legacy Hornet at the North Island depot,
we open a panel and find a part that is broken
and appears to be a new first-time problem.
So, we make an order for replacement parts
and can do little during the lead time for the
parts to be delivered. This is very common
with the legacy Hornet SLEP. It is one of the
major reasons we have been so stressed
with the legacy Hornet SLEP. We also have
engineering disposition challenges. Is the hole
F/A-18E Super Hornet BuNo 166598/AG112 takes the wire on the
flight deck of the USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN 69). Dubbed a
trap, catching the wire is one of the high-energy, high-force flight
operations endured by carrier borne aircraft. The aircraft shown is
operated by Strike Fighter Squadron 143 (VFA-143) ‘Pukin’ Dogs’ based
at Naval Air Stations Oceana, Virginia. MCS Nathan Parde/US Navy | 77
we see here AOK or a downer? So, let’s go ask
the engineers, but they are so busy the answer
takes a long time to get.”
Kindley pointed out that Boeing, which
builds the Super Hornet, does not have the
same legal and budgeting restrictions as the
government depot. He said: “They can buy
parts and components the SLAP showed
need to be replaced in advance. Also, if Navy
engineers are willing to give Boeing broad
engineering authorisations, which is hard
to argue, since they designed and build the
aircraft in the same building, we can collapse
most of the timelines and produce a final
product faster.”
Lessons from a SLEP
Captain Kindley remarked: “The legacy Hornet
SLEP is not in a state of production. Nearly
every Hornet is treated as a unique event. We
are trying to learn lessons from airplane to
airplane, but it has been an especially hard
slog with the legacy Hornet SLEP. There are
a bunch of factors that also added to the
Hornet challenge: we went from 6,000 to
8,000 hours and then tried for more. We
have tried to include all of the legacy Hornet
lessons into the Super Hornet SLM. We have a
shallow ramp-up, starting in St Louis, Missouri,
An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter
Squadron 113 (VFA-113) ‘Stingers’, launches from the
flight deck of USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) in the
Arabian Gulf. Saltwater, rainwater and steam shroud the
jet, conditions that exist every day while based at sea.
MCS Alex Corona/US Navy
78 |
expanding to San Antonio, Texas, and will use
a crawl, walk, run approach. This multiphase
ramp-up is planned to focus on learning how
to move quickly and establish the SLM in
production. The run phase will be based on a
fixed price, so Boeing will be turning out SLM
aircraft in a production line way, and we still
have the option for the depots to participate.
This is different [from] the legacy Hornet, and
[I] feel that if we tried to do again what we did
with the legacy Hornet SLEP, then someone
should lose their job, because there are so
many lessons learned from that process.”
Modification plans
Discussing the plan, Boeing’s Vice-President
for Hornet and Super Hornet Programs,
Dan Gillian, said: “We will extend the life of
the Super Hornet airframe, bring the Block
II to Block III conversion and add in the
additional statement of work to make the
airplane work better for the Navy. We will
use a production mind set and programme
where we will have to produce from 30 to
50 aircraft per year. This is an industry-led
effort with Boeing, Northrop Grumman and
close collaboration with PMA-265, and the
Defense Contract Management Agency. The
government is contracting with industry to
extend the life of Super Hornets from 6,000
to 9,000 hours, add Block III systems and
other mods. All of this goes to a production
shift as data analytics will play a major role to
make the work standard and repeatable. We
know some parts of every plane will be a little
different, but we will minimise the difference
to maximise throughput. This is a groundbreaking initiative.”
Boeing’s SLM Program Manager, Mark Sears,
commented: “We have been working to get
the St Louis site in Building 101 ready for SLM
for nearly a year, buying tooling and the parts
required to correct emergent conditions we
have seen in the SLAP on the Super Hornet.
The first four Super Hornets to enter the
programme [starting in April 2018] will be two
Block I and two Block II aircraft. For these first
aircraft, we will focus mostly on life extension
and also do some mod work. We are working
now to get the engineering done to prepare
shop floor instructions so we can move
forward with production ramp up at both
the St Louis and San Antonio sites . . . in June
2019 the first Super Hornets will go to San
Antonio. The San Antonio site has a legacy
for doing modification work, so it has a very
experienced workforce. Between now and
2022, the SLM will be primarily focused on life
extension, subsystem reset and maintenance
to improve the material condition of the
aircraft. We expect to deliver life extension
Super Hornets from the Boeing line starting in
late 2019. Not all of the engineering for the life
extension is complete yet. We expect to learn
more as we get into SLM. Block III is expected
to go through engineering, flight test and
development by 2020, and then we will
need to develop and secure kits and parts to
install the Block III updates following the life
extension update. The speed and throughput
planned is forcing us to do undertake this
programme in a new way, leveraging Boeing
and supplier production systems with close
Navy cooperation.”
Super Hornet engines
An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 31 (VFA-31) ‘Tomcatters’ performs a bolter on
the flight deck of USS Gerald R Ford (CVN 78). Dubbed bolter, the term means a touch and go, another highenergy, high-force and routine flight operation. MCS Ryan Carter/US Navy
Speaking about the Super Hornet GE F414GE-400 engines, Captain Kindley said: “All
aviators want more thrust, but we have
nearly 1,600 engines that we would need to
retrofit [to provide greater thrust]. I can see
a day when we will need better generators
to meet the higher power requirements for
the Super Hornet and the Growler. However,
new engines are very expensive. We have
been working with GE for a long time and
are looking at many new concepts, including
common core technology.
“Congress has been extremely supportive
of the Super Hornet SLM. We are planning
for a stable funding line and work profile so
we can hold Boeing to a stable development
profile for Super Hornet production, stable
SLM programme and a stable F-35 production
plan. With this, the Navy has options to sustain
the strike fighter fleet, which it did not have
before.” AI | 79
America’s fighter
town in Italy
Riccardo Niccoli visited Aviano Air Base, home to the F-16-equipped 31st
Fighter Wing and learns about its training and importance to NATO
viano Air Base plays an important
role for the United States and NATO
and has a significant economic
impact on the local economy. Its
location within short flying time of
many of the world’s trouble spots may well
mean its future is assured for years to come.
One of the oldest airfields in Italy, Aviano
Air Base, near the north-eastern town of
Pordenone, was established in 1911. It was
home to Italian bomber units during World
A Triple Nickel pilot
works through preflight cockpit checks.
80 |
War One and was an active Luftwaffe and
Regia Aeronautica (Italian Royal Air Force)
command during World War Two. It was
taken over by the Allies at the war’s end and
returned to Italian hands in 1947. Aviano
remained home to Italian units until 1954,
when the last Aeronautica Militare (AM –
Italian Air Force) Wing to be based there, 51°
Stormo and its F-84G Thunderjets, left to
make room for fighters assigned to the United
States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE).
“From my perspective,
partnership and
communication is strong,
and we are continuously
working to improve our
interoperability between
the NATO members..”
Brigadier General Lance Landrum,
Commmander of the 31st Fighter Wing
82 |
The F-16’s big stick is the beyond visual
range AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missile.
This shot shows a CATM-120 captive
training round.
Modern era
Aviano is still an Aeronautica Militare base,
controlled by its own Comando Aeroporto
(airport command). Colonel Stefano
Cianfrocca, who was in command until late
last year, was in charge of about 250 Italian
military personnel. He explained: “The tasks
of this unit include the responsibility to secure
Italian sovereignty over all the airport area
including the flying activity. The Comando
Aeroporto is responsible for all functions of a
military airfield.”
Most of the Italian personnel are dedicated
to security and defence tasks, together with
US troops. Recent upgrading work, the socalled Aviano 2000 project, improved base
infrastructure and provided new housing
for the US military. Another of the colonel’s
responsibilities is to ensure both sides comply
with the bilateral technical arrangement
between Italy and the United States that
governs US use of the base. The agreement
is reviewed and renewed every five or six
years. Close liaison with the local and wider
communities is seen as especially vital since
the tragic incident in 1998 when a US Marine
Corps EA-6B Prowler flying a sortie from
Aviano cut the cables of an aerial tramway.
The Massacre at Cermis, as the incident
became known, resulted in the deaths
of 20 skiers and was caused by the crew
making a tourist video and flying too low, in
contravention of regulations. The incident
and the crew’s subsequent acquittal at court
martial seriously strained relations between
Italy and the United States.
The Comando Aeroporto supports not
only US operations, but also those of NATO
and maintains a transit alert facility for aircraft
passing through. It has also provided an
operating location for NATO operations,
including over Kosovo and during Operation
Unified Protector in 2011, when Aviano
housed not only the local F-16s, but also ten
F-15Es, six A-10Cs, five EA-18Gs from the
United State and six Jordanian F-16s. Aviano
also acts as an alternate airfield for the bases
at Istrana and Rivolto.
Support services
The Aeronautica Militare provides air traffic
control services assisted by American
personnel in the control tower. The tower
supervisor is usually Italian, too. US Air Force
air traffic controllers have to attend an
Aeronautica Militare course before they are
qualified to work in the tower. Italian personnel
also staff the local radar approach system.
Other services, such as fire-fighting, are staffed
directly by US personnel under Italian authority.
Both nations have their own medical and
emergency response services. Base operations
support is provided by both air forces. At the
moment, they are housed in separate buildings,
but there are plans to move them in together.
Similarly, both nations provide weather forecast
services, but because Aviano is an Italian
airport, Italy’s is the official one.
An F-16C assigned to the 31st Fighter Wing
prior to receiving fuel over the Mediterranean
Sea from a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the
100th Air Refueling Wing from RAF Mildenhall,
England. SSgt Micaiah Anthony/US Air Force
F-16C 88-0425/AV assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada during
Exercise Green Flag 16-08. Airman 1st Class Kevin Tanenbaum/US Air Force | 83
Senior Airman Cory Bush/US Air Force
The 31st Fighter Wing (FW) was activated at
Aviano on April 1, 1994, equipped with F-16C
and F-16D Fighting Falcons. In the nearly
quarter century since, the wing has taken
part in many operations, including over the
former Yugoslavia: Operations Deny Flight,
Deliberate Force, Deliberate Forge and,
finally, Allied Force. Aviano-based aircraft
took part in the air war over Kosovo in 1999
and the wing supported Operations Southern
Watch and Iraqi Freedom. In 2011, it flew
missions over Libya for Operations Odyssey
Dawn and Unified Protector. More recently,
in August 2015 a contingent from the 31st
FW deployed to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey,
to take part in Operation Inherent Resolve
against Islamic State.
Buzzards and Triple Nickel
The 31st FW reports to the 3rd Air Force at
RAF Mildenhall, UK, which is itself controlled
by USAFE Headquarters at Ramstein Air
Base, Germany. It comprises several units
with the flying component being part of
the 31st Operations Group comprising
two flying squadrons, the 510th Fighter
Squadron ‘Buzzards’ and the 555th Fighter
Squadron ‘Triple Nickel’. There are also the
606th Air Control Squadron, and the 31st
Maintenance Group, which is responsible for
the wing’s aircraft and their weapons. The
31st Mission Support Group is divided into
seven squadrons dedicated to activities such
as communications, construction, logistics
and base protection. Finally, the 31st Medical
Group’s five squadrons provide medical
support to all American personnel. The total
unit establishment of the 31st FW is 4,200
military, 300 US civilians and about 600 Italian
Both fighter squadrons fly Block 40 F-16Cs
and F-16Ds, and perform multi-role missions
comprising both air-to-air and air-to-ground
roles. The wing’s aircraft are around 30
years old, but they have been extensively
upgraded under the Common Configuration
Implementation Program (CCIP) designed
to provide enhanced mission capabilities
and a common avionics configuration
across the US Air Force’s F-16 fleet. CCIP
included three modification phases to the
cockpit (with multifunction colour displays
and new software, software is cyclically
updated with M-series operational flight
program tapes) and to the avionics (Modular
Mission Computer, Common Data Entry
Electronics Unit), plus integration of the
AAQ-33 Sniper XR Advanced targeting pod,
Link 16 datalink (Multifunctional Information
Distribution System), Joint Helmet-Mounted
Cueing System. New armament continues
to be integrated which includes the AIM-9X
Sidewinder air-to-air missile, AGM-154 Joint
Stand-Off Weapon (a 1,000lb-class glide
standoff missile), the 2,000lb GBU-31 Joint
Direct Attack Munition and the 2,000lb EGBU27 GPS/INS guided bomb.
Block 40 F-16Cs and F-16Ds were upgraded
to CCIP standard in one single working phase
from 2005, and were the first to be equipped
with LANTIRN (Low Altitude Navigation and
Targeting Infrared for Night) pods. In 1995,
the 31st FW’s jets were the first to receive the
Sure Strike package comprising night-vision
goggles and improved data modems to
improve close air support performance over
Bosnia. More recently, the 31st FW introduced
the AAQ-33 SE (Sensor Enhancement) version
of the Sniper pod in 2015.
Deployments and detachments
A recent weapon released to service on the F-16C is the 250lb class GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bomb. Four
training rounds are shown on the four-place carriage system.
84 |
The 31st FW is very busy, flying intensively
both at home and on deployments and
detachments for exercises and real-world
operations. It logged 12,100 flying hours
in 2016. Six aircraft deployed to Camp
Lemmonier, Djibouti the military side of the
Djibouti-Ambouli international airport, to
operate under US Africa Command in case
they were needed to protect US citizens and
interests in South Sudan.
From January 20 to February 3, 2017, 280
personnel and 14 aircraft, supported by one
KC-135 from the Arizona Air National Guard,
deployed to Souda Bay, Crete, for a flying
training deployment, destined to improve
interoperability with the Hellenic Air Force
and to exploit the airspace and the ranges
on and around the island. Aviano pilots were
able to practise with their Greek counterparts
from the Block 52+ equipped F-16Cs and
F-16Ds assigned to 343 Mira (Wing) based
at Souda Bay. During the deployment, 31st
FW F-16s flew dissimilar air combat training,
with Hellenic Air Force F-4E Phantoms
and Mirage 2000s. The commander of
the 555th FS, Lt Col Vincent J O’Connor,
told AIR International: “The purpose of the
deployment was to improve our proficiency
in full-scale air-to-ground weapons delivery,
integrate with tactical air control parties
in close air support missions, and conduct
combined training with the Hellenic Air Force
to further strengthen that partnership. The
555th FS flew a combination of basic surface
attack, close air support and air interdiction
missions. We conducted training with live,
inert and simulated ordnance. The 555th FS
employed Mk82, GBU-12, GBU-24 [bombs],
M151 rockets, and 20mm rounds on the
Karavia range.
“We also conducted combined training
with the Hellenic Air Force in large force
employment missions, which included both
air-to-air and air-to-ground training. These
missions would normally include air-to-air
refuelling, an ingress to a target area that was
defended by enemy aircraft and simulated
enemy surface-to-air missile systems,
interdiction on pre-planned targets, followed
by a tactical egress against air-to-air and
surface-to-air threats. The Hellenic Air Force
was extremely hospitable and provided our
squadron with outstanding support to meet
our training objectives. We enjoyed training
with them and getting to learn about Greek
In July 2016, the 31st FW took part in Red
Flag 16-3, sending 14 aircraft, 250 personnel
and more than 83 tonnes of stores from
Aviano to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
That August, the contingent took part in
exercise Green Flag 16-8, also staged from
Nellis. This exercise, dedicated to air-toground joint operations, is centred on the
US Army Fort Irwin training complex outside
Barstow, California. Lt Col Benjamin Freeborn,
commander of the 510th FS, described his
unit’s roles there: “Green Flag is a joint training
exercise the Air Force puts on in partnership
with the US Army National Training Center. It
focuses on the integration between Army and
Air Force tactical-level units. The Buzzards
are a multi-role F-16 fighter squadron; we’re
comfortable swapping between mission types
rapidly. In Green Flag, our role was primary to
support the ground commander’s objectives.
We provided precision fire support, destroyed
enemy air defences, hunted the adversary’s
drones and helicopters, and acted as killerscouts, all in order to shape the close fight for
our Army partners. We flew primary close air
support and forward air controller (airborne)
Lt Col Freeborn described a typical Green
Flag mission: “We brief with the Ground
Liaison Officer first thing in the morning;
they bring us up to speed on what the Army
commander’s intent for the day is. Then we
typically spend time preparing for the mission
by updating our digital and paper maps with
friendly locations, objectives and known
threats. After that, we’ll brief the mission,
highlighting any specific tactics or procedures
that are especially critical for today’s mission.
“Taking-off from Nellis, we fly south into the
National Training Center airspace. Once we
check in through air traffic control, we switch
mind sets to a tactical focus and work our way
through the scenario’s command and control
agencies. They’ll typically be an Air Support
Operations Center that we initially check
in with. They pass a situation update and
funnel us to either the deep fight, where we
may operate autonomously, or to whichever
Tactical Air Control Party [TACP] needs us the
most at that time.
“A typical mission would be searching
past the TACP’s line of sight for adversary
manoeuvre units. [Green Flag has a robust
opposing force, with vehicles, threats and a
good number of enemy personnel to react
to.] In our exercise specifically, the opposing
force was using extensive camouflage and
concealment. We would work through our
various sensors to find dug-in adversary
position and simulate striking them with
precision-guided weapons. The Green Flag
staff would track all of this from Nellis, and
real-time kill remove any of the opposing
force we successfully struck. This would then
affect the ground fight realistically, as the
adversary would not have these assets to use
in the ground battle.
“After landing, the debrief by Green Flag
personnel was world class. They replayed our
positions relative to the friendly and adversary
ground units, showed us adversaries that we
might not have detected and accounted for
the adversaries we were successful against. It
was then our job to take that scenario debrief
back into a flight-specific debrief to find
how we could better execute our tactics the
next day, and for our intelligence specialists
to exploit what we learned about how the
adversary acted.
“We dropped quite a bit of ordnance
during this trip, but the Green Flag scenarios
described all involved simulated weapons,
for obvious reasons. There is a live range
that we use with the TACPs, but it is out of
scenario. On the live range, we employed
Ammo troops load a 2,000lb training round onto station 7.
F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 31st Fighter
Wing taxi at Bodø Main Air Station, Norway,
during Exercise Cold Response 2016. The
exercise tests NATO’s ability to defend against
any threat in any environment.
SSgt R.J. Biermann/US Air Force | 85
GBU-12 laser-guided bombs, GBU-38 GPSguided bombs, unguided 70mm rockets,
500lb bombs and 20mm cannon. That
specific Green Flag exercise was the most
effective close air support training I’ve ever
experienced. The investment in integrating
with the Army unit was unique for us. The
threat simulators and opposing force made
the training very effective. The focus on
high-intensity, major combat operations really
tested the Buzzard pilots, maintainers, and
support personnel; there was very little room
for error.”
Italian air traffic
working the
Aviano tower.
Home-team advantage
During operations from Aviano, flying training
is usually carried out in regulated airspace
nearby. Facilities in the surrounding Friuli
region include the Zita military training area,
itself split into six sections, and another area
called Speedy (formerly a NATO area), over
the Adriatic Sea where supersonic flight is
permitted. On the western side of Speedy
is another area called Sara, which extends
over the Romagna region and the adjoining
sea. About 70% of the 31st’s sorties are flown
in Speedy and Sara, which together offer a
training area about 100 x 150 nautical miles
(185 x 278km). The upper limits of these areas
do not extend to high altitude because they
are positioned beneath commercial airways
down the Adriatic Sea. Very occasionally, the
Americans use a smaller area called Lola,
located south of Brescia, where some of the
airspace extends up to 37,000ft (11,277m).
Aviano’s F-16s do not use any bombing
ranges in Italy. All air-to-ground missions,
using inert munitions. Takes place on two
ranges in Slovenia and Croatia.
The 606th Air Control Squadron, a
mobile command and control combat unit,
relocated to Aviano as part of the European
Infrastructure Consolidation Plan in June
2016, and is assigned to the 31st Operations
Group. As a consequence of the move, 31st
FW F-16s are now able to train with their own
tactical air controllers during normal training
activity in Italy.
Plum posting
Aviano is in a beautiful part of the world, not
far from Venice, and the flying opportunities
are tremendous, with all sorts of terrain
nearby. A newly qualified pilot on a first tour
arrives at Aviano directly from one of the F-16
formal training units at Lackland Air Force
Base, Texas, Luke Air Force Base, Arizona,
Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico and
Tucson Air National Guard Base, Arizona.
To reach mission ready status, he or she
must complete mission qualification training
(MQT), which lasts two or three months. The
novice will fly a couple of missions each week
as wingman to an instructor pilot or as part
of a four-ship flight. The missions are used to
familiarise the new pilot with local procedures
and air space, and to demonstrate to the
instructor the ability to safely fly assigned
tasks. The MQT syllabus requires each tyro
to demonstrate the ability to carry out one
of each sortie type performed by the wing:
basic fighter manoeuvre, tactical intercept,
defensive counter air, offensive counter air,
suppression of enemy air defences, close air
support, dynamic targeting and more. At the
end of the programme, there is a certification
ride, and if successful, the new pilot is eligible
for every task the squadron is required to
carry out.
Two Triple Nickel jets receive last chance checks on the end of runway ramp.
86 |
Missions usually involve about 90 minutes’
flying time, but this can be extended if the
jets receive fuel from tankers, typically KC135R Stratotankers assigned to the 100th
Air Refueling Wing based at RAF Mildenhall,
UK, and sometimes those from Air National
Guard units deployed from the United States
on a rotational basis to the NATO Air Base at
Geilenkirchen, Germany.
Aviano’s fighter pilots are the only ones
based in Italy to practise hot pit refuelling and
re-arming. The procedure requires the pilot
to stay in the jet, with engine and systems
running, while it is prepared for another sortie.
When the wing schedules three consecutive
missions with two hot pits, pilots have to
remain strapped to their ejection seats for
more than eight hours in one stretch. That’s
a hard day, but during the air war over Libya,
pilots from the 31st FW operated directly from
home base flying combat air patrol missions
lasting up to 12 hours. On average, 31st FW
F-16 pilots fly about 120 hours per year.
The boss speaks
Brigadier General Lance Landrum is
Commander of the 31st Fighter Wing with
responsibility for the only US Air Force fighter
wing on Europe’s southern flank and the
closest combat-coded wing to the Middle
East and Africa. He told AIR International how
that impacts on operations: “We take our
relationship and our role as a NATO alliance
member very seriously. We are stationed
south of the Alps, and we do focus on
operations across the Mediterranean, and to
General Landrum emphasised the
importance of the non-flying assets his
wing provides to NATO: “Of course, you
know about the F-16s, which are very visible
and very loud, sometimes, but we also
have a relatively new organisation, which
is an Air Control Squadron, the 606th ACS,
which is now fully capable here, having
relocated from Spangdahlem Air Base, in
Germany. They have command and control,
air battle management and tactical air
control functions. Their personnel are air
battle managers, they talk to aircraft, giving
threat warnings, tactical directions, as well
as tactical airspace de-conflictions, so
Aviano radar
approach control
is also staffed by
Italian controllers.
everybody can fly safely in a tactical situation.
They have other airmen that maintain their
equipment, such as TPS-75 radar systems,
the associated datalink, radio and satellite
communications systems. In addition to this
squadron, we look forward to the arrival
of the 56th and 57th Rescue Squadrons.
They will arrive from Lakenheath in the UK
this summer [by June 2018], and will bring
with them their [five] HH-60 helicopters,
maintenance personnel, the flight crews, of
course, and the para rescue personnel, the
para jumpers that we call Guardian Angels.
“Our relationship with the local Italian Air
Force, and with the local base commander, is
very important. We couldn’t accomplish our
mission without our partnership, and without
very open communication between the 31st
FW and the airport commander. We rely
on some Italian personnel for the security
forces, for the base operations centre, which
helps with flight plans, and flight control
systems. In addition, the Italians lead in air
traffic control and radar approach control,
working side by side with Americans.
“In terms of flight activity, some of the
limitations we have here are fairly common
to Europe, and some are very common to
our bases in the United States. We work
closely with the Italian Air Force leadership
here to schedule our daily routine within the
airfield operating hours. Sometimes there
are exceptions, when a mission requires
activity outside the airfield operating hours:
for example, night flying training. In summer,
the sun stays up until late, and in that case,
we need to fly until midnight. We have a
scheduled communication process with the
Italian Air Force to allow the airfield to stay
open for extra hours. Sometimes there are
mission requirements that require the airfield
to be open at the weekend. Of course, we
try to minimise those exceptions as much as
we can.
“We take part in COMAOs [Combined
Air Operations], NATO large forces
exercises with the Italian Air Force. Our
jets participated in exercise Ramstein Dust,
which was associated with the deployable
CAOC [Combined Air Operations Centre]
from Poggio Renatico [that was] moved to
Decimomannu. There are also opportunities
for us to take part in activities with the Italian
Air Force in local exercises, for example,
training with Italian Army JTACs who
attended briefings with us about close air
support [CAS] training after which we flew
a simulated CAS mission in the urban area
of Aviano town, taking advantage of the
ROVER [Remotely Operated Video Enhanced
Receiver] systems fitted in our aircraft, and
linked to the Sniper Pod.”
Commenting on a resurgent Russia,
General Landrum had this to say about the
future of the base: “Across the American
government and across NATO, there is
a general security and stability concern.
There are dynamics taking place in Ukraine,
and just across the Mediterranean, in Libya,
and of course we know very well about
the refugee flow, from Syria and elsewhere
… My sense is that the NATO Alliance is
strong, and its members are committed
to solidarity. From my perspective,
partnership and communication is strong,
and we are continuously working to
improve our interoperability between the
NATO members. It’s important to show
that solidarity and the capability to work
together and partner together. I wouldn’t
speculate about any future operations
because the world is so dynamic, we are so
connected such that a small event in some
places 20 years ago would have been very
isolated and insignificant, but now grows
global quickly and creates many emotions.
Sometimes those spiral and create
dangerous situations. That’s why we train;
we are ready for the mission, in a good
partnership with Italy. Italy is very engaged
around the world in many different places,
one of the most engaged NATO members,
and stand as an example where its forces
are deployed.” AI
F-16C 90-0773/AV from the 555th Fighter Squadron in formation with a KC-135 Stratotanker
before aerial refuelling during a flight from Souda Bay, Crete. SSgt Austin Harvill/US Air Force | 87
Map make
Cessna 404 Titan G-FIFA is one of two
aircraft used by the Ordnance Survey
Flying Unit to photograph the UK.
All photos Ordnance Survey
ppearances can be deceptive.
Cessna 404 Titans G-FIFA and
G-TASK look nondescript, arguably
boring, to a casual observer.
However, these two aircraft carry
out some of the most unusual civil aviation
work in the UK.
Flying from their Nottingham East Midlands
Airport base, the Titans are used by the
Ordnance Survey (OS), the UK’s national
mapping authority, to capture up-to-date
and accurate high-resolution aerial images of
every part of Britain.
Between February and November each
year these aircraft criss-cross the UK,
with specialist air camera operators from
the OS Flying Unit on board capturing
on average around 50,000 aerial images
of urban, rural, moorland and mountain
terrain, from the Shetland Islands to the
Isles of Scilly.
88 |
Together with the images taken by the
OS’ team of around 200 ground observers
of views aircraft cannot obtain (for example,
views beneath trees or structural canopies), the
images captured by the OS Flying Unit provide
continuous topographical updates to the
master map of the UK, the 2D ortho-rectified
overview of every piece of land in the country.
Flying along lines
The OS aims to complete a total survey of the
entire country every three years, but obviously
as landscapes change over time the master
map continually needs updating. This need
provides the bulk of the OS Flying Unit’s work.
Each year, the OS identifies target areas
across the UK of which it needs new aerial
images to update the master map. Those
areas are then given to the OS Flying Unit,
which organises targets into blocks of
airspace of around 154 square miles (400km2).
The Titans fly along lines in a
predetermined grid pattern within these
blocks, with the camera operator in the cabin
taking the photos as the pilot flies the aircraft
along a line.
In practice this sounds straightforward;
making it happen is less so.
Although the UK is relatively small (the
country’s area would fit easily into the territory
of many US states, including Alaska, Nevada
and Texas), the UK’s airspace system is
complex. There are four classes of controlled
airspace (A, C, D and E), one class (G) of
uncontrolled airspace and four types of
airspace (control zones, control areas, airways
and air routes). Terminal Control Areas are
established at the junction of airways around
the major airports and the airways connecting
Terminal Control Areas are normally eight
nautical miles (16km) wide, between 5,000ft
(1,524m) and 7,000ft (2,133m).
Mark Broadbent finds out
about the specialist work of
the Ordnance Survey Flying
Unit, which maps Britain
from the air
As well as the complexities of the different
classes and types of airspace, the UK’s
airspace is busy; air navigation services
provider NATS on average handles 6,000
flights every day. Detailed planning and close
liaison with NATS is required if the OS Flying
Unit is to do what it needs to do safely and
efficiently, so at the start of each flying season
OS Flying Unit and NATS officials meet at the
air navigation services provider’s Swanwick
control centre in Hampshire to work out a
programme detailing the areas the OS Flying
Unit will operate in and when.
Roger Nock is one of seven air camera
operators with the OS Flying Unit. He told AIR
International: “We’re aware we can impact on
operations quite a lot, especially if we’ve got
large blocks [of airspace]. It’s not the heights
as much as the north/south/east/west size of
the blocks. If you’ve got a 1,000ft block and
you’re talking about 400km2 for a survey area,
that’s a lot of airspace for air traffic to vector
airliners around you.”
Nock said NATS is happy with the Titans
operating at an altitude of between 8,000ft
(2,438m) and 10,000ft (3,048m), which
sometimes means the aircraft are operating
above airliner traffic, but slotting the Titans
into that system of Terminal Control Areas and
airways is not the only planning consideration.
Sometimes, Nock pointed out, it isn’t always
possible to complete survey work in a certain
block of airspace in one go, because part of
the block may encroach on a restricted area
set aside for military training or weapons
testing. For instance, only eight lines from 12
in a block might be completed on one flight,
with the remainder having to be completed
at another time when the restricted area is
deactivated. The planning process has to
account for when the land in restricted areas
will be available.
The nature of the grid pattern the Titans
fly in a survey area, with the aircraft reversing
direction and flying along another line to
complete the grid, is a further major planning
consideration, especially for operations in
uncontrolled airspace. NATS issues Airspace
Co-ordination Notices informing users about
the OS Flying Unit’s activities.
Nock said: “On the morning of a flight
we try and get in contact with as many
parties as possible to make them aware
of our presence.” The OS Flying Unit also
looks at the NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen)
to see if there are any activities (such as
hot air balloon flying or parachuting) that
might affect flying through an area of
uncontrolled airspace.
Other airspace users are a further
consideration. Nock said: “When you’re
planning, you’re looking at how you’re going
to impact on the operations and we try and | 89
make it so it minimises the impact.” Plans are
sent to airports for feedback before flights.
Nock emphasised the focus of the
OS Flying Unit’s planning activities is on
minimising issues for air traffic control: “We
have a wash-up meeting [with NATS] at the
end of a flying season to see how things have
gone and how we can help in the future.”
Changing weather
Aside from making its operations happen in a
busy airspace environment, the changeable
British weather is inevitably a key factor in the
OS Flying Unit’s day-to-day operations. The
most needs to be made of any bright, clear
days to collect data and Nock explained if a
weather window allows a different block, or
part of a block, to be covered rather than the
one initially planned, they will fly to where the
conditions are more favourable.
This flexibility to change plans quickly
underlines the close working relationship
between the OS Flying Unit and NATS, and
it also means the distance and duration of a
survey flight varies. Nock said: “Our average
sortie is around two or three hours, but you
can be up there for as long as nine; the only
limitation is the pilot’s duty hours. If you find
a clear spot, you’ve just got to go for it. You’re
there for as long as weather and air traffic
control will allow. It’s not until you get there
that things can change.
“Sometimes aircraft come into the area
which curtail your visit, or the weather
changes. If there’s a front coming in and your
target is on the eastern side of your block,
you finish the line just ahead of the weather.
It’s quite a satisfying feeling when you finish
a line, you turn around and the whole block
has gone [into the weather]. If you’d timed it
minutes later, you wouldn’t have been able
to complete the block. That’s the sort of tight
margins we work to.”
ABOVE: The Titans’ interiors are
dominated by a computer operating
system, housed in the silver box, which is
used to operate the camera and control
aperture, shutter speed and focal length.
BELOW: This view of the Titan turning
away from the camera shows one of the
hatches in the underside of the aircraft
where the camera sits.
90 |
The Cessna 404s are ideal, because they
offer ten hours’ endurance and a 400kts
(740km/h) cruise speed, meaning the aircraft
can speed to where the weather is clear.
Nock added: “We’re constantly looking at our
intelligence, webcams, Met Office forecasts. If
you see a chance, you’ve got to go for it. It’s in
the lap of the gods really, but it’s very rare we
come back with nothing.”
On board each Titan is a 196-megapixel
Vexcel high-resolution camera with eight
lenses. There are two camera hatches, fore
and aft. Generally the camera sits in the aft
hatch behind the operator’s seat on a gyrostabilised mount.
Nock described the workstation in the
cabin. A crucial piece of equipment is a laptop
loaded with software that details the flight
lines planned for the sortie. This software is
GPS linked and allows the camera operator
to check the accuracy of the line being flown
relative to the planned track, and presents data
on the variables affecting aerial photography,
such as sun angles, altitude and speed.
The operator also uses a scope to measure
drift. Nock said if the aircraft is high enough
and it’s a clear day the scope shows the
view up to 32 nautical miles (60km) ahead,
meaning any upcoming weather can be seen
and a decision made about whether it is worth
attempting to fly the line.
The laptop and its software are linked to
a computer operating system (COS), which
is at the operator’s workstation in the cabin.
The COS is used to operate the camera, with
the operator using buttons on an adjoining
control panel and keyboard to control
aperture, shutter speed and focal length.
The COS screen gives a continuous view
of the image through the camera, enables
an operator to confirm the lenses fired and
check the images exposed correctly. A black
and white thumbnail is produced, allowing a
check to be made for haze levels and cloud
(or smoke from fires or chimneys). There are
only three seconds to quality control each
image before the next image appears.
Nock said the Vexcel cameras are due
for replacement: “Newer cameras are more
integrated, but even though the system is a
little older than some, the way we use it with
the software and the programming enables
us to do a lot more with the photographs. We
push it to its very limit.”
The photos taken during a flight are stored
on two 3Tb data drives (one primary, one
back-up) which each weigh 55lb (25kg) and
are linked to the COS. At the end of each flight,
the vegetation and the [RPA] were amazed
how quickly we could produce a bespoke
dataset for them. It’s technology we have in
these cameras, the way we operate them and
what we can produce.”
There is likely to be more demand from
within the OS itself for aerial images as the
agency targets producing a digital twin: a fully
3D simulation of the real UK.
Unmanned operations?
the drives are unlocked from their position on
the cabin floor and taken to the office where
the images captured during a sortie (each
one is 500Mb in quality) are downloaded and
transferred online to the OS head office in
Southampton. If the file size is too large, they
are put on to a portable drive and posted.
Towards a digital twin
ABOVE: Significant planning is required to fit the
survey flights in controlled airspace.
Sometimes this involves the Titans flying above
airliner traffic.
BELOW: Software linked to GPS allows the camera
operator to check the accuracy of the line being
flown relative to the planned track. This view
shows Portsmouth Harbour, with the new HMS
Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier visible.
Unmanned aircraft, from large and mediumsized systems through to hand-launched,
micro/nano-sized platforms, have in recent
years found greater use for survey and
photography work ranging from offshore
energy and emergency services to utilities
management and historic buildings
Nock acknowledged UAVs could in the
future play a role in the way the OS collects
data, but insisted there are no plans to stop
using manned aircraft. Current UK legislation
mandates visual line of sight operations for
civil UAVs, which limits their suitability for the
OS as they would only be able to operate over
a small geographical footprint.
Nock said: “There’s no way you could do
what we do, producing 400km2 of imagery
within 50 minutes. It may initially seem costeffective [to use UAVs], but when you find
you’ll need thousands of them the costs will
increase. If you’ve got sunny conditions you
could quite easily put a UAV up there, but the
way we produce imagery means we can be so
flexible. In relative terms the aircraft are fast;
there’s not a like-for-like replacement.”
The Titans’ relatively unheralded role in
helping the OS map Britain looks set to
continue. AI
The images collected by the OS Flying
Unit and put into the OS master map have
numerous applications. Combined with
the other OS mapping products, they
provide crucial information for government
agencies, emergency services, local
councils and surveyors in roles ranging from
building planning applications to flood risk
The flying unit additionally undertakes ad
hoc survey flights in response to specific
requests to the OS for bespoke information.
There were around 130 of these requests
last year, Nock said. For example, the Land
Registry, councils and emergency services
might want images of new road junctions or
bridges, or surveyors who can’t obtain access
to a specific area of land might want aerial
pictures to be taken.
The OS Flying Unit has become busier over
the last couple of years. Nock said: “We’re
producing a lot more than we ever have and
we’re busier each year; 2016 was a record for
us in getting 50,000km2 of imagery.”
A key factor in the increased workload is the
advancement in software used to analyse raw
data. Nock explained: “Information is being
used in ways that ten years ago didn’t exist. It
isn’t just the image, it’s the height and altitude
data that can be taken from the image.
There’s a massive need for detailed, constantly
updated maps.”
A good example is work the unit undertook
recently for the Rural Payments Agency (RPA)
to photograph every single hedgerow in
England and Wales. Nock said: “The infrared
channel allowed us to pick up the extent of | 91
Remedying the A320neo
GTF engine
By Chris Kjelgaard
PRATT & WHITNEY has raced to
remedy a new technical problem
in 43 new PW1100G-JM gearedturbofan (GTF) engines fitted to
Airbus A320neo-family aircraft
from December, as well as 55
additional new PW1100G-JMs
delivered to Airbus in January
and February but which weren’t
yet mounted on new-production
Less than three weeks after
Greg Hayes, CEO of P&W’s parent
company United Technologies
(UTC), said on January 24 that Pratt
& Whitney had fully overcome a
series of technical and production
issues that had affected GTF
engine reliability and production
rate in 2016 and 2017, the
European Aviation Safety Agency
issued an emergency airworthiness
directive (EAD) about a serious new
PW1100G-JM technical problem.
The EAD, issued on February 9,
required operators of PW1100GJMs with serial numbers from
P770450 (the 450th production
GTF engine for the A320neo
family) onward to stop flying,
within three flight cycles, any
aircraft fitted with two engines
with serial numbers of P770450
or higher. The EAD also required
operators immediately to stop
flying on extended routes over
water using any aircraft with one
such engine fitted.
EASA issued the EAD because
P&W had introduced in the 98
engines, all manufactured from
December onward and 43 of
which were already in service, 17
more or less routine engineering
changes. One of the engineering
changes, a redesigned knifeedge seal on the aft hub of the
engine’s high pressure compressor,
had made all 98 engines more
susceptible to in-flight shutdowns,
according to EASA. It issued the
EAD after several such engines had
needed to be shut down in-flight
or had suffered technical problems
which had required A320neofamily aircraft to abort take-offs.
In early March the problem was
particularly affecting PW1100G-JM
engines in several new A320neos
that Airbus had recently delivered
to Indian carriers IndiGo and GoAir.
These aircraft all had engines
with serial numbers covered by
the EASA EAD. In early March
India’s Directorate General of Civil
Aviation (DGCA), responding to
two aborted take-offs affecting
new IndiGo A320neos and one
aborted take-off affecting a new
GoAir A320neo as a result of the
knife-edge seal issue, ordered
the two airlines to ground all
A320neos in their fleets which had
GTF engines with serial numbers
covered by the EAD.
Fixing the knife-edge seal problem
IndiGo and GoAir A320neo aircraft suffered aborted take-offs (two and
one respectively) as a result of the PW1100G-JM geared-turbofan knifeedge seal issue. H Goussé/Airbus
the Indian DGCA came two
weeks after a February 21
announcement by UTC CEO
Hayes to financial analysts that
Pratt & Whitney had already
resolved the new PW1100G-JM
technical issue by replacing the
modified knife-edge seals with
seals of the previous design.
The December modification
to the knife-edge seal “did not
play out as expected”, Hayes
admitted, but he added that
Pratt & Whitney had resolved
the issue – obtaining approval
92 |
for the fix from EASA and
Airbus in the process – and had
already resumed PW1100G-JM
production by February 21.
However, by then the issue
had caused Pratt & Whitney’s GTF
production programme some
temporary damage. P&W’s urgent
need to focus on resolving the
knife-edge seal safety issue forced
the engine manufacturer to halt
all production of PW1100G-JM
A320neo engines for the first half
of February and it also had to
recall the 43 affected in-service
engines and the 55 engines
delivered to Airbus but not yet
installed so that P&W could
replace their modified knife-edge
seals with seals of the previous
Addressing the audience at
United Technologies’ Annual
Investors and Portfolio Managers
Meeting in Palm Beach Gardens,
Florida on March 16, Pratt &
Whitney president Robert Leduc
said all 43 in-service engines
affected by the knife-edge seal
issue would be flying again in
airline service by the end of April.
Leduc confirmed that statement
included the affected engines
on aircraft operated by IndiGo
and GoAir, as well as all affected
engines operated by other carriers
Additionally, Leduc told the
meeting’s audience that by March
15, the day before the UTC investor
meeting, P&W had received back
from Airbus 22 of the 55 affected
engines which had yet to be
installed on new A320neo-family
aircraft. Airbus would send back
to Pratt & Whitney the remaining
33 affected engines by the end of
April, he said.
GoAir’s first A320neo,
VT-WGA (msn 7047), on a
test flight from Toulouse
fitted with PW1100G-JM
geared-turbofan engines.
H Goussé/Airbus
Getting back on schedule
ALTHOUGH NOT detailing exactly
when P&W expected to redeliver
to Airbus all 55 returned engines
(each with a knife-edge seal of
the pre-December design in place
of the problematic, modified
seal), Leduc said Pratt & Whitney
would be able to “catch up” by the
third quarter on its schedule for
deliveries of new PW1100G-JM
GTF engines to Airbus. Admitting
that, as a result of having to
respond immediately to the knifeedge seal safety issue, P&W’s
production of new GTF engines
in the first quarter had been less
than called for by its original
2018 production schedule, Leduc
declared that Pratt & Whitney
would fully meet its 2018 GTF
production commitment to Airbus.
However, Leduc was less open
with investors at the March 16
meeting as to how many GTF
engines Pratt & Whitney actually
expects to deliver in 2018. UTC
CEO Hayes and several senior P&W
executives had previously said
publicly that P&W expects to deliver
from 700 to 800 GTF engines this
year and believes the total will be
in the upper part of that range, at
least 750 to 760 engines. However,
Leduc declined to confirm this
expectation on March 16, other
than saying that P&W expects to
deliver more than 2,500 GTFs
in the next three years. Leduc’s
The Pratt & Whitney PurePower
PW1100G-JM geared-turbofan engine
has an 81-inch fan tip diameter.
Pratt & Whitney
presentation on March 16 also
included a slide which indicated the
engine manufacturer expects more
than 10,000 GTFs to be in service
by 2025, which strongly implies
that P&W expects to deliver at least
1,500 GTF engines annually in the
five years from 2021 through 2025.
Leduc said his reason for
declining to provide a 2018 GTF
production estimate was that he
didn’t want financial analysts, or
GE Aviation CEO David Joyce,
to be able to work out
P&W’s exact 2018 saleprice loss per individual
engine. However, he had
already admitted to investors on
March 16 that the knife-edge seal
issue is costing P&W some $50
million through having to revise
its production schedule and in
reworking the 98 engines affected
by the knife-edge seal problem.
Leduc added this extra cost would
increase the GTF programme’s
negative cost margin for 2018 to
about $1.2 billion. Given P&W’s
previously stated delivery guidance
of at least 750 GTFs this year, its
2018 average negative margin per
engine – i.e. how much more it is
costing P&W in 2018 on average to
manufacture each GTF engine than
the engine’s selling price – looks
likely to be about $1.6 million. | 93
Sikorsky promotes Firehawk in Latin America
SIKORSKY USED the 2018 Feria
Internacional del Aire y del
Espacio show, held in Santiago,
Chile, in April to launch a twomonth tour of Latin America
in order to promote its S-70
Firehawk helicopter.
The tour will be undertaken
between May and June, 2018.
Sikorsky officials, together with
representatives from United
Rotorcraft, will visit Argentina,
Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Ecuador
and Peru to discuss the
effectiveness of the Firehawk in the
aerial fire-fighting role.
United Rotorcraft, based in
Colorado, is teamed with Sikorsky
to reconfigure the basic Black
Hawk airframe with the addition
of the Firehawk Aerial Firefighting
Mission Package. The package
can be retrofitted to existing Black
Hawk Helicopters, which are
already extensively operated by
several militaries throughout Latin
America: that is, older UH-60L
and S-70A Black Hawks, as well as
later UH-60M, S-70M and S-70i
Almost 100 UH-60 Black Hawks
have been already been acquired
by the Colombian Armed Forces,
which received its first examples
in 1988. A further 22 aircraft are
operated in the region by the
armed forces of Argentina, Brazil
and Chile.
Adam Schierholz, Sikorsky’s
Vice President and Regional Sales
Executive for Latin America, said:
“Latin America is increasingly
susceptible to wildfires that
threaten lives and property, and
the fire-fighting season also is
shown to be lengthening. We are
bringing lessons learned from
California, where our Firehawk
Aerial Firefighting Mission Package
added to a Black Hawk helicopter
has proved to be highly effective
[when] attacking wildland fires with
large volumes of water, especially
when the effort is coordinated
closely with fire-fighters attacking
the same fire from the ground.”
The Firehawk has been
extensively used in California
during the recent fire season and
additional aircraft were ordered
by the County of Los Angeles Fire
Department, together with the
first for the City of San Diego in
February 2018. Nigel Pittaway
Thierry Rostand/Airbus Helicopters
First H160 sale in Latin America
ALSO AT FIDAE 2018, Airbus
Helicopters announced it had
signed an order from an undisclosed
customer in Brazil for the sale of
one H160 helicopter. The helicopter
will be used for private and business
operations and the contract marks the
first sale of Airbus Helicopters’ new
H160 in the Latin American market.
Mesrob Karalekian, Head of Latin
America for Airbus Helicopters,
said: “We are proud to announce
the first sale of an H160 in Latin
America, where it has a lot of
potential, as we have been seeing
a lot of interest in this aircraft.
It is easy to see why the H160
appeals to private and business
aviation customers, as it is not only
stylish, but [also] its cutting-edge
technology offers passengers
an elegant, safe and extremely
comfortable way to travel.” Nigel
announced on April 12, 2018, that
its Fenestron shrouded tail rotor
concept has celebrated the 50th
anniversary of its maiden flight.
The first Fenestron, fitted to the
second prototype Aerospatiale
(Sud Aviation) SA341 Gazelle, flew
for the first time from Marignane
on April 12, 1968, and has become
a trademark of several helicopters
designed and built by Sud Aviation,
Aerospatiale, Eurocopter and,
most recently, Airbus Helicopters.
Initially known as the Fenestrou,
the word for ‘little window’ in the
Provençal dialect, the Fenestron
was originally designed to provide
increased safety on the ground
and in flight by shrouding the tail
The first generation of
Fenestron was certified on
the Gazelle in 1972 and
incorporated into the design of
94 |
the first prototype SA365 Dauphin.
Subsequent trials with an SA330
Puma helicopter undertaken in
1975 revealed that the larger
helicopter required more power
than the Fenestron could deliver
and in the event it was judged
to be unsuitable for this class of
The second generation of
Fenestron was an all-composite
assembly that entered service in
the late 1970s. The composite
material allowed the diameter
of the Fenestron to be increased
by 20% and was introduced on
the HH-65A Dolphin helicopters
operated by the US Coast Guard.
Since upgraded, the fleet in still in
service and has now amassed in
excess of 1.5 million flight hours.
The third generation saw
changes to the aerofoil of the
blades to optimise shape and to
reduce noise levels. It was tested
Thierry Rostand/Airbus Helicopters
Fiftieth anniversary of the Fenestron
between 1987 and 1991 on a
company AS350 Ecureuil, which
today is on display above the main
entrance to Airbus Helicopter’s
facility at Marignane, on the
outskirts of Marseille.
It was fitted to the H135
helicopter in 1994 and the H130,
fitted with a similar unit, followed
1999. In 2010, the H145 was first
fitted with the Fenestron and the
most recent example of its use
is on the H160, which is now
entering service. Nigel Pittaway
National Aeronautic Association
(NAA) Robert J Collier Trophy for
its Vision Jet business aircraft.
The prestigious award was
announced on April 4, 2018 and
was awarded to Cirrus Aircraft
for the development of the
Vision Jet, the world’s first single
engine business jet, and the
implementation of the company’s
successful Cirrus Airframe
Parachute System (CAPS) onto the
The trophy will be formally
presented to Cirrus Aviation at the
Annual Robert J Collier Dinner on
June 14, 2018 in Washington DC.
The Vision Jet beat eight
other nominees for the annual
trophy, including Boeing’s 737
MAX airliner, the F-35 Integrated
Test Force based at Edwards Air
Force Base, California and the
Cassini project team comprising
the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration (NASA) and
California Institute of Technology’s
Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Cassini
was a spacecraft that explored
the Saturnian system from 2004
to 2017
The winner is selected by a
committee of industry leaders and
experts and must demonstrate it
has improved the performance,
efficiency and safety of air or space
Greg Principato, NAA President
and CEO said: “For more than
a century, the Collier Trophy
Cirrus Aircraft
Vision Jet wins Collier Trophy
has recognised the greatest
achievements in aviation in
America. By revolutionising
general and personal aviation
Cirrus Aircraft, with their Vision
Jet, has added to a great and
historic Collier legacy. We at the
National Aeronautic Association
congratulate them on their
achievement and look forward
to the presentation of the Collier
Trophy on June 14, 2018.”
The CAPS system has been used
successfully since the Cirrus SR
series of single engine light aircraft
was first introduced into service in
1999, and its integration with the
Vision Jet is a major engineering
milestone in aviation safety,
according to Cirrus Aircraft.
Dale Klapmeier, co-founder
and CEO of the company said: “At
Cirrus Aircraft we are honoured
and humbled to win the 2017
Collier Trophy and to be even
mentioned among the giants in
aviation and space research that
have won before us. The arrival
of the Vision Jet marks a major
engineering milestone in the
design and development of jet
aircraft and signifies the ability to
further transform aircraft safety at
heights and speeds never before
The Vision Jet received
Federal Aviation Administration
certification in 2016, and by the
end of February 2018 Cirrus
Aircraft had delivered 25 aircraft to
customers around the world.
Nigel Pittaway
Falcon 2000 FANS upgrade
Switzerland’s RUAG Aviation
announced on April 9, 2018, it
has successfully completed the
upgrade of a Dassault Falcon
2000 business jet to comply with
Future Air Navigation System
(FANS) 1/A+ regulations.
The work was carried out at
RUAG’s Falcon service centre in
Lugano-Agno, Switzerland, and is
the first undertaken in Europe.
Stephan Woodtli, RUAG
Aviation’s General Manager at
Lugano said: “Equipping aircraft
like the Falcon 2000 with state of
the art technology, in accordance
with the 2020 mandates,
improves operational flexibility
and preserves aircraft investment.
Compliance upgrades allow these
aircraft to continue to operate
reliably and profitably while
adhering to the latest aviation
The FANS 1/A+ package
meets both Federal Aviation
Administration and European
Aviation Safety Agency standards
and includes Automatic
Dependent Surveillance Contact
(ADS-C), and Controller Pilot Data
Link Communications (CPDLC).
It also complies with the North
Atlantic Organised Track System
FANS 1/A+ data link mandate.
Woodtli added: “The 2020
compliance date is fast
approaching. We are dedicated to
continuing to offer highly effective
engineering solutions for aircraft
in service ahead of the date limits.
We recommend all operators,
and especially operators of
older aircraft, begin the upgrade
process as soon as possible
to ensure individual schedules
and operations can continue as
planned.” Nigel Pittaway
System (FANS) 1/A+ modifications
carried out at a Bombardier
service centre before the 2020
Jean-Christophe Gallagher,
Vice President and General
Manager Customer Experience
for Bombardier Business Aircraft
said: “As the original equipment
manufacturer, we are continually
on the leading edge of emerging
trends and our highly trained
and skilled technicians are best
positioned to provide added value,
because we know the aircraft
best.” Nigel Pittaway
Product improvements
announced a range of product
improvements on March 13,
2018, which it says will enhance
pilot awareness and improve
passenger comfort.
Twelve product enhancements
include the option of improved
cockpit liquid crystal displays
for the Learjet 40/45 range and
a retrofit option of a synthetic
vision system on the Global range
of business aircraft. Challenger
300 series and Challenger 604
operators will also have the option
of having Future Air Navigation | 95
Baby 737 MAX flies
MAX variant has entered flight
Piloted by Boeing Test and
Evaluation Captains Jim Webb
and Keith Otsuka, the initial flight
test 737 MAX 7, N7201S (c/n
42561), completed a successful
three-hour, five-minute maiden
flight on March 16, departing
from Renton and landing back at
Boeing Field.
The 737 MAX 7 is the baby of
the re-engined airliner family. It
will seat 138 to 153 passengers
in a typical two-class layout (172
single-class) compared to the
baseline 737 MAX 8’s 162-178
seats (210 single), the stretched
737 MAX 9’s 178-193 seats (220
single) and the 737 MAX 10’s
188-204 seats (230 single).
Boeing also offers a high-density
configuration on the 737 MAX 8
called the 737 MAX 200.
The first flight occurred two
years after Boeing revised the
737 MAX 7’s design to raise
two-class seat capacity from
the previously-listed 126 seats
by adding 46in (1.16m) to the aft
fuselage and 30in (762mm) to
the forward fuselage and a pair
of over-wing exits. The variant’s
maximum take-off weight was
also increased to 177,000lb
(80,285kg) and range extended
by 500 nautical miles (926km)
on the previously listed figure to
3,850 nautical miles (7,130km).
Boeing undertook local
structural strengthening and
lengthened wire bundles and
tubes that run through the
aircraft to facilitate the changes.
The 737 MAX 8’s wing and
landing gear was retained.
There is commonality in the
systems’ architecture, such as
the hydraulics, fuel systems and
cockpit, and from a production
standpoint the tooling remains
Boeing is planning to deliver
the first customer 737 MAX 7
early in 2019, after the variant
completes a certification
testing effort to validate aircraft
handling, performance and
systems differences from the 737
MAX 8 and 737 MAX 9, which are
both certified and in service.
With its slightly smaller seat
count, but longer range than
these other variants (which have
3,550 nautical miles/6,570km
capability, with the 737 MAX
10 set to offer 3,300 nautical
miles/6,110km range) and hot
and high performance, the 737
MAX 7 is optimised for route
development and niche routes.
Designed to cater for the
lower end of the single-aisle
narrowbody seating scale,
slotting in alongside the 737 MAX
8 (designed for the bulk of shorthaul operations), the 737 MAX 9
(growth with extra seats) and the
737 MAX 10 (high capacity), the
737 MAX 7 was probably always
set to sell at a far slower rate than
its stablemates. Even so, sales
have been slow.
Boeing doesn’t break down
737 MAX orders and deliveries
data by variant (although it does
for the 737 Next Generation
models) but assessing
manufacturer and airline orders
announcements indicates just 58
737 MAX 7s have been ordered
(30 by Southwest Airlines, 23
by WestJet and five by Canada
Jetlines) since the family was
launched in 2011. In comparison,
there are more than 2,200 orders
for the 737 MAX 8 and over 100
for the 737 MAX 9. Even the 737
MAX 10, launched just a year
The first Boeing 737 MAX 7 photographed during its first flight on March 16. Boeing
96 |
ago, has 300 orders. Airbus has
likewise seen a slow uptake for its
A319neo, the 737 MAX 7’s direct
competitor, of which just 55 had
been sold, according to Airbus’
orders figures.
Boeing remains upbeat.
Randy Tinseth, Vice-President of
Marketing at Boeing Commercial
Airplanes, said: “The MAX 7
will provide airlines an efficient
product for opening and flying
thinner markets and accessing
challenging airports.”
Despite its decision to push
back deliveries of 23 of the 50
737 MAX 7 it has ordered from
the 2019–2021 timeframe to
2023-2024, Southwest has
indicated it could one day order
more 737 MAX 7s. With over
500 examples of the 737-700 in
service, there is clearly a large
potential sales opportunity at the
carrier when those aircraft are
due for replacement from the
mid-2020s. More broadly, with
more than 1,000 737-700s and
more than 1,400 A319ceos in
operation, there is a large market
of 2,500 single-aisles in the 737
MAX 7’s size category which will
need replacing.
The 737 MAX 7’s principal
competitors are the A319neo and
Bombardier’s C Series. Boeing
claims the 737 MAX 7 will offer
400 nautical miles (740km) more
range and 7% lower fuel burn
than the A319neo.
The 737 MAX 7 getting
airborne was followed by the first
customer 737 MAX 9 delivery to
the Lion Air Group following the
variant’s certification by the US
Federal Aviation Administration
and the European Aviation Safety
Agency. The initial aircraft, HSLSH (c/n 42991), was delivered to
Thai Lion Air. Lion Air was the first
737 MAX 8 operator last year and
the group has ordered 201 737
MAX family aircraft in all.
With this delivery, attention
now turns to testing and
certifying the baby 737 MAX and
completing development work
on the 737 MAX 10, which is due
to fly in 2020. The 737 MAX 200,
of which Ryanair has ordered 100,
is also due for service entry that
year. Mark Broadbent
Enhanced separations
at Heathrow
THE UK’s air navigation services
provider NATS has launched
a new system to improve
the efficiency of arrivals and
departures at London Heathrow.
The enhanced Time-Based
Separation (eTBS) tool provides
controllers with separation
indications to the runway threshold
based on Eurocontrol’s European
Wake Vortex Reclassification
(RECAT-EU) data.
RECAT-EU refines the wake
vortex categorisation aircraft to
even out boundaries between
different aircraft weight categories.
This system is combined with
Optimised Runway Delivery (ODS),
which models the compression
between aircraft pairs as they slow
down to their landing speed. The
tools also provide controllers with
runway occupancy indications for
pairs of arriving aircraft.
According to NATS, combining
eTBS and ODS will increase
capacity at Heathrow by “at least
one arrival and one departure per
hour” which it says will “enhance
operational resilience, improving
punctuality and reducing air
holding”. Mark Broadbent
10,000th 737
the 10,000th 737 family aircraft
at Renton, ensuring the type
now holds the Guinness World
Record for the most-produced
commercial jet aircraft ever.
The landmark aircraft, 737800 N8717M (c/n 42571), is
for Southwest Airlines and
completed its first flight on
March 26.
The roll-out happened less
than two years since the April
2016 delivery of the 9,000th 737
(for China United Airlines). The
first 5,000 737 deliveries were
spread across the programme’s
first 40 years (the 5,000th jet left
Renton in 2006), so half of all
737s built have been turned out in
the last 12 years.
This reflects the production
ramp-ups Boeing has introduced
for the 737 in recent years, which
has seen output rise from 31 per
month in 2011 to the current 47
a month. A further rate rise to 52/
month is planned for later this year
before a scheduled ramp-up to
57/month in 2019. Mark Broadbent | 97
Fighting the fires
THE BAE 146/Avro RJ Airtanker
will again play a central role in
fighting wildfires in the United
States this year after the United
States Forest Service (USFS)
signed contracts for these Large
Air Tanker (LAT) aircraft, it was
announced during the recent
International Aerial Firefighting
Conference at McClellan Field in
Sacramento, California (see p18
for a report from the event).
Budget cuts mean the USFS is
cutting the number of LAT aircraft
on Exclusive Use contracts from
20 to 13, but eight of those aircraft
will be BAe 146/Avro RJ Airtankers
(four aircraft from Conair/Aero
Flite Inc and four from Neptune
BAe 146/Avro RJs Airtankers
will also form the bulk of the
11-strong force of LATs to be
operated on Call When Needed
contracts. Conair/Aero-Flite and
Neptune will again each provide
four aircraft for these contracts.
The contracts for Conair/
Aero Flite and Neptune follow
a very busy 2017, during which
these aircraft were a key part of
the emergency services’ efforts
to tackle huge blazes that swept
through California and Oregon
and made 2017’s wildfire season
the most destructive on record in
the United States.
According to the California
Department of Forestry and Fire
Protection, 9,133 fires burned
1,381,405 acres (559,034ha).
Forty-six people died, including
one fire-fighter, with a further
199 civilians and 12 fire-fighters
injured and 32,000 homes, 4,300
businesses and more than 8,200
vehicles, boats, farm vehicles
and other equipment destroyed.
The fires included the Thomas
Fire in Ventura County, which
became California’s largest
modern wildfire, engulfing an area
larger than the Washington DC
metropolitan conurbation.
BAe 146/Avro RJ Airtankers
played a prominent role in
the efforts to fight these fires.
According to BAE Systems
Regional Aircraft, which provides
specialist technical design and
engineering assistance and spares
provision to Airtanker operators,
Neptune BAe 146 Airtankers flew
343 missions and dropped over
one million US gallons (3.7 million
litres) of fire retardant last year.
Such was the scale of the
fires that between October
10, 2017, and January 12,
2018, the Missoula, Montanabased Neptune sent its entire
complement of nine BAe 146
Airtankers to respond, with the
fleet going on to fly 187 more
missions which dropped a further
561,000 US gallons (2.1 million
litres) of retardant.
In addition to the operations in
the United States, Neptune last
year sent a BAe 146-200 Airtanker
to support wildland fire-fighting
efforts in Chile, and Conair/Aero
Flite, based in Abbotsford, flew
150 missions, delivering 173,981
US gallons (658,590 litres) of
retardant in response to wildfires
in Canada. Conair/Aeroflite also
sent an Avro RJ85 Airtanker to
Australia to fight wildfires under
contract to the State of Victoria.
Overall, Neptune BAe 146-200
Airtanker operations across the
United States and Chile during
2017 totalled 3,192 missions,
accumulating 2,371 flying hours
and delivering 9.5 million gallons
(36 million litres) of retardant.
Conair/Aero Flite Avro RJ85
Airtanker operations in 2017 totalled
4,265 missions, delivering 16 million
US gallons (60.8 million litres) of
Neptune and Conair/Aero Flite
have used BAe 146-200/Avro RJ
Airtankers for some years now;
set to join them in the operator
base soon is Air Spray. This Alberta,
Canada-based company has been
in operation since 1967. It has L-188
Electras, Fire Boss, Air Tractor AT802F
and Turbo Commander 690s in its
fire-fighting fleet and is preparing to
conduct trials with its first converted
BAe 146-200 Airtanker.
Air Spray began conversion
work in 2014, but only now is the
aircraft’s new Internal Retardant
Delivery System (iRADS), which
was demonstrated during AFF at
McClellan, now ready for drop
tests. Air Spray is converting a
second BAe 146-200 with iRADS,
which is a computerised constant/
variable flow delivery system,
and three others will follow to
eventually give the operator a
five-strong BAe 146-200 Airtanker
Drop tests were due to take
place in April at the USFS grid
pattern testing site at Fox Field
in Lancaster, southern California.
Completion of these tests is
required for the approval of
aerial delivery systems by the
USFS Interagency Airtanker
Board, which governs the safety,
effectiveness and efficiency of air
tankers and heli-tankers.
This is not the only
development with these regional
jets’ fire-fighting role. Neptune
Aviation has recently acquired an
Avro RJ100 to pursue what BAE
Systems calls “a research and
development project”. Research
shows this aircraft to be a former
Swiss International Air Lines
RJ100, HB-IXQ (c/n E3282), which
in February 2018 was registered in
the United States as N479NA.
There may yet be further
developments in the story of
these legacy British regional jets
finding a new role in fighting
wildfires. Mark Broadbent
The US Forest Service has again contracted Neptune Aviation and Conair/Aero Flite to
provide BAe 146-200/Avro RJ Airtankers to support fire-fighting efforts. Mike Eliason/
BAE Systems Regional Aircraft
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