Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Succeeds in First Vertical Landing

“Today’s vertical landing onto a 95-foot square pad showed that we have the thrust and the control to maneuver accurately both in free air and in the descent through ground effect,” said F-35 Lead STOVL Pilot Graham Tomlinson.

Tomlinson performed an 80-knot (93 miles per hour) short takeoff from Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., at 1:09 p.m. EDT. About 13 minutes into the flight, he positioned the aircraft 150 feet above the airfield, where he commanded the F-35 to hover for approximately one minute then descend to the runway.



U-2 Spy Plane Evades the Day of Retirement

NYT – By CHRISTOPHER DREW

The U-2 spy plane, the high-flying aircraft that was often at the heart of cold war suspense, is enjoying an encore.

Four years ago, the Pentagon was ready to start retiring the plane, which took its first test flight in 1955. But Congress blocked that, saying the plane was still useful.

And so it is. Because of updates in the use of its powerful sensors, it has become the most sought-after spy craft in a very different war in Afghanistan.

As it shifts from hunting for nuclear missiles to detecting roadside bombs, it is outshining even the unmanned drones in gathering a rich array of intelligence used to fight the Taliban.

All this is a remarkable change from the U-2’s early days as a player in United States-Soviet espionage. Built to find Soviet missiles, it became famous when Francis Gary Powers was shot down in one while streaking across the Soviet Union in 1960, and again when another U-2 took the photographs that set off the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Newer versions of the plane have gathered intelligence in every war since then and still monitor countries like North Korea…

… In the weeks leading up to the recent offensive in Marja, military officials said, several of the 32 remaining U-2s found nearly 150 possible mines in roads and helicopter landing areas, enabling the Marines to blow them up before approaching the town.

Marine officers say they relied on photographs from the U-2’s old film cameras, which take panoramic images at such a high resolution they can see insurgent footpaths, while the U-2’s newer digital cameras beamed back frequent updates on 25 spots where the Marines thought they could be vulnerable.

In addition, the U-2’s altitude, once a defense against antiaircraft missiles, enables it to scoop up signals from insurgent phone conversations that mountains would otherwise block.

As a result, Colonel Brown said, the U-2 is often able to collect information that suggests where to send the Predator and Reaper drones, which take video and also fire missiles. He said the most reliable intelligence comes when the U-2s and the drones are all concentrated over the same area, as is increasingly the case.

The U-2, a black jet with long, narrow wings to help it slip through the thin air, cuts an impressive figure as it rises rapidly into the sky. It flies at twice the height of a commercial jet, affording pilots views of such things as the earth’s curvature.

But the plane, nicknamed the Dragon Lady, is difficult to fly, and missions are grueling and dangerous. The U-2s used in Afghanistan and Iraq commute each day from a base near the Persian Gulf, and the trip can last nine to 12 hours. Pilots eat meals squeezed through tubes and wear spacesuits because their blood would literally boil if they had to eject unprotected at such a high altitude…]



US Eyeing Asian Arms Race?

The Diplomat –  By David Axe

It was dubbed by some defence analysts as a ‘game-changer.’ Earlier this year, Russia’s newest fighter aircraft rolled down a runway in the country’s Far East for its 47-minute debut flight.

The 72-foot-long, twin-engine T-50 fighter bears a striking resemblance to the US Air Force’s F-22 Raptor, widely considered the most lethal air-to-air fighter aircraft ever produced—so lethal that US law prohibits its export. Yet the United States is buying just 187 F-22s, in order to husband resources for buying larger numbers of the smaller and less powerful F-35 fighters.

The problem, according to two Australian defence analysts, is that in the absence of more F-22s, other US aircraft and ground and naval forces could be ‘slaughtered en-masse in a shooting war’ by enemy T-50s.

The result, suggest Peter Goon and Carlo Kopp writing for the think-tank Air Power Australia, would be no less than a fundamental shift in the strategic balance, as decades of US military superiority crumble—all due to the advent of single weapon systems.

The only solution, Goon and Kopp contend, is for the United States to cancel the F-35, develop a new version of the F-22, and sell the new ‘Raptor II’ to its closest allies, including Japan and Australia. In other words, initiate a regional arms race.

This assessment might seem alarmist, but it’s one shared by lawmakers, military officers and industry officials from the United States and its allies, especially in the Pacific.

High-tech planes, high-stakes posturing, high rhetoric. Welcome to the world of fighter-jet diplomacy. It’s a world where appearances matter as much as substance…

Related Link:

Air Power Australia: Assessing the Sukhoi PAK-FA



Budget Wars Spell Grim Future For F-22 and F-35 Planes

News of cost overruns roil the debate over the world’s two most advanced warplanes, the costly F-22 Raptor and the too-big-to-fail F-35 Lightning II. Will UAVs be the final victor?

Popular Mechanics – By Joe Pappalardo

There could be some bad news on the horizon for the F-35 Lightning II. Senior Air Force staff are saying that cost overruns might cause an automatic Congressional review of the F-35 program—-already the most expensive weapon procurement program in U.S. history, at about $300 billion.

The news is roiling an ongoing debate over the future of U.S. warplanes: The F-35 (developed under the Joint Strike Fighter program and still in development) is on one side. The F-22 Raptor, currently flying in the Air Force fleet, is on the other…

…The costs, not the capabilities, are why many people are comparing the F-35 and the F-22 and trying to figure out which can be sacrificed. But technical arguments are flying, and there are a lot of facts out there to mull: The F-35 is not as stealthy as the F-22.

The F-35’s cockpit, with its voice-command system and heads-up display projected on the pilot’s helmet, is beyond state-of-the-art and ideal for organizing information to conduct close air support. The F-22 can win dogfights with radical high-speed maneuvers and excellent radar.

The F-35 includes a jump-jet variant for the Navy, and that service could certainly use a carrier-ready airplane that can evade ground radar and easily evade or kill other nations’ best defending planes while providing close air support to Marines on shore. The F-22 can turn at twice the rate as the F-35.

When you consider that arms sales are a vital part of international relations, don’t underestimate the fact that the F-22 faces congressionally mandated export bans while the F-35 is built for sale, as part of a coalition of international partners. This is good for businesses in certain congressional districts, and it also eases the complexities of international combat operations by having players use the same equipment.

Interestingly, RAND Corp. today released a study done for the Air Force that calculates the costs of restarting the F-22 program. It seems to say: Watch what you’re doing. “Because the F-22A manufacturing base is complex, shutting down the production line without making any investment in preserving key elements of production capability would make it expensive and difficult to restart production in the future, if that were desired.”

The report says that the cost of restarting the production line after a two-year hiatus will raise the cost at least $3.6 billion: Each warplane would cost $227 million instead of an estimated $173 million now.

But it’s not an either/or choice between the F-35 and the F-22: One third option would be to stop funding for both. The real winner in all of this could be unmanned airplanes. They are cheaper to build, have smaller, uncluttered airframes and designers are beginning to build them with stealth features so they can operate in airspace protected by radar networks.

The Air Force this year released its road map to UAV development, and called for more autonomous drones conducting a variety of missions that the F-22 and the F-35 are slated to perform. The Army in several months will release its own UAV plan, and the Navy is eagerly pushing to field its own carrier-based attack drones. After the F-22 and F-35 fight each other into lower production orders, it could be that only the flying robots will be in good position to seize the day.



U.S. Navy Plans Armed UCAS-D Follow-on

Aviation Week – By Bill Sweetman

The U.S. Navy is planning to demonstrate an armed, sensor-equipped, carrier-based unmanned combat aircraft system (UCAS) by 2018, as a follow-on to carrier-suitability and autonomous aerial-refueling demonstrations planned for completion in 2013.

A request for information (RFI) will be released this year, according to Rear Adm. William Shannon, program executive officer for unmanned aviation and strike weapons, speaking Feb. 17 at Aviation Week’s Defense Technology and Requirements conference in Washington.

The program could be worth as much as $2 billion, with major funding starting in Fiscal 2013. The RFI will be open to all manufacturers, and not automatically an extension of Northrop Grumman’s work with the X-47B UCAS-D demonstrator, now undergoing ground tests.

The X-47B is intended to demonstrate the carrier suitability of a stealthy, tailless unmanned aircraft. The follow-on armed demonstrator is expected to lead to a joint Navy/Air Force UCAS program, but the winning team will have to compete for the in-service system, which is a possible replacement for the F/A-18E/F from 2025.

This would represent a second run at a joint UCAS program for the services: the previous J-UCAS effort was split in late 2005, with the Air Force pursuing a larger aircraft and the Navy heading along the path to UCAS-D.

But the Air Force is noncommittal. Lt. Gen. Mark Shackelford, Air Force military deputy for acquisition, said at the same conference that the service is watching the program but “does not want to do the Air Force version of the Navy platform.”

Shannon, meanwhile, says first flight of the X-47B, originally expected last fall, will not take place until the summer. Issues include software to control the brakes, and overstress in the exhaust system caused by vortex-induced resonance in the curved tailpipe.

Integration of aircraft and ship systems has begun on the USS Lincoln, using a King Air as a surrogate for the X-47B, performing the same procedures and communicating via digital messages. That will be followed this year with tests using an F/A-18 to emulate the X-47B, which is scheduled to make its first carrier landing in late 2011.



SpaceShipTwo Makes First (Captive) Flight

Wired – By Jason Paur

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo made its first captive carry flight early this morning at the Mojave Air and Space Port. SpaceShipTwo, which was christened the VSS Enterprise at its unveiling in December, is being carried by WhiteKnightTwo on its first test flight.

According to Aviation Week, SpaceShipTwo has been undergoing ground testing with WhiteKnightTwo recently, but this is the first time the two aircraft have left the ground. SpaceShipTwo is expected to go through a similar flight test program as its much smaller predecessor, SpaceShipOne, but with much more rigorous and wider ranging evaluations in order to certify the vehicle for public use.

During SpaceShipOne’s development, two captive carries were followed by several glide tests where the space ship is released from several different altitudes to evaluate its flight characteristics. After glide flights, the flight test team at Scaled moved on to powered flight, eventually culminating with the first flight into space on June 21, 2004.

WhiteKnightTwo made its first flight on December 21, 2008 with test pilot Peter Siebold at the controls. At Oshkosh, we caught up with Siebold and got a first hand account of what it is like to fly the 140 foot wingspan, twin fuselaged behemoth that carries SpaceShipTwo.

Virgin Galactic has not set a date for commercial space flights, but has said passenger flights would not happen before 2011 at the earliest. According to the company, once glide flights are complete, the team will progress through subsonic powered flights, supersonic powered flights, and finally suborbital space flights. It will then undergo a lengthy certification process with the Federal Aviation Administration before launching the first commercial passenger space flights.

Related:

VSS Enterprise’s first ‘captive carry’ flight!



Predator passes 700,000 hours

Air Attack

CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Airmen of the 432d Air Expeditionary Wing made history March 12 when they surpassed the 700,000 flight hour mark in the MQ-1B Predator remotely piloted aircraft.

The last 200,000 Predator hours were flown in just over 12 months compared to 19 months to fly the previous 250,000 hours and 12.5 years for the first 250,000 hours.

Remotely piloted aircraft are one of the highest demanded assets on today’s battlefield, said Col. Peter Gersten, 432d Wing and 432d Air Expeditionary Wing commander.

“Over the past year, our Predator fleet has averaged over 16,500 hours per month,” Colonel Gersten said. “This incredible rate is a testament to our commitment, as Hunters, to keeping our ground troops safe under our watchful eye.”

The MQ-1B’s primary mission is to provide armed reconnaissance, airborne surveillance and target acquisition to commanders in the field. The Predator can be armed with two laser-guided AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and carries the Multispectral Targeting System, which integrates electro-optical, infrared, laser designator and illuminator into a single sensor package.

The unarmed version of the Predator, designated the RQ-1, recently flew missions over Haiti successfully providing relief officials key intelligence to help direct resources to earthquake victims who needed it most.

The MQ-9 Reaper, also flown by the 432d, surpassed 80,000 flight hours just one week prior to the Predator reaching 700,000 hours.

For more information on 432d Wing assets, visit www.creech.af.mil.

Related:  Official Hails Effect of Unmanned Aircraft on Warfare


DATE

2025

LOCATION

Hangar 23, U.S. Forward Operating Base

AIRCRAFT

MQ-Mb multirole fighter prepped for a precision strike mission

UNIT

U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Fighter Squadron

POSSIBLE PAYLOAD

Air-to-ground missiles, radio surveillance gear, high-definition video cameras, communications relays, nonlethal microwave-energy beams, 2000-pound precision bombs

LENGTH

45 feet

WINGSPAN

32 feet

PILOTS

Zero

THE NEW AIR FORCE: PILOTS OPTIONAL

The Air Force is planning to build a fleet of unmanned warplanes that will fly and fight without human guidance. The next-generation aircraft envisioned by the Air Force, and modeled in the illustration opposite, would be able to dodge enemy radar, swap payloads for multiple kinds of missions and use sophisticated onboard sensors to prevent collisions with other UAVs and manned airplanes.



Related Links:

CSBA:  An Air Force Strategy for the Long Haul (PDF)

Fighter Country: New F-35 program head named as Vice Admiral David Venlet

CPH Post: Fighter jet contract goes down

Reuters: Pentagon eyes multiyear Boeing F-18 fighter deal

AFP: High-stakes final phase for Brazil jet fighter tender


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