*A huge thanks to Rob “Nuts” DeStasio for supplying these killer pics! Flying a delta winged antique while snapping great shots is no easy task….
*A huge thanks to Rob “Nuts” DeStasio for supplying these killer pics! Flying a delta winged antique while snapping great shots is no easy task….
A buddy of mine posted this on Facebook, apparently he found it in the Key Publishing Forums. It is yet another dubious “spy photo” from China, still I think it is worthwhile to post regardless of if it is real or not because in the not so distant future such a machine will be exist. What you have here is a RQ-170 like design without the RQ-170′s miniaturized technology or advanced composite fabrication techniques. It appears to be a bit larger, and potentially a bit more crude, than it’s American counterpart, but none-the less the major components all appear to be there (if in fact this thing is real). I have contended that the loss of the CIA’s RQ-170 over Iran in December of 2011 has provided China with the leap in technological know-how they badly needed to accelerate their drone programs, and in doing so enable other systems to a large degree. This is especially relevant when it comes to over the horizon targeting for their DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, a weapon system that could greatly benefit from a HALE or MALE Broad Area Maritime Surveillance asset, even more-so from a low observable one. Please read this piece for further explanation: http://aviationintel.com/2012/01/26/chinas-anti-ship-ballistic-missile-the-lost-rq-170-sentinel/
The F-15SA flies for the first time. This baby is fully fly by wire and has some of the “Silent Eagle’s” technology built into it. In many ways the F-15SA represents a 2.75 generation of the F-15 Eagle. The silent Eagle, if built, will be the full up next generation of F-15. Just the aircraft’s incredibly powerful AESA radar and electronic warfare suite are huge upgrades from “lagacy” Mudhens. Additionally, the F-15SA will see the two outboard wing stations activated to increase the aircraft’s weapons carrying capability. Of particular note visually on the newer Eagles (not new to the SA) are the small antenna fairings underneath the cockpit rail and the large tail “boom” extensions which houses some of the aircraft’s electronic warfare suite components.
The Saudis are true F-15 believers. Under the massive Washington-Riyadh weapons sale a few years back the Saudis purchased the following regarding their F-15 fleet:
84 F-15SA Aircraft
170 APG-63(v)3 Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar (AESA) radar sets
193 F-110-GE-129 Improved Performance Engines
100 M61 Vulcan Cannons
100 Link-16 Multifunctional Information Distribution System/Low Volume Terminal (MIDS/LVT) and spares
193 LANTIRN Navigation Pods (3rd Generation-Tiger Eye)
338 Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems (JHMCS)
462 AN/AVS-9 Night Vision Goggles (NVGS)
300 AIM-9X SIDEWINDER Missiles
25 Captive Air Training Missiles (CATM-9X)
25 Special Air Training Missiles (NATM-9X)
500 AIM-120C/7 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM)
25 AIM-120 CATMs
1,000 Dual Mode Laser/Global Positioning System (GPS) Guided Munitions (500 lb)
1,000 Dual Mode Laser/GPS Guided Munitions (2000 lb)
1,100 GBU-24 PAVEWAY III Laser Guided Bombs (2000 lb)
1,000 GBU-31B V3 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) (2000 lb)
1,300 CBU-105D/B Sensor Fuzed Weapons (SFW)/Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser (WCMD)
50 CBU-105 Inert
1,000 MK-82 500lb General Purpose Bombs
6,000 MK-82 500lb Inert Training Bombs
2,000 MK-84 2000lb General Purpose Bombs
2,000 MK-84 2000lb Inert Training Bombs
200,000 20mm Cartridges
400,000 20mm Target Practice Cartridges
400 AGM-84 Block II HARPOON Missiles
600 AGM-88B HARM Missiles
169 Digital Electronic Warfare Systems (DEWS)
158 AN/AAQ-33 Sniper Targeting Systems
169 AN/AAS-42 Infrared Search and Track (IRST) Systems
10 DB-110 Reconnaissance Pods
462 Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System Helmets
40 Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receivers (ROVER)
80 Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation Pods
Also included are the upgrade of the existing Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) fleet of seventy (70) F-15S multi-role fighters to the F-15SA configuration, the provision for CONUS-based fighter training operations for a twelve (12) F-15SA contingent, construction, refurbishments, and infrastructure improvements of several support facilities for the F-15SA in-Kingdom and/or CONUS operations, RR-188 Chaff, MJU-7/10 Flares, training munitions, Cartridge Actuated Devices/Propellant Actuated Devices, communication security, site surveys, trainers, simulators, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, U.S. government and contractor engineering, technical, and logistical support services, and other related elements of logistical and program support.
The estimated cost is $29.432 billion.
Chinese carrier based AWACs found? Our good friend Nico sent this little gem in…
“Fat Albert” before he put on the weight! Check out this Connie that was used as the Blues’ transport back in their early days. Fast forward to today and the Blue Angels will be effectively grounded at the end of the month by the disaster that is sequestration. I will be shooting the Blue Angel’s kickoff in El Centro for the Navy, stay tuned for pics to come. Hopefully it will not be my last chance to capture these American icons in action…
New toy for the JASDF? Check out the intense piece of hardware hanging off of this F-15Js wing. Clearly this thing uses both radar and electo-optical guidance I would love to know more, someone with the inside info shoot me an email. This could be some sort of experimental article but it looks like it could have fantastic potential as an operational weapon system.
Snooping around for an upcoming piece I found this awesome air to air shot of the YF-117 in its pastel color scheme. I would have loved to of seen something like this fly on the operational fleet…
This is another shot I found while researching that same piece. This RQ-170 pic was posted years ago in an aviation related forum thread. I found it strange that the thread was for “identify this aircraft” and this popped up, at the time the only flying and decent resolution shot of the “Beast of Kandahar” yet nobody really jumped on it and ran with it. In fact it is the only shot I have ever seen taken while the aircraft was in transition. It is also a nice study of the drone’s rear lines. I wonder who, how and where this shot was taken? Just another little piece of lost aviation photography now found!
Now for my favorite, “Cobra Commander” sent this brilliant photoshop creation to me and I laughed my ass off after I clicked the link! Well done. People sure like to hate on the Iranian’s F-313, I on the other hand had a different view of the little pseudo-fighter: http://aviationintel.com/2013/02/06/my-message-to-the-west-concerning-irans-f-313-fighter-arrogance-can-get-you-killed/
I was surprised to read this report. I seriously believe the V-22 Osprey will be the last military grade tilt-rotor we see. Although developments out of the baseline V-22 and upgrades related to it are likely over the coming years, I just don’t see how the market could support another extremely expensive and incredibly complex tilt-rotor design. The concept has clear limitations, although things like prop-rotor diameter and wing size could be improved with an aircraft more focused on non-maritime missions with increased self-deployability being essential. Still, the V-22 took decades upon decades to develop and the unit cost of a single airframe is still more than a Boeing 737 or Super Hornet, even after multi-year buys have been executed in attempts to tamp down on its high price-tag. The new, although it is not really new, technology on the block seems to be the “pusher prop” helicopter hybrids. Sikorsky is all over this technology with multiple demonstration vehicles under their belt and Eurocopter has made a big splash with their twin prop experimental design based on the Dolphin lineage of airframes (oh the puns!). With all this in mind where does that lead the tiltrotor?
I have always believed that the V-22 offers a niche capability, although it was optimistically procured in non-niche numbers. For certain missions like search and rescue and special operations the aircraft really does make sense, for many other missions it is a complex and expensive luxury and they could be just as well served by airframes a third the cost or even less. One thing is for sure, it seems like the ultimate showdown between highly disparate visions for combat aviation’s rotory wing future is on the horizon in the form of US Army’s Joint Multi-Role/Future Vertical Lift (JMR/FVL) program, the decision of which may change the course of aviation as we know.
In the end Bell seems to be tied to their controversial and finicky, while at the same time monumental, design. One that by its very nature is full of sacrificial compromises. Then again who can blame them though right? Getting the Osprey out to the fleet took Bell, Boeing and the USMC on a trail of tears, a developmental process that was one of the most long, volatile, politically damning, and deadly in history. Will the DoD and Congress really be up for an Osprey 2.0 especially in this economic climate? I guess you never know, the idiots in Washington seem to have very, very short memories when it comes to “lessons learned.” Still, who can really blame Bell for sticking with their dark horse candidate? An aircraft that they hung their hopes and dreams on for so long. Isn’t it human nature to not give up on something you fought so hard for, even if that thing’s time and general relevancy had come and gone? Blind optimism aside, it is not a good sign when your industry partner in the tilt-rotor pipe-dream, Boeing, jumps ship and joins your competition!
John has the smartest material on talk radio today. I highly recommend you tune in to his show if it is syndicated in your area (if you live in NYC he is live on WABC) or download his podcasts. Like all of us, John Is fascinated with aerospace technology, military history and spaceflight. We did a fun two segment interview about everyone’s favorite hypersonic flying “Loch Ness Monster,” the Aurora, and the realities book-ending its possible development. Note: I was not at my very best during this piece (if I sound nasally it is because I was pretty damn sick) and a bit off my usual game. None-the-less John led a great interview that was good fun and hopefully insightful.
My special features on Tacit Blue, Dark Star, & The RQ-170 that support this interview:
A little something I have been working on over the last couple of weeks while I took a little break from this site, turn up the sound LOUD and make sure you switch the YouTube player to 1080P HD. Enjoy!
Long week guys, posts to come this weekend. Hang in there with me! So much to talk about…
*A huge thanks to my readers for sending me this stuff!
Mark Thompson over at Time Magazine has a pretty damn good writeup on the F-35 program and its many flaws. He is one of the only mainstream journalists who understands how the very concept, not just the jet, have failed on a large-scale, especially in light of our future strategy in focused on the Pacific and regarding the blooming of unmanned air combat technologies. Please have a read, rarely do I actually endorse major exposes on this topic as often they are factually inaccurate or miss some of the most important aspects of this complex issue.
Honestly, it is one of the best I have seen too, nice work guys!
The most exciting part of the F-35 program is the aircraft’s unique “Distributed Aperture System” which provides an almost panoptic sphere of situational awareness around the jet at both short and medium ranges. In the video above the manufacturer claims that it has proven that the system can detect and classify tank and AAA fire, which is not a new goal although it is a new accomplishment. As the system’s fidelity and processing power increases it will be able to detect and classify, to varying degrees of certainty, many different threats and non-threats alike. Beyond the F-35, this system will become a key part of autonomous UCAV operations, where these unmanned strikers will be able to be sent into enemy territory and prosecute search and destroy missions against even moving targets of opportunity. Depending on the circumstances of such a mission, the operators could presumably set a level of certainty in the system as a threshold to engage certain targets such as tanks, transporter erector launchers, aircraft on the ground, and other military vehicles. During times of (God forbid) intense peer state conflict with huge stakes on the line, a UCAV swarm sporting DAS like systems could be unleashed deep behind enemy lines, free to fire at will upon anything deemed of military value by their software and sensors. This is where autonomous UCAVs would really shine, and a system like DAS would allow them to get away from striking fixed targets and into the dynamic mission sets traditionally supported by manned platforms.
Wide Area Aerial Surveillance, or WAAS, if you do not know what this is make sure to read this previous Aviationintel feature on it, could also greatly benefit from this type of capability. Imagine a DAS software enabled WAAS system tethered high above a place like Kandahar. Instead of using counter-battery radar to fix the position of an enemy mortar or rocket team, WAAS could detect them at the time of launch, or even before based on certain “behavior recognition” algorithms, and fire could be immediately returned while the enemy rounds are in the air or even before they are launched. Such a system would obviously be a massive leap forward in Israel’s fight against rockets fired from Gaza and other locales as well. Not only would you have the firing team’s immediate location, but you may also have a weapons platform ready to engage that target already overhead (same system that is carrying WAAS/DAS) and you would have video from before and after such an attack took place of the surrounding area. In other words you could rewind the WAAS imagery, tag the rocket team’s vehicle retroactively and follow them back to their base, and around the community they live and operate in before the attack even took place.
The age of incredibly smart and panopitc electro-optical surveillance has arrived ladies and gentleman, and I cannot stress enough how promising this technology is, or how easily it could be abused. For all the hype over AESA radars and other “banner” electromagnetic sensors emerging on new weapons platforms, systems like DAS and WAAS will have much more impact on the battlefields of tomorrow, and potentially on our very own cities and neighborhoods back here at home…
If I could dub some Berry White over this video it would be perfect!
Ian, if you ever want to give up the keys to the Rhino you may have a career in film! Stunning and unique work here, great to see the Checkmates killin’ it.
Finally, YouTube will not let me embed it, but make sure you watch this one as well:
Heroes are among us folks! Nobody deserved to sit in the First Lady’s balcony during the State Of The Union more than this man. Unbelievable bravery and sacrifice under fire.
Oh boy, here we go…
I have to state that this information has come to me from a very good source and from another I blew off a year ago, so much so that I cannot even remember who it was. Maybe it was in the comments area here on the site after RQ-170 incident or from someone at an air show or something. What struck me is that the same exact information that came to me from a very reliable source, a year later no doubt, and the information from the one that was totally forgettable was oddly identical in every way, including a detail that is not necessarily a major part of the greater story- that what crashed in Needles CA on May 14 2008 was an RQ-170 Sentinel conducting a test mission out of the Nellis Range Complex. What was the strangely common and unique detail from both sources you ask? That this event resulted in the self destruct mechanism, designed into the RQ-170 from day one, to be removed indefinitely from the clandestine robotic spy on high…
Basically, on the night of May 14th, 2008 an object literally fell out of the sky over a small town in South East California, about 100 miles directly south Las Vegas, called Needles. Apparently the object went down in an area densely covered in brush, about 100 yards off of the Colorado River that runs through the community. After the object “hit with a thud” helicopters and government vehicles swarmed the town. Even EG&G operated “Janet” aircraft were allegedly seen at the local airport. Some claim there was also a bit of “passive intimidation” used by the recovery teams towards certain folks in town. None-the-less, a well-trained and very well equipped group of crash recovery people who did not seem to want their affiliation known did what they were logically sent to do, recover the mysterious craft, and they did it fast. “Men in Black” conspiracy theorists ran wild with the story for years as you could imagine.
Multiple witnesses supposedly saw this thing crash. It was obviously burning as it went down. During the craft’s hustled recovery eye witnesses said the object was light turquoise in color, others said it had a large lump on the top of a fairly flat shape. Meanwhile, others said that the helicopters that responded to the crash, four regular sized (probably H-60/S-70s) and one large helicopter, potentially a Skycrane, showed up very fast, within a half hour of the sudden decent and impact. Soon after their thunderous nighttime arrival the big helicopter was seen by multiple people lugging the object, or at least a large part of it, north via under-slung load.
So what do we have here. Well, the timeline looks just about perfect, we know Sentinels have been flying in some form at least since 2007, and most likely in test flight far before that (make sure you read my widely circulated two-part expose on the RQ-170′s origins: Part1 & Part 2!). As far as the location goes, Needles in about 125 miles south of the Nevada Test Site and the Nellis Range Complex and a couple hundred miles east of Edwards, so there is plenty for a RQ-170 to do in that general area, MOAs everywhere with advanced training and testing taking place. Additionally, a couple hundred miles is not far for such an aircraft to stray from a testing area if a major malfunction took place, as we know now this can happen with the Sentinel because it did.
What about the sightings? Well folks said the craft was light in color and almost burning in a bluish flames as it went down. We know the RQ-170 Sentinel originally was painted a light color, cream to be exact. Even today it seems like a light grey and cream are still the preferred schemes for at least some of the Sentinels in operation. Under various lighting conditions, such as with a bright moon above, a blue tint is not only possible but probable. Additionally, pastels have been used for decades on secret aircraft operating under different conditions such as at certain altitudes or during the day. In fact the first YF-117A was painted in a wild pastel desert scheme to test for potential operations during both night and day. As to the color of the blaze as it went down, an incendiary charge, or specially placed “cord” detonated at night may burn very hot, especially considering the idea is to destroy the aircraft secrets as fast and as thoughtfully as possible, not necessarily just its shape. In other words you need to destroy the components not just the greater airframe. Lots and lots of heat really would be the best way of doing this. Blowing it up may demolish it as a whole, but certain sensitive subsystems and materials could survive unmolested. An RQ-170 lit aflame by specially designed internal charges would probably look very similar to what people saw, literally a chariot of white hot fire flying through the sky. The fact that people even say it dive, stall and dive again lend itself to an aerodynamic airframe out of control.
Then we have the reports of the helicopters showing up quickly. Surely the testers at Groom have fantastic contingency plans for events like this. Most likely the second there was a malfunction detected crews were launched by air and ground in the direction of the sickened machine to retrieve it immediately if possible and cordon the area if not. Part of such aggressive procedures would be for the public’s own safety as radar absorbent materials and other advanced construction materials can be incredibly carcinogenic if inhaled or touched during or after being burnt. I can imagine such precautions are probably even more intense when and if the aircraft was operating outside of the Nellis Range Complex, which by 2008 we know was happening with the Sentinel even overseas.
What about the sighting of the big helicopter, potentially a Skycrane, plucking the body of wreckage and flying it away. Well this makes sense too. I do not trust that this aircraft was a Skycrane, even some serious aviation “experts” just have a terrible aircraft spotter’s eye, but utilizing a big chopper such as a Chinook, Stallion or whatever would be adequate to do the job. As for those who saw the load saying it was like a wingless craft with a hump on top, well take a look at the pictures I just posted out of Iran of the RQ-170 after it crashed there, even one with a heavy lift helicopter sling loading it away, pretty accurate description. During the Iranian Sentinel incident, the aircraft’s wings broke cleanly off and what was left was a flattened wedge with a big hump on top. That hump being the dorsally mounted air intake and motor cowling. Also, it may be that the RQ-170, although light, is extremely stout and durable, especially its center fuselage section which appears to be made out of very few pieces and is basically designed like a pair of arches set back to back. When paired with the latest in large scope composite manufacturing techniques and materials I can only imagine how tough this center section is.
Finally, we have the “Men In Black” reports of highly modified government trucks with satellite dishes on top and blacked out windows rolling around tiny Needles, as well as EG&G craft landing at the local uncontrolled airport that night. Well all this make total sense, as I stated above when a secret aircraft like this goes missing it is somewhat of akin to a “broken arrow” (loose nuke) event, although much less volatile physically, the intellectual property loss potential is massive. As intrepid Las Vegas UFO reporter and local TV news icon George Knapp scoured the area for information after the event, he actually ran into a team from the Department Of Energy rolling around in the exact vehicles as described by witnesses. These belonged to the DoE’s nuclear transportation group “Office Of Secure Transportation” who are given the job to see that America’s nuclear anything get’s to where it needs to go safely. They are trained in rapid response, working within our society as a para-military unit, and they just so happen to have a huge presence at the Nevada Test Site. This does not mean that these guys were part of the crash cleanup, nuclear weapon assembly happens deep in the NTS and many nukes are said to be stored throughout Nevada at fairly well-known locations which I would rather not mention here. They were probably just operating as they do in the area, but they sure have great skills for the job of recovering an errant drone. Considering that the RQ-170 Sentinel specifically, not the “Tier 3 Minus” concept in general, was probably born out of a need to watch Iran and Pakistan’s (and possibly North Korea’s) nuclear programs and arsenals (in the case of Pakistan) one would believe that the DoE has an interest in the Sentinel program. Additionally, the DoE “runs” the NTS, and they also have a hangar and operating location at Nellis AFB with their nuke sniffing choppers based there. In other words the “cross-pollination” between the DoE and the DoD is a very, very normal thing in Nevada. On the other hand could the response team that arrived after the crash just have had similar trucks as their mission is similarly critical, although for much different reasons? Sure. Either way their involvement, if any, changes this story very little but it is a worthwhile footnote.
As a little diversion now that we are talking about the expertise of the DoE and its relation to the US military, I have always thought that both the RQ-170 and the Stealth Helicopters used in the Bin Laden raid were tied together to some degree for a common mission. That mission being the tracking, surveillance, and potential recovery or demolition of Pakistani nuclear warheads. Both assets I believe use a very similar level of sophistication, advanced enough to get the job done but not so much so that losing one would totally bankrupt America’s aerospace and low observable technological edge. In the case of the helicopters used on the Bin Laden raid, I now believe that these machines were doing what their pilots trained to do, penetrate Pakistani airspace, simply their objective was different. Same with the Sentinel’s use of watching a house instead of a high security weapons depot. In fact I would go as far to suggest that BOTH assets were staged close to Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan for just this particular reason long before the Bin Laden op materialized. Over the last decade, when asked by reporters about what the US could do about nuclear warheads if an extremist coup happened in Pakistan, everyone from the Secretary of Defense to the President has said that the US has “unique capabilities” in place to deal with this contingency. Well, I believe these two machines are a large part of what these officials were talking about.
Back to our main story here, I followed the Needles crash pretty closely after it happened, it seemed like a secret UAV crash to me, everything just added up. But what I did not expect regarding this event was that almost half a decade later, two separate sources say that it was not just any test drone, but the then semi-operational RQ-170 Sentinel that went down and that the crash was either caused by, or ended in destruction of the aircraft via a faulty self destruct system that was designed directly into the aircraft from day one due to its highly sensitive mission set. That is right, both random sources had this exact same, seemingly unrelated, information, that the Sentinel did have a potent self destruct system but that it was removed after this event and operations continued without it. Losing an craft like this “off the reservation” could have ended very badly, so you can see why the system would have been at least disabled till it was fixed, or removed entirely and never replaced for various reasons. Could a “best guess auto land” program also been available to testers so that the test article could be recovered and examined relatively intact if controllers lost control and fuel ran low? Seeing as I pitched this idea over a year ago I would assume so. Such a mode could explain how intact the RQ-170 was after making a belly landing right into Iran’s hands. By the new images we have from the Iranians, that was almost certainly no crash, and if it was it was one in a million. If the RQ-170 malfunctioned over enemy territory there is a chance, depending on the programing of the craft, that operators may have attempted to put it in “safe mode” or even “testing mode” where such a default program may have been activated. Once contact was lost completely the mode would have never reverted back to operational status, thus when gas ran low it did what it was supposed to, fly its radar altimeter down to the ground as softly as possible. Just one theory but some evidence supports this, especially highly publicized chatter out of the CIA after the crash.
Back to the self destruct feature, if the craft did have one specifically designed for it, this would give us a bit of an insight into how advanced the RQ-170 may be. You don’t put self destruct systems in Predators or Reapers, but this craft apparently had one from the beginning. Also the response to the crash, without even a coverup saying that it was a Predator or something that had crashed, also lends to the fact that this aircraft was still very deep in the black world even over a year after the first grainy photos of it had emerged.
Is this the answer to a question that so many of us have had for over a year- why didn’t the RQ-170 just automatically commit suicide when it went astray instead of landing softly into Iranian hands? I don’t know, but I would guess it could very well be. I did not move on this story till a second totally random and reliable source came forward. Does this mean its 100% true, no, but it sure is intriguing given all the circumstances. The crash and response of to possible RQ-170 crash in Needles would also point to a program that has had its fair share of issues even a year after it was confirmed deployed by the DoD, and then again some four plus years after its first sighting in Kandahar, Afghanistan. This explanation would also answer the question as to what exactly went down in Needles that night, as something definitely did crash and it was of great interest to the US Government and they seemed very prepared to retrieve it. Regardless of whether this claim it is true or not it does lend just another intriguing facet to the colorful and mysterious pop culture and aerospace mosaics that both these stories have become…
Also, here are a couple nice high resolution shots someone took recently outside of Creech AFB in the US:
*Images and links found in www.Defense.pk forums.