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Controlling UCAVs from other planes

The E-3 Sentry has long been an critical asset for the US Air Force; each of the 32 active inventory aircraft can provide unparallelled air and surface situational awareness in a 250 nautical mile radius around the aircraft.

Now, manufacturer Boeing plans to test controlling a small UAV from an airborne Sentry in the annual (and presciently named) Empire Challenge exercise at USN’s Air Warfare Center Weapons Division China Lake.

AWACS as Remotely Piloted Aircraft Controller: Boeing plans to demonstrate control of the ScanEagle remotely piloted aircraft from an E-3 AWACS aircraft during the annual Empire Challenge coalition interoperability exercise that started Monday and runs through August 13 at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. “This will be the first time the company demonstrates full control of an unmanned aircraft by an airborne command and control platform during an operational scenario,” Boeing said in its release. A NATO AWACS will be equipped with a tactical common data link to relay commands to ScanEagle from an onboard operator. The scenario involves an antipiracy operation in which the AWACS detects suspicious activity and directs ScanEagle to a certain location to keep track of a suspect vessel—actually a truck acting as a surrogate pirate ship—while sending real-time video back to the AWACS to help determine whether the vessel is a threat.

—  Daily Report, Air Force Association, 27 July 2010.

Seems like an interesting concept, although AWACS birds are already extremely high-value targets, being exactly the sort of expensive, low-density/high-demand asset that has to be spread thin in order to cover the C2BM (command and control battle management) requirements of US unified combatant commanders all around the globe.

Putting a bunch of UCAV pilots aboard—especially once UCAVs evolve into ACM-capable fighters in their own right—will make it just that much more important for the OPFOR to destroy these assets as quickly as they can.

IRONY ALERT: From the same AFA Daily Report piece, we learn that the Pentagon is looking to eliminate Joint Forces Command (JFCOM).  For those not in the know, JFCOM is the sponsoring agency for the Empire Challenge coalition interoperability exercise.

JFCOM in Crosshairs of Pentagon Advisory Board: The Defense Business Board has identified the elimination of US Joint Forces Command as one way of trimming the Defense Department’s excess overhead. This move is among the initial observations from the senior advisory panel’s look into how the Pentagon could shed more than $100 billion in nonessential overhead between Fiscal 2012-16 to free up funds for modernization and personnel. Defense Secretary Robert Gates asked for the board’s input. According to press reports, board members think Norfolk, Va.-based JFCOM is ripe for the ax since it is bloated with more contractors on its payroll than military and civilian personnel, and some of its organizations apparently have the same mission and even similar names. The panel is scheduled to submit its final recommendations to Gates in October. Already Virginia lawmakers, including Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), are circling the wagons to save the command. (See The Hill report and Virginian-Pilot report.) (McDonnell statement) (Cantor statement) (Scott statement)

Category: National Defence  Tags: , , ,  Comments off

Bitchin’ Betty is a real, live person

Who knew? I thought the aircraft manufacturers just used a more refined version of the comical text-to-speech junk bundled with every modern operating system.

Apparently this woman is the voice of the CAWS (Central Aural Warning System) on the MD10, B717, C-17 and C-130J. Here’s a video of a C-17 landing at Joint Base Andrews, where you can hear her in action.

RELATED: Airbus aircraft use a male voice that sounds a little more like an actual human being, but it prompts the pilot to engage reverse thrust by hollering “Retard, Retard” during the landing roll.  It makes me chuckle.

Category: Aeronautics  Tags: ,  Comments off

B1-B training mission

A two-ship formation of B-1B Lancers assigned to the 28th Bomb Squadron, Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, release chaff and flares while maneuvering over New Mexico during a training mission Feb. 24, 2010. Dyess celebrates the 25th anniversary of the first B-1B bomber arriving at the base. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald)

Source: AF.mil (full size 2100 x 1236 px)

Hope they’re worth it

Stephen Trimble at The DEW Line notes that by the end of FY 2011, DoD will have paid out USD $67.9 billion for 101 (on-order) F-35 aircraft since contract award in October 2001, with somewhere between 28 and 58 of those being delivered.

Meanwhile, also in FY 2011, the same contractor (Lockheed) will have been paid 66.7 billion for the F-22 program, with 188 aircraft on contract and nearly the entire fleet delivered.

Category: Miscellania  Tags: ,  Comments off

Superior airmanship

…sometimes means flying the plane from outside the cockpit.

Consider the actions of one Second Lieutenant Alan Arnett McLeod, VC, a native of Stonewall, Manitoba.  Ninety-two years ago today, McLeod and his gunner Lt. A.W. Hammond were flying an Armstrong Whitworth FK8 bomber, on a mission to bomb and strafe German artillery positions near Bray-sur-Somme, France.   They were jumped by a fighter patrol of eight aircraft from Jagdgeschwader 1 (JG1), the famous “Richtofen’s Flying Circus”.  Despite being wounded several times and the aircraft being aflame, McLeod managed to save himself and his gunner with some unorthodox and skilful flying.  From the May 1st, 1918 edition of the London Gazette:

“His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to award the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned officer of the Royal Air Force, for services displaying outstanding bravery:

2nd Lieutenant Alan Arnett McLeod, Royal Air Force.

While flying with his observer, Lieutenant A. W. Hammond, M.C., attacking hostile formations by bombs and machine gun fire, he was assailed at a height of 5,000 feet by eight enemy triplanes which dived at him from all directions, firing from their front guns. By skilful manoeuvring he enabled his observer to fire bursts at each machine in turn, shooting three of them down out of control. By this time Lieutenant McLeod had received five wounds, and while continuing the engagement a bullet penetrated his petrol tank and set the machine on fire.

He then climbed out on to the left bottom plane, controlling his machine from the side of the fuselage, and by sideslipping steeply kept the flames to one side, thus enabling the observer to continue firing until the ground was reached.

The observer had been wounded six times when the machine crashed in “No Man’s Land” and 2nd Lieutenant McLeod, notwithstanding his own wounds, dragged him away from the burning wreckage at great personal risk from heavy machine-gun fire from the enemy’s lines. This very gallant pilot was again wounded by a bomb whilst engaged in this act of rescue, but he persevered until he had placed Lieutenant Hammond in comparative safety, before falling himself from exhaustion and loss of blood.”

While Lieutenant McLeod’s wounds were quite serious, he had recuperated sufficiently to appear at Buckingham Palace on September 4th, 1918 and receive his Victoria Cross from the hand of King George V. His father, Dr. A. N. MacLeod of Winnipeg, was also present at the investitute, having sailed over from Canada to attend to his ailing son. Regrettably, McLeod the younger was too unwell to attend the King’s subsequent luncheon invite to Windsor Castle.

Alan Arnett McLeod returned home and eventually succumbed to the Spanish influenza pandemic that was sweeping the nation.  The 19-year-old passed away on November 6th, 1918, five days before the Armistice ended the war.

For more information, see the Veterans Affairs Canada record of 2Lt McLeod’s citation, along the associates images which appear here.  Miles Constable’s site dedicated to Canadian Air Aces and Heroes also has a much more detailed account of the life and times of Second Lieutenant Alan Arnett McLeod, including a descriptive account of the battle that also draws upon information gleaned from German war records.