V-22 joint program reaches production milestone with 400th delivery

Air Commandos with the 801st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron accept delivery of a new CV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Jun. 2, 2020. The 801st SOAMXS helps keep Ospreys ready to execute infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply missions worldwide. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Nathan LeVang)

The Air Force Special Operations Command received its 53rd CV-22 Osprey June 2, marking the 400th delivery of a V-22 in the history of the joint program.

“It’s been more than 20 years since the first production V-22 was delivered and we are proud to reach another milestone in our 400th delivery. V-22s continue to be in high demand, protecting our country and our allies around the world through combat operations, international training partnerships and humanitarian missions,” said Marine Corps Col. Matthew Kelly, program manager for the V-22 Joint Program Office (PMA-275). “This platform’s impact can’t be overstated.”

The Marines received the first production V-22 on May 24, 1999 and today, deliveries continue under the Multi-year Procurement III contract, valued at $5 billion through 2024. The contract includes all variants of the aircraft: Marine, Air Force, Navy and the first international customer, Japan.

The V-22 is the world’s first tiltrotor aircraft in production, combining the vertical takeoff, hover and vertical landing qualities of a helicopter with the long-range, fuel efficiency and speed characteristics of a turboprop aircraft. For the Special Operations Forces, the CV-22 supports long-range infiltration, exfiltration and resupply missions. The Marine Corps’ MV-22B provides assault support transport of combat troops, supplies and equipment—day and night—under all weather conditions during expeditionary, joint or combined operations.

With the V-22 expected to be in service beyond 2040, capability enhancements and readiness initiatives are program priorities, including digital interoperability, nacelle improvements, and fleet modernization efforts.

“This platform still has decades remaining to its service life,” said Kelly. “We are focused on keeping it a relevant, reliable and effective well into the future.”

In addition to ongoing production and sustainment efforts in the program, the V-22 Joint Program Office also manages development and test of the latest addition to the V-22 family of aircraft, the CMV-22B. The CMV-22B is the Navy’s carrier onboard delivery replacement aircraft. The first two aircraft are currently in developmental test.

PMA-275 manages the cradle to grave procurement, development, fielding, sustainment and disposal of the tiltrotor program for the DOD and its international partners.

The Blue Angels Navy Squadron: A Look At The 2nd Oldest Aerobatic Team In The World

Here’s the history of the Blue Angels, the world’s most famous aerobatic team that was originally meant to boost morale after WW2.

Blue Angel flying low
Not long after the Wright brothers made their historic flight, ingenious men began using airplanes in a variety of ways that have since become common place in the modern world. As a fast and safe mode of transportation, an efficient way to haul goods to the delivery of healthcare and medicines, the airplane is has proven itself as an indispensable machine.

In a similar vein, while most men saw the airplane as a tool to help in jobs and work, other more imaginative, adventurous men saw the airplane as a means to explore, a means to entertain and a way to perform feats of bravery and aerial acrobatics.

In this article, we look at one of the best teams that perform amazing feats of aerobatics, a select group of men and machines that have thrilled audiences since the days of WW2 where their skill and courage at piloting aircraft entertained their both their brothers in arms and their nation caught up in the ravages of war. Today we check out these amazing facts about the Blue Angels.

The brainchild of famed WW2 admiral Chester Nimitz, the Blue Angels were created in 1946 to provide morale to the troops and garner public support and interest in military aviation. Initially led by WW2 ace Rey Voris, he selected three other skilled pilot/instructors that formed the first team of naval aviation aerial acrobats.

While the Blue Angels’ almost seventy-five year history is indeed a long time together as a team, the honor of being the very first aerial stunt/performance team goes to Patrouille de France whose origins date back to 1931, a good fifteen years head start.

As the Blue Angels officially formed in April 1946 and was scheduled to perform in August, the team of Commander Voris had four months to train. In response, they spent much time in practice and perfected its initial maneuvers in secret over the Florida Everglades. A decision humorously described by Voris, “if anything happened, just the alligators would know”.

As WW2 only recently ended, the navy’s old workhorse, the Hellcat, found itself as the ride of the newly formed Blue Angels team for its first ever exhibition in July 1946. Less than a month later, the team transitioned to the newer Bearcat and used it until 1949.

When they started, the Blue Angels used battle hardened WW2 era planes, but this changed in 1949, when the new F9F-2 Panther was adopted by the team. This marked a significant change as the power and handling of their aircraft allowed them to perform faster and more complex flying.

The main qualifications to become a Blue Angel pilot require the applicant to be either Navy and Marine Corps aviators with a minimum of 1,250 tactical jet hours and must be carrier-qualified. For selection, current team members hold a secret vote with no accountability to higher Navy authority and finally, all votes must be unanimous.

The signature move of the Blue Angels is the “Diamond Formation” in which 4 of the planes form a tight cluster with the other 2 making their own. From this “diamond” the planes then transition to the other maneuvers and stunts and finish the performance by having the plane move to the Delta formation.

Despite performing some of the most difficult aerial maneuvers, the Blue Angels pilots don’t use protective G-suits as the inflation/deflation air bladder function could interfere with the pilots’ ability for precision control. To compensate, the pilots have trained in breathing and muscle control to prevent blacking out while doing High G movements.

Humorously named “Fat Albert” the C-130 Hercules is the largest aircraft used by the Blue Angels. Used primarily to transport equipment, tools and supplies, this behemoth used to perform its own exhibition as well, (jet assisted take-offs) until supplies of the rockets became scarce and the stunt was no longer included in their performances.

From 1946 to 1986, the Blue Angels have flown a total of ten different types of aircraft. From the WW2 prop planes to today’s fourth generation fighter jets, the team have used the current aircraft in use by the navy as their precision instruments for their exhibitions.

“The Cradle of Naval Aviation”, Pensacola naval air station is the home of the Blue Angels. Located in Florida, the base serves as a technical school and training facility for navy, marine and coast guard personnel.

Born as a machine made for war, the F/A 18 Multi role fighter used by the Blue Angels is maintained in top shape all year round to ensure the safety of the pilots during their training and performances, and as both the plane and pilots are active duty members of the naval aviation squad, the jets are capable of being combat, and carrier ready in less than seventy-two hours.

While watching the Blue Angels perform their aerial mastery on the ground is a visual treat, the real thrill goes to the pilot and certain audience members or VIP’s that are granted a seat in the actual plane during some of their performances.

Initially called “Navy Flight Exhibition Team”, the name Blue Angels came from the New Yorker, a magazine that featured a club called “The Blue Angels” which a pilot saw and suggested as the new name. As a naval organization, the team adopted the blue and gold colors to reflect their origins, marking all their planes in this paint scheme.

After thirty-five years the Blue Angels will be using a different plane. By 2021, delivery of the more powerful F/A 18 Super Hornets to the team will commence, replacing their older 1986 issued Hornets. With this upgrade to a faster, more maneuverable jet, its quite likely that the Blue Angels will be able to level up their already impressive routines.

See a 117th Air Refueling Wing plane fly over Birmingham hospitals Tuesday, May 5

Look up to the Birmingham sky Tuesday afternoon to see an aircraft from Birmingham’s 117th Air Refueling Wing fly over local hospitals. Keep reading for all the details, including more ways to show support for our local healthcare heroes now!

On Tuesday, May 5, a KC-135R Stratotanker aircraft from the 117th Air Refueling Wing—a unit of the Alabama Air National Guard, stationed at Birmingham’s Sumpter Smith Air National Guard Base—will be flying over hospitals in Birmingham, sending a salute to local healthcare heroes, essential workers and others on the frontlines responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

The mission is part of the nationwide Air Force Salutes Flyover under Operation American Resolve, a national effort to salute hospital employees and patients. Flyovers will happen across Alabama on Tuesday with aircraft from the 187th Fighter Wing based in Montgomery flying over Auburn, Tuskeegee, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, Decatur, Mobile and Dothan!

Social distancing guidelines still apply, so if you’re planning on watching the flyovers, avoid gathering in groups and traveling to hospitals. If you live near the flyover locations listed above, you will be able to see the plane from the safety of your home.

You can share videos and photos of the flyover with the 117th ARW and the 187th FW by using the hashtags #WeSaluteAlabama, #AirForceSalutes and #TogetherAL.

You’ve probably seen ways people all over the world have been showing their support for healthcare workers who are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis. Whether by coordinating flyovers, applauding their work, or simply sharing a positive message, it’s important now more than ever that they know how incredibly thankful we are for their daily sacrifices and hard work.

Thunderbirds fly over Colorado’s Front Range Saturday to thank frontline workers

By: Robert GarrisonPosted at 9:36 AM, Apr 18, 2020 and last updated 7:31 AM, Apr 19, 2020

DENVER — The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds performed a flyover Saturday, crisscrossing the Front Range to honor and salute Colorado’s frontline workers fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

The team, from Nellis Air Force Base In Las Vegas, flew over several hospitals in a dramatic demonstration to show their support for health care workers.

The flyover began around 1:30 p.m. in Northern Colorado after a small delay. The flight path took them over Fort Collins and Loveland. About 10 minutes later, the jets flew over Boulder and then into the Denver metro area, leaving south to Colorado Springs.

Later, the team flew over the U.S. Air Force Academy, where Vice President Mike Pence was delivering the commencement address to the Academy’s 2020 graduating class.

The flight path included a flyover in Pueblo before turning west back to Las Vegas.

How airport control towers keep operating after workers test positive for coronavirus

Air traffic controllers direct aircraft from the control tower at Los Angeles International Airport. The FAA has had to be creative to keep the towers operating during the coronavirus crisis.(Federal Aviation Administration)

By HUGO MARTÍNSTAFF WRITER
APRIL 13, 20209:58 AM

When a traffic control tower worker at Palm Beach International Airport recently tested positive for the coronavirus, the staff evacuated the tower to allow for a thorough cleaning.

A makeshift tower to temporarily direct planes was then set up at the top of a nearby parking garage.

The incident is one of several in the last few weeks that demonstrate how air traffic control workers have had to turn to creative alternatives to keep airlines operating in the midst of a pandemic that has so far infected more than 75 control tower workers across the country.

The workload for air traffic controllers has been lessened lately with airline traffic dropping by as much as 65% across the country and the demand for air travel in a nosedive over the last month.

But air traffic control workers say social distancing is nearly impossible in cramped towers, where a team of up to a dozen people work in a room no bigger than a small one-bedroom apartment.

The air traffic control room, known as a “cab,” at Los Angeles International Airport is about 800 square feet, but smaller airports have tower cabs about half that size.

“We have been completely collaborative with the FAA,” Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Assn., said in a recent conference call with union leaders in the aviation industry. “But we have to make sure that our workers are protected.”

Air traffic control workers aren’t alone in having to come up with new work policies to cope with the coronavirus outbreak.

The Los Angeles Police Department is taking the temperature of officers before each shift, and roll calls are conducted with officers spaced far apart to ensure an appropriate physical distance.

The Los Angeles Fire Department has accelerated the graduation of its next class of firefighters and has asked retired firefighters to volunteer to help during the crisis.

At the Fairplex in Pomona, a child-care center for the children of first responders and medical staff has divided the children into small groups and assigned them to separate rooms to reduce the chance that the virus can spread to all of them.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is holding meetings with bus drivers outdoors whenever possible and taking the temperature of drivers twice a day to try to slow the spread of the virus.

In the wake of dozens of air traffic control workers testing positive for the virus, the Federal Aviation Administration issued an internal memo in early April on how to schedule workers during the crisis. The memo, which was reviewed by The Times, called on each airport tower to divide the staff into crews, each with the minimum number of workers to operate a tower for one shift.

Employees will work with the same crew on all their scheduled shifts, the memo said. That way if a tower employee becomes infected, that person would expose only the other members of his or her crew and not members of other crews.

“This approach strives to ensure that social distancing practices are maximized while also supporting the mission of the agency,” according to the memo.

In addition, FAA workers are using portable communications equipment that allows them to continue to direct planes even when they have to abandon a control tower for a cleaning.

In large airports that have more than one control tower, such as Dallas-Fort Worth and Chicago O’Hare International Airport, one tower is kept as a “clean spare” in case the primary tower must be temporarily shut down for a cleaning after a worker tests positive for the virus, FAA representatives said.

At LAX, a retired control tower that was built in 1961 and is now used primarily for office space is designated as a backup for the current air traffic control tower, which opened in 1996.

Some of the nation’s largest airlines also have what is called a ramp tower, which operates like a control tower but is used instead by individual airlines to direct planes on the ground, moving along the tarmac and in and out of the gates.

On April 3, the Delta Air Lines ramp tower at Orlando International Airport temporarily replaced the main control tower after a tower control worker tested positive for the coronavirus and the FAA evacuated the tower for cleaning.

By keeping the Orlando airport open, the tower was able to land a plane that was carrying a passenger who was having a medical emergency, Doug Lowe, a technician at the Orlando tower, said in the union conference call.

“It was a good thing we did it,” he said. “There was quite a bit of traffic that continued to come in here.”

When another worker tested positive at Palm Beach International Airport a few days earlier, control tower workers took portable communications equipment to the top of a nearby parking garage, where they directed planes by sight until sunset, according to tower workers.

Once it was too dark to direct the planes by sight, the job of directing planes was turned over to the nearest Terminal Radar Approach Control, or Tracon, which directs planes in the airspace between airports.

In late March, the tower at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas was closed for about a week after a tower worker tested positive for the virus and the rest of the tower staff was quarantined, FAA officials said. During that time, some flights were canceled and many more were directed into the airport by the Las Vegas Tracon.

“Each disruption has a distinct impact on the air traffic system,” the FAA said in a statement. “We are experiencing this at the handful of facilities already affected by COVID-19. This is frustrating and inconvenient, but is necessary in the interest of safety.”

FAA Moves Forward on Standards for Supersonic Aircraft

By Frank Wolfe | April 3, 2020
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FAA, noise standards, notice of proposed rulemaking, Supersonic

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is moving forward on standards for future supersonic aircraft in announcing a notice of proposed rulemaking last week for noise levels for those aircraft. The proposed rulemaking follows a 2019 FAA proposed rule to update the requirements to apply for a special flight authorization for flying above Mach 1 in the United States.

“This action proposes to add new supersonic airplanes to the applicability of noise certification regulations, and proposes landing and takeoff noise standards for a certain class of new supersonic airplanes,” according to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on March 30. “There is renewed interest in the development of supersonic aircraft, and the proposed regulations would facilitate the continued development of airplanes by specifying the noise limits for the designs, providing the means to certificate the airplanes for subsonic operation in the United States.”

The design of avionics systems will have to factor in the cockpit effects of such supersonic flight by including such things as heat dissipation systems. Boom Supersonic is developing its $200 million supersonic airliner, the Overture, and has said that the company’s XB-1 supersonic demonstrator has controls and displays for the environmental control system that keep the cockpit pressurized and cooled and cool other vital aircraft systems in separate bays outside of the cockpit. The outside of XB-1, which is to perform flight tests at Mach 2.2, could reach temperatures above 300-degrees Fahrenheit, Boom said.

In addition to Boom, Aerion and Boeing are teamed on development of the 1.4 Mach $120 million AS2 supersonic business jet, which is to begin flight tests in 2024. In February, Aerion said that it had begun concept development for a family of high altitude supercruise aircraft for DoD by using the company’s AS2 experience.

FAA regulations prohibit civil aircraft from operating at speeds exceeding Mach 1 over land in the United States, and the new FAA proposal would not remove that prohibition, but instead establish procedures and noise levels for subsonic operation of those supersonic aircraft during landing and takeoff.

Supersonic commercial air transportation was introduced in the 1970s, and the proposed rulemaking “reflects the many technical advancements in aviation that have occurred since that time,” according to the FAA. “These developments include new noise-reduction technologies such as improved engine designs and materials available for airframe manufacturing.”

The only supersonic aircraft that has FAA noise regulations on the books is the European Concorde, which had its last flight in 2003, but the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-254), says that the agency administrator “shall exercise leadership in the creation of federal and international policies, regulations, and standards relating to the certification and safe and efficient operation of civil supersonic aircraft.” The act also sets a date of Dec. 31 this year, and every subsequent two years, for the FAA administrator to review available aircraft noise and performance data to help determine whether to amend FAA regulations “to permit supersonic flight of civil aircraft over land in the United States.”

The FAA wants to amend noise certification regulations in 14 CFR, parts 21 and 36, to allow new supersonic airplanes, and to add subsonic landing and takeoff (LTO) cycle standards for supersonic airplanes that have a maximum takeoff weight no greater than 150,000 pounds and a maximum operating cruise speed up to Mach 1.8.

The agency said that its proposal is based in part on the Supersonic Transport Concept Airplane (STCA) studies performed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), information provided to the FAA by U.S. industry, and ongoing work by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Committee on
Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP).

Can the B-52’s Upgrades Keep the Bomber Flying for 100 Total Years?

March 20, 2020 Topic: Technology Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: B-52MilitaryTechnologyWorldAir Force

Key point: The best way to save money is to build a good weapon and to keep it maintained for decades. That the B-52 has been useful since the 1960s is proof of just that concept.

The U.S. Air Force could get a new version of the iconic B-52 bomber. The “B-52J” designation might supersede the current “B-52H” moniker that the flying branch has applied to the eight-engine bombers since they entered service in the early 1960s.

Air Force magazine reporter John Tirpak has the story.

“The Air Force is likely to redesignate the B-52H as the B-52J once it receives a slew of modifications adding up to a ‘major modification,’” Tirpak wrote, quoting Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, the Air Force’s program executive officer for fighters and bombers.

The B-52 is slated to receive new engines beginning in about 10 years, and “that probably would be enough” to warrant a letter change, but the venerable bomber will also be getting new digital systems, communications, new weapons and a new radar, as well as a variety of other improvements.

Collins also said that Air Combat Command is considering the possibility of reducing the number of aircrew on the B-52, now that certain functions requiring weapon systems officers can operate autonomously. No decision has been made in that regard, Collins said.

“If Air Force plans hold up, the B-52 will be approaching nearly a century of service by 2050,” Tirpak wrote in that issue. “To keep the airplane flying, the service plans to equip each B-52 with new engines, which are expected to be so much more maintainer-friendly and efficient that they’ll pay for themselves in just 10 years.”

In 2018, the Air Force announced it would retire its 62 1980s-vintage B-1Bs bombers and 20 newer B-2 stealth bombers no later than the 2040s, while the updated B-52Js would continue to operate alongside at least 100 new B-21 stealth bombers.

The Air Force twice in recent years has pulled old B-52Hs from storage in Arizona and refurbished them in order to replace bombers that have crashed. The regeneration efforts have allowed the flying branch to maintain a force of 76 B-52s.

“Despite their age, the B-52s have high mission-capable rates, can carry a huge diversity of weapons, and can perform effectively—as long as the enemy lacks elaborate air defenses,” Tirpak wrote. “Even in a higher-end fight, the B-52 can still launch missiles from well outside enemy air defenses. It is the only U.S. bomber that can launch nuclear cruise missiles, and it will be the initial platform for the new Long-Range Stand-Off missile.”

It took two decades of debate for the B-52 upgrade plan to reach this point. Since 1996 the Air Force has conducted no fewer than 13 studies examining options for new motors for the 240-ton bomber. As of early 2019 the B-52H still flies with the same Pratt & Whitney-made TF-33 engines that have powered the type since 1962.

A 2018 Air Force briefing cited the TF-33’s “inefficient and limited capability relative to modern commercially-available engines.” The Pratt & Whitney motors are “costly and manpower-intensive to maintain [while] facing obsolescence of parts.”

“Modern engines are so much more reliable than the TF-33s that were once installed, the new engines will probably never have to be removed,” Tirpak wrote. “The meantime between overhauls for that class of engines is typically around 30,000 hours—greater than the number of hours the service plans to fly the bombers for the rest of their service lives.”

The goal in replacing the engines is to improve the B-52’s fuel-efficiency by at least 20 percent while maintaining its ceiling and take-off performance. A B-52H with TF-33 engines can carry 35 tons of bombs and missiles as far as 4,500 miles without aerial refueling at a top speed of 650 miles per hour.

“Despite rumors to the contrary, Isabelle said the Air Force is not looking for substantially better physical performance from the new engines—for example, in time-to-climb or top speed—although that may turn out to be a welcome by-product,” Tirpak explained.

The Air Force in 2018 estimated the cost of B-52 service-life extension—including the re-engining other capability improvements—at around $32 billion, according to Tirpak.

Between 2011 and 2016 it cost the Air Force around $1.2 billion annually to operate 76 B-52s, the Government Accountability Office reported in 2018.

More efficient engines could save $10 billion in fuel and maintenance costs through the 2040s, Tirpak reported, citing Air Force documents. The service wants 608 engines — eight for each “new” B-52J.

David Axe serves as Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels War Fix, War Is Boring and Machete Squad. ​This first appeared in 2019 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

U-2 spy plane pilots have watches that let them use Russian and Chinese systems as backups for GPS

American spy plane pilots use China’s satellite navigation system as a backup to GPS on their missions, according to a US Air Force general.

The second generation of the Chinese system, known as Beidou, began providing global services at the end of 2018 and a third phase, featuring more satellites, is expected to be fully functional later this year.

While the Global Positioning System (GPS) is the first choice for pilots of U-2 “Dragon Lady” reconnaissance aircraft, Beidou, along with Russia’s Glonass and Europe’s Galileo, serves as an alternative in the event of GPS being unavailable.

“My U-2 guys fly with a watch now that ties into GPS, but also Beidou and the Russian system and the European system,” US Air Combat Command Chief Gen. James Holmes said at a conference in Washington on Wednesday.

“So if somebody jams GPS, they still get the others.”

Zhou Chenming, a military analyst in Beijing, said that as Beidou was an open system, it would be easy to integrate a receiver chip into a watch and be able to access it.

“Beidou has positioned itself as a commercial global positioning service provider,” he said.

Also, unlike GPS, which was operated by the US Air Force and sometimes restricted services to commercial users, technically the Beidou system did not control the signals from its satellites, Zhou said.

China developed the satellite navigation system primarily for use by its military, the People’s Liberation Army, which had previously relied on GPS.

However, it has since been expanded for commercial use around the world, and once fully functional – with the launch of the new satellites – is expected to have an accuracy of 10cm (four inches) compared to the GPS’s 30cm.

Another feature that distinguishes the Chinese system from GPS is that Beidou incorporates a short messaging service, enabling mass communication between individuals and groups of users.

Within China, the central government has ordered the operators of all passenger buses, heavy trucks and fishing vessels to install Beidou so that their movements can be monitored and tracked in real time.

According to the latest figures available, as of 2017, 22 million vehicles and 50,000 boats had been fitted with Beidou terminals.

However, Zhou said that it was unlikely that Beijing would be able to identify or track the Beidou chips in the U-2 pilots’ watches.

“For real-time tracking, special transponders have to be installed like those used in the AIS [automatic identification system] on ships. A simple chip does not have that,” he said.

Flying Missile Defense? The F-35 Stealth Fighter Can Do Everything

by Michael Peck

Key point: Missile defense is expanding the repertoire of F-35 missions.

Add another mission to the F-35.

On top of being a stealth fighter, bomber and airborne quarterback coordinating other aircraft, now it’s a missile defense sensor. The U.S. Army recently incorporated Air Force F-35s into its missile defense system.

“Two U.S. Air Force F-35s were integrated with the U.S. Army Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS), providing an airborne sensor capability to successfully detect, track and intercept near-simultaneous air-breathing threats in a test at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico,” according to an announcement by Lockheed Martin, manufacturer of the F-35 and a member of the multi-company team working on IBCS. “The December 2019 test marked the first time F-35s were used as sensors during an IBCS live-fire test against multiple airborne targets.”

“Linking F-35s to IBCS via the Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) provided enhanced situational awareness and weapons-quality track data to engage airborne targets. The proof of concept demonstration used experimental equipment developed by Lockheed Martin, including the Harvest Lightning Ground Station and IBCS adaptation kit (A-Kit).”

“This test represents a major milestone for multi-domain operations by leveraging airborne assets to detect and track threats that can then be countered with ground-based effectors. This demonstrates a tremendous capability to defeat threats that are terrain masked or beyond ground-based sensor detection capabilities due to terrain and curvature of the earth,” said Jay Pitman, vice president, Lower Tier Integrated Air and Missile Defense at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control.

The December 2019 test follows an August 2019 Air Force exercise in which an F-35 transmitted tracking data to IBCS.

However, while the F-35s detected airborne targets, it’s not precisely clear what they detected. Lockheed Martin referred to “air-breathing targets,” which suggests drones or cruise missiles with air-breathing engines, rather than ballistic missiles.

Nonetheless, there are four key points here. The first is simply the idea of using aircraft as elevated radar stations. They can peer down to detect low-flying missiles and drones whose approach would otherwise be masked from ground-based radar by terrain or the Earth’s curvature.

But using fighters as airborne sensors for ground-based defenses against drones and missiles is an intriguing idea. That’s the sort of mission meant for the big E-3 AWACS and E-8 JSTARS airborne early warning aircraft, which can use their powerful radars to detect cruise missiles. But there are only a few dozen of these flying radar stations, they’ll be prime targets for the enemy, and they’re likely to have more pressing tasks in wartime than spotting drones.

While their radars are less powerful than those on the AWACS, the F-35 will be the backbone of American tactical airpower: with 2,400 or so potentially on order, there’s bound to be one available as an airborne spotter for ground-based air defenses. Interestingly, the Air Force is also mounting new radars on old F-16s that will enable them to detect drones and cruise missiles.

The Army tests also highlight what’s supposed to be the F-35’s strong suit: its sensors – including AESA radar, infrared and cameras – and sophisticated networking capabilities. If the F-35’s numerous current bugs can be fixed, then it should be capable of serving as early warning for ground-based missiles and lasers, or jammers to stop enemy drones.

Finally, missile defense also expands the repertoire of F-35 missions. It’s not uncommon with controversial weapons for the military to find tasks to justify their cost. The F-35 wasn’t designed for missile and drone defense, but this task will likely be used as one more reason to continue the procurement of the aircraft.

Remote ATC Testing to Begin at Northern Colorado Regional Airport

New mobile tower is first phase of eventual remote tower service.

By Dan Pimentel February 25, 2020

Pilots who are used to flying into Northern Colorado Regional Airport (KFNL) near Fort Collins/Loveland—and operating there like they would at any non-towered airport—will need to take careful note of major air traffic control changes coming soon to the airport. Beginning in mid-March, KFNL becomes a “towered” airport with the addition of a mobile ATC trailer (MATCT) providing on-site services. The trailer and local controllers will eventually give way to a remote ATC facility as part of a test being conducted at the airport.

Initially, local controllers in the trailer will handle the traffic, while evaluators employed by Searidge Technologies of Ottawa, Ontario, will conduct “passive” operations from a remote facility. This summer and fall, a second phase of testing begins when ATC services will be provided by the remote tower, with local controllers in the MATCT acting as back-up. As testing progresses, full-time ATC services will eventually be through the remote tower only as Searidge pursues certification of the technology from FAA.

According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, the Colorado Remote Tower Project is a “first of its kind” design that integrates both satellite-based aircraft surveillance technology with ground-based video technology. For the tests to be conducted at KFNL, there will be three 360-degree panoramic video and static cameras securely mounted atop steel masts that will rise between 22 and 56 feet above the ground, simulating the same view one would expect if looking from a physical air traffic control tower. The camera and satellite-based surveillance data will then be fed to a remotely-located control center. During the test and assessment phase of this project, the control room will reside on airport property, but will accurately simulate a remote scenario. Future control centers can be located from a remote location.

KFNL was chosen as the test airport for the Colorado Remote Tower Project after a thorough site selection process in 2015 conducted in collaboration with FAA’s Nextgen office. The airport is jointly owned and operated by the cities of Fort Collins and Loveland and sees approximately 85,000 to 95,000 takeoffs and landings per year. A total of nearly 265 aircraft are based at the airport, which serves users ranging from privately-owned aircraft, commercial airliners, military aircraft, pilot training, and helicopters. The airport is home to three flight schools, specialized aircraft maintenance services, and a 24/7 fixed base operator (FBO)

In July of 2017, following significant efforts to develop the project requirements and scope, the FAA selected Searidge Technologies to design, install, test, and certify the remote tower equipment being tested at KFNL. Other partners in the project include William E. Payne & Associates, FAA, National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Northern Colorado Regional Airport administration, and the Colorado Division of Aeronautics.

Northern Colorado is one of the most rapidly developing regions of the state, according to CODOT, with the Colorado Division of Local Affairs and State Demography Office projecting that populations for the area are expected to more than double by the year 2050. “A growing population of this magnitude will result in increased demand for all modes of transportation, including air transportation. The Colorado Remote Tower Project is a proactive measure designed to address the future increase in aircraft operations at KFNL with dramatically reduced costs compared to constructing, maintaining and staffing a physical air traffic control tower,” CODOT said.

The mobile tower’s hours of operation will be 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. local time effective March 16, handling traffic on 118.4 MHz. Other frequencies include 121.65 MHz for ground, 135.075 MHz for ATIS, and 122.95 MHz for unicom. The common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) of 122.7 MHz will be eliminated when ATC services begin being provided by local controllers in the MATCT.