X-47B has Washington, D.C Residents Crying “UFO”

(Image: Screenshot via YouTube, watch full clip here)

With the amount of government workers in and around the Washington, DC metro area, you’d think locals would be among the last to cry “UFO” after witnessing a mysterious aircraft being transported on the back of a flat bed truck. But an X-47B on the Washington Beltway bound for Patuxent River, MD, ignited a lively Twitter debate and found its way onto a number of mainstream news sites.

x 47b1  X-47B has Washington, D.C Residents Crying “UFO”(Image: U.S. Air Force, public domain)

The experimental Northrop Grumman X-47B – the second to arrive at NAS Patuxent River for testing – was at the end of a two week road journey from Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, CA, where it was manufactured. Now a key part of the U.S. Navy’s UCAS-D (Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration) programme, the semi-autonomous UCAV is undergoing carrier launch and recovery testing at Patuxent River before sea trials commence next year.

Randolph AFB – the World’s Most Symmetrical Military Installation?

randolph air force base symmetry  Randolph AFB – the World’s Most Symmetrical Military Installation?(Image via Google Earth and TerraMetrics)

Part of Joint Base San Antonio, Randolph AFB in Texas is one of the most architecturally appealing and arguably the most symmetrical of all US military installations. Arising soon after the Air Corps Act of 1926, Randolph Air Force Base is bound by two large runways, with a central approach road leading to the Randolph Field Historic District – a National Historic Landmark.

randolph air force base  Randolph AFB – the World’s Most Symmetrical Military Installation?(Image: Shane.torgerson, cc-sa-3.0)

Military facilities are steeped in history, but it’s not often that a serving base is also considered a historic landmark.  In the case of Randolph AFB, the district includes 350 contributing buildings and 47 non-contributing buildings in a 405 acre area.  The majority of the structures – including a historic control tower – date from 1929 to 1932.

Historic Photos Show X-15 Rocket Plane Exiting Paint Shop Sealed for High Speed Flight

x 15 2 ablative  Historic Photos Show X-15 Rocket Plane Exiting Paint Shop Sealed for High Speed Flight

(All images by NASA, public domain)

If you plan to push an air vehicle beyond mach 7, you’re going to need a pretty impressive thermal protection coating to keep the overall temperature of the airframe to manageable – and survivable – levels.  These historic images show the second X-15 emerging from the paint shop sporting the thick white coating engineers hoped would fulfill that task.

x 15 2 ablative coating  Historic Photos Show X-15 Rocket Plane Exiting Paint Shop Sealed for High Speed Flight

As they were to soon discover, the second flight of the newly coated (formerly black) X-15, on October 3, 1967,  was to be the fastest the type would ever undertake, as well as one of the most eventful.  When test pilot Major William J. “Pete” Knight landed back at Edwards AFB, the aircraft’s special ablative coating was said to resemble burnt firewood – you can read the full account here.

Buildings Shake as Eurofighter Typhoon goes Supersonic

eurofighter  Buildings Shake as Eurofighter Typhoon goes Supersonic(Image: Smudge 9000, cc-3.0)

Fears that an earthquake had hit northern England were allayed today when the Ministry of Defence confirmed that a Eurofighter Typhoon was given permission to go supersonic.  The aerial action took place yesterday in airspace west of Harrogate in North Yorkshire, although windows rattled and buildings shook as far away as Cumbria.

An MoD spokesperson told Harrogate News:

“The MoD can confirm that a Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft from RAF Coningsby was authorised to go supersonic over land at 15:53 yesterday.  Any inconvenience caused to local residents is regretted.”

The emergency services were not called out and no damage has been reported.  Harrogate resident Sarah Callaghan, who was driving near the American radar base at Menwith Hill when she heard the boom, said:

“It did cause a moment of concern.  The noise was, shall we say, out of the ordinary.”

eurofighter typhoon coningsby  Buildings Shake as Eurofighter Typhoon goes Supersonic(Image: Simon Fidler, cc-sa-3.0)

The British Typhoon was one of around 60 based at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire (above).

F-35B Emerges from a Year of Probation

f 35b1  F-35B Emerges from a Year of Probation

(Image: US Navy, public domain)

Good news for the F-35B!  US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has lifted the short-takeoff-and-landing (STOVL) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter out of a probation period imposed more than a year ago by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.  The stealthy fighter had suffered a number of setbacks leading to a multibillion-dollar restructuring programme designed to decouple its testing from that of its sibling aircraft – the F-35A and F-35C.

Aviation Week reported Friday that sufficient progress had been made to lift the probation.  Addressing a small group of government and industry representatives of the Joint Strike Fighter test team aboard USS Wasp, Panetta said:

“We now believe that because of your work the Stovl variant is demonstrating the kind of performance and maturity that is in line with the other two variants of JSF.  The Stovl variant has made — I believe and all of us believe — sufficient progress so that as of today I am lifting the Stovl probation.”

f 35b cut away  F-35B Emerges from a Year of Probation(Image: US Air Force, public domain)

When he imposed the probation period, Gates said that if the development programme didn’t turn around within two years he would recommend its termination.  And despite improvements, defense officials are expecting a reduction in production numbers of F-35s in the 2013 budget.  The US Marine Corps hopes the aircraft will be operational by 2016.  Italy is the F-35B’s only international customer after the UK walked away from the STOVL jet.

US Set to Lose Hundreds of Planes in Pentagon Budget Cuts

a 10 amarc  US Set to Lose Hundreds of Planes in Pentagon Budget Cuts(Image: Ed Siasoco, cc-3.0)

The mighty US Air Force is set to lose around 200 aircraft from its 4,000-strong fleet, in the latest round of Obama administration budget cuts. It’s unclear which planes will be axed but they’re likely to be mainly older models (some active jets – although heavily upgraded – have been flying since the 1980s).

amarc  US Set to Lose Hundreds of Planes in Pentagon Budget Cuts(Image: Tom Brandt, cc-sa-3.0)

Meanwhile, the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), also known as the most expensive defense programme ever, is still some way from active deployment, and the Air Force’s efforts to replace the B-2 Spirit with a Next Generation Bomber (NGB) remains on the cards.

amarc mothballed aircraft  US Set to Lose Hundreds of Planes in Pentagon Budget Cuts(Images: Alaskan Dude, cc-3.0)

Find out more at Danger Room. Since Wired used an image of a banged-out MiG-21 to illustrate the coming cuts to US military aircraft, we thought we’d leave you with these images of defunct American jets. Last year we reported that the number of aircraft stored at Davis-Monthan AFB, also known as AMARG or the Boneyard, had diminished. Now, it seems, the number is set to once again increase.

F-117 Nighthawk at Holloman Air Force Base Heritage Park

yf 117 holloman  F-117 Nighthawk at Holloman Air Force Base Heritage Park(Image: US Air Force, public domain)

Of the six F-117 Nighthawks on display (including a wreck in Belgrade), one stands in the Heritage Park at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, the official home of the Stealth Fighter after it was declassified during the late 1980s. These photographs show the retired “Black Jet” – a YF-117 full scale development (FSD) aircraft, serial number 79-0782 – being towed across the base to its new home in the park.

yf 117 holloman 2  F-117 Nighthawk at Holloman Air Force Base Heritage Park(Image: US Air Force, public domain)

The move was carried out by the 49th Maintenance Squadron on April 5, 2008. Named Scorpion 3 (one of the original Senior Trend aircraft of the Baja Scorpions), the jet was originally used for acoustics and navigation system testing, and – with an American flag painted on its underside – was the aircraft that revealed the Stealth Fighter’s existence to high ranking officials at Groom Lake on December 14, 1983, while the programme was still top secret.

f 117 american flag  F-117 Nighthawk at Holloman Air Force Base Heritage Park(Image: US Navy, public domain)

Repainted to represent the first production F-117 to drop weapons in combat (85-0816 – which is now stored at Tonopah Test Range Airport), Scorpion 3 has taken pride of place alongside other great planes like the F-15 Eagle and F-4 Phantom.

yf 117 holloman 3  F-117 Nighthawk at Holloman Air Force Base Heritage Park(Image: US Air Force, public domain)

Five YF-117 FSD aircraft were originally built. Four are now on display, while one was scrapped in 2008 to test effective ways of destroying F-117 airframes, which contain both classified technology and toxic materials. With the exception of wreckage from a Nighthawk shot down during the Kosovo War and a hybrid airframe on a pedestal outside the Skunk Works, no production F-117s are on public display.

yf 117 holloman 4  F-117 Nighthawk at Holloman Air Force Base Heritage Park(Image: US Air Force, public domain)

While several Stealth Fighters have been sighted back in the air over Nevada, most of the retired fleet rests semi-dismanted in their original hangars at Tonopah. It has also been suggested that the iconic jets are in the process of being ploughed into deep pits on the massive Nevada Test Range where their 30-year-old stealth technology will remain forever off-limits.  That said, a full size replica has been spotted in China.

B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber Crash, Guam (in Pictures)

b 2 spirit crash  B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber Crash, Guam (in Pictures)(Image: Federal Aviation Administration, public domain)

Our previous article Secret US Planes that Remained Largely Intact after Crashing included the remains of this B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, named Spirit of Kansas, that crashed within the confines of Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, on February 23, 2008.  These grainy images, taken from a security camera, track the massive flying wing’s last takeoff roll and ultimate demise, at a cost of $1.4 billion to the US taxpayer.

b 2 spirit crash guam 2  B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber Crash, Guam (in Pictures)(Image: U.S. Air Force security camera via YouTube)

Above, the B-2, serial number 89-0127, begins its takeoff roll.  Below, Spirit of Kansas pitches up violently immediately after liftoff before leveling out.  Then, just feet above the ground, the jet drifts uncontrollably to port as the wing comes perilously close to the runway.  As the wing impacts the dirt, both crew members eject safely before the Stealth Bomber cartwheels into the ground.

(Image: U.S. Air Force security camera via YouTube)

The B-2 fleet was later grounded for 53 days pending the outcome of the crash investigation.  The cause of the accident was determined to be moisture in the port transducer units that distorted the information being sent to the aircraft’s air data system.  As a result, the flight control computers calculated an incorrect air speed, causing the B-2’s nose to pitch up 30 degrees.  From that point, the bomber became uncontrollable and the pilots had little choice but to bail out.  Incredibly, nobody was seriously hurt in the accident.

Be sure to check out these crashed American stealth aircraft that remained largely intact.

US Naval Academy F-18 Hornet: The Ultimate Stadium Accessory

f 18 blue angels annapolis  US Naval Academy F-18 Hornet: The Ultimate Stadium Accessory(Image: Andrew Leyden, cc-nc-sa-2.0)

Only in America are college sports arenas larger than many professional venues elsewhere in the world. But even here, retired fighter jets mounted at stadium gates are rare. Fittingly, this McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F-18 Hornet stands outside the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, and could be described as the ultimate stadium accessory.

f 18 blue angels annapolis stadium  US Naval Academy F-18 Hornet: The Ultimate Stadium Accessory(Images: US Navy, public domain; Google Earth)

The former fleet aircraft, which ultimately served with the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron better known as the Blue Angels, is a striking fixture outside the stadium, which stands near the US Naval Academy.

f 18 blue angels  US Naval Academy F-18 Hornet: The Ultimate Stadium Accessory(Image: Jon Sullivan, public domain)

The Blue Angels have operated six F-18 Hornet multirole fighter aircraft since 1986, receiving updated models over the years. The modified combat jets are generally passed to the team when they come to the end of their carrier arrestment capability – meaning they can no longer serve on aircraft carriers due to the punnishing nature of catapult takeoffs and arrested landings. Learn more about the Blue Angels here.

Destroyed MiG-25 in Iraqi Aircraft Graveyard

mig 25 destroyed  Destroyed MiG-25 in Iraqi Aircraft Graveyard(Image: David O, cc-3.0)

This ill-fated MiG-25 Foxbat is one of the numerous fighters of the Iraqi Air Force that never even got airborne during the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.  Liberally daubed in graffiti  by coalition troops, the forward fuselage of this twin-seat training variant has broken away from the rest of the jet.  It’s unclear whether it was hit by a bomb or was destroyed prior to the invasion.  Another battered addition to the growing aircraft graveyards littering Iraqi airbases, this MiG-25 fared significantly worse than some of its Soviet-built counterparts.

mig 25 destroyed 2  Destroyed MiG-25 in Iraqi Aircraft Graveyard(Image: Bahamut0013, cc-sa-3.0)

Above is another destroyed MiG-25 that doesn’t look beyond restoration (admittedly not to flying condition) compared to one above.  Don’t miss more impressive plane graveyards here.