Lockheed’s CALF Aircraft Powered Model Seen on Google Earth

Lockheed CALF  Lockheed’s CALF Aircraft Powered Model Seen on Google Earth(Image: Google Earth 2011)

Sitting in a junk filled corner of Carswell Air Force Base near Fort Worth, Texas, is a corroding aircraft that formed the basis of Lockheed’s Joint Strike Fighter design. At first glance, the plane resembles an F-35 Lightning II, but is actually a large scale powered model built by Lockheed to meet DARPA requirements for an Advanced Short Takeoff Vertical Landing (ASTOVL) and Common Affordable Lightweight Fighter (CALF) aircraft.

F 35 lift fan  Lockheed’s CALF Aircraft Powered Model Seen on Google Earth(Image: Duch.seb, cc-sa-3.0)

The stealthy canard design, developed in the early 1990s, adopted a revolutionary lift fan to achieve short takeoff and vertical landing, helping cement Lockheed’s success in the later Joint Strike Fighter programme against Boeing’s X-32. At this stage of the programme, renamed Joint Advanced Strike Technology (JAST) by 1995, competing designs were also submitted by McDonnell Douglas and Boeing.

Lockheed CALF Fort Worth  Lockheed’s CALF Aircraft Powered Model Seen on Google Earth(Image: Google Earth 2011)

While the ASTOVL/CALF/JAST design was not a flyable aircraft, it was also not a traditional full size replica. As a large scale powered model, the stealthy demonstrator was used in a series of ground-based tests, many focusing on the lift fan system. Despite an obvious resemblance, the final X-35 and F-35 designs differ significantly from CALF. The powered model, similar in size to the F-16 alongside it, looks like a gutted shell in these recent Google Earth images. Nearby is a mock-up of the ill-fated A-12 Avenger II attack aircraft, designed for the Navy, and cancelled in 1993 amid ongoing legal difficulties.

Are Lockheed’s Stealth Fighters Living up to Music Video – “Go Anywhere, Do Anything”?

lockheed f 35 lightning ii  Are Lockheed’s Stealth Fighters Living up to Music Video – “Go Anywhere, Do Anything”?(Image: U.S. Air Force, public domain)

I noticed a clip of Lockheed Martin’s music video in Wired’s Danger Room, featured in a recent article about Lockheed’s F-22 Raptor and troubled F-35 Lightning II, developed from the Joint Strike Fighter project.  The video, which features no dropped bombs or fire missiles, is lyrically limited, essentially confine to the track’s title “Go Anywhere, Do Anything” – slightly ironic considering the temporarily grounded F-22.

f 22 raptor  Are Lockheed’s Stealth Fighters Living up to Music Video – “Go Anywhere, Do Anything”?(Image: U.S. Air Force, public domain)

Still, there are heavy drums and nice footage of essentially every aircraft Lockheed currently develops.  According to a 2010 article on CNBC, the professional musicians were recruited from Dallas-Fort Worth, where the F-35 is built, to “inspire [Lockheed’s] workforce and use in the local community”, although the music itself came from a production music library, not the band.  Will Lockheed’s Joint Strike Fighter be going anywhere and doing anything anytime soon?  Watch the full video here.

DARPA Loses Track of Falcon Hypersonic HTV-2 over Pacific

darpa falcon htv 2  DARPA Loses Track of Falcon Hypersonic HTV-2 over Pacific(Image: DARPA, public domain)

(DARPA has lost track of its Falcon HTV-2 experimental spaceplane over the Pacific Ocean.  Has it suffered the same fate as last year’s ill-fated mission?  What follows is a background article on the programme and real time updates as the article is being written.)

At the precise moment this article is being written, the DARPA Hypersonic Test Vehicle (HTV-2) – the fastest military aircraft ever built – is two minutes away from launch, as tweeted via @DARPA_News, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.  Known as the Falcon project, the spaceplane would be able to travel from London to Sydney in less than an hour while withstanding temperatures greater than 2000 degrees – hotter than the melting point of steel, the Guardian reports.

falcon htv 2 flight trajectory1  DARPA Loses Track of Falcon Hypersonic HTV-2 over Pacific(Image: U.S. Federal Government, public domain)

The unmanned Falcon (Force Application and Launch from Continental United States) is a joint programme of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the U.S. Air Force. The project aims to develop a hypersonic system that can reach any point on the globe in less than an hour – and potentially deliver weapons.

kwajalein atoll1  DARPA Loses Track of Falcon Hypersonic HTV-2 over Pacific(Image: NASA, public domain)

The HTV-2 is designed to be launched into the upper atmosphere on the back of an expendable Minotaur IV rocket (separation occurred seven minutes ago at time of writing, and as of three minutes ago the spaceplane entered the glide phase). At this point, engineers will guide the Falcon HTV-2 on its 13,000 mph (20 times the speed of sound) flight over the Pacific.

(Image: U.S. Federal Government, public domain)

Today’s test flight of the Falcon HTV-2 – which is a hypersonic glider – will also test the carbon composite materials tasked with ensuring the craft can withstand the extreme temperatures of hypersonic flight. Design and flight pattern alterations have taken place since last year, when the first HTV-2 encountered a problem and was ordered by its onboard computer to ditch into the ocean for safety reasons.

dyna soar  DARPA Loses Track of Falcon Hypersonic HTV-2 over Pacific(Image: NASA, public domain)

Despite this incredible technology, the U.S. government has been experimenting with spaceplanes concepts for decades (like the Boeing X-20 Dyna-Soar, above), and the somewhat shadowy Falcon can be seen as the pinnacle of ongoing research. Another classified vehicle, known as the X-41 Common Aero Vehicle (CAV) is also reportedly associated with the programme.

As of three minutes ago, DARPA tweeted: “Range assets have lost telemetery with #HTV2.  More to follow.”

One hour later (5:23pm BST) there have been no new updates – problems?

Approx 5:27pm BST: “Downrange assets did not reacquire tracking or telemetry. #HTV2 has an autonomous flight termination capability. More to follow.”  Has the second test flight gone the same way as the first HTV-2?

Approx 5:55pm BST: Associated Press reports contact lost and DARPA yet to respond to an email requesting further information.

6:10pm BST: Still no further updates…

A Brief History of Balls 8, the Famous B-52 that Served NASA for Almost 50 Years

nasa nb 52 b balls 8  A Brief History of Balls 8, the Famous B-52 that Served NASA for Almost 50 Years(Image: NASA, public domain)

If you’re familiar with those inspired aviation images depicting X-Planes launched from beneath the wing of a Boeing B-52 bomber, chances are that “mothership” was NASA NB-52B, tail number 52-008, known to pilots as Balls 8.  After almost 50 years of dedicated service to research and development, ending in 2004, Balls 8 is now preserved at Edwards Air Force Base.  This article outlines a brief history of NASA’s trusted mothership, the oldest active B-52 in service at the time of retirement.

nb 52b balls 8 x 15  A Brief History of Balls 8, the Famous B-52 that Served NASA for Almost 50 Years(U.S. Air Force, public domain)

Originally built as an RB-52B reconnaissance variant for the U.S. Air Force, Balls 8 first took to the sky on June 11, 1955.  After being transferred to NASA in 1959, the massive Stratofortress was modified to an X-15 launch platform at North American Aviation’s Palmdale plant, receiving the new designation NB-52B.

nb 52a  A Brief History of Balls 8, the Famous B-52 that Served NASA for Almost 50 Years(Image: US Federal Government, public domain)

While 93 of the X-15 launches came care of Balls 8’s predecessor, an NB-52A named “The High and Mighty One” – 106 flights of the rocket-powered pioneer were launched by 008. To achieve this, a pylon was fitted beneath the B-52’s right wing between the fuselage and inboard engine, with a 6-by-8 foot section removed from the wing flap to accomodate the X-15’s tail.

balls 8 hl 10  A Brief History of Balls 8, the Famous B-52 that Served NASA for Almost 50 Years(Image: NASA, public domain)

During the 1960s and ’70s, Balls 8 flew missions supporting the Martin Marietta X-24 and other lifting body aircraft, followed by HiMAT, the Pegasus rocket and the unmanned scramjet-powered X-43, among others.

b 52 balls 8  A Brief History of Balls 8, the Famous B-52 that Served NASA for Almost 50 Years(Image: NASA, public domain)

The modified B-52 gained its nickname from its NASA tail number 52-008. In an amusing and slightly irreverent tradition, U.S. Air Force personnel refer to aircraft with a number preceeded by multiple zeros as “Balls”, plus the last number – hence Balls 8.

balls 8 52 008  A Brief History of Balls 8, the Famous B-52 that Served NASA for Almost 50 Years(Images: LanceBarber, public domain; NASA, public domain)

The NB-52B mothership was finally retired on December 17, 2004 after 49 years in the air, having become the oldest active B-52 in service until that time.  Balls 8 was also the only variant still flying other than the H model, and had the lowest number of flying hours of any operational B-52.  The aircraft is pictured below with her replacement, a more modern B-52H.

balls 8 nb 52b edwards  A Brief History of Balls 8, the Famous B-52 that Served NASA for Almost 50 Years(Images: NASA (top), public domain; RaNma, cc-nc-sa-3.0)

Soon after retirement, Balls 8 was placed on permanent display at the north gate of Edwards Air Force Base, her home for 45 years and – as home of the Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC) – the place where some of the most pioneering aircraft ever designed first took to the sky.

NASA B-52 Launching X-24A in 1970

b 52 x 24 a  NASA B-52 Launching X-24A in 1970(Image: NASA, public domain)

This stunning photograph, which reflects the pioneering days of post World War Two aviation research and development, shows the NASA Boeing NB-52B mothership – nicknamed Balls 8 – launching the X-24A experimental lifting body aircraft in 1970.  The rocket-powered Martin Marietta X-24A flew 28 times from 1963 to 1972 before modification to the more stable X-24B, validating the concept that the Space Shuttle could land unpowered.  Balls 8, serial number 52-008, first flew in 1955 and was the oldest active B-52 at the time of its retirement in 2004.  The long serving aircraft now on public display at the north gate of Edwards Air Force Base.

HMS Ark Royal F-4 Phantom Wears Combined US and UK Markings

US f 4 phantom british markings1  HMS Ark Royal F-4 Phantom Wears Combined US and UK Markings(Image: U.S. Navy, public domain, via eacott.com.au)

This unconventionally marked F-4B Phantom depicts a U.S. Marine Corps warplane operating from a UK aircraft carrier – HMS Ark Royal – during the 1970s, sporting Royal Navy squadron insignia on its tail fin.  The Phantom, of USMC fighter-bomber squadron VMFA-531 Grey Ghosts, was primarily assigned to the USS Forrestal during a Mediterranean deployment from September 1972 to July 1973.

US f 4 phantom british markings 2  HMS Ark Royal F-4 Phantom Wears Combined US and UK Markings(Image: via eacott.com.au, believed to be work of U.S. Navy, public domain)

From February to March 1973, a number of the Phantoms operated from Ark Royal.  According to this forum, the F-4 above (151477) developed a fault before the ship docked at Malta, where U.S. personnel were unwelcome at the time.  Unable to depart with the other American Phantoms, the jet was hidden in a hangar below deck and later emerged with the tail markings of a Royal Navy 892 Squadron F-4K.

Capital Ships: HMS Ark Royal is Dwarfed by USS Nimitz at Norfolk, Virginia

hms ark royal uss nimitz  Capital Ships: HMS Ark Royal is Dwarfed by USS Nimitz at Norfolk, Virginia(Image: U.S. Federal Government, public domain)

She pioneered the angled deck and was capable of projecting the strength of 50 aircraft to distant corners of the world, but HMS Ark Royal (scrapped in 1980) was dwarfed by the massive American-built aircraft carrier USS Nimitz.  Seen here docked at Norfolk, Virginia shortly before decommissioning in 1978, Ark Royal will posthumously remain Britain’s largest carrier until the introduction of the first new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier around 2020.

“This is a Drill”: Crucial Carrier Aircraft That Do Not Fly

f 18 training airframe  “This is a Drill”: Crucial Carrier Aircraft That Do Not Fly(Image: U.S. Navy, public domain)

The flight deck of an aircraft carrier is one of the busiest and most dangerous places in the world, making effective training and damage control systems critical.  Tasked mainly with launching and recovering aircraft to project strength and support combat operations in distant corners of the globe, carrier crews must train constantly for emergencies involving damaged aircraft.  Since active fleet jets are precious assets, they do so with training airframes, like these grounded F-18 Hornets, whose flying days are over.

f 18 training airframe 3  “This is a Drill”: Crucial Carrier Aircraft That Do Not Fly(Image: U.S. Navy, public domain)

Tucked away in a corner of the hangar deck until required for training, these airframes likely represent earlier models of the F-18 that have since been retired, or jets damaged beyond economical repair in real aerial mishaps.  In the top image, crash and salvage personnel aboard Nimitz-class carrier USS Harry Truman recover an F-18 Hornet training airframe after a simulated crash landing while underway in the Atlantic Ocean.  A similar operation takes place aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower at Norfolk, Virginia in 2005 (above).

f 18 training airframe 4  “This is a Drill”: Crucial Carrier Aircraft That Do Not Fly(Image: U.S. Navy, public domain)

Finally, in another 2005 drill aboard USS Enterprise, a member of the Damage Control Training Team (DCTT), waves “class bravo fire” flags to warn fellow crew of a simulated F-18 fuel fire.  The event simulated a general quarters drill in the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier’s hangar bay.  In real life, a situation such as this could lead to multiple loss of life and destruction of expensive equipment, meaning crews must demonstrate constant proficiency to avert utter catastrophe.

Soviet Monuments: Decaying Lenin Statue Watches Over Abandoned Fighter Jet

abandoned mig 15 lenin statue  Soviet Monuments: Decaying Lenin Statue Watches Over Abandoned Fighter Jet(Image: Danner Gyde, reproduced with permission)

Situated at the entrance to the Russian Federation Air Force Museum at Monino, this derelict Soviet-era MiG-15 lying alongside a decaying statue of Vladimir Lenin is as much social commentary as it is scrap metal.  While the museum’s impressive collection represents a timeline of Russian aviation, the “gate guards” symbolise the decline and fall of the Soviet Union and with it, communism.  Of course, they are just two among hundreds of reminders of the old epoch in a landscape littered with rusting monuments.

Have Aircraft Numbers Declined at AMARG, U.S. Military’s Vast Plane Graveyard?

AMARG  Have Aircraft Numbers Declined at AMARG, U.S. Military’s Vast Plane Graveyard?(All images via Google Earth)

Officially titled the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) but known simply as “the Boneyard”, this vast collection of surplus military aircraft in Tucson, Arizona is without doubt the largest plane graveyard in the United States.  But according to a March 2011 Google Earth overview, there’s evidence that the “second largest air force in the world” is shrinking rapidly.

AMARG 2  Have Aircraft Numbers Declined at AMARG, U.S. Military’s Vast Plane Graveyard?

This February 2010 article on Treehugger revealed a plane graveyard with barely an empty parking space available.  But it’s changed dramatically over the past year, as dwindling aircraft numbers reflect the return to service of some and scrapping of others.  Roughly 87 massive B-52 bombers survive in the Boneyard, with around half cut-up to satisfy treaty obligations.

AMARG 3  Have Aircraft Numbers Declined at AMARG, U.S. Military’s Vast Plane Graveyard?

F-4 Phantom numbers have also declined, with many of the stored Vietnam-era warplanes returned to service for use as target drones, while an ongoing process of regeneration and recycling has seen other Boneyard occupants give up the ghost.  But even if the massive 2,600 acre (four square mile) site no longer houses 4,200 aircraft, it’s still one of the most impressive aircraft facilities on the planet.

AMARG 4  Have Aircraft Numbers Declined at AMARG, U.S. Military’s Vast Plane Graveyard?

More to the point, when the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter eventually enters service, AMARG will once again be filled to capacity with a new crop of redundant F-16s and F-18s, among other older airframes.  For the aviation enthusiast – or anyone that wants to be awestruck – a tour of the Boneyard is available from the Pima Air & Space Museum, adjacent to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.