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.

Ex-Russian Pilot Transforms his ZAZ Tavria into a Flying Car

flying car  Ex-Russian Pilot Transforms his ZAZ Tavria into a Flying Car(Image: www.nkj.ru, reproduced with permission)

Discovery recently reported that 72-year-old retired Russian pilot Valery Bulgakov had converted his 1987 Ukrainian-built ZAZ Tavria into a flying car. These images show the impressive result of his eccentric labours on display in July at the Autoexotics motor show in Moscow.

(Image: www.nkj.ru, reproduced with permission)

Bulgakov replaced the doors and bonnet (hood) with lighter materials and added a double set of wings, effectively transforming the Tavria into a biplane. The flying car, which was designed purely to train would-be pilots, has even been patented.

flying car 2  Ex-Russian Pilot Transforms his ZAZ Tavria into a Flying Car(Image: www.nkj.ru, reproduced with permission)

With a takeoff speed of 60 miles per hour (which takes a standard Tavria around 20 seconds to reach), sustained flight range of 600 feet and maximum altitude of ten feet, this is hardly a high performance machine. Whether it will be approved for flight by Russian authorities, however, remains to be seen.

If you enjoyed this article, don’t miss our Brief Historical Introduction to Flying Cars (aka roadable aircraft).

Nottinghamshire’s Infamous A1 Lightning Finally Scrapped

lightning xn728  Nottinghamshire’s Infamous A1 Lightning Finally Scrapped(Image: Bob Danylec, cc-sa-2.0)

In what has been hailed by many as the end of an era, a derelict English Electric Lightning fighter that had become a landmark to travellers along the A1 road near Balderton in England has finally been scrapped. One of the last remaining Lightning F.2As, the retired jet left RAF Coningsby in 1983 bound for the former haulage yard that was destined to be its home for the next 28 years.

lightning xn728 1983  Nottinghamshire’s Infamous A1 Lightning Finally Scrapped(Image: David Cowling, cc-sa-2.0)

The retired decoy aircraft, serial number XN728, which served in Germany at the height of the Cold War, was purchased from the British government by A1 Commercial Sales in a bid to attract business to the yard. But it wasn’t long before the site was derelict and a campaign of vandalism and theft ensued, which was to be the story of the Lightning’s existence for almost three decades.

lightning xn728 2000s  Nottinghamshire’s Infamous A1 Lightning Finally Scrapped(Image: John Goldsmith, cc-sa-2.0)

The Balderton yard was occupied and abandoned on multiple occasions over the years, but the Lightning somehow remained on site despite efforts by the local council to have it removed. Numerous efforts were made to save the ailing fighter – some of them reportedly by film companies – but all offers were rejected and enquiries – including one by the author – hit a brick wall.

lightning xn728 graffiti  Nottinghamshire’s Infamous A1 Lightning Finally Scrapped(Image: Andrew Barclay, cc-nc-nd-2.0)

Meanwhile, XN728, which came complete with two engines, was slowly and systematically reduced to a gutted hulk. In addition to vandalism and theft of major components, the wings – which were cut off for transport – had warped, and a metal framework intended to stabilise the aircraft had cut through the ventral tank.

lightning xn728 vandalised  Nottinghamshire’s Infamous A1 Lightning Finally Scrapped(Image: John Goldsmith, cc-sa-2.0)

Rumours that the yard’s latest owner was planning a restoration effort never solidified into fact, and one week ago, on September 9, 2011, the Cold War warrior was torn apart for scrap. Despite it being a day long anticipated, aviation enthusiasts and Lightning fans in particular will scarcely believe that XN728’s days are finally over.

xn728 lightning  Nottinghamshire’s Infamous A1 Lightning Finally Scrapped(Image courtesy of Gary Parsons, Air-Scene UK)

While a good number of English Electric Lightnings have been preserved, XN728 was the only remaining F.2A in England and one of only two in the UK. An image of the jet was used several years ago on a T-shirt range by clothing designer Paul Smith, but the company could not produce any photos of the collection when asked by the author.

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.

Did Chinese Farmer’s Homemade Helicopter Ever Fly?

homebuilt helicopter  Did Chinese Farmer’s Homemade Helicopter Ever Fly?

(Image by DVICE)

Two years ago the web was buzzing with news of a 20-year-old Chinese farmer called Wu Zhongyuan who had cobbled together a homemade helicopter with wooden rotor blades, steel-pipe-reinforced frame and a motorcycle engine.  In addition to DVICE, the story was covered by PopSci and made it onto Neatorama.  The question everyone was asking was: Could it fly?  We never found out, because the Chinese government had unsportingly prohibiting Mr Wu from test flying his invention.  Jumping forward to 2011, is the ban still enforced, or has the homemade helicopter taken to the air?

Don’t miss more great homebuilt aircraft 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.

Abandoned Boeing 727 Becomes Exclusive Costa Rican Hotel Suite

costa verde hotel 727  Abandoned Boeing 727 Becomes Exclusive Costa Rican Hotel Suite(Image: Cherie Stafford, cc-nc-3.0)

Converting redundant passenger aircraft into hostels, hotels and houses has become more common in recent years, not least the Jumbo Hostel in Stockholm or the incredible recycled Wing House project in California. Now, guests at the Hotel Costa Verde can experience Costa Rica’s most exclusive suite in the form of a recycled Boeing 727.

costa verde hotel 727 hotel  Abandoned Boeing 727 Becomes Exclusive Costa Rican Hotel Suite(Images: Hotel Costa Verde)

The vintage passenger plane, built in 1965, was operated by South Africa Air and later Avianca Airlines (Colombia). But after (seemingly) ending its days in a San Jose aircraft graveyard, the tired airframe was salvaged piece by piece and transported to Hotel Costa Verde on five big-rig trucks.

costa verde hotel 727 hotel 2  Abandoned Boeing 727 Becomes Exclusive Costa Rican Hotel Suite(Images: Hotel Costa Verde)

Perched on a 50 foot pedestal, the 727’s interior is decked out in Costa Rican teak, while the two air conditioned bedrooms boast queen sized beds, private baths and flat screen TVs. It’s not the only aircraft house or plane hotel around, but the hand-carved furnishings and scenic ocean and jungle views from the hard wood deck atop the aircraft’s right wing certainly make it one of the most exclusive examples of post-service aircraft design.