Thursday, December 31, 2015

Fighter Jet Times - December 31, 2015

December 31, 2015

Russian news sources have been touting supposed "game changing" capabilities for the new T-50, PAK-FA "stealth" fighter currently under development, claiming that the new Russian fighter will be the first to incorporate Radio-Optical Phased Array (ROFAR) radar systems.  According to Russian sources, the ROFAR utilizes photonic technology - utilizing optical fibers in place of wires to transmit signals - to reduce the weight of the radar system while offering greater resolution.

The announcements for the new technologies being offered aboard the PAK-FA come at the same time that India is reportedly considering dropping out of the program.  India had been cooperating with Russia on an Indian derivative of the PAK-FA, but concerns over cost and capabilities have threatened to derail the deal.  The Russian air force has reportedly slashed its own order for PAK-FA fighters down to a single squadron of aircraft (just 12 fighters), until such time as a more powerful new engine - also under development - becomes available.  The Russian government has reportedly also offered to cut the price tag for transferring the T-50 prototype technologies, from $6 billion to $3.7 billion.

Surveys of civilian satellite imagery have suggested an increased Chinese air force (PLAAF) deployment to the high-altitude Hotan airport, beginning in late 2014 and continuing to this day.  The Hotan airport is less than 80 miles from China's disputed border with India.

Chinese media is reporting that China's J-20 stealth fighter has entered low-rate initial production, with the first production aircraft rolling out of the factory this past month.  The J-20 relies on the same engines as Russia's own T-50 PAK-FA fighter prototype.  The engines are an upgraded derivative of the the AL-31F that powers the Su-27 and Su-30 Flanker, as well as China's J-10 fighter.

Taiwanese officials have greeted the news of the J-20 program's transition into production with growing alarm.  Proposals to upgrade Taiwan's own air defenses with newer-model F-16s have been repeatedly rejected by Washington over the past two decades.

South Korea has signed an agreement with Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) for the development of a next-generation, KF-X "stealth" fighter.  Under the terms of the deal, the South Korean government would provide 60-percent of the $6.9 billion needed to develop and build eight prototypes, six of which would be committed to flight testing and two to ground tests.  KAI would provide 20-percent of the funding, with the balance to come from other industry or government sources, including funding from Indonesia, which is also interested in the airplane.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Space Highlights - December 30, 2015

December 30, 2015

China launched its most sophisticated Earth-observation satellite yet into orbit this past week, aboard a Long March 3B booster.  The satellite, Gaofen-4 is an optical imaging satellite that is intended to cover most of Asia.

Russia launched the Express-AMU1 communications satellite aboard a Proton-M booster this past week.  The Express-AMU1 is intended to provide coverage for Russia, Eastern Europe and Africa.

Europe's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter arrived at its launch site in Kazkhastan this past week, in preparation for launch in the spring.

The Curiosity rover's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument has made the first detection of biologically accessible Nitrogen on the surface of Mars.  Nitrogen, in the form of biologically accessible nitrates, is one of the building blocks for the complex proteins on which life on Earth depends.

The Dawn space probe has continued to beam back close-up photographs of the surface of Ceres, after having transitioned into a new, lower orbit.

NASA continues to download images from Cassini's last close flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus.

NASA released a series of false-color, "stained glass" images of Pluto, as captured by the New Horizons spacecraft's infrared spectrometer.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Wide Body Report - December 29, 2015

December 29, 2015

Despite landing fewer orders than last year, Boeing is on-track for a record year in aircraft deliveries, expecting to deliver at least 750 aircraft by year-end - only slightly more than the number of new aircraft on order.

Kuwait Airways has signed an agreement for the purchase of 10 Airbus A350 and 15 Airbus A320 NEO aircraft.

The Airbus A350-900 received its first Airworthiness Directive from the FAA, to verify that the electro-hydrostatic actuators (EHAs) that drive the roll-control surfaces are working correctly.

China Airlines is expected to receive its first Airbus A350-900 in July 2016.  China Airlines has 14 A350s on order.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Single Aisle News - December 28, 2015

December 28, 2015

Armed with a newly certified airplane, Bombardier is reportedly looking to slash the asking price on its new C-Series airline in order to jump-start sluggish sales.

Analysts have pointed out that United Airlines is currently in the market for a new 100-seat airplane, with an order expected in coming months for up to 50 airplanes.  The Bombardier C-Series and Embraer E-Jet have been cited as possible options.

Embraer is expected to roll-out its prototype E190-E2 on February 25th.  The E-Jet E2 will utilize the same Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan (TM) engines as the Bombardier C-Series and Mitsubishi Regional Jet.

Mitsubishi Aircraft has revealed that customer deliveries for the MRJ will be delayed by another year to mid-2018.  The airplane developer is currently implementing changes to its prototype to correct structural deficiencies identified in the airplane's wing.

Pratt & Whitney has rebutted claims made by JP Morgan analysts, which had warned that planned modifications to the Geared Turbofan (TM) engines which power the Airbus A320 NEO could erode promised fuel savings for the new engines.  A P&W spokesman reaffirmed that "Our engines are currently meeting the fuel-efficiency commitments we have made to our customers, they will upon entry into service and thereafter."  P&W has, however, identified a concern due to uneven cooling of the engine during shut-down, which will require a software change requiring a three-minute spool-down of the engine to avoid excessive wear on some components.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Book Review: Dassault Ouragan

Ra'anan Weiss and Shlomo Aloni
Dassault Ouragan
Bat-Hefer, Israel: IsraDecal Publications, 2009
Category: Israel Air Force - History / Photo Gallery

Rating: 3-Stars

The Dassault Ouragan was the jet fighter that the Israeli air force never planned on.  Originally proposed as a stop-gap measure while France sorted through their development problems with the Mystere II (eventually producing the Mystere IV), the Ouragan became the principal IDF strike aircraft and operational trainer throughout the 1950s and 1960s.  Unlike most other aircraft in the IDF, the Mystere was never loved by its pilots, even when it was first introduced.  From the very beginning, it was out-classed by competitors flown among Israel's neighbors and within short order, by other aircraft within the IDF itself.  Nonetheless, the Ouragan played an important, vitally needed role in Israel's order of battle, providing the close air support that Israel's front line troops relied upon.

Relative to many of the other books put out by IsraDecal, the volume on the Ouragan contains less text and fewer pilot interviews - which was why I had to rank it a little lower than some of their other publications.  The photography selection, however, is excellent, with a broad cross-section of vintage images, as well as color profiles from the various aircraft and squadrons.  Two squadrons eventually flew the Ouragan: the 113th and 107th.  The 113th was the Israeli air force's operational training unit, serving a dual role as both a training organization and providing close air support.

In total, not a bad book, although I would have liked to have seen a little broader perspective coming across in the text.  For someone who's looking for a complete record of Israeli air force aircraft and squadron operations, the book is still a worthwhile addition to add to their overall library.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Book Review: F-86 Sabre Aces of the 4th Fighter Wing

Warren Thompson
F-86 Sabre Aces of the 4th Fighter Wing
Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2006
Category: U.S. Air Force - History

Rating: 4-Stars

Thompson's book stands as an introduction to the F-86 Sabre, and to air combat during the Korean War.  Although nowhere as complete as the works by Futrell or Werrell on this subject, Thompson's book includes a fair cross-section of the history, pilot accounts, and photographs from the era.  This is further supplemented with color profiles of the various aircraft and squadrons that participated in the campaign.

For over a year, the 4th Fighter Wing would be the only Sabre wing to be stationed in Korea.  The ability of the Sabre and its air crews to maintain air superiority over the skies of Korea was a crucial element, both in protecting U.S. and allied ground forces from air attack, and in providing cover for allied strike aircraft to support the ground war.

Taken together, F-86 Sabre Aces is a good first introduction into what was one of the most hard-fought wars in U.S. history.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Lavi Book in Print: Photographs

My book on Israel's Lavi program finally started to ship from various retailers this past week. I know that Amazon reported the book as in-stock as of last week Thursday, and my own copy arrived from the publisher on Monday. It's been a long effort to see this story finally told, and in print.

The one thing that I would most have liked to have seen done differently in the book, however, were the photographs and illustrations. I really would have liked to have included more photographs, and to have seen them published in color. So here, for the benefit of those who might be wondering what they would have looked like, is a copy of the proposed photography package for the book - in color where available. I'll add a similar collection for the illustrations at a later juncture.  Who knows, if the demand is sufficient, there might even be the possibility for an extended, illustrated edition one day.  Enjoy.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Fighter Jet Times - December 24, 2015

December 24, 2015

Canada's new Defense Minister is backing away from a Liberal Party campaign pledge that they would cancel Canada's participation in the F-35 program once in office, indicating instead that the F-35 had not been ruled out as a replacement for Canada's CF-18 fleet.

Lockheed Martin has announced that it has met its goal for delivering 45 F-35 fighters in 2015.

Dassault Aviation has begun assembly of the first of 24 Rafale fighters destined for Qatar.

In an attempt to steal the still-unsigned contract between the Indian government and Dassault, Saab has made an offer to assemble JAS-39 Gripen fighters in India in return for a contract to purchase the Swedish fighter.

Speculation on possible new defense deals surrounds the visit of India's Prime Minister to Moscow this week.  Additional Su-30 purchases are reportedly a distinct possibility, and HAL Chairman T Suvarna Raju has reported that interest in the joint Indo-Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) - expected to be an evolution of Russia's T-50 stealth fighter now in flight test - is again growing.

An Indonesian T-50 Golden Eagle trainer crashed during an air show appearance this past week.  The aircraft is the trainer version of the South Korean built FA-50 fighter, which is also being promoted by Lockheed Martin as a contender for the US Air Force T-X trainer contract.

KAI and Lockheed Martin held a roll-out for their proposed version of the T-50 trainer, that is being offered to meet the USAF's T-X trainer competition.  The T-50 and FA-50 were developed with Lockheed Martin assistance for use by the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF).

A Chinese naval aviation J-10 fighter crashed during a night training flight on December 17th.  The crew are reported to have ejected safely.  This would be the third J-10 aircraft to crash in the past three months.

Reports continue to circulate that Russian warplanes have been using Iranian air bases to launch attacks in Syria.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Space Highlights - December 23, 2015

December 23, 2015

SpaceX successfully recovered a Falcon 9 booster for the first time this past week, landing the first stage booster vertically at Cape Canaveral shortly after launching 11 small data-relay satellites for Orbcomm.  The booster recovery follows several failed attempts at demonstrating SpaceX's reusable booster concept.

The recent successful vertical recover of a spent booster by SpaceX has been compared by some to the similar vertical recovery by Blue Origin, which took place last month.  The fundamental difference, however, was that the Blue Origin flight was focused around a sub-orbital, "space tourism" capsule, whereas the SpaceX launch recovered the first stage booster from a successful satellite launch.

India's ISRO successfully launched six satellites for Singapore this past week, and also successfully re-started the upper stage of its PSLV booster - in a test for possible future launches.

Arianespace successfully completed its 12th satellite launch for the year this past week, a new record in annual launches for the European company.

China launched the Dark Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE) this past week - joining an international effort to hunt for evidence of dark matter and to quantify its behavior.  Evidence for dark matter has been confirmed by astronomers, but the sub-atomic particles that are believed to make up dark matter have never been directly observed.

NASA has announced a delay in its next Mars mission, to repair a leak in one of the scientific instruments.  The Insight spacecraft had been scheduled for launch in March.  The delay will mean that the spacecraft - which was to have delivered a lander to the Martian surface - will be delayed by at least two years, before the two planets are favorably aligned again.

French researchers have proposed that many of the more recently formed gullies observed at Martian mid-latitudes were likely formed by dry ice, not water.  This finding in no way contradicts recent evidence for liquid water at select Martian locations today, but merely underscores that more than one form of erosion is currently active on the Martian surface.

NASA has released images from Cassini's final, close encounter with Saturn's moon Enceladus.  The probe passed within 3,100 miles of the moon's surface.

NASA also released images of Saturn's odd moon Phoebe - a pockmarked body that orbits in the opposite direction relative to Saturn's other moons, and which is probably a captured asteroid or comet.

The Dawn spacecraft has settled into its final, lowest orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres, and has begun to transmit close-up images.

Researchers highlighted the latest findings from the New Horizons spacecraft and its recent fly-by of Pluto during last week's meeting of the American Geophysical Union.  Considerable attention has focused on the networks of eroded valleys which point to glacial activity.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Wide Body Report - December 22, 2015

December 22, 2015

The 100th Boeing 787 rolled off the assembly line this past week in South Carolina.

Etihad Airways will expand its Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet to cover five routes next year.

The British Airways Boeing 777 that caught fire in Las Vegas due to an uncontained engine event last year is expected to begin repairs in January.  No timetable was provided for when the damaged aircraft would fly again.

Delta Air Lines reports that it recently signed a letter of intent for the purchase of a used 777 aircraft for $7.7 million, backing up the comments made in October by Delta's CEO Richard Anderson, contending that a used 777 could be acquired for as little as $10 million.  The news has increased concerns over the resale value of used airlines, and sent Boeing stock down by 1.7 percent.

Airbus has delivered its first A350-900 to TAM Airlines - the first A350 delivery to a customer in the Americas.

The wing for the first A350-1000 has left its sub-assembly facility in Broughton, England and has been delivered to Bremen, Germany for final fitting before delivery to the final assembly line in Toulouse.  The A350-1000 is a larger version of the A350, featuring a larger wing.

Emirates has announced three new routes that will be serviced by the A380 super-jumbo jet next year, including routes to Taipei, Prague and Birmingham.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Single Aisle News - December 21, 2015

December 21, 2015

Bombardier has received certification of its CS100 C-Series model from Transport of Canada, allowing the manufacturer to commence commercial deliveries of the aircraft.

Airbus has delayed deliveries of the first A320 NEO aircraft intended for IndiGo due to undisclosed "industrial reasons".  IndiGo was scheduled to be the third airline to take delivery of the re-engined aircraft.

IAG has firmed up options for another 15 A320 NEO aircraft, in addition to the 52 firm orders already in place for A320 NEO family aircraft.  The existing orders are expected to be divided between IAG subsidiaries Vueling and British Airways.  An engine selection has not been announced for the aircraft.

Turkish Airlines has selected Pratt & Whitney's PW1100G Geared TurboFan (TM) to power the 72 A321 NEO aircraft that it currently has on order.  Turkish Airlines also has options on a further 20 aircraft.

Boeing has won an order from China Southern Airlines for 30 737NG and 50 737 MAX aircraft.  As part of the deal, Boeing has agreed to buy-back older versions of the 737 from China Southern.  Boeing also announced that China's Xiamen Airlines was the customer in a previously announced order for 30 737 MAX aircraft.

Due to flight test delays, delivery of the first Mitsubishi Regional Jet to Al Nippon Airways (ANA) will likely be delayed until the latter half of 2018 - a delay of over a year.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Book Review: The United States Air Force in Korea

Robert F. Futrell
The United States Air Force in Korea
Washington, DC: Air Force History and Museums Program, 1996
Category: U.S. Air Force - History

Rating: 4-Stars

First published in 1961, revised in 1983 and republished again in 1991 and 1996, Robert Futrell's account of the Korean air war is undoubtedly the most comprehensive available.  Some 823 pages in length, this is the detailed account of the Korean air campaign, battle-by-battle.

Futrell's account is by no means light reading.  Replete with maps, operational details on the strategies and preparations to win the war, Futrell's comprehensive history reflects the long, hard-fought war that Korea was.  Although short on first-hand pilot accounts, Futrell describes in detail each phase of the war, focusing equally on the wins and the losses.  This is the honest picture of the air campaign in the "forgotten war."  A total of 1,040,708 allied sorties.  Some 467,000 tons of ordnance dropped by the US Air Force alone.  Over a thousand allied aircraft lost in battle.  The breadth and magnitude of this air war often goes unappreciated by succeeding generations.  Futrell's account is not light reading.  It is the record of an immense air campaign intended for the serious historian, and a reminder for how hard-fought this war really was.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Book Review: Sabres Over MiG Alley

Kenneth P. Werrell
Sabres Over MiG Alley
Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2005
Category: U.S. Air Force - History

Rating: 5-Stars

The Korean War saw the world's first jet-on-jet fighter engagements, with stories of the match-up between the F-86 Sabre and MiG-15 becoming legendary.  Kenneth Werrell has compiled a most readable history of this exchange, combining the story of the evolution of the F-86 and the air war over Korea, with first-hand pilot accounts that help to bring that era to life.  Each pilot account includes a profile of the pilot, and his wartime experience, further cementing the picture.

There have been a wide array of books on the Korean War and the Korean air war.  What sets Werrell's book apart is its steady flow, interlacing between the technical story behind the evolution of the F-86, and the pilot experience in the war.  His book is not as all-encompassing as Robert Futrell's The United States Air Force in Korea, for example, but it's far more accessible to the reader.  It also does not have the broad expanse of photography that some books tend to emphasize, but it does have just enough photographs to help the reader to visualize the airplane and the era in which it flew.  Taken together, Werrell has assembled what is probably the most balanced book available chronicling the experience of the F-86 squadrons over Korea.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Book Review: Jezreel Valley Mysteres

Shlomo Aloni
Jezreel Valley Mysteres
Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 2015
Category: Israel Air Force - History

Rating: 5-Stars

The Mystere IV was Israel's leading interceptor from the mid- to late-1950s.  This included the 1956 Sinai Campaign, where the Israeli fighter corps first proved itself against their Egyptian adversaries.  Even after the Super Mystere arrived in 1958, the Mystere IV continued to serve in the air-to-air role until the arrival of the Mirage III in 1962.

With the arrival of the Mirage, the role of the Mystere IV shifted from air-to-air to primarily air-to-ground in its focus.  In this capacity, the Mystere would go on to play an essential part during operations in the Six Day War as well as the War of Attrition.

Jezreel Valley Mysteres traces this evolution in role, following the experience of the 109 Squadron throughout this period.  Throughout the text, Aloni delivers the same level of detail that he has become famous for, including intimate details of the squadrons operations, day-by-day accounts of wartime activity, and candid pilot accounts from the men who lived through these historic events.  This is complimented by plenty of black-and-white photography from the era, and even a few color images from the 1960s.  A superb tribute to this important fighter-bomber.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Fighter Jet Times - December 17, 2015

December 17, 2015

RAF Tornado and Typhoon fighter jets performed their second air strike in Syria this past week, following approval by the British parliament to expand British operations against ISIS targets.

Lockheed officials have declared the F-35 program to be "back on track" towards meeting its production ramp-up.

The Israeli air force is reportedly evaluating the purchase of the F-35B STOVL version of the Joint Strike Fighter.  The STOVL version is being evaluated as an alternative to mitigate the threat posed to Israel's air bases by the vast surface-to-surface missile arsenal that has been amassed by Hezbollah.  The STOVL version, however, also carries less fuel and has a shorter range than its conventional counterpart.

Northrop Grumman has unveiled its latest concept studies into a proposed 6th generation fighter aircraft - emphasizing the need for thermal management and heat rejection as part of any future fighter project.

The U.S. has relaxed its policy on the transfer of gas turbine engine technology to India, to include the supply of U.S. assistance for the development of a 5th generation "stealth" fighter in India.  At the center of this cooperation will be the development of an enhanced version of the GE F414 engine, which is expected to power India's Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).

South Korea has awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin to upgrade the nation's F-16 fighters.  Northrop Grumman is expected to supply an active electronically scanned (AESA) radar as part of the upgrade package.

Turkish officials have confirmed earlier media reports that BAE Systems has been selected to partner with Turkish industry in the development of the Turkey's TF-X stealth fighter.

Reports are circulating that China's J-20 stealth fighter will enter low-rate production in 2016.  The J-20 flies on a Russian-made engine that is a derivative of the same AL-31F that powers Russian-built Su-27 and Su-30 fighters.

While the J-20 is closest to production, Chinese defense officials are touting the smaller J-31 as being an eventual export competitor for the U.S. F-35.  The J-31 uses a Russian-made engine derived from the RD-33 which powers the MiG-29.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Space Highlights - December 16, 2015

December 16, 2015

Arianespace is preparing for the launch of two satellites this coming Thursday, as part of its Galileo constellation of global positioning satellites - a European competitor to the U.S. GPS system.

Russia successfully launched a  military satellite aboard a Proton-M booster this past week, following two unsuccessful rocket launches earlier this year.  The recently launched satellite is part of a data-relay system.

SpaceX is expecting to launched an Orbcomm communications satellite this coming week - its first launch since a booster failed last June.

NASA has released new images of Saturn's moons Enceladus and Tethys as captured by the Cassini space probe.

NASA has also released new images of Titan, as captured by Cassini during a recent flyby, in which the probe came within 6,200 miles of the surface of Saturn's largest moon.

NASA has released the first color images from the New Horizons space probe's closest encounter with Pluto.

NASA's Mars rover, Curiosity has reached the edge of a patch of Martian sand dunes, and has begun probing the composition and characteristics of the sandy, wind-shaped formations.

Japan's Akatsuki probe has sent back its first pictures from Venus.

Analysis of data from the Dawn spacecraft indicates that the surface of Ceres is rich in ammonia-based clays.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Wide Body Report - December 15, 2015

December 15, 2015

Boeing is evaluating the results from its five-year fatigue validation test for its 787 Dreamliner.  The accelerated test was intended to duplicate over 20 years of airframe fatigue capability.

A software defect has led the air traffic control agencies of Canada and Australia to "blacklist" all 787 aircraft, until a software fix can be loaded sometime next year.  "Blacklist" aircraft are required to fly below 29,000 ft in Australian air space, and both Canada and Australia require that "blacklist" aircraft maintain a greater distance between aircraft.  The software glitch causes the navigation system on the Dreamliner to provide erroneous location information to controllers.

Boeing officials expect to see orders for the 777X from Indian carriers in another 2-3 years.  The delay is due to the relative youth of India's 777-300ER fleet.

GE Aviation has begun testing its new GE9X engine for the Boeing 777X.  With a core compressor ratio of 27:1, it is expected to have the highest compression ratio of any commercial jet engine core in service.

A Qatar Airways A350-900 had to make an aborted take-off on its first attempted flight leaving the United States.  The airplane successfully took off on its second attempt.  No explanation was provided for why the first take-off was aborted.

Airbus' A380 super-jumbo jet won the annual "best aircraft type" award from Global Traveler magazine this year - the first time that the award went to an Airbus aircraft and not to Boeing.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Single Aisle News - December 14, 2015

December 14, 2015

The first Mitsubishi Regional Jet prototype has completed three flights.  Mitsubishi Aircraft has revealed that the first flight was made with the landing gear extended and with the flaps in a fixed position.  The landing gear and flaps were cycled for the first time on the second flight test.

Bombardier has reassured workers at its Northern Ireland facility, which produces components for the C-Series and other aircraft, that the recent bailout by the Quebec government does not pose a threat to jobs already in Belfast.

Airbus has switched deliveries between its earliest launch customers for the A320 NEO, reassigning the first aircraft for Qatar Airways to Lufthansa.  Lufthansa will now become the first customer to fly the NEO in revenue service.

Boeing rolled out its first Boeing 737 MAX prototype this past week, before a crowd of workers and suppliers that have participated in the program.  The employee-only rollout event was in contrast to the rollout of other recent aircraft such as the 787 Dreamliner, which was a much larger media affair.

The U.S. government has filed proceedings at the World Trade Organization against China, alledging that China's exemption for its value added tax on locally produced jets amounts to a government subsidy for local industry, that violates WTO agreements.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Book Review: Ghosts of Atonement

Shlomo Aloni
Ghosts of Atonement: Israeli F-4 Phantom Operations During the Yom Kippur War
Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 2015
Category: Israel Air Force - History

Rating: 5-Stars

Ghosts of Atonement stands out among the best of Shlomo Aloni's works, providing the most comprehensive record published to date for Israeli F-4 Phantom operations during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.  Aloni documents individual sorties, squadrons, call signs, and the pilots and aircraft numbers involved.  Drawing on official records, he includes not only numerous photographs from the era, but also aerial photographs of bomb damage, and official maps of known missile batteries.  Interspersed with the documented details, Aloni adds first-hand pilot accounts from individual missions, providing the most complete record possible for one of Israel's most hard-fought wars.

Ghosts of Atonement sets the standard for the level of quality and detail that should be expected from a comprehensive war documentary, and against which all future publications on this subject will be judged.  The text is further supplemented by appendices which includes individual aircraft serial numbers and squadron assignments, the pilot rosters for each squadron, and aircraft and pilots lost during the war.  Aloni has again set the bar for chronicling the wartime experience of Israel's air force.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Book Review: The Israeli Air Force 1947-1960

Salvador Mafe Huertas
The Israeli Air Force 1947-1960
Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 1996
Category: Israel Air Force - History

Rating: 4-Stars

Roughly half of Huertas' book is devoted to Israel's 1947-1949 War of Independence - a period during which Israel's air force was dominated by foreign volunteers.  Subject to an international arms embargo, Israel's air force comprised a makeshift collection of airplanes acquired clandestinely from a number of sources, facing off against Arab air arms that were supplied generously by their colonial patrons.  It was a desperate struggle for survival, costing more lives than any of Israel's wars since, and while air power did not play a decisive role in the overall outcome of the war, it did provide the necessary means - at critical junctures - to turn the tide of key battles.

The period from 1949 to 1960 in turn was a formative period for Israel's air force.  It marked the transition from the piston to the jet age, and from an air force reliant on foreign volunteers to a wholly indigenous Israeli armed force - responsible for its own training and tactical development.

Huertas' book therefore helps to fill a void in Israel's air force history that has been poorly served relative to other time periods.  It combines this chronology with a selection of black-and-white photographs, and with an Appendice that contains copies of declassified documents from the British Air Attache.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Fighter Jet Times - December 11, 2015

December 11, 2015

The U.S. F-22, French Rafale, and British Eurofighter Typhoon fighters engaged in their first three-way joint air combat exercise together.  The exercise was aimed at developing strategies for countering the "area denial" techniques that China has been developing to prevent Western powers from interfering in the event of a regional war.

Northrop Grumman has delivered the center fuselage section for the first F-35 destined for Japan.  Japan has 42 F-35As on order.

Japan has rolled out their ATD-X technology demonstrator, in preparation for a first flight in early 2016.  Although too small to fulfill Japan's fighter requirements, the stealthy jet is seen as demonstrating several key technologies for a future warplane.

The Israeli government has revealed plans for integrating the F-35A into  service.  As proposed, the first F-35s would arrive in Israel in late 2016, with plans calling for the deactivation of one F-16C squadron in 2017 as additional F-35s arrive.  Israel has a total of 33 F-35s on order.

The U.S. government has approved the export of 21 technologies to South Korea in support of Korea's KF-X fighter program.  The agreement was part of an offset arrangement with Lockheed Martin, under which South Korea would also purchase 40 F-35 fighters.

South Korea's state-run arms procurement agency revealed this week that only 40-percent of the KF-X fighter is currently slated to be produced locally - with the balance expected to be imported from abroad.

Russian officials are reporting that aircraft performance tests for their PAK-FA prototype stealth fighter have been completed, and that testing has been refocused on validating the avionics package.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Space Highlights - December 10, 2015

December 10, 2015

North Korea is believed to be nearing completion for a three-year program to upgrade their satellite launch facilities. North Korean satellite launch attempts, most of which have failed to orbit a satellite, have been condemned by the U.S. and Japan as a cover for North Korean ballistic missile development tests.

India is expecting to launch a booster carrying six Singaporean satellites into orbit on December 16th.  This will include an earth observation satellite named TeLEOS, plus five small satellites.

Virgin Galactic has announced plans to convert an old Boeing 747 into the carrier vehicle for a microsatellite launch system - similar in principal to Orbital Science Corporation's Pegasus booster.

China launched the ChinaSat-1C military communications satellite into orbit this past week, aboard a Long March 3B booster.

Russia's Kanopus-ST remote-sensing satellite failed to separate from its upper stage this past week, and is expected to crash back to earth within the next few days.  The satellite is believed to have been intended to track opposing submarines.

Japan's Akatsuki Venus probe has successfully entered orbit around Earth's "sister planet" five years after its first orbital insertion attempt failed.  The probe is expected to observe Venusian weather systems, using several sensors intended to penetrate to different cloud depths.

Scientists studying data from the Dawn space probe are beginning to coallesce around the idea that the bright, salty spots observed in some of the craters of Ceres are the remnants of a water evaporation process. Other instruments have detected water vapor mists that create a morning haze in two of Ceres' craters, suggesting that a subsurface layer of water ice exists across many areas on Ceres.

NASA's Cassini space probe has captured new images of three of Saturn's smaller moons: Atlas, Epimetheus and Prometheus.

NASA also released a composite view of Titan, captured by Cassini's visible and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIMS) this past November.  The VIMS instrument allows the space probe to peer through Titan's heavy cloud cover to observe the surface below.

The New Horizons spacecraft has continued to transmit back high-resolution images of Pluto's surface.

NASA has released visualizations that depict the ripples in the solar wind "weather" that the New Horizons spacecraft flew through on its way to Pluto.

The New Horizons spacecraft has also supplied its first images of a far off Kuiper belt object - a 90 mile wide object labeled 1994 JR1.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Wide Body Report - December 9, 2015

December 9, 2015

After having delivered 126 Dreamliners during the first 11 months of 2015 - exceeding its stated goal of 120 deliveries for the year - analysts are already predicting that Boeing will deliver some 140 Dreamliners in 2016.

Boeing has completed detail design for the 787-10, the largest member of its 787 Dreamliner product line.  Assembly of the first prototype is expected to begin in 2016, with first flight in 2017.

Air New Zealand has completed its first 330-minute flight with a 777 airline, en route from Auckland, New Zealand to Buenos Aires, Agentina.

General Electric has begun high-pressure core tests for its new GE9X engine, which is expected to power the Boeing 777X.  The prototype engine core successfully reached maximum redline speeds, and exceeded the target pressure ratio of 27:1, the highest of any commercial engine in service today.  Full engine tests are scheduled for next year.

Net new orders for Airbus wide-body A330, A350 and A380 aircraft have totaled 127 so far for 2015, exceeding the 113 net new orders placed for Boeing's 747, 777 and 787 product lines.  Similarly, Airbus' A320 single-aisle aircraft accumulated 876 net new orders in the first 11 months of 2015, compared to 389 net new orders for Boeing's 737.

Air France has announced plans to retire its last Boeing 747-400 airlines in January 2016.

Airbus is struggling to meet its delivery goals for 2015, as production for the A350 lags behind its other products.  A total of 556 aircraft, from a variety of models, were delivered in 2015.  Airbus would need to deliver another 74 aircraft in December to match its 2014 output.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Single Aisle News - December

December 8, 2015

Bombardier's continued sales pitch to Latvia's AirBaltic takes advantage of an 80-million-euro ($85 million) refinance plan currently being contemplated by the Latvian parliament to help prop-up the national airline.

Bombardier revealed a ramp-up profile for C-Series production at a recent investor day, that calls for deliver of 15-20 aircraft in 2016, 30-35 in 2017, 45-55 in 2018, 75-85 in 2019 and 90-120 in 2020.

Boeing is expected to roll out the prototype of the first 737 MAX later this week, without much of the fanfare that has accompanied roll-out ceremonies for the 787 Dreamliner or other recent aircraft.

China's privately financed Spring Airlines has signed an agreement to buy 60 Airbus A320 NEO family aircraft.  The package comprises 45 A320 NEO models and 15 A321 NEO models.  No announcement for engine selection has been made.

As it prepares for flight test of its new E2 E-Jet model next year, Embraer recently delivered its 1200th E-Jet - and airplane to Brazil's Azul Linhans Areas.

Russia's Irkut has completed the fuselage for its first prototype MC-21 airplane.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Lavi: The Lost Chapters - Haunted

A rare photo of the first two Lavi prototypes in formation
There were a number of individuals that played a pivotal role in the development of Israel’s Lavi fighter, from political champions such as Minister of Defense Moshe Arens, to the program’s Project Manager at IAI, Ovadia Harrari – who was sometimes described as the “heart” behind the program. Among these key participants, however, was Israel’s Director of Development, Menachem Eini. For Eini, the real story behind the Lavi began not in March 1980, when the program was officially launched, but nearly a decade earlier in July 1970, during the War of Attrition.

Menachem Eini was the navigator aboard an F-4E Phantom flown by squadron commander Shmuel Hetz, on that fateful day in July.  Hetz was widely admired as the most preeminent pilot and squadron leader of his generation.  In the words of Menachem Eini,
Hetz was the most outstanding individual of our age-group in the air force, head and shoulders above everyone else. He radiated a special kind of intensity; he was smart and always charming. He was an obvious choice as the first Phantom squadron leader, though it was the first time they had picked someone from the younger generation and not a veteran and more experienced pilot. 
We started basic training together, then pilot school. He went on to fighters, I to navigation. After advanced training we split up: Hetz went to Hatzor and I went to Tel Nof. But our friendship was never cut off, and I was quite happy when our paths crossed once more with the arrival of the Phantoms. He was chosen squadron commander and I was appointed senior navigator.[1]
In July 1970, Israel and Egypt were engaged in some of the fiercest fighting of the War of Attrition – a war launched by Egypt’s President Nasser to take advantage of Israel’s sensitivity to casualties, and to grind down Israel’s defenses along the Suez Canal. The Egyptians, supplied by the Soviets, had begun to install a layered anti-aircraft system, in an attempt to blunt Israel’s advantage in the air. The latest Soviet anti-aircraft missiles, manned by technicians from North Korea, were progressively installed between Cairo and the Canal Zone.

Electronic countermeasures were, at the time, still a relatively new science. Earlier that month, the United States had delivered to Israel a set of electronic warfare pods – the AN/ALQ-87 – intended to counteract the SA-2 surface-to-air missiles that were being deployed by the Soviets in Vietnam as well as in Egypt. The new ECM pods required that the Israeli F-4E Phantoms fly to and from their targets in close formation, at medium altitude, to provide mutual coverage between each aircraft – effectively blinding the SA-2’s radar.[2] It was a tactic that was vehemently opposed by many in Israel’s pilot ranks. As Menachem Eini would recall,
We were to fly in pairs at 18,000 ft, in a straight flight path and with a minimum of banking so as not to upset the pod as it interfered with the guidance systems of the missiles being sent up against us. Our pilot instincts rebelled against this flight profile. We felt we would be sitting ducks, flying straight and level at 18,000 feet above the missile nests. But the pod was portrayed as being so efficient – a magic potion against the SA-2 and SA-3 – that we had no choice but to follow the directions and fly accordingly.[3]
Another squadron commander, Iftach Spector also shared Eini’s apprehensions, and confronted Hetz directly one evening, just two days before the planned raid:
“Tell me just one thing, Hetz. Is this what we have learned, to rely on magic?” And when he didn’t answer me, I said, “Hetz, missile batteries are dangerous! You can’t march in there – into the heart of the killing zone – like it was a parade!” 
“I know, Iftach.” 
“Into the killing zone you slide in like commandos, in small groups, and from several directions, so that if one is hit, the others may still hit the target.” . . . 
We sat a little more, perhaps for a longer time than expected of two busy men whose squadrons await them, but long enough for the moon to set. It became dark, and then something strange happened. Hetz was not the sentimental type, and it was not his habit to open his heart, at least not with me. But then, sitting behind the wheel, he opened up and told me of a strange dream that kept repeating the past few nights: Aki was visiting him. This was the first and only occasion when Aki’s name was brought up.[4]
Aki was the nickname for one of Hetz’s oldest friends, Yitzhak Arzi – who had died over Egyptian territory in December 1967, shortly after Israel’s resounding victory in the Six Day War. Hetz’s beyond-the-grave vision would prove to be tragically prophetic.[5]

On July 18, 1970 the F-4E Phantom piloted by Shmuel Hetz would cross the Suez Canal with Menachem Eini as the navigator. The U.S.-supplied ECM pods, designed to protect against SA-2 missile batteries deployed in Vietnam, proved ineffectual against the newer SA-3 missiles that had recently been deployed in Egypt. Hetz’s Phantom was struck before ever reaching its target. Aborting the attack, Hetz dived to low level to evade further missiles. On the deck, at over 550 knots, the Phantom finally died less than half a minute from reaching the Israeli side of the canal.[6] Even years later, that moment when his airplane failed him would remain etched in Eini’s mind.
When I left the aircraft, we were flying at 600 knots, a tremendous speed, and from the shock of hitting the air I lost consciousness. I remember, as if through a fog, the parachute opening and, afterwards, me crawling wounded on the ground, my left leg with a compound fracture, lying lifeless and askew. My right arm was broken in three places, and I couldn’t move this either. There were fractures in other places and I was bleeding heavily from a deep gash in the groin.
The only thing I could do was look around. I saw the mushrooms of smoke given off by our Phantom not far from where I had parachuted. There was no sign of Hetz and I supposed he was dead.
Eini would spend the next forty months as a wounded prisoner of war in Egypt. Hetz, of course, had not been so fortunate.[7]

Within the small, close-knit community of Israel’s fighter pilots, the loss of so promising and rising a star as Shmuel Hetz was keenly felt. Legendary pilot Ran Ronen, who would succeed Hetz as the commanding officer of 201 squadron, would recall the swearing-in ceremony as the new leader of the battered unit.
At a routine change of command ceremony, the squadron’s servicemen would be wearing dress uniforms and standing stiffly at attention in formal observance of protocol. The air force commander and airbase commander would arrive in their shiny official cars. The podium would be draped with the air force and squadron banners. Moving speeches would be delivered and an uplifting atmosphere would prevail. This morning there was not a trace of any of those things. This wasn’t a real change of command ceremony. There was nobody to replace. I stepped down from the balcony stairs to the asphalt parade ground. I glanced at the people and saw a beaten squadron: dejected soldiers in stained fatigues with grief in their eyes. I asked them to sit down on the grass, stood in front of them, and spoke from the heart. 
“The squadron took a hard hit yesterday. Shmulik’s plane was hit and he was killed. It’s a terrible loss to his family, the squadron, and the air force. We’ve lost a beloved commander, a fine, upstanding gentleman, a true friend. We all feel the pain of his loss. . .” 
For the first time in my life I saw an entire squadron weeping collectively. Some cried openly, others kept it locked in their hearts. Not a single person was left unmoved by the sad event.[8]
For the men who had known him, men like Ran Ronen and Menachem Eini, the loss of Hetz was not just another statistic from decades of war. It was deeply personal. As Eini would later recall, “I sat in an Egyptian prison for forty months, including a year in a military hospital at Maadi, and not a day went by without my thinking about the aircraft going down and Hetz’s death.”[9]

For Eini, the Lavi was not just about Israeli arms independence or developing an indigenous fighter. It was about the debt that he owed to his lost comrades, the pledge to never again allow another Israeli pilot to lose his life or become a prisoner of war because of a second-hand electronic warfare suite that was dependent upon U.S. goodwill. For Eini, as for many others in the program, the Lavi was about developing the kind of survivable warplane that would put the well being of its crew ahead of any traditional statistic or convenient performance metric.  In the words of the Lavi program’s Deputy Director, “survivability must be our priority."[10]

Derided by critics in the Weinberger Pentagon, where he was described contemptuously as “the little Iraqi” by Dov Zakheim – Weinberger’s lead protégé in the campaign to “terminate” the Lavi – Menachem Eini was yet another member of the Lavi development team to be haunted by the ghosts of preceding wars.[11] It would be these ghosts that would prove to be the motive force, shaping the Lavi into the unique warplane that it was.

[1] Merav Halperin and Aharon Lapidot, G-Suit: Combat Reports from Israel’s Air War (London: Sphere Books Limited, 1990), 73-74.
[2] Andreas Klein and Shlomo Aloni, Israeli Phantoms: The ‘Kurnass’ in IDF/AF Service 1969-1988 (Erlangen, Germany: Double Ugly Books, 2009), 39.
[3] Halperin and Lapidot, 75.
[4] Iftach Spector, Loud and Clear (Minneapolis, MN: Zenith Press, 2009), 227-9.
[5] Spector, 196-7.
[6] Klein and Aloni, 40.
[7] Halperin and Lapidot, 77.
[8] Ran Ronen, Eagle in the Sky (Tel Aviv: Contento De Semrik, 2013), 274-5.
[9] Halperin and Lapidot, 77.
[10] Peter Hellman, “The Fighter of the Future,” Discover, July 1986, 27.
[11] Dov S. Zakheim, Flight of the Lavi (Washington, DC: Brassey’s, 1996), 52.