Sunday, January 31, 2016

Book Review: Military Airframe Acquisition Costs: The Effects of Lean Manufacturing

Cynthia R. Cook and John C. Graser
Military Airframe Acquisition Costs: The Effects of Lean Manufacturing
Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, 2001
Category: Aerospace Engineering

Rating: 3-Stars

This addition to the Rand library on aircraft cost estimation, evaluates the effects of productivity improvements on the cost of developing and procuring aircraft.  This is one of the few resources to present data on the impact of such things as 3D CAD/CAM software, cellular production, and single-piece manufacturing flow on the man-hours necessary to develop and procure aircraft.

These practices have, of course, become commonplace in aerospace today.  The impact of these developments is nonetheless important to understand when comparing development programs across different decades.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Book Review: Military Airframe Costs: The Effects of Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Processes

Obaid Younossi, Michael Kennedy and John C. Graser
Military Airframe Costs: The Effects of Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Processes
Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, 2001
Category: Aerospace Engineering

Rating: 3-Stars

This particular volume forms a supplement to the earlier Aircraft Airframe Cost Estimating Relationships, by R.W. Hess and H.P. Romanoff, providing a turn-of-the-century update for estimating the cost of various airframe materials.  Included in this summary are the relative costs of aluminum alloy (the baseline material), aluminum-lithium alloy, titanium, steel, and three composite materials (graphite epoxy, graphite BMI, and graphite thermoplastic).  The cost impact of designing for each material is broken out by non-recurring engineering, non-recurring tooling, recurring engineering, recurring tooling, recurring manufacturing, and recurring quality control.

Relative to the earlier work by Hess and Romanoff, Military Airframe Costs is more narrowly focused.  It is also, however, better organized and more easily readable, with the addition of figures, tables and graphs to supplement the text.  Still not inspired reading, but an important part of conceptual and preliminary aircraft design, and an essential element for understanding trends in aircraft development.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Fighter Jet Times - January 28, 2016

January 28, 2016

The U.S. Air Force has announced plans to dispatched a pair of F-35A fighters to participate in upcoming air shows in the UK, including the Royal International Air Tatoo (RIAT) and the Farnborough Air Show.  The two are expected to be joined by two USMC F-35Bs, and at least one RAF fighter.  Previously scheduled UK air show appearances by the F-35 were cancelled two years ago due to an engine mishap that temporarily grounded the fleet.

In a memo released last month, the Pentagon's top weapons tester reported that the F-35 "continues to struggle in development" with a complex logistics system, the software for which was vulnerable to hacking.

The F-35 test fired an AIM-9X missile for the first time this past week.

The USAF deployed eight F-22 fighters to Yokota Air Base outside of Tokyo this past week - subsequently adding four more aircraft to the group, one of the largest overseas deployments yet seen for the F-22 Raptor.  The deployment comes after the a North Korean nuclear test.

Japan held an official roll-out ceremony for its ATD-X technology demonstrator this past week, introducing the aircraft as the X-2.

Russia's PAK-FA 5th generation fighter put on a display at this year's Bahrain Air Show.  Russian officials report that the aircraft will enter production in 2017.  They also report that a new engine for the airplane will likewise enter flight test next year.

India's Tejas fighter made its international air show debut at the Bahrain Air Show this past week.

India and France signed an agreement for the delivery of 36 Rafale fighters during a visit to New Delhi by French Prime Minister Francois Hollande - although there are details surrounding the deal that still remain to be worked out.

Turkish Aerospace Industries is hoping to pen a contract by mid-2016 to formally launch the development of an indigenous stealth fighter.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Space Highlights - January 27, 2016

January 27, 2016

Russia has moved its Proton-M booster, with its Eutelsat-9B communications satellite payload, onto the launch pad in preparation for a January 30th lift-off.

India launched its fifth GPS satellite this past week, labeled IRNSS-1E, out of a planned constellation of seven.

India is setting up a satellite tracking and communications center in Vietnam.  In return for granting India access to the facility, Vietnam will receive transmissions from earth observation satellites encompassing the China-Vietnam border region.

China reports that they will soon launch the world's most advanced hyperspectral imaging satellite, in the form of the China Commercial Remote-Sensing Satellite System (CCRSS).  Due for launch later this year, the CCRSS is expected to collect data across 328 electromagnetic bands, compared to the 300 bands available from the U.S. TacSat 3, which was launched in 2010.

The first Ariane 5 launch of the year is expected to take place later today, carrying an Intelsat 29e communications satellite.

The Cassini spacecraft has completed the second of five planned burns to adjust its orbit out of the plane of Saturn's moons and rings, as it prepares for the finale to its mission: a series of close fly-by's between Saturn and its innermost rings, followed by a final plunge into Saturn's atmosphere in September 2017.

The Opportunity rover celebrated its 12th year anniversary on the Martian surface, where it is currently in low-power mode for the Martian winter.  The solar-powered Opportunity rover was originally designed to last three months on the Martian surface.

The Curiosity rover has begun its chemical analysis of sand collected from active Martian dunes - the first time that any rover has evaluated active, wind-borne sand dunes on a planet other than earth.

NASA has released new images of the night-side of Charon, Pluto's largest moon, as data continues to filter back from the New Horizons spacecraft.

Analysis of crater impacts on Pluto, suggest that the surface of the Sputnik Planum region in "Pluto's heart", can be no older than 10 million years - extremely young for such such a small world.

Scientists at CalTech reported this past week that they have discovered evidence for a ninth planet in orbit around the sun.  Their conclusion is based on observations of the orbits of Kuiper belt objects, which point to the presence of a distant planet with roughly ten-times the mass of Earth.  The projected planet would have an orbital period of around 10,000 years.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Wide Body Report - January 26, 2016

January 26, 2016

Gulf Air, the national carrier of Bahrain, has announced a restructured order for 16 787-9 Dreamliners, replacing a previous order for 16 787-8 models.  The -9 version features longer range and capacity than the -8.  The announcement came at the Bahrain Air Show, which also saw Bahrain convert an order for 20 wide-body A330-300 airlines into single aisle A320 NEO family aircraft.

Investors are expected to focus on Dreamliner profitability during Boeing's upcoming 4th quarter conference call, scheduled for January 27th.  Boeing had raised its EPS and full-year revenue guidance during its 3Q earnings call, and attention will be on whether that forecast was met.

Boeing has announced plans to reduce its production rate for the 747 airliner to just six a year, as it stretches out deliveries for the last remaining orders.

Iran has struck a deal with Airbus for the delivery of 8 A380 super-jumbo jets, and 16 A350 airlines, as it rebuilds its national airlines following decades of economic sanctions.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Single Aisle News - January 25, 2016

January 25, 2016

Dashing hopes at Bombardier for a possible C-Series sale, United Airlines announced that it will order 40 single-aisle airlines from Boeing instead - placing an order for 737-700 models.  Bombardier continues to be in the running, however, for a possible sale to Delta Air Lines.

Boeing also announced the sale of 33 737-800 models to Southwest Airlines this past week.

Airbus delivered its first A320 NEO to Lufthansa this past week.

Pratt & Whitney, which produces the Geared TurboFan (TM) engines which power the A320 NEO, announced a reshuffle in its top management as the NEO reaches production.  Pratt & Whitney President Paul Adams will be retiring, replaced by Robert Leduc.

Embraer has begun production of parts for its first E195-E2 prototype.  The first E190-E2 prototype, meanwhile, is expected to roll-out on February 25th.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Book Review: Aircraft Airframe Cost Estimating Relationships

R.W. Hess and H.P. Romanoff
Aircraft Airframe Cost Estimating Relationships
Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, 1987
Category: Aerospace Engineering

Rating: 3-Stars

Love it or hate it, cost estimation is an important part of developing and selling a worthwhile product.  Back in the 1980s, the Rand Corporation published a series of studies that related the cost of developing and fielding various types of military aircraft, to such key systems metrics as aircraft weight, specific power (thrust-to-weight ratio), maximum speed, and the quantity of aircraft procured.  The results were published in a multi-volume set of documents, as follows:

Aircraft Airframe Cost Estimating Relationships: Study Approach and Conclusions, R-3255-AF
Aircraft Airframe Cost Estimating Relationships: All Mission Types, N-2283/1-AF
Aircraft Airframe Cost Estimating Relationships: Fighters, N-2283/2-AF
Aircraft Airframe Cost Estimating Relationships: Bombers and Transports, N-2283/3-AF
Aircraft Airframe Cost Estimating Relationships: Attack Aircraft, N-2283/4-AF

Developed from manufacturing data supplied in confidence by each airframer to the U.S. Air Force, and comprising a data set spanning 34 aircraft developed from the 1960s through 1980s, these Rand studies represent the most comprehensive methodology publicly available from which to estimate military aircraft costs.  Although the reports themselves makes for dry reading - forcing the reader to wade through the chapters to decipher the individual relationships that are needed for various computations - the importance of these documents in the absence of a more accessible resource for cost estimation cannot be understated.  For both conceptual and preliminary design cost estimation, as well as for understanding cost trends and trades among fielded aircraft today, the information in these studies is indispensable.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Book Review: Saab Gripen: Sweden's 21st Century Multi-role Aircraft

Gerard Keijsper
Saab Gripen: Sweden's 21st Century Multi-role Aircraft
Hinkley, UK: Midland Publishing, 2003
Category: Aviation History

Rating: 5-Stars

Many of us are familiar with Sweden's prized weapons independence and arms export industry - the product of sitting-out two world wars as a non-aligned entity.  The details behind how such a complex weapons program as the Saab JAS-39 Gripen came to be developed and reach production, however, are often less well known.

Despite attempts to portray the JAS-39 Gripen as a strictly Swedish product, this book pays homage to just how much of the technology and components for the Gripen are actually imported from other nations with their own, well financed aerospace programs.  The engine of course, is assembled in Sweden as the Volvo RM12.  But it was designed in the United States by General Electric as a version of the F404, and many of the key components in its assembly are still imported from the United States.  The composite wings were designed and developed in the UK, before production eventually shifted to Sweden.  The gun is supplied by Germany.  The fuel system by France.  This multinational supply base was actually part of the key as to why the Gripen was able to reach production at an affordable cost - unlike programs such as India's Tejas for example, which originally attempted to develop all of the necessary components and technology in-house, leading to huge cost overruns and decades of delays before outside technological assistance was finally sought to complete the program.

The book also provides a comprehensive history for the development trades that went into the Gripen, including sketches for the early concept studies that evaluated different design options - some of them radically different from the final aircraft.  All of this is supplemented by an excellent assortment of full color photography, illustrating the development, flight test, and operational experience of the program.

The one item I would have liked to have seen added to the book, would have been a comprehensive weights and performance roll-up, something that Saab has traditionally been cagey about supplying openly.  The book includes statistics for maximum take-off weight, for example, but not for the empty weight or internal fuel weight of the aircraft, or for its effective combat radius.  Nonetheless, Gerard Keijsper has succeeded in producing what is otherwise a fairly comprehensive history behind this highly successful fighter program.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Lavi Book: Illustrations

As I had previously indicated, the one thing that I would most have liked to have seen done differently with my recently published book on the Lavi, would have been to include more photographs, more illustrations, and to have seen them published in color.

So in that vein, I am posting a copy of the proposed illustration package for the book - in full color. I hope everyone enjoys.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Fighter Jet Times - January 21, 2016

January 21, 2015

Some in the Pentagon are reportedly planning to evolve a version of the F-35 into a "cognitive electronic warfare" platform, that would ferret out new anti-aircraft threats and identify the means to combat them on-the-fly.

Cost continues to hound the F-35 program, at a time when the Air Force is attempting to procure both the F-35, and the KC-46 tanker, and the LRS-B all at the same time.

The U.S. Department of Defense has reached an agreement with Pratt & Whitney for the delivery of the next two lots of engines that will power the F-35.  The deal covers 53 LRIP 9 and 87 LRIP 10 engines.  Deliveries of LRIP 9 aircraft are expected to begin later this year.

Russia intends to begin delivery of Su-35 fighters to China later this year.  China has contracted for 24 of the new airplanes.

Despite protests from India and a potential showdown with Congress, the Obama administration is moving forward with plans to sell eight additional F-16 fighters to Pakistan.

Although the prototype for Japan's Shinshin fighter demonstrator has already been rolled out, work is continuing in parallel towards developing the engine technology necessary to produce a future indigenous warplane.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Space Highlights - January 20, 2016

January 20, 2016

Belarus recently launched its first satellite, aboard a Chinese booster, this past week.  Belintersat-1 is intended to provide satellite communications coverage to Africa, Asia and Europe.

SpaceX successfully launched the Jason-3 oceanic research satellite into orbit this past week, but was unsuccessful in its attempt to recover the first stage booster for refurbishment and reuse.

India is preparing to launch its fifth navigation satellite into orbit this coming week.

ESA scientists have reported that the Rosetta probe has confirmed the detection of water ice on the surface of Comet 67P.  Such a find has been rare, since water ice tends to sublimate on exposure to solar radiation when the comet is close to the sun.

The Dawn spacecraft has revealed fresh, new close-up images of Ceres' craters.

Ten years after its launch, the New Horizons spacecraft beamed back new, high-resolution images of Pluto's outer atmosphere.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Wide Body Report - January 19, 2016

January 19, 2016

Emirates has announced plans to deploy the larger 777-300ER on its routes to Zambia and Zimbabwe, replacing the Airbus A340-300 that had previously plied these routes and increasing capacity as a result.

Airbus is reportedly examining whether a larger version of its A350-1000 might be needed to compete with the Boeing 777X now under development.  The A350-1000 is already expected to seat up to 366 passengers in a three-class seating configuration, compared to 325 for the existing A350-900.  This places the A350-1000 in a comparable position relative to existing 777 models, but falls shy of the 425 seats expected for the new 777-9 version now under development.

Boeing is looking to re-outfit and deliver six of its earliest 787 Dreamliner aircraft, now that their flight test roles have been completed.

Air France is retiring its last three 747 airliners with a series of non-commercial "last flights" to be held this year.  Former Air France crew members and officials have been invited to participate.  The airplanes have already been withdrawn from revenue service.

ANA has placed an order for three A380 super-jumbo jets to service its Hawaii route.  The aircraft are expected to be delivered in 2018.

With an imminent end to sanctions, Iran has announced plans for the purchase of 114 Airbus aircraft, including a mix of new and used A320 aircraft, as well as a number of second-hand A340s.  An order for the A380 is also being considered.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Single Aisle News - January 18, 2016

January 18, 2016

United Airlines is reportedly close to deciding on an order for some 30 small commercial airlines - with Boeing launching a last minute campaign to snag the order for its 737-700.  United had been looking for an airplane in the 100-seat class, which was viewed by many as a prime opportunity for Bombardier's C-Series.  Boeing's last minute offer is reportedly very competitive, however.

Officials at Airbus have dismissed the Bombardier C-Series as an "orphan" that was unlikely to find many new sales.

Airbus has announced that the first production A320 NEO will be delivered to its launch customer, Lufthansa within the next two weeks - by the end of January.  The first aircraft had been due to be delivered in December, but was delayed due to the "need to put some documents in place," many of which were reportedly tied to maintenance on the new engines.  At the root of these delays was an engine start-up issue that Pratt & Whitney is currently working to resolve.

Despite Airbus' continued lead over Boeing in sales for single-aisle aircraft throughout 2015, Boeing's leading salesman, John Wojick remains confident that Boeing's broad, established customer base will eventually restore the two to a more even sales split between the A320 NEO and 737 MAX.

Russia's Aviastar has shipped fuselage panels for the second prototype MC-21 airliner.  The aerostructures supplier has already released the doors and vertical and horizontal stabilizers for the second prototype.  The first prototype is expected to officially roll-out at mid-year.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Book Review: Designed for the Kill

Mike Spick
Designed for the Kill: The Jet Fighter - Development and Experience
Shrewsbury, UK: Airlife Publishing Ltd, 1995
Category: Aviation History

Rating: 4-Stars

Designed for the Kill was in many ways a precurser to Mike Spick's later title, Modern Fighters.  The primary difference is that Designed for the Kill is focused squarely around the historical development and technology behind modern fighter aircraft, whereas Modern Fighters attempts to focus more of its attention on individual aircraft.  This earlier title also lacks many of the color illustrations that benefited its later counterpart.

Nonetheless, Designed for the Kill is in many ways the better of the two titles, emphasizing as it does an overview of the technological elements that have gone into the jet fighters that fly today rather than attempting to reproduce individual aircraft statistics that Jane's has already covered in far greater detail.  The individual chapters examine such important milestones as the development of fly-by-wire technology, the emergence of the canard generation of fighters, short take-off and vertical landing technology, and the eventual emergence of low-observable technologies.  As a technology overview, this title is perhaps best compared to Klaus Huenecke's Modern Combat Aircraft Design - coming in a close second to Huenecke's technical explanations, but offering a better historical context from which to understand the evolution of the technology and its application today.

All told, a worthy addition to a modern aviation library.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Book Review: Brassey's Modern Fighters

Mike Spick
Brassey's Modern Fighters
Washington, DC: Brassey's Inc., 2000
Category: Aviation History

Rating: 4-Stars

Mike Spick has been among the most prolific aviation authors from the 1980s through the turn of the century, publishing a variety of books on individual aviation topics or on combat aircraft in general.  This particular volumes stands out among his later works as one of his more refined publications.

What makes Modern Fighters a worthwhile addition to the aviation literature is not its coverage of individual aircraft - although it does have a series of chapters dealing with a number of them - but rather its illustrated explanations for fighter aircraft technology.  Everything from the workings of radar guided missiles to the application of stealth coatings and radar absorbing materials are discussed in turn.  Cockpit arrangements, radar display symbology, weapons selection - in all, a fairly complete overview of the technology that goes into making these machines function.  The illustrations for each of these technical elements are colorful and well executed, supplemented by a variety of color photographs for each aircraft type.

The amount of detail provided for each individual aircraft surveyed is, in contrast, only cursory.  Not nearly as complete, for example, as what could be found in an edition of Jane's All the World's Aircraft.  The chapter on the F-16, for example, fails to explain how this aircraft has evolved through its different block builds, as avionics systems and payload capability were gradually added.  The Block 52+ F-16 models delivered today have capabilities unimagined for the little aircraft when the first Block 10 F-16s rolled out in the 1970s.  But the explanations for the technologies employed by these and other aircraft largely makes up for these deficiencies, making this book worthwhile despite its shortcomings elsewhere.

Friday, January 15, 2016

A Familiar Cast - A Familiar Script

For those of us who followed the development of the Lavi fighter program decades ago, there was a familiar name in the news this past week - one providing current emphasis to how little has truly changed in Washington.

Thomas Pickering was ambassador to Israel from 1985 to 1988, at the height of the behind-the-scenes campaign - led by then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and aided by many in the rank and file of the State Department - to convince Israel to cancel the Lavi program. As ambassador, Pickering helped to shuttle Weinberger's protege, Dov Zakheim between meetings with Israeli officials: both arranging the meetings and reinforcing Zakheim's message after he returned to Washington. These included meetings between Zakheim and the leadership of Israel's religious parties, aimed at taking advantage of Israel's secular-religious divide in the campaign to cancel the program. Moreover, Pickering performed these roles, despite the fact that his lobbying campaign was never approved by Secretary of State George Shultz, who had been personally responsible for securing President Reagan's endorsement for the Lavi program and for U.S. funding to support it.[1]

Thomas Pickering appeared again in the news this past week, in a series of emails amidst the trove of official documents recovered from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's personal email server. In the emails, dated from December 2011, Pickering suggests that the United States should covertly engage "third parties and a number of NGOs" (non-governmental organizations) to engage in "protests and demonstrations to put peace back in the center of people's aspirations."[2]

Pickering's proposals were not the first, nor the last time that State Department officials and advisors had proposed that the United States should intervene in Israel's internal politics. They do however, underscore how enduring the pervasive, corporate culture of the State Department has become. Pickering was not some political appointee to an obscure ambassadorship. Rather, he was a high ranking career diplomat, who has held ambassador roles to Israel, Jordan, India, Russia, and the United Nations.

What is most disturbing about Pickering's proposals to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is not that a State Department adviser was again suggesting that the U.S. should covertly intervene on the internal Israeli political scene, but rather the sheer naivete of his proposal. To believe that the U.S. could engage the Palestinian masses to launch "protests and demonstrations", and that such protests would remain peaceful and not degenerate into another round of violence, speaks volumes for how disconnected the State Department elite has become from reality. Israel is today combating a wave of stabbing attacks and shootings, perpetrated by Palestinians whose leaders continue to hale such violence as the acts of "martyrs". Only three weeks ago, for example, two Israelis died in Jerusalem as the result of one such stabbing attack - the latest in a string of such violence.[3] Only this past week, the Palestinian Authority - Israel's diplomatic partner under the Oslo Accords - declared the perpetrator of another such attack (a shooting that killed two Israelis) to be a "martyr" for the Palestinian cause.[4] The disconnect between the rose-colored narrative to which the State Department's leading diplomats subscribe, and the deadly consequences of the real world could hardly be more stark.

There was a familiar name in the news this past week. A familiar reminder of how little has truly changed on the Washington scene.

[1] John Golan, Lavi: The United States, Israel, and a Controversial Fighter Jet (Sterling, VA: Potomac, 2016).
[2] Gil Ronen, "Clinton Mulled Secret Plan to Spark Palestinian Unrest," Erutz Sheva (January 11, 2016),
[3] Daniel K. Eisenbud, "Two Israelis Wounded in Jerusalem Terror Attack Die of Injuries," The Jerusalem Post (December 23, 2015),
[4] Khaled Abu Toameh, "Palestinian Authority Joins Hamas in Declaring Tel Aviv Gunman 'a Martyr,'" The Jerusalem Post (January 9, 2016),

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Fighter Jet Times - January 14, 2016

January 14, 2016

A software fix for the ejection seat for the F-35 fighter has been delayed until 2018, meaning that restrictions on the weight for which pilots can fly the new airplane will remain in effect until then.  Currently, the F-35 ejection seat could cause injury or death to pilots who weigh less than 165-lb.

The U.S. Air Force's multinational pilot training center at Luke AFB now has a pool of 34 F-35 fighters on hand, in U.S., Australian and Norwegian livery.  Luke AFB is responsible for pilot transition training in the new fighter.

A ceremony was held at Lockheed Martin's factory in Fort Worth, TX to mark the completion of the first F-35 fuselage destined for Israel.

India is reportedly examining a possible increase in the order for 36 Rafale fighters that was recently inked between the two governments.  Officials are reportedly attempting to negotiate terms for an expanded purchase - to include an additional 18 aircraft - in advance of a visit by France's President Hollande on January 25-27th.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Space Highlights - January 13, 2016

January 13, 2016

SpaceX is set to launch the Jason-3 sea-level monitoring satellite this coming weekend, aboard a Falcon 9 booster.  They will also be attempting to recover the first stage booster aboard a sea barge afterwards.

China is scheduled to launch the Belintersat-1 telecommunications satellite on Friday aboard a Long March 3B booster.  More than 20 satellite launches are scheduled from China this year.

The Cassini spacecraft captured a near-infrared view of Saturn and its ring system as the probe's mission winds down.

The Dawn space probe has sent back new, more detailed images of Ceres' cratered surface.

The New Horizons spacecraft has sent back detailed images of the "lava lamp" icy plains of Pluto.  The plains appear to be formed from nitrogen ice that is melted by internal heating, rising to the surface of the plains, before cooling and sinking back down.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Wide Body Report - January 12, 2016

January 12, 2016

After complaints from Al Nippon Airways, Boeing has begun shipping new, dimmable windows with its Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, which are capable of becoming darker than the original design.

Air China placed an order this past week for six Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.  The order is expected to increase their long-haul fleet by 5-percent.

Fiji Airways began its first service this past week flying newly delivered Airbus A330 aircraft.

The FAA has ordered mandatory inspections for three compressor discs on all GE90 engines of a pedigree similar to the one that failed and caused an engine fire aboard a British Airways Boeing 777 aircraft last September.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Single Aisle News - January 11, 2016

January 11, 2016

Canadian government officials in Ottawa are weighing whether to grant an aid request to help Bombardier transition its C-Series airliner into production.  The aid would be in addition to the $1.3 billion that the government of Quebec has already pledged.

Embraer has continued to refine its schedule for the roll-out of its first E190 E2 prototype, with the date now set at February 25th.

Mitsubishi Aircraft has adjusted its planned seat count for its MRJ aircraft now under development, increasing the pitch length between seats and reducing total seat count to 88 for the MRJ90 (down from 92 planned previously), and 76 for the MRJ70 (down from 78).

The Bank of China's aircraft leasing division, BOC Aviation, announced last week an order for 18 Airbus A320 NEO, and 12 A320 CEO aircraft.

China's Chengdu has completed delivery of its first production ARJ-21 regional jet to Chengdu Airlines.  The long gestation period of the ARJ-21, which is over five years behind its original delivery schedule and has still not been certified with US or European aviation officials, continues to cast a shadow over China's ambitions for its C919 single-aisle transport, still under development.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Book Review: Israeli Phantoms: The 'Kurnass' in IDF/AF Service 1989 Until Today

Andreas Klein and Shlomo Aloni
Israeli Phantoms: The 'Kurnass' in IDF/AF Service 1989 Until Today
Erlangen, Germany: Double Ugly Books, 2009
Category: Israel Air Force - History

Rating: 4-Stars

This is the second volume following the F-4 in Israeli service, as part of a the collaborative effort between Andreas Klein and Shlomo Aloni.  Although this volume is ostensibly a continuation of the first volume, covering the concluding years of F-4E service in the IDF from 1989 to the turn of the century, it is actually organized somewhat differently: with chapters devoted to the different variants and upgrade packages flown, as well as a squadron-by-squadron account for the deployment of the F-4E in Israeli service.

Like its preceding volume, there is a lot to recommend this book.  Lots of full color photographs and profile illustrations, and a lot of coverage for the reconnaissance version of the F-4E - something that often receives little attention elsewhere.  It also provides a detailed description for the "Phantom 2000" upgrade package that was developed to keep the F-4E relevant through the turn of the century - something that many historical texts completely gloss over.  Electronically speaking, the "Phantom 2000", or "Kurnass 2000" as it was known in Hebrew, was a completely new airplane.  Compared to the first volume of this series, there's a little less text and more photography in the mix.  Nonetheless, it is definitely a well appreciated addition to the historical tale of Israel's air force.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Book Review: General Dynamics F-16A/B Netz

Ra'anan Weiss and Shlomo Aloni
General Dynamics F-16A/B Netz: Israeli Air Force The First Jet Squadron 1979-1986
Bat-Hefer, Israel: IsraDecal Publications, 2010
Category: Israel Air Force - History / Photo Gallery

Rating: 3-Stars

Documentation related to the Israeli squadrons, aircraft and pilots who flew throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s has become relatively prolific - thanks in large measure to the excellent work of author Shlomo Aloni.  This is less true, however, for events that took place during the 1980s and 90s, where the traditional veil of secrecy cast over Israeli air force operations and its pilots has been only partially lifted.

This particular book therefore offers a first glimpse at what is to come, with an exceptional array of photographs, both of the early F-16A/B models to arrive in Israel, as well as photographs of the pilots and ground crew who operated and maintained the aircraft.  Photographically, this volume is a rare find.  There are fewer pilot interviews and first hand accounts than we might have expected from many of Shlomo Aloni's other works - dealing with prior eras - but the book does whet the appetite for the treasure trove of detail that is slowly being declassified regarding these more recent decades.

So this book is a bit of a mix: an exceptional array of photographs, including images from the everyday operations of the squadron; an appendix that includes the air-to-air kill tally for Israel's first F-16 squadron; and a glimpse of the operational details that have not yet been fully released.  A good book, just not yet the great book that, with any luck, Aloni will one day write on this subject.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Lavi: The Lost Chapters - A Future and a Hope

The Lavi Technology Demonstrator - the last of a breed
I am often asked: could it happen again today? Could Israel develop its own fighter aircraft once more? The answer to this, like so many things, is not a simple one. It is a matter not merely of technological capability or even political will, but of the strategic imperative that might necessitate such a program.

In terms of technological capability, the difficulty that would be faced in reviving Israel’s fighter design and development expertise should not be underestimated. The last fighter jet to be successfully designed and manufactured in Israel was the Kfir, of which only 212 were built. The last Kfir rolled off the assembly line in 1986.[1] The Lavi, of course, never got past the prototype stage. Only three prototypes were ever completed, and the flight test and qualification program was cut short. Moreover, all of the engineers and technicians that worked on the Lavi have long since retired and left the industry. Ovadia Harrari, the Lavi’s Project Manager and Chief Engineer, retired from IAI in 2005, and passed away in July 2012.[2] Akiva Peled, one of the lead engineers behind the Lavi program, and who would later go on to become IAI’s Deputy Manager for Preliminary Design, retired in 2014.[3] If Israel were ever to launch a new jet fighter development program, all of that accumulated expertise, from the development of the Kfir, through the Aryeh concept studies, to the Lavi development and flight test program, would have to be recreated. Everything from the practicalities of structural design, systems integration, fly-by-wire control systems development, and manufacturing processes would all need to be relearned once more. Aircraft design is not something that can be learned by wrote from a textbook. It is a skill set that is learned by execution, by making the often painful mistakes and hard-earned lessons necessary for future success. Reviving Israel’s atrophied fighter design experience would be a monumental undertaking.

That being said, if it was a true, national priority for Israel to undertake such a development effort, no one should underestimate the ability of Israeli developers to supply whatever means are necessary to ensure Israel’s national defense. Israeli industry has succeeded in developing a wide variety of extremely complex weapons systems, from airborne early warning and control systems, to anti-ballistic missile systems, to an array of unmanned air vehicles. Israeli radar, avionics, sensors and missile systems remain global leaders to this day. And Israel continues to supply major airframe components for a variety of applications – including manufacturing the wings for the F-35 “stealth” fighters scheduled for delivery to Israel beginning in 2016.[4]

Technologically speaking, if need be, Israel could surmount the challenges to developing a new indigenous fighter program. But many of the same challenges would still remain that had likewise existed at the time of the Lavi. Israel is not, nor can it expect to be a leading developer for jet engines. Like many other indigenous fighter programs throughout the world, including Sweden’s JAS-39 Gripen, India’s Tejas, Japan’s F-2, Taiwan’s Ching-Kuo, or South Korea’s FA-50, Israel would remain reliant on a U.S.-supplied jet engine. But the greater obstacles that any future Israeli fighter program would face would be those same challenges that ultimately doomed the Lavi program – including the challenge to identify the necessary development resources and sufficient production volume to justify such an ambitious program.

Most if not all of the indigenous jet fighter programs developed over the past half century have been fueled by national pride rather than by strategic necessity. Those smaller nations that have gone on to develop and procure their own fighters have invested far more resources than would otherwise have been needed, had they chosen to procure off-the-shelf aircraft from the United States or Western Europe. Moreover, very few of these local fighter efforts offered any real capability advantage over their existing competitors, with the vast majority producing indigenous aircraft with less range, less payload, and poorer air-to-air qualities than could have been afforded by an existing or modified aircraft.

But while arguments of national pride might be sufficient motivation to propel national fighter programs elsewhere, they are not sufficient in Israel. The national security challenges that Israel faces are real, not theoretical, and there is no place in Israel’s defense budget for exercises in national pride. Israel’s military might is expected to be used, and used intensively, either as a deterrent to war, or in operational, wartime missions.

Where local Israeli weapons systems have been procured instead of their U.S. counterparts, it has been because there was a specific, tactical or strategic advantage afforded by the Israeli weapons. Israel has continued to procure Python 4 and 5 missiles, not because they were cheaper than the U.S.-produced Sidewinder, but because they delivered a tactical advantage and enhanced kill envelope that their U.S. counterparts did not. Likewise, Israel’s layered missile defense system – from the short-range Iron Dome to the intermediate range David’s Sling to the long-range Arrow missile systems – was developed precisely because there was no equivalent capability available in the U.S. or elsewhere. No other nation lives with the very real threat of ballistic missile bombardment against their major population centers, by neighbors that have pledged to wipe them off the map. And to this day, Israel continues to procure and enhance the Merkava main battle tank – precisely because there is no direct equivalent to be had.

Taking the Merkava as an example, Israel has continued to develop new and enhanced capabilities for their armored corps at a time when investment and innovation in armored vehicle technology has largely stagnated elsewhere. Beginning in 2010, Israeli developers began adding the Trophy active protection system to the Mk. IV version of the Merkava main battle tank – offering yet another layer in protection against anti-tank missiles. The Trophy system combines an array of radar sensors to detect and track incoming missile threats, together with a battery of explosive, pellet discharge systems that promise to detonate incoming missiles in a cloud of debris before they ever reach the tank’s armor. Beginning with confrontations in Gaza in 2011 the Trophy system has proven its worth as the first battle-tested system of its kind.[5] The Merkava continues to be an example of the priority that Israel’s armed forces place on crew protection that is unequaled in the world.

In stark contrast to this, Israel has migrated away from producing its own large missile boats, seeking instead to procure platforms from established shipyards overseas. The Israel Shipyards that produced the Saar 4 and 4.5 missile boats during the 1970s and 1980s, were left vacant when the Israeli navy went on to procure the Saar 5 missile boats from the United States in the 1990s, or the Saar 6 missile boats, which are being procured from Germany today.[6] Unlike the Merkava, Israeli defense officials concluded that Israeli hull designs offered no unique advantage over their foreign-built counterparts, and focused instead on outfitting foreign-designed warships with Israeli electronics and weapons systems. Practical need, not national pride, has of necessity dictated Israeli procurement decisions.

What is therefore lacking is not just the technological or political means for developing another Israeli fighter, but the strategic necessity that might drive such a decision. The Lavi was launched at a time when there was no U.S. lightweight fighter capable of achieving the combat radius or payload demanded of the Lavi. Today, Israeli F-15I and F-16I fighters fulfill that same role, negating one of the primary motives behind launching the Lavi program. The Lavi was also designed to be more survivable than its U.S. counterparts – although some of that advantage has likewise been eroded as Israeli electronics and weapons packages have been redesigned to integrate into U.S.-built airframes.

Whether this situation will forever remain true in the future, of course, is impossible to foresee. Israeli officials have reportedly already approached Lockheed-Martin, the manufacturer for the F-35 “stealth” fighter, with proposals for extending the useful combat radius of the F-35 to match that of the earlier F-15I and F-16I platforms. The Israeli proposals reportedly fall into two categories: shorter-term concepts, centering on a drop-tank arrangement whereby both the drop tank and pylon would be jettisoned – restoring the low-observable, “stealth” characteristics of the fighter once it approached its target zone; and another, longer-term concept, involving the addition of low-observable, conformal fuel tanks, reportedly already under development in Israel. The latter option, in particular, would require extensive modification to the F-35 airframe, both to supply suitable plumbing for fuel as well as mounting points for the conformal tanks.[7] Lockheed Martin has reportedly been cold to such proposals, fearing that an Israeli-developed, evolved F-35 could become a competitor to Lockheed-Martin’s own proposals for F-35 upgrades.[8]

It therefore remains to be seen as to whether Israel will ever again re-enter the fighter jet business. The obstacles to such a program are immense. Like the Lavi, to be practical, such a program would likely require the identification of a U.S. partner to co-manufacture the airplane – allowing it to compete for sales in the U.S. and increase its production volume to a more practical level. Like the Lavi, without a specific strategic objective in mind – an objective that could not be met by an off-the-shelf or modified U.S. fighter – it is unlikely that such a proposal would ever be endorsed within Israel’s military leadership. Such a confluence of events is highly unlikely. Nor is it necessarily a desirable outcome. Israel’s strategic interests would be better served by purchasing more aircraft, not fewer – provided that the U.S.-supplied weapons platforms meet Israel’s minimal tactical and strategic objectives. It has been the hope behind this book that the lessons of the past may yet be learned. The likelihood of a future Israeli-developed fighter jet is remote. In our uncertain and troubled world, however, it also still remains a distinct possibility.

[1] Raanan Weiss and Shlomo Aloni, IAI Kfir in IAF Service (Bat-Hefer, Israel: IsraDecal Publications, 2007), 15.
[2] “Ovadia Harari, Former Executive Vice President & COO of Israel Aerospace Industries and Director of the ‘Lavi’ Fighter Aircraft Program has Passed Away,” Israel Aerospace Industries, July 16, 2012,
[3] Itai Kaufman (IAI) to John Golan, April 28, 2015.
[4] Barbara Opall-Rome, “Accent on U.S.-Israel Alliance as IAI, Lockheed Launch F-35 Wing Line,” DefenseNews, November 4, 2014,
[5] Yuval Azulai, “Rafael’s Trophy System has Intercepted Five Anti-Tank Missiles Aimed at Armored IDF Vehicles in Gaza,” Globes, July 20, 2014,
[6] The Saar 6 is a version of the “Meko” class missile corvette, also produced as the K-130 for the Germany navy. Under the terms of the deal, the German government is expected to subsidize 25% of the cost for the four Saar missile boats on order. Tamir Eshel, "Germany, Israel Sign €430 Million Contract for 4 Meko Class Corvettes," Defense Update, May 11, 2015,
[7] Barbara Opall-Rome, "Eyeing Iran, Israel Readies for Stealth Strike Fighter," DefenseNews, September 5, 2015,
[8] "Lockheed Worried About IDF Unauthorized 'Modifications' in F-35," Jewish Press, September 6, 2015,

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Fighter Jet Times - January 7, 2016

January 7, 2016

After months of negotiation, India has finally signed a final contract with France for the delivery of 36 Dassault Rafale fighters.

India's Tejas fighter will make its first international appearance at an air show in Bahrain later this month.

Differences between India and Russia over the terms of their agreement for delivery of an Indian version of the T-50 PAK-FA "stealth" fighter continued to dog the leaders of the two nations during their recent summit in Moscow.  No resolution is reported to have been found.

Although China's J-20 "stealth" fighter has entered production ahead of Russia's PAK-FA, China's state-sponsored news agencies have acknowledged that much like the PAK-FA, the airplane will not be able to reach its full potential until a more powerful engine becomes available.

Japanese officials have released additional photos as they prepare for the first flight of the ATD-X Shinshin advanced fighter demonstrator, currently scheduled to take place in February.

With contract negotiations complete, KAI has formally begun work on Korea's KF-X next-generation "stealth" fighter.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Space Highlights - January 6, 2016

January 6, 2016

NASA is preparing to launch the Jason-3 Ocean obsurvation satellite aboard a SpaceX booster on January 17.  The satellite will detect sea-level variations within an accuracy of up to 1.3 inches (3.3 cm).

India expects to launch its fifth IRNSS-1 navigation satellite on January 20th.  Fuel is currently being loaded into the booster rocket.

NASA has released a panoramic image of the Martian sand dunes at the site of the Curiosity rover.

India has released a rare New Year's image depicting Mars' full disc from its probe, currently in orbit around the red planet.

NASA has released close-up images from Cere's southern hemisphere from the orbiting Dawn spacecraft.

New photos capturing three of Saturn's moons in the same image have been released by NASA, including Enceladus, Rhea, and the tiny moon Atlas - which appears as little more than a speck in the image.

With less than half of the data from its flyby of Pluto downloaded from the New Horizons spacecraft, NASA scientists continue to puzzle over what could have fueled the geologic processes evident on the surface of Pluto.  Existing models suggest that the tidal pull of Pluto's moon, Charon would insufficient to fuel the degree of geologic resurfacing observed.  At least one region, Sputnik Planum, is now believed to have been tied to a massive meteor impact that left the bumpy plains as its basin.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Wide Body Report - January 5, 2016

January 5, 2016

Despite recent publicity regarding the ability of Delta Air Lines to close a cut-rate deal on a used Boeing 777, industry analysts have confirmed that the prices for new or relatively new used 777 aircraft remain strong - pointing out that the age and condition of the aircraft that Delta Air Lines recently purchased remains undisclosed.

Minor technical problems with its new 787 Dreamliner fleet have continued to vex Air India, including two aircraft that were grounded in recent days - one of which was forced to divert mid-flight for repairs, causing a 10 hour delay.

Al Nippon Airways (ANA), a long-time Boeing customer, placed an order this past month for three Airbus A380s.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Single Aisle News - January 4, 2016

January 4, 2016

Airbus missed its year-end delivery target for delivering the first A320 NEO to a customer in 2015, delaying customer deliveries until January 2016 due to "documentation issues."

While still struggling to land additional orders for the C-Series, Bombardier has landed an order for an additional 10 CRJ regional jets from China Express Airlines.

Mitsubishi Aircraft has revealed that modifications to strengthen the fuselage and wing of its new MRJ prototype will take place during the next two months.  The need for modifications reportedly became evident during ultimate load tests of the static test airframe.

Embraer has delivered its first two E195 E-Jets to China's Tianjin Airlines.  The aircraft are part of a larger deal that will include the delivery of 20 E195 and 20 E190 E2 aircraft, to be powered by Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan (TM) engines.

Airbus widened its lead over Boeing in single-aisle aircraft sales, with the A320 NEO out-selling the Boeing 737 MAX by nearly two-to-one.

Russia's United Aircraft has pushed back the target date for first flight of its Irkut MC-21 airline from mid-2016 to late-2016.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Book Review: Mirage III vs. MiG-21

Shlomo Aloni
Mirage III vs. MiG-21: Six Day War 1967
Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2010
Category: Israel Air Force - History

Rating: 4-Stars

Mirage III vs. MiG-21 is another well-executed addition in a long line of collaborative books between author Shlomo Aloni and the Osprey Publishing house.  The book traces the introduction of both the Mirage III and the MiG-21 into operational service, including a description of each aircraft and its armament, as well as the growing pains as each aircraft was introduced into their respective armed forces.  The book is supplemented by excellent photography, pilot interviews, color illustrations, and a tabulation of the individual air-to-air engagements - including the dates, aircraft, and pilots involved.  I particularly appreciated the color illustrations for each cockpit, outlining the controls and instrumentation arrangement, as well as the maps illustrating air base locations and flight routes.

The book includes first-hand accounts from both Israeli and Egyptian pilots, as well as Israeli assessments from flight test of a captured MiG-21.  All told, another outstanding addition to Shlomo Aloni's long line of exceptional books.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Book Review: An Illustrated Guide to the Israeli Air Force

Bill Gunston
An Illustrated Guide to the Israeli Air Force
New York: Arco Publishing, 1982
Category: Israel Air Force - Aircraft

Rating: 3-Stars

This book was one in a series of "illustrated guides" published during the early 1980s, with other volumes focused on U.S. or Soviet aircraft - each authored to Bill Gunston, who was far and away the most prolific aviation author in the UK at the time.  An Illustrated Guide to the Israeli Air Force includes profiles on 78 aircraft, spanning from Israel's pre-state Sherut Avir to the modern Israeli air force of the 1980s.  The descriptions for each aircraft are further complemented by photographs and color profiles.

As a comprehensive guide to Israel's aircraft, Bill Gunston's collection has since been overtaken by Bill Norton's Air War on the Edge - which offers much more detail on the operational history of each aircraft.  For the time that it was written, however, Bill Gunston's Illustrated Guide was as complete of an account as was available anywhere - making this volume a worthwhile addition for any avid collector of Israeli air force history.