Follow the link below for a very informative map of what, when and where to catch the many ANZAC Day fly-overs by the Royal Australian Air Force.
RAAF ANZAC Day Flypasts UPDATE | The location markers on the Anzac Day 2017 Flypast Google map are not displaying correctly on some phones.
If you are experiencing problems opening the markers in Facebook please access the menu at the bottom right of your phone screen and open the link using your web browser.
Paul Bennet will be over Stockton in his Trojan at 9:00
Ross Pay will be over Scone at 11:00 in his Mustang
The Russian Roolettes will be over Mittagong at around 11:10
Heritage Trainers in Victoria, comprising 3 CT4’s and 4 Winjeels, Flypasts of Melton ANZAC Day parade at 10:15 then 10:45 for the Shrine of Remembrance. They will also be conducting the RAAF Museum Interactive Flying Display Point Cook at 1PM.
The aircraft and their respective pilots are as follows:
1. CT4 / Coy
2. CT4 / Wallace
3. CT4 / Herne
4. Winjeel / Fox
5. Winjeel / Grigg
6. Winjeel / Craven
7. Winjeel / Henderson
Ticket prices are:
Family (2 Adults & 2 Children under 16): $60
Student (Children between ages 5 and 16): $10
Children under 5: Free
Gates open to the public at 8:30AM with flying displays commencing from 10:30AM. Flying displays will include vintage and rare aircraft and a visit by the RAAF Roulettes. There will also be entertainment for children, a vintage car display and lots of vendors with great food.
The theme for this air show is ‘Spread Your Wings’ and there will be information on site about careers in aviation. This is a significant event for the Kyneton Aero Club the Macedon Ranges and for the history of aviation in Australia. People from all over Australia will be visiting the Macedon Ranges and joining with the locals for this fun day of family entertainment and celebration.
If you would like more information about this topic, visit their web site HERE or please contact (David or Gaeleen) at 0407681474 / 0411408252 or email us at email@example.com
If, like me, you’re a fan of the F-16 Fighting Falcon and cool colour schemes, then the recent couple of weeks at RAAF base Williamtown, just north of Newcastle, have been a spotter’s heaven with the deployment of a baker’s dozen machines from the US Air Force’s 18th Aggressor squadron from Eielson in Alaska, taking part in exercise Diamond Shield.
Diamond Shield was a part of the Air Warfare Instructor’s Course which is currently being conducted at Williamtown and the role of the 18th Aggressor Squadron and their F-16s was to simulate the tactics, performance and electronic signatures of possible opposition aircraft against “allied forces”.
From a spotter’s perspective, the chance to see the impressive and nimble F-16s in the distinctive colour schemes worn by the Aggressor units has been a welcome opportunity, with the observation deck at the Fighterworld Museum and the viewing spots on the roadside at the end of Williamtown’s runway seeing a constant stream of enthusiasts waiting to get a good look at the visitors.
While we will be doing a full wrap-up at the end of the Air Warfare Instructor’s Course, these guys have just been too cool not to share by themselves.
Below is a selection of images of each aircraft from this deployment.
Our thanks to the 18th Aggressor Squadron and the Royal Australian Air Force for the chance to get a closer look at these awesome aircraft. We hope you enjoyed your time in Australia.
I’m thrown back in my seat as the driver plants his foot and we accelerate away, then I’m pushed to the side as we make a hard right (still accelerating) as the speedo passes 100 miles (yes, MILES) per hour, and I’m left trying to catch my breath and attempt to take a half-decent photo over the driver’s shoulder while I’m at it.
What does this have to do with aviation photography you ask? Well, it all depends on where we are and what we’re doing. Where we are is barreling down the runway at the USAF’s Osan Air Base in South Korea. What we’re doing? We’re chasing down one of the most iconic and elusive aircraft in aviation history, the incredible Lockheed U-2 Dragon Lady (well, the driver [another U-2 pilot] is, I’m just trying to hold on and take it all in).
Preparing for my visit to the 51st FW at the US base at Osan, South Korea, in September of 2016 (see those articles HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE), I had hoped that, while not a part of the 51st, I might be lucky enough to also capture a few images of the U-2s which are based there with the 5th Reconnaissance Squadron (RS) as a permanent detachment of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing (RW), home based at Beal Air Force Base in California in the US. Maybe I could get them out-and-about on the taxiways on their way to or from a mission or, perhaps, from the tower if I was allowed, as I expected security around these highly sensitive machines to be pretty strict, if I was even allowed to shoot them at all, other than on the public days of the Air Power Displays held the weekend before my visit (see HERE). In reality, what I actually got to do was absolutely awesome beyond belief!
The 5th RS has a long and distinguished history, tracing its origins all the way back to the very first flying units in the US military in 1916 (being the fifth squadron of the Aviation Section of the U.S. Signal Corps at the time). In the 100 years since then the squadron has performed a multitude of roles from training, observation, medium and heavy bomber and reconnaissance, in which it continues to this day. The range of aircraft flown by the squadron in these roles is even more varied. Starting with the Curtiss JN-4 Jenny, just some of the types include the Airco DH.4, Keystone B-6, Martin B-10, B-24 Liberator, B-25 Mitchell, B-26 Marauder, B-17 Flying Fortress, B/RB-29 Superfortress, B-47 Stratojet, T-38 Talon and, most recently, the U-2 Dragon Lady.
In the earlier years of U-2 operations, the small units of personnel and aircraft which operated from locations outside the United States were most often referred to as Detachments, such as Detachment A, B or 1, 2 etc. In 1994 the 5th RS was formed at Osan, South Korea, out of what was previously known as Detachment 2 of the 9th RW, based at Beale AFB in the US. The 5th are known as the “Black Cats”, a name which has been associated with the various incarnations of the U-2 presence at Osan since 1976 and originated with Detachment H, which operated the U-2 from Taiwan in the 1960s which took the name from an establishment in a local town which personnel would often visit. And yes, the unit does keep a black cat as a mascot, although it’s a little surprising at first, when walking into such a secure environment, to see food and water bowls and a cat-bed in the corner of the office.
The U-2 is in the unusual position of being, perhaps, one of the best known “secrets” in aviation today with most people at least recognizing the iconic machine as the archetypal “spy plane” (although the correct term is reconnaissance or surveillance aircraft). Designed by the legendary Clarence “Kelly” Johnson in Lockheed’s secretive “Skunk Works” division, first flown in 1955 and serving originally with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) rather than the USAF, the U-2 has had a long and illustrious career at the forefront of the US’ and its allies’ intelligence gathering capabilities. Although it’s only relatively recently that information about the early years of operations has come to light after being shrouded in secrecy for many years. Even today (and quite understandably) most of the specific aspects of their missions are still classified, although they aren’t always military in nature with the 5th RS in particular having flown humanitarian missions to help South Korea assess environmental emergencies such as flood damage, and assisted the Philippines in analyzing the aftermath of the Mount Pinatubo eruption. NASA also operates two ER-2 versions of the Dragon Lardy for atmospheric, weather, Earth and space research from Palmdale, California.
Of the U-2S versions that are flying today, most were actually built in the 1980s, so are relatively young aircraft in the context of the U-2’s overall service life, but there are around four airframes in the fleet which date back to the 1960s, and the one I got to spend the most time with during my visit was one of these; dating from 1968. The U-2Ss were originally built as U-2Rs or TR-1s (basically the same) and were noticeably bigger than the original versions of the Dragon Lady with the added feature of being able to fit two, very large equipment pods under the wings. The TR-1s were eventually re-designated as U-2Rs and, after receiving an uprated engine, the designation was changed to the current U-2S.
Built to operate at extreme altitudes of 70,000+ feet (that’s over 21km high for us metrics), just about every aspect of the U-2’s performance and operations is impressive or unique. One of the most visible is how, due to the extreme altitudes and in case of emergencies, pilots are required to wear a full space suit. Even with the suit there is a risk of suffering from decompression sickness (just like divers who surface too quickly) so the pilots will start breathing 100% Oxygen and perform physical exercise an hour before their actual flight to help remove the Nitrogen from their blood, remaining connected to a portable supply right up to the point of boarding the aircraft. Even so, there have still been several instances of pilots being affected by the illness, significantly in some cases.
The 5th RS only has a few permanently assigned staff while a large number of the pilots and support crews rotate through Osan from the main unit at Beale on a regular basis, as is the case for many of the locations where the U-2 operates, so the whole program is a proud and close-knit community where everybody knows everybody else. An unfortunate side to this is that, when tragedy strikes, it affects the whole team, as everyone will have a connection to those involved. Sadly, this was the case just a week before my visit when, on the 20th of September, Lt. Col. Ira S. Eadie was killed when the two-seat TU-2S he was in crashed shortly after take-off from Beale AFB. Thankfully the other pilot survived. As a tribute to the Lt. Col, the crews at Osan applied some large artwork to both sides of the nose of one of their aircraft, in chalk, and placed this airframe on display at the Air Power Display that weekend. This was also the aircraft I spent the most time around during my visit.
A source of pride amongst the pilots is the knowledge that, given the length of service of the U-2, only a very few people have been qualified on the aircraft. Each pilot has a number which is where they qualified in the list of U-2 pilots and that number has only recently passed 1,000. While there have been lower numbers for some other types such as the SR-71 and Astronauts, not all have operated as long, as continuously or are as “hands-on” as the U-2. They can also be confident that as they are cruising along on a mission, which can last anything up to 12 hours, they are the highest guys, or gals, in the sky, with the usual operating height being around twice that of your average long-haul airliner. Or, as my host quipped, “…other than the six people on the space station, but I can wave at them as they go by”.
So; why the cars? Many things which make it capable of sustained flight at record-breaking altitudes for long hours also make the Dragon Lady very difficult to land safely. Essentially a large glider with a jet engine; as the pilot approaches the runway, the ground effect from those huge, high-lift wings means that the aircraft actually rides on a large cushion of air and won’t land until the wings are stalled to dump their lift, something which is obviously very dangerous unless the aircraft is just about at the point of touch-down, and the unusual bicycle-style undercarriage, designed to save weight, means that the U-2 is very sensitive to cross-winds as well.
Also, while the forces on the flight controls are optimized for good response in the thin air at extreme altitude, in the dense air at low altitude (i.e. when landing) and not having a power assist system, the forces required by the pilot are very high and require large inputs to have effect. Not a great situation to have at the end of a grueling 12 hour flight while wearing a heavy pressure suit. Add to this the fact that the small cockpit and long nose mean that forward visibility is quite limited; throw in the added vision restrictions of the helmet, which is attached to the suit, and it’s easy to see why the U-2 is sometimes called the most difficult aircraft in the world to land.
So, in order to assist the flying pilot as much as possible, one or two other U-2 pilots will chase the aircraft as it approaches to land and call out information such as height, speed, tracking, control inputs etc over the radio until the aircraft is safely on the ground.
And this is where I came in. 🙂
As I mentioned earlier, I really hadn’t known what to expect in regards to photographing the U-2s at Osan before my visit, given their security and the fact that they aren’t actually a part of the 51st FW, which would be hosting me for my visit. Things looked good right from the start though when the 51st’s PA mentioned that we would be heading down to the 5th RS on the afternoon of the first day. After getting signed in at the security gate we were escorted to the headquarters building. Now, I was probably just over-thinking things a bit too much but I have to say, it felt really strange walking into an area like that with a backpack full of camera gear, and I wasn’t quite sure where I should (or shouldn’t) be looking.
No time to worry though as one of the aircraft was being prepared and I was going to be allowed to go in one of the chase cars to watch the flight! So, with introductions and formalities taken care of, it was time to head out to the car and over to the hangar (the jets are started and taxi from inside the hangars). This was going to be a currency flight for one of the 5th RS’ staff pilots, which they must carry out regularly to maintain proficiency in basic and emergency procedures. As these flights are conducted at “normal” altitudes, the pilots can forego the oxygen pre-breathing and wear regular flight gear rather than the bulky pressure suit, which must surely be a pleasant change. With the engine started, the ancillary services disconnected and all the pre-flight checks complete, we tagged along for the taxi out to the runway.
Because of the tandem layout of the main gear, the U-2 needs stabilizing supports under the wings to prevent it from tipping over, so small, lightweight legs (sometimes called “pogos”) are fitted when the jet is on the ground and jettisoned as it takes off. They are then collected by the ground crews who also accompany the aircraft out to the runway in their pickup truck (it’s too big to be called a Ute), so, along with the two pilot’s cars, the U-2 is accompanied by a small posse` of vehicles as it heads out to take-off. Even once it’s on the runway, the take-off is not a simple process as with other aircraft, with the ground crews having to carry out final checks and prepare the “pogos” for jettison after lift-off. It also provided a chance to get photos from some very rare angles, as the jet waited on the runway.
After the U-2 took off and departed for the first part of the sortie, we waited near the threshold and watched some heavy lifters depart and the 25th FS’ A-10s doing circuit practice, to which our host from the 5th observed “now those A-10 guys sure have a cool job”, to which all I could manage was “really?” (Remember this bit for later).
The cars used for chase duties by the 5th RS are Pontiac G8s. Now, our Aussie readers are, of course, going to point out that what they really are is an Australian-made export version of the Holden VE Commodore and, yes, as a proud Aussie, I made sure to point this out. The crews seem to love them too as they have everything they need for these duties. Great power, rear wheel drive, four doors with a decent back seat (as they often take other service members along on rides like this) and good visibility (which is very important when you’re charging towards an aircraft on approach and want to keep an eye on exactly where it is). Other than the radio gear which is required to communicate with the aircraft, the only performance related change they make to the cars is to fit softer compound tyres for better grip. And I can assure you, these things get a real workout too.
As word came in that the U-2 was headed back to do some practice landings, we moved out to the end of the runway, facing it at 90 degrees so the driver can see and track the aircraft on approach, then, as the jet crossed the airfield boundary, BAM! It was on! Our driver put his foot down and we accelerated off the mark while, at the same time, making (what felt like) a hard right turn, still under strong acceleration, to follow the U-2 as it grew larger and larger in the windscreen until we were lined up to the right and slightly behind the aircraft and pacing it. As the driver passed height and other information over the radio, the jet slowly approached the ground until it gently touched down, rear wheels first. I was in the rear, left seat with the window down, trying to steady the camera against the slipstream as we kept pace with the jet, until it powered up (just outside the window) and climbed away again. That wasn’t the end of it though as our driver stood hard on the brakes to make the rapidly approaching turn-off then drove hard once again to return to our starting point to await the next approach. After a few moments to catch my breath and absorb what had just happened, I observed; “yeah, your job’s not cool at all!”
The fact that this was a training flight with several landings being performed by the pilot meant that there were opportunities to get a much better variety of shots that would have been possible from a single landing following an operational sortie so, after another couple of go’s to try and get my eye in and to get used to shooting from a fast car, our host suggested that I change seats to get some different views (he’s obviously done this before).
The first few landings were touch-and-go’s with the aircraft rolling along the runway for a short distance with us in pursuit before lifting off once again but, for one of the final approaches, he actually stopped the aircraft on the runway, at which point, it tipped over and rested on one of the wingtips (which are designed for this). The ground-crew were quickly on the scene to give the aircraft a quick check-over and, rather than fit the “pogos”, they simply held the wings level, one on each side, and “launched” it by hand, with the U-2 gaining stability and control authority almost as soon as it began moving. I couldn’t help thinking that surely, to some of them, it must feel a bit like launching the ultimate glider or model plane as a lot of us did when we were kids.
After the final landing, the ground-crew again gave the jet a quick check and fitted the “pogos” so that the U-2 could taxi back to the lines where all the post-flight checks and servicings were carried out.
I was also given the opportunity to capture an aircraft in one of the hangars which was undergoing maintenance which provided a good example of the “modularity” of the U-2’s breakdown, with the entire nose of the jet being removed for servicing. The key to the U-2’s flexibility is how it can be specifically configured with the relevant sensors and equipment to suit the mission which is made possible by the different elements being fitted as modules, such as the entire nose, large dorsal fairings, the large underwing pods and fuselage, all accepting different packages which can be mixed and matched to suit the requirements of the sortie. You can see a bit of this in the differences between the various aircraft in the photos from my visit.
A short time later another Dragon Lady returned from an operational sortie. After this aircraft had shut down and the crews assisted the pilot from the aircraft, this time wearing the iconic space suit, I was treated to a wonderful example of the mutual respect and camaraderie that this small community have for each other when, as is tradition, the crowd of support crews gathered around and gave a round of applause for the pilot and the successful completion of another U-2 mission.
So ended my all-to-brief time around this legend of aviation and the men and women who continue to operate it day-in and day-out. A type first designed and flown in the 1950s yet continues to be at the forefront of the United States’ Reconnaissance and Surveillance capabilities and technology with no competitor in its class. Although there has been talk of retiring the U-2 and replacing it with other, non-piloted platforms, this has (so far) not proven possible, with the performance, flexibility and capability of the Dragon Lady remaining second-to-none and, with recent investigations by Lockheed revealing that the current fleet has only accrued about one fifth of their total fatigue, there is a lot of life left in the Dragon Lady yet.
I have been very lucky to have many incredible experiences and opportunities over the years. Flights in various types, the chance to visit other countries and see some rare and interesting aircraft, every single air-to-air photo opportunity and many others, and I sincerely appreciate every single one and the many people who have made them possible. But I have to admit that this was one of the most amazing and something that I never thought I would have the opportunity to experience. My sincerest tanks to the men and women of the 5th RS and 51st FW for making this visit possible, being so accommodating and helpful and making it such an enjoyable time.
Oh, and for the record, our host for the afternoon finally relented and admitted that, yes, he does have a pretty cool job after all.
A modern, high bypass turbofan makes a pretty characteristic sound, something of a whining, buzzing noise, which is common at most civilian airports around the world. But the shapes that were emerging out of the gloom towards us down the taxiway were no long-haul giant or budget airliner, rather it was some of the most menacing and distinctive outlines among modern military aircraft, the incredible A-10 Thunderbolt II.
As you might have seen previously, I had the privilege of visiting the 51st FW at Osan, in September of 2016 (See that article HERE). One of the highlights of this visit was the fact that, since the withdrawal of the 354th Wing’s aircraft from Alaska in 2007, the 51st includes the only A-10 Thunderbolt II unit in the USAF’s PACific Air Force (PACAF) region, the 25th FS, the Assam Draggins, so this was an incredible opportunity to witness some of the 25th’s daily operations and get up-close and personal with this amazing aircraft.
First flown in 1972, the Fairchild-Republic A-10, known as the “Warthog” to its friends, due to its ungainly (some might say ugly) yet aggressive shape and continuing a tradition of most Republic’s jet aircraft having some form of “Hog” in their nick-names, was specifically designed for the battlefield and close air support missions with the ability to carry and deliver a wide range and amount of ordnance, loiter in the combat area for extended periods, great agility and the ability to absorb significant damage yet get back to base safely.
Just about every aspect of the A-10’s design is defined by these capabilities. The large, straight wing provides high lift and great maneuverability while providing up to 11 hard-points for the carriage of a wide array of weapons, countermeasure pods and sensors. The high bypass turbofan engines (somewhat unusual for a front-line combat aircraft) provide good fuel efficiency for greater loiter times and a lower infrared signature while their unusual location, high up on the rear fuselage, means that the intakes are protected from possible FOD ingestion by the wing when operating off rough or unprepared fields, the exhaust is shielded from below and the side by the tailplane and vertical tails, further reducing the visible infrared signature to ground fired weapons, and it means that they can be left running during refueling and rearming between sorties, reducing turn-around times thereby increasing mission availability.
Other aspects of the design are less visible, like the armor plating throughout the structure to protect critical systems which includes a large titanium “tub” to protect the cockpit and pilot, multiple internal controls and systems to provide redundancy in the event of damage and self-sealing fuel tanks, located inside the fuselage (rather than the wings) for added protection. Even the fact that the main undercarriage isn’t fully enclosed when fully retracted, leaving the tyres partially exposed in order to help minimize damage to the fuselage, wings and pylons in the event that the aircraft has to make a wheels-up landing due to combat damage.
Probably the most well-known feature of the A-10 though would have to be its internal armament, the incredibly powerful 30mm GAU-8/A Avenger cannon. The original design requirement was developed around the need to carry this powerful gun, which was actually the result of its own development program, in parallel with that of the original competition which resulted in the A-10, and it too defines the features of the Warthog.
Impressive in every respect, the gun, with its feed mechanism and ammunition drum, is often compared to the size of a VW Beetle car, at 5.9M long, weighing-in at around 1800Kg (loaded), firing 30mm projectiles with shells the size of milk bottles (for those that can remember them) at 3900 rounds per minute at a muzzle velocity that sees the rounds drop only about 3M over a firing distance of 1.2Km, the GAU-8 is arguably considered to be the most powerful aircraft gun ever flown and is lethal against tanks and armored vehicles.
The sheer power of this weapon is further evidenced by the construction of the A-10’s forward fuselage in order to accommodate its volume and energy. The gun is mounted 2 degrees nose down and the barrels are mounted slightly to the left of the fuselage so that the firing barrel (the one in the 9 o’clock position when viewed from the front) is positioned directly on the aircraft’s centerline in order to minimize the pitch and yaw effects of the gun’s massive recoil when it’s fired, being roughly equivalent to the thrust from one of the A-10’s two engines at full power. This positioning has also necessitated the mounting of the nose undercarriage offset to the right of the fuselage.
It is this valuable capability and firepower that the 25th FS and their aircraft bring to the 51st FW at Osan and the region in general.
Originally formed in the US in 1941 as the 25th Pursuit Squadron and made a part of the 51st Pursuit Group shortly thereafter, an association that, despite some reassignments during the Vientam War, continues as the 51st FW to this day. One of the first units to sail from the US following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the 25th initially deployed to Karachi, India (via Australia) where they began flying their P-40s in operations across the Himalayan mountain range (known as “the Hump”) and Burma regions.
It was after they moved to Dinjan, in the Assam region, that they took their name “Assam Draggins” from the fact that, due to the mountainous terrain where they operated, pilots would usually “drag-in” on their approaches and landings, meaning that the pilots would use a shallower glide-slope and higher power setting on their landing approaches to the airfields due to the lower density air at high altitude. As the War progressed, the unit was later equipped with the P-38 and P-51.
After WWII, the unit was reformed at Naha, Okinawa, Japan, flying P-47s and P-80s. It was called into action following the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 and flew from several locations in Korea and Japan as the tide of battle came and went. In 1951 they began receiving the new F-86 Sabre, which allowed them to seek out and engage the North Korean / Chinese-Communist MiG-15s, and the checkered markings adopted by the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing (FIW) on their Sabres at this time is the source of those worn on the tails of the 25th FS’ A-10s today. Following the cessation of hostilities in Korea, the 25th returned to Naha, as part of the 51st FIW.
In 1965 the 25th was separated from the 51st Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) when it moved to the 33rd TFW at Eglin in Florida, USA in order to convert onto the F-4 Phantom before being assigned to the 8th TFW at Ubon, Thailand, in 1968 for operations during the Vietnam War.
Following the US’ withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975, the 25th was transferred to the 18th TFW at Kadena on Okinawa, still with the F-4 until, in 1982, they re-established their connection to the 51st FW, and began re-equipping with their first A-10s at Suwon in South Korea. After a short period of de-activation between 1990 – 1993, the 25th was equipped, once again with the A-10, this time at Osan, where it remains today.
The 25th utilize the unique capabilities of the A-10 to provide Close Air Support (CAS), Forward Air Control (FAC), strike and Combat Search And Rescue (CSAR) for the various forces on the Korean peninsula or, indeed, wherever they may be called to serv. A demonstration of the CSAR role is a highlight of the Air Power Displays held at Osan too and you can see a report on the 2016 show and the A-10’s display HERE. The 25th sometimes also use their A-10s in the role of aggressors by simulating the Russian built Su-25 attack aircraft for allied ground or air forces.
Korea can be a challenging environment in which to fly, with mountainous terrain, congested airspace and poor visibility, particularly when a significant portion of the mission is at low level but, as was the case during my visit, the men and women of the 25th are constantly training, whatever the conditions, to maintain the highest possible levels of readiness.
I was able to capture the A-10s at various locations around the base; from the tower, at the End Of Runway checks (EOR), the maze of taxiways around the base and, most impressively, their main dispersal area, appropriately called the Draggin’s Lair, with its lines of aircraft shelters with A-10s lurking inside, surrounding a central hard stand. The aircraft are prepared and taxi from the shelters and are quickly pushed back into to them upon return and the squadron’s motto “PIL SUNG” (which is a Korean battle cry meaning “to certain victory”) is emblazoned on the walls of the shelters.
Whilst originally designed with the mission of combating a large-scale armored advance across eastern Europe by Warsaw-Pact forces during the Cold War in mind, the A-10’s unique capabilities have developed and evolved to see it play a significant and valuable role in many other, real conflicts in more recent times, including both Gulf Wars and even today in on-going operations in the Middle East.
While there has been talk for many years about retiring the A-10, in order to save money for other projects, and that the CAS role could be suitably performed by other, more modern types such as the very expensive (and probably somewhat fragile) F-35, the Warthog has time and again proven that it still provides an extremely important capability on the modern battle field and, with the improved avionics, added weaponry and sensors and structural improvements provided by various upgrade programs over the years, the A-10, and the dedicated men and women who operate them, like those from the 25th FS at Osan, look set to still play a vital role for many years to come.
My sincere thanks to the men and women of the 51st FW and 25th FS for allowing me the privilege of visiting Osan and capturing the Assam Draggins’ operations. Pil Sung!
10:00 am – 12:30 pm; and
12:30 pm – 2:30 pm (Hawk jet trainers only).
The Diamond Shield exercise which is part of the Diamond Shield Series of exercises, run by the RAAF Air Warfare Centre trains Fighter Combat Instructors, Airspace Battle Managers, Fighter Intelligence Instructors and Fighter Combat Controllers commenced on Monday 13 March and will run until 31 March.
RAAF aircraft including F/A-18A, F/A-18F, E-7A Wedgetail, AP-3C Orion, C-130J Hercules, AAA Learjets and United States F-16 Fighter jets will be involved in the exercise.
Times can change at short notice and all aircraft adhere to the RAAF Base Williamtown noise abatement procedures and fly neighbourly policy.
Air Force appreciates the support it receives from the Newcastle/Port Stephens community during Exercise Diamond Shield.
What: Air Force’s Air Warfare Instructors will conduct flying operations to prepare for participation in Exercise Diamond Shield, to finalise their training with the most challenging test of their careers.
Where: RAAF Base Williamtown, NSW.
When: Monday, 13 March to Friday, 31 March. Flights will occur between the following times:
Mondays to Thursdays: 10:00am-12:30pm; 2:30-5:30pm;
3:00-4:30pm (Hawk jet trainers only); and
7:30-11:00pm (Hawk jet trainers only).
Fridays: 10:00am-12:30pm; and
12:30-2:30pm (Hawk jet trainers only).
Exercise Diamond Shield will commence on Monday and run until Friday, 31 March.
Diamond Shield is part of the Diamond series of exercises, run by the RAAF Air Warfare Centre. Its purpose is to train Fighter Combat Instructors, Airspace Battle Managers, Fighter Intelligence Instructors and Fighter Combat Controllers.
Aircraft – including F/A-18A Hornet, F/A-18F Super Hornet, E-7A Wedgetail, AP-3C Orion, C-130J Hercules, Learjet and United States F-16 fighter jets – will take off twice Monday to Thursday. The first wave will leave at 10:00 am returning at approximately 12:30 pm. The second wave will leave at 2:30 pm and return at approximately 5:30 pm. Friday flights are commencing 10:00am and returning approximately 12:30pm.
Hawk Lead-In jet trainer aircraft will operate separately to Exercise Diamond Shield taking off Monday to Thursday from 3:00pm and returning approximately 4:30pm. A second wave will take off at 7:30pm and return at approximately 11:00pm. Friday take off is planned for 12:30pm and landing 2:30pm.
All aircraft adhere to the RAAF Base Williamtown noise abatement procedures and fly neighbourly policy.
Air Force appreciates the support it receives from the Newcastle/Port Stephens community during Exercise Diamond Shield.
On the Friday afternoon, just before the Hunter Valley Airshow at Maitland a few weeks ago, I was given the incredible opportunity to catch two of the star attractions, Graham Hosking’s amazing F4U-5N Corsair and Judy Pay’s beautiful CAC Mustang, in the air thanks to Paul Bennet Airshows. Sadly, the Corsair suffered a landing accident the following morning before the show, so was unable to take part in the weekend’s flying displays, but the crowds were still treated to the beautiful sight and sound of the Mustang being put through its paces.
The experience was brief but amazing and I hope you enjoy the results below.
My sincerest thanks to Paul Bennet, Tim Dugan, Peter Clements and Bernie Heuser for this incredible opportunity.
As mentioned in my earlier article on my visit to the 51st FW at Osan, South Korea, in September of 2016 (see HERE), the local F-16 unit, the 36th FS, were preparing to deploy for an exercise at the time, so there weren’t too many of their aircraft to be seen during my stay. This was more than made up for though by the presence of the 157th Expeditionary FS from the South Carolina Air National Guard’s (ANG) 169th FW as part of the current Theater Security Package (TSP) hosted by the 51st FW at Osan at the time.A Theater Security Package is an operation that sees State-side fighter, tanker, transport or other units of the UASF and ANG periodically rotated through regions of particular significance for between four to six months at a time, in an effort to provide their personnel with in-theater knowledge and experience through training with local forces (both US and Foreign) as well as bolstering the assets assigned to a particular area and presenting a demonstration of the US’s commitment to the support of those regions without the need to invest in the infrastructure that would be required for permanent units.Whilst the USAF has only relatively recently begun sending units to Europe as part of this program, there have been many such deployments in the Pacific (and particularly South Korea) since 2004. These rotations also benefit the host units in that it allows them to train and maintain their ability to accept and support additional forces as this is another key requirement for the 51st FW in particular during times of increased tensions.The 157th FS is the flying element of the 169th FW and traces its beginnings back to 1942 when it initially flew P-40 Warhawks in air defence of the mainland US before being deployed to Europe in 1943 where they flew long range bomber escort missions with P-47 Thunderbolts then P-51 Mustangs until the end of WWII. Following the War, in 1946, the former 350th FS was re-established as the 157th FS, Flying F-51 & RF-51 Mustangs, as part of the South Carolina ANG.In 1950 the unit swapped their RF-51s for RF-80 Shooting Star jets before deploying to Europe for a short time as part of the 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing (TRW) in 1952 before returning to the US and re-equipping yet again with the H version of the venerable F-51. Following the end of the Korean War in 1953, the unit began receiving F-86As and F-80s to replace their Mustangs.In September of 1957 the 157th was expanded to become the 169th Fighter Interceptor Group (FIG) and, shortly afterwards, received the F-86L Sabre Dog. In 1960 they converted to the Mach 2 F-104A Starfighter; one of only three ANG units to do so, in recognition of their high performance over the years. It was during this time that the unit’s first Commander, Brigadier General Barnie B. McEntire, Jr. was killed when he flew his crippled F-104 into a nearby river In order to avoid populated areas near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In recognition of his sacrifice, the unit’s base, originally called Congaree Air Base, was renamed to McEntire Air National Guard Base, which it bears to this day.In the following years the 157th operated the F-102A and A-7D before receiving their first F-16As in 1983 and has deployed to several different areas in time of conflict. Receiving their first Block 52 models of the F-16C/D in 1995, while the unit’s mission is that of multi-role, they specialize in the Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) role (also known as Wild Weasel, from the development of this mission in Vietnam) as their aircraft are equipped with the Harm Targeting System (HTS) and are able to carry the AGM-88 High-speed Anti Radar Missile (HARM). One of the aircraft present during my visit carried tail art marking 50 years of this mission (as a whole) in 2015.Arriving from their home base at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, near Columbia in South Carolina, in July; the 157th FS immediately began flying sorties alongside their hosts from the 51st FW. The Swamp Foxes’ operations are integrated with those of the 51st to carry out joint missions covering all of the various profiles that they might be called to employ during a time of conflict in the area, such as air-to-air, close air support or SEAD (a specialty of this particular unit) etc. as well as gaining theater specific knowledge.The learning is not all one-sided though. Indeed, far from it, as Air National Guard pilots and crews are themselves often very highly experienced and have served many years in the active USAF (including combat tours) before moving to the Guard and may have even served previous tours in Korea during that time too, so they will have a lot of their own experience and knowledge to pass on to the active units as well.
It’s not just all about training though as, like all forces on the Korean peninsula, the 169th must also remain prepared to mount active missions with minimal notice in case of increased tensions with North Korea which puts an added “edge” onto the day to day operations of the air and ground crews.
An interesting aspect of seeing these particular machines, from a spotter’s point of view, was the chance to finally see the new “Have Glass V” colour scheme in the flesh as several of the unit’s aircraft were wearing it, with some appearing a uniform grey overall, while others seemed to sport a slightly more weathered appearance which gave a noticeable metallic look to the finish.
While the weather wasn’t the greatest during my visit, it does highlight the ability and professionalism of everyone involved that these units are prepared to conduct whatever may be required of them in any conditions. My sincere thanks to the men and women of the 51st & 169th Fighter Wings for allowing me the privilege of visiting Osan and being able to witness their daily operations.
In September of 2016 I had the privilege of visiting the US Air Force’s 51st Fighter Wing (FW) at Osan in South Korea. Situated only about an hour’s drive south of Seoul, one of the most modern and technologically advanced capital cities in the world, USAF base Osan is a key element of America’s military presence on the Korean peninsula as well as that of the Republic Of Korea Air Force (ROKAF).
The base is home to the USAF’s 7th Air Force (7th AF) which provides the overall command and support structure for all the USAF combat units in South Korea, which include the 51st FW, also at Osan, flying F-16s and A-10s, and the 8th FW at Kunsan, which flies two squadrons of F-16s (see my previous article on the 8th FW at Kunsan here) which all come under the USAF’s PACific Air Forces (PACAF) Command. And while there are no Korean flying units based at Osan, it is also the location of the ROKAF’s Operations Command.
Built in 1952 to provide a base for jet aircraft operations during the Korean War, Osan air base has remained a key element of the UASF’s presence in the Republic Of Korea ever since, with the 51st FW (then known as the 51st Air Base Wing) beginning their current residence in 1971. Osan also serves as the main entry and exit point for almost all US military forces and equipment in South Korea which sees a stream of transport and liaison aircraft and helicopters, US and Korean, coming and going quite frequently.
Tracing its history back to the formation of the 51st Pursuit Group (later changed to Fighter Group) in the United States in January 1941, the unit served in India and China during WWII. After a short de-activation following WWII, it was reformed at Naha on Okinawa, Japan, in 1948 and became heavily involved in the Korean war, operating F-80s and F-86s during the conflict and deployed to several locations in the region as the tide of war waxed and waned. Moving first to Itazuke, also in Japan, Kimpo airport in Korea, back to Itazuke then Tsuiki, Japan, all within the last months of 1950 to January 1951 before returning to Korea, this time at Suwon, in 1951, were it remained until returning to Naha in 1954.
The checkered markings worn on the tails of the 51st’s aircraft today are a tribute to the unit’s Korean service as they reflect the same markings worn on their F-86s during the War, earning them the nick-name of “the Checker Tails”, and the horse emblem comes from the unit’s name, The Mustangs.
Currently equipped with the F-16C/D. flown by the 36th Fighter Squadron (FS) (known as the Fiends) and A-10C flown by the 25th FS (called the Assam Draggins), the 51st FW’s operational mission is to provide close air support, strike, forward air control (FAC), counter air, interdiction and combat search and rescue (CSAR, also a highlight of the Air Power displays held at Osan. See Air Power 2016 here) in the defense of the Republic Of Korea. In order to ensure this capability, the wing is a self-contained unit, made up of a myriad of groups such as Mission Support, Operations, Maintenance, Medical, Logistics, Security etc. which are essential in ensuring that the flying units can generate their missions successfully. An additional role for the Wing is to maintain the ability to accept follow-on forces and support them to execute their own missions should the need arise.
As with their colleagues from the 8th FW at Kunsan, the 51st has to finely balance the need for training to maintain a high level of proficiency with the requirement to be ready to mount operational missions at the shortest possible notice due to the constant threat posed by North Korea. This also shapes the types of training missions that the squadrons fly as, whilst most units will practice for a wide range of different scenarios or theatres of operations, the 51st is constantly rehearsing the specific mission profiles that it would employ in actual combat, in their own area.
An additional challenge is maintaining this level of readiness against a constant turnover of personnel and experience. For many of the personnel, again like Kunsan, a posting to Osan is classed as an unaccompanied tour as they cannot take their families with them but, because of this, they usually only serve a fixed period of one year at the base (although there are a number who are stationed longer (with families) to ensure continuity). This means that there is a constant rotation of new people coming in and experienced people rotating out, which places a high demand on training the new arrivals to get the experience, qualifications and in-theatre knowledge that they need, as quickly as possible which is achieved by regular drills and exercises involving the whole base.
Living close to the major metropolis of Seoul and the large, close-knit community of on-base personnel with the 7th AF Headquarters and other co-located units and their support networks helps individuals maintain a good social life outside of work and, for those who like to travel, serving in Korea is a great opportunity to see an exotic and interesting part of the world, but serving away from friends and family also has its challenges for the men and women at Osan.
During my visit the 36th FS was in the midst of deploying to a Red Flag exercise, so there weren’t too many of their F-16s to be seen unfortunately. Luckily for me though (as a fan of colours and markings), one jet which was still around was the 7th AF Commander’s aircraft with its associated tail markings which, as you might expect for the “Boss’ jet, is kept in pristine condition.
I was even lucky enough to be able to capture this machine being prepared for a sortie from its own shelter which, like the aircraft itself, seemed to be just a little cleaner and brighter than some of the others. 😉
The aircraft are mostly all kept in individual shelters and the dispersal area is quite complicated and interconnected which means that, when moving around the taxiways, you need to keep your wits about you as jets might appear from almost anywhere. You can hear them but you don’t really know where they’re coming from.
I’m sure that it is a very well planned and controlled process but, as an outsider, it was very impressive and, as a photographer trying to capture as much as possible, a little frustrating too as first there would be nothing then, suddenly, there would be aircraft coming from different directions all at the same time.
The lack of 36th FS machines was made up for by the presence of the 169th FW from the South Carolina Air National Guard (ANG) as part of a Theater Security Package (TSP) (please see my previous article on the TSP at Kunsan for more information on this).
While being shown around the ROKAF portion of the base, I noticed that there are frequent reminders of just how much the South Koreans value and commemorate the contributions of all the nations who came to their aid during the Korean War, with several monuments and flags as tributes and a reminder of what the ROKAF continues to serve for in the defence of their country.
From the spotter’s point of view, there are also a few rare and historic machines on static display around the base which were interesting to see too.
Just to top things off, while not under the umbrella of the 51st FW, Osan also hosts a permanent detachment of U-2s from the 5th Reconnaissance Squadron (RS), 9th RW, home based at Beale in California, and the chance to see one of these secretive icons of aviation heading out on yet another mission while I was at Osan was incredible.
It was an honor and a privilege to be allowed to capture just some of the day-to-day operations of the 51st FW and to witness the professionalism of the airmen and women which make Osan such a key and formidable element of the USAF’s efforts in South Korea. My deepest thanks to everyone involved for allowing me the opportunity.