What: Hawk 127 Lead-In Fighter jet to conduct display practice
When: Wednesday 14 – Thursday 15 June 2017
Where: Vicinity of Tea Gardens and Myall Lakes National Park and RAAF Base Williamtown
Three Royal Australian Air Force Hawk 127 Lead-In Fighter aircraft from Number 76 Squadron, will conduct two practice flying displays on 14 and 15 June in preparation for graduation celebrations of Australia’s newest fighter pilots on Friday 16 June at RAAF Base Williamtown.
On Wednesday, 14 June at 3 pm, a practice flying display will be conducted in the designated practice area in the Tea Gardens and Myall Lakes National Park.
A second practice will be overhead RAAF Base Williamtown on Thursday 15 June at approximately 1:45 pm.
Note: The display over Williamtown on Friday 16 June for graduation celebrations will consist of a formation of three aircraft which will conduct formation flypasts. Then a single aircraft will break off to conduct a low level aerobatics display. A second formation of up to seven aircraft will conduct a flypast following the three ship display.
Warbirds, Jets, aerobatics, frontline military hardware, models, glider, paragliders, rag-and-tube and a balloon; it had it all.
The second Hunter Valley Airshow was held at Maitland Airport (also known as Rutherford), a small local airfield just a half-hour’s drive west of Newcastle, over the 28th & 29th of January and, just like the first one, held in 2015 (see that article HERE), it was great mix of aircraft and displays for enthusiasts and families.
The excitement started to build on the Friday afternoon before the show as Paul Bennet and the team ran through some final practices for their displays and some of the visiting aircraft began arriving, particularly Graham Hosking’s amazing F4U-5 Corsair, flown by Peter Clements, and Judy Pay’s beautiful CAC Mustang with Bernie Heuser at the controls. The chance to see the Corsair parked next to Paul Bennet’s Avenger was a real sight to behold. To think that both of these large aircraft used to operate from aircraft carriers.
ASO’s Motty was allowed the incredible opportunity to catch these two impressive machines in the air as well, as they took some time to familiarise themselves with the layout of the area and went through a practice of their displays (see that gallery HERE). Sadly, the Corsair suffered a landing accident before the show on Saturday and was unable to take part in the rest of the weekend’s flying. Most importantly though, the pilot was ok and, hopefully, the aircraft can be repaired and back in the air before too long.
The forecast for the weekend was for soaring temperatures and Saturday dawned warm with low cloud and fog, which soon cleared to a bright, hot and sunny day. Sunscreen, hats and plenty of water would be the theme for the weekend.
The flying displays each day began with a “missing man” tribute by the Paul Bennet Airshows team. Saturday’s tribute was to Gerard Beiboer and Sunday’s was for Peter Lynch. Gerard was a good friend to many at Maitland and played a major part in the organisation and operation of the 2015 event, but he passed away when his Pitts Model12 crashed just a few weeks after that show. Peter Lynch was a well-known member of Australia’s aviation community and a great supporter of many events and causes, particularly the Evans Head airport and their Great Eastern Fly-In shows. Peter had passed away just a few days before this show when his Grumman Mallard crashed into the Swan River in Perth on Australia Day.
This was followed by a a flag drop where a parachutist descended trailing a large Australian flag while Paul Bennet circled in his bright yellow Wolf Pitts Pro.
David Wainwright and Scott Duncan displayed the performance and agility of their powered chutes and Craig Baverey, Levi Wagner and Jeff Sparks put on a show with their incredible, large scale RC models. It takes a second look to tell some of these models from the real thing in photos and the skilful flying by the pilots added to the effect as well.
Craig Gunther displayed the Breezy from nearby Luskintyre, possibly one of the most unusual machines you are likely to see. Literally a basic tubular frame upon which the pilot (and a brave passenger at times) sit, very exposed at the front, and the wing from a Piper Cub on top. Open cockpit flying at its best.
Nigel Arnot then put on a display in his Fox glider. Now, on the face of it, you would probably assume that a glider display might be one of the less impressive routines for an airshow, but neither Nigel nor his craft are what you would call “average”. Rolls, loops, hammerhead stalls and low level aerobatics are definitely not what you expect when you hear the term “glider”, but Nigel masterfully guided his machine through what must surely rate as an amazing example of very skilled energy management.
Aerohunter’s Yak-52 was put through a very crisp routine at the hands of Glenn Graham, the bright yellow machine, trailing its plume of smoke, making for a striking image against the clear blue sky. At one point, Glenn even managed a wave to the crowd while inverted!
Paul Bennet took his T-28B Trojan up for an impressive display of loops, rolls and low level passes, and that sound!
Jeff Blunt displayed the unique capabilities of his gyrocopter before Paul Bennet’s CAC Wirrway was gracefully displayed by Ben Lappin.
Not all the attractions were in the sky either, with plenty to see and do on the ground. The RAAF Balloon offered tethered flights all weekend and RAAF recruiting had a Super Hornet simulator available for future pilots to test their skills. There were Helicopter joy flights and several static aircraft to view including a demonstrator from Cirrus Aircraft and Luskintyre Aircraft Restorations had several of their latest classic rebuilds on show, including Tiger, Gipsy and Fox Moths, along with a pair young ladies dressed in WWII period attire to help set the scene. Beech adventures also had their new Beech 18 on display which is hoped to be back in the air soon. There was a great display of historic military vehicles and the FMX Stunt team amazed the crowds with jumps, backflips and more all weekend.
Something a little different was a combined display by Nigel Arnot in the Pitts M12, Adrian Vandersluy in the Lancair and Glenn Graham in the Rebel 300 where the three of them alternated their displays. First Nigel performed a solo routine in the Pitts before Adrian made some passes in the Lancair which was followed by Glenn doing his own routine in the Rebel, then the Lancair again, the Pitts and so-on, back and forth a few times, which made for a varied and entertaining display.
The pace picked up a notch or two as Mark Pracy appeared in Jetride Australia’s L-39 to put on another smooth display of this popular jet warbird.
Not slowing the pace any was one of aviation’s icons, Judy Pay and Dick Hourigan’s beautifully restored CAC Mustang, painted in the colours of a 3 Sqn P-51 in Italy during WWII. Flown by Bernie Heuser and Peter Clements over the weekend, it’s always a joy to see this classic machine perform in its element and then of course, there’s also that unmistakable sound of a Rolls Royce Merlin just to top it off.
The crowds were then treated to Paul Bennet’s incredible solo routine in his Wolf Pitts Pro. One of only two in the world, the Wolf is a unique and very powerful version of the diminutive Pitts Special which has been designed for speed and maneuverability, both of which Paul exploits to the fullest in his display.
On the Sunday afternoon, visitors were treated to the added spectacle of FMX rider Joel Brown performing a back-flip jump over the top of Paul in his Wolf Pitts.
The RAAF was next on scene with several passes by a C-130J from 37 Squadron at Richmond, followed by the noise and spectacle of a solo Hawk display by Flt Lt Tim Twelvetrees from 76 Squadron at nearby Williamtown.
Paul Bennet was up again, displaying the surprising maneuverability and throaty rumble of the large Grumman Avenger, including a few bombing runs accompanied by some pyrotechnics, before another highlight of the show for many with Ross Pay performing only the second public display of Vintage Fighter Restoration’s beautiful Hawker Hurricane at an airshow since its restoration the previous year (you can see its premier appearance at the Flight of the Hurricane show HERE).
Ross’ solo routine led into a formation display with the Hurricane leading the Avenger, Trojan and Mustang for several passes, and the sound of the two merlins in company with the big radials was just awesome!
After the formation passes in Saturday’s show, the Mustang broke away for another, energetic solo display with an emphasis on simulated ground attack passes.
Paul Bennet, Glenn Graham and Ben Lappin displayed their low level aerobatic formation skills in three different versions of brightly coloured Pitts Specials as the Sky Aces team with loops, rolls, opposing passes and more.
The RAAF was on hand once more with another crowd favourite, the Roulettes display team in their red, white and blue PC-9s and, on the Sunday afternoon with large storm clouds looming on the western horizon after a long, hot day, the always impressive Roulettes made for a fitting finale to what had been a great weekend of aviation.
Although the Hunter Valley Airshow is only relatively new to the Australian airshow calendar, the very impressive displays which they have put on so far have us eagerly looking forward what the team might come up with next. Our sincere thanks to the team for the chance to cover this great show.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.