Stealth Black Hawk

David Cenciotti

The first images of the remains of a helicopter used by US Navy SEAL Team Six in Operation Neptune’s Spear, the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, caused a stir among aviation experts and enthusiasts globally. The images, which began appearing on social media on May 2, 2011, were of parts that seemed to belong to an unknown type.

The tail rotor had an unusual cover that could have been anything from an armour plate to a noise reduction cover, sheltering motion-control technology already tested by NASA and used to input low-frequency variations in rotor blade pitch angle. The aircraft’s rotor blades were flatter rather than wing shaped, and its paint finish extremely similar to the anti-radar paint and radar-absorbing material used on modern stealth fighters. Nothing was common to the Black Hawk, Chinook or Apache helicopters.

According to the few official statements released in the aftermath of the raid, the helicopter did not suffer a failure, but skittered uncontrollably in the heat-thinned air, forcing the pilot to crash land. As he did, the tail rotor hit one of the 12ft (3.7m) walls surrounding Bin Laden’s Abbottabad, Pakistan compound.

Whatever the cause of the crash (human error while flying on night-vision goggles (NVGs), wake turbulence generated by the other helicopter on the mission, or `recirculation’ are all possibilities), the SEALs reportedly attempted to destroy it to hide its technology. But the tail section survived because it had fallen outside the compound. Thus the world was treated to a glimpse of an advanced technology developed in the Cold War era, when the US ran a series of `black’ programmes aimed at easing Special Operations teams’ task of penetrating Soviet installations.

It is extremely difficult to say whether the helicopter involved in Operation Neptune’s Spear (also known as Operation Geronimo, after the code word used to designate Bin Laden) was an existing type heavily modified or a new design. But the images prove that Osama Bin Laden was such an important target, his elimination justified the use of a deeply secret technology.

A possible shape

I began studying the possible shape of what soon became known as the `Stealth Black Hawk’ or `Silent Hawk’. With the help of Aviation Graphic. com artist Ugo Crisponi, I imagined what the aircraft would have looked like after combining the tail section and main rotor revealed in the photographs, engine shields, rotor covers, additional main rotor blade (for a slower main rotor speed and reduced noise) and some imagination.

The fairly inaccurate initial sketch resembled an S-76 more than an MH-60, but even after subsequent reviews it appeared to be consistent with an in-depth study already in the public domain and freely available on an official US military website.

Issued in 1978 by Sikorsky Aircraft Division for the US Army Research and Technology Laboratories, this interesting document is entitled Structural Concepts and Aerodynamic Analysis for Low Radar Cross Section (LRCS) Fuselage Configurations. These first attempts at providing the UH-60 with stealth capabilities were useful for imagining possible modifications to the aircraft’s profile.

The Applied Technology Laboratory developed three LRCS fuselage configurations, both based on the tail surfaces and main rotor pylon fairing of the baseline UH-60A. The first configuration slightly altered the baseline fuselage around the cockpit, producing a modified nose and slightly increased overall length.

The second changed the fuselage shape to create a cross section similar to that of a truncated triangular prism, with increased overall length, width and height, and a narrower cockpit space. A vertical climb rate of such an aircraft would be only 15% that of the baseline UH-60A.

The third extended a canted, flat-sided shape along the fuselage. The narrow cockpit that resulted forced the pilot and co-pilot seats closer together, while the windscreen’s rake is believed likely to have caused visibility problems.

The document did not identify a specific LRCS configuration for a radar-evading Black Hawk, but the structural concepts developed for the study and aerodynamic analysis suggested a shape more like that of an F-117 than a more modern stealth aircraft, such as the F-22 or F-35.

The low observability project may have not been the only study to inspire the shape of the Stealth Black Hawk used in 2011. Some sources suggest that some of the MH-X technology may have come from the YEH- 60B Stand-Off Target Acquisition System (SOTAS), a Black Hawk variant designed to detect moving targets on the battlefield and downlink the information to an army ground station. The only SOTAS built for the US Army (flown in the early 1980s, before the programme was cancelled in favour of the E-8 JSTARS) had retractable main gear.

Other modifications may have been inspired from other prototypes then under development, including the Army’s Advanced Composite Airframe Programme (ACAP), which aimed to develop an all-composite helicopter fuselage lighter and less costly to build than the predominantly metal airframes in general use. Further work was probably done to reduce the overall RCS, perhaps including a flat windscreen with a gold layer for electrical continuity, fairings covering the push rods and main rotor hub, retractable inflight refuelling probe and IR suppressors.

In 2015, Relentless Strike, a book by award-winning defence journalist Sean Naylor provided details on the history of MH-X. He says the two helicopters involved in the Bin Laden raid were the first prototypes of a classified programme aimed at making the Black Hawk less visible to radar. A series of modifications was required, but left the helicopters tricky to control under certain conditions.

The prototypes were built and tested at Area 51, Nevada, but the programme was cancelled. When the need to infiltrate Pakistani airspace emerged, the two experimental airframes were selected to deliver the SEALs into Abbottabad.

Inspired by the successful outcome of the operation in Pakistan, the 160th SOAR `Night Stalkers’ flew the surviving MH-X in Syria, where it took part in the failed July 4, 2014 attempt to free American journalist James Foley and other captives from Daesh.

The presence of possible MH-X derivatives was also rumoured in a daring raid that killed high-level Daesh operative Abu Sayyaf at Deir Ezzor. He was eliminated at a position southeast of Raqqa, eastern Syria, on the night of May 15/16, 2015.

Neptune’s Spear

Based on information released by official sources and details in first-hand accounts of the Neptune’s Spear raid (including No Easy Day, by former Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette), it is possible to draw a `picture’ of the SEAL Team Six attack. The two MH-Xs departed Jalalabad air base, Afghanistan, and flew to Abbottabad using callsigns `Chalk 1′ and `Chalk 2′. They infiltrated Pakistani airspace from the east. A pair of MH-47s was on standby at a forward air refuelling point (FARP) north of Abbottabad. These had brought in the personnel and materiel required to establish the FARP, and a combat search and rescue team.

In the event, one of the MH-47s flew to the compound to recover the crew of the crashed MH-X then flew directly to Jalalabad. The second MH-47 and surviving MH-X returned to Jalalabad via the FARP. An RQ-170 Sentinel drone from Kandahar supported the entire mission with detailed real-time full motion video of the target area.

Along with the 160th SOAR’s helicopters, many other aircraft are likely to have flown in support of Operation Neptune’s Spear, including the RC-135 Rivet Joint, gathering signals intelligence; the EC-130H for localised jamming of Pakistani communications; the E-2 and/or E-3 for airborne early warning, and airspace and tanker management; and the E-6, acting as an airborne command post and relaying orders directly from the White House.

Later, an MV-22 carried Osama Bin Laden’s body from Jalalabad to USS Carl Vinson, where the former al Qaeda leader was buried at sea. SEAL Team Six travelled from Jalalabad to Bagram in an MC-130.

Other aircraft might well have been involved, waiting on the ground or in the air, the latter probably having launched from one or both of the aircraft carriers stationed in the Persian Gulf at the time – USS Enterprise and USS Carl Vinson.

Israeli postscript

In a 2012 report written for a US global intelligence newsletter, F Michael Maloof, a former Pentagon senior policy analyst, suggested that the Israeli Air Force was equipped with the Stealth Black Hawk, as used in Operation Neptune’s Spear. He said the aircraft had been used to drop Iranian dissidents into Iran to gather intelligence on Tehran’s nuclear programme.

The US raid in Syria reminds of this secret stealth Black Hawk helicopter

In the night between May 15 and 16, 2015 U.S. Special Operations forces killed ISIS high level operative Abu Sayyaf, in a daring raid that took place in eastern Syria.

Little is known about the raid.

According to the CNN, the operation was conducted by U.S. Army’s Delta Force, which was carried to a residential building in Deir Ezzor, to the Southeast of Raqqa, by Army Blackhawk helicopters and Air Force CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.

It’s pretty obvious many other assets were actually involved in the raid, including support assets providing electronic support to the intruding choppers and drones, as happened during Operation Neptune’s Spear, for the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

The presence of some Air Force Special Operations Command Ospreys during a raid against ISIS is not a first.

U.S. Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft probably based in Kuwait have already conducted missions in Syria and Iraq: on Jul. 3, 2014, some V-22 aircraft were used to carry Delta Force commandos to a campsite in eastern Syria where ISIS militants were believed to hold American and other hostages (that had been moved by the time the commandos attacked the site).

On Aug. 13, 2014, V-22s deployed military advisers, Marines and Special Forces on Mount Sinjar to coordinate the evacuation of Yazidi refugees.

What could really be a “first” is the possible involvement of the Stealth Black Hawk helicopter exposed by the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, back in 2011.

For the moment it’s just a hypothesis, but Homeland Security suggests that the Delta Force team were transported deep into ISIS-held territory “via presumably stealth equipped Black Hawk helicopters” of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) “Night Stalkers”.

The U.S. Army special ops force provides support for both general purpose and special operations forces. They fly MH-47G Chinooks, MH-60L/K/DAP Black Hawks, A/MH-6M Little Birds, MH-X Silent Hawks (the latter is an unconfirmed designation for the Stealth Black Hawk), maybe stealthy Little Birds and stealthy Chinooks, as well as MQ-1C Gray Eagledrones.

160th SOAR’s Black Hawk helicopters presence in the region was first unveiled after an unspecified variant belonging to the U.S. Army took part in an unsuccessful raid to free captured American journalist James Foley and other captives from ISIS in eastern Syria in August 2014.

Even though American aircraft have already demonstrated their ability to operate completely undisturbed well inside the Syrian airspace, we can’t rule out the possibility that the Pentagon, as done in 2011 when the time to kill Bin Laden arrived, considered the importance of the most recent raid against the senior ISIS leader and the failure of at least a couple previous raids, decided to commit the most advanced and secret Black Hawk helicopter to the delicate mission against Abu Sayyaf: the stealth variant.

Read the original article on The Aviationist. Copyright 2015.

B-36: Early Strategic Bomber

Strategic bombing stood at the core of the argument for a separate U. S. Air Force. The use of airplanes to deliver bombs to targets far beyond the battlefield represented an independent, offensive mission that would justify the creation of an air arm equal in status to the Army and the Navy. During the 1920s and 1930s, American airpower enthusiasts developed the doctrine of strategic bombing that would shape the U. S. air campaign during World War II. In the post-war period, the Strategic Air Command (SAC) emerged not only as the central component of the U. S. Air Force, which was created in 1947, but also of the Cold War policy of nuclear deterrence.

In 1946, with an eye toward independence, the Army Air Forces reorganized. Gen. Carl A. Spaatz, commanding general of the Air Forces, established three major operating commands: the Strategic Air Command, the Tactical Air Command, and the Air Defense Command. The Air Force would take control of these commands upon its formation. As the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union took shape in the late 1940s, it became clear that the SAC would take center stage, as it was the only organization within the U. S. military with the ability and experience to deliver atomic weapons.

At first, however, the SAC was in poor shape and seemed unfit to effectively carry out its mission. Not only had postwar demobilization left it with a bare minimum of personnel and increasingly obsolete equipment, but a plan that called for the extensive cross training of personnel resulted in weakly trained crews and strained morale. Its deficiencies were highlighted during the Berlin Crisis in 1948, when Soviet forces in eastern Berlin blockaded the U. S., French, and British-controlled sectors of the city. In response, Chief of Staff Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg ordered Gen. Curtis E. LeMay home from Europe to take command of the SAC.

LeMay took command in October 1948 and immediately oversaw the transfer of the SAC headquarters from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland to Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska. Once settled, LeMay initiated an intensive training program. Although his reforms did result in some improvements, SAC remained understaffed and poorly equipped for its atomic mission until appropriations increased with the Korean War in the 1950s, and the United States formally adopted a policy of deterrence.

Under the presidencies of Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, SAC emerged not only as the largest component of the Air Force, but also as the centerpiece of the nation’s policy of deterrence, with its threat of massive retaliation. While overall the military shrank after 1953 and military budgets stagnated, SAC proved the exception to the general pattern. It was celebrated in the 1955 film Strategic Air Command, starring Jimmy Stewart as Lt. Col. “Dutch” Holland and June Allyson as his wife Sally. SAC gained the personnel and the equipment needed to serve as a deterrent force. Surplus B-29s from World War II gave way initially to the B-50 and then to the B-47, the first generation all-jet bomber. The first intercontinental bomber, the B-36, remained the key to deterrence until the eight-engine, all-jet B-52 appeared in 1955. To support these bombers on their long-range missions, SAC adopted aerial refueling and acquired its first tanker aircraft, the KC-97. By the end of the decade, the all-jet KC-135 entered the SAC inventory.

Convair B-36

Convair’s B-36 long range bomber is well recognized by many attributes. It was America’s first true intercontinental heavy bombing platform and the Strategic Air Command’s initial deterrence weapon. Although its service life of just 10 operational years (1949 to 1959) was short in comparison to other aircraft conceived during the same time, such as the U-2, SR-71 and B-52, which still flies today; the B-36 was the first symbol of US air power during the early stages of the Cold War.

Unlike the U-2 Dragon Lady, the SR-71 Blackbird and B-52 Stratofortress, its eventual replacement, the massive B-36 was never assigned an official name by the US Air Force. Despite this sobering fact, today much of the world recognized the huge propellant pusher bomber as the ‘Peacemaker’. The history behind the name is as interesting as the aircraft’s own life cycle. It all started back in December 1948, when the Convairiety, the Consolidated Vaultee Aircraft Corporation’s newsletter, announced a dedication and naming contest for the new plane.

“Needed is a name appropriate to their size and purpose. A name which will be in keeping with the fine, historic traditions of Convair’s fighting ships in days gone by, the Liberators, Catalinas, Coronados and Vengeance dive bombers”, read the headlines of the piece. Further instructions were provided, “the name should be one word and should not be a ‘made-up’ combination. Duplication or possible confusion with another Army or Navy aircraft names should be avoided. Preference will be given to names which relates to the size, weight, power, range, purpose and mission of the B-36”.

Accordingly to the statement, entries will be allowed from 5th January until the 28th of February 1949, after which a judging committee composed of Amon Carter, the editor of the Dallas-based Fort Worth Star, Major General Rodger M. Ramey, the head of the Eight Air Force and Lamotte T. Cohu, Convair’s president; would pick a winner. Prize for the selected one was settled at 50 dollars, plus a barrage of publicity appearance.

In late 1949, the Air Force Munitions Board Aircraft Committee, the organization in charge of matters such as name tagging, gave the contest a passive approval, but with a caveat. In a January 1949 memo, the Board stated that “The MBAC reserve the right to chose any other name if desired”. Because of this, Convair modified the rules adding that “if some name submitted by a Convair employee other than the winner of the contest is subsequently selected by the Munitions Board, the employee who submitted the name chosen will also be awarded $50”.

Although the contest was not limited to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where the plane was actually developed, the region accounted for more than 95% of the entrees, the rest came from the San Diego assembly plant section. Overall, 813 submissions were received, six hundred and forty (640) ballots from Texas and 173 out of California. Among the most popular proposed names out of Dallas were ‘Longhorn’, ‘Texas’, ‘Texans’, and ‘Gardua’. Others such as ‘Condor’ and ‘Crusader’ topped the San Diego-area submissions. Interesting enough, 60 entries (49 from Dallas, 11 out of San Diego) called for the name ‘Pacemaker’.

The word ‘Peacemaker’ has its roots in the Texas’ Old West. It was use to describe the powerful Colt .45 caliber revolver, often use as a deterrence mechanism. Most of the people who conjured the word did so believing that the B-36 would serve in a similar matter. “I think that this incredible plane will be like a Colt. A weapon people respect and feared. It maintained the peace in an un-settling time. So will the B-36”, said J.G. Bohn, a Fort Worth toolmaker who, along with J.L. McDaniels, L.R. Harris, C.W. Cannon, E.M. Wilson and G.E. McKenzie were chosen to represent all the winners.

Originally the announcement of the winner was slated for 30th March 1949. But due to a logistical mix up the judging committee did not receive the final ballots until the last week of February. The revelation of the selection was made on the April 1949 issue of Convairiety. “Convair proudly announce that….have won the B-36 naming contest. This would be forwarded to the AF Munitions Board Aircraft Committee for approval”, expressed the editorial section of the paper.

Sadly for Cohu, Bohn, McKenzie and all involved with the program, religious objections by various groups dissuaded the Air Force from branding the B-36, the Peacemaker, deferring the decision to a later date. But like most bureaucratic actions that are postponed, the official name-tagging of this amazing bomber was lost in the time. As of today, the AF Arsenal Registry has no official name is listed beside the B-36.

Douglas A-20 Havoc/Boston

Douglas Aircraft developed the Model 7B twin-engine light attack bomber in the spring of 1936. The prototype flew for the first time in October 1938. However, due to budget constraints U. S. Army Air Corps officials decided not to purchase the aircraft.

French officials had no such hesitation. In 1939, they ordered 270 of what was now designated the DB-7. Belgium also ordered an unspecified number. When France fell to Germany in 1940, the DB-7s as well as remodeled DB-7As and Bs were shipped instead to Great Britain and redesignated the Boston I, II, and III.

Ironically, Air Corps leaders had already changed their minds by late 1939 following the passage of the bountiful Military Appropriations Act of April 1939. They ordered 63 DB-7s as high-altitude attack bombers with turbosupercharged Wright Cyclone radial engines. The Air Corps redesignated this aircraft the A-20.

After initial flights of the aircraft, the Air Corps decided it did not need a high-altitude light attack bomber but rather a low-altitude medium attack aircraft. To this end, only one A-20 was built and delivered. The final 62 contracted aircraft were built as P-70 night-fighters, A-20A medium attack aircraft, or F-3 reconnaissance aircraft. The lone A-20 was used later as a prototype XP-70 for the development of the P-70 night-fighter version of the Havoc.

Construction of the A-20A, the first production model, began in early 1940. By April 1941, 143 had been built and delivered to the 3d Bomb Group (Light; 3BG). The aircraft was 47 feet, 7 inches long with a wingspan of 61 feet, 4 inches. It had a gross takeoff weight of 20,711 pounds. Powered by two Wright R-2600-3 or -11 Cyclone radial engines producing 1,600 hp, it had a maximum speed of 347 mph, a cruising speed of 295 mph, and a maximum ferry range of 1,000 miles. It had nine .30-caliber machine guns: four forward-firing in a fuselage blister, two in a flexible dorsal position, one in a ventral position, and two rear-firing guns in the engine nacelles. It had a maximum bombload of 1,600 pounds.

In October 1940, Douglas and Air Corps officials concluded a contract for 999 B models. Although it used the same Wright 2600-11 engines as the last 20 -A models, it was lighter and armed like the DB-7A. The A-20B had two .50- caliber machine guns in the nose and only one .50-caliber gun in the dorsal mount. Its fuselage was 5 inches longer; it had a 2,400-pound maximum bombload, a maximum speed of 350 mph, a cruising speed of 278 mph, and a 2,300-mile ferry range. Eight were sent to the Navy as DB-2 targettowing aircraft, and 665 were delivered to the Soviet Union as Lend-Lease aircraft.

Douglas built 948 C models, 808 at the Douglas plant in Santa Monica, California, and 140 under contract at the Boeing plant in Seattle, Washington. The C was patterned after the A model. Its Wright R-2600-23 Cyclone radial engines provided this heavier aircraft a maximum speed of 342 mph. Like all Havoc models, it had four crew members-a pilot, navigator, bombardier, and gunner. Originally built to be Royal Air Force and Soviet Lend-Lease aircraft, the Cs were diverted to the U. S. Army Air Forces once the United States entered World War II.

More G models were produced than any other A-20 version. Douglas built 2,850 in 45 block runs. The major differences were new and varying armaments, most notably the addition of four forward firing 20mm cannons in the nose. After block run number five, these were again replaced with six .50-caliber machine guns.

Douglas built 412 H models, 450 J models, and 413 K models. They were heavier at 2,700 pounds and had Wright R-2600-29 Cyclone supercharged radial engines producing 1,700 hp and flying at 339 mph. They carried 2,000 pounds of bombs internally and 2,000 externally.

A-20 production ended in September 1944. Douglas and other plants built 7,230 A-20s. They served in every theater of war and with the USAAF, the RAF, as well as the Australian, Soviet, and several other Allied air forces. More A-20s were built than any other attack-designated aircraft to serve in World War II.

The first customer for the Model 7B was the French Armee de l’Air. They had ordered 370 aircraft by the time of the German invasion in May 1940, and shortly thereafter ordered 480 more DB-7Cs, re-designated as DB-73s at French insistence. The British authorities had ordered another 300 and the USAAC had ordered the type as the A-20.

Confusingly, the French aircraft were designated as DB-7s (with l, 200hp Pratt and Whitney Twin Wasp S3C4-G engines) or DB-7As (with Wright Double Cyclones). The DB-7B aircraft ordered by the RAF were similar to the USAAC’s A-20As, structurally improved, fitted with an enlarged tailfin, and powered by l, 600hp Double Cyclones but with British armament.

With the collapse of France, the RAF received about 200 of the French DB-7s (some which had not been delivered, others flown by defecting crews) and all 100 of the undelivered DB-7As. These respectively became Havoc I night fighters and Boston I trainers, while the DB-7As became Havoc IIs. Some Havocs retained glazed noses and were used as intruders, while others had AI radar and solid noses mounting eight 0.303-in machine guns. Some were even fitted with nose-mounted searchlights as `Turbinlite Havocs’, operating in con¬ junction with Hurricane night fighters. The first Havocs entered service in October 1940.

The Royal Air Force’s intended DB-7Bs (and the French DB-73s, which were delivered to the same standards) were known as Douglas Boston Ills, and were used as day bombers by Bomber Command’s No. 2 Group. These replaced Blenheims from August 1941. The Bostons proved fast and was 80mph (128km/h) quicker than a Blenheim. The aircraft was rugged, and was used for a number of highly successful high profile attacks on targets in Occupied Europe. These included the Philips Radio factory at Eindhoven in southern Holland, the Matford works at Poissy, near Paris, and numerous enemy airfields. They were also used in North Africa, the Mediterranean and Italy.

First squadron to equip with Boston B.IIIs, was 88 ‘Hong Kong’ Squadron of 2 Group, Bomber Command. Before doing so it received a number of Boston Is (beginning with AW398 on December 1, 1940) and ‘IIIs (beginning with AE467 on March 30 1941), while based at Sydenham, Belfast. In August, when it operated Blenheim IVs from Attlebridge (Norfolk), the squadron received some non-operational Boston Ills, its first operational Mk. IIIs arriving in October, when operations on Blenheims ceased. In November-December 1941, 226 Squadron at Wattisham was rearmed with Boston Ills, and in February 1942, 107 Squadron at Great Massingham was similarly rearmed; like 88 Squadron both these units had previously flown Blenheim IVs. When 342 ‘Lorraine’ Squadron, Free French Air Force, formed at West Raynham in April 1943 from what had previously been known merely as the Lorraine Squadron, F. F. A. F., it too was armed with Bostons-Mk. IIIAs, the Lease-Lend version of the Mk. III, from which latter it could be distinguished by the stub exhausts in place of the single long exhausts with flame-traps. In August and September 1943, 88, 107, and 342 Squadrons moved to Hartford Bridge (later renamed Blackbushe) as 137 Wing, Second Tactical Air Force, 226 Squadron having rearmed with Mitchells. The Boston IIIs had gradually been replaced in 88 and 107 Squadrons by Mk. IIIAs during the first half of the year, some of the Mk. IIIs being sent to the Middle East. By mid-1944 some Boston IVs (A-20Js) were in the squadrons, these Lease-Lend machines having a one-piece Perspex nose and a Martin two-gun dorsal turret. In October 1944, 137 Wing comprising now 88 and 342 Boston Squadrons and 226 on Mitchells, moved to Vitry-en-Artois, France. 88 Squadron disbanded there in April 1945 and at the same time the other two squadrons moved to Gilze-Riyen (Airfield B. 77), Holland.

First occasion when Boston IIIs were used operationally was February 12 1942, when ten machines of 88 and 226 Squadrons took part in the armed search for the German warships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, which had escaped from Brest and proceeded up the Channel. Only one machine-from 226 Squadron managed to find a target and deliver an attack. Bostons made their first attack on a land objective on March 8 1942, when aircraft of 88 and 226 Squadrons made a low-level raid on Matford Works at Poissy, while others from the same units took part in a diversionary Circus operation against a power-station at Comines. The Boston which led the Matford mission -Z2209 ‘G-George’, captained by 226’s CO., W/Cdr V. S. Butler-was lost on the return journey. It was damaged either by light flak or bomb blast, and when a few miles from the target it was seen to be in difficulties; it struck a tree with its port wing, stood on its tail in a vain attempt to clear more trees, and then crashed. The rest of the force returned safely. Daylight Circus operations formed a large part of the Boston’s early activities over Europe, their purpose being to bring the Luftwaffe to battle. They were flown either at low or medium level and the targets, in addition to power-stations, included airfields, marshalling-yards, and ports. The Bostons also flew unescorted missions, diving out of cloud to attack their objectives and returning to such cover for the homeward flight. On August 17, 1942, during the commando raid on Dieppe, they did valuable work in laying smokescreens to cover both the assault and withdrawal. Another special operation came in December when they led the famous raid on the Philips radio and valve factory at Eindhoven in Holland. Towards the end of 1943, 137 Wing’s Bostons joined the assault against the German V-1 depots and sites in northern France, and when D-Day finally came they repeated what they had done at Dieppe and laid smoke-screens over the beaches. After this the Bostons operated in close support of the advancing Allied Armies. on the Continent, eventually winding up their offensive with a series of attacks launched from their base in Holland on targets in western Germany.

Boston IIIs crossing the sea at low level en route for enemy territory in late 1942. The machine in the foreground sports the code letters ‘RH’ denoting 88 Squadron.

(Note: Boston Ills were also used by the U. K.-based 23, 418 (R. C. A. F.) and 605 Squadrons during the period 1942-3, and although these units did do some bombing, they were essentially fighter-intruder units.)

In the spring of 1943, 326 Wing, Tactical Bomber Force, in North Africa, comprising 18 ‘Burma’ and 114 ‘Hong Kong’ Squadrons, relinquished the Bisleys which it had been operating and converted to Boston Ills (later supplemented by Mk. IIIAs) which it first took into action in close-support of the ground-forces during the closing stages of the Tunisian campaign. Like their U. K.-based counterparts, the squadrons adopted the ‘box-of-six’ bombing technique and usually operated with a fighter escort.

The North African campaign over, the squadrons turned their attention to the enemy-held islands of Pantellaria, Lampedusa, and Sicily, stepping-stones to Italy, and then bombed targets in Italy itself, moving across via Sicily to the Italian mainland in the wake of the advancing Allied Armies. Day and night missions were flown during this period-the Bostons sometimes acting as pathfinders-and by late 1944 there were four R. A. F. Boston squadrons operating in Italy, the newcomers being 13 and 55 Squadrons, both of which converted to Boston IVs from Baltimores. The four Boston squadrons formed 232 Wing of Mediterranean Allied Tactical Air Force, their crews, because of their night-flying role, becoming known as ‘Pippos’, a contraction of pipistrello (bat), and a word which, in the singular, was the name of a comic character, cf. ‘batty’. 13 Squadron claims to have introduced the ‘Balbo’ bombing technique in which one aircraft marked the target with flares and incendiaries for others to bomb at half-second intervals.

Night armed reconnaissance was the major role of the Bostons during the Italian campaign, and in December 1944, when 18 and 114 Squadrons operated in this role over the Fifth Army front, they drew praise from General Mark Clark, the Fifth Army’s C.-in-C. He said that their work was invaluable to his Army, which would otherwise have remained ignorant of the enemy’s movements during the hours of darkness. Tactical Air Force went so far as to say that the work of six Bostons during the night was more valuable than an entire wing of day-bombers.

During April 1945, all four Boston squadrons they were now flying Mk. IVs and Vs-made night attacks in support of the Eighth Army’s final assault which was to defeat the German forces in Italy. The Mk. V was the R. A. F. version of the A-20K and was generally similar to the Mk. IV but had a revised cockpit for more accessible bombing controls. Most of this bombing was done on timed runs from the Army’s landmark beacons, the principal targets being gun-positions, strong points, M. T. and pontoon and ferry crossings over rivers. Final operational task of the Bostons was the dropping of surrender leaflets to a force of Germans still holding out north of Gemona, on May 4 and 5.

After the cessation of hostilities all Lease-Lend Bostons were returned to the U. S. Government, which then reduced them to scrap, as it also did with most other returned Lease-Lend types.

The RAF also took delivery of Boston IVs (A-20Gs) and Boston Vs (A-20Js), taking the total number of Bostons and Havocs to more than 1,000. Some of these served in Europe until April 1945, and elsewhere the type remained in service a little longer. Russia received about 3,600 DB-7s, while the USAAF used 1,962 aircraft. These served in Europe and the Pacific, winning a reputation for toughness and dependability.

USA Hypersonic Weapon

Hypersonic Glide Body

Today, with modern air power operating inside the atmosphere, we can impose kinetic effects at the speed of sound. With the maturing of hypersonic weapons, we will be able to do that at multiples of the speed of sound.

The March 19 test of a hypersonic glide body at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii is just the start for the Defense Department, the assistant director for hypersonics in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering said, and after ample flight testing, the department will move toward developing weapons from the concepts it’s been testing.

“Over the next 12 months really what we will see is continued acceleration of the development of offensive hypersonic systems,” Michael E. White said today during an online panel discussion hosted by Defense One.

Hypersonic weapons move faster than anything currently being used, giving adversaries far less time to react, and they provide a much harder target to counteract with interceptors. White said DOD is developing hypersonic weapons that can travel anywhere between Mach 5 and Mach 20.

The March test of the hypersonic glide body successfully demonstrated a capability to perform intermediate-range hypersonic boost, glide and strike, he said. That test, White added, begins a “very active flight test season” over the next year, and beyond, to take concepts now under development within the department and prove them with additional tests.

“A number of our programs across the portfolio will realize flight test demonstration over the next 12 months and then start the transition from weapon system concept development to actual weapon system development moving forward,” he said.

Also part of the department’s efforts is the defense against adversary use of hypersonic missile threats — and that may involve space, said Navy Vice Adm. Jon Hill, director of the Missile Defense Agency. Land-, silo- or air-launched hypersonic weapons all challenge the existing U.S. sensor architecture, Hill said, and so new sensors must come online.

“We have to work on sensor architecture,” Hill said. “Because they do maneuver and they are global, you have to be able to track them worldwide and globally. It does drive you towards a space architecture, which is where we’re going.”

DOD is now working with the Space Development Agency on the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor to address tracking of hypersonics, the admiral said. That system is part of the larger national defense space architecture.

“As ballistic missiles increase in their complexity … you’re going to be able to look down from cold space onto that warm earth and be able to see those,” he said. “As hypersonics come up and look ballistic initially, then turn into something else, you have to be able to track that and maintain track. In order for us to transition from indications and warning into a fire control solution, we have to have a firm track and you really can’t handle the global maneuver problem without space.”

Hill said the department already has had a prototype of such satellites in space for some time, and is collecting data from it. In the early 2020s, he added, additional satellites will also go up to demonstrate tracking ability.


Flight at five times the speed of sound and above promises to revolutionize military affairs in the same fashion that the combination of stealth and precision did a generation ago. Hypersonic air weapons offer advantage in four broad areas. They counter the tyranny of distance and increasingly sophisticated defences; they compress the shooter-to-target window, and open new engagement opportunities; they rise to the challenge of addressing numerous types of targets; and they enhance future joint and combined operations. Within each of these themes are other advantages which, taken together, redefine air power projection in the face of an increasingly unstable and dangerous world.

The Physical Component is the one with which airmen and women tend to be instinctively the most comfortable. It is about the platforms, capabilities, weapons and `stuff’ that, to many, define what the RAF `is’. This applies just as much to the Space domain as it does to the Air domain, and the best way of achieving this may be to address both domains as seamless entities. In years gone by, the reality of doing just that was limited by technology separation: what worked in space did not work in the air and vice-versa. But modern technology – especially with hypersonic engines, pseudo-satellites, high-resolution optics and radar technologies – makes it conceivable that, with appropriate investment choices, future military capabilities could have the potential to be employed in both domains, perhaps even within the same mission. These technological enhancements are also likely to deliver the improvements in speed, reach, persistence, coverage, survivability, and precision necessary to provide an increased range of options for military commanders and political masters alike. But to embrace this new technology will undoubtedly require us to change our preconceived ideas of air power as being delivered predominantly from manned, fixed-wing, air-breathing platforms which operate at relatively low altitude. The blurring of the Air and Space domains allows us to translate our experiences of inner atmosphere aviation into even higher vertical limits and far greater ranges of effect. In the remaining paragraphs of this section, I will explore what I believe to be the four greatest technological developments that will allow us to transform air and space power over the next 30 years.

Hypersonic Engines.

At a glance, hypersonic engines may appear to be a `silver bullet’ which will unleash air and space power in the twenty-first century. This field of technology shows great promise, and much is possible within the next couple of decades providing there is investment in the emergent technology. So, what can hypersonics offer the Air environment? A good place to start would be to look at what Reaction Engines Limited (REL) has to offer with their experimental Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine, or SABRE. 9 Initial work looks incredibly exciting and could give rise to a working platform by 2030 that is capable of Mach 5+ and offers high cadence space access as well as long range inner-atmosphere flight. Such technology also appears promising because it purportedly offers `speed as the new stealth’ and potentially increases the survivability against an array of current and anticipated anti-access systems. Furthermore, while the technology claims to enable space access it can also, in theory at least, provide a vehicle from which a space payload could be launched. But hypersonic technology is not limited to just platforms. It can be applied effectively to weapons: air and groundlaunched, offensive and defensive. Whatever the manner of its employment, hypersonic technology has the potential to provide significant benefit to all operating domains – a true force multiplier. Thus, even at this relatively early stage in its programme, hypersonic technology represents a very strong candidate to address the physical aspects of the blurred Air and Space domains. While there are numerous hypersonic technologies under development, SABRE is novel, it is British, and therefore offers a sovereign capability with all the accordant benefits for our national prosperity agenda.

Hypersonic Vehicles Aerial vehicles that can travel in excess of five times the speed of sound, or Mach-5, are labelled hypersonic. Hypersonic weapons can be broadly divided into two categories, that is, Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HGV) and Hypersonic Cruise Missiles (HCM).

Hypersonic Glide Vehicles

The aerodynamic HGV is a boost-glide weapon-it is first `boosted’ up into near space atop a conventional rocket and then ejected at an appropriate altitude and speed. The height at which it is released depends on the intended trajectory to the target. Thereafter, the HGV starts to fall back to Earth, gaining more speed and gliding along the upper atmosphere, before diving on the target.

Hypersonic Cruise Missiles

An HCM on the other hand, is typically propelled to high speeds (around Mach 4 to 5) initially using a small rocket; thereafter, an air-breathing supersonic combustion ram jet or a `scramjet’ accelerates it further and maintains its hypersonic speed. HCMs are hypersonic versions of existing cruise missiles but would cruise at altitudes of 20-30 km in order to ensure adequate pressure for its scramjet. Standard cruise missiles are difficult to intercept-and the speed of the HCM and the altitude at which it travels complicates this task of interception manifold. The United States’ underdevelopment `WaveRider’ is a typical HCM. Russia’s HCM, the aircraft-launched Kh-47M2 `Kinzhal’, (Dagger), has a reported top speed of Mach-10 and a range of about 2000 km. India’s underdevelopment `Hyper Sonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle’ (HSTDV) too, capable of speeds around Mach-7, falls in the category of an HCM.

1. Aerial vehicles that can travel in excess of Mach-5 are labelled as hypersonic.

2. Three nations (Russia, China, USA) have been testing hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs), although a number of other countries are also pursuing hypersonic programmes.

3. An HGV, armed with a nuclear or a conventional warhead, or merely relying on its kinetic energy, has the potential to allow a military to rapidly and pre-emptively strike distant targets anywhere on the globe within hours or less.

4. On account of their quick-launch capability, high speed, lower altitude and higher manoeuvrability vis-a-vis Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles , HGVs are difficult to detect and intercept with existing air and missile defence systems.

5. This capability could tempt a nation to consider using HGVs for a disarming and first-strike on an adversary’s nuclear arsenal.

6. While numerous challenges remain, operational deployment of HGVs would thus compel target nations to set their nuclear forces on a hair-trigger readiness and “launch on warning” alerts, leading also to the devolution of command over nuclear weapons.

7. Overall, this would aggravate strategic instability, and also generate unacceptable levels of instability in crisis management at many levels.

The American exercise was a “naked provocative action,” China says.

By Kyle Mizokami             

Aug 26, 2020

China claims an American U-2 spy plane interfered with planned military exercises, wandering into a no-fly zone where live ammunition was being fired. Beijing complained the exercise was reckless and could have led to a “misunderstanding” between the two countries. The U.S. government has not commented on the alleged encounter.

The incident reportedly took place on August 25 above the Yellow Sea off China’s north coast. According to the Chinese tabloid Global Times, China’s military was holding military exercises in the Bohai Sea and the Yellow Sea. Another source narrows it to waters between the cities of Qingdao and Lianyunggang to the south. This places it in the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s Northern Theater, which has its headquarters in Qingdao.

The Pentagon’s 2019 annual report to Congress on Chinese military power states China’s Northern Fleet includes one aircraft carrier, four nuclear-powered submarines, 16 diesel electric submarines, 11 frigates, and eight landing ships. The carrier is Liaoning, China’s first true aircraft carrier, which is likely a training ship designed to get the country’s fledgeling carrier force up and running.

The U.S. military is particularly interested in China’s carrier force, which currently consists of Liaoning, Shandong, and a third carrier, Type 003, which is under construction. Experts believe China will eventually build anywhere from four to six carriers.

The U-2 involved was likely part of the U.S. Air Force’s 5th Reconnaissance Squadron, operating out of Osan Air Base, South Korea. If Liaoning was conducting flight operations, a U-2 could use its SYERS2C 10-band multispectral camera to observe carrier takeoffs and landings, and even activities on the flight deck. SYERS2C uses visible light and various infrared bands to see through atmospheric conditions (like clouds and fog) where other cameras cannot.

The Chinese Ministry of Defense issued the following announcement on its website:

Today, the U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance plane arbitrarily broke into the no-fly zone for live ammunition exercises in the northern theater of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, seriously disrupting China’s normal exercises and training activities, seriously violating the China-U.S. maritime and air safety code of conduct and related international practices, and could easily lead to misunderstandings. The conviction even caused accidents in the sea and air is a naked provocative action. China firmly opposes this and has lodged solemn representations with the United States. China requires the US to immediately stop such provocative actions and take concrete actions to maintain peace and stability in the region.

It’s odd that China is complaining about the U-2 surveillance, which likely happens every time Liaoning is at sea for exercises. Other, more dangerous incidents have taken place: In 2001, a Chinese fighter collided with a U.S. Navy EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft, resulting in the plane and crew being held in detention by Chinese authorities for two weeks.

In 2014, a Chinese fighter buzzed a P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol plane, coming within 20 feet of the larger plane and causing the Pentagon to complain about the Chinese fighter’s “unsafe” flying. And in 2018, the guided missile destroyer USS Decatur almost collided with a Chinese Luyang-class destroyer after the Chinese ship closed to within a stone’s throw of the American ship.

The more likely explanation? China was simply irate that a U.S. spy plane was operating off the coast of China.

U.S. ships and aircraft can easily operate just outside China’s borders, a result of having bases in nearby Japan and South Korea, while Chinese military forces rarely operate off the coast of the U.S. This is understandable to an extent, as the U.S. would likely be unhappy if Chinese planes were hanging out in the Gulf of Mexico or the Bering Sea.

Despite China’s growing military capabilities, it seems unlikely this imbalance will change any time soon. For now, the only proactive card Beijing can play is occasionally complaining about it.

The U-2

The U-2 spy plane was an Area 51 secret, the center of an international incident, and the U.S.’s eye in the sky for more than 60 years.

On October 27, 1962, the world focused on the tiny island nation of Cuba as two global superpowers—the U.S. and the Soviet Union—appeared on a collision course toward nuclear war. But as the drama unfolded in the Caribbean, another international incident was playing out in secret over eastern Siberia.

Captain Charles W. Maultsby had been tasked with a flight to the North Pole as part of a broader mission tracking Soviet nuclear tests. Long before the advent of GPS and too far north for his compass to be of much use, Maultsby used only a sextant and the stars to navigate, like a sailor from a bygone era. As he was making his way home, the Aurora Borealis made it impossible for him to distinguish between the stars and he’d managed to head directly into Soviet airspace.

Maultsby’s communications were muddled by the distance as Soviet radio operators tried to fool him into heading deeper into enemy territory. Mig-19s had been scrambled from multiple Soviet air bases with orders to shoot down the American spy plane.

Maultsby was in trouble, but he was a seasoned veteran and capable pilot. Maultsby kept his head and made course corrections based on where he was receiving Soviet radio broadcasts, hoping to aim the nose of his aircraft toward safety.

It wouldn’t take much to shoot the U-2 down—if Maultsby turned too hard the wings would just fall off.

All the while, Soviet Migs jockeyed for position 10,000 feet below him. Their service ceiling was 60,000 feet, stopping them from reaching the slow-moving unarmed reconnaissance plane. It wouldn’t take much to shoot the U-2 down—if Maultsby turned too hard the wings would just fall off. In fact, the only thing keeping the American pilot safe was the cushion of air between his aircraft and the fighters below.

But with his fuel stores dwindling, and he knew he couldn’t keep it up forever. Maultsby hoped he was close to friendly territory and made the decision to kill his engines and allow the massive U-2 wingspan to glide him as far as they could. To his surprise, he maintained an altitude of 70,000 feet for about ten minutes before he started his descent.

He crossed 60,000 feet and wasn’t fired upon, and by the time he reached 25,000 feet, F-102s were on his wingtip, welcoming him home.

While there’s no denying Maultsby’s aviator grit helped return him safely back to American airspace, his high-flying chariot—the U-2—performed precisely how its engineers envisioned nearly a decade prior.

In 1949, the Soviet Union conducted their first atomic bomb test, and as early as 1950, they began aggressively intercepting aircraft that approached their borders. After a short time as the world’s only nuclear power, the U.S. found itself not only losing their monopoly but also the lead. The pentagon had glaring questions about Soviet bomber forces, their progress on developing ICBMs, and how many nuclear weapons the Soviets were stockpiling, with no clear path to

America’s first reconnaissance satellites were still a decade away and it would be another twenty before they could offer the resolution officials needed to track the Soviet’s nuclear progress. So the U.S. needed an aircraft that could fly into Soviet airspace without being intercepted. Attempts at modifying existing surveillance platforms like the Martin B-57 to the task were quickly scrapped and it became apparent that the U.S. Air Force would need to build a completely new aircraft.

So in 1953, the Air Force started looking for proposals for a plane that could reach an altitude of 70,000 feet and fly for approximately 3,000 miles without the need to refuel. At the time, the best intercept fighter in the Soviet arsenal, the Mig-17, could only reach altitudes of around 54,000 feet and even most radar systems of the era couldn’t track targets above 65,000 feet. In fact, the U.S. had only put its first jet fighter, the Lockheed P-80, into service five years prior.

The aircraft also needed to house cameras that could take pictures with a resolution of just 2.5 feet from that altitude. No cameras at the time could do the job, so Lockheed contracted James Baker from Harvard and Richard Scott Perkin of the Perkin-Elmer Company to custom build a series of cameras that could achieve the resolution required without breaking the new aircraft’s payload limit of just 450 pounds.

Kelly Johnson, the chief engineer for Lockheed’s Skunkworks, had already designed the P-38 and F-104 for the U.S. military and would eventually go on to design the SR-71 Blackbird—but his unusual proposal for a modified XF-104 fuselage with a single engine, glider-like wings, and no retractable landing gear was just a bit too odd for the U.S. Air Force. They passed on the design.

But President Eisenhower had other plans. Eager to get eyes on the Soviet nuclear program, Eisenhower authorized the CIA to move forward with its own reconnaissance program.

So Lockheed set about designing and building the new U-2 in just 8 months. With no computers to rely on, Johnson and his team worked in secret and by hand, often fabricating parts during off hours and on Sundays at their Lockheed factory to preserve the program’s secrecy, even from other employees.

And the challenges Lockheed faced were massive. At 70,000 feet, the atmosphere was barely thick enough to keep an aircraft aloft and a loss of cabin pressure would result in the pilot’s blood boiling.

“A rapid decompression in the cockpit would cause the nitrogen in your blood and tissues to come out of solution and go into your bloodstream.”

“The whole reason we wear a full pressure suit is to protect us from decompression sickness and the low pressure environment at high altitude if we were to experience a rapid decompression,” U-2 Pilot Major “Torch” Miller of the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron tells Popular Mechanics.

“Without the pressure suit, a rapid decompression in the cockpit would cause the nitrogen in your blood and tissues to come out of solution and go into your bloodstream, your joints, and possibly make its way to your brain, which would most likely be incapacitating and potentially kill you.”

But despite the danger, the CIA considered that extreme altitude essential as it was considered high enough to avoid engagement from Soviet fighters or surface-to-air missiles, and may even be high enough to avoid radar detection altogether.

The first U-2 flight took place on August 1, 1955 on a remote dry lake bed in Nevada that the CIA and Skunkworks team took to calling “Watertown.” It was surrounded by the Atomic Energy Commission’s (AECs) nuclear testing ranges and active air ordnance testing sites, which combined with its remote location made for the perfect spot to keep their new prototype aircraft away from prying eyes..

That dry lake bed, airstrip, and hangar would go on to serve as a test site for many other classified aircraft and eventually earn fame under a different name: Area 51.

But those early test flights were far from flawless as new problems began surfacing. Seals began to leak at the high altitude and the brakes on the unusual landing gear couldn’t slow the aircraft down. Even the jet fuel caused problems due to a lack of atmospheric pressure, causing the engines to flame out due to fuel issues at altitude. And its massive wings didn’t help things because the aircraft had a tendency to float above the airstrip as pilots tried to land.

While both problems were addressed, neither were completely eliminated.

“Landing her was a challenge each time as it came at the end of a very long mission,” former U-2 pilot Sam Crouse tells Popular Mechanics. “It was a true balancing act, stalling her out at a foot above the runway and making sure the tail was down as the rudder lost effectiveness and the tailwheel took over for steering.”

Worse still, because of the light construction of the aircraft, there was a risk of breaking apart if pilots pushed the plane too hard. As testing continued, pilots found what they called the aircraft’s “coffin corner,” which was a range of just about 6 knots that the aircraft could operate properly in at 70,000 feet. Too slow, and the engines could flame out. Too fast, and the aircraft might break apart entirely.

Despite issues and crashes throughout the classified testing period, the need to know the state of the Soviet Union’s nuclear plans was great enough to push the U-2 in operational flights just one year after it first took to the sky.

Teaching an Old Plane New Tricks

For four years, the U-2 operated high above the Soviet Union under the CIA’s purview. After a few years, it had become clear that the Soviets could spot the U-2 on radar and even scramble fighters to intercept, but its immense altitude managed to keep it insulated from any actual engagements. That is, until May 1, 1960.

U-2 Pilot Frank Powers had taken off from an airstrip in Pakistan with a flight path to Norway that would take him over 2,900 miles of Soviet airspace. Midway through his flight, Power’s U-2 was hit by a Soviet anti-air missile. Powers managed to eject, surviving the 65,000 foot fall only to be captured by the KGB.

Operating under the assumption that no one could survive an ejection at such high altitude, NASA announced that one of their research aircraft had gone missing somewhere over Turkey, potentially drifting off course into Soviet territory. They quickly painted a U-2 with NASA markings and gave it a fake serial number to create images for the press.

The Soviets allowed American officials to solidify their cover story for days before revealing that they knew it was a spy mission, and that they had the pilot in custody. The incident set back American and Soviet relations and Powers was ultimately traded, along with another American, for captured Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel.

This crash marked the end of the CIA’s U-2 flights over the Soviet Union, but it was far from the end for the high-flying U-2 itself.

“Aside from the SR-71, there’s probably not another aircraft with more unique history on its resume than the U-2,” Miller says. “What we did with the aircraft during the Cold War was pretty brash and I think some of that mindset is still in the DNA of how we operate today.”

From there, the Air Force took control of the U-2 program, where it remained for the better part of six decades. The platform has undergone repeated upgrades over that time, including adding even longer wings that stretched the U-2’s already impressive wingspan from 80 feet to a massive 103 feet. A new turbofan engine raised the platform’s operational ceiling to 74,000 feet while reducing flameouts and bringing the U-2’s top speed up over 500 miles per hour.

Other modifications that enabled in-flight refueling also increased its range from 3,000 miles to more than 7,000.

State of the art (and classified) instrumentation and sensor pods now allow the U-2 to spy on combat zones with greater accuracy and efficiency than ever before, and the U-2 peers into places where satellite observation isn’t able to meet mission requirements.

“In about eight hours, we can take off and we can map the entire state of California,” Maj. Travis “Lefty” Patterson said of the U-2. “The fidelity is such that if somebody is holding a newspaper out…you can probably read the headlines.”

Attempts were even made to modify the U-2 so it could operate from aircraft carriers, so the U.S. could do away with its reliance on foreign airstrips. But as far as the public knows, no U-2 surveillance flights ever took off from American carriers.

One Unusual Bird

Despite all the upgrades and changes, the U-2 remains as unusual today as it was at its inception. It’s strange, seemingly-lopsided landing gear housed within the fuselage is bolstered only by “pogos” at the end of each wingtip. Visibility is so limited inside the cockpit that pilots rely on powerful chase cars driving just behind the landing aircraft to give them much needed course-corrections as they descend. More than 60 years later, flying the U-2 is a unique experience, even among military aviators

“It’s challenging flying patterns at low altitude because it takes a lot of concentration, and because the jet only has mechanical flight controls, it takes a lot of physical input to make the jet do what you want it to do,” Miller says. “Flying a long duration reconnaissance mission takes some mental and physical endurance. Being sealed up in a full pressure suit and strapped into an ejection seat for 11 hours is definitely not for everyone.”

In recent years, U-2 pilots have flown missions over Iraq and Afghanistan that can last for up to 12 hours, but the detailed intelligence they have provided on ISIS and Taliban positions throughout the regions have proven invaluable.

Unlike some other legacy aircraft in use by the Air Force, the U-2s in service today aren’t the same platforms that first took to the sky in the 1960s. There were a total of 104 U-2s built between the program’s inception and 1989, with a newer variant, the U-2R introduced as recently as 1981. This new version of the aircraft boasted a number of improvements, including a Side-Looking Airborne Radar for scanning the ground.

The Air Force planned to retire the U-2 in favor of the RQ-4 Global Hawk drone in 2014, but the U-2 still packs a reconnaissance punch that the drone couldn’t replicate. The U-2 can mount heavier and higher quality sensors and costs less to operate.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Air Force’s fleets of U-2 spy planes were all converted into the new U-2S. All of the 31 remaining U-2s in service are technically hold the name “U-2S.”

“We now fly a newer airframe that is larger and more robust with a new engine and modern avionics and sensors. It’s borne from the original 1955 design, but it’s a totally different beast,” Miller says. “I hope those kinds of advances and improvements continue to happen because this platform will be able to do amazing things far into the future as long as we continue to invest in it.”

Ilya Muromets – The Giant

When war broke out, only two Ilya Muromets bombers had been completed, but by the end of 1914 the Imperial Russian Air Service had formed its first tenbomber squadron. Operations with the heavy bombers began on 12 February 1915 with a raid on German frontline positions. During the war, 73 Ilya Muromets were built and they performed daylight bombing, night bombing and photographic reconnaissance. Despite its slow speed and size, the Germans were often reluctant to attack the bomber because it was so well-armed, the rear gunner position being especially problematic. Operationally, the Ilya Muromets was known for its ability to withstand combat damage to the point that it reached almost mythical status as a bomber that could not be shot down. Once engaged, small fighters also found that they were buffeted by propeller wash. On 12 September 1916, the Russians lost their first Ilya Muromets in a fight with four German Albatros, three of which it managed to shoot down. This was also the only loss to enemy action during the war; three others were damaged in combat, but managed to return to base to be repaired.

The massive Ilya Muromets was the world’s first four-engine bomber-and a good one at that. In three years it dropped 2,200 tons of bombs on German positions, losing only one plane in combat.

In 1913 the Russo-Baltic Wagon Works constructed the world’s first four-engine aircraft under the direction of Igor Sikorsky. Dubbed the Russki Vitiaz (Russian Knight), it was also the first to mount a fully enclosed cabin. This giant craft safely completed 54 flights before being destroyed in a ground accident. In 1914 Sikorsky followed up his success by devising the first-ever four-engine bomber and christened it Ilya Muromets after a legendary medieval knight. The new machine possessed straight, unstaggered, four-bay wings with ailerons only on the upper. The fuselage was long and thin, with a completely enclosed cabin housing a crew of five. On February 12, 1914, with Sikorsky himself at the controls, the Ilya Muromets reached an altitude of 6,560 feet and loitered five hours while carrying 16 passengers and a dog! This performance, unmatched anywhere in the world, aroused the military’s interest, and it bought 10 copies as the Model IM.

The aircraft had a wingspan of nearly 100 feet and weighed more than 10,000 pounds. The most advanced model had a range of 5 hours and a ceiling of more than 9,000 feet. It carried a bombload of 1,000-1,500 pounds and was equipped with up to seven machine guns. Four 150 horsepower Sunbeam V-8 engines allowed the bomber to cruise at 75-85 mph. The rear fuselage possessed sleeping compartments for a crew of five, a washroom, a small table, and openings for mechanics to climb out onto the wings to service the engines during flight. More than 75 Ilya Murometses were deployed against the Central Powers along the Eastern Front from 1915 to 1918. These aircraft conducted more than 400 bombing raids against targets in Germany and the Baltic nations. During the war, only one bomber was lost to enemy action. In February 1918, many Ilya Murometses were destroyed by the Russians to prevent capture by advancing German forces.

After World War I commenced in 1914, Sikorsky went on to construct roughly 80 more of the giant craft, which were pooled into an elite formation known as the Vozdushnykh Korablei (Flying Ships) Squadron. On February 15, 1915, they commenced a concerted, two-year bombardment campaign against targets along the eastern fringes of Germany and Austria. The Ilya Muromets carried particularly heavy loads for their day, with bombs weighing in excess of 920 pounds. This sounds even more impressive considering that ordnance dropped along the Western Front was usually hurled by hand! The mighty Russian giants were also well-built and heavily armed. In 422 sorties, only one was lost in combat, and only after downing three German fighters. Operations ceased after the Russian Revolution of 1917, with many bombers being destroyed on the ground. A handful of survivors served the Red Air Force as trainers until 1922.


Although Russia was not as industrially advanced as the other European powers, it would enter the First World War with the world’s first four-engine aircraft, the Sikorsky Ilya Muromets. After achieving success with a number of smaller aircraft, Igor Sikorsky joined the Russo-Baltic Railroad Car Factory (Russko-Baltiisky Vagonny Zaved or R-BVZ) in the spring of 1912 and began designing a massive aircraft, the Bol’shoi Bal’tisky (the Great Baltic), which had a wingspan of 88 ft and a length of 65 ft. Sikorsky had originally intended to use just two 100 hp Argus inline engines. Although he managed to take off on 2 March 1913, the Great Baltic proved to be underpowered. Undeterred, Sikorsky added two additional motors, which were installed in tandem with the first two, thereby providing both a tractor and pusher configuration. Beginning in May 1913, Sikorsky made several test flights in the Great Baltic, after which he reconfigured all of the engines to be on the leading edge of the lower wing for a tractor design. This proved far more successful, as indicated by a 2 August 1913 flight in which he carried eight people aloft for more than 2 hours.

Sikorsky’s next version, which served as the prototype of the wartime versions, was introduced in December 1913. It was similar to the Great Baltic, but it had a much larger fuselage that could accommodate up to sixteen passengers. By the spring of 1914, Sikorsky had developed the S-22B, dubbed the “Ilya Muromets” after a famous medieval Russian nobleman, it successfully completed a 1,600-mile round-trip flight between St. Petersburg and Kiev in June 1914.4 With the outbreak of the war, the S-22B and a sister aircraft were mobilized for service. An additional five were constructed by December 1914 and organized as the Eskadra Vozdushnykh Korablei (EVK) or Squadron of Flying Ships.

Because the first Ilya Muromets types had been designed primarily to carry passengers, once the war began Sikorsky started work on a slightly smaller version, the V-type, that could be used as a bomber. Introduced in spring 1915, the V-type Ilya Muromets had a wingspan of 97 ft 9 in. and a length of 57 ft 5 in. Because of Russia’s chronic shortage of engines, the R-BVZ was forced to rely upon a variety of engines for the V-type, including at least one that used different sets of engines; two 140 hp Argus and two 125 hp Argus inline engines. Of the thirty-two V-types produced, twenty-two were powered by four 150 hp Sunbeam inline motors, which provided a maximum speed of 68 mph. They had a loaded weight of 10,140 lbs, including a bomb load of approximately 1,100 lbs. Its crew of five to seven members were protected by free-firing machine guns. Three later versions were introduced during the war: the G-type and D-type introduced in 1916, and the E-type introduced in 1917. Of these, the E-type was the largest with a wingspan of 102 ft, a length of 61 ft 8 in., and a loaded weight of 15,500 lbs. Its four 220 hp Renault inline engines could produce a maximum speed of 80 mph. The E-type carried an eight-man crew, including two pilots, five gunners, and one mechanic. At least eight were constructed during 1917. The E-type went on to serve in the Red Air Force until 1924. The Sikorsky Ilya Muromets were sturdy, rugged aircraft.

Ilya Muromets Type S-23V

Type: Bomber

Crew: 4-8

Wingspan: 97ft 9in (29.8m)

Length: 57ft 5in (17.5m)

Height: 13ft 1in (4m)

Loaded weight: 12,000lb (4,600kg)

Engine: 4 x Sunbeam Crusader

V8 engines of 148hp each

Max Speed: 68mph (110km/h)

Armament: Guns: Various combinations during the war.

Bombs: 1,100lb (500kg)

MiG-21 Upgrade Programmes

The aircraft was upgraded significantly over the decades, with the MiG-21bis being the first major change; this giving the aircraft a true multi-role capability.

Proposals also saw the MiG-21- 93 `Bison’ variant offered with an upgraded avionics package that included Phazotron Kopyo Pulse-Doppler radar, a helmet-mounted target designator and dual-screen Head Up Displays. The MiG-21-97 upgrade package used the superior Klimov RD-33 engine and offered improved performance and air-to-air capabilities.

In Romania the Aerostar company developed the MiG-21 `LanceR’ for air defence work and in Israel the Elbit company created a ground attack version of the LanceR, capable of smart guided munitions. Other overseas manufacturers included HAL in India, Czechoslovakia and China – the latter manufacturing the type under licence as the Chengdu J-7.

By the mid-`90s, IAF (Indian Air Force) had operated a fleet of around 300 MiG-21s, mostly in the MiG-21bis version. Despite its production in India having been completed only in 1987, the MiG-21, which dates back to the `50s, had been unable to stand its ground against up-to-date fighters by the kick-off of the new millennium. At the same time, the MiG-21 fleet could remain in service with IAF for a long time in terms of the airframe service life. In this connection, MiG Corp. in 1993 worked out a MiG-21bis upgrade programme providing for fitting the fighter with the advanced Phazotron-NIIR’s Kopyo slotted array radar, introduction of advanced missiles used by Russian fourth-generation fighters (RVV-AE and R-73E air-to-air missiles, KAB-500Kr smart bombs, etc.) and improved navigation, communication and other equipment. The programme dubbed MiG-21-93 was supported by IAF command, and a contract for the upgrade of 125 IAF MiG-21bis fighters was made on 1 March 1996. By the customer’s request, the upgraded fighter, which was designated MiG-21bis UPG Bison in India, was fitted with a French-made navigation system, Israeli-built electronic warfare kit and several Indian-produced systems in addition to the Russian-manufactured Kopyo radar, missiles and a number of other systems.

The first two IAF’s MiG-21bis fighters were upgraded in Russia by the Sokol aircraft plant in Nizhny Novgorod and delivered in December 2000 following a largescale test programme involving Russian and Indian pilots. The remaining 123 fighters were to be upgraded in India with the use of Russian-supplied knockdown kits. The first Nashik-upgraded MiG-21bis UPG flew on 31 August 2001. The knockdown kits for the MiG-21bis upgrade, including Phazotron-NIIR’s Kopyo radars, had continued until 2008 when the programme was complete. Now, we provide maintenance support for the Bisons and supply spares, since the upgraded MiG-21s are to remain in service with IAF until 2018 at the least due to the indigenous Indian LCA (Tejas) light fighter having slipped behind schedule. despite the MiG-21’s baseline model being on the verge of turning 60 soon, the upgrade enabled the Bison to be virtually on a par with the up-to-date fighters. This has been proven repeatedly by exercises attended by Indian MiG-21bis UPGs and other fighters, including Western ones. The guarantee of the Bison’s success is its top-notch flight performance recognised by pilots a long time ago, coupled with its tactical performance supported by Phazotron-NIIR’s Kopyo radar and advanced Russian made air-launched weapons.

Mention should be made that the MiG-21bis UPG programme laid the solid groundwork of the Russian-Indian cooperation in aircraft upgrade and development. An IAF MiG-29 upgrade programme is under way now, with the deliveries having started recently.

The last Russian-built MiG-21 was assembled in 1985, by which time the Gorkiy plant had produced 5,278 airframes; the Moscow factory had manufactured 3,203 and the Tbilisi facility had delivered 1,660 aircraft. In total, some 10,158 MiG-21s were produced in Russia while overseas licence production boosted the total to 11,496. Although the MiG-21 was phased out of Soviet service in the 1990s, it remains in widespread service with air arms around the world. The Indian Air Force has plans to keep its Fishbeds in service until 2025, by which time the design will be beyond the retirement age of 65! The aircraft is undoubtedly one of the Cold War sales successes and one of the bestselling Russian aircraft of all time.


Russia now offers an upgrade package to bring late-model MiG-21s up to the MiG-21-93 standard. This package provides an upgrade of the avionics suite that includes installation of the Kopyo pulse-doppler radar, smaller version of N010 Zhuk airborne radar used by the MiG-29, which enables the aircraft to fire a greater range of modern weapons such as the beyond-visual-range Vympel R-77 air-to-air missile. The upgraded avionics also enhance the aircraft’s survivability as well as its ability to engage enemy fighters. Other upgrade features include installation of a dual-screen HUD, helmet-mounted target designator and advanced flight control systems.

Specifications (Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21-93)

General characteristics

    Crew: 1

    Length: 14.5 m (47 ft 6.86 in) (with pitot)

    Wingspan: 7.154 m (23 ft 5.66 in)

    Height: 4.125 m (13 ft 6.41 in)

    Wing area: 23.0 m2 (247.3 sq ft)

    Gross weight: 8,825 kg (19,425 lb)

    Powerplant: 1 × Tumanskiy R25-300 , 40.21 kN (9,040 lbf) thrust dry, 69.62 kN (15,650 lbf) with afterburner


    Maximum speed: 2,228 km/h (1,468 mph, 1,276 kn)

    Maximum speed: Mach 2.05

    Range: 1,210 km (751 mi, 653 nmi) (internal fuel)

    Service ceiling: 17,800 m (58,400 ft)

    Rate of climb: 225 m/s (44,280 ft/min)


    1x internal 23 mm GSh-23 cannon, plus

    2x R-27R1 or R-27T or 4x Vympel R-77 or 4x R-60M or R-73E AAM or

    2x 500 kg (1,102 lbs) bombs


Single-seat 21st century version for export buyers. Made by Israel Aerospace Industries. Israel has long been noted for reducing MiG-21s to scrap, so it was a reversal of fortune to find Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) offering the MiG-21 – 2000 upgrade. This proposal was different in that it started with a structural life extension programme, which made a lot of sense, coupled with an optional increase in fuel capacity The radar offered was the Elta EDM 2032 pulse-Doppler multi-mode type, which has been claimed in some quarters to be superior to the APG-73 of the F/A-18C/D Homet, Given the restrictions in antenna diameter imposed by the shock cone, this is difficult to believe. Even with a wrap-around windshield and one-piece canopy the view from the cockpit is not all that good. It is cramped by any standards; the present writer, of average height and build, tried it for size and felt like a cork in a bottle when the canopy was lowered. On the other hand, HOTAS and two MFDs give the appearance of modernity Multi-role is the accent of the MiG-21- 2000; it can carry two EW pods and a reconnaissance pod, or three Griffin LGBs. In the air-to-air role, the standard fit is four Python 3 AAMs.

Romanian Air Force MiG-21 LanceR B

Upgraded version for the Romanian Air Force done by Elbit Systems of Israel and Aerostar SA of Romania, in 1995–2002. The LanceR A version is optimized for ground attack being able to deliver precision guided munitions of eastern and western origin as well as R-60, R-73 and Python III air-to-air missiles. The LanceR B version is the trainer version, and the LanceR C version is the air superiority version featuring 2 LCD MFDs, helmet mounted sight and the Elta EL/M-2032 Air combat radar.


MiG-21bis-D (D = Dorađen (“Upgraded”))

Upgraded in 2003, by Aerostar SA, for the Croatian Air Force with some elements of the LanceR standard. Modernized for NATO interoperability including a Honeywell ILS (VOR/ILS and DME), a GPS receiver, a new IFF system and communications equipment from Rockwell Collins.

MiG-21UMD (D = Dorađen)

Croatian designation for four MiG-21UM upgraded for NATO interoperability, similarly to the MiG-21bis-D.


MiG-21 Bison

Upgraded version for export, the Indian Air Force being the first customer. Equipped with the Phazotron Kopyo (Spear) airborne radar, which is capable of simultaneously tracking 8 targets and engaging 2 of them with semi-active radar homing air-to-air missiles, such as the Vympel R-27. The radar also enables the fighter to deploy active radar homing air-to-air missiles such as the Vympel R-77 when an additional channel is incorporated. Russia has claimed that this version is equivalent to the early F-16. The Indian Air Force has since then upgraded its avionics with the addition of a Helmet Mounted Sight, the ability to fire High Off-Boresight missiles like the R-73 (missile) and a Tactical Data Link, improving further its already formidable WVR Combat capability, and has performed very well even against F-15C Eagles in Cope India and Red Flag Exercises.


MiG-21-93 upgrade. MiG-21-93 re-engined with the Klimov RD-33 engine. The Russians have claimed that the evaluation at Ramenskoye Airport had shown that this version has beaten simulated F-16 in a mock dogfight with a score of 4 to 1.


MiG-MAPO followed the MiG-21-93 with the MiG-21-98, aimed at older variants, for which it is to receive a smaller radar to fit in the shock cone. This upgrade will include better avionics than the -93, and a “glass cockpit” based on that of the MiG-29SMT.

In the 21st century, a good many MiG-21s continued to be active worldwide, with the Indian fleet being the most numerous one and maintaining quite a high flight operations tempo, albeit with a poor flight safety record. The list of the other countries maintaining significant Fishbed fleets includes Vietnam and Egypt, while the type continues to serve as a NATO air defence asset with the air arms of Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia. From the operational point of view, it is noteworthy that the Soviet Air Force and its Warsaw Pact allies placed great emphasis on utilizing the MiG-21’s speed, especially as a medium-to-high level point-defence interceptor, tightly controlled by GCI, while low-speed manoeuvres were banned in the frontline units. As a consequence, the type’s true manoeuvring capability and dogfighting potential in this corner of the envelope remained completely unknown to the Soviet and Warsaw Pact air arms throughout the entire service career of the Fishbed; but this otherwise little-known strength was, in fact, well-explored by some Arab operators as well as by the Indian Air Force. It is also the case that the low-speed manoeuvrability of the Fishbed in air combat was highly appreciated by US pilots serving with the secretive `Red Eagles’ squadron (officially referred to as the 4477th Test & Evaluation Squadron), which flew ex-Indonesian Air Force MiG-21F-13s in the 1970s and 1980s. The Red Eagles pilots, who had plenty of experience on the type flying as aggressors, free from the stringent operating/handling restrictions imposed on their Soviet counterparts, tended to describe the Fishbed-C’s manoeuvring characteristics and slow-speed handling as both compelling and absolutely out of the ordinary. They claimed that the MiG-21 was forgiving to fly and well capable of performing manoeuvres that contemporary US aircraft could not, at least not without their engines stalling and flaming out.

Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II

The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II is a single-seat, twin turbofan engine, straight wing jet aircraft developed for the United States Air Force. It is commonly referred to by the nicknames `Warthog’ or `Hog’, although the A-10’s official name comes from the World War II Republic P-47. The A-10 was designed for close air support (CAS) of friendly ground troops, attacking armored vehicles and tanks, and providing quick-action support against enemy ground forces. It entered service in 1976 and is the only production-built aircraft that has served in the USAF that was designed solely for CAS. Its secondary mission is to provide forward air controller – airborne support, by directing other aircraft in attacks on ground targets. Aircraft used primarily in this role are designated OA-10. The A-10 was intended to improve on the performance of the A-1 Skyraider and its lesser firepower and was designed around the 30mm GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon, more of this later. Its airframe was designed for durability, with measures such as 1,200 pounds of titanium armour to protect the cockpit and aircraft systems, enabling it to absorb a significant amount of damage and continue flying. Its short take-off and landing capability permits operations from airstrips close to the front lines, and its simple design enables maintenance with minimal facilities. The A-10 served in the Gulf War, where the Warthog distinguished itself. The A-10 also participated in other conflicts such as in Grenada, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, and against Islamic State in the Middle East.

The A-10A was the only version produced, though one pre-production airframe was modified into the YA-10B twin-seat prototype to test an all-weather night capable version. In 2005, a program was started to upgrade remaining A-10A aircraft to the A-10C configuration, with modern avionics for use with precision weaponry. The first unit to receive the A-10 was the 355th Tactical Training Wing, based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, in March 1976. The first unit to achieve full combat readiness was the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, South Carolina, in October 1977. Deployments of A-10As followed at bases both at home and abroad, including England AFB, Louisiana; Eielson AFB, Alaska; Osan Air Base, South Korea; and RAF Bentwaters/RAF Woodbridge, England. The 81st TFW of RAF Bentwaters/RAF Woodbridge operated rotating detachments of A-10s at four bases in Germany known as Forward Operating Locations Leipheim, Sembach Air Base, Nörvenich Air Base, and RAF Ahlhorn. A-10s were initially an unwelcome addition to many in the Air Force. Most pilots switching to the A-10 did not want to because fighter pilots traditionally favoured speed and appearance. In 1987, many A-10s were shifted to the forward air control (FAC) role and here the OA-10 is typically equipped with up to six pods of 2.75-inch (70mm) Hydra rockets, usually with smoke or white phosphorus warheads used for target marking. OA-10s are physically unchanged and remain fully combat capable despite the redesignation.

A-10s of the 23rd TFW were deployed to Bridgetown, Barbados during Operation `Urgent Fury’, the American Invasion of Grenada. They provided air cover for the U. S. Marine Corps landings on the island of Carriacou in late October 1983 but did not fire their weapons. Although the A-10 can carry a considerable amount of munitions, its primary built-in weapon is, as noted earlier, the 30mm GAU-8/A Avenger autocannon, one of the most powerful aircraft cannons ever flown and fires large depleted uranium armour-piercing shells. The GAU-8 is a hydraulically driven seven-barrel rotary cannon designed specifically for the anti-tank role with a high rate of fire. The cannon’s original design could be switched by the pilot to 2,100 or 4,200 rounds per minute, and this was later changed to a fixed rate of 3,900 rounds per minute. The cannon takes about half a second to reach top speed, so fifty rounds are fired during the first second, sixty-five or seventy rounds per second thereafter. The fuselage itself is built around the cannon, which is mounted slightly to the port side with the barrel on the starboard side at the nine o’clock position, so it is aligned with the aircraft’s centreline. The ammunition drum can hold up to 1,350 rounds of 30 mm ammunition, but generally holds 1,174 rounds. To protect the GAU-8/A rounds from enemy fire, armour plates of differing thicknesses between the aircraft skin and the drum are designed to detonate incoming shells.

The AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missile is a commonly used munition for the A-10, targeted via electro-optical (TV-guided) or infra-red. The Maverick allows target engagement at much greater ranges than the cannon, and thus less risk from anti-aircraft systems. During Operation `Desert Storm’, in the absence of dedicated forward-looking infrared (FLIR) cameras for night vision, the Maverick’s infrared camera was used for night missions as a `poor man’s FLIR’. Other weapons include cluster bombs and Hydra rocket pods. The A-10 is equipped to carry GPS and laser-guided bombs, such as the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb, Paveway series bombs, JDAM, WCMD and glide bomb AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon. A-10s usually fly with an ALQ-131 ECM pod under one wing and two AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles under the other wing for self-defence. Throughout its life, the platform’s software has been upgraded several times, and their original Pave Penny pods have been removed and replaced by the AN/AAQ-28(V)4 LITENING AT targeting pod or Sniper XR targeting pod, which both have laser designators and laser rangefinders. The A-10 is exceptionally tough and is able to survive direct hits from armour-piercing and high-explosive projectiles up to 23mm. It has double-redundant hydraulic flight systems, and a mechanical system as a backup if hydraulics is lost. Flight without hydraulic power uses the manual reversion control system; pitch and yaw control engage automatically, roll control is pilot-selected. In manual reversion mode, the A-10 is sufficiently controllable under favourable conditions to return to base, though control forces are greater than normal. The aircraft is designed to be able to fly with one engine, one half of the tail, one elevator, and half of a wing missing. The cockpit and parts of the flight-control system are protected by titanium aircraft armour, that has been tested to withstand strikes from 23mm cannon fire and some strikes from 57mm rounds. Any interior surface of the cockpit directly exposed to the pilot is covered by a multi-layer nylon spall shield to protect against shell fragmentation. The front windscreen and canopy are also resistant to small arms fire.

As noted, the A-10 was used in combat for the first time during the Gulf War in 1991, destroying more than 900 Iraqi tanks, 2,000 other military vehicles and 1,200 artillery pieces, and also shot down two Iraqi helicopters with the GAU-8 cannon. The first of these was shot down by Captain Robert Swain over Kuwait on 6 February 1991 for the A-10’s first air-to-air victory. Four A-10s were shot down during the war by surface-to-air missiles, and another two battle-damaged A-10s and OA-10As returned to base and were written off, while some sustained additional damage in crash landings. The A-10 had a mission capable rate of 95.7 percent, flew 8,100 sorties, and launched 90 percent of the AGM-65 Maverick missiles fired in the conflict. Shortly after the Gulf War, the Air Force abandoned the idea of replacing the A-10 with a close air support version of the F-16. The A-10 fired approximately 10,000 30 mm rounds in Bosnia in 1994-95 and following the seizure of some heavy weapons by Bosnian Serbs from a warehouse in Ilidza, a series of sorties were launched to locate and destroy the captured equipment. On 5 August 1994, two A-10s located and strafed an anti-tank vehicle. Afterward, the Serbs agreed to return remaining heavy weapons. In August 1995, NATO launched an Operation `Deliberate Force’, and A-10s flew close air support missions, attacking Bosnian Serb artillery and positions. A-10s returned to the Balkan region as part of Operation `Allied Force’ in Kosovo beginning in March 1999, and escorted and supported search and rescue helicopters in finding a downed F-117 pilot. The A-10s were deployed to support search and rescue missions, but over time the Warthogs began to receive more ground attack missions, and they remained in action until late June 1999.

During the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, A-10s did not take part in the initial stages. However, for the campaign against Taliban and Al Qaeda, A-10 squadrons were deployed to Pakistan and Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, beginning in March 2002. These A-10s participated in Operation `Anaconda’. Afterwards, A-10s remained in-country, fighting Taliban and Al Qaeda remnants. Operation `Iraqi Freedom’ began on 20 March 2003with the A-10s again seeing action. A single A-10 was shot down near Baghdad International Airport by Iraqi fire late in the campaign. A-10s also flew thirty-two missions in which the aircraft dropped propaganda leaflets over Iraq. In September 2007, the A-10C with the Precision Engagement Upgrade reached initial operating capability. The A-10C first deployed to Iraq in 2007 with the 104th Fighter Squadron of the Maryland Air National Guard. The A-10C’s digital avionics and communications systems have greatly reduced the time to acquire a close air support target and attack it. In March 2011, six A-10s were deployed as part of Operation `Odyssey Dawn’, the coalition intervention in Libya. As part of Operation `Inherent Resolve’, A-10s to hit IS targets in central and north western Iraq on an almost daily basis. On 15 November 2015, A-10s and AC-130s destroyed a convoy of over 100 ISIL-operated oil tanker trucks in Syria. The attacks were part of an intensification of Operation `Tidal Wave II’ in an attempt to cut off oil smuggling as a source of funding for the group. On 19 January 2018, 12 A-10s from the 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron were deployed to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, to provide close-air support.