Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Exclusive! White Triangle Over Amarillo- Stealth Airship?

Click to enlarge:

Myself and a group of local aviation photographers were having our usual Saturday lunch at Rick Husband /Amarillo Airport when we spotted a strange object in the sky

In our group was a cop - three were computer techs (including myself) another was a NWS employee - a meteorology student (who works at the local National Weather Service ) - one was a teacher - another is an Amarillo Emergency Service volunteer.

That said - we call ourselves ASAP - for Amarillo Society of Aviation Photographers. We meet almost every Saturday to have lunch and photograph what ever pops into the airport.

Saturday was no exception - and in fact we were treated to a visit (quick turn) by two F/A 18s - one painted in Russian Aggressor colors and an E2C Hawkeye. Not to mention we shot photos of the one of many V-22s out on test hops from the Bell Textron plant just up the road.

One of the photogs (Jay McCoy) caught sight of a glint - way up in the atmosphere and said, "What the heck is that?"

We all turned to see it. It was almost straight up - maybe five degrees off 12:00 o'clock position a little to our west.

Whatever it was it looked much higher than the common NASA weather balloons (launched from Fort Sumner, New Mexico) that sometimes drift over Amarillo - the last one we I saw was 119,000 feet. This object looked much higher.

The object was almost in the sun - but it glinted bright.

At first sight I thought it was a star visible in daylight - and not much more.

Someone in the group suggested it was the ISS - but it appeared not to be moving - only glinting.

You could not tell what it was with the naked eye - or a 300mm lens for that matter - but it was very bright.

I raised my camera and since I was the only one with a decent telephoto - I was the only one to take a photo.

I couldn't see anymore detail on full zoom - but shot two frames anyway.

I was backing up to get a better view of it - and promptly fell off a concrete step (about a drop of two feet) almost loosing my camera. Fell right on my arse I did.

Everyone helped me up - asked if I was OK - I was.

I was more concerned about protecting my camera gear than myself. I only suffered a sore ankle and some wounded pride.

Anyway, once my dignity had been restored - we all looked up back up into the sky - we could no longer see the object. Either clouds that were moving in obscured it - or it had otherwise left our view.

I didn't think much more about it - until I got home and loaded up the images into my computer.


Camera; Nikon D-70S with 70 to 300mm ED lens

Full EXIF data and the raw images are available on request for analysis by qualified persons and media.



All images copyright (C) Steve Douglass and require permission for re-posting or publication.

Comparison photo: Southwest Airlines 737 at 30,000 feet - Lens focal length : 240mm
Click to enlarge:

Comparison photo # 2 AIRBUS 380 at 35,000 feet - focal length 290mm.
click to enlarge:

Mirage fighter colides with Lithuanian jet trainer

(CNN) -- A French Mirage 2000 jet fighter collided with a Lithuanian plane during a training mission Tuesday in Lithuania, the French Defense Ministry said.

No one was hurt during the training exercise at an air force base in Siauliai, Northern Lithuania, military officials from both countries said.

Two French jet fighters and and a Lithuanian jet trainer were in the air when one of the jet fighters collided with the Lithuanian plane, officials said.
Both pilots of the Lithuanian L-39 Albatross ejected and are safe. Their plane crashed.
The French jet landed, Lithuanian officials said.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Space Station may have to be abandoned

The failure of a Soyuz rocket to send a supply ship into space last week may mean that the International Space Station will have to be temporarily abandoned for the first time since 2000, Florida Today reports.

Russian space vehicles are the only means of ferrying crews and supplies to the station now that the U.S. space shuttle program has ended.

Last week, the third-stage failure of a Soyuz rocket sent an unmanned Progress supply ship crashing into Siberia.

As a result, plans to launch a new crew to the station on Sept. 21 have been postponed indefinitely while Russian officials investigate why the rocket failed.

Mike Suffredini, NASA's program manager for the space station, says two factors could now force the temporary abandonment of the station, the newspaper reports.

First, is the imminent expiration date of the "certified orbital lifetimes" of two Soyuz "lifeboats" now attached to the station. The second involves flight rules that call for crews to return to Earth during daylight.

Three of the crewmembers aboard the station -- two Russians and an American -- have already delayed their planned Sept. 8 return by a week while the probee continues.

They will likely return before Sept. 19 -- the last daylight landing opportunity that month in the central steppes of Kazakhstan, Florida Today reports.

The next opportunity would not come until Oct. 27, about 10 days beyond the 200-day "certified orbital lifetime" of their Soyuz taxi back home.

The remaining three crew members need to return before Nov. 19 -- the last daylight landing opportunity that month.

Otherwise, the certified life of their Soyuz spacecraft will expire before the next daylight opportunity rolls around in late December, the newspaper says.

Al Qaida #2 - now # none. Killed by US.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Al-Qaida's second-in-command, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, has been killed in Pakistan, delivering another big blow to a terrorist group that the U.S. believes to be on the verge of defeat, U.S. officials said Saturday.
The Libyan national had been the network's operational leader before rising to al-Qaida's No. 2 spot after the U.S. killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden during a raid on his Pakistan compound in May.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last month that al-Qaida's defeat was within reach if the U.S. could mount a string of successful attacks on the group's weakened leadership.
"Now is the moment, following what happened with bin Laden, to put maximum pressure on them," Panetta said, "because I do believe that if we continue this effort we can really cripple al-Qaida as a major threat."
Since bin Laden's death, al-Qaida's structure has been unsettled and U.S. officials have hoped to capitalize on that. The more uncertain the leadership, the harder it is for al-Qaida to operate covertly and plan attacks.

Bin Laden's longtime deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is running the group but is considered a divisive figure who lacks the founder's charisma and ability to galvanize al-Qaida's disparate franchises.
A U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to summarize the government's intelligence on al-Rahman, said al-Rahman's death will make it harder for Zawahiri to oversee what is considered an increasingly weakened organization.

"Zawahiri needed Atiyah's experience and connections to help manage al-Qaida," the official said.
Al-Rahman was killed Aug. 22 in the lawless Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan, according to a senior administration who also insisted on anonymity to discuss intelligence issues.
The official would not say how al-Rahman was killed. But his death came on the same day that a CIA drone strike was reported in Waziristan. Such strikes by unmanned aircraft are Washington's weapon of choice for killing terrorists in the mountainous, hard-to-reach area along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

It's a miracle! B-2 Spirit resurrected!

by Daryl Mayer
88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

8/23/2011 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Sadly, we've seen too many comrades return home bearing the scars of war -- enough that the term "wounded warrior" has become entrenched in the American lexicon and merits millions of hits on Google.

So when a 'wounded warrior' - a veteran which has stood ready to answer its country's call -- flew into Palmdale, Calif., on August 16, it could've passed as yet another sad and noble story.

Except that aircraft number 0332, the B-2 bomber named the "Spirit of Washington," hadn't received its scars in battle, but from a horrific fire in February 2010 that left it unable to fly.

Marooned on the island of Guam, the aircraft needed to travel to Northrop Grumman's maintenance facility in Palmdale. Six thousand miles across the Pacific is normally a cakewalk for an aircraft that was designed to project U.S. power to any spot on the globe. But the Spirit of Washington was going to need a lot of work just to get off the ground.

What ensued over the next 18 months was nothing short of a herculean effort, according to Col. Mark Williams, Aeronautical Systems Center's B-2 Division Chief.

"This was a truly amazing effort with tremendous teamwork between my folks in the B-2 Division, B-2 System Support Branch, Northrop Grumman, Global Strike Command, Air Force Materiel Command, Global Logistics Support Center, U.S. Transportation Command, and the Air National Guard," Colonel Williams said. "A very large group of people came together to bring this aircraft home."

Early on, the team set a goal to have the aircraft in Palmdale before the end of the 2011 fiscal year.

"We budget for three aircraft every other year to receive Programmed Depot Maintenance (PDM)," Colonel Williams said. "It was an aggressive goal, but we wanted to get 0332 to Palmdale before the end of FY11 as our third PDM."

Getting a team on the ground was the first order of business and Northrop Grumman basically deployed a team of engineers and technicians to work with the Air Force. The task list was long and included rebuilding some structural components, work that typically is only done at the depot.

"Our goal was to make the aircraft safe to fly. We knew it would be going straight in for depot maintenance and didn't want to duplicate anything. But there were some depot-level items that needed attention to ensure our flight crew would be safe," Colonel Williams said.

The colonel dispatched two of his best from the division to be his eyes and ears on the ground.

Lt. Col. Greg Tolmoff deployed and learned how to inspect and certify the repairs to ensure every task was performed to standard. Senior Master Sgt. Keith Sanders used his 16 years of experience as a B-2 Maintenance Crew Chief to help guide and assess progress.

"I can't say enough about how Greg and Keith performed," Colonel Williams said. "I'm extremely proud of the dedication they displayed during periods of long hours and family separation."

Once the aircraft was ready to again take the skies, the entire team outlined a comprehensive plan to fly the aircraft home. They established very strict controls on weight, altitude, and speed to lessen stress on the airframe. In-flight refueling was used to prevent ever having to take on the weight of a full load of fuel and a support aircraft followed along to assist the flight crew with avoiding turbulent weather and coordinate with air traffic control.

"The 141st Air Refueling Wing (ANG) deployed to Guam from Fairchild, Washington, and provided KC-135s for refueling and to serve as a support plane," Colonel Williams said. "That allowed us to put a team of Northrop engineers in the support plane where they could monitor the aircraft's performance and offer technical advice to deal with any issues."

Fortunately for all, this "wounded warrior" took to the skies like the proverbial phoenix traveling the entire distance without incident and landing in Palmdale more than a month ahead of schedule. It now starts a 24 month PDM process that will completely return this veteran to operational duty for the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman AFB, Mo.

Looking at a photo of 0332 silhouetted against Joshua Trees and the rising California sun taken as it prepared to land in Palmdale, Colonel Williams has the look of someone who witnessed something amazing.

"I'm going to make that photo my new computer wallpaper," he sa

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Russian ISS supply rocket crashes ...

(CNN) -- A Russian space freighter carrying cargo to the International Space Station has crashed in a remote area of Siberia, Russian emergency officials said Wednesday.
The unmanned Progress cargo craft, which launched at 7 p.m. in Kazakhstan (9 a.m. ET) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, was due to dock with the ISS on Friday.
Rescue teams have been dispatched to the crash site of the Progress-M12M, the regional branch of the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry told CNN.

Officials could not immediately confirm whether the crash might have caused any damage on the ground. Russia's Interfax news agency reported that the rocket had come down in the Altai region.

Earlier on Wednesday, Russian government space agency Roscosmos reported that the cargo ship had deviated from its planned trajectory shortly after takeoff, failing to reach the target orbit, and had disappeared from radars.

"The engine system's erratic functioning and its subsequent breakdown occurred during the operation of the third stage at the 325th second of the flight of the Soyuz-U carrier rocket with the Progress M-12M resupply vehicle," Roscosmos said in a statement.

The spacecraft was to deliver more than 3.5 tonnes (about 3.85 U.S. tons) of cargo to the crew of the ISS now orbiting the Earth, Roscosmos said.
The load included food supplies, medical equipment, personal hygiene items, as well as scientific equipment needed for experiments aboard the ISS, according to space officials.
There are currently six astronauts at the ISS -- three from Russia, two from the United States and one from Japan.

Libyan rebels flying surveillance drone, called the Aeryon Scout.

WIRED DANGER ROOM: The Libyan revolutionaries are more of a band of enthusiastic amateurs than experienced soldiers. But it turns out the rebels have the kind of weaponry usually possessed by advanced militaries: their very own drone.

Aeryon Labs, a Canadian defense firm, revealed on Tuesday that it had quietly provided the rebel forces with a teeny, tiny surveillance drone, called the Aeryon Scout. Small enough to fit into a backpack, the 3-pound, four-rotor robot gave Libyan forces eyes in the sky independent of the Predators, Fire Scout surveillance copters and manned spy planes that NATO flew overhead. Don’t worry, it’s not armed.

So far, the rebels have just one Scout among them, according to Marni McVicar, Aeryon’s vice president for business development. Working with a Canadian private security company called Zariba, Aeryon delivered the Scout “several weeks” ago to rebels in the Western port city of Misurata who used it, according to McVicar, to hasten their surprisingly rapid march to Tripoli.

The rebels needed barely a day of training to use a technology that many national armies would love to acquire. “We like to joke that it’s designed for people who are not that bright, have fat fingers and break things,” McVicar told Danger Room in a phone interview.

Listening to McVicar’s description, the Aeryon Scout sounds user-friendly enough to be operated by the car dealers, medical students and teachers who formed the impromptu Libyan rebel army in the west. Unlike many minidrones, the Scout isn’t controlled by a joystick. It’s run by a touchscreen tablet powered by Windows XP. The interface divides the screen among imagery (still or video) that the drone collects and displays in real time, a control dashboard and a programmable map of the area to fly over.

“You simply press on the screen and that’s where the vehicle goes,” McVicar said. “Press where you want the camera to focus on, and you’re done.”

It also gives the rebels another advantage that lots of armies desire: night vision. A thermal-imagery camera aboard the Scout provides an alternative to night-vision goggles, and from arguably a better vantage point. In the video above, released by Aeryon on Tuesday, nighttime images of Libyan artillery positions come into view from the Scout.

McVicar wouldn’t say how much the Libyan rebels paid for the drone. But she noted when asked that the drone retails for $100,000.

How the rebels even got the drone is fascinating as well. Representatives of Libya’s rebel government checked out demos of the Scout in Ottawa, Ontario, a few months ago. They were frustrated with not being able to see the aerial imagery NATO collected from its satellites, spy planes and drones, and wanted their own flying robots — although it’s been reported that NATO has coordinated surveillance with the rebels ahead of the Tripoli offensive. Some rebels had even taken to strapping cameras onto model airplanes. After being impressed with the Scout, the Transitional National Council decided it wanted something a bit more professional.

So a Canadian military vet, Charles Barlow, brought it personally into Misurata. Armed with a Canadian export license and the backpack-sized Scout, Barlow boarded a retrofitted tuna boat at Malta that was used to send humanitarian aid to Misurata despite NATO’s maritime blockade in late July. As far as Barlow is aware, Canada licensed the drone for sale to the Libyan rebels, but NATO didn’t know that the boat carried it into port, even after multiple hailings by NATO vessels.

Barlow, who runs a Canadian private-security firm called the Zariba Security Corporation, told Danger Room that he spent only about 24 hours teaching Misurata’s rebels how to use the Scout. On the bombed-out airfield near the port, Barlow launched about 10 test flights while Gadhafi’s artillery crashed down only a few miles away.

There was also little doubt about where the Libyan rebels wanted to use it. “The only imagery they wanted loaded on was Misurata to Tripoli, on that coastal road,” Barlow said. “I can’t hand-on-heart tell you it’s in Tripoli, but this was the main front out of Misurata.”

As Paul McLeary at Ares notes, the arrival of drone technology — even in micromachine form — to a band of rebels is yet another example of the rapid proliferation of unmanned vehicles away from the control of powerful state militaries. It was a big deal in 2005 when Hezbollah flew Iranian surveillance drones into Israel. “It’s certainly not the last time a nonstate actor gets its hands on this kind of technology,” McLeary writes.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Breaking: Gaddafi has lost Libya.

ABC NEWS: After 42 years, the dictator Colonel Moamar Gaddafi has lost power in Libya.

Most of Libya's capital city is now under rebel control. In the early hours of this morning Australian time, rebel troops swept into Gaddafi's last bastion, Tripoli.

His spokesman had warned that 65,000 troops would defend the city but if they were there they seem to have melted away.

Instead of resistance a camera crew from Britain's Sky News filmed thousands of Tripoli citizens celebrating in the central Green Square.

It's not clear where Colonel Gaddafi is though the Washington Post says he's left the capital but is still in Libya.

It's six months since the rebellion broke out in the east, in the second city of Benghazi.

Intense gunfire can and battles are reported in Tripoli - with reports of 95% of the city under control of rebel forces. There are reports that Gaddafi has left Tripoli but his whereabouts are unknown.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Pilot killed in Kansas City airshow ...

(CNN) -- The pilot of a high-performance biplane died Saturday afternoon when his aircraft crashed at an air show in Kansas City, Missouri, officials said.

The plane was doing maneuvers around 1:45 p.m. CT (2:45 p.m. ET) when it crashed into grass near a runway at the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport, said Joe McBride, spokesman for the Kansas City Aviation Department.

Footage from CNN affiliate KMBC showed smoke and flames rising from the site. KMBC 9's Cliff Judy said he saw the scene from a distance and that the plane had been doing aerial stunts when it dipped below the tree line.

Air show director Ed Noyallis identified the victim as Bryan Jensen, who grew up in Iowa and flies for Delta Air Lines.

According to the show's website, Jensen piloted the "Beast," described as "a one of a kind aircraft."

The Kansas City Aviation Expo Air Show was closed for the remainder of the day. It will reopen Sunday, officials said.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration were on site.

The public was never in any danger, Noyallis told reporters.

Red Arrow pilot killed in airshow crash.

BOURNEMOUTH, England, Aug. 20 (UPI) -- A member of the elite Red Arrow stunt flying team was killed in a crash Saturday at an airshow in southern England, the British Ministry of Defense said.

The pilot was identified as Flight Lt. Jon Egging, British Forces News reported. Group Capt. Simon Blake, commandant of the RAF's Central Flying School, said Egging, nicknamed "Eggman," joined the Red Arrows last fall.

"A gifted aviator, he was chosen to fly in the Red 4 slot, on the right hand outside of the famous Diamond Nine formation -- an accolade in itself being the most demanding position allocated to a first-year pilot," Blake said.

The Red Arrows were performing at the Bournemouth Air Festival, which was scheduled to end Sunday. The team had completed a flawless series of acrobatics when one plane vanished, the Bournemouth Echo reported.

Witnesses described the rest of the team waiting on the tarmac at Bournemouth Airport for the ninth plane to land.

The plane crashed in the village of Throop.

Read more: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2011/08/20/RAF-Red-Arrow-pilot-dies-in-airshow-crash/UPI-51851313867866/#ixzz1VcRCp4iW

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Obama to call for Assad to leave office ...

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials say the Obama administration is ready to make an explicit call for Syrian President Bashar Assad to leave power and has notified Arab and European allies that an announcement is imminent.

Preparations are in place for the White House to issue a statement Thursday demanding that Assad step down, the officials said. This would be accompanied by an announcement of new sanctions on the Assad regime and followed by an on-camera appearance by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to reinforce the U.S. position, the officials said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Although the officials acknowledged the move is not likely to have any immediate impact on the Syrian regime's behavior, they said it would send a powerful signal that Assad is no longer welcome in the international community. And they noted that the additional sanctions would further boost pressure on Assad and his inner circle.

As Syrian protesters have called for an end to his regime, Assad has unleashed tanks and ground troops in an attempt to retake control in rebellious areas. The military assault has escalated dramatically since the start of the holy month of Ramadan in August, with Assad's forces killing hundreds and detaining thousands.

President Barack Obama, Clinton and top national security aides have previously said that Assad has "lost his legitimacy" as a leader and that Syria would be "better off" without him. But they had not specifically demanded that he step down.

Thursday's expected new formulation of policy will make it clear that Assad can no longer be a credible reformist and has to leave, the officials said.

The administration had planned to make the announcement last week but postponed it largely at the request of Syria's neighbor Turkey, which asked for more time to try to convince Assad to reform, and because Clinton and other officials argued it was important to build a global consensus that Assad must go. Clinton on Tuesday publicly questioned the effectiveness of the United States acting alone.

"It is not going to be any news if the United States says Assad needs to go," she said. "OK, fine, what's next? If other people say it, if Turkey says it, if (Saudi) King Abdullah says it, there is no way the Assad regime can ignore it."

Read more: Anniston Star - Sources US call for Assad departure imminent

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Russian "Raptorski" debuts at Moscow Air Show ...

Russia's new stealth fighter jet made its public debut Tuesday, according to state-run news source RIA Novosti.

The Sukhoi T-50, developed collaboratively by Russia and India, appeared at the MAKS 2011 air show in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow.

Gen. Alexander Zelin, head of the Russian air force, told RIA Novosti he expects the T-50 prototype to be ready in 2013, with "mass-produced aircraft" arriving in 2014 or 2015.

The aircraft is expected to become a staple of airborne defense for both Russia and India, Mikhail Pogosyan, head of Russia's United Aircraft Corp., told RIA Novosti.

"The T-50 will be the newest main plane both for the Russian and the Indian air force," Pogosyan said.

The article from the state-run media source says the Sukhoi T-50 cost the two governments about $6 billion to develop, with India shouldering about 35% of the cost. It is intended to match the U.S. F-22 Raptor.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

B-52 mission to Moscow!

An Air Force Global Strike Command B-52 bomber will make an unprecedented flight to Moscow, taking the shortest and fastest route over the North Pole.

The Minot Air Force Base bomber will be one of several U.S. military aircraft to take part in the MAKS 2011 International Aviation and Space Salon in Russia.

"It's a milestone for the B-52," AFGSC spokeswoman Michele Tasista said, noting it will be "the first time to fly directly over the geographical North Pole followed by a landing in Russia, according to available mission records and our historian."

The polar route is new but the notion of an exchange or warcraft with Russia isn't, with Barksdale and 8th Air Force, headquartered here with AFGSC, historically front and center in past swaps.

In World War II, when the United States and the former Soviet Union were allied against Hitler, 8th Air Force B-17 bombers staged in shuttle missions to and from Russia and Italy. These were from June to September 1944.

The International Aviation and Space Salon will feature more than the B-52. Various models of U.S. military aircraft, equipment and approximately 100 aircrew and support personnel from stateside and U.S. bases in Europe are scheduled to provide static displays and aerial flight demonstrations. In addition to the B-52, U.S. aircraft will include the P-3C Orion, A-10 Thunderbolt II, F-16C Fighting Falcon, C-130J Super Hercules, C-5 Galaxy, F-15E Strike Eagle and KC-10 Extender.

B-17 "Texas Raider" makes stop in Amarillo

A WWII vintage B-17 bomber Texas Raider made a stop in Amarillo yesterday for an oil top off. The B-17 (based in Houston) was on it's way from an Air Force Reunion at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. A select few photographers were allowed to photography and inspect the rare bird as it sat on the tarmac at Rick Husband International Airport.

All photos (C) Steve Douglass

Monday, August 15, 2011

Report: Pakistan lets China take samples of bin Laden raid stealth chopper.

Pakistan may have allowed the Chinese military to examine the US stealth helicopter downed in the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden, reports say.

US officials are quoted as saying there is evidence Pakistan invited Chinese military engineers to the site in Abbottabad in the days after the raid.

The Black Hawk helicopter was blown up by US Navy Seals after it crashed, but the tail remained largely intact.

The covert 2 May raid has strained relations between the US and Pakistan.

The two countries - allies in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the region - have been involved in a tit-for-tat row for the last few months, although they have tried to prevent a breakdown of relations.

Pictures and samples
Pakistan enjoys a close relationship with China, which is a major investor in telecommunications, ports and infrastructure in the country.

"The US now has information that Pakistan, particularly the ISI [Pakistan's intelligence service], gave access to the Chinese military to the downed helicopter in Abbottabad," the Financial Times quoted a source in US intelligence circles as saying.

He said Chinese engineers were allowed to survey the wreckage and take samples of the "stealth" skin that allowed the Seals to enter Pakistan undetected by radar, according to the paper.

Both the FT and the New York Times quote intelligence officials as saying they are "certain" the visit took place, although the NYT said officials cautioned that they did not have definitive proof of it happening.

One source said the US case came mostly from intercepted conversations in which Pakistan officials discussed inviting the Chinese to visit the crash site.

In the immediate aftermath of the raid on the compound in Abbottabad housing Osama Bin Laden, US officials had asked Pakistan not to let anyone view the remains of the helicopter.

It was brought back to the US two weeks later following a trip by US Senator John Kerry.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hypersonic Falcon goes silent ...

An unmanned DARPA hypersonic glider — a prototype for a global strike weapons program — launched on its second test flight Thursday (Aug. 12) in a bid to fly at the mind-blowing speed of Mach 20.

The DARPA glider, called the Falcon Hypersonic Test Vehicle 2 (HTV-2), blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California atop a Minotaur 4 rocket at 7:45 a.m. PDT.

According to DARPA updates, the test flight appeared to go well until the glide phase, when monitoring stations lost contact with the HTV-2 vehicle. [Photos: DARPA Hypersonic Glider's Mach 20 Test]

"Range assets have lost telemetry with HTV2," DARPA officials wrote in a Twitter post about 36 minutes after launch.

The HTV-2 vehicle was expected to reach suborbital space, then re-enter Earth's atmosphere and glide at hypersonic speed to demonstrate controllable flight at velocities of around Mach 20, which is about 13,000 mph. At that speed, more than 20 times the speed of sound, a vehicle could fly from New York City to Los Angeles in 12 minutes, DARPA officials said.

A video animation of the HTV-2 flight test depicts how the the hypersonic vehicle was expected to pop free of its rocket, then soar through Earth's atmosphere for an inevitable, and intentional, plunge into the Pacific Ocean at the end of its mission.

"Assumptions about Mach 20 hypersonic flight were made from physics-based computational models and simulations, wind tunnel testing, and data collected from HTV-2's first test flight — the first real data available in this flight regime at Mach 20," said Air Force Maj. Chris Schulz, HTV-2 program manager, in a statement. "It's time to conduct another flight test to validate our assumptions and gain further insight into extremely high Mach regimes that we cannot fully replicate on the ground."

Read the rest of the story at SPACE.COM

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

F-16 delivers payback to Taliban that downed Chinook

Aug. 10, 2011

An F-16 airstrike Monday night killed the Taliban fighters believed to be responsible for shooting down the Chinook helicopter that killed 30 American servicemembers and eight Afghans. Included among the U.S. dead were 22 Navy Seals.

Gen. John Allen, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, said the Taliban fighters were tracked through intelligence gathered in the aftermath of the crash, so that "we did in fact locate them with certainty, and we did strike them with an airstrike," Allen said.

He said the airstrike "does not ease our loss. But we must and we will continue to relentlessly pursue the enemy."

Allen described the airstrike as a continuation of Saturday's original mission that targeted the head of an insurgent network in the Tangi Valley of Wardak province, located southwest of Kabul.

Defense officials said that Army Rangers were engaged in a firefight with insurgents who were protecting a leader who was the target of the raid. When a small group was spotted moving away from the firefight, the Rangers believed their target was about to escape. Defense officials said it is common for senior Taliban leaders to flee the scene of a fight and leave foot soldiers behind to carry on the fight without them. At the time, the firefight had already left six Taliban fighters dead.

That's when the Rangers called on the Immediate Response Force of Seals and Afghan commandos flying overhead to provide reinforcements to cut off the Taliban leader's escape.

It is believed that one of the insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade that brought the helicopter down. NATO issued a statement today stated that said "while it has not been determined if enemy fire was the sole reason for the helicopter crash, it did take fire from several insurgent locations on its approach."

A Defense official said an rocket-propelled grenade round was seen targeting the helicopter.

Following the crash, Allen said intelligence leads and tips generated by local residents helped track the insurgents. According to Allen, "learning their location, we were able to deliver ordnance on that position and to kill them as well."

ABC News has learned that a special operations team tracked the men visually for more than 12 hours Monday before it called in the airstrike. Both the RPG triggerman and his leader, Mullah Mohibullah, were spotted getting into a vehicle that took them into a compound located in a wooded area. The two men were then spotted leaving the compound for the wooded area. After it made sure there were no civilians in the area, the team called in the airstrike that killed both men as well as other Taliban associates. he strike occurred at 11:47 p.m. Afghanistan time.

According to a NATO statement, the two insurgents responsible for the shootdown were thought to be fleeing Afghanistan to avoid capture at the time of the airstrike.

Allen said the Chinook shootdown was "a singular incident in a broader conflict in which we are making important strides and considerable progress." Though there will be challenges in securing Afghanistan, Allen expressed confidence that "all across Afghanistan, the insurgents are losing. They're losing territory. They're losing leadership. They're losing weapons and supplies. They're losing public support."

Allen said he had no worries about using Chinook helicopters in the future, given how they have performed in thousands of special operation missions this year.

Broken Bone in Amarillo ...

A B-1B strategic bomber from Dyess Air Force Base near Abilene was forced to land at Amarillo/Rick Husband International airport today due to an in-flight emergency. Sources say the problem was described as being electrical in nature . The big bomber landed without incident.

A repair crew is being dispatched from Dyess. As a result it is expected to remain at least over night.

The B-1B "Lancer" is a common site over Amarillo as they come here often to train practicing touch and go landings - but because they are a strategic bomber and nuclear capable they rarely land anywhere except on secure air force bases.
Video by Steve Douglas

Monday, August 8, 2011

NATO source says Chinook was fired on by hostile forces

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Coalition forces embroiled in a firefight with insurgents in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday had called for assistance, but instead had to race to the crash scene of a downed NATO helicopter carrying their reinforcements, officials said Monday.

Everyone inside the CH-47 Chinook was killed, marking the worst single-day loss of American life since the beginning of the Afghan war, NATO reported.
The inbound helicopter -- loaded with 30 U.S. service members, a civilian interpreter and seven Afghan troops -- crashed after being "reportedly fired on by an insurgent rocket-propelled grenade," the statement said.

Twenty-five of those on board were U.S. special operations forces, including 22 Navy SEALs. Five air crew members were also on board.
Deadliest U.S. day in Afghanistan 'Complex' landscape where troops died 'The unprecedented Afghanistan attack'

U.S. Armed Forces
Two military transport aircraft carrying the remains of the 38 U.S. and Afghan personnel have departed Bagram, Afghanistan, and are headed to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan said Monday. The flights are expected to arrive on Tuesday.
"In life they were comrades in arms, and in death they are bound forever in this vital cause. We cherish this selfless sacrifice," Gen. John R. Allen, International Security Assistance Force commander, said in a statement. He pledged to continue the fight in Afghanistan.

"Today, as we pay our respects to these magnificent troops, we recommit ourselves for the future, and for the freedom, peace and stability of Afghanistan," he said.

Because the catastrophic nature of the crash made the remains difficult to identify, all 38 sets are being taken to the United States. The Afghan remains will be returned to their families once identifications can be made.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Chopper crash in Afghanistan kills dozens ...

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- More than two dozen American troops are believed to have died in a helicopter crash in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, a U.S. military official told CNN.
Many, if not all, were special operations forces, the official said. If the numbers are confirmed, the incident would be the most deadly for coalition forces in the Afghan war, according to a CNN count of international troop deaths.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a statement saying as many as 31 U.S. special forces and seven Afghans were killed and offered "deep regret" to U.S. President Barack Obama.
The Taliban claimed militants downed the helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade. Mohammad Hazrat Janan, head of the provincial council said Tangi village elders reported that insurgents shot at the craft when it was flying back from an operation.

The incident took place in the eastern province of Wardak, an area rife with insurgent activity. There has been a swell of recent attacks in the country's southern and eastern provinces.
The crash comes just as NATO is drawing down and handing over security control to national forces. Ten thousand U.S. soldiers are scheduled to depart by year's end, while the full drawn-down is expected to take place by the end of 2014.

However, NATO's International Security Assistance Force has not said how the incident occurred. ISAF spokesman Justin Brockhoff confirmed the crash and acknowledged the helicopter had been flying in area where there was reported insurgent activity, but declined to offer additional details.
Officials are being especially tight-lipped because recovery operations at the site are still under way and body identifications and family notifications are just beginning, the U.S. military official said.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The mission to get Osama - great story!

The New Yorker:

Getting Bin Laden
What happened that night in Abbottabad.
by Nicholas Schmidle

Shortly after eleven o’clock on the night of May 1st, two MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters lifted off from Jalalabad Air Field, in eastern Afghanistan, and embarked on a covert mission into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden. Inside the aircraft were twenty-three Navy SEALs from Team Six, which is officially known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DEVGRU. A Pakistani-American translator, whom I will call Ahmed, and a dog named Cairo—a Belgian Malinois—were also aboard.

It was a moonless evening, and the helicopters’ pilots, wearing night-vision goggles, flew without lights over mountains that straddle the border with Pakistan. Radio communications were kept to a minimum, and an eerie calm settled inside the aircraft.
Fifteen minutes later, the helicopters ducked into an alpine valley and slipped, undetected, into Pakistani airspace. For more than sixty years, Pakistan’s military has maintained a state of high alert against its eastern neighbor, India.

Because of this obsession, Pakistan’s “principal air defenses are all pointing east,” Shuja Nawaz, an expert on the Pakistani Army and the author of “Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within,” told me. Senior defense and Administration officials concur with this assessment, but a Pakistani senior military official, whom I reached at his office, in Rawalpindi, disagreed. “No one leaves their borders unattended,” he said. Though he declined to elaborate on the location or orientation of Pakistan’s radars—“It’s not where the radars are or aren’t”—he said that the American infiltration was the result of “technological gaps we have vis-à-vis the U.S.”

The Black Hawks, each of which had two pilots and a crewman from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, or the Night Stalkers, had been modified to mask heat, noise, and movement; the copters’ exteriors had sharp, flat angles and were covered with radar-dampening “skin.”

The SEALs’ destination was a house in the small city of Abbottabad, which is about a hundred and twenty miles across the Pakistan border. Situated north of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, Abbottabad is in the foothills of the Pir Panjal Range, and is popular in the summertime with families seeking relief from the blistering heat farther south. Founded in 1853 by a British major named James Abbott, the city became the home of a prestigious military academy after the creation of Pakistan, in 1947.

According to information gathered by the Central Intelligence Agency, bin Laden was holed up on the third floor of a house in a one-acre compound just off Kakul Road in Bilal Town, a middle-class neighborhood less than a mile from the entrance to the academy.

If all went according to plan, the SEALs would drop from the helicopters into the compound, overpower bin Laden’s guards, shoot and kill him at close range, and then take the corpse back to Afghanistan.

The helicopters traversed Mohmand, one of Pakistan’s seven tribal areas, skirted the north of Peshawar, and continued due east. The commander of DEVGRU’s Red Squadron, whom I will call James, sat on the floor, squeezed among ten other SEALs, Ahmed, and Cairo. (The names of all the covert operators mentioned in this story have been changed.) James, a broad-chested man in his late thirties, does not have the lithe swimmer’s frame that one might expect of a SEAL—he is built more like a discus thrower.

That night, he wore a shirt and trousers in Desert Digital Camouflage, and carried a silenced Sig Sauer P226 pistol, along with extra ammunition; a CamelBak, for hydration; and gel shots, for endurance. He held a short-barrel, silenced M4 rifle. (Others SEALs had chosen the Heckler & Koch MP7.) A “blowout kit,” for treating field trauma, was tucked into the small of James’s back. Stuffed into one of his pockets was a laminated gridded map of the compound. In another pocket was a booklet with photographs and physical descriptions of the people suspected of being inside. He wore a noise-cancelling headset, which blocked out nearly everything besides his heartbeat.

During the ninety-minute helicopter flight, James and his teammates rehearsed the operation in their heads. Since the autumn of 2001, they had rotated through Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and the Horn of Africa, at a brutal pace. At least three of the SEALs had participated in the sniper operation off the coast of Somalia, in April, 2009, that freed Richard Phillips, the captain of the Maersk Alabama, and left three pirates dead.

In October, 2010, a DEVGRU team attempted to rescue Linda Norgrove, a Scottish aid worker who had been kidnapped in eastern Afghanistan by the Taliban. During a raid of a Taliban hideout, a SEAL tossed a grenade at an insurgent, not realizing that Norgrove was nearby. She died from the blast. The mistake haunted the SEALs who had been involved; three of them were subsequently expelled from DEVGRU.

The Abbottabad raid was not DEVGRU’s maiden venture into Pakistan, either. The team had surreptitiously entered the country on ten to twelve previous occasions, according to a special-operations officer who is deeply familiar with the bin Laden raid. Most of those missions were forays into North and South Waziristan, where many military and intelligence analysts had thought that bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders were hiding. (Only one such operation—the September, 2008, raid of Angoor Ada, a village in South Waziristan—has been widely reported.) Abbottabad was, by far, the farthest that DEVGRU had ventured into Pakistani territory. It also represented the team’s first serious attempt since late 2001 at killing “Crankshaft”—the target name that the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, had given bin Laden. Since escaping that winter during a battle in the Tora Bora region of eastern Afghanistan, bin Laden had defied American efforts to trace him. Indeed, it remains unclear how he ended up living in Abbottabad.

Forty-five minutes after the Black Hawks departed, four MH-47 Chinooks launched from the same runway in Jalalabad. Two of them flew to the border, staying on the Afghan side; the other two proceeded into Pakistan. Deploying four Chinooks was a last-minute decision made after President Barack Obama said he wanted to feel assured that the Americans could “fight their way out of Pakistan.” Twenty-five additional SEALs from DEVGRU, pulled from a squadron stationed in Afghanistan, sat in the Chinooks that remained at the border; this “quick-reaction force” would be called into action only if the mission went seriously wrong.

The third and fourth Chinooks were each outfitted with a pair of M134 Miniguns. They followed the Black Hawks’ initial flight path but landed at a predetermined point on a dry riverbed in a wide, unpopulated valley in northwest Pakistan. The nearest house was half a mile away. On the ground, the copters’ rotors were kept whirring while operatives monitored the surrounding hills for encroaching Pakistani helicopters or fighter jets. One of the Chinooks was carrying fuel bladders, in case the other aircraft needed to refill their tanks.

Meanwhile, the two Black Hawks were quickly approaching Abbottabad from the northwest, hiding behind the mountains on the northernmost edge of the city. Then the pilots banked right and went south along a ridge that marks Abbottabad’s eastern perimeter. When those hills tapered off, the pilots curled right again, toward the city center, and made their final approach.

During the next four minutes, the interior of the Black Hawks rustled alive with the metallic cough of rounds being chambered. Mark, a master chief petty officer and the ranking noncommissioned officer on the operation, crouched on one knee beside the open door of the lead helicopter. He and the eleven other SEALs on “helo one,” who were wearing gloves and had on night-vision goggles, were preparing to fast-rope into bin Laden’s yard.

They waited for the crew chief to give the signal to throw the rope. But, as the pilot passed over the compound, pulled into a high hover, and began lowering the aircraft, he felt the Black Hawk getting away from him. He sensed that they were going to crash.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Drought uncovers space shuttle Columbia debris

(CNN) -- The recent drought has ruined millions of acres of farmland in Texas, turning lakes into mud puddles, and has many praying for rain.
But in the East Texas city of Nacogdoches, authorities say, the drought may have done something good by helping unearth a piece of the space shuttle Columbia.

The object, which is about 4 feet in diameter, was found in a local lake. NASA says it is a tank that provides power and water for shuttle missions.
"It's one of ours," said Lisa Malone, a spokeswoman for the agency.
Malone added that NASA is trying to develop a plan to recover the item,
But it could take weeks to get it, she said.

"We're looking into whether we'll send a team out or local authorities can," Malone said.

Authorities say the object was found after the drought caused the waters to recede in Lake Nacogdoches, and they notified representatives from NASA on Friday.

"The lower water level has exposed a larger than normal area on the northern side of the lake," said Sgt. Greg Sowell of the Nacogdoches Police Department.
The item is full of mud and is in a remote area near a private shoreline, Sowell said.

Nacogdoches made headlines in 2003 when debris from the shuttle Columbia disaster was found there.

The spacecraft broke up while re-entering Earth's atmosphere near the end of its mission on February 1, 2003.

"We want to remind everyone that the rules are the same as they were back in 2003. If this object is indeed a part of the shuttle, it is government property, and it is a criminal offense to tamper with it," Sowell said.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Drone strike zaps six militants in South Waziristan.

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- A suspected U.S. drone strike in Pakistan's tribal region killed six alleged militants on Monday, intelligence officials told CNN.

Two Pakistani intelligence officials said the suspected drone fired two missiles on an alleged militant's vehicle in the area of Azam Warsak of South Waziristan.

South Waziristan is one of the seven districts of Pakistan's volatile tribal region bordering Afghanistan.
The intelligence officials asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The overwhelming majority of drone strikes have targeted areas in North and South Waziristan. Analysts say the areas are havens for militants fueling the insurgencies in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The United States does not comment on suspected drone strikes. But it is the only country in the region known to have the ability to launch missiles from drones -- which are controlled remotely.
Journalist Saboor Khattak contributed to this report.


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