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World news round-up 1 April 2007
A right Royal affair

Gary Parsons looks at the latest plans for the 'Royal Flight'

It's been known for a while that Government has been investigating the financing and operation of a dedicated Royal & VIP flight - the publication of the Gershon Report early last year recommended the establishment of a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract for two aircraft, primarily to ease the burden on 32 (The Royal) Squadron, which is currently heavily committed to communication tasks in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dubbed 'Blair Force One' by the popular press, the VIP flight will provide Government ministers and the Royal Family air transport to non-hostile areas - the UK is the only G8 nation to not have a dedicated fleet of aircraft for this purpose.

It was initially thought that the recommendations of a Boeing BBJ and a Global Express types of aircraft would be implemented, but subsequent to the Prime Minister's visit to Farnborough and his inspection of the A380, it has become apparent that pressure has been brought to bear on the Treasury to ensure sufficient funds are released for the leasing of one aircraft directly from Airbus. "The PM was really impressed by the A380", said Mr Dickinson, a Government spokesman; "Especially the cinema and games room, where his kids would be able to spend time when the family is jetting off on vacation." Airbus is said to be delighted at the deal as it will provide a valuable advertising platform for the Mock-up of how the Royal Flight An-2 may looktype, currently struggling with technical difficulties and a dwindling order book.

The leasing of the A380 has put pressure on the fixed-price contract, so Airbus is to offer a second-hand An2 as the second aircraft in the fleet, primarily for the Royal Family's use. "It has several advantages", continued the spokesman, "as it will be able to land in the rear garden of Buckingham Palace. It has a longer range than a helicopter, and only consumes a gallon an hour of avgas, making it very 'green' and 'carbon-friendly'. And, of course, it's as cheap as chips."

When asked about the public perception of the Royal Family flying around in an old Russian biplane, the spokesman added "Well, Her Majesty doesn't get out much these days. Of course, the A380 will always be available - at least when the PM doesn't need it. Or other Government officials. Or when it's not back-leased to Madonna or Helen Mirren."

 

Chancellor announces Defence Sponsorship scheme

Current named Tucano ZF210Mick Britton looks a small part of the Government's recent Budget that went largely unnoticed

A byeline in the Chancellor, Gordon Brown's, Budget speech in Parliament last week has opened up the possibility of RAF aircraft being used as flying advertising hoardings for UK companies and Army regiments involved in similar shirt sponsorship deals to Premiership football clubs. In relation to Corporation Tax, under a newly announced scheme, companies will be allowed tax credits on all sponsorship deals with the MoD. This scheme has undoubtedly been introduced as a result of concern about the spiralling cost of Defence spending, the two largest items of which are the cost of the occupation of Iraq at £60 Bn and the replacement of Trident at £70 Bn. In comparison with such sums, the cost of Typhoon (nee Eurofighter) at £6 Bn appears an absolute snip.

It appears that 72 (R) Squadron, which currently flies Tucanos at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, gave the Treasury the idea for the scheme when they began naming their aircraft after various Spitfires operated by the Squadron in the Second World War, paid for by donations made by businesses, organisations and private individuals to the Spitfire fund. Then a donation of just £1,000 entitled the donor's name or slogan to appear on the aircraft - hence the appearance of Spitfires named 'The Black Horse' as a result of donations by Lloyds Bank employees, and 'Nix Six Primus' - after the Woolworths slogan 'Nothing More Than Sixpence'. It was felt that big businesses might welcome the idea of sponsoring a fast jet, frigate or battle tank in exactly the same way it does with racing cars, rally cars, yachts and aerobatic competition aircraft. In fact, this would be an extension of the occasional sponsorship of RAF display aircraft.

ZF169 is the first aircraft to wear sponsor's logoThe scheme will be similar to those shirt sponsorship deals which are now commonplace in all professional sports. Thus, a company will be able to negotiate with the MoD sponsorship deals in relation to Navy ships, RAF aircraft and Army vehicles and even regiments. The latter concept is likely to be particularly appealing owing to the extensive TV news coverage of units engaged on tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus the Yorkshire Regiment currently serving in Basrah may appeal as an advertising opportunity for Yorkshire Tea, a Yorkshire Pudding producer or even a firm of Solicitors specialising in Compensation claims. "The possibilities are endless", stated a Treasury spokesman who headed the feasibility study. "Whilst only big businesses are likely to be able to sponsor assets like combat jets or destroyers, it is likely that lottery syndicates or playgroups could run to the cost of a Grob Tutor primary trainer or fishery protection vessel." 'Toys-r-Us' has apparently already expressed an interest in sponsoring a Tornado GR4, owing to its nickname being identical to a line of toys which they sell, while a Credit Card security firm is interested in one of the new Sentinel battlefield surveillance aircraft, currently entering service at RAF Waddington.

The Association of Scottish Whisky producers is also believed to be keen to formalise links with the RAF Lossiemouth, on the basis that it has contributed so much to the profits of its members that it feels "It's only fair to give something back." "We have already experienced the benefits of free advertising on their aircraft during two Gulf Wars", said an Association spokesman. "Very few sassenachs had even heard of Tamdhu until that Buccaneer went on static display at Mildenhall after the first Gulf War - then we couldn't produce enough of the stuff." As sales are currently languishing he's hopeful that there'll be a deployment of the Lossiemouth Tornados to Afghanistan or Iraq, once again carrying the names of their crews' favourite tipple. The MoD is understood to be currently closely examining the proposals with increased interest.

 

A new role for the WAH-64D Apache

Andrew Bates looks at development of the Apache's capabilities

"Ok punk, make my day"In a unique attempt to further combat the menace of speeding and stolen vehicles, personnel from the Hampshire Constabulary Air Support Unit are currently undergoing familiarisation training with the Army Air Corps at Middle Wallop on the WAH-64D Apache. Under the expert tutelage of instructors from 673 Squadron from 2 Regiment, the select group of Police pilots and observers will be firstly assessed for their ability to fly the Apache, and subject to their handling skills, will then be looking at the feasibility of operating the aircraft in its proposed new role.

This is quite a departure from the more usual Police air support operations conducted around Hampshire. Currently the unit flies one example of the Islander from the former RNAS at Lee-On-Solent, which has been operating quite successfully since delivery in March 2001. However, the decision has been taken to further enhance the operating capabilities of the unit, so after preliminary discussions with the AAC, a unique leasing agreement based on flying hours has been drawn up, which subject to successful trials, will enable use of 2 Apaches for Police operations.

Plans include provision of an operations room at Middle Wallop within the 673 Squadron buildings, where a small support staff will be permanently based in direct contact with the main Hampshire Police Control Centre. At least one Police Apache crew will be on permanent twenty-four hour stand-by, with a second crew available on a maximum two-hour call. All maintenance and support will be provided by AAC ground crew, which will see one aircraft on permanent alert, with the second on a two-hour availability, subject to serviceability. Again, maintenance costs will be based on hours flown by Police Air Support crews.

Once all the Police crews are fully trained in the use of the AN/ASQ-170 TADS (Target Acquisition Designation Sight) and the AN/AAQ-11 PNVS (Pilot Night Vision Sensor), the first operational sorties are planned to patrol the busy A303, where speeding motorists are still commonplace, despite the proliferation of Gatso cameras along the route. Nap-of-the-earth flying skills will be part of the training syllabus at Middle Wallop, so these techniques will be utilised to the full to trap unsuspecting motorists. Should such patrols prove to be successful, the current Gatso cameras are likely to be sited elsewhere within the county.

A Hampshire Police spokesman confirmed that if successful, the patrols would be extended to other primary routes in the road network between Southampton and Andover but denied rumours that the Apaches would have to be painted yellow in accordance with the government guidelines on road speed measurement devices. When asked if the aircraft would fly with any armament, it was also confirmed that there was currently no provision in the Police budget for the use of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. However, when pressed further on the subject of the 30mm M230 chain gun, the spokesman refused any further comment.

 

New 'Aircraft Support Scheme' launched at Newark Air Museum - report by Howard Heeley/Down to Earth Promotions

Unsurprisingly, each one is called 'Jack'Thanks to the uplifting support of its staff, the Newark Air Museum has instigated an innovative fitness programme to help overcome ongoing serviceability problems with its ageing collection of maintenance jacks.

Since Christmas all members of the museum staff have been participating in personalised training programmes at a local gym to develop the appropriate skills and physiques to assist the museum’s new and aptly named 'Jack-Attack' restoration programme.

A museum trustee recently agreed to be interviewed about the unusual and innovative scheme. “Faced with the constant problem of old and inefficient jacks becoming unserviceable, we turned to the staff to seek a solution to the issue. However we were slightly unprepared for their response to overcoming the issue of constant loss of hydraulic pressure in the jacks.”

He continued, “As always our staff were fantastic and they raised the idea of contacting Jack’s Gym in Newark about devising their fitness programmes. The new scheme has proved to be very effective although it did take a little time to initially get off the ground. However such was their enthusiasm the staff even persuaded Jack’s Gym to sponsor the scheme by providing them each with free gym membership.”

Checking for loose change in the cockpitHe concluded, “We are currently looking at extending the scheme to our volunteers, whereby the gym membership will be offered as an optional part of becoming a museum member. Initial indications show that the members will also support this uplifting initiative.”

Anyone wishing to support this scheme is asked to contact the museum directly via the museum website

Individuals are asked not to undertake similar work themselves without first undergoing appropriate “Jack-Attack” training at Newark Air Museum; undertaking a Risk Assessment of the lift they plan to complete; and writing an appropriate Method Statement.

The two photographs were snatched as on-site “Jack-Attack” training was being undertaken around the museum site on Winthorpe Showground at Newark.

 

"Last Tomcats … still flying, Baby!"

Paul Tiller reports on exciting plans in the States

It's the real thingNo, not the remaining Tomcats in Iran, but in the US! Despite the US Navy retiring the aircraft from active operational service in September 2006 and many of the airframes being cut up for scrap or preserved in museum collections or at bases, some 'Cats have quietly remained in storage at NAS Oceana. Eight aircraft are to be restored to flyable condition and the US Navy has been awarded a privately funded contract, agreed with the Pentagon, to commence preparations to restore the aircraft to flight status. The aircraft will used for a newly formed display team to be known as 'The Cat's Claw Heritage Team'.

The Tomcat team will be sponsored by a major well-known soft drinks company, something which had been a talking point at NAS Oceana in March 2006 and by aviation enthusiasts on various aviation Internet forums. The aircraft will be painted in a striking red/white/blue and silver colour scheme with the Tomcat figure emblazoned on the tail fins - the first aircraft has already conducted test flights devoid of any unit or Navy markings, with just a nod to the new sponsor on the fin, and is expected to be rolled out of the paint shop in the new colour scheme in early May with the remaining aircraft all being painted by mid-June. All armament and weapon systems will be removed from the aircraft and a new type of smoke generating system, called 'TrinSmoke', will be fitted. This system is the first of its kind and will allow a display team to create a smoke trail of three different colours at the same time. Such is the revolutionary advance in this area, and the confidence of the smoke system manufacturers, that they are also offering it to the US Navy's Blue Angels, the USAF Thunderbirds and the RAF's Red Arrows, all of whom are reported to be extremely interested in it, although the Reds may have to restrict it to one aircraft due to budgetary constraints.

NAS Oceana spokesperson Cmdr Jack Spurge said "This is a truly exciting time for all involved. The Tomcat lived here at Oceana, the crews were trained here and it's only fitting that the team are based here. It's great to see some old friends back at Oceana and our maintenance teams are equally excited about getting the jets back in the air. We are extremely thankful to the team's sponsors for picking up the check for the high costs of this project. Without them we, the Navy, would not be able to display the jet to our taxpayers and supporters." Spurge is himself a Tomcat pilot with over 3,000 flight hours in the jet and was selected as back-up Tomcat Demo pilot in 2004 - he commented "I'd love to be flying the 'Cat again, rather than my desk, it's just a fun jet to throw around the sky, but the problem is things break on it - unlike the Super Hornet, which is tougher."

The team's aircraft will be flown by ex-Tomcat pilots, some of whom currently display other vintage aircraft at airshows, as well as current serving US Navy crews who transitioned from the Tomcat to the Super Hornet. VF-101 'Grim Reapers' will be re-established at NAS Oceana in May and re-designated VFAT-101 as it undertakes crew training and qualification responsibilities. The team will commence display work-ups with their six aircraft in late July. As yet the names of the display crews are still to be announced and the first public display is expected to take place at the NAS Oceana Airshow in September where the team will initially do some flybys with the Blue Angels team to honour the Tomcat's naval heritage, which will then be followed by the Claws' own thirty-minute full display routine seeing the 'Cat once again put through its paces - the highlight of the display is expected to be a dynamic and 'wow factor' manoeuvre called the 'Flair Loop', which will see two sections of three aircraft perform two loops together, with one section going in a clockwise direction, the other in an anti-clockwise direction. After completing one full loop both sections will meet at the top of the second loop for a split and starburst. Perhaps one day the 'Claws' will fly in the UK?

 

800 NAS pilots begin their work-upWhat a carrier-on!

Robin Powney looks at the latest developments in the UK's ongoing aircraft carrier programme

Following months of high-level discussions, threats of the French Government canning their involvement in the massive £4 Bn Anglo-French CVF project and a feared rise in the price of the F-35B, Air-Scene UK can reveal the latest news with regard to the direction in which the Royal Navy is taking future airpower.

Whilst officials continue discussions about the CVF project, secret discussions between the UK MoD and US DoD have been taking place – the upshot is the Royal Navy will once again be able to roam the oceans with something a little more potent than what they have at the minute. It’s no secret that the USS George Washington will be heading to Yokosuka in Japan to become the only permanently deployed carrier in the US Navy's inventory, but what wasn’t known until very recently is that the ship she is replacing, the USS Kitty Hawk, will soon be flying the Royal Ensign! Following the US offering of the USS John F. Kennedy to NATO, rumours were abound that the UK may have bought 'Big John' but bills of more than a £1 Bn to make her fit for fixed-wing flight ops halted any further discussions.

ClickKitty Hawk, to be renamed as either HMS 'Thatcher' or 'Warrior', will become a Royal Navy vessel sometime in the summer of 2008 following a brief overhaul by Northrop Grumman in Virginia and will eventually serve her country alongside the two new CVF carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, when they enter service. Contracts have also recently been signed for the procurement of aircraft to serve aboard Thatcher as, by the time the F-35 is ready, she will be seventy-eight years old. These new aircraft - F/A-18E/F Super Hornets (or, in UK parlance, the Super Hornet FRS1 and FRS2 respectively) and Osprey ASaC1s – will operate aboard HMS Thatcher alongside existing Harrier GR9As, Merlin HM1s and Apache AH1s.

ClickThe C-27J Spartan will eventually provide Carrier Onboard Delivery (C-2As loaned from the US will do the job in the meantime) and BAE Systems is now giving the Typhoon N some serious engineering thought, while HMS Thatcher will also have systems compatible with all Joint Force Helicopter types. The Royal Navy will convert the current GR9 squadrons to fly the Super Hornets, with 899 NAS being re-formed and responsible for conversion training at Yeovilton. Air-Scene UK brings you world exclusive photos of the new aircraft, already in Royal Navy markings, with initial instructor crews undergoing appropriate training at NAS Lemoore, NAS Oceana and MCAS New River as we go to press.

 

Chinese Anti-Satellite (ASAT) weapon test - the facts

Alistair Maclean reveals the truth behind January's testing

Bison bomber as used by the Chinese Air ForceAir-Scene UK has exclusively learned that the recent Chinese launch of an ASAT weapon was in fact the latest in a string of tests using retired Bison bombers (H-6) and Rocket Assisted Take Off (RATO) packs. The test, initially exposed by the American journal Aviation Week & Space Review as an Anti-Satellite (ASAT) missile test, was conducted close to the bombers' base due to the criticality of the wear and tear on the aircraft. Failure to release the RATO pack at 2,000ft left the launch aircraft in a critical state as this was the first occasion that the rockets had failed to automatically release, leading to the crew eventually managing to release the rockets at over 30,000ft, perilously close to losing the wings. The weather satellite that was destroyed, the Fengyun-1C, was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time as the RATO packs sped into the sky. The Chinese weather service is reportedly very upset at the satellite's loss. The Chinese military, on the other hand, has been reticent to down-play the accident as it has proven to be a technological tour-de-force for little investment.

 

'Guerilla-style' tactics may become the norm for many aircraft enthusiastsCameras to be banned at Airshows!

Alistair Maclean brings some shocking photography news

GCHQ has advised the MoD that people taking pictures at airshows jeopardises National Security by allowing the 'enemy' to see our waning defences. Ministry officials feel that the reduction in secrecy at these bases as a consequence of letting the public on the bases also erodes the long sought-after Total Security Blanket (TSB) that the RAF has been trying to implement for some time. The Junior Minister for Defence said in the Commons that fines for unauthorised photography will be draconian as the Government needs some way of paying for the F-35, and it's the only draw in town. Announcement at airshows of photography restrictions will only be made on a need-to-know basis and will be policed by Air Cadets, who will accept Visa, Maestro, Diners Club and most other major credit cards as payment for the on-the-spot fines.

Mine's bigger than yoursThis new restriction will deny many the opportunity to use Canon's new Panning(R) Lens - hot on the heels of vibration elimination lenses, this lens will automatically allow for panning fast moving objects. The new Canon EOS 5D camera is rumoured to contain all necessary electronics to operate this new lens, which is capable of panning at up to seventy degrees a second - the user only has to stand on a slippery surface to enjoy the benefits of perfectly panned images. A pair of shoes with castors will also be available as an accessory, plus downloadable insurance claims forms for third-party injuries.

 

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