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28 August 2008 - Mildenhall

RC-135S Cobra Ball 61-2663 arrived from the Middle East. The aircraft retains the black wing and engine nacelles on the starboard side, despite the sensors no longer being effected by sun glint - the unique black scheme perpetrating the Cobra Ball 'mystique'. The latest sensor suite was installed, composed of six extremely powerful electro-optical and photographic cameras positioned behind small windows on either side of the forward fuselage - note five of the six windows are in identical positions on both sides, while the sixth is in a different location.

The latest modification involves the installation of AEELS (Automatic ELINT Emitter Location System) 'cheeks' on both sides of the forward fuselage, which house electro-optical and infrared sensors, similar to those mounted on the RC-135V and W Rivet Joint models. However, the 'cheek' sensors on Cobra Ball appear similar in simplicity to those originally installed on the RC-135C fleet way back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This latest system offers Cobra Ball a limited Electronic (ELINT) and Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) acquisition capability to add to its primary role of Measurement and Signatures Intelligence (MASINT) to acquire and analyse all manner of telemetry associated with missile tests.

Cobra Ball has shifted its traditional area of operations from the western Pacific Ocean, where they monitored Soviet missile tests during the 1960s to 1990s, to the Middle East currently where their upgraded sensors are highly tuned to participate in Theatre Air Defence of missile launches by rogue states. The proliferation of these missiles has enabled nations outside of the 'big two' to become a potential threat to NATO and its allies. Therefore the highly sophisticated RC-135 fleet in general, and Cobra Ball in particular have been adapted to meet the need to monitor these threats. The upper fuselage of Cobra Ball is festooned with satellite communications antennae which receive data from satellites on the launch of theatre ballistic missiles, enabling personnel onboard Cobra Ball to analyse the threat, and transmit details quickly to theatre commanders.

The latest configuration incorporates the AEELS capability, with an electronic instrumented 'glass cockpit', and more efficient CFM International F108 engines. The 55th Wing anticipates operating all three RC-135s Cobra Ball airframes with an identical configuration for the first time in their existence. Courtesy Bob Archer

 

11 August 2008 - Cranwell

Two new King Air B200s have been received by 45(R) Squadron, both equipped with full 'glass cockpits', more representative of current types such as C-130J, C-17A and Sentinel. On the civilian register as G-RAFD and G-RAFX, the two machines will gain military serials in the near future. Picture courtesy Guy Harvey

 

4 August 2008 - St Mawgan

1 August was a significant date in the handover process at RAF St Mawgan - Newquay Airport. All operations at the airfield are now funded by the Local Authority including Air Traffic Control and Fire Services; however these will continue to be provided by the MOD until December 2008 while construction of a new Control Tower and Fire Station takes place across the Runway. A visible sign of this milestone on the day was the replacement of standard MOD Crash Trucks (RIV and MFV) with brand new civilian vehicles. The majority of the fire crew will be transferring to the new operation but until December they will still be employed by the MOD. Similarly Air Traffic Control will still be undertaken by RAF Staff.

Military flying has all but ceased at the airfield and virtually all of the ground equipment (boarding ladders, Ground Power Units, etc.) have been removed. A consequence of the recent change is that the MOD will be charged a fee to use the runway and facilities. Another consequence for what remains of RAF St Mawgan is that the MoD now has to rely on fire cover from civilian (including retained) firefighters from Newquay and St Columb.

Late July saw two final detachments to RAF St Mawgan. Two Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16s were based here for the RNAS Culdrose Air Day, the aircraft arrived on 29 July and stayed for two nights. Although the pilot managed a practice display at Culdrose on the 29th, low cloud over HMS Seahawk during air day itself resulted in the F-16 remaining on the ground at St Mawgan. The final detachment was three Grob Tutors from 3 AEF - these aircraft remained after 1 August, flying ATC Cadets from the Devon and Cornwall area; an agreement was reached that no fees would be levied, whether or not this arrangement will continue remains to be seen. Courtesy Peter Mitrovich

 

4 August 2008 - Mildenhall

The Turkish Air Force detachment to the USA that transited here on 13 July returned, supported by three KC-135s. Pictures courtesy Gary Stedman

3 August 2008 - Eastleigh

The Skeeter sixtieth commemoration was held at Fleming Park, not far from Southampton Airport (Eastleigh). The two-seat military light helicopter was designed and built the Cierva Autogiro company at Eastleigh in 1948, then produced by Saunders-Roe at Eastleigh and Cowes, the company also famous for the flying boats in the 'golden age' of flight.

Nine helicopters arrived from afar, including the Army Air Corps Historic Flight and four Skeeters, three of which were complete with one just a cockpit on a trailer. Courtesy Andrew Hare

 

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