American Airlines announced on Monday ambitious new plans to re-introduce 3 classes of services aboard newer Airbus A321 aircraft assigned to transcontinental services from New York to San Francisco and Los Angeles. The initiative would showcase the forceful return of three classes service not only on domestic flights, but also on narrow body aircraft. Under the plan American Airlines would install fully lie-flat seats on both First class and Business class. The new Airbus A321 aircraft that are intended to form the new American Airlines transcontinental fleet are not due to begin arriving in the carrier’s fleet until November 2013 through 2014.
Reflecting a major shift in products offerings for narrow body and transcontinental service, the First Class cabin fitted with 10 Simca-designed seats configured in 1-1 abreast will offer 10 passengers unrestricted access to the aisle. The Business Class cabin will offer 20 Recaro-designed seats in a 2-2 layout while the Economy cabin will retain the familiar 3-3 layout found in most A320/Boeing 737 family of aircraft. The products differentiators for both new premium seats aboard these A321 will undoubtedly be the in-flight personal entertainment amenities provided by 15.4-in HD touch screen and Bose® QuietComfort® 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling® headsets. While the main cabin occupants will only have 8.9-in HD-capable touch screen personal monitor, the entire aircraft cabin will be equipped with seat-to-seat chat, wi-fi, live text news and weather updates, 3-D moving maps, airport maps, connecting gate information, and more according to the carrier.
For the carrier, this very aggressive plan coincides with the growing need to begin retiring Boeing 767-200 averaging 25 years of age. Fleet wide, American is expecting to also replace MD-82/-83 by taking delivery of up to “130 current generation Airbus aircraft from the A321 and A319 variants and up to 100 Boeing 737-800s through 2017”. With up to 460 new aircraft expected to arrive, including 42 Boeing 787-9 and 10 Boeing 777-300ER the carrier has fully embraced a environmentally sustainable strategic model securing profitability through lower fuel and overall operating costs.
A US Air Force F-16 based at Misawa Air Base in Japan was reported to have crashed Sunday morning off of Japan’s Northern coast. According to Misawa Air Base web site, the F-16 crashed at about 11:30am local time (10:30pm New York City time) about 250 miles off of Hokkaido’s Island in the North Pacific sea where efforts to locate the sole pilot on board the aircraft at the time of the crash were underway. The New York Times citing Japan’s Coast Guards, indicated that the aircraft went down at 1000 km (621 miles) off of Japan’s northernmost coastline. The aircraft which had taken off from Misawa Air base, the Joint Facility housing US Navy, US Air Force and Army and even Japan Air Self Defense Forces 3rd Air Wing units is likely to be a F-16CJ Block 50 aircraft belonging to either the 13th or 14th Fighter Squadron that form the 35th Fighter Wing. These aircraft, configured as ‘Wild Weasel’ are notorious for their role in SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense) missions in which they literally duel against enemy surface-to-air missile batteries. This past May, F-16 pilots attached to the 35th Fighter Wing took place in the Diesel Weasel exercise, conducting close air support bombing and strafing missions at the Draughon Range in Japan. The 35th Fighter Wing aircraft are frequent visitors to Kunsan Air Force Base, Republic of Korea where they undergo Operational Readiness Evaluation under Pacific Air Force command.
Boeing capped off the week of the 2012 Farnborough Air Show with announcements of avalanche of orders for its Boeing 737 single aisle aircraft.
Latest big news came July 12th from US mega carrier United Airlines with an order for 150 Boeing 737.
Worth an estimated $14.7 billion, the order consists of 50 Next Generation Boeing 737-900ER (Extended Range) and 100 highly fuel efficient Boeing 737 MAX 9. The currently produced -900ER will allow the carrier to add newer planes in its fleet while awaiting the new 737 MAX design not scheduled to arrive until late 2017.
The 737 Next Generation initiative was Boeing 1993 attempt to provide a longer term viable replacement for -300/-400/-500 series which had then supplanted the -100/-200 ‘Classic’. While the first Next Generation -700 and -800 series received certifications in 1997 and 1998 respectively, the 737-900ER only received its certification in July of 2005. Equipped with additional fuel tanks, a new wing design integrating blended winglets and the longest fuselage of all the 737, the -900ER now commonly fitted with Boeing spacious Sky Interior can carry 180 passengers in 2-class layout at ranges of 3,235 nautical miles (5,990 km).
The 737 MAX 9 that will inherit fuselage dimensions a passenger capacity to the -900ER, will be a much more technologically advanced aircraft delivering double digit improvement in fuel burn over the Next Generation series thanks to the newly designed CFM International LEAP-1B engines and other aerodynamic refinements, particularly the double wing tip fences.
With delivery of its first 787 scheduled for September 2012, United stands as the launch customer in North America for both 787 and 737 MAX. Thus showcasing a strategy long espoused by Continental that a younger fleet can help secure sustainable growth on the key points of fuel efficiency, environment friendly (low emission) and low operating costs (maintenance, fuel). With a mainline fleet consisting of some 694 aircraft (as of May 2012), the new 737 will not only reinforce the 234 Boeing 737 (-500/-700/-800/-900) already on strength but also begin to replace the 155 Boeing 757-200 for which a maturing freighter conversion market has evolved.
For Boeing, this order has allowed the 737 program to breach the 10,000 orders mark (10,039 including more than 6,600 Next Generation), reaching 1,200 orders for the MAX and adding at least another 233 units in its 737 firm back log order for the single month of July. This week’s Farnborough Air Show which netted 75 Boeing 737 aircraft for Air Lease Corporation, 100 for GECAS (General Electric Capital Aviation Services), 20 for Kuwait’s ALAFCO and 15 for Dublin-based Avolon also marks these leasing firms unanimous recognition of the 737 as the most liquid tangible investment asset probably in existence.
In an effort to accommodate growing number of Nordic countries travelers to the US, SAS is adding 9 weekly flights services to that market. Opening a direct flight from Copenhagen to San Francisco that will operate 6 times a week and adding three more flights to its Copenhagen-Newark KEWR will allow the global carrier to expand its market share, significantly enhancing its passengers network connectivity between North America and the Scandinavian countries.
The new route to San Francisco, a hub of commerce, technology and a major travel hub in the US west coast is set to operate six times per week. The departures from Copenhagen will occur daily at 12:25pm except on Tuesdays with return legs from San Francisco leaving at 5:25pm using an Airbus A340. On that route the carrier projects to transport 125,000 passengers each year.
Serving the New York metropolitan area, three additional flights will actually operate to and from Newark International Airport in New Jersey. These flights offer the convenience of late evening departures so highly sought after by business travelers leaving Copenhagen at 6:25pm and Newark at 11:30pm on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays. Located no more than 25 miles from Downtown Manhattan, Newark International Airport is proving very useful in augmenting SAS Airbus A330 widebody services to New York City away from slot-constrained JFK International airport.
Following last week downing of a Turkey Air Force F-4 Phantom by Syrian Air Defense, we look into the fleet of 54 F-4E 2020 Phantom that equip Turkey’s 111 and 171 Filo. Dubbed F-4E Phantom 2020, these aircraft are F-4E airframes initially delivered by the US between 1974 and 1992 but upgraded by Israeli Aircraft Industries Lahav Division between 1999 and 2003. Hence they retain the highly robust and popular basic mating of the F-4 airframe to the two reliable General Electric J-79 powerplants, to which highly sophisticated electronics flight and missions systems have been added. All the results of intense indigenous Israeli combat systems development backed by strenuous and uniquely valuable operational experience.
International Air Power Review estimates that some 182 F-4E multirole fighters and 52 RF-4E (reconnaissance version) aircraft have been transferred from the USAF to Turkey as part of Peace Diamonds III program between 1974 and 1992. Another batch of 40 retired purely reconnaissance RF-4C have been acquired from Germany in 1992.
Upgrading the F-4E to 2020 standard
The F-4E Phantom 2020 upgrade project for Turkey Air Force saw 54 earlier generation F-4E upgraded by IAI . According to Janes publication the two prototypes were handed over to Turkey January 27th 2000. During the 1980’s IAI had accumulated considerable experience bringing Israel Air Force F-4E fleet to the Phantom 2000 standard. The Israeli F-4-2000 upgrade consisted of a thorough structural life extension program and systems modernization effort that would see the plane acquire vastly improved all weather multi role capabilities and, receive a new nick name the Kurnass (hammer).
Re-engineering and re-arming the Phantom
The F-4E Phantom 2020 proposal to Turkey was designed to increase the aircraft useful life and capabilities incorporated more recently developed Israeli systems intended for the failed Lavi Indigenous Fighter Program. With Elbit as a main system integration contractor , and Lahav for airframe modification, the F-4 2020 service life was programmed to last until about 2020 when Turkey would induct F-35 JSF. As a result the aircraft has received vastly superior mission systems. The Kairser wide angle HUD on the Kurnass was retained while the Norden APG-76 SAR radar was replaced by the powerful ELTA 2032 fire control radar. The F-4E 2020 also acquired the AN/ALQ-178 passive Self Protection Suite as implemented by Turkey’s MIKES Electronics, HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) flight controls, ELTA EL/L-8222 Electronic Counter Measures pod as well as MIL-STD-1553B on-board networking bus. Other sources state that an El-Op 976 wide-angle HUD was installed. Work on the aircraft structural integrity has added another 6,000 life hours to the current average 5,000 hours utilization baseline on the 54 selected airframes. With a single Multi Function Display installed in front of the pilot and two made available to the WSO (Weapons Systems Officer), the aircraft could now uses GPS/INS precision navigation and Mil std 1553B databus. The re-wiring of 20 km of electrical wires and newer hydraulic and pneumatic systems added to the aircraft shaved 750 kg (1,653 lbs) of weight.
Installed on standard Sidewinder missile railings, the EL/L-8022 Jamming Pod provides ESM (Electronic Support Measures) capabilities against hostile electronic threat emissions with automatic jamming. Elta designed the system to be retrofitted to F-16, F-18, F-15, F-111, F-5, F-4 and A-4 to protect against current or evolving air-to-air and surface-to-air threats.
The internally mounted AN/ALQ-178(V)3 provides advanced RWR (Radar Warning Receiver) and ECM (Electronic Counter Measure) integrating automatic release of chaff and flares thus increasing survivability while reducing pilot workload in high threat environment.
The ELM-2032 Fire Control multi mode air and ground radar is at the heart of the F-4E 2020 offensive capabilities. Its effective air-to-air operation is promoted by a very low sidelobe planar antenna design and programmable signal processor giving a 80 nm target detection range and at least 6 modes of engagement using primarily the AIM-9L/M Sidewinder missiles. The -2032 is even better for air-to-ground targeting capabilities at ranges of 80 nm on surface, and out to 160 nm at sea. SAR-enabled (Synthetic Aperture Radar) high resolution mapping allow for pin point targeting of very small targets on the ground or at sea.
The aircraft is wired to fire modern TV-guided, IR-guided (Litening II targeting Pod) and Laser guided US made air-to-ground munitions like the AGM-65G Maverick, GBU-10/12. Advanced Israeli weapons such as the Pyhton-3/-4 air-to-air missiles and Rafael Popeye 1 precision Anti-Surface missiles can also be employed.
The RF-4C/E Reconnaissance variant
According to Air Power International Review, the RF-4E reconnaissance version has been known to use at least three different cameras: the AAD-5 IR, KA-56 panoramic camera and KS-87 optical cameras for forward and oblique observation. As an option the Goodyear UPD-4 SLAR (Side Looking Airborne Radar) can be fitted. It is speculated that a new EO/IR LOROP (Electro Optical/Infra Red Long Range Oblique Photography) may have been integrated since the middle of the last decade. The most potent formula remain the centreline-attached original G-139 Electro Optical/Infra Red sensor which operates in the visible and invisible Infra Red spectral band at high resolution on large area with real time capabilities at 62 miles (100 km). Most of these aircraft have been retrofitted with the APQ-172 radar replacing the APQ-99.
Was a remote-controlled QF-4 target drone used to trigger and locate Syria’s new SAM?
From this brief technical analysis, it is possible that the aircraft shot down by Syrian Air Defenses may have been a RF-4C/E attempting to locate and photograph the new Buk-M1 Surface to Air Missiles delivered by Russia. However a variety of scenario remain. For this type of mission an ESM capable aircraft (the F-4 2020) could have been passively listening to the Buk-M1 SAM 9S18M1-1 radar emission. Using a convincingly enough hostile flight attitude would have forced the Buk-M1 SAM operator to illuminate the intruding F-4, hence revealing the SAM radar location. And again would it be possible that a remotely piloted QF-4 drone was used instead? Whatever the scenario and motives, the decision and responsibility to open fire was Syria’s sole whether consisting of shooting down an Israeli F-4 2000 Kurnass , a Turkey F-4 2020 or any other derivative F-4 aircraft.