The retirement of some types from service gets a lot of attention from people. The last Phantoms leaving US service were well covered. The upcoming end of KC-10 operations is already getting discussed. However, the removal of the E-8 JSTARS seemed to just happen without much discussion. I have to admit it caught me off guard. I didn’t know that they were going away let alone that it had already happened.
With this milestone having slipped past me, I figured I should go back through the catalog and see what times I have shot E-8s. Not a lot of encounters with Red Flag having been my most productive venues. They were old jets when they became E-8s and I heard from a friend that one of them had gone through some interesting other configurations before making its way in to the E-8 fleet. They are consequently old enough to deserve retirement. It will be a shame not to see them around anymore.
The C-12 Huron is the military version of the King Air. While it has been successful as a transport, it has also been the basis for a ton of derivatives. I am not an expert on this type and all of its subtypes so, when I see one, I can’t say for sure what it is. The most recent versions have been the MC-12W but I am not sure that they all look alike. When I saw this plane taxiing out at Boeing Field, I wondered if it was an MC-12W and asked a couple of friends that know more than me. They weren’t sure either. It might be or it could be something else. Whatever it is, it was an unusual visitor.
I was heading back from south of Seattle when I was surprised to find out that the NOAA WP-3D Orion, Kermit, was at Boeing Field. It had come in the day before but I hadn’t heard about it. I was planning to stop for lunch so why not go to BFI? Just after I got there, I saw a prop start turning on the number one engine. However, after running it up, they shut down again. I was dreading that they were going to go tech and the plane wouldn’t move.
Fortunately, whatever they were concerned about wasn’t too much of an issue. A little while later, while I was still eating my lunch, I looked up to see two engines running. This looked more promising. Sure enough they taxied shortly afterwards. The nice news was that they crossed the runway to taxiway bravo so we got a good look at them. A while later it was their turn for departure and they came my way. The nice thing about a four engined prop is that they didn’t climb too rapidly so a good angle on them. It was pretty overcast so not ideal light but the dark colors show up better without too contrasty light.
On two previous occasions, the RAF’s Sentinel fleet has made an appearance on this blog. The most recent was for a damp example at RIAT that was in this post. The Sentinel fleet has spent a number of years under threat of retirement. It is a small fleet and it is custom made so it will have very high sustainment costs. Also, it provides a role principally in support of the Army so I imagine it isn’t the highest priority for some of the RAF upper echelons.
Previous reports of its retirement have been followed up with a reprieve. However, the MOD in the UK has just issued a request for proposals (RFP) for companies to come and dismantle the aircraft (along with a pair of E-3D Sentrys). This looks like it is really going to happen. The RFP states that the aircraft are not for reuse and that the selected contractor will disassemble them on site at RAF Waddington. Not only is the RAF not going to use them but they are making sure no one else does.
Various bits of information have flowed around about them. There is a suggestion that obsolescence issues mean a lot of equipment needs to be replaced. Since that will be a custom process, it will be an expensive thing to do and, with the axe having been hanging over them for a number of years, spending a lot of money on them if they might not be around for much longer just doesn’t seem likely. Maybe there are other issues too.
I’ve had a soft spot for V Sqn from the Lightning and Tornado F3 days. Seeing it move from a fast jet to a bizjet derivative was a bit odd but at least it survived while so many other squadrons disappeared. I wonder whether it will surface again. Maybe an F-35B unit at some point? We shall see. My best interaction with the Sentinels was on a Red Flag when I got to shoot them in some great light. Farewell you oddball.
Based on a Global Express business jet, the RAF’s Sentinel battlefield surveillance jet has plenty of lumps and bumps to distinguish it but the paint scheme is a different story. It is painted plain gray and, aside from one example I saw at Red Flag, it doesn’t have any interesting squadron markings. The Friday of RIAT was a very wet a dreary day but this had the effect of making the Sentinel look rather glossy. I have never seen them look too interesting before (aside from Red Flag) but this looked okay. I did shoot it departing too on an overcast day and it didn’t look too bad then so maybe this one was fresh out of the paint shop?
P-3 hunting was part of the plan when Paul and I headed to NAS Whidbey Island. We had some success. There was a nice bit of icing on the cake for us. An EP-3E showed up too. The EP-3 has a nice selection of large radomes added to the airframe to cover the wide variety of sensors that this type has to fulfill its role of listening to transmissions around the world. I don’t know how long the EP-3 has once the P-3s are gone from fleet service so getting one was a definite plus.
The subject of this post ended up getting some coverage but, when I saw it, I didn’t know about the interest surrounding it. I was at BFI awaiting the departure of another aircraft when a turboprop took off over me. I had the camera to hand so grabbed some shots of what I realized was an Airbus CN235. Painted in a dark gray scheme, it looked a little odd. A closer look at the shots showed it had a few lumps and bumps suggestive of an array of antennae. I figured it was just passing through en route to somewhere more interesting.
However, that wasn’t the case. It had been spotted flying some patterns over the city. I had seen some odd flight paths on Flightaware being flown by a plane called Spud21. I loved the name! it was flying orbits over the city but I couldn’t see anything else about it. However, when I saw the plane crop up in the media, the article identified that it was the owner of the Spud21 callsign.
I don’t know what the purpose of the flights was. It is suggested that the aircraft is owned by the US military but whether it is for their use or is in support of an overseas operator, whether these flights were for testing purposes or were checking out the residents I don’t know. I do know that it was something a little out of the ordinary though.
A jet I don’t often get to see in action is the E-8 JSTARS. There aren’t a huge number of them and they often fly at times that don’t suit photography so I have not previously got a lot of shots of them and certainly not too many in flight. Based on the 707-300 airframe, they were pretty old when they were selected for conversion to the JSTARs mission. They are definitely showing their age and the USAF is in the process of competing for a replacement program. There are a few years left for the E-8 but they won’t be around for too much longer.
One feature of their age is the engines that they have. The jets are fitted with old JT3D engines. A program had been put in place to re-engine them with JT8Ds and a modified jet did fly. However, the program was put on hold due to the potential for a replacement aircraft making the payback period unviable. As a result, we got the old smoky jets. It isn’t as bad as the old pure jet days of the KC-135s and B-52s but it still is easy to track the jet as it climbs out courtesy of the black trail it leaves behind.
The beginning and end of an exercise has a common theme. Long before the fighter start launching, an E-3 AWACS will lumber off the runway and head out towards the exercise area. It gets on station and sets up to direct the fight as the fast movers enter the range. It will support the whole mission and will guide the small guys back home at the conclusion of their missions. It will deal with any of the jets that have to change plans or abort. With everyone else back on the ground, the AWACS can finally come home. They are often the last jet back on the ground. Hopefully everyone outside will stay around for their recovery. You wouldn’t want them to feel neglected!
If I hadn’t been with Joe who is a bit more familiar with the regular movements at Tucson International, I would not have been too interested in this aircraft. It looked like a pretty standard C-26 to me. However, Joe was quick to see it and told me it is one that he had not seen move (I can’t recall whether this was ever or just for a long time). Apparently, the turret under the fuselage is for surveillance activities of a spooky nature. Why it was moving on this day (was it watching me?) I have no idea. I was just glad that, rather than dismissing it as I might have done, I found out it was a little different.