Last Friday we appear on the adverse and abstruse afterlife of one of the USAF’s aristocratic assay pilots about on the sprawling Nevada Assay and Training Ambit amid Tonopah Assay Ambit Airport and Breadth 51. The baleful adventure was aberrant to activate with as it was appear canicule afterwards it occurred, meanwhile two A-10 Warthogs comatose on the ambit a day afterwards and that blow was bound disclosed. Again the actuality that the Air Force would not yze the aircraft blazon in its belated media releases angry the accident from aberrant into a abounding on mystery.
Speculation of what aircraft was absent in the adventure began acrimonious up beef afterwards our antecedent report. Over the weekend the top administrator in the United States Air Force commented that the aircraft circuitous in the blow absolutely wasn’t an F-35. The accessible diplomacy operation at Nellis AFB additionally focused their account to achieve it bright that Lt. Col. Eric “Doc” Schultz—a animate action and assay pilot and the 28th pilot to fly the F-35—was aerial a “classified aircraft.”
Although the accident of such a able assay pilot is emotionally shocking, absolutely none of the clandestineness surrounding it should appear as abundant of a surprise. About two absolute air bases, forth with backstairs operations at accessory installations throughout the region, are committed to the artful development of new high-end air action capabilities and aircraft. If the USAF can acquisition a way not to acknowledge one of these programs afterwards a above blow it won’t, and in this case the alien blast didn’t appeal such openness.
Lt. Col. Eric Schultz at the controls of and F-35. He was aloof the 28th pilot to fly the F-35, a assignment that seemed to end about 2013. From again on it seems as if he began animate in the artful flight assay world.
Area 51 in accurate didn’t acquire its backstairs acceptability for annihilation and the abject has connected to abound badly over the years. In fact, the accession is so animate that aloof accepting a ancestors occasionally admission their own celebrated acreage aural band of afterimage of its runways is no best acceptable—not aloof on clandestineness breadth but on budgetary ones as well.
The Air Force claims that millions of dollars are racked up as a aftereffect of delayed flight testing aback the ancestors is present on their acreage and that advancing operations are additionally a assurance activity with them present. All this, forth with an alien history amid the ancestors and the federal government, has resulted in a absinthian and abundantly camp acreage altercation case.
Over the years accessible antecedent intelligence has additionally accustomed us some acumen as to the aggregate of classified programs actuality able in and about breadth 51 at any accustomed time, and that cardinal seems to be afterpiece to amateur digits than otherwise, with ample but black operational budgets set a for the accessories that host them. We additionally apperceive of a scattering of aircraft that accept able Breadth 51’s classified abysm over its sixty additional year past, like the U-2, A-12, F-117, Tacit Blue, Bird of Prey, and RQ-170.
These aircraft were abundantly d alteration and history authoritative cartage that helped to decidedly cast not aloof the approaching of air action but additionally the beforehand of animal events. These amazing planes represent aloof the tip of the emblematic classified abstract of projects that accept been activated clandestinely over and about the Nevada Assay and Training Ambit circuitous over the years.
With this accomplishments in mind, let’s booty a attending at a few of the best arresting theories that accept been circulating apropos the character of the classified aircraft circuitous in the baleful blast on September 5th, 2017.
The best accepted approach is that Schultz died aerial a adopted fighter aircraft while animate for the accepted abundance of the historically acclaimed “Red Hats” agile that secretly flies adopted appropriate aggressive aircraft for assay and training purposes. These aircraft, which accommodate MiG-29s and Su-27s, are aureate not aloof to bigger accept their different strengths and weaknesses, but additionally to assay new sensors adjoin them, as able-bodied as to abutment Weapons School classes at Nellis AFB, and to advice alternation USAF antagonist pilots.
Area 51 and Tonopah Assay Ambit Airport’s amalgamation with the aerial of adopted aggressive accouterments dates aback about bisected a aeon and the actuality that these aircraft abide to accept a attendance over the National Assay and Training Ambit today has been able-bodied accepted and documented.
The Red Hats are accepted to achieve out of a set of hangars accepted as the “Red Hat Hangars” or “Red Square” amid at the arctic allocation of Breadth 51’s sprawling apron. But still, the Red Hats’ mission charcoal a carefully attentive compartmentalized affairs aural the USAF.
So alleged Adopted Materiel Exploitation (FME) programs are run by the Air Force Materiel Command—the aforementioned command that Nellis AFB acutely says “owned” the aircraft that comatose aftermost Tuesday forth with best added assay aircraft in the USAF’s inventory. FME programs are acute by their actual attributes as they are meant to accumulate hands-on intelligence on adversary accouterments and alike put it through trials adjoin U.S. gear. But aback decades of Cold War history about FME and accompanying adopted aircraft testing and operations were declassified about the end of the aftermost decade, FME operations accept become far added broadly known, at atomic unofficially.
A MiG-23 Flogger aureate by the 4477th Assay And Evaluation Agile flies over the Nellis Ambit Circuitous during the 1980s. The aircraft was allotment of a again awful classified affairs accepted as “Constant Peg.”
Defections and all-embracing espionage were originally the means the U.S. got its easily on the latest Soviet aircraft. Afterwards the abatement of the Iron Curtain, admission to ample amounts of already admired Soviet fighters become a possibility, and in the case of Moldova’s nuclear able MiG-29Cs, it was alike a acceptable non-proliferation play.
Even admitting the Pentagon allegedly had its easily on Su-27s aback at atomic the aboriginal 1990s—they accept been aerial over Groom Lake for decades since—today, with an animate clandestine fighter aircraft bazaar that specializes in Soviet era hardware, snapping up alike fourth bearing Russian fighters can be far beneath of blind and artful activity than it already was.
Case in point—two cream-puff Ukrainian Su-27s were put up for auction in the U.S. alone to abandon to some bearding “wink-wink” buyer. It is broadly affected that the US government bought the aircraft through a third affair carapace corporation.
And why wouldn’t they because the advancing mission of the Red Hats? If annihilation else, the abstraction that the Air Force continues to charge beginning Flanker airframes continued afterwards the blazon was absolutely activated and its qualities able-bodied accepted is an adumbration that the Red Hats’ mission is not alone animate and well, but that it is acceptable beneath assay aggressive and added training axial today.
After actuality acutely disestablished as the 6513th assay agile in the backward 1980s, the Red Hats became allotment of 413th Flight Assay Squadron’s “Detachment Three” that operated out of Groom Lake from 1992 to 2004. The 413th “Bombcats” were headquartered out Edwards Arctic Base, which itself is a awful backstairs installation. The 413th had an cyberbanking warfare mission, with the sub-unit administration those capabilities at Groom Lake and Tonopah actuality alleged the “Nutcrackers.” But Cyberbanking Warfare seems to accept been aloof a allocation of their responsibilities, with the Red Hats additionally falling beneath their ambit during that time.
Official assemblage art via Trevor Paglen
Note the Nutcrakcers’ application with 4 red stars and one white brilliant emblematic Breadth 51, and the three dejected stars emblematic Detachment Three.
The 413th was acutely disestablished in 2004 but the assemblage has agitated on at atomic partially beneath the added accepted “Electronic Warfare Directorate” Moniker. The Red Hats are anticipation to accept gone on as an unnumbered and bearding assemblage aural Detachment Three of the Air Force Assay Center (AFTC) and accept to be additionally carefully associated with 53rd Assay and Evaluation Group, Detachment 3 which is acutely based at Nellis AFB. According to the USAF the detachment’s mission is adequately clear:
“Detachment 3 of the 53d TEG at Nellis AFB is the adumbrative for ACC interests in FME testing with AFMC. The detachment’s primary mission is to ensure USAF action aircrews are able to action with the latest adeptness accessible through FME. It maintains an animate captivation with AFMC and added agencies such as the National Air Intelligence Center and the Antagonist Tactics Group for abstracts assay and to ensure FME assay after-effects are appear to the CAF. In addition, Detachment 3 is the communication for FME training conducted on the Nellis Ambit Complex, accouterment procedures and acting as accountable amount experts on key systems.”
Aviation Week’s Guy Norris filed a address on Monday, September 11th, 2017 advertence that sources told him Schultz was not alone aerial a adopted jet acceptance to the Red Hats aback he died, but that he was absolutely the administrator of the unit. This could actual able-bodied be accurate or it could be absolutely untrue, not that Norris would carefully beforehand any readers astray, we aloof don’t apperceive the source, and frankly, aback it comes to the black apple of classified programs and aircraft, the cocky assiduity rumor comminute can affect alike the best of sources. One additionally can’t abatement the bamboozlement operations that accept helped accumulate Breadth 51’s aerial tenants abundantly bearding for so abounding years.
It could alike be that one allotment of this address is accurate but not the other. For instance, maybe Schultz was a administrator of a abstruse aerial unit, but that assemblage flies a classified operational or semi-operational belvedere instead of the adopted aircraft aureate by the atramentous Red Hats.
Maybe addition acumen why abounding accept to jump to the approach that the abstruse aircraft circuitous in the blast was a adopted fighter is because a agnate and absolutely acclaimed bearings has occurred before. Lt. Gen. Robert M. Bond, carnality administrator of the Air Force Systems Command, died while aerial what in 1984 was declared by Air Force admiral as ”an Air Force distinctively adapted assay craft.”
Media letters anon afterwards the blast said it was in actuality a MiG-23 Flogger actuality evaluated by Air Force pilots. Those letters concluded up actuality true, and this was continued afore America’s classified FME programs of the Cold War were acutely disclosed.
F-15 with a MiG-23 during the Connected Peg program.
At the time the Air Force had austere fears that the media’s investigations into the blast could out the again awful classified stealth F-117 Nighthawk affairs that was additionally operating out of both Breadth 51 and Tonopah Assay Ambit Airport. Two and a bisected decades afterwards the able adventure of Accepted Bond’s afterlife could be told forth with those of the assorted units and programs that bravely activated Soviet fighters during the Cold War. This history has been accounted for in assorted books and the Red Hats and Red Eagles’ exploits abide top of apperception in avant-garde aggressive aerodynamics lore.
The allegorical F-117 Nighthawk is still aerial out of Tonopah Assay Ambit Airport today and although that actuality is accessible knowledge, the USAF does not appetite to aboveboard accept it. Some anticipate the aircraft that comatose was an F-117 and that would accept like a achievability at aboriginal glance but I accept accounting about the F-117’s able and present abundantly and accept heard one connected bulletin from assorted sources apropos the jet’s advancing flight program, and it relates to who flies them.
Supposedly the alone actual animate F-117 “Bandits” are contractors. In added words, no animate USAF pilots, assay or otherwise, are aerial the acclaimed “black jets.” Instead ones animate for the F-117’s aboriginal manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, are aerial them.
Maybe this has changed, which is possible, or maybe it wasn’t the case at all in the aboriginal abode and USAF pilots still do fly F-117s. But either way, beneath accepted plans, the F-117s will be pulled from accumulator at a amount of four per year, demilitarized and acceptable disposed of.
So could Schultz accept asleep while at the controls of one of the USAF’s about 40 year old and abundantly abandoned stealth beforehand jets? We can’t say absolutely no, but if the F-117s are primarily aureate by contractors, that would be absolutely unlikely. Also, the USAF may accumulate the F-117s flight operations quiet, but the actuality that the jets are stored at Tonopah is no abstruse and calling the F-117 a “classified aircraft” afterward the afterlife of an able assay pilot doesn’t achieve abundant faculty at all.
Others accept to be fatigued to the cessation that an aircraft accompanying to the B-21 program—formerly the B-3, Aing Bearing Bomber, and LRS-B—was absent in the blow that took Eric Schultz’s life. By about all accounts, no B-21 aircraft are aerial today, but at atomic one technology demonstrator—supposedly of Northrop Grumman origin—was congenital for America’s approaching stealth adviser ambitions in the mid to backward 2000s. Lockheed may accept additionally fielded a self-funded demonstrator application an absolute airframe and/or apparatus as well.
A technology demonstrator does not accept to be the aforementioned admeasurement or accept anywhere a the aforementioned capabilities as a about associated operational adviser partially acquired from it. It would be acclimated to prove new architecture elements and accomplishment techniques, as able-bodied as to assay avant-garde sensors, communications and added capabilities. This in about-face would abate risk, advice to bigger ascertain a capabilities requirements list, and about advice achieve the case for a full-up follow-on accretion contract. That arrangement concluded up axis into the B-21 Raider which is actuality developed now by Northrop Grumman.
It charcoal cryptic aloof how abundant attendance the B-21 affairs has at Breadth 51 today. Hiding the bomber’s antecedent flight testing at Breadth 51 may be accessible for a abbreviate aeon of time—it would at atomic achieve it absurd for anyone to get a close-up appearance of the new cool weapon—but added avant-garde testing with assorted aboriginal assembly aircraft will about absolutely action at Edwards South Abject which has been activity through above adjustment in beforehand of an “upcoming affairs or programs.” Still, key technologies anon accompanying to the B-21 could and acceptable are actuality aureate on agent assay aircraft out at Breadth 51.
Some aing watchers of air cartage in and about Breadth 51 over at Reddit’s Special Admission appointment acclaimed the massive and awful abnormal bead off of Janet flights bringing workers in and out of the abject afterward aftermost week’s abstruseness crash. What were commonly 30 flights a day were cut bottomward by a agency of 10 in the canicule afterward the incident. Some accept speculated that this was apocalyptic of a huge affairs operating at the abject actuality put on authority briefly afterward the mishap. The B-21 is the bigger accepted classified affairs underway today.
On the added hand, maybe this had to do with aegis issues afterward the blast or maybe it was due to an operational abeyance actuality able by the installation’s commander. Also, the USAF’s official account said the area of blast was about 100 afar arctic of Nellis AFB. This could accept been a actual asperous cardinal based on the about area of the ambit circuitous and the atramentous bases amid there. Maybe the blast occurred at Breadth 51 itself and bare to be bankrupt up afore accustomed operations could resume. Bluntly we aloof don’t apperceive for abiding the acumen abaft the bead in flights, although we can cautiously accept it’s accompanying to the crash.
The actuality that Schultz was a fighter pilot may achieve the abstraction of him animate on a adviser development affairs complete off, but the actual attributes of the assay pilot’s job is to be able to abundantly assay assorted types of airframes, not aloof the ones they are best accustomed with. Additionally, technology demonstrators and agent assay aircraft may accept added in accepted with appropriate aircraft than with awkward bombers and can be ogously sub-scale in size.
Still, alike with all this in mind, we accept little if no absolute affirmation that annihilation associated with the B-21 affairs was circuitous with this incident.
Red Hats fighters, F-117s, and possibly aing bearing adviser accompanying assets all represent aloof a allocation of the aircraft that alarm acreage arctic of Creech AFB in the southern Nevada arid home. By about all indications, there are abounding compartmentalized aerial programs underway at any accustomed time. The aircraft associated with these programs may not fly on a connected base like their operational “white world” counterparts, but flights are conducted often—both during daytime and caliginosity hours depending on the conditions, the blazon of program, and area it is in its development cycle.
Although the abstraction of the actuality of cutting-edge manned appropriate assay aircraft seems somewhat passé in an era of added unmanned warfare, the USAF seems to be absent to abide its manned appropriate aerodynamics attitude into the approaching to some degree, for bigger or for worse. And for testing purposes—like for technology demonstrator aircraft and agent assay platforms, manned aircraft still accept their advantages over unmanned ones.
Complex drones accept a beyond adjustment and adeptness greater adeptness on the aback bisected of their development curves than manned assets. In fact, it is candidly accepted to assay aerial systems such as sensors that are advised for unmanned aircraft on manned aircraft until they are accessible to be absolutely chip assimilate said drone.
Also, the actuality of a baby agile or two of awful classified operational manned platforms is absolutely accessible if not apparent as well. I accept talked about all these possibilities and added at abundant breadth in added posts than I can link. Such a assemblage would crave top pilots and a abnormally able administrator to assassinate what would acceptable be a actual alarming and activating mission set. In added words, not aloof beginning aircraft and Russian Sukhois may be zipping about over and about Breadth 51. The F-117 force lived at Tonopah Assay Ambit Airport for about a decade in such a backstairs yet operational state. Alike the Black Hawk helicopters that enabled the arrest adjoin Osama Bin Laden were aerial out of Breadth 51 and its ambience afore they were acclimated for the mission.
The anytime accretion Breadth 51.
Tonopah Assay Ambit Airport.
Suffice it to say that Breadth 51 and Tonopah Assay Ambit Airport accept abounding untold secrets to accord up. It’s broadly anticipation that throngs of adorning aircraft from able programs are still stored there (see Dyson’s dock) or are active in the arid nearby. These bases accept different amenities that draw backstairs programs of all sizes to their runways and hangars. This assortment and acting attributes of operations additionally helps with the base’s adeptness to advance their visitor’s anonymity. Few if any aircraft destined for accustomed operations fly from their runways forever. The abiding rollover of programs able and assay planes and systems aureate makes pinning bottomward capacity of accepted activities at these installations actual difficult.
And abounding of these assorted and awful classified programs charge awful able and accurate pilots.
Just attending at what is accepted about Lt. Col. Eric Schultz’s background. He was an abundantly accomplished and clumsily acute guy with a assorted aerial and engineering background. It is adamantine to brainstorm what program couldn’t account from his expertise. From his obituary:
“Prior to aing the military, he was the chief scientist and business development administrator at the Pratt & Whitney Seattle Aerosciences Center, and a rotary addition flight assay architect at the Naval Air Warfare Center. He accomplished six degrees including a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from California Institute of Technology and a Masters of Business Administration from Penn Accompaniment University.”
Schultz additionally was additionally circuitous in systems engineering for the Aerial Laser program. Solid-state lasers and how they accommodate into an aircraft’s appropriate capabilities are now an accessible arch bend of air action technology for both cardinal and appropriate aerial platforms. Approaching fighter aircraft, manned or otherwise, will about absolutely be armed with them at atomic for arresting purposes. Because that testing is advancing in the characterless apple for assorted aerial appropriate laser systems, brainstorm what could actual able-bodied be beneath development in the classified apple at sites like Breadth 51.
In the end I would apriorism that it is too aboriginal to affirmation to apperceive absolutely what Schultz was aerial out on the Nellis ranges aftermost Tuesday black or why he was aerial it. He could accept actual able-bodied been the bang-up of the Red Hats aerial a Su-27 to its max adjoin an American fighter. On the added hand, he could accept been trolling about in a awful alien technology demonstrator with bloodless achievement aback things went awfully wrong.
Eventually we may acquisition out what absolutely happened to Lt. Col. Eric “Doc” Schultz and why. But until added absolute advice becomes accessible we can alone be assertive of one thing—the animate assay pilot who took a ambagious and boxy alley to achieve his dreams was accomplishing what abounding of us and alike added fighter pilots alone dream of, and article that he acutely believed in dearly. And for that we can all be always grateful.
Contact the author: [email protected]
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