Air International 2006-08
R.Burgess - US Naval aviation 2006 /Military/ (2)
One of the most secret aircraft in the US Navy inventory is the EP-3E version of the Orion. Two squadrons, VQ-1 and VQ-2 (pictured), are based at NAS Whidbey Island and have 12 of these aircraft at their disposal, with a further four to be converted from P-3Cs. It was an EP-3E which made the headlines after colliding with a Chinese fighter and making an emergency landing on Hainan.
An F-16B (foreground) and an F-16A of the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center. These aircraft are used to provide adversaries - hence the non-standard US Navy camouflages - for carrier air wings working up at NAS Fallon.
Lockheed P-3C Orions in the US Navy are continuing to receive a number of upgrades. The most capable variant are the AIP aircraft which can fire AGM-64 Maverick and AGM-84 SLAM-ER air-to-surface missiles. Under the nose of the aircraft pictured can be seen the L-3 WESCAM MX-20 Advanced Imaging Multispectral Sensor, which is one of the systems that has led to these aircraft also being in demand for overland surveillance.
Four helicopter types are used by the US Navy at its land bases to provide search and rescue. One of these is the Bell HH-1N which is in use at NAS Fallon and NAS Point Mugu.
A unique aircraft in the US Navy inventory is DC-130A, c/n 570497, which is operated by VX-30 from NAS Point Mugu. It took part in Operation Iraqi Freedom launching Firebee drones, which dropped chaff to entice the Iraqis to reveal their air defence positions.
NAS Patuxent River is the home of the US Naval Test Pilot School, which operates a diverse range of aircraft. A type that is more commonly used by the USAF is the Northrop T-38 Talon.
North American Rockwell Sabreliners are a very rare sight these days, and examples still in military service even more so. This T-39D is operated by VX-31 from NAWS China Lake. The unit's remit includes air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons testing as well as some electronic warfare work.
Boeing E-6B Mercury aircraft are operated by VQ-3 and VQ-4 for communication with ballistic-missile submarines and airborne command posts. In the latter role the aircraft replaced USAF EC-135Cs.
A long-time servant of the US Navy has been the Beech Super King Air. This UC-12F is assigned to NAF Misawa Base Flight in Japan, and - like the UC-12B and UC-12M - is used for transport duties.
An F/A-18E (foreground) and an F/A-18F of VX-31 Dust Devils which are based at NAWS China Lake. This unit was extensively involved in weapons testing for the Super Hornet.
A dramatic shot of a VX-31 Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet.
Boeing is to supply the replacement for the P-3C in the form of the P-8A, a modified 737-800ERX. The Navy plans to buy 108 of these aircraft, with it to enter operational service in 2013.