AF Recon Aircraft Makes Combat Debut

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A new Air Force surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft has successfully completed its debut combat mission, military officials said last week.

The MC-12 Liberty is a turboprop aircraft with a specialized four-person crew that provides full-motion video and signals intelligence. Essentially, it is a manned, souped-up version of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that roam the skies above Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Liberty is “the first of its kind,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Gary North, commander of 9th Air Force and U.S. Air Forces Central, said in an Air Force news release. “What our Air Force teams at our various headquarters staffs have done with the program has been nothing short of miraculous. They’ve satisfied very ambitious objectives and done it alongside our industry partners to achieve combat-urgent requests in a superb fashion, from initial contracts to combat sorties inside eight months.”

The first Liberty aircraft arrived in Iraq on June 8, making its debut combat mission later that day, officials said. The aircraft will be assigned to the 362nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron while in Iraq.

“The MC-12 is an embodiment of the Air Force’s commitment to Coalition ground forces,” Lt. Col. Phillip Stewart, 362nd ERS commander, said in the statement. “Our focus is to provide dedicated, responsive [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] operations, and we’re ready to go.”

The Liberty is one result of an effort ordered in April 2008 by Defense Secretary Robert Gates for the Air Force to better support troops on the ground.

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NASA hopes for Wednesday shuttle launch

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NASA managers Sunday deferred making a formal decision on whether to reschedule the delayed shuttle Endeavour for launch Wednesday or press ahead instead with launch of the agency’s $583 million Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission aboard an unmanned Atlas 5 rocket.

But with both missions facing tight launch windows, Mission Management Team Chairman LeRoy Cain said the agency’s preference was to launch Endeavour on Wednesday, if possible, to maximize the number of launch opportunities for both programs.

“If shuttle goes first on the 17th, then the most opportunities we can give LRO is two, and that would be on the 19th and 20th,” Cain said. “If LRO goes first on the 17th, then the most opportunities we could get for the shuttle is one opportunity, and that would be on the 20th.”

A final decision on how to proceed must be made Monday to provide enough time for the Air Force Eastern Range, which provides required tracking and telemetry support for all rockets launched from Florida, to set up its systems to support one launch or the other.

But Cain said if no additional problems develop, and if work to repair a leaky hydrogen vent line umbilical plate on Endeavour‘s external tank goes smoothly, NASA likely will opt to press ahead with an attempt to launch the shuttle at 5:40:50 a.m. EDT Wednesday.

The forecast for Wednesday calls for a 70 percent chance of good weather for the shuttle’s pre-dawn launch window and a 60 percent chance of acceptable conditions for the lunar orbiter’s window Wednesday afternoon.

If LRO is not off the ground by June 20, the flight will slip to the end of the month. If Endeavour is not off the ground by June 20 or 21 at the latest, the shuttle launch will be delayed to July 11 because of temperature constraints related to the space station’s orbit.

Endeavour was grounded during fueling overnight Friday when the gaseous hydrogen vent line umbilical on the side of the shuttle’s external fuel tank began leaking potentially dangerous vapors as the hydrogen section of the tank was filled.

The work is expected to be finished early Tuesday.

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Cockpit fire forces plane to make emergency landing

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The Jetstar Airbus 330-200, the same model as the Air France plane that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, was about four hours into its flight from Osaka to Australia’s Gold Coast when the pilots noticed a small flame and smoke in the cockpit near the window, airline spokesman Simon Westaway said.

A pilot used a fire extinguisher to put out the fire, which did not spread to the cabin, he said.

The plane, which was carrying 190 passengers and 13 crew members, landed without incident at Guamairl International Airport. The passengers, mostly Japanese tourists, were expected to board another plane and finish their journey to Australia later on Thursday.

Qantas, which owns the budget carrier, was sending engineers to Guam to inspect the plane, and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau will lead an investigation into the cause of the fire, Mr Westaway said.

Noone was hurt during the incident.

The incident involves the same plane model as this month’s Air France disaster when all 228 on board an A330 flying from Brazil were killed after a mystery accident over the Atlantic.

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Air France recovery continues: plane tail, more bodies found

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Brazilian search teams have found more pieces to the puzzle where Air France flight 447 went after it disappeared off radar last week and plunged into the Atlantic Ocean.

A large section the plane’s tail was found, as were the bodies of 24 of the 228 people abroad the flight, about 600 miles northeast of Brazil’s Fernando de Noronha islands. The US is also helping in the search; the Navy is sending equipment and manpower to search for the missing data recorders which could hold vital clue as to what exactly caused flight 447 to fall from the sky. Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula de Silva said his government is doing everything it can to recover all of the bodies – no survivors are expected – “because we know what it means for a family to recover their loved ones.”

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Okinawa Marines Test Newest Missile

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KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Marine Attack Squadron 211 on Monday became the first forward-deployed Marine unit to test-fire the AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile.

The new generation missile was launched by one of the squadron’s AV-8 pilots over an ocean test range about 200 miles off Okinawa, said Chief Warrant Officer Brad J. Wilde, an ordnance officer for the squadron, which is based in Yuma, Ariz., and deployed to Okinawa with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.

The AMRAAM is a “supersonic, air launched, aerial intercept, guided missile employing active radar target tracking, proportional navigation guidance, and active radio frequency target detection,” according to the Federation of American Scientists Web site.

After a Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 225 aircraft dropped four target drone gliders, Harrier pilot Capt. M.W. McKenney targeted one of the gliders and deployed the missile.

“It went off; it hit the target, the works,” said Master Sgt. Earnest Chaney, the squadron’s aviation ordnance chief. “It worked as advertised.” Sgt. Zachery Mathers, part of the ground crew servicing the Harrier that fired the missile, said he wasn’t overly impressed with getting a first in Marine Corps record books.

But, “it was exciting to be doing something new,” he said after helping load a missile under the Harrier’s wing before the test.

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A-10s Hunt Snipers

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SOUTHWEST ASIA – Coalition airpower integrated with coalition ground forces in Iraq and the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan during operations June 3, according to Combined Air and Space Operations Center officials here.

In Afghanistan, a flight of Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs hunted enemy snipers near Shahidan. Using smoke rounds to verify targets followed up with 30mm cannon strafes of each hostile position, the aircraft ended the sniper’s attack on Afghan and coalition forces.

Near Asadabad, Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles and A-10s engaged during two anti-Afghan forces attacks on Afghan and coalition personnel. The F-15s used guided bomb unit-31s and a GBU-38 to take out a group of heavy grenade launchers manned by enemy personnel, then escorted a convoy with a damaged vehicle back to base. Nearby, A-10s dropped a series of GBU-38s to strike enemy forces in fighting positions along a treeline. The A-10 also performed a show of force to deter a second attack.

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Airline worker helped get gun on plane

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PHILIDELPHIA – The FBI charged a US Airways employee with helping his roommate get a concealed, semiautomatic handgun onto a plane departing Philadelphia early Thursday.

Customer service agent Roshid Milledge switch black carry-on bags with passenger Damien Young at the gate so Young could board the 7am flight to Phoenix with the unloaded 9mm weapon, the FBI said in an affidavit.

Young, 29, was moving to Phoenix asked Milledge about the procedures for transporting guns. Milledge, 38, instead agreed to carry the bag through an employee entrance so it would not be screened by security.

An alert fellow passenger saw the switch and, sensing that Milledge seemed “fidgety”, raised concerns. Young, already on the plane, allegedly denied to a US Airway manager that he had switched nags with anyone. The plane then started to taxi, but was soon called back to the gate so Young could be removed.

He then admitted the bag was his and both men gave statements, the FBI said. Milledge told agents he had grabbed the wrong laptop bag from their Philadelphia home that morning and was switching it back.

US Airways Flight 1195 departed Philadelphia several hours later. In a statement, the Tempe, Arizona based airline said only that additional passenger screening took place “after a concern was raised about a carry-on bag.”

“We are cooperating with investigators fully and take security considerations very seriously,” said the statement issued by spokesman Morgan Durrant.

Coast Guard assists in search for Air France

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PORTSMOUTH, VaCoast Guard watch standers at the Rescue Coordination Center in Portsmouth assisted officials at the Rescue Coordination Center in Gris Nez, France, with the search for Air France Flight 447 by providing information to help locate the plane’s fuselage.

The Coast Guard uses a “reverse drift” program, called the Search and Rescue Optimal Planning System that generates a simulation based on the location where floating wreckage is found. This enables Coast Guard search planners to develop optimal search plans, maximizing the probability of successfully locating a search object.

By entering information – when and where debris is found – the SAROPS works backward using the weather, wind and sea conditions over a specified period of time to estimate the probable location of the plane. Based on this position, underwater efforts can be targeted to find the plane’s flight data recorder, commonly known as the “black box”.

“This is cutting-edge technology that the Coast Guard recently developed”, said Geoff Pagels, the Search and Rescue Specialist for the Fifth Coast Guard District in Portsmouth. “We know it’s a crucial element to determine historical positions where distress may have occurred.”

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U.S Navy Crew Joins Search For Air France

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A U.S. Navy aircrew joined the international search June 2 for survivors and debris from an Air France aircraft that went missing off the Brazilian coast, U.S. Southern Command officials announced.

A U.S. Navy P-3C Orion and its 21 crew members reported to Augusto Severo Airfield in Natal, Brazil, June 1 and joined search operations for Air France Flight 447, officials said.

The crew deployed from its forward operating location in Comalapa Air Base, El Salvador, where it was supporting regional illicit trafficking detection and reporting operations, officials said.

U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) dispatched the aircraft and crew after Brazilian officials accepted the command’s offer to assist with the search.

SOUTHCOM also directed a combat rescue officer from Joint Task Force-Bravo, located at Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras, to Recife, Brazil. There, he will help the Brazilian Rescue Coordination Center coordinate rescue assets, officials said.

Air traffic controllers lost contact with the Air France Airbus A330-200 aircraft during a severe lightning storm after takeoff from Rio de Janiero. The aircraft, bound for Paris, disappeared with 228 passengers aboard.

A Brazilian air force crew reported June 2 that they had spotted debris floating in the South Atlantic that could have come from the aircraft.

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Air France plane crashes Atlantic with 228 aboard

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The Air France Airbus A330 jetliner with 228 people on aboad went missing on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. It was carrying 216 passengers of 32 nationalities, including seven children and one baby, Air France said. Sixty-one were French citizens, 58 Brazilian and 26 German. Twelve crew members were also on board.

It was presumed to have crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on Monday after hitting heavy turbulence. Air France said the Airbus flew into stormy weather four hours after its scheduled take-off from the Brazilian city and shortly afterwards sent an automatic message reporting electrical faults. Company spokesman Francois Brousse said several of the plane’s mechanisms had malfunctioned, preventing it from making contact with air traffic controllers.

The airliner might have been hit by lightning, he said. The Brazilian Air Force said the plane was far out over the sea when it went missing. France and Brazil sent military planes and ships to try to locate wreckage between Brazil and West Africa.

“We will search all night long and keep going through dawn,” said Colonel Jorge Amaral of the Brazilian Air Force. “We have to work as if it were possible to find survivors.”

If none are found, it would be the worst disaster in Air France‘s 75-year history, more deadly than the crash of one of the company’s supersonic Concorde planes in 2000.

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