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The Grass IS Greener at Geneseo!

The National Warplane Museum calls Geneseo, New York home. Not only does the Museum have numerous aircraft in its collection, but hosts a grand warbird air show each year. Part of the draw to these events is that the Museum's runway is a turf field, and watching the participating warbirds operate from the field adds a certain sense of surrealism, when one thinks back to the turf fields used during World War II.

Warbird fighters, bombers, transports and trainers all use the turf, but in 1993, some modern military static aircraft (well, modern back a quarter of a century ago as this piece is written), and Dan McCue even flew his L-39 Albatross jet trainer off of the grass!

Here's a look at the grass field operations at Geneseo a quarter century ago, with both warbirds and active military aircraft in action and at rest.

The 2020 dates  of this air show - "The Greatest Show on Turf" - have not yet been confirmed by the organization at the time this article went public... check their web site for more information: https://nationalwarplanemuseum.com/

Please note: these photos are from a show in the early 1990s and not what is expected at this year's (2020) air show!

North American B-25/PBJ Scrapbook…

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North American Aviation built a widely used medium bomber; the prototype's first flight occurred just after the start of World War II. Known as the B-25 Mitchell in the U.S. Army Air Force,  the Navy and Marine versions were named the PBJ. The bomber served in all Theaters of Operation. They ranged from Alaska to Europe and Asia, Africa and the Mediterranean. Sixteen aircraft even became carrier-borne, as the "Doolittle Raiders" helped to turn the tide of the war in the Pacific. Other allied nations operated the B-25 too... including Russia which received many bombers under the Lend Lease Act. All told, over 10,000 airframes were produced.

After the end of World War II, various aircraft, including B-25s and PBJs, were put to work fulfilling other duties than the bomber role. Modifications were made to the engine exhaust system Aerial photography and training were two such roles; the Air National Guard operated some of the last TB-25s in the multi-engine trainer and liaison roles in the 1950s. The final USAF B-25 flight occurred in 1960. After being retired from military use, some B-25s were configured as executive transports, others operated as water bombers against forest fires. Here are a group of photos showing some of the warbirds that are still surviving today, some 80 years after the type's first flight on August 19, 1940!  

Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatros Update

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Aero Vodochody, the Czechoslovakian/Czech Republic aircraft manufacturer celebrated their 100th anniversary of existence in 2019, making it one of the oldest surviving aircraft manufacturers in the world. The company boasts that they’ve built some 11,000 aircraft over that century, providing aircraft to over 60 air forces and many more civilian concerns.

Aero L-29 Delphin.

The company is quite successful in the military jet trainer market, beginning with the in-house-designed Aero L-29 Delfin, and then the L-39 Albatros. In 1964, the company began design work on the successor of their (already successful) L-29 Delfins. This became known as the L-39 Albatros, a tandem twin-seat trainer with a modern ejection seat and a new turbofan jet engine, the Ivchenko AI-25 turbofan engine of Russian design. The second Albatros prototype made the type’s first flight on November 4, 1969, and soon this model of Czechoslovakian design took over the reins of most of the Warsaw Pact countries’ jet training needs, as older L-29s were phased out.

Single seat L-159A light attack jet.

Originally an advanced trainer in the 1970s through the 1990s, the type was adapted as a weapons trainer, target tug and a light attack aircraft too. Production of the L-39 ended in 1996. However, newer versions, called the L-59, L-139 and ultimately the L-159 were designed and produced. Main improvements to the original aircraft included Western jet engines and avionics, as well as increased stores capacity and utility. Some effort was put into simply upgrading existing airframes too, such as the 40 L-39ZA/ARTs upgraded by Elbit Systems for the Royal Thai Air Force.

Source: Aero Vodochody

In 2014, the L-39NG program was announced by Aero Vodochody. Improvements and modernization are readily apparent. Now powered by a Williams FJ44-4M engine, it adds a redesigned cockpit with a heads-up display, new avionics containing glass panel displays and night vision compatibility, plus a new, single piece canopy which improves visibility. By September, 2015, the L-39NG technology demonstrator (called the L-39CW) completed its development work. On December 22, 2018, the first pre-production L-39NG trainer made its first flight. On December 9, 2019, a second L-39NG took to the skies.

Stage 1 L-39NG versions will be converted from existing airframes, while Stage 2 aircraft will be newly-built aircraft from the ground up. The air forces of Senegal and the Czech Republic have ordered L-39NGs, as well as the Portuguese company Skytech, the American company RSW Aviation, and another American company, DRAKEN International. Some of these orders include both –NG and –CW versions.

An important opportunity for the L-39 series to extend its’ longevity isn’t just with new aircraft, but with retired military jets too. There are a few hundred L-39s, mainly the –C trainer version, that are privately owned by civilians. Most are in the U.S., where the type has become an economical warbird jet to operate (if there ever was one!). They have their own race class at Reno’s National Championship Air Races, and there are multiple civilian airshow teams that perform in the U.S. and Europe too.

Here’s a breakdown of most of the L-39/L-159 variants:

L-39X 7 prototype and static test airframes, two of which never flew

Civilian-operated L-39C Warbird taken at Quonset Point Rhode Island.

L-39C Albatros 2260 standard trainers with 2 underwing pylons, Ivchenko IA-25 engine.

L-39CM/L-39M1 Modernized versions used by Slovakia and Ukrainian Air Forces.

L-39V target tug version, 9 produced.

L-39ZO Weapons trainer with 4 pylons, 337 built.

L-39ZA Upgraded L-39ZOs with stronger landing gear and expanded weapons storage, 208 converted.

L-39ZA/ART Thai Air Force version, 40 built.

The single example of the Aero L-139 is in private hands.

L-139 One prototype with a Garrett TFE731 engine fitted.

Modernized L-159T1 trainer of the Czech Air Force

L-159A AND L-159B ALCA Upgraded aircraft with newer avionics, weapons systems and Honeywell ITEC F124 engine.

L-159E HONEY BADGER Single-seat L-159 version for DRAKEN International, acting as adversary trainers, threat simulation and chase aircraft, close to two dozen airframes could be converted to this configuration.

L-39NG Stage 1 aircraft are existing airframes fitted with a FJ44 engine and new avionics (called the L-39CW), and a Martin-Baker “zero-zero” ejection seat. The Stage 2 aircraft are new-build airframes with the same new engine and avionics, plus a new, wet wing design that does away with the wing tip tanks.

With an operational lifespan of over fifty years (1969 through 2020), the Aero L-39 Albatros has been a familiar sight at both military and civilian air fields. It has been a large part of Aero Vodochody’s success for half of the company’s existence too. With newly-overhauled and -built airframes being rolled out over the next few years, the light jet should be earning its keep as a trainer, attack jet and sport aircraft for another few decades too.

Grumman’s Long-Serving C-2A Greyhound Will Be Retired This Decade

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U.S. Navy C-2A Greyhound arrives aboard an aircraft carrier somewhere in the Pacific. Photo by Dion Makowski

The Grumman C-2A Greyhound was developed from the E-2 Hawkeye AWACS during the 1960s. More than five decades later, the final examples of this venerable aircraft carrier-borne transport are slated to be retired … around the type’s 60th birthday. Operating in rugged and challenging environments, the Greyhound will be replaced with the Boeing CMV-22B Osprey, a tiltrotor whose capabilities were barely on the horizon in the 1960s.

Navy COD in the foreground, at its home away from home. Photo by Dion Makowski

The C-2A won a competition to replace the remaining Grumman C-1A Carrier On-board Delivery (COD) aircraft in the U.S. Naval inventory, which were modified Grumman S-2 Tracker anti-submarine aircraft. The first two Grumman YC-2As were produced from modified E-2A Hawkeye radar aircraft. Gone went the radome, and a new, larger fuselage was added to the wing/engine structure of the Hawkeyes. The first flight of a prototype occurred on November 18, 1964. After flight testing was accomplished, 17 production aircraft were ordered; the type was introduced into service in 1966.

The 19 initial C-2As flew to and from aircraft carriers around the world for two decades. The fuselage of the new COD was designed to be able to transport individual jet engines from shore to the carrier, as well as high priority cargo, passengers, and another important item – mail for a carrier’s crew.

Other missions for the Greyhound included parachute operations for cargo and special forces paratroopers (Navy SEALS included). Inclusion of an in-flight operating cargo door and an on-board winch helps handle cargo loading and offloading chores easily. The aircraft has folding wings, which helps with shipboard handling and storage. An Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) is fitted for remote operations too.

Pre-SLEP C-2A at NAS North Island

The first production batch aircraft were all overhauled in a 1973 Service Life Extension Program (SLEP). These older airframes were all later retired by 1987. A batch of 39 new production C-2As was ordered in 1984; the new airframes were all in use by 1990. Of the newer batch, some 36 airframes were upgraded during a SLEP, with a service life stretching to the year 2027. One item which is readily apparent of the latest SLEP is the inclusion of a new 8-bladed NP2000 propeller, which is also fitted to current E-2D Hawkeye aircraft.

CMV-22B is in early testing, photo via NAVAIR - U.S. Navy

A program to replace the C-2 Greyhound saw three airframes vying for the job. An improved C-2A with refinements from the newest E-2D Hawkeye was fielded by Northrop Grumman. A derivative of the Lockheed S-3 Viking was also fielded. Ultimately, a specialized variant of the Bell Boeing MV-22 Osprey was chosen though, and the first prototype of this series (called the CMV-22B) flew on January 21st, 2020 at Amarillo, Texas.

Overall dimensions and performance of the Greyhound includes:

Crew: 2 pilots and 2 loadmasters.

Can carry 26 passengers or 12 litter parients, and a total payload of 10,000 pounds.

Wingspan is 80 feet 7 inches, length is 56 feet 10 inches.

Empty weight is 36,749 pounds, maximum takeoff weight is 57,500 pounds.

Powered by two Allison T56-A-425 turboprops.

Maximum speed is 343 knots, cruise speed is around 260 knots, stall speed is 82 knots.

Range is up to 1,300 nautical miles normally 1,000 miles, service ceiling is around 30,000 feet.

VRC-40 Greyhound in commemorative colors.

The C-2A Greyhound has supported U.S. military forces throughout numerous conflicts, including the Viet Nam War, the Gulf War and Operation Enduring freedom to name just a few. Although shipborne operations are carried out via “Detachments” from a main operating unit (Fleet Logistics Support Squadrons VRC-30 in the Pacific and VRC-40 in the Atlantic), there have been other Squadrons during the type’s history too. Training Squadrons for E-2C Hawkeyes acquired examples for a short period of time, VX-20 operated an example for Test and Development, and for a single Navy Transport Squadron (VR-24) in the European and Mediterranean areas.

A pair of VRC-30 C-2As taking part in the 2012 CONA flypast at NAS North Island.

Fifty-five years after the first prototype flew, the days of the C-2A Greyhound in Fleet service are numbered. The rugged design served around the world on some of America's largest and most lethal weapons - aircraft carriers. It's crews performed important duties during war and peace, and the design withstood the test of time, with the help of a pair of major Service Life Extension Programs. Interestingly enough, the two main operators of the C-2A today incorporate a sunset in the background of their unit insignia. Although the new tiltrotor technology will add some capabilities to the new COD mission that the Greyhound didn't have, a fifty-year service life means that the aircraft's design certainly wasn't lacking in ability nor longevity.