Countdown to LIMA ’17

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The LIMA (Langkawi International Maritime & Aerospace Exhibition) 2017 maritime and aerospace exhibition for defence, civil and commercial applications will be held next month in Langkawi, Malaysia.

The biennial event will be held between 21st and 25th March 2017 will be held at The Mahsuri International Exhibition Centre, Langkawi for the Aerospace exhibition and Resorts World, Langkawi for the Maritime exhibition. This year will be the 14th edition of LIMA and it promises to be as spectacular as always. There will be something for everyone – whether you are an aviation geek or a maritime enthusiast.

The highlight of the five day event will of course be the daily aerial displays and boat demonstrations.

The list of confirmed participants for the aerial displays this year is as follows:

  1. SU-30 MKM Royal Malaysian Air Force
  2. F/A-18D Royal Malaysian Air Force
  3. Hawk 108/208 Royal Malaysian Air Force
  4. A400M Royal Malaysian Air Force
  5. PC 7 MKII Royal Malaysian Air Force
  6. KT-1B (Jupiter) Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Udara
  7. HAL Dhruvs Indian Air Force (Sarang Aerobatic Team)
  8. KAI – T50B Republic of Korea Air Force(Black Eagle)
  9. Gripen Royal Thai Air Force
  10. Rafale France Air Force
  11. B-1B (Fly Pass) United States Air Force
  12. Airbus 380 (Fly Pass) Malaysia Airlines Berhad (MAB)
  13. Airbus 330 Malaysia Airlines Berhad (MAB)
  14. Super Lynx Royal Malaysian Navy
  15. Fennec Royal Malaysian Navy
  16. CL-415 Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency
  17. Agusta AW 139 Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency
  18. Dauphin AS365 Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency
  19. AS 355 Royal Malaysian Police

Source:  LIMA Exhibition Official Website

As you can see from the line-up above, it looks like a power-packed display this year. It will be exciting to see the Royal Malaysian Air Force birds in action, as well as the Airbus A330 & A380s from Malaysia Airlines. The USAF B-1B Lancer fly past also promises to be an exciting event.

I am also looking forward to seeing the Indian Air Force Sarang Aerobatic Team in action with their brightly coloured HAL Dhruv helicopters. I last saw them in action two years ago at Aero India 2015 in Bangalore, India.

Look forward to more updates soon!

 

 

 

 

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India & France sign the Rafale deal – FINALLY!

After a wait of almost a decade, involving a multi-country and multi-aircraft competition, extensive negotiations, cancellations and re-work, the IAF (Indian Air Force) will get modern fighter aircraft with India & France FINALLY inking the deal for the Dassault Rafale multi-role fighters on Friday, September 23 2016.

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The precursor to the Rafale deal was the MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) competition to supply the IAF with 126 advanced multi-role combat aircraft. The RFP (Request for Proposal) for this deal was released in August 2007 to six bidding aircraft – Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-16, Mikoyan Mig-35 & SAAB Gripen NG. The competition involved extensive trials of the six competing aircraft in a variety of environmental conditions. After an extensive technical evaluation, the IAF announced in April 2011 that it had shortlisted two aircraft – Dassault Rafale & Eurofighter Typhoon. On 31 January 2012 it was announced that Dassault Rafale won the MMRCA competition due to its lower life-cycle cost. Thus began a phase of long and painful negotiations, which involved differences over cost escalations and guarantees by Dassault for aircraft license-built in India.

The negotiations continued for over two years with differences persisting between the two sides. Finally, in April 2015, Indian PM Narendra Modi announced India’s intent to purchase 36 Rafale fighters in a fly-away condition directly from France in a government-to-government agreement. This effectively killed the MMRCA deal, with the Indian defence minister Manohar Parrikar officially making an announcement to this effect. Even then, it took nearly 18 months of negotiations to officially ink the deal!

The Dassault Rafale will be a much needed boost to the IAF’s rapidly declining fighter aircraft strength. With multiple aircraft types like the Mig-21, Mig-27 and Jaguar slated for retirement in the coming years, there is a critical need for inducting modern fighter aircraft into the fleet. The Rafale will be a shot in the arm for the IAF, providing it with a much needed capability boost to tackle the challenges it faces from Pakistan & China.

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Being an “omni-role” aircraft, the Rafale can be easily configured for air-air or air-ground missions. The deal includes the Thales RBE2 AA AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar and weapons systems like the Meteor BVR air-air missile, which has a range of over 150km, and the SCALP air-ground cruise missile with a range of over 300km. This will allow the IAF to engage targets inside enemy territory without crossing its own borders.

The first Rafales will start arriving within 36 months of signing the contract i.e. in the year 2019 and the delivery will be completed within 66 months. The 36 Rafales constitute approx. two squadrons, and will clearly not be enough to plug the declining fighter strength in the IAF. What remains to be seen is whether there will be a follow-on order for more Rafales including possible local assembly/manufacturing or whether the IAF decides to go in for another type.

Dream comes true – The An-225 visits Kuala Lumpur

Dream comes true – The An-225 visits Kuala Lumpur

I had a dream – to see the “dream”. Goofy wordplay aside, the dream was to see the Antonov An-225 “Mriya” (meaning dream or inspiration in Ukranian) at least once. This dream came true, as the big bird landed in Kuala Lumpur yesterday – May 14th 2016.

Powered by six Progress D-18 turbofan engines, the mammoth An-225 was on a trip from Prague, Czech Republic to Perth, Australia, carrying a 117 tonne electrical generator. The trip involved stopovers in Turkmenbashi (KRW), Hyderabad (HYD), and Kuala Lumpur (KUL) before reaching its destination in Australia.

The stopover at KUL was lucky, as the original itinerary involved the big beast stopping over at Jakarta. This was changed later to KUL due to unavailability of slots at Jakarta. The schedule was published by Flightradar 24 a couple of weeks prior to the flight, and we waited with bated breath for the arrival.

The scheduled arrival at KUL was 0800 local time, and I left home early with my seven year old son in order to secure a vantage point to witness the arrival of the Mriya. As I was reaching the spotting location, I saw hundreds of people gathering to see the giant six-engined aircraft that was due to arrive soon. The excitement was palpable, as the spotting community in KUL came together, and waited patiently.

The aircraft could not be seen on Flightradar 24 – our trusted companion for tracking aircraft and their arrival/departure times. We had found out from friends back in Hyderabad that the aircraft had departed at 0140 local time, which meant that it would be arriving approximately at half past eight.

Just before 0800, the Mriya became visible on Flightradar 24, and the atmosphere amongst the waiting spotters became electrified. Folks readied their equipment – double-checking to make sure that the memory cards were inserted and batteries were charged.

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Soon, the familiar shape of the An-225, with its six engines became visible in the distance. The aircraft was approaching rapidly, and appeared to become larger by the second.

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It glided smoothly over the threshold of Runway 32L, and touched down right in front of us, producing a fair bit of smoke from its massive 28 wheel main landing gear.

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A loud cheer went up in the spotting community as the aircraft rolled down the runway, and slowly made its way to its designated parking bay.

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It felt amazing to see the massive six-engined aircraft with its distinctive twin tail. The wings and the horizontal stabilizers are humongous!

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So there it is – the dream to see the one-of-a-kind Antonov An-225 “Mriya” finally came true. Don’t know if I will get an opportunity to see it again…

The Malaysian Queen flies again!

Malaysia Airlines recently decided to bring a Boeing 747-400 back into active service. The 747-400s were retired a couple of years ago when the A380s joined the fleet. The 747 will provide interim heavy lift to the airline while the A380s go through maintenance. The Jumbo is supposed to operate its long haul service to London on two days of the week.

The aircraft that was re-commissioned is registered as 9M-MPP (formerly named as “Putrajaya”) Malaysia Airlines has painted this aircraft in the retro 1970s livery. Many aviation enthusiasts including me were pretty excited when this piece of news broke, and we have been waiting patiently for the Queen to take to the skies.

The big day finally arrived!  The 747-400 was supposed to roll out and get airborne for a test flight at 10AM local time on April 26th 2016. All the local plane spotters and aviation enthusiasts flocked to the Subang airport (where the aircraft was parked) and waited for the aircraft to show up. 10AM came and went, and there was no sign of the Queen. Then we got to know that there was a technical issue with the aircraft, and it was taken back to the hangar. The test flight would have to wait for another day!

The new date for the test flight was two days later – on April 28th at 2PM local time. Again, the enthusiast community came out in full force to view the Queen. This time we hoped that she would show up! At around 2PM, the aircraft showed up on Flightradar24, which meant that the transponders were active.

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The aircraft had been given a callsign – MH5109 for the test flight.

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We were getting impatient, as the aircraft showed no movement. We were hoping that the technical issues had been sorted, and the Queen would finally take to the skies.

Just before 3PM, the 747 finally started taxiing out. We got ready with our cameras to capture this event. Dark rain clouds had gathered over the Subang area, and the light had faded quite a bit. As she made her way to the active runway, we could see streaks of lightning with accompanying thunder all around. It was as if the weather gods were announcing the arrival of the Queen! 🙂

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As she lined up on Runway 15, the heavens opened up! What started off as a slight drizzle, turned into a torrential downpour. We were caught in between – sheltering our cameras from the rain, and craning our necks to catch sight of the Queen. We soon heard the four Pratt & Whitney PW4056 powerplants spool up to take-off power, and a loud cheer went up amongst the waiting plane-spotters. And in the next few seconds, the four engines spooled down, bringing a look of worry on all our faces. The engines spooled up and spooled down once again, before spooling up once more and the aircraft finally started to roll. As soon as the Queen came into view, our cameras went into overdrive, capturing her spraying water all around.

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What a sight it was!

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After a shortish take-off roll, the Queen took to the skies with a grace typical of the 747.

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That’s it – the Malaysian Queen was finally back in the air!

After taking off from Subang, the aircraft turned north and headed out to the Malacca Strait for its tests. The aircraft made multiple circuits at varying altitudes around Penang and the Malacca Strait for nearly three hours before heading back south to Kuala Lumpur. The aircraft was supposed to land at KLIA (KUL) at around 6PM local time.

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We reached there well in time for the arrival, and hoped that the rain gods would keep away this time. At exactly 6PM, the familiar shape of a 747 on approach became visible on the horizon. The Queen touched down with a puff of smoke on Runway 32L and deployed her reversers briefly.

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As she rolled out, we got another view of the beautiful curves of the Queen of the skies…

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Test flight complete, the aircraft was parked at the cargo apron, next to her cargo cousins. We hoped all had gone as per plan, and the 747 was fit to fly once again.

Some not so good news emerged one day later, as the website Airlineroute.net reported that Malaysia Airlines had shelved plans to operate the 747-400 on the Kuala Lumpur – London route for the month of June. As of now, the reasons for this change are not known.

We only hope that all issues are sorted out, and the Queen takes to the skies soon!

ANA retires its Boeing 737-700ERs

Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA) has retired its mini fleet of Boeing 737-700ERs. The long range 737-700ERs equipped with additional fuel tanks used to ply daily on the Tokyo Narita – Mumbai route till March 26th 2016. ANA started deploying the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner to Mumbai starting March 27th 2016.

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ANA had two 737-700 ERs in its fleet – JA10AN & JA13AN. These aircraft were used to launch and operate the “ANA Business Jet” service to cater to premium business traffic. One of the aircraft (JA13AN) was configured in an all business-class 38 seat configuration whereas the other (JA10AN) was configured in a 44 seat business-class + premium economy configuration. On the west bound leg from NRT to BOM, the 737-700ERs had to make a fuel stop at Nagasaki occasionally, depending on wind conditions. However, the east bound leg was non-stop.

The aircraft were also painted in a special “ANA Business Jet” livery to distinguish them from the regular ANA aircraft. One of them was later re-painted in the standard ANA livery.

Both the aircraft are reported to be stored w.e.f. March 27th, 2016.

Cathay Pacific’s new livery

Cathay Pacific Airlines has recently revised its livery that had been in existence since the early/mid 1990s. The existing livery featuring the distinctive “brushwing” design on the tail and aft of the flight deck windows has been an icon.

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The new livery is a refreshed, simplified version of the existing livery that has served the airline well. The darker green patch situated aft of the flight deck windows has given way to a uniform light green band that stretches across the fuselage. The tail is now painted entirely in a dark green colour with a larger “brushwing” design painted in white.

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B-LIB is the second Cathay Pacific Cargo aircraft to be painted in the new livery.

 

A Tour of the Bombardier CSeries.

Bombardier Aerospace had displayed its C Series CS100 aircraft at the Singapore Airshow 2016. The CS100 is one of two narrow-body twin-engine medium range aircraft currently being developed by Bombardier. It is the smaller of the two (the other being the CS300) and fits roughly in the same category as the Embraer E195.

Bombardier were kind enough to give me a tour of the aircraft, and were patient enough to answer all of my enthusiastic questions.

Let me take you on a tour of the spanking new Bombardier CS100…

THE EXTERIOR

The aircraft on display at the Singapore Airshow was an “Experimental” aircraft, fitted with test equipment but was painted in the Swiss International Airlines livery.

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It bore a Canadian registration however…

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The CS100 is powered by two Pratt & Whitney PurePower® PW1500G geared turbofan engines, each capable of producing up to 23,000 lb of thrust. Featuring one of the highest by-pass ratios (12:1) of any turbofan engine in the world, these engines have low noise and emissions and deliver lower fuel burn figures.

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The Bombardier CSeries aircraft also feature an all-electric braking system called Ebrake® made by Meggitt Aircraft Braking Systems. Electric braking provides fully integrated brake control and anti-skid protection including emergency and parking brake functions by combining brake-by-wire control technology with electro-mechanical brake actuation. The system is supposed to provide improved braking control in both normal and emergency operating modes as compared to hydraulically actuated brakes.

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THE INTERIOR

As mentioned earlier, the CS100 is a narrow-body twin-engine medium range aircraft with a seating capacity of 108 to 120 passengers in a typical dual or single class cabin respectively.

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The Business Class cabin features 2X2 seating, whereas the Economy Class cabin features 2X3 seating. In Economy Class, the seat pitch can be configured between 30 & 34 inches depending on airline requirements. The CSeries aircraft also feature large windows – 11X16 inches, bringing in more natural light and giving the passengers a wider view of the outside world.

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Stuck in the middle seat? The CSeries aircraft features the widest middle seats in Economy Class at 19inches, compared to 17inches and 18 inches in comparable Boeing & Airbus aircraft.

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The CSeries cabin is equipped with large pivoted overhead bins, allowing passengers to easily store their carry-on bags. The bins open lower, making it easier for passengers and crew to store and retrieve baggage.

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Heading upfront, I got a chance to visit the flight deck of the CS100. The CSeries aircraft have a state-of-the-art flight deck equipped with large LCD displays. These aircraft have side-stick operated fly-by-wire systems with full envelope protection and speed stabilisation.

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As is becoming the norm these days, the CSeries aircraft have HUD visors displaying information such as altitude, heading, airspeed, etc. Airlines can choose if they want to equip their aircraft with either one or two of these displays.

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CONCLUSION

The CSeries aircraft promise to be extremely efficient and versatile aircraft, and fill a niche between the smaller regional turboprop aircraft and the larger conventional narrow-body aircraft. These aircraft, with the use of advanced composite materials in their construction and technologies such as the quieter and more fuel-efficient PW1500G geared turbofan engines, all-electric braking, etc. will provide superior operating economics as compared to existing aircraft.

These will be useful in regional and even cross-country routes given a typical range of 3100NM/3300NM (5741km/6112km) for the CS100/CS300, especially in large countries like the US, Canada, China, India and regions such as Europe. The CSeries aircraft will allow airlines to start short/medium haul routes without worrying about filling 150-200 seats.

Hope to see the CS100 & CS300 enter service soon, and become a serious competition in the medium range narrow-body market that is currently dominated by Airbus & Boeing.

Last but not the least, a big THANK YOU to the Bombardier team at the Singapore Airshow for a fantastic tour of the CS100.