2 B2 or not 2 B2

Whilst most of the UK were running around chasing B-52s and B-2s that were flying out of Fairford, more on which later, the USAF and USN over in the States were preparing for yet another large combined exercise involving multiple assets, including more B-52s and B-2s, as well as E-6s and KC-135s

Early heads up that something was going to take place was given when various airspace reservations were spotted by “Magnum” on the USAFs own NOTAM website. This was re-enforced when four KC-135s were positioned in Nova Scotia on the 10th of June

Sure enough, as predicted, on the afternoon of the 11th 11175kHz of the HF-GCS network started to come alive with calls from various assets involved in the exercise

I was preoccupied for the first few hours, but plenty of calls were coming through and picked up by the small group of us that regularly follow these missions. A couple of us do live in the USA so follow the action with their own gear, but in the majority Live ATC is a necessity for us in Europe; that is until a bit later and conditions let us follow the aircraft that are the furthest east

At around 1830z a long EAM (Emergency Action Message) of 147 characters was sent by GOALPOST, an E-6B operating over the USA:

1833z GOALPOST ET75CD – BP7BPFFJAT5QBNJDRENN662OQ47RN4OZZ55XIWU6ISZCG3GSMKMCSSUCND6I4W
WTTIRR5HJOPVAZ4FEBITCJ655OOORV4HJZ4PCXX662GSQTWM6JWFKH677GKTTNIH
FLFWHVGGIG2V62K

This is significantly longer than the standard EAMs of 30 characters, and this EAM was repeated on quite few occasions over the next hour or so

By 1900z the callsign tally was quite large:
SPURxx KC135s
NARESxx KC135s
RIPPERxx B52s
BEAKxx B2s
ALOE VERA E6
GOALPOST E6
ROUNDHAT E6
FIREDOME E6

The operating areas of these flights had been pretty much worked out by those monitoring too, but I’ll leave those out except for one portion a bit later on

The sheer number of messages, such as the 4 group status messages used by the B2s in previous missions I’ve mentioned, and EAMs were overwhelming. There were so many they were stepping all over each other making it nigh on impossible to make them all out. It does make you wonder just how things would pan out should this all happen for real

Saying that though, the Russian CW networks I also listen too aren’t any better and do exactly the same thing.

I joined the action properly at around 2130z when I got a SkyKing message using my WinRadio Excalibur on 11175kHz. With the way the bandwidth was set up with the Excalibur I could see that Gander on 11279kHz was coming in strong which gave me hope that conditions would be good enough to pick some of the exercise up on 11175. I decided to set one of the other channels available on Gander as it’s always interesting listening to them sometimes

As it was, whilst monitoring 11175, I saw a really strong signal come in on Gander so I changed channels quickly and heard what I thought was SPEED20 calling with a position report. There was a distinct burn to the background call which showed it as a military flight.

A quick check through my old notes showed SPEED as a 97AMW callsign so I thought this would be one of the tankers. But, one of the US monitors then said he’d not heard a tanker using SPEED before, which made me doubt the call. Magnum then queried whether it may have been BEAK20 so I waited until the next position report about 20 mins later to confirm. It was indeed BEAK20, probably a B-2A from Whiteman AFB. The two B-2s were not that far from the boundary between Gander and Shanwick, and were now heading south

Route over the Atlantic by BEAK20/21

Route over the Atlantic by BEAK20/21

A bit of further delving through my old bits of papers that I call logs showed that I’d written down SPEED as a 97BW callsign in the early 90s. I’d tie this down to the fact that the 97th flew B-52s to Fairford for Desert Storm, and I visited the base then on a few occasions whilst stationed at Lyneham. Obviously, when the 97th transitioned to their new role of transports and tankers from Altus AFB, I’d just copied over the callsigns

As I’d not picked up much on 11175 on my own gear I decided to make Gander my primary on the Excalibur with 11175 on channel 2, along with 11175 on my Icom IC-R8500; and just to top that off, have Live ATC going on the PC too. It takes a lot of effort to listen to all this at once especially when there’s a time lag through Live ATC; it makes logging it all very difficult – I still feel like I’m cheating when listening to alive ATC too

Another position report followed with Gander telling BEAK20 to switch to 8891 as the new primary frequency. I followed them over as I was getting a good plot of their route using Skyvector. Again, with the bandwidth setup that I use on the Excalibur I was able to see other surrounding frequencies, and I noted that the Russian network on 8847kHz was also very busy. A quick listen showed these to be transports, but I was busy elsewhere so dumped the freq

I followed BEAK20 back to the Canadian domestic airspace at waypoint ELSIR, but before that at 2350z he asked Gander if they could go off frequency at midnight Zulu to monitor 11175 for approx 10 minutes. Gander said standby but never did get back to them, well not that I heard

At 0010z a new EAM was sent, this time by new callsign and an E-6B, OUTCROP. The Pool callsigns for the E-6s always change at midnight Zulu, so we were to expect a few new ones in the next half an hour or so, another one being LEGALITY.

With BEAK20 pretty much being back on Canadian domestic I was back to 11175 on the Excalibur and OUTCROP was quite clearly audible on it, whilst LEGALITY wasn’t.

Things had really started picking up again, with lots of stepped on calls again as everyone came back up on frequency, a pattern that is common with these – busy (all checking in) – quiet (flying the mission) – busy (checking back in). A couple of new callsigns also followed along with new groups of EAMs

This continued on for the next few hours, with myself calling it a day around 0130z when it had mostly died down. The final callsign list for the night was:

SPURxx KC135s
NARESxx KC135s
RIPPERxx B52s
BEAKxx B2s
ALOE VERA E6
GOALPOST E6
ROUNDHAT E6
FIREDOME E6
AMBAY B52
BURNTxx ?
GLUExx ?
AREA ?
HALLxx ?
SUMACxx KC135s
HISTO possibly B52s
MESSHALL E6
INSUREABLE E6
OUTCROP E6
LEGALITY E6

The last group of E6s were the same ones as earlier but have the midnight callsign change

Interestingly, a new NOTAM has been published that covers at least the next week, and the same airspace as used for this exercise. Is this to be a bigger and better one?

UK B-2s and B-52s

As I mentioned earlier, 2 B-2s and 3 B-52s have deployed to the UK for two exercises; SaberStrike for the B-52s and a FAMEX(Familiarisation Exercise) for the B-2s. They have caused nothing but what I would call a “boy band” over excitement from the UK aviation enthusiasts (of which I am one, though I’ve not got that excited)

It is great to see them over here again, and I did manage a glimpse of two B-52s as they left the Turnberry VOR tracking NW, but the commotion and excitement they have caused is amazing. Maybe I got too used to them 20 years ago (the B-52s) and I’ve seen a few B-2s in the USA so maybe I’ve been nulled by that.

As I live a good 300 miles away from Fairford, and with a holiday during the same period, I was never really going to see them, but I thought the radio may be a bit interesting. In the end it wasn’t. Daily round-robin tours of the UK for training purposes gave mainly route information. The B-2s tended to fly as singletons, but the B-52s did fly in pairs so there was some inter-plane chat between them – at the time of going on holiday this was on
226.875MHz and 300.125MHz

One of the routes flown as plotted by Chris Globe

One of the routes flown as plotted by Chris Globe

With the flights there seemed to be a regular pattern of one in the morning, one in the afternoon (of both types); and after a while it was noticeable that they used the same waypoints or FRDs (fix/radial/distance) but maybe in a different order. After two days, once they were used to being here, air to air refuelling also was incorporated into the missions with 100ARW from RAF Mildenhall

Callsigns used for the UK flights were:

EXULT11-13 B-52s on the 7th for flights from USA to Fairford
CORE11/12 B-52 UK flights
DOOM11/12 B-52 UK flights
DOOM20 B-52 UK flights
DEATH11/12 B-2 for flights from USA to Fairford
SPIRIT01/02 B-2UK flights
SPIRIT11 B-2 UK flights
ICOSA11/12 B-2 flight to Ascension

At the time of this blog the B-52s are yet to take part in Exercise SaberStrike except for one fly past at the beginning of the exercise

As I’ve said, I went away on holiday so missed some of it, but on the 11th the B-2s made a trip to Ascension Island (where I was posted to in the 90s) as ICOSA11/12 flight and they were monitored again by the small group of us. They were met by four to six KC135s that flew from Lajes in the Azores. This was part of an Out-of-Area operation to prove they can carry out Global Power flights outside of operating from Whiteman AFB

Although I believe they were due to land at Ascension, they didn’t and they returned to Fairford that night following a very long mission

Let’s hope these exercises are repeated next year, and maybe I’ll be able to head down to Fairford to see them

Logs from CONUS exercise:

10/6/14

11175[LATC]

1833z GOALPOST ET75CD – BP7BPFFJAT5QBNJDRENN662OQ47RN4OZZ55XIWU6ISZCG3GSMKMCSSUCND6I4W
WTTIRR5HJOPVAZ4FEBITCJ655OOORV4HJZ4PCXX662GSQTWM6JWFKH677GKTTNIH
FLFWHVGGIG2V62K

1842z NARES42 calls SkyMaster, no response

11175

2128z SkyKing PP3 T28 Auth RJ

Gander 11279

2220z BEAK20 (B-2A)
5442N 38W @ 2200 FL250
Est 5448N 3338W @ 2220
5245N 3339W next

2225z BEAK20
5448N 3338W @ 2220
Est 5245N 3339W @2238
5012N 3340W next
asked by Gander to do a radio check on 8891, then told that this was the new primary. 5616 is back up

Gander 8891

2240z BEAK20
5245N 3339W @ 2239 FL250
est 5012N 3340W @ 2301
5018N 38W next

2300z BEAK20
5012N 3340W @ 2259 FL250
est 5018N 38W @ 2324
5015N 42W next, Req FL280 (approved at 2304)

2323z BEAK20
5018N 38W @ 2324 (note being sent before this time) FL280
est 5015N 42W @ 2342
5007N 45W next

2345z BEAK20
5015N 42W @ 2342 FL280
est 5007N 45W @ 2359
50N 50W next

2351z beak20 Requesting to go off freq at midnight to monitor 11175

11/6/14

Gander 8891

0002z BEAK20
5007N 45W @ 2359 FL280
est 50N 50W @ 0023
ELSIR next

At 50W call Gander on 122.375

11175

0010z OUTCROP GHTYMC – ZFFA2APJV2XXC7NNWS5DMNLK

0012z OUTCROP GH3GMH – 36QUIMUTJSLUWLFD6MQ23DJJ

0015 BEAK21 1msg 4grps TL5T

11175[LATC]

0020z SPUR44 1 msg 4 grps 1YCK

0030z LEGALITY GHTYMC – ZFFA2APJV2XXC7NNWS5DMNLK

0032z LEGALITY GH3GMH – 36QUIMUTJSLUWLFD6MQ23DJJ

0035z HALL33 1msg 4grps KIW2

0039z SPUR23 calling

11175

0040z OUTCROP GHTYMC – ZFFA2APJV2XXC7NNWS5DMNLK

0042z OUTCROP GH3GMH – 36QUIMUTJSLUWLFD6MQ23DJJ

11175[LATC]

0045z SUMAC24 1msg 4grps TPUW

0054z GH342C – RXS6IC2H46TKBC4E2UOLRSOF

11175

0055z OUTCROP GH342C – RXS6IC2H46TKBC4E2UOLRSOF

11175[LATC]

0100z LEGALITY GH342C – RXS6IC2H46TKBC4E2UOLRSOF

0102z LEGALITY GHTYMC – ZFFA2APJV2XXC7NNWS5DMNLK

0105z LEGALITY GH3GMH – 36QUIMUTJSLUWLFD6MQ23DJJ

0107z BEAK20 1msg 4grps HG2W

0109z DOOM92 with REDRIVER radio check

11175

0116z BURNT15 1msg 4grps 6SX6 (only OUTCROP heard)

0120Z SUMAC42 1msg 4grps YUWI (only OUTCROP heard)

All information, callsigns and data has no connection to my employers and is obtained from my own radio logs, personal knowledge and public information

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Global Lightning

On the night of the 14th into the morning of the 15th of May there was another exercise involving B-2A bombers transitting the Atlantic and returning to the USA following an Air to Air refuel with two KC-135Rs from Mildenhall. Also involved again was an E-6B operating out of Stuttgart

I’ve covered this type of operation previously in this blog which goes into detail how things happen, and this can be found here to recap on

There were two changes to the usual though. Firstly, the B-2 status messages (made every 15 minutes) had a slight word change, using “items” instead of “groups”; and secondly, and more significant was where the E-6 operated.

There had been the usual NOTAM in adavnce of this exercise which had the standard operating area of the E-6 out over the Atlantic, and this is where it was expected to transit to. E6However, on getting airborne it went NE from Stuttgart and settled over an area near Rostock in Germany. Whether this was some sort of show to Moscow, I guess we’ll never know but it does seem likely, especially with the Baltic Fleet homeport at Baltyisk not too far away

Anyway, on to the the log for the night.

Main Callsigns involved:
FOWL11/12 = 2 B-2A
MERCATOR = E-6B likely to be the one over Rostok
SALESMAN = E-6B Rostock E-6B, callsign change at midnight Zulu
NORMANDY = E-6B LANT/CONUS flight
CALAMINE = E-6B LANT/CONUS flight, callsign change at midnight Zulu
QUID90/91 = KC-135R flight from Mildenhall

All other calls from MainSail unless otherwise stated

11175[on Live ATC]

1647z STRATEGY with request to Mainsail

1648z ETHAN28 with radio check

8992//11175

1649z E5?A4V – 7YYN5V6ELWGTVYI5A6IOIPHN

1652z E52H7M – DMIEN43X755F6GUQG4JGRDQM

1705z E5RLUL – IID5YROAFQ5 OKGYOM7NQ7B4N

11175

1903z Diego Garcia with test count

2105z FOWL12 calls SkyMaster with 1 Msg 4 groups V3JM

2107z SkyKing BTL T07 Auth 00

2112z SkyKing 6OL T12 Auth FM

2120z FOWL11 to SkyMaster 1msg 4items 9J93

2130z MERCATOR standing by for traffic

5598 – Santa Maria Oceanic

2134z FOWL11 flight
44N30W @ 2133
Est 44N2230W @ 2208
44N22W next

2135z FOWL11 to route 44N22W after 44N2230W

2150z FOWL flight to route KOPAS 36N13W 36N18W 33N20W from Santa Maria

11175

2150z FOWL11 1msg 4items 6JPN

5598 – Santa Maria Oceanic

2154z QUID90 calls for 44N22W ALTRV clearance

2159z clearance approved

2217z FOWL11 flight
44N22W @ 2217 block 260/270
Est 44N13W @ 2325
36N18W next

2220z QUID90 flight
44N22W @2219z Block 280/290
est 44N20W @ 2321z
44N15W next
In contact with FOWL flight, req MARSA and block 260/290 for refuel

2228z Quid90 informs SM they will be off HF for 30 mins for refuel

11175

2230z MERCATOR standing by for traffic

2202z MERCATOR calls Mainsail for r/c

2205z FOWL12 1msg 4items MG52

2210z NORMANDY standing by for traffic (very weak – TACLANT)

2220z FOWL11 1msg 4items 7FR7

2230z MERCATOR standing by for traffic

2240z NORMANDY standing by for traffic (very weak – TACLANT)

5598 – Santa Maria Oceanic

2249z Quid90 flight
44N20W @ 2233
est 44N15W @ 2310
44N13W next
block 260/290

11175

2250z FOWL11 1msg 4 items VKGT
FOWL12 1msg 4items U1VO

2257z SPAR781 calls Mainsail for r/c

2300z MERCATOR standing by for traffic

2300z RCH155 calls Andrews for r/c

2305z FOWL12 1msg 4items 06T6

5598 – Santa Maria Oceanic

2305z SM is asking FOWL11 for its route after KOPAS:
44N13W
36N13W
36N18W

11175

2310z NORMANDY standing by for traffic

5598 – Santa Maria Oceanic

2313z Quid90 calls SM, refuel complete, est KOPAS 2321
SM asks Quid90 to confirm Quid91 eta for KOPAS. Has to explain to SM that they are all together and will get there at the same time!!

11175

2320z FOWL11 1msg 4items SS7U

5598 – Santa Maria Oceanic

2323z Quid90 flight
KOPAS @ 2322 FL280/290
Est TAKAS 2331
ETIKI next

SM gives reroute KOPAS dct REGHI FPL route

11175

2324z FOWL12 calls SkyMaster for any Message traffic
No message tfc at this time

2330z MERCATOR standing by for traffic

2335z FOWL12 1msg 4items 1Q4K

2346z E5GSHU – IP5T2TGZKSU7LXXPS73B22LG

2353z E5GSHU – IP5T2TGZKSU7LXXPS73B22LG (possibly FOWL in background)

2359z E5GSHU – IP5T2TGZKSU7LXXPS73B22LG

0006z FOWL12 1msg 4items RFKR

0007z CALAMINE standing by for traffic

0009z SALESMAN sends E5GSHU – IP5T2TGZKSU7LXXPS73B22LG

0012z SALESMAN standing by for traffic

0027z TINHORN calls Mainsail for systems test

0030z E5GSHU – IP5T2TGZKSU7LXXPS73B22LG

0036z FOWL12 1 msg 4items E0TH

0039z Open mike from one of the E6s

0040z SALESMAN sends E5GSHU – IP5T2TGZKSU7LXXPS73B22LG

0041z SALESMAN standing by for traffic

0049z FOWL11 1msg 4items AILK

0059z E5GSHU – IP5T2TGZKSU7LXXPS73B22LG

0104z FOWL12 1msg 4items P8UE

0111z E56QA3 – 4IKTV2HPK44KY7O5NBJTOY7K

0114z SALESMAN sends E5GSHU – IP5T2TGZKSU7LXXPS73B22LG (lots of background noise)

0117z SALESMAN sends E56QA3 – 4IKTV2HPK44KY7O5NBJTOY7K (but on first transmission after preambles, starts at TV2H etc)

0119z FOWL11 1msg 4items OO1C

0129z E56QA3 – 4IKTV2HPK44KY7O5NBJTOY7K

0134z FOWL12 1msg 4items IUB6 – disregard – 3Y16

0140z SALESMAN sends E56QA3 – 4IKTV2HPK44KY7O5NBJTOY7K, more follows standby
E5GSHU – IP5T2TGZKSU7LXXPS73B22LG

0150z FOWL11 1msg 4items H5ZX

0159z E56QA3 – 4IKTV2HPK44KY7O5NBJTOY7K

0206z FOWL12 1msg 4items IUBI

0219z FOWL11 1msg 4items XNB1

0229z 0159z E56QA3 – 4IKTV2HPK44KY7O5NBJTOY7K

0235z FOWL12 1msg 4items K5GT

0240z SALESMAN sends E56QA3 – 4IKTV2HPK44KY7O5NBJTOY7K, more follows standby
E5GSHU – IP5T2TGZKSU7LXXPS73B22LG

0249z FOWL11 1msg 4items DABJ

0259z E56QA3 – 4IKTV2HPK44KY7O5NBJTOY7K

0304z E56OYP – D7Y5WI4F7XKJMBBCV7BNVAG6

0309z SALESMAN sends E56OYP – D7Y5WI4F7XKJMBBCV7BNVAG6, more follows standby
E56QA3 – 4IKTV2HPK44KY7O5NBJTOY7K, more follows standby
E5GSHU – IP5T2TGZKSU7LXXPS73B22LG

0326z SALESMAN standing by for traffic

0329z 0304z E56OYP – D7Y5WI4F7XKJMBBCV7BNVAG6

0339z SALESMAN sends E56OYP – D7Y5WI4F7XKJMBBCV7BNVAG6 (background calls of SKYMASTER to other station)

0353z SkyKing PFF T53 Auth DS

No further calls were received after this. Another busy night, shame there’s not more of them

All information, callsigns and data has no connection to my employers and is obtained from my own radio logs, personal knowledge and public information

Spirit Mission

On Sunday September 8th 2013, an E-6B, registration 164387, arrived at Stuttgart Airport in Germany, as usual being caught on the airports webcam as it arrived. Usually when an E6 arrives at Stuttgart they are parked over the far side of the airport and are normally visible on webcam 1. This time however it was parked out of sight of all the airport webcams

164387

164387 at Stuttgart on September 9th. Photo taken by Lutz Herzog

It was soon noticed by a fellow radio monitor that there was a NOTAM published for the following week for an airspace reservation which tied in with an E6’s operating profile. In fact, almost the same area had been used before by an E6B involved in other high profile missions by the US Military.

The NOTAM was readily available on National Aviation websites providing warnings to pilots

G0618/13 – AIRSPACE RESERVATION
AREA:4830N01400W – 46N014W – 46N010W – 4830N01000W – 4830N01400W
THE FOLLOWING SEPARATION WILL BE PROVIDED WITHIN OCEANIC AIRSPACE:
MNPS 30NM, NON-MNPS 60NM. 1000FT AMSL – FL250, 10 SEP 10:00 2013 UNTIL 10 SEP 18:00 2013. CREATED: 04 SEP 12:35 2013

G0617/13 – AIRSPACE RESERVATION
AREA: 4830N01400W – 46N014W – 46N010W – 4830N01000W – 4830N01400W
THE FOLLOWING SEPARATION WILL BE PROVIDED WITHIN OCEANIC AIRSPACE:
MNPS 30NM, NON-MNPS 60NM. 1000FT AMSL – FL250, 09 SEP 10:00 2013 UNTIL 09 SEP 18:00 2013. CREATED: 04 SEP 12:27 2013

G0616/13 – AIRSPACE RESERVATION
AREA: 4830N01400W – 46N014W – 46N010W – 4830N01000W – 4830N01400W
THE FOLLOWING SEPARATION WILL BE PROVIDED WITHIN OCEANIC AIRSPACE:
MNPS 30NM, NON-MNPS 60NM. 1000FT AMSL – FL250, 13 SEP 09:00 2013 UNTIL 13 SEP 20:00 2013. CREATED: 04 SEP 12:23 2013

There was one anomaly to this NOTAM which initially made me think it wasn’t anything to do with E6 operations and that was the height limits, which were slightly different to normal. These would normally be from the surface to FL260 (SFC – FL260). I’ll explain a little about E6’s to show why

E-6B Mercury – TACAMO
Operated by the US Navy, the E-6 carries out the TACAMO role for the US Military, the airframe is based on the Boeing B707, with a modern day glass cockpit, Avionics and Turbofan engines. The aircraft has systems and an airframe which have been hardened to EMP from Nuclear weapons. The endurance is substantial, with an unrefuelled duration of 10hrs 30mins, all the way up to 72 hours with multiple Air to Air refuels; only being penalised by the engines requiring oil after this time. There are 16 aircraft in the fleet.

TACAMO stands for “Take Charge and Move out”, and was originally a mission that uses VLF to transmit messages to the US Ballistic Missile fleet of Submarines (SSBN) from the National Command Authority. As well as this mission, with the upgrade from the E-6A to E-6B, the fleet took over the roll of AirBorne National Command Post (ABNCP) or “Looking Glass” from EC-135 aircraft in 1998. This gave the aircraft the ability to Command and Control land-based missiles and nuclear-armed bombers, as well as the Submarine fleet. Now the primary mission is to receive, verify and retransmit Emergency Action Messages (EAMs) to US strategic forces by communicating on nearly every radio frequency band. The aircraft can “talk” to every element involved with a potential Nuclear war, from ground forces all the way up to E-4B AABNCP and Presidential VC-25 (Air Force 1) aircraft.

To communicate with the SSBN fleet the aircraft use VLF (Very Low Frequency) using a Long Trailing Wire Antenna which is reeled from the centre fuselage through an opening in the cabin floor. The length of this wire is 26,000ft and is weighed down at the end.

And this is where the height in the NOTAM comes into play. To achieve the communication with the Submarines the aircraft flies in a very tight orbit at 26,000ft, which stalls the wire making it fall almost vertical. A 70% vertical fall is required to effectively communicate with a submerged SSBN

With the NOTAM quoting 1000ft AMSL to FL250 this showed that the area wasn’t to be used for communicating with any SSBNs that may be in the area. The dates were also strange, with the area not being active on the 11th and 12th, but back on the 13th. So what else could it have been for?

Syria

Lets rewind a bit. On the 21st August the Syrian Regime used Sarin gas against its own population during the on going civil war there. This effectively meant they had crossed the “red line” Barack Obama has set in place that would mean repercussions from the US. This immediately started a build up of US forces in the area, with a large fleet of ships arriving in the Mediterranean very quickly after, giving an estimated 250 Cruise Missiles available to strike Syria. Aircraft movements through Europe increased also, including the E-6B.

As I said earlier, the E-6B had possibly been used in previous military actions including the mission against Osama Bin Laden. In this case it was used as a forward communication platform or as it’s officially known AirBorne National Command Post (ABNCP). The day after it had arrived in Stuttgart, the E-6B got airborne using the ATC callsign “RAZZ02” and headed NW towards the UK where it did a large orbit of the country before returning to Stuttgart. On HF it was using the callsign TIME OUT, and I picked it up early on at home on USB 8992kHz at 0747z. The HF side of things is carried out by the Command staff at the “backend” of the aircraft, whilst the ATC part is done by the cockpit flight crew

E-6B transiting home on the 15th September

E-6B transiting home on the 15th September

The flight lasted most of the morning and involved various calls to Mainsail (the US HF-GCS network , operated from Andrews Air Force base using remotely controlled sites around the world) and Sigonella Naval Air Station (also part of the HF-GCS network). This was almost the same profile as used before

Amazingly, the E-6Bs can be tracked using online aircraft tracking programs like Planefinder. I don’t think this is a mistake as the whole fleet use Mode-S IFF transponders. I believe they purposefully send out this information so that the “World” can see they are out there and are available 24hrs a day, 365 days a year

It was during this flight I suddenly realised why the 11th and 12th had no airspace reservation. It would be the anniversary of 9/11 and possibly not the best day for US forces to make a strike against Syria – it would only give Syria propaganda that the attacks on them were in revenge for 9/11. With the time differences, the 12th GMT would still be the 11th is the USA (well for part of it) so this gave a potential strike day of the 13th.

On the 10th the E-6B didn’t fly. And negotiations had started between the USA and Syria, with Russia as an intermediate who had advised Assad to give up all his chemical weapons to avoid the strikes

60-0337 | Boeing KC-135T Stratotanker | USAF - United States Air Force

60-0337 arrives at Mildenhall. Photo by Chris Globe

The E-6B was up again on the 11th doing the same profile whilst 2 KC-135Rs arrived at Mildenhall using callsigns SPUR57 and SPUR58. These were aircraft 58-0069 and 60-0337. The SPUR callsign is quite often used for special flight refuels which made it look like it was going to be an airborne mission of some sort on the 13th. It was looking like it was going to be a B-2A day and I was on a day off

Getting into the Spirit of things

At 0806z it was reported by another radio monitor that 2 B-2As had just refuelled in the USA. The callsigns of the B-2s were HAMAL11 and HAMAL12. They were on their way. But was it to be a wasted journey?

B-2A taking off at Nellis AFB during a Red Flag exercise in March 2012. Copyright Tony Roper

It looked like it was going to be, as the USA had agreed to the terms suggested by Russia that Syria hand over all their chemical weapons to stop an attack on their military.

It wasn’t long before further confirmation came through that the flight would not be a strike on Syria, but just a “round robin” flight back to the USA. The route would take them east to a waypoint called KOPAS, off the NW coast of Portugal by about 210 miles, to then track south to 36N13W and then back west.

Route of HAMAL flight

Route of HAMAL flight

The full routing was caught by another radio monitor and then plotted by our “Global Strike” expert, Rich

The E-6B was airborne from Stuttgart just before 0900z and was trackable using Planefinder as usual. It was again using RAZZ02 as the ATC callsign, with the backend using AUDIO KIT. At 0906z the KC-135R refuellers for the B-2s got airborne, using callsigns SPUR57 and SPUR58

I was yet to hear anything from any of the aircraft involved. The HF-GCS network frequencies were very quiet. The usual primaries 8992kHz and 11175kHz were dead. And there was nothing on 6761kHz, the frequency used by tankers to call the receiving aircraft long distance

The E-6B and KC-135Rs routed via VLN and LND before heading down to their relevant points for the mission. Others were starting to get faint transmissions on 11175kHz from AUDIO KIT whilst I was still getting nothing. I was starting to think I was going to have to do some DIY instead

At 1043z, one of the monitors picked up HAMAL flight talking to Santa Maria Oceanic control, whilst another caught SPUR flight in contact with Shanwick on 6622. Half an hour later, after hearing nothing from anything I decided to give up and do the DIY I’d been putting off all morning.

With the constant messaging coming through on the forum about the flights and what was being picked up I decided to stick with it, and finally at 1330z I picked up AUDIO KIT on 11175kHz. What follows is my complete log from then:

Callsigns:
Audio Kit = E6B
HAMAL11/12 = B2A

1330z Audio Kit standing by for traffic

1333z Mainsail – SkyKing JE3 T33 Auth NV

1335z HAMAL11 this is Audio Kit in receipt message, 1 gp, CF9Q

1342z Audio Kit with EAM – FVFWJL

1404z Audio Kit Standing-by for traffic (repeats)

1405z HAMAL12 this is Audio Kit in receipt message, 1 gp, ERTC

1430z Audio Kit with EAM – FVFWJL

1449z HAMAL12 calls Lajes Control, who replies simulated destroyed

1459z HAMAL11 flight, this is Audio Kit. Stand-by for high precedence traffic

1500z Audio Kit with EAM – FVFWJL

1513z Skymaster this is HAMAL12 with message, 7RRP
HAMAL12 this is Audio Kit in receipt message, 1 gp, 7RRP

1520z HAMAL12 this is Audio Kit in receipt message, 1 gp, QDLC
HAMAL12, Audio Kit, we did not receive message AZZ4

1521z HAMAL12, Audio KIt. Message AZZ4, has this been transmitted already?

1530z Audio Kit with EAM – FVFWJL

1534z HAMAL12 this is Audio Kit in receipt message, 1 gp, 65I9

1550z HAMAL11 this is Audio Kit in receipt message, 1 gp, KBKL

1600z Audio Kit with EAM – FVFWJL

1605z Skymaster this is HAMAL12 with message, 1 gp, 44LF
HAMAL12 this is Audio Kit in receipt message, 1 gp, 44LF

1620z HAMAL11 this is Audio Kit in receipt message, 1 gp, HMOL

1629z SkyKing UTL T28 Auth WU

1635z Audio Kit in receipt message, 1 gp, KQ5T. Confirm callsign? (stepped on….)
Mainsail – SkyKing QBR T35 BC

1637z HAMAL11 this is Audio Kit, copy all

1657z HAMAL11 this is Audio Kit in receipt message, 1 gp, IL4M

1659z HAMAL11 this is Audio Kit. Have you weak and broken. Were you asking for the message sent at 1530z?

1700z HAMAL11, message was FVFWJL and no longer in queue

1705z HAMAL12 this is Audio Kit in receipt message, 1 gp, 3IMV

You may notice that the group messages from the B-2As were occurring every 15 minutes or so. Rich said that these were probably position reports as they coincided with the normal cruising speed of a B-2A travelling 3 degrees Longitude. I agreed with him as there was one call that had been missed out that AUDIO KIT was expecting

An hour or so later and things had died down to the occasional call from AUDIO KIT. And it was time to give up for the day

It had been a very interesting few days with the 13th being the most interesting. The whole thing has reawakened my interest in the USAF HF-GCS network as it has, in my eyes, got fairly boring, with just EAM messages. If it was a bit more like this I’d definitely be there more often

And it was a lot more fun than DIY

All information, callsigns and data has no connection to my employers and is obtained from my own radio logs, personal knowledge and public information

Further references:
E-6B Mercury overview
E-6B short video
TACAMO on Wikipedia
EAM on Wikipedia
E-6B on Wikipedia
Jane’s All the Worlds Aircraft
Jane’s Aircraft Upgrades