After confirming its existence back in September 2018, Aston Martin is teasing its upcoming Project '003' once again. To recap, the mid-engined hybrid hypercar will drop in late 2021, after the Valkyrie and Valkyrie AMR Pro (hence the 003 designations). It'll feature technology trickled down directly from the Valkyrie and be limited to just 500 units worldwide.
Based on the single shot released of its backside, the 003 will feature a pair of taillights laid out horizontally, a sumptuous-looking hypercar body, and seemingly not much of a rear window. Here's the sketch released in September to give you a vague idea of what to expect from the rest of the car, appearance-wise.
THE WAIT IS NEARLY OVER. 003 will be the 3rd mid-engined hypercar to be developed by @astonmartin after the Valkyrie and Valkyrie AMR Pro. Project 003 has its DNA deeply rooted in concepts & technology currently being developed for those revolutionary road and track-only machines pic.twitter.com/v3PLDGZuuO
The 003, whatever it ultimately ends up being called, will be built on a super lightweight structure and use a turbocharged gasoline-powered engine coupled to electric motors. Active aerodynamics and active suspension contribute to what Aston claims will be "class-leading dynamics on both road and track."
Unlike its Valkyrie predecessors, the 003 will apparently be quite practical—as practical as a hypercar can be, anyway. Aston says it's designing the car to accommodate "practical concessions to road use, including space for luggage." One suitcase-sized compartment between the seats it is, then. The 003 will also be available in both left and right-hand drive. Whether or not its well-traveled buyers can reserve one in each configuration though is unclear.
Aston Martin boss Andy Palmer said back in September, "It was always the intention for the Aston Martin Valkyrie to be a once-in-a-lifetime project, however, it was also vital to us that Valkyrie would create a legacy: a direct descendant that would also set new standards within its own area of the hypercar market, creating a bloodline of highly specialized, limited production machines that can exist in parallel with Aston Martin’s series production models."
Are you in the market for a high-performance driving school with over fifty years of history, a long list of famous clientele, and a nearly ninety-acre purpose-built training facility? Now might just be your chance. The Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving is now seeking investors or buyers, per The ClassicCars.com Journal. Interested parties are asked to respond by Feb. 28.
Bondurant Chief Restructuring Officer Tim Shaffer said in Monday's news release, as quoted by The ClassicCars.com Journal:
This is an incredible opportunity and the chance to be a part of the future of one of the most respected brands in the industry.
Bob Bondurant enjoyed an incredibly successful racing career, which he parlayed into one of the world’s premier driver-trainer schools. We look forward to talking with potential investors and purchasers who can take the school to the next level.
However, Shaffer's statement glosses over the urgency of that Feb. 28 deadline, as the school could close if it doesn't meet a March 1 deadline given by the courts.
Bondurant filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy relief in October, and allegations of mismanagement and a hostile work environment prompted a staff walkout that temporarily closed the school the following month. It has since reopened and is honoring its obligations as the official racing school provider for high-performance Dodge and Fiat vehicles, but the school is currently in dire need of some kind of financing as soon as possible.
Earlier this month, the school asked the courts to approve an additional $675,000 loan from Arlington Street Investments to cover rent, other lease payments, and operational costs. This sparked objections from Bondurant's landlord, who argued that the loan wasn't enough to cover all of their past due rent, as well as existing creditor Chase Bank, who argued that their share of the collateral could be diminished by yet another loan borrowing against Bondurant's assets and who also cast doubts on the school's ability to repay them.
That financing offer has since been withdrawn, although Bondurant's attorney testified that she was certain a new financing arrangement could be made by the end of the month.
The school was behind on its $61,228.18 per month rent to the Sun Marina Valley Development Corporation, which owns the race track where the school operates, per court documents filed in February:
Sun Valley has not been paid for November, December, January, or February rent. The total amount owing is $245,402.56 (or $33,402.56 more than the current Financing Motion provides).
Additionally, this rent is set to increase to $61,350.64 starting on March 1 per the terms of their lease. If the back rent for November through February isn't paid by then, Bondurant will be forced to vacate the premises, per court order:
That Debtor shall pay that rent no later than March 1, 2019. In the event that the Debtor fails to pay the rent on or before this date, Sun Valley shall notify the Court that the rent has not been paid. At that point, the Lease shall be deemed rejected, and the Debtor shall surrender the premises (the “Lease Rejection”). Further, the automatic stay shall be lifted to allow Sun Valley to secure the premises in accordance with Gila River Community law.
If they don't pay their back rent by March 1, the stay allowing them to keep using Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' vehicles as part of the school's activities would be withdrawn, and FCA will be allowed to "take immediate possession" of their cars from the school, per the same court order. Bondurant must file either a financing motion or a motion to arrange to sell "substantially all its assets" by March 1 for the court to consider an extension to that deadline.
The school already had to finance the amount they needed for the insurance that's required to cover their assets and day-to-day operations at the school. Bondurant Chief Restructuring Officer Timothy Shaffer explained in court documents:
The collective total of the annual premiums for the insurance policies is $264,635.84, a sum that the Debtor cannot pay in one lump sum at this time. The Debtor cannot renew and/or obtain the insurance policies unless the premiums are financed.
The Agreement requires the Debtor to make a 35% down payment in the amount of $96,122,54 and to make 7 monthly payments, each in the amount of $25,928.70. The annual percentage rate is 5.0 percent. Under the Agreement, the total amount financed is $178,513.30, and the total payment amount is $181,500.90. The Debtor has sufficient funds to pay the required down payment.
Insurance was already a sticking point in this case, as FCA alleged during the bankruptcy proceedings that Bondurant hadn't obtained the proper insurance to cover the vehicles the company provided for the school to use. (Shaffer vehemently denied this allegation at the time, saying that the school's insurance met the terms of FCA's agreement.)
If the facility goes up for sale, court documents show that Bondurant plans to sell the school using a stalking horse bidder, wherein a high bid is solicited from interested parties, which then becomes the first bid and starting price for a bankruptcy auction. (If this sounds familiar, this was the same process used when Jalopnik and the other Gawker Media properties were sold in 2016.)
"The Debtor believes a sale of its operations will provide a greater return to creditors than they would receive in a Chapter 7 [bankruptcy], and there is no better alternative under the current circumstances," lawyers for Bondurant explained in court documents.
Currently, 51 percent of the driving school is currently owned by CEO Pat Bondurant, the wife of racing driver and school founder Bob Bondurant who several ex-employees singled out as being financially irresponsible and hostile towards women and minorities. Pat remains the highest-paid person on Bondurant's payroll during its Chapter 11 reorganization, according to financial documents submitted to the court in January.
Shaffer told The ClassicCars.com Journal in December that he had a "high level of interest from people wanting to get involved with the future of the school." There's only eight days left to see who's really interested.
Canada has become something of a collector of second-hand military aircraft as of late after purchasing 25 surplus F/A-18A/B Hornets from Australia to augment their own tired Hornet fleet of a similar vintage. Now they are officially trying to get their hands on Germany's single defunct and totally inoperable RQ-4E Euro Hawk, a variant of the RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) drone.
German officials had characterized the aircraft as worth very little due to its present state, one in which major components have been stripped from its airframe, stating that it is worth not much more than "scrap value." You can read a complete background on Germany's failed RQ-4E program, what state the defunct airframe exists in, and Canada's odd interest in it in this past article of ours.
Today's news that Canada is actually moving forward with an attempt to acquire the mothballed airframe was first reported on by Reuters. The report states that Canada, which doesn't operate any Global Hawk variants at all, has indeed placed a bid on what's left of the aircraft, according to an official statement from the German Ministry of Defense. The dollar figure of the potential sale remains unknown.
Canada is thought to be interested in the aircraft to monitor its vast and remote territorial holdings and the expanses of water surrounding the country, including in the increasingly contested Arctic. Missions would include monitoring shipping and fishing and the migration of icebergs, among many others.
The Canadian government had hoped to have a fleet of drones flying these missions by now, but the program to acquire them is now being pushed into the coming decade, with an operational capability occurring sometime in the first half of the 2020s, at the soonest.
Reuters notes that NATO may also end up bidding on the aircraft. The North Atlantic military alliance has ordered its own fleet of five Global Hawks, under what is known as the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) program. AGS is shared capability between 15 of the 29 NATO members and is expected to be operational and available to them by the end of this year.
But the configurations of these aircraft and Germany's RQ-4E are not the same, as Germany's aircraft is designed primarily to collect signals intelligence. NATO's aircraft, known as RQ-4Ds, have a high degree of commonality with the U.S. Air Force’s Block 40 RQ-4Bs, which are primarily focused on ground surveillance.
With this in mind, it is most likely that Germany's aircraft would be used for spare parts by NATO. Germany also acquired a number of ground control stations as part of the RQ-4E program, which could be compatible with NATO’s RQ-4Ds. If so, the alliance would look to buy them along with what’s left of the Euro Hawk airframe as part of a package deal.
A sale of the RQ-4E airframe and any remaining associated equipment to either party would allow Germany to finally wash its hands of the Euro Hawk debacle for good. Nearly two decades ago, the German government had planned on buying five RQ-4Es, but European aviation authorities repeatedly refused to certify the aircraft to fly over the continent due to concerns about the risks the unmanned aircraft could pose to civilian air traffic.
Combined with big cost overruns and long delays, Berlin decided to nix the program in 2013 after spending a whopping $793.5 million and getting just one prototype to show for it. Now Germany just wants to unload the craft in order to get any money back from the boondoggle. A new Global Hawk with the necessary ground support equipment costs roughly $120M new.
It's unclear how much utility Canada thinks it can get out of the hulk of a single one-off Global Hawk derivative or just how much money it will take to return the aircraft to an operational state and refit it with sensors applicable to the surface surveillance mission set. It’s not even clear how valuable it would be to NATO for spare parts at this point, either.
With all this in mind, the Trudeau government might be bargain hunting for another second-hand aircraft, but in the case of the Euro Hawk, they could end up just adding a new and equally sad chapter to its already depressing history.
Israeli firm Rafael has unveiled what appears to be a new air-launched ballistic missile, which has features in common with both an existing family of precision-guided bombs and a ballistic missile defense target. The company says the weapon will be able to find its target even in the midst of an enemy jamming its GPS-enabled navigation system, a threat that is already very real.
The 'Rocks' missile first appeared at the Aero India 2019 aerospace and defense exposition, which began on Feb. 20, 2019. Gideon Weiss, the Deputy General Manager for Business Development, Marketing, and Strategy for Rafael's Air & C4ISR Division, told Jane’s that the company had already certified an Israeli Air Force F-16I Sufa test aircraft to carry the weapon and had carried out a number of trials using the jet as a launch platform.
“Rocks provides a cutting-edge and cost-effective solution that combines several combat-proven technologies inherited from our latest-generation SPICE system,” Said Yuval Miller, the Executive Vice-President and General Manager of the Air & C4ISR Systems Division, told Airforces Monthly in a separate interview. “Rocks effectively answers a growing demand for long range, GPS-independent air-to-ground precision-strike capability.”
Miller was referring to Rafael’s Smart, Precise Impact, Cost-Effective (SPICE) family of precision-guided bombs. These bombs use a GPS-enabled Inertial Guidance System (INS) navigation system to direct them to the general target area before switching over to an imaging infrared seeker for the terminal stage of flight.
Though we don't yet know the exact specifics about Rocks' guidance capabilities, SPICE can operate in an autonomous mode, using an image recognition algorithm to spot the target and home in on it. It can also be manually directed through a so-called “man-in-the-loop” functionality, a hallmark of Israel's precision-guided missiles and bombs.
This means that the crew in the aircraft that releases the bomb and maneuver it right until it hits the target. This allows for extreme accuracy, even against moving targets, and allows the operator to quickly shift the bomb away from the target if a better one appears or if it becomes apparent that the strike would put innocent bystanders at undue risk. The added precision makes it more viable to pursue the target even in densely packed areas full of innocent civilians, as well. It also means that the weapon can hit targets that have fled from their original position. Traditionally, the launch aircraft carries a data-link pod for these operations.
It is not clear if Rocks actually has the same level of man-in-the-loop functionality. But with the SPICE-based guidance package and its automated image matching functionality, it wouldn't necessarily need to rely on the GPS/INS guidance system during the terminal approach to its target actually hit it with pinpoint accuracy.
Rafael has not yet disclosed the range of Rocks, either. The company has said the missile has "a very significant standoff range" and "a high-velocity trajectory towards the target," according to Airforces Monthly.
However, judging by its external design, the weapon appears to be a hybrid of the SPICE guidance package and a missile body derived from the company’s Black Sparrow. This latter system is an air-launched target intended to simulate the characteristics of a short-range ballistic missile. Israel has utilized these in the testing of its Arrow family of ballistic missile defense systems in the past.
There is scant information on the Black Sparrow’s range and flight envelope, but it is supposed to mimic Soviet Scuds and derivatives, the longest range examples of which can hit targets out to around 430 miles. However, the surrogate ballistic missile wouldn’t necessarily need to have anywhere near this range to stand in for a Scud for test purposes.
In addition, though Israel is not a formal member of the Missile Technology Control Regime arms control bloc, it has publicly stated that it follows those parameters. The MTCR places severe restrictions on the export of missiles that can carry payloads of more than 1,100 pounds to distances of more than 190 miles. If Rafael hoped to export Rocks, these parameters could be the very upper limits of the missile’s potential capabilities.
The use of the Black Sparrow design as a starting point also strongly suggests that Rocks operates like an air-launched ballistic missile. As such, the missile would be the latest example of a growing worldwide trend toward the development of this class of weapons. In 2018, Israeli Military Industries (IMI) Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) unveiled their own air-launched ballistic missile, called Rampage, derived from the EXTRA ground-launched guided artillery rocket.
Rafael has also said that the missile will be able to carry a penetrating type warhead capable of striking at hardened, sub-surface targets, as well as a blast-fragmentation design for engaging opponents in the open. We don’t know the specifics of the design of either payload or their weight classes.
The different warhead options suggest that the weapon’s payload section might be modular to some degree. It could be that the missile can accept any standardized warhead in certain weight classes, as is the case with SPICE bombs. There are readily available 2,000-pound class bunker buster and blast-fragmentation warheads for instance. Due to the ballistic nature of its flight, its high velocity during the terminal stages of flight would greatly help it penetrate deeper into a target, as well.
“We have completed full-scale development and testing – including airborne and homing – but we have not yet completed the qualification of the missile,” Rafael’s Weiss also told Jane’s. “This will be the final part of the development process, which will be completed according to our customer requirements.”
He did not say who this customer or customers might be. But given the certification of the weapon on an Israeli Air Force F-16I, which can carry up to four Rocks at once, it seems very likely that Israel is among them. The Israeli Air Force's F-15s, many of which are specifically configured as long-range strike aircraft, would be able to carry these missiles, too.
For Israel, having a standoff, hardened-target penetrating weapon, could be especially valuable. The country faces a number of opponents in the region who rely heavily on bunkers and other hardened structures, as well as tunnels underground, to try and reduce their vulnerability to Israeli air strikes. This includes Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and various adversaries in Syria, including Iranian and Iranian-backed forces. These targets are often in built-up areas full of civilians, where the added precision of the SPICE-based guidance package would be invaluable.
The stand-off range of Rocks would help reduce the launching platform’s vulnerability to advanced air defenses, as well. Israeli jets already routinely launch missiles and bombs from Lebanese airspace along the Syrian border to minimize the time they spend exposed to hostile forces.
As such, there could also be a role for barrages of Rocks against more strategic targets, such as elements of Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, many of which are underground and protected by long-range surface-to-air missiles. An air-launched ballistic missile with a maximum range at the edge of the MTCR restrictions would allow the launch platform to stay outside the engagement range of virtually all current air defense systems. At the same time, its speed would make it hard, if not impossible to for an opponent to intercept the incoming threat with higher-end point defense systems.
Some of these systems, such as the Russian-built Pantsir S1, are touted as capable of shooting down slower-moving cruise missiles and glide bombs. The high-supersonic speed and steep trajectory of a ballistic-type missile makes intercepting them with short-range air defenses all but impossible. And these types of defenses, often placed near high value target areas, are increasingly popular among Israel's most notable enemies.
Beyond busting bunkers and fortified structures, as well as other fixed targets, Rocks will be especially well suited to neutralizing enemy air defenses. It's ability to give 4th generation fighters the ability to rapidly engage threatening air defense sites over long distances, and in a way that is hard to counter once the missile is in the air, means destruction of enemy air defenses can be provided without putting the launch platform at great risk. The fact that it can even continue its attack as mobile SAM systems flee makes it all that much more relevant.
Hardened targets in heavily protected areas and the threat of increasingly advanced air defense systems are hardly limited to Israel's opponents, either. Depending on its exact capabilities, Rocks could be appealing to export customers, as well. By using so many well-established components from existing systems, the unique missile might turn out to be comparatively low-cost.
It’s not the first time the company has mated a SPICE-based guidance package with another weapon system to produce a relatively cheap guided munition, either. In May 2018, the Israeli defense contractor revealed the Electro-Optical Precision Integration Kit (EPIK), a bolt-on guidance kit derived from SPICE that would work with the popular 122mm artillery rocket.
If Israel is indeed the launch customer for Rocks, it may not be long before it employs those weapons against various regional opponents. If the missile proves successful, it could help Rafael pitch it abroad, if the company hasn’t lined up other buyers already.
Pilots, supposedly, have a saying: Take-off is optional. Landing is mandatory. One way or another, sooner or later, your aircraft—be it a fighter jet, a commercial airliner, a helicopter, or a rinky-dink ultra-light—is going to come to rest on terra firma at some point. Convincing it to do so when and where you want, well, that's where the skill comes in. Still, even trained pilots don't always stick the landing like Simone Biles. Variables such as mechanical failure, unexpected wildlife, and especially weather can make quite a bit more difficult.
Thankfully, the occupants only sustained minor injuries, according to The Daily Mail. (Kremlin-backed Russian news source RT claimed one person on board was reportedly injured more seriously, but considering the provenance, we're taking that with a grain of salt.) And thankfully for those of us stuck inside far away from the French Alps...the whole incident was caught on video.
...from multiple angles.
It seems obvious that the pilot wasn't trying to jam the Piper straight into the snowbank like Scarface diving into cocaine; in both videos, the sound of screeching tires can clearly be heard in the final seconds before the crash, and the propeller can be seen first stopping, then begin to spin in the opposite direction, suggesting whoever was behind the controls may have reversed the engine's thrust in an attempt to stop the small single-engined plane.
Still, it was all for naught: The impact buried the plane in snow all the way to the A-pillar, as can be seen in the image below.
The Courchevel Altiport, as the small Alpine air terminal is formally known, is known to be tricky, having been ranked amongst the most extreme airports on the planet by The History Channel. (Okay, fine, it's not exactly Aviation Week, but who do you really expect to do a ranking called "Most Extreme Airports"?) The airport is located at an altitude of 6,588 feet, which means the air is thin, producing less lift and drag than down at most runways; in addition, said runway is just 1,762 feet long, with a gradient of 18.6 percent. Add in icy conditions—as the video seems to suggest were present on the day of the crash—and it's not hard to see how a plane might slip n' slide straight off the runway...and into Internet fame.
One of the Portland based F-15Cs belonging to the 142nd Fighter Wing had some landing gear trouble after a morning training mission today. As a precaution, the 41-year-old jet (78-0473) made an emergency barrier engagement landing on Portland International Airport's runway 28L.
As is custom in the fighter community, the wingman flew alongside the stricken jet on final approach, before accelerating off just before touchdown. Thankfully the plane's gear didn't fail and the F-15C pilot was able to make a beautiful arrested landed. Check out KOIN 6's sweet video coverage of the landing below.
These types of landings don't all go that smoothly, depending on the aircraft's malfunction and the environmental conditions, they can be quite violent. But incidents like this are exactly why the BAK-12 arresting gear is embedded towards each end of the south runway at PDX. It retracts into its surface when commercial and general aviation aircraft are using the runway and is deployed by the tower remotely when fighter operations are taking place. When 28L/10R is closed for repairs, emergency landings under most circumstances have to be diverted to McChord Air Force Base, which is located 100 miles to the north of PDX.
America's F-15C/D fleet is made up of its oldest fighters in service, with the newest being 33 years old. The decision to continue upgrading the fleet so that it can fly and remain tactically relevant for decades to come, something that will come at a substantial cost, or replace it with new F-15X advanced Eagles appears to have finally been made. As it sits now, the Defense Department will ask to begin procuring the F-15X as part of the 2020 defense budget. Congress still has to approve that request.
Inflight emergencies, called IFEs in military aviation parlance, are far more common than most would think across the tactical fighter community. But the F-15C/D fleet, in particular, has been hit hard by these events as the oldest jets march towards a half century in age. In January, two F-15Cs based out of Kadena Air Base in Okinawa actually had to make emergency barrier engagement landings in opposite directions on the same runway. You can read about this crazy incident in this previous article of ours.
The 142nd Fighter Wing remains one of the USAF's premier fighter units. Their jets, which now feature APG-63V3 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars and the ability to carry the Sniper targeting pod for long-range visual identification day or night, are tasked with defending American airspace from Northern California to British Columbia. A pair of fully armed primary quick reaction alert (QRA) jets and two backup aircraft are ready to launch within minutes to intercept potential threats or aircraft in trouble, as they famously did during the theft of a Horizon Air Q400 at SEATAC airport by a troubled ground support agent last summer.
You can see exactly what an aerial intercept by the 142nd Fighter Wing looks like in the exclusive video posted below and read about the procedures that go along with it here.
Thankfully an and machine came out of this incident unscathed, but it is another reminder of just how dangerous the fighter jet flying business can be.
Lockheed Martin has rebranded its latest advanced F-16 offering for India as the F-21 and has shown the jet would have new features, including a revised glass cockpit and other advanced features. But the pitch appears to be much more about opportunities industrial cooperation in India, a major factor in the latest iteration of India's fighter jet tender, than technological enhancements. It might even pave the way for the country to join the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program – a claim the company scrubbed from its official F-21 webpage shortly after it went live.
The Maryland-headquartered defense contractor revealed models of the F-21 and released a computer-generated video presentation about the jet to coincide with the beginning of this year’s Aero India trade show on Feb. 20, 2019. Lockheed Martin’s fighter jet is squaring off against Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, France’s Rafale, the European Eurofighter Typhoon, Sweden’s Gripen E, and Russia’s MiG-35 Fulcrum and Su-35 Flanker for India’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition. The Indian Air Force hopes to eventually purchase at least 115 aircraft through this program, a deal that could be worth up to $18 billion, which has been a more than decade-long saga that you can read about in more detail here.
“The F-21 is different, inside and out,” Dr. Vivek Lall, Vice President of Strategy and Business Development for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, said in a statement. “The new designation highlights our commitment to delivering an advanced, scalable fighter aircraft to the Indian Air Force that also provides unrivaled industrial opportunities and accelerates closer India-US cooperation on advanced technologies.”
So far, Lockheed Martin has not specifically explained the origins or meaning of the F-21 nomenclature. The U.S. military originally assigned F-21 in its aircraft nomenclature system to a small fleet of ex-Israeli Kfir fighter jets that the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operated as “red air” aggressors between 1985 and 1989. Today, a U.S. contractor flies still flies Kfirs in adversary support roles and still refers to the type as the F-21. Highly upgraded Kfirs are also still flown by a number of air arms around the globe.
The origins of the new designation may be similar to the decision-making process behind the B-21 nomenclature for the U.S. Air Force’s future stealth bomber. In 2016, the service announced it had picked B-21, an out-of-sequence designation, to reflect its acquisition of the “first bomber of the 21st century.”
As for what exactly is different “inside and out” between the F-21 and earlier F-16s, Lockheed Martin has offered few specifics. The jet is only the latest in a string of India-targeted Viper offerings that began with the development F-16IN Super Viper in the late 2000s, also known as the F-16 Block 70. Features from this variant then ended up part of an upgrade package for older Vipers, known as the F-16V. Lockheed Martin has now effectively blended these two separate efforts together.
The most notable and apparently new feature in the F-21 video presentation is the consolidation of the cockpit displays into a single large flat panel screen. Previous glass cockpit configurations for the F-16IN, Block 70, and V model aircraft featured three separate digital multi-function displays.
This is similar in some general respects to the single panel design in Lockheed Martin’s stealth F-35. It also mirrors the decision Boeing made with regards to the cockpit configuration in its latest Block III Super Hornets and F-15QA Advanced Eagles for Qatar. This type cockpit arrangement will make it easier for pilots to rapidly find the information they’re looking for and offers additional flexibility over fixed “steam gauges” or even smaller digital displays. It makes it easier to add new features to the display itself and link it new and improved sensors and other systems in the future, as well.
During a media briefing on the Super Hornet that we at The War Zoneattended in 2018, Boeing noted that an aviator could move and resize certain display elements on the screen, just like shifting things around on a computer desktop, to better suit their particular style. It would also allow the rapid resizing of certain displays, including video feeds from targeting pods, to make it easier to positively identify targets or other items of interest. It seems likely that the F-21’s display will have similar functionalities.
The F-21 notably has a big dorsal spine that has only appeared previously operationally on advanced two-seat F-16 derivatives. This addition can accommodate avionics, communications equipment, countermeasures systems, and more.
The jet also has a probe-and-drogue refueling system that extends from the starboard conformal fuel tank, as well. However, Lockheed Martin first demonstrated this system, known as the Conformal Air Refueling Tank System, in 2010 as part of the development of the F-16IN. It also reduces the total amount of fuel that the tank can carry.
Skunk Works advanced projects division is visible on the side." />
The video presentation does show the F-21 carrying three AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) missiles on new racks, which gives the jet added air-to-air magazine depth even when carrying underwing fuel tanks or other stores. The outboard underwing pylons will also be able to deploy the AN/ALE-50 towed decoy, but this had been a previously announced feature for the F-16s Lockheed Martin was offering to India and was first seen on Block 50/52 Vipers.
It's not otherwise clear how much the F-21's configuration might differ from previous existing Block 70 and F-16V variants. These Vipers featured a host of significant improvements over existing variants, including Northrop Grumman's AN/APG-83 active electronically scanned array radar, also known as the Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR).
They also had new avionics, improved navigation equipment, updated mission computers and data links, and compatibility with the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System II (JHMCS II). The advanced F-16 variants had more powerful electronic warfare suite for self-protection, too.
Lockheed Martin brochure on its previous F-16 Block 70 proposal for India describing, in part, how the aircraft's added capabilities improve its operational performance. The "threats" depicted are notably Chinese J-20 stealth fighters, which are a growing concern for the Indian Air Force." />
But the real thrust of Lockheed Martin’s F-21 push seems to be to promote the potential for significant industrial cooperation that comes with its bid versus that of its opponents. The MMCRA competition requires bidders find a local partner and the American firm has been working with Indian industrial giant Tata for its proposal.
The U.S. defense contractor has long said it plans to shift its F-16 production lines to India in cooperation with Tata. It has gone so far as to suggest it could establish an F-16 production line in the country regardless of whether it wins the MMCRA deal or not.
The first thing you see in the video presentation Lockheed Martin released on Feb. 20, 2019, is a stylized depiction of this notional Indian Viper plant with Tata branding. There are also clips showing an F-21 refueling from a KC-130J tanker, an aircraft Lockheed Martin has already sold to India and that features made-in-India components.
But more curiously, Lockheed Martin initially implied that the F-21 could be a stepping stone to Indian participation in the F-35 program, something that has been a sensitive topic of discussion over the years.
“The F-21 has common components and learning from Lockheed Martin’s 5th Generation F-22 and F-35 and will share a common supply chain on a variety of components,” Lockheed Martin initially said on its F-21 webpage, which first appeared online on Feb. 20, 2019. “Approximately half of the F-21 and F-16 supply chains are common with the F-22 and F-35.”
However, the official F-21 page no longer makes those claims or that the fighter jet is “India’s pathway to F-35." It now says instead that the jet would “strengthens India’s path to an advanced airpower future.” There does not appear to be an archived copy of the original webpage, but the details have beenwidely reported.
The F-21 product card, which is still available online, only says that "Innovative technologies derived from Lockheed Martin’s F-22 and F-35 – the world’s only two operational 5th Generation fighters – strengthen India’s path to an advanced airpower future." It has no mention of the shared supply chains or potential sale of F-35s to India.
It wouldn’t be the first time that Lockheed Martin has had to backtrack on public statements regarding India’s involvement in the F-35 program. In January 2018, the company swiftly denied that it had offered the stealth fighters to the Indian Air Force. This was in response to the Press Trust of Indiapublishing an interview withLockheed Martin Aeronautics executive Lall, the same individual who made the F-21 announcement, that had appeared to suggest India-specific F-35s were on the horizon.
The next month, however, Indian media reported that the country’s Air Force had formally requested a classified briefing on the F-35. There was no official confirmation of these reports.
Then, in March 2018, now-retired U.S. Navy Admiral Harry Harris, then head of what was called U.S. Pacific Command, re-raised the possibility of selling F-35s to India. The Pentagon has since retitled that command as U.S. Indo-Pacific Command specifically to highlight American involvement in South Asia and ties with countries in the region.
In 2018, India had also indicated that the winner of the MMRCA competition would have to also assist with the country’s development of its own indigenous stealth fighter, known presently the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). Earlier in February 2019, there were separate reports that the Indians had requested a classified briefing on the United Kingdom’s Tempest stealth fighter program.
According to reports, a UK delegation, including MoD officials and executives BAE Systems, will arrive on February 18 for the Aero India 2019, will brief Indian MoD and IAF officials and gauge the potential for collaboration on Tempest (sixth gen) program. pic.twitter.com/ENt0R57i2V
In addition, in 2018, the Indian government reportedly terminated their participation in Russia’s long-troubled Su-57 stealth fighter program, which was supposed to lead to an India specific variant. This further leaves the door open for a replacement, nearer term stealth fighter acquisition effort to fill the gap and potentially frees up the necessary funding to do so. The War Zonehas long noted the possibility that the Indian Air Force might turn to the F-35 as it is the only in-production fifth generation fighter at present.
These latest official statements, though they are now removed from Lockheed Martin’s website, do indicate a renewed possibility that the company is proposing the purchase of its F-21 as a gateway to acquiring F-35s down the road. The Indian Navy is also shopping for new fighter jets for its existing and planned future aircraft carriers and could be interested in acquiring short- and vertical-takeoff and landing capable F-35Bs or carrier-focused F-35Cs, as well.
The possibility of F-35 sales to India clearly remain a sensitive issue, both in that country and in the United States. It could be even more complicated now that the Indians have purchased S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia.
America’s NATO ally Turkey is also buying S-400s, as well as F-35s, which, among other things, has provoked a major dispute with the United States, which you can read about in more detail here. The U.S. government has expressed concerns that this will give the Russians an opportunity to evaluate the Joint Strike Fighter’s capabilities against their air defense systems and otherwise gather sensitive details about the aircraft.
These concerns may become less of an issue as time goes on, but at present, the U.S. government is now looking to block F-35s deliveries to Turkey. Members of Congress might seek to do the same with regards to India.
Of course, India is also not a NATO ally, which Turkey is, and already operates a variety of Russian-made aircraft and other military hardware. The United States would be approving any F-35 sales to the Indian Air Force knowing this going in. This would be similar to the considerations that the U.S. government would have to take into account if it decided to go ahead with potential sales of Joint Strike Fighters to the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia, too.
Furthermore, American relations with India are at a relatively high point, however, and President Donald Trump has been a major advocate of increased U.S. arms sales abroad in general. The Pentagon actively pushed for the U.S. government to grant India a waiver to buy the S-400s without incurring sanctions in order to avoid upsetting ties.
With all this in mind, despite Lockheed Martin’s latest retraction, it seems increasingly clear that the United States and India are actively in discussions, at least some level, about F-35 purchases in the future. Whether or not the rebranded F-21 will actually serve as a stepping stone to buying the stealth fighters remains to be seen, but that sure seems to be the idea.
It’s been 20 years since the original, exotically-styled 8 Series cast its 12-cylinder spell on us. Times have changed. This type of pricey “personal reward” car, whether coupe or convertible, can seem even more out-of-fashion than a sedan. BMW sold fewer than 3,800 6 Series cars last year, compared with nearly 10,000 Americans who forked over big bucks for a 6 Series back in 2013. Bring pitchforks of cash for this new M850i xDrive, a big, blazing GT with a rorty 523 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque from a twin-turbo, 4.4-liter V-8. (That engine is lavishly upgraded from its application in the M550i sedan, where it makes "only" 456 horses and 480 pound-feet.)
BMW is quick to correct anyone who calls the 8 Series a “replacement” for the 6er, but it might feel that way in showrooms. The 6 Series coupe and convertible have bid “Auf Wiedersehen” (lame-duck GT and Gran Coupe models waddle into 2019), while the 8 Series builds a penthouse in the clouds of the BMW lineup where halo cars belong. It costs $112,895 to start, which is about $30,000 more than the lowest-price 2019 640i Gran Coupe, and nearly $16,000 above a 650i Gran Coupe with a V-8 and xDrive AWD. This 8 Series coupe, initially offered in America only with a V-8 and AWD, also sits roughly $12,000 above a 750i xDrive sedan.
If you’re going to sell people a $113,000 grand tourer and call it an 8 Series, it had damn well better look good. Well, hubba hubba, Hans bubbie: The reborn 8 Series brings the requisite star quality. It’s a frankly pretty car from a brand that’s only rarely been associated with “pretty.”
BMW granted The Drive a full-day test of the 8 Series prior to its recent annual Test Fest in Palm Springs, California. The groaning smorgasbord of cars we sampled at The Thermal Club’s track included the new Z4 convertible, the brilliant 2020 M340i sedan (direct from our Portugal media drive, and still in camouflage), the 625-horsepower M5 Competition, M4 CS coupe, M2 Competition, all-new X3 M and X4 M, the 205-mph B7 Alpina, and more. (Check back soon for the full story on BMW Test Fest). The nearly overwhelming assemblage of butt-kicking, track-worthy cars underlined how BMW is rapidly restoring order to its Ultimate Driving universe. Considering the brand’s recent winning streak, I wasn’t overly surprised that the 8 Series is fun and engaging to drive.
What did surprise me was the M850i’s bizarrely capable performance on track, a place where only the most eccentric 8 Series owner will ever set his Gucci-soled feet. In the pits, when I jumped from a track-tuned ninja like the M4 CS straight into the 8 Series’s swanky driver's seat, I reminded myself to limit expectations for such a big, street-focused GT. Yet the 8 Series easily held its own on Thermal’s South Course, thanks to natural, smartly-tuned steering—none of that fake BMW heft or detachment here—and a taste for tail-happy antics. All-wheel-drive and four-wheel-steering—the new killer app of large, high-performance cars and SUVs—help the BMW drive, quite magically, like a smaller car than a 4,476-pound curb weight might suggest. (The new 600-mph M5 sedan, which weighs 100 fewer pounds, employs similar tricks to great effect.)
Turn-in is crisp, aided by BMW’s newly-transparent variable-ratio steering. Body roll is finely controlled. The rear-biased AWD system boots up to 50 percent of power forward when required. Rear wheels that counter-steer at up to 2.5 degrees (and then turn in-phase at higher speeds) do their part to keep the 8 Series clawing through curves, even when the back end is dancing wide. Oh, and the speed: With that monumental 553 pound-feet of torque and sparkling changes from an eight-speed, paddle-shifted Steptronic automatic transmission, the M850i clocks a smoking 3.6-second run from 0-60 mph—faster than any M2, M3, or M4 model, and just 0.4-seconds behind the 600-hp M5. The biggest tease is the 155-mph top speed, in a slippery car that would easily top 190 mph without an electronic limiter. Expect the M8 version to correct that oversight.
The coupe looks better than the convertible, as coupes often do, thanks to its sleek fastback roof that melts into big, buttery hips. Yes, the current Mustang is also a fastback, and the Ford is a sweet-looking car in its own right. But the only people who will ever mistake this BMW for a ‘Stang are drunk or blind. If anything, the BMW’s rear- and three-quarter views whisper “Aston Martin,” with that slender, raked greenhouse atop widebody flanks. Compared with the 6 Series, the rear quarter windows’ signature Hofmeister kink tightens its angle. Up front, the bristling double-kidney grille is like the porn ‘stache of this louche coupe, dyed in black Shadowline trim. That fronts a hood with creases as sharp as meringue peaks. LED headlamps, the brand's slimmest yet, add BMW’s Laserlight technology to their arsenal, while LED taillamps light with a distinctive L-shape. The Bimmer looks the modern GT part: dynamic, elegant, and damn-right-it’s-expensive.
Prior to that instructive track day, I spent six hours driving the 8 Series in a place that’s bound to see its share of them: Palm Springs, where wealthy silver foxes and gilded cougars retire or winter from other locales, bringing hot cars with them. My test car turned heads with a lovely new color called Barcelona Blue Metallic, paired with black 20-inch M wheels and a $3,000 carbon-fiber roof that lowers center-of-gravity and plays up the roof’s double-bubble shape. Here in the newly-hip Palm Springs, the BMW played the role that most owners will cast it in: burbling, cruising, and schmoozing. A castle-solid structure and serene cabin put me in a chill mood as well, with brutal passes of other cars just a squeeze of the throttle away. Adaptive dampers keep the world at bay, then firm up nicely in Sport or Sport Plus modes. And the sound is prime V-8 beef, but not so obnoxious as to flout covenant laws in a posh subdivision. Sport Plus mode does open the dual-flap exhaust, eliciting amusing trills of backfires, in case there’s one stuffy neighbor you’d love to piss off.
Multi-function seats, clad in a handsome mix of saddle-and-black Merino leather, were as well-planned as the rest of the car: virtual Barcaloungers for all-day drives, but with enough bolstering and adjustments to fix me in place during track-time workouts. The cabin look isn’t radically different—this is BMW, whose interior designs change more slowly than Alpine glaciers—but the 8 Series still feels new and special inside.
A waterfall center stack flows from a low, slim dashboard. Subtle, kinky Hofmeister motifs play over the angled metal door pulls and other cabin elements. Sparkly cut glass for the gear lever (with an illuminated “8” set within) and other controls added $650; a knurled-metal controller for the iDrive 7.0 system replaces the previous plastic. A leather-faced, slim-circumference M Sport steering wheel is another tactile gain. The clamshell center console is newly deep and roomy. And BMW’s new Live Cockpit, first seen in the new X5 SUV, combines a 12.3-inch digital instrument display with a 10.3-inch center touchscreen. The views aren’t as flashy and configurable as Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, but it’s a handsome, legible presentation nonetheless.
The BMW’s biggest digital failing remains its lame, laggy navigation system that shows your route on a low-contrast strip of white on roads and streets—the least-intuitive color possible, akin to drawing a treasure map on white parchment in white ink. Consolation comes via BMW’s industry-best head-up display, which lets you follow directional arrows in your field-of-view. I also climbed into the back seat just to make sure I’d never need to do it again. Like any two-plus-two, the rear quarters are handy for luggage, shopping, munchkins or emergencies. Cargo space fares better, with a narrow-yet-deep trunk and rear seats that fold 50/50 to fit more stuff inside.
A word about the brakes, those unsung heroes: The BMW’s brake-by-wire system must be the world’s first that doesn’t feel like brake-by-wire; many owners will have no clue that there’s no physical link between the pedal and the binders themselves. That transparent action—even in AARP-heavy Palm Springs traffic—stands in sharp contrast to models like the Alfa Romeo Giulia, whose touchy, hard-to-modulate electronic brakes are by far the biggest demerit in an otherwise spectacular car. Those sophisticated brakes also shined at Thermal, where this 4,500-pound bullet lasted all day with no brake fade or smoke; and on my epic blasts on Highway 74, the famed "Palms to Pines" run into the stark, tumbled Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains. Twice, I ran Highway 74’s plunging descent into the blue-misted Palm Valley, attacking dozens of cliff-hung switchbacks, and the BMW’s brakes never succumbed. (Here, the steering could have transmitted more feedback, but I’ll say that about nearly any new car with electric steering).
It was the kind of barnstorming that 99 percent of owners will never attempt, yet the BMW stayed fast and composed throughout. While the BMW gobbled up those miles with elan, the serpentine road did reveal some understeer near the handling limit. Physics can be fooled but not denied: This is still a hefty machine, not a quicksilver sports car like a Porsche Cayman. But between its AWD, electronic rear diff, and other tech tricks, I couldn’t break the BMW’s tires loose on public roads. Pushed harder on track, those Bridgestone Potenza S007A summer tires broke away with an almost eerie lack of noise, as I’ve experienced before with these latest, sticky Bridgestones.
As America marches lockstep into SUVs, it’s become tough out there for gentlemanly GTs, cars expressly designed to thumb their long noses at practicality and family values. With the Jaguar XK long gone, the excellent (but lesser-performing) Lexus LC 500 V-8 coupe is really the BMW’s only direct rival—and happens to cost less, at $93,000 to start. Audi doesn’t play in the six-figure coupe space. For all its glories, a Mercedes-Benz S-Class coupe is comparatively massive, and not at all sporting. Mercedes-Benz's smaller E-Class coupe is a stylish boulevardier, but it’s a full class below the Bimmer in power and performance. The knee-wobbling Aston Martin DB11 V-8 is a similar GT in terms of size and layout, with its 503-hp Mercedes-AMG V-8—though the BMW has more horsepower and torque, accelerates a touch faster, and handles as well or better. That Aston also starts at $202,000, versus my BMW that chalked up a pricetag of $119,295 including options. A Bentley Continental GT is a 626-hp, 12-cylinder fantasy, but it weighs 5,000 pounds and will set you back $250,000 with options, double the Bimmer's price.
Sure, the BMW doesn’t directly compete with Aston or Bentley, those British holies of design and prestige. My point is that the M850i definitely competes, or even wins, against any current player in terms of overall GT performance, even with loopy-powered M8 versions still to come. And the BMW looks beautiful and desirable in its own, more-modest way. It all looks like a smart move by BMW: If you can only sell a few thousand grand tourers each year, anyway, you may as well sneak upmarket and bank significantly more profit on each one. With the groundbreaking, electric BMW i8 fading into obsolescence, the 8 Series now wears the BMW halo—and wears it well.
Lawrence Ulrich, The Drive’s chief auto critic, is an award-winning auto journalist and former chief auto critic for The New York Times and Detroit Free Press. The Detroit native and Brooklyn gentrifier owns a troubled ’93 Mazda RX-7 R1, but may want to give it a good home. Email him at Lawrence.email@example.com.
Commerce across the Atlantic Ocean could soon be shell-shocked by the possibility of a no-deal Brexit come March 29, when the United Kingdom is scheduled to depart from the European Union. While the withdrawal has long been cause for breaking news and, in some cases, panic, the fast-approaching deadline could put hefty restraints on trade and travel involving the UK if an agreement isn't put in place. This is a move that affects every sector from industrial imports and exports to agriculture, and one particular multi-billion-pound business that's perhaps been overlooked until now: Formula 1.
While motor racing may seem like a minuscule speck in the larger picture of the infamous Brexit, it is indeed a major cash boon. F1 teams such as Mercedes-AMG and Red Bull Racing spend well over £200 million annually and base their respective operations in England along with many others. This has long been the custom thanks to the nation's European location that's central to the top level of motorsport's international dealings.
One team executive, Mercedes' Toto Wolff, did give his thoughts about the idea of a no-deal Brexit which he described as the "mother of all messes."
"Brexit is a major concern for us and should be a major concern for all of us that live in the UK and operate out of the UK,” Wolff explained. “We’re Formula 1 teams that travel to tests and travel to races at least 21 times a year."
“We are moving in and out of the UK, our people move in and out of the UK, the way we are getting parts and services at the last moment into the UK and any major disruption with borders or taxes would damage the F1 industry in the UK."
“Our team is an international team—a German brand that has its F1 operations in the United Kingdom and I think we will have around 15-20 different nationalities in our team, many EU citizens. (There is) uncertainty at the moment as to whether the industry will be impacted by a no-deal Brexit or a Brexit. That is damaging to what is, to me, one of the outstanding industries in the UK.”
McLaren, much like Mercedes and Wolff, is concerned over Brexit's development (or lack thereof). A team spokesperson explained to The Drive in an email: "We have been planning against various contingencies for some time and will continue to monitor developments in order to make the best decisions for our business and people." This poses an interesting question of whether or not McLaren, a notoriously British team, will swallow up the extra costs in order to stay close to its home or relocate its operations base for the sake of budget and convenience.
Others presumably share the sentiment, though the handful of F1 teams contacted by The Drive didn't offer much in terms of comment or response.
The Williams organization, famously stationed in Grove, refrained from detailing its views on the matter and cited "a difficult time for the team." Despite landing a replacement for former title sponsor Martini, the outfit's recent financial struggles have been intertwined with its on-track woes. It's unclear exactly what effect a painful Brexit would have on the team's future, but given the current climate at Williams, it certainly wouldn't be solving any issues.
Red Bull finds its home in the British town of Milton Keynes and is second only to Mercedes-AMG in terms of UK-based team spending. Like Williams, it also denied comment but rather explained to The Drive that the lack of official word was due to focusing on winter testing in Barcelona.
A Ferrari 488 Spider collided head-on with a Maserati Ghibli over the weekend in the affluent Los Angeles neighborhood of Beverly Glen. According to ABC7, it happened at 2 a.m. Sunday morning near Hutton and Benedict Canyon drives. No serious injuries or fatalities were reported.
The crash did, however, leave the blue, mid-engined Ferrari with serious front-end damage and its airbags deployed. The black Maser appears to have sustained much less damage. To save you a couple of Google searches, the 488 Spider goes for over $300,000 while the relatively pedestrian Ghibli can be had for around $80,000.
Witnesses allege that both drivers "blame each other for being under the influence" even though no arrests were made after police took sobriety tests. Members of the Los Angeles Fire Department were also on-hand to tend to a woman who was reportedly a passenger in one of the cars. Despite the exotic nature of the vehicles involved, whether or not speed was a factor remains officially unclear.