Hurricane Michael Notes and Observations (Updated 14 October 2018)

Note: Post Updated with some observations from Saturday, 13 October 2018

Savannah – Unfortunately the southeast has seen its second catastrophic hurricane this season. Just a month after Hurricane Florence devastated the Carolinas, Hurricane Michael brought destruction upon the Florida panhandle and southwest Georgia. Earlier this week, Hurricane Michael came ashore at Mexico Beach as a Category 4 (almost Category 5) storm, destroying the town and surrounding areas then tore into southwest Georgia while still a Category 3 storm. Due to the track of the storm across Georgia, the 165th AW C-130s and some of Gulfstream’s aircraft at Savannah evacuated the area, returning yesterday. The devastation wrought by Michael necessitated federal and military response similar to that of Hurricane Florence last month.

Gulfstream Savannah’s aircraft appeared to evacuate to Huntsville, AL just as they did during Florence. On Wednesday, 10 October while I was in Brunswick, I caught some of the Gulfstreams leaving Savannah: GULFTEST 11 (G500, N500GA, Gulfstream Aerospace), GULFTEST 90 (G650, N656GA, Gulfstream Aerospace), and GULFTEST 51 (G600, N601GA, Gulfstream Aerospace). Yesterday, after I got back to Savannah from Brunswick, I heard 12 Gulfstream and Gulfstream customer aircraft return from Huntsville. No doubt due to problems caused by Michael, these aircraft came back to Savannah from the northwest instead of the southwest like they did after Florence; I caught them on 132.925 with Jacksonville Center to 125.300 with Savannah Approach/Departure, then to Savannah Tower on 119.100. One of them also checked in with the Gulfstream Service Center on 128.925 prior to its arrival. (I didn’t catch two of the aircraft on Mode-S so I’m not sure what their registrations were)

GULFTEST 10 (G500, N500GA, Gulfstream Aerospace)
GULFTEST 20 (G500, N509GD, Gulfstream Aerospace)
GULFTEST 29 (G550, N584GA, Gulfstream Aerospace)
GULFTEST 33 (G650, N282GA, Gulfstream Aerospace)
GULFTEST 51 (G600, N601GA, Gulfstream Aerospace)
GULFTEST 62 (B-LWX, G-450, TAG Aviation Asia)
GULFTEST 62 (G450, N401SR, Gulfstream Leasing)
GULFTEST 64 (G650, N655GD, Gulfstream Aerospace)
GULFTEST 66 (B-8127, G-450, Private)
GULFTEST 83 (Gulfstream Hurrevac Flight)
GULFTEST 90 (G550, N582GA, Gulfstream Aerospace)
GULFTEST 97 (Gulfstream Hurrevac Flight)

I’m not sure where the 165th AW’s C-130s evacuated to, but yesterday, I heard four of their aircraft arriving back in Savannah in from the north following the same sequence of frequencies that the Gulfstreams did. Additionally, they checked in on 225.750 with squadron operations and were using 225.050 for air-to-air traffic.

DAWG 06 (C-130H3, 94-6706, 165th AW)
DAWG 08 (C-130H3, 94-6708, 165th AW)
DAWG 61 (C-130H3, 93-1561, 165th AW)
DAWG 63 (C-130H3, 95-1563, 165th AW)

The Federal and Military response to Hurricane Michael has so far been very similar to that from Hurricane Florence. I’m too far away from southwest Georgia and the Florida panhandle to hear any of it, but I did catch one military aircraft going to the area from Savannah and saw some aviation assets working in the area on ADS-B Exchange.  Just as during Florence, those aviation assets were C3I and ISR aircraft. Yesterday morning, SHADY 11 (MC-12S-2, 09-00642, 224th MI Bn) departed Hunter AAF to the southwest and later in the morning I saw it on ADS-B exchange doing orbits in the area of Panama City and Apalachicola, FL. In addition to the MC-12S-2, I also noted two US Customs and Border Patrol P-3 AEWC aircraft (N142CS and N146CS) working in the area and a USAF E-3 AWACS.

On Saturday, while taking a look at the Florida panhandle and southwest on Georgia on ADS-B Exchange, I noticed something interesting around Albany and Tifton, GA. N19HX, a Helicopter Express Bell 206L-3 helicopter, had come from around Tifton (probably out of the airport in Tifton) and begun working just south of Albany. N41HX, a Helicopter Express Bell 407 helicopter was working south of Tifton, roughly around I-75. Based out of Atlanta, Helicopter Express is a contractor that provides helicopter services for a variety of purposes, disaster relief being one of them. Given where they were working, I’d have to guess that they were part of the Hurricane Michael response. With the flight paths that were plotted on ADS-B Exchange, I’d guess that both aircraft are working out of Henry Tift Myers Airport in Tifton.

Thankfully, those of us in southeast Georgia came through Michael with few problems, as the storm moved through the state a bit more to the northwest of us than it could have. The people in the Florida panhandle and southwest Georgia, however, are suffering. Don’t forget that people in those areas are some of those that helped us after Hurricanes Matthew and Irma; it’s our turn to help them.

Please keep the people of the Florida panhandle and southwest Georgia in your prayers and help with donations or contributions as you can. Many will remain out of their homes for quite a while and have lost most if not all of what they had.

Aircraft Changes at Hunter AAF and Coast Guard Air Station Savannah

Update, 24 July 2017:  Further monitoring has confirmed which aircraft are based at Air Station Savannah

Savannah – There have recently been a few changes to aircraft assigned to the 224th MI Battalion and Coast Guard Air Station Savannah at Hunter AAF in Savannah. In mid-June, a third MC-12 began flying with the 224th MI Bn: MC-12S-2, 09-00642. Earlier this month, there was a swap of US Coast Guard MH-65Ds at Coast Guard Air Station Savannah; based on Mode-S data and monitoring of radio communications, it appears that 6555 has been replaced by 6567 and that 6562 may have been replaced by 6531. I haven’t heard or seen 6562 since 9 July or 6531 since 11 July, so I haven’t been able to confirm that swap yet. Tail numbers and Mode-S codes for the aircraft are below. Stay tuned…

224th MI Bn Aircraft
MC-12S-2, 09-00642 (AE2F61)
MC-12S-2, 10-00742 (AE4C62)
MC-12S, 11-00268 (AE58B5)

 

CGAS Savannah Aircraft
MH-65D, 6516 (AE266A)
MH-65D, 6544 (AE509F)
MH-65D, 6550 (AE2688)
MH-65D, 6567 (AE2699)
MH-65D, 6531 (AE2679) or MH-65D, 6562 (AE2694)

Some Speculation About the MC-12Ws and MC-12Ss at Hunter AAF

Savannah – Over the last few months, there have been two versions of the MC-12 at Hunter AAF. There have been 224 MI Bn MC-12Ws and EMARSS MC-12Ss. The MC-12Ws are former USAF MC-12W Liberty aircraft that seem to have replaced the RC-12s that the 224th used to fly.  Since the MC-12Ws arrived last year, I have not heard or seen RC-12s. The MC-12W is an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform utilizing electro-optical/infared (EO/IR) systems. The MC-12Ss are EMARSS – Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System aircraft (EMARSS is the program that has replaced the Aerial Common Sensor program, which was the program that was to replace the RC-12 Guardrail program). The EMARSS aircraft combine the EO/IR capability of the Liberty aircraft with communications intelligence (COMINT) systems.

Two MC-12s have been in use: 10-00739 and 10-00742. There have been four MC-12Ss: 11-00265, 11-00266, 11-00267, and 11-00268. Mode-S codes for them are:

  • AE4C61 – MC-12W, 10-00739, B/224 MI Bn
  • AE4C62 – MC-12W, 10-00742, B/224 MI Bn
  • AE58B4 – MC-12S, 11-00265, EMARSS
  • AE58B5 – MC-12S, 11-00268, EMARSS
  • AE58B6 – MC-12S, 11-00266, EMARSS
  • AE58B7 – MC-12S, 11-00267, EMARSS

As far as the EMARSS aircraft go, 11-00265 and 11-00267 have been seen/heard a lot and 11-0268 has been seen/heard only sporadically, but there seems to have been at least two and often three of the MC-12Ss at Hunter as of late. While no doubt they’ve been related, there has been some separation: the MC-12Ws have flown as SUNNY ## while the MC-12Ss have flown as EMARS ##. As of last week, that is no more. Two of the MC-12Ss were flown with a SUNNY callsign on three days: 21 October 2015, 22 October 2015, and 23 October 2015. I caught the 23 October flight on both Mode-S and radio and found the other two instances by searching my RadarBox logs:

  • AE58B7 – MC-12S, 11-0267, EMARSS flew as SUNNY 66 on 10/22/15, 10/23/15
  • AE58B6 – MC-12S, 11-0266, EMARSS flew as SUNNY 66 on 10/21/15

The 224 MI Bn was formerly in the COMINT business with their RC-12s, so perhaps they’ve been training to take on the MC-12S mission during the EMARSS flights over the last few months? It would follow on that if that were the case, maybe some of the MC-12Ss above will become B/224 MI Bn aircraft?

Miscellaneous MilAir Notes

Recent monitoring and questions from other hobbyists have led to information I thought would be worth passing on. None of them are quite big enough to do a single post on them, so I’ve combined them into this update.

VMFAT-501

VMFAT-501, the F-35B training squadron at MCAS Beaufort is getting busier all the time. This week, it’s been particularly interesting to listen to them as they’ve done air combat maneuvering training off of the coast, close air support training at Townsend Range, and worked with F-16s from Shaw AFB in the Bulldog MOA. The increased activity has led to the discovery of these unit frequencies:

  • 299.275 – VMFAT-501 Base
  • 315.300 – VMFAT-501 Tac
  • 319.500 – VMFAT-501 Tac

So far, they’ve been using SWEDE 1#, 2#, and 3# callsigns in morning and afternoon sorties with an occasional nighttime sortie as well. I wasn’t in the area to hear it, but The Aviationist reports that VMFAT-501 has been doing aerial refueling operations and shares a YouTube B-roll video of them refueling with KC-130Js. (I would have loved to have heard this!)

224th MI Bn

I was asked the other day about 224th MI Bn RC-12s. Truth be told, I haven’t heard any RC-12s flying out of Hunter in months. The only 224th MI Bn activity I’ve heard are two MC-12Ws, which the units seems to be transitioning or seem to have transitioned to (Mode-S and tail numbers below):

  1. AE4C61 – MC-12W, 10-0739, B/224 MI Bn
  2. AE4C62 – MC-12W, 10-0742, B/224 MI Bn
SUNNY 22 (MC-12W, 10-0739) on final to Hunter AAF
SUNNY 22 (MC-12W, 10-0739) on final to Hunter AAF

Townsend Range (R-3007)/Coastal MOA

This week, I’ve been hearing aircraft from various bases and units working with a JTAC using the callsign AGRESSOR at Townsend Range and in addition to the normal Range/MOA frequencies, some aircraft have been pushed to 226.975 to work with the JTAC. I previously heard 226.975 used on a few occasions in 2007 and 2010, but not extensively. I’m not sure if this is a Range Control frequency or a MOA discrete, but it definitely seems to be worth programming in.

Interesting Things Afoot at the 224 MI Bn

Savannah – Today was my first time back in Savannah in a week and I got quite a surprise when I saw a MC-12W pop up on Mode-S.  MC-12s aren’t exactly a common visitor to this area and one’s presence immediately intrigued me. I was even more intrigued when I realized it was flying low level and correlated it to to SUNNY 22 which had just departed from Hunter AAF. A few seconds later, the callsign SUNNY 22 popped up in the callsign block in my Mode-S display. SUNNY is the callsign used by the US Army’s B/224 MI Bn, which is based at Hunter AAF. I immediately decided that I needed to make sure that the Mode-S information I was receiving was indeed what was flying out of Hunter, so I found me a spot off of the approach end of Runway 28 at Hunter and waited for SUNNY 22 to return.  When it did, I was able to take a few photos confirming that SUNNY 22 was an MC-12W, specifically MC-12W 10-0739 (Mode-S AE4C61).

MC-12W 10-0739 on final to Hunter AAF as SUNNY 22
MC-12W 10-0739 on final to Hunter AAF as SUNNY 22
SUNNY 22 (MC-12W, 10-0739) on final to Hunter AAF
SUNNY 22 (MC-12W, 10-0739) on final to Hunter AAF
SUNNY 22 (MC-12W, 10-0739) on final to Hunter AAF
SUNNY 22 (MC-12W, 10-0739) on final to Hunter AAF

What makes this so interesting is that to the best of my knowledge the MC-12W is a USAF aircraft. If so, why is it flying with a US Army unit? According to the logs from my Mode-S receiver, the first time it was snagged was on 2 October 2014 for just a short period of time between 2025 and 2075 feet; the next time it shows on the log is today.  As some of you may remember, I posted last month that 224 MI Bn was flying another new aircraft, an EMARSS, so this makes two new aircraft that B/224 MI Bn has been flying recently.

Combine this with one other bit of information and things get even more interesting. B/224 MI Bn normally flies RC-12Ns but I haven’t heard an RC-12 since July. The EMARSS aircraft started flying regularly in early August and the MC-12W showed up today, could this indicate that the unit is getting different aircraft an that its mission is moving in a different direction? Time will tell.