Su-24 shootdown, thermobaric weapons and chaos: analysis of Russian air power in Syria


Image source: The Aviationist

Justin Bronk is a Research Analyst of Military Sciences at Royal United Services Institute. Here is his analysis of today’s Su-24 shootdown.


What do we know about the Su-24 shootdown? What will be the consequences of it?

We know that it was shot down by Turkish F-16s after allegedly crossing the border and violating Turkey’s airspace in Hatay province. According to the Turkish letter to the UN the Su-24 was one of a flight of two which ignored ten warnings over a period of five minutes and entered Turkish airspace. A missile was fired at one which impacted and caused it to crash on the Syrian side of the border. The consequences, besides an obvious collapse of Russian-Turkish relations, depend very much on the proof Turkey and NATO can provide that the airspace violation did take place – contrary to Russian claims – and the extent to which Mr Putin feels he has to retaliate diplomatically, asymmetrically and potentially militarily.
How does the Russian and Western story vary? What is the truth? What are the motives for the varying stories?

The Turkish government claims the Su-24 violated Turkish airspace after ignoring repeated warnings and was then shot down, crashing on the Syrian side of the border. Russia claims its aircraft never entered Turkish airspace and that the attack was unprovoked. Russia also claims the Su-24 was involved in strikes against Islamic State at the time. The motives are fairly clear – both sides are saying that the other is in the wrong and the Russians do not want to be seen as being aggressors who got punished. The truth is likely to be that the Russian jet did indeed violate Turkish airspace after ignoring warnings, but for a very brief period and without any intention to threaten Turkey beyond the annoyance of another incursion. Russia has repeatedly violated Turkish airspace, along with other NATO members such as Estonia over the past two years.
 Is Turkey actually scared of air attack, or just sick of having its airspace penetrated?

There is no suggestion from the Turkish side that the Su-24 was attempting to attack Turkey. However, deliberate violation of sovereign airspace by foreign military aircraft is taken very seriously by almost every country in the world. Since the Russian Air Force repeatedly probed Turkish airspace in early October and Turkey warned that any more violations would result in dangerous results, it seems fairly clear that the decision was made at a very high level in Turkey that this violation would be fired upon.

Are Russian and other air forces attacking Syria coordinated?

No, Russian forces are not directly coordinating their activities in Syria with members of the US-led coalition. The only regular interaction is basic attempts at deconfliction to reduce the chances of a mid-air collision in the crowded airspace above Syria. Aside from security concerns, this is primarily because the US-led coalition and Russia have different geopolitical objectives and, therefore, different targets. Whilst the coalition is attempting to destroy ISIL in Syria and Iraq, Russia’s primary objective appears to be providing air support to President Assad’s forces on the ground against all opposition groups. There are few places where the regime’s forces have direct contact with ISIL so most of Russia’s strikes have targeted moderate rebel groups and the Al-Qaeda affiliated Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra. The notable exception to this pattern has been in the aftermath of the Paris and Metrojet terror attacks which have led both France and Russia to focus attacks on the ISIL power-base in Raqqa. However, even these attacks have been carried out with only limited deconfliction cooperation.

How easy would it be to co-ordinate Russian air assets with those of other nations? What would be the obstacle to this?

Language might be a barrier. With ICAO rules on English as the international language of the air, Russian aircrew could probably understand most of what was said to them and get by speaking back though. However, the main issue is political – with Russia treating NATO very much as an adversary in Europe, it is not wise to let them know more than we have to about the ins and outs of NATO air operations and capabilities. Furthermore, Russian systems have software and hardware interoperability issues internally that make Western whole-force integration look positively glorious. This is a result of the Russian practice of keeping multiple arms companies such as Mikoyan and Sukhoi in business by ordering a huge variety of equipment models in small batches over long periods of time. Standardization is not their strong suit. Given how challenging NATO air forces find full interoperability within coalitions even whilst operating similar aircraft with standardized equipment, tactics and practices, proper integration of Russian forces would likely be a nightmare.

 Is true that the Russian air force causes more civilian deaths than other air forces, if so why? 

The Russian Air Force in Syria is causing far more civilian deaths than Western air forces (although not nearly as many as the Syrian Air Force barrel bombing campaign). This is primarily due to their reliance on large numbers of unguided ‘dumb’ bombs and rockets to attack targets. These invariably cause far more collateral damage than selective use of Western precision guided munitions due to their lower accuracy, higher blast yield and required ‘area’ attack tactics. Russian forces have also been reportedly using cluster munitions and thermobaric weapons which are by nature indiscriminate and imprecise.

There is talk of the UK starting air strikes in Syria- are more air assets actually needed? Would it be purely political?

The results of UK participation in kinetic strikes against targets in Syria would likely be almost purely political. There has so far been no talk about committing more assets, just allowing the eight Tornado GR.4s and ten MQ-9 Reapers currently committed in Iraq to extend their missions to Syria. Within the context of the wider US and coalition effort in Syria, this is a small force to add and certainly cannot produce anything more than marginal tactical gains. What is really in short supply in Syria is ISR platforms and UK Reapers, Sentinel and other ISR platforms are already conducting ISR operations over Syria as well as Iraq.


Follow him on Twitter: @Justin_Br0nk

Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

You should also enjoy some more of our articles: There’s a whole feast of features, including the top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an alternate history of the TSR.2, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is the The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker.



10 things you always wanted to know about planes, but were afraid to ask


 Hush-Kit asked Brian Clegg, author of Inflight Science, those aviation questions we all want answered (but felt we should know already).

What are contrails, and what causes them?”

The word ‘contrail’ is just a contraction of ‘condensation trail’ – it’s what we usually call a vapour trail in the UK, but condensation trail is more accurate. In effect they’re long thin artificial clouds. A cloud is just a collection of tiny water droplets and one of the waste products of burning aircraft fuel is water. There’s a jet of water vapour emerging from the back of a jet engine. Initially it’s invisible – you can see water when it’s a gas – but the air around it is very cold and it quickly condenses into droplets of water (or even ice crystals if it’s cold enough), just like a cloud. If contrails are forming you’ll get one from each engine, but because they aren’t visible until they are a little way behind the plane, and they soon merge, we often just see one. But only the plane is high enough. The reason we get those high ribbons of white, but nothing near an airport is that the air gets colder as you go higher, and you need to be over around 10,000 feet before it’s cool enough for a contrail to form.


I understand that there are conflicting views on the basic principle of how a wing works, what are they?”

At a basic level, there’s no problem. A wing works by redirecting the flow of air that goes past it as it cuts through the sky. But it gets complicated when you look at detail, because the physics of fluid flow (and air is just as much a fluid as is, say, water) is horribly messy. We’re usually taught that the lift that a wing gets, holding the plane up is due to something called the Bernoulli effect. The argument is something like this: the wing is shaped so it is further over the top surface than the bottom, which means that the air over the top has to go significantly faster to keep up with the air going over the bottom. Because the air is moving faster it thins out, reducing pressure above the wing compared with the pressure underneath – so the wing feels a pull upwards. The Bernoulli effect does exist, but this explanation of the lift being caused by the air going faster to keep up is rubbish – the air has no way of knowing what it needs to do to keep up. The reality is significantly more complex, and a much simpler way of looking at it is Newton’s third law that ever action has an equal and opposite reaction. The shape of the wing deflects the flow of the air in a downward direction. As it’s pushing down on the air, the air pushes up on the wing, producing lift.


The X-29 in flight.

What are the advantages of a forward-swept wing and why have they not caught on?”

It’s primarily a manoeuvrability versus stability argument. An aircraft with forward swept wings is more able to cut through the air efficiently, making it able to make sharper sudden turns. It also gives increased lift for the same area. But you pay for this with more instability on turns, as well as a tendency to bend the wing more than is the case with a conventional shape, which becomes more significant with large aircraft wings. What that has meant in practice is that forward-swept wings have been limited to fighter jets where manoeuvrability is arguably more important than stability, and even there, the relatively small benefits have often not been considered sufficient to balance out the downside.


What are the biggest misconceptions about aircraft?”

You’d need a whole book for that – my Inflight Science  covers a whole range, whether it’s things we get wrong or that are just an unexpected surprise. One would be what’s going on if an announcement is made about the crew putting the doors to automatic. This isn’t, as many think, engaging a lock. In fact, most of the time aircraft doors don’t need a lock. They open inwards first, and once the there is a significant difference between the cabin pressure and the outside air, it would be pretty much impossible to open the door against that pressure. Strictly speaking the announcement should be ‘chutes to automatic’ as what is being switched on is the automatic deployment of evacuation chutes. Another aspect of aircraft that is often misunderstood is why a tug is used to pull the aircraft away from the stand, rather than using the aircraft engines. It would be perfectly possible to manoeuvre on engines alone – aircraft usually do on landing. But to reverse away from the terminal would mean sending the jet blast straight towards all that plate glass, carrying with it any debris, which would be distinctly dangerous. Using a tug does also save on fuel, and Virgin Atlantic did plan some time ago to use tugs for the whole trip from terminal to runway. Unfortunately there were two problems with this. One was that airports typically didn’t have space at the end of the runway for detaching tugs and getting them out of the way. But more significantly, towing reduces the lifespan of the undercarriage and manufacturers made it clear that more towing would mean more expensive replacement schedules for the airlines.


Airliners have essentially looked the same since the Boeing 707, when will the next configuration become popular and what do you expect it to be?”

It’s not quite as straightforward as that. Certainly the narrow bodied aircraft have continued with a basic that is similar to the first hugely successful long range jet airliner, but wide bodied aircraft like the Boeing 747 and the Airbus A380 with their distinctive double decks do present a considerably different configuration. And we shouldn’t forget the entirely different Concorde, which failed for political reasons rather than commercial ones. For the future, there is no reason why basic, workaday aircraft would not continue with essentially similar formats. Significant change is liable to come with technological transformation. I’d suggest this is likely to have two possible directions. One is a return to supersonic flight. This may never happen, but if it does, looking at, for instance, the Airbus concept plans filed this August, we’d see a radically different design both in wing shape and body format, partly to help reduce the noise levels that plagued Concorde. The other is the move to low carbon flight. Aircraft fuel is a very efficient way to store energy and at the moment it would be impossible to have a battery powered airliner. In the future, though, we could be looking at designs to massively reduce fuel consumption in exchange, perhaps for slower flights – perhaps even a new generation of airships.


Conventional helicopters seem to struggle to get above 200mph, why is that?”

A traditional helicopter relies on tipping forwards to get forward momentum – but its rotors are still at an inefficient angle to get a huge amount of forward thrust, and the engines are always putting a lot of effort into keeping the aircraft up as there is limited lift available. The other problem is that as the aircraft moves forward there is more lift on the rotor blades when they are at the front of the aircraft and moving into the wind than there is at the rear, where they are moving away from the wind. The faster the helicopter goes, the more opportunity there is for ‘retreating blade stall’ where the helicopter rolls towards the blade that’s heading backwards. The main potential to get around this is either by rotating the rotors through 90 degrees, as in a VTOL aircraft, or to have a pair of rotors on the same axis rotating in opposite directions. This would work in theory, but is extremely difficult to manage in practice.


What are the most promising aeronautical technologies now in development?”

At their most visible, I think these are primarily approaches to deal with the two issues mentioned above: flying faster and flying greener. Perhaps the most dramatic flying faster development is a British one in the Skylon space plane, which is a plane that can be used to reach low Earth orbit. The key to its potential success is the radically different Sabre engines, which are air breathing as long as it is possible to do so before switching to rocket mode. This is a remarkable achievement, as the engines have have to drastically cool the air then compress it to an immense pressure all in a fraction of a second to be able work with the liquid hydrogen fuel. The benefit is to lose an equivalent conventional rocket’s need to carry around 250 tonnes more oxygen than Skylon. Flying greener will come both from greater efficiency and an eventual move to alternative fuels – the ideal would be a major battery breakthrough, which would require batteries to store at least 100 times as much energy per unit weight. And we are seeing some remarkable developments in battery technology. Finally I would stress the less obvious software side. Aircraft are immensely complex devices and the increasing computerisation and software capabilities could lead to anything from significantly reduced fuel consumption to more effective autopilots and transformed passenger communication capabilities.


China has announced development of a smart stealth skin that counter radars of any wavelength  what are your thought on this?”

Stealth is a combination of technologies designed to minimize the ability of an enemy to detect the presence of a piece of military hardware. This is both about confusing radar signals and reducing the emissions that the plane makes, for example the heat from its engines. Usually stealth is a pragmatic technology. If it’s not possible to make something entirely invisible, then the idea is to modify its appearance. So, for instance, stealth technology has been tested on tanks that makes them look like an ordinary car, and similarly on aircraft, when it’s not possible to be entirely invisible the aim is to look like a flight of birds. The radar can be fooled passively by either absorbing or scattering the radar waves, or actively by generating a confusing signal. To try get around existing stealth technology, extremely high frequency radar, which has better resolution but less range, is used. The new Chinese material is better at absorbing these frequencies than existing stealth absorbers. But this is only an incremental improvement, not a total breakthrough.


Where is the safest place to sit on an airliner?

Safety on an airliner is about two things – ability to survive and ability to get out. Making sure your seat has easy access to a fire exit is one obvious step – apart from the main doors there will be window emergency exits with wider seat spacing. Crew, when travelling as passengers, sometimes count the number rows to the exit row, so they can feel their way to it if the cabin is dark or smoke filled. On location, in analyses of crashes the safest seats are those behind the wing, then those over the wing, and worst right up the front. The safest seats of all aren’t generally available though – they are the crew seats. They have the key advantage of facing backwards, which makes survival in a crash significantly more likely. Airlines would love to have all the seats facing backwards, but when they have been available (the old Trident, for instance, had some backward-facing seats), passengers are reluctant to use them.


What happened to Flight MH370?”
Malaysia Airlines flight 370 disappeared over the Indian Ocean in March 2014. This 12-year-old Boeing 777 powered by Rolls Royce engines had 227 passengers and 12 crew onboard. The disappearance was abrupt after the plane had deviated from its flight path and considered a mystery. For many months no trace was found, but a small amount of debris was discovered at Reunion Island over a year later. Any answer to the question of what happened has to be speculative. The plane may well have flown until it ran out of fuel. This would seem most likely to have happened if the crew were incapacitated either intentionally or by a loss of oxygen. The oddity here is that the autopilot settings appear to have been changed to take the plane off the published flight plan, which seems to suggest an outcome that was not purely accidental. It is unlikely there will ever be a definitive answer to what happened to this aircraft.

 If an aircraft crashes – what are the hallmarks that it was downed by an onboard bomb?”

The recent disaster that befell the Russian Metrojet flight 9268 from Sharm el Sheikh to St Petersburg is now thought to have been caused by a bomb on board. There a number of indicators that investigators will use to discover the causes of a crash. An explosion will often result in mid-air break up of the fuselage, which would result in the debris being spread over a significantly greater area than a crash in which the plane was mostly intact before impact. There can also be identifiable damage to and traces of unburnt explosive on parts of the aircraft or passenger belongings that were situated near to the explosive charge, while the flight recorder can pick up distinctive sounds of the explosion before ceasing to function.

The recent disaster that befell the Russian Metrojet flight 9268 from Sharm el Sheikh to St Petersburg is now thought to have been caused by a bomb on board. There a number of indicators that investigators will use to discover the causes of a crash. An explosion will often result in mid-air break up of the fuselage, which would result in the debris being spread over a significantly greater area than a crash in which the plane was mostly intact before impact. There can also be identifiable damage to and traces of unburnt explosive on parts of the aircraft or passenger belongings that were situated near to the explosive charge, while the flight recorder can pick up distinctive sounds of the explosion before ceasing to function.

Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit


Brian Clegg ( is a science writer with over 30 books in print, including Inflight Science and Build Your Own Time Machine. His latest title, How Many Moons Does the Earth Have is a mind-stretching science quiz book.
For more on Brian’s books see

You should also enjoy some more of our articles: There’s a whole feast of features, including the top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an alternate history of the TSR.2, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is the The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker.

  The Quantum Age explains the amazing science of quantum physics – but that’s just a beginning in exploring the way this mind boggling science is responsible for 30% of GDP, and provides fascinating stories from the anti-communist paranoia that accompanied the development of the laser to the remarkable world of the super cool. See

The untold story of Britain’s ‘F-16’


In the mid 1970s, the British company Hawker Siddeley developed a concept for a medium-weight fighter for the Royal Air Force strongly influenced by the US’ F-16. This series of ‘P.1200’ concepts came from the company’s Kingston division. Though considerably larger than the F-16, most of the P.1200 designs featured a similar air intake, canopy, leading edge root extensions and general wing configuration.

Strangely the P.1202 design was offered with either two RB.199s or a single RB.431. The RB.199 was then in development for the Tornado, but as experience would show with the ADV, it was not a suitable fighter engine; it was tailor-made for the low-level regime and was a poor performer at the medium and high altitudes that an air superiority fighter needs to operate in. The RB.431  study was essentially a Pegasus with reheat and no vectored thrust nozzles, though powerful it again seems an odd choice for a supersonic fighter. 

The initial design, from November 1975,  featured a canard layout with square shoulder-mounted intakes, similar to the later Saab Gripen. Further designs utilized a conventional tail and dorsal intakes. Internal armament for the early P.1200 designs was two 27-mm Mauser cannon. Air-to-air armament was expected to be AIM-9 Sidewinders and SkyFlash medium-range missiles. In the secondary air-to-ground role it could have carried four bombs in a low-drag recess.

 By 1977 the aircraft had become even more strongly influenced by the F-16. Both singe and twin vertical fin configurations were tested. The twin-tailed P.1202 pictured above, would have had superior high alpha performance to the F-16, and given a suitable engine, would have made a formidable dogfighter.

Flying and fighting in the Lightning


All images: Property of Ian Black

The English Electric Lightning was the most exciting jet fighter ever created. When it entered service, in 1959, it was the most formidable fighter in the world. For twenty nine years it thundered over British skies as a brutish deterrent to would-be attackers. Ian Black flew this over-powered monster for the Royal Air Force in the final years of the Cold War. Here he shares the secrets of flying and fighting in Britain’s final jet fighter. 

What were your first impressions of the Lightning?
Very big, it sat high off the ground unlike the Hawk . It seemed to have  myriad switches. all randomly located in the cockpit. It was very cramped when wearing full exposure suit, which we did for 8-9 months of the year in the UK. It had an extremely eccentric starting system that was a bit like a Jules Verne Rocket; once the engine was turning it was like lighting a firework and you were off on a journey of a short, but exciting, duration.

Which Lightning marks did you fly?
I started on the T.Mk 5 trainer then flew the F.Mk 3 single-seater in training then flew the bigger heavy Mk.6 on the Squadron – then flew the F.Mk 6 and T.Mk 5 privately

 What were the Lightnings worst vices?
Lack of fuel was the obvious one. From a handling point of view it was gloriously over-powered, something few aircraft have. With its highly swept wing and lack of any manoeuvre /combat flaps or slats the aircraft was often flown in the ‘light- heavy buffet’ which masked any seat-of-the pants feeling of an impending stall. It actually had few of the traditional ‘vices’ but could be a handful on landing with its big fin and drag chute, which made the aircraft weathercock on a strong crosswind landing. Tyres were also by necessity very thin to fit into the wing and high pressure, so didn’t last long.


How good was the radar?
In 1960 it was probably state of the art, but by 1988 it was positively prehistoric ! It was hopeless at low level overland, difficult at low level over the sea. At height the targets would often be doing in excess of .9 Mach so the combined speed of fighter and target would be around 20 miles a minute – with a maximum pick-up range on an average target of 18-20 miles this gave you less than a minute from initial contact to engagement. It also had very limited electronic counter measures capability.

How good were the weapon systems?
Again the weapons system was state of the art in the 1960s, by 1988 it was prehistoric. The system had potential: a data-link where the ground controllers would perform the intercept with pilot flying to target hands-off. The weapons were fine against lumbering Soviet Bombers up at altitude, but not great in a high G combat scenario.

How did Lightnings do against teen series fighters in BFM/DACT (dogfight training) exercises? What tips would you offer in these situations?
Lightnings fought F-14, F-15, F-16 and F-18s. At long ranges Lightnings would have been shot down with radar-guided missiles-  with no RWR (radar warning receivers) the Lightning would not have stood a chance. Against the teen series the Lightning did OK in close-in combat, but the best version for air combat was the F.Mk 3 and that had so little fuel you could really only one last for one engagement .
If you’re fighting a Phantom in a Lightning what is the best approach?
Use the vertical – keep the F-4 close and keep it high where it doesn’t perform as well – around 5000 feet a clean wing F-4 ( UK ) was a close match for a Lightning. If you were fighting an F-4 with AIM-9L it was a hard match, so keeping it tight and trying to be inside his minimum rangewas good… and use guns.

Interview with F-100 pilot here

How would the Lightning have done against a MiG-23?
Easy. The MiG-23 was pretty awful at a turning fight, but would probably have out-run a Lightning at high-speed at low level.

How did the Lightning do against the Tornado F.Mk 3?
The ‘F2’ really only entered service in 1986  and the F3 in 1987 (a year before the Lightning was retired). We did do some work against the Tornado, but mainly radar intercepts – we knew that although it had track while scan, it was easily confused so we would start at 40,000 feet then descend to 10,000 quickly whilst changing formation and then climb back up again Normally, the early F3 Foxhunter radar was totally confused by this stage.

10 greatest fighter aircraft of 1985 here

Which tactics should Lightning pilots use in air combat?
My own tactic was to come to the merge at high speed, say Mach 1.1- 1.2, then to come back to idle at the cross point to avoid getting shot in the face then start a low G climbing turn with full re heat hoping to top out around 40,000 feet (making sure you didn’t go into contrails and give your position away. If your opponent didn’t climb up with you it was an easy task to dive down on them ( they were often now blind to you ) and pick you moment
What was your most notable flight and what happened?

Flying my father, taking a Lightning to Cyprus twice , flying low level in West Germany from Gütersloh where Lightnings had been based in the 1970s.

Flying my First Lightning solo was incredible. Imagine watching something you loved for 25 years and then actually getting a chance to do it — but in the process you have to learn to be a fighter pilot!

Flying a Lightning solo was pretty special, but taking one across the Med’ with a tanker was a unique experience – I flew a T.Mk 5 once to Cyprus (and back ) and an F.Mk 6 one way. The T.Mk 5 had to be refuelled 6 times to get there with the aid of tanker support.

As a child I had always assumed flying Lightnings at low level in Germany was as good as it got, (over the North sea wasn’t nearly as exciting) so given the chance to do a week of just that was too good to be true. Especially as we were working with the Harrier force engaging in air combat when the weather was too bad to fly at low altitude

Taking my dad flying was a bit nerve wracking – I had 50 hours on type, while he had nearly 2000. It was 15 years since he’d last flown Lightnings and he regarded as one of the best Lightning pilots there ever was. He pretty much flew it from start to finish – I’m not sure what was worse him teaching me to drive or me taking him in a Lightning !

Interview with EAP and Tornado test pilot Dave Eagles here

How well trained were Lightning pilots? Were you given sufficient flying time?
Lightning pilots, along with Harrier pilots, were the best — no contest. We got lots of flying, and we were always on top of our game from low-level intercepts to high-flying supersonic targets.

What tips would you offer for a Lightning landing?
I guess pick a point on the runway and keep a constant angle down to touch down. Keep the speed accurate and if it doesn’t look right then overshoot and do it again.

I understood that you recently flew a Lightning in South Africa, what was that like?
I’ve been flying the Lightning at Thunder City on and off for ten years and its very different from flying in the RAF but still great fun. It’s a challenge because there is no one to supervise you or help you, so you are very much on your own. The aircraft are lovingly cared for, so they are in great condition.

What projects are you working on that would interest our readers?
I’ve set up which is to produce one book a year on various topics. So far we’ve done Lightning and F-4UK (British Phantoms) and next year the book planned Vol 3 is called “ZINC” a collection of all the types I flew but mostly Tornado, Mirage 2000 and other NATO types.

What should I have asked you about the Lightning?
What makes the Lightning unique. It’s the only jet fighter with a vertical twin-stack engine layout – It’s all British and did Mach 2.0 It’s probably the ultimate fighter in terms of man and machine working as one. It is a massively overpowered fighter with an incredibly high pilot work-load.

Ian Black left the Royal Air Force as a Captain, he flew with RAF Squadrons 19,11,23,25,234,65,56 and EC 2/5 of the Armée de l’air. 


Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit


You should also enjoy some more of our articles: There’s a whole feast of features, including the top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an alternate history of the TSR.2, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is the The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker.

Check out Ian’s books at


Abandoned MiGs

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The wreckage of an abandoned Soviet Mig-21 Fishbed aircraft sits with rusted hardware in an open field near Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, during Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. After over 20 years of war and civil unrest, the Afghan landscape is painted with pieces of old military hardware and unexploded ordnance.

The wreckage of an abandoned Soviet Mig-21 Fishbed aircraft sits with rusted hardware in an open field near Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, during Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. After over 20 years of war and civil unrest, the Afghan landscape is painted with pieces of old military hardware and unexploded ordnance.


Analysis of Northrop Grumman’s Long Range Strike Bomber

Yesterday evening it was announced that the contract to create the next USAF bomber had been awarded to Northrop Grumman. We caught up with the Royal United Services Institute’s Justin Bronk for analysis of this enormous decision.


Did you expect Northrop Grumman to win?

I did expect Northrop to win since they have the obvious edge in terms of experience designing and manufacturing large stealth aircraft. The iconic B-2 Spirit remains the most formidable and technologically exquisite bomber ever developed and no competing foreign powers have yet shown even a capability to convincingly copy the broad outline of the design – an impressive pedigree. Northrop have also designed and built the extremely successful X-47B which proved their cranked-kite airframe layout was viable and stealthy, to a limited budget and roughly on schedule. In fact, the X-47B has surprised the US Navy by accomplishing far more in its test programme than was anticipated. Furthermore, the cranked-kite shape is reportedly the basis for America’s most stealthy aircraft in service – the top secret and fairly large RQ-180 – again developed and delivered by Northrop Grumman. With a recent pedigree in producing an aircraft significantly larger than a fighter, with the capability to penetrate heavily defended airspace unseen and reportedly carry out electronic attack functions as well as ISR, Northrop were always ideally placed for the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) win. Whilst the Lockheed Martin/Boeing consortium would have brought huge experience to the project, their collective expertise in stealth aircraft development is decidedly in tactical fighter-sized airframes. Furthermore, both have vast global production commitments which would have potentially competed with LRS-B for priority in terms of internal resources and talent.

Click here for: ‘Typhoon, Su-35 and the Peshmerga’

What can we expect from their design? 
A large, cranked-kite layout with a significantly elongated wing and a central body as streamlined as weapon-carriage and fuel specifications will allow, with buried engines employing both intake and exhaust shrouding features. The question of optionally-manned appears to have gone quiet at the moment so we will see on that front but it will have to have a cockpit similar to the B-2 since the nuclear mission required crew capacity. To stay within cost boundaries, it is almost certain that the aircraft will be smaller than the B-2 and will complement, rather than replace the latter in the deep-penetration deterrence and power projection role. It will also most likely have highly sophisticated electronic attack capabilities.

Do you think the rival team will protest the decision?
I think Boeing/Lockheed Martin are bound to appeal the decision but probably not with the same desperation as Northrop would have if the competition had gone the other way. It is not a catastrophic loss for either Boeing or Lockheed Martin but would likely have been terminal for Northrop Grumman’s ability to sustain their military aircraft business long-term. I also don’t think the USAF will be willing to tolerate a long, drawn out appeal process, especially given the IOC date of 2025.

What is the top within-visual range fighter in 2015? Answer here

Is LRS-B the right concept?
Considering the increasing sophistication and reach of A2/AD systems such as China’s IADS and DF-21D combination, along with the vulnerability of large, super-bases in theatre such as Guam to surprise attacks; I think the LRS-B is an essential requirement if the USAF is to be able to provide credible, scalable conventional and nuclear deterrent capabilities against peer-opponents going forwards. The question is whether the tendency towards requirements-creep can be avoided as it appears to have been up until this point, in order to keep development on budget and on schedule. The integration of directed energy weapons and other exotic technologies are certainly something which should be given consideration in terms of building modularity into the design, but not if the power-generation, space and cooling requirements of such theoretically useful systems make the aircraft too expensive and large to procure in sufficient numbers, or compromise its core mission as a bomber. The other worrying issue is the ‘optionally manned’ requirement which the USAF discussed several times in relation to the programme. Optionally manned appears to me to be a way of having to pay for the downsides of both configurations in terms of software complexity, support mechanisms, crew life support, cyber vulnerability etc, whilst not gaining the design simplicities of either. In addition, the nuclear role requirement means that for its most dangerous missions, the LRS-B will have to be manned, so I think the provision of an unmanned operations capability is an unnecessary complication and cost-driver. There is no doubt, however, that whatever Northrop Grumman eventually delivers to the USAF will be one of the most interesting and awesome looking aircraft ever built – I await it with great anticipation!


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You should also enjoy our other Top Tens! There’s a whole feast of fantastic BritishFrenchSwedishAustralian, Japanese , Belgian,  German and Latin American aeroplanes. Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read as is the Top Ten cancelled fighters.

Planet Satellite: An aeronautical engineer responds


Image: Flight Global/


I had not heard of the delightfully oddball Planet Satellite before reading about it on Hush-kit, but admit to now being something of a fan.
Despite being a postwar design it does have hints of the “aircraft of the future” generally found in the “Boy’s Books” of the late 1930’s. I also presume I am not the only one who sees parallels with certain aspects of the recently resurrected Bugatti racer? Of course, no matter what qualities the aircraft may have it is the human angle that draws us in. Something that the Satellite has in spades. The disingenuous nature of the claim regarding Heenan’s complete lack of aeronautical background is immediately apparent as soon as you look at the aircraft. It is unusual but the proportions and overall configuration look “right”, or at least “highly plausible.” The obvious flaw retrospectively was not rigorously following a professional design and development process for the project. Given that the aircraft had the novel use of material and construction this can be seen as being highly naive at best. It smacks less of an engineer without aircraft experience and more of someone who has been around aircraft but having no formal engineering experience.
The governing bodies had obviously learnt their lesson by the time the Lear Fan turned up. Looking beyond the aircraft layout the striking similarity is the use of novel materials and construction, this time bonded composites. It just so happens that I have some experience in this field and I recall being told that the reason the Lear Fan had 3 wing spars was because the FAA was rather twitchy about the use of the new material. This way if there was a catastrophic failure of one spar there were at least 2 more to get you home on. The FAA also insisted on “chicken bolts”, secondary mechanical fasteners passing through the bonded joints. Sadly the best way to weaken a piece of composite is to put a hole through it – still, never mind. Perhaps the Satellite was failed by too little regulation and the Lear Fan by too much?
Actuarius is an artist and engineer who regularly contributes to Hagerty Classic Insurance and Rough UK