What happened at Saki air base? The likely cause of the Russian air base explosions in Crimea

Huge explosions rocked a Russian airfield in occupied Ukraine on August 9, in Moscow’s biggest loss of military aircraft in a single day since World War II, but what caused them?

Saki air base, is currently the Crimean home to the 43rd Russian Independent Naval Attack Aviation Regiment (43 OMShAP). Su-24 bombers and Su-30 Flankers operate from the base and around 10 were destroyed during the explosions. What is currently unknown is what caused the explosions, with no official comment yet released from the Ukrainian MoD. We asked Justin Bronk Senior Research Fellow for Airpower and Military Technology at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) for his opinion on the likely cause: “Well, what I’m pretty confident about at this stage is that the three large fireball explosions that people are fixating on were not warhead impacts (which have a very different blast shape if you know what to look for), but instead were secondary explosions caused by stored Russian bombs and rockets detonating. The big blasts happen in the middle of what was clearly an already well-established fire – probably aviation fuel. That fire may well have been triggered by Ukrainian special forces using demo charges or munitions dropped from small UAVs, or loitering munitions. Either way, the initial fire spread and caused a chain reaction due to sloppy Russian ammunition storage practice – they were clearly keeping piles of bombs and rockets close to the aircraft as previously observed in Syria.”

Typhoon pilot and technical advisor talk back

Yesterday we published an article asking whether the MBB-VFW Fokker canard delta tactical fighter study was in some ways a superior aircraft to the later Eurofighter Typhoon. As a counterpoint to this we asked the opinions of a former Typhoon combat veteran, Mike Sutton – and Jim Smith who worked on the Typhoon’s development advising the Project Office on Mass and Performance.

“While clearly driven by some of the same design objectives as Typhoon – high energy manoeuvrability, low wave drag and good supersonic performance – I would still regard an emphasis on low-speed, high alpha manoeuvrability as a mistake. Given the ability of all aspect missiles like IRIS-T and ASRAAM, as well as longer-range missiles like Meteor and AMRAAM, to successfully engage pre-merge and at high off-boresight angles, close-in combat has become a situation to avoid, due to the likelihood of a mutual kill.

At various times, vectoring nozzles were proposed and rejected for Typhoon, partly for this reason, and also to avoid the weight penalty and additional complexity in the control system. As usual in International projects, there were different perspectives from the nations, particularly in the early days. Germany in particular used to have national policies in place preventing military action outside its borders, leading to a focus on Air Defence rather than Air Superiority, and, at least to some extent, limiting its interest in long-range offensive strike. Over time, changes in geo-politics and security settings have changed those views. The VFW-Fokker design might have been superior to the MiG-29, but would perhaps struggle against advanced Sukhoi developments and have limited strike capability.

Of course, add an IRST, E-Scan radar, Meteor, ASRAAM or IRIS-T, stores pylons and systems, EW defences and decoys and you might have such a good BVR aircraft that you wouldn’t need the thrust vectoring. And that’s pretty much what happened.”

  • Jim Smith worked on the Typhoon advising the Project Office on Mass and Performance

“I had never heard of the MBB-VFW Fokker before so it’s interesting to see the popularity of canards during that era of aircraft design. As for turning performance, post-stall manoeuvre while being impressive at air shows, is really a last ditch capability in air combat. Most of the time combat aircraft want the ability to target and engage at range, something the Typhoon can do exceedingly well.

If an intercept has gone all the way to a merge (in itself a failure of sorts) even then most of the time fighters want to maintain energy and speed: speed provides tactical options and manoeuvrability when fighting. A turning fight is all about nose position. If you are beaten down on energy having greater nose authority through thrust vectoring or high alpha is useful, but is a corner you end up in rather than one you would aim for.

A rate fighter such as Typhoon will turn well at 9g, has huge thrust-to-weight advantages which means it can use the vertical when most fighters are out of energy and has a high off-boresight missile that the pilot can aim by just looking at their adversary. So the jet is not badly placed. All fighters are a compromise of sorts. More alpha would be welcomed, but not at the cost of any of the jet’s superb multi-role capabilities which have been extensively proven on operations in recent years.”

-Mike Sutton, Former Typhoon Combat pilot

Was this fighter better than the Typhoon? MBB VFW-Fokker Delta Canard Tactical Fighter

In the late 1970s, West Germany wanted a new Air Superiority fighter. Though Britain tried to drag European fighter talks towards aircraft comprised by short take-off and vertical landing, West Germany was not convinced. They want a fast agile fighter that could dogfight with a new breed of ultra-manoeuvrable Soviet fighters that would soon be on their doorstep, the MiG-29 and Su-27. Western intelligence was well aware of the development of this aircraft, and how they would utterly outmatch NATO’s fighter force that largely consisted of Phantoms, Lightnings and Starfighters.

A design was created by the companies that had created the Bf 109 and Fw 190 of wartime fame (Focke-Wulf was part of VFW) as well as the great Fokker fighters of World War I. The result was a formidable prospect, with thrust vectored nozzles and capable of post-stall flight beyond 90 degrees angle of attack. The particular style of belly intake, thrust vectoring and twin tail configuration would have made it a far superior low-speed angles fighter’ to today’s Typhoon, but it would also have been no slouch in the high-speed regime with its distinctive cranked delta. Its very low wing loading would have provided spectacular instantaneous turn rates, and excellent short-field performance.

Its engine compressor face was more buried from prying radar waves than the later Typhoon’s. Though the latter may have inherited the s-shaped intake duct from this design, diagrams appear to show a greater degree of line-of-sight shielding on the German-Dutch design. With its vectored thrust and high angle of attack capabilities, it may also have been adaptable into a carrier aircraft, something which though proposed was never seriously viable for the Typhoon.

The MiG 1.42

Fundamental to judging this design is the different philosophies of obtaining a snap off-boresight missile shot: some designs emphasise moving the entire aircraft, like the F-22, others (such as Typhoon) using an off-boresight cueing system with agile missiles. As efforts to integrate the Scorpion helmet cueing system onto the F-22 have shown, the optimum solution for nations with a big enough budget, is both. It should also be added that Typhoon, though a superb dogfighter, is optimised for the beyond visual range where situational awareness, acceleration and specific excess power and combat persistence are more important than post-stall manoeuvrability. Still, this design offers a fascinating glimpse into contemporary thinking and bears interesting comparison with the Soviet MiG studies for an advanced tactical fighter.

This German-Dutch study would feed into what eventually became the Eurofighter Typhoon.

We asked a Typhoon combat veteran and a technical advisor their opinions on the above here

The 10 Strangest French Aircraft

SNCAC NC.3021 Belphégor high-altitude research aircraft

France is a nation of contradictions, simultaneously ultra-conservative yet radically inventive to the point of absurdity, the forces of conformity and eccentricity have long been at odds in this great European nation. There is a reason that the words outré and avant-garde came from France, such is the presence of radical new thinking in the culture. France’s adventures in aviation embrace both these seemingly opposed aspects of the national psyche, but it is in the realm of the outlandish that we will dwell tonight, mon ami.

Simply developing excellent flying machines wasn’t enough for the French aeronautical pioneers; they frequently sought to revolutionise the very nature of powered flight. The following bizarre bestiary of resultant prototypes and experimental aircraft that flew from the ‘left bank’ of this radical thinking were often unique – and occasionally beyond comprehension, so we just had to find out more. Hugo Mark Michel and Joe Coles take a walk down the forbidden boulevard in search of France’s strangest flying machines.

10. The Fouga CM.88 « Gémeaux »

The Fouga CM.88 Gémeaux (Gemini), was a series of twin-engine flying engine test-beds developed in the 1950s to trial French jet engines. The strange appearance is the result of the fusion of two fuselages from the 1949 Fouga CM.8 Sylphe (the first 100% French jet aircraft). The twinning of an existing fuselage was a good design solution, proving cheaper and easier than developing a brand new aircraft. Its unusual W-shaped tailplane was formed by the fusing of two CM.8 V-tailplanes. As the engines to be tested on the aircraft were experimental, for safety reasons it was decided that the first Gémeaux model would be equipped with two engines, to ensure redundancy in case of failure. The French pilots were not used to landing a twin-engine twin-fuselaged aircraft, so to familiarize themselves, they were dispatched to the USA to train on the F-82 Twin Mustang. But, the French aircraft being a jet, this experience with a propeller aircraft was not very helpful. On 6 November 1951, the second Gémeaux produced became the first aircraft in the world to fly with a turbofan engine*, an Aspin I. The aircraft, built in two copies, had a very short but rich career testing no less than 5 new types of French jet engines. So, on 6 March 1951, the first CM.88 took to the skies, powered by two Turbomeca Pimene engines. The first flights went very well, the aircraft proved both stable and manoeuvrable, albeit with very rough landing characteristics.

(*British aviation historians may be of a different opinion on this)

9. SNCASO Sud-Ouest Delta VX Deltaviex

The extremely attractive SNCASO Sud-Ouest Delta VX Deltaviex was a small experimental jet aircraft built and tested in the 1950s. Despite its name, it was not equipped with a delta wing – but with a very small swept wing raked back at a dramatic 70°. The whole aircraft was tiny, with a wingspan of only 3.4 meters. It was a flying testbed, for a control system using the gases expelled by the engine on the control surfaces (blown flaps were also tested on the Bréguet 960 Vultur, a French Westland Wyvern equivalent). Around 2% of the gases produced by the engine were used to blow the trailing edges of the landing flaps. This system increased lift while stabilising the roll, and allowed a yaw control, replacing the traditional rudder. Thanks to its compact dimensions, it was possible to test it directly in wind tunnels to measure its characteristics precisely, and it was tested in the Chalais-Meudon and Modanee wind tunnels. After this test campaign, the Deltaviex started to make some very short flights, its only test pilot, Robert Fouquet, declared that it was a safe aircraft which controlled itself very well in flight, despite this, it could never make a real extended flight. This was simply too dangerous. Due to its size, it was impossible to install an ejection seat, and in the event of a failure of its single engine, the aircraft would have become uncontrollable and would have left no chance of survival for its pilot. Built in 1953, its existence remained a secret until 1956, when it was presented to the public.

Its poor carcass was saved in 1984 by the Ailes Ancienne de Toulouse where it was gradually restored.

8. Nord.500 « Cadet »

The Nord-Aviation N.500 Cadet was one of the many experimental ADAV (VTOL to English-speakers) research aircraft built in France during the ‘60s. Its basic configuration was similar to the Canadian CL-84 or US XC-142 ‘tilt-wings’ of the same period – and it was developed at the request of the French armed forces. The French military wished to replace helicopters and conventional fixed-wing military transports with fast vertical take-off and landing aircraft. The role of the Cadet was to test and develop, on behalf of SNCAN (becoming Nord-Aviation in ‘58), the new technology of tilt-rotor ducted propellers. Even before the first test of the prototype, Nord Aviation planned to cancel this unlikely project that they had reluctantly inherited.

After the presentation of a model at the 1965 Paris Air Show, two prototypes were assembled in 1967, powered by two 320-hp Allison turbines. The second prototype flew on July 23 1968 in captive flight (attached to the ground by strong steel cables to limit the risk of accidents) – though the world was too distracted by the PLO’s first hijacking of an El Al airliner to pay much attention. The N.500 Cadet made its first and only free flight in 1969, but never made the transition from vertical to horizontal flight. The programme was scrapped in 1971, despite the promise of larger and more powerful versions. The government preferred conventional helicopters, and instead opted for the rather boring Sud-Aviation SA-330 Puma instead.

Though it never entered service, it was probably the inspiration for the fictional Hunter-Killer drones of the Terminator movies, and the ducted fan VTOL concept has never gone away appearing on a multitude of unmanned aircraft and personal transport concepts.

7. Makhonine « Mak-10 » The Flying Extendable Dining Table

Several notable Russian aircraft designers fled to the west following the Russian Revolution of 1917. Sikorsky and Seversky were two of these emigres, and they founded Sikorsky and Republic respectively, two giants of US aviation, but Makhonine – a rather complex individual – took his unusual ideas to France.

By 1931 Ivan Makhonine, was a French nationalised engineer, working on a variable surface wing system (think flying extendable dining table). For take-off, economical cruise and landing the wings of his aircraft were fully extended, for high-speed flight the wing could be telescoped into the thicker inner wing section to reduce drag and lifting surface. In the extended configuration the wingspan gained eight metres.

The whole system was pneumatically operated and was coupled to a manual back-up system. To test his concept, Ivan Makhonine built a large single-engine monoplane equipped with the telescopic wing, the Mak-10 (not to be confused with the MAC-10 submachine gun beloved by Miami gangsters in 1980s movies). It flew for the first time on 11 August 1931, demonstrating that such a wing type could work.

It was nevertheless, like many French aircraft of the time, underpowered. Its twelve-cylinder Lorraine 12Eb engine was enough for such a large aircraft. A second version of the aircraft, the Mak-101, was built at the end of the ’30s to further studies of such an aircraft. The 101 was far more modern, equipped with an enclosed cockpit, retractable landing gear and a Gnome-Rhône 14K Mistral Major engine allowing it to reach 380 km/h. However, before the aircraft could begin its test campaign, the Second World War broke out, and the aircraft was captured by the Germans military. The aircraft was repainted in the colours of the Third Reich and transferred the aircraft to Germany for further tests. Its fate is unknown.

6. Carmier-Arnoux Simplex

From the very beginning of aviation history, French aeronautical engineer René Arnoux was seduced by the promise of flying wing (or tailless) aircraft. Whereas Johnny-come-lately Charles Fauvel (who did not start work until the mid-1920s) is rather better known, Mr Arnoux was an early pioneer who is largely forgotten. He built his first tailless biplane in 1909, followed by a monoplane three years later. During the 1913 Paris Air Show at the Grand Palais, Mr Arnoux exhibited the ‘Stablavion’. Despite its name, this was not a knife-crime-themed rollercoaster, but a two-seater low-wing monoplane powered by a 55-hp engine. The aircraft failed to attract any orders, despite the great hunger for military aeroplanes in the Great War. After the war, Arnoux resumed his research, and produced a second tailless biplane – and founded his company, the Société des Avions Simplex around 1921. The first aircraft produced by this new company was the Carmier-Arnoux Simplex, an extremely elegant tailless racing monoplane. It had a very round, sweeping shape and was powered by a 320-hp Hispano-Suiza engine. It was built to win the Deutsch Cup of 1922, and the prototype managed to reach an unprecedented 385 km/h during tests, far faster than the contemporary official world air speed of 330 km/h.

The piloting of such a machine was made very complex not because of its flying wing formula, but because the pilot couldn’t see very much at all; a cylindrical radiator was located just in front of the open cockpit blocking the forward view and the wide wings prevented any vision towards the ground. Even for a racing aeroplane, the pilot suffered a poor field of regard. A few days before its participation in the 1922 Deutsch Cup, the aeroplane had a serious accident, injuring its pilot Georges Madon. Discouraged by several accidents involving his aircraft, René Arnoux eventually ceased his activity as an aircraft manufacturer.

5. Gerin V-6E « Varivol » Monsieur extensible

The prestigious Coupe Deutsch de la Meurthe was a high-speed race that spurred a bounty of technological innovations in the 1930s, the first retractable landing gear and the first variable pitch propellers among many others. The first variable-surface wing was developed in pursuit of greater speed for the race. This system, although very simple, was nevertheless very heavy. Jacques Gérin’s idea was to divide the wing into two parts, a collapsible part, converted into a flexible covering capable of rolling up on axis, and a more conventional rigid part acting as a wing during high-speed flight. The soft part was stiffened by a system of sliding spars and ribs. In 1936, Gérin had an experimental biplane built to test this new technology.

This system allowed the upper wing to go from a surface area of 6.30 m2 to 26 m2 with the wing fully unfolded, thus reducing drag and theoretically increasing speed, manoeuvrability and handling characteristics during the take-off and landing phases. After a few flights and the destruction of the plane in an accident, work began on a racer derivative. The resultant Gérin V-6E Varivol was completed in 1938. The aircraft looked, at first glance, quite traditional for a racing plane of that time, but it was much more complex than it looked. After wind tunnel testing, the plane was in the process of finishing its development when the War began. Panicked by the German invasion of France, the engineers hid the plane in a barn where it was forgotten for many decades. It was later re-discovered and was restored by the Angers Marcé air museum. It was a very beautiful plane that unfortunately never flew. Its story bears interesting comparison with another beautiful aeroplane, the Bugatti 100P.

4. The Payen « Fléchair »

While the German aerodynamicist Alexander Lippisch swans around through the green room of aviation history, sipping martinis and boasting about his pioneering work on delta wings, the French engineer Nicolas Roland Payen modestly sits in the shadows cradling his pastis and bemoaning the peculiarities of fate. Often overlooked, Payen nevertheless was the French father of the delta wing, and in turn the magnificent Mirage and today’s euro-canards.

In November 1931, when he was only 17 years old, he patented the Avion Autoplan, a delta-wing aircraft, but it was in 1935, the year he turned 22, that he designed and built the world’s first true delta-wing aircraft, the PA-100 Fléchair. The PA-100 was unique for its time and remains so even today: Its main wing was a delta wing with flaps to ensure stability during low-speed flight, with two small wings (then known as “machutes”) installed at the front of the airframe to ensure control of the aircraft at low speed (this type of small forward wing will later be known as a ‘canard’ and will be fitted on many delta jets such as the Dassault Rafale, the XB-70 Valkyrie and the Saab Sk 37 Viggen).

The PA-100 with its 180 hp Régnier in-line engine proved to be extremely underpowered, and failed to reach the high speeds required for the wing to be completely effecient. It was after a few flips and a crash on 27 April 1935 that a second prototype named PA-101 was built to take part in the French speed race, the Coupe Deutsch de la Meurthe. The new aircraft had the same overall characteristics as the Pa-100, but this time was equipped with the far meatier 380 horsepower Gnome-Rhône engine of 380 hp of 19 litres. It was the engine’s large displacement that prevented it from taking part in the race, as only aircraft with engines of less than eight litres were allowed to compete. The plane become instead a fairground attraction and was gradually forgotten. The last Payen delta was the PA-22, an experimental aircraft built in 1939 and originally powered by a Melot 1R ramjet. The aircraft was later converted to a conventional engine, the 180 hp six-cylinder Regnier. The aircraft had not yet flown when Germany invaded France in 1940, and the Germans, intrigued by the machine, decided to complete the wind tunnel tests.

After being repainted in German colours, the aircraft was transferred to Villacoublay and in October 1942, pilot Jacques Charpentier made the first flight. An extensive test programme was then launched, but before it was completed, Mr Payen managed to get his aircraft out of the hands of the occupiers, by claiming that modifications were necessary he sent the prototype back to his factory in Juvisy. Continued improvements included a new propeller, this time with variable pitch and additional fuel tanks, but in 1943 an Allied air raid on the Juvisy marshalling yard hit the factory, destroying the PA-22.

The PA-61 of 1965
The PA-61 of 1965

Nicolas Rolland-Payen’s legacy is undeniable today, in addition to the paternity of the delta wing, one of his many great ideas was harnessed by the Space Shuttle. The Shuttle’s rudder neatly split open in two to deploy an airbrake mode, a technology patented and tested by Mr Payen in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

3. The Riout 102T « Alerion »

Since ancient times, birds have been fucking with humans by suggesting to the naive that flapping is a good propulsion technique to emulate. As humans distractedly considered this absurd proposition, birds successfully stole our chips and shat on our car (or carts). Some people couldn’t escape the appeal of flapping machines (ornithopters) and wasted their lives in pursuit of the flapping dream. French engineer René Louis Riout built his first flapping wing aircraft in 1913, the DuBois-Riout. He managed to get the machine off the ground in 1916, but it crashed almost immediately and was condemned to join the eternally rolling montage of disintegrating early flying machines usually accompanied by jaunty comical piano music. Undeterred, Réné Riout continued to develop concepts for flapping-wing aircraft. He built larger and larger models until one day he proposed his ideas to the Service Technique de l’Aéronautique. The latter, interested in the engineer’s strange ideas, agreed to the development of an experimental prototype. And so, the Riout 102T Alerion was born (or hatched). Its fuselage was made of tubular steel and covered with aluminium. The closed cockpit was located at the very front of the machine, in the nose and the engine, a small V-twin engine was installed behind the pilot and the attachment point of the four flapping wings. The aircraft was equipped with four small retractable wheels and four wings operating in pairs. By early 1938, construction of the Alerion was completed and it was moved to Chalais-Meudon (an aeronautical research and development centre to the southwest of Paris). A campaign of wind tunnel testing began with the wings stationary, then later flapping, before the final stage of deformation was tested (it is this deformation that produces a thrust to propel the aircraft). The tiny fragile wings gave way under the rigours of the wind tunnel combined with the violence of the flapping. The damaged machine was not repaired, as there was no financial incentive to complete the development – and it never flew. Miraculously preserved, it is now on display in the Angers-Marcé Aviation Museum as a stylishly melancholy reminder that birds are arseholes.

2. Blériot 125 ‘Plantureuse Pauline

In 1928, the Blériot company created a modern airliner, that looked – and still looks – like nothing else, the rather busty Blériot 125. The specifications called for a passenger aircraft that could carry between ten and twelve passengers over a range of 1000 kilometres. The aircraft was distinguished by the presence of two passenger cabins and a central cockpit, making it a double-beam aircraft. The two massive pods have been compared to both clown shoes and breasts, perhaps giving insights into the different preoccupations of different observers.  

 The 125 was powered by two Hispano-Suiza 12HBr inline engines installed in a push-pull configuration that was rather unusual for the time. It was at the Grand Palais Air Show in Paris in 1930 that the aircraft was presented to the public for the first time. Although there was no aesthetic standard for the perfect design of an airliner as there is today, visitors were surprised by its strange configuration. An American press correspondent cruelly called the twin-engine aircraft a “Flying Joke” – despite his complete lack of knowledge of the aircraft’s performance in the air. For that, it was necessary to wait for the first flight on March 9, 1931. The ‘Flying Joke’ actually had relatively good flying characteristics and was fairly easy to fly. However, its single radiator was insufficient to cool two engines and its thick, asymmetrical, double-beam wing proved rather draggy. But it was not these minor shortcomings, but its unorthodox aesthetics that was to draw the most criticism. Nobody, from the civilian or military world, was interested in ordering this promising machine, whether this was the result of misogyny or just fear of clowns we will never know.

  1. The « Chrysalide » Papin and Rouilly’s Gyroptère

Seemingly a biz-jet designed by H. R. Giger to take him to the depths of Hieronymus Bosch’s hell, let’s meet the utterly unlikely Gyroptère. Engineers Papin and Rouilly created a sort-of helicopter whose flight technique was directly inspired by the fall of the samaras, the winged seeds of the sycamore tree.

It consisted of a single rotating 17-metre-long blade driven by a tip-jet of compressed air, produced by a 80-horsepower Rhone rotary engine driving a compressor. The engine also served, as a counterweight to the blade. The pilot sat at the centre of gravity in a small gondola which was stabilised from the rotation of the blade by a second jet of compressed air. Prayers would seem mandatory for the test pilot strapped to this massive mechanical spinning Edwardian sword.

The configuration allowed, in (the quite likely) case of failure, the pilot to gently lower the machine back to the surface of the water…at least in theory. A prototype was built in 1913, but tests were delayed by both a troubled development and the outbreak of the First World War, and the machine did not make its first attempt to take off until March 1915, from the Cercey reservoir in France. After starting the engine, the canopy began to turn and the machine took off and left the water for a short time before becoming violently unstable. The weird craft hit the surface of the water and sank.

Sure of their machine, despite unconvinced military observers, Papin and Rouilly persisted in hunting for finance for this bizarre project until they finally gave up in 1936.

Though unsuccessful, the Gyroptère was the first rotary craft to use tip-jets without any mechanical link between the rotor and the engine. It was not until the 1950s with the arrival of the SNCASO SO.1221 ‘Djinn’, that principle of tip-jets was to find application on a production aircraft. The overall Gyroptère concept was a technological cul-de-sac, but a fascinating vision of another universe where the giant mechanical tomahawk was a viable form of transport.

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes will feature the finest cuts from Hush-Kit along with exclusive new articles, explosive photography and gorgeous bespoke illustrations. Pre-order The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes here. Save the Hush-Kit blog. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. Your donations keep this going. Thank you. Our shop is here and our Twitter account here @Hush_Kit. Sign up for our newsletter here. Make vol 2 of The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes happen by supporting it here.

Screaming about the McDonnell F2H Banshee

The unholy shriek of a banshee heralded the death of a family member, the unholy shriek of the McDonnell Banshee could have been a harbinger of far worse news as it was the first carrier striker capable of deploying nuclear weapons. We spoke to author Rick Burgess to find out more.

“Three F2H-2B Banshees armed with dummy Mk 7 nuclear shapes flew from USS Midway 100 miles off Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, refuelled when airborne, dropped to treetop level over Florida and flew undetected—even though the Air Force had been alerted—to a target in Lake Erie. On the return, the F-86s and F-89s trying to intercept them were baited down to 5,000 feet when the Banshees zoomed to 55,000 feet and left the Air Force interceptors spinning out as they tried to follow them to the high altitude. The Banshees refuelled over the Atlantic and landed on the Midway after a nearly 8-hour flight, a record 2,800-nautical-mile flight from and to a carrier. “

What were the best things about the Banshee?

BOAR (Bombardment Aerial Rocket) nuclear weapon test launch from McDonnell F2H-3 Banshee (BuNo 126484) at NOTS China Lake.

The best things about the Banshee were its range, endurance, and altitude. Being twin-engined, the Banshee could be flown on one engine, which in a typical mission could add 30 minutes to its endurance. Later, aerial refuelling capability added more range. Its altitude capability, combined with very capable cameras, was a great advantage in photo-reconnaissance. The photo Banshee was in very high demand in the Korean War. The Banshee also was the first carrier-based tactical jet capable of delivering a nuclear weapon.

..and the worst? 

The worst was the fact that the wing-tip fuel tanks could not be de-fuelled with the wings folded. If a Banshee was ready to launch on a catapult, and the launch had to be cancelled for whatever reason, the aircraft had to be pulled away with wings extended and de-fuelled, creating problems for the deck handlers doing their dangerous jobs.

What were the origins of the Banshee?

With the development of jet fighters during and after World War II, the US Navy tried to minimize the risk of failure by developing several types simultaneously. The North American FJ-1, Vought F6U, Douglas F3D Skyknight, and McDonnell FD (later FH) were the first generation. The F6U never made it into fleet service and the FJ-1 and FH-1 saw very limited fleet service. The F3D saw limited service on aircraft carriers but became a very successful land-based night fighter and electronic countermeasures aircraft. The F9F Panther and F2H Banshee—a development from the FH-1—entered fleet service before the Korean War. All of these jets are today considered “First Generation” jet fighters.

The F2H-1 Banshee and the F9F-2 Panther both were day fighters, with night-fighting handled by detachments of mostly F4U-5N Corsairs. The next Banshee, the F2H-2 equipped with a nose-mounted radar, began the divergence of fighter squadrons into day fighter and night fighter (later all-weather fighter) squadrons that eventually superseded the night-fighter detachments. The day fighters included the F9F Panther and Cougar, FJ-3 Fury, and early F8U Crusaders. The all-weather line included F2H-2/3/4 Banshees, F3H Demons, F7U Cutlasses F4D Skyrays, later F8U crusaders and F4H Phantom IIs. With the later F8Us and the F4H Phantom II, the lines merged such that by the mid-1960s all carrier-based fighters were all-weather.

How did it get its unusual name?

Some US aircraft manufacturers preferred to use a theme to assign popular names to their products. Grumman’s line of ‘cats’ is a good example: F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat, F7F Tigercat, F8F Bearcat, F9F Panther, F9F Cougar, XF10F Jaguar, F11F Tiger, and F-14 Tomcat. Douglas used “Sky” names such as AD Skyraider, XA2D Skyshark, A2D Skywarrior, A4D Skywarrior and F4D Skyray. McDonnell used types of spirit beings: FH Phantom, F2H Banshee, F3H Demon, F-101 Voodoo and F4H Phantom II.

How did it compare with the Panther? 

The Panther was a very rugged aircraft and performed well in the armed reconnaissance sweeps and in dogfighting MiG-15s. It was used in greater numbers over Korea mainly because the Navy initially concentrated the Banshee in Atlantic Fleet squadrons. However, the Banshee’s greater range, endurance, and altitude capabilities made it a preferred fighter, including for photo escort. Carrier air group commanders praised its performance, including its reliability.

Those same qualities, plus a superior camera suite, made the Banshee a particularly superior photo-reconnaissance aircraft. It was in high demand and quickly replaced the F9F-2P in the fleet.

What was its combat history?

The Korean War was the main combat theater for the Banshee. Only four fighter Banshee-equipped fighter squadrons deployed to the war. They flew mainly armed reconnaissance fighter sweeps (train-busting, for example), combat air patrol, and photo escort. (Close air support was mainly the realm of the AD Skyraider and F4U Corsair.) They did encounter MiG-15s on a few occasions but obtained no kills and suffered no losses in aerial combat. Because of their few deployments, their combat losses also were few.

The photo Banshee made more deployments to the Korean War than the fighters because of the high demand for their capabilities. F2H-2Ps were retained in theater and some F9F-2P detachments traded their Panthers for Banshees when possible. The only Marine Corps Banshees in theater were F2H-2Ps assigned to VMCJ-1, which performed magnificently in the reconnaissance role. VMCJ-1 later flew missions over China with F2H-2Ps and a few fighter F2H-2s but were able to evade the Chinese MiG-15 interceptors.

How did it compare with the Cougar? 

My research did not reveal any comparison with the Cougar. The Cougar was a significant improvement over the Panther. The F9F-8P photo Cougar did replace the F2H-2P photo version of the Banshee in the fleet, so the F9F-8P it must have had enough improvements to warrant that replacement.

How did it influence the later Phantom?

The main influence was in the concept of an all-weather fighter, the use of twin engines inside the fuselage or wing roots, and the nose-mounted air-intercept radar. The F3H Demon was a further evolution—except for the single engine—but the F-101 Voodoo shows an obvious ancestry to the F4H Phantom II, including the addition of a radar officer.  

What did pilots think of the Banshee?

Pilots liked it in general, especially for its range, endurance, and altitude capabilities. Carrier air group commanders praised its capabilities. One respected aviation admiral said it was “a good airplane, not a great airplane.”

Which roles was the Banshee assigned and how effective was it at each? 

See above for more detail. Since the Banshee saw little aerial combat, it is hard to judge its prowess in the dog-fighting role. For its day, it was a capable interceptor. It was an excellent ground-attack aircraft for missions like train-busting and flak suppression. It was excellent as a photo-plane escort. It was a nuclear strike aircraft and gave the Navy its first credible carrier-based nuclear strike capability. The photo Banshee was an outstanding photo-reconnaissance aircraft.

Tell me something I don’t know about the Banshee? 

I can’t think of anything. I put everything I knew in the book.

What should I have asked you? 

You should have asked me how many Banshees were lost in mishaps because I don’t know. Because of the COVID pandemic I was not able to gain access to archives to research that number. I suspect the number was high because it was high for most naval fighters of the 1950s. The mishap rates in that decade would be scandalous today. Two or more aircraft were lost daily on average in one year. The angled deck, the fleet replacement squadron concept, and the Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization programme made huge strides in reducing mishaps.

What drew you to write a Banshee book

I was the co-author of two previous Osprey books, A-1 Skyraider Units of the Vietnam War and AD Skyraider Units of the Korean War. The series editor, Tony Holmes, asked me to write a similar book on the F2H Banshee, in order to complete the set of books on the US Navy and Marine Corps tactical aircraft of the Korean War. Books on the F9F Panther and F4U Corsair units in Korea had been written and the F3D Skyknight book was soon to come.

Strangest story about a Banshee? 

Maybe not strange, but amazing: Three F2H-2B Banshees armed with dummy Mk7 nuclear shapes and flew from USS Midway 100 miles off Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, refuelled when airborne, dropped to treetop level over Florida and flew undetected—even though the Air Force had been alerted—to a target in Lake Erie. On the return, the F-86s and F-89s trying to intercept them were baited down to 5,000 feet when the Banshees zoomed to 55,000 feet and left the Air Force interceptors spinning out as they tried to follow them to the high altitude. The Banshees refuelled over the Atlantic and landed on the Midway after a nearly 8-hour flight, the record 2,800-nautical-mile flight from and to a carrier.   

How did it compare with international rival types?

My research did not focus on this aspect, so I have little knowledge on the comparison. It is notable that the Royal Canadian Navy chose the F2H-3 for its only carrier-based jet fighter, when it could have chosen the Hawker Seahawk, de Havilland Sea Venom, or Sud-Est Aquilon.

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes will feature the finest cuts from Hush-Kit along with exclusive new articles, explosive photography and gorgeous bespoke illustrations. Pre-order The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes hereSave the Hush-Kit blog. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. Your donations keep this going. Thank you. Our shop is here and our Twitter account here @Hush_Kit. Sign up for our newsletter here.

Macchi C.202/C.205V Italian WW2 Fighters in Combat

Despite world-class aircraft designers, Italian fighter aircraft in the early part of World War II were stymied by weedy engines and a lack of serious firepower. The introduction of German engines and cannon to these transformed these mediocrities into some of the best fighter aircraft in the world, we spoke to author Marco Mattioli to find out more.

What was the C.200 and what were its strengths and weaknesses?

The C.200 had a 840 hp Fiat A74 RC38 radial engine.

The Macchi C.200 Saetta (thunderbolt or arrow) was the best Italian fighter at the time in June 1940, the time Italy’s entered the War. Like most Italian aeroplanes, it was a delight to fly and was extremely manoeuvrable. Unfortunately, it didn’t win the favour of Italian fighter pilots. Most of the pilots were strongly conservative and used to open cockpits – and didn’t like the 200’s new-fangled enclosed cockpit with its sliding hood (they feared being trapped inside in the event of an emergency). Thus the subsequent variants of the C.200, in something of a retrograde step, were fitted with an open cockpit. The pilots still preferred to fly the more aerobatic Fiat CR.32 and CR.42 biplanes, despite them being far slower than the modern enemy monoplanes they would likely encounter in combat. The pilots were not entirely irrational in their distrust of the new machine as the Saetta had a dangerous quirk: a tendency to stall. If the aircraft stalled at high altitude and had an expert test pilot at its controls, it could recover with apparent ease. But, at low-level with a beginner at the controls, the aircraft was a deathtrap. Sadly, low-level stalls did kill several pilots. A solution was found by the chief designer of SAI Ambrosini firm, engineer Sergio Stefanutti with the assistance of test pilot Adriano Mantelli. The C.200 wing section was redesigned, replacing its former constant profile with a variable one. The wings’ sharp leading edges (in the centre) and wingtips were rounded off, gluing to them balsa wood strips, then shaped and covered with canvas.

The Saetta’s main strength was its excellent manoeuvrability. Its two main weaknesses: it was poorly armed (just two cowling-mounted 12.7 mm Breda-SAFAT machine-guns) and underpowered. Its Fiat radial engine limited maximum speed to only 312 mph.

  • How did it fare against Allied fighters?

Until the C.200s had to face the Gloster Gladiator biplanes over Malta, they had a degree of success. The biplane Gladiators, when flown by expert pilots, could seriously challenge C.200s. On paper, the C.200s had the advantage of speed, but the Gladiators were extremely manoeuvrable opponents that were dangerous to underestimate. Over Malta, there was one inconclusive dogfight on 11 June 1940. The Saetta pilot managed to drive his Gloster opponent away from the Italian bombers and one C.200 shot down (pilot becoming a PoW) by a Gladiator flown by Flt Lt Burges on 23 June 1940 (this C.200, being faster than the biplane, had overshot it, and the British pilot could shoot it down). 

Over Greece, C.200s from 153° Gruppo met Gladiators from No 112 Sqn twice in the air: the first combat, on 22 March 1941, was inconclusive but for a No 80 Sqn Gladiator II set ablaze on the ground by the Macchis. Instead in the second action (26 March) the C.200s badly damaged one Gladiator (flown by Plt Off Neville Bowker) in the air and destroyed another from No 112 Sqn on the ground. Finally, on 14 April 1941, C.200s from 153° Gruppo clashed inconclusively with nine Greek Gladiators from the 21 Mira. To my knowledge, the Gloster Gladiators met over Malta were the first fighter opponents ever faced by the MC.200s

The going got tougher when Hawker Hurricane fighters arrived in-theatre. After that, performance parity, it was now purely the skill of the pilot that decided a dogfight’s outcome; when fighting the lethal, and far superior, Spitfire VB, the 200 pilots required extremely good luck to survive. In the fighter-bomber role, especially over North Africa and the Eastern Front, it performed well and proved to be a rugged aircraft.

  • Why was it re-engined and what other changes were made to it to create the Macchi C.202 Folgore?

The Macchi C.200 was the foundation which led to create the Macchi C.202. Thanks to the Saetta’s manoeuvrability, its fuselage was deemed by Dr Engineer Mario Castoldi as a fair airframe to house the potent German-built Daimler Benz DB 601A-1 inline engine. This power unit was built under licence in Italy as the RA.1000 RC41-I Monsone (Monsoon). Initially, the C.202 was a re-engined C.200, and was 60 mph/96 kph faster (372 mph/599 kph) than the ‘original’ Saetta, thanks to the effective combination of the DB 601 power unit coupled with the streamlined frontal profile of the new Folgore fighter.

  • What were the strengths and the weaknesses of the Macchi C.202 Folgore?

The Folgore’s main strengths were a marked increased speed, agility and rugged construction. Its weaknesses were a wingspan (34 ft 8.5 in/10.58 m) that was over two feet shorter than the one featured by the lethal Spitfire Vs and IXs. This detail affected Folgore’s performance at heights exceeding 20,000 feet (6,096 m), the routine starting altitude for much dogfighting. To make matters worse, the C.202’s radio proved to be so unreliable that the pilots decided to rely on hand gestures as a more reliable alternative. Besides, the undercarriages partially lowered due to high-g pullouts, not to mention faulty oxygen systems which plagued aircraft’s early actions. Finally, C.202’s light armament revealed itself really insufficient when facing newer RAF fighters armed with 20 mm cannon and both well-armed and armoured US heavy bombers.  

  • How did it compare to the Allied fighters it faced?

Folgores showed a marked superiority over the Tomahawks, Kittyhawks, Hurricane Is/IIs and Fairey Fulmars it faced all over North Africa and Mediterranean theatres. Anyway C.202s found their match with the Spitfire VBs/VCs, although veteran Italian pilots could hold their own when dogfighting with the RAF’s best fighter. As a matter of fact, since the autumn of 1942 Italian fighter groups were more and more confronted stiff opposition from Allied units equipped with Spitfire IXs, P-38 Lightnings and P-40 K/L Warhawks. All these fighter types not only performed equally or better than the Folgores, but were more heavily armed and overwhelming in numbers.

  • What was the Macchi C.205 Veltro?

Through 1943, US medium and heavy bombers began to appear in increasingly large formations all over the Italian skies, escorted by potent new fighters. The Macchi C.202’s armament proved to be pitifully insufficient to shoot down these well-armoured and heavily armed intruders. A new powerfully armed fighter was needed. Engineer Mario Castoldi had been working on two such designs since December 1941. One of Castoldi’s designs, the Macchi C.205N Orione (Orion), never materialised made it into operational service due to the degree of redesign it required. But the other project, which combined the outstanding German DB 1475 hp DB 605A-1 (licence-built as RA.1050 RC58 Tifone – Typhoon) inline engine with the MC.200 wing and the MC.202 fuselage, was quickly developed. It was chosen because its upcycled construction, based mainly on C.202’s airframe, allowed a rapid development and service entry. Initially, it was designated C.202bis, before receiving the far better designation of C.205V Veltro (Greyhound). The Serie I Veltros were armed with four Breda-SAFAT machine-guns (two 12.7 mm cowling-mounted with 370 rounds per weapon, and two 7.7 mm others in the wings with 500 rounds each). The Serie III C.205Vs were armed with two cowl-mounted 12.7 mm machine-guns and two German-built 20-mm MG 151 Mauser cannon in the wings (with 250 rounds per gun).

The would-be Serie II, requested from the Fiat firm, never materialised because the Turin company was busy developing the G.55 Centauro fighter.

The decision to employ the proven C.202 airframes allowed Veltros to be delivered to Regia Aeronautica units by October 1942, a mere six months after the type’s maiden flight in April 1942. Brand-new Veltros featured an aerodynamic retractable tailwheel, while C.202s modified into Veltros kept a fixed tailwheel.

What were the strengths and the weaknesses of the Macchi C.205 Veltro?

The C.205V’s strengths had a high top speed of 399 mph, a high rate of climb (it could reach 20,000 ft in 4 minutes and 52 seconds), and the potent armament: which finally enabled the Italian fighter pilots to mete out serious damage to the Allied heavy bombers and their escort fighters. Weaknesses were a slight reduction in manoeuvrability above 20,000 ft – and a paucity of aircraft. Only 177 were examples built. This last fact was due to the devastating raids flown by RAF Bomber Command bombers on industrial targets in Northern Italy from the autumn of 1942 to August 1943. This meant that Fiat firm struggled to even produce a paltry 12 engines per month at its Turin plant. 

  • How well did it perform in combat?

The Veltro’s powerful armament finally allowed the Italian fighter pilots to destroy their Allied opponents, both bombers and escort fighters. As matter of fact, due to their reduced number (just 177 were built), frontline Veltros were usually assigned only to the aces and veteran pilots.

  • What was the best Italian fighter aircraft of World War II, and why?

For the production number (nearly 1,300), agility and rugged construction the MC.202 Folgore; for its potent armament, despite their limited number, the Reggiane Re.2005 Sagittario (Archer), the MC.205V Veltro and the Fiat G.55 Centauro.

Tell us about your book

As an enthusiast of all things Italian, I am deeply fond of the Macchi C.202/205V fighters. My book examines in detail the operational careers of two of Italy’s best fighter aircraft in World War 2. The failure of engines’ pre-war designs of their own forced the Italians to ask German technology for good inline power units to be fitted on Regia Aeronautica fighters. The reliable DB 601s and DB 605s, coupled with good airframes, materialised the C.202 and the C.205V fighters. These outstanding aircraft allowed the Italian fighter pilots to be a match against the Allied fighters and bombers, prior to be overwhelmed by more potent Allied aircraft, through late 1942 to mid-1943. My text explores the war actions of the Italian Folgores and Veltros alike over several operational theatres as the Mediterranean, Malta, North Africa, the Eastern Front and Italy’s homeland skies. Not to mention C.202s and C.205Vs in foreign service with both Luftwaffe and Croat Air Force in WW2 and the Royal Egyptian Air Force in the First Arab-Israeli war of 1948-49. The narrative is supported also with plenty of period photos and nice colour profiles of these aircraft types, often identifying for each aircraft the pilot who flew it.

What should have I asked you?

I think you should have asked me about the men who flew such machines as well as the episodes which saw them act as protagonists.

A person wearing a military uniform

Description automatically generated with medium confidenceFranco Bordoni Bisleri Franco Bordoni-Bisleri (10 January 1913 – 15 September 1975) was an Italian aviator and racing car driver. He is one of the top-scoring aces of the Regia Aeronautica, with 19 air victories. His nickname was “Robur” (strength) and was painted on most of his aircraft and racing cars.

One among them was high scorer 19-kill ace Tenente (Lieutenant) Franco Bordoni Bisleri of 18° Gruppo Caccia who, on 1 November 1942, was leading a four-strong MC.202 patrol over Mersa Matruh. Suddenly the Italians were jumped by a stronger formation of 12 Kittyhawks from No 250 Sqn: in an hectic and wild dogfight which lasted ten minutes, Ten Bordoni and his wingman Sottotenente Roberto Caetani fared well, shooting down two and one P-40s respectively. This outstanding feat earned Bordoni and Caetani being both decorated with the Medaglia d’Argento al Valor Militare (Silver Medal for Military Valour, Italy’s second-ranking award for bravery). For Bordoni that Silver Medal was his third one. Besides, you have to consider that even single aircraft have their own stories, often linked with the lives of the pilots which flew them. Please let me give some instances: the Macchi C.202 coded ’90-8′ of the 90^ Squadriglia (10° Gruppo,Stormo) and serialled MM7906 had an interesting operational career: it was flown by Tenente Virgilio Vanzan to score a shared kill on 12 June 1942, shooting down a Kittyhawk I of No 260 Squadron, flown by Sgt R A Matthews, who baled out successfully. Vanzan’s Macchi was hit by South African anti-aircraft fire minutes later, but the Italian did succeed to make it back to base. On July 16th MM7906, this time piloted by Sottotenente Renato Baroni, scored a shared P-40 kill in combat against No 250 Sqn; however it was in turn stricken again during this action and forced to belly-land near El Daba. Let’s us pass to another really interesting aircraft, the one serialled MM7712 and coded ’97-2′: it was the mount at whose controls future ace Sottotenente Jacopo Frigerio of 97^ Squadriglia (9° Gruppo,Stormo) on 30 September 1941 scored the first confirmed victory for the C.202 ever. He had downed an ‘Hurri-bomber’ from No 185 Sqn piloted by Plt Off D W Lintern, following an RAF raid over the Sicilian airfield at Comiso. MM7712 was one of the first production Folgores completed by Macchi firm, and had been ferried by Sottotenente Frigerio himself from Lonate Pozzolo to Gorizia. This machine was destined to feature a really long and varied operational career. After being fitted with a camera for reconnaissance role, the aircraft was posted to 54° Stormo, where it was also flown by ten-kill ace Capitano Adriano Visconti. Then it was transferred to 377^ Squadriglia Autonoma at Palermo-Boccadifalco and, coded ‘377-1’, saw action being piloted by five-kill ace Tenente Luigi Torchio. This latter pilot used MM7712 to claim a P-38 kill on 3 February 1943 near Punta Zafferano. However ‘377-1’ was damaged in the same engagement, forcing its pilot to belly-land at Palermo. Also the C.202 coded ‘151-1’ of 20° Gruppo, 51° Stormo and serialled MM9042 it’s worth being mentioned: it was ferried from Macchi firm to Rome-Ciampino on 16 June 1942, then reaching Sicilian Gela airfield on the 24th. This aircraft was the regular mount of ace Capitano Furio Niclot Doglio, 151^ Squadriglia CO, who was credited with six individual and two shared Spitfire kills over Malta.  On 6 July 1942 Cap Doglio badly damaged the Spitfire flown by ace Sgt George ‘Buzz’ Beurling; but the Canadian pilot was to take his revenge 21 days later, when on 27 July he shot down Macchi MM9042, at whose controls Cap Doglio lost his life. For his distinguished service, the Italian ace posthumously earned the Medaglia d’Oro al Valor Militare (Gold Medal for Military Valour – Italy’s highest award for bravery). And so on, we could continue for tens of individual stories.

What is the greatest myth or misunderstanding of Italian aircraft in World War 2?

Rather than the aircraft itself, it would be more pertinent to speak about the myths and misunderstandings regarding the Italian Air Arm as a whole. The main misunderstanding derived from the remarkable results achieved by Italy in the ’20s and ’30s with world speed and high altitude records, plus long-range individual and formation flights. These amazing performances, coupled with the wars in Libya, Ethiopia, Spain and Albania, which always saw Italy on the apparent winning side, led the world to consider the Royal Italian Air Force as an efficient, combat-proven, potent and innovative air arm. But this was only a dramatic facade, based on an overestimation. The myth would be tragically unravelled by the combat demands of World War II.

An incredible series of wrong evaluations made by Italy’s politics, industrial and military leaderships forced the Italian Armed Forces to wage a war with insufficient armaments against better-equipped adversaries, whose governments had been more far-sighted than Italy’s. And this was to be true for the Royal Italian Air Force too. The Italian pilots were skilled, but had to fight with both underarmed and underpowered machines, that were not a match for their opponents’ aeroplanes. Among the great mistakes Italy made before and after war’s own entry, was the lack of standardization of its armaments: it would have been better to concentrate the war production on few but really efficient designs, like the combat-proven Macchi C.202/205V for the fighters and the S.79, the would-be redoubtable Cant Z.1018 (this latter, due to several delays, never saw action) for the bombers.

Cant Z.1018

Instead, the Italian war industries foolishly chose to scatter their war productions pursuing an excessive number of pointless projects, which also limited the number of spare parts available for the few operationally efficient aircraft types. Unfortunately for the Italians, though they had many although they had plenty of gifted aircraft designers, they lacked real war production leaders (like Lord Beaverbrook in Great Britain), who could centralise all production destined for the war effort. All this, coupled with the fact that Italy was a country poor in raw materials (fact this that not allowed Italian industries producing military craft in quantities sufficient to match Allied war productions) at the very end would result catastrophic. Often the Italians were considered less effective in combat than the Germans, while on the other hand, some Allied pilots admitted that their Italian opponents were brave. As matter of fact, the Italian fighter pilots, as they liked the aerobatic individual duel, often stayed in combat against their Spitfire and Hurricane adversaries. On the contrary, the more pragmatic German Jagdwaffe pilots would prefer to break off and looking for a better advantageous position during the dogfight.  Paradoxically, if there is a myth, it lies on the fact that Italian aviators compensated their technical inferiority with their own boldness and courage.

Order his book here

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes will feature the finest cuts from Hush-Kit along with exclusive new articles, explosive photography and gorgeous bespoke illustrations. Pre-order The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes hereSave the Hush-Kit blog. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. Your donations keep this going. Thank you. Our shop is here and our Twitter account here @Hush_Kit. Sign up for our newsletter here.

The Aircraft Carrier Hiryu: Book review

ANATOMY OF THE SHIP Hiryū

Anatomy of the Ship – Hiryū

The home-build aircraft carrier enthusiast is relatively poorly served by most publishers however Osprey’s latest in the Anatomy of the Ship series shows that at least someone is listening to this demographic. For those with the requisite hot riveting skills and supply of mild and armoured steel the Hiryū [1] is a noteworthy subject. The fastest carrier in the world at the time she entered service, and one of only two ever completed with the superstructure on the port side of the flight deck, she saw service with the Kido Butai at Pearl Harbour, Ceylon, and Midway with a mix of 64 Zero, Val, and Kate aircraft.

Stefan Draminski has done an incredible job of creating a coherent set of ship’s plans, drawing on original documents from the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal, as well as providing a potted history of Japanese carrier development and the career of Hiryū herself. A recent addition to the series are 3D-renderings of both the whole ship and cross-sections through it, which will assist the novice builder in translating the plans into a full-size vessel. These renderings include recreations of the aircraft allowing the completist to accurately place their air group, either in preparation for a surprise raid on a nearby island chain or in the hangars for maintenance. The author has also provided three-view drawings of the types embarked and a number of colour plates explaining the aircraft identification markings as used by the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) at the time. For those going the extra mile in their build there are detail drawings of flight deck equipment. Covering everything from the design of the tie-down points, to the chakkanshidōtō, ‘landing guidance lights’ system the IJN used in lieu of the rather Amish ‘man with flags’ system employed by the British and American navies.

The 10 Worst Carrier Aircraft here

The only minor blemish in an otherwise excellent book is the scarcity of photographs of the Hiryū herself, however, blame for this should be placed squarely on the US Navy rather than the author.

The Aircraft Carrier Hiryū (Anatomy of the Ship) is recommended for any level of home build aircraft carrier enthusiast and anyone with an interest in Japanese carrier aviation.

[1] Japanese for ‘Flying Dragon’, which is certainly a better name for an aircraft carrier than Vindex or Campania, looking at you Royal Navy.

Order a copy here

Bing Chandler is a former Lynx Observer. He has a BEng in Marine Technology, an MA in Naval History, and is on Level 3 of Duolingo’s Japanese course. Making him the target market for this book. Bing’s writing appears in The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes.

Why I loved flying the world’s most beautiful fighter jet

Air Marshal G A ‘Black’ Robertson flew the most beautiful jet fighter even flown (outside of the Sea Hawk that is). We met him to find out more about flying the gorgeous Hawker Hunter.

Flt Lt Tim Thorn taking off from Sharjah in one of 8 Sqn’s FR Mk 10s, 1968. Photos: Air Marshal G A Robertson unless otherwise credited
Fg Off GA ‘Black’ Robertson with his own 8 Sqn aircraft, FGA Mk 9, tail letter ‘H’, serial XJ 684; Bahrain, 1968.

“…a remark I heard a number of times: the engine ate eagles. Not strictly true, of course, but a tribute to the Avon’s strength and reliability.

What were your first impressions of the Hunter? At last, I thought, here’s a proper aircraft: a camouflaged single-seater with an almost bewildering array of instrumentation – weapons switches too. It’s hard to describe the sense of excitement I felt, strapping into an F6 (XF 526) for my first solo on 8 Nov 67. To put these remarks in context, I was fresh out of training – well, almost. I’d spent the previous five months holding at St Athan, and was privileged to fly five different types, four as captain. But my first operational aircraft was a step beyond all this – a very considerable step too.

Describe the Hunter in 3 words. A pilot’s aircraft.

What was the best thing about the Hunter? Its aesthetic beauty is the obvious answer – a beauty one felt privileged to share.

….and the worst? I’d never say a bad word about the aircraft – even if I could think of one, which I can’t.

What was your unit’s role and how effective was the Hunter at this role? My first and only front-line squadron was 8, a DF/GA unit. For its time – before the advent of precision weapons – the Hunter was more effective than any other aircraft in this dual role. That said, the more powerful Lightning could outperform it in some air combat scenarios, and aircraft like the Canberra and Vulcan  could deliver a heavier weapon load. It could be argued that the Hunter was the first multi-role fighter.

Many people love the aircraft’s looks, do you? Its beauty is ageless and its design, for a relatively modern aircraft, is matchless. I’d put only two other aircraft in its class: the SE5A and the Spitfire – arguably the world’s most beautiful and iconic aircraft. But I never felt the same about the two-seat T7. The widening of the fuselage to accommodate side-by-side seating seemed to me to destroy, certainly in part, the cleanliness of the single-seat design.

Is there a popular myth about the Hunter? The only thing close to this is a remark I heard a number of times: the engine ate eagles. Not strictly true, of course, but a tribute to the Avon’s strength and reliability.

How would you rate it in the following categories

A. Sustained turn
B. Instantaneous turn
C. Acceleration
D. Climb
E. Ergonomics
F. Cockpit comfort

It’s impossible to rate the majority of these categories in absolute terms. To avoid subjectivity one needs a comparator. All I have is the Phantom, and a fading memory. So, other than to say I have no complaints about any of them, I’ll pass on the first four items.

Two 8 Sqn Mk 9s taking off from Sharjah, September 1968.

            On ergonomics, it’s often said that the switches in later marks of the aircraft were all over the place – an exaggeration, but it makes the point that cockpit ergonomics could have been better. By way of example, aids such as the radio compass weren’t easy to interpret, tucked away down on the lower right-hand side of the cockpit. But any criticism in this respect must be seen in the light of a design that was progressively improved and updated, not least by the addition of additional equipment, year by year and mark by mark.

            Cockpit comfort was such that one felt very much part of the aeroplane. One could perhaps argue that reaching down to the flap lever during air combat sorties was a bit of a stretch and an exercise in dexterity, but it would be stretching a point to complain about imperfect ergonomics. The HOTAS concept was some years away, of course.

What was your most memorable flight in the Hunter?

It was 7 Feb 1969. Two of us were ferrying refurbished FGA Mk 9s back from the UK to Bahrain. The second leg of the first day was from Hal Far, Malta, to Akrotiri, Cyprus. The last forty minutes of a three-hour trip were completed at night, in and out of massive thunderstorms accompanied by lightning flashes that lit up the entire sky. By the time I was handed over to the final controller for the mandatory radar approach I was more than a little tense. However, my nerves were quickly calmed by the crystal clear tones of a woman’s voice; the very model of professionalism, she guided me down to a safe landing. Rarely had ‘On centre-line, on glidepath,’ sounded so sweet, and rarely had I been so relieved to see runway lights emerge from the gloom. I was eventually reunited with my leader, who’d earlier exercised his prerogative to descend first, ‘to see what it was like’ – a questionable decision given that I was much lower on fuel. What if he’d found conditions difficult? There was little he could do to help. In the end though, a valuable lesson was learned: check sunset time at the destination airfield before departure! Night flying, let alone night formation, hadn’t been part of the plan.

Was the absence of missiles or a serious radar an issue? Not in the DF/GA role in my time. While both might have been nice to have, they would probably have brought penalties (performance?) too. The aircraft had arguably reached the end of its stretch potential when it was retired from operational service.

What other equipment did Hunter pilots long for? While nothing comes to mind, given that even experienced pilots managed to land wheels up, some scraping along on the 230-gallon underwing tanks before lurching airborne again, a (radio altimeter-type) indication that the wheels weren’t down as the aircraft reached a critical height might have proved useful.

Tell me something I don’t know about the Hunter. Sydney Camm was reputedly less than enamoured with the addition of the under-fuselage air brake – it ruined the aesthetics of his elegant design. While he wanted it removed, it was deemed a necessary addition.

What should I have asked you?  Where does the Hunter rank amongst all the aircraft you’ve flown? Apart from a single, memorable hour in a Sea Fury, it’s the aircraft I love best

Where/when and in which service did you fly the Hunter?

No 130 DFGA (Day Fighter/Ground Attack) Course, No 229 OCU, RAF Chivenor; Oct 67-Feb 68.

8 Sqn, RAF Muharraq, Bahrain; Mar 68-Apr 69.

No 101 Short TWU Course, 79 Sqn, RAF Brawdy; Mar-Jul 82.

8 Sqn arrive at Sharjah for APC, April 1968. Black is flying the no 2 aircraft, on the immediate right of the CO (Sqn Ldr Fred Trowern)

Cold War Flashpoints: 20th air combat from Suez to Iraq with former Tornado pilot Michael Napier

A Royal Navy Westland Wyvern practices a rocket atttack prior to the Suez Crisis. (W.H. COWLING VIA B. CULL via Keymilitray.com)

Former RAF Tornado pilot Michael Napier has written a book about some of the most exciting and intrigueing military air campaigns of the Cold War, we met up with him to find out more.

HK: I know some historians are uncomfortable with the term ‘Cold War’- how do you feel about it? Also, the term ‘crisis*’ relating to post or late colonial warfare? 

I am very comfortable with the term Cold War – I think that it is an apt description of the world order in the ’50s, 60s, 70s and 80s when there was definite hostility between the USSR and Warsaw Pact on one side and the USA and NATO on the other, but the balance of force – both nuclear and conventional – ensured that open conflict never broke out. ‘Crisis’ too is a good description of various relatively short-term events where conflict either nearly or actually occurred.

*Hush-Kit note: Some see ‘crisis’ as a Government approved term to play down military actions, akin to the Russia state using ‘special military operation’ to describe the current attempted invasion of Ukraine. For example, ‘Suez Crisis’ is the British term for what others describe as the Tripartite Aggression

What was the Suez Crisis and which aircraft types were used – and for what roles?

The Suez Crisis was an attempt by the UK and France (colluding with Israel) to use force to seize back the Suez Canal which had been nationalised by the Egyptian government. A short bombing campaign was followed by amphibious landings and parachute assaults on the Canal Zone. Although the Anglo-French forces achieved the military aim, the venture was a politico-strategic failure. The RAF bombing force – Valiants and Canberras – were used to neutralise Egyptian air bases and military targets, supported by British and French carrier-borne aircraft – Wyverns, Sea Hawks, Sea Venoms, TBM Avengers and Corsairs. The carrier aircraft and land-based fighter-bombers – Venoms, Thunderstreaks and Mystères – also bombed and strafed tactical targets in the Canal Zone and provided air support to the amphibious and parachute troops. The Israeli air force operated over Sinai with Mustangs, B-17s, Meteors, Mosquitoes and Ouragans, while the Egyptian air force had Vampires, MiG-15s, Meteors and Il-28s. The Egyptian air force realised early on that it could not win, so it very sensible withdrew its aircraft out of range of the Anglo-French forces to preserve it to be able to fight another day.

This design is available on t-shirts, mugs and more here

Which aircraft performed well and which performed badly in the Suez attacks?

The most surprising thing for me was to learn that the RAF Valiant and Canberra force were still using WW2 bomber tactics, with ‘pathfinders’ dropping Target Indicator flares n the targets and the bomber dropping on the flares. While it had worked to some extent for Lancasters bombing city-sized targets it did not really work against targets like airfields. So I would say that the bombing campaign was a failure. The most successful work was done by the French air force F-84F Thunderstreaks operating from Lod which destroyed 10 Egyptian Il-28s at Luxor. The most interesting aircraft from my perspective was the Wyvern which carried out attacks on coastal targets; unfortunately, it was restricted to operating over coastal areas because of concerns that propeller-driven aircraft would be vulnerable to Egyptian jet fighters. Wyverns from 830 NAS successfully destroyed an Egyptian coast guard barracks which was holding up the advance of paratroops near Port Said, but one aircraft was shot down by groundfire.

What air power lessons could be learned from the Suez campaign?

I think that the main lesson is that for anti-airfield attacks to be successful they must be delivered extremely accurately onto the operating surfaces and that medium-level bombing by heavy bombers and low-level attacks by fighter-bombers without specific-to-role weapons are unlikely to succeed. This lesson had not been learnt during the Falklands conflict. Another lesson was that reconnaissance interpretation equipment needs to be co-located with the aircraft operators if the intelligence is to be used in a timely manner; this was why the French recce effort was more successful than the RAF effort.

What was the Congo Crisis and which aircraft types were used – and for what roles?

The Congo Crisis was precipitated by the province of Katanga attempting to break away from Congo and the efforts of the United Nations to drive a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The Katangese air force (Avikat) comprised DH Doves and Dakotas converted into bombers as well as Fouga Magisters and later Harvards. The UN force included Indian Canberras, Ethiopian, Iranian and Philippine F-86 Sabres and Swedish Saab J-29s.

Which aircraft performed well and which performed badly in the Congo attacks?

The UN J-29s were very successful, as was the single Avikat Magister which ran a short “reign of terror” before the arrival in the country of UN fighters. Perhaps the most disappointing were the F-86s which did not appear to achieve vey much!

What air power lessons could be learned from the Congo Crisis?

The Congo Crisis is fascinating from an air power perspective because it shows firstly how effective airpower is if it is unopposed and secondly how limited it is once it is opposed. Avikat had the run of the country before the UN fighter force arrived, but once the UN fighters were established in Congo, Avikat was completely sidelined from the ground campaign.

What were the Arab-Israeli Wars and which aircraft types were used – and for what roles?

The Arab-Israeli wars were fought in 1967 (the Six-Day War) and 1973 (The October War) as Israel tried to secure its borders and the Egyptians and Syrians attempted to invade and destroy the state of Israel. In 1967, the Israeli air force was mainly equipped with French aircraft such as Mirages, Ouragans, Mystères and Vautors, all of which were employed as fighter-bombers, while in 1973 it had reequipped with American aircraft such as the F-4 Phantom and A-4 Skyhawk. The Egyptian and Syrian air forces flew Soviet aircraft such as MiG-15, MiG-17, MiG-19, MiG-21 and Su-7, while the Iraqi and Jordanian air forces flew the Hunter.

Which aircraft performed well and which performed badly in the Arab-Israeli Wars attacks?

The star of the ’67 War was undoubtedly the Mirage and of the ’73 War the F-4; however, the MiG-21 also performed very well in ’73. The older MiG variants were generally outclassed in the combat arena.

What air power lessons could be learned from the Arab-Israeli Wars?

The pre-emptive counter-air strikes by the Israeli air force in the ’67 War was a masterclass in how to neutralise enemy airfields and prevent the opposition from using its own air power effectively. In ’73 probably the greatest lesson was the effectiveness of modern SAMs against aircraft and the necessity of electronic countermeasures and dedicated Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD) missions. In addition, the lack of effectiveness of the Egyptian air force showed how the appointment of political, rather than professionally competent, officers to high ranks will inevitably render the entire force unfit for purpose.

What were the Indo-Pakistan Wars and which aircraft types were used – and for what roles?

The ’65 Indo-Pak War started with an attempt by Pakistan to cut Indian land access to Kashmir and was met by an Indian counter-offensive further to the south, resulting in a stalemate. In ’71, India intervened in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in support of the separatist movement, and Pakistan responded by attacking northwest India. East Pakistan succeeded in breaking away from West Pakistan, and in the west the ground campaign was much like a re-run of the ’65 campaign, once again ending in a stalemate. The Pakistan air force was all-American in ’65, comprising F-86 Sabres (both air-to-ground and air-to-air), F-104 Starfighters (air defence) and B-57 Canberras (bombers); in ’71 these aircraft had been supplemented by the Shenyang F-6 (Chinese version of the MiG-19 used for both air defence and offensive support)). The Indian air force was equipped with Hunters, Gnats, Canberras, Mystères, Ouragans and MiG-21s (the latter in the air-to-air role) in ’65 and in ’73 the line-up included more MiG-21s, the Su-7 and the HAL Marut (both of these types used for offensive support).

Which aircraft performed well and which performed badly in the Indo-Pakistan Wars?

The Pakistan air force F-86 Sabres performed very well in both conflicts, reflecting the excellent training and leadership of the Pakistan air force. On the Indian side, the Gnat was impressive in ’65 and in ’71 the Su-7 and Marut both performed very well in the ground-attack role. The Indian MiG-21s did not do well in ’65 largely due to poor Soviet missile technology.

What air power lessons could be learned from the Indo-Pakistan Wars?

The quality of leadership and training of the Pakistan air force showed just how important these factors are in the overall effectiveness of an air force. As Gen George Patton observed “you fight like to train” so high-quality relevant training is vital for any air force. In ’73, the Indian air force ran a highly successful counter-air campaign against airfields in East Pakistan and grounded the Pakistan air force, by using excellent weapon-to-target matching and employing an overwhelming force.

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes will feature the finest cuts from Hush-Kit along with exclusive new articles, explosive photography and gorgeous bespoke illustrations. Pre-order The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes hereSave the Hush-Kit blog. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. Your donations keep this going. Thank you. Our shop is here and our Twitter account here @Hush_Kit. Sign up for our newsletter here.

What was the Iran-Iraq War and which aircraft types were used – and for what roles?

Taking advantage of the post-revolution chaos in Iran, Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 in order to take control, of the Shatt al-Arab waterway. Expecting a swift and successful campaign, Iraq was surprised by the robust and ferocious response from Iran and by a war which dragged on for eight years. With the ground forces bogged down in a WW1-style war of attrition, the air forces switched to attacking each other’s oil production and export infrastructure, including the “tanker war” in which oil tankers were attacked in the Persian Gulf. The Iranian air force fielded F-4 Phantoms, F-5 Tigers for ground attack and F-14 Tomcats for air defence, while the Iraqis operated MiG-21, MiG-23, Su-7, Su-22 as well as Mirage F1s and MiG-25s.

Which aircraft performed well and which performed badly in the Iran-Iraq War?

Despite limited spares support, the Iranian F-4s and F-14s were very effective in role; the Iraqi Mirage F-1s also achieved some spectacular successes with long-range strikes against Iranian oil terminals. Perhaps the least successful was the Iraqi MiG-23 thanks to its less than ideal handling characteristics.

What air power lessons could be learned from the Iran-Iraq War?

Much like the Egyptians in 1967, the big lesson here is that political or quasi-religious interference in air forces will render them ineffective. Both the Iraqi and Iranian air forces suffered badly because of interference and mismanagement by political (Iraq) and religious (Iran) figures who knew nothing about air power.