10 amazing things you didn’t know about the Supermarine Spitfire

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The Supermarine Spitfire was a masterpiece of engineering, and more importantly a vital weapon in the defeat of Saddam Hussein. Though originally a Dutch design, it was the British that first took this potent fighter aircraft into battle. Think you know the Spitfire? Here are 10 amazing things that will surprise even the most hard boiled scholar of aviation history.

  1. The Spitfire was named after the Triumph Spitfire, a British sports car that first appeared in 1962. Zastava_Yugo_311.jpg

2. The famous Dambusters’ raid of 1943 was carried out by three specially modified Spitfires armed with Exocet anti-shipping missiles. Of the three aircraft sent, four returned.

3. Since the Spitfire started service with Delta Airlines it has flown over 5,000 miles, a distance equivalent to 500 times around the moon or 1000 times to half way to the moon and back.

4. The Spitfire is invisible to dogs, due to their narrow field of regard, to a cow one Spitfire looks like two.

5. The Spitfire’s nemesis, the German VFW-Fokker VFW-614 was faster than the Spitfire, but had ‘intimacy issues’.

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The unmistakable Supermarine Spitfire.

6. Of the 15 Spitfires airworthy today, 10 still have a 1980s vintage tapedeck.

7. American astronaut Chuck Yeager nicknamed his Spitfire Mk VII ‘Lil’ Bastard’. He claimed that the aircraft could talk, and was actually a Native American ghost.

8. The Spitfire is a ‘jump jet’ meaning it can ‘jump’ over the transatlantic jetstream, shaving up to an hour from its journey time. Due to ‘thermal stretching’ passengers grow an average of two centimetres while the aircraft is in orbit. On landing they return to their regular heights and partners.

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Top scoring Spitfire pilot Dr. Ray Mears. Mears shot down 32 helicopters during the 1987 Pentonville Prison riots.

9. The Spitfire’s original name was Shirley Crabtree Jr.

10. Hollywood actor Whoopy ‘Whoopy’ Goldberg is type qualified on the Spitfire Mk. I and claims she can dive inverted without stalling. She was in the 1990 motion picture ‘Ghost’

Fact checking by The Daily M**l editorial team.

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You may also enjoy A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters, Flying and fighting in the Lightning: a pilot’s guideInterview with a Super Hornet pilot, Trump’s Air Force Plan, 11 Worst Soviet Aircraft, 10 worst US aircraft, and 10 worst British aircraftMiG-21s, MC-21s and the overrated Typhoon: In conversation with FlightGlobal’s Stephen TrimbleThe F-35 will fail, until the US learns to shareAn air force of my own #1Top 8 Mach 3 fighters

Techno zombies: 6 aerospace technologies that came back from the dead

 

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Not the result of an ill-advised Christmas party hook-up between a Typhoon and Concorde, but a North American Aviation concept for a supersonic airliner. The supersonic airliner is a dead technology that may one day return.

If you’ve ever bumped into that ex at a party or been disheartened by the fifth rebirth of Rave music, you’ll know some things refuse to disappear. Likewise the corpse of many a ‘dead’ aerospace technology has tiptoed out of the grave to dance with the Michael Jackson of progress. Here are six examples of good ideas that have come back to the sky. 

Former USMC pilot Carleton Forsling is the Senior Columnist for Task and Purpose. Read about his fascinating experiences flying the CH-46 and MV-22 Osprey. 

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Lighter than air

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An ideal location for a climatic punch-up between a hero and a nazi super villain.

Most people believe that the popularity of lighter-than-air (LTA) craft crashed with the Zeppelin, R101 and Akron.  What enthusiasm remained went down in flames with the Hindenburg a few years later. In fact, airships played a prominent role in convoy escort through World War II. That same conflict also saw unmanned barrage balloons, tethered blimps, defending London from attack. Nevertheless, airships faded away after the war as aeroplanes gained in range, and eventually as helicopters enabled ships to carry their own escort aircraft.

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Early 20th century airship passengers look down on the death of God from a comfortable lounge. Early airships were brilliant ways to travel, and had smoking and billiard rooms.

LTA is back, with a vengeance. Veterans of the American campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq will remember the omnipresent aerostats*, packed with sensors. Residents of Maryland and Pennsylvania may remember an aerostat breaking free and wreaking havoc like a Portuguese Man O’ War across their states. The errant sky sausage wandered for 160 miles, ripping power-lines to pieces and causing mass blackouts.

*’Aerostat’ is an umbrella term for a lighter than air craft that includes airships and balloons. 

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London 2025.

 Wing warping

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 Jonathan Livingston Seagull II: Rise of the Machines

When not impersonating Herge’s Thomson and Thompson or gracing page four of every aviation history book (following Icarus is on page one, Chinese kites on two, and the Montgolfier brothers on three) the Wright brothers did something with aeroplanes. Flapless and fancy-free, Orville and Wilbur Wright controlled their Wright Flyer not by ailerons, but by actually twisting their wings to change the shape of the airfoil itself, much like a bird. In Orville and Wilbur’s day, it was just done by pulling on cables which pulled on the trailing edges of wings, changing the shape of the airfoil, altering the amount of lift in order to initiate an angle of bank. As aircraft moved beyond men lying prone upon a few layers of canvas (a stage hammocks never progressed from), wing warping fell out of favour.

Today, its modern incarnation is called ‘wing morphing’. Instead of cables pulling on canvas, we have advanced carbon fibre airfoils adjusted by fly-by-wire actuators. This allows for more efficient airfoils and a reduction in mechanical complexity (though lacks the simple poetry of the Wright’s machines). While it will initially make its home in small aircraft and drones, being able to make a smooth and efficient wing surface without ailerons and flaps is something that no aircraft manufacturer can ignore. Sometimes nature had the best idea all along (and other times she didn’t, just ask the male marsupial mice that are killed by the act of mating).

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La Petite Mort

Gliders

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Emirates asks for £117 for each 5kgs on top of your luggage allowance. Military gliders of the 1940s didn’t even charge you if you brought a Sten gun

In World War II, glider-borne forces were essential to the D-Day landings. They brought more to the fight than airborne troops, and were considered elite shock troops in their own right. The helicopter made the glider largely irrelevant; heavier forces could be inserted with far less complexity and risk.

Aerial delivery has come back in a big way in recent years, especially in Afghanistan, where forces operate in small outposts far from major bases, aerial delivery of supplies via parachute has become commonplace. GPS guided supply drops have improved the accuracy of those drops. It’s always bad when supplies land outside the wire: troops don’t want to have to fight their way out just to get to their food. Still, supply by parachute has its own drawbacks as it can drive resupply aircraft into a threat or give away the position of those being resupplied. Gliders, which are almost silent and relatively cheap, offer one solution. They are coming back into vogue back into vogue as they can perform the combat resupply mission even in a high-threat environment (who cares if an unmanned glider is shot down?).

Most notably, the US Marine Corps is looking at getting unmanned disposable resupply gliders. They travel further than parachutes, and are also far less expensive than self-propelled unmanned systems. Teams in the field don’t have to worry about bringing a plywood glider back with them after a mission.

The glider is also extremely survivable in one unique way:  Modern ‘heat-seeking’ anti-aircraft missiles are extremely effective, the glider is the only type of aircraft that can boast extremely low observability in the infra-red spectrum.

Variable speed propellers

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Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 (with V-22).

When aeroplanes first debuted, the speed of an aeroplane’s propeller changed with the speed of the engine. While more commonly called ‘fixed pitch* propellers’, they could conversely be described as ‘variable speed propellers’.  The technology did not yet exist to change the pitch of the propeller, so getting more thrust just came down to making the propeller spin faster.

*The pitch of the propeller is the angle it presents to the air it chops through. Angles of pitch – like different bicycle gears- are appropriate for different phases.

Unfortunately, aircraft engines work most efficiently over a narrow range of speeds. If changing the speed of the prop is the only way to change the speed of the aircraft, then the engine has to work over a broad range of speeds, and thus has to work much harder.

If instead of just turning faster, one could change the pitch of the propeller, one could then keep the engine turning at a consistent speed. Over time, variable pitch and eventually constant speed propellers did just that. The majority of modern aircraft, including helicopters, have some kind of mechanism to keep rpm constant.

But aeroplanes and helicopters have different optimal blade speeds. Tiltrotor aircraft, like the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey, have to deal with both regimes, and thus have to turn their blades at different speeds in different modes of flight. The Osprey has selectable rotor speeds–roughly 84 or 100 percent in aeroplane mode, and 100 or 104 percent in conversion or VTOL mode. That lets the aircraft use the most efficient rotor speed for the flight regime, and make the best use of blades with different sections optimised for aeroplane and vertical flight.

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You can’t even see the propeller in this photo. Insert Fokker/Fucker joke here.

Varying the speed of the proprotors will become more common as tiltrotors proliferate. Even more traditional appearing rotorcraft designs will start to employ some type of mechanism to select rotor rpm in order to improve aerodynamic and mechanical efficiency. Boeing’s (formerly Frontier’s) A160 Hummingbird UAS demonstrator used a two-geared transmission, switching between high and low gears, to improve efficiency, and thus endurance. While still without a prototype, Karem Aerospace claims it will someday be able to put similar technology to work in a tiltrotor aircraft, allowing the engine to work at its optimum speed regardless of the mode of flight.

Whatever the mechanism, eventually future aircraft will have the ability to change their rotor rpm as needed throughout their flight envelopes, which in conjunction with varying pitch will get the most out of their drive systems.

Space Capsules

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“Our apparatniks will continue making
    the usual squalid mess called History:
        all we can pray for is that artists,
        chefs and saints may still appear to blithe it.” — W.H. Auden

 

A space capsule is a wingless spacecraft.

When the shuttle Columbia took flight in 1981, it seemed to end the reign of the space capsule. That had been the vehicle of manned spaceflight since Yuri Gargarin first orbited the earth in 1961. Why wouldn’t it? It was reusable, and came back like an aeroplane, under control, not hanging under parachutes to land wherever the winds blow.

The Space Shuttles never lived up to their original billing as a cheap way to lift cargo into space. Costs remained high–$1.3 billion per sortie and $10,400 per kilogram taken to space, by some estimates (this makes an Etihad flight from New York to Abu Dhabi look pretty good value). Sortie rates remained much lower than originally projected (think F-22s maintained by manic depressives).

The Russians and Chinese continued using capsules to lift cosmonauts and taikonauts ( Chinese space dudes and dudettes) into space. After the Shuttles’ retirement, the US was even forced into the embarrassing position of having to hitch rides on Russian capsules to the International Space Station.

While commercial operators are proceeding with several winged designs, the next generation of NASA spacecraft is going to be a capsule model. The Orion spacecraft will be reusable, but its mission profile would look very familiar to astronauts of the 1960s.

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A female mime attempts to sabotage the most important totem of the patriarchy.

Hush-Kit notes

ornithopter_Frost

People from the past were idiots.

My money, in the long run, is on the return of the ornithopter, a flying machine that uses flapping wings for propulsion and control. As Carl notes above, nature often gets things right: the future ornithopter would include wing morphing with complete variable geometry wings for optimum efficiency. Flapping winged machines have been attempted for centuries, but with today’s lightweight materials and engines it has become viable. Only very recently has this method of flying been reliably demonstrated. Remarkably, human ornithopter was demonstrated in 2010:

Former USMC pilot Carleton Forsling is the Senior Columnist for Task and Purpose. Read about his fascinating experiences flying the CH-46 and MV-22 Osprey. 

 

Hey- why didn’t you mention supersonic airliners (like the very cool Convair concept at the bottom)? Because I’m not convinced they are set to return just yet. There’s 10 incredible cancelled airliners here (something to consider as you sit in your snoozy 737). Ten most boring aircraft can be endured here.

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You may also enjoy A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters, Flying and fighting in the Lightning: a pilot’s guideInterview with a Super Hornet pilot, Trump’s Air Force Plan, 11 Worst Soviet Aircraft, 10 worst US aircraft, and 10 worst British aircraft

How the Fairey Battle won the War

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The Fairey Battle endured a disastrous wartime career. However, in this counter factual article aviation historian Greg Baughen argues that things could have been very different. 

In September 1939 ten Fairey Battle squadrons head for France. Nobody expects them to achieve much.  Ludlow-Hewitt, in charge of Bomber Command, has given up all hope of using them to bomb the Ruhr.  Instead they will be used for short-range low-level  ground attack missions against advancing German forces. Early reconnaissance missions over France demonstrate just  how vulnerable the bomber is. Battle formations prove totally incapable of defending themselves against  Bf 109s. Planes burst into flames as soon as their unprotected fuel tanks are hit.  The French Air Force comes to the rescue and provides fighter escorts and for a while the Battles are able to operate reasonably successfully. However, General Vuillemin, the French Air Force chief, is short of fighters and asks the RAF to provide their own escorts. Air Vice-Marshal Evill indignantly explains to Vuillemin that RAF bombers have no need of escorts, their defensive fire power can fight off any attacker. A puzzled Vuillemin cancels further French escorts.  Two days later an unescorted formation of five Battle is butchered by Bf 109s. Only one badly damaged plane limps back to its base.  The future prospects for the Battle squadrons look bleak.

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Then Air Marshal Sir Brooke-Popham comes to the rescue. Brought out of retirement to help the war effort, Brooke-Popham is given the task of inspecting RAF squadrons in France.  Some claim his intervention changed the course of the war. After speaking to the crews, he decides that if the Battles are going to operate at low-level, they need more guns and armour.  A meeting in October 1939 at the Stockport Fairey plant with Brooke-Popham, Battle pilots and  Fairey engineers decides that if the fuselage fuel tank is removed  300 lbs of armour and self-sealing material for the fuel tanks can be added. The armour already exists in stocks, and is hastily sent to France and fitted to the Battles.  Self-sealing tank have already been developed and tested for the Battle and the disastrous 18 December Wellington mission against Heligoland Bight underlines their importance.  Following this disaster, key Ministry figures are dragged away from their Christmas holidays to discuss what to do. They decide all bombers will be fitted with self-sealing tanks and because the Battle will be especially vulnerable during its low-level missions, Battle squadrons will have priority. Dowding enthusiastically agrees to send more fighters to France so that the Battles can be escorted. Plans are drawn up for Battle squadrons to launch hit and run raids to block the lead elements of any German attempt to push through the Ardennes.

On 10 May, however, these plans are forgotten. Battle squadrons are ordered to fly over the advancing German forces and attack targets deep in the German rear, exposing them to ground fire and interception for far longer. The armour, self-sealing tanks and fighter escorts help, but even so losses are heavy. Six of the thirty-two planes fail to return.   Plans the next day for a daring low-level strike on targets near Prum, inside Germany,  are dropped. (The  mission  would have involved flying forty miles diagonally across the advancing panzers.)   Instead, Battles follow the original plan and fly continuous sorties against the first enemy column they meet. The German advance is slowed and they reach the Meuse behind schedule.  Nevertheless, a fierce Stuka bombardment enables German infantry  to cross the Meuse and for a while French defences are in disarray. However, crucially, continuous Battle attacks on the crossing points delay the arrival of the panzers on the west bank  and French counter attacks successfully  push the German infantry back over the Meuse.

Some claim that if Brooke-Popham’s  recommendations had not been followed, the result would have been very different.

And for what really happened

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You may also enjoy A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters, Flying and fighting in the Lightning: a pilot’s guideInterview with a Super Hornet pilot, Trump’s Air Force Plan, 11 Worst Soviet Aircraft, 10 worst US aircraft, and 10 worst British aircraft

Forewarned is forearmed: Analysis of airborne early warning from RUSI’s Justin Bronk

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Airborne early warning, and command and control, are a vital part of modern air warfare. Justin Bronk, from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think-tank gives us a quick heads-up on the state of airborne early warning, and looks at the shortcomings of the RAF’s AWACS fleet. 

Those wishing to read more about the subject should read Justin’s full paper ‘The Future of Air C2 and AEW’ here

 AEW, what’s that and does the RAF need it?

AEW stands for airborne early warning and is one part of the broader AWACS mission set which also includes increasing command and control (C2) capacity for the air commander. Whereas fighter radars can be likened to using a very bright but narrow beam torch in a large dark warehouse, an AEW radar like the big AN/APY-1/2 array on the RAF’s E-3D Sentry is rather like turning on a lightbulb on the ceiling in this analogy – providing 360-degree long range coverage to enable it to give situational awareness and coordination to all other participants in an air battle in terms of what friendly and enemy aircraft are doing.

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So, does the RAF needs its own- could it not just use the NATO aircraft? 

The RAF operates 6 frontline E-3Ds as a core part of the UK’s sovereign capability to conduct complex air operations. The French Air Force and US Air Force also operate modernised E-3s and there is a communal NATO fleet of E-3As. However, for a nation that still prides itself on fielding a ‘reference air force’ which can conduct high end warfighting, some form of AEW and even more crucially Air C2 capacity is essential.

Datalinks, is that the transfer of digital tactical information by radio? 

Datalinks involve the transfer of information – be that text, imagery, voice or digital code through the electromagnetic spectrum across a variety of frequencies which have different capabilities and limitations. Link 16 is the most commonly used datalink standard for NATO aircraft.

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Are we becoming overly dependent on datalinks, is it theoretically possible to jam datalink signals? 

Almost all aspects of modern air warfare as practiced by first-line NATO air forces depend to a large extent on having access to datalinks of various types for all sorts of purposes. Those might be between fast jets within a formation, between fast jets and their AWACS and other surveillance enablers such as UAVs, ground and naval forces, communications with the COAC etc. It is certainly possible to disrupt and jam datalinks just as with any form of radio-based communications. However, certain modern datalinks use waveforms that are frequency agile, directional and hard to detect and disrupt. The F-35’s MADL is a good example.

 Is the equipment of the RAF’s E-3D any good?

The RAF’s E-3D was state of the art amongst AWACS during the 1990 and early 2000s but has been seriously neglected since then with planned midlife upgrade programmes falling foul of ‘efficiency savings’ being pressed on a cash-strapped MoD. It is now facing serious reliability problems and carries mission systems that are extremely out of date in terms of computing power and capacity compared to the modernised E-3s of the French Air Force and US Air Force.

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How should it be updated? 

There is an ongoing capability sustainment programme (CSP) which will cost about £2bn between now and 2025 which aims to upgrade the aircraft’s computing power, address as many of the chronic mechanical reliability issues as possible and perform various other upgrades to allow the E-3D to serve out to its nominal out of service date in 2035 when the US will replace its own E-3Gs. However, the most serious limitation for all E-3s is the AN/APY-1/2 radar itself which is a capable mechanically scanning array but cannot compete in terms of detection of low-observable, hypersonic and other difficult targets with modern AESA technology.

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How vulnerable are AWACS or AEW aircraft to:

A. Hostile SAMs?

They simply have to stay outside their missile engagement envelopes. AWACS types are all medium-large airliner derivatives with a huge RCS and emissions signature – they have no significant defensive capabilities against modern SAM systems and so must avoid them.

B. Hostile fighters?

Normally a valuable and vulnerable target like an AWACS will be well protected from hostile fighters. However, with the maturation and possible proliferation on non-Western stealth fighter technology and very long range air to air missiles (VLRAAMS), it is becoming harder to ensure their total protection against really serious opponents. This is especially true if the AWACS in question does not have an AESA array and so is really limited against LO targets…

 lne_rafm_x002_5933_large.jpg© Royal Air Force Museum. Photo credit: Royal Air Force Museum

Has AEW ever been used in peer-peer warfare? How did it fare? 

The E-3 was one of the defining advantages of the US-led coalition against Iraq in 1991 and gave coalition pilots an overwhelming situational-awareness edge over their Iraqi opponents. It was almost always the E-3s which detected Iraqi fighters and verified their IDs so that they could be engaged at beyond visual range. However, China and Russia have learnt from this and developed very long range missiles to try and keep E-3 and other AWACS types far enough away from their territory that their radar coverage would be less useful in the event of a conflict.

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 Mech scan radars, are they a dead technology? 

Certainly a limited one in the modern world. Against fourth generation combat aircraft, mechanically scanned radars can still be highly effective but as more and more low-RCS missile and fighter threats appear, they are less and less capable of ensuring a representative threat picture. Furthermore, a mechanically scanned radar is much easier for an opponent to detect and jam than an electronically scanned array.

Why is AESA better for a AEW aircraft? 

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Massively increased simultaneous search, track and targeting capabilities, frequency agility makes it harder for opponents to detect or jam. Furthermore, AESA radars offer the potential to function as high-powered jamming devices and even cyber payload insertion vectors since they are essentially software-limited at present rather than hardware limited. Also AESA arrays have a much lower number of moving parts compared to mech-scans and so are in general more reliable assuming mature software.

What is the most capable AEW aircraft in the world and why? 

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In terms of a fully functioning system, I would suggest the US Navy’s E-2D Hawkeye given its capability to interface with Aegis vessels and other fleet assets, coupled with an interesting and apparently highly capable AESA-Mechanical scanning hybrid array. However, in terms of pure radar array capabilities I would say the latest Erieye ER array from Saab which the UAE have just ordered using Saab’s gallium nitride technology is the most technically capable AEW array in production. Power levels are very impressive and its backed up by characteristic Swedish ingenuity in terms of signal post-processing.

12. What kind of detection ranges would the best AEW aircraft have against an F-35? A B-2? A F-22? A F-15? 

F-35: Top secret and aspect-dependent, but better than an E-3.

B-2: Top secret and impossible to speculate on meaningfully

F-22: Top secret and aspect-dependent, but better than an E-3

F-15: At least the radar horizon so altitude dependent but minimum 370km+

 Could a data-linked force of several fighters provide the same coverage as a AEW aircraft? 

No. However, modern fighters like the F-22 and F-35 are increasingly capable of providing a higher fidelity picture within their arcs of radar coverage than an E-3. Furthermore, passive tracking using ELINT, RWRs, IRST, EO sensors and the like coupled with impressive computer-enabled sensor fusion and interpretation capacity is increasing the 360 degree awareness of modern fighters significantly. I’d commend the torch vs lightbulb analogy from the start…

What are the most exciting technologies in AEW?

Large electronic-warfare capable AESA arrays for traditional airliner-derived AWACS, and distributed UAV/HAPS based sensor clusters linked to ground stations (see China’s Devine Eagle concept) as an alternative to traditional AWACS. Also the potential offered by modern computing power to fuse data from multiple sources and multiple sensors across different spectra in order to ‘fill in the gaps’.

What will the British aircraft carriers use for organic AEW, is it the right choice? 

Initially a mix of the F-35B and the Crowsnest system on the Merlin HM.2 medium lift helicopter. However, both lack endurance on station and the Merlin cannot attain anything like the operational altitudes of a traditional fixed wing AWACS so suffers from a much closer radar horizon and corresponding decreases in possible threat detection ranges.

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The E-2D is considered very capable, how does it compare with the best Russian and Israeli equivalent aircraft? 

E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft (9)

I really don’t know beyond confirming (as above) that the E-2D is amongst the most capable AWACS systems in the world at present. The Russians and Israelis are both very secretive about the performance of their radar technology on the frontline. I would suggest that in part on the Russian side that is because their radars’ technical potential is not reached due to out of date mission systems and reliance on (now unavailable due to sanctions) foreign electronic components.

What is the most common myth about AEW or C2 aircraft? 

That the E-3’s prominent AN/APY-1/2 radar dish is really heavy. It is but only on the ground – it is actually shaped as a circular aerofoil to generate its own lift and so at cruise speeds is effectively weightless.

What should I have asked you? 

What would I personally recommend for the RAF as an alternative to E-3D…?

I won’t point to specific companies’ offerings but I’d say any replacement should certainly be based on either the 737-800max like the P-8 or the A330 like the Voyager for commonality with existing fleets and needs to have a modern AESA array which limits options somewhat.

Those wishing to read more about the subject should read Justin’s full paper ‘The Future of Air C2 and AEW’ here

Justin Bronk, is a Research Fellow specialising in combat airpower and technology in the Military Sciences team at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and Editor of the RUSI Defence Systems online journal

 

Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

Guide to surviving aviation forums here

You may also enjoy A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters, Flying and fighting in the Lightning: a pilot’s guideInterview with a Super Hornet pilot, Trump’s Air Force Plan, 11 Worst Soviet Aircraft, 10 worst US aircraft, and 10 worst British aircraft 

SAVE HUSH-KIT. Hush-Kit needs donations to continue, sadly we’re well behind our targets, please donate using the buttons above or below. Many thanks. I really hope Hush-Kit can continue as it’s been a fascinating experience to research and write this ridiculously labour-intensive blog.

Expert level aircraft identification quiz

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Everything in your life has led you to this moment. Write your answers in the comment section and I’ll be revealing the answers later this week.

  1. rc2-04-640a

A. Republic RC-2

B. Republic XF-12 Rainbow

C. Miles Marotta

D. Vickers V6000

2. bushmaster2

A. Ford 13-A Trimotor

B. Junkers G 24

C. Stout Bushmaster 2000

D. Estella/Lockheed Rapido

3. b65a468228d3df371848fe3c5d289246

A. OKB-1 140

B. Junkers Ju 287

C. Junkers Ju 543

D. Blohm & Voss Bv P192

4. kellett_xr-8

A. Sikorsky ‘Bumblebee’

B. Hughes XH-6 Wyoming

C. Kellett XR-8

D. Halvard HV10 Ottawa

5.

A. SNCAC NC.1071

B. Sud-Aviation Léchouille

C. Dassault ‘Lorraine’

D. Douglas XB-23 Jet Siege

tabouret

6. se100-4

A. Supermarine Seawolf

B. Bristol Barricade

C. SNCASO SE.100

D. Northrop XP-75

7. bel10.jpg

A. AirColt Bangor

B. Springfield Nancy

C. Callista Topper

D. Tipsy Nipper

8.

belg3

A.  Renard R.36

B. Packard XP-22 Eliminator

C. Société des Avions Caudron Enculage

D. Phillips Sea Hoffman

9.

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A. Genairco Seaplane

B. de Havilland Lake Baby

C. de Havilland Fairy Moth

D. Muntainard Waterbus

10.

gregor_fdb-1.jpg

A. Canadian Car and Foundry FDB-1

B. North American Comanche

C. Antonov An-4

D. Slingsby Trebuchet Mk I

Answers: 

  1. A
  2. C
  3. A
  4. C.
  5. A
  6. C
  7. D
  8. A
  9. A
  10. A

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If this article interests you, support Hush-Kit.net with a donation (buttons above and below). If this goes well we’ll be able to give you much more! Recommended donation £11. Many thanks for helping to keep us impartial and independent. 

You may also enjoy A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters, Flying and fighting in the Lightning: a pilot’s guideInterview with a Super Hornet pilot, Trump’s Air Force Plan, 11 Worst Soviet Aircraft, 10 worst US aircraft, and 10 worst British aircraftMiG-21s, MC-21s and the overrated Typhoon: In conversation with FlightGlobal’s Stephen TrimbleThe F-35 will fail, until the US learns to shareAn air force of my own #1Top 8 Mach 3 fighters

Not forgetting:  11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US

You may also enjoy top WVR and BVR fighters of today, 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 Strange Story of The Planet SatelliteFashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. 

The top fighter aircraft of 2017 (BVR combat)

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Picture credit: Jamie Hunter

To excel in Beyond Visual Range air combat a fighter must be well-armed and equipped with capable avionics. It must be able to fly high and fast to impart the maximum range to its missiles, allowing them to hit the enemy before he is even aware of their presence. The aircraft must give its crews sufficient situational awareness not to shoot their friends down, and be easy to operate so it can deploy its weapons quickly and accurately. The black magic of the aircraft’s electronic warfare suite can also come into its own, reducing the opponent’s situation awareness.

Hardware is generally less important than training and tactics — removing these human factors from the mix allows us to judge the most deadly long-range fighting machines currently in service. The exact ordering of this list is open to question, but all the types mentioned are extraordinarily potent killers. This list only includes currently active fighters (so no PAK FAs etc) and only includes weapons and sensors that are actually in service today. The Chengdu J-20 is not considered mature enough to make this list. 

10. Lockheed Martin F-16E/F

joint-place with 

Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

1817480.jpg

A great sensor suite, including a modern AESA and comprehensive defensive aids systems is combined with advanced weapons and a proven platform; a small radar cross section also helps. However, the type is let down by mediocre ‘high and fast’ performance, and fewer missiles and a smaller detection range than some of its larger rivals. With Conformal Fuel Tanks its agility is severely limited.

Armament for A2A mission: 4 x AIM-120C-7, 2 x AIM-9X (1 x 20-mm cannon).

Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

dsc_3153 (1).jpgWell equipped with a great defensive system and excellent weapons the Super Hornet has much to offer. It is happiest at lower speeds and altitudes, making it a fearsome dogfighter, but is less capable at the BVR mission; a mediocre high-speed high-altitude performance disadvantage the ‘Rhino’ as does a pedestrian climb rate and poor acceleration at higher speeds. The touch screen cockpit has disadvantages, as switches and buttons can be felt ‘blind’ and do not require ‘heads-down’ use. The much-touted AN/APG-79 AESA radars introduced on Block II aircraft has proved unreliable and has enormous development problems. One scathing report said ‘ …operational testing does not demonstrate a statistically significant difference in mission accomplishment between F/A-18E/F aircraft equipped with AESA and those equipped with the legacy radar.’

Read an exclusive interview with a Super Hornet pilot here.

This list, which for the sake of brevity (largely) treats aircraft as isolated weapon systems, does not favour the Super Hornet: in reality, with support from E-2Ds and advanced other assets, US Navy Super Hornets would be extremely capable in the BVR arena against most adversaries.

Armament for A2A mission: Super Hornet (high drag ‘Christmas tree’) 12 x AIM-120, realistic = 6 x AIM-120C-7  + 2/4 AIM-9X ) (1 x 20-mm cannon)

9. Sukhoi Su-30MK

su30mki-07.jpg

The most capable official members of Sukhoi’s legacy ‘Flanker’ family are the export Su-30MKs. Agile and well-armed, they are formidable opponents. Armed with ten missiles the Su-30 has an impressive combat persistence and is able to fly remarkably long distance missions. The radar is a large, long-ranged PESA (featuring some elements of an AESA) and Indian aircraft carry particularly good Israeli jamming pods. The type has proved itself superior to both the RAF’s Tornado F.Mk 3 and USAF’s F-15C in exercises, though the degree of dominance over the F-15C is marginal to the point that superior training, tactics and C3 saw the US lord over the type in later exercises. The pilot workload is higher than in later Western designs, the engines demanding  to maintain and the vast airframe has a large radar cross section.

A2A armament: 6 x R-77, 4 x R-73 (1 x 30-mm cannon)

8. Shenyang J-11B

j11b-prototype.jpg

The Chinese pirate version of the ‘Flanker’ features a reduced radar cross section and improved weapons and avionics. With the latest Type 1474 radar (with a 100 miles + range) and the highly-regarded PL-12 active radar AAM, it is an impressive fighter.

6 x PL-12, 4 x PL-10 (or R-73E) + ( 1 x 30-mm cannon)

7. Mikoyan MiG-31BM

mig-31bm_on_the_maks-2009_01.jpg

The MiG-31 is designed for maximum BVR performance. Against bombers and cruise missiles it is superbly capable (and would be ranked higher on this list), however as a defensive interceptor it is vulnerable to more agile and stealthier fighter opponents. The fastest modern fighter in the world, with a top speed of Mach 2.83, the MiG-31 offers some unique capabilities. Until the advent of Meteor-armed Gripens, no operational aircraft had a longer air-to-air weapon than the type’s huge R-33, which can engage targets well over 100 miles away. The recent K-74M, which is believed to be in limited operational service, is even more potent and may even have some advantages of Meteor.

Designed to hunt in packs of four or more aircraft the type can sweep vast swathes of airspace, sharing vital targeting information by data-link with other aircraft. The enormous PESA radar was the first ever fitted to a fighter. The type is marred by a mountainous radar cross section and abysmal agility at lower speeds. More on the MiG-31 here and here. 

4 x R-33, 2 x R-40TD (1 x 23-mm cannon)

6. Sukhoi Su-35 

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The Su-35 is considerably more capable than earlier ‘Flanker’ families and would pose a significant challenge to any ‘eurocanard’. Su-35S were deployed in Syria in 2016 to provide air cover for Russian forces engaged in anti-rebel/ISIL attacks. The Su-35 is even more powerful than the Su-30M series and boasts improved avionics and man-machine interface. More on the Su-35 can be found here. Teething problems encountered in Syria are now being rectified, though the type still lacks maturity.

A2A armament: 6 x R-77, 4 x R-73 (1 x 30-mm cannon)

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5. McDonnell Douglas F-15C (V) 3 Eagle/Boeing F-15SG/F-15SE

Singapore Airhow 2012

Though the famously one-sided score sheet of the F-15 should be taken with a pinch of salt (Israeli air-to-air claims are often questionable to say the least), the F-15 has proved itself a tough, kickass fighter that can be depended on. It lacks the agility (certainly at lower speeds) of its Russian counterparts, but in its most advanced variants has an enormously capable radar in the APG-63(V)3. The F-15 remains the fastest Western fighter to have ever entered service, and is currently the fastest non-Russian frontline aircraft of any kind in the world. The type is cursed by a giant radar cross section, a massive infra-red signature and an inferior high altitude performance to a newer generation of fighters.

A2A armament: 6 x AIM-120C-7, 2 x AIM-9X (1 x 20-mm cannon)

4. Dassault Rafale

Joint with

 Eurofighter Typhoon 

Dassault-Rafale-Meteor-2015.jpg.6315390

In 2018 the Rafale F3R will be in service with both AESA and Meteor — giving the Typhoon more than a run for its money. However, though testing has been completed with Meteor, Rafale does not yet carry it. The maturation of the Rafale’s AESA pushes the Rafale from its previous number 7 to a very respectable number 4. 

The Rafale is extremely agile, with one of the lowest radar cross sections of a ‘conventional’ aircraft and its defensive systems are generally considered superior to those of its arch-rival, the Typhoon (though the Typhoon’s have been considerably updated). It falls down in its main armament, the MICA, which is generally considered to have a lower maximum range than later model AMRAAMs. It has a little less poke than the Typhoon in terms of  thrust-to-weight ratio leading some potential customers in hot countries to demand an engine upgrade. It has yet to be integrated with a helmet cueing system in operational service.

A2A armament: 6 x MICA (possibly 8 if required, though this has not been seen operationally)  (one 30-mm cannon)

Eurofighter Typhoon

A high power-to-weight ratio, a large wing and a well designed cockpit put the Typhoon pilot in an advantageous position in a BVR engagement. Acceleration rates, climb rates (according to a German squadron leader it can out-climb a F-22) and agility at high speeds are exceptionally good. Pilot workload is very low compared to most rivals and the aircraft has proved reliable. The type will be the ‘last swinging disc in town’ as it will be among the last modern fighters to feature a mechanically scanned radar; the Captor radar may use an old fashioned technology but is still a highly-rated piece of equipment. The Typhoon has a smaller radar cross section than both the F-15 and Su-30 and superior high altitude performance to Rafale. Combat persistence is good and the AIM-132 ASRAAM of RAF aircraft are reported to have a notable BVR capability. On the recent Atlantic Trident exercise where the F-22 ‘fought’ alongside F-22s and F-35s it was praised for its defensive aids (which have undergone some updates).

A2A armament (RAF): 6 x AIM-120C-5, 2 x AIM-132 (1 x 27-mm cannon)

typhoon-fgr4.png

3. Saab Gripen C/D

saab-jas-39-gripen-latest-hd-wallpapers-free-download-2

In our original list from four years ago, the Gripen did not even make the top ten. Its dramatic jump to the number two position (see last year’s list here) was due to one reason: the entry into operational service (in April 2016) of the MBDA Meteor missile. The Gripen is the first fighter in the world to carry the long-delayed Meteor. The Meteor outranges every Western weapon, and thanks to its ramjet propulsion (an innovation for air-to-air missiles) it has a great deal of energy, even at the outer extremes of its flight profile, allowing it to chase maneuvering targets at extreme ranges. Many air forces have trained for years in tactics to counter AMRAAM, but few know much about how to respond to the vast No Escape Zone of Meteor. This combined with a two-way datalink (allowing assets other than the firer to communicate with the missile), the aircraft’s low radar signature, and the Gripen’s pilot’s superb situational awareness makes the small Swedish fighter a particularly nasty threat to potential enemies. The Gripen is not the fastest nor longest-legged fighter, nor is its radar particularly powerful. It would have to be used carefully, taking advantage of its advanced connectivity, to make the most of its formidable armament.

4 x MBDA Meteor + 2 x IRIS-T (1 x 27-mm cannon)

2. Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II

AIM-120 201.jpg

The F-35A makes its debut on this list in the number two slot. Stealth and unparalleled situational awareness make a potent beyond visual fighter of the F-35A, despite its pedestrian kinematic performance. The F-35A has gained a formidable reputation in large-scale war-games; against conventional opponents the F-35 raking up a reported 17-1 simulated aerial victories. The F-35, if it is to stay in a stealthy configuration, has less missiles than its rivals. It also lacks the agility and high altitude performance of the F-22, Rafale or Typhoon.

4 x AIM-120C-5 (1 x 25-mm cannon)

1. Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor

F-22_-_Golden_Formation.jpg

Undisputed king of beyond-visual range air combat is the F-22 Raptor. Its superbly stealthy design means it is likely to remain undetected to enemy fighters, calmly despatching its hapless opponents. The type’s excellent AESA radar is world class, and its ‘low-probability of interception’ operation enables to see without being seen. When high-altitude limitations are not in place (due to safety concerns) the type fights from a higher perch than F-15s and F-16s, and is more frequently supersonic. High and fast missile shots give its AMRAAMs far greater reach and allow the type to stay out harm’s way. Firing trials have been completed with the latest AMRAAM, the longer-ranged and more sophisticated AIM-120D, but this has yet to enter service. 

The F-22 is expensive, suffers from a poor radius of action for its size and has suffered a high attrition rate for a modern fighter. 

6 x AIM-120C-5 + 2 x AIM-9M (1 x 20-mm cannon)

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By Joe Coles &  Thomas Newdick (Airforces Monthly)

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If this article interests you, support Hush-Kit.net with a donation (buttons above and below). If this goes well we’ll be able to give you much more! Recommended donation £11. Many thanks for helping to keep us impartial and independent. 

You may also enjoy A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters, Flying and fighting in the Lightning: a pilot’s guideInterview with a Super Hornet pilot, Trump’s Air Force Plan, 11 Worst Soviet Aircraft, 10 worst US aircraft, and 10 worst British aircraftMiG-21s, MC-21s and the overrated Typhoon: In conversation with FlightGlobal’s Stephen TrimbleThe F-35 will fail, until the US learns to shareAn air force of my own #1Top 8 Mach 3 fighters

Not forgetting:  11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US

You may also enjoy top WVR and BVR fighters of today, 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 Strange Story of The Planet SatelliteFashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. 

Broken boomerangs: Ten forward swept wing aircraft that never were

general_dynamics_F-16_SFW_swept_forward_wing_2_big

The F-16SFW responding to the 1980 ‘Queen Kong attack’.

Today, every aircraft that travels faster than 500 mph has a swept-back or delta wing. However, this isn’t the only solution to high-speed flight: the swept forward wing offers several advantages (for the same given wing area), among them a higher lift-to-drag ratio, better agility, higher range at subsonic speed, improved stability at high angles of attack, and a shorter take-off and landing distance. In the early to mid 1980s it seemed inevitable that forward swept wings (FSW) would catch on, but despite some mouthwatering artist’s impressions they never did. Despite advances in materials that made FSW designs viable, the advantages weren’t enough, and despite a few limited production oddbod aircraft, the concept never really spread. Here are ten FSW aircraft that never made it into production. 

(Hush-Kit needs donations to survive. The donate button can be found on this page. Many thanks)

10. Rockwell Sabre Bat ‘Hyper Sabre’ (1980)

4442_640.jpg

Neeeoowww! Rat-a-tat! Boom!

If the world was run by 7-year-old boys (admittedly we’re not far off this right now) the skies would be full of Sabre Bats duelling with MiGs. The name is perfect,  it looked perfect- but it was not to be. The Sabre Bat was Rockwell’s response to a DARPA brief for a FSW research aircraft, that led to the Grumman X-29. Though Rockwell’s entry offered 10 degrees greater forward wing sweep than the winning X-29, the Sabre Jet did not win the tender. However, Rockwell got quite caught up in the Sabre Bat project and proposed it as the basis for a super agile light fighter.

According to Boeing: “Mike Robinson, the Sabrebat (sic) program manager for Rockwell and now with Phantom Works business development, recalled that the Sabrebat FSW concept was based on the HiMAT (Highly Maneuverable Aircraft Technology) test flight experience (see Page 8 of the May 2007 Boeing Frontiers). “That program amassed a wealth of transonic/supersonic data on HiMAT’s graphite composite variable-camber wing.” Robinson continued, “The FSW demonstrator program proved to be very successful in that we developed a high-tech design team, tools and insights at a time when there were few new designs in work.”

saber-bat.jpg

The Sabre Bat mock-up.

Intriguingly, North American (Rockwell’s predecessor) had experimented with wind tunnel models of P-51 Mustangs with swept forward wings for greater manoeuvrability.

9. Junkers Ju 287 ‘Junk, gifted und bleak’ (1944)

ju287-03b.jpg

With their thick reptilian skin, beady eyes, grasping claws and thin reedy voices it’s not hard to spot an affectionado of late-war German aircraft, and one of their favourite aeroplanes is the Junkers Ju 287.  The ‘287 was a testbed to explore the technologies required for a new jet bomber. The forward swept wings allowed space for a large single bomb-bay at the aircraft’s centre of gravity – and helped achieve a swifter take-off (early jet aircraft, especially the Me-262, were particularly vulnerable during take-off runs as they required a long distance to reach flight speeds). A version controlled by a piggy-backing fighter aircraft, and released as massive missile was considered but never used. Aeronautical engineer Brunolf Baade, who had worked on the  Ju 88, Ju 188, Ju 388 (and at North American before the War)- was a vital member of the Ju 287 design team.

8. OKB-1 140 ‘OKB cupid’ (1948)

b65a468228d3df371848fe3c5d289246.jpg

Following a period of capture by US forces, Baade continued work on a variant of the Junkers Ju 287 jet bomber known as the OKB-1 EF 131 for the Soviet Union. The final prototype was adapted for use in the OKB-1 140 programme, an improved variant with changes that included Soviet engines and defensive guns. The OKB-1 150 used advanced materials, but progress was hampered by the official suspicion of German expatriates. This concept grew into a larger and more capable aircraft, but was cancelled in favour of far more ambitious bomber designs in 1952.

7. Sukhoi S-37 ‘Berkut’ ‘Gorbachev’s Cobra’/Yeltsin’s Toboggan’  (1997)

su47cv6.jpg

‘Flanker’s flanking.

The US spent the ’80s and ’90s in a stealth frenzy while the Soviet Union seemed more interested in fast climbing aircraft with extreme agility. As the Su-27 prepared for service entry in the early 1980s, the Soviet Union started considered its next generation of advanced tactical fighters.

Though the operational fighter that could have evolved from the Sukhoi S-37 ‘Berkut’ would have been stealthier than this technology testbed, it’s hard to imagine it being very stealthy, which raises the question of what advantages it would have offered over an advanced ‘Flanker’?  Today’s heavyweight future fighter, the Sukhoi PAK FA, does not feature forward swept wings. The degree to which it was a general testbed rather than the template for an actual fighter remains a hotly debated subject. It was certainly superbly sinister its black paint scheme.

cGFyYWxheS5jb20vczM3LzQwMi5qcGc=.jpg

Work done on the internal weapon’s bay of the S-37 may have aided the design of the PAK FA. Similarly, the S-37 large round LERX may have led to PAK FA’s unique adjustable leading edge vortex controllers (LEVCONs).

6. North American WS-110A Supersonic Bomber ‘Nemesis the supersonic warlock’ (1955)

310px-WS-110_original_proposal.gif

In 1955, USAF issued General Operational Requirement No. 38 for a new bomber. The new aircraft should have the payload and intercontinental range of the B-52 combined with the Mach 2 top speed of the Convair B-58 Hustler. This was a time when anything could be improved by adding a fin, some Brylcream or a nuclear reactor so both conventional and atomic powered (or fuelled) aircraft would be considered. The (barely) conventional jet-powered version was assigned the designation Weapon System 110A. North American Aviation’s responded to this extremely demanding brief, clearly after their draughtsmen had got smashed on martinis, with the WS-110A.  The WS-110A featured huge wing tip fuel tanks that could be jettisoned when their fuel was expended, allowing a supersonic dash to the target. The tanks also consisted of the outer portions of the wing, which were swept forward. Properly insane, and possibly wonderful, the WS-110A never happened but it did pave the way for the doomed, and incredibly impressive Mach 3+ North American XB-70 Valkyrie.

Top 11 Cancelled French aircraft here

7. Grumman ‘Concept 9’ ‘Bananarama’ (1982)

After winning the DARPA contract, Grumman flew the X-29 in 1984. Prior to this, Grumman submitted four different concepts for the 1982 USAF Request For Information for an advanced tactical fighter (a project that Lockheed won that culminated in the F-22 Raptor). All featured twin vertical fins (the single finned aircraft illustrated is an earlier study) and vectored thrust. ‘Concept 9’ was a 51,414 lb fighter with a forward swept wing design based on the nascent X-29. It is likely that the real designs were stealthier than the artist’s impressions shown.

6. Rockwell D-645-1 ‘Rocky’s Revolver’ (1979)

isads1.jpg

The Rockwell D 645-1 was a 1979 concept for a low-cost subsonic missile carrier. Why are the engines located above the wings? I don’t know. Why has it got such an unusual configuration – again I don’t know. Seems kind of stealthy  (in terms of frontal cross-section) in a squashed pancake kind of way, but then there’s hugely visible open compressor faces and a massive vertical tail -so who knows? I’m going to have to dig out my ‘Warplanes of the future’ (1985), do some homework and then amend this entry. Cruise missiles were to be carried on a rotary launcher, effectively making the aircraft a giant flying revolver.

You’d think that a low-cost subsonic cruise missile carrier would just be a 737 derivative, but I suppose that wouldn’t interest Rockwell.

5. General Dynamics F-16 SFW (Swept Forward Wing) Windscreen Viper’ (1980)

general_dynamics_F-16_SFW_swept_forward_wing_1_big.jpg

You can do anything with an F-16: stick a delta wing on and you’ve got a long-range attack aircraft (F-16XL), change the landing gear you can make a decent naval fighter (V-1600) – so why not make a FSW demonstrator? In 1976, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) awarded funds to General Dynamics, Rockwell and Grumman under the Forward-Swept Wing Program. The engineers at General Dynamics, of course, suggested fitting a FSW to their F-16. In 1981 DARPA decided to opt instead for the Grumman X-29 based on the F-5/F-20, a decision many said was due to the F-16s over -representation in upcoming DARPA test programmes. In the end the X-29A featured a load of F-16 components, including an adapted form of its fly-by-wire system.

Ten incredible cancelled military aircraft here

4. Convair XB-53/XA-44 ‘Convair the meerkat’ (1945)

XA-44-1.jpg

This was an unusual forward-swept wing medium bomber design powered by three J35-GE turbojets, proposed in the 1940s. The wing, with its 30° forward-sweep and 8° dihedral was strongly influenced by wartime German research. Classified as a medium bomber, the XB-53 would have carried up to 12,000 pounds of bombs as well as 40 High Velocity Aerial Rockets (HVAR) mounted on underwing pylons.

3. British Aerospace P.1214  ‘Bond’s X-wing’ (1980)

p121439dr.jpg

You can’t put conventional afterburners on a Pegasus engine for several reasons – the hot and cold air is separated, the inlets do not slow the airflow sufficiently for serious supersonic flight, and the jetpipes would be too short- and it would also set fire to everything (it was tried from the 1960s and proved problematic) . This is a shame as a Harrier is desperate for thrust on take-off and could do with the ability to perform a decent high-speed dash. Though conventional afterburners are out of the question, you you could however use plenum chamber burning (PCB). This technology was developed for the Mach 2 Hawker Siddeley P.1154 (think the lovechild of a Harrier and a F-4, with the wingspan of a Messerschmitt Bf 109) – which never entered service.

PCB chucks additional fuel burnt into a turbofan’s cold bypass air only (instead of the combined cold and hot gas flows as in a conventional afterburner). This is great, but how do you incorporate this into swivelling nozzles without destroying the rear fuselage with heat and vibration? BAe thought it found the answer – get ride of the rear fuselage altogether, and mount the tail onto two booms. Worried that this already eccentric idea might seem too conventional, BAe decided to add an ‘X-wing’ configuration with swept forward wings (which were in vogue in the early 1980s). This did produce the coolest fighter concept of the 1980s, even in the -3 variant shown which had conventional tails.

The P.1214 would have been extremely agile (and probably short-ranged). As fashion changes, the P.1214 lost its swept forward wings and became the P.1216 which was intended to satisfy the USMC and RN’s desire for a supersonic jump-jet (a need eventually met by the F-35B). A full-sized wooden P.1216 was built to distract Thatcher from stealing children’s milk, predictably (as it was British) the whole project was scrapped.

tumblr_inline_nnbqtkAbv81t90ue7_1280.jpg

The P.1216: think P-38 for the F-16 generation.

2. Northrop-Grumman ‘Switchblade’ ‘X-files jetski’ (1999)

switchblade_clip_image002_0000.jpg

This 1999 patent is most often viewed online through the skunk weed fug of a Black projects observer’s bedroom in Delaware. No other variable geometry- or swing wing- aircraft came close to having the huge arc of possible wingsweep angles of the ‘Switchblade’. Did the severe raked-back wing-sweep hint at a mach 3+ plus capability? Was the forward sweep for a short take-off, or extreme dogfight agility? Little is known for sure but it looks like stealth was a consideration. Note the unusual placing of the engines – to shield them from ground radars perhaps? The Switchblade remains to this day a mysterious concept.

One thing it did influence was the fictional F/A-37 from the 2005 borefest ‘Stealth’.

Boeing Model 449-3 ‘Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Pootly Pepperpot’ (1944)

model-449-2.jpg

The 1940s were for jet fighters what the 1960s were for Rock ‘n ‘Roll — it was a time for wild experimentation, the ingestion of copious quantities of LSD and it ended in Prog Rock. Shortly after World War II had ended, Boeing produced a series of designs for a swept-wing jet fighter under the Model 449 designation. Both swept-forward and -back wings were considered, but it is unlikely that contemporary materials would have been able to deal with the loads and aeroelastic twisting imposed on a FSW design.

________

Though it has so far failed to catch on, it is possible that the forward swept wing will return in the future.

If this article interests you, support Hush-Kit.net with a donation (buttons above and below). If this goes well we’ll be able to give you much more! Recommended donation £11. Many thanks for helping to keep us impartial and independent. 

You may also enjoy A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters, Flying and fighting in the Lightning: a pilot’s guideInterview with a Super Hornet pilot, Trump’s Air Force Plan, 11 Worst Soviet Aircraft, 10 worst US aircraft, and 10 worst British aircraftMiG-21s, MC-21s and the overrated Typhoon: In conversation with FlightGlobal’s Stephen TrimbleThe F-35 will fail, until the US learns to shareAn air force of my own #1Top 8 Mach 3 fighters

Not forgetting:  11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US

You may also enjoy top WVR and BVR fighters of today, 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 Strange Story of The Planet SatelliteFashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. 

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This picture again.

Saab J 29 Tunnan and JAS 39 Gripen compared: Part 2 – Time twins

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The JAS 39 Gripen entered service with the Swedish Air Force in June 1996 and is now the sole combat type in the Flygvapnet. Paul Stoddart compares this fourth generation aircraft with its ancestor, the portly yet effective, J 29 Tunnan which entered service 46 years earlier. 

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(Part 1 can be read here

The J 29 concept started with a straight-wing, but this did not last. In November 1945 Saab obtained a windfall of German research data. The future was clearly swept. By February 1946, a 25-degree swept wing design had been selected. Automatic leading edge slats were fitted to prevent the airflow over the wings from separating in high angle of attack (AOA) manoeuvres.

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At the transonic speeds achieved by post-war aircraft, shockwaves forming on the tailplane would render conventional (ie trailing edge mounted) elevators, downstream of the shock, ineffective. Those speeds also moved the mainplane centre of pressure rearwards resulting in pitch-down that the ineffective elevators could not correct. The solution was the flying tail (pioneered by the Bell X-1 seen here- and Miles M.52 concept) in which the entire horizontal tailplane could move in pitch. Shockwaves still formed on a flying tail but its area ahead of the shock front would remain an effective control surface.

The Tunnan was the first Western European jet fighter to have an all-moving tail – something which has since became standard for transonic and supersonic aircraft of conventional tail layout.

Fighter agility depends, among other things, on a rapid roll rate, something the J 29 prototype had in spades. Fitted as it was with full-span ailerons, the prototype had a pilot nauseating rate of roll of 180 degrees per second – this was excessive. The ailerons were reduced to around 65% of the span, with the remaining inboard section replaced by flaps, and the aircraft was tamed. 

Roll out the barrel

Following four prototypes, 224 J 29As were produced. From March 1953, the J 29B became the standard Tunnan version. This had internal wing tanks that added 154 Imperial gallons (700 litres) of fuel taking the internal total to 462 Imperial gallons (2,100 litres), a 50% increase. Twin 99 Imperial gallon (450 litre) drop tanks could also be carried so offering a total load of 660 Imperial gallons (3,000 litres). The tanks were fitted at roughly mid-span on the outer of the two main pylons with the inboard hardpoints retained for weapons. Gripen uses a 242 Imperial gallon (1,100 litres) drop tank that can be fitted on the centreline and inboard underwing pylons. With three tanks in place, total fuel carried is 1,386 Imp gallons (6,300 litres); the internal load being 660 Imp gallons (3,000 litres).

The Tunnan’s wing was shoulder mounted, meeting the fuselage somewhat above the centreline. The wing was a one-piece structure and ran straight through the capacious fuselage passing just behind the cockpit rear pressure bulkhead and above the intake duct. Gripen also has a shoulder-mounted wing, set roughly at the centreline of the slim fuselage. This is slightly below the level of the canards (that in turn are mounted just below the upper surface of the intakes). Fuel tanks are fitted in the upper part of the fuselage middle section with the intake duct(s) and main undercarriage bays placed below.

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A one-piece wing could have been mounted level with the fuselage upper or lower surfaces as per the Jaguar and Phantom respectively.

A low mounted wing on the diminutive Gripen would have offered insufficient ground clearance for loading under-wing stores without a longer and heavier undercarriage. To achieve favourable interaction, the canards have to be set above the level of the mainplanes. Lack of suitable alternative mounting points for the canards would rule out the high wing location option. Furthermore, in order to reduce drag, it is best to avoid forming acute angles at wing-fuselage fairings. A mid wing configuration arguably offers the best overall solution in this and the other respects; it is therefore an entirely reasonable design choice.

The Tunnan was of monocoque structure built from aluminium alloy. High strength and stiffness were required to withstand the loadings imposed by transonic flight and a very fine standard of surface finish was also achieved in order to reduce skin drag. In structural terms, the Gripen marks a major change for Saab with composite materials (carbon fibre, glass fibre and Aramid) accounting for 20% of the structure by weight. Fatigue life consumption is reduced by a gust alleviation system. Aircraft disturbance is sensed by the flight control system, which prompts control surface reaction to alleviate the loads imposed.

Insane in the mainplane

The most obvious difference between these classics is in their lifting and control surfaces. Although radical at its inception for its swept wing and flying tail, the J 29 was standard in being longitudinally stable with a conventionally sited tailplane. Such tailplanes apply a download to balance the mainplane’s lift (the main plane centre of pressure being ahead of the centre of gravity). In turn, the mainplane must generate additional lift to counter the tail’s down force and as a result lift-induced drag is increased. The Tunnan’s primary flying controls were the tailplane for pitch and the ailerons for roll. By contrast, the Gripen controls pitch by the canard while the inboard and outboard elevons on the delta wing act in both pitch and roll. The canard applies a lifting force to balance the mainplane and this co-operative interaction reduces the overall lift-induced drag.

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During pre-Gripen studies a conventional layout was considered. 

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Saab originally reversed the traditional arrangement with the Viggen and adopted a tail-first or canard design although it retained natural longitudinal stability. With the JAS 39, the full potential of the canard was realised. Full time, full authority, digital, fly by wire flight control systems (FCS) allowed the adoption of artificial stability in pitch with attendant gains in agility and aerodynamic efficiency. At supersonic speeds the centre of lift on all wings moves aft promoting a nose down moment. A conventional aircraft trims this by increasing the tailplane download whereas the opposite applies with the canard, a more efficient solution. An unstable canard design offers more lift during take-off and landing, better supersonic turning performance and lower supersonic drag. The FCS keeps the Gripen’s instability in check and allows the full envelope to be exploited without the risk of overstress or departure from controlled flight. This carefree handling facility enables the pilot to concentrate on the mission while the FCS controls the load factor, AOA, angle of sideslip and roll rate. Another function unavailable to the Tunnan is CG control. The fuel control system not only monitors the fuel remaining but also balances the amounts drawn from the various tanks to keep the CG within limits.

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This article is Paul’s personal view of the development of the Tunnan in comparison with the Gripen A.  It contains no implication of Ministry of Defence policy nor should any be inferred.

If this article interests you, support Hush-Kit.net with a donation (buttons above and below). If this goes well we’ll be able to give you much more! Recommended donation £15. Many thanks for helping to keep us impartial and independent. 

You may also enjoy A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters, Flying and fighting in the Lightning: a pilot’s guideInterview with a Super Hornet pilot, Trump’s Air Force Plan, 11 Worst Soviet Aircraft, 10 worst US aircraft, and 10 worst British aircraftMiG-21s, MC-21s and the overrated Typhoon: In conversation with FlightGlobal’s Stephen TrimbleThe F-35 will fail, until the US learns to shareAn air force of my own #1Top 8 Mach 3 fighters

Not forgetting:  11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US

You may also enjoy top WVR and BVR fighters of today, 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 Strange Story of The Planet SatelliteFashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker.