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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 

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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)

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3. Saab Gripen C/D

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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

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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

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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

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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. 

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

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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.”

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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)

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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)

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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)

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‘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.

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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.

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

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

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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)

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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. 

general_dynamics_F-16_SFW_swept_forward_wing_2_big.jpg

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. 

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. 

(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. 

http://live.warthunder.com/

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. 

Why a F-35D would be perfect for ‘Penetrating Counter-Air’

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It’s hard to know which is creepier, using sexual words to describe war, or the reverse. The military, and the United States Air Force in particular, loves talking about ‘penetration’. The USAF has even started to study the concept of a ‘Penetrating Counter-Air’ (PCA) fighter to escort stealth B-21 bombers deep into enemy held territory. This is a job the F-35A was never designed for and cannot accomplish.

The problems with the F-35 will be fixed. The hardware issues will each be dealt with in turn and even the intractable software bugs will be corrected.  All of this will take a lot longer and cost a lot more than it should have, but it will be done. There simply isn’t a credible plan-B.

The fixed F-35 will then be adequate for its assigned mission, but even this multirole aircraft doesn’t meet the requirements for every role the USAF needs from their tactical aviation. Air defences are already being upgraded with advanced UHF radars that defeat stealth by detecting the tail fins on the F-22 and F-35A. The longer wavelengths of these radars can detect these features by their size, undoing the advantages of shaping and materials that let the F-22 and F-35A evade the shorter wavelength radars that other fighter jets carry. The F-35A simply isn’t shaped correctly for longer wavelength stealth.

 

 

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This notional delta winged F-35 variant features vertical fins, our hypothetical F-35D would be tailess.

http://www.moddb.com/groups/aircraft-lovers-group/news/report-045-f-35

 

The F-35A’s stubby shape and small size also prevent it from carrying internally enough fuel to accomplish deep penetration. To actually reach the target the F-35A (or F-22) would need to carry non-stealthy external fuel tanks or be accompanied by a non-stealthy aerial tanker.

Finally the F-35A can’t carry enough internal weapons in a stealthy configuration to win the deep fight. The four missiles of the F-35A or even the eight missiles of the F-22 won’t be enough to engage the hornet’s nest.

While the B-21 could carry a large number of air-to-air missiles (displacing some of its bombload), its flying wing configuration prevents it from operating in supersonic flight. Combined with the limited agility of a bomber sized aircraft the B-21 will be unable to control the engagement and so will be mobbed and shot down by cannon fire if nothing else. The bomber needs an escort that can sneak in deep, engage and break off.

Is the only choice to start yet another decades long development process for a clean sheet fighter that will be extremely expensive because it will be bought in small quantities for a niche mission?

The F-35 already exists in three different variants that share many parts and most importantly the same software, so why not just create a fourth variant?

This F-35D will need extended range and supercruise. Get this with a tailless delta wing and two F135 engines in place of the F-35A’s single F135 engine. The overall shape of the aircraft is a large pointed triangle with no extra bits hanging off the sides or rear for longer wavelength radars to home in on.

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The extra thrust, reduced drag and larger internal fuel tanks then give extended range supercruise, allowing the F-35D to keep its distance from threats, engage and withdraw at will. But it still needs fighter levels of agility.

Some of the F-22’s agility comes from the 2D thrust vectoring of its twin engines. The two dimensions of control come from directing the thrust of both engines up or down together to control pitch and directing the thrust in different directions to control roll. But for yaw control the F-22 must depend on its airfoils, especially those UHF-stealth ruining tails.

As a tailless delta the F-35D must have 3D thrust vectoring to provide agility. The Russian T-50 gets 3D thrust vectoring by directing the thrust of its twin engines side to side in addition to up and down, but the exposed engines on the T-50 are very non-stealthy.

Stealthy 3D thrust vectoring can be achieved with twin engines which have fixed height openings that swivel up and down and then inside these are baffles that constrict from the sides to control the flow and direct it to the sides. When both engines are working you have full 3D thrust vectoring and if only one engine is working you can return to base on 2D thrust vectoring.

Given all these structural changes (not even mentioning the obvious such as two seats and expanded weapons bays), why call this “F-35D” a F-35? Because all the system components, seats, engines, radar, sensors, CPUs, etc. are all standard F-35 parts interchangeable with any F-35A. No other aircraft can be developed for the PCA role as quickly and cheaply as simply adapting the F-35A design while the F-35A remains in production.

By Henry J. Cobb

If this 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

The Combat Edge of Reason: The diary of an ageing F-15C Eagle

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Fidget Jones is an ageing F-15C, here is an extract from her diary

Weight: 68,000 lb (but post-Christmas), kerosene units 1400 (but effectively covers 2 days as 4 hours of party was on New Year’s Day), lubricants 22 gallons 😦

Consumed today:

9,000 Ib jetful (I was hungover!)

1 AIM-120 AMRAAM (too much time on the wing)

2 rivets

1/3 Ciabatta loaf with brie (FOD)

MM/FH: 65 😦 I’m having a difficult day OK!?!

Noon. London: my hangar, Langley. Ugh. The last thing on earth I feel physically, tactically, or emotionally equipped to do is take part in an international war-game with that show-off the F-22 (over achiever- but dresses cybergoth in 2017- I mean who does that?) and those snobby European Typhoons (maybe pretty fast, but short legs- sorry, but it’s true). Embarrassment on walk-around this morning: some of my maintenance flaps were incorrectly secured- why does this always happen in front of the dishy Staff Sergeant? 

My long planned promotion to get an AESA upgrade has been delayed again. Feel like the last F-15C in the world to have a mechanical scanner. Thought my day couldn’t get any worse…

My pilot this morning:

    “Would you like a surprise, darling?”

    “No!” I bellowed. “Sorry. I mean …”

    “I wondered if I could take you to the theater?”

Gobsmacked at this unfamiliar thoughtfulness I blurted out ‘yes’ before I considered what he meant. 

“What are we going to see?”

“Graf Ignatievo Air Base, near Plovdiv, Bulgaria. It’s a Theater Support Package.”

I had been tricked.

11:45 p.m. Ugh. First day of New Year has been day of horror. Cannot quite believe I am once again starting the year in as a non-stealthy fighter. It is too humiliating at my age. I wonder if they’ll smell it if I have test my port engine? Having skulked in the hangar all day, hoping hangover would clear, I eventually gave up and accepted the maintainers’ help.

January 2nd

    Oh God. Why can’t tankers accept that we all have off days? We wouldn’t rush up to them and roar, “What are you armed with today? Been supersonic recently?” Everyone knows that flying in your thirties is not the happy-go-lucky free-for-all it was when you were twenty-two. A cocky F-16 tells me you know you’re old when your fly-by-wire system aches- I haven’t the heart to tell him I don’t even have one.

January 3rd

Caught my pilot watching a Su-35 aerobatics display on YouTube, keep telling him that this is giving him unreasonable expectations of what an airplane is capable of. Feel inadequate. 

If this 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 £10. 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

DGA orders An-225 ‘super transporter’ for French air force

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 France’s defence procurement agency, the DGA has placed a surprise €415 million order for three ultra-large Antonov An-225 transport aircraft from the Ukrainian Antonov State Company. The An-225′ Mriya’ (Ukrainian for ‘dream’) is the longest and heaviest aircraft in the world.

 

The aircraft will differ from the existing An-225 in several ways, most notably the replacement of the six ZMKB Progress D-18 turbofans with four uprated Rolls-Royce Trent XWB turbofans.  According to Antonov, the new engines will improve reduce fuel usage by 30%; other benefits will include increased reliability and a lower noise footprint. New avionics systems will include a glass cockpit and navigational aids from the Thales Group.

The first An-225 will be delivered to France in 2021, the second in 2022 and the last one the following year. In French Air Force service the type will be known as the Gargantua (a giant from a 16th Century French story). It will be equipped with the Airbus Refuelling Boom System and underwing hose-and-drogue refuelling pods. The aircraft will offer a vast increase in power projection and emergency relief capability to the French airforce. The An-225 is capable of transporting four main battle tanks, something no other aircraft can do.

In addition to its these roles, it will be possible to configure the type to carry up to 500 passengers. In a medevac layout, it will include the French MORPHEE intensive care module carrying up to twenty patients as well as 122 passengers. The third aircraft will be eventually be fitted out in an Advanced Airborne Command Post/VVIP configuration, but will initially enter service in a multi role tanker transport role.

The move is welcome news to the beleaguered Antonov company. This will be the first time the An-225 has entered serial production and the company is anticipating additional orders, possibly from Australia’s RAAF which has long sought an aircraft in this class.

 

If this 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

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Everything you always wanted to know about Indian air power but were afraid to ask: In conversation with Shiv Aroor

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Shiv Aroor makes himself familiar with India’s next fighter, the Dassault Rafale

 

India air power is a fascinating, and perplexing, subject. We met up with Indian defence reporter Shiv Aroor to find out more.

If this 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.

What’s your name and what do you do?  

My name is Shiv Aroor. I’m a journalist based in New Delhi, India. I’m a TV anchor & consulting editor with the India Today Group, where I’ve spent ten years reporting on the military, conflict and the country’s big stories. I’m also editor of Livefist, where I do original reporting on defence and aerospace in India and the neighbourhood. I started Livefist in 2007 when I moved from a newspaper to a television station as a space to continue my writing. The blog became much more popular than I had anticipated and will be, starting April, my principal work. In ten years, Livefist has won two awards.

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What was the greatest news coup of your publication?
Livefist has scooped a number of secret or unknown military programs over the years. I think the biggest, most important coup was my 2010 scoop on India’s AURA UCAV project, a project that wasn’t publicly known to even exist. The report spawned huge interest that continues to this day. We’re proud of our ‘reveal’ list, which includes India’s supersonic Long Range Cruise Missile (LRCM), HAL’s seaplane concept and several other Indian aviation and weapon systems.

The Indian Air Force claims to have a fighter shortage, is this the case and if so, how should they solve it?  
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The Indian Air Force has a legacy ‘sanctioned strength’ of 42 full-ops fighter squadrons, and currently operates a little over 30. The reason I say ‘legacy’ is because that number, defined many decades ago, doesn’t quite take into account higher performance jets eroding the need for larger numbers. You’re inviting problems if the planning-related bean count involves both MiG-21s and Su-30MKIs in the same sweep. It’s a bit of slippery slope. The ‘no replacement for numbers’ theory has some good arguments, but many bad ones — not least inventory and cost. Many of the IAF’s logistics and planning issues probably have a road leading to that inescapable tether around its sanctioned squadron strength. I’ve suggested in the past that the indigenous LCA Tejas should be inducted in large numbers to build an eco-system around the platform and help speed up the replacement of MiG-21 squadrons.


Flying and fighting in the Mirage 2000
here.

Was Rafale the right aircraft for the IAF, and if so, why? 
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The Rafale was a fair distance more than what the IAF had been aiming at in its infamous, self-destructive M-MRCA contest. An effort to acquire large numbers of cheap, light-medium aircraft aircraft spiralled into an inherently fallible toss-up between flagrantly different aircraft, both in terms of capability and cost. It’s a bit of a joke now, but a former IAF chief actually boasted about wanting to patent the selection process the IAF used in the M-MRCA. On the face of it, the IAF loves the Rafale, and is looking forward to operating it. It also fits with the IAF’s expansive air dominance requirements on two fronts with a nuclear undertone. It will also be the first fighter the IAF operates with a smorgasbord of new technologies, including an operational new generation AESA radar. But 36 aircraft is a bit of a nothingburger for both the IAF and France. For the IAF, it’s a complex addition to inventory without numbers that speak economy of scale.


Typhoon versus Rafale: the final word here


The IAF is much beloved by aviation fans for its diversity of types, but this must be expensive and cause logistical problems. Why does it have more types than similarly sized air forces? 
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A nightmare is what it is. A ‘diversity of types’, as you put it, is possibly the nicest way you could describe it. The IAF is saddled with more types than it can handle optimally given budgetary, man-hour and other constraints. This ‘diversity of types’ is thanks to a number of historic factors: Diplomatic pressures (did you know the IAF didn’t even want the Su-30MKI?) and periodic political pivoting. Both factors seemingly justified by the unfortunate lack of a credible indigenous fighter program that could deliver on time. While some would argue that the impulse for foreign imports was spurred by the unavailability of a domestic solution, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle. It’s a combination of both, garnished with some astonishing flourishes of bad planning over the years, that has left the IAF with a Christmas Tree of inventory.

What is ‘Make in India’ initiative and how do you think it should proceed? 

Well, the Make In India campaign is a very ambitious, but in my mind necessary, effort towards putting India very seriously on a large-scale manufacturing map. For far too long, India has remained unplugged from global supply chains in sectors where it has enormous potential. Defence happens to be one of them. There’s a long way ahead, and an ocean of inter-warring bureaucracies that come in the way of an efficient roll-out, but it’s trying to make a start. They key is India’s long ignored private sector for complex systems-related defence production. If that doesn’t happen, and soon, this is brochure in the wind.

Is it possible to write about military aircraft in a non-political way? Is there a risk of normalising them by celebrating the amazing technology they include? b9b274ffb08a71a37a2bc6e7730b4cd5

I like to think I write about military aircraft in a non-political way. A lot of terrific aviation writers, (including you Joe) do that, and really well. Appreciating aircraft for what they are is a liberating exercise. And I think you ask a really good question because it really is tremendously difficult to look at aircraft shorn of the politics that come with them. Yes, celebrating the technology they include definitely normalises them, but again, I like to think that for all the political/controversial stuff that goes into aircraft programmes, there’s a lot of space to appreciate the machines they are.
Why does the Indian Government seem to take so long to make military aircraft procurement decisions? 
Easy. Fast decisions in India are generally looked upon with suspicion. This stems from a legacy of slow decisions. And after the Bofors scandal in the 1980s, defence procurement sits is nice and snug at the bottom of the pile. Couple that with a traditionally long-winded bureaucracy and a system that doesn’t place national security spending above party politics, and you have files that don’t move.

 The top ten dogfighting aircraft here

 Does India spend too much or too little or defence?

 Terrific question. India definitely spends enough, but it certainly doesn’t spend it smartly. We still don’t have lean forces, and like other countries with large armed services, spend a colossal amount on salaries and pensions. Budgets for modernisation and acquisition of weapons are frequently returned to the treasury unspent. There are grave overlaps and double-efforts across agencies, a lack of synergy that has a huge attendant cost too.

In terms of training time/flight time/tactics how good are IAF crews?

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 They compare very favourably, in many cases better than a lot of air forces. The IAF cadet navigates a training regimen that’s buffeted by obsolete aircraft and changing doctrine. The IAF also has a pretty substantial shortage of pilots. In terms of tactics, a combination of type diversity and a very long wait outside of real fourth generation tech gives IAF pilots a frequent edge in that adage that applies to all militaries, but especially to India’s — they’ll fight with what they have.

 

Is the Pakistan Air Force still viewed as the primary notional threat, and if so how do the air forces compare?

No longer. An air war with Pakistan isn’t the aggravating prospect it was in the sixties and seventies. The PAF is very well trained and professional force, but a full-scale air power confrontation of the kinds that took place between India and Pakistan and 1965 and 1971 would be likely end quite badly for Pakistan.

How does the IAF match up against the Chinese air force?

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Like most countries, the Indian military regards their Chinese counterparts with one enduring question: ‘what’s their long term gameplan?’ In terms of a straight bean count, China outclasses the IAF in size and structure. In terms of how things are matched in terms of logistics, deployment and how stretched the PLAAF is in its areas of responsibility near India, the game is a measure more equal. Chinese air power, in my mind, is less of a pressing concern to India than its naval strength.

You may also enjoy 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?

Which fighter type should the Indian Navy procure? 

 I’m actually in the process of doing a comparison of the aircraft eligible for an Indian Navy deal, so I haven’t really made my mind up yet.

Tejas has a very bad reputation, is it deserved?

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Not all of it, but some, sure. There’s a great deal of propaganda both against and for the Tejas in India — emotive, extreme opinions on the program, ranging from cruel ridicule to flag-wrapped patriotism in favour of an Indian jet. There’s very little sensible, cool-headed assessments of the program. I’ve tracked the Tejas for 13 years. I have to say I’ve swung sharply on the project too. But I’ve maintained right through that the Tejas needs to see squadron service early, with concurrent development. Get it out of development and into flying units. I strongly believe it is a better aircraft than it is reputed to be.

Sukhoi/HAL FGFA – will it happen? Do you think it’s a good idea? 

Anyone looking at the FGFA (it’s called the PMF in India) as a joint programme is kidding themselves. There hiccups right now are probably only an appetizer. Without going to deep into problems with the T-50 itself, HAL will have next to no input on the platform. Any suggestion that it is a partnership is ludicrous. HAL’s license-built Su-30MKIs, the ‘joint’ India-Russian aviation program that comes to mind most obviously, are almost entirely from knocked-down kits. Worse, Indian-built Su-30s are more expensive than units that could have been imported. Net-net, more expensive jets with zero spin-off benefits for HAL’s capabilities, and commitments to operate an enormous fleet that’s hugely expensive to maintain. These are solid aircraft, but that’s one tough deal.

Do you have a favourite aircraft- and if so, why?

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The F-15E Strike Eagle, without a doubt. I played an F-15 game by a company called Microprose on one of those big black floppy disks as a teenager in the early nineties and fell completely in love with the aircraft. Anything I say about why I love the F-15 would come up short. It’s an aircraft that has many associations for me, and as I grew up, was enormously happy to learn that its capabilities and aeronautical elegance fully justified my very unempirical love. I got my first chance to see one in 2005. Let’s just say I’d trade all of the five fighter sorties I’ve done so far for one in an F-15E. I hope Boeing or an operating air force is reading this interview.

What did you think about the cancellation of the recent Russo-Indian transport aircraft? 

Inevitable. And won’t really mean much. There are a plenitude of transport aircraft programs in country. The Make-in-India C295 program between Airbus and Tata to replace the IAF’s Avro HS748s is one. There are other concept aircraft on the drawing board too.
 

What are your thoughts on the HAL AMCA?

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The AMCA is actually a DRDO/ADA concept. HAL will only build it. It’s necessarily ambitious, has a large list of seriously cutting edge target technologies and will be India’s first real crack at a stealth aircraft. Apart from a good centrepiece for meaningful foreign collaborations, I think the AMCA is worth India’s time and money. It’s a good way off, but there’s reason to believe that lessons learnt from the Tejas program will be built into the AMCA, both technologically and in terms of fording pitfalls.

The Su-30 has reputation for poor reliability and maintainability in IAF service- why is this?1373993526321448549

The Su-30 fleet has suffered availability and maintainability problems, forcing the Indian Air Force into a looming upgrade programme. What started off as a deal that didn’t fully lock in Russian support and guarantees is now having to follow up with more contracts to spruce up the fleet. And this is even before all 272 aircraft have been delivered.

I’ve heard wildly differing accounts of the RAF/IAF exercises where Typhoons flew against Su-30s, what is your understanding of this?

The 2015 Indradhanush exercises? The IAF did in fact brief journalists about how they hit that one out of the park in close combat/WVR engagements. I’m not sure we’ll ever know the truth, but I wouldn’t discount either side entirely. Revealing the ‘score’ after an exercise meant to build a joint working ethic as much as bonhomie is a bit of gaffe, so I’m not surprised the RAF reacted the way it did.

1Coning

What should I have asked you? 
Which aircraft do I hate the most? The F-111. Only joking…
It would be the P-75 Eagle. It will always be unbelievable to me that the F-15’s namesake predecessor could be such have been such an audacious dud.

 If this 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. 

 

Bizarre trippy educational film from Lockheed (1969)

If this 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 £1. 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. 

Saab J 29 Tunnan and JAS 39 Gripen compared: Part 1, The barrel and the griffon

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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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Two Western European nations have independently designed and built jet fighters of each generation since World War II. The leader, at least in terms of numbers exported, is France; Dassault’s highly successful Mirage series leading to the current Rafale. The other country is not, as you might expect, the UK but Sweden. A relatively modest nation, in GDP and population, Sweden has consistently punched well above its weight in the aerospace world. The Swedish Air Force (Flygvapnet) was the first West European air arm to take on charge a modern generation fighter, the Saab JAS 39 Gripen, ahead of both France’s Rafale (2001) and Europe’s Typhoon (2003). This is ‘gripen’ or griffon in English, is a mythological beast half eagle, half lion.

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The prototype Gripen first flew on December 9th, 1988 and in October 1997 the first squadron was declared operational. Despite a population less than one sixth that of Britain or France, and with a correspondingly smaller economy, Sweden again led Western Europe in designing and building a state of the art combat aircraft. Saab’s track record in cutting edge jet fighters spans half a century. It began with the other half of this duo, the J 29 that first flew on September 1, 1948. Its stout fuselage gave rise to its nickname ‘Tunnan’, meaning barrel (and related to the English word ‘tun’ a barrel or cask and an Imperial measure of capacity equal to four hogsheads). Viewed from the rear, a taxying Tunnan resembled a waddling duck but its performance in the air bore comparison with any of its contemporaries.

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The Gripen is a tiny fighter, even the famously ‘lightweight’ F-16 is bigger and heavier.

When the North American F-86 Sabre entered USAF service in late 1948, it was the West’s first swept wing jet fighter to do so. Close on its heels came the USSR’s equivalent, the MiG-15 which reached front line squadrons during the winter of 1949-50. By contrast, the first British designed and built swept wing fighter, the Hawker Hunter F.1, did not enter service until July 31, 1954. As a stopgap, the Royal Air Force bought Canadair built North American F-86E Sabres, the first of which was handed over in January, 1953. By that time, the Tunnan had been in service for almost three years, deliveries to the Flygvapnet having begun in May, 1951. Saab might have lagged Britain in piston engined fighter design but it has been a worthy competitor in the jet age. The J 29 set the trend of Saab’s innovative design approach. It was not merely the first Western European jet fighter to have swept wings but also the first to have a flying tail (ie an all moving tailplane rather than an elevator hinged from the trailing edge of a fixed tail), automatic leading edge slats and full span aileron/flaps. Thus, for several years Saab’s Tunnan was the most advanced fighter in service in Western Europe. With Gripen, for its first years of service, Saab might justifiably make the same claim.

Ten most attractive Swedish aircraft here

Origins

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The J 21 with some kind of pretty Saab car, Hush-Kit knows nothing about cars and will wait for some pedant to inform him of the model from the comments section.

Saab entered the jet age by way of an interim step. Sweden’s main fighter during the latter half of the 1940s was the somewhat bizarre piston-engined Saab J 21A. It was an unconventional design featuring a central ‘pod’ fuselage with the tail mounted on twin booms. The pod contained the cockpit and a rear mounted engine driving a pusher propeller. This feature prompted another Saab innovation; to ensure pilot clearance past the propeller on bailing-out, Saab fitted an ejection seat of its own design, the first example of such a system to reach front line use by some accounts (the German Heinkel He 280 featured an ejection seat, but never entered service) . Unorthodox the J 21A might have been, it was readily adapted to jet power as the J 21R. The V-12 Daimler Benz DB605B piston engine was replaced with a 3,000 lb (13.32 kN) thrust de Havilland DH Goblin turbojet, the same engine as used in the DH Vampire fighter. First flying in March 1947 and entering service in August 1949, the J 21R proved to be a manoeuvrable aircraft and an excellent weapons platform though it lacked performance for the fighter role. Recognising the Goblin’s lack of power, in December 1945 the Swedish Air Board directed Saab to base its new jet fighter project on the DH Ghost turbojet, which was rated at 5,000 lb (22.2 kN) thrust. Svenska Flygmotor built the engine under licence as the RM2. The fighter specification required the retention of the J 21A’s manoeuvrability and ability to operate under Sweden’s harsh conditions together with a maximum speed of Mach 0.85, a high service ceiling and the heavy armament of four 20 mm cannons.

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The J 21’s airframe was converted into the jet-powered J-21R.

Barrel role

Although the Tunnan was to become an effective ground attack aircraft, the original J 29 requirement was aimed primarily at the interceptor role. By contrast, the JAS 39 specification from the outset was for a multi-role capability so that a single Gripen variant could replace all versions of its predecessor the Saab 37 Viggen. (The two-seat JAS 39 is a trainer with full combat capability). JAS is an acronym for the three main Gripen roles: Jakt (fighter), Attack (attack), Spaning (reconnaissance). The Viggen was built for the Flygvapnet in four marks: AJ 37 attack, SH 37 sea surveillance, SF 37 photo-reconnaissance and JA 37 fighter. Those versions differed in the avionics systems fitted and the weapons carried; the JA 37 also featured a new pulse doppler radar and an extensively developed version of the Volvo RM8 turbofan engine. Gripen does more than replace the various Viggen variants with a single type. With its multi-mode radar, it is capable of swing role missions retaining considerable air-to-air capability while configured for an air-to-surface sortie.

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The Gripen’s small size eases maintenance, as many access panels are reachable from ground level.

The Gripen specification was very demanding in the multi-role requirement alone and the setting of a strict weight limit increased the challenge. All other things being equal (and they rarely are in aviation) aircraft cost is broadly proportional to weight; a shrinking defence budget dictated a firm price limit for the new fighter. Saab responded with its usual innovative approach, and bucked the trend of fighter weight increasing with each generation. Where the Viggen had an empty weight of around 23,100 lb (10,500 kg), the Gripen A tipped the scales at only 14,300 lb (6,500 kg), a reduction of 38%. This is actually extremely light for a modern combat aircraft. To put it in context, the Lockheed F-16A, which was specifically designed for the USAF’s Lightweight Fighter project of the early 1970s, weighed 16,234 lb (7,364 kg) empty, some 13% more. The fighter closest in weight and concept to the JAS 39 was the now defunct Northrop F-20 Tigershark. It had an empty weight of 15,060 lb (6,831 kg) and used a variant of the same engine used by the Gripen. Despite its high performance, the F-20 was not procured by any of the American forces and thereby lost in the export marketplace to the ubiquitous F-16. The JAS 39 is of a later generation than the Tigershark and is achieving impressive export success.

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The cancelled Tigershark was in many ways comparable to the Gripen, though was considerably less capable.

My flight in a Gripen here

Where to put the radar? 

Engine integration is a powerful design driver of a fighter’s airframe. The complete powerplant system comprises the intake and duct, the engine itself and the jet pipe plus nozzle; all these features affect the final form of the aircraft. Centrifugal compressor engines such as the DH Ghost are broad but relatively short and the 4 ft 5 in (1.35 m) diameter Ghost/RM2 was responsible for the stubby fuselage of the Tunnan. Axial flow engines are slimmer and produce leaner airframes but this can result in packaging problems for other systems. By contrast, the Tunnan fuselage had sufficient volume to stow (as well as the engine and cockpit) 308 Imp gallons (1,400 litres) of fuel, the undercarriage and the main armament. The air intake was placed centrally in the nose with a straight duct to the engine positioned in the rear fuselage, which aft of that was cut back below the tail to reduce the length of the jetpipe. Nose intakes were typical of the period (eg Sabre and MiG-15) and although the long ducts to a mid-fuselage located engine can cause relatively large pressure losses, they perform well through a wide range of angle of attack (AOA) and sideslip angles. They are also free from flow separation effects from other parts of the airframe. The main drawback of this approach is that it leaves little space to fit a radar.

Top 10 fighter radars here

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By contrast Saab’s next military design, the A 32 Lansen, had twin lateral intakes leaving the nose free for its radar installation (the first Swedish aircraft with such a system). Similarly, the Gripen reserves its nose for the radar and uses twin lateral intakes offset from the fuselage sides, plus splitter plates, to avoid the stagnant boundary layer. The intakes themselves are of plain pitot design with no variable ramps or moving centre bodies for shockwave control. Although this may somewhat limit the Gripen’s maximum speed, it should be remembered that fighters spend a small fraction of their flight time supersonic. Pitot intakes proved entirely sufficient for the very successful F-16 and serve the JAS 39 well. They are also much cheaper than variable intakes and more reliable as there are no moving components to fail. The bifurcated intakes merge in the fuselage mid-section to form a single, circular section duct some distance upstream of the engine face. The aim is to allow the mingling airstreams to stabilise before entering the compressor.

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The Gripen’s intake position is partly dictated by the aircraft’s small size.

At first sight, the Gripen’s intake location could appear less than ideal. An agile fighter might be expected to have its intakes under the fuselage (eg Eurofighter Typhoon) as this location is superior at high AOA to side intakes. Two points should be noted here: the Gripen is a small aircraft and its nose undercarriage is set forward of the intakes. Had the intakes been placed under the fuselage, they would have been very close to the ground with the consequent danger of ‘fod’ (foreign object damage) from the ingestion of debris thrown up by the nosewheels. Siting the Gripen’s intakes laterally on the fuselage much reduces this risk. There is also a school of thought that side location offers the best compromise of the conflicting demands of the aerodynamic, structural, weight and space requirements of intake design.

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The F404 engine also powered (or powers) the Phantom Ray, X-45C, Rafale A, F-20, Tejas, X-29, BTX-1, F-117, T-50, F/A-18, X-31 and A-4SU.

Saab has stuck to the single engine design philosophy from the Tunnan, through the Lansen, Draken and Viggen to the Gripen in order to minimise cost. Twin engine fighters are more expensive than the single engine equivalent and although a ‘spare’ engine is useful, twins do not have half the loss rate of singles due to engine problems.  (The single versus twin issue is worth an article itself).  The JAS 39 is powered by a Volvo Flygmotor RM12 turbofan, a development of the General Electric F404-GE-400 used in the Boeing F/A-18 C/D Hornet (the F-20 used the F404-GE-100). It is rated at 12,140 lb (54.0 kN) dry and 18,100 lb (80.5 kN) wet; these figures are some 15% greater than the original and are achieved from a 5% increased mass flow and higher turbine entry temperature (TET). This output is achieved from an engine of 2,325 lb (1,055 kg) dry weight representing a thrust to weight ratio of 7.8:1. The bypass ratio of 0.34:1 is fairly low and aimed at high performance at high altitude while retaining reasonable economy in lower level cruise. Of modular design, the RM12 has a three-stage fan and seven-stage high-pressure compressor, each driven by a single stage turbine. The first stage of the fan and the first two stages of the HP section have variable stators; the HP inlet guide vanes are also variable. All the turbine blades are of single crystal form with internal air-cooling to support the high TET. As the RM12 is used in a single installation compared to the twin engined Hornet, it also features a strengthened first stage fan for improved birdstrike resistance.

World speed record

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The RM2 seems crude by comparison with its single stage compressor developed from those used in superchargers for aero piston engines. The dramatic extent of jet engine development since World War II is demonstrated clearly here. Technologies such as single crystal blades and internal blade cooling were simply not available to the RM2. At 5,000 lb (22.2 kN), the RM2’s thrust is only 41% of the RM12’s dry figure and 28% of its reheat output. The definitive Tunnan, the J 29E, with a loaded weight of 16,600 lb (7,530 kg) had a thrust to weight ratio on take off of 0.30:1. By contrast, the Gripen A at its maximum take off weight of 27,500 lb (12,500 kg) has figures of 0.44:1 in dry and 0.66:1 in reheat. The last Tunnan variant, the J 29F, had an afterburner (detailed below), which raised take-off thrust to weight ratio to 0.36:1. This was a 20% improvement on the E variant but still well below the Gripen’s figures. Nonetheless, the Tunnan was no slouch. A J 29B broke the world record for the 310 mile (500 km) closed course in May 1954. The record had been held by the F-86 Sabre at 590 mph (950 km/h) but the Tunnan raised it to 607 mph (977 km/h). In January 1955, two Tunnan S 29Cs gained the world record for the 620 mile (1,000 km) closed course achieving an average speed of 560 mph (901 km/h).

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An Austrian Tunnan in flight.

Paul Stoddart served in the Royal Air Force as an aerosystems engineer officer and now works for the Ministry of Defence.  His interests include air power and military aircraft from the 1940s onward.  He is a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.  He is giving a lecture at the headquarters of the Royal Aeronautical Society (4 Hamilton Place, London) at 18.00 on Thursday 1st June on the undeveloped potential of the Spitfire as an escort fighter.  It will last around 45 minutes with 15  minutes of Q&A.  

Part 2 coming soon. 

Notes: All information in this article is taken from public domain sources.

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. 

MiG-21s, MC-21s and the overrated Typhoon: In conversation with FlightGlobal’s Stephen Trimble

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The Super Constellation, the Carry Grant of airliners.

More often than not, the first time you hear breaking aviation news it will be via Flight Global‘s Stephen Trimble. Hush-Kit met him to talk turkey. 

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What’s your name and what do you do? 

You’re smart to start with a softball. My name is Stephen Trimble. I manage FlightGlobal’s news coverage in the Americas and I write about aviation news almost everywhere, with a particular focus on commercial aviation and propulsion.

 
What is the most underrated current aircraft programme? And why? 

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The best MC since Ghostface Killah.

The Irkut MC-21. A case could be made for the Bombardier CSeries, given its order book compared to its technology and raw potential. By that standard, however, I would argue the MC-21 on paper comes out slightly ahead. Say what you will about Russian manufacturing and product support (and you’d be correct), but the paper design of the MC-21 is very impressive and, I think, under-appreciated. If the Comac C919 represents China’s attempt to replicate the A320neo’s performance and technology, the MC-21 looks more like Russia’s attempt to slightly surpass the best from Airbus and Boeing in the narrowbody sector.

For passengers, the MC-21 is slightly wider than the Airbus A320 and the cabin is pressurized at 6,000ft, which is a cozy 2,000ft below the narrowbody standard. For pilots, it has a modern cockpit with fly-by-wire flight controls coupled to the first application of active side sticks in commercial aviation. For airlines, it offers Pratt & Whitney’s geared turbofan engines and highly efficient composite wings. The MC-21 wing box and panel itself is fashioned using a liquid resin that is cured into dry fiber tape in an oven rather than an autoclave. That makes the Russian process potentially, if it works, a step ahead of the more laborious autoclave-based systems used elsewhere to make composite material for primary aircraft structures.

What was the best fighter of World War II? Answer here

That’s not to suggest that I think the MC-21 design fully offsets the industrial and, let’s be honest, political challenges of buying Russian commercial aircraft. In a market segment with upwards of 25,000 deliveries forecasted over two decades, FlightGlobal expects Irkut to deliver about 700 MC-21s, which is infinitesimal compared to its rivals. However, if Airbus or Boeing had opted out of re-engining in favor of replacing the A320 and 737, I submit you’d see a clean-sheet design with at least the same cabin width and pressurisation level as the MC-21, along with state-of-the-art fly-by-wire controls laws and safety-enhancing active side sticks.

What is the most underrated historical aircraft? And why? 

mig21sm-2

No-one ever found out what the word ‘Fishbed’ meant, but that didn’t stop the MiG-21’s global success.

Not to over-use the Russian angle, but I’ll go with the MiG-21. Sure, the ‘Fishbed’ wasn’t the best fighter of its era, but among contemporaries it wasn’t bad either. But it’s dogfighting skill is, I believe, secondary to it’s true importance. I consider the MiG-21 as the Kalashnikov of second-generation supersonic fighters. Its acquisition instantly endowed dozens of countries with respectable airpower for a relatively small price (albeit not politically). That with a few electronic upgrades the MiG-21 remains a potent modern weapon (see the Cope India exercise in 2006) suggests the Russians know how to make a hardy and adaptable weapon system. My runner-up would be it’s American contemporary, the Northrop F-5, for many of the same reasons.

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The MiG-21 Bison: vintage ballbreaker.

 

What is the most overrated current aircraft, and why? 

This is the kind of question that gets me into trouble, but I’ll answer it. I often like to immediately answer this question with “Eurofighter Typhoon”, simply because I enjoy how much that annoys a few of my favorite British friends (JL: are you reading this?). Instead, I’ll annoy everyone and award my most over-rated honor to the Airbus A320neo family. I understand, of course, the seat-mile economics that make some versions of this aircraft family more popular than, say, the current line-up of 737 Max models. I also understand the industrial and competitive logic that drove Airbus to re-engine and not replace the A320. But I am convinced a lot of structures and systems technology available today that could make air travel more comfortable and efficient gets left on the drawing table, due merely to the dynamics of Airbus-Boeing duopoly in the narrow body sector. See my response about the MC-21 for more details.

What is the most overrated historical aircraft? 

Clearly, it was initial reaction by the West to the MiG-25. It was supposedly a high-speed SR-71 killer with the dogfighting prowess of an F-15 (which, by the way, the USAF completely re-spec’d after first sighting the Foxbat on May Day in 1967). We have Viktor Belenko’s defection to thank for finally exposing the truth about the MiG-25. The Foxbat was still a grand achievement by the Soviets, but it was not the magical beast that many in the West made it out to be. It’s an example that I think aerospace journalists must always remember. It’s our job to question extravagant claims about the capabilities of new aircraft, be they ‘our’s’ or ‘their’s’, and be careful to fall into the trap of promoting agendas based on hype.

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Is it possible to write about military aircraft in a non-political way? Is there a risk of normalising them by celebrating the amazing technology they include?

This is a great follow-up to your last question. I used to work at Jane’s, where I learned the remarkable story of founder Fred T. Jane. He started Jane’s Fighting Ships around the turn of the last century after working for years as an artist in Portsmouth. A favorite subject of his sketches were the many naval warships that would call at Portsmouth to refuel. Opsec being a bit different in those days, Jane often invited himself aboard foreign warships, allowing him to see and draw the various systems, including armor, propulsion and weaponry, up close. Jane recognized that what he saw in real-life often clashed with the hype he read in certain newspapers or heard from certain politicians. With the publication of books like Jane’s Fighting Ships, the public finally had a reference to compare against that hype. If a politician said the German navy had a battleship twice as fast as the Royal Navy, the public could then consult Jane’s Fighting Ships to examine the data.

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L4, frigate! Hit but not destroyed.

If the specialty military and aviation trade press have one thing to contribute, I believe it’s to act as the public’s check on the hype generated by the proverbial military-industrial complex. Obviously, there’s a limit on what we can know without a security clearance and access to things like MASINT data, but we should do our best to know everything that it is possible to know. It’s very difficult to detect the precise line between fact and hype, but it’s our duty as journalists to try our best to get as close to the mark as possible.

Top Mach 3 fighters here

As for the risk of “normalizing” a weapon system, your point is well-taken. I usually struggle to hide a wince when I read a phrase like “the beloved A-10”, to use a recent example, in a news story. That said, it’s also clear to me that the most modern fighter aircraft today represents the pinnacle of mankind’s ability to extract the most performance from a machine, and at some level you have to appreciate that or you wouldn’t be human.

Is there any investigative journalism in aviation journalism? If so, can you give an example.

Absolutely. Military aviation, in particular, requires advanced investigation, using tools such as FOIA (the USA’s useful although limited open records law) and carefully cultivated sources. The folks over at The Drive blog — Tyler Rogoway and Joe Trevithick, in particular — have effectively weaponized FOIA against Pentagon bureaucrats and the US aerospace industry. On the commercial side, I again have to point to my old co-worker Ostrower as the master at penetrating corporate smokescreens. His former colleague at the Wall Street Journal, Andy Pazstor, has the FAA and NTSB wired, to use an increasingly popular term.

How do you balance impartiality with not offending aerospace advertisers – is this ever tricky? 

I don’t balance reporting with advertising for our magazine. If that causes advertising relationships to become tricky, it’s not something that involves me.

What was the greatest news coup of your publication?


My colleagues are doing great work every day. But my favourite “news coup” still comes from a remarkable five-year run of Boeing and 787 coverage by Jon Ostrower at FlightGlobal, which catapulted him to the Wall Street Journal in 2012 and more recently CNN. I’ve seen a lot of great aviation coverage over the years by several news organisations, but nothing else I’ve seen in my experience that compares with that stretch. It was thrilling to watch from a few feet away.

What advice would you give to those wishing to write about aviation?

If you mean writing news about aviation, let me encourage everyone who has even a little interest, but with a very important caveat. I recommend that you first learn how to write news independently from the aviation field, and then apply those skills to aviation. I’ve found it’s much easier to teach someone about aviation than about how to write a news or feature article under tight deadlines. There are many exceptions, but  there’s a reason we call them exceptional.

What is the greatest myth about the F-35? 

astovl_superharrier_01

A pre-JSF supersonic ‘Super Harrier’ concept.

I think people lose sight of how the F-35 program was viewed after contract award in October 2001, which I covered. If you’d have told me then what we know today about the average unit costs and the schedule for milestones like IOC and Block 3F delivery, I’d probably assume the program wouldn’t have survived the scandal. It was just supposed to be so much cheaper and easier. That it has survived is probably due to the skill of the most recent program manager, Lt

Gen Chris Bogdan. His immediate predecessor, Vide Adm David Venlet, stabilized what seemed in 2010 in some ways like a sinking ship, then Bogdan kept that ship on course without hitting another Titanic-sized iceberg, if I may mix my metaphors a bit recklessly.

See here: The F-35 will fail, until the US learns to share


What are the best- and worst-run aircraft projects? 

My vote for best-run is probably the Saab Gripen. Many have tried, but never has a country done more with fewer natural political and industrial advantages than the airpower Lilliputians of Linkoping, to mix my fictional and factual geographical references.

(HK: Bill Sweetman would concur)

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A Gripen operated by Iron Maiden’s small highly-trained air force of heavy metal singers.

I’m not sure about worst-run, but I’d say the project most under scrutiny today is the geared turbofan engine. By all accounts, it’s meeting Pratt & Whitney’s ambitious fuel efficiency targets. But it’s been dogged by teething issues in-service and its inability to meet ramp-up targets has been a burden for Bombardier and Airbus. P&W says it has to plan to fully recover on both fronts by the end of the year, and I hope they make it. There’s several programs, and, indeed, entire national industries, depending on it.

Your Tweeter feed features some fascinating material – where do you find it?

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The original ‘Gripen’, the cancelled F-20 Tigershark.

Everywhere, really. My job and travels allow me to often see very interesting things, so I share those on Twitter as much as possible. So much pops up in discussion forums like the UK’s Secret Projects, Russia’s Paralay and the Sino Defence Forum, so I like to highlight that stuff whenever I can. And I love a deep-dive down obscure aerospace history, which sometimes yield gems. I spent the last few days on vacation digging through the fabulous aerospace collections at the Huntington Library, where I found Northrop’s internal stop work order on the F-20 and an epic rant of a memo on “idiot charts” from Kelly Johnson to his Skunk Works staff in 1963. I don’t have a place to put that stuff in our news coverage, so Twitter makes a nice, easy and free outlet.

Dangerously distracting list of aviation articles here.

Do you have a favourite aircraft- and if so, why? 

My favourite aircraft is the Lockheed Model 1049 Super Constellation. I had the privilege to fly on the Breitling Connie at Farnborough in 2014, which is a career highlight. The DC-6 was probably more versatile and certainly more popular with airlines, but, with apologies to the BAC/Aerospatiale Concorde team, I still prefer the way Hall Hibbard and Kelly Johnson melded style and performance with the Connie.

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Gary Powers: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”

 

What should I have asked you? 

Anyone who knows me knows that by now I wished that you had asked me about my ride several years ago at the Paris Air Show in a Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet, which was lovely. And thank you for asking.

 Can you tell me about any very strange aircraft projects that I’m unlikely to have heard of? 

That YOU are unlikely to have heard about? Impossible.

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USS Carl Vinson night flight operations

An aeroplane/shark hybrid about to be released into the wild.