Fleet Air Arm myths, No. 4: The Inter-War Admiralty had no interest in aviation.

Admiralty Arch in 1934 hoping one day to make the background of Danger Mouse or a Monty Python animation.

It’s popular to say the Admiralty had no interest in aviation between the wars, being obsessed by battle ships. Which to be fair do look more impressive with their serried ranks of 14” guns. [10] In a recent essay in The Times noted university and army drop-out Max Hastings observed that ‘By, say, 1942 the admirals who before the Second World War had gone big on battleships, light on aircraft carriers, bitterly regretted this.’.

Threesome anyone?

The only problem with this is that, much like the rest of Hastings’ essay, it’s bobbins. In 1939 the Royal Navy had six aircraft carriers in service and one in reserve, which compared well to the US and Japanese navies who both had five in service. For those under the delusion that Britain still had the biggest navy in the world at this point and so should have had more, alas the Washington and London naval treaties prevented this. These allowed the UK and USA to build to parity, while the Japanese could have 3/5ths the tonnage of either of those countries. Closer examination reveals that by 1930 the RN had used the most of their aircraft carrier tonnage allowance using 115 out of a possible 135 thousand tonnes for their five flat-tops. [11] The USN having used 76 thousand tonnes and the IJN 54 of their allowed 81 thousand tonnes. So, the only way the Royal Navy could have had more carriers was if they’d made them smaller, something the Japanese tried with the Ryūjō a carrier the weight of a modern destroyer but carrying 48 aircraft on two decks. Stability was problematic.

Ark Royal in 1939


But what about future plans, presumably the stuffy old Admiralty were concentrating on assembling a battleship orgy now they had a small collection of carriers. Well not so much, the King George the Fifth class were being delivered but they were only replacing ships that had to be retired under the afore mentioned treaties. What they were building were six carriers of the Illustrious class which would almost exactly use up their treaty allowance minus the Ark Royal, Courageous, and Glorious. Oh, and an aviation depot ship that due to treaty limitations was definitely not an aircraft carrier. The flight deck being crucial to its role supporting a squadron of three fleet carriers and definitely not something that could be used for offensive operations. [12]

HMS Unicorn definitely not escorting a convoy in the North Atlantic

So, the Admiralty hadn’t just gone big on aircraft carriers, they’d gone bigger than they were really allowed to. That they didn’t go bigger once war was declared was purely down to shipyard capacity in the UK. This also led to the cancellation of any further battleships, some of which were already laid down. Only Vanguard eventually being built to use up some spare guns and placate Churchill who had a battleship fetish.


It’s also worth pointing out the Admiralty had spent two decades trying to regain control of the Fleet Air Arm from the Air Ministry. Hardly the actions of an organisation with no interest in aviation. They’d even created the Observer branch to at least have some Naval officers with specialist aviation knowledge independent of the RAF.


All in all, the only way you can say the Admiralty had no interest in aviation prior to WW2 is if you’re completely oblivious to what happened between the wars. Which is fine for the man in the street but not the sort of misinformation a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society should be spreading.

[10] Size may vary by country and class.
[11] Jordon, John. Warships after Washington: The Development of the Five Major Fleets, 1922-1930, 2011. P 193
[12] Dr Alexander Clarke has an excellent YouTube video on this, even if he’s wrong about the Swordfish being rugged.

Bing Chandler is a former Lynx Observer and current Wildcat Air Safety Officer. If you want a Sea Vixen t-shirt he can fix you up.

This article is from the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes. Preorder your copy today here. 

From the cocaine, blood and flying scarves of World War One dogfighting to the dark arts of modern air combat, here is an enthralling ode to these brutally exciting killing machines.

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes is a beautifully designed, highly visual, collection of the best articles from the fascinating world of military aviation –hand-picked from the highly acclaimed Hush-kit online magazines (and mixed with a heavy punch of new exclusive material). It is packed with a feast of material, ranging from interviews with fighter pilots (including the English Electric Lightning, stealthy F-35B and Mach 3 MiG-25 ‘Foxbat’), to wicked satire, expert historical analysis, top 10s and all manner of things aeronautical, from the site described as:

“the thinking-man’s Top Gear… but for planes”.

The solid well-researched information about aeroplanes is brilliantly combined with an irreverent attitude and real insight into the dangerous romantic world of combat aircraft.

FEATURING

  • Interviews with pilots of the F-14 Tomcat, Mirage, Typhoon, MiG-25, MiG-27, English Electric Lighting, Harrier, F-15, B-52 and many more.
  • Engaging Top (and bottom) 10s including: Greatest fighter aircraft of World War II, Worst British aircraft, Worst Soviet aircraft and many more insanely specific ones.
  • Expert analysis of weapons, tactics and technology.
  • A look into art and culture’s love affair with the aeroplane.
  • Bizarre moments in aviation history.
  • Fascinating insights into exceptionally obscure warplanes.

The book will be a stunning object: an essential addition to the library of anyone with even a passing interest in the high-flying world of warplanes, and featuring first-rate photography and a wealth of new world-class illustrations.

HUSHKITPLANES_SPREADS4_5.jpg
HUSHKITPLANES_SPREADS4_4.jpg

This book can only happen with your support. Preorder your copy today here. 

Add discount code: ALMOSTAUGUST10 for a 10% discount on the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes

The Tornado is gone: was it the right aircraft for the RAF?

The Tornado ended its long career with the RAF last year. It had been used in wars, virtually without respite, since its combat debut attacking Iraq in 1991. No RAF aircraft fought for so long, and the type is guaranteed to be remembered for a long time, but was it the right aircraft? 

The Findus Crispy Pancake munching British public of the 1980s knew their massive air force had a word-beating strike aircraft in the Tornado IDS and a top of the line interceptor in the Tornado ADV. Books and magazines celebrated the amazing potency of the aircraft with almost erotic excitement. Here was an advanced combat aircraft that could penetrate the Warsaw Pact nations’ air defences at treetop height (day or night) in appalling weather, and wreak havoc on their airfields and industrial areas. It was all very exciting, but was it true?

When I interviewed a former RAF Tornado pilot last week, I asked her how she felt the Tornado GR4 compared to the US F-15E Strike Eagle. “It’s a tricky question as emotionally I loved flying the GR4, however it would have been fantastic to fly the F15. Would it have been a better investment for the UK, rather than buying the Tornado? Probably!” She also noted “Let’s be honest, it’s not as capable, apart from having a better range, I think that’s the only category on aircraft Top Trumps that the Tornado would win!”

When the Tornado was conceptualised in the late 1960s, the priority was high-speed low-level flight and long range. It was intended to fly low enough to avoid effective radar detection and perform deep interdiction missions, pre-emptively destroying strategic targets. It drew on the earlier AFVG and was heavily influenced by the similar, but larger, US F-111. The design was optimised for low-level high speed flight, but as Tornado Gulf Veteran Alistair Byford pointed out: “However, this all comes at the expense of altitude performance, and a war-loaded Tornado struggles to reach half the cruising height of a typical airliner. Clearly this has hindered its subsequent adaptability, and although the Tornado has provided absolutely sterling service and been repeatedly updated to keep it current as a weapons platform, this has been in spite of (rather than because of) its fundamental design and aerodynamic qualities.” The same was true of the sensors “At night the crew were blind to other aircraft resulting in tactics having a heavy reliance on timing that gave little flexibility to evade and safely avoid air and ground contract.”

The Tornado was a brilliantly engineered answer to the wrong question.

Variable geometry came at too large a cost

Variable geometry or ‘swing wings’ where included to meet the requirement for short field performance, long range and high speed flight. The small heavily-loaded wing area gave the Tornado a very smooth ride at low-level which both reduced crew exhaustion and made for a steady weapons platform. But it requires a heavy, voluminous and labour intensive mechanism. The F/A-18 Hornet, a contemporary of the Tornado, is beefed up to allow carrier operations and has an empty weight of 10,433 kg; Tornado had an empty weight of 13,890 kg. Though conceptually very different aircraft, in reality they ended up performing many similar mission (CAS and precision bombing in general). It is interesting to note that the both types suffered from limitations that arrived from the opposite design compromises. The Tornado lacked power and performance; the Hornet lacked range and payload. Regardless, there is a reason that no VG aircraft projects have been initiated since the early 1970s: the advantages are not worth the increase in weight and complexity.

High attrition in Desert Storm

In Desert Storm against a lesser enemy than the Tornado was created to defeat it suffered badly. Of the 55 Allied aircraft lost in Desert Storm, 8 were Tornados. Only 48 RAF Tornados were sent. This is pretty bad – consider this: the US alone deployed 1,656 armed aircraft to the campaign. The USAF alone flew 65,000 sorties, the RAF Tornado force 2,500.  

Soon after the war reports blamed the JP223* a cluster bomb/land-mine dispenser that ejects dozens of bomblets that required a predictable low-level attack profile, for the high rate of losses. This was only the case for one of the losses (the egress profile not the attack itself causing the loss). This misunderstanding was used to brush aside other observers noting the alarming loss rate of Tornados in the war. Considering the aircraft was intended to be used against the far bigger and more potent Warsaw Pact, the likely losses would have been extreme.

The high number had much to do with the emphasis on low-level flight, the volume of missions and the type of weapons used. Stand-off weapons are now the preferred anti airfield weapon. When the safer US approach of attacks from medium levels was adopted, Tornados were at a disadvantage as they lacked the power to perform effectively at this altitude. Again, the Tornado design was over-specialised. In fairness, the F-15 and F-16 were both extremely specialised in their early life but superb engine/airframe performance allowed them to better adapt to new roles.

In Kosovo in 1999 the aircraft was much improved but poor weapons integration meant the new precision bombs it was carry were dangerously inaccurate.

*The use of the JP223 is now illegal under both cluster bomb and landmine conventions. The Convention on Cluster Munitions came into effect in 2010. Countries that opposed the convention and have not joined include China, Russia, the United States, India, Israel, Pakistan and Brazil.

Self defence

“I would have preferred to see a better air-to-air capability, either through the radar and/or data-linking to the AWACs picture: that and possibly a radar missile would have given the Tornado a better self-defence capability” Noted Tornado veteran Michael Napier in this interview. Today mudmovers such as the F-15E, Su-34 and the Eurocanards consider these de riguer features for survival.

Tornado ADV 

Yes, the Tornado F.Mk 3 was effective at the end of its career. But all of the good systems that were integrated onto the F.Mk 3 would have been more effective on an aircraft of higher performance. Again, this is case of Tornado succeeding in spite, not because, of its design. The ADV’s limitations are well documented but centre around poor agility, poor medium and high altitude performance and a painfully slow radar development process.

In exercises towards the end of the 20th century, SkyFlash-armed Tornado F3s did very badly against German F-4Fs equipped with AMRAAMs. Could a F-4F or more radical British Phantom upgrade have proved a more cost- and combat effective alternative to the F3 in the in the 1985-1998 timeframe? Almost definitely.

Though the F3 was well equipped at the time of its retirement it was lacking a helmet cueing system, something which would have helped it where it was most vulnerable, in within visual range engagements with inevitably more agile opponents.

Anti Shipping

A good maritime radar can pick up the nice big steel and aluminium radar reflector that is a ship at long range. The Buccaneer’s Blue Parrot radar had a maximum range of 240 nautical miles, although 180 was more normally used. The Tornado…had a maximum range of forty nautical miles*. So when operating without a Nimrod the Tornado was limited to firing Sea Eagle well inside the missile’s normal launch range” – Wing Commander Gordon Robertson (retd) in ‘Tornado Boys‘. The Sea Eagle was a big missile and fitting four meant the loss of the main fuel tank pylon, so to ensure an effective radius of action only two were carried, half the load of the aircraft it replaced, the Buccaneer. Considering a Royal Navy study estimated it would take 24 missiles to reliably knock-out a large warship this was a considerable disadvantage.

The engines were more ‘fragile’ than the Bucc’s, the light grey camo scheme made the aircraft stand out like a “sore thumb” over the sea, and worse still, a fleet-wide upgrade from 1998 had introduced a wiring problem to the GR.1B which meant the Sea Eagles didn’t work (in a Exercise Nepture Warrior one crew were allocated two missiles to fire: both failed). The Tornado also had navigation and weapon aiming system issues over the sea.

(*Sea Eagle’s maximum range was around 60NM)

Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Defences

The Tornado was used in the defence suppression role in the 1999 Kosovo campaign. As Wing Commander Gordon Niven (retd) noted in ‘Tornado Boys’, the ALARM missile and Tornado combination was not very effective for the role, “Neither the missiles nor the Tornado was configured in any way remotely close to the capability of the USAF F-16 SEAD units.” The ALARM was used by RAF Tornados from 1990 until 2013, a short service life for a guided anti-radar weapon; the US equivalent, the AGM-88 HARM series, has been in service since 1985 with no planned retirement date. Today an RAF ALARM from the Kosovo campaign is displayed in the Belgrade air museum, it failed to self destruct or destroy a target and instead gently delivered itself by parachute into curious (and Russian-friendly) Yugoslav hands.

Low-level culture

Low level flying can still be an effective counter to radar but it is also dangerous. Training for this mission has resulted in more aircraft and crew losses than anything else, including actual warfare, over the last fifty years. The culture is embedded in the RAF, a force that often prides itself on being among the best at this skill. There has at times been a cultural prejudice that favours low-level tactics over the development of weapons that can be launched from higher altitudes.

The F-117 Nighthawk introduced another radar survival approach into operational service four years after the Tornado: stealth. Today all high-end warplanes in development are baking a high degree of reduced radar conspicuity into their design. The Tornado with its huge metal tail and boxy fuselage was extremely unstealthy.

Export success?

Nope. Saudi Arabia bought the IDS. But they will buy anything British, and the deal was shady as hell. In all 2006 all this dodgy-ness was all brushed under the carpet: “The Director of the Serious Fraud Office has decided to discontinue the investigation into the affairs of BAE Systems plc as far as they relate to the Al Yamamah defence contract. This decision has been taken following representations that have been made both to the Attorney General and the Director concerning the need to safeguard national and international security. It has been necessary to balance the need to maintain the rule of law against the wider public interest.”

Alright smart arse, so what should have happened?

IDS

A radical Buccaneer upgrade to cover the role until the arrival of the F-15E. At its peak the RAF had six squadrons, a greater number (more airframes were available) of Super Buccaneers could have done this job.

ADV

F-4s to cover the role until the either the earlier arrival of F-15Cs or a later arrival of dual-role F-15Es.

Political & Industrial

Did the Tornado protect the British aerospace producers from US industrial hegemony? No. The UK is currently procuring the F-35. A deal which has hindered Britain’s ability to create indigenous designs. Did it help to keep Europe together? No.

The roots of at least some of Tornado’s problems lie in a lack of compromise from the British side and the interference of political considerations. As the former West German Chief of Air Staff Heinz Birkenbeil noted in Dr Alfred Price’s ‘Panavia Tornado‘, “Before we went into the programme the German requirement was for a daylight attack plane. All the other European nations and Canada needed a replacement for the F-104, each nation put in its requirements and the requirements were a long way apart. In the second round the British required a deep interdiction aircraft with at least twice as much range as the Germans wanted, and all at low level for strike and conventional attack –– we had wanted an aeroplane for strike and close air support, with an air superiority capability over the battlefield. But we had not been after an aeroplane for deep interdiction… I told our Chief of Air Staff [General Steinhoff] that my department did not think the projected aircraft would fit the german requirement. And then a funny thing happened. The programme was of great political importance to Europe and the politicians stepped in…The result of this in Germany was the Chief of Air Staff simply changed our Air Force’s requirement until it eventually fitted the requirement of the MRCA!”

This article is from the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes. Preorder your copy today here. 

From the cocaine, blood and flying scarves of World War One dogfighting to the dark arts of modern air combat, here is an enthralling ode to these brutally exciting killing machines.

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes is a beautifully designed, highly visual, collection of the best articles from the fascinating world of military aviation –hand-picked from the highly acclaimed Hush-kit online magazines (and mixed with a heavy punch of new exclusive material). It is packed with a feast of material, ranging from interviews with fighter pilots (including the English Electric Lightning, stealthy F-35B and Mach 3 MiG-25 ‘Foxbat’), to wicked satire, expert historical analysis, top 10s and all manner of things aeronautical, from the site described as:

“the thinking-man’s Top Gear… but for planes”.

The solid well-researched information about aeroplanes is brilliantly combined with an irreverent attitude and real insight into the dangerous romantic world of combat aircraft.

FEATURING

  • Interviews with pilots of the F-14 Tomcat, Mirage, Typhoon, MiG-25, MiG-27, English Electric Lighting, Harrier, F-15, B-52 and many more.
  • Engaging Top (and bottom) 10s including: Greatest fighter aircraft of World War II, Worst British aircraft, Worst Soviet aircraft and many more insanely specific ones.
  • Expert analysis of weapons, tactics and technology.
  • A look into art and culture’s love affair with the aeroplane.
  • Bizarre moments in aviation history.
  • Fascinating insights into exceptionally obscure warplanes.

The book will be a stunning object: an essential addition to the library of anyone with even a passing interest in the high-flying world of warplanes, and featuring first-rate photography and a wealth of new world-class illustrations.

HUSHKITPLANES_SPREADS4_5.jpg
HUSHKITPLANES_SPREADS4_4.jpg

This book can only happen with your support. Preorder your copy today here. 

Add discount code: ALMOSTAUGUST10

HUSK-KIT_PACKSHOT_whitebackground-1.jpg

 

Fleet Air Arm Myths, No. 3: The Supermarine Scimitar needed 1000 maintenance hours per flying hour


There have been many great British aviation manufacturers. Then there’s Supermarine, the poor man’s Blackburn, who produced a string of fair to average flying boats, one half decent piston fighter, and then a string of below par jets before being absorbed into BAC. The jets in particular started poorly with the Attacker, which for no obvious reason was a straight winged taildragger whose overall appearance screamed ‘we had one good design don’t make us change it’. This was followed by the Swift ordered as an insurance in case the Hunter didn’t perform as expected. For this Supermarine took their one ‘good’ jet design and added swept wings and a sensible undercarriage. Then we come to the Scimitar, a beast of an aircraft powered by two Avons producing around 22,000lbs of thrust while resolutely remaining subsonic. Admittedly this wasn’t completely Supermarine’s fault, although they didn’t have to listen to the Admiralty’s requirement for the aircraft to be able to conduct a free take-off from a carrier deck. As well as blown flaps this also required a much thicker wing section than was ideal for high speed flight, especially at high level where the critical Mach number made manoeuvring ‘difficult’.
Popular imagination has it that the Scimitar was also burdened with so many issues it needed 1000 maintenance man hours per flying hour. This almost sounds plausible when you consider the number of things that could go wrong with a late ‘50s aircraft. There were two Avons to leak fuel everywhere, blown flaps to malfunction, probably something resembling avionics. It does break down slightly when you introduce maths to the problem though.

Over 99.5% of our readers ignore our funding appeals. This site depends on your support. If you’ve enjoyed an article donate hereRecommended donation amount £12. Keep this site going.


To take one example 804 NAS operated the Scimitar for 18 months from 1 Mar 1960 to 15 Sep 1961, or 563 days. During this they flew 1077 sorties for a total of 1,367 flying hours, with only one minor accident when Sub Lt J G Smith suffered a nose gear collapse when Landing on HMS Hermes. [8] 563 day is 13,512 hours, at which point the 1000 maintenance man hours per flying hour myth starts to break down. According to the myth 804 would have had to endure 1,367,000 hours of tinkering to have achieved that much flying. That’s 195,285 hours per aircraft. Or 14 people working on each aircraft every hour it isn’t flying. The compliment of 804 at this time isn’t readily available as apparently a global pandemic is the kind of easy excuse archives look for to prevent access. However, while equipped with 10 of Supermarine’s ultimate fighter, 803 NAS had around 123 personnel. [9] Ignoring any reduction in personnel due to operating fewer aircraft and subtracting the 14 officers who wouldn’t want to get in the chaps’ way while they’re working, that gives 15 maintainers per airframe on 804 NAS.
So, from the above workings the only way the Scimitar could be operated if it required 1000 maintenance hours per flying hour is if the squadrons were over manned and the workforce did nothing but fix aircraft. Even in their sleep. For those unfamiliar with the naval service they may be bastards, but they do let the workforce eat, sleep, and if they’re particularly good take leave. But what’s a more realistic figure? Well assuming weekends off, and their Lordship’s deigned to give the squadron 45 days leave over the 18 months that gives 357 days of work. Assume 8 hours a day are available for maintaining aircraft, which ignores the other duties that the navy insists are more important than fixing aircraft. In that case each maintainer would have done 2,857 hours of maintenance. Still allowing 15 maintainers per aircraft and you get a total of 42,857 hours of work on each jet for the period 804 NAS was in commission. With each aircraft averaging 195 flying hours you end up with 219 maintenance hours per flying hour as pretty much the upper limit of what’s achievable. This is still a lot, it’s around 20 times what an F-22 needs, but it’s a lot less than the figure bandied around. Which could lead you to suspect it was a glib answer given by someone who didn’t expect to be taken seriously, or the real answer was 100 hours and someone added a zero.

Bing Chandler is a former Lynx Observer and current Wildcat Air Safety Officer. If you want a Sea Vixen t-shirt he can fix you up.

[8] Eric Morgan, and John Stevens. The Scimitar File. Trowbridge: Air Britain, 2000. p137
[9] HMS Hermes Commissioning book photo. Count the people in the photo of 804 NAS.

HUSK-KIT_PACKSHOT_whitebackground-1.jpg

This article is from the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes. Preorder your copy today here. 

From the cocaine, blood and flying scarves of World War One dogfighting to the dark arts of modern air combat, here is an enthralling ode to these brutally exciting killing machines.

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes is a beautifully designed, highly visual, collection of the best articles from the fascinating world of military aviation –hand-picked from the highly acclaimed Hush-kit online magazine (and mixed with a heavy punch of new exclusive material). It is packed with a feast of material, ranging from interviews with fighter pilots (including the English Electric Lightning, stealthy F-35B and Mach 3 MiG-25 ‘Foxbat’), to wicked satire, expert historical analysis, top 10s and all manner of things aeronautical, from the site described as:

“the thinking-man’s Top Gear… but for planes”.

The solid well-researched information about aeroplanes is brilliantly combined with an irreverent attitude and real insight into the dangerous romantic world of combat aircraft.

FEATURING

  • Interviews with pilots of the F-14 Tomcat, Mirage, Typhoon, MiG-25, MiG-27, English Electric Lighting, Harrier, F-15, B-52 and many more.
  • Engaging Top (and bottom) 10s including: Greatest fighter aircraft of World War II, Worst British aircraft, Worst Soviet aircraft and many more insanely specific ones.
  • Expert analysis of weapons, tactics and technology.
  • A look into art and culture’s love affair with the aeroplane.
  • Bizarre moments in aviation history.
  • Fascinating insights into exceptionally obscure warplanes.

The book will be a stunning object: an essential addition to the library of anyone with even a passing interest in the high-flying world of warplanes, and featuring first-rate photography and a wealth of new world-class illustrations.

HUSHKITPLANES_SPREADS4_5.jpg
HUSHKITPLANES_SPREADS4_4.jpg

This book can only happen with your support. Preorder your copy today here. 

HUSK-KIT_PACKSHOT_whitebackground-1.jpg

This book can only happen with your support. Preorder your copy today here. 

It’s just a bloody plane!

Whether it’s loyalty or emotional immaturity that led me to keep my boyhood obsession with aeroplanes I can’t tell you. I loved the aeroplane books I read as a child. Now, 35 odd years later I am making my own. I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. This is it.

Since I started my aviation site Hushkit.net in 2012 I have had the chance to do so many things that would impress my seven-year-old self. I’ve spoken to fighter pilots, many fighters pilots, and asked them the questions I want answered with no fear of the questions being too childish, or cheeky or technical. Collecting these stories has been a thrill. In particular speaking to perhaps the greatest living ace, an Iranian F-14 Tomcat pilot, and sharing his extreme tales of the excitement and brutality of jet combat in the 1980s.

Creating top 10s with experts was fascinating. I already loved the top 10 format but saw how frequently they were created by poorly informed generalist ‘content creators’ on a small budget…what would happen if articles like that were done properly? Who doesn’t want to know what would win in a fight, a F-16 or a MiG-29? I asked the people who knew the real answers.

I’ve also taken great pleasure in exploring the culture around the aeroplanes. Cinema, toys, art and the weird psychology of the aviation fan. I was also interested in what happens if you write about aeroplanes in a way that does not share the political outlook or style that all other books of this nature share. Many of the articles are funny as I see no reason why non-fiction should be serious all the time, and this has led Hush-Kit in a different direction.

The site exists because of a shared madness, and I am delighted that so many talented writers have contributed to making the site the success it is today. All of which is very good, but a big beautiful coffee table book is a hell of lot more pleasing than a website. I’m amazed and delighted by how many people read the site and I hope they’re willing to give up a little shelfspace for The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes.

I promise it will deliver things that no other aviation book has done so far.

Announcement: to celebrate the first flight of the Vulcan (30/08/52) we are aiming for 100% funding for the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes by 30 August 2020. It’s ambitious but I have faith we can get there! Support us here.  

Yours waiting to publish,

Joe

The Chinese superfighter that never was: what the J-20’s failed rival reveals

SAC design and the CAC J-20

This three-surface design is said to be the losing competitor to the Chengdu J-20. 

Jim Smith had significant technical roles in the development of the UK’s leading military aviation programmes from ASRAAM and Nimrod, to the JSF and Eurofighter Typhoon. He was also Britain’s technical liaison to the British Embassy in Washington, covering several projects including the Advanced Tactical Fighter contest. Here he considers what the J-20’s alleged failed rival reveals about the role and requirement of the Chengdu J-20.

The SAC design features a three-surface layout, with a canard, wing and tailplane. Like the J-20, the canard is relatively ‘long-coupled’, meaning there is a significant distance between the canard and the wing. The wing planforms of the two aircraft differ, with the J-20 having a straked near-delta planform, while that of the SAC design appears somewhat similar to the F-18, albeit with a straight strake leading edge, rather than the curved strake of the F-18.

J-20

The J-15

The Chinese also operate the J-15, a three -surface aircraft derived from the Su-27 series and similar to the Sukhoi Su-33.

Compared to this aircraft, we can see that the tail is somewhat similar, but the wing and canard are more closely coupled. The wing on the SAC design has a larger strake than the J-15, and the planform appears less highly swept than the J-15.

Three-surface Configurations

Let’s discuss three-surface configurations first. There’s quite a good discussion about this on Wikipedia, but here’s my take. I remarked that the SAC design was in some way reminiscent of an F-18, so I’ll start there. 

I can already see the head-scratching – an F-18 isn’t a three-surface configuration. True, but what set the F-18 and the F-16 apart was the use of a fixed forward strake ahead of the wing. This does a number of good things. Firstly, it’s de-stabilising, meaning that (with an appropriate control system) manoeuvre performance can be improved, because pitch stability is reduced. Secondly, at moderate and high incidence, powerful vortices are generated which run over the upper surface of the wing. This generates considerable lift, improving instantaneous turn rate, and also helps maintain lift from the wings at high incidence, allowing flight at very high incidence and low speed (great for airshows, but of questionable utility in combat).

One way of looking at these strakes is to think of them as a highly-swept fixed canard, located in the plane of the wing. That’s how they behave aerodynamically. What about moveable canards, such as those on Typhoon, Rafale and the Su-33? Well, these moveable canards are contributing to the control of the aircraft, as well as providing de-stabilising and additional aerodynamic functions similar to the fixed strakes of the F-16 and F-18.

But having moveable canards and tailplanes provides some additional design freedoms (or opportunities and complexities if you prefer). Let’s assume that all these advanced fighter aircraft are unstable – this offers the rapid manoeuvre response expected of a fighter, but also requires continuous management of the control surfaces to ensure that the aircraft responds as directed by the pilot.

If the aircraft is in the cruise, the pilot will expect the aircraft to be trimmed, and in steady flight. The flight control computers will arrange this by, for example, continuously adjusting the controls in response to gusts and turbulence, and by managing the tendency of the unstable aircraft to diverge from straight and level flight as a result of these disturbances. Choices will be available on how to do this – because either the canards, the tailplanes or other controls, such as thrust-vectoring, can be used to trim the aircraft. 

These choices can allow the control law designer to do some other things as well. For example, thrust vectoring might be used to trim, allowing all control surfaces to remain aligned to minimise head-on signature. Or the canard surfaces might be continuously adjusted to minimise lift-dependent drag. Trimming the aircraft sounds like a minor exercise, but it is important to remember that the aircraft centre of lift will change substantially in supersonic flight, and this will have to be managed, ideally also delivering the minimum signature, maximum manoeuvre margin, and/or minimum lift dependent drag, depending on the decisions taking in designing the aircraft.

If the aircraft is manoeuvring violently, or perhaps flying an approach in turbulent conditions, the canard-tail combination provides a rapid and powerful way of generating pitch commands, and also of trimming out the effects of high-lift devices such as slats and flaps which allow approach speeds to be managed.

I also referred to the SAC design as being relatively ‘long-coupled’, meaning that the canards are further ahead of the wing than is seen in other canard designs such as the Typhoon, Rafale and Su-33. The Chengdu J-20 shares this characteristic.

Why might this be a desirable design feature? It is an interesting choice, because it will, to some extent limit the ability to optimise the flow for minimum drag, because the direct influence of the canard flow on the wing will be somewhat reduced. However, the increased moment arm available will mean greater control power will be available for trimming or for manoeuvre. 

Implications of the configuration

What does this suggest about the aircraft design, and the requirements against which this aircraft and the J-20 were in competition?

To address this, one needs to make some conjecture about the purpose of the aircraft. I suggest the J-20 and SAC-design are in the nature of strategic air defence aircraft. Perhaps, like the MiG-31, their primary purpose could be homeland defence, but it seems likely that this also extends to the defence of China’s immediate area of economic influence, in which I include the South China Sea.

MiG-31

To deter and defeat incursions into this space, the aircraft would require a range of flexible and long-range weapons, clearly including long-range air-to-air weapons, but also possibly including anti-shipping, and in the future, perhaps hypersonic weapon systems. These weapons are all likely to be larger than the AMRAAM-class systems employed by many Western Nations, and in the case of anti-shipping and hypersonic systems may also be heavier.

This implies the need for the aircraft to have large weapons bays, and the ability to vary loads between different weapons and (probably) auxiliary fuel tanks. In any case, the geography of the air defence region is such that long-range, relatively large aircraft will be needed. High-speed, high-instantaneous-manoeuvrability, long-range and large internal weapons carriage appear to be the principal design drivers for the J-20 and the SAC design.

The Chengdu J-20 and the SAC design have adopted somewhat different solutions to these postulated design requirements. The J-20 is a long-coupled canard delta, appearing in some ways like a growth-version of the European canard fighters, but optimised for the internal carriage of relatively large weapons. The three-surface SAC design does look somewhat like an attempt at the same approach, but starting from a J-15-like three-surface solution, again seeking to provide a configuration with a large internal weapons bay. Both aircraft appear to be designed to accommodate a substantial c.g. range, allowing a wide range of fuel and weapon loads to be managed. The SAC design does also feature a straked wing, which appears to be, relative to the overall dimensions, a little smaller in area than that of the J-20.

J-20

Why might the J-20 have been favoured?  An almost impossible question to answer, as cost, industrial policies and other considerations are likely to have been involved. However, it is noticeable that the SAC design has a long forward fuselage, and that the intakes are set relatively far back on the airframe. 

J-20

It is possible that this complicates the packaging of the aircraft, as once intakes, engines and main undercarriage have been accommodated, there may be insufficient space for a broad weapons bay like that of the J-20. If the SAC bay has to extend forward into the forward fuselage, then the shape may have been constrained. Carrying two pairs of missiles in tandem (rather than 4-abreast as in the J-20) would be possible, but overall, the shape of such a bay might not offer the range of weapon options available from the J-20.

This article is from the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes. Preorder your copy today here. 

From the cocaine, blood and flying scarves of World War One dogfighting to the dark arts of modern air combat, here is an enthralling ode to these brutally exciting killing machines.

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes is a beautifully designed, highly visual, collection of the best articles from the fascinating world of military aviation –hand-picked from the highly acclaimed Hush-kit online magazine (and mixed with a heavy punch of new exclusive material). It is packed with a feast of material, ranging from interviews with fighter pilots (including the English Electric Lightning, stealthy F-35B and Mach 3 MiG-25 ‘Foxbat’), to wicked satire, expert historical analysis, top 10s and all manner of things aeronautical, from the site described as:

“the thinking-man’s Top Gear… but for planes”.

The solid well-researched information about aeroplanes is brilliantly combined with an irreverent attitude and real insight into the dangerous romantic world of combat aircraft.

FEATURING

  • Interviews with pilots of the F-14 Tomcat, Mirage, Typhoon, MiG-25, MiG-27, English Electric Lighting, Harrier, F-15, B-52 and many more.
  • Engaging Top (and bottom) 10s including: Greatest fighter aircraft of World War II, Worst British aircraft, Worst Soviet aircraft and many more insanely specific ones.
  • Expert analysis of weapons, tactics and technology.
  • A look into art and culture’s love affair with the aeroplane.
  • Bizarre moments in aviation history.
  • Fascinating insights into exceptionally obscure warplanes.

The book will be a stunning object: an essential addition to the library of anyone with even a passing interest in the high-flying world of warplanes, and featuring first-rate photography and a wealth of new world-class illustrations.

HUSHKITPLANES_SPREADS4_5.jpg
HUSHKITPLANES_SPREADS4_4.jpg

This book can only happen with your support. Preorder your copy today here. 

Flying & Fighting in the Panavia Tornado GR4A: Interview with Tornado pilot Mandy Hickson

A potent low-level specialist, the Tornado GR series served the Royal Air Force for 40 years, 28 years of which it was active in combat. We talked to Mandy Hickson about her experiences of flying the last British recce variant of the ‘Mighty Fin’, the GR4A, including her wartime missions over Iraq.

What were first impressions of the Tornado?

“My first impressions of the Tornado were that it seemed huge. Having come from flying the Hawk where some had described it as a large Tonka toy, the Tornado stood proud. It does what it says on the tin. It looks like a war-going machine with a fantastic capability and that’s exactly what it was.”

Describe the GR4 in three words…
“Formidable, capable, lethal.”

Mandy Hickson, motivational speaker

What was the best thing about the GR4?
“The best thing about the GR4 was the terrain following radar (TFR) capability. I remember an exercise that we were on in the USA, Red Flag, and we were night flying. One evening the weather proved to be out of limits for all the other aircraft, but the Tornados carried out a successful night mission. We dropped our weapons with a direct hit on target and we had not seen much of the surrounding area for the whole flight. You plug in the autopilot, nudge the aircraft down from 1000ft in increments until you get to the required height. Set the rad alt bug* 10% below and off you go. You monitor all the instruments, especially the E-Scope so that you can see what is coming up in front of you. The chat between the pilot and the navigator (or Weapons System Operator in todays terminology!) was clipped and professional. Not a time for banter.

*This ‘bugs’ you if your radar altimeter sees you dropping below a certain height

“An American aircraft carrier was on an exercise off the south coast, with an exclusion zone around the ship. A small civilian aircraft was flying directly toward the ship. The Americans believed that it was a terrorist as they were now on the highest state of alert. We heard that they were loading live weapons to shoot this aircraft down.”

..and the worst?
“The worst thing was the manoeuvrability.”

What was your most notable mission?
“I was flying across the Atlantic returning from Exercise Red Flag. We were in close formation with the tanker as we had been doing air-to-air refuelling. They told us that we needed to take some spacing so that they could use their HF radio. We separated away, but when we were called back in we heard that America has shut their airspace down. We had no idea what had happened. The date was September 11th. In the military you are always taught to control the controllables. We might not have had an understanding of what was happening but we did very quickly realise that if an entire continent has shut its airspace, then all the aircraft would be diverted or turned back. We were in thick cloud and had a huge risk of a midair collision. We started to scan the airspace in front of us to clear our pathway and as we approached the United Kingdom the clouds started to break. It was then that we heard another chilling radio call. An American aircraft carrier was on an exercise off the south coast, with an exclusion zone around the ship. A small civilian aircraft was flying directly toward the ship. The Americans believed that it was a terrorist as they were now on the highest state of alert. We heard that they were loading live weapons to shoot this aircraft down. The aircraft was oblivious and was not responding to attempted radio contact. We were tasked to intercept the aircraft, but enroute we finally managed to make contact and the aircraft diverted their flightpath. They had a matter of minutes before they would have been shot down. When we landed, we were signing the jets back in, when we turned and saw the twin towers collapsing on a small television in the engineers’ crew room. It was one of the most memorable moments of my life.”

How did you feel the GR4 compared to the F-15E?
“Let’s be honest, its not as capable, apart from having a better range, I think that’s the only category on aircraft Top Trumps that the Tornado would win!”

A US Air Force (USAF) F-15E Strike Eagle, 391st Fighter Squadron (FS), Mountain Home Air Force Base (AFB), Idaho (ID), leads a formation of two Royal Air Force (RAF) GR4 Tornadoes, No. 617th Squadron, RAF Lossiemouth, United Kingdom (UK), and two F-16CG-40D Fighting Falcons, 510th Fighter Squadron, Aviano Air Base (AB), Italy (ITA). The airframes and crews deployed to the area in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.

Would you have rather the RAF had had F-15Es?
“It’s a tricky question as emotionally I loved flying the GR4, however it would have been fantastic to fly the F15. Would it have been a better investment for the UK, rather than buying the Tornado? Probably!”

Most memorable occasion was whilst trying to have a wee over Iraq with my navigator quietly calling out surface-to-air missile threats in the background.”

How effective was the GR4 as a recce platform?
“The GR4A was an excellent recce platform. That was originally our primary role on II(AC) Sqn. I was involved in the RAPTOR (Reconnaissance Airborne Pod TORnado) trials and at the time it was one of the most advanced reconnaissance sensors in the world. It hugely increased the effectiveness of the GR4 in the reconnaissance role, with the ability to download real-time, long-range, off-set images to ground stations during a mission. The stand-off range of the sensors allowed us to stay clear of threats (surface to air missiles or AAA sites) and therefore minimised our exposure time.”

Sadly, this site will pause operations if it does not hit its funding targets. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here and keep this aviation site going. Many thanks

How good were you at the recce mission?
“I really enjoyed the challenge of recce missions although I did not enjoy learning all the categories of different pieces of equipment or structures… for example flying over an electrical pylon you would have to report that it was a self supporting steel lattice structure with eight satellite dishes orientated east to west direction. Bit of a mouthful!”

Are there any ergonomic issues for a female fighter pilot?
“There are the obvious size issues but these apply regardless of gender. The one challenge that we never managed to overcome was that of relieving yourself in the air on long sorties. The Tornado can stay airborne for about eight hours and yes you might well need to go to the toilet in that time. For a woman that presents huge difficulties. For men they have a small plastic bag with a dehydrated sponge in it that they can wee into. For a woman you have to completely strip down which involves taking off all of your kit. This leads to a ridiculous situation, akin to wrestling a bear in a cupboard! Most memorable occasion was whilst trying to have a wee over Iraq with my navigator quietly calling out surface-to-air missile threats in the background. I had decided that the only option I had was to wee into a drinking bottle that I had with me. Unfortunately it was full at the time, so I had to drink all the water first which then only made the situation 10 times worse after I never managed to successfully complete the task!

What was your first combat mission like?
“My first combat mission was a complete eye-opener. I went into work and was a little surprised to find I had been selected to carry out a bombing mission. My eyes were wider than saucers apparently throughout the briefing. We did not actually end up dropping on that occasion as our target was not visible but it was a great wake-up call to operations in a theatre of war.”

What was your most memorable mission?
“I was on the last sortie for the detachment and was heading home the following day. Just as we were about to recover back to base we were engaged by a surface to air missile, in a heatseeking mode. We put out the flares as countermeasures and successfully evaded the missile. We were then tasked to deliver our weapons on a pre-designated target. We were running out of fuel though and first had to go and find an air-to-air tanker in Saudi Arabia. It was now the early hours of the morning, pitch black and the weather was poor. When we got to the Tanker our British tanker was un-serviceable and had been replaced by an American KC-135. I had no clearance to tank from this and had never done it before. I had two attempts before I had to divert back to base on my minimum fuel state. My number two and three were successful and went back into Iraq successfully delivering their weapons. It was an incredibly complex mission and as I was leading the formation I learnt more about decision-making and pressure under the most stressful of conditions that night.”

At the time of its retirement did you think the GR4 was survivable in a modern peer-peer war?
“If you think that the Tornado had its first flight in 1974 and was delivered into service in 1979 then it’s amazing that it had survived as long as it had. With all the upgrades it made it a very viable platform but I believe it’s time had come.”

Crewed recce platforms…do they offer any advantage over remotely piloted aircraft?
“Emotionally I would love to say that I believe they do but I can also see the huge benefits of unmanned aerial vehicles. The fact that you do not have to risk life by placing aircrew into a theatre of war and that one person can operate numerous remote aircraft at the same time from a different country is a huge advantage.”

How fast can a GR4 can at low level…what is the fastest you got?
“I think the textbook says it can exceed Mach 1.3. The fastest I ever went was Mac 1.1. At low-level over the UK you are limited because of the sound pollution, so you normally fly at 420 kts, accelerating to 500 kts occasionally.”

Is it true that the GR4 was slower than the GR1, if so why?
“Never heard that, I don’t believe so. I can’t imagine it getting to M2!”

Rate the Tornado in the following categories
Instantaneous turn: average
Sustained turn: average
Acceleration: good
Energy preservation: good
Climb rate: not as good as many of the more modern jets
Recce effectiveness: very good
Combat effectiveness: poor
Cockpit ergonomics: good

During DACT or training missions against fighter aircraft which type was the most challenging? We did’t do much DACT

What were the most and least reliable systems?
“Some of the nav systems were unreliable (INS). As the jet became older the groundcrew had to work increasingly harder to maintain serviceability levels, there did an incredible job.”

What are your thoughts about the Tornado retirement from the RAF?
“It was the end of an era and I am so proud to have played my part in its incredible history. It played a vital role in keeping Britain and its allies safe for four decades.”

Former Tornado GR4 fast jet pilot with RAF, now a Motivational Speaker. Author ‘An Officer, not a Gentleman’.

Bing Chandler is a former Lynx Observer and current Wildcat Air Safety Officer. If you want a Sea Vixen t-shirt he can fix you up.

HUSK-KIT_PACKSHOT_whitebackground-1.jpg

Pre-order your copy of the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes today here. 

Fleet Air Arm Myths, Number 2: The Swordfish was rugged

10 Fleet Air Arm Myths, Number 2: The Swordfish was rugged

Hero of Taranto the Swordfish pioneered attacking an enemy fleet in harbour over a year before the Japanese gave it a go on easy level, in broad daylight, before the opposition were ready. It was also a rare Fairey success story, especially when compared to its stable mates the Albacore and Barracuda. It even manages to cast Blackburn in a decent light as they took on responsibility for producing the vast majority of them while Fairey struggled with the rest of their workload and attempting to design aircraft that didn’t look like they’d already been in an accident. After the high point of Taranto popular imagination has the Stringbag’s ruggedness and robust landing gear allowing it to remain relevant taking part in the Battle of the Atlantic, in conditions that would defeat lesser aircraft.

This probably seems plausible based on the antiquated design which implies a certain sturdiness. The problem is that it doesn’t really match reality. At best it was easily repairable, certainly on at least one occasion a serviceable Swordfish was assembled onboard ship, from the remains of three that had been damaged serving on a Merchant Aircraft Carrier (MAC) allowing ASW patrols to continue. [4] Try doing that with an F-35. But being easily repairable isn’t the same as being rugged. Being rugged means you’re devastatingly attractive to the other aircraft, and don’t have to go to the engineers when you stub your undercarriage.

Some will argue that this is irrelevant as the Swordfish was better suited than anything else that could have been operated from Escort Carriers (CVE) during the Battle of the Atlantic. Unfortunately, this isn’t borne out by the evidence, as even the Royal Navy knew. In analysing operations by the US and Royal navies in 1943 they came to some disturbing conclusions about their premier ASW aircraft. While both forces were operating from near identical CVEs [5] the USN operating Avengers were suffering a far lower wastage rate. [6] In fact the USN suffered 14 aircraft lost or damaged in 1420 sorties to the RN’s 63 in 880! An accident every 14 sorties to the USN’s once every hundred. Worse, over half the Swordfish accidents were attributed to the undercarriage breaking or causing the aircraft to bounce on landing. Nor could this be blamed on the RN operating more often in bad weather as there was no correlation between the wastage rate experienced and the conditions the ship was operating in. On its own this would be bad enough, but that much lower sortie rate achieved by the RN? That was due to ship’s Captains being unwilling to launch their aircraft unless absolutely necessary in case they got damaged. Conserving their strength for times of emergency, you know, more than just being involved in a global conflict to the death. This had two effects, firstly Swordfish equipped CVE were less likely to spot U-boats as they just didn’t have aircraft airborne as much. Secondly U-boats were generally sunk as the result of a continued aggressive attack with all airborne aircraft converging on the target once it was spotted. For the RN this was only achieved twice in 1943 as the minimum number of aircraft would be airborne to reduce the number of landing accidents. So, despite both navies having almost identical carrier availability in 1943 USN aircraft sank 23 U-boats to the RN’s 3. [7]

Ultimately operating from the same decks in the same theatre, the larger, heavier Avenger had a wastage rate 1/7th that of the experiment in parasitic drag that was the Swordfish. Perhaps more damaging to the Stringbag’s reputation the report’s writers only had two recommendations, one explicitly recommending replacing them with Avengers, the other pointing out doing so would make follow up attacks more effective.

[4] Achtung! Swordfish! Stanley Brand. Chp 17.

[5] 39 RN CVEs were supplied by the USA to the USN’s design, 3 were built in the UK to a different design, and 3 converted from merchant ships. One of which had been captured from Germany at the start of the war.

[6] Directorate of Naval Operational Studies. ‘Achievements of British and US Escort Carriers’. Admiralty, 12 February 1944. ADM 219/95. The National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom.

[7] The USN had 24 carrier months to the RN’s 22. E.g. the USN could have had 4 carriers dedicated to ASW for six months each.

Bing Chandler is a former Lynx Observer and current Wildcat Air Safety Officer. If you want a Sea Vixen t-shirt he can fix you up.

HUSK-KIT_PACKSHOT_whitebackground-1.jpg

Pre-order your copy of the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes today here. 

Top 10 rebel warplanes

Yugoslav ground crew wheel 3-inch rockets past RAF No. 351 (Yugoslav) Squadron Hawker Hurricane Mk. IV fighter-bombers at Prkos, Yugoslavia (today Croatia) circa March-April 1945 (Photo Source Imperial War Museum).jpg

According to the President of the United State of America, Donald Trump, air power has been important to rebels since the the 1770s. In his 4th of July speech in 2019 he stated that the Continental Army fighting the British ‘took over the airports’ as part of their struggle for independence. Despite his grip on historical fact being roughly equivalent to his understanding of morality, Trump accidentally got two things right: air power of any kind is seldom available to revolutionaries and therefore neutralising the aviation assets of their oppressors is a very sensible idea.

Combat aircraft are generally expensive and require large, vulnerable bases from which to operate not to mention a prohibitive amount of spares and maintenance just to get off the ground. When one then considers the hefty training requirements for their crew both in the air and on the ground, it is hardly surprising that freedom fighters, insurgents, rebels or revolutionaries rarely make use of aircraft.

Here are some of the most interesting exceptions to the rule: the best flying freedom fighters from 1776 to the present.

 

 

 

10. Martinsyde Type A Mk.II ‘The Big Fella’, Irish Republican Army, 1921

 

Not really a ‘warplane’ as such, the first aircraft of the Irish Air Corps was, at least, a modified fighter. In 1921, Michael Collins (the Irish Revolutionary leader, not the Apollo XI astronaut) was due to attend talks in London to discuss Irish independence. Fearing that Collins and other members of the Irish delegation might be detained if the talks were to break down the IRA decided to obtain a fast aircraft to whisk delegates back to Ireland at the first sign of any trouble. The aircraft they chose was a derivative of the Martinsyde Buzzard, arguably the finest fighter of the First World War, and the fastest readily available British-built aircraft. Secretly purchased in September 1921, the Martinsyde Type A was equipped with two seats instead of military equipment and for the rest of the year it was kept at readiness at Croydon aerodrome. Thankfully (and somewhat surprisingly) the talks were successful, the Martinsyde was not required and power was devolved to the Irish Free State. On the other hand, the terms of the treaty directly led to the Irish Civil War of 1922-23 and resulted in the Irish Air Corps investing in several more aircraft of a more warlike nature. Meanwhile the Martinsyde was shipped to Dublin in 1922 and painted with the Irish flag of green, white and gold with the name ‘The Big Fella’ (Collins’s nickname) emblazoned on the nose. This was later changed to ‘City of Dublin’ and later still to ‘Cathair Atha Cliath’ (City of Dublin). Despite the obvious historical importance of this aircraft it was scrapped in 1937.

martinsydeairlanda1921-1024x363

9. Mitsubishi Ki-51 ‘Guntei’, Indonesian Air Force, 1946-49

img_20180509_093644-114830240 (2).jpg

Only one example of the Japanese Ki-51 exists and we have the Indonesian independence movement to thank for it. After the end of hostilities in 1945, the Dutch East Indies were still occupied by thousands of armed Japanese troops. Two days after the Japanese general surrender, Indonesian republicans declared the country’s independence from the Netherlands, however the largely powerless Dutch Government-in-Exile based in Australia wished to regain their colonial state. Meanwhile, Louis Mountbatten, Allied High Commander South East Asia somewhat reluctantly agreed to use Allied and Japanese troops as caretaker forces until the Dutch return in 1947. During this period nationalist republican sentiment took hold across this enormous country and fighting broke out, from September 1945 and would continue unabated for four years,

Compared to most revolutionary groups the Indonesians were in an unusual position, the country was littered with the still-functional military equipment of a defeated occupying power. Not only that but trained Japanese personnel were in many cases sympathetic to Indonesia’s desire for independence and actively assisted the revolutionaries’ efforts. About 1000 stayed behind after the general repatriation of Japanese forces to support the republicans.

img_20180509_092946-298748346

The bulk of the fighting took place on the ground but in July 1947 the Dutch initiated a large air assault intended to destroy all potentially hostile aircraft on the ground. Rebel forces had managed to hide a handful of Japanese aircraft and on the 29th of July, the first operation of the Indonesian Air Force took place. Two Yokosuka K5Y1s trainer biplanes (known as ‘Cureng’* to the Indonesians) joined the rebel’s premium offensive air asset, a Mitsubishi Ki-51 light bomber known as ‘Guntei’*. They were supposed to have been escorted by a Nakajima Ki-43 fighter but unfortunately it developed engine trouble and could not be repaired in time. Resplendent in their new Indonesian markings (created by simply painting the lower half of the Japanese hinomaru white) the three aircraft dropped incendiaries on the Dutch Army barracks in Semarang, Salatiga and Ambarawa. Material damage was minimal but the psychological damage was enormous as the Dutch, with predictable hubris, had previously declared the total destruction of the Indonesian Air Force. This failure was compounded by the fact that Dutch P-40s, charged with finding and destroying the raiders were unable to locate them. In December 1949 the Dutch, under pressure from the international community, particularly the USA recognised Indonesian independence. Today, the unique Ki-51 and extremely rare K5Y1 and Ki-43 aircraft that helped to make Indonesian independence a reality may be seen at the Dirgantara Mandala Museum.

*Despite frequent references to these names in a variety of sources, I have been unable to find any kind of translation from Indonesian. If you know, please inform us in the comments.

8. Hawker Hurricane Mk IV, Balkan Air Force, 1944-45

Yugoslavian pilot Tugomir Prebeg stands by his Hawker Hurricane damaged during a ground attack mission in 1944

In 1941 conventional Yugoslavian resistance to the Nazi juggernaut collapsed after a mere two weeks. There followed some four years of brutal partisan fighting in which Yugoslav forces twice came close to being wiped out but eventually emerged triumphant. What makes the Yugoslav experience unusual is its possession of an effective air force that achieved air superiority over the Luftwaffe and Croatian air force during 1944. Of course, the insurgent Yugoslavs could not have achieved this alone and for the first two years of the occupation Axis aircraft operated more or less unopposed on anti-partisan operations. However, after the Allies gained possession of Southern Italy the situation changed markedly. Previously limited to long range bombing missions, Allied tactical aircraft were now within striking distance of the Balkan nations. Initial operations were coordinated as part of the Italian campaign and as such sorties over the Balkans were essentially a diversion from the main thrust into Northern Italy but in June 1944 a different phase began with the creation of the Balkan Air Force, an organisation specifically intended to operate in support of the partisans.

The Balkan Air Force was a cosmopolitan organisation boasting some 15 aircraft types and eight different nationalities in its ranks. The units of the BAF with the most personal involvement in the campaign were 351 and 352 squadron, these were units of the RAF but were entirely Yugoslav manned and sported the Yugoslav star on their aircraft. Both initially operated the Hurricane, 352 converting to Spitfires in 1944 but 351 flew Hurricane IVs to the end of the war despite complaints from the Partisan Supreme Command that the Hurricane was inferior to the Spitfire. British manned No. 6 squadron also flew Hurricanes until VE day as part of the Balkan Air Force, these two units being the last to operate Hurricanes in combat over Europe. The Yugoslav units were kept extremely busy on ground attack, anti-shipping and reconnaissance missions until the end of the war. Released from RAF control on 16th May 1945, the two squadrons and their aircraft formed the 1st Fighter Regiment of the Yugoslav Air Force. The Hurricane remained in first line service until at least 1951.

7. Avia B.534, Slovenské povstalecké letectvo (Slovak Insurgent Air Force), Slovakia 1944

unnamed-1

Credit: Wings Pallette

The story of the Slovak National Uprising is a tragic tale of massive bravery and initial success squandered due to political infighting, failures to follow an agreed plan, and a lack of international support. It did however result in one mission that made (slightly obscure) aviation history. The uprising was launched on 29 August 1944 from Banská Bystrica in an attempt to resist German troops that had occupied Slovak territory and to overthrow the collaborationist government of Jozef Tiso.

Things went badly from the start, the insurgents lost six airfields within days and operations were conducted from the two air bases remaining in Insurgent hands at Tri Duby (Three Oaks) and Zolná. The Insurgent Air Force was small, consisting of four Avia B-534 biplane fighters, three Letov Š-328 biplane light bombers, and two Bf 109E-4, charmingly known as the ‘Combined Squadron’. They were later reinforced by a two other Bf 109G-6s and a Focke-Wulf Fw 189. Rather more meaningful air support for the insurgency came in September from the 1st Czechoslovak Fighter Air Regiment of the Soviet Red Army Air Force under the command of Captain František Fajtl. Flying the potent Lavochkin La-5FN, many of the unit’s pilots were skilled fighter pilots who had previously flown for the RAF. These pilots ultimately flew some 923 sorties and destroyed 40 Axis planes before the collapse of organised resistance. Meanwhile the Combined Squadron did what it could with its motley collection of aircraft, always struggling with supplies – particularly ammunition for the German built fighters. The most remarkable sortie by a Slovak Insurgent aircraft came on the 2nd September 1944 when František Cyprich, who had attained ‘ace’ status with the Slovak air force against the Soviets, flew an Avia B.534 to successfully intercept a Hungarian Junkers Ju 52/3m that was crossing Slovak territory, forcing it to crash land. This was the last confirmed ‘kill’ by a biplane fighter in history.

6. Vought Kingfisher, Fuerza Aérea Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Air Force), Cuba 1959

unnamed.jpg

The Cuban Revolutionary Air Force garnered plenty of attention for its actions over the Bay of Pigs in 1961 but revolutionary aircraft had been in action well before that. Castro’s Cuban revolution was a remarkable turnaround from almost complete disaster in 1953 when only around 20 revolutionaries escaped President Fulgencia Batista’s forces to total victory five years later. Air power was almost totally the preserve of Batista’s government forces throughout the Cuban Revolution, the rebels fighting their way out of the Sierra Madre mountains in a guerilla campaign of greater and greater magnitude, garnering fresh troops and support as they went. But in the last few weeks of armed conflict the first ever combat operations of the Rebels’ Fuerza Aérea Revolucionaria (FAR) were flown against Batista’s crumbling forces. The aircraft utilised was a Vought OS2U ‘Kingfisher’ of the Cuban Navy in landplane, rather than the more usual floatplane, guise. Without the time, or perhaps the means, to change the markings, the Kingfisher went into battle still displaying its pre-revolutionary Navy markings. On November 7th 1958, Silva Tablada with gunner Leonel Pajan flew the little Vought armed with two small fragmentation bombs over the encircled Army camp at La Maya, containing some 200 loyalist soldiers holding out against the rebels. Unaware that the rebels possessed any aircraft the soldiers cheered the approaching aircraft, believing it would attack their besiegers.

15927654587_0e2035e515_bTheir joy soon turned to panic when in the course of three passes over the camp, Tablada accurately dropped his two bombs into the centre of the camp whilst Pajan strafed indiscriminately. Material damage was negligible but such was the psychological effect of ‘Operacion A-001’ that the soldiers surrendered almost immediately, bringing to an end some two weeks of fighting at La Maya. Tablada would go on to fly three more bombing missions, all escorted by the second combat aircraft of the FAR, a T-28 Trojan, before the cessation of hostilities on the 1st January 1959, these four missions representing the complete combat operations of the rebels during the Revolution. Tablada’s OS2U is preserved today in the Museo de la Revolución in Havana.

5. Curtiss Falcon, Constitutionalist Brazil, 1932

D-12_02-1024x749.jpg

Unless you’re Brazilian, I suspect that you’ve never heard of the Constitutionalist Revolution but more fool you because it was a pretty big deal. Basically, in 1932, the state of São Paulo decided to declare war on the rest of Brazil. Ten out of ten for chutzpah but maybe not the brightest move, you would be forgiven for thinking. The ‘Paulistas’ were aggrieved by President Getúlio Vargas having seized the Brazilian presidency in a coup d’etat and ruling by decree, in place of the democratically elected Júlio Prestes. They planned to oust the Government and adopt a Brazilian Constitution, hence the name of the revolt. When hostilities broke out, Government forces could muster around 60 aircraft against the rebel’s four, none of them on either side particularly modern. Immediately, both sides frantically attempted to procure more aircraft. After being fobbed off by France the federalist forces of President Vargas managed to acquire some 200 modern warplanes in the US including the state-of-the-art Boeing 256, which was obtained by Brazil before they entered service with the U.S. Navy as the F4B-4. Meanwhile the Paulistas were prevented by naval blockade from contacting any aircraft-producing nation. Luckily for them in 1930 Curtiss-Wright had set up a production line in Chile and the revolutionaries were able to purchase nine new Chilean-built Curtiss Falcons, though one was confiscated by Paraguay during the delivery flight. The Falcons proved to be the most formidable aircraft involved in the conflict.

Sadly, this site will pause operations if it does not hit its funding targets. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here and keep this aviation site going. Many thanks

Despite the disparity in numbers the revolutionaries used their meagre air assets to considerable effect, unfortunately far too late to make any difference to the outcome of the war. Nonetheless they made several dramatic attacks on Federal forces, the most successful when two Curtiss Falcons, one Waco 225 and a single Nieuport-Delage raided the Federal forces’ airstrip in the town of Mogi-Mirim, São Paulo, destroying two brand new Waco CSOs on the ground and seriously damaging two others.

4. Zlin Z-143, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, 2007-08

Tamil Tiger aircraft.jpg

Credit: Sri Lanka Guardian

Sri Lanka is a lovely island riven with ethnic division and years of horrific violence. Historical ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese and Tamil population prompted the formation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), generally known as the ‘Tamil Tigers’. Their aim was to secure an independent Tamil state in response to policies of successive Sri Lankan governments considered discriminatory towards the minority Tamil population. Formed in 1976, the Tamil Tigers pursued this aim militarily through a full scale national insurgency from 1983 to 2009. Most of the LTTE’s operations were ground based though unusually for an insurgent group they were able to boast both a naval arm and an aviation component, the ‘Air Tigers’.

Sky_tigers

The origins of the Air Tigers remain somewhat murky, LTTE radio began to refer to Tamil Tiger aircraft during 1998 but their existence could not be confirmed, and indeed was written off as LTTE propaganda by Sri Lankan Deputy Minister for Defence Anuruddha Ratwatte, until 2007 when they made their presence known in dramatic fashion. In March two LTTE Zlin Z-143 aircraft attacked Katunayake Air force base north of Colombo, killing three air force officials and wounding nearly 20 others. IAI Kfris and recently acquired MiG-27s of the Sri Lankan Air Force were believed to be the target as they had recently bombed LTTE territory but all escaped damage. There followed a succession of small but maddening raids on civil and military targets by the Zlins, of which the Tamils never had more than five, including an audacious attack on the naval base at Trincomalee and a particularly cunning raid on a Shell refinery timed to coincide with the 2007 Cricket World Cup final between Sri Lanka and Australia which a vast swathe of the population was watching live. To add insult to injury Australia won by 53 runs. The culmination of the air attacks was a suicide attack in February 2009 by two Zlins on SriLankan Air force targets around Colombo though both attacking aircraft were destroyed before they could hit their targets. The victory of Sri Lankan forces over the LTTE later that year brought an end to the Air Tigers’ operations

3. Dewoitine D.520, Forces Francaises de l’Interieur (Free French Forces of the Interior), 1944

Is it cheating to have your insurgency backed up by the largest invasion force ever assembled? Of course not. The final fling of France’s most successful wartime fighter saw it once again heroically fighting the Nazi forces it had been designed to oppose. Dewoitine D.520s spent most of the conflict in a variety of fascist-y guises from Vichy France to Bulgaria but ended up After D-day being flown against the German occupiers by the Forces Francaises de l’Interieur (FFI), better known to English speakers as the French Resistance. Initially seizing serviceable aircraft from abandoned German and Vichy stocks a few D.520s went into action in a distinctly ad-hoc manner against their former owners.

The Dewoitines were incorporated into a unit named Groupe Doret during July 1944 under their leader, the charismatic pre-war test pilot and aerobatic champion Marcel Doret (who coincidentally had made the D.520’s maiden flight back in 1938). Although distinctly long in the tooth, negligible German air activity meant that the D.520s could be used with relative impunity attacking anti-aircraft positions and isolated pockets of German troops. Doret’s Dewoitines were also used to escort Dauntless dive bombers operating over Royan and la Pointe de Grave. Sufficient aircraft were made airworthy to allow a second squadron to begin operations in August. In the same month, following the Allied landings in Provence, both the SNCASE (Dewoitine) and the Morane-Saulnier factory, which had been manufacturing D.520s for the Germans since 1943, diverted construction to the FFI. The French Resistance therefore became the first, and so far only, insurgent group to possess not only an air force but a functioning aircraft factory! The first brand new D.520 for the Resistance, appropriately coded ‘1’ and sporting both D-day invasion stripes and the cross of Lorraine on its roundels was photographed at Tarbes-Ossun in South Western France on 24th August 1944. The D.520’s insurgent days were relatively brief however as the French Air Force was officially reformed on 1st December 1944 and Doret’s unit became G.C.II/18. The Dewoitines were replaced with Spitfires on the 1st March 1945.

2. Gloster Gladiator, Royal Iraqi Air Force, 1941

aircraft_gloster_gladiator_iraq

Credit: © Clavework Graphics

Quite reasonably believing that in 1941 Britain had rather too much on its plate to deal with an uprising against its rule, Iraq, under Prime Minister Rashid Ali, decided to throw off the imperialist yoke. Correctly surmising that this course of action would be of interest to the Axis powers he requested material assistance from Germany and Italy. As a result several Bf 110s and He 111s under the command of Colonel Werner Junck operated for a time in Iraqi markings as ‘Fliegerführer Irak’. However, the insurgent Iraqi forces were not devoid of air power of their own, being equipped with the impressive total of 116 aircraft of various types at the start of hostilities. Admittedly only about 60 of those were serviceable but these included some relatively effective modern types such as Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 bombers and Gloster Gladiators, not exactly cutting edge by 1941 but notably the same fighter equipped British units in the area. The Gladiator would turn out to be the stand-out aircraft of the conflict on both sides.

Most of the fighting centred on RAF Habbaniya airfield, a large force of Iraqi troops laid siege to the airfield on the 1st of May. Despite possessing a massive numerical advantage (there were about 9000 Iraqi troops facing some 300 defenders) and expecting negotiations to come to discuss terms for a peaceful surrender, Iraqi forces were not prepared for the remarkable intensity of the British response. On the 2nd aircraft from Habbaniya began constantly attacking Iraqi positions and it was near total superiority in the air that allowed for swift British victory. It did not quite all go in favour of the British however, one of the Royal Iraqi Air Force Gladiators succeeded in shooting down a Vickers Wellington on the 4th of May. A day later the only known Gladiator versus Gladiator ‘kill’ occurred when Pilot Officer Watson shot down an Iraqi Gladiator over Baqubah. RAF Gladiators also successfully intercepted Iraqi SM-79s and even destroyed two of the Bf 110s without loss despite the terrific speed advantage enjoyed by the German fighter.

  1. Mikoyan MiG-23BN, Free Libyan Air Force, 2011

MiG-23MLK Glogger-K  5472    Benina    2011.jpg

Credit: CBS via smallairforces.blogspot.com

The aftermath of the events of the Arab Spring still resonate around the world and perhaps nowhere greater than Libya. For a brief period it looked like a historic and justified revolution had occurred but Libya has been stricken with permanent civil war since the initial revolt against the autocratic government of Muammar Gaddafi in early 2011. Nonetheless in the early days the Libyan revolt appeared to be deposing a tyrant and the actions of the Libyan Air Force, though relatively modest, were decisive.

MiG-23MLK Glogger-K 5472 Benina 2011 b

Collectively, probably the most significant act by the airmen of the Libyan Air Force was their defiance of orders to attack their fellow countrymen. On multiple occasions aircraft despatched to bomb protesters deliberately dropped their weapons in deserted areas. Meanwhile two pilots defected with their Mirage F.1s to Malta after their pilots refused to attack opposition forces. Events took a more dramatic turn when in March when the Free Libya Air Force announced its existence in spectacular style by utilising a MiG-23 and a Mil Mi-24 helicopter to sink two pro-Gaddafi warships. Strike missions against Gaddafi’s forces seeking to take Benghazi proved instrumental in the defence of that city and a total of 38 combat sorties was ultimately flown by Free Libyan aircraft between March the 1st and 19th when the NATO imposed no-Fly zone was imposed, effectively grounding the air force. However 32 covert supply runs by BAe 146 transport aircraft operating from roads were undertaken, these flights being escorted by MiG-21 fighters, despite imposition of the no-fly zone. Despite their heroic actions during the first Civil War, the Free Libyan Air Force was reabsorbed into the Libyan Air Force and as of 2020 is split between the forces of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and those nominally led by Khalifa Haftar of the Libyan National Army (LNA) on behalf of the part of the National Parliament in Tobruk. The two groups have been at war since 2014.

Mi-25D Hind-D  854    Benghazi    2011.jpg

AFP via smallairforces.blogspot.com

 

 

HUSK-KIT_PACKSHOT_whitebackground-1.jpg

This article is from the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes. Preorder your copy today here. 

From the cocaine, blood and flying scarves of World War One dogfighting to the dark arts of modern air combat, here is an enthralling ode to these brutally exciting killing machines.

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes is a beautifully designed, highly visual, collection of the best articles from the fascinating world of military aviation –hand-picked from the highly acclaimed Hush-kit online magazine (and mixed with a heavy punch of new exclusive material). It is packed with a feast of material, ranging from interviews with fighter pilots (including the English Electric Lightning, stealthy F-35B and Mach 3 MiG-25 ‘Foxbat’), to wicked satire, expert historical analysis, top 10s and all manner of things aeronautical, from the site described as:

“the thinking-man’s Top Gear… but for planes”.

The solid well-researched information about aeroplanes is brilliantly combined with an irreverent attitude and real insight into the dangerous romantic world of combat aircraft.

FEATURING

  • Interviews with pilots of the F-14 Tomcat, Mirage, Typhoon, MiG-25, MiG-27, English Electric Lighting, Harrier, F-15, B-52 and many more.
  • Engaging Top (and bottom) 10s including: Greatest fighter aircraft of World War II, Worst British aircraft, Worst Soviet aircraft and many more insanely specific ones.
  • Expert analysis of weapons, tactics and technology.
  • A look into art and culture’s love affair with the aeroplane.
  • Bizarre moments in aviation history.
  • Fascinating insights into exceptionally obscure warplanes.

The book will be a stunning object: an essential addition to the library of anyone with even a passing interest in the high-flying world of warplanes, and featuring first-rate photography and a wealth of new world-class illustrations.

HUSHKITPLANES_SPREADS4_5.jpg

 

HUSHKITPLANES_SPREADS4_4.jpg

 

This book can only happen with your support. Preorder your copy today here. 

 

HUSK-KIT_PACKSHOT_whitebackground-1.jpg

This book can only happen with your support. Preorder your copy today here. 

Yugoslavian pilot Tugomir Prebeg stands by his Hawker Hurricane damaged during a ground attack mission in 1944.jpg

10 Fleet Air Arm Myths, Number 1: What the Sea Harrier did not do in the Falklands

VIFFing won the Falklands

There is a line of thinking among some aviation enthusiasts that goes like this: The Sea Harrier was crucial to winning the Falklands Conflict. Harriers can vector in forward flight (VIFF). Therefore, VIFFing won the Falklands. This is sometimes extended into the conclusion that as the F-35B can’t VIFF it’s not as good as the Harrier, presumably because that means it wouldn’t have been able to win the Falklands Conflict. The problem with this line of thinking is that just because the Sea Harrier could do something, it doesn’t mean it did. After all it was also nuclear capable, but no one ever brings that up as a reason it helped win the war.

british_aerospace_sea_harrier_frs1_n250_nas800_from_uk_navy.jpg

Sea Harrier FRS. Mk 1 in 1980 

For those wondering what VIFFing was supposed to achieve, imagine Maverick’s move in Top Gun where he ‘hits the brakes and they fly right by’ but in a much smaller aircraft. The massive reduction in speed forcing the pursuer into an overtake at which point the Harrier takes its shot. Meanwhile any other enemy aircraft has a nice slow-moving target to try and hit, which could be considered a drawback.

raf-sea-harrier_28521
Air combat over the Falklands was characterised by short engagements as Argentinian fighters were operating at the limits of their endurance and were generally concerned with anti-shipping or ground attack missions in the vicinity of the islands themselves. In fact, the Fuerza Aérea Argentina’s most sophisticated interceptor the Mirage IIIEAs of Grupo 8 de Caza could only reach the islands with fuel for 12 minutes at altitude or 5 if they descended to low level where the majority of combat took place. Consequently, they would only engage Sea Harriers on the 1st of May, during which two were lost, one to Argentine AA fire as it attempted to divert to Port Stanley. [1] Future sorties would instead concentrate on high-level sweeps, attempted intercepts of clandestine helicopter operations, and Canberra bomber escort.
The remaining Argentine aircraft encountered, were predominantly IAI Daggers, essentially bootleg Mirage’s optimised for ground attack, and A-4 Skyhawks. The only weapons these carried for air-to-air combat were 20 and 30-mm cannon, the Dagger’s main advantage being looking like they might be Mirages. However, these too were at the limits of their range and even with the most direct routing only had around 10 minutes over the islands to find their targets. The Skyhawks had slightly better endurance, especially if a KC-130 was available to refuel them, even so after transiting to the islands they’d have little time to loiter. With these limitations there was little appetite, or time for the Argentinian forces to engage in protracted air combat.
At the same time, the FAA’s Sea Harriers would have limited time on CAP for much of the period as the carriers remained well to the east to stay out of range of the Exocet armed Super Étendards of the Argentine Navy. Only when heavy raids were expected did they close to around 80NM from the islands, such as on 25th of May, Argentina’s Independence Day. [2] This reduced their opportunities to engage aircraft and close cooperation with Fighter Controllers onboard frigates and destroyers was often crucial to ensure they were in the right place at the right time. As a result of both sides limited opportunities, most of the engagements during the conflict consisted of a single pass or a tail chase by the Sea Harriers after having spotted the enemy. There appear to have been no prolonged turning fights where VIFFing might have been used as a last-ditch manoeuvre. Because nothing says last ditch like coming to a stop in the middle of a dogfight, ask the Chinese pilot who was shot down by Lt ‘Shmoo’ Ellis over Korea.
In total Sea Harriers shot down 20 aircraft during the conflict, plus one shared with HMS Ardent. Several decades after the events the circumstances of each engagement are now relatively clear and are summarised below. Suffice to say none of these combats saw VIFFing employed, where Fighter Controllers were involved the defending aircraft were as far as possible vectored behind the attackers allowing them the best shot for their Sidewinders. On other occasions the enemy were spotted visually with the Sea Harriers chasing after them as they were routing to or from their attacks on the amphibious landings and ground forces. Nor does there appear to have been any use of VIFFing in order to shake off an opponent. In fact there are relatively few accounts of Argentine aircraft being behind Sea Harriers, in one instance Capt Gustavo Justo fired his guns at Lt Cdr Ward at a range of around 2000’ and missed, a lack of tracer not helping. [1] Distracted by a wingman’s parachute Justo then managed to beat Ward around a hill, the winner receiving a Sidewinder for his troubles. Another occasion took place during the final combat on 8 Jun 82 when Flt Lt Morgan engaged a flight of four A-4B but mistook the third aircraft for the fourth. [3] This might have been an opportunity to employ VIFFing, if Flt Lt Morgan had been aware of his mistake, but as it was the Skyhawk’s cannon had been damaged earlier in the sortie by ground fire and the pilot could do nothing as Morgan engaged two of his wingmen. [2]

62376b6f726ff2736a95b9e08379247e
In conclusion the VIFFing myth seems to have arisen from people associating one of the Harrier’s unique capabilities with one of the highlights of its career. To quote the now retired Lt Cdr Morgan ‘No one used VIFFing during the conflict. It was purely a defensive manoeuvre and no SHAR was ever in a position where a defensive manoeuvre was required – we were always offensive!!’. Despite reports of it happening being conspicuously absent in any of the first-hand accounts of the air campaign no doubt there will forever be those who claim it’s the kind of British engineering genius that won the war. Which is ironic as it reduces the actual achievement of taking a task group with integrated air defence to the other end of the world to ‘one neat trick you won’t believe they used’. So, expect a National Interest article on it any day now.

Our interview with Sea Harrier pilot ‘Sharkey’ Ward here

[1] Dildy, Doug, and Pablo Calcaterra. Sea Harrier FRS1 vs Mirage III/Dagger: South Atlantic 1982, 2017
[2] Rivas, Santiago. SKYHAWKS OVER THE SOUTH ATLANTIC: The Argentine Skyhawks in the Malvinas/Falklands War 1982. S.l.: HELION & CO LTD, 2020.
[3] Morgan, David H. S. Hostile Skies: The Falklands Conflict Through the Eyes of a Sea Harrier Pilot. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006.

Screenshot 2020-07-25 at 12.15.15.pngBing Chandler is a former Lynx Observer and current Wildcat Air Safety Officer. If you want a Sea Vixen t-shirt he can fix you up.

HUSK-KIT_PACKSHOT_whitebackground-1.jpg

This book can only happen with your support. Preorder your copy today here. 

 

raf-sea-harrier_28521