What the public say about the big aviation issue

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We gave the people what what they wanted. What did they want? A calendar with pictures of aeroplanes with gently sexualised images of the aircraft’s designers. But what did the public think of our calendars? We asked our beloved readers to find out…  

“I missed out on the 2017 calendar and I had an awful year. I will not make the same mistake again.”

— Chris Disraeli, Berlin

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— Harold Herman, Uxbridge

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— Gemma Winkler, Catolonia

“How do I get it? By emailing hushkiteditorial@gmail.com? Why isn’t there an online shop? I haven’t time to copy and paste an email address. Alright then, I’ve changed my mind. When will you get a proper online shop?”

— Dr Thomas Mann, Cockermouth

“Is there a Lightning on this? The English Electric one. There is? I’m in.”

— Dawn Fecundity, Egremont

“Oh! A really good Blackburn Skua cutaway…amazing!”

— Bertha Cowling, Madrid

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Cancelled! Ten great fighter aircraft that never entered service

 

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The Grumman F11F-1F Super Tiger out performed the Saab Draken, Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, Dassault Mirage III and Fiat G.91 in a tender to equip the Swiss Air Force. The Mirage III was finally chosen as a safer alternative. As Dassault can testify from more recent experiences, winning a Swiss fighter evaluation is no guarantee of anything. The Super Tiger never entered production.

Many of the finest fighter aircraft ever made were consigned to the scrapheap of history. Sometimes they were defeated in evaluations by superior opponents.  Sometimes bribery, intrigue or plain bad luck killed these unlucky warriors. Here is a mouth-watering selection of ten fighters which didn’t make it to squadron service.

10.  McDonnell Douglas/Northrop YF-23 Black Widow II (1990) 

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The 1980s Advanced Tactical Fighter programme sought to replace the F-15 with a fighter that combined the new technology of radar stealth with advanced avionics and engine technology. The fighter was needed to counter a generation of Russian fighters that threatened the US’ traditional technical superiority. The stakes to win this contest were extremely high, with the winner expecting a $65 billion contract. No expense was to be spared in producing a stealthy fighter to dominate the skies. All the major US aerospace companies submitted designs, but only two teams were downselected to produce prototype designs for a competitive fly-off. One was a Lockheed/Boeing/General Dynamic team and the other was Northrop/McDonnell DouglasThe YF-23’s pedigree was impeccable, Northrop had built the most advanced stealth aircraft in the world, the B-2, and McDonnell Douglas was the most experienced fighter house in the world having developed the supremely capable F-15 and the cutting-edge F/A-18. The YF-23 was a sleek masterpiece, quite unlike anything else flying before or since. It was probably both stealthier and faster than the F-22, which is astonishing considering that the F-22 can maintain a speed of Mach 1.82 without resorting to reheat (afterburners). Lacking the large conventional tail surfaces and thrust-vectoring (a risky technology) of the F-22 it was likely that the YF-23 was less agile, and it may also have been harder to maintain. The Black Widow was also larger than the F-22 which was likely to have translated into it being more costly to procure and operate. The YF-23 lost the evaluation, and today the F-22 Raptor is in service with USAF. What is certain is the YF-23 was the most formidable fighter never to have entered service. YF-23_top_view.jpg

9. Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow (1958)

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The phrase ‘Canadian superfighter’ sounds odd, but that’s what the CF-105 was. Fast, long-ranged and fitted with advanced avionics, it would have proved devastatingly proficient at destroying incoming Soviet bombers. It was extremely innovative, and was the first ‘fly-by-wire’ fighter, flying with electric signal control as far back as 1958! The world would not catch up with this technology until the teen fighters of the mid 1970s. The initial aircraft was Mach 2 capable but plans were afoot for a Mach 3 variant. The Arrow was to be fitted with weapon systems that exceeded the contemporary state of the art: it was intended to be armed with internally carried Sparrow II missiles, an ‘active’ beyond visual range weapon (essentially they wanted an AMRAAM thirty years early). The Arrow was to operate as part of a vast fully automated, integrated air defence system intended to protect Canada from its communist neighbour.

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The ‘Super Arrow’ was proposed by Bourdeau Industries in 2012.  The extremely optimistic projected $11.73 billion cost to develop and produce a new heavy stealth fighter raised more than a few eyebrows. In light of recent US-Canada relations perhaps it would have had some merit!

The whole project was axed in 1959. It is still mourned by Canadians today, and it is probably this proud nostalgia that led to the bizarre recent proposal for a production line to be opened in the near future to create modern stealthy CF-105s. Though conspiracy theories abound of US interference leading to its cancellation, it’s likely that it was actually the budget book that killed a hugely ambitious, and wildly expensive project.

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8. Martin-Baker MB5 (1944)

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The MB5 The full potential of the Griffon 83 engine was harnessed by a six bladed contra-rotated propeller.

The best British piston-engined fighter ever flown. Well armed, very fast and easy to maintain. Flight trials proved it be truly exceptional, with a top speed of 460mph, brisk acceleration and docile handling. Its cockpit layout set a gold standard that Boscombe Down experts recommended should be followed by all piston-engined fighters. A multitude of access panels made it far easier to maintain than its contemporaries, and its tough structure (a more advanced version of the load-bearing tubular box type favoured by Hawker) would have given it greater survivability. The only thing the MB5 lacked was good timing, it first flew two weeks before the Allied Invasion of Normandy. Born at the birth of the jet age, with readily available Spitfires and Tempests this masterpiece of British engineering didn’t stand a chance.

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7. Commonwealth CA-15 ‘Kangaroo’ (1946)

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A strong contender for the title of the ultimate piston-engined fighter is the Australian Commonwealth CA-15 ‘Kangaroo’. The RAAF wanted a fighter superior to the highly respected P-51 Mustang, so accordingly issued an exceptionally demanding requirement. The specification called for a machine with a high rate of climb, excellent manoeuvrability including a high roll rate, and a generous range. The resultant Kangaroo delivered on all promises, and boasted a top speed of 458mph, and a range on internal fuel of 1,150 miles! The addition of drop tanks allowed for 2,540 mile flights. These remarkable figures were attained with the Griffon 61, even more impressive figures would have been achieved if the desired Double Wasp or three-speed Griffon had been fitted. Like the MB5 it was just too late to the party.

6. Dassault Mirage 4000 (1979)

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France’s Mirage 2000 has been described by many fighter pilots as the perfect flying machine. Its ferociously high performance and almost telekinetic responsiveness have left pilots of many nationalities giddy with love and respect for the ‘Electric Cake Slice’. So imagine a ‘2000 with twice the power and you have a pretty spectacular aeroplane; the 4000, which first flew in 1979 was a just such an aircraft, in the same heavyweight class as the F-15 and Su-27. The Mirage 4000 was one of the first aircraft to incorporate carbon fibre composites (to keep weight down)- and was probably the very first to feature a fin made of this advanced material. Thanks to its light structure and powerful engines it had a thrust-to-weight ratio that exceeded 1: 1 in an air-to-air load-out. On its sixth test flight it reached 50,000 feet at Mach 2 in 3 minutes 50 seconds. The 4000 would have been agile, long-ranged and able to haul an impressive arsenal. Its capacious nose could have held an advanced long-range radar. The French air force didn’t want it, Iran — another potential customer- had a revolution, and Saudi Arabia, also on the look-out for a heavy fighter, opted instead for the F-15. Despite its obvious potential, the Mirage 4000 failed to find a customer, which was an enormous kick in the nuts for Dassault, as the company had privately funded the type’s development.

5. IAI Lavi (1986)

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In the mid-1970s Israel began work on an indigenous fighter-bomber to replace its A-4s and Mirage derivatives. Development of the very advanced design was aided by US technological assistance. The highly agile canard delta first flew in 1986 and showed great potential. Similar to the F-16 but with greater manoeuvrability at higher speed (though it had a lower maximum speed of Mach 1.6) and altitudes it was also to be fitted with Israel’s widely respected guided munitions and electronic warfare equipment. But the Lavi project was too expensive for such a small country and it was cancelled in favour of a F-16C order. The degree to which the design influenced China’s J-10 is much disputed but it is generally agreed that Chengdu learned much from Israeli industrial visits. Had the Lavi gone into production it would likely have been a potent multirole aircraft, somewhat like a larger Gripen.

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4. Northrop F-20 Tigershark

The F-20 was the ultimate US F-5 derivative. However unlike the twin-engined Tiger II and Freedom Fighter, the F-20 was powered by a single engine. It was intended to serve the needs of US client nations not cleared for fighters as advanced as the F-16. The F-20 had similar performance to the F-16 but would have been easier to maintain and cheaper to operate. Flight trials went extremely well and Chuck Yeager became an enthusiastic advocate of the type. When restrictions on F-16 exports relaxed, the F-20 lost its raison d’etre. An attempt to provide F-20s for the US aggressor fleet proved unsuccessful perhaps as General Dynamics and some in the F-16 community feared the F-20 reaching production status. In the end this privately funded fighter fell by the wayside, but did serve to distract attention away from Northrop’s secretive work on the nascent B-2 stealth bomber.

The F404 engine that had powered the F-20 did find gainful employment in the light fighter world, going on to power the Saab Gripen, KAI FA-50 and Tejas Mk 1.

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3. Lockheed YF-12 (1963)

Until the late 1950s each generation of fighter interceptors was faster than the last. It stood to reason that the Mach 2.3 capable F-106 would be replaced by something even faster, and work on the the F-108 Rapier began accordingly. Somewhat unsurprisingly, a fleet of Mach 3 fighters that each weighed twice the weight of a loaded Lancaster bomber proved too expensive to develop. It seemed a shame to waste the expensive radar, missiles and fire control system developed for the F-108 so they were fitted to the only available airframe of comparable performance, the extremely secret Lockheed A-12 reconnaissance aircraft. The cost of the war in Vietnam and a less defensive military posture saw the funding for the 93 aircraft USAF wanted scrapped. Elements of this weapon system eventually found their way onto the F-14 Tomcat.

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2. Focke-Wulf Fw 187 (1937)

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The American P-38 Lightning was a single-seat twin-engined fighter and it proved a great success, but the idea was novel for its time. By keeping the frontal cross section to the absolute minimum, this class of aircraft could be as fast as a single-engined fighter but with far greater range, and if required, firepower. The Germany company Focke-Wulf  also tried this idea, and the result was the superb Fw 187. The Fw 187 was an extremely clean design aerodynamically, everything being done to keep the frontal cross section to the absolute minimum; the cockpit was tiny (even by German standards), the dashboard of which was so small that some of the instruments had to be mounted externally on the engine nacelles. The result of this strict adherence to aerodynamic slickness was an extremely fast manoeuvrable fighter with an impressive range. With the original Jumo  210Da engines, a compromise unwanted by the designer, the prototype clocked 326 mph, which was 50mph faster than the much hyped Messerschmitt 210. When the desired DB 600As were added in 1939, the Fw 187 hit a level flight speed of 394mph, an astonishing figure for the time. Armed with two cannon and four machine-guns, the type would have proved a huge thorn in the side for the RAF’s Fighter Command if employed as an escort fighter in the Battle of Britain. Despite a small operational evaluation, the type never entered series production. The Me 210 lobby had greater political clout than the exponents of the Fw 187, and Focke-Wulf was devoting its resources to the development of the Fw 190.

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1. Vought XF8U-3 Crusader III (Reader’s choice, suggested by Rowland White)

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As ‘phabulous’ as the Phantom was, in the F-4, the US Navy may have picked the wrong aircraft. Had they gone for the Crusader III instead, the Vought machine would have made mincemeat of the MiGs over Vietnam.

The XF8U-3 first flew on 2 June 1958. The prototype reached Mach 2.39, and demonstrated a zoom ceiling well over 76,000 ft (23,170 m). Fly-offs against the F4H (the early Phantom), demonstrated that the Crusader III had vastly superior manoeuvrability. John Konrad, Vought’s chief test pilot, noted that it “fly circles around the Phantom II”. Its combat thrust-to-weight ratio (T/W ratio) was approached unity (0.97), an almost unprecedented figure for the 1950s (the F4H reached around 0.86). The F8U-3 program was cancelled after five aircraft built, but not all was wasted: NASA appreciated the type’s remarkable high altitude performance and took three of the test aircraft for research purposes. These NASA Crusaders routinely intercepted and defeated U.S. Navy Phantom IIs in unrequested mock ‘bounce’ dogfights. The Navy did not enjoy this bullying and ordered NASA to stop it.

Though the XF8U-3 was a better dogfighter, the Phantom had a crew of two, which was a huge advantage considering how hard it was to operate contemporary radars and missiles, and could carry a weapon-load twice as big. The F-4 also had the advantage of two engines, a prime consideration for an operator at sea. Still, there is little doubt that the Crusader III would have been a formidable air superiority fighter or interceptor. With the advent of 1970s technology, allowing effective single crew operations, it could have matured into an exceptionally potent fighter. 

Have a look at How to kill a RaptorAn Idiot’s Guide to Chinese Flankers, the 10 worst British military aircraftThe 10 worst French aircraft,  Su-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? 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. 

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Red Star: The incredible story of the American fighter jet that fell into Soviet hands

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Much has been written about USAF’s secret fleet of Soviet fighters, but far less known is the counter story of the American fighter that ended up deep in Russia during the Cold War. 

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At the end of the war in Vietnam, the USSR received several samples of US aviation equipment captured by the victorious Vietnamese communists, among them was a F-5E light fighter-bomber (of a total of 27 that the North Vietnamese found). The F-5E, serial number 73-00807, was delivered to the Soviet Union. It was an extremely valuable intelligence coup that could tell the Communist super state much about American design and this mass produced aircraft’s capabilities, and how to counter it.

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This exceptionally interesting trophy was sent to the VVS airbase in Chkalovsky before being transferred to the Akhtubinsk base. A test team comprised of engineering staff from an aeronautical research institute was formed to investigate, develop and test the American machine. The engineers and technicians were impressed by the design, and especially admired the F-5Es ease of maintenance and flying operation. The wing design also impressed the Russians for it conferred the F-5E with an impressive ability to fly at minimum speeds and high angles of attack.

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From the end of July 1976 to May 1977, a full-scale flight test of the Tiger II took place at the air force research institute. Flying was carried out by two exceptionally experienced pilots, A.S.Byezhyevets and V.N. Kondaurov, both decorated Heroes of the Soviet Union.

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The results were shocking. In terms of manoeuvrability the F-5E was considerably superior to the Soviet MiG-21 fighter, a highly capable dogfighter itself. Further tests show a similar advantage over the most advanced Russian fighter, the MiG-23. However, the American plane was at a significant disadvantage in vertical manoeuvrability and energy compared to the MiG-23. Critically, it also lacked beyond visual-range medium-range missiles, something the MiG-23 did have.

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The Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (TsAGI) in Moscow performed static tests on the aircraft and the results were comprehensively recorded. Intriguingly, some of the design features of the F-5E made it onto the Soviet T-8 and T-10 projects (the latter becoming the famous ‘Flanker’).

In the 1990s the nose section of the aircraft was moved to a display area known as ‘Hangar 1’, which today is virtually impossible for outsiders to visit.

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We can only bring you articles like this with your support. Our site is absolutely free and we have no advertisements (any you do see, are from WordPress). If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. 

Have a look at How to kill a RaptorAn Idiot’s Guide to Chinese Flankers, the 10 worst British military aircraftThe 10 worst French aircraft,  Su-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II 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 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. 

A fighter pilot’s account of the F-86 Sabre – Part 1: Learning to dogfight

 

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The Sabre was the best fighter of its generation. Potently armed, agile and a delight to fly, it proved formidable in the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965. It was with the Pakistan Air force that Wg. Cdr. Irfan Masum (Rtd) flew the ‘Jet Spitfire’. Here he shares his dramatic experiences of flying the F-86F Sabre.

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“My first impression of the aircraft was that it was sleek to the extent of being sexy. It had already built its reputation in combat in the 1965 Indo-Pak war where it fared extremely well against the adversary. So I was thrilled that I was going to fly it. The pilot who forged this reputation was its wartime reputation was Flt Lt M. M. Alam who shot down five Indian Air Force Hawker Hunters in one sortie… in under two minutes of combat. It is fair to say that Alam, the pilot, and Sabre, the fighter – put the Pakistan Air Force on the map as one of the leading Air Forces of the world. The Sabre’s reputation filled me with awe and made me eager to get into its cockpit and feel the thrill of it personally.” (read about Irfan’s MiG-19 adventures here).

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How did it differ from the other aircraft you flew?

The F-86F was different to other fighters I flew in many ways. Firstly, it manoeuvred beautifully and was aerodynamically very friendly, making it an ideal aircraft to learn the facets of fighter flying. Secondly, it was a forgiving aircraft to the extent that it would say ‘sorry’ to the pilot for mishandling it…. or almost. Meaning that the trainee pilot could mishandle it and get away with it. The Sabre, almost always, refused to enter a spin. And if you forced it into one and then left the controls, it would recover itself. Thirdly, it was the only aircraft I’d flown that had automatic ‘speed controlled’ slats. 

Its computing gunsight made it lethally accurate in air battles. It was ideal in close combat, and six guns blazing at a very good rate of fire gave it an edge on all contemporary fighters of the era.

‘Dissimilar’ air combat training was a norm and the F-86 was often pitted against the MiG-19 and Mirage. Sabre tactics against the MiG were simple: strictly confine itself to a turning battle. Stay long enough in combat – without ceding advantage- for the MiG to run scarce on fuel and then make it difficult for him to disengage. Take a gun shot on a disengaging MiG, and a missile shot before the MiG accelerated out of reach.

My instructor was Flt Lt Farooq Zaman. He was as fearless an instructor as he was a fighter pilot, never missing the opportunity to take me to my limits often forcing me to fly at the very edges of the flight envelope.

His compared  ‘air combat’ to a literal ‘dogfight’: according to him, the aim of dogs fighting each other is to turn around faster and bite the other dog first. He demanded that I manipulate the flight controls (ailerons, rudders and elevators – in conjunction with the throttles) however necessary, to turn around and bite him. The essence of his theory stayed with me all my flying years.

Another tip that he gave me – demonstrated practically in the air many a times – would also form the backbone of my combat tactics. His mantra was ‘achieve height advantage on the adversary’ right in the beginning of the combat. How? He would explain – after the initial merge (which is usually head-on) show that you are getting into a tight climbing turn towards the foe, forcing him to also get into a tight climbing turn towards you. Then roll wings level and pull up for a loop with no bank on. Once inverted on top of the loop, execute a roll of the top and stay up there looking for the adversary – who will be sighted below the horizon considerably lower than you. The aerodynamics of this manoeuvre were simple – pulling up with wings level allows one to gain more height than the one who is pulling up towards you with a 60-70 degree bank on. Once you achieve the initial height advantage, make it work for you. Exchange height advantage for speed, when needed, but convert the extra speed back to height advantage so as to maintain an upper hand. Never lose the height advantage throughout the 1V1 combat.”

Part two coming soon

paki.jpgHave a look at How to kill a RaptorAn Idiot’s Guide to Chinese Flankers, the 10 worst British military aircraftThe 10 worst French aircraft,  Su-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II 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 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. 

Top Ten Asymmetric Aircraft

ass.pngDespite in many cases possessing design advantages, very few profoundly asymmetric aircraft have been constructed. There is no obvious reason for this but it may just be that they are not trusted. For example, the proposed initial design of the Boeing 727 trijet featured a layout that Boeing calculated would be the most efficient with two engines under one wing and one under the other but was rejected by airlines as it was believed passengers wouldn’t like it.

Exceptions prove the rule though, so here’s a rundown of ten flying machines that not only existed but actually flew and for one reason or another managed to slip the surly bonds of symmetry.

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10. Canopy capers: Lockheed RP-38

Provided an aircraft is of sufficient size it can sometimes makes sense to move the pilot to one side or the other to allow other crew to get past or to improve the view from the pilot’s seat. The Sea Vixen and some variants of the Canberra offset the canopy, allowing the pilot a lovely view whilst simultaneously confining other crewmembers in the depths of the fuselage with merely a tiny window to peer out of. In the case of the Sea Vixen this was allegedly done to cut out extraneous daylight and render the cabin dim enough for the feeble brightness of the radar scope to be visible, whilst the Canberra’s asymmetrical hood derives from the navigator’s position being moved but the pilot’s remaining the same: “He’ll be fine there. Just cover him with a smaller canopy” said Teddy Petter (probably). Some ten years earlier the Yermolaev Yer-2 (which remains obscure despite enjoying a long service life and intensive wartime action) shifted the pilot to the left under an offset canopy to improve downward view over the nose, meanwhile most variants of the rather better-known Heinkel He 111 employed a wonky nose to allow the pilot to see past the front gun cupola. The most extreme example of canopy relocation however remains the RP-38: in order to test whether a pilot’s position some distance from the centre line of the aircraft would prove problematic, the first production P-38 Lightning was modified by removing the turbosupercharger and replacing it with a cockpit in the left hand tailboom. The results were successful and this research paved the way for the P-82 Twin-Mustang with crew members in each of its twin fuselages, as well as producing the most distinctive Lightning variant to fly.

Left to right: the Sea Vixen, Canberra, Yer-2 and He 111 show off their respective glazing irregularities

9. Offset testbeds: Tu-4/Tu-91

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«Быстро, спрячься! Вот идет Хрущев»

A common reason for many normally-symmetrical aircraft to become asymmetrical is to take a new and untried engine into the air and the results in some cases are striking. Honeywell for example use a Boeing 757 for this purpose but have decided to stick the test engine on a pylon bolted just behind the cockpit, resulting in an aircraft that looks like an example of bad Photoshop bizarrely come to life to menace ‘normal’ airliners. Meanwhile NASA’s propfan test Gulfstream II remains one of the wackiest example in this crowded field. Not content with using an aircraft that would appear to the casual observer to be too small for such activity, NASA decided to mount the 6000hp Allison propfan on the port wing only and counterbalance it with a large weight on the tip of the starboard wingtip. But it was the Soviets who really went to town on this theme. When testing the Tu-91, apparently unaware of the existence of wind tunnels, Tupolev mounted the entire engine and fuselage assembly onto the starboard wing of a Tupolev Tu-4 to test its aerodynamics, resulting in a horrific Frankenstein’s monster of an aircraft. Ultimately the aerodynamics proved fine but the Tu-91 was apparently cancelled on the whim of Khruschev who thought it looked ridiculous. Evidently he never saw this testbed.

Left: Honeywell’s 757 does its best Steve Martin impression Right: NASA’s test Gulfstream shows off its single propfan and natty wingtip counterweight

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8: Mario Castoldi’s OCD nightmare: Macchi MC.200 series

Most single engine high performance aircraft of the 1940s attempted to counteract torque by offsetting the vertical tail surfaces but there were exceptions, for example the French Bloch 152 employed the cunning but hideous expedient of cranking the entire engine and propellor slightly to the left resulting in a broken-nosed look. Meanwhile in Italy, Macchi’s outstanding designer Mario Castoldi schemed a more elegant solution designed to irritate OCD sufferers for years to come by making one wing of his series of wartime fighters slightly but noticeably longer than the other. This meant rather than simply counteracting the torque, the enlarged left wing put the asymmetric force created by the airscrew to useful work by generating lift. Evidently it was a fine solution as the Macchi fighters were prized for their beautifully harmonised controls and delightful handling characteristics.

7. Lop-sided choppers: Lockheed XH-51A

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Most helicopters are fairly asymmetric, requiring a tail rotor to keep them from spinning out of control, but Lockheed took it to another level. The XH-51 was a fast helicopter but Lockheed wanted to go faster still and what better way to achieve this than by slamming a turbojet on the side to provide a shedload of extra thrust? The resulting XH-51A also added stub wings, turning it into compound helicopter. It was weird looking but very fast, clocking 257 mph in level flight.

Gyrodyne: cute but doomed

Curiously, around ten years earlier the only other asymmetrical compound helicopter to be built had gained the absolute speed record for rotorcraft when the Fairey FB.1 Gyrodyne attained 124 mph. It too had stub wings and mounted a small tractor propellor on the right hand wingtip. The Gyrodyne was on order for the Army when it achieved the record but sadly it was destroyed in a crash soon afterwards. Desperately requiring helicopters for operations in Malaya but now faced with an unacceptable delay to series production the Army ordered the Westland Dragonfly instead (a licence built Sikorsky S.51) thus depriving British forces of the chance to operate their most asymmetrical helicopter.

6. Mars Attacks: Scaled Composites ARES

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“Just pull a cool fighter pilot face…ahh, whatever, that’s fine.”

The A-10 is a very mildly asymmetric aircraft, placing the (massive) gun slightly to one side to allow room for the nose wheel to retract into. It was also a big gun that resulted in the more pronounced asymmetry of the Scaled Composite ARES (Agile Responsive Effective Support), a close air support aircraft designed as a result of a study into a Low Cost Battlefield Attack Aircraft (LCBAA) – essentially a smaller cheaper A-10. A major problem with aircraft mounted guns arises if the engine ingests waste gases produced when the weapon is fired. To avoid this Burt Rutan sensibly mounted the gun on the right side of the aircraft and the engine intake is on the left. To avoid problems from asymmetric recoil of the gun the exhaust gases produced by firing it are channelled left by a duct to cancel this out. To compound the asymmetry of the aircraft, the engine is not mounted parallel to the direction of flight but canted eight degrees to the left, the jet pipe is curved to direct the thrust directly to the rear. The curved jet pipe also serves to reduce the IR signature of the aircraft. As seems to be the norm with ‘low cost’ combat aircraft with a massive potential international market, ARES proved thoroughly excellent in tests and then no one bought it. However all was not lost as ARES starred as the secret Me 263 in the screen (ahem) ‘classic’ of 1992 ‘Iron Eagle III’ and remains airworthy (and available for hire) with Scaled Composites at Mojave as a research aircraft.

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5. Skew-whiff pioneer: Wright Flyers

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The Wright Brothers were motivated by a desire to appear on page 3 of every history of aviation book after Icarus and the Montgolfier Brothers.

Aerial asymmetry is not a new development. The first powered aeroplane to fly was asymmetrical, mounting the engine on one side of the centre line and placing the pilot on the other to balance it, an arrangement that did not catch on. Despite the non-intuitive engine placement the Wright’s persisted with it as their aircraft evolved and entered production. Nearly a decade later, the Wright Model B, which had seats for two, placed the engine on one side and the occupants on the other, as may be seen in the accompanying photograph (below).

Cole, Fowler and Grundy’s difficult second album proved too much for contemporary critics

4. The Kaiser’s Withered Arm: Gotha Go.VI


Quite why the Germans were so very much more ready to embrace the notion of lateral asymmetry in aircraft remains a mystery but the fact remains they were at it way before anyone else was really going there (Wright Brothers aside). The Gotha Go.VI was an experimental bomber that threw conventional caution to the wind by mounting an abbreviated engine pod with a pusher propeller and a gunner in the nose on one side and a normal fuselage complete with tail surfaces and fitted with a tractor propellor on the other. It was the first known aircraft designed with an asymmetric arrangement of wings and fuselage(s) and was certainly the first to fly when testing commenced in the summer of 1918. As with many of these aircraft, the reasoning behind its weird shape was logical and aerodynamically prudent. The designer, Hans Burkhard, reasoned that a more efficient twin engine aircraft could be made of the conventional Gotha Go.V by reducing the number of drag producing bodies it possessed, such as fuselage and engine nacelles. Apparently the scheme worked and the only problem encountered by the bizarre looking biplane was some tail buffeting. This issue was to be cured by an asymmetric tail unit but unfortunately time was not on Gotha’s side. The first prototype was damaged beyond repair when it nosed over (the only known photograph of the aircraft depicts it in this undignified position) and work on the second prototype was unfinished when the armistice brought all German military aircraft development to a sudden halt.

3. Slew but Sure: NASA AD-1

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During flight testing, NASA engineers stumbled across the remains of a Stone Age fort in the Badlands

To be fair the AD-1 was only asymmetric some of the time but when it was, it really went for it. A simple aircraft, built on the cheap, the AD-1 was constructed largely from fibreglass and had a fixed undercarriage that appeared to have been stolen from one of those fancy wheelbarrows rich people have in their gardens. The oblique or slew-wing concept was first proposed by Richard Vogt (of whom more later) in 1942 and was revived by Robert T Jones at NASA, a pioneer of delta wing technology. Jones proposed that a large oblique-wing aircraft, flying at speeds up to Mach 1.4, would have considerably better aerodynamic performance than a conventional aircraft. At high subsonic speeds and beyond, the wing would be pivoted at up to 60 degrees to the aircraft’s fuselage, studies demonstrated these angles would decrease drag and permit increased speeds and longer ranges for a given fuel load. The AD-1 was built to test the concept and first flew in 1979. A leisurely test programme tested ever greater angles until the maximum 60 degrees of oblique wing sweep was achieved in mid-1981. The concept proved successful but the AD-1 exhibited unpleasant characteristics at wing sweep angles above 45 degrees due to its cheapo fibreglass construction limiting the stiffness of the wing. A more sophisticated (i.e. more expensive) research aircraft would have to be built to test the oblique wing in the transonic realm but, like virtually all promising but radical aviation concepts, further development was not forthcoming. The AD-1 is exhibited today at the Hiller Aviation museum and remains the only manned oblique wing aircraft to have flown.

2. Schielendes Fliegendes Auge/Suck my left one: Blohm & Voss Bv 141

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Blohm to lose

The go-to aircraft when it comes to ridiculing Second World War German aircraft design, the Bv 141 was actually an extremely efficient design crippled not by its unique layout but by its engine. The seemingly crazed arrangement of fuselage and cabin was the result of an extremely logical design approach to the requirements of the specification and the Bv 141 was of sufficient interest that some 25 examples were built as well as three prototypes. The designer, Dr Richard Vogt was, for reasons that remain unclear, extremely fond of asymmetric designs and he produced design studies for many different non-symmetrical aircraft until the end of the war but sadly only the Bv 141 was destined to be built. As a tactical reconnaissance and observation aircraft the Bv 141 was intended to offer the best possible view for its crew, especially downwards, that could be achieved with a single engine aircraft. Early examples were powered by the BMW 132 and it was noted that the aircraft, whilst exceeding all requirements of the specification was slightly underpowered. The decision was made to replace the engine with the more powerful BMW 801 and precious time was lost altering the design to accept the new engine. Unfortunately for Blohm & Voss the BMW 801 was also the engine of the highly successful Focke Wulf 190, which by this time was churning off the production lines by the thousand and had priority for engines. Furthermore, another Focke Wulf product, the Fw 189 (another quite unconventional aircraft for its era) was in production and proving more than satisfactory in the tactical reconnaissance role. Thus the Bv 141 was destined to become little more than a particularly striking footnote in aviation history, which is a pity for if (as seemed likely) it had proved a success in operational service, perhaps it would have inspired a few more asymmetric designs to liven up the skies.

1. Smoker’s delight: Rutan Model 202 Boomerang

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From some angles the Boomerang looks like a relatively conventional aircraft. Not this one though.

First flown in 1996, the Boomerang is an aircraft so asymmetrical that the left and right engines even have a different power output, the Rutan Boomerang was intended to be the most efficient possible twin engine aircraft of its size and class, as well as minimising dangerous control difficulties in the event of single engine failure. In this it succeeded admirably but it never entered production and only a sole example was built. Burt Rutan, who also designed the ARES is well aware of the weirdness of his creation: “Probably one of the most difficult tasks faced in the development of this aircraft was explaining why I would design a configuration that is asymmetric.  In fact, an early comment as the aircraft arrived at the Experimental Aircraft Association International Air Show at Oshkosh, Wisconsin this year, was from a fellow who ran up and remarked, ‘What in the hell were you smokin’ when you laid that one out?’ however its apparently arbitrary layout is based on sound principles. For example, aerodynamic drag is reduced when compared to a conventional aircraft by placing one engine in the fuselage and then mounting another on the wing, in exactly the same way as the Gotha Go VI. The rear of the engine nacelle is extended backwards to form a tailboom that adds stiffness to the tail surfaces and conveniently also provides extra baggage stowage. The engines are moved forward relative to the fuselage to minimise noise in the cabin and the wings are swept forward to compensate for this. The different lengths of left and right wing generate appropriate lift for the different size and weight of the left and right sides of the aircraft. The right hand engine’s placement in front of the left hand engine helps to minimise asymmetric control issues in the event of either engine failing, it also produces 10 horsepower more than the left hand unit. If one compares Rutan’s Boomerang to the Beechcraft Baron, a conventional twin engine aircraft, in production today with the same engines, one finds that the Boomerang is around 400 kg lighter, has a 92% greater range, a 47 mph faster cruise, uses 13% less fuel, has an 8 mph lower stall speed, 84% less wing area and a better rate of climb. Possibly most important of all is that, unlike the Baron, the single engine Minimum Control Speed (MCS) is lower than the stall speed, so the aircraft remains conventionally controllable in the event of engine failure. Rutan said that the Boomerang is the one general aviation aircraft he designed that he’d like to enter production. So why didn’t this happen? The tediously inevitable answer is money. Without the necessary funds to go through the costly certification process, let alone tooling up for production, the Boomerang never stood a chance of being anything other than a glorious oddity – yet nearly sixty year old designs like the Baron are still being produced despite design shortcomings that could now be eradicated.
Happily the solitary Boomerang, after languishing for several years, was restored to flying condition in 2011 and its unique form still graces the skies.

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Have a look at How to kill a RaptorAn Idiot’s Guide to Chinese Flankers, the 10 worst British military aircraftThe 10 worst French aircraft,  Su-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Was the? Want something more bizarre? 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. 

Su-35 versus F-22 Raptor: Analysis from RUSI’s Justin Bronk

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The most potent operational fighter aircraft in Russian service is the Sukhoi Su-35. We asked Justin Bronk, Research Fellow from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), how it would fare in combat against the formidable F-22 Raptor operated by the United States Air force. 

Are there tactics which would enable a Su-35 force to take on a F-22 formation?

Simply put – no. Whilst the Su-35 does have the hypothetical capability to detect the F-22 at close ranges using its IRST and potentially the Irbis-E radar, both sensors would have to be cued to focus on exactly the right part of sky to have a chance of generating a target track. By contrast, the F-22 will know exactly where the Su-35 is at extremely long range and can position for complete control of the engagement from the outset with superior kinematics. The Su-35’s only chance would be to absorb the AMRAAM and AIM-9 shots from the F-22’s and hope that they had sufficient numbers left to attack the tankers and airbases which the F-22’s rely on post-engagement.

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How do the F-22 and Su-35 compare in terms of close-in agility/energy preservation/types of fighters (angles V energy)

The Su-35 can probably out-turn an F-22 in a horizontal fight at medium and low altitudes, but the need to carry missiles and tanks externally to be effective, as well as the brute size of the Sukhoi will ensure it remains at a distinct energy disadvantage to the Raptor in terms of energy retention and acceleration at all speeds. The F-22 also will not get into an angles fight with an Sukhoi – there is simply no need for it to do so.

How do they compare in terms of BVR engagements?

BVR engagements are all about situational awareness, positioning/energy advantage, and persistence in terms of fuel and missiles. In all but the latter category the Su-35 is hopelessly outclassed by the F-22 (as are all other operational fighter aircraft). Even in terms of missiles, the Su-35 can carry up to twelve to the F-22’s eight but combat practice, especially against stealthy targets, involves firing salvos of six missiles with mixed seekers so the Su-35 only really has two credible shots. By contrast the F-22 can get much closer without being threatened so even against the Su-35S DRFM jammers, it can fire smaller salvos with much better Pk.

(taken from full article here)

Follow him on Twitter: @Justin_Br0nk

Follow my vapour trail on Twitter@Hush_kit

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. 

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

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My favourite aeroplane in 200 words #43: Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-105

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Sofia Kovalenok from the Monino AF Museum volunteer restoration team, and her responsibility the 105.11. She has been found and restored missing cockpit equipment, and applied the orginal markings to the spaceplane scheme with all the stencils (105.11 was repainted in silver while though originally it was white and black).

In 1965 the Soviet Union started a top secret project lead by the engineer Gleb Lozino-Lozinskiy. Known as ‘Spiral’, its aim was to build a spaceplane that could have been used for a variety of purposes including aerial reconnaissance, space rescue, satellite maintenance, and as a space interceptor to sabotage enemy satellites. Yes, I did say ‘space interceptor’, but let’s add another element of excitement: it was to be launched from the back of a Mach 6 mothership (to be built by Tupolev). Once thrown into the air by the mothership, its own detachable rocket would boost it into space. The  MiG-105 was built as a research aircraft in support of the Spiral, to demonstrate landings (made on skids) and low speed handling. It made its first subsonic free-flight in 1976, taking off under its own power from an old airstrip near Moscow. It made only eight flights before the project was cancelled in favour of the Buran, a knock-off of the US Shuttle. Though the MiG-105 never made it into space, its sister, the unmanned БОР (‘BOR’) did. Now exhibited at the Monino museum, The MiG-105 is (like me) a Muscovite — which is clearly another reason to love this little flying shoe.

— Ria Timkin, Musician (you can support her music here. She currently has no songs about spaceplanes)

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My favourite aeroplane in 200 words #42: Martin-Baker MB3

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Despite never entering service, the MB3 has been indirectly responsible for saving 7553 lives (and counting). Friends and partners, James Martin and Valentine Baker had been designing unconventional monoplanes since the early 1930s. From the start they believed that aircraft should be as simple as possible. The MB3 was their response to a wartime RAF requirement for a fast, heavily armed, fighter. Formidably furnished with six 20-mm cannon, it was also designed for ease of maintenance and manufacture (unlike the Spitfire). Tests flights, which started on 31st August 1942, proved it was both highly manoeuvrable and easy to fly. Its top speed of 415 mph was a touch faster than the contemporary Spitfire Mk VIII. The main load-bearing structures were constructed of heavy tubing (or built-up spars) so it would have been able to survive greater battle damage than an equivalent stressed skin aircraft. It was not to be however: on a test flight on 12th September 1942, the engine failed soon after take-off, and the MB3 crashed in a field and killed its pilot, Capt. V Baker. Though the team had been investigating the idea of escape seats since 1934, it was Baker’s death that motivated Martin to focus exclusively on ejection seats.

–– Lucy Bentham 

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Navy Growlers draw massive sky penis

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Those that argue that the US Navy is a phallocentric Freudian organisation were given succour today by photos circulating showing a massive sky penis reportedly drawn in the sky by pilots from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island—the home of the Navy’s fleet of EA-18G Growlers. 

Image from @anahi_torres_ story shared by The Drive