A Crook in Russia: Our man at Zhukovsky air show


Yak-40 with a unique head-up display that seems to be made from old washing-machine parts.

Dorian Crook is an air traffic controller, stand-up comedian and occasional Maule pilot. As far as we know, he is the only Hush-Kit contributor to have performed with Reeves & Mortimer. In an attempt to escape his ex-wife’s lawyer, leave his Aswad cover-band and ogle rare aeroplanes — he headed to Russia to see the MAKS airshow at Zhukovsky. 


Dorian Crook: svelte bouncer or Soho chauffeur?

For the first time since my teenage years, I joined an organised tour of aircraft enthusiasts. As I explained in my article, Confessions of a Plane Spotter, I no longer write down numbers, but I still had memories of a coachload of spotty herberts (note to American readers: a ‘herbert’ is a doofus) and their smelly sandwiches going from Southampton (US readers: think St. Louis) to the Biggin Hill Air Fair, and that bothered me. I need not have worried. We were going to Moscow. These were grown-ups. One was reading Private Eye. These were a  more sophisticated bunch, and our merry band included an Iranian-American Surgeon, and a Commonwealth Air Force B-25 pilot.


Lots and lots of vyertalots above a duck-nose.

I had treated myself to the luxury of the new Premier Inn at Heathrow Terminal 4 ,the night before, and I was disappointed to find there was no Hotel notepaper or envelopes so that I could boast to my friends of my exotic travels. I met up with the group and had coffee with a couple of them before reaching the departure gate, where I tried not to succumb to MLE, or Male Lens Envy. The others were already brandishing their Dynakron 800s at the apron, whilst I had borrowed a 70-200 zoom from a generous friend. I even considered lying about my focal length.

I warned them that I had been to art college, so most of my photos would be taken at a 45 degree angle, and would very probably come out in Black and White.

Incredible photos from Zhukovsky here

The main attraction of the trip, for me, was a visit to Monino, the Russian air museum which has been under threat of closing/moving for a while, but seems safe for the time being. But there were two days at MAKS, the bi-annual airshow, and it’s a while since I’ve been exposed to noisy afterburners.


Mastering stealth and super-cruise is easy, but getting a service designation is impossible. Two Su-47s (maybe).

The evening of arrival, our genial tour manager took us off-menu (i.e. into the real world, real people) of Moscow. Well, we went to a park:  a monument to the Cosmonauts and the VDNKh park where we found a the Buran space shuttle-lookalike and a Vostok spacecraft. We saw non-aviation people, arm-in-arm eating popcorn, and on the way home, I caught one of our number recording the Moscow metro train numbers.


Time to wake up the controllers….

Interestingly, one of the first sights to greet us at Zhukovsky next day was a modified Myasischev M3, used to transport fuel for the Shuttle programme, with something resembling a large outside toilet on its roof (see photo).

Aztec2 (1).JPG

You can keep your vectored thrust: what I want to see is a Piper Aztec doing a display.

We arrived early and after photographing the Myasischev M3, I lost the rest of the group. About an hour into the flying, a storm developed, and the crowds were forced to hide inside the exhibitor’s chalets. Normally, a bit aloof to Joe Public, and more interested in their corporate swagger, these aviation estate-agents were forced to give refuge to tired and bored children, and myself. After I’d denied the teenage inner voice to collect stickers, I parked myself on the floor of the ILA Airshow-Berlin stand, and ate my Warsaw-Pact Lunch. It seemed more welcoming than that of the Belarus Defence Industry with its array of missile launchers. There’s no such thing as a free launch.


Myasischev M3 with optional cargo pack for skiing holidays, and small nephew.

However, an hour in such places makes you realise how the once-lauded names of aviation are now just like Estee Lauder or Gillette, with their nonsense videos and sloganeering. Look at them: Leonardo (didn’t they used to be Westland?) : “Ingenuity at your service”.

What next?  Supermarine:“Because you’re worth it”?

Mikoyan -Gurevich  “Safety in Numbers”?

More amusing was SKAT Systems, which surprisingly is not German, providers of UAVs. Presumably to the voyeur community.

Returning to the coach, we had been exhorted not to try to breach any security fences, to get closer to the rusting hulks in the research area. It hadn’t occurred to me, but apparently every year the enthusiastic Dutch spotters get a bit carried away. By the police.

MiG 35.JPG

Upskirt shot of a MiG-35. Feeling weird about this metaphor already.

Worst outfit: A T-shirt with an airbrush-style portrait of a female aerobatic pilot, and the legend “Angel of Ukraine”. Given the relatively high mortality rate of aerobatic pilots, to call her an angel whilst still alive seemed insensitive.

Next episode: Aircraft Graveyard

Please support this site by donating using the button at the bottom of this page, it cannot survive without you. Many thanks. 

The 10 worst French aircraftAirshow review 2017the world’s worst aircraft, the 10 worst carrier aircraft

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. 

An Idiot’s Guide to Chinese Flankers



Dear Hush-Kit, 

I am generally a happy man, but there is one thing in life that leaves me confused and angry: I can’t get my head around all the different Chinese Flankers (I refuse to put that word in inverted commas). Please please could you explain the differences, without drowning me in details? 

Yours hopefully, 

Jeffrey Bainbridge, Luton 

OK Jeffrey, no problem. I will do my best. Where I fail, better informed readers will gently correct me in the comments section.

So, first of all we have the Shenyang J-11.

The J-11 was just a Russian Su-27SK provided as a kit and assembled in China (China also got a batch of Russian-built Su-27SKs). The J-11B is a Chinese-made version with indigenous engines, avionics and a lighter composite airframe. Importantly, the J-11B can deliver smart bombs.

So pretty good then? 

Yes, probably is. It also added a glass cockpit. It has some good weapons too, the PL-12 is analogous to the AMRAAM- and the US Navy, for one, is terrified of it. The Chinese WS-10 engines were initially shit though- and the aircraft had to be refitted with Russian AL-31Fs, but they’ve since sorted the ’10 and they’ve gone back to it.

Think crap Su-35.

Wait, so early Flankers didn’t have glass cockpits?

I know, pretty lame right? The Russians lagged behind the West with glass cockpits. The original Su-27 cockpit was jokes.

Is the J-11 a ‘pirate’ copy?

It’s complicated. The Russian did give them a licence to build some on the condition that they had Russian-built engines and avionics, but the J-11B broke that agreement and is a pirate (it’s 90% Chinese so doesn’t benefit Russia much). Initially Russian aircraft manufacturers were vocally pissed off, but now (realising they can’t do anything about it) they say it’s all fine, though they do have a vested interest in selling them more stuff. Intellectual property rights have only been around in China since 1979, and the attitude of both Communism and China to the protection of ideas/things is a different one to the West (to be fair Russia is also pretty laissez-faire on this matter). The Chinese aren’t allowed to export J-11s, an agreement they have honoured.

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Good radar? 

The Chinese thought the early Su-27SK and J-11 radar (the N001) was pretty rubbish. There was a big argument about upgrading (the Russians dragged there heels) and eventually it was upgraded to N001VE (for the J-11A) standard (kinda like an early F-15 radar). The J-11B got the Chinese Type 1474 set which is far better, and is now being tested with an AESA.

J-11B prototype 524 - 06 Chinese J-11B Flanker Fighter Jet Spotted With Grey Radome modifed radardome active radar scanned, AESA In Play (5)

My head is starting to hurt. What else is in the J-11B family? 

Before we get to that you must know that they also bought a combat capable two-seater called the Su-27UBK.


Two-seats and square-tipped fins identify this as a Su-30MK. Inserted in the wrong part of this article to confuse you. 

OK, that I can deal with. So now can we go back to the other J-11 variants?

No, because we need to know about the Russian-built, Russian-equipped Su-35.

So what’s that? 

A Russian-made top of the range ‘Super Flanker’. Chinese has bought 24, probably just so they can filch the technology.

Super eh? So that’s the best Flanker of all?

In some ways. But it has a PESA radar. AESA is what everyone wants, and the Chinese already have it on their J-11Ds (more on this later). So in terms of radar technology it’s not the best. In most other respects – notably its fly-by-wire system, integrated avionics and use of composite materials- it probably is.

Can you stop teasing me about the J-11 family now? 

OK. We have:

  • J-11BS – A twin-seat version of the J-11B.
  • J-11BH – Naval (but not carrier compatible) version of the J-11B.
  • J-11BSH – Naval version of the J-11BS.

Hey, are you just stealing this bit from Wikipedia? 

I’ve got a friend coming ’round soon and I’m getting bored of your questions.

Alright, tell me quickly what the other ones are…


China’s first carrier-borne J15 fighter jets were displayed for public to see Wednesday in Xi’an of northwest China’s Shaanxi Province (2).jpg

The J-15 has canard foreplanes and naval markings.

Carrier-based version based on the J-11B, that also has some bits nicked from the Su-33 design. Mercifully easy to identify as it has canard foreplanes and lives on carriers. 

Wait, why haven’t you mentioned the Su-30s yet? 


The most formidable fighter-bombers in PLA service are the Su-30MKKs.

Jeez, be patient, I was going to explain. The Su-30 is a two-seat fighter-bomber. It’s heavier than an old Flanker and more versatile. It can carry a whole bunch of horribly effective air-to-ground weapons. China has the Su-30MKK and Su-30MK2. They have the longest range radar of any Chinese Flankers- the Zhuk-MS. As you can expect the Chinese ripped off this design to produce a variant they called the J-16 (though some claim it is based on the J-11BS)

Did you mention a J-11D? Yes I did. This is the probably the most badass of all. It has AESA, reduced conspicuity to radar, and new electronic warfare systems, but it isn’t yet in frontline service.


The J-11D has a funny looking nose.

You failed, my head still hurts. 


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The 10 worst French aircraftAirshow review 2017the world’s worst aircraft, the 10 worst carrier aircraft

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. 









Ж is for Zhukovsky: The Russian MAKS airshow in breathtaking photos


Every year Flanker fanciers head East to Russia to gaze in terrified wonder at the flying feast displayed above Zhukovsky airport. The Aviationist‘s Jacek Siminski survived the airshow, and returned grinning like a Cheshire cat (and stinking of jet fuel and vodka) to tell us what happened, and share some stunning photos. 

All pictures: Jacek Siminski
Best thing? 
“Russkiye Vityazi display, witnessed from the media platform. The 12 Saturn engines working simultaneously sound like a symphony. Being a geek who watched ‘Wings of the Red Star’ narrated by Peter Ustinov, I knew that sound instantly. I did not know, at the time, when I was watching this TV series, whether the sound in the show was somehow artificially generated. Now I know – it was not. You just need a bloody awful lot of engines to achieve this. A total eargasm. Equally good was a tactical display staged by two Su-30SMs of the Russian Navy, flown in the humid Moscovian air. It’s just stunning what that jet can do to the laws of physics, and to the humid air around it.”
Best swag? 


“A military hat bought at the Monino Air Force Museum by a friend of mine. Featuring a shitload of gold military pins on one side. Greg looked as if he fled from Stalingrad.”
Worst dressed? 
“A guy wearing socks and sandals at the same time. Probably came from Poland, like me. Luckily my English is good enough to pretend that I am a foreigner.”
Best cocktails? 
“Cocktails? In Russia? Seriously? Only pure Stolnichnaya in big glasses.”
Worst display?
“For me? Al Fursan‘s display was a bit disappointing,  highly reminiscent of what Frecce Tricolori are doing. But again this is a matter of context. When you are a Soviet/Russian aviation fanatic, who goes crazy when he sees anything reminiscent of a Flanker, then you do not really care about the western pieces of hardware in the sky.”
Best thing you bought? 
“MAKS ‘Remove Before Flight’ keychain. A unicorn. On Saturday, which was a day open to the general public, I probably bought the last of these keychains”
Best static display? 
“Oh come on, do you really need to ask? Tupolev Tu-95 Bear, alongside Tu-160 and Miasischev Atlant. Oh, and the MiG 1.44. Not to mention the Tu-144.”
(pics of these coming to Hush-Kit soon!)
Best vintage flying item? 
“Only a single vintage flying item, but blows everything I’ve seen in Europe out of the water – Il-2 Sturmovik, ‘die Schwarzer Tod‘ (The Black Death). Reportedly there is one more flying example in the US, however I have never even seen a YouTube clip featuring that airframe. Would anyone care to help?”
Most missed display item? 
“I did miss some irisations – though this is not an aircraft, I know. I would have loved to have seen the MiG-25, MiG-31 or Geofizyka – but it was sadly absent. The Tu-95 ‘Bear’ with its supersonic propeller-tips would have been an amazing thing to witness. They say that this year’s flying programme at MAKS was modest, when compared to the previous years. Maybe the Western sanctions are working? Next year is the TSAGI 100th anniversary, maybe then we will see some of that unique stuff flying.”
Best entrepreneurs? 
“Guys in the Russian trains playing guitar and selling homemade CDs!”
Worst haircut? 

The Ilyushin Il-114 is a rare beast: only twenty were ever produced.

“Did not notice one.”
Gone AWOL award? 
“Strizhi and Vityazhi joint barrel roll or a flypast in a single formation. I was hoping they’d do it again.”
Worst use of social media? 
“Probably me. Not posting too much (enough) throughout my stay in Moscow.”

Я is for Yakovlev (Яковлев)

Fashion must-have?
“Vityazi or Sukhoi tie-dye T-shirts. Bonkers.”
Worst static display item?
“None that I have noticed. But I am an avid Russian aviation fanatic. Everything within the static display was giving me a weird feeling in my pants.”
Coolest sounding plane?
“Undoubtedly, the aforementioned six Su-30SM formation.”
Hottest pilots? 
“All Russian women are equally beautiful, and you fall in love every step of the way. I am sure there were some pilots among them.”
 Is PAK FA the coolest thing in the world?
“I will disappoint you and say: No, it is not: the Su-34 is way cooler, with its brutal and violent display of air combat manoeuvring-  and the resultant formation of clouds and rainbows around it. But again, the PAK FA programme is still in its infancy. You can’t expect a toddler to be as cool as Maverick in ‘Top Gun’, saying ‘Because I was Inverted’ and putting his Ray Bans on. The prototype won’t be flown as violently as an aircraft that is already being used operationally. Unique? Hell yes. Cool? Su-34 is the coolest jet of all them Sukhois, at least for now. The wider front section of the fuselage acts as a great catalyst for the vapour cones to form.”
 How is MAKS different to a Western airshow?
“People are friendlier, more helpful and open, with their ‘hearts given to you in their hands’, as one the old Polish sayings puts it. For me, the show was less commercial than any Western one, and very well organised. Ah, detailed security checks should be expected. You have to put your bag through a Heimann X-ray every time you enter a train station, then before you get on the bus, and then, before you get into the show area. At the beginning it could be viewed as a nuisance, but one can get used to it. And the Russians are super-nice about this, hence throughout the whole procedure you are treated more like a guest, less like a terrorist. I was being warned by my friends: you’ll end up with a bullet in your head, and your camera gear being sold on the Russian counterpart of eBay. Nothing like that ever happened. I began to like Russia, maybe even becoming a bit of a Russophile. People say that it is those at the top who create the hostility — the ordinary men and women are as heart-meltingly warm as it gets.”

В is for vyertalyot (вертолет).

Best place to get vodka?
“Any local shop with low prices. We did it in a convenience store, located at the corner of the street where our hotel was.”

 Ж is for Zhukovsky (Жуко́вский)

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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. _DSC9176-Edit

Flying the F-4 Phantom II, British-style


Life for British Phantom pilots was seldom boring. Whether it was training for near suicidal night attacks against the Soviet Navy, intercepting ‘Bear’s or performing low-level attacks. During the Cold War Chris Bolton flew the mighty F-4 for both the RAF and the Royal Navy. Hush-Kit met him to find out more. 

Hush-Kit: It seems the F-4 wasn’t particularly agile for its generation – is that fair? 

“It could roll remarkably well, though it didn’t turn like the other aircraft. The other RAF fighter, the Lightning, could manoeuvre really well – it was just like a really powerful supersonic Hunter in handling characteristics (and noise levels in the cockpit for that matter). But the Lightning couldn’t stay up for very long. Everything is a compromise, with the Phantom it could stay up a very long time and carry eight missiles; the Lightning had two guns and two missiles, so take your choice. The Phantom had a very powerful radar and a bloke to operate it. The Lightning had a ‘one-armed paper hanger‘ working exceptionally hard for a very short time. The Lightning was great for short fast interceptions, the Phantom could stay longer unsupported and with more missiles. It was also better for long Combat Air Patrols – it depends how you want to fight. I had a quick ride in a two-seat Lightning, and compared to the Phantom it was quieter and it didn’t buffet so much. A very pleasing aeroplane in my very limited experience. And a beautiful beast, designed maybe eight or ten years earlier than the Phantom.”

And how would a Phantom perform in air combat against a Hunter? 

“A Hunter can well out-turn a Phantom. No Phantom would try and stay with you and turn behind you – but the Phantom could do the vertical bit because it had the power. Also, the Phantom had layout weapons that could be used beyond sight, like the head-on Sparrow or tail-on Sidewinder. You wouldn’t try to get into a gunfight with a Hunter.”

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How best to fight to fight a Lightning from a Phantom?

“You have to take advantage of the things that work for you and don’t work for him. He can out-turn you, he can out-climb you, but he ain’t going to be able to do it for very long. You can see him from a long distance, so you can get your shots off without him even seeing you. If that failed, it would be best to remain unseen. You wouldn’t voluntarily get into a turning gunfight with a Lightning, as you’re probably going to lose. Then whoever runs out of fuel first – and it’s probably him- has lost the fight. He’s got to bug out. As I said, take advantage of your own strengths and exploit the weaknesses of your opponent.”

 Which types have you flown?

“In training Jet Provosts and Gnats. Operationally Hunters and Phantoms.”

How long did you fly the Hunter?

“Just one flying tour, just under two years with 208 squadron, Bahrain. Occasionally I flew the Hunter with the Navy for combat training against the Phantom.”

In Phantoms, what did you fly against?

“In my first tour we did very little air combat training because it was a specialist night ground attack squadron based at Coningsby. 

Subsequently when I went to 892 squadron I was tasked with air defence of the fleet. So we would practice against each other and other aircraft, and we would intercept Russians. That would not get into the papers, especially if it was up North of the coast of Scotland. We practiced against land-based Phantoms – against shore-based Lightnings and RAF Phantoms out of Leuchars. Targets of opportunity in low-flying areas could be Jaguars, USAF aircraft, US Navy aircraft from carriers — such as other Phantoms. There was a lot of air combat practice.”

What was the most challenging dissimilar type?

“The most challenging was 1 versus 1 against another Phantom where it was pilot-v-pilot and the best man won. Unless he cheated, and it was 2 V 1 or 4 against one.

Bear in mind not all fighting was visual. Fighting could take place at night in cloud with no eyeballs, so it was dependent on the weapons systems – and a good Observer Navigator in the backseat with radar.”




How good were the weapons systems on the Phantom? 

“Well they were sure better than eyeballs, but if you couldn’t see it you couldn’t do anything. With the radar you could pick something up (depending on the signature size), on a good day, at 30 miles. So you could set up your attack profile from a long distance with plenty of time. So, ideally in this scenario – with a big target – we’d start with a head-on shot and then move ’round the back for a Sidewinder, and then at very close, a guns kill (if you carried a gun, which the Navy didn’t).


At Coningsby we specialised in night ground attack and night sea attack. Self illuminated we used things called Lepus flares. These were about four or five feet long and about six inches in diameter. These we would toss and they would free-fall flight and after a finite time a parachute would come out, and the Lepus flare would illuminate (lots of magnesium I guess). So that would be over the target. You hoped that you tossed it in the right place. From there, subsequent aircraft would visually identify the target and select the appropriate weapon, slide underneath and have at. And we could do three or four runs at that at night over the sea.”


A 892 Phantom armed with ten 1,000-Ib freefall bombs.

And what weapons would you use? 

“Depending on what height you were, how close you were, you would say ‘OK good’ I can make a free-fall 1,000-lb practice bomb on that. Or rocket attack if you were carrying those simulated weapons.”


Would you feel vulnerable as an attacking aircraft illuminated as you were by the flares? 

“Had it come to the real thing- yes you certainly would. The flares would light up your aircraft as you dive beneath them so you’d be visible to everyone. For example if you’re going to do a high-drag bomb run for a 1,000-pounder you probably want to go quite high at release which would leave you visible. Also you would be maneuvering the aircraft quite violently so disorientation would be a problem – a big problem. Hopefully you’re not just looking out to see the target, but also in to keep orientation.”

That sounds very demanding!

“Yes, it was. None us particularly enjoyed it. Our squadron was a specialist night attack, and I continued doing that until late 1973, then I went to the Navy on exchange for the first time. I was with 892 Squadron with Phantoms FG.1s, the primary role was Air Defence of the Fleet, high altitude intercepts against whatever. There was a secondary role of ground/ship attack using 1,000-Ib bombs or two inch rockets.”

Was your training with No.6 Squadron useful preparation for this? 

“In some ways it was. But with 6 Squadron you very seldom flew much above 1,000 feet (except for transiting or refuelling). Whereas with the Navy a lot of it was quite high. But we did keep the practice when we shore-based, for example when the ship was having the barnacles scraped. We practice shore-based at Leuchars and a couple of ranges up in Scotland where we could practice the full range of our weapons. Once or twice a month we would be firing rockets or dropping bombs, just to keep a hand in. At sea, being miles out, our target for practice ordnance was a ‘splash target’ towed by the ship 500 yards astern. At speeds 10+ knots the splash target gives off plume – and that was the aiming index. The marking of the drop accuracy would be done by the quadrant of a helicopter and observations from the ship. Everyone is watching it from the back-end, so making a dick of yourself is not very pleasing. Quite a lot of pressure, and with pressure comes pride.”

892 Naval Air Squadron at RAF Leuchars 1976 Ready to Embark to HMS Ark Royal.

“Well I’d seen quite a lot with the Americans flying it around East Anglia and Cambridge bases. It was a very impressive, very large fighter. A lot of people wanted to fly it— I didn’t think that much about it, it just came around. I was on Hunters in the late 60s, which was very satisfactory. On the completion of my time in the Hunter it was almost the completion of Hunter squadrons. Our choices (not always choices) were Harrier, Buccaneer or Phantom (Jaguar hadn’t quite come along). Canberras were even available. I was very pleased to be posted onto the Phantom. It was still pretty new when I got to Coningsby. It had an underserved bad reputation as it was a big beast with odd characteristics at low speed. But if you knew how to handle the aeroplane, which of course you didn’t when you started, it was just a large beast with a very high wing loading. I think it was about 85 pounds per square foot – so it wouldn’t turn like a Hunter. It had disadvantages, but it also had its advantages, as a pilot you had to learn to play it to its strengths.”

What were its quirks at low speeds? 

“With conventional aeroplanes you put left aileron on you’re going to roll left. At high angles of attack in the Phantom, put left aileron on and you’re quite likely to roll right. So instead of taking the conventional approach of rolling with the ailerons all the time, you use the rudders. The aircraft had a bit of that built-in called ‘Aileron Rudder Interconnect’. People frightened themselves doing tight turns at high angles of attack at low level, using ailerons, and finding themselves rolling into the ground. They learnt quickly from making one mistake like that. Unlike modern aircraft which have their adverse characteristics heavily compensated for by computers, in the old days it was all stick, rudder and eyeball and you took what you were dealt with on an aeroplane.

The Phantom had pretty unpleasant handling if it didn’t have its flight augmentation computers on.  There was some augmentation in the pitch, yaw and roll. Pitching with  the pitch augmentation turned off the F-4 the aircraft would continue to pitch where you wanted it to. Which could be quite exciting at higher speeds because you could easily exceed the G-limits, and possibly make yourself black-out. Admittedly roll and yaw were also considerations – if you rolled without the roll augmentation the aircraft would just continue rolling.”




“When we were at sea, the Russians were always sending ‘Bear’s, normally the delta (Bear-D) variant around the North Cape to have a look just to check out our readiness, intelligence-gathering and this, that and the other. How long did it take us to pick them up? Where did we pick them up? Which squadron was it? Etc, etc. It was just testing us.”

Did you ever get close enough to make eye contact with the Russians? “Frequently. Once we’d picked them (it may have been an air defence unit or the ship’s radar, even the Gannet with its early warning radar), we’d latch on to them, go and take photographs of them (as they did of us). So we’d be in very close formation. No great drama everyone seemed to enjoy it. Yes, it was fairly routine.”

HK: Could you hear the ‘Bear’?

“Not in the Phantom. I’m not sure what the Lighting guys would say. The noise inside our own aeroplane was quite high from the engine and the airflow around the ‘frame. The Bear had for great big turboprop engines – I never heard it, never even thought about it until you asked the question!”

HK: Do you think you had adequate training? In terms of flight hours etc?

“It was getting tighter and tighter, I came out in ’78. In the mid 60s I was instructing and could expect 50 or 60 hours a month; when I was on Hunters I’d probably get 30/35 hours a month. On Phantoms it was down to about 25-30 hours when I started, and probably 20 when I finished. These were economy measures. The cost of running the aeroplane in 1975/76 was £7000 an hour which is peanuts. People would hire it at the  weekend these days, but back then it was big bucks. Economies were made all around the place. Fuel was tight. We didn’t have good simulators, but today we do. You can practice a lot of things in a modern simulator but back then we had to physically practice the manoeuvres. We could learn from talking to the experienced and inexperienced (‘God, I never would have made that mistake’ sort of thing) people, and swapping stories at the bar. You pick up a lot however you can.”

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Did you notice any difference in quality between Navy and Air Force pilots?

“Yes I did. It’s not a popular thing to say, but generally the Navy where of a higher standard on the fixed-wing side. Because they only had fast jets- there wasn’t much in the way of slow fixed-wings. They were either fast jet pilots or rotary wings, the limitations were finer, less restrictive. They had a different attitude to accidents and flying generally.  There wouldn’t be an instant court-marshal or a change of rules to not allow what went wrong – it was more realistic in many ways. It wasn’t hugely different, but I noticed it. I went from an Air Force squadron to a Navy squadron and back to an RAF conversion unit to a Navy squadron. So I was able to make comparisons in two directions, twice.”

Which culture did you enjoy more? 

“I think the Navy one. I don’t go to Air Force reunions. I do go to a Navy reunion every year.”

 Do you remember your first carrier landing? 

“Who can forget their first carrier landing? It wasn’t quality but it was fun and exciting. The briefing is extensive. The practice ashore is also extensive. At the end of every shore-based flight we’d do one or two ‘rollers’ using the projector landing site that was on the side of the runway. This simulated very well the site that was onboard the ship. We were shown films before our first deck landings, these illustrated what happened if you made errors of judgement like being lined up too long, or too far right, too slow. Some of these were illustrated with the crashes that resulted from these errors.  So that’s at the forefront of one’s mind. The first flight, I was catapulted off the Ark Royal. I thought ‘That’s very nice and exhilarating, but in an hour and 20 minutes I’ll be coming back on!’ So I didn’t really concentrate much on what went after going off the front end and coming on the back end for the first three times. My first time there were two rollers with the hook up. That went pretty well, with no one being too frightened. Then the  hook down. The third was a ‘hook on’, I caught the first of the four wires and came to a very graceful arrest at the end of that. Folded the wings, hook up, taxied into what’s called ‘Fly 1’, that’s the front end. Then took the slack for not making a good approach and landing from the landing Safety Officer (NSO).  So you take that. Of course I had a big audience watching the first landing of this Air Force guy. I remember it well. I think the guy in the back seat remembers it well.”


Was a close relationship with your Observer required to perform the mission?

“Yes it was . In the air defence and interception role it is a team effort. His job was to get the pilot in a position to aim the weapons and carry out the intercept. It was also a team effort in conjunction with the air defence unit. So it was a close relationship, but it was quite a close relationship as a squadron, not big. 12 aeroplanes, 14 crews (so a total 28 aircrew).”

What advice would you give to a new Phantom pilot?

“A bit late now! He should have been here 40 years ago! The first thing is try and know your aeroplane, not just from the lectures (‘chalk and talk’) but by talking to others. Like any new aeroplane, learn as much as you can before you get in it.

There were two models of Phantoms for the British forces: the FG.1, the Navy version, and the FGR. 2, the Air Force version. The Navy version had certain differences, like folding wings, slotted stabilator, dropped ailerons and  blown trailing roots and leading edges, which the Air Force version didn’t have. They both had Rolls-Royce Spey engines. The early Navy engines had a faster wind-up time simply because in the event of missing the wires when hitting the deck, you wanted to have as much as power available, as soon as possible, so they had what was known as ‘rapid reheat’. The Air Force ones didn’t, so took longer to wind-up- it wasn’t critical – as they had longer runways.”


How did the British Phantoms compare to the American examples? Did you fly with them?

“Yes we did. I never flew on an American one. The British eventually got F-4Js, which were ex-US Navy Phantoms, which formed a squadron at Wattisham. The difference was the engines , the Americans had J79s which were smaller with less thrust, the British had Spey, which were bigger engines with more thrust – but they took up more space, so the cross section of the aircraft actually increased. Someone once compared it to spaying a dog: once you do it, it gets fat at the arse end and slows down. So the Navy Phantoms weren’t as fast the Americans, but this macho thing of flying at twice the speed of sound? I once did it and it took a long time to get there and it wasn’t really worth it, other than being able to say I’d done it.”

How fast could the Phantoms go in full dry thrust?

“Subsonic. It was not capable of going supersonic without reheat other than in a dive. Whereas a Lightning could make low supersonic speeds in full military power.”

How often did you fire live weapons?

“Missiles? I fired Sidewinder once, and Sparrows twice. I shutdown a Jindavik in Cardigan Bay with Sparrow missile when I was on6 Squadron in the early 1970s. And I a hit fast patrol boat target in the Caribbean using a Sparrow missile as an air to-surface weapon. It worked out quite well. There’s a range just off Puerto Rico called the Vieques.

In the Vietnam War they discovered – I think with a Phantom with an early Sparrow, hit the New Zealand (HK note: it was actually HMAS Hobart, so Australian) frigate Hobart which came as a big surprise to everyone. It didn’t explode the warhead- it just punched straight through, which proved it could work.”

Did you have faith in the missiles?

“Yes. Especially the late Sidewinder that came in after my time. The 9L it’s called-  has a far better ability to pick up a low heat target than the earlier ones.”

What was the Hunter like to fly?

“Very docile. A quite delightful aeroplane. For its day, it could have won beauty contests. Quite a good turner with a fairly low wing loading. Something like 60Ibs per square foot, which meant it could turn much better than a Phantom, at 85, or a Harrier at 95lbs per square foot. It was viceless.”

 Opinions on future Royal Navy airpower


It seems counterintuitive to have such a large aircraft that can only carry STOVL aircraft

“Yes, it does seem counterintuitive and may show how much sway the RAF had in the design of the thing. I believe the Air Force had too much input on that, which is why it doesn’t have catapults and arresting gear. It can operate the F-35B (which has to lug around all the weight of its lift fan) but it can’t operate conventional aircraft which are dependent on wires. Nor would it be able to get them off again if they could land, as it has no catapult. This was very short-sighted. However, the die is cast. Though I now hear that the RAF wants to get some F-35As that don’t carry all this lifting fan around.

Another problem with the F-35B – the weight of fan it carries is a weight of weapons it doesn’t carry in internal carriage, so it is a limited aircraft. It is severely limited in conditions of high temperature, like for instance if it was in the tropics or the Caribbean etc it would have a severe limit on the weight it can take back on board. Vertical landing might not be possible, short landing probably would be, but the conditions would have to be favourable – there’s not a lot off slack in the system, However I don’t know enough about the subject to speak authoritatively. “

Why would that be to the Air Force’s advantage?

“It was planned as an air force carrier. Perhaps the best view on this comes from Sharkey Ward who’s well known in aviation circles. He’s written papers on this which I haven’t studied at great length. The air force may well regret it, but if they want weapon carrying aircraft, they haven’t got it. They have the F-35B – shore based- with less weapons carriage capability, because of the weight of the fan that it is carrying. The inability to host conventional aircraft is a big limitation.”


Do you think we need new carriers?

“Well you just have to think – on the declining years of our nation would you like to be able to protect the Falklands again? If the Guatemalans decide they want to invade Belize again, would you like to be able to stop that happening? Well you could if you had a carrier, or to be precise if you’d three. You could then guarantee one at sea, possibly two, and one in refit or mini refit: then you would always have a carrier. So then the Prime Minister, when the shit hits the fan, would say ‘Where’s our carrier?’ It’s British Sovereign territory so no one can touch it. You can do what you want legally. It’s our’s, at sea”

I’ll take that as a yes.

“Yes, it is. The air force could not have retaken the Falklands simply using the tanker force. The tankers they used to get Vulcan down there from Ascension Island. One free-fall 1,000Ib bomb on the runway- that’s technology for you!”

Is there one aircraft you would like to fly that you haven’t flown?


I’ve always quite liked the look of the F/A-18, the Hornet. It’s a carrier aircraft, very capable- you’d get three for the price of one F-35B. The F/A-18 might have been one of the answers. It doesn’t have all the stealth business there, but stealth’s only as good as your paint-job and your polish etc etc. And you have limits on how you can use it.



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The 10 Worst French Aircraft

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When compiling this list of terrible French aircraft we ran up against an unexpected problem: France hasn’t made many terrible aeroplanes. In creating features on the worst British, American and Soviet aircraft (reminds me, we should do German) the shortlist had to be (Frank) whittled down from thirty apiece, but here we had to work a little harder. France certainly made some mediocre aeroplanes, and some flawed designs, though few compete with some of the truly nightmarish offerings of the 20th Century’s other great aviation nations. Don’t worry though, we found a bunch of wonderfully weird French losers. Light up a Gitanes, stick Gainsbourg on the stereo and prepare to meet the ten worst French aircraft. 


10. Blériot 125 ‘Verne Baby Verne’ 


After flying across the channel in his excellent Type XI monoplane, Louis Blériot spent the whole of the rest of his life trying to detract credibility from himself and his achievement. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the series of large aircraft his company built throughout the 1920s. Seemingly engaged in a competition with himself to produce the aircraft most resembling an illustration from a Jules Verne novel, Blériot produced a series of unsuccessful bombers and airliners whose outlandish appearance were in direct proportion to their operational mediocrity and chief among these incredible duds was the 125. In October 1927 Blériot saw Fritz Lang’s seminal film ‘Metropolis’ and, taking the idea that life imitates art at glaringly face value, set about building an airliner to encapsulate the science fiction aesthetic he had so enjoyed on that autumn night at the Gaumont Palace cinema, Montparnasse. This, though almost undoubtedly untrue, is the only way to explain the appearance of the Blériot 125 when, in 1930, it emerged from the chrysalis of its hangar like a fantastical butterfly from a daring Art Deco future. Regrettably, an airliner carrying its passengers in twin fuselages resembling railway carriages whilst housing its engines and luckless pilots in a teeny car-shaped pod atop the single massive wing turned out not to be the way forward, as the complete and ongoing absence of aircraft of this configuration serves to prove on a daily basis. Even at the time people were confused, there are many contemporary references to the radical design of the aircraft but no mention anywhere of what possible advantage this configuration is supposed to confer.

The 10 sexiest French aircraft here

As it turned out, the Blériot 125 turned out to be underpowered and exhibited severe controllability issues and one can hardly be surprised given the encumbrance of those two draggy fuselages combined with the modest power available from its two Hispano-Suiza engines plus the sheer amount of aircraft optimistically expected to be directed about the sky by its two teeny tiny rudders. At least with the massive side area provided by its mighty fuselages, not to mention the engine/crew pod, the 125 must have possessed impressive directional stability. The problems ultimately proved insuperable and after three years of tinkering the 125 still wouldn’t fly properly and was ignominiously scrapped having never carried a fare paying passenger. To be fair to Blériot Aéronautique S.A. they did produce a few relatively acceptable designs, unremarkable and largely forgotten now but who cares? Blériot’s crazed failure from a beautiful alternative future that would never come to be remains far more entertaining.

9.Mignet HM.14 Pou du Ciel (Flying Flea) ‘Micro-lousy’


Pauvre Henri Mignet. The tragic tale of the H.M.14 ‘Pou-de-Ciel’ (in English, literally ‘Louse of the Sky’) could so easily have been completely different. A mere six inches or so of wing overlap separated unprecedented success from tragic disaster. Mignet was a romantic figure, a radio engineer (though some sources claim he was a furniture maker, whatever) with a self-deprecating sense of humour, a fascination with flight, and a chronic inability to fly a conventional aircraft. The latter quality inspired him to try and develop a new type of aircraft which would be simple, easy and safe to fly. The Pou-de-Ciel would ultimately achieve two out of three of these qualities.

Furthermore this was to be an egalitarian aircraft, straightforward to construct and designed to be built at home in a four metre square room.


In designing an aircraft easy for non-pilots to fly (“leave aviation to the aviators” he once quipped) Mignet’s aircraft was genuinely revolutionary. The Pou-de Ciel had no ailerons, lateral control deriving from the rudder and its interaction with the pivoting front wing. The only controls were the throttle and the stick, which operated the pivoting wing and rudder and flying the Pou proved easy and intuitive. Remarkably the aircraft was designed to be impossible to stall, if the front wing did enter a stall, the airflow from it over the rear wing forced the nose down slightly and the Pou automatically recovered. The future appeared bright for Mignet’s machine, especially after he and his wife flew their Pou-de-Ciel’s over the channel to Britain (where it was dubbed the Flying Flea) and there began a short-lived craze for building and flying Mignet’s creation. Unfortunately the phrase ‘short-lived’ would prove all too accurate in a rather more literal sense.

Between August 1935 and May 1936 seven H.M.14s were lost in inexplicable fatal accidents and the authorities in both France and the UK grounded all Flying Fleas. Wind tunnel tests were undertaken in both nations and it was discovered that the air flow from the pivoted front wing when pulled back, to point the aircraft up, increased lift from the rear wing, pointing the aircraft inexorably down: ironically the same effect that prevented a stall occurring and made the aircraft ‘safe’. If the Pou-de-Ciel entered a 15 degree dive, recovery was impossible and the luckless pilot was carried into the ground in the appropriately coffin-shaped fuselage and the French and British immediately banned the unfortunate aircraft. Mignet developed a successful fix for the suicidal tendency of his creation with creditable speed (basically moving the rear wing back the afore-mentioned six inches) but neither his own nor his Flea’s reputation ever fully recovered (though many modified variants of the basic design have since been constructed). A curious aside of this sorry tale is that, because none were flown after 1936, many original H.M.14s survive to the present day, so it is likely that you won’t have to travel far if you want to have a look at the deadly Sky Louse in the flesh.

8. Dassault Balzac/Mirage IIIV ‘Harrier Carrefour’


As F-4s and MiG-21s poured off production lines in their thousands, aircraft designers looked for unconventional ways to kill test pilots, spend billions and make aircraft that nobody wanted – the best solution to this was the vertical take-off & landing fighter. When NATO issued Basic Military Requirement No. 3 in the early 1960s aircraft manufacturers swarmed around like wasps to ice cream. NATO wanted a common supersonic fighter capable of vertical take off and landing. If World War III kicked off, the type would be based in austere locations away from known airfields, and drop retaliatory tactical nukes on the invading Soviet hordes. The fact that at the time of the brief there wasn’t even a subsonic jet VTOL fighter didn’t stop this ambitious concept. Anyone who was anyone in fighter design submitted a proposal; Dassault submitted a concept based on the Mirage III. Vertical propulsion would be provided by eight small lift jets embedded in the fuselage. Lift jets, it was hoped, meant vertical flight without the perils of tail-sitting and without the limitations of (inevitably non-afterburning) vectored thrust. The planned fighter, the III-V was to be large (around the length of a Super Hornet), but a smaller testbed – the Balzac –  was modified from a Mirage III prototype. One lethal crash later many were questioning the sense of the project. It had many problems, including gross instability, stall-inducing exhaust re-ingestion and debris-sucking, a troublesome main engine and underpowered lift engines. Even if all of these were solved (and some were in its later big brother the Mirage III-V) there were the still the unsolvable issues of the terrible payload, terrible range (thanks to the Gainsbourgesque thirst of the lift-jets in the hover and their taking up most of the internal space where fuel tanks could have been located) and horrendous maintenance requirements of multiple engines. When the large Mirage III-V crashed in 1966, it was time to knock the whole thing on the head. Still at least, the Mirage IIIV grabbed the absolute speed record for a VTOL aircraft at Mach 2.03,  a record unlikely to ever be surpassed (incidentally, the Mirage G.8 still holds the European speed record at Mach 2.34).


The Balzac was not named for the French writer Honoré de Balzac, but after the phone number (BALZAC 001) of a famous Parisian movie advertising agency, following the decision that first aircraft would be given the unimaginative designation ‘001’.

NATO never managed to get its shit together and mass order a single fighter type, despite the huge cost savings inherent in such a scheme.

(By the way, Britain’s entry, the P.1154 won the contest).

7. Airbus Helicopters Tigre ‘HAPless in Seattle’ 


While the Opel Tigra car, developed by Germany, France and Spain, is a huge success, its rotary-craft (almost) namesake (created by the same nations) has proved a huge disappointment. It’s a bit of push to blame the Tigre purely on France, but as it’s now under the Airbus Helicopters label (headquarters at Marseille Provence Airport), it’s fair game. To be fair, Spain and Germany, must shoulder some of the responsibility for what has been described as ‘a Ford attack helicopter at Lamborghini prices‘. Development was very slow, the requirement was issued in 1984 yet the type didn’t enter service until 2003 (even then it couldn’t do much).  Integration of weapons systems proved slow and VERY expensive. Only one export customer bought the Tigre (or Tiger as other nations know it), the Australian Army. The first two helicopters were delivered to Australia in 2004. Full operating capability was planned for 2011, in reality it didn’t happen until 2016. In 2012, after multiple incidents with cockpit fumes that endangered aircrew, Australian pilots refused to fly the Tiger until all safety concerns were resolved.  In 2016, an Australian Defence White Paper announced that the Tiger helicopters would be replaced with other armed reconnaissance aircraft in the mid 2020s – hardly a long life for such an expensive acquisition (the US Army have flown Apaches since 1986, and in updated form the type remains in production today).  Issues cited by the Australian Paper included the shipping time of sending parts across the world for repair, a lack of commonality with other Tiger variants and the high maintenance cost of the engines. In 2013 prices a French HAD cost US$49m a pop (the 2014 unit price of the far, far more capable AH-64E was US$35.5M). It’s hard to know how they got it so wrong as France is great at building helicopters and their military equipment also tends to be first-rate. Perhaps the difficulty of the task was underestimated- or the failure of the partners to agree on a single variant is to blame, whatever the reason, it ended up as a very costly way to not buy Apaches.


6. Nieuport-Delage NiD 37 Type CourseAprès moi le Délage’ 


The French philosopher Michel Foucault was sceptical of absolute ideas. Perhaps Foucault would have approved of the ‘sesquiplanes’ designed by Gustave Delage which denied such absolute notions as being either a monoplane or a biplane, instead opting to be ‘one-and-a-half- planes’. These made great fighters in World War One, so Delage kept going with the concept for his post-war racers. He flirted with pure biplanes with the  Nieuport-Delage NiD 29V which smashed the world speed record in 1920 at an impressive 194.4 mph, but returned to his 1½ obsession with the Nieuport-Delage Sesquiplane. The following year the new aircraft bettered the ’29V by clocking 205.23 mph (a speed cars would only take seven years to equal, with Campbell’s Bluebird). At the Coupe Deutsch race this same racer crashed for reasons unclear (perhaps wing flutter or maybe a birdstrike), in the capable hands of Sadi Lecointe . In 1922 Delage came out with an even faster Sesquiplane, the NiD 37 Type Course (racing type, as opposed to the Type Chasse fighter). The ’37 looked, and was, weird: it had a broad aile inférieure (the wing-like shoe for the main landing gear or half-wing that defines the sesquiplane), minute wings and a sleek streamlined fuselage that resembled a bomb painted red and white (to add to its eccentric appearance, the radiator hung under the nose in a ‘lobster-pot’). On the day of the first flight attempt the test pilot (again the heroic Sadi Lecointe) sat astride the engine (with the pedals attached to the back of the 407 hp motor) ready for the type’s first flight. At full throttle the machine raced across the airfield displaying no intention whatsoever to leave the ground. Lecointe tried repeatedly to coax the reluctant machine into the air. He gave up when the carburettor burst into flames and burnt his feet.

5. Simplex-Arnoux (1922) Race with the devil’


A aircraft seemingly designed to test an atheist’s resolve.

René Arnoux had pioneered tailless flying wings, designing his first as early as 1909. When he put his mind to creating the fastest possible racer he retained his disdain for the tail, seeing a potential weight and drag saving. The racer, which was powered by the 320 hp Hispano-Suiza, was built to win the Coupe-Deutsch race of 1922. It was to be flown by the national hero Georges Madon, a fighter ace in the First World War. The resulting aircraft, the Simplex-Arnoux, was tiny- the fuselage being essentially an aerodynamic fairing that covered the engine – and lethal. Interwar racing pilots were used to limited views from the cockpit and vicious handling characteristics, but even by these standards the Simplex-Arnoux was a nasty aeroplane. The enormously broad-chorded wing obscured the view down, the barrel radiator obscured the view ahead (and blasted the unfortunate pilot with scorching hot air). It had also had appalling control authority as Madon found on a pre-race trial flight. The Simplex-Arnoux was too much to handle, even for a pilot with 41 confirmed victories and 64 probables, and the resultant crash caused Madon severe injuries.


4. Antoinette ‘Monobloc’ ‘Ian Dury & The Monobloc-heads’


In the very early days of aviation the ‘Antoinette’ monoplane was massively successful, a supremely elegant machine when compared to the Wrights, Farmans and Voisins that were its contemporaries. At its heart was the world’s first V-8 engine, patented by Léon Levavasseur, intended for speedboats, and named Antoinette after the daughter of his financier Jules Gastimbide. And what an engine it was, boasting (for its time) exceptional smoothness and refinement, its power to weight ratio was not surpassed for 25 years and it is hardly surprising that early aviation pioneers beat a path to Levavasseur’s door to obtain an example of his brilliant engine. Alberto Santos-Dumont’s 14-bis made the first aircraft flight in Europe and was powered by an Antoinette, Samuel Cody made the first flight in a British built aircraft with an Antoinette engine, and an Antoinette powered Paul Cornu’s helicopter, the first to leave the ground, to name but three. When Levavasseur branched into building complete aircraft around his engine the future looked bright indeed, especially when famed Anglo-French pilot Hubert Latham started to set altitude and distance records in them. The company helped set up a flying school (incidentally training, amongst others, the first female pilot to fly combat missions, Marie Marvingt) and developed the world’s first flight simulator. Antoinette was on top of the world.


Hubert Latham

Thus the utter and complete failure of the Antoinette Monobloc was tragic indeed. The aircraft was years ahead of its time, the world’s first cantilever monoplane wings, fully faired undercarriage in huge spats and a beautifully streamlined fuselage which completely enclosed the Antoinette engine. For 1911 this was futuristic indeed. Unfortunately it couldn’t fly. The Monobloc was (under)powered by the 50 hp V-8 engine that had propelled its immediate predecessor, the Antoinette VII which had weighed 590 kg and could hurtle to a maximum speed of 70 km/h. All the fascinating features of the Monobloc had pushed its weight up to 935 kg and 70 km/h (or indeed any speed at all) would remain an unattainable dream. Nonetheless Hubert Latham took it to the Concours Militaire at Rheims where he gamely demonstrated its utter inability to fly to the assembled military dignitaries of many nations.
Within a year the Antoinette company was liquidated.

3. Spad S.A ‘Free Spadicals’


Have you ever stood inches in front of the whirling propeller of a frontline fighter from the First World War? Have you then made a small wood and canvas box to sit in, have someone bolt it to the front of said fighter, then got in it, with the whirling blades of the propeller maybe a foot away from your precious head, whilst an undertrained adolescent flies it (and more importantly you) up into the sky in which lurks hundreds of people in better aircraft who are literally trying to kill you? Of course you haven’t because you’re not an idiot. Yet that was exactly the fate of the observer of the SPAD S.A, an aircraft apparently designed to maim, kill, or, at best, terrify one of its occupants.

The design was a cruelly logical response to the problem of firing a machine gun through the airscrew arc of a conventional tractor aircraft. If you can’t shoot through the propeller, just attach the gun in front of the propeller – and the gunner to fire it. The idea was not unique either, the Royal Aircraft Factory in the UK built the experimental B.E.9 with the same layout, however the British machine was wisely discarded but the SPAD S.A. went into service.

It was not popular.

As well as the obvious inherent horror of the design the gunner’s perilous nacelle was prone to extreme vibration and on several occasions detached from the rest of the aircraft with lethal consequences. Communication between the crew was impossible, and in the event of the aircraft tipping onto its nose (a common occurrence at the time) the observer would be crushed. A British evaluation of the type came to the chillingly sardonic conclusion that “it would be expensive in observers if flown by indifferent pilots”. Contemporary French reports suggest the S.A was little used and many were offloaded onto the Russians as soon as possible. In Russian service the S.A was similarly unpopular and its only effect on Russian servicemen was to prove their Imperialist masters really did have it in for them and hasten the revolution. It also didn’t help that the acronym SPAD phonetically translates as ‘plummet’ in Russian.

2. Bloch 150 (early) ‘Bloch Party’ 


By 1935 it was a fair bet that any new conventional aircraft built by an experienced design team would be able to fly. However every now and then a machine unable to leave the ground would emerge to challenge such assumptions and the Bloch M.B.150 fighter was just such an aircraft. Attempts to get the new fighter off the ground were abandoned in 1936. As well as being embarrassing, the ensuing delay as the aircraft was redesigned cost precious months and meant that, when the Bloch fighter was most desperately needed it was not available in sufficient numbers. It is probably an exaggeration to claim that the failure of the original M.B.150 to fly cost France victory in the air but it certainly didn’t help.


Even once the Bloch had been developed into an aeroplane that could actually fly it wasn’t exactly a stellar performer. With its wonky nose (the engine was pointed slightly to the left to counteract airscrew torque), slab sided fuselage, apparently undersized wings, cumbersome tail unit and crudely massive gun barrels it could hardly be described as a looker either. It was, at least, incredibly strong and able to survive remarkable levels of combat damage, which was lucky given its lack of speed or agility and the M.B.150 and its slightly improved M.B.151 and 152 variants served valiantly but not particularly effectively throughout the Battle for France. A considerably better variant, the M.B.155 was just entering service as France capitulated and served in the Vichy air force but the final development, the M.B.157, boasted truly outstanding performance. Unfortunately the single example suffered the ignominy of only ever flying in German colours.
Ultimately Marcel Bloch changed his name and that of his company to Dassault consigning the embarrassment of the M.B.150 to another age, and, to the casual observer, another aircraft company.

1. Potez 630 and 631 (fighter variants)  ‘Le Bf 110′


Had the Potez 630 and 631 fighters been able to avoid combat it would have been just another pre-war mediocrity hardly worthy of mention. Unfortunately for it and its crews it was committed to aerial combat against, amongst others, a far superior aircraft that it just happened to uncannily resemble.

During the 1930s most of the world’s major air forces flirted with the idea of twin-engined ‘heavy’ fighters. These shared a common concept that a larger fighter aircraft could effectively escort bombers deep into enemy territory, making up for any deficiency in agility deriving from their size, when compared with opposing single-engined fighters, with heavier firepower and speed. Aircraft such as the Westland Whirlwind and Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu were all variations on this theme. Sadly the concept was flawed, World War Two era twin engine fighters were never a match for their single engine counterparts as the debacle of the Messerschmitt Bf 110 in the Battle of Britain serves to demonstrate. The Messerschmitt was an excellent aircraft (its rate of climb was greater than that of the Spitfire for example) yet it was unable to survive against determined fighter opposition, ultimately needing to be supplied with a fighter escort even though it was supposed to be an escort fighter. Imagine then how much worse it would have been if it hadn’t been such an excellent aircraft and one has a reasonable idea of the hopelessness of the Potez 630.


The Potez 630 family was a diverse group of aircraft with pleasant flying characteristics comprising derivatives optimised for every conceivable role from Army co-operation to bombing, and in general it performed adequately if not spectacularly during the fighting over France and after. The fighter variant was, at least, well armed boasting two 20-mm cannon in a ventral gondola and two fixed machine guns (one firing backwards!) plus a machine gun on a flexible mount for the second crewman. However it never had sufficiently powerful engines to propel it to a decent speed and proved to be slower than many of the German bombers that it was supposed to be shooting down. Against modern fighters it had no chance at all. The afore-mentioned Messerschmitt 110 with an extra 750 hp on tap was a full 120 km/h faster and unfortunately for the Potez, from most angles it looked very similar indeed to the German fighter. It is not known how many ‘friendly-fire’ incidents resulted in losses but there are many documented instances. Pity the poor Potez pilot – strapped into an aircraft with inadequate performance, expected to chase down bombers that he is unable to catch, and shot at by friend and foe alike in invariably superior aircraft.


To be fair to the French, the limitations of the Potez as a fighter were well known by 1939 but the fact was (in an annoyingly non-stereotypical act of engineering efficiency) it was so well designed for mass production that it was available in great numbers immediately, plus it was very cheap: despite being a fairly large twin-engined aircraft the Potez 630 could be built in fewer man-hours and for less money than a Morane-Saulnier 406, the commonest French single-engine fighter in 1940 (and also not that great a combat aircraft). Ultimately even the standard escape route for inadequate twin-engined fighters, night-fighting, provided no solace for the Potez. In the absence of any kind of guidance system the best it could do was fly around at night hoping to blunder into an enemy aircraft and it is fair to say that its service as a night fighter was effectively irrelevant. At least it was nice to fly and the three examples that somehow contrived to survive the conflict were used postwar as trainers for the reconstituted Armee de l’Air.

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Also check out: Top 11 cancelled French aircraft

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Have a look at 10 worst British military aircraftSu-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 Warplane


s. 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. 

Footage of a MiG-31 downing a cruise missile

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The more you give the more we can give you 🙂

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Guide to surviving aviation forums here

Airshow review: RIAT 2017

Fairford From The Air med.jpg

The Air Tattoo, at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, is one of the best places to find emotionally immature dads and angry men with huge zoom lenses. Our Man at RIAT reports on this year’s most exciting air show. 

Best thing? 

Knackered looking U-2. Good F-22 display obvs.

Best swag? 

Leonardo die cast T-346 model.

Worst swag? 

Israeli emoji stickers for kids.

Best cocktails? 

Discovery Air Defence

Worst display?

Thunderbores (USAF Thunderbird team).

Red Arrows & Thunderbirds flypast.jpg

Best thing you bought? 

Belgian Mirage 5 coffee table book.

Best static display? 

French Alpha Jet with special tail markings to commemorate Eugene Bullard (first African-American military pilot). 


Best vintage flying item? 

Hangar 11’s P-51D. You can keep your Spitfires. Special mention to Austrian Air Force Saab 105s- almost as old!

Best example of UK-US cooperation in field of air warfare?

Use of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ to accompany F-22 display.

Most missed display item? 

B-1 or B-52 as part of the USAF 70th celebration. B-2 is fairly ‘meh’ in comparison.


Was the commentator like Alan Partridge? 

No, Ben’s (Ben Dunnell) commentary was very good, as ever.

Worst item of clothing? 

Take your pick from almost any of the journos in the chalets on Sunday.


Best entrepreneurs? 

Ukrainian Air Force selling hollowed out grenades as salt and pepper shakers.

Worst haircut? 

Obviously the Flygvapnet Gripen pilot’s man bun – although it could find limited uptake in Dalston this Summer.


Gripen (model?) at RIAT 1997.

Gone AWOL award? 

Discovery Air Defence A-4. Big shame it didn’t make it to the static.

Worst use of social media? 

Carol Vorderman. Reinforcing her profile as a societal menace.

(That better be sarcasm, she reads Hush-Kit and is lovely.)

Fashion must-have?

Saab complementary Panama hat. Better build quality than the Marshall Aerospace equivalent.

c130 IAF landing.jpg

Worst static display item?

Pakistan Air Force C-130 (look at that tail!). But bonus points for mattresses below the ramp so kids could do ‘para jumps’.


Coolest sounding plane?

Italian Air Force Tornado. Been too long since these were doing solo displays.


Hottest pilots? 

Axel and Pastif from Couteau Delta. Although U-2 pilot Kevin gets recognition for use of his RayBans.


SAVE HUSH-KIT. Hush-Kit needs donations to continue, sadly we’re well behind our targets, please donate using the buttons at the top and bottom of this page. 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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The more you give the more we can give you 🙂

Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

Guide to surviving aviation forums here









10 incredible facts they don’t want you to know about aviation


It would be beyond the wildest imagination of our parents to believe that one day every journey would take place in an actual flying machine, but today this fact has become mundane. From the helicopter that takes you to work, to the hypersonic airliner that takes us away for our weekend city-break, the aircraft is universal. Yet much remains unknown about these majestic ‘sky boats’. Here are 10 facts they didn’t want you to know: 

10. The world’s first aeroplane original.jpg

In 1986 Russian hunters discovered these preserved remains on Russia’s Arctic coast. The aircraft is dated as having lived around 30,000BC, making it the oldest ever found. The aircraft, dubbed ‘Thora’, is the common ancestor of all extant variable geometry types from the Su-17s to the mighty Tu-160.

9. Why was the B-25 bomber called the ‘Sixer’? 


Due to a design flaw, the B-25 Mitchell had six shadows.

8. The modern Airport 


Air travel is more popular than ever. Passengers must arrive at the airport two hours before departure to ensure they have time to spray perfume on their arms, and marvel at how ugly modern watches are. Despite the automation of modern airports, it is impossible for airlines to know which gate your aircraft will be at in advance. No one knows why this is.


7. Airport security 10-Tips-for-Getting-Through-Airport-Security-Fast-and-Efficiently.jpg

Terrorists are everywhere. Despite it being more likely you’ll win the lottery than be killed by terrorists, it’s important that you take your shoes and belt off to humble yourself to the god of safety.

6. Defensive systems 


Tinfoil not only protects your mind from CIA intervention, it also protects military aircraft from radar-guided missiles. ‘Chaff’ are strips of tinfoil dispensed from paranoid aircraft. When the seeker-head of the missiles sees the chaff it realises its target is a troubled soul, so leaves it alone.

5. Light aircraft 


When not cheating on their wives, middle-aged right-wing men collect in fields to complain about how expensive their unnecessary light aircraft is.

4. Helicopters 


It is a popular misconception that all helicopters feed on human blood; in reality it is only the females, and they only do it to feed their offspring.

3. Bombers


Bombers are large multi-engined aeroplanes that carry high explosive or nuclear weapons to drop on cities. Cities are the natural habitat of many humans, so an unfortunate byproduct of this hands-on town-planning is the killing of people. Fortunately, the only nations with bombers are very powerful.

2. Ejection seats 


When the aeroplane embryo is ready to leave the aircraft’s pouch it has yet to have wings of its own, so it is projected into the sky on a rocket-powered chair. As an encouragement to carry out such a stressful and perilous endeavour, the embryo is given a tie following a successful ejection.

  1. The Wright Brothers brothers

As can be seen by their clothes, the Wright Brothers were cocktails waiters from 2009. They built the very first aircraft as a way to publicise their new bar ‘The Kitty Hawk’.


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Guide to surviving aviation forums here

Flying & fighting in the MiG-21: In conversation with Air Marshal Matheswaran


Small, fast and wickedly agile, the Soviet-designed MiG-21 was an extremely potent warplane. For two decades it formed the backbone of the Indian fighter force. We spoke to Air Marshal M Matheswaran (retd) about what it was like to fly and fight in the MiG-21. 


When did you first fly a MiG-21 and what were your first impressions? 

I began flying the MiG-21s in 1976. At that time it was the prime aircraft in the Air Force. Quite obviously it was great to be selected to go into a MiG-21 squadron. First impressions – fascinating, sleek, and fast.

What were the greatest limitations of the MiG-21? 

None really. Particularly in performance, considering that period and environment. However, since it was truly light it carried limited fuel. Hence, range and endurance was low, as we entered the mid 80s and 90s.


What were the best qualities of the MiG-21? 

Small, low visual and radar signature, agile, excellent acceleration, and good thrust-to-weight ratio.

How would you rate the MiG-21 in terms of: 

Acceleration? Excellent

Sustained turning? Good

Instantaneous turning? Excellent.

High altitude performance? Good


Which aircraft have you ‘fought’ in training exercises? Of these which were the most formidable fighters? Mirage 2000, MiG-29, MiG-23 MF, Gnat, Jaguar, and a few others. MiG-29 and M2000 were the tough ones.

It could go supersonic at low level, out-accelerate the Mirage 2000 (hence F-16) at low level. It had a very powerful engine with a second reheat, a good sighting system and a good radar” 

What tips would you offer for ‘fighting’ these types?   In air-to-air combat performance the MiG-21Bis can hold itself. The Mirage 2000 and the F-16 would outlast due to longer endurance, better radar and also in strike role. 

Mirage 2000 pilot interview: Cutting it in the ‘Electric Cakeslice’ 

Do you believe the MiG-21 was the right choice for the IAF, what alternative fighters could have been procured at the time? The MiG-21 was chosen in 1963. The US did not offer any, and its best at that time – the Phantom – was not available. However, the Phantom would have been better suited to the strike role. The F-104 was not a patch on the MiG-21. India had French and British aircraft for strike role. The MiG 21 was very good, particularly in air defence, and high altitude interception. Given the production and TOT advantages as well, the decision to go for MiG-21 was excellent.

Find out what it was like to fly and fight in the Lightning here.

 What equipment would you have like to have seen integrated onto the MiG-21? 

The question is too generic. You need to specify time and environment. Anyway, in the 90s we felt acutely the need to have HUD, a digital navattack system, and a new radar. This we did achieve by 2003-04, although 3 years late and some teething problems. Finally it was an excellent solution. The aircraft was called MiG-21 Bison. The ‘Fishbed’s major limitation was its lack of gyro-sight.


Did you fly the MiG-21 into combat? Would you have been confident flying it into combat? I had mobilised for war at least three times. I did active ORP duties for many years in early career.

By 1999 Kargil war, I was too senior, and hence in senior operational management role.

What is the greatest myth or misunderstanding of the MiG-21? 

I suppose myth and misunderstanding were more about reliability . That was a fallacy, that Russian technology was unreliable. Russian technology was very robust and reliable, provided you ensured your inventory management and logistics well. In performance much of the myths came from Israelis victories against the Arabs. This was primarily due to poor pilot skills and training. India evolved its own training methodologies and tactics development. Americans knew the aircraft well from their Vietnam experience. So finally any aircraft is only as good as the man behind the machine. The MiG-21, in its time, was an exceptional aircraft in good hands.

MiG 21 Indian Air Force [IAF]

Which variant of the MiG-21 did you fly? What were the various merits of the different Indian variants? All variants, starting from the Fishbed. The Fishbed (we called it Type 74) was very light, highly agile, and the most beautiful to handle, even in extreme low speeds. The subsequent versions became heavier, as they increased their internal fuel, more equipment etc. The MiG-21M was heavier but had the same engine (R-11), as the Fishbed, and so became less efficient at low speeds. MiG-21MF had an improved radar and a more powerful engine (R-13), and so had similar performance as the Fishbed. The MiG-21Bis was the best of them, it was upgraded for multi-role operations. With wing tanks it had a good range. It could go supersonic at low level, out accelerate the M2000 (hence F-16) at low level. It had a very powerful engine (R-33) with a second reheat, a good sighting system and a good radar (Almaz). The Bis’s nose was heavier, and so its slow speed handling was slightly inferior to the Fishbed, but its other strengths made it a truly classy aircraft. The Bis was later upgraded to Bison, which was excellent.

Find out what it was like to be an RAF interceptor pilot here

How did the MiG-21 compare to the Mirage 2000? how would it compare with an F-16? In air-to-air combat performance the MiG-21Bis can hold itself. The M2000 and the F-16 would outlast due to longer endurance, better radar and are also superior in the strike role.

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

What advice would you give to pilots converting to the MiG-21? 

 It’s now too late. The MiG21 has been phased out. In any case, for a young pilot, off the training academy, the MiG21 is not an easy aircraft. It required the best of guys to be selected, those with above average skills.

Did the MiG-21 have an eccentric handling characteristics? 


What was your most memorable mission or flight and why?  

Many. However, I will name one. Quite early in the operational conversion syllabus one had to do the flight at highest operational envelope height. So here, I put on the supersonic suit, its pretty much the same outfit worn by Yuri Gagarin, and do the supersonic profile. You climb to 16 km in a quick profile, accelerate to 2.1 Mach, and then zoom to 21km, and fly an interception profile accelerating from 1.8M to 2.1M. This part was dropped in later years (after the mid eighties). Quite obviously, later generation never got to wear the supersonic suit, except for those select few who flew the MiG-25.


What was the MiG-21 cockpit like? Quite fine for a design of its times. Compared to the F-16’s bubble cockpit, its rear visibility was limited, as was the visibility below the nose. The cockpit was old instrumentation and cannot be compared to today’s glass cockpit. Air-conditioning came on after take-off. On ground it was air ventilated. For Indian climates, it would be fairly warm on ground. However, did not matter for hardcore, passionate fighter boys.

Did you have confidence in the Russian armament and avionics? 


What was it like to fly the Mirage 2000? Find out here

How much variation was there in within the MiG-21 fleet, were certain aircraft better than others? 

Basic aircraft aerodynamics was the same. But differences included weight, thrust, and systems. Bis was the most different. For example it had Boundary Layer Control, which made a major difference in its approach/landing profile.

Which three words best describe the MiG-21? 

Light, agile, and excellent.


Special thanks to Angad Singh.

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You may also enjoy 11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to WarplanesFlying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated?

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.


The more you give the more we can give you 🙂

Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

Guide to surviving aviation forums here